Empire (Australasia) - - CONTENTS - WORDS TIM KEEN

The in­de­fati­ga­ble di­rec­tor/pro­ducer chats to Em­pire about his new film and long ca­reer.

The B-movie king re­turns with Death Race 2050…

What made you want to go back to Death Race? I’m think­ing about the orig­i­nal Death Race 2000 which I made around ’75, I pro­jected what I thought cer­tain as­pects of so­ci­ety would be like in the year 2000. And I’m do­ing the same thing again for the year 2050, with the ba­sis be­ing fu­tur­is­tic car rac­ing in which you get points for how fast you can drive, and how many pedes­tri­ans you can kill. We com­bine it with a lit­tle bit of social com­ment on what we think is hap­pen­ing with so­ci­ety, and that’s over­laid with com­edy. It’s a funny pic­ture. So a sort of fu­tur­is­tic, fast, ac­tion, funny, hope­fully some­what mean­ing­ful film. I’m not sure we achieved ev­ery one of those goals, but we came close.

It must be the fifth or sixth Death Race…

I sold the re­make rights to Universal and I think they made three ver­sions of it, but they con­cen­trated on the ac­tion of the rac­ing. Which is a per­fectly le­git­i­mate thing to do. So their ver­sions were car rac­ing pic­tures, step­ping away from the lit­tle bit of social com­men­tary, and the com­edy. I tried to take char­ac­ters from the so­ci­ety of to­day and make them the rac­ers. One of my favourites [from Death Race 2050] is Tammy the Ter­ror­ist. The name Tammy The Ter­ror­ist just came to me. I was think­ing of pop cul­ture, so she’s the bomb-throw­ing pope of a pop-cul­ture church, and the saints are Saint Elvis Pres­ley, Saint Justin Bieber and so forth. So I had a lot of fun with that. And we have a self driv­ing car, those are al­ready on the road in an ex­per­i­men­tal way. I was try­ing to take all these el­e­ments of to­day, and say what would they be like in the year 2050. For in­stance, the United States of Amer­ica is now the United Cor­po­ra­tions of Amer­ica, the pres­i­dent is now the Chair­man of the Board. We did some­thing as a lit­tle bit of a joke and we got kind of lucky, it was early in the pres­i­den­tial race and the Chair­man of the Board, played by Mal­colm Mcdow­ell, we pat­terned him af­ter Trump, with the hairdo and ev­ery­thing. We thought it was just a funny thing to do, we never dreamed that he would ac­tu­ally emerge as the pres­i­dent. So we made the first Pres­i­dent Trump pic­ture out there.

Did your lawyers have a heart at­tack when they saw the names of some of the re­gions of the

coun­try, like the Google­plex?

Fun­nily enough that never oc­curred to me, I never talked to a lawyer about it. I’m not a lawyer but I think if some­thing is in the pub­lic eye, it’s avail­able. So let’s say I’m go­ing on that ba­sis.

You’re 90 years old now, do you ever think about slow­ing down?

I’m slow­ing down a lit­tle bit. I used to make seven or eight films a year — one year I made 10 films — now I make three or four. The years have caught up with me but I hope it never drops to zero.

You’ve pro­duced more than 400 movies and di­rected 56… which are you most proud of?

As both a fail­ure and a favourite I might go back to The In­truder, a pic­ture I made about the in­te­gra­tion of schools in the Amer­i­can south in 1960, with a new young ac­tor play­ing his first pic­ture, Bill Shat­ner. It was a very tough pic­ture that I shot in the South, it got won­der­ful re­views, won a cou­ple of mi­nor film fes­ti­vals, and was the first film I ever made that lost money. So that pic­ture stays in my mind. Oh, I for­got! I shot the film in 1960, and Bill and I did a com­men­tary for a DVD ver­sion around 2000, so I just re­alised I fi­nally got my money back 40 years later.

You helped to launch dozens of ma­jor Hol­ly­wood ca­reers — Martin Scors­ese, James Cameron, Fran­cis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, Peter Bog­danovich… Are more proud of films you made, or the cul­ture you helped cre­ate?

I think it’s all of one. I think it’s all work­ing in the film medium. Now, even as I say that, I re­alise that dates me, be­cause we don’t use film any­more, it’s dig­i­tal now. But I’ve been, at var­i­ous times, a writer, di­rec­tor or pro­ducer, and as a pro­ducer maybe there is a lit­tle bit of men­tor­ing or teach­ing in­volved… but it’s all just work­ing in the medium of film, for lack of a bet­ter word.

What’s your take on the in­dus­try right now?

I love the ex­pe­ri­ence of see­ing a pic­ture at a the­atre. When I started, ev­ery pic­ture that was at least half­way de­cently made got a full the­atri­cal re­lease. To­day most medium or low bud­get films do not get a the­atri­cal re­lease, and I re­gret that.

What is your ad­vice to some­one just start­ing out in film­mak­ing?

I would say, if you have the op­por­tu­nity, go to a film school. There were only one or two film schools in the United States when I started, and I and my con­tem­po­raries, we learned on the job… but I think the best way to learn is ac­tu­ally in a

film school. On the other hand, if you can’t go to a film school, films can now be made very in­ex­pen­sively. It’s tough to get a job in a ma­jor stu­dio, but it’s easy to get a job, if you look around a lit­tle bit, on one of these low-bud­get in­de­pen­dent films. And I would say get a job on that film, for two rea­sons. One, you’re go­ing to do your job and get paid. But num­ber two is, look around, see what every­one else is do­ing on the set, and learn pro­duc­tion while you’re ac­tu­ally in pro­duc­tion. I started as a writer and saw what the di­rec­tors were do­ing, and I thought, “I could do that!”, and I did. It was a lit­tle shaky at the be­gin­ning but you learn as you go along.

What’s next? Please tell us you’re work­ing on a Death Race 2075!

I don’t have an­other Death Race but I’m work­ing on a treat­ment, I have an idea about the leader of a coun­try who loses faith in the tra­di­tional sys­tem, feel­ing that it’s all cor­rupt, and de­cides that he doesn’t need the courts any more, he can de­cide who is guilty and he just kills them. So that’ll be a fu­tur­is­tic science fic­tion film based some­what on what is ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing to­day.


Left: Roger Corman in the 1970s. Be­low left: Burt Grin­stead as Jed Per­fec­tus in Death Race 2050. Be­low right: Fo­lake Olowofoyeku as Min­erva Jef­fer­son. Bot­tom: Manu Ben­nett as the Death Racer Franken­stein.

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