The man really needs no introduction. Joe Dante is a Hollywood icon. A director who bridges the gap between horror and family films with great aplomb. So when I was given the chance to interview this legend I jumped at it with both hands. So here it is my ten minute interview with the charming and ever gracious Joe Dante. Join us we discuss his new film Burying The Ex, (released 19th June 2015), Mantinee, William Castle, and Rick Baker
GNOH: What was it about Alan Trezza’s original story that inspired you to make the movie?
JD: He made it previously as a short film which I never saw but he expanded it for a future investors version, that I was shown and this was quite a few years ago and I really sparked to it because I liked the characters, I liked the humour and it was very economical but it wasn’t a huge budget movie. It was going to be hard to finance although it was still hard to finance even for a low budget. We fought for a long time and lined up investors which you have to do, and all that sort of thing and sometimes it looked like it was going to happen and other times if sort of didn’t happen but we clipped along and never gave up and right around that time after World War Z came out and was an unexpectedly large hit suddenly it started to look a little bit more commercial to investors and we managed to line up some investors and made the picture in twenty days in LA of all places. Hardly anybody makes movies there anymore!
GNOH: Twenty days that must have been quite an ambitious task.
JD: 20 days was more than I had on my first movie!
JD: I’ve learned the drill over the years!
GNOH: Talking about the filming of the film, you actually used crowd funding on it. Based on the experience of that would you ever use crowd funding as a primary source for any future projects?
JD: Well I’d actually used crowd funding before for my website Trailers From Hell. I loved when I did that but it takes a lot of time and effort to do proper crowd funding and in this case the crowd funding was done very quickly because the movie was already shooting and they wanted to make sure they weren’t going to run out of money so I guess emergency crowd funding attempts which doesn’t really yield much money because you have to plan these things you can’t just wake up one day and put it on the internet saying “give us money” and some people did and we list them on the credits but it wasn’t a very substantial part of the budget and I would certainly not shy away from crowd funding but I would never do it again based on preparation.
GNOH: Do you think that the low budget gave you more freedom and more time to dmake the film you wanted to make rather than having executives breathing down your neck at every point?
JD: Well the appeal of making a low budget film is that there is not so much money riding on it and if we can make a big blockbuster film there are many, many cooks and many people looking over your shoulder because it’s a tremendous amount of money and it is such a responsibility and they want the movie to be as popular as possible and so very often people just try and cut the edges off any make it a bit more (inaudible)everyone will love it, and when you are making a low budget film you don’t really have that problem because you are in and out so fast that it’s like a boulder rolling downhill, there’s really nothing you can do except get it out of the way as you don’t have a lot of time to meddle with the process. Of course if you have the perk of having a lot of time and a lot of money but then on the other hand you gain the ability to make a movie in more of a way that you really want to.
GNOH: I’ve been lucky enough to see the film and I thought it was a brilliant film. I had a really good time watching it. For me, the best thing about the film are the performances from the four leads, especially Ashley Greene’s amazing turn as the ex-girlfriend - that really blew me away! Where did her of crazy woman persona come from? Was this a performance that required a lot of direction from you or was that just her natural acting ability?
JD: Well not she’s not naturally crazy no! She’s very sweet actually. I’m very proud of her performance because it’s a tricky item to have characters who are beautiful and lovable and as the movie goes on start to basically rot away and yet still somehow beautiful and loveable even though she’s covered with flies and to be able to pull off that kind of performance, particularly out of sequence you know, movie not shot so you have to …….. okay so she’s a little crazier than she was yesterday but she’s not as crazy as she was two days ago. You know it’s a talent and she was very consistent and knew exactly how to play it and what she wanted and what the levels were up and down and it was breeze to cut and I was very happy with her acting.
GNOH: Well it was a brilliant performance and it was my personal favourite from the film. It’s clear that the guy did end up with the right girl, did you ever consider making Ashley’s character more likeable just to sort of muddy the water a little bit and make his choice a little bit harder?
JD: Well I think she is likeable in the sense that she is gorgeous and I think oddly enough as the picture goes on, in her last scene she is actually more likeable than she was when she wasn’t a zombie. Because she is so hurt and lost doesn’t understand why he doesn’t want her and I think you really feel for her, more than you did when she was bossy and selfish but still sexy and obviously part of the appeal of this thing is that they have this great physical relationship but otherwise he’s in a position like a lot of people have found themselves in over of years which is he is in the wrong relationship but he’s afraid to break it up because he doesn’t want to hurt her feelings and I know many people who have been in the same situation , it doesn’t end quite the way this one does, but I think it is something that an audience can relate to.
GNOH: The character of Travis in the film. He’s your typical stoner slacker. Why do you think these sort of characters are so popular in films?
JD: I dunno…I just wrote the part…..I assumed that Travis was a good looking slacker and when we went to cast, those kind of characters… just weren’t that funny. Whereas Oliver Cooper is a sort of non-traditional ladies magnet that just seemed to bring a lot more humour to the part and also the idea that he was Anton Yelchin’s half brother. I mean in what universe would that be possible?! It’s added fun and I think that their scenes together are quite amazing, they play off each other very well.
GNOH: Which scene in Burying Ex was the most difficult to shoot for you?
JD: Well it’s always difficult to shoot people coming out of a grave. Because you have to dig a hole and then you’ve got to put them in there and then you’ve got to cover them up and then they’ve got to come out and if it’s night and its cold yeah it’s always difficult.
The most difficult thing oddly enough was all the scenes in the apartment because this is a borrowed set that is outstanding and it was made for some other show, or TV show or who knows what it was. We you know did a little work on it but the walls didn’t go out cos it was built on stilts so you couldn’t pick up the walls which meant you had to shoot as if you were actually in a real apartment. It was very small and very cramped and we shot half the movie there and I must say the days when I woke up in the morning and thought I need to go and shoot the apartment again were not as much fun as some of the other days.
GNOH: Like a lot of your films it borders that fine line between a children’s film and an adult film. How do you find the balance between those two types of films that you actually want to film?
JD: I guess there’s a childlike quality to a lot of films that I have done and in this film I guess this comes from the character of Max who is somewhat childlike but it’s not nerddom but as far as the demarcation between adult and child the producers were hoping to get a, what is called, a “PG13”, here in the States so as a result there is no nudity in the picture. However when we took it to the rating board they gave it an “R” and said that there was no way for us to recut it to get a PG13 which I was happy to hear but when we said “look there’s really not that much violence and there is no nudity” they said “yes but all they do is talk about sex and the only way you will get a different rating on this picture is to reshoot part of it” and these were the sort of producers just coming in under the wire with a budget and that didn’t make them happy to think they had to put more money in to the movie so that’s the way it came out.
GNOH: How happy are you with the final product?
JD: I like it. I think it’s a cute movie and I think it rides on the cast. I think the cast are so much fun and charismatic that the movie is a lot fun to watch. I’ve seen it several times with an audience and it plays much better in a theatre, obviously, than it does on TV or on computer because it’s comedy and you know comedies are a big show people do laugh so it’s sort of discouraging that movies are just general budget ranking and do not play theatres. I mean here in America I can theatres but it’s a lost art to video on demand and it’s fine, it’s entertaining, I like the movie but it’s not as much fun as seeing it with an audience.
GNOH: I know time is short but if it is okay with you could we maybe do some questions about your previous film career if that’s alright with you?
JD: Yes sure.
GNOH: I’d like to skip the obvious films and talk about one of my personal favourites of yours, Matinee. I get the feeling that this was a very personal film. Was that a film that you were strongly emotionally attached to?
JD: Oh it was because it’s about an incident in my life, the Cuban missile crisis I was the same age as the kid in the movie and I had a little brother the same age and I was a big movie buff just like him and in his bedroom, all of his posters and drawings, that’s all my stuff. My old monster magazines, my drawings …… so it became very personal at that point , what I didn’t have unfortunately was a horrible new film maker coming to my town. That would have been the icing on the cake but all the stuff in the movie about that period was really very accurate and really well researched.
GNOH: Did you ever get to meet William Castle?
JD: No I never did, alas and if you followed his career, once he became the horror king, which followed a long period of him being a journeyman director in all sorts of different genre movies. Once he launched into that horror line, he entered his own persona just like Hitchcock did and so he would be in the trailers and he would personify the movie and he had a column “Famous Monsters in Film Land” which was so written down to children that it was actually condescending. Nonetheless he was a showman and his best movie was of course the one he could direct Rosemarys baby but nonetheless he created a body of work and I know his daughter quite well and I think she felt that toward the end of his life he felt he hadn’t been appreciated or hadn’t done as much as he wanted to do but I think that looking back he would be impressed that his (inaudible)
GNOH: I believe Rick Baker worked on the film. How do you feel about his retirement?
JD: Well you know Rick is retiring for reasons that people retire from this business which is that when they don’t leave you alone and you can’t do the work in the way that you want, it stops being fun and he had some bad experiences on some wasted movies in which you are constantly telling him that CGI is better than actual make up and prosthetics and you just put the writing on the wall and said you know I’m not going to want to do this forever and it wasn’t as much fun as it was because people I am working for don’t appreciate what I am doing as much as the people I used to work for so I just think enough is enough.
GNOH: Yes it’s certainly a great loss and I think those people that think that CGI is better than real special effects, don't know what they are talking about.
JD: Unfortunately they are more in demand and there are just going to be more weightless monsters.
GNOH: I know exactly what you mean…..the new Jurassic Park film just doesn’t feel right does it?
JD: No I have to say I have seen the trailers and it just seems like a big “So What” to me.
GNOH: Do you ever keep in contact with Allan Arkush, the co-director on Hollywood Boulevard?
JD: We are friends. Every Thanksgiving we get together. More often he’s one of the commentators on Trailers from Hell and he and I worked on an episode of a series called Salem, a witch TV series, which is actually pretty good and we both did an episode of the Witches of Easttown… which is another witch show. So he is very active in television and does a lot of pilots and I see him very frequent
GNOH: Did you pick the Screwfly Solution to adapt for Masters of Horror because you were a fan of James Tiptree’s writing?
JD: Yes and when I was working for Roger Corman in the 70’s I had wanted to make that into a movie but we couldn’t get the rights and then having made it from Masters of Horror and realising how incredibly depressing it is I was really happy that I didn’t make it into a feature film because I don’t think many people would have been able to stay until the end of the picture. It’s the grimmest thing I’ve ever done as there is no jokes there and I don’t think I have ever done anything that’s had no humour in it before this but you know it’s not a really funny flick?
GNOH: Talking of Roger Corman what do you consider to be the finest trailer that you worked on for the Roger Corman films?
JD: I liked the trailer for Amarcord which was the phony movie that he distributed because Fellini said it was better than the Italian trailer which I thought was a nice thing to say but my favourite trailer that I did for him might have been Starcrash which is the last one that I did which is like a music video, John Barry’s music and a bunch of shots from the movie with every special effect shot, practically that’s in the movie is in this trailer.
GNOH: On your Trailers from Hell trailer search page there are several dozen trailers that you would like to get your hands on. What’s your “holy grail” of missing trailers?
JD: Out of the films I would think that there would be a trailer for Bride of Frankenstein but the only one that exists is like a minute long and it’s a cut down for PG? and all the different PG movies, they always have good trailers and they are almost always reissue trailers because when a picture was reissued they would do a new trailer, usually shorter and then they would draw up the old one and so the reissue trailer would take the place of the trailer so if you go back into the archives to look for old movies if it’s been reissued is that the trailer that you find. The King Kong trailer which is quite short is the reissue trailer because they destroyed the original trailers so to find the original trailer is really a difficult thing but I find that oddly movies from the 60s had been very difficult to source. I had been trying to find a trailer for Willow? Which is a Robert Rothman picture with Warren Beattie that came out in 1965 and I have been unable to locate any kind of trailer for it and theres a whole list of stuff there is not a lot of archival work done on trailers.
GNOH: Would you ever consider making Jaws 3, People 0,if National Lampoon wanted to revive the idea?
JD: No I think it’s too dated now. It’s really such a product of it’s time and I don’t think it would fly tonight.
GNOH: Joe it has been absolutely amazing talking to you. I was told I would have 10 minutes but I think we have already overrun that by about 10 minutes so do you have any final words for the readers of my website before we say goodbye?
JD: Go to the movies. Go to a movie theatre!
Burying The Ex is released 19 June 2015 click here to purchase a copy