Fantastic Fest 2014: Joe Lynch on ‘Everly’

Joe Lynch said I got his movie Everly, and I could tell by talking to him that I did. The director of the fan-championed Knights of Badassdom, which was compromised by distributors, returns with a hitman tale. Salma Hayek stars as a woman fending off a slew of assassins in her apartment. Lynch and I discussed the action set pieces and alternate ideas, with minor, minor spoilers. Really, Lynch was so good at discussing specifics vaguely, you’d never catch on, and after you see Everly you can return to have those questions answered. 

Related: Fantastic Fest 2014 Review: ‘Everly’

CraveOnline: There are movies that can take a small concept and make it feel big. The downside is some movies can take a big idea and make it feel really small and cheap. Were you sensitive to that and how you wanted to achieve the former?

Joe Lynch: Absolutely. When I was writing Everly I was designing it in my head the whole time where we were drawing the room and thinking about all the things that we needed to do to keep the audience engaged knowing that I couldn’t cut away to the mom on the phone, or I couldn’t cut away to Zelda in the other room in the conventional way. 

But knowing enough about lenses and lighting and what cinematic tricks you need to create scope, we’re in one small room so one of the first things I said to my DP. We had Steve Gainer who did Punisher: War Zone and Super, two movies that were smaller on budget but look really, really good. Steve is a genius and he brought in a whole old school anamorphic Hawk package. I don’t know where he got it from but this was a big deal for us because I love the anamorphic form. I’ve loved it since I was a kid. It’s just movies seem bigger to me in 2.35:1. They just feel bigger.

So even if you shot someone in a bathroom, me, I go, “Look at that scope! That’s amazing.” I’m not talking about the Scope on the dresser. There’s just something inherently big about it.

You still call it scope when it’s probably not Cinemascope anymore. When I was a projectionist we called any anamorphic movie “scope.” 

Yeah, no one says “spherical” anymore. It feels weird that in the days where there would be this kind of pissing match where it’s like Super 35 or anamorphic. Now it’s just what chip do you have? What CCs are you using? Oh, Alexa or RED. We fought hard for film and look, I have film [tattooed] on my arm. Now I feel like I’m going to have to put a hard drive with zeroes and ones on the other one. 

It was a hard decision to make but when your producers say, and rightfully so, “Okay, you can have film. That’s just five less days of shooting.” I went, “I think I’m going to go with the digital.” Mainly because every day was crucial and I knew it. When you deal with someone like Salma, I wanted to make sure that we gave her a wide berth and we weren’t rushing her through anything, because the whole movie hinges on her emotional journey. If I completely strip that away, if I took that away from her, then it would be a completely empty movie experience and I don’t want that. Out of respect for her and the crew and myself, I’ll take the extra days, thank you. I’ll go digital with the caveat that it has to be shot wide.

So we did a lot of tests. We used the Sony F55. It was the first time that anyone’s ever used the anamorphic lenses on that camera. So Sony was like, “Yeah, all right.” Lo and behold, the DCP last night didn’t quite look right, but when we projected it it looks fantastic. So really I feel like I won with that because I was able to get the days that I wanted and still get anamorphic. If I didn’t tell anybody, hopefully they’d go, “It looks like film.”

Were there any hit man ideas that you cut from the script to Everly?

Good question. Yeah, actually the scene where the SWAT team guys come on, we actually had a much bigger set piece where all the rain is still going. Obviously the rain happens and then the rain turns off. The reason why the rain turned off was everybody said, “We can only afford this amount of time with the rain. If you have the entire SWAT team scene in the rain, the amount of setup it was going to take to reset, the amount of equipment that was going to get screwed up…” So for me, I go, “As long as we have it in there a little bit and it does its job, fine.” 

But originally there were guys from above who go up to Mrs. Haberdash’s room and start shooting from above. And there’s guys from below who start shooting from below, so it’s this rain of bullets. If you watch the movie, you see that in a subliminal sort of way, I owe a lot to Blood Simple. I didn’t even realize it until after I saw the movie. I went, “Oh my God, it’s the room from Blood Simple, holy shit.” Who doesn’t remember the beams of light shooting through the wall? Obviously that’s been re-appropriated in a million movies but that’s one of the first movies that did that and did it well.

So every time I’d come up with a trope that I like or a cliche, I go, “How do I twist it? How can I subvert it a little bit so that it feels a little fresher.” It’s like I’ve never seen anyone do it where it’s coming from above and below. We even had it all designed where you’d see her and all of a sudden, pyew pyew pyew pyew, light light light light and then pyew pyew pyew pyew, light light light light. Then there would be this hole and she drops the grenade down into the other room below her. Because of all the water around her, she jumps on the bed and when the explosion goes off, all the water, all the rain goes upwards.

It was such a great visual, such a great moment but way too ambitious and expensive for our purposes. That’s the only thing that I watch and go, “God, I wish we had the light rain and the real rain shooting all over the place. It would’ve been sweet” but again it’s a compromise. It was either fight for that and lose a scene with Damascus at the end. There was always going to be a compromise. A good director knows how to compromise well and where to figure out I can get this but it sacrifices that, so maybe I need to balance things out a little bit.

I won’t give away how she dispatches the dog assassin but I thought it was hilarious. Were you sensitive to how some viewers react to any animal injury, even if it’s an evil hit dog?

I know. Believe me, I love dogs. I have dogs. The dog was named after my dog, Bonsai who died the day before we shot which was horrible because I’m in Serbia and my wife’s in Syracuse. I had to Skype goodbye to my dog and then kill a dog in a movie. In a personal way, I’m paying homage to Bonsai and I’m the same way. When I saw the Tony Scott movie Revenge and they shotgunned the dog, that wrecked me. 

But I also justified it a little bit by going, “That dog was an asshole.” I’m sorry, I think it’s specious for me to say that I’m not allowed to execute or have this dog die when it was clearly attacking a child. So fuck that dog. That dog deserved everything it got. Now look, I’m sure PETA and everybody is going to come after me now. It’s only a movie, but it was a very sensitive situation from the beginning. We also felt like we’re pushing the envelope every which way we can. If it pissed somebody off, we got a rise out of them. We got a reaction out of them, because it does to me. Even when I see it, I go, “I’m not supposed to be laughing but I’m laughing.”

I think that trope is ridiculous, that you can’t treat an animal with the full function of a human character in a movie. And if people have such an easy trigger, then they’re giving the filmmaker too much power to use such a lazy trope on them.

That’s a great point, it really is. Sensitivity is such a big thing in movies anyway. You have to be careful who you’re offending or you’re not offending. But that’s one of those things where I didn’t do it in a sadistic way. I wasn’t sitting there like Mr. Burns going, “Excellent, I got a rise out of you all.” Again, the way this movie plays, someone said last night it plays like a video game where it’s going from level to level to level in a way. I knew with all these different types of mobsters and Yakuza guys and crazy love hotel girls, I had to keep raising the stakes. The only thing that it was missing was a robot. That was my compromise. I couldn’t get a robot, couldn’t get a cyborg, so I had to go with the dog. 

By the way, that dog was the sweetest dog in the world. It was so hard to get it to look me. Every shot was basically that one where she goes, “Bonsai!” and looks up. That was the dog every day, every shot. To get him to actually growl, everyone’s like, “Come on, come on.” The trainers in the background are doing these funny dances. Everybody was very, very respectful to the dog, doing these funny little dances. I had to cheat that one a little bit.

Did you have to shoot in chronological order because you’re destroying the apartment?

Yes. And it was extremely beneficial because it helped Salma with her arc. To have to jump around from being this innocent victim paradigm to a hero paradigm, to have to shift back and forth, I’ve acted before too. I’m on a sitcom and we’ve had to do that before, and it’s tough. It’s tough on you emotionally. It’s tough for you to be able to “jump into the moment.” Whereas because the room was a character and because the room’s constantly changing and the room had an arc, it helped me, it helped Salma, it helped the whole crew be able to track everything and do it as properly as possible. 

There are a couple little continuity things that I see here and there like, “Hey, that bottle was broken before.” Stuff like that, that you either don’t have time to deal with or you just totally forget. But it was crucial and thank God we did it that way. Our line producer, Andrew Pfeffer, he was a big champion of that. In one form or another, it might’ve been easier for actors’ schedules. We have an international cast. We have a global cast. America, Spain, London, Japan, Serbia, everyone was coming from all over the place. My first AD would’ve been thrilled if it could’ve just been we can do everything like this because we have that actor this week. It would’ve been easier for him but it would’ve been a lot tougher for us and I don’t think the results would have been as effective.

Did you ever have multiple endings either written or shot?

No, it was always going to be that ending but I didn’t want to make the decision on the final moment until I saw it with an audience. I wanted to see if Everly earned that. That’s really what it is. I just wanted to see if it felt realistic. Well, if anything’s realistic in this violent fairy tale, my hat’s off to anybody. I just wanted to see what felt right and thankfully the way that it was written allowed me to. It’s not like we would have to shoot an entirely new scene as an alternate. This was always going to be the final shot and it was always going to use these devices to bring somebody in, bring somebody out, give a little exposition, show a couple things and float off into the ether.

Once we saw it with an audience and once I showed it to my producers and I knew it. When I saw the movie I go, “Okay, it’s earned.” But when everybody else saw the movie, we showed it to a screening and I heard people say, “Good thing it didn’t happen like that because I would’ve been pissed.” The sadistic side of me that likes dour endings and likes ambiguous endings, I could have even left it ambiguous if I wanted to. I love that stuff. I love walking out of a movie [wondering] but that’s not this movie. 

I wanted to make a roller coaster ride and it would suck if you were on a roller coaster and the last loop, it just stops. Or, you die. Something like that. You want everybody to pull the bar up and walk out exhilarated and smiling. It might’ve been a brutal time and everybody’s screaming and going, “We’re gonna die!” But when the bar comes up and you’re walking off, you want to go, “I want to do that again.” I wanted to leave the audience with that feeling as opposed to walking out and everybody’s somber.

You’re great at talking about the ending vaguely. I don’t have to edit that at all!

Cool.

The question you get all the time now: Is there any chance of reassembling your cut of Knights of Badassdom?

Shockingly, I don’t want to give too much away, but eOne has approached me about it. That’s all I can say now so there is hope.

Did that experience give you a rough education that helped you going into Everly?

Oh, absolutely. Every film project, every film director I’m sure feels this way, but every project is a learning experience. I learned a lot on that one. I got to work with great actors. I got to work with an amazing DP. I worked with this amazing LARPing community. It’s unfortunate that the movie turned out the way it did and got handled by people who don’t know how to make movies to save their lives, but that’s just one of those things. My mistake was putting trust in people that I should not have. Hopefully I’ll never make that mistake again.

I hear that story all the time. You just hope there are enough cautionary tales like Knights of Badassdom out there so filmmakers can recognize those unsavory types.

There’s such a desperation to make movies.

I know, someone says they’ll give you this money to make your movie, you don’t want to vet them and find out you can’t trust them.

You don’t want to say no. I made the mistake of really going, “This sounds great, let’s go for it.” I was very involved with producing Wrong Turn 2. I saw the budget, I knew everything that was going on with that. With Everly, same thing. Everything that I’d done, big or small, I had such a hand in the production side because I was a producer. I knew how to do it. With Knights, I put my trust in other people and that was a big mistake. 

Next thing I know, I go, “Where’s Peter Dinklage?” “Oh, we had to release him to ‘Game of Thrones.’ They had to go reshoot.” “We still have three weeks with him.” “Oh, well, we didn’t want to lose our HBO subscriptions.” Stuff like that, but in the end, people really like that movie. It’s hard for me to watch it because I know, in my heart, and I could be totally wrong, but I know there’s a much better made movie with a much more satisfying ending.

They cut out a 10 minute ending and the reason why they cut out that ending, I’m sorry to say, is the head of the company didn’t like someone’s dress. I’m sure he’ll go, “No, it’s not. It was all these other things.” No, all he did was talk about this stupid dress that had absolutely nothing to do with the crux of the scene to begin with. It’s just one of those things that I learned so much from that movie and it helped me so much on Everly. thank you, Knights of Badassdom, you made me a better filmmaker.

But the Weinsteins can be very hands on producers and executives too, but in a different way because they are filmmakers.

That was my biggest fear when I heard the Weinsteins are buying the movie. Of course the first thing that pops in my head is Harvey Scissorhands. But at the same time, I love that guy. I love him and I’m not just saying that because he’s putting out my movie. Even before that, from reading all the books, and I met him once when I lived in New York. He was walking down the hallway and I had to shake his hand. I’m sure he’s like, “Who the fuck is this kid?” But he knows good movies. He’s got impeccable taste and he does the right thing. He’s doing the right thing for the movie and for the company as well. He’s got to balance that sort of thing. 

At the same time, I went, “Oh my God, hopefully this works out” because as you know, this movie is a little weird. It’s a little different and it could have been recut easily to be maybe a little more conventional. Here, thankfully, he loved it so that was a big relief for me but I think he saw the benefit of it being irreverent. That it’s not just another schlocky B movie. It’s a slightly B+ schlocky movie. 


Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Best Episode Ever and The Shelf Space Awards. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.