Thrillist: The names in this movie are crazy: Morf, Rhodora, etc. How did you come up with those? Why did you?
Dan Gilroy: That began the first time I read a Dickens novel, and my love of Dickens has only increased over time. Dickens was a master at using large casts and defining them in incredible ways, and one of the ways he did them was with names. It was slightly elevated, almost hyper-real names. I've always been interested in using names to flesh out a character. In this campy, kitschy satire of a world we were creating, I wanted names that were a little over the top. I do collect names. I have files of names. Morf Vandewalt is a name I came along a number of years ago in research. I did research on a film set in the South in the 1860s and I was looking at Census Bureau names, I was pulling names out, and one of the names I pulled out was actually Ventril Dease. So Ventril Dease was actually a person who lived back in the 1850s in the South.
Can you talk a little bit about building this world and where you wanted it to be heightened and where you wanted it to be resembling the actual art world?
Gilroy: The building of the world and the scope of the world really comes from a very early decision to make a Robert Altman-like film. Robert Altman was just a master at fusing ensemble casts to give a wide-angle look at a world and a group of people. Once I knew I was going to put a wide lens on it and have a wide group of people in it, then the look of the film started to find itself, which was we're going to go everywhere. We're going to go to galleries, we're going to go to studio spaces, we're going to go to an archivist's office, we are going to installers. Right away, the look of this film just expanded. There was no place that we were not going to try to look.
Very early on, I asked myself the question that if this film was a movement of art, what would I want it to be? And I decided that I wanted it to be pop art. I wanted it to be gaudy and bright and flashy. And I wanted to use contemporary icons to challenge tradition and really send them up in a collision. So the tone of the movie and the gaudiness and the vividness of the colors and all that really comes from this consistent goal that we all had to making what we consider to be a piece of pop art.
You're satirizing the contemporary art world, which is different from the pop movement. In the movie, there's a definite disdain toward the way the contemporary art world and its market functions. What bugs you about that and how did you want to approach those sore points?
Gilroy: Pop art transferred to film becomes a little bit satirical, it becomes a little campy, a little kitschy. It becomes a little humorous, and humor is a very powerful way of transmitting what I believe to be serious ideas. So the ideas that I'm transmitting in this film that are relevant to me really begins with the idea that contemporary art began as this movement that was supposed to provoke and challenge and has just been co-opted by money. It's out of balance. I was interested in that. I was interested in exploring the idea that the contemporary art world, because of the big dollar signs and because everybody's chasing it now, is having a twofold effect. It's crowding out new voices. There's just not enough wall space for new voices. That's a really sad thing. I think any media that starts crowding out new voices is deteriorating from the inside out.
The other is that artists themselves who want to be shown could drift into the realm of being branded. I'm not saying that branding is the worst thing in the world. But once you become a brand, you do sort of run the risk of losing something challenging. So artists, because of the big money, are less inclined to experiment. I'm interested in the idea of what money can do to the people who are on the commerce side of art, and certainly what it can do to the artists themselves. So those were the weighty ideas that were underlying the pop art tone of the film.