Sunday, April 8, 2018

Ted Geoghegan and Jon Huber talk MOHAWK - The Transcribed Interview

Hitting Bu-ray and DVD Tuesday is Ted Geoghegan’s MOHAWK. Nominally an action film, it is in fact a cleverly designed political film about the plight and exploitation of the native populations by the whites. It’s a film that carefully takes a broadside at the ills of America, especially under Trump, while at the same time giving us some rip roaring action. (My review of the film can be found here)

What follows is the transcription of the almost hour long talk I had with Ted and actor Jon Huber (aka WWE superstar Luke Harper) back on March 1st. While I don’t know what Ted and Jon think, for me it remains one of the best talks I’ve ever had with a filmmaker. It just went and the need for notes fell away. We just tore into it. I think it helped that I stumbled upon Jon in the lobby of the W Hotel well before I the interview started and we just began talking. And then when Ted joined us and we sat down we were already ready going.

I should note that this is a slightly altered version of the interview. Because things became more a conversation than a straight on interview there were a lot of interjections and cross talk that did make reading a literal transcription difficult. I’ve cleaned it up purely for readability. (If you want to actually hear the conversation I’ve posted the audio here). While much of the discussion is focused on MOHAWK time is taken out to discuss acting, wrestling as performance, horror films and Ted’s earlier feature WE ARE STILL HERE.

I want to thank Daniela Sapkar and Stacey Cusack of Sapkar PR for arranging the interview and herding me through it all. And of course need to thank both Ted and Jon for doing this.

Steve: We finally get to talk.

Ted: Yeah.

Steve: I've been trying to talk to you since WE ARE STILL HERE, So, let's start with that. How did you get from an Italian horror riff to 1814 New York?

Ted: Yeah. So basically what it was when I got the opportunity to direct my first film after 13 years of screenwriting, I knew that I wanted to write and direct a movie that was about something important to me. And four years ago, what was really important to me was writing a love letter to the films that I grew up watching, mainly Lucio Fulci, and that's where WE ARE STILL HERE where its birth's from.

I'm super proud of that movie, and I'm extremely grateful that it's resonated with so many people, but when given the opportunity to make a second film, I thought, "Well, what's important to me right now?" And while movies are still wildly important to me, I'm an extremely political person as my social media presence undoubtedly reveals.

And I knew that I wanted to tell a story about what was going on now and my problems therein. That story ultimately took the form of a period piece, again, because I'm, I'm so very, very annoyed with the current state of the world that I will use any cinematic excuse I can to get out of it.

So, WE ARE STILL HERE is set in the '70s. This film is set in the 18 teens. God only knows where the next one will be set. Um...

Jon: The future. [laughs]

Ted: Yeah, exactly. The far off future where everything's better. MOHAWK comes from... it is birthed from my issues with the state of the Americas right now, and how that directly relates to the birth of this country.

Whereas our current president loves touting that he wants to make America great again, I'm of the understanding that this country has never really been that great, and I thought it was time that I, as a white man of European heritage, acknowledged that my ancestors were a huge problem in, in the birth of this country. And I wanted to make a film about the marginalized people that have been shit on for countless centuries and see it from their side.

Steve: And that is one thing that I was just curious about, is it's very sided towards the Native Americans. but you have an Englishman with them. Why did you use the Englishman?

Ted: For two reasons. One, I thought it would be interesting to subvert the expectations of the traditional film goer in so much as, the Englishman, who is initially perceived as the lead of the film ultimately, a la PSYCHO, is not the lead in the film. And that the lead in the film is, in fact the younger, more demure Native woman that he is with, who we ultimately learn is far from a damsel in distress and really is the ferocity behind this film.

Jon: How do you define demure?

Ted: Yeah, yeah. Exactly, no. I guess she, she definitely never really comes off as that, yeah. She was a force of nature.

Jon: Badass.

Ted: That said, the real reason behind including that character is because it's historically accurate. During the War of 1812, the British were sending over these men called Indian agents and placing them in native villages all throughout the Northeast. These men would enter these villages and give these native people tomahawks, they would give them guns, they would give them all sorts of new weapons to fight against the colonialists.

It's very similar to what we in the United States are doing in the Middle East right now, whereas we're bringing over weapons to these small villages in the Middle East and arming these people who really have no idea how to use these weapons against potential attacks against Isis. And in a lot of cases, we're dooming these people because when you get somebody who walks out onto a battlefield and doesn't know how to use a gun or a grenade, there, there's not much of a chance of them surviving that skirmish. This is unfortunately what happened to a lot of the native villages that accepted these weapons from the British and when the film opens the opening scene is Joshua, this British man offering up these weapons to the Mohawk people if they'll side with Britain. As the war progressed they remained staunched in their neutrality.

Steve: I'd heard from [filmmaker and mutual friend] Alec Kubas-Meyer that one of the reasons you worked with Grady Hendrix [co-writer of the film] was Grady was more familiar with this historical period.

Ted: Yes. Grady, is obviously very well‑known for his, his comic takes on horror with his novels, "Horrorstor" and "My Best Friend's Exorcism." But, Grady's a dear friend of mine and we'd wanted to work on something together for a very long time. I proposed the idea of writing a film set during the war of 1812 to him. And he responded by saying, "Oh, I'm an expert on that war." And I thought he was joking. Like I...

Jon: He told you. You went to his apartment and...

Ted: Yeah. I went to his apartment and he had this bookshelf devoted to the war of 1812. And I was like, "Oh, my God." Like, "You weren't lying to get the job." I mean, I'll admit I've more than once said I'm an expert on something just to get the gig. He was not lying. Grady brought a wealth of expertise to the film and really helped land the period specific nuances that I was not aware of.

That said, when we finished the script and we were sending it out to actors, we sent it to Kaniehtiio Horn who plays Oak. Kaniehtiio is a Mohawk and she was able to bring so much of her family and her nation's history into the film. And while, while the script did resonate very strongly with her, she was actually quite surprised that two white men were able to write something that she claimed was extremely accurate.

She also was very quick to note that there were a lot of things in it that were not accurate. And she gave us a wealth of information that neither of us ever would have had, no matter how much research we've done, there's no way we could have had the information that she gave us that just came from her tribe. So there's a lot of Kaniehtiio, a lot of the Mohawk nation in the script as well.

Steve: How accurate is it?

Jon: Minus my beard.


Ted: So that, there...

Steve: There are things like the glasses...I was supposed to be a historian originally and I've never seen anything like that.

Ted: Yeah. Um, we were very intent on being as historically accurate as humanly possible. But there are very few things in the film that are not historically accurate. One of those things are Beal's glasses, that you mentioned, the goggles that he was wearing..

I wanted to have one of the characters really stand out with his loud, garish glasses that basically removed his eyes from the film. And while we do hint, hints of Beal's one eye, the other one remains obscured for virtually the entire film. I feel as though it kind of creates this half character of sorts. Somebody who's almost wearing a mask. He's just wearing it over the other side of his face. The glasses themselves are kind of my love letter to Johnny Depp's interpretation of Ichabod Crane in SLEEPY HOLLOW. He wears this also very historically inaccurate goggles, um, that I really fell in love with when I saw the film because they felt so wildly out of place. Yet at the same time, this sort of like steampunk cool that I loved. And I wanted to kind of tip my hat to that fun costume design in SLEEPY HOLLOW by giving this character a similarly loud pair of spectacles.

One of the other things that's not historically accurate that we'll never be called out on is Mr. Jonathan Huber's facial hair. While a lot of people, think that the 1800s was ruled by beards, beards actually were not actually that popular until about the 1830s. We think of the 1800s as being very beard‑heavy because by the time photography rolled around during the Civil War, everyone was wearing beards. It was the in style. But from the Revolutionary War in the late 1700s through about the 1820s, beards were not in style at all. But we couldn't exactly ask Jon to shave the beard... his 20 years in the making beard. So we just decided to call that a fun little anachronism.

We hired a historic producer on the film, a gentleman named Guy Gane who...

Jon: Great, great death scene.

Ted: ...who's got a great, great death. He actually appears in the movie very shortly. He's one of the American soldiers. He's the first one to die. He's a dear friend of mine. He also worked with me on WE ARE STILL HERE and played the main ghost, the father ghost in the film, Dagmar.

His day job is he works in historic reenactments. And so, it was his job to constantly make us aware of costumes, guns, hairstyles. Anything like that that might be considered slightly historically inaccurate given the time period. And he really slayed it.

Jon: And I would say even like little tiny things on our uniforms, we, were explained that, "Hey, this flap has to fall this way," or you're a captain or something, like they were explaining stuff like that to us. So, it, it went pretty deep.

Ted: Yeah, like nuances to the costumes. Yeah.

Steve: Have you gotten, have you gotten any feedback from like reenactors who go crazy about that stuff?

Ted: We haven't yet, although I'm sure when the film opens tomorrow, we're going to hear from a lot of people. And I know that Guy is very active in the reenactment community.

Jon: So I feel like they're, all the guys that did it are very active in that community. So, I'm hoping that that...that they will smooth it over. [laughs]

Ted: Yeah.

Jon: And we didn't do anything to outlandish, I don't think.

Ted: Yeah, exactly.

Steve: If you had reenactors in the cast, how did you cast the rest? How did you, you know, get Jon and how did you get everyone else?

Ted: So, after I'd written the film the only thing I knew was that the three native roles in the film, Oak, Calvin, and Oak's mother, Wentahawi, I knew that I wanted all three of them to be played by native people. I've seen all too often, especially in recent years, westerns or even films set outside of the current time, casting Latino people, casting basically any, any people of color as Native Americans. And I knew that if I was going to be telling a story about the potential destruction of a native nation, they were going to be portrayed by actual native people. And I was going to really invest in their knowledge. That was all I knew going into casting this film.

I felt very blessed to be introduced to Kaniehtiio very early on by my cinematographer Karim Hussain. Karim had directed a segment of a horror anthology many, many years ago called THE THEATER BIZARRE. His segment in that anthology called "Vision Stains" actually starred Kaniehtiio. When I mentioned to him that I wanted to make this film, he said, "I know exactly who you want for your lead. She's incredible. She's strong. She's relentless. And she is a literal Mohawk."

And I was like, "I need to speak to her immediately." He put me on the phone with her. And she, thankfully, as I mentioned, really resonated strongly with the with the script.

Justin Rain who plays Calvin, we actually found through traditional casting means. But he gave us an audition that really just blew our socks off. This was prior to him being one of the stars of "Fear the Walking Dead." So unlike now he was not on TV every week. So he was, he was a wonderful surprise.

Jon: And he was un‑freaking real in the movie.

Ted: He, he is absolutely unreal. Like he's speaking of forces of nature. Yeah, I mean, the, the sequences in the film without spoiling too much, they, they get rather extreme involving his character.

Jon: I'll just say that Justin made me uncomfortable doing the scenes that I was in with him.

Ted: His performances were so strong that the other actors legitimately were concerned that they were injuring him, or that they were injuring others. He really is, is beyond life‑like in his performances. And, yeah. He's absolutely amazing.

As for the evil Americans in the film who end up, some of them are evil, some of them maybe not so much, like Jon.

We found Jon by reaching out to the WWE. And seeing which of their superstars were available. I went down the list and immediately stopped at, Luke Harper. Knowing him from TV I called him up and we had a Skype audition which Jon thought he bombed, but I thought he did wonderful on.

Jon: [laughs]

Ted: And we hired him rather quickly.

Steve: When I met you downstairs I told you I couldn't believe you hadn't acted before.

Ted: That's wonderful. That's a high compliment. I also, I tell him that.

Steve: I looked up on IMDB what else you were in so I could come up with questions and then I find out you hadn't done anything like this before and I couldn't come up with a lot of questions

Jon: And that was the thing for me. I just assumed that they were coming to get a guy to die in 10 minutes after I beat somebody up. And I would not speak and I'd have a gruesome death scene and that'd be it. Great. Oh, OK, thanks. And then reading the script, I just kept going and going. [mimes looking through a script to see how much of the script he's in]"OK, I'm still it. Oh, wow, you know, I'm actually doing it. Oh." And as it went on, I kind of, my role got bigger and became this compass of the movie and it, I was like, "Man."

That's, and it was like, I just, I think I used the word liberating the last interview and it's literally what it was. It was liberating for me to be able to act outside of what I've done in WWE.

Steve: Why did you, or how did you come to decide, "I wanna try this"?

Jon: I was, I was hurt. I [had] right knee surgery. I was off for seven months. And I'm going crazy on my couch at home and that's when he called. And I'm like, "Man, yeah, I wanna do something."

Steve: So, you just called out of the blue?

Ted: Yeah. That, well, we, I looked at the list of names that were available and the reason his name was on that list...

Jon: 'Cause I was out.

Ted: ...was because he was out because of his injury.

Jon: It was actually like a storm of [laughs] circumstance.

Ted: Yeah. Really, it was, there's an amazing silver lining to this horrible injury that he suffered.

Jon: So, I was just out. They didn't care if I went and did it at the time because I wasn't taken away from their business, so they said, "Yeah, feel free." They read the script. They vetted it. They said, "No problem, we like it. Go ahead." And went from there.

Steve: Did you have any problems like doing the really gruesome things?

Jon: No. Uh, the, that's not hard for me. The hard part, uh, the first thing I had was dying, or crying over a dead man's body. That was hard. [laughs] Killed somebody, getting killed, easy as pie. [laughs] Fighting, yeah.

Ted: But deep‑, deeply emoting...

Jon: Oh, my God, yeah. [laughs]

Ted: ...over a loss of a loved one. And it was day one, his first scene.

Jon: Cryin' over this man I'd never met in my life. [laughs]

Ted: Trying to hold in his blood.

Jon: Yes, yes.

Steve: It's hard to believe that that's the first scene.

Jon: [laughs] No, I think honestly that, being the first scene, it was like, "Hey, here's the fire. Put your feet in it because we don't have time for you to talk around out here. Put your feet in the fire and...then from there, it was like, "Now, we figure it out because we're doing this movie. And now you're here, you're hired, figure it out." And that was like, and luckily, the cast was wonderful. He was wonderful. Everyone was wonderful to lead me in the right direction kinda.

You know, Ezra {Buzzington] gave me some of the best advice. He's like, he's like, "Just don't overact. Don't, act like you're doing nothing." Like stuff that. And then I would do it and I'm like, "Man, I don't feel like I acted that scene." And he'd come by me like, "Good fucking job."

And I'd be like, "Oh, cool." You know, like, so when you start getting that approval from other actors and, and to be fair, who knows if it's real approval from an actor. But...


Ted: They're all acting.

Jon: I'll take it. [laughs] So, that helped a ton. Everybody's very helpful. That helped me a ton. And by the end, I said to him, I said, "Hey, can we back and do that first scene?" I think, I think I can do better than that.

Ted: 20 days later...

Jon: Because then I had, I had the confidence, you know. I knew everybody. I was confident. And we are comfortable together. And it was a totally animal by that point.

Steve: And did you reshoot it?

Ted: [laughs] In his dreams.

Jon: Yeah. [laughs]

Ted: But, you know the thing is I think that's such, that's such a wonderful learning experience for Jon to realize that this character that you played on day one, and this character you played on day 20...

Jon: Yes, has to evolve.

Ted: ... this character evolves in your mind, but you're fully aware of the fact that...

Jon: Right.

Ted: ...the character can't evolve that much on you have to create these nuances that you know are going to work throughout the entire performance.

Jon: And that's the thing, watching the movie, my guy does evolve, you know? It's like a weird...and I never could see it, 'cause I'm in the moment....But then you're like, "Man." [laughs]

Steve: How, how did you steer Jon? Because he never worked as an actor before. How do you steer somebody, and you're like, "Uh, at this point you have to be this. At this point you have to be that." Then you're filming it all out of order.

Ted: I mean, I told Jon on day one. I said, you know, "You might not think you've ever acted before, but I think you've done more performance art that anyone on this cast, you performed in front of millions of people, literally every week." The, the big difference is that you've never really done non‑linear performance. You know, where it's like, "OK. Day one. Scene 40." And you go, "Oh, god." Like, "OK..." The character has to understand everything that's already happened, even though we haven't shot it yet."

And you have to put these bits into the film, and I think it really helped that we were at a place on Jon's first day, where all of the actors felt very comfortable. It wasn't the first day of filming...

Jon: No.

Ted: was your first day. But we had shot, I think, three or four days by that point, and so a lot of the other actors had fallen into the roles. They understood where they were.

That said a lot of the actors in the film who are very seasoned television and screen actors kinda took Jon under the wing, which was lovely. I mean, I obviously directed him, but, Ezra Buzzington for example, who plays Holt, and Robert Longstree who plays Beal, um, both were having long conversations with Jon all the time about like, "Here, here's, here's a hint that someone gave me 20 years ago." Or...

Jon: It's just time sitting in a trailer where it, it's me doubting or something, and them being like, "Oh, here, here's how it is." And it's like so, just welcoming and, "Hey, this is kinda how..." Because here's the thing. They don't want to make a bad movie. And if I come in a ruin a movie, I'm ruining everyone's movie. It's not just me, you know, I'm not ruining my part...I'm ruining...

Ted: It's a...

Jon: ...everybody's...

Ted:'s a group effort.

Jon: everybody is like kinda, you know, "Come on, we need you to get up to speed." And I think, I hopefully didn't ruin it.


Steve: How was working out of order for you?

Jon: Didn't even realize we were. I was so mentally flustered by this whole situation. [laughs] I got out there...

Ted: You mean the death scene? The, the first scene?

Jon: Yeah. So, I get out there and I was so focused on what that was. I was focusing on this body. Like I don't know any of these people. So now they're just standing here watching me, and I'm nervous. [laughs] So, once we kinda got through that, it became, uh, very different to me way easier.

I always say I know what I'm good at, but coming in to their world, I have no earthly idea what makes a good actor, you know?

Steve: Did you have to like learn to play down to the camera? Because wrestling you're playing to the rafters.

Ted: I remember talking about that and discussing the difference between stage acting and screen acting. 'Cause I think of pro wrestling as stage acting. It's a lot of physical flashes to play to the back row. And we, we talked about the fact that screen acting is the polar opposite of that. It's all about how much you can say through little movements.

Jon: [With wrestling on TV] You still have to play to the guys ,that's where I kinda learned the little stuff does matter. So, I'm staying in the back banner of the scene. And if I'm staying here just interested, so very quickly, I learned like, "Oh, I have to learn how to communicate, you know, like with my face and my body as opposed to verbally."

You don't want to veer into the realm of too crazy. Yeah. Right. So, but then, but still we have to get a little bit out there, and, so they always say, "Take yourself and turn it up at 10," but then you go to acting and say, "Take yourself and maybe turn down just a notch." So I say, "Just do nothing."

Steve: You're acting with your face and to me great performance is always if it's in the eyes if you look like there's stuff going on in the eyes...

Jon: And I learned that in WWE because I would stand behind the guy named Barry White who would just cut these sermons for almost 10 to 15 minutes at a time, and me and my type are standing behind him. And I, I'm convinced that if I, if I focus my brain on paying attention to 1,000 percent I'll follow with my eyes, to the viewer, even if a person glances up it's like, "O‑, OK. So he's invested. Maybe I should like..."

That kinda...So, then, it will seem like this works like they're talking, and I have to be like interested. Being back here makes a scene to what that is, then when I'm up there, they're going to be back there doing the same thing. And it's like, "You can't be fucking off back here or and it's going to ruin it. So, and it helps tell your story. I was told, yeah, I have great eyes for that. It's easy to tell the story for now for me.

Steve: It was amazing and you’d never know you’ve never done this before.

Ted: Fake it 'till I make it.


Ted: Story of our lives.

Steve: The violence in the film is [stomach] churning. Which is great. I think it's shocking because it's very realistic from what I know of the period...The one thing that was a little odd for me, and I'm just curious about this, um, why is there the moment where at, at the very end where you get to launching through the air and impelled? Which was like the one moment where you break the rule...

Ted: Yeah. Um, so when we were coming up with the concept of the film, we knew that we wanted to tell a story of a native woman on the run for her life from these scared, angry, white men. We knew that we were making a movie about the decimation of a native people, and we knew that as a group of white men, we had to be very careful about how we told the story.

We needed to give it the respect in the way that it deserved. So, throughout the film, we were very reserved when it came to action, when it came to special effects, the film is far less violent than we're still hearing. It's actually far less violent than virtually every film I've ever written or produced even though it's brutal, even though it is stomach churning...

Steve: It's most visceral, yes.

Ted: It's very visceral, but I didn't want it to feel too exploitative. I wanted people to understand that these things did happen. I didn't want to have cartoon‑y arterial sprays going on throughout this film.

I wanted everything to feel as violent, and angry, and ultimately, sad as it was 200 years ago. That said, for the final battle, I guess mild spoiler readers, in the final battle between Oak and Connell Holt, Oak has essentially been born as this avenging angel of her people. It's the revelation that this is, in a way, kinda this sad super hero story still set in reality.

But we knew that we wanted to take a few artistic flourishes in the final encounter between these two people that we didn't take anywhere else in the film. We felt comfortable with the final battle leaning in to the fantastic a bit more than the rest of the film.

Because at that point we had played our hand and we had revealed that ultimately what Oak's end game is, and in the, the real revelation that she is the spirit of the Mohawk people. She is this unstoppable fighter that had wanted to remain neutral, but she was pushed too hard, and now she will stop at nothing, even death, to, to save her people.

And in doing so we'll let her throw a hawk through the air a few times.

Jon: I love it.

Ted: I kinda wanted people to be surprised, but she actually throws them twice, and we hired, we had hired stunt riggers to actually come in with wire work, and we had a stunt man that we, we yanked through the air about 20 feet repeatedly to get those shots.

And it was like nothing else in the movie.

Steve: Where did you get Oak's war paint from? For better for worse, you've created an iconic image, and I think it's always going to be the one image associated with the filmthere, regardless. Where exactly did you get it from?

Ted: We, we went through a lot of images of Mohawk people in that time period. How they dressed, and the way they wore their paint. The Mohawk peopleregardless of the fact that they wear the eponymous haircut, the most mohawk is not actually worn by Mohawk people, unless it's times of war. And traditionally, women would only wear the Mohawk in times of mourning.

So when the movie begins, um, we're introduced to Oak and Calvin. Calvin already has a Mohawk. He's already convinced himself that they are at war. Both Oak and Calvin have war pain on. Again, it, it's almost implying that these are kids putting on the war paint and, and acting like commandos.

But little did they realize that their actions are actually going to cause real war. When Oak cuts her hair latter in the filminto a Mohawk it's partly because at that point see herself as becoming a warrior, but it's also because she is, she is in mourning.

Again, we don't really like to wallow in these sort of things. We just wanted to make sure that they were historically accurate. We wanted to lean in to historic accuracy as much as possible. As for how we chose Oak and Calvin's make up, um, Calvin sneaks into a camp and burns these people so we wanted him to have the look of like what someone would think of him as a bandit, or a bank robber. His look as though he's trying to conceal himself behind this black mask. Um, it just so happened that it was a very common style of war paint for the Mohawk people to pain their face black beneath the nose, um, which worked out wonderfully in the case of him.

In the case of Oak, we knew we wanted to do something different. We went through a lot of options. We really loved how much the Mohawk embraced the color red, especially bright red. The initial ideas were to just paint the entire top of her face red, almost like the opposite of Calvin. But the more we tweaked it, and the more we, we toyed with it, we liked this idea of red and black.

In a way, it kind of almost looks like sunglasses. It almost looks like she's trying to disguise herself. But we've found that when we put the black around Kaniehtiio's eyes, it made her eyes pop in this amazing way.

And I've read so many reviews that say, "She says so much through her eyes." And I think that not only is a testament to how wonderful an actress Kaniehtiio is, but it's also a testament to the style that was chosen for her makeup, which I think it really does draw a lot of attention to her eyes.

And it really helps, I think, her already wonderful performance. In a nutshell, that's, that's where those came from. Um, one other thing that we did have a concern about, however, is that when, when Oak shaves a mohawk, she obviously wouldn't have painted the top of her head red.

And we talked about how weird that would look, if she had this red and black war paint on, but then the top of her head was skin‑colored. So, um, that's why we came up with the idea that when she is shaving her head, she's essentially just raking off the hair and the skin.

And so, throughout the last act of the film, her red eye makeup is also awash with her own blood, which you can see dripping down the sides of her face. I think that makes it an even more iconic image.

Jon: My six‑year‑old showed up to set one day, and thought she was a superhero. [laughs]

Ted: You know, there you go. Yeah, so, six‑year‑olds think she's superheroes. I hope a lot of, I hope a lot of kids... it would be, it would be an absolute dream of mine if children anywhere could see a strong woman of color from a marginalized society as a superhero. I think that's incredible.

Jon: I think they might I think the film paints her as a superhero.

Ted: It absolutely does.

Steve: Oh, yeah, absolutely.

Ted: What else you got?

Steve: The music.

Jon: Awesome. [laughs]

Steve: The music makes the film seem almost, it sounds almost like an 1980s, 1970s exploitation film, which the film is not.

Ted: Mm‑hmm.

Steve: Why did you choose that style of...?

Ted: So the, the composer for MOHAWK is the, uh, it's the same composer we used on WE ARE STILL HERE. His name is Wojciech Golczewski. It's extremely hard to say and spell, but Wojciech was someone that I was extremely excited about working with again.

He's a very accomplished synth composer, and I loved the idea of having a synth score to a film set in the 18‑teens. I really love synth music in general, but over the past three or four years, it's really been used almost to nauseum in this sort of retro porn, "Stranger Things" sort of thing.

Not to say that I don't really enjoy the music of Stranger Things. I think it's very fun, but it, it's kinda become this sort of music that goes hand‑in‑hand with nostalgia porn. I like the idea of using it in a very unconventional way, and hopefully really surprising a lot of people.

Rather than take a page from, say, Stranger Things, with that style of synthesizer music, we actually took a page from "The Knick". The Showtime Original Series, The Knick, Steven Soderbergh's series that ran for two years, um, which is about a, a hospital in 1902 New York City, and that is completely done with with synthesizer music.

And watching that show, and hearing that music accompany this, this period imagery, it just, it excited me, and it, it made me, like, so thrilled, and it actually helped me pay attention to the show. And, um, I, I'm hoping that Wojciech's score will do the same, and it will draw in people with how unconventional it is.

Steve: I didn't realize it was synthesizers until, like, three‑quarters of the way in.

Ted: Oh, that's awesome. That's perfect

Steve: It was just like all of a sudden. I was just like, "Wait a second. That's synthesizer music."

Ted: He's, he's not messing around. He, he's, he's a force. He's a real wonderful guy, too.

Steve: How much riffing are you doing from other films? I'm sitting there and thinking this reminds me of certain things like  SOUTHERN COMFORT. Or, like, the mask Oak wears from a distance almost looks like it's the mask in PRINCESS MONONOKE  But I don't know. I could be reading sense into it. It may not be what you were doing. How, how much did you, are you pulling, are pulling? Are you pulling a lot from other...?

Ted: We pulled some of the visuals from other films but we really wanted to do something that did not feel like a callback to other films. We wanted to do something that was extremely unconventional.

Two of the biggest influences on the film are the 1997 film, RITUALS It's a Canadian film. It's almost a proto slasher about a, a group of middle age men who go away on a camping trip, and are besieged by something in the woods. It's a very slow burn film that ultimately reveals itself in a way not unlike MOHAWK does. And then John Boorman's THE EMERALD FOREST a drama that really embraces the bright, open, kind of neon‑ness of the forest, of the jungle.

A lot of horror films, a lot of genre films, really, set in the forest use the forest as a catalyst for fear. We wanted the forest in MOHAWK to feel beautiful and inviting, and we wanted the things that happen in this beautiful place not to be the horror.

We didn't want the forest itself to be a horror element, like in BLAIR WITCH or like in, um, that new Netflix film, THE RITUAL which is a phenomenal movie that David Bruckner just did. The forest in that movie is terrifying.

We wanted the people in MOHAWK to be terrifying. The forest is just ultimately the idyllic backdrop of the Mohawk people. It's the home that's being invaded by these awful people. I guess in a way it’s a home invasion.

You know, in home invasion movies, the house is usually quite nice. It's the horrible element that gets introduced to the house that makes it horrifying. As for visuals obviously the mask, yeah, it's kinda Mononoke‑hime is an inspiration there.

We also just took pages from some slasher films that we grew up loving. There's a little bit of FRIDAY THE 13TH in there. Um, there's a little bit of Antonia Bird's RAVENOUSin there. But thematically, structurally, I want people to watch this film and say, "I can't think of a film that I can relate this to," because that was, that was the plan from, from day one.

We wanted to make a film that, says you want weird, we're going to give you weird.

Steve: It doesn't relate to anything else. This is very much of a horror film on top of everything else that it's doing, the political, the action, the, exploitation, and everything else.

You've all these horror films. What are the horror films that are closest to your heart? Are they the slasher films, are they the...?

Ted: My first love wasthe films of George Romero. I fell in love with those films because of their sociopolitical commentary. I loved the fact that "NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD while a zombie movie, was actually a film about the breakdown of the American family.

I love DAWN OF THE DEAD It's one of my favorite films of all time, but it's ultimately a film about rampant consumerism, and the fact that we're so addicted to shopping that if we come back from the dead, we're going to go to the mall.

I loved these things. I loved them almost more than the horror elements in the movies. But after I'd exhausted Romero's work I fell with love with slasher films. I'm, I'm a child of the '70s and '80s, so slasher films are very near and dear to my heart.

Only later did I understand the, the sociopolitical commentary behind a lot of slasher films. That a lot of them were made as a direct response, especially later, a direct response to the AIDS crisis.

These are movies about hot, horny kids doing drugs, and having sex, and dying. And that's exactly what was happening in the 1980s. Kids were having sex, and doing drugs, and dying because of it. I love horror films because they are the most, to me, the most genuine way of framing what's going on in the world through the fantastic.

And I think it helps people understand the world they live in, because it's more easily digestible. To me, 9/11 is something that virtually no one can digest. The fact that we all something so horrible that we don't even know what can horrify us anymore after that.

And the direct response from the horror community after 9/11 was the torture porn industry. Suddenly, we had films like SAW and HOSTEL coming out, films that were so brutal and so violent that we didn't know how to respond to them.

And after watching movies like SAW and HOSTEL, I would sit down with my wife, I'd sit down with my friends, and we would discuss how those films made us feel. And in a way, we were discussing how 9/11, how the current state of the world made us feel.

We were discussing things that we couldn't comprehend, evil we couldn't comprehend. It helped me digest some of the horrible things that had happened by watching films like HOSTEL and films like Saw. MOHAWK, I realize it is a horror film, but I think it's a horror film on a very different level.

I think of it more as a dramatic thriller. I tend to even lean more into it as a drama, um, but it is a horror film in the same that I have been waking up in a horror film for the past two and a half years or so. And I feel as though we, we are in a horror film right now.

And this film is my response to the fear and unease that I feel every morning when I wake up and turn on the news.

Steve: Will you ever be able to make a film that's not political?

Ted: Um, I don't know. I mean, WE ARE STILL HERE was not political. I do think that if things change in America, in the world, I think I'm very capable of doing something that's not political again.

I love popcorn movies. I love silly movies. I love camp movies. Um, I love to watch them. I don't know if I would love to make one right now. But I can tell you, given all of the bullshit that's going on in the world, I'm very grateful that other people make them.

Because at the end of a long day, sometimes, that's what I need. That's what I need to turn off from everything that's going on in the world, is something silly, and something that isn't political. But to help me sleep at night I need to use every opportunity I can to get my agenda out there.

Steve: If somebody came to you and said, "Could you, do you want to do the next Marvel film," would you want to do it?

Ted: In a heartbeat. No, no questions asked. Yes, done.


Steve: Would you have a problem, would you have a problem with...Let me say this. How much control would you want? Because that, that was the thing I was, I was talking to Patrick Meany about his horror film HOUSE OF DEMONS, and he said that he would have a problem with, uh...

Ted: Too many cooks in the kitchen? Yeah.

I'm very fortunate to know several Marvel directors. I know James Gunn. I, I know Scott Derrickson, who did DOCTOR STRANGE. And their experiences on Marvel movies have actually been really good.

They've said that they have had a massive amount of creative control in the process, which I think is wonderful. And I think it is a testament to why Marvel is doing so well at the box office. They're giving independent, free‑thinking directors free reign over hundreds of millions of dollars to tell these stories that traditionally aren't being told.

Look at what Ryan Coogler is doing right now with BLACK PANTHER, a film that 10 years ago never, ever would have happened, and is now just destroying it in the box office across all sociopolitical, ethnic divides.

It's a film that's bringing people together over people of color. I think that's so important and so awesome. I would not take a millisecond to agree to do that. Um, even if I was in a scenario, um, where I didn't have a lot of creative control, which it doesn't seem to be the case with Marvel ‑‑ if you're listening Marvel ‑‑ um...

Jon: Also, I'll be in Ted's next movie, if, if you're hiring, Marvel.


Ted: If Marvel's listening not only because I would love the opportunity to direct a studio film, but also working in the studio system does afford you the opportunity, and especially the financial opportunity, to be able to make more personal, political films.

You look at a lot of actors. You look at, look at folks like Ben Affleck for a while there, would do one big studio film, and then he'd do five or six indies in between. The films that didn't pay that much, but were the films that he genuinely wanted to do.

If I get to direct a Marvel movie, and left with a million‑dollar paycheck, you can bet your ass that I would turn right around, and take that money, and invest it into some wildly personal, political movies. I would have no problem whatsoever milking the machine for my own agenda.

Steve: Which Marvel, who would you want to do? Just because we're on the subject, what would you want to do, Marvel‑wise?

Ted: Um, I, I don't know who I would do in the Marvel universe. I'm a huge Marvel fan. I'm not a DC fan at all. I like a lot of the tertiary characters. I love Excalibur which was the British version of X‑Men.

One of the versions of X‑Men that had Captain Britain and Kitty Pryde in it. They were extremely nontraditional, like myself. There was a little baby dragon on their team. I think that's the sort of thing that I would, uh, love to do.

But I was once asked if there was any if there was any superhero film you could direct, who would it be? And it would actually be Cool Blue, who was the Pabst Blue Ribbon spokescartoon in the 1970s. He was a superhero not unlike Superman, who had a giant handlebar mustache, who flew in to give people Pabst Blue Ribbons.

Jon: Are you just looking for free Pabst?


Ted: Yeah. Pabst, if you're listening, bring back Cool Blue.

Jon: Cool blue.

Steve: Who would you want to, who would you want to play?

Jon: Man, I, I mean, I'd like to play Cool Blue, if you're directing it.


Steve: Would you shave the beard?

Jon: Friggin' no.

Ted: We'd just have to come up with a way.

Jon: Yeah, does Cool Blue have a beard?

Ted: We could give you a handlebar mustache, but that would be it, yeah. As usual, he's like, "How do you top that?"


Ted: "That's the capper."

Jon: Cool Blue.

Steve: I really have nowhere to go. I've got also some other questions, but one last thing, because it was one of the very first thing’s I ever wanted to ask you. How did you get into Fulci? Why did you essentially make a riff on the Bey‑, it's THE BEYOND right?



Ted: As I mentioned, you know, after I had exhausted Romero, I fell in love with slashers. I watched every slasher I could get my hands on at the video store in the 1980s. I grew up in rural Montana, where my biggest escape from the plains was the video store.

And I would go there, and these movies would let me travel the world, and see all these sexy, amazing people getting killed around the world. After digging my way through all the slasher films I found myself starting to explore with a bit of euro horror.

I started with Dario Argento's films, which are a bit more accessible, especially to slasher fans. His giallo films, SUSPIRIA, TENEBRE um, INFERNO these movies are very accessible to fans of slasher movies.

But then I started looking at a bit more of his esoteric work, and that led me into some of the weirder other directors who were working in Italy, like Fulci, like Lamberto Bava. And while I'm actually not the biggest fan of the majority of Fulci's work I do love THE BEYOND I love GATES OF HELL

And much later in life I saw HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, and I really loved it. I just thought it was such a fun, weird movie. And it, it really, really stuck home with me. And so, years later, when I was writing I wanted to write a haunted house movie, it ultimately was a love letter to HOUSE BT THE CEMETERY

Every single character in WE ARE STILL HERE is named after an actor or character from HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY. Also, the plot of HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY is a sad, introverted couple moves to a house in New England with their son, unaware of the fact that there is something dark and horrible in the basement. The plot of WE ARE STILL HERE is about a sad and introverted couple who moves into a spooky house...

Jon: [laughs] Totally different.

Ted: ...with the ghost of their son, unaware of the fact that there is something horrible in the basement. So, are we up?

Stacy: Yeah, we're just about out of time. We have one more question.

Ted: Womp, womp.

Steve: One more, one more quick question.

Ted: Yeah.

Steve: Only because if I had talked to you for the, for WE ARE STILL HERE, I was going to begin with John Wildman about THE LADIES OF THE HOUSE is any of your films based on your personal life? Is this any of, like, do you have a problem with ghosts?


Ted: Um, um, I am, I am married, but I do not have children. so, when writing WE ARE STILL HERE it was about people that I was not very familiar with. It was about middle‑aged people who had lost a child. I haven't even had a child, let alone lost one. So it is not a film that is couched in any part of my life, outside of my, my love of that specific genre, and the film that I was paying homage to. I also am not a believer in the supernatural.

But that has not stopped me from writing countless films about the supernatural. I, myself, love the concept of the supernatural. Anytime someone tells me about a haunted hotel, I have to stay there, but I don't believe anything is going to happen while I'm there.

Um, MOHAWK, is, I suppose ‑‑ this might get a little heavy ‑‑ but I suppose, in a way, it is about me in the sense that I am a white man of European heritage, who lives on land that was once owned by Native Americans. I, and everyone who are not the native people of this country owe these people more than words or our lives can possibly pay tribute. I realize that is a huge weight for me to make a movie called Mohawk, about the suffering of these people.

But it is also a film about the cruelty and the oppression of my ancestors who moved here hundreds of years ago, and took this land away from these people. So, in a way, this is a film about me coming to grips with the fact that I am, in a way, responsible for everything that's going on here.

And when you hear people say, "Well, I didn't do anything," it's like we're, we're all part of a long line of people who did something. And I think it's very important that we all acknowledge that.

Jon: And regardless of you didn't do anything, you can always make it better moving forward. And I think that's what Ted is doing in a very, uh, spectacular fashion.

Ted: Nice.

Steve: Perfect for us to end.
Jon, Steve and Ted

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