One of the most fascinating aspects of the discussion about the future of filmmaking is that the more involved listeners can trace the origins of that discussion to 1999, when Napster hit the internet and changed how people consume media forever. And while now the discussion has moved into the world of digital distribution, with VOD and Streaming Devices giving both audiences more legal, cost-effective ways of watching independent films and first-run home media and pirates a quicker, easier way of leaking high-definition films to the international market, the discussion had once been similarly on the digital distribution of music via a market that has legitimized itself thanks to Steve Jobs and iTunes whilst also still being unable to curb the widespread piracy relative to the medium. And yet, still, the conversation turns back to Napster and the way that the logical evolution of innovation and technology turned out to be an uncontrollable and philosophically misunderstood beast.
And yet who would have guessed that genre filmmaker and actor Alex Winter would be the one to bring this conversation back to the forefront with his documentary, Downloaded. By going back to the beginning and juxtaposing the cultural boiling points that lead to Napster’s blitz into the public conscience with the ambitious yet unheralded brilliance of Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker’s concepts and social personas, Winter unfolds the most gripping and unbiased take on Napster to date. Whether it be the brains who championed Napster, the seemingly Average Joe’s who created Napster, or those in the music industry who cried for blood, Winter takes each opinion on the controversial company and weaves it into a factual story that’s not to be missed. Winter spoke to Diabolique about the documentary, horror comedy and the future of Bill and Ted…
DIABOLIQUE: It’s rather fascinating that Freaked, despite its absurdity, has a critical message about corporatization and globalization, and that sort of social unrest resonates in Downloaded as well. Was it important for you to relay a social message within your film?
ALEX WINTER: I think that those have always been themes that interest me. The whole idea of the creative process of making something, and the impact of that vision is on the world and how people respond is a theme I’ve always been interested in. Always. It’s funny because that’s a big part of the theme of Freaked. Albeit, it’s a comedy, so it’s not shoved in your face. It’s also a big part of Fever, the film I made after which is about a very depressed and psychotic struggling artist who is trying to reconcile making his art with trying to live in the culture that he lives in, that he feels is oppressing him to the degree of psychosis. Then, with Downloaded, what absolutely appealed to me about that story was that you had this kid, Shawn Fanning, who is a creative genius, whether you agree with whatever he invented or not. He created something in his mind, he manifested it and put it out in the world, and the movie is about what happens to an idea when it gets put out into the world. Those themes, to me, are constant. I’m always fascinated by them. I don’t have an agenda against corporations, as I work with advertising largely and I work with corporations all the time. But I’m very interested in the idea of individuality, creativity and vision, and how the individual functions in society when that individual is either a genius or is going against the grain of that society. That’s just a theme that I find really compelling.
DIABOLIQUE: To many fans of the subgenre, there are few films that nail the balance between comedy and horror as well as Freaked. Why do you think horror and comedy compliment each other so well?
WINTER: Here’s my take on it: I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s. And the reason that [Tom] Stern and I started working together in NYU is that we had a lot of the same influences. I grew up with the collision of high art and low art. My family were modern dancers, college professors who ran dance companies. [They were] fairly high-brow, but I was weaned on MAD Magazine, EC Comics, the horror movies that were on TV, and Abbott and Costello. I was also really taken by Bugs Bunny and Tex Avery. It really started back in World War I, where people went to war and experienced mechanized death. So horror comedy came as a cultural reaction of the individual to those real-life horrors. You had everybody from James Whale to Tod Browning to William Gaines using it, and at the same time in the art world came surrealism. Look at what James Whale did with Frankenstein! He made it about an individual when society is rebelling against an individual.
DIABOLIQUE: Despite the financial successes of The Cabin in the Woods, Scream and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, horror comedy is still seen as a financial liability for many Hollywood studios. Do you think that horror comedy is fashioned more towards the underground horror audience?
WINTER: I don’t think [it is] anymore. I think that Sam Raimi should be credited with bringing horror comedy into the mainstream. Then you have the era of Tim Burton, when you had horror comedy becoming super, super mainstream. Peter Jackson went from the underground world of Meet The Feebles, which is one of my favorite all-time subversive movies, to entering the mainstream in a very big way. He brought a lot of horror comedy tropes in Lord of the Rings, King Kong, The Frighteners and even Heavenly Creatures. Then, we saw giant Hollywood remakes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and other subversive horror movies that had comic elements, although I think that pushed the subversive horror element away from horror comedy and towards the world of torture porn. The most subversive equivalent to what we had in my day would be The Human Centipede, which still has popular overtones because we live in a world where this is an accepted genre now. The Human Centipede is still subversive, content-wise. You don’t want to watch it with your grandmother.
DIABOLIQUE: As someone familiar with the subgenre, is there a particular horror comedy film that you believe has either been criminally underrated or forgotten?
WINTER: I think Meet the Feebles is criminally underrated. It’s one of the great, great pieces of cult cinema. Because Peter Jackson is so successful, it’s hard to call him underrated, but Meet the Feebles is definitely underrated. Far too few people have seen that film. I’d say a lot of other stuff has become easier to find. We live in a Post-Tarantino and Post-Raimi era that’s unearthed a lot of really obscure stuff that people can now get their hands on fairly easily. From Jodorowsky to those really great Spaghetti Westerns to Fulci and Bava, there’s a lot of stuff that’s getting seen by the masses, or at least by a number of people who want to watch it. It’s not as hard to find as it was when I was in college, when you really had to hunt for that stuff.
DIABOLIQUE: You’re still otherwise known throughout the horror community for appearing in The Lost Boys and directing Fever. How has your experience been as an actor as opposed to a director? Had you any inkling that The Lost Boys would take off as it did?
WINTER: To the second part of your question, absolutely not. I’ve had my SAG card since 1977, and have been acting since then professionally. So, as a child actor, I’ve grown up behind and in front of the camera. So for the first part of your question, I’m really used to the division between my acting and my filmmaking, and I’m very, very comfortable with that division. There were times where I really don’t want to be in the limelight or public eye at all, and I’d just get out of it. Then, there are times where I want to get back in the limelight, so I get back in it. I think that’s healthy, and I think that helped me stay sane. I think when you start acting young, it’s hard to develop organically in the way that other kids do. So you have to find other ways to do it, or you crash, as a lot of child actors do. So, I have a very comfortable relationship with the two sides that I have in the business.
But to elaborate on the second part of your question, I’ve never met anyone who had the foresight to know their film would stand the test of time. Whether it’s Citizen Kane, which is today considered one of the greatest movies of all time, or what I’ve done as an actor, which is more pop culture oriented movies like Bill and Ted or The Lost Boys, or even Death Wish 3 to some degree. I mean, most of the acting I did was in pretty poppy stuff, and when we were making that stuff, we didn’t think anyone was even going to see it. I mean, with The Lost Boys, we thought it would do okay for the summer, because it was getting a lot of love from the studio, but the idea that people want to watch that movie today, the way they do, and the life that movie has had- I mean, I see Joel Schumacher time to time and we say, “Holy crap. People still love this movie.” Certainly, I’m really close to everyone from Bill and Ted, and we talk about that, too. It’s still the most beloved work of anything that we’ve done. [Keanu] Reeves will laugh about how more people come up to him about Bill and Ted than The Matrix.
But you don’t see that coming. Not by a long shot. There’s no way. I think Chris Nolan said it best when they asked him about why the Dark Knight movies were doing so well, and he was like, “Nobody knows what the Zeitgeist is. If you’re in the Zeitgeist, that has nothing to do with you. Nobody is that kind of genius. If you were, you’d make one gigantic blockbuster after another and you wouldn’t do anything else.” So, [the longevity] is a lovely, pleasant surprise. I mean, I’m a dad. I’ve got three boys, and it’s cool that they want to watch the Bill and Ted movies. I didn’t give [the movies] to them to watch. Frankly, I didn’t want to give [those movies] to them to watch because I thought they’d bust my ass about it. But their friends are watching them, and my sons want to watch them, so they’ve crossed through these generations. I think that’s cool, and I didn’t expect that.
DIABOLIQUE: So now that your Downloaded is out in theaters and on VOD after 10 years of development and craftsmanship, what projects are you currently working on, either as an actor or director?
WINTER: Well, in terms of Bill and Ted 3, I can’t really comment, because I’ve said so much already. We are working on it, but we’re just trying to put the financing together right now, and that’s where that’s at. Fingers crossed, we’ll get that up and running soon, but we are not there yet.
I’m filming another documentary this year which is about children in show business, or “showbiz kids”. That’s a subject that’s really fascinating to me, and that’s a story I wanted to tell for a while. I’m putting that together with Glen and Ralph Zipper, who produced Undefeated, the documentary that won the Oscar in 2012.
I’m also writing a couple of shows for TV that I can talk about once they’re greenlit, but those are really interesting projects. I’m also trying to get The Gate 3D up and running with the original producer of The Gate (1987). I’m still hoping we can find the financing for that. It’s not there yet, but we’re working on trying to put that together. I love The Gate. I want to do what we sort of did with Freaked, because I feel the horror comedy world has been… not burnt out, but so mainstream now that it’s lost the subversive reason for being that got it started in the first place, which had to do more with existential dread and nightmarish surrealism with absurdist qualities. [Horror comedy] has gotten watered down. I’d love to go into the “kids” space, in a way that’s still accessible, and make something subversive that can go into the “kids” space. So that’s my aim with The Gate 3D if we can get it made.
Alex Winter’s Downloaded is currently playing in select theaters in Chicago and Los Angeles, and is available on Video-On-Demand from VH1 and AOL now. Winter’s feature directorial debut, Freaked, will be released on Blu-ray on August 6th from Anchor Bay Entertainment. To learn more on the documentary, visit www.trouperproductions.com, and you can follow Alex Winter on Twitter: @alxwinter. For more on Downloaded, Freaked and Winter himself, check out Part One of our interview here! Also, keep an eye out for Winter in DIABOLIQUE #17 in our article, THE EVOLUTION OF HORROR COMEDY, hitting stands soon!
– By Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Diabolique Magazine and Fangoria Magazine. He’s a graduate from MontclairStateUniversity, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on several screenplays spanning over different genres and subject matter, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.