DEBBIE ROCHON INTERVIEW: PART 1
Interview conducted by Stuart D. Monroe
If you’ve spent any amount of time watching horror movies of the “B” variety, you undoubtedly know the name Debbie Rochon. If you’re a fan of Troma Studios (a.k.a. the last bastion of true independent art) and the works of their evil genius leader, Lloyd Kaufman, then you just might worship at her altar. Full disclosure – I do, and this interview was a real treat.
With a list of credits currently sitting at 254 films, she’s the hardest working woman in the business. She has one of the sharpest minds out there and the beauty to match. I had the honor of spending 45 minutes discussing her upcoming film, Doom Room, her approach to inhabiting a character, the effect of the streaming services on independent horror, Lloyd Kaufman and the upcoming Shakespeare’s Shitstorm, and our shared indignancy at why she’s not in the new run of Fangoria Magazine.
Stuart D. Monroe: Thank you very much for speaking with me on behalf of HorrorTalk, Debbie. I’m very familiar with your work. I was rolling through IMDB looking at your list of credits. I knew you’d done a lot of work, but I didn’t realize it was quite that much.
Debbie Rochon: [laughs]
SM: 36 years, 254 credits. You write, you direct, you host radio shows – I used to listen to you and Dee Snider on Friday nights when I was out delivering pizza back in the day.
DR: That’s great!
SM: So, it just blew me away looking through everything you’ve done. I work 2 jobs, plus writing for HorrorTalk and my own site and anywhere else that I can get work out…and I can barely find time for that. Not to sound glib or anything, but how the hell do you squeeze all that work in? Are you the Energizer Bunny merely cosplaying as Debbie Rochon? That’s a ridiculous workload.
DR: Well, it helps having clones, you know, ‘cause clones are really essential. But you know what it really is? It’s kinda like, and I think you’ve experienced this this yourself doing podcasts and writing and your website and the family and the job and all these things…whatever you care about, you’re going to get done. Yes, there’s going to be times where you’re extremely tired. There’s going to be times where maybe you’re going through a difficult health situation (whatever that may be). There’s going to be times where some stuff just has to be put aside. But, generally speaking, I mean everything I’ve ever done, be it unrelated to the art jobs I’ve had through the ‘80s and ‘90s and off and on into the ‘00s doing various things for radio stations and stuff; it’s everything has to circle around your main interest and love and passion. So, you may be finding yourself in a situation or job that is unrelated for a period of time, but when these other projects come up, they take all precedence. I’m in a situation that’s different from you, though. You mentioned that you have children, for example…
SM: Yes, ma’am.
DR: See, I don’t. I’ve never had to make the sacrifices that you have to make. I’m very different in that regard. I’ve always kind of realized that my life is really going to be kind of that of a nomad or gypsy in some ways. You know, just make ends meet, but the most important thing is to just do as much of your work and stuff that you’re passionate about first and all the rest of the stuff second. So that’s a part of it. That’s not all of it, but that’s a part of it.
SM: Yeah, I’d say a pretty big part, definitely. I’ve not necessarily blown off work but put the day job on the back burner to find myself sitting at the computer and getting absolutely no sleep…
SM: …because I just can’t peel myself away.
DR: Exactly! And then, even though you are tired and you will eventually get some sleep, you’re very satisfied that you got it done. You’re satisfied at having something to put out there, like something that you’ve worked on, um, something artistic, whether it’s writing or podcasting or making movies. When you do complete something, and you get it out there, you have a sense of gratification ‘cause that’s…let’s face it – art is a really vital part of our well-being. Everyone has to have some kind of an outlet, whether it’s hobbies or serious or somewhere in between. Everybody has to have some kind of artistic outlet or they really will go crazy. That’s my opinion.
SM: All work and no play. You don’t want to end up like Jack…
DR: Yeah, exactly! Yeah, yeah. As fun as video games are, something like Red Dead 2 and all that, they are amazing, like playing a movie, but you have to kind of make yourself do a little bit of whatever kind of art that turns you on. That’s the secret to feeling more fulfilled. Just my opinion, throwing in a bit of, you know, a bit of sense in there. Makin’ it make a little sense for everybody.
SM: Absolutely. I totally agree. Well, they did send me along Doom Room, so I screened that and the review should be up for that pretty soon as well. That one kind of blew me away, actually. It is a pretty intense allegory, not what I was expecting going into it; especially the first 30 minutes. I also didn’t know it was based on a true story. How did you tap into that role? The Husband is a pretty nasty character, but the Wife character is a bit of Jekyll and Hyde. What did you have to tap into to feel that role?
DR: Yes. Good point. Just like in real life, this woman who was part of the husband and wife that abducted this young lady and kept her under their bed for seven years…that’s the true-life story part of it…they let her out for like an hour a day. That really happened in real life! This is sort of told from the perspective of one of the characters – we’ll just put it that way not to give out too much information. The Wife character that I play definitely has more of a subservient side with her husband because he’s the alpha, obviously, in that relationship. So, she will do whatever it takes to please him. When he’s not around, though, she can take it out on this young girl. Both her anger or frustration or need to dominate. This happens to a lot of people in real life. If you watch true crime and somebody’s with a partner that’s abusive, they can have those two sides where they are also abused in their own way. But if they’re left alone with a victim then they become an abuser. So, I kind of know that this is true and it’s human nature to be this way. It really wasn’t as hard as you’d think once you get into the headset of who this woman was and the dynamics with the husband, it was kind of easy to be pissed off and angry and wanting to, you know, victimize the victim when left alone. It’s hard to describe, but you know where I’m going with this.
SM: Yeah, I understand.
DR: In true crime, you see these types of people all the time and why they are that way.
SM: Yeah, the victim is really the only one you can take it out on, so…
DR: Exactly! And it’s horrible. It’s nasty and it’s terrible, but it happens quite often. Quite often. So, that’s how I sort of rationalized and understood the character to be. If I didn’t do that, and I didn’t do that strongly, I wouldn’t be doing the character, the movie, or even whatever amount that you want to tip your hat to the true-life story justice. I had to go full out and be kind of nuts with it.
SM: So true. I also got a little kick out of your character. My brain kept mixing up Magenta from The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Angela from Night of the Demons.
DR: [laughs loudly] Yes! Yes! That’s so funny! It’s funny that you say that, especially the Night of the Demons reference. It’s the second or third time that I’ve heard that, so obviously it’s ringing a bell with everyone and is very much true since people keep saying that. Um, you’ve seen the movie, so you’re in a position that most people I’ve spoken to so far aren’t, but I will say this: the Wife thinks she is being shown from not a realistic perspective but another character’s, the victim’s, perspective through her mind’s eye, so she is symbolically a wife. She’s always in a wedding dress. It’s from inside the mind of the victim. It’s not like this is what this woman wears everyday…
SM: Yeah, she’s not always rocking a wedding dress every time she does these horrible things. It’s so obvious it’s subtle, and I didn’t pick up on it.
DR: Yeah, it’s the same with the husband and everybody else. They’re all so symbolic, the look of them and how they behave. It’s just really strongly from the perspective of the victim’s mind’s eye, not reality-based. Think of Alice in Wonderland mixed with Last House on the Left or whatever example one wants to use.
SM: That’s a pretty heavy mix.
DR: That is a very heavy mix, very heavy.
SM: Anytime you start getting into Last House you’re getting into pretty heavy territory.
DR: Yeah, well it doesn’t show quite the raw, brutal stuff that Last House on the Left did.
SM: Very few films ever have, really.
DR: Oh, my God…for sure. I still find it to be disturbing enough that you get the point of the story across pretty good.
SM: It definitely did. Not going necessarily into that grisly Last House territory gave it a little more of a fairy tale sort of feel to it.
DR: Yes! That’s exactly what the writers, Carl and John (John also being the director), wanted to do a sort of weird walking-the-fence-between-a-couple-of-different-realities thing. I think they did that pretty well. I think it’s a very unique movie, I have to say. It’s incredibly unique, and to be able to create something like this from a true story that it was based on and not just jump into the typical sort of Gacy, under-the-floorboards type of dirty and grimy world and do a 180 and come at it from such a very different angle just goes to show the art; I mean, they made it so artful. It’s such a horrible, horrifying story, and they made such a great piece of art out of it in my opinion, anyway. I’m excited for people to see it. I really am.
SM: Another thing I know you talked about a lot in the past is the major change – not just in horror, but the business in general – is the rise of the streaming services and how that’s really changed independent film (especially in horror). Do you feel like the streaming services are helping low-budget or hindering more than helping? They’ve just changed the game so much in terms of how the product gets out now.
DR: It’s funny because the bottom line is that whether you want to or not, you can’t change progress. I’m not saying we want to, but I’m saying even if we wanted to, we can’t. So, we’re in a situation where the question is how do we embrace this? So it depends on who you speak to. Many people that I speak to that have their movies streaming are being seen on the services and it’s a wonderful thing, but they don’t make any money off it whatsoever. It’s a couple of cents a stream at best unless you get picked up and given an advance by someone like Netflix, for example, a company that really has money to dish out. To stream on Amazon Prime or iTunes or one of these services you’re looking literally at a couple of cents per stream. You’d have to do such an incredible volume to come anywhere near close to making your budget back. If you are an indie that’s relying on people just to pick it up, the theaters are not happening and all these other elements are not happening. That changes the field. For example, with Torment Road, which is the second movie I’m directing, the budget is far less than what the first one was. When you do your own film and you say really what you want to say and you’re not just taking formulas to what’s selling well and you’re actually – whether it’s smart or not smart or whatever the hell it is – just making your movie because you have something you want to say; you should actually be working with as little money as possible! Seriously! Because trying to make that money back; it’d be great to have a hundred-thousand dollars and make a small movie with that and not in the tens of thousands, but the question is, “Will you make the money back”? Let me say this: the equation used to be, with physical media and not streaming, is that you could make your money back on an independent movie in approximately 10 years.
SM: 10 years?!
DR: Yes. 10 years after the release. If you didn’t get an advance and it’s not a crazy-big success out the gate (which is very rare), the typical indie movie that has even a lot of fans takes about 10 years to make the budget back. Now with the streaming and it being such a smaller little bit of money, because it is so cheap to stream, right?
DR: There’s no physical media that you’re buying. You’re just owning or renting on your computer or TV. So, that is great for the consumer by the way because it doesn’t take up any wall space if you’re not a collector, um…
SM: That’s so true! I can’t remember the last time I bought physical media, to be honest.
DR: And that’s the way it’s going. It’s just nicer and cleaner and people love it because they don’t have to dedicate an entire room in their house for movies anymore.
SM: I hate to say that, though, in a way. I love my collection – my massive stacks of Troma DVD’s and the special edition this and the 4K restoration that. They’re special, but when you can just hit the button and watch, it’s so much easier.
DR: Yeah! See? It’s like, I’m agreeing with you because that is incredible and convenient. I guess I’m saying I don’t know what the equation is anymore. It’s yet to be seen, what it will take to make money that way.
Watch out for part two of Stuart's interview with Debbie, coming later this week! In the meantime, make sure you keep up with Debbie at her official pages:
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