Chatting with Elijah Wood and Daniel Noah about their Podcast Visitations and the Power of Genre
By, Michael Pementel - Bloody Disgusting - October 14, 2019
Elijah Wood and Daniel Noah have created a means for us to further connect with incredible creators making remarkable art. Along with their work at SpectreVision (responsible for films like Mandy and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night), Elijah and Daniel began a podcast called Visitations. Each episode involves the pair meeting with different creators, discussing their passion for the arts, creative process, and upbringings. Visitations features an awesome range of artists, including the likes of Flying Lotus, Kate and Laura Rodarte, John Landis, and many more.
At the time of this interview's publication, however, Elijah and Daniel have another guest to add to their list. On a brand new episode of Visitations that is out today, you can catch the duo speaking with none other than the masterful Guillermo del Toro (responsible for astounding films like Pan's Labyrinth and The Shape of Water).
I had the honor to chat with Elijah and Daniel on the phone, asking them about their interests in horror, the discoveries they came across while creating Visitations, what it was like talking with Guillermo del Toro, and the emotional power that comes from genre.
Michael Pementel: What got you both into genre at a young age?
Elijah Wood:Gremlins was probably one of the first horror films I saw. My brother is seven years older than me, so I had the benefit of having an older brother who was renting horror movies with his friends. He would bring them home and show them to me, despite the fact that my mom wouldn't have wanted me to see them. I was exposed to direct to VHS films; one of my favorites still to this day, and one of my earliest memories of horror, is a movie called Truth or Dare?: A Critical Madness by Tim Ritter. That and Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors I saw around the same time. I think I was six or seven when I saw those movies.
Daniel Noah: I think for me it was the Universal Horror movies. I had a really special relationship with my grandfather who took care of me for a few years while my single mother was working during the day. So during the really critical years of my development, I would watch classic monster movies with my grandfather. Watching these films made me start to associate those kinds of stories with safety and comfort, and I don't know if those feelings have ever left me.
MP: How did Visitations come to be? What brought on this idea of interviewing different artists?
EW: We’re good friends with the folks at Shudder, and we've partnered with them on things before. Shudder had a mandate to do a number of podcasts and they approached us and asked if we had any ideas. So it was a blank slate of an opportunity to do something in that space. We sort of talked about doing a podcast for a while, but hadn't really settled on anything. This was an opportunity where we could zero in on something with specificity.
DN: We didn't want to do a standard interview format, because that's well covered. We had this idea we might try and do a documentary, kind of an audio verite, of visiting with a friend. That led to this idea that we would go to the homes of some of our favorite creators who are working in the genre spaces; and not even necessarily directly, like Kate and Laura Rodarte, who did make a genre film, but they are fashion designers. But meeting with people who have a proclivity for celebrating the darkness. Rather than giving people an opportunity to promote their new project, we wanted to have a more personal conversation, and create a fly on the wall feeling that the listener is eavesdropping on something private; which is really what the conversations are, they are private conversations among friends. Obviously I mean everyone is in on the fact that they are being recorded and that they are going to be broadcast. That setup might lead to some slightly more personal kind of exploration as to why we make these kinds of films, television shows, clothes, and music. More of a focus on the "why" then the "what."
MP: Keeping in mind the individuals you’ve interviewed, what attracts you to an artist’s work?
EW: I'm attracted to singular voices; voices that feel not only vital, or not specifically vital, but uniquely their own. That can be in any artistic discipline, be it a filmmaker, a writer, a musician, or otherwise. What I find interesting about artists, and what I’m drawn to most, is singularity and a unique viewpoint.
DN: Yes that [laughter]. What I always say in my role as Head of Development for SpectreVision, is that despite the fact that we make "horror" or tell dark stories, we're not interested in any movie that doesn't have love in it. I think that, for us, genre is a way of dealing with elements of the human experience that can sometimes be a little too tender or too difficult to depict directly. You sort of come in through a side door in the guise of a wolf man or a swamp monster, and you end up addressing real world emotional and social issues like divorce, death, loss, and dashed dreams. These things that are part of the human experience and deserve to be dealt with in a caring, compassionate way, but that audiences might not show up for if they knew that was the medicine they were being offered. Our favorite genre films are ones that kind of trick you into having a profound emotional experience; that experience can be a very hopeful positive one.
MP: Between all these different creators, have you noticed anything in common that they share?
EW: There are a lot of commonalities. I think one of the primary commonalities that links to all of them, is that they all seem to share a sense of feeling "other" or "outsider" for varying reasons; those feelings lent themselves to a certain sense of internalization or need to express. I don't know if this is necessarily the case for everybody, but everyone kind of relates to that.
DN: One of the things that was really surprising, with maybe just one exception, was that there were events in the guest's childhoods that were shockingly identical. Events or circumstances. One of them was transience, a lot of moving. One was the loss of a critical emotional support in the form of death or circumstance; a lost parent or divorce. Another was incredibly, almost paralyzing fearful children who, around adolescents, slipped and became attracted to things that are naturally scary. Those were three things that really jumped out that we kept hearing over and over again. We started to almost feel like we were collecting data for a psychological study.
MP: You've interviewed such a fascinating range of artists, but personally speaking, the episode with Guillermo del Toro is very intriguing. What was the process like arranging his conversation?
EW: He might be the busiest human I've ever met; at this particular juncture in his life, with all his current projects, he is only in one city for no more than three days at a time … A great credit to Guillermo is that he really tries to make himself available to everyone … So when I first emailed him about meeting for Visitations, this was probably six or seven months ago, he responded within minutes and wanted to do it. The difficulty wasn't getting him to jump onboard, the difficulty was just trying to get an hour of his time.
MP: As fans of his work, was there any part of you nervous or geeking out at the chance of getting to sit and talk with him?
DN: We've both crossed paths with him over the years in different ways; I met him in 2001 when I was a young filmmaker at a film festival with him. I was there with my first movie, a little film called Twelve, and he was there with The Devil's Backbone. I was kind of nervous to meet him, and he was so unbelievably sweet to me and encouraging … Elijah and I also did his Q&A after the premiere of The Shape of Water, so I think there was a certain comfort level already meeting with him.
EW: He is someone we greatly admire. It’s always a true joy to sit down with him and hang out.
MP: What scares you?EW: When I was young, the idea of getting older was really exciting to me. I had a profound yearning to be an adult. Then I became an adult, and then suddenly that idea shifted and became a little bit of a fear. Not in regards to my own life or death, but rather the passage of time and the people I love and care about going away due to age or death. The passage of time in regards to other people who are profound in my life.
DN: Yeah you stole my answer [laughter]. If I'm answering as honestly as I ask our guests on Visitations to answer, my fear is of loneliness, which is another way of saying of losing the people I love and cherish.
MP: Has there ever been a film that has helped you out? That has perhaps shed some kind of light or new perspective on a difficult time in your life?
DN: I was living in New York on September 11th, and I was downtown and experienced the whole thing up close and personal. Like everyone there, I was deeply traumatized and experienced real PTSD. I think it was a week or two after the tragedy that the movie Jeepers Creepers opened and I went to see it. I found that I was so deeply rattled by this movie, it seemed almost disproportionate to what the scares of the film had delivered. I went home and had horrific nightmares about the Creeper pursuing me, I couldn’t shake that upsetting feeling.
I had this moment of realization that the reason the Creeper had so affected me was that - you have this story of two people who are innocently traveling down the road of their life, when out of nowhere, this large vehicle appears and starts literally trying to destroy their lives for seemingly no reason at all. That moment was the experience of living through 9/11. What I realized was that the movie had given me a chance to actually work through some feelings of trauma that I was unsure how to deal with, and provided me a safe place. The second I had that awareness, I found that my trauma started to dissipate a little bit. That was actually one of the events that led me to want to dedicate my life to making horror movies.
EW: I can't follow that [laughter]. I can't think of a film off the top of my head. I don't have a film that I've gone to, that I can think of, for therapeutic or otherwise reasons. Although I'm sure there are plenty of films that have affected me in therapeutic ways without me being necessarily conscious of them.
MP: What do you feel draws people to horror and stories that embrace the dark and macabre?
EW:It's all catharsis and a way to process and deal with things that we either haven't dealt with in our life or are too painful to deal with directly.
DN: The function of art in general is simply to let people know that the strange and seemingly unique feelings they are having are not unique, that they are not alone. I think people who are really devoted to horror are people who are generally dealing with traumatic experiences, in one form or another, from early childhood; people who may think they are the only ones in the world who feel this way. Then they discover horror and see those feelings vibrating through films, books, and music, and realize they are not alone; there's something incredibly comforting about that. That realization makes one feel less ashamed, less isolated, and that's one of the reasons why the horror community is so mutually supportive of one another. People who make and love horror films, counterintuitively, are some of the sweetest, kindest, most supportive, and loyal people we've ever encountered.
MP: What are the plans moving forward with Visitations?
EW: We would love to continue with Visitations. From the onset of this, we've had a concept and it was a very simple one - this idea of visiting people in their homes, speaking to creators that are loosely or directly related to genre, and having these intimate conversations. But also throughout the process of recording this series, we discovered as well; it was a process of discovery. We really fell in love with the show and fell in love with the experience of getting to know these people in a deeper, more profound way. We have a massive list of people we would love to sit down with. I can imagine us doing this for years, just because it is purely enjoyable for the two of us. It's also interesting and insightful, it feels very unique. The people that are listening and seem to get that is really exciting, super gratifying, and special.
DN: Speaking to how Visitations has been inspiring to listeners - That's really gratifying for us because that was one of the reasons we wanted to do the podcast. When we talk about our reason for wanting to pursue Visitations with Panos Cosmatos in his episode, we ended up having a conversation with him towards the end of the recording that we didn't think would end up in the episode. It was kind of trying to calm his nerves about having been so personal with us and explaining to him what we thought the value of that was. It was that, we wanted to allow young people who might fit a similar shy profile, to hear from an artist whose work they love and look up to, being like them; how comforting that might be to a young person living somewhere in the world who maybe dreams of making films, and doesn't have any context for how they feel in the world. To have these young people go, "Oh my god, these people are like me and I'm like them," and that may inspire people to pursue these endeavors. My ultimate fantasy is that, in 20 years, a major new filmmaker will say, "You know it was when I heard that interview with Richard Stanley that I realized I could do this;" because Elijah and I both had profound experiences like that as kids, so the ability to kind of pay that forward is a big motivation for us on the show.