MARTIN WEISZ on 'THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2' Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
March 13, 2007
A sequel to 2006's remake of Wes Craven's 1977 horror classic, The Hills Have Eyes 2 finds a group of National Guard soldiers trapped in a desolate wasteland and victimized by a band of marauding, murderous mutants. This second installment brings a gritty and violent brutality to the screen, attempting to harken back to its less glossy source material from the '70s. Craven serves as a producer, and shares writing credit with his son Jonathan.
In this exclusive interview, director Martin Weisz, a veteran in the world of television commercials and music videos, talks about the making of this feature film, working with a genre icon in Wes Craven, and dealing with an actor who wielded enough character presence to intimidate the producers.
RadioFree.com: An online bio claims that you have directed over 350 commercials and music videos. Is that number accurate?
MARTIN: I think that's a number that was like two years ago, so it might have gone up a bit...15 years, man, slaving away, you know?
What can you take from that commercial/video world to help you in directing a feature film like The Hills Have Eyes 2?
I say this for all the video and commercial guys out there: If you work for like 15 years and shoot commercials and videos, you shot a lot of days, you shot a lot of things, you've seen a lot of stuff. And mainly, I think, in shooting films, it's your expertise and your experience that you grew over the years [that helps you]. Because basically how you learn is by the mistakes you see on shooting days. And even if you shoot only three, four days on a commercial, on a video, you see the filmmaking mistakes. You see the mistakes that you can iron out. And I think that's how you grow and that's how you learn, by basically shooting and shooting and shooting and shooting--not by sitting around and talking about it, but actually going out and doing shoot days and seeing what it means to shoot. It's nothing glamorous. There's nothing fancy about it. It's basically hard labor and hard work.
You've mentioned that you enjoy the experimental aspect of music videos. Was there any room for experimenting in this film?
Yes, 100%. It [just doesn't always make] it in the film. [laughs] But we experiment quite a lot actually. And also, sometimes experimenting doesn't mean necessarily doing something new, but sometimes experimenting means going back to the roots [of the genre]. And maybe you don't do it different in terms of different to the horror genre, but different to what the horror genre right now looks like every day, and trying to be more true to the roots and going back to the classics.
What do you think distinguishes this film from other modern horror flicks?
Early in the beginning, the [director of photography] and I always said we wanted to go back to the roots, and watched old classics. And we watched a lot of new films. I mean, we took like ten horror films and [noticed] there is one thing that's actually common to all of them--they all look very glossy, very manufactured. And they're just very translated into the pop culture of Generation X nowadays. But there is such a big genre following out there that we said, "They all still love the classics. Why don't we, besides watching the new stuff, watch the old stuff and see what's different really?" And you see some differences, like you're lingering on shots a little bit longer, you stay more with the character. If a character killed someone, show him. Show what he feels. Stay with his face, you know? And that's kind of what we tried to do. And so in a way, I think that sets us a little bit apart, because it's not just a normal popcorn ride.
What are some other techniques you could pick up from the classics?
For example, we had all these dark mines and underground caves with the mutants and our soldiers. And we said, "Let's watch Alien." Because even though it's not mutants but aliens, they're underground, they're in the darkness. And I'm talking about the old ones, like the Cameron and Scott ones. So if you watch these--and maybe because they didn't have as much effect stuff as nowadays--you hardly see the alien. But still you were scared [to] your bones. And very early in the thing, we said, "When we go to the mines, darkness. It has to be dark." And that's what scares people. I mean, you can probably, nowadays, put up five minutes of black on the screen and just sounds after you establish what you're filming and where you're at. Imagine, you're in these mines and the lights turn off, and you have five minutes of black screen and just sounds. People would be out of their minds, you know?
Speaking of old school horrors, what are some of your all-time favorites?
I love the more psychological thrills. I love the stuff that sticks with you for days, like The Exorcist. I mean, I grew up with those films. When you're little and you watch The Exorcist, you can't sleep for weeks, you know? And if you watch The Omen or The Shining...Jackie killed me, man! It's like, this guy will stay with you. And then a couple of years later, the first Texas Chainsaw...It's the one that is not just psychological, but [also] puts the blood on your screen. These things you never forget, you know?
I assume you must have been excited to work with Wes Craven, having grown up a fan of horror movies...
Of course, man. I mean, seriously, it's Wes Craven...That guy wrote the screenplay and also directed films. So it's a whole different beast. You're having a producer who is a screenwriter, who is one of the most famous horror directors, you know? So it's intimidating. Then you get used to it. It's a hard thing to stand your ground, but it's a challenge, and it's an experience.
Did he give you free reign creatively, for the most part?
Totally. I mean, he wasn't really there, so we shot kind of our schedule...He's a producer, so you're always going to be doing his cut. And he has final cut, so it's always going to be his last word, of course.
Did you want to stick to practical effects over computer-generated effects?
We tried. In this film, there were lots of reasons. At the end of the day, you always have to pull out the computer. But yes, we tried to stay a lot [with] practical just because of turnaround. We had a very tight turnaround, a very tight schedule in terms of post, so we tried to shoot a lot of stuff in-camera. At the end of the day, you always need to fix certain things. There's no way around it. But you try.
Why was Morocco selected as the filming location?
That was obviously a producer's decision, because they shot the last one over there. I never really shot in Morocco before...They had the connection, they had the same landscape. Even though we didn't shoot at any location from the last one, it was obviously the same kind of vast desert field. And they also had the stages from the last time that we used for the interiors and the mines. So it worked out. And they all knew, I guess, what to budget with and everything, because they had the experience from the last time.
What were some of the toughest scenes to shoot?
One scene was really, really tough because it was physically tough in terms of a lot of climbing and stuff. It was just dreadful for the actors, to be honest. I mean, as a director, it's easy. You basically sit there and you walk around. But these guys were in military gear [in the heat] with their packs on. There was one scene where they were just climbing up hills. Man, it was bad. [laughs] You're like, "I know this sucks, but can you do it one more time?" And these guys were drenched, you know? And then for me, personally, of course, the big fight stuff at the end [was tough]. It was like four days of shooting the big fight sequence. Your head goes spinning because you have like 120 setups or something, and you just try to control it, and you just try to get through it.
Did you try to keep the actors playing the soldiers separate from the actors playing the mutants when you weren't filming?
[laughs] Yes! Did you hear about that story?...Well, there's no way to keep them separate [forever]. Once you have them together, it's done. But we did try to separate the "ultimate mutant," the big guy from our last fight scene, and it was incredible. Actually, I swear to God, if you talk to one of the guys later on who was in the end scene, ask them about it. They were scared, man! They were scared!
So the grand finale with the giant mutant is the first time the soldiers are seeing that actor in full-on costume and make-up?
Yes. And you know what? That guy, Michael Bailey Smith, loves that sh*t. And when he comes out and he goes at you, you're scared, man! Even if you've seen him before. But without seeing him before and he's coming out at you, this guy is no joke.
And naturally, he's really the nicest guy in the world off-camera, right?
I have to be honest, he is. But during the scenes, he stayed in character for that reason. And I swear, I sometimes was like, "Can we do this one more time?" And he's like, [angrily] "God damn it, how many times do I...!" And you're like, [sheepishly] "Okay, man." I mean, seriously, it was one of the scenes where even the producers weren't coming to my shoulder, like, "Let's shoot it this way." Because they were like, "Let's just move on, man."