David Gordon Green rose to prominence as a kind of folk poet of Southern regional cinema, creating unconventional but compassionate portraits of young folk in rural cultures in the films George Washington, All the Real Girls and Undertow. After an extended sojourn into Hollywood comedies (including Pineapple Express) he returned to his roots with Prince Avalanche, which arrives on Blu-ray and DVD this week. While the film appears to be a Green original, it’s actually a remake of an Icelandic film called Either Way, completely recast by the Southwestern setting and the sensibilities of Green and his two stars, Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch.

I spoke with David Gordon Green at the Seattle International Film Festival in May 2013, and true to form, before talking about Prince Avalanche, we started by talking about what films he’d been watching.


Sean Axmaker: What are you watching?

David Gordon Green: I just saw two movies this weekend that are incredible that recently came out on DVD. Holy Motors.

It was my favorite movie of last year.

Wonderful movie. My favorite movie of last year, which I just saw again, This Must Be the Place. Have you seen it?

I am not as fond of it as you are.

Oh my god, I love that movie. That movie is incredible. I didn’t expect anything, never heard of the director, never seen any of his work, and it really blew my mind.

It’s an amazing performance by Sean Penn.

Yeah! I never had any idea where that movie was going, it just went in its own beautiful, bizarre direction that had nothing to do with the first twenty minutes of the film. I just loved it, it just felt like its own beast. It was really artfully done, gorgeous cinematography, killer music, and Sean Penn just being the weirdest he’s ever been.

Did you see it on DVD?

I saw it on Netflix.

What’s your home video preference? DVD, Blu-ray, Netflix, streaming?

I’m everything. I’m a sponge of movies, anywhere I can go. I just saw, in the theaters, I loved Before Midnight. I thought it was great. I love that whole trilogy. What else did I see? I see everything. I actually liked The Great Gatsby, believe it or not. It’s good, it’s just crazy, it’s just like a great big show. I’ve been watching a lot of different types of things. I watched Marnie last night for the first time in years and I was thinking there are some guys who are just making their own thing, and I really love that Hitchcock could do that, I love that Baz Luhrmann can do that. It’s these people who have this kind of magical audacity about themselves. I wish they would be a little bit shorter because I don’t like movies over two hours. I get really bored sitting down for that long.

If you’re seeing every movie, I can’t imagine how you would have time for that and making your own films.

It’s tough. Ann and I have twin 2-year-olds so it’s like a lot going on. I was trying to convince their mother to let me take them to see the new Fast and Furious movie the other day. She wasn’t having it. She said they were too young for that.

There would be something going on every second for them to watch.

Yeah, something keep them entertained. I watched Paranorman with them. Did you see that?

I really liked Paranorman.

I tried to get them to watch Kid With a Bike the other day. They fell asleep. They’re not into the Dardenne brothers. They’re not into subtitles either. They’re just 2. They read The Bear Snores On, they don’t like reading French films. Yet. They will.

I guess we’ve talked enough about other people’s movies.

Man, I could do that all day. I’m better at talking about other people’s movies.


How did you first see the film Either Way, and what about it made you think that you wanted to remake it as an American film?

I wanted to remake it before I saw. Someone who hadn’t seen it was telling me about the idea of it and I said I want to remake that. So I watched it for the first time thinking about how I would remake it. So I’ve never seen it, honestly. I’ve only seen it under the guise of what I would do to it, so it’s not really fair to those guys. I love their movie, I think it’s amazing and it’s beautifully shot. Have you seen it?

I’ve seen your film, but I have not seen Either Way.

You should see Either Way, it’s masterfully done, very beautiful, almost all done in master shots, very little coverage in the movie. It’s really a warm-hearted, charming movie, very much the inspiration for where we went with Prince Avalanche. I think Avalanche is a little bit more absurdist and a little bit more emotional, but this movie really struck me for the simplicity and beauty of it and kind of a Waiting for Godot quality: The lost existence of man, and men struggling with identity and masculinity. I really loved the architecture of that film and felt a lot of opportunity to bring my own relationships and my own ideas, my own internal dialogue, my own internal conflicts, relationships with women, relationships with myself, relationships with nature, and incorporate that all into the framework of Either Way.

It’s interesting to see a film about two men and their relationships with people that we never see them in relationships with. They are always apart from the people that they are talking about and thinking about.

I would like to make a companion film to this movie, to see things that aren’t exposed in this movie. I’d like to know these women a little bit better, I’d like to see the weekends that Emile Hirsch has on his own. I have a lot of curiosities and uncertainties about this movie, but I think that’s one of the things that I’m most fascinated by. I don’t have an answer for everything, it’s very much an exploration. There’s a woman that they meet along the way that was not in the script, it was a woman we met in a home that was hers, and we just incorporated her truthful story and environment into our movie. So the movie really had that kind of life where I don’t really know what she represents in the movie. It’s almost like a supernatural character, kind of a ghostly character that they encounter. I never really set out to make a movie like that, it just became a movie like that. There was a beautiful sense of discovery throughout the production.

The last three films you made were bigger, more mainstream Hollywood comedies. Coming back to a small, character-focused, small cast movie like this, how has that sojourn changed the way you make films, or has it?

Every film changes the way I make a film. Every project leads to the next. Let’s see, my first film came out in 2000 so it’s 13 years of working, and everything informs the next one. I wake up every day with a new sense of opportunity. It’s very interesting to go from films where you can take as many takes as you want, and you have very reasonable schedules of your days and everyone is getting paid, and all of a sudden you take those three elements away. We could get two or three takes at the most, we had a sixteen-day shoot as opposed to the movie before where I had a fifty-day shoot, so sixteen days to make a movie is not that much, and you have to rely on a small crew that’s not getting paid much money to be there. And you’re filming in the middle of nowhere and you’re staying in a motel that isn’t by any means luxury.

So it was fun to be able to strip it all down, and I talked specifically with my cinematographer, my production designer and Paul and Emile about what do we love about the moviemaking process, what is the stuff that keeps us passionate and keeps us loving our job and wanting to keep doing it. So we made lists of things that we loved. OK, so now what do we hate about it. We hate all the expectations, we hate all the baggage and all the people asking questions and “Why are you doing this” and “What if that’s not funny,” and all the development of making a movie. What we like is the momentum of making movies, we like the momentum of filming things and trusting each other and challenging each other. So we really stripped it all down to being that, and this is a movie of trust and challenge. You’re in a very uncomfortable, burnt-down, ashy place, it didn’t smell nice and there was no real way to clean up between the days. It was a very unluxurious, unglamorous production. But the beauty of it is no one even knew we were making the film. We made it very quietly and incredibly cheaply so that no one asked us why we were doing what we were doing. It’s kind of refreshing to not have any expectations or any demands.


In addition to your films, you also got involved with the HBO series Eastbound and Down.

Yeah, I go out on Tuesday for Season 4.

I thought Season 3 was the end of it.

This is the end. We were going to end it, and now we have a better ending. That’s the funnest thing you can do. All of our film school buddies, from Danny and Jody to half the crew, we all get together in North Carolina every couple of years and make a few episodes of a show, and that’s a cool bridge because you have enough money to do ambitious things, but being HBO, they let you be crazy. You don’t have to engineer it for the lowest common denominator.

I’ve heard that from other people who have made HBO programs.

We refer to them as “highbrow-lowbrow.” Incredibly literate college professors find our mythological charms within the Kenny Powers character, but then also so do some rootin’ tootin’ rednecks, and we love that they get a kick out of it too.