The first time I'd heard of Paul Solet was during a conversation with a mutual friend, and that person's statement was something like this: "He's one of the purest horror fans you'll ever find. All horror, not just the obvious stuff, and he doesn't just watch. He dissects." Lofty praise ... but a few months later I was at the Sundance world premiere of Mr. Solet's debut feature Grace -- and then I understood the compliments. So we snagged Paul for a quick little Splat Chat, while he's still just a mere "first-timer." Based only on the 85 minutes of cinema that I've seen from the guy so far, I'd assert that he's destined for a very cool career.
Scott: Talk about the chronology of the short films you did, the connections that helped you along, basically what got you into the directors chair on Grace.
Paul: I came out of the womb with a camera in hand and bad ideas in my head. Started murdering my friends on video before they we were old enough for our parents to approve. I started to get serious about filmmaking when I met Eli Roth at about eleven years old. He was like 18 and he and his brothers were already making pretty hilarious movies, and he knew exactly what he wanted to do. Before that it didn't really compute that you could actually do this for a living. I sort of followed his lead through film school and eventually out to L.A.
I made a lot of shorts in college and then went back to school for screenwriting afterwards for a year. I spent a couple years really just writing my ass off and reading as many scripts as possible, just trying to cultivate my craft and soak everything up. I did a short with my boy Jake Hamilton called Means to an End that was a no-budget run and gun horror comedy joint about a couple FX artists who decide what the horror genre needs is REAL special fx, and proceed to star in their own feature mutilating themselves in the process.
Scott: Did the short catch any eyes?
Paul: It did really well on the festival circuit and Fangoria picked it up and put it on their Blood Drive 2 DVD. We literally shot it for pocket change and starred in it ourselves so it was fun to see it embraced. After that, I headed out to LA to get my hands as dirty as possible in production. I really tried to just push myself out of my element as much as possible. I don't do numbers, so I became a Production Manager etc. I had written a stack of features by that time, and one was this film Grace. People started reading it and making offers, but they weren't going to let me direct it. I'm not a guy with pride of authorship issues, but the directors they wanted to bring on were just not so hot, and I believed in the film enough that I needed to see it done right. So I distilled the key beats in the first act of the feature to a six minute 35mm short and shot it right.
It did really well on the festival circuit and won a bunch of awards and eventually got the attention of Adam Green, who asked to read the script and loved it. We met and totally hit if off and we were off to the races. Cut to a year and a half later after a long quest to find the RIGHT financing, and we hooked up with Anchor Bay. They don't usually finance films, they acquire them, but they loved Grace so much that we sold it in the room.
Scott: So what was it that allowed you, at that certain point, to direct the film yourself?
Paul: There's no easy answer, no shortcut, no secret to breaking in out here, as far as I can tell. I just worked my ass off and tried to focus my efforts on doing good work instead of talking about it. All I can say is I always tried to have a good attitude and treat people right and remember why I'm out here, that it's about the love of this thing. Period.
Scott: What were your parents like, in regard to your horror fandom as a kid?
Paul: When I was really little they tried to monitor what I watched. I was a scared little kid. Movies rocked me. They did the right thing, but you can't stop a kid with the horror hunger from eating. I used to go over to my friends' houses - the ones with parents who didn't care what they watched - and rent 5 movies at a time. I just chewed through every horror film, "cult" film, sci-fi film etc. until I had cashed out every video store in town.
Scott: Rattle off some titles. Flicks you'd save from a house fire.
Paul: All my Cronenberg / Polanski / Miike. Straw Dogs, Cure, all the Haneke films. Dude, I could go on all day with these, you've opened a pandora's video store, here.
Scott: I see a curious lack of slasher sequels. Heh.
Paul: I stick to New York Ripper as the top of my slasher faves.
Scott: So you're not a big fan of Jason, Michael, Freddy? That's pretty unique among young horror drectors, but also a bit refreshing.
Paul: Lizard in a Woman's Skin, Raw Meat, Who Can Kill a Child?, Salo, A Bell from Hell ... Much more into that stuff. Oh, Don't Torture a Duckling, too.
Scott: Very nice. So what have you seen recently from the horror field that excites you?
Paul: Most of the really exciting stuff is happening overseas. I love guys like Fabriz du Welz and Jaume Belaguero. Martyrs was lovely, Inside was a lot of fun. The last film to come out of the US that I thought was really effective was The Strangers. I think Midnight Meat Train is a gorgeous looking film with some fun over the top kills too.
Scott: Speaking of "inside" ... (see how a professional writer FINDS a segue?)
Paul: Strong work, my friend.
Scott: Let's talk about Grace. So you sit down to write, and instead of a slasher or a monster or a vampire, you write about a woman and her .... afflicted newborn. Did you ever think "um, am I the right person to write this story?"
Paul: I was always very aware that we were dealing with some themes that were very much not traditional male territory, and many of which were genuinely impossible for me to ever fully understand, simply because of my own gender. It raised two issues, the first that I didn't want to make a movie that alienated or embraced either gender over the other, and the second, that I knew I had to take great care to make this film and its depiction of these issues very authentic. I worked hard to maintain enough humility to be really vigilant about constantly soliciting the input of women from the earliest phases of the script. I don't know who decided that in order to make a horror film you have to alienate, or at least neglect half your audience, but I'm not buying that shit. My goal is to make horror for EVERYONE.
Scott: Well said. If you had to pick something WRONG with the current horror landscape, what would you say?
Paul: For all we bitch about not getting anything but remakes, we aren't supporting original horror films, and when the remakes come out, we lap them up like the tongueless guy in the sack in Audition. It's not the studios' fault that original, good movies get shit on, they're just doing their jobs and giving people what the numbers say people want. It's OUR fault for making the numbers say we want shit.
I will always do everything I can to avoid letting spectacle call the shots just because the canvas seems to grow if the movies you're making are well received. Give me a good story and I'll give you a good movie. Give me a string of set pieces and no foundation and I'll show you an episodic, overcooked film that makes you curse Hollywood. But, on those rare cases when someone shows up with the resources AND the story, man, that's when some magic can really happen. I've got a whole stack of scripts that I'm waiting on until I know the resources will be sufficient. I've got a very moist future-noir cannibal film that I'd love to sink my teeth into....
Scott: OK, back to Grace: You had your world premiere at Sundance, and then you played at SXSW. How was it going from "Is it done? Is it good?" to "Wow, um. Our movie is at SUNDANCE!"
Paul: By the time we got to Sundance, I knew we had done everything we could do to make the film as good as it could be, so it was a less stressful thing than I think it is for a lot of filmmakers. It was just this ridiculously magical experience getting to premiere your first feature at the world's greatest festival. Any doubters suddenly become men of faith once your film is accepted to Sundance, and all the battles a director has to fight to get a film done right suddenly become much fewer because people start to think you might actually be right.
Scott: What's been your favorite specific reaction to the film?
Paul: The lost consciousness is pretty damn gratifying.
Scott: Ha, yeah. Talk about that real quick, because some people thought that was a gimmick. But I was there, I saw real concern on that usher's face. Heh.
Paul: We had a couple people (both men) pass out at the Sundance premiere. We were doing the Q&A and one of the Sundance guys came up the aisle and said not one but TWO men had passed out, that they were fine and the ambulance had come for one. The other one introduced himself to me afterwards. It's all on the behind the scenes for the DVD. I was honestly really worried that this would set up the wrong expectations, because this really isn't the type of film you think of as causing people to pass out. The rumor was that it was gore that made them pass out, but that's not the case. They were passing out from subject matter. It's a very unnerving film to watch. It's so much fun to watch with an audience, but not for the usual reasons a midnight film is fun with an audience - the fists in the air and shouting for blood etc. - instead, in this film you can hear a pin drop and you can just feel people squirming in their seats. In the end, we were able to use the attention that was brought to the film to open up conversations about what the film is really about and explain that it's not just a visceral gut punch, but an emotional, intellectual, atmospheric SOUL punch. It proved to be a good thing.
Scott: Any major differences between the Park City and the Austin crowds?
Paul: In general, yes, the two crowds are very different, but less so with the midnight crowds. Us nightcrawling horror geeks are nightcrawling horror geeks whether we're at Sundance or on 6th street. It's what the crowds had in common that was so awesome for me to see, that was just raw passion and total gratitude to be seeing something they could genuinely love for a change instead of going, "Yeah, it wasn't too much of an abomination for a..."
Scott: So now that the horror community is well and true psyched for Grace ... when's Anchor Bay planning to release it?
Paul: Release plans are still speculative at this point. We're waiting to see how wide a release it gets. That's why now is the most important time for fans who want to see Grace to start being vocal about it. We want something new, something for us, we have to go out there and tell people we want it.
Scott: Right, but the problem with something new, or edgy, or different -- is that it's tough to sell.
Paul: Story sells. I believe that. Crap does too, sometimes, and that's a sad thing we can blame no one for but ourselves, but I have got to believe that good story, that transcends, that really touches people and gets under their skin, will always sell. There's a myth that people know what's going to sell, but they don't. You think a table of executives would have said Pan's Labyrinth is a slam dunk? The only thing that we can count on is story.
Scott: And full-frontal nudity.
Paul: Yes, and full frontal nudity.
Scott: Speaking of nudity, what's it like having Adam Green (Hatchet, Frozen) as a producer?
Paul: Adam's a fantastic producer. I'm always looking for chinks in people's armor, and Adam doesn't have any. He's a genuinely selfless guy who just wants to tell amazing stories. Period. The fact that he's also a writer and director himself, and one who's braved the world of low-budget filmmaking, also meant that he absoultely understood all the challenges I was facing working on such a limited schedule, and he was ready to fight like hell to get whatever I needed. I'd walk through hell for him.
Scott: You should try playing HALO3 with him. Ugh, so bossy! OK, so if you were in a room full of 100,000 passionate horror geeks, and you were allowed 30 seconds at the microphone, what would you say?
Paul: "I made a movie for you, and her name is Grace."
Scott: And in closing I demand that you give us a hint of some sort regarding your next flick. Demand!
Paul: I can't be too specific just yet, but let me just say I'm getting ready to make Cujo look like Benji.