The following is an overview from the John Carpenter Q&A panel that took place on Saturday July 23, 2011 at the FRIGHT NIGHT FILM FEST in Kentucky…
Moderator (from FANGORIA Magazine): How are you today?
CARPENTER: Except for the weather (it was VERY hot) great!
Moderator: Despite what your birth certificate says, aren’t you’ really from Kentucky and not New York?
CARPENTER: That’s right, moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky when I was five. This was during The Jim Crow Laws so everything I learned about evil was from that location.
Moderator: What is your opinion on 3D?
CARPENTER: I was around during the first 3D craze and loved it. Not so much now.
Moderator: Torture films?
CARPENTER: Not a fan!
Moderator: Asian ghost movies?
CARPENTER: Some are good I guess. I notice now that everyone can make a horror film so there’s nothing special.
Moderator: P.O.V. films?
Moderator: Illegal downloading of movies?
CARPENTER: I don’t like that. That takes away money from me and I need money.
Moderator: Why did so few people know about the recent release of your film THE WARD?
CARPENTER: (Sarcastically) Because it was all part of a secret release that nobody was supposed to know about. Why advertise?
Moderator (to audience): We are now inviting people to come up to the microphone and ask questions. Don’t try getting him to bad mouth remakes because, I tried, and he won’t do it.
QUESTION: What inspired you to make genre films and what advice do you have for other directors?
CARPENTER: I wanted to make a Western and got typecast into making horror! What advice do I have? Fall in love with storytelling, be original, and love cinema.
QUESTION: Of the films you have made, what’s your favorite?
CARPENTER: I have no favorites and I don’t ever watch them. All I see are the mistakes. I’d look at it and say, ‘what is this sh*t?”
QUESTION: Did you draw anything from Bowling Green into your movies?
CARPENTER: The names of streets and some characters.
QUESTION: What is your favorite Western film director and have you considered making one now?
CARPENTER: Howard Hawks is my favorite. Working on a Western today is hard because you have to raise the money and it’s not something studios are quick to embrace.
QUESTIONS: It seems that European releases of your DVD’s contain more extras and commentary from you than the ones released in the US. Why is that?
CARPENTER: Don’t know. Write the studio and demand it.
QUESTION: Do you have any technical preferences as a filmmaker?
CARPENTER: I like to film in Widescreen/Panorama but, despite the new tools, movie making has been basically the same since the 1930’s – just storytelling.
QUESTION: How did you get involved with the MASTERS OF HORROR films?
CARPENTER: A group of us would get together every once in awhile and make fun of each other and tell dirty jokes. Somehow the idea to do these came around and they managed to get me to do it without paying me. It was fun but it was basically free.
QUESTION: Who are your favorite actors to work with?
CARPENTER: I like Kurt Russell, Sam Neil, and Jeff Bridges. Any actor that makes my job easier.
QUESTION: Is there any sub-genre you’d like to revisit? What are your influences?
CARPENTER: (Answers second question first) All of my influences were from my youth in the 1950’s. I think we are all very influenced by the things we experience in our youth. As for sub-genres, they’re just stories and nothing new…..well maybe I’d revisit the “Women in Prison” films. (audience laughs)
QUESTION: You always seem to have a problem with authority. What makes you such a bad-ass?
CARPENTER: Sir…do I appear to be a bad-ass to you? I am always suspicious of authority. Don’t tell me what to think, where to stand…leave me alone! That’s why I had such a hard time being a parent because then “I” was the authority.
QUESTION: Did you know HALLOWEEN would be such a success?
CARPENTER: Had no clue!
QUESTION: THE THING was your first big studio film. How different was that experience than making an Indie film?
CARPENTER: Universal Studios was a different company back then. They were very accommodating and gave us extra time for SPFX. Today its all about “product.” All they care about is profit and loss?
QUESTION: I saw THE WARD and noticed a lot of similarities between it and SHUTTER ISLAND. Why is that?
CARPENTER: Don’t even bother seeing THE WARD! It’s the same movie as SHUTTER ISLAND except it doesn’t have the big actors. I didn’t know about it at the time but it’s the same film.
Man comes up to the mike and, like several fans before, thanks Carpenter for coming and asks how he is.
CARPENTER: Okay…don’t anybody else thank me for me coming or ask how I am! I am fine…I’m totally fine.
QUESTION: Have you ever thought about making a horror/Western?
CARPENTER: Nah….won’t work! You ever see JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER? A Western should be a Western and a horror film should be a horror film.
QUESTION: What genres today would you say are good and which are bad?
CARPENTER: Genre films are the same quality as all films; most are bad, a few are good, and very few are very good.
QUESTION: What inspired you to do music for your films?
CARPENTER: My father was a musician and it was cheap and fast.
QUESTION: I loved the music for HALLOWEEN. Did you know it would be so good and become so famous?
CARPENTER: Well thank you. It took three days to make that music and, no, absolutely not. I was just trying to finish a movie and was at the right place at the right time.
QUESTION: What is your favorite John Carpenter score?
CARPENTER: BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA.
QUESTION: Do you have any fun stories from THEY LIVE?
CARPENTER: Fun stories? I just remember having Roddy Piper, an experienced fighter, practicing against an actor who wasn’t in my wife’s back yard.
QUESTION: Are there any new directors that you like?
CARPENTER: Del Torro, Chris Miller….I don’t care if a movie is a remake as long as you make it yours. Make it good and say something.
QUESTION: What do you think of sequels and remakes?
CARPENTER: What do I think about them? I’ll tell you what I think about them. I stick my hand out like this (demonstrates) and someone walks up and puts money in it. I’ve wanted to know how to do that my whole life…make money without having to do anything. So I think they’re great.
QUESTION: Did you ever see the SOUTH PARK parody of THEY LIVE?
CARPENTER: No, but I have heard about it.
QUESTION: What do you think about HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH getting better recognition today?
CARPENTER: A good friend of mine (Tommy Lee Wallace) made that movie and it was unduly trashed. It definitely deserved better treatment.
QUESTION: The whole concept in PRINCE OF DARKNESS of the devil coming out of a jar seems so random. How did you come up with that?
CARPENTER: Random?..I dunno I guess I was in a random mood.
QUESTION: What was it like working with Christopher Reeve?
CARPENTER: That was right before his accident. He was complicated and not always easy to work with but I have fond memories.
QUESTION: With regard to BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, were you a fan of Asian films?
CARPENTER: I thought 5 FINGERS OF DEATH was fabulous.
Female fan steps up to the microphone
CARPENTER: Finally a gal! (laughter)
QUESTION: What actress would you like t0 work with?
CARPENTER: Amy Adams
QUESTION: What movie do you regret passing on?
CARPENTER: Not a one! (pause) Isn’t that a terrible answer? (audience laughs)
QUESTION: Did you specifically have Kurt Russell in mind to be your lead in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and THE THING?
CARPENTER: I did offer him ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK but had another actor in mind for THE THING…and I’m not saying who.
QUESTION: (another female) I was a babysitter when HALLOWEEN came out and was so scared! Why did you do that to me???
CARPENTER: I thought about you specifically when I made that movie, knew the effect it would have on you, and am so glad it worked. (audience laughs)
QUESTION: Do you have any plans to film with Kurt Russell again?
CARPENTER: No plans now, but we’ll see.
QUESTION: IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, PRINCE OF DARKNESS, and THE THING are referred to as your “Apocalypse Trilogy.” They seem, in some ways, very Lovecraftian. Was H.P. Lovecraft an influence?
CARPENTER: No, I do see some Lovecraft in IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS but not the others and that was never an influence. Those films are apocalyptic in that each of the them show the beginning of the end of the world. You could also say that CIGARETTE BURNS was a prequel to that.
QUESTION: Do you allow actors to make suggestions to you during filming?
CARPENTER: Every day. All suggestions should be heard and considered but you just can’t allow them to change the narrative of the story. I loved Charlton Heston but he actually tried to do that. He started by making suggestions and before I knew it, he was trying to make his character the hero of the film. But, regarding suggestions, yes you want to hear it all!