INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD ELFMAN
Q: What inspired you to make the film Forbidden Zone?
RE: “Forbidden Zone” is, among other things, a satire on social amorality and our generally demented society where people don’t take responsibility for the effects of their actions. I had these loud redneck next door neighbors at the time–real in- bred types. The father would scream and holler at the mother, who’d yell at the chubby slutty micro-skirted 14 year old sister, who’d hit her zit-faced 13 year old brother (might have also been her cousin as well as her brother), and he’d yell and slap at the dog. Also, the classroom scene is loosely autobiographical from my days at Dorsey High School in South Central Los Angeles. But most of all, “Forbidden Zone”embodies the vibe of my live stage shows with the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, the musical/theatrical troupe which would ultimately morph into rock group Oingo Boingo. I wanted to preserve on film the spirit that we were creating on stage at the time. “Forbidden Zone” is really the vibe and sound of the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo.
Q: Were there any cultural influences at the time that stick out in your mind?
RE: I think I was more rooted in the artistic past than the time period of the film: Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Josephine Baker, and also dreaming of an avant guard future where my brother, Danny Elfman, was musical king of truly original compositions. There were very little contemporary influences, however. My rule with the Mystic Knights was nothing contemporary. Either great recreations of past art that people
could no longer hear live, or totally original musical compositions.
Q: Were there any mind altering drugs that did the trick?
RE: Damn! I have been to city after city this last year, across the country, around the world–London, Barcelona–invited to speak at theaters screening “Forbidden Zone,” and someone usually asks that question. Nope. No drugs for this Mystic Knight. I am, and was at the time of making “Forbidden Zone,” a Scientologist–and we don’t take drugs. I am not a prude, or a defender of the “War on Drugs,” or anything like that. I smoke cigars and enjoy some fine red wine with weekend dinners, etc., but I believe that true creativity, however whacky, crazy, off-the-wall, whatever, is available without chemical influences. If anything, the effect of drugs hinders one’s ability to take the necessary practical steps to formulate and present the work to others–or, in other words, do the things one has to do to get the film made. I get my absolute wildest creative ideas while listening to music. (And if you think “Forbidden Zone” is far out, just wait until you see what’s coming!)
Q: Tell me any funny stories that come to mind when you were making “Modern Vampires.” Any run-ins with actors? Any untimely deaths?
RE: We used real vampires and many people died in the making of the film. (Just joking.) I had a hell of a time shooting this one scene in the film, when the German aristocratic vampire, played by the wonderful Kim Cattrall, was tied down with a ton of garlic, about to be staked by Van Helsing’s cracked-out posse of South Central gang bangers. Kim invites the gangstas the screw her first. Awright! And then she morphs into a hideous scab-covered demon. Cone and get it, boys! “Well,” says one of the gang bangers, “she looks betta than that bitch on Crenshaw,” and on he goes. Now this was a script wrtitten by Matthew Bright (“Gun Crazy,” “Freeway”) and obviously politically incorrect– like an 11 on the 10-scale. By the way, again in “Modern Vampires,” the underlying theme was a satire of contemporary decadence and amorality in our culture, a society run and controlled by vampires who will do anything for their pleasure and survival, no matter the consequences to others. Anyway, when it was time to shoot, the tension on the set was high. A feminist on the crew was all upset. The redneck cops where we were shooting (this location required rent-a-cops from the local department), were giving me dagger looks. Then, just before time to shoot, the gang bangers mutinied and decided not to go through with the scene. Shit! Kim’s double was dying in a head to toe body prosthetic, my shooting day had little time left…
So I confronted the four guys. They said they didn’t like how black people were being portrayed (like they would screw anything). I started jumping up and down about how they all read the script a month earlier when they auditioned, that nothing in the film was racist as ALL the characters, white and black, behaved in the same amoral manner and, if anything, the white people behaved worse than the black people. One of the mutineers said that as I was white, what did I know about being black? I countered angrily that I wasn’t white, I was a red nigger, grew up in Crenshaw and could kick any one of their asses–right there, right now! (True story, and I was a semi-pro boxer for many years.) Luckily, I remembered that one of the group was a former marine, and I quickly qualified my remark that I’d kick anyone’s ass…except Cedric. Anyway, one of the guys was a stand-up comic. We talked censorship, how he reacted to political correctness, use of the “N” word, which offends some blacks yet others use it regularly, etc. He didn’t listen to the criticism and used the “N” word regularly in his act. I said that about one in five people are anti- social, maybe 2 1/2% of the population outright suppressive–particularly to Art and artists. Was I, were we, going to censor ourselves, censor Art to avoid pissing off a few assholes? Hell no. We all hugged and the guys shot the scene with gusto and bravado. Whew!!! (By the way, when the film screens on TV they always cut out that seen and no one knows how the gang bangers turned into vampires, so try and watch it
on the uncut DVD.)
Q: What were your best/worst experiences making “Streets of Rage”? What was it like working with Mimi Lesseos?
RE: Mimi is a wonderful gal. As a producer, her handshake is more reliable than a Hollywood contract. She’s smart, pretty, sexy and a real life martial arts champion–she won the female division of the kumite in Hong Kong (what the actual bloody contest “Bloodsport” was based upon, after which she did her famous Playboy spread). “Streets of Rage” was shot in nine days, during the shooting of special effect sequences for “Shrunken Heads”. “Streets of Rage” actually was directed byLt. Col. Aristide Pierre Lafite Sumatra of the Ton Ton Macoute, ret., who also happened to play the Haitian witch doctor in “Shrunken Heads.” (Any resemblance between Aristide Sumatra and myself is purely coincidental.)
So Mimi is a sexy, beautiful… real life killer…with a jealous, white-hot Latina temper to boot. It was rumored that she and Sumatra were involved together romantically and fought like cats and dogs on the set. Sumatra, purportedly a gentleman, would never strike a woman, even if he was spitting out his own teeth, which was almost the case on a regular basis. Ah, film making!
Q: What were your best/worst experiences making “Shrunken Heads”? Any crazy stories?
RE: I have a fond spot for “Shrunken Heads” and would like to release it on DVD one day. I suppose the worst experience was a costume fuck up–the dyke gang boss, Big Mo, played by Meg Foster in a fat suit, wasn’t given large enough breasts in the costume, so about a third of the audience thinks that Meg is playing a man, which she isn’t. The best experience was watching Tommy, now a grizzled, flying shrunken head, trying to resolve his love relationship with Sally. It’s a tender love story, really.
Q: How did you end up collaborating with Daniel on “Date or Disaster”? Was it a mutual music related background?
RE: Daniel is an old friend. He actually developed the film with a different director, who left for another job, and took over on day two. I am planning a new project with Daniel called “Brave New Rosenberg”, along with Mexican star Jaime Aymerich and a bunch of super models.
Q: What has happened with “Date or Disaster”? Was there video distribution?
RE: Because of the deal that Daniel cut with the Screen Actors Guild, it can only be shown over the internet.
Q: What are your upcoming projects?
RE: “Brave New Rosenberg”, a whacky story of two private eyes in East L.A. who chase a girl into another dimension. Lots of music, Crouching Tiger/Hidden Stooges special effect fights. It will be a low budget masterpiece and a lot of fun. Then there is “Trio”, a higher budgeted film, kind of in the Stephen King vibe, about three old men who acquire supernatural powers and all hell breaks loose.
Q: Tell us about the magazine you are editing. Any projects you are excited about/working on that are not feature films?
RE: I am the Senior Film Editor/Associate Publisher of Buzzine Magazine. Lots of fun, no free time. Check out www.buzzine.com! We have six million subscribers…and look for our glossy print edition on newsstands. Also, the release of “Forbidden Zone” has kept me busy, flying all over the place. We are currently playing theatrically in Japan, if you can believe it. (Check out www.forbiddenzonethemovie.com to see when it comes near you.)
Q: What is some advice you would give to would-be horror/B-Movie directors? Producers? How do you come up with the money? Get a film produced? Distributed?
RE: Advice, huh? Well, first go to www.celebritycenter.org, (my Scientology place, where all the actors and musicians go) and take two courses: The Basics of Organizing ($35) and How ToImprove Conditions in Life ($82). That’ll mega-boost your organizational skills and, among other things, mega-boost your confidence level, which is very important for anyone wanting to direct. Then I would check out the digital world. Definitely the way to go. There is a new high-def camera for around $3,000 now. But even a three-chip camera, like a JVC XL 1 can work. There are tons around. You can edit on your home computer with Final Cut Pro or other various programs. Better yet, find an editor to collaborate with, someone with some cutting experience. Spend time on your script. It’s cheaper to make a change on your computer than to re-shoot. Do table readings of your script before you shoot. You will find flaws and improve it. USE PROFESSIONAL ACTORS. Or at least serious serious hard- training, dedicated acting students. They’re all over the place, looking for films to practice in, regardless of money or not. Try drama schools, university drama departments, whatever, but casting is half of directing. A non-pro friend may seem to have so much charm, so much personality, you find him or her brilliant, hilarious, whatever. But when all is said and done and you screen it for the public, the non-professional almost always comes off non-professional. Very non-professional. In terms of distribution, probably the festival route if you are just starting out. A little web searching will turn up a festival for every type of film. And finally, feel free to e-mail me through my website: www.richardelfman.com. I’m busy, but usually try to get back to everyone eventually.