As we explained in our latest podcast, we had the opportunity to interview Tony Earnshaw about his new book Fantastique - Interviews with Horror, Sci-Fi and Fantasy Filmmakers Volume One. The book is available in paperback for £16 +£4 postage and packaging directly from Tony on [email protected] or from this Amazon link. The book's cover design included within the article was designed by Steve Shaw from Great British Horror.
Q1. The book contains a huge variety of filmmakers. Who were your favourite (and least favourite) people to interview?
TE: Undoubtedly my faves were the two Georges – Lucas and Romero. Both of them defined my youth: Lucas with Star Wars (I was 11 when Star Wars was released so I am an original ‘Star Wars Kid’) and Romero with Dawn of the Dead, which had a massive influence on me when I first saw it in 1982. On both occasions I broke my professional rule not to ask for autographs. And with Romero I felt my heart almost bursting through my chest, I was so thrilled to meet him. Quentin Tarantino was a lot of fun. We bonded over bad movies! I also enjoyed the Friedkin interview on The Exorcist. Least favourite? Nobody. I was disappointed not to be able to put my questions to John Carpenter face-to-face – the interview on The Thing was coordinated and filmed by my colleague Mike Justice in Los Angeles – and the Q&A itself is brief. But I’m still glad to be able to include it in FANTASTIQUE. I’m also pleased with some of the newer filmmakers – people like Ben (Kill List) Wheatley and Andre (Troll Hunter) Øvredal. I included those two men because I suspect we will be seeing a lot from them in the future.
Q2. How did you make the decisions for what interviews went into this volume?
TE: I have a massive archive of interviews going back to the 1980s, so I had a lot to choose from. My focus was on films that had made an impact within the genres of horror, sci-fi or fantasy. I cherry-picked some big names – Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan, etc – and then checked the interviews for content. I wanted the Q&As to be insightful and informative. I originally thought of 25 interviews, found myself with 26, and then decided I couldn’t have that number so I included four more and ended up with 30.
Q3. As a fan of horror, sci-fi and fantasy films, do you have to sometimes check your fandom at the door, or do you find a direct engagement with the genre makes for a better interview?
TE: I am a fan, but you can’t gain the trust and respect of a filmmaker if you’re gabbling away like a fanboy or gawping in amazement. I approach every interview from a journalistic perspective: how much time do I have, what subject matter do I need to cover, have I met them before (and do we have a rapport) or are they a stranger and therefore I have to start from scratch? I also prepare the interview to the extent that sometimes I know what they’re going to say before they say it. Professionalism is everything.
Q4. How do you prepare for your interviews and what makes a good interview (either in subject or atmosphere)?
TE: I watch the film (or films) in question, bone up on my existing knowledge, read extensively on the particular subject matter and, if I’ve spoken to the individual before, look back over previous interviews. A good interview is delivered by observing the four Ps: be punctual, be prepared, be professional and be polite. Know your stuff. And if you haven’t seen something, say so. Don’t waffle or try to pretend; just say ‘I haven’t seen that particular project’, even if it’s a big movie. Honesty is the best policy. The rapport is crucial, too. The interview with Quentin Tarantino (for Death Proof) saw me gently mocking his film choices. He loved it. And we laughed a lot.
Q5. It is quite striking in the book that some of the older films mention having closed sets (The Fifth Element in particular) that meant interviews often offered the only access to that process. Do you feel that social media has influenced this in that there are more filmmakers taking control of their own publicity and perhaps not doing so many interviews in favour of live screening Q+As or Reddit AMAs?
TE: Don’t be seduced by the perceived power of social media. Some filmmakers might embrace it but at the end of the day big studios will always control the end result and the PR that goes with it. Live screening Q&As are an interesting concept, though. I’ve been present at those and they often feel very limited and very limiting. Of course as a journalist you can be constrained, too, with aggressive PRs advising what you can and can’t talk about. I’m too old for that now. If that’s the criteria then generally I turn down the interview. (Or if I know the interviewee and have a contact for them, I might just call them direct and cut out the middle-man. That REALLY infuriates the PR team…)
Q6. Furthermore, do you feel that the growth of Kickstarter means that filmmakers are increasingly encouraged to share more snippets of their film directly with viewers? Again, this appears to be happening with more direct contact between filmmaker and audience, rather than with an interviewer.
TE: Kickstarter is relevant when considering some of the (frequently very impressive) independent product that’s out there. But you’ll find the driving force behind filmmaker/audience connectivity is often the big studios (again), especially when using ‘real’ audience reactions to promote movies rather than critics’ reviews. But some of those have also been manufactured, so it does occasionally bite them in the backside. There’s still a need for the independent voice. Good criticism provides that, and solid interviewing by specialists who know their subject.
Q7. If you could ask any filmmaker (living or dead) any question, what would that question be?
TE: A good question, and a difficult one to answer briefly. There are so many I’d like to speak with. I guess I’d go back to the silent period and investigate films like Nosferatu, The Phantom of the Opera and London After Midnight. My filmmakers of
choice would be enigmas like Max Schreck, or the wonderful Lon Chaney. As for questions… hundreds of them!
Q8. What can we expect from volume two?
TE: I’m mulling that over. If I choose to cover more filmmakers then the names will include James (Avatar) Cameron, Roger (Species) Donaldson, Christophe (Brotherhood of the Wolf) Gans, Danny Elfman plus more from George Lucas, Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, Neil Jordan, John Carpenter and Ben Wheatley, all speaking about different films from those featured in Volume I. If I go with actors then it’ll be people such as Gunnar Hansen (on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), Robert Englund (on Freddy Krueger), as well as Sigourney Weaver, Johnny Depp, Milla Jovovich, Jeff Goldblum, Christian Bale, Daniel Radcliffe (on The Woman in Black), Simon Pegg (on Shaun of the Dead) and Sir Anthony Hopkins. I have the potential for about eight volumes covering North American directors, British and Irish directors, Hollywood stars, British character actors, British Horror Filmmakers of the ‘60s and ‘70s and even a book of Harry Potter interviews. That’ll keep me busy for a while.