UTG INTERVIEW: Joe Hahn Of Linkin Park On Directorial Debut ‘Mall’

Joe Hahn (Photo by Brandon Cox)

Joe Hahn has been recognized as the man behind Linkin Park’s turntables since the band’s release of Hybrid Theory in 2000.

In 2014, he is proud to have made his feature-length directorial debut with Mall, which hit theaters on Friday, October 17. Creating and releasing the film was an in-depth journey, which he simultaneously coordinated with releasing a new album, The Hunting Party, and playing a nationwide summer tour.

With a team of strong actors including Cameron Monaghan (Shameless), Vincent D’Onofrio (Law and Order) and Gina Gershon (Wilfred), he was able to take the script’s foundation and his vision to create a film that is truly compelling.

Hahn describes the process of creation as a race, and this past week has finally become his finish line. Proud to see the fruits of his labor, he took some time to chat with Under The Gun Review about the process of directing his first full-length film and the themes and symbolism within the movie. Check below to read UTG’s exclusive interview with the director.

UTG: I know you shot the film well over a year ago, and since then you’ve released The Hunting Party with Linkin Park and done a whole summer tour with 30 Seconds To Mars. Have you been anxious since you shot the film for it to finally come out?

Joe Hahn: Yeah, for sure. I think things just have a way of working out. When we promoted this film, we did it during the U.S. tour that we were on, but we were able to show the trailer to all the people that came to the shows. Things have their way of happening at the right time.

Lately have you been able to take a breather from the band and put more energy into the release of the film?

The way we work is we’re always working on a bunch of things simultaneously. Actually, this week I’m focusing on doing some interviews and getting the word out on the film, but I actually leave to go to Brazil tomorrow. I’ll actually have to watch in the theater next week.

Before we jump into the actual film I want to touch on the music within it. Did you create an original score?

Yeah, there’s an original score. You can actually get a taste of it; we put out a clip of the opening credits that has a song called “White Noise,” that’s in the beginning. It’s pretty cool, it helps define that thrashy-ness of one of the characters in the film who is the catalyst of the negative things that go on. We also have a couple of other songs that speak directly to certain characters. Especially these characters that Jeff [main character] connects with on a spiritual level. Because of that we’re able to also use those songs as thematic songs during the film, to present different melodies to remind you audibly of who these people are.

In the beginning of the film, did I hear Chester [Bennington] in that track?

Yeah, that’s Chester singing on that one. Mike [Shinoda] sings on the other two that are later on in the movie.

So you might release those songs formally someday?

It’s up in the air now but we will put it out formally.

When I was watching the film, the first scene made me react immediately. It’s just one of those “Oh shit!” moments that you rarely get. Was that something that you did on purpose? Starting with a bang?

Yeah. It gets very lighthearted after that, but yeah, for sure. I wanted to let the viewer know that this is the world that they’re entering, and show how horrible this guy is. He has a clarity to what he’s doing, but it’s definitely not a good thing.

When we introduced the other characters, it was important to have sympathy for them. These people are people that are violent, but in different ways (to themselves), which can affect other people around them. Then there’s this guy that’s on a rampage and it’s important to see that range of emptiness in these people. Jeff will eventually be able to distinguish the difference between himself and the others.

In the beginning when you first see Jeff entering the mall, he tackles a lot of commercialization of America, going into all these rants that almost seem like Fight Club, manufactured happiness and whatnot.

It’s very pseudo-intellectual [laughs].

[Laughs] well, as the film carries on, I feel as though that theme of anti-corporation seems to become less apparent. Is it an underlying theme? What is the relevance?

I wanted to show the audience that Jeff was a really smart kid, with an imagination, and he’s able to paint a picture of the world. He thinks he has everything figured out. But the reality is that he doesn’t. He’s kind of acting like a poser because he’s trying to impress this girl. Even to the point where he’s reciting Steppenwolf [a 1929 German novel], which at the beginning is meaningless, but as the story goes on and he becomes a little bit more enlightened in his awareness of things, the words from Steppenwolf, they start to have a different type of meaning that helps guide his path.

Well, in the beginning, a sizable amount of time goes by before you realize that a lot of this might just be in his head. He’s just imagining he’s able to impress this girl, right?

Yeah, and it’s meaningless because she doesn’t care about any of that stuff anyway.

There was definitely a lot of repetition with the themes. At one point, he references the “man and wolf dichotomy.” What’s the significance of that?

That one is a very identifiable theme. He is able to realize that in an altered state, through that altered state, he’s able to transcend beyond his intellect that you see at the beginning of the film. He’s actually able to connect the intellect with spirituality with different people. He’s talking about these different people, his assumptions on who they are, but in the end he’s actually kind of right about them. It shows how perceptive he is, he’s able to connect with people on a different plain. When the security guard is dying, he’s actually feeling it even though he’s nowhere near him. He’s somehow spiritually connected. These are all different people who represent Jeff in different ways; they represent paths of life that he could go down.

I created the wolf theme as symbolism of the primal nature of man being very savage and animal-like, it directly connects to some of the Steppenwolf references which he is obsessed with. It’s engrained in him somehow and he’s able to see that. That creature in other people, especially in Mal [mall shooter]. With the security guy, he’s connected with the snakes and the whole Haitian voodoo culture and all that. With Mal, he sees the beast, the wolf. When they actually meet, that’s a crossing point where Mal is trying to pass the torch on to Jeff. He’s saying, “Okay, my job here is done. You need to take over, get rid of me so you can finish the job.” Jeff is able to know the difference and choose for himself that he’s not predestined the way these other people are.

So he needed to go through that whole transformative experience? By the end he seemed like a stand-up guy and was even smiling…

Pretty much. He realized what the whole thing was about. His interpretation of it at least. I wanted to keep it a little open-ended to have meaning to whoever is watching it, to kind of assume that he’s going for something better. You don’t know what the future lies for him, but it’s definitely not what those other things are. He has that moment of clarity where you hear one of the songs as he goes back to the mall and he goes up the escalator and he sees the girl of his dreams making out with his buddy, but then you see him not caring too much. At the end of that scene he’s smiling, it just doesn’t bother him anymore. He’s moved on. These are all indications that he’s able to move past his former self.

I know you’ve directed music videos in the past. But this, as your full-length directorial debut, seems like a complicated story. It has so many individual back-stories that are happening at the same point in time; they all come together in the end. Was that a difficult process, going through all of those layers?

The blueprint is all in the script. I was fortunate enough to be given a great script that had the master plan in it. It was my job to build layers upon that. If you look at it as a foundation, which are the words and the story, then me as a director, I can really take that in many different directions. That’s where it became really fun.

What would you say were some of the most fun experiences shooting this?

I loved working with all of the actors. Especially with these scenes being really crazy; a lot of raw performing, letting yourself go, becoming the character and not taking yourself too seriously. Because, there is some dark stuff. All the actors, they committed themselves, but had fun doing it as well. I think for the actors it’s hard for them to envision what the director wants. Like if I explain this is the effect I’m gonna do, even though it’s never been seen, it’s kind of hard for the actor to really completely understand it. So there is always a certain level of trust. For example, when Cameron Monaghan, who plays Jeff, is in the bathroom, he’s flashing his arms around and turning into the wolf. Imagine you’re being told, “Okay, the camera is gonna be moving around and I need you to throw your arms around and imagine a wolf coming out of you.” It’s not an easy thing to do. You need to imagine what that is. I’m really grateful I was able to get that trust out of everyone, to really do the things that I was asking them to do. The movie came out great because of that.

I think it’s cool that you didn’t really seem to censor yourself either. In the first few minutes one of the characters said, “Shit-covered prick.” I just thought to myself, “Wow, they really went for it…”

Yeah, there are certain things [in the film] that I would never say to anyone [laughs]. It shows how it’s not who I am, it’s who these people are. You have to show the ugly side of things for people to really understand how truly bad they are.

So how did you go about choosing this script? What about it jumped out to you?

The interesting thing is that people who know me, and know the types of things that I’m into, I think that they would think that I’d like to do some kind of sci-fi or fantasy related film that I could really paint a cool picture with, which is definitely one of the things that I strive for, but it’s hard for me to connect with those things when the story and the characters aren’t that compelling. I was really lucky to be handed this script, for someone to see the potential in me to do something like this. I think that requires knowing someone beyond face value. I was able to really lock in with each of these characters and the story of Jeff and what’s going on in his life. I really thought I could visually shape his journey.

I think with each task it has its own unique circumstances in what you can do. One of my favorite films is Fight Club. As you mentioned, if you actually think about that film, the script versus what the film was- I don’t think I’d be able to do anything that David Fincher did because it was all his way of connecting with the film that made it unique. If you think about films like that and the way the story was told, that’s something that I strive for. Giving the unique perspective to something that’s very soulful.

What’s strange about Fight Club is that the movie was just as incredible as the book. I can’t decide which one I like more.

I would assume also that when people read that book without seeing the film first, the picture that they create in their mind would be completely different than what was actually realized on screen.

So what else is coming up in the world of Mr. Hahn, as far as music or film goes?

I love making music with the guys in Linkin Park. I think it’s a result of a great friendship we have and our ability to perform and share with the world and achieve something greater than we can individually, so we’ll keep that going. I’m hoping to do more films. Hopefully I’ll include them as well. It’s kind of an open book at this point. We’ll see what the future holds.

Interview conducted by: Derek Scancarelli

Derek Scancarelli

Derek Scancarelli is a feature writer, interviewer, videographer, photographer, radio-er and more. In 2015, he received his MA in Journalism in New York City. In addition to Under The Gun Review, Derek has worked with Noisey (VICE), Alternative Press, New Noise Magazine and many more. He also pushes some buttons at SiriusXM.

Comedian Jim Norton once called him a serial killer on national radio. Enjoy the internet with him on Twitter.
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