The Grudge - An Interview with Sam Rami and Rob Tappert
Whoever created that hoary old cliche that nice guys finish last obviously never met Sam Raimi. As the creator of that seminal scary movie The Evil Dead, Raimi's energetic style, meshed with a truly inventive artistic vision, has set the standard for homemade horror films over the next two decades. Over the course of a career that saw him create a classic creature feature action hero (Bruce Campbell's loveable lunkhead, Ash) to an eventual move into mainstream filmmaking (he is responsible for titles as varied as the western The Quick and the Dead, the superb suspense thriller A Simple Plan and the baseball drama For the Love of the Game) Raimi is now among Hollywood's A list. Heralded for his work at bringing the comic classic Spider-man to the big screen in blockbuster fashion (both the original and the sequel have grossed a combined $1.6 BILLION worldwide), he is a true success story, a certified cinema geek made good in a notoriously impossible industry.
Such success has allowed Sam, along with partner and longtime friend Rob Tappert, to branch out into the production company game. Their new enterprise, entitled Ghost House Pictures, is an opportunity for the duo to dabble in the genre they love the best. One of their premier projects was last year's The Grudge, an American remake of the stellar Japanese horror film Ju-On. DVD Talk got the chance to speak with Sam and Rob to discuss the upcoming release of The Grudge on DVD (available 2/5), as well as the overall state of horror in modern cinema. Friendly to a fault and eager to discuss just about anything, Sam and Rob prove that the independent spirit still lives, even in a couple of seasoned old pros like themselves.
DVD Talk: How did you actually become involved in the remake of Ju-On?
Sam Raimi: Robbie?
Rob Tappert: Umm, I think two people - Josh Donen, Sam's agent at the time, and another guy, Roy Lee, who is kind of the broker and the executive producer for many, many remakes of Japanese movies here in America brought Sam and myself the movie The Grudge and showed it to us to see if we were interested in remaking it. Sam and his brother Ivan and myself, and our partners at Senator at that time, Joe Drake and Nathan Kahane, watched the movie, had no idea what the story was but jumped out of our skin numerous times watching it...
And did that inspire you then to say 'this is something we think we can bring to an American audience and have them appreciate as well as we just sat here and appreciated it'?
Sam: Yes, we were so scared out of our minds watching the film that we thought it would be a great thing to open it up and show a good portion of the American audience an English language version of it. Because we never knew they'd see it, being a...it being a Japanese film with Japanese actors in Japanese. The American audiences don't see that many of those untranslated films.
Was it the storytelling itself or was it the visual style that Shimizu Takashi showed in the original film that really said this is something that American audiences have to see?
Sam: I think it was all about the director's style and choice of camera shots, and construction of the story and lighting and the performances that he got. Everything you can do on a small budget he did well. He crafted a really good scary, scary story and that was the strength...that was the strength. It certainly wasn't the effects or the size of the sets or the size of the production or the costumes. It really was his telling of this really fine ghost story. And that is why it was so important for Rob Tappert and myself to hire him to direct the English language version.
Was there ever a time when you thought that because, as you mention, this was a Japanese horror film that was coming from that kind of sensibility and the restrictions that he had, was there ever a fear that by bringing it to Hollywood, even with retaining the same director, you'd lose that feeling in the translation?
Sam: I was never worried about losing the feelings that he generated, the feelings of horror in the translation. I had other worries: would he understand the actors, because were connecting this Japanese speaking director with English speaking actors; will our writer be able to rewrite this story in a way that justifies six different Americans living in Japan realistically. Those were more the concerns actually that I had at the time.
Did you ever have a doubt or a fear that even if all those things fell into place, you'd still be, somehow, not giving Simizu-san's to an American audience, a thought that even if we get everything put in place correctly, they're still going to somehow miss this?
Sam: No, because I knew that Rob and I, with the construction of our new company Ghost House Pictures, would protect the director. And so I felt that as long as he was being protected and not being made to do things that he didn't really believe in, and if at the same time we could provide him with a good writer, good actors and a good production team, from sound to editors to support him, there probably wasn't too much to fear.
With the success of The Ring, which obviously inspires the increasing look toward Asian horror, was there a concern that you would take this to a studio or a distributor and they would say "well, that's great Sam, thank you very much, but we now need to either Americanize it or Hollywoodize it in the following fashion?
Rob: Because of the unique relationship with Ghost House Pictures, we can kind of fully finance movies without having to go to a US studio, so one of the beauties is, we can really protect the director. And once we have the movie in the shape that we want to present it to the studio, we take it to them and say this is the entire package. So, umm, Sony got a whiff of it, loved Ju-On and approached us and our partners at the time to pick up the US distribution rights. So it was really due to the nature and set up of Ghost House we're kind of able to look out for the directors in those weird situations.
As producers, is there something artistically creative that you can bring to a project other than protecting the director. is it as fulfilling for you sam as a director yourself, or is there a whole different mindset involved?
Sam: One thing that I know Rob brought to it, he may not speak for himself, is he went to Japan and tried to find the best use of the money and by doing that - it's not to save money for the producers in some greedy way - to give the director as much as possible, with the available resources. And Rob is great at that...
Rob: And equally, in post-production, we were able to offer (Shimizu-san) people, some of Hollywood's best like - the sound on The Grudge was done by Paul Ottosson, who was just nominated today for an Academy Award for Spider-man. We could propose and bring different composers that wouldn't be available in Japan. So it's really widening the resources that the director has available to practice his craft.
The end result...were you both pleased with it? did it do what it was supposed to do?
Sam: I was very pleased. I sat in audiences and kids were screaming and shrieking and having a walloping good time watching that picture and I really thought "YES, that's what a horror picture is supposed to do". So I was very, very please at what the director and the creative team had done, and I felt pleased as one of the producers to have had something to do with bringing it to America.
Sam, on the commentary track (of the original Japanese Ju-On release) you said that when you first saw the film, you thought that it was 'schooling' you in horror. could you describe a little about what Shimitzu-san was schooling you in.
Sam: Well, I was not aware of the manipulation, as I am in most American horror films. So I think what I learned from Shimizu-san was a lesson in subtlety. That it did not...to set up a sequence of suspense, you don't need the larger sledgehammer type techniques that I often employ. You can have a much higher degree of respect for the audiences intelligence and work in a much more subtle way, and they'll still be right with you. And in so doing, you remove the feeling of being manipulated. It's all manipulation of course, but to not be aware of it is part of the greatness of Shimizu-san's technique. So I was, again, reminded by him, watching his great movie, that any manipulation defeats its purpose once the audience becomes aware of it.
do you think that the current trend in bringing Asian horror to the western audience is something that will actually help progress the horror genre - an evolutionary step - or just some fad that five years from now we'll forget?
Sam: Both. I think that every time there is a new explosion of ideas in one culture, Hollywood, greedy America, just loves to accept them - Americans love new ideas and it reinvigorates Hollywood. And this explosion of ideas helps the movie business evolve - and visuals in movies in general evolve, as these great artists bring their craft and their technique. And we're very eager as Americans to accept them. And at the same time, I think you're other point is right, the fad in Japan will pass, the artistic pendulum will swing over to some other place and we'll probably ignore Japan's great ideas more than we should and we'll look elsewhere are start paying attention to the newest fad, the new artists to infuse the next set of visuals and suspense techniques.
You and Rob both mention that this movie was made under the auspicies of your new company which is called ghost house pictures. could you give us just a little information about why you decided to start this new production company.
Rob: Sam and I are both huge fans of the horror genre, and I hate to use the word 'genre' because it reduces the stature of all the great people who have worked in it. Over the years we've seen so many different horror movies and we've had the opportunity presented to us to form a company to make horror movies. It's something that we've always loved and even though some may not consider scaring the audience a noble quality, it still is entertainment and there are many people out there who are happy to be viscerally moved by motion pictures. So this is a form of entertainment, a form of entertaining people that we happen to love.
I've noticed in looking at some information on the company and upcoming productions and there are several very interesting proposed films coming out. it made me think of something that was attached to The Grudge, as well as other horror movies, that is, this whole 'PG-13 vs. R' debate. some people argue that a horror movie has to be a hard "R" while there are those who say the "PG-13" can live with it. Does ghost house a philosophy about that?
Rob: I think the individual project dictates what's the proper rating for the picture to carry because certainly PG-13 plays to a wider audience. If you're going to make a movie about people having their head ripped off, or five kids in a cabin stabbing each other, that's not a project that you should attempt to try and get a PG-13. So really, each project dictates what the rating is. We have some projects we know are automatically going to be R rated from the get go.
With all the success you've had sam, and all the accolades that have come now at this point in your career, do you feel secure as a filmmaker, or do you still feel, as you did with The Grudge, that there are things that can 'school' you and teach you into the next few films that you make?
Sam: I definitely feel that way, like a student. I think it's how you stay alive creatively, by keeping open to new influences and learning how to do things in a brand new way and taking in the art of great filmmakers around you and being taught, again, brand new ways for doing things that worked so much better than you ever thought.
- Bill Gibron
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