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Exclusive Interview: Joe Dante talks Burying the Ex, Gremlins and much more!

06.19.2015by: Eric Walkuski

 

I always say I don't really nervous conducting an interview unless it's with someone I've truly admired for a long time. Joe Dante fits the bill. The director made an indelible impression on me when I was a burgeoning movie geek; films like THE HOWLING, GREMLINS, THE 'BURBS (really love that one), GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH and MATINEE were all very major players in my youth. I can say with certainty he was one of the very first directors to introduce me to the notion of a horror-comedy, and it's arguable that for a while nobody plied the trade better.

And, thankfully, Mr Dante hasn't gone anywhere. (And I'm a fool to be nervous chatting with him, he's unbelievably kind and generous.) This weekend sees the theatrical and VOD release of his zom-rom-com BURYING THE EX, starring Anton Yelchin, Ashley Greene and Alexandra Daddario. The film has Dante working firmly in his comfort zone, as it contains humor, heart and just a wee bit of putrid gore. Three great tastes that go great together!

This is a lengthy interview, but that's not a bad thing for fans of our beloved genre. I talk to Joe not only about Burying the Ex, but the difficulties of making a movie nowadays, some of his favorite romantic horror films, the zombie phenomenon, his upcoming projects and his thoughts on the long-delayed GREMLINS reboot.

 

So how long ago did Burying the Ex first appear on your radar and what made it something you wanted to do?

It was a short film that Alan Trezza had written and directed, which I haven't seen, I didn't want to see it if I was going to direct the movie. He expanded it into a feature and asked me if I wanted to take a look at the script, and I liked it, I thought it was funny and I liked the characters. I thought it was a reasonable movie to make, it wasn't a giant epic. We worked on trying to get financing for it since 2009. Every so often it would look like something was going to happen, and then everything would fall apart. Meanwhile, I'm doing the same thing with a couple other projects which are almost getting made, so you can devote yourself to one thing, you have to have a lot of things in the hopper. If you had asked me three years ago if Burying the Ex was going to happen, I would have told you probably not. Then all of a sudden, it all came together right around the time World War Z came out and was a big hit, and so the movie business was on zombies again. Suddenly there was some financing we were able to take advantage of, so about a year and a half ago we shot the movie in 20 days in downtown L.A., which is really weird because no one makes movies in L.A. anymore.

When you were growing up the zombies in movies were quite different of course, but did you ever imagine they'd be such pop culture icons the way they are now?

No, it's really quite phenomenal when you think about it. When I was a kid, zombies were overweight guys staring blindly on a jungle set, and most of them weren't very good. They were considered a sub-sub-genre, they weren't taken seriously at all. But then Night of the Living Dead came out - and of course no one paid attention to that movie either initially - it became a cult movie. And even though it's not really a zombie movie - it's a ghoul movie - the zombie appellation stuck. Then suddenly there were a ton of ripoffs and zombie movies became walking dead movies. Then they started to have a lot of blood, a lot of gore, but they were getting noticed. Every once in a while someone like Wes Craven would come along and make Serpent and the Rainbow and try to take it seriously, but it still wasn't considered a classic genre. Well, I guess it's still not considered a classic genre [laughs], but it wasn't really taken seriously. Now people do zombie walks, it's incredible. It's like Day of the Dead in Mexico, it's part of the America psyche now.

 

You've assembled a really cool young cast for Burying the Ex, they're all pretty popular right now, where they all of your first choices, or did you have a long search for just the right actors?

We only had a long search because we went through so many iterations of trying to get the movie made. The way movies are funded these days is, they ask, "Who's in it?" We can't tell them who's in it because we can't go to an actor and ask them to be in this movie because we don't have money, but we don't have money because we don't have an actor. So, it's very frustrating. In this case, because of the fact that it came together very quickly and there was a certain amount of money available right away, we were able to cast the movie within - I swear - it took a week. A week before shooting we still hadn't cast two of the parts, and when they fell in it was by serendipity. These people didn't know each other before this movie, but they actually look like they belong in the same world. It's the single best element of the movie, the cast.

You've always been a fan of putting fun easter eggs in your movies, either in the form of a cameo or a reference to an old movie, is there anything like that in Burying the Ex fans should look out for?

There are a lot of movie references; I won't call them homages because some of them are really bad movies. [Laughs] It's a monster kid's fantasy, the fantasy that any film geek would know, which is that there's no way a person like Max would have a girlfriend like Ashley Greene, or a girlfriend like Alexandra Daddario. Much less one like Alex, who loves the same stuff they love, I mean that just doesn't happen. But for the purposes of the story, it's a very attractive fantasy.

What's your favorite horror love story?

There are a lot of romantic vampire movies. Roger Vadim's Blood and Roses is a very romantic movie, which is unfortunately a very obscure movie. The Innocents is one of my favorite horror films; I wouldn't exactly call it a love story, it's a repressed love story. The Uninvited is a pretty romantic love story, and Pan's Labyrinth is among the great horror films, and it's not just a horror film, it goes beyond that.

Who are some directors today who you get excited to see a new movie from? Would Guillermo be a guy like that?

Oh, of course. Guillermo, Edgar Wright, Scorsese of course. There are still a lot of people working who I think are great filmmakers and I get excited to see their movies. And there are new people coming up; I thought The Cabin in the Woods was a particularly clever movie in that it subverts the genre in a way that doesn't annoy the audience. It gives them what they want, and then it turns it on its head and gives them something completely different. 

When you look back on your career -

Oh, I never do that. [Laughs]

All you guys say that! But do you look back on some of your work and say to yourself, "That's why I got into this business, to make a movie like that."

When I was a kid I wanted to be a cartoonist, I wasn't really thinking about getting into movies. It was something I did for fun, I didn't think I'd make a living out of it. When I finally did get a chance to direct a movie, which I did truly to find out whether or not I could do it, I found the social aspect of it to be a lot of fun. I started as an editor, but editors only cut the scenes, they don't get to meet any of the actors, never get to meet the group. That's why they're never invited to parties, because they know all the secrets, they know who can't act, they know who can't light, who can't do sound. [Laughs] But I found that making movies was what I loved to do, I was at home on a set as I was in my own living room.

 

I wanted to ask you the status of some of your in-development projects, like Monster Love, which I believe went through a title change, right?

Yes, it's now called Ombre Amore. It's a project that started out set in New York, and then it has moved to London, Paris and Rome. [Laughs] It's a very versatile story. It's a Romeo and Juliet kind of story, so it will kind of work anywhere. That's still active, that's the only word I can use. It's a matter of where does the money come from, and what is the nationality of the movie, and what's the nationality of the cast. When you're putting together a movie, the names you put in the cast are the ones that attract all the investors. A name that is good in one country may be a complete unknown in another. I found that out when making Matinee, because we got some overseas money, and there was an overseas list of people they wanted us to hire. They were all very famous people five years earlier, their fame hadn't diminished in Europe, but they couldn't get arrested in America. So it makes it very complicated, and now every movie is supposed to appeal in every country, because that's where all the money gets made. As a result, a project like Ombre Amore could happen next year, in the same way Burying the Ex for a long time looked like it would never happen. And yet, here it is, it exists.

The one that has interested me for a while is The Man with the Kaleidoscope Eyes, the movie focusing on Roger Corman's making of The Trip. I know Colin Firth was attached to it at one point, what's the status on that?

Well, we're exploring other avenues with that. We came incredibly close twice to making the movie; once with an actor who then won an Academy Award and his agents didn't want him to do it anymore, and the other time with a financier who was willing to finance it entirely from Europe, but wanted to shoot most of it in Canada and a little bit in L.A., which was okay, but then it got to be complicated about the crew and whether or not they could be American, whether or not they needed to have visas and all of that, and it just sort of faded away. But I haven't given up, I still have a bunch of aces up my sleeve on this picture, and we're going to follow them all.

 

I wonder if you have any thoughts, or further thoughts, since you might be sick of talking about it, on the GREMLINS reboot in the works. Have you washed your hands of it?

It's not that I've washed my hands of it, it's that no one has asked me to be involved with it, they want to do it themselves. Fine, maybe this will be the time the rumors turn out to be true. Or not. As you know, this has been going on for years now, there's always a story that somebody has been asked to write or direct it, then something happens and they don't do it. I don't know if you have to take this with a grain of salt every time you hear about it. It's a complicated project, carved of the expectations of, how much is it going to be like the original? And the fact that the technology has completely changed; the first two movies were entirely dictated by the technology. The reason those movies are what they are is because of what we were able to do or not do. And now, you can do anything, anything you can imagine. The question is, why? Why do we want to make another one of these? And if we do, how is it going to be different from the first? If it's so different, the people who liked the originals aren't going to embrace it, you don't want to do that. But, on the other hand, the technology is really outdated now. Are they going to look the same, are they not going to look the same? Do they have the same properties? There's a lot of stuff attached to that franchise, and I think juggling it again is going to be a challenge.

I even wonder if that idea will play with today's audiences; it seemed so fresh when it first came out, and audiences might be a little too cynical today.

When I was asked to do the sequel, which I originally turned down because it was so hard to make the first one... The only reason I decided to make the sequel was because years later they had tried to make a sequel and couldn't figure out how to do it, and they really wanted another one. So they said to me, "If you give us a couple of cans of film with gremlins in them next summer, you can do whatever you want." And they gave me three times the money we had to make the first one. So I made Gremlins 2, which was essentially about how there didn't need to be a sequel to Gremlins. [Laughs]

You see a lot of sequels do that nowadays.

Yeah, sometimes you have to, because there's no other reason to do it. I'm as in the dark as you are on the new project, so I can't give you any info.  

Thank you so much for your time, Joe, I really appreciate it.

Thanks for your support!

BURYING THE EX is available today on VOD in the US and UK and in limited theaters in the US.  

Extra Tidbit: What's your favorite Joe Dante movie?

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