Throughout his career, filmmaker Joe Lynch has given us fantastic movies that have spanned both the horror and action genres, including Wrong Turn 2, the "Zom-B-Movie" segment of Chillerama, Knights of Badassdom, Everly, and his latest movie, Mayhem, which recently enjoyed its world premiere at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival.
Written by Matias Caruso, Mayhem follows a corporate attorney named Derek (Steven Yeun), who's trapped inside his office building with hundreds of fellow employees during a viral outbreak that causes the infected to be unable to control their primal urges. Chaos ensues as the co-workers begin to wage war against each other the longer the virus rages on.
Daily Dead had the chance to speak with Lynch after the first SXSW screening of Mayhem in Austin, and he chatted about the trepidation he felt going into the film’s world premiere, the journey to getting Mayhem made, working with Yeun, and more.
So, how are you feeling now that it’s the day after the big premiere?
Joe Lynch: I'm feeling pretty good, which I'm shocked about, to be honest. You get to a point in the making of the movie where you just start to lose perspective, not in a bad way, but you've seen the movie so many times and there was a very lengthy post-process on this film, with the effects and the coloring and stuff like that, so it took a long time to get it right.
When you look at shots over and over again, ad nauseam, you're not connecting to the movie anymore. It literally becomes a grind. I just started to not hate the movie, but it reminded me of stress and anxiety and all the things that I don't want to associate with something creative that I've done. I had just gotten to the point where I was so close to it that I could not have an opinion on it whatsoever.
That was tough. Last night was the first time that I had seen the movie with a crowd since a test screening we did, and because you make a movie in a relative vacuum, whether you're making it on a set or in the edit [room] with Josh [Ethier] and I—we're in a bubble. We think it's funny, but you don't know how it's going to play with a collective audience. Every audience is different, it's an organic experience. I just knew that SXSW was going to be a place that would at least embrace it more than other places. It's a very particular style, it's a very particular tone. It was worth it, though.
Obviously, after Everly, which was a very contained movie within this one space, and now with Mayhem, while it’s still contained to a degree, but on a much more massive scale, was that the biggest hurdle to overcome for this? You not only have to make that space always engaging and arresting for audiences, but you also have all this chaos going on in the different floors and working your way through the different floors.
Joe Lynch: We actually worked with two floors and had to redress those floors over and over. We ended up using the production office for the boss' office because at the last second, somebody went, "Hey where's the boss' office?" We were like, "Hmm, where is the boss' office? " It was a challenge mainly because a), we had to reflect America and we shot in Serbia, so it was a challenge to find things that reflected corporate America. Immediately, I found that just trying to get the same size paper, it's completely different in Serbia.
There were other things you take for granted. Like staplers—totally different in Serbia. They had to bring the stuff in or find them, or get them out there one way or another. Just trying to recreate the American culture would have been easier if we had shot in Pittsburgh or Vancouver or Louisiana, which was where we were trying to make it initially. But the problem with that was I would have lost ten days on set, and that’s a sizable chunk of your creativity.
The difference between a 15-day movie and a 25-day movie is a big difference. If anything, I think that the 35-day version of Mayhem would have been perfect, but that was what we were able to get and having to just try to make it feel as much like an American law office as possible was a challenge. We luckily found this one office building that was still in operation while we were shooting. The people in the other offices were privy to watching people covered in blood and half naked running around. They're just like, "What the fuck is going on here? These crazy Hollywood people."
How did you make your budget work to your advantage, and how was it working with Steven on this?
Joe Lynch: The original budget for the movie was not the budget we ended up with. It was just one of those necessity things. There's also, "Do we want to make the movie? We have this amount, let's do it with this.” No director wants to be put in that position. I was put in that position vicariously on Knights of Badassdom, which wasn't fair because I didn't even know the final budget. I was told it was one thing and it was another thing. At least here, the producers were great and very transparent. We're like, "Look, we know this isn't as much as we were hoping to get, but we have this amount and we can make this work, so how do we make this work?"
On the bright side, I don't think I would have been able to cast Steve Yeun. If that was the case, then it was totally worth working on a smaller budget. To me, Steve, just our collaboration, was something I'll never forget.
Seeing Steve in action, literally and figuratively in the movie, is something I'm really, incredibly proud of. I'm so happy that he was able to have that experience, too. He was still currently working on The Walking Dead, even though he had to lie to everybody on set—everybody. He knew what was going on in the show, and they even told us he had a firm hard out because he had to go back to the The Walking Dead, and in hindsight, I'm going, "No, he didn't [laughs].”
You would expect that maybe he would probably let something slip in confidence one night, but nope. He was so good with that, and I respect him for it. Let's just say that my heart dropped a little more than everybody else when that happened on the show because in a very selfish sort of way, to have your movie star in a show that's the number-one show in the world, and it's still on and he's still on it, yeah, that's free marketing in a way.
More importantly, it was, "No, I love that character and I didn't want to see him go." That's what attracted me to Steve in the first place, was that I loved the character of Glenn. I loved what Steve did with it. I loved that the pizza boy became the hero by the end. Not many people can pull that off very effectively. Here comes this guy from Chicago who makes you go, "Who is that dude?" All of a sudden, he's in your house every week and he's proving to himself, and to you, that he is our everyman today. That's why I cast him in Mayhem.
Were there aspects of exploring the corporate environment that piqued your interest coming into it?
Joe Lynch: Oh, yes. Immediately, when I first read the script, I went, "That guy knows what's up." Matias doesn’t live in this country, and he wrote the script that was reflecting where he came from. It wasn't an American reflection, but at the same time, it was very American. It made me realize, "Everybody deals with this." It's not just us. I was in a corporate gig at the time I read Mayhem, too. And what was more schizophrenic about it was that I was in a corporate gig, but I still had to be the creative guy. I was still under the same rules and guidelines, under the same passive aggressive bullshit, camp-like environment that that environment fosters. It drove me up the f***ing wall. It made me really hate being creative.
That's the worst thing in the world for me. I don't want to feel that way, and I'm sure no one wants to feel that way, especially when you're being tasked to do something that is like, "I want this to be outside of the box and really cool and creative," and then next thing you know, you have 17 people that you've never met before having to weigh in on what you've done, not knowing even the context by which they are giving notes, or weighing in on what that is. You sit there and go, "Well, what the fuck is the point? Why be creative when I'm being told to not be creative?" That really stuck with me. Derek's journey was something that completely connected to me.
Stay tuned to Daily Dead for more live coverage from SXSW, and in case you missed it, catch up on our previous coverage of the film festival.