The Cutting Room: Vincenzo Natali talks “HANNIBAL”, “AMERICAN GODS” and more…Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
Welcome to THE CUTTING ROOM, a new weekly column on FANGORIA.com that highlights the stories that most share DNA of our print counterpart. Rather than just feature the features, articles and interviews that didn’t make the cut, this column is dedicated to providing a greater lifeline between FANGORIA Magazine and FANGORIA.com.
If there’s anything that can be said about director Vincenzo Natali, it’s that he’s a filmmaker defined by ambition. With little resources and a wealth of imagination, Natali crafted indie gems such as CUBE, NOTHING and HAUNTER, while his one leap into studio filmmaking provided one of the most transgressive sci-fi horror flicks in recent memory, SPLICE. But Natali has found his lust for bigger, more liberating tales on the television landscape, and most recently left a significant mark in directing four of the first 7 episodes of HANNIBAL, including the first three episodes back-to-back. With the Bryan Fuller-edited FANGORIA #343 getting closer to stands and subscribers, this writer recently caught up with Natali to talk HANNIBAL, terror television and his potential involvement in AMERICAN GODS…
FANGORIA: You had directed episodes of HANNIBAL during the series’ second season, but you played more of an integral role as a storyteller this season. At what point did you know that you were going to come aboard the series in this capacity?
VINCENZO NATALI: Well, I’ve just been very fortunate. I guess my work connected with Bryan during the second season because then Bryan asked me back for the first three episodes of the third season. Actually, I was initially asked to do the first five episodes of the season, but that would have been physically impossible. [laughs] But even in doing those first three episodes, it was simply like a dream come true.
FANGORIA: Despite where the second season left off, you didn’t necessarily have to fill in the gaps in the storytelling immediately. Was it refreshing to have that freedom to play around with the visual composition and tell the story at your own pace?
NATALI: Yeah, and I think that’s very much accredited to Bryan. It was his choice not to pick up exactly where he left off and instead create some visual poetry. I thought it was a really incredible curveball to throw at the audience. I think it also was a way to uncover the drama in a way that would be longer. [laughs] But Bryan afforded me this tremendous creative freedom in adjusting the visual palate of the show so it was really great. The direction was really to make it like a European art film.
FANGORIA: From the first three episodes alone, you directed nearly three hours worth of content before going on to episode six. In terms of the scale and schedule of television, did you have more time to prepare considering Bryan selected you for the episodes specifically?
NATALI: I actually did have more time to prepare! I had six weeks to prep for those three episodes, and I think that’s what saved me. But I actually had less time to shoot than I had on the previous season because, frankly, they only had as much money this year as they did last year and they had more to do, so the first thing they had to cut was the shooting schedule. So the real challenge was fitting in everything we had to do in a 21 day time frame.
FANGORIA: Surprisingly enough, aside from the recaps of last season’s finale, there was little bloodshed in your initial three-episode arc and most of the dialogue was very contemplative. Was that beneficial to making sure everything could be staged and executed in such a lean shooting schedule?
NATALI: Well, what we gave up in terms of actual violence, we made up for in shooting time for the more psychotronic sequences! [laughs] So while last year I was able to deal with more bloodshed, I actually feel this season has been more ambitious in terms of the imagery we were trying to conjure in the time available. And with that said, one of the best things about the show is that the scripts they deliver are never over 40 pages, which means their scripts are about 10 pages shorter than most shows.
So while the writing is thin, shooting those pages ends up taking a lot longer. Normally, one page of a script will equate to one minute of screentime, but with HANNIBAL, that’s not the case. You can have a two-page dialogue scene that ends up being five minutes long on-screen. So they’re very cognizant of that, so by keeping the page count down, they really allow the directors to pull it off. I actually direct the shows quite simply; I stick to the simplicity and elegance of the material, and that helps me since I don’t shoot a lot of coverage and HANNIBAL isn’t the kind of TV show that cuts every 2-and-½ seconds. That is what definitely helps in terms of the time factor of everything.
FANGORIA: What would you say have been your favorite sequences from this season that you have directed?
NATALI: It’s hard to say because all of it was so much fun! Actually, I did particularly love to shoot what I call the “stagenstein”, which is when the Dimmond Heart tableau turns into the stag creature. That was very exciting for me since I actually haven’t had a lot of luck with puppets before and it was an opportunity to shoot a creature built to be mobile, in a way. So I had a lot of fun with that.
On the other side of the spectrum, I really love working with the cast because they’re so smart and fun. I was particularly looking forward to the last scene we shot for the first episodes with Mads Mikkelsen and Eddie Izzard, who played Gideon. That was really fun because it came together super fast and it ended up having some of the strongest performances that I’ve ever had as a director on anything. I truly reveled in the simplicity of it in terms of the lighting and the performances. In terms of the sixth episode, I must say that there was a love scene in it that I was very proud of, and it is one of the better scenes that I’ve done.
FANGORIA: In terms of horror TV, you’ve become a directorial favorite for many genre television productions. You’ve directed episodes of ORPHAN BLACK, THE RETURNED, ASCENSION, and HEMLOCK GROVE. What do you think it is about the aesthetics of television that makes your talent to adept to that form of horror storytelling?
NATALI: I guess it would be making television look cinematic; that’s what a lot of people are looking for in my aesthetics. I have a very film-centric approach to directing television, but I also think it’s sort of attributed to how the media is evolving. The line between TV and film is vanishing, and I think there’s a real desire with a lot of TV shows to make things that are cinematic. I think that’s a big reason why feature directors like me are getting into television work.
I also think it really sucks to make movies now. [laughs] It’s really hard [to get them made], and the industry is not healthy at all. There’s the mega-budget tentpoles, which are not only very hard to make but few and far between and very difficult to get. And from what I’ve heard, if you get to direct them, it can be creatively quite frustrating because they’re made by committee. And then there’s independent films, where there is a lot of creative freedom but there is very, very little money which is incredibly hard to put together now.
So the film world is not a great place to be and the world of television is just exploding. There’s so much of it and they’re frankly more ambitious and sophisticated than most Hollywood pictures. It’s no longer the old Hollywood where you’d go from one studio picture to the next in quick succession. But on television, it’s really energizing because I’ve shot more for TV in the past two years than I had in films for the previous ten years, and that’s how I get better as a filmmaker.
And the TV I would like to make, like HANNIBAL, is much like making a movie, and Bryan doesn’t really distinguish the way you make one from the other. He puts as much stock in HANNIBAL as he does into a feature motion picture. Bryan Fuller is actually a demanding boss because expects everyone to rise to the occasion; he’s a man of Kubrickian perfection! [laughs] He doesn’t expect anything less than perfect, which is challenging but also very rewarding.
FANGORIA: Where do you see yourself going from here? Is there any update on whether DARKNET will return for a second season? Have you talked to Bryan about potentially directing any episodes of AMERICAN GODS?
NATALI: I shouldn’t really comment on either, but we’re fighting really hard to get a season two for DARKNET. And Bryan has sent over some overtures for AMERICAN GODS, which delighted me. I would kill to direct some of that show. In fact, some years ago, I had come quite close to making a film version of NEVERWHERE, which is Neil Gaiman’s first novel. So I’m a big fan of Neil, a big fan of Bryan and if it works out, it would be great.
Vincenzo Natali’s DARKNET is currently available to stream on Netflix Instant. HANNIBAL’s first six episodes are currently available to stream on NBC.com, Cable-On-Demand and the NBC app. You can catch more on HANNIBAL in FANGORIA #343, guest edited by HANNIBAL showrunner Bryan Fuller. You can pre-order FANGORIA #343 here.