I got to chat with David Guy Levy, the director of the film Would You Rather? earlier this week. We talk about its current release by IFC Midnight, how he got the cast together, and how he managed to make a single location film so exciting. Check out my review of the movie right here, and read our interview below!
You Won Cannes: Would You Rather is already in theaters, correct?
DAVID GUY LEVY: It’s been out for a couple weeks. It’s moved inland. It was showing on the coast, but now it’s somewhere in the middle of the country. I don’t even know what city right now.
YWC: But it’s moving around, IFC is giving it that kind of limited, mobile release?
DGL: Yeah. I call it a circus release, because it’s kind of like a touring circus.
YWC: You wrapped on the movie about a year ago, right?
DGL: We wrapped in the summer of 2011. I finished editing it around New Year’s Eve of 2012. And then we sold it in April, and they said, “We love it, but we want to put it out in 2013.” I said, “Great! I’ll see you guys next year!” Now it’s out, finally! And I get to move on with my life. I’m happy with the experience. It’s been a surprise how many people are actually responding to it, and how many people have seen it.
YWC: Well, it’s a really fun, albeit small movie. It works very well as a midnight film, watching it late at night with a big group of people. It’s super suspenseful and a lot of really intense stuff is happening. I imagine it’s been playing well with the late-night theater audiences.
DGL: Yeah! And by the time we screened it with an audience, I had forgotten that that’s what our intent was. I had been watching it on a TV for over a year. It’s been fun, especially with a large group. At our premiere we had a few hundred people there. It reminded me of going to the cinema late on a Saturday night, everyone was rowdy and reacting at the right moments. laughing and screaming. It’s definitely a fun experience.
YWC: Another reason I think it works so well for that audience is the cast. You’ve not only got some awesome low budget horror faces, but even a porn star, and Brittany Snow, who is so pretty!
DGL: I know! And the contrast between her and Sasha is vast. It’s interesting to see a movie with all these eclectic faces who you wouldn’t think would do a movie together.
YWC: They’ve got kind of like a light and dark thing going. How did you get that cast together? That was the thing that really popped out at me when I saw the trailer, I was like “look at all those people!”
DGL: [laughs] that’s what I wanted! I was hoping when people saw it, they’d say, “Every face is someone I’d see this movie for.” Everyone at that table, I was a fan of in my own individual way. When I was setting the dinner table, I thought, “Who would I want to invite?” We were very lucky. A lot of people just said yes, which I did not think was going to be the case. Rob Wells, Robin Taylor, Enver Gjokaj, they all said yes. Same with Brittany Snow. When it came time to cast her part, I had a friend who had worked with her so I reached out to him to ask him if he could send her an email saying I was a stand up guy and she should sit down with me. He wrote an email, it was literally one sentence. It said: “He’s a stand up guy.” I was like, that’s great, thanks for the vote of confidence. But she came on board!
A couple people walked off the street. The actor who played Travis the war vet, Charlie Hofheimer, came in and read, and I thought, finally, a fresh take on this character. We kept seeing these clean-cut G.I. Joe looking guys, and I wanted someone a little more classic looking. He’s on Mad Men too, so I think other people see that quality in him.
YWC: That’s so cool, he’s one of the faces I recognized, from Mad Men.
DGL: I got really lucky.
YWC: And how about Jeffrey Combs?
DGL: Lambrick was a character we were super worried about casting, because we knew the whole movie relied on the performance of whoever it was gonna be. We cast that part last because, just a few weeks before shooting. My writer says suddenly, “Oh my god, why haven’t we thought of Jeffrey Combs?” and I was like, “I don’t know, why are you just telling me this now?!” We called him up the next day, sent him the script, and within 24 hours, he wrote back saying he was in.
YWC: He’s really cool, and super theatrical too. Which is why he’s so good as the pinnacle of this big event, he’s got this big theater presence.
DGL: He starts with this low simmer and then he builds into it. He brings a childlike quality to it too, which is important. I always thought that character was like a child playing his favorite game.
YWC: Why would you rather? Why that game?
DGL: It was simple. The writer texted me, saying “What if we made a movie about would you rather, but the players had to do what they chose?” I thought it sounded awesome, so we sat down and immediately realized what kind of movie we wanted it to be. We were talking about Clue and some of the Haneke stuff, like Funny Games. I felt if we could get a creepy version of Clue that has a realism to it that makes it really tense, but then still have a slight comedic relief, we could make something really interesting. We wrote the treatment in three weeks. We knew the world we wanted to set it in, and once we had the structure, we came up with a group of characters we wanted at the table. Based on the treatment, we were able to get investors. We had the financing in place before we had the script, it was the first time that’s happened in my whole life, and I’ve been producing for 12 years. We had started writing in February, and we were shooting that summer. It was awesome.
YWC: You mention that the film has a specific world that you wanted, which is my favorite part. It’s the reason it’s way more controlled, and better than a lot of the kind of torture porn movies you might relate a story like this to. But it’s not torture porn, because your film has these rules and a certain comedy to it.
DGL: It’s hard not to call it torture porn. Because there’s no other way to label this movie, because these movies don’t exist. I like to call it the torture Puritan porn. It’s not pornographic, but there’s torture!
YWC: And what was it like writing a script that just takes place in one location?
DGL: It was a bit suffocating. We had to keep coming up with ways to get them out of the room.
YWC: Really? I felt exactly the opposite watching it, I was afraid to leave the room in case something happened. It’s so suspenseful and claustrophobic being stuck there, the tension just keeps building.
DGL: The biggest concern of shooting the movie was staying in one room. So I spent all the time I had leading up to the shoot stressing out about it and plotting it thoroughly, so by the time we actually got there, we had different techniques in place on how to keep it fresh, even though we weren’t leaving the room. We were moving the set along depending on how many people have been eliminated so it felt like a different space without their bodies.
I had read that Ridley Scott, having to shoot all of Alien in one place, began the shoot with these green walls and by the end of the movie they are all black. You don’t notice as they get darker. We did a similar thing, we had the dining table all dressed. As we got into later rounds, we removed the dressing for the table. Then we put up plastic on the walls. By the end of the movie, we had just a little fog in the room to change the space so subtly you could barely notice. By the time the DP came on, we were planning every single shot, because we were shooting Twelve Angry Men: The Scary Version.
YWC: You totally succeeded. It’s awesome. Are you working on anything else yet?
DGL: I have a comic book that is coming out this summer. It’s going to charity, there’s this thing called the Young Storyteller’s Foundation which mentors children on writing their own original plays, then professional actors come into their schools and act them out. I wrote this comic about a story I’ve always wanted to tell, but haven’t had the chance to because people always told me it was un-producible. Then I realized I could do it as a comic! It’s called “Back To Back To The Future“. It’s about what would happen if the creators of Back To The Future went back in time and made sure Eric Stoltz was never replaced by Michael J. Fox. It’s really fun. It took four years to draw, but I’m finally done. That should be out in June.
YWC: I’m looking forward to that, I’m a total time travel nerd.
DGL: Awesome, me too! I really want to make a time travel movie one day.
YWC: You should. I will watch it a million times.