Eric Forsberg Interview
Writer / Director Eric Forsberg
Eric Forsberg is the writer and director of such films as Alien Abduction, Night of the Dead and Mega Piranha. He has been kind enough to sit down for an interview discussing his films and his work with The Asylum.
HorrorTalk: I want to start by thanking you for taking the time out for this interview. Economic meltdowns have left the cinematic playing field littered with the corpses of production companies large and small for several years now, and yet The Asylum chugs along with the ability to car pool (piggy-back) through some of the rough patches with the help of the Hollywood blockbuster. The "mockbuster" has provided more than a few smiles along the way, but the studio's original work is still a lot of fun. How many mockbusters have you done for The Asylum?
Eric Forsberg: My first big mockbuster was Snakes on a Train back in 2006. I’ve done five others since then, with Mega Piranha being my most recent.
Some of Eric Forsberg's films. Click the covers to purchase them.
HT: I think Mega Piranha is an obvious place to start, and as writer/ director you have gotten your share of lumps from the critics, but I enjoyed the ride that you created.
EF: Actually, Mega Piranha is a very well reviewed movie – hardly any lumps at all. Monsters & Critics says “Finally, Saturday nights are fun again;” and The Huffington Post says “This is what Snakes on a Plane wishes it could be.” Of course there is the occasionally anti-fan who wants to skin me alive and fuck my corpse with a sewer pipe – but I actually like the passion, even if its ass-nasty.
HT: The film never takes itself too seriously, but never makes fun of itself either and somehow manages to poke fun at a lot of the conventions that clutter the traditional offering.
EF: I try not to wink at the audience too much or laugh at my own satire. Good B-movie camp has to be played deadly serious. Let the audience do the chuckling.
HT: In my review, I comment on the lack of closure... the film stops with a temporary solution (So if EVERY other Mega Piranha stops to eat the SUPER Mega Piranha, what’s to stop them from resuming the attack? Will they go home when they are full? Have they developed a taste for fish and turned exclusively cannibal?) Was that always the case of a temporary solution, or a result of production woes?
EF: Actually my stomach turned a little when I saw those end CGI shots. We had a limited number of VFX and CGI shots available to us and by the climax of the movie we were already over the limit. The solution was to repeat that shot of the fish swarm a couple of times instead of creating a new CGI image. But the script called for two more shots – each one showing the piranha’s continued self destruction until the last two fish killed each other leaving ZERO mega piranhas on the Earth. But honestly, I am grateful that the previous 125 CGI shots didn’t suffer the same fate. It’s just too bad that the final climactic shots were the ones we ran out of money and time for.
HT: I am curious why your movie Sex Pot was a 3D venture but not Mega Piranha?
EF: Here’s the pitch for Sex Pot: “imagine, 3D boobs”. Blockbuster liked it, they bought it, and I was hired to make it happen. Shooting 3D was fun, and so was most of the nudity. Sex Pot was a delightful production to work on. I was not as happy with the nudity in Mega Piranha. To me it took away from the impact of the story to suddenly have naked boobs in a shot. The Syfy version doesn’t have any nudity.
HT: It would appear that with the success of Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, and the upcoming remake of the Joe Dante classic that the next MEGA picture would be kind of a no-brainer. Do you find yourself working more from a title out or do you think along the lines of “Wow, I haven’t seen a killer penguin movie before.”
EF: The title is usually all I get. Maybe a little more for Mega Piranha. The Mega franchise is going to be derivative of itself very soon I think. I am already working on the next generation of giants – the “GIGA” franchise. “Giga Shark vs the Planet Eating Squids”. [Laughs]
Still taken from Mega Piranha DVD featurette
HT: Genius Products used a similar formula for the “Maneater Series” where they would catch a falling star and pit them against a CGI monster (i.e Tom Wopat versus ants in The Hive, or Gary Busey versus a tiger in Maneater) and the scripts would be as recycled as the sets. Does The Asylum operate a similar assembly line approach and how do they keep it fresh?
EF: As cliché as my themes may be I really try to be original in at least a few ways for each film. I never recycle scripts and I think I am one of the more unique scribes that does this type of thing.
HT: As a writer, do you find yourself holding back some of your best ideas for a time when you can work with either a longer shooting schedule or higher budget?
EF: I never hold back – my big restraints are time and money.
HT: Do you have a favorite script that you have written for someone else to direct? (Are you pleased with the finished product or frustrated by their approach to the material?)
EF: Yes. I wrote five comedies last year for a producer/screenwriter who hired me to ghostwrite them (his name will appear as the writer and not mine). Two of those scripts are some of the best things I’ve ever written. I almost weep when I think about it – but I have a wife and an 11 year old daughter and all three of us need milk and eggs – you do what you have to do, every dirty job is the same, you just do it. Other than that I like Snakes on a Train and War of the Worlds 2 as movies that other directors helmed. I also penned the story for the upcoming comedy, MILF which I didn’t direct.
(Snakes on a Train – 2006)
HT: What were some of the films that made you want to become a filmmaker?
EF: The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Exorcist, The Godfather, 2001, Alien, Jacobs Ladder, and Braveheart all made me want to make movies. But my biggest influence was my father, Rolf Forsberg, who was a successful independent filmmaker in the '60s, '70s, and '80s, doing mostly shorts, religious films, and eco-green-movies before they were cool. My friends and I would watch his films over and over again when they slept at my house. I got my first super 8mm camera when I was nine and I’ve been making movies ever since.
HT: Can you name 3 directors that have inspired you or influenced your work?
EF: Roman Polanski, Ridley Scott, and Ishiro Honda.
HT: Can you recommend 3 low-budget guilty pleasure films?
EF: Attack of the Mushroom People, Eraser Head, and The Andalusian Dog.
HT: What are your thoughts on the low-budget kings Roger Corman and Lloyd Kaufman? Both men have been in the field for over 30 years and have helped a lot of filmmakers get their start.
EF: They are loyal, they spread the wealth, and they stick to what they know best. Me, I want to do it all, comedy, action, horror, teen romance, fantasy, and historic drama. Roger Corman and Lloyd Kaufman know who they are a little better than I know who I am I think.
HT: I understand you wanted to make a killer opus many years ago, what is the status on CROAK?
EF: Every few days I get another offer/chance/discussion to make it. Even today we spoke to an investor. But it is an old script – great B-movie frog action – the first one I wrote when I came to Hollywood and it has been optioned four times. Hopefully the next one will see it to the screen. CROAK is a favorite.
HT: Many years ago, you wrote a non-fiction book called A Short Magical History. Do you have plans to revisit it any time soon?
EF: You’re good. Yes – one day I will finish the rewrite. It is the work of my life – the memoir of my early life as an Indigo child (psychic), losing my ability while still very young and turning to Tolkien and later the SCA where I became a foot jouster and ran away from home to join a reenactment group and live in a tent with the sexy member of a coven (her father was Nazi SS in hiding and he gave me his leather coat). I was exposed to an incredible inner circle of burgeoning warlocks and necromancers long before Wicca and New Age were popular. I left that world behind long ago, but I kept a journal of the events and encounters from the time I was eight. So, it is the work of a lifetime and I will add to it and refine it until I find the right publisher.
HT: Your first feature, Alien Abduction, was shot on 35mm in a time when most low budget fare is shot digitally. I am curious if you miss shooting film or do you feel HD cameras offer everything you need?
EF: Honestly, the Red Camera is amazing, especially if one is doing VFX. There is so much information per frame that you can actually manipulate the image to create close ups and pans, even if the shot is static. And CGI just slips right in. But HD has no soul, only intellect. There is something real and dirty that I like about 35mm. 35mm is like a pastrami sandwich, and HD is like a cup of liquid protein and a vitamin pill. Which one makes more sense to put in your mouth?
HT: I found Night of the Dead: Lebon Tod to be an unexpected treat. The film offered some solid acting, a decent script (with a really nice twist ending) and some copious gore. It seems like you guys had a lot of fun making that one and I really enjoyed your cameo!
EF: For many years this was my favorite of my movies. My wife and I sold our house to make it. That was risky. Luckily we doubled our money and made Torture Room with the proceeds, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it that way. Keep your house if you have one. But I love Night of the Dead. It is the most like the movies that I made in High School with my pal Charles Schneider who is also a filmmaker (he directed 2nd unit on two of my movies). I love the gore – so much fun – and I love that my daughter Lola played little Christi, the doctor’s undead daughter. Thank you for checking it out. NOTD just had a long run on Chiller so, like the undead it displays, my old movie too walks the earth.
HT: On the other hand, you followed the fun of Night of the Dead with Torture Room, that while a strong film, is hard to watch and harder to recommend. The subject matter is important and I am glad you stepped away from the goofiness to concentrate on this material, but Holy Crap is it bleak! How difficult was the shoot for the actress to maintain that level of emotional intensity?
EF: The actress, Lena Bookall, was great to work with and she really acquired a taste for the role of Anoush. After this movie she couldn’t find as challenging a role anywhere out there. She really needed the meat. I loved being on such a heavy project. The script for this film is much deeper and more politically charged than the final product which is more like SAW; a torture film. It is bleak, but it is also true. My original concept was to shoot the entire film as if it were found footage from surveillance cameras, pieced together by some turncoat insider. I wanted people to think it was real. But the execs would go for it – so it slipped in between an amazing groundbreaking freak of a film, and low budget torture porn. But it still is disturbing and ultra violent for people who like that sort of horror.
(Left) Louis Graham as Dr. Gabriel Schreklich (Night of the Dead: Leben Tod – 2006)
(Right) Lena Bookall as Anoush (Torture Room – 2007)
Working for The Asylum:
HT: What are some of the pros and cons of working within The Asylum system?
EF: The pay is low, the production schedule is pitifully short, and corners are cut until it feels like you can barely churn out the product – other than that it’s great. Like Corman The Asylum gives opportunities to new directors and other creative people to make feature films – and they make 15 movies a year so there are lots of opportunities. And everything they make gets distribution. I am a big fan.
HT: In addition to direvt-to-DVD releases, The Asylum makes movies for the ScyFy channel, and in the case of Meteor Apocalypse received funding from a religious group. Because of this, it seems there has been a lack of nudity and gore, and the dvds are commonly marked as "director's cut" or "unrated edition", but with nothing additional provided. Mega Piranha marked the return of nudity in a while. With the tight schedules, is there time to shoot additional gore or nudity for the DVD or are there restrictions on what can be included?
EF: There is very little time for anything but what MUST be shot. However, what must be shot often includes nudity and gore. For Mega Piranha I shot the girls on the boat twice – once with their shirts on for Syfy and once with bare breasts for Warner Brothers and Blockbuster.
HT: Is it similar to the Corman school of production with the coda that there needs to blood, boobs or beasts every 7 pages?
EF: Only every 7 pages? WHIMP!
(Left) Eric Forsberg on the set of Mega Piranha (still taken from DVD featurette)
(Right) Mega Piranha – 2010
HT: How involved are the producers during the shoot? Do they have reps on-set?
EF: The line producer [serves as a liason], but really, once we are in the trenches together on an Asylum film the office and the field crew are separate entities. However, the producers look at the dailies and send notes, sometimes lots of notes. So it is as if they are in your coffee, in your cell phone,in your head, whispering – sometimes even shouting – like the Borg. It’s fine though, I like them all. And I am used to their methods, even though sometimes it is a lot to handle. In the end they just want a good movie – and they will sometimes lash you to the main mast to get it.
HT: Are they generous with the creative freedom or do they lock down on script approval? Do they stipulate a cheesy tone over depth (meaning would The Asylum fund something like Torture Room)?
EF: I am the “cheesy tone guy” as well as the “comedy guy” and the “nudity guy”. And I am quickly becoming the “fun action guy”. The Asylum would only do Torture Room if the distributor wanted it. They wouldn’t take a risk on such a thing without a presale.
HT: What involvement do you have (as a director) with post and the edit... is it an assembly line?
EF: At the very least I sit with the editors, watch cuts and give notes. At the most (every other movie but Mega Piranha) I sit with the editors almost every day and edit with them. It is an assembly line but I am included in the assembly. We had some great editors on Mega Piranha – I am very happy (except for that last CGI shot damn it!).
HT: The Asylum mock-busters owe some success to box art. Without the physical shelf space of Blockbuster or Hollywood video to trick (um… encourage) consumers, do you see the death of the rental chain brick and mortar stores as a major hurdle?
EF: Horses were replaced with cars, B&W was replaced with color, radio was replaced with television. I am looking forward to the next phase in movie/entertainment venues. Some people will roll with it, some people will become anachronisms. I hope I’ll roll.
HT: Maybe the next big disaster movie is a giant volcano titled "Mega-Magma" or a sex comedy called "Mega-Smegma".
EF: Whatever the title I hope I’ll be calling it “Mega-Paycheck”.
(Mega Piranha – 2010)
HT: Thank you for your time and patience… and keep making the films!
You can keep up with Eric Forsberg's latest projects by checking out his official site.