The Big Picture
- Grant Singer’s debut film, “Reptile,” has been a surprising success, claiming the #1 spot on Netflix’s top ten for three weeks.
- Singer discusses the overwhelming response to the film, including fan theories and interpretations that surprised even him.
- Singer’s background in music videos and collaboration with artists like Taylor Swift and The Weeknd have helped open doors for future projects and meetings with actors who enjoyed the film.
For three straight weeks, the Benicio del Toro-led thriller Reptile staked claim of Netflix’s #1 spot in the top ten. It’s a visually stylish murder mystery with a top-tier cast, including Alicia Silverstone, Justin Timberlake, Michael Pitt, and more, that’s sparked online conversations about fan theories down to the colors of the clothes characters are wearing. The most surprising thing about this movie’s overwhelming reception is probably that this is co-writer and director Grant Singer’s first-ever feature film, though we’re pretty certain we can expect more to come from this filmmaker.
Singer joined Collider’s Steve Weintraub and Perri Nemiroff on an episode of Collider Dailies to discuss the success of his first movie, his experience making it, and what he’s planning on doing next. During their extended conversation, Singer sings the praises of influences like David Fincher and other directors whose work inspired his vision, discusses working with Oscar-winner del Toro on the screenplay, and what it was like directing on set with so much talent and so many different techniques. Like Fincher, Singer comes from a music video background, and having worked with artists like Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, and Sam Smith, he explains why, though his resume may have gotten his foot in the door, it also posed a bit of a setback in some ways.
Finally, the trio digs into that shocking ending. Spoilers are clearly marked both in the video above the article and in the transcript, which you can read below. Singer details why the ending you see in the finished film isn’t the original draft, and if del Toro had a hand in the final conclusion. We find out how Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey inspired a shot Singer ultimately deemed “too indulgent,” if the killer was always meant to be the killer, and why his original ending would have drawn David Lynch comparisons. For all of this and tons more, read on or press play on the video above.
Tom Nichols is a hardened New England detective, unflinching in his pursuit of a case where nothing is as it seems and it begins to dismantle the illusions in his own life.
- Release Date
- September 29, 2023
- Grant Singer
- Benicio Del Toro, Justin Timberlake, Thad Luckinbill, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Pitt, Owen Teague
- 134 minutes
- Main Genre
STEVE WEINTRAUB: For people who do not have the number one movie on Netflix, I’m just curious: what is it like actually having the number one film for three consecutive weeks?
GRANT SINGER: It’s surreal. Actually, it wasn’t until the weekend the movie was released did I really have even, like, a remote grasp on the global impact of Netflix. I was getting messages in languages I don’t even understand about how much the movie moved them and how much people connected with it. That, to me, was something that I didn’t fully understand until the movie had been out, just their reach. This is not just a movie that’s like, “Oh, the movie’s in theaters around the world.” I mean, it’s like anyone who has a TV—not anybody, but a lot of people—has a Netflix account. So, just the sheer scope and volume of the amount of people that it reaches is pretty surreal. So I think surreal is the right answer.
PERRI NEMIROFF: Sounds like an appropriate word to use. Grant, given the widespread reaction to this movie, is there anything in particular that surprised you about an audience’s response to the film? Like unexpected interpretations or little details that people picked up on that you didn’t think they would?
SINGER: So someone had sent me these Twitter threads of people reading into every little thing, and some of them I actually was like, “Okay, they’re actually catching on to things that we were doing with the film,” which I was really pleased with. I’m like, “Oh, these people are very thoughtful and considerate in their experience of the movie,” and then other things, I was like, “Wow, I didn’t even think about that.” So there’s a lot of almost new theories or people sort of putting two things together in their own head. Again, it’s not that I didn’t think about it, like how people were gonna respond to the movie and interact with the movie, but there are always surprises as to what people latch on to. Certain things in the script or certain things in the filmmaking, whether it be mirroring—I’m not talking about the actual use of mirrors in the movie, but like the mirroring of how things are parallel throughout the movie—but I think just the manner in which people really got into the intricacies of all the little details throughout the movie, that, I think, really surprised me.
PERRI: There’s one little rabbit hole that I went down, and I’m gonna save it for the spoiler section, but I’m very curious if this is a legitimate thing that you thought to do. So I’ll tease that for later.
STEVE: I’m so curious. It’s hard to sometimes get meetings in Hollywood, but once your movie comes out and people like it and it’s doing well, that can change. So, what have the last few weeks been like for you in terms of people wanting to meet you or discuss what you want to do next?
SINGER: Yeah, the people who’ve seen the movie who liked it I’ve had some meetings with, and mostly we talk about the movie, what it was like to make it. I think once you make your first film, people are just curious about not just the movie that you made, but like, what do you want to do in the future. It’s like, do you wanna make something similar? Are you looking to make a similar sort of crime thriller? Are you looking to do something different? What kind of projects, whether they have something or do I have an original idea that I would wanna go out with, things like that. Also, I think most of the meetings are just getting to know me or getting a sense of, “Okay, who’s the person that directed the movie?” And yeah, I think certainly once you make a movie, there are more opportunities to just broaden your horizon in terms of the matter of, you know, whether it be studios or producers or actors.
That was also surprising: actors reaching out to me [about] how much they enjoyed the movie and wanted to talk. I was with an actor yesterday who I really loved. The actor meetings are really special because, at the end of the day, I think the actor-director relationship is probably the most sacred relationship when making a movie. You know, at the end of the day, you can be super talented as a director but if what you’re seeing on screen isn’t moving or emotional or powerful, then it’s hard to make something compelling. So, I love meeting actors and hearing what they’re interested in doing and what their thoughts of the movie were. So, certainly, the actor meetings are very cool too.
PERRI: I love that mentality about working with actors.
STEVE: I have to do a follow-up. What have you been telling people in these meetings in terms of what you want to do next?
SINGER: Well, it depends on the meeting. I’m not cagey; I’m not concealing anything. I’m writing something that I would like to do, but I’m also open to doing other things. I don’t wanna be super prescriptive and say, “This is what my next movie is,” or, “This is what I wanna do.” I wanna be open. Every meeting is different, and a lot of times, people can sort of surprise you with a story. At the end of the day, sometimes something might happen to you, you might hear a story, like, “Wow, I didn’t think that would be something that I would want to pursue,” or a movie that you would want to see, for example. But then all of a sudden, it kinda like strikes you, and you can’t stop thinking about it. So I just want to be open to what might come my way. So yeah, I think that’s really the right answer.
PERRI: We jumped way ahead without talking about your background, given that this is your first feature and a lot of our viewers are likely first gonna get to know you via this interview, via this movie. So first, I wanted to ask you to pick your favorite child. Of all your music videos, do you have an absolute favorite? If everyone left this interview and watched just one, which one would you want them to watch?
SINGER: That’s a great question. I would say The Weekend, “Call Out My Name.” It’s the last video I did for Abel [Tesfaye], and at that time, I’d already made five or six, maybe seven, music videos for him. I can’t remember. But I felt like we were really vibing well creatively, and it felt like I felt free, he felt free as an artist, our collaboration was great. I like the way it looks visually. I like the compositions. I like how presentational it is. It’s sort of like I’m doing Mark Romanek photographic things in there. I love the color palette. I just enjoyed, also, the experience of making that project, like it was visually aggressive. It was just a fun thing. It was just a good time making that video.
PERRI: It’s a solid choice. I’ve grown a little obsessed with “Red Hearse” over the years, so I feel like I would veer towards that one. That and “Half Love.” You gotta watch both.
SINGER: I like those. I love Jack Antonoff. Shoutout Jack, who is one of the guys in Red Hearse. I loved making those videos. I met Jack through working with Ella [Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor], who goes by Lorde, when I was doing “Green Light,” the first video I did for her, and we became pals. So he hit me up and said, “Hey, I got this side project, did you want to make a video?” And we stayed close ever since. I loved making those videos, too. Those were good. Those were fun ones.
PERRI: You work with some really cool people. Alright, Steve, you want to take us into Reptile?
STEVE: Sure, what the hell? I heard I might have some questions. So this is your feature debut; how much did you debate what you wanted to do with your feature, and why was Reptile the thing that ended up getting made?
SINGER: I knew I wanted to make a crime thriller. I think the sort of contemporary noir, these are movies in a similar vein that have stuck with me the most throughout my life as a student of film and loving movies. And I felt like with your first movie, you’re not just trying to make a good movie, but you’re also trying to convey who you are as a filmmaker, and there was this sort of unnerving, suspenseful tone with a little bit of warmth and playful levity that just felt like the right kind of movie to make as my first film. This just felt like the right movie to make. Going back to your earlier question, which is what do you want to do next? Everything is intuitive. I don’t wanna be super intellectual or cerebral in terms of what I wanna do, and, “This is what I want to do.” I want to be very open, and I think artistically, as a person who’s growing as a filmmaker and wanting to do new things, being open, is also a really important part of that same facet of being creative. For me, being really hard in, in terms of that kind of mentality, is not something that I think yields the right kind of results for me personally.
PERRI: That totally makes sense. Going back to the music videos a little bit, because you’ve had so much success in that realm, is it easy to convince the necessary parties to give you the OK to direct a feature, or is it a situation where you have to convince them, like, “I’m good at this, but I can do this, as well?”
SINGER: I actually think that, unfortunately, you have to start from scratch. Certainly, you get your foot in the door, like, “Okay, listen, I can direct, meaning I can direct something visual.” But I think, unfortunately, there’s a negative perception with music video directors, like, “Oh, you’re just like a music video director,” like, “It’s not serious.” For some reason. I come from the generation of looking up to people like Fincher and Spike Jonze and Mark Romanek and Michel Gondry and Chris Cunningham and Hype Williams, and all those guys. So, I knew at a young age there was a path forward, even subconsciously. Like, “If I were to make music videos, maybe one day it might make the opportunity to prove myself as a director of music videos, and then maybe I can get with the right script or can make a movie.”
When you go in that room, like these pitch meetings, they’re really just kind of looking—again, I can’t speak for everyone, but in my instance—like, “Okay, does this guy have a vision? Is he going to be good with actors?” As a producer or studio, it’s like you might be the most talented director ever visually, but if you can’t articulate your vision and also seem collaborative, there are all these different personality traits. Again, you would have to ask a producer what those specifically are, but I’m just assuming it’s the idea when you’re a director, you’re really the ultimate communicator on set. You have to communicate to hundreds of people what your vision is, work very economically and quickly, and not be overly precious about certain things, especially on your first film because you don’t have as much leverage. So in that pitch process, it’s less than about, “What is the movie you wanna make,” and more like, “Who are you? Is this someone that I wanna invest X-amount of dollars into this project,” because a lot of projects succeed, but a lot of projects don’t.
I can also speak on behalf of Benicio in that first meeting I had with him. He had so many questions about the movie, so many questions about what my vision was, but I could tell, minute 45, it was less about the movie and more about him trying to figure me out, right? Because as an actor, I don’t care how talented you are, if you’re in the hands of a director, they could mismanage your performance, they might have a very different vision of what the movie is versus what your vision is. So he was very much trying, again, I can’t speak for him, but my perception of that meeting was he was trying to get a sense of who I was as a person and as a director, what kind of director would be on your first movie, right? So, it’s a lot of that. It’s a lot of them sensing out, “Okay, this guy Grant, he’s made a lot of music videos. We know he’s got sort of a visual thing, but how is that gonna translate into a narrative thing?” And again, I don’t care how persuasive you are in the room, once you’re on set, that’s really the ultimate test.
STEVE: Speaking of Benicio, he co-wrote this screenplay, which is the first time he’s gotten a credit like that. What surprised you about working with him as a screenwriter? What did he bring to the table?
SINGER: Benicio is so thoughtful about every little detail. I don’t approach them as an actor; I approach it from a more objective perspective, being behind the camera. As an actor, you have to inhabit these characters, and he’s had decades and decades of doing incredible movies, inhabiting brilliant, very varied characters, so he thinks about stories from within a story, from within the character, really from a very complex three dimensional way, in a holistic way. So he brings a lot of consideration, passion, and thoughtfulness into every little beat of the movie, not just from his character, but also through the storytelling. It was a very rewarding process. The whole experience was pretty amazing.
Also, just having the time. I can’t even imagine going to set on your first movie, and you don’t have much time ahead of time with your lead actor, right? Like, maybe you’ve had a couple of meetings, you know, whatever, but that would be a very different experience than the one I had, which, by the time we were rolling, we had this endless amount of conversations about the movie. We really got to know each other as people. So there was a comfort level that was, I think, very beneficial for the final product, which was the familiarity of not feeling insecure in any way in your role. I felt very comfortable with him, communicating with him, and I think vice versa for him.
PERRI: Then you obviously cast Alicia just so you could make an Excess Baggage reunion, right?
SINGER: Well, it’s funny, it was his suggestion to cast Alicia. When we were talking about that during that casting process, he brought her name up, and I thought that was so inspired. And again, he had known her for so long, and having worked with her, he just clearly knew that she could inhabit the role in a beautiful way, and I love that. I thought it was such an inspired idea. Then once we talked to her over Zoom, it felt inevitable. It felt like just a totally right decision, and I’m so glad it worked out.
PERRI: She’s crushing it lately. I feel like in recent years, but this year in particular. Seeing this and Perpetrator back to back, I’m like, “You are the coolest. Keep swinging big and doing bold projects,” because I’m very much here for it.
SINGER: I am, too. It’s funny, a week or two after the movie came out, we saw in IMDb her star meter was number one. It made me feel so good because we are bringing Alicia back, and it was amazing. Obviously, I can’t take sole credit for that, but I just love that she’s doing so well, and she’s just the best person. I hope to continue to work with her for many years to come.
PERRI: It makes me happy. So, one thing I love doing is highlighting the different variety of approaches to acting that there are out there, so I’ll loop Justin in for this, too. Can you maybe specify something unique about the way that Justin, Alicia, and Benicio all approach their work where it calls for something different from you as their actor’s director?
SINGER: It’s a great question. Every actor in the movie approached their process completely differently. I actually don’t think there was a single actor where I could be like, “Oh, yeah, those two people are the same,” or, “Those two people communicated with me about their process, their roles, and what their character is doing the same.” Every actor was a very unique relationship that I had with them. Justin is one of the greatest and biggest pop stars in the world, right? He’s an amazing musician, but he’s also a phenomenal actor, and he really thinks about his character in the story in such deep ways. I can remember leaving set and being on the phone with him for like an hour and a half about whatever we’re gonna do the next day and different ideas and, again, super thoughtful, but in different ways than Benicio, right? Communicating with them is also very different. You talk about things in a different way. Same thing with Alicia, same thing with Michael Pitt, right? Michael Pitt is very immersive as an actor, and speaking to him, even getting ready to do a scene, I would communicate with him very differently than I would with Justin.
Also, a lot of times Justin and Michael had scenes together, which was so amazing for me because I would direct them very differently, right? I would go speak to Justin about what we were gonna do in a certain scene, and then I’d go to Michael, he was standing outside smoking or whatever, and I would talk to Michael, and I’d be like, “Listen, Michael, so I wanted to do this,” and I would completely change the way that I would talk about the scene. Then it was great because then you have these two very opposing, sort of diabolically different characters, right? Intrinsically, completely just alien to one another, and I think that’s what makes those scenes so alive and have such a vitality to them is because you’re seeing completely two different types of people from two different walks of life, two different approaches to acting sort of converge. That, to me, was really exciting.
PERRI: That’s a great answer.
STEVE: I really enjoyed the way you moved the camera, especially in the first act. I rewatched the film last night, and there are really methodical, real choices in the first act with how the camera is going, especially just things that I noticed and how you do your edits, which is very abrupt. So I’m curious, can you talk about the moving camera on a tight schedule where I also know you didn’t have a lot of time in prep before you stepped on set, and the way you chose to edit with those sharp edits?
SINGER: So sharp being the operative word, and I appreciate you seeing that because I wanted something that would like slice. I wanted something caustic, abrasive. I want that really hard, sharp, razor-sharp construction to the movie. I love very classical camera moves, like, I’m very traditional. When I watch older movies, I just love the way they move the camera. It’s very considered, and it’s very, I don’t know, to me it’s like a love letter to all these movies from the past. You were talking about the first act; the first act is much more presentational, and then as the film progresses, the film gets within Benicio’s character, and it becomes much more immersive. We use longer lenses, more zooms. It’s a little bit, I don’t wanna say more loose, but it’s certainly more within, right? It’s within a scene as opposed to objective, right? As the movie begins, we’re much more outside of the world, and we’re sort of looking at it voyeuristically, and then it just sort of completely changes.
There’s actually a shot halfway through the film—spoiler—where something happens with Benicio’s character and he’s being taken away in a police car, and there’s a shot of the farm field, and there’s a fence in the center of the frame. Before you fade to black, we see the cars, it’s very far away from the camera, just drive from the right side of the screen to the left side of the screen, and we fade to black. You see these cows on either side. It’s really at that point of the movie we’re going from the first half of the film to the second half, and the film is completely changing, right? And at that point, really, the way that I shot the movie is slightly different. I’m not gonna go into how I shot the movie, but that’s sort of the turning point in terms of the style that you’re talking about.
And it’s funny because I watched The Killer last night, and Fincher does these amazing sonic transitions and cut points that I’m very fond of. Certainly, there are similar sharp edges to the way Reptile has been edited and constructed, and that’s just a taste thing. That was something that was, even years ago before we shot the movie, I knew that that was gonna be in the construction of the film. Again, like you were saying, “Why did you want to make this movie?” It’s like, I wanted to also employ those techniques cinematically because I just love them.
PERRI: So before we veer into spoiler territory, I wanted to ask you one broader question. We always love highlighting as many people’s work in this industry as possible. Can you name, other than The Killer, a recent movie you saw that inspired you and maybe even, I don’t know, gives you hope for the future of this craft and industry?
SINGER: That’s a great question…I have two examples. I rewatched Shoeshine by [Vittorio] De Sica. It’s an older movie, obviously, he made it just before Bicycle Thieves, but that sort of sincere filmmaking that deals with the human condition and the corruption of youth, the innocence, and it deals with things that are very primal. It comes from such a deep place in the soul, and the storytelling is just so brilliant. The performances are just unbelievable. It just took my breath away. A more recent movie that I saw and loved, I rewatched Swimming Pool by François Ozon, which was a movie that I loved in 2001 when it came out. I’m re-watching movies that I love from the past, and I love that movie. Charlotte Rampling is just incredible. I love the atmosphere and how that movie really takes its time. It’s so, so great.
But one movie I saw last night, and I have to just shoutout, it was so inspiring, was The Killer. Again, no spoilers, that movie is not out yet. I thought, when you said, “Do you wanna give a shout out to someone,” I thought you’re gonna say, was there a performance, and there’s a performance of an actor in that movie that is so great. I mean, all the performances, but I believe her character’s name is Dolores, and I wasn’t familiar with her as an actor before last night, before the movie, and she’s so good in the movie though. All the performances in the movie were great, but shoutout to The Killer. That movie is sensational, and I just can’t wait for that movie to come out.
STEVE: I have a question. You’re telling me that David Fincher manages to get great performances out of people? That is shocking.
SINGER: Well, you know what’s so funny is that whenever I read about Fincher, obviously, I have my own relationship to his work because I’ve been influenced by it for so long, but people always talk about the sort of technical magnificence of his movies which are undeniable, right? He’s just a master technically in many ways. I mean, in every way. But people don’t talk about his performances, in my opinion. When I read about his work, people talk about the imagery and all the directorial things that are going on in his movies and what he’s able to do, but I really feel in all of his movies, specifically when I watched The Killer last night, oh my god, it might be my favorite Michael Fassbender performance ever, that I’ve seen him in. It’s so good. The performances are just sensational. No spoilers, but I have a lot to say about that movie because it really moved me. I had a smile on my face the whole time. It’s such a pleasure to watch his work. And I’m so excited that it’s a movie that’s gonna be on Netflix so so many people are gonna see it. I think it’s gonna be a huge hit.
PERRI: Kerry O’Malley plays Dolores, just so everyone can jot her name down, and I’m gonna be looking out for her when I see that movie.
SINGER: She is amazing. Shoutout, Kerry.
STEVE: I’ve been pitching the government for something, and maybe you guys can help me make it happen, but I have always believed, especially the last few years, that any time David Fincher has a new movie coming out, it should be a national holiday.
STEVE: Yes, I’m on that level.
SINGER: I agree.
STEVE: National holiday. I mean, I’m willing to do World Holiday, but for now, I’ll just take the United States.
SINGER: Well, can we at least get him an Oscar? Because last night at the screening, they announced all of his collaborators, and it was like, “Oscar-winner, Oscar-winner, Oscar-winner…and then greatest director on the planet, David Fincher.” That’s what Elvis Mitchell said. We all clap, and I’m thinking, “How does he not have an Oscar? How does he not have an Oscar by now?” It doesn’t make sense.
STEVE: I’ll say that he has not made that Oscar movie. He’s not leaned into making a film that is an Oscar-type player. The fact of the matter is if he wanted it, I believe he’s so ridiculously talented that he just hasn’t played the game, and he hasn’t made a film that’s like an Oscar film.
PERRI: I feel like, in hindsight, we could say that about a bunch of his films, that they were deserving.
STEVE: With Mank, it was something that maybe could have been something, but the other thing is, look, there are incredible movies this year, and only one is going to win Best Picture. It’s gonna probably be Oppenheimer. Remember, Nolan hasn’t gotten anything either.
SINGER: 2007, Zodiac. I know that was a crowded year with There Will Be Blood, No Country [for Old Men], Michael Clayton, I believe was 2007. 2007 was also that Noah Baumbach movie, Margot at the Wedding…2007 was a huge year for movies. The point is that I understand, but Zodiac, to me, is certainly worthy of that. But, listen, this isn’t the how-come-David-Fincher-hasn’t-won-an-Oscar? episode. Although it should be. Listen, I certainly felt like Mink was deserving of that. I don’t remember what won that year, who won best director, but when I watched Mink the first time, it’s like a marvel, like an actual unbelievable cinematic marvel.
PERRI: Chloé Zhao won that year, Nomadland.
STEVE: Again, national holiday when Fincher has a new movie coming out.
SINGER: Yeah, let’s do it.
Reptile Spoilers Begin Here
PERRI: Alright. Done deal. We’re gonna make it happen. We manifested it. Now it is time to talk about Reptile spoilers. If you have not watched the movie, now is the time to push pause on the video, go watch it on Netflix, then you come back and push play, and the video begins right here. It’s that easy. It’s that great. What is the biggest difference between draft one of this screenplay and what we now see in the final film?
SINGER: The first draft was much more ambiguous, much more, like, leaving things to the audience’s imagination. It was more Lost Highway in tone, like really unnerving and mysterious and sort of out of reach. Then, the movie that you saw, I think there are a lot of things that are similar, but there’s much more clarity in terms of certain things, specifically in the last act. And, you know, earlier drafts had a different ending. The biggest thing was that it had a much more ambiguous ending where you sort of don’t know what happens, and it’s more internal and perhaps a little bit more cerebral and left to the viewer’s imagination. So that’s the biggest difference, I’d say.
STEVE: I want to follow up on that. Was it Benicio’s notes or a producer’s note that caused that change to get to where audiences see what they see, or did you realize along the way, “This might be too much for a mainstream audience?”
SINGER: You develop a script with the producers, right, who come to the movie from a different perspective, right? Both loving the vision but also wanting to make it work for a large audience. And certainly, once Netflix comes on board, it’s like, “Wow,” we as the filmmakers are much more conscious of, like, “This is gonna play for a lot of people,” right? I compare it to, like, imagine The Velvet Underground playing a small club in the late ‘60s, right in downtown New York. Their performance is gonna change—same songs—when they play the Hollywood Bowl. You’re gonna play the same music, but you’re gonna modulate how you perform the song slightly differently, depending on the size of the audience, right? And I think that there was certainly some calibration there where we started to realize, “Yeah, I just like the format,” like how this was gonna play for different people. But I think it was also just what we felt was right, where we want the story to go.
When you work on a movie—again, I can’t speak for everyone, but just speaking from me—it’s a process where your understanding of the material changes the more you look at it and the more you think about it, right? You sort of think about, you know, this isn’t a cerebral work, it’s not a literary work, it’s a work that an audience is gonna be sitting with these characters, and they’re gonna get invested in them, and you’re gonna wanna know certain things or else you’re gonna feel cheated, right? Cheated not just by the characters but by the filmmaker, by the movie. You wanna just be conscious of the audience’s perception. It’s the same thing with, like, why do I do certain edits? It’s because I want it to strike, and I want that feeling for the viewer, right? It’s not just because I like it in the editing room. It’s because I understand that it’s gonna have a certain effect for the viewer. So, you’re always thinking about how an audience is gonna engage with the movie. And again, these are things that just evolved over time. But yes, I think from the first draft, all the way to the movie you saw, the ending was different.
STEVE: It also comes down to, you could have made the movie that you’re talking about, but it would have played to far less people, you would have had to make it on a much lower budget, and you would have been considered Lynchian, you know what I mean? You’d be setting a path for a completely different trajectory if you had chosen to make it the way you originally designed it.
SINGER: Absolutely. And I’m always straddling, as a person, as an artist, I have more probably fringe tastes musically than most people. I love very experimental music, and I’ve always my whole life sort of leaned into sort of more left-of-center things. But yet I’m now, at least in this instance, I’m making a movie or making movies that are more commercial, right? So I’m always gonna sort of imbue my artistic sensibilities and my more sort of out-there things, but I’m doing it in a more mainstream vein. So it’s that right balance. It’s also where you are. Maybe one day I will make more of a really heavy feeling, less narrative, less whatever movie. But with this instance, that was the movie to make.
STEVE: I apologize for pulling us onto a side street, but jumping back into spoilers—and this is a big spoiler—was it always going to be Justin that was the killer?
SINGER: Who orchestrated his girlfriend’s death, yeah. That was always the same. The tent poles of the story never changed. We approached scenes, certainly, from different ways, but the general story was always the same.
PERRI: Here’s my super specific question that I teed up because I saw this on Reddit, and I’m like, “Oh, it’s kind of right…” Are the colors that all of the characters wear specific to who they are and their intentions in the movie?
SINGER: No, but I did see something like that. That’s one of the things where I was like, “Wow, people really read into those things.” Again, that’s a question for my costume designer. She might be like, “Absolutely!” I don’t wanna answer that actually because I wanna let Amanda [Ford] take responsibility over that because if she were doing that, I don’t remember if we had specific conversations. I know we had certain conversations in terms of maybe color things, in terms of color stories with each character. Those conversations are a little distant in my memory, so I don’t want to speak on that. But I think, actually, Amanda, who you should speak to, she might have a better answer to that. But yes, I did read that. Again, those are when I’m like, “Oh man, people really engage with the movie. They’re going color beat by beat.” That’s pretty cool.
PERRI: I re-scrubbed through and tried to line everything up, and I’m like, “Oh, this kind of makes sense.” I purposely didn’t wear blue because of that post.
SINGER: Oh, by the way, now that you say that, I do remember Amanda and I having conversations about the color for specific characters. So I think, yeah, that was something that
STEVE: So one of the things about this film, just like every film, is where do you actually stop? What are those closing shots? So I’m curious: was there ever a debate on the film ending with Benicio shot on the chair? How did you decide? Because it goes a little further with Justin on the golf course and Benicio in the kitchen. How did you decide exactly where you wanted to end it, and was it possibly ever something else?
SINGER: Yes. There were discussions. So when we shot the scene with the little kids at the window, which is, again, very aligned tonally with what we’re doing with the rest of the movie with the home renovation, with just all the stuff with the characters, again, it’s like teetering on evil and unnerving, but also with a warmth and a little bit of levity that’s like the film sort of wavering between various tones, that felt very aligned with the tone of the rest of the movie. And then he’s calling 911, right? She’s like, “911. What’s your emergency?” And then you see Tony, you’re on Benicio’s face, and it’s such an incredible performance with his face right there. You could end the movie. We actually tried in the edit. We were playing around, my editor, Kevin Hickman—shoutout to Kevin, he’s amazing—we were playing with it. We’re like, “Wow, you could just cut to black here. That’s pretty striking.” But again, these are then conversations you have with your collaborators, like, “Okay, well, what is that gonna do for the perspective of the audience?” Yes, it’s a striking ending, but is the audience gonna feel like, “Well, what happened to Justin?”
I do this sort of thing in the kitchen, you know, that’s a little bit of like an epilogue that intercuts this thing with Justin and Benicio in the kitchen, and I love the metaphor of the paraffin, of him healing, and then he’s sort of shedding the skin as the wound, and then with the faucet at the end. It just worked. Again, you could end the movie with him looking at the kids and at that window and staying in that room, but for various reasons, we decided to do the ending that ended up making the cut.
PERRI: I did want to ask about the touchless faucet and choosing that as your final image, not even just choosing that as your final image, but figuring out precisely how long that shot should be.
SINGER: It was a very quick shot. The camera’s on a dolly. By the way, shoutout to Dwayne [Barr], our dolly grip, who I met, who’s also Fincher’s dolly grip, who did The Killer. He sat right behind me at the screening last night. Love him. These guys don’t get the credit that they deserve, right? These people, all those moves that you guys like, that we like, that I like, there are people operating the camera who are responsible for just how clean and sharp and beautiful they are. Going back to that shot, what I like about that shot is that the camera sort of starts with Benicio as he’s walking away from Alicia, and it’s like a move, and then we can kind of land in our beat position. Right when we land, it’s like that perfect time where he does the hand thing, and if you notice it, it’s like on a beat on the Dylan song, it’s on a beat, he doesn’t finish the hand…It’s kind of like, Steve, what you were saying earlier, these sharp cuts. It’s like we end the movie on a cut that’s very similar to what we were doing earlier in the movie, which are these whooshes, these very sharp things where you’re cutting before the shot really ends. It’s just stylistically and aesthetically, something that I’m drawn to as a viewer and that I like to do as a maker, as well.
STEVE: When the film is successful, like after three weeks being number one, does Netflix actually call you and say, “Do you want to do more with Benicio’s character?” Or how much is it, “This is a contained story. It was good. People like it, and let’s move on to something else?”
SINGER: I’ve never had any conversations with Netflix about opening up the story of Reptile. So, I mean, if there are conversations, no one’s reached out to me about that. But I think the film is very self-contained. At this moment, on whatever day this is, at whatever time, I haven’t thought about a different iteration of the story, be it the past or the future. So, I don’t know. I think everyone’s just very happy that the movie has found its audience, and it’s finding its audience across the globe, and that’s really exciting. So I think we’re just happy with the reception that it’s been getting from people watching the movie. And it’s certainly a word-of-mouth movie without the actors having to promote the movie. This is a movie that’s really found its audience from word of mouth, and that’s a great feeling that this is a movie that, you know, there wasn’t this crazy big thing. It wasn’t like you had all these actors going on TV shows, and so it kind of just found it’s footing, and that’s really exciting.
PERRI: You know, that’d be a really nice way to end the interview, but I want to squeeze in one more specific thing. I have to ask you about not even just the frisbee shot, but the idea of incorporating the frisbee that way at all. What inspired that? Was that in the draft from the very beginning?
SINGER: No, that was later. That came later. It was a conversation that we had. There’s all these acts of God in the movie, right? Like, had Benicio not dropped the binder in the beginning of the mid-second act, and he kind of sees the bites, he might not have reopened the case. It was like this moment where it just like fell out and these two bite marks, and he puts them together, and it kind of gets his brain thinking. There’s this idea of kids playing outside the house, which we love this idea. That’s me. I’m putting myself in the movie. This is my first film; I’m just playing.
We actually had a shot, by the way, it’s not included, where the frisbee does the sort of 2001: A Space Odyssey thing, and it just felt a little bit too indulgent, you know? But the shot is, excuse my language, effing amazing. It is one of my favorite shots. Benicio and I, we have a still of it, the frisbee, that we text each other just because we love that shot, the image. It’s so funny and bizarre. But the reason I bring it up is that when it hits the thing, it’s this act of God that causes this convergence between these two characters. And at the end of the movie, you have these kids make eye contact with Benicio, and that’s the moment where, me as a director, I am making eye contact with my lead actor, and we have this moment of connection, right? And it’s just a way to sort of impart my own experience making the movie into the narrative, you know what I mean? That was where that came from.
PERRI: I love that thinking.
STEVE: I should also say that you are on social media, so, down the road, not right now, you should release that shot of the 2001 on Instagram or Twitter just for the hell of it.
SINGER: [Laughs] One day. Maybe one day in a few years. It’s a cool shot. By the way, making a movie, there are so many things that I loved that just made it on the cutting room floor. They’re great shots. They’re like, “Oh my god, this is so cool,” but they don’t make it, and that was one of those cool shots. But again, you don’t want to make a movie that’s indulgent, and that moment, it just didn’t feel appropriate to indulge the viewer. I’m always shooting things like, “Oh my god, that’s cool. Oh my god, that’s cool. Oh my god…” And it’s like you can’t have all these, “Oh my gods,” or else it detracts away from the storytelling and becomes more about the filmmaker. You know what I mean? More about, “Look at what I can do,” and I want to be a little bit more invisible, in terms of my hand in specific sequences.
STEVE: I was just gonna say that I’ve spoken to some directors who’ve talked about how, “It was an expensive sequence, I was convinced it was the best thing we shot in the movie, it’s eight minutes, and we had to lose it in the editing room because it just didn’t work in the movie.” Even though everything about it was amazing. It just didn’t work in the movie.
SINGER: Exactly. And that’s actually one of the hardest things to do as a director is when you’re like, “I killed this sequence. This shot is everything I love about cinema,” but it just doesn’t fit. But it’s one of the things you have to do. It’s just part of the process, you know.