Director Brian Taylor made his name as one half of the directing team Neveldine/Taylor, making insane action movies like Crank and its sequel, and the sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, starring Nicolas Cage as Marvel’s motorcycle-riding hellion.
The two filmmakers went their separate ways to work on their own projects and after working on a few other projects, Taylor decided to write Mom and Dad, an absolutely insane action-thriller about a virus that causes parents to want to kill their children. Taylor reunites with Cage (who plays “Dad”) and they’re joined by Selma Blair as “Mom” who are trying to fight off the urge to kill their kids.
The movie premiered as part of Midnight Madness at the Toronto International Film Festival last Sept. but the Tracking Board got on the phone with Taylor last week where we also touched upon his new Syfy series Happy! — he directed five episode — and the planned Twisted Metal movie based on the popular demolition derby video game.
I missed your movie at Toronto unfortunately, although if I knew you had written and directed it, I might have made more of an effort to see it. Totally my bad.
Brian Taylor: Oh man, that was a really fun screening.
What started you down the path to make this movie? It’s a pretty crazy premise that I’m not sure any studio would make.
That’s for sure. Where did the premise come from? I’m a parent, isn’t it obvious?
I was going to ask you because I wasn’t sure. Did your kids do something that inspired you to write a movie around the premise of parents killing their kids?
No, it’s not what they do. The angst of the movie doesn’t ever come from what the kids do. In fact even though there’s a line that runs through or a girl stole some money, or something like that, it’s almost nothing. Really, the idea is that these are really good kids. They’re actually not problematic kids, and the problem is not anything that the kids have done. It’s the idea of parenthood itself that is generating so much angst and anxiety in these parents.
You worked with Mark [Neveldine] for so long. When you’re writing a script like this on your own, who do you have as a sounding board to throw ideas off of or make sure you’re not going too far?
I’ve never been a huge sounding board guy. In the early stages of this script I was working with a producer named Lucas Foster, who’s a really smart dude and we were trying to develop the movie. Probably the biggest note that I got from outside, was that in my first draft of the script I had the parents dying at the end, and pretty horribly. Pretty much everybody died; the kids lived, but all the adults die. The first note that I got from him was like, “If you could figure out any way for the parents to survive until the end of the movie, it changes the tone of the movie in a major way.” I think he’s right. One thing, the subject matter of this movie is so f••ked up, and it’s so dark when you just hear the logline, the danger is that it turns into a movie that’s so mean-spirited that the audience just hates you, and you just can’t get them back. That was never the intent. The intent is for this to be a rollercoaster. It may start you out in a very dark place, but as it moves through it, by the time you get to the end it becomes like a cartoon. It becomes just a fun rollercoaster ride. That’s always been the intent of the movie, but that was the big note that I think made it a different movie than what it could have been.
I assume you were always going to make this independently. Were there any kinds of problems getting financing because of the premise of it, or you just had to find the right people to get onboard?
Oh, yeah. Everybody was terrified of it. My agents were terrified of it — everybody was terrified of it. It was tentatively set up at Voltage for a while, until their marketing guys got ahold of it, and they were just like, “Jesus Christ, how are we supposed to market this movie?” And I kept hearing a lot of, “We’re parents. We can’t deal with subject matter like this.” And my response was like, “I’m a parent, Nic is a parent, Selma, we’re all f••king parents! That’s a lame excuse.”
But it is what it is. If you’re trying to do something different, something that hasn’t been done before, you always run that risk that you’re gonna find out why it’s never been done before. (laughs) This is definitely one of those cases where it was like, “Oh, I see. That’s why no one’s made this movie before, because it’s f••king impossible.” Finally, we were able to find the guys that wanted it. Armory wanted to buy it, the guys at XYZ wanted to sell it. All you need is a few “yes-es.” It’s not really about the 50 “nos” — it’s always about the one “yes.”
I was talking to either Elijah Wood or Leigh Whannell, and they mentioned how hard it was to get Cooties financed because it has school kids being infected by a virus that makes them kill adults. This one is even tougher because you have adults killing kids. Considering how well both movies turned out, it’s wild that no one is willing to experiment with new territory.
Yeah, there’s a lot of fear, and I understand the fear, and I get it. There’s millions of dollars at stake, so there’s gonna be fear, but at the end of the day, if you believe in it, you just gotta fight through and find a way. I always knew that people would like the movie. I knew the industry would be a little bit afraid, or at least some people would, but I knew that audiences would enjoy it. It’s one of those things where any parent you talk to, you tell them the idea for the movie, and no matter how conservative they seem, invariably you find that people laugh and say, “Shit, I’d see that movie. I want to kill my kids every day.”
The important thing about the movie is that people understand that it’s satirical and it’s tongue in cheek, and that it’s not like this nasty movie that’s trying to destroy your life. It makes a whole difference the way you look at the premise.
If I may ask, what was the budget for this, compared to the first Crank or Gamer? Was it in that range or somewhere in between?
Yeah, that’s a really big range.
I know the first Crank was pretty cheap. I wasn’t sure how much more it cost to make Gamer.
Crank was cheap, but this thing cost about a quarter of what Crank cost. This movie we made for nothing, we made it for like $3-something million below the line.
You’ve worked with Nic before on Ghost Rider: Spirits of Vengeance, so is there a lot of discussions with him after sending him the script?
Nic got the script right away, and he got the subtext, he got the satire, and he was all in from day one. I think you can tell with the performance that he just really took it on and he made it personal. He personalized the movie in a way that made directing it really exciting, and it was the same thing with Selma Blair, too. These are two actors that are really perfect to do this. Because both of them, you can direct them up as mainstream “normal” suburban American parents, but it doesn’t matter how much you dress them up, you can tell with both of those two that underneath it they’re punk rock, and there’s something that’s just off. They’ll never fit comfortably into that role. That’s just who they are as people. It’s why it made it so fun to see them channel that into these characters.
I love Selma Blair, mainly because she’s really good at being cynical, but you hadn’t worked with her before.
I met her when she auditioned for the first Crank movie, and she’s so funny and she’s just such a charismatic spectacular person, that I always knew I was gonna work with Selma at some point. “Man, I got to do a movie with Selma.” So when this came around, it was great timing, and a really great role, and she’s so good in this movie. If you knew the conditions and how the pace of production, and how much she was asked to do, how quickly she needed to switch gears between drama and sedated passiveness to being completely unhinged and funny. She just had to do so many different things, and turn on a dime. I don’t know how many actors could pull that off. Her performance in this thing is crazy to me.
It’s great having her back. I’m sure you must know how many people love when Nick goes into “crazy Nick mode.” I watched an interview where he mentioned that he liked working with you because you know when he’s in control and when he’s out of control and you have a way of moderating that. As a director, where do you draw the line or don’t draw the line when getting a performance out of him?
Nick is like Cyclops in the X-Men. You take his visor off, it’s shredded, so as a director, you’re like Cyclops’ visor, you’re just trying to focus that destruction onto a specific target. But it’s just fun, every day Nick is onset, it’s a gift from the movie gods, you just feel lucky to be there.
I love that little fantasy sequence he has which is such a blip in the film but it looks like he had fun.
With the car? Yeah, it was great. I thought I was gonna have to do the young Nicolas Cage with CG, but randomly we were shooting this thing in Louisville, Kentucky, and this kid comes onto set one day wanting to know if he could be an extra or a stunt guy. He didn’t know what he wanted to do, and this kid walks up, and he looks exactly like young Cage. It was crazy! He has the little mustache and everything. We were just like, “Huh?” We just used him as is. We were like, “Okay yeah, you’re young Nicolas Cage. You’re in the movie.”
I haven’t had a chance to see Happy! yet, but I only found out that you had been working on it, and it doesn’t surprise me since that looks just as crazy. Are you going to keep working on the show or are you back in movie world now?
We have to see if we get picked up for a second season, but the show’s bananas, it’s insane, and the response has been really good so far. We’ll see what’s going on with Happy!, but we’re still mid-season. We’re on a little break now, but a new episode comes out next week. It’s been really fun working with Grant Morrison and Christopher Meloni — it’s a great environment.
I have to try to catch up on the show before Sundance, as I’m a big Grant Morrison fan, as well. At one point you were going to make a Twisted Metal movie with Avi Arad and Sony. Is that still something you’re developing?
Well, I wrote a script for it — it was one of my favorite scripts ever, and I really think it could be an amazing movie. That one is just in I would say development purgatory right now. They did a new version of the game about five or six years ago, and it didn’t really sell very well, and I don’t know where even the rights of the game are anymore. It was a PlayStation exclusive game, but without the title giving it any real momentum then the movie becomes a “tweener.” Because of the scale of the action, it feels like it needs to be a $35 to $50-million dollar movie at least, but the property’s a little bit niche, so who knows? If that flavor came into fashion in any way, shape, or form, I would love to do that script, because it’s just fantastic. That script is so cool. It’s too bad that never happened, but never say never.
I don’t know if you’ve seen Jumanji yet, but I was talking to Matt Tolmach and I thought, Jumanji was a really good video game movie, despite not being based on a real video game. Maybe you could make the movie under a different title.
Do Twisted Metal as a different title?
Sure. I feel like that the problem with making video game movies, the onus of having the title of the video game that people love is always the hardest part of getting past, in some ways.
Yeah, I don’t know. The Twisted Metal script that I wrote, fans of the game would have loved it, it was definitely in the psychotic spirit of the game, and I definitely made a lot of effort to … I think with those things, you have to find that balance between respecting the IP and the people who love that IP, but also you got to know when to step away from that and actually do a good movie. That’s the problem, you can be overly respectful of the IP, and you could be not respectful enough. There’s the two ways that those things fail; it’s a thin line I think with that video game stuff, and the reason why it rarely works.
Mom and Dad opens in select cities, On Demand and on Digital HD starting Friday, January 19.
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor