Interview with GREEN ROOM Director, Jeremy Saulnier

Jeremy Saulnier hit the scene in 2007 with his set-on-Halloween comedy, Murder Party. In it, the lead character finds himself at a ‘Murder Party’, dressed in cardboard armor, trying his best to not be killed by the party’s hosts, who are dressed in sweet costumes like Pris from Blade Runner, and a Baseball Fury from The Warriors.

He then spent the large part of the next 6 years working as a cinematographer for independent films like, Septien, Putty HIll, You Hurt My Feelings, and I Used To Be Darker.

In 2013, he returned to the director’s chair with Blue Ruin, which took the revenge film genre, flipped it on its head by having its lead character be a normal guy who’s a bit inept when it comes to murder. It was beautiful, brutal, and shockingly for the genre… emotionally engaging! (Check it out on Netflix if you haven’t seen it!!)

Saulnier returns to TIFF this year with his latest film, Green Room, starring Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart, Alia Shawkat, and Anton Yelich. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Midnight Madness blog.

Midnight Madness Blog: I’m thrilled that there was only a 2 year gap between Blue Ruin and Green Room, instead of the six between Murder Party and Blue Ruin. How long did you have the idea of Green Room in mind, and what do you think are its main influences (either films or events in your life?

Jeremy Saulnier: Thank you. I’m quite thrilled myself! That was certainly the mission- ride the momentum of Blue Ruin and crank out another film before I was discovered to be a fraud! I learned that lesson with Murder Party (2007), which was well received by loyal genre fans but didn’t make so much as a blip on the industry radar. Green Room was an idea that had been gestating even before Blue Ruin, so I figured it should be next. I had been in the punk rock / hardcore scene in Washington D.C. in the early ‘90s, so I knew the world and was attracted to its aesthetic. I had also been in my share of cruddy-ass backstage green rooms and thought it would be a perfect setting for a punk rock siege film. My goal as a director was to ratchet up the tension and create a cinematic experience that would elicit a physical response. Sometimes my brain gets tired and I just want to go for an insane ride with the audience. Tonal references would include River's Edge, Straw Dogs, The Road Warrior and Assault on Precinct 13.

MMB: You’re also a cinematographer, and you shot your last film, Blue Ruin. What was behind your decision to not act as cinematographer again on Green Room, and what about Sean Porter made him the right for the material? His work on Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter and It Felt Like Love is great, and I’m stoked to see that he’s shooting the new Mike Mills film.

JS: Blue Ruin was engineered as a film I could both direct and shoot. It was a single protagonist’s journey, crafted in a methodical, nearly silent way. Me viewing the action through the camera lens was both a natural artistic expression and a cost saving practicality. I knew Green Room would be a different animal. It was my first union shoot, there was an ensemble cast that deserved my full attention and the production itself was a huge technical challenge. I never really thought about managing more than one department on that shitstorm! Sean Porter’s work on It Felt Like Love and Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter stood out to me not only because they were both superb visualizations, but because they were so very different. With that kind of diversity, I knew Sean was invested in story above all else and our styles would mesh seamlessly. Also, and this is a biggie, Sean is a kind and generous human with good intentions. 

MMB: From what I’ve heard, I gather that Green Room is pretty grisly, and maybe more intense than people might be expecting from a movie starring Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart, Alia Shawkat and Anton Yelich. Was your intention to make a really tough film from the start, and what was the casting process like, to be able to get such a great group of actors with such challenging material?

JS: Yes, this film was a face-melter from the start. I used intense gore not for gratuitous celebration (okay, except for that one scene…), but as a tool for intensifying the action, upping the stakes and exploring the shocking brutality that sometimes accompanies basic self-preservation. The only way to make it all resonate, to make it serve the story was to assemble the best actors I could. They were all fully invested in their characters, and that creates a wonderful environment in which the entire crew can do their best work. What makes the film ‘grisly’ is the not the prosthetic makeup effects or the blood pumps, but the grounded, emotional performances that bring an unbearable humanity to this nightmare. 

MMB: Were you able to attend any Midnight Madness screenings when you were at TIFF with Blue Ruin? If you were, what did you see, and what was your impression of the audience?
JS: This will be my first Midnight Madness screening! The audiences here are legendary. Green Room was a very difficult film to make, and I’m just now starting the celebration in Toronto-- it’s the world premiere of the finished film with an entirely new sound mix since it’s Cannes screening. It’s as if Green Room was carefully concocted in a laboratory for this very audience on this very night! Muhahahaha!

MMB: I know Green Room hasn’t even been released yet, but do you have an idea what your next film might be, or what you hope it will be?

JS: Not sure yet what the next film will be, but there’s a lot of exciting projects I’m circling. I hope that, whatever it is, it will be a step up in scale and an opportunity to make a shit ton of money – err, um- I mean, to challenge myself as a filmmaker and deliver something audiences will love.

MMB: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few questions for the Midnight Madness blog! I’m really excited to see Green Room on Thursday!

JS: Thank you! Our entire team is grateful to be here. It’s an honor to open Midnight Madness and I only hope the fans are happy. We’ve got some amazing guests coming tonight!

GREEN ROOM screens:
Thu, Sept 10th, 11:59 PM RYERSON
Fri, Sept 11th, 8:45 AM SCOTIABANK
Sat, Sept 12, 2:15 PM BLOOR HOT DOCS

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