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DVDTalk Sits Down With Eli Roth

DVDTalk Sits Down With Eli Roth

by Jack Giroux

Eli Roth has been having a great year and deservedly so. If you've been living under a rock for the past few months then you may be unaware of the wave of acclaim Inglourious Basterds has been receiving. Roth is currently apart of that acclaim due to his hilarious turn as The Bear Jew, but that's not why I was talking to Roth. Even though Basterds came up frequently, we mainly focused on his directorial debut Cabin Fever. It's finally coming out on blu-ray and it features his original Director's Cut. If you're a fan of the cult favorite then you probably already know it's out and is worth getting.

Roth.jpgDVD Talk: First off, congrats on the Blu-ray release and on how well Inglourious Basterds is doing this awards season.

Eli Roth: Thank you, it's been a crazy ride. It's been a fun thing to be apart of with The Critics Choice and the SAG awards. It's this incredible ride and I can't believe it's still going.

DVD Talk: The Bear Jew is starting to become somewhat of an iconic character.

Eli Roth: Yeah, it's fun. People are starting to come up to me and going, "The Bear Jew!" I get that on the streets, at airports and I'm getting honked out. People like that character -- it's a fun character to play.

DVD Talk: Jumping into Cabin Fever, was it your way of paying homage to Evil Dead?

Eli Roth: Well, a number of those movies. I obviously grew up on Evil Dead, John Carpenter's The Thing, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I had read that Fangoria [magazine] when I was fourteen about how Sam Raimi had went out into the woods with a group of his friends with like three-hundred thousand dollars and made Evil Dead. Right out of film school Randy Pearlstein, who I co-wrote the film with, that was our goal. We were going to get half a million dollars, get a sixteen millimeter camera and go into a cabin in the woods and make a horror movie. It took six years to raise the money and we wanted to make it for a million and a half dollars. Over those six years we kept working on the script and everybody passed on it for years and years. Finally, we were able, with the right team of producers, to pull the money together. Even while we were shooting we never had the money and then we finally sold it at a film festival. That movie was so much about my love for the late seventies and early eighties American horror with guys like Wes Craven and John Carpenter. At the time, those movies were kind of being shit on by people. When Cabin Fever came out no one was really speaking about the artistic value...

DVD Talk: Horror was basically considered to be porn.

Eli Roth: Yeah, exactly. Horror was a bastard stepchild of the film industry and it was considered a step away from porn. Even now with "torture porn" they try to affiliate horror with porn. I felt like in the seventies with Spielberg, Kubrick and Ridley Scott you had these A-list directors making horror films. But by the end of the eighties, it was considered trash and a straight to video genre. All the creative horror had been bled out of it with all the sequels. I really wanted to help bring back R-rated movies and that was the goal. I wanted kids in the woods, setting up cliches where people thought they knew what was going to happen and then twisting everything on its ear. That was the fun of the movie. It wasn't a movie about making fun of those movies or referencing those movies, but for the horror fans, they'll know exactly what influenced it.

DVD Talk: I always liked how you shot Cabin Fever making it very grainy and using naturalistic lighting. That kept it very much in the realm of seventies and eighties horror movies.

Eli Roth: Yeah, this was before the digital media so everything we shot had to be on the day. My director of photography Scott Kevan and I did a bleach bypass process where you progressively bleach the negative to give it a grainier look. Reel three and four we started at fifty percent and reel five and six we started at sixty-five percent then reel seven, which was a small reel... We had to add a seventh reel to go back to nothing so it would look like the first reel. So we were changing the grain structure of the movie and that was a very conscious shift that as things get worse it gets grainier and darker. Also, the group is photographed in wide-lenses as a group, but whoever is sick we photographed in single lenses. As the movie progresses it gets more claustrophobic. I had a terrific DP, Scott Kevan, who went on to shoot Stomp the Yard, Fame and he shoots a lot of studio movies now. Franco Carbone, my production designer, did Rambo, The Expendables and is now Stallone's production designer. He does tons of movies. With such an incredible talent... We had nothing, with only forty thousand dollars to build that cabin and just twenty-four days to shoot the movie. We were just trying anything we could to make it look like a big budget film.

DVD Talk: It's also great how you didn't really go with the CG route and let KB Effects do a great job.

Eli Roth: Yeah, they're amazing. That stuff really looked like that on the days we were shooting. It had to be real to the naked eye. It was so great to do the high definition transfer from the original negative and to see that stuff hold up so well. It looks beautiful.

DVD Talk: From a storytelling standpoint, it follows the same idea of The Thing and Night of the Living Dead. Where you have a group of people in an uneasy situation and they turn into monsters, I love those types of stories.

Eli Roth: Me too. I love the idea of Evil Dead where you're with your best friend and then you have to kill your best friend. I like that the friend turns into the flesh eating monster and the flesh is eating itself. If you actually look at Cabin Fever no one actually dies from the disease, they die from people going crazy. That was a fun part of the movie: people with this killer disease, but no one actually dies from it. (laughs) They just rot and all die in different ways. So that was apart of the fun.

DVD Talk:There's also that metaphor with how while the skin is dissolving so are the relationships.

Eli Roth: Yeah, I'm a psychoanalyst so all of that stuff is in there. You're not always aware of it while you're shooting, but my dad pointed it out later. They light a guy on-fire and ultimately they end up on-fire. It's do unto others as you have done to yourself. If everybody was calm and just nice to each other none of this would've happened, but people don't behave that way when they're scared. When there's a disease... When SARS first broke out they just tented off the building. It was, "sorry, but until we figure out what's going on you're put into isolation." That's what is fun: seeing friends panic, go crazy, see how they deal with it and seeing the guy who came off as the most stupidest and irresponsible actually be the one who works to solve the problem... Then there's the one that seems the most responsible who completely falls apart and abandons everyone else. That was fun, watching everyone go crazy.

DVD Talk: I remember when Cabin Fever came out people were making it out to be an AIDS metaphor, what did you think of that?

Eli Roth: Yeah, for sure. I grew up in the eighties and nineties and when you turn sixteen you hear, "oh, and if you fuck the wrong person you're dead." Then in nineteen-ninety I started college in New York City and then Magic Johnson comes out with AIDS, it was fucking scary. Nobody wanted to fuck each other. It was bad. It was this weird thing where whenever you look at someone and you're about to have sex you'd...

DVD Talk: Think of AIDS.

Eli Roth: You'd think of AIDS, is this going to kill me? You can't help that from getting into your psyche. I thought it was great that New York Times wrote a whole piece on that, the only good review I got from the New York Times. (laughs)

DVD Talk: Yeah, but you get a lot of acclaim from filmmakers. I remember Peter Jackson loving Cabin Fever.

Eli Roth: Yeah, Peter loved the movie. He stopped production on Lord of the Rings... That was a huge turning point for the film was Peter Jackson's support and giving me those quotes. He did it because of Evil Dead -- Frank Walsh actually told him to give me a quote. I always dreamed of having a quote like the Stephen King one for the Evil Dead poster. That's what made Evil Dead, Stephen King's quote. The fact that Peter Jackson did that for me, I'll never forget that for the rest of my life. It was the kindest and most generous thing anyone had ever done for me. Then Quentin Tarantino coming out and publicly supporting me and also Robert Rodriguez. Suddenly your idols are loving your films and are treating you like a peer. That was an amazing moment in my life.

DVD Talk: Is there any update on Endangered Species?

Eli Roth: Yeah, but it's very difficult to focus when I'm having all these award season events. (laughs) We won the SAG award, The Critic's Choice awards and I got to go to the Golden Globes. I'm having such a fun time enjoying this wonderful ride on Inglourious Basterds and I can't believe it's still going. I can't believe it's getting crazier and crazier and more fun. The truth is, after Hostel I really rushed into Hostel II. If there's one regret I have I wish I would have taken more time to enjoy the success of that film a little bit more. I'm very conscious now about just how rare and fleeting it is. You get that one moment where you're number one. Now to be apart of this film and to have all this incredible honor happen I don't want to miss it for anything. I try not to beat myself up for not writing as much as I want to, but I also know that it's an important part of my development as a filmmaker to go and experience all this stuff and take time to enjoy it.

DVD Talk: Do you still want to do Thanksgiving?

Eli Roth: I'd love to, if I can work it out logistically. If not, I'll go do Endangered Species then I'll do that later.

DVD Talk: Do you have anything else on the horizon?

Eli Roth: I have a lot on the horizon, but that's enough for now.

DVD Talk: Hollywood obviously isn't the best place right now, would you say it's tough getting financing for Endangered Species or any of your other projects?

Eli Roth: I think Hollywood is in a great place right now. I have a lot of movies going right now as a producer... It's only tough if you're trying to make non-commercial material, but I've based my whole career on making movies that turn a profit and being very upfront about that. You can have artistic quality, but make a movie for the fans. I'm making movies for the fans and I'm not making movies to win awards, but movies that I want kids to watch at a sleepover twenty years from now. The studios know that about me and they're all very, very eager for any projects I have. It's a great position to be in, but the truth is I've built my business on making commercial movies and being very open about that. Seven years ago people made fun of me for it and now all the studios want me to make movies for them. I couldn't do what I do without the fans and the support of the public. Thank god I've been lucky enough that my films have been released in a way to find their audience and that the fans trust me to make material that connects. Timing has so much to do with it, but I just feel really grateful that I've been able to make movies for teenagers, college kids and kids in that age group. Obviously people in their thirties as well, because that's where I am, but also for movie geeks and people that just love movies. They've come out to support me and there's no other... That's the reason for what I do: I just want to make movies for audiences that are fun. Make a date movie, make a popcorn movie, or a Friday night movie and just do it well. That's all I ever wanted to do.


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