S. Craig Zahler is a filmmaker with a flare for violence but more interestingly is going beyond this with his intriguing characters and stories.
With only three films to date he is an eclectic director with a western (Bone Tomahawk), prison thriller (Brawl in Cell Block 99) as well as cop drama under his belt already.
In his third film, Dragged Across Concrete sees the director delve into the cop genre that showed at the Glasgow Film Festival this year. Read our glowing review of the film here.
We once again see Vince Vaughn, currently enjoying a ‘Vaugn-aissance’ (?) of sorts, team up with Zahler as well as Mel Gibson who knows a thing a two about playing a law enforcer.
We catch up with Zahler to talk all things Dragged Across Concrete and more.
Congrats on Dragged Across Concrete. Where did the idea or inspiration come from for this film?
Like all my work the idea came from my interests in something. So crime fiction is one that goes back to childhood both in movies and books.
I grew up watching the Sidney Lumet movies repeatedly, especially Prince of the City.
Also love The Killing, Heat, Nightfall and Joseph H. Lewis movies like The Big Combo. So after I made Bone Tomahawk, I was trying to get Brawl [in Cell Block 99] set up and in that time I said let me write what would be the third movie.
Playing a lot more towards all the things I was interested in directing in terms of a lot of character stuff, atmospheric stuff and lot of detail.
It really came from my interest in all of those pieces and me figuring out what was something I wanted to spend more than a year of my life working to bring to fruition.
When you were writing the film did you always have in mind who you were going to cast as Ridgeman and Lurasetti?
No, not at all. So I wrote the film before I had a relationship with Vince. We met two weeks after I finished writing Dragged Across Concrete. He read Brawl [in Cell Block 99] right about the time I was finished writing that so didn’t know if I would be able to get the piece to him.
Some actors are really acceptable, some are not. Sometimes it has to do with their agency or if you are making a money offer straight away. We weren’t going to have a lot of money, and we didn’t, so we eventually got to him and he read it.
When I wrote it the cops were both younger, probably 30 and 50, as supposed to 40 and 60. It was really after working with him on Brawl [in Cell Block 99] that I wanted him in the role as Anthony.
I really thought who could match Vince on-screen, who is going to have that camaraderie, kind of presence and go to face-to-face and hold it with him and Mel was that guy.
What did Mel Gibson bring to this role that you maybe weren’t expecting?
He really brought what I wanted to the role. There are some people who in terms of line reading and performance are going to deliver something you like but different to what you expected. I always heard he is very good to work with on-set and he was.
Something he brought to the set, not so much the role, is that he jokes a lot between takes and when we are trying to set stuff up. Then he snaps to it when we are doing rehearsals or shooting takes.
When I think of some of the others I was thinking of for the role, I know none of them would have delivered it so well and so much like my concept of what this guy is.
And he is an Oscar-winning director so did he get involved at all in that side of things?
You never know with somebody with the directing experience he has. I came in with a very defined style for this picture and that what it was and he was 100% comfortable just letting me do my thing.
He refers to himself as a good soldier and he was!
How was the shoot for this film?
The shooting experience was hard. We shot it in a time in Vancouver where it was the busiest time, maybe in their film history, with more productions going on at that time than in New York, Los Angeles and Georgia combined.
So we were doing a very ambitious movie with not a lot of money compared to the likes of Deadpool.
The aspects of the experience I enjoyed were having all of the actors come out early for the movie, we went through all the scenes.
My scripts are very detailed and typically the actors know what they are doing and why they are doing it. I don’t get a lot of questions like ‘what is my motivation, why am I doing this’ sort of questions.
Your films are unflinching in the violence we see to the point they’ve not been given an MPAA rating. You must be disappointed that Dragged Across Concrete breaks this streak…?
[Laughs] Was I disappointed by that? Thank you for that question!
No. When I wrote this movie I was like this is an ‘R’ but when writing Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99 I was like these are not ‘Rs’!
I am very self-aware. There are a couple of moments in Dragged Across Concrete I was concerned about, namely a scene where someone had to retrieve a key…
There were a couple of other moments that were meant to be more graphic than they ended up being.
It has a little more action than proportion than guys talking than the first two movies do. The action is a little less graphic just because of the nature of it. You have a bunch of bare handed people in a prison than well-armed criminal and police moving around in the city.
It doesn’t lend itself to the close quarters disgusting-ness nor would it quite be the same as being stuck in a cave with a bunch of troglodytes.
So are you starting to soften in your films? Is a Rom-Com on the cards next…?
[Laughs] The next project is a really different piece. It is called Hug Chickenpenny and takes place in a world similar to ours but a little bit off in some ways. There’s a bit of Elephant Man in there but it is a really big departure from these three films.
In general I like doing pictures and writing stories that have this amount of meanness in them, tension and antagonism.
But there’s other things I am interested in particularly science-fiction and straight up horror. The next one will be different but not a rom-com.
And will this be a film or a mini-series for a streaming service?
Well, perhaps. We don’t have this thing set up yet. I’ve got a bunch of the cast lined up for it, you’ve seen a lot of these people in Brawl in Cell Block 99 and Dragged Across Concrete but we are still looking for a couple of key elements.
If it is my next project it will be very long, quite a bit longer than this [Dragged Across Concrete]. So what I need to do is decide who offers me the way to get it done with the right amount of control.
I think what you are making reference to is I wrote a limited series, a Western, is the piece I intend to do after Hug Chickenpenny. That was written as a limited series and is over 6 hours and that’s not an amount of time I want anyone to sit in a movie theatre.
That one will be a limited series. I think three and a half hours is about the most I could ask someone to sit there and expect the experience not to be hard by how long you are stuck in a chair watching it continuously.
Dragged Across Concrete is in cinemas on April 19th