Brandon Cronenberg: The Culture Brats Interview

Brandon Cronenberg is that rare interview subject that immediately dispels the myth of his own creative genesis. Born the son of legendary and controversial filmmaker David Cronenberg, you'd think he just stumbled into movie making the way one falls unceremoniously into a gravel pit before discovering you have a god-given talent for shoveling.

Superb lineage aside, his chilling but oddly hard-hitting first feature, Antiviral, competed at Cannes in 2012 and was shown later at the Toronto International Film Festival, where edited and streamlined, it won for best Canadian first feature film.

I've got to tell you that I was surprised to find out that you went the unexpected and ultimately more difficult route by choosing body horror themed material . This is a gutsy but high stakes move considering you are slightly familiar with the master of body horror, the Baron of Blood himself. Did you ever have a moment during filming where you said to yourself, "I should have done a romantic comedy?"
Well, I didn't set out specifically to make a body horror film. I was just sort of, from the start, doing whatever I found interesting. I kind of thought that if I was going to get into filmmaking that I couldn't really worry about my father's career and what I was doing related to that, or else it would be kind of paralyzing and also it would define me squarely in opposition to him and it would define my work in terms of his career. I just kind of wrote a film that I thought was interesting and tried not to think about it too much.

This movie is a very specific bloody and withering critique on our obsession with celebrity culture. Frankly, we devour it and can't seem to get enough. In this film, it is a wanted infection. Growing up the son of a famous man who was on and around film sets filled with celebrities, do you feel you have a take on this that other filmmakers may have been lacking?
One scene in the film is the difference between celebrities as sort of these cultural constructs or media constructs and the human being behind that sort of public idea. I know it's not a novel observation to say that celebrities as they are in the media are different from the real person, but I think that when you know people and are meeting people who have that public "double," it's still somehow shocking how far that divide is. It definitely informed the script to a certain degree I think, just knowing people who live this.

I read that much of the idea for this movie came to you in a feverish bout of high-fevered sickness where the thought of infection married celebrity obsession. You'd expect the resulting visuals in the film to be messy and contorted and yet it's shot in beautiful stark whiteness. Was that a budgetary necessity or a conscious choice?
It was an aesthetic choice. I thought, first of all, white is kind of an interesting way to control the frame and the eye of the viewer. Because if you have mostly a white frame, then anything that's not white, like the faces of the celebrities on the walls or the blood... When there starts to be blood in one environment, it tends to really pop and it has a certain visual weight to it. But also, I guess one of my interests was that divide between celebrities as these ideas in the public consciousness and these sort of conceptual idealized humans and the physical body that's so unrelated. I wanted to reflect that in the production design a bit, have these very sterile, inhuman environments, and then contrast that with macro shots of the body and more dirty environments and the blood and have them combine at the end.

The film competed at Cannes in 2012 and was shown again at the Toronto International Film Festival after being re-edited, where it won best Canadian first feature film. After Cannes, it was six minutes lighter. What did you choose to take out and why?
The think about Cannes is , and I hear this is common--I say this like I've been there a million times--but in my experience, filmmakers are often rushing to get their films finished before that festival and so a lot of films end up changing after it. We had a finished film. It was finished, it was mixed, it was completely polished, but we hadn't had that time to step away from it and look at it with fresh eyes. When we saw it at the festival, that was the first time we had seen it after a very lengthy period of intense editing and post production, and so when we saw it we thought about those six minutes. In fact, those six minutes were all contained in this one area where the film took a kind of detour and we actually ended up cutting some of my favorite scenes, but they were scenes that were just happening at the wrong time in the film and it was a better film overall without them. Even though the scenes themselves, I really liked them. It was kind of an agonizing decision, but the shorter version is the better film even though those scenes, on their own, I thought were good ideas at the wrong time and there was nowhere else to fit them in.

That makes sense, and while we'll be seeing the film here in the States on April 12th, eventually there will be the DVD. Will those deleted scenes make the DVD?
Yeah, pretty much everything we've cut is planned for the DVD and the Blu-Ray.

I felt like this movie was very well cast. You worked with Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Malcolm McDowell; those are some pretty heavy hitters who've seen some celebrity shenanigans in their time. Did you get any feedback from them on the pluses or drawbacks of the celebrity culture?
Definitely. I think they all have their own relationships with that kind of thing. I mean Caleb is living in LA and I definitely think that's one of the hearts of that kind of celebrity culture and so it was maybe more personal to him having moved there, because he's not originally from there and he's not like a big LA guy. He's a Texas guy living in LA. Sarah is experiencing some of her own as she's becoming more visible, that kind of fetishization that the film talks about that often is directed towards women in the film industry. Well, I don't want to speak for them, but I'll assume they had ideas of their own experiences related to what we were talking about.

I wonder sometimes if LA has natives, it always seemed the kind of place you went to, to see and be seen, with a crazy dream and a suitcase. The real world is almost as fame-fixated as the world created in this movie, which makes it doubling terrifying to be honest with you. It scared me a little bit because I know people who clamor to get near fame and celebrity. The movie takes it to the extreme. Physically, they want to experience the same things their obsessions are experiencing, even if that's sickness or disease. It's an infection.
The point wasn't specifically about dangerous fans, although I think that's true. But I think it's more that at a certain point that kind of celebrity mania represents a loss of perspective and a kind of insanity that I think is very unhealthy for people. It's one thing to have respect for someone because you like their work and to take an interest in them because you like their work. But that kind of crazed fandom is, I think, something very unhealthy. I guess the film is really caricaturing that culture only very slightly because it's already so insane.

I'll go ahead and assume that growing up you had a large number of people who thought you'd tend naturally to gravitate towards film and go to film school because of your fabulous gene pool. I'd read that you had a bit of a backlash against that initially and then you revisited the idea after realizing that you actually were interested despite it all.
I wouldn't say I went the complete opposite way, but I definitely was less inclined to get into films just because of people's preconceptions. I grew up with a lot of people assuming a lot of things about me because of my father and his career. One of those things was that I must want to be in film and I must want to be a director, and that was obnoxious, so I enjoyed telling them that I didn't have any interest in it and I didn't wan't to get involved and so I didn't.

I don't think that I was harboring some secret desire to get into films, I think that just at a certain point it seemed like an art form that I wanted to try because I was doing some writing and some visual art and some music and I wasn't really focusing on any one thing. Film seemed like a way to play in all those playgrounds, but stay focused on one thing.

What is your personal favorite type of film?
I really don't have a favorite type of film . I'll watch any kind of film as long as it's good! I get a lot of questions about "How much do I like horror?" and I must be a horror guy because I made a horror film. I do like horror films, but I'm not specifically a serious horror fan. I just like anything at all that's good.

There is so much more to this film than horror though. It's visually stunning and a very mature for well, to be honest, for such a young filmmaker. Many times, right out of the gate you can see the potential, but it's not all there yet. But the choices you made reminded me of a much more seasoned writer/director. I can't wait for American audiences to see this. It's a very fresh and exciting watch.
That's incredibly kind of you. I'm also eager to see what American audiences think.

IFC Midnight will release Antiviral theatrically at The IFC Center and on VOD on April 12th, 2013.

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