'Animal House' director calls state of film depressing
John Landis attends the "Forbidden Fruit" readings from banned works of literature on Sunday, May 5, 2013 in Beverly Hills, Calif . (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, July 19, 2013 5:57PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, August 12, 2013 12:13PM EDT
TORONTO -- "Animal House" director John Landis calls the current state of the film business "depressing," saying it's increasingly harder to get a feature released theatrically.
"It's very difficult now," he said Friday in an interview at TIFF Bell Lightbox, where he appeared at the "Animal House" 35th anniversary reunion and was to do a book signing and an "In Conversation With..." talk on Saturday.
"It's a whole new business, and I don't want to sound like I'm complaining, because things change and you can't do anything about it. Steve Soderbergh gave an interesting talk recently about how frustrating it is, because the studios no longer are interested in really making moderately priced or non-pre-sold films."
The 62-year-old director/writer/producer said he's now working with a screenwriter on a movie in England, shooting a commercial and penning a book.
But he predicts a grim future for a horror feature he co-wrote with French filmmaker Alexandre Gavras in 2011 for a producer in France.
Landis said when he submitted the screenplay last year, he got the same bewildered reaction he initially received for his 1981 genre-bending "An American Werewolf in London."
"The French producer read it and went (Landis scrunched up his face in mock confusion), so I gave him his money back and I own it. I don't know if it will ever get made.... I was supposed to be shooting now and I think it freaked him out."
The Emmy-winning Chicago native insisted he's "very happy" with the script, though.
And he's at a point in his career where he only wants to make a feature film that he's interested in -- but that's getting harder and harder to do.
"I'm offered films but they're mostly terrible," said Landis.
"I think one of the reasons 'Argo,' which is a good movie, won quote-unquote 'best picture' is it wasn't stupid," he later added. "And people were so grateful, like, 'Gee, this is like an old-fashioned movie.' But if that movie had been made in the '70s, it would be one of many films that year that were smart and interesting, as opposed to standing alone."
Landis was on a directing tear in the '70s, '80s and early '90s with high-profile projects also including as "Three Amigos," "Coming to America," "Spies Like Us," "Beverly Hills Cop III" and Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video.
He said he took the pioneering "Animal House," in part, because of the strong cast and "wonderful script" by Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney, and Chris Miller, who drew on their fraternity experiences for the story.
"'Animal House' is set in 1962 ... John Kennedy is still alive and it's before the Martin Luther King assassination, before Vietnam blew up. It's a time of, not innocence, but it's a time before the cynicism of the '60s and the brutality and violence of the '60s," he said.
"'Animal House' ends in anarchy and civil insurrection. I'm so interested no one notices. The good news is, you shouldn't notice, you should just laugh -- it's funny, it's a comedy."
After making "Animal House" for just $2.7 million, Landis went on to work with star John Belushi once again on "The Blues Brothers" for $27 million -- a budget that wasn't set before cameras started rolling.
"We shot 12 weeks in Chicago, so I think the eighth or something we were sent a budget and Bob Weiss, the producer, said, 'Jesus, we've spent more than this already,"' Landis, who co-wrote the musical comedy with star Dan Aykroyd, said with a laugh.
Landis said he feels lucky to have started in Hollywood in the '70s because "directors were treated with much more respect then and allowed to make their films."
Alfred Hitchcock, for instance, had his own bungalow on the Universal Studios lot, and Landis used to have lunch with him.
The five-time Oscar nominee insisted that his crew wore ties during filming to show "respect for the craft," which inspired Landis to also don a tie on his sets.
"Hitch was so dirty. He was so vulgar. He was really funny, really funny," said Landis. "It was always so shocking when it came out of Mr. Hitchcock. He could always shock me."
"The Blues Brothers" and "An American Werewolf in London" are scheduled to screen at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Saturday evening.