Mike was interviewed by Toyfare magazine a while back. Here’s an excerpt:
Do you find that you have a lot more freedom with RiffTrax?
Well you certainly do in terms of rights, because all rights issues are taken away. Back when we were on Mystery Science Theater, people would always say, “You should do Titanic,” but I don’t think they realized that Universal and Fox are not going to give us the rights to that. So we tried to find those obscure movies that would be fun. This is the other side of it, for the people who wanted to see those movies, which are like B-movies but they cost 40 million dollars.
Read the rest here: http://www.wizarduniverse.com/magazine/toyfare/005931590.cfm
Kevin was interviewed by Newsarama. You can read the whole thing here: http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?t=129929
Admit it. Hadn’t there been a time, whether munching on popcorn in a theater or bathed in the cool blue light of your home system, when you just cut a comment on what you’re watching? Even better, you end up causing more laughter than the film itself? Best yet, the film is trying to be serious?
Admit it. You know you have. If not, you know someone who did. It’s a common movie experience. It’s as ingrained into the cinematic experience as rooting for the hero, throwing something at the screen or just making out. It happens in old grindhouses, movie palaces, cookie cutter complexes and now even IMAX theaters.
Bill Corbett, Kevin Murphy and Mike Nelson, now known as The Film Crew, have made such commentary part of their collective life work. We first met them on TV, when they were Mystery Science Theatre 3000, where their commentary literally took films like Plan 9, Bloody Mama or some rubber suit monster hoot and gave them entirely new meaning with their side comments.
Now, thanks in part to Shout Factory! they’re doing it again under the name of The Film Crew. So far they’ve skewered an incredibly awful sci-fi chiller starring a young Peter Graves called Killers From Space, a not-quite ancient noir featuring not-really-that young Rue McClanahan in her skivvies, and The Wild Women of Wongo which stars a very buxom Adrienne Bourbeau (no, not THAT Adrienne Barbeau). A fourth film, a sword-and-sandals effort entitled Giant of Marathon, starring a heavily greased Steve Reeves, is slated for October.
Yet to paraphrase a certain fave animated porcine pal, that ain’t all folks. Mssrs. Corbett, Murphy and Nelson have also set up an online facility where they take on any film they want to, including those not in the public domain, under the name of RiffTrax. Their renting and rendering of comic book classics such as The Batman, any of the Superman films and now Frank Miller’s 300 compelled us at Newsarama to suss them out and pop a few cherry cokes and Ju Ju Bes with them. Fortunately, the Crew’s eldest member, Kevin Murphy, complied.
For those who don’t know. Murphy is the veteran member of the team, having done MST3K for nine years (he was the voice of Tom Servo). From there he went on to author an absolutely fabulous book about going to a different movie theater every day for a year. Naturally, he’s done a lot, lot more, but we’ll let you find that out on your own.
In the meantime, here’s what he had to say. So turn down the lights, make yourself comfortable, and get the projector rolling.
Newsarama: How did MST3K transform into The Film Crew?
Kevin Murphy: There was a long time inbetween when I wasn’t doing any film commentary. I was doing books on movies. I did some National Public Radio. Bill Corbett, Mike Nelson and I sort of rebanded together as the Film Crew in part to do a pilot for a project for NPR, a movie review show.
We had a lot of fun doing it. Of course, we have what you may call a very left-handed approach to it. I think National Public Radio had a problem with it because it was funny. They didn’t know quite how to handle that. So that didn’t work out.
However, at the same time, Mystery Science Theater DVDs started coming out and we had done some video interviews for Rhino Home Video who did them. Also, Mike was working for a company called Legend Films, where he was doing commentary on his own. So it just seemed like the logical thing that we get back together. There was still a market for what we did and they really missed us and were looking for some new product. This way we could again explore those rare old “chestnuts” that we constantly are made aware of.
NRAMA A little moldy but who cares, eh?
KM That’s right.
NRAMA: Now where do you find these films? I mean I had seen of Killers From Space, only heard of Wild Woman of Wongo but had a clue about Hollywood After Dark.
KM: Well, it’s the backwaters, you know? Down there in Florida you got the Everglades. That being the case, these films are from the mosquito-laden backwaters of cinema. They are very difficult to find and there’s a reason for that. Many times a very good reason for that.
We also get a lot of help from the folks of Sinister Cinema, which is still one of the best collections of similar dear old things; good, bad or otherwise. We look for things that are in the public domain, and there are not a lot of those left these days. So we not only have to find films that no one had laid claims to, but films that nobody would ever want to lay claim to, period.
I personally had never seen anything like Wild Women of Wongo before. I now tell people if you ever had the hots for Betty Rubble or Wilma Flintstone, this is for you.
NRAMA: I remember looking at the film credits and seeing one member of the cast was named “Adrienne Bourbeau.” It took me some research to realize it wasn’t the “Adrienne Barbeau” most people think of.
KM: Yes! You would think there wouldn’t be too many, but it turns out there was more than one.
NRAMA: As for Killers From Space, as a kid I was a big fan of horror movie hosts and I’m sure I saw Ghoulardi or The Ghoul present that one. Were you a similar fan of them?
KM: Those guys with the black leotards and the ping pong eyes are kind of iconic in the sci-fi world. We had looked at it for MST3K but we just weren’t able to fit it into a season. So we jumped on it when the opportunity presented itself again. Besides, not only do you have the aliens, but you also have Peter Graves and immense, giant lizard and spiders. It’s perfect.
As for the old horror movies shows, I’m from Chicago and we had two shows to select from. We had Creature Feature, which was on WGN on Friday nights. They had some of the good old monster movies like the Universal library. Then there was also Screaming Yellow Theater, which had a host named Jerry G. Lewis, who also called himself Svenghoulie.
NRAMA: I heard of him!
KM: Yes. He looked like a hippie related to Dracula. It was a real odd combination and I just loved it. I thought, ‘Boy what a job!’ I could just fart around all day, watch television, and come up with these routines at night. Those guys seemed to have had the best jobs in the world. I always focussed on that.
NRAMA: I guess it would be safe to say you are an aficionado of the movie experience. You have even written a book, A Year At The Movies—One Man’s Filmgoing Oddyssey, about it.
KM: That was great fun. I promised, and pretty much fulfilled that promise of going to a movie theater and seeing a movie for every single day of an entire year, and chronicling the results. It was great fun.
NRAMA: To you what is the movie experience?
KM: It’s varied. For me I want the experience of going to the movie to be every bit as enjoyable as the movie itself. Sometimes it ends up being better. It’s nicely varied.
One thing though is I love watching movies in the outdoors. In San Diego they still have an outdoor theater where you walk in, sit in a lounge chair and watch movies under the stars. It’s wonderful. There’s also one of those in Broome, Australia and in Mexico. It’s one of those ways of seeing movies that have been lost. In New York City they have a pier where you can do something very similar as part of the Tribeca Film Festival.
Now I also love the movie palaces and the IMAX experience. I only wish they would get better films in the IMAX theaters. I found back seat and in the center is the way to go there.
Anyway, I think a movie theater should be more than just a dark box with a comfortable seat. To me, that is part of the history of cinema.
NRAMA: Did you go to your equivalent of the 42nd Street theaters to see the old chop socky films?
KM: Oh YEAH! In Chicago, there was a theater called the Stately theater that showed all the old great grindhouse movies. You would wear your cheapest shoes because by the time the films were over they were fused to the floor.
NRAMA: So how are the DVDs going for you guys?
KM: They seem to be getting great results. The folks at Shout Factory! are still waiting to see if they will order more. But they have been good strong sellers and I keep getting emails from people saying “Thank you and welcome back!” That’s very encouraging for me.
NRAMA: Now how would you compare RiffTrax to Film Crew?
KM: Now RiffTrax is the 21st Century version of movie commentary. It’s a podcast that you download. From there you play the RiffTrax commentary in synch with the movie. It’s actually quite easy to do. It basically involves the ability to push two remote control buttons at the same time.
What this allows us to do is give us freedom from copyright violations when we do commentary. So now we can make fun of any film we want to with no restrictions whatsoever.
NRAMA: What got us interested is you do a number of comic book-based movies on RiffTrax. I guess superhero movies are just begging for your commentaries.
KM: (Laughs) They most certainly are! What started it all is we did Daredevil and it brought the house down. It was so popular that we went to a theater and did it live.
NRAMA: And you don’t get in trouble because there is a charge for the download, so organizations like Sony get paid when you do Spiderman.
KM: What has happened is everybody wins. We’ve been told that because of us people rent the movies more. I also believe that because of RiffTrax, people rented Daredevil who never would have rented it before.
NRAMA: Any other comic-oriented film you think you did a particularly good job on?
KM: I love what we did with 300. That was great fun. It really was begging for us, wasn’t it? One of my personal favorite these days is The Wicker Man with Nicholas Cage. That movie was so bad and so incomprehensible that it all came out there on the screen. It’s just so silly. That’s what I really love about the RiffTrax. It now allows us to take on anything our hearts desire.
NRAMA: So is that doing all right?
KM: It’s doing great. It’s grown into another, separate department . We’ve even just developed a do-it-yourself RiffTrax department where Mike, Bill and I had recorded a number of different things, simply random comments, and you can piece them together to make your own RiffTrax. You can waste hours doing this.
NRAMA: So it sounds like you, Bill and Mike are keeping yourselves real busy.
KM: It’s a lot of fun. It’s great to work with those guys again. I’ve never had more fun in show business than when I’m working with those guys. I’m really glad we can continue doing it.