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Richard Stanley / The Espoo Ciné Interview, part I

by Lauri Löytökoski, August 28th, 2004, transcribed by Dejan Ognjanovic

Richard Stanley visited the Finnish film festival Espoo Ciné in August 2004, presenting all of his major works (two feature films, three documentaries, and one short film) during a three-day retrospective. I first met him during the second day of the retrospective, when he was about to screen The White Darkness and The Voice of the Moon. He was gracious enough to agree for this interview. In the first part, we focus mainly on various versions of Dust Devil and the unfilmed Hardware sequel, Ground Zero.

Between Death and the Devil: The most notable differences between the original script for Dust Devil and the original director's cut, which ran for 2 hrs -what was changed during filming and editing?

Richard Stanley: They were done mostly because we ran out of money, and because of things that went wrong during the shoot, about half way thru the movie the company started going bankrupt and some of the equipment never turned up and stuff we needed went missing. There's a couple of missing characters, character of the ticket collector, quite small, and lots of small strange meaningless scenes that the production wouldn't let us come to, since they had no plot function, like the road block scene because of the chemical spill, and we would have a lot of people in respirators, spray units spraying and washing the road, overturned canisters, something on fire...

Then, Zakes Mokae's dog had quite a lot to do in the script, originally it got lost in the sandstorm when the car overturns, and instead of Zakes finding the girl... Originally the girl wanders into the ghost town and is attacked by the dogs, getting at her ankles and stuff, it a much nastier encounter...

I also regret that Robert Burke is wearing boxer shorts, he was meant to be naked in that section. It was not Robert so much as Miramax, the distributors, America has a huge problem with male nudity, which I was not aware of at the time, I've always tried to have male nudity at some point in my movies cause I don't want to just have naked girls, it seems unfair, but I've never been allowed a penis in one of my movies, which is something I hope, that one day I could sneak into one of my movies a naked man. That was a huge problem, we had agents and lawyers and the whole thing, and they just wouldn't let me have it.

BDD: It is closer to the character, more primal...

RS: The whole scene would make much more sense [...]

BDD: The optical effects are missing, too [in the scene of the truck and car explosion].

RS: Right, there are no optical effects at all. And I originally planned to have more of the demon, in that sandstorm, but ended up with Zakes firing at nothing. It doesn't hurt it too bad, I think, it makes the character more insane when there's nothing there attacking him. We were never really able to show him transforming him into something the way Chris Cunningham does in the Madonna video where she becomes a bird, a dog, etc, I would've liked to see more transformations in the film.

BDD: Is it too expensive to go back to that footage now and restore it for the DVD, or are you satisfied with what it is now?

RS: I'm pretty satisfied with what it is. It's funny, this year, when we thought we had the right back for the movie, we went back and looked at the old director's cut on VHS, it seems too heavy-handed in shortening it, there are a couple of extra sequences that we think we might put back one day. Like, Zakes's character originally had a longer introduction, in the film you just see him answering the telephone...

BDD: The student film [on which Dust Devil was based upon]... You still have it? Would you consider putting it as an extra on DVD?

RS: Maybe one day. It's quite good, it holds up quite well, I saw it again the other day on Super 8. No one's yet figured how to make a transfer... But Incidents in an Expanding Universe is still in good shape. It shows plainly where the roots of Hardware are, it comes from when I was 15, but it's quite a different film from Hardware. It's basically Hardware without the droid, which is hard to believe, but... it's the back story of how the characters met. It's Christmas Eve and Moe's in Jill's apartment and he's got one hand, and she's a scrap metal sculptress, and Shades lives right next door, and that section of first coming home for Christmas is identical to Hardware: the doors, the metal sculptures, but there's no droid... and most of the movie is a long flashback to how they originally met, where Moe is a soldier and they have an affair, and he goes to the war zone, has an affair with the nurse, comes back and attempts reconciliation... Shades is quite good, since he's played by the original Shades, the guy it was originally based on, he's much cooler, more natural than in Hardware.

BDD: This one's from Dejan, from Serbia: - That's YOU as a boy that Dust Devil is visiting on the shooting range. And that's YOU sitting in the back of the room while Dust Devil is breaking the neck of the 1st victim in the movie...

RS: Yes on one, no on two. [The mirror scene] is something you really see only on film, it's quite hard to see that on video, it's usually too dark to see. But yes on the 1st one, the shooting range is a recreation of the cadet school [I went to], there was a similar incident where I saw a guy in a funny coat outside the school fence and I remember fantasizing about the, uh... I guess the idea that... He didn't feel like he was a parent of any of the kids, it felt like a... I had some sort of fantasy that maybe he was looking for me. I saw him a couple of times, there was another time I saw him getting into a railway station: I run down there but of course couldn't find anyone. We're all haunted, me and Anton Beebe, the guy who played Shades (in Incidents in an Expanding Universe), he became a commercials director, we're all haunted by this guy in the coat, he came to our dreams and we saw him at different times, and in all our student films, you see the recurrent image of the assassin in the coat...

BDD: He's a sort of a spaghetti western archetype...

RS: Yeah, I think he's playing some version of the Devil, Lucifer. I think it's something that evolves out of the spaghetti western. Clint Eastwood takes a lot of credit for inventing 'The Man with No Name', the script was so bad he refused to say the lines, he would just stay silent. But then after Clint starts playing the The Man with No Name it starts being interesting, like Terence Hill who did a good job in My Name is Nobody, or Clint in High Plains Drifter, two of the more supernatural ones, where you wonder whether this guy is even alive or some kind of Angel of Death just waiting for some of the characters to drop dead.

The second part of the question, that's not me in the mirror. It's Robert Burke's twin brother. Robert Burke turned out with a twin brother, nobody told me. If I'd known he had a twin brother before, it would've been more interesting. But then his brother turns up on the set, and I'm like 'Oh my God, you got a twin!' Burke was doing his scene naked, his costume was off and not used, so we dressed his twin brother in the costume, so the reflection is of his twin brother looking at his watch, not me. It's pretty nuts.

BDD: [a confused question about the lovemaking scene from Hardware...]

RS: Yeah, the lovemaking scene was shortened to avoid X rating. I was thinking of putting out a pirate, next year, which would be a lot of fun to do... Another thing I want to do is drop a lot of ADR, they dubbed a lot of dialogue to try and change the plot a little. The main change they made to the plot was they made it seem as if they know about the fault in the droid's wiring at first, there's stuff going on about its isolation system, it was all dropped by Miramax afterwards to make it feel as if Stacy knows what she's doing, which she doesn't. It's a pure accident that the droid is destroyed at the end of the movie, but they hated the idea that the monster is killed by accident... It's very flat, I hate those lines, like: 'Fuck you, I know the answer!', it always happens when you can't see [the actors'] lips, when you can't see anyone talking. There are a lot of stupid lines flying around; I'll take them all out. Simon Boswell's got the original soundtrack when he'd made the album...

BDD: It's more ominous...

RS: Yeah, it's much more horrible, with soldiers screaming and whimpering at the end of the movie, when we do a remix we'll take out a lot of the lines, and it'll change the tone. I saw it again the other day and I'm intrigued that the TV imagery is so up-to-date. The shot with bulldozer looks like something from Palestine. I'm also worried they won't include the torture imagery, the guy tied upside down, head in the bucket, like something from Iraq. I think when we put out the pirate I'll slip in a couple of extra TV images, to keep the sense of historical development, events that lead to the Hardware world.

BDD: You were writing a Hardware sequel...

RS: I should give you the screenplay; it'll never get made...

BDD: What would it be like? It's not just one droid VS. one person?

RS: No, it's a big movie, which is why it didn't get made. And it's also not politically correct. It opens with a Mexican family trying to get across Rio Grande for a better life. Then the father has his foot blown off by the guards from the other side and it slows them down. They get surrounded by the droids. The idea is that ... I have this droid that eats slugs, actually uses slugs for fuel... And I thought that the Zone is somewhere between North and South America, I imagine that in the future the imbalance between North and South America that the immigration problem will be getting worse, there would be this No-Go area, so there's the mine field and the droids just patrolling the border with these heat-seeking things.

So, it kills the family but misses the kid, the 4-year old Mexican kid cause it's too small, it mistakes it for a rabbit, and the kid is picked up by the droid's maintenance people who are looking after the droid, and finally get to meet the people behind it, the software creators of Mark 13, one of them is Matt Barlowe, this Californian chappy who's got problems with wife, and he adopts the kid, he's quite a liberal character. I wanted to show how the droid could be made and maintained by the people like my cousins and neighbours, computer nerds... Cause all of us are intrigued by the mechanics, like Chris Cunningham, how to build a droid etc. and I think that people who created Mark 13 would not be monsters, I wanted to see that in Ferile Electronics there are long-haired dope-smoking people, and droid operators are recruited from the video-game world... And a lot of these people are University dropouts...

I'll tell you more on Ground Zero, the Hardware scene called like that for 2 reasons: 1 is that it's meant to be like football score, like Droids: 2, Earth: 0, so Hardware 2: Ground Zero was the joke on the score, and it's also giveaway of the ending of the movie, cause there's this nuclear strike, so it's really set at Ground Zero. Also, Shades, who is so freaked out by the events from the 1st movie, goes back to space, and he doesn't want to come back, he hates going back to Earth, it's now 13 years since Hardware, and after that time [in space] your blood rate goes down, he starts getting anaemic, your bones become brittle and it also affects your muscles.

So, after about 13 years in the orbit his health becomes a risk to the insurance people, the dictate they can't keep him in the orbit, so he's forced to come back to Earth against his will, and back there he doesn't really know anyone anymore. So he gets a card from Jill, and he goes to try and catch up with what's going on with Jill, he hopes that there's some kind of life to join in, but it turns out that Jill's got a gay lover, a witch called Jeannie in the script, they're living out in the Zone with a bunch of hippie characters called De-Structuralists because they don't believe in social structure beyond the extent family...

BDD: It's really a large scale film...

RS: Yeah, it's mostly set in the Zone, I got tired of the city, I always meant to shoot it in Arizona or somewhere... Jill is technophobic, and is trying to live close to the soil. She's stopped fixing sculptures, now she's mostly fixing tractors and combines, and Shades fails to hook up with them, and gets caught in the situation where a bunch of fleeing Mexican characters take shelter with the dirt farmers and they end up leading the droids to them. Those freaks are all pacifists and want no part in helping the Mexicans. They're also very bad doctors, they don't believe in normal medicine, so they try to treat the Mexican character with different herbal remedies but his leg gets gangrenous so they cut his limbs off, so... The hippie doctors and witches are not very helpful... And then they end up besieged by the droids, and Stacy has to revert to her character, to actually fight at the end. And I was planning to do terrible things to her, because I fought to have her in another movie, she was in a position where she was forced to do things that are even worse than in the 1st film.

BDD: She was supposed to be in Dust Devil...?

RS: Miramax wouldn't let her cause she wouldn't mess around with Harvey [Weinstein]. Harvey tried to get into her hotel room and she phoned with my hotel and asked 'What should I do, I didn't let him in', and they asked her to do a Playboy spread and she refused that too, and they never let her work again, which is very annoying. She's only now started showing in some small parts...

The ultimate nemesis to the droids in the script are fire-ants. In real life, in Mexico, even nowadays, you get these ants, which are quite venomous, but which conduct electricity, and I figured that from the moment the droids are deployed in the zone, they start having a slight fault in their body armour, since the isolation wiring has pheromone in it, and it's attractive to the ants, and they start gnawing at the insulation wiring, and their bodies conducting electricity and they send slight signals into droid's 'brain', so Matt's trying to figure out what's the problem, thinking it's software. In fact it's environmental contamination, ants, and Shades figures that out in the script, and Jill knows that, so at the end they try to lure the droids into the field where the ant hills are, but when she does that, the ants start to eat her, and I imagined about 2/3 of the way through in I wanted to see Stacy covered with them. Her body would be nothing but the swarming mass of insects, their green eyes staring from the mass that's eating her.

The whole idea is whether the ants eat her faster than the droids. The droids are getting slower, and but she's gradually being eaten too, they're trying to get into her mouth, her nose, her ass, and they start to bite her eyes. The formic acid from their mandibles starts to blind her, I imagine her vision start to go, eaten away by the acid. I saw her almost like a kind of goddess figure, the mass of writhing insects and just the 2 eyes staring out of it, surrounded by fire and bugs. Of course the droids are ultimately overwhelmed by the bugs. There's a character in the script I had no time to mention, a Government agent who is basically tracking the Mexicans, but he's a plainclothes cop character, he has a subcutaneous bar code, UV scanner reveals the guy's ID and stuff. He's posing as a dirt farmer. Jill actually fucks him before realising he's on the wrong side.

His character eventually makes good in one of my favourite scenes in Hardware 2. He tries to hound off the droids at the end, there's an A-bomb left over in the silo ever since, and he has the detonator on one of his hands, he's trying to hold off the droids saying to the droids 'If you come any closer I'll let off the bomb'. But they keep coming, so his last line is something like 'Fuck you, dad!', and he presses the button, but the droids are so fast, nothing happens, and he doesn't realize that one of them has cut his arm off, they move so quickly, so you have this severed arm with a detonator attached to it throughout the last third of the script, and in the end it stiffens enough to press the button by itself and blows everyone up...

I still need to tell you what happens to Shades and Jill. They do sort of escape, but they get very fucked up by the end. Shades doesn't get touched the whole way thru the movie and the actual end of Ground Zero is, A bomb goes off, Jill's already bleeding, her legs are shredded very badly, she's been covered with ants, and Shades is sort of having a heart attack in this flying machine, they try to fly directly up to fly away from the A bomb, and Shades's heart is so weak from being so long in space his heart starts to collapse. At the very end Jill puts her hand on his shoulder, something like 'It will be OK', and he realises it's the first human contact he's had in, something like 20 years. And he realises it's the 1st time he's vaguely happy. There is a kind of vague happiness at the end of Ground Zero, so his heart collapses, there's this nuclear explosion, but in the middle of it all he finds a moment of happiness, which is where Ground Zero ended.

Continued in part II

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