Sam Raimi began as a director of low-budget horror, but has gained new found respectability and commercial success as the man who forged new heights with his Spider-Man films. Returning to his roots, Raimi is now producer of the Hollywood remake of the Japanese horror hit The Grudge, starring Sarah Michelle Geller and directed by Takashi Shimizu. Dressed impeccably in his trademark dark blue suit, talked exclusively to Paul Fischer about The Grudge, and of course, what’s going on with Spider-Man 3.
Question: When you produce a film like The Grudge, does it remind you of where you came from as a filmmaker?
Answer: Yes it brings it back to where I started, which is not a lot of money, just a desire to entertain and thrill the audience, freak them out, give them something new, give them a change and only having the camera, actors and the crew and teams imaginations to pull it off.
Question: Do you see yourself in some ways as a mentor to a young guy like Shimizu?
Answer: No I don’t see myself as a mentor, but as a producer who loves great directors and great horror stories. I see myself in this case as someone who tries to protect the director’s vision.
Question: What do you look for as a producer that you don’t look for as a director?
Answer: Well in this context, it is kind of new to me to be a producer, but in the context of Ghost House Pictures, I am looking for something that will thrill the audience, titillate them, take them places they haven’t been. A little further in some direction maybe than film makers have dared to go in the past but never have quite gone to yet. As a producer I am looking more for the thrills and the chills and the new experience for the audience. As a director, it has got to connect to me if only on a character level. I have got to know who the person is, what they want, why they can’t get there so that I know how to direct it. If I don’t, I need to know who the character is so I can. I can’t even direct him if I don’t know.
Question: Is that why you were attracted to Spider Man originally?
Answer: Yes. Yes I loved comic books as a kid and I really identified with Peter Parker, like so many kids did.
Question: When you have to spend so much of your time on a big movie do you look forward to the day when you can hang up the Spider Man mantle and go back and do perhaps more intimate character driven films? Where there is not creative pressure that the franchise is probably demanding of you at the moment?
Answer: It is not that I am looking forward to it, it is just that I know it can’t last forever, I know the end is coming. Our filmmakers have a time, a brief time, the lucky filmmakers, have a brief time when they are allowed to make these large studio pictures and it allows you to look at a much larger canvas, have a tremendous amount of resources at your disposal to create fantastic imagery on screen, and I am allowed to have the best sound technicians, the finest digital artists and I know that it won’t last forever. You come in and out of popularity in Hollywood. Very briefly.
Question: You are a survivor even though your popularity was probably is at its highest around the Spider Man period, prior to that you sort of were regarded with a lot of respect.
Answer: Well thank you, I think. I don’t know how people look at me in the industry. I have always tried to survive. I just wanted to keep making my next picture and a lot of my movies are…all of my movies before Spider were not financial successes, meaning I think I had “Dark Man”, a movie I made for Universal Pictures, made a little bit of money for them but really I have never been associated with success. Until this Spider thing.
Question: I know that you want to do Spider Man because all of the reasons you mentioned in all of the previous junkets of this film for those films in the back of your mind is there this need or this desire for some commercial respectability and that is why you went after the Spider Man film?
Answer: No it wasn’t. I thought there was no chance of me ever being a commercial filmmaker because my tastes were always very different than the few films the studios offered me and very different than those films that are usually very popular. I have been making feature films since 1979, now it is 1994 and I have never really made a hit and I said I have got to divorce myself from the thinking that my personal success is in any way connected to box office success because I would literally have to commit suicide if I didn’t adopt that thinking because none of my films have been successful in that way. So at that point I kind of divorced myself from the idea of that and having just pursued those things that I really loved and that is when I was out of the filmmaking business for a few years hiding in TV and I found that script “A Simple Plan” that I loved and I with no regard for any honour of trying to be a successful filmmaker I just made those things that I loved, hoping that a few people would also feel the same way and when “Spider Man” came along I was so past ever thinking I would have a commercial success it just happened to be the one project that was popular with the mainstream that my tastes collided with that was also one of my favourites.
Question: Now without the success of Spider Man would you have been able to make The Grudge and given as much creative freedom as you were?
Answer: No. I don’t think so. I think I needed the success of Spider Man to strike out with my partner Rob Tampert to make this company Ghost House and be able to have the power with Columbia Pictures to protect the director, to make a company where I could protect the director. Even though they have been very supportive I think a lot of it comes from a relationship on the success of Spider Man.
Question: Shimizu was saying that there were still conflicts with some of the studio producers and you would always come in and mediate and step in if those conflicts arose. Did it remind you of any of the conflicts that you might have had with the studio producers when you were working on Spider Man for example? Did you learn by the way that you were able to handle.?
Answer: You know what it reminded me not of Spider Man but when Rob and I produced a movie a few years ago, John Woo’s first American film along with our other partner Jim Jacks. We brought him here to make an American film and I was a much weaker producer then and couldn’t protect John in as many ways as I wanted to at that time. So it reminded me of that situation working with another in this case a Hong Kong filmmaker. Now that was not a Japanese filmmaker but an Asian filmmaker coming to make their first film and not having the ability to protect him as much as I wanted to and this time having the power and strength as a director.
Question: How has horror changed since the Evil Dead days? And the genre in particular how do you think it has changed in relation to this film?
Answer: Well I think for the first time in a long time America’s filmmaking is being influenced by the overseas artists. I think we saw all those great German expressionists films like Dr Calligari, Metropolis, which influenced greatly the American cinema specifically but many years have passed and I don’t think it is as great as the Italian cinema was with Lucio Couchy and I didn’t see the influence in American filmmaking I just saw us making Exorcist and real American movies. Even though the Italians’ films are always great but what I am saying is what has changed recently is I feel America again being influenced by the artists overseas in the field of horror.
Question: What are you a fan of yourself. a fan of horror or genre of specific films? What are you a fan of? What do you love to see?
Answer: I love to see a filmmaker taking us places we have never been before and really getting under my skin in a new and subtle a way that is personal to them. Like that is how I feel about guys like Shimizu who can make a creeping type of horror not the sledgehammer techniques of the American filmmakers, which I am also guilty of. Polanski worked in that way and it is brilliant, so many of it is brilliant. Like The Tenant. You know that was so nightmarey he must have been so deeply involved in and he shared it with him the effects a very personal freaky kind of a way. That is when I am particularly excited by. these personal visions of our own nightmares that we can relate to.
Question: Do you think the American audience has become more likely to accept the subtleties of a film like this The Grudge as against the more gratuitous films that permeated the ’80’s and the early ’90’s.
Answer: I think the American audiences are always ready to accept it but sometimes filmmakers play down to the audience or they don’t have the imagination to deliver the next step or the studio, the financing and distribution centres don’t want to take risks with something different. They want to give, they want to keep putting up what they think has worked in the past.
Question: Now since you are a filmmaker who likes to take risks where do you take the third Spider-Man and make it in a sense your own as this is your last hurrah, right?
Answer: Yeah I think so.
Question: And take it in a direction, which is close to you. Or it’s more personal to you?
Answer: Well I think by just looking at the stories and where they have been going and tried to put them and trying to discover those things that I am most interested in within them and recognizing those things that I am not that interested in pursuing. And hoping that just because I am a human being like everyone else that I am still connected to everybody and the things that I find interesting are hopefully the things that others will too.
Question: Are you fairly confident that Spider Man 3 will be it?
Answer: You know I would really like to make other Spider Man movies. I have had the best time in my life making these pictures. I have had more creative freedom then I have ever had. Because when I made The Evil Dead although I could do anything I wanted, the budget limitations and finance dictated a lot. I am allowed to do anything I want and sometimes I really miss it when it is over and I would so love the character and I finally feel like I understand him on a deeper level then the first one so I feel I am the right guy to direct the picture.
Question: Will you use technology more in the third one. CGI advances and generator effects generally advance would you use those to your advantage or do you use less? To humanize the story?
Answer: I won’t use it to humanize the story I will just dig deeper into who I think Peter Parker is, what he wants, know what he is like, how the relationship may have been left at the end of the second one and really try and be truthful to those characters and find out what it is what they now have to learn. Where they are in their lives, what journeys they now have to go to be more complete as human beings.
Question: Is it tough to go back to the comics and find a writer to inject into this?
Answer: The first movie was all about the comics. The second movie was half about satisfying the audience of the first movie and the comic creators. And now there is so much story been laid and so many situations set up I am almost a slave to the movies now. Even though the villains will technically come from the comics, I feel more guided by the first two films. The audience have seen the first two films want to see the logical completion at the end of the story so I feel more a responsibility to use Peter Parker’s world of the movies at this point then the comics.
Question: And beyond Spider Man do you know what kind of direction to put yourself in as a filmmaker?
Answer: No I have no idea.
Question: It would be hard to go back to making a movie now that you have had a $100,000,000 budget to play with.
Answer: Yes it would be a refreshing concept and yet a great challenge.
Question: Are you looking forward to working on a third film?
Answer: Very much so but I am dreading it. I am scared.
Question: Scared of the pressure or scared because of…
Answer: I want to please the audience.
Question: A lot riding on this third movie isn’t there?
Answer: Well professionally for me, not as much as the first two. But I want to give a satisfying conclusion to the story that I feel the people have invested in.
Question: I mean this is the best comic book, people have said that this is the best comic movies made since possibly Superman in the late ’70’s, you must be gratified by having both critical and commercial acclaim such a studio movie.
Answer: Well I feel lucky to be a part of it. I am most happy that the people who work so hard in the film that look to me as their leader and creative voice that guides them all I am happy that the critical acclaim came in because they feel good about it. I feel actually very divorced from it.