New York documentarian Hansi Oppenheimer kicked off her career with a film about the band The Replacements (Color Me Obsessed: A Film About The Replacements), which took her nearly a decade to complete. She then set about making a documentary about cult film historian Joe Bob Briggs titled Squee Fu: Fans Celebrate Joe Bob Briggs. In crafting this project, Oppenheimer interviewed a number of Briggs fans, including well-known fans like novelist David J. Schow and former Fangoria editor Tony Timpone. By this time, Oppenheimer had become friends with novelist Joe R. Lansdale (The Bottoms, The Drive-In, etc.) through social media and by having visited his home in Nacogdoches, Texas to interview him for her YouTube channel. She had been a fan of his work since the 1980s. So, naturally, she reached out to him to participate in Squee Fu.
Lansdale was a fan of Briggs and they shared many of the same interests, as evidenced by their respective works. However, Lansdale did not conduct an interview for the project. He did something else—he wrote an original essay about Briggs for the film. “He wrote it and delivered it within 24 hours,” she says. “I was so honored that he’d written something for me. Nobody that big does that. It was so beautifully written, and the whole thing just made me cry. So when I sent him back a thank you message I said, ‘The next doc is going to be about you.’ He said, ‘You don’t have to do that.’”
True to her word, Oppenheimer wound up making a documentary about Lansdale titled All Hail the Popcorn King. For the film, Lansdale invited her back to Nacogdoches to spend time with him in his natural habitat and record a series of interviews about his life and career. This was significant because the author provided her with full-access, as opposed to Briggs who had chosen not to participate in Squee Fu.
“Hanging out with Joe was a real pleasure,” says Oppenheimer. “He’s just an encyclopedia of stories and history. You could really just spend a week with him, talking to him and running the camera around the clock and you’d still have an awesome film. He’s a fascinating guy.” The filmmaker explains the few days she spent with the author for the film as “just sort of wandering around Texas with him showing me Gladewater [where he’d grown up] and Nacogdoches.”
“Hansi is a go-getter,” says Lansdale. “I love her can-do attitude. And that’s what makes it happen. Persistence.”
When asked what makes Lansdale worthy of a documentary, Oppenheimer says, “My God! He’s written over fifty novels and 500 stories! He’s created his own martial art. He’s everything a person should be. The most important things to him are family, his work, martial arts, and his dog. He is a model human being. And we don’t see documentaries about people like him. A lot of times it’s the fucked up people we see and hear about. I thought it was time to promote an artist like Joe. It’s like Mick Garris said, ‘If you’ve read Joe Lansdale, you love Joe Lansdale,’ and I think that’s true.”
Anyone who’s read Lansdale knows he’s always entertaining and has an interesting and humorous perspective on life, and Oppenheimer knew as soon as she heard him start to spin yarns and reminisce in front of the camera that she had the makings of a truly great documentary. The biggest problem was the same as it is for any indie film—a lack of funds. The resulting budget would be only about five thousand dollars, which obviously caused difficulties. There were many celebrities interested in participating, such as Joe Hill, Bruce Campbell, Don Coscarelli, Brian Keene, and James Purefoy. But due to the limited budget, Oppenheimer had no way to get her crew to most of those individuals to film their interviews. As a result, most of them were recorded by phone call.
Nevertheless, Oppenheimer handles this obstacle with the greatest of ease. The resulting film, which debuted to a packed house at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas (with Lansdale and family in attendance) this past August, is easily one of the most entertaining documentaries ever made about an author. All Hail the Popcorn King is exceedingly well done, especially given its budget. It’s funny and contains memorable eye-opening moments like Horns novelist Joe Hill saying Lansdale’s The Drive-In was the novel that made him want to become a writer. This is high praise coming from the son of Stephen King! Then there’s a funny bit where Don Coscarelli, the director of the film adaptation of Bubba Ho-Tep, suggests conducting a scientific experiment to study the author’s output after he’s just eaten a batch of his wife’s famously unhealthy lard-covered popcorn. (Hence the film proclaiming Lansdale the “popcorn king.”) The film also contains some cute and quirky animation to distract from the fact that several of the guests aren’t present on screen as they speak.
“It’s odd having a film made about you,” says Lansdale. “You can’t help but feel like, ‘Who is that guy?’ But it’s flattering and satisfying. And I enjoyed the film. I think the whole thing overwhelmed me.”
Audiences have been overwhelmed by the film, as well. Audience survey cards filled out at the premiere screening were overwhelmingly positive, although Oppenheimer says one viewer complained about the number of curse words in the film. “It’s like, haven’t you fucking read Joe Lansdale?” she says, chuckling.
The film continues to screen around the country. In early October, Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin hosted a screening of the film in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with Lansdale and his family present. The screening, dubbed “Lansdale-Palooza” was accompanied by a book signing by Lansdale and a screening of Bubba Ho-Tep. On December 3rd, the film will have its New York City premiere at the Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn with guest Kasey Lansdale (the author’s novelist/singer daughter) in attendance. There will be many more screenings coming before the film is eventually released to DVD. For information on upcoming screenings you can visit Oppenheimer’s Squee Productions page at squeeprojects.com.