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Interview With A Zombie

** the interview below first appeared on when Rob Zombie's first film, House of 1000 Corpses, was about to be released on DVD **

Rob Zombie is probably best known for his work as a musician, first with the band White Zombie then as a solo artist, but he's made no secret of the fact that what he'd really like to do is direct.

I had the opportunity to sit down and do a telephone interview with Rob, and I found him to be an intelligent, interesting and surprisingly friendly person to chat with.

Ken Pierce: House of 1000 Corpses was your first film, how much of a learning curve was involved in directing it?

Rob Zombie: It was demented. You know, it’s really a trial by fire. There’s certain things, you can see as many movies as you want, or read as many books, talk to as many people, but until you’re there it’s like a whole other bag and there was a huge learning curve.

KP: Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Smith both said that the money most people spent on film school would probably be better spent making their first feature. Would you tend to agree with that?

RZ: Yeah, without a doubt. I mean, I didn’t go to film school, so I don’t know from that point of view, but it’s just the main things that slow up the production or that are difficult are things they would never teach you in school. They’re never going to have a class in, “one of your actors is insane”, you know? Things like “how do you stop the wind from blowing the techno-crane over in the middle of the desert at night?” Learning technical stuff is so much easier than just the insanity aspect of things.

KP: So are the people more of a problem than the technical side of things?

RZ: Well, not the people so much, you just learn that every second of the day on a movie something different is going to go wrong.

KP: What would you say was the most difficult hurdle to overcome when making this movie?

RZ: There’s wasn’t any particular hurdle. The biggest thing really was time. We didn’t have a lot of time. Looking back now when I look at the movie or read the script, me not being experienced, someone should’ve said, “look, this script is…there’s too much stuff going on. For the small amount of time there’s too many locations, too many effects.” Because a lot of times on a movie with that time and budget, usually it’ll take place in one location primarily and be [kept] simple. Time was the biggest hurdle.

KP: I read somewhere that you had 28 days to shoot it?

RZ: It was actually 25.

KP: So that’s obviously a pretty short schedule and it’s a pretty ambitious film for that kind of schedule. How close is the final product to what you envisioned when you wrote the script?

RZ: It’s so hard to say at this point because one thing that you have to learn to do is, or I did anyways, is you just have to learn to make concessions and changes in your mind constantly all day because the reality is so different than what you can picture in your head. I don’t really know anymore, because I didn’t want to box myself in a corner and say “it’s gotta be this”, you know, and spend the whole day nit-picking some tiny thing that only you notice. I mean, I guess it’s pretty close, I’m not really sure. It’s gone through so many changes and so much time. There are certain things that are exactly as I wanted it, and those are the moments for me that work the best. That’s why I’m excited for the next film to have more time, because say something like the scene where the cops get shot in slow-motion, the pullback, I mean that’s always what I had inside my head, to that song, and that worked out. And Sid Haig as Captain Spaulding, his performance and the way he is. Certain things are exactly as I pictured, and other things, you know, they’re different. That’s what’s kind of interesting about it.

KP: I guess you kind of have to learn to think on your feet a little bit?

RZ: Yeah, totally. Because the great thing and the bad thing about being the director is that you’re in charge of everything. I don’t know about other movies, where the producers are there running the show, but on this movie there was no producers around, so every person from every department comes up to you every second with an insane question. “I don’t know” is an answer you can never give.

KP: If you had more time and more money to make the film, what kind of things would’ve made it into the movie that didn’t?

RZ: I don’t know if anything more would’ve made it into the movie necessarily, but I would’ve had more time to just deal with scenes in a way that was more… I don’t know, it’s hard to go back and re-think how things would be different, we’d just have more time, you know? I was watching the documentary on the Scorsese film, The King of Comedy, and it was like a simple scene where Rupert Pupkin goes to Jerry Langford’s house, and Scorsese is like “oh, we took five days to film that”. Five days? I mean, that’s great, but when we had a scene of just people talking it was like, “we have half an hour”. I mean, imagine having five days. The great thing is you could just really fine tune people’s performances, because really, that’s what it’s about. Thankfully, the actors [were great], no one blew their lines almost ever, but there wasn’t much time. Three takes was a luxury. So, once you get in the groove, two you’re all set, three you got it, we’ve got to move on. Even if we don’t have it, we’re moving on.

KP: Well, when you look at what happened this summer, a lot of big films like Charlie’s Angels 2 and The Hulk kind of tanked whereas smaller films like 28 Days Later and House of 1000 Corpses did really well, do you feel the limitations in terms of time any money ultimately hurt or helped the film?

RZ: I don’t think it did either, really. I think that time and money is a double-edged sword. Not enough hurts, and too much hurts. I’m not saying I needed another fifty million dollars and another two months, but another week, and another half a million, you know what I mean? Because I think, some of those films, like you just mentioned, they run amuck because they just have so much money and so much time people go, “ah, we’ll fix it with some fancy digital effects later”, you know, so you just want enough time to make it right, not enough time so you can make it insane. How much is enough? That’s really the question that has no answer.

KP: It seems like the autonomy a director has is directly related to the size of the budget, so would you prefer to make small films on your terms, or big films and deal with the bureaucracy of a big studio?

RZ: It would depend on the film really. Some films, I think you can make it work, say Spider-Man. If it’s the type of film…I don’t know, it could work. But there are certain films where you just don’t want that because, you know, if the budget was doubled, say, all these sort of cool cult actors would be history and it would be filmed with those sort of recognizable TV-people that they love to shove in movies who don’t really bring anything to it. Not to say that they’re good or bad actors, but [the studios] feel those bring people to the theatre, and I really don’t think that they do.

KP: I think sometimes it actually detracts from what you’re watching because it takes you out of the film.

RZ: I think it really detracts from horror movies actually, because you’re really caught up in a scene and then you’re like, “wait, that’s so-and-so from that show”. 28 Days Later is a good example [of a film where having unknowns helped the film]. Sometimes you even see it sometimes in big movies, I remember seeing Saving Private Ryan, which is filled with huge stars of course, but there’s something about when Ted Danson came on screen, do you remember that part? The whole audience kind of groaned. And he’s great, I mean he’s a great actor and all but there something to “Sam from Cheers” that took everyone right out of the picture.

KP: Probably because at the time, the majority of the actors in that film were not that recognizable, aside from Tom Hanks.

RZ: Right, and cameos are tricky, because Tom Hanks in a cameo might have the same bad effect, but since he’s in there and you believe who he is, and you’re into the character, it all works, [as opposed to] some recognizable person just sort of waltzes across the screen for five minutes. I always tried to fight that because there were always cameos people were trying to get in there, but I didn’t want to do it.

KP: You’ve taken a pretty strange path to where you are now. Your biography reads like a who’s who of different types of entertainment and media, so where do you envision yourself five years from now?

RZ: Probably, you know, 100% doing movies.

KP: So you’re planning on at least stepping out of the music thing altogether?

RZ: Well, aspects of it, you know? Because, right now I’m prepping for the next film and not going out on tour. Because you sort of have to make the choice, because there really isn’t enough time in your life to do both. You go on tour, and that takes up a year and a half of your life, and during that year and half you can’t do a movie, so you sort of have to choose. I don’t really want to have to choose, but you know, as time goes by…

KP: So it’s almost like a career change for you in a lot of respects?

RZ: In a way, yeah.

KP: In terms of directors, who represents the ideal in terms of where you’d like to go?

RZ: I don’t know. There’s certain people, like Tim Burton was always a person who sort of rode the line on both sides really well, where’d he’d make these very odd big pictures and then would have the power to make something like Ed Wood, which I think was his best movie, which is amazing, to get a major studio behind something like that.

KP: I think he went straight from one of the Batman movies into Ed Wood.

RZ: Yeah, and I mean, what a great career, to be able to do stuff like that. I never really consciously had an answer to that question, but someone like him. What I like is that every movie is part of his vision about what he’s about. It doesn’t look like, oh random guy jumping all over the place for hire and one out of every ten films is interesting, and if something fails, it’s still like a noble failure in that realm of what he does.

KP: So he’s always trying something interesting at least.

RZ: Yeah. Even though you can say maybe Planet of the Apes wasn’t as great as some of the other films, it’s still cool that it’s in that world of what he does. I just like when people sort of have their “thing”. Like John Ford, even though he did other stuff, I just love his westerns. I like people who have identities, because a lot of directors don’t sometimes. I like that you go see a Kevin Smith film and there’s a thing that he does, or Woody Allen, you know? The director is not just some faceless entity running a corporate picture.

KP: So you can tell who directed the movie based on feel?

RZ: Yeah, like you can watch the movie and they don’t even tell you who did it, and after ten minutes you go, “is this a Tarantino film?” and that’s great. I mean that’s sort of what you would strive for, and that’s what you strive for as a musician [as well], after two seconds of hearing the song you go, “oh, I know who this is”. Nothing’s worse than not having a recognizable quality.

KP: So now House of 1000 Corpses is out on DVD, which is where…

RZ: Where everything lives.

KP: Where everything lives.
RZ: Until they come up with a new format.

KP: And it seems like it’s the kind of film that’s destined to gain a cult following over the years, is there going to be some chopped up version of this thing that’s going to appear on late night TV every Halloween?

RZ: I don’t know, it’s funny, because there was always something in my contract about the “TV version”, and I was like, “how could there possible be a TV version?” But I saw a TV version of Casino, or was it Goodfellas? I mean it was hilarious, because every other word they had to change. I hope [a TV version comes out], I think that’s cool even though TV versions of movies are sort of a dead thing just because everyone buys the DVD.

KP: How involved do you think you would want to be in something like that? Would you just hand it off, or would you want to be there?

RZ: I think I would just hand it off, and not give a shit, you know. To me, it’s so butchered beyond anything, there’s no saving it.

KP: Right, so just let it go, and what happens happens?

RZ: Right, I mean what could you really do by that point? And the chances of it being on any kind of real TV are probably zero. Even now, when you see [Texas Chainsaw Massacre], it’s on IFC or something, it never really appears on normal TV.

KP: How important is the home video market to a film like House of 1000 Corpses these days?

RZ: I think it’s insanely important to it, as it is to all films these days. I know so many people who are not, you know, casual film fans, but film fanatic encyclopaedia type people and they don’t even go to the movies, they hate going to the movies. They hate the crowds, they hate the experience and they buy everything. So it’s sort of created a whole other home theatre cult. Especially as screens started shrinking due to multiplexes, the screen in my house, I swear to God, is the size of some of the movie screens. Like, what’s the point of going to the fucking movies if I have big cushy chair at home and the same size screen?

KP: It seems like House of 1000 Corpses was never going to be released. Does it feel strange to be gearing up for House of 1000 Corpses 2 now?

RZ: It’s a little weird because it’s also like nothing ever ended, like it’s been totally dominating my life because from making the film to in a sense trying to save the film from obscurity, to having it come out to talking about the success of it to making the sequel. It’s like it’s never-ending.

KP: Have you gotten to the point of talking about the amount of time you’ll have to shoot and the budget?

RZ: Not exactly, but that’s been my big thing. I have different producers and a whole different cast of people behind the scenes, and Lion’s Gate thinks differently than Universal. They’re like, “we can take the same money and give you twice as many shooting days just because of the way we do things.” I knew at Universal we were pissing away money just because of the way things work.

KP: So, if House of 1000 Corpses 2 is a huge success, are you going to allow it to become a franchise?

RZ: I don’t know. It’s a little weird, because it’s been such a total labour of love it seems a little weird to sort of let it get beaten into the ground.

KP: At what point do horror films become parodies of themselves?

RZ: Usually very quickly. That’s why even in part two, I want to guard against such a thing. Where it’s like, “oh here comes Captain Spaulding with his wacky catchphrase!” That’s the biggest fear I have.

KP: So it’s about keeping it scary, the same sort of feel.

RZ: Well, if you still feel like there’s something to, then do it. But if you just feel like you’re beating a dead horse, it’s time to move on. I had a part two in mind all along, because I knew if it had done well that would be requested by Universal or whoever, and my contract was sort of like, if they want a part two they’re going to make it with or without me.

KP: How much interest do you have in directing a completely different type of film?

RZ: A complete interest. I love all movies. I’m not just a fan of horror movies.

KP: Is there going to be a romantic comedy directed by Rob Zombie coming soon?

RZ: It always sounds like a joke, but you never know, right? I mean fifteen years ago, who would’ve said Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi would become the two biggest players in Hollywood? That’s what’s so cool about the business, it’s just so insane the way things go.

KP: Just one last question, before I let you go. If I was coming over to Rob Zombie’s house to watch a movie, what would be in the DVD player when we got there?

RZ: Well, I’ve got several and I can tell you what’s in all three of them. I have House by the Cemetery, the Fulci film, the other one has Dark Blue with Kurt Russell, the cop film, and the other one has the Best of Jiminy Glick (laughs) those are the last three things I was watching.

KP: Have you ever done the Jiminy Glick thing?

RZ: No, but I think that’d be fuckin’ hilarious. (laughs)

KP: Well, thanks for taking the time do the interview, Rob. Good luck with House of 1000 Corpses 2, and I look forward to seeing it.

RZ: Thanks a lot.


Interview with Jon Johansen

** the interview below first appeared on shortly after the hack of CSS was published **

Jon Johansen is one of the three founding members of MoRE (Masters of Reverse Engineering), the trio of programmers who created a huge stir in the DVD marketplace by cracking the Content Scrambling System (CSS) encryption used to protect every DVD movie on the market. I recently had the opportunity to ask Jon a few questions.

Ken Pierce: The MPAA and the DVD CCA both claim that the software you helped develop was designed primarily to crack the copy protection on DVD movies. The OpenDVD consortium and various other sources claim the software was developed simply for the purpose of playing back DVD movies on unsupported operating systems (i.e. Linux, BeOS). When the software was being developed, what was the original intent?

Jon Johansen: The original intent was to be able to develop Linux dvd playback capabilities. This automatically includes other open operating systems.

KP: Both you and your father have been arrested and accused of helping distribute software designed to break copy protection. What are the official charges?

JJ: The charges consists of two points: 1. breaking a protection [system] or otherwise gaining unauthorized access to data 2. copyright violation or contribution to [copyright violation]

KP: The film industry is obviously being very aggressive in pursuing the people responsible for breaking their code. What bearing do you feel this case will have on the Internet and on the dissemination of information in general, if any?

JJ: I doubt that that it will ever reach court here in Norway. However, if the cases in the US continue as they have already done, I think free speech has been stabbed in the back by corporate lawyers. Reverse engineering will go underground or move to countries where free speech still exists. If linking to material that might be illegal, or linking to a page which links to a page which links to material which might be illegal, will become illegal, then anyone can see what kind of affect this will have on the Internet.

KP: You're very young (sixteen if I'm not mistaken), and I would assume still in school. What affect has all this publicity had on your day-to-day life?

JJ: Yes, I'm sixteen. I've had lots to do this week. I just bought a new computer and spent all night responding to 400 emails. I don't know what's worse, getting a visit from the police or being slashdotted. Anyway, I don't think I've done much homework this week.

KP: One of the things that cracking the CSS code has allowed is the easy removal of region codes on DVD movies. The studios claim they have every right to restrict movie releases in different markets. How do you respond to that?

JJ: As far as I see that's illegal. It prevents free trade and lets them charge different prices in different regions, like they do with Europe. Their region 2 releases mostly suck too, without all the extras. Corporate tactics like [this] are, as far as I know, illegal.

KP: As has been pointed out in several articles, copying a DVD movie in its entirety is very easy without ever touching the encryption scheme (just copy the encryption along with the movie). Still, the film industry claims that programs like DeCSS represent a threat to their copyrights. Do you feel they're right? Does a lack of encryption threaten their properties?

JJ: Lack of encryption threatens nothing but their oligopoly. Anyone can now make a dvd player without ever getting in touch with the DVD CCA, and without implementing region restriction. That's what they're afraid of, and they're handing the press this propaganda about piracy.

KP: Now that you've been arrested for your involvement in cracking DVD encryption, what is the next step for you?

JJ: I wasn't really arrested, just questioned and had my computers [and] cell-phone seized. I'm still waiting for [the] EFF to put together my defense team. Once that step is completed, I'll have them [make a] request [to] the court [to] give me back my equipment.

KP: If given the opportunity to turn back time, would you still get involved in breaking this encryption? In other words, if you could change it all, would you do it again?

JJ: I would not back out of a free speech fight, simply because things were getting hot. So the answer is yes.

KP: In your opinion, what is the best possible thing that could come out of this whole mess?

JJ: That consumers hold the power and that we don't have to see more of these corporate tactics for a very long time.

KP: The worst?

JJ: Reverse engineering is banned. Money (officially) controls the courts. Innovation dies. The human race commits suicide because of the latter.

KP: Several sources have reported that you are the person who was responsible for breaking the CSS encryption. You've since claimed that the media misrepresented your involvement. Would you like to clear up the record once and for all?

JJ: Yes, as I've always pointed out, it was the German member of our group who wrote the decryption code.

KP: I'd like to thank you for taking the time to answer these few questions. I realize that since your arrest you've probably been inundated with questions like these, and that your life has probably taken a very dramatic turn.

JJ: No problem.

KP: Please allow me to wish you the best in success in the future, and I certainly hope this all turns out well in the end.

JJ: Thanks.