Ahead of the UK cinematic release of his new film, Green Room, we sat down with Jeremy Saulnier to talk punk, gore, and Patrick Stewart.
The Metropolist: So, without giving to much away, tell us a bit about your new film, Green Room.
Jeremy Saulnier: It’s a punk rock, siege thriller, that takes place over one insane night, where an out of town band, witness something backstage and are held up in the green room (of the club) fending off a gang of Nazi skinheads.
TM: We only finished watching the movie about 15 minutes ago so we’re still quite tense, but what struck us after watching this and your previous movie, Blue Ruin, is how naturalistic your plot lines are, and how things don’t always go as planned, how do you keep these tense moments coming one after the other?
JS: I try to set things up, both thematically and visually so I don’t have to adhere to a lot of the standard screenwriting structure, so I let these stories find their own path and it’s very exciting when you allow yourself to not be governed by typical screenwriting rules. That way, I can surprise myself when writing, I can be intuitive and when the tension starts to build, I’m terrified because I don’t know where it’s going to end up. So it’s all about transferring that onto the audience by preserving my curiosity and my connection with the characters.
TM: Everything in the film is believable, you never sit there and think something couldn’t happen in real life.
JS: Real, relatable characters, behaving like actual humans do, put into (the films) scenarios and suddenly it’s a lot more terrifying and the terror I put my characters in transfers to the audience and makes it, hopefully, as exciting as a big spectacle, studio movie.
TM: How did it come about that Patrick Stewart became attached to the film?
JS: It was just a wonderful, last minute save that involved serendipity and great timing. He got his hands on the material through our mutual management company, Anonymous Content, he had just joined as a client, and they threw him the script and he loved it. He felt that it was what he was looking for at this particular time, he watched my movie (Blue Ruin) the next day, liked it, we talking on the phone and then he was flying to Portland, Oregon within a couple days.
TM: Speaking of Oregon, where this film is set, it seems like the location is almost another character in your movies. Is it important to you to get that kind of character from your setting?
JS: Absolutely. I think of the environment as a huge installation for a lot of my movies, in making sure that the people are native to that environment. Being from the punk rock/hardcore scene in Green Room, I knew the world, I knew the people, having once been one of them, so I tried to be true to them and really mined the environment for all it’s worth. If I give myself limitations coming in, to a certain confined area like this punk rock concert venue in the middle of nowhere I can really dig in and start to utilise it for all it’s worth. I can design action sequences by just listing my resources, if I were in this situation, what would I have to work with? Okay, I’m in a concert venue, so I have microphones, amplifiers and feedback so it becomes very important to me to pre-visualise my environment to use it as a huge part of the story telling process.
TM: It feels like all the music and sound come from the scenes themselves. All the music is live and the rest is ambience, was it an intentional choice not to use pre-recorded punk rock music as the theme to the movie?
JS: Yeah, all music comes through the PA speakers in the venue or it’s being performed, there is no Punk Rock soundtrack. I wanted it to have a really clear definition between the on-screen diegetic music coming out and the score, which we use to creep in and really beef up the atmosphere and eventually overtake the musical element of the film and drive the narrative and add lots of tension.
TM: Something that has come up in all your films is the level of believable gore. Do you have fun coming up with those scenes?
JS: In the execution, I keep it grounded and very realistic, but a lot of the stuff when I’m writing it scares me. It’s unnerving and it can be terrifying and sometimes brutal and devastating. Other times, it can serve as a much needed break in the narrative, a small moment of triumph or exhilaration. But I definitely see the make-up effects unfolding as I write as do I see most of my shots, I always have a visual in my mind before I type the words. I treat everything in a grounded way with a certain aesthetic attached to it, and unfortunately, if you’re going for realism and drama, when it gets to the make-up and the gore, that certainly stands out when you treat it seriously. It’s definitely not glamorized.
TM: This film is around 90 minutes long, and for 70 minutes of it my whole body was tense!
JS: It’s tough man, it just came naturally. Once you set the stage and you start to ratchet it up and all the events are just going back and forth it’s really about you, as a writer, playing chess with yourself, you’re strategizing against yourself and at a certain point, you lose. Then there’s this big eruption of violence and real danger and that’s when the film shifts a little bit. It goes from the art of depriving people of information to the sudden reveal of the gravity of the situation and the real stakes which are another source of tension. Once you are off the beaten path narratively, people can’t predict every move based on the standard screenplay formula. Then you have a lot more at your disposal as far as the audience’s energy. They lean in, they’re more active, their eyes and ears are open and you have the ability to really take charge of the narrative and tread new ground hopefully.
TM: Finally, your characters talk a lot about their ‘Desert Island Band’, but what’s yours?
JS: Black Sabbath. For me, It’s Ozzy all the way. They are still amazing live.
Green Room arrives in cinemas across the UK on Friday, May 13th, 2016