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John McNaughton Talks ‘Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer’ On It’s 30th Anniversary!

John McNaughton Talks ‘Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer’ On It’s 30th Anniversary!

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Since he was a boy, John McNaughton wanted to make movies. Little did he know his directorial debut would still be thrilling audiences 30 years after it’s release. It was a game-changer, a film so upsetting in its blunt depiction of an amoral murderer it made the slasher films of its time look like cartoons by comparison. “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” became a lightning rod in heated debates about cinema and censorship but has only grown in stature since its first showing in 1986.

“Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” is a chilling profile of a cold-blooded killer that, 30 years after its historic festival premiere, has lost none of its power to shock. The film, loosely based on a true story, has been hailed as one of the most disturbing and terrifying examinations of mass murderers ever filmed. Henry (Michael Rooker, “The Walking Dead”) is a psychopathic drifter who coldly murdered a number of people for no reason and without remorse. Leaving bodies in his wake, Henry makes his way to Chicago, where he settles into the run-down apartment of his drug-dealing former prison friend and occasional roommate Otis (Tom Towles). Also moving into the space is Otis’s younger sister Becky (Tracy Arnold), who is fleeing her abusive husband. As she fends off her brother’s incestuous advances, Becky finds herself attracted to Henry – unaware he, along with Otis, are continuing their murderous rampage.

Director John McNaughton completed the film in 1986, and it was shown at that year’s Chicago International Film Festival. But it wasn’t until 1990 that a U.S. distributor gave it a wide release. Henry predates the NC-17 rating and received its predecessor, the X rating, on three separate occasions. As a result of it and related issues with Almodovar’s “Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down,” Phillip Kaufman’s “Henry & June” and Peter Greenaway’s “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover,” the MPAA created the NC-17 as its replacement on Sept. 26, 1990. Henry’s current rating is “X (Surrendered)” though a renewed rating is pending. The film’s violence, and the clinical, detached portrayal of Henry by the unforgettable Michael Rooker, originally earned it the MPAA’s highly restrictive NC-17 rating.The response from critics and the public was as visceral as the film, and it went on to gain praise as one of the most compelling and disturbing films of modern cinema.

In celebration of its 30th anniversary, “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” returns with a thrilling, cinematic presentation that cements its reputation as one of the most harrowing and original American films of all time. Dark Sky Films, a division of MPI Media Group, presents it in a brand-new 4K scan and restoration from the 16mm original camera negatives, featuring a new 5.1 audio mix from the stereo 35mm mag reels, all approved by director John McNaughton.

Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with John McNaughton to discuss the making of the film and how the story ripped from the headlines impacted not only it’s audience but the course of his career.  

Your debut film, “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer,” has become a cult classic. What got the ball rolling early on for you and this film?

The inspiration was my lifelong dream to become a filmmaker. It wasn’t that I had this particular idea in mind, I just had the bug! I had gone to school and making films is what I had intended to do with my life. However, life throws you curve balls occasionally. It certainly threw me a few! [laughs] I went around out on the road with a traveling carnival for a number of years in addition to living in New Orleans for a few years. I had a lot of big adventures in life that had nothing to do with filmmaking, although I did take a lot of still photographs of the carnival and my life on the road. Eventually, I found my way back to Chicago and decided that those days were behind me and it was time to really buckle down and do what it was that I had intended to do with my life. I wound up getting a job in my cousin’s bar, in the south suburbs of Chicago, so that I could have an income. I had no idea of how to get from there to a career as a filmmaker, although I had bought some film making equipment and was doing whatever I could.

One afternoon, a gentleman came into the bar and had a few extra drinks. It was a small, tight knit group of people who hung out in the bar. Many of them have grown up together and their families know each other. If you became part of that group, you pretty much knew everybody and they knew you. Everyone knew my intention was to become a movie director and they all thought I was crazy! [laughs] This guy who came into the bar, who I had never really seen before, came in wearing a trench coat and had a mustache and said, “Oh yeah! You’re the guy who wants to be in the movies, right?” I said, “Yeah?!” He threw a card on the bar that said Maljack Productions, Inc. This card was not designed by one of the world’s greatest graphic artists! He described what these guys were doing at the time. This was about a year or so before there was any such thing as home-video. They had these black plywood boxes that contained Super 8 projectors that projected a one-hour loop of Super 8 film featuring mostly public domain cartoons, old comedy shorts and Charlie Chaplin stuff. It was in the public domain so they didn’t have to pay royalties on it. It was silent because the machines did not reproduce sound and there was no sound on the Super 8 film. They had a deal going with Pizza Hut and some other chain restaurants in the suburbs where they would lease them this box. It would project on a movie screen and play this one-hour loop over and over again. Everyone loved it and it was a big novelty. The film had to be changed just like the program has to be changed at a real movie theater. You can’t play the same film forever. It was my job to go from Pizza Hut to Pizza Hut and bicycle the prints, which is what they used to call it in the film business. I would move prints from Pizza Hut A to Pizza Hut B and move them down the line. I was doing that for those guys. I did that for about a year until I left their employ and my cousin’s bar to become a union carpenter. I actually ended up remodeling Burger King’s at night. It had its charms and left me time in between Burger King’s to actually pursue my so-called film career.

Michael Rooker and John McNaughton on the set of the cult classic.

Michael Rooker and John McNaughton on the set of the cult classic.

After a while I got a call from Waleed Ali. The Ali Brothers had gotten into the video business and they wanted to talk to me about some ideas. I went out there and wound up working with a guy named Ray Atherton, who appears in “Henry” as a guy who gets the TV smashed on his head. Ray was a wheeler-dealer and kind of a nefarious character! [laughs] He was a very bright man and had been one of the original video pirates. He had been a film collector as a kid and it’s a very odd group in those days because they collected prints. Back in those days, you could buy prints of TV shows for $10. Prints of movies? I don’t know but they weren’t that expensive because once they had their initial run they were often ground-up because they were not considered to be of any value. There were certain people, especially in Hollywood, that love the movies and they would collect prints. They have screening rooms and they would show them. Even though it was copy written material, they were only showing it to six or 12 friends in their screening room in Bel Air, so no one was going to arrest them! [laughs] Once home video came in, you could not duplicate these things and sell them if they were in the public domain. You will be surprised what fell into the public domain. People like MPI, in their initial business, were dealing in a fair amount of public domain. They will acquire the rights to whatever they could afford but there’re a lot of things I didn’t have to acquire the rights to. For instance, “Night of The Living Dead” had fallen through the cracks. Their copyright was improperly registered and it fell out of copyright as did a few other valuable properties. If you could duplicate it, you could sell it because it wasn’t copywritten!

Every wheeler-dealer thought they could get rich in the video distribution business because it was a Wild West market in the beginning. It then became a matter of who had the best print to duplicate from. A lot of it was just really bad. Ray, being a film collector, knew all the other film collectors of which there really weren’t that many in America. He could always locate the best prints, so he worked with those guys, got them the prints, advised them on public domain and what they had to buy. It got to the point where they were buying the rights to old B horror films. They were doing very well because a lot of those films had not been seen in years. They weren’t showing them on TV because they were too sleazy. Although they were big hits in the theaters, they were very popular rental items. The Ali brothers were buying the rights but as they became more and more popular the cost to buy the rights became more and more prohibitive. At that point, Waleed decided they would make their own horror film and would own all rights until perpetuity. He offered me $100,000 to make a horror film. It didn’t matter what it was and there was no supervision whatsoever! No creative interference ever on that film!

Michael Rooker in 'Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.'

Michael Rooker in ‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.’

How did the story of Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole come onto your radar? What type of research did you do to flesh this idea out?

This was before the Internet, so we went as deep as we could. Right after Waleed had offered me the $100,000, I left his office without knowing what I was going to make the film about. I had no idea! [laughs] I walked about 20 feet to an office two doors down from his wherein was an old friend of mine named Gus Kavooras. We went to grammar school and high school together. I had gotten him the job there because I was friends with the Ali Brothers. Gus had this odd job of being a connoisseur and collector of arcane, crazy, dark, weird stuff that they would try to turn into things that they could sell. He had his office just piled with video cassettes of all this stuff that he had gleaned. I walked in and said, “Gus, Waleed just offered me 100 grand to make a movie.” He said, “A movie about what?” I said, “I have no fucking idea! Horror but that is the only parameter.” [laughs] He reached over and grabbed a VHS cassette and popped it in the VHS player. Up comes the news show “20/20,” which is a one-hour newsmagazine with three segments. I don’t remember what the other two segments were about but the one that he showed me was about Henry Lee Lucas. As I say, I have always been a true crime aficionado and I’m pretty well brushed up on all the major crimes and criminals. I, to this day, watch true crime documentaries on TruTV, et cetera, et cetera. It was presented that this guy was a serial killer and that the whole idea of serial killing was something new. I hadn’t heard the term. I found out years later that the term was exactly two years old and had been coined by the FBI two years prior because it was something they hadn’t been experiencing before — random murder!

There was Henry! He was speaking to the camera and it was like, “Holy geez!” He had a wandering eye and as scary as he was to look at in some ways he had an ease and slow charm where he was able to get close enough to kill them. They didn’t have video of Ottis but they did have pictures of him. When you saw this guy walking down the street, unless you were blind, you would run! They also had photos of Becky. They told Henry’s story on that segment. We had footage of him in various photographs that were gleaned by the group who put together that show. We also had various magazine articles and newspaper articles from the time. Like I said, there was no Internet at the time so there was no Google! We amassed a little portfolio and that’s what we worked from!

The actors in the film gave tremendous performances. As a first-time director, what did the cast bring to the table you might not have expected?

It is really starting to occur to me now, many years later, now that I have actually done some theater what they brought from that world. Tom Towles was a member of The Organic Theater Company, along with Richard Fire, Joey Mantegna, Dennis Franz, Dennis Farina and Stuart Gordon was the artistic director. They had some really big successful plays in Chicago and they were really gifted people. They had all been trained in theater arts. Tom Towles, I believe, had trained at Second City and came from an improvisational comedy background. Tracy Arnold was originally from Texas and I think she went to school to study drama. Michael Rooker studied drama at The Goodman School. Michael had worked in theater, along with the rest of them. Tommy had extensive theater background. While they had almost no movie credits, they certainly had experience.

Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold and Michael Rooker.

Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold and Michael Rooker.

One could argue Chicago is the fourth lead character in “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.” Many films are shot in Chicago but few are able to capture it. What was it like capturing the grittiness of the city where you grew up in your first feature film and did you experience any blowback from the public for capturing a dark side of your hometown?

No. I think Chicago was just happy to be photographed! [laughs] I often tell people that I didn’t go to film school but I did go to art school. I did study hard at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana for two-and-a-half years. By the time I got the film and television, I switched schools and came back to Columbia College of Chicago and took television production as a major and still photography as a minor. My passion was still photography because it was an art form. I love the streets of Chicago because I grew up on them and I’ve spent a lot of time photographing things on the streets of Chicago. Some stuff I still have! I quit taking photographs for quite a number of years, especially when I got into the movies and had people to do it for me, but once I got my first iPhone I got back into it. I have 35,000 photographs on my laptop right now! I just love taking pictures again! I don’t even use my iPhone as a phone that much, I use it more than anything as a camera! It’s just so convenient. A lot of those places in the movie were places that I had put a pin in, so to speak, thinking, “Someday!” When it came time to pick the locations for the film, I knew I would shoot something there because they were such great locations. Other locations we had to find like the motel at the end of the movie. At the screening the other night someone came up to me and said that The Sunset Motel is still there in a town on the Illinois/Wisconsin border. When I first got on Facebook, I was putting up Chicago pictures from my iPhone and I had mentioned that my opinion of Chicago is that it’s one of the most photogenic cities that I’ve ever been in and I have lived in numerous! Someone immediately said, “Well, have you ever been to Paris?” It’s like, “Yeah, I have been to Paris numerous times. Everything is absolutely beautiful. When you go to press the doorbell, the little sconce around the doorbell is like a prize. It’s a beautiful little art nouveau work of art. Everything in Paris is gorgeous, no doubt about it!” However, I didn’t say Chicago was the most beautiful city, I said it was the most photogenic city! It is. You can almost hold up the camera, click it without looking and bring it down and say, “Wow! Look at that!” It’s got everything from some of the greatest modern architecture in the world to the worst slums available, in the United States at any rate, and everything in-between. It’s just a wonderful city to shoot in!

Michael Rooker as Henry in one of his most riveting performances.

Michael Rooker as Henry in one of his most riveting performances.

How did the making of the film impact your future work?

Well, it affected my future work in that I think the folks that funded it were kind of shocked by it. I think what they were looking for was genre exploitation and this was their worst nightmare — an art film! [laughs] They didn’t know what to do with it and they didn’t think they were going to be able to sell it. They just kind of put it away and figured they would make a real genre horror film and when they sold that they would make them take “Henry.” That was their plan but it didn’t work out that way! It took a while for the film to pick up some momentum. I went 18 months without any income. I had the money I had made from making Henry, I had credit cards and I had a free place to stay at my cousin’s house across from the bar where I had been working. Eventually, because they were a video business and they had a young man named Chuck Parello doing their PR and because I knew a lot of people, I would just keep having him send out cassettes until it got shown a few places. It finally hit a critical mass at the Chicago Film Festival 30 years ago. There was also a little screening in New York where a critic from the “Village Voice” went all out and wrote a two-page piece saying it was the best film of the year. Then it went to Telluride, where Roger Ebert saw the film and boom, that was it! At that point I started to get offers of very bad horror films to direct! [laughs] But it did begin a career for me and that was a good thing!

How do audiences respond to this film 30 years later and how does it differ from the initial reaction?

henry-portrait-of-a-serial-killer-2016-posterThere is something I hadn’t expected. Since “Henry,” I have written a lot. I worked with Richard Fire writing the original script for “Henry” and he had come from years in the theater. He had been writing for years and I had not. I learned so much from him. It seems when I’m not correcting I am almost always writing something or rewriting something. When I sit all alone writing, I make things funny so that I can amuse myself. If I can make myself laugh at least I’ve accomplished something! [laughs] Richard had a great sense of humor and was a wild, wild character. Unfortunately, he passed away last year. Thirty years ago when we showed the movie, we would usually lose 10 percent of the audience. Ten percent of the audience would go flying out the door, especially during the home invasion scene. No one laughed. There was never a peep of laughter. I always tell people, “Watch that movie three times and once the shock wears off, it’s pretty funny, especially Tom Towles!” Tom Towles studied improvisational comedy and he is basically playing a comedic role as Otis: a buffoon, a clown! At the screening Friday night, there was quite a bit of laughter! I don’t know if we’ve just become numbed or more coarsened in the last 30 years or what. Someone asked during the Q&A how many people have never seen the movie before and well over 50 percent of the people in the room raised their hand. They did not have the benefit of having the initial shock wear off and they were laughing at the funny stuff, which I found to be quite a change from 30 years ago.

A successful filmmaker, what is the best lesson we can take from your journey?

Director John McNaughton

Director John McNaughton

[laughs] Well, as my father often told me and I never listened and as I often tell young people, “Become a dentist!” [laughs] It’s a much more guaranteed way to make a good living. I don’t know what to say. Some of the breaks have to fall your way. I had a lot of bad breaks fall my way. As I often say, my late cousin whose bar I worked at had Polio very young. He was pretty disabled from it but he was the luckiest man I have ever known. He would get in the football pool, he would win. When he played cards, he would win. When it was just pure luck, he would win but he was not terribly fortunate and he eventually ended his life. He had something called Post-Polio Syndrome where people who had polio as children would have it come back on them in their 40s and disable them severely. He ended his life because he was losing mobility. I have never been lucky at all. I never win anything but I’ve been very fortunate. To recognize the difference between good luck and good fortune is important and I’ve been very fortunate.

What else is in the cards for you in the near future? Last time we spoke you mentioned getting your fourth feature with Bill Murray off the ground. Where do we stand with that and everything else you have going on?

That movie has been up-and-down I don’t know how many times. We have been working on it for eight years. It seems like we’ve been making these little baby steps but we are still working on it. We have Linda Cardellini, who gave Bill that script over eight years ago. Interestingly in this business, she was going to play the girl and now she’s going to play the girl’s mother eight years later. [laughs] We also have Josh Hutcherson involved and for a short while we had Miley Cyrus on board but the money just didn’t come together and Miley had a career to maintain, so she had to leave. So, we need a girl and we are working on that. I think we get a little closer month by month. A couple of things happened and for the first time I can sort of feel that we’ll get a girl pretty soon and then I think we’ll be able to go. I’m looking forward to that! I’m getting ready to open the doors of the little company that I have put together that is in control of eight to 10 scripts that I have either written, co-written or own the rights to. It’s called Mr. Punch Productions, which is based upon Punch and Judy, which is something very dear to me! I will be trying to get those projects out into the marketplace, get them set up and made! I’m hoping that “The King of Counterfeit,” which is the Bill Murray project, will happen as well!

That’s awesome! Thank you so much for your time today, John! I wish you continued success wherever the journey takes you!

[laughs] I have no idea, I never have, so we will see!

The 4K restoration nationwide re-release of John McNaughton’s ‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’ begins on October 21, 2016. Connect with John McNaughton on Facebook and Instagram.

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BACK IN ACTION: John McNaughton On His Return To Cinema With ‘The Harvest’

BACK IN ACTION: John McNaughton On His Return To Cinema With ‘The Harvest’

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In his first film in nearly 15 years, the director of ‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’ harks back to the depravity that made his 1986 debut a horror milestone. But less based in reality, The Harvest is closer to a fairy tale from Grimm’s darkest corners. Maryann (an impressive Natasha Calis) moves in with her grandparents after she’s orphaned. Desperately lonely, the preteen sets out to befriend a neighboring deathly ill, bed-ridden boy (Charlie Tahan), despite the outright disapproval of his mother (Samantha Morton). Maryann’s persistence pays off, however, and during a series of secret visits she gradually uncovers some seriously sinister goings-on in the house… Morton as the boy’s overprotective surgeon mom is the stuff of great screen villainy—at once utterly monstrous and tragically desperate—so much so that she makes even frequent heavy Michael Shannon, as the more subdued dad, pale in comparison. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with director John McNaughton to discuss his legendary career, return to feature filmmaking and the challenges he faced along the way.

What intrigued you about the world of filmmaking early in your life and ultimately led to you making it a career?

I don’t know exactly! [laughs] I always knew I would be in the arts in some way or another. It was something that was sort of imprinted on my being. I went to art school and it led me to realize I wasn’t going to be a painter or sculptor. The art form I really responded to was film and television, so I switched my major and got a degree in television production. In a number of years, I would find my way into making my first film. It’s not so easy! It certainly wasn’t easy before digital technology because everything was shot on film and it cost a fair amount of money to process.

Who were some of the artists or mentors who helped shape you in those formative years?

Director John McNaughton

Director John McNaughton

I grew up in the late 1950s and the 1960s and I was an only child, so I spent a great deal of time in front of the television set. I watched a lot of old American movies, which were on television a lot in those days. I guess it was just instinct that pushed me in that direction. Mentors, I had virtually no mentors until later on. As I have often said, the first movie set I set foot on I was the director on. I had no mentors until I made “Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer.” Someone who gave me a giant helping hand along the way was Martin Scorsese, who asked me to direct “Mad Dog and Glory.” I love his films. I remember going to see “Mean Streets” before “Who’s That Knocking At My Door,” which was his first film. His first commercial film was “Mean Streets” and I went to see it with a few friends. We had all grown up on the south side of Chicago and basically snuck into see the movie. It was like we were seeing a movie about ourselves! [laughs] The south side of Chicago was a fairly rough place and we pretty much looked like the guys in that movie when we snuck into see it! We were wearing our leather Beretta jackets and similar hairdos. Martin Scorsese was a big influence and a mentor to me.

You can’t go wrong with that!

No. No you can’t! [laughs]

I know it has been about 15 years since your last feature film. What made you return to directing film?

Ya know, I think it is hard to shake it once you have been bitten. I had the bug! I had taken a vacation from the whole thing. I had worked so steadily for about 15 years or so and I was a little bit burnt out. One thing led to another. I did some television in those years, a number of TV pilots. TV pilots that don’t get picked up are like trees falling in the forest, no one sees them or knows about them. A lot of work goes into them but ultimately they are something that no one ever sees, so it doesn’t really help your career to do TV pilots unless they get picked up for a series.

What was it about “The Harvest” that made it the right choice for your return to feature films?

'The Harvest'

‘The Harvest’

When my agent sent me the script, I wasn’t exactly sure I wanted to do it. I said, “I’m not sure about this at all.” He said, “Read it again. I think there is something there.” I did read it again. The original script was more of what I would call ooga booga, which is sort of an industry term for a standard horror film. I shouldn’t say standard because this material was not something I had seen before. We took the script in a different direction than in which it was written. Originally, it was a little bit more of a stock horror film. We took the ideas I found interesting in a deeper direction. To me, it is about the fears of childhood. You know, it’s much more psychological than overt. In fact, I don’t know if it will ever be rated but I am daring the MPAA to give it anything more than a PG rating. It has no overt violence, it has no real blood or dismemberment, no sexual situations, no nudity or bad language. It is really the idea that is horrific in this particular movie. I was thinking about it the other day and I think it is my statement on childhood and my last word on my own childhood and thereby my chance to put it to rest.

When taking on the project, did you have a particular vision for the film in a stylistic sense?

We had a 28-day schedule for this film. We also had two children, so they couldn’t work the full 12-hour day. Michael Shannon had a play on Broadway, so we lost him Tuesday through Friday at about 6 p.m. The schedule was really difficult because we couldn’t do overtime because we just didn’t have the actors. It was a miracle to be able to make the picture in 28 days under those conditions. I didn’t try for any big reaches stylistically and opted for a very simple and direct style. It was really concentrating on performance. In my hiatus, I had done some theater in Chicago and Los Angeles. The last thing I had done was a John Patrick Shanley play called “Danny and The Deep Blue Sea.” It is basically two characters throughout the play. I really enjoyed working with the actors on performance and character and not having to deal with a crew, a company and all of that stuff. With this particular film, I really just wanted to concentrate on the actors and the performances.

Samantha Morton and Michael Shannon in 'The Harvest'

Samantha Morton and Michael Shannon in ‘The Harvest’

The performances are very strong, I have to say. What did the cast bring to these characters that wasn’t on the written page?

Both Michael Shannon and Samantha Morton are both parents. Samantha had two children when we were making the picture and now has three. Michael has a daughter. I think it was very difficult for them to actually have to go there. They are both actors who actually go there! They don’t work the circus they go to the depths! I don’t want to give anything away but I think being those characters and what they face is not a very nice place to have to go. I think Michael and Samantha brought the darkness of what it is that they are up to as characters. To me, Samantha’s character has these maternal instincts that have gone awry. What she is doing in a sense is noble. She is saving her child. What was it that they said about Colonel Kurtz in ‘Apocalypse Now’? “His methods are unsound.” Her methods are very unsound! This was my first time working with kids and going to that sort of depth. I think they were doing their very best to be those kids. They are both incredibly gifted actors and very instinctual, especially Natasha [Calis]. Charlie [Tahan] is much more planned out in what he is going to do, where Natasha lives much more in the moment and reacts.

What challenges did you face in bringing this film to life?

Our cinematographer, Rachel Morrison, when I showed her that she would be spending the majority of the film in one room, I think it was a big challenge for her! [laughs] I think it scared her a little bit! She said, “Can’t we knock out a wall here?” [laughs] No! This is somebody’s house! [laughs] Working in the confines of the house and the kid’s room was certainly challenging because there wasn’t much space. You have to think about how to shoot it in such a way to make it interesting because we spend so much time in that room. I think there are only five locations in the film, which is very unusual. Seventy-five percent of the film takes place in the house. That was challenging and the house became very much a character in the film. Another challenge came while we were in prep and Hurricane Sandy struck New York. At that point, it was such a disaster, we didn’t know if we would be able to continue. We had offices in Manhattan but everyone else, from production design to costume design and everyone else in between, were located in Brooklyn. We literally couldn’t get there. There was a fair amount of damage done to the house, which was about 40 minutes north of Manhattan. It really threw the entire production into turmoil. We had to postpone our shoot by about two weeks, which meant we were coming into winter, which was not a good thing. That was a pretty interesting challenge having that hurricane hit New York. There are always interesting challenges along the way and those were some of ours.

Samantha Morton in 'The Harvest'

Samantha Morton in ‘The Harvest’ – Her character’s methods are very unsound.

Looking back on your body of work, how have you most evolved as a filmmaker?

It’s funny because I am sitting here reading a book called “Grammar of The Film Language.” It is pretty dry and technical to people. It shows you the various camera placements, how to stage a scene and so on. It is a 600-page book and I read it years ago. I am reading it again now and it is like I never read it in the first place! I find myself thinking, “I didn’t know anything!” [laughs] Here it is 30 years into a directorial career and it is like a revelation reading this book! So many of the things I do I know by instinct. I will say, when I was growing up in the ‘60s, we didn’t want to have jobs and wanted to live wild lives! [laughs] Myself and most of my friends did! I knew eventually I wanted to be a filmmaker but there were other things I wanted to do and I did them! I toured North America with a traveling carnival, I built big racing sailboats, I made jewelry for a living and traveled all over. I did all of those things and once I learned to do them, I was sort of bored. Once I mastered something, I would move on to master something else. I have been directing for 30 years and I hardly know what I am doing as far as that is concerned! Each film is a different experience and I still feel a long way from mastering the medium. Hopefully, I will continue to strive to do so! Each film is a whole different world. There are some things you can take to the next film but a lot of things that don’t apply at all. It is something that continues to be a challenge and I hope it will be so for the rest of my life!

Where do you see yourself headed next? Anything in the works at the moment?

John McNaughton

John McNaughton

I have been working for seven years on another project with my friend Bill Murray. If it gets made, it will be our fourth film together! A couple of weeks ago we thought it was a done deal. It was ready to go and we had dates but it didn’t work out. Like I said, we have been working on it for seven years so far and maybe we aren’t as close as we thought! I did sort of think I would be doing that film this year. At this point, I am not sure one way or the other but I would certainly love to! Again, over the course of 30 years I have certainly piled up a backlog of projects. Some of them are scripts that I have written and projects that I have been attached to that other people have written that I love. Early in your career, you think, “Oh, I got this script. OK, sure I’ll do it! Let’s go!” [laughs] Even with the Bill Murray project, like I said, it has been seven years we have been working on it. I was listening to Scorsese speak a few weeks ago. He was talking about different projects he has been working on. He said, “Oh yeah, some of them have taken five years. Sometimes it is 20 years!” [laughs] Sometimes it takes that long! As you go through your career, a pile tends to build and before you know it you have a backlog of projects. Destiny is involved and when it is the right time, hopefully, they get made!

Thank you for time today, John! I wish you continued success and hopefully when it comes to destiny, the odds are in your favor!

Thank you, Jason!

‘The Harvest’ opens at the IFC Center and is available on VOD April 10, 2015.

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