Listing all of the films made by director Larry Cohen would be pages long, and if you added in the number of TV show episodes, it’d be pages and pages past that. Even if you were to distill it down to the number of Blu-ray reissues over the last few years, it would be absurdly lengthy. Suffice it to say, in the last five years, the genre icon has seen Q: The Winged Serpent via Scream Factory, Maniac Cop 2 and Uncle Sam on Blue Underground, and The Stuff via Arrow Video, all of which come with amazing commentary from Cohen, if not a deluxe making-of as well. It’s an embarrassment of riches for fans of the New York-born movie-maker.
And now, the “triple-threat” writer/director/producer has a film all about his work. With insights from the likes of Michael Moriarty, Fred Williamson, and Yaphet Kotto, King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen is a love letter to Cohen’s films from writer/director Steve Mitchell. It’s available starting today on VOD, and we spoke by phone with Mitchell last year about the film’s production and getting it off the ground.
It seems that everyone has nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for Larry Cohen.
Well, I think Larry’s got a lot of fans out there. Hopefully, after some people see the movie, he’ll have some new fans — or, at least, people interested in seeing his movies.
How did you come to Larry Cohen’s films?
I kind of knew his work from television in my far-distant youth. At a very very young age, even as a kid, if I saw something I liked, I always wanted to know who was responsible for it, so I always paid attention to credits. And now, I don’t have to rely on my memory for things all the time; I can go to the IMDB for backup, but I knew Larry’s name, primarily, I think, from The Invaders.
That TV series really landed for me — no pun intended, with flying saucers and all that stuff — but as was the case with these Quinn Martin shows, they used to give these big, single title cards to the people who created the show and so, I became aware of Larry from that. But I think it wasn’t until It’s Alive — the reissue — that I really went, “This guy is really interesting. This is a guy….I will look out for his name.”
I grew up in New York, so I used to read the Sunday New York Times arts and leisure section, and I would scan the new releases, and the posters, and the credits, and who was doing what, because I was developing a fan’s mentality about certain filmmakers, and Larry kind of became one of those guys. If I saw something that was a Larry Cohen film, I would go see it.
So, I became interested in Larry back in the day, with It’s Alive, but I think I became a stone-cold fan when I saw Q: The Winged Serpent, which is my favorite picture of his — which is most people’s favorite picture of his, although I think The Stuff and God Told Me To are also big favorites amongst his fans.
How long was King Cohen in production? I know documentaries can be a bit of a different beast than a regular feature film.
I had the idea for the movie, in a vague sort of way, when I was producing DVD/Blu-ray special features. I was working at the time at Image Entertainment. I had gone to Larry’s IMDB page to check something out, and it wasn’t until then that I really became aware of all his non-genre credits, and I sort of became aware of the fact that, when he was doing his Larco pictures, he was also writing –– and occasionally directing — lot of mainstream television.
It sort of struck me that, wow, this guy is kind of doing his own thing, and working in the mainstream, and shuttling back and forth at will. That intrigued me, and I think that’s where the germ of the project got started. I started looking into the cost of doing one of these and I started budgeting and, you know, all that sort of initial prep work — when you’re blue-skying it and just looking at it in the broadest of terms — it’s barely practical.
What was the process of getting the money for the film — did you immediately jump to crowdfunding, or did you try to seek financing via more traditional avenues?
I went to the guys at Image and I said to them, “I’ve got this idea for a documentary. Would you guys be interested in it?” What they told me was — which they probably tell everybody — “Yeah, no. Sounds great. When it’s done, bring it to us, and maybe we’ll acquire it.”
Well, I was looking for them to finance it, because I had been producing some stuff for them, which was successful, but they fundamentally just acquire things. It’s quite a racket, when you’re in acquisitions, because — look at it like this: if a movie costs a hundred dollars, they look at it, and say, “That’s great, that’s great. We’ll give you $30 for North America.”
Their financing the project went out the window, and it kind of got back-burnered for a while, but it was always inside of me. Then, when crowdfunding came up, I got the idea that maybe I could crowdfund it. Then, the first thing I had to do was find out if Larry wanted a movie made about him.
Now, I knew someone who had access to his phone number, so I went, “Well, I gotta call Larry Cohen up and see how he feels about this.” Because what’s the point of doing a movie about somebody if they’re not going to cooperate with you? So, I call him up, and he answers the phone — which surprises me! — and I tell him that I have this wild idea about making a movie, and he says, “Come on up to the house.”
How’d that experience go?
I go up to that famous house in the Hollywood Hills, which has been used in one way, shape, or form, in every single one of his Larco pictures. Even in Q, there’s a bedroom scene that was filmed at his house, and that was almost entirely essentially a New York picture. So, yeah: I was up to the famous house, and he made me a cup of coffee, and he gave me a couple cookies, and I said I wanted to make a movie about him because his career deserves being celebrated.
He agreed with me almost immediately, and said, “If you can get it financed, I’ll help you in any way that I can.” So, I said, “Great,” and he loaned me a bunch of stills so I could cut together a trailer, and I went away for a while, and we launched the crowdsharing platform, and it was a spectacular flop. I think there’s a whole skillset to that thing that I don’t possess. So, I guess it’s not going to happen.
Then, I got to Comicon and I run into this guy named Matt Verboys, who’s one of the guys behind La-La Land Records, which is this great soundtrack label. I was a customer, because I’m a big soundtrack fan, and when we met, he said, “Are you the Steve Mitchell that wrote Chopping Mall?” and I said, “Uh … yes, I am,” with some anticipatory concern, and he said, “I love Chopping Mall!”
We got to know each other socially, because we’re like-minded and like a lot of the same movies. After a while, he mentions that La-La Land is looking to do other things than music, and so that took months to sort of settle inside my cement-thick head, and I wondered, “Maybe they might be interested in doing the Larry thing.”
So, I called Matt up, and I said, “I got an idea for you guys,” and he said that it might be a little out of the box, but let’s have lunch. We go have lunch, we sit down, we eat our food, and I turn to him and say, “This is what I was thinking about: I want to do a documentary on Larry Cohen.” Literally, before the ‘n’ in ‘Cohen’ was out of my mouth, Matt said, “I’m already interested!”
By the end of lunch, Matt said these sort of famous and profound words: “I don’t know how we’re gonna do it, but we’re gonna do it.” Matt came on board with my other producer, Dan McKeon, and we started to go to work.
King Cohen is available via VOD starting Tuesday, August 14.