Director Scott Cooper

Producer Guillermo del Torro

Mod Steven Weintraub

This is the story of the Wendigo, translates to a diabolical wickedness that devours mankind. When the English settled they left the Native Americans to starve and this is the of horror.

What TV series would you like to guest writer/direct?

Guillermo: Night Gallery, Kojak, anything that I saw as a kid. The fantastic tv and movies in the 70’s. It was a beautiful time.

Scott: Godfather or Jaws, every time I turn the tv on they are on and I stop to watch regardless of where the film is at. I’d watch THE CONVERSATION.

Guillermo: CREATURE FORM THE BLACK LAGOON, FRANKENSTEIN, ROAD WARRIOR, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, they are in constant rotation and BLADE RUNNER. I see fragments of 10 movies everyday.

Favorite ride at Disneyland?

Guillermo: Haunted Mansion

Scott: Sadly for me, I’ve never been.

Guillermo: Wow.

Scott: I’ve just never found myself at Disneyland.

Guillermo: You can still do that, you’re my guest, lets do it. I beg for people to come.

Scott: You have invited me.

Guillermo: I’ll go at the drop of the hat. I’ll go anytime you want. The strange combination is the three filmmakers that influences me the most are Disney, Hitchcock and Bunuel. Strangely, the three of them intersect somehow.

Scott: They intersect in your work. Now that you mention that I can absolutely see that.

Guillermo: I think Hitchcock and Brunel have a lot in common like MARNIE and VERTIGO.

What project would you make if you had the funds?

Scott: My wife thinks I’m commitment phobic, there is a film that I’ve wanted to make for several years that I’ve written about a series of murders that take place at West Point in the 1800’s and a cadet who is unlike all the other cadets. He is poetic, he’s irrational, he’s extremely passionate and the world would come to know him as Edgar Allen Poe.

Guillermo: I’d produce it. I’d do FRANKENSTEIN as a two or three part story. In order to encompass the book you have to deal with points of view. It’s a complicated exercise. It’s like you begin making the movie and think you should be making any other movie than the one you are making.

Scott: We know what it takes to get the film mounted and to marshal all the forces.

Guillermo: If you start a movie without absolute dread, you are not a filmmaker. You have to have all the preparation in the world. It’s like launching a spaceship, the moment the countdown goes 4,3,2…and you think ‘this is going to explode, we are going to burn’ something and that moment elongated in a few days or weeks is what it is like being a filmmaker. You prepared everything but this thing is alive now.

Scott: I didn’t go to film school so my education is watching lots of movies a lot of director commentaries and interviews. All of the directions I admire the world over have said their least favorite part of making a film is shooting. They like the writing and cutting but there is so much pressure.

Guillermo: The editing is you are typing with the most expensive typewriter in the world. It comes with words already formed but it cost millions of dollars depending on what you are doing. No doubt you are typing with image or sound. The thing that I do miss is the audio commentary because I believe in the physical medium of DVD’s and Blu-ray, I have and alphabetized over 7,000 movies that I love to access like a library. Every day we try to watch three movies.

Scott: No body has the film knowledge that you have Guillermo:

Guillermo: What you say you learn. I was texting with a filmmaker I admire and he said that he loved that I keep the physical medium and I told him its because I watch the extras and the commentaries. Sometimes I listen to it twice because I forget. It’s been great, we’ve been texting during the quarantine and others asking what they are watching and why they are watching it. This indoor quarantine has been a fantastic learning experience.

Scott: In many regards, it certainly makes you realize what is important. If anything it makes you think about how important time is. If you are going to make a film you better really want to make it.

Guillermo: If you really study a filmmaker you admire, you can break down their use of the lens, their composition, movement of camera and action. If you put the time that’s a new tool in your toolbox, you do it different but as a tool. In THE DEVILS BACKBONE I put  dolly in the middle of the group and with a mini jib I was told to get a techno crane to push without even touching the floor I repeated the move in another sequence. That’s a new tool that you keep and learn to use that.

Scott: That is how I self teach. I mean with the Coen Brothers.

Guillermo: The Coen Brothers are the best filmmakers right now. They are superb story tellers but they are the ones that hold the most mystery for me. Some of the things they do go beyond, they are pure faith, pure poetry and I’ve interviewed them a couple of times at Caan and I can tell you things they do but their instincts are all their own.

Scott: An utterly mysterious, not a wasted movement with camera or dialogue.

Talk about Antlers.

Scott: I would say that its really about, the film looks at the heart of what it means to be an individuals and all the crisis we are facing. Climate crisis, our treatment of Native Americans, abject poverty without feeling like a message film wrapped into a horror film.

Guillermo: The texture of the movie is based on a short story, you made it very different making it a Scott Cooper universe. People say why do you produce and I saw to learn from the filmmakers. I told you this, I was watching your dailies religious and I would say ‘this is a beautiful moment or this is a beautiful movement’  but there was a certain energy between the spaces that your film has. I said where is that in this one and you showed me your first assemble and I said oh, there is a Scott Cooper movie. To me, it’s a continuation of your preoccupations but it’s a proper horror tale.

Scott: This is my first emersion into the supernatural. With each movies I want to be on unfamiliar ground because I think risk is one of the great pleasures of making art and making films. I think horror films are for people who are interested in the darkness inside themselves who don’t want to face it or confront it directly. I think it can provide and environment for people to escape. I recall my brother who is much older taking me to see John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN for the first time in a theatre and I left utterly terrified at realizing what film could do to you. Even at a young age. I think anytime you can do that you can move the audience whether it be a gangster movie or a film about an aging country musician or OUT OF THE FURNACE or even a western, I think that’s the goal. For me, this genre allowed me to do it. Because I said to Guillermo, first of all I wouldn’t have made the film if Guillermo wasn’t producing it firstly, I said to Guillermo that my goals for this film is for it to be disquieting, for it to be tense and human at its center but also terrifying. The audience will be the judge. Those were the goals!

The film has a message without having a message.

Scott: I’m not a fan of message movies and my hope is that if people happen to see my films more than once, they will see that there is something very subtle that you didn’t see the first time. In this particular film, while I wanted it to be really quite horrifical and terrifying and certainly in moments it is, I wanted us to really feel like what it is to be an American today and also to show the world as it really is. You have a young boy who is in a great deal of pain who is dealing with a lot of familiar issues and that is one of themes in the film but you also understand that the Wendigo figures into the film and we know that that is Native American, well, as I thought somewhat of an allegory or some type of folklore but as it turns out my Native American advisors really, really believe in it. So the Wendigo figures into the story. The Wendigo is this murderous spirit that is summoned by nature against a callous mankind. Its clear we are abusing mother earth as I mentioned we are abusing Native Americans. We have since we first came to the shores of America and then also abusing drugs and the opioid crisis and so that hovers underneath the surface. The Wendigo represents greed and colonialism.

Guillermo: I think there were two things that I was really compelled by and the myth is the Wendigo, the more it eats the more hungry it gets and the more it eats the weaker it gets. It is a metaphor for the depravation and a lot of family rage in the movie. Every character in the movie is enacting or suffering from family rage of some kind. Ultimately it is a bunch of broken characters attempting to get together. I think that was one of the things that I loved about what you did. I mean we worked very close, and it has been one of the great pleasures producing with you and I was really very happy with the wave you wove that rage ultimately ‘if you love something, would you be able to kill it?’. That is the central question of the movie. Or even ‘would you preserve it alive?’ and in a strange way it is something that is very personal for me too because it is the first question I asked in KRONOS. The girl keeping the vampire grandpa in an attic and I thought ‘this has echoes of that for me’. Obviously I didn’t mention it so you could come to that alone.

Scott: And look at PAN’S LABRYNTH, it is clear that it touched a nerve with you in a great way. One of the pleasures of working with Guillermo is that when you have a producer that is also a director, and I’ve had Ridley Scott and Tony Scott produce and Robert Duvall, its not the first time I’ve had a director produce. They really understand what you are going through on a daily basis, through shooting, through cutting. Guillermo is always available and is extremely generous with his time and any time that I would have a script question, certainly when I was shooting at night, I would email or text him, in the creation of the Wendigo, there is no one better than Guillermo at that. That is why I said I would only make this film with him. It is really wonderful to have someone who really knows what you are going through in the most difficult of times I have to say.

Using Native American consultants.

Scott: If we go back one film before this, HOSTILES, a film that I made with Christian Bale, it was really important for me as someone who is a white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant, Episcopalian raise guy, if I’m going to discuss the Native American folklore or any themes that course through Native American life, I want to have people who know much more about it than I do and I want to get it right. So I had consultants from HOSTILES come to work on this film, his name is Chris Eyer who directed SMOKE SIGNALS which was recently admitted into the Library of Congress.

Guillermo: Yes, fantastic movie.

Scott: He is a good guy and a close pal of mine and has really helped me understand Native American causes and then I reached out to Grace Dillion who is a Professor of Indigenous Studies at Portland State University and considered to be the foremost authority on the Wendigo in America. She was the one that really educated me that ‘oh no, Native Americans, First Nations, its not folklore for them and it is not a myth. They truly believe in it because it represents greed and colonialism when we first came to the shores of what is now America pillaging all their resources and forcing them to cannibalism’.  That taste for human flesh and out of that rose the Wendigo. So just on a psychological and social level and just understanding Native American plight because those causes for me are incredibly important and no mistake that two films in a row for me deal with Native Americans. So Grace Dillon and Chris Eyer were incredibly helpful.

The creature?

Guillermo: The Wendigo have very specific cues for you to follow in the way it is described and you have to follow those precepts. The antlers, for example, I said you have to remember we are not creating a monster, we are creating a god. The designs must have effects that are completely unnatural that are almost surreal or abstract. I said the bones need to look more like coal like in the mines. We approached it without any fear and approach it with some glee and that allowed everyone to bring to the table their best game. We said vey clearly we can not have a monster we have to see him and say he looks ancient, powerful and one with nature. So those were the things that we were doing.

Scott: Yes, it was an incredible learning experience for me obviously never having worked with a monster or even a concept artist Guy Davis who works with Guillermo quite closely, he would sketch concepts with continual refinement. Guillermo thought on a much, much deeper level which is if we are talking about what this murderous spirit is doing to the earth, it comes from the center of the earth, its crust, ore, its ember. The Wendigo looks like that and its an incredibly beautiful design. They took what Guy, Guillermo and I put on page and made this in record time with no a lot of money, an incredibly compelling god. Guillermo and the folks at Legacy created something that I think is unique.

Guillermo: We knew it from the start, we said Mr. X is going to be 50-50 and we are going to have the monster physical but we going to enhance it which is what I have been doing since MIMIC, since 1997 I’ve been doing this. I take a practical creature and little portions of it become digital. In the case of THE SHAPE OF WATER, the eyes would blink and the micromovement of the face, in the case of BLADE II the upper portion was make up and the upper jaws were digital most of the time. We did the same approach here. We said lets base it on the puppet and then have the arm completely digital or the mouth is completely digital. That is what I think keeps the eyes distracted.

Directing adult material with kids.

Scott: Well, I remember when Guillermo and I were working together in Vancouver and he said there are two things you shouldn’t do is worth with kids and monsters. I have two children and a monster but in this particular in this instance as I’m sure it was with PAN’S LABRYNTH, the actors in this film was their first part. Was that the case?

Guillermo: Relatively, she had done other parts but no standing roles.

Scott: I think we saw 900 to 1000 young boys and there was a quality that I wa looking for tha tI wasn’t quite finding. Other child actors are groomed by their parents to becomes stars. I wanted to find a kid that had never seen a film camera, searching we found him. Because I have two young daughters I knew how to communicate with him. After a time he felt safe around us. I think some of the reactions you are seeing form him are genuine reactions because the film is filled with a great deal of shadow and he’s dealing with some familiar rage and the breakdown of the nuclear family. It was not an easy shoot for him but you have to make sure they trust you and never put him in a situation that is frightening. Psychologically it is a tough part for him. His performance, Jeremy Thompson, is one of the best I’ve seen.

Guillermo: Remember sometimes you are seeing a two minute scene and it took all day to shoot. The boy is going to see the monster sitting around eating a bagel and drinking some coffee and there’s a lot of that energy down. As long as you treat the actors with respect and care, no matter what age, that they are in good and intelligent hands. They become great partners.

Scott: At one time I was an actor with an unremarkable careers and I tend to write for certain actors and have certain actors in mind. I had it with Jeff Bridges in CRAZY HEART and Christian Bale. I work with Jessie Plemmons in this film, this is our third film together and I had Kerrie Russell in mind for a long time because she is such a relatable actor and someone who is really open with the audience but with all the filmmakers and actors and completely put you at ease. It seemed really fresh as a teacher coming back to this small town in Oregon, leaving for reasons that will come out in the film, to reconnect with her brother played by Jessie Plemmons. Because I had been an actor I felt like I spoke the same language.

Use of coverage.

Scott: I generally don’t shoot with more than one and everyone once in a while I’ll use two. I don’t shoot a lot of coverage or a lot of rehearsal. It’s a live wire of getting it between action and cut. With each film I’m learning to tell the story with the camera than dialogue. Guillermo is much more experienced than I am making as many films as he has.

Guillermo: I’m most single camera films because that brings position but you can use multiple cameras with great positions. There was a sequence in BLADE II with 13 cameras for a single take. We couldn’t do it twice. CRIMSON PEAK, THE SHAPE OF WATER, those were single camera. You do them more like a melody. In a movie like PACIFIC RIM you are going to need them for the action films. If you are going to shake the whole set you want the positions to be the same. Shooting with kids sometimes you need two cameras because you are going to get something that is unrepeatable. I don’t do what you would call overage. Coverage is for directors that find the rhythm in the editing room. That is a certain type of editor. I like to find the final form in the editors room.

What is the process for the camera.

Guillermo: I write ‘Maria is at the door…she steps in’ , every dot and dash is a camera. You have a storyboard and then you have the actors and you either throw the one before out the window or you preserve it. I think the beauty of camera is that the lens and camera are brush strokes. It is not style, its substance.

Scott: In the writing stage for me, it is through adjectives or I write camera moves in or we will talk about what a character will do in the scene. Once you get there and rehearse it with the actors and unless you are locked in it you will know where you are going to place your opening shot in that particular scene. Then we are motivated by the movement or the crux of the scene whether the camera is pushing in or pulling back.

Writing now?

Scott: I can say Christian Bale who is my closest pal and collaborator we have a couple of films we are going to make pending time. I’ve written a piece for Elizabeth Moss and I’m not quite sure what will be next.

Pandemic changes.

Guillermo: We have been going through more schedule changes than ever. I was saying the other day that the blessing of having this cast is amazing but the difficulties are rescheduling. Everyone is on demand and going everywhere. I think that one of the things I’d like to think is that for every problem there is one simple and graceful solution. You might not see it right away but I think we’ve found the silver bullet to make it work. It’s not easy, its not easy also to simple anticipate how the set is going to work. You are operating a large surgical theatre. You have to be sterile, everyone in conditions that are almost clinical. The way you approach and stage with the extras, the way you hire them and now have to buy them out for many, many weeks. You have to have them be monogamous to the film. There are dozens and dozens of pages of questions. My feeling is that this is going to go on for another few months and shooting is going to be interesting. Filmmaking is the art of extracting beauty from diversity.



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About the Author

Jeri Jacquin

Jeri Jacquin covers film, television, DVD/Bluray releases, celebrity interviews, festivals and all things entertainment.