My Friend Dahmer: An interview with director Marc Meyers

1st June 2018

Last week we gave a glowing review of the exceptional indie flick My Friend Dahmer, a filmic telling of the senior year of infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, the period just before his killing days commenced. We first caught the film back at the BFI's London Film Festival in October '17 where we were given the opportunity to chat with the firm's director Marc Meyers. Meyers proved a highly likeable and amenable interviewee, providing us with a super friendly and informative conversation; obviously his new film and the topic of Jeffrey Dhamer, provided great fodder.

How does it feel having your film screened here at the London Film Festival?
It’s a huge thing for me. When I was studying in England, I was in Bath for a year, I spent a lot of time in London passing through on my way to other places. I was here one night and it was during the LFF. I randomly bought a ticket it was some New Zealand or Australian film and it was the first time I was ever in a film festival environment in my life. So flying here, just struck me of the journey of that my life took. Like when I was at the festival, film-making wasn’t something I thought I would be doing. Like I took a couple of film classes, but it wasn’t like I was intending to go to film school or anything like that.

How did you make the film, start to finish?
I was writing an adaptation of the graphic novel. I already knew that the idea of a portrait of a serial killer would be interesting. So when I came across the book,it felt like a perfect synergy of something that would work well. Then I took the book and after a couple of drafts, re-outlining, honing in what the structure needed to be; like the whole thing to take place over the course of a year and not like the book chronicling the whole high school experience. And other devices, like not using voice over, but keeping it instead like in a time capsule from 1977-78. And further focusing in on Jeff Dahmer as the main focus of the story and not seen through the lens of a friend. After a couple of drafts, the script got on the balcklist.

The blacklist? Is it not quite difficult to get on it?
Not sure to be honest. I just got on it. People start sharing and reading what other people are reading in the industry. And it works like below the radar, measure of what Hollywood executives looking at, like a survey of the scripts that they like, that have not been yet been transformed into movies. Its become this official thing now that every screenwriter wants to get on, as it gets the attention of the execs. If a scripts ‘pops’, as in picks up a financier and talent on board, then its likely to shoot very soon.
For My Friend Dahmer the only thing we had was the script. It got on the blacklist and I started meeting with a lot of young talent. Like a huge a amount. Through that I was able to meet actors from all shapes and sizes, that I could potentially consider for any of these roles, the Dahmer fan club fans, through their likeness and talent.

My Friend Dahmer Candid Magazine
Still from ‘My Friend Dahmer'.

We actually had Alex Wolff on the cover, earlier this year.
Really? Well he is a total star. A thoroughbred actor. I have to say I’ve become friends with these guys. I just adore them. We communicate with each other a lot. Ross is also a stand-out individual. Alex, Harry, Tommy…. the whole cast is exceptional. I feel like we are forever bonded with this movie.

Dhamer’s weird introvert/ extrovert behaviours, the dissecting of animals and even his sexuality. It all comes very natural to him and it’s the outside world telling him its wrong. There seems to be disconnect from the external and internal.
The forces and sensibilities within him are too strong for him to deny. On the sexuality bit you mention, besides his fixation with the jogger, which culminates him being on that bed. I wonder if we didn’t show it, would you have thought about his sexuality because he doesn’t talk about his sexuality ever.

I feel that what I get from high-school, is that my friends at the time who are now out of the closet.They did so at the time cause they didn’t realize within themselves and/ or society around them, hasn’t allowed them to be open. I remember being in summer camp as a kid, 13 or 14 and we went into the woods to do a oiuja board and we proceeded to ask it who is going to hook with who. And we were hoping it would be the girl we had a crush on, or something ridiculous like that. One of my friends was panicked that it would say he would kiss a guy, so he didn’t want to do it. We thought he was being ridiculous. But that’s what within his head. He was obviously processing the fact that he maybe gay in his head. And these are the kind of things that I was trying to convey in the film through all the characters in high school. The peer-pressure prevents kids from coming out, or just being who they want to be.

In the movie, there is something off about Dhamer from the get go, almost autistic at points. Then you see the difficult situation with his family and his parents. Would you say its nurture verses nature for Dahmer?
I tried to present all the aspects from the book that contributed to the making of this person and not point to any specific reason why he turned out the way he did. I don't think all factors played at equal part, but they were all at play. At centre of it, there is someone who wasn’t wired correctly, deeply depraved in his own right outside of everything around him. Then that mixed in with all the factors such as his home life, school and personal life; all of that created this environment, where doors opened that allowed his proclivities to spiral out of control.

My Friend Dahmer Candid Magazine
My Friend Dahmer (2017) CR: FilmRise Releasing.

How accurate is the graphic novel and the film with real life events?
As much as possible. When Jeff was caught he confessed everything, he opened up completely about it. Many people who follow Dahmer as a serial, will know. He openly talked about his life, telling them everything he was going through and why he did what he did. Like his fascination with jogger, that’s all real, from Jeffrey Dhamer’s mouth.

I would say Dhamer’s sexuality was something on its own, cause it had other things assimilated with it.
That’s what I would say. Its almost like he didn’t know where to put it. He didn’t understand why he was stalking the jogger or why he was getting off dissecting road kill; it was pure impulse.

The aesthetics of the film, are very convincing. How tricky was to create that cohesive 70s look?
Well fortunately we were shooting in an area of the country (US) well nothing has changed much. The woods look the same, the trees, the driveway to Dahmer’s house. We shot at Jeffrey Dhamer’s actual house. So the gravel driveway was the same. So all things period looking, were already laid out.What you are dropping in to scenes on top, is things like period cars. Dahmer grew up in a big car town cause there was rubber produced there. So it was easy for us to find period cars in the Ohio area, that would make things look accurate for the specific time period.
The wardrobe was challenging, but we had a costume designer from Cincinnati, which is nearby. She had been doing her job a long time, so she had the resources to pull stuff from the area, but also from LA and New York thrift stores. We had to get a big collection of film. Not only to dress the mian cast in period clothes but to dress all the extras in the high school scenes. But I didn’t want them to be over the top, like they are going to some disco. Just average kids in school. More subtle, not the sitcom version of the 70s.
So if something from today, appeared randomly in the scene, how would you deal with that?
When we filmed outside we first had to find the wedge, which is what we call the widest angle of a scene that we could cover for every scene. So in that way, say if a truck or some sign or any modern day things appeared in a scene, we would remove it or cover it with trees. That’s the first thing we would do when we set up at a location. However filming in the house and at the school, that was easy to do as theyremained pretty much the same .

Have you seen any of the other films about Dahmer that have come out throughout the year?
Only the Jeremy Renner one. I tried to focus more on factual research. Plus the films about Dahmer, are about him as an adult.

Do you have any personal fascination with serial killers?
Not majorly, but I get why people are. In general characaters like him, who are outliers are fascinating for audiences. From a film point of you, these kind of films and roles are really meaty for directors and actors. To relate to somewhere but at the same time find themselves doing something as an actor, that would be at the edges or totally outside of what is deemed to be normal behaviour.

My Friend Dhamer Candid Magazine
Director Mark Meyers and actor Ross Lynch.

What did you look for in casting Dhamer?
The main thing I look for in any actor apart from raw talent, know that they can carry a movie or do something interesting as an actor, but also their versatility. So for Ross say, or for anyone really, is someone I can be on set with for a long amount of time with and know as things evolve with time, that the actor would change with the character. That the actor is malleable and versatile and can pivot on tone… but beyond that, Ross has an incredible likeness to Dahmer, its even further accentuated through wardrobe, hair, the glasses.
I also knew, of course being the lead, I had to go and find a person that I could believably show he looked like Dahmer. That was important, otherwise the whole thing would full apart. To be honest I was not anticipating for the likeness to be so striking.

I guess it was also a gamble for the film to rest on a young, newbie actor.
In advance of making the movie I did feel that none of the leads are going to be well-knowns. There is not that many stars, that are male between the ages of seventeen to twenty-one. So we knew we would cast who would be best for the role and that’s what is most important
My Friend Dahmer is out today.

Words by Daniel Theophanous @danny_theo_.
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