Christopher G. Moore recently sat down with director (and fellow podcaster) Joe Lynch to talk about his film Mayhem (2017). You can choose to listen to the audio or read the entire interview. Mayhem is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Ultra High-Definition 4K/Blu-ray Combo on December 26, 2017. IN THEATERS AND AVAILABLE ON VOD AND DIGITAL HD: November 10, 2017.
Christopher G. Moore: I’m here with director extraordinaire, Joe Lynch. You might know him from things like Wrong Turn 2, Knights of Badassdom, Holliston, Everly, Chillerama, and the podcast The Movie Crypt. He’s here today to talk about his newest film Mayhem. Thanks for coming on the podcast.
Joe Lynch: Thank you so much for having me, Chris. I really appreciate it.
CGM: First, of all let me preface this by saying I’m a big fan of your work in general. I think this is your best film so far.
JL: Thank you so much, Chris. That really means a lot.
CGM: Right now, it’s in my top five films of this year.
JL: There’s a lot of good movies out this year too. I hold that in high regard.
CGM: Well, tell us a little bit about “Mayhem.” Give us like a brief synopsis of what it’s about.
JL: It’s a strange little movie mashup that kind of incorporates both satire and action and horror and sci-fi and a little bit of a musical. The elevator pitch is there’s a dangerous virus called the IV-7 virus that if infected, you lose your inhibitions for a short amount of time. If you’ve been repressing anger, you’re not gonna repress that anymore. If you’ve been stifling your feelings towards a co-worker or a spouse or a friend or an enemy or whatever, you’re not gonna have the tourniquet that morality has always kind of hindered people. So essentially you just kind of lose your shit but in the best and the worst way possible.
So what happens if that virus gets let loose in a law firm? Based on the elevator pitch, you can kind of go anywhere with that and frankly just on a surface level, who doesn’t want to see a bunch of lawyers beating the shit of each other? That was when it was first pitched to me before I even got the script, and I was like, “Oh, that sounds exciting.” But when I ended up reading the script from Matias Caruso, I was blown away by it. Primarily, because I had never had a script, whether it was one of my own or someone else’s, that touched me in such a personal way that I felt compelled that I needed to make that movie.
Every film I made before this, and this is to not discredit any of those films, cause I’m so proud of them and I love them all like children, but they were all once. I wanted to make a love letter to splatter movies. I wanted to make my Goonies for grown-ups. I wanted to make my Die Hard in a room. But they were all kind of derivative of either other movies or my love for cinema in general and this story comes along when I was at very much a creative low in my life because I was working a corporate job just like Derek, the lead character in the movie. I was just making ends meet and trying to pay the bills, knowing that’s not what my destiny was.
While my job position said creative producer or creative director, I didn’t feel very creative and having made like four movies up to that point, there’s just that feeling that you have where you go “I’m good at this” or at least “it makes me happy.” I shouldn’t say “I’m good at this,” because cinema is subjective and one man’s Mamet is another man’s Ratner. There are varying degrees of what’s good and what’s bad, but making movies and directing, in general, makes me happy and it makes me feel creatively fulfilled.
I wasn’t feeling that way at all. It was just awful. It was it was a bad time in my life, so when I read the script, I felt so connected to Derek and I knew that world so well that I felt the need to make this movie. It was going beyond that you want to put a couple cool scenes together and slap some music on there. I felt like this was a story that I had to tell and thankfully it was in the tropes of a genre movie that I feel like I’m pretty good at, where I could kind of have my cake and eat it too. So I was able to make something that was kick-ass and fun and exciting and dangerous and messed up but at the same time it had heart and it had a message without Keenan Ivory Wayans stepping out into the scene and going like “MESSAGE!”
It was more like I knew that there was someone out there would feel the same struggles that I would and someone out there is going to connect with the same kind of depression that Derek has, where you think that just because you’re climbing up the corporate ladder that you’re going to be happy. Nope. Not always the case. In a lot of ways, the higher up you climb, the more unhappy you become. So that’s really where the movie kind of kicked into gear. I felt like there was no one else that could tell this story at this stage that I could. Next thing I know, we’re off to the races.
CGM: Well, I can tell you right now, as someone who’s an indie filmmaker myself and I worked in an office job, so I know that that realm a little too much. You can see your passion seeping through like every ounce of the film. It kind of feels almost like The Purge meets 28 Days Later with a sprinkling of Office Space, but it has a little bit of everything, I think. So I know you worked with Matias Caruso and this is his first film feature film script, correct?
CGM: How much did the script change from when he initially brought the script to you?
JL: If you looked, at least, at the first draft that I got, it did change a lot, but it changed a lot in like the smaller ends. It was more like the little details. The core story was there and the characters were pretty much all the same. The structure was all the same. It was just now I was involved and because I had all of this what I like to call “research” from working this corporate job, I just felt there was so much that I could add to this that was still staying within the tone and the feeling of what Matias had conjured. I could kind of bring a very modernized and in the very current viewpoint to what that corporate life is like in America right now.
What was great was that we worked together back and forth. He was out of the country, so it was a lot of skyping and a lot of emails, but we worked great together. He really appreciated that I was coming from that point of developing it, I could say I know everything that happens in this is real and here’s how we can make it even more grounded or here’s how we can make it more relatable. You know like adding all those stupid quips that people use in the workplace all the time like the “Let’s discusses” and “Let’s put a pin in it” or “At the end of the day.” It’s like all those little things that if you’ve ever worked the job like that, your asshole puckers a little bit. You’re just like “Oh, God, I hate hearing that shit.” It kind of triggers people.
That collaboration was great and then when Steven Yeun came into the fray, he had a really good set of ideas and we incorporated those. It really was this wonderful collaboration between so many people but at the end of the day…I can’t believe I just used that…but I just did…in the end I had to steer the ship and the story and it was really down to just making sure that everybody was on the same page from our number one in the Call Sheet which was Steven all the way down to like the drivers and all the crew members. As long as everybody knew what kind of movie we were making, we had a very clear path to take it.
But again without having that collaboration between Matias or the producers or the cast, it wouldn’t be the movie that it is. That’s the beauty of this film in particular was. It was an organic process, so every day we change the script. I will not lie with that. Everyday pages got changed, dialogue got changed because it was what’s gonna be better. We always pushed ourselves every day to find the better idea while still staying the course and those are things that you just can’t plan on when you’re first writing the script or when you’re doing the rewrite or when you’re doing the prep work. Sometimes things don’t like happen until the day of.
There’s the scene in the bathroom between Steven and Samara where they’re talking about their favorite bands. That was not in the script. That was born of we were moving so fast that my DP Steve Gainer and I would kind of come up with ingenious little ways of trying to make our day without spending too much money or too much time elsewhere. That particular day we had a couple of extra minutes, where we were able to go to that part of the building and pre-light it so that when we came in the next morning we could hit the ground running. We can start before the first shot was supposed to be started.
Because we did that, Steven and Samara…we had all just become such good friends that they were like look the van that picks us up to take us back to the hotel isn’t here yet. Why don’t we just go upstairs with you and we can hang out? We can stand in instead of using the stand-ins, so we all went upstairs and I started asking them what their favorite bands were. They started answering me but they answered in their character’s voice not like what their own favorite bands were and that whole dialogue became what’s in the movie. I went home really quick and I wrote it up and then brought it back the next day. In the original script, it says Derek and Melanie wait. That’s it. Until it’s like “oh shit” we only have four more hours left. We gotta go. That’s where the script started and stopped in that moment, but now we have a three-page scene where they’re talking about their favorite bands amidst all this chaos.
It’s one of those things. Everybody has a favorite band. Everybody’s been in a situation where it’s so shitty that you end up using humor or pop culture to diffuse the situation or to just to deflect the madness that’s going on. Everybody can relate to that and then to me I think that scene is crucial in the movie because it’s one where you really do fall in love with these characters. At least I did. It’s my favorite scene in the movie and there’s barely any blood and there’s barely any violence. Nothing really happens but here are two people who are coming from completely different walks of life who have vicariously become partners in a way through chance and they’re becoming friends. That’s a moment where you can tell that they’ve gone from people who are only using you to be a means to an end so I could probably hang out with you afterward. Let’s go hang out and watch the Dave Matthews Band. That would not have happened if we didn’t have this beautifully organic and collaborative process that was set from day one and we carried to the end of the film.
CGM: I was gonna ask you if you if that was in the script early on if it was like an Edgar Wright moment where you planned that song reference.
JL: I’ve been accused of aping Edgar in many ways but that is definitely one that I did not. That was just something that was purely organic and if I didn’t have those two together in that moment, that scene would have never happened. It’s like that moment in the movie where it’s either you love them or you hate them and in most cases, people really endear to that and they all walk away going “You know what? Dave Matthews Band is a pretty good band.”
CGM: I know that my favorite thing about this film and the reason that I love it so much is the stylistic decisions you made based on visuals and editing and I want to know how much of that was thought out beforehand. Things like the use of black and white towards the beginning or a lot of the visual sense. I guess some people could be compared to Edgar Wright or David Fincher but how much of that was was thought out beforehand or was some of that thought up in in the editing room?
JL: What’s funny is that part of it I can say was meticulously planned out. There’s an overall sense and look that we developed between myself and Steve Gainer, the DP, and Mina Buric, the production designer. Even the editing style with Josh Ethier. There are certain things that I knew from the get-go that I wanted and knew that was going to be the right tools and the right style to tell the story in the way that I wanted to tell it, because you veer one way and it becomes mean and cold and dark and there’s no real sense of fun and adventure and catharsis and we veer too far the other way and it just becomes clarity.
On the onset there was the kind of house style, so to speak, that everyone knew and was on page with. This is the first movie that I did not walk onto set every day having an exact plan and that was by design. I actually wanted to make this movie in a method sort of way and by that I mean I kind of followed my id on this. I tried to kind of say if I was infected, how would I shoot this. I know that sounds wildly irresponsible and I can say it now. I would never tell my producers at the time I’m going like “I’m just throwing caution to the wind.” You never say that, but there was a big element of me kind of walking on set every morning and letting the actors and the blocking and the situation and my mood in the morning kind of formulate how we were going to attack each scene. Again, still with the kind of house style installed from the beginning, but I didn’t have a set shot list. I didn’t do any storyboards on this at all which is like like right now I’m thinking about it and it’s making me like gag a little bit because I’m like “Oh, my God, I wasn’t prepared.”
The thing that you want to do on a film set is you want to be as prepared as possible, but the compromise is always gonna come your way, so you have to be as flexible as possible. I leaned way more towards being as flexible and organic as possible, so, for example, that whole opening scene we shot 95 percent of the movie in that building. The only scene that wasn’t shot in that building was the scene when they’re in the art school which was literally an art school down the street, but we shot everything else in that in that space. Weirdly enough we knew that that opening had to feel like it was another building and another time. It wasn’t supposed to be the same location, so the production designer did everything she could to use everything that wasn’t in the building as is and try to fill that room with a space that just felt different structurally and aesthetically. It still felt like how are we going to differentiate ourselves in this scene as opposed to everything else.
My producer Matt, who was the one who kind of thought of me for the project from the beginning, was on the second or last day walking by me and goes, “Hey, man, I just wanted to ask you something. So are you concerned at all about how the opening scene is gonna work out and how we’re gonna make it feel and look different than the other scenes?” I’ll be totally honest. I didn’t have the black-and-white idea in my head and it just so happens that Steve Gainer was walking past me. He was just going from point A to point B. He was probably going to set and just blurts out in the middle of my conversation, “We’re gonna shoot it in black and white.” He just blurted it and kept on walking and I look at look at Matt and I’m like “Yep. Yeah. That’s exactly what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna shoot it in black and white.” Matt’s like, “Oh, that sounds different and cool.”
I did not, until 24 hours before we shot it, plan on shooting it in black and white. Now that could have been something we could have discovered in post, but with the way that we actually shot it, we calibrated the cameras in a way to allow us to give us the most contrast and brightness and stuff so that it felt intentional that we were shooting in black and white. Immediately from there, when I go like “Oh, my God” if we shoot it in black and white that means it can be black and white and red all over. We can have the red eyes, which we have to kind of set up in that scene, be front and center. It was a total moment of “cine-serendipity” that Steve walked by and said that where I immediately went like “yep, that’s exactly it.” We were basically taking the best ideas from everywhere. If I had planned on that scene being the way it was without even like the whole idea black and white, it would have been different and I don’t think it would have been as effective. Long story short, the style that we infused in the movie was both very much planned but in a general sort of sense and then every day, every decision, every hour and every minute dictated in an organic way how we shoot the rest of the film.
It really was being like we were infected with the virus. We were flying by the seat of our pants and partially just due to practicality. I didn’t have time. It’s the shortest amount of time I’ve ever had in prep. It was a very short schedule. We didn’t have money to throw at any situation, so we really had to kind of use every creative juice possible in every way to get us to where we needed to be both in the tone and the style. Again, I don’t think it would have been the same way, if I had been so prepared, because if you’re prepared, then all you’re doing is you think that you’re compromising. You go like I guess I’m losing this shot and I’m losing that shot. You’re crossing them all out.
There there are certain things like the elevator scene when he’s changing and stuff. I kind of knew that’s exactly what I wanted and I actually cut that scene with my iPhone on the day. So we shot all that stuff and then I shot it off of the video monitor and took it into Final Cut Pro and cut it so that when we came back, I was able to show everybody how it seamlessly worked. I was able to actually go back and like reshoot one of them so that it fit more seamlessly. That would have never happened if I was just so strict to a storyboard. I don’t think I would have gotten what I got. If I didn’t just kinda go like let’s see what happens, I would have also not been able to get what I got there either. So long story short, it was a bit of both and I think having that balance between pure prep and a pure kind of organic inspiration really kind of helped the movie establish the style that it is.
CGM: Well, I think it’s it’s a brilliant film. I think it’s a fun roller coaster ride of humor, heart, gore, and action. It’s got a nice visual flair both in the cinematography and the editing and so I applaud you and what you’ve created. I hope everybody will get to see it. I know that’s it’s getting a limited released in theatres.
JL: If there’s a theater not playing it near you, it’s playing also on VOD and iTunes, so one way or another you can get your Mayhem on November 10th. We just won another festival award from the Toronto after dark Film Festival, where we won Best Feature, Best Hero, and Best Supporting Actor, but my favorite of all those is Best Film to Watch with a Crowd and boy, oh boy, it’s so true. Of course, every filmmaker wants their film to be seen with a crowd but there is a palpable difference between seeing it on a screener and seeing it an audience. I’ve now been able to quote-unquote test market it or like test screen it in front of all these different festival crowds and time and time again it’s winning the audience award and usually, that means that it’s responding to an audience when they’re in a collective situation. It wouldn’t win the audience award if a bunch of people just watched it on their phones or they watched it on a laptop or whatever. It’s everyone kind of gathering together and going like “Holy shit” that’s me, too. Everyone quits their job and they all go out for a beer and everybody’s happy. If it is playing near you, trust me, I could not recommend it higher. Go with a bunch of your buddies or even better go with a bunch of coworkers on a Friday night. I guarantee you, we will cure your case of the Mondays at work next week. Bring your friends. Bring your enemies. Bring them all.
CGM: Thanks for joining us here on Gruesome Magazine and good luck with all your projects and keep doing great work with The Movie Crypt. It’s one of my favorite podcasts.
JL: Thank you so much, Chris. That means the world to us. Seriously, it’s awesome. Keeping doing a great job with Gruesome Magazine.
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Ultra High-Definition 4K/Blu-ray Combo on December 26, 2017
LOS ANGELES (November 14, 2017) – RLJE Films (NASDAQ: RLJE) will release the action, horror film MAYHEM on DVD, Blu-ray, and Ultra High-Definition 4K/Blu-ray combo on Dec. 26, 2017. Directed by Joe Lynch (Everly, Chillerama), the feature film debut from writer Matias Caruso stars Steven Yeun (“The Walking Dead,” Okja), Samara Weaving (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Babysitter, “SMILF”) and Steven Brand (“Teen Wolf,” “Secrets and Lies”). RLJE Films will release MAYHEM on DVD for an SRP of $27.97, on Blu-ray for an SRP of $29.97 and on Ultra High-Definition 4K/Blu-ray combo for an SRP of $35.97.
Derek Cho (Steven Yeun) is having a really bad day. After being unjustly fired from his job, he discovers that the law firm’s building is under quarantine for a mysterious and dangerous virus. Chaos erupts throughout the office as the victims of the disease begin acting out their wildest impulses. Joining forces with a former client (Samara Weaving) who has a grudge of her own, Derek savagely fights tooth and nail to get to the executives on the top floor and settle the score once and for all.
The MAYHEM DVD, Blu-ray, and Ultra High-Definition 4K/Blu-ray combo includes the bonus features “Creating MAYHEM: The Making of the Film,” an audio commentary with director Joe Lynch, Director of Photography Steve Gainer & Editor Josh Ethier and more.