Monday, March 9, 2009

A Sit Down with Robert Meyer Burnett: Hills Run Red, Free Enterprise 2, and the Greatest Heist Movie You've Never Seen.

When we here at ATF heard that Wondercon was going to be hosting more than one Free Enterprise alum, we got our geek on and set up an interview with the director of the cult classic, Robert Meyer Burnett. Then, he couldn’t go, so we had to make do with Eric McCormack. Once we’d comforted ourselves with the Free Enterprise/Trust Me/Alien Trespass star’s dimples, warm smile and rugged charm, we managed to reschedule with RMB who sat down with us to talk The Hills Run Red (and maybe one or two other things we snuck in there. One or two.). Let the free-flowing geek references wash over you.

For those who missed the Dark Castle presentation last SDCC, The Hills Run Red is a straight to DVD release from Warners that looks as though if it weren’t going straight to DVD, it wouldn’t be going anywhere at all- its R rating is one of the more lengthy and inspired of late. Miss Muse, for the record, is more for gore: I prefer psychological horrors. Although I’m sure the trauma and scarring that will come from witnessing this film, even in its final cut, will prove significant enough.

The Hills Run Red is the harrowing tale of two young DVD documentarians searching for the final work of infamous director Wilson Wyler Concannon, that was allegedly so horrific a depiction of sadism and murder that it was quickly pulled from theaters. Desperate to see the work and unravel the mystery around it, the two set out to interview those who may have lived in the area when it was being made and visit all of its locations, intending to make a documentary from their experience. They enlist the aid of the director’s grown daughter to act as a guide in their search for... The Hills Run Red!

Duhn duhn duhn.

And, one may presume, things go horribly, horribly wrong from there. Fans of the genre, however, may be happily assured that so far as the film’s production team went, things seem to have gone terrifically right.

RMB:It really sort of in a way mirrors the director’s and my journey as people who have been making DVD specials… there’s a weird autobiographical element. It‘s almost like Dave and Rob hit the road. In a way there’s a strange, weird connection to FE, sort of, you know, in that there’s an autobiographical slant to this movie. Which is interesting because we didn’t originate the story, it was brought to us by someone else.

EC: When you did FE, you were going into it with an entire lifetime of love for that genre behind you. You didn’t direct HRR, but you’re certainly more involved than a producer credit implies. Do you think you’re bringing the same level of attention to detail and joy to horror that you did to scifi?

RMB: Yes. I mean, I have to say that The Hills Run Red originated because a company from NY called Fever Dreams brought this project to Ludovico Technique, and was interested in having us get involved and we had to do a pitch. Dave Parker [and I] were working together on the Superman Returns DVD, so it just seemed natural that- he also is a life long horror fan- that he direct and that I produce, because I wanted to produce a movie. And we were going to make this movie for three hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

Sounds like more of a miracle than shooting something in 16 days. Burnett and Parker then brought in friend and The Crow penman David Schow to rework the script, and created a trailer to present Parker’s directorial vision for the film.

RMB: The day we shot it Bryan Singer came down and visited the set… and said ‘Why don’t you take it to Warner Bros.?” And I said, sure, I’ll just knock on the Warner Bros. door and say “Hello, I’m here because my friend suggested I come see you.”

Which actually worked pretty well, apparently. Burnett and Parker met with Diane Nelson and Matt Bierman of Warner Premier, the direct to video department, who were looking to make horror films and liked the script and the teaser trailer for The Hills Run Red. They informed the filmmakers that Warner Premier was embarking on a joint venture with Joel Silver’s genre division Dark Castle, and asked if they’d be interested in making HRR there?

RMB: And Dave and I are like- We would get to make a movie with Joel Silver? The associate producer of The Warriors, the man who produced Streets of Fire, the guy who produced Die Hard, and the Predator movies! Lethal Weapon! That Joel Silver? And Dave and I were like… that would be the coolest thing ever. We’re like... no way is this little movie we’re gonna make going to be a Dark Castle/Warner Premier co-production.

Wrong! After waiting a year for a green light, in April of 2008 Burnett and Parker were told they were going to Bulgaria, where the nights were short and the shoot became necessarily grueling.

RMB: One of the more difficult things about shooting in Bulgaria was we shot in June of 2008. The sun would go down at ten o’clock at night and would be up at 5 o’clock the next morning. So when you have twelve hours of night work to do in eight hours, it’s hard. And to the credit of Roee and Jonathon, they did a great job of planning out the actual production schedule to make sure we maximized the time that we had. And Dave moved very quickly- and the actors did a great job. It’s tough when you’re young, you’re just starting out, and you’re expected to do a lot of work in a very short period of time.

Once the ball was rolling, Burnett said, his job was mostly relegated to the upkeep of morale. Ever the documentarian, however, he did bring along his own HD camera to film the filming in anticipation of DVD extras.

RMB: I think that all-new movies, especially horror and science fiction films, have an audience that more than any other watches special features on DVDs, and I think that you should never short-change your genre audience, but who knows. But again, it costs money. And HRR, for the kind of movie that it is, we’re lucky to get as much as we got.

So what can true horror fans look forward to getting?

RMB: It’s not a sequel, it is an original work that is not based on anything in the Warners library. The film… We may have gone a little far? In terms of making the content- I think that Warner Premier is catering to all audiences, and I think that the idea of really extreme- especially the kind of extreme horror that we had… I think we went too far. We cut down the movie and we got it to where we all liked it. I was so proud of the R rating that we got, for ‘grisly horror images, nudity, sexual situations, torture and drug use’.

EC: And all that after the cut downs!

RMB: Yeah! The version of the movie is quite extreme, it’s quite… fun. I think people will like it.

EC: Sweet mother of God.

As anyone who has ever engaged in a discussion of horror films with me will know, the use of the word ‘fun’ borders on being a hot-button issue in conjuncture with scenes of intense violence, particularly with the sexual slant an abundance of horror films have. In particular, my friends will know that you essentially can’t pay me enough to sit through a slasher movie. I find our country’s preoccupation with lining up teenagers only to watch them be brutally ripped down in unsettlingly creative and gory ways, usually just after watching them in pantomime of graphic sexual acts, to be a symptom of a greater illness- not to harp on how desensitized everyone is, more on how willingly un-empathetic. Skinny just-turned-eighteeners with fake boobs piss me off as much as the next girl, but you’re still witnessing the brutal torture of other human beings. RMB weighed in.

RMB: The thing about horror is, I think more than any other genre it reflects the time in which it was made. When you’re remaking a movie that was made in 1980, as they did with Friday the 13th, the difference [is] in the original Friday the 13th you’re on the side of the teenagers. When they’re killed, it hurts. You don’t want them to necessarily die, and you’re certainly not rooting for the killer. Now the human characters don’t matter, people don’t matter. And I think that’s fundamentally wrong. When you’re making a movie where you’re rooting for people to die I think that that’s a problem. I’ve always considered horror to be one of the most moral of all of the genres of film, because you hope that in the face of this encroaching horror, whether it’s the alien in the movie ALIEN or Freddie Kruger in the first Nightmare on Elm Street, you want your protagonists to defeat this evil. You want them to win! And sure they might have to compromise their own morality at some point, but in the end you want them to win. And I don’t know what it says about our society that people would just rather watch random teenagers get slaughtered by- the killer is the hero! And I understand, Freddie and Jason are the Universal Monsters of our time the way that Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Bride of Frankenstein were of their time. The pantheon of killers- Leatherface, Jason, Freddie, Michael Meyers- they’re sort of our version of the Universal monsters, although they don’t really mean anything, they don’t mean as much. And we too have a masked killer, but our masked killer does interesting things… like use a cell phone.

EC: To bludgeon someone to death?

RMB: No, to make a call!

Horror isn’t the only genre to be feeling a resurgence in popularity. In fact, the release of a film baring a title very near and dear to Rob’s heart approacheth. So of course, we asked.

EC: So! Free Enterprise….. 2.

RMB:: The eternal question. I think we have a pretty solid idea. I would like to do the movie. I think Shatner’s interested, and apparently at Wondercon Eric McCormack said he was interested-

Hee hee hee.

RMB: You know, it’s just a question of getting the script to be right. I mean I think if we’re gonna do it, this year would be the perfect year to do it with the new Star Trek movie coming out, and Shatner’s no longer on Boston Legal anymore so there’s time. And everybody wants to see it! I get that question every day, when’s Free Enterprise 2 coming? And it definitely has a following, Eric McCormack even said, I guess, he gets approached a lot about the film. I’d love to direct Free Enterprise 2. The story we have is much different than FE, it’s much bigger, more of a movie-movie. It’s a big road trip. FE is this big self indulgent movie about ourselves, I think FE2 we were trying to write the same characters, but they’re more movie characters as opposed to distillations of ourselves.

And where does this roadtrip go?

RMB:All over the world! They go all over the world. The basic story of the movie is that William Shatner has disappeared, for various reasons, he’s gone. And Mark and Rob need to find him, they each have reasons why, and time is running out. So they realize they don’t know where he’s gone, so they might need the help of a certain third party-

EC: [incriminating hand gesture]

RMB: I can’t! It takes place later in these character’s lives…

EC: I thought it was in college?

RMB: That’s just a flashback, to twenty years ago.

EC: So we could conceivably see the return of Rafer Weigel and Eric McCormack to the roles of Rob and Mark.

RMB: Yes, we have a way around that- look, all things being equal, I would love to make it with them. Why wouldn't you? That would be the most fun. There’s a flashback to when they meet in college, but the movie takes place after FE. It takes place years later and Mark and Rob, the nature of their friendship has changed, they don’t see as much of each other because they have their own lives! People grow up, and get married… FE2 in order to succeed would have to reflect what’s happened in our own lives, to a certain extent.

We’re going to leave you on possibly the geekiest note of the interview, which is The Best Heist Movie You’ve Never Seen.

RMB: At first [William Sadler] was taken aback by our... enthusiasm for him. I was sitting with him and I said you know, there’s another actor that I really like who doesn’t get his due, and the actor’s name is Will Patton… And I said, you know, you should get Walter Hill to make a movie with you and Will Patton, and you guys are brothers and one of you gets out of prison and you’ve been planning this last heist and it goes horribly awry! And Bill Sadler looks at me and goes, you know Will Patton is one of my best friends? And I was like- really? I thought that was really cool, I’d love to make that movie.

We’d love to see that movie. And we’d love to see The Hills Run Red. Or at least we’d love to see it with our hands over our eyes, kind of like, peaking through our fingers, and only looking at the bottom left hand corner of the screen. And when I say we I mean I. But we’d love to see it! And that other movie, too, the sequel one. That’d be cool. So for all the non-squeamish types who thought F13th and My Bloody Valentine just didn’t go far enough, pony up for this sure to be thrilling-and-or-nauseating upcoming release from Warners and Dark Castle. And go buy the director’s cut edition of Free Enterprise while you’re at it for the best damn Chuck Heston impersonation ever. Support our geeks in the industry, so that they might feed our imaginations, our souls, and our habit. What can I say? The ATF ladies like it pure.


Brendan M. Leonard said...

I would pay lots and lots of money for a sequel to Free Enterprise. Any director that name drops Streets of Fire earns my dollar. I'm really curious about Hills Run Red now. It reminded me of the novel 'Flicker' and some other things and I'm a sucker for that created metatextual mythology about missing films, etc. At the very least, it has to be better than Cigarette Burns.

This was a really good interview with intelligent questions and reasoned responses.

Brendan M. Leonard said...

Oh, and he's friends with Will Patton, who is AWESOME. Love that guy, from his football coach in Remember the Titans to the computer salesman turned militia dictator who's obviously seen Braveheart one too many times in The Postman. Now I want to watch The Postman again.

EruditeChick said...

Thanks! And dude, BILL PATTON and BILL SADLER. I love them BOTH. Er, although I never saw the Postman.

Brendan M. Leonard said...

Bill Sadler's equally awesome, although I bet him and Patton in a movie would be Glowerfest 'Whatever Year That Movie Came Out.' (If Michael Ironside and Willam Forthsythe were in it the world might implode from the sheer amount of glowering.)

The Postman is so, so terrible, but so earnest and goofy that I kind of love it. It's set in a post apocalyptic America and is kind of a western. The black sidekick is named Ford Lincoln Mercury. Tom Petty plays himself as the new mayor of a settlement. Tom Petty! And it's written by Brian Helgeland, who won a Razzie for it the same year he won an Oscar for directing L.A. Confidential.

LoquaciousMuse said...

Wait. Curtis Hansen didn't direct LA confidential? did he just write it?

Brendan M. Leonard said...

Curtis Hanson cowrote and directed it, won an Oscar with Helgeland for writing. I'm an idiot.