Interview with Gerald's Game Director, Mike Flanagan

Gerald's Game hits Netflix this Friday, bringing another fantastic Stephen King novel to life, fresh after the release of IT. The film premiered at Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX this past week and has been receiving overall high praise from critics, citing Gerald's Game as one of the best Stephen King adaptions yet. I had the opportunity to chat with the Director, Mike Flanagan, as we discuss taking on this "unfilmable" novel.

Synopsis:
A husband and wife's plan to spice up their marriage by handcuffing her to the bed goes horribly awry when he dies of a heart attack, leaving her chained up with no help in sight.

This is one of Stephen King's novels that may be the most difficult to translate to film, and you were able to do so brilliantly. What attracted you to taking on this film?

It was a really long process. I read the book when I was in college. I was 19 years old when I read it. I thought it was the most moving and visceral novels that I have ever read. I loved what it had to say about survival, trauma and strength. It was one of those novels that never left me alone. It just burned into my head. So when it came to adaptation, I thought "Wow, this is a movie I would love to see one day", but I also thought it was unfilmable. It took me half my life to figure it out. I was obsessing with how to adapt it for over two decades before I was actually in a position to do it. By the time we acquired the rights to the material and to do it, I had so much preparation to fall back on. When I first read the book, I thought there was no way this could ever translate.  It was a juggernaut for sure.

What it's like working with King on the film?

I've actually never spoke with Stephen. I mean, we have been in touch. When this project first came around, it was because he saw Oculus and he said he loved it. So he gave us a shot at doing a script but he tends to stay away from most of his adaptations because he wants the filmmakers to do their thing. He is very involved when it comes to approvals, the script, the cast, every step of the way but he doesn't really interfere. He doesn't really get into your hair, which is a double-edged sword because it lets you make the film you want to make but it also means at a certain point when you are finished you have to send it to him and that's one of the most nerve-racking experiences I have ever had. He said he loved the movie though. We have actually been in touch since the movie has been completed. We talk back and forth now. At the time, his involvement was in support and approval which was incredibly pleasant. To answer your question, it was a great experience working with him but it was working with him from a distance.

He has been very vocal about his adaptions in the past.

Oh yes, just ask Stanley Kubrick. He very famously won't pull a punch if he doesn't like what you have done with his material. Being such a fan of his, and watching that my whole life, I've watched the various quality of his adaptations and his different reactions to them. I was really terrified with sending this to him. No matter how this goes, I could not live with being put into that pile that disappointed Stephen. But he loved the film, he sent a really long email after he watched it telling me what he thought. I am not exaggerating when I say I printed that email, framed it and it's hanging in my living room. Where I still push it on visitors and pizza delivery guys and anyone who walks into my house, asking "Hey, have you seen this?" I'm still a fanboy more than anything. He has loved the movie and its really gratifying. If it had gone the other way I would have been ashamed. Probably wouldn't show my face in public.

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There has been a bit of a trend lately with Stephen King Adaptions coming out left and right. What are your thoughts on more writers/directors taking on Stephen's novels? Do you happen to have a favorite, aside from Gerald's Game, of course?

I think it's exciting as a King fan. I didn't know when we started we were going to be part of this wave. I didn't know it was happening. Now we are in the middle of this storm of new King stuff. As a fan I am elated. One of my theories about it, is that a lot of the people that grew up like I did, just reading his books and watching his movies, and being formed by them. You know, a lot of them are filmmakers now. That generation is grown up and in a position to make their own and for a lot of people like me it is irresistible. Oh, there is a chance to play in Stephen King's universe? Oh my god, Yes, I have to. I think that's a very remarkable thing. It's hard to say what my favorite is this year, especially with his adaptations. There is a big hit-or-miss quality as you are navigating as a fan. IT was great. I loved Mr. Mercedes. I haven't seen 1922 yet, I have heard great things. I am on pins and needles on what they are going to do with Castle Rock. There is a lot out there. It's great to have so many well-done adaptations landing in such close proximity.

This isn't just a treat for long-term fans, but I think it's great for new and upcoming fans as well. Those who many not have read the original novel, or missed seeing Tim Curry's Pennywise on screen are now getting the introduction into King's universe. It's a great time to introduce the newer generation as well.

What an exciting thing for those new fans that are being generated from this resurgence of interest. What a neat thing for them to turn around and realize they have such a prolific library of material to discover. People who are just now being turned onto this world have a decade or so worth of books to read. It's a really cool time.

It's pretty well known that King's stories are all connected, especially this and Dolores Claiborne. Did that affect how you approached the film? 

Absolutely. One of the most exciting things about being a constant reader is finding a connection within the stories and seeing how they all play off each other. The connection between Gerald's Game and Dolores Claiborne is really profound in the book and I did not want to lose that. Even though the story worked really well on its own, to be part of this expanded universe is really exciting. I have this little corner of the King universe and I want to take care of this corner but at the same time I want to honor the rest of the universe as well. I wanted very much to make sure we included the Dolores reference but also we had little winks to The Dark Tower, The Shining, Bag of Bones. There are little Easter eggs for the fans. What I love about it is if you catch the references, it's the same feeling I got when I read the books. But if you don't get them, it doesn't take away from the film in any way.

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Now this is a film where majority of the film takes place in this one room. Can you talk about some of the hurdles of depicting this story that's basically confined to this single room?

The first step in that was shotlisting the movie with my director of photography. It is easy for a movie to get stale if you keep repeating the same angles and keep planting the camera in the same three basic places of the room. One of the biggest challenges for us was to make sure the camera was always moving and we were carrying the audience back and forth onto various sides of the action axis and keeping everything as dynamic as possible with the camera work. So we designed and shotlisted and blocked the movie long before prep began. Every camera shot had been diagrammed and outlined how they were going to go to cut into each other and that was a huge part of it. The other part is casting. If you are going to spend that amount of time in a closed room, in a small space with people, those actors need to inject energy into the film and to that end, we're incredibly fortunate to have Carla and Bruce who turned in phenomenal performances. Even though we've been living on this sound stage for weeks, we were hanging on every word they were saying and that made me feel like if that was how we were feeling at the monitor, then that's how audiences would feel as well.

Carla knocked it out of the park with this one. Carla's vulnerability is depicted really well on-screen, as the duration of the film we see her unravel, you even see it in her face. What was the process like when it came to bringing Carla on board and preparing her for the role?

We were just blessed to have Carla. Casting that part was really difficult. At the hands of the right actor, they would carry the movie on their shoulders, and in the wrong actor, the whole enterprise would collapse. Carla and I, we were on the phone for about 90 minutes the first time we discussed the script. I hung up the phone thinking this is someone who really understands the character and who understood the amount of pressure she was going to be under, both emotionally and physically to pull it off. Carla showed up and elevated everyone. She set the tone for the cast and the crew. Bruce was already in place at that point, he was actually suggested by Stephen King. When Carla came in, they hit it off so well and they were able to play off each other so well. This is such a high watermark for me, as far as what to expect from actors because I have never been as blown away watching what was happening as I was watching these two.

If you had the opportunity to adapt another one of King's novels, which would you be interested in tackling?

I would love a shot at Pet Sematary. It's one of the most disturbing books I have ever read in my life and one of the most emotional. I love Doctor Sleep, that would be a blast to give a try even though you are standing in Kubrick's shadows. My most sentimental of all is Lisey's Story. It's not his most well-known but I think it is his best. That would be a special project to get a crack at. We had a wonderful experience in this, hopefully we will get another opportunity to play in that universe some more. I would love nothing more.

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Gerald's Game will launch worldwide on Netflix this Friday, September 29th. The film is directed by Mike Flanagan and stars Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood.

Interview with Cast of Brave New Jersey

Featured on GWW.

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Brave New Jersey, which is set in a small New Jersey town in 1938, had its world premiere at Austin Film Festival over the weekend. The film depicts the reactions of a small town as they are overcome with mass hysteria on the night of Orson Welles’s legendary 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast, the hoax which fooled millions into believing America was being invaded by Martians.

During the Festival, I spoke with Director/Writer Jody Lambert, and actors Anna Camp, Tony Hale, Heather Burns and Matt Oberg about the film and its unique concept.

How did the idea of creating this film around the 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast hoax come about?

Jody Lambert: Mike Dowling and I, who I co-wrote the movie with, we went to college together and we were actually actors at the time and started to dabble in writing stuff. He came to me one day and said ‘How about a movie about a small town on the night of the War of The Worlds broadcast that doesn’t focus on Orsen Welles but on the town and how it changes their lives in the course of one night. I thought this was a really great idea for a movie. This allowed us to have a bunch of characters that need for something like this to happen and whose lives are all changed in different ways by an event like the world is going to end but it doesn’t and how do you go on the next day. Are you still the same person the next day and have you changed over the course of the night? It just felt like a really fun way to deal with comedy with bigger themes than a comedy normally does because its about people who think their live are going to end. It just felt like a movie somebody was
going to make eventually and thankfully we beat them to it.

What attracted you to doing the film?

Heather Burns: I’ve been involved with the film for a long time. I went to college with Jody and Mike and they had worked on it over the years. Jody went off and had worked on two other films but it was such a strong script that he kept coming back to it. So I’d do readings, workstations and they would tweak it and when they got the green light, I was thrilled to come on.

Tony Hale: I had known the casting director, Denise. She told my manager and I about it. I had coffee with Jody about it and he wanted to take this topic of this town hearing the news that the world is going to end and he had this really quirky edge he wanted to bring to it and the mass hysteria that ensued and I said that sounds fun, lets do it.

Anna Camp: I was really excited to be in a movie about this. I’m shocked there hadn’t been a movie made about this before. Its such a fantastic concept and such a rich period of time. I thought it was incredibly well crafted and each story line is well developed and specific and everybody gets their moment. I just loved Peg. I just adored her journey and wanted to play her so bad.

Matt Oberg: To do an alien movie where the aliens never come. I was like ‘yeah, that’s a good idea, lets do that’.

What was it like as an actor, bringing that era to life from the clothes to mannerisms?

Tony Hale: Weird actually. They wear some hot clothes. A lot of clothes.

Heather Burns: They did wear some hot clothes. I got luckier. I had a silk dress but the guys had a lot of wool and it was 110 degrees some days in the summer in Tennessee.

Tony Hale: We were really fortunate with the location. There was this town where this street was. They were selling this abandoned town they had used. This guy had this property that had these restored general stores and church from that time period and it was just a perfect setting and it was really by chance.

Heather Burns: It was really by chance. The producer, Taylor, his mother was from Tennessee and they thought, “Let’s check it out.” You obviously couldn’t shoot in New Jersey. They went and this man’s town just appeared. Everything was just there.

Matt Oberg: I could be wrong about this but I think our grandparents were just of a mess as we are now and it just sort of hard to imagine that people were that kind of chaotic because the time seems more formal. Certainly there is differences in your language and your mannerisms a little bit but I think that’s the moments in a period movie when you are like ‘That’s what I would do.’ is what makes period films fun because it shows you the human condition has been the same for a long time. There is something comforting about that.

Anna Camp: I found it fun to play Peg, who is a woman who didn’t really have a lot of options. She lived in this small town as a school teacher and didn’t really realize there was anything greater out there and there were many other choices to be made. To be confronted with a night where she thinks ‘Maybe i can live my life the way i want to,’ to see what it feels like for a woman like that to go for it and grab life by the balls, haha, or by the reins.

Matt Oberg: …by the ball reins.

Anna Camp: Even if it was just for one night, it was really exciting to play because I doubt a lot of women were able to do that back in the day, were really doing that. It’s still frowned upon cheat on your fiance but I mean it’s a very dramatic thing to happen in your life obviously.

In continuation to that, your character had probably the biggest transition in the film. She went from 0 to 100 the moment she found out this could be it. What were your thoughts on why she reverted back to this tame life when the smoke cleared? 

Anna Camp: Great question, for so many reasons. There is this bit a shame and embarrassment that she is holding the next day. There is
sadness, like on a smaller scale, if you are a kid and finding out Santa didn’t exist. It’s so sad, I remember It was sad and I got so mad but what do you really do in 1938 and you have been engaged and been with him forever. What is she going to do now? Is she going to go out and have a life now with Sparky? With that guy? She is filled with questions and a million emotions the next day. I don’t think she is doing to stay forever. I wanted to make sure at the end of the film, you saw that she might not quite be done and there may be some fire deep down in there because she found something for the first time. I think there are a lot of things going on and she may be paralyzed right now but i don’t think that’s going to continue.

Matt Oberg: I think it’s a human thing to realize there are so many other choices available to me and how I’m going to live my life but how and when i can possibly make those choices or act on any of those options are the hard part.

It was interesting to see some of these characters make a complete 180, as soon as they found out their lives could end. What was the process of creating the mindset for some of these characters?

Jody Lambert: Great question. We started with ‘What characters would be fun to track through this?’ We knew we wanted it to  be an ensemble movie that had a big cast of characters but not too many but we didn’t want it to feel like you aren’t really in the mind or the head of somebody because you aren’t spending enough time with them. So we started with ‘Who would be in this town?’ and we narrowed it down to who we thought would be the most interesting ones. We narrowed it down to who we thought were the most interesting ones. A little bit using the tropes of those 50’s disaster movies like the War of the Worlds movie. We have a small town so how about the mayor, how about the teacher, how about the lonely house wife, how about the priest and once we had our core characters and what their internal conflicts were before the movie started we knew we arrived with some fun characters to track over the course of the night.

This time of situation, I feel could have only occurred then. I wouldn’t imagine a hoax like this being as successful in the modern world with social media and technology. Hypothetically, how do you think our society would react to this time of situation?

Jody Lambert: I agree with you that it would probably be difficult, the reality would spread much quicker. We are in the golden age of fact-checkers. So i think it would be pretty quick that they would shut it down. But I do believe that circumstances that led people to believe the broadcast was real, are still around now. There was the threat of war, people are afraid of invasion, people were just on edge so when the broadcast happened people were just ready to believe something. Granted it was just radio back then and newspapers. But I think people want to believe the media and the powers above them when they say something is happening and when this happened, it felt like it could happen in a way today. Maybe not in the same way. The human instincts and people’s emotional frugality hasn’t changed all that much so you never know what happens when you put fear and terror and invasions and all that stuff together. Things happen. It does feel relevant to me in a way.

If you were in a similar situation as these people, how do you think you would react. What would be your first instinct? Would you relate to any particular character or your own?

Jody Lambert: I wouldn’t say I relate to her the most but I kind of like how Peg, Anna Camp’s character, kind of goes to the dark side. I don’t think I would do that. I think I would be the person that says ‘Lets party! The world is ending!’ Kind of a more excited, frantic end-of-the-world approach versus an introspective one.  I think we all would find a place inside of ourselves but I think I would go for the excitement.

Tony Hale: My character is a lot calmer than I think I’d be. I think I would be a little more of “What the hell is happening right now?”. He was pretty chill.

Heather Burns: It’s hard to know. I remember when I went skydiving one time and I didn’t really pull the string.

Tony Hale: You didn’t pull the…

Heather Burns: Luckily I was attached to a man but I went through all this training but I didn’t look at the altitude and everything. I did the signals and then I kind of just sit there.

Matt Oberg: I live in LA, so I think about earthquakes all the time. I wonder what I would do. They keep telling me ‘Well, have a plan’ but in reality I think I would just hunker down and hope it doesn’t hurt me. In terms of how I identify with my character, he isn’t really a likable guy, but I still identify with him. He is a guy that has been handed a lot of stuff, it seems and when extenuating circumstances are working to take something away from him, it just doesn’t compute. He is like ‘What? I deserve this.’ Haha, I can identify with that. To have anything taken aware from me, seems unjust.

Anna Camp: Haha, I love it. If it was in 1938, It probably wouldn’t be different than how I wouldn’t handle it now. I would definitely get lots of wine and get very drunk and try to have a little party. I’m like one of those people that would ride off the storm with a positive vibe, turn on some music and hope to god they are friendly.