Fred Dekker [Interview]
September 23, 2013 2 Comments
One of the greatest things about running this site has to be the intriguing people who I never thought I would ever have the chance to talk to, and then seem to build great (even if they are purely digital) relationships with such intriguing minds. But, what is even betters is when you discover that mutuality of friendships can lead to meeting some other extremely talented and beautiful folks. And, enter Fred Dekker. I originally became interested in talking with Fred mostly about his work on Robocop 3, which I personally consider a fine film and a wonderful addition to the series, despite what some critics might have thought. Yes, this is personal reasons interacting with any sort of reason, but fuck you, I liked the film! And as a I got to look in to Fred’s illustrious career, I realized that he has been behind some familiar and alas brilliant projects that I am also fond of. So, I thought it would be great to ask this giant of a man a few questions. So I did.
I do have to do a full disclosure bit here though: I don’t know a damn thing about Star Trek. And Fred Dekker had a good run during a season of Star Trek: Enterprise, which I simply could not ignore based on the immense popularity of all things Trek like, even I am not personally a fan. Nothing against the series, I just have live a life where I can hardly understand the complexities of human life on this planet, let alone begin to wonder what the hell else is out there. I am simply not that smart. So with that being said, I need to give some credit to some friends I contacted via social networking means who really helped me out. Cherie Stoor Reynolds helped me get things started, and I thank her dearly for doing so. And then my old high school friend (I know I bring them out from time to time) Cody Lyons came in full swing and came up with some wonderful questions garnered from a current life of insight into the world of filmmaking in this day and age. So thank you Cherie and Cody for helping me come up with some great questions for Fred. I owe you a world of gratitude. And if I ever move beyond the distractions of this world, maybe I will find that for you.
On that note: Ladies and Gentlemen…..Mr. Fred Dekker!
How did you come to work with fellow TWS family member Ethan Wiley on the screenplay for the cult horror film House?
I had wanted to be a filmmaker from around the age of 12. By the time Ethan and I became college roommates, I was very serious about it and wanted to come up with a low budget feature to direct. I’d grown up in a spooky-looking Victorian house that my parents still owned, so I had a free set… and I knew the smartest way to keep something cheap is also to have a small cast. So I figured, “One house. One guy. Scary shit. What could be simpler?” Problem is, I never got around to writing the script. All I had were the bare bones of an idea – a haunted Vietnam vet trying to exorcise his personal demons in a house that may or may not also be haunted. I envisioned a very dark, black-and-white, Roman Polanski kind of movie. Because I was slacking, Ethan asked to take a crack at the screenplay and I didn’t have a good reason to say no. His rendering of the story turned out to be much more comical (and probably more commercial) than mine, and when he was done I gave it to Steve Miner, for whom I was writing another script. Steve loved it and gave it to Sean Cunningham. These were, after all, the guys who made the FRIDAY THE 13th movies, so they quickly found the money to make it. The rest, as they say, is history.
I was very excited to get that job, but in retrospect, ROBOCOP 3 may have been a no-win situation. The character’s arc was complete in the first film, and there weren’t a lot of new directions to take him. That said, when I look at “threequels” like GOLDFINGER or BACK TO THE FUTURE III or my friend Shane Black’s IRON MAN THREE, it’s clear that you can make a good one. I think I was hamstrung by the PG-13 rating, for one thing. The studio wanted to appeal to a wider, family audience, and that’s just radically opposed to the spirit of Verhoeven’s universe. The character and his world are grim and violent and savagely satirical, so by toning all that down, we kind of came out of the gate hobbled. I blame myself mostly for a lack of courage, and for not projecting what an audience would want from the movie. I was so enamored of Frank Miller’s script that I didn’t see the forest for the trees. I was also unaware that T2 and JURASSIC PARK were just around the corner and were about to raise the special effects bar for action-adventures to an unprecedented level. So to sum up, I take personal blame for the movie’s drawbacks. It needed to be funnier, more inventive in the action department, and just generally ballsier (within the confines of the studio’s PG-13 family edict). If I’d done that – and maybe brought Nancy Allen back at the end as a kind of “Robo-Bride” to kick some Ninja ass — I think the movie might have worked. But I’m very proud of my cast and a lot of my directing. It was certainly the most enjoyable of my films to make; I just wish everybody didn’t hate it so much.
During your time working on Star Trek: Enterprise, was there a lot of pressure to create a Trek true to Roddenberry’s themes of a utopian society or was the emphasis shifted so they could show cool battles in space?
The producers did seem very keen on a vision of the future where humans were polite, patient, well groomed and emotionally restrained. Or as I call it: boring.
In the Trekkie world, Enterprise sometimes got a bad wrap for attempting to re-write the Star Trek history? Do you believe this to be true or absurd?
Ironic question, because I feel the show was too beholden to Star Trek history! A key reason I wanted to be involved was to tell stories pre-Kirk, pre-Picard, pre-everything we know about Trek canon. I thought it would be a great opportunity to start with a totally clean slate and do a show about the first space explorers with warp drive capability. What would be out there? What life forms would we encounter? Unfortunately, apart from one episode (“Fight or Flight”), I feel like the first season quickly devolved into rehashing all the stuff we’d already seen – Look, more Vulcans! Hey, it’s the Andorians! Oh, no, those darn Ferengi! Yawn. But the cast and crew – and my fellow writers — were fantastic.
I’m not sure, but I’ll hazard some random theories. For one thing, both movies are about outcasts, people on the periphery who are actually smarter and better equipped than the popular crowd. I think a lot of people feel like this (I know I did when I was young) so it’s empowerment for the disenfranchised. Also, on a genre level, sci-fi, horror and humor have always lent themselves to “cult” audiences, and these movies are chock-a-clock with those elements; they’re almost made-to-order! Mostly, it’s that many people discovered these pictures in the dark recesses of late night cable and dusty VHS shelves, so they feel like buried treasures – as opposed to most mainstream movies, which are kind of force-fed to us by the marketing departments. For these reasons, I think people have a special place in their hearts for these films.
What is it that fascinates you about the world of horror films?
To be honest, not a lot. I was interested in monsters and things that go bump in the night when I was a kid, but I’ve gradually grown out of it. I much prefer thrillers, dramas, stories where people have to overcome personal odds, regardless of genre. The truth is, my early films were informed by my youth. I’m a lot older now. In fact, I was over zombies and vampires a LONG time before they became hip again.
How do you think that world has changed since your heyday in the 80’s? Is it better or worse?
Worse by a wide margin. For one thing, the business isn’t run by people who love movies anymore, and I think that shows in the kinds, and quality, of movies that we see now. Executives are so beholden to branding and the bottom line that we rarely see anything new or surprising or even interesting; that’s become the domain of cable TV and independent films. But before I become the annoying old guy complaining about these crazy kids with their Tweeting and their YouTubes, let me ask you to do something: name ten classics from the ‘80s… then name ONE classic from the last five years. While you’re mulling that, think of how many recent films are remakes, retreads or rip-offs of films from the ‘80s.
I rest my case.
What would you personally consider your greatest victory as a man behind the camera, pen, etc.? What has brought you the most pride?
Does marrying my wife count? Of the stuff I’ve done that’s never seen the light of day, I wrote a low budget urban drama in the CRASH/STRAW DOGS vein that I think was very powerful, and I was quite pleased with my JONNY QUEST script, based on the ‘60s animated show. Of my produced work, I’m probably most proud of the scene in CREEPS where the detective (Tom Atkins) tells the kid (Jason Lively) about what happened the night he killed the axe murderer… and I think the last two reels of MONSTER SQUAD are pretty terrific. But the truth is, I feel like I haven’t been afforded the opportunity to do my best work. But here’s hoping! (Insert winky, smily-face emoticon here.)
What does the future hold for you? Any chance you might be getting behind the camera again soon?
From your lips to God’s ears. I’ve been developing things on and off for years, but I finally have an idea I’m really excited about. I just have to find the time to sit down and write it. I’d love it to be my next film (and no, it’s not horror. Sorry.)
What was the last thing that made you smile?
My cat. He talks.