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David Gordon Green Talks The Failure of ‘Your Highness,’ The Comfort of ‘The Sitter,’ & His Career Choices

David Gordon Green Talks The Failure of 'Your Highness,' The Comfort of 'The Sitter,' & His Career Choices

David Gordon Green’s “The Sitter,” opening nationwide today, seems like the natural conclusion of a movement in the director’s career. After a string of critically acclaimed but seldom seen indies (“George Washington,” “All the Real Girls”), he was tasked by Judd Apatow to direct the drug comedy “Pineapple Express,” and then went right into another big budget comedy, this time the considerably weirder “Your Highness” (which wasn’t a hit at all). With “The Sitter” he’s being offered a chance at commercial, if not critical, redemption. It’s a loose, slight little comedy, and a good end point for his trio of broad comedies. We sat down with the director to talk about how “Your Highness” affected “The Sitter,” what will be different in “The Sitter’s” longer home video incarnation, and whether or not this crop of films was planned or just a fluke.

We began by asking about the reception to “Your Highness” (it was recently named one of Time Magazine’s worst movies of the year). “Oh it was incredible, right? All that applause and accolades!” Green joked. “Strangely enough the National Board of Review passed us up, which I was a little upset about. But I’m sure the Academy is going to have a lot to say.”

Green then reiterated what he had told a rapt audience at a BAM screening the night before: that it had been a movie that he had been making in his head since he was 11 years old. And the real accomplishment of the movie was that it was made at all. He also remained optimistic about its chances at achieving cult classic status down the line. “I’m fairly confident it’ll find its audience,” Green said. “It is a movie that was so aggressively criticized, certainly on the journalistic level and it wasn’t embraced by commercial audiences, and yet, in a weird way it has promoted a strange backlash which has been really affirming.”

In fact, the night before at BAM he said that he deliberately avoids using of-the-moment pop cultural references or songs because he feels that his movies are never discovered when they’re initially released. He accounts for about a ten year gap between when the movie is made and when it’s widely embraced. Although that span might be more slight with “Your Highness.”

“People stop me a lot about that movie – they’ll say, ‘What the fuck were people thinking?’ and quote it to me,” Green said. “People that get it, get it. And people who think it’s a spoof have no clue what it was made for.” He was quick to point to the marketing as the chief reason behind the movie’s failure, saying, “It was marketed as a spoof and a satire and a comedy… and it was not that.”

And if “The Sitter” seems like a lark, well, that’s because it was. It turns out virtually everything about “Your Highness” was anguished. “Everything about ‘Your Highness’ was difficult – financing that movie, getting it together, all the logistics of that movie,” Green explained. “And not just financially, because we were trying to make a modest budget movie look like a very expensive movie, but we’re in a very difficult environment – it’s raining everyday, a very aggressive movie on a very condensed amount of time. On every level it was very stressful.”

So with “The Sitter” he was able to just hang out and have fun. “I wanted to do something where I could just shake it off and let loose and make a movie with friends and make it a fun, easygoing environment,” Green said. Jonah Hill was an actor he had met while hanging out on the set of “Superbad,” and co-stars Sam Rockwell and Ari Graynor were “great friends.” Green said the objectives were quite clear. “It was the first time anyone had brought me something and said, ‘Hey, we really want you to make this movie,’” Green said, aware of the potential. “There was a weird opportunity there. So I could say, let me hire all my crew from ‘George Washington,’ my very first movie and let’s have a blast.”

But as far as the three-movie comedy arc is concerned, it wasn’t something that Green intended. “Pineapple Express” was an opportunity to play in the big studio toy box and “Your Highness” was a dream project finally turned into an (arduous) reality while “The Sitter” served as a spring-back from that (a “cleansing from a very difficult time period”). “It wasn’t a premeditated decision,” Green said. “If I were ever to engineer something consciously, intellectually, I would just always be schizophrenic with my career. I’m always dabbling on something outside of the thing I’m focused on. So ideally I’d jump from genre to this to that, from budget to this to that.” This is clearly the case, as he’s been linked to (among other things) a biopic on the Barefoot Bandit, a remake of horror classic “Suspiria,” a sci-fi epic, a time travel romance and a nonfiction John Grisham courtroom drama.

For anyone who claims that he’s “sold out” by working with big studios on three projects in a row, well, it seems that’s also not the case either. “I’d really love to never do a movie for anyone else but myself,” Green said. “I just don’t have time in life to do it; I’m too self-indulgent.” Those around him can spot where he’s headed: “People in my life who know me can always predict where I’m going to go next. And there’s always a motive. Sometimes it’s a passion that you want to roll up your sleeves and, do or die, we’re going to make this movie my way or the highway. And sometimes you want to put your feet up and say, ‘I want an appropriate budget and a great length of day and to work with my friends.’ Any imaginable motive for making a movie is really what determines it.”

At the BAM presentation of the film, he mentioned a different version that would come out on DVD. We wanted to know, specifically, what would be different about it (we definitely have our own ideas), and if he swapped out scenes from the theatrical cut with the weirder versions of the same scenes. “There’s nothing taken out because I really stand by the movie we’re releasing theatrically,” Green was quick to point out. “I want to stand behind that. I feel like what we’re releasing theatrically, considering what this movie is and what my intentions with this movie are, it’s the one that makes the most sense.”

Still he admitted there were some politics at play. “That being said, there’s a strategy to that to some degree. A movie like this is supposed to be something that everyone can get out and have a good time seeing,” Green explained, sounding like it was something of a weight. 

“As a director, sometimes I’ll make a movie and say, ‘fuck a crowd, fuck a critic’ and make a movie a specific way. And I’ve made those movies. We know what they are,” Green explained. “There are other times that I want to make a movie where everyone can have a good time and is reflective of a time period when I used to go to the movies to have a good time and see something that maybe wasn’t the most challenging thing in the world but it was something that I enjoyed.”

His personal goal for the movie remained modest and incredibly in keeping with his previous films. “I wanted to slip in some dramatic texture and I wanted to slip in some things – there are little messages and little absurdities and eccentric qualities in there – but not enough to be off putting,” Green said, clearly evoking the disconnect audiences and critics had with “Your Highness.”

Earlier he had said that his decisions weren’t premeditated but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t think about the movies in terms of his career, which was certainly the case here. “I’m at the point in my career where I don’t necessarily want it to be just a broad, fart joke comedy movie,” Green said. “I don’t look at anything I do as that. But some people do and some people want to market it like that because it’s a very specific thing to hang your hat on. But for me, exploring the unobvious becomes very fascinating for me.” The version of the movie will just be more of this fascination. “Here is a very interesting version of the movie that probably has pacing problems, I’ll say, but has scenes that may throw off pacing for the rhythm of the editing or the dynamic of drama but I think they’re really worthwhile and worth looking at and worth salvaging.”

While we look forward to the alternate cut of “The Sitter” (take a look at the unrated version of “Your Highness” on DVD sometime, holy smokes does he push it even further), we still really enjoyed the version that’s opening, nationwide, today. For even more David Gordon Green, check out IndieWire’s conversation with the director as well.

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