Seeing Green

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At first glance, you might mistake David Gordon Green for a hotshot movie director's kid brother. Unkempt hair falling into his eyes, with a mouthful of braces, the Arkansas-born, Texas-raised filmmaker speaks in an effusive drawl. Green was fresh out of North Carolina's School of the Arts back in 2000 when his enthrallingly oddball debut George Washington sent critics over the moon, and he's since specialized in similarly dreamy, idiosyncratic coming-of-age tales with a southern gothic vibe.

"I'm stuck in my childhood, I think," the 33-year-old laughs.

But lately Green seems to be trying to break out, as his latest flick Snow Angels offers plenty of new challenges for a filmmaker who describes his "default mode" as "a very organic, stream-of-consciousness, kind of non-sequitur whatever, you know?"

For starters, this adaptation of Stewart O'Nan's novel is a good deal more conventionally plotted than Green's previous pictures, and he credits the source material with providing the building blocks of a story that allowed him to reach audiences more traditionally, and also offering him discipline as a writer.

But is he at all worried that such a straightforward tale might be taken as something of a sell-out? "That's the trick if you want to make movies consistently," Green explains. "I mean it's easy to go make something crazy and hope somebody sees it. It's difficult to do that time and time again. For me personally, I have no interest in just regurgitating the same influences and stories and landscapes."

A few years ago, Green was set to direct the long-gestating adaptation of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces. "That would've been awesome," he sighs. "It's my favorite book."

The decades-in-development project even made it so far as a public reading of the Steven Soderbergh-penned screenplay at the 2003 Nantucket Film Festival, featuring Green's dream cast of Will Ferrell and Lily Tomlin, before it suddenly vanished from the radar.

What happened?

"It just got caught up in a lot of legal property rights ... a bunch of paperwork ... and all the bullshit greed and ego within the attitudes of a lot of significant figures in this industry. It's just not interesting to me. If you don't get a movie right out of the gate, it's a real pain in the ass. I'd rather go find something fresh. You know, just go make a straight-to-video action movie."

He's joking, right?

"Dead serious. A friend and I just wrote this movie called One in the Chamber, which we want to use to start our own straight-to-DVD action franchise."

Though Green's formidable art-cinema chops and close ties with Terence Malick give him the reputation of an aesthete, he's got a not-so-secret love for cinematic junk food. In fact, when the mad genius Internet movie critic known only as Outlaw Vern self-published Seagalogy, a mind-blowingly comprehensive 327-page study of Steven Seagal's films, David Gordon Green wrote the introduction.

"Huge fan," he tells me. "Okay, so I didn't like Glimmer Man, and a couple of them aren't my cup of tea, but I grew up watching B-Western serials with my dad, and it's really the same kind of thing. You see the name, you know what you're gonna get, you have a good time with it."

Yes, there's even a One in the Chamber role he wrote with Seagal in mind. "I might try to get him to be in it, just for the mythology of it. We'll see what happens."

Green sees untapped potential in the direct-to-DVD action market. "In the '60s and '70s, low-budget movies were like boot camp for up-and-coming actors and directors."

He speaks admiringly of Roger Corman's American International Pictures, which once provided invaluable training grounds for now-household names such as Nicholson, Coppola and Scorsese. "Right now it seems like there aren't any godfathers like Corman steering the way for undiscovered talent. It's a lot of shlocky banks handing out money to rip-off a box cover that looks like the box cover of another successful movie. It doesn't take advantage of what that industry truly could offer.

"I love the idea of saying, 'Here's a filmmaker who's worked with me whom I respect and trust,' or 'Here's a guy who's short film I saw at a festival and it would really fit nicely into this genre.' You know you're always gonna find your market if you have enough car crashes and cleavage in your movie."

Speaking of car crashes, Green's just put the finishing touches on what might be his most surprising directorial project yet: a big-budget stoner chase comedy called Pineapple Express scripted by the Superbad team and opening in August. All our talk of genre movies has him especially enthused about the recent addition of a Huey Lewis and the News theme song.

"It's very '80s-inspired," he grins. "It's a contemporary movie, but more Tango & Cash than Rush Hour 3, you know?"

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