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Alexandre Aja Discusses His Career and Bringing Joe Hill’s ‘Horns’ To The Screen!

Alexandre Aja Discusses His Career and Bringing Joe Hill’s ‘Horns’ To The Screen!

alexandre-aja-Horns-2014-feature

Over the past decade, director Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3D) has established himself as a dynamic filmmaker on the rise in Hollywood. A rarity when it comes to genre films, he isn’t afraid to take on new challenges and stretch as an artist. His latest film, ‘Horns,’ is a shining example of that mentality. The film is an amazing adaptation of Joe Hill’s original novel, which centers on Ig Perrish, small town guy who finds himself blamed for the brutal murder of his girlfriend. In light of that event, he finds himself ostracized by everyone he knows and hounded by the media. Matters are further complicated for Ig, played masterfully by Daniel Radcliffe, when he awakens one morning to find he’s grown a pair of horns. Armed with the supernatural powers they possess, he sets out to find the true killer. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Alexandre Aja to discuss what drew him to filmmaking, his evolution as an artist and the challenges involved in bringing “Horns’ to the silver screen. 

Alexandre Aja

Alexandre Aja

What was it about filmmaking that initially intrigued you and made you want to pursue it as a career?

I had the chance to have a family that was working in the industry. My father was a director/producer and my mother was a film critic. I kind of grew up on movie sets. As far back as I can remember my father was writing scripts and taking me on sets. At the time, I thought it seemed to be a very fun job because it was always changing and they were always making something different. What really sucked me in was, when I was 10 years old, my best friend and I started going from video shop to video shop to rent everything we could find. We would watch them and start writing scripts. The writing process for me became such an exciting part of the process. You can imagine, when we were 12, the scripts were not very good but they were fun to do. We discovered the excitement of creating a story and characters. Everything was possible! The writing was always my first passion. It was when we were a little bit older we started writing short films. We had one short film that was financed by the French State. We started thinking about directing and we got our start. I have to say that I have been lucky to have never stopped working for the past 17 years now. When you are working on something and are passionate about it, there is never a day that is the same as the previous one. It has been pretty exciting and I am very grateful to be able to do these movies.

You experienced so many different aspects of the filmmaking process. Do you still gravitate toward the writing process or some other part of the process?

I think there is really three different parts of the process when it comes to filmmaking. Of course, there is the initial writing of the script, the collaboration with the actors and then the editing, which is maybe the most important one. I love the three of them. I enjoy more and more the directing part and I feel more and more confident. It excites me to work and collaborate with the actors and all of the departments. The writing is still a huge part of my life and I try to write every day. I have also discovered the pleasure of directing scripts that I did not write. It is very interesting and a different process. I really enjoy the entire experience these days!

'Horns'

‘Horns’

Your latest film is “Horns,” which is an adaptation of Joe Hill’s amazing book. What was it about this story that made you want to pursue the project?

My agent and manager sent me the galley of the book when I was finishing “Piranha” at the time. I didn’t know anything about the novel or Joe Hill. I just started reading it and, from the very beginning, I was blown away by the way it went from a dark comedy to a suspenseful story to a dark drama to the supernatural. The mixing of all of those genres made it so interesting. Usually, when you make movies, you have to make something that fits in the box. Making this film was like making a film that fits in all those boxes together! I loved that! That was what got me! I felt, at the time, “If it works in the book, why wouldn’t it work on the big screen?” I knew I had to make this movie!

From what I read, Joe Hill was very involved with the project. What type of effect did working with him bring to this film?

I wanted him to be so involved. I wanted to make a movie that was as close to the experience that I had reading the book and I wanted to do it with his blessing. I was so happy that he was one of the producers on the project. It was so helpful to have him in the writing because he is someone who is really smart about the adaptation. He knew that an adaptation that was word by word would be boring, not interesting and a six-hour movie! We knew we had to find shortcuts and ways to hone the story but respect the DNA of the story. I wanted to make sure we respected what made the story so interesting. Having Joe next to me and being able to access his brain for solutions and shortcuts was terrific. The collaboration with Joe was really strong and I hope to work with him on another project very soon.

Was there anything you hoped to accomplish stylistically or technically with this film that you might not have attempted on your previous projects?

Yeah. When I was reading the pages, behind all the sheets of tone and emotional and scary measuring, I could read the lines. I could see so many important things I wanted to attempt for such a long time. I always wanted to find a story that would give me the opportunity to create a world that was a very hyper-real vision of America. I wanted to create a small American logging town in the Washington State that has a very “Twin Peaks” aspect to it and oppose that to a much more out of time measuring. I wanted to make those two worlds live together. This story gave me that opportunity.

Daniel Radcliffe and Juno Temple shine in 'Horns'

Daniel Radcliffe and Juno Temple shine in ‘Horns’

The cast for the film is absolutely tremendous. What did they bring to these characters that made them jump from the screen?

I have to say that, when we finished the adaptation of the book and started with people in Los Angeles reading the script, we realized how much the story was a magnet for actors. People were really, really willing to be a part of it and excited about it. We were obviously excited about the project but to get such an amazing response from everyone involved was amazing. There are so many projects and scripts going around but this one was so exciting, original and singular. The material gave us the opportunity to have the characters start in a normal way but become very different when they are under the influence of the horns. It was a great challenge for the actors. Having the opportunity to cast whoever I wanted was the best thing possible. I am so happy with the cast of the movie. The collaboration with Daniel Radcliffe was amazing, obviously, but also with Joe Anderson, Juno Temple, Max Minghella and Kelli Garner were also great experiences. This film was definitely the best experience I have had working with actors in my career.

What was the biggest challenge of bringing “Horns” from script to screen?

I think the biggest challenge was linking all the genres together and making the movie feel like a journey. In the beginning, I was trying to explain the film to people by comparing it to other movies, because that is how you would usually do it. You would say, “It is like this movie meets this other movie.” With “Horns,” this was impossible! The only movie I could think of was a darker Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life.” It is so different and has nothing to do with our story but it was the only supernatural fable I could think about that has a similar tone and elements of trying to figure out what has gone crazy in his life. I kind of felt right away the best way to make these genres blend together and meet the challenge was to get the right Ig Perrish. I think the reason why the movie is multi-genre and also has a love story is because we have an amazing actor in Daniel Radcliffe. He managed to sell these different emotions with such skill. I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part.

Daniel Radcliffe and Alexandre Aja on the set of 'Horns.'

Daniel Radcliffe and Alexandre Aja on the set of ‘Horns.’

Looking back on your career so far, what is the biggest evolution you have gone through as a director?

That is a tough question. What I am trying to do every time is not choose something that would be a repetition of what I have done before. I try not to allow myself to take the easy path. In genre, that is something that can happen very fast because once you have done a slasher or a supernatural thriller, you can easily find yourself doing another one because you know the world, you improve and it becomes comfortable. I try to make different choices every time rather than doing the same thing again and again. If you look at “High Tension,” “The Hills Have Eyes” or now “Horns,” they are very different from one another. That is what I continue to try and do. It is not easy because people want you to repeat that thing when it is successful. That is what I am trying to keep as a guideline, to not let myself become repetitive.

'Horns' hits theaters on Halloween.

‘Horns’ hits theaters on Halloween.

Where do you see yourself headed in the future as a director?

I am starting a movie on Monday called “The Ninth Life of Louis Drax.” It is a very intense psychological thriller, very Hitchcockian with some supernatural elements. It is something very different from “Horns” and I am very excited about it. It is different from anything I have done previously, as we were just discussing, and it is a new challenge!

You serve as a huge inspiration to many aspiring filmmakers. What is the best advice you can pass along to someone looking to pursue a career in the industry?

I would say that it is all about the story. It is all about finding a story that makes you want to commit a full year of your life and makes you want to make it happen no matter what. It is a long process and every movie can take years. Some movies I have made took seven years in development and for some other filmmakers it can be even more. You need to have this starting point where you fall in love with the story and know that, no matter what happens, you have to tell that story. I think that is the most important thing to seek out.

Thank you for your time today, Alexandre. You are truly an inspiration and “Horns” is definitely a film to be proud of!

Thank you, Jason! Thank you very much!

‘Horns’ hits theaters on October 31st, 2014 and is available via VOD.

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Writer/Director Stephen Elliott Discusses His Directorial Debut With ‘About Cherry’

Writer/Director Stephen Elliott Discusses His Directorial Debut With ‘About Cherry’

To say that author/director Stephen Elliott is a busy man, is a bit of an understatement. He is the author of seven books including the novel ‘Happy Baby,’ an erotic collection titled ‘My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up’ and a true crime memoir ‘The Adderall Diaries’. ‘The Adderall Diaries’ was called “genius” by Vanity Fair and made many of the year’s top ten lists. ‘Happy Baby’ was nominated for the New York Public Library’s Young Lion award and named one of the five best of the year by Laura Miller in Salon.com. When he is not busy writing some of the most griping novels around, he has founded of the online magazine “The Rumpus” and serves as editor for the print publication “Letters In The Mail”. As if that wasn’t enough irons in the fire, Elliot recently brought is first film, “About Cherry”, to the screen and  has found it garnering him critical acclaim. The movie was written by Stephen Elliott and Lorelei Lee, a porn performer who is also a writer and lecturer at New York University.

The film focuses on Angelina (Ashley Hinshaw),an 18-year-old on the verge of finishing high school, who is rushing to escape her broken family life. After reluctantly taking nude photos at her boyfriend’s (Jonny Weston) behest, she takes the cash to skip town with her best friend (Dev Patel). Angelina gets a job cocktailing in a San Francisco strip club where she meets Frances (James Franco), an affluent lawyer who introduces her to a high-class world beyond her wildest dreams. At the same time, Angelina begins exploring San Francisco’s porn industry, using the moniker Cherry, under the wing of a former performer turned adult film director (Heather Graham). But Angelina’s newfound ideal lifestyle soon comes apart at the seams. ‘About Cherry’ challenges assumptions about sexuality and pornography, while addressing the common struggle of finding one’s role in life.

‘About Cherry’ was shot in the San Francisco Armory, home of Kink.com. At 250,000 square feet the armory is the largest adult film studio in the world. Stephen Elliott, a former sex worker himself, brings his unique perspective to the film and truly shines as a filmmaker. After seeing his first feature, you will agree that keeping a watchful eye on his present and future work is a must. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Stephen Elliott to discuss the  creation of “About Cherry,” the challenges in bringing it from script to screen and what the future holds for him in the world of film and literature.

In Theaters September 21st

It’s great to catch up with you Stephen. How are you doing?

Doing well! Thank you for asking.

Your latest project is a film called “About Cherry”. I was curious to hear who you consider your biggest influences as a filmmaker and what inspired this film.

Ya know, I didn’t really start out wanting to direct this movie. I had written a script for James Franco and it was an experience that I really enjoyed, so I wrote another one. Then I was trying to get actors to be in it and to raise money. In the end, the budget being $550,000, I didn’t know that I could get a proven director. I didn’t know who would be good, so I just decided to direct it myself. As far as artistic influences, Paul Schrader would probably be the model. As a writer, I think “Taxi Driver” is the perfect screenplay. He is definitely someone I would look to. I also love Woody Allen. There are so many movies that I love. I did a year of cinema studies, about 16 years ago, when I was in college. I am a cinema lover for sure! Steven Soderbergh is really inspiring in the way he edits his movies. The early Terrence Malik movies are really important to me. [laughs] None of those movies seem much like “About Cherry”! [laughs] The characters really illustrate that link. I wanted to make a movie that is smart and real but I also wanted it to be accessible. I wanted it to be an independent film as opposed to an art film.

The film revolves around of the lives of people in San Francisco’s porn industry. For those who may not know, how did you first come into contact with that side of the city?

I was actually a sex worker in my twenties, so this is actually my world. I have worked with Kink.com a lot. They are based in the San Francisco Armory and they are the largest porn studio in the world! That is just a few blocks from where I live! [laughs] I hang out there all the time. I know everybody there and I have done a lot of stuff for them. I know a lot of sex workers and we are a community. It was certainly my world. I wanted to write something set in the San Francisco Armory for a long time. I had tried to write a novel, a short story and a couple of articles and after I adapted “The Adderall Diaries” for James Franco, I knew that this was the next story I wanted to try. I knew it was the next story I wanted to try because I had been thinking about it for a really long time. I contacted Lorelei Lee, who is a porn performer and also a really good writer. She also teaches at NYU. I contacted her to get that female perspective for the story I already knew I wanted to tell.

What was the biggest challenge that presented itself during the process of bringing the film from script to screen?

Stephen Elliott

Probably raising the money! [laughs] That was probably the biggest challenge. Like I said, the movie cost $550,000 cash, plus there was some trade with The Armory for the location. The trade part was easy but coming up with $550,000 cash was hard! Even though we had well known actors on board for the project, I wasn’t going to take it on without creative control because there was no point in making the movie if I didn’t have final cut. How do you convince someone to give you that much money? — especially when you take into account that I had never directed before in film! That was very challenging! That was literally the hardest part of making this movie. It was hard after it was finished too. The actual shooting was stressful. I mean, you are working on the film 20 hours a day, you go home to sleep and then you wake up and go right back to work. It was invigorating, I don’t know if I would say it was hard. It is hard but I just don’t know if it is as hard as people say it is. It’s not impossible. We were very lucky to have a good crew, our actors were all great and our cinematographer was terrific. We had really great people working on this movie. I guess a lot of it is just luck, ya know? I didn’t know the art director at first. I mean, I had met him and I had interviewed him, Taylor Phillips, but I didn’t know him. Some of the actors came up to me and said that he was the best AD that they had ever worked with! We were very fortunate to have a guy like that running the set! He was the guy running the set when we were actually shooting. I hadn’t made a movie before, so I didn’t have a connection to anyone I knew would be good. We were kinda rolling the dice in a lot of different places and we got very lucky with a lot of them!

That’s great! Now that you have made it through the first one successful, is making another film something that is on your short list of projects?

Yeah! I am going to shoot another movie based on my novel “Happy Baby”. We start shooting on March 15th, 2013 in Detroit.

That’s great! Jumping right back into the fire are ya?

Well, ya know, we shot “About Cherry” in June of 2011, so this will be almost two years later. It feels like it has been quite a while. I wanted to be shooting my next movie within a year of finishing the first one but it has taken longer than I had anticipated.

What is you take on the whole experience of making your first film? And what was it like for you to have your two worlds finally collide?

The experience of making it was great! I really feel in love with directing. It as creatively satisfying as anything I have ever done. In terms of the worlds, it was amazing to shoot movie in The Armory! There were ten porn films being shot at any moment while we were making this movie. With all of those porns being shot in the building, there was a lot of interaction with the people making the porn while we were making the movie about porn or a movie set in the world of porn, more specifically. That was actually really helpful. Heather Graham showed up five days early and was learning about that world. I took her onto a porn set when she got there and Lorelei Lee was actually in the porn that they were making! So, here is Heather Graham and here is her co-star naked, doing whatever with this other woman and this was immediately as she stepped on set! Then Lorelei was like “Hey there!” [laughs] This was Heather’s first introduction to this world — just right into it! It was great! I think it really helped all the people in our movie understand more about the world their roles were based on. Being on set, they knew what that world was like because they were living it.

You have a ton of great talent in the film and it really shines through. In terms of the actors, did anyone bring something to the table that you might not have expected when you were first starting out?

Stephen Elliott

Yeah! Every one of them! That was actually one of the biggest learning experiences of making the movie that I did not anticipate — every actor is an artist and every artist wants to make something good, even if they are a bad artist, they all want to make something good. An actor knows the character better than you do, better than the director does. The majority of what an actor does for a character is not in the script. There are all sorts of things that they do with their hands, face or emotions that are not written down. The primary collaboration in the movie is hugely important, the editing is hugely important, the photography is hugely important but the most important collaboration of all, I think, is between the director and the actors. I had no idea that was the case going into it. Every actor plots so much to these walls and taught me something about all of these roles. When I am doing readings now for the next movie, that is what I am looking for, ya know? When somebody does something with the character that I had never thought of. It’s a collaboration and I am not the only one responsible for these characters. The actor is your partner in creating this person.

You have a wealth of great material to work from that you have personally created. I guess it is a two part question. Where do you look for inspiration and would you ever entertain the idea of bringing someone else’s screenplay to life?

I just want to make good stuff. Ya know, “About Cherry” was an original screenplay, not based on a book. I would certainly direct someone else’s screenplay, if I really connected with it. I wouldn’t have a problem with that and I think that would be really fun. I think you just go through life looking for that connection and then one day you just see something that grabs you, so you start exploring it. That is how I ended up writing a book about the 2004 Presidential Election! These things just happen! You just follow your interests. I am lucky in that I don’t have a wife or children or maybe I am unlucky maybe! [laughs] But I don’t have anyone that relies on me financially and I don’t have hold a job. I can just keep my expenses low and just basically keep doing what every I want. That’s really fortunate. Ya know, I was a ward of the State and I don’t have any contact with my parents. I wasn’t a trust fund kid. I have been able to get by from writing and doing the different creative projects that I want to do.

That is inspiring. What advice would you give to aspiring writers, filmmakers, actors or creatives in general, that you can derive from your experiences over the past few years?

Director Stephen Elliott

I don’t know what I can tell filmmakers, right? Because I have only made one movie! So what do I really know about making movies! I will say that every day when you are making a movie, wether it is in pre-production or on set shooting the movie, every day something so bad will happen that no one will blame you for quitting. You could walk away and everyone would say “Of course, they had no way of knowing that was going to happen! It was horrendous what happened to that poor person! There is no way! It makes perfect sense that they aren’t going to make this movie because of this terrible thing that happened.” Something on that level happens every single day. So, you kinda have to be determined and say “I don’t care! I am going to do this movie!” At one point, I was telling people when we had no money to make the film, “I am going to shoot it on my iPhone!” I only had James Franco for a limited amount of time and if I had to shoot the movie on my phone, that is what I was going to do! I think it helps to have that attitude but probably everybody does it differently. I like to set a date and do one that day whatever I have scheduled. If I don’t have enough money, I just do it for less, ya know? But again, I think it is just different for everybody. Ya know, when I am teaching writing classes, the main thing I tell people is that you can’t write a book that everybody likes. There is no such thing as a book or a movie that everybody likes. The only thing you can do is try to write your favorite book, make your favorite movie or make the favorite movie of your ideal movie watcher, even if that means you have a really small audience. That is what I usually tell writers.

I know our time is short, Stephen. What is on the short list for the next few months?

Gosh, the main thing at the moment is “About Cherry” hitting theaters. To be honest, I am so deep into making “Happy Baby,” it is hard for me to even think of anything else. It is all I am doing at the moment. We still have to raise as much money as we can. I haven’t quite cast the entire film yet. I have cast a lot of people but I haven’t cast it entirely. That is really the main thing I am focused on at the moment. I also have a magazine that I founded that I work on a lot called “The Rumpus”. I do a lot of creative work on there when I have the chance. When I have free time, I usually do something on “The Rumpus” like emails, articles or interviews, otherwise it is all “Happy Baby” right now!

That is awesome! You did a terrific job on “About Cherry” and we look forward to spreading the word. Good luck with your next project and we will talk to you again soon!

Thanks man! I really appreciate that! Talk to you soon!

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The Hangover 2: First Official Photo and Plot Synopsis Revealed!

The Hangover 2: First Official Photo and Plot Synopsis Revealed!

Not only was the The Hangover one of the biggest sleeper hits of 2009, if not ever, it also launched several cast members to superstardom overnight. It was no surprise when a sequel was quickly greenlit. Now, we get the first official looks at the plot synopsis and photo from the film (which is pretty vanilla). The question is: Can the highly anticipated sequel possible live up to the hype that surrounds it? Check them out below and weigh in with your thoughts.

Official Synopsis: In the follow-up to the record-breaking hit comedy “The Hangover,” Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and Doug (Justin Bartha) travel to exotic Thailand for Stu’s wedding. After the unforgettable bachelor party in Las Vegas, Stu is taking no chances and has opted for a safe, subdued pre-wedding brunch. However, things don’t always go as planned. What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens in Bangkok can’t even be imagined.

The Hangover II is slated to hit theaters on May 26, 2011.

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Pick of the Week: ‘The Hangover’ On Blu-Ray Disc

Pick of the Week: ‘The Hangover’ On Blu-Ray Disc

hangover_ver5

The-Hangover-BDThis week’s pick is one of the biggest films of 2009… The Hangover. You can’t go wrong with this laugh-a-minute thrill ride, so make sure you stuff your loved one’s stocking with some of the Todd Phillips goodness!

Synopsis: They planned a Vegas bachelor party that they would never forget. Now they really need to remember what exactly went down! A baby? A tiger? Why is one of them missing a tooth? And most of all, where is the groom?! What the guys did while partying can’t compare to what they must do sober in an outrageous caper that has them piecing together all their bad decisions from the night before– one hazy clue at a time. Director Todd Phillips (Old School) and an all-aces comedy cast tie one on… big time!

Directed by Todd Phillips, the film stars Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Justin Bartha, Mike Epps, Mike Tyson and Heather Graham.

DISC 1

  • Theatrical Version of the Film
  • Unrated Version of the Film

PIP Commentary
“Map of Destruction”
“The Madness of Ken Jeong”
“Action Mash-Up”
“Three Best Friends Song”
“The Dan Band!”
Gag Reel
More Pictures from the Missing Camera

BD-LIVE
Exclusive Content: “Iron Mike Online Teaser”
Exclusive Content: “Cursing Mash-Up”

DISC 2
Digital Copy (Theatrical)

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