In 15 years of feature filmmaking, director Darren Lynn Bousman's career has run the gamut from "Saw" sequels to offbeat musicals and nearly every flavor of genre entertainment in between. Bousman looks to continue challenging convention with his horror-noir thriller "Abattoir," and takes some time to tell Culture Crypt about the project's ongoing evolution as part of a transmedia experience too big to be contained in one movie.
Culture Crypt: You’ve already done a number of interviews regarding “Abattoir.” What aspect of the film would you like to talk about that maybe hasn’t received enough coverage yet?
Darren Lynn Bousman: Art should speak for itself. I don’t think I need to do this, but for me, this is such a personal project and as a filmmaker, you don’t really have a lot of input on posters or trailers. You give (Marketing) the movie and they try to find the best way to sell it. I think they’ve done a great job of selling it. The poster is great and all the trailers are great.
Darren Lynn Bousman: But I wish I could be at every theater or everyone’s home before the movie starts and explain to them that the reality is, this isn’t a horror film. It’s not. There are horror elements in it, but it’s kind of a hybrid and I think that’s what makes it special. It’s a film noir that has horror elements as opposed to a horror film with film noir elements. This was conceived as a murder-mystery within a hyperstylized world that ends itself in a horror film. I said, “what would it be like if Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were in a horror film in that era?” That’s what Chris Monfette, the writer, and I set out to make.
Darren Lynn Bousman: The problem today is now you have to go on box art. You go home and you’re on VOD and you’re flipping through the movies and what do you have? “Oh look, there’s a skull above a house and there’s a scary guy.” You say, “oh okay, let’s watch that.” And that is not the movie. That happens in the last seven minutes of the movie. The movie is a murder investigation between this hard-nosed detective and this dame in this crazy, weird town. It’s not what you expect. I think that’s my biggest thing. It’s not “Saw.” It’s not that. It’s a unique approach in a haunted house film.
Culture Crypt: That phrase “haunted house film” is obviously used a lot in describing “Abattoir.” Would it be fair to say though that the bigger evil in “Abattoir” is Jebediah Crone and not really the house?
Darren Lynn Bousman: You know, what’s sad about that is they tried to change the marketing. Because the movie was done about a year and a half ago. We had some issues in post which delayed the film. But when we made the movie, the tagline was, “how do you build a haunted house? One room at a time,” which I thought was a great tagline. But at the very end, we realized this is Jebediah Crone’s story. He is the badass. He is the guy. So then it became, “who is Jebediah Crone?” But at that point, it’s easy for an audience to grasp, “how do you build a haunted house?”
Darren Lynn Bousman: The standout of this movie is Jebediah Crone. He is an iconic, cool villain that I want to see again. What makes him cool is he is not really a villain. Like, he is, but if you get to the bottom of why he is doing what he is doing, he is doing it for his family. It makes him this weird, unique character that hopefully, people want to revisit and see more of him and learn more about him. So it should be, “who is Jebediah Crone?” or “why is Jebediah Crone?” as opposed to the haunted house element. Because the haunted house is in seven minutes of the movie.
Culture Crypt: Since this is a big transmedia project with dense mythology covering a comic book, a proposed webseries, and a prequel (“The Dwelling”) in development, what made “Abattoir” the slice of Jebediah Crone’s story to tell now for the first feature?
Darren Lynn Bousman: I wish I had the prequel (idea) first, because I probably would have made that one first. This was a huge undertaking. It’s a big story. The prequel is much different in a way that it’s a small story that deals basically with one locale. We didn’t think of it until we were neck deep in this version of the story. I had so many influences going into this that I wanted to do. Like I love the movie “Wicker Man.” I’m talking the original, not the Nicolas Cage “Wicker Man.” I love this idea that a police officer goes to this weird town that’s harboring this dark secret. I love this idea that lies can bond a community and fear keeps them perpetuating the lie. I love that.
Darren Lynn Bousman: I also loved the idea of trying to think of a new way into a tired genre. James Wan has kind of “been there, done that” with haunted house movies. He is the pinnacle. How do you beat “The Conjuring” or “Insidious?” It’s hard. So it was how do you find a new way into a haunted house story?
Darren Lynn Bousman: There were numerous things I wanted to tell. I wanted to tell this mythology of this town and killing the kids. I wanted to tell this hard-nosed detective story and I wanted to tell this thing on the abattoir. So we just went for it all. We went for everything. In retrospect, I wish that the story would have had another hour to it. Why was this story told? I think for me, it’s because I wanted to take a dabble of all the mythology and let you see what the world could be.
Culture Crypt: I read the comic book after the movie and I kept waiting for New English (the movie’s setting) to make an appearance. When it finally does, it isn’t until late in the mini-series and only for a few pages in flashback.
Darren Lynn Bousman: We only scratched the surface of the mythology of the town. I know why the town did what they did, but the audience isn’t going to know that. I wanted you to see kind of a smorgasbord of what this universe is. The idea with future movies is, now that you have a general understanding of what the universe is, each movie will focus on one element of what you’ve seen. Now every time you go back to the original movie, your perception is going to change because now you know the different sides of it. I would consider this first movie the overhead view. Now each individual movie after this is going to focus on one element. So when you go back and revisit “Abattoir” a few years from now, you’re gonna be like, “oh sh*t, what I thought the first time is not at all what it really is.” I think that’s kind of exciting and cool.
Culture Crypt: What aspects of the mythology changed between publishing the comic in 2010 and shooting the movie in 2014/2015?
Darren Lynn Bousman: The script changed considerably. I think the first version of the script was a million times more dense because I had so much I wanted to tell. I had so many ideas that I wanted to put in there. We kept stripping sh*t out of the movie. The town was a much, much, much bigger part of the original script. I stripped that out considerably.
Darren Lynn Bousman: I’ve had this a couple of times in my career. I wish that I could have shot all five endings that I wanted to shoot and then let the audience decide. Because there was a much, much different ending to the abattoir which we didn’t shoot. It was in the first version of the script, and I still think it’s cooler. But it didn’t make sense in the very end so we just didn’t do it. I did that with “Saw IV” too. We had a much different ending to “Saw IV” and I wanted to shoot it and we just never did.
Darren Lynn Bousman: But the script changed quite a bit through it. If I were to make “The Dwelling,” which is the next one in the “Abattoir” series, it’s changed from my original idea as well. It’s part of the nature of the beast. As you get older, as you get wiser, as you have more life experiences, sh*t changes. What you thought was cool is no longer cool.
Darren Lynn Bousman: Originally there were monsters. They kind of show them a little bit in the comic book when the person goes crazy and sees these things. That was something we originally had more of in the movie that I cut out. As I’ve gotten older and I’ve grown up a little bit, my tastes have changed.
Darren Lynn Bousman: I wanted to keep this based in reality. Like, here’s the thing which I love about Crone. Originally, Crone was supposed to be this badass, crazy, supernatural being that was just a Freddy Krueger-esque person. We stripped that back quite a bit to where Crone is only really supernatural inside the abattoir with his cane. He hits his cane a few times and sh*t happens. Outside of that, he is a decrepit old man. I love that about him. If I would have made the movie when I made the comic book, there would have been a much different Crone. And I like this version of Crone, Dayton Callie’s portrayal of him, a lot better.
Culture Crypt: When ideas are in flux like that, how hard is it to synch all of the other creative people involved to your vision? Especially when you’re merging 1940s dialogue or 1960s fashion with a present day setting to create an ambiguous atmosphere?
Darren Lynn Bousman: That was a hard one, because I had a very definite style going in to it. Every movie is a part of me, meaning who I am as a person. If you go to my house, its 20s and 30s. It’s typewriters. It’s Edison lights. All my phones in the house are ones where you have to lift up the thing to talk. I think that’s cool. I love it. Now, that being said, I live in the modern day. I have iPhones. But if my phone rings in my house, I’m picking up that f*cking thing. If I have to type an email out now and it’s an important one, I use a typewriter. That’s part of me. There’s something elegant about it and I think that more importantly, it’s manual labor. The first line in the script says, “she’s an analog girl living in a digital world.” I love that. Because when you type a letter, you have to think about what you’re typing. There’s no backspace on my typewriter. You mistype something, you have to start over again. That means you have to think more about what you’re saying. A letter to my agents literally takes me an hour and a half to do, where an email takes 20 seconds and it’s full of typos and I probably regret what I said.
Darren Lynn Bousman: A film that was really inspirational for me as a filmmaker throughout my entire career was Julie Taymor’s “Titus” with Anthony Hopkins. It’s the classic story of Titus Andronicus, but they have modern things in it. They ride around in cars. They play video games. Yet here they’re using this Shakespearian dialogue and they’re in castles and sh*t. I thought that was just cool. It was a cool, hip way to do things. I know that Baz Luhrmann does the same kind of things. I just love it.
Darren Lynn Bousman: But it is hard to talk to people because they’re like, “wait, is it in the 40s and 50s, why am I wearing fedoras and this? Why am I talking like this?” To me, it’s a suspension of disbelief. I always wanted this movie to be an adult fairytale. I wanted it to be something that was more fantastical. No one talks like this. I’m not an idiot. No one in the real world talks like they do in “Abattoir.” And I think that is what is cool about it. It was this fantastical approach to the story. I just do things that I think are cool.
Culture Crypt: How did cinematographer Michael Fimognari come to the project?
Darren Lynn Bousman: One of the things the producers did very wisely from the very beginning is they said, we’re stripping you from your crew. I have a crew that I work with all the time. They said, we want to put you out of your comfort zone and force you to do something that makes you uncomfortable. That was the best thing they could have done. Because I think when you work with the same people again and again, you fall into this comfortable pattern where you don’t challenge yourself. You do the same things because it is safe. And Michael Fimognari slapped me down right away. He’s like, “nope, we’re not doing that. Here, I want you to think like this, this, this, and this.” It was great because he opened my eyes to things I never would have thought of doing.
Darren Lynn Bousman: Michael Fimognari is a much different style of D.P. than I’m used to working with. Joe White, who’s my D.P. that I use on all my projects, and I are very, very good friends. And we have a shorthand with one another. We talk about the movie, and then we just show up and figure it out and do it. Michael Fimognari had an Excel spreadsheet and was like, we’re gonna write down everything. It’s such a different way for me to work. I’m very much, I need to be on the set. I need to see it lit. I need to see the actors in their places. Michael Fimognari forced me to, “no, let’s envision this before we get there and let’s figure out the shots.” Which was a way I’ve never worked before. I respected that. It’s kind of challenged me as a director and I’m going to adapt a lot of things I learned from working with him.
Culture Crypt: Would you go with a whole new crew on another project in the future?
Darren Lynn Bousman: Yes and no. It depends on the project. I went to Japan recently and I shot a Japanese TV show all in Japanese. I did bring Joe White over with me, but it was a Japanese crew. Talk about a culture shock! I mean, they do things a whole different way over there. That’s cool because it forces me to adapt. The more that I do that, the easier I can adapt to different situations. Would I do it again? It depends.
Culture Crypt: What were you able to do in the movie that you couldn’t do in the comic?
Darren Lynn Bousman: The fairytale atmosphere of what happens in the middle of the second act and the third act is easier to portray in cinema than it is in a comic book. The minute where (Jessica Lowndes) is walking through the forest and she has to go through the door and she sees the abattoir, there’s more of a wow factor in cinema than there is on a page.
Darren Lynn Bousman: That’s the only comic book I’ve ever been a part of. And it was a hard, laborious project in process because you’re thinking in frames. You’re thinking in this one frame, this one frame, this one frame. So the comic book took a lot longer. And there was a lot more detail pointed to each one of those things. I like the fluidity of filmmaking a lot better. (I like) the chemistry when you step on a set and you figure it out. The comic book to me was more of a 9-to-5 suit kind of thing. It’s like, “okay, you have 18 boards on this thing, let’s figure out each one, let’s redo it 100 times until it’s perfect.” So there’s something elegant about the comic book because so much thought went into it, but there’s something more organic to me about filmmaking.
Darren Lynn Bousman: But I don’t know what I was able to that I wasn’t in the comic. I mean, definitely create mood more because you can use music and sound effects in a movie which you can’t in a comic book. You’re kind of at the discretion of the reader and what they’re doing at the time. Are they on a busy subway? Are there kids screaming in the background? Are they listening to Metallica when they’re reading this thing? That’s going to completely change the interpretation of the feelings I want them to have.
Culture Crypt: And you seem to be big on controlling an audience’s immersion as much as possible. I read an interview with you regarding “The Tension Experience” and how you want to specifically control how a person interacts with entertainment.
Darren Lynn Bousman: Oh, “Tension Experience” is my new jam. Like in the fact that it is all I want to do at this point. There’s no way to describe it unless you’ve done it. Imagine you are the star of your own movie. You walk into a warehouse that’s full of 75 actors and 50 rooms, and your choices dictate what you do. It’s “Westworld.” You can side with the villain. You can save the girl. You can kill the girl and kill the villain. You can do nothing except sit there and communicate. You can explore. You are forced to be in the middle and be present.
Darren Lynn Bousman: The problem is we aren’t present anymore. I have a laptop, my iPad, and my phone right over there. And I’m never truly there. I’m led by a seven-inch screen. Even when I go to movies, I’m texting as the previews are on and the minute the movie is over, I turn my phone back on to see whatever. Most people in the movies now have their f*cking phones on and they’re doing text messages in the middle of the movies. It sucks. As an artist, my job is to affect an audience member and make them be present. Make them forget about their sh*tty day jobs and their sh*tty drama and for that hour and a half that they are in the theater, they are in that world. It’s become increasingly harder to do that. With “The Tension Experience,” it forces you to be present. We take your cell phones from you. We make you strip down and wear a jumpsuit. You are in our universe for three hours. And for that three hours, you are nowhere but there.
Darren Lynn Bousman: That’s how movies used to be for me. When I first started watching movies as a kid, when I went to a movie theater, it was just this huge screen and nothing else. I would sit there and I was in awe and it was a religious experience to me. Now, there are so many distractions everywhere that I can’t do that. To me, I want to make art that forces the audience to be present.
Darren Lynn Bousman: You asked early on about why there was so much in this “Abattoir” movie. I wanted to make a movie that was so dense, it forced the audience to pay attention. This is not a movie you can half pay attention to, and if it is, you’re going to get so f*cking confused. Every line in the movie is said for a purpose. That was a huge undertaking. There is so much that’s said passively in conversation in “Abattoir.” It is a major plot point that if you miss it, you’re going to be f*cked. Part of the reason for this is that I want the audience to pay attention. I want to treat them with more respect than saying, “ok, they’re idiots and I’m gonna put this onscreen 65 times for them to understand.” I want them to be so immersed in the project that they are listening to everything. I’ve changed as a filmmaker and an artist to the point now where immersive is what I want to do. Immersive movies. Immersive theater. Immersive music. It’s all about putting the audience in the center and making them the star of whatever it is.