King Cohen: Discovering Larry Cohen | The Backlot Podcast | NYFA

Trailer: If you had never seen a Larry Cohen film, you’re going to be in for some really radically unique entertainment.

Trailer: Larry started as a writer, eventually became a director to protect Larry the writer.

Trailer: Pow, what was that?

Trailer: Larry Cohn is so much the invisible man. It’s entirely possible to have seen a lot of his work without knowing you were seeing his work.

Trailer: His movies have this energy and this attack.

Trailer: He’s a mad man but he makes these great little films.

Trailer: There’s a brilliance, there’s a childish naughtiness about him.

Trailer: He would do things that were dangerous. Larry would not only shoot in the streets of New York, he would drive cars up on the sidewalk on the streets of New York.

Trailer: This is New York City. They just get out of the way when you’re coming. Let’s face it, anybody would put up with anything if they think a movie is being shot.

Eric: Hello, everyone. Welcome to The Backlot. A very special episode we got today. I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. A couple months ago, we were going to have one of Hollywood’s most legendary filmmakers Larry Cohen come to speak at our school. In promotion of the documentary about him, King Cohen, created by Steve Mitchell and Matt Verboys, Verboys.

Matt: That’s good. That works.

Eric: How do you pronounce it?

Matt: I say Verboys. But you could say Verboys or. I’m back and forth on it myself so.

Eric: OK, then I feel less bad.

Matt: Yeah don’t worry about it.

Eric: So as you can tell, at least Matt’s here. Steve is here too.

Steve: I am.

Eric: See now I’ve got proof both of them are here. Cat’s out of the bag.

Steve: We are.

Eric: We will be talking about their documentary about Larry Cohen, King Cohen, and really taking a look at Larry Cohen’s career. And so he was going to come here with them to talk about the documentary. And unfortunately, he passed away.

Matt: Yeah it was very quick.

Steve: Was yeah, I was very quick. Very quick.

Eric: And I mean, I was looking forward to meeting him. But also, one thing I’m always pushing my students to do is like get to know the films that came before the films, like when we were kids we had UHF. And you would catch like kung fu theater, horror movies, sci fi, all of this stuff that was from before my time, but was so much part of my time as a kid before really cable and video and everything else. And so I was so excited to bring Larry Cohen, who represented so many eras of Hollywood and was so sad to see that we had lost him. And you guys have created such a beautiful tribute to not only the work of Larry Cohen, but also to the work of a bygone era of Hollywood.

Steve: Yeah, that was it’s it’s interesting. We started out making a movie about Larry, but as we were cutting it, one of the byproducts of the cutting and and, of course, when Larry was working is that we’re sort of tipping our hat to a way movies used to be made. We were tipping our hat to the way, I guess, in some way movies were being exhibited in those days. I mean, Larry had said that if the movie got made and it was remotely coherent and commercial, it was going to get in a theater. And growing up in New York City, one of the things that was really interesting was old Times Square, not the current. Times Square was a place where major studio pictures would open. But when they stunk and they weren’t making money and they weren’t selling popcorn, these Larry Cohen type pictures could sneak in. And so Larry loved the idea that, you know, his movies were playing on Broadway because Larry was from New York like I am.

Eric: And but Larry wasn’t only from New York. He was New York. Or maybe New York was him. I don’t know.

Steve: Well, the DNA is, you know, it’s in there and it’s part of who he is. I mean, as Matt can agree, Larry could be very blunt, which is a New York trait, or at least people perceive it as a New York trait. But, you know, Larry was, you know, a New Yorker. Someone once asked me what is the sort of connecting tissue in his movies? Took me, I don’t know, a whole bunch of interviews to figure this out. But Larry was a critic. He was a social critic. And all New Yorkers are critics. And so that was part of what made a Larry Cohen movie a Larry Cohen movie. You know, you don’t have discussions about movies when you’re a New Yorker. You have arguments. He once told me, he says, if I wanted to know what you thought, I would tell you what to think. And and it wasn’t a shock to me because I that mindset was know part of my own DNA. So I get it.

Matt: Yeah sure, that’s a director’s, you know. What is it like when they would ask Hitchcock if something didn’t make sense? Well, why are you doing this? And he would be like, the audience is going there because I’m taking them there.

Steve: Right.

Matt: You know and that’s that was Larry. And yeah, he, his movies would certainly reflect whatever his thoughts on any given topic were. And I think that’s that’s how he would come into genre sideways from a different angle than most people would. He’d kind of attack genre, usually sort of straight on. He’s more like, well, you know, New York City politics are screwed up. So what if there was a giant, you know, lizard on the. You know, the way he would work these things in or, you know.

Steve: Larry wanted to have asses in the seats.

Eric: Yeah.

Steve: And Larry turned to genre after Bone, which is a great film. Had it been a success, we might have had a whole different Larry Cohen filmography. But it wasn’t. And Larry somehow realized that he can do the kind of work he wanted to do through the camouflage of genre, you know, his social criticism. You know, he can take on a subject that he wants to take on. I remember him saying to me or to us that he said sometimes a script would start with an idea for a scene and not like the opening teaser or something like that. It would be maybe a scene in the middle of the picture might be, you know, having a moral argument about something.

Matt: Right.

Steve: You know, a lawyer is arguing with a cop or whatever it is. And somehow he had the ability to just take a nugget and expand it into a tapestry that was a film script. I just don’t know how the hell he did it. But he did. And, you know, Landis, John Landis says in the movie that – or was it Dante who said that he was an idea machine?

Matt: Yeah Dante said it.

Steve: And and he was a machine. Landis said he was very fertile. That’s what Landis said. And both were correct. I think that’s what made him kind of a unique creative voice is just the way he thought about story.

Eric: Well, even like It’s Alive? I heard him say he saw one of his kids I guess in a crib. It’s like if the kid could get out of there, he’d kill us all. And he’s like, that’s my next film. You know, just by looking at his baby and out of that comes one of the great horror films of that decade.

Matt: It’s iconic. Iconic creature, iconic idea.

Steve: I always felt that the form followed the idea that he never tried to crowbar the idea to the form of filmmaking. He just he had the idea. He improvised all the time. And so.

Eric: Yeah did he ever do storyboards?

Steve: Oh no, no. Bite your tongue.

Matt: I don’t, I don’t know if in the doc, but you know, producer Paul Kurta, who made a number of movies with him and, you know, there’s probably some embellishment here, but not much. He doesn’t think there was like a call sheet on Larry Cohen movies. And Larry knew it, too, which is why he knew at a certain budget level he wouldn’t be directing. Because once you cross a certain budget level, the studio obviously is not going to put up with. We don’t know where we’re shooting today. That’s not how they operate.

Steve: He also he was the producer and he wrote the checks. And so he just controlled everything. And for Larry, you know, call sheet was meet me at Grant’s Tomb at seven o’clock at night.

Matt: Yeah. And that’s what we’re doing. I think the fact that he worked in the industry, in television for, you know, quite a good while before he even started directing the movies. It’s like a two headed beast. He knew the ones he produced and directed were completely under his control. They could be improv’ed. They can go the way his desire wanted them to go. And then at the same time, he can write, you know, guilty as sin for Michael Eisner and would go through the rigmarole of shaping the script. Because I would see this. We did a script reading that’s in the documentary where some people read one of his scripts and you could sort of tell within two pages, oh, this one is a really polished one, that he had rewrite, rewrite. But it also, though, wasn’t as bonkers as, you know, the Larco script, which was always just sort of a rough draft and they would just kind of use it as a springboard.

Steve: Well, one of the drafts was the shoot. And then the final draft, of course, was the edit. You know, when Larry was at his best, he had the outrageousness of the ideas, but he was always wired into who people are. I mean, Q the wing serpent is is as good as it is because of Moriarity and without Moriarty’s character. That movie isn’t that movie. So Larry had the ideas, but they were always grounded because Larry, you know, Larry liked actors and he liked performers and stuff.

Eric: And they liked him.

Matt: Yeah. They remember coming to play. I mean that that was kind of the main thing was, Man, those were fun days. You know, I really got to flex my, my muscles.

Eric: It’s like being at camp. It’s like being at camp or acting school.

Matt: Right yeah. Yeah, right. That’s exactly what Eric Roberts said.

Steve: Eric Roberts said that very thing, yeah, about being at camp.

Eric: Seems like actors who worked with Larry Cohen. There was like true love there. I mean, it it feels like this was so much about like a family that he created. A repertory of actors and performers.

Matt: Yeah he did and the movies he directed he really kind of worked with the same cinematographers, same editor, same, you know, close knit group.

Eric: And not afraid to work with actors who were a little, quote unquote, past their prime. And it’s like, well, they they say in the documentary have an Oscar, but the phone’s not ringing.

Steve: Well, they were maybe past their prime in terms of younger executives casting them in movies, but they were immortals in Larry’s mind because Larry was an enormous film fan. It was a chance to work with, you know, some of his heroes. It was a treat for Larry. But also, Larry was the producer and he knew that they were good. Somebody once told me who worked for Roger said that Roger is really a producer first and a director second. Roger, the producer, always hired Roger as director because he was the cheapest guy in town and the fastest he could control them. And, Larry, you know, all of these guys who work in low budget knew about speed and efficiency.

Matt: I was just having flashbacks of, you know, us taking 30 minutes to set up our, you know, shot for the interview. And he’s like, I could have done a movie by now. What are you doing? You know, and we loved.

Steve: What’s taking so long?

Matt: We loved every minute of it.

Eric: Oh I’m sure.

Steve: Part of why Larry always wanted to hire good actors is he knew that he probably could get them to do what they could do in one take and move. And then he also worked with creative actors who could give him more than he would put on the page. I mean, Moriarity. I mean, he worked with Moriarity five times. And Moriarty loved working Larry’s way. You know, having the ability to sort of flex his muscles and play.

Eric: Yeah. I mean, Michael Moriarty, like what he adds to those films is like he takes a role that on paper might be just the cop, but find something more something interesting. You know, and I love it. That section of the documentary about his hairpiece and the argument of whether or not Larry Cohen bought him hairpieces I think is one of the comedic highlights of a very funny documentary.

Steve: Well, you know, we we had that, Larry, Fred Williamson, he said he said thing. And then I noticed I had the material with Moriarity to do one of those. And then the back third of the movie, we had yet another one. So it was a motif that just kind of presented itself. You know, when you cut a documentary, you have, if you’re lucky, a ton of stuff to work with. And just with Larry alone, we had a ton. I don’t know, Matt, what did we have? Between 15 and 20 hours or so?

Matt: At least.

Eric: Just pure interviews of him?

Steve: Well, part of it was interviews than I had. And I did about three or four hours of b-roll at a convention where I just followed him around with a camera for the weekend.

Matt: But, you know, we went back after our first three days of full interviews. We were back at that house like five additional times, doing just more.

Steve: It was great to have a subject like Larry who would always say, Come on over to the house, you know, whatever you need.

Matt: You’re always going to get something too, because, you know, he’s he’s just such a encyclopedia of stories and film history. It’s like just when you think you’ve got him on as many subjects as you, you know, figure there is, there’s stuff that comes up in interview number eight. You’re like, wow. You know, why weren’t we talking about this originally, you know?

Steve: Yeah. I mean.

Matt: It’s that kind of thing.

Steve: For as many stories as we got. And then as many stories as we’ve heard, Larry took a bunch of stories with him to the great movie theater beyond, you know. But I think we were pretty good in getting a lot of it.

Matt: We miss him a lot. And it’s part of because he – I think it was Chicago. We were at a festival in Chicago and we were just at a coffee place. And Bobby Darin came over the – Mack the Knife was playing. And I was like, if I ask Larry Cohen about Bobby Darin just off the cuff, ninety nine percent, I’m gonna get an amazing story. So you give it a shot, you go, Hey Larry, Mack the Knife, you know, did you know Bobby Darin? Know him? We were friends, you know. And you go off on this wonderful. But it wasn’t it wasn’t an a showman. Like, he wasn’t bragging. He loves entertainment and he loves old movies and he loves people. And it’s it’s he greatly admired these performers, whether they were movie stars or singers. He was excited that he got to intersect with them in some way. He was a fan.

Eric: And I’m sure for them, you know, like he talked about how in the 80s, 90s, how the model of Hollywood changed and suddenly you had more guys with MBAs and JDs making creative decisions.

Matt: He made an interesting comment in a conversation. It wasn’t in the doc. It was just something he said. And it was about, you know, writing for television. And they were talking about the writers room. And he just sort of was like, I don’t. Like there was no writer’s room. I wrote Branded, you know, I wrote, you know, there was no. What are you talking about, writers room?

Steve: Well, and those were the shows he controlled. I mean when he did, he did a show called Blue Light, which was a World War II espionage show with Robert Goulet, of all people. And I think he wrote every single episode and he used to dictate the scripts. He dictated the scripts to the secretaries and wore them out. They had to be constantly replaced because he was just a, my nickname for him has always been the Energizer Bunny. You know, Larry, the Larry we met was not young, but still the energy was there. And I can only imagine what he was like when he was really young. The other thing was when he pitched shows that he wasn’t running, I’m sure Larry could just extemporaneously just throw a story together and they would say, yeah, okay, that sounds fine. And he would go write it. Now, yeah. What was it? He made some reference where he’s talking about, oh, you go into a room now and there are all these legal pads and they’re writing things down and and and he’s going, who are they? And why are they entitled to an opinion? He just didn’t want to deal with people. I mean, he always said he wanted to do it himself. He didn’t want anybody to tell him what to do. And Larry is, I’m surprised I didn’t think of this early, but Larry’s one of the very few people who dictated his own career for the better part of 40-some-odd years. His career was on his terms. And as Larry would often say to us, get paid. You know, he wrote a lot of scripts that weren’t produced and he got paid. And so he was able to sort of have it both ways. And he’s very fortunate because almost no one can say that they’ve had it both ways.

Matt: It’s like he’s got this unworldly combination of an independent producer’s mindset and ability married with the fact that he’s a really good screenwriter. That’s the thing is like, you know, hey, I can’t get a movie off the ground. I can always write. I can always pitch. I can always. And he had the ideas to back it up. His ideas were were sellable. They were commercial.

Eric: And he could write himself out of a corner.

Matt: Yep.

Eric: You know the section about Betty Davis, when she quit the picture, he was like OK, well.

Matt: Well I think he liked that. I think he was, I think on the set, certainly the movies he produced, right? He was constantly writing. He was always writing himself out of corners.

Steve: Oh sure.

Matt: Because stuff was just always happening.

Steve: Larry has this, I don’t know if this is a New York thing or not, but I’m going to I’m going to say that it is. Larry willed things to happen. You know, New Yorkers don’t accept what they don’t want to accept. OK, Betty Davis is leaving the picture? Fine. I’ll solve that problem. And he was also able to figure out a way to convince the money people that it was a way to solve the problem. Larry never was in a corner. You know, when he was running around New York City and, you know, without permits and stuff like that, he always figured out a way because he would not accept anything else. People don’t do that now. Even, you know, if you’re making a 200 thousand dollar movie today, God, it’s life and death and everybody worries about everything. And Larry’s whole attitude was, you know, screw it. I’m going to do what I want to do and I’m going to solve my problem because he figured that somehow he was going to make it work in the editing room. You know, as a young, I know everything about movie making fan. You know, I would say oh well his movies aren’t really terribly well made, you know, yet I always remembered them. And it’s sort of the imperfection of his pictures, made them edgy and made them Larry Cohen movies.

Matt: Yeah distinctly his pictures.

Eric: His thumbprint.

Steve: So now all these, all these years later, you know, I realize that it’s all part and parcel of what a Larry Cohen movie is. The first card at the end of all of his Larco movies it says A Larry Cohen film. And that credit is earned. It’s all through him. It’s all through his filters.

Matt: And we tried to take because that energy is unique and that kind of leaked into the doc, too. I remember the conversation, I don’t know if Steve does, but we had early conversations when we were doing this. As to, you know, traditionally traditional doc, you, even though you’re doing the interview over the course of months or maybe even years, you’re replicating your backgrounds and the clothing is the same. And we just kind of thought, well, if Larry was making a documentary would, because it kind of came up. We were moving locations and we’re like, well do we redress. And it was like, no, because he, the energy of it takes you through his pictures and.

Steve: There’s a natural unforced quality, everything. And it’s spontaneous. Listen, there is no crazier movie in his canon than Hell Up in Harlem.

Matt: Yeah.

Steve: Hell Up in Harlem was the, we got to have a sequel fast, and Larry would say no problem. And he literally rushed into it with. I don’t even know if he had anything close to a script. He knew stuff he needed to get and he was shooting it concurrently with It’s Alive. He was shooting It’s Alive. And by the way, he’s working seven days a week. So he’s doing It’s Alive Monday through Friday in California. And then he’s going to New York.

Matt: On the weekend.

Steve: And grabbing stuff for Hell Up in Harlem. What did he tell us? Like, the editor didn’t know what movie he was cutting.

Matt: Oh, yeah.

Steve: At some point he was like, what? Which movie? Which one is this?

Eric: Was that the one where they were in the airport?

Matt: Yeah.

Eric: They’re on the baggage claim and they’re fighting on that. There’s a gun. They go up into the belly of the beast, climbing up to where the bags get put on the conveyer belt. Like that isn’t, and the idea where he had no permits for that.

Steve: Not at all.

Eric: That is miraculous. How did no one ever get shot making his movies?

Steve: That’s that’s a really good question, actually.

Matt: He did say at one point, a lot of it is just the bravado of doing it. Like sometimes people back in the day wouldn’t question you because they figured, well, you had to have gotten permission. There’s no, like it must have already happened.

Steve: He said when he was shooting on the streets of New York and shooting in the 70s was very difficult. I don’t think they had the mayor’s office at that time. So it was a lot harder to get away with shooting in New York. And whenever he would see a cop drive by, what Larry would do is he would look at them, smile and wave. And the cops figure, I guess they must be kosher. So they would drive on and Larry would get his shot and then probably hop in a cab with his cast and crew and get out of there.

Eric: You know, obviously this is a film institution and so on one hand, it’s like the bravado and the chutzpah. It’s like, ah you got to love him. And on the other hand, for me, as an educator who works with these students. I’m like guys, this is the kind of stuff that can get you arrested. This is the kind of stuff that can create so much trouble and yet, Larry Cohen found a way.

Steve: Well, he also did it 40-some-odd years ago which helps. I mean, we live in, we live in a different world. But still, the lesson that you learn from Larry, I mean, speaking to filmmakers is, believe in what you’re doing. Make sure you get it. Be brave. Be bold. Don’t be crazy. But Larry was crazy. I mean some of the stuff that he did was just legitimately crazy.

Matt: And it was also like everything was how can it help me in the movie? So if waving to the cop didn’t work, then option B was, does the cop want to be in the movie?

Steve: That’s true.

Matt: They’d do that a lot. You know, hey, will you help us out? Would you like to be? Or you know, one of my stories that I love. I think it was on special effects. At the end of the day, they needed a police car to arrive at the location as part of the scene and they just didn’t have the budget for it or they didn’t have it set up. So I think it’s one of those instances, it’s got to be a first, where he called the police on his own production so that he could shoot the police arriving.

Steve: Larry was very clever, in fact, on that scene and special effects, one of the things we had to do was we had to tear a lot of scenes apart for the clips and using clips to illustrate moments in the picture. And I got the impression that once the cops showed up to answer the call and they said, oh, there’s no real problem or anything like that, I actually think a couple of the cops performed, in that scene.

Matt: Oh no he said he did. He said they did. Yeah.

Steve: So he actually.

Matt: So he did both.

Steve: He got the cops there on a, on a false pretense and then said, hey you know you’re here. Do you mind just sort of taking your guns out and pointing them? And you look at the cops and if you’re from New York, you go, those are real New York City cops.

Matt: Yeah.

Steve: You know, Larry was resourceful.

Matt: And he enjoyed it. That stimulated the writer in him, too. So he would arrive at a location even if it wasn’t the location he had originally planned, and he would just rewrite all the dialog for that scene. He was just open to any kind of possibility. If the actor turned out to be a musician, like Moriarty did, then it’s like, you know what, we’re not doing this office scene. It’s gonna be at a bar now and now the whole character’s changing. If it could be better or could be changed or it could work, he would he would do it.

Steve: Well it was still his choice.

Matt: Yeah, it was up to him. Sure.

Steve: Larry’s confidence was just innate. I mean, it was it was who he was. Probably never had an unconfident moment in his life, certainly on a set. And so he was able to improvise. And being able to do that is kind of a gift. But it’s also a learned craft, skill, whatever you want to call it. And if you want to be a filmmaker, you have to be able to say, you know, Larry could come up with a solution immediately, but you might have to take a couple of deep breaths and think about something for a couple minutes and say, OK, why don’t we do this? And Larry was always totally available. And that’s a gift. People don’t always think that good on their feet, especially if they’re surrounded by big crews. Now, when he made some of these movies, especially special effects and perfect strangers, those were Larry’s two New York underground movies.

Eric: So it was like a skeleton crew.

Steve: Yeah. I mean, if he had more like.

Matt: Or like non-union, really small.

Steve: Totally nonunion, if they had 10 people on that crew, that would be a lot. In fact, he wasn’t even using SAG actors at the time. It’s interesting, I think special effects, given the lack of resources that movie has. It’s actually in many ways, I think one of his best pictures. I mean, it’s actually more designed than his movies would tend to be.

Eric: Like you brought up after hours. And I feel like there’s kind of like a stylistic sort of connection between those two films.

Matt: There are definitely, Steve’s very right, like if Larry actually does have the time in his schedule and the location is solid or he has a little bit more money, which was not the case in special effects, and a great DP. Glickman really shot that picture.

Steve: And creativity doesn’t cost money. The use of red in that movie. There was a color scheme and temperature that we don’t usually see in Larry’s pictures.

Eric: More stylized.

Steve: And yet, I mean, that movie cost I mean, nothing even on the terms of the budgets of the day. And Larry, listen, Larry wrote, produced, and directed it so Larry got paid. Larry always wanted to be paid. Larry was a capitalist. He was as an artist, but he was a capitalist.

Matt: And that’s something, I think that his television work taught him that when he, instead of starting immediately as an independent filmmaker, he had a lot of industry experience before he started.

Eric: I think that’s key, yeah.

Matt: So he was like, oh, I’m getting myself. I’m paying. You know, if he got a budget from AIP or, whatever it was, Larry wasn’t skimping on his script fee and he wasn’t skimping on his director’s fee. He’d skimp on the movie as long as he provided what the producers or the people paying for the movie wanted.

Eric: He didn’t put his own money in?

Steve: It was one of those, it was one of those interesting situations where he was spending money like it was coming out of his own pocket. And in point of fact it was. Because the extra 50 dollars he might spend on something is fifty dollars that is not going to go to him. But Larry was also fortunate, you know that luck and timing thing is he made a good living pretty much out of the gate. After a somewhat short period of time in the 60s, he was able to sort of know that he wasn’t writing for money to survive, which is what a lot of writers have to go through. He was writing to make a living.

Eric: So in terms of talking about how this documentary even started, I was surprised that it sounds like you didn’t necessarily. You knew his work really well, but it sounds like you didn’t necessarily have a personal connection with him.

Steve: Not at all.

Eric: When you started this. That that surprised the heck out of me.

Steve: Well, I was looking at his IMDb page one day and I knew all his feature credits. I knew a lot of his television. But what surprised me was all the stuff I didn’t know that there was a much bigger Larry Cohen portfolio of credits, produced credits, than I even knew. And I was thinking about trying to do a feature. And I had worked for Roger. And Roger had his own documentary, Corman’s World. And I said, I don’t know, maybe there’s something here. But I didn’t know, Larry. And I had originally thought about doing it through crowdfunding. But you can’t start a crowdfunding type of thing unless you have a subject who says, yeah, okay, I knew somebody who I think knew Laurene Landen and Laurene gave this person that I knew Larry’s phone number so.

Eric: Oh you didn’t even go through his representation, just through personal connection?

Steve: What representation? You know, I don’t think, I don’t think at that point he had any representation and I had to sort of gird my loins and get up the courage. I mean, I’ve talked to a lot of celebrities. I’ve interviewed a lot of celebrities. But still, you’re calling a guy up and said, would you let me make a movie about you? And the phone rings twice and Larry answers. I mean, I knew Larry’s voice from commentary tracks and interviews. And I said, hi, I am who I am. I want to do what I want to do. He says, come on over to the house. And I went over to the famous house and had deja vu all over again.

Eric: You recognized it immediately?

Steve: Yeah. No, it was, it was, it was kind of weird actually.

Eric: It’s in Bone. It’s in Black Caesar.

Steve: It’s in everything.

Matt: It’s in everything.

Steve: So he answered the door. You know, he said, You want a cup of coffee? I said, yes. We talked about it. He said he’d be very flattered if you can get it financed. Great. And then. OK. So Larry was on board. And then, you know, my my Kickstarter thing was a huge flop. So I had met Matt socially at Comic-Con and our friend says, hey, Matt, this is my friend Steve Mitchell. And and Matt goes, Steve Mitchell? Are you the Steve Mitchell wrote Chopping Mall? And I said, yes. And then he goes. I’m a huge fan of Chopping Mall.

Eric: Match made in heaven right there.

Matt: You just got to say shopping mall and I’m there.

Steve [00:28:45] Yeah so that was very flattering. And and we became friends socially. And I found out very quickly that Matt and I had cut from similar cloth. We’re both movie junkies. I’m a big film music fan and his label La La Land has put out some great, great scores, beautifully produced. So for, I don’t know, it was months before I even had the idea of of calling Matt and and suggesting this as a project, because Matt had said to me months earlier that he was thinking about doing other stuff, you know, trying to expand the La La Land empire.

Matt: You know, and true to being pragmatic it was like, you know, because my business partner, M.V. Gerhard and I were like, well, we’ve been doing the soundtracks and we love doing that. We’re going to continue doing that. But it’ll be, maybe entertain some other ideas. And it was always like, well, we don’t really have any development money, though, so what can we really do? And so, you know, I always kind of had well, we want to do stuff, but, you know, I don’t know what we can do, kind of thing. So Steve had to do a little convincing.

Steve: Well, I didn’t have to do a lot, though. You know, you said.

Matt: No I’m happy to have lunch with him.

Steve: Yeah. Well, that’s exactly it, you know.

Eric: So much convincing.

Steve: He said I don’t, I don’t know if. I don’t know if now’s the time, but let’s have lunch. So you go have lunch and I literally finish what I’m eating. And I said, all right, here’s my idea. I want to do a documentary about Larry Cohe- before the N got finished he says, I’m already interested. And then we talked some more about it. And he said, I don’t know how we’re gonna do it, but we’re gonna do it. And we began this this piecemeal.

Matt: There were two things. Yeah.

Steve: You know, raising of the money.

Matt: There were two things that sort of galvanized it. One was just timing and luck. I’d been watching a lot of clip docs is what they call them, like Corman’s World where it’s, you know, interviews and movie clips. And I had noted that the production companies making these movies were not big companies with deep pockets by any stretch of the imagination. I said ope, something’s changed in documentary filmmaking that this is able to be done. So that opened up how fair use now is incorporated into E&O insurance and how there’s an actual procedure you can go through to get these things accomplished without, you know, having to pay millions of dollars to make your movie.

Steve: And let me just interject. I actually did some pricing on the cost of clips and everything like that. It was this incredibly Machiavellian process where you would buy domestic clips for a year or two or you would buy it for X amount of years and then in perpetuity and worldwide, and intergalactic and interdimensional.

Matt: So the good news is there and already about a decade’s worth of fair use documentaries. So we knew that there was a tried and true procedure. And you have to work with a very specific kind of legal team. We worked with Donelson and Caliph, who were sort of the the grandfathers, the top dog of this type of fair use.

Steve: And kind of at the vanguard of all of this stuff so, so we knew we were in good hands.

Eric: And that took your budget from an astronomical amount to amount that was something produceable.

Matt: Well something that was, that was manageable. And then the other, the other factor, was, was our producing partner, Dan McKeon. Dan and I worked as a team to raise the budget, and we did it a number of different ways. But a documentary was ideal because we could raise some and then shoot some and then raise some more and shoot some more. And we were blessed that people wanted to come out to talk about Larry Cohen. So the more that they did, every time we go back to either other investors or partners, you know, by the time we got to Martin Scorsese saying he would be in the picture. It became a lot easier to get the rest of what we needed to do.

Steve: You know, you have an idea. An idea is just an idea. But all of a sudden you’re starting to say, yeah, we have an hour with this guy, an hour with that guy. People are going, oh, this is real now. We had a big name cast. I mean.

Matt: We did.

Eric: Fabulous casting.

Steve: And that helps.

Eric: J.J. Abrams right up front, by the way, is such a smart.

Matt: Well, you know what, can I can I tell the truth on that?

Steve: Please, tell the truth.

Matt: Larry Cohen strikes again. We originally were going to put that as kind of like the Marvel movies do as the end credits start. And then they stop and surprise. It’s J.J. Abrams.

Steve: Larry was like, what are you talking about? That goes in front before anything else. He’s a big name. You don’t. People are leaving the theater. People are leaving the theater. They see your name at the end and they are going, as you know.

Matt: So Steve goes off and does his edit and comes back and we’re like son of a bitch. Yeah, he’s he’s completely right.

Steve: No, he was totally right.

Eric: And JJ Abrams holding up the doll from It’s Alive. I mean, it’s such a, you know, that opening speech is your movie and the heart of the movie in a can right there.

Steve: You know, and it’s interesting what you’re saying is by doing that, it was a tone setter.

Matt: Yeah.

Steve: Larry’s attitude was so famous. He’s, everybody knows who he is. Why are you saving him for the end? I mean, and and when I’m getting, like, out of control here, that was Larry. Larry wasn’t like, you know, you shouldn’t save him for the end. No he would get, you know, he was waving the arms and flailing and yelling at us with the implication that we’re complete idiots. But that was Larry and you know, dammit it was right, you know.

Eric: Well, and I think to one thing that’s interesting is oftentimes a documentary you have an antagonist or antagonistic forces. And there’s some in this in terms of, you know, he’s working against an establishment. But really, in the end of day, there’s not. This is the story of a guy who triumphed repeatedly. And yet it feels like a full story. Like it doesn’t have a traditional narrative on that end and yet I very much feel like I’m taken on the journey with him.

Matt: Steve really presented Larry as really Larry is. Larry, you know, has his grumpy moments or his temper moments like any creative force has. But by and large, Larry’s heart is really big. He was never mean. He can be difficult sometimes, but he’s got a big heart. He truly likes people. He’s interested in them. And he’s got that spirit of the stand up comedian that he always originally wanted to be. And Steve put that guy front and center and, you know, he’s had some tragedy in his life. He’s had dark periods in his life. But that’s not really what Larry Cohen’s about. Larry Cohen is about his work and he loves movies. That’s the guy.

Eric: He’s the kid who would try to stay in the theater all day.

Matt: That’s the guy.

Steve: And he was that kid, actually. He would stay in the theater all day. The thing about, Larry, it’s it’s very interesting is I think other than film and television and creativity, I think Larry only cares about one other thing, and that’s politics. I think, Larry, you know, Larry doesn’t play golf. Larry doesn’t have a lot of, you know, bizarre hobbies. He doesn’t go skydiving. He loves to travel that much. I know. But the thing. Larry is very focused on his work and creativity and always coming up with something new. Again, a form follows content. And it was pretty obvious to us right away. In the larger sense, where we would go with the material, it was how we got there, which was the process, and we were lucky we didn’t have a deadline. That’s the other thing that we had going for us. We had no deadline on this movie. And so the whole attitude was, let’s get it right. Let’s not get it done in a hurry. Let’s get it right, because we’re making a first impression.

Matt: Fast, cheap. Good. Pick two.

Eric: Yes. You only get two and three.

Steve: Yeah, exactly.

Eric: Well, as we’re about to wrap up here, I obviously want to make sure we talk about you guys and what you have in the pipeline now and what you’re going to be working on next now that you have conquered the travails of a documentary. Are more documentaries coming? Like what’s next for La La Land Records or is it La La Land Entertainment? Like do you have.

Matt: We have sort of a. It’s La La Land Entertainment is is sort of like the umbrella. But really it’s the the record company that’s the driving engine of the whole enterprise. And that’s M.V. Gerhard and myself. But it’s really M.V. who’s helped craft a 17 year flow of soundtrack releases that have kept the lights on. We’d love to continue with things like this. I’d love to produce another documentary with Steve. It’s a steep learning curve. The learning curve continues because great. You made a movie. Now what? You’ve got to sell the movie. Right. You know, and so that is an ongoing process. We’re happy that it’s widely available. Now, people can see it either VOD, through iTunes or Amazon, or if they’re on Shudder, they can watch it on Shudder or they can buy our Blu ray, which is from La La Land Records, or you can get it on Amazon as well. And Steve put together really great extras for the Blu ray. There’s almost like, you know,.

Steve: About an hour and twenty. There’s like an hour, 20 minutes. About 45 or 50 minutes with the king. And then a bunch of other stuff with his subjects. and and there were still plenty of things that I didn’t use. I mean, I was very fortunate. I had a lot of good stuff, you know. What’s next? Well, we’re starting all over again. I’ve got about five or six different ideas. I got one specifically that we’re kind of focusing on now. But there are a couple of others. They’re all going to be mostly film related because in addition to, you know, doing this stuff, I do a lot of commentary tracks on blu rays and stuff like that. So I’m like, you know, Larry and I are very kindred spirits. I mean, you know, I’m I’m totally into film and film history. And so any other documentaries I would do would be mostly on that. Not entirely, but mostly. Again, he’s always sort of in our in our minds and our hearts and our conversations, you know. And look, he’s one of those most unforgettable characters. And he was a character.

Eric: And I think King Cohen is this beautiful love letter to him and really everything he represented, everything he fought for and really also to all the people he fought for. He fought for his material. He fought for his art.

Matt: And the other thing, too, is like the canon just speaks for itself. So, our documentary aside, people are talking about Black Caesar and It’s Alive and The Stuff. And these movies are 40, going on 50 years old in some cases. That’s when you know there’s a legacy there because there’s plenty of wonderful A-list great movies or movies that come out at the time. And they’re really well-received and people are talking about them. But are people talking about them decades later? So there’s something there.

Steve: To augment that. I think Larry always wanted to be Hitchcock or Michael Curtiz. I think he wanted to be a mainstream old school Hollywood director. And I don’t know sometimes if he was as proud about what he had done as he might publicly say. But he said to me, he says, you know, I’m glad I did these genre movies because they’re still talking about them, you know, an A-list movie comes out one weekend and, you know, it’s forgotten about by Monday. So I think even Larry kind of came to terms with how he felt about his own career. Larry, you did okay. What an, what an incredible legacy you’ve left behind. What a creative force he was on the planet, the likes of which, of course, will never see again.

Eric: His footprint was large.

Steve: Oh, yeah, very much so. And I think if you’re looking for a primer to get into the world of him, start with King Cohen and work your way outward from there.

Matt: That’s the thing, too, is that that’s something the project, you know, really highlighted for me. Like, there’s people that love the invaders. There’s people that love branded, who never watched the horror stuff. But are fans of Larry, because of that.

Eric: You could mention Columbo.

Matt: Well, that’s the thing, too, is when Larry passed and we were kind of handling some of the tweets and the social media of that whole thing. You know, we were getting messages from, oh, it’s the Colombo fan club and we’re so sorry to hear. So it’s like at the one hand you got you know, I can’t believe the stuff is the greatest movie ever made. Then there’s the Colombo fan club or people that like branded or the invaders or. And then there were thriller fans. You know, there were people that just love, you know, phone booth.

Eric: And then there’s you guys who loved it all.

Matt: Yeah. I was like Steve was, I was surprised at the breadth and the width of. There’s very, very few of those guys left.

Eric: Well, and we lost a great one. So when we’re tired about doing a, you know, something in tribute to him, one thing I’ll say is as bittersweet as it is, as wistful it is, there’s so much joy still in his work, exploring his stories, you know, across the realm from the early days of TV to Joel Schumacher’s phone booth. You know, we were talking like, you really can’t get more diverse than that. And he was such a trailblazer. And I think you guys have really done that, that remarkable thing with your documentary of getting it all in there. And so hopefully this helps get you some more eyeballs, but really also gets Larry Cohen’s work, his legacy is all these things he did. And you only added to his legacy with King Cohen. So guys, thank you so much. And thank you for coming back, by the way.

Steve: Oh, our pleasure.

Matt: Any time.

Eric: Guys, thank you so much.

Matt: Oh my pleasure. This was fun.

Eric: And thanks to all of you for listening. You want to check out some of our other Q&As you can go to our YouTube channel. That’s YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. This episode was edited and mixed by Kristian Heydon. Our creative director is David Andrew Nelson, who also produced this episode with Kristian Heydon and myself. Executive produced by Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler, with a special thanks going out to our staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs, check us out at NYFA.edu. You can subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you may listen. I’ll see you next time.

 

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