Forsberg, Eric (Mega Piranha, The Asylum)
I first interviewed Eric Forsberg back in August of 2006 in anticipation of the release of Snakes on a Train. Now here we are in April of 2010, and I am interviewing him again in anticipation of Mega Piranha, another killer animal mockbuster he's made for The Asylum.
I'm feeling a sense of déjà vu. With Mega Piranha debuting on Syfy April 10th and then hitting DVD shelves on April 27th, now seemed like a good time for a lighthearted return engagement with Mr. Forsberg discussing the majesty of Mega Piranha, what it's like working for the mockbuster masters at The Asylum, and his past, present, and future projects.
Foy: When we first spoke back in 2006, it was in anticipation of the release of Snakes on a Train. Now here we are in 2010 speaking in anticipation of the release of Mega Piranha. Is there no escaping the Asylum?
Eric: No, there isn’t, for any of us, so we might as well enjoy it. Hey, I see these guys working on the inside; they (David Michael Latt, David Rimawi, and Paul Bales) work hard, and they keep giving opportunities to people who are hungry for them. When other companies are going under, the Asylum has figured out a way to surf the waves in Hollywood and keep on making movies.
Foy: Let’s just get right to it. How did the idea come about, and what craziness should we expect from Mega Piranha?
Eric: Well, about six months ago I heard the words “mega piranha” from David Latt. He asked me to come up with a story. I spent the next few days researching (I used to write for a dive show for Animal Planet so I love researching science and water creatures). I tried to keep the story based on science gone too far mixed with the wild natural world of hidden dangers, and piranhas are the perfect fish. They are abundant in the rivers of the Amazon Basin, people eat them, and they can get agitated and attack.
So I created a character, Professor Sarah Monroe (Tiffany), a member of a science team who has manipulated the DNA in a select group of piranhas in order to create a bigger, meatier fish to be used as a local food source. But the fish become violent and escape – then they won’t stop killing and growing: and so the premise of the film. David Latt liked it but wanted more – way more – “I want this thing to hit the ground running,” he said. “Let’s start it off big and never slow down.” So as I wrote the treatment, I tried to balance cool story points with major action and piranha kills. “Body count” was the mantra at the office for a while. I even got emails about it well into the filming. The result was a film with almost nonstop action: Jungle – river – helicopter – and underwater action.
In order to keep this thing going, I needed an action hero – and so came Jason Fitch (Paul Logan), an ex-navy seal who now works for the State Department as a special operative under orders from Secretary Bob Grady (Barry Williams). Grady sends Fitch down to investigate the mysterious murder of an American diplomat (played by me) in the waters of the Orinoco River in the jungles of Venezuela.
We were scheduled to shoot the film in Puerto Rico so I had the story take place in a country that had lots of piranhas, deep unexplored jungles, and spoke Spanish (also, every piranha movie ever made takes place in Brazil, where they speak Portuguese), so I chose Venezuela.
Anyway, Fitch is treated with suspicion by the local military boss, Colonel Antonio Diaz (David Labiosa), who thinks all of the commotion is just an attempt to uncover his drug smuggling operation. Needless to say, Col. Diaz runs interference whenever he can. So Fitch and Prof. Monroe chase the piranhas as Diaz chases them – all the way to the river mouth – and then all the way to Florida. It is quite a trip.
Foy: Will there be any mega-sized Mega Piranhas as the DVD art seems to suggest? Any big WTF?! moment like the giant shark biting the passenger plane out of the air?
Eric: Sharks biting planes out of the air is old news. We do a lot more than that in Mega Piranha. One of the major upgrades is that the action in Mega Piranha is very hands-on – people get in the water with these things – there is some very serious contact going on. And as far as getting big goes – by the end of the film, our Mega Piranhas eat Giant Octopus for breakfast.
Foy: Last year’s Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus starred Debbie Gibson, a former teen pop sensation of the late 80s. Mega Piranha stars Tiffany, also a former late 80s teen pop sensation. Coincidence or a calculated casting decision?
Eric: Total coincidence – I mean – do you really think the boys at the Asylum would pull a stunt like that on purpose? ;)
Foy: After Piranha 3D got pushed back to late summer, was there ever any consideration to doing the same with Mega Piranha? Since Mega Piranha comes out first, can you claim Piranha 3D is actually the mockbuster this time around?
Eric: Those bastards! They’re making a piranha movie, too?
Foy: Though the Asylum has gained notoriety for their mockbuster business model, Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus really seemed to be the first breakthrough into the mainstream; at least so much as the film’s trailer became a viral video sensation. Now with Mega Piranha, not to mention this Titanic 2 movie they have in the works, is there a bit of a mentality within the Asylum offices to embrace some movie ideas that are a bit more out there than they have been in the past?
Eric: The original partners (David Latt, David Rimawi, and Sherri Strain) began their company not at The Asylum but as a cool indie movie company doing art films – so they have it in them – in their hearts – to feed the people culture, original ideas, breakthrough cinema. But as they moved more into genre, the sales picked up, and then a few more deals and before you know – MOCKBUSTERS. I’ve been with them for much of the ride. My first film for The Asylum was back in 2004 (released in 05), Alien Abduction. And it took me a good two years of pitching and treatments to get that project. I also wrote one of their very first mockbusters, Snakes on a Train (my daughter had a nice role in it, too). I think that the producers just want to make movies, successful movies, any way they can. And if the market leads them to all original concepts and content, all three of them would be just fine. Me, too. But in the meantime all they need to do is ask and I’ll be writing Godfather IV and a remake of Taxi Driver. Because I just want to make movies, too.
Foy: How has their working agreement with Syfy affected Asylum’s output, if at all?
Eric: The inner workings of the upper echelon making deals in their golden producers' tower is beyond my view, but I am sure the Syfy relationship will add budget and quality to the Asylum's movies (but maybe not time). And I know that the producers want the relationship to work because every time Syfy twitched, I got an email from Latt.
Foy: When you contacted me about another interview you included the line, “I think that you have skinned me alive upon occasion, but I'm coming back for more.” On a couple of occasions I think I’ve actually been nicer than others. The Asylum honchos seem to have a good sense of humor about their bad press. How do you take the good with the bad?
Eric: I have taken so many beatings and been given so many laurels in my day (I wrote and directed over 60 stage productions in Chicago before coming to LA) so I have a good shell – but for me I put my heart and soul into every project – and because I never have any real money or real time to work with – no matter how hard we try to get things perfect, they often fall somewhere around “it’ll do”. That’s when the skinning starts in the press. But so long as each of my projects has a glimmer of genius, then I can find a place in my heart for it no matter what the critics say.
As far as you go personally – yes – you have skinned me alive – but I also sent you 90 minutes of flawed creation – you must respond – and I have seven layers of skin so what the hell. I want everyone to love my work, who doesn’t – but more important is for everyone to see my work – to take the 90 minutes to see it and find the seed of genius that made me want to make the thing. Dozens of people invested months of their lives to make 90 minutes of movie for the world to see – whatever the formula – whatever the gimmick – it still represents something that is hopefully meaningful or at least fun to watch (in the case of Mega Piranha, I’ll go for fun).
Foy: Speaking of the bad ... Monster ... The Asylum’s Cloverfield mockbuster ... Umm ... Is there anything to say on that front, or should we just move on?
Eric: I got called into that one late in the game. I had three days to add thirty minutes and try to make an ending (as well as put in some cool action and story points). I didn’t even take a credit. The film was there when I got it – it was just short – and not as exciting as it could be. I actually never saw Cloverfield. But making Monster did inspire many weeks of sushi eating.
Foy: You also wrote and directed the stoner sex comedy Sex Pot for The Asylum last year, another departure from their usual output, as well as a change of pace for you. How did that one come about?
Eric: Sex Pot is my favorite movie that I have made so far. We had so much fun doing it and the pressure was negligible compared to the rice maker I was in with Mega Piranha. My background is comedy (I am a Second City brat – worked with a bunch of comedy stars back in the day) so I was overjoyed to be back in the comedy saddle. I love writing and directing twisted, off the wall stuff like that. Of course, there are a lot of naked women in that film. The word came down from the top – “more naked women”. Every film has got to have a selling point, I guess.
Foy: I noticed on your IMDB listing that you did make-up for and had a small role in one of the most infamous of the doomsday documentaries of the Seventies, The Late Great Planet Earth, which your father co-directed. Any interesting memories of being a part of that production? Did you get to meet Orson Welles?
Eric: I did not meet Orson Welles, I’m sorry to say. I was actually just a kid, but I knew makeup well, even then, and I was in charge of a lot of the effects. The thing that I remember most was how my father took command of the set and how proud he was of me when he saw my work. My experience on that film was one of the reasons I followed in my father’s footsteps and became a writer and director.
Foy: What’s next for you after Mega Piranha?
Eric: With the Asylum I am working on three projects, but only one of them is set – MILF – another comedy that I am writing next month and then filming the month after. Other than that I am moving back to Los Angeles after living (and writing) in a lovely home in Big Bear for the past few years. I need a good agent as soon as I get down there, too. I also have a few other projects brewing – one called Graduating Eros, which is in development with Jeff Katz (produced X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Snakes on a Plane). I have something for Steve Carell, too; I directed him in Knat Scatt Private Eye a couple of decades ago so we’re due to work together again I think (now let’s see what his agent thinks).
Foy: Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus last year; Mega Piranha this year; what sea animal creature feature do you think they should do next and what former 80s celebrity should star?
Eric: Oh, Mega Sea Urchin vs. Bulbous Tuna – 100%
Thanks to Eric Forsberg for taking the time to speak with us. Look for Mega Piranha on Syfy April 10th and then hitting DVD shelves on April 27th.
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