SURVEILLANCE, which is currently available on HDNet VOD and gets a limited theatrical release through Magnet on June 26th, is director Jennifer Chambers Lynch's second movie.
When Federal Officers Elizabeth Anderson (Julia Ormond) and Sam Hallaway (Bill Pullman) arrive at Captain Billing's (Michael Ironside) office, they have three sets of stories to figure out and a string of vicious murders to consider. One zealot cop (Kent Harper), a strung out junkie and an eight year old girl all sit in testimony to the roadside rampage, but as the Feds begin to expose the fragile little details each witness conceals so carefully with a well practiced lie, they soon discover that uncovering 'the truth' can come at a very big cost...
Q: It's been over 15 years since your first movie, BOXING HELENA (1993). What drew you to directing SURVEILLANCE?
The different layers, really. I'm fascinated with the idea that we can never really be sure what good and bad look like. And I really wanted to investigate and showcase serial killers in a way never seen before and the wisdom of children in a way I've never seen before.
Q: You co-wrote the movie with Kent Harper, who also has a role in the movie as one of the cops, who is also a suspect at one point. Did that help, in terms of writing, knowing who you were writing for?
Well, Kent is a good guy and I designed Jack around who he was. And I think the hardest he laughed on set was the day I said, "You've got to stop acting, you are Jack". And he took it in just the right way. I said, "Look, all you have to do is perform the dialogue but I wrote him with your body language, your personality and were you in this situation it could go this wrong or this right." As an actor, as someone who inspired the role and as a co-writer I think it was easier for me to write that role for him knowing who he was and alongside him than it would have been to write for somebody else. I don't know if it would have been specifically that character. The idiosyncratic behavior and the joy he takes in the absurd, that's all Kent. He's a really nice guy, though, I swear to God...
Q: That's what they always say....
Yeah, "I didn't know he was a serial killer, he was a really nice guy".
Q: In terms of casting, where Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman your original choices? You also seem to cast against type, French Stewart as a redneck police officer.
Bill was my original choice, I wrote it for him, but he declined. And it wasn't until two weeks before I was hitting camera when the actor I had scheduled got offered more money to do something else and left. So i took one last chance and called Bill and he said, "Hey, why did I say no to this? Do I do something awful to children in this movie?" and I said, "No". And he said, "Okay, send it to me". So I emailed it to him and two hours later he called back and said "I'm in".
Julia Ormond was one of the great happy accidents of my life. I would have never thought of her but she's perfect. She was actually in INLAND EMPIRE and had brought the script into my father's ADR session and asked, "Are you related to Jennifer Lynch?" and he said, "Yeah, I know her". And he called me and said, "Julia Ormond was here today and she wants to meet you about SURVEILLANCE". And I said, "Thee Julia Ormond? The beautiful woman, that tall babe?". So we had coffee together and I thought the Universe really gave me a helping hand because I would have never gone this classy and I think it is amazing. She is such an amazing actress. Part of me doesn't want to tell anybody else in the world that she's that amazing and another part of me just wants to publicize how amazing she is because I want to use her again and again and again. She has sides her you couldn't possibly imagine and I plan to use all of them. She's awesome.
Q: So, who is your favorite character?
Oh, God. That is a tough question. Without spoiling things, I love my two FBI agents. I love the fact that in my opinion the reason they're together and doing what they're doing is because nobody ever saw them other than victims or losers or criminals or fuck-ups until they saw each other. Now they're going to do what they do together until they can't do it anymore. That's romance and it's human.
I also totally adore Mac Miller's character, Johnny. And he's the counter-part to Bobby's drug addict couple. He makes me laugh. It's his first acting role ever and I've known him for years. His appendix burst when we were filming his scenes and I had to rewrite everything so I didn't have him in the shots in four days. And he completed his scenes like a champ. That was kind of amazing to have that go on and I think, I love his humor and dysfuntion and I love Stephanie, she's based on my daughter, Sydney.
There's a little part of me in every one of them, so I have kinship with all of them. I guess there's no favorite.
Q: What would you say most sets this apart from other movies about serial killers?
God. Aren't you the guy with the good questions? Shit, I don't know.
It's what happened in my head. Hopefully this is a different look at different serial killers with an opportunity that most don't have. And who wouldn't love to take advantage of that? We all played dress up and make-believe as children and I think it was the children characters in the movie that were hurt the most, including the child, and we all want to return there and play imaginary games that we saw on TV and lie to make ourselves look better, and the human condition. So it's that look at this situation in this movie. It's no better than another other....this is why I need to promote films. You know, what are you talking about Kevin, Jeezus. Ha ha ha.
Q: And you're the first woman to win Best Director award at NEW YORK CITY HORROR FILM FESTIVAL last November. How cool was that?
That was so fucking cool I can't stand it. The idea that that happened, I gotta tell you something. I'm really honored, I really am. The minds behind that decision, whatever happened that day, that I had anything to do with, I'm really grateful for. And I wish I knew the details of it because I would repeat it again and again and again.I'm really grateful. And I think the competition was sound, too.
Q: SURVEILLANCE is now available on HDNet Ultra VOD and opens in select theaters June 26, 2009. What is happening with the DVD release?
We're working on that right now. I have a lot of deleted scenes and an alternate ending. But the ending that's in the film is the one I originally wrote. But just as a "sneak peak" it was my father who called me at 11 o'clock at night and said that I was the sickest bitch he knew and that I couldn't end my movie this way and he challenged me to write a different ending. And so I shot both of them. But I stuck to my guns and kept my original in the end. But I decided to put the other one on the DVD.
Q: I always have a problem with alternate endings, like when they have FIVE alternate endings for a movie on DVD. I'm like, "What the hell?"
What pisses me off too, is should I say at last minute that, "I don't care what you say, don't put it on the DVD" or stick to my guns and say look, there's a story behind this, we shot this. Here's where it could have gone but I don't believe in it. You know, what do you do with that? I mean, some of that is out of my control. But again I'm with you. I'm like, "Look, make a decision". End your movie. I've certainly suffered criticism for ending my movies a certain way so I say, "I did it, that's how it ends, that's what you get, hate me or love me, but it is what it is, I did what I did. I think there is value even in looking at why I made the decisions I made and why the actors made the decisions they made. So it could be an interesting little extra.
Q: Veering off a bit, do you want to touch on your most recent movie, HISSS?
I love how you say "touch on it". Yes. The promo is on YouTube under HISSS TRAILER and it is India's oldest legend, it's been told a thousand times but it's never been told here. It's sort of India's version of vampires and werewolves and goblins. It's the Cobra Goddess, Nagin. And if you wrong her she goes from Cobra to hot babe and will, forgive my language, fuck your world. And so Rob Kurtzman, bless his genius heart, created all the special effects.
Q: Yeah, he's great.
He's amazing. And what an incredible guy. And I tell you, the best part of shooting in India with Rob Kurtzman is I was in the jungle covered in leeches and Rob Kurtzman was there with his pants taped up, hats on, and salt water spray going, "No leeches, no leeches!". I said, you can create these monsters and you don't want a leech on you that's half an inch long. It's funny. I said Bob, I don't know what to think about this. You made something eight feet tall that terrifies me but you're afraid of something five centimeters long. But again, what a joy it is to look at the human condition. We had a great time. Hopefully that's the movie I want it to be because everyone busted their ass on that.
Q: Is there anything else you want to add?
I'm so thrilled to be talking about SURVEILLANCE and working again and hope everyone will go see it and enjoy it. I really appreciate the interest.
Q: Thanks again.
Thanks for you doing the interview. You're the one who had to listen to me pontificate.