David Gordon Green doesn't care for the dogma of genre.
The 29-year-old indie director's latest film, "Undertow," is a Southern gothic fairy tale that indiscriminately mixes seemingly disparate styles — horror, idyllic ambiance and on-the-run suspense — into one big stew of influences (see "Undertow": Barbed With Murder and Mayhem By Kurt Loder").
It's a concoction he calls " 'Goonies' meets 'Deliverance.' "
"There's no real logic to it," said Green of his organic, see-what-fits approach to filmmaking. "It's whatever feels right. ['Undertow'] was a very impulsive, immediate production — as self-indulgent as we could make it [while] still trying to keep the audience in mind."
While intended for teenagers, the movie, which opens Friday (October 22), has been slapped with an R rating for its brief but explosive violence. But the obstacle is a minor and fitting one. "I remember very vividly going to see [the R-rated] 'Stand by Me' with my dad when I was in the sixth grade," Green recalled. "So that works. I wanted it to be that kind of movie."
Green has described elements of "Undertow" as gritty and full of feral energy. And some of that spilled over into real life. "We improvised most of the movie, [but] went buck wild and broke a few ribs," he said.
He isn't kidding, either. Actors Josh Lucas and Dermot Mulroney both broke ribs during their intense fight scene. Art mirroring reality didn't end there. A brutal nail-through-the-foot scene repeated itself when lead Jamie Bell ("Billy Elliot") accidentally stepped on a rusty nail on the hazardous set.
Green's earlier films, including "George Washington" and "All the Real Girls," were contemplative affairs, favoring ambiance over plot, but "Undertow" takes chances with narrative. Another nod to convention this time around was that Green agreed to trust others with the film's marketing.
"The [movie trailer] I did was with this Swedish metal band Refused and images from the movie. I thought it was kickass, [but] it got the lowest [test] scores," Green lamented. But he warns that if the compromise trailer he acquiesced to doesn't find its mark with audiences, next time he'll balk: "If it tanks, then I'm going back to being my pretentious a--hole self."
Green's next movie was to be "A Confederacy of Dunces" with an all-star cast that included Will Ferrell, Mos Def, Drew Barrymore and Lily Tomlin (see "Drew Barrymore, Mos Def Join David Gordon Green's 'Dunces'"), but this first Hollywood foray was not meant to be.
"There were too many cooks involved, too many producers, the egos of a lot of people," he said of the problems that unraveled the "Dunces" production. "It had a lot of financial baggage [that] was propelling the budget to a place where you would have to make compromises in casting and the narrative by the time you started paying off all these jackasses."
Despite the disappointment, Green isn't completely soured on Hollywood. Eager to try new stylistic challenges and genres, the writer/director has penned a "stoner-counselor-at-nerd-camp comedy" for Seann William Scott ("American Pie"). He's also adapted the novel "Shockproof Sydney Skate" for director Sydney Pollack ("Tootsie"). In fact, Green has a drawer full of scripts to choose from, including adaptations of "Goat," a memoir about fraternity hazing, and "The Secret Life of Bees," a period piece he says is similar to "To Kill a Mockingbird."
Green describes "Bees" as a much-needed breath of fresh air. "It's a chick flick," he said. "Which for me [would be] interesting because ['Undertow'] was so masculine and heavy and full of dudes. It might be nice to hang out with some ladies and have some fine china."
Next for Green will hopefully be the demolition derby movie "The Precious Few," which will re-team the director with his longtime friend Paul Schneider, an actor/writer who has a small role in Cameron Crowe's upcoming "Elizabethtown" with Kirsten Dunst, Orlando Bloom and Susan Sarandon.
Green is looking for a name actor to secure the funds for the project, and that means dealing with Hollywood and the studio suits. But he's pragmatic and realistic. "I could be attached to a million [projects], but I don't know if anything will ever be made with my name on it. I just want to try and make [films] that are distinctive and play on a realistic ball field where I can be creative."
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