UTG INTERVIEW: Directors Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson Discuss ‘Spring’

moorhead and benson

Co-directors Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson released their debut film, Resolution, in 2012 to wide praise and an almost immediate cult following. We loved it and were excited to see what the future held for these two filmmakers, especially after they revealed to us that their next project was already well on its way.

Spring was released last month, and much like their first effort, it’s been scooping up loads of acclaim from all corners of the horror-loving world. It’s a monster movie but it’s a love story. It’s gorgeous in aesthetic, story and tone. It’s a great contribution to the paranormal genre and we’re happy to see now that Resolution wasn’t merely a fluke.

We recently had the chance to discuss the film with Moorhead and Benson (and the film’s star, Nadia Hilker, who was with the guys at the time of the interview). Follow us below to read our conversation on all things Spring as the film’s directors fear for their lives (Jokingly, of course – maybe).

The film came out on the first day of Spring. Was that smart, intentional marketing or a cool coincidence?

Justin: That is the genius of Drafthouse Films. Fun right? Tim League is basically the most impressive man on the planet and comes up with all these fun marketing things.

Nadia: (Pokes her head in, hands covered in…I hope that’s beet juice) I think it’s cute! (bunch of banging noises — what the hell? — she has a knife for some reason).

I’ve never been to Italy so I wouldn’t really know apart from some major landmarks, but where were all the locations you filmed Spring?

Justin: They were all in a wonderful region called Apulia. The Apulian Film Commission was the only reason we could make the film work financially, and they really took care of us. It was mostly a lovely little town called Polignano a Mare and it is pretty much exactly as you see it in Spring.

Nadia: Everybody in that town is so wonderful. I loved that place (Okay — pretty sure she’s making tea at like midnight, but seriously who makes tea that loud? I don’t see the knife anymore).

spring poster

There’s a lot of drinking in Spring, as there was in Resolution. Is this an intentional theme?

Justin: We like to give actors business that brings out more of that conversational naturalism, and, well, for some reason I always write about bars and hostels and people bonding over a couple beers or a bottle of wine. Maybe when I’m writing it’s wish fullfillment of what I’d prefer to be doing. We actually don’t even drink that much though.

Nadia: (Runs through the room with some weird plant I’ve never see before) I drink way less than Louise!

I’m a huge Jimmy LaValle (The Album Leaf, Tristeza) fan and before actually knowing he was involved, I kind of got a sense of it from the score, which is gorgeous and adds perfectly to the aesthetic of the film. How did you guys get involved with him on this?

Justin: My first job out of college was documenting the making of one of his albums. We lived in a studio in Seattle, then I followed him to go finish the album at Sigur Ros’ studio in Iceland. Pretty amazing first gig running around with a camera. Anyhow, we stayed in touch and he was the only person on Earth who could have scored this movie — being sentimental, beautiful, and cinematic without being cheesy is something he does incredibly well. Working with him was like watching someone do magic.

Nadia: That score makes me cry and want to adopt puppies! (Where the hell did she get that weird hat and why are there 6 different kinds of shampoos in my shower?)

As a vinyl collector and someone who’s noticed the huge rise in scores and soundtracks being pressed to vinyl, this is one in particular that I’d love to own in that format. Do you happen to know of any plans for that to happen?

Justin: I hope so! But for now you can buy it online digitally.

(Some weird loud popping that sounds like explosives — okay she’s cooking pumpkin seeds for some reason. I’ve lived alone my whole adult life — is cooking seeds at midnight normal?)

Nadia: Justin has a vinyl collection but it’s pretty weak. I hope he buys Jimmy’s score so there’s more than two Tom Waits albums and like RJD2. Strong but small. DO YOU LIKE POMEGRANATE VINEGAR?!

(Okay, it wasn’t blood).

Justin: I have no idea!

The camera work in Spring seems more ambitious and grand than it was in Resolution as well, which almost seems necessary given the scenery involved. You have some great aerial shots and some where the camera is kind of flying in between structures. Did you use choppers and drones for those shots? Who’s controlling the drone in a situation like that?

Justin: Ah, yes. We could have way more fun with the cinematography of Spring as the story didn’t require as much minimalism. And yes, some very fun drone shots by our Steadicam Op/1st AC, Will Sampson. That man is a gift to any production and we were so, so lucky to have him.

Nadia: (She has the knife again — now I see she’s using it to hack open an avocado, but the motion is very similar to a certain scene in Spring. Messy, loud. I hope she cleans that after she hopefully doesn’t stab me.) He’s a good smelling genius who loves gelato. Really. I found him one night sitting in an abandoned building eating gelato. And Oh! He always wears white v-neck shirts and he flies his crazy drone thing really good.

You guys released a look into your grass roots marketing campaign for this film. How much of that was a reality as far as the sign spinning, Craiglist posting, etc.

Aaron: It’s not too far off from the truth. For example, the days before the release we were carefully cutting up little rip-off flyer tabs like you make for garage sales, gluing them to these tiny little postcards for the movie, then taping/stapling them all over LA. A bird very literally took a dump on me while I was taping it to a pole. That’s when I knew I’d made it.

I caught an Aaron and Justin “Easter egg” in the film. What was the footage from on the TV in Spring?

Justin: That footage was from a Giallo-styled film festival promo we did a couple years back.

Nadia: (She is singing German folk songs and cutting crunchy things very fast, again with the big-ass knife. Nerve-racking.) I PREFER THE SUBTLETY OF YOU AND AARON’S PERFORMANCES IN SPRING!

Justin: Nadia, we were only in Spring for barely a second each…

Nadia: Yes, that’s what I mean.

(Now I see she was just making a salad for us. Maybe she’s not that much of a monster. Maybe. Handing off this interview to Aaron who has been on a Google Hangout screen making sure I’m not fucking sliced to pieces by my house guest.)

There wasn’t a whole lot of digital effects going on in Resolution compared to Spring. I’m usually not a fan of CGI where I feel it could be avoided in favor of practical effects but it definitely works here. What was it like transitioning into utilizing that more and how did you choose when and where to go digital as opposed to using effects like make-up or maybe puppetry and whatnot?

(I have decided to answer one half of each question before I had coffee in the morning, then the other half after three shots of espresso)

Aaron: Why are you asking me so many questions this early in the WE ALWAYS USE A MIX OF PRACTICAL AND VISUAL EFFECTS, GETTING THE AWESOME PRACTICAL EFFECTS AS CLOSE TO REAL ON SET, THEN JUST PUSHING IT A LITTLE FURTHER WITH VISUAL EFFECTS!!!! I GOT MY START DOING LIGHTSABER VIDEO VISUAL EFFECTS SO IT COMES A BIT NATURALLY AFTER FIFTEEN YEARS OR SO!

When Evan blasts through Louise’s door and we get that first full reveal, I had to pause it and stare. I was in love. I don’t know how much you can tell me since it’s still kind of early, but where did the ideas and inspirations come from for that “creature”?

(The first half of the question is answered as myself, then as Obama addressing the nation after a particularly nasty PR scandal)

Aaron: We realized that there’s never really been a proper link drawn between our own human evolution and what we think of as classic movie monsters: amphibious primordial skin/Lovecraftian sea creatures, primate fur/werewolves, fangs/vampires. At this time, I cannot confirm or deny that we made our greatest attempt to satisfy the people of this great nation by keeping one simple pseudo-scientific idea as the basis for this situation, and allow all the other qualities and rules follow from that. Thank you very much, God bless.

So I sense a lot of Linklater inspiration in this film. The Before trilogy mostly. You’ve got some long tracking shots, the foreign country, love story, dialogue about love and life – and he happened to praise the film as well which is amazing. Was he actually an inspiration in this, even though you have the horror element included?

(This question was answered, then run through Google Translate in Chinese, then back to English)

Aaron: Personally, I do not see my life ever in Richard Linklater film before we start Spring. Although I know Justin up did to. We never consciously try to imitate other filmmakers often feel familiar if it shows that the two of us, we should go the other way, but of course we all stand on the shoulders of giants, and did not avoid the impact. We do not want to be compared to a man so great, because we will disappoint, when the movie is not as good as Before trilogy.

To continue with the Linklater thing a bit – could you see yourselves doing the kind of 9-years-later sequel with Spring? It could technically work. Is that something that was ever even joked about in some light?

Advertising Executive: You can see the astonishing alternate ending for Spring on DVD/Blu-Ray coming out this Summer for the low, low price of…

(No, but seriously, there’s a tongue-in-cheek alt ending on the blu-ray).

Jeremy Gardner was in the film which was cool to see. His debut film came out the same year as your guys’ did. Were you already friends going into this movie?

(The following is written by me, Aaron, trying to pretend to be Jeremy Gardner’s beard)

Jeremy’s Beard, “Thor”: We met in a fest in Amsterdam where we became lifelong enemies. Then we met again at a fest in Brazil and became lifelong friends. They always wanted me and the rest of Jeremy for the role after we met him, and we were so happy we said yes even though they criminally underused our genius.

Was there anything vastly different in how you went about creating this film as opposed to the process of Resolution?

Aaron: With Resolution, we pretty much just went out and made it. It was written with the cast, crew, budget, location and talent in mind. Spring was a bit more ambitious, and was created by dudes whose fantasy was to go shoot in the most beautiful place in the world, and the complications that come with all of that. But we’d be lying if we didn’t say this was all bootstrapped from the ground up; we just had to piece every tiny little thing together to make it work, and we were just finding our way around it.

What are your thoughts, as filmmakers, on the rising VOD platform and its effects on the film industry? And furthermore, as you and Drafthouse took this BitTorrent route as of late, what are are your thoughts on these platforms as the future of distribution? How long before going to the theater is obsolete?

Aaron: I got most of this insight from Drafthouse’s founder Tim League: The more ways people can see indie films, the better. The hardest thing in the world is to get people to just watch an indie movie when you don’t have the budget to throw it in their face on billboards and bus stops all the time. Every new avenue is a blessing. Theatres will simply become another one of those avenues rather than a replacement. Theatres aren’t in competition with VOD and piracy, they’re now in competition with events like restaurants or improv shows. They’re a “night out,” not the way to see movies.

You guys just did an AMA on Reddit recently. What do you feel is the importance of having that connection with fans in this day and age? You guys already have a kind of DIY approach so do you feel that connecting with fans via social media and forums like that could be beneficial to even more mainstream directors and industry professionals in any way or mainly just those still trying to climb the ranks?

Aaron: Most people frame the importance of social media wrong. It’s not like “that new thing you now have to do to succeed.” It should be something you want to do, to have a dialogue with people that want to talk about the film. But in short, it’s everything. Movies like ours live or die on word of mouth.

The last time we talked, a couple years ago, you told me that your next project following Resolution was Spring, so I was happy to see that was the case when the first trailer came out. You also mentioned at the time that you had at least two other features written. I know now that you’re working on your Aleister Crowley project. Anything you can reveal about that?

(The following was written by the ghost of Aleister Crowley)

Aleister: I’m so proud of the film that the boys are making about my life. Although it is contained to a short time span, it honors the spirit of my great life as neither hero nor villain, but rather an extraordinary human being with many admirable traits. I am also sorry to say that they have captured the essence of my later life as well, where my admirable traits became a bit corrupted by taking my libertine viewpoints to their logical extremes to become what the press later called “The Wickedest Man In The World.”

Something I’ve always been kind of curious about — as insignificant as it may be — how do you choose whose name goes first in your films’ credits – like with ‘A Moorhead & Benson Film’ for example.

Aaron: Moorhead&Benson is the official name of our co-directorship, but the order is arbitrary and is always followed by a switch-up: Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. We are equal creative partners.

And overall, as still-budding filmmakers, what have been the biggest challenges for you in getting these projects off the ground and onto the big screen? Any advice to help smooth those difficulties for other young, aspiring filmmakers?

No, sadly there’s no magic piece of advice that will make anything easier. Like dating, it’s all-consuming with a lot of let-down and failure and rejection, and there’s no one way to do it right. The only thing you can do is to keep making movies, however and whenever you can, and never stop.

‘Spring’ can be rented or purchased now via iTunes.

Brian Leak

Editor-In-Chief. King of forgetting drinks in the freezer. Pop culture pack rat. X-Phile. LOST apologist.
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