JF — [laughs] So, considering that these budgets are bigger and the scripts are now more detailed, partly to assure financiers and let everybody know that the vision is clear, do you think it still works to improvise once you’re on set, the way you and I would come up with weird little poems and shit like that on the spot?
HK — Yeah it’s like a dance, definitely that would be the way. The directing style would be the same, the way that I would work with actors, and the visual style—it’s just maybe I would want a little more time. The stories have gotten more sprawling or something like that. But the way I make films wouldn’t really be changed, I would just be able to do more things. You know, I have images, certain things in my mind, like visions. They’re so specific, and I just want to get them out in the right way.
JF — Certainly during Spring Breakers there were a lot of discussions about images. I’m sure there are some director-writers that think more about dialogue, but you seem to be very focused on imagery.
HK — Yeah, I’ve always thought more in terms of picture, in terms of visual stuff. It’s like painting or something. You see something in your mind, an image or a character, standing under some light, at a bar somewhere, or in a hotel lobby, and you just kind of build a story or narrative around that.
JF — I feel like the trick to that would be making sure that all the great images have some sort of backbone of character and narrative, an emotional throughline or something to tie them together, otherwise…
HK — Otherwise it’s just photography.
JF — Yeah.
HK — Yeah, no totally. And then I start getting into the characters. So I build it from the outside first. It’s like “Wow, I want to make a movie in this place.” You know? And then, “What would be really cool is if there was like, a racecar driver that lived in this town, and he rode around in his, like, dune buggy…” and from there I’ll just build a story. I never worked with source material, or films that were like based on living people, it usually just comes out of my imagination. It’s usually formed in that way, from the outside inward. Rarely is it a person, or even a story that I’ll hear—it starts with a place, or even a feeling, you know?
JF — Now, as far as working with actors, if you look at all your films, you’ve worked with a lot of non-actors, you’ve worked with a lot of first time actors, and so in The Trap, it was really one of the first times you were going to—and maybe you were even forced, like you had to for budgetary reasons—work with A-list actors. Is there a reason?
HK — Yeah, well for one I am really greedy now, and I want as many people to see the films as possible. I don’t want them to be limited, and so with that movie, it felt like it was time to go for it, and work with all these big names. But I also spent months casting real people, that were amazing, like real characters, you know? So it was going to be a kind of mix, and I was going to really make the other people disappear into this world, in a way. So it’s still a mix. But it’s hard enough even making movies, getting movies financed with names. So as much as I love working with non-actors, the economics of it is prohibitive. And it’s fun for me when people who wouldn’t normally see this type of film see the movie, in some ways that reaction is more interesting than just kind of dumping it and having the same people watch it. It’s more exciting for me. I spent so many years making films when I was a kid, and I love those movies, I love the way that they seem to have some kind of like cultural effect. But yeah, you want to spread your wings and see how far you can fly.
JF — Right. So, it seemed like you did that for the first time in a big way with Spring Breakers, infiltrating audiences who had probably never seen one of your films, which partly had to do with casting particular people—Selena Gomez, and Vanessa, and Ashley Benson. But I think it also had to do with balancing the tone in a way, where you had elements of darkness, but on the surface…when we were making it you always would describe the movie like Skittles, or something like that.
HK — Yeah, or like wanting to make a pop film.
JF — Or what did you say, early on you said, like, a Britney Spears video meets a Gaspar Noé film or something.
HK — Right, right.
JF — It seems like that is a new kind of approach. I don’t think there’s any less, whatever, rebellion, but there’s an awareness of a kind of need to put in some other elements to balance it out, if you’re going to reach a different kind of audience.
HK — Yeah, it’s more fun that way. And it’s true, it’s nice when the effect is immediate, when there’s some type of immediate reaction. I like that, it’s fun for me. But I’ll still incorporate all those other things that we talked about, I’m not abandoning anything, it’s more just like I’m including this other side, you know?
JF — So you don’t seem nervous at all about taking on a larger budget, and the pressures that that might bring, to make more mass entertainment.
HK — Right, yeah I’m not even really thinking about that, it’s more just like I have these stories that fit with that approach. The truth is I’ll probably go back, after I make one or two of these movies I’ll go back and make something much more off-putting. [laughs] You know what I mean? I like to do everything. It really is like moods, like, how do you feel at a certain point? What do you want to try? What haven’t you tried? What are you trying to say? Then it changes, so I might do what, for me, is like a big film, and then I have smaller films too that I’m ready to make. I want to do it all.
JF — I mean, Mister Lonely had a much bigger budget than Trash Humpers. Trash Humpers could afford to be as off-putting as it wanted to be, because there was much less risk.
HK — Yeah, that’s definitely true. It’s very simple economics, the less money that’s needed to make a film, the less input you have to have from the powers that be. The higher the budget goes, the more involvement you have to have. It’s almost to the point where if you make a movie for zero dollars you can do anything, but if you make a movie for a hundred million, you know, you have to talk to a lot of people. [laughs] You have to deal with a lot of people, you have to deal with a lot of things. Both are difficult.
JF — Yeah. So, I wanted to ask you about violence in your work, and I was thinking, the violence in a lot of your movies is very particular. Even in Spring Breakers, it’s like a dream. It’s almost unreal in a way, when we get down to actual violence. But then with something like Gummo, no person really gets hurt, maybe the twins like, punch each other, and there’s violence implied against animals, but it’s more like a violence of mood. It’s more like an ambient violence.
HK — Yes, it’s a feeling. The violence is more to do with the air than it is to do with the action, you know what I’m saying? It’s more like violence of the soul, the turbulence, the inner self, it’s how you are feeling when you’re watching. It’s like, you can watch one of those, what are the Vin Diesel movies where they’re driving?