How a one-word email and a ringtone got David Gordon Green to direct Halloween

David Gordon Green has always demonstrated considerable directorial dexterity, equally comfortable behind the camera on heartfelt indies (All The Real Girls, Undertow, Joe), low-brow comedies (Pineapple Express, Your Highness) and studio dramas (Stronger, Our Brand Is Crisis), not to mention some groundbreaking TV shows (Eastbound & Down, Vice Principals).

Nevertheless, the news that he’d be making a new Jamie Lee Curtis-starring entry in the Halloween series, and writing it with his longtime collaborator Danny McBride, was met with some degree of surprise. No doubt, just surprise. A thoughtful and organic filmmaker no matter what the genre, Green can always be relied upon to do something interesting.

When word emerged that the film would ignore every other film in the narratively-messy franchise (which now includes Rob Zombie’s 2007 reboot and its 2009 sequel), and that John Carpenter himself was onboard as Executive Producer and composer (alongside son Cody), it became clear that this new Halloween was coming from a very reverent place.

Flicks chatted with Green recently on the backlot of Universal Studios, the birthplace of the cinematic horror genre.

FLICKS: Are you still in touch with Terrence Malick?

DAVID GORDON GREEN: I haven’t talked to him in a couple of years. I moved out of Austin, so we would get together when I lived down there a bit. We would have fun. We had dinner with Al Pacino one time, which was a trip. But now I live in Charleston, South Carolina.

You and Danny have had this fruitful collaboration going for quite a while. Were you always both horror fans?

We were everything fans. When we met in film school, we’d be talking about Halloween and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Romancing The Stone and Night of the Hunter in the same conversation. I’m a big movie nut, but he’s a culture nut. He knows everything about what’s going on in the world with video games and music and things way beyond my expertise. He’s just a sponge for what’s going on in the world. And it’s amazing to have somebody like that, that you can create with and try to contribute to the culture that we live in.

Was Halloween something you guys had always wanted to take a whack at or was this project pitched to you?

It’s a strange series of events and it’s hard to explain. I got this email from Jason Blum that just said: ‘Halloween?’. And this has not happened very often in my life, but I knew exactly what he meant and I was certain it was going to happen. I knew what he meant, I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew we were gonna do it. It was just this tidal wave of confidence.

So I talked to Jason, they’d just acquired the rights [read more on that in our interview with Blum], wanted to do something with it and were gonna hear ideas. And I called Danny and said: ‘Guess what, this is crazy, I’m gonna go talk to Jason.’ And he was like ‘Not without me you’re not.’ So then we just decided to do it together and we came up with a pitch very quickly, threw it to Jason and yeah, it was very efficient. We only started shooting this movie in January and here we are.

At what point did John Carpenter become involved?

Right after we had the idea. We went over to his house and threw it at him and said: ‘This is what we’d like to do, but we wanna do it with you. We don’t wanna do it without you. And it’s important not just to license your music but to have you revisit this universe with us. We think that if we get you, also Jamie Lee will get on, we could get Nick Castle, all our dreams will come true, but it starts with you.’

Did he take much convincing?

It was funny. In the middle of our meeting, his phone went off and he had the Halloween theme as his ringtone, and then he just kinda chuckled. I think he was kinda suspicious at first because people come to him all the time wanting to remake The Thing or whatever. He’s got an amazing vault of ideas and things that have been recreated or sequelled or rebooted over the years. So he was suspicious, but then, I genuinely had a lot of questions for him and he answered them and we responded and the script evolved as a result of his ideas and his music elevated what we were working on every step of the way in the edit. He agreed to it very quickly, but then emotionally, it took a minute and then he realised the love that we had for what we were trying to do and the appreciation we had for his collaboration.

How early on did the idea of making a direct sequel to the original and ignoring all the other films figure?

I was trying to do the first two films for a while, and Danny was resistant and then at some point I surrendered and said ‘You’re right’. It was muddling things with the sister/sibling relationship.

It took me a while because I was a fan of the second film as well. My argument was: Let’s keep John Carpenter’s stories and then let’s do ours [Carpenter co-wrote, but did not direct, 1981’s Halloween II]. But Danny’s point was: it’s not as scary if he’s after someone that he’s related to. Let it be anybody, let it be me. Or my next door neighbour. If he has a quest, it kind of diminishes the essence of evil because it’s personal, it’s a vendetta or something, a calling of some sort. It was after maybe the first half of the first draft, we bailed on it.

Your film’s Michael Myers survives some pretty gnarly stuff, but it’s hard to say if he’s a supernatural being. Did you have a firm idea in your head about whether or not he was something beyond just human?

We talked to John Carpenter about it at our very first meeting. That it’s almost supernatural, but not quite. It’s just…extraordinary. You have to assume that he doesn’t get stabbed or shot in any specific arteries. It’s less scary if it’s mystic and magical. Even growing up, Freddy’s a lot less frightening to me than Michael Myers. Even Jason to some degree is a lot less frightening to me. There’s something about the raw primal simplicity of slasher movies that I just like.

There’s a large degree of reverence shown in your film for the original. Was that something you felt was missing from some of the other films in this franchise?

It’s hard to say because you couldn’t do it immediately. If that film had landed then you jumped right into this, it would feel probably just derivative. With 40 years between them, it can be an homage. A little bit more than just being clever or lazy or anything that might justify it being three years later.

You can approach it like The Force Awakens, which is kind of what we did: take a stylistic similarity, take characters that are legitimately plucked from that universe, as opposed to a Batman Begins, where you’re gonna reinvent the mythology and put a whole new spin on it.

Those were our early conversations about which way do we go. It just seemed so much more bold and ballsy to go with the original as our source material, but let that be our authority. And I actually, I feel like fans of the original, even if they don’t respond to what we’ve made, they’ll at least respect the heart of our endeavour. It may appeal to them specifically because they love Halloween 6, but they can at least see, okay this is made by people who are very passionate about a movie that I’m passionate about.

This film is pretty brutal. Did your ideas about how violent it was going to be evolve throughout the filming?

They evolved. I actually intended to make it a lot less brutal. But then it was just so fun. The sicko in me came out.