The Michelin Man: an interview with Rubber producer Gregory Bernard

It’s not every day you get to interview someone who made a horror movie about a killer tyre. As a result, the interview was a rather interesting insight into the minds of those who love to create unique films.

Chris’ note: if you’ve not yet seen Rubber, be wary, as the interview contains a minor spoiler that is, unfortunately, relevant to an understanding of the film’s subtext. Enjoy the interview.

As I set up my computer for the Skype call to Gregory, I think back to Rubber and the rather amusing eighty minutes I spent sat in front of it with my girlfriend. It’s been a long time since a film amused us to that degree, and I couldn’t wait to get inside the head of the producer who helped make the “killer tyre travels American highways, seeking B-movie prey” film a reality. But what was it like working on a film where the adjective “weird” just doesn’t seem an adequate fit?

“Working on it was really exciting,” says Gregory. “Putting [it] together was really exciting, especially for me, it was my second feature film, so I would really consider myself as a beginner, as a producer. So I think that it was really Quentin that gave me the opportunity to work on this project.”

He’s a busy man, and fields at least one call during the interview. He tells me he’s heading straight to L.A. for tomorrow morning, where he and Quentin (Dupieux, the director) are due to begin shooting their next film together. It comes as good news, and he seems jovial as I ask him about his favourite scene in Rubber.

“One of my favourite moments is the very long shot where the tyre is rolling in the desert at sunset.” He expands on their financial difficulties, how backers weren’t getting on board, and how Quentin shot the film with a Canon 5D, one of the first filmmakers to actually do so, even though it’s very much an in-vogue method of filmmaking in 2011. “Seeing Quentin follow the tyre with that little camera on a stick… doing the focus just by moving his hand, was really amazing. To see him do it, and then to see the result on screen, and then to realise what people would feel when they watched it – I would put this shot as one of my number ones.”

When watching Rubber, the most striking element, bar the tyre itself, was the narrative framing device Quentin used. This took the form of an audience within the film, standing watching the events pan out using binoculars. Were the audience’s critical comments about the narrative meant as part of Rubber‘s overall satire of the horror genre?

“I think if you spoke to Quentin he’d probably give you a good explanation of why he doesn’t like taking the audience, or the critics, by the hand in explaining the ‘why’ and the ‘reason’ behind everything, and the introducing monologue is part of that. But of course there’s always meaning in every frame… when he was writing the script, it was just about a tyre popping people’s heads, and he came up with the excitement of adding this audience who were watching this movie, and poisoning that audience.”

It’s a daunting prospect, to symbolically insert the poisoning of a critical audience into the narrative of Rubber. However, this poisoning and Quentin’s opening monologue about there being “no reason” for any significant event in film, successfully suggests that in order to enjoy film for what it is – fiction – we have to realise that critiquing it is an exercise in futility.

This post-modern approach didn’t quite pan out as well as Quentin wanted it to for Steak, his first venture into cinema. 400 copies were issued to cinemas, and as Gregory humorously relates, the reception wasn’t always fantastic. “He was sitting in the theatre, watching his own movie, and he was the only one watching.” From this perspective it’s interesting to see how Quentin turned a bad experience (albeit humorous in retrospect) into a part of Rubber.

It’s hard not to laugh when talking to Gregory. The fact that we’re even here, doing an interview to bring attention to a film about a psychokinetic, homicidal rubber tyre, is nothing short of ludicrous. But it’s no different to interviewing someone about some of the pseudo-serious tripe that’s been shown in cinemas recently, so why not?

I ask him about something that bugged me throughout. Whilst watching the film, I turned to my girlfriend, the resident film knowledge-base in our house, and asked her if she recognised the noise the tyre makes whilst killing someone, as the last part is clearly identical to the hissing rattles of creatures in The Thing, and this calls to mind the fact that both films are heavily reliant on props, special effects and smart camerawork, over actual CGI. I ask Gregory about it, and he expands on Quentin’s dislike of using computers for special effects.

“Quentin likes filming something that really exists,” says Gregory. “In the beginning, when he was working on the script, he was planning to shoot invisible cubes that were popping people’s heads, and he realised he didn’t want to do CGI. He was looking for a really inanimate, but very cinematographic object to work with, and he came up with the idea of a tyre.”

He talks about Quentin’s top-secret, old-school sound generation techniques, and the film’s lack of background noise, something I found made the film even more tense, or comical. I tell him I found the tyre both menacing, and almost Pixar-esque levels of adorable, and did he have any sequel plans?

“To tell you the truth, there might be a Rubber sequel, and as a producer I’d be very happy to work on it.” Good news, most definitely. I then decide to mess with his head. If he could describe Rubber in one sentence, without using the word “tyre”, how would he do so?

There’s a fair amount of chuckling on both ends of the call. Eventually, he suggests that the word “object” may have to be his only option. I agree, so he makes an attempt.

“A piece of trash comes to life in the desert, and kills people.”

It still sounds better than anything else in the genre, doesn’t it?

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