Filmmaker David Lowery and actor, producer, and genre impresario Elijah Wood talk The Green Knight, old-fashioned movie magic, and more.
Other topics covered include: the importance of letting your movie breath, hate-cutting The Green Knight, the fall of Troy, Grail mythology, a mom’s helpful nudge, the epic oner from Eternal Sunshine, concentric circles of production and release, vegan animatronic boar entrails, New Zealand film crews (the best), mainlining horror movies in October, and why genre is the perfect playground for emerging filmmakers.
Speaker: Hey and welcome back to The A24 Podcast. After a brief hiatus, we’re excited to kick things off with a conversation between filmmaker David Lowery and actor, producer, and genre impresario Elijah Wood. They recently met up in L.A. where Elijah came prepared with a list of all his unanswered questions about The Green Knight, like: Why was Dev Patel photographed on set holding a giant bleeding heart?
We hope you enjoy the episode, and look out for many more in the months to come.
Elijah Wood: Right. So, hi, I'm Elijah Wood.
David Lowery: And I'm David Lowery.
Elijah: And we are talking on the A24 Podcast.
David: The A24 Podcast indeed.
Elijah: Yeah. Hi, David.
David: It's so great to see you.
Elijah: It's so good to see you too.
David: It's been forever.
Elijah: It has been. I feel like it's been, well it's over two years, because it was certainly pre-pandemic it feels like.
David: Yeah. Sometime pre-pandemic I was out in LA and we hung out. But, I don't know, time means nothing anymore.
Elijah: Dude, I know. I mean, speaking of time, Green Knight was supposed to come out a year before?
David: Yeah. It was supposed to come out in May of 2020.
David: And that very quickly fell by the wayside as we approached that release date. A lot of things were supposed to happen in 2020. But yeah, definitely, it got pushed along with most movies. And now here we are and it feels like I can't imagine a world in which it had opened then. It's so strange. Like in spite of the fact that I hate the fact that we've all had to go through this together, I can't imagine being in a position where we hadn't, if that makes sense.
Elijah: Totally. Did anything change about the film in that time, or your feelings about it? It's a unique thing and I've not heard any filmmakers really talk about this where they've made something, they've gone through that process, we all know what that process is like. And then there's this sort of anticipation of giving birth to that project and then to have that delayed in that way for quite a long time. What did that feel like? And how did your relationship to the film? I'm just so curious.
David: It was really somewhat profound. Because normally when you make a movie, or at least when I make a movie, on a philosophical level, I feel it's important to let go of it and hand it over to the world as it were. At which point, my relationship with it sort of ends, never completely, but it's like it's not just mine anymore. That's better for my role in it to be very minimal. So to finish a movie, and make my peace with it, and let it go and then have no one see it, the exchange doesn't take place. You just cast it off into the ether. It was very strange.
I think ultimately it was very healthy, but it was very strange, it really brings up that question. Like, if a movie doesn't play in front of an audience, does it actually exist?
Elijah: Does it exist?
Elijah: The old tree falling in the forest.
David: The other thing that had happened was that I was finishing the movie while we were in prep for another film. So really just like racing to do two films at once on either end, and burning the candle at both ends.
Elijah: Wow. That's stressful.
David: It was stressful in a good way. At the time I thought it was in a good way, but looking back I'm like, okay, I see the unhealthiness of this. I'd be location scouting, like in the woods of British Columbia and then go to this little hotel in the evening and edit the movie on my laptop. And like, I thought it was very doable. You look at folks like Spielberg who have two movies come out in one year and you're like, it's got to be doable.
David: But I see the downsides of it. So after, we're racing to finish it and I'm at Skywalker Ranch when...
Elijah: Were you there for the sound mix?
Elijah: Oh man.
David: It's the best place. We're racing to finish it. It was going to screen at South by Southwest and—
David: —which has been great because my first film St. Nick played there and I hadn't had a movie play there since. But it wasn't going to be the completely finished version. We were still working on a couple of things, but it was pretty close. And then we got the news that Tom Hanks had COVID, which is, I think, the moment when we all sort of realized this could be bigger than we were all pretending it wasn't going to be. A day later, South by Southwest was canceled and then pretty quickly after that, even though we didn't make the decision, it seemed pretty clear that the movie wasn't going to open in May, as soon as Fast and the Furious and James Bond got pushed, it was like the writing was on the wall.
David: So we weren't done, like we still had several days of mixing to go. And so we just stopped. We were in this little bit of limbo where the movie was almost done, but not done enough to where we could deliver it, and everything just kind of got quiet by necessity. It was a rare instance in which the bond company, which you usually have for an independent film, was like, okay, you don't have to deliver on this date.
David: And so then like a month later, I was talking to Toby, my producer, and some of the folks at A24 about some of the visual effects we wanted to keep working on and I opened up the edit and saw a little change I wanted to make, like seven frames. And I made that change and I was like, okay, reel one is now unlocked. It went from being locked to unlocked. And then once that happened, it just was like a cascade of seeing other little changes I can make. And because I'd taken like a month away from it where I wasn't focusing on two movies at once, I was suddenly able to see it with a clear perspective.
Elijah: Which is so rare.
David: Incredibly rare.
Elijah: That never happens.
David: You never get that objective perspective on film when you're working on it because you're just so in the trenches.
Elijah: You're always in the weeds. Yeah.
David: Up until the point when it gets released.
David: One of the things that happened while I was racing to finish it was that I grew almost arbitrarily afraid of a running time that was over two hours, worried that I was going to bore people or that it was just going to outstay its welcome or one thing or another. And I had just started just chopping away and just like very like systematically cutting anything that had any dead air in it or anything that just was not contributing to the forward momentum of the story. But the problem with that is I make movies where they don't often have a lot of momentum. I mean, they do, but it's a very leisurely sort of momentum.
David: And so I was sort of just hobbling myself in a way because the movie was always going to be what it was going to be. The pace was always built into the shoot. Often when I'm writing my scripts, I'll describe how long a shot is going to last. And I just got cold feet at some point in the editorial process and was just what I described as hate-cutting where I'm just like this isn't working. I'm just going to cut this out and never look at it again. So when I went back to revisit the movie, I just was like, oh, it's too short.
There were a lot of scenes that we shot that were removed for a good reason, but then there were a lot that I’d just arbitrarily taken out just to help contribute to that faster, quicker running time. And so I started to put those things back in and let the movie breathe a little bit more, and it became something that wasn't that different in theory from the version that we'd almost finished in March, but it just became a better representation of everything we'd tried to do. And all friends of mine would watch the new cut as it came together and not be able to pinpoint exactly what it was that was different, but they would say like, it just meant more.
Everything that I liked about it before, now I like more because it just resonates more clearly.
Elijah: There's greater depth, probably character moments that were reinserted.
David: Definitely. Definitely. And I'd cut it to the quick to such an extent that you just don't have time to process certain things. And now, there are all these scenes that were kind of there, but now they're really there and they mean more.
Elijah: That's so great. What an incredible lesson to learn and for a situation that is uncontrollable to have given you the opportunity to learn that lesson, or to experience that.
David: Everyone over the past 18 months has been looking for as many silver linings as possible. I've never used the term silver linings as often as I have, and this was one of them. This was definitely one of them.
Elijah: That's kind of incredible. And I get that. I think that arbitrary feeling of making something pop or have a faster running time. I get that. That makes a lot of sense. But something will also, like you're saying, will be what it needs to be.
David: It will be. Yeah.
Elijah: And you kind of have to serve what it wants to be.
David: And I've been in that place before where I just feel like I owe something to an audience. Like I owe them like a quicker expedition from the cinema. I don't know what it is. But what I owe them is a good movie. What I owe them is not a short movie. It's just a good movie. And sometimes it's really, especially when you have a lot of voices in the room or when you have an impending release date or whatever the pressures may be—
Elijah: Of course.
David: —you just start to get self-conscious.
Elijah: Of course.
David: And it can sometimes push you in the wrong direction.
Elijah: Well, that's incredible. That's amazing that you were given that kind of gift, actually, of objectivity, to be able to look at something in a way that you wouldn't have otherwise. And the movie would be great, undoubtedly, without you having done that, but it may not have been as resonant.
David: I don't think it would've been. Yeah.
Elijah: Which is really interesting. Just very powerful. It's a powerful, resonating movie. And I now can't imagine it not feeling that way.
David: I don't really feel like it's one of those situations where it's worth putting out that alternative cut, like saying here's that version. There's nothing to be gained from that.
Elijah: Totally. Yeah.
David: Because it's not that profoundly different, but it is, on a level of process, a really good reminder of how much, like, four frames can make a difference, how much an extra 12 frames at the end of a shot can have a ripple effect that affects everything else.
Elijah: Isn't that crazy. And what is the actual difference of running time?
David: It's about 10 minutes, and some of that is just an accumulation of eight or 12 frames. And then there's one scene, I put the whole scene in as opposed to this fragment of it that was in there before. It was a scene with Alicia Vikander and Dev Patel sitting by a river. It needed that scene.
Elijah: I watched the movie again. I've seen it three times now.
Elijah: It's so good. But one thing I still haven't been able to figure out because it doesn't seem like there's any resolution to it is the opening shot. What building is that that is on fire? I feel like maybe I'm dumb and I've totally missed a really obvious thing because then there's the couple that come in and retrieve the horse and the man draws his sword and runs, and then we pull back to reveal Dev being woken up. So what did I miss?
David: I wish I had a copy of the poem, so I could just read the opening lines of the poem, but the beginning of the poem starts with the fall of Troy, how the scattering of the heroes from that great siege gave birth to all of the great empires of the Western world and the ideas of heroism that begat all of the Arthurian tales—
David: —and all the Arthurian legends. And so I wanted to reflect that idea, very abstractly. And so Dev Patel wants to be a hero.
David: He wants to be like the traditional great knight who's going to go chop off the giant's head and win the lady and all of those things.
And so to begin with this idea of this image that is adjacent to him having a dream. So it almost feels like a dream he's having of some heroic act of old. But on a literal level, what's happening is a house is burning down and a young man is absconding with a woman and you hear a battle happening on the other side of the wall, which is really just like—I was like, okay, if we boiled the Trojan War down to a farm hand running away with the farmer's daughter and setting fire to the house, and the farmers in the background, screaming, this house is on fire. That's like the literal version of what's happening. But those characters are meant to suggest Paris and Helen of Troy.
David: In the background, you hear this farmer yelling and if you listen really closely, he's just yelling Helen at the top of his lungs.
Elijah: That's so cool.
David: And then we pull back and then we're into Dev's world. But it's just to suggest the legacy of heroism that Dev's character thinks he needs to participate in.
Elijah: Right. That is awesome. Thank you. That's incredible. I've never read the original poem. I clearly need to. Is that something that you read as a kid?
David: I knew about it as a kid because I was really into all of the Arthurian lore because of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. That was what got me into it.
Elijah: Right. Okay.
David: And grail mythology. And so I knew most of those legends, but I didn't read the original texts until I was in school. So in high school we read Le Morte d'Arthur, although I'm sure it was a very truncated translation. And then in college, my first semester of English Literature, we read The Odyssey, The Aeneid, all of the great Western poems that begat the literary tradition that we now major in worldwide. And Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was the last thing we read. I knew the story, so I was kind of able to coast through it because at that point I was just like, I had read way too much...
Elijah: Right. You know all the beats.
David: Yeah. Exactly. But nonetheless, reading it, it definitely resonated with me even then at 18 or 19 or however old I was at that point, and the thing that I liked about it was that, aside from all the sex and violence, which the poem is full of, is the concept of this knight, going on a quest, the end of which has to be, if he succeeds, his own death.
David: And of course in the poem, he doesn't actually die. He gets let off easy. But the idea that—
Elijah: What happens in the poem?
David: In the poem, as in the film, he flinches when the Green Knight raises his ax. And then the Green Knight's like, "Sir, you flinched, and I didn't show signs of fear when I faced your blow a year ago." And so then, Gawain gears up his courage and prepares himself and the Green Knight brings the ax down again, but just gives him, like, a paper cut. And he's like, "Because you showed courage now, I'm going to let you go."
And then he goes into like three pages of classic third act exposition dump, which was a problem with narrative even 700 years ago, where he explains that this whole thing was a plot by Morgan Le Fay to scare Guinevere to death. And he sends Gawain home, and he had taken the belt off. That was the thing. He'd taken off the belt that was the charm that would protect them against harm, so he could face him as a man. And he's like, just wear that forevermore, as a sign of your mortal foibles. In spite of being a great knight, you were still susceptible to fear just like any other man.
And he goes back to Camelot with his green belt and all of the knights in Camelot decided to also wear a green sash to remind themselves of how culpable they are in their own sense of defects, as it were, as fears. And that's how the poem ends.
David: Which is almost how the movie ends, I just wanted to turn the knife a little further.
Elijah: It's the ultimate test that he's given, and the glimpse of a life that he could have for making the wrong choice is really beautiful.
David: It's definitely like, if he really had to make a hard choice, he should have seen a great life, a great life laying out ahead of him, that he then has to turn his back on to make the right choice. But to me, it was important to see that it's not meant to be literal. It's not a literal thing. He could have gone off and been a king and been a great king, but at his heart, he would have known that he had gotten there through deceit and it was important to see a literal representation of that deceit eating away at him.
Elijah: I also interpret it as him seeing his truth in terms of if he were to carry on in the path that he's on, it's relatively arrogant. It's relatively self-centered. He wasn't ready to accept love. He wanted all of the great things of being king or being a knight, without what it really takes to be a true, good human.
Elijah: And I think what he, what my interpretation of it is, that he saw a path laid out for what his core represented at that time. And he chose against that core in that last moment.
David: Exactly. That's exactly right.
Elijah: And that to me is far more powerful than seeing a great future and deciding that you're going to let fate or whatever take its course. No it's seeing, oh man, this is what I'm made of. I don't want to be that.
David: It's actually a moment of self-awareness—
Elijah: It totally is
David: It's like almost where he becomes self-aware and has that clarity that allows him to do the right thing fully for the first time.
Elijah: Which is what his mom wanted him to see.
Elijah: That's what this whole journey has been about.
David: It's all about a mom, just trying to give her son that helpful nudge.
Elijah: That's literally what it is, it's so beautiful.
David: That was something that came about almost as a surprise.
Elijah: Oh, interesting.
David: Because in the poem, as I mentioned, she never literally shows up aside from being the old woman in disguise in the castle.
David: But it's revealed at the end that she was behind everything. And I wanted to maintain that. I wanted her to be the instigator of all of these events, but I wanted to bring her in earlier. And so I had drafts where she showed up earlier and where Gawain's mother goes to her. And then at one point, I was just like, what if I just combine those characters? And doing that, I didn't do anything else.
I just combined those characters and the ripple effect of that was so intense and changed things so much that I'm still processing how, on a personal level, that reflects upon my own history with my mom, which is very similar. I lived at home for way too long. And she had to give me that little helpful nudge out the door.
David: And there's things that you do that you don't even think about until much later and all of a sudden I'm like, oh, I was just working through things from over a decade ago that I'm still clearly trying to figure out, still trying to process.
Elijah: How old were you when you left home?
Elijah: Oh wow.
David: So pretty old.
David: I'd had a couple tries of going out on my own and making it. I spent some time living out here in LA and I just kept failing.
Elijah: I was 23, I think, 24, when I finally moved away from home.
David: I’m the benefactor, the benefactee, of two loving parents who really created a warm nest for their children. And I'm the oldest of nine, so we were all living there.
Elijah: That's right, you're from a massive family.
David: Yeah. And it just was like, it just made sense to stay there. It never occurred to me that I needed to leave until, you know, I was helpfully nudged out the door.
Elijah: That's kind of incredible. So you're really close with your siblings?
David: Yeah. And we're all artists to one degree or another. My parents were definitely very instrumental in helping us all feel that the greater value in life is not to be, quote-unquote successful, but to just pursue whatever passions compel us.
Elijah: Fulfill yourself.
David: Exactly. And so a couple of my siblings are musicians.
Elijah: Oh, rad.
David: My brother, Ben, is a painter and he works on most of my movies as a concept artist.
Elijah: Oh, no way.
David: He did a lot of art for this film.
Elijah: Oh, great.
David: And he did the one matte painting, the one classic matte painting.
Elijah: Which one?
David: In the great hall when the Green Knight, or before the Green Knight shows up, when the king is addressing everybody.
David: The shot just wasn't as wide as I wanted it to be, because we had the camera up against the wall and then I was like, I wish we could just be much wider.
Elijah: To share more of it, yeah. Those shots are incredible.
David: I was like, here's an opportunity to actually do an old fashioned matte. I had actually wanted, in prep, we talked about doing glass mattes, actually finding the artists—who still work, a lot of them work now just doing digital versions of it, but we just didn't have the time to prepare that, to actually lock the camera into place and know exactly where we were going to block out the areas for the glass painting to come into play.
But we did in that shot, I was like, we don't have enough extras in here. The shot’s not wide enough, but I bet we could just paint it all in. And so for that one shot, there's a bunch of painted people off to the sides and painted fire.
Elijah: Is it just the extension on either side of the frame?
David: Yeah, exactly.
David: And so any figures you see in there that are encroaching on the side and the darkness are all just hand-painted.
Elijah: I'm going to watch it again to see that, that's crazy.
David: It definitely almost checked off one goal of mine, which is to have like traditional matte paintings in movies. And I want to, at some point, do the full on glass-matte.
David: Partially, just to have that painting after.
Elijah: Absolutely. Absolutely.
David: When we were doing Pete's Dragon, our post suite was decorated with art from the Disney archives, and they just brought out all of their old glass mattes.
Elijah: Oh my God, what a treasure,
David: And framed them and lit them. And it was just incredible. Just to stand there and look at them.
Elijah: Yeah. Getting to play, I mean, having been able to tick off that particular box, for techniques that are not really used like that anymore, is such a special thing. And it's so lovely to be able to play with those old tools. I mean, I remember that being such a joyful thing on Lord of the Rings, when we were doing forced perspective, just utilizing the simplest tricks in the book that were in-camera and incredibly effective, and you get this jolt of enthusiasm and an excitement of, you're playing with movie magic and you're seeing it happen before your eyes.
David: You're seeing it happen before your eyes and you go to the dailies and you see that it actually works. And everyone's like, woah, we did that. We were literally there yesterday shooting that and now it's done.
Elijah: And there it is.
David: As opposed to now, where you're just like six months of looking at a blue screen.
Elijah: Waiting for render time.
David: Exactly. And I like that too. I mean, I love what visual effects do accomplish, but there is something so satisfying as a filmmaker, for the whole crew, when you’re pulling something off in-camera. And I do believe that that translates over to the audience. There's a sense when you're watching a movie, including movies I've made, where you just assume, everyone's assuming it's a digital effect, and they're correct, because you're just like, well, that's done with computers.
David: And you don't think about how hard it is to do with computers. You're just like, in your mind, even for me, I think like, well you just press a button.
Elijah: You take that for granted.
David: You take it for granted. It's a ton of work.
Elijah: It is a lot of work. Yeah.
David: But when you see something that subverts that expectation that it was done with computers, where you're like, that feels real in a way that I don't understand, it's far more profound as an audience member. And usually it's happening on a subconscious level, but every now and then there'll be one that just like—and I think some of that forced perspective stuff is that type of work where you're just like, you think about that shot, where the camera was moving. And you're like, there's something going on there, going around the table. And it's like, I'm sure it could be done with computers. But when you're watching that, you understand that there's something metaphysical happening, that's just nuts and bolts, but translates into something truly special.
Elijah: Yes. You can feel it on a kind of molecular level. It's funny too, what you said about the crew being able to feel that as well, which is so important when you're making something, especially when you're making something with a lot of VFX, for the crew to be able to see in the moment and in camera, some bit of that magic come to life, is so impactful and it really kind of reverberates this energy amongst everybody in it. And they can then rally even more behind the thing that we're all working on.
I remember that on, I worked on this film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and there was a shot, it was the end of the second week, we did this shot that was all—it was a oner, where Kate Winslet and Jim are running down a hall, having come from a facsimile of the house. So it's in this dream world. They leave the house, go into the hall of the doctor's office, open the door. The camera moves around, Jim takes his hat off. He's got a beanie cap and a jacket, takes that off, spins around and he's now the patient Jim, having observed himself.
Camera spins around and sees me drop some papers, spins back around, he's put his hat back on to be the Jim that's just run with Kate. And I think we did 16 or 17 takes of it. And when it was done, it was seamless. You saw it and it was electric. Suddenly everybody on set realized what we were making. And it's just so powerful, and you're right, it does translate to the audience as well.
Elijah: You see that shot and your brain goes, it's real. Something is happening here that I can't make sense of, but it definitely feels real. And it resonates in a way that, if it were digital, it wouldn't have quite the same effect.
David: It's very true. It's very true. And there's something about bringing the community of a film set into that experience—
David: —and making sure that everyone's participating and can feel that pride in it. Even when it's not a visual effects thing, but when you're just making the movie, one thing I try to do is halfway through the shoot, just cut together an assembly of everything, not the movie, but almost like a demo reel.
Elijah: Bits and pieces.
David: And show everybody, and we rent a projector and a screening room where everyone comes and watches it. And it's such a nice invigorating moment, especially if it's a hard shoot, to be reminded that we're all working together towards something that hopefully will be incredible.
Elijah: That's the best, it's the best. That connects so much to what I think we both love about making movies is that sense of a group of people working together really hard towards something that they all really believe in. And when you can throw in a moment like that to remind people what they're making, it's so special and it can reinvigorate people for another month to two months—
Elijah: —just based on the energy of having seen that and recognizing that they're all a part of something special.
David: Yeah. That it's not just something that everyone's going to just forget about in six months to a year. It'll be something that they'll be proud of. They'll want to show that, they'll be like, hey, I was a part of this. I'm going to show my family this movie, whatever it may be.
Elijah: That's the best. How long was the shoot on Green Knight?
David: It was about 50 days. So pretty good. For an indie film that is up there.
Elijah: It's a solid amount of time for an indie film. That's a good 20 days more than you normally get.
David: Totally. I really credit James and Toby, my producing partners, and Edmund Sampson, our line producer, who just understood, we're trying to do something really ambitious here. How can we get the most on screen? And he would ask me these hard questions like, do we really need to do this as a build? Can we find a location? Can we shoot closer to Dublin? And as a director at the time, you're always like, "Oh, it's so frustrating. I want to build this set. We need to make it feel bigger or whatever." But in the back of my head, I always knew he was asking these questions so that we could—like when we were shooting in the Green Chapel, we went over a day there because there were so many setups, each stage of that sequence—it's so long—needed its own little setup, own lighting queue, et cetera, et cetera.
And to be able to go to your line producer and say, "I don't think we're going to make our day. We need to add another one." And him being like, "Cool. I accounted for that." That's what a great line producer will do. The unsung heroes. I think they often are looked at as the people who say no on set, but they're not. A good line producer, they're the ones who are trying to make sure that you're going to get what you need. And trying to guess what you'll need that you don't know that you'll need. Because a lot of times you're like, I don't know I'm going to go over on that day or I don't know I'm going to need to reshoot the scene. But they're just trying to guess.
Elijah: And they're looking ahead at some of the more complicated days and estimating where things could go wrong. Where things could go over. And yeah, oh man. They're the saviors for sure, for sure. And how was, because you took that break, obviously, you thought you were going to be releasing Green Knight last year, and then you were also in prep for Peter Pan?
Elijah: So that also took a pause, presumably.
David: I think we were supposed to start shooting Peter Pan on May 19th and Green Knight was supposed to open on May 28th.
Elijah: Dude, David, that’s so insane
David: And then what ended up happening was Green Knight opened on July 30th of this year, which was the last month of shooting Peter Pan. So it kind of inverted itself. We'd been working on Peter Pan and Wendy since 2016. And that was one where it just took a while to get the script right, took a while for the studio to feel like it was the right time to make the movie. But then when it finally happened, it was like, okay, we're making this movie, here's the start date for it. It almost kind of came unexpectedly. I thought it had kind of gone away. Like I thought it was probably not going to happen.
And suddenly we get the call from Disney. It's like, “Actually we want it. And here's the release date we want to try to hit.” And of course, none of that's—it was originally supposed to open July 30th of this year, which is the day Green Knight wound up opening. So these concentric circles of production and release and post are all intermingled in an almost cosmic sense.
Elijah: That's amazing.
What was the giant heart? There's that photo of Dev holding that huge heart. Was that from the big boar?
David: Yeah. So in the poem, Gawian spends another two days at the Lord and Lady’s castle. And we shot those two days—
Elijah: I loved that sequence, it’s so great
David: —but they were just, once she gives that speech about the color green, you kind of are done. You don't need two more days. So that wasn't even like, those were in the edit for a day. I assembled it and I was like, yep, don't need those. And we're still shooting. So we repurposed that boar and put it in the background of the scene, in the woods, just so we would have it there. Because the boar is definitely an important animal in the poem. And I wanted to at least nod to that. But we had built this big animatronic boar. It was fully a vegan dead animal, all fake fur, because I always have everything vegan on my sets. And all the entrails were there and the heart. And what happened in the original scene, which I'll probably, if we do a special edition blu-ray, I'll put it on there because it's a really good scene.
Dev walks outside and the boar is there, and Joel Edgerton pops out from the stomach, like a Tauntaun style, because he was just sitting there disemboweling it. He's just coated in blood, shirtless, and there's all these entrails everywhere. And it was so funny and really good. But again, that scene fell away very, very quickly.
Elijah: It sounds like a great comic bit of levity.
David: It was hilarious. And Joel knows how to own those moments so thoroughly. He was cracking us up.
Elijah: Oh my God. That's awesome.
David: Yeah. So somewhere in Ireland, there's a giant animatronic dead boar.
Elijah: And nobody kept the heart?
David: I think it’s all, everything's in storage. I've got the puppets from the puppet show.
Elijah: Holy shit, really? You have the actual set for it as well?
David: That's in storage.
Elijah: Because that would be a pretty amazing thing to have in your home.
David: I'm starting to get to the point now where I'm like, I need props from my movies. Because at first I was like, not really too concerned. My movies didn't have that. The props weren't that special anyway.
Elijah: David, you're making a lot of movies with a lot of props.
David: So starting with Green Knight, I've started being like, okay, I need to just steal these away. And then on Peter Pan I definitely raided the prop truck at the end of the shoot. I've got a bunch of stuff from it.
Elijah: Oh I can imagine. But where do you keep that stuff? It's going to get tricky.
David: Well, one thing we've got is we put the Green Knight's face on one of the cannon ports on the boat, on Captain Hook ship. So when the cannons would pop out, like the little port door would open, they all have faces on them. And so the Green Knight was one of those. So I've got that. It's hanging in my garden in the back of my house now.
Elijah: That’s rad.
David: And then I've got various other things, well, I can't. It's going to get into spoilers, especially talking about it, but they're all accumulating in my office. And now I realize, I need to get some shelves built to actually display these things rather than just having them sitting around.
Elijah: You said you and your wife moved back to Texas. Where did you live prior? Did you live somewhere else?
David: We were living here in LA.
Elijah: Oh, you were in LA? Okay.
David: And then that was following a year we were living in New Zealand, which I would happily retire in, not that I ever want to retire, but I keep thinking—
Elijah: That's where you shot Pete's Dragon. Right. Was that in Auckland?
David: We were based in Wellington at the beginning. So we were at Stone Street.
Elijah: Oh, okay. Right. And so you had a very comparable experience. Well, in the sense that you were there—
David: Yeah we lived it, we felt like we were part of that community.
Elijah: Camperdown Studios.
David: Totally. So we started off in Wellington, went up to Rotorua for seven weeks, and then went down to the South Island to this tiny town called Tapanui, which is close to Dunedin. It was the most beautiful experience because it's a town of about 750 people. And we basically just moved in and we all lived at the homes of the inhabitants of this town. We just moved into that town. Everyone worked on the movie, either extras or helping with catering. Whenever you make a movie, like we've talked earlier about the idea of community. We were able to take this entire town that we had moved into and involve them in the movie in a really, I believe, healthy and positive way.
Elijah: Aw, that’s beautiful.
David: And I think everyone was so proud to be a part of it. Because when we were finished with the movie, we went back and did a premiere in Auckland, which was great. And then one in Wellington. And then we went to Tapanui and did one down there. And there's no movie theater there. So we did it in the high school gymnasium.
Elijah: Oh that’s so lovely.
David: And everyone came in and it was the most—I mean, of all the movies, I don't really enjoy going to movie premieres because I'm too self-conscious.
Elijah: I don’t love it either.
David: But that one was one of the best experiences in my life.
Elijah: Because that wasn't a premiere in the traditional sense. That was literally a screening for the community.
David: Exactly. Exactly.
Elijah: Oh, that's so beautiful.
David: And they put up a little plaque in the town, in the alleyway where Pete gets caught.
Elijah: Oh that’s so cool.
David: I've been back to New Zealand a few times since then and have not made it back to Tapanui, but at some point I really want to go back, and just walk down those streets again.
Elijah: Oh, that's amazing. New Zealand is really special in that way. When we were making Rings, that same thing rang true for us too, where you would take over little tiny towns and we would knock on people's doors to ask if we could use their land. And there's this sense of the country feeling like they were participating in it. And certainly the crews, I'm sure you can relate. I think some of the best crews in the world are in New Zealand.
Elijah: There's a sort of, there's a cultural sense of pulling up your bootstraps and just getting stuck into work, just wanting to help, whatever their station. And on Rings, the woman that would pick me up in the morning was also a stand-in, would also do production running. There was just this sense of “I'll help with whatever.” And that was across the board at every level.
And that's incredibly inspiring to be around. And it feels like everybody has a part to play. Everybody's job is meaningful and is contributing to the larger thing. And I've never, I’ve certainly felt that in other films, for sure, outside of New Zealand, but none quite like it is there. It's very special.
David: And there's a sense of the quality of life there that is important to everybody. And I think we're about to see a sea change in the US with that, with what's going on with IATSE, which is great. Because you go to New Zealand, and the same goes in Ireland, where people would rather go home to have dinner with their families than get paid overtime.
I wanted to ask you, one of the things I've loved watching is—in the movies you're making, the choices you're making, both as an actor and as a producer—is a deep love of genre.
David: And as someone who—we're talking in October, I'm just mainlining horror movies left and right, right now, because that's what I do all year round, but especially in October.
Elijah: Sure yeah, yeah.
David: Has that always been your favorite genre? Has that been something you've been drawn to?
Elijah: I think so. I mean, since I was pretty young. I think we're the same age. I was born in '81, and I think you're December of '80. Yeah. So I have an older brother. He's about seven years older than me. And he was watching horror movies, renting horror movies from the local video store with his friends when I was five, six, and seven. And so he would, unbeknownst to my mother and father, show me these horror movies. And I loved them immediately, it didn't really freak me out. It's that thing of, when you're young, it's the forbidden fruit, it's the thing you're not supposed to watch, but you're so excited to watch it, invariably, because it's the thing you're not supposed to. And I loved it.
And the older I got, the more I watched and the more I loved. I've loved the process of filmmaking forever. And the older I got, the more I wanted to be involved in filmmaking in a more proactive way and to provide a platform for other filmmakers and stories, seeing something from the sort of inception point on through.
So the idea to sort of start a production company came about and I thought, well, these are the kinds of movies that I want to facilitate. And at the time my producing partners and I, we kind of bonded on this shared mutual love of genre. And this is 10 years ago. So really before the renaissance that we're currently still in. At the time, the films that we loved were being made largely in Europe, Let the Right One In, The Orphanage, Inside, out of France.
David: Yeah. The French extreme.
Elijah: Oh my God. That's such an incredible series of films there. Martyrs is so great. So there were certainly exceptions to the rule in the US. But the US was predominantly still kind of mired in torture porn.
David: It’s like the occasional remake, like you'd have the initial Black Christmas remake and things like that.
Elijah: Sure. These sort of reboots and things. But then you'd have something like Ti West's House of the Devil pop up. So there were these really wonderful examples of great genre, but it didn't seem at the time that there was a place for it. So we were just kind of talking and thinking about it. And we were like, let's create a space for this. Let's reach out to filmmakers that we love and try to allow them to create a space to make the kinds of movies that we love to see. And that's how Mandy came about, from very organically loving Beyond the Black Rainbow and thinking we'll do anything just to provide a platform for whatever—
Elijah: —Panos wants to do next. And as you know, genre is—it's funny, because horror tends to get—less so now, because I feel like there's an acceptance of horror in the larger sense as an actual art form. It depends on who you're talking to. Horror over the years tends to get denigrated to this sort of B level. And it doesn't often get to sort of join the larger cinematic conversation. Although I think that has largely changed.
David: When it reaches the A level people will say, “Well, it's not really a horror film.”
David: Which is the problem.
Elijah: Then those conversations start to happen. “Well, it's not really horror.” Which is such bullshit.
David: It's “elevated horror.” It's like, no, it's just horror.
Elijah: It's horror. Exactly. But you and I both know that it is—the thing that's so wonderful about genre, from a filmmaking perspective, is that all bets are off. It allows you so much creative freedom that a traditional drama or traditional comedy or what have you doesn't necessarily afford. You can really play with cinema in a way that is accepted in horror and genre that you probably wouldn't get away with as much otherwise. And so great filmmakers get their start in genre because they can flex and try things that work within the sort of fantastical realm. And I just love that. There's so much room for really exciting artistic choices in genre that you don't often get to see otherwise.
David: And because you have that room to throw the rules out, so to speak, you can actually illuminate whatever thematic content—
Elijah: More clearly.
David: More clearly, and it will resonate, and people will actually absorb it more, like you actually will take it in. Whereas if you were just—no shade on dramas, I love a great drama.
Elijah: Same. Yeah, same.
David: But if you have a movie that maybe feels a little bit like homework, and not to say a movie will feel like homework, but a movie that feels like it's just a straight drama, it's harder to sometimes get people to embrace the message that you're trying to convey. Whereas if you can get that message to seep out through the floorboards of a horror movie, people will carry it with them longer. I mean, that's why Get Out was such a huge hit. I mean, that's the movie that sort of changed things. Yeah, to a large extent.
Elijah: Yes. And look, great horror films are often—in my opinion, the best horror films, you can remove the genre elements and still have a compelling story, because at their heart they are trying to say something. Hereditary is a horror movie. But if you take the demon aspect out of that, it's a family trauma film. It's a film about a family that's falling apart. You know what I mean?
Elijah: I think the best genre has to work in both ways. I don't think you can—I mean, certainly you can. Plenty of horror films just rest on the sort of exploitable elements and they're fun, and we'll eat those up like candy.
Elijah: But the best ones, you can remove those elements and there's a real story happening. There's an engine that doesn't need to rely on the horror aspects. And I love that.
David: I was listening—I don't know if you listen to the podcast Unspooled with Paul Scheer and Amy Nicholson?
Elijah: I know it, yeah.
David: They just did The Exorcist.
Elijah: Oh shit.
David: And they were talking about how for the first 90 minutes, it's a drama about a movie star dealing with public perceptions of having a daughter who's troubled.
Elijah: Yes. And maybe being slightly neglectful.
David: Exactly. You never think about that, but rewatching the movie it's like, oh yeah, there's a lot of emphasis put on that. And it's a great movie.
Elijah: The first 40 minutes of it. It's kind of amazing.
David: It is.
Elijah: But that movie's also about faith, and it's about so many other things.
David: Yes, indeed.
Elijah: And it's also terrifying, you know?
David: And that's why it's a classic, because it hits every one of those things perfectly.
Elijah: Exactly. Yeah. So it's a space that I feel like I'll always want to play in. I also feel like some of the most exciting new voices in film are often making genre films.
David: I agree. I really agree.
Elijah: They hit hard. They're impactful. They're bold. Again, really wild choices are able to land because of the vessel that they're being presented in. It's a pretty exciting time to be a filmmaker. And it's certainly an exciting time to be a fan of film because there's so many incredible voices and platforms for those voices to be heard, and walls are being broken all the time. The typical avenues which create dividing lines are kind of falling apart.
David: They completely are, especially as streaming and cinema become inseparable.
David: I mean, one of my favorite things to do, especially in October, is to just randomly watch Shudder Originals.
Elijah: Dude, Shudder's so great.
David: It's the best.
Elijah: I love it so much.
David: And you never know what you're going to get because they put out a lot of movies.
Elijah: They do.
David: And I'll just click. Like Beach House was one of my favorite movies last year.
Elijah: Oh, I haven't seen it.
David: It was so good.
Elijah: Oh shit.
David: And it was like, yeah, I'll just try this out, see how it feels. And it's kind of like going to a film festival, going to the midnight movies at a festival.
Elijah: It's true.
David: Where you're going to see something genre-adjacent at the very least, and hopefully it's going to be good. And you have no idea what to expect, and that's what you get when you watch these things.
Elijah: That's so fun. Do you have a horror film in you?
David: I do. I don't know what it is yet. But I mean, it is my favorite genre, and my movies keep participating in the language of it.
Elijah: They totally do.
David: Without actually fully embracing it. But at some point. It's high on my to-do list, much higher than glass matte paintings.
Elijah: I would love to see you make a horror film.
David: I get scared very easily.
Elijah: Do you?
David: I always have. As much as I love horror films.
Elijah: By the films themselves?
David: By the films themselves.
Elijah: Right, right.
David: Like I watch movies doing the Vulcan hand signal horizontally over my eyes so I can quickly close it if it gets too scary. My goal is to make a movie where I don't want to be in the mix because I'm too scared. That's where I want to get to.
Elijah: That is a very good goal.
David: I want to make a movie where we have to keep all the lights on when we're mixing it.
Elijah: Where you're terrified of your own film.
David: Yes, exactly.
Elijah: I want to see that movie.
David:I don't know how to pull that off, but that's my goal. That's a high water mark for me.
Elijah: That's awesome. Man, I feel like we could talk all day, because we also didn't touch on your experience at Skywalker and how unbelievably special that place is. I got to go. So I've been once or twice for screenings, but just for the day, going to see a movie and then bouncing. And it's so exceptional, that entire piece of land, the buildings, everything about it. But I'd never stayed. And about a year ago, my fiancé had produced a movie that was being mixed there. So we were invited to come up to see a screening and the screening kept getting moved. So we stayed, and what was going to be one night ended up being three nights. So we had this experience of kind of living there for a minute.
David: Riding the bikes around.
Elijah: It's pure magic.
David: It is. And you don't get good cell service over there so you sort of feel disconnected.
Elijah: You do.
David: And it takes so long to get into town that you just... you don't leave.
Elijah: You don't.
David: And there's so much history, especially as someone who grew up just obsessing over ILM and Lucas film.
Elijah: Dude, same.
David: And it's not like the archives are there. They have a couple of props, but it's really just like, to know that that's where those movies were incepted. And so much of my own cinematic history was birthed there. It also has an incredible—George, his poster collection.
Elijah: Is out of this world.
David: Out of this world.
Elijah: Like, that was such a revelation. Every single building has any number of posters that he's collected. I think the Skywalker ranch represents only a fraction of what he has, because he's also got buildings in various other places that also have his posters. But it is an exceptional collection.
David: It ignited a little poster collecting side of me when I went there. I was like, oh, I need to start doing this.
Elijah: Me too. Me too.
David: I got a couple of big French grandes I have no room for in my house.
Elijah: Have you? I haven't gone there yet. I haven't gone there yet.
David: I just got Bresson's Lancelot du Lac, related to The Green Knight. It's one of my favorite movies. I just got a vintage.
Elijah: Shit. Oh, I've not seen the film.
David: It's not really available right now. I'd heard rumors that Criterion was going to put it out. I mean, there's out of print DVDs of it. And you can get it on eBay on VHS. I can't remember what year he made it, but it's a very Bressonian take on Arthurian lore. It's about Lancelot and his affair with Guinevere and it's fantastic. And it has one of my, well, maybe my all time favorite movie poster. That and the original poster for Possession—
Elijah: What is the original?
David: —which is like a Gorgon, it's almost like a Medusa sort of figure.
Elijah: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
David: Similar to the Repulsion poster, but not quite. Anyway, those two are—I need to get that one, but now I've got the Bresson one.
Elijah: I love the Polish movie posters too. And there was one that I'd never seen that was at Skywalker. So at one of the screening rooms that they—one of the big screening rooms, I can't remember the name of it, in the hallway, there was a poster for Dirty Dancing of all things.
David: Oh amazing.
Elijah: And it's black and you see a strip of a leg. It's so evocative and beautiful and doesn't feel like the kind of—the traditional poster for that is what it is. It's the two actors. And this is sort of this very dark, impressionistic piece that's just a beautiful piece of art in and of itself. That's awesome.
David: I got my wife a Japanese Showgirls poster for her birthday last year.
Elijah: What does that look like?
David: It's gorgeous. Like it's absolutely beautiful. Like this beautiful painting of Elizabeth Berkeley sort of sitting with her arms crossed over. The American poster's all about that leg coming through the screen.
Elijah: Of course, yeah.
David: It's like, come see this. This one's very—it's the opposite of that. Like, we're saying this is a damaged person who is—you shouldn't be looking at her right now.
Elijah: Oh interesting.
David: It's very intimate, it's a completely different take on that movie. And the poster, it's all red and it's just absolutely gorgeous.
Elijah: Oh, that's rad.
David: Yeah. We're big Showgirls fans so...
Elijah: That movie's incredible.
David: It's incredible. It is incredible.
Elijah: I think we have to wrap it up, David.
David: Indeed. I mean, I can keep going. I had some perfect closing statement about 30 minutes ago that I now have forgotten what it is.
Elijah: Oh no.
David: I was like, “Oh, I know how to bring this all full circle.” But I don't remember what it is.
Elijah: We can wrap it up in a beautiful bow.
David: Exactly. But we can leave it open-ended.
David: And say to be continued.
Elijah: To be continued. This has been really lovely and just really nice to reconnect as well.
David: It's so great.
Elijah: And I feel like there's still so much for us to talk about offline, but—
David: We'll go do that.
Elijah: Yeah. And maybe this will, since we did spend a lot of time, maybe we will also get an extended—
David: Extended edition.
Elijah: An extended bonus episode.
David: Fingers crossed.
Elijah: Thanks, dude.
David: Awesome. Thanks a lot.
Elijah: Thank you.