Adam Green is a cult director with a rabidly loyal cult following and an impressive body of work. Each of his films delves into a different sub-genre of horror than the last. He has put out slasher pictures, a survival horror film and his latest, Digging Up the Marrow (review) is a creature feature that also functions as a mockumentary.
Green is always cordial, gracious and energetic with journalists and his fans alike. He is part of a new breed of horror filmmaker who are not only hands on with fans but are fans themselves. Today, Wicked Horror’s Tyler Doupe’ spoke with Green about Digging Up the Marrow, its origins as fan fiction, his loyal legion of fans, the future of Holliston, and much more.
Also, keep an eye our for Green’s upcoming Scary Sleepover web series, where he has slumber parties with horror celebrities. The series will be premiering on the Ariescope website in March!
Wicked Horror: I really enjoyed Digging Up the Marrow. And I think that a lot of what makes it so scary is the fact that it feels so real. Was it always your intent to shoot as a mockumentary?
Adam Green: That was kind of the whole incentive to make it and that was the angle that made it exciting. The whole idea really came about back in 2010. I get some really crazy stuff from fans. Sometimes it’s just so creative. Especially the artwork that people do; whether it’s drawings of the Holliston cast or Victor Crowley or Meshugannah from Chillerama. It’s really cool to see how creative the fans actually are. With that comes fan fiction where people will write stories about the characters from Hatchet or Holliston, or whatever. Somebody had sent a package that was condemning me because it said that Victor Crowley was actually real and I had messed it all up and didn’t tell the story right. There were black and white pictures of swamps with areas circled, saying where he was really born and this is where the murders really happened. It was all coming from a place of love. It was just fan fiction but it was being done in such a cool and fun way. I was so excited by it and I wanted to grab cameras and go interview the guy and have him try to prove it, even if it just ends up being one of our Halloween shorts, it could be really funny. But because Hatchet II was about to come out, we didn’t want to do anything with that universe or that character. We also didn’t know exactly how stable or not stable this particular individual might be, so we just threw it out. And then two weeks later, I’m doing an autograph signing at a Fangoria convention and a guy comes through the line with a pamphlet called ‘Digging Up the Marrow’. I didn’t get a chance to look inside it at the time. He handed it to me and said that he just wanted to thank me for the inspiration and walked away. That night when I opened it and looked through the artwork, I noticed that it was Alex Pardee. I’m a huge fan of his artwork but I didn’t know what he looked like, so I had no idea that was who came through my line. Whenever he does an art exhibit, it’s not just a painting on a gallery wall. He always has a bigger storyline to all of it, which is more immersive and more fun. His storyline to his 2009 exhibit of ‘Digging Up the Marrow’ was that he had found these journals of a former Boston police detective named William Dekker who claimed he had found this world called The Marrow. He described all these monsters in detail and had taken it upon itself to paint them and make an art exhibit. So, I’m reading this and it was like a lightbulb went off where I wondered what it would be like if William Dekker contacted a cult filmmaker because he’s trying to find somebody who would be willing to tell his story to the world and take him seriously. Obviously, no big time filmmakers would waste their time with it but I would. [Laughs] It all sort of came from that. It happened kind of fast. All these things: The fan letter, Alex’s exhibit, how inspiration his artwork was in terms of this world and the monsters. It was just trying to think of a new way to make a monster movie where it is real. Believe me, we went back and forth on this so many time, asking if we should really use ourselves or if we should make up a fake cult filmmaker who has fake actor friends and makes fake films and has fake fans and works at a fake studio and has a fake crew that wears fake crew shirts. It all seemed kind of pointless to do that. I’ve been surprised that so many people appreciate that and get that [using real people playing themselves] is what makes it so unique and not like anything the’ve seen before. We knew before I even started writing it that we were going to get some reviews that say it’s self indulgent and I’m a douchebag and I suck. But the guys on my team told me that if it’s not that it’s going to be something else. If people have decided they don’t like you then you can’t win. It definitely came with its fair share of problems because I had to train myself, after we had filmed, to look at it objectively and realize that it’s not me, it’s just a character. I had to make sure not to make any editorial decisions based on my own personal fears. The assembly cut is like 45 minutes longer than what the movie actually is. We were trying to establish that this is a real cult filmmaker and maybe you’ve never heard of him or heard of these movies but there is a fan base for this stuff and they are really passionate and they have conventions and they send crazy stuff and fan mail so that you would believe that this guy really would have sent something. You know that and I’m sure that most people that read your stuff know that but there’s a huge portion of the world that’s going to eventually see this movie–in other countries–on Netflix, on cable, or whatever that probably don’t know me, they’ve never heard of the movies I’ve made, they don’t know about horror conventions. So, you need to make them aware. You need to educate them and show them that this is real. That in this world, this exists. Because I used my real life, when the film was done being edited in 2013, we did a screening of it at Butt Numb-athon, which is Harry Knowles secret film festival. No one knows what is going to play there until the show starts. And we knew that if it played well there, we could lock picture and we would have a movie. It played so well that we locked picture that night and postproduction started and money was able to be spent on visual effects and color and score. Then Dave died in March. He’s in the movie as Oderus, saying. “I’ve been a monster. I’ll always be a monster and after I’m dead, I’ll be a dead monster.” I wanted to take it out of the movie, which would not only have been extremely expensive and held everything up but everybody at Ariescope was saying that I was making a mistake. I didn’t think I was making a mistake but I couldn’t keep that in there. But, finally, Josh, the editor said, “I know it hurts for you to see that but why would you rob his fans and the Gwar fans and the Holliston fans of seeing the last thing that he said as the character on the camera?” If you knew Dave, that was his sense of humor. He would think it was hilarious that the last thing he talked about was his own demise. So, they kind of talked me off that ledge and I left it in and I’m so glad I did. At the screenings we have done, the audience always cheers for him and applauds. I’m glad I didn’t take it out. But then, two weeks later, I ended up getting divorced, which I never saw coming either. And that’s the second worst thing I’ve ever been through in my personal life; Dave dying and then that. There are scenes in the film that show me at home with my now ex-wife, who was written to be the concerned, caring wife who wanted me to sleep more and stop working so much. I wanted to take that stuff out but it’s all there for a reason and they had to keep reminding me that the scenes were there to round out the character and make him three dimensional. So, the whole thing has been bitter sweet. The accomplishment of making a movie is great and the reactions are overwhelming. It’s all fun but to have to tour with the movie and sit through screenings and do interviews and talk about it with those elephants in the room has been really heartbreaking and really hard. But I think it was worth it and I think if you aren’t going to take personal risks with your art that there is no point in doing it. So, that was the longest answer ever. I think you’ve only asked one question and that was a two hour answer but I think that sums up why we made it the way we made it and that’s everything about the movie.
Wicked Horror: I recently saw a Kickstarter campaign started by a couple of the Astron 6 guys. They are seeking financing for the effects for their new film. The had positioned it by saying that indie filmmakers usually do not have access to their funds until right before they shoot a picture and the result is that they do not have enough time to set up practical effects and have to do digital effects in post. You being a supporter of practical effects and someone that has done all of his films practically, I wonder how you have mitigated the financial aspect of doing all of your FX work practically?
Green: That’s a really, really great question, by the way. I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m also always a producer on everything. I think most independent directors have to be producer whether you want to or not. Making something like Hatchet, where the centerpiece of the movie is comprised of kill sequences and the effects, if you skimp on that or you don’t do it right, then there’s no point. So, when you first write it and you sit down with your effects artist and talk about what it’s going to take to do this, whatever they say goes. If they say it’s going to take three months to do this correctly and have it look exactly like you want it to look, you can’t come back and lowball them and say we don’t have enough money for three months, we only have enough money for one month, so what can you do with that? That’s how you end up with a really shitty indie movie, which is unfortunately so many of them. Part of the reason why Digging Up the Marrow took four years to make, there are a few reasons for that, but to us it was considered an art project and it was like this weird passion project, which was why we didn’t tell anybody about it. All we ever said is that we were making a documentary about monster art. And we did that just so people would leave us alone and not ask about it. If you ever want the press to be less interested in something you’re doing, just say that you’re making an art documentary and they will run the other way. Nobody wanted set visits, nobody wanted stills or casting information. We knew if this concept was going to work that we had to take people by surprise. Nobody really knew much about it. That’s why we didn’t do a lot of festivals. We premiered it at Frightfest in London. Instead of playing it three times on the main screen, which is like 1,100 seats, we played it once on a tiny 300 seat screen and that was it. I told the audience promise me before it screened that they could tell people if they liked it or hated it but don’t say what it is and nobody ruined it. And that was great. I like that horror fans look out for each other. They realized after they watched the movie how cool it was that they went into it knowing nothing and they didn’t want to ruin it for other people. The response was almost unanimous that people loved it and nobody spoiled it. As far as the effects go, we knew there was a lot of ingenuity and new things that we were going to have to try. We wanted these things to look exactly like Alex’s artwork. In the past, Alex has done designs of things that have gone three dimensional, whether it be in music videos or in films, and the first thing that people do is change it. They say, “Well, this doesn’t really make sense and it’s not correct, so we’re going to just adjust that a little bit.” And before you know it, it’s not really what he drew. So, we said we were going to do exactly what he drew. His art isn’t correct, it just doesn’t make sense. Bone structures aren’t what they are supposed to be. Weight distribution isn’t accurate. So, we knew that there were gonna be five or six characters that you see clearly on screen. The more you watch the movie, the more you start to notice other things. Sometimes, even in screenings, people see some of the ore hidden stuff and there are people that have to watch it a second time to try and find it. There’s a behind the scenes featurette on the DVD and Blu-ray. It’s a 30 minute making of that’s just about the filming of the monsters and it shows every single step for each monster. You get to see them really up close and cool. They’re set up at the Ariescope studios now and it’s kind of like a museum with all the different things we’ve made over the years. The very first monster is only on screen for a second and that monster was so expensive to build. There are six people operating it. It was kind of like our Jabba the Hutt with how much went into it for that one second. There’s someone doing the bladders on its head, there’s somebody working the eyes, there’s somebody working the mouth, there’s somebody who is spraying spit at the lens, which unfortunately you can’t really see because when the light turns on you can’t really say that. One of the other FX artists had her arms painted to match the color of the monster and she is below it. The head weighed 120 pounds. It was huge! Stuff like that took a long time to get right. Working with puppets and things like that. But I think that makes the difference. I thin the real fans can see that and they appreciate it. Even those things are purposely only shown so much, they are there and they are not CG. They are not a cartoon. I wish more people had respect for us an audience. We know when we’re looking at a cartoon and we know when we’re looking at something real. As an actor, I can tell you that it’s way easier to get into being scared and running away from something that’s actually there and chasing after you when it looks fucking awesome, as opposed to a tennis ball or a director saying, “OK, it’s behind you. Look up. Yeah, you’re scared. You’re scared.” Some actors can do it, I don’t know if I could. But it was really, really fun to be out in the woods in the middle of the night and have these things around you. It wasn’t hard to be scared.
Wicked Horror: Changing gears a little bit, Holliston is a property that you have always maintained creative control over. Even though it was on FEARnet, they didn’t own the series. They just bought the rights to air it. What do you think were the advantages for you maintaining full control over the series?
Adam Green: Well, it almost did happen with major networks several times. When it was still Coffee and Donuts back in 2003, Touchstone had bought the concept for it off of my first independent movie. Tom Shadyac was producing and it was for UPN which is another network that’s now gone. UPN was kind of the urban network but they would tell writers every year that they were changing that and that they didn’t want to just be the urban network. But that was a lie and it wasn’t going to change. Going through that development process, as wonderful as Shadyac and all the executives involved were, the two main characters could not want to be horror film directors. It started out that they could want to be horror film directors but then after the first draft it became, “Maybe there’s something else. Let’s take out the horror stuff because that’s not accessible to mainstream America. There could be a side character who is kind of funny and into that but he can’t be a main character.” Then when I would say who I wanted in the cast, for ten years I was saying I wanted Dee Snider and Dave Brockie in the cast and no one would go for that. I learned from that experience because they hold the rights for five years. Whether they shoot your pilot or not, you can’t touch it for five years. So, the next time around, it was actually at G4. G4 wanted to get into scripted series and they really loved the series of short films that Lynch and I had done, called The Road to Frightfest. So, they wanted to do something with us in it. And that time around, I knew better than to cash the check, so that way they could never own it. Thankfully I was at a point in my career where I didn’t need the money so desperately anymore, so I never cashed the check. The same thing happened again where it just started to get taken over and it was not going to be what it was. G4 also want away. I don’t know if you’re sensing a pattern here. With FEARnet, Peter Block who had produced Frozen became the president. He said, “Look, I don’t really have much money. I can’t really afford to develop a show properly but I can license one. Can you get the money together and do it?” I pitched him Holliston but because they weren’t really developing it or paying for the production, we were able to make the show that I wanted to make. It’s still to this day the best experience I have ever had. By the time season two was in postproduction, we already knew that we didn’t want to stay at FEARnet. The show would never have happened without FEARnet agreeing that they would license it before we even shot it. No investor would have given us money if we didn’t already have that piece on the table. I’m so sad to see FEARnet go because of what it could have been but it was never supported by its parent company. We knew after season one that FEARnet’s hope to expand wasn’t going to happen and it was so frustrating, not just for fans but for us, that Holliston was so hard to see. If you didn’t get FEARnet, you were kind of shit outta luck. So, like 80% of our audience torrents that show. That sucks but there was no other way for them to see it. It would go onto iTunes but it was like six months after it had aired and it was buried in the ‘H’ section. You had to go out of your way, in a huge way, to try and see that show. But we started talking to other places and saying, “Look at this model. This is a series that is being made on its own and independently.” Nobody really cares what network a show that they like is on. If you like Breaking Bad, you would watch it whether it was on NBC, AMC, MTV, or VOD. It doesn’t matter. You would watch it. Most people watch TV now on Netflix or On Demand. They don’t really watch it on TV anymore. As time goes on, that’s going to be a bigger and bigger thing. It was exciting to be on the front line of that but it was also frustrating. I know this is the future and we started doing this in 2011. But it’s still going to take a while for other people to figure this out. And that’s sort of been the challenge. We had a couple of opportunities where we could have just started in on season three but all of those opportunities were being presented to me back in April, May, and June of last year. Due to budgets and schedules, they needed the show to start right away. But I just couldn’t do it due to personal reasons. The Dave thing was the biggest one. People would say, “I’m really sorry about your loss. I know he was a close friend but you kind of need to do this show, now.” The show is so from the heart. It’s so personal to me and I’m the one who had all the scenes with him. So, just the thought of standing on the bedroom set and the closet doors staying closed from no on is like unbearable. So, I just needed more time to heal. And then with the divorce, personally, I was completely useless and in shambles. I was ver unhealthy. I just couldn’t function. So, I had to say no to all of that. But I think everything always happens for a reason. It will be a year next month that Dave has been gone. I’m doing much better. I’m back on my feet, I’m healthy again. I think the whole cast is in a better place and excited to start doing it again. I’ve been writing and we’ve started worshipping some of the scripts and reading them together. We did an episode of The Movie Crypt Podcast that was a reunion episode but the last 20 minutes of it actually turned into a radio play of Holliston and we kind of surprised everyone with a new episode, which was really fun. To see how excited everyone was and the reaction we got was not only good for us but also for potential distributors to see. I think that we’re like one piece of paper at this point from this new thing where we would make the show but instead of being on a Network that would then hold it back and limit if from going to other places, we would be able to go everywhere at the same time and everyone would be able to see the show on the same day and that would be amazing. But a part of the problem is that Video on Demand is notes up for that yet. There are networks that have their own Video on Demand channels but regular Video on Demand is kind of like feature film only. It’s not set up across every system for serialized content like this. But in meetings, they have recognized that this is just the first of many that are coming. So, that’s kind of one of the hold ups. Now we’re ready. I was hoping by the time Digging Up the Marrow came out that I would be able to tell people 100% when we would be shooting season three and when it would be out but unfortunately, it’s not 100% enough for me to actually say anything or announce anything. But we are really, really close. As anxious as fans are getting, no one has ever said, “Hurry up.” or “I’m tired of waiting.” As much as fans love Dave, they understand that my relationship with him was very different. I know that he would want the show to go on more than anybody. If it didn’t go on because of him, he would feel so bad. I think it’s going to happen and I think it’s going to happen much sooner rather than later.
Wicked Horror: I’m looking forward to the third season whenever it happens. I’m happy to hear that your fan base it being so supportive. You deserve that. You are such a good guy.
Green: Thank you for that. It seems like that’s what the fans appreciate. I’ve always just been me. That’s all I can do. But then when you do anything and some critic wants to tear it apart, that’s par for the course. But with the stuff I do, because I make it so personal, they do make it personal. You read something that’s like this film is him jerking off to himself for 90 minutes. So, thank you for that.