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Interview

Rob Zombie

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Who he is: Best known as the lead singer of metal band White Zombie, Rob Zombie isn't content just releasing platinum-selling discs. Zombie used his status to branch out into directing music videos, animation (he collaborated with creator Mike Judge on a sequence in Beavis and Butt-head Do America), and album art design. His most ambitious project yet, the horror film House of 1,000 Corpses, is finally scheduled for release this month after years of battles with studios and the MPAA.

His current project: Zombie was hired in 2000 to write and direct Corpses for Universal Pictures, which ultimately deemed the film "too dark and disturbing" to release. Zombie dubbed the filmmaking process "art by committee." Said Zombie, "Everyone has an opinion, but nobody wants to have too strong an opinion because nobody wants to make a definitive decision for fear of that decision coming back to them. So they all sort of weigh in but don't weigh in. In the end, it got done basically by ignoring what they say and doing whatever you want."

How he did it: The film was set for release in 2001 and trailers were already running when the chairman of Universal Pictures, Stacey Snider, first caught a screening. "Stacey screened it the day she came back from testifying in front of Congress on marketing violent movies to children, so that was obviously pretty fresh in her mind," Zombie recalled. Snider called Zombie up to her office to announce that Universal would not be releasing the film. "She was pretty honest, she's very cool, I don't have any bad feelings about her. She was just saying that she runs her company based on her own set of values, and this was something that, under her beliefs, she felt she couldn't release, so she wasn't going to."

Universal sold the film to MGM, which also balked at releasing the picture. It finally ended up at Lions Gate Entertainment, but Zombie is still skeptical. Though it is set to be released this month, he stated: "I'll believe it when it happens. I'm not going to get excited yet." The film eventually won an R rating, after Zombie presented it five times to the MPAA Rating Board. "Even with this cut they were like, 'You were right on the edge, buddy.'" Did the MPAA tell him what to cut? "They don't tell you. They suggest. You play a game." According to Zombie, an editor told him, "If you don't cut enough they think you're fucking with them. But you don't want to over-edit to try to please them. Sometimes you can send it back without the music and they're like, 'Thanks,' and you didn't cut anything. But if you go back and forth too much they start getting annoyed."

Zombie's intention was to make a "high-quality drive-in movie. I never wanted it to be too slick, but I never wanted the budget to show." His budget was around $5 million. "They say it's 11, but I don't remember having $11 million at any point. That's why the test screenings drove me crazy, because every test screening would cost them like 100 grand. I'm like, can't we just use the 100 grand in the movie?" Perhaps anticipating the MPAA battles, Zombie was asked to film what he called bloody and non-bloody versions. "We had 25 days and no money and they go, 'Why don't you film every scene two ways?' So, essentially, I'm filming two movies at the same time."

How he regards influence: Set in the 1970s, Corpses is a throwback to the gory exploitation films of the past. While Zombie admits to being influenced by films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, he also cites The Rocky Horror Picture Show. "It's that sort of thing where every two seconds some wacko character comes out of the woodwork. Those are the movies I always loved." Zombie isn't sure what kind of a director he was, though his actors told him he was a true actor's director. "To me it's all about the actors. I gave them room to improvise and come up with stuff. I know actors who hate being over-directed. You have to somehow get them where you want them to go without nitpicking them to death."

What's on his resumé: One of Zombie's early jobs was as a production assistant for the children's show Pee-Wee's Playhouse in the 1980s, on which he did "just crappy PA work," although, he noted, "That sounds like a great job now."

What he advises artists: "The only thing I say to people, and I say it jokingly but I'm completely serious, is if having people constantly tell you that you suck and they will hate you for the rest of their life doesn't bother you, then forge ahead!"

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