OLIVER ROBINS INTERVIEW
Interview conducted by Steve Pattee
Having started in the film industry at just ten years old, Oliver Robins is perhaps best known to horror fans as Robbie in Poltergeist. Since being attacked by a clown and nearly killed by a tree, Oliver has moved on to working behind the lens as an award-winning writer and director. Recently, he has started a new business, KeyTagsRUs.com, and took some time to sit down with us to tell what it's all about.
Steve Pattee: Your first major motion picture role was in arguably one of the greatest horror movies, Poltergeist. When did it hit you that this movie was going to be a big deal?
Oliver Robins: The future success of the film was confirmed for everyone after we all saw the dailies. There was a certain magic that was happening on set and that was translating onto the screen – it was like lighting in a bottle with that production team. You couldn't do much better with our amazing cast, that script, and the production team of Mr. Speilberg and Mr. Hooper. Everyone brought something unique to the process and that made for an original heartfelt film that touched a chord with audiences. My personal feeling why Poltergeist has had the staying power of the last thirty years is that Poltergeist is not your typical horror film – it taps into feelings, emotions, and the stuff of a family drama. Because when you distill the essence of Poltergeist's power, it roots out of a mother's love for her daughter and that is the driving force behind the movie.
SP: Do you have a favorite story from the set?
OR: Too many to count. We became a family on that production, and we were sad to see it end. If there was one story I'd like to share, it's this... Long after we wrapped every day, I used to hang out and watch the production process. I became fascinated with the entire movie-making process, and that fascination soon became my passion – I knew that I wanted to tell stories. I showed Steven some of my early films, and he offered to upgrade my equipment to an amazing Beaulieu 5000s Super 8 camera, a top-of-the line camera. I'll never forget the day he brought the silver case with that gem of a camera to the set, and said, "It's yours, kid... keep shooting." It was one amazing gift to receive from your hero. I continued to use that camera through film school at USC...well, until it was stolen during a night shoot. But that's another story altogether. Sidenote: If the person is out there has my camera, please contact me to return it as your earliest convenience. Thanks.
SP: In the trivia section on your IMDB page, it says there was almost a catastrophe when filming the famous clown scene in Poltergeist. Apparently, the puppet's arms were so tightly wrapped around your neck you couldn't breathe and it wasn't until Spielberg saw your face turning blue that he realized you were in trouble. Is that true?
OR: Well, I've heard that story, but I honestly can't remember what happened on that fateful day with the infamous clown doll. My guess is that I must have blacked out during that traumatic moment. And now I must rely upon witnesses to account for the events that took place.
SP: Walking away from that film, did you have a fear of clowns? What about trees?
OR: I started production with an extreme fear of all things that went bump in the night. During the audition, the casting agent, Mike Fenton, asked me, "Oliver, what are you scared of?" And I basically ran down a laundry list of my fears and they included trees, clown dolls, dark spaces, and everything you can imagine about "scary stuff." My understanding is that I described exactly what my character Robbie was afraid of – I was living, breathing version of Steven's character. So, I did not leave the production with a fear of clowns and trees, but only tapped into those terrors that were already part of me.
SP: I recently watched Poltergeist II: The Other Side and found I still dig it. Julian Beck is as terrifying in it as I remembered. In addition to many of the actors returning from the first movie, Poltergeist II also stars Will Sampson of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest fame. Overall, it's a very impressive cast, something you don't see often in sequels (especially horror movie sequels). What was it like to be on set with so much talent? And if you have a Julian Beck story, please share!
OR: I was amazed that I had the opportunity to work with these super talents – they were kind and good people that truly loved their craft. They taught me a thing or two about being a professional and what that entails. They treated everyone on set with respect, and always had an understanding of the importance of other crew member's jobs. I don't have a particular Julian Beck story, but I was actually afraid of him... well, when they were rolling the cameras. He instantly transformed into the ghoulish preacher character, and when the director called 'cut', he once again reverted back to a lovely, sweet man. Talk about a super talent!
SP: You have done your own fair share of film directing. Growing up, you worked with some legendary filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper, did they have an impact in your own work?
OR: I must credit those two individuals with giving me the courage to follow my dream of making movies. As everyone knows, the film industry is one of the industries where it's folks jobs to say "no", and that is when you pitch them an idea. That's probably one of the reasons why you hear so many stories of filmmaking sharing their tales of the decade or more it took to get their project off the ground. Those guys taught me that you should follow your passion and never give up on your dreams.
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SP: Recently you have started a new venture, KeyTagsRUs.com. Can you explain what that's all about?
OR: KeyTagsRUs.com started as a fluke. I never planned on producing horror and pop culture key tags, but it just kind of happened. I was attending a horror convention, and a Poltergeist fan asked, "Do you have anything that I can take home as a souvenir?" I gave him a picture, but there was a real need for some kind of a paraphernalia from the movie, and apparently there was none to be had. And one of my smarter pals had the idea of selling an old fashioned motel keytag with Cuesta Verde on it. And at that moment, KeytagsRUs.com was born. Being a fan of horror and pop culture in general, I sat down and came up with next to 30 concepts for key tags, all inspired from my favorite movies. Now we have key tags inspired from Back to the Future, Jaws, Motel Hell, Friday the 13th, and much more. Sorry, if that kind of sounds of like an info-mercial, but I make no excuses for shameless promotion in the name of awesomeness. As you can tell we are definitely fans of our products...and I have set of key tags for each of my keys.
SP: I love the nostalgic design of these. I remember these key tags growing up, so someone like me is an easy customer. Do you worry about capturing the market of a group who did not grow up with these in their life?
OR: As the world becomes more complex, complicated, and we have the need for various gadgets to keep our lives in our order, it's nice to reach back to back to our past and think of a simpler time. Part of that quest into our nostalgic past is utilizing simple "things" that don't require passcodes or LCD screens. You put your keys on one of our keyrings, and you get the simplicity of just having quick access to your keys, and a flutter of warmth, reminding us all of a good times from our youth – each of key tags remind of us a movie that is dear to our heart... and possibly scared the heck out of us.
SP: Including some sweet key tags inspired by Route 66, James Bond, Batman, and more, you have horror key tags inspired by Christine, Psycho, The Thing, Friday the 13th, Poltergeist (naturally), Jaws, Motel Hell, The Shining, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and more. One of my favorite things about these designs is the subtlety. For example, the Christine key tag simply says "Darnell's Autowrecking Repair & Fix your Car, Rockbridge, CA" on the front and "The Do it Yourself Garage" on the back. The people who know will know, and those who don't, won't. It's like you're a member of an exclusive secret club when you have these. Was the subtlety an intention from the beginning?
OR: I wanted these key tags to be designed for the true fan of these movies. Most of the locations and taglines were inspired by the original title, and might not even exist in the actual film. For instance, for our Jaws inspired keytag, we came up with an AMITY SURF INN. In that tour de force horror film, there is no actual location, but we'd like to think it could have existed. Maybe when Brody's family visited from Manhattan, they could have stayed at that quaint bed and breakfast. Or there was never a Cuesta Verde development real estate development company, but maybe that's where Steven Freeling actually worked. In many ways, we've come up with the ultimate kind of "fan fiction" for these titles and carries on the mythology and builds on the universe of the stories.
SP: Currently there are almost 20 horror-themed key tags in your catalogue. Do you have more planned? Any hints of what we can expect?
OR: At this moment we actually have around 30 inspired pop culture inspired key tags, and I've shamelessly listed them below. In terms of future creations, we can't tell you what might find on the shelves in the not too distant future. We have to have keep some secrets. Kidding aside, our creative process is somewhat random – if we see something that strikes a chord, we try to create a key tag that rings true to fans, and at the same time, is a little subtle for those who are really in the know about that film or show.
- Bates Motel
- Camp Crystal Lake
- Korova Milk Bar
- Westin Hill Institute
- Smallville Hotel
- Tiffany Hotel & Suites
- Route 66 Motel
- Cuesta Verde Realty
- Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters
- Crossroad's Motel
- U.S. National Science Institute Station
- Hostel Sulekova
- Biff's Pleasure Paradise Hotel
- The Sands
- Dunes Motel
- Stardust Motel
- Darnell's Garage
- Slaughtered Lamb Pub
- Amity Surf Inn
- Gotham Hall of Justice
- Motel Hello
- Woodbury Inn
- Hotel California
- Great Northern Hotel
- Hotel Money Penny
- Pussycat Motel
- Sawyer Family BBQ
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SP: In addition to key tags, you also have shot glasses, door hangers, notepads and a few other items in your catalog. What does the future hold for KeyTagsRUs?
OR: We would absolutely love for our keytags to be available in every comic and book shop across the country...and maybe even the world. The key tags are currently for sale online and in stores in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Chapel Hill, Austin, Miami, and New York City. Our focus right now is with the key tags, and you'll probably see less of the other doo-dads in the near future. It would be fantastic to work with filmmakers on keytags even before their movies come out, and have the key tags ready for a film's release.
SP: Right now you have some combos where people can buy multiple key tags or in some cases, key tags with some other cool stuff, at a discounted price. Are there any plans to let the customer make up their own mix and match?
OR: We are definitely open to suggestions from customers – if they dream up a key tag combo, just give us a holler via email, and I'm certain we make that "fantasy combination" of key tags happen at a great pirce. What can I say...we aim to please.
HorrorTalk would like to thank Oliver for taking the time to speak with us. If you are looking for a cool gift for that horror fan, or even that fan of unique things, make sure to check out KeyTagsRUs.com!
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