With their uncompromising debut „Inside“, Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury classified themselves as cofounders of a new and very gory wave of French horror cinema. Their follow-up „Livid“ turned out to be rather dreamful and left hardcore-fans puzzled. With their current feature „Among the Living“, the duo surprises again by delivering a very specific mashup of „The Goonies“ and classic slasher flicks. When premiering the movie in Germany last year we spoke with Julien Maury about Young Adult Horror of the 80’s, Stephen King, risky plots and why he still has to get used to crowdfunding.
screen/read: Your movie is pretty much a journey through various genres and brings back memories of a certain type of film popular in the 80’s. Especially the first act is very reminiscent of „Stand by me“. Was that your intention?
Julien Maury: Absolutely. The first idea was to tell a fictional story about Stephen King. We wanted to create a fake episode of his teenage life about how he got the ideas for some of his most famous novels. We thought of one particular summer where he was confronted with a huge dog, met this scary clown etc. But very quickly we realized it was not a too good idea. It was too cheesy and too obvious. And so we cancelled that. But still Alex and I wanted to go back to that type of movies that we watched when we were teenagers. The kind of genre movie made for young adults. Movies like „Explorers“, „The Goonies“, „The Gate“. In our heads we are still teenagers and this particular period of time is a very special one. You’re not a child anymore, you’re not an adult yet either. You are between these two stages of your life. You want to be a grown-up, but you are still afraid of the dark. So we tried to explore this feeling and let the characters face their childhood fears.
screen/read: Fears that the grown-ups in the movie consider absurd. A classic topos that is also a part of your film.
Julien Maury: Yes, this is kind of a cliché in the movies. But the truth is, when you are a teenager, you live in your own world and the parents don’t get it.
screen/read: I guess it must have been a challenge to write a script that feels authentic to the young actors you’ve been working with.
Julien Maury: That was a big deal. Of course we are no teenagers anymore but we listen to them sometimes. So we tried to come the closest we could to reality in terms of the way teenagers talk, the words they use, especially the swear words and how they react to each other. I think the young actors were fine with the script. Also we wanted the movie to be quite in the tone of our time, but as well capture the way Alex and I felt as teenagers. And above that we wanted it to be a homage to that kind of American movies I mentioned earlier on. Which is funny because when we did the world premiere at SXSW in Austin the audience was very surprised about the freedom we took with certain things you wouldn’t see in most American horror films, like destroying a whole family, showing male nudity and having kids being violently beaten. We even had a scene in the script that showed how a dog was killed. But we couldn’t shoot it due to budgetary restrictions. So the American audience considered our film purely European. Whereas in France everyone told us: „This is a wannabe American movie.“
screen/read: Not chosing a straightforward handling of various rules we know from the genre can without a doubt be considered European. Did that happen organically or was it your original plan?
Julien Maury: I think there is a European sensibility to our movie. Of course we can’t deny who we are. But we tried to surprise the audience and deliver a real rollercoaster. Because horror fans know all the tricks and it’s really hard to surprise them. But we tried to avoid all the clichés and have a different structure in the script and are taking risks. I think the main risk is that we are changing the protagonist in the middle of the movie. We are starting with a bunch of kids, then we split them up and follow them separately. That can be surprising or disappointing for the audience. But this was our choice, we thought it was original, we thought it was different.
screen/read: A method that Stephen King himself likes to rely upon every now and then. „Dreamcatcher“ would be an example. The film adaption blunders this approach completely though.
Julien Maury: Yeah, but I think it’s easier to go with that idea in a novel because you have more room to develop the characters. In a movie you don’t have that much time to relate to the characters and if people don’t like one or two of them you have a problem. So I guess that’s the main difference.
screen/read: With „Among the Living“ you tried to gather parts of the budget by crowdfunding, something you hadn’t done before. What was the reason for that decision?
Julien Maury: It was just to help the producers with post production and special effects. But that was only a really small amount of the budget.
screen/read: Nevertheless, do you see yourself using this approach more intensely in the future?
Julien Maury: I don’t know. In France it’s not very developed, it’s not like Kickstarter, where you are able to raise enough money to make a whole movie. I really don’t know. In the beginning I was not very happy about going for crowdfunding because something is bothering me about asking money from the fans. But when I realized that it was working and after only a few weeks we already had much more than we asked for and I tried to change my mind. Maybe it is indeed a good way of approaching things in the years to come. Because it became so hard now to raise money in a more common way. It’s way more difficult these days and we have less and less budget and that makes things very complicated.
screen/read: Especially genre-filmmakers tend to turn to crowdfunding right now. Only recently Rob Zombie secured the budget for his next film that way. And he is probably one of the biggest names in genre.
Julien Maury: I was surprised when I discovered that. I think it’s scary.
screen/read: Next to „Among the Living“ you also shot a segment for the second installment of „The ABCs of Death“.
Julien Maury: Yes, that was really different. Because for „ABCs of Death 2“ we were obliged to do less than three minutes and that’s really short [laughs]. But it was also exciting, because it reminded me of my beginnings when I was shooting shorts. You know, you’re looking for efficiency and try to get to the point quickly. So it was stimulating to return to that kind of filmmaking. Finding a story to tell in less than three minutes was the hardest part of it. You don’t have many choices, you can only tell a pretty simple story. So either you are very gory or you have a surprise or a joke. And I think a joke is the most efficient way of telling something in three minutes. So once we had our joke it was real fun. We shot it in one day with the technical crew of „Among the living“ which we were in post production with of at that time. That helped us getting a good mix and good editing done.
screen/read: What’s up for you next?
Julien Maury: Currently Alex and I are writing, writing, writing. We don’t want to lose time, as we know it’s very difficult to finish the script for a new project. We have written a new script during the post production phase of „Among the living“, but it’s really, really dark and nihilistic and so hopeless that we couldn’t convince anyone in France to do it. I think it’s the darkest thing we ever wrote. Also we have written another project this summer which we finished only two day ago. It’s brand new. So next week we are beginning to send it to production companies and actors to get some feedback. But honestly, if this doesn’t work, we reconsider the fact to shoot a movie in Hollywood and call our American agents [laughs].
[P.S.: In the end the American agents were actually the ones to deliver the next project. Maury and Bustillo are now preparing to direct „Leatherface“, a prequel to „The Texas Chainsaw Massacre“. Btw, find the German version of this interview here.]
[Images: Tiberius Film (stills) | Julien Maury (portrait) | Metulana Productions (poster)]