I'm the son of a professional graphic artist, painter and ad-man, kind of the quintessential madman type of guy. I originally went to art school, to follow in his footsteps and got into animation. And came out here to LA from Pratt Institute in New York to do a Disney character animation program I got invited into--and at the last minute I panicked. I saw the end of cell animation looming and the fact that I'd spend the best part of my life hunched over a light table and extinct by 35. I have no affinity for computers to this day so I thought, let's get into the moving image. Like many people I jumped into it and started saying yes to anything that was offered, any crew position, any job, trying to do a good job and get noticed. Then they throw bigger stuff at you and at a certain point I'm writing and producing. Then there's that point when you're moving up the sequel ladder and you have a vested interest in some of these features that you produced and developed and gotten off the ground and you go, okay, at this point I'll pick up the directing mantle and continue and I've done that now on THE PROPHECY series and most recently THE PULSE series.
Q: Sequels, I think, often get a bad rap but you're sequels aren't just retreads--they do what I think a sequel should do, be different than the first movie. What is your attitude towards sequels?
For me I look at sequels with pleasure and loathing at the same time. It's like what William Goldman once said in one of his books, "they're whore's movies," not horror movies. To a certain extent they are because they are obviously motivated by money. If the first one didn't make money you wouldn't get a sequel. I don't think there's ever been a sequel to a movie that's lost money. So, the only integrity we really have when we're making sequels is trying to do something different, trying not to do the same thing over again. And that's where I put a lot of pride and effort into what I do. It doesn't always work.
The thing about some of the sequels we do--and we do take chances with them and go off in different direction than the original--sometimes it pisses people off because they want to see, essentially, a recycling of themes and plot-line from the original and that is something that I've rarely delivered. I want something different because otherwise I lose any kind of incentive to do it because it's then just a sequel in the worst sense of the word, a "whore's movie". So that's what I'm struggling to do every time I do one of these things, to make it different and make it stand on its own, but still, in some way, keep true to the vision of the original movie.
One interesting thing about making sequels, at least in my world, is that sequels usually are the offspring of successful theatrical runs. Because they're theatrical, because they're at a higher budget, those movies are under much more scrutiny than the sequels generally are, where the executive are a little more relaxed knowing that good or bad they're going to get their money back. So sometimes it's the original movie that is kind of bland, in a way, because there are so many hands pulling out the daring and provocative stuff so that you're left with something very formulaic. We can get away from the formulas with sequels. That's the other challenge about it that I like. Less people watching gives you more ability to do things creatively. Not so with the money, of course, you're often--as with the PULSE sequels--much more limited with the budget, so it's a trade off.
Q: With PULSE 2 and 3, which are different from the first movie and also different from each other, you got away from the feel of the "Asian ghost story". I didn't have that feeling I was watching a remake of an Asian movie. Was that intentional?
It was intentional to get away with some of the formulas. Unfortunately, horror movies are ruled by formula. There was one formulaic rule that's both germane to Japanese horror films and horror cinema in general, that I really just consciously broke, at whatever peril I was risking--that "evil is supposed to be so dark and so unknowable that it doesn't have a personality, its own needs and fears and ambiguities, that horror needs to be pure evil and predatory a 100% of the time". And we just needed to dodge that pick-ax. It's a different way of looking at evil and what it does for me is enriches the horror story because you're invested in your villain, your ghosts, because they are tragic characters in a certain way. But the flip side argument may be that maybe you're not as scared of them because they are flawed, vulnerable and emotional to a point, and not pure evil. So that's the other sort of gamble I took with the PULSE movies, to take it into a world where the evil was not as definite.
Q: You also co-wrote the 3 DRACULA movies with Patrick Lussier. I loved that idea of Dracula changing into a different person in each one, as part of his curse...I don't think that's ever been done before. Talk about working on that trilogy.
Whenever you collaborate with somebody it's like a marriage, it's a give and take. And like a marriage you have to be compatible with that person. If you're antagonistic and have no respect for that person's input you're sunk, and vice-versa. Patrick and I got along because not only did we share a vision for how we wanted to see these movies in the broad strokes, we also brought different things to the table. And Patrick is so well versed through the SCREAM movies (he was the editor), with his encyclopedic knowledge of film and horror, specifically, that he gets the structure and the character and the intensity. He's also a gifted artist and craftsman in terms of putting images together. What I introduced to this, quite a bit, in the DRACULA movies, is ambiguity again. If there's any stamp to my work it's moral ambiguity in villains. The Dracula character in our films was also a guy who was tortured, especially in the first movie, where we came up with the idea of making him not originate from Vlad the Impaler but something much much earlier. The whole biblical guilt trip he derives from, in our version, is something that Patrick first noticed in the Dracula novel in which there's a phrase that "Dracula had a smile like Judas". I loved that and I ran with that and made it a big part of what Dracula was, this tortured character who has had this fatal flaw from the beginning that he can't get over, and anger and abandonment issues like a tormented child. And Patrick knew he was going to get the guts of the movie and whatever nuances I threw into it, as an editor, he could cut it out if it got too overwhelming or too top heavy to the nature of the movie.
As to the different incarnations of Dracula, that came from a line in one of the movies, when he's asked who he is and he says "I have been many things, many names" and throughout history he has been these many things to many people. The idea is that he is both changing in physical form and in motive/attitude. In the case of the Dracula series we wanted to end it with Dracula of the mid-life crisis, the guy who has become so desolute and so bloated on excess, like an overfed tick, that we wanted somebody who could embody that sort of decay. And Rutger Hauer, Russ, was a brilliant analog for that. He's still a gifted actor and still powerful and sexy and vital but he's not the Rutger Hauer of BLADE RUNNER. So at the end of that movie I had written this incredibly elegant speech about what it was like to become Dracula at the end of road and was patting myself on the back for how brilliant and evocative it was and Rutger took the pages and looked at it and sort of smiled--he has this great sly wit about him-- and he goes "Something you told me earlier on, you saw this guy as Colonel Kurtz in APOCALYPSE NOW" and I said, "Yes, the whole metaphor is going up the river to find Colonel Kurtz', and he said "I have a take on this, so if you don't mind I'm going to run with this". And he didn't say a word of my dialogue. He just riffed, in a way that was right out of Brando in APOCALYPSE and totally his own, and some of it made no sense at all, but it was the kind of streaming babble that great actors can do. So that was a magical moment for me, to see the evolution of character beyond what a writer does. I could have been just absolutely pissed off, and at first there were a few hackles on the back of my neck, but as I watched him develop this I thought, "okay, he's the guy, I'm not, let him roll". And Patrick, who is both writer and director, he's thinking the same thing, "I don't know what the fuck is going on here but let's keep rolling". And that's one of my favorite things in movies, again, when the executive branch is not present and you're basically free to do what you want on a sequel. In the original DRACULA 2000, or any other studio release, you have so many people watching over your shoulder, I don't think you'd ever get away with that. But this was the climax of the movie, we were alone in Bucharest, Romania, and we had Rutger there and he was on a roll.
Q: You know what's interesting, and this just occurred to me, is that Dracula's changing form reminds me of DOCTOR WHO--and Patrick edited that 1995 DOCTOR WHO television movie. Do you think there was an influence there?
I never talked to him about that. I haven't followed Doctor Who nearly as much as he has, so it's not a part of my sort of creative makeup, but Patrick is a huge DOCTOR WHO fan. I think you would have to ask Patrick...
Q: How is it to shoot in Romania?
I think I am still the honorary Mayor of Bucharest (laughing). I got dragged, kicking and screaming there, by a Dimension Exec. As much as I fought him I went there. The first time I went there was as a writer, for twenty-four hours, on HIGHLANDER 4, to get the feel of the place. Then, I came back to do the two DRACULA 2000 sequels and it was a good run, but I realized that the mistake that we had made is that we have this arrogance as Americans that we know a better way of filmmaking, so you bring your own department heads and you put all of their best people as second bananas. It worked all right but it wasn't particularly economical and there were tensions throughout. And then we made the decision, on the next round of HELLRAISERS and PROPHECY movies, to leave all the Americans at home and just go with the director and the producer. And Gary Tunnicliffe, our makeup magician, always comes with us. It was so much smoother. It really made it an eye opening experience for me, that we figured something out. We not only saved money but tapped into this wealth of artistry and technical ability. My recommendation for anyone who goes to Romania, or any of the other Eastern European country where there's a history of film that predates our own arrival there, is go with their crews, their people. That's why I love the place. I even took some time to learn the language and can now talk like a three-year-old (chuckling) and they appreciate that as well. Now You're not just the Ugly American walking around and using them like a piece of rental equipment.
Q: I noticed that you've used some of the same actors in the movies, such as Kari Wuhrer in PROPHECY 3 and in HELLRAISER: HELLSEEKER and Georgina Rylance was in four of your movies. Talk about casting actors in multiple movies.
One of the things you find in sequels and most low-budget movies, especially genre-based films, is that you're not pulling from the "A-list" most of the time. So you're getting people on the way up and on the way down. And the most fun is making those discoveries, either of those on the way up or that the guys on the way down have something to offer still. Many of them on the way down get a second lift and become superstars again. So it's fun to be in that world.
What you do is when you find a good actor is hang onto them. A good actor in the genre world is a combination of talent and a willingness to suffer, which not all stars have that mindset. So we started putting together these little ensembles once we realized these guys were our types of actors. We glommed onto them and wanted to work with them as much as possible.
Some of those actors in the movies, and I won't say which ones, are hired by the studios because they need the name on the video box and they are not necessarily the people I'd cast in that role. But there are other actors, like Georgina Rylance, who is highly respected in her native England, who you hire because she's excellent. She's so good at what she does I've bent characters around so she could play them.
Q: So, when you're writing, do you write parts with specific actors in mind?
Sometimes. In Georgina's case, yes. Or you just write what's in your head and search for the person who fits that. I never write for George Clooney or Angelina Jolie, that would be depressing. That's a tricky game because if you don't get that person for the role you have to re-calibrate everything in your head and that can be difficult.
Q: Which do you prefer--writing, directing or producing? Or does it depend on the project?
The simple answer--and it sounds amazingly naive-- is that I love filmmaking. I want to be around the process. I just want to be involved in a film that's creatively fascinating, with a great bunch of people, or a lot of money. Rarely are they all the same. If it's a movie that has one of those attractions I don't care what I do, I just want to be involved. So I find myself very happy to be in a support mode, especially if it's for a buddy I respect, like Patrick Lussier. I'll produce for him 'til the cows come home-- and there's a handful of people like that, friends and colleagues I respect who I think do things better than I do. I learn from them. Of course, I love writing and directing, and by doing both of them you control the entire flow of story in a film. But it's also a solitary existence because you're depriving yourself of the feedback of other creative minds around you and their direction as well. So, I like writing for other people to direct and writing and producing with a director sandwiched in the middle, which can be uncomfortable for the director. So it's the various combinations that keep it alive. I don't think many people in this business anymore consider themselves filmmakers. To me being a hybrid is really the only way to go.
Q: You were also involved in a few documentaries as Executive producer--TREKKIES and SIX DAYS IN ROSWELL. How did you get involved with those?
My company, Art and Logic, which develops movies like the PULSES and PROPHECIES for Dimension, also make our own films, which are below a million dollars. TREKKIES was one of those, and SIX DAYS. That was an idea that one of my partners cooked up and we financed it and supported it. One movie, SWEET JANE, which had Samantha Mathis in it, may well be the best movie I've ever been involved with. It's a beautiful little story directed by Joel Gaiten. It was the lowest grossing movie of the year 2000, which was great, because it was the lowest grossing movie of the millennium. I think it made $58 in its opening weekend. Our record as entrepreneurs in the film world is quite checkered. We did quite well with TREKKIES but had a few others that didn't make their mark financially, yet have been really satisfying creatively. We totally ignored commercial wisdom and let the art speak for itself. So be it.
Q: That's cool, though.
I think so.
Q: Any anecdotes on the early movies you wrote, THE SUPERNATURALs and TRICK OR TREAT?
It's part of a long long learning curve. I don't remember much about those movies, except in the case of TRICK OR TREAT, that film became a tremendous cult hit. PULSE 2 screened at the Lone Star Film Festival and I went there to watch it. About twenty people showed up because it wasn't well advertised-- but they concurrently screened TRICK OR TREAT and it was a real event. That movie resonates with head bangers to this day and that's something totally unexpected. This little satirical horror movie with Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons, directed by Charlie Martin Smith and co-written by me and Michael Murphy, endured. It was fun. We had no idea it would be anything more than a blip on the radar.
Q: What is BURIED about?
That movie listed on IMDB is jumping the gun. That hasn't gone into production yet, it's still getting its ducks lined up.
Q: Anything you can talk about down the line?
This whole industry is in bit of a flux right now, well the whole world is in a bit of a flux right now. I have a little thing hatching in Australia, there's a HELLRAISER remake and maybe a PIRANHA 3-D and I have to wait and see. I'm not even sure what's next. Maybe a bait and tackle shop in the Northwest.