Graphic of a two-headed lizard from eXistenZ

Transcript: Naked Lunch: Sets

CAROL SPIER: Naked Lunch was a long time in the… We waited a long time for that to happen while the money was being pulled together. Years, I think. For a while, there wasn’t a script. David was working on it. So I kept re-reading the book, which I had read in university, but had then forgotten. So I kept re-reading it and I kept having nightmares. “How are we going to do this?” (LAUGHS) Then David told me to read another book, which was a biography of Burroughs. So I read that and then I started to say, “Well, O.K. This maybe is doable.”

I think that the actual Naked Lunch film is kind of a combination of little bits from the book and more of Burroughs writing the book than it is actually the book, which makes it a little easier to film. When we actually finally got the money together and we started, we went to Tangier and we scouted all kinds of locations. Beautiful locations, took hundreds of photographs. Found locations that we wanted to use, decided which locations we could do in Toronto. Because there were parts of it that were to take place in New York City and then parts that were to take place in Interzone, which was Tangier.

We went back to Toronto. We started to building the sets that we were going to use - the New York-type sets that were going to be done in Toronto. We found locations for some of those. Then, the Gulf War broke out and we weren’t able to go to Tangier. So it was like, "O.K., now what do we do? Do we find some other location that looks something like it?"

So I sat down. I made a list, which I gave to David, of things that we could probably build in Toronto. He went back, and took my list, and rewrote the script, and came back with another list, and we ended up building it. (CHUCKLES)

What we ended up doing was we took the bug – he was an exterminator with a bug factory at the beginning – and we turned that into the drug factory. So we shot it first as a New York set, and then we added Moroccan elements to it. [We] changed the set and raised some areas, so it was more on different levels, and changed that into the drug store. And then the New York Moroccan restaurant we turned into Frost’s apartment in Morocco.

We did a lot of that. The New York bar was actually incorporated into the casbah streets. I was building the casbah street – because they’d already started shooting at this point, when we decided we had to build the casbah. I was building one section of the street and they’d shoot it, then they’d go away and shoot something else, and I’d go back in and shoot another section until we finally had this whole circular thing with a kind of cross in the centre so you could shoot different angles to get different things. The bar was actually in part of it, so if you’re walking down the casbah street, you’d walk past the New York bar. (CHUCKLES)

In the end, I think it was better because he never really did go to Morocco, it was all a drug trip. I mean it was all in his mind. So the fact that these locations he was in in Morocco were really places that he knew in his life in New York seemed to make it work better. And I think in the long run, it wasn’t a travelogue, you know. It worked much better.

I like to use sets again if I can, not just because of budget, which has a big thing to do with it. But sometimes, even [with] colours. If I know that I have used certain colours with one character, I will maybe use it again somewhere else, in another way. Just to have this continuity that’s happening. It sometimes can give that bizarre twist that you want without hitting people over the head with it.

PETER SUSCHITZKY: Well I think each time that I can think of in which David is tackling a subject that is really unusual, he tries to ground it in reality. As an example and that was Naked Lunch. Because when I read it I had the perhaps foolish and bold suggestion, which was turned down, that perhaps it would be interesting to make the sets almost expressionistic. And his reply to me was ”well, what’s going on in the film, in the script is so unusual that I don’t need to do anything like that. In fact, I don’t want that.” So in my turn I felt free to make the lighting rather expressionistic, as I was not going to have strange Doctor Caligari-like sets, I still wanted to pursue that path without emphasizing it too much.