Earlier this year, there was a James Gunn-written film that came out in theaters that featured action, explosions, violence, Michael Rooker, and even a few laughs. No, we’re not talking about ‘Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2‘ – we’re speaking of horror film ‘The Belko Experiment,’ the movie directed by Greg McLean that hit theaters just a few short weeks before ‘Guardians Vol. 2.’
Now that ‘Belko’ is making its way to digital and home-video release, we had a chance to chat with McLean for an exclusive interview about all things ‘Belko.’
ScienceFiction.com: When you first started preparing to direct ‘The Belko Experiment,’ what other films or pop-culture did you draw inspiration from?
Greg McLean: That’s a very good question! At the time, my head was still spinning from ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ by Martin Scorsese – as we’ve been pre-planning ‘Belko’ for the last five years – and I just thought it was a masterpiece. I thought the film was so cleverly directed – and by a 70-year-old director! I just thought, “This is putting everybody else to shame,” in terms of its “ballsiness.” It’s just completely unfettered and fantastic, and the performances… so when I went into ‘Belko,’ that was one of the things that was really in my head. And I also love the way that Scorsese moves the camera; he’s kind of the master of working in regular-type spaces but moving the camera with incredible force. That was not something I had done a lot of in my previous movies, and I definitely wanted to try and find ways to make the camera work for ‘Belko,’ which is mostly inside of a corporate office, visually dynamic.
Also, ‘Drive’ by Nick Refn. It was a film that I completely adored. I love the artistry of that film; I love the fact that it was a very simple “B-movie” type of story, but told with a very elegant and poetic style and detail. So, those are the two movies that I went into ‘Belko’ heavily watching – and I think I had ‘Casino’ on a loop as well, it’s one of my favorite films!
ScienceFiction.com: Music played a fun role in setting the tone for different scenes in the film. Could you speak a bit on how the process of selecting music went for you and the creative team?
Greg McLean: My first pitch to the producers, Peter Safran and James Gunn, after reading the script and preparing for the film, is that music is one of the key elements [to the film], and I really felt that. My vision was to create this film that was very realistic, not tongue-in-cheek, as the characters were taking their emotions very seriously. We used music to counterpoint the extreme violence so that we had a very light, almost Americana/pop soundtrack to the movie, that would allow you to look at the violence not in a humorous way, but in a way that would help allow you to deal with how heavy the violence truly was. So, yeah, the counterpoint was a big part of the pitch to Peter and James, and they liked the idea, so that’s how we ended up having this very eclectic kind of score. I mean, we have classical music, we have opera, we have pop tracks that have been re-done as Spanish versions… we hoped it was a way to help the audience step out of the horror a bit.
ScienceFiction.com: The final shot of the film seems clearly designed to indicate that the story isn’t truly over yet. Can you tell us a bit about the plans for the future of the Belko-verse?
Greg McLean: Well, the idea was a self-contained film, but the implication at the end is that this is one of many Belko experiments going on. James certainly indicated that he hadn’t completely thought out ideas for what a sequel could be, and we kind of talked about different ideas while making it. So, who knows? There’s clearly a world in which Belko has a story to tell… people seemed to enjoy the movie in theaters, and we’ll see what kind of life it has on DVD. I’m not sure if there will be another ‘Belko,’ but if there is, obviously the creative interest is there, and we all had a lot of fun making the film. If the fans want it, then we’ll be there!
ScienceFiction.com: In that final scene, one of the screens showing the other experiment sites appears to show a character from the US version of “The Office.” Was this an intentional “easter egg” to indicate that Dunder Mifflin was a social experiment?
Greg McLean: [laughs] Well, we have to have some secrets, don’t we? You know, it may be that, but sadly, I can neither confirm nor deny that allegation.
ScienceFiction.com: According to reports, James Gunn declined to direct this film, due to some personal issues he was going through at the time, even though he wrote the story. Did you have much interaction with Gunn during the pre-production or filming process?
Greg McLean: Yes, definitely. After the first phone call, the script came out to me, I really fell in love with it, so I jumped on the phone with James and Peter, and that kind of began the process. I went with both of them to the studio to pitch the film there, and there was a whole process of communicating to the group about how I wanted to make the film and what my version of ‘Belko’ was going to be. We collaborated all the way through on casting and on production stuff, and James and Peter were present for the first part of the shoot. Then in post-production, James was very helpful in dealing with the studio and really helping to protect the vision of the film – and protecting also how hard-core the film was! I think his main priority as a producer was having the film made so that it wasn’t “watered down.”
ScienceFiction.com: In the film itself, there is a wide range of characters, with many different types of personalities; as you were shooting and seeing the story unfold on camera, were there any particular characters that became your favorite as they “came to life?”
Greg McLean: It’s tricky because we had the unusual situation of having every role played by a really amazing actor. I’m sure every director says that, but we did really have this unique ensemble of such experienced actors and terrific performers. Personally, I had an absolute ball working with John McGinley – he’s such a great guy and such a great actor, and he really had a lot of fun with his character. Josh Brener was absolutely hilarious… Rusty Schwimmer was just amazing in her role… really, I became close with pretty much everybody! It’s really hard to pick a favorite because everyone was shining in their roles.
ScienceFiction.com: How was the experience shooting the film on-site in Colombia?
Greg McLean: It was very interesting. The film was made with no one that I’d ever worked with before. So, I was in a foreign country, working with an entire team of people that I’d never met before! That was an intentional challenge on my part… and much of the crew were Spanish-speaking, and I don’t speak Spanish! It was an amazing situation because we were in Bogota, Colombia, and it was a guerrilla-style, crazy, mad shoot because there was so much to shoot in a relatively short time. So we just had to band together and get it done, and we had a blast doing it.
ScienceFiction.com: Any updates you can give us on the status of ‘Wolf Creek,’ your next film ‘Jungle,’ and what else might be next for you?
Greg McLean: Yes! ‘Jungle’ has been completed and there will be a date announced soon for its release in the US later this year. The second season of the ‘Wolf Creek’ TV series is about 4 weeks away from shooting, so that should be out later this year as well.
‘The Belko Experiment’ comes to DVD/Blu-Ray and digital home-video release on June 27, 2017.