The director of the first two Gremlins talks about this prequel and his career as a director, which has been on hiatus despite himself for many years.
Dormant since 1990, the franchise Gremlins is finally back with Secrets of the Mogwai, an HBO Max animated series in the form of a prequel, which takes place in 1920, in Shanghai. In the first episode screened at the Annecy festival, we meet of course Gizmo but also the very young Sam Wing (the future Mr. Wing, the antique dealer of the first Gremlins). Clearly aimed at 8-12 year olds (hardcore fans may be disappointed), Secrets of the Mogwai should be a kind of road-trip through the countryside, with each episode different monsters and spirits, from Chinese folklore. Meeting with Joe Dante, director of the two feature films Gremlins and consultant on the series.
During the presentation of the animated series Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwaiyou said to yourself jealous of anyone who has a job “.
And I was 100% serious, I was not kidding. I am very proud to be associated with this series, I was lucky that they wanted me. People ask me all the time if I’m gonna work on a new one Gremlins. But Secrets of the Mogwaiit is Gremlins 3 !
Has it become so complicated for you to shoot films?
Let’s say I’m not the right gender, age, or ethnicity (Laughter.) So yeah, it’s hard.
Do you really think that’s how Hollywood works today?
Yes, of course I think so.
And does that make you bitter?
No. It’s like that. At one point, Billy Wilder didn’t have a job, neither did John Ford. I’m in good company, everything is fine.
Perhaps also that this mixture of comedy and horror which made you popular is no longer so fashionable?
Oh I think it’s the other way around, right? On the contrary, it is more popular than ever.
Let’s say that today I don’t see any equivalent to films like Gremlins Where Piranhas.
Those, maybe not. But as soon as the first Scream came out, all of a sudden Hollywood started churning out a bunch of meta movies. Films about films, about clichés, tropes. And my Howls was the first to do that: the characters knew of the existence of werewolves. In other horror movies, you had to wait for a doctor to explain the principle to them, and the audience would roll their eyes because they had seen this kind of scene a million times. Howls was self-aware, and it quickly became the norm.
Howls also stands out in 4K version.
Yes, I’m going to Paris after Annecy to make… uh… a presentation of the film, I believe?
Did you see it again for the occasion?
No, I don’t watch my movies again. But I still like him.
For my part, I recently saw Gremlins 2and I must say that I had forgotten how crazy this movie is.
And that’s why there was no Gremlins 3 ! The studio promised me that I could do whatever I wanted with this sequel if I agreed to shoot it. I did not deprive myself! I decided to deconstruct Gremlins and I had free rein. Well, afterwards, the studio didn’t really like the result and I think the screenwriter of the first film didn’t like it too much either.
Yes, him (He thinks) In short, it was really hard to do a sequel after Gremlins 2 : where do we go after that? They tried for years, they spent a lot of money and the project is still on the shelf. I read a few scripts. Chris says one of his versions is very dark, that he’s going to kill Gizmo. In my opinion, it’s not really a good idea… But hey, it’s his frankness, after all.
It’s still a lot yours too, isn’t it? You hacked it from the first part, moreover: basically, the script looked more like a real horror movie than a horror comedy.
The film has become what it has become. But it is true that the second Gremlins was much more personal to me, whereas the first one was just a job, if you will.
There is also this very cartoonish humor that characterizes you. Even in your films that don’t use animation at all, it transpires.
What do you want, it’s the humor that I like! Indeed, there is always a Looney Tunes Frank Tashlin period thing in what I do. That’s kind of how I see life, I can’t help it.
You have a consulting role on Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai. What does it really consist of?
Oh, it’s not much actually. Little advice, little advice, here and there, if I notice something wrong. I like to think that if I was a producer on the show, I would be very benevolent and let them do whatever they want. They would just show me the result. That’s more or less what Steven Spielberg does, by the way. He juggles franchises and tries to find the best way to keep them alive. In my opinion, making a prequel to Gremlins into an animated series was a very smart way to get around all those third movie script issues that they’ve had for about a decade. And then Steven is really there for the guys on the show if they need it. They told me that he kept saying: What does Joe think about it? That’s elegant of her.
Do you still talk to each other regularly?
No, it’s been a while. We saw each other at the Venice festival, I think, a few years ago. I don’t even know what movie it was for. But you know, I didn’t go to the parties he threw at his house (Laughter.) We never had that kind of relationship.
I come back to the beginning of our discussion, but I still have a hard time understanding how a director of your caliber has not made a feature film since 2014 (Burying the Ex)…
Already, I no longer have any desire to work with the very big studios. My last experience (Editor’s note: Looney Tunes: Back in Action) was too complicated. There are too many people who are just passing through and who feel entitled to tell you how to make a film, when they have no idea. Me, I learned from Roger Corman, Steven Spielberg, people who knew what they were doing. I still turned looney tunes for Warner Bros with a guy above me who didn’t like cartoons! At the end, you don’t know who you have to please anymore, it’s hellish. So I have to make independent films. But it is complicated to finance them.
And you don’t get calls from Netflix, HBO, Apple and all the others?
It’s not them calling you, it’s you! I have a few projects that I’m trying to pitch, and most of the time I’m told: ” We already have something like this in development. “, or ” We already made a film like that last year “. There are lots of reasons why a project doesn’t get done. And then the industry is crazier than it’s ever been. Because America itself is completely crazy right now.
In France, Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai will air on Cartoon Network. No date has yet been announced.