I had a chance to pick the brain of Mr. David Michael Latt, currently the head crazy over at The Asylum. As old buddies, we shot the breeze in laid-back and movie-geek style, focusing mainly on the indie studio's more recent crop of "blockbuster piggy-backs" -- some of which are actually more entertaining than their big-budget brethren. Some.
Scott: You and I first met when you were pimping your movie Jane White is Sick and Twisted and you needed some legit reviews. (I think maybe I reviewed Pep Squad kindly and you just came back for more love.) Was my Jane White review fair and kind? Did you ever send that check? What was the general reaction to the flick? Have you made your money back on that one?
David: Yes, you're a God. You smell like flowers. You are probably very good looking; and yes, the review was fair and kind. The general reaction from the film came in two camps: Loved it; hated it. I like the people that loved it. The other people are stupid and walk funny. Apparently, however, it was the people that were indifferent to it that carried the most weight, because the film has barely made about two thousand dollars (that's gross, not net) ... though it won dozens of awards, and was on critics' top tens for that year. No one rents a comedy that doesn't have a big star.
Scott: Let's jump back to the beginning. Prior to Jane White, you banged out titles like Sorority House Party (1992), Killers (1997), and Killers 2: The Beast (2002). How'd you get to be in the position to make those classics? Do you ever troll the IMDb looking for reactions to your older flicks? Do words like "awful," "crap," and "wow" ever dent your armor?
David: You forgot my other classics such as Scarecrow Slayer and Wildflower. Bastard. Scott, I'm very proud of those films. Would I have liked to have made better ones? Sure. But a drug user can't necessarily always chose the best drugs from the best dealer. I met my wife on Sorority – and my other long-lasting relationship –David Rimawi, my producing partner and business partner for almost twenty years – so it can't be all that bad. Plus I keep learning from these films. Do I read the reviews? Yep. Do I get upset at bad ones? Yep. Do I go hide and cry until morning? Yep. No, wait. Forget that last one. The only time I get upset is when the critic has an agenda – that they hate the film because they hate me personally or my company or the actors ... or whatever. If you're going to hate my film I want it to be because I made a piece of crap (in your eyes), and not because I accidentally ran over your dog, Mr. Pib (you know who I'm talking to).
Scott: OK, then. Asylum time. How'd this outfit come to be?
David: We all quit our day jobs after being fired so we formed The Asylum.
Scott: Since '92, you guys have distributed over 150 movies. How many of those films are better than, say, Police Academy 3: Back in Training?
David: Depends who's watching. My retarded cousin would probably say none of them. And good for him!
Scott: Any that you'd let your kids watch?
David: They can see any of them. (I'm a bad parent.)
Scott: Your parents?
David: One's dead, so she doesn't count. Dad's just happy that I'm not a Scientologist.
Scott: Hey, King of the Ants is a pretty good one.
David: Oh, hey, thanks! Er, wait...you liked JANE WHITE...so maybe you're not the best to judge what is a good film and what isn't...
Scott: How'd you swing a Stuart Gordon flick?
David: He came to us. We're lucky our company name starts with an "A."
Scott: What's the Asylum's ratio as far as in-house productions vs. outside pick-ups?
David: More (productions) now than ever. We are phasing out our acquisitions.
Scott: Do you find it's potentially more profitable to just churn the schlock yourselves?
David: Define 'schlock.'
Scott: OK, let's get down to the nitty-gritty. Some call it shameless, some call it smart, but The Asylum is now known (in some movie-geeky circles, anyway) as a Quickie Copycat house. Would you refute a classification such as this?
David: Sure I would. We're a studio making product. We do copycats as much as the big guys do. They just rape from within their own library (remakes, re-dos, re-issues, re-mastered). All of our shows are original, and some have studio ties. It doesn't make them misfits, or ugly, or bad, or schlocky, or crap. The only question is: Did we make an entertaining movie? Sometimes it's 'yes' and others times it's 'absolutely yes'. That should only be what this is about.
Scott: Let's break it down flick by flick, shall we?
You released David Michael Latt's H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds on June 28th, 2005, one day before the release of Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds. His had Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, and Tim Robbins. Yours had C. Thomas Howell, Jake Busey, and Peter Greene. First off, why'd you choose to direct this one?
David: I loved the book, I was proud of the script. Everything fell into place. I was going to make this before we even knew that Dreamworks had launched their own invasion.
Scott: Are you happy with the way it came out?
Scott: Quite a few online critics gave the flick a rather fair shake (including my good pal Dave Cornelius). Did that make you feel a little warm inside your special place?
David: Yes, right below the pancreas.
Scott: Did you happen to see the THIRD Worlds rendition, the slavishly faithful and mega-long goofball one from the UK?
David: Yes, but it was made in Washington state.
Scott: Now, unless I'm mistaken, which happens every 8 or 12 minutes, WOTW was the first Asylum flick that might reasonably be termed a "piggy-back" flick, correct? Was the flick so successful that you held an immediate board meeting and then screamed "Check all the release dates for the next 12 months! I want more big-flick release-date piggy-backing!"
David: It's like you were a fly in the room...
Scott: You seem to work with a bunch of old pals. What can you tell us about Carlos De Los Rios...
David: He can't f*cking shut up. But every word he says is brilliant. I love working with him. He is very intense, high energy, and very, very creative. He's my go-to guy.
Scott: ...and Paul Bales...
David: Old family friend of my partners. Very talented. His big problem is that he keeps handing us scripts that should be made for $100 million dollars. He just doesn't seem to get what we do here. I'm hoping that he'll just give up on us and sell a script for a few million to the studios.
Scott: ...and Leigh Slawner...
David: We first met Leigh by picking up his film Art House which we distributed through a label called First Rites. Leigh is bulldog. He's tough as nails. We can always rely on Leigh on giving us a very entertaining, solid, well-acted film. He's very consistent.
Scott: ...and by the way how's your lovely wife/favorite actress Kim Little-Latt?
David: Very lovely. She took some time off to be the good parent to our kids...but, realizing that that's a mistake, wants to jump back into acting.
Scott: A few months after War of the Worlds you got a little ambitious. Peter Jackson's King Kong opened on December 14th, and you countered with King of the Lost World only one day earlier. He had Jack Black. You had Bruce Boxleitner. Of those two guys, who'd win a pie-eating contest?
David: Boxleitner. He can kick anyone's ass.
Scott: Do you think this flick might have needed a little more of the ... ape?
David: No. We needed less of that ape in our ape movie.
Scott: You got a little cleverer after the apefest. Sony released The Exorcism of Emily Rose theatrically in September of 2005. But the DVD hit on December 20th. About a month later we noticed a coincidentally similar DVD called Exorcism: The Possession of Gail Bowers gracing the shelves. Did you find it difficult to get the words "exorcism" and "possession" into one movie title?
David: It fit very nicely, thank you.
Scott: How is Gail doing these days, anyway?
David: She's fine. One of our top renters.
Scott: Last October came your zombie flick, Dead Men Walking, only a few months removed from George Romero's zombie flick, Land of the Dead. Zombie movies are pretty common, so I'll just ask: Lucky timing or intentional tag-along?
David: That one was lucky timing. But if you look close enough, you'll see a pattern in everything. Dead Men came out (coincidentally) only four years after Titanic was released. I'm just saying...
Scott: Will we be seeing more zombies flopping out of the Asylum?
David: I hope so. Eating brains are cool.
Scott: Sony's When a Stranger Calls remake hit theaters on February 3rd of this year. Asylum's When a Killer Calls hits DVD a few weeks later. You couldn't have released it a few weeks earlier?
Scott: Did you feel more justified in copycatting this one since it's a pointless freakin' remake in its own right? If so, good.
David: Like I said about the studios...
Scott: And then since Fox mounted their own remake of The Hills Have Eyes (March 10th), it only made sense for Asylum to turn around and bang out Hillside Cannibals (March 28th). How much input do you have on the Asylum DVD covers, anyway?
David: I have a lot of influence on the art, but I rarely use it. David Rimawi seems to know the right buttons to push.
Scott: Slick cover art really is key, isn't it?
David: I think so, but my filmmakers tell me it's them.
Scott: By this point you guys are pretty much rollin' with the flicks. The inevitably massive The Da Vinci Code opened on May 19th. You deliver The Da Vinci Treasure on May 23rd. Again, I gotta ask: Coincidence?
David: Inasmuch as The Da Vinci Curse, Beyond the Da Vinci Code: The Book That Solves the Mystery; The Da Vinci Code Jesus : An article from: St. Anthony Messenger, Leonardo Da Vinci, The Da Vinci Question, From the journal of Leonardo da Vinci, The Da Vinci Code (different one), The Treasures of Leonardo Da Vinci, The Da Vinci Primer, A& E's documenataries on the code and Da Vinci, and about 100 others were a coincidence.
Scott: What did you think of the Ron Howard flick? As a sleeping aid, I mean. Did it work?
David: Didn't see it. With two kids and our film schedule, I haven't seen a movie since 1986.
Scott: This was the first time you got to work with Lance Henriksen. You didn't ask him to do the knife trick, did you?
David: No, but I practically French kissed him when I met him.
Scott: The following month, boom, you're at it again. Fox releases their virtually frame-by-frame remake of The Omen on 6/6/06. You guys release 666: The Child on the EXACT SAME DAY.
David: WHAAAAT?!?!? That's crazy, man.
Scott: Now, as a Jew, I don't normally believe in Satan, but that's pretty creepy, right? Correct me if I'm wrong, but the young actor who played your pre-pubescent Satan ... his name's Boo Boo, right? The evil never stops.
Scott: Basic copyright law indicates that Asylum had to skip their version of Superman Returns, but what would you have called it, anyway?
David: Star Wars.
Scott: So now we look to the immediate future. Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
opens on July 7th. In stores now is Asylum's Pirates of Treasure Island. What's this movie like?
David: It needed more money, but otherwise it's pretty entertaining.
Scott: You get any nasty letters from Buena Vista?
Scott: Johnny Depp?
David: All the fucking time. Can someone please tell him that we moved?
Scott: The estate of Robert Louis Stevenson?
David: No. Wait. No. Different Robert Louis Stevenson.
Scott: And again you get to work with Lance Henriksen! Does this guy ever sleep?
David: He'll sleep when he's dead.
Scott: Oh, and there's so much more. Pre-release mega-buzz has been extra loud for New Line's Snakes on a Plane (Aug. 18th), which gave you guys ample opportunity to bang out, that's right, Snakes on a Train (Aug. 15th). Did you ever consider for going with slugs or spiders or maybe bees on a train? What would your response be if I just said "Dude, what's UP with these movies?"
David: Our film has snakes. On a train. Very different. Train. See?
Scott: OK, so give us a peek at what's next. According to the Asylum website you have something called Croak in production? A giant mutated frog? Is that an original concept, or does Paramount have something called Ribbit in production?
David: Original. Unless Paramount is copying us.
Scott: Got anything to act as a tie-in to Saw 3?
David: Saw 4?
Scott: All non-kidding aside, though: How do you guys pay the bills? I gotta assume this stuff sells better overseas than it does stateside. It'd have to, right? Is it just that the horror fans are so loyal that they'll give any movie an even chance -- perhaps doubly so if the flick looks, sounds, and smells like another movie they liked? Is it simply that the cheesier b-movies sometimes deliver what the big boys don't? You guys must have a recipe for success, cuz nobody really slaps out eight movies in twelve months like you guys do.
David: The bills are getting bigger, but we'll do fine. Our company is small and quick, so our model changes every two years-ish. We were first known as a company that released award-winning arthouse films, then B-horror films, then cheesy horror films, now knock-offs. Next year it will be gay animal porn. The bottom line is that we can change quickly with our buyers. If the consumers are not happy with our current crop of movies, we'll change that soon enough (to pay for our ever increasing overhead).
And why do we want to do that? Because, as all-business as this sounds and as belittling you want to make my job seem ... (only love here Scott, but let's face it, you started it) ... I really do love moves. I love to make them, I love to watch them. I surround myself with the same type of people (though much better looking), and I'm doing what I love. We hire many first timers in key positions (including directors and writers) and give them an education of a lifetime. It may seem quick and easy to do what we do, but for the most part our films are well-reviewed and enjoyed by lots and lots of people...and that, my friend, is what it's all about: making a film and finding an audience.
Scott: Fair enough. In closing, Mr. Latt, I ask you to address your critics out there, the ones who dismiss the Asylum fare as not only bad films, but as shameless rip-offs of other bad films. Me, I've only seen a few of 'em, plus we're email pals, and I don't want the creator of Hillside Cannibals to show me his bad side.
David: Hi critics. Enjoy the show.
Scott: It's at this point I'll apologize for coming off as so snarky regarding Asylum's cinematic output, but I knew going in that Dave has a good sense of humor -- plus, truth be told, the day there's no room on the video shelves for low-budget horror flicks is the day I stop going looking through video shelves. Vivé le Asylum!