Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another special AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. I had a chance to have a great talk with Lucky McKee, director of MAY, THE WOODS, and most recently THE WOMAN, which was just released on DVD last week. I interviewed Pollyanna McIntosh, the star of THE WOMAN, last week, and also reviewed the film a few months ago here. Let’s see what Mr. McKee has to say about his controversial, yet fantastic film, THE WOMAN!
AMBUSH BUG: Is this Mr. McKee?
LUCKY MCKEE: This is Mr. McKee.
BUG: Hi, this is Mark Miller with Ain’t It Cool News.
LM: How are you doing, man?
BUG: Good, good. How are you doing? Is this an okay time to talk?
LM: Yeah. I was expecting your call.
BUG: Great. I just wanted to say congratulations on THE WOMAN. I think it’s one of my favorite horror films of the year. Do you consider it a horror film?
LM: Yeah, I mean, you know, as much as any of my films are horror films I guess I can say it’s a horror film. (laughs)
BUG: It’s one of those films where I don’t want to put down horror, but I think it transcends the horror genre. Do you set out making films like that? Do you set out looking for a certain genre to make your films to fit into?
LM: No, I take my influences from all sorts of different stuff. I mean Ketchum and I…the main M.O. is character, you know? If there’s not interesting characters, it’s not worth telling the story. This has been established a previous film, in OFFSPRING, and two previous books, in OFF SEASON and OFFSPRING. So it was kind of set in that realm already--we just tried to do something a little bit different with it this time as opposed to rinse and repeat, you know?
BUG: So how did you first learn of Ketchum’s stuff? Have you known him for a very long time?
LM: My buddy Chris Silverston got wind of his books, because Stephen King had said a lot of nice things about him. This was, I think, back in 2002 or something like that. Chris had read the book RED and he read the book THE LOST and he was trying to get me to read these books and I happened to go in on a meeting with this company that just purchased the rights to RED and I was like “Hey, my buddy has been telling me to read that book.” So I checked it out that afternoon. I just got hooked and read about eight more of his books after that and ended up auctioning THE LOST for Chris when I was making THE WOODS and just kind of made friends from there. He really liked MAY a lot, so it was kind of an instant connection.
BUG: Great. What is it about his writing that attracted you to it?
LM: Well, the depth of character and his complete lack of fear to go into the darkest places of human behavior. He’s been studying the conscience and I tried to do that with my movie MAY where I just kind of wanted the audience to feel like “We don’t know what this person is going to do. We don’t know where this is going.” So I think I kind of related to that.
BUG: Sure. You have kind of made a name for yourself for taking a lot of risks and a lot of chances in your work. With MAY, was that a difficult movie to get people to see? Once people did see it, what was it like after people saw that amazing film?
LM: Well you know it wasn’t too difficult to get people to see, because we got it into Sundance. We were kind of a needle in a haystack just one of thousands of submissions and we lucked out and got in the midnight section and we showed that film that first night and I was really surprised how much everybody got into the dark sense of humor, how hooked the audience was and their reaction to it. I reacted to it that way and my friends reacted to it that way, but you never know what an audience is going to think of it, because it’s a pretty bizarre film, but yeah it was great. I mean, that was my first baby and it was a very personal story. It was really cool and it’s kind of grown over the years too, you know? It’s kind of neat that people still talk about that movie. It’s been ten years.
BUG: I actually just watched it with a friend just a couple of weeks ago, because she saw THE WOMAN and wanted to see more and I said, “You have to see MAY.” She loved it for being such a twisted little love story that it is.
LM: (Laughs) Oh cool. I’m glad.
BUG: Going on from MAY, you worked with Angela Bettis a couple of more times after that. What’s that like working with her?
LM: When I first started out on MAY it wasn’t really auditioning so much or rehearsing so much as it was just talking--talking about what it meant and her trying to get to the bottom of why I put that stuff down on paper and creating her own interpretation. She’s just got such a gift. She is so talented on so many levels. Not only can she get there emotionally, but she can also keep herself in check on a technical level, which some actors are just talented at one thing or the other, but Angela has both in technical ability and the emotional ability of this ability to completely become another person. Actors like De Niro, you watch him in something like TAXI DRIVER or JACKIE BROWN where you can tell he was just a couple clicks behind everybody and you can see in his eyes that he can’t really figure out the world he’s in and then you watch him in something like GOODFELLAS and he’s just untouchable, just totally badass and in control. He’s the smartest motherfucker in the room. She has that ability. She has that ability just to be completely become another person like with her body and her eyes and everything. She’s quite the package. She’s a good person.
BUG: So moving into THE WOMAN and her role in that film. That’s some really difficult territory I think for any actress to jump into. Was Angela always the one that you had in mind for the wife?
LM: Yeah, I guess I wrote it for her. Angela is in almost everything I’ve made in some capacity. She’s just kind of my go to gal, and with this part I really can’t imagine anybody else playing it, because she’s basically the battered housewife and turns it into so much more without really saying a lot throughout the film.
BUG: No, it is through a lot of looks and subtle gestures that she’s doing through most of the film. I’m sorry to ping pong around here like this, but what was it like writing this story with Ketchum? The book and the film sort of came out right around the same time, is that correct?
LM: Yeah, they did. We just started to do both… It was sort of a situation where I did the heavy lifting on the screenwriting and Ketchum did the heavy lifting on the novel side. We kind of went back and fourth that way, but it was a really effortless process. We are really like-minded. When I would go too far, he would help slap my hand, and vice versa. We learned a lot about each other’s forms and in our own sort of small indie way we were kind of using the 2001 model how Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke came up with the story and just both did their own interpretations in the forms that they were most comfortable with. In that way, it’s Ketchum’s vision of our story and the movie is my version of our story, but still something that we came up with together. I got the best of both worlds.
BUG: Definitely. And in the book, there’s kind of an additional chapter there that kind of goes into what happens next and that wasn’t in the film. I haven’t read the book yet.
LM: Yeah, that was kind of an afterthought and our paperback publisher didn’t think the novel we had written was long enough, so they wanted us to write an additional short story or something to kind of tap out the length of the book, which was kind of silly. So we just thought of what could possibly happen next. Ketchum and I just kind of took the ball and played with it. THE COW is not something that I could ever see myself filming. It’s a separate story. I went about as dark as I could possibly go with THE WOMAN, but god…I don’t think I could do that.
BUG: That was my next question, if that would ever be any type of sequel or anything like that to THE WOMAN.
LM: We do think it would be cool to continue the story some day, but we kind of want to see how it plays for people for a little while. I definitely want to do something lighter, because like I said THE WOMAN is about as dark as I might ever go. If we do another story it’s got to be something that has that…the story’s got to be interesting. It’s got to be something that really takes that left turn like from OFFSPRING to THE WOMAN…there’s a very huge difference between those two stories and everything like that, so it’s got to be something that takes it to a different place. I don’t want to just do the same thing over and over again.
BUG: I haven’t read Ketchum’s novel, but I did see OFFSPRING and THE WOMAN and it seems thematically it was a major leap into some much more serious territory with THE WOMAN.
LM: Yeah, and just something different. I mean he’s done two books previously with that world and those characters, and they are good stories that are kind of loosely based on Masonic legend, which is what it was definitely inspired by, and it was just one of those types of 70’s style grind house things or just a bunch of this mad family just taking people down, and I thought that would be interesting to take who that character is and establish as a villain in the previous two books and turn her into the victim and ultimately the heroine in this one.
BUG: Can we talk a little bit about the casting? It was great to see…I saw it backwards where I saw THE WOMAN and then I sought out OFFSPRING and it was amazing to me that Pollyana [McIntosh] was in both films. Was it ever in question that she wouldn’t return for this film?
LM: No, that was part of the deal. I mean, Andrew had just finished OFFSPRING and he brought me up to new York to see the film, and I was familiar with the books already, but my idea for continuing the story centered on the woman, because he said he wanted to keep her alive and…when I watched the film, the main thing I was looking for was to see if Polyanna was any good and she is fantastic with “Wow, I can really take this characterization and this character into my realm.” It’s a hard part to pull off. She’s a fucking cavewoman basically. She’s like what we came from, our primitive selves.
BUG: I just interviewed her and she said that she made all of those sounds, all of those little growls and everything, herself.
LM She did, yeah. There’s no dubbing in the movie at all, it’s all her. There’s no ADR at all in this film.
BUG: The scene where the little boy is there in the room with her and she’s just growling very subtly and then it intensifies, that just totally stuck with me. It’s a great scene.
LM: Yeah, it’s pretty creepy in real life to hear her making those sounds come out of a lovely woman. She just got down in the dirt for this one.
BUG: And I’ve seen pictures of her without all of THE WOMAN makeup and she’s a beautiful woman.
LM: Yeah, she cleans up pretty nice.
BUG: Yeah, I know you’ve talked this to death, but now that it’s been a year since Sundance last year, any thoughts on all of the brouhaha that happened at Sundance now that you’ve had a year for it to sink in?
LM: Looking back on it, it was fantastic for the film. It was great word of mouth. That guy just happened to blow a gasket at that very first screening. It was a lot of free advertising for us. You know what I mean; now you can look at something on the internet of someone saying “This is damned. It should be burned” and all of that kind of stuff, the first thing you’re going to want to do is see it and see if you can handle it. It was great. It was upsetting at the time, because it was my first screening. I hadn’t shown the movie to anybody. I basically made it in a vacuum out here in the sticks with a couple of friends doing post production at my house, and all of a sudden just to unleash this thing on close to a thousand people was…that’s a lot to take emotionally, when you are used to living a pretty private, quiet kind of hermit-like life (laughs) to then all of a sudden be thrust into the spotlight like that is a lot emotionally.
BUG: Yeah, I saw some of the YouTube footage. I wasn’t there actually, but it did seem like you were a little shaken up by the whole thing that was going on.
LM: Oh, completely shaken up. I couldn’t even talk at the Q and A at the end. I was just kind of a stuttering idiot, but yeah. I’m not used to standing up in front of a bunch of people. I’m not used to that sort of craziness. I lead a pretty mellow life.
BUG: Well it had to feel good to see all of the rest of the audience…it seemed like they were totally behind you on the film.
LM: Thankfully a riot didn’t get started behind that guy.
BUG: Yeah! I wanted to talk a second about Sean Spillane, who…his music is throughout the entire film and immediately after I watched the film I went and I downloaded the soundtrack to it. How did you find Sean Spillane? He offers so much to this film. How did all of that come together?
LM: Well, Sean and I…our bands used to play at the same house parties in college. I went to film school as USC. I think he was a literature major or something like that, but, you know, a fucking rock star by night. His band was actually a band that could actually play music that sounds like music, not just making noise like me and me friends where. We knew each other and we hung out here and there throughout college and we knew each other over the years. We were never like close friends or anything, but around the time I was putting THE WOMAN together I was trying to use my composer that I had used on all of my previous films, Jaye Barnes Luckett, who’s done everything for me.
But she wasn’t able to do it, so since Sean and I were friends on Facebook we reconnected that way and I said “Hey, have you got any songs you’ve recorded on your own?” The band that he was in had broken up and so he was just working in an art department in LA working on a bunch of commercials and stuff like that. He sent me a bunch of demos and I was just knocked out by the stuff and started having this music blast through my face as I was putting the movie together and our approach was really different with this as opposed to most movies. I didn’t want to just cut the movie with a bunch of temp music and then turn it over to the composer and have him just tailor this music on top of pictures. Instead I said “Hey Sean, why don’t you come out while we are shooting the movie and create the music as all of these artists are swirling around making this thing.” So he was actually there while we were shooting and wrote probably about sixty or seventy percent of…he recorded probably about seventy percent of the songs while we were shooting, so I was able to listen to this stuff as we were making the film and everybody came to my house after that and finished everything out, but it’s cool, because creating the music as the movie was being made it so the two started to have a dialogue with each other.
BUG: It really does make the movie even that much more special. I especially love the musical interlude that you had with the song “Distracted.”
LM: Yeah, that’s one of my very favorites.
BUG: Then also the one where the father sees the woman for the first time. It’s such an odd mix of song and the context of what’s going on there. That scene in particular, how did that come together?
LM: That was one of the first demos he sent me, and actually we…besides sweetening the mix of it and I think we added a bassline to it, it’s pretty much the exact demo, one of the first demos he had sent me, and I instantly knew where I wanted to use it in the film and we just kind of designed the sequence around it.
BUG: It’s a real bawdy kind of sexy, kind of really confident music and it’s a weird scene where he’s watching her bathe herself in the river. It’s so cool. (laughs)
LM: Yeah, and it also lets you inside his mind in the way he’s processing all of this stuff, because obviously in a book you are able to go inside somebody’s mind, but in a movie…unless you want to go into voiceover territory, which I’ve never really done yet,I just felt the music could represent what was going on internally with these different characters without being too on the nose about it.
BUG: And I love that the little girl was listening to all of this alternative music on her little radio through the whole movie too--that’s just great.
LM: The great thing about all of those little songs that she was playing is those are all by…a couple of them are little songs that I made and I think my editor has got a couple of songs in there…Ryan Johnson has a song in there. So all of these songs she is listening too are all of these garage band songs that we’ve all made.
BUG: And what about the musical sort of song and almost like a music video at the very end starring the little…what’s her name? The little actress?
LM: Darlin…well, her name in real life is Shyla Molhusen, but yeah that was something that came from a chapter in the book where Darlin had this dream after that bbq sequence and she sees all of the family members on the car ride home. My editor is also an animator and we thought, “Why don’t we try to make that dream?” They started making it and they were about half complete with it and we were just like “Okay, this isn’t going to work in a narrative, but it’s still cool. You guys should finish it.” It kind of gives you a little insight into Darlin’s subconscious and the way it works, so we just pegged it on there at the end after the credits.
BUG: It’s just a fun little extra thing to sit there and watch through. These days that seems to be the thing now--you’ve got to make something after the credits.
BUG: So what’s next for you? What’s coming up with you now? Now that THE WOMAN is out on DVD?
LM: Well, I toured with the movie so much last year that it was really hard to get locked into any new stuff, so its basically been like the last three to four months I’ve just been sitting at home and looking at that blank page again and finally I started getting there with some stuff. A lot of the stuff I don’t know what it’s going to be until I’ve got the draft or something like that, so I can’t really say what its going to be, but it will be a big change of direction for me.
BUG: Is there a timeline or anything like that that we should expect something new from you, or we’ll just see how the process goes?
LM: I don’t think I’ll be directing a new feature until maybe late summer or early fall. I’ve got a lot of writing to do, and I’m exploring some new tones and some new stylistic stuff, because I feel like THE WOMAN was kind of like a bookend to everything I had done up to that point, so I’ve really got to change it up the next time I make a film, so I’m working on that.
BUG: It seems like you have such a great voice for women in all of your films. Do you just find it easier to write from a woman’s point of view?
LM: Yeah, my friends and I joke that I’m a cinematic transvestite. The first story I ever felt like I really finished was MAY when I wrote it in college, and I had shot a lot of short films before that and the stuff always kind of ended up being centered on women, and I kind of discovered that I work pretty good with actresses, and I just kind of have been going with what works. I think there’s a lot more interesting places to go with women characters these days. So yeah, I’m just going with what works.
BUG: I also just wanted to recognize you as…you’re a pretty good actor in there as well. You were in ROMAN, which was Angela Bettis’s film, and that’s kind of like a mirror image of MAY, almost.
LM: Yeah, like a photonegative in a way. One’s about a girl slowly going crazy and the other is about a guy slowly getting his sanity back, but they are both stories about being lonely and lonely people.
BUG: It’s almost like if those two would have met, a lot less people would have been hurt.
LM: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s true. We’ve got to do a Marvel Comics style of like “What If that happened?”
BUG: That’d be great. I’ve been a huge fan of yours, even before THE WOMAN, and now after THE WOMAN it’s like anything you do is on my must see list. I can’t wait to see what you have next. Are there any last thoughts you’d like to tell the Ain’t It Cool News audience about THE WOMAN?
LM: (Laughs) Just buy it, rent it, get it on Netflix, whatever you can do--just get a hold of the thing and get a group of friends together and spark some good conversation. I mean, that’s what it’s designed for. Indie films don’t get a lot of advertising and press and stuff like that, so word of mouth is all we’ve got, so if people just get out there and watch it and tell me what they think…they can find me on Twitter. Just tell me what they think, good or bad. I have thick skin, I’ve worked in Hollywood for ten years now. (laughs)
BUG: Well I see a lot of horror films through AICN Horror that I do on Ain’t It Cool News…
LM: Yeah, I read your stuff all the time.
BUG: Thank you. I rarely get a chance to talk to my girlfriend about them because she’s not so much into horror films, but we talked for hours and hours about this film after it was finished. It’s a good film to debate about and talk about afterwards, definitely.
LM: Yeah, that’s been one of the best results of the whole experience, actually; it’s just the great conversations that it sparks. I’m really, really happy with that.
BUG: Well thank you so much. It’s been great talking to you. Congratulations on THE WOMAN. I loved the film and I can’t wait to see what you’ve got coming up next.
LM: Thanks a lot man, it was nice to talk to you.
BUG: You too. Thanks a lot. Have a great day.
LM: You too.
BUG: THE WOMAN is available on BluRay and DVD now! It really is one of the best horror films of the year and is finally available to see it for your yourself.
See ya, next week, folks!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment. He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and has just released FAMOUS MONSTERS first ever comic book miniseries LUNA (co-written by Martin Fisher with art by Tim Rees) You can order it here! Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the covers to purchase)!
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