Mark Pellington's versatile, fascinating resume as a filmmaker includes the paranoid thriller ARLINGTON ROAD (1998) with Jeff Bridges and Tim Robbins; the horror mystery THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (2002) with Richard Gere; the innovative concert movie U2 3D (2007); the offbeat, thoughtful comedy HENRY POOLE IS HERE (2008) with Luke Wilson; the unforgettable, coruscating I MELT WITH YOU (2011) with Rob Lowe, Thomas Jane and Jeremy Piven; and his latest film, the comedy drama THE LAST WORD (2017), with Shirley Maclaine and Amanda Seyfried. Getting his start in MTV, Pellington is also one of the most exciting, innovative music video directors working, with U2's 'One' and Pearl Jam's 'Jeremy' amongst many memorable, game-changing highlights. He also directs short films and documentaries, and executively produces the TV mystery series Blindspot. The breadth of his work across different formats speaks to his talent, passion and great interest in the world around and inside him. In the second part of a three-part interview, I spoke to Pellington about the making of THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, U2 3D, HENRY POOLE IS HERE, and I MELT WITH YOU, and the themes and approaches of his work.

Part one of the interview.

How did you get involved with THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES? 
The same company that produced ARLINGTON ROAD, Lakeshore Entertainment, offered it to me as we were mixing the film, and I passed on it because I didn't want to be making another movie that soon. They came back about a year and a half later, and they had rewritten it and it had gotten kind of weird and become kind of a creature movie, so I got hold of all the different drafts and cut and pasted together a draft rewrite with two writer friends Laewis Klahr and Ernie Marrero. It was the draft I wanted to do. They showed that version to Richard Gere and he liked it. We had made everything more suggestive and less overt. More ambiguous.

The finished film is pretty much that draft. I'm really proud of that movie. I love it. I think it still holds up, and it has gathered a little cult around it. I like it the same way I like DON'T LOOK NOW (1973) or the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956).

How much of a believer in the supernatural are you? 
I believe in the power of the human mind – madness, subjective disturbances, mental illness, dementia. I believe in grounded reality. I grew up watching and loving ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976), THE CONVERSATION (1974), and Sidney Lumet movies. I never watched fantasy, and even now I never watch stuff like LORD OF THE RINGS or Game of Thrones or any of these comic book movies. I don't relate to them. I grew up in the age of Watergate and punk rock. Realism, realism, realism.

When you were putting together the script of THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, were you trying to ground it as much as possible? 
Yes, I think so. Guillermo Del Toro picked me to do a remake of THE ORPHANAGE (2007) a few years ago and we tried to get it going. He loved THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES. I would tell him ''The more it's in your brain, the better. '' We would have these discussions about the power of the mind. I've just never had an affinity for creatures or monsters.

What was it like collaborating with Richard Gere? 
Richard was great; a gentleman, a pro. The whole movie was him reacting, and he's a very good actor for genre, a terrific truth seeker and reactor. He was great at keeping it real and restrained.

With U2 3D, you were working with new advanced technology. Are you someone very comfortable with technology and someone who sees it as always a positive thing? 
I'm not a very tecchie person. The smaller the camera, the better. I was asked to be involved in the film by the band because they knew at the time that the co-director, Catherine Owens, had not had quite enough experience. I was a security blanket to aid her.

Filming a concert is very easy, frankly. It's not possible to shoot a bad angle at any one of U2's shows. I remember meetings where people would say ''You can't do this. You can't do that. You can't move the camera here. '' We talked to James Cameron and he said ''You should do anything you want with it. '' He was sort of wrong. Poor Catherine spent a year in post figuring out tech focus issues and the 3-D, and rendered a beautiful film. I'm proud to have been part of the team. This was 2005, which is so long ago in relation to 3-D and digital.

What do you find the most enjoyable about working with U2?
They're good, down-to-earth blokes, like any of these artists – Bruce Springsteen or The Foo Fighters. Interpreting their music is a gift. The great ones are very trusting and let you do your own thing.

Do you feel you have to fight a tendency to be bold and innovative when you are creatinfg, or is it story that you are always the most focussed on? 
It really depends what I am working on. I made this 57-minute music film called LONE (2014) for an artist named Chelsea Wolfe. The 'story' that I got out of it is like something out of a Jodorowsky or Lynch or Tarkovsky film. It's completely unconscious and very symbolic. My next goal is to make something that is like 'my version' of UNDER THE SKIN (2013). That was one of my favorite films of the last few years. It had enough of a plot to keep you going but wasn't over-talky. It worked on a subconscious level. Big screen. Cinema.

It's all about character. I do enjoy plot though, especially when I do TV. I love all these different mediums. If I want to go and play with the unconscious, I'll do a music video or a short film or a poem. If I really want to go and tell a story in a clearer narrative and a different way, I'll go and do a TV pilot. It's good. I feel like I can express myself personally as well as pay the bills. I feel like I've never worked a day in my life.

Would something like MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015) be something you'd be interested in doing?
Oh, yeah. The TV series I produce, and directed the first few episodes of, Blindspot, is pretty big. It's like THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002) meets MEMENTO (2000). After I finished directing the pilot I thought ''I'd like to do a movie like this. '' It was probably the equivalent of a $50 to 70 million movie. I had fun.

You know, life kind of derailed me a little bit, but I have one final act. I have been climbing my way back up. I would crush a movie like FURY ROAD. To make that kind of movie you do need the access and the success though, to put yourself in the position to get those kind of opportunities.

I found HENRY POOLE IS HERE to be a different film for you, and very affecting. 
I was very sad, and grieving my wife's death, and newly sober, so I liked the positivity and the sweetness of the story. That's where I was at the time. I don't think I could make that movie now. I love the movie and I am very proud of Luke Wilson's performance. I don't blame anyone for how it did at the box office. Sometimes they land, sometimes they don't.

I MELT WITH YOU provided quite the contrast.
Yes. I had relapsed, and my mother had died. I was fucking angry and sad. The Orphanage wasn't going. The economy collapsed. Another movie collapsed. I had been making these videos on 5D, and I was like ''Fuck this. The system is out of control. I'm having to beg people to make movies. The only way I can get control is to get some money, put up the rest myself and say ''Let's go and make the movie. '' ''It's a movie I loved doing and am really proud of.

It must have been a cathartic experience making it. 
Fuck yes! Incredibly cathartic. To a degree that's all it was. My agent said afterwards ''Well, you needed to get that out of your system. '' I said ''Yup!'' I'm proud of its expressionism. I learned a lot. The great thing is that the movie will be there forever. When it came out, people just jumped all over it. There are people discovering it now who think it's cool. It's like one day it was suddenly TWO-LANE BLACKTOP (1971) or something.

How does negative criticism generally affect you? 
When critics come after you with their knives, they really come after you. It's not fun, especially when you feel it's personal. It's tough as a filmmaker to read that stuff. When you make a movie that is unrelentingly dark and uncompromising, that's often what happens. Or non-cynical. You just have to accept it and move on, but it does make it harder getting another film going, which is what happened with I MELT WITH YOU.

How much of the film was you dealing with your middle age? 
Most of it. I think I was 47 when I started shooting it so I was definitely squinting at 50 and all that entails. I think though that it was more to do with my mother dying. My father had already passed. You really realise that you're next. Something happens when your second parent dies. You can't explain it. It profoundly changes you. Having a child myself and being a single father as well ... a lot was going on.

How much of the movie was improvised? 
It's all scripted. A couple of moments are improvised, especially in the party scenes, but it's mostly scripted. Everyone gave great performances.

How did the very distinctive use of color come about? 
My cinematographer on the film, Eric Schmidt, and I had been doing a lot of videos together at that point with the 5D camera. We had a great color grader on the film. It was all stuff we had been doing on my videos.

Do you see any themes yourself that run through your work? For example, you often seem attracted to characters who are in extreme situations and are more hyper aware of reality and their surroundings than other people. 
That's true. It's also ironic that I made a film about two widowers and I became one myself. I think I am interested in male protagonists who are lost and are going through a very dense, fucked up journey to try and come to terms with some kind of truth, which I can certainly relate to. But there are no rules really to what I am drawn to. When my life changed, I didn't just want to take any kind of movie, which is why I didn't make so many for a while. But then the business changed and suddenly the films I wanted to make, mid-level thrillers, got sucked away. There are 80% less movies made now by the studios than there were ten years ago. So if you haven't hit the A List or you're not a genre guy, then it's difficult. Plus of course they always want the 'new guy' who just had a hit. Everybody is one movie away from getting back in the game. I tend to hold firm to the projects I want to do, but I'm open to any new challenges. That said, I don't want to do anything I don't feel I will do a good job on. 

There's a project called Clang that I have been trying to make since before 'Jeremy'. It's ambitious and deeply personal, and is a film I feel like I have to make. And I will. 

Part three of the interview.  

Pellington's LONE short film can be viewed here.  Pellington's other short films, videos and TV pilots can be viewed here.

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