Interview with Robert Kurtzman

Robert Kurtzman began his career when he formed K.N.B. EFX Group, with Gregory Nicotero and Howard Berger. The special effects studio has worked on over 400 film and television projects. After working with special effects for years, Kurtzman turned to directing and producing. His first project was “From Dusk till Dawn”, for which he wrote the original story, served as co-producer, and created the special effects. “The Demolitionist” marked Kurtzman’s directorial debut. He went on to direct Wishmaster. In 2002, Kurtzman left K.N.B. EFX. Kurtzman started his own production company, Precinct 13 Entertainment. “The Rage” was their first in-house, fully-financed, independent feature film. Kurtzman most recently directed the action/thriller film “Deadly Impact”, which is out on DVD April 20th, 2010. Movie Mikes has the chance to talk to Robert about his movies, his move from Hollywood to Ohio, and his very busy future.

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Mike Gencarelli: Out of all the films you worked on with K.N.B. EFX, pick one films that stands out as your favorite?
Robert Kurtzman: It would have to be “From Dusk Till Dawn” and then “Dances with Wolves” as far as the movie itself and the experience. “Dances with Wolves” was such a big movie, won Oscars. It was our first kind of crossover film out of sequel B-horror films and gore films, to something that had more realistic effect in it.

Mike Gencarelli: Do you have a least favorite?
Robert Kurtzman: It would have to be “Doctor Hackenstein”. Which you cannot even find anymore, I doubt it is even available. It was this real small movie we did, kind of really bad and cheesy.

Mike Gencarelli: What was the hardest production you’ve worked ever worked on?
Robert Kurtzman: There has been several but “Army of Darkness” was grueling. We had so much stuff to build in a set period of time. The set was in the desert. We were running puppets every night, with a 15-20 man crew on set. We were digging trenches and having puppeteers in them for the Deadite skeleton army. It was a rough shoot, we have to get in the groove of going to the hotel sleeping, getting right up and going to work. We tried to squeeze in some drinking time after we got off set which was usually six o clock in the morning.

MG: What made you want to start your own production company, Precinct 13 Entertainment?
RK: Once I started breaking more directing, I wanted to explore the digital world as well as the creature effects. As a filmmaker I wanted to explore how to integrate those things together. I didn’t want to live in L.A. anymore after twenty something years there, I was burned out. I wanted to get back and really do some grassroots productions, which was “The Rage”. Trying to figure out how to make it on a shoe-string budget and how to pull a team together, kind of like what we did with Evil Dead. I put the financing together and figured out everything about doing a movie just not directing them. I’ve produced and directed but it was in the Hollywood system. They have a lot of people that do things so you aren’t exposed to certain thing, like the nuts and bolts of putting a movie together from the ground up. I wanted to experience that. I couldn’t afford to do what I wanted to do in L.A., I couldn’t have my studio and put a sound stage together. It was too cost prohibitive, it came down to I am going to honker down and leave and setup my studio here in Ohio and that’s what I did.

MG: During the production of “The Rage”, you took on every role possible, Was it hard to juggle all those roles?
RK: Yes and no, we sold the movie to Screen Media and they distributed. We did promote the movie for a good six to eight months prior to selling it to get the genre fans backing it and get it out there. We had a low budget movie and had to make the best out of it. The reason I did everything else on it was out of necessity. I looked at some DP’s and talked to some guys but it just came down to it is going to cost too much and plus I wanted to experience it myself. The whole thing was kind of liberating in some ways to just grab the camera and figure out my shots as I was going. We story boarded very little of the film, just a few sequences with John Bisson. A lot of the movie was prepped by my crew and Gary Jones took over, he was basically the line producer. He had to get the crew all setup and got everything rolling because I was shooting “Buried Alive” in New Mexico. While we were cutting the rough cut of “Buried Alive”, I fell back in OH and two weeks later finished directing the rest of “The Rage”. We shot a week initially and then winter came, so we went into effects prep on part of the film. We planned it again for a summer shoot, and then I got “Buried Alive”, so we pushed it to the end of the summer. The crew got all the effects under way and built all the sets. I just dropped in and started shooting. We didn’t have to follow any normal script development. If we came up with any ideas we just put it in. It was a very organic process.

MG: You worked with Andrew Divoff on “The Rage”, how was it working with him again after “Wishmaster”?
RK: I love working with Andy. He is just one of those guys that I would hopefully be able to work with over and over. I don’t always get my choice depending on the studio and the politics involved as far as casting. Anytime I can work with him, it is a total joy. We kind of have this thing together, we don’t have to talk very hard. We can talk in a short hand and skip some steps. I can take him aside and throw him a few things and he goes “Yeah, Yeah, I got it!” We worked really well together. He has a lot of really great ideas and brings a lot to the table.

MG: Tell me about your upcoming film, “Deadly Impact”?
RK: It comes out April 20th on Fox Home Video, produced by MGM. David Greathouse, who is a producer I worked with on “Buried Alive”, he thought after seeing “The Rage” that I would make a great action director. He said “Hey man, who don’t you take a crack at doing an action/thriller picture”. I was really excited because I am a big action fan and was a good opportunity for me to show something else and do something different. I am known as a horror guy and would be nice to be known for doing any kind of movie. Basically he brought me on and I found out a short time later that the writer, Alex Vesha was from Columbus, OH and he lives like an hour from me. That was cool. It was good to get some guys from Ohio on the project. I got an editor and writer from Ohio, so that was cool.

MG: What challenges did you face in making “Deadly Impact”?
RK: We shot the movie in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We shot it in 24 days and it was pretty fast shoot. Basically, I shot a big studio picture in the same amount of time we shot “The Rage” in. We obviously had more money but still the same challenges, like how do we fit all of this in this movie and shoot it. We were doing a lot of 40 to 60 setups a day and we shot HD with the Viper. So it was no tape right to drives which was how we shot the “The Rage” and it is a very liberating way of shooting HD. Robert Rodriguez shoots that way. You can let the camera roll, let the actors do their things and not break the moment, drop them back to their number 1 positions. You do not have to worry about how much film you are burning, because film is money. On “Wishmaster” on my first day, I had huge setups for the dock sequence. I had like five or six cameras shooting stuff at once and the next day the footage count came in and the bond company was down on day two, saying I burned through too much footage. On HD, I do not have to work about that cost, its hard drive space only. Stopping and doing a take again and again drags down their momentum. It really worked great.

MG: How did you feel to switch gears to an action/thriller?
RK: The process for me is always the same, it doesn’t change. What changes was I didn’t have to concentrate so much on the create effects or makeup effects. That burden of concentrating on that was taken off my shoulders. I was able to concentrate on the action, the characters and the pacing. The process is still the same; I approach it the same way. I still break down the script and figure out my shot list, my overheads, lighting and my basic ideas to convey to the DP and everybody. Especially when you are shooting a movie in 24 days, you do not have time to mess around. You have to know what you want and drive your troops forward. There is no time for indecision; you have to focus on just getting the shots.

MG: How was it working with such an amazing cast on “Deadly Impact”?
RK: The two leads Joey (Pantoliano) and Sean (Patrick Flanery) came out of L.A and New York. They were the only out of state crew, the rest of the actors were from New Mexico and that had to do with the tax incentive package. Working with Joe and Sean was an experience, sometime pleasurable and sometimes not just like any movie. It was great Sean is awesome, he is one of those guys comes it and nails it every time. Joey has this strange method but it works really well to bring out the whacked out evil villain he plays. He is kind of funny in the movie, but at the same time he is so sinister it’s funny. I thought that he brought a lot to this picture. It was rough because it was such a short period of time. Everyone really came to play and it was one of those once in a lifetime experiences for me.

MG: How did you get involved with Midnight Syndicate to compose the music for “The Rage”?
RK: When I came to Ohio, I wanted to get “The Rage” going. I wanted to make it in Ohio with as many Ohioans as I could. I wanted to basically see what type of film community that was here. I didn’t even know it at the time but I had some of their CD’s, that I picked up at conventions. Someone told me that Ed (Douglas) and his partner lived in Cleveland. I called them up and asked them if they wanted to be involved with our independent movie. That is really how the relationship started.

MG: You are actually producing Midnight Syndicate’s first feature film, “The Dead Matter”, what can you tell me about it?
RK: After working on “The Rage” with us, they brought us on to produce their movie. It comes out July 30th, 2010. You can check out their website http://www.midnightsyndicate.com, they have a whole thing about the press. They are doing contests on there as well. It is an independent film we shot in Ohio. Ed directed and wrote it. We put Gary Jones who is my line producer; he basically did the same thing as “The Rage”. He went down put the crews together, and got the whole ball rolling. Even on a low budget, when we do movies here, it is kind of a real production. We had Reggie Bannister on “The Rage” and he thought we he got here that it was going to be working out of a garage and we would all be splitting one trailer, because he is used to that. When we got here we had real trailers and he was like “How did you guys do this?” and I was like “Man, we are in Ohio, that’s the difference”. We outfitted the whole set out of a surplus store that our buddy owns. I got off subject a bit, but it is a different vibe when you get out of a film community like L.A. that is so used to making movies. As you get into a place where they do not make as many movies like in Ohio, it is a new thing for people. They get into it and are really helpful.

MG: Tell me about your upcoming film with Fangoria of their comic adaptation “Bump”? You are working working about with Sean Patrick Flanery?
RK: Fangoria isn’t really involved with that anymore. The comic is at back at Scream Factory. So everything has been reverted back to the artist and the creators. Over the last two year, the whole independent film scene has changed with financing and the banks not loaning money out. We are still in the process of setting that movie up. We are working real hard and I would love to work with the cast again especially Sean (Patrick Flanery) and Tobin Bell, who I worked with on “Buried Alive”. We are out there hustling it, trying to set it up and make it happen.

MG: What else do you have planned for the future?
RK: We are working right now on a movie called “Jinn”, a horror film we are shooting up in Michigan. I am also doing a picture called “Sucker”. We are getting ready to start up another project in Cleveland, that will be announced shortly, a sequel to a very popular film. We just did a movie called RA-One staring India Superstar Shahrukh Khan, which is a big Indian superhero movie. We built all these superhero suits for it, while we were doing that we launched our Creature Corps costume line for the haunted attraction industry. It is all on the new website we just launched which is http://www.creaturecorps.net. We are just trying to keep busy in between movies.

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