05th Jul2018

EXCLUSIVE Interview: Joe Dante on Trailers From Hell, directing for TV and more..!

by Matthew Turner

We caught up with legendary director Joe Dante at the Edinburgh Film Festival for a chat about Trailers From Hell, directing for TV and his least favourite horror clichés.


Can we talk a little about Trailers From Hell? The love for that project is overwhelming, the critical love in particular…

Well, it took a long time for anybody to even know it was there…

So I’m assuming that’s been very rewarding, personally?

Well, it’s rewarding personally, certainly not rewarding financially but it was a palliative to me, it’s trying to make up for the fact that in my generation, knowledge of old movies was very common, because it was in our lives, it was everywhere, it was part of the culture, plus every time you turned on the TV there was an old movie playing, because it was filler and now the filler is reality shows and infomercials and stuff. In fact on my TV this morning it was teleshopping and then every time I click it’s just teleshopping, teleshopping, teleshopping, and then there’s this Jerry Springer imitation show that I watched today, which was horrifying. But so many of today’s people, particularly young people, have never had a chance to be exposed to a lot of movies from certain eras, and this was a way to contemporise old movies, by having contemporary filmmakers be the draw and be, ‘oh, I knew who that guy is and he’s only my age’. And then say look, this is a movie I really like and for the duration of the trailer, for you short attention span people, I will tell you about this picture and then if you find it interesting, you can go out and see it. And so we’ve got two thousand trailers on there now, with over fifty commentators, some of them quite famous, and the reward for me is when somebody comes and says, you know, ‘I had never heard of this director before until I saw this little three minute clip and this movie looked really good and I went out and got it and I really like it and now I want to see more movies by this director or this actor or this whatever’, and it’s sort of an attempt to try to curate for people who basically are hit with a flood of titles that are available – here’s Netflix, here’s what’s on this week and it’s just a bunch of titles and it’s like ‘what are these? I don’t know anything about ’em!’ Well, you can go to my site and with two thousand movies there, there’s got to be some good ones, and you can learn something about them, it’s a little mini film school. But mostly it’s to get you excited about seeing movies and then talking about them to your friends, because when I was in college, the fun of going to the movies was dissecting them afterwards. Today, I don’t think anybody bothers, I mean once the credits come on, they get up and leave and they talk about something else or they go play video games or all the other myriad things that are available that weren’t available when I was a kid to take your mind off.

Are there any particular directors that haven’t been involved yet that you’d like to get involved?

Well, yeah I’ve asked a number of people who are just usually too busy. I’ve been after Quentin for like eight years and he always says he’ll do it and then he doesn’t show up.

I very much enjoyed your Legends of Tomorrow episode, Night of the Hawk…

My one Legends of Tomorrow episode – they didn’t ask me back!

Well, shame on them for that, but first of all, did the ‘Hall H for the Criminally Insane’ joke come from you, given that you just mentioned Comic-Con?

I think Hall H might have been in the script, I can’t remember, but those guys are pretty hip.

And secondly how did you get involved and did you enjoy it?

How did I get involved? Who asked me to do it? Was it somebody that I knew was on the show? It must be…no, that was Salem. How did I get that? I’m trying to remember who I knew. Because usually I get these shows because somebody worked with somebody. I think they actually just called me because it was a fifties episode and I guess one of the producers said let’s get him. And I came out and did it and let me tell you, trying to find a place in Vancouver that still looks like the 1950s is virtually impossible. You have to hide things with buses, you have to frame things so that you can’t see the parking meters and the TV antennas and satellite dishes, I mean it was really an effort. I liked doing the show though.

You’ve done Hawaii 5-0 and Salem and MacGyver and stuff like that. How have you found the experience of TV directing?

Well, when you do an anthology episode, it’s yours, it’s like doing a little movie. When you do a series episode, you’re pretty much strapped into whatever format they have. You can direct the guest stars, you certainly can’t direct the stars, because they’ve been doing this for a long time. There’s a lot of downsides, but the good the good thing about TV is it’s over quickly and they pay you right away. The downside is that most TV shows now are run by writers and the scripts are always too long, sometimes five, ten pages too long. So that means that you’re spending a good part of an extra day shooting stuff that isn’t going to be in the show because you’ve got to cut it down – if it’s a forty minute show and you’ve got a fifty-five page script, one whole day’s worth of shooting has gone out the window. So then you have to try to say to yourself, okay, I need to stint on something, because I know that that’s not going to be in the show, but I don’t know what’s not going to be in the show, so I guess I have to just make it all as good as possible, which is difficult to do under those circumstances. For instance, Hawaii 5-0 is a by rote show, whereas Salem was a more interesting show because it was it was offbeat and it’s period. And also, Witches of the East End, I worked on, which is a similar situation and they were telling long form stories that probably weren’t going to last very long. So I did feel more invested in those but when you do your own episode of something like Masters of Horror or something like that, it’s really actually more rewarding because you’re in at the beginning, you’re in at the end and you can really have a say in how it turns out. And with TV you basically turn in your cut and then you go away and you don’t see what they did with it until you see it on TV and you go, ‘oh, they cut THAT?’

Having said that, are there any other shows you’d be keen to direct?

Black Mirror. I would love to do Black Mirror. If you know anybody on Black Mirror, tell them I’ll do it!

It seems like you’d be a perfect fit for Stranger Things, for example.

I think Stranger Things maybe too incestuous for me to do [laughs].

Have you enjoyed that?

I haven’t watched very much of it, because I felt like I’d been there already. I mean, I know what it is and I’m aware of it.

Is there a dream project you’ve always wanted to get off the ground if money was no object?

Yes, and many of them were stymied by the fact that I don’t own the material. There was one about Chuck Jones directing at Warner Brothers called Termite Terrace, about the guys who were making the cartoons in the thirties, and it was a wonderful script and Spielberg even said, ‘boy, you should do this, this is really good’. But unfortunately Warner Brothers didn’t want to make a period picture with their cartoon characters, they wanted to make Space Jam and there’s no way I can take that script to Universal and say let’s make it about Woody Woodpecker and Walter Lantz, because it’s not the story. So I learned my lesson: never develop material with characters you don’t own.

Are there any horror clichés that you either like or particularly hate? I have a love-hate relationship with the opening-the-fridge shot…

You can do that with the medicine cabinet too, which I think Polanski does in Repulsion.

The medicine cabinet shot is with the mirror though – the fridge just obscures the space when the door opens…

The other cheat is the girl’s running towards you and a monster jumps out from the side, a monster that she would see. I mean, you can get away with that stuff but it’s really pretty tacky. The girl who falls down while being chased is – I think, as the years go by, that becomes more and more cobwebby. I think the masked killer, or just something obscuring his face, whether it’s a bucket or whatever it is, and is a killing machine, he basically just has a drill or an axe or whatever it is and manages to find ways to push people into corners and stab them and everything – I have so little patience for that now. I mean, it’s just so pointless to me to just put people in jeopardy and then kill them, which is pretty much the plot of a number of these pictures. It just doesn’t interest me. I mean, at least I can understand the Final Destination movies, which is that kids are going there to see how people die. Here’s a bunch of different people, they’re going to get killed in different ways. Buses are going to hit them, they’re going to fall off rollercoasters, that’s what they paid to see, okay, I get that, but the mad killer rapist movies just never really appealed to me. I think the only one that ever really worked was Halloween and the rest of them were just pale imitations.

What are your lasting memories of making Gremlins?

My lasting memories? That it was worth the effort, but boy, what a lot of effort [laughs].

On a similar note, which of your films are most surprised by, in terms of people’s reactions to it?

The ‘Burbs. I can’t imagine. It’s actually somewhat more popular than Gremlins right now and it was greeted with the most vicious reviews that I’ve ever had. I mean, Mein Kampf got better reviews.


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