in Carthage, NY in 1948 and raised in Bowling Green, Kentucky, film director John
Carpenter started his career as a teenager by shooting 8mm films with his
father's movie camera. In 1968 his lifelong love of film landed him at University
of Southern California in Los Angeles where he met fellow filmmakers Dan
O'Bannon (writer of ALIEN, BLUE THUNDER and LIFEFORCE) and Nick Castle
(director of THE LAST STARFIGHTER). After co-writing, co-directing and editing
the Oscar-winning Best Live-Action Short Subject THE RESURRECTION OF BRONCO
BILLY, he made his thesis project, a 45-minute science fiction parody of 2001:
A SPACE ODYSSEY called DARK STAR with O'Bannon, which was expanded to
feature-length and given a theatrical release. His second film, the cult hit ASSAULT
ON PRECINCT 13, was shot in 20 days on a budget of less than $125,000 and
boasted a brilliant and sinister minimalist score by the director. It succeeded in Europe and secured him THE
BABYSITTER MURDERS, an idea suggested to him by film producer Irwin Yablans who
was impressed with PRECINCT 13. Setting the story on Halloween night and creating
a mystique about the film's murderer, Michael Myers, proved pivotal to
HALLOWEEN's box office success.The film
spawned one of the most lucrative franchises in cinema history while
effectively securing Mr. Carpenter a two-picture deal with AVCO-Embassy Films,
out of which came THE FOG and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, both of which also boasted
original scores by Mr. Carpenter.
Morricone, Jack Nitzsche and Shirley Walker took over scoring duties on THE
THING, STARMAN and MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN respectively, but Mr. Carpenter
took back the reins on CHRISTINE, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, PRINCE OF
DARKNESS, THEY LIVE, BODY BAGS, IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED,
ESCAPE FROM LA, VAMPIRES, and GHOSTS OF MARS.Unfortunately, he no longer scores his own films, as it is too time
consuming and too much work.
the exception of DARK STAR, his TV-movies HIGH RISE and ELVIS: THE MOVIE
(incredibly, Elvis Presley plays "Dr. John Carpenter" in the 1969
movie CHANGE OF HABIT), and his additional television work, Mr. Carpenter has
photographed all of his films in the anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which
yields a wider, panoramic image on the movie screen, something retained for the
DVD releases of his films.
spoke to Mr. Carpenter regarding his career and his new film, THE WARD, which
was filmed in 2009 in the Des Moines, Medical Lake, Cheney, and Spokane areas
of Washington State and which is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Stryker: You made several short films on 8mm when you were a teenager, with
titles as diverse as REVENGE OF THE COLOSSAL BEASTS, TERROR FROM SPACE, GORGO
VS. GODZILLA, GORGON THE SPACE MONSTER, WARRIOR AND THE DEMON, and SORCEROR
FROM OUTER SPACE.Will audiences ever
get a chance to see these films?
Carpenter: Never, never, ever.
Stryker: Really?Not even as a
supplement on a DVD?
Carpenter: Because they're shit.
Stryker: (Laughs and mockingly pleads) Not even your die-hard fans who are
curious and really would love to see them?
Carpenter: I don't care how curious you are.You can be curious.You can be
curious about seeing me naked, but you're not going to.There are some things I will not do, and I
will not show those films.
Stryker: What did making those short films teach you about filmmaking?
Carpenter: My dad had an 8mm movie camera, and he gave it to me as he got
bored.He wanted to do stills.So, I had an 8mm movie camera, I had a
splicer with splicing cement so I could cut them together, and I had a
titler.What I used to do when I started
was called in-camera editing.So, I
would have an actor run up and look, and I would shoot what he saw, then stop
the camera and then shoot his reaction.
Stryker: All done in-camera.
Carpenter: Right.And then one day it
suddenly occurred to me that what I could do, I could shoot the actor and let
him do all his acting, and then at another time and even in another location, I
could shoot what he's looking at.So, I
discovered the essence of filmmaking, the basic cut, from one thing to another.It's the simplest thing, and everyone takes
it for granted nowadays, but nobody taught me that.
Stryker: What is your favorite film of the ones you have directed?
Carpenter: I don't have any personal favorites.I have ones that I like more than others, that I think are more successful
than others, dramatically speaking.I
think THE THING is pretty successful dramatically.But, no, they're all my favorites.
Stryker: Do you watch your films?
Carpenter: No, I never want to see them again.
Stryker: When you see your films, are you able to get lost in the story?
Carpenter: I look at them from an audience point-of-view when I watch my own
films and see how they're pacing out, if they're going to carry an audience or
not.It's changed over the years.It's gotten faster and faster so you can get
more and more information going.But no,
I don't get lost in them.
Stryker: Do you storyboard?
Carpenter: Not so much anymore.I used
to, but when you're doing an effects movie you have to draw them out so that
everyone can talk about what the shot is.So, you storyboard the effects sequence to see this angle, or that
angle.I started doing my own
storyboards on ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, then after that ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK we
Stryker: You've written some terrific scores for your films.I remember loving the HALLOWEEN theme the
first time I heard it.Does the music
come to you while you're shooting, or during post-production?
Carpenter: It comes to me as I'm composing.I improvise it all.It's all done
after the movie's shot.I wouldn't think
about it.I'm there to support what I
see on the screen.I can't do it
anymore, though.It's too much work.I've given up the music.Now, all these genius, young composers can do
it better than I can.
Stryker: How would you compare making films in the 2010's to the 1970's when
you started your career?
Carpenter: Filmmaking has not changed at all, essentially.You have a crew of people, you have the
actors, and you're on a location or on a set, interior or exterior, night or
day.You come in, get a rehearsal,
rehearse for the camera, set the camera where it's going to be, light it, shoot
it, then shoot the reverses - all that's pretty much the same, and that process
has not changed.Everything around it
has.The technology - the editing
process - has changed enormously with computers.The business aspect of it - the commerce -
has changed enormously.The essence of
it hasn't.Actors need to know their
lines and come in and be ready to go, and of course, most of them don't.They want to change everything, and that's
gotten worse.It's unbelievable.They don't want to say what they've agreed
to; they want to say something different.
Stryker: Do they look to change the dialog?
Carpenter: They re-write the scenes, sometimes incoherently.Younger actors expect to sit with the
director in the editing room.They expect
it.They expect to dictate certain
cuts.It's up to the director and it
depends upon how you handle it.It has
to be dealt with.I've never shown
dailies to actors.But, apparently it's
a brand new world.It's really
shocking.You have people who are not
particularly big stars but they want their own pass at the editing
process.Now, I personally have never
experienced that much before, but I have sat down with an actor, and they say, "I
don't like that in the scene, can we see what else you have?"It's unbelievable.
Stryker: Your films have some very memorable and atmospheric poster artwork.How involved are you in the conception
Carpenter: (Holds thumb and forefinger together and peers through circle with
one eye) Zero!Zero.They used to bring me in and have me look at
a bunch of posters: "Oh, look at that one!That one looks interesting." But, not anymore, now they just say,
Stryker: The posters are all made on computer now?
Carpenter: I have no clue.The first
poster that they came up with for THE FOG was one I didn't like.I said, "Can we do better than
Stryker: Your films have very stylish openings: the use of the pumpkin in
HALLOWEEN, the credits slowly playing through the opening of THE FOG and
through the first ten minutes of PRINCE OF DARKNESS, etc.How do these sequences come about?
Carpenter: Instinct.For the pumpkin [in
the opening to HALLOWEEN], we did that because it was cheap, and we shot that
the same day that we shot the interior of the car with Donald Pleasance.It was all necessity.
Jonathan Stryker: THE THING is rightly
considered to be one of the best horror films of all-time.Why do you feel that it was so poorly
received at the time it was released?
Carpenter: Hated by the fans.Hated.It was a depressing film with an uncertain
ending in the middle of a depression [in 1982] when it came out two weeks after
E.T.I don't think it was a summer
movie.I think they should have put it
out in the fall.And the fans hated,
hated, hated it. They had thought that I
had raped a national treasure when comparing it to the original."Look at how he soiled the nest!"I'm serious.
Stryker: Are you amazed by the turn-around people have made on this film?
Carpenter: I haven't experienced a complete turn-around, all I know is there
are a lot of people who like it now.
Stryker: What movies have you seen that, the first time you saw them you didn't
like them, but upon seeing them again you really liked them?
Carpenter: Oh, that's interesting.The
first movie I saw like that was TAXI DRIVER.I remember thinking, I don't know about this film.Then I saw it again, and experienced it
differently.I remember THE
SHINING.I thought, This is a piece of
trash.Then I saw it again and thought, Oh,
it's funny! How funny Jack Nicholson is.There are a lot of movies like that, and
there were some that I was harsher on when I was younger.When you're younger, you're very pretentious
and very serious.Now I see them again
and I think, Wow, that's pretty damned good!
What's wrong with me?
Stryker: What film of yours is closest to your original vision?
Carpenter: Probably the films with the lowest budgets because there's no
opportunity for changing anything.They
have to be what you've written.HALLOWEEN was almost exactly what was written.
Stryker: What are your feelings about the Internet?
Carpenter: The Internet is very interesting.It's become a real tool in some ways, hasn't it?THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT - people got really
stirred up about it.The whole Internet
thing is fascinating to me.My son lives
in Japan and I email him.That was the
reason I started going online, it was to do email.I'm also a gamer, so I find all kinds of
video game cheats on there.Plus, I'm a
basketball addict, so I can look up the NBA and see what's going on.
Stryker: Your new film is THE WARD starring Amber Heard.What brought you back to directing a feature
after so many years?
Carpenter: Well, I hadn't directed a movie in a long time, except for the "Masters
of Horror" television stuff.The
script came along which was perfect because it was a lower-budget film that
took place in kind of a limited location.There were some really good acting parts in it.I thought that it would be fun to kind of put
my foot back in the water, just to check it out and see how I liked it.That was really the draw, you know?(pauses)It's hard making movies.It
is.You get to a certain age and it's
Stryker: I recall you talking about your first 24-hour shoot on ASSAULT ON
PRECINCT 13 and at the end of it you felt like you had been beaten up.
Carpenter: Oh, God, yeah.Twenty-four
hours.In a jail cell.Of course, they had real bars, and the
problem is you can't light it and frame it.You have to have bars that are wider.It was staggering.And then I did
this TV-movie, ELVIS, which was almost three hours, and we had thirty days to
shoot it, so we had to do an hour of film in ten days.I literally, in that movie - I remember the
dailies and Kurt Russell was playing Elvis in his triumphant return.When the film aired I just fell asleep - I
was just too tired.(chuckles)Nobody feels sorry for me.I can whine all I want - I love whining - and
nobody feels sorry for me!
Stryker: Well, thank you for whining for me!