Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion Interview on “Becky”
Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion made an impact with their movie Cooties back in 2014 and then they cast Dave Bautista in the impressive Bushwick in 2017; their latest movie entitled Becky is a revenge movie about a teenager’s weekend at a lake house with her father that takes a turn for the worse when a group of convicts wreaks havoc on their lives.
The two directors stopped by to chat with The Action Elite about the movie.
Becky has rapidly become one of my favourite movies of the year; how did it come your way and what appealed about it?
Jonathan: Basically, it comes to that we just love this type of movie – revenge/thrillers and we wanted to make one. This came to us with that premise – a 13-year-old girl taking revenge which we hadn’t really seen before. We’ve seen like Home Alone and tons of women exacting revenge but never a young girl with this type of intense violence. So, we saw that and we just wanted to make that premise fulfilled. We wanted to take that to the next level so every time she exacts revenge it’s something you’ve never seen before. We pitched on this script and when we pitched, we did it to develop it more with writers on. So that’s what we did and that’s where it ended up.
Did the story change any from when you first saw the script?
Jonathan: I think when we read the first one it had that base; that kind of idea but we actually took it and really developed the characters and Becky’s arc making sure that she had motivation. We didn’t want it to be at any point “why didn’t she just run away?” We wanted her to have a clear need for revenge and a clear purpose in that. So that was a big part of what we developed with the writers and just making sure that when she takes out these guys they’re shocking, surprising and she’s doing it with things you can find around a lake house. It’s just really fun and intense in that world.
Potentially stupid question here but how does it work having two directors on a movie? What is your process?
Cary: That’s actually not a stupid question at all; I think in the history of movies it’s mostly been one director and the way we’ve worked it out is a kind of cool way where one of us will lead and Jon led this movie. The other one will sort of be cast as the superstar co-director in a sense that we’re able to prep a lot together. We prep everything together to make sure that we can make the best movie that we can. Then once we actually start filming the lead (in this case Jon) he spends most of his time with the actors; he has his monitor to kind of look at things with the cinematographer filming the scenes and I stayed in Video Village looking at the big monitor. We have com techs in our ear so we can communicate with each other and in the other ear we have the sounds so we can hear the actors. Jon and I would be able to discuss things as they went along. I’ll be able to kind of make sure that everything is looking good on the big screen. Jon would really focus on getting the performances and ensure that the tone is working across the whole movie. We get to move really quickly on a small production like this and it makes things happen in a cool way. It’s something that we’ve developed with ourselves that we feel works well in this kind of situation.
How did Kevin James get involved with Becky and was he always the first choice to play Dominick?
Jonathan: it’s a very interesting story because originally we did have Simon Pegg as that character which is strange because with Lulu we had her right from the start; we knew that we wanted her to play Becky because she just WAS Becky always. We really like the idea of playing against type which is why we liked the idea of someone like Simon Pegg playing this Neo Nazi escaped prisoner. There were scheduling conflicts which happens a lot in this industry and he had to bail. At that point we had Kevin involved as the dad so when Simon Pegg left Kevin saw that that space was open and threw his hat in the ring. We were more than happy to talk to him about it and the more we talked to him and the more we thought about it the more it made sense. It was definitely in line with our original thinking for the role and it just ended up being great because not only does the idea of Paul Blart playing a Neo Nazi (which sounded crazy and awesome to us) really subvert viewer’s expectations but he also does have this physicality and intensity especially with the way he looks in this movie with the shaved head and big beard. It was just Kevin James as you’ve never seen him before.
Cary: he also wanted to tackle a role in a way that he hadn’t had a chance to before; he wanted to try his dramatic chops. We’ve felt that he was a very charismatic guy and we felt that we could bring the audience into his world and make us believe that he could do these things. It starts to subvert expectations when he does some really evil things; that was something that was really interesting to us.
Interesting about Simon Pegg as he has just done that movie Inheritance which is a darker role than we’re used to seeing him do…
Cary: Yeah! Creative people, we all want to try different things out and anyone who gets pigeonholed they want to try and explore those things. We appreciate that as we always want to explore different ideas.
I thought Lulu Wilson was a revelation and she can say so much with just her eyes; why was she the perfect choice for Becky?
Jonathan: Yeah, she’s terrifying talent. I think right from the start when we first started following her career with Ouija; this tiny little girl just with an eerie sense of just performance and the way she can get across terror (laughs) and just a wide range of emotions beyond her age is something we just followed from the beginning of her career up until we started working with her. She just blew us away from the table read on through the first day on set to every day on set where she basically saved the production. We have so little time with child actors and we didn’t have to give her 30 takes before we could find it or find the character arc. She knew where she was in terms of the story as we’re filming out of order; she knew how to progress a scene and she could take an intense scene and ramp it up to another level. She’s just amazing across the board.
There is some quality gore (especially the eyeball scene) and very convincing practical effects in the movie; can you talk about working with them?
Jonathan: With this type of movie and that type of violence it has to be as real and tangible as possible; seeing a bunch of CG blood or something it’s just not reacting with the actors in a realistic way. It would take you out of it. We really worked hard with our visual make-up effects to make sure the actors had that blood squirting in their face. One of the funny things with the eyeball scene was that we initially had an NC-17 rating and one of the main scenes we had to address was that scene so we made a few strategic cuts with… no pun intended (laughs). We didn’t take out the scene and we didn’t remove so much that it wasn’t what we intended but it’s just a matter of nipping and tucking it in a way that gets it down to not blowing the MPAA’s mind. So that was the scene we had to address in order to get that R rating but I think it’s still pretty intense and was actually one of the most fun scenes to shoot on set. With Kevin James yelling and screaming and acting in pain those moments on set you’re kind of wondering “are they really in pain?” because they’re acting so intensely. They’re really just tapping into something animalistic almost that it’s hard so once you yell “Cut” or you’re afraid to yell “Cut” because you don’t know if they’re actually in pain or if it’s part of the scene. Then you yell “Cut” and you hear Kevin laughing and cracking up. The whole crew can just release the tension and just start laughing along with him. It’s hard because you can’t laugh during the scene and you can’t show any shock otherwise, you’ll ruin the scene. It’s really fun and intense to film that.
I love the music score from Nima Fakhrara; what were you looking for in terms of the music?
Jonathan: Oh we just love Nima and I think the most difficult aspect for him was helping us deliver on the tone. Like you said you’re looking at violence and gore, but we still wanted it to be fun. We didn’t want it to be so oppressively dark that you’re watching it and you have that feeling of just overwhelming *makes throwing up sound*. So finding that tone was really helped with the score; Nima took the direction of something contradictory like we just said which is gory but fun and that’s how you always try and describe a tone by putting two contrasting words together. That’s fine when you’re talking about it and easy as a director to talk about but really difficult to execute especially for a composer or someone making the score. He took all these really cool different instruments; sounds like breathing, using toys to make percussion and all these weird things to create these intense sounds. It also gave it a driving, fun tone that really just helps us nail that attitude and feeling that we wanted.
Is the score going to be commercially available to buy?
Jonathan: Yeah, I believe so.
Cary: Yep, it will be.
When scripts come your way what do you like to jump off the page?
Jonathan: It can be different for everything; sometimes it can just be the characters and their arcs and something different in that sense. Something we can really grasp a hold of but I think what really happens is we read so many scripts that it’s those unique moments in those scripts whether it’s the premise like in this case where we just loved the character of Becky, the character of Dominick and the premise of a 13-year-old girl exacting revenge which was something we hadn’t seen before. It’s kind of like all those things have to come together and it might not be any one in particular but if something is unique then that usually grabs our attention. Surprisingly even with all the scripts we read it’s few and far between where you find something that you really have never seen before.
What would you like audiences to take away from Becky?
Jonathan: I think where we are at this day and age we are really focussing on the cathartic release; just kind of having a bit of fun with the movie and stepping outside of what is going on with the world. Tuning into Becky and tuning out of the world because there is some reference to what’s going on in the world right now. I think you can maybe live through Becky’s revenge as a way of having some release.
Cary: There’s that factor about how violence can impact people in different ways and I think we can see how it can impact a young girl who has had some issues in the past but also see how it affects a grown man like with the character of Apex. He’s had to do violence in his past and doesn’t want that anymore so I think it’s an interesting exploration about how violence can affect people in the different parts of their lives in a really unique way.
Any future projects you’re working on?
Jonathan: Yes! We always have a few we’re working on but nothing specific that we want to highlight right now but if you’re in line with our kind of intense/thriller/action/violence (laughs) then we’re developing a few things.
Thanks for taking time to chat and best of luck with the movie.