Bringing the “Mayhem”: An Interview with Director Joe Lynch

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Joe Lynch is a filmmaker known for his work on films such as Wrong Turn 2: Dead End and Everly. He returns to the director’s chair with Mayhem, a genre mashup that turns practically The Office into a mix of Troma and Miike. The film is set for release on November 10 by RLJE Films.

World Film Geek got the chance to talk with Lynch about making the film and his experience with horror films and who are his influences.

Thank you Joe for taking the time to talk about Mayhem. I saw the film and I was not expecting what I saw, but it is safe to say I may have just found a new favorite movie.
Oh dude! That’s awesome! Thank you! I don’t think anyone was expecting this, believe me, least of all me! (Laughs) That’s amazing to hear!

From my understanding, you’ve been a horror fan all your life. When did you begin watching horror films?
I began watching horror movies at the tender age of 2, when my mother snuck me in the theater to see Dawn of the Dead because she couldn’t find a babysitter. And I remember all of it. She was a horror movie fan from back in the day and it transpired onto me. And I’ve been a horror movie fan ever since.

I think part of it was that I was scared of everything as a little kid, so my mom thought she could show me what horror really is, at least in the 80’s when it was all slasher movies and monster movies. I would also get issues of Fangoria and she would show me how the “sausage” was made so to speak. I mean she was fascinated with that. I’ve been a fan of that ever since because those movies affected me in such a way I never experienced before on the TV or on a flat screen that would elicit a response. Whether it was screaming or laughing or feeling tense.

I remember seeing Poltergeist for the first time on HBO and when that assistant guy rips his face off, I was so terrified of that and I thought the images were affecting you like they were actually coming from the screen and onto you, like they were coming out from under the TV. It was like that scene kind of, infected me, so to speak (Laughs).

I’ve just been always a fan of horror movies and how they are geared to make people respond and make people be affected by the images and sounds they see or hear on the screens. And for a long time, I wanted to be a make-up effects artist. I wanted to be Tom Savini, Robert Kean, and all those guys. But over the years, I would see more and more movies and realize, “So wait, the director gets to do all of that?” I remember seeing Chuck Russell’s The Blob and go, “wait a minute, now I get it” because people were screaming and yelling and laughing.

So I was like, “so the director gets to work with the make-up effects people and the actors”. And I was trying to be an actor as well at the time, doing little things here and there, but it was like the director got to work with everybody! So I was like yeah, I wanna do that! And I’ve been making stuff ever since.

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Lynch on the set of Mayhem

Let’s talk about Mayhem. What led you to direct the film and in your own words, how would you describe the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it?
Well, for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, Mayhem is a horror-action-comedy-thriller-satire-musical so to speak. It’s a big genre mashup and I like those kind of films. It’s a rollercoaster of different tones and different genres even. The plot is very simple. What if a virus that made you lose your inhibitions for a short amount of time and actually legally lets you get away with whatever you do based on a loophole, what happens when that gets released in a law firm?

And that’s the very basic set-up and that allowed me and the filmmaking team, both cast and crew to be able to poke fun a little bit at the corporate culture. Even to tap into the frustrations we all have with jobs that we don’t like, people we don’t like to work for or work with, the abuse we sometimes get from that. The passive-aggression that corporate cultures foster because they are afraid of being sued.

All of this was prime material for me, especially because I was working a corporate job at the time. Because movies these days, they don’t pay what they used to and the opportunities aren’t there as much. And if you really want to make movies, you kind of have to get a side job because movies have become for a lot of people, side work or a hobby in a way. Careers are hard these days. And in between the movies I have done, I always had a side job or something that pays the bills because that’s the responsible thing to do. You know, gone are the days when you could be in a development deal and you can be paid just for reading scripts or hanging out in an office at the Universal lot. That doesn’t happen as much anymore.

So being that I had to work this job many times over, I was getting frustrated because here I am, a creative person in a very corporate world and it just became creatively stifling. So when I read the story about a guy who just really wants to paint ultimately and just follow his passions instead of following the lead of what society tells him he has to do or what his parents told him is the level of success, you know, his passions lie in being artistic, that totally got me! That hit me really hard. So when I read the script and finished it, I said “I know this character” better than any of the other movies I’ve done . I knew this guy so much and I felt compelled to tell his story and when I met the producers, they said, “if you got something to say, we’re gonna be here to help you say it.”

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Lloyd Kaufman, co-founder of Troma Inc., considered the “punk rock” of cinema according to Lynch.

I will tell you, I am a huge fan of Troma films, being originally from New York.
Oh dude that’s awesome! I’m also from New York and Troma to me, was our East Coast Corman. Those guys [Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz] were our punk rock. Troma was basically punk rock for cinema. And when you’re a kid growing up in the 80’s, you’re like f**k man, these guys are on f**kin’ point. They’re giving a big middle finger to the establishment, including Hollywood. Who wouldn’t want to root for those dudes? With all the crushed heads and gory deaths and weird irreverent humor. They were my jam!

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Prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike, a major influence in Lynch’s films.

I thought Mayhem was inspired by both Troma and actually some of the films by Takashi Miike. Would you say that the film was inspired by those elements as well?
Absolutely! Troma is in my blood. My first job was with Troma, so I was thrilled to be working with Lloyd and the Troma Team to find out how to make movies from nothing. How to make movies efficiently. Also, to balance that weird line between horror and comedy and be able to take the piss out of things so to speak. So, Troma’s been always in my blood and it’s really hard to shake. I would say Wrong Turn 2 is more like a Troma film.

When it comes to Takashi Miike, ever since I saw both Audition and Visitor Q and Happiness of the Katakuris, and especially Dead or Alive, I said this is the guy knows the movies that I love to make. And that’s only happened very few times. Like Quentin Tarentino. I was like this guy is speaking my language of using pop culture and using movies as communication. With Takashi Miike, he’s using visceral cinema and pushing the envelope in a way that I always appreciated when I was a little kid and watching these movies that I should not be watching at ten years old like Re-Animator and Evil Dead 2, those from the splatter era.

Oh, I’ve been there (laughs).
And we’ve all been there. Miike for me has always been such a hero and Everly [Lynch’s 2014 film] was my love letter to Miike. It’s a lot more Eastern-influenced but in terms of tone and how Miike could just, well, I haven’t seen Blade of the Immortal yet, from what I’ve been hearing it is violently disgusting and harrowing but hilarious at the same time. I gravitate towards that immediately so Miike especially has always been a huge influence on me and it’s not the most commercial way of doing things in terms of what the American audiences are used to, so you have to have a much defined voice.

With this story, it felt like the satire and also the extreme measures that the characters have to take based on the plot, based on the fact that the story said these people could be doing aberrant things and they can get away with it, for the audience, if you have a great cast that can allow that to happen, it’s just the kind of license that Miike kind of gets away with. And I thought, I can try to do the same things here with a great cast and be able to sneak in the subversive kind of laughs and moments that only he can get away with.

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Steven Yeun as Derek and Samara Weaving as Melanie in Mayhem

The driving forces of the film are truly Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving as Derek and Melanie. How did they come onboard and what were they like on the set?
Steven, well, I am still a huge Walking Dead fan and a fan of his character Glenn. So, when we got the green light for the movie on a Friday, and on Sunday was the moment when Glenn kind of fake-died, the whole dumpster incident and both my wife and I as well as the world reacted to that so abruptly because it wasn’t a penultimate episode or a final episode, none of us saw it coming. I watched the entire world mourn for this character. And I was like holy s**t, the world loves this guy!

He’s so charming and so effective, such an everyman. And to me, that’s my global everyman. It’s not some white guy. It’s someone that can represent all of us. All races, all nationalities. Steven took immediately to the project, read the script, and was like “Wait, you want me to take the lead?” I was like f**k yes I do dude! I told him that he was my Richard Dreyfuss. And so he was in.

And with Samara, it was a really tricky role to cast because we needed someone who was vivacious and explosive and funny and passionate and kind of crazy, all at the same time. And I remember watching Samara in Ash vs. Evil Dead and in those last four episodes of the first season, and I said, if anyone can let Sam Raimi throw them around the cabin and dump cockroaches in their underwear, I can work with this person.

And we met over Skype, and I was already in the middle of prepping Mayhem. Usually, you don’t want to do auditions over Skype and it wasn’t even an audition. It was more of a conversation. Within five minutes of talking to Samara, I knew we were gonna get along great and I had one of those Barton Fink feelings that she was going to get along with Steven too because Steven is hilarious. He’s got a great whip crack, a very smart yet dark sense of humor. Immediately, we got along.

I felt if the three of us could get along and talk like this, and get along separately, then I think this will work. When they met on the set in Serbia, well, I shouldn’t say the sparks flew because they are both in relationships, but the chemistry was there right away in a platonic manner. Every day on set, they were a joy to work with.

Steven has been one of my greatest collaborators because he was on from the beginning and we banged the s**t out of that script, finding every beat we could to make it that Derek was both a sympathetic character but also compromising it. If you step back and look at it, there’s one line in the movie where the voiceover said, “Look, I did some f**ked up s**t and I totally have to live with that!” You don’t get that very often where the character admits his flaws. With Steven, you believe it and you believe that he’s sincere in his “half-apology” for it.

That was integral to us every day and Steven was challenging me every day, asking what the tone was for the day, how far we can go and how far is too far. And one of the strengths that Samara had on the set was she’s a very reactive actress. So, we would present these things to her and as Melanie, she would react off of that. That’s a rare feat and not many actors can do that very well, where they listen to instructions and take that information to make it their own and react as the character.

Like the scene in the bathroom where Derek and Melanie are talking about their favorite bands, that was primarily improved that we did the night before that we were blocking the scene out. And I wrote that scene and I came in the next day and told them, here’s the new scene. Originally the script said they wait and I was like that’s boring! And I love these guys so much that I wanted them to have a real moment as if there wasn’t a real virus where people are beating the s**t out of each other. Instead, these two would be at a coffee shop having this conversation. It endears you to them and it makes them seem real. And that’s a true testament to both those actors.

What I found interesting about the film is that the film was shot in Belgrade. What led to the film being filmed there and what was the experience like?
I made my previous film, Everly, in Serbia and I have to admit, I was not thrilled to go halfway around the world. But at the same time, I knew that was the only way to get the movie made. I had such a good time there and I said, I would definitely make another movie there. So when Mayhem was green-lit and as a filmmaker, you know “time is money”. Everyday counts.

So when we went cross-country with the different tax breaks and incentives, we realized that doing the film in the amount of time we needed was just not going to be possible to make in the United States. Otherwise, we would seriously detriment the movie itself. So I reluctantly said, why don’t we go to Serbia and the producers thought I was crazy! And they said that they would give us 25 days, which was 10 more days than any other place we called. It was a forlorn conclusion.

When I came back with some of my crew from Everly, such as Steve Gainer, my cinematographer, because we had such a good relationship there when we did Everly, and they tolerated us Americans, it made the shorthand much more effective this time around. We were a family even before I stepped off the plane and by the end of the shoot, we were this band of brothers and sisters that were able to make this thing work with a lot less of what to expect and a lot less time than we anticipated. I don’t think I could have made the film anywhere else.

Did you experience any difficulties while making the film?
Oh, every day was difficult! Because we were moving so fast because we didn’t have the time or money. We shot in one location and if you look carefully, you would profess that the building is at least ten stories tall. We only had three floors to work with. So every day, we’re racing up and down each floor as the production designer makes it look like different levels. Because we were in such a confined space, one person got sick and then everybody got sick. It’s kind of apropos about a dangerous virus and that place became a f**kin’ petri dish at one point where everybody was sick.

It was mostly about time, the time to be able to get the things we needed. It was difficult every day, but the crew loved making movies so much that they will go the extra yard and I had people like Steven Gainer who is just an amazing collaborator to work with. We were coming up with these innovative ways to not only give the film a polished look, but do it in a way that made us not break the bank at the same time. And then you have actors like Steven and Samara, who are used to working on TV.  And with working on that rigorous schedule, that’s the efficiency that we needed to make the things that would normally be difficult be more palatable enough to make your day. To make the movie you wanted and not compromise everything along the way.

So, every day was difficult, but if we didn’t have that level of difficulty, we wouldn’t have pushed ourselves so far.

Do you have any upcoming projects that you can talk about?
Yeah, actually, the one I can talk about is one I’m prepping up for right now. It’s called Taste. It’s my take on the whole “foodie culture”. I can’t really talk much more about it, but it’s definitely in the same vein as Mayhem where it’s taking the tropes of the horror movie and thriller, more of a thriller this time around, but ramping it up using satire as well because it’s something we all deal with every day.

You see people order food and taking Instagram photos and eat it or don’t even eat it at all. And all of the rock star chefs that are out there. Foodie culture or food culture has become this massive thing, this strange phenomenon. It is interesting in a world where people are taking these photos on one end of the world and people who are starving on the other. And I think that’s something that’s ripe for the picking so that’s one thing I’m working on right now and I’m really excited about it.

Mayhem comes to theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on November 10. If fans like The Office and Troma films, then fans will truly get a kick out of this film. Thank you so much Joe for talking about the film.
Thank you so much and I hope we can keep in touch!

A Special Thank You goes to Katrina Wan PR and Joe Lynch for making this interview possible. You can follow Joe on Twitter.

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