Richard Gray’s Mine Games was released last year in the UK, although its US release is only now just on the horizon. As well as this tense, atmospheric, time-travel thriller on his CV, Gray is currently finishing off the Jason Momoa-starring Sugar Mountain before going in with balls of steel to tackle the remake of genre classic Audition. We were lucky enough to grab an hour of the writer/director’s time to get the scoop on these projects, his thoughts on remakes, and a whole lot more.
Starburst: We got Mine Games last year in the UK, although it’s only just getting a US release. How come there’s been such a delay in the States?
Richard Gray: Well we shot a new ending, which was a bit too quick for the UK release. We had a good release before but we wanted to wait for the build-up to Halloween. One thing just leads to another, things get pushed – we actually shot it a long time ago but we didn’t really get finished until quite recently.
We understand the film went through a few names changes as well, starting as Mine Games, changing to The Evil Within, then settling on Mine Games…
I’m very glad it went back. We’ve been through every kind of indie dilemma. Firstly, coming out round about the time when DVD collapsed in the UK, having to learn a lot – it was my first American film since moving from Australia. So it’s been a really educational process. We’re very proud of the film, we made it for next to nothing, around $700,000, and we were very happy to get it made in the first place.
Having seen the movie, we found it to be very atmospheric and with some tense reveals. In terms of comparisons, the only thing we could really compare it to in any way would be Triangle, starring Melissa George.
That’s a great example. The original script was written a long time ago, before Triangle, which I really enjoyed. That was the element that excited me. We’ve all seen the loop and the twist, the Triangle aspects, before. In my movie, what we liked was people discovering something different. The antagonist was coming from within them, as a friend. We hadn’t seen that before. Usually you’re expecting a film like this to have some mad person, mad guy, mad creature. I really liked the Lord of the Flies element of it, like kids turning on themselves.
In Mine Games, there’s plenty of twists and turns throughout. How tricky was it to plan those things out and to make the story flow naturally?
Oh, it was a totally headfuck. Each character had three versions of themselves, if you think about it; the characters that arrive, the characters in the middle, and the characters who arrive at the end. On the flipside, because we were just working with these certain actors, it was quite awesome to do, just a few locations, like where they shot Twin Peaks. It was kinda cool – we all just lived in the same hotel together, had some barbecues when we’d wrap in the afternoons, a really good family environment.
When you came on board the project, what did you set out to achieve from it?
Well my first film was a romantic drama, but I love thrillers and I love horrors. I thought this was a mix of psychological thriller that is a little bit more of a character exploration than a straight horror. It probably doesn’t have enough horror elements in it to be classed as a horror, but that was more interesting to me. I wanted to have a crack at the genre but I wanted one that was character based.
And was the majority of it shot it in an actual mine or was there a lot of soundstages used?
It was a combination. There’s these lava tunnels around the Oregon and Washington border. These lava tubes just had phenomenal production value. It was very cold. For the set-pieces, like bridges collapsing, we used a soundstage. That was one of the hardest thing to do. We had probably a football field size tunnel, then we’d reconfigure it in a giant shape, put in a different corner. It was hard because we hadn’t shot the existing mine yet. The exterior is a real coalmine that’s still there and is incredibly spooky. The interior is a mixture of these lava tubes and mines built on a stage.
How did the cast and crew handle the limited space?
Yeah, they were all there for the right reasons. We had a bunch of Aussies there who had just got their work visas, we had a young group of actors who were doing something that wasn’t just Twilight and was something that was just a little bit different, so everyone wanted to be there. It was really big on energy for us and it was a lot of fun.
And how long did the shoot take?
We shot for six weeks. It’s just so hard to get any sort of standout in the current climate. The good thing about this genre is that people use word of mouth, and then obviously people like you, publications like yours – that’s the key to us trying to spread the word.
How has the feedback been so far from the film showing at festivals?
It’s been great. It was a festival favourite at Aruba, it was the first film to sell out in Melbourne, and it’s done well. With this genre comes heavy criticism, but that’s alright, you just take it in your stride because you kind of need to be knowing what you’re watching. But the fans of the genre have loved it – we’ve had a lot of support from the people in the UK who have watched it. It was a shame that they didn’t release it on Blu-ray in the UK and with very little publicity there, but hopefully the domestic release in the US will put us on the map a little bit.
How has the reaction been back in Australia? Is there more press coverage over there?
We did around the time of the Melbourne Film Festival, but they’re waiting on the Australian release until the US release. So it’s just a case of waiting for us. We’ve actually made four films since then. But it was awesome for us to get back to Mine Games – it was a very important step to us. Australia can be very supportive but, I guess a little back like the UK, Australia is a very hard market at the moment. I think people try to be really supportive but in Australia there’s very little avenues. It’s really hard times over there.
From speaking to other Australian filmmakers, it seems as if critics over there can be particularly harsh on genre films. Is that the case?
It’s really hard. People either love it or hate it. They have their knives out in the genre as well because it’s such a revered genre that has rules - the fans are certainly the most passionate. It’s like walking on a tightrope, but any chance you can have to be a part of that is great. I really thought that the premise of Mine Games was original and you hadn’t quite seen it before, and I still don’t think you have. I feel like it’s got something a little bit different to it.
Away from Mine Games, you have The Lookalike set for a release and Sugar Mountain in post-production. What can you tell us about that?
The Lookalike is playing on Sky in the UK already, then it’s due to go theatrical in the US. The market has shifted so much. That’s a crime thriller produced by Justin Long in a True Romance-type of world. We’re really excited about that – my wife wrote that and we shot it in New Orleans. It was just so much fun. It was originally an Australian script but John Corbett, Gina Gershon, Jerry O’Connell, Luis Guzman - just a really great, exciting cast for me as big fans of all those people. That was great, a great experience. Then we came and shot Sugar Mountain in Alaska. That has a Simple Plan feel to it, A Simple Plan that Sam Raimi directed with Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton. It’s just this hoax that goes wrong, then a tangled web ensues. These two brothers plan this hoax that goes horribly wrong. Jason Momoa is in it, he’s fantastic. It was a great time for us as it was just before he was announced as playing Aquaman in the new Batman and Justice League movies…
Which still hasn’t officially been announced at this stage…
It was funny . And Cary Elwes was great - such a mixed career between Saw and The Princess Bride and all these things that people just love. So between Cary and Jason, we had a great bunch of kids playing the leads. And shooting in Alaska was an experience. You could shoot from the side of the road and still get a spectacular shot. So we’re in post-production for that right now.
Do you have anything in place in terms of a rough release date?
We’re sort of setting our sights on the Berlin timeframe, that market. So the end of the year it’ll be finished, then we’re actually making the remake of Audition. We’re moving into that next. It’s been a great journey between those four films. There’s a true line there, the thriller, psychological element of them. And it’s amazing to be able to have a crack at Audition, and I’m sure the knives will be out on that one.
Whoever got the Audition remake was always going to get it in the neck, but how did you end up getting that gig?
I was such a fan, and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think I could bring something different. It’s certainly not going to be a shot-to-shot remake. We’re adapting the book. The book has so much depth, a much bigger canvas, a bigger well to draw from. I was meeting with Mario Kassar, the producer of Terminator 2, Basic Instinct, Lolita, Rambo, and we were talking about another project. He happened to mention what I thought of the original Audition. In America or around the world, you either know Audition or you’ve never heard of it. I happened to be one of those that knew of it, had watched it a thousand times and had always dreamed of how it lends itself to a US remake because the basic premise is so American – the casting couch as the basic setup. So Mario said I could have a crack at writing the adaptation. After seeing my previous films he said that if I could impress him the script, which I wrote with my wife, then I could direct it.
So no pressure then?
No, no . But It’s such a good premise to work for. I hate, hate remakes but occasionally, when they offer something new, as a fan of the original you’re just happy to see the content. And there’s a lot of new stuff in the book that not a lot of people will have seen, not a lot of people will have read the book. So I feel there’s extra stuff to work with. At the time that violence was so shocking, some of the sequences so amazing, but we’ve seen a lot since then, been desensitised a little bit. That’s an opportunity to look at the psychological elements and the other things that the film’s about. Straight violence doesn’t really do it anymore, so we’re looking at the misogynistic angles and ageism and sexism angles – all this really great, different things from the book as well. We’re hoping that we’re going to bring enough cool stuff to it, that there’s a reason for us to do it. Mario’s been on this for ten years, this is a passion project for him. He’s made some pretty phenomenal sequels along the way, certainly Terminator 2, so he wouldn’t do it unless he thought we could do something.
Often the term remake or reboot makes genre fans cringe, but then some, such as Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead, catch us off guard and actually craft their own path whilst still staying respectful to the original movie. It’s a hard one to balance.
Exactly! I’ve not seen that movie myself but I was a major fan of the original RoboCop. I heard someone talking about the remake and really being pleasantly surprised. He wanted to hate it but he was very happy to see that character go around again. Certainly the American audience, the vast majority, haven’t seen Audition, so if you can just do a good job and not piss off the fans that are so, so passionate, and rightly so, there’s a reason to show a large audience something that they haven’t seen. That could make them revisit the original, which would be fantastic.
Just don’t do something similar to Spike Lee’s Oldboy…
And that all looked good from the outside! We were actually shooting alongside them in New Orleans. When you look at that director, you look at the cast, you see how difficult it must be. You see the really interesting choices that are made to have a crack at it.
And when you were offered the Audition remake, was there any trepidation or any part of you that just thought you couldn’t do it?
Oh yeah. Still! I’ve got a vision and I’m doing the storyboards now, getting really stuck into it, trying to go all out and not make any compromises. It’s very hard when your mind is trying to do things that are a thousand times bigger. But that’s the climate that we’re working in, operating outside the studio system. So you question yourself the whole time, why am I doing this, do I wanna do this, but that’s kind of a mix that can only push me to get better.
Regardless of how good it ends up, there’s always going to be a certain group who are going to be against the film purely because it’s not the original.
Exactly, mate. Oldboy is such a striking example of a film that’s similarly adored. So for a very talented, powerful, amazing director and a very talented leading man to have that happen … all it does is build the pressure. But you’ve gotta be in it to win it. You may as well give it a crack.
Has there been any serious talks on who you’ll bring in to star in Audition or on a start date for the film?
Yeah, we’re probably shooting in the fall over here, so just before Christmas. We’re just about to kick-off casting so no news on that yet. We’re actually looking at the locations and scouting at the moment. It’s just a case of cracking along, we’re finishing Sugar Mountain now.
Are you looking to go with some big names for the central roles of the film or more down-low, smaller names?
It’s a very difficult decision. You want the best actors, but we’re talking with Mario . So actually we’re not sure, but there’ll certainly always be recognisable, talented actors. We’re just not sure how commercial or what their star power will be.
We’d say a relatively unknown in the lead female role would be a better option, but we’re just the guys who write about these films…
No, that’s the smart way to go about it. We certainly didn’t need to know, or people outside of the Japanese industry didn’t need to know, who those actors were in Audition, although we certainly knew who the director was.
Other than Oldboy, what were you thoughts on the varying quality of the US remakes, such as The Ring, The Grudge, Dark Water, and what lessons have you taken from those?
Creatively it’s a mixed bag, for me, but I see positives in most of them. I think The Grudge was a phenomenal success, then The Ring films were just very different movies. I remember watching the three originals back-to-back in Melbourne and I was never more scared in my life. It’s hard. When it’s your job, it’s very hard to be judgemental. But I thought Naomi Watts did an amazing job in those Ring movies. When I heard Oldboy was being remade by Spike Lee, I didn’t feel negative about that. Or the Psycho remake done shot-for-shot. It’s just very interesting decisions. You could also give the angle that 15-year-olds have never seen the original and will never sit down to watch a film in black and white. You’re kinda damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you don’t do what the original movie did, then you hear that the original was so much better. Then if you do what the original movie did, then you have people asking why you bothered to do it if it’s just like watching the original. You need to stick to the emotion of what the original gave you, whether it’s a one-shot fight scene that you hadn’t seen before. You can’t match that so you’ve got to think what is the next step. If it’s all violence and blood splattering, limbs being knocked off, we’ve seen it now. What is gonna make your skin crawl more and what’s your original take on it? That’s where we’re coming from. How did the original make you feel and how could we make you feel that in today’s world that’s almost fifteen years on? Why did it make you feel like that, that’s the one basic breakdown is that everyone’s a little bit different now. You have to believe that you can add something more. The misogynistic angle is something that’s very much of interest to us right now. Auditioning a wife, especially now, there’s something about that that we think we can really work with. She could be a little bit of an antihero, there’s something about her that’s a little bit murky, a little less cut-and-dry. It’s funny, in the book the dog gets it very violently, leg after leg, and that is worse than doing it to humans, I would say. So there’s gonna be a lot of trial and error, I think. The book goes into great, great detail on their date scenes, it talks a lot about class, about Japanese traditions. The book reads far more like a psychological thriller, and the movie, of course, the first hour is like a romantic drama.
And the contrast with what happens at the end, it’s the early setup work that makes it work so well…
Yeah, because you care. That’s the beautiful thing. Whether a modern day audience would sit through that, that’s another question. But you don’t wanna lose that great character setup as that’s what makes you care in the end.
That must make it tricky in terms of how you market the movie?
When people talk about it, you’re gonna hear about the eyes and the legs and the nurse, that sort of stuff. That’s a tribute to how good the original is, but I’m not sure that many people who haven’t seen the original will be wanting to sit down for an hour of eating fish or the amazing, hypnotic scenes of the original. But we need to get what that gave us.
You touched on the animal stuff there, is that something you’ll be looking to incorporate or is that a bit too much?
It’s a test. It’s something that we’d probably do and then not do. You wanna push things but there’s something more evil about hurting animals, particularly today. So it’s just another one of those things.
As huge fans of the Halloween movies, the scene where Michael Myers kills a dog in the first movie is still one of the most memorable kills of the whole series. You don’t even see it on screen but it stays with you, even above a lot of the human kills.
Yes! You can’t come back! It’s seen as the biggest moment of evil, of not caring. Also, of course, in Audition there’s the element of ‘you can only love me.’ If you have a son, that’s something that gets in the way of your love for me. It might be something that we do a test on.
After Audition, is there anything else you have lined up or are you busy with your current projects for the foreseeable future?
The Lookalike comes out in November, then Sugar Mountain will be coming out, then we’ll be working on Audition. So that’s kind of the next two years for me.
In terms of a release for Audition, are you looking at a late 2015, early 2016 release at the moment?
Yeah, but it sort of depends. If you go by the normal thought, you’d be thinking late next year. Depending on the distribution and how good it is, you never know how quickly or how late, but that would be round the right time.
We suppose one of the silver linings is that all of the people who will be hating on the film will likely end up going and watching it…
I love that. It’s actually one of the things that got me over the line with it, that I could get an audience who will go and see things and really, really judge me. It’s about having the balls to take that on and go “well I loved the original, I’m a fan.” Now when I see people that haven’t seen it, haven’t seen the original, to see what they think, and if they revisit the original then no one really loses. That’s the thing, that’s why we do this, you put yourself out there to be judged.
And if there was any other thing that you could remake, what would be your dream project to take on?
I loved Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. That’s a weird one for you. I think it’s one, with the current crop of actors, that you could blow away. I feel that could be sexed up a little bit but still done in the South and still done period. I like everything but that one’s always been in my head.
Mine Games, already available in the UK, is released on October 7th in the US. For more on Richard’s upcoming projects, be sure to follow him on Twitter or keep an eye on the Mine Games’ Facebook page.
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