Tuesday 29 November 2022

Interview with Lewis Schoenbrun - By David Kempf

When did you first become interested in films?
My interest in films began when I first saw King Kong (1933) and March of the Wooden Soldiers (1934) on TV, both of which played each Thanksgiving when I grew up in the early 1960’s. I was particularly fascinated by the animation sequences in these films and was interested as to how they were done. Other influences included watching old 1950’s sci-fi films which ran often on the independent tv stations; by the mid 1960’s shows like The Twilight Zone and Star Trek solidified my interest in film.

Do you remember what the first movie you saw was?
The first film that I ever recall seeing in a movie theater was Lady and the Tramp (1955), I saw the 1962 re-issue and would have been 3 1/2 at that time. Apparently the brilliant images made a significant impact on me since I can still recall seeing it vividly and yet I have never seen the movie since.

When did you make your first movie?
I was 11 years old and my friend’s father had a Kodak Super 8mm camera, it was very simple to use no lens to focus, you just inserted the film cartridge, aimed and shot. I remember it was called The ‘Intellectually Disabled’ Genie, that’s not what we called it at the time but the term we used at that time is now considered insensitive and inappropriate. My friend and I edited the film in the camera and took turns filming each other; it was mostly using trick photography like turning the camera on and off the way they used to do on tv shows like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie.

I used to experiment a lot animating clay years before it was ever referred to as “claymation”, I think I must have been influenced by the Gumby cartoons and Will Vinton’s short film Closed Mondays (1974).

When I was 14 years old I took a high school filmmaking class where I made several short films, one I recall was called Rainy Day about a young boy who is shut-in all alone at home on a rainy afternoon.

My first serious effort was a short 25 minute film I made in 1976 as a high school independent study project, it was based on a Ray Bradbury short story called, The Earth Men which is from his Martian Chronicles collection. It was the first time I was able to completely flush out a comprehensive story and it utilized a variety of special effects which included miniatures, animation and rear screen projection, you can see it in the links below.

Why do you think horror books and movies remain so popular?
Horror always has and always will remain relevant. Although genre’s like westerns, film-noir or musicals may wane over time, horror will always be essential for two reasons. Horror appeals to our darkest fears, whether it be a homicidal maniac or the supernatural, these will always be a part of the human condition. The other reason is that horror often plays out as a morality play and the protagonists represent children and the monster represents adults (authority figures). In most horror films a bunch of teenagers do that which they aren’t supposed to like smoking, drinking, recreational drugs, sex, etc. and ultimately they are punished to death by the monster. These stories are cathartic and will always have an appeal, especially to a younger audience.

Why are people still obsessed with being scared?
Well again I think it’s all about the catharsis. We all experience fear as children and throughout our lives, but in reading a book or watching a movie we can experience those fears while at the same time feeling safe and knowing that in the end we will be fine.

Who inspires you?
As a youth I was inspired by many talented filmmakers including Kubrick, Hitchcock, Harryhausen, etc. I think today I look at the current crop of filmmakers and I just don’t see the same level of artistic brilliance. Maybe its because of changes that have taken place in the industry or maybe it’s just my getting older. I keep looking for inspiring new filmmakers, I just don’t see many today, maybe I am not invested the same as I used to be. But I am hopeful that I will see the same brilliance I once saw in a younger generation of filmmakers.

What are the differences between a parody and a mock buster?
Well a parody is taking a novel, play or movie and making fun of the story, genre, characters etc. A mock buster is an attempt to work off of the coat-tails of an already existing and successful work; it doesn’t necessarily need to poke fun at the original. I think that the most successful company to do this is The Asylum who make exclusively mock busters, but they aren’t necessarily trying to make fun of the originals, they are just hoping that people will be interested in an alternative version of the same basic story.

Now my film The Amazing Bulk (2012) clearly falls into the category of being both a parody of Marvel movies and also mock buster as I hoped to ride the coat-tails of The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spiderman while at the same time having fun with the genre of super-hero comic book films.

What are some of your favorite horror books?
My favorite horror novel is Stephen King’s The Shining. I recall reading it when it first became available in paperback, before the movie version and I was thinking this is the scariest story I’ve ever read. It was a real page-turner at the same time I was scared to turn those pages because the build up was so incredibly effective.

What are some of your favorite horror movies?
Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Wolf Man (1941), Dead of Night (1945), Les Diaboliques (1955), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1962), Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Exorcist (1973), Carrie (1976) and The Thing (1982).

You are a huge admirer of Stanley Kubrick. What is it about his work that stands out to you?
I first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968 on it’s initial theatrical release, the film still very much inspires me. It was the first time I thought to myself, I’d like to do that one day, make movies. There are so many things that make Kubrick stand out as a great filmmaker, particularly the originality of all his works, he never repeats himself and crossed many different genre’s. I am mostly interested in his earlier films beginning with The Killing all the way through Barry Lyndon. I’m not as interested in his later works, I think he became less interested in his audience over time and more interested in making films for himself.

I must ask this question. Is it better to make a “bad” movie or no movie at all?
Go ahead and make that bad movie. If it wasn’t for bad first movies we might not have had some of our best directors: Stanley Kubrick’s Fear and Desire (1953), Francis Coppola’s Dementia 13 (1963), Peter Weir’s Homesdale (1971), Oliver Stone’s Seizure (1974), Ron Howard’s Grand Theft Auto (1977), Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste (1987), etc.

What are your current projects?
I am not working on anything currently, I do have hopes to make a sequel to my film The Amazing Bulk which is based on a novel written by a young enthusiastic fan. I wasn’t that interested in doing a sequel but I really like her story and I’ve got completely different take on how I would make the film (i.e. it wouldn’t rely nearly as much on green screen).

I have a time-travel comedy script I’ve been working on, but it’s just not ready yet.
My main focus has been about launching my website / streaming service Lost and Found Films which is dedicated to collecting public domain feature films, restoring and colorizing them. We have identified over 4,000 silent and 3,000 sound era films and use AI Technology to restore many back to their original condition. I have completed 50 films and most of them are currently available on Amazon Prime and Tubi. You can find them all for free on my Youtube channel until my site is launched at which time they will still be available at a very affordable price.