You’d perhaps know filmmaker Brian Taylor as one half of Neveldine/Taylor, the filmmaking duo that brought you such hits as the Crank films and the Gerard Butler vehicle Gamer, but he’s so much more than that.
He’s back, by himself this time, with a new horror/comedy called Mom and Dad, which is about two parents, played by Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair, who are struggling with their age and their dashed dreams, while raising two children that they don’t even seem to recognize anymore. Something (it’s never explained what, much like in George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead) causes all of the parents in the U.S. to snap and start killing their children, and Cage and Blair aren’t exceptions to this, and it’s as predictably bug-nuts crazy as you might hope from a filmmaker with Taylor’s pedigree.
We saw the film at Fantastic Fest last year, and it’s a rollicking good time that may surprise you with its depth. We got the chance to speak with Taylor over the phone, and amongst the things we gleaned from him below about his process and his other projects, we also learned that the man sounds a hell of a lot like Tom Brady, which is always a plus in our book.
Nick Johnston: You’ve talked in previous interviews about how this film’s production schedule was inspired by Night of the Living Dead. We often hear about the challenges of quick productions, but what kind of freedom did such a short shoot provide you with?
Brian Taylor: Well, you tend not to guess or question yourself too much cause there’s just no time to do that, and that’s good. A lot of is it that it’s fun to just get in a zone and just go. I think for the actors, there’s no waiting around, so we’re all on the same page, we all know what movie we’re making, and you just go to war every day. It’s fun. You make quick decisions and the priority becomes performance more so than making this exact precise shot that would have taken you all day, so there’s a lot more energy with the actors. A lot of times with a long or complicated shoot, it can start to feel a little stale, and it’s hard for the actors to rev up, to get emotionally where they need to get, and there’s a lot of other things to think about and a lot of distractions.
So, yeah, it’s fun. I love making quick movies. I was lucky enough to go hang out on David Fincher’s set for Zodiac for an afternoon. You know, I’m a — as I think everybody who loves film is — a huge Fincher fan, and I’m really fascinated by his results, so it was really fun to see the process. But I sat there and watched him talk quietly into a microphone while they did 85 takes of a guy picking up a phone, and I came away from it just thinking “Man, I love his movies, but I could just never do that.” I would lose my mind. I just don’t have that capability. I’m just a fan of working fast.
You’ve worked with Nicolas Cage in the past, on the Ghost Rider sequel. How was it working with him on a project outside of the studio system?
Uh, it’s awesome. I mean, it’s really awesome — this movie could never be made inside of the studio system and I don’t even think Crank could be made in the studio system these days, let alone this thing. Just because of the money involved in these mass-marketed mass-releases, it makes it almost impossible to make strange or bold decisions, to really go for those kind of moments. It’s really difficult to do, though it happens every now and then, but it’s not common. So I love the freedom of it, and I know that Nicolas does too. So we were just able to really embrace what the movie is, and we were able to be our own censors, so we knew when something went too far. There’s a line, there’s a moving line here, and we just had to have our own gut feeling for when we were coming up to the line without crossing it. At the end of the day, you’re gonna be held responsible for everything in the movie — It’s our names on it — so if that’s the case, we’re much more comfortable making those decisions for ourselves than having someone dictate [our standards] to us.
There’s a remarkable amount of empathy involved for everyone in this situation, but especially for the parents, who could have become cookie-cutter bad guys in a weaker film. Do you think you would have written this script differently, say, in 2007 than you would have now?
Well, I was already a parent in 2007 as well, so I would have had that perspective, and the world was different. You know, in genre — that’s a really good question, that’ll probably answer indirectly or not at all, in terms of where I was at in 2007 [laughs] — but I will say that good genre needs to have subtext, and it’s always built on subtext. I was talking recently about werewolf movies back in the ’50s, and how they were movies about kids going through puberty and becoming teenagers and changing and becoming scary and unrecognizable to their parents and stuff like that. That’s why those movies work. It’s not just a monster, it’s a monster with context, and it’s making a metaphor into a monster.
So for a movie like this, it’s all about the subtext and it’s all about the context. So the idea that these parents are sort of lost in their roles and dealing with feelings of obsolescence and irrelevance has everything to do with the movie — it’s kind of what gives the movie a reason to be. If it was just a movie that was trying to terrify you or scandalize you or shock you with this idea of “Oh my god, it’s taboo for parents [to kill] kids,” then for me it wouldn’t be interesting. There’s a version of that movie that someone could make and it’s one that they could probably have a lot of sick fun with, but that’s just not my thing. It’s not a movie that would interest me that much. So, the empathy to me was the point.
What surprised you the most about the audience reactions at the festivals Mom and Dad has played at? Did it play the way you wanted it to?
It played great at TIFF and Fantastic Fest and also at Screamfest on Monday it also played really great. I kind of always felt that audiences would respond to the movie and I knew the third act would be like a roller coaster and play great with anybody who walked in there. But if there was a surprise — and there was one — it was how well the movie was reviewed. Making the kind of movies that I make, I’m not used to getting good reviews [laughs]. It was very unusual to me. You know, I’m usually the guy who takes bad reviews as a badge of honor, I’ve always taken that approach to my work, and you hope that the people who like it like it. You’re kind of making the movie for yourself at the end of the day.
But this has been the best reviewed movie that I’ve ever done, and the reviews themselves have been very perceptive and really sort of sensitive to the subtext and really just getting the movie that I wanted to make. And I’m not one hundred percent sure that I made the movie that I wanted to make. I know what I was I was trying to do, I don’t know if I achieved it or what percentage that I actually got there. You know, if it’s a movie and it’s 50 or 60 percent of what you wanted it to be — I know Fincher says that if you get to 85 percent then it’s a miracle — so I’m not sure how well I achieved what I was trying to achieve but it was really great to read the reviews, the vast majority of them, I’d say, that really understood what I was trying to do, and I feel that I at least got part of the way there.
Finally, any news on that women-led Lord of the Flies project you’ve been trying to get made for the last five years?
Well, Warner Brothers announced about six months ago that they’re going to be doing a Lord of the Flies remake with an all-girl cast, so I guess my version that I’ve been trying to get off the ground for years fizzled. [laughs] What can I tell you?
Yeah, I know. It’s a great script, but it happens all the time. I can’t even tell you. Some of the best things I’ve ever written, we weren’t able to find people with the courage to do what we needed to do in order to put the movie together, and then a few years later you see a little piece of it there and a little piece of it there and another piece there. It’s a big world out there with a lot of creative people, and when you come up with something that’s original or a little different, you better make it quick, because original ideas are fragile. They’re very fragile things. But it’s a great script, and I would have loved to make that movie. Who knows? Maybe something crazy might happen.
Mom and Dad hits theaters and your favorite Video-on-Demand provider on January 19. Image via Momentum Pictures.