Mark L. Lester Talks Firestarter, Class of 1984 and Lots More!
Mark L. Lester is a friend to horror and wild cinema in general. Though his name may not be instantly recognizable to some, a quick look at his credentials will rectify that!
He produced and contributed to the script for Tobe Hooper’s wonderfully weird The Funhouse. As a director, his savage and prophetic Class of 1984 still disturbs to this day, for an unnerving amount of reasons. His adaptation of Firestarter captured a freakish tornado of both unintentional and deliberate violence. And the battering ram impact of Commando, his most successful feature, remains respected worldwide.
Recognize him now? And do you want a chance to win an autographed DVD of Class of 1984 or Commando (see details below)?
Indeed, Firestarter and Commando are lined up for remakin’. Surprise, surprise. While the two 80’s staples are being put back through the machine, Lester is staying busy ushering new films onto screens via his distribution company American World Pictures.
We caught up with Mr. Lester to chat about his past, present and future, which led to some fun trips down memory lane.
“Originally John Carpenter was gonna direct that,” Lester reveals. “There was a script that was written, I forget who wrote it. Then the budget was way out of line, like $15 million. And the script had no relationship to the book whatsoever. They didn’t want to shoot it for that amount of money so Dino de Laurentiis came to me and said, ‘I read the book. Can you make a treatment out of this?’ So I brought in Stanley Mann, who I knew, and when we wrote the treatment, we styled [it after] the book exactly scene for scene. We gave it Dino De Laurentiis, and he said, ‘Well this just follows the book exactly…’ Well, yeah, of course! You paid a million dollars for the book, I said, ‘Why aren’t you following the book? That’s why this thing can’t get made yet. We’ll just shoot the book.’ And he says, ‘Okaaaaay…’ So within three weeks the script was written, and we had a green light from Universal to make the film just off the script, which was identical to the book.”
Lester confirms that Firestarter has been his most difficult film to date. “That was all practical [effects]. The fireballs you see ... that’s not CGI. Back then, we actually created fireballs that could fly through the air – they were on a wire and could crash into buildings. We had people on fire that were on trampolines that had to flip through the air. It was very dangerous. All the effects were done right on the set – it was a pretty intense thing to do then…” Lester also notes that the film’s epic “farm attack” scene took an entire week to film.
On Class of 1984:
Lester considers his favorite film he’s made to be a tie between 1982’s Class of 1984 and 1985’s Commando. Understandable, as Commando was his most successful feature and Class of 1984 was an original concept of Lester’s, based on visiting his old high school. “[It] had been taken over by a gang,” Lester shares of his return to his alma mater. “When I went to it, it was a peaceful, wonderful place. All of the sudden, it was a dangerous place. I thought, ‘Wow, this would make a really good film.’ I was a big fan of Blackboard Jungle and [John] Ford movies so that kind of inspired me to do a gang-run-amok-in-a-high-school [film].”
Lester acknowledges 84’s unfortunate historical significance. “There were beginnings of different violent incidences in schools so I researched all that. And actually, in the movie, when we have the checking for weapons at the school…that was like ‘Oh my God, that’ll never happen in schools.’ And now its commonplace in various schools.”
After what’s happened in recent years, Lester holds a different opinion of his film. “Now it’s tame – after Columbine, it’s tame. In the beginning of the movie, if you look at it, it opens with a card that says, ‘Last year, there were 280,000 incidents of violence by students against their teachers and classmates in our high schools Unfortunately, this film is partially based on true events.’ So there was a warning at the beginning of the film that was very prophetic because the warning didn’t even comprehend what actually would happen. It’s happened. And it looks pretty tame today because at the end of the movie the gang leader [is only] fighting with a knife ... ”
“I met [producer] Joel Silver at a party at the Playboy Mansion; we were standing around in our pajamas. He said, ‘Oh, you gotta direct this picture – we have Schwarzenegger.’ That’s all I needed to hear because he had done Terminator – I thought he was amazing. I immediately signed on. There was a just a rudimentary script, then it was rewritten – and it’s become a classic. I couldn’t imagine at the time how big the movie would be.” As for the remake mentioned above, unfortunately Lester will not be involved. “In May I was flying back on a plane from Europe, and I met the head of Twentieth Century Fox. I’d been trying to get the remake rights for some time. I never thought of a remake – I was thinking of a sequel. I said, ‘I wanna buy the sequel rights – I’ll pay $2 million.’ He said, ‘Oh, why that film?’ I said because there’s websites dedicated to it, there’s a huge fanbase, people know every line in the movie…’ Three days later they announced a remake of the film.”
On his current projects:
As a devoted producer of such genre flicks as Pterodactyl, Wraiths of Roanoke and Yeti: Curse of the Snow Demon, Lester continues to work in creature features. His recent producer credits include a new Beauty and the Beast, Sinbad and the Minotaur, and Jabberwocky ( “based on the Lewis Carroll poem” ). In the meantime, his American World Pictures will be distributing horror flicks such as Detention (available on DVD April 12th), The Frankenstein Syndrome, and Kill Katie Malone ( “about kids who buy a ghost on the Internet”).
If that’s not enough to keep him busy, Lester is also taking a seat once again in the director’s chair for the sea monster movie Leviathan. He also recently directed Groupie, an intense-looking film about a cursed band starring Taryn Manning and the great Eric Roberts (available on DVD around March or April). “I’m gonna get back heavy into directing in the next couple years,” Lester confirms. Sounds good to us!
To enter to win a signed DVD, just send an e-mail here with YOUR NAME and FULL MAILING ADDRESS. Good luck, folks! Look for more from Lester soon!
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