Kevin O’Neill is one of the premier B-movie directors of all time, perhaps second only to his mentor, the great Roger Corman. I got a chance to catch up with Kevin to discuss the upcoming premiere of his new film, Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader in 3D.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: Tell us about your new project.
O’Neill: Coming up soon isAttack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader in 3D. Produced by Roger Corman, and staring Jenna Sims and Olivia Alexander.
What can I say? It is a throwback to the 1970s taken in the direction of the 21st century; it’s what Roger used to do in addition to the other kind of exploitation films that were popular back then. I’d like to say that it’s a real homage to the New World days, which was Roger’s avant-garde distribution empire back in the time when it was at its peak. When movies were really the kind of things that you went to either in the drive-ins, or you went over to 42nd street, or you went to some of the more exploitation-centric areas of major cities. I hope that everyone else sees that too.
And in all honesty, my tenure with Roger has always been sort of fuelled by not only by the respect for what he did but also just the inherent impact that kind of film-making had when I was growing up; it was something that I used to go and travel way too far to go and see, for the kind of film that most people thought it was.
So, we’ve taken that energy, that kind of perspective on this film, and sort of amped it up for all the obvious reasons: both to get people to watch it, but also to get everyone to recognize that if you take these kind of films and move them up a notch, from a technical point of view, the 3D, the visual effects aspect, that that kind of emphasis breeds a whole new level of life into that subject matter. And the guy that really should be doing that from the start is Roger.
CB: How did you and Roger first start working together?
O’Neill: I actually came to him later in life that most people. My story is probably the antithesis of what you normally hear. I actually started in the business, back in New York, for another fellow that was of Roger’s day and age, a guy names Louis Sher who, oddly enough, produced a movie that was, up until Halloween, the most profitable independent film ever made. That was The Stewardesses 3D.
I cut my teeth with his company when they were making a couple of action dramas in New York City, around 1984, and when that first film made its way into video heaven, there was really no work in New York City any more. So I packed up the bags and moved to Hollywood. I had some friends who were working in the industry, and oddly enough, one of the first things I did out here was go to a party at the old Rose Street Studios, Roger’s old New World studios. It was a wrap party.
I had already heard the legend that wrap parties don’t exist at that studio and wanted to see what this was all about. Friends invited me, I went, had a beer and in the middle of it all I realized that there were 3 or 4 cameras running, and they were actually shooting footage for another movie. So that was really the first time I ever stepped foot in that environment, but I took a direction and went to work in the visual effects and things, and worked for John Dykstra for a while, worked for Peter Kuran. Those two guys came out of the original Star Wars group.
So I cut my teeth working on movies for those guys, and then around 1989 I worked on Darkman with Robert Tapert andSam Raimi and developed a relationship with those guys. About 2-3 years later, I was walking around on the lot at Universal and I was supervising a movie called Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story for Raffaella De Laurentiis, when Rob Tapert pulled up behind me and yelled out my name, started driving around in a circle in his golf cart.
“What are you doing here Kevin? Where are you going?”
“I’ve got a meeting with Raffaella.”
“Oh, really? Oh, guess what, I’m doing this series of movies down in New Zealand; do you want to go and supervise them?”
“Uh, sure Rob, when does it start?”
“Well, you’ve got to be at the office on Monday”
“Oh, and by the way, here are two tickets to go and see Time Cop. See you!”
So that started a relationship with Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi that lasted for the entire line of Hercules, Xena and all that and had me on a bus trip down in New Zealand about every six weeks for seven years. And during that process I established the visual effects company that produced work for, not only the TV series but for the movie Blade and other films, and splatter basically became my job after Hercules and Xena went their ways.
Around that time – this is about 2002 – Roger’s head of production tapped me on the shoulder to go and supervise a movie in Russia based on a script called Dinocroc, which is the Sci-Fi channel type movie before it’s time. I said, “Sure, Russia? Who wouldn’t want to go to Russia?”
So I get ready to go and the fellow that was going to direct it was Timur Bekmambetov, the man that just did Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and he had just secured all the funding
for Night Watch. And so he called Roger and said, “Sorry man but the ship’s come in and I’ve got to get on the boat.”
So Roger, without missing a beat, had me come down to the office and sat me down. When Roger talks to you, it’s a little bit like Svengali and Nostradamus; he sort of sits there and looks at you and tells you what you’ve got to do. “You’re going to go and direct this movie. I’ve seen your reel, it’s a pretty good action movie, and I think you can do this. And then you’ll do the visual effects; we’ll make a fine movie together.”
Far be it from me to argue with that man.
So that process started, and Dinocroc was the first movie that I actually sat down and directed for him. And he walked that movie into the Sci-Fi channel and it actually became one of the first of their creature movies for Saturday nights, and that sort of kickstarted that whole genre. And as that genre started to hit its stride, Roger would call and say, “I’ve got another monster, would you like to direct this?” I’d do a Roger movie and then I have to go and earn some money, so I would go and work with the Weinsteins on several films.
I’d supervise The Pulse, Piranha, and a few other movies in between, so if there was down time between these movies that I was supervising, as an effect supervisor, I would go and direct a movie for Roger. So we did Dinoshark, I stepped in and finished a movie for him called Supergator. Then there was a movie called Cyclops, but I had to bow out of that one because I had to go and do another Weinstein picture. And now I worked on this feature.
Sorry, I have to run now. Thanks for your time!