Hey movie lovers! Barbarella here, and I’m excited to share with you my brief conversation with Darren Lynn Bousman. The director’s latest film, THE DEATH OF ME stars Luke Hemsworth, fresh off HBO’s WESTWORLD, and Maggie Q of the CW’s NIKITA. The film about a couple vacationing off the coast of Thailand who become ensnared in a web of mystery and black magic will be in theaters and On Demand and Digital October 2. The film plays with ideas of faith and belief in a way that feels relevant today.
Would you talk a little bit about your fascination with belief and faith?
“I don't know. I think that since I grew up in a Christian household [with] quasi-religious parents, I was always just fascinated with what people allow themselves to believe in and, more importantly, how people of certain beliefs could be ridiculed or laughed at. I always find that fascinating that it's easy to look at certain religions, or certain cultures, and judge or think that they're ridiculous, but at the same time, some of the main religions of the world are about belief that if you pray to this mystic being in the sky, it'll grant you good health or whatever. Who are we to judge somebody's belief systems? How is it any more or less insane than what the majority of people believe in? So, I've done like six or seven different movies that kind of danced around the ideas of belief or faith. I think it's just this constant thing that I am in a constant state of figuring out what I believe in. So, it's just kind of my own way to deal with what I'm going through, I guess.”
What was it about the script's portrayal of belief that really appealed to you?
“The writers based this on some real legend, real lore, about something called pillars. When you look at [what that entails and what the locals believed], you'd say, that's ridiculous, who would ever believe that? Then you start reading about it, and realize that hundreds of years ago, they did believe that. I always love things like that, things that have a backbone in some sort of reality. I always find those types of stories fascinating.”
What's the most unusual thing you believe?
“Oh, you got to come out with the big guns. (Both laugh.) I don't know. You know what's funny is – I’m not trying to dodge a question – it's like I change my beliefs on a daily basis. I really, really do. [While] I was shooting [SAW II], both of my parents were diagnosed with cancer. I remember that I was in Japan, promoting the film, and I was at this temple. There was this huge tree, called The Wishing Tree. The idea was that you go, and you write your wish on this tablet, and you attach it to the tree, and you do this little ceremonious ritual. I remember truly believing in it because I needed to believe. I remember standing in front of this insanely beautiful temple, in front of a tree with thousands of messages of people that have come before, and making this prayer to myself and whoever was listening, writing this message about my parents.
“I finished the press tour of SAW II, and I come back to Los Angeles. It was maybe a week later that the first one of my parents had come back with their first basically clear [diagnosis] of the cancer. There's always that part in the back of your head that was [wondering], “Did something intervene? Did something I do change that, or was that just the natural course?” So, you want to believe. I think that for me, I just constantly find myself fascinated by those types of questions and those types of thoughts. So obviously, me standing in front of a tree in Japan did not fix my parent's cancer, but in a moment of desperation, you latch onto whatever you can.”
Which do you think is worse, believing in something fanatically or not believing in anything at all?
“They're opposite ends, but I think they're both intense. To have no belief in anything, I think, is a sad and lonely place. Even if you don't believe in a god, or believe in a religion, you've got to believe in something. I think having a fanatical belief in the same thing is dangerous. I look at the news, and I see some of these radicals that have these insane beliefs, and it just scares me. So, I think both sides scare me.”
Okay, I'm going to switch gears a little bit. I'm very interested in how directors work with their composers. What kind of direction, or notes, did you give Mark Sayfritz to ensure that you got the right score for the film?
“Mark Sayfritz is a beast, and he is an insanely talented composer that I've worked with on three films now. If you go back and watch ABATTOIR or ST AGATHA, each one of those films has such an insanely beautiful, haunting score. When I originally started this project, I had a different composer, a really talented guy that came on, but kind of early in, I wasn't connecting with his music sketches. They were great; they sounded amazing. They just weren't right for this movie. Originally, when I went to Mark, he was unavailable for this project, but I called him back and I begged, pleaded, and I groveled, and I said, "Just give me five minutes of something. Let me just hear something that you can do." So, the next afternoon, I sent him a scene and he sent me a sketch back, and I knew immediately we had to get him on the project. So, after groveling some more, he came on, and I just say to him, "Do your thing." With someone like Mark you've got to trust him.
“The one kind of request that I had was I wanted the music to sound as if it came, or could have come, from the island itself. I didn't want it to sound unauthentic. So, he did a lot of research on the culture in that part of the world and put in instrumentation that you would find there. He then took a piece of score and vocals of this amazing Thai singer, and he used those throughout the movie to kind of create this very haunting thing. It just gives you an unnerving feeling. I think he's an extremely talented guy.”
Would you talk a little bit about the pros and cons of filming in Thailand? Did you have any downtime at all to be able to explore the area?
“Thailand was probably one of the most intense shoots that I've ever been on. First off, Thailand is beautiful. I mean, if you look at just where they stay in that Airbnb, I've never been in a more beautiful place. It was also one of the most challenging film shoots I've ever done due to the elements. The heat was insane and outrageous. We were there shooting during the hottest month of the year, which is fine, but you're also shooting in a lot of jungles, which are hugely populated with these mosquitoes that are the size of bats. Like an asshole Westerner, I guess, I showed up at Thailand, and I didn't realize that you shouldn't be wearing shorts and short-sleeve shirts. So, I go to the first day in the jungle in shorts and a short-sleeve shirt, and I'm literally almost tackled by the medic being like, "No, no, no, you can't do that. We have dengue fever here." So, next thing I know I'm wearing long-sleeve shirts and pants in scorching heat. I don't handle heat. I can handle cold a lot more than I can handle heat, so that was a challenge.
“We had a lot of scenes where the actors would sweat the prosthetics off within a minute of coming out, which is something I've never had to deal with before. I'll give you an example to that. There are these three witches that are in the movie that have these really scarred, messed-up faces. I didn't want to be dealing with trying to put these massive prosthetics on actors [because] the movie was shot in no time – I want to say it was like twenty-some days – so we created these silicone masks. If you've ever used silicone or a silicone mask, they're heavy, and they meld to the skin, so the minute you put them on, it kind of form-fits to the face. We thought it would be a very easy and quick way to do these scenes. It could not have been a worse idea on my part, because the heat in Thailand mixed with trying to put these heavy masks on, mixed with the fact the masks had no eyes because they were supposed to have scarred-over eyes, it created such a sense of claustrophobia in the actors that they could only keep the masks on for about two to three minutes before they'd have to remove them.
“On top of that, because they had no line of sight, they really couldn't move around. In the original script, they were running and leaping. They were supposed to be contortionists doing those weird contortions. No, they were stand-still statutes because they couldn't move. It was so hot. When they would take the masks off, they would be literally flooded with sweat. So, I think that the heat was one thing that I was not prepared for going to Thailand.
“Did I get to explore? I mean, yes and no. It was such a short shoot. The first half of the shoot we were in Krabi, which is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been, which is those huge rocks in the water that you see. Then, the second part was in Bangkok. I don't know if you've ever been to Thailand, but one of the things I also wasn't prepared for was the traffic time. So, you drive one mile that could literally take you an hour and a half in a car. So, you're in a car for two and a half hours going to location. You're shooting for 10 hours, and then you're going right back to the hotel to do it again. So, these 16-hour days, there was a lot of drinking, and a lot of sleeping and shooting. Those are the three main things during this.”
Wow. What's the worst thing that's ever happened to you while traveling?
“Oh, I was arrested once for cocaine, but it's a great story because it wasn't what it sounds like. I was shooting a movie in Winnipeg, and I traveled out of Winnipeg to Comicon. I went and did like a day in Comicon. I got on a flight to go back to Winnipeg, and fell asleep on the flight because I did not sleep at all during Comicon. So, I'm asleep on the flight. Cut to – the plane has landed, and a stewardess is waking me up. "Sir, sir, you got to get off the plane." I look around, and I'm the last person on the plane. So, literally I slept through everyone deplaning. I'm groggy. I stand up, I get my bags, and I stumble off. As I stumble off, I'm stopped, and they say, "Sir, we'd like to ask you a few questions." I get pulled in this little room, and they take my bags from me.”
“Long story short, after about two hours of sitting in this room, this guy comes in and says, "Mr. Bousman, I'm afraid that your bag has tested positive." I said, "Positive for what?" They said, "Cocaine." I go, "I was in Los Angeles. There's cocaine in the air. It's not me." They said, "No. No, sir, we're going to have to go ahead and detain you. We'll be back in just a little bit, and we'll go through your options." They leave me in the room another two hours. So, I'm probably there four or five hours in this little room. They come in with a paper for me to sign, and they want me to sign this paper, basically talking about drugs. I'm like, "I'm not going to sign anything. I don't do cocaine. That's absolutely ridiculous. Don't I get a call? Don't I get to call somebody?" They said, "Yes, sir, you do get to call someone."
“I was so lucky that I had this on me, but I had the mayor of Winnipeg's business card on me because I had met him the week prior. He was like, "Hey, if you ever need anything when you're in Winnipeg...." I just put the mayor's card on the table, and they go, "Mr. Bousman, you're free to go." I got so mad. I got so enraged that I was stopped about this ridiculous thing which I didn't do that I reached out to the mayor's office. I reached out to the film office. The next day, or a couple days later, I got an apology.
“Basically, it ended up being that I exhibited signs of being intoxicated, or under the influence, because of me falling asleep on the plane, my bloodshot eyes, my kind of nervous energy. It was like they were trying to trick me into saying something. I've traveled all over the world, but going into Winnipeg like twelve years ago had to have been the most intense experience.”
That’s crazy…what energizes you most about directing?
“It's always a challenge, and the minute you think you have it figured out, you're punched in the face with something. It's always like film school all over again. I think I've made fourteen movies now. Some of them have been huge hits, some of them have been abysmal failures. It's always new every time you go in. I think that is what is so cool about this job. So, you go do to a movie like DEATH OF ME, and then you go do a movie right after that like SPIRAL. They could not be any more different from one another. I think that it keeps me on my toes, it keeps it interesting, and it keeps me learning new things every single time. It's never boring.”
Chatting with someone like Darren is also never boring. Check out THE DEATH OF ME in theaters, On Demand and Digital Friday, October 2. I’m off to write up another interview for you fine folks. While I do that, maybe you could check out the trailer below.