Velvet Buzzsaw, Netflix’s new oddball art-world thriller, is a strange kind of beast. It’s a movie like no other, a combination of art-world satire and violent horror, and it’s a must-see merely for the curiosity of its existence – much like a lot of modern art itself. The movie reunites writer-director Dan Gilroy with Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo, who previously starred in his directorial debut, Nightcrawler, back in 2014.
Velvet Buzzsaw swaps that movie’s slick dead-of-night visuals for blinding sunlight, with the same mirroring of the most disturbed corners of society. Anyway, here are 10 Behind-The-Scenes Facts from the making of Velvet Buzzsaw.
10 The characters are based on real people
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Dan Gilroy explained that the unusual, horrible, enrapturing weirdos that make up his cast of characters are based on real people. Well, not specific people, but they’re each a combination of various real people.
He explained, “They were amalgams. Because once you know you’re going to have a gallery owner or an artist or a critic, it liberates you to sort of take those characters in any direction you want, and I didn’t need templates. You can imagine a critic, you can imagine a contemporary artist. Certain images start to appear that help you formulate these, so I didn’t need to go to a specific person to formulate any of these characters.”
9 It was inspired by the films of Robert Altman
A lot of critics have been jokingly referring to Velvet Buzzsaw as Final Destination as directed by Robert Altman. So, it should come as no surprise that Altman was a big influence on Dan Gilroy’s direction of the movie.
He explained, “It’s set in the world of contemporary art in Los Angeles, and it’s got a Robert Altman-like large ensemble cast. It’s got a The Player vibe to it. There’s a large cast and we’re moving around from person to person as we move through this world. The story is being told through these different characters.”
8 Tom Sturridge thought the script was “completely bonkers”
While Jake Gyllenhaal said he was moved to tears by Dan Gilroy’s script for Velvet Buzzsaw, Tom Sturridge had a very different response. He thought it was “completely bonkers” – in a good way.
He said, “I had read nothing like it and I had felt like I was inside a man’s disturbed mind.” Hopefully that’s just because Gilroy is a good writer and not because he has some kind of mental defect that we’re all mistaking for a dedicated artistic streak.
7 More than 100 works of art were created for the film
It’s fitting that a movie about the modern art world created a lot of work for modern artists, due to all the paintings that were needed to decorate the set.
According to writer-director Dan Gilroy, “About six months before we started shooting, my art advisor who came on [for] the movie, David Hundley, and I started to create – it’s over 100 pieces of original art. They fell into two categories. There is this central deceased artist named Vetril Dease – we needed to create a body of work for him – and then we needed to create all the art that surrounds, you know, Art Basel and the galleries. And we hired artists to create original pieces of art. It was quite an undertaking. That was a big part of the film. Jim Bissell, our production designer, was deeply involved in this as well.”
6 Billy Magnussen’s character being defined by his AirPods was intentional
When any viewer of Velvet Buzzsaw thinks back to Billy Magnussen’s character, the first thing they think of is the AirPods that are constantly in his ears.
Dan Gilroy is aware of that, and it was intentional: “AirPods are such an interesting little thing. They look like earrings. The first time I saw them, I thought they looked like earrings – people walking around looking utterly comfortable and casual, which is great. I just thought it was just an interesting visual to give to Billy Magnussen’s character, that he listens to music through AirPods all the time, and when something happens to him, that’s the only remnant left of his life: these AirPods.”
5 Dan Gilroy got the characters’ obscure names from the strangest places
Dan Gilroy says that, as a Charles Dickens fan, he loves character names that are long and unwieldy and weird. That’s why the movie is full of characters with names like Bryson and Coco and Rhondora.
Gilroy got those kinds of names from the strangest places: “I want to say [Morf] is a Dutch name. It’s a name I’ve seen before. I have files and files of names. I think I saw Morf Vandewalt on a census roll in the 1800s in the South when I was working on a movie. I can tell you that’s how I got the name Vetril Dease. Morf Vandewalt might have been there as well. That might have been a real person that lived hundreds of years ago, and I just wrote it down.”
4 The movie’s tone was influenced by Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist
When Dan Gilroy was deciding on the visual tone that he would strike with his film about the modern art world, he looked at some of the horror genre’s most classic works to pull the grounded elements and fantastical elements together.
He explained that he wanted to construct a believable world, inhabited with believable characters who are caught up in crazy events. He said he looked at Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, and thought of how powerful it is when everything starts normal and real, only for the world to be flipped around with craziness.
3 A lot of the cast and crew worked together before
This movie didn’t just see Nightcrawler’s trio of writer-director Dan Gilroy and stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo reunite. It also marks the third time Gilroy has worked with producer Jennifer Fox, editor John Gilroy (his brother), and cinematographer Robert Elswit. However, Gilroy chose Marco Beltrami to score the film, marking a change from James Newton Howard, the composer who worked on Gilroy’s two previous movies.
Rene Russo and John Malkovich previously starred together in Clint Eastwood’s political thriller In the Line of Fire. Toni Collette had previously appeared with Zawe Ashton in the Netflix series Wanderlust and with Tom Sturridge in the movie Like Minds. Ashton and Gyllenhaal were both in Nocturnal Animals, but didn’t share any scenes until they made Velvet Buzzsaw.
2 Morf’s sexuality is based on Marlon Brando’s
The sexuality of Jake Gyllenhaal’s character Morf is left ambiguous for most of the movie. At the beginning of the movie, it’s hinted that he’s gay, but then later in the movie, he begins a love affair with a woman. Dan Gilroy always knew the character was bi, but the ambiguity was intentional.
He said, “On the sexual spectrum, he’s bisexual, and where that came from, in part, was when I was working on the script, Quincy Jones did an interview in which he discussed Marlon Brando had had a relationship with Richard Pryor. And I thought that was a wonderful thing to know, and I thought it was an underutilized element for a character. I thought it was something that would be interesting for Jake’s character.”
1 We owe Velvet Buzzsaw to Superman Lives
Velvet Buzzsaw came about as a result of the failure of Superman Lives, one of the most famous unmade movies of all time. Dan Gilroy was one of the screenwriters who worked on the movie, which was set to be directed by Tim Burton and star Nicolas Cage as Clark Kent, and when Warner Bros. suddenly and unexpectedly decided to call off production, Gilroy felt like he had just wasted a year and a half of his life.
He went down to the beach and sat in the sand and then Velvet Buzzsaw came to him. That actually inspired the final scene in the movie.