What David Gordon Green will do next tends to be anybody’s guess. From independent cinema to big studio comedies to animated shows on MTV to acclaimed fare on HBO, the director doesn’t put up any boundaries or stick to anybody’s preconceived notions about what he should be doing as a filmmaker. When it was announced last week that he was setting up a dramedy with Al Pacino sought for the lead, it was just another indication of the director’s unpredictability. And indeed, Green’s forthcoming “Prince Avalanche” was made largely off the grid, revealed when it was pretty much done filming and dropped into Sundance where it earned mostly positive praise (including our own review).
But there are still some fans pining for his “George Washington“-era days (newsflash: he’s moved on), but speaking to the Huffington Post at the Tribeca Film Festival recently, Green revealed that while his move to studio fare was calculated, he mostly doesn’t pay attention to reviews or criticism about the career choices he makes.
“I had made four pretty dark dramas that were very emotionally draining and I knew I couldn’t creatively exist there for another round at that moment… I spent a year in the editing room on ‘Snow Angels,’ or, not that long, but post-production was substantial on it,” Green explained. “And as proud as I am of that movie, my agent came to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where we were filming it in the brutal winter, and he’s like, ‘Well, do you want me to keep my eyes out for the next kind of thing?’ I said, ‘How about a funny-as-shit Hollywood studio comedy that shoots in Los Angeles?’ And he was like, ‘Good luck.’ But actually saying that out loud is what made me say, ‘You know what? Fuck it all. That’s exactly what I should do next.'”
And Green wasn’t fooling around. After “Snow Angels” came a trio of studio comedies — “The Pineapple Express,” “Your Highness” and “The Sitter” — and while they might not all have worked, they found Green exercising different movie-making muscles. Moreover, he reached a wider and much different audience than he ever had before, and say what you will about “The Sitter” (perhaps the least appreciated among cinephiles of his studio outings), Green insists it’s actually the one that resonates the most, in his experience.
“Well, it just depends who you’re talking to. Because that’s probably the movie I’m stopped most often on the streets and quoted,” he says of the Jonah Hill-starring comedy. “And by specific audiences, not necessarily a prestigious film-literate audience. Or ‘Your Highness’ is another one. Like, those are the movies. Nobody stops me on the street and quotes ‘Snow Angels.’ I think nobody has any idea that that movie exists, really, other than that very specific pedigree of film-goer. So I make every movie — every movie’s for a different crowd, and, sometimes, I don’t even know who I’m making them for.”
While many filmmakers have been burned by the big money, executives and movie-by-committee design of the studio system, Green embraces the possibilities it presents. “I always look at the next opportunity as a way to challenge myself and maximize an opportunity. You know, working within the studio game is really a fun way to collaborate with people, to get your crew paid, everybody goes and has a good time. You can’t have any more fun on a movie set than you do on ‘The Sitter.’ Everybody’s unleashed in New York City, we had a healthy budget. It was incredible,” Green enthused. “You’re working reasonable days because there’s kids. So it’s short days for a long shoot in New York and everybody’s really well paid and you have a blast.”
And while a certain segment of Green fans clutch their “George Washington” Criterion DVDs to their chest and weep for days gone by, the director doesn’t feel any burden of living up to standard set by others. “The good thing about being me, is there’s not the expectation of a Christopher Nolan or a Paul Thomas Anderson or a David Fincher. Like, these guys have a harder time going to detach from what’s brilliant and interesting and sophisticated about themselves. And so, those guys, I don’t know how much of that is their fan base, of which I’m a part of, encouraging this one very specific outcome,” Green elaborated. “But I get away with that, and they don’t. [Laughs] I’ll bet you I can recover from that a little easier, I don’t know…You know, the big fans of ‘George Washington’ are not gonna like my MTV animated series, and most of them don’t like ‘Eastbound and Down,’ although, that show has started to really started to grab people as people realized it’s not what they thought it was.”
Though Steven Soderbergh might seem like the obvious comparison point in terms of not sticking to any predestined path, Green cites another influence. “Gus Van Sant is really interesting to me. Within a contained period of years, he did ‘Good Will Hunting‘ — which is a major blockbuster, Oscar — and then [the] ‘Psycho‘ remake…Like, what ballsier move could a director do than a remake, shot by shot, [of] a classic?” Green said. “Like, say whatever you will, that’s a guy with major cojones making films. And then to go from that to ‘Elephant,’ all in a very contained number of years, I just love the audacity of that guy.”
Green sums it all up thusly: “It’s the constant drive of curiosity or hunger, appetite, that I think when you lose that, when you get comfortable, when you’re derivative of yourself, it’s all gone.”
Thoughts or opinions? Does this change your mind about Green’s voyage to the mainstream? Weigh in below and FYI, “Prince Avalanche” opens on August 9th.