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TRCH The Da Vinci Code

Zach Galligan

2 March 10 words: Alison Emm
"I got indoctrinated into English culture at a young age; it was cool that I was eating Crunchie bars when I was two"
Zach Galligan (centre) and the cast of Cut

Nottingham-based studio Brit Films TV have produced a first in the horror/thriller film genre - their latest feature, Cut, was shot in one continuous take.  Not the easiest task to accomplish, especially when you think that they did it at night, in the countryside surrounding Leek, in the middle of a cold, wet March.  We caught up with the lead, who you might remember from the Gremlins franchise, Zach Galligan…

Tell us about Cut …

The thumbnail sketch of the plot is five people alone in a house who are suddenly under attack by unseen forces, for unknown reasons.  I suppose you can call it a horror movie, but to me a horror movie is something with a supernatural element.  Cut doesn’t contain that, although it does contain suspense and thrills and tension and chases and things like that.  It’s definitely…horrifying, and is violent in places, but it’s not a conventional horror movie; it’s much more like a thriller.  

How exciting is it being part of a film that was done in one continuous shot – a first in the horror/thriller genre?

Well, I would say that the anticipation part of it was more nerve-racking and stressful than it was exciting, whereas the actual rehearsal and shooting of it was very exciting. There were so many people working on this endeavour and it really is an incredibly complicated thing because you’ve got cameras all over the house, and the first assistant director is basically doing his thing from a control room.  

Everyone’s got walkie-talkies, and some people are hiding in closets and then when a camera leaves the room - because it’s all shot with one steadicam - and follows a character out, then people rush out of closets and get the actors changed into different things, add make-up and they’re cracking vases so it looks like there’s been a struggle.  They then all run back into the closets in time for the camera to come back in.  It was just incredibly complicated because it wasn’t just the cast that had to get everything right - it was the crew as well.

That must have been a buzz when you got a complete take done then…

The night that we got our first complete useable take, after all that work and repetition and rehearsal, it was absolutely thrilling.  Once we’d begun shooting, the last thing you wanted was to be 56 minutes into a take and somebody blow it with 2 minutes to go.  You don’t want to be the person that does that; everyone is unbelievably on their toes because they don’t want to be the one who screws up a perfect take.  

So how many takes did you actually do, or is that a bit cheeky?

Oh no, that’s not cheeky, we’re actually quite proud of it.  I don’t remember exactly what it was - some takes would start and abort after about a minute and a half because the Director of Photography would be like “I’m not satisfied with people coming up the stairs because it’s too wobbly” or something like that.  If you count a take as being, like, more than thirty minutes long then I think there were fourteen or fifteen total takes, of about which seven were thirty minutes or longer and three were completely usable.  When we got our first useable take, it was about three thirty in the morning and in the middle of March, in the middle of the English countryside, pouring down rain and everyone’s jumping up and down and screaming and hugging each other.  The party just raged until about nine o’clock the next morning.

So, how on earth did you find yourself in Derby acting in a film by a debut director?

Well, it’s kind of strange nowadays in the internet age; you can check your email and in your inbox there’ll be scripts and offers from a person you have never met or heard of, and that’s pretty much what happened to me.  In 2006, I got a script by this guy, Dominic Burns, and I told him that I was coming over to England in 2007 so we decided to meet when I was there and he pitched me the film.  He got all his financing for it, but then it pretty much collapsed around the time of the global economic meltdown.  

In December 2008 he’s like; “Hey, do you remember me? I’ve got this new project that I think you may think is really cool.  It’s much lower budget and I can’t pay you as much but it’s a really intriguing idea: it’s a horror film that’s shot in one continuous take.” And I was, like, whoa, that is a very, very strange and compelling and risky venture.  So, we kinda talked about it, and as luck would have it, I teach acting at New York University and the filming was planned exactly in my Spring Break.  I thought that it was an extremely lucky coincidence so I signed on and, yeah, that was about three and a half years in the making and it turned out brilliantly.  

Zach Galligan and Laurie Brewster in Cut

You’ve been in quite a few horror films in your time; are you a fan?  

Yeah, I am. It’s a genre that gets a lot of…it’s like the red-headed stepchild of the film genres and it’s not really deserved; there’s been a lot of really good horror films that have been either analogies or allegories for other things; Dawn of the Dead, for example, the original one, is a very witty satire on American consumerism on another level too so I think it’s a cool genre. I started in Gremlins, so everyone associates me with the horror genre whether I like it or not - so that’s been a bit of a struggle.  Maybe struggle is the wrong word; maybe a chore trying to convince people that I can do stuff other than horror films.  

What genre is your favourite to act in?

I like doing comedy really, but I don’t like doing broad, slapsticky comedy; I like doing kind of subtle, witty, dialogue-rich comedy.  That, to me, is the most fun for an actor.  I’ve done the dramas where you find out someone’s dead, you break down crying; it’s a challenge but it’s not really very fun.  If you’re doing it correctly then it’s much too painful to be considered enjoyable.  So, yeah, I like witty comedy with witty banter, that’s kinda fun.  

Are you a fan of England, then? You seem to come over here quite a lot…

I absolutely love England, I always have.  My mother and father brought me over when I was two years old - that was in the Swinging Sixties, the summer of 1966.  It was in August, I know because I went back and looked at when our trip was and it was the week that Revolver (Beatles album) was released.  I got indoctrinated into the cool, mod English culture at a very, very young age; it was cool that I was eating Cadbury’s Crunchie bars when I was two.  But, and I don’t know why, I’ve always been attracted to English humour: I was one of the only kids in my class that was watching Monty Python when I was ten or eleven and loving it and memorising it - and I still have huge chunks of it memorised. 

Have you ever been to Nottingham?

I haven’t been to Nottingham proper; I’ve been to Derby and where we shot Cut, about 7km from Leek, so it’s kind of in the area but I haven’t been to Nottingham: the land of Dan Hardy and Paul Daley.

That’s a first!  Most people say the land of Robin Hood…

I’m a huge UFC fan, so I’m aware of all the UK fighters that you guys have been importing over here.

You’ve featured in over fifty films and worked with an impressive list of directors and actors in your time - is there anyone that you’d really love to work with?  

Oh, boy… wow.  That’s such a difficult question to answer because there’s so many talented people, but, I don’t know. Now that they’ve released these Oscar nominations how could you not, as an actor, want to work with James Cameron? I mean, just for the challenge - you hear that he’s a difficult guy to work with and he’s very exacting and he can scream and be demanding.
 
It must still be quite difficult to be shouted at every day.  How do you deal with that?

I never take it personally; they’re just under a lot of pressure and probably under a lot of self-induced perfectionism. I don’t let my ego get in the way, especially if they’re screaming at everyone - you know it’s not personal.  The guy can scream at me for a few months and then you’ve got a film that people will be enjoying for, like, a century.

I’ve kind of figured out a way to handle them; if you stay really, really calm and be unfazed by their screaming, they don’t really know what to do about it because they’re so used to rattling people.They’re so used to people being defensive and fighting back or cowering that if you’re just standing there, looking at them, going “OK, got it, whatever you want”, there’s not really anything anyone can say to that except “Oh… OK, well let’s do it again…”.

You mentioned that you teach at New York University. In what?
 
I teach auditioning, specifically for the camera. There’s a huge difference between acting in a play as opposed to for the camera -  it’s all about momentum.  In a play, you have two acts or more in which to build up emotional momentum for the characters and, of course, it’s done in sequence.  A lot of people still don’t know this, but films are almost always shot out of sequence - so your first day on the set might be the shooting the end of a love story, which is insane - sometimes you’re acting with people that you barely even met.  

Isn’t that a bit awkward?

I did a TV film called Surviving with Molly Ringwald and they deliberately did all of our love scenes on the first day, just to get them out of the way. So it’s like, “Hi, how are you? I don’t really know you, let’s start making out…”  It’s a very, very strange business in the way that it’s done - it’s done more according to location than it is to sequence or emotional content.  

You’ve also done some screenwriting - how’s that going?  

Screenwriting it’s almost always a reasonably slow process unless you’ve got some development deal with a studio, in which case they’re hungering for what you have.  But if you’re doing what I’m doing, which is writing stuff on spec –writing something and then throwing it out there to see if anyone likes it – it’s a slower process.  I wrote a film about the girls who used to wait outside Abbey Road studios for glimpses of The Beatles; they were dubbed The Apple Scruffs.  The actor Cary Elwes, a friend of mine, read it and really loved it and optioned it, and we went to England to do some research and a re-write.  That was in summer of 2004, believe it or not.  So, yeah, it’s been strange because I wrote the first draft of the script in 2001 and now it’s 2010 and it’s probably closer to having something happen than it’s ever been.

That must be pretty exciting…

It takes a tremendous amount of patience - but to be honest, it’s a strange example. Anything to do with The Beatles is always fraught with the music and getting Apple to sign on, which is extremely difficult to do because they’re exceedingly picky.  I kind of signed up for the world’s most impossible film, but we’ll see.

Zach Galligan in Gremlins

You’re best known, in England at least, for your role as Billy in Gremlins, so…is there going to be a Gremlins III?  

At the moment, it’s just speculation about whether they will do a Gremlins 3D. But you’d have to imagine after Avatar collected $2billion that they’d be a bit stupid and foolish not to do it.  So my guess is it will probably come about, but it’s in a very embryonic stage and there probably won’t be any real details for several months.  

Would you like to be involved?

Sure. It would be unrealistic to assume that either Phoebe [Cates] or I would be the leads, but I think we should just be the parents and the film should just sort of be a 3D sequel that focuses on our kids and their adventures with coming to terms with the Gremlins.

What do you think of the new 3D technology/phenomena?

I think it’s great. I used to think that 3D was very hokey, but then I saw Avatar and I thought; “Wow! He’s using the 3D really to tell the story as opposed to being gimmicky.”  If you saw old 3D movies, it was just basically a movie and there would be a shot of someone dropping their keys on the floor and it was like they were dropping the keys on your face or something and you’d go ‘Oooh, the keys almost hit me’.  And here, there was really very little of that; he just used 3D to create a world that you existed in for two and a half hours which I thought was amazing.  

Do you think that it will bring about a resurgence in cinema?

Seeing a movie on a big screen is an experience that should never really go away – it’s such a great experience that you can’t replicate in a home theatre. It’s the visceral experience of an audience experiencing something for the first time.  

Do you watch your own films?  Would it be exciting to watch yourself in 3D even if you are dubious about watching yourself?


Some people watch their own films and fall in love with themselves, and then other people watch their films and cringe!  I pretty much watch my films and cringe.  I’ve never really gotten used to it - I’m just endlessly critical and so I’ll probably watch something I’ve done once and go “OK, I’ve seen it” and then I’ll very, very rarely go back and look at it again.  I haven’t seen Cut yet, so I’m looking forward to it – so I’ll probably watch it once, one and a half times maybe, and then I’ll probably just file it away because I just have insanely high standards for myself which I can practically never meet.  There was a great little Hollywood story where they asked Yul Brynner what would he like to have on his tombstone, and he wrote; I’d like them to put two words; I’ve Arrived.  They said why would you want that, and he said the moment, as an actor, you say to yourself ‘I’ve Arrived’, you’re dead.  You can never be satisfied with what you’re doing because you can always get better; when you get satisfied and start going through the motions, that’s when you turn into a self-parody.
 

Cut is released on DVD on 8 March 2010.

Cut facebook page

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