Filmmaker and Indie Horror hero Joe Lynch talks with us about his new film Mayhem, the evils of Corporate America, and why Indie Film matters.
I am in love with Mayhem! Joe Lynch directs the relentless, dark, incredibly funny satire about Corporate America, and it has been taking the film festivals by storm. Now, it’s finally on the way for us all to see. On November 10th, the film will be released in theaters, on VOD and Digital HD.
This week, talented director Joe Lynch found some time in his busy schedule to talk to me about the fun that is MAYHEM. This film has a lot more to say than what you might think. It’s not just a horror flick — it’s much, much more. But let’s let Joe tell you, in this candid conversation, what MAYHEM is all about, his feelings on Corporate America, and why we should continue to support Indie Films!
INTERVIEW WITH MAYHEM DIRECTOR JOE LYNCH
Los Angeles Zombie Girl: OMG Joe, I am so excited to talk to you. This is one of my favorite comedies of the year!! Corporate America is a world I have never wanted to be in and I don’t understand it. I love this funny spin on how to literally claw your way to the top of the corporate ladder!
Joe Lynch: “Thank you so much, that’s awesome. I’m so glad you didn’t hate it! Yes, working for a big corporation is not for everybody, that’s for sure.”
LAZG: You wear a lot of hats in the movie business. How did you get started?
JL: “A jack of all trades, and a master of none! Ha, ha. Honestly, I started because of my love for cinema. I was a child of the late 70s/early 80s, and film was just going from a legitimate art form to more of a commercial art form. I was the by-product of watching all that evolution and just fell in love with the process. I was so curious about everything. How did they make that big hairy guy, and the droids? I kept thinking they were actually on the other side of the screen when I was little. I remember one day, I went down to the front of the screen and tried to look around and see where those guys were at. I was so transfixed by the magic of movies that I wanted to harness that myself.”
“At first, I wanted to be a makeup effects artist, or an actor. I especially I wanted to be Tom Savini, the makeup guru; kicking ass, taking names, killing zombies and looking good while doing it. That’s the kind of shit I wanted to do. And then slowly but surely, I began to realize what all the jobs were. There’s the director, and he or she’s the one that gets to work with all the other departments, and have a vision in all those facets, making something collaborative From then on, I just wanted to just live in that world, and do anything and everything, because that I knew that it was only going to help me do things later.”
“So, I learned how to shoot, I learned how to edit, I learned how to write, kinda. I did enough so I would be able to tell anybody what I wanted specifically. And by learning that discipline, it taught me how passionate I was for film, that I still consider it an art form. Then luckily opportunity came knocking in every form, whether it was short films, music videos, a commercial, a TV show, theater, I jumped on it. All within the same goal: I wanted to do features.”
“I feel like I paid my dues. All those previous projects, all led me to have the kind of experience, so that on my first day on my first film I wasn’t totally freaking out. OK, I was freaking out, but I didn’t let anyone see it. It allowed me the kind of confidence I needed, because time is money. You don’t have the ability to sit there and go ‘hmmmm what should I do today?’”
“No, you have a gun to your head, practically. And you’re being told, you gotta do this and it’s gotta be done now, and if we go over you lose this actor. Then it starts to rain, and all these factors can really screw things up and make you look like a loser because you haven’t been able to “make your day,” and it’s not very financially responsible. So, everything was a stepping stone to my first feature, and even that, was a stepping stone, to every other feature I’ve done. And then here we are.”
LAZG: Where did the idea for Mayhem come from, and how do you describe what the movie really is?
JL: “When I describe the movie I say: ‘It’s 87 minutes, with credits. It’s an action thriller, comedy, sci-fi, horror, musical satire!’ And I can definitely say with full confidence, I am completely right…and also completely wrong. It’s kinda what you bring to it. It’s a genre bouillabaisse, a genre mash-up, in a way. The basic story is about a dangerous virus, that makes people lose their inhibitions. So, what happens if that temporary virus gets let loose in a law firm? Now the immediate response most people have is, ‘Oh my god, I want to see lawyers beat the shit out of each other, yes, I will see that movie!'”
“But there is a little more to it than that. What we do is then go macro and we start looking at the life of, and career of, this one employee at that office, who was part of a court proceeding that allowed someone to get off on murder charges because they were infected with the virus. So, with that all in mind, this poor schmuck gets fired from his job. It wasn’t his fault, he just ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time. He gets fired, but he’s at a point that he’s not even happy with the job. He wonders, ‘Why am I fighting for this job that I don’t really like? Oh wait, society tells me I have to be successful.’ But then what happens if he gets infected too?”
“Now you have this building full of really repressed, really irate lawyers and legal people, and they are tearing each other apart: whether it’s fighting, fucking, killing or wearing post-its all over their body. It’s like the sci-fi trope about having this virus opened the world up to me to be able to be satirical, but in a way that didn’t feel like I was hammering something down peoples throats. I can have a little fun with it, using what all good sci-fi does with a dangerous virus, to let us reflect on our own society.”
“That’s good sci-fi to me. But at the same time, do you call Mayhem a sci-fi movie? Not really. I don’t necessarily call it a horror film either, I think the movie’s a comedy. But maybe that just my own sick and twisted disposition. It’s got a little something for everybody. Lots of blood and buzz saws, and nail guns.”
LAZG: I saw the subtext of Mayhem as: How does one keep their soul while climbing up the ladder in Corporate America. But, it also seemed really personal. Did you ever work for a big corporation?
JL: “Easily, this is my most personal movie. I know every filmmaker is required to say that, at some point in their career, but I really, truly felt that way from the moment I read the script. Now that I can kinda reflect back, it really was the most personal thing I’ve ever done, because I’ve lived Derek’s life. I definitely have been in his situation.”
“Whether you’ve seen my other movies or listen to my podcasts with Adam Green, The Movie Crypt, you would never think of Joe Lynch in the corporate world. It’s crazy, but I had to. Movies are not made in an infrastructure that allows sustainability to the artist. It’s kinda like a ‘wham, bam, thank you whoever,’ and now you gotta fend for yourself. Gone are the days of development deals and residuals that allow people to kind of rest on their laurels, or at least support themselves, while the next project is being incubated.”
“Those days are gone, so I had to, like many others, do my film and then jump back into normal work. And in this case, after my last film Everly was done, I needed a gig bad. So, I ended up working for this corporate entity. It paid the bills temporarily, but I wasn’t happy at the job. I felt like I was creatively spinning my wheels, though my job description said “creative”, it didn’t feel that way.”
“When this script came, I literally read it in my cubicle during lunch and said, this is me. This is totally me. I know what it feels like to kind of sell your soul. Whether it’s for a modicum of success, it’s what your parents told you to do, or you’re stuck by the responsibility, because you have a family; you have an overhead and you just have to do it.”
“Not everybody gets the chance to do their dream job. And believe me, now more than ever, I’ve really come to appreciate, not many people get to do a job like I do. I get to make dumb decisions, and throw out really stupid lines like, “You open doors like my grandmother fucks,” and have that line go around the world. And that was just an improv decision. I kinda yelled out at Samara, and now that is something that people are quoting everywhere. That is crazy.
“Most people feel like they are working in a job where they are a cog in a machine, there’s no real gratification, there’s no real creative freedom. There is no creative justification anymore. Everyone is just all in it together, in this one big corporate space, and it takes 17 emails for you to get an approval on anything. No one wants to offend anybody, everyone gets triggered by hurting someone else’s feelings because they just said what they felt. So, when I got this script I said, ‘I know this guy, I know this character, I know this world’, and it went from me wanting to make this movie to me needing to make this movie. And that’s something that really changed me.”
LAZG: Do you feel like the movie has been typecast into the zombie genre, especially with Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead starring in it?
JL: “I think it was when it was first on paper. When the movie was first announced, people went, ‘Oh yeah, he’s used to bashing undead over the head. And the other actress was in an Evil Dead movie, and the director made a sex farce about zombies, and other horror movie stuff.’ So at first, they thought we were making a zombie movie. But I think now that people have seen it, since we screened at SXSW, they quickly realized that this is not a zombie movie at all.”
“It might have a few conventions that seem like zombies, or tropes that I think from anybody else or even on page might come off zombie-esque, but I don’t think so. But if it’s going to get someone to sit down and watch the movie, then yes, it’s a zombie movie. Totally a fuckin’ zombie movie! Do we have your money? Ok, now that you saw it, it’s not a zombie movie, right? Don’t you agree? Good! Let’s go get a beer!”
“I consider it more a “Worksploitation” movie than anything else. But if it’s gonna help get people to familiarize themselves with the movie by thinking it’s a zombie movie and we surprise them, hopefully happily surprise them that it isn’t, then great! I can’t deny it, I totally get it, especially if you look at the trailers, a bunch of people running around crazy. But I think quickly, just minutes into the movie, when we kind of lay the rules down, then you realize, no it’s not zombies.”
“It’s more about us, and just an unleashed version of us, an ID void version of us when we’re not so tethered to the social mores of the day — no moral tourniquet. This is just us, unbridled. And I think what’s really fun about it too, is for people to think, what would I do if I was infected? Would I be raging against the machine? Would I be bashing my head into the microwave? I would rather have a movie that gives you the “what if” situation and not just be zombies, because I think people have cornered the market on zombie movies now. We see a perfect example of that every week on AMC.”
“That’s why I don’t think zombie movies appeal to me, but there’s the idea that here’s a new device with this virus that doesn’t really make people zombies, just makes people more aggressive versions of themselves. In a law firm where everyone is being so regressive and so stilted in their emotions, — I mean, that’s what lawyers are supposed to do — what happens when you strip that away? Also the fact that in most pandemic films, the heroes are not infected, or at least one of them isn’t infected, till the end, and then one is sacrificed, yada yada. I’ve seen it a million times.”
“In Mayhem, at the end of the first act, you find out that your heroes are infected as well, and they’re doing nasty things just like everybody else. But it’s just that they have a particular agenda, and we’ve seen them in hard moments, and we like them, so it will be alright. That’s why I think the comparison ends there, because we are taking the tropes, the conventions of what you are expecting from a living dead or infection type movie, and we are satirizing that and also the corporate world.”
LAZG: I loved all the amazing little vignettes of bad behavior in the background of the film. I kept going back and looking at them, there were some hilarious moments!
JL: “That was part of the fun with this movie, working with all of the extras. We specifically made a chart, that phased out all the symptoms, so that my first ADs had a flow chart that would say: Today we are in phase 3, so people who are in phase 3 would do this and this, to help them keep track of how crazy the people are at that given time.”
“When you’re shooting such a wide screen, I love it and want to film it with as much information as possible. When I have a story with a plethora of people in the periphery, (I didn’t mean that to rhyme) when you have that opportunity, you want to make sure that you are littering the frame with things that are going to keep people looking and keep their eyes dancing the whole time. That reflects the kind of phrenetic pace that we wanted to install in the movie to keep things moving and make it feel like a roller coaster ride.”
LAZG: What is your favorite story from the making of Mayhem?
JL: “Honestly, one of the most fun days for me was at the end. Since we were shooting in Serbia, I kind of ran out of English speaking actors — so that’s where the necessity of casting myself in the movie came from. I play Ray, the IT guy with the mustache. Not an ego thing at all…I did not plan for that to happen. I joked about it a bunch of times to the actors, like, ‘Don’t make me mad or I’ll act with you!’ But the thing is, I wanted to make something that was very much an American film. That’s why I didn’t set it anywhere specific, it was just kinda anywhere USA.”
“Even though we were shooting in Serbia, we had to use a primarily local crew, unless it was one of the main leads. I couldn’t afford to bring anyone from the states or London, so we searched far and wide for anybody that I wouldn’t have to dub later. Unfortunately, we ran out of those actors, and we still had to use some actors that we had to dub. I knew that part just needed to be an American. My producer Matt was like, ‘Dude, why don’t you do it?’ And I told him the last thing I want to do right now is act when I need to make my days. We have so much to do, so little time. I don’t want to be the guy that’s holding us up because I can’t get my lines right, I’m too nervous, or I’m thinking of something else so I can’t really focus. So I put it off until literally the very last day, and I went, ‘Fine! I’ll do it!’”
“Part of that decision was made because I fell in love with those actors. They were just so good, so amazing to be with and watch act, that I was just kinda like, I gotta do it. I want to have fun with my friends. So, I do this normally on every production, I stop shaving on day one. It’s one less thing for me to worry about. On day 24 I came to set, so no one saw it coming, and here comes porn stash walking through the set. People were like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ not knowing that I was going to play the part. And it was just so much fun.”
“Of course, I’m directing the scene as well, but just being in that space with the actors was one of the best, most memorable moments of the shoot for me. Because watching those actors, on stage so to speak, watching the process — not from behind the monitor where usually I’m so removed from the process and thinking of other things. But I got to be in the moment with them and, oh man, it was just such a fun time…the perfect way to go out.”
“It was a very hard shoot, but everyone still had a good time doing it. We were just kinda wrapping things up, and it was the right kind of thing to do to make everyone remind themselves that we are here to have fun. If we are having fun, then the movie will show that. And the audience will have fun, too. That’s the tone that I wanted to set, I wanted everyone to have fun. I knew that it was dark, I knew that it was hard, I knew that it was going to be disturbing to some people. But I needed to feel that sense of fun, because if there was that balance it wouldn’t be so mean spirited. I don’t want to punish people watching this movie. I want them to enjoy it. I want them to get back on that roller coaster and try the ride again. That kind of fun factor permeated from the top down, and I walked away from that scene going, ‘I didn’t screw up! I wasn’t bad!’”
LAZG: Is there one last thing you’d like to tell people, that you feel is important?
JL: “Please support Indie Cinema, because it is all going away unfortunately. This is an amazing opportunity, to be able to present this kind of movie to you and it’s not on a million screens. It doesn’t have the marketing money that most Marvel or Disney movies have, so it’s all word of mouth.”
“But the thing that would best help the industry right now is pay for a ticket, buy it on iTunes, or VOD. I personally think you should see it in the theater, because it is a wholly different experience when seeing it in an audience. Trust me, I’ve done it about 20 times now at festivals. And not to sound like an ego dick or anything, but 5 audience awards definitely means we are doing something right! Pay for it, don’t steal it. It means a lot. So please go out, support the Indie scene and support crazy wacky little movies like Mayhem!”