Press recently had the opportunity to interview movie director
Joe Dante (The Burbs, Gremlins, The Second Civil War). Here
is a transcript of the interview.
(LV): Your films often feature people in situations where
their own devices or actions have turned against them, what
is it about these situations that allows you to project
them so accurately in your films and why are you drawn to
(JD): I could say that I face these situations everyday
in my own life but that wouldn't be true (laughs). I don't
know that it is a conscious choice on my part. I find that
I am drawn to certain material and then there is other material
that I am drawn to that I need to reinterpret in my own
way. I don't really give a lot of conscious thought to thematic
consistency. I find that by looking back at my work that
certain themes and devices appear throughout them with no
conscious effort on my part.
LV: You are
well-known for casting prolific character actors like Robert
Picardo and Dick Miller in your films. What is the place
of actors such as these in a modern film industry that seems
so fixated on celebrity?
JD: I have
actually done very few pictures with quote-unquote movie
stars. Most of the pictures that I have done have been populated
almost entirely by character actors. I grew up in the era
when movies and television shows from the '40s and '50s
there were many people who were famous in Hollywood for
playing judges and doctors and lawyers. I grew up with a
lot of affection for seeing the same people over and over.
When I was lucky enough to work with any of them I would
of course jump at the chance and use them whenever possible.
I did Scott Brady's last picture. I did Jesse White's last
picture. A lot of people do their last pictures with me!
But I think it's a very difficult world right now for character
actors in Hollywood because so much of the work has gone
to Canada. There is so much less work and so much less opportunity
for actors to develop a specialty and develop a recognition
factor that people could do effortlessly in the studio system
where people were under contract and appearing constantly
in movies and seen by people who went to the movies often
and therefore built up a residue of identifiability. it
is very hard for an actor to do that now, particularly with
somebody just starting out. If someone like James Gandolfini
is lucky enough to get the lead in a hit TV series then
he will become, from that, a well known character actor.
But, if that series had not gone on and only lasted a couple
episodes, he would be back down to the bottom, scrambling
with a lot of other people who are less well known. So it
is a very difficult period for anyone to develop any sort
of emblem as a character actor.
LV: You said
a lot of acting work is going to Canada; why is that?
purely economic. The cost of making a movie in Hollywood
has risen. The cost of everything has risen but the Canadian
dollar is such that substantial savings can be made by going
out of the country. Either to Canada or Australia or New
Zealand or places like that. Then of course they hire local
actors who make believe they are playing Americans. It doesn't
work for me particularly well and the locations don't often
work for me if they are supposed to be America and they
are not. I think it effects the quality of movies. I don't
see it ending anytime soon because, economically, there
is no argument to be made. It's much cheaper to do it that
LV: So films
are becoming like shoes or automobiles?
much so. The film companies are now owned by a number of
corporations and it's all become bottom line and they want
hits and they want profits. The argument is that the reproduction
of 42nd St. in Montreal is not going to look like the real
42nd street. And then they will say, 'Do it with CGI then.
We don't want to spend the money in new York because it's
too expensive.' 5. it seems as though there are a lot of
films being made today that rely too much on special effects.
What effect will the overuse of computerized effects have
on the craft of filmmaking? it has already made quite a
bit of an impact. There are special effects in movies that
people never even notice. The audience doesn't realize they
are effects because now even mundane things can be done
in the computer to make the sky a different color to make
the grass a different color. "O' Brother Where Art Thou?"
is a good example of a movie that was completely reimagined
after shooting in the computer. The big problem I see with
all this computer stuff is stuntwork. When I went to movies
when I was a kid and we saw a spectacular stunt, it was
breathtaking because you knew they had actually done it.
Now, it's like watching a magician on film. You always know
that it is probably not real, because they can edit it.
Now when you watch a stunt you always wonder if it's real
and most often, its not. There is a sense of immediacy that's
lost by the idea that it's all done with tricks and there
is nothing real about it.
LV: If you
were given the chance to use computerized effects instead
of puppetry for the "Gremlins" films would you have?
JD: I doubt
that we would have been able to stick with puppetry. I think
the content of those two films was formed by what was possible
at the time. I think now if they made a "Gremlins" movie,
it would be considerably different from the other ones because
it would be almost entirely CGI and once you do CGI, there
is really no limit to what you can have them do or turn
into. I'm not so sure that those two movies are even applicable
anymore because there is no way that people would do the
amount of puppetry that we did in those pictures. They are
really glorified muppet movies and the second one particularly
was written around what was possible to do at the time.
So, if you at started a new Gremlins movie and you based
it on what was possible now, the sky is the limit. I don't
even know where you would begin, there is so many possibilities.
Second Civil War" is a film that features as one of its
themes the sensationalism of national news. How close to
that theme do you think we are at present day?
there is no doubt about it, the world has changed. But,
if you want real prescience about the news business, you
just have to go back to Network. When Paddy Chayevsky wrote
network, it was considered a far-out satire. Now, it looks
like that's the movie the programmers watch when they want
to know what to put on television. All the outrageousness
has now either already happened or is one step away from
happening. So, with "The Second Civil War," while we were
making it, we would pick up the newspaper and virtually
any subject we were dealing with politically in the movie
would be either on the front page or second page. Now, in
our post Sept. 11 world, there is a lot of activity in Pakistan,
which is where the movie takes place. I think the events
outlined in the movie are not less-likely after Sept. 11
they are probably more likely.
LV: Any other
themes in "The Second Civil War" close to occurring today?
Yes. The movie is basically a satirical broadside of life
in the '90s. It really hits on every political level. It
was designed to be an equal opportunity offender however.
We didn't intend to make a track it was just sort of a skewed
view of what life is like politically in America today.
The president, who was played by the late Phil Hartman,
was kind of a dim bulb. He was actually based on what would
have happened if Dan Quayle had been elected. However, I
think now, in light of the administrations recent actions
that there might be a little identification with the current