Science Fiction Filme) First of all, I would like to thank you for your time doing this Interview. I think you´re work have got a huge fan base here in Germany. Especially because for films like DEAD & BURIED, POLTERGEIST III and VICE SQUAD of course. A lot of movie maniacs know the films you´re involved. Could you please tell us what you did before you come into filmbusiness. Why have you choose the way of being into directing/ writing?
Gary Sherman) I have been a filmmaker since I was 17 years old, so I guess what I did before becoming a filmmaker was to grow up. As a kid, I never imagined or wanted to become a filmmaker. I knew I wanted to be an artist and was constantly in search of a medium. When I chose a college it was the Institute of Design, which was called the new Bauhaus. When Hitler expelled Moholy Nagy and the other Bauhausians from Germany, they came to Chicago and created ID. Like the Bauhaus, your first year you are immersed in all kinds of art. First I discover photography and then I found an old Arriflex in a storage closet. Together those things determined my fate.
SFF) You were working on very different kind of movies. Sometime very frightening ones like DEAD & BURIED or DEATH LINE and sometimes very thrilling like in WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE. Where did you get your inspiration from and do you have some basic preparation for a movie?
GS) Except for a Poltergeist III, which I’ll explain later, all of my films, whether horror or action, are essentially political. I am very much a political animal and found that these genre allowed socio-political messaging without having to be preachy. So, I always looked for stories that would allow me those possibilities.
SFF) Do you have any personal idols or role models in your business? Is there a movie or an event which make you think: “I want to do the same thing.”?
GS) My idols are a long list and quite varied. Alfred Hitchcock. Roman Polanski. Bob Fosse. Sergei Eisenstein. Mike Nichols. Charlie Chaplin. Costa-Gravas. Luis Bunuel. Andrei Tarkovsky. Joseph von Sternberg. Frank Capra. And many others. I was already making film before really discovering most of them, but all have made films that make me say, “I wish I had made that.”
SFF) I have read that you were also a musician back in the days and you were involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Is that correct and what exactly did you do in this tension time?
GS) Music was a medium I dabbled in before discovering film. And, as I said, I was, and continue to be very political. But considering the state of the world today, whatever I did then was certainly not enough. It is our duty to continue the fight to make this a better world for every person regardless of color, race or religion.
SFF) Your movies had often a dark matter and some kind of scary atmosphere. Do you process personal opinions/ fears in your movies? Is that something leftover from the Civil Right Movement?
GS) From a very young age, I was always in touch with my fears. Having grown up in Chicago, a city where murder and violence were daily headlines, one becomes very aware of deep seated emotions. I definitely have a darker side which I use in my work. People who meet me are extremely surprised at how gentle I am in person. When I was introduced to Robert Shaye, founder of New Line, he looked at me and said, “Vice Squad Gary Sherman?” I nodded. He said, “No fucking way!”
SFF) I have a guilty pleasure named POLTERGEIST III. Really, I believe it´s a very good movie. What do you think about this movie and what do you say to critics that doesn´t like the film?
GS) I am very proud of the effects. It is probably one of the last major films to be made using all practical effects, no CGI or opticals. Aside from that, it is not one of my favorite films and I don’t blame most critics, who don’t understand technical challenges, for not liking the film. I think Brian Taggert and I never really achieved our goal for the script nor did I “save it” in production. Losing Heather didn’t help my ill feelings toward this film either.
SFF) You were working with so many talented people like Rutger Hauer or John Alcott. From whom you have learned the most and why?
GS) I try to choose people to work with who I will learn from, that is very important to me. I chose Geoff Foote to cut Death Line because of his experience. He was in his mid-60s, I was in my early 20s. When I said to him, “How do you want to work?” He replied, “You’re the boss, you tell me.“ “You must have a way of working that you’ve established, you’ve cut tons of movies. “ I said. Geoff shook his head, “Nope. When I have a set way and stop learning new ones, that’s the day I’m going to retire.” That was one of many lessons I learned from Geoff.
SFF) What do you like the most: producing, writing or directing?
GS) I love all of them. And now that I’m semi-retired, what I really love is judging film festivals and getting to meet and speak with young filmmakers. There’s a lot they can teach me.
SFF) We all have our favorite movies. Mine is PHASE IV for example. But which movies do you really don´t like and why?
GS) I’d rather not name names but will describe three kinds of films I despise:
Number 1 - Torture Porn. This bastardization of the horror genre is what drove me away from horror. I am happy to see it losing popularity and going away.
Number 2 - Pretentious, self-indulgent films that only reflect the ego of the director. I truly believe that our obligation to our audience is to make films for them, not for ourselves.
Number 3 - Films made by supposed “filmmakers” who have not taken the time to learn and respect the skills of our trade.
SFF) What is your opinion about education to become an expert in directing? Is there any requirement or talent you need to have next to enthusiasm?
GS) I believe #3 in my previous answer gives a strong clue to my answer to this question. The simplest answer is this: We can not create a great future without having deep knowledge and respect for history. Study what has been done. Learn the art of the masters. After you’ve done that, create your own.
SFF) What are your future projects?
GS) I have several irons in the fire but I’ve learned not to discuss any project until the 2nd week of principal photography. They are not real until then. LOL! Actually what I’m most interested and actively pursuing patently is setting up a website to be a forum where I can give back: answer the questions of, and help guide, young filmmakers. I will be announcing my plans for this shortly. In the meantime, if there are any genre festivals in Germany who would like to invite me to be a judge, please just ask. Germany is one country I have never been invited to be a judge.
SFF.) Dear Mr. Shermanl. I thank you immensely for taking time doing this interview and wish you all the best for your future movie making.
GS) Thank You! Great questions!