Lloyd and Larry Cohen Get Cranked
Greetings from Tromaville!
Years ago, Troma released the Make Your Own Damn Movie! box set, a film school in a box that consists mostly of my theories and methods of filmmaking, but the fans wanted more. They wanted to hear from successful filmmakers. That's why we put out the Direct Your Own Damn Movie! box set, Travis Campbell's wonderful documentary featuring many directors who have been influenced by or worked for Troma. Typical of the directors that appear in this are Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who were once young film fans like you. They wrote Crank and overnight became successful Hollywood directors, despite the fact that they are Troma fans. The only mistake they made was giving me a small part in Crank 2. You might like to know that they shot Crank 2 with the same camera I keep in my knapsack, the Canon HV30, which you can get your hands on very easily. Here's a video you can find on the Direct Your Own Damn Movie! box set of my adventures on the set of Crank 2 shot on the HV30.
I recently had a discussion about filmmaking with Nev/Tay and Larry Cohen, the legendary director, writer, and producer of such movies as Q: The Winged Serpent, Bone, God Told Me To, Phone Booth, and the It's Alive trilogy.
Brian Taylor: Here's the really important thing: you need to have a script, you need to write. You need to have a complete script, so get out there and just write, find the story that you love and just write it. That's the most important thing.
Lloyd Kaufman: Do the studios interfere with you creatively?
Mark Neveldine: The more money you have, the more they want to get involved. But the fact is that they help you out--they give you money to make your movie. You sometimes have to battle them to make the movie you want to make. You have to be tough; you have to be thick-skinned with the studio.
LK: How about with Crank 2: High Voltage? You seemed to have been able to do whatever you want.
MN: We were smart with Crank 2, in that we did not ask for a big budget. We had a budget that was very similar to the first Crank and we did that specifically so that we could make our own damn movie. We even could risk putting Lloyd Kaufman in the film!
LK: So Larry, what advice would you give a young up-and-coming filmmaker who wants to produce his or her own film?
Larry Cohen: If you want to produce your own film, don't let anyone talk you out of it. Just do it. Equipment is so light and so easy to acquire and you can produce a movie with a skeleton crew, so there's almost no excuse not to make your movie. If you're not making one with SAG performers, and there are plenty of talented crew and actors who are not in the guilds, you don't have to pay union wages. There is a high probability that your film will not get distributed, but you can always hope for the best and you'll have the experience of producing a picture.
If you make an unusually good movie, then it will get distributed and it will be seen. It's entirely up to the talented people--or the untalented people--who are going to make the film. The most important thing to do is to get a good script. Going out and shooting something that isn't any good to begin with will get you nowhere. You have to have a good story, you have to have good characters, and you have to have good actors to bring those characters to life. There's no sense in going through all the trouble to go out there and shoot something that you know from the beginning is not right and not good. So, get the script ready, because if it isn't on the page, it's not going to appear on the screen. Some magical element isn't going to turn a bad script into a good movie.
A movie is like a building. The architect has to lay out a blueprint, and that blueprint has to work. Otherwise, the movie will collapse. The basic plot and characters and development have to go somewhere. I also suggest that producers, if they can avoid it, not make movies so depressing and so debilitating that it becomes agonizing to watch them. Too many movies are downers with little or no real commercial potential. You don't have to make Spiderman, but you certainly make some kind of a story that has some commercial appeal, if you want people to see it. You need to have to have a good concept and a good execution of that concept. Take your time and don't rush to go out and shoot just anything. Make sure you know where the film is going and how it will be edited together.
A lot of people start producing a picture, and then run out of money to shoot the ending. So sometimes the last part of the film is rushed or under covered. Always shoot the ending toward the beginning of the shoot, when you still have a lot of money left and everyone is still fresh and energetic. If you wait until they end, you may be desperate. People always remember a movie when they walk out of the theater by the last 10 or 15 minutes of it. You can have a great beginning, and a great middle, but if the ending is lousy, they think of it as a lousy movie. If you have a mediocre middle, you should have a good beginning, because you have to hook people and make them watch the picture. If you have to compromise anywhere, do it somewhere around the middle, and try and make it as short as possible and get onto the final climax of the picture and make that look terrific. People will walk out of the screening room or the theater and respond to what they saw in the last fifteen minutes of the picture and say "That was terrific!" You should spend your effort making the ending even stronger than the beginning.
LK: Have you ever come up against the studio? Have they wanted to cast somebody else?
BT: People complain about the studio, but they're giving you money to make the film. So if you don't want to deal with collaborating or working with them, don't make studio movies. It's really simple; it's like any other business. I really don't know why studios are demonized--there are a lot of really smart people that work at studios and there are a lot of really dumb people that work at studios. It's like any other line of work. You've got to try to work with the smart ones. We've been pretty lucky so far. If you don't want to deal with that, then be an independent and don't work with studios. They're spending hundreds of millions of dollars to produce your damn movie. So they're going to have a say--why shouldn't they? It's their money. If you don't want them to have a say, then just do it the Lloyd Kaufman way. That's great too!
 I play a power plant worker in Crank 2: High Voltage. My line of dialogue, "Better call 911," is destined to replace Night of the Living Dead's "They're coming to get you, Barbara" as cult cinema's most memorable line.
 Trey Parker did this on Orgasmo. He shot the last scene with my part on the first day. I don't do this. I shoot in sequence. But I am screwed.
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