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Joe Dante Interview

Director Joe Dante’s CV spans from the original Piranha in 1978 to classics like The ‘Burbs and Gremlins. Recently in London to talk about his latest film, The Hole, Dante spoke to View’s Matthew Turner about 3D, giant piranhas and scary movies.

Where did the idea for The Hole come from, first of all?
Joe Dante (JD): Well, The Hole is a script written by Mark L. Smith, who wrote a picture called Vacancy, which I recommend. And it was at a company called Bold and they called me in and I read it and I'm sure there were a lot of other contenders for the job but somehow I got the job and I suggested that they make the picture in 3D, which I thought they would laugh at me about, but they seriously considered it and decided that maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea.

The script was much superior to the general run of horror movie scripts certainly and just scripts in general that I had gotten, partly because I felt the characters were really well delineated and the kids sounded like real kids, in that they didn't sound like they just came off the Disney Channel. And also the solution to the story, what was really in the hole, was quite unexpected for me and surprisingly poignant. I didn't realise that it was going to be that level of drama in the movie when I started it.

So I thought, you know, this is a little offbeat and you're always looking for something that's a little different. I mean, it's got many elements that I've used before in other pictures – you know, there really are only so many elements in these movies and generally you throw them up in the air and try to get them to land in a pleasing arrangement, so people feel that they've seen something new. But I thought that this really did sort of deliver something different.

Given your relationship with Roger Corman and particularly your film Matinee, which is all about William Castle and gimmicks like vibrating seats, what are your feelings towards 3D in general?
JD: Well, there's the gimmick side of it that has been exploited for years, but I also feel that it has a practical use, which I think you saw in Avatar and we tried to do here and Hitchcock did in Dial M For Murder, which is my template for the way I tried to do the 3D here, which is that you can draw the audience into your story - you can, in effect wrap your story around them and make them feel like they're in the set with the actors. And that's not a showy thing to do but I think that when it's done right, it's an immersive thing that makes the picture seem a little bit more involving. Now, I don't know that it works for every movie and I wouldn't suggest that every movie be done in 3D, although apparently every movie has been converted to 3D [laughs].

That's a whole other question.
JD: Well, that's a sad commentary, because people go into these converted movies which look like shit and they're being disappointed and they're coming out with headaches and they're saying, 'Forget this 3D thing'. And now here we are, ironically, with the best iteration of 3D we've ever had – the easiest to work with, the easiest to watch, the easiest to show – and they're going to still kill it by their greedy insistence on tacking another five dollars onto some movie they already made that they think they can get more money from. And I think it's just suicidal.

On a related note, have you seen Piranha 3D?
JD: I haven't seen it. I was asked to be in it, couldn't do that. I know that they didn't shoot it in 3D because they were worried that the digital cameras would melt in the heat, which is a legitimate worry. But then I heard that their 3D was so difficult to do in post-production that they had to push back the release date for several months, which affected me, in that the reissue of the Piranha DVD was key to their release, so that long ago, now it just came out. It's a great DVD. And I hear it's extremely gruesome and otherwise not much like my picture.

It's not like yours, no. My biggest complaint about it was that they didn't have the piranha noise. I love the piranha noise in Piranha. They don't have that at all.
JD: [laughs] A corral of dentist drills?

Actually, the post-production 3D in Piranha 3D isn't that bad, compared to, say, Clash of the Titans or The Last Airbender.
JD: Well, I think that probably, one of the reasons is because it was so bright. They're out on the water, there's the sun. The very reasons why they couldn't shoot in digital probably made it better for the conversion. Their fish look a little funny though. I mean, I was expecting much better CGI than that. I was so envious, thinking, 'God, they've got these millions of fish, these big schools, we couldn't do that' and then I looked at them and they looked so fakey.

Luckily, they released Mega-Piranha just before, so the piranhas in Piranha 3D don't look so bad compared to that.
JD: [laughs] That has the funniest trailer. I mean, that giant Buick-sized piranha?

Unfortunately, those movies are all in the trailer.
JD: I know. Well, Sharktopus is coming out, so don't miss that. That has a great trailer.

Do you have a favourite scene in The Hole?
JD: I have a scene that was hard to shoot, which was the scene with the puppet, but it's not my favourite scene, because I found myself on this freezing sound stage in Vancouver, working with this damn puppet, saying to myself, 'How the hell do I get myself into these situations? Another goddamn puppet'. I mean they're really hard to shoot, you've got the puppeteer with these rods and then you've got the green screen and then you've got to take it out and you've got the kid fighting against nothing and then you've got the dummy puppet and it's like, 'Oh God', it's like, 'Been here, done that'. But the scene's okay. I don't know, I guess the last scene – the scene in the hole is about as good as it can be, given our limited resources.

The film is obviously about fears. Can you remember the first and last things you saw at the cinema that really scared you?
JD: Well, the first thing that really scared me – everybody was really scared by the witch in Snow White. You ask everybody their first scary thing, it's a Disney movie, it's always a Disney movie, because that's the first thing people take their kids to. Then later for me it was giant ants and giant spiders and mutations and all that kind of stuff. I was living in a world where we thought that every time a plane flew over, it was going to drop a bomb on us. So that instilled a healthy fear of authority in us.

But as far as a recent movie that scared me, I can't think of anything that was actually scary. I've seen some pretty revolting stuff and I've seen some stuff that made me jump, which is not hard to do, but as far as chilling, like really spine-chilling, I haven't seen anything like that in a long time. I guess The Others came kind of close. Parts of The Devil's Backbone. I don't know, I think Guillermo [del Toro] is great at that stuff, but it's hard to do. It's hard to scare people. I mean, the real world is so much scarier.

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Content updated: 28/10/2016 11:09

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