Last Friday, Shawn “Clown” Crahan’s directorial debut, Officer Downe, was released on iTunes, Amazon and on demand. Based on the graphic novel and starring Sons of Anarchy’s Kim Coates, it’s a violent action movie about a Los Angeles police officer that’s resurrected from the dead. And while it’s Crahan’s first feature film, he’s had plenty of practice, directing music videos for a number of bands, most frequently his own band, Slipknot. We caught up with Crahan on the day his film was released to chat about how working on a smaller scale prepared him for a feature film, his future as a director, and what’s next for Slipknot.
Officer Downe is your first feature film. What’s the difference between this and doing something smaller like a Slipknot video?
The advantage is of the movie is that I get to make art every day. That’s fascinating and that’s what I want to do in life. I always get bummed out because in the rock and roll business, budgets are so crazy and you usually will not get more than one day for a shoot. But for the times that I have got to put two days into a single video, you get to put just that much more art and that much more of your plan, love and ability into the vision. So what I loved about Officer Downe its just one big long four weeks of making strenuous art from the morning til night. So no difference, you are still working with your AD, your DP, your manager stops by, producers are there, everyone’s on your ass. Instead of one day it was four weeks.
How long have you wanted to make a feature film?
I have wanted to make a movie my whole life man, but there was a reality. I started making Slipknot videos, and then I started doing other band videos. Now I know how it is for other bands to hire other band guys, I was just kind of a unique person I guess. I wanted to do everything that I can visually.
As someone that’s primarily directed music videos for lower budgets, were you able to do things more economically and faster than you might have if you hadn’t had a music video background?
I would be really wrong to not give love to that idea. I have learned so much by making Slipknot videos, absolutely. Working with people, that’s where I got to touch a real camera, I asked questions and it prepared me. My whole life I’ve lived in my own imagination. Just throw me in a scenario with people who wanna make art for real and I am gonna go for it. I had never made a movie and believe me every day people were commenting like “Okay, you are finally getting it, you are finally getting it” I would get pissed off at that, like ‘what do you mean I am finally getting it?!’ I mean you have to learn how to do it right. So the music videos have definitely helped me out in more of a business way I would say. I would think my own photography really has really blown my mind for my potential. Just working the camera that I have had for my whole life.
Is there anything in particular that brought you to Officer Downe? Had you read the graphic novel or were you approached?
Well basically, I went to Venice Beach to hang out with my manager, Cory Brennan. He introduced me to this man named Skip Williamson who is in charge of doing the Crank series and the Underworld Series. My wife was ill at the time and I remember Skip and I had a pretty hardcore conversation about life. It was pretty heavy and it was artistic. Within 15 minutes he looked at me and said “Clown, you’re gonna direct a movie and it’s gonna be called Officer Downe.” I was all like ‘cool, nice to meet you man!’ Sure enough he sent me the hard copy, I opened it up and the very first page said it all for me. I shuddered immediately and I knew that every page after the first page was gonna be good and I was like ‘I’m in.’ That was like two days after that meeting. Shortly after he introduced me to Joe Casey, the genius who wrote the comic, and that’s how it went down. Then also Mark Neveldine who works with Skip on the Crank stuff. It all started with a quick little meeting over coffee and life.
Did you go back and read the graphic novel before you directed it?
Yeah, the only thing I regret is that I immersed myself in Officer Downe immediately when Skip said ‘you are going to do this movie.’ I opened it up that night and read it again and again and again. My brain just started going on but everyone just had to reel it in. Everyone was like “Its gonna be a minute, we’ve got to get financing.” I focused on Slipknot and did what I do there. I waited for the opportunity and then went back into reading it dozens and dozens of times just studying the photos. We used the graphic novel as basically our template. I had printed the entire comic on big pieces of paper and put it on a wall and when we set up to do shots I studied these frames and we used them for inspiration. I know how important it is for fans who love something to have it taken away from them. I am a fan of several things that have been ruined and smeared by people who think they understand I guess what you would call the brand or, for me, the imagination process, right? So I wanted to study the ink and the color. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to make something that has been done before in the comic book world. I just didn’t want to repeat what people have seen and maybe do the obvious and you know, bring pages of a comic book to the screen in an obvious way, these sorts of things.
I know the film isn’t political, but since the movie’s about a killer cop and there’s been a lot of violence towards and by police officers this year, have you been asked any questions about that?
I like this question and I am going to use this opportunity to really shed some light on this. You know, cops, police officers, that is one of the hardest jobs in the world and they don’t get any credit. There are good people and bad people in every line of work and that is one of the most unappreciated jobs and one of the hardest jobs. Just imagine being a police officer in New York City or Los Angeles. For me, I always know that the truth sets you free and I have no problem. I wont buy into stuff and let’s say there are little isolated problems, I am not educated to even make a decision on what is going on there because one, I’m not up to date. I don’t have time, I’m busy, I’m elsewhere. It’s no disrespect, I am not up to date, I am touring, I do other things. I just try to be true and real. I just don’t pay homage to peoples’ ideas that I don’t believe in. I know that is just one of the hardest jobs in the world, and its unappreciated. Just look at teachers. That’s the most important job in the world and also the most unappreciated job. Its like this world, it kicks me down every day.
Were you concerned about the film being too violent or bloody?
Well, again this is an interesting question and gives me a really unique opportunity to explain something. This movie could have gone a lot of different ways. For example; when I was able to put kind of my editing brain on it I was only given an allotted amount of time, and it’s such a hard process. I am not an editor, though I had a little bit of time that I could sit in there and speak with the gentlemen and the people who were doing it. If you want to see the first cut, it was a different thing and its got so many facets, it’s so deep. If you think it’s over the top, I guess it is. It’s not just because I am the director, its because we put that much conceptual thought into it. Like our intellect, you know what I mean? It’s so deep, it’s all dots being connected. So if its over the top its eating itself, it is trying to outdo itself every scene. I mean the colors alone would fuck with your brain. Like there are points in the movie where you should be ill just because of the colors I am blasting you for like six minutes.
Have you gotten more opportunities to direct films since this came out or since its started being screened?
Well, I am going to say it to you the way the world needs to hear it. Unfortunately I have made a nightmare situation for myself because I put my hands in just about everything visually. So people know my schedule and my band Slipknot has always been my priority you know? It’s my baby and I love it. It only allows me at certain times and everybody knows that. So I don’t really believe that I get a really like fair share sometimes because I just wish more peers and artists would just reach out to me directly. If someone has a script, reach out to me directly because I think everyone respectfully looks at what I do and are like, “its not gonna work here.” But what’s next is I just need to go for it and it’s such a hard business. You can understand man, you are in charge of millions of dollars and people, they want answers. So, the bottom line is today is an important day for me in the business world, because everyone is going to look at the numbers. They are going to look at what happens today, this week and that’s going to get associated with me. I just wanna make art and some big things are gonna come for me man, ya know? This is what I was born to do. I just need to be given the chance. But, hey man, whatever’s meant to be, is meant to be. But I would love to make movies, it’s in my soul.
Do you have anything to say about Slipknot right now that the album cycle is over?
Yes, the .5 The Gray Chapter cycle is over. 190 shows, 30 countries 3 years. I showed up in LA, January 3rd, 2013, I had to leave the tour early because my father-in-law passed away. I missed like 5 shows. I didn’t get to end the cycle properly but that doesn’t matter because I lost my father-in-law. Basically we are taking until February and Jim Root and I are going to do something different. We are not gonna sit around while everyone goes and does their thing, because everyone does their thing. Some people rest, some people do other bands, whatever. All of us feel, I am talking about everybody, Corey Taylor, Jim Root, we all feel that for the last 20 years we have been doing it one way, so it would be nice to just like examine the song. So we are going to get together in February and we are going to work with different people, different places, make experiences and take the opportunity to get back into a rehearsal room with a lot of us and jam and not feel like a lot of pressure like “okay we have to get together and in three months write this album.” We want to spend the next year or so diving into the ability to write songs, and explore what we are to the world as musicians and songwriters. So we are very excited to be doing some things differently. We’ve got full support from the label and everybody around us, and we are going to dive into some very unique thinking, not unlike anything we have ever done. We are just kind of tired of how the pirate ship has gone. I don’t really wanna row the oars anymore I want to be an officer or a general.
Cool, thanks man for taking the time to talk and congratulations on the film’s release.
Thank you very much and I just wanted to say one last thing, thank you and much much love from my soul on behalf of Slipknot to all the fucking maggots and fans everywhere. The last three years, I can’t express enough love and kindness and just how much our fans mean to us. I lost my father in law like I was saying, and the fans, the support that they give you. I hear from them all the time that I have saved their lives, like “hey Clown you don’t know,” they save my life every day. When I am down, I can get on my Instagram and just get a pick-me-up from someone in Colombia just saying “hey man, love your art Clown, keep it up,” and it just makes me smile. We do it for ourselves, but in return we do it for our fans, because they are us. We always wanna make music for ourselves. Thank you its been a great .5 The Grey Chapter cycle, and everybody go check out Officer Downe. It will blow your mind away.