As I mentioned yesterday when we debuted some images from his newest film Burying the Ex, I’m a huge fan of director Joe Dante. His filmography is vast and contains some of my very favorite movies (Gremlins, The Howling, The ‘Burbs, Innerspace and Gremlins 2: The New Batch among them). Burying the Ex, which premieres today at the Venice Film Festival, seems very much like a Dante film but also feels like a bit of a departure for the genre vet. I haven’t had a chance to see it yet but from what I gather it’s a somewhat contained look at relationships that really focusses in on four central characters. One of whom just happens to be rapidly decaying in all sorts of gory ways.
I recently got a chance to speak with Dante about Burying the Ex. We talked about the casting process, the gore, the limitations (and freedoms) of the film’s budget and his biggest trepidation about taking on the project. The film stars Anton Yelchin, Ashley Greene, Alexandra Daddario and Oliver Cooper. Hit the jump for my Joe Dante interview.
JOE DANTE: Well the script was given to me by [writer] Alan Trezza who had initially made the film as a short by himself I guess five years ago. I didn’t see the short but I did read the script and I thought it was funny and clever and, more importantly, economical. This wasn’t a big studio movie with lots and lots of special effects and it has a rather small cast. And I thought it was something I could get made since now the paradigm is that movies either cost $80 Million or $2 Million. And this was closer to the latter range. We slogged it around town for a while and then suddenly, unexpectedly, the money sort of appeared. And it was in a very short window, “we can make the movie if we make it now and only spend a certain amount of money on it.” And so we just went into high gear and made it. And it was a pretty hectic affair, I was shooting eight pages a day or something like that. It was kind of a TV schedule, but we lucked out in the casting. There are really only four main characters and they carry the movie.
DANTE: Well that’s one of the reasons it’s safer to do this kind of picture for less money. I didn’t have anyone looking over my shoulder telling me what was and wasn’t funny or what was too horrible or not horrible enough. I got to do my movie my way and, even though it was under reduced means, there’s a lot more freedom when you’re not spending a fortune. And the result is I guess what would be termed a “Joe Dante movie”, whatever that means [laughs].
You also shot at the New Beverly Cinema [in Los Angeles], which is kind of a cultural landmark at this point. Is one of the characters in the film a movie buff?
DANTE: Yeah. The lead character is a film buff who works in a memorabilia store and Anton Yelchin, who plays that part, is a big film buff himself. And we had many long conversations about movies and directors. What he does is he immerses himself by binge watching movies by title, or director or genre. I got him a bunch of horror pictures that he hadn’t seen before but he’s very knowledgable and very bright and he reminds me a little bit of me when I was his age.
DANTE: Well Ashley is the girlfriend from hell who is gorgeous and great in bed but drives you crazy. And Alexandra is the girl of your dreams who not only is gorgeous, but knows all of the same stuff you do and is also a film buff. I guarantee you, when film buffs see this movie there going to fall in love with this character.
And you got her right before True Detective?
DANTE: She had already done True Detective, maybe. Or maybe she didn’t do it until after we were finished. And now she’s doing a big earthquake movie [San Andreas] that’s set in Los Angeles but shot in Australia, which kind of shows you what this business is coming to.
Does it have a rating yet? I don’t see one listed anywhere.
DANTE: It has an R-rating. We wanted a PG-13, I wanted a PG-13, but there’s just too much sex talk in it. There’s actually not that much sex in it, but the characters are always talking about getting laid. Oliver Cooper’s character is fairly foulmouthed about it and I think they just said “no.” They said they could have given us a PG-13 but it would have meant two pages of notes and some reshoots.
DANTE: I don’t think of it as a gore movie, although there are some gory things in it. There are some gory scenes. There are some things that might not have gotten an R on their own, but it’s hard to tell. The MPAA is really mercurial. The same picture on a Friday might get a different rating than it would on a Monday. No one really understands the workings of that organization, nor do they want to be understood.
What was your biggest trepidation about taking the project?
DANTE: The biggest trepidation was how we were still going to make Evelyn attractive after she became a zombie. And luckily by casting Ashley who is attractive under any light or no light, that was not a problem. She underwent a lot of makeup stuff, but luckily she took to the makeup very well. I haven’t really don’t anything like this movie before, though. It’s like a long episode of Masters of Horror because it’s a contained story. It’s confined to the same seven or eight block area in LA. I have to admit that it was a challenge, but it’s more of a character piece than a lot of stuff that I’ve done.