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The Crazies - Breck Eisner interview

The Crazies

Interview by Rob Carnevale

BRECK Eisner talks about directing The Crazies, a remake of the little-seen George A Romero horror film, as well as working with Timothy Olyphant and making sure there’s a keen mix of social relevance, horror shocks and non-gratuitous violence.

He also discusses why horror continues to be so popular, especially the remake genre, and why there’s a cameo worth keeping an eye on in the film.

Q. What was the appeal of remaking George A Romero’s The Crazies?
Breck Eisner: Well, originally the movie’s producers had secured rights and when they mentioned it to me [as a potential project] I had a faint memory of seeing the movie as a kid. Of course, I then re-watched it and enjoyed it again. It’s a flawed film but it also had a fantastic concept and offered an engaging, exciting story. That one existed under the shadow of Vietnam and this one speaks to our current situation under the shadow of Iraq and Afghanistan and I felt, therefore, that it resonated as much today as it did back then. So, that was the appeal and the challenge.

Q. You’ve got a great cast… especially leading man Timothy Olyphant…
Breck Eisner: Tim was the first guy we wanted. You know how these things work… you sit down with the studio and everyone makes a list of people who they believe could do the role. But Tim was the guy who came at the top of everyone’s list – he was certainly at the top of mine! And then I was just so excited when he said he wanted to do it.

Q. What was it about him that appealed to you in particular?
Breck Eisner: Deadwood! That was such a great show. And he seems like a real human being. He has modesty as well as a great movie star charisma, and he just seems smart and intelligent. He’s an actor you’re drawn to. And I think that has a lot to do with that intelligence… he’s remarkably intelligent.

Q. I gather he worked a lot with you on fleshing out his character?
Breck Eisner: We spent a long time doing that. Ironically, the script he originally read was actually quite good but as you get nearer to the start of shooting and start breaking it down and analyse things, you also start to pull things apart a bit. Tim was great at analysing his portion of the movie, which was his character, and we spent hours and hours getting it right. But Tim was really right on and played a big part in the creative process.

Q. Was there anything in particular he wanted to bring out, that wasn’t there before?
Breck Eisner: He was insistent on tracking the relationship between the husband and wife, which was to the benefit of the movie. One of the easy, or more typical ways of introducing a couple such as ours is to show that everything is great between them. But Tim suggested that everything’s not always perfect. There are complications in any long-term relationship. He wanted to explore a couple who were in love but in a real, complex and conflicted way. And their journey in the movie brings them closer together.

Q. How violent is this one going to be? Romero’s certainly had its moments!
Breck Eisner: It’s certainly more violent than anything I’ve ever made [laughs]! I’d say the movie is definitely violent and intentionally so. It’s horrific… both in terms of what the poisoning does to people and in the military response to it. But it [the violence] is all to serve the purpose of the movie… the horror and the terror of the disease itself and the military, which is there to be feared. To me, the best horror movies work on a level where the horror and the terror all support the story. And so this is more in the style of the ’70s horror, which had themes of social relevance and explored relationships that mattered. It’s not just about survival… it’s more complex than that, with characters that are worth caring about and taking the journey with.

Q. And of course it has a conspiracy and the government as the villains…
Breck Eisner: It wouldn’t be a Romero remake if there wasn’t a level of conspiracy! But that was one of the appeals of doing this re-imaging… Romero’s movies always had a real social relevance and a message behind them; they were still entertainment for sure, but there was something intelligent behind them. I wanted to make sure to keep that message.

Q. Have you shown it to test audiences?
Breck Eisner: Yes, we’ve shown it to test audiences and it got a great response. They even liked the ending I wanted! And it was great to watch it in a theatre and to experience the audience reaction. It’s akin to a comedy… watching it as part of an overall group experience. People were jumping in all the right places, so it was a great.

Q. There’s a cameo from one of the original cast members, too, I believe?
Breck Eisner: Yep, we have Lynn Lowry cameo. We decided to look her up and see if she would be interested and she was – but only a few eagle-eyed people will be able to pick her out. Part of me wanted to have her on set just so that I could ask her questions about what Romero was like. But everyone really enjoyed having her around and enabling him to be a part of this new experience.

Q. Has Romero seen it?
Breck Eisner: Romero has seen it. He saw it a couple of weeks ago in Toronto and I talked to him afterwards. I was very nervous after showing him the movie but he was very happy and had a lot of positive things to say. It’s a hard thing showing a movie to a director that’s a remake of an original. It’s a complex relationship. But he watched it with an open mind and said that while there are differences, they work. He also commented on the bigger budget for effects – and of course, having more money helps for sure. I think he made his for $220,000, which is an unbelievably low budget. We’re not a huge budget, but we certainly had more than that!

Q. Why is horror such an enduring genre? There are so many remakes, apocalyptic films and/or zombie movies?
Breck Eisner: I think that’s a two-part answer. Firstly, why is horror so popular? I think it’s because people when go to the cinema and have a group experience. It’s one of the reasons Avatar has been so successful. It has the feel of an event movie… the type of film you have to see on the big screen and watch as part of a group experience. And horror has that same feel. It’s a great experience for cinemagoers, and people really want that. It’s best to see a movie like this in the cinema because it makes the horror that much more enjoyable… and the release that much more fun afterwards.

And in terms of zombies and vampire movies, I have no idea why they’re so popular! That said, this is not a zombie movie. This is one of Romero’s few non-zombie movies. But I don’t know if people are just obsessed, or if we’re just not being original enough. But they keep on coming!

View photos from The Crazies