Sunday, 23 March 2014

interview: Karri O'Reilly

As executive producer on Pumpkinhead III and IV, Karri O’Reilly was my guide when I visited Castel Studios in Romania. Annoyingly, several interviews that I did on set disappeared due to a defective cassette but Karri’s was one that I was able to repeat, chatting on the phone in July 2006 after both films had wrapped. (Picture shows (L-R), Karri, script supervisor Alina Apostu and DP Erik Wilson. Photo by Sorin Gociu.)

Why are Pumpkinhead III and Pumpkinhead IV being made now, so long after Pumpkinhead II?
"Well, I think somebody figured out they could sell them! I wasn’t involved in the decision to make those movies but in a little bit of the development once I got hired to show-run them. Because that’s what I do: I show-run for hire. Brad Krevoy at Motion Picture Corp obviously had an inkling of how to do this since his company produced the second one, Pumpkinhead II. It wasn’t until he started getting into it that he realised he could sell them to Sci Fi Channel because the first one, and I guess the second one too, made reasonable ratings on Sci Fi Channel. So Sci Fi was interested and contacted Brad, I believe, about doing some more."

How did you get involved?
"I had done some work for Motion Picture Corp in the past. In this world, everybody knows each other; there’s really only about forty people who work on movies, it seems. They knew me from other work I had done so they asked me if I wanted to go to Romania and show-run for them. ‘It’s for Sci Fi Channel, it’s in Romania.’ I was: yeah, yeah. As soon as they said ‘Pumpkinhead’ I was on a plane before any of their other words were out."

You were already familiar with the franchise, then?
"Oh yes, if only from a fanbase. When the first Pumpkinhead came out, I was a senior in High School. When I really became aware of the first movie I was a film school student and working at a video store. That’s how I knew Pumpkinhead: it was the movie you recommended when everything else was out - but Pumpkinhead was always out because it was so popular."

Was it always a given that Lance Henriksen would be involved?
"Lance was a given. Well, I was told he was already onboard when I went to do it. It was a little bit of a surprise when I called his agent: ‘Okay, so I understand we have a deal for Lance,’ and I was trying to figure out what dates we could use him. And his agent was like: ‘We don’t have a deal. I talked to a couple of guys months ago. We don’t have a deal yet.’ Then it was: ‘Oh? Hi, my name’s Karri. I’m producing the Pumpkinhead sequels. We’d like to use Lance. Let’s make a deal...’ So we did make the deal ultimately but it wasn’t as locked as they had told me."

Could the films have gone ahead without Lance’s involvement?
"I guess theoretically they could have - but why would anyone want to do that? It was certainly not our intention, I know it was not Sci Fi Channel’s intention and he just brings so much to both movies."

Was there an attempt to get the original actor for Bunt Wallace?
"There was an attempt but because of a lot of reasons, primarily being scheduling and financial, it just didn’t work out. Although ultimately in the cut of the movie of Pumpkinhead III now, several of the cast members from Pumpkinhead will be in it because we reuse a little bit of the footage in flashbacks."

Where did you get your other cast from?
"Almost everybody else came from the UK, which is one the caveats, the way these movies were done. We had to hire as many British people as possible since it is a British co-production. Our brilliant UK casting director Carolyn McLeod brought Doug Bradley to the table. That’s how he got involved. She also found our two female leads, Tess Panzer and Lisa McAllister, who are wonderful, and Lynne Verrall who plays Haggis, who is wonderful, and all of our supporting cast from the UK. Doug Roberts who plays Bunt in this movie came from the US and he’s somebody I’ve worked with several times in the past and I just knew he would be perfect. Jake saw a picture of him and talked to him and agreed that he was just great."

Why were Jake West and Mike Hurst picked to direct?
"Jake was attached when I came on board. I believe he came to the project at Karen O’Hara at Sci Fi Channel’s suggestion because she had seen Evil Aliens. He was already on board and the script for III was already in place when I became involved. He originally was going to direct both III and IV but Sci Fi Channel did not approve the script for IV - which by the way is excellent and I loved it and I wished we could have done it; at some point maybe they will. It could be Pumpkinhead V because I loved it.

“But anyway, they were looking for something that fitted more the Sci Fi formula and at that point Jake decided that he really couldn’t prep two movies and direct two movies, especially when he hadn’t written the fourth one. At this point he was already in Romania so there was no way. That’s when Brad Krevoy brought Mike Hurst into the picture: Mike, who had written several things for Sci Fi Channel before, knew the formula and certainly had proven his chops, as it were, as a low-budget action director. That’s how we got Mike involved and he was great too. And boy, you could not pick two people more polar opposites in their directing styles than Jake and Mike."

What are the differences between the two of them?
"Jake really came to it from a background of working with a much, much smaller crew, like eight or ten people. Because of that, and because of his editing background, Jake knows he’s going to build the movie in the editing room. He’s very concerned with making sure he has enough coverage, as most good directors are, but he really knows that the cut’s going to happen for him in editing. He storyboarded most of the movie, worked everything in the movie out and I think that gave him a good reference to work by. But he knew he was after performances and he knew that later on the cut would come and the editing process for him would be a little bit longer.

“Mike, on the other hand, comes pretty much straight off doing two, not studio movies but what I would call ‘full crew movies’ - back-to-back. He understood how the machine worked instantly because he had been through it a lot more than Jake had - not that Jake couldn’t handle it, he certainly did. But Mike’s the type of guy who does overheads, he does shot lists. He knows exactly how that movie’s going to cut together, more or less, because he shoots more ... traditional coverage, I guess you would call it. I certainly wouldn’t call it simpler. He did as many shots as Jake did, but Mike knows what that’s going to look like when he’s there shooting. And yes, he’ll tweak it in editing and yes, his editor is also really very good and has come up with some interesting different things.

“And Mike also acts as his own first AD, he is very much a presence on set. He goes: ‘Great! Cut! Next! Camera here, looking this way. B camera, you’re up in two shots; don’t go far.’ Whereas Jake was: ‘Okay, wow. Where shall we....? I guess, um, we’re doing this one next. Erik, would you put this dolly here, maybe?’ It was much more traditionally paced, a traditional British pace. Everything was lovely: ‘We’ll do it and we’ll move it here and we’ll have a camera rehearsal and everything will be great.’

“Mike Hurst does not do camera rehearsals. You stand in the shot, he tells you where to go, you shoot the first rehearsal. He adamantly does not believe in camera rehearsals because the actors stand where he tells them to stand. He will work with them intently on what the words are, what the character is - but you’re going to stand where his shot list tells you to stand. And Jake, for him, I think the joy was having the luxury of a full crew and producers and people other than himself who would help him wrangle. He really loved the rehearsal time and the development of how the actors would bring what to it.

“For someone like Doug Bradley, it was quit a nice thing to have happened because Doug Bradley brought a lot to the table - as did Lance and all the other actors. But it was nice that with Jake they had a little bit more of a play, they were working it out, they were working in the environment more. And Mike was like, ‘No, you gotta stand there because it’s a two-shot, the coverage is going to be here. That’s where you stand.’"

What were the instructions like from the Sci Fi Channel? Was there a rigid story structure to adhere to?
"Ironically, that’s what this whole week has been about. Had you asked me in Romania, I would have said, ‘Yes, they’ve been pretty good. Their notes have been pretty good.’ They had definite opinions about what they wanted. We did have to, on Pumpkinhead III, shoot a teaser opening where we showed the monster, at their request. It wasn’t really until editing that this has become an issue, and really not until we were like, ‘Great, we’re almost picture-locked,’ that we got: ‘No, the act break has to end with the creature coming up.’ For us, it didn’t really reflect the whole movie because all of us doing the movie are doing it for the theatrical version and the DVD, and at the same time trying to serve Sci Fi as well. We definitely are cutting for a theatrical. It just means we might have to abbreviate act one shorter than we would have done otherwise."

So might the theatrical/DVD version be a different cut?
"Well, yes and no. The credits will be different: that’s how I’ve preserved most of the movie I can for the Sci Fi Channel cut. The image of the movie will be the same, the credits of the movie will be different. In my opinion, that’s how you protect the movie. You don’t have to hack stuff out of the movie."

Is Part III scheduled for a Halloween 2006 broadcast?
"It will be around Halloween, yes, we still think we’ll be delivered then. And I can hint that there will be at least an extremely limited US theatrical premiere, prior to the airing on the Sci-Fi Channel. I believe it will be one benefit screening, in Ohio oddly enough. I’m not sure whether Sci-Fi Channel have signed up on that yet but I’ll find out. But we have to, for SAG reasons, have at least one screening first." [Karri subsequently informed me that the Ohio screening was well attended, benefited a local film school and even featured an appearance of the Pumpkinhead stunt head, shipped over from Gary Tunnicliffe’s workshop - MJS]

What about the UK?
"I think there may be a theatrical distribution for it. Right now, I know they’re in discussions with a couple of companies. I just had to look over some delivery requests for a company so I think that deal is going to go forward. Certainly they want theatrical delivery elements so I guess that means they want a theatrical release. But yes, we hope that they will release it theatrically in the UK." [Sadly didn’t happen, although there was a UK DVD release from Sony - MJS]

Is the broadcast date of Part IV dependent on how well Part III is received?
"I think that’s always been the case even if it’s not contractual. I think if Pumpkinhead III does well there’s a shot that they’ll want to have it for the next sweeps period which is probably January. It’s really up to them. We’re going to deliver them Pumpkinhead IV by the end of the year; it’s really up to them when they air it. I forget what the contract is but it’s like, if they don’t air it within 90 days of our delivery it still can come out on video before they air it."

What advantages or problems came from shooting in Romania?
"Shooting in Romania was awesome. It was the first time I’d ever done a movie in Eastern Europe, or Europe, or not North America, in my life. It was great. I can’t wait to go back. I loved it. I felt the crew was excellent. They brought so much more to it than a movie this size would ever have almost anywhere else in the world. The art department was amazing, the stunt people were amazing. The stunts we had in the movie were a million times better than we ever would have had in the US. The same goes with art department and pyro and wardrobe and anything else.

“The alternative side of working in Romania is: you have some actors who are wonderful actors and look amazing but ultimately have to be looped for the movie. No matter how great they are, you know you’re going to loop them. And that’s unfortunate, not only for the production because you always want to have good actors but for the actors who really did give a good performance, they just are not native English speakers. That’s the big drawback. Occasionally you would get, as we called it, ‘Romanian surprises’. Any time I hear the sound of a car almost starting I’ll think of Romania. We did have picture car vehicle issues. Things didn’t quite run as reliably as you would like. Sometimes you would look at a picture car, you would open the hood and you would go, ‘I didn’t know a car could run with half the engine gone...’ But overall, it was lovely."

Were the movies brought in on schedule and on budget?

Do you save a lot by shooting two movies back to back?
"I think in some ways you do. As much as other people involved with the movies thought you could do two movies for the price of one the reality is that on a movie like this you can do two movies for the price of, oh, one and a half to one and three quarters. You save in the prep and we obviously saved with the monster because we only had to build it once. Whereas even right now the suit is showing its age. Somebody better write Pumpkinhead V by 1st August if they plan to use that suit again. No-one does, but you never know.  I’m sure as soon as Pumpkinhead III airs, someone will call me and say they want to order some more up and can we still use the suit. But: no. There are other advantages to it too. Other than Lance and Lynne Verrall we didn’t have any carry-over actors but if it was a different type of sequel we could do it. I think the main reason is it helps us to make the financing easier."

What has the response been like so far, either from fans or the industry?
"Amazingly positive, even on the fansites. Because, trust me, Jake West and Mike Hurst read the same fansites every single day. Because when we first started Jake would come running in, giddy as a little schoolboy, saying, ‘Look, look, look! Fangoria today! Look, look!’ I think everyone has been a little bit sceptical because of Sci Fi Channel’s involvement to some degree which can be understood. But when they started seeing the people that were involved they were a little more like: okay, we’ll give it a chance.

“I think the original movie holds up today and I think the new movies will hold up to the fans. Of course there’s stuff where the fans are like: well, theoretically the mythology would be like this... I think Jake especially has been very true to the mythology of Pumpkinhead. Gary Tunnicliffe did a fantastic job and delivered a really good Pumpkinhead creature and really good gore effects. Everybody has tried really hard to make these movies for the fans of the movies as opposed to the people who want us to make a 90-minute movie as cheaply as we can for the DVD market.”

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