Arts & Culture

Exclusive: Q&A with horror director Wes Craven

Contributing Writer
Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Herald: The first question, which is something I’ve always wondered — Is Wes Craven the name that you were born with?

Craven: Yes.


I think it’s such a perfect horror name.

Why is that? People always say that.


Because Craven is close to The Raven, I think. So, have you been to Brown before?

Yes, I was here once before.


(In your talk) you mentioned you were raised fundamentalist. You were still not watching movies in college?

Yeah, in my senior year, I finally — I’m always embarrassed to say it took me so long — I hitchhiked to the next town because I had read about “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and when I saw that and it was just like, if this is a sin, this whole religion is ridiculous.


Were movies what lifted you out of that?

It sort of helped, and as I said, I think reading … showed me a larger world, and then I didn’t see movies my year in graduate school, just reading and writing. But once I started teaching I started to see a lot of movies because there was a movie house … It was a tiny town, and they had an art house movie right in the movie theater, right in the town and they were showing all the great European films.


Because your college experience was not the stereotypical college experience, do you feel like you missed out in any way? Because you sort of never lived the demographic your films target.

In retrospect, it was a very difficult life, because I never felt like I could believe what everybody else around me was acting like was the total reality and the most important reality imaginable … I just thought that I was kind of like doomed to go to hell probably, and I must be a bad person … In my junior year, I was editor of the literary magazine, and after two issues the president of the college denounced me from the pulpit, for the first time in the history of the school, for the rest of the year. In a week or so we’re going to the fiftieth anniversary reunion of the class, and there was a small group of us that were always in trouble and being thrown out. So, that group is having a cocktail party in the town next to us — not going to the reunion at all.


Did you think you were going to hell when you were making your horror films?

I didn’t think I was going to hell anymore. That year was very key. The guy who ran the writing seminar — his name was Elliot Coleman. He had studied for the Episcopalian priesthood, and one of his closest friends was an Episcopalian priest. … We talked a lot about God and religion and everything else, and he was very of the world. But I was raised specifically to think the world was not your home.


Are you still as infatuated with film as you were when you started, or has a long time in the industry diluted that?

No, not really. The industry is tough … but I think there’s costs for being in anything … that has a lot of power. … The process of making a movie gives a lot of power to a few people. Certain actors have a lot of power. People fall in love with them — heads of studios, directors … There’s a lot of fierce competition about who’s really making the movie, who’s controlling it … Making a movie is a magical experience — the actual part of working with crew and cast and editors, it’s wonderful. And then seeing it before an audience.


Do you get to watch your audiences react to your films?

There’s a long period of testing and getting notes from audience and everything else, which is also really dangerous because you can get an audience that just had a bad day and say something and someone will think that’s the way the film has to go. But when your first film comes out, when the film comes out and you pop it in theaters and you see their reactions … you see it with totally new eyes.


What does your family think of your movies? What’s life outside the screen as a really accomplished director?

Well, my father died young, so I didn’t really have to worry about that. My mother never saw a film I made until I made “Music of the Heart,” and I think that she was deeply disturbed that I made those types of films.


Did you ever talk about it with her?

A little bit … She thought I was maybe crazy or maybe perverted or something. After my first year in college, I had to come home and spend a year at home because I got very sick. …  My mother often told me I was crazy. … But then when I did “Music of the Heart,” … my mother was very critical.


Is there anything else you want to say to college students? 

I’ve never tried to keep up with my audience. I try to keep up with the world … I try to write about things that are universal. … But I don’t go reading like what are teens are talking about these days or make the film like that. I do things that are relevant to me or to my memory. … Because you have assistants, interns, I have kids that grew up, I’m gonna have grandkids, so I’m constantly watching younger people and seeing what they say and what they think and do. I don’t know, I’ve made it a rule not to try to imitate.


Any advice for students who want to intern with Wes Craven?

Good luck. It depends if you’re making a film at the time, because when you’re making a film then you do have interns.


If someone wants to work with you or get noticed, what works? How do you notice people?

They get tossed into the pit. My stepdaughter came and worked on “Scream 4,” and she was just an assistant to the on-set (production assistant). She just had to make her way. She did great but I don’t have time to keep track of how it’s going. You just get immersed in it, and you get banged around and everything else. But it’s a great ride. You just learn. You just pick it up by being there.

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