Zack Carlson is one of the programmers for the Alamo Drafthouse and Michael Stephenson is the star of Troll II and the director of the documentary about the Troll II phenomena, Best Worst Movie. Now they’ve teamed up to make Destroy, written by Zack and his writing partner Bryan Connolly, to be directed by Michael. Destroy tells the story of a vampire hunter slaughtering vampires living in ancient Bavarian castles. The problem is there are no such thing as vampires, and he’s just killing innocent old men.
The movie was just announced yesterday, and I got on the phone with Zack and Michael to chat a bit about it. Here’s the result:
How will this stack up next to Troll 2?
Zack: Oh no!
Michael: Oh my goodness.
Zack: It’s going to be better.
Michael: It will be at least twice as good as Troll 2.
For people who don’t know, you guys are friends who met through Best Worst Movie. How did that happen?
Michael: Zack was behind the first 35mm screening of Troll 2 at the Alamo Drafthouse. That was the first location we filmed for the movie and I got to know Zack through that. We ended up shooting part of Best Worst Movie in Europe - it was a small crew, but for some reason I felt like I wanted Zack to come along. It was one of these things where I didn’t know what he was going to do while we were traveling but I wanted him there. Everything fell apart in Europe, it was a complete disaster. It was a nightmare, but Zack was always a beacon of optimism and always happy to help.
We were driving in Austria during a very down moment in the trip - we had just done a convention and it was very depressing - we were driving through Austria and passing these cool old castles and Zack told me he had this idea he had been working on for this script about killing innocent old men who live in castles. I laughed and couldn’t stop laughing. It was months after that when Zack finally sent me the script and I fell in love with it.
Zack, how long had you been working on the script?
Zack: Me and my writing partner Bryan Connolly wrote the first draft of it in 2002. It’s always been the same thing, where it’s a vampire hunter movie without any vampires in it. But it’s funny how in the last couple of years vampires became their own genre; you know how comic book movies became their own thing, outside of science fiction or action. Like that, vampires are everywhere. But this is the least vampire-y script that could happen - because there are none in it at all. There are more vampires in Tootsie than this.
But for some reason people got interested in this thing we had been sitting on for years. Our friend Owen, who writes screenplays for a living, said ‘Hey you should show me that vampire hunting script again.’ At that time we didn’t really want anyone to look at it and say ‘You should add some vampires to it.’ I showed it to Michael to get his opinion on it - I didn’t think he would want to make it. It was better than sending it to someone who would want to make it sexy or vampire-y or whatever.
You have your characters running around killing innocent old men. What’s the hook for us to like these people?
Zack: For the first half of the script you believe this man’s quest is pure. He is a great vampire hunter, he just can’t use those skills on vampires. He’s delusional but he thinks he is saving the world and he is killing vampires. You’re with him, and then it’s revealed in a non-Shymalan, non-twist way that he’s just wrong. He’s incorrect. But by that point you’ve built up a respect and a fondness for what he’s doing even though he’s a goob. At that point it becomes a comedy of errors. You sympathize with the schmuck.
Michael: I think you hit it on the nose. The protagonist is well-intentioned and means nothing but the best. Even though he’s kind of a loser there’s an innocence to him. He’s not a laughed at loser, he really set out to rid the world of what he thinks is the last remaining evil. I’d say he’s very well intentioned.
Michael, your first film was documentary. You’re making the leap now into narrative - how have you prepared to make that jump?
Michael: To be totally honest I’m completely frightened. It’s a completely different beast. Technically and stylistically there’s no comparison to Best Worst Movie. But what I think I bring to the table is that I’m well experienced in finding emotional honesty. That’s the world I lived in with that first movie. Aside from that I have a great ability to surround myself with people who are far more talented than I am! It’s the truth! With the documentary it’s such a battle to get the damn thing made that you need a sense of great collaboration with your team. These are people I would go to war with, I would trust my life with them. I think that is also something I bring to the table - creating a great atmosphere for collaboration. I may have a great idea, but it’ll be better alongside Zack’s great idea. And for one reason or another I’ve always been able to put together great teams.
Zack: The editors that are going to work on this are great. And that Jennifer Roth is great - she has such a background, and that she’s going to be so involved must be a relief to you, Michael.
Michael: You have no idea. She’s amazing. She’s not Hollywood; she lives in Seattle. She came out here and had breakfast with Lindsay [Stephenson,Michael’s wife and a producer on the film] and I and we came away thinking “She’s great!” She’s coming to this project with a sense of enthusiasm. She told us when we were having breakfast “I have 20 projects right now but this is my number one project.”
How did you guys hook up with her?
Michael: Zack and I were having this conversation about producers, and he knew a producer from his days in Seattle. He said he would look her up and that she had worked on small films. Films like Black Swan and The Wrestler! I thought she could maybe point us in the right direction and give us guidance.
Zack: Which is what I asked her. I was hoping she could point us to somebody who could work on something as small as our film, because she had just worked on Black Swan, which is huge.
Michael: We set up a call and tried to pick her brain. She wanted to read the script and a few days later - it was crazy, because she called me back and said “I love it, I want to make this movie,” but by sheer coincidence her brother had seen Best Worst Movie the night before and by coincidence recommended it to her.
Zack, last question: if you had to program Destroy at the Alamo as a double feature, what would be the second half of the double feature?
Zack: Oh my nuts. For some reason I keep thinking Howling II. This is a movie about a man on a very wrong-headed quest in Eastern Europe, and Howling II, which is the greatest Eastern European werewolf movie, is a very wrong-headed production in Eastern Europe. And the werewolf suits in Howling II are gorilla suits because they couldn’t afford to get new outfits made, so there are not really werewolves in that movie and there are not vampires in ours. So I think the movies would pair up well.