An Interview with Frank Delle – By Duane Martin

Last year I had the privilege to review both Beer Drinkers in Space and Keep Drinking Men!, the documentary on the making of Beer Drinkers in Space.  Even more of an honor was interviewing the man behind these films, and even better than that was getting to meet him at last year’s It Came From Lake Michigan film festival.  Frank’s a super nice guy and one hell of a talented film maker.  A lot of things have happened with his film since our last interview, so I thought it’d be nice to do a new interview with him so we can all get the latest updates on the current DVD, the festival screenings and even the progress and status of the new Beer Drinkers in Space remake!

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 Left: Marc Delle / Right: Frank DelleFor those who haven’t read my past interview with you, let’s start off by having you introduce yourself and let everyone know a little about yourself.

Hi, I’m Frank Delle.  In 1983 I wrote and directed an extremely low budget movie called Beer Drinkers in Space.  A group of us, who all worked at Disney at the time, made this campy, sci-fi comedy in a home my brother Marc and I were renting.  It took nine months to shoot and edit the movie and it aired on a few cable systems around the country.  The movie then disappeared from everyone’s lives until 2005, when I decided to reunite the cast and crew to create a documentary about the project and resurrect the movie.

It’s been kind of a wild ride for you with this whole Beer Drinkers in Space thing over the past year.  Give us a bit of a timeline of how things have gone down for both the film and you personally.

It’s been a wonderful experience.  It’s been great to see everyone from the movie after all these years and it’s been a thrill learning about and going to film festivals.  The documentary screened at six film festivals around the country from May 2006 to May 2007, culminating with the release of the documentary and movie on DVD.

The film has been shown at many different film festivals.  Give us some of the highlights from the different festivals, and how many of the festivals have you actually attended personally?

The documentary screened at festivals in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin, Louisiana and Philadelphia.  I was able to attend three of the six festivals.  I’d say the highlight was the It Came from Lake Michigan Film Festival in Wisconsin. My wife and I had a great time there. Everyone was incredibly friendly and gracious.  Just a great group of people.  We had a fun time meeting everyone and watching movies. I got to meet you and Brian Morton from Rogue Cinema, as well as Troma President Lloyd Kaufman, actor Eddie Deezan, director Fred Olen Ray, American Movie’s Mark Borchardt, Jason Paul Collum, Mike Conway, and local filmmakers Kelly Marcott and Scott Harpt.  And I can’t leave out our host, festival organizer Wayne Clingman.  The festival in Asheville, North Carolina was fun, too, because I got to attend with a few of the folks who were involved with the movie and the documentary.

Recently, Beer Drinkers in Space and the incredible "making of" documentary Keep Drinking Men! were released by Tempe Home Video.  Tell us about that release, how it all came together and where people can pick up a copy of the film.

When I went to the It Came from Lake Michigan Film Festival I wanted to meet director Jason Paul Collum, because his films are distributed by Tempe Video.  Earlier in 2006, Tempe’s website noted it was looking for documentaries, so I mailed them a copy of Keep Drinking, Men!  When I met Jason, I told him about my project and he promised to tell J.R. Bookwalter, who owns Tempe, to keep an eye out for my documentary.  He said J.R. gets literally hundreds of screeners a month.  And sure enough, about a week after the festival, I got an e-mail from J.R. saying he loved the documentary and the movie and wanted to pick it up for distribution. After that I worked to get everything J.R. needed for the release, which also includes a screen commentary by my brother Marc and me, a 15-minute video extra about the project, and the trailer for the movie and documentary.  The DVD comes out July 17 and is available online at Best Buy, Circuit City, Amazon, Target, Borders, Barnes and Noble, and lots of other sites.  The documentary and movie will also be available as a single rental through Netflix.

Now that the film’s been distributed, are you no longer allowed to show it at festivals?  How does that work?

I believe I’m still allowed to screen it at festivals, but I don’t plan to enter it at film festivals anymore.  I’ll focus on promoting the DVD release for awhile.

By the way, thanks for using my review quote on the cover.  That was awesome!

It is an awesome quote. You said something like, “If you don’t feel like you want to go out and make your own movie, then I’d be surprised.” And that’s exactly what I heard back from people interested in movies who watched the documentary.  It kind of inspires them to make their own little movie.

You’re currently in the draft process of a script for a remake of Beer Drinkers in Space.  How’s that been coming along?

Yes, anything worth doing is worth overdoing.  I just completed a brand new Beer Drinkers in Space script, which is essentially the same characters and plot as before, just updated with some new characters, new situations, more back story, and better structure. I thought; why not capitalize on the release of the DVD with a brand new version of the movie, shot with today’s cameras and technology.  Then, at the same time, make another documentary about the movie that compares today’s low-budget filmmaking process with how we made the movie the first time in 1983.

What sorts of changes can we expect to see in the remake, both on story and production levels?

The story is different in that I wrote the new script without any topical references or clichés.  The first was written with this kind of stream of consciousness dialogue that wasn’t very sharp.  That’s why I edited the 90-minute movie down to 60 for the DVD release to cut out the extraneous dialogue.  Plus, the first one was written around the three sets we built.  The new version moves more quickly with more characters, more locations, and more action.  But it’s still pretty silly.  Production-wise, this time around there will be no ship models being built and shot or pyrotechnics.  All that will be animated in Maya.  There will be some green screen work, better costumes, better sets and better actors.  None of us will be on camera this time around.  We’ll use real actors that can actually deliver a line.  And hopefully, everyone will be sober this time around.

Marc DelleYour brother Marc, who starred in the original film and helped to make it, recently returned from a year in the Persian Gulf serving in the Navy. Now that he’s back home, what’s his role going to be in the production of the new film?  Are we going to see him back in the Captain’s uniform again?

Marc designed all the ships and sets for the first movie and is sketching all the sets, ships and costumes for the new movie.  After serving on lots of different ships in the Persian Gulf last year, he has great ideas for new spaceship interiors.  And being in uniform gave him lots of new costume design ideas for the crews of the star tankers and fighters.  But sadly, he won’t be Captain Slosh this time around.  Maybe we can work in some cameos.

What about the other people from the original film?  Are you going to try to get any of them involved in some way or are you going to just start fresh with a whole new cast and crew?  I imagine that most of the original people are scattered now and off doing their own things.

Well, the original cast and crew were always a bit scattered.  That’s why the movie turned out the way it did.  But you’re right, everyone’s all over the southeast United States and Tokyo, so I don’t know who will be involved from the original movie.  Bruce Miller, who designed the puppets and special effects makeup for the original Beer Drinkers in Space is interested in participating in the new movie as is Jon Rowell, who scored the music for the documentary.

Originally you had an idea for a different film entirely, but when Beer Drinkers took off, the gears sort of switched to a remake of that instead.  Has the other idea been shelved completely or are you still planning on doing it after the Beer Drinkers remake?

I went back and forth on whether to shoot a zombie action comedy script I have, which won first place in the script writing competition at the It Came from Lake Michigan Film Festival, or the Beer Drinkers remake.  I thought there would be more potential in finding support for a new Beer Drinkers project because of the DVD release.  That demonstrated there’s an audience for Beer Drinkers and I think if done right, it has great potential for becoming a cult movie.  Then, if the new one is successful, perhaps I can capitalize on that to shoot the other script.

Without giving any spoilers, can you tell us about some of the changes in the story in the new Beer Drinkers in Space?

This time the characters aren’t as one dimensional.  You get some back story so you understand what motivates them.  Captain Slosh has a new foil and potential love interest, a Native American diversity sensitivity trainer named Turning Leaf.  There’s a little more action and a quicker pace with more locations.

When would you like to start production on the new film, and when would you like to see it finished?

I’m working with two companies in Orlando, Florida, Bruno White Entertainment and Planet Digital on the new Beer Drinkers in Space movie.  We’re actually pitching the project to corporations as webisodes for their web properties.  Everyone wants content and they want that younger demo, so we see all see Beer Drinkers as cool and quirky and with cult appeal.  So oddly enough, it may evolve exactly as it was envisioned in 1983, as a Flash Gordon episodic serial. Then eventually go to DVD as a movie.

Do you have any idea what kind of a budget the new film will have?  At least roughly?

I guess that will depend on what happens with the webisodes and the audience.  We’d like to attach a name actor or two to the project.  We’re making our pitches in July, so we’ll see what happens.  We’ll probably defer the production costs.  Bruno White has a sound stage for the sets.  Hard costs will be set materials, actors, costumes, crafts services and things like that.

 Why the decision to use CGI in the new film rather than actual models and explosions like you did in the original?

Part of the reason is the amount of time it would take to do that.  Plus, with the accompanying documentary it will provide a real contrast to show the development of the animation and compare it to the original model shots.  And by the way, my brother, who was recently cleaning out a closet, found all the original model and special effects footage tapes, which we thought were long gone.  So we may be able to use some of that in the documentary, too.

What are your thoughts on using CGI as compared to real FX?  Many people prefer the reality of real models, monsters and make-up over the slick look of CGI, and vice versa.  Which side of the fence do you come down on?

That’s a great question, because I want to use animation, but make it quirky and low budget.  I want it to match the tone and silliness of the movie.  So it will have a distinct look that is definitely not hi-tech.  In the original movie, a model flies by with actual flames and smoke trailing behind it.  Of course there’s no smoke or fire in space, so that’s what made it funny.  So the animation will have that feel to it.

Ever thought about BDIS merchandise?  Action figures, space ship models, etc…?

I think they’ll be called in-action figures.  There’s not a lot of movement, just drinking.  You’ll be able to pose their arms holding the beer cans at different levels.  Seriously, Planet Digital really believes in the cult potential of this, especially at the college level, so we’re brainstorming ideas for merchandise with the “Keep Drinking, Men!” and “Condition Red!” slogans.  And if we hook up with a brewery as a sponsor, we definitely want a limited edition Condition Red Amber beer to for the movie. Planet Digital is talking about creating an entire web experience that will be very interactive.  We’ve discussed having the viewer collect six hidden beer caps on the Beer Drinkers site and then they become an official Drinking Buddy.  When they become Drinking Buddies the site opens up to more content.  The idea is to create a deep online experience and put a lot of content up there about the characters, ships, story, and clips from the movie as it’s being made.  We’re hoping to create a fan base and built-in audience before the movie is released.  Planet Digital has a lot of experience with website and Internet marketing, so I can’t wait to see that as it takes shape.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention before we wrap this up?

First of all, I usually don’t talk about things that haven’t happened yet, because when they don’t come to fruition, it’s a little embarrassing.  But this is what we’ve been discussing and planning with these companies about the new movie so I wanted to share how the new project is evolving.

Finally, this whole effort started a few years ago as a whim to shoot some footage for a new video camera I purchased.  It just evolved as more and more people became interested in the project.  I’m amazed every time something new happens.  I never thought I’d make a documentary, never thought it would be accepted at film festivals, never in my wildest dreams thought it would be distributed on DVD, and now here I am planning a new movie. You just never know what will happen, but I think if you stay focused, are passionate about your work and follow through, good things will happen.  That’s how we created Beer Drinkers in Space in 1983, and that’s how it’s happening all over again.