Director Joe Lynch wears the epithet “deranged” like a badge of honor. His newest movie Mayhem is evidence of that, showing what it would look like if all your workplace murder fantasies came to life.
Mayhem has been screened at many film festivals like SXSW and Fantasia, and recently, the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival awarded Steven Yeun for Best Actor for his lead role in the film. If that’s not enough to convince you about how good this movie is, it’s also sitting at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes (at the time of this being published).
I was able to meet Joe Lynch in person while working for Fantasia last summer, so it was great to reconnect with him over the phone last week. The thing with Joe is that he always has a lot to say and he will never give you a single-sentence answer, which explains why he holds the record for the second-longest Q&A in Fantasia history (after Kevin Smith). We talked about shitty office jobs, filming Mayhem overseas and the possibility of a third season for Holliston (Joe and Adam Green’s sitcom. It’s like Big Bang Theory, but with horror nerds).
Chris Aitkens for Nightmare on Film Street: What has your experience been for the festival run of Mayhem?
Joe Lynch: Honestly, it’s been an amazing adventure. Every filmmaker at some point in their life always hopes and dreams to have that movie where all of the hard work, all the passion, all the blood, sweat and tears pays off in this interesting way where you get to share your art with these different people who come to movies, not just as a way to hook up with their significant other or as a time waster, but they love movies, they’re passionate about movies and they deliberately come to these festivals to discover new things or see old things again.
It’s a great community and to have a film that allows you to travel all over the world, over decisions that you made in a country that is not your own, it’s surreal! I think it’s completely bonkers. What other job allows you to do that? There’s not too many positions that allow you to do something you truly love that is something that can be consumed by anybody. It’s not like if you’re traveling because of business and you have all these different investors all over the country. Everybody loves movies! It’s the sort of thing you can share with practically anybody! And the fact that you can go to different parts of the world and meet people and filmmakers you admire and new friends.
Ever since March, I’ve been on this surreal trip, and I’m kind of sad that it’s coming to a close now with the theatrical release hitting, but it’s been a wild ride!
NOFS: Are you confident for the theatrical release in November?
JL: Any filmmaker is smoking crack if they say that they are confident in a release these days. It’s a fallacy that you can predict how a movie will do. Even with tracking on big movies, you never know. Obviously with It, no one saw that one coming and how that one really exploded. Or Get Out. There are movies that just sneak up on the zeitgeist and scream “gotcha!” But for the most part, it’s a crap shoot.
I’m as confident as I can be in knowing that I’ve made a movie that has been able to, in a shrewd sense, test-screen about 13 or 14 times with some of the best audiences in the world, and worst, but in the best sort of way where they’re very scrutinous. I’ve been able to test this movie out all over the world for the past eight or nine months, and not to be boastful, but I’m so proud that it’s actually connected to people, because I usually make movies that are very divisive, intentionally and unintentionally.
For once, this movie that is very personal to me, that was my personal statement about the state of my world and how I see the world, has resonated with audiences all over the world in places I never would have expected. It gives me more confidence than I’ve ever had with another movie and knowing how many people are huge fans of Steven [Yeun] and who are going to be big fans of Samara Weaving—very soon if not already— having that kind of chemistry, that magic in a bottle from them alone would already make me confident. In most cases, there’s been plenty of times where we’ve all met filmmakers, who you can tell when they say “(insincerely) yeah…this movie is great.” They’re on the junket route and they can’t say “I’m sorry, I just took this as a gig” or “there was a lot of compromise and I’m just doing this because the studio told me.” You’re not allowed to say that. You have to say “she was a dream” and “he was awesome to work with.” Sometimes, it’s fucking lies! I get it, it’s studio spin, or common spin that we’re all used to, we’re not allowed to be completely honest, but here I’ve been lucky where I haven’t had to do that all, and it’s been very refreshing. I can sit there and I can talk about the movie, like at that Q&A at Fantasia, people kept asking me questions!
Part of the reason I come to film festivals is I don’t get a chance to get out much. That’s what I crave. That’s part of why I love movies, it’s because it sparks amazing conversations from everybody. And hopefully, it will resonate with people who don’t get a chance to go to film festivals. And if you can’t see it in theatres, thank god that there’s iTunes and VOD, because with a lot of movies these days, that’s where most of the money is coming from. It’s a win-win situation for me in that regard.
I wish it was going to be in more cities and I wish it was a screening release with all the Marvel marketing that you can possibly have—or some of that A24 marketing too, fuck it, they’re great with their marketing—but getting out there and doing the festivals and getting the amazing responses we’ve had online, where real people are talking about it, that’s how I get buzz about a movie. It’s not marketing that’s being shoved down your throat, it’s my friend saying “dude, have you seen Brawl in Cell Block 99? That movie’s fucking amazing!” I’d rather take opinions from friends and people I’ve never met before than a commercial or an online promo. That’s what we’re striving for, to get the word out. We realize that it’s out there and hopefully there’s a lot of Walking Dead fans who want to see Glenn alive again!
NOFS: I feel a lot of people can relate to the movie because they maybe have worked a job similar to that of Steven Yeun’s character in the movie. I know you can somewhat relate to the story. Would you mind telling me a story of Joe Lynch in corporate hell?
JL: I was doing this project for this one corporate entity that’s an entertainment company but they’re owned by a company that’s owned by a company that’s owned by a company. We really weren’t working for this network, we were really working for the corporate conglomerate that owns the network. And this wasn’t how the network was at first, it was independently owned, but then it got eaten up by one conglomerate that got eaten up by another conglomerate. And in those turnarounds, there was a re-identifying: at first it was video game network. Then it was a modern-male socially-aware network. Now, we don’t quite know what it is.
But I was brought in to do this anthology project, and I got to bring in all these other filmmakers to help with this project. I thought it was so cool and such a great idea. I was there to help the filmmakers make very particular videos that were going to be used for the website to promote it. And one of the things I love about short films is that they’re usually low-stakes. I don’t have to talk to too many people and I get final cut because there’s not a lot involved and there’s not a lot of money that you have to worry about. And the thing is, we didn’t have a lot of money for this either, but I know how to make a short with 59 cents and a roll of duct tape, so I can make it three times. I like that challenge.
What I quickly realized though—and this is not the fault of my superiors, but it was their superiors—was that every single creative decision that the filmmakers made had to be approved. When it came to the creative side, from the initial script to how they budgeted everything to how it was edited and how it was delivered, it literally took 20 emails with every creative decision. Essentially, I had to deal with 120 emails everyday to find out if someone liked this color on this car instead of this other color. It was ridiculous. I know it’s not something that crazy, but I just remember feeling so emotionally dead about the experience, then having these three amazing filmmakers deal with that also. I tried to protect them from most of the bullshit, which made it even more difficult, because they only knew the half of it.
It was so creatively stifling that when I saw that my title was “creative executive producer,” I just wanted to cross it out because I didn’t feel I was able to be creative whatsoever. I expected it to be something I would be really proud of, but it just ended up being a bust. I really don’t work well in corporate space, I can do it if I have to, just to make ends meet. They hire you to be creative, yet they second-guess you and all they do is use passive aggression, when you really want them to be honest.
That’s what Mayhem is all about, it’s a battle against passive aggression. Everybody wants to discuss when they should just say no and just say that they don’t like this! Why do we have to side-bar everything? Why do we have to have another meeting? Because people’s voices might get raised? Someone’s feelings might get hurt? No one wants to get anyone’s feelings hurt anymore because someone will sue. That’s the problem with the corporate world. It’s this serpent eating its tail, because no one can be honest and everyone will sue. It’s such a deadening situation where no one can be their true selves. And part of directing is being able to be yourself, it’s your vision, it’s your voice!
NOFS: How much creative freedom were you allowed with Mayhem?
JL: I had amazing producers who trusted me, like the fools that they are! (I like to say that sarcastically). From the beginning, I was very clear with the particular tone I was going for. I knew that I needed sugar to make the medicine go down, so there had to be a lot of humor. I had to convey that to the actors, the producers, everybody, but once we were on the same page, there wasn’t a lot of conflict with that.
That fueled it because I knew exactly what I wanted. We didn’t have time to compromise. And because I worked that job, I was able to say “I know this world. This is exactly how it would be. There’s a reason why these particular people are in this particular part of the office at this particular time of day.” Little dumb details like that I feel that anybody who has worked an office job before would agree and relate.
And it’s funny, I got asked at a festival recently if there will be a director’s cut. But the movie IS my director’s cut. Whatever notes I received, I agreed with. And whatever notes I pushed back on, I had a very clear reason why. The biggest crossroad in the editing was that Samara would give me her unabashed id version in a take and then for safety, would do a take where she was more subdued. So when Josh Ethier and I were editing, Josh suggested we do a version where she doesn’t seem so crazy. And I remember one producer saying “does she have to be so crazy here?” It was a balancing act. We had to make sure that her crazy moments were tempered with the pacing of the movie. That’s totally a testament to Samara and she fucking owned it!
For the version that’s out there, I see all the flaws and I see all the mistakes, but I’m still proud of it and it could not have turned out better, especially for the conditions that we had to shoot it under.
NOFS: Why is it that you had to go to Serbia to film?
JL: As any filmmaker knows, money is time and time is money. There’s a reason why there’s a common adage: “make your day.” It’s a quote that every director knows all too well and it gives chills down their spine because most of the time, you can’t go overtime because it costs a lot of money. The amount of days you have to make a movie can dictate your ultimate quality.
I knew this movie needed as much time as possible, especially with the action and the gags, and I wanted to give the actors enough time to get into their characters. When you make a movie in 15 days—and I’ve been there before—it is rough! So when we got the greenlight and we had a particular amount of money—not enough that I wanted, but enough to work with—we were given options to where we can shoot.
I had a great line producer called Buddy Enright who’s been around forever and he’s the man when it comes to making sure a movie is maximised economically, yet it remains as creative as possible. So we had to find a place that would give us the most amount of days to shoot. We went first to Pittsburgh and they said 15 days. Then we went to New Orleans and they said 17 days. Then we tried Vancouver and they said 18 days. But it was not enough time.
But I had shot my last film, Everly in Serbia, mainly because of the tax break and the time as well. And I had a good time there, it was a very challenging movie, but it wasn’t because of the location. The crews were great and it worked out very well, even though it was half-way around the world, which sucked because I was away from family. So Buddy called the production company in Serbia and talked to the head of production who was on Everly as well. And they said we needed to come back because they had all this fake blood leftover, so we can use it to make Mayhem. And they offered us 25 days. That made all the difference.
So I would miss my family for four to six months, but I would end up with a better product, with better quality across the board, with better actors. What was great is that I worked with the same people I worked with on Everly, so it was kind of like coming home to family and friends. A lot of those people ended up being even bigger collaborators this time around; my art director for Everly ended up being the production designer on this one. I also got to bring back Steve Gainer (for cinematography) who everybody loves, he was just the life of the party. It was like going to Cheers, where he was Norm! We had a lot of goodwill already and we all got along great, I could not have done the movie without them.
NOFS: I want to switch gears a bit, because I’ve recently been watching Holliston. I saw the Kane Hodder documentary and he mentioned his cameo in Holliston and I recognized you in the clips.
JL: By the way, how great is that documentary? I loved it, it made me tear up about four or five times. He’s had a rough life. Anyway, you were saying?
NOFS: I just wanted to ask if Holliston was truly representative of the struggle as a horror director?
JL: Honestly, I think it’s pretty light considering that since Holliston, the business has changed exponentially since 2013. We’ve been talking about doing a third season forever, and we’re actually closer than ever. And man, the shit we’re going to be able to skewer this time around: between streaming and piracy, and doing TV instead of movies because no one is going to the movies anymore, and the fact that movies are all about foreign sales. And for us—I can’t really speak for Adam [Green] personally but I can speak for myself—it’s been incredibly challenging.
Why do you think I had to do the corporate gig? The day of free development deals have ended. And no one wants feature directors to do TV because everyone thinks they take too long, and that’s not true. I’ve done enough indie films with a gun to my head to know that I got to make my day. But it’s getting tougher than ever to get TV gigs because everybody wants them. There’s less money out there and less worthwhile projects.
I think that Holliston is definitely going to come back, and we’re going to have a lot to cover, especially Adam who has gone through a lot of emotional stuff over the years, between Dave Brockie dying, being in a divorce and finding love again, and the struggles on his end from doing movies. He shot the show before the Movie Crypt [Adam and Joe’s podcast] was even a thing! It’s such a big part of our lives now, I love doing it, but it takes a lot of work and it takes a lot of time away from my family. There’s been a lot that’s happened since season two, and it’s funny, my wife put on an episode a couple weeks ago and she said “I don’t think I’ve seen all of season two.” And I remember thinking that both of us have matured in a lot of ways since the last time we were together on that set. I’m really excited where it’s going to go because it’s going to really reflect the times now, especially where we are. Just to be on that set again with that cast is going to be amazing. It’s going to be very special.
NOFS: I was surprised with the rockstars that were involved with Holliston; you had Dee Snider and Oderus Urungus. Is there a rockstar you would like to work with in the future?
JL: I know he might be too busy, but I would love to get Dave Grohl, because I know he’s funny, from what I saw in Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny. The guy’s got comedy chops. I’ve been a fan of him since the early Nirvana days and later on with the Foo Fighters. Who else? Anybody from KISS would be fucking rad. Lemmy [Kilmister] was going to do Holliston at one point in the second season, but we couldn’t get him at the time. There’s tons of possibilities, hopefully everyone stays alive long enough.
NOFS: Any last comments?
JL: Please, if you love movies, if you love supporting indie cinema, the best thing you can do is go out on November 10th—at least in the States—and see Mayhem in the theatre. I know it’s not playing in a lot of theaters, but if you do live near one of those cities, please go see it. If you don’t, get it on VOD and iTunes, and tell your friends.
This is a movie that you’re allowed to have a blast with on a Friday night and it will totally make your Monday more manageable. Trust me. Don’t be a dick, don’t steal it. If this movie does okay financially, it’s going to help the artists who made it be able to tell more stories and do more movies. The more that you pirate, the more that you’re destroying people’s lives. I hate to say it, but it’s true; my family and I have been affected by piracy. I’ve had employees in movie theaters say “we pirate shit off the internet all the time, and we’ve seen statistically that it doesn’t effect anybody.” Bullshit. In a hive situation where everyone is thinking that and pirating, no one’s going out to see these movies and it’s hurting the industry. Please do your part. Do it for Steven, do it for me, do it for my goddamn kids! I
ndie cinema doesn’t have the benefit of having all the marketing money in the world. All the good movies—and bad movies—that we saw when we were kids, it was a bit of a gamble, you didn’t know if the movie would be good or not, but that was part of the adventure! Now everyone is so scared to waste their time and waste their money, they think they can pirate first then buy later, but no one ever does that. Take a chance. I’m really proud of the movie, everyone who worked their ass off on this movie is proud of it. The best thing you can do is push a button that says buy or rent. That is a vote of confidence that you want to see more movies like this. I think you’ll dig it.
Mayhem will be available in select theaters, VOD and Digital HD on November 10th.