Since bursting on the scene with the throwback slasher Hatchet in 2006, writer/director Adam Green has built a career on doing this his own way. He has written and directed multiple features, produced films for up-and-coming filmmakers, created, written and starred on two seasons of his own sitcom Holliston, co-hosted The Movie Crypt, his own successful weekly filmmaking podcast and much, much more.
Digging Up the Marrow, Green's latest feature, is something totally different: a blend of documentary and narrative that defies any easy categorization. In the film, Green plays himself, a horror movie director with his own independent production company (ArieScope) who is contacted by a man named Decker (Ray Wise, the best he's ever been) claiming that monsters are real and that he knows exactly where to find them -- at an entrance to an underground world he calls "the Marrow."
Digging Up the Marrow will be released on VOD and iTunes beginning February 20th. Green and artist Alex Pardee, whose work inspired the film, will also be touring the film around the country with a special art exhibit. Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with Green about the tour, the movie and what it's like to make a film that feels like nothing else out there.
You started shooting the movie around 2010, right?
Adam Green: 2010 was when we started shooting interviews with people. Actually, I think the very first thing we shot was the scene where Will and I go to Boston to meet with the police officer. And then we were kind of chipping away at it, because — just so people understand what a process this movie was — from the time that we started it, which was 2010, until the time we finished it, which was 2014, we also made Chillerama, Hatchet II, Hatchet III and two seasons of Holliston. Trying to keep making this movie happen around all of that was very difficult. Especially the really intensive stuff with the monsters, we needed several months put aside to do that. That was something where we could just spend a day and shoot a few scenes; that was a big production. It was a long process.
Thankfully, though, when you watch the movie it feels like it takes place over the span of a couple months like it’s supposed to. I don’t think you can tell…especially when we’re shooting Holliston, I’m in, like, the most ridiculous shape ever. I’m rail thin. And then as soon as we get put on hiatus I’m eating whatever I want and putting some weight back on, but you can’t tell when you watch. I think it’s pretty consistent.
So was it the kind of thing where it’s like “Hey, we’re between projects” or “We’ve got a little bit of time here, let’s go grab some more stuff?”
Adam Green: A lot of times we would plan a week of scenes we were going to shoot but we didn’t have any idea that Holliston was going to blow up as fast as it did. Originally we thought we were making this, then Holliston happened so we put this on hold for a second. We made Holliston, and then the morning after Episode Two aired we got a green light for a second season, which rarely happens. So we had to start Season Two right away and we were already in pre-production on Hatchet III at that point, so once again Marrow had to wait. It was frustrating, but everybody involved understood and was busy on other things. Thankfully, the stars aligned enough times for us to actually pull this off.
When you’re shooting a movie this way, where it’s in pieces over a couple of years, does it change over time in terms of always knowing where you were going to go so you just chip away and get the footage you need? Or over the course of the three years where you’re making it do things change and develop as you?
Adam Green: Aside from the opening interviews — everything with celebrities talking about why they like monsters or fans talking about why they’re into this stuff — everything else is scripted. The script never changed. It’s been a huge compliment that people think that so many of the scenes between myself and Will or myself and Ray are improvised, because they’re not. They’re scripted. Every person that you see appearing in the movie, we never told them what we were making. We would just hand them pages and they trusted us. Nobody said “I need the whole script first” or “I wanna know what this is.” They’re all people that have worked with us before, so they just agreed. And now that they’ve seen it, they’re kind of blown away that they’re part of it because they had no idea what we were actually doing.
When we announced the movie — and the only reason we announced it in 2010 was because we thought we were going to shoot it right away — we said we were making an art documentary. We did that so everybody would look the other way and not care, because there’s no faster way to get people uninterested in what you’re doing than the words “art documentary.” And that was mainly because we have such good relationships at this point with so many genre sites and magazines that as soon as you announce that you’re in production on something, they want stills, they want set visits, and if you keep saying no to everybody they can really sour on the movie. So if I say we’re making an art documentary, nobody even asks. Nobody really cared. Nobody was interested in who was in it or what we were doing. And that was all kind of strategic, because from the get-go we really knew that this movie was only going to work if it wasn’t hyped. What’s been funny is that we’ve gone to such lengths to not hype this movie.
When we premiered at FrightFest, it premiered completely cold — no stills, no trailer, nothing. And that was, I think, the best way to see the movie because the audience had no idea what they were going to see. That was very hard to do. Of course now we’re 18 days out from the release, so of course we have a trailer and we’re doing interviews, but at least people are kind of just hearing about it now. There isn’t going to be a year and a half of reading reviews from festivals or hearing about awards and setting expectations. A lot of people, when they see this, are really going to have no idea what to expect, and I think that that’s the best way to see it.
Obviously when you’re starting out writing it or coming up with the idea, there are a bunch of different ways that you could tell a story like this: you could do it as a straight narrative, but you decided to do it as a documentary. How do you then make the decision to pull in yourself and your own life? Was that a creative decision or was that more like “Well, I know I’m always available so I can always shoot and be in the movie?”
Adam Green: It really started when we got back from Sundance around this time five years ago after Frozen premiered. As proud as we are of that movie — and I still think it’s our best — originally the producers who put that film together had a first-look deal with Overture. Everybody felt like this was going to be the one that was going to be a wide release movie that was actually going have a real marketing campaign behind it, because we’d never had that before. All of our movies have been theatrically released, but never with any promotion or fanfare; it’s always been up to me to go and do conventions and stand outside and talk to whoever will listen to me about seeing my movie. What happened was, when Frozen was finished, Overture went out of business and the movie got kicked down to their sister company Anchor Bay. Which was great — I mean, I wouldn’t have a career if it wasn’t for Anchor Bay. They put out our first four films, and given the size of that company I think they did the best anybody could have done. But we were really depressed, because we knew that as much as Frozen was going to open on 100 screens, nobody was going to know.
So were sitting in the office and looking at the wall of posters, and I was pointing at Coffee and Donuts, which was the very first thing that Will and I ever made back when we were making shitty cable commercials at Time Warner in Boston. We had just used whatever assets we had available to us; the story was totally based on my own life. I know it’s frustrating that people can’t see that movie, but there are too many copyright infringements to ever actually distribute it. We didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t even think about distributing that movie; we just wanted to see if we could do it. But ultimately that became our calling card and that’s what got Hollywood to notice us. That’s how Hatchet got made, and ultimately Coffee and Donuts became Holliston. If you’ve seen Holliston, you’ve seen Coffee and Donuts.
So I was like, why don’t we do something where we’re not beholden to any outside producers and we don’t need to get money from a distributor up front. We can just do something totally weird and creative and it’s just us. Everyone was like “Well, what’s the story?” I happened to get a piece of fan mail that day from a guy claiming that Victor Crowley is real. I mean, I get sent really crazy stuff…at least, I used to. Because of stalker issues we had to take the mailing address down off the website, so now I’m basically just on Twitter and Facebook. But this package…it was the best fan fiction I’d seen, because it was basically telling me that I fucked everything up and that Victor Crowley is real and I didn’t tell the story right. There were pictures of swamps with areas circled, and it was like “You said he grew up in Honey Island swamp, and he didn’t live anywhere near there. This is where he really grew up. This is where he died.” So I looked at Corey Neal and Will Barratt and I said “What about this?” Why don’t we go grab a camera and interview this guy and have him prove it? Even if it just services one of our Halloween shorts and it’s only 10 minutes long, it could be really funny. If it’s not, we don’t do anything with it. But nobody want to do anything with Hatchet or Victor Crowley, and I think when Will said “What happens with this guy Deliverances you out in the swamp?” I thought yeah, forget this, so we threw it out.
A week later, I met Alex Pardee at a signing. He walked through my line and handed me this pamphlet called “Digging Up the Marrow.” All he said was “Thanks for all the inspiration you’ve given me,” and walked away. All of his art exhibits, there’s always a story behind them; it’s not just paintings on the wall at a gallery. It’s always an immersive experience. I was already well aware of his artwork; I just didn’t know what he looked like or that that’s who was handing me the pamphlet.
So the concept of “Digging Up the Marrow” was that a former Boston police detective named William Decker had contacted Alex and commissioned him to paint these creatures that he’s seen from The Marrow. So as I’m reading this, I’m like “Wait a minute — that’s the idea.” What if William Decker contacted a real cult filmmaker because he’s trying to get someone to tell his story, and then we make a monster movie in a way that it’s not usually done, where it’s done like it’s totally reality. That was really the attraction to it — that it was a unique way to tell a story, by blending reality and fantasy in a way that hopefully it suspends people’s disbelief that much more and they can get a little bit more into it and believe it.
That was really the most exciting thing about the approach. Of course, that’s also the hardest thing about it, because once you commit to using ourselves as subject matter, then you have to sort of relinquish the fact that now your real life is going to be on display to some extent. I wasn’t stupid enough to actually show the front of my real house — we used somebody else’s house for that, because I’ve learned the hard way that 99% of fans are the most wonderful people in the world, but there’s that 1% of scary stalker ones. You don’t want to go showing your front door to them because they’ll find it. Still, it’s really us, and that was definitely a choice. I think that’s why the movie works.
The reason why we cast Ray Wise as Decker was just so people wouldn’t think we’re trying to hoax them. We went back and forth on this so many times, but if we had one with an unknown, we ran the risk of people thinking it was all real. Then all of a sudden a monster shows up and they would be like “Wait a minute, this isn’t real,” and they would just say “Oh, fuck this movie, they didn’t fool me.” It would become all about the fact that they weren’t hoaxed. We’re not trying to hoax anybody. It’s a movie. It’s a scripted narrative movie just like any other movie; it’s just being told in a very unique and kind of weird way. When it was first finished and I had a cut that was maybe 30 minutes longer than the finished movie, I started showing directors and producers and studio execs that I trust and asking them for their opinion. One producer said “Well, the biggest mistake was casting Ray.” And I said “Why?” And he said “Not because he’s not great in it, but as soon as I saw him I knew that this wasn’t real.” And I said “Right, but what about 10 minutes later when you saw a monster. Were you going to think it was real then?” And he said “Oh. Ooooohh. I get it now.”
I think when people think about why we made the decisions we made, it all adds up and makes sense. But inevitably, there have already been a couple of reviews that said something like “What they should have done is cast an unknown as Ray, because I knew that the movie wasn’t real when I saw him.” But you were never gonna think it was real! That’s the point! So that’s why Ray is in it — so people see a face they recognize and they know ok, it’s a movie. They’re not trying to hoax me here.
Every choice was debated back and forth and we tortured ourselves over it. And one last thing about that, to sort of really get personal, was that the movie was shot from 2010 to 2013. It was finished in 2014, and it was already being scored and sound designed and colored and visual effects were being added when Dave Brockie died. So my first instinct was that I wanted to go back and changed the movie and take him out of it, because if you recall he’s on camera saying “After I’m dead, I’ll be a dead monster.” And I wanted that out. But the team around me who I’ve always trusted and listened to said “You’re making this personal. Why would you rob his fans of the last thing he said on camera in his life? Why would you take that out? Just because it makes you uncomfortable?” And I was like “…Yeah.” And they said “It’s not about you anymore. Even though it’s your real life and even though it’s you in that movie, it’s just a movie. It’s not for you. You can’t do that.” Then I wind up getting divorced from my wife, which in a million years I never would have seen coming. But it happened. And now there are scenes that show us at home and the whole movie I’m mentioning my wife.
So I wanted to take all that out. Again, they said “These scenes are only in here for the narrative exposition. They’re not in here for any other reason. If you take them out, the movie falls apart and we’d have to go reshoot other ways to get that information across. You can’t make this about you even though it’s about’ you.” And so once again I listened to them and I conceded. And they were right. But that’s something I’ve never had to face before. As of myself as I’ve put into every one of these things, whether it’s the stories that the characters tell in Frozen that are all from my real life or Holliston being based on my life, this one was really daring to do.
I’m not going to lie. It’s been hard. The screenings that I’ve sat through, you can feel the elephant in the room when Dave’s on screen or when there are scenes of Rileah and me at home and you know there are people thinking “Oh, man, this is really weird.” But that was the choice I made and I’ve got to live with it now. At the end of the day it’s only a movie.
Check back tomorrow for the second part of our exclusive interview and we'll be publishing our review on Friday. Here's a look at the official trailer: