Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Nonfiction

Interview: Richard Kelly

Richard Kelly is the writer and director behind the films Donnie Darko, Southland Tales, and The Box. We’ll be speaking with him about his new 4K restoration of Donnie Darko, which hit theaters this spring.

This interview first appeared in April 2017 on Wired.com’s The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, which is hosted by David Barr Kirtley and produced by John Joseph Adams. Visit geeksguideshow.com to listen to the interview or other episodes.

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We’re talking to you this week because Donnie Darko is coming back to theaters. Tell us about that.

We did a restoration from the original negatives at a 4K resolution, and we did a lot of very careful work restoring the image to its original quality. This was a film that was released in the year 2001 in a very limited way, and a lot of people have never seen it on the big screen. So, Arrow Films, which is a great company out of the United Kingdom, came to me, and we had the resources to really bring this film back to theaters in a way that no one has seen before.

Are there differences between this and previous versions people might have seen or is it just the image quality is improved a lot?

I’d say the image quality overall is significantly improved, but I did a little bit more visual effects work on the director’s cut version of the film (towards the end), and also in the version that we did in 2004. There’s a little bit more visual enhancement, I’d say, particularly in the director’s cut, but I think that the quality is something that no one has ever seen before because the film was never really transferred into the digital space with the proper care. The color space, and the grain, and the contrast values, and the skin tones; none of that was really up to the standards that Stephen Poster, our cinematographer, and I had hoped. I do think it’s a significant improvement and worthy of seeing it on the big screen.

That sounds really, really cool. I want to mention that Donnie Darko is one of my favorite movies. I’ve seen it probably I would guess between ten and twenty times, and I hadn’t watched it for a couple of years though. I just watched it again a few nights ago, and one thing that really struck me on this rewatch is just how many of the characters are reading books or talking about books in the movie. I was wondering, would you say you have a particular interest in books and reading?

I kind of joke sometimes that making films is like being in high school, or that Hollywood is like high school, or that life is an extension of high school. College is an extension of an advancement in your career. It’s almost like my education from specific English teachers, and science teachers, and my public education growing up in Virginia, informed my entire artistic point of view. I’m often going back and telling stories about teachers, and having characters read books that were very formative and influential on my artistic voice. It’s almost like honoring these other texts that are out there. It’s an intertextuality, and it’s a reference that’s very clear and obvious at times. I don’t want to feel like I want to obscure the influences. I want to put them and build them into the narrative. You’re talking about Graham Green or Stephen King or Richard Adams. These are all authors and books that you see characters reading within the story, and those are books that I grew up reading, and my family grew up reading, and it just feels like characters are digesting narratives within your own narrative. I like to be pretty transparent about that, I guess.

It’s interesting that you talk about the influence of your high school English teachers because I maybe would have guessed from Donnie Darko that you didn’t like high school that much. Is that a fair statement?

Well, I think high school can be pretty miserable, and it can be a difficult experience for anyone. Some people have it a lot easier than others. I certainly had it pretty easy compared to a lot of other people. I wasn’t really bullied, or I wasn’t subjected to abuse in the way that a lot of people who go through that experience are.

I would say also that high school is a time when a boy becomes a man and a girl becomes a woman, and we all go through these significant changes, and we have to confront the brutal reality of life and where we go beyond high school. Do we escape our home town? Do we stay there forever? Do we get married and have children? Do we pursue an ambitious career on the other side of the country? There are major life decisions looming.

I think that this is a story about a character who is probably trying to confront a system of conformity, and a system that existed right at a very particular time: In October of 1988 on the eve of a presidential election. I was just trying to create a character who had a lot of internal conflict, and who was confronting his community and trying to make sense of the world, I guess.

Speaking of confronting the community, a bunch of the adults in this movie—like Kitty Farmer in particular—are these sanctimonious hypocrite kind of characters. Were you drawing on personal experience for those sorts of characters?

I tried to have sympathy for all the characters in the film, even Kitty Farmer who is to some degree, yes, sanctimonious, judgmental, and perhaps misguided. I wanted to still have sympathy for her, and to think that she really does love the kids, and she does care about them, and she may be going about it in a misguided way where she may be idolizing this self-help motivational speaker who is a false prophet or a charlatan. Even in the portrayal of Donnie’s parents, even though they are on a different side of the political spectrum as their children, and you’re dealing with these Reagan-era parents who are conservatives, I wanted them to be very likeable. I think it’s easy to try and paint the adults in these kinds of movies as being out of touch or really almost cartoonishly doofus type characters, so I was trying to have empathy. Hopefully we were able to give them three dimensions, and the actors certainly did a wonderful job. I’m very lucky to get to work with all these actors.

The actor in particular who plays Donnie’s dad is just hilarious, and he makes the character very likeable, even though he is this sort of conservative guy.

Holmes Osborne. I’ve worked with him on all three of my films. It’s interesting, he kind of shape-shifts through all three of my films in playing various incarnations of a conservative archetype in different time frames in American history. In Donnie Darko, he plays this 1988 suburban, Reagan-era dad who is actually quite rebellious and non-conformist, surprisingly, for that kind of character. In Southland Tales, he plays the kind of puppet vice presidential character to the Republican ticket whose wife is the head of a national security agency. In The Box, he plays Cameron Diaz’s father, who is a detective trying to follow the mystery of this mysterious box that his daughter and son-in-law have received. It’s interesting how Holmes appears in all three movies as this shape-shifting archetype with a connection to a conservative government, authority police background. Holmes is a lovely person and a great friend. I’m glad to get to work with him.

I wanted to ask you about The Box because I just watched it for the first time the other night, and it’s based on a Richard Matheson short story called “Button, Button.” I had seen the Twilight Zone adaptation of that growing up, and it was one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes. For years, I’ve always told that to people as the example of a story that I think has the perfect ending. Could you talk about how you came to the “Button, Button” story?

Like a lot of other people, when that episode aired in, I believe, 1985, with the revival of the Twilight Zone, I saw it as a kid, and was just taken by it and haunted by it. Many years later, I decided to approach Richard Matheson about optioning the story, and it turned out the origin story for “Button, Button” was published in Playboy Magazine in 1971. I optioned the story from Mr. Matheson. It was probably a seven- or eight-page short story. It’s not very substantial in terms of the narrative beyond the conceptual idea, but it was a compelling conceit. I struggled for a long time with how I would adapt it into a feature film, and I was able to expand upon it using my family and my parents’ story—how they met, and how they came to be married, and how my father worked at NASA. He was working on the Mars Viking project in the early ’70s up until 1976, when we landed on Mars and photographed it for the first time.

It became a way of melding Matheson’s short story with a lot of autobiographical elements, and then a bigger government conspiracy behind what this experiment might mean, and what would be the greater metaphysical implications of the experiment, and the global or interstellar ramifications of such an experiment. It became something much bigger and more elaborate. It really used Richard Matheson’s story as the seed or the kernel of the whole thing.

For people who haven’t seen the movie or read the story, the premise is that this guy comes to your door with a box with this button in it, and if you push the button a stranger dies and you get a million dollars. I always loved that premise. I was really surprised when I went back and read the original story that the ending is actually completely different from the ending of the Twilight Zone episode. You said that you interacted with Richard Matheson. Did you ever talk to him about the different endings?

We never met in person, and I regret not getting to sit down with him and spend time with him. It was a situation where I wasn’t sure what his ultimate health status was at the time when we were making the film.

We had the short story, and that had a very specific ending where Arthur, the husband, gets pushed in front of a subway by a mysterious person. The final line of dialogue from Mr. Steward (who delivers the button) is something along the lines of “My dear, did you ever really think that you knew your husband?”—implying that the person that they didn’t know who would die was her husband.

The ending of the teleplay of the episode is different in the sense that they ask, once they get the money and Mr. Steward comes to retrieve the button unit after the button has been pushed, and they ask him, “Well, where do you go from here? Who are you going to visit next?” And he says, “Well, I promise you it will be someone you don’t know”—implying that the next time the button unit is pushed, something might happen to either Arthur or Norma. It’s left as cliff hanger. My film, I kind of try to combine elements from both of the renderings of the story to a certain degree, but obviously I added things. There’s so much more to the story that I had to build for a two-hour movie.

You really added a ton to the story, and one thing I thought was interesting is that you make it about this altruism coefficient, this test of ethics, and that how many people push the button is a way of testing out how functional our society is. I thought it was interesting because the people in your movie are not desperately poor. They live a pretty comfortable life. They could obviously use a million dollars, but it made me wonder, do you think that more people would push the button in the United States than elsewhere? Is there something about the United States that makes us think that we need or deserve a million dollars no matter the cost?

There was a lot of discussion going through our inner group of people when we were making the film, and I had advisors and people from NASA and a lot of people involved in a lot of deep conversations and the meaning behind the story. We were very careful to try to inject as much logic into what could be a very murky, illogical puzzle, right? What does it mean, “someone you don’t know”? This was written in 1971, and the story, to my mind, would only work in the ’70s because if you have smartphones and the internet, everyone knows everyone now. There’s no such thing as a stranger anymore, because you can find everyone online. It was a conceit that would only work in the ’70s when people were still restricted by things like telephone books and rotary telephones.

In terms of your question about the ethical implications and what it might mean for Americans, that’s a really interesting question that I don’t necessarily have the answer for. But I think the film is trying to explore that. The higher intelligence played by Frank Langella, Mr. Steward—who is sort of the interstellar employee who has come to Earth to conduct these tests—lands in Norfolk, Virginia in one of the most highly secured military facilities in the world, just south of the capital of the most powerful country in the world. There’s a logic to why he arrives there, and that he arrives there right after we have contacted or disrupted Mars.

We were thinking that they would start collecting highly intelligent, moral, upstanding people to conduct this test, and any scientist can look at that button unit in that box and see that there’s no technology inside of it. You have James Marsden’s character, who is almost goofing around with it, saying “Push it. Who cares? This is obviously some kind of scam or hoax.” But, strategically, Mr. Steward has only presented himself to the wife while the husband is at work, and his face is so otherworldly that she’s convinced that there is really something at stake. We tried to map it out so that the husband almost convinces the wife to do it, and she almost just does it out of a curiosity in a moment. They’re very decent people. They just don’t believe that it’s real. They almost think that it’s just a trick. We were very careful. We didn’t want it to be made a decision that was made with malice, or with a real belief that their actions were going to have real repercussions of someone’s death.

Of course, it all turns out to be something much more significant than they intended. As to whether Americans would push the button more than people in other countries: That’s a much bigger question about ethics and morality, and it also has to do with our connection to technology. We obviously have things like drone strikes now. We have devices that can be implemented that separate the person from the act of violence or the instrument of violence, right? We have people who have to physically push a button in a military trailer outside of Las Vegas that will launch a missile and potentially end hundreds of lives in a second, so we’re getting into a situation where the idea of pushing a button that will result in the death of another person is a pretty substantial thing that we’re going to have to deal with moving forward as a species.

I ask that question in part because I watched The Box right after I watched Southland Tales, and I thought it was interesting because I saw you say that Southland Tales . . . it’s this sort of dystopian, near future, science fiction satire of American culture, and you said that somebody asked you what has come true from that movie, and you said, “More things than I can even count have come true from it.”

Yeah. Southland Tales is a big, sprawling alternative future fantasy of 1988 after nuclear bombs have been detonated in Texas at the Texas border in Abilene. So, that’s a film that deals with the hypothetical worst case scenario of World War III and domestic surveillance and a political process that has been turned into a really grotesque spectacle of extreme right versus extreme left. We seemed to have arrived at a place that is startlingly familiar with respect to that film. It’s troubling, but I make all of these films to try to be cathartic, and try to inspire dialogue.

I think it’s particularly interesting, in light of recent events. Your plot point in Southland Tales is this group is trying to disseminate a fake news story, basically, in order to swing a presidential election, which obviously has a lot of resonance now.

Right. The fake story in Southland Tales is a police shooting of these neo-Marxist underground figures played by Amy Poehler and Wood Harris. They are these sort of slam poets, Venice Beach underground revolutionaries, and it’s played, obviously, comedically. They’re intending to stage their own deaths in order to frame a movie star, played by Dwayne Johnson, who is married into the Republican family running on the presidential ticket. It’s this idea to stage a racially motivated political murder, but then it goes haywire when Jon Lovitz actually commits the murder for real. That was built into the very elaborate plot of Southland Tales: that there was this staged double murder gone horribly wrong resulting in a botched blackmail attempt to take down the Republican ticket. It’s a lot of elaborate plotting. The density of the plot is also meant to be an homage to a lot of film noirs that have really, really dense plotting.

I wanted to mention, speaking of things that kind of came true, one of the really funny details in the movie is that all of the U.S. battle tanks in the movie have Hustler logos. They’re sponsored by Hustler. I don’t know if you saw, but there was this story where PornHub is sponsoring snowplows. Because of budget cuts, towns don’t have enough money to plow all the snow, so PornHub is stepping in to help them, and now there are all of these snowplows driving around with PornHub logos on them.

I was not aware of that. That’s . . . wow. I had not heard that. That’s interesting, of all things, that PornHub would put their name on.

I think there’s an intentional double entendre there.

[Laughter]

I’m curious; I know that Southland Tales got kind of a mixed reception when it came out, but given how prescient it’s turned out to be, have you seen people giving it a second look now?

A lot of people have really started to embrace the film and discover it. I am very grateful for that. Obviously, the state of the world is very troubling, and I take no pleasure in seeing the world become something like we rendered in Southland Tales, but at the same time, we made that film to try and express this apocalyptic fantasy that could be cathartic for people to try to use to analyze what is happening to the world. And why is it happening? And how can we use comedy, and how can we use all of these great comedic actors, and people from Saturday Night Live and pop culture, who are all talented in their own way, to tell this really elaborate political fantasy?

We made this film to try and deal with our apocalyptic anxieties, and this was in the year 2005 when we shot the film. We were literally shooting the film while Katrina was unfolding, and the Iraq war was in full swing, and there was a lot of anxiety of that particular era. It was just before the iPhone was released, and it was sort of the dawn of social media. Facebook and Twitter were on the horizon. It was a very specific time. Looking back now, again, I still see Southland Tales as being an unfinished endeavor. We never really got to finish it properly. We had bitten off more than we could chew. It was too big. It was too ambitious. It was too sprawling. There were graphic novels, a website, and all this stuff. It was a lot. I think now we’re in a different world, and there’s new ways of telling stories and new delivery mechanisms. My hope is that we can come back around to Southland Tales and do a final, finished, longer version of it at some point. That’s my hope.

One thing I’ve talked about with a couple of guests now is that it has become hard to do political satire, because the current events are so self-satirizing. If you had come up with the idea back in 2005 to make Donald Trump president of the United States, I’m guessing you would have rejected it for being too silly or too on the nose, right?

He would have been too cartoonish for Southland Tales in a way. The political candidates in Southland Tales, played by Holmes Osborne and Miranda Richardson, who plays Nana Mae Frost, who is the real power behind him, and she’s running the NSA. It’s almost like they’re sort of engineering a presidential ticket by virtue of domestic surveillance and bringing it out into the public. This entity called US Ident is what we call it in the film. I think that someone like Donald Trump probably would have been too cartoonish for the movie, which is strange to say, but it was not even in our imagination at the time that something like this could have come to fruition. I know The Simpsons predicted it in an episode probably in like 2003 where it’s a future episode where Donald Trump is president, but again, The Simpsons is an animated show, and it can go as broad and cartoonish and absurd as they see fit.

As to today’s level of satire, it’s hard to top what’s happening in the real world in terms of the ridiculousness and the vulgarity and the shamelessness of this political nightmare that we wake up with every day. I don’t know what that’s going to do to the state of comedy and satire, and I know that even the South Park guys have decided that they’re going to stop dealing with Trump or rendering Trump stories because they don’t feel like they want to do it anymore. It’s going to be interesting. I think that we’re all activated. A lot of people are politically activated, and I think we’re going to hopefully see a lot more films that are very, very aggressive in speaking to these political times. I saw what Robert Redford said at the beginning of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. He had a really thoughtful quote about how the political pendulum swings back and forth, and when it swings in the direction of the extreme right or the alt-right, as it has in this recent election, I think you’re going to see a lot of artists becoming really activated, and hopefully people who are paying for the movies and the television are going to be supportive of that political activation. In a resistance movement, really.

Absolutely, yeah. I do want to get back to Donnie Darko, because I mentioned this was one of my favorite movies. The first time I watched it, I remember I was with some friends at a writing workshop, and we all watched it, and at the end I said, “Wow, that movie was great. I’m not really sure what happened, but it was great.” That must be a reaction you get a lot to the movie, right?

I think it’s a little overwhelming for people who watch it the first time, and that’s okay. That’s the kind of experience I want to deliver for people is a really complicated story. A lot of layers, and a lot of hidden clues spread throughout, but I want it to wash over the viewer and leave them a little dizzy. That’s my motive as an artist: to put you on a roller coaster and have you walk out of the theater a little disoriented. The idea that these movies are meant to stand the test of time, and they’re meant to warrant multiple viewings. You should be able to come back to it and see new things. My intention is it needs to hold up over time. It needs to be worthy of a second and possibly third viewing. That’s a risk you take, because not everyone is appreciative of that kind of film. A lot of people go to the theater, and they want everything spelled out, and they want to walk out knowing exactly what happened, and then they want to go to dinner, or they want to go have a drink, or move on with their life. My movies aren’t those kinds of movies. They’re always going to leave you with a lot of questions. It’s an intentional decision I’ve made in the kind of stories I want to tell.

There was a director’s cut, right? Was the theatrical cut how you intended it at the time, or did you have to cut stuff out because of money or things like that?

I’m happy with both cuts, and we’ve restored both cuts, and I think that it’s probably better for people to watch the theatrical cut first, and if they want more, or they want to dig deeper, or they want to see more of what was inside the time travel book, or more of the relationship with Donnie and his father, and more of what Drew Barrymore and her curriculum was all about, and more of the layers, they can go and watch the director’s cut and have that alternate experience. It was meant to be that the two versions of the film could co-exist, and we would restore both of them, and have them available for people. I’d even probably say I’m not satisfied with either cut of the movie. There’s always more that I want to do, and my imagination often is bigger than the means of production that I have access to. I always want to do stuff that I can’t afford, or that’s outside of the budget, or that’s going to make a narrative too long for a two-hour theatrical release window. That’s just part of my unwieldy ambition, or maybe my amateurity, I guess. I’ve been working to try and refine my upcoming films to make sure that they are going to be digestible in a two-hour time frame, and that I’m not going to have forty-five minutes of deleted scenes. On The Box, there’s like forty to forty-five minutes of deleted scenes in that film, and it was extremely difficult to edit it down to one hour and fifty-five minutes, which I believe was the contractual running time on that film. It’s part of me just learning how to refine my process as a filmmaker.

Right, speaking of that ambition, another part that really struck me rewatching Donnie Darko is there is this musical sequence when it introduces you to all of the characters in the high school when Donnie first comes to school. I think you were twenty-six at the time you made this movie? It was your first feature film. It just strikes me as an incredibly ambitious, audacious sort of thing to put in your first feature.

I was twenty-five when we were on set, and I was actually calling “action” on set, and that sequence in the high school was shot at Loyola High School near downtown Los Angeles. It was almost a full day of shooting in our first week, and it was like a music video very carefully choreographed to a Tears for Fears song called “Head Over Heels.” When you’re in your first week of principle photography as a first-time director at the age of twenty-five, you’ve got a lot of people looking over your shoulder wondering whether you’ve got the goods, whether you even deserve to be in this position, and you’ve got a lot of people who are lifting equipment and busting their ass to help you make your day and get all of your shots in time. They’re looking at you doing this ambitious, potentially self-indulgent sequence, and kind of thinking, “Is this really necessary? Is this really going to make it into the final cut?”

There was a lot of skepticism about pulling that sequence off, and I was very stubborn and very adamant that we do it. We didn’t even have the permission from Tears for Fears to use the song, so a lot of people were not happy with me for demanding to shoot that sequence, and I had a wonderful cinematographer named Steven Poster who was helping me pull it off. We shot the whole sequence with all of these Steadicam shots, and then the footage came back from the lab, and the editors started to cut it together. I was like, “Please, guys, cut it together as quickly as possible. I need to show it to people. Put the song in there, and do the speed ramps, and let’s get a cut of that sequence.”

The editors came back, and it was Friday of our first day of principle photography, and I had a VHS tape—this was at the time when people were still looking at VHS tapes—and I put it in a VCR on one of the monitors in the trailer, and I invited about eight people from the crew to look at the Tears for Fear Steadicam sequence with the song, and they all looked at it, and everyone kind of looked at me like, “Okay, we get it. That’s really, really cool. We get it now. Okay, Richard, we’re going to let you indulge in some of this stuff now. Okay.” It was a morale boost, you know?

I always find that if you can start showing your crew footage as soon as possible, and particularly the stuff that’s working. Start showing the dailies because it builds morale, and if you’re taking more risks, it’s going to incentivize the crew to help you continue to take those risks. It’s also a risk too because if you can’t get the song, then you’ve wasted a bunch of time and money, and if you can’t put another song to it, that’s trouble. We were also able to send the sequence to the band. We sent it to Tears for Fears, and I think they were really knocked out by it, and they wanted to help us secure their song. These are the risks that one can take if one wishes—but do it with great strategy.

Like I said, it’s such a great sequence. I was just reading this Guardian article, and they describe Donnie Darko as “a touchstone work for the generation that grew up with it.” I was curious, when did you first get an inkling that this movie was becoming a cultural touchstone for that generation?

I think the moment where I realized it was going to really connect with people was March or April of 2002 when the film had just been out on DVD for the first time. We had a pretty minor theatrical release the previous October. Right after 9/11. A very low per-screen average, and it only lasted in theaters for a few weeks. Maybe about 500,000 dollars, which was a fairly okay amount for how little marketing the film had. It was a very nominal theatrical release. We thought that the movie had basically disappeared, and it would never really ever reach a wide audience.

So, come March or April of 2002, I was walking down the sidewalk of the East Village, and I passed by a place called the Pioneer Two Boots Pizza Parlor, and there was a Donnie Darko poster hanging in the window. I’m like, “What is happening here? Why is my poster hanging here?” I went inside, and I talked to the manager. I’m like, “That’s my movie. Why do you have the poster hanging up?” He said, “We have a little movie theater connected to our pizza joint here, and we’re playing your movie every Saturday night at midnight, and it’s selling out.” I’m like, “Really?” He’s like, “Yeah, come by.”

So, we showed up when the movie was finishing that Saturday night, and I didn’t expect more than a few people to be there. And it was indeed sold out. There were people with cameras. I think Michael Musto from the Village Voice was there. I ended up doing an impromptu Q&A at like two in the morning. I was in shock. I had never expected this new wave of enthusiasm to emerge. I knew right there that the movie wasn’t done, that it had a longer life. Then London came to the rescue, and the following Halloween we had this incredibly successful art house release in the UK that turned the movie into a hit internationally.

That’s really, really cool. I’m curious, do you have big fan reactions to the movie? Like Frank tattoos, or Donnie Darko-themed weddings, or people who made big life changes after seeing the movie, or anything like that?

I’ve seen pretty much everything that you’ve just mentioned. It continues to amaze me that people have this emotional response to it, and that they want to create artwork based on it, or tattoos, or paintings, or sculptures. You name it. I’ve seen it all. There’s merchandise associated with the film now. It’s taken on a life of its own. If anything, I appreciate that, and I’m happy to continue talking to people about it. Doing this restoration was important to get it back on the big screen.

I am always wanting to push this film as far into the mainstream as I feel I can, because the more mainstream my work can be perceived, it will just help me do bigger and more original political films, and that’s what I want to do. I want to continue doing my own original ideas and they’re not always very cheap. They’re quite expensive and complicated and immersive in their worlds. The more Donnie Darko can be seen as a mainstream hit the better. It’s come a long way from being a failure to being a cult film to now, I believe, being something that everyone has heard about. That’s a wonderful thing. Again, I see this as a means to push forward and try and tell more original political stories, really, is my intention.

Do people approach you with their interpretations of the movie where you’re just like, “Wow, that’s weird. I never would have thought of that one.”

I try to distance myself from all the different theories in the sense that people are allowed to think whatever they want. If they have an interpretation of the story that I disagree with, or that I think is wrong, it’s not really my place to get in there and argue with anyone. I presented the film for what it is, and I’ve done a director’s cut of it that’s a bit longer and more detailed. I’m just grateful that people are talking about my work, and that they are passionate about it. You can only engage so much with fan theories before I think you end up going down a spiral of self-analysis that’s probably not healthy.

I’ve heard you say that you might do a Donnie Darko sequel. Is there anything more to say about that?

I think that’s a discussion for down the road. I don’t know if something would ever materialize or happen. I don’t control the rights to Donnie Darko. I had to relinquish the underlying rights when I was twenty-four when I set the project up. I want to protect the intellectual property and make sure that if anything is ever done with it that it’s done for a proper reason: that there’s a new story to tell. It would probably be a much bigger endeavor, and something much more ambitious than what the original film is. More than anything, I would hate to see it rebooted or remade or something done with it for cynical reasons. We’ll see what happens. There’s always an open door to going back to this and doing something much bigger. I’ll always keep that door open. At the same time, I want to protect the film from . . . who knows what, but it could happen.

I saw Jake Gyllenhaal said he’d be up to reprise the role of Donnie Darko.

I would love to work with Jake again. Jake is an enormous talent. We’ll see. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but there’s all sorts of possibilities out there. I’ll say that.

There was this S. Darko movie that you were not involved with, right? Do you have a position about that movie?

I’ve never seen it. That was a situation where I don’t control the rights, and they approached me about being involved with that, and I just was not interested at all. I didn’t want to have anything to do with it because I didn’t feel like it was in any way necessary or at the point in time I was against it being made at all. It was basically presented to me as, “Well, if you’re not going to be involved, it’s going to happen regardless. There’s nothing you can do to stop it from getting made.” There was really nothing I could do. I’ve never seen it, and I don’t really see it as being anything that I authorize or endorse in anyway. That was not fun. The thing that bothered me a lot is that over the years people just assume that I allowed it to happen or that I profited from it or that I sold off the rights to someone else, and that just wasn’t the case at all. When you direct your first movie at that young of an age, you never get to control the underlying rights to anything, really.

I also wanted to ask you if you have anything else in the works you want to let people know about? It looks like you worked on a bunch of stuff.

There’s a bunch of stuff in the works, but I can’t confirm any of it until I know that everything is in place. I don’t want to disrupt any of the delicate process of getting a film greenlit. We’re really close on a bunch of things, but once the ink is dry or the deal is completely official or the greenlight is no longer blinking between yellow and green, I can then confirm it. At this point, I can’t talk any more about anything. I wish I could.

I saw one of them maybe involves a futuristic Manhattan. I don’t know if that’s still in the works or not, but that sounds cool to me. I’ll put in a word of support for that one.

There’s a lot where I’m trying to look forward into the future, and then some other things where I’m looking back into the past. Some are a combination of both. I do like to tell stories that are etched in the timeline very specifically at very specific dates and times. I will say that all the films are connected. All the films I’ve made are connected back to Donnie Darko in ways that are deeper and more significant than people realize. Stay tuned for more. I’ve been working really hard. A lot of writing. I’ve written so much I think my eyeballs are about to fall out of my head. My fingers are getting numb.

That sounds really good, and we’re definitely looking forward to seeing what you come up with next. We’ve been speaking with Richard Kelly. Richard, thank you so much for joining us.

Thank you.

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The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy

Geek's Guide to the Galaxy

The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy is a science fiction/fantasy talk show podcast. It is produced by John Joseph Adams and hosted by: David Barr Kirtley, who is the author of thirty short stories, which have appeared in magazines such as Realms of Fantasy, Weird Tales, and Lightspeed, in books such as Armored, The Living Dead, Other Worlds Than These, and Fantasy: The Best of the Year, and on podcasts such as Escape Pod and Pseudopod. He lives in New York.