Thursday, 31 January 2013

interview: Charles Band (part 2)

Continued from part 1

I'd like to start this second half of the interview by asking about a movie which was shot as Piranha Women, released in the UK as Piranha Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death but released in the USA as Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death. The rumour was that someone had decided that US audiences wouldn't know what 'piranha' meant. Any truth to that?
"Gosh, I don't know! There may have been but that was a couple of decades ago! I don't remember is the answer, but I don't think that was the consideration. I think it just had more to do with 'cannibal women' seeming a funnier, more benign name than 'piranha women' - but I may be wrong. Maybe there was some concern about the movie Piranha and we didn't want to feel like we were ripping it off or sending it up. Which, by the way, is now being remade."

"That's right. But anyway, that was a fun movie. It turned out that Bill Maher has become extremely popular over the last seven or eight years because he has had two successful shows: Politically Incorrect and Real Time. He was the host and he's now a very respected political satirist but this is before he did any of that. He was a stand-up comedian. But he's in it and of course Adrienne Barbeau and some others."

Around the same time there was a movie called Intruder with Bruce Campbell and Sam and Ted Raimi. What is the story about that being heavily cut?
"What happened was really interesting. At that time we could not release that without an R rating and we did try to cut it down to an R. It was at a time when the ratings board was harder on independents. Then of course years, years later it was one of those pictures which had never been out on DVD and had certainly never been out in its uncut/director's cut form, so we did that. We went back to the material and pieced it all together, which wasn't easy, and it's coming out here in the US - the unrated Intruder.

“The people involved are amazing when you think about it. It was produced by Lawrence Bender and it's got Sam Raimi being killed in the movie and there's Bruce Campbell and Scott Spiegel wrote or directed it. It has, today, a very interesting group of people involved in what at the time was a very small horror film shot in a supermarket. So that will be out and we've made it available on our site. We've tried to make these pictures available to people a little bit earlier on our site so even if people only order a few at a time it goes out there and starts the word spreading. But I think that comes out some time next month here in the US. We are re-releasing it, or should I say releasing it for the first time, on DVD in the original cut."

Underworld and Rawhead Rex were Clive Barker's first forays into movies. How did you get involved with him?
"I met him at the time. We were very peripherally involved. I was involved however with the executive producer of those two films which were both shot in the British Isles. It was a distribution deal so we were not directly involved at all in any facet of the production. We may have been involved a bit in post-production. I don't really remember - it was a long time ago. They were interesting movies for the time but they were examples of films that Empire distributed for reasons beyond just wanting to do our own home-grown material. So they were acquisitions. I don't remember exactly how they came to us but they fitted the mould a little bit and we released them, but only in the US. They were sold, I believe, directly by the films' producers outside the US. I may be wrong, but that's what I remember."

Why did Empire, which was your company, start expanding into acquisitions?
"That's a pity. In a sense, Full Moon went that way as well and I'm just really hoping - and working hard on the new movies I'm making - that Wizard stays on track. Everything starts for the right reason. The original handful of films that Empire was releasing and pre-producing and pre-selling at the time were all my movies. I wasn't directing every one but they were certainly my concepts and I brought in people like Ted Nicolau and David Schmoeller and others to direct. The problem is, as more people get involved and the overheads go up, you have investors, the next thing you know you're doing things; much as you'd like to do it all you own way, you're beginning to agree to things.

“You need to run more 'product' as they call it - which I hate - but you need to run more product in the fourth quarter so we should really find some movies to distribute because, after all, we've got an expensive operation with a lot of overheads. There's all sorts of reasons why, when you sit there as a film-maker wanting just to make movies but you've built a bit of an empire, there are legitimate reasons why your partners or your banker say, 'Hey, you've got to use this more now as a machine and release other people's films.' Anyway, you begin to distance yourself from the original intent.

“Maybe third time is a charm but with the new company now I'm absolutely intent that for as long as I can I'll direct every movie but I'll certainly conceive and produce and be very close to each movie here and do my best, first to try to stay as small as possible - as tempting as it is sometimes inasmuch as you get pushed a little bit - to stick to what we're doing and not expand and suddenly find things are out of control."

I was going through some old trade mags and found the Screen International Product Guide from the 1986 AFM. Empire had 32 full-page ads. It looks like it had got out of hand.
"For a few short years we were second only to Canon because sometimes it seemed like they bought the whole magazine! I think it did and I'd love to go back and do things differently. I have only myself to blame. I, ultimately, was the one who made the decisions - but you have partners, you have investors, you have advisors, suddenly you've got a few hundred people working for you. And I have no formal business training, I just wanted to make movies and I should have stuck to that. I could now write a book about it, I could certainly point out things and say why I wouldn't do that again, but back at the time these ideas and proposals made sense. They made sense short term, they never made sense long term."

Full Moon had a couple of spin-off labels. Torchlight was the more adult side of things.
"I have from time to time tried this - and I don't know if I'm going to do it again because I'm pretty set in the subgenre that I'm specialising in now. But the idea of making an erotic movie that is done with some care and is not just what seems to be everywhere on the market today, and tying in a fantasy element, try to make it at least acceptable or pleasant for couples. There's a business there that I don't think anybody's ever really tapped into. Today you either have extremely hardcore films which usually just don't appeal to me or the really lame simulated sex movies that are just silly.

“Torchlight was that idea but I lost focus. Later on I had another label called Surrender Cinema which made a few movies that were close to what I would have liked. But it's tough and you can only do so many things. That was back at a time when it made sense to have many labels and try to make 30 or 40 movies a year, which right now sounds absurd but back then it made some sense."

The opposite was the children's films label, Moonbeam, which seemed to do quite well because you made quite a lot of those movies.
"Yes, they did hugely well. They were, I have no doubt, with the exception of the Puppet Master series, the most successful films I've made financially, certainly of that era. I didn't really see any of the upside; it all went to Paramount, I was involved in a stupid deal over there. But putting aside who actually got what dollars, those were very well-received, very successful and very well-liked movies. Those movies started towards what they call 'tween', the young adult fantasy film. They were Disney-esque films, no question. In fact the early ones which were well-made, and I had my hand in those very directly, I actually directed a couple of them, those pictures as well as being very, very big direct-to-video successes they also all played the Disney Channel.

“My idea from day one was: let's make, at a budget, Disney-esque films, like Honey I Shrunk the Kids or something like that which tapped into the genre that I enjoy and let's have the leads be boys and girls somewhere around 11, 12, 13. Make them edgy, still PG. If I had to describe them today I'd say they were like Harry Potter, although Harry Potter is a little edgier than those films were; Harry Potter is approaching the R of the early eighties. Because they gave you an R for just about everything including just the 'vibe' of the movie.

“I once had that conversation: they said, 'You know, there's not one thing in this movie that really warrants the R but the overall vibe is a little bit too hard for a PG-13.' But they couldn't point to what I needed to cut out to not get the R. So that's how crazy it was back in the early '80s. Today there are R-rated movies that I've seen that, to me, look unratable. They're so violent with blood and guts and decapitations that I can't believe it, so I don't know what's next. Anyway, the Moonbeam films did very well. Those first films - there was Prehysteria, Dragonworld, Remote, Magic Island - they were made at a price and they all did very well."

The six Josh Kirby movies were a very ambitious project.
"Yes it was - and that was a complete failure financially. It was partly the fault, to some degree, of my relationship with Paramount and the support that really wasn't given at the distribution level. It was during that period that I moved away from Paramount and started trying to do some other films. That was difficult and there was a regime change at the same time which didn't help, over at Paramount. Anyway, it was ambitious. I love the serials of the thirties and forties so that was the absolute inspiration for the Josh Kirby series. But it should have been handled differently, they should have been released differently, they should have been promoted differently.

“My whole idea was to build consumer awareness which would have been a much more expensive marketing ticket than just letting video retailers know about the film. Because if you get everyone hooked on the first episode and they enjoy it and the kids like it and you let them know that on a certain date two months later, much like a serial in a movie theatre, part two's coming out, you leave them hanging. They were designed as cliffhangers. The theory was that people would be looking for it two months later at their video store and driving those sales. But you also needed to do what everyone does today, you needed to promote it at a consumer level, which never happened. It was ambitious and maybe a little ahead of its time. Its hard to imagine but this is back in the day when DVD did not exist."

The Josh Kirby pictures were shown a few months back on British TV, presented as a TV series.
"Well, those dollars are certainly not coming to me! They're going into Paramount's coffers somewhere."

The other series that you planned which disappointingly never got past the first two was Filmonsters. The two that you did make, Frankenstein Reborn! and The Werewolf Reborn!, are great.
"Thank you. That's another example where we didn't have a home at the time and I probably should have not made that investment without a cable network or someone really solidly behind it. Because they all want their own input; it's not good enough that you make something that's probably in most places at least on a par with what they're turning out. If they're not involved emotionally and creatively from the get-go, they're not going to pick it up.

“I designed that as something that could maybe get me into the cable TV business. We shot them well, we spent money, we shot them on 35mm. They weren't done cheaply as a lot of this programming is done. But I couldn't find a buyer so as a result we just released them on video and that was that. It was a clever idea. We had about 20 of those projects developed and we were busy writing scripts because there's so many wonderful classic monsters to bring back and have young kids involved in those adventures."

Looking through the vast number of films you've been associated with, there seem to be a lot of instances when a title or a concept has been in development, fallen through for whatever reason, then reappeared quite a few years later. Do you always keep a stock of unused titles and ideas?
"As we speak I have a board in my office that covers two walls with almost every movie - not every movie but a couple of hundred movies - in the form of little pieces of colour cover art, essentially video and DVD covers. I look at this every day, wondering: 'Well, that was a good idea that didn't fly. Maybe there's a way to bring that back and do it a little differently.’ That's the strength of this weird library; I've been doing this long enough. Filmonsters is a good example. There may be an opportunity where it's exactly what someone's looking and I'll go in there and dress it up and who knows, we may be in that business, ten years after we made those pilots and they didn't go anywhere. So you never know. It's still a valid idea."

A few years ago you had a deal with JR Bookwalter and Tempe Entertainment. What was that?
"There was no deal. It was just that we were involved with them. This is during the period when I was distancing myself. The idea at the time was: oh my God, you can save money with digital video and forget shooting on film. JR was a big proponent of that, and a few others at the time. The business was really shrinking at the time, meaning that if there were only ten dollars to be had, you'd better spend a few less if there's going to be any business at all. One way to accomplish that, it seemed at the time, was doing digital post-production.

“I really regret, although you learn from all of this, the three or four years when I made - or rather, caused to be made - 20 or 30 of these DV movies. Because for the most part they're all very inferior quality. I was not involved with... any one really. JR was line producer on them with a few other fellows. I eventually got the impression that people realise that, unless you're Robert Rodriguez and you've got 100 million dollars to play with when you can paint every frame, this digital deal - either it's extremely low budget, and these movies don't benefit from that dirty look, or it's something where you've got to spend far more than we've got to spend.

“So ironically a combination of events took place and then I stepped back and just wanted to do it the old-fashioned way. I wanted to be directly involved from soup to nuts, shooting everything on film, making the movies I made back in the eighties and early nineties. Unfortunately during those few fallow years and the years where I think a lot of people were misguided, one of the people I was involved with, who was out there as my front man, line-producing and finding young directors from the mid-west, was JR, and a few others. That's a body of work that I hope to eventually forget about."

What was the William Shatner project that you did?
"That was actually fun and it's a pity it didn't work well enough to continue on as a series. It's not complicated. I have a lot of good movies that have never gotten a lot of play. Shatner and I are friends and I said, why don't we do something where you're the late-night host? There's no show quite like it any more. I grew up when you would watch on a Saturday night and there was always Elvira or whoever. There was also some wacky host who hosted these movies. You would cut back during the commercial break and they would have something funny to say or a little vignette. That was my model for what was eventually aired as William Shatner's Full Moon Fright Night.

“We took 13 of my movies and we wrote not just introductory and closing pieces but a bunch of interstitial stuff. So if you watched Vampire Journals or Head of the Family or Oblivion, whichever movie you watched, in this case on the Sci-Fi Channel, Shatner was the host. It was actually very clever. We wrote some clever stuff and I shot all this material: Shatner poking fun at the movies, and I also brought a bunch of people in for interviews like Roger Corman and Stuart Gordon and Stan Lee and all sorts of people I've worked with who were all happy to talk about their experiences in the business. So each episode not only had Shatner as a book-end and as a fun commentator, but also most of the episodes had an interview with some luminary in the genre.

“It was fun and they all aired on Sci-Fi Channel a few years ago but they put it out in a very late slot and maybe the alchemy wasn't quite there - who knows? The ratings weren't quite what they wanted and what we had hoped would happen, which is another season, didn't happen. It was a one-time deal, but we do have 13 of these which we haven't re-released, which would be fun because Shatner's commentary and the interviews would make for an interesting new edition of some of these movies."

Although a lot of your films are now on DVD, they're not really Special Editions, are they? Are you planning to do Special Editions for any of these films?
"I'd like to but there's so much stuff going on right now. I'm putting a lot of energy into the birth of the new label and the new movies. I've shot five movies in twelve months and they're just beginning to come out. And I've got the action figure line that I'm excited about and that's going to all happen in late August. Once that's all up and running, the idea of bringing back some films and doing Special Editions; there are a lot of movies from the late eighties and early nineties which I sold the rights to that were never released in their original director's cut. They were all cut down for R ratings. It's a job to go back to the negative and do all this, it's not easy - but that's going to be worth doing because some of them I think people would enjoy looking at in a Special Edition format."

I know there are a lot of people who would like a Special Edition of Tourist Trap.
"That's easily done, too. Believe it or not, even though it seems like I made it a lifetime ago, I still have the original negative. On that one, if my memory is correct, I don't think there was a lot that we actually cut out because it was before video was really happening. The MPAA was more lenient, it was before the period when they got more difficult to deal with. So I don't remember Tourist Trap as being something we had to cut a whole lot out of - I'm sure there were little snippets cut out - but nonetheless, we could go back and see what's there. That was a long time ago."

Some of your more recent films had little Making Of featurettes.
"Yes, I made a lot of those and I also have hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of interviews with people: many of whom have moved on in different fields and become very successful; many of whom I have no idea what happened - they fell off the face of the Earth. But there's a lot of material that could be very interesting. There's certainly 30 to 40 people who have gone on to be very successful in their field and their expertise. To go back and get material on Demi Moore and Helen Hunt and all the people I dealt with, like Sam Raimi and Stan Winston. There's so much involved; it's a question of digging back and looking at it and trying to figure out a way to bring it out. Right now we're finding pieces and we're just putting them on as added value on DVDs, just for fun. But there's a lot of stuff there - I just have to one day figure out how to put it all together."

Is there anything you have always wanted to make and haven't been able to?
"Nope! Believe it or not. There are half a dozen scripts that I can't make on this low budget. They're scripts I'm really excited about and one day, if things get better and I can indulge myself and have a little more money... They're still genre films and they're still commercial but I can't make them for the current budgets and the current formula that hopefully will work for us. But there's not one particular thing. If I had that sort of drive and ambition, I would have been making major studio films years ago, I would have put myself in that market, but I don't have the patience to wait a year or two and make one movie. I can't do that. I prefer to make a lot of little movies and just enjoy that and see if these ideas work."

How many pictures will Wizard bring out each year?
"I think six is the number. I think that's enough for one guy to do! And I'm on that track. That doesn't mean that there might not be an exception. There are a few directors I've worked with like Ted Nicolau who I would happily work with again and trust to direct a film. But as much as I can, at least for the first year or two, I'm going to try and do it myself. For better for worse, I'll stay real close to this. Starting with the end of June, at least here in the US and probably shortly thereafter in the UK, every two months more or less there will be another Wizard release.”

Interview originally posted 21st January 2007


  1. what channel showed Josh Kirby? 5? Sky?

  2. The Josh Kirby films were shown on BBC1 over Christmas several years ago.