The writer-director, probably best known for the 2006 horror-comedy "Hatchet," is speaking to Back Stage the day after his new film, "Frozen," had its midnight premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.
"I haven't slept more than an hour in four weeks," Green admits. "We wrapped 'Hatchet 2' at 3:30 a.m. Saturday. I went home, packed, flew here, and started doing press. I literally still have fake blood all over me from the set."
Green is running partially on adrenaline and also flying high on the good word-of-mouth his new film is generating. The claustrophobic story focuses on three 20-somethings (played by Kevin Zegers, Shawn Ashmore, and Emma Bell) trapped on a ski lift with the skiing resort closed for the week.
While the idea may seem limited, Green delivers a tense man-versus-nature survival tale that literally has audience members fainting. Whether the Sundance buzz can translate to box-office dollars will be seen on Feb. 5, when "Frozen" opens in theaters.
Back Stage: One review has said, " 'Frozen' will do for skiing what 'Jaws' did for swimming." Do you find that description flattering?
Adam Green: Definitely. "Jaws" and "Lifeboat" were my biggest inspirations for this film. To the point that in preproduction, I sat my key crew members down and made them watch "Jaws" with me again and talked about the feelings you get in certain scenes. Obviously this movie has nothing to do with sharks, but tonally I was going for the same feel. I even studied Spielberg's methods on making the film. It was the first film where he didn't do a shot list or storyboard much, aside from the action sequences. Because the actors were confined to such a small spot, he would go there every day and find the scene with them and then decide how he wanted to shoot it. "Frozen" was the first time I was able to do that. One of the first things said in the Q&A last night was, "This really felt like a Spielberg or Hitchcock film," and I don't know if it was the lack of sleep or what, but I just started crying.
Back Stage: You shot the film practically, which means there's no special effects and your actors are really suffering.
Green: It was the most brutal shoot probably anybody's ever going to go through physically, but we finished on time and on budget. It didn't matter what nature threw at us; we used it. It's great when you watch the movie because the actors are really freezing to death to the point you can tell when the evening scenes were shot. If you're seeing their breath in really huge plumes of smoke, that means it was the beginning of the night. If you don't see any breath, that means it was so cold they were literally dying because there was no more body heat left. Every flake of snow you see is real. There's no CGI; there's nothing fake going on.
Back Stage: How did you go about casting your three leads?
Green: Everybody auditioned except for Kevin. I was already friendly with Kevin and very familiar with his work, so we had a meeting and then did chemistry reads between Kevin and the other candidates to play the character of Lynch. What really helped Shawn Ashmore land Lynch, aside from how great his audition was, is the fact he and Kevin are very good friends and have known each other for about 15 years. So their onscreen chemistry was there, right off the bat. I'm a big Shawn Ashmore fan, and I thought it was about time someone let him be the lead in something. I think this movie really shows people what he's made of. Emma Bell was such a great discovery. She was the first girl to walk in and read for the movie, period. As soon as she was done, I looked at the casting director and said, "Good, she's the one." She laughed and said, "You can't hire the very first person to walk in and read; we have 800 other girls to see." But at the end of the day, it was her.
Back Stage: Is there anything an actor who is auditioning for you should know?
Green: For me, so much of who I hire on my cast and crew is based just on how I feel around you. Are you going to jell with my crew? I've used the same crew for everything, and it's a family. I don't really like some actors—that's the harsh way to put it. I think they have the easiest job in the process, and they get all the credit for it. They're coddled through the entire thing, and I don't know how it got to this point that people are running over to bring them blankets and this and that, when you have a grip who's been standing in the freezing cold for 16 hours who's getting paid shit and gets his name going by for two seconds in the closing credits. So what I like are actors who are part of the filmmaking process and are intelligent about moviemaking. It's not just about "Look how pretty I am" and "I was on 'The OC' once." I'm not impressed.
Back Stage: Is that something you can pick up on from an audition?
Green: The thing about auditions is you can't really tell about a lot of things. I know some great actors that bomb every audition. Because it sucks; what an awkward process to walk into a room full of people you may or may not know. It's almost worse if you do know them, because how are they going to believe you as another character? So just be you, be relaxed, and don't come in with some sort of agenda or ego.
And don't kiss my ass, either. So many people try to do that; they come in and say, "Hey man, I loved 'Hatchet!' " Bullshit. Just shut up and read the lines. [Laughs.] So don't kiss ass, but at the same time just be you and do your thing.
The conversation that happens before and after the actual read is usually where the decision is made. If you come in looking like you're on drugs or hung over—which happened on "Hatchet 2," there was a girl who came in that I was a huge fan of. This was a done deal for her, but the fact she came in that much of a hot mess, why would I trust her with a major role in my movie?
I take a long time to cast my stuff, and I'm very picky in who I cast, and I think that's why I've been so lucky. By the time I get to set, I'm so in love with the person. And I've never been let down. I did direct a pilot once where I didn't really get a say in the casting, and it was a mess. And there was nothing I could do.