Say what you want about the Purge movies; that core concept is pure genius and rocks an enormous amount of franchise potential. However, oddly enough, when writer-director James DeMonaco delivered his first script, nobody was going for it – that is until Jason Blum came along and turned what DeMonaco once envisioned as a small $500,000 independent film into a wide release that scored $34.1 million opening weekend and earned a sequel.
We saw what happened when a family is forced to participate in The Purge inside their very own home in the 2013 release and we get to experience what goes down on Purge night out in the city streets in The Purge: Anarchy, but what about the very first Purge ever? And how about the 10th? Is there a special anniversary event? We discuss the possibilities with DeMonaco in our The Purge: Anarchy interview after the jump.
- 00:00 – Studios and producers weren’t into the idea of The Purge at first.
- 01:35 – DeMonaco didn’t see the franchise potential at the start.
- 02:04 – On the extreme violence in his first The Purge script.
- 02:50 – On the deleted Purge history from the first film.
- 04:06 – The Purge web series that never panned out.
- 04:44 – Why take on so many more locations in the second film?
- 06:15 – On moviegoers’ disappointment in the first film.
- 06:48 – Putting himself in a dark mindset to write for these characters.
- 07:25 – His fear of guns and being surrounded by them on set.
- 08:11 – On the minimal amount of gore.
- 08:47 – What happens the day after The Purge?
- 09:25 – What happened during the first Purge?
- 10:45 – Why does The Purge happen in March?
- 11:08 – Managing so many locations on a rather small shoot.
- 12:15 – His top priority for his bigger budget.
- 12:52 – Getting enough coverage on all five main characters.
- 13:45 – Easter eggs hinting at future Purges.
- 14:20 – What happens during the 10th Purge?
- 14:45 – Designing the Purge siren.
- 15:50 – Does he want to direct more Purge movies?
The audio in this interview is a little distorted due to a very loud AC, so if you’d prefer, there’s also a full transcription below.
JAMES DeMONACO: No, not at all. It’s the strangest thing. Not at all. So I came up with the idea, I pitched it; I have a producer I work with on almost every movie now, this guy, Sebastien Lemercier. This is our fourth film together. So I tell him the idea, he thinks it’s interesting and I’ve got a bunch of ideas. He’s like, ‘Go write it.’ So I write it, he likes it, but the first draft of Purge 1 was insane, it was the most violent, satirical, bizarre, it was like a Jodorowsky film; it was nuts. Like Fellini meets, I don’t know, Kubrick. Anyway, I’m like, ‘Okay, we gotta calm that down.’ It took a while to get that together, but even when we got it to what became the movie, what everybody saw, most people said no. Most people were just like, ‘No, no. It’s too violent. It’s too much of a political statement about America’s relationship with guns. It’s too anti-American.’ A lot of people find it very anti-American, which it is. It’s making a comment about something. I mean, I love my country, but I think [we’re] nuts right now, so it is making a comment. There were people who openly to this day, now are like, ‘We’re so sorry,’ because many people told Sebastian more than me because they were more honest with him, saying, ‘You can’t make this movie. It’s too anti-American,’ or, ‘It’s not commercial at all.’ That was the other thing; it’s not a commercial film. And that’s what we thought. We thought we’d raise like $500,000 grand and shoot it as an indie that we’d show at the Angelika. That’s how it was going. And then Jason Blum came on board and he saw something. But I’ll give Sebastian credit. He was always like, ‘No, I think there’s more universal appeal here,’ literally Universal appeal. [Laughs] So Jason saw the same thing as Sebastian and they gave it to Universal.
What about franchise appeal? Were you aware of that since day one? This thing could keep going and going and still feel fresh.
DeMONACO: Yeah, you could keep doing a new story each time. No, we weren’t. I don’t think anybody wanted it. I think Sebastian and I stuck with it though so I always say, we knew because we stayed, because there were so many times where we could have [given up]. People were just like, ‘Don’t do this. Whatever it is, it’s not commercial. It’s not gonna get made.’ Because I was looking for something after my first film, which didn’t do – you know, we did the festival circuit, but it had no commercial appeal. So I don’t think anybody really knew. [Laughs]
DeMONACO: I don’t love gore. I’ll watch gore. I appreciate my gore even though I’m not a huge gore guy, so I never wanted to make the movie – I did have a dog in the first film. There was a running gag where a dog was just going back and forth and finding body parts and running back and forth. It was very satirical so I was playing upon all this stuff.
I’m glad you didn’t kill the dog! I watch horror movies all the time, but my one big thing is …
DeMONACO: I think it’s the biggest cheesy thing in filmmaking is to kill an animal. And I think it’s so cheesy. It’s such an easy way to get the audience like, pissed. Just don’t do it.
When you go into these movies, do you need to know the ins and outs of The Purge? We have a general idea of the backstory and who created it and all that, but do you know who those people were, how they passed whatever law it was to put it into effect?
DeMONACO: It’s interesting. In the first draft of the first script – not the first draft, even the last draft – right before we started shooting, I had an elaborate explanation sequence. It was like, the 10th anniversary of The Purge on TV so they were doing the history of The Purge. Because we thought the audience would want to know, how did we get to a place where this new government would say, “This is the answer.” The audience is gonna wanna know this. So I filled in the blanks. You know, first it was legalization of guns, the legalization of drugs, that led to this and all this. I literally thread the whole path to the moment of that.
As in the legalization of those things year-round?
DeMONACO: Yes. That’s where it all started. We had an epidemic of crime in the country. It was all this stuff where, you know, China divested their bearer bonds, the economy fell. It was very elaborate, like ridiculous. Ridiculously elaborate! I really did my research on like, how could we get to here?
DeMONACO: Yeah, exactly. And they were gonna do, I guess it was gonna be a website or they wanted me, after Purge 1, before we knew we were coming out, there was a whole internet push and they were like, ‘You’re gonna go shoot’ – they were gonna give me a lot of money. Not a lot of money. A decent budget for Internet stuff to go shoot all these things that I had written to give it all the backstory. It never happened.
Making a webseries could be a good way to explore it, especially with the first one because, personally, I liked the fact that the first one was very contained. I got very invested in those characters, but I thought a good companion piece to that could have been finding out what other people were doing through a web series.
DeMONACO: Yeah. And that’s what they wanted – see, you’re on the same page!
What was it about the first one that made you want to jump into this bigger world in the second one? Is there anything specific you wanted to do on 1 that you couldn’t because you were stuck in that house?
DeMONACO: No, I think the story I wanted to tell actually worked within the house so I think, for that story – but I knew, even when I watched the first cut, I always knew the notion – you know, it was written to be played at the Angelika. A politically subversive genre pic. That’s what it was.
Funny thing is, the first time I saw it was at the Angelika.
DeMONACO: They played the first one at the Angelika?
It was a promo screening and I remember, after it, I walked over to everyone and my story was, what are your Purge plans? It was like the first time that people had actually started thinking about that. Very disturbing answers.
DeMONACO: I know. That’s what’s disturbing. That’s actually very disturbing when hear what people say, yeah. Because that’s not my intent at all. But you do hear some strange things. What was the question we were talking about?
Expanding from the house to this.
DeMONACO: I thought that story was okay to stay [in], but I watched the first cut, I knew there was a claustrophobic feeling and I knew that once Universal was gonna release it in 3,000 screens, I knew I could foresee that people were gonna be like, “This movie’s really not gonna leave this house?” And that’s why I actually put, if you remember, the credit sequence for the first one was “Clare de Lune” playing over all these – I said, “I have to show people something outside the house, even if it’s a credit sequence.” So that’s why that was created. But then I always said, if there is a part two, I always wanted to do [more], so I knew I would be outside and would expand the scope of it. So yeah, I kind of knew it would piss people off in the first film, just because I knew the trailer promised something that the movie didn’t deliver. That’s a marketing thing; I get it.
I remember my experience watching the first film and I had two different reactions. Initially, that’s what I thought and then I saw it again and the concept, it’s just easy to become obsessed and wrapped up in that. Really, you can’t help, but to wonder, what would your Purge plans be?
DeMONACO: Exactly. It’s true. I mean, listen, we all feel the need to kind of like – there are people who piss us off.
DeMONACO: A little bit, yeah. You have to get into a place – it’s a dark place to live. I can’t lie. Everybody’s like, “You gonna work on Purge 3?” I’m like, “No. I’m not.” I literally just finished the movie yesterday. I’m like, “I’m taking time off because I’ve got to get out of all these violent thoughts.” The weird thing is, I’m terrified of guns. I can’t shoot a gun. So the strange part of all of this is, I think it stems from my fear of weapons. So that’s why I’m very scared. I think America, we don’t need haunted houses anymore, we have our own country to be scared of. I think the movie, it’s topical in a sick, sad way, especially with what’s happening.
So how’s it for you being on set because there’s essentially an entire arsenal there?
DeMONACO: Oh, it’s terrifying. Yeah, you have an arsenal and you have these guys who are great, you know, armorers on set, these guys who handle weapons. They have to tell us how safe they are. They’re so good with it and I’m like, “How do you know how to do all that with a gun? Why would you know all that?” But there is an obsession in our country with guns. I don’t know where it comes from. I don’t blame anyone. It stemmed, I don’t want to say naturally, from somewhere in our country’s history. I was clicking around the channels recently, there’s cable shows about families who build guns now. Like, fun reality shows. Like Duck Dynasty, but with people that build guns.
There’s a reality show about everything though.
DeMONACO: Yeah, that’s true, but guns? How the hell did that happen? We’ve become a weird …
Do you think that’s why you veered towards guns in this? Because I was surprised by how little gore there really is.
DeMONACO: Yeah. It’s a gun. I think if you go to purge, to really analyze it, which I have, you probably will use the gun – unless it’s a more passionate like, I’m gonna kill my wife thing, which, once again, it’s all sick stuff to talk about. Because you want to create distance and you want you yourself to be safe so you use a gun because it gives you distance from your prey.
DeMONACO: It is. You would go hide. Exactly, who would know? It’s an anonymous …
How much of what happens during The Purge stays in effect the next day?
DeMONACO: That’s a great question. Yeah. I don’t know. Somebody else asked me that. Your question is right because things are gonna happen that will have repercussions. Like, especially in Purge 1; they have to live next to those people who tried to kill them. There’s a whole movie there on how do you live in the society – because it probably would create more problems, right? You would think, if someone tried to wrong me failed, you tried to steal my car, but if I stop you, well, what do I do next Purge?
And is that car rightfully yours? If it’s stolen, can you take it back?
DeMONACO: Exactly. If I stole that car, can I take it back?
And then that person can’t violently defend themselves.
DeMONACO: Exactly. I don’t know the answers to all these things. [Laughs]
What happened during the first Purge ever?
DeMONACO: That’s right. I had that all in the movie. I had that all in that weird 10-page …
Did people just go crazy or did they not get it?
DeMONACO: Well, I think the first Purge, I explained in my silly exposition tirade that …
I would love to read that!
DeMONACO: Yeah, I should get that to you. It’s like 10 [pages]. My producer’s like, “You can’t stop the movie and do a history of The Purge.” I’m like, “Well, it’s kind of cool.” But the weird thing is, people didn’t need it. That’s what I was shocked at. Because the producer’s like, “Just cut it,” and I’m like, “Really? We could just cut [it]?” “Just cut it and they’ll fill in the gaps. You just hint at it. Hint that the country went haywire, a new government order came in and then sure, the audience will fill it in.”
It’s a tough thing to judge.
DeMONACO: Yeah, it is.
DeMONACO: In the movie world or the real world?
In the movie world. I guess also when you’re writing something …
DeMONACO: Oh, it’s very hard to step back. That’s why you need good producers is to take you back, take a step and say, “Okay, you need to look at it from different eyes.” You get so close.
Now I cut my other question off and I want to know; what happened during Purge #1?
DeMONACO: I said that – what did I say? God, it was crazy. Purge 1 was contained to only Ohio [laughs], in my 10-page exposition, they did an experimental Purge.
That actually makes a lot of sense.
DeMONACO: Yeah, they started off small to see how it’d go and it went very well, so they expanded it to ten cities. So it was just building until it finally went to everywhere.
And another question; why March?
DeMONACO: Two reasons. March 21st I think is the beginning of spring. It’s also my sister’s birthday. I love my sister. Everyone’s like, “Do you hate your sister?” I’m like, “No, I love my sister. She’s my best friend.”
Does she like that?
DeMONACO: She loves it, yeah. But I always thought the idea of like, since it’s this great propaganda about cleansing and rebirth and baptism, let’s do it on the first day of spring.
How is it for you as a director going from this house to a set with so many different key locations? Do you have to map it out much more explicitly, and are you on the go? Company moves like that probably eat into that 30-day shoot time.
DeMONACO: Oh, company moves, exactly. Oh, god. We tried to say, okay, literally we would shoot on this alley and this alley, but make it seem like it was close to the city. So you couldn’t shoot this angle because we’d show what we just shot, which was an hour ago in the movie, because we didn’t want to do company moves. As you know, company moves 45, usually two hours, if that. Maybe more. So we couldn’t afford company moves, so it was literally finding locations next to each other and then planning it as different places at different parts of the film. And yeah, we had to map it out. [Cinematographer] Jacques [Jouffret], myself and my producer clearly mapped out what we needed, what we could do, because on the first one, if we missed something in one bedroom, it’s like, my editor calls up, ‘Oh, you missed a shot.’ We run everyone down one staircase and go shoot it. You can’t go across the city to reshoot that alleyway when you only have five more hours, so it was tough. It was a tough logistical shoot. It was also, we were shooting in alleys in downtown LA that were very disgusting.
When you found out you were getting a bigger budget, what was the first thing that made you think, ‘I have more money and I’m going to use it for that?’
DeMONACO: More money was more – I think just more locations, sadly. Boring answer. It was like, okay, now I can go outside. At first they were saying not much more. First it was gonna be just a little bit more and I’m like, “Well, I can’t do it with that because then I can’t be outside.” I was like, “We have to go outside.” And then I think they realized that, so I immediately said, “Oh and now I can do 10 locations.” Again, I always wanted to do The Warriors, the Walter Hill film, so getting from point A to Z so [you get] stops.
How is it choreographing that? Are you constantly watching where everyone is and making sure you’re getting the right person’s coverage? Every character really does have an arc here.
DeMONACO: Well, that’s right. When you’re shooting with five people, I try to say, the hardest part was constantly exactly that. It’s like, ‘Wait, did I get the close-up of Zach? Because I need his reaction here because that’ll matter for later.’ The scene, I know people will realize this, I know filmmakers like yourself, people who know the industry, the scene in the apartment where I had 11 people in that room, the POVs, the eye lines, it was a logistical nightmare. It was like, this person’s looking camera right, we’re looking camera left, I’m shooting with two cameras … that was tough logisticals. Very tough there.
DeMONACO: Oh, yeah! There’s some things people should look out for.
What about Easter eggs? Have you planned out future Purges at this point?
DeMONACO: I’ve planned out some stuff with future Purges, but I haven’t put any – Easter eggs, what? Like stuff on the DVD?
Maybe even things that are peppered throughout this movie that could hint at what to expect.
DeMONACO: I guess there’s some subliminal imagery in the Carmelo – you guys saw a work cut, too. You didn’t see the final cut of like, Carmelo’s website and we put some subliminal imagery in there, flash cuts and two-frame stuff.
Now I need the DVD.
DeMONACO: Exactly! We did some weird little things in there.
What about the 10th Purge? What happens then?
DeMONACO: The anniversary? It’s gonna be big. [Laughs]
My mind automatically goes to The Hunger Games when it’s the Quarter Quell.
DeMONACO: Well, yeah, exactly. It could be, exactly. It has some Hunger Games-like things. Someone did say something really good about the 10th Purge. I was thinking about one, I shouldn’t even say this out loud, but a good random Purge would be interesting, meaning, they don’t tell us what day it is anymore. So we’re all going about our lives and the sirens just go off.
DeMONACO: Me, too.
But with the siren, it’s like, I hear that siren and, after just two movies, I know, Purge.
DeMONACO: Really? That’s cool to know. My sound team would love that.
If that played randomly somewhere, that’s the first thing I would think of.
DeMONACO: That’s really cool. I would tell my sound guys that because we worked on the first one really hard to create a cool kind of siren. And the sound that got me, that made me – I’m like, “Guys, there’s one sound in a movie that really freaked me out was in War of the Worlds, Spielberg’s War of the Worlds.”
I know exactly what you’re talking about.
DeMONACO: That freaking big, bellowing tripod creature. And I was like, “Let’s just listen to that and figure out a siren from that. Let’s get to the siren from that.”
That’s my second favorite siren. [Laughs] I know that one very well.
DeMONACO: Exactly. We were playing off of that as inspiration.
So now it’s The Purge, that noise from War of the Worlds and the Jurassic Park t-rex roar.
They put a dinosaur roar from Jurassic Park in any other movie, I’m thinking, “Nope. You took it from there.”
DeMONACO: Right. I hear ya!
So, what is the plan from here? Are you gonna keep going if this one does as well?
DeMONACO: I don’t know. I’ll be honest, I don’t know. I’ve feel like if something naturally comes to me that I’m inspired by, I’ll do it.
What about you personally? Are you at the point where you think, creatively for you as a director, you should be doing more or go on to something else?
DeMONACO: [Laughs] Right now, I’ve just gotta say, since I finished the movie yesterday, I would say I’d love to do something else. I wrote it already, so I’m very excited.
Is it horror?
DeMONACO: It is. It is, yeah. [Laughs] And it has some sociopolitical things about women specifically so I think it’ll be cool.