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A Conversation with Director Adam Wingard of 'The Guest'

Ana Lily Amirpour's sat down with Adam Wingard, director of You're Next and the new film The Guest, which is playing this week at Sundance Next Fest, to talk about pot, vampires, superheroes, and a bit about movies.

Sundance NEXT FEST 2014 is hitting Los Angeles this week. As much a music festival and cultural event as a film fesitval, NEXT FEST features indie, or even micro-budgeted films that transcend the usual confines of their production scale. Most of the screenings will be held at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles, including the August 10 showing of Adam Wingard's Thriller The Guest, an event that will feature a conversation with Nicholas Winding Refn, director of Drive.


Ana Lily Amirpour's genre-defying A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is playing just after The Guest on August 10. She sat down with Adam Wingard to talk about everything from pot to goth music to superheroes, and they even fit in a bit about The Guest.

Ana Lily Amirpour: I love your film so much I want to marry it.
Adam Wingard: Haha!

Did you love the movie Scream? It was one of the first things I thought of when I saw The Guest. That and Road House, and John Landis, too.
Really? I thought I got all of my Scream stuff out on You're Next. I guess some influences stick around forever. I need to re-watch Road House, it’s been a few years but I remember loving it unironically. I didn't see it until I was in my early twenties because this one annoying redneck guy in my junior high school class wouldn't shut up about how Road House was the best film ever. Like, he was obsessed with it. Matt Mooney was his name. I should look him up. I bet he’s dead now. Seems like he would have died in some sort of tragic but hilarious accident by now. At any rate, in retrospect, his interest in the film totally legitimizes how great it is. Matt Mooney is in some ways the target audience for Road House, so the movie really hit its mark.

OK, now for a serious question: If a vampire came and gave you the option to be a vampire would you do it?  This is a 100 percent serious question, for real, eternal life, no more sun, and killing people for blood. Would you do it?
I guess I might. There are so many different vampire rules out there though, so there's probably a few variations on vampires that I would want to skip out on. Would I definitely have to kill people or could I do some shit like in Blade where he injects himself with blood? Is murder a component to it or could that be worked around?


No, you have to kill people and none of this day walker shit. OG vampire-style, like Dracula, kill people, eternal night, but live forever.
Would I still enjoy pot?

No more pot. Just blood.
Do vampires have to kill a person every day to feed or could they use a corpse over a few days?

Only fresh blood. You don't need to finish the corpse, but its gotta be fresh blood for sure.

Two a week minimum, but there's no limit.
That’s not too bad. I was thinking it could get tiresome if it was every day. Could I only date vampire women? Would normal humans just look like food, or would i be sexually attracted to them?

I like how you're taking this seriously. They would be like food, and you’re also sexually attracted to them. So while you're doing it, you will also want to eat them.
If I was into a normal girl could I turn her into a vampire? Although, I guess even if I did, I would have to fully commit to her for eternity, which would be a whole other issue.

Yes you could, and yes you would. Speaking of babes, your actress, Maika Monroe, was a total babe but somehow completely real and regular. How did you find her? Are you into cosplay? She had those boots.
I generally like to cast actors that are pretty close in personality to the characters they are portraying, or at least share major aspects of their own persona with the character. Maika totally embodied the likable sarcastic charm I was looking for. We held more auditions for that part than any of the others so it was a thorough search that she was selected from, but ultimately she was the clear choice. The boots were critical, I felt very strongly about those boots. Her style was partially inspired by my friend Anna who also introduced me to a lot of the 80s goth music in the film.


How did you find your lead actor Dan Stevens? He kind of has a soap opera face or something, which is actually perfect for The Guest. How many people did you look at before choosing him?
I know auditions are probably my least favorite aspect of filmmaking, just ahead of updating my festival bio. It can be very discouraging at times until the right actor finally comes along. The way I tend to filter through casting is by asking these questions: Does the actor bring the scene to life? Do they fit the general physical aesthetic of the character as written and how do they look on camera. That's the most flexible of these questions, but still valid. Is the actor likeable?

Keep in mind, movie likeability is different from real life likeability, but its obvious when you see it. Does the actor take direction? Did the actor take the scene in an unexpected direction that excites me? The last question tends to be the deal breaker in finding the right talent for the role. However, some roles I don't audition for at all—like in Dan's case, I wanted to cast mostly based on personality. I knew I wanted someone that had a very polite, intelligent charm to them. I felt that his mannerisms would actually translate quite well from British to Kentucky so after a few Skype calls and sit down dinners it was clear that Dan was going to blow the part out of the water.

I was recently blown away by the making of An American Werewolf in London—so awesome. Do you want to make a monster movie? What monster would it be?
I'd probably want to make an alien film more than anything. The Alien series was a major obsession of mine growing up. In sixth grade, my friends and I actually created a Michael Beihn fan club. We thought Hicks was the best character ever but beyond that I always thought the alien was the best monster ever.


I have a deep affection for camera FX and prosthetic and I guess you do too. But I’m gonna do both in my next film. What are your feelings about VFX and CG? How much have you played around with that stuff, and would you see yourself doing that type of stuff?
I think computer effects work as long as there is a definitive plan in place for them from the start. I think some filmmakers misuse CGI because they use it lazily to clean up problems that overwhelm them on the set. If you don't properly plan for these things its hard to integrate them later. I usually do all practical effects but every film I've done has paint outs and augmented blood that we shot on set. The main thing I can't stand is fake blood.

The music is so awesome in The Guest.  I want the soundtrack.
I've always been a big movie soundtrack fan. Growing up, I was obsessed with the Mortal Kombat soundtrack and later The Matrix soundtrack. Those types of soundtracks are what probably steered my interest into finally making an electronic movie soundtrack for The Guest. When I initially decide on my directing approach to a project, it always begins with the music. For this film I was mostly inspired by electronic/goth bands of the 80s. Bands like Death in June, Deutschland Amerikanische Freundschaft, Christian Death, and Clan of Xymox were most inspirational to me and I found a place for all those bands in the film except Death In June, ultimately. I went more electronic with the soundtrack and they didn't fit as well.


The anthem of the film was always the Love and Rockets song "Haunted When The Minutes Drag," which I was able to find a perfect spotlight for in the final film. As I mentioned before, I was greatly helped out by the vast knowledge of 80s industrial goth music from a friend of mine, Anna Neal, who is I believe credited as music researcher. My initial interest in 80s goth came from a group of pot and mescaline dealers out in Alabama. They were all gothed out all the time and they exposed me to bands like Death in June and Christian Death for the first time. Immediately upon my initial read of the script, I knew I wanted to play off of their inspiration especially when it came to the music taste of the Maika Monroe character.

People say DNA and our parents and society make us who we are, but they always leave out movies. I think for people that grew up with movies, there are a handful of movies we saw as kids that mold our personalities. Mine were Back to the Future, Never Ending Story, Return to OZ, Cloak and Dagger, and Richard Donners Superman I&II, The Golden Child. What were some of yours?
The first two movies I remember saying out loud were my favorite films were Big Trouble In Little China and Remo Williams The Adventure Begins. Beyond that the other big movies for me were The Terminator 1 and 2, The Alien trilogy, the Star Wars trilogy, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, Jurrasic Park, Mortal Kombat, and Event Horizon. I guess I would put Back to the Future 1 and 2 in there as well.


The Superman remake pissed me off so bad. If they remake Back to the Future, I will walk outside and punch the first person I see in the face. What remake pissed you off the most?
I thought the Oldboy remake was garbage. It seemed like they went out of their way to take everything that was good about the original film and make it bad.

Would you direct a remake?
Sure. Honestly, I don't have anything against them, and I would love to remake some of my favorite films just to be able to play in that same universe. I'm really into The Ring remake and The Thing. Both remakes, both better than the original. I think it is possible to do a good remake but I don't think it happens often.

They are remaking Point Break, which pisses me off.  But then I kind of thought Adam Wingard might actually kill that as a remake.
I want to remake Point Break and Top Gun back to back.

What was the last movie you saw in the movie theater? 
Edge of Tomorrow and then The Shining at the Egyptian. Edge of Tomorrow was a ton of fun and The Shining is my favorite film, it was the first time I saw it in the theater so it was a big deal for me. I was very excited because I noticed on the big screen that when Shelly Duvall is talking to the pediatrician there is a book on the table that says ILLNESS AS METAPHOR. I had never noticed that before watching it at home and I'm a huge Shining conspiracy buff and I haven't seen anyone else mention it even in Room 237. I love discovering new things about films I've seen a thousand times. When I used to be heavy into psychedelics, I spent most of that time watching all my favorite movies on mescaline just to get a new experience from them. I once saw a version of Buffalo 66 that was totally set in the world of Back to the Future ll.

People love labels. Do you think of yourself as a horror or genre guy? Do you walk into a room and say, "I'm Adam, the horror guy?" That could be on your business card. That would be pretty gangster, actually.
I think labels are fine to some degree. It gives the audience context to who the filmmakers are. I find that the labels shift per project though. For instance, I started out as an experimental filmmaker but as soon as I started making films with Swanberg, I was labeled a mumblecore filmmaker and then after working on a few horror oriented mumblecore projects they came up with the phrase mumblegore, and thats who I was. I would never turn my nose up at any of these labels like some of my peers do. At the end of the day, there are a lot of people like myself making movies so the world needs some sort of context to root through it all. Sean Hood at Moviemaker magazine recently did an article about Swanberg that I participated in in which he coined the phrase "creative tribalism," which on many levels is a good description of what I'm referring to. Power in numbers and association.

But really, what do you think of the term "genre filmmaking," because I have this reaction where it kind of makes me grumpy.
I don't really have a reaction at all. Movies are all technically genre films, so people who go out of their way using that moniker as a way to describe something are mostly being lazy anyways.

Yes, excatly! All movies are genre films. That's why it's dumb. What isn't a genre film?
If a movie has fantastic elements to it often times its put in a class away from "normal" films. The normal serious films need to be protected from people like us.

We're like the mutants in X-Men.
I think I decided not to be a vampire, by the way.

Check out the Sundance NEXT FEST page more about the screening of The Guest on Sunday, August 10.