Last week I got to participate in a roundtable interview with producer/director Sam Raimi. He had agreed to talk with the online community to promote “30 Days of Night” – a film that his production company Ghost House Pictures had made.
Obviously we all wanted to talk about “30 Days,” but we also wanted to talk about all the other movies he might be involved with like “The Hobbit,” and we definitely wanted an update on that other franchise – “Spider-Man.” And since we got over 30 minutes with Sam, we were able to ask questions about everything. From his production company Ghost House pictures to all the movies that might be coming up, he answered all of our questions and if you’re a fan of Sam’s, you’ll love the interview.
And now that a lot of you have seen “30 Days of Night,” I think the interview is even better.
As usual, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the interview by clicking here. It’s an MP3 so you can save it to your computer for listening later. I’ve got a lot of other interviews about to post, so get ready….
Question: Can you talk about the love story between Eben and Stella and why that part of the film interested you?
Sam Raimi: At Ghost House Pictures we’re always trying to find the next great script or the next great story and when I read Ben Templesmith and Steve Niles’ “30 Days of Night” graphic book, I thought it was really gripping and powerful both visually through the illustrations and the concept seemed just great. It seemed like it should have been thought of before because it’s so obviously great that you’d go up to a place like Barrow, Alaska where night falls for 30 days and you’ve got to survive that time period with vampires at your throat. But nevertheless I’d never heard of it before. It was original and maybe that’s how great ideas are. They just seem like somebody should have thought of them before. But I’d never heard of anything like it. So I was struck by the originality of it, what a great concept it was, the great visuals, but as you suggest, the thing that really connected me to it were the two characters at the center, Eben and Stella, and their love story. At Ghost House, we always want to find something that’s new. Recently we’ve been looking in the Far East for filmmakers and their newer visions that they can bring to films, but this was a homegrown picture which is really very exciting, a homegrown idea, and the thing that connected me to it more than all those concepts and cool ideas were those characters that Steve Niles wrote about. I really liked the fact that they were having problems, that they loved each other, that they were real human beings, and that it was a love story at its heart and I loved the book ends of how it began with the sunset and ended with the sunrise and the two of them and the journey they had taken throughout the course of this one long night. Those are the things that I thought made it really new was the attention to detail of character.
When Ghost House was formed, this was one of the first pictures you bought. Since then you’ve put “Grudge” on the map and put all these other films on the map like “Boogeyman” and so on. This was a long journey. Was it worth the wait and going through the various scripts and a couple directors and finding the right people?
Sam Raimi: Absolutely. This was a long journey. I wasn’t pulling the oars. I wasn’t the writer or the director. So it’s easy for me to say, “Sure it was worth it” [laughs] because I was watching the boat move across the harbor. “Keep rowing fellas. You’re almost there.” I think it was worth it because what I really wanted to do is make sure that Ben Templesmith and Steve Niles felt that their work was being properly adapted to the screen, and because I’ve read that they feel that, I think it was worth it in retrospect. I hope therefore that the fans feel that it’s a faithful adaptation. Even though the director and the writers have to make a tremendous amount of changes in any adaptation, I hope they believe that we’ve captured the spirit of Steve and Ben’s work and therefore it’s worthwhile.
Does it feel as if you’ve come full circle since you began your career with a splatter, gory, roller coaster horror movie and you’ve gone from where you started and now you’re here with a film which I think is quite similar in a way?
Sam Raimi: Yeah, I do. I’ve always loved…actually I didn’t always love horror films. I started out and I only liked comedies and dramas. Then I had to learn how to make a horror film because my buddy Rob Tapert said, “If we’re going to break into the business, we need to make a low budget film that’s a horror film because we can probably only raise a couple hundred thousand dollars in Detroit and the only movies that are made and shown for that amount of money are horror films. So can you make a horror film?” So I had to learn how to make a horror film. He said, “Do you like horror films?” and I said, “No. I don’t actually like horror films. They scare me.” And I didn’t have fun being scared back then. It was a scary experience, so I watched them to learn if I could make them and then I grew to admire the craftsmanship that went into them, and then I grew to really love them after a time watching the audience react and interact with them. And now, this company, Ghost House Pictures, gives me a chance to dabble in horror films and not have to do the hard work of directing but more or less work with a great artist which is a lot of fun, put a few two cents in without actually taking the bruises myself. It’s lovely being a producer. It’s really a lot of fun and I can learn a lot. I get to see dailies of David Slade or I get to see dailies of Takashi Shimizu and I get to see them working with the actors and I think, “Oh that’s a really smart idea the way they got that performance from that kid. I never would have thought of that” or “how interesting that he put the camera there” or “how interesting that he doesn’t play this as a scare but he just lets that creature while they move out of the darkness give me like a chill running up and down my spine.” That’s not how I would have thought of doing it. I’m so much louder and brasher and uglier in my approach. So I learn a lot also watching these filmmakers work. Yes, I feel like I’m returning to horror as I started out in it and I feel like I’m going to school again.
Did you ever consider directing this yourself? If so, at what point did you feel like you could hand the reins over to somebody else?
Sam Raimi: I never thought about directing it myself. I was so busy with “Spider-Man 2” at the time. I just thought the company, Ghost House Pictures, is really for other directors to direct their horror film and me to help protect them or help get them the finances and the resources they need and link them up with good material.
Do you ever envision a period in your career where maybe you’ll be able to focus almost exclusively on producing just for the fact that you can do more projects at once, rather than directing one film that monopolizes essentially two years of your life?
Sam Raimi: I think that will happen one day, I think so, but probably when they don’t want me to direct them anymore. [Laughs]
Everything seems to be about franchising right now and you have all these possible franchises. Do you plan on a sequel for this or a “Grudge 3” or a “Boogeyman 3” or an “Evil Dead”?
Sam Raimi: I’ve always made sequels, even when I was making Super 8 movies if the audience liked it. We made the “Jimmy Hoffa Story” back in 1976 in
Is this someone we’re familiar with like perhaps Ben Ketai?
Sam Raimi: Ben Ketai is actually working on another project. He’s working on a sequel to the “Rise” movie which Ghost House Pictures also made and he’s got a really good script and that’s going to be shooting this winter.
Are you familiar with “Dark Days,” the sequel to “30 Days of Night”?
Sam Raimi: Yes.
What are your thoughts on it? Do you think it’s as strong as the “30 Days of Night” graphic novel, the first story, because it goes in a completely different direction?
Sam Raimi: Yeah. I only read it once and it was a few years ago, but I thought it was great at the time and it is very different. I don’t know if there’s going to be a sequel to the “30 Days of Night.” Nor do I know if there was if it would be based upon that. We’d have to see if it’s successful at the box office and if people seem to really want to see a sequel and then if they do, I’d probably huddle with Ben and Steve and my partner, Rob Tapert, and figure out what they thought it should be. If there was a sequel, mostly I’d want to be true to the books. I think that’s what got us here in the first place.
On the original “Evil Dead,” do you have any plans for the upcoming DVD? Were there any contribution that you made to it? Also, it was recently announced that Tobey Maguire is going to be doing the “Robotech” franchise. Does that mean he’s out of “Spider-Man” and if he is, how does that impact your involvement with the future films?
Sam Raimi: I’m not involved with the new “Evil Dead” release. I don’t know what that is actually. I didn’t hear about the “Robotech.” That’s cool.
He’s producing it and looking to star in it.
Sam Raimi: Cool.
But there’s speculation that that means he’s done with “Spider-Man.”
Sam Raimi: He might be. I don’t want to speculate for Tobey but it sounds like that’s a cool series he’s in. I actually don’t know what that would mean.
There was something in Variety about a month or two ago that Sony was beginning to look at their options for the future of the franchise and that they had kind of opened the door to you. Do you have any comment on where things are with that?
Sam Raimi: Right now Sony is meeting with different writers to try and bring a fresh new story and approach to the “Spider-Man” franchise. I’ve been in meetings with Avi Arad and Laura Zisken, our producers, and Amy Pascal, and different writers have been coming in and spinning different tales of where Spider-Man could go from here.
Can you talk a little bit about the pressure of doing blockbuster movies in comparison to your projects at Ghost House? Do you find it easier to do a low budget horror film compared to doing these massive blockbusters?
Sam Raimi: Yes, it’s much more fun and relaxing making the pictures at Ghost House because really that’s about just working on a limited budget, relying on the smarts of the filmmaker, and the craft of building suspense and scares, and it’s back to pretty much the old fashioned formula of making a horror movie. Sometimes we fail and sometimes we succeed but I really like that ‘back to basic’ approach without the big budget although I’m not the director on those. The work is put upon the directors usually but I’m enjoying watching them work in the genre and I like the reactions the audience gives us when we’re successful.
Do you see yourself directing personally this type of smaller independent budget film again? Are you contracted to do “Spider-Man 4” next?
Sam Raimi: No, I’m not contracted to do “Spider-Man 4.” I think that will depend on a lot of things. Sony would have to ask me to do it and the story would have to work so I don’t think I know the answer to that right now except it would be great because I love “Spider-Man,” you know, if we could find the right story. Whatever it is, I’m sure it’ll be a great story. A lot of people are working very hard on a really good story right now. But it is a lot more fun to work in a much more free atmosphere where there’s pure expectations. It’s kind of a dastardly fun thing like being in a spook house. It’s a blast.
In the couple decades since “Evil Dead,” there has been an evolution, or some might call it a devolution, in the horror genre – things like torture porn and the slasher. What do you think about using the technologies available now to show the things that you could only hope that the audience’s imagination could go to in the earlier days of horror films? How graphic do you feel comfortable going and also, is that the direction that horror is going now?
Sam Raimi: Well it’s always been an element of the horror film to show us the gross out. I mean that’s one option for all filmmakers making a horror film and it’s not something I’ve found myself above either. So I don’t want to speak like a big shot. You definitely want to get the “Oooooh! How gross!” reaction to some crowds at the drive-in. That’s an element. Really I want to do a lot of things – build suspense, build scares, do laughs, create some really scary sound moments for the audience to use their imagination, but a gross out is not beneath me or a lot of other filmmakers for a horror film and it’s one tool in the arsenal. I don’t know that it’s a new thing either. Showing the Wolf Man change with Lon Chaney and the hair dissolving and the make-up effect of his turning into the Wolf Man may have been a gross out back then just like “Night of the Living Dead” was in the 60s. George Romero really showed so much, it freaked me out as a kid. Or “Cannibal Holocaust” showed some intensive sites. So when I think about the new ones, it’s just the latest incarnation with probably better technology, like you’re suggesting, better CGI. I don’t know if they used CGI or not, and better make-up effects and maybe showing more and more horrible stuff. But once we’ve see the last one, these filmmakers have no option if they’re going for the gross out but to push the next thing we haven’t seen. So I think it’s a natural…
You practically invented the subgenre of the comedy horror film and now that’s really popular. We’re seeing more and more of those. Does that make you think about how to do an “Evil Dead” differently?
Sam Raimi: You know I don’t think about the other pictures when I’m making an “Evil Dead.” I’m just thinking about the character of Ash and how dumb he is and how low and cowardly he is and what dumb things he wants to do when he should be thinking of more noble things and what misinterpretations he has. I’m just thinking about him and feeling bad for him and disliking him and wondering how we can punish him a little bit more in the future.
You mentioned a fresh new approach to “Spider-Man.” Are you saying maybe a reboot of the “Spider-Man” franchise or a direct sequel to “Spider-Man 3”?
Sam Raimi: I haven’t heard the ‘reboot’ idea yet, but I think Sony has… I’m actually not writing it. Different writers are coming in but I have not heard a reboot idea yet.
Since “Spider-Man 4” is obviously a little bit far away, have you started thinking about what could be the next project that you get behind the director’s chair again?
Sam Raimi: I think it’s too early for me right now because I’m still so busy with the producing duties on the Ghost House Pictures and finishing up, believe it or not, all these DVD details just like two weeks ago I finished up all the last of the “Spider-Man 3” DVD details and only now am I unemployed for a brief period of time so I’m trying not to look at anything just now.
What are your thoughts about where “The Shadow,” the project that you’re developing, is at? There has been some talk that the other characters from that publishing house were also going to be part of that project. Is there anything more you can say about that or what’s going on with “The Shadow”?
Sam Raimi: I don’t have any news on “The Shadow” at this time except that the company that I have with Josh Donen, my producing partner, we’ve got the rights to “The Shadow.” I love the character very much. We’re trying to work on a story that’ll do justice to the character.
Can you talk a little about your love of superheroes and comic books? Did “Dark Man” foreshadow doing a “Spider-Man”?
Sam Raimi: I’ve always loved comic books and at the time I was trying to get the rights to “The Shadow” and I couldn’t get… Well I went in and met with the writers and Universal, but they wouldn’t give me the job on “The Shadow.” So I thought I’ll make my own Shadow then. I’ll call it “Darkman”which is just an obvious Shadow ripoff. [Laughs] I wrote basically a version of “The Shadow.” That’s really what “Darkman” was. Liam Neeson did a great job. I loved working with him and Francis McDormand in the picture and I had a great time making it but I don’t know that it foreshadowed “Spider-Man” as much as that was an expression of my love for the comic book genre. One of the other comic heroes that I’ve always loved besides Batman was Spider-Man so when I got the news that
Can you talk about hiring David Slade? What were your initial impressions when you first saw “Hard Candy” and what did you see in that film that made you go okay, this guy has the chops to do something like “30 Days of Night”? That film was so sparse versus what “30 Days of Night” offers.
Sam Raimi: Well I thought the acting was great in “Hard Candy” and the strength that I wanted to be realized in “30 Days of Night” was the characters of Eben and Stella and their love story, that relationship at the center of the piece that Steve Niles had written about. I didn’t know if I was in love with David’s directing or the young actress in “Hard Candy” but something there worked really well for the length of the picture and I thought that’s what I want to have work in our picture. The heart of the thing was working in a way that’s hard to explain but I just felt that things had been thought out. It led me from one point to the next and the next in a real exciting way and I thought that would drive this machine even if he didn’t have the experience with production design or effects and it turned out that he did because when I got to know him a little bit, he had this great commercial background. He knew about production design which was my very next interest. I wanted the look of the graphic novel to be preserved and fortunately that was David’s desire too. I never put that upon him. I just had hoped the director would have that desire and he did.
Well even “Hard Candy” has a very diverse color palette. Each room has different colors so to carry that over for “30 Days of Night,” you’re also trying to tap into a certain color scheme.
Sam Raimi: Oh I didn’t know that. Each room in the guy’s house?
Yeah. The guy had like a red room and then there was another scene where there were just painting. It was blue. It was very simple so I just didn’t know if you…
Sam Raimi: I didn’t pick up on that.
How did you oversee this film? Did you go to the set a lot or did you have enough time?
Sam Raimi: No, all I did was choose the material and beg Sony and Ghost House Pictures to buy it for me and then chose Josh Hartnett and begged him to meet with David Slade, chose the director with my partners and the New Zealand location that we’d been shooting in before, and then didn’t have anything to do with it except when the dailies came back gave notes and editing notes and screening notes and sound design notes, but other than that, no.
Was it a fight at all to get Steve Niles on board as a screenwriter? He had written the graphic novel but you don’t often find comic book authors being brought on to write scripts.
Sam Raimi: It was just how I had presented it at first. It was all part of the package. If they wanted to work with us, they had to accept Steve and it was not a fight. It was just part of the package and it went down smoothly.
What did Stuart Beattie do? Just clean it up a bit?
Sam Raimi: Stuart contributed a lot of new character insights. What about this character? What about these interactions with these characters? How about following this subplot more? And all of them were helpful and none of them were right. They just highlighted, emphasized different aspects of the stories, different focuses. And then when David came aboard, I think he took some of each of the drafts and worked with his new writer and brought the final script to fruition. Pretty much I think, in my opinion, a combination of all that had gone before.
How malleable are the conventions of the horror genre? For instance, do you tinker with the basic vampire formula at your own risk because audiences come with certain expectations? For example, they have to have darkness. Does anything go or is there a rule book you try to follow to keep the vampire fans happy?
Sam Raimi: That’s a good question maybe more fitted for the writer than myself. I think Steve Niles gave us such a good mythology and so clearly defined his own version of the rules he liked and the choices he made that created a realistic world for these characters to come out of and I think what we tried to do was stick to that, stick to the fact that they did not survive the sun. I don’t think that the cross meant anything to these particular vampires. He chose certain aspects of the lore and I think lived within that.
Can you talk about some of the film that have scared you and some of the special effects that have inspired you in your career?
Sam Raimi: Sure. I think the film that scared me the most was “Night of the Living Dead,” George Romero’s classic zombie movie. I was brought to the theater underage. I was 10 years old. My sister, damn her [laughs]. She brought me to that thing, snuck me in under her coat or something and I was never so scared in my life. I thought a crime was being committed against me as I was watching that film. It was so awful and terrifying. It was a nightmare. It was a nightmare come to life.
The attic scene in “30 Days of Night” is very reminiscent of that film. Do you sort of feel that?
Sam Raimi: Yeah, now that you mention it. I didn’t think of it at the time but yeah, similar to them in the basement of the house. That’s true.
What would you say is your favorite goriest scene in the movie?
Sam Raimi: For me, it’s when they’re battling near the muffin monster and they throw that bald creature into the grinder and not only that moment but then the fellow turns around, the deputy, and he’s missing his arm. It’s just awful, like “Oh my God.”. I don’t know why that one, but that is really a freak out moment for me.
Q: Well that decapitation is one of the best put on film.
Sam Raimi: Which one?
Q: The decapitation right after the muffin monster where the guy changes and he just starts hacking away.
Sam Raimi: Oh yeah. It just becomes a nightmare at that time, a never ending nightmare for a little while. I liked that.
Q: Your name had been brought up in connection with possibly directing “The Hobbit,” but now it looks like Peter Jackson and New Line might be able to get somewhere with that. Can you update us on your feelings about that project?
Sam Raimi: I think there’s no better choice to direct “The Hobbit” than Peter Jackson. I’m a giant fan of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and Peter Jackson is a brilliant filmmaker and he would be the guy I think everybody would like to see direct it. I hear they’re talking too from reading the trade magazines. I don’t really know first hand but that’s good. Hopefully he will direct and give us his great version of it.
If he doesn’t direct it, is that something you would consider doing?
Sam Raimi: If he doesn’t direct it and decides just to produce it, I’d love to be considered as the director.
Isn’t that what’s being talked about now? That he’s actually coming back not to direct but to produce and you would direct the film?
Sam Raimi: I don’t know if that’s being talked about. I don’t want to presume to know what’s happening in those rooms. I know that Peter Jackson always loved “The Hobbit.” I’m assuming he’d want to direct it but I don’t want to make any claims I don’t have any knowledge of.
Are The Three Stooges still a big influence on your work? Do you still go back and watch them a lot?
Sam Raimi: No, I haven’t been watching them lately but I do have a great DVD collection and I would love to start watching them again. A weird thing has happened since the 60s when I would watch them. My folks were fine with me watching them but I was showing them to my kids a couple years ago and my wife came in. She heard these horrible sounds of men on the TV screaming and she says, “What are you watching?” I said, “The Three Stooges.” And she said, “Let me see.” And she watches as Moe unscrews a light bulb, hits Curly in the stomach, his mouth opens, puts the light bulb in Curly’s mouth and he uppercuts Curly and he closes his teeth, and she shut it off. And she said, “What are you showing the children?” I suddenly realized how violent it was. I was having to explain that when he had put that gauze light bulb in and he shattered the jaw shut, it was funny. I got confused at that moment. I haven’t put them back on since but I’ll find my center again and put them back on when she’s not around.
Do you see yourself ever directing another comic book property besides the “Spider-Man” franchise? Is it true you were offered “The Justice League”?
Sam Raimi: I don’t want to say what I was offered or not offered because I don’t think it’s proper for people who work on those projects but I would absolutely consider directing another comic book story if they’d have me. Yeah. And if I had the love of the character and the knowledge of the character and thought that I could do it better than anybody else. [If] I knew this guy or girl who was the star of the thing, that I really understood what they were and had to bring that to the screen, I would fight to do the comic book, a different comic book. Yeah.
Is there a property that’s close to your heart besides Spider-Man?
Sam Raimi: There are a lot of them. I mean I love the Bruce Wayne but that’s been taken and done and it’s in great hands right now so I’m really enjoying watching those. Superman, I feel the same way. Brian Singer is doing a great job with that. There are a bunch of them actually.
Could you give us an update as to what you’re producing right now? What’s on the fast track?
Sam Raimi: Yes. Right now the screenplay for “Grudge 3” is being written. We’re hoping if we get the right script to go into production but the writer’s strike may impact that. It may impact everything I’m going to say, I’ll just say that. Currently “Drag Me to Hell,” we’re hoping to go into production on that. That’s the Curse movie directed by Jeff Lynch , a first-time live action director. Hopefully that’ll go into production this winter also. And the sequel to the Rise movie, “Rise 2,” that’s on the fast track to production written by Ben Ketai. So those three I think. Ghost House Pictures.
Q: What’s your relationship at Ghost House with the internet because spoilers start showing up and rumors get around that could affect people’s enjoyment in the theater or maybe that’s part of it? Do you find that you need to have a symbiotic relationship with the internet?
Sam Raimi: I don’t do it enough if I’m supposed to. What am I supposed to do now? A symbiotic relationship? [Laughs]
Knowing that the core audience for scary movies is also very tied into the internet and so they may be discovering things about the film that you don’t want them to know until they buy the ticket and see it in the theater.
Sam Raimi: Oh, I see.
So sometimes people throw out diversionary bait to say “Okay, you think this is a spoiler.”
Sam Raimi: I don’t even follow the original discussions about it enough to throw out the diversions to know what they shouldn’t be paying attention to, to just…whatever [laughs]. I don’t follow it enough. I just assume that the stuff is out there about the movie once it’s had a preview. I’m assuming that reviewers are writing to Ain’t It Cool news and all the websites that the kids read about reviews and they know everything about the pictures. I mean I wouldn’t know how. No, I never would think about sending some weird thing like diversions out.
Do you try to protect things?
Sam Raimi: In the movies that I’m directing I try not to let the secrets sneak out of the storyline because I think as a director I do try and protect that. They’re best seen in the theater. I want to have a chance to be the storyteller and not have some guy who’s seen the movie do a mediocre job of telling the story to others, kind of giving away what I really worked hard to do. It’s my job to tell the story. I want to be the one who tells the story. So I do try to hide the details of the movie, not in any nutty way, but as much as possible so that the audience sees it for the first time in the movie theater.
“30 Days of Night” seems to raise the bar for Ghost House Pictures. Were you aware of that during the development of it and does that influence these future projects you’re talking about?
Sam Raimi: I didn’t know it raised the bar. [Laughs] We’ll try and live up to the high standards set by that picture. Scaring people is always a low carnival job in my opinion. I don’t ever want to get too high-falutin or fancy about it. If you can jump out and scream “Boo!” and they jump, I’m for it even if it was unfair and he shouldn’t have hid outside the booth and you should have stayed inside the haunted house. I mean anything that scares them good and loud and really freaks them out, I’m in favor of whether it’s considered a low thing or not. So I’m glad that it raised the bar. I’d like to see more character in the movies that we make. That’s what I think Steve Niles’s comic book had in it. But I didn’t know that it raised the bar. I’m glad that it did.
Q: Do you still speak to Bruce Campbell and would you like to do a project with him? Will we see you guys team up again?
Sam Raimi: I love Bruce. I don’t speak with him enough. Just occasionally I speak with him. He’s up in
Q: Do you think it’s just the nature of the business that you’re both so busy that you don’t get a chance to connect as often as you’d like to? You guys were pretty tight in
Sam Raimi: It’s more like he moved to
He bailed on you?
Sam Raimi: Yeah. [Laughs] So that and I think me having these five kids. Every night is about “Did you brush your teeth?,” “Are you sure you did your homework? You’re hiding your homework sheet from me, you know.” That’s what I’m spending my time on versus sticking Bruce’s scripts. That’s how I spend my evenings. Our different lives have led us apart a little bit. I’m still crazy about the guy though and miss him. I scold myself often for not going up and taking the time and spending a few days with him. I just don’t want to miss any days with my kids though.
What’s your advice for that kid in
Sam Raimi: I think you’re right. The kids right now have a great opportunity in
Someone like George Lucas seems to keep going back to films that he already made 20 years ago and it seems like these things never seem to get done. At a certain point it seems like filmmakers are just doing it to put out another DVD for the movie.
Sam Raimi: That very well might be true but I’m actually talking about more of a learning process with the audience because young filmmakers have to be able to show things, realize things aren’t working, try and understand why from the audience’s reaction, and make changes and show them again. I’m not talking about the screening process in