David Reviews

 Biting the hand that feeds us since 2002.

BRET EASTON ELLIS IS A DEVIL YOU KNOW.

Author Bret Easton Ellis has turned his hand to directing lately and - through US production company The Devil You Know - he's available for TV commercials and other advertising projects.

With a weekly podcast, writing in many forms, and a TV series to boot, he's a very busy man but he elbowed room in his schedule to talk to David Reviews.

Ellis has been described as a 'controversy magnet' and - when speaking to him - it quickly becomes evident that he's earned this reputation through a complete absence of filters... possibly an inevitable consequence of unstoppable curiosity.

He doesn't just speak his mind, he offers unexpurgated access to his thoughts and proves an exhilarating conversationalist. And - as our phone call took place on the day of Donald Trump's inauguration - there was much to talk about... but more of that later.


We cast it really quickly and we shot it for nothing, there was no budget, and filmed all in one day. A lot of it was improvisation, and it was more or less, made in the editing room.

 ”

The opportunity for DAVID to speak to Bret Easton Ellis arose out of his place on the roster at The Devil You Know - a production company run by Donald Block, an unusually gentlemanly fellow for our industry.

The projects which have come Ellis's way have been unusual. A film for the Paris Opera perfectly blends his comic sensibility with his decadent aesthetic. And - it turns out - it was all thrown together in a hurry: "It was really, really... like no money. I think we just had my DP and a couple other technical people. It was a very small set."



It was largely improvised but - to the extent it had a writer - it was Ellis himself. It was clearly broad brush strokes: "It was really just concepts... I think my producer came to me on the Monday before the Friday we shot it, and said, 'Do you want to do this thing for Paris Opera? Do you have an idea?'

"We cast it really quickly and we shot it for nothing, there was no budget, and filmed all in one day. A lot of it was improvisation, and it was, more or less, made in the editing room."



Ellis's ability to create a beautiful outcome with very little budget comes from his passion for production design and cinematography - and even those he's working with can be surprised by it.

When the cast of his web series 'The Deleted' saw the finished work, they were taken aback by how good it looked: "No one really cares that much about the aesthetics as much as maybe my generation does.... the young people, when they saw the finished show, were stunned at how it looked. They thought it looked animated. They said: 'This is what you were shooting? Really?' I just think it looks good. I don't think it looks that beautiful."


I'm just of that generation where it is still important for something to look beautiful.

 ”

Coming back to his Paris Opera film, he recalls how they met the challenge of maintaining these standards in the most trying of circumstances: "We have from nine in the morning to midnight and we're running all over L.A. shooting everything, and we've got to get it done. That's a challenge in itself, but we're going to make it look good.

"Instead of it being in colour, let's do it in black-and-white, let's make sure the lighting is really cool in the house, with everyone in the bedroom, and then the car. I can imagine doing that, and you could have made a commercial on your iPhone. And maybe it would have been as good, I don't know... I'm just of that generation where it is still important for something to look beautiful."

Film-making is a highly collaborative process, so how does he compare it with the loneliness of writing: "It's two completely different creative experiences... I can't even really compare them.

"It's the same way with writing a screenplay versus writing a novel. A novel's got consciousness where as a screenplay is a blueprint for information that is going to be told in a different way.


The film version of 'American Psycho' speaks for itself. It really did help me out in a lot of ways, in terms of redefining the book for a lot of people.

 ”

"I discovered when shooting 'The Deleted' for example, just how malleable the screenplay is." He describes the required adaptability: "Suddenly it's: 'we don't have time to shoot that, we cut that out, and we'll just go back to the hotel, and shoot that, and I'll write two more lines for Spencer.'

"That doesn't happen with a novel." But he contemplates the real level of collaboration: "If you have an auteur kind of sensibility, It really is your ballgame. All the editing choices are made by you, as is the colour-correction, and the gradation of the colour compressions. The most important collaboration is, of course, with your DP.... that is vital."



He also dismisses the characterisation of writing as a 'lonely' process: "I would never call it loneliness, because loneliness, to me, suggests something negative. I would consider it solitary. I've always considered writing a very solitary business, but never lonely, because 'lonely' suggests that you're sad in a way.

"I like the solitary aspect of writing ... It's not something at all that I dread or feel sad about. It's just - it is what it is."

His verdict on the films made from his books has changed over time and - it would seem - been influenced by his own experiences as a filmmaker: "I never thought that I'd say that I love the look of 'Less Than Zero'. But there's no other movie that looks that good, about that subject matter, during that time in American cinema. The movie itself is not very good. It doesn't really represent the book. But, the look of it does."


I like the solitary aspect of writing ... It's not something at all that I dread or feel sad about. It's just - it is what it is.

 ”

"I love the 'Rules of Attraction' movie. I really think that's the most honest adaptation of any of my books.

"The film version of 'American Psycho' speaks for itself. It really did help me out in a lot of ways, in terms of redefining the book for a lot of people, or making the book noticeable for a much wider audience than it had previously had, so that's a good thing."

How does he see his career as a film director advancing in terms of features? "Having a plan in Hollywood is retarded. There is no such thing. If you think you have a plan, it just doesn't happen that way, and if you had told me that these eight shorts I made five years ago were suddenly going to be a web series for a Millennial production company, I would have said, 'Are you kidding me? What about my two passion projects?' No. This is what has got the money, this is what you're gonna do now."


American Psycho is definitely a product of where I was at that point in my life.

 ”

Ellis's adaptability manifests itself in all kinds of ways and offers an explanation for the inconsistency which led to him being criticised as a public figure: "I'm a contradictionist! I've changed my mind on things. Sometimes, during a single day, I'll flip-flop on something, let alone something I wrote or said twenty years ago."


Having a plan in Hollywood is retarded.

 ”

'American Psycho' has always drawn a mixed response and Ellis faced a new assault from critics who didn't like the musical adaptation which moved from London's Almeida Theatre to Broadway last year: "A couple of critics who really hated it went back to the source. The novel. It was my fault that I wrote this book."

They said its sensibility was juvenile and described it as experimental in a bad way: "Everyone has their opinion, and I would still have a drink with them if they told me my stuff was shit, I don't care... I've lived with people who don't like my work."


I think everyone needs to calm down a little bit and see what happens. And also, infuse everything with a little bit of optimism.

 ”

What appears to puzzle him is that this criticism can be levelled at him so long after writing the book: "I would not write that book now. Just as I have different opinions about things that happen in the world now than I did twenty years ago.

"American Psycho is definitely a product of where I was at that point in my life. You keep changing as a person.

"I don't understand this idea that we should be so unyielding in the way we present ourselves... I feel I'm very open and malleable to any kind of opinion or thought."

The importance, or otherwise, of consistency brought us to the inauguration in Washington DC that was happening on the day we spoke. Ellis felt some of the criticism of Donald Trump was missing the point:

"Donald is not a politician, the movement wasn't political. It was anti-political, he was the anti-politician. So the notion that we would talk about Donald Trump, or the media would try to talk about Donald Trump as a politician: 'He's not Presidential! He's not being very Presidential. This is not what a politician would do!' is why he won. To look at him, and criticise him for that, is totally futile."

Against expectations, Ellis is prepared to give the Trump presidency the benefit of the doubt and is scathing about those who aren't: "How do we process what's going on today? And is it really protests and pussyhats and shit? I think everyone needs to calm down a little bit and see what happens. And also, infuse everything with a little bit of optimism. Because I don't see where it's going to get you. I just cannot be an unhappy camper. I've got to wait and see what the outcome is. "

To speak to Donald Block about asking Bret Easton Ellis to bring his very particular set of skills to your next project, call him on +1 310 899 1700 or email him at don@thedevilyouknow.tv or - if you're in the UK - you can call Corin West on 07792 675779 or via email at corin@lemonadereps.com.

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David Reviews - Lovely Lenzie Ltd, Woodbourne House, Seven Sisters, Lenzie, G66 3AW. Telephone: +44 141 776 7766. Editor: Jason Stone.