[THE DAILY GRINDHOUSE INTERVIEW] JUSTIN BENSON & AARON MOORHEAD

 

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s debut feature RESOLUTION made a big impact with horror fans when it was released in 2013. It was the first “cabin in the woods”-style movie released after THE CABIN IN THE WOODS that proved there were still new ways to approach territory that seemed to be completely exhausted. Their follow-up, SPRING, was a wildly different beast, a hybrid of romantic drama and creature feature sumptuously shot on location in Italy. Now the pair return with their third feature THE ENDLESS, which recently had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, and was promptly picked up for distribution by Well Go USA.

Daily Grindhouse’s Jason Coffman spoke to the filmmakers (who also star in the film as a pair of brothers) via email about THE ENDLESS just after the festival. However, as with most films, the less you know going into THE ENDLESS, the better. So… bookmark this piece for later, after someone else has spoiled it for you, maybe?

 

 

DAILY GRINDHOUSE (DG): Have you guys been planning to play brothers at some point for a long time? Your familial chemistry is highly convincing.

BENSON & MOORHEAD (B&M): Not really. And truth be told, it’s a whole lot of prep, rehearsal, script analysis, direction and all that other actor-y stuff to get it right. That being said, we are like family in real life, just a whole lot more functional than the brothers in THE ENDLESS. The fraternal love probably does come through the fiction to some extent, but a movie about our real relationship would probably be pretty boring to most people.

DG: THE ENDLESS revisits some of the same thematic (and literal) territory of RESOLUTION. Was THE ENDLESS written first or did they both come about around the same time?

B&M: THE ENDLESS basically was born from over 5 years of thinking about the characters and world of RESOLUTION because we just love it. We’re inspired by it, and still feel there’s tons of story to be told in that universe. That said, almost no one has seen RESOLUTION so we had to be very careful to make sure this story wasn’t too esoteric or insular for a wider audience to have as much comprehension as someone who has seen RESOLUTION. Luckily the experiences and feedback by those who have seen RESOLUTION have been different but equal. No one has ever seemed to require having seen one to comprehend and enjoy the other.

 

 

It seems it’s impossible not to love Chris and Mike in that cabin, regardless of familiarity. This is all stuff we were constantly testing in script and edit phase, and it warms our hearts that it worked. On repeat viewings people are going to find literally hundreds of little details that cross over, and it’s been a blast world-building this place.

DG: Was it just some insane luck that the cabin happened to still be there in exactly the same shape? How did you find the camp location?

B&M: The cabin is owned by Justin’s dad, so we knew how that would be. But the reason we knew that Camp Oliver (the setting for Camp Arcadia) existed is because it was used for crew housing when we shot RESOLUTION. So yes, there was definitely a prayer that Camp Oliver was still as remembered, since it was written for that place, and that they would be affordable and even open to filming. A lot of phone calls were made even before the script was written to make sure our resources were even possible. Our location scout for the whole movie literally took one day, as luckily nothing in that area seems to change much, and years of touring several movies thankfully haven’t messed our long term memory.

DG: What is Camp Oliver’s day job? Is it just like a kids’ summer camp?

B&M: Yep! Camp Oliver is a Christian summer camp for kids. It’s not easy keeping a creative, salty crew of grown-ups in line in that kind of environment, but luckily we work with a bunch of pros. Though our amazing producer David Lawson might literally roll his eyes at us specifically saying this.

 

 

DG: THE ENDLESS and RESOLUTION have a similar tone and sense of humor, and “Bonestorm” is flat-out hilarious. SPRING is a real anomaly in your work thus far, but you handled that tightrope walk between supernatural horror and romance very well. Do you tend to gravitate more toward comedic material, or do you find that comes from the character work in each project?

B&M: We have a theory: you’re more worried about the safety and emotional well being of a character if you like them more, and one of the most likeably human things to do is to laugh, especially in stressful situations. So we love having emotional ups be via humor, and downs be via cosmic terror. We don’t gravitate towards comedic material per se, we just feel like we can’t sustain melodrama without breaking it with a joke for fear that we’ll lose emotional engagement.

DG: How much of the dialogue — especially between the brothers — was on the page, and how much of that was improvised?

AARON MOORHEAD (AM): It was nearly all on the page. Justin’s writing is supernaturally natural — what comes out of his fingertips is often mistaken for improvisation. Sometimes we find something in rehearsal that gets shaped into the script, but 99% of it is from him hunched over a keyboard.

DG: The Coen Brothers’ scripts are like that — every “ah” and “um” is on the page. Who are some screenwriters who have influenced your writing, and did you have any specific inspirations in mind when approaching the screenplay for THE ENDLESS?

JUSTIN BENSON: When I first started screenwriting as a teen almost 20 years ago, I’m pretty sure I would just imitate Linklater, Tarantino, GDT, John Hodge, CHASING AMY by Kevin Smith, and probably some Kurt Vonnegut, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis, Chuck Palahniuk, Alex Garland, and Alan Moore. Now after all that imitation, a couple of decades of screenwriting almost everyday, and just living a life full of rejection, tragedy and of course tons of good stuff, and listening to all the interesting things people say and how they say it… That’s just what comes out when I write all our movies. There’s not any really direct inspiration I can point to anymore. That said, if there is actually a Lovecraft inspiration on this one (I didn’t know who Lovecraft was when I wrote SPRING and RESOLUTION), it would be The Color Out of Space and The Dreams in the Witch House.

 

 

DG: The look of the film is really interesting, with a lot of unsettling shallow focus and dreamy soft edges. Did you have any particular films or cinematographers that you used for reference when designing the look of the film?

AM: Thanks so much for that! The soft edges on the wider shots came from James Laxton’s work on MOONLIGHT (I believe we shot on the same or similar lenses, which we adored when we saw the trailer). Bizarrely enough, a lot of films that keep a wide frame and move a lot on steadicam (basically, Lubezki’s work with Malick, Cuarón, and Iñárritu) gave rise to why we minimized our cuts, and also lent a floating feeling of being in the point-of-view of something. Our other work has this same approach — our camera is always subjective, always alive, but isn’t human.

DG: Do you guys have anything in the works you can talk about? Have you been kicking around ideas for more stories in the world of THE ENDLESS that we may see someday?

B&M: Considering this movie exists in the same universe as our other films, we clearly find this cosmic unknown world to be some kind of wellspring that won’t stop haunting our work. There’s so many stories specifically around THE ENDLESS already it’s a little absurd. There’s some really neat characters cut from the script in the development process, even characters who we’ve spoken about so much that they may as well exist in some form… One even has a really elaborate blog. They’re sort of out there, waiting for a scene like Shitty Carl was. It’s the one we’d adapt into a TV show no problem. But, we have quite a few TV shows and features in different pots that are almost boiling. We’ll see which one goes first, but we adore all of our children, and will make all of them. We’d come back as ghosts with unfinished business if we died before we got them made.

Jason Coffman

Jason Coffman

Unrepentant cinephile. Contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly. Member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. Co-director, Chicago Cinema Society. Attempted filmmaker. Proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's GURU, THE MAD MONK and Zalman King's TWO MOON JUNCTION.
Jason Coffman

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