Sitting Down With Elijah Wood and Franck Khalfoun to Discuss Their Bloody New Film ‘Maniac’

When it comes to unconscious feelings evoked by a film that frightens or excites us, the horrorshows that crawl under our skin and play with our nerve endings, the notion of sadness or empathy usually doesn’t fall into the deck of emotions. We watch these psychologically disturbing and oft gruesome tales through the distance of the camera, knowing that there’s a lens between their demented mind and ours, their blood-spattered world far removed from our immediate sense of danger. But with Frank Khalfoun’s twisted and powerful remake of Maniac, he transports us right into the POV of a psychotic killer, who, despite his strongest desires, just cannot control his horrific thirst.

As a lost and tremendously tortured soul with an fetish for women’s scalps, Elijah Wood plays the leading role of Frank with a delicate mania that allows us to get inside his head and feel as though we’re right there behind his eyes committing these heinous acts. With his only companions the restored and bloody-wigged porcelain figures that populate his mannequin restoration shop, Frank resides in a desolate Los Angeles landscape that’s at once lush and deeply vacant. 
 
Shot with a richness of depth and elegance in its fluidity, Maniac plays out like a nightmarish dream that you’re too entrenched in to wake up from. With an electronic and playful score by composer Rob, Khalfoun’s film slowly creeps itself way into your brain and sets off reactors of fear and anxiety but without ever pulling you out of its harrowingly entrancing story. 
 
Last week, I sat down with Wood and Khalfoun to discuss the nature of remaking classic films, the psychological effect of POV filmmaking, and finding the beauty between the blood.
 
Are you able to watch your own work or do you find it challenging to get through?
Elijah Wood: I don’t have any problem watching myself so much, I’m just so curious to see the final product. Certainly if you’ve made something your proud of it’s a gratifying experience. It’s a little overwhelming the first time because tied into the film is all the experience you had making it, so you can’t really be objective. I’ve seen this movie a few times now.
 
Well, at least with this one you don’t really have to watch yourself.
EW:
 That is a bonus, exactly.
Franck Khalfoun: It depends on the movie, really. Personally I enjoy watching it if other people are watching it. At home, no—maybe this one maybe because it’s weird and I like seeing little nuances—for the most part I like to do other things. In theaters it’s different, I like seeing how other people react and this one has been great. We have certain screenings where the genre people are there and they understand every joke, they understand everything in the film and it’s a real pleasure to watch them react. In this film, people have no idea what’s coming next  and it’s always great for fresh people to see it because they have really wonderful reactions—whether they’re totally grossed out or they find the humor. 
 
Why did you choose to make this, were you a huge fan of the original?
FK: 
I really liked the original, and the idea of making this was a terrifying for me because of the core audience and the idea that this movie’s so loved, and then just the idea of doing remakes in general. You’ve got to be real careful as a filmmaker to do something that’s already been done.
EW: He and I share the same perspective on that. I’m not a huge fan of remakes, it’s very daunting. More often than not—especially the horror genre’s mired with remakes now—they don’t really bring anything new to the table. If you’re going to remake something, you might as well make it your own.
FK: And that’s the lash back you get from the audience, that they think you’re just trying to squeeze money out of them without giving them a new experience, which is the case with a lot of films and the reason why a lot of remakes get made. 
EW: It’s a built-in audience…
FK: Thinking they can make some money. But I’m thankful for Langmann and Aja who produced the film and are two daring characters and weren’t afraid to allow us to do something different—which is not the case with anybody. Very few people I’ve met have the balls to say, oh that’s really interesting let’s take a risk on it, let’s put millions of dollars into this risk. It’s a throwback to how Hollywood was—you took a risk, you know? So I think if you do take risks and you go out on a limb and try to do something new, the audiences will respond. I know for a fact that the genre audiences are the best film audiences and they don’t just like genre movies. They dissect movies and analyze movies, but they love all movies. 
EW: They’re the most enthusiastic audiences.
FK: This was a good experience for me in particular because I always look at what’s the core of the film, what is it that we’re trying to remake or reconvey or redo and how can we do it in a cool, interesting way that’s not going to take audiences for fools?
 
Elijah, when and how did you become involved with the film?
EW: It was proposed to me from one of the producers. She said, we’d love for you to play the killer in this remake of Maniac that Alex Aja has written and you will be only seen in reflection because the entire movie will be shot in POV. That pitch fuckin sold me. Initially I wasn’t psyched at the notion of doing a remake because like he said, I’m not a huge fan of them in general. But I was so intrigued by the notion of doing something from the POV perspective and playing a character you don’t really see was exacting for me as an actor. Her proposal was like, well it’s about two weeks of work shooting your reflections, which was a little naive because I needed to be there everyday and my hands break frame a lot and I had to make choices in those regards. But I loved the script and the idea of working in a horror film is exciting, I love the genre. Getting to play a villain and delve into something dark that was a well-rounded, not a one-dimensional character felt like there was a lot to work with and it was four awesome weeks at night in downtown LA.
FK: It was one of the more pleasant shoots I’ve been on.
EW: It was super pleasant! It was great.
FK: It took a while to figure out, first you think, oh we’re only POV, we’re not covering scenes it’s going to be easy, but then it’s never what you expect. Then you get into the rhythm and you understand what things are allowed and how things will come off. I remember some days we had to figure out a rig to make this work, it was so hard technically with the choreography and the blocking and we’d end up spending half the day just figuring out how we were going to get this thing off. So that ends up taking time, but it was fun.
 
Using POV not only felt very unique and new, but for this film specifically and this character, it made you feel for him so much more. You understood that what he was doing was really something he couldn’t control, and I feel like if you had seen it from an outside perspective you wouldn’t have sympathized for him. Even though he does these horrific things, you’re with him inside his head.
EW: You’re spending time with his internal life.
 
And you see him try to control it and how quickly he escalates into being out of control. POV was a great way to give you another side to him.
FK: That was exactly the goal, so, good. However, my worry was that because you don’t see him, you might not empathize with him. But I think the little doses that you do get to see him throughout the movie—whether it’s a reflection or a dream or an out of body experience—you’re getting a glimpse and, without even thinking about it, the audience starts wondering when you’ll see him next. So you’re getting attached to the next time you’re going to see the character and that is exciting because it’s always different and keeps you engaged.
EW: It’s also a reminder that it’s POV too, because it’s shot so beautifully and so gracefully that at times you forget it’s POV and I really like that. Maxime didn’t go overboard with making the camera feel like it was attached t a body at all times and it was totally a stylistic choice, but it works so wonderfully.Even shots when he’s walking, he’s on a segue so he’s just floating and it adds a really interesting equality to the film. I like that you occasionally forget and you’re not being barraged by it being POV for first person.
FK: We had long discussions about how erratic it would be and how it would take you out of the film, which is what a lot o these found footage, behind the camera movies do. They start shaking so much for no reason. The wonderful thing about what we do, every frame tells a story—not just the movie, every frame—and the way that camera’s handled and the lens you pick, everything really is specific. Now with young filmmakers who have such access to making movies, they don’t really study the technique and what emotion images are going to create, and they think you can just shoot and do whatever and it works. Often it does, but for the majority of the time there’s a real technique.
EW: There’s definitely a cinema language.
FK: Of course, and people relate to it but it also evolves. Seeing a film in POV fifteen years ago would have been too distracting for people, but now culturally with all these found footage movies and first player video games, a language has opened up—but it still changes. 
 
What else did you discuss cinematography-wise for film’s aesthetic and also the landscape in which you shot it.
FK: I wanted it to be lush and beautiful. There’s a thing about downtown LA, it’s beautiful but you don’t realize it and especially at night when it’s all covered in darkness and you really stop and look at a building and look up, you’re like wow, these old buildings from the 20s and 30s are spectacular. And right next to them are these modern buildings, so it’s the old and the new connected—the rich and the poor, the duality of downtown. The movie needed to be really beautiful but dark and if you were to raise the lights in the movie you would see how plush the sets are. 
 
Like his bedroom and the wallpaper.
FK: Yeah. I just wanted it to be on the edge of darkness, I told Maxime everything should be just on the edge, just the way he is. And the city is like that and mostly he’s out at night in the city. I thought also the beauty of the film—the serenity and the elegance of the film—would be important in juxtaposition to the graphic horror. The first ten or fifteen minutes is beautiful to look at, and it sucks you in and then lets you have it with the violence. And the same with the music. The whole movie seduces you into this false sense of security and then it lets you have it and that’s very close to the character too. There’s an innate beauty about him.
 
Yeah, Rob was telling me wanted to convey and innocence and beauty, which is not what you’d expect.
FK: But it’s humanity, it’s the beauty of all people that have been scarred and that are stuck between light and dark. 
EW: Rob did a fantastic job with the music, it’s really wonderful. I was so excited at the prospect of an electronic score because the 70s and 80s were filled with those kind of scores for horror films, which are typically not employed anymore. So it was really exciting, the prospect of doing something that had that sense of being a little bit of  throwback and nostalgic for that time period. He did such a beautiful job. It’s haunting but it does convey an innocence too, it’s really lovely. In tandem with the way the film is shot and also the environment of downtown LA, it just creates such an interesting atmosphere. It’s almost a character in and of itself.
 
With horror films, the music often tends to feel so manipulative and this was not in any way, this just wove its way through the story on its own. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack quite a lot and you can really separate it from the film as well.
FK: It’s certainly unorthodox in every way in terms of being a genre or scary movie. Besides for the one little cheap scare we tried to put in there, for the most part really it creeps up on you, it doesn’t jump at you, it’s a slow creep into this mind. 
 
So even though so much of your work is outside the shot, were you still on set the whole time? And how much were the women just playing to the camera?
EW: Almost entirely, If it wasn’t a dream sequence or a memory, it was entirely to camera—which is interesting because they had a much different experience than I did. I was behind camera and had the benefit of looking at them even though they weren’t looking at me. But they were looking at the lens, which I hadn’t really thought about until recently but that’s a total abstraction as well. We would block every scene out traditionally so we at least had moments as actors working with each other and from there they certainly felt my presence, but it’s still a funny thing. I just did a film where the majority of the film I’m looking at a camera and it’s bizarre, it’s a weird abstract thing. 
 
Besides the original, did you have any other films you looked to for tone or feeling?
FK: Wow, no. No, I mean maybe a little bit of the way The Shining is poised—

And how it creeps up on you.
FK: 
My focus was on trying to create a world where you were just swallowed up into it, and a character that you felt compassion for. That’s what struck me the most from the original, was how I really felt bad for this guy and it marked me at the end of the movie. Like, wait a second this guy just killed a bunch of women and I feel bad for him? That was a statement in itself. I don’t know about me as a man, but I was with him and so that’s very dangerous. A movie not recommended for young minds.

That’s why the ending felt like a happy one to me—it was a relief for him.
FK: That’s interesting. It’s true. He does have this almost very satisfied or peace to him at the end finally—which I find tragic. 
 
You changed the flashback scenes, how did you want them to be different or more modern?
FK: When I first read the script he had cigarette scars and burns. It was very sort of 1950s, like keeping you locked up in your closet. So rather than physical abuse, I think an audience would connect more to neglect.
EW: Physical abuse would have come off as a bit of a cliche.
FK: As opposed to neglect, which to me, a lot of people can relate to nowadays. Your parents didn’t hit you but they weren’t there, it’s kind of the same thing.
EW: That can be as emotionally scarring.
 
And the way his mother was, it would make sense why he might end up with these psychosexual issues.
FK: Somebody said to me, "Oh, it’s always about the mom, it’s always the women!" I was like, I don’t know.
 
Well, the father wasn’t there so that’s his fault too.
FK: Yeah, I don’t want to say his mother’s responsible for him turning out the way that he did, but she certainly didn’t lay the best foundation. I think parents can be the blame somewhat. We forget to nurture our children and to love them, and maybe if that can come across in this film we’ve done a little something for humanity—which is always something I think about no matter the subject matter. I go, what really in the end can we say, what is it that we can pull out of this? Yes, we had fun and it was cool but did we make a statement about something, can somebody find something else in here that’s useful and insightful?
 
You’ve played so many different kinds of roles throughout your career, but this certainly seemed like a challenge. Was doing something more dangerous and violent an attraction for you?
EW: That was definitely part of the intrigue I had for the project, because it’s not a character I’ve ever played before and as an actor I’m always looking for something new and challenging to delve into that. And there’s also the horror film fan in me loved the idea that we got to work with prosthetics and scalps and blood, I love all that shit. Especially the end death set pieces, it was awesome and really fun.

Noah Baumbach Talks His Intensely Charming ‘Frances Ha’

Woody Allen’s Manhattan ends with the final line: "You have to have a little faith in people." It’s a simple bit of dialogue, but entirely genuine and honest, holding a vast amount of emotional weight in its ease. Picking up where that sentiment left off is Noah Baumbach’s new film, the charmingly awkward black-and-white character study Frances Ha, whose leading lady stands out like a beacon of optimism, unwavering in her desire for more from life.

Throughout the last decade, modern meditations on post-collegiate ennui have become commonplace, but it’s rare to find a film that takes that tired convention and exposes it in a new light. Frances Ha not only reflects what it means to simply exist at that time in life and in that universe, but shows the beauty in the mistakes made along the way, underscoring the idea that just because something isn’t working doesn’t mean it’s broken. Baumbach has crafted a film that feels refreshing and contemporary yet harkens back to to such European cinematic masters as Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, and Jean-Luc Godard in its casual essence, reminding us of what we love so much about the filmmaking of days past.
 
Co-written with the film’s brilliant and versatile star, Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha is infused with a unique magic that comes from a true meeting of minds. If you look back on Baumbach and Gerwig’s early work, it’s evident that the two are cut from the same cloth—both sharing an affinity for a particular kind of character’s journey, dealing with a sense of malaise as they meander through life, yet filled with a yearning for more. And whereas many of Baumbach’s film’s tend to err on the side of the misanthropic, Frances Ha is a film that makes you want to go out and engage in life. It’s an inspired and intelligent love letter to cinema that never stops moving while we follow the endearingly strange Frances as she dances from life to life.
 
At its core, Frances Ha is both a journey of self-discovery and a love story between best friends. With Gerwig’s frank yet tender touch, we see a realistic look at a fractured female friendship and the mourning that comes from feeling as though you’ve lost a part of yourself to someone else. "We’re like the same person but with different hair," says Frances of her best friend Sophie, who begins to drift apart after getting involved in a serious relationship. We see Frances caught in the wake of their relationship, but her spirited self never diminishes, only dulls for a moment before realizing her ambitions as a modern dancer and choreographer. As we wander with her through her days from Brooklyn to Chinatown to Paris, we begin to admire her boldness and realize that Baumbach cast a spell on us, making us fall in love with his star just as he did behind the camera.
 
Last week I got the chance to sit down with Baumbach to talk about his desire to showcase Gerwig’s talents, the inspiration engrained in the film, and the heroic moments of everyday life.
 
I’ve been a big fan of Greta’s for a while now. She can be so funny yet dramatic and has such great physicality. Did you know you wanted to make something that would play to all her abilities?
Yeah, that’s exactly what I wanted to do. We’d worked together before and I felt that she was all of those things. But I thought we could do something where she could be the center of the movie and showcase all that she could do.
 
As an admirer of your work, you can see what a similar sensibility you two share as writers as well. What was the initial collaboration process like—was it an easy merging of ideas?
Yeah, the writing came somewhat organically because I first approached her more as an actor. I asked if she’d want to act in something I directed but I wasn’t sure what that would be, so I asked her what she was thinking about, or things she thought could be in a movie about a 27-year-old in New York. She has such great ideas and thoughts and observations and was so funny, I felt immediately like this was a movie.
 
You started by writing emails back and forth?
We’d send the same document back and forth and I would respond and then she would and we’d rewrite. After a while the document started to take shape and we said, okay maybe it opens this way, and then after a while we started writing scenes.
 
With the love-letter-to-New York essence of the film, the music, and the black-and-white style, it would be easy for people to make a lot of Woody Allen or Manhattan allusions. Were you more influenced by Truffaut and Rohmer and the New Wave cinema that you love?
Yeah, and I always feel inspired by those guys—Truffaut and Rohmer—in all my movies. But somehow in this one the influence is clearer. There’s something about this material that it could hold a lot of potentially referential moments without them feeling heavy. There’s a moment when Frances is over for the first night with the guys and she’s saying goodbye to the girls, the three of them walk back into the room—when we shot it I realized it in the first take—and they’re all dressed so anthropologically right for now in New York City–one has a hat, one has a tie and sweeter, one has a dress—but they all look like they’re in a Godard movie. 
 
And the way they moved felt so choreographed, it was a magic little moment that everyone noticed and fell in love with.
Well, by take 900, that’s what you’re seeing in the movie, because I was like, oh we need to keep doing this over and over to get this walk right. And it looks so French but it was not deliberate. It was just engrained, it was in the air, in the style, and I think that was true for a lot of the movie. So in cases where I was aware of a music reference or something that I might be drawing upon, it also felt right for the milieu of the film. 
 
I loved the juxtaposition between Frances’ physical and mental state. Mentally she was so stalwart and unable to accept change, but physically she never stopped moving—whether that was literally in her dancing down the street or hopping from apartment to apartment.
We never articulated it but I think it was also baked into it. And the locations being chapters, that discovery informed so much because it said everything you’re saying but it also provided us with just a really great structure for the movie. And I think we were aware of all those things but leaving them somewhat unarticulated. 
 
The trip to Paris was one of my favorite moments because it felt entirely authentic. You make this grand gesture to do something out of the ordinary or go somewhere exciting to escape your problems or yourself but these things inevitably stay with you no matter where you go. 
That’s true, and I always liked the idea that what in another movie would have been the right thing at the right time, like she meets somebody or it would change her life, that it would be the exact opposite of that. 
 
She goes all the way to Paris and is late for Puss in Boots.
We had the Paris idea fairly early. But what made Paris and allowed us to keep it and put it in the film was discerning that Sophie would call her then. Initially it was just a funny idea but we needed to find the story there too. I think that helped land it for us.
 
With all your films you seem to want to expose the extraordinary details of everyday life in a way that we normally wouldn’t perceive them in our own memory—taking the slightest of moments and bringing out the tenderness or absolute sadness. As a director is that a theme you find yourself returning to?
I’m interested in how psychology becomes behavior. Takes Frances. What she accomplishes at the end of the movie, out of context, is relatively minor in that she takes a desk job and she finds an apartment. But in the context of the movie, it’s kind of heroic. And, to some degree, it’s always trying to find the context for these things, these little movements we make in life. Like the end of Greenberg, where he goes and picks her up at the hospital, this sort of little thing for these characters means a lot. I’m always thinking of those things as cinematic and big and I see no reason why they shouldn’t be.
 
Something I admired about Frances was that she wasn’t disillusioned. I feel like that’s something rare in the portrayal of women in New York nowadays. Even when things were at their worst she wasn’t depressive or bogged down. Rather, she understood that, okay for now this is the shitty situation I’m in, but it’ll pass. And because she didn’t use that disillusionment as a crutch, she was able to have her heroic ending.
And that was clear to me, that our job as filmmakers was to protect her because she was so open. I wanted to reward her too, because she was making these movements and I thought that the movie should reward her both with the cinema of the movie as we’re watching it, but also even in the ending. It always just felt very clear to me that she should get her moment.
 
Now, this might sound stupid, but there’s a Beckett quote that reminded me of the movie—
This sounds smart.
 
We’ll see. He says "That’s the mistake I made … to have wanted a story for myself whereas life alone is enough." And that reminded me of this because it seems by the end Frances learns that she can just live and be and especially in terms of her friendship with Sophie they have this story that they tell each other, and by the end they realize that their friendship can work but real life does get in the way.
I wish I had that Beckett quote handy in a lot of interviews because I’m always stumbling around trying to say that exact thing. That’s a really good one. I think that’s absolutely true.
 
How was it, for you, returning to these similarly aged and similarly-minded characters as that of Kicking and Screaming? Now that you’ve had more time to reflect on that period of your own life, how do you perceive this time different and what did Greta, being someone that age, bring to it?
Well Greta was really my entree into that age group. So I wanted the movie to be about her character. Although I had a different trajectory than Frances, when I was 27 or 28, that was the period—I didn’t know it at the time—but I was about to go through great change, sort of professionally but more significantly, emotionally and psychologically. I went through a transition at that time in my life and I think I let go of a lot of ideas I had for myself that I thought would be true, or ideas of how I thought I would be, and it was difficult.  It was heard to let go of those things. But I also think that life and in experience since then, is a return to those moments—you become more ware of them and there are other events that are clearer transitions. But all this is to say that I relate very strongly to that period in time and that age. So I didn’t think twice about it or think very consciously about it, it was more oh this is very interesting to me.
 
Having the star of your film as the co-writer, does that make being on set much easier because Greta knew Frances inside and out?
Yeah, although essentially it’s the same. For Greta, in the same way I’ve always co-written everything I’ve directed, there’s some compartmentalization that goes on when I go to direct my own script. I somehow always have trouble remembering the lines even. I almost have kind unconscious amnesia, while also knowing at the same time that I do know this material so well, but I never take that for granted. There are times when I’ve taken it for granted and realized, you know even though I wrote this, I need to actually dig deeper as a director and figure this out better. And Greta I think went through something similar, both as a writer and an actor. When she was in it, she was so present as an actor that she could forget lines just the way she could forget lines if she hadn’t written them. And she might take time to find a moment as she might anyway, and that was the best way for it to be because that’s what you want from an actor—you don’t want them too prepared. Or at least, I don’t anyway, I don’t like when actors have it figured out. I like to figure it out with them.
 
What really held the film together was this love story between Frances and her best friend. That’s rare to see in this sort of woman’s self-discovery movie. She has these small romantic possibilities, but they’re of no consequence, and when she finally has that magical moment she so desired, it’s with Sophie.
We were aware that the normal assumption might be when she has that monologue at the party about wanting this moment with someone, the audience assumption would be that this would be with a guy. So we knew that we were giving it to her and Sophie, and maybe that would be a pleasant surprise. But it really came in the best way, it came very organically out of the character and the age and that time, because that was the central relationship and the central friendship. So it felt like we had to follow that and really tell that story. Also, Frances as a character has these blinders on, and until this thing is worked out with Sophie—which really means until it’s worked out for herself—she’s not going to accept any other substitutes. That means no other relationships with men and no other friends. But that was just so much of the character, so it was like well, the character’s not going to allow a romance, so weren’t not gong to force one on her.

Watch the First US Trailer for Olivier Assayas’ ‘Something in the Air’

After making its way around the festival circuit, Olivier Assayas’ beautiful new film Something in the Air will finally be having its theatrical run this May thanks to IFC Films. The moving political and social drama from the director of Carlos and Summer Hours is a coming of age tale that encapsulates a moment in history swirling with politics, sex, and art. Focusing on a group of kids, mainly a young French artist, we see their struggle to find themselves amongst a time of revolution in early 1970s Europe. 

The official synopsis for Something in the Air reads:

…In Olivier Assayas’ ‘Something in the Air’ it is 1971 and Gilles (newcomer Clément Metayer) is a graduating high school student in Paris deeply involved in the counterculture of the time. As Gilles begins to realize that his interests lie more in the revolutions in art and music, he finds himself pulled into ever more dangerous political protests by the people around him, especially his radicalized girlfriend, Christine (Lola Créton). After a vandalism attack against their school goes terribly wrong, Gilles and his friends flee to Italy, where they spend a bohemian summer in the countryside drifting between parties, rallies and agitprop film screenings. Amidst this whirlwind of politics, art and sex, the group discovers that at their age every day holds new possibilities, and life awaits the curious.

And today we have the first domestic trailer for the film which stars wonderful young actors Clément Métayer, Lola Créton and Félix Armand. Take a look below.

someth