Freddy Beans here with an interview with a true independent movie legend, filmmaker Don Coscarelli. I was given the chance to speak with Don because he is promoting a new memoir titled TRUE INDIE
With TRUE INDIE the director of PHANTASM, THE BEASTMASTER, BUBBA HO-TEP, SURVIVAL QUEST, and JOHN DIES AT THE END finally wrote a book to show the rest of us peons how to make films. TRUE INDIE captures the determination, wit, and luck that’s needed to succeed in Hollywood on your own terms.
While reading TRUE INDIE, the first thing that hits you is how smooth and easy the writing style is. It’s like hearing a story at a bar, except you don’t mind this conversation because it’s going somewhere. And this book goes all kinds of places in its 335 pages.
We are taken behind-the-scenes to learn how “THE MASTERS OF HORROR” got their name on a casual aside. How a certain B-level actor pulled off a stunt to grab an audience and how that later led to a rhinestone wearing, mummy fighting, Elvis, in BUBBA HO-TEP. Don gives great filmmaking advice in a chapter aptly titled “5-minute Film School”. You learn how a young man risks life and limb for his art and that perfect shotgun blast. How all the blood, guts and darkness he showed on film wouldn’t be possible without the immense encouragement and determination of a loving mom.
Don Coscarelli takes you throughout his forty-plus years fighting the Hollywood system to bring his visions to the big screen. You will bemoan all the lost scripts. Feel for him as failure seems destined at every turn. Yet, also root for him (even if you do know how it all ends) as he never stops putting one foot in front of the other until there’s another movie with his name emblazoned on it.
I can’t recommend TRUE INDIE enough to any film lover, frustrated filmmaker with no hair left to pull out, or anyone who enjoys a unique memoir that is unlike any other. Kudos to you Mr. Coscarelli! I can’t wait to read or see what you do next, sir!
Freddy Beans: Hello.
Don Coscarelli: Hey (Freddy), It’s Don Coscarelli calling.
FB: How are you doing today Don?
DC: I’m doing fine. How’s it going today?
FB: It’s going good. It’s not every day I get a call from Don Coscarelli. You’re something of a legend for a guy like me.
DC: That’s sweet of you to say but don’t get too carried away.
FB: (Laughs) I literally just purchased BEASTMASTER and the entire PHANTASM collection just so my kids could know who you were.
DC: That is awesome! We need to bring up the next generation properly. That’s wonderful to hear honestly.
FB: It’s the truth. Without further ado though, I do have work to do here. (Laughs)
DC: (Laughs) Perfect, let’s hear it.
FB: OK. What would be the most important advice you would give a hopeful independent director looking to make his first movie?
DC: To stay as far away from the business as possible. (Laughs) No, to start, don’t do something you aren’t absolutely passionate about. You might get stuck with this project for years, make sure it’s something you absolutely love and believe in.
Cast unknowns, they will work harder for you and when you need to reach them after a shoot they’re typically available, as opposed to the movie star.
Don’t overspend. You need to get your money back.
Shoot as many takes as you can. You never know where the gold is in any given scene. And reshoot the hell out of your movie. Some of my best work is in reshoots, after I got to look at scenes and determine where things needed to be worked on.
Make something original and different.
A very important rule is don’t work with assholes. I’m just going down the list in my book. (Laughs)
FB: I realized that early but you were doing so well. (Laughs) I’m actually well versed on the list in TRUE INDIE. I’m a big fan of the avoid assholes piece. It also happens to be good advice for life in general
DC: (Laughs) It is, isn’t it?
FB: Sure, but it also helps you learn how to deal with them right?
DC: Absolutely. That’s absolutely true.
FB: Speaking of TRUE INDIE, there’s an interesting piece in there about how you wanted THE WALKING DEAD (TWD). I’ve been collecting the comics since they started and while I watch the show religiously, I wonder if I wouldn’t have liked your version a bit more. Two part question: Would you have followed the comics closer? And who is your favorite character in the TWD world?
DC: Well, I think they’ve done a great job! I can tell that a lot of the places I differ are more financial decisions. I really enjoyed the comics. I truly feel the characters, dialogue and story are done so well for a weekly series.
FB: Are you ever going to share PHANTASM FOREVER with your audience, maybe on a special future release?
DC: Well I think I have to as a tribute to the actors. Who were all great in it! It’s roughly 90% done. It’s really all dialogue you know. My movies have been all about showing you different things, but here you have a group that just talks about these different things. I think it’s got a lot going for it. It would be fun to showcase it around the country with one-off screenings, that would be great. That is a dream one day. It could almost be turned into a study on PHANTASM at a university.
FB: Well if anything screams university learning it has to be PHANTASM. I would love to see that class!
In TRUE INDIE you mentioned SURVIVAL QUEST originally having a storyline much more reminiscent of say Jack Ketchum’s novel OFF SEASON, or the movie HILLS HAVE EYES, where a bunch of kids are essentially chased and killed by the local hill folk. I was wondering if you could just expand on that concept here?
DC: Well, it was my original concept. I loved those national outdoor leadership schools where you do something special, by putting people in an unknown maybe hostile environment. One where the only way for the group to survive is through teamwork learned in the school. Well, it would be fun if that group came across, I don’t know, some hunky guy and some silly bimbo who accidentally lure them into a horrible situation. To dive even deeper, I had this big creepy group called “The Breed” and some of those traditional tropes would have been a lot of fun to play with. They wanted me to lighten things up a little bit and I thought, well the money is good, I guess I have to get rid of things like necklaces made with removed fingers and things like that (Laughs) We wanted to stand strong but it was a very frustrating time and I made what I made.
FB: Growing up I loved SURVIVAL QUEST. Interesting how perspectives work. I appreciate how it was meant to be so much better and how ultimately that leaves you feeling like it’s a disappointment for you.
DC: Ya know, there really is a lot of great acting and cinematography in the film. It’s hard, I only see the movie I wanted to make.
FB: Has writing TRUE INDIE inspired you to write another book?
DC: Well I know I can write another memoir. (Laughs) Honestly, I’d really like to write fiction in the future. I’ve read so many great novels from so many like the master Stephen King, I think I’d like to venture into their territory.
FB: I feel like you already do that with your screenplays. You’ve written so many screenplays that we haven’t had the pleasure of seeing. I mean they have to feel like your babies and so many of your stories didn’t make it to fruition. Great fodder there for your novel I’m sure.
DC: Well there’s a lot more than I mentioned of course. (Laughs) I’m constantly playing with new ideas and unfortunately, things get put away as you move forward. Thanks for mentioning that, it’s really cool!
FB: Of course. If there’s anything you can share with our readers regarding those meetings of all the MASTERS OF HORROR directors at Café Bizou. Anything noteworthy you could share or impart to our readers?
DC: I was surprised how down to earth, self-effacing, and generally interested in one another’s films we all were. I grew to be closer to some of them, like Tobe Hooper, who was such a sweet guy. Did you ever get to meet him in person?
FB: No. I sadly did not.
DC: That’s too bad. He was so helpful. He is the one who helped introduce me to Ossie Davis for BUBBA HO TEP because I had never worked with him before. It was just a wonderful time. It was supposed to be an annual event but there hasn’t been one for 2 years and I’m not sure it will continue. I met so many interesting and influential people there.
What’s interesting about all these filmmakers is we were all raised in the film industry. We all watched a lot of different genres, we also all subscribed to the periodicals of the day, like Famous Monsters of Film Land and Fangoria. I guess what I’m saying is, we all go to horror conventions and the entire horror genre is like a fraternity in a way.
FB: I couldn’t agree more. There’s something uniquely “everyman” within horror’s confines
DC: Yeah, we are fans too. So, a bunch of likeminded souls.
FB: What a cool club. So, when’s my invite? (Laughs)
(**FB: I’ll take the following silence as it’s in the mail???)
FB: So what is your favorite horror movie, well that wasn’t made by Don Coscarelli. (Laugh)
DC: Funny thing is, whenever I get a question like that my mind draws a blank and my thoughts end up auto-tuned. The one that was the most effective and I always jump back to is the EXORCIST. I hadn’t read the book, knew nothing about it, and then EXORCIST has its opening weekend. There’s this big line and like a lemming, I jumped in it. I didn’t know what it was all about and sat in the very front row in a theater in southern California and it just scared the shit out of the audience. There hadn’t been anything like that before that time. There are a lot of movies that make you uncomfortable just sitting there and all of a sudden you don’t want to be there. But I’m a horror director, so I can’t get up or close my eyes. I can’t do that ya know?
FB: Absolutely. Personally, I still lean on another old one that changed movies JAWS. It still gets me to this day
DC: It’s the greatest monster movie ever made, no question about it. And also loaded with great acting
FB: Well I appreciate the validation. (laughs)
DC: (Fred) I was just informed I can only take one more question. I really enjoyed this, so give me a good one. What do you got?
FB: Anything you want to share on your next project/concept etc? I realize in TRUE INDIE you speak about how you don’t have a project until its approved and funded but…(Laughs) Anything you can share here with AINTITCOOL?
DC: Well I’m working on several things right now and maybe in a couple months I could talk about those. That’s the nature of these things and I hate talking about them only to see them evaporate so I don’t want to make that mistake. I am doing this book tour around the country and I’d like to welcome any one of your audience to come meet me. I will be there! If you have a chance when we are over there in San Francisco in late October, I would really like to meet you in person (Fred).
FB: Well if I can find the time Don. (Laughs) no really it was a pleasure talking to you here and I will seek you out now for offering that up. By the way, have you seen the movie THE FAN?
FB: Seriously Don, thank you for your time and for the opportunity to review your book ahead of time. I wish you the best of luck sir!
DC: Thank you (Fred). Take care and have a great day man! Best of luck in everything!
There you have it. I discovered that Don Coscarelli not only writes like he’s a cool down to earth guy, he actually is one too! I had a great time talking with him and appreciate him being so generous with his time.
TRUE INDIE, from St. Martin’s Press, is available in bookstores everywhere October 2nd.
To see the upcoming dates for Don Coscarelli’s book tour CLICK HERE.
Til next time, Kids!
- Freddy Beans