BEAU IS AFRAID Interview: Entering the Mind Of Ari Aster
Updated: Apr 22
I had the great honor to interview Ari Aster ahead of his new film Beau Is Afraid in Montreal, thanks to the folks at Horreur Québec for this great opportunity. After the success of his last two films, Hereditary and Midsommar, expectations were high for this third installment in Ari Aster's filmography. I was able to see the film before interviewing Ari Aster so we were able to chat about the making of the film, his opinion on horror films and much more. Without further ado, Ari Aster...
Matthieu Cote: I just want to say first, great film, I loved it. I’m a big fan of both Hereditary and Midsommar so it was good seeing your style back on the big screen and this one seems like a personal movie so it was very interesting to see and I’m a big fan of the film.
Ari Aster: Thank you.
MC: Since we're in Montreal, I wanted to discuss the decision to film in Montreal. I'm not from Montreal personally, I love Montreal but there's no need to sugar-coat it, there's a certain level of chaos, filth, and noise in the city that made it a perfect choice in my book for the world that you’re painting. What were the reasons that led you to film in Montreal?
AA: Well, it begins with incentives, right? It's cheaper to make the film here than it would be almost anywhere in the States, and when we came to visit, it just made sense. Everything we needed was here. We needed water, we needed suburbs, and we needed an urban area, so it just all kind of worked. And then, you guys have really great stages with MELS and all of those guys. Everything fit. And we had a movie that was much bigger than the budget we had, so we needed to squeeze the money as far as we could, and we could do that here. But it was a great place to shoot, amazing crews.
MC: Was it your first time in Montreal?
AA: It was my first time in Montreal, but Pawel Pogorzelski, the cinematographer, this is his hometown. He grew up here.
MC: The animation sequence is one of my favorite moments in the film, there’s a lot of stressful beats but this is a moment where you can just relax and enjoy the scenery. At what point during the production/conception did you decide to contact Cristóbal León & Joaquín Cociña to collaborate on this sequence? Is there a point in the process that you thought “I need those guys absolutely” for this sequence?
AA: At first, it wasn't clear that it was going to be animated. I thought it was going to be just stagecraft because he enters a play, and then I realized I wanted to go a little bit further with just playing with the form there, and you know, I was interested in having animated elements interact with whatever we were going to do with that sequence.
We started looking at animation houses, and there's something kind of impersonal about not what they were doing, but the slate - they're all different styles - and I just couldn't get excited about any of them, even though a lot of them were clearly populated by really brilliant artists. But then I remembered I had seen this film, La Casa Lobo, by Cristóbal León and Joaquín Cociña.
MC: It's a great film.
AA: It's a masterpiece, and I remember being so blown away by it, and I thought, 'Well, it will be harder to get people like that on the movie because they are artists who do their own work.' I'd rather work with people like that, if I can, so it's not just an assignment but that it should be a labor of love.
MC: How long did it take to shoot this sequence? Was it the most challenging sequence to film?
AA: Well, it's not about filming; it's more than that. It's about building, and it's about animating. The filming is easy; it's the process afterwards and the process before that took more time. But I was lucky in that they were enthusiastic about doing the film, and in the end, I had them design the look of what's on the stage. It's a very artificial, flat environment, especially when he enters the play, so those were painted by them, at least the concepts were painted by them, and then we had crew people in Montreal replicate them on the stage.
Then it was about playing around with what is the look of this world, in what direction do we go, how naïve do we want this to be because the idea was that it should be a naïve aesthetic because you are entering Beau's mind, and Beau is kind of simple. I came to them with storyboards and a shot list, so it was dictated in that sense, but I tried to give them a lot of freedom as far as creativity.
MC: Well, you have a way to incorporate art as a mean of narrative for example with the Hårga murals in Midsommar, so that felt like it was building on that and the sequence worked really well.
AA: Thank you.
MC: While Hereditary and Midsommar were both horror movies incorporating surrealistic elements, Beau is Afraid is more of a surrealistic movie borrowing from horror. What was your approach with horror in this movie?
AA: I don’t think in that way. It might be in my mind at the very beginning like, 'Oh, I guess I’m going to do a horror movie.' And then maybe it comes back in my mind when I’m in post-production, trying to think about how we're going to sell it, how are we going to market it. But I just try to tell the story. What drives me nuts about a lot of genre films is that they're so beholden to the genre and people's expectations. That's not to say those aren't in my mind.
In some ways, I feel like I was almost too beholden to those, maybe in… I'm not going to say which film because then it's going to be speculated about. So it's not to say I don't think that way, but it is to say that whenever I do think that way, I kind of regret it. I think it's not to the film's benefit, and the more I make films, I realize I want to get away from that way of thinking. It's funny because I am a genre filmmaker, and I love genre. It’s not me dismissing genre films or horror films, I love horror films. It's just that at no point was I thinking, 'Where are the horror elements?' It's really just coming naturally. If anything, I just clearly have a lot of that in my system.
MC: Well it’s in your DNA as someone who probably grew up watching a lot of horror movies.
AA: Totally, I absolutely did, yeah.
MC: I was watching the short film "Beau" that you directed in 2011, and it's inspiring to see for young aspiring filmmakers to see a vision grow like that. I think you were 25 when you made that film ?
AA: I would’ve been 22. No wait, actually I was 25, you’re right. It was 2011, so I would’ve been like 24.
MC: Yeah and it’s the age that people are driven to make short films, how much have your many short films helped you become the filmmaker you are today, and what advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?
AA: I would say my advice would be, to stick to one’s convictions when they’re making anything. It’s obvious to say “yeah just make movies, keep practising” but I would say when you’re doing that obvious thing that you obviously have to do if you want to make films, then I think, especially early on, the worst thing you could do is try to appease some imaginary audience. You have to do your best to know yourself.
MC: It’s inspiring seeing all the short films you made and that lead up to your big breakout movie with Hereditary and your progress is really cool to watch.
AA: Thank you and I never want to see those shorts again. (Laughs) I never want to talk about them again. I never want to have anybody else see them again but, they were useful in that they were all experiments in me trying to see what works for me. And the more shit that I threw at the wall, the more that stuff stuck and then other things didn’t. It bounced off and it didn’t work, but now I know that that doesn’t work, but oh look this is interesting, I’ll keep going in that direction. It’s all experimentation and I feel like in this film I tried to keep that going, that philosophy.
MC: It feels like it all lead up to this, it was a ballsy movie and you pulled it off.
AA: Thank you, I appreciate it.
Beau is Afraid is now playing in theaters everywhere.
(Huge fanboy moment when Ari Aster recognized me later on the red carpter after our interview)
(The full interview with audio, pardon my excitment/nervousness it was my first interview ever)