Tisch alum Jeremy Saulnier made waves at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival with the revenge thriller “Blue Ruin.” On April 15, Saulnier’s follow up “Green Room” will be released, where a punk rocker (Anton Yelchin) witnesses a murder at a bar run by Neo-Nazis, whose leader (Patrick Stewart) intends to cover up the crime. WSN sat down with Saulnier to discuss violence in film and how Tisch impacted his filmmaking career.
WSN: What attracted you to the story of “Green Room?”
Jeremy Saulnier: I had the momentum from “Blue Ruin.” I had this deep well of experience in the punk rock world, and I wanted to tell a story that would blend everything together and offer me a little bit of a break. “Blue Ruin” was an emotional journey for everyone involved. It was amazing to have it premiere at Cannes. It was a very personal story. It had a little dark comedy there but it was very tragic. It was also atmospheric, and with “Green Room” I was like, “Let’s take that.” There were moments in “Blue Ruin” that were most effective for the audience, and that was the tension. There’s a night invasion scene, and the audience would go crazy — that’s what people would talk about. I thought, “Let’s build on that.” I don’t want to replicate “Blue Ruin” but I wanted to extract that amazing physical response that I’m getting from people, that I can feel in these darkened theaters.
WSN: Violence places such a big part in both of your films. Why do you think that’s the case?
JS: My movies come across as hyper-violent but the thing is, the body counts are minimal compared to a lot of other films. What I do is that I make sure when there is a loss of life on screen it hurts real bad for the audience too. I think it’s more responsible to show full frontal blood letting if there’s a purpose to it. There’s a turning point in “Green Room” where — it’s the most brutal point in the movie when the audience gasps aloud invariably, might get a walkout or two — to watch it [the violence] with [the band mates] where we see them transition from innocent kids into killers.
WSN: What it was like working with Patrick Stewart?
JS: His first day, we were shooting his big intro and it was my worst day on set. We had last minute changes to the schedule and budget. I was kind of reeling from that and I nearly botched his intro completely. We had a nice talk the next morning and he was really kind and made me feel so much safer about everything. The whole production turned for me there. I didn’t feel intimidated, or that I had to impress, or that I had to pretend I was this fearless leader when I was vulnerable. He gave me the power to just tell the story.
WSN: How do you feel Tisch prepared you for your professional career? Was anything lacking?
JS: I felt I wanted a little more on set observation time, that’s the only thing I felt was lacking. You’re with students, but shit, I can learn as an observer. If I was allowed access to bigger movie sets I could really rapidly increase my learning curve to do what I had to do on my sets. I have a lot of classmates from Tisch and they are my collaborators today. They weren’t the people I was hanging out with when I was at film school, but there’s definitely a community there.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 11 print edition. Email Ethan Sapienza at [email protected]