Highlander

Blake J. Harris: You then followed that up with The Shadow. How did that all come together?

Russell Mulcahy: So I was doing The Real McCoy and then the producer Marty Bregman said, “I want you to do The Shadow.” You know, it was a good script. And I met Alec with Kim and we got along, so I said: “yes, let’s do The Shadow.” There was only one big problem with the script, I think.

Blake J. Harris: What was that?

Russell Mulcahy: Well, so the film is set in the 1930’s. And you have a character, Genghis Khan, who comes back and he’s going to make an a-bomb. And one of the great things about that film was that I met and became friends with Ian McKellen, who is the dearest man and such a brilliant actor. But I think the problem with the script was you have this character who wants to blow up 1930’s New York with an atomic bomb. And I love fantasy films—that’s my passion genre; thrillers, horrors—but it sort of didn’t make sense when I was filming it. Is that we knew New York [laughing] didn’t blow up in the 1930’s with an atomic bomb. So it was weird.

Blake J. Harris: So what do you do in that situation? While you’re shooting?

Russell Mulcahy: Well, it was really until after we finished filming that I fully realized: hmmm…maybe that was a problem. But, I mean, we had a great time. Everyone involved—Marty, Alec Baldwin, Tim Curry, Ian McKellen—and we were shooting on the Universal lot, which was a dream come true. It was like: oh my god, I’m filming on a Hollywood film studio lot.

Blake J. Harris: What was the studio’s reaction to the film? It made its budget back, but I don’t know what the expectation was.

Russell Mulcahy: I imagine the expectation was a little higher. I think we were like number two when we opened. But we were fighting against The Lion King [laughing].

Blake J. Harris: That was a big one

Russell Mulcahy: Yeah, maybe should have been The Lion’s Shadow. But I have no regrets on that film. I guess…no, I shouldn’t criticize my own films. I shouldn’t do that.

Blake J. Harris: So I thought it was kind of ironic that here you are, this guy who directed “Video Killed The Radio Star” and you’re now making a movie about a former radio star. This character from a 1930’s radio show. What was you approach to adapting the character for a modern audience?

Russell Mulcahy: I probably didn’t have that in mind. Because I guess the producer had, I think he had a slightly different vision of the film than I did. So, for example, with the knife. I wanted that to come to life and be animated. And there was a bit of a struggle in trying to make the film, maybe, a bit more fantastic. I think he wanted to make more of a 40’s retro romantic film. And so we did have some discussions about “we should add more fantasy into this film, more effect.”

Blake J. Harris: So that it would be more like a summer blockbuster?

Russell Mulcahy: Yeah. I guess I wanted to make it a bit stranger. And I think he had a different vision. So I think there’s sort of a crash of visions.

Blake J. Harris: I can see that. There are a lot of elements at play in the film.

Russell Mulcahy: It’s funny, you know. With Highlander, Razorback and films of that nature, I got a lot of criticism for “throwing in the kitchen sink.” I don’t know if you’re aware of the expression.

Blake J. Harris: Yeah, yeah, definitely. I’ve been criticized myself for doing that as a writer.

Russell Mulcahy: [laughs] Yeah? So I got a lot of criticism for that. And Highlander was not a hit in America at first. It wasn’t until it went to Europe that it, I don’t know, I guess people accepted the slightly outrageous video content and storytelling.

teen wolf

Part 3: Sexy, Surprising, Scary

Russell Mulcahy: I’ve always remembered this quote from a book that I read as a kid. It was something along the lines of “What’s scary is not necessarily what goes bump in the night, but that which whispers at midday.” And I’ve always held that. The day can just be as scary as night.

Blake J. Harris: I really like that.

Russell Mulcahy: Yeah, it’s a good one.

Blake J. Harris: Just a couple more questions for you. You’re heavily involved with MTV’s Teen Wolf; directing more episodes than anyone else, including the pilot. How did you get involved with that?

Russell Mulcahy: I’d met [creator] Jeff Davis a few years beforehand. But then I was going off to do a film for Hallmark and, as I pulled into the car park, my agent said they want to talk to you about Teen Wolf. By the time I went in, they were three weeks behind on production. [laughing] I thought to myself: I can’t do this. But I was really drawn to the material, there was something really interesting there, so I met with Jeff and showed him some sketches I’d done for an outline. And on the way home, my agent called me up and said, “You have the job.” So we went in there, got everything on track and then we were the little train that could. MTV saw the pilot and went: go! You’re on. And we’ve been doing it for six years now and Jeff is one of my closest friends. He had faith in me.

Blake J. Harris: When I first heard about the show, I figured it would be much more like the Michael J. Fox film from the 80’s. But it’s not. It’s different…

Russell Mulcahy: Yeah, we wanted to create a new vision of Teen Wolf, you know? Everyone had this idea that Teen Wolf was a comedy—which the original film is—and sort of camp, but it’s fun. But we wanted to create something sexy, surprising and scary.

Blake J. Harris: And you’re back working with MTV again! But in a very different capacity. So much has changed. Are you surprised that music videos are not as popular as they used to be? Or do you think that was inevitable?

Russell Mulcahy: Well, there’s no real outlet for videos anymore. Or, you know, they’re not consumed in the same way. There are videos being made, but it’s very different. They’re all green-screened with CG and whatever. When we did the videos in the 80s—me personally and also people like Steve Barron—we tried to do what we could with what we had.

Blake J. Harris: Meaning minimal effects?

Russell Mulcahy: Yeah, but not just that. We wanted to not necessarily tell the story of the video or the song, but create an ambience. And I think now, I think that’s gone now. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I think we were all trying to make mini feature films. I remember when we were making the Duran videos, I would crop the top and bottom of the screen with black. So that it looked more like cinema.

Blake J. Harris: That’s really cool. I didn’t realize that.

Russell Mulcahy: Yeah, I wanted to make mini features. And there was a wonderful creative freedom; not necessarily copying the lyrics, but just trying to create emotion. Like the songs, you know? Just like how the song creates an emotion, I wanted the video to create an emotion.

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