Writer Director Richard Kelly discusses making Donnie Darko, the new restored 4K version, talks about taking creative risks, teases his next film, ends the speculation about which was the bigger influence Harvey or Watership Down as well as how Frank came about - IN CONVERSATION


Posted by Craig Grobler on Google+ On Sunday, December 18, 2016

Richard Kelly talks making Donnie DarkoThis week has been a bumper week for us as continuing our lucky streak of easing into the festive season on a high note – last year I ended on a high note chatting with Quentin Tarantino and this year round, we end with chatting with Writer Director Richard Kelly about his modern cult classic masterpiece Donnie Darko.

     I must admit watching Donnie Darko for the first time there were elements that hit me right where they should but there were many that didn't - it felt a like a very sophisticated but overly engineered cult film. As much as I appreciated Jake Gyllenhaal's nuanced performance balanced between troubled teen and outright headcase I couldn't quite engage with his damaged character or familial darkness at the time.

     However through a friend who loved Donnie Darko I re-watched it and we had many discussions about the film, through those sessions I grew to love the film and began to fully appreciate the intricate layering of it complect. There are so many cultural, literary, film, musical and tonal references tied into the weave of the tale that it is truly astonishing - it is like a painting with each brushstroke perfectly placed and made from a material that mixes and combines with other rich constituent parts to reveal a portrait of humanity in the throes of existential crises and offers an alternative picture to the 80s suburbia offered up by Hollywood - but it reaches past that, tapping into a much larger sadness and darkness.

     I say modern cult classic as, well, not to labour the point, but there are precious few good cult films that can be found for our viewing pleasure (in proportion to the number of films released a year) and even fewer that have been made in the last 15 years and still even fewer hailing from the United States that have anything near Donnie Darko's cult factor.
     Perhaps unsurprising as increasingly film producers/studios test film concept to the nth degree before committing to finance to a potentially risky proposition - it is afterall Showbusiness and film marketeers have become more savvy and quick to label a film as "cult" when it doesn't have a wider demographic appeal.

     So Donnie Darko is something of an enduring anomaly and possibly the last great American cult film, in the truest sense of the definition.

     A 26 year old Kelly describing Donnie Darko as "Maybe Catcher in the Rye as told by Philip K. Dick," may seem a little arrogant but it is a most apt sentiment.

     I would love to write more about the film, the brilliant performances from an outstanding cast (which merits it's own discussion), the importance of ambient tone and how Kelly creates an unsettling tone of dread or trepidation and explore its meaning but I don't have the time required to do it justice and more importantly the meaning and symbolism of Donnie Darko doesn't need to be analysed and dissected, it always felt like a personal experience to me and I appreciate it thus.

     The whole week I had been buzzing about chatting with Richard Kelly as there is so much I wanted to converse with him about, ultimately I didn't get to chat about everything I would have like to, or in as much depth. But happy for the time he could give to chat with us. And I'm already looking forward to re-watching the restored Donnie Darko as well as eagerly anticipating Richard Kelly's upcoming fourth feature film.


DONNIE DARKO NEW QUAD POSTER
    Donnie Darko New Quad Poster [Enlarge]    


Donnie Darko (2001)

A troubled teenager is plagued by visions of a man in a large rabbit suit who manipulates him to commit a series of crimes, after he narrowly escapes a bizarre accident.

Director:
Richard Kelly

Writers:
Richard Kelly

Stars:
Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, Patrick Swayze, Seth Rogen, Noah Wyle, Drew Barrymore, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Fifteen years before Stranger Things combined science-fiction, Spielberg-ian touches and 80s nostalgia to much acclaim, Writer/Director Richard Kelly set the template and the high-water mark with his debut feature, Donnie Darko. Initially beset with distribution problems, it would slowly find its audience and emerge as arguably the first cult classic of the new millennium.

Donnie is a troubled high school student: in therapy, prone to sleepwalking and in possession of an imaginary friend, a six-foot rabbit named Frank, who tells him the world is going to end in 28 days 06 hours 42 minutes and 12 seconds. During that time he will navigate teenage life, narrowly avoid death in the form of a falling jet engine, follow Frank s maladjusted instructions and try to maintain the space-time continuum.

Described by its director as The Catcher in the Rye as told by Philip K. Dick, Donnie Darko combines an eye-catching, eclectic cast pre-stardom Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, heartthrob Patrick Swayze, former child star Drew Barrymore, Oscar nominees Mary McDonnell and Katharine Ross, and television favourite Noah Wyle and an evocative soundtrack of 80s classics by Echo and the Bunnymen, Tears for Fears and Duran Duran. This brand-new 4K restoration, carried out exclusively for this release by Arrow Films, allows a modern classic to finally receive the treatment it deserves.

     THE ESTABLISHING SHOT: CLASSIC CULT FILM DONNIE DARKO RE-RELEASED 4K TRAILER - 17 DECEMBER 2016    


The Establishing Shot: WRITER DIRECTOR RICHARD KELLY DISCUSSES MAKING DONNIE DARKO, THE RESTORED 4K VERSION, TALKS TAKING CREATIVE RISKS, TEASES HIS NEXT FILM, ENDS THE SPECULATION ABOUT HARVEY & WATERSHIP AND FRANK - IN CONVERSATION

There is hopefully a universal language in the movie that transcends geography, so people identify with the movie in Japan, Australia and France. I hope they can also see the narrative risks or unconventional narrative is something that if they are aspiring artists that they can see some of that in the film and feel emboldened to take more risks in their artistic creation – it's so easy to be complacent and copy what has come before – that's all fine.

But I think if you want to break out and forge an identity for yourself as an artist you have to try take some risks and be bold. If this film can inspire a contemporary artist to do that, that is great and I'm all for that.”
- Writer Director, Richard Kelly 


Writer & Director Richard Kelly on how the concept of Donnie Darko came about    
How did the concept of Donnie Darko come about?

Richard Kelly : 23 Years of life experience and then I just started writing. I had been literally writing for 23 years and then I started typing. Just life and this is what came out I don't know why it did.

     Kelly actually goes into more detail about some of the ideas behind Donnie Darko over here in conversation with The Guardian.


Richard Kelly discusses his thoughts on an upstart financing a film project    
How does a first time director get a film like Donnie Darko made? Can you discuss getting the project off the ground financially.

Richard Kelly : Well, as to how one could pull this off in 2016 that's a whole different story. When we pulled this off – it was the year 2000. When we shot the film it was a completely different world.

Now people can make feature films with one of these [holds up his mobile phone], these didn't exist in the year 2000, we had to go and get a big expensive 35mm Panavision system and film stock, so the business was completely different back then.

As to now - anyone can literally make a film with a phone and get it into competition at Sundance and win awards, its happened. So that's a method, you can at the least do that. If you can afford an iPhone you can make a feature film. I don't know if it's going to be any good – but you can at least try.


RICHARD KELLY on planning a film like Donnie Darko    
Donnie Darko has such depth and is so laden with cross media references weaved together into the narrative that it must have taken a lot of planning to get the intricate structure and composition to flow as smoothly and tightly. Can you discuss the preparation that went into making Donnie Darko.

Richard Kelly : It took years of planning. 23 Years of life experience led to the writing of the script, then all my movies have a significant amount of planning down to every last detail. Because they are very ambitious stories and you can not pull it off, unless you know what you want. And you have everything planned down to the T because you only have 12 hours a day if you are lucky and you'll never get that time back. And they'll never pay you to come back and redo it. Not with movies like this. So we have to have our shit together and make sure you are spending your money and time wisely.

Richard Kelly on the set of Donnie Darko
 Richard Kelly on the set of Donnie Darko [Enlarge]    

Just to expand on the pre-production aspects of planning, what are some of the techniques you use? Storyboards, mood boards, books full of notes?

Richard Kelly : Yea, a little bit of everything. I do a lot of location photography and diagramming camera placement. Storyboarding for certain sequences. I think when you are doing stuff like stunts or you are doing action sequences there is some storyboarding that is necessary, there are other sequences that  storyboarding seems superfluous.

More than anything now, again we have all these digital cameras – you can take a million photographs and you can import them into a system and create panoramas, stitch stuff together there is so much you can do now with the new camera and digital technology it's becoming more of a photography based thing for me.

     Video: Donnie Darko Clip - Imaginary friend    

RICHARD KELLY ON the enduring appeal of a character like Donnie Darko    
Donnie is such a relatable character, what makes him so accessible even after 15 years after the films release?

Richard Kelly : A lot of it has to do with Jake's performance. He gave us an absolutely fantastic performance and he brings empathy to a character who might have ended up being been unsympathetic right? He is running around with an axe, he's lighting people's houses on fire, chewing out his teachers and stuff.

There is a rebellion to the character, an emotional authenticity and maybe an emotional nakedness to the character which is endearing. I think maybe people can see part of themselves in Donnie, that everyone has some degree mental illness, we shouldn't just put that on a small group of people that feel isolated. It should be inclusive and be something that we all relate to this character because he is flawed and because - while he does enter into a world of fantasy and hallucination or supernatural and metaphysical – all of this is based on real human experiences and families, teachers and a community that maybe people can recognise.

I am grateful that people find him sympathetic, that is good.

Jake Gyllenhaal, small victories in Donnie Darko
 Jake Gyllenhaal, small victories in Donnie Darko [Enlarge]    

RICHARD KELLY ON making or remaking a film like Donnie Darko in contemporary times    
If a tangent universe opened up and you were to write and direct Donnie Darko today how different would your approach be in terms of the story as you would have to reflect the recent political elections and today's film-making today?

Richard Kelly : I think I would approach the logic of the tangent universe in the mythology of the time-travel book as it pertains to day's world and I would and I would try to make it authentic to today. I would try to be emotionally honest to what transpires in the story and I would try to be inventive.

I never want to repeat myself, there would be a completely new incarnation of it. I think it wouldn't be the same Donnie Darko. I would never want to reboot myself  or remake myself I always want to move forward.

Jena Malone as Gretchen Ross in Donnie Darko
 Jena Malone as Gretchen Ross in Donnie Darko [Enlarge]    


RICHARD KELLY ON  what he has been doing and what we can expect from his next big screen effort    
What has your main creative output been focussed on and what can we expect to see on the big screen from you next?

Richard Kelly : I have been working on a lot of stuff and it has been a very painstaking process and we have just being trying to make sure that all the elements are in place - for what we need, and for the next film to be a real event – and  to be worth all of this time.

When you spend so much time on something, you have got to get it right and sometimes it takes a lot longer than you thought. But I have been working on a lot of stuff and hopefully next year we will see something concrete finally happen.

Will this be something that your name has been tied to previously? Can you give us a hint at the genre?

Richard Kelly : I think there will be something brand new that you have not heard of before. We are constantly re-arranging the chess board to make sure that the elements are working. A lot of stuff and a lot of stars have to align for a movie to be made particularly these kind of movies which are very challenging and very ambitions. They cost a certain amount I wish they could be made for cheaper but alas I don't control those things.

But we have been working really hard and again I am really grateful that people are so excited about seeing this film on the big screen again because it's reminder that these things are made for the big screen.

As I much as I love sometimes  watching movies on one of these [tapping his phone] they belong on the big screen. We spend so much time making the image look like it does so that it can overwhelm you in a theatre.

I have to say, I recently watched Donnie Darko and I really appreciate the texture that film [celluloid] adds. It's so refreshing in this day.

Richard Kelly : Hopefully when you see the restoration you'll see that it looks better than ever. It really does.

Frank on the links Donnie Darko
 Frank on the links Donnie Darko [Enlarge]    

RICHARD KELLY on the influence Harvey and Watership Down actually had on creating Donnie Darko    
There is still a lot of speculation amongst fans about whether Henry Koster's 1950 film Harvey or Martin Rosen's 1978 film Watership Down was more of an influence on Donnie Darko, can you discuss which was more of an influence for you?

Richard Kelly : I still have not seen Harvey, mainly because everyone asks me about that and now I feel this weird aversion to watching it.

Watership Down had a thematic influence, in the Directors cut obviously Drew Barrymore's character introduces the book into the narrative and we see a clip of the movie on the TV screen in the classroom, but really it was a logic thing – there was a Halloween costume involved and for whatever reason I thought it was going to be a rabbit. I don't know why, just, sometimes these things appear but I can't explain any reason why.


RICHARD KELLY ON what new audiences to Donnie Darko may find    
What would you hope that the millennials or new audiences that haven't seen the film before would take away or appreciate?

Richard Kelly : I hope that they can see that even though the film takes place in 1988 and was made in the year 2000, both election years. That it can still resonate in 2016, also an  election year. That the themes are universal and timeless. Teenagers in 1958 were maybe just as troubled as teenagers in 1988 or  2008 or that teenagers are going to be troubled in 2018.

There is hopefully a universal language in the movie that transcends geography, so people identify with the movie in Japan, Australia and France. I hope they can also see the narrative risks or unconventional narrative is something that if they are aspiring artists that they can see some of that in the film and feel emboldened to take more risks in their artistic creation – it's so easy to be complacent and copy what has come before – that's all fine.

But I think if you want to break out and forge an identity for yourself as an artist you have to try take some risks and be bold. If this film can inspire a contemporary artist to do that, that is great and I'm all for that.

It's great when a new batch of teenagers discover the film, I feel that's really cool. I'm just grateful they don't look at it and go egh! They take it in and listen I was always worried that this film would all of a sudden fall off a cliff. It seems to continue to connect. I joke about it being like the energiser bunny – it just keeps going. Now we've restored it.


There is a rebellion to the character, an emotional authenticity and maybe an emotional nakedness to the character which is endearing. I think maybe people can see part of themselves in Donnie, that everyone has some degree mental illness, we shouldn't just put that on a small group of people that feel isolated. It should be inclusive and be something that we all relate to this character because he is flawed and because - while he does enter into a world of fantasy and hallucination or supernatural and metaphysical – all of this is based on real human experiences and families, teachers and a community that maybe people can recognise.”
- Writer Director, Richard Kelly 


And with that our frustratingly short time with Richard Kelly came to an end, but along with the 15th anniversary restoration Richard Kelly is making a number of exclusive appearances in London kicking off with the 4K Restoration Premiere and Q&A with writer-director Richard Kelly today Saturday 17th December, a special BFI Donnie Darko (Director’s Cut) and extended intro with Richard Kelly on Sunday 18th December ahead of it's general cinema release kick off next week from Friday 23 December.

     Richard Kelly will also be signing copies of Arrow's limited edition 15th anniversary edition of Donnie Darko from 13:30 on Sunday 18 December at the BFI Shop. Check the BFI website links above for more details.

     Slideshow: Donnie Darko 15th Anniversary  4K Restoration Stills    

The Establishing Shot: WRITER DIRECTOR RICHARD KELLY DISCUSSES MAKING DONNIE DARKO, THE NEW RESTORED 4K VERSION, TALKS ABOUT TAKING CREATIVE RISKS, TEASES HIS NEXT FILM, ENDS THE SPECULATION ABOUT WHICH WAS THE BIGGER INFLUENCE HARVEY OR WATERSHIP DOWN AS WELL AS HOW FRANK CAME ABOUT - IN CONVERSATION

Craig Grobler says The Warriors cast comes to the UK for the first time & come out to play at Edgbaston Stadium, Birmingham on 1st & 2nd April 2017 - Upcoming Event
Craig is a retired superhero, an obsessive hobbyist, comics fan, gadget lover & flâneur who knows an unhealthy amount about Ian Fleming's James Bond.

When not watching or making films he takes pictures, eats, drinks, dives, tries to connect to nature whilst mentally storyboarding the greatest film ever made. He also  & sometimes utilises owl-themed gadgets to fight crime. 

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