Marcus Nispel (Director - Texas Chainsaw Mass'e)
'We're All Going On A Summer Slaughterday!'
On August 20th, 1973, police were dispatched to the remote farmhouse of Thomas Hewitt, the former head-skinner at a local slaughterhouse in Travis County, Texas. What they found within the confines of the cryptic residence was the butchered remains of 33 human victims, a chilling discovery that shocked and horrified a nation in what many still refer to as the most notorious mass murder case of all time. Wearing the grotesque flesh masks of his victims and brandishing a chainsaw, the killer, known as “Leatherface,” would gain infamy when sensational headlines were splashed across newspapers throughout the state of Texas: “House of Terror Stuns Nation – Massacre in Texas.”
New Line Cinema presents ’The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, a terrifying journey into a heart of unimaginable darkness as five young adults are stranded in a rural Texas town, only to find themselves fighting for their lives against ‘Leatherface’ and his bizarre clan. Inspired by the 1974 classic film of the same name, the new film stars Jessica Biel, Jonathan Tucker, Erica Leerhsen, Mike Vogel and Eric Balfour. Co-starring are screen veteran R. Lee Ermey, Lauren German, David Dorfman, Andrew Bryniarski, Terrence Evans, Heather Kafka and Marietta Marich.
Marcus Nispel, the mastermind behind many of the most powerful images and story-telling themes in contemporary music videos and commercials, makes his feature film directorial debut. German-born Nispel started his career in advertising as an art director for Young & Rubicam in Frankfurt, Germany. He came to America on a Fulbright scholarship in 1984 at the age of 20 and made his directing debut in 1989 with a series of music videos for C&C Music Factory. To date, Nispel has directed over 1000 commercials and music videos with some of the latter including over fifteen #1 songs and several breakthrough videos.
Chatting to him now, I’m told I’m the last in line of his journalistic requirements for the day and so instructed to just chat away with no time limits! A journalists dream for sure, so I settled myself into my chair, took stock of my notes and questions and turned the next thirty minutes into the Marcus and Russ show!
People will always ask WHY remake such an iconic cult classic … so what WAS the reasoning behind it? ”Some reviewers wrote that there are five movies you should never remake: ‘Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz’ and like at the end of the list was ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’! And, you know, I believe that myself,” he laughs. ”It started like a prank because Daniel Pearl, who’s one of my best friends and longtime DP and Cinematographer, he did the first one when he was fresh from film school! So, every time we shoot, inevitably you hear all these war stories from the first one! He wanted to be the first DP to make the same movie twice! I thought that was good reason enough,” he laughs again.
Did you have a budget constraint on you for this film? ”Well, it was kinda like High School with money, because it was so different than the first one, you know. The first one was a deconstruction masterpiece from the ‘70s, right up there with “Easy Rider.’ String-budget people go out and make this movie and figure things out as they go along. They’re fresh from film school making one for the first time and here now a few years later you have some of the wealthiest directors and artisans embarking on this, including Michael Bay! Yet inflation works in miraculous ways and we could only afford the same amount of shoot days as the first one.”
So, what was going through your mind as you began shooting those first scenes? ”How do you go out and you deconstruct the masterpiece of deconstruction,” he gently laughs. ”And, essentially, I wanted to shoot a beautiful, poetic version. A lot of people think I got it wrong, because I don’t know any different ‘cause perhaps the Pepsi commercials softened my core, but in a way I felt that I had a different way of looking at things. If we would have imitated the style of the first one like they did on 'Psycho' we would have hear complaints as well. Screwed if you do and screwed if you don't.”
What were the early days of filming this movie like? ”Here is a movie where everybody goes out on a limb. It’s too little money, too little time, but the entire first act we shot on the first day. We shot twenty pages on the first day with the kids in the van and the average is like three pages a day. We had some great actors and they got an average of two takes the actors.”
What were the advantages of shooting in linear, chronological sequence? ”In hindsight, great,” he laughs. ”for like Jessica, for example, who’s a fantastic actress, but not a good screamer! She gets hoarse really fast and so if we’d have started with a later scene and then would have had to shoot one of the earlier scenes, it would have been impossible. But, we realized as we went along that the kids really never think to put themselves into that zone, you know! And, Jessica cried for the second half of the movie – we’re talking like fifteen days, constantly crying!”
Which scene in the film actually made YOU jump when you saw the final cut? ”Well, this is the thing. Any director that does a scary move and tells you that it’s scary is lying! Because it’s never scary for the guy who’s pulling the trick on somebody else. So, what you do at a certain point is you stop watching the screen and start watching the audience. But, a funny thing did happen. We had to do some additional shooting and we were talking about the ending cut. Originally, in my original cut, ‘Leatherface’ does not bubble up one more time and so the editor re-edited the scene where Pepper [Erica Leerhsen] gets killed and so I’m sitting there watching as the tension builds up. Well, suddenly, Erin’s [Jessica Biel] driving away and unbeknownst to me he puts the scene in where ‘Leatherface’ takes one more whack and I’m just like shrieking out of my seat ‘cause I didn’t know he’d cut it in already and I didn’t see it coming,” he laughs."All you really get paid for is your judgement. You don’t do anything! You go like, ‘Yeah, that looks believable’ and ‘Yeah, that’s a good performance.’ That’s all that you do. It’s like, the scene when the Sheriff shows up, that’s something that never worked for the longest time. And it’s really just a frame more, a frame less with the right sound effect and all of a sudden people are shrieking like crazy.”
Aside from the gore and stuff, there also seemed to be a lot of psychologically scary moments too! ”If you take the blood of the first one and the blood of the second one, and you pour both in the same bucket, you still have less blood than you have in your average CSI episode. So clearly you have to work on that psychological level. Yeah, it was like anything that makes it more scary, let’s do that,” he laughs.
What press have you seen for this movie thus far? ”I’ve read reviews like Roger Ebert’s who massacre’s it,” he laughs. ”But, he is like the teacher of the 'old' school that we got really, really good, you know. It's like we pissed on his Volkswagen. But, yeah, he hated our guts! He was like ‘Don’t see it, don’t see it, don’t see it’! I think we got zero points. Oh yeah, he hated it because he hates everything that we stand for!”
Do you have any behind-the-scenes secrets you can bestow upon my readers? ”It’s funny, but I’ve just finished working on the DVD and so going frame-by-frame, doing the color correction for digital, I suddenly realized that my AD’s head is in one of the shots,” he laughs loudly. ”I dare your readers to try and find it! It’s like, who can find Waldo?!”
And so, what’s next on the directorial table? ”You know it took me 10 years to finally direct this one and I think now that I’ve seen just how hard this is, I think maybe in 20 years we should talk again,” he laughs. ’I want to be careful and I want to look around for the right thing. I know I want it to be at the opposite end of the spectrum as I literally look for love stories. I look for family kinda stories. I like making paintings, you know so this was a great way to practice [Edgar] Degas and maybe I do one where I get to practice [Sandro] Botticelli,” he again laughs.
Did you learn anything about yourself whilst directing this film? ”Er, good question! Jesus, that’s a really good one. Ahh, yeah, I learnt to let go. You learn to let go because I come from a world where you do 30 seconds, everything is storyboarded and everybody adjusts their antenna towards the director. So, they’re like ‘What do you want me to do’ and ‘How do you want me to say it?’ So, here what you do is you have people bring gifts and offerings to the party and I’m just the thankful, appreciative recipient, you know. This may sound weak, but in a way I see this as a sign of strength. To allow that to happen and to allow them to infuse it and blow life into what is otherwise dead.”
Finally, sum up your 2003 film version of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ in 3 words ”Oh, wow … rock ‘n’ roll,” he laughs for the last time.
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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