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Q&A: Director Gregory Levasseur goes inside “THE PYRAMID”

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It’s always an interesting experience when a prolific producer makes their way to the director’s chair. For film fans, that leap provides a more personal look at the whispering voices behind numerous great productions, offering a new directorial voice via a familiar sensibility. And in the horror genre, this dynamic is even more interesting as fright fans have a chance to explore what these producers really find scary.

In the case of Alexandre Aja’s longtime producer and collaborator Gregory Levasseur, that leap came in the form of something much more ancient, digging into the horrors behind Egyptian mythology in THE PYRAMID. FANGORIA recently caught up with Levasseur, who talks about THE PYRAMID, found footage and why the film differed from his more gory genre productions…

FANGORIA: How did you first become attached to THE PYRAMID?

GREGORY LEVASSEUR: Well, I received the script that was written by Daniel Meersand and Nick Simon, which was sent by Alex [Aja], who asked me if I was interested in directing it. I read it and I was very intrigued by the story, so I decided I would let it be my first feature.

FANGORIA: Considering how long you’ve been producing films for Alex, what was it specifically about THE PYRAMID that stood out as your directorial debut?

LEVASSEUR: I liked it because it was an ambitious story. Because of my producing background, I knew I could make THE PYRAMID happen in a way where I could do it on a low budget since I knew I could not get a big budget. So I was very excited by the story and I also liked the idea of following a character who was trapped inside of a pyramid.

THE PYRAMID was also the perfect project for me because it had all the things I liked about horror movies: survival horror, dealing with a monster, action and adventure. It packed it all into one movie and I found that to be very exciting.

FANGORIA: Was the found footage elements a part of the script or was that something you brought to the production?

LEVASSEUR: The film was always found footage, and it is a return of the studio found footage movie. But for my first feature, I didn’t want to make it found footage; to tell you the truth, I don’t really like found footage movies. It’s sad to say that, but it’s true. There are good ones, like CLOVERFIELD, [REC], and older ones like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and MAN BITES DOG.

But there are so many movies that use found footage, but with THE PYRAMID, I wanted to make you feel like you were trapped in there with them. I liked that we had just one camera that we could work with, and it also helps you film quickly. At the end of the day, you have to get the shots, film the movie and shoot in a “commando” way, you know? It added a documentary aspect of achieving the movie and not spend too much time setting up for every scene.

FANGORIA: Going into the film, did you know that you could work within your R-rating or was that something you had to fight for?

LEVASSEUR: No, but that’s a very good question. My first goal in this movie was to attract a young audience to see this movie, so I tried to respect the rules of the PG-13 rating. If you rewatch the movie, there’s only one “Fuck”, which is used lightly, and I tried really hard to make sure it wasn’t used to mean something nasty. [laughs]

But I wanted this to be a movie that could be discovered by younger audiences who could see that it’s actually scary and can be enjoyed. I don’t think older audiences really respect this kind of movie, you know? I really made this to be for a younger audience, so when we got an R-rating from the MPAA, they asked us to cut too much at the end of the day. They wanted us to cut whole scenes, and that would have been impossible in order to understand the story. So the R-rating was not my goal; from the beginning, I wanted THE PYRAMID to be a PG-13.

denis o hare in THE PYRAMID

FANGORIA: If you had the chance to do it over again with that still being the case, would you approach it differently? Would you have made it more visceral if you knew you’d be getting an R-rating?

LEVASSEUR: Yeah, I would do it differently. I never saw THE PYRAMID as a gore movie or a bloody movie, which is why I kept thinking of it as a PG-13. I was more interested with the fantasy and the mythology behind the monster. If I knew I had an R, I probably could have gone further with the survival and the monster, but I was really surprised when we got an R-rating, to tell you the truth. If I had to do it again, I would probably add more viscera but I don’t think I’d make it more gory or add violent scenes. I don’t think that would have worked good for the movie.

FANGORIA: A lot of horror fans thought THE PYRAMID was going to be a modern mummy film, but the movie wound up being something much more fantastical. Did that allow you to play around with what horror fans might expect out of a fright film?

LEVASSEUR: Yeah! THE PYRAMID does not have a mummy and that was kind of the point. When you have this kind of movie with archaeologists who can read what’s on the wall, you could really do something different with that kind of movie and the mythological background. I was thinking about even bigger ideas, like, “What if you were trapped inside a Pyramid with an evil God? Could you get out?”

So I played with the scale of the film and what you could see on the walls, which is a good way to bring intrigue and insight into a horror story. It helped set up the creature that appears in the end, and it’s much more interesting than a random mummy.

FANGORIA: All of your productions with Alexandre Aja are quite violent and visceral, while THE PYRAMID is very much more grounded in suspense. Does THE PYRAMID reflect your sensibilities more or were you simply trying out a different approach to horror?

LEVASSEUR: I just like to try something different on every movie. They’re all similar because they’re in the horror genre, but we want to go down a different path every time. THE HILLS HAVE EYES was different than HIGH TENSION; MIRRORS was different than HILLS HAVE EYES; PIRANHA was different than MIRRORS; and THE PYRAMID is different from them all. It’s much more of a fantasy movie, and if we weren’t trying new things, you’d just be repeating yourself even if the movies are different. So I guess my goal in the genre is to try different things.

FANGORIA: Is there anything within the genre that you haven’t explored yet but is on your radar?

LEVASSEUR: I’m writing a screenplay with Alex at the moment, and it will be another horror movie. It’s more of a small supernatural film. I know sometimes people want to see the same movies from us, but I think we want to explore things that are new. I will produce that movie, but maybe not direct. I enjoyed making a movie and having that control, but I also like having that distance from a film where I can have an opinion but not have all of the pressure. So I want to direct another movie, but I don’t know what it will be or when.

THE PYRAMID is currently available on Digital HD platforms from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film also hits DVD and Blu-ray on May 5th, 2015.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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