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Low Budget Legends

Larry Cohen Interview Part 2

We were lucky enough to speak with Larry Cohen recently for Low Budget Legends. Larry is not just a low budget legend. He is just a legend — period. He is the director is such moveis as Bone, Black Caesar, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover, Full Moon High, and A Return To Salem’s Lot.

Enjoy!

13BIT:

Okay. Here, let me– let me deal with the first one. What is the most important thing to not skimp on?

LARRY C.:

Cast.

13BIT:

Cast?

LARRY C.:

Cast. You get the best actors for the part. The most important thing is that the actors up on the screen be good in the parts and be the best possible performers you can get.

13BIT:

And what is the one thing that you can skimp on? If you had to save money what could you cut?

LARRY C.:

Well, let’s see, good– that’s a reasonable question. But, I mean, yeah, you don’t want to shortchange yourself in any area. I mean, the music is the last thing that you do when, you know, when the picture’s finished. If you run out of money I guess you just buy some– canned music and put it on there. I’ve always had first-rate composers like Nicholas Rosher (sp?) and Bernard Herrmann. I’ve spent a lot of money on the musical scores for all my films.

But I supposed if– if you– if you were completely out of money then you’d have– you’d have to skimp in post-production and– probably you’d just have to hire– a young unknown composer, hopefully somebody talented, and you wouldn’t use a name composer, you’d use somebody who’s trying to break into the business. There are many people who would be happy to give you the music for nothing just to get the credit.

13BIT:

No, we– we know a lot of filmmakers that have actually have had to pay a lot of money by using music that they’ve not had the rights to.

LARRY C.:

Well, yeah, I can’t do that. But you– there are many, many young people as I said who’d loved to be hired to work on a movie, and they wouldn’t even expect much money for the job. They just want the credit. So, people coming to me all the time saying they’d love to– they would– they’d do the score for– for nothing. Sometimes I’d like to have the publishing or– or the– and the ASCAP for the– royalties in the backend. But upfront you could get them for free. So– I mean– that’s one of the few things you could probably get for nothing, and expect the people to work for– for six weeks on a picture every day on the set and not get paid. But– music people are looking to break in and sometimes they’ll do the score for you for free.

13BIT:

What– what do you want out of a movie when you make a movie? What’s your goal?

LARRY C.:

My goal is to make– tell a story that I– you know, that I like, that I created. I write all my own screenplays. I’m gonna put them up on the screen and– and– and– and control the vision of the– of the picture and control every aspect of the film if possible. And so I can say it’s truly my film.

13BIT:

What are the advantages, do you think, of– low budget or independent filmmaking?

LARRY C.:

Well, the advantage of low-budget filmmaking is that people generally leave you alone. When you make a studio picture for– you know, middle-of-range picture of– $50– $30, $40, $50 million, there’s constant peering over your shoulder, constant second guessing, people making suggestions and– you’re having to defend every decision and argue every decision with the studio executives or producers.

With my films I have– absolute control of every aspect of the picture. So I prefer to make a low-budget picture and– and do it my way than have to compromise constantly and be involved in arguments every day– with the studios. And– you know, when you get into the movies of high budget, I mean, it’s even worse. Unless you happened to be James Cameron or Steven Spielberg. And they– those people are able to negotiate their own freedom to act as they wish there. It’s in their contract that nobody tells them what to do.

13BIT:

I mean, we– we– that’s– that’s why we like independent filmmaking. Because, although we don’t make much money– you know, it’s our vision.

LARRY C.:

Yeah. Well, people do not generally have the time to spend much– supervision of– of your picture when it’s a low-budget film, even if the studio– like a Warner Brothers is putting up the money, they just don’t really have enough time to go over there and– and birddog your production. They– you generally get left alone.

13BIT:

So distribution right now seems to be changing a lot, as well. There are no more midnight movies. A lot of productions are going online. How do you see distribution for independent films?

LARRY C.:

Well, it’s getting more and more difficult since the economy has put the majority of independent distributors out of business. Independent distribution companies can just about absorb one or two flops and that’s it. And then they’re finished. They’re out of business. Even if they’ve had a hit at the beginning of the– of inception of the company, if they don’t follow it up with more and more hits– they’re not allowed too many failures. A couple of failures and you’re out of business.

It costs so much money to distribute a picture today that if the film doesn’t do any business you’re in terrible shape. So– it’s harder to find distributors. It’s harder to find anybody who’d give you back the money that it costs you to make the picture. If you were lucky enough to find a distributor that’ll take the picture they won’t give you any money– for the production. They will– they will guarantee to spend some print and advertising money. And you hope that they keep their word and– that they’re still in business six months later.

I mean– it’s just as likely that the company that’s distributing your film will be in bankruptcy by the time the films plays. And if you’re looking to receive any backend money you’re probably not gonna get any. So, I suppose there is a lot of future in– in pay-for-view on– cable. As of now, people don’t really make very much money out of that. It’s– a small amount of money comes in from that. And if the picture hasn’t played in theatres and nobody knows about it and it hasn’t been widely advertised, then there’s no reason why people will want to rent it on– on– pay-for-view, — if they haven’t heard of the film. You know?

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