S. Craig Zahler talks directing Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn in tough thriller Dragged Across Concrete...
Arriving in cinemas this week is tough and uncompromising crime thriller Dragged Across Concrete, which sees Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn teaming up to star.
Gibson plays Brett Ridgeman and Vaughn is Anthony Lurasetti, two policemen who find themselves suspended when a video of their strong-arm tactics gets leaked into the media.
Low on cash and with no other options, these two embittered soldiers descend into the criminal underworld, looking for a fast buck. Sadly, it doesn't work...
Tory Kittles, Michael Jai White, Jennifer Carpenter, Laurie Holden, Fred Melamed, Udo Kier, Thomas Kretschmann and Don Johnson co-star alongside Gibson and Vaughn.
Z. Craig Zahler, who directed Bone Tomahawk and Brawl In Cell Block 99, which also starred Vaughn, is on writing and directing duty here.
As it arrives on DVD shelves, we spoke to Zahler about making the film, why it was such a tough shoot and the progress of his various future projects...
Where did the idea for Dragged Across Concrete come from? Have you been working on the idea for a few years?
"The idea came from the reservoir that almost all my ideas come from, which is my affinity for a certain kind of fiction, in this case, crime fiction. When you walk into my apartment, you’ll see a poster for The Killing and a poster for Sweet Smell of Success. As a kid, I think I watched Prince of the City probably more than 20 times. That remains one of my all-time favourite movies. I’m also a fan of Fargo - the movie and the terrific TV series. Then it’s figuring out what I want to do that makes sense for me. I like to play with a horror atmosphere in all these pictures, I just think it enhances it. Also, I wanted to put this story on a much bigger scale than my previous two pictures."
Why was that?
"I’d made Bone Tomahawk, and after that, I was trying to set up Brawl in Cell Block 99; and while I was trying to set up Brawl in Cell Block 99, I started coming up with this idea. I had the idea of Ridgeman, I had the idea of Henry Johns, I had the idea of Anthony. Then I started building it out. I think it was probably December of 2015 I came up with the idea and then I wrote it in the month of January, plus a couple of days. It was either 32 or 33 days to write. A script is typically a month."
"I just wanted my own entry into the crime genre that could kind of stand alongside some of these pictures. I wanted to have something that would last, and that would also show my unique approach and my interest in idiosyncratic characterization and also delve a little deeper into more complicated plotting than I did on the first two pictures."
The budget for this film was $15 million, which was a big step up from what you’ve done before, did that make any difference to how you approached the production? Did it give you a bit more time to work with?
"Theoretically, the increase in budget should’ve made this shoot easier. It was actually much, much harder. Some of that just had to do with we were shooting in the wrong place at the wrong time. The movie suffered in our ability to pick the crew people we wanted, or even track down the crew people we wanted. It was a much larger budget, but the movie was really ambitious. I was able to have more days to shoot, which facilitated me shooting a script of this size."
Was it a long shoot?
"It was a 42-day shoot, and the movie is 2 hours and 40 minutes so it’s getting into the realm of where it’s almost two feature-length movies that you’re doing in that time. A lot of different scenes and all the car stuff was complicated. That bigger budget certainly should have made the shoot easier, but, because of the actual circumstances of the shoot and when we were doing it, it was the hardest of the three, and at times a life-shortening experience. It was not a pleasant film to make. I should clarify immediately, I enjoyed working with the actors. This has nothing to do with any of the performers. Almost all of them are people I would gladly work with again."
You’d worked with Vince Vaughn on Brawl in Cell Block 99, was he your first choice to play Anthony from the get-go?
Originally when I wrote the piece I had a different image in my mind for Lurasetti. A little younger, actually, a notably short guy. It was originally in the screenplay that he was short. And Vince Vaughn at, 6’4, 6’5, is obviously not short. My casting of Vince in that role came from my great working relationship with him on Brawl, and that working relationship is because he’s a great guy. Even more so, he’s a terrific actor with a lot of versatility and I knew he could do the role."
Did that casting choice change the character?
"I started to think about him in that role and some of the shifts that would happen by putting a person with his presence and his size in that role, and it was good for the script. Certainly Vince Vaughn is not the person people would’ve thought of for that role in Brawl in Cell Block 99, if they read that script, and then you see what he lands there. Anthony, in some ways, is probably a little closer to Vince. Weirdly, Vince Vaughn’s middle name is Anthony and he was just terrific in the part. It was a shift that came from my good working relationship with him, and I think he’s fantastic in the movie."
When did Mel Gibson come into the picture? Is he someone you’ve always wanted to work with?
"When I was in sixth grade I drew Mad Max comic books. I’ve been a fan of his since childhood. I’ll admit my Mad Max comic books had a lot of him riding around on a turbo-powered skateboard, which is probably not the most faithful of adaptations. But I’ve been a fan of his for such a major part of my life, and with the Mad Max movies and Braveheart being particular favourites of mine, working with him was terrific."
"It was a very, very hard shoot. Harder for him and Tory and Vince than most in terms of the night shoots and all the dialogue and the difficulty with all the technical aspects coming together. At some point, he told me that he’s a good soldier and he is. He’s also an extremely talented director, and directs in a very different style than the manner I direct, but he was completely comfortable letting me do my thing and just got on board with the material that I’d written. He came to set every day ready to go."
As well as Vince, you worked with Don Johnson, Udo Kier and Jennifer Carpenter on Brawl in Cell Block 99, was it an easy decision to ask them back?
"Sure! Also, let me point out, Fred Melamed, who is in all three of the movies. These are performers who I all think are terrific, who all bring different things to the table. I think Jennifer’s work is the deepest I’ve seen from probably any performer. She’s unbelievable. I ask a lot of her and she delivers even more. Udo is such a charismatic and strange presence. Don Johnson is so comfortable with being in scenes not showing technique and taking his time, and he’s the most charismatic person I’ve ever met."
"And Fred Melamed is just a terrific character actor with a great voice and he’s doing three distinctly different guys in all my movies. When you bring on people who you’ve always admired and want to work with, and they deliver at or above what you were hoping, and they happen to be good people who you like working with, why not bring them back? I suppose the additional answer to that question is that all four of those people plus Vince Vaughn have roles in my next picture. They were asked back again!"
What was the hardest day on set?
"All of the car stuff was very difficult. It was very slow going setting it up. We did not have the budget that Deadpool 2, which was shooting at the same time, had. Whereas they had 150 people locking up avenues so they could shoot and do exactly what they wanted, we would have two people, and sometimes no people, doing that sort of stuff. Anytime the performers got in cars it became a lot more complicated because our resources were stretched so thin."
"We were just trying to find the spaces. It would be painful when you’d get actors on a roll and a good take and then we’d have to stop at a red light because we weren’t able to control that and it blew the take. That was an ongoing thing in the movie that presented a lot of logistical problems because we couldn’t control the area the way we wanted to."
After this, you’re taking your own novel Hug Chickenpenny to the big screen, what’s it been like adapting your own novel?
"One can assume when adapting my own work it will be the most faithful adaptation ever. Unlike most of my pieces, which were conceived rather recently, Bone Tomahawk and Brawl In Cell Block 99 were written in 2011, and Dragged was written at the beginning of 2016. Hug Chickenpenny has been alive for me as a character, and that world has been real for me, for a very long time. I first conceived of this character and this world in 1997."
"Then I wrote it out as a script probably 15 years ago. Then about four years ago I turned that back into a novel. So it started as a novel in 97, became a script, and then it became a novel again, and then I turned that novel into the shooting script. The shooting script is actually a tiny bit longer than the novella. It will be over three hours if everything works the way I hope it will."
That's an epic...
"It’s a pretty long experience. Adapting it is pretty simple. I’m really faithful to what’s there. There are probably about 20 or 30 things that work better in a novel than in a script and I adjusted those things. Particularly when there’s a passage in the book that’s describing what a person is thinking, I want to externalize that so you can see it visually. Also, I cleaned the dialogue up a little bit more, and altered a little of the dialogue that I knew was going to Fred Melamed—as tends to be the case—and I’m very happy with it. There is no piece I’ve written that I like as much as that one. It’s a standalone favourite in all its incarnations and it’s a very, very different piece."
How is casting going? Do you have an idea on when production will start?
"We’ve got Vince Vaughn, Don Johnson, Udo Kier, Fred Melamed and Jennifer Carpenter back. Right now we’re looking for other performers, and when there are people locked in I’m certain we’ll announce it, but that undertaking is happening at this moment."
"I’m hoping that production happens sometime in the fall. It could be winter. Again, it’s complicated setting up a movie the way Dallas Sonnier does for me, which allows me to have all the creative control. It involves cobbling together a lot of different financial resources to put the movie forward. But my hope would be fall or winter of this year."
Do you have an update on your novels Wraiths of the Broken Land and Mean Business on North Ganson Street? Wraiths was lined up for Ridley Scott and Mean Business had Leonardo DiCaprio and Jamie Foxx attached to star. Are they any closer to production?
"None that I’m aware of. I know that Drew Goddard did his version of Wraiths of the Broken Land and I heard it was not quite faithful, but I’ve not yet read it, and I don’t know if that’s moving forward at all. Mean Business on North Ganson Street has just sort of been hanging around, sitting at Warner Brothers."
"I worked on that for a while and then all the momentum there stopped. These are some of the reasons that I take all my own pieces forward, and I believe more in my own pieces than the ones I hand over to other people. It’s a different drive and there’s more likelihood that they’ll get done."