Producer Ryan Turek Explains How HALLOWEEN 2018 Became the Biggest Slasher Hit in History

Those of us who have been obsessed with horror since the early days of the internet have known “Rotten” Ryan Turek for years. He was even influential in the creation of Dread Central, so we consider him family. These days, he’s best known as the Director of Development at Blumhouse and a producer of the box-office smash Halloween, which reunited original Laurie Strode actress (and icon) Jamie Lee Curtis with original Michael Myers actor Nick Castle.

We were lucky enough to catch up with Turek last month for an extensive sit-down that covered a vast spectrum of topics. Of course, we talked about Halloween at length, but we also discussed his career path from horror blogger to an industry insider, including his popular Shockwaves horror podcast and his documentary Still Screaming: The Ultimate Scary Movie Retrospective. Check out Part 1 of our interview in the link below.

Related Article: Interview: HALLOWEEN 2018 Producer Ryan Turek Talks Going from Horror Blogger to Industry Insider

Today, it’s all about Halloween! Below, find out how Turek’s efforts took the new Halloween movie from an idea to the top-grossing slasher film in history!


Dread Central: I saw Halloween at Fantastic Fest in September. In the Q&A that followed, Jason Blum gave you this incredible shout out, stating that you were integral to the film’s success. Can you tell us about your role in making Halloween? Being a producer doesn’t necessarily mean you’re hands-on in the day-to-day mechanics of filmmaking, but in this case, you certainly were.

Ryan Turek: It was very kind of Jason to say and it’s always unexpected when people do that. Halloween was always one of those movies that was very close to my heart for various reasons. But basically, the story is: I had heard Dimension Films was going to do a third Halloween and it was in production, according to certain websites. So, I did a bit of digging and I found out it was not shooting. I continued to dig and found out Dimension no longer had the rights. I reached out to Jason and I said, “Jason, if there’s any franchise we should get involved in, Halloween should be it. Do your thing. Do what you do, talk to the rights holders, get involved, and I think this would be a great investment for the company.”

Cut to many months later and we’re working with all parties and—yeah, the whole thing was a labor of love. From finding the right director and screenwriter to developing it and being on set. I flew out to South Carolina and I lived in Charleston for two months, away from my family. But being there every day was an incredible experience. I was there for the wardrobe fittings and saw James Jude Courtney wearing the jumpsuit for the first time. I saw Jamie Lee Curtis coming out as Laurie Strode for the first time. I was there for everything! I was there every day, whether people wanted me or not, just to help out or lend guidance or offer input or whatever.

But honestly, this movie wouldn’t have been a success if it wasn’t for David Gordon Green and Danny McBride and Jeff Bradley—these guys knew exactly what the franchise needed and what the movie needed. The fact that we got Jamie back was just the cherry on top. And her enthusiasm and dedication—her energy brought life to the set every day. It was just an incredible experience.

DC: It sounds like you assembled a dream team.

RT: Yeah, we absolutely did. You talk about those movies that are just perfect fits all around… everybody on set from our props master to our makeup effects guy to wardrobe, everybody was just so into bringing Haddonfield and these characters to life. There was this arthouse theater in Charleston and, just before principal photography began, we rented it out to show the original Halloween. Everyone came out and got really pumped up. We knew we were making history!

DC: Is it true that there was a Cult of Thorn subplot that was edited out in the final cut?

RT: No [laughs]. No, no. Look, the first draft of the script was different than the final incarnation, but that’s always the case. Characters will shift, their motivations will shift. But it was always something that took place 40 years later.

DC: Before it even went before the cameras, John Carpenter stated that this would be the last Halloween movie ever. But now that the film is enjoying record-breaking success, a sequel seems like a foregone conclusion. Are you hoping to convince Carpenter to return again?

RT: Never say never about anything! And it’s way too early to talk about it now. But we all know how things work. If everything falls into place just right, etc., etc. We’ll see. Never say never.

DC: As a blogger, you were able to celebrate horror movies as finished products without dealing with the nuts and bolts and nightmares of filmmaking. Now that you’re in the thick of it, has it changed the way you look at and appreciate horror movies? Has going behind the curtain diminished your pure love of experiencing cinema?

RT: Well look, I’m 42-years-old and many things that have challenged my love for horror, especially when you live here and you’re looking behind the curtain. You’re meeting all your heroes, you’re meeting all these people who are making the cinematic magic happen. There was a period when I had moved out of Los Angeles just to distance myself from it. And during that time, I really reflected on what I wanted to do with my life. I was like, “Well, do I want to continue blogging or pursue my creative career?” You don’t want to do anything that robs you of the love for the genre, that love we grew up on.

So, I took a couple years to kind of recalibrate and then I realized, “No, I have to be in the thick of it. I need to work and I want to find an opportunity to get in the industry again and be part of it.” I came back to L.A. just after Dread Central got started and I had made some sacrifices. I put a lot on my credit card and I even ended a relationship. I put everything into moving back to Los Angeles to do exactly what I want to do

So, as an older horror fan, of course, my perception of the genre is going to change, but that love never goes away. It’s just about how… how can I put this… Being on set [for Halloween] and being part of the production only amplified my love of the genre. I think what I look for in horror now is much different than what I looked for when I was 13. I think when you’re in your teens you don’t have a whole lot of life experience. You’re getting that experience through horror movies and you’re seeing the world in a certain way.

I’m constantly dissecting my love for the genre and analyzing it. Right now, I wake up every day super pumped about it whereas, when I was a blogger, I would wake up and go, “Ok, what are the horror movies that are getting me excited and how do I evoke that in my writing?” It was draining because it became less about that enthusiasm I had in my early days of journalism and more about numbers and traffic. It bummed me out because I would look at my past articles and be like, “Wow, look at how pumped I was back then!” But I’ve been at Blumhouse now for four years, on this side of the business, and that feeling hasn’t disappeared at all. I still wake up every morning going, “What fucking horror movies can we make, what projects can I help push along, and which directors will I get to work with next?” It’s a lot of fun.

I’ve run into a lot of people who aren’t focused and don’t know what they want to do with their life. I think I realized about halfway through my journalism career that I’m a really good producer; I have an eye for movies that I’d like to see that will also do really well. Once you put out that energy and position yourself in the right way, will people look you different. Some people were, like, “No, you’re going to The Dark Side!” But I was, like, “No, I’m going to be creative!” Then of course, when you get to this side, you meet with executives and agents and they’re, like, “Oh, we pulled you over from The Dark Side.” So which side is The Dark Side? Being a producer or being a journalist?

DC: What are you working on next?

RT: Fantasy Island and a couple of other new projects. Besides than that, I’m just tinkering away: Looking at new scripts, looking for new properties, looking for new stuff and playing around with that.

DC: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers before I let you go?

RT: We’re living in turbulent times but a really cool time for the genre. As a journalist, there are a lot of cool things to write about right now. I’m actually on my way to see Suspiria.

If you missed Halloween when it was in theaters, you’ll be able to own it on Blu-ray/DVD on January 15th, 2019. In the meantime, you can check out the synopsis and trailer below.

Synopsis:
It’s been 40 years since Laurie Strode survived a vicious attack from crazed killer Michael Myers on Halloween night. Locked up in an institution, Myers manages to escape when his bus transfer goes horribly wrong. Laurie now faces a terrifying showdown when the masked madman returns to Haddonfield, Ill. — but this time, she’s ready for him.

The post Producer Ryan Turek Explains How HALLOWEEN 2018 Became the Biggest Slasher Hit in History appeared first on Dread Central.

Interview: HALLOWEEN 2018 Producer Ryan Turek Talks Going from Horror Blogger to Industry Insider

Those of us who have been obsessed with horror since the early days of the internet have known “Rotten” Ryan Turek for years. He was even influential in the creation of Dread Central, so we consider him family. These days, he’s best known as the Director of Development at Blumhouse and a producer of the box-office smash Halloween, which reunited original Laurie Strode actress (and icon) Jamie Lee Curtis with original Michael Myers actor Nick Castle.

We were lucky enough to catch up with Turek last month for an extensive sit-down that covered a vast spectrum of topics. Of course, we talked about Halloween at length, but we also discussed his career path from horror blogger to industry insider, including his popular Shockwaves horror podcast and his documentary Still Screaming: The Ultimate Scary Movie Retrospective.

Enjoy Part 1 of our exclusive interview below and check back for Part 2 next Friday, when we’ll take a deep dive into what it was like being an integral component of one of 2018’s hottest horror success story.


Dread Central: Let’s talk about your pre-movie producer life, specifically your career as a blogger.

Ryan Turek: Yeah, what would you like to know?

DC: Just give us an overview. Those of us in journalism have known you for years but now there are all these Halloween fans getting to know you for the first time.

RT: The overview, let’s see. I moved out to Los Angeles in 1999. The whole goal was to be a screenwriter. I would say that my two biggest inspirations were Kevin Williamson [Scream screenwriter] and Andrew Kevin Walker [Se7en screenwriter]. And I moved out here and realized real quick that I needed a part-time job just to make some money and cover the incredibly expensive cost of living.  Especially since my screenwriting career didn’t flourish as quickly as I had hoped.  So, I took a part-time job, but I was always very vocal on horror message boards, trading VHS tapes and talking to people about movies. And then I would review movies on message boards or talk about some of the gossip I’d hear in Los Angeles. And basically, my writing career as a horror journalist/horror blogger began with creature-corner.com, which no longer exists. I did that for a while; I was writing alongside others like Johnny Butane and going under the name “Rotten Ryan”.

Then we had met Steve Barton, Dread Central’s “Uncle Creepy” himself, and we had gone down some paths with him under a company called The Horror Channel (short-lived). But along the way, Dread Central was born out of this partnership. So, Dread Central continued on and we created a name for the website. But, as a blogger or horror journalist, when you’re working part-time, you hope to get out of that and make your writing your full-time career. At the time, no one was getting paid at Dread Central, so I left to work for Fangoria for a couple years along with doing some stuff for Rue Morgue Magazine. Then I heard about a company run my Coming Soon Media and they were going to do an offshoot horror website and they wanted me to be the Editor and Chief. They offered me a full-time position with a salary and benefits, and it was music to my ears; I thought, “Now I’ve made it! I’m my own boss! I can work from home in my underwear and do whatever I want!” Finally, I’d made running a horror website my living. But, boy, have things changed since then!

DC: I was going to ask if your transition from horror journalist to industry insider was something you did intentionally or if was it something that just kind of happened, but it sounds like going into blogging was always an offshoot of your desire to be a screenwriter. Is that correct?

RT: That is correct. When you’re a spec screenwriter you’re not being paid; your stuff is just floating around town and you’re hoping for that one person who’s going to read it and make it. I’m more of an instant gratification kind of guy (or, I was). I really wanted people to read my writing, so this was an opportunity for people to hear my voice and hear what I had to say about the horror genre. So, it was an extension of it, and I think over the 14 years I did it, there was a desire to explore getting into the industry: Being more creative and producing.

But there was a shift in focus, and that was from being a screenwriter to being a producer instead. That was mostly because of the contacts I had built since moving to Los Angeles. When you live in Los Angeles, you become part of the horror community and, let’s just say my Rolodex got a lot larger. I knew that I could apply those contacts and the talent I was meeting into film.

DC:  While your main gig is with Blumhouse as Director of Development, you’re also one of the co-hosts of the hugely successful Shockwaves podcast. Can you give us a brief overview of Shockwaves, how it started, and where you guys are headed in the future?

RT: Shockwaves began when I was running ShockTillYouDrop.com and it was myself and Lawrence Raffel over at FearNet. Podcasting still wasn’t necessarily a big thing and we just recorded it in my dining room. We did that for a little bit and it was a fun experience. I was also doing The BloodCast with Clarke Wolfe while the Killer POV team (Rob Galluzzo, Rebekah McKendry, and Elric Kane) were doing their thing. So, when I started here at Blumhouse, I kind of barraged [Jason] Blum and the company with all of these ideas: “We should do this, we should do a book, we should do that…”

I had all these ideas and podcasting was one of them. They were, like, “Oh, it’s low-cost? Sure, play around with it and do what you want; see what you can come up with.” I said, “I know a trio of people who might be willing to jump over here.” So, I asked Rebekah, Elric, and Rob to do a then-untitled podcast; as we talked about ideas for a name we came back to Shockwaves and adopted that. Now, it’s just one of those things that’s an extension of the Blumhouse brand and we hope to see it grow. It’s a very fan-oriented podcast but our television department is working on unscripted podcasts and exploring true crime stuff—even a political podcast.

DC: Before we transition into your participation in the new Halloween I wanted to discuss how you were also deeply entrenched in the Scream franchise. Tell us about the documentary you produced.

RT: I’d say around 2009 and 2010 we were seeing the likes of the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street documentaries [Crystal Lake Memories and Never Sleep Again] that were being made, being made well, and actually offering insights into these beloved franchises. I was thinking about doing one myself and somewhere along the way I teamed up with Anthony Masi and we made a Scream Trilogy documentary.

Scream was always near and dear to my heart, obviously, because I was so inspired by Kevin Williamson while I was in film school. And Scream always just made a mark on me when I saw it opening night in 1996. And with Scream 4 coming out, it felt like the right time to do a documentary, something that would get everyone up to speed on the franchise and how it was created. I wrote and directed Still Screaming and it was a labor of love that came from our own pockets. We sold the digital rights to FearNet and then we shared it with Miramax and they included it in their Blu-ray box set.

It was a lot of fun, but I look back on it now and see all of the production warts of it all. It’s a little rough! But what people connected to was the ambition and the obvious love I have for the Scream franchise. We did all sorts of kooky stuff; we had little animations and an opening sequence where someone is actually commenting on horror documentaries. It was fun, and I played Ghostface, so now I look back and just think, “How goofy was that?” But it was fun.

DC: Awesome! Now, let’s talk about Halloween

Check back next week for Part 2 of our exclusive interview with Ryan Turek where we discuss his role in the production, what it was like working with John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis, and even addresses those “Cult of Thorn” subplot rumors.

If you missed Halloween when it was in theaters, you’ll be able to own it on Blu-ray/DVD on January 15th, 2019. In the meantime, you can check out the synopsis and trailer below.

Synopsis:
It’s been 40 years since Laurie Strode survived a vicious attack from crazed killer Michael Myers on Halloween night. Locked up in an institution, Myers manages to escape when his bus transfer goes horribly wrong. Laurie now faces a terrifying showdown when the masked madman returns to Haddonfield, Ill. — but this time, she’s ready for him.

The post Interview: HALLOWEEN 2018 Producer Ryan Turek Talks Going from Horror Blogger to Industry Insider appeared first on Dread Central.

Alternate Opening for HALLOWEEN 2018 Would Have Killed Off Iconic Character

On a recent episode of Shockwaves, podcast co-founder and Blumhouse Director of Development Ryan Turek talked about an alternate opening that was considered for 2018’s Halloween (currently screening in theaters nationwide). It turns out, director David Gordon Green wasn’t just keen to reshoot the original Halloween’s iconic ending from a different point of view, he wanted to kill off one of the franchise’s most iconic characters.

When talking about Halloween, three characters immediately spring to mind: Michael Myers, Laurie Strode, and Dr. Loomis. In the scrapped opener, however, Loomis (played by Donald Pleasence) would have met his match back in 1978. As reported by ComicBook.com, Turek explained:

“The first scripted opening was a re-envisioning of the finale of Halloween. David wanted to f-ck things up, man. He wanted to just mix things up a little bit. So, initially, he had a scene in which we came in at the end of Halloween, and Loomis sees the screaming kids, comes inside, sees the struggle between Laurie and Michael. Michael puts his mask back on, Loomis shoots him, pushes Michael back through the doorway into the bedroom. Laurie is cowering on the ground, Loomis charges into the bedroom, where Michael gets the upper hand and jumps him. Loomis drops the gun and then Laurie is holding onto the gun, but she’s shaking so much she can’t actually pull the trigger.

“And then Michael chokes out Loomis, kills him, and then Laurie decides to pull the trigger and knock Michael back. So, we had that, and then…we were trying to figure out how to pull that off…and it was just crazy, you know…And I remember [original director] John [Carpenter] read that draft and he was like, ‘Uhhh, why would you want to change that? Why would you want to change my ending?’ And [sequel director] David [Gordon Green] took that to heart.”

The fact that Pleasance passed away in 1995, not to mention the fact that Jamie Lee Curtis is 40 years older, means extensive CGI and other anti-aging techniques would have been necessary to bring Green’s original vision to fruition.

If you’ve yet to see Halloween for yourself yet, check out the synopsis and trailer below.

Synopsis:
It’s been 40 years since Laurie Strode survived a vicious attack from crazed killer Michael Myers on Halloween night. Locked up in an institution, Myers manages to escape when his bus transfer goes horribly wrong. Laurie now faces a terrifying showdown when the masked madman returns to Haddonfield, Ill. — but this time, she’s ready for him.

Have you seen Halloween 2018? What do you think of the alternate opening that would have killed off Dr. Loomis? Sound off in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram!

The post Alternate Opening for HALLOWEEN 2018 Would Have Killed Off Iconic Character appeared first on Dread Central.

Celebrate Halloween with This Trailer Round-Up!

With David Gordon Green’s critically raved about film Halloween still #1 at the box office for the second week in a row, we’ve rounded up some of the feature film’s trailers, television spots and clips to get you into the

The post Celebrate Halloween with This Trailer Round-Up! appeared first on HalloweenMovies™ | The Official Halloween Website.

Halloween Premiere Photos, Video & More!

Director and co-writer David Gordon Green’s Halloween held its official premiere to a packed house this past Wednesday, October 17th at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California, and HalloweenMovies was there to document the buzzed-about event forty years in the

The post Halloween Premiere Photos, Video & More! appeared first on HalloweenMovies™ | The Official Halloween Website.

Halloween Tickets Are Now On Sale!

No tricks, just treats! With the frenzy nearing a fever pitch for David Gordon Green’s upcoming and hotly-anticipated Halloween, tickets for what is shaping up to be the movie event of the season have now gone on pre-sale at Fandango!

The post Halloween Tickets Are Now On Sale! appeared first on HalloweenMovies™ | The Official Halloween Website.

Myers Menaces on First Cover of Re-launched Fangoria Magazine

Last night HalloweenMovies.com attended the re-launch party for revered Fangoria magazine in Burbank, CA, and with the 114-page issue jam-packed with Halloween goodness, here’s a peek within. Held at Slashback Video (the celebrated faux indie horror video rental shop art

The post Myers Menaces on First Cover of Re-launched Fangoria Magazine appeared first on HalloweenMovies™ | The Official Halloween Website.

Horror Business: Steve Mitchell on Directing Larry Cohen Documentary, KING COHEN

Horror Business: Steve Mitchell on Directing Larry Cohen Documentary, KING COHEN, From: Nick Taylor,

King Cohen  is a fantastically fun documentary that tells the larger than life story of the prolific writer, directer, and producer Larry Cohen, the creative genius behind such beloved horror classics as It’s Alive, The Stuff and Q – The Winged Serpent.

In addition to being a charming and humorous romp into 70’s genre Hollywood, what lies at the heart of the film is Larry Cohen’s fierce irrepressibility as an artist. Throughout the course of his career, Cohen was a man who wouldn’t take no for an answer; a cliche statement that gets thrown around a lot, but trust me when I say that in the case of Larry Cohen,  it’s completely true. The lengths Cohen went to protect his artistic integrity and make the movies he wanted to make were incredibly ambitious and in some instances, borderline insane. 

Cohen’s iron will and resourcefulness is best articulated through the film’s exploration of his guerrilla filmmaking techniques which were outrageous, fascinating and completely reckless. For one shot, Cohen had a taxicab drive down a sidewalk in New York City at full speed in the middle of the day with no permits. Despite the danger, the philosophies behind his guerrilla filmmaking approach are infectiously inspiring and in this regard, the movie acts as a priceless ‘how to’ guide for aspiring (and daring) genre filmmakers on a budget.


Featuring interviews with John Landis, Joe Dante, Martin Scorsese, JJ Abrams, Rick Baker, Mick Garris, Ryan Turek, and a particularly hysterical exchange with Fred Williamson, King Cohen is a fun watch and a special treat for horror fans. We caught up with director Steve Mitchell  (you may know him as the writer of Chopping Mallto hear all about his directorial journey behind his documentary feature debut. 

Before we do, here are Steve Mitchell’s 3 keys to documentary filmmaking:

  • Learn how to interview. Being a good documentary filmmaker means being a good interviewer. Learn from the best: Steve recommends Playboy interviews, and (despite recent news) old Charlie Rose interviews.
  • Characters are everything. The secret to doing any effective storytelling is great characters. Even in a non-fiction documentary. Make sure your documentary has a strong central character then use his life story to illustrate the many sides of his character.
  • Boredom = death. Documentary filmmaking is a marathon, not a sprint, which is why it’s critically important to choose a subject that you will be interested in long term. Without sustained enthusiasm, a project is in danger.

Dread Central: Hey Steve! King Cohen was so much fun! I really enjoyed it a lot. How’d you come to do a documentary about Larry Cohen?

Steve Mitchell: Well, I was working at Image Entertainment doing DVD special features commentaries and things like that, and one day, for some reason I was looking at Larry’s IMBD page. I knew Larry’s credits pretty well; I was a fan of his work, but I was surprised by the number of movies in his filmography that I didn’t know. Then I realized that a interesting thing about Larry is that while he was busy doing his movies, even though a lot of the checks came from studios or distributors to finance the pictures, he was making them very independently. He was making them Larry’s way. He was also doing a lot of mainstream work at the same time … and I said, “I don’t know anybody that has ever had a career quite like his.” And that’s where the idea took hold. It took a while to get us in production. Getting any movie financed is a tough road. I tried crowdfunding–I said, “Oh, this is great! You put your trailer up and you offer them posters or t-shirts or coffee cups and then they give you money and you make your movie.” Well, I was spectacularly bad at it. And I didn’t know anything.

DC: What did you try, Kickstarter?

SM:  I was working Indiegogo. There’s a whole skill set to that that I was completely unaware of. But the idea was always in the back of my mind and then eventually, I had the very good fortune of meeting Matt Verboys who was one the co-owners of La La Land Records, a soundtrack label that was I was a customer of.  We were introduced at Comic-con and he said, “Are you the Steve Mitchell that co-wrote Chopping Mall?”  So, we became pals. We were kindred spirits; we liked a lot of the same movies … At one point, he said he and his partner had been toying around with the idea of doing things other than just music, and because my head is made out of cream cheese, it took awhile for it to penetrate, but finally I said, “Oh! maybe Matt might be the guy.” So, we had lunch and I mentioned I wanted to do a documentary about Larry Cohen, and he was already interested the second I finished the end of ‘Cohen.’ By the end of the lunch he said, “I don’t know how we’re going to do it but we’re going to do it.” He was right, and here we are–albeit a couple of years later.

DC: Very cool…So I feel that a sign of a good documentary is that it’s typically suggestive, where people extract their own meaning. From your perspective, what was the core story at the heart of King Cohen?

SM:  The thing about documentaries is that there is no script.  You don’t preplan it and then go out and get it. Maybe Ken Burns does, on some level, but he’s retelling history. I’m basically creating a portrait of a character and I knew that Larry’s filmography would be interesting, I listened to him enough on commentary tracks and feature ads, and someone wrote a book about him–So I said, “This guy is interesting.”

But you don’t know how interesting somebody is until you actually meet them, talk with them, discuss their career, and interview them. So, my big takeaway (and I got this pretty quickly) was that Larry was an interesting character. Not just an interesting filmmaker from a credit standpoint, from the amount of scripts he wrote and movies he made, but an interesting character … Getting to know Larry was interesting, but I had no idea the form the movie was going to take, other than that I would use the spine of his career to attach aspects of who he was.

After we did all the interviews, I said “Okay, my idea here is to create a portrait of an idiosyncratic creative filmmaker and writer, using his career as chapters or examples along the way.” So what my editor Kai Thomasian and I tried to do was to use each film that we cover, or each example we use, to reveal something about Larry. That was essentially our script. We were using the spine of his career to build a portrait of who he is.

DC: It sounds like you were really strategic in how you edited, using every single movie to reveal something different about Larry, to the point where, collectively, you paint this very large portrait of this very fascinating person. It made for a pretty interesting audience journey.

SM:  I’ve actually had some criticism that I went from A to Z, but the chronology of someone’s life will help tell your story. The chronology of someone’s life shows what they were like when they were young—if they were stupid or silly—and then when they get to the latter point of their career, you see a certain amount of wisdom based on experience. In my case, two interesting things happened. One, Larry’s still the same crazy madman he was when he was young, mentally. He’s still the same creative person with tons of ideas … He represents a certain era of filmmaking. Martin Scorsese talks about the renegade spirit … Larry is a force of nature. He is very strong-willed; he is relentless in his pursuit of anything. He does not concede anything in a discussion.  He’s right and he’s going to use his battering ram intelligence to whip you into submission.

Part of why Larry’s movies are Larry’s movies is that he would not accept the idea of not being able to do something, especially if someone told him he couldn’t … Larry never worried about anything other than getting the movie made absolutely the best way he thought he could make it. That included not only prepping, it included one of his superpowers–the ability to think on his feet and take advantage of something in the moment … You can do that more easily today, because of the equipment. I shot some of King Cohen with my smartphone. What happens is that you have the technology at your fingertips so you can make films and YouTube stuff with very little gear. But you have to have the ability to know how you can do something on the fly that will serve the story that you’re telling.

That’s part of what makes Larry’s movies interesting, especially Hell Up in Harlem, because he was just running around New York City like a crazy man, shooting stuff, when and where he wanted. I don’t know if the movie makes a whole lot of sense, but that’s partly why it’s so damn enjoyable. Black Caesar was actually a script, but Harlem he was making up mostly on the fly … Larry was unique, in that he was able to think on his feet the way he could. That’s primarily because he’s a writer.

DC: I’m sure that the wealth of material was overwhelming, in terms of what you shot and what you could have shot. Seems there’s enough about Larry Cohen’s life to fill a ten-hour Ken Burns special if you really wanted to. How did you approach putting this into a feature-length documentary? In other words, what were the key themes that you wanted to organize the film around?

SM:  The key themes that I wanted to organize the film around were the films. I had fifteen hours of footage with Larry alone, then there were all the other people I’ve talked to. I had a lot of raw footage.

There are a number of great stories that I couldn’t use because Larry is long-winded and says everything twice. That’s not a bad thing … I’ve interviewed people where you’re sitting there trying to drag stuff out of them because they just don’t have anything compelling or interesting to say … Being a good documentary filmmaker means being a good journalist, being a good interviewer and listening, is very key. I learned how to interview by reading the old Playboy magazines … Back in the day, they were the gold standard.  Watching guys like Charlie Rose when he was on the air, he was an excellent interviewer.

When you do a documentary, you’re not just a guy with a camera–that’s what a cameraman does.  I really want to emphasize that. I didn’t take a writing credit for the movie, but I did essentially write the movie. I wrote it in the editing room. I also created hundreds and hundreds of questions with tremendous attention to detail whenever I could, to try and extract interesting answers.

As a filmmaker you have to listen to the answer because there might be a follow-up. They might knock out a couple questions you were going to ask down the line … Your job is to be a storyteller in terms of getting the story, not making the story–there’s a difference. Getting the story is easier some days than others.

With Larry it was a breeze. The first day we shot with Larry … I asked him my first question and he was all answers. I could’ve gone out to a three-hour lunch and come back and he still would have been talking. Sometimes you interview people–famous people, interesting people–and you can’t get two or three interesting thoughts from them … You have to be prepared for that as well. You have to really work on what I call the “hunting and gathering” of information.

DC: If we could shift gears a little bit, what do aspiring documentarians need to know if they want to enter this business?

SM:  To be cynical, it’s great if you know people who have money. No one wants to write a check in the film business. When I was at Image, I went to the guys at the front office with this idea, and they said, “Oh, sounds really interesting, why don’t you make it, bring it back and maybe we’ll acquire it.” People want you to spend ten dollars and then they’ll pay you one dollar for it.

One of my best friends asked me in the beginning about King Cohen, “Steve, do you think anyone really gives a shit about Larry Cohen?” And I said “Yeah, I do. I’m the audience. If it can be interesting to me then I know it’ll be interesting for other people.” So, you always have to choose the project based on your enthusiasm for the material and/or the subject. This a marathon, not a sprint … Being interested in the project over the course of the project is a big issue too. I remember interviewing a director about a movie and he just said, “This is where I got bored with it.” Well, you know, I could feel that in the picture. You can’t allow yourself to be bored.

The secret to doing any storytelling is great characters. Larry Cohen is a great character. Luckily, he was surrounded by other great characters. That all contributes to getting through the project. This kind of work is too damn hard not to put all your energy and your passion into it. I never stopped caring about what I was doing with this movie. Great movies are made by somebody crafting a story, telling a story well. And I think that’s the big decision anybody has to make before they embark on any project, much less a documentary project.

Also, don’t lose sight of your original idea, and do everything you can to make that happen in a deep and personal way. Again, I got lucky with Larry. Then I continued to get lucky with all the other people that I talked to. But at the end of the day, this is a movie about a certain character, and he’s an interesting character. That’s the trick. If there’s anything that anybody extracts from anything I just said, it all starts with character. The character is the one thing in storytelling, fiction or nonfiction, that never changes.

DC: What did it take to get Larry on board?

SM: I knew someone who got me Larry’s home phone number … He said, “Come on over to my house.” So, I went to the famous house, and I said, “I’m interested in doing this project,” and he said, “Well, I’m very flattered.” And he said that if I could get it financed, and we could get started, he would help me in any way he could. He was true to his word, right from the get-go. I didn’t have to sell him on it … I’ve read a couple of the reviews where people said I didn’t bring a lot of style to the movie, and I beg to differ, because my style was to let the subject be the style of the movie. Sometimes the best thing you can do as a storyteller is not get in the way.

DC: There are so many great quotes in this movie, I was writing them down after a while. What were the most compelling Larry quotes or philosophies for you?

SM:  That little bit at the end where he’s saying you have to believe in your movie and not let anybody tell you otherwise, was a very key thing for me … You just have to believe in yourself and you have to believe in your ideas. I still believe at the end of the day, you have to believe in what you’re doing, otherwise it’s too damn hard to run a marathon.

I’ll tell you one thing that’s interesting about my experience with this. When we took the picture to Montreal for Fantasia, that was our first festival screening and I felt pretty good about the picture. Enough people that I know and trust to tell me the truth were saying how much they liked the picture and I was feeling confident–not cocky, confident–and I said, “It’ll be okay.” Then ten minutes before we were about to show the movie, the thought hit me, “What if they don’t like it?” Because it doesn’t matter what I think, it doesn’t matter what my friends say (even if I trust their judgement), the audience is going to tell you if the movie is any good. the audience is going to tell you if it’s funny. I didn’t think the movie was as funny as it is until the audience started watching it … about half an hour into the picture, Michael Moore, who was sitting in front of me, turns and he goes, “It’s wonderful, it’s wonderful”… and I’m going “Okay, maybe we’re in good shape.”  But you don’t know … the audience is arbiter of everything. It doesn’t matter what the critics think, it doesn’t matter what your friends think, the audience will tell you if a movie is good.

DC: So for filmmakers, there are so many books and courses out there and most of them are bullshit. Were there any resources that were particularly helpful in getting this project off the ground?

SM: For screenwriting, the William Goldman book, Adventures in the Screen Trade. The other book that’s great is Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies. If you want to know how to make movies, read that book … If you’re a young filmmaker and you want to be in this business, don’t think because you can take your smartphone out and make a movie that you can make a movie. You have to know something about art and about life, and technology … Sidney Lumet is one of my personal gods, I’m a big fan of his and I wish I had met him, he said that at the end of the day, remember you’re the boss. You get all the credit or you get all the blame.

DC: Any tips on how to best pitch a documentary project to producers?

SM:  I do think in general, the less you say is usually better, because if you start to explain it, they have a chance to lose their place … Documentary pitching isn’t any different from fiction pitching except you want to bait them and hook them enough for them to start asking you questions. If they’re just sitting there and politely listening, you’re dead. And if you speak too long, you’re dead. Because most people have ADD and if you’re sitting in an office, the magnetic pull of your smartphone is greater than the stranger in front of you most of the time. So, if you’re the stranger in front of that other guy or gal on the other side of that desk, you’ve got to hook them. You’ve got to say, “I want to do a movie about…” In the case of my partner Matt, all I had to say was “Larry Cohen” and we were off to the races.

DC: Steve, this is was a whole lot of fun and extremely informative.  Thank you again!

SM:  My pleasure. This was fun for me, too!

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King Cohen  is a fantastically fun documentary that tells the larger than life story of the prolific writer, directer, and producer Larry Cohen, the creative genius behind such beloved horror classics as It’s Alive, The Stuff and Q – The Winged Serpent. In addition to being a charming and humorous romp into 70’s genre Hollywood, what […]

The post Horror Business: Steve Mitchell on Directing Larry Cohen Documentary, KING COHEN appeared first on Dread Central.

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