An Interview with Adam Green – By Kirsten Walsh

Hatchet was one of those movies that I randomly discovered on Netflix shortly after it came out, and it left a mark on me. Bringing Tony Todd (Candyman), Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street), and Kane Hodder (Friday the 13th: The New Blood) together was something that a horror fan like me absolutely loved. Pair that with the tongue in cheek humor, a throwback to the campfire in the woods, and incredible practical effect deaths, and it became a cult favorite. Now, director and writer Adam Green sits on the top of the “Hatchet Army” (what fans have dubbed themselves), with a slew of projects ahead of him. With a TV show- Holliston (which can be found on FEARnet)- which is currently kicking off its second season, and the release of Hatchet III this year, Adam Green is truly a king of horror!

He took a moment from editing his current project, Digging Up the Marrow, to share with us some insights and stories- make sure to check out the bottom of the article for some AWESOME links!

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KW: So first of all, you have a film coming up this year called Digging Up the Marrow, what can you tell me about that?

AG: Unfortunately, not all that much. It’s a really weird type of movie that started for us almost five years ago now. I get some really weird stuff in my fan mail, and it’s very fun to go through sometimes because people are just super creative and somebody had sent this package that was basically saying that the story of Victor Crowley is real and I didn’t get it right. I came up with the story when I was eight at summer camp, so I thought it was hilarious to read this thing. There were photographs of the swamp and diagrams and circles with “this is where he really lives”. It was just super creative.

We had just found out that Frozen was going to be on 100 screens, but there really wasn’t going to be any marketing, and we were really frustrated. Myself, Will Barratt, and Corey Neal came together and were like, “I wish we could go back to the days of just doing something that was completely our own.” At that point I was like, “Well, why don’t we contact this guy, and go down there with a camera and have him prove it. Who knows, that could be really funny!” They quickly reminded me that I could wind up getting raped and killed out in the woods, and I was like, “yeah, that’s probably not a great idea”.

A few months later, I met Alex Pardee, who is one of my favorite artists. He was doing an art exhibit called Digging Up the Marrow, and all of Alex’s art exhibits, instead of just looking at paintings there’s always some story behind them. The storyline for Digging Up the Marrow was that a former police detective had contacted him and he was claiming that monsters are real and he can prove that they exist and he knows where they are. He had hired Alex to basically paint all of the monsters that he had seen, and I was looking at that and thinking about our idea, and I was like, “Well, what if it wasn’t a fan claiming that Victor Crowley is real, what if it was just a fan claiming that monsters are real? And what if we controlled the whole thing?” So then we just started interviewing people about monsters, artists and filmmakers and actors and it’s kind of been a three year process. So what’s weird about it is it’s not a found footage movie, and it’s not really a mockumentary because a lot of it is real. It is more like- and I don’t even know if this is an actual term- but a “manip-u-mentary” because it’s like a manipulated documentary, where who says it has to be completely real? Why don’t we control what happens so that the stuff happens that we wished would happen? That’s kind of what the movie is.

We’re about halfway through editing now, and we just have so much footage and all this stuff, and its nothing like anything else we’ve ever done before. That’s what’s been really exciting about it, is it’s not structured like a regular movie in terms of just having a script, setting your schedule, going and shooting. It’s been a very very long process, but it’s been super creative and I think for anybody who likes monsters or has always believed in monsters and wished that they were real- I think they’ll really dig this. But it’s not super gory or (with) killing or anything like that. It’s very very unique.

KW: That is definitely something that your career has included- all of these unique, original concepts that you have come up with. And you directed this film as well, correct?

AG: Yes. That has really been my goal. Aside from the Hatchet sequels and future seasons of Holliston, I try to always do something completely different, because that is what makes it interesting and fun. It’s too hard to do this stuff, to keep doing the same thing over and over again, and it’s kind of a blessing and a curse because if I did want to keep doing the same thing over again. Like right when Frozen became a hit, if I had just written another Kane (Hodder) thriller, I would have probably been doing something with more money, or if I was willing to take some of remakes that I get called in for that I just don’t believe in, then I probably would have another house and all this money, but that’s not why you get into this.

I’m not anti-remake whatsoever. I would totally do one, if the circumstances were right. But unfortunately, a lot of times, when you get called about them, they come with these parameters that instantly just make it something that I would never even want to see let alone spend a year or two of my life to make it.

KW: That makes sense. Now you did not direct Hatchet III, does that relate to you wanting to just do something different?

AG: Well, right before I directed Hatchet II, I had already said that if we do a third one, I wouldn’t be directing it. There was a number of reasons; the first one was just that I had already done two of them, and I think that’s just enough for anybody. But I also didn’t want to not be involved because I had always hoped it would be three films, and I really wanted to see it through to the end. So it was really just the perfect situation in the fact that the same key people and the same crew for the most part stayed involved in all three films. The situation with Dark Sky- the studio that makes the films with us- they were going to let me hire whoever I wanted to direct it, as long as I was going to stay involved and be present for the whole thing.

At the time, it was like “I already have this other seen of Holliston I have to do”- which that is a whole other story- and that is a huge undertaking, just to write every episode, and to star in it and show run it- it’s just a lot of work. I also had another project called Killer Pizza that I was writing for Chris Columbus’ company, 1492, and Digging Up the Marrow, so I was like “I am just going to step down at this point, but I’m still going to be there.” I was able to promote from within and give BJ McDonnell- who was my camera operator- his first shot at directing. What worked great about it was that BJ was there for every second of the first two Hatchet movies, so he already knew this, inside and out. He knows the fans, he knows the characters, he knows the story, he knows the style, so it wasn’t like having to pass the torch off to somebody who was going to come in completely new and try to change up everything. The goal was always for the three films to click together as one movie, and so it really worked out great and there was never any butting of heads about stuff creatively. He got it. So I was there every single night, but I didn’t have to stand over his shoulder and look at every single shot or correct things. He just knew what he was doing.

But the downside was that I had never only produced a movie before, besides Grace, and Grace was a completely different type of situation considering that 80% of the movie takes place inside of a house. This was in a swamp, at night- people were going to the emergency room with poisoned bites and we were all covered in mosquito bites and people were getting sick from deet, which is the chemical in the bug spray. It was just a nightmare of a shoot. So my goal was that I would be there, but spend most of my night sitting in my trailer writing the next season of Holliston or just staying in my hotel room down the road, and only coming to set if I was absolutely needed for something. Instead, I ended up having to be onset the whole time, and having to write during the day. Between the making of Hatchet III and the second season of Holliston, I basically stayed awake for seven months. It was really really really hard.

KW: Wow. Well, now and Hatchet III is coming out now, so you’re done- there are no more Hatchet films after this?

AG: You can never say never. The third one is doing exceptionally well, and it was really well received, much like the second one, so I know that there’s interest for the Hatchet films from the various distributors around the world, but for me, this is sort of where I would like to get off. I feel like we accomplished what we set out to do, and if they end up making more, I just hope however they end up getting made, it’s with someone who gives a shit and it’s not just a cash grab. It’s popular, and they know that people will see it. A lot of slasher franchises- once you get into part 5, 6, or 7, the quality starts to suffer, because either they were running in circles, doing the same thing, or they were drastically changing it just to change it, and it doesn’t really work. So if it ends here, I would be happy with that, and I think the crew I made these films with would be happy with that, but you never really know what’s going to happen. Or maybe in five years I’ll decide and I’ll get the urge and I’ll want to do another one. But I don’t really see that happening.

KW: Now of course, with Hatchet, your choice to practical on it really revitalized the horror scene at the time and brought special effects into a new era. Can you talk about your choice to go practical and how it has affected your films today?

AG: Well, I think with a slasher movie and especially with Hatchet with what we were trying to do, and really Hatchet was – as much as I had thought of it when I was eight and wanted to make that movie- that’s because at that time when I was eight, it was the heyday of the 80’s and slasher movies and villains. In the late 90s and early 2000s, as a horror fan, I was just feeling really let down with a lot of what I was getting offered. For every great movie, it felt like there was ten- and it just wasn’t why I got into this stuff- of the torture stuff. I’m not against it by any stretch. I think Saw gets a really bad rap for being torture porn, but the first Saw wasn’t really even violent, and a lot of people don’t realize that. And like Hostel- the idea behind Hostel is fucking incredible and it is a fun movie despite the fact that people are being tortured. But all the other knock offs of it- it was just boring me seeing someone strapped to a chair and screaming for their life for 90 minutes, and I came out saying “This was not fun”.

This wasn’t why I got into it, so with Hatchet it was really just my answer to what I was seeing, and I never in a million years thought (about) what was going to happen when it happened. I figured that there would be this really small audience of people that missed the heyday of the 80s when horror movies were fun, and when we had practical effects and it wasn’t all CG, and there was a great killer with a mythology. I didn’t know that so many people felt the same way I did and were going to rally behind that movie the way they did, and I think it’s a lot of why I did direct the sequel. Not that I was obligated to, but I really wanted to, like I felt I owed my career to the people who supported the first movie.

Because of Hatchet I got to make movies like Frozen, Spiral, and Grace and even Holliston. So the practical effects for me are like- if you’re going to make a slasher movie, show the slashings first of all. The whole “PG-13” slasher movie make no sense to me. You can make a “PG-13” horror movie for sure, but not a slasher movie. You get so tired seeing faked blood splatter and you wonder, “why don’t you do the real thing?” and it’s fun too. You come home every night covered in blood and to be throwing fake body parts around. There’s just this sort of child like glee to that, as weird as that may sound, and so that was really the rule of the Hatchet movies: No matter how extravagant the kills were, to find a way to do it practically. I think the fans really appreciated that.

KW: What is your favorite practical effect that you have worked with?

AG: It’s so hard. I think I’m always going to end up saying Mrs. Permatteo’s death in Hatchet where he grabs her by the face and rips her face in half, only because that was one of the first ones that I ever came up with. As seamless as it might look on camera, it was very complicated to do because we didn’t want to cut away. So to have Kane actually grab Patrika Darbo by the mouth and then the camera spin around her and do the switch of having the dummy right at the right point where you can’t really see where it became the dummy and the camera spins around again- it was not easy to do. The first time I saw that with an audience was the world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, and the audience just literally started cheering and applauding. That is a feeling I will never forget. But I think that Hatchet II has the best kills of the series. They were super innovative and really complex and hard to pull off.

Stuff like the two guys on the chainsaw for instance- they were on wires, so there was a whole crew of guys that were pulling them up on the wires. But the chainsaw itself was a working redwood chainsaw, so its 6 feet long and weighed over 125 lbs. It’s not like any human being can just walk around and wield that chainsaw, let alone put it under two guys and lift them up into the air. So the chainsaw was also on wires that people couldn’t see that were going up to the top of the stage. There was close to fourteen people working just for that one effect. And then the makeup effects crew, because the bodies were on wires, and the bodies are basically made of PVC pipe that was designed to split a certain way, and then there was all of the intestines and the blood. When we finally shot it I think the setup was almost 3 hours for that one shot. When it happened, and it worked perfectly, that was really awesome.

And then stuff, like pulling Tony Todd out of his skin- and that’s the fun part about the Hatchet movies, it’s not usually just one thing, it’s usually two things that each person gets. It’s not enough to just chop off somebody’s leg, then you also have to impale them. There’s always that second step that takes it from the point of ridiculousness, which is why it’s so fun. Hatchet III, because there’s so many deaths in the movie, and because it’s like this whole SWAT team coming after him, a lot of the deaths were simple- like chop off this head, hit this person, hit this person. We were a little bit more selective with the extravagant deaths.

So Hatchet II had the best deaths in the series, but Mrs. Permatteo’s death in Hatchet would probably be my favorite.

KW: So here’s a fan question from Blair Richardson in Florida, she wanted to know what your inspirations were as far as writing goes.

AG: Well, one of my biggest inspirations as a writer was Chris Columbus, and it really stems from the first time I saw The Goonies, because for once, the kids were actually speaking like kids, and they sounded like I did, and so relatable and likable. I just couldn’t believe that an adult wrote that script, because it felt like a child wrote it, and that was one of the first times I noticed what a script really was. From there, I really started studying the stuff. E.T. is my favorite movie of all time, and for that one, which is what really got me into filmmaking, it was more just the fact that both times that I saw that movie the summer it came out, I found myself uncontrollably crying and I couldn’t understand why. I knew it was fake and E.T. didn’t even look all that real, yet somehow I was so touched and so worked up, and that’s where I started understanding what dialogue, what score can do, and how to actually write a story like that. From the writing standpoint, I think Chris Columbus was my biggest idol and it was movies like The Goonies, E.T., and Back to the Future that really got me into this.

From a horror perspective, for Hatchet being my first movie, it was really American Werewolf in London, which is funny to me. If you talk to a diehard horror fan, none of them think that Hatchet is like Friday the 13th, which is great, because it’s not. Just because you have a killer in the woods, but if you think about what the movie is, it’s not like Friday the 13th, because it’s a comedy. Friday the 13th was never intentionally funny, and American Werewolf in London was such a great mix of having a horrific situation and incredible makeup effect and really funny characters and really funny dialogue. It was actually an enjoyable movie, despite the fact that there was a werewolf and blood and all the other stuff. So for me, it was like, what if I made a slasher movie, and made it like that? Really fun characters, because it’s hard to get people to endear to your characters in a slasher movie because everybody knows that they are there to die.

When you try to be dead serious, nobody cares that this one is breaking up with that one or whatever, they just want them to die. So if you can endear your audience by making them laugh, then you’ve really won them over. That’s what worked about the first Hatchet movie was that by the end of those first 30 minutes, you liked everybody that was in it. They had all made you laugh at some point. American Werewolf…. was really the inspiration for that. And I even ripped off full shots from that: when Ben and Marcus are still on Bourbon Street, there’s a scene where they walk away, and it’s just one long wide shot as they walk off into the distance having a conversation about one of them hooking up with a waitress, and that was directly out of American Werewolf…. where the two characters walk away in one long wide shot having a conversation. But really serious horror fans have all picked up on that, and sometimes these people will just come out and say it, and I’ll get really happy. But when people are like “Hatchet is just an homage to Friday the 13th” it’s like, you’ve never seen a Friday the 13th movie, have you?”

KW: And one last question, what advice do you have for aspiring writers and directors- especially in the horror genre?

AG: Well first, I do have a podcast called “The Movie Crypt” which is on iTunes and geeknation.com, where I interview Sid Haig or Tom Holland or Mick Garris and we talk all about how we got our start and what advice we have, so for people interested, they should definitely check out that podcast. Its way more comprehensive than I can give in a quick answer. It is super informative, and I’ve heard now from fans who write to us that professors from UCLA and Emerson have actually been throwing their students over to us, so it’s very informative and people can learn a lot.

The best advice is that if you want to be a writer, you have to write. So many people that say they want to be a writer and you ask them “What are you working on?” and they say “Nothing right now.” Or “None” because they expect to get paid to do it, and it just doesn’t work like that. You have to prove yourself, you have to write something that’s so good that somebody wants to make it and notice it. The good thing about writing is that you don’t need a budget or a crew or any of that, it’s just you and your own brain and a pen and paper, or hopefully you have final draft and a computer. But just write, and keep writing because whatever you did just write- it’s probably not that great yet. That’s the biggest pitfall I find with young writers is that they fall in love with the first thing they wrote, and they get very bitter about notes or criticism or suggestions, and you have to listen to it. You gotta know where the notes are coming from, it doesn’t mean you have to do them, but listen to them. Rewrite it and rewrite it. I wrote the first draft for Hatchet in 3 days, but I had been brewing that entire movie in my head for almost 25 years at that point. I can tell you that the first draft is not what we shot. I rewrote it so many times before we actually shot it.

As far as being a filmmaker, it’s never been easier to get a decent camera that can shoot HD and you can get basic editing software on your laptop and make it. But if you’re going to make short films, do it seriously. Really try to make something good. The cardinal rule of short films is that they are called short films. That is one of the biggest mistakes I see is that someone says “I made a short film, its 35 minutes long”. Nobody is going to watch that. Especially when people always say “Now you have YouTube! You can just upload your thing there” but that’s not true! There’s 8 million people a day uploading stuff to YouTube, so if you want to stand out, it’s really got to be good and its gotta be the type of thing that immediately upon watching it, somebody is going to forward it to their friend and be like, “You will really like this”. That’s how something can go viral and viral is the word in this town that execs just like to throw around, but they don’t understand it. We’ve made something like 67 or 68 short films, I think at this point, because we just like doing them, and we do them for fun. Every Halloween we do a short film for our website- ariescope.com. This year is going to be our 15th annual Halloween short film, and the one that really hit it and got like millions and millions of views was Jack Chop because it was only like 2 ½ minutes long, and it was simple and funny and it instantly blew up. Some of the Star Wars fan film stuff I’ve done like Saber- those have also gotten thousands of views, probably because they’re Star Wars things. But just make a short film, and make it actually short. Make it really good. Take the time to get the sound right, make it seem professional, and make it look really great.

The last piece of advice is assembling your team. The one thing that I was very fortunate in was that my first job out of college was making the worst local cable commercial that you had ever seen in the Boston area. Like whenever you are watching cable late at night and a local ad comes on, and you’re just like “Holy shit, who made this?”- that is what I was doing. The reason why those commercials sucked so bad is A) because they are made for like 40$, and the client is in charge. That taught me so much about Hollywood- it’s like dealing with studio execs. I had gone to film school, I knew what I was doing, yet the guy who owns the pizza place is going to tell me how to do the commercial- and that’s why it’s going to look like that.

All that aside, I was very fortunate that while I was working there I met Will Barratt, who has been my director of photography for fifteen years now and my partner in ArieScope, and Will just wanted to be a cinematographer. He didn’t want to be a writer; he didn’t want to be a director. I did not want to be a cinematographer; I wanted to be a writer and a director, so it just worked really well. And then when we made the first Hatchet movie, Corey Neal came on as a producer. Corey just wants to be a producer; he’s not really interested in being on set and physically doing that stuff. He’s more into how to put these projects together, how do you raise the financing. Like he got his CPA from Notre Dame, he’s really a brilliant guy. So between the three of us, we have everything we need as far as principles and a company go. Sometimes you’ll meet someone that is part of a writing/ directing team, or like a group of people who all want to be the director, or all want to be the editor- and that’s kind of a recipe for disaster. So, when putting your team together, find people that want to do the positions that need to be done, and who live and breathe to be that position, and that’s what they want to do. I think that that is helpful in creating something that is actually really good.

Other than that advice, you should listen to “The Movie Crypt”- I learn so much on that every week. This last episode was with Mick Garris, and he tells stories about working for Steven Spielberg- amazing stories about how he got his start and The Stand and The Shining and its amazing. But there is so much negativity out there. I think the internet has calmed down from when it first launched and everything was just people spewing hate and so awful all the time, and every movie is always the worst movie ever, and it sucks! I think that it has calmed down a little bit, but no matter what, throughout life, there is always going to be so much negativity and so much jealousy, especially once you really start to work in the industry. It becomes worse than high school in some ways. Like the people who are telling you that they are happy for you to your face, but then literally two seconds later wishing you would die because they are so jealous, or whatever their problem might be. You just can’t get involved in it, you can’t focus on it. It will eat you up and it will slow down your own process because it has nothing to do with you and you can never change it. Not everyone is going to like you and not everyone is going to like what you do. It doesn’t matter- focus on the people who do like what you are doing and focus on the things that you are doing. Don’t let it change who you are. That is the biggest crime I’ve seen out here is when someone comes out here with so much heart and so much spirit, and they could take on the world, and then two years later, they are just the most miserable, beaten down, angry people, and its because they let all of that stuff get to them. It is not easy, it is so hard, because every day you are getting kicked in the balls from somewhere, whether it’s because your movie just fell apart for no reason and then all the financing fell apart, or whether your movie turned out great but there was really bad distribution and they don’t care, or there’s a merger and the distributor that was putting it out can’t spend any money on advertising. There’s every reason in the world to get fed up with it and quit, but you can’t. You did this because there was something deep inside you from when you were a kid that just told you that you had to do this. That’s what you need to focus on, and just find the good, and put it out there because there are so many good people. Learn how to navigate it and how to identify a negative person and isolate them- which I was not really good at until recently. I had charity cases working for me, people that I knew were not happy people, but I felt bad for them and wanted to help them. Once you get past that, anything is possible.

One final thought on that- my assistant editor who is now the lead editor on Digging Up the Marrow, he and his best friend just made a movie for very little. A bunch of film festivals passed on it, little and big, and they were really sad about that, but then they got into Toronto, and tonight at midnight, the movie is going to premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, which is huge. Unfortunately I couldn’t be there because I’m still working on Digging Up the Marrow, but all day long I was thinking about those guys and what they did- they stuck together and they did it. If they can do it, I can do it, anybody can do it.

KW: That is super motivating! Thank you so much to Adam Green for taking the time out of his uber busy schedule! Make sure to check out the links below and all of Adam’s shows and films!

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Adam’s official website: www.airescope.com
Adam’s twitter: @Adam_Fn_Green
Adam’s Facebook: www.facebook.com/adamfngreen
THE MOVIE CRYPT PODCAST can be found on www.geeknation.com or on iTunes
HOLLISTON Seasons 1 & 2 are both available on iTunes and Amazon- through iTunes also has the Christmas Special. Hulu has Season 1 streaming and Season 1 is also available on DVD and BLU-RAY. Season 2 will hit DVD/ BLU-RAY and Hulu around the end of the year.