At long last, the first ever Backwoods Horror interview. I suppose I should preface the interview with the manner in which it came about. MonstersHD (now, sadly, defunct) was running some form of promotion and thus presented this site (and presumably others) with the opportunity to interview Robert Kurtzman, one of the founders, the “K” in fact, of KNB. This was Thanksgiving of last year, 2008. But at long last, in my inbox came the answers to my questions, few though they may be (as I’m relatively new, the opportunity was a very brief one, and I had little time to prepare). BEHOLD!!
BACKWOODS HORROR: How did you get your start in the Special Effects Makeup Industry/Film industry?
ROBERT KURTZMAN: I moved out to LA when I was 19 and went to Joe Blascos school and then started working at John Buechlers MMI. I worked there for a couple of years learning the fx biz while working on Charley Band Films and then started freelancing around town at other studios.
BWH: How was it that KNB came to form together as the “go-to” guys of Special Effects? What part did you play and what is the history behind that?
RK: After Evil Dead 2 I took out a small business loan and started my own shop to do small projects out of while working around town for other fx companies. Howard and I started doing allot of side work at night at my studio and Eventually Howard, Greg and I partnered up and we formed the company into KNB. We started out working on small films like Intruder and Nightwish and eventually proved ourselves as artists who could put quality work on screen for a price. We gradually moved into bigger and bigger studio space as the shows got bigger.
BWH: What prompted you to leave KNB?
RK: I decided after 20 years in LA that it was time to move my family back east, away form the big city life and start my own company so I could concentrate on more than just effects. I wanted to do my own productions and get more involved in the overall filmmaking process as director and producer. I wanted to do my own film from start to finish and learn every bit of the process on my own terms. I wanted to have a company that did more than just FX work. So I moved back to my home town in Ohio and formed Precinct 13 Ent. and Robert Kurtzman’s Creature Corps.
BWH: Did you always want to be a director?
RK: Yes But it took years of being around film productions to really learn what it takes to direct and how a film crew works.
BWH: What was the impetus for your story FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, the now famous Robert Rodriguez film?
RK: I conceived the project and wrote a 24 page treatment that outlined the film and the characters. I wanted to do a film that could be done on a small budget with an isolated group of characters trapped in a setting like Assault on Precinct 13. Originally my partner on the film John Esposito was to write the it but he just got his script for Stephen Kings Graveyard Shift set up and he was off to Maine for shooting, so we both began looking for writers to do our first draft. Long time friend and producer David Goodman (Man with the Screaming Brain) had told me about a young writer who he thought would be perfect to write Dusk. He hooked us up and QT and I soon got together to discuss collaborating. QT had sent us several writing samples including Natural Born Killers and True Romance and after reading we felt he’d be perfect for Dusk. At the time QT had been working as a video clerk and was looking to branch out and although we didn’t have much money to pay him it was enough for QT to leave his job as a video clerk to write our project. It was actually his first work for hire screenplay. We mad a deal. QT would write our script and I would do the FX for Reservoir. We spent the next ten years trying to set the film up. It was initially rejected everywhere, even after the success of Reservoir and Pulp. No one wanted to do it. They thought is was to vulgar and violent and didn’t understand the turn from road picture to vampire film halfway through. At the time I had only directed second unit fx and no one would give me a shot as director as I hadn’t directed a feature before so when RR became interested it was a no brainer. After 10 years of hustling the project around it was a chance to get it produced. Once RR boarded the picture it went from what was conceived as a small 1.5 million dollar movie to a 17 million dollar film with top name talent. The rest is history.
BWH: How did the story come about for THE RAGE and what exactly went into making that film?
RK: John Bisson and I came up with the concept and worked out the story together and John wrote the screenplay. We had planned another project but the budget was a bit higher and since we were raising our funding independently we had to switch gears, so we started toying around with new concepts and while in NY at the Natural History. Museum I saw a giant Vulture display and then me and John started brainstorming and eventually had our RAGE. We wanted to make our drive in film. John and I grew up going to the drive in and we really wanted to make a fun in your face drive in throwback with Mad Doctors, Mutant freaks/ Monsters. We didn’t have much money to do it so we embraced the fact we were working on a low budget as that was the kind of movie we were making. It’s a B-Movie that revels in its B-Movie ness. We were inspired by all kinds of films from the old Monogram films to more contemporary films like Re-Animator and Evil Dead, Phantasm. We really wanted to do the film outside the Hollywood system like those films did. Raise our own funds and shoot it on our own terms. We did everything ourselves from building our own sets, costumes and FX, and everyone did multiple jobs. I couldn’t afford a DP so I shot the film myself which was great time.
BWH: What can you tell me about working on THE DEMOLITIONIST and WISHMASTER (a personal fave)?
RK: Demolitionist was my first feature as director. My wife Anne and I wrote the story and pitched the concept to producer Donald Borchers who liked it and took the story and the concept designs in to A-Pix and Alliance who sparked to the idea and desided to finance the film. It happened really fast and we had to shoot the film in 24 days. I had a great time on the film and was able to pull in allot of friends not only as crew but as actors in the film. Bruce Abbot who I’d worked with on Re-Animator films and Reggie Bannister, Bruce Campbell. Both Nicole Eggert and Richard Greico were great to work with. My DP on the film Marcus Hahn I’d worked with on the Fangoria Films projects back in the day.
Wishmaster was a great experience….I had a very short schedule and had to deliver the film into theatres in 6 months start to finish so it was very stressful but very fulfilling. Sam Raimi actually recommended me for the film and after a half a dozen meeting with the studio I got the job. I had to go in and pitch my take on the film and its design. We shot it in 33 days in LA which was tough as we had dozens of locations all around the city so we had a lot of company moves. We had hundreds of FX which was a bit of a challenge as the schedule was tight. I was very lucky to find Andrew Divoff and Tammy Lauren. Divoff is a very close friend who I enjoy working with on whatever we can find together. We now have this second hand when we work together.
BWH: The reviews are back and forth on THE RAGE, but how do you feel about it as a whole?
RK: I love The RAGE.
There is always going to be people who like any film and those who don’t.. The Rage was made for those who got it and dig it… I’ve received hundreds and hundreds of fan letters and reviews from people who really love the film saying it’s the best time they’ve had watching a movie in years.
We set out to make a really fun B-Movie experience that has all the qualities of the Drive In movies and Grindhouse films we grew up on.
BWH: What can you tell us about PRECINCT 13? How are things going so far?
RK: P13 is a full service production company which handles Film /Commercial / Music Videos / Creature FX and prosthetics and VIFX.
Things are going great!
We just finished shooting Hisss in India, which is a snake woman film about Nagin legend. My crew and I were over there for 10 weeks shooting in Mumbia. The film is Directed By Jennifer Lynch. We created Creature Effects, transformations and prosthetics as well as supervising the visual effects. We did Boogeyman 3 for Sam Raimi’s Ghosthouse Pictures and director Gary Jones. The action/thriller To Live and Die (working title )which I directed for MGM is scheduled for release sometime this summer. It stars Sean Patrick Flanery (Boondock Saints 1-2 and Joe Pantoliano (Momento, The Matrix). We are starting FX prep on seveveral films this spring including my next directing outing which will be announced shortly.
BWH: Finally, can you spill any juicy details on the upcoming horror flick THE DEAD MATTER? All I know about it so far is the Midnight Syndicate Soundtrack.
RK: It’s a tale of the Undead and Vampires written, produced and directed by Ed Douglas. P13 Produced the film with Midnight Syndicate and handled the production duties putting the crew and artists together. Gary Jones (Boogeyman 3)handled the day to day producing chores for P13.
BWH: Thank you for your time and consideration Mr. Kurtzman. I really appreciate you taking the time out to answer a few fan questions. I’ve been following your work for some time now and I really do believe you’ve given a lot to the genre and have much more to give in the future.
RK: Thank you! Best to you as well!