Charles Band is the most prolific filmmaker you've never heard of. In his three decades in the movie business, the 53-year-old Angeleno has been involved in the production of over 250 films. To a person weaned solely on cookie cutter googolplex fodder, his filmography will at first glance read like some sort of jape, stocked with B-schlock titles like Galactic Gigolo, Sorority Girls In The Slime Bowl-O-Rama and Creepozoids. Look a little bit closer, though, and you'll find his name attached to guilty pleasures like From Beyond, Trancers and the cable TV staple, Ghoulies.
The son of late veteran filmmaker Albert Band and the brother of composer Richard Band, Charles Band has built an empire, quite literally. In 1983, Band started Empire Pictures, a low-budget studio based in Italy, which he sold in 1988, necessitated by the collapse of the lira. Then, however, Band regrouped to form the entity that is most closely associated with him today -- Full Moon Pictures. The direct-to-video (DTV) production house provided horror fans with a steady supply of product, which the major studios were either unwilling or unable to provide. Titles like Puppet Master, Dollman and the aforementioned [Empire-produced] Trancers provided fertile seed for perpetual sequelization, keeping the company running past the dawn of DVD in 1997 and through the present.
Band launched Wizard Entertainment earlier this year, and announced plans to personally direct six films for it annually, including the 35mm feature H.G. Wells sequel, Dr. Moreau's House Of Pain. To promote his efforts, he is going all Kerou-wacky starting October 5 with Charles Band's Full Moon Horror Road Show, an interactive fan experience that will touch down in 18 cities and end with a big Halloween show in Philadelphia. With another 60 dates already planned for next year, Band says of the road(show) ahead, "I'll learn geography quite well."
Cinematical: What first inspired you to want to make movies?
Charles Band: I grew up on a movie set, in Italy in the 1960's, spending time on set with my father, hanging out with guys like Steve Reeves [on the set of 1962's sword-and-sandal schlepic The Avenger]. I was a comic book freak, and I read a lot of horror and sci-fi books, because at the time, there was not a lot going on in Italy, which was about 20 years behind the rest of the world. Still, it was a great place to grow up. By being around filmmaking all the time, I got a lot of training, and as I got older, I decided that I wanted to make horror and genre films. I just jumped in, and haven't been able to jump out.
Do you ever wonder how you would have fared in Hollywood?
From time-to-time, I've looked at friends in the business who have become very successful, lamenting how the grass is greener and so on, but really, it's just different grass. On larger films, the timeline is much slower, often taking years to finish a film. In my world, we make smaller movies, and while sometimes, the budgets and resources can be a drawback, the big positive is that you can write an idea and 60 days later, you're shooting it, 4 months, it's in stores or on The Sci-Fi Channel. I've done it hundreds of times.
You've been laying low for a couple of years. Where have you been?
I took a hiatus because I was disillusioned at how major studios controlled everything. I went away and cleared my head, and now I feel rather invigorated. I know I'm taking a risk with this whole new venture [Wizard Entertainment, which is separate from Full Moon] and returning to producing 35mm features again.
Isn't digital video cheaper?
The cost is absurdly low, but I didn't want to go there again, so I got back to 35mm. It just looks better. I've been very hands-on, producing, directing and designing the action figures.
Why bring on the added stress of a tour?
I asked myself, "How do I get the word out to the hardcore fans?" And so came the inspiration for the Road Show. It's kind of like a rock and roll band going on the road to let the fans know about a new CD, and since I'm the key guy and easily identifiable, it made sense.
Past October, what are your plans for the Road Show?
Right now, I'm looking at it like a franchise. I'm planning on heading out maybe 3 times a year, touching 40-50 thousand people, sometimes in 1000-seat venues, too. This grassroots approach is a really good way to bring people into the fold.
What can fans expect?
Surprise guest appearances from some of the people who got their starts with us over the years, rare footage from many of our films, original puppet and doll auctions in every city and a chance to be killed in an upcoming movie. It's going to be a really good time.
What was your first-ever effort?
When I was in my teens, the little amateur experimental films I made were actually booked into arthouses in Rome, playing before the features. I had some success at that, and at the time, I wanted to be like Warhol. Things changed soon after, though, and before I knew it, I was planning my first horror movie.
It was a horror movie called Mansion Of The Doomed. It came out in 1976, and I was 22 or 23 at the time. It had a pretty good cast, including Richard Basehart, Gloria Grahame. It was also the first movie that Lance Henriksen starred in.
What kind of influence did your father have on you as a filmmaker?
The first thing he showed me was how you carry yourself as a human being dovetails into your talent as a producer. He was calm and even-keeled, and whatever the challenges were or whatever drama there was on the set, he always handled it well and diplomatically. I loved to watch him. He put me to work young, and it wasn't all fun and games. The apprentice production work was hard, but led to post-production work. I made a little money, experienced the camaraderie of working with a "set family", and learned to move on after the wrap.
What about other influences?
There was no real TV in Italy at the time, so I turned to literature, horror, sci-fi and fantasy and Marvel Comics. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were big for me, and I watched a lot of weird Italian art films by guys like Fellini and Pasolini.
How do you find an audience in the competitive DTV market?
From day one in the video business, there was always a way to make a few dollars if you were innovative. Today, though, it's nearly impossible to sell 30 or 40 thousand units versus the 20 million a studio moves, unless you get picked up by a Blockbuster or a Hollywood Video. It's not even apples and oranges anymore -- it's more like watermelons and raisins. Still, we manage. Despite the fact that we can't afford to buy TV or print, there are still a lot of Mom-and-Pops, which we have always done very well by.
Why are the kinds of films that you make important to the industry?
They're an alternative to the studios' programming. I'm not going to mindlessly put down all major studio programming, because once in while, a major movie slips out that's different and clever, but the way we do things, I don't have to worry about getting watered-down scripts. With Puppet Master, I knew I had something, though it's nothing terribly original and has spawned 8 sequels and been ripped off a lot. Basically, if you like horror movies, you have an appetite that's a lot bigger than what the studios are willing or able to supply. In time, all these remakes will wear thin.
For a listing of tour dates for Charles Band's Full Moon Horror Road Show, click here, or to learn how to make movies the Charles Band way, go to Cinemaker.net.