American Grindhouse, Cable Access, Cameron Cloutier, Cinema, David Hess, Documentary, Dragonslayer, Elijah Drenner, Exploitation, Filmmaker, Interview, Jack Hill, Joe Danta, John Landis, Reform School Girls, Sid Haig, Spider Baby, That Guy Dick Miller, The Dark Crystal
My interview with filmmaker, Elijah Drenner (“American Grindhouse”).
Cameron: So what were some of your favorite films when you were little?
Elijah Drenner: I loved old Universal horror movies that played on TV a lot. I loved movies like “Dragonslayer” and “The Dark Crystal” too, but saw the Wendy O. Williams movie “Reform School Girls” at a far too early age and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
Cameron: And what were the films that first blew your mind? The point where film stops being merely entertainment and becomes an art form.
Elijah Drenner: They always blew my mind and I still think that movies are supposed to entertain you. I try to keep as ignorant about new movies as possible when I see them, walk in with a blank slate and just watch a movie and be entertained or enlightened for two hours. I love most of the movies that I watch, but I have a hard time calling all movies an art form. But I guess in college I began to notice thought and ideas expressed in movies by certain filmmakers which was an eye opener.
Cameron: Can you describe your first attempts making a film. Was it harder than you thought? Did you prepare or just let intuition guide you? What was your family/friend’s reaction to you starting to make film and towards the final result?
Elijah Drenner: I did a cable access show in my hometown with my friends and would just make stupid shorts with wraparound segments hosted by me and Michael Mosely – who has now gone on to have a nice little career for himself as an actor in film and television. This poor guy, Kirk Eastman, was the head of the Cable Commission and it was his job to work with the community and edit our dumb horror and comedy shorts. He was great though, and I learned a lot from him. I think my family is relieved that I made some semblance of a career for myself.
Cameron: How did you get involved making video documentary shorts?
Elijah Drenner: It came from my years spent trying to make a documentary about director Jack Hill. I loved his movies when I was in college and I wanted to write a book about his films first, but later I was convinced to make a documentary. I started working on it in 2000 but it was never finished. Two of the interviews from “American Grindhouse” were from the project.
Cameron: Meeting Sid Haig is always fun. (He is usually my neighbor at the hotel for the horror cons). Was working on the “Spider Baby” short the beginning of you thinking about making the film, “American Grindhouse?”
Elijah Drenner: That came out of trying to get the Jack Hill documentary made, so yeah, kind of. I knew Jack had the film negative and that the old Image DVD was only so-so quality. I pitched a new DVD to be mastered from better elements to David Gregory at Blue Underground, but he suggested MPI/Dark Sky Films and the deal was done pretty quick. They never questioned my ability to make the DVD extras which is surprising in retrospect.
Cameron: How did you and your crew go about securing the interviews for your film, “American Grindhouse?” Was it more difficult obtaining Landis and Dante or finding some of the obscure folks?
Elijah Drenner: It was harder to get the obscure people because most of them turned me down, never returned emails or phone calls; Harry Novack, Roberta Findlay, Jon Amero and so on. These were the people that I was most interested in. Contemporaries like John Landis and Joe Dante all took some work to get, but these guys love movies and seemed enthusiastic about the material so they agreed with little hesitation.
Cameron: Can you talk about the process of purchasing the movie clips for the film? Was it hard to do considering that the rights to those films change constantly? For a low budget documentary, I would think those clips alone would eat away at your budget pretty quick.
Elijah Drenner: Securing the rights was most of the budget. I let the lawyers do the rest for the stuff we needed their help on. But actually, about 50% of the clips are public domain trailers – so those did not cost us anything.
Cameron: Can you talk about the day you interviewed David Hess? I’ve never seen him so goofy for an interview before.
Elijah Drenner: David was awesome. We interviewed him at his house, he played host and was really kind to us. The camera came on and he started to yuck it up and I just let him go. I think you get the best material from someone if you just let them do that. And he was certainly goofy, but that’s what makes him so memorable in the doc, I think.
Cameron: You’ve produced, edited, directed, etc. numerous shorts now. Do you find they get easier or do you approach each one as if it was your first? How do you get hired for a project?
Elijah Drenner: It’s probably the same. No one has ever asked to see a demo reel, asked for my education or where I graduated from – which I never did. But I still have to prod, poke, pester and pitch myself for work as much as ever. Perhaps there’s a little more street cred that I actually made something in the eyes of my bosses and clients, but it’s just grunt work that I love, so I’m happy to do it.
Cameron: While promoting “American Grindhouse” you did a panel at the Creation Horror Convention and I heard it was a pretty wild weekend for you. Care to elaborate?
Elijah Drenner: Hahaha. Nope!
Cameron: Moving to the LA area is hard when you don’t know anybody. How did you meet up with your friends/work colleagues out there so you didn’t just fall down the rabbit hole?
Elijah Drenner: By just putting myself out there and trying. A movie won’t just plop in your lap, you have to make it happen. That’s the good and bad thing, you have the ability to make your own job, but it’s hard work and their is so much going against you. I think that’s why I like interviewing filmmakers and actors, they have a lot to say and their stories are relatable. Sometimes I think I’m just trying to get an education with the people I talk to and make some sense of myself.
Cameron: As an adult now, what films do you watch to feel inspired?
Elijah Drenner: Everything. I can appreciate just about anything I watch. It’s easy if you just watch a movie for what it’s supposed to be – entertainment.
Cameron: Have any plans for another documentary feature, or feature for that matter?
Elijah Drenner: Sure, I’m always working on stuff like that. I have some ideas for some other film related documentaries that I’d like to get off my chest that we’re working on.
Cameron: Thank you, Elijah for your time. I really appreciate it.