THE AV INTERVIEW: LARRY COHEN
Larry Cohen has been directing films since the 70s, and writing for a variety of mediums since the 60s. Recently, a documentary about the man and his work was completed and should be out within the year ! Watch the trailer below and enjoy this joyful conversation / interview. The audio podcast version featuring both Mr. Cohen as well as the director of the documentary (CHOPPING MALL writer Steve Mitchell) is linked below!
Jim: So you have the luxurious honor of having an entire documentary made about you and your history as a filmmaker. How do you feel about that having a documentary coming out soon about you?
Larry: Well I haven’t seen it. So I don’t know what to tell you. I mean I purposely haven’t seen it because I just want to see it with the audience when we have the premiere there’s nothing I can do about it and I’m so used to writing, producing and directing all my own movies and being in full control of every aspect that I know that it wouldn’t be fair to the people who made the documentary for me to be looking at it and telling them what they didn’t do right or him putting my input into it it’s their movie about me. So I just decided to let them make the movie and just see what happens.
Jim: Well that’s a really un-invasive approach towards, I mean I’m certain that…
Larry: Well my problem is I’m over invasive, you know I want to be in charge of every aspect of everything and I wouldn’t leave anything for these poor guys to do. So I wanted them to be able to make their movie without me and we actually hiring over them you know.
Jim: Certainly. Yeah that’s wonderful to hear. I mean obviously you just sat down and talked and talked and told amazing stories I’m sure.
Larry: Well it came out of Camera’s and they followed me to a couple of events like you know conventions and things like that and they followed me around to a couple of lectures that I gave and they filmed what they wanted to film and may edit it the way they wanted to end you know documentary film-making is really all about editing and you pick and choose what you want to put in. Like, you can make a very positive movie about somebody with the editing or you can make a very negative will be really it was the same background material just by the way you cut it together.
Jim: Oh certainly, no that’s definitely true.
Larry: Yeah, so I mean that I’m going to like to film. I certainly enjoyed the trailer.
Jim: Yeah me too, me too and then I hear it’s going to be playing at Fantasia fest hopefully, fingers crossed and that’ll be great. I know you started out you know is it primarily a TV writer and then transitioned into film and film-making and obviously being a director means you do have a lot of control over the material that you normally don’t when you just submit a screenplay or a teleplay.
Larry: I don’t know when you write a script I mean it’s a long ways from the finished product and a lot of other people are going to put their hands on it and you know leave their mark on it so it’s not the same as writing, producing and directing a movie particularly if you have a situation where you have total control of the picture from start to finish. Most directors don’t get that either because they have a studio executives and because producers and my god if you look at movies today there’s a 12 producer’s credit on a movie, I mean it’s unbelievable I mean how you keep track of all these producers and the same goes for TV shows except that the producers on TV shows they’re usually writers. So they have a writers room now and that means the whole committee writes the script and when I wrote for television I was the only writer. I would just go up and write the script and bring it in, they would shoot it. That was it and recently JJ Abrams said to me, oh when you were writing the defenders how many people were in the writers room and I said Jay did it was no writers room, it was just me and Reza Rose was the producer of the show and I write the script and bring it in if he had a suggestion or so he make him and I’d fix it and that would be it, there was no writers room. I never heard such a thing. I wouldn’t have liked it anyway, I don’t want to make a movie by committee and I don’t want to write scripts by committee.
Jim: Yeah most of these A-level blockbusters nowadays that’s exactly how they’re made by committee, a bunch of guys in suits collaborating and that’s just not exciting all. All these blockbusters that are coming out today I find really tedious and just uncreative in just how they’re, they’re just kind of pandering to the mainstream audience and I think that’s why I grew up appreciating the originality of your work far more and even like even what I consider to be a rather challenging film, God told me to was just you know I watched that for the first time recently in the past few years and I mean there’s I don’t think that movie could ever be made nowadays.
Larry: I don’t know, I mean that picture was the most popular movie that I’ve ever made in terms of film festivals and screenings. It’s always being shown somewhere. So I am pleased that there are so many fans of the picture and but it is an unusual film, there’s no question about it.
Jim: Yeah-yeah, it’s a little bit of everything but of course you have your guerilla style go-for-broke kind of quality to it with the way you film a lot of the crowd scenes and certainly your penchant for social commentary is pretty consistent throughout your career. You always had something to say other than just let’s make a scary you know B-level monster movie, you always had something to say with your work.
Larry: Yeah, well I never wanted to make those pictures where somebody jumps out of the closet with a knife and stop stabbing people and selling teenagers and you know all those kind of horror movies which to this day still have some degree of popularity but it’s not my kind of movie and I didn’t want to do torture porn and I didn’t want to do violence without any sensibility, there’s plenty of violence in my movies but it always has some kind of a point to it and a story element to it that makes it essential rather than just be for as violence for violence sake.
Jim: Yeah that’s there needs to be context or a reason to be emotionally invested in what’s taking place otherwise it’s…
Larry: They make they make five of six of these movies you know with Freddy Krueger or with over Jason or wherever the protagonist is and they’re just kind of a-1 pictures of rehash of the other more or less I mean but the audience seems to want to see it and you know and the and when you talk about the current blockbuster movies I mean they’re not made by one person, they’re made by groups of people. If you look at the end credits which usually run ten minutes you’ll see all the different shows special effects houses that have been involved, it’s not only one special effects organization usually this seven or eight and the pictures formed out different sections or formed out to different special effects organizations and so the whole picture is a compilation of a lot of different people’s work. So it’s like you paint a mural but six different artists are painting a mural at the same time, one guy’s painting clouds, the other guys paying trees and other ones painting pigs and horses and you know that’s the way the picture is made. Well I can’t make pictures that way. I’m going to make a picture where I control every aspect of the film and I even designed the titles and shoot them myself. The only thing I don’t do is write the music and I’ve been fortunate to have Bernard Herrmann and Nicholas Rosier and other great composers who wrote this score for me. So that’s the only area that I don’t control.
Jim: Yeah, when you you know more or less control with some of the you know very memorable screenplays that you’ve written how much interaction and input do you have with a director like Abel Ferrara with Body Snatchers or Joel Schumacher with phone booth, do you…
Larry: Well Joe was more receptive to me. Abel I never even met. I mean I sold a script to Warner Brothers then Abel came in later, he brought his own writers with him and they rewrote it so basically only the basic framework of the picture belongs to me but on phone booth it was all my script and the director, he was responsive to my common sight I didn’t like the voice of the actor who was playing the sniper and I told him so even though Fox studio told me not to say that to him that he would be upset. I said well I don’t have any obligation to keep quiet, I told him and he said you really think so and I said yes and he went out the next day and replaced the actor with Kiefer Sutherland who’s had a fabulous voice and made the picture work, without Kiefer Sutherland there you wouldn’t have a successful picture. So that was a suggestion I made later I didn’t like the musical score so I went back and told Schumacher and he went replaced the composer with another composer. So I had two major complaints and both of them he responded to. That’s the way it’s been in a lot of other movies though. Sometimes the director does not want you around, particularly me because they know I’ve directed pictures and they think I’m trying to take that movie away from them.
Jim: Yeah, most definitely. I know for a fact too that somebody like I can tell that you’re a real actors director that you really like working with certain character actors particularly, Michael Moriarty and my first experience with him was the stuff and then going back to something like healing serpent like, he does some phenomenal acting in that film and a lot of it seemed like off-the-cuff and really-really great, I wonder what it’s like working with him and you know certainly just your experiences with working with him like on cue and then the stuff.
Larry: Well I love the actors, I enjoy being with them, I enjoy kidding around with them and I enjoy entertaining them and relaxing them on the set and letting them do whatever they want to do in terms of be creative, I say, don’t worry about embarrassing yourself, just go all the way, give it a 150% we can always cut it down, just you know do it different, sometimes I should have seen and they do it and I said that was really good, now we’re going to do it again just do it different and they say, what do you mean do it different? I said you know you’ll know just do it different, don’t worry about matching, that’s my problem in the editing room, see most director want the actors to match action and every take and I don’t have that I tell them do something different in every take and then it’s my job to put all the pieces together. So if you did that a studio movie, the front office would come crashing down on you and say what are you doing, these takes don’t match because they’re looking at your dailies every day and trying to second-guess you but I don’t have anybody look at my stuff. So matter of fact I don’t even look at my stuff most of the time, I don’t usually look at the dailies, I know what we shot I turn it over to the editor let them start cutting it together and I don’t spend a major portion of my day sitting in a projection room, I just shoot the scenes, I know what I got I tell the editor what scenes I liked, which was I didn’t like and of course I don’t prick what I didn’t like and but there’s usually sections of different scenes that I like and I send back notes to the editor and then we see what he does but I have a affinity for remembering every take that was shot. If an actor pulled his ear or scratched his knowledge or made any kind of emotion that he didn’t do another it takes I remember that particular take and I can search it out, it used to be much harder to do before electronic editing came along, you’d have to you know run all the film all these strips of film and find out what you’re talking about and they’d say to me well it’s not true he never did that and I’m saying yes he did and we’ll find it and have to run every take and there it is, I was right. So with the electronics you can go past the scenes very fast without having to pull like film strips out of a box, load them onto a movie over. So I was working in and a formulas now become archaic.
Jim: Yeah that’s true for better or worse. I know a lot of directors are trying to keep film alive and certainly that’s admirable somebody like Christopher Nolan…
Larry: I just did what I had to do because when I was making films, that’s the way you made him I made them thirty-five millimeter with Panavision equipment and that’s how he edited them you know and I was in the editing room every day. I just didn’t leave it up to other people to cut the picture. I stood there and picked the shots and then let the editor do the tango work of making the splices and rolling up the film and cataloging it but I made all the decisions of the cutting.
Jim: I know our time is limited but I’m very curious to know if you are going to be working on anything in the near future whether as a writer or as a director, I certainly see again for better or worse certainly remakes aren’t going anywhere with you know it’s alive in 2008 and now there’s a maniac cop remake, you know I’m always curious to see those just to see you know what they could get right and what they get wrong mostly, for the most part they get them wrong but are you working anything in the in the near future that we can look forward to?
Larry: Well they were talking about doing a remake of Maniac Cop. They didn’t ask me to write the script however the people involved I think they’re a little afraid of me. They knew that if I was involved I’d take over the whole project. So they wanted to maintain control so they’ll use somebody else write the script and it was fair, it was okay, it just wasn’t worth making another maniac cop movie unless you had a sensational script that warranted going back over that same material again but they’re still trying to raise the money and I hope they do because I get a big chunk of it. So but however I can’t vouch for the quality of the picture and I wasn’t that crazy about any of them frankly, I didn’t direct them, I wrote the scripts for the first three, first two they followed the scripts the last one producers came in and interferes and they rewrote the script and it was lousy. So you know what can you say but, and who would be willing to turn down money if it’s offered to you for something, if they want to do a remake. So I’m happy to cash the check.
Jim Yeah and you are able to, you know possibly acquire funding for your own work. So that’s a positive.
Larry: Yeah, well I’ve got a project going with JJ Abrams at bad robot productions of ten one-hour thrillers that I wrote. It’s an anthology of thrillers and they’re all scripts that I make and we’re trying to put that together to sell that to cable. That would be ten one-hour cable shows, I would direct a couple of them nice and be involved in the production of them all.
Jim: I adore anthology shows whether they’re horror or just genre in general. So that’s great news to hear, I’m glad you’re working with him.
Larry: Well it’s kind of fun to do them guys just like doing ten mini features, you don’t have to deal with the same character every week, you don’t have to deal with the actors who were become stars of the show, who have their own ideas about how their parts of having plays, a new actress every week because there’s new characters and you’re not doing the same scenes over and over again, one of the problems that I always had with series television was the repetition of it. I mean who wants to come in week after week year after year shooting the same basically the same scenes with slight changes but it’s always the same and the same sets, the same actors. I mean you know life is too short yet you have only a number of years to work and you want to try as much creative work as you can and you can get caught up in a series for five or six years doing the same damn thing every week. So I had a number of TV series that created but I usually got away from him after the first season because I didn’t want to stay with the shows that I wanted to do something different.
Jim: Yeah, it gets mundane after a while. I cannot wait for more creative work from you sir like I said I’ve been a huge fan since you know the early 90s where I discovered your work and it’s been a joy to follow your career and you know even when I see a movie is written by Larry Cohen I’m excited. So again thank you so much for your time.
Larry: Did you ever see Special Effects?
Jim: Yes-yes, definitely. That’s a very good film, that’s very underrated.
Larry: We just ran that in New York at a festival of seven of my movies in Manhattan and Eric Bogosian came and he was there and we had a very nice screening of the picture and it’s and the other one called perfect strangers is also very good.
Jim: Yeah, that’s one I haven’t seen.
Larry: To start a movie with a two-year-old child and it’s amazing to try and direct a non-speaking two-year-old child in a leading role, I did it and it’s quite a good picture so if you have a chance see it and it’s actually probably my best films in terms of character development and full of surprises and twists and I just love seeing that picture back in New York few weeks ago with an audience.
Jim: Well congratulations on such an accomplished career.
Larry: I would urge your readers or whoever you communicate with.
Jim: It’s an internet radio show and movie blog.
Larry: Yeah so I would urge your listeners and readers to take a look at Special Effects and Perfect Strangers, they’re very-very good films and not seen that often. They’re available on I think they’re available on Netflix and on Roku and you know I’ve seen them up there you just say on Roku you just say Larry Cohen and my picture comes up and then a list of 14 movies or so that you can rent for about 99 and you can see the basically most of my work is on there. So I like that because you don’t have to go to the video store anymore, you don’t have to return the videos, you can just instantly order something see it the same day and that’s it. So it’s wonderful it’s even better than having a book in the library because you have all these movies in your house, if you only know they’re there if you only realize that you got Larry Cohen in your house.
Jim: I’m so glad that I have Larry Cohen available at any time on demand.
Larry: Well thanks, thanks for the call.
Jim: Well thanks Larry. Again thanks so much for your incredible work over these years and I’m so looking forward to seeing the documentary.