Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi have hit the spectrum in their Hollywood screenwriting career, ranging from the smallest of indies like The Invitation to huge blockbusters like Clash of the Titans and Ride Along.
Like many of their screenplays, the process took years to develop and in that time they were able to hone the lead of their film Destroyer, Erin Bell (played by Academy Award winner Nicole Kidman), into the gritty, tough badass that she is. Under the direction of Hay’s wife, Karyn Kusama (The Invitation, Girlfight), the three filmmakers have been an inseparable trio, forming a familial bond that feeds directly into their storytelling.
In Destroyer, currently in limited release from Annapurna Pictures and set to go nationwide on January 25th, the story details an FBI sting gone wrong as agent Erin Bell (Kidman) ends up in a heist gone wrong, resulting in multiple people being killed. Haunted by this, we meet her nearly two decades later, beaten down, bedraggled but still searching for answers and vengeance in the dark corners of Los Angeles. Estranged from her daughter, Bell systematically tracks down culprits one by one in hopes of finding resolution and closure.
I sat down with the pair at AFI Fest in November as Destroyer was about to make its Los Angeles premiere to discuss their process, the complicated nature of a genre-busting character like Erin Bell, the art of female rage and gush a bit about their first-ever project, 2001’s crazy/beautiful.
AW: Aside from you know what I want to talk about with the script I’m really curious what your take is on this attention and Q&As; this is pretty different for you.
Phil Hay: Yeah, it’s really new territory. You know, it’s sort of like people seem to be really wanting to talk about the movie and they seem to be very…the thing that I that I hear that makes me most happy is when people say ‘It really sticks with me. I’ve been thinking about it for a while and I want to revisit it.’ There’s something that’s like grabbing people on some level that so that’s exciting. For us it is kind of new and fresh and so we kind of enter it with a lot of enthusiasm because we really love the movie and we’re thrilled with how it came out and we love the people. I mean obviously I’m married to Karyn and we’re all best friends. But in terms of the cast and crew there’s this was a really. This is an independent movie; a lot has to go right to get a movie of our size and scale in front of people and have people start to talk about it in and be you know kind of put it in that conversation. And Nicole obviously she is, for very good reason, often part of these conversations because she’s, to my mind, the best there is. What’s exciting is that our movie was made to be the movie it needed to be. It wasn’t engineered for a specific result. It was made to be the movie that we all were trying to make.
Matt Manfredi: These festivals, you know, and the Q&As and all the screenings are really exciting and satisfying because they all have one thing in common; that people come because they love movies. They want to talk about them, they want to talk about the ideas and there’s an enthusiasm at these festivals and screenings that’s really fun to be a part of. It’s kind of why you do it because you don’t have the immediate feedback that you do when you’re doing theater. So this is the way to kind of interact with people who’ve seen the movie.
PH: It’s nice for us to have the opportunity to talk about the screenplay and to talk about because Karyn is wonderful about that and Nicole is wonderful at that, in showing that for us the character is the story is the screenplay is the direction is the character. It’s all the same so we all talk about it comprehensively and so that that’s fun as well because as a screenwriter that’s sometimes the case and sometimes not the case where people want to talk about the screenplay.
AW: Were you surprised that it was an Annapurna that picked it up?
MM: Not really. I mean, they were one of the one of the distributors that we kind of had in our mind, like dream places to land. They love independent, challenging movies and they’ve had a great track record with that. We were really excited to work with them and they’ve been so great. Using the trailer as an example, they were really collaborative but also unafraid to just kind of go forward and put something out there that’s a little different and that represents the movie. They’ve been fantastic partners worth we’re thrilled.
PH: I think that they also genuinely like things that don’t just go right down the middle of whatever that thing is. If you look at their movies they have a taste that happens to also be like my tastes, really, so I’m really glad they’re putting out the movie. It’s interesting making a movie the way we did, which was completely independently financed by 30West, who was amazing, truly. They are really great.
MM: It really was a partnership and a partner. It’s not just lip service.
AW: I feel like they’re trying to rescue the low to mid-range budget film. Which is sort of like the American middle class and just disappearing.
MM: That’s true. It’s a good point. The films that we grew up on the loved like real thrillers and dramas.
AW: How did it how did you two get together. What is your backstory as friends and co-writers/co-producers?
PH: We went to college together at Brown University and we were in an improv group. That’s how we get to know each other the best way to get to know about someone is being in an improv group. Add speaker
AW: That’s awesome.
PH: And so from the time when we were like 18 or 19 we were working together. We just found ourselves in scenes together all the time and we kind of had a similar vibe. We thought we were gonna be comedy writers and we first met and we’ve written comedies. But I think we’ve kind of found our home kind of late in our career and it’s the stuff we do with Karyn. It’s a family business basically. We’ve been able to make these original movies that are really reflective of our own weird corner of what we want to share.
MM: Our tastes are varied but it’s like it’s been gratifying to be able to kind of explore all of that.
AW: It’s been 10 years between Aeon Flux and The Invitation. Why did it take ten years for the three of you to find your way back together?
PH: We had it in our mind that we wanted to do some sort of a war movie with Karyn that we hadn’t, but we still might do some day. We played around with that some but in between we were doing a lot of studio movies and and really were kind of wrapped up in some some of those movies and Karyn made Jennifer’s Body, which is so excitingly gaining so much of a resurgence all of a sudden. There’s sort of this amazing kind of re-understanding that movie.
AW: I think what’s happened with that is we have more female writers in the realm of criticism and writing about movies that want to revisit movies and performances that didn’t get the attention that they deserve now.
PH: Yes! And I think that there’s another part of it that is like, as somebody observed it very closely with great interest, there was kind of like an aggressive desire not just with people’s unearned feelings toward Megan Fox, which was definitely part of it, but an aggressive desire to not take that movie seriously. Just as a viewer watching it, whatever you think of it, it’s obvious it has so much on its mind. It is so refined in what it wants to do.
MM: So sharp.
PH: And so there’s this sort of thing where sometimes the culture decides ‘I really don’t want to take this movie seriously’ and then later people kind of realize ‘oh wait, I should have.’
MM: I think Phil and I were, all three of us really, were trying to establish our place. I think actually having done that I think it made getting the invitation financed a little easier.
It’s a really important question, I don’t think anyone’s ever asked us that. I think that, during that time Karyn and I were raising our young boy and Matt has two kids and so the kids were really young at that time. A couple years into that we started thinking ‘look, this is what we want to do.’ So the three of us kind of said this is what we want to do and this is the way we’re going to be able to make these original stories that we that we want to make and protect them. Since Matt and I produce the movies as well as write them, it helps us to really not just protect the movie but protect all the people involved in the movie. And that’s so important with a movie like Destroyer where we’re shooting it on a very aggressive schedule, especially with these amazing artists who are really giving it all. I have to say like one of the great things about this experience, Karyn and I talked about this, is that the three of us the kind of people that have our hearts on our sleeves. Like, we cannot be reserved about what we’re doing. We do not protect ourselves by kind of being cagey or being kind of removed in a way.
AW: You’re invested.
PH: Deeply invested and so we look for people like that and Nicole is just like that. She does not have it in her to do anything but give her absolute all. And that goes for so much of the crew and so many of the other actors too. You know, that’s who we’re looking for and that’s what this story needed; was people who really wanted to just go for it and not play it cool you know. That’s something I just love about Nicole is her, and that I love about Karyn, is that there is absolutely no apology for that ambition and then taking a swing and just seeing what happens.
AW: Which is almost a new perspective for women that are in film; to be able to have that, to be unapologetic about their work.
PH: That’s the beauty of getting to write original screenplays and having such a great director that’s willing to take it there. We can be free. We can just take our swings and do what we think is right and pour all of our love into movies and of the story, just into it. It’s a very organic experience. Like you were saying earlier, you need to get out there and do these events and Q&As and talk about the movie and do these festivals. It feels like a very organic part of this.
MM: I think it’s infectious, too. The role involves a lot of risks for Nicole and it’s a big swing in terms of the movie itself and I think Karyn and Nicole, from the top down being so fearless and uncompromising in their visions, it just trickles down to everybody that we had working on the movie. You know, in an independent movie you have to be doing it for the love. So it was really inspiring to see the level of work that was being done by everybody. You know, and that’s not always the case.
AW: What was your experience working with Nicole Kidman?
PH: She is always so deeply committed and I think it’s so great. Getting to have this sort of framework where we make these movies in a very kind of bespoke manner it kind of also allows us to be ourselves which, for whatever reason both Matt and I and Karyn, we’re trying to do things that are not just one thing and those things are difficult to get made. This [Destroyer] is a character study or a horror movie that’s actually a drama about grief. But that’s kind of where we live in that. We’re really committed to telling original stories and we’ve done every type of movie, we’ve adapted things and had found that to be great experience, but for us like our home is these original stories and being able to find a character like Erin and then follow her through everything we can, everything in the human experience. Our dream for this movie and what we always wanted was that she could be everything that this character could be everything human – good, bad in between and then be able to put that on screen.
AW: I think the trailer actually encapsulates really well.
MM: Doesn’t it?
AW: Annapurna really kills it with their trailer game because there’s every little bit of the movie is in there without it being spoiled at all.
MM: Yeah, because you see trailers and sometimes they’re trying to fool people into seeing this movie and this is not that; this is a true encapsulation of the movie and I really appreciate that. This is also why Annapurna is very unique is. They are so committed to not trying to reduce it to one thing or one the most potentially commercially viable or even you know focus toward any outcome. It’s like trying to really actually make room for and show the ambition of the film and what it wants to be and what it’s trying to offer that is that is hopefully something very unique.
AW: What was the timeline between the idea of it and the final draft?
MM: Like, The Invitation it was about 10 years. We started noodling on this idea of a way to tell a cop story and I won’t spoil it but like the reveal, the kind of a parallel things that are going on it was like a mind game for a while without specifics. So we would try to work it out in our heads. We had scenes in mind. You would pick it up and put it down and then finally hit upon who’s going to populate this. Once we kind of figured out that it’s going to be about this woman, has to be about this woman, and her story with her daughter and then kind of the structure became the more apparent because we kind of got to know her.
PH: We had story elements and then definitely had a connection. Like a way of looking at the world that I think, at Matt said, was once we figured out who Erin was everything organized itself around that and then specifically her relationship with her daughter. That’s what sort of was the spark that touched off everything. I think maybe the reason that it often takes us ten years to really go from inception to say ‘okay this is a movie’ is finding something that makes it essential to us and gives us a reason and meaning for me and for us that was always the character.
MM: We were playing around with that idea for a long time and I think once we once we were ready to write it didn’t come quickly but it came with kind of the normal span of time to write a script.
PH: And once we get to that point, knowing that we’re going to make the movie together if can get it made, then Karyn is involved and she knows where we’re headed. We kind of walk her through the script as we’re writing it and she’s starting to put together her visuals. Teddy Shapiro is the composer, we work with him all the time, he’s one of our oldest friends and once we have a draft of the script he’s one of the first people that reads it because Karyn then has him start writing the music.
AW: Just based on the script?
PH: Yeah, just based on the script because he knows us so well and he’s all done all of Karyn’s films. Add speaker
MM: Then Karyn can play music for the cast. So Nicole can be on set and we can say like well listen to this and here’s the mood and tone. So it’s a really nice fairly comprehensive way to be able to make the movie.
AW: That’s extremely collaborative. More so than normal.
MM: We went to college with Teddy and like so we’ve all known each other for so long. So it’s just really a family working together and just exchanging ideas across the table. Add speaker
AW: Maybe this is just me reading too much into it but was the choice to name the character Erin intentionally androgynous because you were already kind of toying with male archetypes?
MM: I love that.
PH: That’s funny, I never thought about the male ‘Aaron’ because I think she’s, to me, such a woman so I can’t imagine what a male version of her would be.
MM: I see what you’re saying in terms of like saying this is a role that is usually played by a guy. You know, like all the movies that we grew up on the 70s. The intent was not to like to shine a light on ‘Oh look it’s a woman doing it this time.’ The goal was just for her to be a fully fleshed out character and this is this is her story.
PH: There’s opportunities where we’re just trying to honestly tell the story of this character and then the world it interacts with it and these interesting moments happen where it means one thing for a crime story you know where there is a male detective who is considered kind of disregarded; the other cops talk shit about that character, like that’s a thing that you’ve seen. But it feels completely different when it’s a woman who is disregarded by her colleagues. They talk shit about her.
AW: Talking at her.
PH: Exactly. There’s a whole other layer of talking. That level of disrespect takes on a whole other meaning and potential motive when it’s directed a woman in the workplace. These things were always baked but then they start to arrange themselves around this character about how she is an outsider in so many ways. She is in some ways on a self-imposed exile from the world or in a self-imposed exile from her feelings and kind of treats herself so aggressively. But that’s what so much of the movie is about. We talked about it all time with Karyn and with Nicole that it is about female rage and its really complicated fashion because a lot of her rage is directed toward the outside, for good reason, but a lot of it is directed toward the inside it’s directed at herself. That’s always been a big part of the nastiness of his character, that she’s so full of rage and it’s there’s a lot of directions for it.
AW: That’s a perfect segue way. I reached out to my friend Meghan that wrote the piece on female rage for AwardsWatch and Cinemalogue during TIFF.
PH: Oh, that was great!
AW: She said “male and female rage is depicted very differently in popular media male anger is more internalized and based on a sense of entitlement, female anger more reactive to external forces and shouldering emotional and labor of others.” What choices went into the crafting of a female character whose primary motivation is a deep sense of personal guilt?
PH: I think that such an insightful question. I think we were always talking a lot about that for us the character and theme is the thing. So we always have these conversations and sometimes set out and then sometimes we discover things. But I think with Destroyer, we both set out to do and to discover things about her, to try to think of the cost of what she’s done and the costs to herself, what has cost her her the ability to be very open.
MM: It’s cost her the ability to really connect with her daughter, cost her most of her relationships.
PH: So there’s been such a cost to her and she’s trying to solve the problem. But she’s choosing to solve it in the wrong way over and over and over again. To get back to the question, I think that her self recrimination is something she she can’t even cross; she doesn’t even accept it. So she’s trying to keep out but she’s very conscious of it.
MM: I don’t know that we talked about it as we were doing it, but as we were planning it out it would evolve and it’s like all of her rage that’s been internalized for 17 years we’re now seeing the explosion into the external world. And again, she’s not doing it the right way but she’s doing it. It is interesting because it is a world where male rage is completely allowed and female rage is all of a sudden hysterical and it has to be kind of irrational or unfocused.
PH: To push against that is so important I think, and this is the reality of this character for us. In fact, her sense of shame is one of the very first things Nicole said; that she had never encountered that in a character that was so driven by shame and all of its facets and all the ways it expresses itself. And that starts even earlier than the story, it starts when she’s a kid you, that she’s someone who has a legitimate grievance but the way she chose to deal with those grievances has caused her this snowballing of a life out of control.
AW: What was the most challenging aspects of constructing a screenplay that exists on two timelines and has some very major reveals? How how did you decide when the right time to reveal things was?
MM: The challenge was keeping those two things straight in your head. The flashbacks are not in linear order. You jump all over the place. It just evolved as we were writing the current story, the present day story, that wouldn’t it be interesting to illuminate something about the moment if we saw a glimpse to the before.
PH: We often talked about it like the stuff that we see in the past is sort of it is really in her perspective and our approach was almost like what are the essential islands of experience that really are haunting things, the pieces that made her.
MM: Yeah, and I think just on a pure screenwriting level like with those flashbacks it was always like how late can you come in here. What’s the cogent version of this. Almost like a tableau. I mean some of them are more extended but like what’s the what’s the little thing that can be a potent image that will inform.
PH: In a way her perspective is that the essence of her memory in a way.
AW: That true, it is entirely from her perspective. You’re not watching it as an audience member with and more information than the character have.
PH: Right. In fact less, a lot of the time a lot.
AW: So you’re kind of going along on this journey with her so you have to be with her.
PH: I think again the beautiful thing about Nicole’s performance is that this character is a very complicated, really difficult person. She’s very, in my opinion, on screen she’s very absorbing and compelling.
AW: How did you flesh out the supporting roles that were going to assist you in the story of Erin Bell?
PH: Our goal always is to make characters have their own lives and worlds that were just intersecting with, even if they’re in the movie for two scenes or one scene, that we know that we as writers want to invest them with a whole life. Especially in Destroyer where you see two different things in very different times in these characters lives and seeing the physical and emotional toll of living with what they’ve done and the brutality of the environment.
We thought of it was like we knew that she was gonna be walking back through all of these people and walking back into her into her past and that she would need something from each of them. But the way that she got it from them would be very different because something we realized about her, and we only articulated this on set talking to Nicole, that for all of the ways that she is disregarded and actively scorned in this movie that she is very good at getting people to say yes to her by whatever means she has. It’s, in a way, what got her character in trouble in the first place.
MM: It’s like an odyssey across Los Angeles and it’s almost like some of the characters function as tests for her as she is going back to her past and discovering ultimately who is to blame. And it’s these tests that almost clarifies her mission.
PH: There’s moments that were opportunities that we realized were small but really necessary. Thinking about DiFranco, Bradley Whitford s character, and his scene. Sometimes it’s a detail; like Matt said one day ‘I think that he needs to have a kid who’s taking batting practice during this whole season. He is just horrible to the kid.’ We knew the other stuff that was in the scene so that was a little bit where I’d say ‘Okay now I understand.’ Or for Taz the gun dealer there’s the bit that he likes country music but he doesn’t like the kind of country music that she likes. It’s just trying to find little windows that offer not just story but also offer the actor you, the audience ‘Yeah I now know who that person is.’ We were so lucky to have such a tremendous supporting cast that brought in so much and really got this whole-hearted kind of leap into some very tragic characters. We were so lucky with Toby [Kebbel, who plays Silas] and of course with Tatiana [Maslnay], who is so amazing, to capture the tragedy of these people as well as the just fucked-upedness that they embody and their weird worlds that they’ve been inhabiting and all the mistakes they’ve made and really trying to extend empathy in some level to all of these people.
AW: As dark as this story is, there are many moments of levity, some times within within those dark moments. Almost everything with Bradley Whitford has a tinge of just pitch black comedy. Even the main fight between Tatiana and Nicole, the immediate aftermath has like an almost punchline like quality to it.
PH: Yeah, for sure! Erin is actually surprisingly funny to me. I think she’s wry and you can see that early in her life she that she was a real firecracker. Kind of way you know.
MM: I think it’s kind of the way life works. It’s never just one thing. The humor comes in at the wrong time or these weird details make you laugh among the most awful stuff. It’s a way of venting and to me, more real that way.
PH: Especially with Bradley’s character DiFranco, that guy is just in love with himself. So it made perfect sense for us that he’s just entertaining himself and he has no regard for Erin. This is a version of the experience that is certainly very common in a world where there’s a woman who has to listen to a guy just talk the talk and talk and tell her how it is and tell her why she’s wrong and tell her why she messed up and tell her why she can’t do anything to him. Until finally she does.
MM: We write out of order; we’ll have it outlined and then we’ll pick and choose scenes that appeal to us and can get the momentum going and that was one of the first ones we wrote just because I think it was clarifying to have in terms of the character and the dynamic to have this guy who was just talking and talking at her and having this challenge of our lead who is comfortable being silent and just watching and picking her spots and driving her power from that. So it was like a bit of a roadmap in how do how to continue to write this character what to watch when she is supposedly in this position of powerlessness but she’s really the one who’s actually in charge when she wants to be.
AW: Do you do write with people in mind. Does that kind of assist you almost like having a voice for a character?
PH: Not in this case. I think it’s also interesting some of the things we’ve done we’ve actually known who the person was gonna be but in this case, no. I think part of it was that we’ve never written a character like Erin before. I think we, each in our own head ,had an image of her but it was not attached to any any specific person. She just seemed like who she was. Then obviously once Nicole did it it’s inconceivable to me that anyone else could have done it. It’s not just that she quote “disappears into the role” because she’s disappearing into the role because it’s necessary for all of us and for Nicole to say this is just a person that is not attached to any of the other stuff that we’ve done and she needs to just be singular and she needs to be a person you feel like you are meeting for the very first time.
MM: I do find it helpful at times to picture somebody but this time we didn’t. I mean, like for The Invitation, the monologue, that’s that’s gonna be John Carroll Lynch.
PH: Yeah, we knew it was gonna be John Carroll Lynch.
MM: Like in the past sometimes it’s just like we know it’s a 70s era actor who can be like a Robert Mitchum or a Steve McQueen or Kevin Costner from Bull Durham or this is Barbara Hershey.
AW: In The Invitation and now Destroyer there are coyote motifs that feel very LA, like you’re seeing an only in LA story.
MM: For sure. It’s like, they pop up in the weirdest places, you know. Like I’ve seen them south of 6th Street. Nowhere near a park or a hill. They’re just roaming around and it just feels so is symbolic of something very LA.
PH: We have a coyote that comes and sits in our front yard and just sits there looking around. He’s not like looking in the window and our dog is just like ‘hey I’m not scared of you but I am not going outside.’
MM: There’s a weird kind of like ragged dignity to them. It’s a little bit of LA.
AW: It’s a little bit of Erin Bell.
PH: That’s right. Exactly. Well that’s so crucial because like we realized. Very early on that she’s a coyote. I mean she’s like, beat up and bedraggled but she’s really crafty. She’s a survivor and she’s really potent and mysterious and that’s all things that we feel coyotes are. Karyn gave Nicole some videos of some coyotes just caught on surveillance cameras kind of wandering through Silverlake and Nicole was like ‘I get it. That’s her. She’s a coyote.’
MM: Also, whenever you see a coyote you never think like ‘that one had it easy.’ (huge laughter)
PH: Even the well-fed coyotes got there by very dark means like this one’s had a rough life.
AW: Is there room for actors to play with your script or is it largely as written on the page?
MM: On the day it’s the script and that’s just the way Karyn works. But before that we’ve had a chance to talk to the actors, all of us together, and answer questions.
PH: The fact that we’re so involved in the process means that we can have these conversations all the time. The way Karyn works and the way that that we like to work, and true of the actors we worked with here, we try to find it on the page and we work really hard to try to craft something there. Then of course there’s little bits and pieces that know discoveries that can be made but we try to approach it in a very kind of relentlessly methodical fashion, going deeper and deeper. Then things happen to where Nicole asked us ‘what’s her history, let me know her,’ so we wrote something very extensive. Let’s have that conversation. He wrote a pretty extensive description of Erin that you would never surmise from the movie necessarily but that are is who she is and that’s just for her to take what works for her from that. We did that with with Chris, Sebastian Stan’s character and with Ethan, Scoot McNairy’s character just kind of flesh out their reality.
MM: On The Invitation we sat down with every member of the cast and then also every couple and every kind of significant pairing that happened movie to kind of talk through their relationships. Sometimes that leads to little rewrites and sometimes that just leads to a better understanding on their part so that their lines are imbued with a little something more. But we try to be locked pretty early and then you know on the day stuff comes up, if something doesn’t feel right it’s a little tweak but generally it’s in the script.
PH: Again the fact that we’re there on set to do that if it’s necessary or to just offer some illuminations is where Karyn is great. She’ll call us in when necessary to say like ‘Hey, I’ve been talking to the actor about this particular thing. Can you guys come to come out? Let’s offer a little bit more insight. Let’s maybe there is another line that we can put in there.’ So it’s a very fluid process that all just flows through Karyn. The three of us have such a connection and trust that Karyn goes deep into the scripts; she knows what she’s got. She’s got all the answers in there too.
MM: We try to have those conversations as early as possible.
PH: In some cases five years before we shoot these movies! We really have plenty of time to just really break it down.
AW: It may seem like an obvious question and an obvious answer but what was the reason you guys went into producing?
MM: We’ve done a lot of studio stuff and that’s very satisfying in its own right. But with that there comes a time when you let that go and you see what comes of it and sometimes there are victories and sometimes there are losses. But with the movies that we’re making at this level, and hopefully going forward at a bigger level, this is an opportunity as an independent film to get something the way you want it and to live or die off of that. So to put something out in the world exactly the way you intended it and if people love it, fantastic, but people don’t like well this is at least what I intended. Being a producer is just another way to kind of have a hand in just about everything.
PH: We really believe, passionately, that writers ought to be around and they ought to be a much more intrinsic part of the filmmaking process than they often. are. And there’s many reasons for, so we really set out to work with Karyn, who is so utterly committed to the collaboration. It’s just the way we want to be and it’s such a fulfilling way to make movies and I also just think it makes movies better because of it. Whenever the writer is around, hopefully there is this body of knowledge, that there is that resource.
MM: It’s also not just to fend off bad ideas, it’s just to have someone there who is so knowledgeable of the story. So if someone says ‘Oh, what if we did this?’ Not to say no but just say ‘Well, if we do that just know that we’re gonna have to also go over here and do that and that can be very expensive, or sometimes in the case of an independent film, maybe impossible.
PH: Right. I think we also realize we just love writing. And we also love making movies and we love to be part of it all. Love casting, love pre-production, love talking to Karyn about production design. This whole process of putting a movie into the world! We’re very fortunate to have that opportunity and wish actually more writers more regularly had that opportunity.
MM: Getting back to Annapurna, when you have like a true partner in post and distribution you get to be involved in on posters, trailers, marketing stuff, promotion and so to be a producer and get to participate in that is rewarding. That’s another reason why I just want to remain involved in any capacity we can.
AW: I was talking to Barry Jenkins [whose If Beale Street Could Talk is also a current Annapurna release] and had the exact same experience with Annapurna. On my website I have forums and there’s always chatter about these things. We jump on things very early so something like Destroyer and Beale Street were on our radar last January. There were months and months of no pictures, no posters, no trailer, they were chomping at the bit and then boom they drop it and it’s like ‘Oh, that’s why.’
PH: Yes, it’s very intentional and deliberate and that’s what I appreciate. Like, every image is very carefully considered and the timing of everything, especially with our movie. It’s been very instructive because we’re are coming out in the season very, very late, as late as you can get at Christmas. Our goal is to just get as many people to see the movie as possible and so we’re doing everything we can to screen it for as many people as we can. And we’ve been really gratified that once people see the movie it’s sort of, I think in a way it’s a sort of movie that can belong to you. If it really moves you or if it really connects with you specifically that it can then belong to you. And so we’re just hopeful that more and more people have that reaction and that experience or that Nicole’s performance is truly of its own class, it’s own type. It’s just it’s own thing.
MM: It took some patience on our part too because we were chomping at the bit because we wanted to show people stuff and Annapurna’s saying ‘Wait, wait, we know what we’re doing here. Stay on target.’ And they were totally right. There’s a limited amount of resources to build excitement and awareness about it and because I think like, like Phil says, when you get the movie in front of people the response has been really gratifying. But if you want you want people to see it.
AW: I felt the same way. I wanted any and every bit of information I could possibly get my hands on and it was like, ‘Oh my God, Annapurna there’s that one picture of Nicole and anytime I write something about it it’s the only picture I have!’
MM: It was great, in the geekiest way possible they give you this rack of potential posters and you’re just like, ‘Can we print that one? I want all of them!’
AW: It’s a good poster, the color contrast is so extreme, and the trailer it does not hide the movie.
MM: In one of the meetings someone was talking about it and it was this is not a movie that has to apologize for itself.
PH: We let the movie be itself. And I think that’s again that’s just the wonderful thing about working with people whose attitude is just that. I mean, there’s some version where you could see somebody saying, ‘Oh, we can cut a great freaking action movie trailer out of what we have here.’ But that’s not the movie. I mean, it has all those elements but that’s not the movie. What people do respond to is Erin and her daughter and that that’s the point of the whole thing.
So it’s interesting, I mean you are a veteran, this is what you do. So you see year after year of this process and it is interesting to be in it. I’m hopeful that our kind of mystery will ultimately be good for us and that people are finally seeing it more and more and liking it and that’s something that just kind spreads.
AW: What is what is up next or what’s gestating right now?
MM: We were kind of talking about what the next one for the three of us is going to be in terms of LA and we’re in the brainstorming phase on that and what we’re working on an adult horror movie at Fox that Karyn’s going to direct.
AW: Good time for it. Horror is making wonderful, mature comeback.
PH: Yeah, we’re excited for it. It’s based on great book called Breed and it’s a very adult take on horror and it is really terrifying and it’s really about something. We’re working with Scott Frank, he’s producing with us, he’s a good friend of ours is just amazing. He has really made it his mission, he’s carved out a little space at Fox to make movies that are lower budget, that are for adults and have real genre meat on their bones. In this space it’s tough to get those made these days.
AW: I did not want to leave without, this is gonna be so random, but I didn’t want to leave without telling you guys how much I love crazy/beautiful. Add speaker
PH: I’m so happy to hear that!
AW: Oh my god, that was deep in my working in video store days and I was just obsessed. It was one of the best movies that year and I just think it’s fucking fantastic.
MM: It’s kind of found its home over the years and it’s hung in there and like I remember when it opened here we opened against A.I. It was a bit weird. Our movie was at the Beverly Connection and the small theater but it’s kind of hung on there. It’s great when people bring it up to us.
PH: It’s our dream. I am so glad to hear that because I really love that movie so much that I feel like, Matt, Karyn and I often talk about if there’s any one thing that guides us it’s that we’re hopeful that we can make the kind of movie that can be someone’s favorite movie of all time. It doesn’t have to be a lot of people’s favorite movie but that for some person it is. crazy/beautiful has been like that where we’ll be randomly having lunch and like a server, or people of a very specific age that were teenagers when that movie came out, come up and say ,’I love that movie so much. And it meant so much to me when I was in high school and I so identified with it.’.
MM: This is actually like the sixth year of crazy/beautiful fest. We have our own crazy/beautiful con.
(all laughing hysterically).
PH: We keep trying to get Jay Hernandez to come! I’m just so glad it’s kind of hung in there.
AW: It’s had such a great life on video.
PH: And it’s another female character that we just loved, we loved her so much and we really just gravitate toward toward writing women a lot.
AW: I mean, it was a subversive story for the time, dealing with mental illness and an interracial relationship, and in a way that was extremely matter of fact, especially for a teen film, and not making it like, ‘Here’s your lesson.’ And that’s why it’s so good.
MM: Thank you. Well again, that’s LA to us.
PH: John Stockard did such a beautiful job with that movie. It’s another LA movie, I guess we really are obsessed with Los Angeles. And it was another original. I think we realized that there is a pattern ,which is the movies that are originals for us are ones that really seem to stick.
MM: It was a pretty good intro to Hollywood for us, to have that script be the first thing you have produced and we are to have John Stockwell get it; he really did the script.
AW: That had to be a good first experience.
PH: It was, it was really good. And it’s funny because it just shows a different era of Hollywood because we sold it as a pitch, which is already crazy for a movie like that. But we sold it in 2000 maybe or 99 and it’s a 12 million dollar teen drama. A studio wouldn’t make that movie now, it was Touchstone, which doesn’t exist anymore, Touchstone was an amazing label for all movies like that. It might be made independently now, a 30West might make that now.
MM: Back then the market for teen movies was like I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scream, Can’t Hardly Wait. I think we’re looking at some resurgence of the teen drama and that there’s a space for smaller movies for young people.
AW: Something like Eighth Grade.
MM: Yes, exactly.
AW: Well, thank you both so much for digging into Destroyer and your process, it’s been a pleasure and good luck with the film.
PH: Yes, thank you, Erik!
MM: Thank you!