Interview: Macon Blair & Jeremy Saulnier "Blue Ruin"

Photo Credit: © Courtesy of Sundance Institute
July 29th, 2014

One of the biggest films to hit the festival scene this year is a film called “Blue Ruin”. If you’ve heard of it, watch it. If you haven’t heard of it, watch it! This film is absolutely fantastic. It is not your everyday revenge story. Liam Neeson won’t be using his years of tactical training on anybody or anything like that. The main character Dwight’s distraught, enraged actions will seem so realistic that you will find yourself taken back at what it means to be obsessed with revenge. The film was directed by Jeremy Saulnier and stars Macon Blair as Dwight. Both of these talented men were gracious enough to sit with us here at The Movie Network and tell us all about this film.

Nick Leyland from The Movie Network: One of my favorite parts in this whole film is the beard. So let's talk about Macon's amazing beard, first of all was it real? Did you shave it all off?

Macon Blair: It was and I did. It was never really an option to do a fake beard anyway, even if we did have the resources to do a realistic looking fake beard.Grow the beard, and we'll build the production schedule around it. Yeah, it did it's job very well. But I'd be lying, if I said it wasn't a real thrill to finally get to shave it off when it came time for that. It's hot.


TMN: Well, yeah, you had like a homeless beard going on.

Macon Blair: Yeah, we just let it grow out for several months and let it go. And it looked great for the part, I was delighted with that, but I'm a sloppy eater, so it smelled like milk. And it felt great when we got to shave it off. We went up to Jeremy's hotel room and had a little shaving party and photographed it in increments disappearing. So we have this sort of reverse time-lapse of my face getting gradually more and more denuded.


TMN: I haven't seen a movie like this in a while where the main character doesn't really say anything for quite a while. I think your first line is... You're like in the grocery store or something and you ask for stamps. So Jeremy, why did you choose to do that? And what pressure did that put on you, Macon?

Jeremy Saulnier: Yeah. I was just so tired of hearing people talk in movies. In the indie world, there was a lack of traditional visual story telling. And I just wanted to do something a little different, and I felt sort of native to what I wanna do and why I got into this business, which is getting to tell stories through the camera. And it wasn't so much like an exercise in silent film making, it was all about not having exposition and having characters only talk amongst themselves, not for the benefit of the audience. But Dwight is a solitary figure, and so it was just a very natural extension of that where Dwight was alone. And so he couldn't be talking, I didn't want him muttering to himself and all about him sort of taking refuge from society and lived out his life on the beach sort of scavenging. And he was just basically native to the environment. He's a quiet person, and he was alone. So it just worked out great. That was his lifestyle. So it's even referred to, in Dwight's biggest dialog scene of the movie, he even refers to that he's not used to talking, and so he's gonna just sort of offput by the traditional over-the-shoulder dialog exchange in movie kind of like little reference there, this is not his world, the talky world.


Jeremy Saulnier: So yeah, I thought it was a fun challenge. I built the whole thing around Macon, 'cause I knew what he could deliver on this physical level. And I totally trusted his efforts there, and he's really amazing just to watch. And his eyes were vulnerable, and he just has this sort of inherent ability, the timing for physical comedy, for everything that you can't teach. And so I knew that going in, so I was not scared at all.

Macon Blair: I mean the physical stuff is very comfortable to me, and it's the sort of thing I'm kind of used to, big dialog-driven scenes with lots of subtext and everything like that is something I just haven't gotten the chance to do that extensively in the past. If anything was daunting about the movie, it was the probably the talking, as opposed to the not talking, but yeah mainly the pressure was self-created, because I knew that Jeremy and his wife had invested a big chunk of the budget, like the vast majority of the budget, was their own personal saving. And so that just knowing that, I ended up putting a lot of pressure on myself to not stink up the joint, because their house was on the line.


TMN: You looked so paranoid in every scene. You reminded me of a teenager the first time he smokes marijuana or something, like the way that he was just sort of freaked out all the time.

Macon Blair: Oh, that was just like, "Don't f%$# it up or Jeremy's kids won't go to college," that's all it was, it had nothing to do with the story. It was all external.

TMN: Speaking of the story, Jeremy, where did the story come from? Was this your imagination or was it inspired by some event that took place or something?

Jeremy Saulnier: No it was just kind of a way to piece together the kind of story that Macon and I wanna tell, which is dark crime scenarios. But to scale it down to a world that we were familiar with, and also putting Macon in front of the camera, so it was really a combination of motives and desires, and Macon had written a couple of scripts that I was really interested in making, but they were just far too expensive for us to make on our own, and they also had cast demands that we couldn't fill.

And so I was like, "We can still do dark crime and we can still put Macon in front of the camera, but we have to make it more grounded and have this miscast character out of his depth." That's why that sort of frightened look on his face, 'cause Dwight is indulging in this act, and he looks quite different for the first 18 minutes of the movie. It's after the fact, when he sort of abruptly completes his revenge mission, that's when he's totally out of his depth, 'cause he never thought he'd survive the encounter. He never thought he'd get past that. So he has to now live in the world where there's consequences, and he's sort of shaken out of his trance that he's been in for the last 17 years.

It's all about grounded-ness and making it so we could make this film physically in our world and believable. And so it's sort of a natural extension of all that together, have your genre cake and eat it too [laughter] by making sure, you use only the ingredients that were already in your cabinet.

TMN: Now, it is a darker story, obviously. And let's talk about the violence in the film. Now, when do you feel like violence is appropriate in a film? And how did you guys go about making it so real? Especially the bathroom scene. I mean it shook me because it seemed so real.

Jeremy Saulnier: I'm conflicted nowadays. And it started, as I was writing "Blue Ruin," where I'd sat down to write a more exploitation-geared movie, 'cause I love kung fu flicks, I love action flicks, I love horror flicks, and cinematically I'm not ashamed of my blood lust. The problem is, in the last decade or so, it's just gone crazy like as far as American's gun fetishes and the mass shootings post Columbine, it kinda polluted my cinematic safety world.

So it just mellowed me. So in "Blue Ruin," it's a violent story that's what we signed up for. But the rule was to make sure that it didn't go down easy. It wasn't cause for celebration and that when there was a loss of life, there would be reverence for it and respect. And it would have a narrative reason for being there, because I just think, and I said this before, but it is true, I like movies that have stakes of life or death just because of the heightened stakes. I think they're elevated experiences, it's very hard to have a thriller when there isn't a life or death situation, and yeah, I thought as long as we respected the fact that every character in this film is human and that a loss of life wasn't to be celebrated that we were just gonna worry about the story and not so much as the violence.

I had a revelation that my next film is far more violent than what I'm getting off the ground now. And I'm still conflicted, but I had the same rules. It has to have a narrative impact and reason, it has to have some kind of symbol behind it, and then the revelation was I watched a bit of "The Hunger Games," and I was like, "Holy s&^%! "The Hunger Games" is twice as violent as any film I'll ever make." The reason is how it's handled. I think it's key, it's easy for people to point to films like "Blue Ruin" and talk about the violence in it, because it seemed so real.

But I think what's more disturbing is when you can watch a movie for two hours and see 30 people die and not give two s%^&$, not feel the impact. It's just part of the fun movie world where people die, and there's no consequence. So the flip side to it all, I think Bounce and Blue Ruin, although brutal and has the emotional weight, is more responsible than violence in films like "The Hunger Games," or "White House Down," or a long list of standard Hollywood movies.

TMN: People going on a revenge mission, I feel like, are gonna be more like Dwight than what Hollywood portrays. Do you agree with that, Macon?

Macon Blair: Absolutely, that was kind of the concept from the beginning, and it feels kinda tired saying it again, but it's just it's true, which is that Jeremy had this concept for a revenge movie, and he said that I was gonna be the guy in it, and initially I just really thought that that was a poor idea, because I was thinking of the types of movies that I think you just referred to, where the revenge hero is very skilled and capable, and he's gonna carry out his mission in a very precise way, and he's gonna do it all in spectacular bad ass fashion.

And this was meant to be the very opposite of that where it's a very real guy who's got no skills, he's got no training, he's just got like a big reservoir of sorrow and rage, and he's lashing out in a really sloppy way and the whole idea was what would happen in the real world with a person like that? Like would everything line up neat and would he get a big perfectly-timed confrontation with like the objects of his hatred? Or would it all be messy and ill-timed and sloppy? And would he make these really bad mistakes? And just would it veer all over the place?

And so I thought that was an interesting sort of take on what otherwise would be the type of movie that we've all probably seen a dozen times before like, "You killed my family, I'm gonna get you for it."

It's pretty tired, but I think Jeremy found a way to approach that in an unusual way. So yeah.

TMN: Now, I'm sure you've been asked this question several times since the movie came out, but what's your take on the significance of the title?

Jeremy Saulnier: Well, my approach to film-making, again, it's... I'm an open book. There was an excel sheet of 40 titles. It's just very important to us and I don't want to re-brand a movie, I wanted to pick one title and stick with it. And then you have like a pre-production campaign, a Kickstarter campaign, and a release campaign. If you change the name, you kinda lose game. So it's very important to me to have a title go in. And we had some cool contenders, but I was researching on the internet, and I came across the term "Blue Ruin" when I input the word "debacle."


Jeremy Saulnier: And as we were close on other titles, it kind was of too aggressive, too masculine, too bad ass for me. I had no idea where this film would end up, but I knew it would be at some sort of film festivals for the premiere, as far as Cannes or being picked up by Radius, being released better than I ever imagined, didn't think like going in. But I knew that the most beautiful part of this process would be the first time it was premiered, having no foreknowledge of like what was happening. This movie is kind of a bizarre trip that takes these left turns and takes a while to get your bearings, because you realize this is not your typical revenge scenario. It's much more emotional and again grounded.

So basically, It was very important for me to have a more than melancholy vibe to have a feminine tone to it, but still into the entirety of the movie. So basically, when I saw the word "Blue Ruin," I was like, "That is f%$^#&# perfect." It does happen to line up with the color palate, the car especially as a recurring motif. Again, we're talking about titles incessantly, I texted that title to Macon, and he was like, "That's it."

And so we knew instantaneously like, we have found a title, but it was after a very wide net was cast, much brainstorming was done. It was chosen because of its relation to the word "debacle," that's another term for it, but it did line up perfectly with the car, the ocean theme, the melancholy vibe, the tragedy of the story. So it was again a very complicated process, but it did brand it perfectly, and so we stuck with it all the way through, even though there was four other blue movies that subsequently were released right when our film came out.

TMN: I thought it was about the car, which is really funny, because I was like, "Are they talking about that old Pontiac?"


TMN: What ever happened to that car?

Jeremy Saulnier: It's sitting in my mom's driveway, the house where I grew up, the house where we shot the big night invasion sequence. Still hanging out in that driveway. We can't quite get rid of it.


TMN: I also noticed, you didn't do any flashbacks in the film, which I thought I was gonna get throughout the film, which never came, but I actually enjoyed it without them.

Macon Blair: Yeah, I think that was a really wise move on Jeremy's part, because a flashback would have contextualized everything so concretely and regardless of if it happened early or late, you would have been very definitively on Dwight's side. He would have been the black and white hero, and this way, where you kind of find these out piecemeal or not at all, you kind of filling in the blanks yourself, it keeps it a little more ambiguous. And I think to Jeremy and certainly to me, it's kind of more interesting that way to kind of not make it so overt, but Dwight is a hero on a mission. It's kind of a little more gray than that.

TMN: Hey, thanks guys so much for talking with me. Those were great answers. I really appreciate it.

Macon Blair & Jeremy Saulnier: Thank you man. We enjoyed it. I appreciate it.