WAMG Interview – Director Jennifer Lynch
Interview conducted by Tom Stockman November 5th, 2012
Director Jennifer Lynch’s new horror film CHAINED will be playing at 7pm at the Tivoli this Friday night as part of the St. Louis International Film Festival. Lynch, who will be in attendance, has lived through her own horror stories the past couple of decades since making her directorial debut in 1993 with BOXING HELENA. The dark comedy about a doctor who removes the limbs of his shapely neighbor and places her in a box on his dining-room table, was critically savaged, a financial flop, and led to a highly-publicized lawsuit involving its original star Kim Bassinger. Ms Lynch then went through a series of painful spinal surgeries, the result of being hit by a car when she was 19. It was fifteen years before she was able to mount another directorial outing with SURVEILLANCE (2008), a mind-bender about the quest for truth in a series of serial killing; HISSS (2010) about a snake woman; and the upcoming CHAINED (2012) about a serial killer and his young apprentice. Her next film, the thriller A FALL FROM GRACE, will be filmed in the St. Louis area in 2013. Her father David Lynch’s influence is evident in her work, especially her penchant for the lurid, but Jennifer Lynch has emerged as a skillful director with her own voice. She took the time this week to speak with WE ARE MOVIE GEEKS about her new projects and her upcoming weekend in St. Louis as a guest at the St. Louis International Film Festival.
We Are Movie Geeks: You’ll be bringing your film CHAINED to the St. Louis International Film Festival this weekend. I have not seen CHAINED but I did see BOXING HELENA at the theater back when it was new.
Jennifer Lynch: You are probably the only guy. Very hardcore.
WAMG: I always liked it. There was a 15 year gap between BOXING HELENA and your next movie SURVEILLANCE.
JL: Yes, have you seen that?
WAMG: I have not.
JL: Oh, you gotta see that. It’s on Netflix.
WAMG: I will. What were you doing during those 15 years?
JL: I was having spinal surgery and raising a daughter as a single mother. I was doing a lot of writing and when I decided to have a baby I decided the best thing I could do is make sure she felt welcome because I had no partner. Then there was the BOXING HELENA debacle. In my opinion I made a very funny, interesting fairy tale. What everyone else said I’d done was become the world’s greatest misogynist. The aftermath of that was upsetting so I spent the next 15 years finding my voice again and doing what I felt was not real work but different work. Then I realized that what I really wanted to do was to continue to tell stories and when my daughter was old enough, I did that as soon as I could.
WAMG: You referred to BOXING HELENA as a debacle. As a filmmaker, does it matter to you how the critics might receive a film while you’re making the film?
JL: While I’m making the film, I can’t think about that. While I’m making a film I’m thinking about telling a story. But afterwards, I’d be lying if I said I don’t care. You can’t please everyone but wouldn’t it be great if they all dug it? The beauty of SURVEILLANCE was that people actually saw the film that I set out to make. I was very proud of it and it was very well received. That felt good. Not everybody liked it but everyone saw the film that I made.
WAMG: Let’s talk about CHAINED. It’s based on someone else’s screenplay. How did it come to your attention?
JL: I was sent the script through two producers who told me good things about it. When I got it, I though it was a great idea, but where the idea went was a little too much for me. For lack of a better word, it felt more like “torture porn” than a thriller, which is more my bag. So I told the producers that I liked the idea of the script, it was very well-written, and I asked them why they thought of me and they said it’s because I do violent things. And I don’t! SURVEILLANCE had violence in it but it was a totally different thing. They asked what I wanted to do with it. To me, it’s not interesting to just kill a bunch of people. What’s fascinating to me is why people kill and I like this idea that day-to-day this man and this little boy are living together. I mean, what’s that all about? I love “The Human Monster’, those are the real scary stories.
WAMG: Do you know where the idea for CHAINED came from? Was it based on a true story?
JL: It was not based on a true story. It was based on an idea that writer Damien O’Donnel had about a serial killer. I’m more tickled by things that are universal and can scare me. If you can scare me in broad daylight, then you’ve won. If I’m sitting in a theater and I look at everyone around me and think “what’s their damage. What’s dangerous about them?, that’s what’s fun for me and that’s what I try to create.
WAMG: How long did it take to get CHAINED made and where was it filmed?
JL: It was filmed in the same city where SURVEILLANCE was filmed, Regina Saskatchewan. They call it “Regina, the town that rhymes with fun!”. It was shot very fast, less than 15 days and it was shot for less than $800,000.
WAMG: Are these dark stories like CHAINED, the type of films that what you like yourself?
JL: I like things that are different from my life. Because that’s where my curiosities are. The same way with my next film A FALL FROM GRACE, I think it’s an interesting way to create a dialog about child abuse and what we’re ultimately doing to each other and how we have no business acting surprised when kids who get the crap beaten out of them turn out to be terrible people. It’s not that I don’t love romantic comedies, or comedies at all, I have comedy planned after A FALL FROM GRACE, but what interest me are things that scare me, that I’m not sure how I’ll accomplish and are different than my own life which is very happy and laughter-filled and not as dark as one would think.
Vincent D’Onofrio in Jennifer Lynch’s CHAINED
WAMG: I hear that you had some dealings with the MPAA concerning CHAINED. Can you talk about that?
JL: I did. They gave me an NC-17. There is a process you can go through, you pay a sum of money and you can go through arbitration where upon the group screens the film again and afterwards there’s kind of a boardroom, or courtroom where you plead your case and they plead theirs.
WAMG: Were you there for all of this?
JL: Oh yes, I was there. It was really important to me because after seeing films like SAW and HOSTEL and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, there was no way they were going to get me to believe my film was as violent as those. And they concede. They said that it’s not that you can see the violence, it’s just that it felt too real. What was painful to me about that was that they punished me for making an authentic movie. I guarantee that if Brad Pitt had played the killer, it would have received an R, but Vincent D’Onofrio did such a great job of being real and believable that you lose sight of him being an actor and you just see this character. And I’m proud that it is unseen violence that is frightening because that’s what I was focusing on. So I lost that arbitration, which was sad. I did receive several votes for overturning it but there weren’t enough.
WAMG: Was cutting it down to an R an option?
JL: That’s what I did. There’s an R version, which swallowed up all of my budget for a director’s cut. All I changed was a small amount of blood in one scene. Because the film was already finished, that required going into a flame room at several hundred dollars an hour and painting it out bit by bit. When I showed the film at a festival, no one could believe that’s what they made me change. In SURVEILLANCE I dealt with violence in ales authentic manner. In CHAINED I wanted the violence to feel terrible because that’s the situation and I many a specific decision to make it feel bad. It’s not funny or sexy. A child is involved and it’s horrible. I wanted to play with the senses because it’s mainly what the child hears and what he sees, and that scared me and it scared the MPAA who said we made a great, effective film but children should never see it.
WAMG: Did your father (director David Lynch) see CHAINED and what did he think of it?
JL: Yes, he did and he said “That is a dark picture”.
WAMG: That’s saying a lot coming from him.
JL: He doesn’t get that people think he’s dark so I don’t know what he and I are doing but apparently we’re not as self-aware as we should be. I didn’t think the MPAA was going to have a hard time with this and I thought it would get an R because of what I’d seen everybody else getting. I’m not cheering violence. I’m not saying it’s cool or that this killer is a good guy. For me, if cinema isn’t once in a while a really great proponent of change, then what’s the point?
WAMG: How old were you when your father made ERASERHEAD?
JL: I was 2 when started and he finished when I was 7.
WAMG: Did you see that movie when you were 7?
JL: Oh yeah, I lived on the set. His favorite quote of mine is when we left the theater after seeing it and I said “Dad, that is definitely not a movie for kids!”
WAMG: Do you ever ask him for filmmaking advice?
JL: I think I did early on I did, but his advice was always the same: have a great time but use common sense. I’m a big believer that I’m not doing anything magical. I’m just telling the story the way I see it. It’s the same way you would recount your day or an event to a friend. Tell it as it happens and as you remember.
WAMG: Let’s talks a bit about A FALL FROM GRACE, your next project which you’re filming here in St. Louis, correct?
JL: I sure am. I love it there. The original script which Eric Wilkinson had written, was 90 percent a different story. He had brought it to me three times and I politely declined. I he kept saying that I should direct this. I told him that I love the places he was telling me about but I felt like I had seen this movie. I was asked what I would do with it and I had some ideas about what I would do with it. I wanted to give a voice to things going on with children. Because I love The Human Wound and to me there’s not a lot sexier in this world than a damaged man so I sort of put all those things together. I flew to St. Louis and fell in love with the old Chain of Rocks bridge. Fell in love with the old ghost parts of the city and the newborn parts of the city. Around every corner there seemed to be something new and I just can’t believe the landscape and I thought “This is it !”. The story was really born from that visit. So we banged out a script that still include the idea of a serial killer and police but this is more one detective’s plight and the thought that he may not solve this is eating him away. Tim Roth is just gonna knock it out of the park. I’m so grateful and flattered about how excited he is about this role.
WAMG: There was a famous double murder on the Chain of Rocks Bridge about twenty years ago you may have heard about.
JL: Yes, I think that’s what ultimately inspired Eric’s original draft. Perhaps not that incident in detail but the fact that something creepy had taken place there. I know that’s a story that’s very sensitive for the family and I think Eric’s investigating that if he can get the family’s permission but he doesn’t want to do anything that would hurt them so I think he’s being cautious about that. For me, the beauty of that bridge is that there is still something unsolved there. It is not just a walking bridge. It’s got this “once was” feeling about it. Just the shape of it, that crazy bend, the way it goes over land and water, I just can’t get enough of it.
WAMG: When will you be filming?
JL: I hope to be prepping late February and March and shooting in April and May.
WAMG: And you’ve spent some time hearing scouting locales?
JL: Oh yeah, I’ve been scouting the hell out of that place. I love it there. I’ve been there five or six times since this process started and I just adore it.
WAMG: You’ll be showing CHAINED this Friday night at 7pm at the Tivoli theater as part of the St. Louis International Film Festival and you’ll also being doing a seminar where you’ll be discussing A FALL FROM GRACE also at the Tivoli and that is Saturday morning at 11am.
JL: That’s right and a short I directed is also playing in one of the shorts programs. I short called HOW TO HAVE A HAPPY MARRIAGE. Also we’re screening the teaser trailer I shot in St. Louis for A FALL FROM GRACE. We shot it under four days and Bill Pullman does the voice-over.
WAMG: How old is your daughter now?
JL: She’s 17 which is amazing because I myself look 17 (laughs).
WAMG: You’ll have a great time in St. Louis this weekend.
JL: I’m super-excited.
WAMG: Good luck with CHAINED and A FALL FROM GRACE
JL: Thank you.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch film critic Joe Williams leads a discussion on the A FALL FROM GRACE project and its development with SLIFF guest Jennifer Lynch, screenwriter/actor Eric Wilkinson (a former St. Louisan), and producer David Michaels. The program includes a pair of shorts by the filmmakers: Lynch’s “How to Have a Happy Marriage” (part of the compilation film “Girls! Girls! Girls!”) and Michaels’ “Chinatown.” Free coffee and pastries are provided by Kaldi’s Coffeehouse. This event is free and takes place Saturday morning, November 10th at 11am at the Tivoli Theater