Filmmaker Joe Lynch (Everly, Wrong Turn 2, Knights of Badassdom) has promoted transparency in his filmmaking process. With his fellow director Adam Green, Lynch co-hosts The Movie Crypt podcast where they discuss the nitty gritty of making film. When he was in Austin this week for the premiere of his new film at South by Southwest, he gave a detailed Reddit AMA about filmmaking.
Mayhem stars The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun as Derek Cho, a rising executive at a company that successfully defended a man from a murder charge which he committed while infected with a virus. When their office becomes infected with the same virus, Cho embraces the opportunity to take out all his frustrations on his bosses, permanently. He teams up with Melanie (Samara Weaving), a homeowner whom he denied help earlier in the day, because his firm also represents the bank that is foreclosing on her.
Introducing the film at midnight, Lynch said Mayhem appealed to him because he’d worked in corporate America himself. The following day, Lynch spoke with cinemathread about Mayhem, its production and its themes, as well as the pitfalls of today’s open playing field for upstart filmmakers.
cinemathread: You gave the longest answers I’ve ever seen anyone give on an AMA.
Joe Lynch: I did an AMA for Everly a couple years back and that was one of those ones where you’re not dictating to people. You’re actually typing it out. I enjoyed it because I could actually edit myself. Here, Ashley at Reddit was holding an iPhone that was going to some dude in San Francisco who was typing it out. I’m sitting there going, “I can do this if you want. I can cut out the middle man and just type away for a little while. I have no problem doing it.” They’re like, “Yeah, but most times celebrities –” I’m like, “I’m gonna stop you right there.” They’re like, “Well, most times talent –” I’m like, “I’m gonna stop you there too now.” “Most times people don’t want to type out.” So I just talked and I did not realize that they were going to be David Foster Wallace sized.
CT: No, I meant it’s good you gave people real answers. That explains though that the guy in San Francisco didn’t know how to spell Fede Alvarez.
JL: Oh, I would not misspell Fede’s name.
CT: Is Mayhem more “pure Lynch” than Everly?
JL: In hindsight, I was really lucky with Everly. Obviously, it’s well publicized that Salma [Hayek] and I did not quite get along during that but we were professional and we made the movie and she’s great in it. That’s all that matters. With this one, it was definitely my most ambitious movie because we just didn’t have a lot of money to make something with the scope that we were trying to go for. It was literally trying to scrape together as much as we could to make the scope fit the story. Is it the most Lynch? Absolutely, because Steven Yeun’s character is essentially me. I’ve been in his situation before. Not the virus thing and killing people but I’ve been in that situation where you have to make ends meet. You have to work a corporate job or day job just to make ends meet. Especially when you’re considered a creative in a corporate world, it can be incredibly depressing. It can be incredibly stifling. It’s just not a fun place to be. I felt that way.
I felt Derek’s plight because there’s a conception of success. There’s an expectation of success whether it’s born from our parents or from society. People subscribe to that and when people reflect back and say, “Why am I still at this job? Oh, that’s right. I wanted to be successful.” Not realizing that personal success and satisfaction sometimes comes from painting a painting, or making a short film, or writing a song, being creative and expressing yourself. When I read the script, I was like, “Man, I have never had a script that I haven’t written speak to me like this.” That’s why I immediately jumped in. Of course, once I got involved, all of a sudden there’s a Faith No More song involved and there’s all this dialogue that I’ve heard. The amount of times I’ve heard the term, “Let’s discuss.” I wanted that to be the tagline for the movie because it’s the most passive-aggressive noncommittal thing that I’ve ever read or ever read when I get and e-mail that has 12 attachments to it. It’s soul-sucking. I can’t stand passive-aggression. I just can’t. If this movie is a comment on passive-aggression, than f*** yes.
“The amount of times I’ve heard the term, ‘Let’s discuss.’ I wanted that to be the tagline for the movie because it’s the most passive-aggressive noncommittal thing that I’ve ever read or ever read when I get and e-mail that has 12 attachments to it. It’s soul-sucking.”
CT: What was your corporate job?
JL: It doesn’t sound like a corporate job at first, but do you remember G4? I worked for G4. Those days of studio deals and hanging out in bungalows reading scripts because you got a fat residual check are all gone. Filmmakers now are in a position where you don’t have the lofty big paychecks or the residuals or the deals that keep you just focused on making films. Everybody’s got day jobs. Everybody’s got secondary work. If you want to make movies now, you better really want to make movies. Films that come out today from independent filmmakers, I have the utmost respect for because there’s a guarantee that the director probably has three jobs and has maxed out 14 credit cards.
Derek’s plight and journey are very much mine. In between gigs, I got hired at G4 first as a camera guy, a DP. Then I got Wrong Turn 2 and I left. When I was done with Wrong Turn 2, I don’t like to not work. That’s just my thing. G4’s like, “Why don’t you come back here? This time you’re going to be creative director of the website.” So in between each movie, I was going up the ladder of this corporation which ended up getting bought by NBC Universal. No detriment to them, they make great movies and TV shows, but the corporate culture is very much corporate culture to a T. It’s not a culture that I jive with. Especially when I’m being tasked to be a creative person in a very uncreative environment. They try everything that they can to make that an employee friendly place, but if you’ve been there as long as I have, and the turnaround is pretty expedient, I’ve been lucky where I would be able to come back and hand out a couple Everly posters and I’m like, “Yay, I got my job again.” It’s still very impersonal. I wanted Mayhem to be something that commented on that and at least fought against it.
One of the best things that happened last night was somebody came up to me and said, “I’m quitting my job.” I go, “Great.” Then I followed up with, “What are you really going to do?” She said she’s going to make films. I’m like, “Great. Make sure that you can pay the rent but use this as a kick in the ass to go follow your passion.”
Films that come out today from independent filmmakers, I have the utmost respect for because there’s a guarantee that the director probably has three jobs and has maxed out 14 credit cards.
CT: I’m with you. This is why I’m a freelancer. I don’t want to be in an office where I have to be in meetings. I’m no good to you in meetings. Just let me write the stuff you want me to write.
JL: I agree. That’s why I get why a lot of writers do their work at home. You go into that office and you’re in those cubicles and you just want to blow your brains out. You feel like, “Is my last name Buttle or Tuttle?” You’re in Brazil. I wanted to use that as a springboard for this movie because how often do you get a chance to make a movie like this that really reflects on your life, or at least the state of mind you’re in and the position that you’re in life in that moment? I got to quit my job to make a movie. It really worked out.
CT: I also dealt with a bank on my house. Did you also have a comment on that corporate structure? I still get into arguments with people who believe in this system of paying a bank for 30 years for this idea of home ownership. Why don’t we just not give these organizations half a million dollars over 30 years? On what planet are they helping me by “letting” me give them money?
JL: Aside from The Big Short, I have a lot of friends who lost houses because of that.
Look, I have a family and I’m still living in an apartment because of how the market is so f***ed up. Melanie is fighting for her house. Knowing people who have gone through that, you can’t have a more relevant thing to fight for in today’s world. Especially how the market is, especially how the bubble burst years ago but still people are homeless because of it. It felt like a real reason to fight.
“One of the best things that happened last night was somebody came up to me and said, ‘I’m quitting my job.’ I go, ‘Great.’ Then I followed up with, ‘What are you really going to do?’ She said she’s going to make films. I’m like, ‘Great. Make sure that you can pay the rent but use this as a kick in the ass to go follow your passion.'”
CT: I’d rather rent and have the freedom to come and go if I want with every lease. I think we could change the system if we all decided not to give these organizations the power over our homes. Let’s all rent until they’re all gone and we’ll come up with a new system. But I never had a dream of owning a home. That was someone else’s idea.
JL: That’s another example of a foisted-upon dream that American culture or cultures in general, has imbued on the public where you’re not successful if you don’t have a house. You’re not successful if you don’t have that job. There’s a bucket that everyone needs to be put into or there’s a model that everyone’s trying to achieve. Not everybody subscribes to that and it doesn’t work out for everybody. That one felt personal enough where both those characters do some despicable things in the movie, but I felt like if they had legitimate reasons to fight, it was worth it.
CT: It’s the only thing in my life I caved on. If I had stuck to my guns, I would’ve been sitting pretty in 2008.
JL: Dude, so many people say that. So many people say it and shouldn’t have to say it.
CT: Talk about the combination of tracks like Faith No More’s and the original synth score in between them.
JL: I usually work with Bear McCreary. It was just bad timing and he was in the middle of doing five movies that had to go to Toronto. Luckily, my editor Josh had just worked with Steve Moore and he’s done The Guest, The Mind’s Eye and funny enough he’s in one of my favorite bands, Zombie. Called Steve up, Steve was just like, “Yeah, I want to work with Joe Lynch” and that was it.
I always wanted to do a synth score because I knew I wanted to do something that felt synthetic. I wanted to do something that felt like it was born from the computers of that office in a way. I just wanted to make it feel inhuman in a way. When I hear an oboe, saxophone, strings or a violin, in most cases, even though I know it can be reproduced with a keyboard, it feels like an extension of the human factor. In this case, I wanted to make it feel synthetic and robotic. I’m the biggest John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream fan. I love that type of music. Steve Moore got that immediately and got the tone of the movie.
Combine that with Rivers of Nihil, a speed metal band, and Faith No More, which is my favorite band, a little bit of Dave Matthews in there too. It’s a very interesting sonic mix of things going on. It’s those things that, even in a heightened reality, when you hear a song from one of your favorite bands, you go, “Oh, that is in this world. Music from this world is in that world as well so I can relate to loving that pick of song.” Music means a lot to people. That was a way for me to ground the movie even just the slightest bit.
CT: On the podcast, Adam is always encouraging people to just make something. Then he has to clarify he doesn’t mean, “Make something and you’ll sell it for a million dollars. Make something so you can learn and get better.” I like that you added focus on the script. Now everyone who makes something feels entitled to be seen. I as a journalist, let alone regular people watching things for fun, do we have to educate people that you have to earn being seen too?
JL: Here’s the problem. When you have a distribution model like YouTube where anyone can post anything and it can go anywhere, they are the ultimate distribution company. Before, if you were a filmmaker or producer for TV, you had to jump through the hurdles of studios, whether independent or big guys, are they going to see that it’s worth the money to make to make the exposure to get people to see this movie? With YouTube or Vimeo or any of these places, they don’t need that. You just put on you scratching your cat’s ass and that’s a video that will get a million hits. So you sit there and justify yourself going, “Why not? Why shouldn’t I?”
I’ve been privy recently to the whole YouTube culture. I just did a show for them, this thing for Blumhouse called 12 Deadly Days which was an anthology film that was very much like Tales From the Crypt, but it premiered on YouTube. It was a YouTube production.
CT: But a Blumhouse production is worth checking out and covering. With anyone putting on shows, the press and regular viewers have to decide what’s actually worth watching.
CT: If people decide they don’t have time to watch yours, that may mean you have to figure out what to make next that will interest people.
JL: It’s a hard thing right now because you can post anything anywhere. The old model of making movies is a moment like we’re having now. We made the movie and we need distribution. I’m hoping, if all goes well, we do.
CT: The fact that SXSW picked it puts it on various radars too.
JL: It helps, but that’s the thing. There are usual channels and the unique channels by which to get a movie out there to people, whether it’s reviews or marketing, which plays into the whole reviews thing, or a company that is going to distribute it to various networks or theaters or streaming services. It’s something that’s still a hard thing to quantify and curate in a way, but eventually, it’s going to all come together. It all starts from the story.