Spring: Interview with Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson

Published on May 22nd, 2015 in: Horror, Interviews, Movies, TV |

By Less Lee Moore


In the two years since I talked to Aaron Moorhead about Justin Benson about their amazing 2012 film Resolution, a lot has happened. The pair contributed a segment to V/H/S Viral called “Bonestorm” and brought their second feature, Spring, to the Toronto International Film Festival. (And there was some kind of mascot battle.) In March, they released Spring as part of a BitTorrent bundle, which is an extremely cool way to bring a movie directly to the viewer.

They visited Toronto last week in anticipation of Spring‘s theatrical premiere in Canada so I talked to them about what has changed over the last few years and what they are going to unleash upon audiences next.

Popshifter: How has the experience of promoting Spring been different from promoting Resolution?

Aaron: That is a good question. I actually feel like we’re busier on Spring than on Resolution in a DIY sense.

Justin: Anchor Bay is great and the publicist in the US is great, too. But we kind of discovered in the process of doing publicity for Resolution that there are things we could do on our own by reaching out to certain publications. You can be very effective as your own publicist as a filmmaker these days, with the types of platform releases we have now that have these small theatrical windows. The marketing budgets are generally very small to make the business model work, and if you can throw your manpower behind it, as two filmmakers, you can do so much more.

Aaron: I know that we’re a lot more savvy about it. Before, we knew what we wanted to do but we didn’t know how to go about it so we just kinda thrashed about, doing as much as possible. I think we mostly got coverage [for Resolution] in genre press and it was kind of hard to break through. And Spring seems to have broken through a little bit more. We feel like we kind of know what the story is now, whereas before it was a lot of scatter-shooting. Now we kind of understand what’s happening behind the scenes with it all, how you craft a story. It’s not a false story, it’s just the narrative of making the film.


Justin: More people show up to the screenings now. It’s really neat when you go to a city where you haven’t screened before and they’re there. They’ll talk to me and say, “We really liked Resolution, and so we wanted to come see Spring.”

Aaron: I’m still genuinely, genuinely blown away whenever I meet someone and they have seen Spring or Resolution and not because I told them to.

[Justin and I both laugh.]

Aaron: Or they know my friend that told them to. It’s like “Oh, I just watched it” or “I saw the poster and it looked really cool so I came to the screening.” Whenever that happens I’m just like, “You don’t exist. I have to tell you to go watch it.” Yeah, it’s really cool.

Popshifter: I know for a while you guys had your favorite synopses of Spring on Facebook like, “It’s THIS meets WHATEVER,” but what have been your favorite things said about it?

Justin: The Richard Linklater one. [“A beautiful and unique love story. . . a real accomplishment of genre and tone.”] Because he watched the movie and said that. It was a really nice quote.

We talked to him very briefly in Palm Springs [at the Palm Springs Film Festival in January 2015] when he was running his Oscar Campaign for Boyhood but he hadn’t seen it yet. And were like, “Well, let us know what you think.”

Aaron: “Yeah, let us know what you think whenever you’re done winning an Oscar.”

Popshifter: That’s not nerve-wracking!

Aaron: [laughs] It wasn’t crazy nerve-wracking it was mostly just that this is one of the best filmmakers alive. It’s one of those things that isn’t nerve-wracking, but more “How am I allowed to talk to you?” But what’s so cool is that Linklater is not on another plane of existence and that’s why we like him. He’s a dude. He’s a dude that understands humans better than anybody else, and so he can talk about them better than anybody else.

Popshifter: Last time we talked we had talked about the McConaissance.

Aaron and Justin: Yes.

Popshifter: But that was before True Detective.

[We try to decide when the McConaissance started, if it includes Bernie and decided that The Lincoln Lawyer isn’t part of the McConaissance.]

True Detective, “Who Goes There?”

Popshifter: So what did you think of True Detective? Did you like it?

Aaron: Oh yeah, I love it. Adore it. I don’t think it amounted to as much as it promised, but I don’t care. It was seven and a half hours of incredible building tension and then kind of a deflation, that didn’t ruin the seven and a half hours, and then a really wonderful payoff in the very last scenes.

Justin: You know, people were probably hoping for something profoundly frightening or a conspiracy, and what they got was a profound transformation in two men. Really only one of those can be accomplished and that’s the one they did accomplish. It doesn’t matter what you do with that end piece, because no matter what you do, it will not satisfy what people want.

Aaron: You know what? I don’t agree. Well, kind of. [To Justin] You said the best ending to me. We were watching Episode 4 [“Who Goes There”] and you asked, “Do you think that it’s an unsolvable case?” And weirdly enough, that would have been the most correct thing for me, if you could find a satisfying way to make them have to leave the case. Or give up. Or something.

Justin: I think what people want is a satisfying supernatural ending and I don’t think that’s possible.

Aaron: I agree.

Justin: I think that’s what people were hoping for, a very, quite literally, Lovecraftian reveal. Like they were actually going to go full supernatural in the last episode.

Popshifter: Like Cthulhu is going to appear out of the sky.

Justin: He almost did!

Popshifter: That’s true!

Justin: At the end of the day, it was probably just a cult with deeper roots and the guy they made contact with is just some yokel out there.

Aaron: A good example of a satisfying ending in which nothing gets solved exactly is [David Fincher’s] Zodiac. It still does posit the actual killer.

Popshifter: You guys are working in TV as well, so what’s up with that project?

Justin: We’re developing a TV show called Hydra.

Popshifter: But it has nothing to do with The Avengers. [Laughs]

Justin: [laughs] It has nothing to do with The Avengers.

Aaron: We didn’t even know that was in The Avengers!

Justin: It’s hard though because all the neat cryptic sounding words are probably already taken by Marvel.

Popshifter: Or James Bond.

Justin: Well, we were going to call it Quantum of Solace.

[Much laughter]

Justin: If you can imagine the amount of youth culture detail in Dazed and Confused or Almost Famous but up to date and modern, but that same kind of coming of age earnestness, and then combine that with the feel of the story of a 15-year old kid growing up with a mystery along the lines of Twin Peaks or The X-Files or Lost.

Popshifter: Ohhhh! That’s very cool.

Justin: We both just watched Twin Peaks and now we use it as a reference point because people are like “OK.” It’s going to be kind of weird and offbeat and there’s a central mystery. Which is something we were already doing anyway. David Lynch stole our style.

[Aaron and I laugh.]

Popshifter: He went into the future and stole it and then went back in time.

Justin: Yeah, it’s something we talk about a lot with Jeremy Gardner. We started his career by putting him in Spring and then he went and made this movie The Battery off of that.

Popshifter: Didn’t he say something mean, that you guys looked douchey or something?

Justin: Yeah, he lashes out a lot. He does that because we started his career.

Popshifter: It’s the beard.

Aaron: We plucked him out of obscurity.

Justin: And then he used that success to turn around and make his little movie. Who cares?

Aleister Crowley

Popshifter: You’ve done ambitious things before in terms of not being able to define what they were or how they fit into any one genre, but now you’re doing this Aleister Crowley movie. What made you want to make this movie?

Aaron: He’s got one of the greatest untold stories of all time. There’s him, and Howard Hughes, and Rasputin, just the most interesting people ever.

Popshifter: Oh, Rasputin! OK, please do a movie about Rasputin. I’m just putting that out there.

Aaron: Oh, we’ll do it. We wanna do that and one about Jack Parsons.

Popshifter: Who is Jack Parsons?

[Aaron goes into an enthusiastic synopsis of the life of Jack Parsons, who founded the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California but was also simultaneously a practitioner of black magic and was a friend of both Crowley and L. Ron Hubbard.]

Aaron: If you can imagine in 1952, in Pasadena, where he lived, a beautiful suburb with kids playing and birds chirping. He lived in a beautiful house there and did his experiments in the basement. And this would be the opening shot of our movie, if we ever get to do it: it’s a beautiful day and then:

Justin: BOOM!

Aaron: And then the house just explodes. He blew himself up in his house.

[I am cracking up at this point.]

Aaron: He died at 37 by blowing himself up. And you don’t know why or how and you’re just like, “OH MY GOD.”

From Wikipedia:
On June 17, 1952, a day before [Parsons and his wife’s] planned departure [to Mexico], Parsons received a rush order of explosives for a film set and began to work on it in his home laboratory. An explosion destroyed the lower part of the building, during which Parsons sustained mortal wounds. His right forearm was amputated, his legs and left arm were broken and a hole was torn in the right side of his face.

Popshifter: That’s crazy. Did y’all consult Jimmy Page on the Aleister Crowley script?

Aaron: No, we’re waiting for the phone call.

[I laugh.]

Justin: It’s interesting because there are a lot of different spaces in pop culture that Aleister Crowley occupies and probably the biggest one is the caricature of himself that he created. And that’s the guy that Jimmy Page and Ozzy Osbourne and Anton La Vey admired. They all kind of worshipped this dishonest caricature that Crowley created of himself. On his Wikipedia page, for example, he’s remembered as a devil worshipper but he didn’t believe in the Devil. But it’s like at any point in time, if a person has a spirituality that’s outside of the mainstream by default, you are a devil worshipper. At a certain point, he embraced it, and realized how much press it would get him.

The thing is in our screenplay. . . it’s like, is he a great person? No, he’s not, he’s very human, but he has admirable things about him that have kind of been lost over time. That’s kind of the reason why The Beatles put him on the cover of Sgt. Pepper but it’s more complicated than that.

Aaron: In our minds, and in our movie, he’s neither hero nor villain. Just a human being with some really interesting ideas. And I mean interesting, I don’t mean good or bad, but interesting ideas about how the world should be. His conviction was actually very pure, which is very surprising when you hear that he did like, child sacrifices or things like that. When you hear stuff like that, you wonder, “What was he trying to DO?” Because then you read his writing and he says things like, “Love is the law.” And you don’t know if it’s just a front he put forward.

He’s someone who was kind of experimenting with the press, experimenting with fame. It was still kind of early for one person to dominate the press, he didn’t do that exactly, but he did love it. He’s probably thinking. “I have a very esoteric belief, it’s really hard to get people on board with it, the only way to get people on board with it is if they’ve actually heard of it.” And so in his mind, all of this publicity might just have been evangelization. OR, it might have been his gigantic ego.

[I laugh.]

Aaron: You don’t know! And that’s kind of the examination in the movie, too.

Popshifter: Do you think he was kind of a proto rock star? Because so many people have done that, they create this persona and then they get lost in it.

Justin: That’s the theory, yeah, but he makes a choice to do so. That’s a huge part of the script: treating him as a counterculture figure or a rock star. You can see the parallels between say, Sid Vicious, or Tupac, or Marilyn Manson, a guy who created an alter ego and is then corrupted by it.

Aaron: We have a very literal mechanism in the script—and luckily he did it in his real life—he was born as Edward Crowley. And he changed his name to Aleister because it sounds like a beast.

[We laugh.]

Justin: The thing that makes him such an interesting guy and the thing that makes his story so entertaining is that he is genuinely funny. Not just laughing AT him, because he was a really weird guy, but he has a great sense of humor about himself. It’s a very complex sense of humor. He’s sometimes totally unaware of what an arrogant asshole he sounds like, but other times he really is and he’s in on the joke.

Popshifter: So he’s like Kanye West.

Aaron: Let’s put that on the poster: The First Kanye!

Justin: His conviction, as weird as his beliefs are, his conviction is so real. The people around him in that time period? People like W.B. Yeats, and Bram Stoker, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and lots of other high society people that we all respect now as intellectuals, have gone on record saying that they saw him doing something supernatural. And I don’t believe in the supernatural myself, but that’s one thing that maybe gives me pause. Like, what the hell did they actually see? If you can get THAT idea across than you have a movie that gives genuine chills.

Aaron: There’s nothing supernatural in the world, but if there is, he’s the one that did it. What’s weird is I told my parents I was doing an Aleister Crowley movie and they like, got a little bit afraid. And I’m just like, “What? What is the deal?” And they asked, “Do you want to be associated with that kind of wickedness?” The fact that just the name “Aleister Crowley” is scary to people is insane. Because I feel like you can ask those people, “Hey do you believe in black magic?” and they’d say, “Well, no, it doesn’t work, but I still wouldn’t do it.”

[Justin laughs.]

Aaron: It’s like most people believe in God, in the world, but I still feel like more people are afraid of Aleister Crowley coming to kill them then if someone said, “I’m going to pray for God to smite you.”

I’d be like, OK, that’s not gonna happen! [Laughs.] l like that’s the real belief of most people in the world.

Popshifter: In a weird way, it’s easier to believe in dark forces than positive forces.

Spring will be out on DVD and Blu-Ray on June 2 through Anchor Bay in Canada. For more on Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, follow them on Twitter at @AaronMoorhead and @JustinHBenson.

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