IN CONVERSATION WITH MARC MEYERS
“I am very fortunate I get to create a story that then lets me travel like a snake through this journey with all of these other crafts people” says writer and director Marc Meyers, whose new film MY FRIEND DAHMER, in UK cinemas form 1st June, offers a portrait of the young serial killer. In conversation with FrightFest, Meyers discussed the requirements of storytelling, respecting the authenticity and spirituality of real life events and cinema as a collective dream.
Interviewing Mark Cousins we spoke of the idea of each film being a brick in a wall, which becomes the film maker’s filmography. In the context of your four films, how do you view the place MY FRIEND DAHMER occupies within your body of work? When I look at HARVEST in particular, there seems to be a thematic connection.
Well, I wouldn't look at it as a brick wall as much as I would look at each one of them - this is esoteric – as flags out in a field somewhere, amongst other flags. And hopefully people want to go walk over to your flag and look at it, after the moment in time when it first comes out like a piece of fresh fruit, because films are like fresh fruit. It comes out and it’s on the shelf - who wants to take a pick at the fresh ones. But then later on down the road people may revisit, and so there are no brick walls for me. That said, as I was in the edit room and finishing HARVEST, the thought hit me that it would be interesting to do a movie that was a portrait of a serial killer as young boy. So it was the immediate response to being in the edit room on HARVEST, which is funny that you bring that up, that I was already feeling I wanted to do something that was more subversive.
You spend so many years early in your career trying to convince people and yourself that you can make a movie. And just to make the movie, by the time we got to the end of it I was very proud and it did wonderful things to start me off. But I also saw that there were other qualities to my own creative storytelling; I had grown beyond the story itself I was telling to realise what I could also do with something that was entertaining. Then I made this other movie HOW HE FELL IN LOVE, which is smaller, but creatively I think I am still getting better. In that one because it’s about an extra-marital affair, there is just something that is more provocative. And also because I was starting to get around to the idea of not just telling a well told tale, but being aware of the ecosystem with which you are showing a movie, and that it has to have some quality to it that’s subversive or provocative. Or more than just retold in order to get people to want to come and see it. So you learn about all the different things you have to do and what you can be interested in. I don't know what the next flag pole is, but it'll certainly be more of the same, but different.
On the subject of adaptation, theatre and film director Alex Helfrecht remarked to me: “…you have to be bold and brave, and as you said, shouldn’t be slavishly transliterating the novel. You have to have a strong take on the material, but you have to honour the spirit.” The importance of shooting inside the actual Dahmer house, and the visual inclusion of a number of images from the graphic novel translates to a faithfulness to not only the source material, but also the spirit of the persons and events?
Yeah, it is just the way I roll I suppose and if you are going to make a movie, you have got to have a damn good reason to do so. You are asking a lot of people to get up and leave where they live, or get up early or invest some money, and you have got to do something I believe that feels bold. Especially now, maybe more so than fifteen years ago where you could just tell a sweet story. Not that the agenda is anything more than trying to tell a well told story, but it’s just truth matters. And especially now more than at anytime, so just go for the truth. It felt inauthentic if I wasn’t shooting at the Dahmer house and for me, for the end movie, but also for the actors, it was to be able to say: “Yes, the door of the house you are walking through, this is the door he went through. This is the view he had out of his bedroom window. This is how far he slept from his brother when he smelt of alcohol.” These are the things that I think give the artists around me just an extra motivation to put their heart into it themselves. And part of it is just creating an environment where everyone else can put their own enthusiasm into the project too.
The idea of nature versus nurture in relation to genre cinema is especially interesting, as this branch of cinema confronts the question of whether there is such a thing as pure evil, or is everything created?
Well you know, I can't give you a concrete answer, but what I can say in response is that it's a little bit of everything. It's very fluid and all of these forces are contributing around each other at the same time, and they feed off one another like a storm. Nurture versus nature as a versus thing is just a way to have a conversation starter, or to contextualise the forces of nature, and/or the forces of our own psyche that are very hard to understand. It’s only a way to give it a label, so that you can somehow have a framework and feel like you can understand the inexplainable thing that is life.
Life is screwed up and it keeps getting worse…on one level. But then in that I also believe what I was looking for in the movie, and I find myself still saying this once in a while to people at a Q&A is that in the film as in life, and I believe this is the true core of any real movie that is not about superheroes, that it's all still just about love. And so here I was almost looking to have enough little moments that amongst the perfect storm, of all this stuff, there are still inklings of where was the love, and did it get through or does it get washed away, or pushed aside? But you can’t tell a story that doesn’t have some quality of love that is motivating people, and if they don’t have it, then they are looking for it.
C.G Jung contextualised dreams as a means for us to understand the problems we cannot solve in our waking state. If cinema helps us to understand ourselves and our world, or to look to the darker aspects of human nature, can we say films are built on a dream logic?
They are, and they could be more. As an artist I am getting closer to thinking of movies in the dream like fashion, and understanding that in terms of a piece of theatre where you lean forward when you learn of the major dramatic question, of what are they intellectually going to figure out live on stage every day. But In a movie, you lean back and it’s like: Bring me the dream, the collective dream that we are going to have together. Now some of it may end up looking and feeling like a play, but there is something unique to the medium of cinema that plays with shadows on the wall in a cave. It is the same thing; it is a dream that helps us process our mundane lives that are filled with just trying to survive and pay the bills. And so it is a collective dream and that’s what’s unique to this medium.
If we want to understand ourselves then we must look at the darkest aspects of humanity, and Dahmer is somebody who succumb to the darkest of impulses. This is the reason we are telling stories about these notorious individuals, yet there is a responsibility as a filmmaker to not be exploitative.
One thing I was guardian of was people wanting to get involved with the movie to exploit the name Dahmer, and to make a horror film on behalf of the text. I couldn't do that; it’s not who I am. So very quickly you learn who your collaborators are in the development phase for that reason. One of my earliest little projects before I had made more than just one short film was helping a guy produce a panel in New York called, Jung and the Art of Film making. It was with some Jungian psychologists or experts with a bunch of accomplished film directors at Cooper Union, New York. We had put this to them so they could talk about dreams and the art of film making. And ever since I have been aware of the marriage between the two. To design a story that is structurally like a dream is hard, but to this day the mythic stuff that Joseph Campbell speaks about, that is the template with which I use to see how it taps into these various mythic shared dream devices that are out there. The other thing that you can do with a movie is that it doesn't necessarily have to be in order. That's a hard thing to do, but it’s something of interest to me because like when we process our dreams, it helps us to try to maybe understand something we are denying in ourselves, about how we are feeling. And a movie that is a shared dream can do the same thing. We can leave the theatre and think about the thing that wasn’t so obvious, and then make some deeper conclusions that are more personal because it came to us like in a dream. So for me there is a huge parallel. Oddly enough, I’ll just say this. I do remember a couple of dreams I had when I was a teenager, at the same age of these characters, that had more to do with the fact I dreamt I hooked up with that girl. So dreams can be shallow or they can be profound [laughs].
Interviewing filmmaker Christoph Behl he remarked to me: “You are evolving, and after the film, you are not the same person as you were before.” Do you perceive there to be a transformative aspect to the creative process?
Oh yeah, completely. I have been through a creative gauntlet with my collaborators that has been profound and filled with all kinds of heightened emotions, that I somehow feel are all in the quality of the movie. As a guardian of the story, as a director, you have to keep the good ideas that you receive from around you, and at the same time like a goalie keep away the bad ones, so that you hopefully protect the ultimate vision of the film.
I am a different filmmaker to who I was when I started, and the devices of genre and connecting with that community too has been one of the greater surprises I have had as a filmmaker over the last couple of months. It’s effecting the kinds of movies I want to make. So I don’t know what the next one is going to be, but I’m sure it’s going to be punk subversive and noisy, but also heartfelt. Yeah, that’s HARVEST.
MY FRIEND DAHMER is in cinemas in the UK on 1 June 2018.
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