Did that experience inform how you’re working The Sitter?
It’s a more straightforward movie to market, which is great thing. It’s literally the only movie I’ve ever made that I can tell you exactly what it’s like in three sentences or less: Jonah Hill takes three kids on a cocaine deal in one crazy night in New York. That’s it—done, sold. It delivers on that; if you want to see that movie, this is that. [Laughs.]
If The Sitter is a hit, do you think it will be easier for you to make your long-discussed Suspiria remake and any other project you’ve been having trouble getting off the ground?
Absolutely. Every time you make a successful movie, people want you to make them more money, or other people want you to bring them the money. Any time that they see that somebody is financially a wise investment, they want to get in on that. Just like me—if I’m gonna buy a stock in something, I want to find something that’s a smart buy and is gonna make me some cash.
So, in that sense, Pineapple Express directly led to Your Highness?
It led to Your Highness, and it led to [the animated MTV show] Good Vibes. It led to The Sitter, it led to a lot of script work that I’ve been doing. It was great in enabling me to fully explore and exploit my comedic interests.
Coming out of film school, what made you go with dramas first?
I’d made a short film in college called Pleasant Grove that was the film from my college experience that I was the least proud of. It was the only dramatic movie that I’d done that I felt conflicted about, because I knew I could do better. It had an amazing location and an amazing type of voice to it, but it just failed dramatically and didn’t come across as what I wanted it to be. So out of that stubborn refusal to accept that I’d sucked at that, I wanted to try to make something bigger out of it and use that as the seed to correct what I’d done. And that’s what film school is all about—you make stuff and learn from mistakes.
I used the one project that I was the least confident about to open a door to explore something in a feature length, which became George Washington. Mainly because I knew it didn’t have to be precise, or perfect—I could lose a roll of film in the mail and the movie wouldn’t change. It was very organic and improvised movie; I had good locations and cool kids in it, so I could let the story kind of drift and unfold. It was a 60-page script. I really wanted to design something that if I fell on my ass in any way and it never got completed, I could string together a great 15-minute, atmospheric “something.” The fact that it worked out as a 90-minute feature and played on movie theater screens was just a stroke of luck.
What made you want to stay in that smaller dramatic world for three more movies after that?
I was always writing a variety of things, from horror films to family films, but I couldn’t get anything going. It was a matter of people looking at what you’ve done and finding the obvious next fit. I always try to be progressive and take the next step to push the envelope. George Washington didn’t make any money, but it got some acclaim, so people were willing to take a million-dollar risk on somebody who made a $40,000 movie, thinking, “He has the tools, so if we can help him sculpt it a little bit, then maybe that can be a breakthrough movie.”
So we made All The Real Girls, which was kind of a passion project from my life and the actor who was in it. We combined our interests and stories to make that movie, and then that wasn’t successful. [Laughs.]
It’s funny, because I know tons of people who swear by that movie.
Everything I’ve done has had a strange life, and it’s usually after the movie has died. [Laughs.] Once you get over the fact that your movie doesn’t make money, which always stings a little bit, you start to see that.... It’s an interesting thing. If you make a successful movie, then there’s always a backlash; people just don’t like your movie because everybody else likes it, and I know that because I’ve made one successful movie so far. [Laughs.]
But if you make a movie that’s not successful, it’s the opposite of a backlash; there’s this subculture that finds it and hangs onto it. That’s really a point of pride. I’d say that All The Real Girls and Your Highness are the movies that I’ve been stopped on the street the most for, and neither was all that successful. They’re special because it's not like every kid on the block is chanting about them and praising them—most people are ignoring them or hating them, so the fact that someone appreciates them gives them the power to speak up about them, and that gives me a special relationship that I can have with an audience.
When Pineapple Express became a success, did you feel any backlash?
Well, most people didn’t know who I was before that movie. So it wasn’t, like, a person of note making a big career transition; it was more like this little guy who made four movies that nobody saw was going to make a movie that people would finally see. So, in a way, more people in the industry would know my name from that movie than anything else. That being said, I’ve gotten jobs from people who have this young, hip interest in the smaller movies I’ve done. Those become the seeds for me to do something on a bigger level.
You’ve said a few times already that in the past nobody knew who you were—do you still feel that way today?
By keeping a career that’s diverse and under the radar, and I don’t really expose myself a lot in too many interviews, because I’m really not into that side of things, I’m really just about the momentum, not the perfection. I just want to get in there and create things with my friends, as unpretentious a career goal as that may be. A lot of guys want to go in there and really elevate themselves to that “auteur” level, and that’s really not what I’m interested in. So I think that diminishes what my name and profile might catapult towards.
So we won’t see a movie titled David Gordon Green’s Suspiria any time soon?
[Laughs.] No, I think that would confuse people. They’d say, “Who the fuck is that guy?” Or, “Isn’t that the guy that made some movie that nobody saw?” Some directors like to hang their hats in one genre and get identified in that sense, but then there are guys like Robert Altman who disappear into their work and alternate genres, and I’ve always liked that approach to a career.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)