November 21, 2017 Interview – Joe Lynch
Finding a calling is often a daunting challenge. In fact, it can take some a lifetime to uncover. Then there are others, such as Long Island, New York native Joe Lynch who was hooked on cinema since being a child. Given a heavy dose of the hottest releases growing up in the big ’80s, Lynch would develop a deep-seeded passion for film, one which would eventually lead him to become a filmmaker himself.
Now a decade since his debut, full-length feature, 2007’s Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, Lynch has gone on to direct a list of films including a segment in 2011’s Chillerama, 2014’s Everly, and 2017’s exciting new release Mayhem. Making its way to On Demand/Digital HD November 10th, as well as DVD, Blu-ray, and Ultra High-Definition 4K/Blu-ray combo on December 26, 2017, Mayhem is about to ensue! Recently we caught up with Lynch to talk his love for film, his influences, the work behind Mayhem, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in film for nearly 20 years now. In that time, you have been a part of a lengthy list of projects. First, briefly tell us, what inspired you to get involved in film?
Joe Lynch – Since the day that I started watching movies when I was 2 and my mom took me to see Dawn of the Dead (1978), I just remember being so in love with the movies.My family was a big movie family! Every Sunday we would go out to see movies, we saw pretty much everything! I immediately got swept up in the movie magic and the illusion.
At first I wanted to be a makeup effects artist or an actor, I just wanted to be in movies somehow. Those were two departments I was really interested in, essentially I wanted to be Tom Savini in Dawn of the Dead – I wanted to make zombies, kill zombies, and look good doing it.
Then I remember specifically seeing Chuck Russell’s The Blob (1988) at a 3:10 PM showing at Brookhaven Multiplex and my life was changed. It was where my feeble little brain figured out, “What does a director do?” It is not just growing a beard, wear a baseball cap and tinted sunglasses, and do that pointy thing they do where they are making a frame with their two hands. I didn’t know what a director did, but something kind of clicked when I saw that movie. I figured out, ok, a director works with the actors, but also the effects people, the production designer, cinematographer, and the editors. They work with all these other things I was interested in; how to make a movie. The director gets to work with all those people and all those departments, I said, “Yes, that is what I want to do!”
From then on, I have been making stuff ever since. Whether it be putting two VCRs together to make remixes of my favorite movies set to new music, or doing shorts with my little brothers, or making music videos for local bands. It all just snowballed, but all with the goal of being able to eventually one day make a feature or a TV show. Something that would appeal to or at least reach out to a more mass audience. I always thought that decisions you make on a set one day are going to be seen forever to people around the world. What other job does that? It is not an ego thing, it was just I want to share my love for movies with other people, maybe they will like it, maybe they won’t. That is just such a cool job and amazing thing. I have just been lucky enough that I have been able to live in that world ever since.
CrypticRock.com – It is great that you are so passion about it. You mentioned the music videos, you have worked in music videos as well as features. How do you compare working in music videos and shorts opposed to features?
Joe Lynch – The beauty about music videos, 10-20 years ago, music videos was a huge industry. I grew up in that era where you were seeing Michael Bay, David Fincher, and Antoine Fuqua, and Mark Romanek working with budgets of millions of dollars to make this little, epic, short form Hollywood Blockbuster music videos, it was so cool! When I finally got into it is when the market kind of crashed, and people weren’t spending millions anymore, they were spending thousands.
I thankfully, because I grew up in a world space like that, I started to teach myself to do everything – shooting, writing, directing, editing. I wanted to know how to do it all, so at least, if someone didn’t show up, I could do it. If there was someone that was there, I could speak on their terms and not just say, “Well, do that, but better.” Which a lot of directors do. Music videos were always something that appealed to me on an aesthetic level because, as I was saying before, there is something about marrying music to visuals that gives me the biggest cineboner, I just love doing that stuff.
That kind of parlayed into my love of doing music videos. Really, music videos and short films, I try to do one in between each feature. It is low commitment, it is low impact. You are not spending a year on something, you usually spending a couple of weeks or maybe a month on it. The return on whatever creative effort you are making is much shorter. You deliver it to the record company, or you finish a short and you put it online, there is something gratifying to wait a whole year before whatever you made is embraced or rejected by an audience. Where is with features, when I started working back on Mayhem in early 2015, when we were working on the script, we didn’t start shooting until 2016. I am talking to you know in late 2017. So, from the first moment I read the script to us talking now, it is 2 1/2 to 3 years!
That is opposed to me doing a music video for Faith No More 2 years ago, which they called me in August, the video was done in September. That was it, I walked away, they walked away very happy. Because of that music video, that is the reason why there is a Faith No More song in Mayhem! They were so happy with how things turned out and they saw how I was able to do a lot with a little. I think they kind of felt bad that they gave me such little resources to make this music video. They were still so happy with it, they threw me a bone. Being my favorite band of all time and the fact I wanted to do a Faith No More music video for 20 years, if not more, now I have a Faith No More song in my movie, it is all worth it.
The bad part of music videos and short films, you are not going to make any money off it. You may get a little gratification off of the likes and views, but you are not going to make any money off of it. But, it leads to other things. You also get to experiment with techniques that if you tried to do it on a feature film, you wouldn’t be able to because of time or money. The stakes are higher so there is more pressure where you can’t experiment. Where is with a short form context sort of thing, you can play, you can experiment, and a lot of times on someone else’s dime. You can really be able to cultivate your own skills more and get more experience by doing it.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and it opens doors for other projects. One of your latest films, as you mentioned, Mayhem is a mix of Action, Horror, and Comedy. How did Mayhem come about for you?
Joe Lynch – I was actually working a corporate job. I was back to the grind because movies do not really allow people to sustain themselves, it is a different model. If you are a filmmaker, you have to really love making movies because things don’t fall in people’s laps anymore. I needed a job and I got this job in a corporate world. It really wasn’t for me, but I had to pay the bills.
In that frustration, I read this script and it resonated with me. I felt so connected to the character, the situation, and the story, like I hadn’t before in other films. That is really the genesis of it. I instantly knew the characters tone and exactly how I wanted to do it. I went in there guns blazing and fists swinging, they were totally down with the approach I wanted to take. We were off to the races from there.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent. You also work with a really great cast in Mayhem. What was it like working with this group of actors and actresses?
Joe Lynch – I got incredibly lucky with my cast. Steven Yeun is one of my favorite actors working today because of I am a huge fan of The Walking Dead. There are actors I really want to work with one day, both Steven and Samara Weaving are two of those actors. I had seen Samara on a four episode arc on Ash vs Evil Dead. There was just something about her that I thought she seemed awesome! She seemed like she had great instincts and a great energy about her.
With Steven, it was kind of a no brainer once we first sat down. He really liked the material and I knew his work from The Walking Dead. I knew there was something very every man about him and I needed someone that the audience was going to be able to relate to. It is so hard these days because most actors are being groomed as superheros. It is hard sometimes to be able to say, that is a normal everyday dude, I’ll be it with tights. Steven just has this kind of gravitas about him and relatability.
Put those two actors together, sparks fly! Once we cast those two, everyone else pretty quickly fell into place. Once they also get on set and saw the tone we set, it really helped and got everyone else excited. Everyone was very quickly on the same page and they knew we were having fun doing this, even when things got really dark. That fueled everyone else and everyone else was having fun, even when things were getting very serious. There was a sense of camaraderie that came with that, it kind of fueled our fire everyday.
CrypticRock.com – That is very positive and it shows through on the final product. As stated, the film has action and comedy. There is gore, but the humor does find a way. What is it like striking that balance?
Joe Lynch – Tone is the most difficult thing about making a film. Especially one like this that is a base of different genres, where it is Comedy, Action, Horror, Sci-Fi, Musical, you name it, we have it. Really, the tone I wanted to set was something that was akin to a roller coaster ride. I wanted the audience to yell, laugh, and scream at the right parts, but when they get off the ride, they want to get back on. I don’t want to punish them. Knowing the material and how sensitive it is, I felt the best thing I could do to get my point across, instead of being serious, I wanted to instill a sense of humor to it. I felt that was the sort of sugar to make the medicine go down. Humor always does that. I wasn’t out to make a straight up Comedy, but I wanted to make sure this movie had humor in it.
I grew up in the ’80s where there was an entertainment value that people put stock into it. I want audiences to be entertained and I knew if I tried to punish them too much, they wouldn’t want to come back and they won’t tell their friends. If anything, they won’t be able to walk away from this feeling like they experienced something cathartic, not something that was cautionary. I didn’t want this to be a cautionary tale as much I wanted it to be a cure for the Mondays so to speak. You need humor to do that!
Thankfully, based on my own kind of likes and dislikes, I like things that have humor in it a lot of the time. That is not to say I don’t want to do serious stuff at all, it just depends on the project. This one, the script was already incredibly fun. I wanted to make sure we installed that as much as possible while also knowing the right moments to pull back, be serious, and let Derek and Melody be real so to speak. Not just be tongue-in-cheek, not just go for the laugh, but go for real emotions.
It was a balance everyday and it was one, Steven in particular, that challenged me everyday, asking me, “What is the tone here? Are we going too broad? Are we going not broad enough?” It was not antagonistic or aggressive at all. It was he cared about it and didn’t want it to go off the rails just like me. Us feeding off each other and bouncing ideas off each other, we never fought once, but we huddled up in the morning asking what are we trying to achieve here? By doing that it kind of infused that across the board for all departments. People were having more fun in being able to bring this to life because of the tone that we were setting every morning. That is a testament to Steven because a lot of actors wouldn’t do that. They would say, tell me how you want me to say it, tell me lines, or I’ll find it on the day. That is where you kind of lose grip with your tone of reality sometimes.
CrypticRock.com – As a director, you have to appreciate that attention to detail and the interest to contribute, rather than just take direction.
Joe Lynch – Absolutely! I knew how to steer the ship everyday. That is something that has become intrinsic on my DNA at this point. I know how to make a day, I know how to structure things so we know we are putting the right onus on the right scene. That is not to say I am disparaging any other scenes, it is more of what is our ‘big work.’
Being able to relay that to all departments right down to the drivers, everyone needs to be on the same page. By having that start from the top level, if I was the boss like Steven Brand, I don’t dress as snappy, but I don’t dress like a coke fiend. Seeing that we are having fun, but taking it very serious, although doing it in a way that allows the rest of cast and crew to just enjoy the process, I think that shows on screen. I think it shows that were all out to entertain you, but at the same time teach you a little something about yourself or at least expose something you might have expected from a movie.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and a lot of the film takes place within the walls of a building. Is it challenging to shoot in a centralized location like that?
Joe Lynch – Of course. This is from the guy set entirely one room in Everly (2014). I was in one room that entire previous film. It was incredibly challenging but also really fun because it challenged me everyday to make something really fresh and unique while looking at the same four walls. That really lead to unleashing the camera, that was my mantra with my DP and I. We would say, “Ok, can we put it in the ceiling, the floor, can we break away this wall? Can we do things that you don’t expect with the camera?” If we had a more open world, I don’t think we would have challenged ourselves.
With Mayhem, I am not in one room, now I am on ten floors of a building. It was actually three floors that we would redress everyday to give the illusion that it was a lot taller than it really was. From a contextual standpoint, it is fun because you get to really dig deep into what those confines are and what they mean to the characters. Why are they stuck? Why are they in there to begin with? What are the oppositions to get them to what they want, which is in this case to getting the fuck out of that building. When you are in that bottle situation, there is something that allows you do things you wouldn’t normally be able to do if you were cutting away to the president’s office. Keeping that tension and confined to that space, it makes it more in the now and more relative to the moment.
That bad side of that, and it happened in the last movie too, is everyone gets sick. You are all kind of stuck in that one space and there was no open windows in that building at all. It was like a petri dish, all of us were getting sick with colds and the flu. That is where it can be challenging and miserable, and you have to go back and hear people coughing, sneezing, and wheezing. There is something about that confined space thing I really enjoy. At the same time, my new movie will be multiple locations.
CrypticRock.com – It seems like Mayhem was a blast to work on. It will be exciting to see fans’ reactions. You had mentioned this is a project that took a few years to come together, tell us a little about your other forthcoming projects.
Joe Lynch – Yea, if a filmmaker is smart, they have five things going on at the same time. It is really down to which one is going to go first. I am currently working on this movie called Taste, it is kind of similar to Mayhem, leaning to the satire realm. It is my comment on the foodie culture, but I can’t say anything more because I might give too much away. It definitely deals with the new feeling about food, what we put in our bodies, but also who is making our food and how it is being prepared. How we see food as art, how we see food as something to put on our instagram, how we take pictures of food and don’t even eat it.
There is just a whole world of opportunity that this script David Cohen wrote that I said I have to tell this sort. That is the one I am actively working on, but there are four or five other things I am hoping all work out so I don’t have to go back to the corporate structure (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – That is something to look for! You clearly grew up on cinema and love Horror. What are some of your favorite Horror movies?
Joe Lynch – Oh, it changes everyday. I recently watched Poltergeist (1982), it is just a classic for me. It can go from everything from Dawn of the Dead to The Exorcist (1973), to The Exorcist III (1990). Also Chuck Russell’s The Blob. I am such a Horror fan it is so hard to pick just one. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) as well. Catch me tomorrow and I will have six other titles for you.