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Low Budget Legends

Joe Dante Interview Part 2

What can you say about Joe Dante that has not been said already? Director of The Howling, Gremlins, as well as Amazon Women on the Moon, Joe has been making great films for the last 40 years. When Joe speaks about filmmaking we sit as his feet and listen.


JOE DANTE:
I think that’s the only thing you can do — the glass is half empty isn’t going to get you anywhere.
13BIT:
Right, right, right. I mean, we’re looking at doing webisodes– we’re doing a doc now on collectors. And we’re doing — you know, we’re doing our standard 90 minute narrative which we’ll make for, like, 20 or 30 grand of our money. But we’re getting so much stuff, we’re looking at webisodes, too. And I think it’s a leap of faith. We’re just going to have to, like, put the — you know —
JOE DANTE:
I think you’re right. I think that’s exactly what it is. It’s a leap of faith.
13BIT:
And then —
JOE DANTE:
–if you have a 90 minute movie that you can chop up into different episodes and run them at times that people, you know, will devote the ten minutes it takes to watch it, and then, “Oh, I like that, I’ll watch the next one,” it’s probably safer, I think, than getting them down — plunking them down and thinking that they’re going to watch the entire 90 minutes.
13BIT:
Well, that’s actually what we did with our last movie, which was a narrative, a bunch of vignettes. And we just ended up — you know, it was at a festival. Nothing happened, so we just chopped it up and we — we’re putting it up on YouTube. At least people will watch it.
JOE DANTE:
Yes, people will. But the problem with YouTube is that even YouTube doesn’t know how much stuff it has.
13BIT:
Oh, yes. You — I mean, and YouTube it’s like someone’s basement, you know —
JOE DANTE:
I know. It’s as — that’s why they’re able to actually take regular movies — I have movies that I’ve made that are on YouTube in segments that have been put up by people.

13BIT:
Yes.
JOE DANTE:
And the studios involved don’t know.
13BIT:
Oh, no.
JOE DANTE:
That those are pictures are up there —
13BIT:
–keep the pirated stuff.
JOE DANTE:
–unless somebody calls them and tells them.
13BIT:
Yes. No, that’s — I mean, that’s the — yes, if they
JOE DANTE:
I never call them and tell them.
13BIT:
Well, how do you feel about the issue with piracy?
JOE DANTE:
Well, piracy is a problem, I mean, and particularly with China and, you know, emergent countries that have no particular interest in our copyright. The whole impetus for making movies originally was that people would pay to see them and that people who, you know, spent the money to make them would get their money back and more. Now, that’s not necessarily true. I have a movie that hasn’t come out called The Hole in 3D. And it —
13BIT:
Oh —
JOE DANTE:
–opened in Italy. And already, the Italian dubbed version of the picture was up on YouTube.
13BIT:
Oh my gosh. It —
JOE DANTE:
And I — you know, there’s — you can get them to take it down, maybe. But it depends on what country it is. I mean, because the laws are different in every country.
13BIT:
Do you think it helps — a useful as a promotional tool? Or do you think that people just —
JOE DANTE:
Well, it is a promotional tool. And if you use it cleverly — and almost all movies have websites now — if you use it cleverly, it can — you can do it to your advantage. But you can’t stop a guy with a camcorder from going into a theatre in Singapore and shooting your movie off a screen and putting it on the internet. It’s almost impossible.
13BIT:
Yes. So, in low-budget filmmaking what is the one thing that you would never skimp on? And one is the one thing you would never pay for?
JOE DANTE:
The one thing you never skimp on in low-budget filmmaking, I think, is the script. I mean, if you don’t have a script worth shooting, it doesn’t matter how well you do it or how badly you do it. It’s just not going to be any good. And what was the other half of the question?
13BIT:
Oh, and what was the one thing you’d never pay for?
JOE DANTE:
It depends on a filmmaker. I mean, some people stint on the music. You certainly can’t stint on the camera. The image is everything. So, I don’t — I think it’s — that’s a variable. It depends on the project.
13BIT:
So, you went to the camera. What do you think — what is your position on the film/video —
JOE DANTE:
I love film. It’s going the way of the dodo eventually. And the — because video — I saw — the other day, I just saw Winter’s Bone. And nice movie, a little depressing. But I spotted right away that it was shot on video. Because — and the tell-tale thing is usually if you — if there are trees or, you know, bare limbs in a shot, they always have a slight after-image.
13BIT:
Ahhh.
JOE DANTE:
They have a little line next to it, which indicates that this is not film, this is video. But I’ve seen great video. I mean, I’ve seen pictures shot on video that looked terrific. I’ve seen pictures shot on video that looked terrible. And sometimes within the same movie — like, Public Enemies —
13BIT:
Oh, yes —
JOE DANTE:
–Public Enemies has some really bad video in it with — the lights are blowing out and it just looks like a phony home movie. But it’s a great tool and certainly is going to make filmmaking more affordable for people. And the cameras now are so small that they look like still cameras. So, you can actually shoot completely surreptitiously on the street without anybody knowing that you’re making a movie.

It’s — I think it’s a boon. I — it’s just what’s happening. I mean, do I love film? Yes, I love film. I love 65 millimeter film. I love Imax film. I like — you know, film is great. But — and it’s always going to have its uses. But the fact — I think, it — the fact that they don’t make film cameras anymore, still cameras, should be a tip-off that, you know, film is not going to be around forever.
13BIT:
Yes. We see the visual difference between film and video. But the current generation that sees so much video, I don’t know if they’re going to, like, have the same aesthetic, visual aesthetic —
JOE DANTE:
No, they’re not. It’s going to evolve. It’s going to change. And it’s going to be like the old masters. You know, they painted with a certain kind of paint, and then that paint went out and some other paint came in and the– the paintings didn’t look the same. But that’s just part of the way things are. You know, like —
13BIT:
That is a great analogy. I really like that.
JOE DANTE:
Well, use it wherever you like.
13BIT:
We’re going to definitely reproduce that. And then the five readers that we get will love it. So, what are your some of your favorite low-budget filmmakers?
JOE DANTE:
Well, I mean, almost all my favorite filmmakers are low-budget filmmakers. And remember that the filmmakers that we all talk about, you know, that everybody loves, like, you know, Jim Cameron made Avatar. Well, before he made Avatar, he made Piranha Two. And everybody started on a very cheap low level, on an entry level.

And a lot of their films, a lot of people who made those films, you know, became great filmmakers. But you go back to their original works, and you can still see the gleanings of what was going to turn out to be great movies. I mean, Francis Coppola made the Godfather, but before that he worked for Roger Corman and made Dementia 13. And Dementia 13 is a pretty good movie. You know, the story isn’t very good. But it’s very cleverly and very artistic.

And I really enjoy watching the early works of people who, you know, went on to do a lot of stuff. Because, you know, when you’re starting out, you’re not given much to work with and you have to try to make the best of it and use ingenuity. And the things that you learn, you apply to other movies that you make as you go along. And, you know, the only thing that’s important when you make a movie is what happens between when you say “action” and when you say “cut.” And all the rest of it around that is completely meaningless for the audience. The only thing that matters is what’s on the film. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re making an expensive movie or a cheap movie. It’s the same aesthetic. And you do learn, you know, a lot of tricks when you’re making low-budget films that you can use later in situations that are, you know, high-budget situations but have the same problem.
13BIT:
Now, all right, it’s a good learning environment, I guess a sandbox.
JOE DANTE:
Yes. Yes. I recommend it. I think that — and I also recommend that filmmakers cut their own movies. Because they’ll never know what mistakes they make until they have to confront them in the editing room. And woe be to the guy who has a great editor and the editor gets him out of a lot of trouble and then he goes back and makes another movie without that editor and makes the same mistakes and the new editor can’t fix them.
13BIT:
You know, we do it all. We’re a two-person outfit. And we actually — it’s a strange but sort of organic cycle. We love to edit. And then by the time we’re done editing — I mean, and we learn something about our shooting when we edit. And when we’re done editing, when we’re sick of it, we’re ready to start writing again. And when we’re sick of writing, we’re ready — it’s funny how it works, at least right now for us.

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