Born to be Bad (Taste)
Wellington, Sept 15, Reuter - A new blood-and-guts horror movie, Braindead, scorns New Zealand tradition of art films by making even the Texas Chainsaw Massacre seem like a fairytale. "If you thought the '50s was all bobby-sox and innocence you didn't live next door to Lionel," the film's publicity material proclaims. Set in Wellington, Braindead is about 25-year-old Lionel Cosgrove, whose life goes off the rails after his bossy mum is bitten by a rare carniverous rat monkey at the zoo. But far from clutching the sides of their seats in terror, the audience at the premier were rolling in the aisles with laughter. Director Peter Jackson insists the film is a comedy.
Very few low-budget film directors have ever make it to the rarefied atmosphere of a Reuters news bulletin, a medium more accustomed to reporting foreign exchange news and political comment. With the appearance of the above story, Peter Jackson can safely be said to have "made it", beyond the world of fandom.
His debut, Bad Taste was ensured of a place in the genre hall of fame as soon as it was seized by Customs immediately on it's arrival in Britain, and his latest movie, Brain Dead, seems set to acquire even greater fame/notoriety. Yet Jackson's eye for combining splatter with humour leaves the viewer helpless with laughter most of the time, rather than throwing up. TC had a chat with this unique film-maker in Nuremberg, at the public premiere of Brain Dead:
TC - The speed of the film was incredible...
PJ - Yeah, I don't like boring movies! When I see Bad Taste now, I don't like all that stuff at the beginning when they're talking and I think , "God, get on with it - why did I put all this stuff in, why don't we get on with the action?". On Brain Dead I was determined not to have too much dialogue, just enough to set the stories and the characters, and then just let it rip.
TC - What's the aim behind the high level of comedy in your films?
PJ - I have a fairly large sense of humour, one of my idols is Buster Keaton, and you look at some stuff in Brain Dead, it's Buster Keaton with blood. I don't take stuff seriously - I saw Hellraiser 3 the other day at Cannes; it's OK, it's a good film, I didn't hate it or anything - I thought it was quite good - but it was all just so serious. Some guy walking round with pins sticking out of his face, I just can't sit there and think "This is really scary". If I made a Hellraiser film, I'd like Pinhead to be whacked against a wall and have all the pins flattened into his face. I immediately start thinking of funny things and gags - that's just the way I am, I doubt I could ever control myself sufficiently to make a serious horror film.
TC - How does it feel for a film fan who began as an amateur film-maker, to be a world
PJ - It's good. I'm no different from any other fans. I like going to watch movies; I'm looking forward to Evil Dead III as much as you guys. I'm just lucky I guess that I've had the opportunity to be able to make movies as well. I know that often fans make movies and some of them are very good, but I've managed to make them on 16mm and do it professionally. I guess I'm actually lucky to be living in New Zealand, because the New Zealand government are quite supportive of what I'm doing, and they've given me several million dollars to make these sorts of movies. Not many other fans around the world have got the chance to spend that sort of money!
TC - Is being a film director your dream career?
PJ - It'll be my dream career when I've got total freedom to do what I want without having to worry about the budget. At the moment I'm always worried about what I'm going to do next, and whether I'm going to be able to get the money. Brain Dead cost $3 million New Zealand dollars - that's about the limit that I can make a film for as it's almost impossible for me to get any more money there. And some of the ideas I've got are for bigger budget - I've got an idea for a $10 million movie, but at this stage I've no idea when or how I'm gonna make it. So it's a dream come true but I still don't feel as if I've got total freedom to do what I want. It's always a struggle.
TC - What were the budgets for your three movies to date?
PJ - In US dollars, Bad Taste was about 150,000, Meet the Feebles was about 450,000 and Brain Dead was 1.8 million so it's quite a leap up from the other films, but we had to use actors which cost an enormous amount of money. Puppets were much cheaper!
TC - Have you ever consider moving to the US and filming in Hollywood, or would you prefer to stay in New Zealand?
PJ - I wouldn't got to the United States unless I had a firm offer. I couldn't just go over there and say "Hey guys, here I am in town, give me some work". It would depend on what the script was - if it was one of my scripts, and I needed a lot more money to make, and the opportunity was there in Hollywood, or it was someone else's script that I really liked. I'd like to do it one day just to get the experience. To have a broad experience of film-making you've got to make a film in America, just to find out what it's all about. What I have in New Zealand, and Brain Dead is a direct result of this, is total freedom. The Film Commission never came up and told me what to do, they turned up about once just to have a look, they were there for about an hour looking around, then they went off again. They never came to the rushes, they basically give me the money, then six months later, I screen the movie for them and it's finished. They can't do anything about it and they don't try to. It's a great way to be - don't care about censorship, don't care what the investors think, don't care about what anyone thinks, I just do my own stuff. If I was in Los Angeles, as you will be fully aware, it would be a very different story. I'd be having to make a film for somebody else, I would be employed by someone to make their movie. They would have authority over what I was doing, and I wouldn't like that situation, I'd find it very hard to deal with.
TC - Had you any problems convincing the Film Commission to give you money for your films?
PJ - The Film Commission didn't give me money for 3 years for Bad Taste, they turned me down a lot. And we tried to make Brain Dead in 1989, the Film Commission wouldn't put all the money up then, though the amount of money we were asking for was the same, ultimately, as what they did put up in 1991. No, there's no real problem, see I work on the scripts with other writers - Steven Sinclair and Fran Walsh wrote Brain Dead with me - and we just work on the scripts and make sure that they are of a certain standard. The Film Commission get given a lot of scripts to read, by filmmakers wanting money and they can only afford to finance 3 or 4 a year, so what you've got to do is make sure that your script is one of the three or four best scripts that they're going to read. It really comes down to doing the work on the script and making sure that it's good enough before you give it to them to read.
TC - Had they any problems with the gore?
PJ - They never had much experience of these films before Bad Taste. In New Zealand, over the last 10 or 12 years, there's been fifty or sixty movies made and only about three or four of them have made a profit. Bad Taste was one of them, so they thought "Hey, you put blood and gore in a movie and it can make money for us". And they get money back so they can invest it in someone else's film the next year. so it's a good thing to do. Plus they know the fan reactions round the world, I sometimes give them copies of odd magazines and articles that have been written about the film so they realise that a lot of people round the world like that type of movie. I don't think they'd be quite so keen if they were serious horror movies, like Texas Chainsaw Massacre or something, but my movies are basically comedies, they've a lot of humour in them. The two top people at the Film Commission were in Cannes and they came along to Brain Dead, and it was a really good screening, there was a lot of laughing and clapping. They're not going to see any other New Zealand movie which has that sort of reaction at all, so I think they realise that these films aren't so bad.
TC - What have been the things that turned out much more difficult, and what was easier?
PJ - I was a bit worried about working with actors in Brain Dead for the first time, because I'd never worked with professional actors, but that was easier than I thought. You've just got to basically explain to them what you want to do. Brain Dead was a much easier movie to make from my point than Meet The Feebles, which was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. That was a real nightmare, from beginning to end - it was a very, very difficult film to make in all sorts of ways. We managed to finish it and get it out and I was exhausted by the end of that, and I thought "God, that was like going through hell" so I had a bit of trepidation with Brain Dead because it's a much bigger film in many respects, with more complications. But Brain Dead was very simple, actually, in the end I found it a very easy film to make. It looks very complicated when you see it, but we planned all the effects, it was very thoroughly story-boarded, we had 12 weeks to shoot it and we basically went through on a fairly good schedule. We weren't too rushed most of the time, and it was very straightforward in terms of production. Working with puppets was a nightmare, it was really horrible, very, very difficult, working with actors is much easier.
TC - Have you had any reaction from the Hensons to Meet The Feebles?
PJ - The only thing I heard is that there was a screening in Los Angeles of Meet The Feebles, for Universal. I wasn't there, I wasn't even in the country, but Universal wanted to have a look at the film and Lisa Henson - Jim Henson's daughter, she's an executive at Universal - saw it and apparently enjoyed it. She was quite shocked when she saw Kermit nailed on a cross!
TC - Brain Dead is, I think, the goriest movie I've ever seen. Is this the direction you're going to keep going in?
PJ - I'm not going to continue making films like Brain Dead all my life, but on the other hand I don't want to have a career where I leave that kind of film behind and never go back to doing a splatter film. The next film I make will probably be one called Heavenly Creatures it's a true story about a New Zealand murder case that happened in 1954. That's something different as well, it's a psychological drama with a bit of comedy. Then after that, I don't know; one day we might do a Bad Taste 2 which I guess would have to be more gory than Brain Dead. You get into a situation where you have to top yourself every time, do better than the film before, and I don't want to spend my life making films that have more gore than the last one, there'd be no end to it. I don't know - maybe I'll never make another film as gory as BD. I don't have a plan. Who knows what's going to happen - you might get married or divorced or go to another country, you just don't know. All I know is that I'm like you guys, I'm a fan of these sorts of movies and I'll probably keep on making them in one form or another.
TC - Do you have any advice for film-makers wanting to follow in your footsteps?
PJ - I just think you should go ahead and do it. If anyone wants to make movies badly enough, and are prepared to sacrifice a lot, then they'll make it. Ultimately, if you want to make movies, a lot of it depends on how much of yourself - or how much money - you're prepared to sacrifice. I did Bad Taste over four years, that took an enormous amount of effort to keep going, and I spent $17,000 of my own money. I was working at a job I hated doing, in a newspaper, but I did it because it was paying for my film stock, and paying for my processing, and I spent 17 grand over three years. And anybody can do that. Anybody can keep on going, keep spending their own money, and make a really good movie. If you believe in yourself, you will ultimately make a good film and that will impress people. People are always looking out for new talent, for new young filmmakers. It's not impossible to start making movies if you've never had the experience, everyone's got to make their first movie sometime. So if you have something you made that is of a good enough standard, someone in Los Angeles - John Landis or Joe Dante or Sam Raimi - might look at one of your films and say, "Hey, this guy's great" and give you a call. You just never know what's going to happen so go for it and don't give up, one day it'll pay off.
TC - Any final message?
PJ - I'm very happy that anyone likes the films that I'm making. As I said, I'm just a fan myself, I'm no-one more special, I've just been lucky to be able to make the films. The films that I'm making are very reflective of my sense of humour, and the types of movies that I like watching, and in a sense if I know that there are a lot of other people out there that basically share the same sort of tastes as i do, I'm really pleased. Then I feel I'm not alone in liking these films.
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