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Donnie Darko Q&A
© Jason Myers

Donnie Darko is an unusual drama (see RevSF's review here) about a kid who's made a new imaginary friend. His new friend's name is Frank. Frank is a large grotesque rabbit.

Do we have your attention now?

After a recent screening of Donnie Darko (now in limited release), Richard Kelly (the director of Donnie Darko) and Jake Gyllenhaal (who plays the film's title character) showed up to answer a few audience questions.

There are some moments in the film that involve a possible airplane disaster. Was there anything cut out of the film due to the events of September 11th?

Richard Kelly: You know, like everyone did, I think we all went and looked back at the film. Everyone probably reevaluated everything at that point. And, no changes were made to the film because of that. But we pulled out an image from the trailer, from the advertising materials. We pulled the image of the jet engine out of the trailers. But we felt that the film is what it is, and it's a period piece. And there really wasn't anything that we could do… because the film wouldn't have made sense. No one wanted to change anything, so, we hope that we're okay. We hope that people are okay to deal with it.

How old are you?

RK: I'm 26 years old.

I wrote the script probably three years ago, right when I got out of college. And I got really lucky, and I got signed by an agent because of the script. With the help of my producer. We submitted it to a few agencies, and it kinda got passed up the agency food chain. I lucked out, and I got representation. The first thing that we said was that I was going to direct it and he was going to produce it, and we were really really adamant about that. And we made a deal that we would never give it away or sell it without that guarantee that I was directing it and he was producing it.

It was really difficult, because for about a year and three months, we met everyone in town, and everyone really liked the script, and they were really impressed with the writing sample, but when they saw me, they were like, "Yeah, right. Forget it. It's not gonna happen." We got that a lot. We got a lot of rejection just based on that simple fact: that I hadn't directed a feature before. I did a couple of shorts in college. I went to USC film school.

You know, it's funny the way your movie really gets made. In early 2000, after about a year of taking meeting after meeting with every studio and independent company, and having people almost wanna say yes, but not say yes…. Jason Schwartzman, we heard, was interested in the script and really liked it. And we were obviously big fans of Jason's from Rushmore. And he attached himself to star, and all of the sudden, that kind of validated me as a director. To have a movie star say, "I believe in this guy." The script all the sudden got a lot more attention. We started getting tangible offers for financing.

And then it landed in Nancy Juvonen's lap, and she read it. She's Drew Barrymore's partner, one of the producers in the film. She gave it to Drew, and then they kind of accosted my agent at ShowWest in Las Vegas, and I was in the screening of the Charlie's Angels trailer a couple days later, and I asked Drew to play Ms. Pomeroy, and she said, "Yes, if you let my production company be involved." And I said, "Absolutely." And then we had Drew. We had a week window for her, in the summer of 2000, and we had our financing. We got four and a half million dollars to make the movie. And it just came together really quickly. Jason had to back out because of a scheduling conflict with another movie he was going to do. And we got this guy here. [Points to Jake.]

What is your favorite horror film?

RK: I think probably my favorite horror film is The Shining. I love that movie.

You know, clearly, Sam Raimi let us use Evil Dead. Let us digitally manipulate Evil Dead, which was really cool of him. I love both versions of The Thing, including Carpenter's remake. I think it's fantastic. Horror isn't my thing necessarily, but I definitely reference genre filmmaking a lot.

What was it like doing the film on $4.5 million?

RK: It was very difficult, but we did it. A lot of it has to do with my cinematographer, Steven Poster, who really has to be given a lot of the credit. For getting us anamorphic lenses, which we really wanted. It's rare that a first time director can get anamorphic lenses. He got us a really huge discount at Panavision. Panavision hooked us up.

All the crew, all the cast did it for scale. No one made a dime on this. I'll never see any money on this, trust me. My points are like donkey points. But I don't care. It's fine. I'm just glad I got to do it. I think we just made sure that every dollar ended up on the big screen. And I got my friends to help us with some of the visual effects. I used to serve cappuccinos at a post-production house. And I learned a lot about visual effects. I understand how to do this stuff for cheap, and make it looks like it costs a lot more. It was tough, but we pulled it off. I owe a lot of people favors right now.

Continued . . .
Jason Myers is Film/DVD Editor for RevolutionSF.

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