Breck Eisner Warns What to Do When The Crazies Attack!
Breck Eisner's The Crazies is one of the most well-received horror remakes in recent years, and the truly terrifying film finally hits DVD and Blu-ray this coming Tuesday, June 29th. The story finds the citizens of Ogden Marsh infected with a man-made virus unleashed by the military, and only Sheriff Dutton (the amazing Timothy Olyphant) and his pregnant wife (Radha Mitchell) can stop the madness from breaking past county walls. It's an intense two hour ride that will leave you sweating through the couch in this summer heat. We caught up with director Breck Eisner to chat with him (for the umpteenth time) about his awesome little horror flick that continues to surprise horror aficionados and critics alike. Here's our conversation:
Why, in your opinion, do you think The Crazies is the perfect film to watch at home this summer?
Breck Eisner: (Laughs) Yeah, you're setting me up, huh?
I'm not setting you up. I think The Crazies is a great movie.
Breck Eisner: Thank you. I think, if you can get a bunch of friends together, and you can pop in the Blu-ray, or the DVD if you have it, it's an awesome movie to watch with a group of people. And what better time to get a group of people together than the summer? This is a cool, fun, scary horror movie.
Do you ever consider the home viewing experience when you set out to direct a film? Or are your thoughts strictly centered on how it will play in a theater to a large audience?
Breck Eisner: I love watching the movie with an audience. I love that an audience sits together and watches a movie in a darkened theater. They aren't pausing it. They don't typically get up. They have that group experience. I like to make a movie with the hope that they'll watch it in the theater. I do know and realize that most people will see a movie, barring if its Avatar, at home or on the computer. But I'm a purist. I design it for the theater. I know people have giant screens now. They have their Blu-ray players. It's all on another level. They can download it on Hi-Def. They have great sound systems. There's not much delineation between your home system and the theater system. Not like it used to be. But for horror? Typically watching it at home is a solitary experience. Maybe there are two people watching it. What you miss not seeing it at a theater is that group experience. I think watching a horror movie or a comedy with a group is a really great way to watch a movie.
The Crazies is ten times better than 98% of the summer movies we've seen so far this year, nearly all of which have been sequels, reboots, remakes, or adaptations. What is your insight into making a "reimagining", as you've called The Crazies, that truly works for today's audiences?
Breck Eisner: Sure. I can give you a lot of insight into it. Choose wisely. Make sure the movie you are attempting to remake has a reason to be remade. Either the social relevance of the movie made at that time still has some social relevance today. Or you can reengineer the movie so that it has a new social relevance for today's audience. But first, you just have to make a good movie. There has to be a good script. It's got to have good characters. There needs to be interesting character journeys. There has to be good character relationships. Ultimately, it shouldn't matter that it's a remake. You can't rest on the laurels of thinking the audience will come just because they know the brand. It has got to be a good movie. People, nowadays, can smell a stinker from a mile away. From the very first screening, everyone knows. The secret is, "Believe in the movie itself." Don't just hope that people are going to go see it because they know the names of the characters and the title.
Now, people hear the word reboot or reimagining, and they immediately think it's a stinker. Even this movie wasn't greeted with a warm welcome initially. It really worked on word of mouth. The audience hears that it's a Romero remake, and they automatically don't want to see it. They think it's going to be bad by default.
Breck Eisner: (Laughs) Yes. We definitely had to overcome that. You take the title, The Crazies, first of all. It's kind of a bizarre title. I kind of love it. It's memorable. But it doesn't lend itself to being elevated horror. That was something we were going for. You can easily mop this into the remake category. And you can bump it into the zombie category. I had to realize that, "Yes, this is a "remake" movie. That it is a George A. Romero film, so people are going to think its about zombies." But they are different. They were designed different, because The Crazies were never intended to be zombies.
You've said in the past that you would have never attempted to redo a George A. Romero film if it were one of his more well-made, more cherish projects. And that Zack Snyder had a lot of balls to tackle Dawn of the Dead. But now, you are going after Escape From New York, which is one of both John Carpenter and Kurt Russell's seminal works. Do you hold George A. Romero in higher esteem than John Carpenter? Do you think Carpenter is a lesser director? Or do you truly believe that this material is in need of a face-lift?
Breck Eisner: I don't consider John Carpenter or George A. Romero to be better than one or the other. They are both different types of filmmakers. And I am a big fan of both of theirs. Its not my favorite, but one of my all-time favorite horror movies is The Thing. I hold them both in high esteem. They both made movies that are great, and some that are not so great. I wouldn't say that I am a big fan of John Carpenter's Escape from L.A.. Kurt Russell surfing? That just gets me every time. But certainly, there is a risk involved with remaking Escape from New York. I read the script, and it is really good. We are doing a polish on it. But I really like the script. I went back and rewatched it. I'd seen it as a kid countless times. When I was a kid, I loved that movie. The reality of Escape from New York today is that the social meaning of it is not true any more. The movie is a comment on urban decay. The suburban flight. All of that was coming out of the late 70s and early 80s. When the movie came out. That doesn't exist today. The thought for me is, "Is there any relevance today to make Escape from New York?" When we were developing it, when I was looking at it, and I was analyzing it, I realized that the world is a completely different place. New York has a completely different character now than it did back then. The idea of turning it into a prison is a completely different level of social commentary. I liked the idea of discovering this movie through a completely different set of eyes in a different decade. That gave me the confidence that there is a reason to make this movie. That, and there was a similar thing that I found with The Crazies. George A. Romero had made this incredibly low budget movie. Escape from New York wasn't a low budget movie for it's time, but John Carpenter was working from this much bigger canvas. A lot of things, like the president's plane crashing into the building? It was quite telling that they had a simulation on an Atari video screen. There are a lot of places in that movie where its obvious that Carpenter wanted to do bigger and better, and cooler things. He couldn't, because he couldn't afford that. We can do that now. The other thing, I think, that is missing from the original Escape from New York is the identity and the recognizability of New York. The New York sets were all shot in St. Louis after a big fire rendered a bunch of warehouses uninhabitable. Aside from a few establishing, lower-end matte shots, that New York is not often there. It's just these random, obscure warehouses. My idea, which I am really excited about, is making sure every location is clearly identifiable as the real New York City. A repurposed New York City.
Southland Tales touches on some of these themes. Have you looked at that movie as far as what Richard Kelly did right, and what he did wrong?
Breck Eisner: No, I haven't actually watched that film since I started working on Escape from New York. That's a good idea. I will.
There's some great ideas in that movie. There are also some not so great ideas. It's a very strange tale.
Breck Eisner: That often happens when your ambition is bigger than your budget.
The idea of a sequel to the Crazies has been tossed around quite a bit, but you've never said that its something you'd truly enjoy doing. And you have quite a bit on your plate. Do you think that if a sequel does happen, it will be made by someone else? And do you have a seed of an idea about what the story will be, and who you would like to see do it?
Breck Eisner: I would love to pass this off to someone else. To see their interpretation of the movie. The way George A. Romero did with me, I would love to hand it off to the next guy. And see what he or she does. That would be kind of exciting. There have been no internal discussions about franchising this movie. The design of the film? The open ending of it has nothing to do with setting up a franchise. It's what felt right to me in ending this particular movie. I didn't want to tie it up in a big bow, I didn't want everyone to be okay. This movie is a cautionary tale. The ending is ambiguous. That is on purpose. The fact that I love 70s horror had a lot to do with it. 70s horror hardly ever ended happy. Those films ended kind of bleak. I couldn't help but be influenced by that.
The fans know about the alternate ending to this film. Why was it not included on the DVD or Blu-ray? Are you of the mindset that it wraps the viewers' perception of a story and what it means? Or did it have anything to do with the way a sequel might be set up in the future?
Breck Eisner: There were multiple reasons why we didn't include it. I went back and forth a lot on it. By the way, the alternate ending is the only scene we cut out of the movie. There was a half-a-page dinner scene that was nothing. It was a nothing scene that we cut out. Other than that, there was nothing that we cut out. There was nothing left on the floor. Obviously there were bits of scenes cut out, but nothing whole. That's the way we were able to make this on such a small budget. In terms of the ending, we shot two endings. This is the less bleak of the two endings. The other ending is quite bleak. David (Timothy Olyphant) gets infected. He brings the virus out of Ogden Marsh, and the infection spreads. It didn't work as well, because the audience was really invested in the characters. Its one thing to have a downer ending in concept. But its another thing to see it happening in real time to your heroes, who you've lived with through this horrifying experience the whole time. We worked hard on this ending, and on deciding what the real ending should be. I felt that I didn't want to throw another option up there. I didn't want to say, "Oh, well, the movie could have ended this way." We shot two endings knowing one would live and one would die. They both fit the same story. They both bring the infection out and it continues. It was just told from two different points of view. And I didn't love the execution of the scene. It wasn't my favorite scene. Its didn't feel like it worked. And it didn't work in the movie. It didn't work in and of itself. I thought, "Why put this on there?"
How did you guys go about creating the motion comics? And did you want to utilize those in showing some of the scenes that you weren't able to film due to the time restrictions and the budget you were working with?
Breck Eisner: What was cool about the motion comics, and they were made for real, hard comics, was that they allowed us to have another point of view that we couldn't afford to show in the movie. Afford in terms of screen time more than anything else. Each of the authors and artists were given one set of characters to follow. They had read the script. They were given full latitude to do whatever they wanted. We, in no way, influenced their ideas, other than by showing them the source material. Sort of the way George A. Romero gave us the freedom to remake his movie. It was exciting to me to see what these four different teams came up with. And how they characterized the plague of Trixie, and how they characterized the infected people. It was a cool experiment. It was done as a tool to promote the movie. Because we didn't have the budget for a print campaign. There were no billboards. There was a very small scope for publicity and advertising. Outside of TV. It was a way to help get the word out. It was also a clever and fun way. I think the motion comics are really well made.
Last question. I know you are making Escape From New York next, as well as Blood of the Innocent. So who is Timothy Olyphant going to play? Jack the Ripper? Dracula? Or Snake Plissken?
Breck Eisner: (Laughs) All three if you ask me. I love working with Timothy Olyphant, and I will be working with him again. He is an amazing actor. A talented guy. And he's incredibly funny. He needs to do a great comedy, because he is a funny guy. But I will work with him again. I can promise you that.
Can you talk at all about this idea that he might very well be our next Snake Plissken?
Breck Eisner: Creatively, he would be great for it. We have not yet discussed internally with the studio who will play Snake Plissken. There are many factors that go into those discussions. First and foremost, obviously, is the creative one. We can't make the movie unless we get the perfect Snake Plissken, and that's a tall order. There are very few guys that could do it. He would definitely be one of the guys who could. There is no question about that.
Well, I hope you do hire him. He's one of the reasons why I enjoyed The Crazies so much.
Breck Eisner: Well, thank you. He is a great actor and a pleasure to be around.
The Crazies makes its DVD and Blu-ray debut this Tuesday, June 29th.