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Is Frank Khalfoun a MANIAC? – an interview with the director

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Disclosure: This interview was done late October 2012 and I have waited to post it until it comes out on Video On Demand, iTunes, etc.

MANIAC poster

After some introductions from Danielle Freiburg (from the publicity and promotions arm of IFC Films) I got to say my “Hellos” to Franck Khalfoun director of the ‘remake of the 1980 horror classic MANIAC — and finally get started. This interview was originally delayed due to Hurricane Irene hitting NYC, so we were able to catch up a week later.

The first thing he asked me was: Did you get to see the film?
I got a screener sent to me by IFC, so I saw it at my house. My boyfriend chose to stop watching after about the first 20 minutes. It was a little too gory for him.

I think somebody passed out at a screening we had.
Oh wow. That’s impressive.
Yeah, it was a great honor for me.

I was at Harry Knowles’ Butt-Numb-A-Thon a few years ago, and the film FROZEN was playing, and during this scene where there are three people trapped on a stuck ski-lift one of them decides he’s going to jump down and snowboard down the mountain to get help for his two friends. It’s about a 75-foot drop (23 meters) and when he does, he gets multiple compound fractures for his trouble. One of the attendees, who was heading to the restroom, but keeping an eye on the screen, saw this and passed out. It turned out the year before she’d broken her back in a motorcycle accident, and it was a PTSD thing for her. The directorwas there, and he was not-so secretly pleased.

Ow! — Yeah, it’s a strange thing when that happens, for sure.
Talking about things in the horror genre, things that are violent are often criticized as being detrimental to society (in that there is a numbing to levels of violence), so what appeals to you about the horror genre?

 

I can say it’s kind of a hook. It’s the kind of emotion, that, that hopefully (slight chuckle) they’ll never have to really experience. Feeling emotions and sensations that are dangerous. And criminal. And violent and creative without actually the danger of being involved, you know?
I certainly hope, having said that, that there is caution used when people watch it. It should be watched by adults, obviously. It’s all to create some visceral things for the viewer. I couldn’t have just put out a picture that said my point is to scare people about other people, you know? To foster a sense of paranoia. I think that people who come to see these movies understand those differences and come to enjoy those virtual experiences without really being harmed.

Manaic 3

To experience it all vicariously…

You come into a theatre and watch something and you’re safe. Which is why what happened in Colorado (the Aurora theatre shootings) was so terrible.

Theatres are a temple as far as I’m concerned; where at the same time you can learn about yourself about society and about where you live. But it’s a safe place to go primarily. That is why that was so horrific. Because that’s the one place you can experience those things without going through them.

 

I am not a religious person, and I agree that theatres are a sacred space for me. I have friends in that area of Colorado who might have been at that movie. They weren’t, but of course that’s where my mind went when the news broke.

I have a technical question or two: since you were also the editor for this, was there much left on the editing room floor so to speak… or did you shoot what we see so that editing would be easier?
Yes… some things… you shoot a lot and tell a story. And then you know, the idea that you write a movie that is different from the movie you shoot, and that’s different from the movie you edit… there are some things that didn’t make it. The ones that didn’t obviously you know, confused the story, or kept it from moving along. You always want the essentials; you want to make a movie with all the necessary parts and no more.

You craft something that keeps somebody’s attention. And something like this, that is kind of experimental and unusual to watch you have a very, very specific — you have sort of, in a way – you guide the audience very specifically, and anything that would pull the audience out of the experience is detrimental to a film like this. It’s already so strange and bizarre. Some things were left out, like in every movie.

And like those, you’ll spend half a day shooting something and that will not make it in the final cut, and you spend ten minutes shooting something else, and it becomes ten minutes of the movie!

Did you have to hire a short cameraman to shoot the POV from Elijah’s footage? I mean, he is not a tall fellow, and I say this as someone who is 5-foot-1.

He chuckles

He is not. And I think shooting like that makes him a little taller. It seemed like it worked to me. It fit. He and the camera seemed the same size.
I liked a lot of the stylistic things, and how things were shot in it. I really liked the one where he’s laying on the agent and its shot from overhead and you see him laying on her and I really dug the composition of it.

maniac-image06
How much erasing of crew and camera in post production was needed? How much was in-camera trickery to not be seen?

(There are many shots of Frank Zito (Wood) looking directly into reflective surfaces as part of the plot/feel/look)

It’s all in camera. No CGI or trading fake reflections. Oh, I’m lying. It’s 99%. There’s one reflection added somewhere, but the majority of the film is all real. It’s all old-school tricks.

 

I am so glad to hear that! I am tired of CGI covering for a lack of skill or knowledge of a director/cinematographer to know how to shoot those things without using trickery in a computer. This is how it was done for 100 years.
Since we were sort-of being lined up against, or compared to, what the genre audience considers a “masterful” horror film in the original, it was important that was we tried to stay as technically and cinematic-ly different (and true) as we could.

But it’s also what I like. But CGI for the sake of CGI never fits anything. If it’s the only way to do it, fine… but we’ve been making movies forever without it and evoking the same emotion and characters without it.

As an audience member, I appreciate that. When you shot it, were you looking to partner with IFC?

Is it getting theatrical/indie-art house release? VOD?

IFC has bought the film for North America, Warner Brothers is distributing across Europe. We independently raised the monies. We didn’t concern ourselves with that. When we got offers, we had producers and that was it! I was concerned with making a cool film. I didn’t concern myself with it.
I also have Alex Aja, (co- writer) who is a close friend and collaborator and a great director, who was producing and Thomas Langdon who’s a pretty ballsy producer. His film before this was THE ARTIST. This shows you his range of interests. He’s not afraid to do different things and be creative.

This is really a breath of fresh air when you live in Hollywood, which I do. A breath of fresh air… to do things that are cool, without bothering the director with “Who is the target audience?” and “Who are we going to reach with this?”
And how are we going to make this money back? — You have to have faith in the project and those two producers made it so easy to make MANIAC.

The PR lady Danielle jumped in with a “wrap-it-up …”

So, I know this was an independent and low-budget film (and this is not derogatory) …but you can tell it’s not a $100 million summer film… but the universe that MANIAC is set in, I don’t think this plays against it at all.

Because it is a somewhat quiet film, for a horror film… in the description of the original film, it says that Frank is a schizophrenic and that is often portrayed on film as a back-and-forth between the two (or more) sides of a person… but it seems this has an emphasis on a more quiet side to his mania. Can you speak to working with Elijah on this, and the people was working with?

I think Elijah’s tone, his calm… is that much more eerie because of the fanaticism of his manner. You know, he does some really crazy shit. And I think when you do it with a calm voice it’s that much more terrifying.

There is a schizophrenia about him… he’s trying so badly to fit in, to have something special, to have somebody love him for who he is, someone who will not neglect his attention… And him being calm in the movie, and sort pasted that way, I think is a benefit with the way he juxtaposes those with the intense violence and graphic violence of it. Preparing him…? I mean, he’s a wonderful actor. He knew what he wanted. He understood the character right away. He knew the impact on the people he was playing opposite was going to be seen onscreen. We were going to see his performance through them.

 

It was about being able to really put out the performances from everyone. When he kills, it is one thing… but the challenge was to make a believable relationship with Anna. It had to work. And that he had this rapport with her that’s believable. Until it flies off the handle towards the end, of course.
Slides right off meat cleaver handle, matter of fact!
Yes… right off the meat cleaver handle at that. Hint hint!
That was an especially effective gag as far as the gore goes. I mean, the guy is all “I have awesome teeth!” and you can just tell something is going to happen to them. Ka-pow!

Franck laughs at my description.
At this point, Danielle jumped in to say our time was up, and there were thank you’s all around. I would also like to extend a big thank you to IFC Films for making this possible, and Franck for being so good to talk to. I wish we’d gotten more time together; I never even go to ask about the score!

The trailer for MANIAC (UK official) can be found here.

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You can reach Holly on the tweety @MediaTsarina where she expounds on all sorts of schiesse and picks up followers from the strangest of places.

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