Throwback Interview – 2001
As part of our continuing series of Faust movie interviews, John Painz talks to producer and director Brian Yuzna about his comic book horror flick:
John Painz (JP): Were you a fan of the Faust comic book?
Brian Yuzna (BY): I was unfamiliar with the Faust comic book until after I had read the script adaptation by David Quinn. Once I was interested in making the movie I acquired a complete collection of the comics and studied them in order to understand the story, characters and world that Tim Vigil and David Quinn created.
JP: Who first presented you with the idea for the Faust movie?
BY: The first time I heard of the project was when Stuart Gordon gave me a copy of the script to read. Ted Chalmers (who was a co-producer of the final film) is the driving force behind the project. It was he who had the idea to adapt the comic to a film and he got the script written and Stuart interested. I understand the Stuart also helped supervise the original script.
At that time Stuart wanted to direct the picture and he showed the project to me for suggestions regarding financing. I believe that Stuart and Ted took the project to the film markets and to domestic companies for presales and financing. Finally they were unable to finance the film at the budget that Stuart felt was necessary to produce his vision of the picture.
A few years later, in January 1999, when I moved to Barcelona, Spain to create the production label Fantastic Factory for Filmax (a Spanish distributor that asked me to start up a production line of modestly budgeted genre films to be shot in Spain for the international market) I began to review scripts. Among the stack was Faust: Love of the Damned.
The script had always interested me because of its originality and structure, so I asked Stuart what the status was of the rights and he introduced me to Ted Chalmers who told me that the project was available. I first asked Stuart if he was still interested in directing it. I had already decided to produce Dagon (an adaptation of Shadow Over Innsmouth, a script I had had Dennis Paoli write back in 1985 and which was to be the follow up to From Beyond) as one of the first Fantastic Factory films and Stuart decided he would rather direct that.
So, I decided to direct Faust myself and Stuart directed Dagon last winter.
JP: What was your involvement in regards to writing the screenplay?
BY: David Quinn wrote the screenplay. In fact he wrote many versions of his screenplay as we tried to distill the comics into a film. After I read all the comics I spent many hours talking with David on the phone from Spain regarding the story and characters. He was great to work with since he knew the material inside and out and was always willing to try new approaches. It was important to me to keep the spirit of the comic and as much as possible stick with the structure that attracted me to the original script.
At the same time I was working with Richard Raaphorst of Delft, Holland on design concepts for the film. Richard is an weird incredible artist and helped design and inspire the design for the film. With storyboards from Richard I would go back to David and we would rework scenes.
Towards the end of the development I also involved Miguel Tejada-Flores (probably best known for Revenge of the Nerds, Fright Night 2 and Screamers), an experienced Hollywood (although he now lives in Oregon) screenwriter. Miguel has an incredible mind for screen story and I felt that we needed someone who had screenwriting experience to augment David’s work since David was making his maiden voyage.
I basically supervised, asked questions and continually presented problems. It was probably the most difficult script I have ever worked on because of my desire to stick as close as possible to the original material.
The plot of the comic books is complex and not always consistent. This is typical of comic stories because of the number of issues and because at the outset the creators don’t really know how many issues they will have. So the story evolves and the creators also influenced by the fans’ response to the issues as they appear. I also read all of David’s original material, the treatments and outlines he wrote to pitch the comic project, so I was aware of his original intentions as well as the form the books finally took.
There is so much going on in the Faust books and screenplay that I had a hard time getting a handle on it. Generally, I need to develop some kind of mythological underpinnings for a movie. And since David Quinn based his story, however loosely, on the Faust myth I also went to the most definitive source of the myth which is Goethe’s Faust play and tried to understand David’s work in light of Goethe’s.
This may seem unnecessary since what I was adapting was a comic book, but if you study David’s story and talk to David you will see that like many genre writers he is actually very serious and classical in his work. I wanted as much as possible to have a solid conceptual foundation for the story.
As you prepare and shoot a movie you must constantly make a myriad of decisions big and small based on the physical resources you have. Nothing is ever as you might imagine. You have to compromise for the locations that are available, props, actors, everything. So, every time you make a little decision you must be careful to understand what is essential and what is not in order to have the best chance of it all finally making sense. I had to decide what was the important part of the story for me.
One thing that I focused on, for example, was understanding the basis of Jaspers’ selling his soul. I interpreted David’s story based on Goethe’s play. In Goethe’s version Faust is an old man at the end of his life who has achieved great success in all fields, and at the end he finds himself thinking that life is meaningless and he doesn’t care about anything. In fact he is about to kill himself when Mephistopheles appears with a contract. He agrees to give up his soul for eternal life and physical pleasures. However, Mephisto’s deal with God is that he can’t collect Faust’s soul until Faust cares for something, so it is not until Faust falls in love with Margareta that he cares for something. At the end Faust saves Margareta but loses his own soul.
In David and Tim’s version, Faust is a young artist who contemplates suicide when his lover is killed. He then sells his soul for the power to avenge her death. In both versions the Margareta character (Jade in the comic) has been sexually defiled and both include the Walpurgisnacht in the plot. The difference is that the comic has Mephisto trying to destroy the world and in Goethe it is only Faust’s soul that is at stake.
So, in interpreting David’s script I concluded that Jaspers’ story was that of a man who loses his capacity to believe in something outside himself (solipsism in the classical sense, the philosophy that nothing exists outside your own subjective experience, which is I think a prevailing philosophical disease of our time and can be equated with the unreality we internalize from video games in which the world only exists for us, and which I think makes it possible for kids to slaughter their classmates etc because philosophically I don’t think they really think it is real, they are solipsists).
The story of the movie is very moral as are most genre or horror films. I wanted to focus on Jaspers not caring for anything outside of himself and finally redeeming himself by saving Jade and losing himself. Now, all of this stuff is part and parcel of David’s script, my part in the process was to interpret it and bring it out. Therefore, I developed the scene where Faust sells his soul more than it was in the original script or comic. Even though the audience might not understand it as such, I wanted the argument to be clear.
For me the bridge scene dialogue states clearly the basis of Jaspers’ damnation. You can understand the scene as an interior dialogue for Jaspers or anyone else contemplating suicide or revenge. Jaspers is clearly someone who is not violent, but when he quits believing in any ideals he quickly comes to the conclusion that he might as well just follow his animal or violent instincts. This gives him the power to extract revenge for the killing of Blue. In return, he gives up his humanity, or soul. After he slaughters his enemies he realizes (in the scene where he eats the heart) that he is now doomed to continue in his killing. He can’t go back to his innocence, so the story becomes that of a man’s redemption.
The kinds of suggestions that I had for these scenes, by way of example, which David incorporated into the script was to have Faust get the gauntlets at the moment of selling his soul instead of undergoing training with M before killing Baez. He instead goes straight to Baez from the bridge to cut out his heart. I also suggested that Faust eat the heart of Baez to show more visually his dehumanization. This type of thing is strictly a matter of film staging for David’s story, but you get the idea.
JP: Did Quinn and Vigil have anything else to do with the production of the film?
BY: Quinn and Vigil didn’t really get involved after preproduction. Since we shot the film in Barcelona it was pretty difficult for them to come to the set etc.
Tim doesn’t like to travel a lot, so we communicated by email.
David did come down to LA to approve the F/X that Screaming Mad George was preparing. He had George made changes to the Faust suit design which helped considerably.
One of the main concerns I had was with the Faust suit. In the comic it takes quite a few different forms and it is never really explained where it comes from. But, that is the thing with superhero comics, lots of things aren’t explained, they just look cool.
In the Faust books the fantastic art of Tim Vigil is very expressionistic and surreal. He represents the world in completely subjective ways based on the character’s (usually Jaspers’) emotions at the time. And the suit sometimes just disappears and Jaspers is left naked. But other people see the suit, too, so it is not just Jaspers’ hallucination. So coming up with a logic for the suit was a challenge.
Secondly was the design. When you see a cape in a comic it always looks cool. When you see it in a movie it is more likely to look like the Batman TV show than the Tim Burton version. Capes just hang there. In Spawn they tried making a digital cape so that it would always be looking cool, but we didn’t have the budget for that.
George is really good at full body suits. We really had a lot of experience with them when we did The Guyver. So, I didn’t just want to do a silk suit, which is pretty much what the comic looks like. And we didn’t have the option of an armour suit like Tim Burton’s Batman, because in the Faust story he never really makes or puts on the suit, it is part of his rage.
So, George suggested that it be part of his body, more of an Incredible Hulk or Werewolf idea, and that resonated with me. His idea was that the suit would come from Jaspers’ skin and bones when Jaspers went into a rage. So, that is why the suit has the muscle and bone details and why the mask, for example, blends right into his face.
In order to develop this clearer, and to address the element in the comic where Faust is sometimes not in the suit but still has a distorted madman type face, we had a halfway stage for the Faust makeup. Originally we planned to have three or four stages, but for budget’s sake we settled for one. You see this when Faust arrives at his loft after the subway scene. I was afraid that this scene with Jade would look funny with the full suit and cape one. The full suit only works in my mind when Faust is slicing and dicing, in action, completely homicidally mad.
So, we used the halfway stage which I think is a really cool look. Also, we needed to emphasis the transformation scene in Jade’s apt. This was something that wasn’t a focus of the original script or the comics. But, David agreed with George and myself that we needed to clearly show how Faust’s rage transformed him.
JP: Explain the decisions with casting
The casting for the movies in the Fantastic Factory are really tricky. Since the films must qualify as Spanish (and European) productions we have restrictions on how many non-Spanish and non-European Union actors we can have. Also, because Faust was a low budget movie we had to watch out for plane fares, hotels and per diems. So, surprisingly for a low budget movie we cast in four cities: Barcelona, Madrid, London and Los Angeles. We ended up with only two actors that were non-EU.
JP: Mark Frost as John Jaspers/Faust?
This was the hardest role to cast. Finding someone who was cool with the sex and violence and could also handle carrying the movie… being insane, slaughtering cops and wearing a cape and mask…. and still being sympathetic as the love interest. Plus, he had to be young and fairly buff. Plus, I wanted him to be naked when the suit disappeared. A lot of actors don’t like to run around naked, not so much regarding the nudity that show up on screen (that can be negotiated and edited), but the reality of being naked in front of the whole crew. It takes a pretty strong sense of self confidence.
I thought about not having to deal with the nudity thing for Faust, but couldn’t come up with an option that wasn’t silly. In the comic he is not a guy who puts on a suit, and when it disappears he is not wearing boxers or briefs. I thought about having him wear his asylum pants which would have looked cool, but it just didn’t make any sense, After all, if the suit grew out of his skin, how could the pants, or briefs or boxers stay intact?
So, we just worked with Mark to have him play the scenes without clothes and frame the shots and edit in such a way to not make it an issue. It wasn’t an issue in the story and it shouldn’t be in the movie. The fatal thing would be if he was wearing shorts, then it would have been an issue, drawn attention to the problem and been ridiculous. But, Mark was absolutely workable.
We found him in London where I was attracted to his ability to be both sympathetic and absolutely and entertainingly mad. And as an actor he is fearless, always ready to bare his emotions. It is an incredibly difficult role, complex acting wise as well as horribly demanding physically. Mark had to undergo 3 to 6 hrs of makeup to get that suit on. I really have a lot of admiration for him as an actor and as a person.
JP: Isabel Brook as Jade?
BY: Isabel was a great find. Also from London, she made me believe that she was a psychiatrist and she was able to express the nightmare of Jade’s past. I am so impressed with actresses that can go to such dark places. Amazingly, what clinched it for me was seeing Isabel in a London play called EMMA, based on the book by Jane Austen. A total 180 from Faust. Light comedy, costumed comedy of manners. And Isabel was Emma, and she completely carried the show. I was astounded. Couldn’t believe this was the same actress that had just hours before auditioned the scene of Jade’s torture. Also, a complex and demanding part, Jade is a role that would scare most actresses. But, Isabel was absolutely enthused about the part. I think she brings a quiet seriousness to the role that grounds the film and the relationships. And on a professional and personal level she was probably the film’s most true believer amongst all the cast. I am indebted to her for her positive energy. And I know some of the scenes were personally very difficult for her, especially the torture and Red Giving. But, she never faltered or retreated.
JP: Jeffrey Combs as Margolies?
BY: When I was beginning the Fantastic Factory, I called Jeffrey and told him I wanted him in the movies. He is one of the great underused and under appreciated actors of Hollywood. I sent him a copy of the script saying that although there didn’t seem to be a part that was specifically right for him would he please read it and see if there was something that interested him. He replied that he never got to play the cop and wouldn’t mind trying it. So, I said ‘Done’.
That’s how much confidence I have in him, I let him cast himself. He really helped develop the part of Margolies and did a terrific job. And the speech which he gives to Jade when he goes over to M was something that he basically wrote himself. My only regret was that because his wife had just had a baby, his time in Barcelona was limited, which meant that he didn’t have much time for rehearsal and also we had to abbreviate his character in the Red Giving since he couldn’t be with us when we shot it. Even so, I think he adds a lot to the film, and I think he helps all the actors be better as well as makes you believe every scene he is in. I am just a huge fan of his.
John Painz (JP): Continuing with the cast of the film, how was your experience working with Monica Van Campen as Claire?
Brian Yuzna (BY): Also extremely difficult to cast, especially because I needed a Spanish actress for the part.It is difficult to find actresses who have the body, are cool with the sexual situations and can act.In fact I cast Monica based on her acting and was insecure about if she was sexy because when she came to auditions she always dressed in kind of baggy clothes and no makeup. So, I cast her based on a makeup and costume test.
When she walked into my office with a very revealing outfit on I couldn’t believe it, I was almost embarrassed to have put her through it, she has an incredible physique. And is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. Like a lot of the actors in Faust she had to do a lot of difficult things with sexuality as well as prosthetics. She never complained except for when she was up on the cross in the Red Giving because the clay that covered her body was cold and when it dried it tightened up and hurt the skin. Plus she was up on that cross for hours. That was the only time she broke down.
That clay gave us so much trouble and yet the idea was that it would solve problems. The Red Giving was a Satanic ritual scene, and even though they are usually staged with robes and kind of static chanting, in FAUST it was necessary that it be more like a gory orgy. Even though most of the participants would be in costumes of one sort or another we needed to have some nudity, and I am very aware of the problems of nudity on screen especially with sex and violence and especially in the US market.
So I thought I had the great idea of having the celebrants spread wet clay on their bodies like those pictures you see of African tribes having rituals where they cover themselves in clay. I think it looks really cool and ritualistic, you can see that the person is naked but somehow it is acceptable because you can’t pick out the details (the nipples and genitalia that are such an obsession with US censorship).
And we wanted to have Claire up on a cross (or ‘X’) up behind M on the altar throughout a lot of the ritual. I couldn’t imagine her having a bikini on, or a robe since this is a satanic ritual, and I didn’t want to have to edit around her nudity, after all her legs would be spread apart, and even in parts of the world (like Spain) where there would be no censorship I felt that if Monica was up there spread-eagle naked that would become the main focus of the whole scene. So, I thought that this clay idea would be perfect.
Well, it turns out that the clay was just horribly uncomfortable, cold and hurting when it dried. A good lesson that you have to test everything ahead of time. I should have used some kind of paint instead.
By the way, we had problems with the MPAA even about Claire’s body with the clay covering. I mean you can hardly see her body, bathing suits reveal way more, and yet they still wanted us to avoid her! It’s really crazy. And fortunately our genre friends at Lion’s Gate saved us from a misguided attempt by their art dept to put a bikini on Claire on the box art. It amazes me how sometimes the distributors want to even go further with the censorship than the MPAA requests because of their own prejudices. Often this type of material just offends their sensibilities, I guess.
Monica was also terrific working with Screaming Mad George in the tits and ass scene. She never complained throughout all that time consuming and sometimes embarrassing makeup and puppetry.
I thought she was really terrific when she killed Vito while orgasming. I love her response when M comes charging in. Here she is sitting on top of this guy whose neck she has sliced and with whom she has just had sex, and she acts like a kid who has been caught with her hand in the cookie jar.
Admittedly, Monica doesn’t fit the look of Claire in the comix, but I think she was the best choice available. There was a little hassle about her hair because when we tried the half blonde look of the comix, it just didn’t look so great. I don’t know why, but it didn’t come off like the comix. You wouldn’t think it would be so hard to do.
Anyway, we tried a half red wig on her and it looked way better with her clothes and skin tone, so I went with it in a number of scenes. In others we kept to the blonde to be true to the book, figuring that Claire probably changes hair color along with makeup and outfits. Anyway, Tim Vigil saw a still of the red hair and sent me an email about it, but in the long run I think he decided it wasn’t that big of a deal.
A digression here, just because I know you won’t ask me this: There is a casting in Faust that was a prize for winning a contest. Give up? It is the part of ‘Rizzo’ who is the female bodyguard of Baez who Faust kills in the warehouse and is played by Charo Oubiña who is a dancer in a disco on the island of Majorca. Here’s how it happened:
The summer before we shot Faust (which was my first summer in Barcelona) I found out that Filmax had made a deal with Playboy Magazine in Spain to give the top three winners of their Playmate of the Century beauty contest a part in one of my Fantastic Factory movies. It was advertised in the magazine and I was announced as one of the judges for the contest, so of course I agreed to do it. (At that time I was living in the gothic quarter of Barcelona and my family was still back in LA, except for my 20 year old son, Conan, who was spending the summer with me working in Barcelona. Well, I was leaving for the airport and Conan said he was going to go, too, even if he had to pay his own way by boat because “my mother would want me to go, and my fraternity brothers would never forgive me if I didn’t”). During three days I was supposed to spend some time with the girls to get to know them and see who I thought had talent and who I should vote for (it is at times like that that I really like my job).
Anyway, we had the contest which I got to judge along with some centerfold girls and Spanish celebrities, and Charo won third place. So, when I was casting Faust I looked for a spot for one of the girls that wouldn’t just be a walk on and it occurred to me that one of Baez’ bodyguards could a woman like Charo because she has that kind of sexy dykey look. She was thrilled to do it and I really think she worked out well.
(The second place girl was cast by Stuart Gordon in Dagon as a fishperson because of her physical flexibility.She is pretty great looking with a very impressive physique, but you can’t recognize her under all the makeup although she has a lot of screen time.I don’t know what we’ll do about the winner, because she was the one who won all the prizes including a big makeover and hosting some Playboy channel stuff, so now she has gone from being a good looking normal young woman to a Playboy centerfold looking girl which makes her really tough to cast).
JP: Andrew Divoff as M?
BY: What can I say? Andrew was always my choice for M, from the beginning. I met with him in LA and at first he was interested in playing Faust himself, but I hated to lose him as M, and would have him read scenes just for my own enjoyment. He is really incredible.
The trick with him was to give him a look that was not at all Wishmaster-y, so we tried a number of things including really long hair. Finally we settled on the white and it was a real gamble because you couldn’t see the look until you actually bleached his hair and it takes a lot of bleaching to actually get to white. The bleaching is also really brutal to the hair. Then we had to do his eyebrows and all the hair on his arms, etc. It really burns, but Andrew never complained.
David and Tim never seemed to mind that we changed M’s hair like that, Andrew’s acting probably won them over. He really steals the show, of course the villain is always the coolest. Andrew always maintains this understated posture that makes him seem so powerful and evil. He is so cool on the bridge making the deal. And I think he is the creepiest when he drugs Jade when she goes into his mansion. We also had to choose his outfits carefully. The suit he wore at the bridge was made especially for him and we finally went with the kimono kind of thing for inside the house. That was actually Andrew’s idea, he wanted something different from a suit.
Usually actors have very specific ideas about costumes. The long fingernails were a hassle also, just because they take time and they limit Andrew’s dexterity with doing normal things like using utensils etc.
By the way, Andrew is a polyglot, he can speak a lot of languages, but the one that really surprised everybody was that he can speak Catalán. Barcelona is the capital of Cataluyna, which is the province of Spain on the Mediterranean bordering France (I call it the California of Europe) and in this province the language is Catalán which is a mixture of Spanish/French/Italian. Cataluyna is like Quebec in Canada in that the Catalans really think they should be a separate country. The language is pretty tricky to speak, even if you speak Spanish like I do, and only a few million people in the world speak it (including about all of our crew), so it was pretty amazing to the press when Andrew was able to take his interviews in Catalán. Turns out that Andrew spent about five years living and going to school in Barcelona when he was younger. So, of course, he is also fluent in Spanish.
JP: The Faust series is an incredibly sexual, violent journey. Did you see the possibilities of making a true Faust movie, or did you know that it would have to be tamped down a bit?
BY: There was never any doubt that we could never come close to the comix, even if we were making a porno movie. And not just for the sex, but for the violence. It would take a much much bigger budget that I have ever worked with to depict Tim’s art on screen, although I would love to try. With a movie like this we can only use Tim’s art as inspiration and I knew that going in. I tried to give it a raw sexual feeling but keeping it in the mainstream. In fact, it was a real problem to get enough gore in the movie.
You’d be surprised at how much time it takes just to cut off an arm or a head, and then with our budget we don’t get the cool decapitations like Sleepy Hollow (PG-13 of course in big studio pictures), we get a rubber head bouncing off a torso and a squirt of blood. And for some reason there is never enough blood spurting out. I have never figured it out, but no matter how many times the F/X guys try out the spurting gag, when the cameras running something always gums up the works. Well that’s an exaggeration.
But, I really would have liked a lot more gore for an unrated version just because that is the way the comic is, it’s just that makeup F/X are time consuming to create and to execute. When you rush through them (like I usually have to because I am trying to do way more than the budget allows) it is really a disservice to the F/X artists and often to the movie too. When you are a fan like I am you just hate to not try to do more than you should. I guess it is the half a loaf theory.
Stuart Gordon knew Faust needed a budget five times bigger than we had, and when he couldn’t raise that financing he didn’t do the picture. So, we do it with less than it needs, and we end up with a movie that has a lot of flaws, due to lack of time and money (okay, some are just directorial errors, I admit it). Mostly due to lack of time and money. But, in the end some of it works and we do have a movie of Faust even if it doesn’t have the level of production it should. Of course, with a larger budget it would even have to be more mainstream than it is now, but it could reflect more of Tim Vigil’s amazing artwork.
JP: Even though the subject matter of Faust is much different than mainstream comics, were you worried about making a “comic character” movie, like Batman, X-Men or Blade?
BY: Yes, I was, for a couple of reasons. One was that I knew that our budget would not allow the kind of look and action and F/X that this genre requires; the other was my concern about doing justice to the original material.
The other two comic book adaptations I have done were The Guyver and Crying Freeman. In both of those I served as producer, not director (and producer) and both were based on Japanese Mangas. They also had a bit more in the way of budgets (and in the case of Crying Freeman a whole lot more). Crying Freeman as an animated feature was already interpreted for film, and with The Guyver we had quite a bit of freedom to interpret the comic. The US audience was pretty small and Screaming Mad George (one of the directors along with Steve Wang) looked after the concerns of the large Japanese audience, and I just tried to make sure the story held together.
Also, neither of these pictures had a hero with a cape. Now, I had spent some time during the 90’s developing a film version of the Japanese Manga Devilman. Ultimately the movie never went into production, but I had wrestled a bit with the idea of a super anti-hero in that one as well. The difficult thing about Faust was that it was pretty impossible to make it less than an R rating and the guy wore a cape. This is kind of tough.
In The Guyver we shot the movie as though it was an R and then cut it down to a PG-13 because it became clear that the humor and style of the film was going to appeal to kids. Crying Freeman is a separate case, a very stylish and slick film, very true to the Manga and never released in North America partly because of conflict between my producing partner and the sales agent. It’s a shame because it is one of the best comic book movies ever made.
In the specific case of Faust, I was aware that it would be compared to Spawn, Blade and The Crow because it was a product of the golden years of independent comics of the 90’s. They all, have common themes and especially in the case of Spawn the similarities are strong. Hate to keep going back to the budget thing, but I knew going in that our budget would be less than a tenth of the cheapest of those movies and I had discussions with David Quinn about that from the beginning. They went ahead with the deal even knowing the handicaps of the budget and the movie being the first movie I would produce in Spain and the questions about the capacity of the crews there to be able to mount this type of genre.
Of those three movies it is The Crow that I think was the best (and also the smallest budget of the three) and certainly is one of the best comic book adaptations ever. I really think that Alex Proyas did a remarkable job of creating a world and a style for the movie. (By the way, we immediately hired the Production Designer of The Crow for Crying Freeman.) The logic of the story was helped by the costume being the hero’s regular clothes and make-up that he applies to himself.
Next on my rating scale would be Blade which is a great example of a studio action comic adaptation. Once again there is no magic in the costume and vampires make good understandable bad guys. The action was great and there was sufficient gore and the cast was terrific. They had something in common with Faust which was an end of the world kind of ritual at the end which was not really very clear regarding the purpose of. The set (and digital set) of the ending was cool and the F/X were great (a little too digital looking at times) and, I have been told, that originally they were going to have a big monster at the end, but threw it out in favor of having Stephen Dorff’s eyes turn red.
We thought about that, because we had the same problem in Faust, a big monster at the end. In the comic the Humunculus was kind of a big wolfman type creature, which didn’t appeal to me. In the Bible the beast is not described. I felt it should be really big because it was such a big deal to raise it and Faust needed to fight it, and that it should be somehow part serpent. We had a version in which it was a big muscular guy with a snake head and the Jeffrey Combs character’s face. We actually built that, but it became clear that it wasn’t going to work technically and I fell back on my relationship with Screaming Mad George to come up with a solution. In the long run it would have probably been better to have had Faust have a long fight with M for the conclusion like they did in Blade.
The film that Faust would be most compared to was Spawn. However, I didn’t feel like Spawn was a very successful adaptation of the comic, and I knew that it had suffered from the PG-13 rating and we wouldn’t have that problem.
JP: Do you have any regrets, pertaining to the Faust production?
BY: It would be difficult to enumerate the regrets, if you mean things I would do differently in hindsight. If you mean do I regret having gone forward with the picture? Of course, not. It was a brutal, but satisfying experience. What would I do differently? Well, starting with the script and plan of production, I would have tried to fit in the theme that we didn’t shoot which was the society going wild as the Walpurgisnacht neared. I would have brought in a stunt/fight coordinator from LA. I would have beefed up Claire’s story and changed a couple of her outfits. I would have made the final battle be between M and Faust. You know you can go on and on with this kind of thinking. At this point I feel like I understand the movie well enough to start shooting it.
John Painz (JP): Any possibilities of their being a prequel or sequel to the film?
Brian Yuzna (BY): A sequel is certainly a possibility. David Quinn and Tim Vigil are thinking about it and I believe Filmax would be interested. My own preference would be for a female Faust.
JP: Can you explain what propelled you to make the move from the US to Spain?
BY: It was a great opportunity to create a label and a line of genre productions. Working in the genre and budget range that I do, the trickiest part of my professional life is making enough movies to earn a living at it. The trickiest part of the productions is getting value on the screen with the limited resources.
The answer to both of these problems from my point of view is a production line because of the efficiency inherent in keeping your key people together and avoiding the costly start-up and wrap costs. You can amortize a lot of costs and creative energies across a number of films.
During the 1990’s I presented this type of project to a number of distributors and sales companies and always found there to be interest, but no real movement. In fact, at one point I had convinced Dimension to a project I called The Seven Deadly Sins of Horror with the idea of using experienced genre directors (and actors and F/X artists, etc) for each sin.
The distribution corollary to this was the idea of releasing these modestly budgeted films the same way that Miramax was distributing their art films. In other words, open the films theatrically in a small number of screens in the major cities with minimal advertising, but try to keep these screens constantly with new genre films in order to build an audience. The advantage to this, I thought, was that they become theatrical releases (even though their budgets usually wouldn’t justify it) but without the heavy distribution and advertising costs which I think would help their value in the so-called ancillary markets. And the chance is that any one of them could perhaps take off.
After a few months of working on the project Dimension never greenlit any of the films and I moved on to other things. (Incidentally, one of the submitted treatments for the sin of SLOTH was developed into Idle Hands.)
A few years later, I was at the Sitges Film Festival near Barcelona, Spain and I met again (I was in Sitges ten years earlier with SOCIETY) Julio Fernández of Filmax. He asked if I would consider coming to Spain to produce the same kind of movies I had been making elsewhere and which he had been buying the Spanish rights to. Now he wanted to finance the pictures and sell them to the world. I suggested creating a label and basically took the ideas I had been working on to Barcelona. Within two months of Julio’s proposal I moved to Spain and have been here since.
JP: What is your main goal with Fantastic Factory, and why was Faust chosen as the companies first project?
BY: My goal for the Fantastic Factory was to created a label and a production line of modestly budgeted genre (horror, sci-fi, fantasy) films for the international market (shot in English language) using genre talent from all around the world and to develop local talent. In order to accomplish this I needed to develop a hybrid of the US and Spanish styles of production and development.
Barcelona does not have a film industry of any scale. In Spain the movie business is in Madrid. However, Barcelona is potentially very attractive as a production center. Unlike Madrid, it is on the sea with palm trees and a mild climate, it is just an hour from skiing in the Pyrenees in the winter, it is a mix of the modern with the gothic – all these things contribute to a varied pool of locations for possible movie stories. It is very close to the rest of Europe (just a couple of hours by car to France) and have a thriving commercials industry (northern European companies shoot lots of TV commercials in Barcelona) which means that their are experienced film artists and technicians. It is also a great city to live in, inexpensive, great food, all night entertainment, etc etc. So, I felt like there would be a good chance of succeeding with the project there.
However, I had to work with Filmax to create a very untraditional (for Spain) style of working. A development department had to be created, a post production supervisor position had to be created, we needed a lawyer that could deal with international style movie contracts, a foreign sales company had to be created to sell (and more importantly ‘pre-sell’ the films because that is how you finance them), and etc.
I chose Faust as the first production because it was an original project that wouldn’t be looked at as a clone in the marketplace (the previously mentioned comic book movies notwithstanding due to their being studio productions and not lately in the marketplace) and because it would get attention. It was such a risky project which was aimed at a pretty narrow audience and which I was sure would get attention whether you liked it or not.
Another reason for doing it first was that it had so many problems, including shooting Barcelona for a NE US city, action, stunts, all kinds of F/X, fairly big cast. The reason I wanted all the problems was that I wanted to confront all the disasters right up front while we (the company and me) had the energy and enthusiasm of starting up the project. I wanted to know the good and bad news right away.
I also decided to direct the first film because I wanted to live out first the problems of the language and cultural problems inherent in shooting in Spain before I had to take care of another director in that situation.
John Painz (JP): What do the fans have in store for them, when the Faust DVD is released?
Brian Yuzna (BY): The DVD will include a couple of commentary tracks, one with me, one with I believe Jacques Haitkin, Andrew Divoff and Screaming Mad George, and I was hoping one with David Quinn and Tim Vigil, though I don’t know if Lion’s Gate ever got that one together. It is interesting in this day of having the technology to send sound and picture over the internet that it should matter whether David’s in NY and Tim in Northern California instead of L.A., but it still does. I did my commentary in Barcelona, but sent the DAT to LA.
There are also other materials, I think storyboards, etc. The folks at Lion’s Gate have been very enthusiastic about the DVD and I have confidence that it will be great. Not being in L.A. it isn’t something I have been able to keep on top of. As far as the release date goes, my understanding is at the end of August.
JP: Can you talk about what¹s happening with Beyond Re-Animator?
BY: Still working out the script. It should have already been shot, but with the distractions of shooting Darkness and before that Dagon, etc. I just haven’t had the time to focus on it. We have a commitment to deliver it so time’s a wasting.
It is a difficult problem because the audience for the movie normally hasn’t seen the first two. Of course, the fans are familiar with Re-Animator, but not the general horror audience. You’ve got to have Herbert West even though he’s been killed twice up to now. But, as in all sequels, the story’s pretty much told, so you have to get some new characters for a new story.
The second one was a typical sequel in that it just tried to carry on the first one substituting novelty for the discovery. Third sequels usually make a break, witness the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th series. I resisted doing a third Re-Animator because I was afraid that it would just go downhill.
Unfortunately I have had a lot of experience doing sequels, and I think my most successful one as a director was Return of the Living Dead 3, and what made that one work was the fact that the distributor (TriMark, now Lion’s Gate) didn’t insist on carrying forward any characters from the first one and didn’t even insist that the tone be the same. They did want the brain eating, though. That left me free to do a zombie movie that used what I loved about both the Romero and O’Bannon zombie worlds and John Penny, the writer, had the freedom that would have been limited if he had to carry on the previous stories.
A third Re-Animator has to have our favorite doctor, the serum and re-animated corpses and parts, but it must try to recreate the delirious horror of the first and that in particular is pretty hard to top.
JP: How are the productions coming on your new films, such as Dagon, Arachnid and Darkness?
BY: Arachnid, directed by Jack Sholder (The Hidden, Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Wishmaster 2) was released theatrically in Spain last month and I am not sure when Lion’s Gate intend to release it on video in the US. It is a completely different kind of movie from Faust, about a 180 degree turn. I purposely decided to go from Faust to a very mainstream relatively ‘soft’ in terms of sex or violence movie to show the international buyers that the Fantastic Factory label was going to produce a range of genre films.
I have always been a fan of giant insect movies and even Executive Produced one already, Ticks, so Mark Sevi’s spec script of a giant spider in the jungle appealed to me. It is a comfortable subgenre of the fantastic and Jack Sholder did a great job of making it into a fun adventure with thrills and chills. We went south of Vera Cruz, Mexico to a rain forest to shoot the jungle and it was really worth it.
Dagon has just been finished and it looks great. It has been fifteen years since I contracted with Dennis Paoli to write a script based on Lovecraft’s Shadow over Innsmouth and it was supposed to be our follow up to Re-Animator and From Beyond, the Gordon-Paoli-Yuzna Lovecraft Trilogy. After setting up this movie all over the place, first in England then in Maine, over the years, it is such a relief to finally get it made. When I began the Fantastic Factory I immediately chose Dagon as one of the first projects and Dennis rewrote the script so that it would take place on the coast of Spain in a creepy medieval fishing town Stuart and I had been shown in Galicia just north of Portugal.
It has been since From Beyond that I have worked with Stuart as a director (although I have since worked with him as a writer) and I it was fun to see how much he has developed his cinematic skills. I am happy to see Stuart finally coming back to his horror roots, for all our sakes. It’s about time. The movie, by the way, is excellent.
Jaume Balagueró’s Darkness is the Fantastic Factory’s most important production yet. It was always the plan to produce a line of modestly budgeted films and then once we got that established to try to do one kind of bigger production every year. Well, it happened about a year or two earlier than anticipated. After seeing Jaume Balagueró’s first feature, Los Sin Nombre (The Nameless), which he made at Filmax and actually edited across the hall from my office (same editing room where we cut Faust and the same amazingly talented director, Luis de la Madrid, who we are developing a script for his directorial debut) I made a deal with him to do another picture (it turned finally into a three picture deal).
We talked about a theme and began with the idea of children being kidnapped by the equivalent of a witch. This turned into the script for Darkness. We were going to the Cannes Film Market in May of 2000 and were supposed to screen Faust there for the buyers, and due to Faust being a difficult post production and largely to the disorganized post system we were encountering (since solved) we were could see that we wouldn’t make our deadline.
So, in order to help out the foreign sales people I proposed that we push Juame’s new movie (“Jaume Balagueró’s first English language thriller!”), but Jaume was having a hard time with the script. Based on his previous work I felt like his strength was visual so he was given two days with a camera and a small crew and a bunch of left over sets and props from Faust to make a “teaser” – a three minute promo for the buyers to get the flavor of the picture that we wanted them to pre-buy. The teaser for Darkness was so powerful that we found ourselves in a bidding war with Hollywood studios for the North American rights and finally we sold them to Dimension.
Well, suddenly the budget trebled and we had a cast on a level that normally we wouldn’t be able to touch. So, it is pretty exciting to think that Dimension will give the film a nice theatrical release in the U.S. It is less of a horror and F/X show than a spooky house thriller. I’m hoping it will be very scary.
JP: Can you give us some history on Dagon? How is it working with Stuart Gordon, again?
In addition to the Dagon info above, I will add that right after Re-Animator Stuart suggested that we follow it up with Shadow over Innsmouth because that is one of Lovecraft’s best. Stuart is such a great story guy, the minute he suggests something like that you can just see it in your mind.
In the meantime, we had a deal to do a couple films for Empire Pictures that they would completely finance. We did Dolls and another Lovecraft story, From Beyond (also a really great horror movie if you haven’t seen it). In the meantime Dennis Paoli wrote an adaptation for me entitled Dagon just because I like the title better than the ungainly Shadow over Innsmouth (I know the Lovecraft fans will not agree). Plus, we wanted to indicate that Dagon (another famous Lovecraft story) as the personification of the “Deep Ones” and use some of that stories elements.
(For those that are interested, you can see a very interesting interpretation of the “Dagon” short story in a trilogy movie I produced — along with Samuel Hadida and Taka Ichise — and co-directed entitled Necromonicon. The “Dagon” episode is titled The Drowned and is directed by Christophe Gans, the young french director who just had a huge success with the big budget Brotherhood of the Wolf. The Drowned was kind of like his proving ground for his first feature which I also produced with Hadida and Ichise, Crying Freeman. Christophe’s visual style is fantastic and you can see the origins of it in The Drowned, an extremely impressive directorial debut.)
Dagon was set up to shoot in Britain in the mid eighties with Entertainment Distributors, but Stuart bailed out because he was preparing for Robot Jox with Empire. Later we had another deal to make the film with Vestron and in fact Stuart, Dennis and I all met in Providence, Rhode Island where we did our Lovecraft tour (highly recommended to all Lovecraft afficionados). Then Dennis went home and Stuart and I continued up the coast of New England looking for a location for Innsmouth.
It was tough because, unlike in the 1930’s when the story takes place, there is nowhere on the coast that you can believe would be so remote as to support the weirdness of the story. Finally, we decided it would be on an island and we found a town we liked at the tip of Maine at the Canadian border.
Once again the production never got underway. Stuart, I think kept trying with that group and even scouted the Pacific Northwest coast, but all to naught. But the version of the story we were trying to make with Vestron was actually a whole new script and it was titled Shadow Over Innsmouth. We had designs created by Bernie Wrightson and the movie actually had quite a lot of recognition because of an article in Fangoria.
So, with this history you can see that it was a project that had to get done, so when I began developing the Fantastic Factory I was suddenly in this position to actually more or less pick what movies to make and you can bet Dagon (the original script not the Vestron project) was at the top of my list.
If you look at a map of Spain you will see that Barcelona is right under France on the Mediterranean. Spain is actually about four countries joined together that have there own languages and customs (Barcelona, for example, is in Catalunya and they speak Catalan).
If you look right above Portugal you will see that there is a corner of Spain that borders the Atlantic and the Cantabrian Sea below the British Isles. This is Galicia, and it is a place that looks like Ireland, green, hilly, curving rivers, wet and foresty, misty and rainy. It has traditionally been a remote and poor part of Spain that is actually very Celtic, they play bagpipes, where kilts and have ‘wicker-man’ witches. In fact it is a very witchy area, like Salem.
Anyway, the head of Filmax is from Galicia and I knew he would be pleased if we could shoot a movie up there. I was looking for a location for Dagon so that I could actually make the movie and I could tell that the Catalan part of the coast (the movie takes place in a fishing town) was to beautiful, blue sky, like Northern California, but warm. But, when I scouted Galicia I saw that it was perfect. In fact I was out at Finesterre (“end of land”) which is the westernmost point of Europe and before they discovered America was consider to be the end of the world, and I called Stuart in LA and told him that we had to make Dagon there.
From then on it moved really fast. Stuart flew out and I showed him the towns I had found, but some friends (actually an actress in Dagon) showed us this town called Cambarro which was still medieval and that was it for Stuart. Dennis rewrote the script so that it took place there and we were off and running. The movie is really great and incredibly spooky. I can’t imagine a better location for Lovecraft’s nightmare. It’s great to see these kind of comic book movies.
The best part of working with Stuart as a director again was to be able to encourage him to do the kind of horror that we both love again. And as a cinephile, I really appreciate how Stuart has developed as a film director. He has always been about the best director I have worked with when it comes to working with the actors to tell a clear story, but over the years he has really developed a much more sophisticated cinematic style. It was great to watch dailies because I was often just very impressed. To me it is Stuart’s best work since From Beyond.