6 Questions with ELI ROTH
Midnight Madness Alum, THE GREEN INFERNO director, and all around great guy Eli Roth was gracious enough to answer a few questions ahead of his world premiere (Saturday Septemember 7, 11:59 PM Ryerson Theater). Does anything scare him? What was it like working with Ti West? What's his secret to getting into Midnight Madness? Find out below!
Midnight Madness Blog: Was it difficult getting back in the director’s chair after spending the last few years writing, producing, acting, etc.? Has your approach to directing changed after having worked in so many other aspects of the business?
Eli Roth: I was very ready to get back in the director's chair, or in this case, lack of chair because of where we were shooting. I was ready to direct. After making both "Hostel" films back to back I was burned out creatively. Making a film is a battle on many levels. Even when things are going well, which is rare, the amount of energy you spend if you really care about your film is exhausting. Every waking hour is spent on the film, from the writing, to the casting, to the design, to all the prep, the rehearsals, the shooting, editing, sound design, music - right through the publicity, I'm obsessive about all of it. Several amazing opportunities came my way, like playing The Bear Jew, and I wanted to dive in and challenge myself doing something that was outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to learn everything I could about how Quentin directed, which I knew would be lessons that I would take onto my next set as a director. I directed the pilot of "Hemlock Grove," which was a good way to get back into shape, because it was television and the first thing I've directed that I did not write. By the time I started THE GREEN INFERNO,I was starving to direct another feature, which is how you have to be. It was actually much easier in many ways to direct at age 40 versus age 30 because I knew how to anticipate problems and deal with them in a much more calm way. Before everything seemed so life-or-death, and even when we were filming in dangerous parts of the amazon where people actually could get killed, I was able to handle it calmly and keep everyone focused and we all got out with minor cuts and bruises. I took many lessons I learned as an actor from Quentin, as well as having produced films that shot in Iceland, Louisiana, Chile, and China. I've shot all over the globe, and it all prepared me for this shoot, which could have gone very wrong at many points. One of the best lessons I learned from Quentin was to throw away the monitor. Quentin said that's how directors get out of touch - they get too comfortable in the chair. Their films become lazy, and they make "old man movies" because they're too cushy to get up and walk over to the actors to direct them. It's much easier to sit around, it's hard to be on your feet. That's what I wanted to do, I wanted to operate a 3rd or 4th camera, I wanted to make a film that felt dangerous to make. Something that was filmed in an area so remote you know that few other people would be crazy enough to go there. I wanted to push the cast to new extremes. And very early on we ditched the monitor. I trusted my D.P. Antonio and operator Chechu to get the shots, and we just kept filming and filming. They knew what I wanted and 99% of the time we got it. Quentin has a strict rule of no cell phones on set, and I brought that to my set as well. Fortunately we were in a remote area of the Peruvian amazon with no electricity let alone cell reception so that was not an issue, but it just felt like pure filmmaking. We shot and shot and shot and shot and got the most spectacular footage I've ever photographed. Forget the directing chair - we didn't even have toilets.
MMB If what’s reported on the internet is true, you used Amazonian villagers who’d never seen a film before as part of your cast. What was it like directing them? Did you ever reach a point in shooting where you were out in the middle of nowhere and said to yourself: "Damnit! I’m Eli Roth! Screw this, we’re packing it up and shooting this all on green screen in LA!"
ER Ha ha, no, the whole point was to go and have an adventure unlike any other. I wanted a film that looked and felt so authentic that people really believed we went to the end of the earth, so to capture that we had to do it. I wanted to do something that would have been undoable in America on a normal studio production because no one would be crazy enough to insure it. I went in a boat up the amazon for hours until we saw grass huts just beyond the river bank. I saw a girl in the river washing clothes. We pulled up in the boat and they looked at me like I was the first white person they'd ever seen. A woman came out of a straw hut with a baby on her hip. Our co-producer Gustavo Sanchez, who is Peruvian, talked to her for a bit, and they were very nice and let us walk around and take pictures. I asked Gustavo if he thought we could film here, and he said that the first step would be explaining to them what a movie was. The village was so remote that most people had never left. They're a farming community of 300 people, and they mostly sell their vegetables to neighboring villages. Boats come by with supplies, but they all basically live in straw huts with dirt floors and sleep in hammocks. The teens go to school in the nearest town, which is 90 minutes away by boat, and stay in town in the one room school house during the week. They were familiar with pop culture, but most of them had never seen a television or electricity. Gustavo later went back with a generator and TV and showed the village "Cannibal Holocaust." The entire village. Everyone, even the kids. I was shocked. I thought they'd show "E.T." or "Wizard of Oz". Nope. Cannibal Holocaust. They wanted to make sure the village would be okay with whatever we filmed. Luckily, the villagers thought it was a comedy. The whole village signed up to play cannibals after that, and we offered to pay them what was something like twenty times what they'd make in a day or a week. They appreciated that but it's too difficult for most of them to get anywhere to spend the money, so in addition to the cash we put metal roofs on all the houses. They said that it was toughest during the rainy season, and all they want are roofs, so we did that for them. We employed most of the village, and the kids all had fun dragging around body parts and helping put fake heads on spikes. It was surreal, the behind the scenes is nuts. The stories are endless. The first day of shooting they whole village gathered around the cooler and was fascinated by the ice cubes inside. They had never seen ice. As far as acting goes, they were brilliant. I cast the girl I first saw washing clothes, Tati, as one of the main girls, and her performance is incredible. These kids have zero awareness of the camera. They are so natural, and so real, and are absolutely fearless because they have no concept of seeing themselves on film. In addition to building a kitchen for the school and giving them MP3 and CD players (that they could recharge in the town when they needed to), we gave them digital cameras. The kids loved that, within a week they were all doing selfies with iphones and taking ipad videos. The kids got really into it, they all wanted to do the slate, so we let them take turns clapping the sticks and yelling action. The villagers liked our production designer Marichi so much they offered her a baby. She was like "uh, thank you, I'm very touched, but I don't really want one." That was the nicest gift they could offer. We were in that village for weeks, we bonded with everyone. They came up to me one morning with a python. They said "Do you want this?" They had caught it in case I wanted to use it in the film. I hadn't asked for it, but once we had it, I said sure, and we dropped it on an actor's face. If you freeze frame the scene you can see the python's mouth wide open, ready to bite. She was literally an inch from getting bit from a python. That was the kind of stuff that happened. It was insane. We had bulls and tarantulas walking through shots. Wild horses, pigs. The animals live free in the village, and they got used to us and quickly learned that we had the food so they were always around. If you wanted pigs in a shot you just rolled the camera and threw down some bananas and suddenly they were all there happily munching away. It was wild. It was grueling, and I don't know if I could ever do it again knowing what it actually entails, but it was also the most incredible experience of my life.
MMB All of your films have at least one “He did not just go there” scene. The shaving scene in Cabin Fever and the end of Hostel Part II immediately come to mind. Without giving too much away, what can we expect in THE GREEN INFERNO?
ER Well, part of the fun is playing with those very expectations, so I don't want to give too much away. I know once the film screens spoilers will be all over the internet, but for me the haunted house is never as scary once you know what's inside. You can only be truly terrified by a film on that first viewing, so I'd ask that people not read too much. All I will say is that I know what fans are going in for and I'm going to be scaring and provoking them in ways they never expected. It's a wild ride.
MMB This is the third film you’ve directed that made it into Midnight Madness. What advice would you have for director’s who want to be the Eli Roth of the next generation?
ER All I can say is be true to yourself and to what you love. My parents always told me to make movies that I'd want to see, and the biggest trap I've seen directors fall into is when they try to be other directors. You'll never be that person, they're the original. You can follow in the tradition of those you admire, but be your own original.
MMB You did a documentary a few years ago called “How Evil Are You” that indicated the empathetic parts of your brain “turned off” when exposed to horrific images. Does anything scare you?
ER That episode of 'Curiosity' that I did with Discovery Channel was disturbing indeed. It's on iTunes and youtube if you haven't seen it, but I was amazed at not only how people shocked other people to the point where they didn't respond, but how immediately after they changed their story about how they didn't want to do it, and how they fought against it. I saw it right before my own eyes, people willingly flipping a switch to shock another person, and then after saying "I didn't want to do it, the whole time I was saying I'm not going to do this..." Stuff they never said. That really terrified me, people will justify or believe whatever best suits their own conscience. Right now the idea that every text you send and every email is being spied on is pretty scary. All that conspiracy theory is real. People being locked up under suspicion of terrorism, all in the name of freedom, all of that terrifies me. Even typing this, you feel like someone's watching you, putting you on some list...
MMB How did you get involved on Ti West's THE SACRAMENT? What attracted you to the project?
ER Ti's one of my favorite filmmakers, and he brought me and Eric Newman this idea. I called up Worldview, who was financing THE GREEN INFERNO , and they jumped in blindly with no script and committed to doing it. So long as Ti kept the script in a certain budget range, we gave him total freedom. What I could offer Ti was protection, which thankfully he didn't need because Worldview trusted us. Basically we make a deal where I have final cut, but I give that final cut to Ti because I trust him. I didn't want it to look or feel like one of my films, but I was happy to be in a position to use my muscle to give him the resources to do what he does best and let him run wild with it. Ti didn't necessarily want to make a horror movie, it's more of a dark psychological thriller/drama and I'm not just saying that, it really is, but it explores many fascinating themes of abuse and power and how smart people with good intentions become brainwashed into doing terrible things. I'm very, very proud of the film. I was there to be a creative sound board for Ti and to help him in script development and editing when he needed a fresh set of eyes, but the nice thing about working with Ti is he and his team have everything so tight that you can really just sit back and watch them do their thing. I'm really excited to see it with the Toronto crowd.
THE GREEN INFERNO Screening Times:
Saturday, Sept 7th, 11:59 PM RYERSON
Monday, Sept 9th, 1:30 PM SCOTIABANK 13
THE SACRAMENT Screening Times:
Sunday, Sept 8th, 5:15 PM THE BLOOR HOT DOCS CINEMA
Tuesday, Sept 10th, 9:45 PM SCOTIABANK 7
Friday, Sept 13th, 8:45 PM SCOTIABANK 3