This week, acclaimed music-video director, Dave Meyers, marks his feature film debut with, The Hitcher. A reworking of the 1986 cult classic, the new film stars Sean Bean (Lord of The Rings) in the eponymous role of a mysterious drifter who snares a young couple (One Tree Hill’s Sophia Bush and newcomer, Zach Knighton) into a deadly game of cat and mouse on the back roads of New Mexico. Rest assured, audiences aren’t the only ones hanging onto the edge of their seats in the most exciting new thriller to be released this year. As Meyers explains, making your first film can be an equally terrifying experience…
WHAT WAS IT LIKE SHOWING THE FILM TO AN AUDIENCE FOR THE FIRST TIME?
Petrifying (laughs)… That said, after hearing all the applause and laughter, today I feel really good about it. Yesterday, though, I was nervous. I mean, we only finished the film three days ago!
ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO GO BACK AND CHANGE?
There always will be, (laughs)! But I think for the most part, it’s ready. It’s one of those things where you get pried out of the editing room and they tell you, “Ok, you’re done”
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE A HORROR MOVIE FOR YOUR FIRST FILM?
Michael Bay. Michael Bay has this operation, remaking these movies and what not. True, being a powerful director, he has final cut over these small films. But there was also a respect for my coming from videos and commercials. And I thought I could do a movie like this, one that has such a strong visual appeal. When they showed me the script, I thought, wow, there are great characters too…. there’s a lot that I can do with this. When I studied the original, I also thought I could improve on certain things. I thought I could make things different, particularly with the girlfriend-boyfriend aspect. I think that changes the film altogether. So, in a sense, it’s inspired from the original and it still had a chance to be fresh. It all just clicked.
I TAKE IT THIS IS A BIG BREAK FOR YOU?
A very big break.
WHAT WERE YOUR EXPECTATIONS GOING IN?
I was simply petrified! I’m still petrified. And I’m glad it’s done! There’s just so much weight that’s put on it. A lot of what made me feel comfortable, though, is that at least it’s cheap. It’s strange to say, but there’s so much of the business of movie making that overshadows the quality of movie making. And so I thought, if I get pushed around and don’t get my vision through, at least it’s low budget and will make it’s money back and I’ll get credit for being part of a success. That was my emergency fallback plan. The surprise was that people actually started to trust and listen to me. And I was able to really, I think, pull out a special film from it. We’re still waiting to hear on the box office. But I think there’s actually a good movie in there.
DID YOU EVER WISH YOU HAD A BIGGER BUDGET FOR IT?
No. I didn’t want to take that chance. I’m new to the game. And we didn’t need it for this film. If I had Harry Potter running around with a magic wand, then I’d like $100-million. But with The Hitcher it’s a very specific kind of film.
HOW DID IT DIFFER FROM YOUR PREVIOUS WORK IN MUSIC VIDEOS?
With videos, you’re a ‘brander’. You’re part of a marketing team helping an artist position themselves. Or helping the product, which is the song, which is already defined for you. You just image it. There’s a limited window of creative people that tend to be fans of certain videos. You know, I’ve done 200 videos and maybe 10 of them people remember (laughs). If I did 200 films, I’m sure a lot more than ten would be remembered.
WERE YOU A FAN OF THE ORIGINAL HITCHER?
I was a fan. But not to the extent that certain people are. I had seen it as a kid and that was the last time - until they approached me for this film. Growing up I also liked The Texas Chainsaw 2 & 3, Spit on Your Grave – when you’re an adolescent boy you look for any of that stuff that has blood and sex mixed together (laughs).
WHAT APPEALED TO YOU ABOUT THE SCRIPT?
The potential for true character arcs. I don’t think it exists in horror films. I don’t even think villains have character arcs in horror films. The other challenge for me was making the open road seem scary by using ‘the stranger’ motif. I had to evolve that motif because the last Hitcher really killed it for the world. Nobody picks up hitchhikers anymore! We had to take a few steps to explain how a stranger would get into your car, nowadays. There were a few challenges like that. But mostly I was attracted by the chance to create unforgettable characters.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE SCENE?
I really love the truck scene. I just love that dynamic. You have all the tension on the outside and you have this quiet moment inside between the two characters. All this tension is culminating and you finally figure out what this guy wants. I also liked the car action stuff. When you see your bad guy doing Darth Vader level type stuff, it’s fantastic. Those were my two favorite parts.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO DO ANOTHER HORROR FILM?
I would rather expand. I think there would be some thriller aspects that I’d be open to. But I would love to do a kids film or a comedy! Give me Ben Stiller! I have such a wide, diverse taste, which is representative in my music videos. I’ve worked with every artist from Mick Jagger to Jay-Z. And I’m doing Fergie next week!
SO YOU HAVEN’T REACHED THE POINT IN YOUR MOVIE CAREER WHERE YOU CAN DISH THE DIRT ON THE MUSICIANS
No, not yet! Soon! Actually, there are only a couple of people that have dirt, believe it or not. A lot of them have vanity issues. But I think they’re needed for what they’re doing. It’s hard to be the product.
IS IT HARDER TO WORK WITH MUSICIANS THAN ACTORS?
Yes. Incredibly harder! Actors are playing a role, so they need help to play it. There’s a welcomed relationship between an actor and a director. With an artist, they have years of honing what their vibe and image is, so it’s hard to get them to unglue themselves from what they want to do. Fortunately, I became the guy that they come to when they want to do the weird or ‘out there’ video. They don’t call me for the straightforward ones.
WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE ON THE HITCHER?
Tackling that first time filmmaker stigma. The lack of trust. The actual shooting of it and working with the actors flowed like water. Initially, there was a very strong vice grip on my creativity and what I was allowed to do. By the time we got to the car chases and stuff, I had everyone’s trust. The first week, I earned it on some of the opening scenes in the film. By the time we got to New Mexico, they just left me alone. I put my cameras where I wanted, worked with the stunt coordinators and all that good stuff…
SOUNDS LIKE FUN.
Crashing cars is tough, though. You only do each crash once and you have to place ten cameras in such a way that you won’t see them in the final print on screen. I was lucky the studio liked it and approved extra visual effects to get rid of cameras that were in some of the shots. It’s also hard to do action, because of the physics involved. A 65-mph crash vs. 70-mph, changes the physics of how the car will perform. You can’t necessarily land it the way you want it to. You can try. But it’s like going to Vegas and pulling a slot machine. They can make it safe. But they can’t really predict what it will do. And every single stunt in the movie went different than what was planned. So you roll with it. And as you see how the stunt works, you develop your next shot on the spot. You see, you can’t shoot the scene after the action scene until you know where everything lands. While you’re sitting around waiting for the stunt team to do all their safety things, you really can’t do anything. That’s the other hard part. Waiting…
WAS THE CAST SUPPORTIVE?
Yes. They all wanted to be there. And there’s no beating Sean Bean. That was a real blessing to have him. I think he validated everything in the film. It makes it something more than just a remake. He’s a quality actor. It was also a star vehicle for Sophia Bush. She could allow herself to be more emotional than she had been in previous films and on her TV show. And with Zach Knighton, he was a newcomer. That was just great. Especially in every audition we put the poor guy through!
YOU MADE HIM AUDITION SIX TIMES?
He wasn’t instantly accepted in the system. They wanted to exhaust all options, but we were always intrigued with him from the first. We kept him in the loop. And as he went though those auditions, he also lost weight and sort of became the role. He started knowing everyone in the room and lightened up. By the time we were all done, we knew his potential. And, of course, there was nobody else! We’d seen every guy in Hollywood. Probably 100-actors. Zach just shined and everyone else started to feel like a clone.
ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT COMPARISONS TO THE ORIGINAL?
Not really. The audience we’re looking for is not an audience of critics. As long as I keep them on the edge of their seats, we’ll be OK. As a filmmaker, the biggest victory would be the original die-hard fans liking this film. The smallest victory, that I’d be more than happy with, is the general public liking it. You know, you have 18 to 25-year-olds who have never heard of The Hitcher… And, of course, nothing would make me happier than Rutger Hauer coming up to me at the premiere and saying, “You did good.” The most important thing about doing a remake, is doing it right. If you do it right, it continues the mythology of the original. It keeps the original alive and refreshes it for a new generation…I just tried to do my best and push it as far as I possibly could.