SpectreVision cofounders Daniel Noah, Elijah Wood, and Josh C. Waller talk 'Cooties' and 'The Boy'—plus, why they decided to 'get greasy.'
SpectreVision cofounders Elijah Wood, Daniel Noah, and Josh C. Waller were all over the recent Stanley Film Festival in Estes Park, Colo., like a rash. That’s an apt comparison given the festival’s opening-night film Cooties (out Sept. 18)—which was made by the trio’s horror film production company—concerns a chicken nugget-born virus that turns pre-pubescent kids into pustulating, blood-crazed killers. The three execs were also in town to support another SpectreVison film, the serial killer drama The Boy, which features David Morse, Wood’s Cooties costar Rainn Wilson, and Jared Breeze, who plays the titular young maniac-in-the-making.
EW sat down with Wood, Noah, and Waller to talk about the past, present, and future of SpectreVision.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Josh, I feel we need to start by addressing the gorilla in the room, your disappointing performance at the chicken nugget–eating competition that followed last night’s opening night screening of Cooties. Want went wrong?
JOSH C. WALLER: Part of the thing about being a growing company is knowing how to choose your battles. And I felt about a minute and a half into that nugget-eating contest, when I looked at (Blumhouse director of development) Ryan Turek and (Shock Till You Drop writer) Sam Zimmerman and they had both finished almost the entire bowl. I felt that was a fight I didn’t need to engage in.
Cooties was directed by Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion and written by Leigh Whannell (Insidious) and Ian Brennan (Glee), both of whom also appear in the film. But who came up with the idea in the first place?
ELIJAH WOOD: It came from Josh. We’d bounced around this thing for a while—and we wanted to make a serious movie, that’s the really funny thing. We wanted to make it this very serious movie about killer children. Ultimately, we found out that Leigh was interested [in writing it]. He was the one who was like, “It’s called Cooties, it should be a comedy.”
To take you back a little bit: how do you guys know each other? And what made you start SpectreVision?
JCW: Daniel and I have been friends for going on 20 years. We were working on another project that Daniel had written, and I was directing, and both of us were producing, and through a mutual friend we were introduced to Elijah. We started moving forward on that project; it was completely different, a comedy, and that project did not come to light. But through that project the three of us became pretty tight and realized that we had this shared love of genre films.
Did you have a manifesto, a mission statement, when you started SpectreVision?
EW: That’s interesting. I guess our guiding principles were that didn’t really want to tread trodden ground. We were looking for things that were slightly more unique, or had a very different take on the genre than what we were used to seeing.
DANIEL NOAH: I think the first question for us is, “Is anyone else making this kind of movie?” And if the answer is “Yes” we usually won’t get involved in it. The other question is, “Does this have some asset in it that is beyond just the pleasures of the genre? Does it address some real-life, or social issue, or political issue?” And Cooties—which is quite silly—has, we hope, some provocative themes in it about teachers being underpaid and underappreciated, the processed food being given to our children in schools…
DN: Yeah, overmedicating kids. I just made it sound like Al Gore’s new documentary!
One of your first movies was A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, which was among my favorite films of last year, but seems like an almost willfully difficult project. It’s a black-and-white movie, in Farsi…
EW: Which is barely a horror movie.
…which is barely a horror movie. And it was directed by a woman, Ana Lily Amirpour, which in itself sadly still makes the film a rarity. Was there ever a moment when you thought that, for a young company, it was too difficult a project?
EW: Not for a second. In fact, I feel that that movie, more than anything, defined us. That movie is almost the perfect definition of the kinds of movies that we want to make. And it’s so ironic because on paper, it’s so not a commercially viable film. It’s a very poor business decision! But what’s exceptional is what’s happened to that film. Man, it gives me hope, that a movie that has all those things against it in a commercial sense can really find an audience.
DN: I have this analogy I like to use about a clock, that if the objective is to be at midnight, the further away you travel in time, the further away you are from that point, until you get to 11:59. When we told people about A Girl Walks Home Alone… they said we were crazy. And our point of view was, this is so uncommercial that it’s commercial. It almost goes all the way around the clock face to hit midnight again. And it’s true. People are seeing it because there’s nothing like it.
JCW: Another part of that, though, is aligning ourselves with filmmakers that are deeply passionate and have a strong, unique voice. You’ve met Lily, it’s impossible to say that she’s not unique.
She is a force of nature.
JCW: She knows what she wants, she doesn’t want to compromise, and you want that in a filmmaker. You want filmmakers that are going to stand their ground, and dig their heels in and be like, “This is what I want!”
Let’s move on to The Boy, which in terms of tone is the complete opposite of Cooties. How did that project come about?
DN: We never have any kind of specific mandate. I used to work as a writer in the studio system and you’d get a call like, “Universal is looking for a thing about a left-handed dentist.” We just react to what is put in front of us and if it moves us we engage with it. The Boy was based on a short that the filmmaking team had at Sundance called Henley. We saw the short, and the three of us had been fantasizing about doing some kind of serial-killer origin story, and rooting it in real behavior, not having it be a bad-seed movie about a killer kid. And so we had these aligned objectives with them and we proposed that they turn their short into a trilogy with us, because the intent is that there will be two more films that track the character’s entire childhood. The Boy was their first feature: Craig Macneill, who directed the film and cowrote the film with Clay McLeod Chapman, and Noah Greenberg, the amazing cinematographer, who also shot the short. So for them to go from a short to, “Would you guys like to make a trilogy?” they were like, “Yes! Is this a trick question?” And then we were off and running.
What do you have coming up? I know you’re working on a movie with the best title ever: The Greasy Strangler.
EW: [Laughs] Greasy Strangler is a project that Jim Hosking wrote and is directing; it will be his feature film debut. He’s a British commercials and short film director. Ant Timpson (The ABCs of Death) is producing it and I’m friends with Ant. He sent me the script and said, “I’d love for you to look at this, I think it could be a really good fit.” He was like, “Prepare yourself, it’s really something.” [Laughs] I read the script, literally not 30 minutes after I Skyped with him, and I f–king pissed myself. It is honestly the most —I don’t know—the most f–ked up, funny, disturbing, gross thing I’ve ever read. At its core it’s a relationship between a father and a son. That tells you nothing. And it was sort of on me to get these guys to read it and get them on board the Greasy Strangler train.
DN: Get greasy!
EW: Get greasy, yeah. But also, what’s really great is, at the core of this is the coming together of a bunch of friends, too. Because Drafthouse Films are involved, it’s us, Ant Timpson, (Kill List producer) Andrew Starke, (Kill List director) Ben Wheatley. That was a teaming up of people that made us really excited.
JCW: This was one of those things where Jim said he had approached other people and they were like, “Nah, we can’t do this.” And so, everyone that Elijah mentioned, all these peers, were like, “If we don’t get behind Jim, and help him get this thing done, then he’s not going to get it done.” And we all want to see this weird, f–ked up little movie so badly, we’re like, “Let’s make this happen!”