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INT: Roger Avary

I got a chance to chat with Roger Avary the other day. Not only did the man win an Academy Award for PULP FICTION, co-write TRUE ROMANCE, and bring one of the most faithful Bret Easton Ellis adaptations to the screen in THE RULES OF ATTRACTION; but it also appears that his screenplay is going to be a big part of the nationwide fangasm that SILENT HILL promises to cause this weekend.

While his early partner Quentin Tarantino may have achieved greater name recognition, any film fan worth having a beer with knows that Avary is a monster talent. He's a guy with the sensibilities to create some of our most memorable screen dialogue, while remaining grounded enough to recognize how cool it is that his Oscar is the exact same length as Ron Jeremy's penis.

Roger Avary

With your legendarily voracious appetite for movies, I gotta ask what are some of your favorite horror films?

Well right at the top there's sort of the pantheon of horror films that are going to be the most obvious. Obviously Rosemary's Baby and Dawn Of The Dead, both of which are so much more than just horror movies. Now beneath the pantheon are many that I just adore, that I don't know if other people love them or not. Movies like The Devil's Rain, which was inspirational to me. Especially while making Silent Hill.

Anything else in that vein? For instance everyone loves Halloween, but after you've seen Halloween you think people should see...?

I think Halloween is OK. I like it mostly because I love Carpenter and how he transforms L.A. into whatever it needs to be. Escape From New York, shot in L.A. And with Carpenter you have to talk about The Thing. I think it is infinitely better than the Hawks produced movie, which I love as well. Maybe those are obvious choices, but I'm sure that at some point I'll remember all these other movies that I love.

Were there any movies that you made a point of seeing in preparation for working on Silent Hill?

There was a constant, never ending stream of films, but they were more tangential. It was things that mostly happened by accident. We would suddenly find ourselves at a Jesus Franco retrospective that would have a massive influence on me. His movies are wonderfully surreal. I mean he doesn't hesitate to dig into the subconscious and expose himself nakedly.

We would also go see Collateral. We'd go to the Champs Elysees and just see a normal movie. Suddenly it would be like, "Wow did you see what the Viper camera could do in the dark?" Since darkness plays such a big part in the world of Silent Hill, it became obvious that Collateral could be very influential on this film.

At lunch I'd go see M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, and think that's exactly what I don't want to do. It's not just that the whole thing is contrived, which it is. I mean you can guess it right away. But it's the fact that he rests the entire exposition on his performance, and he gives a really bad performance. It was god awful.

So did the Jesus Franco/surrealist influence help you to handle the long periods of silence that exist in the movie?

There is a lot of silence, and what I consciously wanted to do ... at a certain point it turns very talky. And not just talky, it turns preachy. Because of the themes that [director] Christophe Gans wanted to explore. So much of that final act was me challenging myself to do what I called the millionth bombasity. Where you present these large monologue moments.

One of the things that made the game so great was that on an instinctual level it was scary to play. That must have been interesting trying to bring that across while also getting in all the speechifyin'.

Well the base idea was that this is not a haunted house, it's a haunted town, y'know, separate from our reality, but it also exists within our reality. So you effectively become a ghost during your time there. And it's a very terrifying emotion, that you are a ghost of yourself. Frankly I think it's a theme that's followed me.

Did the mostly abysmal state of video game adaptations play on your mind at all when working on the script?

Well I approached it as an adaptation. You're adapting something from one media to another. For instance a movie is superior to a book in some aspects, but it's inferior in others. And when you're adapting someone's life, you can never tell the life. It's impossible to do. All you can really do is find themes within yourself and put those into a story form, and use the life as a template. So you're again doing an adaptation. Same is true of historical moments.

So since a game is such an interactive experience, in many ways the fan base of a popular game feel like they've experienced it themselves in the first person. And a movie is by nature a passive experience, though it's actually active in other physiological ways. Compared to the game, because somebody has identified with the avatar that they're playing, you can't help but be somewhat disappointed in the movie because you are relinquishing all control of what you're about to see. It's a different kind of experience and that's difficult for some people.

It's that way for books as well. When someone holds a book very beloved, a movie can never really have the detail of a book. That's why so many Stephen King adaptations suffer. King is all about something that is unquantifiable in cinema. You walk into a room and every object inspires 15 pages of exposition about past, character, anxieties and all this stuff that when you film it becomes the person walks into the room and looks around. It's just different. You can't dig as deep.

The one thing that you must remain true to is the spirit of the source material. The details are unimportant at the end of the day in my opinion, as long as you main true to the spirit. The adaptations that don't work are the ones that try to focus on the details rather than the spirit.

The ones that just try to mimic the game?

Yeah. Like I know there's a production of Pac-Man coming down. How can you imitate, how can you capture the experience of playing that. I'm not saying it's impossible. I'm just saying it's a very specific and difficult task. You look at the other game to film adaptations, and I don't think all of them are bad.

I've gotten into a number of arguments over this. I actually have a soft spot in my heart for Resident Evil. I liked the movie.

It was certainly entertaining.

I'd recommend it. There's some fun zombie stuff in there, and it's always fun watching Milla Jovovich kicking ass. It has that contained, isolated, manufactured feeling of the game. I remember when the game came out one of the worst things about it was the performances. The bad dialogue. It became famous for that. Almost as famous as "All your base are belong to us".

So I think it's a fairly true adaptation. I'm not wild about Resident Evil 2, but I do quite like the first one. Christophe hates the first one. So we'd discuss it endlessly. Silent Hill is a very different movie, though. In fact, as a game Silent Hill is more like a movie then most games are. It's explorational in its nature.

There are puzzle moments, but it's such an atmospheric experience that you just sort of absorb that as the avatar while you travel through the narrative. So it becomes very successful because of the kind of atmosphere that it creates, or that was created to travel through.

Have you had a chance to see the final cut yet?

No, I haven't actually. They're gonna have wet prints in the theater. Sony saw it and they were like, "We love it!" So we asked, "What would you like us to change," and they just said, "Nothing. It's perfect as is." And that was that. Christophe called me up and he was astonished. They just wanted it out as fast as possible.

Sounds like a once in a career kind of story.

Well, yes and no. In France, and Christophe is a french director, they have the auteur theory, or author's right. Because of that the director is considered the author of the film, at least if it's a french production, and has final cut. Furthermore, a director cannot be fired. If a movie starts going south then everyone kind of tightens their belts and says, "OK, here we go." It's actually against the law to force a director to cut the movie.

So Christophe throughout his career has been used to having total control. And in this case it just so happened that they were so enthusiastic about the project that they gave him total control. And it's not the first time that I've been on a production like that.

Also on Pulp Fiction. God bless the Weinstein's because they just let Quentin do what he does best. It is very rare, but it does happen. It happened to me on The Rules Of Attraction. What I had to trim was for the MPAA. I didn't have to trim anything for the studio. They were completely supportive. They said you brought this movie in on budget, on schedule and it's exactly what you said it would be.

Of course much of that freedom came because you kept the budget so low on Rules, right?

Yes, and that was the case with Silent Hill, too. Y'know the movie was made for a cost. It's budget was like $45 million, which sounds like a lot. It's certainly a lot to me because I've never directed a movie with a budget like that. But with what Christophe was envisioning and wanted to achieve, that would typically cost 100 - 120 million these days. He's very ambitious and has a huge vision as a filmmaker. That makes it really fun, but also demanding and difficult.

So far the marketing has been brilliant at building fan expectation.

That's Valerie at TriStar. First of all I'm so proud that this movie is a TriStar film. To be the first movie out of the new TriStar gate is cool. It's sort of like being part of film history. Also having one of the most defiled posters of all time is great. I'm told that throughout New York and Los Angeles people have drawn on every single poster. They've filled in the words and the mouths.

Never before was vandalism so positive.

Oh, absolutely. I invite the most creative use of that poster.

I’m contractually obligated to ask at least one Tarantino question, so here it goes: Who’s got the bigger forehead in person, Quentin or James Van Der Beek?

Oh man, that's a trap. I'll answer that with they're both well hung.

Are there any little scoops or hints you can drop about what to expect in the film that our readers may not already know about?

Let's see, everybody's kind of heard about Centralia. Since I haven't seen it, you never know. Anything I think of could have been cut out. It is much more about what you don't see than what you do. We made a conscious effort not to make a gory film. I don't know if people are expecting a huge amount of splatter, but the movie is far more unsettling and creepy than it is throwing huge amounts of Vaseline at you.

At the end of 2005 your well-known blog suddenly disappeared. What happened?

I feel kinda bad because I've heard that people are upset that I just pulled the plug on that. The truth of the matter is that I've been working on my website. I was the first filmmaker to maintain a weblog, before there was such a thing as blogging. I was keeping an online journal as a film director long before hand. Back when I was having to code it all in HTML.

So I guess when I looked around and realized that Brett Ratner, and Rosie O'Donnell, and Al Gore, and everyone else had a weblog, it just suddenly seemed uninteresting. I wanna do something different with the internet. I never had any ads or charged anything on my site, and I don't want to do anything like that.

I just want to create something that nobody's seen yet. I don't know that it's going to be any new technological breakthrough, because I like websites to be as simple and compliant as possible without requiring Flash, or even Java necessarily. So when it's done I'll put it up and who knows, it may grow from there.

Do you have a timeline for that?

I just code it as I go, so no I don't really have a timeline. Probably by the end of the year. Let's say January 1st. Maybe I'll even put a ticking clock up there.

Great. So if that gets delayed then we'll presume that you've been pulled into work on Silent Hill 2.

I confess that idea has already been floated. People have already asked my availability and I'm already thinking about it.

Did you have a sequel in mind while writing the original draft?

I feel like Silent Hill is different for every person who enters it, so there's the possibility of doing any number of movies, or for that matter a television series. I think each project could easily be non-reliant on what came before, but that's not to say there wouldn't be any overlap.

Well it's great to know that you're interested in working on a sequel.

Not only do I want to work on the sequel for it, I want to work on the whole franchise.

Speaking of upcoming projects, how do you feel about the status of the Beowulf adaptation that you wrote, and Robert Zemekis coming on board as director?

I saw a little bit of it the other day, and it looks like a Playstation 1 game right now, but I must tell you it was overwhelmingly emotional for me to watch. It's as colorful and fantastic as I ever could have hoped. Crispin Glover's performance in it completely jumps out, and understand you are basically looking at CGI puppets kind of moving around all sorts of artifacts.

As you watch it in its motion captured, animatronic form - and I haven't seen any of the action sequences yet, just the chamber pieces with court intrigue and dialogue focus - the way the scenes connected was absolutely incredible. I can't wait to see this movie in IMAX.

What was your opinion of the motion capture approach Zemekis used with The Polar Express?

Honestly I'm not a fan of The Polar Express because it did have a kind of creepy quality to the eye. This movie is a completely different film. I think if you watch Monster House, and how far the technology came for that, then imagine how much farther along it is now, I think it's going to be absolutely incredible.

Just looking at the current art, and feeling what the emotion was...if you were to strip the visuals away and just listen to it like a radio program it was amazing. The actors really approached it like theater in the round because there were no camera restrictions.

So in a way the technology has enabled the performances to achieve a certain rawness. With that strength, if the imagery is even half-way nice looking I will be delighted. As it is I think this is really going to blow people's minds.

In addition I think it's going to make people re-evaluate what constitutes a movie. Does this movie even qualify as an animated film, or as a live-action piece? There are true live-action performances, and references were shot for the live action, all the way down to facial tics and movement of the eyes. There'll be a certain amount of puppetering involved beyond that, so there's an animated quality, and the whole thing is computer graphics, so it is animated. But really it's a hybrid.

This thing is going to deliver.

Glad to hear it. When I saw The Polar Express I had a similar reaction, so I was a little worried when I heard the Beowulf adaptation was going to be motion capture.

The animation allows you do things that you simply couldn't do in live action. We're aging characters in this, and we're really aging them. They're using actual algorithms for aging. So you'll be able to see what that actor would look like aged realistically. We're able to have Crispin come in as the creature and make him completely disproportionate in size, but retain the performance.

And you asked about how I felt on Zemekis coming in as the director, because I was going to direct this. I was going to do a live action movie. It's actually not that different from what happened with True Romance. Quentin was going to direct that and it was going to be for like 150K. We were fighting to make that movie, but somehow we got sidetracked and next thing you know Tony Scott is making it.

At that point, with what we had been through with True Romance, to see the movie go into production helped. It was a completely different kind of movie than the one Quentin would have made. It was a Tony Scott film for Christ's sake.

So in this case, what I've seen is so alien to what I would have done, but I've seen my movie. I know what that would have been like. Maybe it's too bad that you can't see it, but what you're gonna see is gonna blow your mind. So it completely erases any kind of anxiety from stepping down as the director.

It also helps that Zemekis, by his nature, is a massively collaborative and fun guy. In working with him he gave us so much latitude. You can go down to the editing room, and using a virtual camera, line up a shot. Anybody can do it. Just standing around.

I also think it's made even more dynamic by the fact that Zemekis is not only a writer, but also a brilliant guy. I mean he's inventing technologies in the editing process that are enriching the process. It's very exciting. I love him, I love the movie, and most especially I love Crispin Glover's performance.

The only thing that sucks about the whole thing is that I have to wait til November of 2007 to see it.

Returning briefly to game adaptations, you've made some comments that indicate Konami has another project in the pipeline. Should fans hold out any hope that it might be Metal Gear Solid?

Fans should definitely hold out hope for a Metal Gear Solid movie. I of course know nothing about such a movie being just a humble writer, but fans should definitely hold out hope. That would be an awesome movie.

How is Glamorama coming along?

That's actually on a sideburner right now. Not a backburner, but a sideburner. Another project came along that I was offered and accepted. Though I cannot talk about it this week, it's something that I've wanted to do since about 2002. I remember I was driving with my wife and I told her I really want to make this.

It's a game to film adaptation, and there was no possibility I was going to get the chance to do this. Yet amazingly enough, I got The Call. I was literally screaming on the phone, "Are you kidding me? Is this the call?" And they were like, "Yeah, yeah, this is the call."

I am completely over the moon about it because it is a return to genre for me. I think it's going to be an opportunity to do something that is just balls out fun, which I've long wanted to do.

Can you talk about what's happening with your Salvador Dali biography?

I've done some camera tests on it. I can't really talk about it because it's too far down the pipeline, but I have done some camera tests and... I really can't talk about it. I've been moving very quietly on it.

Well just to wrap up, there is one thing I've gotta know. You've mentioned, jokingly or not, that a number of women have made rather salacious offers regarding the use of your Pulp Fiction Oscar statuette. Has he gotten lucky yet or is he still a virgin?

Well he is 10 3/4 inches, which just happens to be the exact size of Ron Jeremy.


Yeah honey, I suppose that could be arranged.

So has he had a chance to get his freak on?

I can neither confirm nor deny that. Let's just say that it's true that I've been asked numerous times to ... ahhhh, I can't say it. I'm a father. What happened in the past is in the past.

Well thanks for taking the time today. I know the weather has been rough out there so I hope it clears up.

There was actually a break in the clouds while we were speaking.

Did that happen when I asked you about the Metal Gear Solid rumors?

You're bad. In fact, you're evil [laughs].

Fair enough. Thanks so much for taking the time today.

My pleasure. Talk to you soon.

Gotta say this was a helluva fun interview. Roger Avary is one of those guys who is just so damn smart and interesting that you almost feel like you're back in middle school - gosh, I hope he likes me. Everyone who loves film should be lucky enough to have a buddy like him.

SILENT HILL OPENS WIDE THIS FRIDAY!!

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