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Guest Spot: Rohan Williams Interviews Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert (Part 1)

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Guest Spot: Rohan Williams Interviews Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert (Part 1)

Here’s a guest piece from frequent blog commenter, Rohan Williams. – BC

For the cineastes among you, I recently caught up with filmmakers and fanboy Gods Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert for a chat regarding the latest release from their Ghost House production studio, 30 Days of Night. The resulting article will be printed in Scene Magazine for the Queensland residents amongst you, but why let the transcript go to waste?

In Part 1, Raimi and Tapert discuss adapting Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s graphic novel, discovering the true nature of horror at the drive-in with Bruce Campbell, Raimi’s views on the Spider-Marriage, and those pesky Spider-Man 4 and Hobbit rumors.

Hi guys, how are you?

Rob: Good, Rohan, how are you?

Sam: It’s nice to speak with you, Rohan.

Thanks, I’m well. How was your Thanksgiving weekend, guys?

Sam: It was wonderful! I got to see all the kids, we made a turkey… it was very nice family time.

That’s good. First off, guys, congratulations on the success of 30 Days of Night. Which one of you first came across the source material, and what was your initial reaction?

Rob: Sam and I were given the first graphic novel, it’s a three-parter, and an unfinished portion of the second one… still in black and white, and really incomplete, there weren’t even bubbles all the way through it… as a possible feature by one of the agencies, and we thought it was a really great high concept idea, and a real interesting take on vampires. And what we were originally sent, and what Steve Niles came and pitched, involved an interesting love story that we thought would help differentiate it from traditional vampire pictures.

Sam, was there ever a point where you considered directing the film yourself, or did you always see it as a Ghost House picture that you’d pass on to somebody else to direct?

Sam: I was always so busy and committed to the Spider-Man pictures- especially at that time, I think I was finishing Spider-Man 2 and had already committed to Spider-Man 3- that it was never even a possibility to consider it. It was really just Rob and I looking for material for Ghost House pictures at that time.

Ghost House has turned out some great horror movies at this point, but when did you guys fall in love with horror films? Were you into cinema before you were into horror, or was it horror that got you into cinema?

Sam: Thanks for the compliment! We were into cinema first. Rob and I used to make Super 8 movies at Michigan State University, and they were comedies and pseudo-dramas. I remember one film we did was called The Happy Valley Kid, it was the story of a student driven mad. Rob was the producer but also the star of the picture, I directed the film and we worked on the script together.

Basically, we never made horror movies. Rob said to me one day, ‘I’d love to make a feature film’, and I said, ‘okay, I’d love to make a feature film with you’, but after the little bit of research he did, he said, ‘Sam, I recommend we make a horror movie’. Because the cheap movies… we’ll only be able to get a certain amount of money, he explained to me, if we’re lucky we can get a low amount of money, and even then it’ll be a long shot… but even if we can get that money, the only movies playing for that amount of money are these cheap horror movies in the drive-in theatres, before video. At the drive-in in Michigan, they used to show these really cheap American or Italian or English horror films. And so he said, ‘can you make a horror movie?’, and I said, ‘I don’t know, I’ve never made a horror movie!’

So Rob said, ‘well, I’ll take you to one, and you can tell me if you can make a horror movie as good as the one we’re going to see’. So he took me to the theatre and we saw Halloween. Remember that?

Rob: Yeah! We were all alone!

Sam: (Laughs) We were all alone, and he said, ‘well, can you make a movie as good as that?’

(Laughs) And I said, ‘gee, I don’t think so, they’re much better than I thought they were!’

(Laughs) We didn’t know what a phenomenon it was at the time, but then we saw it later with a crowd and we realized that this was a very unique, wonderful horror film, a well crafted film.
So then Rob, myself and Bruce Campbell sat in hundreds of drive-ins… not hundreds, but tens of drive-ins, watching these movies and learning how they were made, and we started to make our own in Super 8. And that’s really how we got into horror films. After a while we learned to really like them, and the craft that went into them.

Do you think that your future producing credits will stay in the horror genre? I ask because as a director, especially with the Spider-Man films, you seem to have done away with the concept of genre altogether. As a producer, though, you’ve concentrated on horror. Are you looking to produce other stuff?

Sam: I’m really happy with horror. I really like the idea of building suspense and getting the audience on the edge of their seats, and them knowing that a big scare is coming, and watching as the director delivers that scare. It’s real fun, it’s like building a spook house! It’s really easy to gauge the response. But Rob and I would like to produce other kinds of films, too. We have, in the past, worked a little bit on science fiction, and I think we liked that, too.

That’d be cool. Do you have any inclination yet towards whether you’d like to produce or direct the next Spider-Man movie, or is too early to call?

Sam: I think that’s going to be up to Sony Pictures, and I think that it’s too early for them to say, actually. But currently I’m working on… well, not now, but as soon as the writers strike’s over… I’m going to begin working with a writer on the screenplay.

Is it important to you that the story follows on from the first three? I mean, how important is internal continuity to you? Can you go Evil Dead-style and change details a little bit, maybe change the story up a little bit?

Sam: If I was writing it I would have a very strong opinion about that, but we’re hiring a writer to come up with his own take. Sony was willing to go either way, we’ll just have to wait and see what the writer comes up with. I think anything’s possible, though.

I mean, there’s been so many different versions, it doesn’t have to follow the movies that we’ve made. I’d very much like to see Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man, so I have a personal interest in that, but certainly anything’s possible. Spider-Man’s such a big character in the comic books that he could endure a lot of different interpretations. You could start over or you could start with a different aspect of the story than I’ve focused on in the pictures I’ve made, we’ll just have to wait and see what the writer comes up with.

Do you think the story will still be interesting if Spider-Man moves on and gets married? Because within the world of comics, a lot of writers complain that once he got married the stories weren’t as interesting, and the movies seem to be heading towards that. As someone who’s a married man and has a family, what do you think of this idea that he can’t be interesting once he’s married?

Sam: He’s most powerful to me as an adolescent. The thing that Stan Lee created that was so special was that he was a very young character, and he’s a kid trying to deal with these fantastic powers. The idea of being married counters that a little bit. It’s a place of accepted responsibility versus being on the road to learning responsibility. It’s associated with adulthood versus being the ultimate kid who’s a superhero. So it’s not that you couldn’t tell a good story with a married Spider-Man, but my favorite Spider-Man is the unmarried one.

As your films become more successful, and connect with more people, have they also become more personal, in a strange kind of way? Because to me, each new Spider-Man film, for example, feels more like a Sam Raimi film than the last one.

Sam: Well, you know, when I first started making the Spider-Man films, I tried to stay as true to the comic book as possible, and not push my own personal styles or tastes onto the film. I really just tried to make something that was true to the comic book, and true to the idea of the comic book. And then, when it came time to make a sequel to that film… well, then I had a different master I had to follow, I had to make a sequel to the film, not the comic book. So it took on a little bit more of a filmic DNA, and therefore maybe more of what I do. And maybe that process just kept happening. That’s the best I can say.

Sure. When you started work on the sequels, were there other movies you could look to for inspiration? Did you like any of the other superhero sequels that had come out?

Sam: I hadn’t really seen many of them. I really liked the X-Men movies. I thought X-Men was great, and I thought Bryan Singer did an excellent job with X-Men 2. I love Superman…

I was going to say, there’s a few parallels with Superman II and III in the corresponding Spider-Man films.

Sam: There probably are, and I loved Superman II. I thought Richard Donner and Richard Lester both did a great job. It’s hard to say who did what on that. I don’t know, but I’m sure the aficionados know. That was another great picture. I cannot remember Superman III.

(Laughs) I don’t think you’re alone there.

Sam: I think I saw it once, years later. But I love the first two. I would say, though, that I was influenced by the Stan Lee comic books. All the ideas came out of those Stan Lee comic books, and the artists that drew them, from Romita to Steve Ditko. That’s where all the ideas for the Spider-Man films came from. As much as I love the Superman films, they weren’t really the source material.

Sure. As fans of the original source material, is there a particular villain that you and Rob would like to see in future Spider-Man movies?

Rob: I wanna see Spider-Man Vs Predator!

Sam: I’m trying to not voice an opinion on that, because I’m trying to let the new writer proceed unmolested by me. I want somebody who’s got a really fresh take on the material, and I think that’s what’s best. I’m afraid to prejudice the decision making process right now by forcing my own desires upon them.

Rob, do you think there’s any way you can convince Sam to direct another straight-up horror movie? Maybe starring Bruce Campbell? Can a fanboy dream?

Rob: (Laughs) You know, Sam keeps promising Bruce and I that we’ll work together, and Bruce and I know that Sam is a man of his word. That day will arrive someday!

(Laughs) Sure. As long as we’re addressing rumors and fanboy dreams for a second, has there been any progress made with you and The Hobbit at all? Is that something you’re still interested in pursuing?

Sam: It’s not really my choice. The Hobbit has always been Peter Jackson’s picture, and I believe from what I’ve read that he is back in negotiations with New Line Cinema, and like all fans of his, I’m hoping that he’ll make it. So until I hear differently, I’m going to assume that’s what’s going to happen. Now, if he ever decides not to make it, I would love to be considered for it.

It’s a great result either way for film fans.

Look out for Part 2, in which Raimi talks about the evolution of his directorial style and tries to sell you a used car, while Tapert fills us in on 30 Days’ sequel prospects.