A Roundtable Interview with Rob Zombie, Part Two
By Desmond Reddick
08 August 2007 — Welcome to the second part of my roundtable / press conference call with Rob Zombie, the director of the upcoming Halloween remake — which is set for release at the end of August.
The participants were, of course, Rob Zombie, roughly six or so other journalists and I. The following is an attempted word-for-word transcription of the call. I have shortened questions for clarity, space and to remove the names of those who asked them. Due to more than one person talking and the occasional stuttering, I have left very little out but have streamlined the transcription so you aren't reading lots of "uhms" and "ers." I have also added my own little running commentary in italics to try and help this flow a little better.
If you haven't read part one yet, go and check it out before you read this. We left off with a discussion about camera work. From there the conversation slipped from Halloween to Grindhouse and why it didn't work.
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Q: What was it like being part of the Grindhouse experience?
A: I felt the whole experience was great, I was really happy to be a part of it. We shot my trailer in preproduction on Halloween so it was a bit insane because I was already in production on another thing but it was great. It's unfortunate it didn't work out box office-wise the way everyone wanted. Sometimes the general theatre-going public can be confused. I thought the project from start to finish was very cool.
Q: How are they confused?
A: Well that was the thing. At first, I was like, "What could they possibly be confused about?" I understood the concept of a double feature. I know what grindhouse is. It didn't confuse me. But then afterwards I would talk to somebody, say 21 years old, who'd go, "Man I didn't go see it because I thought I had to pay twice" "You did?" "Yeah, I wasn't sure." I mean, things you couldn't even imagine people were confused by. They were confused because it was called Grindhouse, but sometimes it sounded like they were advertising Death Proof or Planet Terror and it's amazing. It just goes to show how movies are marketed. The way that cineplexes do it. It's such a structured thing. If you vary outside the formula, people get confused. They really do. People were like, "I thought they were two old movies from the 70s." The amount of stupid comments was unbelievable.
Q: Do you know if your trailer will be included on the DVD releases coming out?
A: You know, I don't think it is.
Here, I couldn't resist...
Q: Following that: is there a chance of a Werewolf Women of the SS feature?
A: At one point they were talking about it kind of seriously, but I don't know if they're talking about anything seriously anymore. I know everybody's off on their own thing.
Q: Would you like to?
A: I think it could be a pretty insane movie though. [all laugh]
Q: I'd have to agree.
A: It would be pretty tasteless though. Who could handle it?
Here there's a discussion of the writing process that devolves into style and directing.
Q: When you were writing Michael Myers did you have to step inside his head and crawl around or could you stay detached and write objectively?
A: For me, you have to really inhabit the character. You really have to try and find an angle on every character that you understand and that you can believe in or they just feel like false movie characters. You're either basing it on your experience or on someone you know. In Devil's Rejects, every character in that movie is based on something connected to real life that has happened in some way, shape or form. Not the exact event. Just a general vibe or something. You can't just sit there in a vacuum and make a... I mean you can but it'll just feel false. I think that's why you react to things when they come out. They resonate with some kind of truth. I mean, with Stephen King, there's always a writer because that's what he knows. It's always a writer trapped in some situation and that's fine. Each writer or director only has one voice their own. Sometimes it's funny when people complain, "Oh, it seems like such a Rob Zombie thing." Well what the fuck else is it gonna seem like? [all laugh] I'm only one person, you know. It can't seem like other people. To me those are the best things. That's why Woody Allen is great. Unfortunately if you don't like Woody Allen then you're never gonna like Woody Allen because Woody Allen is Woody Allen. But you can find sometimes with writers or directors that don't have such a strong voice that you go see their movie and you don't even know they made it. But if you go and see a Tarantino movie, you know, you don't even have to be told who made the movie. You watch for five seconds and you go, "Oh, this must be the new Tarantino movie." There's no mistaking it. To me that's the best thing you can do. When you can breathe so much life into your characters people can see it.
Q: That's interesting though, because you might get branded a particular type of genre director. In this case you're taking something someone else did and hopefully breathing new life into it. It might be that you want to reinvent yourself occasionally and do something completely different.
A: Well I mean you always try to reinvent yourself and push it to a new level, but you can only be yourself. And the thing is, what you don't want to do is... you want to reinvent yourself but you want to be truthful to who you are. Sometimes when people reinvent themselves you look and go, "Hey, just because you've got a new haircut and wearing different clothes, you're not that guy." You know it becomes very false. It becomes fake, and I think you have to be true to what you know.
Q: Is there a drama in you?
A: Yeah, I think that this move when people see it... when you watch large sections of this movie and you didn't know what movie you're watching, say, I could literally show you a 20 minute chunk and go, "Hey, look at this new movie I'm working on," and it would just seem like this drama. It wouldn't seem like a horror movie because that's what I wanted to bring to this movie. It had to have the dramatic aspects of the actual people's lives in order for the horror to resonate. It couldn't just be horrible events packed... you know in Devil's Rejects all the characters were basically crazy all the time. Here you're dealing with lots and lots of kids and normal people and normal situations. The whole movie is normal. Michael Myers is the one crazy aspect.
I'm liking what I'm hearing. I think I was very jaded when I first heard about this remake as, Halloween to me is the perfect horror film. But I'm calm now and think that this was going to be made regardless and very well could have landed in Verhoeven's hands. I'm happy that Rob got this instead.
Q: Would you have any interest in doing another film than a horror film. Let's say they bring to you a romantic comedy. I know you're working on the animated movie, but would you have any interest in doing anything not in the horror genre?
A: Yeah definitely. I mean I like all kinds of movies, not just horror movies. Especially with Halloween I tried to put as much into this... the great horror movies that people talk about like The Shining, it plays like a great dramatic film. Not just like horror movie with the scary moments. A movie like Jaws is incredibly scary, but it plays that way because the moments with the actors — the dramatic scenes of just Robert Shaw and Roy Schneider and Richard Dreyfuss on the boat, just talking — plays as well as any dramatic scene in any movie. I would like to do any film that's the right project. With that I'd want to bring something to it. You don't want to fall into the trap. I don't like to think of the rules: "Oh there's horror movies and there's real movies." Somehow horror movies are some bizarre subgenre that doesn't exist within the real world of movies, but the great ones do. There's so many schlocky ones that things get a bad name. But you know, Rosemary's Baby and The Shining... they're great films on any level. Not just horror movies.
Q: You filmed previous films on budgets that are, by Hollywood standards, pretty low. What was the biggest budget challenge for you on Halloween? Do you think if you had filmed it on a $100 million budget, would it have made it different or would it really have just clouded the vision of what you were trying to do?
A: I think when budgets escalate that big they really... you know how budgets break down in films, most of that money is not going on to the screen. You have a giant action movie where tons of things are blowing up, then you see it. Like, I think the budget for I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry was like $80 million. That's not on screen. That's because you have high paid actors. There's so much overhead, it's not making the movie look or sound any better. With Halloween all the money is on screen. If I replaced a couple of actors with much higher paid actors I could have jacked up the budget $20 million and it wouldn't look or seem any different. You'd just be paying people more money to do the exact same thing. You know, I think sometimes too much money makes people lazy. And makes people uncreative. It starts happening in the music business. Some bands go off and spend four million dollars on a record and take years and it's no better, sometimes it's worse. Money doesn't make you more creative, there are times where you wish you had one more day here or more time there. But is Evan Almighty any funnier than any given episode of The Office? No. Because all you needed was fucking Steven Carrell and he's the only thing that's going to be funny. I don't need a $100 million dollars of CG animals. That's not funny. It's just a joke.
Q: Speaking of CG effect, you haven't used any in Halloween. What factors led you to make that decision?
A: I just don't like CG effects.
Q: Too cheesy?
A: Unless it's something you really need it for, something otherworldly, you don't need them for anything.
Q: How important is it for you to maintain a good relationship with your cast and crew? Does it make for a calmer and more productive shoot when everybody's sort of friends?
A: I don't know how other people work, but I need to work with people I like. I need us to have a good time, not with laughs and jokes. People need to be happy and they need to want to be there. That's when they make great things. The number one thing I care about is the actors, because at the end of the day that's the only thing that's going to make the movie great. All the special effects in the world don't mean shit if the actors aren't giving a great performance. That's all you're watching anyway. I think sometimes directors forget about that. I'll talk to people who work on big-giant movies with effects and they treat the actors like furniture because they're all excited about explosions. You see it sometimes. You'll see an actor who's a great actor and you'll say, "Why does this person seem so terrible suddenly?" Because they look kind of lost.
Q: You must have watched Transformers, too?
A: I didn't actually... but I wouldn't be surprised.
A: If you put a great actor on screen with nothing else... and essentially when you talk about the original Halloween, what made that movie great was Donald Pleasance.
Q: Could you tell us about the backstory you're going to give the Dr. Loomis character and how Pleasance, who was so great, could be replaced?
A: A great actor's a great actor. He's not being replaced, his character's being played by somebody else. Bela Lugosi is the greatest Dracula in the world and Christopher Lee comes around and you say, "Hey, that guy's pretty awesome too." The great thing is Malcolm never saw the original Halloween. Still hasn't, but he was friends with Donald Pleasance. So he knew Donald. Which is kind of the exact opposite experience as all the fans have, you know? So he didn't want to imitate Donald, he just did his own spin on it. The Donald Pleasance character doesn't really have an arc. Where we meet him in the original it's just where he's at. Whereas we pick up Dr. Loomis where he first meets young Michael Myers and goes through the whole journey and gets to the point where we first met him in the original movie. So we see how their lives have become intertwined, and Michael's completely flipped this unsuspecting psychologist's life upside down and his whole life is destroyed.
Q: Was there anyone you really wanted for the film who just couldn't do it due to scheduling conflicts?
A: I don't think so. The one person I actually wanted to be in the movie at one point was Sid Haig, but he had a scheduling conflict strangely enough. But when it came time to do some re-shooting I made up a new scene and he's in it.
Q: What do you want audiences to take away from your version of Halloween?
A: The main thing I want is I want it to be a different moviegoing experience that's satisfying to them. I think after the first five minutes of the film they'll be done comparing and contrasting the films. They're just so different there's no sense thinking about it. It's the same way I feel about The Thing. I loved the original and saw it before John Carpenter's and I loved his too. And they're so different there's no sense in comparing them, but I love them both.
Q: The resurgence of Halloween is likely to send younger fans out to find the original. Is that an effect you'd like it to have?
A: It's always great to drive someone to go watch a movie you love. That wasn't my intention in making the movie, but if that happens that's great.
Q: Will there be an alternate or longer cut of the film for the DVD?
A: I don't know. It's kinda weird with that because sometimes... with Devil's Rejects, there was definitely stuff the MPAA attacked that I wanted to put back in. This, not so much. So I'd just be making it longer for the sake of making it longer. I remember one time, strangely enough, a couple of years ago I was having dinner with John Carpenter and someone asked, "Are you going to put out an unrated version of The Thing with more footage?" And he was like, "Well, I kind of cut all that shit out for a reason in the first place."
The conversation diverts into several tangents here so bear with me.
Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception either Hollywood or the general public has about you?
A: I don't know, probably everything. I don't really tell people much about myself. I'm always talking about the work I do. But they don't really know anything about me. The stuff I read is all wrong, the motivations people say are all wrong.
Q: With the passing of two fantastic directors this week [Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni], do you have any comment on how their work may have influenced you or what their passing means?
A: It's really sad when somebody great dies. Luckily they both lived to be really old. But you know what those guys mean to me is like the movies they made are so what you wish movies could be in the sense that they're not preprogrammed entertainment meant to just drive ticket sales. They're pieces of art that hold up for that reason. I was just watching Virgin Spring just the other day. Try to make that movie? Are you crazy? Why would we make that? It gets so lost that movies are art. They don't have to be art movies because you say that and people say they're some boring thing they don't want to watch. But they are art. I mean, they're made by artists and that's what you think of when you think of directors like that. And I hate the way now that the studio system and commerce and marketing is just like invading movies so much that you almost don't even think of them as art — you think of them as a way to sell popcorn. It's kind of sad.
Here's an interesting tidbit of behind-the-scenes stuff people who have seen This Film is Not Yet Rated will find interesting.
Q: Is that why you went old school with the special effects?
A: I didn't really think of it as old school. To me it was all about the actors selling the terror. As soon as you're going in for the shot for the special effects, I feel like the scene has lost its impact. I care about the actors' faces. That's what's going to sell it. Sometimes that's the hardest thing with the MPAA. Like in Devil's Rejects I had a hard time getting an R rating, but mostly the problem scene was Bill Moseley and Priscilla Barnes in the motel room. That was what became my NC-17. I was like, "What are you guys objecting to? There's no foul language, there's no real nudity, there's no violence, there's no gore, there's nothing. It's the intent." He doesn't even do anything. It's the intent to do something! Sometimes that's what makes it even more powerful for people in, since the MPAA are people; it fucks with them even more. They don't even know what to tell you. It's easier to go, "That scene where the guy's head gets cut off, it bothers us."
Q: Have you seen Rescue Dawn? Herzog got a PG-13 for this movie where there is a lot of torture in it, and he was quoted as saying he didn't want to see the violence on the screen because he felt the audience got it because of what the actors were able to convey. Was there a time in Halloween where you though the violence was too much and did you have to cut back on it?
A: Not really. It was always sort of planned a certain way. It's a very violent movie, but not in a gratuitous way. So I always kind of planned on making it that way in the first place.
Here's something I was going to ask, but somebody beat me to it. Rumors swirled that re-shoots were necessary, which is generally a cue that it's going to suck. Read on.
Q: I heard you went back and shot a higher body count for Halloween. Was that something you planned or something last minute?
A: No, that was just more Internet insanity. We had a screening that went really well and Bob Weinstein said he loved the movie and if there was something I didn't think I got in principle photography he'd give me more money to go shoot and get it now... which is really the dream scenario, because trust me that never happens. People think something's wrong. No, something's right because that's what you hope for. I went back and shot some additional things because there were certain characters I felt hadn't resolved themselves.
I was able to get my follow-up in though...
Q: You did mention the Internet rumors and all that. I know there was an early version of the script that leaked. What effect do you think the Internet has on giving people preconceived notions about a film that hasn't even been released yet?
A: Well, I think the Internet is pretty isolated. As much as it seems like it isn't because amongst the fans it feels that every little thing that's said feels really significant, but when you walk away from the computer and you ask the average person, "What do you think about the Halloween movie," and they won't know what you're talking about. That's the reality of it. The Internet takes the most minute detail and blows it into some controversy, like everyone's talking about it when in reality no one is except the 10 people who go to that site nonstop. In the scope of the entire country it's not as big a deal. This is the best way I can describe it: we went to the San Diego Comic-Con and we did our big Halloween panel and all the fans know every thing about it. I walked off stage and the driver that was taking us to the airport was like, "So you're working on Halloween? That's that movie with Freddy right?" Then you realize, this is basically how the rest of the world sees it.
We got a 10 minute warning at this point, so much of the rest of this is rapid fire.
Q: Do you find that upping the ante on violence gives a movie what it needs?
A: I don't think that more and more means anything. People just want a good movie with characters that they care about enough that they want to watch the movie. That's what every movie is at its most basic. As far as gore, you can go watch a video of some kid breaking a leg skateboarding and it's cooler because it's real. Or Ultimate Fighting and it's more fun. And then we screen the movie and you can tell from the people talking that they really grabbed it and the characters and followed the story. Nobody was talking about gore and violence because that's what a movie is. As far as upping the ante, that's not important at all.
Q: So I guess you prefer villains like Bonnie and Clyde and the villains in Deliverance to the more fantastical villains like Wolf Man and Dracula?
A: No. Not at all. I like all that stuff. I like everything. Now it's a bit more based in reality.
Q: Is there a possibility of more supernatural stuff coming up?
A: I don't know what's next, but, I mean, I definitely like stuff like that. I'm into stuff I grew up on first and foremost. Like classic monsters. King Kong was the first movie I ever saw. King Kong, Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, these were very significant characters in my life early on.
Q: Would you have any interest in making a comic book movie?
A: Probably not, because all the comic book movies seem very much not my world. Just kind of big budget clean movies that are connected to so many things that I don't' think you can... I don't know, It's just not my bag. Not right now anyway. Maybe someday, but I just don't see it happening.
Q: Would you direct a film written by someone else?
A: If it was something I liked.
Q: Are there any other previous films that you would like to tackle?
A: No. This one kind of came out of nowhere. At first I didn't want to do this one. It seemed kind of strange, but then I thought about it more and more and I came up with a way that I thought it would be great,. The next thing I want to do I want to build from the ground up. I don't want it to be based on anything.
Q: What struck you as strange about remaking Halloween?
A: Well I guess I had the same notion as everyone else had. I loved the original movie, why would you make another sequel? Who cares about prequels? Then I realized, the more I thought about and went back and watched the original over and over and over. I just started hating the idea "it can't be done". It's just the worst way to approach life. I just started thinking, "How would you do this?" And then you just start thinking up answers.
Q: Some remakes play it straight and some reinvent it. Where does your Halloween fall?
A: It's hard to say since most of the remakes I haven't seen, so I don't know how it falls in line with the other ones. My intention was to make a movie that stands on his own, completely its own animal, but has moments that hearken back to the original here and there.
Q: Would you call it more of a reboot like Batman Begins?
A: Batman Begins seems like one of the best ways to describe it. It's still the story of Batman, but the way the story unfolds and leading up to it, there's so much more. That's probably the film that's closest to the general attitude to where we're headed.
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There it is. End of part two. I hope you enjoyed the insider info and even a few scoops found within the previous transcription. Thanks go out to Mr. Michael David Sims who set this interview up and sent me down the long and lonely road of transcribing nearly 9000 words. Join me next Monday in an interview with John Carpenter himself... what's that Marcy? Carpenter cancelled? Damn!
Looks like I'm back to bending my mind around some of the conventions and clichés of yesterday and today in the next edition of Reel Dread.
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