WARNING! THIS INTERVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
Among the many fine selections at this year’s Macon Film Festival, a particular gem worth your time is the genre-bending Freaks directed by best friends Adam B. Stein and Zach Lipovsky. Freaks begins with the daily goings-on between a young daughter and her father, shut-ins who shun the outside world and an unnamed danger. But that’s not where it ends… Featuring outstanding performances from stars Emile Hirsch, Grace Park, Amanda Crew, and the legendary Bruce Dern, the film also introduces the world to the wonderful Lexy Kolker. I was able to catch up with the directors, Adam and Zach, and they were gracious enough to answer a few questions ahead of the Macon premiere of Freaks on Friday, August 16th.
AI- One of the amazing things about Freaks— which I just got to view, and it’s coming to the Macon Film Festival next week– you guys have done a lot with, as I understand, very little. This is a beautiful movie. Gorgeous. Tell me about some of your challenges in dealing with something along the horror/sci-fi genre.
AS- We’ve always been big sci-fi fans and horror fans, and we were kind of two struggling filmmakers trying to make our way in the business and trying to get movies made. We just got together and said, “Alright, we don’t have a lot of money. We don’t have a studio behind us, but what kind of story can we tell– in this world– that we could tell with a limited budget. I was a new dad at the time. I had a five-year-old and I was so fascinated by watching my kid kind of start to understand the world. And we thought, “Well, what if we told this story through the perspective of a child?” And as Chloe is starting to try to understand the world, the audience is right with her. So that was kind of the inspiration for the idea.
From the beginning of this film, the whole time I’m watching the character, Chloe, interact with her father and being shut in this house, and you’re not really sure what’s going on… All I wanted to do was get up and go get my daughter out of bed and hug her.
AS- (Laughs) Yeah!
But then things started to take a very dark turn. Lexi Kolker, who did a fantastic job [as Chloe]… What was it like working with a young actor in that situation?
ZL- Adam and I have done a lot of work with kids. We’ve done a lot of work with Disney and stuff like that. And obviously, this film has a very different tone, a much darker tone. But we still made sure the set was a very fun, happy place with a lot of love and support and people all around. It’s kind of funny… When we show the movie to audiences, when [Lexi’s] there at Q & A’s, she’s so bubbly and happy and charming. And when she’s not there, usually the first question is, “Is that girl okay? Is she in therapy?” One of the reasons we hired her is she’s so mature, not only in the ability to kind of tap into just deep, real emotions but then also as soon as you say cut, to come out of it in a very healthy way.
AS- And knowing that it’s pretend.
ZL- Yeah. And being excited by the possibility of doing really deep and mature work. That was something that was exciting to her rather than scary or upsetting. In the process of auditioning, that was something we were really looking for… To make sure we had someone who had the endurance to be able to go to these places and be super intense, but then also enjoy it and have fun. And she had a lot of friends. She had her sister on set, who’s an actress as well, and her family and, and even Emile [Hirsch] and Bruce [Dern] were very nurturing to her.
AS- About what you were saying with your daughter… We wanted to capture something about fatherhood. When I was trying to figure out how to be a dad, I would have these insecurities about like, “I don’t know how to do this! This is too hard!” I have a wife who’s amazing and I have role models who are great parents. I read some books and I took some classes, and we just kind of started to think– what if I had none of that, you know? Emile Hirsch’s character, he’s trapped in this house for seven years with no partner, with no education of how to be a dad, with no support network or role models– or babysitters! And he’s just exhausted and not very good at it but still loves her. That kind of messy, sort of ugly but still loving version of fatherhood was something that we were really interested in capturing.
The directing duo, that’s something that you have seen a lot of in the last few years. When did you two meet and how did you know that “Well, this is a partnership we want to take to this level.”?
ZL- We met 12 years ago, and it was actually on a reality television show. It was a competition run by Steven Spielberg called On The Lot. It was kind of like American Idol, but for directing. So we made a different short film every week and America would vote and send one of us home. Adam and I were competitors trying to outperform each other. The reality show didn’t do very well because when you get a bunch of indie filmmakers together, all they do is just like help each other and hang out. There’s not a lot of drama. We ended up just becoming best friends. We went off and directed separately for years and just struggled to try and get stuff going. We had some successes and we worked on certain things, but it was always sort of “directing for hire” and other people’s projects.
We both got to the place where we had done some smaller stuff together, and we were really frustrated that none of the things that we wanted to make were getting made. We just made a pledge to ourselves that we were gonna make a movie together no matter what. And the first part of that was making a movie that could be made for $0 if it had to be. In the initial version of Freaks, Adam and I were going to play the two lead roles, Adam was gonna play the father and I was going to play what was then an uncle– and Adam’s son was going to be the kid! We were just going to shoot it in his house with for $0 and no one’s help because we just wanted to make a movie no matter what that was in our voice.
We just felt like we had to show the world what we could do. Luckily, as we started working on it, it started growing as people started getting excited by it and eventually, we were able to get a casting director… You know, Bruce Dern was one of the first big actors to read it– and he was the first one to say he wanted to do it. He ultimately played my role, so I’m very thankful for that. Once we had him, it went on to get other bigger actors like Emile and Amanda [Crew] and Grace [Park], and the film got bigger. But at every step, we always had creative control and we always could make the movie with whatever we had. There was never a point where we needed more than we had. And that was really important to us all the way through, to make sure that it was our movie. ‘Cause this was our one chance to show the world what our voice was.
It has elements of a thriller, science fiction, it’s got lots of horror involved with it. It’s also a film where you’ve managed to develop a universe that could stand a bit more exploration. You’ve got lots of questions that never get answered. It might be premature at this point to ask, but will we see the freaks again?
AS- We were really excited about creating this world and we had lots and lots of ideas for other characters and other situations that could happen in this world. But for this movie, because we had limited resources, we realized we had to focus on this one slice of the world and tell the story of this one family. Really, what happens next depends on people like you. Because the movie’s coming out in theaters September 13th, which is Friday the 13th. It’s going to be in theaters around the country and if people go see it and buy tickets then… Maybe someone will give us enough money to make another one. But if people don’t go see it then there won’t be more. It’s in the hands of the public now.
I hope that everybody goes to see it. I’m certainly gonna push everybody towards it for the Macon Film Festival. Tabitha Walker, who’s, of course, part of the festival and who has fantastic taste, talked highly of the film. So I was looking forward to seeing it, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I have one last question for you. In the film, what happened in Dallas?
AS- Well, that’s very interesting. Yeah. Well, what do you think happened?
I can speak freely? What do I think happened? Did Mary blow it up? Is that what happened?
AS- Maybe. I think in our world there’s sort of a debate about what happened, you know? The official line of the government is that freak children were free and loose in Dallas and blew the place up. They didn’t have control of their powers and they’re very unpredictable and in a fit of rage, one of them just destroyed the city…
ZL- And that led them to making freak children basically illegal and killed on sight.
AS- That was kind of the 9/11 of this world that changed all the laws to crack down on these people. However…
ZL- That’s if you believe what the government says…
AS- There’s also a potential conspiracy theory going on where maybe the truth is that freak children might’ve been loose in Dallas and the government was so scared of them that they nuked the city and blamed it on the freaks.
ZL- One of the great things is that we showed the film at the Dallas Film Festival And we were very curious to see what the reaction was going to be.
AS- We thought people might be upset like, “Why did you destroy Dallas?!”
ZL- The reaction was something we never could have planned, which was everyone loved it and thought that we changed it for every city we screened it in. (Laughs) Which we should have said yes to, but they were like, “That’s crazy! You made it Dallas for us!”