Interview with Mayhem 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, Knights of Badassdom and the awesome Everly 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 a different kind of action/horror/comedy flick called Mayhem starring the Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun. I had the great honor to speak with him while promoting Everly (which you can check out here), so it was even more exciting to speak to him again to discuss this latest insane project.
Bobby: Where did the idea for Mayhem come from?
Joe: I had finished Everly and it came out and a producer over at Circle Confusion was weird enough to like that movie and they sent me the script. At the time that I got the script I was working at a corporate job, almost like they planned it to let’s get him when he is the most depressed. So, this script came along when I was in a low place in my career and mindset of being a creative person. I read it one day at lunch in my cubicle and immediately responded to it. It hit me on a really personal level and I had not had that happen with any script that I had been sent. I have always found characters that I could relate to, but not the main character or situation. I immediately responded to them because I knew this role and was in that role right then and just considered it as research if you will going deep cover like Larry Fishburne. I knew full well what it was like to be Derek in the film and often times when filming Steven would ask me what I would do in a situation like this and I told him. That informed the character and it was a wonderful serendipity moment where the script came to me when I could bring something personal to it.
Bobby: You have had a big career in the horror genre and then with Everly, which I love, headed into a more action direction, was it hard with a film like this that kind of walks the line between both without being either?
Joe: There really isn’t an established subgenre yet of what I have been calling worksploitation which will hopefully become a burgeoning genre for everyone. To me this is a horror, action, comedy, sci-fi, satire musical you know? There is something kind of for everyone in that, but you have to know the tone in general to be able to balance all those different facets because if someone comes into this movie late they could think its Margin Call or a little later and it becomes Office Space or even Audition at some point, you just don’t know. That is what appealed to me in the script in that it allowed me to kind of play in all of those worlds. I tend to veer towards movies that can’t be easily qualified in one genre or another and that excites me because that is what life is. The story lent itself to play in the more satirical world but then you through in the sci-fi high concept aspect of this dangerous virus and then you are suddenly in that sci-fi world. It’s a big balance man, I have to admit that was the most difficult thing I had during this film was to focus on making sure I didn’t veer to far away from any specifics of the genres or the tone.
If I had went too far in one way it becomes way more mean spirited and then I don’t think my point would have gotten across the way that I wanted it to if they were characters that you hate doing things you hate, then it is a film for no one. I wanted people to relate the way that I related to the characters and situations when I read the script. The fact that I instantly clicked to who Derek was is like the satisfaction of hearing two LEGOs click together perfectly. I wanted audiences to be able to do the same thing and click in as well and know what that feels like to want to show my boss my fist or tell someone how you really feel when they are being passive aggressive. I knew if I veered more towards entertaining then that is how I was going to get my story across without alienating anyone making them feel bad.
Bobby: It’s been over 1o years since I worked in the cubicle world and this film got me all pissed off all over again about that world because it nailed it to perfection.
Joe: Right so you get it! The first twenty minutes of the film is deciding slow because I wanted the audience to see what they go through before the virus and even if there wasn’t a virus that we had all been there on some level that was out of our control. There is a sense uncontrollability to your career or job that is really hard to swallow every morning when you get up. People have seen this movie and found it cathartic as well as come up to me afterwards saying they are going to quite their job and I am like “Yeah! Just make sure you have money to feed your kids or whatever first!” (Laughs) One of the most important things I have heard in the last few years was Bobcat Goldthwait did this commencement speech and we have become friends, but he constantly reminds me that if you don’t like what you are doing then quit. He did that in the 80s when he was making big money in movies, but wasn’t happy so he quit and torpedoed his career deliberately with Shakes the Clown so he could rise up from the ashes as a filmmaker. Now I think he is one of the most exciting filmmakers working today, but that would have never happened if he hadn’t quit. He told that to an entire school during that commencement speech and I am sure they were not thrilled with it, but it really resonated with me. That also informed me to push the film in the direction that I did because I wanted it to tell them if you aren’t happy then find a way out of it and hopefully find your passion.
Bobby: With using the virus as the catalyst of everyone cutting loose, was there ever a concern that it could end up turning more into a zombie movie and losing the human element of the overall direction of the story?
Joe: One of the things that let me know when I read the script that it was not going to be your typical viral pandemic kind of film was that both of the lead heroes are also infected. In most cases these characters are not going to get infected, the other characters will, but not the heroes. They are usually our point of view, but what happens when your point of view whom you just saw go through this corporate nightmare first thirty minutes and deserves to use the excuse of the virus to do anything he wants to do and finally fight back against the machine? That was the thing that got me so excited about it because when do you ever see that. When has there been a pandemic movie when everyone is infected and yet you still side with them? That is testament to Steve and Samara because I believe without them another actor might have taken it in a mean direction, but that is not the movie I wanted to make.
There are actors out there that just have that likeability and charm, especially Steven. For example there is a episode of the Walking Dead that I was watching while we were making the movie where Steven has to kill someone in their sleep and it us just awful, but he gets away with it in a way because we know what the character has been through up until this point, but there is also just something about Steven that makes him feel so human and so real that you can’t not feel there was a reason for it. I needed that same kind of feeling with this because strip away who they are and he does some awful shit once he gets the infection, but at the same time he has a goal and a focus on what he wants that he is going to get by any means necessary. With Steven you watch this and are just fine with it which is a testament to the material but also to both Steven and Samara. There is just something about them that makes you appeal to them and that ends up becoming the biggest weapon in a movie like this.
Bobby: I know you probably can’t answer this question, but I have to ask about a rumor I heard. In the conference room scene are the two people actually having sex for real?
Joe: Ok, I can confirm that I smelled something very sexy if you will. (laughs) With the extras I wasn’t allowed to physically talk to them because the guild mandates that if I talk to an actor that I am giving them direction and that they are no an actor and not an extra therefore a price bump. When you have a small budget like this you can’t afford that so you have to play the game of telephone. The other disadvantage is that 90% of those extras don’t know what the hell I am talking about because they didn’t speak English. I would tell my idea to the first AD and they would tell the second AD and so on and then they would relay that to the performer. With that scene we had a list of ideas we distributed to all the AD’s and one of them was I wanted to have two people making love in the background not rape. I am very proud of the fact that this is not a rapey movie at all. It was people just going with the flow like they had been wanting to do it for a long time.
The couple that ended up showing up were a real couple and I do not remember if they said there were in the “adult” arts so to speak, but they were a couple. I thought that was great because I didn’t want anyone uncomfortable, because that happened another day with these two people that were going to be making out and they had never met before. I assumed that must have been awkward, but they did it but they were false about it so I ultimately cut it out of the movie because it didn’t feel right. With this couple these are two people genuinely attracted to each other that you could tell right off the bat. We set everyone up for the scene and I was running the camera at the time, I was C camera on my iPhone and after the first take I kind of noticed a particular funk in the room because we were in this confined space with no windows or ventilation if you fart on one floor you will smell it two floors down. So I smelt something and thought “I know that smell!” and went to my first AD and asked where it was coming from. He said he thought they were really having sex, so I quickly said “Roll the camera right now!” (laughs) I am not going to be able to recreate that lightning in a bottle. If those people want to have sex on the set and it’s not offending anybody, it’s genuine between them and I am not showing anything I’m going to let them. I didn’t go up to them and check, but I can safely say there was some sexy time going on and no one else complained so we just kept rolling. The thing I would be most happy about was finding out that a baby was conceived on the set of Mayhem. (laughs)
Bobby: That is hilarious and awesome all at once. Is there anything else you have coming up that you can talk about?
Joe: I am working on a movie called Taste that I am working on now that we will hopefully be working on early next year and a bunch of other things I can’t talk about because I don’t want to jinx it.
Bobby: I totally understand. I am a huge fan and pretty sure I have everything you have done and cannot wait to see what else is coming to add to my collection.
Joe: Thank you so much man, it was great speaking again.
Be sure to get in on the action and check out Mayhem available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD on December 26th from RLJ Entertainment.