There aren’t many directors in Hollywood with a filmography like David Gordon Green.
In a business where if you’re lucky enough to find a niche you milk it for all its worth, Green jumped from being one of the top rising directors in the independent film world in the 1990s, to now making a diverse array of mainstream movies, from “Pineapple Express” to his latest, “Stronger” (opening in theatres on Friday).
“I always need to change it up,” Green told Business Insider while attending this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. “It’s really satisfying to be able to switch gears.”
Green certainly switches things up with “Stronger,” a look at the life of Boston Marathon bomber survivor Jeff Bauman. Played by Jake Gyllenhaal, we follow Bauman as his life completely changes after he loses both his legs in the bombing, and becomes an unlikely hero in the aftermath.
Green had never made a biopic before, but diving into a new genre has never stopped him. He had never directed a comedy before the Seth Rogen/James Franco stoner comedy “Pineapple Express,” or done TV before directing episodes of HBO’s cult hit “Eastbound & Down.” So when he was approached to come on and help develop screenwriter John Pollono’s adaptation of Bauman’s book, he jumped at the chance.
“I’ve always been curious about what happens when people are involved in a headline news event, what their lives are like afterwards; after the headlines fade,” Green said.
In “Stronger,” he shows the good, bad, and ugly of Bauman’s life after becoming the face of “Boston Strong,” the motto that became prevalent across the nation after the bombing. Now the movie, which currently has a 96% Rotten Tomatoes score, is gaining Oscar buzz.
That’s not to say Green hasn’t struck out while attempting things that people might think are out of his lane. The Jonah Hill comedy “The Sitter” (2011) and dramedy based on the popular 2005 documentary “Our Brand Is Crisis” (2015), were both critical and financial flops, but the truth is you probably didn’t know he was the director on those movies.
And that’s what allows Green to continue being diverse in his choices. While the auteur label is loosely thrown around these days for any director who shows a bit of flair, the disadvantage of that is suddenly your work is raised to a level where you have to deliver a specific style to appease the audience, as well as the studio that you’re working for. In the case of those directors, if you don’t deliver at the box office, your days of making your kind of movies are done.
Green has evolved by doing things the complete opposite way.
Though he certainly has skill, he isn’t a show-off with it. Instead, most of the work he does is centered on the storytelling. And telling good stories will always get you work. In the case of “Stronger,” Green leaves the talents of Gyllenhaal and costar Tatiana Maslany, who plays his girlfriend in the movie, Erin, to carry the movie.
That’s also the case with the work he’s done on television. HBO comedies “Eastbound & Down” and “Vice Principals” (currently airing its second, and final, season) highlight the genius comedy of Danny McBride, but it’s often Green who is directing the episode and giving it the structure needed to tell the stories (as zany as they are).
And Green isn’t done changing things up. Through his production company Rough House Pictures, which Green started with McBride and “Eastbound & Down” co-creator Jody Hill, he’s about to start filming his first horror movie.
Since wrapping on “Stronger,” Green and McBride have been writing a script for the reboot of “Halloween.” Executive produced by the franchise creator John Carpenter, and produced by Blumhouse Productions (“Get Out,” “Split”), Green will also direct the movie, which is slated for release in October 2018, and will include franchise star Jamie Lee Curtis in the cast.
“It’s amazing,” Green said of working on the project. “Sitting down with John Carpenter a couple of weeks ago at his house and getting script notes, it’s crazy. And I think he’s going to do the music for it.”
Carpenter created the score for the original movie, which has since become one of the most iconic pieces of music ever put on screen.
Looking at his career, Green doesn’t knock his early work in the independent film world, like “George Washington,” “All the Real Girls,” and “Undertow.” But he says the goal was always to get where he’s at now.
“Once ‘Pineapple Express’ happened and was successful I was able to confidently say, ‘I’d like to do a lot of different things, please,'” Green said. “Big ideas, little ideas, I like it. It’s just messy and it’s fun. I’m just trying to challenge myself.”
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