Brad Anderson began his career making cute romantic comedies until he took a turn toward the dark side with the brilliant and highly underrated film, Session 9. He has now just completed his most recent film, The Machinist starring Christian Bale and Jennifer Jason Leigh, once again proving he has the knack to deliver the goods. His films are not the typical slice and dice fair, but rather intelligent horror for those who don’t always want their scares hand delivered to them on a silver platter. I had the pleasure of interviewing him recently to discuss his latest film.
Sean Clark: First off when will The Machinist be released in theaters?
Brad Anderson: It’s opening October 22nd.
SC: Wide release?
BA: It will start out in New York and L.A. and then widen after that. It always felt to me like a fall release so October is a good time for it.
SC: How did you get involved in The Machinist?
BA: The script was brought to me by my agent and I just totally fell in love with it. Scott Kosar, who wrote it, just had such a way with creating a kind of mood and a kind of atmosphere which was what I was sort of looking to do. I wanted to do a film that was very much a character piece but really driven by its atmosphere and by its tone. So I kind of got involved in the project from the get go.
We tried to set it up in a number of different places in the states, different companies to try and finance the movie. They were all interested but in the end kind of passed because it was either too dark or too ambiguous. You know, for whatever the general reason is that executives don’t get dark movies. (laughs) But then Christian got involved and he fell in love with the script as well. We both were really jazzed about it. I thought that would really help us get the financing here in the states but it still didn’t clinch it, so in the end I got turned on to a company in Barcelona, Filmax who had seen Session 9 over there in Spain and really liked it. They were interested in getting into business with me, and asked if we had any other projects in the works. I just happened to have The Machinist ready go. It was kind of an odd position to be in because the movie is not set in Spain.
SC: That is where it was shot right, in Spain?
BA: That is where we shot it. We ended up shooting it in Barcelona but initially I had to kind of weigh the advantages of shooting it in Spain even though the story is set in some kind of unidentified American metropolis.
SC: In the film I noticed California license plates on the cars.
BA: Yeah right, I mean Scott originally wrote the script to take place in Los Angeles with lots of famous Los Angeles landmarks and such, all of which had to be pulled out and made more generic so we could shoot in Spain. The idea is that it’s set somewhere in California but we always liked the idea of keeping it kind of ambiguous and not really clear-cut.
SC: Other than the license plates which you can barely see on screen, you have no real feeling of where it was supposed to be at all.
BA: Which was our intent. Originally it wasn’t the intent when I first signed on to the project. We were just going to shoot it in Los Angeles like it was supposed to be but when we started to think about the idea of shooting it Spain we kind of hit on this idea of making the feeling of the location very generic and very non-specific.
SC: Did you have any input in the screenplay at all?
BA: Scott and I worked a bit as we moved towards production. A lot of it was based on adapting it to the idea that we are now shooting in Spain, making it easier to shoot there and also putting it within the budget range that we were now shooting at. Originally it was intended to be a bigger budget movie but in Spain we had to deal with less funds so we had to kind of pair things down to its essence. We finessed the script a bit together. He wrote it but I gave my input, but as I said the thing that originally drew me to the project was the script as is anyhow. That’s the thing that drove both myself and Christian and ultimately Filmax to put everything into it and get it made.
SC: Up until this point in your career you had either written or co-written all of your feature films. Did you enjoy working off of someone else’s script? Which is your preference?
BA: Well in this particular project The Machinist I wanted to do something I hadn’t written. I was eager to try my hand at directing someone else’s screenplay. You’re right, most of my films up until this point I have either written or co-written and this was the first one I didn’t and in the end I found that I really enjoyed the process a bit more because I wasn’t wearing every single hat (laughs). As the writer and the director it’s your job to answer to the actors questions about dialogue or character. You do that as a director as well but if the writer is there as Scott was during a portion of the shoot, I could defer to him or we could both be there to help try and explain what the intent was or whatever, motivation and those sorts of things. It worked out to be a really great experience for me because I could just really focus more. Once we all agreed on the script and the story it, freed me up to focus much more on the visuals and all of the other things that a director does, like creating the mood and the ambiance and all that. So I liked it and I’m going to do it again. I’m looking at other projects but also writing my own things as well. So it will be a little bit of back and fourth probably.
SC: Do you ever plan on working with Steve Gevedon again?
BA: Yeah we actually have a couple projects that are in the work. We are trying to get stuff off the ground. We hope to collaborate again on something, yeah totally.
SC: You shot Session 9 on digital video. What did you shoot The Machinist on?
BA: It was shot on 35 and we posted on high def and bumped it back to 35. It’s sort of the way it is done these days. You can have total ability to manipulate the image and the color; anything you want.
SC: It was such a drastic change from Session 9 which had such a bright colorful look where as this film was so dark.
BA: Yeah right that’s true. With Session 9 one of the guiding principals was to do a dark movie, dark “story” during the day. We wanted the horror to go down in bright daylight or in just nice shafts of sunlight. We wanted to sort of counter act the notion that bad things always happen in the dark. With The Machinist the director of photography, Spanish cinematographer Xavi Gimenez, was great. His whole palette is virtually un-illuminated. He likes working in the dark literally (laughs). And I really liked that idea of seeing how far we could push it and just keeping it very noir.
SC: I felt that the look of the film gave the film a sense of dread that just built through out the course of the film.
BA: That is sort of what we intended; to keep it not just dark for the sake of creating scares, but dark to create a real sense of paranoia and dread, as you said. Just something looming there in the darkness, we were playing with that. Also I just wanted to make the imagery really graphic and simple in keeping with the idea that the locations were very generic. We wanted the feeling of this guy’s world, the look of the film, the compositions and such all that to just feel very symmetrical and generic and not of this world. It needed to feel almost dream like in some way. With the way Xavi lit it we were both kind of aiming in that direction, to try and achieve a certain nightmare state.
SC: In Session 9 you listed some of you influences as the Shining and Don’t Look Now. Did you have any influences you drew from in making The Machinist? I know you didn’t write the script this time but were there any influences as far as the films look or vibe?
BA: Well Scott’s influences when he was writing the script were certainly more literary than they were filmic. I believe at the time he was actually taking a class in Russian literature, Dostoevsky and such. And you can sense that in the storyline. I think Kafka was also very much on his mind while he was writing it. (laughs) You know like a man who is being pursued by his own guilty conscious. For me those were touch tones certainly but visually I was trying to conjure up a kind of a look and a feeling that was a little bit of a throw back to Hitchcock films and great films of paranoia and suspense like Roman Polanski’s Repulsion and the The Tenant. We were definitely trying to give the look and the feeling of the movie something a little bit old fashioned almost. We didn’t want to do some hipster comic book kind of thriller or dark movie. We wanted to do something that was more psychological. Scott’s fantasy was to create the last Hitchcock film you know (laughs) that he would have ever made, postmortem or something.
In terms of the influence; when I’m making a film I’m not conscious of trying to reference other filmmakers or directors. It’s more just what feels right. My intent is to conjure up something that is original and new and not necessarily drawn from some other great filmmakers work. But I would say in this film we were certainly influenced by Hitchcock and a lot of the Val Lewton produced films like I Walked with a Zombie and Seventh Victim, a lot of those films from the late forties and fifties. Those kind of dark and brooding psychological dramas, literally dark too, like very shadowy films. Catwoman… wait I mean Cat People.
SC: I was hoping it wasn’t Catwoman. (laughs)
BA: Yeah that would be a different influence. (laughs) I loved those films because they were really made on the cheap but they created with so little money, they created so much like grim atmosphere and we were kind of going for that same idea.
SC: Was Christian Bale your first choice for the role of Trevor?
BC: We had a bunch of people in mind but really early on he read the script and instantly jumped on it. He just totally identified with the script and the character and when he called me his enthusiasm was so clear that I realized that there was no one else who could invest so much into this project as Christian. He was on our list but we didn’t go out to him first thing, it just so happens that he read it just as we started to go out to actors he was ready to go and wanted to do it. I liked the way he thought about the story and the character. I also admire him as an actor and the films that he’s done prior to this. I know just from talking to other directors that his level of commitment on films like American Psycho and even his first movie, my God going back to Empire of the Sun, the guy puts everything into a part, into a role and he did on this movie too. I mean he lost sixty odd pounds or something for the part.
SC: Was that in the script that he was to be that emaciated?
BC: It was in the script that the character was a walking scarecrow. I think that is how Scott described him, as a man that is literally being consumed by his own guilt, a victim of insomnia. I mean it wasn’t written to lose sixty pounds (laughs) but Christian you know obviously understood that he would need to make himself physically more like the character in the script. When I first met him he wasn’t this big worked out Batman character that he probably is now. So when he showed up in Barcelona he had already lost most of the weight. I think it took him like three months or something. He just totally committed himself to it and did it. I think it is very important in the movie because if you don’t understand this guy’s predicament then nothings at stake.
SC: So was it Christian’s idea to take it to such an extreme level?
BC: Yeah. I didn’t encourage it or suggest it, he just did it. Of course when he did it and I saw how far he took it I have to say I feel a little guilty because… well I don’t feel guilty because there wasn’t anything wrong with what he did. I mean he didn’t suffer because of it. He was maybe uncomfortable but in the end of the day it was good for the film and it was good for his performance. But in some ways I was… when I saw how he looked I was kind of weirdly thrilled because it looked so sculpted and cut so I knew on film it was going to look amazing and was really going to be shocking. That was what we kind of intended and I think it made a big difference in the movie and his portrayal of the character that he really look that gaunt, just sick like on death’s doorstep you know. (laughs) It wasn’t that way literally but on film it registered that way.
SC: At any point during filming were you ever concerned or fearful of his health?
BA: He was very conscious of how he was regulating his diet. His wife was with him and she was sort of keeping tabs on him. When ever you make a movie you have to get a physical before you shoot a movie for insurance purposes and he passed that with flying colors, so we weren’t concerned but I think there were times when I think he was too tired. Who wouldn’t be if you have no body fat, no reserves to draw off of. He was exhausted much of the time but that’s what his character is. So if anything, as he describes it, kind of helped motivate him portraying a man who’s dying of insomnia.
SC: Jennifer Jason Leigh has become well known for playing off beat characters. Was she someone you sought after to play the role of Stevie?
BC: I did, yeah definitely. She was one of the first people that came to mind for that part. I wanted someone you could believe had lived the life but also was sympathetic. Like Christian, she is an actress whose career I have always admired. I think she’s just a really remarkable actress who’s not afraid to take chances. Even on this movie playing a prostitute, which she has done a number of times, but this one was a little more of a sympathetic character at the end of the day, or at least you weren’t so sure. But yeah I definitely had her in mind from the start.
SC: I loved the casting of Michael Ironside as Miller. I think he is a really underrated actor. How did he get involved?
BA: Actually Scott suggested Michael because they were friends. I mean I knew of his work, I’ve always liked his stuff. When he suggested the idea and I gave it some thought it just kind of seemed right. Not only that but I think it’s in his contract that he has to lose a limb every time he does a project (laughs).
SC: Yeah like Starship Troopers.
BA: Yeah like Starship Troopers and a couple of others. He was great and he definitely brings a realization to the kind of working class, intense, machine shop kind of vibe we were going for.
SC: Plus he always plays a heavy so I felt that he was sort of a great red herring.
SC: You kind of expect him to be that bad guy he always plays but then he turns out not to.
BA: Yeah exactly. He is a put upon guy as opposed to the guy who’s doing the putting upon. So yeah that was true.
SC: There has been some speculation on the internet that the main character’s name Trevor Reznik had some connection to Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails. Is there any truth to that?
BA: That would be a Scott Kosar question. Actually I think in the original script it began with a quote from Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. I think Scott was trying to do some sort of play on that, his name Trent Reznor. Although for me it doesn’t mean anything because I know of Nine Inch Nails and I know Trent Reznor but they have no significance in my story. That’s just a Kosar thing.
SC: So it was just a little tip of the hat to him.
BA: I guess so, yeah. I think Scott originally knew someone from Nine Inch Nails or knew a producer or something. His original hope was to get that kind of music in the film, a more industrial hardcore kind of thing. In the end that wasn’t the choice I made. I didn’t want to go in that direction because I see that in so many dark movies. In some way in Session 9 we went in that direction, that kind of droning, ambient, industrial kind of clanking sound. I mean it works. You know it can work brilliantly. In this movie I realized I wanted to do much more conventional kind of lyrical, almost counter point to the story, almost have the music be a little bit more lyrical and not so gloom and doom.
SC: I loved the score. How did Roque Baños get involved scoring the film?
BA: We met in Spain during the shoot. He had worked on some other movies that Filmax had done and they recommended him for me to check out. We immediately hit it off. He really loved the idea. When I first started talking music with him I was going in that direction, a more drone, ambient score that would almost be a sound collage. Along the lines of what we did in Session 9. But I changed my mind half way through when I was watching late night TV and I caught the movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and heard the old theremin in that Bernard Herman score (laughs). For some weird reason it just clicked. I went out and bought the CD of the soundtrack and I played it against the scenes we had been cutting and it just felt right. It captured the really perverse humor in the movie too because there is a lot of that in the sense that this guys predicament is so absurd. He is essentially a dog chasing his own tail, and I didn’t want to lose that idea of the absurdity of his quest. So I thought the music needed to have a kind of loopy, paranoid quality to and the theremin definitely captures that. (laughs) A lot of that music from those 1950’s sci-fi films like The Day the Earth Stood Still used it. In fact Hitchcock himself used the theremin in Spellbound, I think, and a few other films that Bernard Herman scored so we were going in that direction and I think once Roque realized what I really wanted to do, he kind of changed tracks a bit and wrote the score that I was really happy with.
SC: I noticed in the scene where Trevor is running through the sewer and he comes to where the tunnels break of left or right, he stops for a moment to try and decide which way to go. It reminded me a great deal of the scene in Session 9 where Hank has to make a similar decision in the tunnels of the hospital to go to the patient or staff side. Was there any conscious connection to that?
BA: I don’t know if it was conscious or not but, you’re right, there is definitely a parallel there. That sort of stuff was in Scott’s script; the idea of him running through these tunnels and coming to intersections and kind of which way to go, which way to go. I just kind of expanded on it a little bit. I like the fact when he gets to the intersection it’s just the A tunnel and the B tunnel. It doesn’t give him any information to go off of which is the best way to go. But yeah it was sort of like that but in Session 9 it was just more of the idea that when he comes to the intersection he ends up going down the patient’s corridor, like he will soon become a patient.
In The Machinist there is a motif actually that I kind of played off of. The idea that this character is at several instances in the story is presented with a choice, a forked path as it were. Which way is he going to go? Is he going to go to the left? Is he going to turn himself in or is he going to continue to run from the law? There are a few places in the story where he is kind of presented with that forked road, the proverbial forked road and that was just one of them.
SC: The character of Ivan was a manifestation of Trevor’s guilt but what, if any, was the significance of the toe?
BA: That is more of a Scott Kosar grotesque kind of thing. He’s making this guy into some kind of a freak. There’s one shot, and it’s subtle, when Trevor is in the interrogation room and he is giving his deposition after the accident they show him some photos of the accident scene. In one of the photos is Miller’s hand. The hand looks like Ivan’s hand; it’s missing two fingers so it looks like a claw. The idea that somehow in Trevor’s delusional mind when he conjures up Ivan he kind of is tapping into images that he is already conscious of. The awful image of Miller’s cut off hand and other things. Also, at one point in the movie there was a strange crab motif (laughs) Scott had woven through the story images of fighting crabs. I think he was trying to make the insinuation that Ivan was some kind of monstrous crab. But it was sort of vestige of an earlier idea.
SC: It just flashed in my head another film of Ironside loosing limbs, Total Recall.
BA: Yeah right! (laughs) Wasn’t that also a Wolfgang Peterson film too? Didn’t he direct that?
SC: No, that was Paul Verhoeven.
BA: Who also directed Starship Troopers.
BA: So maybe they have like some little thing in their contract if they work together Ironside has to lose a limb. (laughs)
SC: So I know it’s early with The Machinist not even in theaters yet but have you considered what your next project might be?
BA: I have a few things in the works. One is a project at Warner Brothers called Lucid which is kind of a… how would I describe it… it’s a psychic thriller about a woman who has clairvoyant dreams and starts to believe that she has tapped into the mind of a killer. It’s a very commercial idea (laughs) but I’m trying to get off the ground. Steven Gevedon and I have a couple of projects we are working on, and I also have a totally different script for a musical that I am trying to get set up around town as well. Session 9 and The Machinist was my foray into the dark side, before that I did a few romantic comedies, so I’ve kind of run the whole gamete. Maybe it’s time to take a spin back into the lighter side of things (laughs).
SC: Which do you prefer?
BA: I love and had a great time doing dark creepy films. It’s great as a director because so much of what these films are about is evoking a kind of mood or a tone and that’s what is so interesting about it…creating that tone. The imagery and the music and the cutting is all so cinematic, where as a romantic comedy is often two people sitting in a bar making jokes. The cinematic aspect of it is kind of secondary to the jokes or the performance. With horror or the darker films I have done it’s given me the chance to play around with creating an atmosphere, and that’s what cinema is so tailored to do. It’s a lot of fun, and I want to do more of that. I don’t think I ever want to make a straight out horror movie in the way the industry perceives horror these days. Like five young people caught in a haunted house or what ever the hell it is. That’s really not as interesting to me as creating something that is character driven, but puts characters into hellacious, horrific situations and seeing how they react.
SC: What do you think of the current state of the horror genre today? Scott Kosar did the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake as well as the upcoming Amityville Horror remake, what’s your thoughts on this remake craze?
BC: I think it is just an opportunistic grab by Hollywood, realizing that they’ve got a built in brand with old rarely seen movies like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Crazies or Amityville Horror…People have heard of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Younger people probably have never seen it but they have heard of the name. They’ve heard of the Amityville Horror. So you have this built in name recognition and you can build upon that. You can throw in a lot of young hot up and coming ingénues of the moment and kill them all. (laughs) I mean Scott’s aware of what he’s doing. He’s making good money and he’s sort of tapped into that system right now. He’s like the go-to guy right now if you want to do a remake of a horror movie from the sixties or seventies. Like a lot of people in this business, he needs to get a paycheck.
But he has also made a film like The Machinist. Scott and I have about getting another project going together, we’ve gone over a few different things. One actually would be a remake but of a classy dark horror film called Eyes Without a Face. It’s a creepy French film from the sixties. He loves that film and I think it’s a great film too. He’s always had this idea of updating that film and doing an adaptation of that. Another one is a J.G. Ballard short story called “Concrete Island”, which is a sort of a twisted urban Robinson Caruso story. So we’ve been talking about doing some more things together. I think Scott wants the paycheck but like any smart or interesting filmmaker he also wants to do interesting films, hence The Machinist and Texas Chainsaw Massacre back to back (laughs).
The whole thing doesn’t surprise me, I just wish there were more young, hip filmmakers out there doing films that were genuinely scary and genuinely horrific. I mean I just don’t find what the studios are calling horror movies now to be scary. Most are glib comedies, at best. Their set up is to make you scream and then laugh a second later. To me what is creepy and truly horrific is, like you were describing earlier, that growing sense of dread. If you could build up a real sense of dread in a movie, of something awful that is coming down the pike, and then deliver the goods in a very horrific way then you can give an audience a real sense of fear and paranoia like you can’t do if you’re simply throwing a monster out of a closet at them every other scene. Or having someone getting their leg amputated or whatever.
SC: Yeah but it just doesn’t make for good action figures you know.
BA: (laughs) And that’s the problem.
SC: Yeah marketing. Will the kids wear t-shirts of Trevor Reznik, that’s what they want to know.
BA: (laughs) I know, you’re right. Their going to wear Batman t-shirts but Trevor Reznik might not be the most popular action hero.
SC: So what would your reaction be if your telephone rang today and it was Moustapha Akkad asking you to remake Halloween or something like that? Is that something you just wouldn’t be interested in?
BA: Well if they were to go back to the original sensibility of the original John Carpenter Halloween which was genuinely creepy and scary…of course it was a movie that was sort of setting up the genre, sort of inventing the genre as it was being made. Or the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the original Night of the Living Dead, these were all really great films because in essence they are really their independent films. Their really driven by that independent spirit. They’re not these formulaic, fit them in the mold studio type projects. To take something like that and go back to the roots of what made those films really creepy and do a remake in that way would be really cool. But for whatever reason whenever they try to do a remake they end up making it glossier, more slick dumbed down. Part of the thing that was scary about the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre was that it was so raw and like unfiltered.
SC: Almost like you were watching a documentary.
BA: Yeah. It had that kind of amateur quality to it which made it creepy almost like a snuff film. You can’t replicate that with a fifty million dollar budget, it’s impossible.
I think all of these executives have these fantasies of making these really cool, cutting edge horror movies but they always end up sort of dumbing everything down at the end of the day. I think it’s almost like they have to when you make a movie that big; you have to throw in all of these superfluous special effects, and really bad acting. (laughs) I think there are some cool indie horror filmmakers out there. I like what Larry Fessenden is doing. I think he has done some interesting stuff. These are all small independent type movies but that is sort of how the original horror craze in the sixties and early seventies began. All these guys just grabbing a camera and throwing some ketchup on their best friend and making a zombie movie or something you know what I mean (laughs). I love that kind of sensibility. It’s when you modify it and make it into this sort of formula is when it fails.
I would like to thank Brad for taking the time to give us this very candid and informative interview. Make sure to go check out The Machinist as it hits the theaters this Friday October 22nd.