AN INTERVIEW WITH LEA THOMPSON (PART 1 OF 3)

Lea Thompson made her name as one of the most popular and talented young Hollywood actresses of the 80s, with her performances in films such as BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985) and its two sequels, JAWS 3-D (1983), ALL THE RIGHT MOVES (1983), THE WILD LIFE (1984), SPACE CAMP (1986), HOWARD THE DUCK (1986), and SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL (1987). She has continued to work successfully as an actress in film and on TV (most notably as the lead in Caroline in the City and Switched at Birth), whilst also breaking out as a director of episodic television and TV movies (the Jane Doe films). This year sees the release of her feature debut as a director, the comedy drama THE YEAR OF SPECTACULAR MEN, which also sees her collaborating with her daughters Madelyn and Zoey Deutch. In the first part of my three-part interview with Lea about her career, I spoke to her about the making of the film.

How would you describe THE YEAR OF SPECTACULAR MEN? 
I see the movie as a coming of age story about a girl who is lost and trying to find her way in this complicated world that we are living in right now, where it's so hard to make a connection with someone. It's also about learning how to face your secrets and your past, and how how hard it is to maintain family. The film has a good sense of humor, which is unsurprising since taht's how my family gets through things.

The film is really is a family affair, isn't it? 
It's a real collaboration between myself and my daughter Maddie and also my daughter Zoey. Although Zoey didn't write it or score it, she starred in it and helped me produce it and get us a lot of the actors and locations that we got. My husband (Howard Deutch) gave us a lot of moral support. Maddie and I have been working for four years on this project. It's the only piece of art that I have created from the ground up. It feels about time, since I have just turned 56, that I create something of my own! I haven't directed a lot per se, but I have been directing television for 12 years. Directing a movie was always something I wanted to do, but the rest of life just always got in the way. This movie is an independent movie and was such a Herculean task to get made. It was much longer and more difficult than having a baby!

I liked the fact that Maddie's character, Izzy, was a very rounded character, and not some kind of Manic Pixie Dream Girl. 
Manic Pixie Dream Girls are usually created by men, and this film was written by a 23-year old woman about her real experiences. The script was based on Maddie's feelings about being rudderless and not really understanding what is going on with men. It was a conscious decision on Maddie's part to make Izzy rounded and culpable. I learned from my husband that if you like a script, you should honor the writer, and I tried to do that as best as I could. Maddie is very strong and opinionated. Even the language is specific to her and her generation. She had to write in the script ''If you see what you think are typos, they're not typos. They're abbreviations or slang. '' She has a really good ear for how people of her generation speak.

Izzy actually reminded me of a character Jeannie Berlin might have played in the 70s. 
That's awesome! I love Jeannie Berlin. Maddy talked about how there's a hole in the market for people of Izzy's age group. You get lots of movies about 17 year old girls walking around smoking and getting into trouble, or films about 30 year old women, and then nothing for women over 35. After that women just fall off the movie world. There are no movies about women in their 20s, but those stories are interesting because it is so difficult for young girls to break out on their own after finishing college or university. Life is so expensive these days.

The pace of the film is very snappy, and the script balances a lot of tones and has a lot of witty dialogue. Did these things represent a challenge for you? 
It was actually the locations that were the biggest challenge, and the different times of the year that we had to shoot..We didn't have a big budget, but we shot in New York and San Francisco in the spring, Los Angeles in the summer and the fall, and Tahoe in the winter. We shot from late September to early May with three different units. There were 52 locations, which were really expensive. Most little movies are shot in one house! I never thought we'd be able to get exactly what was in the script but somehow the producers and myself manged to do it through sheer tenaciousness. We also somehow ended up with a really long movie and I had to cut about an hour out. It's not one of those movies where the doe-eyed girl walks around looking at things! There's a lot of talking and things happening and comedy. I just didn't realise we had shot so much of it!

It sounds like you had to think a lot on your feet. Did you find yourself thinking back to advice or things you had observed other directors doing? 
There was a little of that but so much of it is just taste and the fact that I have been doing it for so long. I didn't second guess myself. I really know how to break down a scene and when a scene is not working. I've had to fix things so many times as an actor and also as a director that it's second nature now. I've worked with so many good directors and logged so many hours on movies big and small that I know how to roll up my sleeves and get it done.

But there are some great directors that I worked with that I aspire to, especially Bob Zemeckis who did BACK TO THE FUTURE. He had such an economy of style. Every shot was jam packed with information. He didn't waste a lot of time or visual depth. When I worked with him I loved how he kept filling the frame with story. I was definitely inspired by that. My movie is very lush. I worked very hard to make the locations multi-layered and full of character to help tell the story better. This is a visual medium, so that's important. I also loved how cognizant Bob was about taking out things that didn't further the character or the story or simply weren't funny. I tried to do that as much as I could.

What films or filmmakers influenced THE YEAR OF SPECTACULAR MEN? 
My visual inspiration for the film was ANNIE HALL (1977). I love the way that film is shot and Maddie's sensibility definitely has its roots in Jewish humor. She loves jazz music so when she wrote the score it kind of echoed that New York feeling, We were careful to not have too many clarinets though! We didn't want too much Woody Allen. Also, SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL, which my husband Howard directed and I acted in, was an inspiration to Maddie growing up, as were many other John Hughes movies. The music was so great in John's movies and we tried to do the same on our low budget. Maddie wrote a lot of the songs and the music is very integral to the film. I spent six months trying to find the right music and Maddie wrote two songs at the end specifically for the movie.

Do you feel you learned anything new about your daughters' talents making the movie? 
Absolutely. Maddie is the star of the movie and I had no idea she had those kind of comic chops. She's very funny and she does a lot of 40s/ 50s classic comedienne stuff in the movie with the looks she gives and the double takes. Her whole way of being in the film is so adorable. It's interesting because the way she plays Izzy is not who she is in real life at all. Even though she wrote the script I was really impressed with how she inhabited the character.

Zoey has been acting longer than Maddie. She has been a spectacular actress since she was a little girl playing with her Barbies. She's so verstile so I'm usually not much surprised by what Zoey does, and also I have been working with her for a very long time. But I was surprised by how game she was to play this prissy movie star. I was incredibly impressed by both of my daughters's work ethic. I knew already that they had strong work ethics from their school days and watching them work, but for example, Maddie did rewrite after rewrite and Zoey did two movies during the times we closed down.

Did you encourage Maddie and Zoey to become actresses? 
Zoe wanted to become an actress when she was 15. That's a really difficult time for girls. That's when they tend to get really wild and crazy, so I was just happy she had something she really cared about that kept her from partying! It's really important to keep your kids focussed. Maddy wanted to be a musician at that age, and the music business is something I know very little about. Like with Zoey, I was just happy she had something she was passionate about that would keep her out of trouble. It didn't hurt that they both got off the payroll darned early either! Some parents end up paying for their kids till they are 35! I was concerned about the rejection both girls would have to face. It's horrible and we all have to live through it. Both me and my husband have had our hearts broken a million times. It's hard to watch it happen to your children and to see them having to get up and start again. I know my husband and I have set a good example. When you get knocked down you just get back up and keep walking!

I feel honored that my daughters are willing to walk in my footsteps and peek out from my shadow. That makes me feel proud that I haven't made it seem so terrible to be a movie actress or made it seem so fabulous. My career has been a huge blessing. I never realised I would be able to touch people as far away as Japan as example. I went there to promote HOWARD THE DUCK, and I got off the plane and there was this huge throng of people. Without me knowing I had become a big star over there because of BACK TO THE FUTURE. I did all these interviews and chat shows. I never thought anything like that would happen to me. 

THE YEAR OF SPECTACULAR MEN will be released in US theaters in November 2017.  


Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.

AN INTERVIEW WITH LARRY COHEN (PART 3 OF 3)

Larry Cohen is the subject of the brilliant new documentary by Steve Mitchell - KING COHEN: THE WILD WORLD OF FILMMAKER LARRY COHEN. A true independent and maverick, Cohen got his start in television creating the Western series Branded (1965-66) and the sci-fi series The Invaders (1967-8), and writing episodes of series such as The Fugitive and The Defenders. Making his feature directing debut with the dark comedy BONE (1972), Cohen established himself as a filmmaker able to craft wildly entertaining, challenging, socially satirical films on tight budgets, in an array of genres. His incredible filmography, which has inspired other filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, J.J. Abrams, John Landis and Joe Dante (all of whom are interviewed in KING COHEN), includes the blaxploitation gangster pic BLACK CAESAR (1973), the monster movie/ drama IT'S ALIVE (1974) and its two sequels, the extraordinary GOD TOLD ME TO (1976), the historical drama THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER (1977), the monster movie/ heist thriller/ drama Q - THE WINGED SERPENT (1982), the satirical horror film THE STUFF (1985), the horror comedy THE AMBULANCE (1990), and the screenplays for PHONE BOOTH (2002), BEST SELLER (1987), GUILTY AS SIN (1993), BODY SNATCHERS (1993), CELLULAR (2004) and MANIAC COP (1988). In the final part of a three-part interview I spoke with Cohen about the pros and cons of modern filmmaking and release strategies, his plans for returning to directing, and how he feels about the films other directors have made from his scripts and the new KING COHEN documentary. 

Parts one and two of the interview. 

How do you feel about modern films, and the way filmmakers can make films very easily and cheaply with the technology we have? 
They get to make the movies, but you have to suffer through watching them. Most of the movies are not very good. I would hate to be a person that sits there at a film festival and has to watch 500 movies and judge which ones are going to be accepted. Imagine what that must be like. Film festivals used to get 50 to 75 submissions and now it can be up to 800, and most of them are not even watchable. Even films that win awards nowadays don't necessarily get distributed.

What would your advice to aspiring filmmakers be?
Well, first of all, you have to have a good story to tell. Sometimes I think filmmakers start too soon. They haven't got the story or the beats worked out yet, and they haven't trimmed the script down to a point where it moves along. They get the money so they just start shooting. Then they try to fix the movie in the editing room, which is very hard to do if the story doesn't work. They are also in a hurry to get the movie shown, so even if the movie could have done with another couple of months in the editing room, they go out and show the picture, and the film is a fragment of what it could have been. Sometimes they run out of money, so they have no choice but to to show the picture.

How do you feel about directors having indie success and then going on to do huge blockbusters? 
It seems most of these films turn out okay because these blockbusters are huge collaborations. The director is part of a committe and doesn't direct all the big effects or action scenes. They're being done by four or five different companies with dozens and dozens of technicians. I just saw CARS 3 (2017) and the end titles were almost 15 minutes long. Everybody in the world worked on that picture!

You haven't directed since your episode of the TV series Masters of Horror in 2006. Are you itching to direct again? 
Not necessarily. I enjoy writing, but I would like to direct again sometime. The reason I don't really direct films naymore is that you can't be sure you're going to get a theatrical release. They grab the picture and then stick it on Netflix or Amazon, and you don't get to see it with an audience in a big theater with a thousand people. Those kinds of openings are reserved for the $250 million movies. Most multiplexes show the same films on six different screens with one movie on another screen that nobody goes to see. I've been to films where I was the only one there. I want a decent release for my films. And nowadays soon after a film is shown on VOD, it's available to download illegally on the Internet. I wrote a film that was shot in Canada (MESSAGES DELETED), and before the film was even released someone put it on the Internet and the producers lost the $4 million they'd invested in the film. If that happens to me on a movie I direct, I'm done. I can't handle it on the budgets I have. I don't want to take a chance on the time I spend making a movie and on the money my investors put into the movie. It's so dangerous making movies now. And like I say, 90% of the time you're not going to get the theatrical release that you want. It's not the same as it was when I was making films like BONE or GOD TOLD ME TO or IT''S ALIVE or BLACK CAESAR. Of all of my films, seven of them went into profit (even J. EDGAR HOOVER), but nowadays it's very hard for your movie to go into profit because the advertising costs are so phenomenal. Big studios will spend $30 million on advertising. How can you compete with that? It's like a poker game where the stakes have been raised so high that you can't afford to sit down at the table. And of course if you don't advertise your movie, nobody will come. I'm glad I came along when I did in the 70s when the business wasn't so tough and your pictures could get seen.

Even some relatively big movies don't get played in certain cities or locations. 
That's right. My friend John Landis spent a year making a film called BURKE AND HARE (2010). I saw it on Showtime, and a little later I saw him on the street and I said ''Oh, I really enjoyed your movie'' and he said ''Where did you see it?'' I said ''It was on Showtime the other night'. ' He almost collapsed because he was waiting for the film to open theatrically. Nobody told him that they had sold the picture to Showtime. It was disgraceful. John had made some very successful, big movies and deserved more respect than that.

You've written a lot of scripts that you didn't direct. How precious are you about giving up your scripts to other directors? 
It depends on who's doing the movie. I've been disappointed in 80% of the movies that were made from my scripts. Even PHONE BOOTH. It was a hit and got me a lot of attention, and I was glad it was made, and to collect a huge fee for the script and tremendous residuals but at the same time I thought I could have made a better picture.

How happy are you with the new documentary KING COHEN? 
They have Martin Scorsese and J.J. Abrams and a great line-up of people in it. I wasn't directly involved with it. I let them do what they wanted to do, and I am reasonably pleased with it. 

KING COHEN will be released in cinemas and on VOD later in the year, and will be screened at Fright Fest in London on August 25 and at the Sitges International Film Festival in October.  

Larry's website

The KING COHEN website.

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.

AN INTERVIEW WITH LARRY COHEN (PART 2 OF 3)

Larry Cohen is the subject of the brilliant new documentary by Steve Mitchell - KING COHEN: THE WILD WORLD OF FILMMAKER LARRY COHEN. A true independent and maverick, Cohen got his start in television creating the Western series Branded (1965-66) and the sci-fi series The Invaders (1967-8), and writing episodes of series such as The Fugitive and The Defenders. Making his feature directing debut with the dark comedy BONE (1972), Cohen established himself as a filmmaker able to craft wildly entertaining, challenging, socially satirical films on tight budgets, in an array of genres. His incredible filmography, which has inspired other filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, J.J. Abrams, John Landis and Joe Dante (all of whom are interviewed in KING COHEN), includes the blaxploitation gangster pic BLACK CAESAR (1973), the monster movie/ drama IT'S ALIVE (1974) and its two sequels, the extraordinary GOD TOLD ME TO (1976), the historical drama THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER (1977), the monster movie/ heist thriller/ drama Q - THE WINGED SERPENT (1982), the satirical horror film THE STUFF (1985), the horror comedy THE AMBULANCE (1990), and the screenplays for PHONE BOOTH (2002), BEST SELLER (1987), GUILTY AS SIN (1993), BODY SNATCHERS (1993), CELLULAR (2004) and MANIAC COP (1988). In the second part of a three-part interview I spoke with Cohen about THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER and GOD TOLD ME TO; his experiences in TV as a writer before making his directing debut with BONE; his hopes for how audiences respond to his films; the influence of his work on other filmmakers; working with Michael Moriarty and Bernard Herrmann, and his impressions of Alfred Hitchcock, whom he spent some time with. 

Part one of the interview. 

Do you hope that after audiences finish watching one of your films that they leave the theater thinking about the world a little bit more? 
Well, I certainly hope that the pictures have some significance other than they entertain people, and that audiences carry something with them. Apparently they do, because some of these pictures are 45 years old and people are still watching them and talking about them. Most movies of that time, and particularly low-budget movies, have been forgotten. If the films have a big star like John Wayne in them then they are remembered and constantly replayed, but not the movies that didn't have any stars. I have people come up to me and want to talk to me about films I made decades ago and they remember all the details. That's extremely complimentary to me.

I felt your film THE PRIVATE FILES OF EDGAR J. HOOVER had something in common with Oliver Stone's NIXON, in that where one might have expected an unflattering, condemnatory approach towards its subject matter, what we got was a sympathetic portrait of a deeply flawed man. 
Oliver Stone is actually a big fan of GOD TOLD ME TO, and he congratulated me on the film the first time I met him. He also told me he liked the J. Edgar Hoover movie. At that time I was one of the few people who was making politically-based movies, and certainly nobody had ever made a movie about the FBI that was in any way derogatory or controversial. Up until that time everybody had to present a whitewashed version of the FBI, and they had to have Bureau people on the set to approve everything. I was the first person to make a movie without approval from them. I actually shot scenes at the FBI Building, which was an amazing achievement. 

Today, they are talking in the political world about Trump and the FBI Director getting fired, and the question of whether Trump and Comey spent time alone in the Oval Office. Well, the President and J. Edgar Hoover spent a lot of time alone in the Oval Office. Hoover was very intimate with Lyndon Johnson and Roosevelt, and many of the other Presidents. They conspired together to break the law all the time. Watergate would never have happened if Hoover hadn't set it up to bring down the entire Nixon administration. The guy who was known as Deep Throat and supplied all the information to Woodward and Bernstein was the Acting Director of the FBI, Mark Felt, acting as a surrogate for Hoover. FBI people have a very intricate story to tell. Everybody is being very naive today to think that there is something unusual for the President and the FBI Director to be talking alone.

How did you feel about the way the film was received? 
The problem we had with our movie was that the Democrats didn't like the picture and the Republicans didn't like the picture either. The Democrats didn't like the way Lyndon Johnson, Roosevelt and Kennedy were portrayed, and the Republicans didn't like the way Nixon was portrayed. In the entertainment business, if you make a political movie, you have to be either on the Right or the Left. And we weren't either. When we opened the picture in Washington D.C. at the Kennedy Center, everybody hated it. It wasn't what they wanted to see. They wanted to see something that supported their political views. In our movie, everybody was a bastard, which is the way it really is.

GOD TOLD ME TO continues to get strong reactions from audiences. 
The picture is the most requested of mine from film festivals all over the world. I'm happy they like the film, and that it got re-discovered. I think it has influenced stuff like The X-Files, and many other movies.

Do you still go to the cinema a lot yourself? 
Not much. I'm not particularly into special effects movies or cartoon movies or comic book movies. I couldn't make one of those movies because being in charge of one of them is like collaborating with 15 different divisions, which is why the end credits go on for over ten minutes. In my films, the credits go on for thirty seconds. I couldn't work with so many people. I even make my own titles.

Do you see the influence of your work on other movies? I think, for example, GET OUT (2017) has a very Larry Cohen vibe and premise. 
That's what I heard. I also heard it was very good, but I haven't seen it. Whenever I run into new filmmakers they are all very complimentary to me and I appreciate it. People like James Wan and J.J. Abrams, and so many others. Tarantino is a fan and he has cast a number of people in his films out of people I have been using in my films.

Before you directed BONE, you had had an incredible amount of experience in television as a writer. How did all this experience prepare you for directing features? 
I started with live television shows, which were soon gone because they perfected video and wanted to do everything on tape and not live anymore. Live TV was a fantastic period, particularly for the writer, because you had to be on the set all the time. You had to be there on the day of the shoot, when it went on air, because after the dress rehearsal you might have to cut some scenes or stretch some scenes to fill out the time, depending on the timing of the show. I was always there with the actors and the director and I really became educated about the whole process of putting together a show. When film television came in, for some reason they didn't want the writers around anymore, and the writers were excluded from the process. That was when I decided I needed to start directing my own films.

Did you take that live TV ethos when you started directing your own films? 
I have so much energy on the set and I think that communicates itself to the actors and then transmits itself to the audience as well. One of the most common things that critics say about my films is that the actors look like they are having a really good time. And that's the truth – they are having a really good time.

Michael Moriarty has said you were his favorite director and that he did his best film work with you. How was working with him? 
Michael is a fabulous actor. He has won a Tony, a Golden Globe, and at least three Emmys. He acted with Kathleen Hepburn in THE GLASS MENAGERIE (1973), with Robert De Niro in BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY (1973), and with Clint Eastwood in PALE RIDER (1985). He's had quite a career, aside from me. I think he's one of the best actors in the business.

Did you have a good relationship with Bernard Herrmann, who scored IT'S ALIVE and IT LIVES AGAIN (1978)? 
Yes, we not only did we do the music together but we spent a lot of personal time together, with trips and meals and family visits and so on. These things happen when you work together sometimes.

You pitched Hitchcock your script Daddy's Gone a-Hunting (made by Mark Robson in 1969) and spent time with him socially too. What was your impression of him?
I certainly enjoyed his company because once you sat down with him you were still there three and a half hours later listening to his stories and anecdotes. He loved to talk and he loved company. That said, I think I was lucky not to have worked with him because he was a very difficult taskmaster. First of all, he didn't like to pay anybody much money. John Michael Hayes wrote four of his movies and never got decent money. When he asked for a raise he ended up getting fired. He generally fired everybody after a while. If we had done PHONE BOOTH together, I would have gotten a fraction of the salary I got from Twentieth Century Fox, and got fired too, because he liked to bring other writers on before the end of the movie. I don't like that kind of situation. I was friendly with Leon Uris, who was the writer of TOPAZ. He said Hitchcock had him to his house for dinner, took him out for dinner, palled around with him and were such good friends, and then one day he got a call from Universal saying ''Don't bother to come in anymore, you've been fired. '' No ''Goodbye'' or ''Nice to have known you'' or anything.

Miklos Rosza, who scored THE PRIVATE FILES OF EDGAR J. HOOVER for me, told me that when he won the Oscar for composing the music for SPELLBOUND (1945), Hitchcock never called him to congratulate him. They never worked together again. Hitchcock happened to be a strange fellow, but he was wonderful company if you wanted to sit and listen to anecdotes, joke around, and look at the scripts of films he never got to make.

Hitchcock had problems later in his career getting certain pictures made. 
Once he went to Universal his pictures got worse and worse, apart from FRENZY (1972), which was a good picture, and that was because he got away from the studio and shot it in England. He worked with a very good writer, Anthony Shaffer, who had written some good thrillers on Broadway. The script was good and he had no stars but a wonderful British cast. Although it's not remembered as one of his great films, it happens to be a very good, amusing picture, and certainly the best film he made in the last ten years of his life. TOPAZ (1969) and TORN CURTAIN (1966) weren't good, and even MARNIE (1964) had such bad rear projection. I think he just lost heart making that film. Universal gave him nothing but bad advice. A lot of the good ideas in his films came from the writers or the books the films were based on. Barry Foster in the potato truck trying to find the pendant in FRENZY is straight out of the book for example. What Hitchcock knew was how to put these ideas on the screen. 

Part three of the interview. 

KING COHEN will be released in cinemas and on VOD later in the year, and will be screened at Fright Fest in London on August 25 and at the Sitges International Film Festival in October.  

Larry's website

The KING COHEN website.

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.

BRENDAN MULDOWNEY ON 'PILGRIMAGE' (PART 2 OF 2)

PILGRIMAGE is a new film from Irish filmmaker Brendan Muldowney, the man behind the revenge thriller SAVAGE (2009) and the mystery drama LOVE ETERNAL (2013). Set in 13th century Ireland, PILGRIMAGE is a brutal, thought-provoking religious adventure drama telling the story of a group of monks transporting a Holy relic to Rome, and coming up against not only the unforgiving climate and vast wilderness but also treacherous pacts, and dark secrets from within their group. The film stars Tom Holland (SPIDER MAN: HOMECOMING), Jon Bernthal (TV's The Punisher), John Lynch (CAL, IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER), and Richard Armitage (TV's Spooks/ M:I5, THE HOBBIT trilogy). It's a fascinating historical story, atmospherically and compellingly told, with committed performances from its cast. In the second part of a two-part interview, I spoke to Muldowney about his experience of filming the movie, the influences on the film, and the themes of the film.   

Part one of the interview. 

What was the shoot like in Ireland and Belgium? 
We had a great Locations Manager, Gordon Wycherley who spent a long time scouting and showing us around various possibilities for the locations. We decided on a unit base between Galway and Mayo to give us access to locations in both counties. I can’t say enough good things about the west of Ireland but as anyone who has spent time there knows, it is amazing. It has an awe inspiring, ancient feel to the landscape.

It was easy to decide the split between shooting which parts in each country. Ireland has the rugged coast and mountains and Belgium is well known for its forests. So as the story was a journey through Ireland from one coast to another, we bookended with the Irish locations, and shot the middle forest section in Belgium.

My lasting memory of Ireland is the changeable weather. The first day of shooting was one of the worst days we experienced. Gale-force winds and constant driving rain. Then we experienced a heat wave. I also remember standing on the beach in the sun and seeing a dark cloud on the horizon. The AD’s would call out ''storm coming'', and it would arrive 5 minutes later, and then we’d shelter for 15 minutes before the sun came out again and resume shooting.

Belgium was slightly different as our first week was split days and night shoots. The second week was our big ambush sequence, which we shot in three days with a huge cast of extras. The logistics of managing that amount of people was huge. The crew doubled to cope with the extra demands of costume, make up, catering etc. My first assistant director, Charlie Endean, went on to first AD the Game of Thrones episode 'Battle of the Bastards' and told me they had three weeks to shoot that battle sequence, so I feel proud of what we achieved in three days.

There was a third country involved – Greece. We shot a prologue which was set in Cappadocia 55AD and needed somewhere hot and desert like. We ended up in a live volcano on the Island Nisyros, which was another spectacular location.

How did you ensure the budget went as far as it did? The production value is very high. 
It was an incredibly ambitious project for a relatively small budget. We were dealing with period costumes and production design, horses, stunts and fights, water and boat work, SFX, VFX and four languages, not to mention 100% of the shoot would be exterior and at the mercy of the Irish weather. We had to be clever and work out the best and cheapest ways of shooting the script. I put a lot of work into location scouting and my own director’s prep.

What were some of the films you looked at before starting the movie? Did the book or film of the original Silence serve as an inspiration in any way? 
I haven't seen SILENCE (1971) yet so no. I also avoided Game of Thrones till after I finished shooting. We discussed Werner Herzog’s AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD (1972), Akira Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO (1961), Andrei Tarkovsky’s ANDREI RUBLEV (1966), Jean-Jacques Annaud’s THE NAME OF THE ROSE (1986), Nicolas Winding Refn’s VALHALLA RISING (2009), Christopher Smith’s BLACK DEATH (2010), Ingmar Berman’s THE VIRGIN SPRING (1960), Henri-Georges Clouzot’s THE WAGES OF FEAR (1953), and John Hillcoat’s THE PROPOSITION(2005).

Do you feel PILGRIMAGE is essentially a tale of two opposing viewpoints – of faith versus pragmatism? Is it fair to say the film is wary of organised religion and more in favour of personal faith? 
That would be a fair enough appraisal. However, I think how you interpret the ending and the themes within depend on your own personal faith and worldview. An atheist will take a different view than a believer.

Do you believe fear is an important component of faith? 
Not necessarily, I was trying not to dump on people personal faiths but I do believe that any organisation that becomes as big and powerful as the Catholic church, more like a corporation in a way, is open to corruption and using immoral ways to keep its power.

Did you also feel it was important to show the brutality of the period? 
I come from the school that violence in films should have consequences. As in it should be truthful to the ugliness of it. I remember growing up watching films and TV shows where people would get shot and fall out of screen bloodlessly and it sanitised it. Made it exciting rather than repulsive. So when I saw something like TAXI DRIVER (1976), it felt more raw and real.

Why was it important to have characters speak in their original languages? 
It helped the films authenticity. It isn't historically accurate as we've replaced Latin with English and we're using modern French and Gaelic. It helped delineate the different tribes and allowed them to use language to keep secrets from each other or even test their background and where they are from.

What would you like audiences to take away from the movie? 
I hope they enjoy the unique setting of monks on the edge of the known world at the time, the exploration of religion and politics, and a good old-fashioned action thriller. 

Trailer 1 and 2 for the movie.  

PILGRIMAGE is now available on VOD and in select theaters. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.

BRENDAN MULDOWNEY ON 'PILGRIMAGE' (PART 1 OF 2)

PILGRIMAGE is a new film from Irish filmmaker Brendan Muldowney, the man behind the revenge thriller SAVAGE (2009) and the mystery drama LOVE ETERNAL (2013). Set in 13th century Ireland, PILGRIMAGE is a brutal, thought-provoking religious adventure drama telling the story of a group of monks transporting a Holy relic to Rome, and coming up against not only the unforgiving climate and vast wilderness but also treacherous pacts, and dark secrets from within their group. The film stars Tom Holland (SPIDER MAN: HOMECOMING), Jon Bernthal (TV's The Punisher), John Lynch (CAL, IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER), and Richard Armitage (TV's Spooks/ M:I5, THE HOBBIT trilogy). It's a fascinating historical story, atmospherically and compellingly told, with committed performances from its cast. In the first part of a two-part interview, I spoke to Muldowney about what attracted him to the project, and the pre-production of the movie.  

When did you first come across the screenplay? What initially attracted you to it? 
The writer, Jamie Hannigan, pitched me the idea of monks travelling through 13th century Ireland dragging a relic and they are ambushed. I liked this period in Irish history that hasn’t really been explored before, I liked the religious and political themes, I liked the fact that we could utilize the Irish landscape and I liked the suggestion of an ambush and some action.

Do you feel the story has a special relevance for modern audiences? 
I think that themes dealing with faith and a belief in God are always relevant and never go out of date.

What is your biggest personal connection to the material? 
I was brought up in a country that still had the church very firmly in control of society. Not so much now but I saw the use of fear to control and I also witnessed hypocrisy as certain revaluations came to light in recent years - clerical abuse and cover ups and mother and baby home deaths.

What excites your imagination the most about the medieval period? 
I'm not sure, but I have explored it before in a short film called THE HONOURABLE SCAFFOLDER (2003). I suppose it's the raw and brutal lives people lead back then. It allows very primal drama and conflict to be on the surface.

How historically accurate is the film? 
As accurate as we could afford on our budget. The writer, Jamie Hannigan, did five years of research. I started reading selected books about a year before and my Production Designer, Owen Power, began research and discussions with me about six months before shooting.

Did the project take a long while to get financed? 
First it was a pitch, then a treatment, which was submitted to the Irish Film Board. Then it went through a development process which took four or five years with as many drafts. I worked closely with the writer throughout the whole process. Once our exec producers and sales agents (XYZ Films) came on board, it was probably a year to finance and cast.

What made you decide to cast Tom Holland, Jon Bernthal and Richard Armitage?
It was a combination of our casting director Dan Hubbard and XYZ Films, the executive producers that dealt with the agencies and got cast books put together for me. I watched Tom Holland in THE IMPOSIBLE (2012) and HOW I LIVE NOW (2013) and thought he was excellent. I had a Skype call with him and offered the role to him on the spot. Jon Bernthal and Richard Armitage were cast soon after from the same agency – WME.

Were you privy to Tom and John's emotions as they prepared to audition for SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING and The Punisher? Did you give any advice? 
Not really. They were very professional and kept it to themselves for the most part. I did know and wished them the best of luck.

Part two of the interview. 

Trailer 1 and 2 for the movie.  

PILGRIMAGE is now available on VOD and in select theaters. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.

AN INTERVIEW WITH LARRY COHEN (PART 1 OF 3)

Larry Cohen is the subject of the brilliant new documentary by Steve Mitchell - KING COHEN: THE WILD WORLD OF FILMMAKER LARRY COHEN. A true independent and maverick, Cohen got his start in television creating the Western series Branded (1965-66) and the sci-fi series The Invaders (1967-8), and writing episodes of series such as The Fugitive and The Defenders. Making his feature directing debut with the dark comedy BONE (1972), Cohen established himself as a filmmaker able to craft wildly entertaining, challenging, socially satirical films on tight budgets, in an array of genres. His incredible filmography, which has inspired other filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, J.J. Abrams, John Landis and Joe Dante (all of whom are interviewed in KING COHEN), includes the blaxploitation gangster pic BLACK CAESAR (1973), the monster movie/ drama IT'S ALIVE (1974) and its two sequels, the extraordinary GOD TOLD ME TO (1976), the historical drama THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER (1977), the monster movie/ heist thriller/ drama Q - THE WINGED SERPENT (1982), the satirical horror film THE STUFF (1985), the horror comedy THE AMBULANCE (1990), and the screenplays for PHONE BOOTH (2002), BEST SELLER (1987), GUILTY AS SIN (1993), BODY SNATCHERS (1993), CELLULAR (2004) and MANIAC COP (1988). In the first part of a three-part interview I spoke with Cohen about why he loves filmmaking, his approaches towards his craft, and how he measures the success of each film.

What do you love the most about filmmaking? 
In my particular case it was the freedom. I got to write, produce, direct and edit, and be in control of all of my 20 movies from start to finish, which was a unique experience. Most directors have supervision from studio executives, producers and investors, and a lot of interference, so half of their time is spent arguing with these people and trying to convince them of things. I never had to do that. Whatever I wanted to do was allowed without any committee interference. I just made my movie and changed whatever I wanted to. I sometimes wrote new scenes or created new characters.

On the set of IT'S ALIVE. 
How do you measure the success of a film you have made? 
It's just whether I am personally happy with it. I make films to please myself. I do like to go to the theater and see audiences responding to my films in person. I hear of these filmmakers who say once they finish a film they never see it again ever. I don't believe it. I just got back from Manhattan, where they ran seven of my movies, and we sold out every show. I got to do a Q and A, and I enjoyed seeing the pictures again after all these years, particularly as the prints held up very well.

Which accolades have made you the happiest over your career? 
I've received plenty of different awards from different places. I have a whole shelf full of them, but they really don't mean anything to me. Even an Oscar wouldn't mean anything to me because I know the history of the industry. I've had many Oscar winners work on my movies who were happy to get the job. Having an Oscar doesn't always mean that you are going to have continued success or affluence. One person wins it one year, another the next year, and so on, and no-one remembers particularly.

You have proved adept at many different genres. How do you feel about the balance of the genres you have worked in over your career? Would you have liked to have made more films in different genres, like comedy for example? 
I didn't have too much success with comedies. There was a lot of comedy and comedic sections and comedic characters in my 'straight' movies but the films that I did that were pure comedy never fared as well, although I did enjoy making them because of the people that were in them. I'm best known for thrillers with a high degree of comedy in them.

You once said that had your first film BONE been more of a success, you might have had more of a career as a more esoteric director. Do you have any regrets that your career didn't go that way? 
If BONE had become a success, I would have become a studio director of high-budget films, and I never would have had the same degree of freedom that I have had, and I probably would not have known what I was missing. On the few experiences where I have written screenplays that were produced and directed by other people, there were so many petty arguments and disagreements between people, and jockeying for importance amongst the staff, that it was just miserable for the director of the picture. They weren't the pure experiences I was used to making my own films. There aren't too many of us that have that prerogative of making films how we want to make them. You usually have to be either very successful or able to make movies at a lower budget. If you're anywhere in the middle you're just subject to constant irritation by people butting in all the time and trying to tell you what to do. I wouldn't have been able to make movies like that. I got spoiled early on, and after that I could only do my own thing.

Directing THE AMBULANCE. 
You have a distinct interest in taking things we consider as benign and making them malignant. Where did this interest come from? 
I don't know where it came from. Every human being has their different outlook on life. I always saw a great deal of dark humor in serious events, and that is what I put on the screen. Taking a baby and making a monster out of it (IT'S ALIVE). Taking ice cream and making a monster out of it (THE STUFF). Taking an ambulance and making a monster out of it (THE AMBULANCE). There's certainly a tradition that I have followed in each of my movies.

You are also excellent at twisting preconceptions and bringing together different tones and genres in a single film. What is the key to pulling this off? 
Claude Chabrol, the great French filmmaker, was a fan of my movies and kept asking me ''How do you do that? How do you get the comedy into the drama without affecting the dramatic elements and ruining the suspense?'' I suppose it's just a style I have and something I'm able to do, like some other novelists or filmmakers. The characters that I create are solid characters. They're not foolish or frivolous. They're not in there just to make a joke and look stupid. They have a reason for being and a logical progression of character. If they do something funny in the process, it doesn't destroy the reality of the situation. There are some filmmakers who make attempts to do all this and it just comes off as silly.

Your films are never ever boring. Do you often think about the attention span of the viewer? Do you use yourself as a gauge? 
Yes, I do. I like movies that move along and I find that almost every movie that I see these days is too long. Now that some directors get final cut, they don't want to lose anything, and sometimes you have the same scene played two or three times. Then, when the film comes out on DVD and Blu-ray they put in all the other scenes that they took out, and you have to sit through another half hour of the movie. My movies are always around 90 to 100 minutes and that's it.

You manage to make New York look and feel different than other filmmakers. You also seem to always find locations that haven't been used before. 
I love New York. It's a great backlot. Everywhere you go, there's something interesting. It has an interesting texture. There are a lot of old and decrepit buildings. Modern buildings. Skyscrapers. Glass buildings, silver buildings, gold buildings. It's a wonderland, and I like to capture it on film. It's great because you don't have to deal with the expense of building sets. It's all there. You just have to find the right places. For Q - THE WINGED SERPENT, the Chrysler Building was absolutely perfect. We couldn't afford to build any parts of the building, so we had to shoot in the real turrets of the Chrysler Building, 88 storeys above the street. We were up there on little ladders, perched with cables, trying to keep from falling off the building as we shot the movie. It was dangerous, but I went up there and the crew followed me and we got the scenes and made a very good picture I think. Most people would have built that building in a set somewhere, but it wouldn't have been the same.

On the set of BLACK CAESAR. 
Is it a conscious decision to cast actors who don't look like movie stars and look like people you'd meet on the street? 
I just try to cast actors who are going to be believable in the parts. I've shot so many movies in New York, and there are so many good actors there who have theater experience and are dying to be in the movies. Back when I started directing movies, nobody was making movies in New York. Now a lot of film and TV is shot there because of the tax benefits, which we never had. In fact shooting in New York was difficult to put together because the union requirements were so heavy and it was so much more expensive to shoot there than in California. I didn't care because my movies never cost so much money and I always knew how to control the budget.

Your films have a very loose, exciting, in the moment energy. Do you keep a very energetic set when you are filming? 
Oh yeah, absolutely. We shoot very long hours. I am sure that people who have worked for me over the years thought I was on some sort of drug because I never got tired and I was always so full of pep and energy. We'd be coming up to 13 or 14 hours and I would be tap dancing around and telling jokes and trying to keep everybody entertained so they didn't get too exhausted. Everybody always complained that I worked them such long hours but when I announced my next movie the same people would be back wanting to work with me again. So they obviously enjoyed the experience, even though I was a slave driver!

Do you think you're at your happiest when you're on a set? 
Oh, there's no question. There's nothing to equal it. On most other movies, particularly big movies, the actors come in and they're the stars of the movie. Everyone is catering to them, and in fear of them. The stars don't want to be spoken to by the crew. They don't want people to look at them. They have all kinds of demands that are just nonsense. On my pictures, it doesn't matter who the actors are, I'm the star of the movie! They're all gravitating around me and want to see what I'm doing next. The actors forget about being the stars and they just get into their parts. Even on the days they're not scheduled to work, actors often show up to set just to see what is happening. That's a huge compliment to me.

Do you write every day? 
Yes, I do, even if it's just a couple of scenes or a couple of notes. I'm constantly coming up with new ideas. More than I could possibly turn into scripts.

What usually kickstarts a script? 
I just get an idea for a story and I feel like I want to make it as a movie. That compels me to write the script. I don't write outlines. I just start writing a story and the dialogue. I usually start somewhere in the middle. I write an interesting scene that has a lot of juice, something that gets me hooked up into the whole movie – a scene where the characters start coming together and interacting with each other. On the first day we start shooting the picture I like to shoot a scene like that to help get the actors hooked into their parts right away, the same way I got hooked originally into the story. Often I give the actors some money and say ''Go and buy your own costumes. '' It helps personalise the parts for them. I give the actors a lot of responsibility.

Part two of the interview. 

KING COHEN will be released in cinemas and on VOD later in the year, and will be screened at Fright Fest in London on August 25 and at the Sitges International Film Festival in October.  

Larry's website

The KING COHEN website.

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.