Let me ask, is there really such a brain disorder? Does this exist? ^ Yes, it does exist and that’s what got my brother into the story originally. He’d been taking a psyche course at Georgetown and had just been fascinated by the disorder. We did not research it too heavily, because we weren’t interested in any kind of medical reality – particularly because I wanted to see the condition from his point of view. He views it as absolutely controllable, and simple in a way. Real life is a lot more messy and I did enough research to realize how little of the way the brain works is understood. It’s pretty frightening.
To some degree, aren’t we all afflicted with the same disorder? I mean a very small degree, but we forget, or we remember things differently than they may have actually happened. ^ Well, this is the thing: Anybody who sees the film and questions me about the sort of uncertainties of memory and how hard it kind of pushes us. So you look at your life and you say, OK how many times have you had the argument with your wife or girlfriend, or whatever, how many times have you passionately argued about what was said literally five minutes earlier? This happens to us every f*****g day, and you have that thing where I’m gonna get a tape recorder and I’m gonna record the conversation because then I’ll play it back to you and you’ll hear what you said. And you both are convinced you’re right. We all deal with this every day, but we somehow never let it get under our skin.
You said the film was made very easily. How did you secure the funding and get it made so quickly? ^ I got it made apparently so quickly because I was writing the script as I was finishing “The Following” once I’d moved to LA 3 1/2 years ago. By the time we did our first film festival for The Following I was actually sending the script out to agents and trying to secure representation and producers at that point. So right after San Francisco New Market optioned the script. I’d shown an early draft to a guy over at New Market to a guy called Aaron Ryder, and he’d given me some suggestions. Then when I had my first sort of official draft he got them to step up and option the script. So really just as Following was beginning to get out there on the festival circuit we were actually kind of already moving with Memento. That’s one of the ways it seems to have happened fast. Then it was simply a question of financing it independently through foreign sales, partnered with a great foreign sales company, in this case, Sonnet Entertainment. And then putting together some recognizable names to put together a fantastic cast so people would look at it and say, “this is going to be great.”
You put together an amazing cast. How did you put together the cast that was in the film? ^ The cast that was in the film we put together in very much the conventional way. I didn’t want to go in thinking about particular actors, but what did happen with the script was that certain agencies, certain actors got really interested in it, because it’s clearly a role that you can get your teeth into. And in getting that kind of interest, suddenly everybody starts to pay attention to the script, which is great. What that allowed to happen is for it to go through the conventional channels, which Team Todd who came on as producers were able to get it through the agency system and get it to the actors and that’s key. Guy Pierce, I had not really put together the Guy Pierce of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” with Guy Pierce of “LA Confidential.” So when I started thinking about him in the role and saw him do these two incredible characters I thought well anybody who can do those two things can do anything he wants. He read the script – the next day he wanted to meet, and you know I sat down with him and as soon as I sat down with him it was very clear that this is exactly the actor I need. Someone who’s seen the possibilities of this and wants to create a new character, and that’s a very exciting thing as a director. It was very clear as soon as I met him that he was going to be the guy for the job. In fact, in retrospect it would have been very difficult to make the movie with any other actor, because we had to shoot the whole film in 25 1/2 days. And because he’s in almost every shot his efficiency and his approach to logic, and his insistence on shooting all the insert work himself, you know there’s all his hands or his body parts, everything is him. That speeded up things up incredibly.
Let me ask about the tattoos, big part of the movie. Really simple question how was that technically done? ^ It’s one of these difficult things where as the director you don’t know quite what’s going to happen. What it is, the production designer came up with these, basically they’re transfer sheets. You have like 20 or 30 printed up by this specialist company with all the different words and all the rest and you come up with this sort of map for putting them all on. So you apply them as transfers, like the ones you had when you were a kid, you know temporary tattoos. They’re meant to last for about two weeks, they last about four hours. They start peeling in bits, so you have to have them painted on. But once again, Guy as an actor who is prepared to come in early with a makeup artist, because he knew the detail in which we were going to shoot these things. I made it very clear to him we want his point of view, we want looking at intense detail on this. So he was prepared to come in early and have these touched up anytime we needed them. Which saved our lives, I mean it would have been impossible otherwise. It’s frightening almost, to look back and see how much I was depending on the enthusiasm and skill of people like Guy.
Now, the story seems simple on the surface when you just might tell someone the one line description of the film. Yet, it’s like an onion, that you just keep peeling back the layers. The more layers you peel off the more you realize there are more layers to the story. ^ Yes and the layers present themselves, I think, not in conventional story terms. It’s a very simple story as you say. The intention, by putting the audience into the position of the protagonist, basically what you wind up doing is taking a very simple story and telling it in an incredibly complicated way. What I think that allows to happen, not only obviously we get to experience the sort of frustration and confusion, but it also makes you look at the story in different ways. It makes you uncover different things as you said it’s more along the lines of interesting narrative connections between story elements rather than complicating the story itself. For me it’s a very interesting comparison to take this film and compare it with, in story terms, something like “Marathon Man” or “Chinatown,” but these were incredibly complicated stories that are made to seem simple, so you think you’ve understood it in the end. But if I asked you to explain the plot of Chinatown I’ll bet you can’t, and you’ve seen it five times. So this to me was always a process of looking down the other end of a telescope and really just flipping all of that stuff.
What I think is really cool about it, it seems, at least when you’re first beginning to watch it, it’s just like a plot of a Charles Bronson “Death Wish” movie. It’s just real simple. It’s not that. ^ Well it’s simple in story terms like that, but because you’re looking at it backwards, because you’re looking at it in this totally sort of bizarre prismatic way, with this incredible perceptual distortion, it totally subverts that genre. In retrospect, this is something my brother really pointed out to me when he read the script, because I don’t intend to write in a very conscious way, I tend to really kind of just let it flow, but he read the script and he’s like, you know that’s exactly what I was after in my story, that’s what he was saying. Because it’s this notion of what is revenge, it doesn’t have any value outside of somebody’s head. And this is the perfect story for exploring that. What’s interesting to me is you introduce the beautiful wife that he has the fond memories of, and in so many movies it’s like which reel is she going to die in. Then the hero is allowed to go out and commit otherwise morally questionable acts, but the filmmaker plays this little balancing game with the relative moral values in the movie, so it’s OK for the hero to go out and kick a*s. What we do in this film is we kind of start with that and then subvert that, I think. That leaves people pretty unsettled actually, as to how they should be feeling about the protagonist, which to us was really very much the idea and the appropriate response, because revenge of all subjects for this kind of movie we felt was by far the most suited to this kind of treatment in terms of comparing the subjective to the objective. You know the value of revenge, or the futility of revenge.
We were on a panel at Slamdance a couple years ago and we got into a discussion. The crux of the discussion was about story, and how I felt I see a lot of independent films and the main weakness that seems to constantly come up is the plot. The story, the script, people don’t spend as much time on the script. We got in this argument about it, I’m not sure exactly what happened, but the funny thing is: you’ve written an amazing script. I put it to you that I think you could have made Memento in Super 8 with unknown actors and it would have been incredibly effective. In fact, that was something Tarantino thought about when he was making “Reservoir Dogs” “I’m just gonna shoot it in Super 8. I don’t care, I’m gonna star in it and shoot it in Super 8”, because the script is so strong. What are your comments on that? ^ I think that’s a great compliment to the material and I would like to think you’re right. I think to compare Memento with the previous film that I made, The Following, is interesting in that regard, because “The Following” is entirely narrative driven. I think it’s a pretty good story, I think it’s an interesting comparison with Memento, I think it fulfills a lot of the things you’re saying. A lot of the attributes that you’re saying would make Memento satisfying on Super 8. In “Following,” we shot in 16mm black & white and the story does just keep you going and hammer through and that was the great strength of that material. What I was able to do with Memento with a bigger canvas, because I really wanted to tell the story so subjectively, that gives you an access to a level of sensory immersion for the audience. For me, it kind of lets you take that film to a slightly more powerful place. So, it’s not like you couldn’t do it in Super 8, but you access to this great sound mix and just this clear shot photography that can really show you the textures of where this guy is and really explore that landscape. So I was very glad to be able to do that. As you say, I like to think the story is strong enough that you could treat it in a number of different ways and a number of different formats. What we went for, because we had the resources to, I would have been prepared to shoot it as a much smaller movie, but for me, given that I had access to that, we really tried to use it. We shot the film anamorphic there were no filters or anything like that on the lens. We really aimed at showing you the way he sees it. Really trying to absorb you in that universe.
Carrie Ann Moss is so good in this movie, the turn in her character is fantastic. How is she to work with? ^ She’s fantastic to work with. She shot her whole part for the film in eight days. Which is phenomenal, she’s wonderful to work with. And I think she does something in this film, she shows a side in this film that she hasn’t got to in other movies. I think people who are into her will be very excited by it. I also think her character is one of the most interesting in terms of her character arc viewed in the light of what the underlying chronology is. You see the film the second time you can come up with a very different interpretation of what her character is. That’s kind of fun. She played that beautifully.
What’s your next project? ^ There’s a couple of things I’m working on. I have a project at Warner Bros., it’s called “Insomnia” and it’s a remake of a Norwegian film that came out about three years ago. That’s a big studio movie I’m sort of trying to get going. I also have a project at Fox Searchlight called “The Keys to the Street,” it’s an adaptation of a novel that I’ve been working on for awhile.
Check out FILMTHREAT.com’s INTERVIEW ARCHIVES and read hundreds of fascinating in-depth interviews with directors, filmmakers, actors and celebrities from the world of film!