Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter listens to writer/director Jeremy Saulnier discuss Green Room.
Jeremy Saulnier’s terrifically intense and brutal third feature, Green Room, is one of the year’s best movies. And not just best genre film either – it’s flat out one of the most affecting and thrilling films you’ll see all year thanks to the efforts of cast and crew alike.
After loving the commentary track on Saulnier’s Blue Ruin I found myself looking forward to covering this one as well, and while the director handles this one solo (without his usual cohort Macon Blair) I was still hopeful for a fun and informative listen. Thankfully, that’s what I got.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for Green Room.
Green Room (2015)
Commentator: Jeremy Saulnier (writer/director)
1. The opening scene was Saulnier’s “happiest day on set” as the cornfield locale was beautiful and they had a full day to shoot the setups. He says of all the photos taken of him on set only ones from this day show him smiling.
2. They had to buy two acres of corn for that overhead shot of the van having driven into the field. Fall foliage was creeping into the Oregon landscape, and they had just missed the summer harvest.
3. Various character traits and beats were culled from real-life events from Saulnier’s (or his friends’) past as a punk music fan and performer. Waking up in a cornfield is only the first of many to make the cut here. He is careful to point out that he never siphoned gas from strangers’ cars though.
4. “I’m an ignoramus when it comes to who’s who,” he says regarding his own awareness of current-day actors, but he feels – rightfully so – that the casting here is pretty damn perfect.
5. The seemingly simple shot of Pat (Anton Yelchin) waking up and opening the door to let Tad (David W. Thompson) into the apartment ended up being a nightmare as it required reversing the hinges to allow the door to open from the right. The film was a union shoot, and the overtime costs astounded Saulnier. “My production designer may or may not have snuck in over the weekend and reversed the hinges on that door.”
6. He was “terrified” after the success of Blue Ruin and thought that if he didn’t fast-track another movie before he was “discovered to be a fraud that it would never ever happen.” Instead of saying yes to one of the many films offered by Hollywood he immediately moved forward with a more indie-minded genre feature inspired by his own youthful interests.
7. The diner gig is modeled on one that Saulnier headlined in his youth.
8. This is his first film that he didn’t shoot himself. He sought out a cinematographer who worked to realize a director’s vision instead of putting his/her own stamp on the project, and Sean Porter (Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter) won out.
9. The venue in the film belongs to a man whose day job is building log homes. “He let us infest his property for several weeks building up the set and we found a home.”
10. The first glimpse of Cow Catcher, the punk band that causes the initial trouble, comes through the windshield of the Ain’t Rights’ van. It was a studio note asking for these characters to be introduced earlier.
11. Saulnier and Macon Blair have been best friends for years – Blair is the lead in Blue Ruin – but the director just didn’t see him as belonging in this skinhead world. Blair auditioned just like everyone else and ultimately convinced Saulnier he could be this character of Gabe the neo-Nazi. “My best buddy was not given a hand-out. He had to go get Nazi tattoos from the internet, some temporary tattoos, and the vendor initially refused his request so he had to prove he was auditioning for my movie.”
12. The song “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” is the only song in the film that had been there since its inception and early script phase.
13. The actors playing the Ain’t Rights – Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, and Callum Turner – are playing and singing for real in the film. Yelchin and Shawkat had previous experience, but the other two had to learn from scratch.
14. He points out “the first-ever, in the history of Jeremy Saulnier, use of slow-motion” at the 15:52 mark. He’s not a fan in general as he thinks “it’s a crutch,” but he felt it necessary in this scene.
15. He came across Eric Edelstein’s picture on IMDB Pro and thought “Whoa, that’s Big Justin.” So he auditioned him and then cast him as Big Justin.
16. The beat where Werm (Brent Werzner) drags Emily’s corpse and yanks the knife from her head “references real life and something I saw that will never leave my mind. It’s helped me by purging it from my nightmares and transferring it onto the audience.” It was a moment from a prison documentary he watched years ago.
17. Patrick Stewart’s first day on set was Saulnier’s least favorite because he left “this amazing actor sitting there” while he spent time on insert shots and risked losing the light. “The next morning we had a very nice chat, and I apologized for my inefficiency.”
18. The scene where Justin guards the door and essentially warns the band members that they’re not action heroes and shouldn’t attempt to charge him “is one of the few moments we had where I indulged in a movie speech.”
19. Saulnier and Porter made a conscious decision to visually cut off and disregard Amber (Imogen Poots) early on as an outsider apart from the band. She earns her inclusion into their circle as symbolized by her first close-up.
20. He misses having Blair by his side for the commentary track. “We often get drunk.”
35 Things We Learned from the Blue Ruin Commentary
21. Saulnier points out scenes where the band members are forced to play action hero or detective, and he says their inadequacies in these areas are understandable because they’re neither of those things. I agree completely and would add it’s a similar exploration to the one in Blue Ruin that sees a revenge thriller focused on a man with no clue how to go about it. That said, even after multiple viewings, I still can’t abide the band handing over the gun – there is absolutely no one who would do so under these circumstances. No one. I refuse to believe it. Nope. It’s so immensely annoying, but the film immediately recovers with everything that follows.
22. The conversation through the door between Pat and Darcy (Stewart) was shot with two cameras, one on either side, to fully capture both actors, but Saulnier knew he’d hardly be using any footage of Stewart. He wanted character to trump Stewart’s star power, but more than that he wanted the weight of the character to be seen and felt through the band members.
23. The shot of Pat’s slashed arm and hand is “absolutely disturbing” but due as much to Yelchin’s performance as it is the beautiful prosthetic effects work. “It is so emotional, so real, that it stands out to a lot of people as the moment where they now realize what kind of film they’re in, and it’s not pretty.”
24. The green room was constructed on a film stage.
25. They had an elaborate dog puppet built but only ended up using it in one insert shot around the 53:40 mark. The initial idea was that they’d need the puppet for the sequence where one attacks Amber’s leg util it’s run off by the microphone feedback and pummeling, but they accomplished the scene with real dogs, stunt performers, and Poots herself. Don’t worry, it was a foam microphone stand.
26. Saulnier is no fan of films that “hold your hand all the way through the film” by explaining everything or clarifying elements with additional exposition. It’s more important that the characters understand than the audience on an initial watch. He’s not wrong.
27. He says some people – ahem – have taken issue with the scene where the band hands over the gun and Pat gets sliced for his efforts, and he has an argument for them. Basically, he suggests two choices – hand it over and risk the outcome, or shoot your five bullets towards enemies who are probably better armed and more experienced? “Because if you don’t know how to use a gun,” he says, “you don’t win.” I don’t think it’s that simple of a choice, and I still don’t think anyone – at this stage in the story – would hand over that gun. Saulnier is correct though when he mentions that the mere possession of guns is no guarantee you’ll succeed or know how to use them.
28. Pat’s paintball speech is based on a real incident experienced by Saulnier.
29. As of the recording of this commentary Green Room “marks the quietest performance ever given by Patrick Stewart on stage or screen. And it was my pleasure.”
30. There are thirty visual – ie digital – effects shots in the film, “more if you count graffiti removal.”
31. The bit where Pat catches his sleeve on the van mirror while attempting to move around the front of it with the bad guy in his cross-hairs was a recreation of an earlier take when Yelchin accidentally did just that.
32. The band was originally written as four guys, but when he opened that idea up and Shawkat came on board he loved the character that she created.
33. Most viewers feel the answer to Pat’s desert island band is evident in the cut to a Creedence Clearwater Revival track at the very end, but that’s apparently not the case. Saulnier’s being coy about it, but he says there are two correct answers. “One that makes perfect sense given the context of the movie and how everything plays out, and there’s another that is something I whispered to Anton Yelchin on set that only him and I know.” Saulnier’s own is Black Sabbath.
34. Films/filmmakers mentioned as inspirations or references, intentional or otherwise, include The Shining, John Carpenter, I’m Gonna Git You Sucker, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Commando, and Conan the Barbarian.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“Man, I’m always ill-prepared for special features on DVDs.”
“It’s important people know that idiots can make movies too.”
“The more I progress in the film industry, the less I want to do.”
“Half this movie’s just trying to shake these things that haunt me at night.”
“When you’re making a movie there’s a few highlights, and having your high-school best friend face-palmed by Patrick Stewart is certainly one of them.”
The film remains a tight, highly entertaining, and very human thriller, and even watching it with the commentary track on reveals that Anton Yelchin is one of the big reasons why. Everyone does great work, but while others are far cooler (Poots!) he expresses the pain, disbelief, and eventual resolve that carries the tale to its bloody conclusion with its heart intact. He left us far too soon and too young, but with his work here and in other films he’s also left parts of him behind.