Sam Raimi and Quint discuss DRAG ME TO HELL, SPIDER-MAN 4 and EVIL DEAD 4!
Published at: April 9, 2009, 8:15 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a really fun chat I had with Sam Raimi at SXSW.
I lucked into seeing a test screening of Raimi’s film DRAG ME TO HELL (my review here) back in January and flipped for it. DRAG ME TO HELL feels like vintage Raimi: kinetic and creepy, but with a funny bone a mile long.
If you read the review a couple months ago, you may remember that I almost got caught, fearful that Raimi might remember my face from our sit-down interview at Comic-Con the previous year. I bring this up only because we touch upon it at the head of this chat, which was a big surprise itself.
You can never tell how filmmakers respond to test screening reviews, even if they were blubberingly positive like mine was, so when I was asked if I’d like to interview Raimi being one of the few press who had actually seen the movie (against Universal’s wishes, I might add) I was taken aback a bit.
He was in Austin to show the film as a workprint, which ended up being rougher than the test screening cut I had seen a month before. We discuss the difference in the cuts, the difference between the PG-13 and R-rated versions they have, SPIDER-MAN 4 (and its sequels), EVIL DEAD 4 and a lot more. I had a blast with this one and I hope you do, too. Be warned, there are some DRAG ME TO HELL spoilers discussed.
Sam Raimi: Thanks for writing that nice review for the picture. Wow.
Quint: Well, you are the one who delivered it, man. Makes my job easy when you do that.
Sam Raimi: Wait a minute, I’ve got to clear my head. Did we meet for Ain’t It Cool News?
Quint: We did.
Sam Raimi: OK, yeah outside at that table.
Quint: Yeah, at COMIC-CON.
Sam Raimi: You did the interview.
Quint: Yeah and then at the test screening, I’m like “I hope he doesn't remember me..."
Sam Raimi: I didn’t.
Quint: Okay good, because afterward I was standing outside…
Sam Raimi: I read that you said that. I didn’t remember you, but you looked familiar, like “I know I’ve seen you before,” just didn’t remember how.
Quint: That’s exactly what I figured.
Sam Raimi: But I won’t forget next time, God damn it!
Quint: As long as you keep making them as good as you made this one, I don’t think you...
Sam Raimi: Thanks for the great review! It’s been a long time since I read a good review of something I did.
Quint: (laughs) It’s only been one movie, right?
Sam Raimi: Yeah, I guess, but so many and for so many years… It’s been a long and ugly bought of reviews.
Quint: Honestly, I’m really excited to see it again tonight with a big audience. That screening was clearly filled with genre fans, which was good, because a lot of times those test screenings have the completely wrong crowed.
Sam Raimi: I wonder how they got that crowd. Did they just stand outside that mall at Sunset and Crescent Heights?
Quint: I don’t know, because I heard about it through the grapevine.
Sam Raimi: Why were there so many people there that would write about it?
Quint: Without getting anybody in trouble, one person heard about it and it spread like wild fire and so…
Kraken: It’s worse than in junior high…
Sam Raimi: Oh, I see. Aren’t you guys competitive with each others’ sites? If you find out about a screening… Or is it like a camaraderie, you just say “Let’s go stick it out.”
Quint: It depends who gets it.
Kraken: Horror geeks first, journalists second.
Quint: Everybody is like “The new Raimi… The first Raimi horror movie in forever!!” and everybody goes crazy.
Sam Raimi: I really appreciate you coming and writing that review.
Quint: It really did exceed all of my expectations. When the script went out there, I read it. I think in my mind I had more of a your return to horror was going to be a harder, more EVIL DEAD type thing and so when I read the script I was like “Well, I will have to see it,” but visually, you completely sold me. The writing and the characters, they all came alive in the film and I love the new opening, which I don’t think was in the script that I had read, with the young boy.
Sam Raimi: There was… I don’t know which draft you got, but we started in Romania, where the old woman was from and her family and her clan was from, we started with a similar episode, but then we couldn’t afford it and that was one of the cuts that we had to make. And then there was a little period of time when we had the script without that opening. Then we said “Let’s just do it in Los Angeles.” In fact, Grant Curtis, my buddy who is the producer on this picture said “Why don’t we just set it here in Los Angeles and still be some years ago, so it can have a history so you know the woman who is the exorcist and I said “OK, there could have been a gypsy clan here in Los Angeles back then also, so…” We did make that change.
Quint: I think it immediately sets the tone, because kids and pets are always safe in movies today and neither one are safe in your show.
Sam Raimi: Should we have had a little dog go down to hell, too? Is that what you wanted!?
Quint: No, you had the cat!
Sam Raimi: Oh that’s right! We do that.
Quint: And then the cat makes it’s return appearance.
Sam Raimi: That cat is up in heaven even as we speak.
Sam Raimi: There were no animals harmed!
Quint: When you open the movie with essentially an eleven or twelve years old kid violently being dragged to hell, it’s like “There you go!” You set it so it doesn’t feel like the audience is safe and I think that really helps a lot of the tension scenes, which are really effective, even in that early form.
Sam Raimi: That’s a good point, it probably does have that effect. I didn’t think about it in those terms, but it does have to work for that reason.
Quint: Because the audience isn’t sure what you are willing to do now.
Sam Raimi: I see. They know the main character may not be safe. That’s good.
Quint: So I heard that there were other screenings. Was that screening that I went to the R rated cut? Are there even different versions?
Sam Raimi: Well, the difference is so subtle that… I’ll have to tell you that there are different versions. There was an R rated and a PG-13 version, but you saw it before there was any difference between the two. That was the first screening and there’s only six seconds of difference between the two and actually the PG-13 version is six seconds longer than the R rated version.
Quint: Oh yeah?
Sam Raimi: It’s because when a different take is used, it just ended up being technically longer. It’s very confusing, but the versions are very, very similar. It’s really frames.
Quint: Are the differences, because there’s not a lot of gore, you actually go out of your way, like there’s a lot of gross with the slime, the drool, and all of that stuff, but there isn’t a lot of blood, except for the nose bleed scene, but all of that is in such a non-violent context that I would imagine…
Sam Raimi: There’s not a lot of blood. I don’t have a problem with the blood, but EVIL DEAD 4 is all about blood and gore and EVIL DEAD movies and I really like the EVIL DEAD movies and I really want to make another EVLI DEAD movie sometime. I don’t want to say when, because everyone keeps getting mad at me…
Quint: It’s like “Yeah, you are going to have to now, or else the fans are going to revolt.” You’ve now said that you are going to do it!
Sam Raimi: I do want to do it! I’m about to make SPIDER-MAN 4, so I feel like even though I wanted to make a horror movie and an out there horror movie, I just didn’t want to do exactly the same thing I had done before. I always like to put on a different little spin, so one of the minor tweaks and this is not a big deal in my opinion, I just didn’t want to have a lot of blood. I didn’t want it all to be driven by the blood and the gore. I wanted to try a different kind of gross-out horror, even though we are talking about bile coming out of an old lady’s mouth or whatever it is… embalming fluid by the gallon pouring into the other girl’s mouth, you are dealing with fine subtleties between that and blood, but for me I just wanted to try different variations on the theme, that’s all.
Quint: Now I won’t go into it, but I hope that the difference doesn’t affect the final shot of the movie, which is one of my favorite shots and I assume that was a lot of work, with your work with KNB?
Sam Raimi: No, it won’t! Actually that particular makeup was done by our digital effects supervisor under the auspices of that great animator, who I just forgot his name… Who was the great animator of JURASSIC PARK?
Quint: Dennis Murren?
Sam Raimi: No, not him actually. I am so embarrassed, but that… The moment you leave this interview it will come to me, but the effects house and an artist at his effects house did that make-up. I don’t even know the artist, because it was done digitally.
Quint: Wow, that was a digital effect?
Sam Raimi: That particular one is.
Sam Raimi: We pulled her under the rocks and I don’t want to spoil it for your fans of the article… there are spoilers, obviously, but we pull her under the rocks to hell and it was a bladder, so mechanical effects made a bladder and put these light weight volcanic style rocks on top of it and all of this was done on top of a platform and she was literally pulled down through it, but there was a makeup effect done that I think you are referring to in your article and that was done digitally.
Quint: That’s great, because I’m not a fan of digital work in horror usually, but that effect to me looked like make-up, like on set, in-camera make up.
Sam Raimi: Great! Well, you are not going to see the right version of it today unfortunately. Well, because the first time the film has gone from the Avid to a 2K presentation and believe it or not, the wrong version of that particular… actually a lot of shots, but that particular shot… We had emails back and forth “Please, I need that shot!” That couldn’t be ready in time, so sorry.
Quint: Is it the same thing happening? It’s just a different…
Sam Raimi: You are going to see an earlier incarnation of it, but… it’s still a work in progress, that’s all.
Quint: As long as it ends up in the final cut.
Sam Raimi: One day it will be better than you remember it!
Quint: OK, cool!
[Harry comes up]
Sam Raimi: Hey, you are Harry Knowles?
Sam Raimi: Great pleasure to meet you sir, how are you? So you are part of this team? Great to know you man. It’s an honor to meet you. I have never met you before.
Harry: Oh, you guys continue. I’ll wait.
Quint: So let’s talk a little about Greg [Nicotero] and the KNB team then, because I guess obviously they built the goat?
Sam Raimi: Yes, they did.
Quint: That just seems very Greg.
Sam Raimi: That whole team is excellent. They are great puppeteers. First of all, they really know… If you ask for a particular shot with a particular effect, they know how to present you with options to give you the best shot for that particular angle. It’s like, “I know you want a mechanical effect there Sam and we can build one, but this is best done as a hand puppeted piece, because you really want the speed and the flexibility and you want this lip syncing you are talking about… although we could pull levers and do our scene, this particular moment, let’s build a hand puppet. It’s the articulation of the lips and the movement of the jaw and it can be so much more finely attuned to the playback. This shot should be like that.”
Or he might say to me “In this wider piece, we won’t be able to get in there and hide the puppeteer and still have the movement of the upper torso you need. This is a wider shot, so here we do want you to go with the RC. We want to go with a rolling car cables with a backwards and forwards movement.”
They are always ready in the design stage first. Then they are brilliant artists as far as Greg Nicotero and his team… They can craft really original, frightening horror art that’s life-like and moveable and it’s not just art, it’s three dimensional and functional. It’s really exciting and then they take it to the set and meet this deadline, this schedule, and they perform it. They get in there with their puppeteers and usually it’s Greg hiring puppeteers, but usually he throws down his jacket and says “Let me get in that mud, I’ll do it myself” and he gets there and he’s running in the old lady’s puppet torso or he’s got his hand up in the thing. Shannon is also another great…
Quint: Shannon Shea?
Sam Raimi: Yes. Awesome guy…
Quint: I love Shannon.
Sam Raimi: And he’s got a real art form that he practices on set, so they are also like good actors. They listen to the actors around them and they are reacting as best as they can playing a goat possessed as realistic as that might be, but they are playing the scene like any other actor.
Quint: Who’s the voice?
Sam Raimi: Well, what we did was… in the story is the spirit of The Lamia is called forth, speaks to this medium…We have this spirit called forth and it inhabits the body of Shaun San Dena, that’s the character’s name that Adriana Barraza plays, and then the spirit is transferred to the goat and then the spirit is transferred to her manservant, whose name is Milosh in the story.
So that there was some continuity, I asked Greg to give an element to the makeup of the goat creature in Adrianna’s make-up, in the possessed goat makeup and Milosh’s make-up and likewise sonically to carry the illusion along, I recorded a gentleman’s voice, so it’s got this great deep baritone voice and mixed him in with Adrianna’s voice as a backing voice, a secondary voice, so that when the goat is possessed, you hear that primarily mixed with that of the sound of a goat and then when Milosh is possessed, it’s also that same gentleman backing up Milosh’s voice, so that there was some sense of that character inhabiting the other characters. So when you say “Whose voice it was,” that’s why I had to give you such a long answer. It’s sometimes him and a goat, sometimes him and Adrianna, and sometimes him and the actor who play Milosh.
Quint: It’s a great scene. I can’t wait to see it tonight in the Paramount, which seats like 1,200 people, so it’s going to be a huge crowd and I guarantee you that you will be hearing cheers and hoots. That scene is such a great pay off through all of the slow tension throughout the movie.
Sam Raimi: Well, I’m a little worried about the sound or the definition of the sound, because I know that’s a great old theater, probably built in what 1915 or something, right?
Quint: I know when they premiered ED TV of all movies, I don’t know why it was such a big deal, I guess because Ron Howard directed it, but when he premiered it here, the studio and I think it might have actually of been Universal, but they paid for the THX guys to come in an refit it and THX certify the theater.
Sam Raimi: What year was that? 1936?
Quint: I think it was 42… No, it was like 2001.
Sam Raimi: Well, my editor Bob Murawski just came back from there and said “it does not have great definition with the surrounds. It’s really boomy like a big theater is,” so I’m not sure.
Kraken: Guillermo [Del Toro] brought HELLBOY 2 and premiered it at the Paramount and a lot of big… He premieres a lot of his films there and I have not been to a Paramount screening yet where it didn’t sound great.
Sam Raimi: Oh, it sounds great?
Kraken: You might lose some of your audio tricks with some of the surround…
Sam Raimi: Specifically, we just left the mix and my editor has been there for a couple weeks and a lot of the definition of where we were movie the sounds like from front left to front right, he said that’s been greatly diminished, which tells us there’s a lot of bouncing around of these sound waves back and forth in this big box.
Quint: It could be and I’m sure your guy knows more about that than me, but just the layman sitting in the theater, I never have trouble with certain channels overpowering dialog or losing a sense of focus on where I am supposed to be listening.
Sam Raimi: Also, he wanted to turn it louder and the people at the theater said it would blow out the speakers if you turn it any louder than 7.5, so whatever system they bought, I think they better get a refund on, because when filmmakers show their first film, they don’t want to be told they can’t make it as loud as they want. If that’s THX, I’m surprised.
Quint: At least it was then…
Kraken: Every premiere I have ever been to at the Paramount has always sounded good.
Quint: I think probably the best sound in Austin is the South Lamar Drafthouse, though.
Kraken: I’m sure you being the director, will be sitting there going “argh.”
Sam Raimi: I haven’t heard it yet.
Quint: It won’t be horrible. That I can guarantee. You wont be going “Oh my God, they can’t hear anything.”
Kraken: I think it will be a good screening. Everybody I’ve talked to is buzzing about it.
Sam Raimi: Because this festival… These guys really deserve like the best sound in the world, they should be able to hear things in the most pristine isolated channels the way it was really created, but that’s why I was surprised to hear that report, but I’ll give you my own report after the show.
Quint: I’ll be in there with about 1,200 people, so…
Sam Raimi: I hear the theater is gorgeous and beautiful and has a lot of history to it.
Quint: It’s a good space and has a good vibe and the SXSW crowd is really good. They are excited for it, but they are good movie loving people.
Kraken: Everybody I have talked to is dying to see it. We keep telling everybody there’s no way not to love this movie.
Sam Raimi: Well, your reputation is on the line! It better be good!
Quint: (laughs) “Don’t screw me Raimi! Don’t do it.”
Sam Raimi: I hope it’s good!
Quint: We’ve been warning people off of other movies, too, just going like “You want to see DRAG ME TO HELL.” “You can see these movies any other time…”
Sam Raimi: Great. I hope it’s what you said it was!
Quint: You had mentioned earlier that you have to do the EVIL DEAD thing, because people just won’t leave you alone about it, but you don’t help yourself when… I heard at COMIC CON, you are talking like “Me and Ivan have an idea and we are going to start writing.”
Sam Raimi: It’s true. I don’t know what to say. Should I just say “No comment?”
Quint: No no no, but I think you are going to see a lot of people after seeing this movie… that thirst is going to be awoken again. People really love you doing genre, so do you have to do it! When do you think that you could? You are doing SPIDERMAN next…
Sam Raimi: That’s a long time, so I guess it’d be nice to work on it after that.
Quint: Are you doing SPIDER-MAN 4 and 5 back to back? Or are you just doing them one at a time or do you know yet?
Sam Raimi: No one’s talked to me about making part 5 at this moment. Right now I’m hoping to make part 4.
Quint: I just heard that everybody had signed a three picture deal, so I guess that’s all misinformation. People just assuming maybe, because you see MARVEL signing all of these people to nine picture deals and stuff now…
Sam Raimi: Did they really?
Quint: Yeah, they just signed Sam Jackson into a nine picture deal, but that’s to appear in the next HULK movie, the next IRON MAN movie, AVENGERS…
Sam Raimi: For me it’s just making the nextSpider-Man picture, that’s all I know right now.
Quint: That’s cool. When do you guys start on that?
Sam Raimi: Well, it’s a never-ending process. Basically we are talking about the story right now, shortly artists will come on and I’ll start giving them shots to draw. We are supposed to start talking to a production designer soon, so it will just keep getting larger and larger.
Quint: Is it easier starting a movie like this when you already have so much that you have done in three different movies, where you can go back and say “OK, well we know the main suit is going to look like this and now we need to design this new stuff,” or is it like going back to square one every time you do it?
Sam Raimi: Some of it is like going back to square one. For instance in the beginning Jim Achenson, our costume designer had to design the Spider-Man suit completely from scratch, but in the second one, we went to probably 25 redesign elements of the Spider-Man suit, so a lot of it had to be redone just because I didn’t like that the bottom of the boots were black, there were particular webbing issues that could have been improved that Jim didn’t have time to improve himself and on and on.
He found a better way to overlay some of the print designs on top of themselves versus a very slow and ultra costly system, so sometimes it was about great clarity of image, sometimes it was about artistic changes, sometimes it’s about greater symmetry of imagery within the costume, but there were about 20 to 25 changes and they were much easier, because we were starting from source material that we thought was working.
In the third picture, we felt that the technology had changed enough that it was time to skin Spider-Man and start him over again, so we actually had to start from the ground up again, but it wasn’t so much exterior skin design as much as it was the armature that drove him, so we are going to evaluate when the team comes together, I don’t have a visual effects supervisor yet, “what were we unsatisfied with? What aspects?” But certainly it won’t be… we will have to start over again, because we want in 2011, if that’s when the picture comes out, because I’m not sure. I get so confused by these dates… I don’t want somebody to say “What did you do? You advanced the date!”
But whenever the picture comes out we want to make sure we were shooting above the bar as it currently stands as far as visual effects go and we may or may not make that, but that will be my team’s goal when we start.
Kraken: So, what you are saying is you are committing to EVIL DEAD 4 in 2012? On the record?
Sam Raimi: 2012?
Sam Raimi: Oh, shit!
Quint: “I’m not doing SPIDERMAN 5 until I’m doing EVIL DEAD 4! That’s what Sam Raimi says!”
Sam Raimi: Oh, God! Don’t get me in more trouble!
Quint: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me man!
Sam Raimi: Thanks for that lovely article! I hope you like the new sound job. It’s not done yet by a long shot, but it’s our first crack at the professional mix. You hear a lot of Christopher Young’s music in it, too.
Thanks to Mr. Raimi for bringing the film to Austin and agreeing to spend some time talking about his work with me. And thanks again to Kraken for taking the pictures. Hope you guys enjoyed it!
Interview number one is complete. Look for at least two more popping up today! Busy little bee, I am!
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