The director discusses working within the studio system, Matt Damon, and his next project
John Gulager is an anomaly in Hollywood. He's not a young hipster director who looks like he's even trying to stay 20 forever (in fact he's 48). He seems more apt to quote Godard rather than Kevin Smith or Eli Roth. Yet, after winning the job of directing the movie Feast on the third season of Project Greenlight, he not only stuck his thumb in the eye of traditional studio filmmaking, he also made the best film that the Matt Damon/Ben Affleck show ever produced.
Feast is the terrifying tale of a motley crew of strangers who find themselves trapped in an isolated tavern and must band together in a battle for survival against a family of flesh-hungry creatures.
How does it feel to finally have Feast out there?
John Gulager: It's a bit of a relief, isn't it? I love going online... I go and read all these things where everyone is going, "Oh, it's probably going to be horrible!" Or, "It's so bad they haven't put it out" and that kind of stuff. Now, at least everyone is on these little boards going, "Wow, I can't believe they did this!" Those are fun, I like those.
On the show it seemed like you were sort of proving that...
John Gulager: And yet, up until our show the things that they had taped were pretty milquetoasty. Not to say anything bad because I liked them and everything, and I know the problems that a lot of the directors are up against. They're in this situation and they've won a contest... I think people were surprised at the attitude of Feast. Coming from Matt and Ben and Wes and Chris and everything. I think the other films took a pretty different approach to entertainment than the one that we took, which was a little bit more visceral and putting in some of the outrageous stuff. I always use John Waters as sort of the spiritual mascot for some of those moments.
Well, in the first few minutes of the movie you have a small child sucked out of his mother's arms and eaten!
John Gulager: (Laughs) My friend Duane Whitaker, he plays Boss Man, he said to me, "John, I figured it out. You killed the kid. That's the key to the whole movie. You killed the f-in kid just right off the bat! It's like anything goes!" That's pretty true, I guess.
Did you have any idea how much you personally were winning people over once the Project Greenlight shows started airing on TV?
John Gulager: Well a lot of people thought I was a real d*!k. People were going, "Who is this guy? Doesn't he understand that when a studio tells him to do something that he has to do it?" Which of course, I totally don't agree with. I think a lot of people just kind of thought that I was blowing it. And I was prepared to get fired. I was banking on the fact that I wouldn't be fired because it was on TV. I think as a filmmaker you have to be prepared to go to the matt for whatever it is is your agenda; your position on a film and stuff. They hire you for that!
At what point in the production do you think people on the team realized just how talented you are?
John Gulager: Well, that's hard for me to really say because it makes me sound so much like a blowhard. During the production I was really stressed and I just felt like I was failing left and right. I just felt like I had mucked the whole thing up. Then when there was the downtime and we were just reediting stuff... basically we couldn't release the movie. The movie wasn't finished then we finally got the call, now we can finish the movie. So we went out and did our pickups, which we thought we were going to be doing right away, but we ended up doing them almost 18 months later. At that point, I was totally the director. It was such a different experience from the initial production. It could be the lack of cameras in your face and all that tension that everyone is going to see the background of every decision, and you're kind of worried about all the people that are going to be hurt by certain things.
Doing the pickups were so much fun. There just seemed like no pressure. It was a very different experience. Everybody that came back to work on those... by then all of our relationships had substantially changed. I think they had all seen footage from the movie... they had seen stuff edited. Sometimes we didn't get things shot and we just put that together anyway. That creates it's own chaos in the film. Which some people hate and some people like.
Had you always wanted to be a horror film director or has this just been thrust upon you?
John Gulager: Well, I wanted to be a special effects guy. My Dad was in Return of the Living Dead, and I went to apprentice at one of the makeup effects labs to be an effects guy. I just didn't have it in me to only do that. Although, I learned a lot. I'd make fake teeth for everyone; vampire teeth. My Dad would get makeup guys to help me on Halloween, sometimes. We'd make little films. The very early films were literally packets of ketchup in people's hands so that they could squeeze them as they were being shot or something. My Dad would bring home all these movies from Universal and stuff, and we'd basically show everything in our backyard to the neighborhood. So the horror stuff was pretty much a staple.
Are you still in contact with Matt Damon? Is there any chance you and him will do something in the future?
John Gulager: Well, in the future. If I were to go to Matt right now it would be a pretty cheesy thing to do. I haven't seen them since the premiere. We had a little premiere at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas... and Matt and Ben both came. They came mainly to help us get some publicity for the film, but that was the last time I've seen them. They were really great to come and they said some very nice things that made me feel really good.
What are you working on now?
John Gulager: Well... it's kind of a secret. I'm doing another thing. It's in the horror vein. It's a little bit different than Feast, in that Feast was an ironic comedy type thing... but I can't really say much more than that other than it's not something funny. It'll probably be a Dimension thing.
Feast is currently available on DVD through The Weinstein Company.
Dont't forget to also check out: Feast