Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
I remember seeing Luke Greenfield’s short film THE RIGHT HOOK several years ago. His was one of several good comedy shorts I saw around that time from filmmakers that have gone on to make less-than-stellar first feature films (CHEATERS and STARK RAVING MAD being two other examples), but it seems unfair to hold a Rob Schneider vehicle against the guy. I’m sure his agents wanted him to make a safe and “easy” studio feature to get his feet wet, and what could be safer than stepping into the Happy Madison machine? THE ANIMAL is far from the worst of Schneider’s films, but the question remained... who is Luke Greenfield as a filmmaker?
Sounds like his new film might start to answer that question, and Mr. Beaks liked it enough to sit down with the director to talk to him about it:
2004 is quickly shaping up to be a great year for comedy, but more on that later in another column. What I’ve got today is a one-on-one interview with Luke Greenfield, director of what is, for me, one of this year’s biggest surprises thus far, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR. A coming-of-age story featuring Emile Hirsch as the straight-laced class president who falls for porn star, Elisha Cuthbert, the film unavoidably echoes RISKY BUSINESS, but sets itself apart through the way it perfectly evokes that mix of anxiousness and unfettered optimism that is life in high school. I had a blast watching it, and can’t wait to see how teenaged audiences respond to it, as I think it has a chance at being one of the definitive films of their generation. That’s not to say there isn’t an appeal for those outside of its target audience; the performances in this film, particularly from Hirsch and Olyphant, are outstanding. If Fox connects with their demo, this is going to be a star making vehicle for Hirsch. He’s that good.
As for Ms. Cuthbert… well, you’ve seen the trailer.
So, here’s my Q&A with Luke Greenfield, a young director starting to make good of the promise shown in his widely seen short film, “The Right Hook”. Don’t make the mistake of holding THE ANIMAL against him, okay?
I wanted to first talk about what movie, or movies – it doesn’t have to be one – that made you want to be a filmmaker.
That’s a tough one, because, obviously, I was from (the early 80’s), so Spielberg was my hero for a while. But then my mom forced me to watch COOL HAND LUKE, which I was named after; that’s one of my favorite movies of all time. (ONE FLEW OVER THE) CUCKOO’S NEST. THE GREAT SANTINI. FIVE EASY PIECES. Movies that you can’t forget. Stories about the rebel that you can’t kill.
As far as those kinds of films that inspired me to make movies, it was weird because I couldn’t draw. I started making movies when I was ten because I wanted to draw so bad, and I sucked. My uncle gave me a camera, and I started shooting Super 8 movies. That’s how it began.
Not Video 8?
We didn’t have money, so I was shoplifting film out of the drugstores and stuff. I worked at a camera store, so I could sneak in my stuff to get it developed. Little Kodachromes. It was really expensive then.
You talk about those movies with antiheroes. Another movie that I think we both have a great deal of affection for, just judging from your film, is RISKY BUSINESS.
Which, again, I see it definitely in this movie. He’s doing this good deed for this exchange student in what many would say is an amoral manner. So, you’re kind of tweaking notions of what constitutes morality in this country. As a hero, is that what got you into this project?
There was an original script years ago, and I was given that script actually here at that table (points over to a corner table in the lounge). It was a really, really, really broad comedy. It was a completely different movie than it is today – a teen sex farce. Like you, I love RISKY BUSINESS, I love SOMETHING WILD. I always like movies about normal people who are closet rebels, who want to experience the wild life, but they don’t understand the consequences that come with that. I though the concept… if you put it in a very realistic world about a high school senior who gets involved with a girl and finds out she’s a porn star… we developed it right from the beginning, what would be at stake for this kid. So, we made him the overachiever who really is the boyscout, who believes in American, and believes in being President and being moralistic, and *then* put him in a situation where his love for this girl is going to go against his future, and everything he’s worked for. He’s been putting blinders on his whole life, and has been focused on one goal: getting into Georgetown and being President. What excited me most for the movie is how this kid, who feels he hasn’t experienced life, hasn’t enjoyed himself because he’s been so destination driven, learns real world politics through a shady porn producer and a girl who’s trying to reclaim her innocence after having made bad decisions in the past. That’s what I really related to: I look back at high school, and all I wanted to do was, foolishly, go to USC film school and make films by the time I was twenty-one. I really should’ve been drinking a lot more, banging more chicks, and I kinda missed out on all of that. I wish I could’ve lived what this kid lives in the movie.
It’s sort of a vicarious young adulthood, then?
Sometimes those are the best youth films – the ones where you get a sense that they’re living that fantasy out. John Hughes for instance.
Definitely. I mean, RISKY BUSINESS is the cleanest and the most sophisticated, but I love FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, TAPS… John Hughes movies are great. That was kind of the whole goal with the script. I wanted to make it rated “R” not for nudity or tawdriness, but just for the adult content. Like SOMETHING WILD, I wanted to put an eighteen year-old kid in really dangerous situations, situations where I would freak out and cry in my room about. It was really important to, with this opening montage in the first three minutes of the film, get people like you and your age back to thinking like you did in high school, getting you to relate back to what was important and what was scary to you in high school. It was important (do this), so they could feel like the tensions and the conflicts that they’re dealing with are huge, because a lot of people in their thirties and forties would say, “Great, you’re not getting into Georgetown. Big fucking deal. Try dealing with a kid who’s mentally challenged, or sick.”
That opening montage did the trick.
I sat there feeling like this was exactly how it felt in high school. Everything is like the end of the world in high school. I love that feeling. I recently watched THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN.
You know, I’ve never seen that movie.
Oh, it’s great! That’s a movie where the fate of the whole world seems to hinge on this guy getting the girl and getting laid. I mean, its comedic bits and situations are a bit pat and hackneyed by now, but the film, tonally speaking, despite its strange homoeroticism, really nails that idea that your entire future hinges on getting the girl. That’s what I get from THE GIRL NEXT DOOR. That’s the key. A lot of these movies are just so facile, and they act like plugging in the right hot actor is all it takes. Although, jumping back to RISKY BUSINESS, you also mentioned a lot of other Tom Cruise movies. Was there something in Emile Hirsch that reminded you of a young Cruise?
Yeah. The most challenging part of this movie was casting. If you look at all of those movies… you look at Curtis Armstrong and all of these guys in RISKY BUSINESS, and they’re way old. Tom Cruise wasn’t that old, but the other guys were really fucking old. We were auditioning all of these actors, a lot of great actors, but no one could capture… it’s funny, all of these kids grew up on television, whereas you and I were raised on John Hughes movies, and the realism of those movies. I can’t really get into the teen movies of the last several years, aside from independent films. But casting was crucial. I saw Emile in DANGEROUS LIVES OF ALTAR BOYS, and I saw some… candid tape of him, and how natural he was. He just seemed so real. But it was impossible to get him. Emile was seventeen at the time, and very intelligent. He’d been studying and analyzing Brando since he was ten. He really has this very astute knowledge of literature and film. And he just kept being pitched our movie, and since that old, broad comedy draft was out there, it had this stigma attached to it. And he wouldn’t read it. So, I wrote him a letter with the other writer, Stuart Blumberg, and finally I tracked Emile down at Jerry’s Deli. I walked him through, visually, what I want this movie to be – the tone of it – and he’s like, “No, this can’t be the same movie.” I said, “It really is. You should read it.” And he was shocked.
I guess that’s what we’re excited about. It’s like what you said: making a movie that’s real. Making a movie where you really care, and putting the audience into his shoes. I try to do that as much as I could visually, to make you feel what he felt, and to question what you would do in this situation. Would you go up against Kelly? Would you stick with this girl who had been in porn? These are big questions, and I, personally, at that age wouldn’t have the courage that the lead character does.
Watching him go up against Kelly, I did get that sense of, “Dude, back off. You are out of your depth with this guy.” A part of that, also, has to do with Timothy Olyphant. He’s got that kind of live wire energy. I’m glad you brought up SOMETHING WILD. I hadn’t thought about it, but he does have some of that same energy Liotta had. Kelly’s a little more approachable, but you still know, at any given moment, he’ll drop the hammer on him. Could you talk a bit about Timothy Olyphant? He’s someone who I think has been terribly underutilized.
Totally. That was the most exciting part for me when we were writing the script, having this relationship between this kid who’s so earnest and wears his heart on his sleeve, and this guy who’s… you know, I love the villains or the badasses who are not so bad. And I really wanted to begin the character of Kelly as this really good guy. It’s funny, I had this AC/DC song that we couldn’t get – that really sucked – to introduce him as this fucking badass with his tattoos, his muscles, his boots… and Timmy’s got these killer eyes. I wanted the audience to think, “Here comes this mean motherfucker.” Then, I turned it around, or I tried to at least, and make it like, “You know, this guy’s not so bad. Actually, he’s kind of like the older brother he never had.” And Timmy tries to help him out with confidence and getting chicks at school. I really wanted people to, like Matthew, that they could let their guard down with him, and then have him turn on you at the drop of a hat. It was actually more violent when we wrote it. It’s funny, the studio wouldn’t even allow us to put in some of those Kelly/Matthew scenes. They thought it was too edgy for them, and against the tone of the movie. So, I told them, “Then, I’m not making the movie.” So, they said, (imitating a hushed tone) “Okay, okay! Just don’t put it in the script. You can go shoot it, but we don’t know anything about it.” So, the scene where Kelly [CENSORED], we were never allowed to put that in the script. When we shot it and edited it, the studio was really hesitant. But then when we tested the movie, that was the number one scene.
As for Tim… he’s awesome. I loved his character in GO so much, and, I agree with you, I don’t think he’s been utilized nearly to what he’s capable of doing. The great thing about Timmy is that he’s the sweetest and most sensitive, really warm guy. He’s so not (Kelly). But when he closes his mouth, and those teeth don’t show, he’s got very threatening eyes. So, when he’s listening to you while you’re talking, you’re almost thinking, “Shit, this guy’s getting pissed off for some reason.” You’re like, “Are you alright?” And he’s just, “What? No.” He’s just completely not threatening, and it’s amazing how he can just turn it on. It’s interesting, I think he’s playing this Clint Eastwood type of character on this HBO series called DEADWOOD. It’s funny, because, if you look at him, he looks like a new version of Clint.
That’s the new David Milch show, right?
Yeah, and Walter Hill.
That’s an interesting path for Tim. While we’re talking about the performances, because, really, that’s the thing that most jumped out at me, let’s talk about Elisha (Cuthbert). Outside of 24, we haven’t seen what she can do. I was really surprised by the emotional depth she brought to the role.
She’s a go-getter. The way this movie worked, as far as getting it made, is that… Chris McKenna and I wrote a draft, and then Stuart Blumberg and I were writing a ton of drafts. The studio loved it, but they wouldn’t greenlight the movie until there was a table read. So, I had to cast the movie temporarily with actors, and do a table read for Tom Rothman and all of these big guys at Fox and New Regency. I had so much passion for this movie that I had to make this table read amazing, so Elisha, who had read the script earlier, loved it and wanted to work for free. Just work with me in rehearsals. We were really rehearsing her role at this table read. She was one of the only actors at the table read who made it into the final movie. I scored the table read. When we wrote the script, I wrote all of these songs into the movie, so I had these actors sitting around the table like a normal read, and I had my assistant with a boom box blasting “Baba O’Reilly” and Nick Drake and all of these great songs. It really built the emotion.
But getting back to your question, she is a real go-getter. She really saw something in the role. We saw a lot of actresses, and a lot of names – a lot of people who, at the time, were a bigger name than her. But her passion for it was just so strong, and she’s such a cool, cool person. She’s the real thing. She’s so young, and she’s going to be a huge, huge talent.
I’m sure she could see something in the role like, “If I nail this…” Although it’s not the same thing, she’s not the older woman, but the Rebecca De Mornay type. If she could nail this, she could become the new Rebecca De Mornay, Phoebe Cates sort of sex symbol. And you get the depth and approachableness of De Mornay’s Lana with her.
I’m glad you say that. That was exactly what I wanted. RISKY BUSINESS, for all its brilliance, is a completely different movie. Paul Brickman is a genius, and that movie is all about capitalism in the 80’s. (Lana) is a very cold, cold character in that movie. If you read the very first draft of RISKY BUSINESS, it’s a very different movie, a much darker movie. I always pictured Danielle to be the dream girl, and my dream girl is someone who is always one step ahead of you, who is approachable, who is fun. Obviously, she’s beautiful, but her attractiveness is because she can break you out of your shell, and she can make you do things you don’t want to do. She is living adventure, and while I wanted her to be this mysterious femme fatale in the beginning, unlike RISKY BUSINESS, I wanted to go for more of a romance and a love story. I really don’t think RISKY BUSINESS is structured like that at all; I think it’s clearly more of a coming-of-age story. I was more tainted by Brickman’s early drafts where it’s really all about Joel learning the game and becoming this guy… I don’t know if you’ve read the early drafts—
Actually, I never have.
In the early draft, he finds Rebecca De Mornay in the end, and she’s prostituting with this guy. And Joel says, “That’s it? I’m just another guy?” And she goes, “You’re just another guy,” hops in a cab and leaves. A lot of people are finding a lot of strong similarities with THE GIRL NEXT DOOR to RISKY BUSINESS, but I think RISKY BUSINESS is a brilliantly clean movie, much cleaner than ours and much more sophisticated. What I was going for is much more high octane, more of a dangerous journey for this kid. Hopefully, people will see it that way.
(Luke and I went on to discuss a particular music cue in the film, which I’m eliding from the Q&A for its potential to prejudice one’s initial viewing of the film. We’ll pick up with Luke talking about the composer, and the surprisingly anxiety-free task of clearing all of the music for the soundtrack.)
Our composer was a member of Tangerine Dream. Not during RISKY BUSINESS – I think he came on during LEGEND. Paul Haslinger. He’s probably one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever met. The only trouble with the soundtrack was that I’m a U2 fanatic, and we had three U2 songs. We had “Bad”, “One Tree Hill”, and “In a Little While”. “Bad” is one of my favorite songs of all time. We had it in the scholarship dinner speech, where he’s talking about “Is the juice worth the squeeze”, and it worked so beautifully in there. My editor, Mark Livolsi, is a master at syncing music to image. But we couldn’t get it. So, Haslinger had this daunting task: get the same emotion of U2’s “Bad”. And he nailed it. He had such a challenging job on this movie, because we had such unbelievably strong music that was either completely unattainable or completely out of our budget range. (Beaks note: They still corralled some great music. Elliot Smith, Jeff Buckley, The Jesus and Mary Chain… not bad.)
Well, “Bad” is a really personal song for Bono. That’d be a tough one to get.
It’s funny. I picked the three songs that were closest to him. “In a Little While” was written about his wife and daughter. I’m going to get Bono to see the movie eventually – he’s one of my heroes – but it never got to him. I’m dying to see what he thinks.
We had a lot of battles. I mean, we had so many battles, but the last battle was to get this song by The Verve, “I’m a Lucky Man”. At the time, it was impossible to get. Everyone said to quit, that you’re never going to get it. But I just kept bothering this guy, David Boyd, who is Richard Ashcroft’s best friend, and I said, “I can’t finish this movie until I get an okay on this.” Ashcroft was such a cool guy, because he had recently turned down millions of dollars for a Coke commercial – he’s just a true artist; he doesn’t care about money at all – and he just wanted to know who were the other artists involved (on the soundtrack). He’s a big Harry Nilsson fan, The Who, David Bowie, Donovan… and he said, “Well, I’m in good company then”. It’s a fucking miracle that we got that song.
You’re talking about playing all of this music at the table read, did Fox’s eyes just bulge out when they realized how much music they were going to have to clear?
When we were writing the script, we wrote the songs in, and they were just like, “Whatever. Good luck.” It was such an impossibility that I didn’t even think about it. Then, when we did our test screening, everyone went crazy for the music. That’s when Fox went, “Oh, fuck, we’ve got a problem here.” New Regency was very, very generous to me about money for music. They tripled the music budget, which, for a movie this small, it was pretty unheard of. They knew they had to, because, once they started replacing the music, it just did not (work). Music is so crucial to emotion. I write movies to music. That’s where I get it from. So, if you don’t have those songs – and covering things is just a cheap way out; you have to have the original. So, yeah, they really stood up for us. They bought as much as they could.
That’s impressive. I’ve heard how so many filmmakers lose these songs that are so integral to the movie.
Think about GOODFELLAS. What would that be without those songs? Oliver Stone uses great music.
Oh, Wes is fantastic with music. You know, I was criticized a lot in the beginning by some people who said, “You need music from this generation. This is all 70’s music. Nobody knows Donovan. Nobody knows Nick Drake.” I just went to the emotion, and these songs have true emotion. And whether kids are familiar with it today, or not, I hear a lot of kids coming out of these screenings, and I hear them saying, like, “What was the song they were playing in the limo?” It’s good, because they’ll be exposed to it. They kept saying, “Why don’t you put Britney Spears in it?” And I was like, “What the fuck are you talking about?”
That stuff never works. Pop music today has a shelf life of maybe a week, and by the time you get to the release, they’re tired of that song. I never understood that. This is how kids find these artists. That’s how they discover Jeff Buckley, or someone like that. That’s partially how I discovered music back when I was young. I discovered stuff through, say, Martin Scorsese, who may be the best ever at integrating pop music in his films.
It’s funny that you bring up Wes Anderson. BOTTLE ROCKET used a great Rolling Stones song on the end. “2000 Man”. I had never heard that song in my life, and I remember seeking it out. Now, it’s one of my favorite songs. You’re right. The movies help you find those rare songs that you don’t hear.
So, is this a genre that you feel comfortable with? Where do your interests lie?
I’ve had three dream movies in my head since I was fourteen, and I’ve been working on them for a while now. I’ve got this untitled movie coming up that I might do next. But my heroes have always been, at least conceptually, Spielberg… and I really love Jim Brooks. I want to get a little more dramatic, a little deeper, and a little older. The next couple of movies that I’m planning on doing are in the late-twenties, early-thirties age range. But I love movies about kids who are at that impressionable stage. Do I have any plans for the future? There’s not a movie I have right now with a young protagonist like that, but I wouldn’t be opposed to doing another.
I have a feeling you’re going to be fielding plenty of offers soon enough.
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR opens on March 12th. It features James Remar as a porn king. How’re you going to miss it?
Nice work, man. We’ve got a couple of reviews for the film elsewhere on the site today, including one from our own Capone. Check that out, too.