Dragged Across Concrete’s S. Craig Zahler: “There are lines in all my pieces that will get people to hate me”

After Bone Tomahawk and Brawl In Cell Block 99, the director’s latest shows no signs of easing up

There are some dark depths that Craig Zahler has plummeted into with his latest film, Dragged Across Concrete. What starts as rather standard, cop-buddy police procedural starring Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn takes a turn into something altogether different as it hurtles energetically, and violently, towards its close. In the press conference ahead of its premiere at the #Venice75, writer and director Zahler looked at charges of racist and politically incorrect dialogue, his lack of interest in ‘message’ movies and the impact of a bigger budget.

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Mel and Vince’s blue period

KUBRICK AND LUMET “When you walk into my apartment in New York city, look immediately to your left, you’ll see a poster for The Killing (Stanley Kubrick, 1956). It’s excellent. One of Kubrick’s best and also given a great polish by Jim Thompson, who’s one of my favourite crime writers. I approach everything in terms of ‘what do I want to see?’ and ‘what am I a fan of?’. That movie was in my mind and probably even more so Sidney Lumet. In particular, Prince of the City and Dog Day Afternoon. I’m just really interested in doing pieces where the world of the story is larger than just the plot. I probably watched Prince of the City 25 times as a child and wanted to do something of that size and show all these different characters”.

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Vaughn and Zahler at the press conference for Dragged Across Concrete

BROADER HORIZONS “My interest in stuff like Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975) and Cassavetes is really trying to get this bigger human experience. One of the reasons I don’t make message movies – and for the most part don’t like message movies – is because there’s an agenda and all the characters and the actions in the plot need to line up. Oftentimes, this doesn’t seem to me as a three-dimensional experience. I am interested in where you get a piece of visual material and not understand it, and then it pays off later. And then doing that again, and again, and again. All of this is just to build a larger world, and give you a sense of the characters outside of the immediate story; and certainly outside of any message that I don’t have an interest in delivering”.

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Director S Craig Zahler and his excellent taste in soul music

SOPHISTICATED DIALOGUE “The process of writing the screenplay as a whole is like my writing process all the time, which is: surprise myself every day. When I set out to write it (Dragged Across Concrete), I can tell you that the characters who die I thought would live, and ones that lived I thought were going to die. In terms of coming up with specific jargons and vernaculars to each group: the way that Ridgeman (Gibson) and Anthony (Vaughn) speak to one another is not the same way that Biscuit (Michael Jai White) and Henry Johns (Tory Kittles) speak to one another. One of things that I try and do in general is come up with stuff that’s interesting. People saying things in the most direct manner is not what I find most interesting. Sometimes, circumlocution and coming up with a roundabout way of saying things (is the most interesting). Probably every line of dialogue that I wrote in the movie, I wrote fifteen times before the one that you heard”.

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S. Craig Zahler at the press conference.

POLITICALLY INCORRECT “I write to my taste. In terms of the reactions that people may have, I’m not really considering it whilst I’m doing it. I think there’s an integrity to the characters and it makes sense in what they say. There are obviously remarks that are provocations and throwaway jokes that may not be politically correct and they can read as such. It’s not a consideration when I am writing. I am aware that there are lines and moments in all of my pieces – and in my future movies – that will land awkwardly for some people or get people to hate me. That is your right to do so. I am within my right to do the version of the movie that I think is the best; the most interesting; and the most to my taste. I hope that there is enough of an audience and it is enough of a success for me to get to the next one”.

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Mel Gibson gets ready for action in Dragged Across Concrete

THE TRUE “I remember going out with Dallas Sonnier (producer) on Bone Tomahawk as we were setting up and I described what I thought the landed version of the movie would be. I said 60% of the people will like it, 20% will thinks it’s offensive and disgusting and 20% will thinks it’s boring. I’m not chasing the biggest audience and I’m comfortable with losing some of them”.

BIGGER BUGGET “It gave me more days so that I could dig into the drama. We had enough time, when we met problems, to get through them and get the scenes that we needed. It’s a bigger budget movie, but we were shooting at a time in Vancouver when it was really hard for us to get the best crew available. Although this would seemingly be the most comfortable, it was the least comfortable”.

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