Director Alexandre Aja made an international splash in 2003 with his debut feature, Haute Tension (known as High Tension in the U.S.). In 2004, Aja was included in Variety’s Ten Directors to Watch list.
Aja is also a member of the Spat Pack, a term coined in Total Film by film historian Alan Jones for a new wave of independent filmmakers creating ultra-violent, low budget R-rated films. Other members include Darren Lynn Bousman, Neil Marshalll, Greg McLean, Eli Roth, Robert Rodriguez, James Wan, Leigh Whannell and Rob Zombie.
Since then, Aja has also directed the horror films The Hills Have Eyes, Mirrors, Piranha 3D, The 9th Life of Louis Drax, and Horns. His latest film, Crawl, was released this summer by Paramount Pictures and is currently available on digital and comes to Blu-ray and DVD on October 15th.
Aja took some time from his busy schedule to discuss Crawl last week at New York Comic Con.
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FOG!: So, you worked on the script for over two years to develop it and kind of make it your own. In doing so, do you ignore the challenges that you might have as a director, or do you write your movie without considering your role as a filmmaker?
Alexandre Aja: I think that I kind of love to hurt myself and not think about the practicality of making it. It’s very easy when it’s three in the morning and you’re writing in your underwear and you’re just writing like crazy; floating, breaking back into the house, all that stuff. Then, flash forward six months or a year after and you’re, like, dying after 10 hours being in the water for 40 days and you just curse yourself, like, “What? Why I didn’t think about that? It could have been so easier to not do it this way?” But then you see people enjoying it and you forget about it.
So, no, I try to not think about how difficult it’s going to be. I try to stay as free as I can when I write, and I also try to listen as much as I can to the moviegoer inside me, what I want to see, and try to keep that vision. I try to keep that vision not only in the writing of the script, but also as we’re making the script.
I remember before we started making the movie with Paramount, we were with an other financier first, and they were like, “Oh, this is way too much. This is way too much. We have to cut all this. The house is supposed to be just one floor and you cannot have this and you cannot have this and you cannot have this, but don’t worry, it’s going to be great,” and I’m like, “No, it’s not.” The ticking clock of the water rising is one of the elements that just got me into wanting to make this movie. I want the water coming up as they are trying to survive one floor at a time.
The same with the outside. “No, it’s going to be much better if you stay inside all the time. Don’t see the outside.”
No, it’s a hurricane movie. I want them to have this important thing of going out. We’ve been witnessing over the last decades or two decades the most awful, scary images of floating, not only in the US, but everywhere in the world. We have this kind of imagery of this town underwater, of those people trying to survive on their rooftop, of all that kind of crazy drama, tragedy, that’s happening every year.
So, I want see that as well because this is part of the story. So, yeah, I’m trying to really, really maintain that vision of what I want to do as much as I can. Then, also as a producer to find a solution because I know that sometimes it’s easier to say, “Let’s cut,” than, “Let’s find a way.”
Speaking of producing, the legendary Sam Raimi was one of the producers on the project. This is a movie I can picture Sam directing 25, 30 years ago. What did he bring to the project as a producer?
You know, Sam is brilliant. I’m not saying that just to say it. This is like the producer that you dream to have as a director is someone who has a strong vision as a filmmaker, obviously; as a writer, obviously; as a producer, obviously. He is someone who is not here to impose his vision.
He’s here to listen, question if we should, make sure that you have everything, that you’ve thought about everything, that everything makes sense, that everything is kind of logical. Then, from there, he’s here to help you defend that vision and find solutions to defend that vision. I think that it’s not often that you find people who are just so committed to that.
Now, of course, it’s years of experience getting such a fast mind when it comes to editing, to find like, “Oh, this will be more efficient if we go from this to this directly or if we do this,” and that’s where really he’s good at.
You filmed in Serbia where you basically built everything.
What kind of prep did not only stars Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper do for it as actors, but also what kind of prep did you do as a director to film in this environment?
So, Kaya went into a pretty heavy training of swimming and water, just to try to be as much as she can for the character, I believe. I’ve had that experience since High Tension pretty much. I feel that the more trained you are as an actor, it’s not about what you’re going to do on set because, of course, you have time to relax and you’re never going to go through the whole movie at once, but it just gives you some confidence. Confidence in your body, the way you move, the way you resist that, and she’s amazing at that. She really did an amazing job.
Same with Barry. Barry had a part, which was; Barry’s deep inside, I will not say the alpha, but he’s someone who would love to save his daughter, who wants to save her. It was very hard for him to not being able because his leg is broken, because his arm is; everything that’s going to happen to him through the whole movie.
So, he had to be kind of accepting that his daughter is going to rescue him, and that was an interesting move for Barry as well.
For me, I guess my training was …Prep was, I would say, 70% finding out how we’re going to build with seven tanks, how we’re going to deal with that quantity of water that’s, like, gigantic and how we’re going to to be sure that we keep everyone safe because when’s there is water; water does not care. It’s dangerous.
Piranha 3D was your first time shooting in a water environment. Was there anything that you trained for for that film that was applicable to this or was this completely two different?
A lot, you know? I was really lucky on Piranha because I worked with a line producer, Louis Friedman, who had worked on Titanic before. I worked with Peter Zuccarini, who maybe the best underwater DP in the world. Matt Kutcher was also, like, a big special effects supervisor in the water. All those people, with their experience, taught me so much about shooting in the water and underwater.
So, when I come to Crawl, I kind of felt that I had the experience, but then I realize that most of Piranha was shot on location at Lake Havasu in Arizona.
My experience in a tank was not as big as I thought it was. So, I discovered a whole range of other issues, of the filtration of the water, of the temperature of the water and all of these elements. I think right now I’m good (laughing). I’m ready for any kind of water scenario.
After seven feature films, how do you think you’ve evolved as a filmmaker. Then, also, what else do you have coming up?
So, I tried as much as I could to not repeat myself. I love being scared. I love scaring people. I love to play with this very immersive story and storytelling.
I tried as much as I can from each movie to do something different. I think that High Tension and The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha and Horns and Mirrors and Drax and Crawl are very, very different type of movies, and I don’t know what’s next.
I think it’s never been a better time to make these types of movies. We’re living in a very scary period of the history of the world, and I think that people are very worried about the future. I have a 12-year-old son, who’s like basically kind of growing up in a world where he’s been told that in 50 years, he might be in a war to survive. Right now, I feel that all movies, more than ever, are this kind of place to have people think about what their position is in the middle of all this and figure out how we’re going to survive.
Movies are escapism at their very best.
Crawl is now available via Digital and arrives on Blu-ray/DVD on October 15th