Everyone pays their dues. Know that. There’s no easy way to the top in Hollywood, unless you’re some Cronenbergian brood of a rich studio suit, I suppose. Luckily, that wasn’t the case for Hatchet director Adam Green and, man, has this cat paid his dues. Listen up, learn somethin’ and for his sake, keep the scraps on your dinner plate away from him. He doesn’t need ’em now.
A Massachusetts native, Green cut his teeth on production while working at a local radio and cable television station. With a proclivity for making short films, he took work that kept him close to the camera. One such gig found him toiling in commercial production at Time Warner Cable in Boston where he decided to pair two of horror’s greatest heavyweights long before Freddy vs. Jason made it to the screen. “I was stealing their equipment at night with the director of photography there to make our own short films,” Green elaborates. “We made this spoof of slasher films called ‘Columbus Day Weekend’ where Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers stalk the same campsite by mistake…and it turns out they’re gay. It was just to entertain our friends, nobody was supposed to see it.”
Columbus Day Weekend was seen by more than just “friends,” however, and the short film took off, garnering attention from Crystal Lake Entertainment and agents alike. Ultimately Green landed some representation and moved to Los Angeles where the real hurt began. After lensing Coffee & Donuts, an independent feature Touchstone Pictures and UPN bought the rights to, Green found himself in a state of limbo seeking other means of employment like becoming a DJ at a local club where, due to lack of funds, he would steal leftover food before he left for the night. “They didn’t touch the pizza yet, so I didn’t see it as a problem.”
A few years of struggle and the stop and start nature of UPN’s proposed Coffee & Donuts series drove Green to write Hatchet on one sleepless night. “Three days later I finished writing the first draft and put it in my closet because I didn’t think I would do anything with it. Then my friend Sarah Elbert who produced the Friday the 13th box set and met all these key players in that. And when I showed it to her, she thought it was great, she showed it to them and next thing you know, we’re moving ahead.”
What followed is any budding horror filmmaker’s wet dream: a sizable budget to work with, a promising cast of newcomers and an opportunity to lead some of the genre’s biggest names. In this case, Kane Hodder, Robert Englund, John Carl Buechler and Tony Todd. How’s that fit ya? It fit Green just fine. When Dread Central spoke with Green in August about his bayou slasher Hatchet (merely days before Hurricane Katrina swept into the Gulf Coast, mind you), he was still beaming about the experience.
Ryan Rotten: Where did Hatchet come from for you for it to flow so quickly over the course of three days?
Adam Green: One of the first movies I saw when I was eight-years-old was Friday the 13th and I just became addicted to all the movies of the ’80s, like every Nightmare on Elm Street. Halloween is probably my favorite. I just couldn’t get enough of it. Even now, as I talk to you in my office, I have every horror thing ever made. Figures. Toys. It’s funny that most of the stuff I’ve sold has been romantic comedies but this is the stuff I love. I was at summer camp when I was eight years old, the counselors had told us to stay away from this one cabin because Hatchet Face would get me. And that was all they would have to their story. I kept challenging them with it ’cause I wanted to know who he was, where he came from, what he wanted to do to me because I was into it. They didn’t have any answers, so one night all of the kids in my cabin wondered if Hatchet Face would get us, and I started spouting off this story about this man in the bayou and what happened to him. The kids started crying and I think the counselors had a conference about sending me home early. That’s where the genesis of the story started. In writing it, I kinda put my own friends into the movie and based people on them. It’s a weird kind of set up because as much as it fit certain, I don’t want to use the word clichés, but certain expected things of the genre – Hatchet is completely different. I think there’s two sectors of horror fans. There’s the ones who are really into good movies and they feel slighted that horror that Hollywood gives to us don’t put any time into the characters because the studios don’t think we care about that stuff. Then there are the fans who, unless you can prove you dismembered a real baby, they’re not interested in it because it’s not violent enough. I think I fall more into that first sector where the characters are likable, the movie is really funny.
RR: Did the money to fund the project come easy?
AG: [Producer] Sarah Elbert showed the script to people like John Buechler and Kane Hodder. We met with them and they said they were interested in doing it. Something we did to ensure we got the money for the project is we shot a trailer for it. We flew down to New Orleans, my partner Will Barrett – who’s the director of photography on Columbus Day Weekend – and I went on a swamp tour. We got on a tour boat with like twenty-five people and we hung the camera over the side of the boat as we went through the swamp. Then we did a makeup test of young Victor Crowley, took still photographs of that and put the trailer together. It then went on the internet. All of a sudden people just started find it. I think it helped to have Buechler and Kane attached. At ComicCon they announced the movie was happening during the Friday the 13th panel…but we still had no money. Then we hooked up with two other producers, Corey Neal and Scott Altomare, that’s kind’ve their thing is to find the money and put a movie of this level together. Casting took five and a half months because I was so specific on what I wanted.
RR: And what was that?
AG: I wanted really good actors, first of all. I think a lot of people would have a lot of attitude with a movie like this, where they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s a slasher movie.’ And I always saw it as a lot more than that. I was very picky with the people I saw and held out for the horror icons I was after.
RR: How did you swing getting Englund and Tony Todd in addition to Kane?
AG: I really wanted Englund for this one part. He’s got great worth to a horror film whether it’s a small part or the lead. His representation understands that and we didn’t have enough money for him. So, I went to the Masters of Horror kick-off party and I see Englund’s there. Everybody’s walking up to him giving him their business cards, telling him they him to be in their movie and all this stuff. I didn’t want to be that guy, so I didn’t say anything to him. A few minutes later he taps me on my shoulder wondering where I got my t-shirt. I don’t know if it’s my thing or what, but I basically only wear vintage concert shirts. Every concert I go to, I buy a shirt. I was wearing this really rare Marilyn Manson shirt from ’98 and Englund wanted to know where I got it. I told him you couldn’t get it anymore and just sportive walked away. That night I saw the same shirt, which is so hard to find, on eBay. Brand new in a size large. I bought the shirt as a gift, it was, like, seventy dollars. I called Englund’s agent and told him I got him this shirt. His agent happened to be standing there when we talked at the party, so he says, ‘You’re the Hatchet guy? Why didn’t you say something then?’ I sent him the shirt and negotiations got a bit easier on us. The stars just kind’ve aligned and we were able to get Tony pretty easily after that.
RR: What’s Tony’s role in all of this?
AG: Tony’s only actually on screen for about five minutes. But he has a very integral part in the sequel that is coming because he’s actually a main character. It’s cool because what I was after with his character in Hatchet is for people to just want more ’cause he’s really funny. In the sequel, cross your fingers we get it done, he’ll play a big part. The whole set-up of Hatchet is that there is this group of guys on vacation in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. This guy’s been kicked around by his ex-girlfriend and his friends thought they’d show him a good time at Mardi Gras. He’s not really enjoying it and has heard about these ghost tours in the swamp and thinks it’s more his speed than all the beer and boobs of Bourbon Street. They go to Tony Todd’s shop, and he ultimately has to turn them away because he’s being sued. But he gives them this whole story which is a really great moment in the film. We find out in the sequel that Tony knew what he was doing and purposely sent these guys to this other place and we find out he’s behind it all.
RR: I’m sure Tony’s more than thrilled that he’s already locked in to a new film.
AG: I don’t like to jinx things. On the set we talked about where things were going. I gave him the gist [of the sequel] which he got. We kind’ve left it at that. All signs are pointing to Hatchet going theatrical and hopefully we’ll get to do the sequel and he gets to come back. The guy is a superstar, he walks onto set and introduces himself to every single person there. He knows every one of his lines, he just makes love to every word that comes out of his mouth. He’ll just nail it every time for you and give it his all no matter what the size of the part is. Then, when he’s done, he says good-bye to everybody, excuses himself and leaves.
RR: Did you actually shoot in New Orleans?
AG: No, we were shooting, like, thirty-minutes away from my apartment! We shot at the same place they did The Devil’s Rejects at Sable Ranch. Our very first night of shooting involved this big fire scene where we were shooting this flashback story of how Victor Crowley became a ghost. When we were doing it, we had built the house Crowley grew up in deep in the woods and took all this time to build it. Two days before we were supposed to shoot the Fire Marshal came and looked at it. He said because it was built under oak trees we couldn’t light it on fire. We had to rush to rebuild the façade of the house in the parking lot. They did it, they moved it and put it in the parking lot. Then Rob Zombie was shooting a video for something and he decided he wanted the parking lot for his base camp. And obviously at this ranch his name carries a lot more weight than mine so we had to move the set somewhere else. But when you watch the movie and see the house on fire, it’s in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere. We only shot about fifteen minutes of the actual movie in New Orleans. It was basically the Bourbon Street stuff which you can’t get in L.A. Our production designer Bryan McBrien was a greensman on big movies like A.I. and Mighty Joe Young. He knew all the right people to make a California desert look like a swamp.
RR: The early publicity stills are convincing…
AG: You never think for a second that they’re not really there. The further we get away from shooting, the more I can start believing what I’m seeing. It’s hard with your own stuff because you know how they did the effects, you know where you are standing when it happened, you know it’s not real. But the past couple of viewings I’ve been able to detach myself and really enjoy it.
RR: Let’s talk about working with Kane Hodder a bit. Here’s a guy coming off the Friday franchise and leaping into a potential new one as the main villain again.
AG: Kane’s reaction to anything is a big thing to me because he’s not an easy guy to impress. I was worried about it ’cause he’s very vocal if he’s got a concern about something, he’ll tell you. A lot of people will look at a movie like this and they’ll say, it’s not Shakespeare. Kane looks at it and says it is Shakespeare. Every single thing matters. If you ask him to do something, he needs to understand exactly why he’s doing it and he’ll give you input. There’s one scene where one of the characters has their head twisted off. In the original script is was just a quick twist. Kane, just before shooting it, says, ‘Well, what if I twist it around twice and then rip it off and it’s still hanging from the stem.’ He just took it to a whole new level.
RR: What was his enthusiasm level like sitting back in Buechler’s makeup chair for hours?
AG: It kind’ve grew. He feeds off the other actors and it’s this great dynamic he has with them because he doesn’t want to get to know them. He doesn’t talk to them. We started off so that nobody in the movie could see him until the moment they see him in the film. It was really hard to do and there was a lot of coordination to make this happen when Kane was being moved from one location to the next. The very thing we shot with him, the actors come around this gravestone and he’s there. I had the actors on one side of the gravestone and Kane – his first night in the makeup – on the other side. They all know what’s about to happen. We called for dead silence on the set and Kane just starts screaming like a maniac, pounding on things to get ready to kill somebody. Tamara Feldman, our lead actress, you could literally see her legs shaking so bad she almost couldn’t stand up – and I think we got this for the DVD. We showed her where her mark was and I told her, ‘You have to step forward.’ She was like a little kid in a haunted house begging to leave, she couldn’t do it.
RR: Did that kind of intensity reign overall on the set or was there some fun to be had?
AG: There were a lot of practical jokes. In that same scene Victor Crowley throws a hatchet at Joel Moore who’s the lead. Kane and I had staged this big argument where we said the rubber hatchet was broken and he was going to throw the hero hatchet, which was the real one. And I’m screaming, ‘No I’m not gonna let you throw it at an actor.’ And he’s telling me he’s the stunt coordinator, don’t tell him how to do his job, he can do it. Out of the corner of our eye we’re watching Joel Moore sit there like, ‘You can’t throw a real hatchet at my face.’ We called the first assistant director over and the medic and we’re all arguing. Finally I’m like, ‘Fine, Kane, you have your way.’ So Kane throws the hatchet and once it passes Joel’s face, he realized it’s rubber. The reaction we got for the film though, Joel really thinks he’s going to die.
RR: On the grand genre map, where does Hatchet fit in? It sounds like you’ve blended horror with a slightly comedic tone.
AG: These movie to me are fun. It’s not The Exorcist, you’re not gonna walk out of it – well, maybe you will – scarred. A few people who have seen it have been. I don’t know, I watch these horrific effects and I laugh my ass off while other people get sick. The script supervisor threw up on themself one night while shooting. The makeup artist threw up twice while on set watching dailies. I know when you mention there’s humor in the film to horror fans they get so angry.
RR: Well, you get that reaction if its slapstick comedy.
AG: It’s not slapstick. There’s nothing funny about the horror in it, or the villain or what the people go through. It’s just the people themselves are funny and the set-up is enjoyable to watch. It emphasizes the tragedy ’cause you really feel bad when these people get killed. I don’t know what to compare it to, really, but you can say Shaun of the Dead because it’s a little spoofy but it has so much heart.
RR: What’s was the difference for you between directing a short film and a picture of this scale?
AG: When you only have four hundred dollars for a budget you find yourself saying, if I only had four hundred thousand. Then when you get that kind’ve money for a film, you’re still staying, if I only had more money! It doesn’t matter what the budget it, you’re always gonna say it. The biggest problem with this film was that you only had twenty-five days to shoot it. Ninety-five percent of it takes place at night. It’s only dark from eight-thirty to five in the morning. You don’t have the option to shoot sixteen hour days. Plus we had stead cam shots, rain towers, we’re shooting on boats. It’s a big Hollywood film being shot in an independent style. We really wanted this to look like a big budget movie.
RR: I hear you had some trouble with the wildlife…
AG: There was a fox that lived in the woods where Victor Crowley’s shed was set up. And it’s got all kinds of decomposing horrible things in it. We kept losing hero props because this fox would sneak in and steal them and take them into the woods. There’s one scene where we’ve established this dead, gutted squirrel hanging by its intestines. Next thing we know, the fox has it and its gone and we had to figure out how to address its absence. The fox really kept screwing with us. Plus we were shooting in Southern California in the spring and happened to go through these torrential rain storms. We could all feel it coming and there’s this one scene where I had Robert Englund ad-lib this line where he says, ‘Smells like rain.’ Right after that it started to storm and it wasn’t scripted! Nobody was prepared for it. We were all wearing plastic bags, lights were exploding, it was a really tough night.
RR: Eating leftovers and going through the tough times, was it finally worth it to make a feature film? To go through the struggles?
AG: Yeah, of course. I was lucky because I waited until I was twenty-five to move out here, until I had short films, had agency contacts and a feature under my belt and I think that helped because I already had a clear vision of what I wanted to do and who I was. In an industry where you’re constantly being put down or passing on your stuff – and it happens to everybody – it’s really hard to deal. As much as I hate to use the word, I guess technically if you’re doing this you’re an artist of some sort, I think I’m just a dude who makes movies, and you’re putting yourself out there for people to criticize and make comments about. So I’m still very new to this and I’m learning a lot of lessons about it.
RR: Do you have any concern over the parallels that will no doubt be drawn between Hatchet and Dimension Films’ Venom?
AG: Luckily I think we were well into casting when we first heard about that. It’s a little sad because I thought about Hatchet when I was eight and this movie is gonna come out first and people are gonna say, ‘Oh, Hatchet is a rip-off.’ People forget these movies take years to get made. The only thing that worries me is that it’s a studio film. I’m not worried if its gonna be compared to this. But when you have an independent film like Hatchet you want every studio to need it. It’s just gonna be hard because it’s coming out around the time we’re finally ready to start talking with distributors and we already have some offers, but no one has really seen it. I don’t want to go to a place that wants it just because it’s a horror film ’cause it could be handled all wrong. I want it to fall into the hands of a place that really wants it and needs it.