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Film and Television Work

Interview with Roger Avary
September 1994

Pulp Fiction! What is the first thing that pops into your head? John Travolta? Quentin Tarantino? Roger Avary?


Roger Avary. Oh, you never heard of him? Don't feel bad, because you'll soon hear plenty more from this up and coming writer/director.

Avary is currently riding high as the co-writer of the above mentioned box office smash. Now Avary has a new film out called Killing Zoe. A wild ride that will have Pulp Fiction fans sitting up and taking notice.

Zoe stars Eric Stoltz as a safe-cracker who reunites with an old friend to perform the biggest bank heist of their lives. Stoltz plays Zed, a young man jaded by life, who comes to Paris with only one goal: to rob a bank. He soon finds himself falling in love with a young hooker, Zoe, whom he had hired for the night. She turns out to be college student, doing what she can to make ends meet. As soon as the mood gets intimate, Zed's friend Eric (played by Jean-Hugues Anglade) explodes onto the scene.

Eric is the opposite extreme of Zed. He's full of energy that carries Zed and everyone involved through a wild ride till the very last scene. From the late night heroin trips to the tension filled robbery, the film takes you on an exciting adventure.

Serving as writer and director of this work, Avary manages to capture a dark world filled with ironic situations, which simultaneously alarms and attracts the viewer.

Avary compares the film to a "snowball rolling down a hill. It gets bigger and bigger and bigger, and pretty soon it's knocking down trees and consuming houses. The volume has gotten so loud that it just becomes deafening.

"I wanted it to be the state of mind of the Eric character. Zoe in Greek means life. Everything he does is killing life. It's all about deception and self doubt and all those horrible emotions that some people foster."

The film is loosely based on a trip Avary took to Paris a few years ago. He had run into an old friend who took him on a tour of the city. Soon Avary found himself watching his companion shoot up heroin. "I never did heroin that night, but I took detailed notes," he said.

"When I got back (to the States), I told Quentin (Tarantino) the entire story of my trip, which was this big long opus. It didn't just have the Paris sequence. It had stuff that happened in England, Greece, Italy and Spain - all sorts of stuff that happened to me. But this was like one of the more intense moments, because this was a person that I knew. And it was just so backwards from what I had thought reality was.

"Quentin was like, 'Aw man. You've gotta turn it into a film. You gotta call it Roger Takes a Trip. That's the name of the movie.' And he kept telling me that over and over.

"And then one day, Lawrence Bender (producer of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs) called me up on the phone and said, 'Roger, listen. I found this bank (in Paris), And it's this awesome location where we were scouting for Reservoir Dogs. We have no use for it at all. But if you have a script that takes place in a bank we can kick together $100,000 or $200,000 and make a movie there.'

"And I said, 'Lawrence, this is your lucky day. I have a script that takes place in a bank.' And I sat down and began to write Roger Takes a Trip, knowing that I would eventually get to the bank. I drew on that vacation.

"You always see yourself in your work. You see yourself in scripts, in short stories, in poems, in super 8 film. And when I was making this movie, it was so big. It was bigger than anything I had ever done before. That big silver screen with real actors and sync sound and Tom Richmond's beautiful cinematography. It was so big that I started seeing all my good sides in it - and all my bad sides. It's a bit like therapy. That's when I realized what filmmaking was. It's really a journey of self discovery.

"I believe that every filmmaker - no matter how commercial he is, or how much an art house filmmaker they are - when they make their film, it's a little bit like what Werner Herzog does. The journey is the reward of making the film. What a filmmaker like Herzog will do is: he will walk to the edge of an abyss and stare into the blackness. And what you see when you stare into that inky pitch is your own face staring back at you. And it's terrifying. And it's debilitating. And it's enlightening. And it's horrible. And it's wonderful. And it's all emotions at once. And it's the most intense rush I can ever imagine. And it's what I dream about when I'm not making movies is to go through that again. As painful as it often is, it's fun."

Since filming Zoe, Avary, 29, has made France his second home. He is currently lensing a TV series with Morgan Mason (Sex, Lies and Videotape) in a studio in the South of France. He is also planning a car theft film set to shoot in March.

"My first home is Los Angeles. I maintain a place there, but I'm living here now. Los Angeles is where I really consider myself to have grown up. I went to high school, most of junior high school and even some grade school there. I was really there the longest more than anywhere. My dad was an engineer, so we were living in Arizona, California, Mexico, Brazil - all over the place." It was when Avary was a clerk at a Los Angeles video store that he met up with an interesting young fellow named Quentin Tarantino. The two hit it off and have been working together ever since.

"It's because of Los Angeles that I really got interested in film. I don't know that I would have gotten interested in movies as intensely as I had, or been exposed to them the way I had if I'd lived anywhere else."

Avary started his movie career at the age of 13, shooting short films on super 8 film. "They were usually kind of gory. We'd make dummies and stuff them full of newspapers and throw them off bridges, and film it falling. Then we'd match cut it with my cousin jumping up and down in the river and running around. They were usually crazy things with titles like Psycho Killer and weird things like that.

"I've been thinking of doing a video transfer of them and putting them on the Killing Zoe laser disc. Most people are too embarrassed to do it. And you know what? If you're embarrassed to do it, you should just do it. Have no shame. It'll be fun."

Killing Zoe was written and directed by Avary and was produced by long time friend Quentin Tarantino. This is Avary's first solo effort, and, judging by his enthusiasm, it won't be his last.

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