Interviews: Director Adam Rifkin Talks About His Meta Horror Film Director's Cut

The ultimate meta movie, Director’s Cut will be available on demand and Home Video.

In Director’s Cut, Penn Jillette (Penn & Teller) plays a disgruntled crowd funder who kidnaps the footage, and star, of the film he backed in order to create his own version starring himself. Ironically, the film was actually financed by an elaborate crowdfunding campaign that attracted over 4,500 backers. Written by Penn and directed by Adam Rifkin, Director’s Cut stars Missi Pyle, Harry Hamlin and Hayes MacArthur who are playing both themselves as well as characters in the movie within the movie and cameos include Lin Shaye, Kristy Hill, Nestor Carbonell and Penn’s longtime partner, Raymond Joseph Teller. 

You can read our review here

We had the opportunity to speak with director Adam Rifkin about the film.

TMS: So, Director's Cut is a hell of a movie! It's really strange and unsettling. I admit I had to sit with it for a bit to really let it sink in but I really liked it. It was very well done.

AR: Thank you very much, I appreciate it.

TMS: What was it that led you to do Director's Cut?

AR: The way it unfolded, and what ultimately led to me saying yes to being a part of it, is that I had made a film prior called Look. Look is a drama that is all shot from the point of view of surveillance cameras. After it had come out, Penn Jillette (the writer and star of Director's Cut) had watched it and liked it. This is the story that he tells; it was a Friday night, and he had told all of his managers and agents that he wanted to find me because he wanted to talk to me about the movie. They said they'd get on it first thing Monday morning. But Penn decided to take matters into his own hands and he looked me up online and found out on Facebook that he and I both have mutual friends. He wrote me a private message on Facebook at about 11-11:30 on Friday night. I, of course, have no life so I was home (laughs). He was very complimentary about Look and said he wanted to talk to me and left his phone number. Because it was late on a Friday night, I didn't want to call him and be rude, so I wrote him back and said, "Wow, it's so great to hear from you! I'm a fan! I'd love to talk to you about the movie, here's my phone number, call me any time over the weekend." Two seconds later my phone rang and it was Penn. He said more really nice things about Look, and then he said that he had written this movie called Director's Cut, and after seeing Look he wanted me to direct it. I said I'd love to read it, I'll read it with the most open mind imaginable. I generally prefer to direct what I've written myself, but I'm always open. He sent me the script right then and there and I read it immediately. By 3 AM we were back on the phone. It was so unique, it was so unlike anything I had ever seen before, and I seek out unusual films. It would be such an opportunity as a filmmaker to show off. You basically get to direct two movies in one. You get to direct a slick, earnest B-thriller in the vein of what somebody might think was a good idea when they ripped off Se7en, and you get to direct this no-budget, amateur, wacko, weirdo, do-it-yourself movie in your basement, and somehow figure out a way to mash them together. How could I say no to that? We agreed immediately that we were going to go in on this movie together, and not more than a few seconds later we also agreed that this would be a very difficult movie to get funded. Sometime later Penn suggested that we try crowdfunding. He said he was happy to be the face of the crowdfunding campaign, and to take the embarrassment hit if we don't raise any money. I said absolutely, let's do it. It worked; we actually raised more than we were looking for. So we were off to the races, and we got to make a movie with absolutely zero compromise, as you can see. There's no studio interference with this movie.

TMS: The crowdfunding really added a different dimension to it. Was it always a part of the script, or did it just come in later when you decided to fund the movie that way?

AR: The latter. It came in as a result of the crowdfunding experience. The film as a whole evolved several times throughout the process. When Penn wrote the first draft it was very much a straight horror film with very few laughs. It was really brutal. It was about this horrible guy who tortures this actress and forces her to star in this movie. It was very disturbing. When we started crowdfunding it and then wove in the crowdfunding plot point it started to get a little more funny, a little more absurd. When we cast Missi Pyle, with her personality and her humor, and the light she emits that we found so lovable, we thought it wouldn't be fun to see her getting tortured. It would be much more fun to see her getting revered. That's when Penn's character went from being a really evil bad guy to just sort of being this misunderstood, monstrous, overzealous fanboy. We were much happier with the way it ultimately evolved.

TMS: That definitely added to it, and Missi was a hell of a trooper for doing that as well!

AR: She was the best, absolutely.

TMS: Going back to something you said earlier, about how you prefer to direct scripts that you've also written, what are the biggest differences between directing your own script and directing someone else's, as far as your process for making the movie is concerned? As a side note, how is that affected by working with not only someone else's script, but having the writer of the script also be the star of the film?

AR: When I direct something I've written, I feel as though half of the prep work is already done in my head, because in writing the movie I already see it unfolding in my mind's eye. There's no need to read it and re-read it and digest it and interpret it as you would if you didn't write it. With Penn, he's such a great collaborator and he's so secure in his creative abilities that he does not feel overly precious about anything he's written. He believes the best idea wins and I'm the same way. It's always better for the process when people don't guard every word like it's chiseled in stone. You allow the creative and collaborative process to work in your favor. Working with Penn was a dream because he was totally open to whatever ideas made the movie better, whether they came from me or him or somebody else.

TMS: What was it like playing yourself in a movie, and how would you have reacted to someone like Penn's character Herbert Blount on your own set?

AR: I've played myself in movies before, but I would definitely not consider myself an actor, I wouldn't insult the craft like that. But I will definitely ham it up. Generally, when I've been in front of the camera I've played myself or some version of myself. I have experienced people on set not quite as extreme as Herbert, but I've experienced some pretty intense fandom on some of the movies that I've made. Detroit Rock City was one in particular because KISS has some pretty rabid fans. I am a fan myself, I understand the pathology of fandom, and I don't think there's anything wrong with it. I think when anyone takes anything to an extreme it can be a problem, so fandom is no different. Any time someone crosses a line and is veering into the antisocial realm it can be a little unnerving. Other than that, I embrace people who are rabid fans because that's why we're involved in this business, we're all fans.

TMS: You had mentioned earlier that you had signed on for Director's Cut because of Look, so obviously you have an interest in the reality TV, "mockumentary" style of filmmaking. Are there any other particular themes that you find yourself drawn to when you're making a movie?

AR: I like so many different kinds of stories. Many of my contemporaries are really good at picking a genre or theme that they like to explore and just explore it over and over again. I think that's great. They really create a brand for themselves, and it makes their lives and their careers probably much smoother for them. Making movies that are different styles and sizes and genres and telling so many different kinds of stories has definitely hurt me in my career. I've made funny movies and sad movies and big movies and small movies and weird movies and not weird movies, and that has definitely not been helpful in Hollywood to me. In this town they like to know what they're getting. If they know what they're getting they're more apt to give you more work. If they don't know what to expect from you movie after movie it becomes more challenging in an already challenging industry. That said, I can't do it any other way. I just like different types of stories and different types of themes to explore.

TMS: Right, not being pigeonholed gives you the freedom to do whatever you want and have the career you want to have, so that's really a cool way to do it.

AR: Exactly. This year alone I have two movies out. One of them is Director's Cut which arguably is rather unusual. I also have The Last Movie Star with Burt Reynolds, which is a very heartfelt drama that I wrote for Burt Reynolds. They could not be more different. I believe if you saw them as a double bill you'd be hard-pressed to find similarities in any aspect of either movie. But like I said, I can't help myself.

TMS: How did you come to work with Burt Reynolds? Was he involved with the process, or did you just come to him with the script, and he loved it and signed on? How did you get that done?

AR: Burt Reynolds was my hero when I was a kid. When I was growing up he was the biggest movie star in the world. I always had this fantasy of getting to work with him someday. Years later, when I was making movies, I thought to myself that I still love Burt Reynolds. He's not only one of the greatest movie stars ever to walk the earth but he's still a fantastic actor. I felt like his persona often overshadowed the perception of him as a great actor. So I decided to write a movie for Burt Reynolds to remind people what a great actor he is, and I'll take a shot and see if I can get him. After I wrote the movie I sent it to his manager and told him to tell Burt that I wasn't going to make this movie if he won't be in it, because it was written only for him. Burt's manager said he would send it to him but couldn't promise anything. The next day I got a call from Burt. I don't usually get star-struck, but when I heard Burt Reynolds' voice it blew my mind. He told me he was in, and it was a life-changing moment.

TMS: As someone who works in so many different genres, is there anything you haven't tried yet that you've really been wanting to do?

AR: There's tons, but one thing that I've never actually done, and it's unusual that I haven't, is a straight horror film. I've made horror comedies that are more comedy than horror, to be honest, but I've never made a straight, scary, terrifying horror film. That's unusual because my first love of movies was horror. When I was a kid I loved horror films and monster movies first, and that eventually evolved into a love of all kinds of movies. I definitely want to make a really scary movie sometime soon.

TMS: You had said earlier that Burt Reynolds was one of your heroes. What are some other films or filmmakers that have inspired you?

AR: In the horror genre, another hero of mine was Vincent Price. He was in so many great old horror films. As far as filmmakers go, anyone who can make a great movie is a hero of mine because it's so hard to get a movie made, period, let alone a great movie. Somebody can have a filmography that's all crap, but if they've made one great movie they're in my pantheon of heroes. Some of the ones that I look to and am continually blown away by, and I always revisit their movies, are probably the same ones that so many other filmmakers do, but the reason they're on so many others' lists is because they're great. Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Fellini, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola. These guys are incredible, they've made movies that are better than anyone else's.

TMS: What else do you have coming up?

AR: It's been a pretty busy year with The Last Movie Star and Director's Cut both. Now that the dust is settling on these I'm getting back to writing. I'm working on a new script that I can't talk about, but I'm hoping it'll be the next one I shoot.

TMS: Fair enough, we'll be looking forward to that. Where can our readers see Director's Cut?

AR: Director's Cut is currently available on VOD on all streaming platforms, and it's coming out on a very packed deluxe Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack on June 12.

TMS: And The Last Movie Star is currently on Amazon Prime!

AR: Yes, everyone can check out The Last Movie Star in exactly the same places as Director's Cut! So please make it a double feature and let me know what you think! (laughs)

TMS: Thank you so much for your time, I appreciated talking to you today.

AR: I appreciate it! Thanks for helping us spread the word!