Choke director Gregg discusses first film, future

Sex and addiction were featured in the new, raunchy comedy Choke. The Technique was recently given the opportunity to participate in a round-table interview in Boston with director Clark Gregg to discuss his adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s cult novel.

Q: What was your favorite scene to shoot?

A: Anytime Sam Rockwell and Brad Henke were in the colonial gear and had the various colonial people walking around, it just made me laugh. There’s something silly about people talking about dirty stuff or smoking joints while they’re in the colonial garb. It just made me laugh. It was not fun at the end of my first week directing when I was just beginning to get the crew to listen to me. I was maybe walking around trying to direct people with the puffy shirt and the knickers as Lord Jackass. So I think it was a plus and minus situation.

Q: Following this experience, would you want to direct again?

A: Absolutely. It was really stressful to get there, but the days when I had those actors of that caliber acting the script making those scenes work, even in a kind of a steamy and disease-ridden mental asylum, it was as much fun as you can imagine. To them when you actually see people kind of laughing at a dirty joke that I was afraid was going to be one of those dirty jokes that I tend to like that can clear a room—you know when people are laughing and they’re not leaving the theater—it’s a pretty great feeling.

Q. I thought that you did a really good job filming it to make it create a personal connection with Victor and the audience. I was wondering, what was your exact approach in terms of filming and angle shots?

A. I had a lot of approaches, and most of them were taken away from me in a 25-day shoot. The ten shots that we tried to get a scene in almost always became three. I joked with the DP, “When this is done, I’m going to go home and try to figure out how to get from the couch to the refrigerator in less shots.” The other side to that is that it forces you to focus on only what’s important. When they’re peeling things out of your budget all the time it makes you just keep carving down to what—as you probably know as writers—it starts to feel kind of good, cutting things, because what gets there starts to be more and more kind of like a diamond, if you’re lucky. This was a lot like that. I think we realized pretty early on that what Sam was doing was not acting a comedy. It was funny as hell, but he was never trying to be. He was doing something really raw. And so I think we knew that the connection would come from letting that weird relationship that he has with the camera take place.

Q: Are you writing anything right now?

A: I started writing something new, which is really kind of in formation. It’s kind of a big I-don’t-know-what. I want to say, like an Altman-esque ensemble piece that I think everybody has to write at some point. Then I got sucked into the world of kind of finishing and re-editing and prepping the movie for release.

Q: How did you film this movie in 25 days?

A: I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know how we did it. I had a brilliant DP, Tim Moore, who had shot both David Gorden Greene’s movies and Pineapple Express. He knew how to do it. Because they come to you and say you got an hour left, and you say, “This is a five page scene, dude.” And he would curse and scream and so would I. And we’d shoot two or three shots that were incredibly complicated, and I just crossed my fingers.

And then I got in the editing room, and it turned out he had found a way to do it. The other main reason is because I had actors that were that good. And we rehearsed a little, so when we got there, they knew what they were doing. They shouldn’t have been put through that, but if you knew for example the rape-fetish scene. They met that night in the attic room and rehearsed it once and went down there and shot that, because that’s how good those actors are. And with anyone else, I don’t know how I would have done it.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: The sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine – we’re 6 episodes into the new season, so I will happily go back to that next Wednesday. We’re on a hiatus week. I’ll go back there and have the funnest day job in the history of the planet acting with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Wait for a call from Nick Fury and write another twisted script and hope someone will let me make that one too.