Interviews: Director Bobby Miller Talks About His Creature Feature The Cleanse - Plus Behind the Scenes Creature Shots & Artwork

Johnny Galecki (TV’s Big Bang Theory) plays Paul Berger, an unemployed, down and out, heartbroken man searching for happiness. When Paul sees an ad for a spiritual retreat promising to restart your life, he immediately signs up, hoping to cleanse himself and fix his broken life. But after only a few days, he discovers the cleanse is releasing more than just everyday toxins… a lot more. Also starring Anna Friel, plus Oliver Platt and Academy Award® Winner Anjelica Huston (Best Supporting Actress, Prizzi’s Honor, 1985) as the leaders of the retreat, The Cleanse is a darkly humorous, weird, and soulful fantasy that examines the inner demons in all of us.

It was written and directed by Bobby Miller, and stars Johnny Galecki, Anna Friel, Kyle Gallner, Oliver Platt, and Anjelica Huston. It will be released in theaters and on digital May 4th.

We had the opportunity to speak with Bobby Miller about the film.

TMS: What’s up with The Cleanse? Where can people see it? And what do you want them to know about the movie?

BM: It will be on Digital and OnDemand on May 4th. There are some select theaters that are playing it around the country as well.

TMS: What was the inspiration behind this story?

BM: I’m still trying to figure that out. I became fascinated with people who go on cleanses. I tried to go on something called The Master Cleanse, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that, it’s kind of a fad diet. But, a lot of people that go on these cleanses see it as a to restart their lives, and I it was both a little funny and interesting. And it could become something heartfelt. That was the sort of rabbit hole that I went down. And there’s a ton of videos on YouTube where people have gone on The Master Cleanse and they do diary entries, and by the end they all look a little strung out and you’re like, “What did you take?”

TMS: How long did it take to get out that initial draft?

BM: It took a couple of months. I had the bright idea to do it while I was on a cleanse, and that lasted about a whole five days and I was like, “I’m too irritable to do anything, let alone write a movie.” So, I would say that it initially took a couple months, but I reworked it for many years. It was the one project that I really wanted to make more than anything. Other ideas would come and go, but this one was going to be first feature.

TMS: So the script definitely did change a lot over the course of the next few drafts?

BM: I looked at the first draft actually and the one thing that didn’t change was the ending. The ending was always the same ending, and the characters were always there. It was the rest of it that changed (laughs).

TMS: Is there anything you found more challenging when penning the screenplay?

BM: I think the hardest part was making all of the different genres (the horror, fantasy, drama, and comedy) feel as one piece and not be all over the place tonely. So, that was probably the most difficult part of writing it.

TMS: Were there any direct cinematic influences or homage in this film?

BM: I hope not direct, but I grew up watching Joe Dante, Tim Burton, Spielberg and as I got older I got into David Cronenberg, and John Carpenter’s The Thing. So, I like to think that maybe all of those people meshed up together and maybe that’s what this movie is.

TMS: In terms of directing choices, anyone that you try to emulate? Or ones that have influenced you?

BM: I would say that I really love Cronenberg and the effects that he uses in his movies. When you watch a Cronenberg film you know that they are effects from a Cronenberg film, he has a unique vision. So, I’ve been into Cronenberg as of late.

TMS: Can you talk about how the main actors were ultimately selected? Did you write any of the roles specifically for certain actors?

BM: No, it being my first feature, I didn’t write specifically for anyone. I just tried to write the best script that I could. The first person that came on board was Johnny Galecki, and really once he became attached to the movie things started getting serious and people wanted to read the script. From there, a lot of people responded and that’s how we ended up with a ridiculously awesome cast.

TMS: So how did Johnny Galecki end up getting involved? Did he audition or did he just read the script and it worked out?

BM: We sent him a script and then we had coffee and talked. It was like a date (laughs), we ended up going for a walk for an hour afterwards and talked about the themes of the movie. He just really responded and we kind of bonded as well when we met.

TMS: How long of a shoot was it?

BM: I think it ended up being around 19 and a half days.

TMS: Do you do any rehearsals before the shoot?

BM: I was able to do a little bit with Johnny and Anna before the shoot, but there wasn’t a whole lot of time. I sat down with Angelica and Oliver over coffee and discussed the script at length, but most of the time we wanted to keep things fresh during filming.

TMS: The practical effects are outstanding. Can you talk about how that all came to be and how it was working with them?

BM: I love practical effects. For me, it was like a dream to be on a movie that had so much of it. This movie turns into a full on creature film, we have puppets, animatronics, men in suits. We used every kind of trick in the book that I grew up on from the films of the ‘80s and ‘90s, and we just had a really talented group of people that were geeked to be doing this. It’s not often that you get to do something like this. Even in a movie like Star Wars, most of the effects these days are CGI. So, being able to do practical effects was exciting for everyone, even for the actors to have something physically in front of to act with.

TMS: Did you do any of the designs for the creatures? How did all of that work out?

BM: Well I tried to draw some. My drawings were middle school drawings, they showed some potential but you don’t take them too seriously. I found these two artists that did these amazing paintings. I had these beautiful paintings that we brought to the effects house once we were ready to go, and then they interpreted those paintings and made them practical. They had to kind of make it work for the real world for filming.

TMS: This was your first feature length film. Is there anything you learned from writing and working on it?

BM: It really was an endurance test. You just have to make your day, just go one day at a time. Before, all that I had done were shorts with a maximum of three days worth of shooting. So it really was pacing yourself. Another thing that happens on features is that you’re constantly dealt challenges and adjusting to the environment. You wake up in the morning and you can’t do this, or this thing isn’t ready. On the shorts, I kind of had more control over those things.

TMS: If the movie was playing as one-half of a double feature at a Drive-in theatre what would be the perfect support feature?

BM: Oh boy. Someone told me that when they saw the movie it was Gremlins for people with emotional problems (laughs). I kind of like the idea of starting with Gremlins and finishing with my feature. I think that would be the ideal choice. If you wanted to get real wacky, then it would be Gremlins 2 (laughs).

TMS: If you had a choice to remake a genre movie, what movie would you like to remake?

BM: Well, you probably would have guessed that it’s Gremlins. I’m really against reboots and all that stuff, but the one franchise I would be into in a heartbeat would be Gremlins.

TMS: Can you tell us anything about the other projects that you are working on or planning on working on? Or, anything else that you would like to plug?

BM: I’m touring with a short film right now called End Times, it’s making the festival rounds and it just won an award at the Boston Underground Film Festival. I’m working on another creature feature and several TV ideas.