Badass Interview: COMIN’ AT YA! 3D’s Tony Anthony and Tom Stern

On the eve of the COMIN' AT YA! 3D's Texas theatrical tour, Robert Saucedo chatted with Tony Anthony and Tom Stern about the movie, the modern state of 3D and the chances of seeing a digitally remastered version of Cannon Films’ TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS.

This weekend, more than thirty years after its initial theatrical release, Comin’ At Ya! 3D is back on the big screen and looking better than ever. The latest release from Drafthouse Films - the remastered, reinvented Comin’ At Ya! 3D that will open in thirteen Texas theaters this weekend - has come a long way since its initial 1981 release.

Directed by Ferdinando Baldi and starring Tony Anthony, Comin’ At Ya! 3D is a revenge western that’s not afraid to make full use of the 3D effect. Everything from rattlesnakes to bats to the naked bottoms of babies are tossed through the soft wall that separates audiences from the dangers captured on-screen in 3D filmmaking.

When first released, Comin’ At Ya! 3D almost single-handedly launched the ‘80s 3D revival — paving the way for such “classics” as Friday the 13th 3D, Jaws 3D and Amityville 3D. But, where so many cheap horror movie cash-ins failed, Comin’ At Ya! 3D succeeds thanks to its unwavering desire to throw as many scares into the audience members' faces as possible during the film’s running time. Comin’ At Ya! 3D gives you some serious bang for your buck.

Now, in the midst of a new 3D revival currently sweeping America’s cinemas and — some would say — choking it to death, producer/star Tony Anthony (Blindman, Treasure of the Four Crowns) is back with a brand new coat of paint on his beloved film. With this theatrical rerelease, Anthony is ready to save audiences from bad 3D films and show them what the format is truly capable of doing.

Utilizing state-of-the-art RealD technology, Anthony and producer Tom Stern have ushered the thirty-plus year old film into today’s modern world, and the resulting product is fully prepared to kick ass and take names. On the eve of the film’s Texas theatrical tour, I chatted with Anthony and Stern over the phone about the movie, the modern state of 3D and the chances of seeing a digitally remastered version of Cannon Films’ Treasure of the Four Crowns.

What inspired you to reinvent Comin’ At Ya! 3D for the digital age?

Stern: I’ve been in the business for a long time. I saw Comin’ At Ya! in ’81 and had an incredible experience with the audience participation. A couple of years ago I was preparing a 3D film and I visited a lot of the labs. It dawned on me that it was the right time for Comin’ At Ya! now. When the film came out in ’81, there were only around 200 screens showing 3D films. Now there are close to 10,000. I called Tony and I said let’s do this. They’ve been bothering him for years to bring it back out again. We decided to go ahead and reinvent the film, and I use the word reinvent because when you change the technology like we did from stereoscopic to digital, we had to find a lab to scan it and we had to raise money in the worst time period in our history and we had to find people who basically knew something about organic 3D.

How did you get involved with Drafthouse Films?

Anthony: My partner Tom Stern and I were fortunate to meet Tim League and his great team. Tim wanted us to come to Fantastic Fest and I — knowing how they do things and the aggression that they have — felt that it was the perfect place for this film. The reaction we had in the theater the night of the premiere at the festival was just fantastic. I would say it was a thousand times better than when Comin’ At Ya! first opened — and we were a tremendous hit with the film originally. We sold about three million tickets in just two hundred theaters and the film turned the whole world onto 3D at that period.

When the project was first announced, it went under the title Comin’ At Ya! Noir 3D and featured some drastic changes in the film’s use of color. While the tinkering with the film’s color settings has been reduced in the final product — limited to just a few scenes and the end credits — there are still a few interesting changes made from the film’s initial release. Can you talk about the origin of the film’s “noir” makeover?

Stern: When revisiting the film, we decided that we were gong to try something different so we decided to really mess with the color — to put it in for places and take it out in other places. Tony had the idea of doing a noir type film where you took the color out and then you splashed it back in where you want it. And we did the initial promo that way. But then we’d run into people who were blown away by the film but would say, “You don’t need that! Just show us the film.”

Anthony: With this kind of picture, you first have to reinvent it from the old technology into the new technology. Then, when we got it to that point, we discovered we could start playing around with colors once we got it into the new digital format. It just led us down a new way and gave the movie a freshness. We had all kinds of avenues that opened up. So we just did a few things — like playing around with these exaggerated colors — but we really hid it in the titles in the end. I was thinking that, because everybody loved those sequences so much, I would do the whole film like that but then we decided not to. But maybe some day I will do that to the film — because I have some great ideas about how to use black and white — make all the bad guys black and white and the good guys color. There are a million things we can do and that all came from that reinvention to get it into the digital format.

The film features plenty of fun 3D gags, a few bouts of surprising violence and darkness and even a bit of nudity? In other words, it has a little something for everyone — provided everyone is a fan of genre film. What walk of life do you see the majority of your audience coming from?

Anthony: When we posted our initial promo reel on our original website, we had a tremendous reaction. We broke into the horror market first and received all these responses from all over the world. I ended up doing fourteen hours of viral interviews with Germany, France, England and all over the States. What I realized was that you have a video game market that is so used to seeing CGI and all these extraordinary effects that were not organic like our special effects. I think that audience enjoys our film in a different way. At the Fantastic Fest screening, people were laughing and cheering and carrying on like a live show. When we made Comin’ At Ya!, we wanted to entertain the audience. It’s almost a silent movie — it only has about 60 or 70 lines of dialogue — so we wanted to take them on an experience. What we’ve done now is really elevate the film to that.  It’s not a film for ten people to watch — it’s a film for a full house to watch and participate in like they’re having a party.

Stern: It’s a great date movie because when you go see the film, there’s stuff that will come out at you. Some of it is scary – there’s a snake or a bat — so you will potentially move closer together with your date. As the movie goes on, you’ll get afraid, you’ll laugh together, you’ll do whatever you’re going to do in the theater.

What’s different about audiences' relationship with 3D today versus the relationship we had with the format thirty years ago?

Stern: The presence of 3D in today’s marketplace is basically done as a revenue source more than an artistic decision. A lot of films’ 3D is manufactured – shot in 2D and then ripped through a computer so they can get a little bit of depth of field. Of all the films that have come out in recent years, only one or two have been organic 3D — organic meaning that they shot in 3D. There are just not a lot of people who have a lot of experience in 3D. There are not a lot of cinematographers that have shot in 3D. There are very few production managers that have budgeted for 3D. There are even only a few writing guys that have written for 3D. It’s just simply a case of maturation here. We’re just at the beginning of the form again.

Why do you think so many modern 3D films shy away from using the format to entertain? It seems so many films are almost afraid to embrace the idea of throwing stuff at the audience in 3D.

Stern: I could be a real a-hole and say that they don’t know how but I don’t know – I think the common denominator has always been money. If you don’t have to do things — because it’s costly and time consuming and you don’t know how long it’s going to take — you don’t do them. If you don’t know how to do it, it’s just going to look like crap. I think these guys have shied away from the soft wall because they don’t know how to do it.

Anthony: People always said that things coming off the screen were gimmicky and 3D, as a format, has a reputation to be a gimmick. So, when filmmakers finally perfected the cameras and the computers and the projection and all these things that have happened, they shied away from gimmicks. They can’t do with computers what we did for Comin’ At Ya! 3D. Everything we did in the movie is an organic effect. We had to train people to do it. We had to float things and I wanted to shoot in slow motion and speed up the film and then go back to normal — I wanted to do all the things you could do in the ‘80s with film as opposed to the ‘50s. So we designed the film specifically for that reaction that you’ll see in the theater — to entertain the audience. And that’s why we were successful originally and why I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we will become the big story for this year.

Can you see this process being used for other classic 3D films — either from the ‘50s or ‘80s? Can we be too far off from a digital reinvention of the other Tony Anthony 3D film, Treasure of the Four Crowns?

Stern: If we can find the damn thing. It’s buried in the MGM vaults right now. We’d like to do it but we’re not making a huge effort right now. Tony and I are in the film business. I have my own projects I’d like to do in 3D and I’m sure Tony has a few he’d like to do too. But I’m sure if MGM came to us and said we could do the Treasure of Four Crowns, I’d say sure.

Anthony: I’m getting calls about Treasure of the Four Crowns but Tom Stern and I agreed that we’re going to wait to see what happens with Comin’ At Ya! 3D. But here’s the problem — I don’t know if you’ve seen any of these films that they’re converting to 3D — films that were originally released in 2D and now they’re being made into 3D movies. Those pictures are not working like the real 3D works and that’s hurting 3D. Yes, these idiots found out that they can shoot the film in 2D – spend $7 or $8 million and convert it into 3D and now they have two different kinds of movies — 2D and 3D. That gives them that extra bit of money but you don’t get the same experience when turning a 2D movie into 3D. Now the old films, if they did it correctly, the quality should be fantastic. With the old films, though, there were only a few good ones, like Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder or House of Wax but there are very few effects in those pictures.

What does the future hold for Comin’ At Ya! 3D? When can the rest of the country expect the chance to see the film in theaters in their neck of the woods?

Anthony: We’re opening today in thirteen theaters in all five of Texas’ major cities. We’re really designing a new model for 3D distribution. Drafthouse Films is doing a brilliant thing by having one show a day and making it difficult to get into the theater. I think that’s a great idea. The door is wide open for us and the way we’re distributing this film is entirely different from everybody else. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Stern: I would think that if the numbers are what we think they might be in Texas that somebody might want to distribute it around the rest of the country. However, I have to tell you, because 3D is such a slow-moving education process, I’m really happy to go section by section of the country. I’ve got to wait for enough TVs to be sold to have any kind of DVD business or have a network show the picture or have it be on pay-per-view or any other type of revenue source we don’t have right now. I’m happy taking my time.

Be sure to catch COMIN' AT YA!  3D in these Texas theaters, opening today!