The Canyons is not Bret Easton Ellis’s first foray into cinema. The author’s novels have previously been adapted into the acclaimed films Less Than Zero, American Psycho and The Rules of Attraction, but The Canyons marks the his first screenplay written directly for the screen. It is also one of the most infamous movies of the year, thanks to scandalous reports of Lindsay Lohan’s behavior on set and the casting of pornographic film star James Deen, whom we interviewed at CraveOnline earlier this week.
With the film’s production taking over any discussion of its actual quality (which, in the interest of fairness, we didn’t rate too highly), we wanted to give Bret Easton Ellis an opportunity to set the record straight about the production and his no-holds-barred opinions on the state of modern filmmaking, as well as to defend the film’s dialogue, which Ellis says is a point of contention for many film critics.
The Canyons is now in limited theatrical release and on Video On Demand.
CraveOnline: First I want to talk to you about something I noticed on Twitter recently. You always seem very opinionated about films, which is something I always enjoy reading. But recently you wrote that you think American movies “were probably dead as an art form” and that you were “late to the game.” That sounded kind of melancholy.
Bret Easton Ellis: I felt this way for the last two to three years, and the kind of mature-driven, American adult movies don’t seem to be made anymore. I’ve seen a lot of movies this year, and I know a lot of people just don’t go to any movies anymore, that I know. The kind of movies that I like just aren’t being made. So for me, this year has been depressing. Even though I have this need to keep going to movies, out of this kind of habit, that I started going in my childhood, I am still really bored this year by the movies that I’ve seen. I’ve been kind of depressed by it. I do notice a huge drop in quality, not only… I mean, forget the studio movies, but even in the high-end independent movies. I don’t know if there’s just too many, or people just don’t care… I don’t know.
So yes, I do stand by that statement. Who knows? Maybe in a month or two things will change and there will be 40 really good movies that come out between November and December. It could happen I guess. But I do feel melancholy about that.
But there are certain films that you like, and they’re very fun movies. You talked about how great you thought Melissa McCarthy was in The Heat, or how much you liked Pacific Rim.
Were those just escapism, and you enjoy them on that level, or is there something more to them?
No. I mean, I don’t like anything else about The Heat but I like the artistry with which Melissa McCarthy handles that role. I think it’s a wild and exciting performance, and extremely funny in a movie that should not be funny at all. She brings a life to that movie that I think only a comic artist could. The rest of the movie is flatlining. And Pacific Rim I just thought was incredibly beautiful, and that’s a big reason why I like movies. It’s just visually beautiful. That can really move me past a lot of other flaws.
I think there’s something about Pacific Rim that I found very charming. It was almost like an analogue movie even though it’s so spectacular looking. Its heart is in… I don’t know. It’s heart is an a much more innocent place than some of the big action movies that I saw earlier in the summer, and [Guillermo del Toro] has a real temperament. It doesn’t seem like a movie made by consortium. It seems like a personal movie in the same way that you could also say The Avengers did have Joss Whedon’s stamp on it. So I do like that movie a lot. I also like long passages of Justin Lin’s Fast and the Furious 6. I think that chase scene at the end is one of the most spectacular things I’ve seen.
That has my favorite line of dialogue this year, which was, “How did you know there’d be a car there to break our fall?” Which is just this fundamentally ridiculous statement. I love that.
Look, you know in the last couple weeks I have been taken to task for my dialogue in The Canyons, and there is something about movie dialogue that is just different from the way we speak in real life. When you’re writing dialogue for actors, or when you’re writing dialogue for a particular scene… I didn’t really mind that dialogue in the context of Fast and Furious 6…
Oh, I’m not being ironic. I genuinely liked that dialogue. I thought it worked in context.
No, I did too. But it’s silly, but I liked it. I like it as well. I don’t know what I was going on [about]. It’s very hard to find good movie dialogue because it’s often expository, it’s jokey, it’s illogical. So the tone of the movie and the style of the movie is really what’s important in terms of making that dialogue work or not. It’s different for every movie.
Do you approach screenplay dialogue differently than you do dialogue in your novels?
Completely, because I’m not writing the dialogue in the novels for actors. It’s just going to appear on the page. How that dialogue in the books sounds is going to be dependent on how the reader reads it. With dialogue in a movie, again, it is often expository. It is often to move a story forward, it is often just to reveal character. You really can’t go off on huge digressions like you can in a novel. So you have to shape it in a way, and it also has to stay true to, again, the world you’re writing about.
Again, I know I’m getting dissed a lot for the kind of cynical vapidity in the way that my characters talk to one another [in The Canyons], but to me, that rings true. I think that by the very nature of being a novelist, or a well-known novelist, the screenplay for The Canyons has been mercilessly attacked, and has been made fun of in a way that… It’s no better or worse than the screenplay for… I actually think that it’s a better screenplay than the one for Fruitvale Station, or The Way Way Back. Whatever. I don’t think the dialogue is any worse than a lot of those movies, but I just think because of what the subject matter is in The Canyons, people kind of lay into.