SXSW Interview: Vincenzo Natali Suffers for Originality


Genre filmmaker Vincenzo Natali takes a whipping for his taste. Up to now the director of Splice has only made original properties, no adaptations, sequels, or reboots. Natali may be adapting Neuormancer and High Rise at the moment, but even there he isn’t taking the easiest path. Both are niche properties, something Natali is well-aware of when it comes to the two books (and to his own films).

At this year’s South by Southwest he premiered what he considers his most accessible movie yet, Haunter. Natali describes the subversive ghost story as a mix of Igmar Bergman and John Hughes, making for an odd but promising sounding combo.

We spoke to Natali about the film before the festival, and here’s what he had to say about Haunter, the difficulty of making movies nowadays, and more:

I know you tried getting Splice made for nearly five years. Was this a much quicker experience?

[Laughs] Yeah, this was the opposite. This has happened to me twice now because, actually, initially when I was going to make Splice in 2000, if you can believe it, and it didn’t happen, and I just did a mad scramble trying to find something else because it had been so long since I had made a movie.

And out of the blue I came across my friend Brian King’s script for what was then called Company Man. Ultimately it was named Cypher. And then that came together very quickly. It took maybe…I don’t know, it was another 6-8 months and we were shooting the movie. And almost an identical thing happened with Haunter because I had these sort of long-standing, very ambitious projects, High Rise and Neuromancer that I’d been trying to do after Splice. And, invariably, it takes a long time.

So, in the interim, Brian came up with this new script, entirely his creation. And I really loved it. We put it together in probably about the same time period, like eight months or less and we were shooting. So Brian keeps saving my ass. That’s how it works.

[Laughs] With Haunter and all your other films, you’ve only made original pictures. Why do you make it so hard on yourself getting these projects made?

[Laughs] I get asked this question daily. I don’t know. I mean, listen. Philosophically I’m not opposed to remakes, and certainly not to adaptations. But I cannot make a film unless I am passionate about it. I’m too lazy. It’s so hard making a movie. And if I’m not fully engaged with it I just don’t know…I don’t think I could make it to the end. So I think that’s really why, yeah, so far they’ve all been original.

Post-Splice, it was interesting to see where you go because of how polarizing that movie was. After a movie gets a response like that, do you think, “Should I try something more commercial?”

Well, I probably have the wrong process. [Laughs] But no, I just wanted to do something bigger. I really wanted to step it up, because, to be honest, I think big, and the only thing that’s prevented me is just budget. I’m always constrained by my budget. As I say, High Rise and Neuromancer are largish movies that have been long gestating. But the big ones are tough, and especially if they are a little bit outside the box.

Haunter actually is a much lower budgeted film than Splice. In fact, it’s the lowest budget I’ve had since my first one, Cube, and the shortest schedule. Actually, that’s not true. It was the shortest schedule I’ve had since Cube.

So it was definitely not the direction I had planned to go in. At the end of the day, I just want to make movies. There are certain rewards to shooting that way because it forces you to be very economical in your storytelling and, in some regards, I would say it forces you to be more original.

I’ve got a great quote by Alan Moore, the comic book writer, who has recently started doing short films. He says he believes that there’s a direct ratio whereby the more money you have the less creative you are, and vice versa.

And so, that did, once again, prove to be the case.

Say for Neuromancer someone said to you, “We’ll give you any amount of money to make this movie,” would you be almost resistant to offer then?

No. [Laughs] I’ll throw out Alan Moore’s stupid quote. I’ll throw it in the garbage and stomp on it.

[Laughs] Who cares what Alan Moore says? He believes in snakes being gods!

Who cares! [Laughs] He’s not a real filmmaker! He’s a comic book writer! What does he know? It’s true. In principle he’s right because what happens is if you do have a lot of money, the spectacular solution is always the easier one. And when you don’t have a lot of money, you are forced to find solutions that don’t cost a lot, like developing a character, or finding a way to show something without actually showing it on the screen, by implying it and so on.

So I think he’s right to an extent. Definitely with Haunter, which is a very classical kind of ghost story, much as it doesn’t rely on effects. It’s all about the atmosphere and what is not seen. That seems to be very good principle to adhere to.

But I’m guessing you’ve thought on most of your films, “I wish I had 10 more days or a million more dollars.”

I think to a point. The problem for me is I always feel like it’s just a little too little. [Laughs] Like with Cube, for instance, we made that film for $350,000. Honestly, if somebody gave me a million it would have been a much better movie. It’s just that little bit more would have gone a long way. If somebody gave me $20 million then maybe not. Maybe there is something to be said that it should have been in that lower range. I would say that’s true of Haunter as well.

But every movie has its own niche.

All you really need to know about Jack is his favorite movies are: The Last Detail, Rumble Fish, Sunset Boulevard, The Truman Show, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, The Verdict, Closer, Shadow of a Doubt, The Long Goodbye, Spider-Man 2, Jaws, Adaptation, Get Carter, The Last Days of Disco, Carnal Knowledge, Almost Famous, Ed Wood, Ace in the Hole, Barton Fink, and L.A. Confidential.

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