Quint chats monsters with SPLICE director Vincenzo Natali!!!
Published at: April 9, 2010, 3:29 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a chat I had with SPLICE director Vincenzo Natali. I’ve dug the guy’s work since CUBE and saw his latest at Sundance this year.
That’s where we start the conversation, focusing on that midnight Egyptian Theater Sundance screening. We cover a ton of geeky topics, from Guillermo del Toro to classic monsters and other influences.
Splice is a fucked up movie… so naturally it was right up my alley and I think it will be for a fair amount of you folks as well. The interview treads a bit on some story points, but I don't believe it goes into "Fuck You!" spoilers. Enjoy the chat!
Quint: … I expect the reaction of the big sex scene was probably everything you had hoped it was going to be.
Vincenzo Natali: (laughs) It was pretty great. The film has existed for a while now. We finished it in April, but we’ve only had one public screening.
Quint: At Sitges, right?
Vincenzo Natali: Yeah, which was great, but that was definitely for an audience that was skewed towards the movie. It’s like a hardcore geek audience, which was wonderful, but Sundance is a slightly different animal, so yeah it was really great to have a broader swath of people. It’s so hard to judge these things, I felt like there were definitely a lot of people who really connected with the movie. I don’t know if the whole audience did or not.
Quint: Were you on Twitter? Did you do a search on Twitter for that? I know Scott Weinberg, who is from Cinematical and all for the horror guys were just going “SPLICE is the best movie ever!”
Vincenzo Natali: Oh really? That’s so nice to hear. It’s funny, when you work on something for that length of time, a decade; by the end of it you have no idea if it’s any good or not. It could be crap, really. I care about the movie tremendously, but I have zero objectivity.
Quint: I have to imagine it’s got to be refreshing for you to, like, birth the baby; to finally get it out there in front of people.
Vincenzo Natali: It really is. It’s the kind of movie that I made knowing that some people, maybe a lot of people, would really dislike or be uncomfortable with, so that was part and parcel with it. The only reaction I don’t want is indifference. That would be the only disappointing reaction for me.
Quint: Talking about the hardcore geek audience… We both grew up on monster movies and genre movies, I’d be willing to bet. I can see a lot of Universal Monster influences in the film. I mean, you have a movie where the creature is not the villain… for the most part. It’s kind of tormented into doing these horrible things…
Vincenzo Natali: Right. It’s like Frankenstein’s monster.
Quint: Yeah, it’s very FRANKENSTEIN, but it’s like I can imagine that must have been something that attracted Guillermo del Toro to the project.
Vincenzo Natali: I think so. I first met Guillermo at a festival in Portugal and he said (Guillermo voice) “You know man, I would really like to produce a film for you,” which is amazing to me, because I was a great admirer, and I instantly thought of SPLICE because it seemed like a natural thing for him. But, yeah I guess he really did connect with it.
Quint: Your Guillermo wasn’t bad, but you have to put another two or three F-bombs in it to be authentic Guillermo.
Vincenzo Natali: (laughs) Right. That is absolutely true!
Quint: “Fucker, I will produce one of your fucking movies!”
Quint: So let’s talk a little bit about Dren and her character and just how she really isn’t much of a threat until very later on in the movie at which point it’s all reactive. Was that the intent?
Vincenzo Natali: Yeah, very much so. I mean I really wanted this to be a movie about discovering humanity in a monster and the monster in the humans. Really, in a way, it’s almost like a hostage film because about halfway through the film the creature becomes a hostage to her creators. I think the film kind of steps into ambiguous territory. Those scientists are very likeable, charming people who do operate with good intentions, but who slip off the path and definitely open some doors to their darker nature.
Quint: So to speak.
Vincenzo Natali: Yeah so to speak. Metaphorically and literally. And equally Dren, the creature, is an innocence to begin with, but then she is also capable of being vindictive. She’s a complicated character, too. So what I’m trying to do and I hope the film succeeds in this, is take the classic FRANKENSTEIN story that we are all so familiar with, but kind of push a little more into the terrain of a relationship film and all of the ambiguity and complexities that go along with that.
Quint: It’s interesting too, like with Elsa, how she is so flat against creating a child with her partner, but she aggressively pushes to essentially create a child born out of an experiment.
Vincenzo Natali: That’s it. That’s exactly it. Yeah, Elsa is a complicated woman. She is a geneticist who is very ambitious, who is very courageous and even though she is married to an equally brilliant geneticist she really is the one who leads them.
At the same time I think she has this latent maternal instinct, even though she’s afraid of having a child because she comes from kind of a an abusive background. So I think inevitably when she creates Dren, and she develops this bond with Dren, when that bond begins to sever and Dren turns to Clive, she just can’t help herself.
When we are talking about genetic engineering, and all of the dangers that inevitably arise with that kind of technology, that’s what we have to be the most afraid of: the human element. Human beings are very capable of doing irrational things and Elsa at a certain point, despite herself, becomes a very irrational person and she does some things that she later regrets terribly.
Quint: Is Elsa named after Lanchester?
Vincenzo Natali: Yes, and Clive is named after Colin Clive, who was Baron Frankenstein in the original films. I’m a huge fan of the James Whale movies and a huge fan of Berni Wrightson. The movie was heavily influenced by them. That’s definitely part of my DNA, but I was also very conscious of not in anyway imitating those films.
I wasn’t actually thinking about FRANKENSTEIN that much when I was writing the film with Antoinette [Terry Bryant] and Doug [Taylor]. I was really interested in pushing it into the 21st century and I really think that the Elsa character is the key to that, the fact that it’s not a father son relationship, like in you have in the FRANKENSTEINs. It is more of a mother daughter relationship and then, ultimately, a love triangle.
What is so astonishing to me about the way genetic engineering technology is evolving is that we are now in a position to create the imagined creatures that have existed for thousands of years. The whole idea of falling in love with something that is not human or not entirely human is something that’s very deep into our psyche.
Quint: Or even biblical with angels. That kind of imagery.
Vincenzo Natali: Right and I don’t want to get to new age-y, but I sort of believe that we are meant to tamper with our DNA. I just feel like human beings always change their environment; it’s only a matter of time before we start changing ourselves and perhaps evolving ourselves. In a way, I think that Dren is perhaps a step up on the evolutionary ladder. Inadvertently maybe Clive and Elsa are really servants to evolution.
Quint: Yeah, she is able to survive in more environments...
Vincenzo Natali: And she matures faster. Maybe she’s more intelligent or potentially can become more intelligent than Clive and Elsa. Roughly, the timeline of the film is like seven to nine months and she grows from a single cell to a fully mature creature in that time.
Quint: Can you talk a little bit about finding the design of the creature? Was there a big process? I have to imagine when you hired Delphine [Chaneac] that that had a lot of influence, too.
Vincenzo Natali: Yes. There was a real interplay between who we cast in the role and what the design would be, but it was a process. I think I first started doing my drawings in 1998 or 1999 and in the years since then have brought on a number of really talented artists, a great guy from New York named Daniel Leff, a great Toronto artist name Amro Attia… The fellow who actually sculpted the baby and toddler is a guy named Tom Czarnopys who is based in Chicago.
All of these guys aren’t movie artists. They are actually fine artists who have come into the film world, so I think they have brought in a level of realism, which was always the prime directive, to create creature who is biologically plausible. I really wanted to escape from the tropes of what a movie monster is, so we tried to be more subtractive in our design rather than additive. Rather than sticking things on top of our creature, which I feel is a more common route, we tried to take things away.
Quint: She’s very sleek. She’s very demure, almost. You had KNB on for the practicals? As the filmmaker, where was the balance between CG and practicals for you?
Vincenzo Natali: It’s a very fuzzy line, because I wanted to use practical effects and real actors as much as possible, partly because that’s all I could afford, being an independent film, but also I think even if I had had an unlimited budget, I would have gone down that road because Dren is really another member of the cast. She is not hidden in the shadows. She’s not like the Alien. She’s really present and she’s a character that you really have to feel for and I just think even in the advent of something like AVATAR, I don’t think you can ever get that level of subtly from a digital performer. Maybe one day, but I still don’t think it’s there 100%, so that was the approach.
Ultimately, in the early stages of Dren, there was no choice than to make her fully digital, because no human being could possibly play a two foot creature without arms.
Quint: And puppets were out of the question?
Vincenzo Natali: We actually tried some puppet stuff, but there are limitations and it didn’t work as well. It became more of a reference and the same thing with Ginger and Fred, the other creatures. There’s some puppet stuff, but ultimately we really got more bang for our buck doing it digitally. So yeah, the hybrid is a hybrid.
Quint: Let’s talk about the mature Dren. Of all of the stages that was my favorite… or maybe the little kid in a creepy dress stage…, but the thing that I was able to connect the best with was the adult Dren. So, you actually had Delphine actually there in front of the camera and then you went in and did some manipulation to her or did you have to fully replace her?
Vincenzo Natali: I almost hate to talk about this stuff at this stage, but what we ultimately decided to do with Delphine was as little as humanly possible. We experimented with stilts and various apparatus that she might wear to change her height or change the way she moves. In the end we felt we were always going to get a more natural kind of performance by doing nothing, so the only thing she really wore were her three inch heels, but being a French actress that was not a problem. (laughs) It came very naturally to her.
Quint: So, you had to digitally erase a cigarette?
Vincenzo Natali: (laughs) Yes! That’s right, exactly! And the fishnet stockings! (laughs) Actually it was interesting… She wore, depending on the scene, blue or green stockings. In retrospect we realized that we shouldn’t even have done that. It was more trouble than it was worth and if I were to do it again all I would do is shoot her as she is with the exception that we have tracking marks on her face, because we did some manipulation to her face.
Quint: You had to make her eyes a little bit bigger and farther apart.
Vincenzo Natali: Exactly. It’s really interesting, the technology has evolved in such a way that maybe you could have done this work ten years ago, but it would have been outrageously expensive. The tracking software and the means that exist now to rotoscope an object is just so much faster and cheaper now. That’s how we can do a movie like this on an indie film budget.
Quint: What are you on to next?
Vincenzo Natali: As I’m sure you know, in this day and age you have to sow many seeds. It’s getting harder to make films, but one project I have been working on for a while and I really hope comes to fruition is an adaptation a of JG Ballard novel called HIGH RISE.
Much like SPLICE it’s a passion project and has been for a number of years, but like SPLICE it’s also a bit dangerous and a little bit transgressive and a little bit scary, so it may take time, but it’s very timely.
2010 is the year that that the Burj, the world’s tallest building, opens in Dubai. I’m not sure if you were aware of it, but it’s the world’s tallest building and it’s a condominium and it actually goes to show how prescient he was, because his novel was written in 1974 and he conceived of this enormous high rise, basically like a vertical city, where the residents never have any need to leave nor do they want to leave. It’s about how that vertically integrated society ultimately collapses and the tenants revert to the worst possible kind of savagery.
Quint: That’s right up my alley, yeah!
Vincenzo Natali: It’s an extraordinary book and I am incredibly lucky to be able to be working on it. Many other filmmakers have attempted to do it in the past and it failed. Hopefully I wont be among them.
Quint: That’s about all I’ve got. Thanks so much for taking the time.
In person Natali came across as being very passionate about his film and giddy to talk about its roots.
Warner Bros releases the flick this June! Go out and see it if for nothing else than to hear the multiplex audience respond to a few key sequences. There will be minds blown, mothers rushing children out in near panic and laughter from those, like me, with a wicked sense of humor.
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