Opening tomorrow is director David Gordon Green‘s (Your Highness, Pineapple Express) The Sitter. Starring Jonah Hill in what’s essentially an R-rated version of Adventures in Babysitting, the film centers on the events of one night in New York City with three kids and the world’s worst babysitter. The Sitter also stars Max Records, Ari Graynor, J.B. Smoove, Sam Rockwell, Method Man, and a few other familiar faces. Here’s the red band trailer and five clips.
Anyway, the other day I got on phone with Gordon Green to talk about the film. During the interview we talked about how he ended up making Hollywood films from the indie world, how The Sitter came together, casting, improv and deleted scenes, what will be on the DVD/Blu-ray (he says an extended cut with eight additional minutes is coming), and how he approaches short films. In addition, with Green producing the Untitled Todd Rohal Project which features Patrice O’Neal’s in his last film role, we talked about O’Neal’s role and how he started working with Rohal. We ended the interview talking about his time-travel/love story Q movie which he recently signed on for and what else he’s developing. Hit the jump for more.
As usual, you can either click here to listen to the audio, or the full transcript is below. The Sitter opens tomorrow.
Collider: What I find fascinating about your resume is the diverse nature of your projects, especially with where you started with George Washington to where you are right now. Did you ever expect your resume to look the way it does?
David Gordon Green: I guess I did because I never really had a real career trajectory idea. I just like a lot of different kind of movies, I wanna make a lot of different kind of movies, and to some degree you follow opportunity and to the other degree you have to create your own opportunity. For me it was really in film school, I started out making comedy films in film school and I tried a couple dramatic movies and they were failures and I didn’t feel good about them, which is why strangely insecurity became my weird ambition for George Washington. To take what I’d done in a way that I wasn’t particularly proud of in a short form, which literally was a short film version of George Washington, and try to make it into a feature length movie that I liked, as opposed to some of these movies like Sling Blade, Napoleon Dynamite, and Raising Victor Vargas that are brilliant features stemmed from brilliant shorts. I usually try to fix what I feel like is weak.
When I work on something I’m not excited about or not as proud of it as I’d like to be, then I try to work even harder to make the next one and address those insecurities, I tackle insecurities rather than run from them. I think my interest in risk is pretty high, a lot higher than I think a lot of other people who are just looking for something to kind of define themselves, give them a set of fingerprints, and certainly is better for the pocketbook. For me it’s always about trying new things and wanting to explore something else and something new of myself and of actors I really like.
Talk a little bit about how The Sitter came together for you. How’d you get involved?
Green: Actually it’s the first movie that anybody’s ever wanted me to make, which is an interesting thing to say. Up until then, every movie I’ve had to kind of murder people to get made and shove down people’s throats and overcome every obstacle imaginable to make the movie, everything has been absolutely labor-of-love passion projects. I was kind of honestly exhausted of that, and I felt like I was emotionally exhausted and physically exhausted and was kind of losing interest and enthusiasm in an industry that throughout my entire life has been so inspiring. So I wanted to see if a movie could just be fun; could I have fun with the process, could I bring my entire crew from George Washington and make a movie in New York City where a lot of them live conveniently, and work with actors that I really respect and enjoy? Sam Rockwell who I’d worked with before on Snow Angels, and Jonah who I’ve known since I met on the set of Superbad, and a number of other actors, Eddie Rouse is an actor that’s been in a lot of my movies popped up in this.
What didn’t start out as any sort of seed of a labor of love passion project became that as a script was handed to me that [Brian] Gatewood and [Alessandro] Tanaka wrote that I was really excited about because it reminded of these 80’s John Hughes movies—or not even John Hughes movies, movies like Risky Business and After Hours and Something Wild—movies that had a kind of surrealistic edge to a somewhat grounded sense of “insane characters on one night in New York City” type of movie, if that was a genre. So the exciting idea of that, plus the idea that I could crew it up and cast it up with people I was really passionate about became exactly what I needed it to be, like a healthy mix of fun and ambitious movie for us all to roll up our sleeves and make, and it got me excited about the collaborative efforts of it from the studio level to the PA’s on the set.
How long did it take you to find the three kids?
Green: It took a while. We did a big casting call. It’s a little strange, particularly when you’re casting for a little girl role, I’m not sure if you’ve seen the movie or not but there’s a character who’s kind of a heavily made up celebutante-type young lady and we wanted a 9-year-old to play this role. You send the script out and you really get a lot of creepy people auditioning for that movie, so we were lucky to find Landry who doesn’t have a huge resume but just came with huge enthusiasm and wasn’t that girl but knew those girls and could bring insight to those girls in a way that a 35-year-old filmmaker has no clue other than he thinks it’s weird when he sees a reality TV show about beauty pageants and things. So it was trying to find the heart and soul of these characters. Max Records was an actor that I really admired in Where the Wild Things Are, and Kevin Hernandez was just a guy at a casting call that came in and really blew us away with his emotional range.
I wanted kids that had depth not just comic timing. I didn’t want sitcom-flavored kids, not that there’s anything wrong with sitcom kids but this is something that I wanted to be able to play dramatically as well as comedically, naturalistically, and I wanted to do a lot of improvisation. I think any time you hear a director or particularly a textbook talking about the frustration with kids, those are people that are looking for control. I’m not a director that’s about precision and control and perfection, I’m about creating an atmosphere that’s organic and interesting and then letting people loose, and for that there’s no greater actor or performer than children. Animals are maybe a close runner-up. So the things that people are typically afraid of are what I find most exciting and unpredictable, and I guess that’s part of the problem is people don’t want something unpredictable wasting their time while the cameras are rolling, where to me that’s by far the most interesting part.
The movie is a tight 81 minutes. You obviously ended up with some deleted scenes with Jonah and his improv, how long did it take to edit this thing?
Green: We were in the editing room for a while. My editor is Craig Alpert who’s done the last three movies with me, and having been conditioned in the Apatow world he’s very familiar with improve and the tangents of improvisation and where that can go, and we did a lot of that. I will say that some of the interesting deleted scenes took it in a direction tonally that became kind of in conflict with the movie. We would have very aggressive dramatic scenes, some that were a little too surreal, or things that became I guess a little off-putting when you put it up in front of a test-screening audience, which I have mixed opinions about. But in terms of sculpting the movie, it felt better the more efficient it got. There’s a scene that I really love personally, selfishly, of Sam Rockwell crying in the arms of a female body builder. It’s one shot, it’s like two minutes long and it was Sam giving a monologue and I kind of whispered to this lady who’s a background actor, I said “Go over there and start hugging him and see what happens” while the cameras were rolling, and some really magical, beautiful, strange sentimental things started happening and that was one of the things where when we put it into the movie I was like “This is delicious and juicy” and then you show it to a crowd that’s confused and disturbed by it. So you see that maybe it’s not for this movie, to take it in that kind of subversive direction I’d say.
But there’s a lot of exploration we had in the editing room which took time and it took a lot of experimentation and seeing what really fit. I really stand by the movie we’re releasing theatrically, at the same time there’s a 8-minute extended version that’s gonna be on the DVD that I think is something really worth my signature on it as well, something that does include those type of things. It’s far more of a challenging version of the movie to the audience, and then you just have to ask yourself those questions “Are you making a movie to really push the envelope or can you find a fine line that tells your story and you stand by it and has your fingerprint, but is also something that a massive commercial audience can find appealing as well?”
I was gonna say, the studios love releasing extended unrated editions so I’m sure they’re incredibly happy to put 8 minutes on the DVD.
Green: Well it’s interesting because I’ve had a couple other experiences of having to do that contractually and being really bummed out because I find movies too long. I’m a big fan of the 81-86 minute movie, 89 is pretty good too. But when movies get over two hours I really…Hugo being the only exception recently that I think I was captivated for an extended period. I find there’s a lot of other things to do besides sit in a dark room sometimes, and I start thinking about what those are and start looking at my watch after a movie seems to be getting a little too indulged in itself.
Green: You know what, a movie like that will have me by the balls, so you really have to deserve an over two hour length. It has to be relentless. I’ll watch Enter the Void every Sunday for the rest of my life just cause I need that kind of experience in my head.
Does Fincher get a “Get out of Jail Free” card?
Green: We’ll see what the movie has to say (laughs). I couldn’t be more excited about it and that doesn’t intimidate me. But if I see a Jonah Hill comedy about Jonah taking three kids on a coke run in New York City and it’s two hours and forty minutes, I’m gonna wonder what the fuck I’m getting into.
You’re producing what’s called right now the Untitled Todd Rohal Project. Did that wrap?
Green: Yeah, I just saw it. It’s good. Todd Rohal who, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with his work, he’s a director that I became really smitten with. I saw this indie movie he made called, The Guatemalan Handshake, which is one of the best movies in the last ten years. A buddy of mine, Nick Panagopulos was a producer on this movie and he sent me the DVD. I was like, “Who is this guy? This is brilliant.” It was somewhere between Gummo and Napoleon Dynamite. It felt like a gift to me. When Todd made that movie, I kinda did backflips and showed it to Danny McBride and Jody Hill and a lot of my buddies. We ended up, several of us and some investors, ended up financing this bizarre movie he made; it was at Sundance last year, called, The Catechism Cataclysm. It’s a tongue twister, but it’s a really interesting movie that our friends Steve Little and Robert Longstreet are the stars of. And so Todd made that film and strangely, IFC bought it and it’s a really interesting, destined for cult status type of movie. In terms of supporting him, now we’ve got a bigger budget and bigger movie stars; Patton Oswalt and Johnny Knoxville and a really great cast of characters, including a lot of guys I’ve worked with, like Eddie Rouse and some really talented people. It’s about a Boy Scout trip, a camping trip. So they just finished that movie and they’re editing it right now.
I just saw a cut of it and it’s coming together really good. It’s also fun just to have splinter groups of filmmakers who I’m a fan of, like Joey Stephens who did the music for Observe and Report and does a lot of music on Eastbound & Down, is going to compose music for them. You’ve got like Big Brother and Godfather, good crews of people together you can really stand by and be excited about what they’re turning out. I consider myself more of a film fan than a filmmaker, or I guess it’s kind of a balance these days, fortunately. But I really want to see good movies as much as I want to make good movies and I want to see bizarre movies as much as I want to make bizarre movies. So it’s fun to find the young, hungry voices and help give that a platform.
That’s Patrice O’Neal’s last film role?
Green: Absolutely. Yeah, someone was asking me about that yesterday. That was the last film before he died, which is really tragic. But, a pleasure to work with and a real comedic talent, so it’s nice to have captured as much of him on film as we could in his days.
How much of a part does he have in that one?
Green: Patrice has a great supporting role. It’s a really fun character, who’s kind of in and out of the film. He’s not the lead in it, but he’s a great part of it, a crucial part of it. And a very hilarious and aggressive part of it, which is cool.
Green: Q’s a book I’ve just started adapting for Sony. I’m working with Matt Tolmach on that; he was an executive at Sony and now he’s a producer, doing The Amazing Spider-Man and some really cool projects and I had a great experience with him on Pineapple Express, so we decided to work together in trying to do it. It’s a great New York love story/time-travel movie. It gets me back in a very dramatic space as a writer, which is exciting because it’s been a while since I’ve made myself vulnerable, at least to my computer. I’m excited about that. I’m excited about taking my pants off, sitting in my underwear, cracking a few jokes but trying to keep the heart on the sleeve.
Do you know what you’re going to do next or is it just writing?
Green: Well, I’ve got a few projects. I’m flirting with this horror film that I’m hoping to make in Germany this spring. I’ve got a couple other strange little, low-profile, lower budget dramas and then Q. So we’ll see what actually lands. The reality of getting caught in the development wave like we all do, but I’m pretty excited about the possibilities I have this year.