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COMEDY IS TRAGEDY: A Conversation with Mike Legge PDF Print E-mail
Written by by Mike Watt   
Jan 14, 2005 at 02:00 AM
Flying in the face of sanity, spitting in the face of logic, kicking sand in the face of common sense and kissing the ass of comedy is filmmaker Mike Legge, who has spent the better part of his adult life making low-budget, independent comedies. Comedy is a hard subject to tackle on any budget level, but rather than try and make a quick buck with a slap-dash gory horror movie, Legge has made a number of short and feature-length comedies which have been met with as much praise as criticism. And a fifty-fifty balance isn't bad at all with so subjective a genre.

A number of Legge's are available through Sub Rosa, including the double features HONEY GLAZE / BRAINDRAINER and LOONS / CUTTHROATS, as well as the comedy/horror short STUMPED (starring Debbie Rochon and Jasi Cotton Lanier ? a.k.a. in those days Roxanne Michaels).

Legge is also a gifted actor, and can be seen in the Sub Rosa produced anthology "The Cutting Edge" doing a dead-on Rod Serling impression. (He also has a terrific role as a weasely villain in Pat Bishow's THE GIRLS FROM H.A.R.M.) Perhaps his most famous role is that of hypnotist and bad guy "The Amazing Jacques" in his own sf film BRAINDRAINER.

Legge tackles subjects near and dear to his heart with his films. HONEY GLAZE is a parody of spy thrillers, with the secret agent title character a women suffering from arrested development who finds herself up against an odd assortment of villains. In BRAINDRAINER, a meteor from outer space is responsible for sucking the I.Q.s from the heads of anyone who touches it ? and "The Amazing Jacques" and "The Spider Woman" want this thing for themselves!

LOONS asks the question "have you ever felt like you were the victim of some long-forgotten curse?" Maybe you are. Maybe every single crazy member of your family is crazy because of the grudge of a long-dead Puritan witch! And CUTTHROATS is the nightmare of every working stiff in every office in the world. Vicious bosses want only to humiliate the employees, co-workers spend the bulk of their time trying to avoid work by stabbing others in the back.

Each of these films is a comic gem that most anyone can relate to. They're films of gentle comedy, as well ? the laughs come from the characters and the situations, rather than a gag for the sake of a gag. It's a lesson that Hollywood comedy writers would be highly recommended to learn. (Wayan's Brothers: I'm talking to you!)

A question I'm sure you've been asked before: as hard as it is to get an independent film made and seen, you tend to avoid the "sure-fire" horror genre in favor of off-beat comedy (with occasional oblique horror elements). Is this a conscious choice?

Yes. My favorite genres have always been comedy and horror/sci-fi. I found that personally I had some talent in writing and acting comedy, starting when I was a kid through high school. I think that if you're going to make no budget movies in the first place, why make movies that you think other people want to see? Do what YOU want to do; it isn't really costing you much. I don't have to mortgage the house to make a movie. I write what makes me laugh. I realize that people's sense of humor is different from person to person. Me, I've never gotten a kick out of vulgar, gross out comedy. I like absurd, silly, and just plain broad humor, and yet at the same time, I try to bury some satire in it so there's something for everyone. I've thought sometimes of trying a horror film, but I don't know if I could stay serious long enough to make something scary. I know if I did, it wouldn't be a gore fest. I'd rather do something more subtle.

What are some of your primary inspirations for your movies?
My movies kind of break down into two categories. Spoofs or parody of genre movies, and just plain wacky stuff. I've done two movies inspired from working in crummy jobs, WORKING STIFFS and CUTTHROATS. Some things come from personal events in my life, even though it gets pretty far removed from the reality of my life. Movies like POTENTIAL SINS, CURTAINS and even LOONS reflect aspects of my life that I coped with by making a comedy about it.

What nationality is your villain character in HONEY GLAZE, anyway?

Beats me. I think I threw in some Fu Manchu accent and Peter Lorre. Basically I didn't want him to have an identifiable accent. I really don't think you can point to any one group or race of people that is "the enemy." I think there's just a lot of nut cases running around of various ethnic backgrounds, and there's no way to protect yourself from them. Dr. Sum Thaim has the Asian sounding name, but he's what he says he is; a little of everything. Aren't we all?

Does the story for CUTTHROATS come from personal experience? And how do the pirates fit in?

First off, I should say I work for the Post Office. A lot of people would think, "ahhhh, cushy government job." Like hell. The P.O. is like or worse any major corporation. The employees are cattle; disposable and easily replaced. Backstabbing goes on like any workplace, and while they make a public face of "we really care about the safety and well being of our employees", that's just a smoke screen. You're there to be used and thrown out when you're used up, like most jobs. Just being fed up working within that mindset made me write CUTTHROATS. As for the pirates, hey, are they really any worse than the corporate CEO's ransacking their companies and leaving their stockholders and employees bleeding on the ground? Boy, we've really come far, haven't we?

Has anyone ever told you that your performance in LOONS calls to mind a young Steve Buscemi?

No, but I'm flattered. I liked all the stuff I've seen him in, especially GHOST WORLD.

What were some of the problems you've encountered during your productions? Any creative solutions that you're particularly proud of?

The older films like LOONS and CUTTHROATS were shot on Super-8 film. Right there, you're in trouble. Those old S8 cameras weren't made to last, and they broke down whenever they felt like it. I must have gone through about four sound cameras during those years. And waiting for the film to come back from the lab was another adventure. First, the lab could louse it up in processing, (which happened), or some shots come back a little soft looking, or exposed wrong, or no sound, (which happened more.) I made a rule though, that whenever I had to reshoot something, I'd do it totally different. It usually came out better.

Having no money for production values, I go by the adage, ?if you're given lemons, make lemonade.' When I write a script, I feel challenged by financial limitations, and it's kind of fun, especially writing a comedy, to come up with a way to get around the big bucks special effects or sets or props or whatever. You can enjoy wallowing in your own cheesiness.

What was the average production time on your films?

It usually takes about six months to shoot a movie, since we can only shoot on weekends. It's an old story; everyone has a "real" job, so that's the only time they can participate.

Of the four, do you have a personal favorite?

That's a hard one. You usually tend to like your newest best, and I do to the extent that I think it's the most polished movie of all. It's the first digital movie we've made, so I had a lot more leeway with non-linear editing and the like. I might favor BRAINDRAINER if it had been made in digital, but I'm very dissatisfied with the way it looks. The SVHS camera we used didn't seem to be telling the truth in its viewfinder, and shots are fuzzy or dark.

How do you feel about the new DVD treatment of these four productions?

I love that these are coming out on DVD! I think it gives them class or makes them seem more legitimate in some way.

Anything else you'd care to add, plug, or otherwise mention?

I getting ready to shoot my newest movie, DEMOCRAZY, which will be my version of DUCK SOUP. Doing a political satire is hard right now, because the world might be so different by the time I finish. Hell, it might not even be here at all!

HONEY GLAZE/BRAINDRAINER and LOONS/CUTTHROATS are available on DVD through www.b-movie.com. STUMPED and THE CUTTING EDGE are available on VHS only.
Visit Mike on the web at sideshow cinema.

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