Adam Wingard discusses working with green screen for the first time and how he overcame that challenge.
Most directors don’t jump head first into the world of big budget cinema (except you Carl Rinsch). They inch their way up the filmmaker’s ladder, taking it one rung at a time. First, they make short films with friends, then they move onto indie flicks that are solely and/or community financed. They take it slow, bit by bit, hoping that each passing year will be the year that marks their breakout. But if everything goes right, the stars align, and the powers that be allow it, the fledgling filmmakers can finally take that leap, one which was granted by mama bird in the form of a studio, allowing the artist to spread its wings and fly off into big budget cinema.
One such director in that category is Adam Wingard. Known for his work in horror, the director, cinematographer, editor, and screenwriter has spent the last 13 years carving a name out for himself in the horror indie world. From the skin-crawling You’re Next to the Blair Witch remake, Wingard has worked tirelessly to climb the budget tower, coming to rest at his newest and biggest film endeavor, Death Note. The Knockturnal had the opportunity to sit down with the director to discuss his time working with an eclectic cast, overcoming the challenges of building a VFX ferris wheel and the multitude of genres that the film touches upon. Take a look at what he had to say below.
The Knockturnal: How did the story find you?
Adam Wingard: Well, yeah, it actually was just that. It was one of those things where it’d been up in the air for a few years because quite a few years ago my brother had called me on the phone and we were just chatting about stuff, and he randomly, at the end of the conversation, said, “Oh, have you heard of Death Note?” He was like, “If you ever adapt something into a movie, you should do that.” I’d just vaguely heard about it, but after that I went and sought it out, and at that point I’d only done You’re Next, and so my career wasn’t really at a point where I could just go to a studio and say, “Hey, you guys doing Death Note?”
The Knockturnal: I want in [laughs].
Adam Wingard: They’d been working on it for quite some time. Shane Black and Gus Van Sant were attached at different points, which is kind of a funny, you know, for me to follow up into that. So, a couple years later, Warner Brothers randomly sent me the script. It was originally with them, and I was really excited immediately that it was there. Then the rest is history.
The Knockturnal: What about the story appealed to you? What about the story attracted you to the project?
Adam Wingard: Well I mean it just has so many different opportunities thematically. The exploration of good and evil and really what’s in between—what’s the gray area. Those were the elements that I was really excited about, and then being able to take that. The movie just lends itself to being such an exciting kind of genre mashup. You’re allowed to do from everything from action and horror. There’s a little bit of comedy, there’s a thriller element, there’s a crime element. There’s even a musical element technically.
The Knockturnal: A little almost teen romance a little bit.
Adam Wingard: Exactly, yeah. So it just has everything. So it was pretty much a no-brainer.
The Knockturnal: You have an awesome cast. Talk about bringing such a diverse cast together from Willem [Defoe] to Lakeith [Stanfield] to Nat [Wolff].
Adam Wingard: Well yeah, I mean the most difficult part about a film like this is anytime you’re dealing with a movie where you have high school kids, it’s about finding actors who are actually young and really do feel like real kids, but have enough experience where they can really bring that to life and do something with it. So the casting was definitely probably the most challenging thing that I’ve done for my films, and so much of it was about the chemistry that they had with each other and that kind of thing. Something like Ryuk, where we got Willem in, it was kind of an interesting thing where early on I actually had two different choices before Willem, and they were based on the fact that Ryuk himself has this glam rocker vibe. So, believe it or not, the first person that I had on our casting list was David Bowie, and then David Bowie died, and then the second person I had was Prince, not even joking, and then Prince died.
The Knockturnal: Oh, my God.
Adam Wingard: I was like, okay, we can’t go out to any more of these types of guys because we’re literally creating our own casting death note. So then Willem was at the top of the list, and fortunately, he hasn’t died yet, so we’re doing good.
The Knockturnal: There’s so many great scenes from this movie. What was the hardest scene for you to put together?
Adam Wingard: Probably the Ferris wheel finale. That’s the biggest VFX sequence that I’ve ever done, and it was one of those things where originally we were going to shoot at a real Ferris wheel, and at the last minute they were like, “You can’t shoot here,” because it basically implies that their Ferris wheel might fall over or something. So we were in this place where we had to create our own Ferris wheel from scratch. I was very nervous about that because I come from this sort of indie world where you just don’t have money for VFX, and so you just don’t do them because there’s no guarantee that they’re going to be good. With that one, that was one of those things where I actually came out of it, and I felt like I’d moved up to the next level where I’d gotten past the green screen challenge. I’m not going to lie, when I first got on to the set and you got your actors and they’re just in front of this green screen for some stuff, I was just like, “Oh my God.” You’ve just seen that go bad so many times in movies, and that terrified me. Through the process of working through this, we were able to figure out the right lenses and all the textures you can put in front of the lens and stuff to really help sell that. So hopefully this will prepare me for my next film, which is going to be very VFX heavy.
The Knockturnal: Well you did it. It worked.
Check out Death Note out when it hits Netflix Friday, August 25.