Helina Koldek interviewed Evan Katz, the director of the movie „Small Crimes”. The European premiere of „Small Crimes” takes place at Haapsalu Horror and Fantasy Film Festival on April 28 19:00.
Before we proceed with the movie talk, tell us something about your background. What did you do before getting into the film world?
Well, for the longest time I was kind of a fuck up – I did graffiti, dropped out of high school, and mostly skateboarded and smoked weed. Lived with other fuckups, and wasted lots of time. I even had a dumb job as a traveling magazine salesman in a “mag crew” (anybody see the film American Honey? Like that kind of shit). Fortunately for me, before I could go too much down a stupid road, I started really getting involved with music, which really focused me. I started going to hardcore/punk/metal shows – even became straight edge for a while. I began to roadie for some bands, traveling with them, and taking pictures of them at shows – which led to me wanting to put together my own homemade music ‘zine’.
My little magazine got into the hands of some bigger music publications, and I started getting paid to interview bands – meanwhile, my love for horror started to draw me towards some of the early online horror publications, and I joined the staff of creature-corner.com, under the name Frank Booth. That experience taught me that there was possibly a career path or focus in the horror field, so when I eventually went to film school, I knew in what department I wanted to focus.
You have written some quite straightforward horror movie scripts previously, like Home Sick and Pop Skull for Adam Wingard. Your directorial debut Cheap Thrills and your new film Small Crimes, on the other hand, are an interesting fusion of crime-thriller, some elements of cynical dark comedy and a gentle touch of horror. What genre has had the biggest influence on you and what film motifs interest you the most?
I think Home Sick and Pop Skull are pretty out there, so I’m not sure if I would refer to them as straightforward per se. Those are some weird films! But yeah, in terms of my own stuff, I think that you’ve sort of nailed it. Dark comedy has been a pretty huge driving factor in my work, but also in my life. My grandparents were a hilarious holocaust survivor and a Polish soldier who survived Stalingrad, and their world view was always an interestingly humorous one. Filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch, The Coen brothers, Álex de la Iglesia, and many others have had a huge influence on me – I’m also full on obsessed with film noirs, particularly the very violent, eccentric ones from the 70s and 80s. On top of that I’m a horror freak with a Fulci tattoo, so you can see how all these influences sort of car crash into each-other.
I think one thing I’m obsessed with is lying – I found human bullshit to be fascinating … and I love that in many ways, stories, particularly film stories are forms of lying as well, even if for entertainment sake. The noir genre is partically good at this, because every element of the form is sort of a lie, the characters, the perspective, all of it. I’m obsessed with people talking about themselves, because they present the movie version of themselves to the world … the version that they’d like to be seen as … and the world is then the audience that can either believe or reject the version put in front of them.
Regarding the horror genre, there are always some discussions about the bad influence of these movies and a constant need for explanations that being a horror movie fan is not quite the same as being a psychopath. What are your thoughts about violence in the movies and the impact of it? Do you think that violent movies have to bear an important message to justify the violence or can a violent movie as well be a mere entertainment?
I’m not really drawn to films that are excessively cruel, with prolonged scenes of being tortured – but I would never say that those films are not allowed to exist, or need some social message behind them … but if they don’t have that, it’s hard for me to at least take them seriously, or be that drawn to them as a viewer. On the other hand, I really love stupid violent action movies, and would never demand they be about much more than entertainment. I think human expression has many elements, and sometimes it’s just for the dumb lizard brain, and sometimes that’s okay.
So, your new movie Small Crimes. What’s the story behind that?
Lots of blood, sweat and tears! I’ve always wanted to do a 90s neo-noir, been obsessed with them since before I even knew I wanted to be a filmmaker … and after Cheap Thrills, most of the projects I received were studio films that weren’t that exciting. When my brother showed me the book Small Crimes, I really saw the potential to play in a space that I loved, but also in a way to sort of satirize and subvert another genre that I think can sometimes be a little full of shit … the man out of prison, searching for redemption subgenre. I was a fan of Macon Blair from Blue Ruin, so when I discovered that he was also a super-talented noir screenwriter, I reached out to him to see if we might be able to collaborate on this project. We talked about it, and found the same things amusing, and he came on board. A French company called Memento (Blue Ruin, Cold in July, Cop Car) paid for the writing of the project, and then the producer David Lancaster (Drive, Nightcrawler) got involved, which steamrolled this motherfucker into exisitence.
What was the hardest part in the process of making Small Crimes?
The schedule was very difficult, since we only had 24 days, and they were only 10 hours, so in many respects it was a 21 day shoot, with lots of location moves, stunts, characters, and some nasty bad weather during a particularly ambitious action sequence that we had to pull off in half a day. I aged a year in those 5 hours.
How was the casting process?
It took us 3 years to find our lead, essentially because on the page, the script felt much darker than how it was ultimately executed – and many actors didn’t want to play a piece of shit dude that doesn’t really find redemption (although I kind of think he does, even if it’s a minuscule moment). When I skyped with Nikolai, he was bold and funny, and totally got it. He didn’t need Joe to be a great guy, he just wanted him to be watchable. As soon as Nik signed on we were off to the races, and we basically had like a month to cast the rest of the film in time to shoot it to fit Nik’s schedule. On that end, we really lucked out – Jacki Weaver, Robert Forster, Molly Parker … there was a chance that things could have gone a very different way.
Any funny stories from the movie set?
We had a professional actor “hissing” cat, that was the least professional actor on set. Total prima donna. He almost took Nikolai’s face off at one point. Guess that was mostly just funny to me, but it could have been horrible.
Could you recommend some really good movies to our readers? Something old and something new.
Okay, old stuff: Branded to Kill, Night Moves, Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Point Blank, Cisco Pike, Red Rock West, One False Move, Prime Cut, Friends of Eddie Coyle. New stuff: Wiener (documentary), Raw, Green Room. Fuck, I really need to see some new films.
And finally – what are the most intriguing small crimes that you have committed in your lifetime?
I got arrested for doing graffiti when I was a teenager. Couldn’t get my license until I was 18. I popped a bicycle tire for no reason when I was in junior high. I used to steal comic books.