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How did you go from Baltimore-bred math nerd to making movies like Nightmare on Elm Street and Book of Love? I started out making coffee on John Waters’ Polyester in 1980. I spent the ’80s learning the business, mostly on low budget horror—that’s where I got to kill people like Johnny Depp and George Clooney before they were household names. New Line Cinema then deemed me fit to produce on the Nightmare on Elm Street series. I started directing eclectic projects, from Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare to Tank Girl to British television pieces like Touching Evil and Wind in the Willows.
What was it like shooting Wind in the Willows in Romania? First week there I got mugged. Then I was chased by rabid dogs. There was an avian flu outbreak. My daughter broke her foot. We weren’t given ice on set in the 100-degree heat. I’m being glib—it was actually fascinating to see a country come kicking and screaming out of 60 years of one of the most brutal dictatorships in memory.
And why Romania, to make a British classic? Obvious answer—money. Even with the BBC and CBC contributions, we couldn’t afford to make something as complex as Wind in the Willows in the U.K. Bucharest is not a good substitute for England. So a lot of money was spent visually enhancing theimages—we added the rolling hills and lush greenery.
Why does it make sense to spend $500,000 in visual effects to make Bucharest look like England? Because the Romanians helped finance the project. I think that for their contribution they got the rights to screen the film in Borat’s homeland, Kazakhstan. High five.
What are the differences between movies and episodic TV? In TV the director has less time and no control over the script. It’s a producers’ and writers’ medium. But at least material gets made. In film, the biggest battle is getting a green light. It’s so expensive to distribute a movie that it’s always easier to say no than yes. TV needs the machine fed constantly, film doesn’t.
As a film-making environment, how does the U.K. compare to Canada and the U.S.? When I work in England, I get to explore 16th-century houses or churches. I’ve had wonderful scripts and producers and the best actors. If I have to be up at 4 a.m. in the freezing rain, the Houses of Parliament are more magical than a muddy field north of Los Angeles. But I’ve had magical moments in North America as well. Working with the right people is the key.
Is Vancouver a good place for a filmmaker to live? Vancouver’s a good place for anyone to live.
You’re writing a new teen horror film at the moment. What about that genre appeals to you? For my money, I’d prefer to watch a girl turn into a cockroach and get crushed than to watch Saddam’s execution. I think horror needs a sense of humour and wit. They even get the best titles (next to porn films): I Dismember Mama, I Spit on Your Grave, It’s Alive…
What don’t most people understand about how movies come into being? Critic, producer, friend, bystander, guy at the pizza place—someone always knows better than you