Star/Writer/Director of “Homo Erectus”
Though best known as one of Hollywood’s most in-demand writers (“Mousehunt”, “Small Soldiers”, “Underdog”, “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe”), Adam Rifkin is now starting to make a name for himself as a director (He directed the fantastic “Detroit Rock City” in 1999) and the latest ship that he’s captaining is the caveman comedy “Homo Erectus”; he talks to CLINT MORRIS about it.
First of all, what a great career man. Where and how did it all start?
Thanks! Well, I’ve always loved movies. From as early as I can remember movies were my one and only passion. It started as a little kid loving horror movies but eventually evolved into a love of all kinds of movies. Anyway, right from the beginning I figured out that somebody was responsible for making the movies. I didn’t quite understand how it worked at the time, but I knew that I definitely wanted to do that when I grew up. So my whole youth was spent making Super-8 movies in the neighborhood with my friends. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was actually teaching myself the basic principles of filmmaking. Nobody taught me about editing or coverage, but I just kinda figured it out as I went along. Little did I know then that the same basic rules applied to “real” movies, just with more expensive cameras and more people to help. Anyway, once I graduated high school I high tailed it out to Hollywood to pursue making movies for real. I briefly attended USC but quickly dropped out and just started banging out scripts. I realized that the only difference between making a movie and not making a movie was having the money to make a movie with. There’s no magic to it. These days it’s genuinely easy, all anyone needs is a mini DV cam and Final-Cut and you can literally make a movie for nothing. Why more kids aren’t doing that is beyond me, but that’s beside the point. In those days you only had one expensive option, which was film. Even 16mm film was pretty pricey. So I was knocking on doors looking for cash and I eventually met Brad Wyman who was a young producer working for Elliott Kastner, an old time producer. Brad and I hit it off straight away and somehow we convinced Elliott to finance a low budget movie that Brad would produce and that I would write and direct. The film was called NEVER ON TUESDAY and even though it barely saw the light of day it got the ball rolling.
How did “Homo Erectus” come together? Writing it for long?
The whole thing actually came together amazingly quickly. Brad Wyman and I are always trying to get movies made any way we can. One of the quickest roads to a green lit movie is to have a star attached. One time I jokingly said to Brad that if I just became a star I could attach myself to all of our films and we could get them all made that way. Wouldn’t that make life easier? (I’m not an actor by the way) He jokingly responded by saying that I should write a movie to star in and if by some stroke of good fortune it were to hit, than yes, it would make life a whole lot easier. I said, sort of half jokingly at this point, I may just do that. He said, seeming to be barely joking at all, that I absolutely should. I then said, serious as a heart attack, that I was gonna do just that. But if I took the time to write myself a vehicle to star in, he had to devote the necessary time to try and secure funding. He agreed and I immediately wrote HOMO ERECTUS. I generally write pretty quickly so in a couple of weeks I threw the script on his desk and said that I kept my part of the bargain, now it was his turn. He just laughed and said, “Who the fuck’s gonna finance a movie starring you?” Realizing that he was completely right, he and I went into pre-production on a drama called LOOK. A couple of weeks into principal photography Brad came to me with some very bizarre news, Burnt Orange, the one company he and my agent had sent HOMO ERECTUS to agreed to green light the movie. And yes, they approved me as the star. Unreal! Two conditions: Because Burnt Orange is affiliated with The University Of Texas’ Film School, we had to shoot it in Austin AND, because the money is tied to the schools semester schedule we had to go into principal immediately. What followed was a very busy year of juggling two movies at once…but that’s a whole other story.
Was directing something you always wanted to do… do you like wearing a number of hats?
Yes! Directing is and always has been my number one passion. But I love writing, I love producing, I love acting now. I just love telling stories, that’s why I wanna make lots of movies, write lots of movies, help other filmmakers get there movies made. Yeah…I guess you could say I like wearing a lot of hats. I’m pretty good with the whole multitasking thing. The more stuff the better.
Tell us how you shaped the cast of the film? There’s such a diverse range of names here…
Frankly I have no idea how we got so many legitimate actors to show up for this one. It certainly wasn’t for the money. And no one’s gonna be up for an Oscar either. That and the fact that they had to act opposite me? A total unknown?! I’m completely baffled! Maybe they signed up for the costumes? I mean, who doesn’t look good in a bear skin toga? Frankly we just got really lucky that we got the cast that we did. I’m really excited about the fact that they all just said, “fuck it! I’m just gonna go for it and do this ridiculous caveman movie!”
Ali Larter is huge this year, thanks to “Heroes”. Will that ultimately help the film, you think?
It already has! Ali’s the reason our trailer’s been blowing up so much on Youtube. We’re so lucky to have gotten Ali when we did. She did the “Heroes” pilot right after she finished shooting HOMO. Not only is she great and hilarious in the film, but her success from “Heroes” is such a coop for our little movie. It’s really helped to put us on the map.
How long was the shoot…. And what budget are we talking?
The shoot was approximately five weeks give or take a day here and there. As far as budget goes, because we’re still in the process of selling the film I’m not allowed to divulge the actual numbers, but suffice it to say, the budget was low. How could it be anything but? It’s starring me remember?!
Totally off-topic, but tell me, I heard that you were on the remake of “Planet of the Apes” at one stage. FOX didn’t go for your take? As a writer, how do YOU deal with disappointments?
The whole sordid story of my involvement with “Planet of the Apes” is revealed in a great book called “Tales From Development Hell” by David Hughes, but here’s the nutshell version. Actually I was the first writer on the new remake of “Planet of the Apes”. After seeing NEVER ON TUESDAY, the then head of Fox said that he wanted to work with me and what did I want to do next. I said I wanted to bring back “Apes”. So at 21 I was hired to write and direct the next “Planet of the Apes” movie. It was an absolute dream come true. My take was that the film would actually be a sequel to the first film. It would open on the last scene from the original where Charlton Heston was screaming up at the Statue Of Liberty and then we’d fade to black, a card would then read “300 years later”. What followed was the Apes having reached their Roman era. The whole movie was gonna be like Spartacus with primates, The humans were the slaves and the Apes the Romans. I turned in the script and the studio loved it! Their only notes on the script were to trim it by about ten pages. Rick Baker was being talked to about the make-up, Danny Elfman the score and the lead was either gonna be Tom Cruise or Charlie Sheen, two hot up and comers at that time. Pre-production was about to start when suddenly and quite unceremoniously the studio head was fired. The project was subsequently shelved and didn’t see the light of day for a number of years. Ultimately “Apes” was resurrected and shelved again numerous times. Oliver Stone, Chris Columbus, and James Cameron all took a stab at it before Tim Burton finally saw it to the screen. The experience was painful to say the least but ultimately, that’s Hollywood. You just can’t take these things too personally. I guess I’d say, in answer to your question about how I deal with disappointments, I just keep moving forward. I just keep writing new scripts. Dwelling only slows you down.
Speaking of, were you bummed that “Zoom” didn’t do better? Just bad timing, ya think?
Would I have liked for “Zoom” to have been a hit? Sure. Was I bummed though? Not really. The final script of “Zoom” was so different than the original version that I had written that I can’t say I felt in any way connected to the final product enough to be bummed about. When I saw the finished film there was my name, but I didn’t really recognize anything I had really written in the movie at all. When writing for hire you can always expect to be rewritten a thousand times by a thousand different writers, best not to get too emotionally vested. When I’m directing a movie though, that’s a whole different story. I’m emotionally vested in every edit, every FX shot, every aspect of the final product. When I’m the director, every compromise stings!
Hearing nothing but good about “Underdog”.. were you a fan of the show?
I loved Underdog when I was a kid! I knew every word to the theme song, hell I still do! Just say the word and I’ll sing it for you! I was so happy to be able to write that movie!
And “Look” is next for you?
Yes! I shot LOOK and HOMO ERECTUS back to back. HOMO’s all done and LOOK is just about finished. The two movies could not be more different. HOMO obviously is a silly comedy and LOOK is a really dark drama. LOOK explores the true concept that each of us is captured by approximately 170 surveillance cameras every day. The film follows several interweaving story lines but the whole movie is shot exclusively from the POV of hundreds of surveillance cameras. It’s very voyeuristic, very creepy. I’m really proud of it!
I’m a studio exec. Pitch me “Homo Erectus”. Why would people want to see this movie?
HOMO ERECTUS, a comedy set in prehistoric times, follows the exploits of Ishbo, the world’s first nerd, who yearns for more out of life than just sticks, stones and raw meat. Determined to single-handedly advance the human race, Ishbo continually irritates his fellow Neanderthals with ridiculous inventions like the tooth brush, the spoon and pants. The rest of his tribe thinks that he’s a total idiot, including the beautiful cavegirl he loves from afar, Fardart. Unfortunately for Ishbo, Fardart only has eyes for Thudnik, Ishbo’s big, dumb, good looking brother. As if things couldn’t be any worse for Ishbo, the enemy tribe on the other side of the hill is readying for battle. Will Ishbo ever win Fardart’s love? Can he possibly survive a man-eating Wooly Mammoth attack or a man-hating tribe of beautiful but deadly Amazons? Can he finally pull his species out of the primordial doldrums before he’s…history?
Or I’d just tell them to watch the trailer on YouTube :
HOMO ERECTUS is released later this year