For this episode, we brought Rob and Ari together to talk about their shared influences and obsessions, the dreaded question of "genre," and how they feel about the horror fans who saw The Witch and Hereditary and wanted their money back.
Other topics covered include: chasing the Bergman close-up, preferred aspect ratios, why Hereditary is unabashedly a horror movie, talking to press while intoxicated, the "trick” of Midsommar, the scene from Carrie that still gives Ari nightmares, dealing with the consequences of an A24 marketing stunt you did not agree to, the silver lining on a ‘D’ Cinemascore, why movies are meant to be watched more than once, and the magic of being in dialogue with other filmmakers across history—and becoming more yourself in the process
Robert Eggers: Okay, we're doing it.
Ari Aster: Okay.
Robert: This is Robert Eggers.
Ari: This is Ari Aster.
Robert: And, yeah, we're doing the A24 podcast, which is cool. We're doing it together.
Ari: Yeah, which feels appropriate given that we're both friends.
Ari: Who seem to like each others' work.
Robert: And the same stuff.
Robert: Speaking of which, we have a goal, which is we're trying to orient this discussion around the work of Ingmar Bergman. We probably won't succeed, but we're going to give it a shot.
Ari: Yeah. I thought you were joking when you first suggested it, but I'm excited to dive in. I know that we're both devotees. You can probably see it in our work. Feels appropriate.
So we met a couple years ago. It wasn't really a friends and family screening of Hereditary, because I think they were friends and family of A24, but I didn't know anybody there.
Robert: Yeah. A24 asked me to go to a screening of something that I didn't know anything about except for that it was a horror movie.
Ari: I think it was the first of those that we had done, and the room did not seem to love it. I remember going up in front of everyone who had just seen the film, very stern faces that were ready to cut me down to size, and you and your wife, Ally, were sitting near the front. And you gave me two thumbs up. And you had a very warm smile on your face. I held onto that as my lifeline as people in the room proceeded to explain to me that I was a bastard, and I made a worthless movie.
Robert: Yeah, well, you did not. I mean, I was totally blown away, especially because I had no expectations, and it was fantastic. It was so smart and truly inspiring to me. Some of the craft of the camera work I didn't even perceive because I was so impressed with the breadcrumbs that you were laying with the screenplay. Anyway, it was a real joy.
And I had the great pleasure of seeing a finished version of Midsommar last night, and it was great. I also saw an earlier version, and I don't know what you cut, but I felt like the film was tighter. It had way more shit in it.
Ari: Yeah, you know that when you finish something, when the music is there and the color, it does just feel so much more substantial.
Robert: For sure. For sure. It's really excellent.
And so now to try to shoehorn-
Ari: Wait, wait. Hold it. I cannot receive a compliment without reciprocating when I have one to give. I have not seen the finished version of The Lighthouse, but I did see a cut that was nearly finished, and I have the feeling that you would never show a cut to anybody that isn't nearly finished. I love The Lighthouse, and I'm so excited to see what it is, now that it's done. But what I saw felt finished.
Robert: Well, thank you.
Ari: It's so beautiful, so beautifully done, and really funny. I know I've said this before, and you've had an inscrutable expression, so I don't know if this feels right to you, but it really made me think of Harold Pinter, who I love. And I mean, I can't really think of any other work that feels like Harold Pinter besides ... I mean, what else plays like The Servant or No Man's Land or The Homecoming, and this felt to me a total spiritual sibling. And even though it reminds me of Harold Pinter, it also reminds me of nothing else, including Harold Pinter. It just feels totally unique.
Robert: Okay, okay, okay. Well, thank you. Thank you. That's really nice.
Ari: Harold Pinter by way of ...
Robert: No, no, no. That's way too kind.
Ari: By way of Béla Tarr, I would say, but pretty incredible.
Robert: Well, thank you. Thank you. That's far too kind.
Robert: All right. I'm on this Bergman mission, dammit.
Robert: So everyone has closeups. Bergman doesn't own closeups, but there is something less in some of the center framed things in the latter portion of Midsommar, but the earliest stuff with Dani gave a sort of Bergman-y vibe to me. And I know that just because the movie takes place in Sweden, I feel like people talk about Bergman in relation to Midsommar in a way that maybe is inappropriate. Tarkovsky, The Sacrifice ... People would always say that it's Bergman-esque, which would really piss him off because he said that this has nothing to do with Bergman films.
Ari: Except for Sven Nykvist shooting it.
Robert: Right. It's like if you have Bergman's entire crew designing and shooting your film.
Ari: And Josephson ...
Robert: ... is in the film. Yeah, yeah. It's going to feel a little Bergman-y, right?
Ari: I mean, we've talked a lot about Bergman before. He's a hero of mine. I love his films. I was thinking a lot more about his work when I was making Hereditary, particularly Cries and Whispers, and I showed the crew Autumn Sonata, because of the mother/daughter parallels. Yeah. Nobody shoots closeups like him. When we were making Hereditary, again, I made my cinematographer, Pawel Pogorzelski, who is also one of my best friends ... I made him watch Persona, just because I think those are the most beautiful closeups I'd ever seen in a film.
And I feel like there is this ... I'm not sure if it's a recent trend, but I'm seeing filmmakers really clearly chasing the Bergman closeup, even if you look at P.T. Anderson, who loved to talk early in his career about how he was chasing the Jonathan Demme closeup and the way those look, especially starting with The Master. That he's moving away from Demme and Scorsese and Altman towards especially Bergman in the way he frames closeups, and obviously Kubrick, too. But there is this box quality, where you give just enough head room, and you typically bring the camera two or three inches below their nose.
Robert: And shooting in 2:1 is a nice compromise for getting scope and still getting really healthy closeups where you're not chopping people's headpieces, pieces of their heads off. So it's nice to see.
Ari: I love 2:1 I know that we, Pawel and I, chose 2:1 for Hereditary because it was Douglas Sirk's favorite aspect ratio, or his chosen aspect ratio, and we were making this domestic movie set in a house.
Robert: Yeah, it feels right.
Ari: How do you get the width but also some of the height, but when you're indoors, that can box you in. I was kind of surprised that we landed on that for Midsommar because we said "Let's try something else," and then we just-
Robert: On paper, 2:1 for Midsommar seems perfect. I could see something box ... Like even for Hereditary.
Ari: You went with academy, right? For ...
Robert: We went with 1.66:1 for The Witch. We didn't want to go so boxy as Academy, but we did want actually more height for trees, and we did want something boxier for the interiors. And, of course, that film we shot on Alexa, and for anamorphic, because the sensor is four-three, and we were using these old lenses. We actually got more of the lens characteristic. That was really cool, and something that, then for The Lighthouse, shooting on 35 millimeter and an even stupider aspect ratio, we were able to take advantage of.
Ari: Life and death.
Robert: Okay, so I think the A24 gods are not smiling on us for being maybe too obscure.
Ari: I feel like we could get more obscure.
Robert: Oh, we could, but ...
Robert: So what about everyone's least favorite topic, certainly mine—genre. Our films and genre ... I think Hereditary is a horror movie.
Ari: Oh, yeah.
Robert: For people who feel like it's not, I get why.
Ari: I actually don't get why. I mean, it is absolutely, unabashedly a horror film. That was the goal, and I feel like I was misquoted like crazy. I mean, I'd rather just never speak ever, and just release the movie, but you have to do the press, and it's just a minefield because you just say something kind of flippantly, and then it becomes your statement on the film. But, no.
Robert: Like "Wizard of Oz for perverts."
Ari: Yeah, which I was like drunk and ... I mean, I'm fine with it, but I wouldn't want it to be my ...
Robert: On the cover of the Blu-ray?
Ari: "I hereby designate Midsommar the Wizard of Oz for perverts." That was not my intention, but it was the first thing I said, and now it's the last word. But I think I said something about how [Hereditary] is a family tragedy that becomes a nightmare, and the fact that I wasn't actually using the word "horror," somehow the omission became a statement. But, yeah, it's a horror movie. Of course. That's what I wanted to do. There are people crawling on walls, you know?
Robert: Yeah, for sure. For sure. And then Midsommar is maybe... something else?
Ari: I don't know. It's horror-adjacent.
Robert: Yeah, for sure.
Ari: I feel like an asshole even saying the word "adjacent." I see it as a fairy tale more than anything, especially because of her trajectory, her arc. If anything, I think the trick of the movie, or what I kind of got excited about doing was for everybody else, for every other visitor in that film including her boyfriend, it's a folk horror movie without any shame, or without any pretensions to something else. It's a folk horror movie. But for her-
Robert: For her. Right.
Ari: It's like this perverse wish fulfillment fantasy that is just ultimately a fairy tale, where this community could be seen as ... I want them to be read, at least on first viewing before you get a sense of what this thing really is, that they're this real place with a real history and rich traditions, but I can't watch the film anymore without seeing them as strictly manifestations of Dani's will.
Robert: And it's cool. This version, the finished version, or maybe it's also just watching it again, because as we all know, watching films multiple times is important to really understanding them. It felt so much more from Dani's perspective partially in some of the visual effects treatments of things, but even just in the editing choices. At least, that's how I experienced it the second time. And everything you're saying, where everything you just said resonated with my experience of watching it the second time last night.
Ari: Nice. That's great.
Robert: So it was pretty sick. By the way, did you ever watch any of those 70s English TV folk horror, like M.R. James things that I sent you?
Ari: Oh, my God, I didn't.
Robert: Oh, it's okay.
Ari: Oh, fuck. No, I was really excited about it, but you sent it to me exactly at the time where-
Robert: Where you were done watching shit.
Ari: I was neglecting everything that anybody sent me.
Robert: Yeah, I understand.
Ari: And I just burned every bridge in my life.
Robert: That's fine.
Ari: Except for with the people who know what it's like to make a movie and just kind of disappear.
Robert: Yeah, you're going to be MIA, and it's fine.
Ari: Before we move on, I want to know what genre you'd place The Witch in, but I'm really interested to know how you might categorize The Lighthouse.
Robert: Yeah. Again, I completely understand why people don't see The Witch as a horror movie. It was certainly my attempt to make a horror movie, so I saw it as that, even though certainly the family drama is more important. I mean, you see a witch flying on a broomstick. Maybe that's not scary, but that's certainly—
Ari: It's awesome.
Robert: ... a horror trope, or whatever it should be even if it wasn't successfully so. But for my money, that was horror. And The Lighthouse, if I had to designate a genre, it would be the literary genre of a weird tale, like M.R. James, Blackwood, Lovecraft. But it is something else even than that, but that would sort of be—
Ari: You even have the octopus for Lovecraft.
Robert: Yeah, exactly. But it certainly was just something, an idea that I had that got out of control, and my brother and I wrote it and had fun.
Robert: But I think it's also funny how the different ways in which auteurs of a certain caliber will or won't talk about genre, or say their film is genre, or laughs off the idea of genre being important. And even more interestingly is people who are sophisticated filmmakers feel that horror genre, whatever that means to them, is not something that one could consider art, that can really talk about what it means to be a human being, but is rather just some sort of cheap commercial thing. But obviously these horror stories, things like Hereditary, that actually do probe the darker side of humanity in a serious way, that's incredibly important, and should be respected, man.
Ari: Yeah. No, I agree. There was at least a five year period in my adolescence where horror movies were the only thing. I had this three-ring binder that I just kept adding badly photocopied black-and-white ... Because that's all I had, because we had a black-and-white printer ... images from the internet from horror movies. I drew a lot, so I guess that was the point ... I guess I have a collector's thing where I just never actually went through this thing, but I just kept adding to it. It was like this compulsive hobby.
Robert: Do you still have it?
Ari: I'm sure it's somewhere. It's going to be in some box somewhere in my family's home.
Robert: I'd be curious to see how much of your primal narrative began there. You know, everyone makes the same movie, or writes the same book, or paints the same painting over and over and over again.
Ari: I think what it was, too, is that there were films that really, really affected me and scared me. I was really impressionable as a kid, and there were a few films that I saw them too young, didn't know how to process them. I'm sure I made associations subconsciously that then enhanced everything. Like Carrie really destroyed me. I wasn't able to watch it again until my 20s, and then I realized it's a really sad comedy.
Robert: No, but for a kid, it's ...
Ari: I could not get the image of Piper Laurie chasing Sissy Spacek around this candlelit house out of my head. She's got this horrible smile, holding a knife. That has come back to me in so many ways. Still, I'll have a nightmare about that.
Robert: And that sort of weird tone of that film, that's unrealistic, almost kind of unprofessional.
Ari: And sentimental, with the Pino Dinaggio score. It's this weird sentimentality.
Robert: Yeah. For a kid, I can see that being very disturbing, especially because it's so dissonant with the Disney/Spielberg thing that is supposed to be normal movie viewing, you know?
Ari: Absolutely, and it is that artifice, and that there's a romance to it that's really upsetting. And then I talked about this so much on the press tour for Hereditary that I don't want to talk about it again, but if we're talking about things that affected us, like The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. I saw that too young. That really bothered me in a deep, deep way. I remember there was a kid's cartoon, 30 minutes long, called The Snowman.
Robert: I don't know what that is.
Ari: I think it's a girl or a little boy gets on a snowman's back, and flies through the world. I can't remember even what the story was, but I just remember that it bugged me. So I know that there's something about the maudlin when combined with something ... I don't know. Like the maudlin and the grotesque, when they kind of meet, as a kid I couldn't process that. And there's also a mean-spiritedness to certain films that really bugged me as a kid, and then I kind of became obsessed with that tradition. I saw Blue Velvet and Clockwork Orange when I was just very young, and I hated them, but then I became obsessed and I couldn't stop talking about it. And then they obviously became some of my favorite films. Blue Velvet. There's nothing original about loving Blue Velvet, but it is-
Robert: What's not to love?
Ari: ... the greatest thing ever. Like ever.
I don't know if you had this experience, but certainly the things I hated when I first encountered them because they felt kind of evil, those are the things that I kept returning to, and they became obsessions and fascinations. I don't know what I do in my own work because I'm too close to it. My nose is certainly right up against this movie. I have no objectivity, but I imagine that ... I can see myself kind of still wrestling with what it is that fascinates me about narratives like that.
What about you?
Robert: I mean ...
Ari: What got to you as a kid? And, yeah, what were your early influences? What were the films that you first ... I certainly wrote a lot of scripts as a teenager that were extremely derivative of one or two things-
Robert: Sure, right.
Ari: ... that I just wished that I had made. I wonder if that's other people's experience of when you first start making things. You're just ripping things off.
Robert: I think we're all derivative in the beginning, and I remember seeing some Picasso exhibit in my 20s, being really happy to see that after his academic, what we would call photorealistic, period, that then he was just painting like any other impressionist before he became ... I mean, but better. But it was just what everyone else was doing, and then he became himself.
Even The Witch, to me, feels derivative. I feel like it wears its influences on its sleeve much more than The Lighthouse. I think you can identify influences in The Lighthouse for sure, but I feel like collectively I think I'm starting to become myself a little more, which hopefully I'll continue to do.
Robert: But, yeah, whatever. From Mary Poppins to Conan the Barbarian, and Ridley Scott's Legend, I don't know. And Star Wars, and Indiana Jones, and all that crap. I think the first movie that wasn't a movie that would be easy to access that was very influential, which I've also talked about plenty, is Nosferatu. I saw an image of Max Schreck in a book about vampires in the elementary school library, and at that time, especially in rural New Hampshire, you couldn't just whatever. So we had to go to the video store 45 minutes away and order it, and then wait for it to come in the mail, and whatever. And I wore that VHS out.
But it's funny because as a kid, I could watch shit that I'd think is boring today, just being intrigued by "what are adults up to?" I do have a fondness for Merchant Ivory films, but-
Ari: I definitely do.
Robert: Yeah. But the bad, the boring ones, even as a kid. If my parents would be watching that shit, I'd be like, "Oh, man. The Bostonians."
Robert: I had no idea what was going on, but it was just interesting to watch grown up people doing weird things.
Ari: I want to ask you, what is it that first drew you to esoterica? Because clearly you have this real fascination with bygone eras. You're clearly a person who loves creating worlds, but you also really love recreating worlds.
Robert: Yeah, for some reason, I was really always into costumes, and I used to wear costumes to school. I used to ask for costumes for Christmas presents. I don't know where that comes from, but that was something that was always really interesting to me. So then books about fashion history. I know that my grandmother, who died, did some costume design for community theater and university ballet, so she had some books when I was super little, like four and stuff, that were lushly illustrated. I still have one of them that I drew all over. It would be like a bust of somebody, and I drew with markers their legs, really shitty. I was like six, four, or whatever.
Robert: And then my grandfather collected antiques, and he knew a lot about them, and so that became a germ of something.
And then when we would go on family trips to colonial Williamsburg, and Plimouth Plantation, things that a lot of people thought maybe were boring, I fucking loved it. I was like, "Yeah. I want to be a blacksmith. This is great," and I loved talking to the living history nerds. I thought it was the coolest thing.
And then there was another ... This is a gross story, but my dad taught at the University of New Hampshire, and there was an art show by this Latvian immigrant, Hyman Bloom, and he was a New England painter who had this retrospective that was really amazing. And he had all these hellish imagery of demons and astral planes and stuff, huge scale. My dad met him, and my parents got along with he and his wife, and he would come over a lot. I was just enamored of this artist because, at the time, I wanted to be a visual artist.
He was a very wizardly person in my eye, but he was very gentle, and I would talk to him about comic books and Star Wars and stuff, and he was down to hear it. But he gave me two books, one that was only Albrecht Durer, and one that was Martin Schongauer and other northern Renaissance people. He was like, "If you can draw this, you can draw anything," and I kind of threw my comic books away, and I kind of abandoned being interested in pop culture things mostly at that point.
I would still kind of occasionally go, I'd obligatorily see the Christopher Nolan Batman movies into my early 20s. And they're great for what they're ... And Nolan is just great and whatever, but you know, I had the taste of a fucking dilettante. As a little kid. I don't know what to say. It's like saying all of that makes me want to vomit, but is the case.
Ari: Yeah. I've been to your apartment. I don't think it's where you're living now, but I saw your little punishment room filled with books. I definitely noticed a lot of first editions in there, and it definitely felt like a room who belonged to somebody who has spent his life going into used book stores looking for out of print books, which I recognize because I'm not that far away from being that person myself.
Robert: Well, that's why we get along, buddy.
Bergman liked to work with the same crew, and he liked to work with the same troupe of actors, and I think most filmmakers wish that they had that, that they had that core group. Working on your second film, how much were you able to bring on crew from Hereditary? How much did you want to? Talk about that.
Ari: Pawel, my DP, and I have been working together since grad school, since AFI, and he's just one of my best friends, and we have this great shorthand. We just share the same taste, and see things in the same way. We argue very little. I would say when there is a misunderstanding, we take it very badly on set. If it turns out that we thought we understood each other but we had different ideas, we get upset and need a minute. He and I have this total shorthand, and I love the guy, and I'm very grateful for that relationship in my life, not just professionally. But he's also just a beautiful person.
And then I had a really incredible time on Hereditary with my production designer and costume designer, and that was Grace Yun and Olga Mill.
Robert: I've worked with Olga Mill, by the way, on short films when I was in the dregs of the New York indie garbage pail.
Ari: Yeah, she's fantastic.
Robert: She's amazing.
Ari: I loved it, and the only reason I didn't work with them on Midsommar, for instance, is because Midsommar was a project that I got started I guess almost five years ago, and we had a Swedish production designer named Henrik Svensson, who was on from the beginning. He did an incredible job, and he and I had this dialogue going for four years. He was building this really giant look-book, and he'd send it to me, and it was filled with references. I would then remove certain references that weren't working for me, and then I'd add my own, and that would provoke him to add more. Then he'd send that to me, and I'd add more and take out some. This thing is 300 pages.
And that was really great because once we dove into pre-production, we had no time. We had to build this entire village in just over two months. It was really big, and we could've only done it in Hungary, so he did an amazing job. I think he almost lost his mind just from the pressure of it, and so did I, by the way. The water was always just up to my nose on this film. There were times on set that I had to just walk to a corner and cry, which I probably shouldn't admit. There were crew people that probably either caught it and saw that the director was crying in the corner, or that maybe looked like I was laughing maniacally. Either way, it's probably a troubling sight.
So that was a really great collaboration. I'm really proud of his work. And then we worked with a Hungarian costume designer, again because we needed somebody local, named Andrea Flesch, who is really ... Or Andrea Flesch. I'm used to calling her Andrea. But really, really brilliant woman, so good at what she does. So she was incredible, and we did as much as we could with the time and the budget. We definitely had ideas for the costumes that kind of just never actually came to fruition.
Robert: Was it all Scandinavian, or was there some Slavic influence in the clothing of the villagers?
Ari: Yeah. There was definitely Slavic influence.
Robert: Yeah, and I also thought I saw an embroidered Elizabethan coif.
Ari: Yeah. It's a stew.
Robert: I think it's a very successful melange. It comes together as something that looks uniform and its own thing, but I was just curious because I thought I saw these.
Ari: Oh, no, you definitely did. There are things that we pulled from Russia, certainly from Scandinavia, and Andrea would be able to expound it much further.
Robert: Break it down. Yeah.
Ari: But it was very important to us that every costume had different runes incorporated because these costumes belong to these people, and they have adopted runes that represent them.
And then beyond that, there was a Swedish consultant on the film, Martin Karlqvist, who is just the best guy ever. And he sort of invented this language called the affect language.
Robert: That's the aspiration stuff?
Ari: Well, yeah. It's like the emotional sheet music, right? Which is a combination of the runic alphabet and then all of these emotional hieroglyphs that are kind of made up but also drawn from several sources. I mean, even every pair of shoes has its own thing going on.
Yeah. We went as far as we could in the time we had to prepare.
Robert: It was very successful. Particularly the clothing for me. The clothing particularly really belong.
Ari: Oh, well, thank you. I'm really proud of her work, and she's such a sweet person, and her crew was so great.
So, yeah, I guess that's my long winded, meandering answer as to who I've worked with on these last two films in those departments. In post-production, I've worked with Luke Johnston for both films.
Robert: He is such a nice guy.
Ari: The nicest guy. So smart. He was the assistant editor on Hereditary, and I was working with Jen Lame, who is also one of my favorite people, and at this point, one of my best friends. And she's actually now working on Christopher Nolan's new film, so she's moving fast. But Luke was such a big part of editing Hereditary that we just gave him an editor credit, and then I would have done Midsommar with both him and Jen again, but Jen was busy, and so I just pulled on Luke, and he's somebody that I will keep working with as well. He's definitely on the team at this point.
Ari: How about you?
Robert: I had the great fortune to be able to work with virtually all my keys from The Witch on The Lighthouse. The thing is I developed two larger studio movies that didn't happen, and so when The Lighthouse became an option, and we were shooting in Canada again, it was very easy to get the gang back. We also had an accelerated prep period and we never could've built that world without working with Craig Lathorp and Linda Muir again, because we have the right language and the right working relationship already, and it's spectacular work.
Robert: Jarin Blaschke, the DP, we worked together on all of my short films that aren't embarrassing, and I worked with him as a production designer on other directors' things. And, yeah, that shorthand and yada yada. But he's incredible. He's an artist. I don't use that word to describe very many people, and it's a real collaboration. My films, if and when they are praised for the cinematic language, it would not be that way without Jarin. I think you are like this, but I'm not like Scorsese, dictating, "This is every shot. Please carry it out." We are working on trying to find the most essential, simplest language for each scene.
And Louise Ford, the editor. I've known her for basically as long as Jarin, and we have the same tight knit relationship. But I must say that the edit and the color correct were the only parts of making The Lighthouse that weren't fucking miserable, and incredibly difficult.
Ari: Same for me. Same here.
Robert: Everything was so hard about The Lighthouse, but the edit was a joy. Not that Lou and I didn't have our work cut out for us, but it was quite pleasant.
Ari: Yeah. I'm with you on that. And before we move on from that, I also want to mention Lars Knudsen, my producer, who I met on Hereditary that was definitely ... I could not have made it through this film without him, and he and I just started a production company, and I really love the guy. He's just a total enabler.
Robert: Lars is incredible. I worked with him-
Ari: You worked with him on The Witch.
Robert: ... on The Witch. I'm going to be working with him in the future. Also, if we're going this direction, which we should be, RT Features and New Regency and A24 gave me incredible freedom. I can't believe I made that movie. It's kind of nuts. So thanks, guys.
Ari: Yeah. It feels a little sycophantic talking about A24 on the A24 podcast, but they are incredible.
Robert: Not that they're always perfect. I'm gonna tell the Satanic Temple story.
Ari: Oh, okay. Yeah, do it. I know what you're talking about. Yeah.
Robert: So we didn't have any stars for The Witch. A24 felt they needed something special for marketing, and they wanted to have the Satanic Temple endorse the film. I don't have anything against the Satanic Temple or their political agenda or anything like that at all, but I didn't want the movie endorsed by the Satanic Temple like I wouldn't want it being endorsed by something that called itself Christ's Temple either. And I have tons of personal philosophical, semi-spiritual reasons for not wanting this, and also, I said, “People are going to think I'm a fucking Satanist.”
But they did it anyway, and I hope it helped. But when I went to scout a film that was not made in Poland, the woman who was running the film office said, "We don't want Robert Eggers coming to Poland because he's a Satanist." Did you not know this part of it?
Ari: No, I didn't know that, no.
Robert: So we had to spend a week convincing them that I wasn't a Satanist before I could go scout in Poland.
Ari: I think it's only fair that you should be able to speak out about it now, here, on their podcast.
Robert: Yes, exactly.
Ari: So we'll see if they keep this in the podcast.
Robert: Yes, we'll see.
Robert: But, really, they're great, and they're collaborative.
Ari: No, they're great, and look, when I left AFI in 2010, there was nothing like this. I didn't know how I was going to make the films I wanted to make because I didn't see the platform for it. I wanted to make films that were not achievable for $1 million, like people sitting in rooms talking budget. And the fact that I was able to make Hereditary as my first feature still I find staggering, and I'm so grateful for it. I recognize how fortunate I was to be able to do it in that way.
Ari: And the reason it took me 10 years to make a film, or I guess eight years after AFI, and the reason is because I was very stubborn. I did not want to do it for-
Robert: It's very important.
Ari: Yeah, it's very important, and I'm glad I did wait. But, yeah, man. I will say that A24 going wide with a film like The Witch or going wide with a film like Midsommar, it tickles me that it's happening because there are people who are going to walk into Midsommar that maybe would certainly never watch it, and I'm sure they'll regret watching it, but-
Robert: On the other hand, there's going to be some high school students who that is going to be the first weird movie they've seen, and that's going to be amazing for them. I had to cut off email contact because of creepy occult people, unfortunately, but in the beginning, I made myself available, and it was amazing to get emails from high school students who saw The Witch and didn't know you could do something like that with movies. And that was super gratifying.
Ari: That's the other side of the 'D' Cinemascore.
Robert: Yeah, exactly. That's the other side of it.
Ari: Where people walk out and they're like, "That wasn't scary. That was boring and bullshit."
Robert: And God bless them.
Ari: Yeah. God bless them, you know? Maybe it'll stick with them for another day or two, and at least bother them.
Robert: Yeah, bother them.
Robert: Finally, just because I don't know ... Sorry, listeners. This is clearly my drum that I'm beating. If we can make it succinct, what about Bergman is so darn great?
Ari: I mean, I don't know a better writer, certainly of monologues and dialogue.
Robert: For sure.
Ari: Somebody who is able to just create the most vivid, interpersonal dynamics in film. I can't think of anybody whose work is more devastating just as far as character studies are concerned. There's an economy to his visual language. You could put a lot of that on his collaboration with Sven Nykvist, but even when he was making films with Gunnar Fischer, it's there.
Robert: For sure. It's there in The Seventh Seal.
Ari: Yeah. No, absolutely.
Robert: It is. In Sawdust and Tinsel.
Ari: It's there from the beginning. Absolutely. And I would say, for me, that's a useful tether to hold onto as a filmmaker is these films are so artful, so beautiful, so impressive on a technical level, and they so rarely go beyond what's necessary. He's able to be perfectly indulgent and also to just eschew the extraneous.
Robert: Sorry to cut you off, but something that I find so inspiring, though I'm certainly not capable of it yet, is that the indulgent shots aren't experienced as indulgent often. The opening of The Silence is-
Ari: Yeah. The train.
Robert: ... It's so incredible how it shifts perspectives, and it's quite complicated, but you're unaware of it. I feel like when I watch John Ford or Hitchcock ... John Ford, I'm like, yeah, that's where you should put a camera. That's where you should put a camera. Yeah. And Hitchcock, it's like that's where you should put a camera, but that's a little surprise. But Bergman, it's always like, why? Wow. He put the camera there. But that is the perfect place. I would never think that that's exactly where you're supposed to put it, but that's the place, and, again, it's unassuming. You're not assaulted by the panache of the filmmaker.
Ari: And it feels instinctive.
Robert: So instinctive, yeah.
Ari: It feels totally instinctive, and I think there's something to be said also about ... People love to deify these filmmakers, and say they came up with this, and nobody had done anything like this before, but I think there's something to be said about filmmakers being in dialogue with other filmmakers. Just as you mentioned, Bergman and Nykvist watched Tarkovsky's early films and were just blown away, and it changed their way of making films.
Robert: And Andrei Rublev gets all the credit for kitchen sink-like medieval worlds, but obviously Seven Samurai did that way earlier.
Ari: Absolutely. And even with The Silence, you can see, oh, when did The Silence come out? Oh, it came out a year after Last Year at Marienbad.
Robert: Yeah, for sure.
Ari: And it's a film set in this hotel that looks nothing like anything Bergman had done before, and looks everything like what he did afterwards. And I know that for me, my film school was just watching films I loved, and then kind of digging in to see what are the films that those filmmakers were watching.
Robert: Same, yeah.
Ari: What are the films that impacted those filmmakers, and it's a rabbit hole that just never ends.
Robert: How much do you re-watch movies?
Ari: A lot. I re-watch movies a lot to the exclusion of watching films for the first time.
Robert: Yeah. I've ruined some films that I've studied and taken so many notes that ...
Ari: Yeah. Just the joy is gone watching it.
Robert: The joy is gone.
Ari: But I think there was certainly a period where I was just copying, and then you get to a point where you've done enough trial and error that there's something in your system, and you kind of have a foundation. And then you can go off from there.
Robert: Yeah. You're watching so much stuff, and you're like, okay, everything's an idea. You know what I mean?
Robert: You're like, well, that was an idea, and that was an idea, but that's not my script. That's their script. So we're just going to try to do it. I think Beck ... Remember Beck? Had a quote that was something to the effect of no matter how much I try to shape one of my albums as far as influences, I'm only left with what's inside of myself. And I think as you continue to become yourself more, as someone who creates work, that sense of self emerges more. And so even if you're studying something for staging, or lighting, or whatever, it becomes less of "I need to do that" and less of "Oh, yeah, that's how I'm thinking about my own ideas."
Ari: Yeah. I couldn't have said it better.
Robert: Well, I think I could've.
Ari: I'm being told that it's time to wrap it up. I could keep this going for a long time.
Robert: Yeah, same here.
Ari: It feels like we're just getting warmed up.
Robert: Well, you should come over soon, hang out with the baby.
Ari: I would love to. I want to see Houston again.
Ari: This was great. There's nobody I would've rather done this with.
Robert: Same here.
Ari: And I am so excited for people to see The Lighthouse, which I think is a great film with a capital 'G.'
Robert: Thanks, man. And see Midsommar. See it a second and a third and a fourth time, and take notes. Destroy it.
Ari: Yeah. Take it down.
Ari: All right. Great.
Robert: No, destroy it for your film students, to better your own filmmaking. Not saying take down an artist's movie. It's fucking great.
Ari: But, hey, it's a free country.