When most people think of Comic-Con, big-budget comic-book movies and flashy genre pictures come to mind. However, this year’s Comic-Con has already been host to two Academy Award-winning directors—Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson for The Adventures of Tintin—and today Hall H was host to one more: Francis Ford Coppola. The Godfather director was front and center for his latest film as a writer/director, the Gothic horror film Twixt. The cast includes Val Kilmer, Bruce Dern, and Elle Fanning, and centers on a a hack horror novelist who has ghostly visions that lead him to investigate a young girl’s murder.
Coppola presented the film today alongside musician Dan Deacon and star Val Kilmer, and what followed was one of the most bizarre, surreal, and wildly entertaining things I’ve seen. Coppola revealed his plan to tour with the film, literally performing like a conductor by editing and changing the movie based on the audience reaction throughout the duration of the film. We were given a demonstration, and it was a bit insane. Hit the jump for my full recap of the Twixt panel.
The panel began with Coppola being introduced to a warm standing ovation. The director then proceeded to introduce his music supervisor Dan Deacon and star Val Kilmer. The panel began a bit strangely, as Deacon and Kilmer were already seated at the table, and Deacon was surrounded by wires, a laptop, and a camera. Coppola then talked about how when Apocalypse Now first came out, there were no credits with the film. He gave out programs for the movie instead. This is the approach he took today, as he included the credits for the film on the back of our 3D glasses. The glasses, by the way, were made out of a cardboard cutout of Edgar Allen Poe, with the 3D lenses inserted into the eyeholes. This culminated with an entire audience wearing creepy Edgar Allen Poe masks.
Coppola then spoke about 3D a bit, saying his influences included Hitchcock’s 3D film and House of Wax. He explained that he likes films to have sequences of 3D, but doesn’t like the entire movie to be in the format because the glasses are a nuisance. He said when he saw Avatar, he loved it but he ended up taking the glasses off, only putting them back on intermittently to see certain scenes. He explained that this was the purpose of the Poe masks—the audience doesn’t have to wear glasses. The director then instructed the audience to put the masks on so he could see 6,000 Poes. He spotted a journalist towards the front who didn’t put hers on and called her out, saying “Journalists can have fun too.”
We were then treated to an extended promo reel for the film, which I can only describe as very, very strange. The footage began with Val Kilmer’s hack novelist talking directly into the camera, followed by a bit of narration over shots of a sleepy rural town. Kilmer’s character arrives for a signing of his latest novel about witches, which has been downgraded to the bargain bin. When a ghastly murder strikes the town (a stake was driven through a girl’s chest extremely slowly), he comes up with an idea for a new story about vampires. We then saw footage of him walking through the woods, conversing with a ghost Edgar Allen Poe, and a ghost (or not, maybe?) Elle Fanning.
The tone wildly varied. The movie looks like it was shot digitally, and at times it came across as outright camp, though other times it was genuinely moody and scary. Kilmer was great, playing the whole thing up to great effect. There was an extended sequence of him attempting to start his book that drew huge laughs. He kept rewriting the opening line of his latest novel, and I can only assume some of things he said were improvised by Kilmer himself.
As Coppola hinted, only a small amount of the footage was in 3D with a cue onscreen telling the audience to put the glasses on. The 3D was used well, as it was intended to make the scene much more intense and all-encompassing. However, depending on how many 3D sequences are in the full film the constant putting-on and taking-off of the masks could become an annoyance.
Dan Deacon talked about music and theater. He said the thing that changed with art is that the artist no longer had to be present when the art was consumed. In order to hear music or see a play, you had to go to the theater and watch the musician or actors.
Coppola said when he made Twixt he knew it was like a Halloween story and he decided that a month before the film comes out, he wants to travel with the film and put on “performances” with live music and presentations during the screening of the film. He likened it to acting as a conductor, and said since the film is made up of digital files he can change the movie according to the audience reaction. He then showed a demonstration of how he’ll achieve this. He has a computer that contains every single possible version of the film. Scenes are labeled “19S” and “19L” with the letters standing for “short” and “long,” as he can choose which version of the scene to use based on how the audience is responding. He even has whole scenes that he can choose to use or not as the screening proceeds.
He then gave us a demonstration, as a sequence played with Deacon performing music and choosing music cues on the spot. Coppola called out, “use Nosferatu,” and then a chant of someone saying “Nosferatu” over and over played.
Coppola then showed us the same footage that we saw earlier, only this time he edited it on the spot according to the audience reaction. The sequence with Kilmer coming up with the first lines of his book (which the audience loved) was much longer, as was a scene between Kilmer and Fanning. It was kind of shocking how different the footage played this time. The mood came across as much more gothic horror than camp. Then, just to prove that the whole movie is controlled on his computer, he hit shuffle and showed us what the computer came up with.
This “dress rehearsal” wasn’t without its kinks, as footage stopped and started and music cues were missed, but Deacon and Coppola didn’t miss a beat and played everything off to hilarious effect. Coppola was a laugh riot.
Kilmer said when he first met with Coppola, the director said he wasn’t quite sure how Twixt would end. He said he was drawn to this new experience because of his background in theater.
Bob Stencil stepped up to the microphone during the Q&A and asked Coppola to promise us that no one would ever remake or reboot The Godfather. The director said he ultimately has no legal control over the property. He said when people remake films it’s a pity because that movie could go into making new and original films.
He was also asked about upcoming work, and Coppola said that he’s writing a new script right now and he doesn’t know how he’s gonna finance it because he has a budget limit on the ones he can finance himself. He wants to express some things on a larger canvas.
Overall, this was definitely the most bizarre panel I’ve seen at Comic-Con, and that’s a good thing. Coppola and Deacon were hilarious, and to have us be the test audience or “dress rehearsal” for this wild distribution idea was actually really fun. I have no clue how the finished film will turn out, or even if there will be an “official director’s version,” but I’m excited to see more.
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