S. Craig Zahler’s DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE centres on two detectives, Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn), who following their suspension when a video revealing their strong-arm tactics is leaked to the media, descend into the criminal underworld in search of compensation. In conversation with FrightFest, Zahler discussed the visual distinction of his latest film, and the connection between music and filmmaking.
Collecting Influences - “All the stuff I do comes from music and being a fan of that stuff. My first and most enduring interest I suppose is animation – that was the first thing I wanted to do, and to this day is still something I’m trying to do. Then I got into comics, and I’m currently drawing my first graphic novel - I’m about two thirds of the way done. Both of those interests came from being a fan of those things, and then when I was thirteen-years-old I got into horror movies, gore and Fangoria. I thought I wanted to be a make-up artist and that gradually led to a wider appreciation of movies. It was this interest that took hold and never went away, and I’m forty-six now, so that was thirty-three years ago.”
Where Film and Music Meet - “… One of the reasons that I developed as a writer is my interest in fiction. I’ve been consistently reading a book since I was about twelve or thirteen. Why I think that developed the way it did was because it wasn’t necessary for anyone to believe in me, or finance something; it was just about the hard work. But there are a lot of different things I am interested in, and I’ve put out more than a dozen music albums in different genres: Black metal, deaf metal, traditional heavy metal, soul, and even some classical stuff for the soundtrack of BONE TOMAHAWK. It all comes from the same place, in that there’s something that emotionally engages me, some art form or medium. And I explore it deeper and deeper until I feel I have an understanding of what I would want to do similar, or what I would want to do differently.”
Finding the Right Notes - “I can hear a song that I’ve never heard before and have an incredible emotional reaction. There’s some stuff about music I don’t understand - I’m probably somewhere between a genuine musician who understands this stuff, and a lay person. So a lot of it is mysterious to me and I’ll write things, I’ll know they are in a certain key, but I won’t know what that key is. I’ll just fiddle around with the notes and say: “This one fits and this one doesn’t.” But the guy who I write the songs for all of these movies and I play heavy metal with, he understands all of that stuff. So I understand some of it and I understand rhythm pretty well, but that process is instantly very emotional and gratifying, and applies to filmmaking in a more roundabout way, but still similarly.”
The Musicality of Cinema - “In DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE there is a point where a brand new character, Jennifer Carpenter’s character Kelly Summer is introduced very late into the movie. That’s pretty much a departure section in a song; a key change. I knew I wanted a key change because I felt at that point in the picture we had been grinding with the same bunch of characters, and I wanted to introduce a different colour. So that comes from the musical discipline a little bit more, in so far as just introducing something else, or having that kind of change.”
The Camera and the Edit - “The way I’ve used the camera is different from many - my approach is to de-emphasise the camera. I believe every edit in every movie is a suspension of disbelief. It’s something every experienced moviegoer learns quickly how to do, and does it unconsciously, but I still feel it’s there. So when you’re cutting, that is a suspension of disbelief, and when you are overtly calling attention to the camera, as some of my favourite directors do, I’ll point to Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah and Dario Argento, you are calling attention to the fact that people are watching art. It’s something that lessens some of the characterisation and the connection between the audience and the character because it gets in the way.”
The Need to Forget - So the style of the first two movies is roughly the same, I just did it better the second time around, in terms of consistency and having more time. The style of DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE is completely locked off and there is not one hand-held shot, whereas the first two movies are 70% hand-held. But similarly, all of them are designed to de-emphasise the camera. What I am trying to do is to shoot characters with similar lenses, from similar distances where you see their face as you would when you are sitting with somebody conversing, and to try and make it as consistent as possible. So you are forgetting about the camera and the presence of the director behind it that are getting in the way of the audiences connection to the story and the characters, and the world of the movie. By calling attention to the camera moves and all of that stuff, you are again pulling people out of the world that is the movie.
DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE is in cinemas from Friday 19 April courtesy of Studio Canal.