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Gus Van Sant on how his remake of Psycho came to be

07.23.2018

Over the course of his long career, Alfred Hitchcock made many exceptional films, and PSYCHO is typically included among his very best, so when Gus Van Sant (GOOD WILL HUNTING) released his nearly shot-for-shot remake of PSYCHO in 1998, audiences didn't quite know what to make of it. The remake was a critical and commercial failure, with some even calling it an insult to Hitchcock's original, but Gus Van Sant's reasons for embarking on the production were purely experimental.

While appearing on WTF with Marc Maron, Gus Van Sant touched upon his PSYCHO remake, saying that he first thought of the idea while he was making DRUGSTORE COWBOY.

When I did Drugstore Cowboy, I was all of a sudden meeting with the heads of studios because they knew that actors would work with me, therefore if they got me on their movie they could get the actor that they wanted. So it was less about me than it was about the actors. During one of the meetings, Casey Silver at Universal brought in all of his vice presidents, and one guy was head of the library, and he said, ‘In the library we have old films that you could remake, we have scripts that haven’t been made yet that you could make,’ and it just reminded me of that thing that they wanted to do, which is remake something. And I said, ‘What you guys haven’t done is try to take a hit and remake it exactly. Rather than remake it and put a new spin on it, just remake it for real,’ because I’d never seen that done yet as an experiment. The whole thing seemed experimental to me anyway so I thought why not, and they laughed, they thought it was silly, ridiculous, absurd, and they left, and so they said, ‘We won’t be doing that.’

There you have it, even studio executives knew the PSYCHO remake was a bad idea. However, Gus Van Sant wasn't about to let the idea go, saying that every time he would meet with Casey Silver, he would bring up the PSYCHO remake. Casey would laugh and life would go on, then, Gus Van Sant was nominated for Best Director for GOOD WILL HUNTING, and suddenly, the idea of remaking PSYCHO didn't seem so laughable.

And then later when we did Good Will Hunting and it did really well at the box office, it also got nominated for nine Oscars or something. But what they like to do the week before the Oscars happen is they like to get new deals in place with the people that are nominated, because as soon as you win they’ve got your movie going—they can just lean over to their buddies and say, ‘We’ve got that guy’s next movie’. Then they forget that they have it after the night’s over. So they were trying to make a deal with me, and I had a deal with Paramount, I had a deal at some other studio, and my agent was saying, ‘Universal really wants to do deal with you, have you got anything for them?’ And I was like, ‘Universal, Universal…oh yeah, tell them Pyscho, frame-by-frame, new cast, in color, and that’s the idea,’ and then my agent calls back and says, ‘They think that’s fantastic.’ So all of a sudden they were in. So money talks.

Even after Universal gave Gus Van Sant the go-ahead to remake PSYCHO, the director needed to decide whether or not he actually wanted to do it, and composer Danny Elfman was one of the first to caution him against it. "I was talking to Danny Elfman who I wanted to do the score, because he was so good at doing Bernard Hermann-style scores," Van Sant said. "He said, ‘You know they’ll kill you if you make this,’ he knew. And I was like, ‘Who will kill me?’ and he said, ‘Everyone. The critics. Everybody that loves Psycho will kill you,’ and I said, ‘Yeah but Danny this is an experiment, this is not about who’s gonna get killed. This is about just doing it.’ And I thought, ‘It doesn’t matter if they kill me,’ and then later when I got killed, it hurt." It's been some time since I last watched Van Sant's PSYCHO remake, but it is interesting to see the film take on a second life so many years later as critics come to appreciate the director's experiment. What do you folks think, is the PSYCHO remake worth watching?

Gus Van Sant's most recent film, DON'T WORRY, HE WON'T GET FAR ON FOOT, was released earlier this month.

Extra Tidbit: One thing I always remember liking about the remake was the poster tagline, "Check in. Relax. Take a shower." Perfect.

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