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Interview: Director Jeremy Saulnier's 'Blue Ruin' - a must-see thriller film

A new revenge film is playing somewhere out there in a theater near you. It's called "Blue Ruin" and it subscribes to the less-is more-horror genre / thriller. Done for pennies on the dollar and the recent winner of the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the film is well worth you seeking it out (links below).

"Blue Ruin" is currently playing on VOD and at select theaters. Don't miss it!
Official Film still

The film begins as a simple revenge story set on the East Coast. This bum looking of a guy, "Dwight" played by unknown actor, Macon Blair, is living in a car. His life is simple, mundane, and runs on just the bare necessities; a stolen bath in an empty house, a meal from a trash can, etc. However, all that changes when an ominous visit from a police officer stirs up the past and we begin to learn why the guy prefers living in an abandoned car with books and not much else.

Speaking with writer/director Jeremy Saulnier and lead actor Macon Blair:

Allie Hanley: There are a lot of positive comments to make about your film “Blue Ruin.” The thing that struck me first while I screened the film was the look and tone of it. I recall thinking that the Director of Photography was really talented. Come to find out, not only are you the writer, and the director, but you did triple duty and acted as the cinematographer as well.

Jeremy Saulnier: Both of us grew up making movies in Alexander, Virginia <referring to Macon Blair>, so we all worked as a collective, and it was great because we learned how to make movies; But we never differentiated between jobs or really defined our careers by doing one sort of thing. It was really more about a collective effort to fully realize whatever movie we were making that week; whether it was a zombie movie, or our take on a Shakespearean play, or whatever.

When it comes to cinema, our interface has always been very tactile and very visual. I've never been ever to separate the duties, so even when I write scripts I see movies fully realized in the brain space, and I just try to translate that verbally and it seems to work out. People always caution directors don’t shoot your own material, or don’t act in your own material, but for me it actually helps. When I wrote this script I was pre-visualizing it as a DP director and it seemed really cohesive. There was no translation lost. It was a stream-lined shoot of the script.

Allie: Can you take me through your process of realizing this from an idea to a script?

Jeremy: The funny thing about “Blue Ruin” is that it probably has 40 different origins. It was just such a pragmatic exercise for us. It was a way for us to redefine our careers and produce a new calling card for Macon as an actor, and for me as a director. Nothing else we created seemed like it was going to take off, unless we took matters into our own hands. So we built this from the ground up and as an exercise; and as a narrative that we would want to see on the big screen. We didn’t want to fight a battle that we couldn’t win. So the idea started with the mission, which was to get Macon Blair in front of the camera in a lead role. So, I had been thinking of this beach front character, and I don’t know where that came from, and I always wanted to do this with Macon, but the actual narrative of what Macon would be, took a little while. Macon was writing scripts that were so far out of reach, and basically there was a ticking clock here and we had babies on the way. We had to embrace the fact that we wanted to make a genre movie that was really cool with actual choreographed action sequences, and special effect make-up showcases, but we couldn’t afford to do it the right way. So, we would do it the wrong way and mis-cast the lead role with an everyday man (Macon Blair) and down scale production into a scenario in which we could afford, by shooting on properties in our home-town, in homes we own and in places we vacationed as youth. So when our aspirations collided with our reality, was really when “Blue Ruin” took shape.

Allie: There are a lot of genre films out there that subscribe to the more gore and wanton murder the better. You took a different direction. Can you speak on this?

Jeremy: Sure, I loved those movies when growing up and the atmosphere they created. The 80’s was when I grew up, and I loved them, but I wanted to make sure this film broke through to more than just genre audiences. That it would be primarily an emotional journey, and a grounded character piece. However I didn’t want to totally abandon my genre roots. So it was all about making sure the violence served to up the stakes and heighten the experience. And it had to be grounded and impactful, so when there was violence on-screen, it wouldn’t go down easy. It would be shock, and hopefully disquieting to the audience.

Allie: How much success would “Blue Ruin” have to attain for you to leave your successful day job making corporate videos?

Jeremy: The takeaway for me was to trust the instincts of my collaborators and what I wanted to do within this scenario of the film making world and to not compromise. The reason “Blue Ruin” broke through was because it was not a diluted vision; we didn’t have to go through a committee, we didn’t have to answer to financiers. Now I do know how to play ball if I am gonna work in the big leagues, but I would rather work my way up incrementally, step by step, and retain creative control. I don’t know if I would be able to do that if I did some bloated studio movie. However, I do aspire to take on the next horror franchise.

But for now, I will make sure that any film I make, is a film that I would want to see. That is the only real bar that I have set for making movies. I won’t cast people in my movies that don’t belong. I would happily retreat to videos and commercials to make a living, and wait for the right lightening to strike. However, now it looks like there are certainly some good opportunities out there that will break in the very near future for me.

Allie: So we’ve talked about the roots and the form of the film. Let’s talk about the main character, and see it through the actor’s eyes. <speaking to lead actor> Macon Blair; “Dwight” is a lot more than what he portrays in the first act, and then as the story continues we learn so much more about what makes him tick. How did you envision the character from paper to screen?

Macon Blair: Well, it was basically thinking about how a regular person would behave in these irregular circumstances. Jeremy and I talked about it as he was writing the script. We talked about standard action movies, and how stories would play out when someone tried to do the hero harm, and how those scenarios would play out in a traditional movie kind of way. We wanted to do it as if it was really happening to a real person. So when a real person gets injured in the leg, are you really going to be able to sit there and give yourself stitches? Or are you going to go to a doctor and get it taken care of. Speaking for myself, I am going to go to a doctor. So that was sort of the philosophy, to always be trying to ground everything that this guy was doing in a familiar and relatable space.

Allie: In the film, "Dwight" is hurt. He’s hit with an arrow to the leg. The faces you made had me squirming in my seat when you acted out “Dwight” trying to pull the arrow from his leg. In “Blue Ruin,” you do a lot of physical acting, especially when doing some of the stunts.

Macon: Well, that was one of the times we indulged a little bit in setting up the situation that was going to make the audience squirm. The point of that though, was to pay off the joke which is that he doesn't complete the self-medicating treatment, and ends up taking the smart way and going to the doctor. Actually, that wasn't difficult because Jeremy and I grew up working around stuff that was based on special effects and stuff like that, -make-up effects and gore. That was a return to the little goofy movies we would make when we were younger. I would certainly say that the more exposed dialogue scenes were a lot more challenging, and took a lot more preparation to get through. The arrow scene was just fun.

"Blue Ruin" is playing in select theaters and on Video On Demand including Itunes. Macon Blair may have been cast in this film by his friend, the writer/director/ DP, Jeremy Saulnier, but he truly portrays "Dwight" in an exceptional performance. Don't pass on this film because it has a small budget (and doesn't look like it) and the actor is someone you may have never heard of. The story, performances, and look of the film are some of the best I've seen all year.

R, 1 hr. 32 min.

Mystery & Suspense
Directed By: Jeremy Saulnier
Written By: Jeremy Saulnier

Radius-TWC

Official film link- http://blueruinmovie.com/

screened in Houston, TX at Sundance Cinemas.