Interview with Everly director Joe Lynch
by Bobby Blakey
There are movies that come along that look to throw the rules out the window in hopes to bring something fresh and vibrant to audiences. Actor, writer and director Joe Lynch has already been doing that through his career racking up an impressive directing resume with Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, Chillerama, and Knights of Badassdom as well as numerous turns in from of the camera most notably alongside writer, actor, director Adam Green in the hilarious series Holliston. Now he is bringing his brilliant vision to the action genre with his latest film Everly starring Selma Hayek. This insane film is like nothing out there and I had the joy to sit down with this great filmmaker to discuss the making of this blood soaked love letter to the genre like no other.
Bobby: Where did the idea for Everly come from?
Joe: It’s funny, I remember going to film festivals when I just started making movies. There were a bunch of local film festivals in Long Island and I had been to Sundance and worked at Troma, so I have done the festival thing. One of the things I always noticed is that there is an expectation when you are looking at the program and you see a short is 22 minutes or the feature is 97 minutes, which is what everyone does in life anyways is to check to see how long the movie is. There is always an expectation that is set up by those minutes so I thought how cool it would be if I submitted a short film, but I would say it was a feature. So when a person looks at the program and it says the movie is 97 minutes, but then 27 minutes in the lead character dies and that’s it, then it will either piss a lot of people off or excite a lot of people or both. I have always been about provoking the audience one way or another. It might not be as extreme as other filmmakers, but as a viewer I like to be provoked and pushed a little bit. So I thought about doing this idea with this woman character stuck in this hotel and been abused by all of these guys and then what if in the middle of the movie she takes a shot in the head and then the rest of the movie and the other 47 minutes of the movie she dies. I told my manager at the time who ended up being my producer and he told me “that is a terrible, terrible idea, but I do like the idea of this person trapped in the situation.” Then we were always talking about how big a fan of Lars Von Trier movies we were and how certain filmmakers and stories allow themselves to have restrictions and rules. The idea of doing a siege movie like Rio Bravo or Night of the Living Dead or especially Assault on Precinct 13 arguably one of my favorite John Carpenter movies, what if you didn’t have the luxury of being in the movie to cut outside to see what those guys are doing outside, what if we as the audience were really stuck in the room with the lead character. What would happen with that, would it be claustrophobic, would we endure ourselves to the character what would happen, so it was a bit of an experiment.
I wrote this 17 page treatment that just kind of poured out of me, but then I go the Knights of Badassdom and shelved the script. I went to Syracuse University and met this really great writer named Yale Hannon and we really bonded because every summer when people would come back to school they would talk about how they saw all of these artsy fartsy movies almost just to qualify themselves, but Yale and I would talk about how awesome Armageddon was. We were bonding over the blockbusters and more entertainment fair. Immediately we had this repour, and I realized I can’t do this movie right now, but I know just the guy who can. Yale came in and next thing you know we had a draft, he contributed so much to the script. He is the one that came up with the fate of The Masochist and it was funny the way he presented it to me was “here is my gift to you”. He knew that I loved extremist cinema like Takashi Miike and a love for Big Trouble in Little China. There were all of these elements that we were putting together as a celebration of the dark cinema that we loved and that is kind of where the genesis of Everly started and it really took off when Selma was cast.
Bobby: Speaking to the casting, I heard you originally had someone else attached to the project or was Selma always who you were going with?
Joe: We originally cast Kate Hudson in the role and at the time it was a little bit different. She was more of the girl next door, all American girl kind of thing and Kate Hudson really is to this day considered America’s sweetheart. She was into it to and like, “I want to be a bad ass action star like my dad”, her dad being Kurt Russell and I loved that idea of taking an actress that is always known for being squeaky clean and really grime her up. We actually shot a promo with Kate Hudson in it that is floating around the internet somewhere and we got it made just based on a poster and teaser trailer that we shot, but unfortunately got Glee which I suppose was a better idea than her wielding a shotgun so she unfortunately dropped out, but because of her and the attention she got from the movie other actresses got interested. Having her cast kind of legitimized the movie for a lot of people and their agents. We got the call from Selma’s agents saying she was really into this part and when we met her it was very much kismet where she knew where she wanted to go with the character and she knew the kind of movie we were wanting to make and when Selma Hayek ways “baby, you can do whatever you want to my body” you say green light.
Bobby: With this movie you keep the movie in just the one apartment, was that always the intent or was it a budgeting decision down the road?
Joe: It was always designed like that. Actually, the first page of the script actually says the entire film takes place in one room and the camera can never leave the apartment. It was designed like that from page one and we stuck to that idea all the way to the bitter end. Even the crew, producers and Selma were saying that we do not have to adhere to these rules and I was like no we really do. If we relax on it at all, not only would the reddit tweets come out saying “you broke your own rules!”, but the whole point of it was to give the audience a feeling of what it was like to be trapped. For better or worse, some people do not like that. Some people don’t want that feeling of claustrophobia, we had one or two walk outs at Fantastic Fest and later on the PR lady went up and asked “Did you not like the movie?” and they said “No, no we liked the movie and want to see it, but we felt like we were stuck, trapped” and that is the power of cinema, that you can actually make a person feel the way you want them too based on the parameters of the movie or even a performance. It was also very cost effective not having to cut away outside the apartment and seeing a bunch of SWAT team guys and anything like that. It was friendly to the budget, but also allowed us to shoot the movie anywhere, which we kind of needed to do because it was a risky project. It’s not your typical slam dunk idea and it was weird with some very weird moments in the movie that some will like and some won’t.
We knew that going in that it was going to be a polarizing movie, but we always knew if we stood steadfast to the crowd that we wanted to make it for. We knew that we would at least be successful because we had the convention behind us, it was never going to be a four quadrant movie. If it was we would have shown Taiko and open up the world a little bit and make it more commercial, but to me those aren’t my favorite movies. I like to find out about a movie like this from a friend who saw it on a bootleg VHS from back in the day or at a film festival and say something like “did you see this movie called Battle Royale?” I didn’t see Battle Royale on 15 hundred screens, I found out about it from a film festival on a blog that a friend told me about. That made it cool and dangerous and those are the kinds of movies that I like and want to see. I don’t want to have a marketing team just shove it down my throat that this movie is for everybody. I just want to make it for a particular set of people and hopefully those people would spread the good word and it would kind of spread from there you know.
Bobby: When shooting in a single location like that does it force you to have to shoot the film in order?
Joe: Absolutely. We got really lucky, our line producer Andrew Pfeffer was the first champion of the idea that we need to shoot this in continuity. There wasn’t jumps in time and there were no flashbacks, we were going from point A to point B throughout the course of the film. Most of the time they shoot out of order because of actor availability or they want to start things off light doing the talky parts first and then the nasty stuff once they get going. The first shot of the first day on Everly was that overhead shot of Everly walking into the bathroom after she had just been assaulted by these Yakuza guys. So imagine trying to be on the set with one of the biggest stars in the world and that is your first day. Not the most comfortable moment, but thank god we did it that way because it allowed her to truly track her characters journey. She really does have an arc where she is very frail and broken at the beginning of the film and even willing to sacrifice her own life or just give up. She is reduced to almost a sense of survival because she can’t believe this is happening and let’s see how this plays out to they are threatening my family I need to keep going.
Even continuity on the set having to worry about bottles or holes in walls can be so cumbersome and so frustrating. I kept saying to the crew that we cannot have the same thing happen that happened in Pulp Fiction where they are sitting there talking about Big Kahuna Burger and you see the bullets in the back before they start shooting. Thankfully Tarantino gets away with saying “we totally intended that”, but I don’t think we were going to have that luxury. For all intents and purposes if you ever make movies it’s always best to shoot in continuity because it saves so much on the frustrations and hassles trying to make it and make sure it all is seamless, but also for your characters and actors to be able to track the characters arc instead of acting at the end of the movie first, so know I have to build my arc to that moment and who knows if you are having a shitty day on set and that moment just wasn’t quite exactly what you needed or what you were building towards. Now you are stuck, but here we organically let Salma grow Everly from the beginning and the stronger that she got through the movie was natural. Even just all the blood that is around everywhere that she has to clean up later on, it was both for practical purposes and for characters evolution.
Bobby: One of the things that makes this film work even better is that the way she executes some of the action is very much like someone that does not know what she is doing. Did you limit any of the weapons training so that it would look like someone just trying to survive?
Joe: There is a balance to that. We didn’t get Salma until like 5 days before we were able to shoot and that was just because she was very busy and was doing press for Grown Ups 2. She was gallivanting around the world while we were trying to make sure that everything was ready to go for her, but I was very insistent that she needed to be here and know the guns, how to work them and know the choreography so that we can scale it back from there. We can go you know where the action scenes are and where we need to shoot or whatever, but remember all the times you don’t know how to use a gun because I am going to use that later. I feel like that if we didn’t do that, she wouldn’t be able to work backwards and retro fit her ability to throw a punch or shoot a gun. If we had just said fuck it, we will just explore as we go she would never really know how to use it and that confidence that Everly needed to keep going I think would have been diluted.
We were very lucky we had the Serbian National Guard actually helped us a lot. They provided all the weapons, played a lot of the SWAT team guys and they allowed us to use their facilities. So we went out to the gun range and it was like a scene from ever action movie with a boss standing in front of a table with every type of gun you could think of with every one locking and loading and shit. She picked one up, I think it was an Uzi at the time and she pulled the trigger and then dropped it and said “I’m done.” She couldn’t handle the recoil and kick back and that is a normal response when you don’t know how to use it. I did the same thing yelling “Ow, my hand”, but when she did that I said “Remember that! Remember that moment because it is going to play in later when you don’t know how to use it and we need to harness that.” That’s what that did, she was able to inject all of that information of not knowing how to shoot a gun and pull from that.
We are not setting Everly up as an expert hitman which is funny because some of the reviews have said she is an assassin for the Yakuza and I was like no she is not. I take a little bit of the blame thought because at the beginning of the film very suspicious shot where she comes out of the bathroom and shoots someone point blank, but it is kind of hard to miss if they are standing right in front of you. Then the camera sweeps around the room as she is shooting at all the guys and they are shooting back. It was designed to show how sloppily she was shooting. I think if I shot a reverse shot of her I don’t think it would have been as impressive. You kind of use her point of view to see that she is just randomly shooting and shot all 15 rounds, but there are only 4 guys in the room. There is a lot of missed shots and I don’t know if that quite resonated as much as I wanted it to, but it still gave the feeling of chaos in the moment. We are not slowing things down, there isn’t a bunch of doves in the background or 360 Michael Bay shots stretching out the action this all happens in real time and its sloppy and messy while also giving you a lay of the land. Her ratio to hitting those guys was 4 out of 20 but as the progresses she is still not the best shot, but in the height of desperation she is able to adapt very quickly so we had to play it up as she was a quick learner.
Bobby: Without spoiling the movie, the ending kind of leaves an aspect open. Is there any chance you want to revisit this world down the road?
Joe: Absolutely, I love that world and not just because it’s got cool Yakuza guys with skinny ties and people that wear weird clothing in a more heightened world, I just love that world. We built an extensive back story for Taiko’s faction of the Yakuza and how he has essentially imported the ideals of the Yakuza into an American setting, which I always wondered why people didn’t do that more. There has been a lot of talk taking the story to Maisey, which we were always talking about because I want to see what happens next. There has also been talk about doing a prequel to talk more about The Sadist who is such a striking character who just shows up out of the blue. I really do love this movie. It’s one of those rare things that I would watch of my own that I love. We knew going in that some people were going to love it and some people were going to hate it. The people that love it, that’s awesome we park our cars on the same block. If you don’t like it no problem at all go watch The Imitation Game, totally cool, but there is just more story to tell in this world and the way people have responded is that they want more. There is a bunch of different avenues and I feel the same way that Gareth Edwards did when he made the first Raid. This is one small story in a much larger universe and that is where The Riad 2: Berandal came from is that there is more to these characters and this world than just that one building or location. Not to spoil anything, but that is the reason we have the ending that we do because we needed to at least give the audience a hint that there is a world outside of that box and that this isn’t just a play where we grabbed a bunch of characters off the page and there is a lot more to this world. It’s really going to be up to the time and how the audiences react to the film.
Bobby: On a side note, I recently talked to Adam Green about this, but is there anything you can tell us about the future of Holliston?
Joe: I can’t say anything concrete, but things are very much afoot. One of the good things about the current climate of television is that cancelation isn’t the death of a show anymore. Not that we were canceled, we weren’t we have not been canceled it was just that Fear Net kind of folded. We own the show so we can take it anywhere we want. We are trying to make sure we take it to the right place that will hopefully not fold as well. There is such demand for the show now, hearing that people don’t mind watching shows on Hulu or Amazon and obviously Netflix, there is a bevy of new avenues that we can take the show out to. Let’s just say things are looking really good right now, but I don’t want to jinx it or Adam will fucking kill me.
Bobby: I loved the film and been a fan of yours since Wrong Turn 2 and Chillerama as well as all your recent stuff, so I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me.
Joe: No problem at all, I really appreciate it man.
Be sure to get in on the action and check out Everly available on Blu-ray and DVD now.