phantasm restoration

He got me on the phone with his head of production, Ben Rosenblatt and they came up with a really clever idea. Whenever they had downtime working on their Star Wars and Star Treks and stuff like that, they’d bring me over. They had this really high-end Mystica finishing system and if we could just get a laser scan made of the original camera negative it could go into the workstation. So every month or two, I’d get a phone call: “C’mon! We’ve got time tonight!” The guys would be doing the color correction and the scratch removal.

So it was very much a passion project for them.

Oh, yeah. Completely. There was no profit incentive whatsoever. For the price of peanuts, I got a Wizard of Oz-level restoration of the original movie. What’s maybe even better than the visual side, and the visuals look great… We were finishing up the visuals and I was walking through Bad Robot one day and J.J. comes up and says “Don! What about the audio? We have to restore the audio!” He was insistent and it turns out there was this really talented audio engineer named Robby Stambler and he was a Phantasm geek too! He took the audio in his workstation, so every other month he’d be spending all night working on that. The audio and the music just sound gorgeous.

At first, I thought this all sounded a little strange, but when I sat down and thought about it, I realized of course J.J. Abrams is a Phantasm fan. He loves his mysteries and Phantasm is all about one mystery unfolding after another. Just when you think you have it figured out, here’s another new box full of mysteries!

Yeah, we didn’t provide too many answers. We have Phantasm part five, Ravager, coming out very soon and I’m getting a lot of these emails that say “Now this one answers everything, right?” Well, they’ll just have to see the movie.

I don’t want answers! I love how the whole series feels like you’re trapped in a bad dram and can’t get out of it.

The way that you just described it is the perfect setting for a horror movie. I should go back and make a new movie. Trapped in a dream you can’t get out of. One of the real joys… I thought yeah, I’ll make horror movies, but I never thought I’d make a living at it and then make a career out of it. Nobody said you’re going to make movies for this fanbase that is really intelligent and really likes to examine and dissect your work over decade-long periods. Sometimes I’ll sit down with somebody who’s passionate about it, and I probably shouldn’t go on the record about this, and give me an interpretation of the movie that is far and away better than anything that I was thinking about.

That’s what good art does. It encourages people to think and examine and tear things apart.

Well, you used the A-word. I can’t use that, but thank you.

I actually saw your most recent film, John Dies at the End, at SXSW a few years ago. It was the world premiere, I think.

Yes, it was a really nice screening, a lot of nice reactions.

And that was another film that was very much in your wheelhouse. Are you comfortable being that horror guy? The Phantasm guy?

Here’s the thing. When the first Phantasm came out, I was very resistant to being pigeonholed into it. But it’s hard to get funding that isn’t genre-related. Then I’d think, why would I want to make a movie outside of the genre, anyway? Then I wouldn’t have the good fans I would be making the movie for. It would be a more general and a little less insightful group. I don’t see a downside to it. The great part is that I can go with the actors to these horror conventions and meet the fans directly and talk about the movies. And I’ll be honest, meeting those fans, especially once the internet started up, directly influenced part four and part five.

The interesting thing is that John Dies at the End was a complete internet fabrication. This is an absolute true story and it’s shocking that it was never marketed, because it would have been the greatest marketing hook ever, was that this movie was really decided by a robot at Amazon. It sent me an email saying “You bought this zombie fiction book and this science fiction book, you’ll love John Dies at the End.” It was right! Some algorithm chose the movie! But that’s off on a different subject.

You’ve been making independent films for decades now. What’s changed since you were a young guy making Phantasm on a shoestring to budget to now, when you’re making movies like John Dies at the End

Now I’m working on a relatively shoestring budget!

How has the filmmaking world evolved for you?

The technology is so available and so easy and so much more simple than it used to be. You don’t have to wait for the film to develop, you can do all of the editing at your keyboard. The ease of that is great. Also, the rise of the internet has made it easy to find your community or your tribe or whatever. The real challenge is that the modes of distribution have changed. So it’s harder to make a buck, honestly. The demise of the DVD business…that was a business. You could sell the DVDs for twenty dollars and they only cost one dollar. There was a lot of profit in them. Now they license them to Netflix and get a nickel a view or something like that. Orders of magnitude less money. Plus, with the rise of digital stuff, it’s been a democratization. Millions of people are making movies. There’s a lot more competition in a funny way. It’s a different time and a different way, but it’s really great. With John Dies at the End, to have access to those digital tools let me do things that I couldn’t even dream when I was a young filmmaker.

Continue Reading Don Coscarelli Interview >>

Cool Posts From Around the Web: