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Interview with David Giancola of Time Chasers

The following is a rough transcription of an interview I had with David Giancola, who directed the IMDb Bottom 100 feature Time Chasers. Many thanks to Rifftrax for setting this up. Be sure to check out the Live Riffrax of Time Chasers, to be simulcast in theaters on May 5. Likewise, many thanks to David for his time.

GM: Hello David! I have a few questions about Time Chasers here for you.

DG: Shoot!

GM: I first saw Time Chasers a few years ago when I went through the entire IMDb Bottom 100. What is it like to have a movie in those depths? That is some illustrious company to keep.

DG : You’re a glutton for punishment, huh? Well, being on that list is kind of like being in prison: once you are in it, it is on your record, and it isn’t going away. If I remember right, we got as high (low?) as #6 in the ranking. I actually really wanted to get it to #1, but you just can’t be worse than Manos. That movie barely even has sound! In any case, I look at it fondly now, and can laugh about it. I made that movie when I was 19, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. I can look back on that now with perspective. Also, the audience attention from the riffs has been mostly positive, and the MST3k fans are generally pretty great.

timechasersGM: Speaking of MST3k, what has it been like to be on the receiving end of the riffs? How does it feel to be chosen for the Rifftrax Live show?

DG: Really, the riffing is what brought eyes on the movie. I have seen plenty of movies over the years that are worse, but they have mostly been forgotten. I feel like, really, I was lucky. I have also been lucky to still be in the business. Being forgotten is the worst thing that can happen. For Time Chasers, it released on 12 screens in 1993, and now it’ll be on 700. That’s huge! I was excited that Time Chasers was chosen, but it only dawned on me how big this would be when I saw the trailer. I’m also thrilled that they are bringing me and much of the cast to the show. Most of those people don’t work in movies, so we haven’t been together in 25 years. They’re farmers, school teachers, etc. I had to talk one of the cast members into coming, because he was worried he couldn’t find someone to milk his cows! Luckily, he did find someone, and he’ll be there.

GM: Something that really stands out about Time Chasers is how big the vision is behind it. It doesn’t look or feel like a YouTube movie, because there are some big aspirations in there.

DG: I always wanted to do big visions, particularly when I was young. However, I did write the screenplay keeping in mind what sort of resources would be available to us, like the warehouse and the airport. Unfortunately, money was always an issue with that vision. And, when you don’t have the resources to fulfill a vision, it winds up looking cheesy. Really, I was naiive enough for that vision and enthusiasm. I always knew I wanted to do time travel, but had to figure out a way to make it happen with what was available.

GM: Speaking of the airport, one of the things that really makes Time Chasers stand apart from most movies like it are those plane stunts. It all looks incredibly difficult and dangerous.

DG: A lot of that was the benefit of the time period. Back then, we were able to film at that airport, which would just be impossible today. We were, astoundingly, given the run of that airport, and a lot of local pilots were enthusiastic about helping us out with the footage and the stunts, and even loaned us the planes. Those shots of planes flying parallel to each other are incredibly difficult and dangerous, and were only possible thanks to those pilots. My father was also an amateur pilot at the time, and flew the plane that picked up the point of view footage going into the cliff. I was shooting, and remember telling him to “fly closer!” to the cliff-face. That’s definitely a benefit of youth, and I certainly wouldn’t do that today. There are so many ways those stunts could have gone wrong. I remember always expecting the local police to shut us down during the bigger stunts. They definitely drove by a few times, making a point to slow down, but never stopped us. Somehow.

GM: So, how did those Revolutionary War sequences work? Were those just local reenactors?

DG: Yeah, those were legitimate reenactors. There are two big reenactments in Vermont every year. For most of those shots, we just filmed one of them in action, before we even started shooting the rest of the movie, and that came together with the magic of editing. For the shots where the actors are in the foreground, we did that later. We had all of our permissions in order, but the General on site (a plumber by day) was far from cooperative and definitely didn’t want us there. He would yell at the crew and stop the battle in the middle of shooting, trying to throw a wrench into things. Worse yet, he was speaking in period dialect the whole time. It was a nightmare.

GM:  I read on IMDb that there was a big delay between the filming and the release of Time Chasers. Was that due to trouble finding a distributor?

DG: Part of it was trying to find a distributor, but most of that time was due to post-production and editing, which was a much more time-consuming and expensive process back then (thanks to the physical film). Frankly, we were out of money, and it took a while to afford the finishing touches on the film. Once we did wrap up and find a distributor, that’s when the title was changed from Tangents to Time Chasers. I always liked the original title, but apparently it doesn’t translate well. That’s business, though. Nowadays, they’ll change movie titles just to have an alphabetical advantage, because movies that start with numbers or “A” show up first in search listings.

GM: Always have to capitalize on that alphabetical advantage, huh? That’s an odd side affect of the rise of streaming services. So, you are still in the movie business today?

DG: I run Edgewood Studios, so I have done some producing on Hallmark movies, and I’ve directed a few more movies over the years. Most notable among them is probably Illegal Aliens, that I did with Anna Nicole Smith and Chyna. In the years since, they’ve both died of overdoses, so that production might just have been cursed. I made a documentary about the experience of making that movie a few years ago. Much like Time Chasers, it got a title change from Craptastic! to Addicted to Fame (thanks to the alphabetical logic I mentioned earlier). Right now, I have a movie coming out in July called Mail Order Monster, which is about a young bullied boy who finds an advertisement in an old comic book that promises the delivery of a monster. To his shock, it actually comes. Because I have done these movies with my own company, I’ve had a lot of creative control, which I’ve really enjoyed.

GM: Thanks for your time! This was all very interesting information. I’ll look forward to seeing Time Chasers on the screen!

DG: This was a blast! Thanks!

 

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“Sharknado”

Sharknado

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Wednesday, Rifftrax’s live take on “Sharknado” from July will be available for download and streaming on their website. It was a damn good show (as all of their live ones typically are), and I highly recommend giving it a watch.

Of course, this Rifftrax release gives me a fantastic excuse to talk about the burgeoning franchise of centrifugal carcharadons, and whether these “Sharknado” flicks are worth the attention that they are garnering.

For those unaware, The Asylum, who creates the Sharknado movies, has been around since the late 90s, distributing and producing B-features. Over the past few years, they have made a name for themselves making two specific kinds of B-movies. First, they do a wide array of monster flicks: the “Mega Shark” movies, “2-Headed Shark Attack,” “Shark Week,” etc. Second, they have essentially created their own quasi-genre of the “mock-buster”: films designed to resemble current Hollywood releases as closely as possible, in order to parasitically feed on DVD sales. These have included such titles as “Snakes on a Train,” “Transmorphers,”  and “Atlantic Rim.” Unsurprisingly, this has gotten them into a little bit of legal hot water here and there, particularly with 2012’s “American Battleship,” whose name was eventually changed to “American Warships.” “Sharknado” obviously follows in the vein of the first type, clearly drawing inspiration from the outlandish “Mega Shark” series, which saw success similar to “Sharknado” a few years back, though not on the same scale.

Most of the movies put out by “The Asylum” are of pretty low quality by Hollywood standards, but are certainly leagues above Troma movies as far as production qualities go. They have particularly relied on cheap CGI in recent years to carry their films, which doesn’t enthrall today’s hardcore horror fans by any means. I mentioned in my “Lake Placid” review that I felt like the CGI used there really set the precedent for these Asylum monster movies, for better or worse. “Deep Blue Sea,” also from 1999, deserves some credit/fault as well for the first major modern CGI showcase of sharks on the big screen.

It is worth noting that while The Asylum’s movies are all of similarly low quality in regards to production values and CGI, they are not all equally entertaining. “Sharknado” is without a doubt one of the most genuinely entertaining products that they have put out, and I don’t think many would argue otherwise. Most of their movies are poorly paced, dull, and unmemorable, all of which are criticisms that I don’t think are valid to level at “Sharknado.” I will say that one of my favorite Asylum movies (maybe more so than “Sharknado”) was “Sherlock Holmes,” a mock-buster which was released just after the first Robert Downey Jr. / Guy Ritchie blockbuster. However, instead of just being satisfied with taking on a Holmes story, Asylum managed to wedge in an Iron Man suit, hologram dinosaurs, robots, and a hot air balloon battle. Really.

There is a really good video that circulated a bit last year that ruminated on the concept of good-bad (“nanar”) movies, and whether one could be made intentionally, a question that was clearly aimed at “Sharknado.”

The video did get me thinking, and I responded to it last month with a lengthy analysis of “The Producers” and “Springtime for Hitler,” in which I posit that there is a way to intentionally craft a bad movie. But, right now I want to dig into something that the video neglects to cover: the long tradition of intentionally made bad movies, which I believe deserves its own classification.

I mentioned Troma earlier in this post: in a lot of ways, they operate the same way that the Asylum does, but with a more tongue-in-cheek disposition and fondness for practical effects. They definitely have a cult following, and some of their films are regarded in the highest echelon of good-bad movies, but I don’t think anyone honestly believe that Troma goes into any of their movies aiming to create something conventionally “good.” “Surf Nazis Must Die,” “The Toxic Avenger,” “Tromeo & Juliet,” etc. are all clearly intentionally made bad movies, yet they have a loyal following of people who swear by them. They are still undoubtedly a divisive entity in the B-movie world though, so lets look at another example: Roger Corman.

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Lloyd Kaufman, mastermind of Troma

Roger Corman is the undisputed King of the B-movies. Even beyond that, he is one of the most renowned fosterers of filmmaking talent in history, giving first breaks to people like Peter Bogdanavich, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorcese, Jack Nicholson, and James Cameron, among many others. His career has spanned the better part of a century, and he, without any doubt, creates intentionally bad movies that are often widely adored. Recently, his producing credits have included the “Sharktopus” movies, the next of which is slated for 2016. On the other end of his long list of credits is 1955’s “The Beast With a Million Eyes”: he’s been doing this for a long, long time, and I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone who would claim that Corman movies don’t deserve recognition in a “good-bad” movie discussion.

When it comes down to it, I think this video misses the category that “Sharknado” really belongs in. Here is a Venn diagram shown at 1:32:

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I think that this diagram merits another circle. As he mentions, there are a few different definitions of what a “B-movie” is out there, and not all of them are made with the same sort of intentions of a Troma or Roger Corman film: to be outlandish for the sake of outlandishness. I’m going to include this category as a green circle on a modified version of the above graph, with the acknowledgement that not all of these intentionally made bad movies are “nanar”-style enjoyable, but some definitely are.

sharknado2So, I would claim that “Sharknado” gets the rare distinction or being in the intersection of the green and blue circles, alongside a handful of the more enjoyable Corman movies, treasured B-movie flicks like “Chopping Mall,” and a debatable selection of Troma’s filmography.

Getting back to “Sharknado,” I do not think is as bad as it is by design alone.  Particularly after seeing it on a big screen for the Rifftrax event, I believe that this is an incompetently made film beyond just the outlandish concept and writing. I think “Sharknado” is kind of like someone laughing at themselves to try to cover up a genuine weakness. As we all should know, laughing at it doesn’t make a flaw magically go away.

The CGI sharks and, more noticeably on a big screen, CGI weather effects look damn awful throughout this movie, and are probably the biggest weaknesses to the whole thing. Given how often the sharks and weather need to be shown on screen for this film to work, it is a pretty big issue that they look so poorly done. To be fair, they aren’t “Birdemic” birds, but they still look pretty awful.

sharknado5Something else that stands out more upon re-watching is the cinematography of “Sharknado,” in the sense that it is just god-awful. The camera movements are frankly nauseating, far more so than is ever justified. It isn’t like there are people out there who find bad cinematography hilarious, this is just honest incompetence in the film-making showing through.

So, I suppose my point with all of this is that “Sharknado” 1) follows in a long tradition of outlandish concept films, 2) is incompetent beyond just the concept, and 3) is still an entertaining film. I understand the detractors that aren’t fond of The Asylum’s brand of B-movies, but I do think that the success of “Sharknado” isn’t an accident: despite being an incompetently crafted movie, it is fun, and is almost certainly the result of a boiling down of The Asylum’s past successes. It isn’t the same kind of fun that “Troll 2” or “The Room” offers, but it is definitely similar to the old Corman-esque tradition.

sharknado7“Sharknado 3” is slated for debut in July 2015, and it looks like it will mark yet another change of venue for the franchise, this time to the nation’s capital. After the second film’s location of New York, NY, I hope there are some more twists in store for this third flick apart from new monuments to level. It is going to be hard to compare with a shark assault on the Big Apple.

And, again, Rifftrax’s take on Sharknado will be available on Wednesday, February 18th at Rifftrax.com. It was a fun show to watch, and if you enjoyed Sharknado, it is sure to enhance the experience for you.

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IMDb Bottom 100 in theaters!

The good folks over at Rifftrax are going to be doing yet another live simulcast for the holidays! The former Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang are taking on an old favorite: IMDb Bottom 100 member and cult classic “Santa Claus”, a Mexican-made children’s movie in which St. Nick lives in a sky-castle with Merlin and battles demons for the souls of children.

You can check it out in select theaters around the US and Canada (maybe elsewhere?) on December 4th. To check where it is playing near you, go to the Fathom events page here, and throw in your local ZIP code. Or, if you happen to be in the Nashville, TN area, you can go to the in-person showing at the Belcourt Theater! I went to the live Rifftrax of “Godzilla (1998)” at the Belcourt this summer, and it was an absolute blast. I recommend making an evening of it if you can.

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Also, I highly recommend checking out the old MST3K episode on “Santa Claus”, which is among the best of the series. I’ll be covering the movie later in December here on the blog as well for the IMDb Bottom 100 reviews, so keep your eyes open for it!