Blue Ruin Interview. An interview with Blue Ruin (2013)’s director Jeremy Saulnier and its star Macon Blair on how an understanding wife, childhood friends, and a Kickstarter campaign created blue success.
Blue Ruin is a revenge tragedy, set in a modern-day small town. Dwight (Macon Blair) plays a man who’s down on his luck, living in his car and eating out of dumpsters. The film soon tempts Dwight into taking revenge on the man who caused his sorry state. As the film’s title suggests, this emotionally devastated man falls face-first into a ruinous debacle that involves murder.
Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier and lead actor Macon Blair have known each other since childhood, making their first movie together in 1988. “A bunch of us in the neighborhood, this was the pre-internet era, we found each other through filmmaking.” Watching the film, it’s as if Blair was the human extension of Saulnier’s darkly plotting mind, creating seamless story telling. The two know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, as if they were their own.
While the film has the gravitas of an ancient Greek tragedy, it surprisingly feels modern and accessible. We asked Saulnier if he set out to make something so dark.
“It had a tragic arc from the very beginning and it had to end there. I experimented with alternate endings, but I ultimately came to the conclusion that this had to wrap up a certain way. While I didn’t quite know where to go narratively, I knew tonally that it had to end somewhere and it needed closure. So without giving away spoilers, of course, it always was a cautionary tale.”
The character of Dwight goes to exact revenge a la the ‘eye for an eye’ edict, despite having no prior training or preparation to do so. The result is that Dwight bumbles through much of the violence, evoking uncomfortable laughs from the audience but also allowing the heinous act to be accessible in a way most on-screen murders are not.
“We didn’t play that scene for laughs, but the ineptitude of the protagonist can’t help but ground that experience. The whole thing is not a celebration of murder or to make it accessible to people, but it is about exploring what might happen if one were to indulge themselves and live out this fantasy. As the film progresses and our protagonist’s journey spirals downward, it’s about, yeah, what if we did indulge? It probably wouldn’t go so easily. It does sort of ground it in a certain accessibility and reality, but then the film explores that life continues past that point. Well, for some,” said Saulnier. Correct, only some will continue their lives. And that’s when Dwight discovers the true hazards of taking revenge.
“There’s logistics and complications and blowback that are never explored in the cinematic space and that’s the point of Blue Ruin, to explore these complications and logistical inconveniences that would arise and ultimately come to the conclusion that killing people, while the act itself is highly accessible and just requires a decision to be made, the effects of those decisions are beyond most peoples depth.”
Saulnier said he had to convince Blair to play a man on a mission of vengeance because Blair is less in tune with murder.
Blair explained, “That was something we definitely went back and forth about. Many people suffer tragedies like this but most don’t go out and seek vengeance on the people who did it to them. Most people grieve and they figure out a way to go on with their life. But then there was the very practical point of, well, if he doesn’t do this, we don’t have a movie. So it was about how to make it emotionally honest. It gets summed up in the conversation he has with his sister. She says, ‘You’re not crazy, you’re weak.’ And it doesn’t end up balancing the scales at all, it just made things so much worse.”
Blair says he doesn’t have any formal training in acting, he studied screenwriting in school and that most of his experience comes from working with other filmmakers who cast him in their projects. But he cherished having a lead role.
“The role was the type of thing I don’t get a chance to do too often, something so juicy. It was a great opportunity.”
Blair and Saulnier spent months prior to the shoot, discussing the character of Dwight and exploring his every thought. Blair said when he was on set it was very technical.
“It was mechanical and all about standing in the right place and trying to follow Jeremy’s direction. We didn’t have the luxury of sitting around and discussing it on set, we just had to do it.”
Blue Ruin showed at Cannes last year and after the screening, Saulnier booked an earlier flight back to New York, not realizing the movie was eligible for the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) prize and almost headed home. Luckily, his PR team sent him a text and he stayed to collect the award.
“It’s been a shocking year of festival rides. The film premiered and sold two hours later,” said Saulnier. The film was picked up by Radius, with the Weinstein name behind them and sold 25 territories in a week. Not bad.
In a delightfully surprising casting choice, Eve Plumb, best known for playing Jan Brady on The Brady Bunch, plays the role of Kris Cleland, a twisted matriarch with a dark agenda. When she sent in her audition tape, Saulnier didn’t know who she was but said she killed the audition. He showed her tape to Blair.
“Jeremy said, ‘don’t you think this lady is great?’ And I was like yeah! You know who that is? It’s Jan-goddamn-Brady!” said Blair.
Saulnier added, “She was fabulous, really generous.”
As for financing the film, Blair explains the choice of using Kickstarter to raise money.
“It was kind of out of necessity. Jeremy and his wife had already emptied out their retirement accounts and ran up a huge bill on their credit cards. But we needed a bit more cash to pay the crew – that we couldn’t put on a credit card.”
They did the Kickstarter campaign, originally asking for $35,000. They got $38,000, allowing them to go into production.
Saulnier says they were hesitant to ask people to contribute their money to the project, but they only asked after they were tapped out. “It allowed us to bridge the gap between where we were and where we needed to be,” the young director said. Seems to have paid off.
Blue Ruin opens in limited release, April 25.
Leave your thoughts on Blue Ruin and this interview below in the comments section. For more Blue Ruin photos, videos, and information, visit our Blue Ruin Page, subscribe to us by Email, “follow” us on Twitter, Tumblr, or “like” us on Facebook. The Blue Ruin will be released in US theaters through RADiUS-TWC and Picturehouse Entertainment on April 25, 2014.