Friday, February 28, 2014

INTERVIEW: Director Richard Schenkman talks MAN FROM EARTH and the upcoming sequel




Director Richard Schenkman talks with TV STORE ONLINE about MAN FROM EARTH and the film's upcoming sequel...

TV STORE ONLINE:  How did you get involved in the MAN FROM EARTH project?

Schenkman:   I guess it was about 1998 or 1999.   It wasn't too long after Jerome Bixby had passed away.  A friend of mine, a producer whom I had worked with once or twice previously called me up and told me about the script for it.  I read the script and loved it.   So I met with my friend, and Emerson Bixby and his manager who was trying to position himself as a producer.   I went through and told Emerson what I liked about the script and I pointed out a few things that I thought needed to be changed in the script.  The meeting went really well, everyone was really excited and we had all agreed that we could make the movie inexpensively and I thought that I'd be getting a call about it, but it never came.

It turned out that Emerson's manager turned producer thought they could attract a much bigger director to the script because of the enthusiasm that I expressed for the project.    So this producer encouraged Emerson not to stay in touch with me.    A couple years passed.  But they couldn't get the film made how Emerson wanted it to be made.    Other producers wanted to take the script and rewrite it.  Then another producer wanted to put in all of these flashbacks. But Emerson didn't want any of that.   He wanted to honor his father and his work and keep the script exactly the way that Jerome Bixby had written it.     A friend of mine had just shot a film on digital video for almost no money and it turned out great.  It really looked like a film.   So a producer friend and I started talking about how we should do something like that.   Nothing I had written though up to that point would've worked for the money we had to shoot with.   So my partner said, "Have you ever come across a script that would work?"  I told him about Emerson and Jerome Bixby's last script.   So I called up Emerson and said, "I'm not sure if you remember me, but I was circling around your dad's last script a few years ago..."   He said, "Remember you?  You were the only the director that wanted the film the way it was written."

TV STORE ONLINE:  Reading that script for the first time...What was it in the story that hooked you?

Schenkman:  It just connected with me.  Thematically I connected with it.  I've spent time in my own life thinking about many of the ideas in the film.  The dialogue was deeply intelligent.  The characters were great.   Even though it was a deeply intelligent idea, it has had a lot of emotion in it.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Did you have certain cast members in mind when you started the project?  Your choice of actors to play the roles in the film is really wonderful.  I really appreciate seeing William Katt and Tony Todd in the film....

Schenkman:  I didn't really have anyone in mind when I started.   It all happened like it does with many films.  You figure out your budget and you figure out who you can get based on how much money you have .  Then you cast the actors that appreciate the script too.   I also wanted actors that were very well established in the science fiction fan community.   Almost all of the actors had appeared in Star Trek.  Tony Todd is well known in the horror and science fiction community as well.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Can you talk about what's been written in regards to how the MAN FROM EARTH filmmakers wrote and thanked bootleggers for pirating the film online?

Schenkman:  Well, part of that...When Eric [Wilkinson] did that, it was obviously tongue-and-cheek.  What he was really thanking people for was watching the film and spreading the word about it to those outside of The United States that couldn't see the film when it was released.   I can certainly understand those out of the US that downloaded the film because they had no legitimate means of getting it, but those in the US should have bought the film on DVD.   If I knew what I know now, we would have made the film more web-centric in that we would've offered the film streaming on a website and then offered a high resolution version and maybe through bit torrent technology.  But we had no idea at that time that the film would do so well around the world so we just didn't consider it while we were making MAN FROM EARTH.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Why hasn't the film gained more exposure in the US?  It seems like something that would be perfect for the SyFy Channel...

Schenkman:   We wanted it to air on SyFy.  In fact, they were the first place we went to when the film was complete.    I, myself, had a very nice conversation with the acquisitions guy at SyFy who said that he enjoyed the film very much himself but then went on to say that they had no place to put it.   He said that their schedule did not allow for a movie like this.   He said basically that the only original movies that they are interested in are action movies.   He went on to say that because MAN FROM EARTH has no action, there is no spot for it on SyFy.  I said to him, "Can't you put it on at Midnight on a Wednesday or something like that?"  He told me that they couldn't.  I couldn't believe it.   We even took it to places like The Sundance Channel and the IFC channel and they said that it wouldn't fit their channel.   I mean, MAN FROM EARTH got great reviews, it has a great score on IMDb.com.  It won awards at film festivals.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Is there any chance for a sequel to MAN FROM EARTH?

Schenkman:  Yes, we're working on it.  There is a spec script and the story line is all fleshed out.    We approached the company that put out MAN FROM EARTH on DVD about financing the sequel and they never got back to us.  So we're about to start a Kickstarter campaign online to fund the sequel.   You can follow it on Facebook HERE:

TV STORE ONLINE:  What do you want people to take away from MAN FROM EARTH?  It's such a great film with great ideas and it asks its audience to consider many things...

Schenkman:   That's not really my place to say.  If MAN FROM EARTH was my first film I might have something to say about that.   I learned on my first film THE POMPATUS OF LOVE (1996) that once a film is done and it is released it no longer belongs to you.   Each person is going to take something from your film that is completely different from the next.    People will either love your film or hate it.   I've gotten reviews that raved about my first film and then others that just disliked it.   I think the only thing a filmmaker can do is to fill their film up with as much heart, intelligence, honesty and ideas that they can and hope someone takes something away from it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

INTERVIEW: Screenwriter Emerson Bixby talks MAN FROM EARTH (2007)

Executive Producer and Screenwriter Emerson Bixby talks with TV STORE ONLINE about his father Jerome Bixby's brilliant MAN FROM EARTH (2007)

TV STORE ONLINE:  What do you think your dad's inspiration was for writing MAN FROM EARTH (2007)?

BIXBY:  My Dad was inspired to write the film when he was in New York City in 1946.   He came up with this idea of a civilized man that was actually a Cro-Magnon man that was thousands and thousands of years old.  He originally came up with the idea when he was 23-years-old.    When the '50s came, my Dad saw Charles Bronson in a film and he really wanted Bronson to play the caveman if he should ever write the film.

TV STORE ONLINE:  That makes sense....Look at Bronson in HOUSE OF WAX (1953) for example.

BIXBY:  Right, I think Dad saw Bronson in the Corman film MACHINE GUN KELLY (1958) though.  He's very stocky and strong and Bronson had a very intense face.   The idea for MAN FROM EARTH was kicking around in my Dad's head for years and when he was writing for Star Trek, he put the idea in one of the episodes of the show.  The idea for the story was always digging at him though.   He decided to go back to it.  He started writing the actual screenplay for MAN FROM EARTH about a month and a half before he passed away.    He had it almost finished it, but then he had to go into the hospital for a quadruple bypass.   

He ended up finishing the screenplay literally on his death bed.   Right up until two days before he passed he was dictating scenes to me and I was writing them on napkins and I even started writing on one of those hospital pajama gowns that they give you that has no backside.

TV STORE ONLINE:  What do you think it was about this idea that kept him always thinking about it?

BIXBY:  Well, my Dad always loved the film 12 ANGRY MEN (1957).  It was directed by Sidney Lumet and what he liked about it so much was how good dialogue and a good idea can completely carry a story.

He really wanted to do a thinking-man's Sci-Fi film.   But, he was always trying to do that.  Back in the '70s, he had an idea to make a film called ELSEWHERE.   He had wanted to do this right around the same time that Steven Spielberg was starting on CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977).    But, when he heard that Spielberg was working on something with aliens he decided to wait it out to see how Spielberg's film would turn out.  He was hoping that the film would fail so he could make his, but in one of the very rare instances that he went out to the movie theater, he saw CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and it just blew him away.  It really made him forget about doing his own alien film.    But my Dad's idea was a really interesting one because his story was from the alien's point-of-view.    We would see what it was like for them to come to Earth through their eyes.    

He really liked the idea for MAN FROM EARTH because it wasn't a Sci-Fi film with explosions and special effects, it was just dialogue and that was the reason why he was always interested in bringing the project to the screen.

TV STORE ONLINE:  The screenplay for MAN FROM EARTH has many historical ideas swirling around in it.   How much research did you or your dad put into it to get all of those things correct?

BIXBY:  My Dad just knew all about those things in the script.  He was such an avid reader that he really knew everything on everything.  When he passed away, he probably had about three semi-truck trailers full of books.   I'm sure he researched a few things, but for the most part he really knew all of stuff from his years of reading.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Were there any ideas in the script that weren't directly translated onto the screen in the film we see today?

BIXBY:   Well, originally my Dad didn't want "John" to drive off and come back at the end of the film.  He wanted him to just leave alone, but I really bugged him about that.  I said, "C'mon, C'mon...He has to come back."  My Dad just said, "OK, write it both ways and we'll look at it later."    The next day, I brought him a couple pages to look over for the ending and he said, "Yeah, OK...You got it."   There were two characters that we cut out of the movie from the script. They were sort of similar, so we edited them and gave most of one of these character's dialogue to actor John Billingsley.    But other than that, the first draft of the screenplay that my Dad did is pretty much what you see in the film today.

After my Dad passed away I had producers offer me big money for the script but I just couldn't give it up.  The producers that wanted this script wanted to take it and shoot it and add in all of these explosions, and I had one guy who wanted to insert a series of flashbacks that featured "John" riding a Velociraptor and leading an army of cavemen.  I told him where he could go, because none of those ideas were true to my Dad's vision for this story.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Working so close with this concept and this script for MAN FROM EARTH why didn't you just direct the film yourself?  Did you ever consider doing that?

BIXBY: 
Yes, I did.    I got really frustrated with producers telling me that they wanted to throw in explosions and  naked chicks.  I got really annoyed by that, but luckily Richard Schenkman came along and he had a very clear understanding of the script and he agreed with how I thought it should be made.

TV STORE ONLINE:  What do you want people to take from MAN FROM EARTH when they see it, and what do you think that your dad would have wanted people to take from it?

BIXBY: 
I think that he would've wanted people just to think.  If my Dad were around today, he'd be very happy with how the film turned out.