Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with my long in the works chat with Richard Kelly, writer, director and all around wunderkind. I was originally supposed to meet up with him at the San Diego Comic Con where he conducted a panel about his director's cut of DONNIE DARKO, but he was mobbed and attacked by his legion of women fans who kept chanting "Young... hot... so hot... so young..." and forcing him to sign their cooters. I'm serious! I have photographic evidence that I presented in my Comic-Con coverage... but I will show you if you really want proof that I'm not just having a laugh. Behold, the great cooter signing!
Anyway, Kelly and I ended up meeting up in Austin when he hosted a screening of DONNIE DARKO: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT and did a little press meet. I got 20 minutes to sit down with him, where he decided to just get everything that was on his mind off his chest. As you'll read below, I talk very little at the beginning and he apologizes profusely for "hijacking" the interview. I think it's great, myself, but he felt bad about it, so we ended up finishing this interview via email.
He spends a lot of time talking about the kind of responses he gets from both fans and non-fans, his future, his past... wait 'til you get the part where he sings the Gummy Bears theme song... and everything in between. I find it particularly fascinating that he's testing the fences to see about his potential involvement in a film or cable TV adaptation of Stephen King's DARK TOWER series, which is a passion I share. I have been very vocal about King's ultimate series on the site and if it's going to be adapted I want it in good hands. Anyway, tons of stuff below. Enjoy, squirts!
QUINT: I know Lucas is trying to wipe out the original cuts of the original STAR WARS trilogy with his Special Editions. Supposedly he's taken out the original negative and now the only negatives are the Special Editions. Did you go back to the original negative to make the director's cut of DONNIE DARKO?
RICHARD KELLY: We didn't ever want to go back to the original negative for the Director's Cut because we wanted to respect the original negative and not alter it, so what happened is we went to the D5 master, which was basically what exists on a hard drive for the DVD for the Theatrical Cut. We basically brought in the new materials, completed the film in a digital environment and reconstituted the film in a digital environment, then up-resed it in the D5. So, it's a pretty solid print. It's not as pristine as an original negative print, but it's ultimately the best we could do for the money that we had. We didn't have the money to go in and scan the original negative and do a true, digital intermediate because I only had a certain amount of money and I wanted to put a lot into the new sound design, which I was always kind of dissatisfied with. But I get the print a solid B+. It's a little soft, but at the same time... just to be able to see it on the big screen... Yeah... I don't want to get into too many technical stuff that Ain't It Cool readers might not be interested in hearing!
QUINT: Has the response been pretty good to the new cut so far?
RICHARD KELLY: Yeah, yeah. I think you definitely get some people who keep coming back at me, like, "How dare you change Echo & the Bunnymen at the beginning!" I'm like, "First of all, just relax! The theatrical cut isn't going anywhere." This version is much closer to what the Sundance cut was and always opened with INXS. To me, Echo & the Bunnymen is probably the most important song in the film. To me, I wanted the most important song in the film to appear at the climax of the film, the party. For it to be a part of the emotional climax of the film at the party after he's just gotten laid for the first time and the film is coming to the biggest musical moment in the film. That's where I wanted Echo & The Bunnymen. It's almost like I'd never want to use the best song, to me, of the film at the opening.
I love INXS' Never Tear Us Apart. It has a more kind of ethereal, dreamlike... slightly sarcastic quality that I wanted to open the film with... the way the family is kind of sassing each other, you know, with the leaf blower, the way the lyrics tie into two worlds collide... if we could live for a thousand years... we all have wings, some of us don't know why... All the lyrics were designed in shot. I was playing it on the set to orchestrate the camera to that. So I wanted to restore it to the way it was in the Sundance cut so audiences could see what my original intentions were and then get to experience Echo & the Bunnymen at the big climactic moment. It's almost like, not to be too crude... It's Ain't It Cool, so what the hell? (laughs)... But it's like Echo & the Bunnymen was the cum-shot song in the film to me and you don't want to put that at the opening.
Some people get immediately out of whack when they don't hear Echo at the beginning, but I'm just like, "Be open minded and give this alternate version a chance and just know that your theatrical cut hasn't been shipped off to the refinery and burned."
QUINT: That seems to be the biggest worry from fans of new cuts or new editions, that they won't get access to the versions they fell in love with.
RICHARD KELLY: That does seem to be the biggest thing, but also I think, overall, there are a lot of people who are really excited by it and I think the original intention, the origin of the story was always that of a comic book. The name Donnie Darko was, for me... I was inventing this comic book archetype character. It was like... Middlesex. To me that seems like a comic book suburb. The names that I chose: Gretchen Ross, to me that sounds like Lois Lane in a strange way. Kitty Farmer, Jim Cunningham, Cherita Chen... I was trying to create characters that had, like, a comic book alliteration to them. When photographing the movie, we were trying to photograph it in the style of a comic book and the director's the cut bring a lot more of that material to the surface.
Getting the restriction of a 2 hour running time... You know, we started editing the film immediately when principle photography had wrapped. I was frustrated because I hadn't completed the time travel book, 'cause I knew that was the final piece of the screenplay... I had written all these pages. When my rough cut came in at 2 1/2 hours, I realized I was never going to get this time travel book in there. I was just going to have to tease the audience with it and maybe I could put it on the website and it could be a kind of appendix to the film. But it was always frustrating that I couldn't get it inside the text of the film itself because I always knew that this movie... Really, for me, there are two interpretations of this movie. It's either all a dream in the moment of his death, or he really does enter into some sort of alternate dimension.
That alternate dimension I always wanted to have a pretty thorough mythology, like a science fiction/comic book mythology. I think in the theatrical cut, especially after Sundance and having to pull even more time out of the film, a lot of that got sort of buried. Buried either on the website or just kinda lost along the way. I think the film took on a more esoteric structure, which is valid and great and I think the theatrical cut works beautifully, but I always felt like there was a longer version of this film to be assembled that more adhered to a logical mythology that I tried to put together that is more inspired by me going and reading Carl Sagan and Philip K. Dick and all these great science fiction writers.
I wanted to kind of throw my, like, little senior thesis ideas out there for people who really like science fiction and comic books to really get into and analyze the idea of what would happen if somebody broke the space time continuum? Maybe this community and this teenager and this community around him were all of a sudden put into this situation where there's some real supernatural events taking place. The idea of Donnie saying to Gretchen when she says, "That name sounds like a super hero" and he says, "What makes you think I'm not?" He ain't lyin'! How do you think that ax got imbedded in that bronze head of the school mascot and how did the school really get that flooded in such an unusual way and how did he start that fire so quickly and so accurately? How did he break in to Jim Cunningham's (house)? There are all these plot holes that are sort of justified or warranted by a sort of super hero dynamic.
Another misconception that audiences have always had about the film, based on the theatrical cut, that has always frustrated me was (1) The Rabbit is evil, when in fact that was never the intention. It has a face that presents itself as being evil, but ultimately, when the mask comes off, that's not the intention at all. He has to deliver some unfortunate news. Some gnarly shit has to go down to get this jet engine realigned. And then (2) That Donnie is crazy. He's not crazy at all. He's been exposed to all this insane visual and aural stimulation... Um... Audio stimulation, not "oral." I know you guys! Any chance you get... (Laughs) "Gretchen's blowin' him!" (Laughs) No...
But he's reacting like any normal person would. He's really experiences all this phenomenon. And (3) is that the pills... he's not taking any medication that's real. It's water pills. I mean, the Katharine Ross character is like... Does Batman have a psychiatrist? Who's a comic book character who acts as the therapist? Alfred? Like Alfred is to Batman. That's what Dr. Thurman, Katharine Ross's character, is to Donnie. He's kinda confessing everything to her and she's like the older, mentor character. She realizes that this kid is not mentally ill. She kinda has to tell the parents "Schizophrenia." She's kinda forced into a situation where she has to deceive the parents, but she's not gonna give this little super hero kid a bunch of medication. She's gonna give him just water pills and not mess with it. Katharine was really devastated when that subplot got deleted from the film because that's the reason why she did it.
To be able to restore those elements that were thematically very important to me and while there are some people who want this film to be about their grandmother's hysterectomy or they want Gretchen to be a reincarnation of Rose in her youth, or they want Cherita Chen to be a spy for the Chinese government or something. It's like, "Great... But that wasn't my original intention and if the theatrical cut helps you hold on to those things, great... But my intentions were always much more clear than the theatrical cut let on." I just wanted to be able to have my final two cents on this story being that I feel like I know this story probably better than anyone and being able to put it to bed... So... I think you've only been able to ask me two questions so far! (laughs) Just insert some questions in there to make it not look like... or don't print any of it!
QUINT: People looking at this want to hear what you have to say, not me...
RICHARD KELLY: Well, another thing I want to talk about is that the whole film comes down to the idea in the new visual effects imagery is meant to support the literary device of Deus Ex Machina. When I read WATERSHIP DOWN as a kid it had a huge impact on me and it was a reference I wanted to put in the film, into the restored subplot with Drew Barrymore's character. Ernie Jordan, my 7th Grade English teacher taught us that book so passionately... You're in 7th Grade and it's just, like... "Wow!" For a lot of people it's the first book, first big book that they ever read, you know. One of the last chapters in that book is called Deus Ex Machina. In literary terms it's God of the Machine or God in the Machine. To me, it's this fascinating concept that I was always obsessed with.
When I was writing this script I was thinking of... When Donnie says, "I have the power to build a time machine" in the therapists office you see at the end. What's a better metaphor for God In the Machine than a time machine? Arguably that's beating God. You're beating him at his own game. So, to me, I always wanted there to be a sort of comic book conceptual imagery supporting the idea of the God Machine, whether it's just Donnie's dream interpretation of that construct... whether it's literal or figurative it doesn't really matter, ultimately, but I wanted that idea to come to full fruition because that's sort of what the film is sort of building up to. It's all sort of senior thesis stuff, but this movie is me getting all my senior thesis bullshit out of my system before I can move on an make a bunch of fun comedy movies. (laughs)
QUINT: Well, at the same time you add in lines and elements of humor to keep it from being totally pretentious... It's those lines that friends quote each other... like "What's feces?" "Baby mice." "Awww."
RICHARD KELLY: (Laughs) Well, I mean... at the same time you run the risk of becoming a real pretentious ass if you're going to go in and try to investigate all these big ideas. You might as well try to be as funny as possible while you're doing it and entertain people. At the same time, this movie is just what I remember from growing up... trying to recreate the '80s. I didn't experience the '80s in a Brett Easton Ellis way where you're doing lines in a club. I don't remember that. I remember being in the suburbs with shoulder pads and Opi shirts... Very innocent and tranquil.
QUINT: Playing with your Ninja Turtles and your He-man...
RICHARD KELLY: Yeah! (laughs) You know, the Smurfs, the Snorks, Gummy Bears... Bouncing here and there and everywhere... High adventures beyond compare! Don't get me started. I'll sing the whole damn song. So, we tried to do a recreation of that version of the '80s and to me that was really cool. I think that some people maybe remember the nostalgia of that time and they can laugh at a line about Hungry Hungry Hippos and then if they want to get into a little Stephen Hawking debate afterwards after they smoke the joint, by all means. Go for it!
Here is the point where we had to break off the in person interview. What follows below is the email follow up. I'm very curious what he means by his Dirty Joke... Could be wild if you think about it. Still damn curious as to what exactly a Richard Kelly Dark Tower series would look like... or a Richard Kelly adaptation of IT for that matter... And yes, I realize that Drew Barrymore is so happily and sickeningly in love with her current boyfriend, and I'm happy for her and wish them both well... but since I have been madly in love with her since I was a wee child (with both ET and, oddly, Disneyland's 30th Birthday Celebration TV special which she hosted) I just had to ask...
QUINT: So, now that you've spent a little time in my company and maybe feel that you have an accurate gauge on my personality by combining how I acted in person and on the website, do you think I can ever woo Drew Barrymore?
RICHARD KELLY: I believe she's taken... but anything is possible, dude.
QUINT: What if I dropped a few pounds?
RICHARD KELLY: Don't ever lose weight to impress a girl. Do it for yourself. (I stole that from Dr. Phil).
QUINT: So, knowing that you're a Stephen King fan (great cameo of IT in the movie, btw) did you ever grill my Drew about being the firestarter?
RICHARD KELLY: We actually had a conversation about it. I think we were talking about Heather Locklear. Didn't she play Drew's mom? I love the old school optical fire-bomb effects in that movie. Images in that film actually disturbed me as a kid quite a bit. I don't like watching people being burned. That episode of the Sopranos when Tony's mistress caught on fire really bothered me, for instance. It's funny to remember the images of movie violence that really disturbed you as a child. For me it was stuff like Firestarter and then some of the violence in the Chuck Norris Invasion USA movies. I remember this really awful scene where they smashed a coke pipe up this Asian hooker's nose and threw her over the balcony like a rag doll. Just awful... awful... Reagan era exploitation stuff. Maybe it's just gnarly violence against women that bothers me. I'm not against violence in movies... I don't think it promotes actual violence in the real world... but I wouldn't be rushing to show my future kid Invasion USA anytime soon. "I want my future grandchild to know that Asian hookers deserve to be treated with respect when they are doing blow." Imagine if I was running the TelePrompter at the RNC during Laura Bush's speech the other night and she said that! Wait... wasn't this question about Firestarter?
QUINT: What are some of your favorite King books and King Adaptations to film?
RICHARD KELLY: My favorite King book is The Long Walk. I am told that Stephen will never allow that to be produced into a film because of something tragic that happened after a stage production of Rage. I can see his point... as it would be tragic to see The Long Walk botched on screen. It is a truly devastating novel... a very emotional piece of satire, but with the coming-of-age pathos of The Body (the basis for Rob Reiner's Stand By Me). Some of the Richard Bachman novels are really personal to King. Really some of his greatest work, I think. To go back and read The Running Man after September 11th gives me chills. At the end of that book the hero flies a jet into the tower of the broadcast network.
QUINT: Are there any King books that you'd like to take a stab at?
RICHARD KELLY: I was in talks with a couple of cable networks about producing an epic miniseries of IT. I wanted to do a really psychological, scary, character based thing in the vein of Mystic River. But WB Television (who controls the property) decided to go and develop a 2 hour TV movie on the WB. Something about corporate synergy. I don't know how they are going to do justice to a 1200 page novel in 90 WB Network minutes. Oh well.
I would love to be involved with The Dark Tower. In an ideal world they would do it on HBO as a big mini-series. That could be the biggest mini-series ever. But it should only happen at HBO and treat each book like a film. No television medium close-up photography. Shoot The Gunslinger out in Utah with anamorphic lenses. Nowhere else... please God... not on network television.
QUINT: Now I gotta run through some of the projects we've heard of that you've been involved in since DONNIE DARKO... I'm just gonna list and you tell me what you can: I know you touched upon this at the Austin screening of DD, but people really want to hear about KNOWING.
RICHARD KELLY: Sadly... I don't know what is happening with that project. I hope it is made eventually... because it is such a great story. I don't know if they will ever come back to me since it didn't work out the last time. My take on the material is very "execution dependent" (as everything of mine is)... so I imagine if it is made with another director it would be something different. Maybe someone else could tell that story better than I could. I don't know.
RICHARD KELLY: Pre-production and casting is underway. Lots of announcements soon about that. We start shooting on October 4th. Wow... that is soon. It is just now hitting me that Tony Scott is directing one of my scripts. I'm so used to projects stalling and falling apart... it's like I don't let myself get excited until the cameras are actually rolling. I guess it's safe now for Richard to officially start getting excited about Domino. Can't wait to see Keira sink her teeth into this one. I've been working really close with Tony fine-tuning the script. Really inspiring to see his process. It's like getting in a dune-buggy and heading to Las Vegas with your rock-star uncle.
RICHARD KELLY: Fear her wrath. Summer 2007. Actually... I don't know... perhaps? It will most likely be the third or fourth film that I do. Of course... all of this depends on how my next film turns out.
QUINT: THE BOX (and I want all the lurid details about that perverted madman that calls himself Eli Roth)... How's the collaboration process?
RICHARD KELLY: Eli is working on the script. We just want to get it right before we go make it. Hopefully soon... depending on Eli's schedule and what he wants to focus on right now.
QUINT: SOUTHLAND TALES
RICHARD KELLY: If all goes well the whole thing will be locked and loaded just after labor day. There have been delays because of casting and budget... but most of those issues have been settled. I will say a few statements: Don't judge a book by it's cover. Get ready for some surprises. Keep an open mind. Trust me. I won't disappoint you. You have no idea. :)
QUINT: What's your favorite dirty joke?
RICHARD KELLY: Southland Tales.
There you have it, squirts. An interesting look into the mind of one of the most interesting young filmmakers out there. I, for one, can't wait to see what he's got up his sleeve for us in the future. That's it from me on this one... I have one amazingly random and unstructured interview that I did with Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright when they were in town for the big AICN SHAUN OF THE DEAD screening a week or so ago on the way as well as a private little tour of a very big effects studio to write about. So I'm trying to get those out before Monday, when I start my long trek back to the land of Garlic Mayo, Chocolate Fish and Middle Earth. I got some really fuckin' cool stuff lined up, squirts, so keep your eyes on the site!