An Interview with Brett Piper – By Brian Morton

In the land of the b-movie, few men stand as tall as Brett Piper. Now, that may sound like a rather large overstatement, but rest assured, it’s true. Brett Piper writes, directs, does his own special effects, there’s few people who have been in the industry as long as he has and kept his product as consistently great.

I recently had the chance to have a chat with Brett, and found him to be one of the nicest guys in the industry as well.

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 BM – Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, I appreciate it.

BP – No problem.

BM – I’ve just seen Shock O Rama and I have to tell you, I loved it.

BP – Great, thank you.

BM – I’ve seen most of your movies, and I have to tell you…and don’t take this the wrong way, they seem like drive in movies to me.

BP – Yes, they do don’t they?

BM – They’re kind of low budget.

BP – No, they’re very low budget. They’re micro-budget.

BM – But that’s the charm of them.

BP – I think so.

BM – Did you intentionally set out to make them like drive in movies?

BP – I think so, but I think up until the last few years it was done unconsciously. It’s really funny, after I got here, I had a little bit of free time before we started shooting Screaming Dead and EI has a warehouse full of movies, since they’re distributors and I used to take them home just to kill a few hours. And I took home one of the Blood Island movies, one of those John Ashley things he shot in the Philippines, and I watched it and I thought, this is really crappy, but it’s really fun and something clicked in the back of my mind and I thought, you know, all the movies that I really like, were the movies that I saw advertised when I was a kid but never got to see. You know, Fiend Without A Face and The Crawling Eye and when I finally got to see them, I loved them and I finally realized that I’d been making those kinds of movies my whole life and it’s only since I’ve been with EI that I’ve actually been aware of the fact that, yeah, that’s pretty much what I’m doing.

BM – But, when you tell most people ‘low budget’ that evokes a certain meaning that the movie is not that good, it seems that the budget constraints seems to add to your movies.

BP – Right, I think it does. And the movies that really interest me are low budget movies, not that you don’t occasionally see a nice movie out of Hollywood. When I used to read Fangoria all the time, the articles that always interested me were articles with Ray Streckler (director of The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed Up Zombies!?!) and Wyott Ordung (director of Monster From The Ocean Floor) and Herbert Strock (director of I Was A Teenage Frankenstein) and people like that. I want to see what you can do when you’re up against the wall, when you’ve got no money, you’ve got no resources and let’s see what kind of resourcefulness you can pull out of your hat. To me that’s a lot more fascinating a process than anything that’s being done by the big studios.

BM – Yeah, in those situations, it seems like more love is put into the movie.

BP – Yeah, you’re doing it because you want to do it, you’re not doing it because you’re going to get rich. In most cases, you’re not doing it because you’re going to make a living, although fortunately for the last few years, I have been. You’re really doing it because those are the kinds of movies you want to make.

BM – Now you’ve worked with (specifically on Shock O Rama) with Misty Mundae, AJ Khan and Julian Wells, actresses who really don’t get their due as actresses. How do you get these great performances out of them?

BP – You know, they’re just talented people. I don’t do anything special with them. The only thing, maybe, that I do that they don’t ordinarily encounter is that in my movies, they’re real actresses playing real parts and when you give them that opportunity, they’re going to rise to the occasion.

BM – Let’s talk for a minute about special effects. In your movies, I’ve noticed, that you seem to stay clear of cgi, you do most of your own effects in stop motion. Is that due to budget constraints or is that just what you prefer?

BP – It’s both. I don’t have access to those kinds of effects right now. I have tiny, tiny bits of things, there are some things that I do in the computer that I couldn’t do otherwise but primarily I’m using the computer the same way you could’ve used an optical lab twenty years ago, if you’d had the money, only now it’s free. It’s funny, I did a quick effect on Bite Me, just to enhance a scene, I put in snow falling over a shot. I went out back and I set up a black cloth backdrop and I took some coffee mate out of the kitchen and I sprinkled it in the air and I shot it back lit and I super imposed it over the shot and it worked perfectly and took ten minutes and cost NOTHING…it was free. And I said to one of the editors next to me, ten years ago I would’ve had to go to the lab for this and it would have taken two weeks and cost me three thousand dollars but it would have been the same effect. And that’s the difference, I’m doing the effects that I couldn’t afford to do, not that the technology wasn’t there twenty ago, but now the same resources are available to me at a keyboard.

BM – You’ve been making movies for twenty-five years or more. How did you get started in the business?

BP – You know, like everybody else, when I was eleven years old I bought a movie camera and started trying to make movies and they were terrible. And then eventually I made movies and I sold them and they were still terrible but, you know, you learn and hopefully you get better.

BM – And your movies definitely have. In fact, I’m looking forward to your next movie, Bacterium, can you tell us a little bit about it?

BP – Well, everyone’s comparing it to The Blob and I guess there’s a certain amount of truth to that because we have big slimy blob monsters but it reminds me more of some of the British horror movies from the 50s, the science fiction movies like maybe the Quatermass movies and maybe Fiend Without A Face because that’s actually a British movie and even The Crawling Eye, although, bless them they had horrible, horrible effects, I mean, I like that movie, it’s a very good movie, but it has some of the worst miniature effects you’ll ever see and I hope we’re doing better than that, but to me, it’s one of those kind of movies. It’s a thriller in an isolated house that’s been surrounded by unseen government troops because there’s some kind of experiment that’s gotten out of control and it’s centered in this house and there are people there and there’s giant slimy monsters they have to deal with.

BM – I’m really looking forward to seeing it. Who’s your cast for Bacterium?

BP – Well, in this one, I didn’t have access to most of the people I would’ve like to have had, the usual cast of people, so Misty’s not in it and AJ’s not in it and Julian was offered a part but she’s out in California and couldn’t do it. So except for all the small parts, that are played by people that go way back with EI, they’re an all-new cast, people that I’ve never used before.

BM – Anyone in the Bacterium cast that you think is really going to capture the audience’s attention?

BP – You know, I think it’s too soon to say. You have to wait to see how people respond to them but they’re good people, they’re attractive people so we’ll see how it goes.

BM – I’m sure you get this question all the time, but I’m going to ask it anyway. What advice would you give to anyone who really wants to get into the movie business?

BP – Uh…don’t be afraid of failure. (laughs) And nobody can stop you if you want to make a movie. You know, you get a camera and you get some people who want to be in front of a camera…and you’ll always find people who want to be in front of a camera…and you just keep plugging and don’t listen when people tell you you’re no good, because half the time those people are loser who wish they could be doing something themselves, you know? (laughing)

 BM – Of all the movies that you’ve made, which one is your favorite?

BP – I think Shock O Rama. I really think that that’s the one that came out best.

BM – I think I might have picked that one myself, because I really enjoyed the…almost Tales From The Crypt style of the movie.

BP – I had been comparing it to Creepshow, which is my favorite anthology movie and then somebody saw part of it and say, no, no, this is like a Simpsons Treehouse Of Terror.

BM – That’s a perfect analogy! Although, Shock O Rama relies more on horror and less on humor.

BP – And there’s not so many naked women on The Simpsons. You get a little glimpse of Marge now and again.

BM – Yeah, but nobody wants to see that.

BP – (laughs) Yeah and you get to see more of Homer than you want to.

BM – You write, you direct, you produce, you do your own special effects. If you had to choose just one, which one would you do exclusively?

BP – I don’t produce so much anymore, I’ve got a lot of help now doing that. But, I don’t know, probably the effects because that’s what really got me into this in the first place and sort of getting back to your question before about not doing cgi, one of the reasons, aside from not having access to it, is that, to me, it’s a hand craft. It’s the difference between sitting at a keyboard and trying to come up with a cgi image and being a sculptor. But it’s not a matter of one job being better than another, although that’s an attitude you run into a lot. All those jobs are different disciplines, they’re different skills and I prefer working with my hands and making real three-dimensional things, so that’s why I do my effects that way. And I think that’s the part I get the most satisfaction out of.

BM – Will the effects in Bacterium be the same style?

BP – Yeah, there’s no stop motion….wait, there WAS no stop motion in Bacterium and then I had to fall back on it for one two second clip because I couldn’t think of another way to do it and hopefully no one will notice it.

BM – A lot of people don’t care for stop motion in movies now, because of the prevalence of cgi, but in your movies it works so well, I think that the stop motion actually adds to the enjoyment of the movie.

BP – People have a hard time understanding that stop motion is an art form in itself, it’s not embarrassing that it doesn’t look like cgi and it doesn’t look real. And it doesn’t necessarily have to look real. You take a little three dimensional object and you move it one frame at a time and you have to try to keep the action in your head and that’s a tough thing to do.

BM – I can imagine. And imagine is really all I can do, I don’t have that kind of talent!

BP – It is tough and I’m not as good at it as I’d like to be, some people are amazing. People say that it’s outdated, but to me those are the same people who were saying that when radio came along there’d be no more newspapers. That’s just not the way life works, radio became one thing and newspapers became another, cgi is one thing and stop motion is another and it’s not a matter of being outdated or not.

BM – Which movie would you say influenced you the most?

BP – Absolutely King Kong! No question. When I was a kid, I thought that King Kong was the greatest movie ever made and now that I’m an adult I think that it’s one of the greatest movies ever made.

BM – Have you seen the updated version?

BP – I haven’t. I wanted to because I like a lot of what Peter Jackson has done. Did you see it?

BM – No, I couldn’t bear to see the update.

BP – The thing is that everything I saw when they started pushing it, the ads, the clips on the internet, all made me want to see it less and less. Finally I started reading the reviews and they talked about some of the scenes and some of the interactions and, God knows where this idea came from that a normal human woman would fall in love with a fifty foot ape, but for some reason, since the DeLaurentis version people seem to accept that and it’s such nonsense.

BM – Well, as a special effects guy, you might appreciate that I wasn’t interested in King Kong, because it seemed like a remake just for the sake of updating the special effects.

BP – But that’s all they’ve done, and in a sense they’ve made everything else worse and, in a sense, they’ve made the effects worse. I just watched the original last week again, for, God knows, the hundred and something time and the effects are creaky, there’s no way around that, they’re primitive but stylistically and artistically, they’re miles ahead of anything else I’ve seen.

BM – The original is a classic and that’s really a point that can’t be argued.

BP – It is and the imagination that goes it and the absolute sense of adventure that it has, there isn’t another movie like it.

BM – Besides Bacterium, is there anything else in the works?

BP – I’m working on another script now but, you know, things here are kind of in a state of flux. I’ve got one movie to finish, another movie coming out in two weeks, so really there’s nothing definite, but I’m always working on stuff.

 BM – Before I let you go, I have to ask you about your one man crusade against the term ‘cheesy’.

BP – That’s just a horrible phrase, it’s such a nothing phrase, it’s really something you say when you have nothing intelligent to say but you still want to say something. I always say you can call my work crappy, schlocky, shitty, any other pejorative that comes to mind, but I am so sick and tired of language impaired half-wits falling back on that lactose inspired cliche when they can’t think of anything intelligent (or even coherent) to say that I am hereby launching a one-man crusade to ban its use in film criticism forever.

BM – (
aughing) Besides, the movies you make are anything but cheesy! They’re drive in movies pure and simple, they’re the kind of movies I went to the drive in to see!

BP – And they’re still fun. Not just my films, but films like that.

BM – They’re so much fun, I’m always surprised that the main stream audiences don’t catch on.

BP – It’s more of a cult thing, and we’re on the inside. (laughing)

BM – Yeah! And now, we’re the cool guys!

BP – We’re like the guys who knew about Jackie Chan before anyone else in this country knew who he was.

BM – Back before The Cannonball Run!

BP – Exactly.

BM – Thanks for taking the time. It’s been fun and I look forward to seeing Bacterium!

BP – You’re welcome.

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So, there you go, Brett Piper, drive in moviemaker and proud of it! And, why not, there’s nothing wrong with making great fun movies, after all, isn’t entertaining people supposed to be what film making is all about? I’ve certainly enjoyed all of Brett’s work and I can’t wait to see Bacterium and whatever comes next from this truly great filmmaker! If you’d like to check out some of Brett’s work for yourself, you can drop over to Shock O and get them for yourself! There’s just something fun about them and I think you’ll agree.