Interview with Splice Director Vincenzo Natali

Interview: Play in new window| Download

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with the Director of the upcoming film Splice, Vincenzo Natali. It was a fun interview and I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did participating in it.

Ryan: I have been looking forward to this movie for a long time, and even after a week it’s still sticking with me. Was that your intention for the film?

Vincenzo Natali: Yeah, I hope this is a movie that gets under your skin. Absolutely I’m very heartened to hear that.

R:  I know it’s been an even longer time for you, how does it feel to finally see Splice set free?

VN: (Laughs) It’s very hard to express how gratifying it is. It’s because the film was made in a very small way. It was made independently, fist of all it’s a miracle the film was made at all. That in itself was magnificent, but never in my wildest imagining would think a studio would pick it up let alone release it at the height of summer.  It hardly feels real, it’s an utterly surreal experience.

R: I’m excited about that too. Seeing Warner Brothers put their name behind such a different film. Did you feel like your budget forced you to be more creative?

VN: Yeah that is what I’ve learned, constantly. It’s really frustrating and annoying, because I always want more money, but in the end I have to admit that having less makes me a smarter film maker. It forces me to be creative and do things that under normal circumstances I might not be inclined to do. Which ultimately makes the story telling more economical and makes the film more evocative even though it’s a harder process. So, Yeah I think my whole career is based on that advantage because all my films have been very low budget.

R: Like the concept of the film you spliced traditional special effects with CGI, what brought you to that decision, besides the budget?

VN: You know I have to confess even if I had a blank check in front of me I would have gone down the road we went down with this film for the creature effects. I knew that DREN was going to be a character in the movie, she was going to be on screen almost as much as the human players and I just don’t believe, even in a post-Avatar world that you can create a fully digital character that can give the same degree of subtlety to a performance as a human being. I knew I wanted to use actors as much as possible. I also believe the best digital effects begin with something physical. The result is with DREN as a hybrid creature is really a hybrid of many different effects techniques. We just used everything, we threw in the kitchen sink. She’s a puppet sometimes, sometimes she’s an actress, and  sometimes she’s fully digital. It’s just based on where she is in each stage of her evolution.

R: You did a fantastic job, because you can’t even tell it’s low budget and it’s just beautiful through out.

VN: Oh thank you, it really is a testament to the crew. I had a great team.

R: What was the inspiration for DREN’s character design?

VN: The prime directive was make her real. The reasoning behind that was that fact that she could be real. (Laughing) The real world technology is just that close to film. I think in reality DREN could exist it’s just a question of whether people choose to do an experiment like that or not.  I felt it was important with this film to just try and stay on a human scale and not go over the top with the creature design. I was also left under the impression that less is more. Small changes to the human form are more shocking and disturbing than big ones.

R: I can definitely see that and I think Splice walks the political line well. What are your thoughts on the real life implications of cloning or people doing this in real life?

VN: Well, I wouldn’t recommend making a DREN in real life. I think that in a sense the cat is out of the bag, as a species we have always changed our environment and now that the technology exists I’m sure we are going to start changing ourselves. I suppose in some respects we have already.  That’s our future. It’s most commonly referred to as the post-human future. It really is not about whether were going to do it’s really about how we’re going to do it, I think that’s the question the film asks.  How do you deal with something like this. It’s a very loaded topic and there are just so many applications to this technology, most of which I think are very positive and should be pursued. It’s a very gray zone I don’t think there is any way to take a clear black and white view of things its just going to be a very complex issue.

R: I am very left wing, but your mind did open my mind up to what if someone did have ultimate power to do whatever they wanted.

VN: I think it’s more of a comment on my generation or the generation following. That in Sarah and Adrien’s characters we find people that are smarter than they are wise. These are highly intelligent, well-educated people who aren’t all that mature. As a consequence they really make the worst kind of parents. That’s what the film is about in some respects, it’s a coming of age story. It’s about Clive and Elsa growing up, it’s about DREN growing up, it’s about the entire human race growing up. I always believe that the enemy lies within that the true monsters lurks within humans. Those are the demons that we have to fight if we’re going to make the technology work for us.

R: Speaking of Adrien and Sarah how did they come to be involved in the film?

VN: You know, it was just a very straight forward process, they were on the top of my list. Through their agents I got them the script and they just responded to it. I was really lucky I needed a very specific thing for Clive and Elsa. I need actors that you could believe were really geneticists, I needed actors who were courageous enough to take on this material, and do some pretty transgressive things on camera, I needed actors that would be good partners in the making of the film because I didn’t have a lot of money. I got all of those things from them they were just really wonderful partners.

R: Splice reminded me a lot of Frankenstein, what was the inspiration behind the film?

VN: Well, there is definitely an homage to Frankenstein in this film, and a very self conches one Clive is named after Colin Clive and Elsa is named after Elsa Lancaster who are the actors from the original James Whales films.  What sort of started this whole thing was a photo I saw of this thing called the Vacanti mouse. Which is a mouse, a real experiment not a genetic experiment, but a real medical experiment that  a mouse by all appearances had a human ear growing out of it’s back. It wasn’t a real ear and it wasn’t a genetic experiment, but it sure looked like one.  It was such a shocking image, I knew that there was a film in there was a movie in the mouse.

R: With Cube and now Splice I think we can officially call you the king of tension, That being said what has been the reaction to the inter-species love in Splice?

VN: (Laughs) Well as I like to say, I don’t think there is an appropriate reaction, I just don’t think there IS an appropriate reaction to it, but it definitely gets a reaction. At every screening I’ve had the audience essentially goes crazy.  I think it’s partly because at a certain point they start to realize that the film might go down that road but they can’t believe it’s really going to do it. When it does we go all the way with it, they just go nuts. It’s pretty gratifying, I truly did not know what to expect when we made the film. I mean I always knew that it would be a very controversial theme, but I don’t think I ever quite anticipated the level of response that we received thus far.

R: I can tell you that that moment that Adrien looks at DREN, you cover it up with him saying “I can see pieces of you in her,” but I was just sitting there hoping that it would not go the way it went.

VN: (Laughs) I think that’s what horror films should do, I think they should be morally dangerous. They should push the boundaries of what is acceptable, forces us to find our deepest weirdest darkest desires and fears and so on. There is no question that this movie gets pretty damn Freudian.

R: I loved the way you took it, and I completely didn’t expect the second part.

VN: Thank you (laughs)

R: With Cube, Cipher, and Paris, I Love You how did that help you direction-wise with Splice?

VN: I think it’s just a learning curve that anyone goes though when you make a film. It’s such a huge undertaking and there’s so much to know and I just mildly regret that, I’d like to make more movies than I have. Every film I’ve made I’ve learned something from. Cumulatively it all goes into help the other film along. In the case of Splice, while it has taken me a long time to get made, I’m glad the it came along a little bit later. I think maybe as a younger film maker I wouldn’t have been quite a mature with my approach to the subject matter. I tried in directing not to be overly present. I mean I tried not to impose my style on the film too much. I tried not to be too flamboyant; I think my other films tend to be a little too formal in their design. In this one I thought it needed to be lead by the actors a little more. It needed to be a little more altruistic because inherently the film is so shocking that if I went “Terry Gilliam” on it, it would have just gone into the stratosphere; it needed to be grounded. So, yeah it’s a natural pretty organic learning curve.

R: With the cliff hanger ending of Splice, can we expect a Splice 2?

VN: That will be determined by the audience I guess. Honestly I never intended it, that wasn’t my goal. Ending the film ambiguously I just like to end films that way. Were in a very strange place right now with the film, if you had told me three months ago that this film was going to get a major release from Warner Bros. at the height of the summer I just wouldn’t have believed you. I guess it’s not out of reason to believe that there could be a sequel, but that will be determined by how much money the movie makes. What I will say is that if it happens I will be involved. This is very much my baby and I’m not going to hand it over to anyone else. I want to keep it in the family.

R: That’s good because my friends and I still sit around and talk about what happened with Cube and “what is the white light?”

VN: (laughs) You know that’s why I didn’t want to do a sequel to Cube. I was just like where can I go with it? I felt sorry for the people who were doing the cube sequels. It just seemed like that was a film that just wouldn’t sequelize well, because you would have to answer all of these unanswerable questions. Making one film in a cube was plenty for me. I could see Splice, to me the best sequels are different than their predecessors, I think they kind of evolve from the first one and don’t repeat it. With Cube I just thought it will just be a repeat. With Splice it could kind of mutate into something new.

R: Good choice of words. With Paris, I Love you, would you ever consider doing a movie like that again, I mean with multiple directors?

VN: Oh it’s wonderful I would jump at the chance. I mean I had such a great experience. I feel so fortunate to be included, that I felt so much that I didn’t deserve to be included in that group. There were some pretty heavy duty film makers there. I was glad I was, in a way it was almost like being in film school. Everyone was working at the same time, we would comment on each other’s films. There were some filmmakers that I had a great admiration for. I loved the process of making it. Of course shooting in Paris wasn’t too painful either. I would jump at the chance. I like omnibus movies, I always enjoy watching them, and I thought with that particular one the producers were very smart, because they made them very short. They made each film five minutes. I think that when omnibus films start to become tiresome is when they tend to be twenty minutes or longer, because if one of them doesn’t work it just becomes such a drag. With Paris, je t’aime we just bounce so fast that it’s just a more effective formula.

R: I really love that film, and I especially love your section. I’m so glad, being a Cube fan that they decided to put you in it.

VN: Thank you, thank you. You know the French have been very kind to me, they’re the reason why Splice exists. It was a French Cannone da co production, I could have never gotten Splice financed in the United States. We can thank the French or blame the French, depending on what you think.

R: So, What is up next  for you? Besides, the potential for a Splice 2?

VN: I have a couple adaptations I’m working on, one is a James Ballard novel called High Rise. Ballard you probably know from Empire of the Sun and Crash. He really is one of the great writers of the twentieth century. Again this is kind of a dream project of mine. It’s about a super High Rise with a vertically integrated society that collapses. I have another project based on a series of kids books called Tunnels. It’s more of a larger scale fantasy that takes place under the streets of London. Most recently I’ve gotten my claws into Necromancer, which is a very famous William Gibson book. There are things in the works, it’s always a slow process, their all very challenging projects. None of them are easily made, I guess that’s what makes them so much fun.

R: It wouldn’t be fun if it was easy and I don’t think it would be your type of film if it was easy.

VN: No unfortunately that’s my albatross.

R: Well thank you for doing the interview. I have loved talking to you, and I look forward to everything you do and let’s hope Splice does well because it’s the type of movie that needs to.

VN: Ryan, it’s been a pleasure, you had great questions and you said such kind things. DREN thanks you.

R: I don’t know if that is a good thing.

VN: Laughs, thank you so much.

By Ryan Davis

About Ryan Davis

Ryan is the Founder of Lost in Reviews, a member of The Kansas City Film Critic's Circle, and a key component in the movement to digitally restore the 1986 classic film The Gate. Ryan is also the co-host of Blu Monday a DVD and Blu Ray review show which Lost in Reviews co-founder Angela Davis also appears. While he may be a film and music snob, that doesn't mean you can't be friends. Well it could if you don't like the same bands or films he does, overall it might be best to avoid the subject all together.

Follow Ryan Here: