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John Carpenter

Category: Escape from New York News (Archived)
Article Date: March 20, 2007 | Publication: Suicide Girls | Author: Daniel Robert Epstein
Source: Suicide Girls

Posted by: DaisyMay


In his 30 year career of writing, directing and producing movies, John Carpenter has made more people mess their pants than Billy Madison. He is best known for directing the original Halloween, The Thing and more recently he was unofficially ďinductedĒ into the Masters of Horror by directing two episodes in the first two seasons. For his latest episode Pro-Life, recently released on DVD, Carpenter again teamed with the writing duo that penned his first episode, Cigarette Burns. Pro-Life tackles the sensitive issue of abortion and whether there is a right situation for having one but puts it into a horror movie context with terrifying and gross results.

Daniel Robert Epstein: What are you up to today?
John Carpenter: Iím waiting for basketball to start. Iím a big basketball fan

DRE:
Iíve heard.
John:
Iím going to play a couple of videogames. Iím finishing up one so I can make room for God of War 2.
DRE:
Itís funny, I told a friend of mine that I was going to be talking to you and he said, ďAsk him about basketball and videogames.Ē
John:
Well, itís March Madness so thatís always fun. I watch that out of the corner of my eye. But Iím a real big NBA fan. Right now, the Phoenix Suns and the Dallas Mavericks are just great. They had a great game the other night.
DRE:
Whatís your favorite team?
John:
You got to love your home team. You got to be true to your home team but the Los Angeles Lakers suck. Weíre just in awful shape right now. But I like the Phoenix Suns. I like the Dallas Mavericks.
DRE:
Have you always been into videogames?
John:
No, my son and his friends actually got me hooked on them. I guess it was in the 90ís. As my son grew up and became interested in videogames, I played along with him. I really loved it so I had my second childhood through him.
DRE:
What systems do you have?
John:
I have PlayStation 3, I have Xbox 360, I have PlayStation 2 but I donít use it much anymore. Iíve got GameCube that I just donít use. Iíve got basically everything.
DRE:
I donít know if youíve seen 300 yetÖ
John:
Not yet. Iím anxious to see it.
DRE:
Often when film critics donít like the story in a movie they will say it is comic-like but since 300 is already based on a comic book they started comparing 300 to a videogame. But they seem to forget that videogames, like comics, have some pretty complex stories. Would you say that videogames are starting to get close to being as complex as films?
John:
With some videogames, because youíre involved in the action yourself, are truly exciting. You get lost in it. Whereas a movie is really a passive experience. Youíre sitting, eating popcorn. If youíre at home, youíre drinking a beer, smoking a cigarette, whatever youíre doing. Thatís a different experience. Thatís what I grew up with, movies as passive entertainment. When critics compare 300 to a videogame, Iím not quite sure what theyíre talking about. I think theyíre talking about computer generated graphics. I think thatís a way in to attack a movie on the grounds that itís more of a videogame or a comic book or something.
DRE:
They canít insult it by calling it a comic book-like movie. They just come up with something else they donít really understand to compare it too.
John:
Well, itís all an insult, like this is not important enough. Thatís the way it always happens.

DRE:
I read about some videogame you were involved with a couple of years ago, Psychopath.
John:
Yeah, thatís still percolating away. Iíll be involved with anything if it pays me money.
DRE:
[laughs] With Pro-Life, was it just a coincidence that you decided to film another script by Drew [McWeeny] and Scott [Swan] or did you help them with it?
John:
The first project that we did on Masters of Horror was a Drew and Scott original that I read [Cigarette Burns] and I thought, ďThis is great. Let me do this. I want to do this.Ē Then the second season came up and they pitched me, ďWe have this idea about a monster movie in an abortion clinic.Ē I said, ďThatís great!Ē I love working with those boys. Theyíre just really talented. As writers, theyíre very open and we worked it up a little bit. They just do a great job for me.
DRE:
Since Cigarette Burns is all about film buffs did you connect on that level?
John:
Yeah, we connected in the sense of loving horror, loving science fiction, that kind of a thing. Drew and Scott are very talented writers. Theyíre very knowledgeable about the genre. That always helps you when youíre doing something like an hour cable show. I suppose weíre all geeks in our own way. My brand of geekdom goes all the way back to the 50ís and 60ís. Iím the older geek.
DRE:
Youíve got a couple of years on them.
John:
Yeah I do, quite a few actually.
DRE:
I thought that Cigarette Burns had an interesting look to it, cinematography-wise and production design-wise while Pro-Life was a bit more straightforward.
John:
It was the same crew but itís a different story. So your look and the way it feels is always going to be dependent on the story. The story and the look of Pro-Life is very different. It is set in a clinic so you canít really apply the same techniques.
DRE:
Had you known Ron Perlman before casting him in Pro-Life?
John:
I met Ron for the first time at the very end of Cigarette Burns. Thereís a famous hotel in Vancouver, where everybody whoís shooting there stays, called the Sutton Place. I met him in the bar one night and I said, ďI really like your work and The Name of The Rose is one of my favorites.Ē We started talking and then he accepted the role in Pro-Life. It was very cool.
DRE:
I read that youíre not a big fan of method actors. Is that true?
John:
It doesnít matter. It depends on how much work I have to do. Some actors come prepared and ready to go. I can give you a list of those, Kurt Russell, Sam Neill, Jeff Bridges. We work ahead of time on the rehearsals and we come ready to go on the set. Some actors need emotional stimulation and support and sometimes intellectual stimulation and support right on the set as weíre doing the work. Thatís a little hard. So itís all about my comfort.
DRE:
I read that Ron was a bit of a method actor, but Iím sure you guys got along.
John:
I didnít see method in him at all. We talked real briefly about how to play the character in the beginning. I just said, ďPlay him as a hero. Play him as a good guy. Heís a strong man. Donít have one moment of doubt about what youíre doing except for at the end.Ē That was it. We just did the work. It was fun.
DRE:
I shouldnít have, but I got stoned before I watched Pro-Life.
John:
I got stoned while making it.
DRE:
[laughs] I really almost got sick when it Ron was aborting the male doctorís insides.
John:
Actually that was a more elaborate scene originally in the script. The boys wrote something Iíve never seen. I said, ďYou canít do this, okay? We have to tone this down a little bit.Ē
DRE:
That was toned down?
John:
That was really toned down. Oh man, it went on and on. Page after page of it and it was rough.
DRE:
I donít know how much of this new trend in horror, the torture porn, youíve seen, but it seemed like that sequence was making a comment on that just because it was so outrageous.
John:
It is but you donít see anything. Itís all implied, which is just the reverse. Torture porn is what you see, the close-up. You get to see all the grotesque stuff. Listen Iím a big fan of the Saw movies. I love that shit. I donít know if Iíd want to do it but itís great fun to watch. It is like the zombie movies in the 60ís and 70ís, with biting chunks out of people and all that stuff. Itís all great.
DRE:
I got a chance to interview Drew [McWeeny] last year. He said that youíd never be able to guess his politics from watching Pro-Life. Was it important to keep the points of view a bit murky and not make something more pointed like what Joe Dante did with his Masters of Horror episodes?
John:
Thatís just not me as a director. Joe did a great job with his show. He did it out of passion. Thatís not the way I approach things. I didnít want to make a political statement though I have before. In the movie called They Live, I made a pretty strong political statement. In this one I can unfortunately see both sides of it so I can understand it. If you want to know my politics, Iím a pro-choice guy because itís none of my business as a male. Thatís a decision a woman has to make. But I understand how pro-life folks feel. I donít agree with it, but I understand it. I think Ron did a good job being that guy.
DRE:
He was terrifying and almost sympathetic until he sucked out the guyís guts.
John:
Thatís where he goes over the top. Heís motivated and getting revenge.
DRE:
I know youíve done plenty of television in the past, including your own show. Have you ever had as much freedom script-wise and content-wise as you did with these Masters of Horrors?
John:
Yeah, Iíve pretty much always had freedom. Iíve never really experienced too much censorship or lack of freedom in that area. Iíve been lucky. Actually thatís my whole career. Staggered into it. Staggered through it. Staggered to the chair. Itís always been great.
DRE:
These Masters of Horror episodes just seem so personal. Is that the result of the scripts or was it the lower budget that makes things seem a bit more intimate?
John:
Every director makes a movie in a different way. Takes his ten days of shooting, which is what we had, and takes it to where he wants it to go. Some people write their own scripts. Some folks have scripts written for them. Everybodyís different. But itís fun to see everybody work.
DRE:
Don Coscarelli told me he didnít want to do an episode for the second season because he says with all the time and energy he put into making it, he feels like he could have made a feature film. Do you have the same attitude?
John:
Hell, itís fine. Look, itís great to be able to go and prep for a few days and shoot for ten days and go home. You donít have the physical and emotional pain of a feature. So itís a vacation time. I still hate to get up in the morning. God, getting up is really rough. But other than that, itís pretty much fun.
DRE:
With Pro-Life, you could have taken the choice to not show the monster, what made you decide to do that?
John:
Well, it would be pretty hard not to see him. Heís a pretty good monster. Heís reminiscent of an old movie that I saw when I was a kid called Curse of the Demon [directed by Jacques Tourneur]. Thatís what heís based on, sort of. Drew and Scott had a hand in fashioning him and I said, ďI want him to look like your dreams too.Ē But we kept him in the dark. I think heís got a big mouth. He roars a lot. Monsters are fun so why keep him in the dark? I remember once this actress and I were having lunch and she was lecturing me like, ďYou never show the devil. Thatís just not done in movies.Ē I said, ďWell, why not? If you could really have a great devil, show him. Where does that rule come down?Ē So sometimes itís good not to see, but hell, we love watching monsters. Show me my monster.
DRE:
Obviously youíre a big music fan and you do a lot of the music for your projects. How was it working with your son Cody on the music?
John:
He was at the right age and he had the right talent. It worked out. It was fabulous. Iím really proud of him.
DRE:
I interviewed your ex-wife [Adrienne Barbeau] last year and she said Codyís band is wonderful.
John:
Heís involved in music. Heís also in Japan right now finishing up his degree in Asian studies. Heís a Japanophile.
DRE:
Did he capture the John Carpenter music flair that you wanted or did the two of you work on it together?
John:
The themes are his. Theyíre very different than mine. They have their own unique feel to it. Iím just so delighted. Itís also really fun to see him get paid and I donít have to worry about it.
DRE:
I talked to Norman Reedus and I asked why his character in Cigarette Burns didnít really have any reaction when he saw the angel. Norman said, ďWell, what do you do when you see an angel? No one knows.Ē Was that what your thinking was?
John:
If I walked in and saw an angel there and I had somebody like Udo Kier talking to me out of my side, I would think, ďThis whole thing is ridiculous. This is a fake.Ē I donít know what I would think. Norman played it perfectly. I would go with what he said. No one knows.
DRE:
I spoke with Will O'Neil who wrote one of those Snake Plissken comic books a few years ago. He had said that you, Kurt [Russell] and [producer] Debra Hill owned the character of Snake. Is that true?
John:
Yes, but we share it with Canal Plus. Itís a long story, but the movie was originally made for a company called Avco Embassy. Avco Embassy was sold to Dino De Laurentiis. Dino De Laurentiis sold his share to Canal Plus.
DRE:
So in this remake theyíre talking about...
John:
I donít know that itís a remake. I think itís a lot about Snake before he gets to New York.
DRE:
But it just made me think that maybe the remake rights might be different than the rights to the character Snake Plissken because none of the articles mentioned you guys being involved with the project. Are you guys going to be credited producers?
John:
Executive producer.
DRE:
Do you have any desire to be more involved?
John:
My main involvement is I read the scripts and make sure the character is the same character that we wrote originally. I think that would be cool. My other main involvement in this project is to extend my hand and have a check placed in it.
DRE:
Itís always nice when you donít have to do anything, right?
John:
Youíre right. After 30 odd years of being in the fucking business, itís nice to not have to do anything and get paid. Thatís what Iíve been trying to do all my life.
DRE:
Then the past few years must have been pretty good for you.
John:
Not bad. Not bad.
DRE:
Obviously Snake was a character that was perfect for the time he was in, so do you think Snake will lose the faux mullet?
John:
I donít know what to do about that. Thatís not my decision. Snake is a character who was born out of the 1970ís when New York was having real problems. He came out of a post-Vietnam era and he was an anti-authoritarian. He was a really unique type of character back then. Heíll probably be reinvented for his time. But weíll see. I donít know if he will be mullet-less or with the mullet.
DRE:
Have you ever seen any of Gerard Butlerís previous movies?
John:
Yes, I like his work.
DRE:
I think youíll be very impressed after you see 300.
John:
I canít wait to see 300. It sounds really exciting. It looks great.

DRE:
You donít seem to mind these remakes, is that a result of you directing remakes yourself?
John:
Well, if Iím not directing a movie, itís not really mine. Iím flattered when somebody wants to take an old film of mine or a story of mine and rework it. I think thatís nice. Iím not trying to protect golden calf or something. It just isnít that way. Itís just a damn movie, man.
DRE:
On the other side, I donít think youíre involved with the Halloween remake.
John:
No, I bailed out of that after a while. But Rob [Zombie] has been a friend of mine for years. He did a song for me way back when [for Escape from LA]. Heís a real nice guy. He called me up when they were going to make it and I said, ďJust make it your own. Hell. Thatís the most important thing. Make it yours.Ē
DRE:
If they re-use a piece of your music, will you get a check then?
John:
Oh yeah. Big time. There was an agreement made, I canít remember when it was finalized, but every time a sequel is made there are certain payments. I encourage more and more sequels.
DRE:
I heard about this his project that you might be doing next, L.A. Gothic.
John:
Well, Iím involved in a couple of things right now. I just donít know. The script for L.A. Gothic is very good. Iíd like to tweak it a little bit, but weíll see. When it happens, it happens. If it doesnít, thereís always basketball.
DRE:
From what Iíve heard, you might not have been too happy with your last feature film [Ghosts of Mars].
John:
The experience was pretty grim for a number of different reasons. But I have to take responsibility for it. Itís probably my fault. Look, when one gets burned out on the business, it really can be destructive to you, emotionally, physically, in all sorts of ways. Itís easier when youíre young, but as you get older, itís more and more difficult. So I decided, ďYou know what? Fuck this. Iím going to take some time off.Ē Now itís been the best time in my life.
DRE:
Does doing the Masters of Horror episodes make you think, ďMaybe I could spend two years on a feature again.Ē?
John:
Oh sure. I love making movies. I love directing. Itís always been the love of my life. But I do have other issues. Myself. My own happiness. My parents. My mom died a couple of years ago. I went through that.
DRE:
Itís interesting that both of your parents were still around with you for so long because you think that a guy who made the films that you made that maybe...
John:
I didnít have parents, right?
DRE:
[laughs] Oh, I really screwed this one up.
John:
Yeah, I really didnít have any parents. I was left on a doorstep.
DRE:
[laughs] Do you see doing something as personal as dealing with your motherís death in a film?
John:
In this business, Iíve learned to never say never. Iím attracted to stories. If I create the story or if someone else does and it is good, Iíd be interested in it. But movies are really about fake life, not real life. Fake life is more fun. Drama, comedy, horror and all those things are fun to do. Thatís what Iíve been involved with, in my career so Iíll probably keep doing it.
DRE:
I was actually on the set of the prequel to the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. When we were interviewing the producers, I asked them why didnít they ask Tobe Hooper to direct and they said, ďTobe Hooper doesn't have anything to learn from me. He's done it all a million times.Ē To me that was just insane.
John:
But thereís a grain of truth in what he said. Theyíre not going to be able to control Tobe like they can some young guy. They can control you better when youíre green and starting out.
DRE:
So thatís what it comes down to?
John:
Partially it does. If you have a commercial background or a music video background or some tricky background, you bring your panache to the project. So you run around and get a bunch of trick shots and youíre not demanding final cut, so in the end it brings a breath of fresh air to the project. Tobeís already done his movie. He doesnít want to do it again.
DRE:
What would happen if someone wanted you to remake one of your films?
John:
Thatís happened. I donít want to do that. Iíve done it. Youíd be treading the same ground. Especially with the Halloweens. Thatís where it came up. We finished the story off. But thatís my personal opinion.
DRE:
How soon do you think you want to get a project up and running again?
John:
I donít know. Whenever it happens. If I get a project going, thatís fine. If I donít, thatís fine. Itís not life and death.
DRE:
Have you heard of SuicideGirls before?
John:
I know all about you. I know everything.
DRE:
Itís got tattooed, naked girls who like your films.
John:
Thatís my idea of heaven. Tattooed naked girls who enjoy horror movies. Thereís nothing better than that.
DRE:
Have you ever seen a John Carpenter related tattoo on someone?
John:
I havenít.
DRE:
Iíll have to email you one.
John:
Would you? I think I need to see that.

 


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