Interview: Director Samuel Bayer Talks ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’
Samuel Bayer has taken his sweet time to get into feature films and with A Nightmare on Elm Street, it’s clear it was worth the wait. With a film that deals with highly surreal imagery, a great music video director seems like the prime candidate. If you don’t know Bayer by name, he’s behind some of the most iconic music videos ever made: “Smells Like Team Spirit,” “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” and a handful of other classics.
While I would’ve loved nothing more than to ask Bayer about some of his iconic music video work, we focused on Nightmare. It’s a remake with some merit. Not all of the original holds up to a modern sensibility, which is a feel Bayer wanted to bring to the story in a practical way.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is in theaters on April 30, 2010.
You’ve obviously talked a little bit about your thoughts on the original, but truthfully, what do you think about it?
Truthfully on the original, I’m a big Wes Craven fan and I think the guy is a horror genius. The original movie thematically is truly interesting. I think there’s elements to it that are dated. I think there’s elements to it that don’t hold up that well after all these years. Having said that, it is a seminal horror film. I think the franchise suffered movie after movie after the first one.
It became too campy.
Yeah, it became too campy. I don’t think Wes Craven… From what I’ve read, Wes Craven did that movie as a stand alone movie and to not have sequels done. I think it works as a stand alone movie.
Definitely. A few weeks ago I was talking to Floria Sigismondi and the one thing we talked about was how with music videos you get to be very unrelenting visually. With a film like Nightmare on Elm Street did you look at it in a way where you could still keep that surreal style?
You know, it’s funny that you should ask that. I think that maybe at one time I did, but once I jumped into it I kind of put all my tricks away. I concentrated much more on the performances, working with an Academy-Award winning actor playing Freddy Krueger, and I gotta tell ya they’re different disciplines. If people look at this movie and say that it looks like a music video then I’ve failed.
[Laughs]I didn’t mean it a bad way.
Oh, no, no. I’m being very honest with you too. I know you didn’t mean any disrespect by it. I’m very proud of my music videos, but music videos don’t tell a story. The hardest thing about this was telling a story, making you believe in it, making you scared and making you scared about what’s going to happen to the characters.
Understood. Now, when you do a movie like this, tonally, it’s very tricky. Camp is easy to fall into with this material. How do you sort of walk that fine line?
I think when you see the movie you’ll see there’s a really gritty realism to it, if you can say that. If dreams can have a gritty realism I tried to stay away from too much CG trickery. When you go into a dream it’s sort of one step away from reality. It’s very hard to tell you actually went into a dream. You’re still within a three dimensional space. This certainly isn’t, I cant even say the name of it, but The Imaginarium of…
[laughs] Yeah, you know? I say this again and again in print, but I’m a huge fan of what Christopher Nolan did with The Dark Knight. I really kind of used that as a template for this movie.
From the clips I’ve seen it looks rooted in practical effects.
Yeah, I really have. I mean, I used motion control rigs and I’m very proud of the fact that one of the guys who did the CG work on Freddy’s face created Two-Face for The Dark Knight. We’re very proud of what we did with Freddy in this movie. Where we did use special effects it was rooted in this gritty realism…Freddy’s flesh looks like what someone would actually look like if their face was burnt off. You can actually see inside their cheek bone. That’s what it looks like.
When you’re doing a film with an iconic monster like Freddy some films really rush to get to that big reveal. How did you go about when it came to what to show and not to show of Freddy?
I tried to keep Freddy as dark and as mysterious as possible. I mean, I always go back to when I was watching Hulk five or six years ago when Ang Lee did it. I was just like, “oh, that’s it? It’s a CG green guy.”
[laughs] Yeah, it’s Gumby. A very strong Gumby that you’re suppose to be scared of. It’s really disappointing so I tried to make it mysterious and it’s what you don’t see that makes you scared. I challenge anybody to go look at a movie like The Exorcist which scared so many people forty years ago and you really don’t see anything.
I’d say the prime example is Alien. While you’re scared of that creature, you’re more scared of what you don’t see it doing.
You know, it’s really funny that you should bring that up. I talked to someone about this the other day. That movie scared the living hell out of me when I was a kid. I had the great opportunity to have dinner with Ridley Scott and to tell him about it. He was smoking a cigar, had a big smile on his face, and he knows the power that movie had. Maybe a year later I was in a special effects house that had the original head from 1979. I was holding it my hands and it’s made of glue, cheap plastic, and parts pulled from model airplanes. It’s not frightening at all, but if you light that thing the right way and you have enough expectations for what you don’t want to see then it became the scariest thing you ever saw.
Absolutely. Jumping into the original theme, which is pretty iconic, can you talk about collaborating with Steve Jablonsky on recreating that?
I love Steve Jablonsky. I think we integrated elements from the original score and he also reinterpreted it. He did some things that just really make me proud to be in this business because he’s a real artist. He created some emotions in scenes that maybe weren’t there before until the music was laid on top of it. I got to sit and watch the orchestra play our movie, which I guess doesn’t always happen on a moderately-priced film. It was very exciting.
Obviously you’ve talked a lot about the dream sequences, but how did you go about crafting those? What type of atmosphere did you want to achieve with them?
You know, the dream sequences are based on a common reality. What you’ll see is the physical world where it just changes a little bit. There’s an image that has certainly been on the internet for a little bit where a girl is walking into her bedroom and it’s snowing. I love that image. It’s beautiful and yet there’s something kind of spooky going on at the same time. I think that’s the quality of all the dreams we have in the movie. Yes, it’s beautiful but it’s not so beautiful that it takes you out of the story and it’s not like you’re just looking at a pretty image.
The one I actually find very striking is where you see Freddy walking into a convenient story with “All I Have to Do is Dream” playing.
Oh, one of my favorite moments in the movie.
That song should feel so on-the-nose, but it just seems to fit.
Thank you so much. You know what, there’s nothing better than The Everly Brothers singing that song and watching Freddy Krueger walking towards somebody. You know, we did something really cool in the movie with the idea of micro-naps. Micro-naps is suppose to be a very real thing that would happen to you if you stayed up for seventy-two hours that you’d dream with your eyes open. You cannot help yourself and you’ll hallucinate for a number of seconds. That’s a new kind of terror that we added to the movie that never existed before. That’s what you see in that scene. She’s not dreaming, she’s having a micro-nap but he’s in the world with her. I think it’s really cool.
And it’s a new idea in the franchise.
When it comes to those dreams too you have a big advantage with having someone like Craig Jackson doing the art direction.
Well, he was amazing. We also had Patrick Lumb who did Valkyrie for Bryan Singer. Him working with Craig was just amazing. They made a good team.
You also of course collaborated heavily with Brad Fuller and Andrew Form who are very hands-on. How was that experience?
You know, we have a love-hate and hate-love relationship.
I’ll definitely make sure to ask Fuller about that.
Al right, good. I think we’re right now in the love stage, so you can talk to them more about that. Listen, they care so much about what they do. I hope they share my sentiment that we’ve created together a very different movie for them. I think this is unlike any other Platinum Dunes movie.
Obviously on a film like this you do a lot test screenings. What’s that process like? How did that affect the final cut?
I think test screenings are an integral part of the process just as much as a 50-year old man needs to see a proctologist. You need to have your movie test screened.
What will see on the DVD? Any deleted scenes?
We got some stuff up our sleeve that ended up on the cutting room floor. So we got some surprises.
The nightmare map?
Yeah, the nightmare map is probably on the cutting room floor. You’ll see some stuff like that.
Are you still planning on doing Fiasco Heights?
Fiasco Heights might be dead for right now.
If Nightmare does well, could that help get that off the ground?
You know, lets see what happens. I’m really excited to see what happens after this weekend. I’ve waited a long time for this and I’m open to anything.
For whatever your next project may be, I’ve heard you say a few times that you’re not very interested in doing another horror movie after this. Why not do another horror movie?
You know what, I think I’m really open. I think I said that a couple of months ago and I may have changed my mind a bit. I’m really open and I’m gonna see what happens after this weekend. Help me get people some people to buy tickets.
You probably don’t need my help for that. Before I let you go, what are a few music videos of yours that you’d like to recommend our readers to check out?
There’s two music videos that I did [I’d like to recommend]. There’s stuff that people always know like “Smells Like Team Spirit” or the Blind Melon video, but maybe that’s a bit old for some of your readers. I did two videos that I’m really proud of which is “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” and I also did this video for The Strokes a couple years ago called “Heart in a Cave.”
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