By now, most of you hae probably endured the intense, surreal horror of THE HILLS HAVE EYES remake, or the brutally twisted slasher film - with a brutal twist - HIGH TENSION. You'd expect the man behind these nightmares would be, well, nightmarish - not a humble, soft-spoken Frenchman. (Although, at this point, I should've expected it, since most horror directors are quiet, friendly guys.) Alexandre Aja began our conversation hoping his accent was not going to be a problem for me, and though it provided me with a few challenges when it came time to transcribe this interview, it couldn't conceal the fact that he's a generous, affable person, with a true fondness for his collaborators on P2 - co-writer Gregory Levasseur and first-time director Franck Khalfoun.
I was just talking to Franck Khalfoun the other day, and he was telling me how he came to direct P2, but I was wondering if you could give me your version of how he was chosen to do it...
Aja: Basically, Gregory and I came up with the idea - I think it was between HIGH TENSION and THE HILLS HAVE EYES - the idea of the parking lot as a set piece to set up a great one-night action/survival movie. We came up with idea of setting it on Christmas Eve, and we wrote the script very quickly, but I didn't want to make it, because for me, it was too close to HIGH TENSION. At that time we were working with Franck on many different things, and Franck is really a close friend, so it came about really naturally - Franck writing with us, and then Franck directing.
It hasn't been very long since HIGH TENSION came out, and now you're overseeing someone else's a film as a producer - did you ever imagine that you'd come so far in such a short period of time?
Aja: I don't feel this way - yeah, HIGH TENSION was my first movie released in the U.S., but I did my first film in '98, almost ten years ago now. And basically that movie was kind of a flop. So the way I was working in France after that, before I came to the U.S., was as a director/producer. When it came to producing P2, it came quite naturally. Of course I'm very happy and surprised - every day, making movies here in the U.S., it's kind've a dream come true, and sometimes I still have to pinch myself. I'm making the movies I've always dreamed I would make.
Can you talk a little about your writing process - how you and Gregory write together, and now how you co-wrote the P2 screenplay with Franck Khlafoun?
Aja: P2 was kind of a different process. As usual, Greg and I come up with the story, and basically we don't write separately, we write a team. It's a conversation, and then I write down the ideas and all the dialogue and all that stuff. For P2, it was quite different. We came up with the story, we spent a few weeks with Franck writing up a very detailed treatment, and then we had to make THE HILLS HAVE EYES. Meanwhile, Franck was writing the first draft. Usually, when writing with Greg, we're writing in French first, and then translate to English - here it was different, because this was the first script we were writing directly in English. And you know, Franck, before he was a writer and director, he was an actor, and I think he's got a great feeling for dialogue and direction. Greg and I were just there to help him sustain 25 days of shooting, which is a huge challenge.
Franck told me he's adapting a novel for you right now, can you tell me anything about it?
Aja: It's a bit premature right now to talk about that project, but working with Franck is so great, we're close friends. Every time we work together it's a pleasure cruise. (laughs)
Are you still in production on MIRRORS?
Aja: We're finishing the editing right now. I'm very exciting about the movie, I think it's really scary, some of the scariest stuff I've done.
Is PIRANHA still your next project?
Aja: We're writing the script, I'm very excited. It's completely different - it's kind've the "ultimate roller coaster movie," you know? We want to do something really entertaining and "popcorny" and really fun, really gory. Completely different from the spirit of survival that we explored with THE HILLS HAVE EYES or P2 or HIGH TENSION."
Finally, this might be a strange question, but you make movies about people being put into terrifying situations, and fearing for their lives - have you ever been in a situation where you felt that way?
Aja: (laughs) I'm thinking about that all the time, you know, when I go home after work, I have to check all the rooms, look under the bed, in the closet, everywhere. I cannot be relaxed if I'm not sure if there's someone in the apartment. I cannot help thinking about that kind of situation, and besides, I really like movies that ask you "What would I do if I were in that situation?" From the moment you stop wondering, "What would I do?" that means you're not watching the movie at all.
A very special thanks goes out to Alexandre for taking the time to talk with me - and a SUPER special thanks to Shannon McLean, the wonderful woman who helped set up all these interviews, and dealt with my constant pestering! Don't forget, P2 hits theaters, November 9th.