We're both sensitive dudes. We're super honest with each other on the day-to-day. It was easy applying that to working together.
The new oddball thriller Creep wastes no time in establishing its premise: an unassuming Aaron (Patrick Brice, who also directed the film) comes across a Craigslist ad offering $1,000 for a videographer, with the sole addendum “discretion is appreciated.” After driving out to a cabin in a remote mountainous town, he meets Josef (Mark Duplass), a goofy and animated eccentric who hired him. It seems that Josef, dying of cancer, is hoping to make a day-in-the-life movie to leave behind for his unborn child. Aaron, wielding a small camera, begins to follow him around as the two embark on what Josef hopes will be a spiritual, heartfelt series of events. However, Aaron soon finds that something is decidedly off and not at all what he expected, and at the end of the day, he’s ready to hightail it out of there. But Josef’s not ready to give up on their time together.
This funny/sad horror comedy revolves around the interplay between these two men, and it’s so tightly wound that you never know what to expect from one moment to the next. Producer Jason Blum has made a name for himself (and built a very successful company) from the triumph of the Paranormal Activity franchise, a series of films largely built around that grainy, home video footage of doors slowly opening and closing. A number of his films that followed adapted this formula to varying degrees of success. The found footage genre arguably has a ceiling, one that Blum and his confederates constantly bump up against. But with this new found footage concoction, Creep, the trio seem to have crafted something altogether different. They have broken through that ceiling and found something way stranger on the other side. It’s refreshing.
Creep is available now on iTunes. It can be streamed through Netflix starting July 14.
[Editor’s Note: The following interview was conducted via Skype.]
I watched the movie again hours ago, so everything’s fresh in my mind again.
Mark Duplass: Ah, second viewing.
You’re incredibly creepy in this movie. I always remember you from Your Sister’s Sister because it’s one of my favorite movies. I wasn’t quite ready to see you like this.
Mark: How are you doing now? [Laughs]
I’m alright. Right from the get-go with those spandex pants. That was spooky.
Patrick Brice: That was a deliberate choice.
Mark: “Let’s put him all in black and make it fitted.” It’s a bit off. It represents all the hugs that are about to come in the movie. And it hugs my butt. It was exactly what I was planning for Aaron.
Is it true that the film didn’t skew so much into horror in the beginning?
Patrick: Yeah. We did not set out to make a horror film. The film sort of revealed itself to us as a horror film over the course of finishing it, or we thought was finishing it, and showing it to friends and getting feedback. The elements that we were really excited about was the psychological tension between the characters and the humor. But when we showed it to audiences and showed it to friends, they were just begging us to push it more into a darker place.
The humor didn’t feel so sharply defined, either, because I think a lot of the things that I found hilarious might come across as creepy to other people.
Mark: Yeah. It depends on who you watch it with. When you watch the movie alone, it’s a lot less funny. If you watch it in a theater, it plays much more like a comedy. You get the permission to laugh because other people are laughing and that puts you at ease a little bit more. It’s just a different experience depending on who you’re watching it with.
Patrick, I saw The Overnight at the Tribeca Film Festival and I’ve obviously been following your stuff, Mark. What I find really appealing about both of your works is how you put these different personalities into awkward situations. There’s a lot to mine there.
Patrick: Mark and I both just love weirdos. [Laughs] We’re obsessed with analyzing people.
Mark: We’re going to be talking about you after this.
Patrick: We’re going to be talking about the wallpaper behind you.
Mark: “What’s he doing in Korea? Why isn’t he here?”
Patrick: “Why is he awake right now?” [Laughs] My mom’s a therapist, so maybe that was kind of ingrained in me growing up. Mark’s dad is a lawyer, so you’re kind of having to figure out people on a deep level on the day-to-day doing that. So that was the kind of stuff we first connected on as friends. What was cool about this movie and why it was such an organic process for us was that we were already friends and talking about the idea of working on something together. I had been primarily working in documentary filmmaking while I was at school. It was having these conversations with Mark that kind of thrust me into the world of making a narrative project.
How did you guys meet? Mark, you started out mentoring Patrick, right?
Mark: I guess it started out that way, for sure. We became buddies because Patrick’s wife worked for a little while as our nanny for our kids. I had obviously made a ton of stuff already and Patrick had just gotten out of film school. I had set up this model of making cheap movies and I saw in him someone who could be a really great filmmaker. I had the means to go and pay for this movie and, in that way, I was a mentor. Through that process he kind of figured it out and by the time we got to The Overnight, we became co-collaborators and that has been great for us personally. That’s something I really like as a producer: being able to give a first-time filmmaker a chance to make something cheaply because, if they fuck it up, it’s okay, no big deal. It was cheap. But if they score, they get to go make something like The Overnight. Patrick, in my mind, has now made two great films in the span of two and a half years, and sky’s the limit.
Patrick: For me, it was a nice chance to be thrust outside my comfort zone in many ways. I don’t think I was going to be as reactive or…I don’t know what the word is. Making a movie like Creep, you’re really having to solve problems in different ways than, say, a filmmaker who’s more formalist where these ideas have been set in stone for months and months and months.
Mark: Right. If you were going to be more like the Coen Brothers where you have a storyboard in your head and work through that. This was just fucking chaos.
Patrick: [Laughs] I would describe this as like a monk going up a mountain to sit up there. It was a weird zen exercise, being thrown into the deep end of a cold pool and having to swim.
And Creep being your first feature, not only are you the co-writer and director, you’re also the co-star. How did you feel about doing that?
Patrick: Oh, Mark had to talk me into it. It was something that I was nervous about initially, but like most things that I’m nervous about, once I start doing it, I’m not really thinking about it. I’m just thinking about solving each problem that’s coming our way, you know? It was exciting and fun, the fact that we already had a relationship as friends and there was a basis of trust with each other. I think I also have the ability to accept and respond to criticism, as does Mark. We’re both sensitive dudes. We’re super honest with each other on the day-to-day. It was easy applying that to working together.
Mark: I knew he would be good, too. I have a good sense of when people can do what they’re doing or self-aware enough to be able to do that on camera without freaking out. I work with a lot of people who haven’t acted before. I was very confident he was going to be able to do it.
Was there much room for improv? More specifically, did you both try things out on the spot spontaneously without telling each other beforehand?
Mark: There were many examples of that. I told Patrick at some point that there would be a Peach Fuzz song, so just turn the camera on and let’s do this. We would also come up with stuff on the spot in different ways. We knew at a certain point that we would need one boost for Josef to do something ambiguously a little creepy, but not something that would totally scare Aaron away. We were trying to figure that out and that’s when Patrick said, “What if you took pictures of me?” It’s weird, but not so weird that Aaron would run away. We came up with that while we were at the cabin and shot it an hour later. It was fresh and we were excited about the idea. When you shoot something you’re in love with, it has that quality like a band recording a demo right when they’re writing a song. It has that same energy to it, it’s very special. I think that’s part of what makes Creep feel immediate, it has that fresh energy like we just came up with the idea.
You shot this film over the course of a year and half. How the hell did you make that work?
Patrick: When we were going back for, like, reshoot number 7, when we’re essentially going through all this work to only make the film 2-5% better, you do start to question it. It’s like, “This is way too long to be doing this.” You do start to go a little crazy. At the end of the day, the movie is better because we went through that process and because we opened ourselves up to criticism from smart friends and, for the most part, other filmmakers from Jason Blum to all these people who saw something in the film that they connected with. They really helped us usher in a better movie that will be seen by more people. And it was an amorphous thing going into it. It would be different, maybe, if we had a set way of doing things and we had a set idea about the movie absolutely getting to a certain place. It’s like putting a circle through a square peg. The movie wanted to be this, so it was our job to shepherd it to that place.
With the test screenings, input from friends, and the reshoots, what was the film like when it was the most distant from what it is now?
Mark: The first film played much more like an uncomfortable version of My Dinner with Andre. There were more locations. There was also a sweetness to it. There was forgiveness in it. It wasn’t necessarily as present in the final film. I would say that there was a recklessness to the final film that we somehow achieved, even though we found more precision in it. The first film was a little constrained. We were trying to force it into something like when you have a child: “I want my child to become a baseball player,” but you’re child just really wants to play music. In the final film, we were like, “Fuck it! The kid wants to play music, we’ll let the kid play music.” It had a spirit about it that was different. The first version was more constrained and forced.
What about the ending?
Mark: We shot it. We shot it again. Then we shot it again. We shot it 4 times. At some point, we’ll release those alternate endings, once everybody’s seen the movie as it was meant to be seen.
I have to ask you about the poster for The Overnight. It’s so brilliant.
Patrick: That came from having a really cool distributor that’s willing to go with the marketing material that could seem potentially dangerous.
Mark: Yeah, it’s serious.
Patrick: Also, it’s asking a question as opposed to answering a question. At the end of the day, if I’m looking at a poster for a movie I want to see, I would rather see something more deliberate than most posters we’re accustomed to seeing.
Now that it’s out there, I can’t imagine it being anything else.
Patrick: Thanks, man.
Mark: Go to sleep!