September 11, 2014
Adam Wingard, director of “The Guest,” Simon Barrett, writer of “The Guest” and Ron Salfen, on behalf of the Presbyterian Outlook
Presbyterian Outlook: How have things changed for you now that you’re making bigger-budget films?
Adam Wingard: There’s a kind of responsibility that goes along with that. As a director, I find that when you have more access to all the tools, you have to really think clearly, like, “Am I using this because I can use this?” Like, “Am I putting a crane shot in here because it’s cool, or am I using this because it actually fits with the movie?” Obviously, when you have a certain amount of money for a film, you don’t want the movie to look cheaper than your budget – if anything, you want it to look more. But you always want those tools to be used for the right reasons. I remember when I was in film school, whenever we’d get further in the program, like getting to use the sound stage, the first thing everybody wants to do is just use all the equipment, like all the dolly shots. And I think that’s the wrong approach in a film. You have to actually use those tools appropriately and not get overwhelmed just because you have them. This is the first time I actually had access to a steady cam every day, and that was an interesting learning curve process. But even beyond that, we’re in a bracket now where we can afford, well, I wouldn’t say better actors, necessarily, than the ones we worked with before, but people who actually do acting for a living.
Adam Wingard: No, it’s true. A lot of our earlier films were improvisation-heavy, because that’s the best way to get a performance out of non-actors, because whenever you’re trying to get a reality out of something, sometimes the best way is to eliminate the idea of performance at all. So you can’t have a bad performance.
Simon Barrett: Yeah, as a professional actor myself, it’s harder to do scripted dialogue than just being yourself, something that’s organic to how you speak. So yes, we had a bigger palette for this film, and I hope that as the budget continues to get bigger, we can push our comfort levels. I know as a viewer, I’m entertained by films where I can’t totally predict what’s coming next. And I think Adam feels the same way, and that’s the experience we want to bring to our audience members. Too often I can’t enjoy a movie because I’m so actively being insulted by its predictability.
Adam Wingard: Yeah, like in the standard Hollywood version of this film, it would have started with David breaking out of the military hospital, but instead, Simon actually begins as if the movie has already started, and we’re just picking it up, but what that does is create a whole different aesthetic. There’s no reason to hide that David is ominous, but we enjoyed doing the perspective shift.
Simon Barrett: Yeah, like everyone else here, we both enjoy movies, and have seen a lot of movies, so we can indulge in a kind of cinematic shorthand: “Yes, we’ve seen that, so let’s skip that and go somewhere else.” Ideally, we make films that are smarter than us.
Presbyterian Outlook: I wasn’t smart enough to understand the role of the government agents…
Simon Barrett: Yeah, well, it’s supposed to be this corporation, because we were commenting on the way some of these defense contractors can go off the rails a little bit, and there’s no real oversight. But that’s intentionally non-specific.
Adam Wingard: Actually, in the first cut of the film there was more description of this program, but we always test our films very early with different types of audiences, and the “through line” that we found in these test screenings was that people actually felt that there was too much information. Everybody already has the Bourne Identity shorthand of what a super-soldier is, so the information wound up being superfluous and distracting from the story, so we cut it. You just have to weigh the pros and cons. Usually a re-shoot is giving more information, not less.
Simon Barrett: Yeah, we found that audiences responded more to the ambiguity. And once we made the cuts, we both did, as well.
Adam Wingard: That’s why we did all those “push-in” shots of David. We want you (the viewer) to make up your own mind about what’s going on inside his head.
Ronald P. Salfen is the minister of St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.