INTERVIEW TO BRIAN YUZNA

The Greatest indipendent "Horror Master" made in USA

 

   

Looking back, how would you consider your five year spanish experience with FILMAX's FANTASTIC FACTORY? Any personal regrets or philosophical consideration?

In fact I was working on the Fantastic Factory project in Barcelona for 7 years (not five). It has been one of the best projects of my career because I was able to do something that I had been trying to do for quite a few years which was to create a label, or a line of films. Since Filmax was a local video company with no real production when I arrived, I had the added opportunity to help create a production system and help a company become a mini-studio. This has given me an invaluable experience. Not only was I able to try out my own ideas and see if they would work, but I was able to see from the inside the dynamics of a financing/production/distribution entity and experience the conflicts, support and politics that this entails. Of course there have been great frustrations to go along with the great satisfactions. There are wonderful memories and bitter aftertastes.

One is that general corporate accounting is very different from how an accountant works within a film prouction. But some companies have what we refer to in America as a ‘mom and pop’ business mentality.I believe that many of the problems I encountered can be traced to disagreements from the very beginning related to the business plan I submitted at the end of 1998. In that plan was a structure for producing 3-4 low budget genre movies in English per year using a single production team (not for the shooting, mind you, but for the mounting and finishing of the productions). Then the idea was to develop one larger more ambitious film every year or two in order to aim higher. (This was how DARKNESS fits in.) The business plan provided for a department to be supervised by me that included a business affairs lawyer, a development department, an accountant and a producer for each film. Also there needed to be an international sales outlet. All of these things were put in place (although unfortunately, these entities did not report directly to me) except for the accountant and producer per picture. This is due to two issues, one which is common to many European production companies and another which is specific to some but which is generally limited to smaller companies. The accounting for the films was all controlled by the corporation’s accounting department. This is a problem for two reasons.

This means that in small businesses in which a husband and wife (‘mom and pop’) are the owners there is a control of costs based on one person signing all the checks and controlling all the costs. This works fine in small businesses, but in a larger one it creates a bottle-neck and inefficiency. In a film it takes the control of costs away from the producer. Only in my situation in Spain did I ever produce a film in which I wasn’t one of the signatories on the checks for production. Without signing the checks (or at least having my approval necessary for any check to be written) it is not possible to create an efficient and creatively flexible production. This imbalance led to the various departments in the productions progressively going ‘over my head’ when a decision didn’t suit them. This is related to the issue of having an individual producer on each production. In the case of the producer it has more to do with the creative rather than the money side (although in a film production creative and financial are inextricably combined).
 

What is your opinion about the differences between European methods of production and American ways?

In Europe there is an understanding of the producer as the one who finances the film. This concept of a producer is valid when very few films are being made and the producer actually finances as well as produces ‘day-to-day’. It was my reputation and connections in the international markets that made the presales possible for the films in the Fantastic Factory (expecially the first ones) so in a sense I was very much key to the financing - but, I was not directly responsible for putting up the money. On RE-ANIMATOR, my first film, I financed the film, supervised every step of the process from script development to casting to post, as well as making the distributions agreements. In a production line situation at a studio or like the Fantastic Factory this is impossible. So in Hollywood this has led to the position of ‘Executive Producer’ which often identifies the producer involved with the financing and dealmaking with the distributor. Then the ‘Producer’ becomes the one responsible for the production in general especially in the creative aspect. The ‘Line Producer’ is the producer responsible directly for the production management aspects of the production.

In Spain (and much of rest of Europe) there is a lack of an extensive commercial film industry, and so the title of ‘Producer’ has normally meant what we have referred to above as the ‘Executive Producer’. And to confuse matters further, in Spain the title ‘Productor Ejecutivo’ refers to a combination of what we have mentioned above as ‘Producer’ and ‘Line Producer’. In Spain the ‘line producer’ is normally the ‘head of production’ or ‘production manager’. However, when you are developing a line of productions you must develop a more sophisticated system. What we run up against is the inclination of company chiefs to take the credit of ‘producer’ even if they have little to do with the actual creative or day-to-day aspects of production. This lust for credit can sometimes lead to absurd and embarrassing credit blocks which list the same individual as ‘producer’ as well as ‘executive producer’.

The problem of credit was present at the very beginning of the Fantastic Factory and finally led to the unravelling of the scheme. It is also why it was not possible for me to get the company to approve the hiring of individual producers for each production. Sometimes there is an idea that the director can make the movie by himself and that a producer is only necessary to provide the logistical assistance and financing. This is an unfortunate byproduct of the ‘auteur’ theory, the idea that a film is a work of art concieved and realized from the fevered brow of one talented individual. It may be true in some special cases, and perhaps especially true in ‘art’ films, but in the world of commercial cinema this can be an attitude that works against the successful production of audience pleasing entertainment. Normally a film is a collaborative effort which includes the talents and criteria of many artists and technicians, and in my experience there are usually a handful of key creative collaborators. Certainly the director is almost always central. Other key collabroators can include, to varying degrees, the writer, director of photography, editor, actor or production designer. And most often the producer. But this necessitates a creative producer who has the power of the purse as well as the time to focus clearly on the project at hand in order to shape it and better it along the lines laid out by the distributor, writer and director.

 

Could you elaborate a bit on about HALCYON PICTURES? Is it a new company that you founded or co-founded, a pre-existing company you joined forces with or what?

Halcyon International Pictures is a new sales and production company created by myself, Ted Chalmers and Ray Haboush in February of 2006. The idea for me was to join with Ted and Ray, who both have extensive foreign sales experience in a company that would sell pictures internationally as well as produce our own films. My thought was that by being involved with them I could have a closer contact with the sales and thus the financing of films. Also, by being involved in sales I could get involved in film projects in which I didn’t participate as director or producer. By handling foreign sales I could justify my helping on projects like the Finnish poltregeist film EverDark.

 

The new Brian Yuzna "scream slate" is really exciting, ambitious and fan-friendly: SPRAWL, EVERDARK and a new RE-ANIMATOR trilogy. In particular, I'm quite excited and -ahem- fuckin' nuts about EVERDARK because I know that you've always wished to finally direct a ghost-story. What can you say or reveal about SPRAWL and EVERDARK? Can you give me a world-exclusive scoop, pretty please?

EverDark is to be directed by the writers, Tommi Lepola and Tero Molin of Tampere, Finnland. It is based on a true poltregeist event in Tampere in the 1880’s. They have conceived of the story as a kind of Exocist/Poltregeist film and the snowy winter setting is very atmospheric. I have really enjoyed working with them on the project look forward to the production. You are right, I have always wnated to direct a ghost story (perhaps you remember EXHIBITION, the Amsterdam Ghost Story I was developing before I moved to Spain?), but in the case of EVERDARK I will not be directing.
SPRAWL is a ‘creature feature’. A story of a rabid bear attacking a suburban neighborhood that has encroached upon the bear’s habitat. And the Re-Animator Trilogy is fairly self explanatory. Three more Re-Animator films with which to resolve the saga of Herbert West. The proposed first one, HOUSE OF RE-ANIMATOR would have West being called to the White House to re-animate the deceased Vice-President. Of course, by the time the dust settles, even the President has been re-animated and West is the power behind the throne. The second would be RE-ANIMATOR UNBOUND! West would have his own feifdom amidst a war zone. There his experiments take him directly in conflict with religion and face to face with the Old Ones of Lovecraftian lore. The final episode would be RE-ANIMATOR BEGINS. After having his mind pretty much erased by the trauma of Unbound! West is brought back to his senses (during which we get to see some of West’s boyhood) by a mysterious doctor who turns out to be his mentor Dr. Gruber’s niece. Back at the medical school in Switzerland (where it all began in the original RE-ANIMATOR) West recreates his early experiments, but makes the fatal mistake of breaking one of his basic tenants when he finds himself having feelings for....a woman.

 

The high-concept behind HOUSE OF RE-ANIMATOR is freakin' genius, outrageous and really funny: the world biggest nation is run by a Bush-like re-animated corpse...Correct me if I am wrong but this time you and Stuart Gordon got a bigger budget, a prominent mainstream actor (William H. Macy) and the long-awaited return of Barbara Crampton in the First Lady role. Stunning...

Well, we are trying to get a bigger budget. Yes, Macy is interested in the role of the President and we would like to bring back Dan Cain to confront West for ruining his life. However, because the picture would be a bigger budget it has presented difficulties in the financing.
I have doubts about the House of Re-Animator being too specifically a satire on the Bush administration. Basing an horror movie too clearly on current events can have the effect of making the movie out-of-date as soon as it is finished. To my mind the idea of West in the White House has a kind of timeless quality that deals with governmental power, hubris and corruption in any country at any time - especially this one. I like the idea of the government funding West’s experiments for their own political and ideological goals.

Normally I maintain that politics is a more natural subject for Science Fiction than Horror. The best Horror deals with psychology, religion, death, flesh. But a horror film reflects the times in which it is made, including the political climate. I think that there is real horror in the White House today, and that if we can keep our sense of humor it can be the basis of a successful horror film. It would be great fun to see West running the government.
 

You almost debuted in the comic-book industry with the horror one-shot METAMORPHOSIS. Is there a release date yet? From the solicitation it seems to be a project in the beautiful vein of Society and the Dentist that includes all your personal obsessions, such as high-class society's bad habits and betrayals. Am I correct? What can you say about the plot? Originally Metamorphosis has been conceived like a movie, is there still a possibility that you are going to shoot it?

I have gotten involved in the comics world as a way to develope movie projects. And that was the idea behind METAMORPHOSIS. Dario Gulli and I have developed the story of a sports hero, a baseball player, who has been taking designer drugs to boost his performance. But, naturally, the drugs are not only making him a champion - they are having some very unnatural side-effects.... The great fun of the comics business is that it moves very fast and the cost of realizing a story is miniscule compared to film. Of course, there is commesurately very little money to be made on an ordinary comic book. But the absolute fun of inventing the stories and seeing them being realized is fantastic. And I think that it can be an efficient way to develope movie stories. So, I have always imagined METAMORPHOSIS as a film.The project began when Dario Gulli was art director of

Narwain Comics.We also worked together on a horror anthology which reached only three issues called HORRORAMA. Unfortunately, it became complicated to work with Narwain, and Dario has since moved on to enter into a partnership with Media Mobile which is based in Terni, Italy. So, METAMORPHOSIS has been taken with him there. I wrote a movie screenplay based on the METAMORPHOSIS comic screenplay and found that it was only half the length of a feature film. Now with Media Mobile we are developing HORRORAMA into an animated series into which METAMORPHOSIS might fit.
Other comic projects that I am working on include a title based on Chinese ghost stories that is being written by Rob Aft, and an adaptation of RE-ANIMATOR that is being written by Barry Keating. The first Re-Animator movie will be adapted into three comic book issues and follow quite closely the style and the story of the original movie. Then the idea is to continue onto the second movie, but first fill in the story between the first two movies. Finally I would like to tell the story of West through to the end and include the other three movies that I would like to make: HOUSE OF RE-ANIMATOR, RE-ANIMATOR UNBOUND! and RE-ANIMATOR BEGINS (all are just working titles, of course).
 

Back in the '90 I remember that you were developing a live-action version of GO NAGAI'S DEVILMAN, the all-time best horror japanese manga ever. I think that this one was, possibly, the perfect material for your visionary directing skills: Why the movie fell apart? Can you speak extensively about it? Was there a screenplay about Devilman? If yes, who penned it? I know that SCREAMING MAD GEORGE made storyboards about it...

DEVILMAN was a project that I developed with Screaming Mad George, Aki Komine and Taka Ichise. After THE GUYVER the Japanese financiers were interested in moving forward on DEVILMAN. We had a script written which followed quite closely the first Devilman Manga and animes. As we got closer to production Aki Komine and I had somewhat of a falling out and it seemed to me to be prudent to not push forward on the project. It was a very exciting project, difficult to adapt to film in those pre-digital fx days, and very dark and amoral. I would have to review my extensive files about this project in order to remember the details of the development. I know that we did have at least one completed screenplay.

 

And what happened to the PATLABOR live-action movie to be directed by Christophe Gans with 3D FX effects by the late Dave Allen?

PATLABOR was a project that Christophe was interested in doing directly after CRYING FREEMAN. Kazunori Ito was a writer on the Patlabor Anime and we knew him from writing one of the episodes of NECRONOMICON. Unfortunately the budget necessary to realize a live action version of PATLABOR was unattainable. Instead Christophe developed NEMO with Samuel Hadida.

   

Today, hottest and crazy Hollywood trend is the american remake of Japanese horror movies and manga (The Ring, The Grudge, Battle Angel Alita), but you have been the first filmmaker in the world genuinely interested in Japanese culture (Society's Wild Street was funded by japanese investors) with the production of MUTRONICS and CRYING FREEMAN. What do you think about this fashionable mainstream tendency?

I am a big fan of the Japanese mangas and animes and as you point out I was one of the first to develop Hollywood films based on that rich source material. Notice that Taka Ichise is the creator of ‘J-Horror’, the producer of the RING movies, GRUDGE movies, DARK WATER, and many many others. I met Taka when he first came to LA and we produced NECRONOMICON and CRYING FREEMAN together.

I also helped him set up the deal that resulted in BLUE TIGER, FIST OF THE NORTH STAR,AMERICAN YAKUZA etc.
SOCIETY and BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR financing come from Japan due to the involvement of Paul White, one of the founders of Wild Street Pictures. Paul lived in Tokyo at the time and Wild Street was backed by a Japanese company. Aki Komine was working at Wild Street Pictures, and when Wild Street had an acrimonious breakup, Aki approached me about making some films. He is the one who brought me the DEVILMAN project and we worked quite closely for many years. He also introduced me to Taka Ichise. Aki continues to live and work in Los Angeles.
The fashion of adapting Japanese horror films to Hollywood productions can be attributed to the high quality and originality of the films themselves. And we must not undervalue the part that Roy Lee had in convincing the Hollywood studios to remake these films. Without the international (i.e. ‘Hollywood’) remakes of these films the viewer base would have been limited to the cineastes and genre fans. Instead the J-Horror style has reached the mainstream and is regularly incorporated into the general horror film. We saw this phenomena in the 90’s with the great success of the Hong Kong action films epitomized by John Woo’s films (A BETTER TOMORROW, HARD BOILED, THE KILLER). These films lifted the level of action in film to a new level. Although the films themselves were not directly remade in Hollywood (because there was no Roy Lee to make the deals?), some directors (like John Woo, Ronny Yu) and actors (Chow Yun Fat, Jackie Chan) did make studio pictures. What we saw then was that the Hong Kong action film had its heyday and then sank beneath the weight of multitudinous imitations and lack of new ideas. The Hong Kong action film still exists as a vital part of the international film scene, it just isn’t the exciting and fashionable event it once was. This happened with the ‘spaghetti westerns’ in the 1960’s and 1970’s before them and is likely to be the fate of J-Horror today. But, I think that J-Horror will continue and reinvent itself, just as the Korean Horror and Thai Horror are rising. It is the Asian sensibility that is giving new life to the horror film and not just the sensibility of a particular Asian country.

 

I know that in your heart there's an old and very dear "dream-project": an INVISIBLE MAN remake based on "AMAZON ON THE MOON", the Ed Begley Jr. segment where he's supposed to be invisible but no-one notices any difference. Who penned the screenplay? Can you elaborate extensively about this movie? Is there any possibility that you can resurrect this project?

Actually I developed the INVISIBLE MAN for Wild Street Pictures and the project disappeared in the collapse of Wild Street. The first treatment was written by Woody Keith (one of the writers of SOCIETY) and was quite faithful in spirit to the original H.G. Wells novel. It wasn’t like the AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON

episode (although I am a major fan of it). When Woody left the project I worked with Wild Street’s development person who brought in a number of very smart screenwriters to pitch. I had a quite developed idea of invisibility that I wanted to base the script on and many of the screenwriters were not interested in that. Finally I worked with George R.R. Martin who completed a first draft script. It was not at all like the Wells story. It took place in the future and dealt with biomechanical limbs, global warming and virtual immortality - and the invisibility was based on a pet idea of my own. George Martin is a fantastic sci fi writer and it was a thrill to work with him on the story. I am a big fan of his work and would like to adapt some of his stories to film.
I still carry with me the core of an Invisible Man film idea that I hope to be able to make some day.
   

I'm aware that your deepest desire is to make a big-budget movie about SIMULACRA stuff...Why are you fascinated with such a visual concept?

Before I got into film I was very interested in visual arts. I painted etc. And I was fascinated by optical illusions. I guess that goes along with my interest in fantasy and the fantastic. It was amazing how an image could change while you were looking at it. This led me to imagine making a painting in which your eye would be drawn from one part of the canvas to the next during which time the painting would become something else, it would be kinetic in that way. When I began to work with Screaming Mad George we obsessed on simulacra which is a similar idea. Simulacra is when something appears to be something it is not. This can be a psychological projection as when we see shapes in the clouds and faces in rocks, etc. And it can be a natural phenomena like when a moth or small fish have markings which make them appear to be bigger so that predators will avoid them. What fascinated me was the psychological content simulacra could impart to a film. The problem is that it is incredibly complicated to make moving simulacra for the movies. I wanted to do it in SOCIETY, but just didn’t have time.

When George and I worked on INTIATIATION (SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT 4) we designed lots of simulacra and even shot some. The story even tried to be multi layered and psychologically evocative, kind of stream-of-consciousness. Unfortunately the film did not work out very well due to my inexperience and over-reaching. But I am very happy with the simulacra part of the film. Some of it was inspired by the great scene in Robert Wise’s THE HAUNTING when the entity is pounding on the door and we imagine faces in the decorative trim of the door jam. In may of my films I try to work this method in. For example, in PROGENY you can see simulacra in the scene where the heroine sees the image of an alien in the window which then becomes the image of two cops. The intent was to create a cinematic technique that reflected my interpretation of the ambiguous reality inherent in the alien abduction theme. Once again it was less than successful, although I feel like the film works on its own terms. So, yes, I would love to make a movie in which SIMULACRA was the theme and technique.
   

Originally instead of SOCIETY, your feature debut was supposed to be a movie about a woman discovering all men were aliens: am I totally wrong? Are there any past projects that you couldn't/can't get off the ground? Which ones?

I must correct you regarding THE MEN. The idea of a woman discovering that all men are aliens was Dan O’Bannon’s. I worked with him to develop this into a feature film for him to direct.
There are quite a few projects that I would like to get off the ground. Many just wait around for the right time, such as DAGON which was a script that I contracted Dennis Paoli to write in 1985. After many attempts to produce it (first in Wales, then in Maine) I didn’t find a home for it until I developed the Fantastic Factory and we made it in Spain. This was almost twenty years later. So you can see how long a fim project can gestate.
The unmade film projects that I have are too numerous to list and many I don’t even remember until I look into my files.

 

You have been attached in the past to many many movies: WEIRD MUSEUM penned by Rick Fry, ZEN INTERGALACTIC NINJA, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 4: HELL MARY, ITALO CALVINO'S THE DISTANCE OF THE MOON, japanese manga's BAOH, THE DENTIST 3...Is there any update or they are all dead in the waters?

Most of the projects that you mention are fairly dead in the water. WEIRD MUSEUM was one of my favorites. Rick Fry (cowriter of SOCIETY) has a wonderfully weird sensibility, but I couldn’t find a way to finance that movie. ZEN reached to the location scouting phase in Montreal, and we completed many storyboards and extensive production design. As a director for hire I wasn’t really privy as to the details as to why the project was not continued. HELL MARY was just my idea for a sequel to RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3. No one ever asked me for it, I just wrote it up because it interested me. Since it doesn’t necessarily have to be a direct sequel, the project could still be made. However, at present the zombie genre is a bit oversaturated. THE DISTANCE OF THE MOON is a project that I still think about often. I love the short story and upon first reading it appears to be almost un-filmable. But I have thought of a way to adapt it. I think that you have confused BAOH with KISEIJU. KISEIJU is a manga that I was obsessed with making into a film for quite a while. The problem was with acquiring the rights. But the idea very much appealed to me and the plasticity of the body parts infected by the alien parasite was a visual that inspired me. I would still love to adapt that manga. I was contacted by the producers of THE DENTIST regarding part 3 about five years ago. However, I was in the midst of the Fantastic Factory and unable to get involved. I would like to do it, however, just for the opportunity to work with Corbin Bernsen in the role of the Dentist again. At one point I thought that Corbin was interested in buying the sequel rights to produce it himself.

 

In spite of low-buget and very short production schedules, your movies have imaginative angles, visual elegance and a wonderful/perfect control of the "mise-en-scene": maybe because you're coming from apainting and artistic background?

Thank you for the kind analysis of my film work. In most of my movies I have been very enthusiastic and sometimes that enthusiasm and energy has been able to overcome conceptual and production problems. I don’t think that I am a ‘natural’ storyteller and I think that my films suffer sometimes from a kind of narrative imbalance or lack of narrative resolution. My interest in visual arts and conceptual ideas has sought to make up for any possible storytelling deficiencies, and perhaps that is what you are referring to. Often I think that I chase an idea visually (often blindly, but with great enthusiasm) and hope that in the end the film embodies that process and achieves a simple satisfying result. Generally this simple, satisfying result has not been suficiently achieved, but to those who have a favorable response to my films the visual or ideational energy makes up for it. When I have tried to focus more on the traditional elements of filmmaking, I seem to have less interesting results.

 

SOCIETY has been one of the most influential, unique, radical and outrageous horror of the last 15 years to say the least: the sublime nail in the coffin of 80's horrors and a near-perfectly sharped satire of reaganian edonism: do you agree? Have you ever considered a sequel?

Strangely enough, it took many years before I realized that there was any real appreciation for SOCIETY. It seemed like a hopeless disappointment for the audiences I showed it to and the reviews were for the most part desparaging. I loved it of course. But the American audiences in particular responded to the weakeness of the filmmaking and especially the ambiguity of many of the elements. With SOCIETY I was chasing a kind of free-associative visual development. From the beginning I was fascinated by the script by Woody Keith and Rick Fry. The paranoia in it struck a chord with me because I had just spent many months imagining the paranoia of THE MEN. When that project fell through, I was completely receptive to the paranoia of Keith/Fry. However, as you know, I was not satisfied with the resolution of the original script. I wanted something fanstastic, so I imagined the images of the ‘shunting’. Along with Woody and Rick we developed the basic script along these lines. I am a believer in inspiration. I accept the ideas that inspire me or a collaborater. So I tried to interpret the paranoic world that Woody and Rick had created. This took me into a political realm because the basis of the paranoia was the unease of someone born into privilege. As a former hippie the idea of politics as being not only important but entertaining and inextricably linked to art was a part of my mentality. So I took the idea of class exploitation and gave it visual and physical shape. This was for the pure fun of it. Also implicit in the original material was the desire and fear of incest. So I also worked with the writers to bring this theme closer to the surface of the story. The working method for me was to take whatever crazy idea one of us would come up with and then try to make some narrative sense out of it. The other main collaborator was Screaming Mad George. With him I share a fascination with surrealism. He also had inspiring images in his art. Although his best ideas normally did not fit into the logic of the narrative, I wouldn’t discard them. Instead I would try to find the aesthetic logic implicite in them. This is why some of SOCIETY has a weird exhillarating thrill and other parts seem like dead ends, unresolved ideas. As a huge horror fan, I had to admit to myself that SOCIETY did not fit clearly into the genre. Although this was a little worrisome (gotta think of the buyers), for my taste it had everything that was fun in a movie. It gave me a thrill to watch it so I thought it must be okay. And it was one of the best times of my life to shoot that film.
Yes I have thought about a sequel. Lately it occured to me that it might be intersting to have a main character who is not one of Society, but who wants to join, no matter what the cost.

 
Emiliano Carpineta
 
(December 2006)

 

Interview to Mr. Brian Yuzna - copyright Emiliano Carpineta ©/Occhi sul Cinema

(Partial or total reproduction is strictly prohibited)