Filmmaker Interview: CHOKE’s Clark Gregg

By at October 7, 2008 | 12:06 pm | Print

posted by Allison, 10/7/08

When Clark Gregg set out to make Choke, he had everything he needed for his low-budget, 25-day shoot: an abandoned colonial theme park, an abandoned mental hospital, a zoo and the recently unemployed Sopranos crew, all in one spot. What can I say? That’s what NJ is there for.

I spoke with Gregg about NJ’s many abandoned asylums, among other topics, during a recent Boston interview in promotion of Gregg’s directorial debut, Choke (read my review), based on the novel by Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk. Gregg had much to say about Palahniuk as a Jedi master, sex vs. violence in the media, and why he wrote a different ending for the movie.

choke_gregg.jpg On writing the script:
I read the book. I went crazy for it. I did all the stalking I had to do to get the option to write and direct it. I got on the phone with him [Palahniuk] and said “At its core, this is a very dirty and profound romantic comedy,” and he said “Yes, exactly that’s right. Don’t be too faithful” and then he hung up. And I thought, what the hell is that? Of course I have to be faithful, he’s got an army of fans that will stone me to death if I’m not. And I didn’t sign up to not make a faithful adaptation, so I was thrown by that.

On Chuck Palahniuk:
It wasn’t until he came to Sundance that I discovered he’s this kind of interesting, creative Jedi master. I said, “Why did you ask me not to be faithful? a) You really messed with my head and b) you didn’t know me, how’d you know I wasn’t going to turn it into the Golden Girls?” He said, “I just knew you wouldn’t have the stamina to stick with this until you claimed some kind of artistic ownership of it.”

On adaptation:
At a certain point, you gotta let it become a movie. That isn’t just cutting down the points that aren’t cinematic. If you’re going to become an author of the movie, you gotta figure out what the version you connected to is.

Clark Gregg on the set of Choke
Clark Gregg (left) on the set with Brad William Henke

On why the film’s ending is different from the novel’s ending:
The book has kind of a series of ending-ish beats and one in particular that I love that was always in the script. I don’t know if you ever had this experience… you watch a movie and come to some kind of catharsis in an ending but when they start to go into to another ending you’re like, “Wait a minute, I’m still luxuriating in this one.” I tried about 40 different ways of cutting it [one end scene]. I showed it at every screening and I don’t know if a more experienced director with a little bit more money couldn’t have pulled it off. I’m going to put the best version or two on the DVD extras so people can take a look and the campaign can begin.

On Palahniuk’s graciousness:
I knew there were definitely some places where I took his characters that really were further down the road he started them on. They asked him what his favorite scenes are and he named all the ones I had written and I was like, “Come on, you’re full of shit.” He said, “I take this stuff from the people I meet on the road and I do a draft and the only joy, the real joy for me, is seeing what you are next going to do with it.”

On why more of Palahniuk’s books have not been made into films:
I think part of it is this guy pushes people’s buttons. I do think there’s stuff going on in his work … that’s truly subversive.  In a consuming-obsessed society, sex becomes something else you consume in a way that renders you incapable of intimacy. I just think that’s a simple idea that is everywhere around us and I’ve never seen it anywhere.

Someone’s like, “Oh, how are you going to make a movie like this.” If it was Reservoir Dogs they wouldn’t be asking me that — I would be fighting off financiers because violence is palatable. And that’s offensive to me. The fact that sex isn’t viewed the same way, that’s offensive to me.

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