“So,” you may be asking yourself, “what the hell is Eli Roth’s Restaurant Dogs, and why have I never head of it?” Truth be told, it was never really supposed to see the light of day, but we live in an interesting time. Now, thanks to CryptTV you can witness the historic beginnings of an amazing career to come.
To answer the above question, though, we’ll let Eli himself take it from here. Enjoy!
Photo credits: Eli Roth for Dread Central.
I shot this in December of 1993 in New York City. We had a great time shooting it; it stars my Cabin Fever co-writer Randy Pearlstein and the late Sam Brown as Ronald McDonald. Sam was a very, very funny writer and comedian whom I worked with as a counselor at a summer camp outside Boston, so we’d known each other for years, and we just had a blast. My Dairy Queen, Ilissa Wood, was someone I’ve known since she was a baby, and she’s probably horrified this video resurfaced. I think she gave an amazing performance as a girl-cow.
I remember we had to pitch our ideas to the class to get chosen; this was for your senior thesis film. Only 10 films got picked, and my pitch was so insane I think people chose me just to see if I could pull it off. Half the scenes didn’t turn out the way I wanted, so my friend Doug McDermott (who’s in the Burger King at the end; he’s also Harmonica Man in Cabin Fever) said, “I think you need an animated Vietnam flashback.” And that was the solution – any scenes I didn’t have the money to shoot, I’d animate. Terry Gilliam has always been one of my heroes and I’ve been doing animation since I was 8 years old, so I figured screw it, I’ll do cutouts and see what happens.
I actually got so into the animation it was more fun than the live action; plus I could put in photos of people who were shocked when they saw themselves in the final film. The whole film was super hand-made; my Mom sewed all the costumes and made the paper mache heads. Matt Mailer (son of Norman Mailer) did all the gore effects. We’d have to do production meetings at Norman Mailer’s house in Brooklyn Heights, where I’d sit in the living room looking at all his books and Matt and I would talk about how we’re going to decapitate Mayor McCheese and stab Hamburgler’s eyes out.
One funny story from shooting was during the McCheese decapitation where a snowstorm blew in out of nowhere. We were filming the Mayor McCheese rally in the Ancient Playground, which is located next to the Met on 95th and 5th, and all of a sudden we have to take shelter in the public bathrooms. This little girl who lived in one of the towers across the street came over and asked what we were doing, and within two minutes I had her doing slate and holding the boom. I am so not opposed to child labor on student films; it’s great for everyone!
So within seconds we’re in a blizzard and we grab our cameras and run into the only shelter we had, the public toilets. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a public park toilet in New York City, but it’s super scary, and the stalls don’t have doors. So there are like 3 crack addicts smoking up in the bathroom, totally high, and all of a sudden Grimace, Mayor McCheese, Ronald – the whole gang roll in. They thought they were hallucinating. This little girl asked if we were hungry and said her mom had a charge account at Gristede’s, the supermarket nearby. We said YES and sent our sound guy Tim with her, and within minutes they came back with hot soup and sandwiches for everyone. We had plenty of food and we fed the homeless guys and it was this weird, magnificent feast. The girl was just happy to be in the men’s room, something she had never seen before. After lunch the homeless guys became our security and watched all our stuff. We got the rest of the scene, which you’ll notice suddenly has a blizzard in the middle of it and then turns animated because we couldn’t finish shooting due to the storm. After I asked her name and she said, “Kingsley Woolworth.” I was like, “As in F.W…?” and she said “Yeah, he’s my grandpa.” So thank you, Kingsley Woolworth – you fed us and got one of my favorite decapitations I’ve ever shot.
The screening at the NYU film festival was a blast. Everybody’s films were so serious, they were like student film versions of Schindler’s List or some deep film trying to solve homelessness. The teachers kept asking, “What’s your message?!” and I said that I didn’t have a message; I just wanted people to be entertained for ten minutes. The film feels long at ten minutes, but back then that was a short movie. Kids were making 45-minute films… shot on film! It was insane! I remember we premiered on a Friday night at 9:00 and the film brought the house down. I was so happy until I saw the judges’ (teachers’) comments:
- “This isn’t a movie, this is a music video.”
- “A complete mess.”
- “How is this person graduating?? Didn’t we teach them ANYTHING?”
I then entered the movie in the Student Academy Awards, which in 1995 started the “alternative” category. Nirvana exploded music and Tarantino changed film, and the mainstream was all called “Alternative” so they created this new category for films that didn’t really fit in dramatic or documentary. And I was one of the winners, much to the shock and amazement of my professors. They did this big ceremony at the Museum of Modern Art, and the film played and they presented me with a certificate. So I can say my film played at the most prestigious modern art museum in the U.S. For years I would circulate VHS tapes of the film around the sets I was working on. Someone would hear I made a crazy movie about Ronald McDonald on a killing spree, and the VHS would go from trailer to trailer. I think Kevin Kline even saw on the set of In and Out, but that was just a rumor.
For years when I was trying to make Cabin Fever people would ask to see my work and I’d show them this film. They’d then hand the tape back, very confused, and politely decline. It wasn’t until I made Rotten Fruit and Chowdaheads that I finally convinced someone to give me the money. Sam Froelich was the one who saw my shorts and this film and loved it and signed up to invest in Cabin Fever, which thankfully paid off handsomely for him.
I did finally have the grand screening with Tarantino, and he loved it. By the time this film was made, everyone was making some kind of Pulp Fiction ripoff, but he loved that I was homaging him right from Reservoir Dogs. I told him I’m the original Tarantino ripoff. I’ve kept it buried for a number of years, but now with CryptTV launching, it’s time to break it out. So get ready to waste ten minutes of your life you will never get back.
Here’s Restaurant Dogs.
CryptTV is an original-for-digital studio that produces dark and edgy content. They work with young filmmakers to create shorts, shows, and the like. The ultimate goal of CryptTV is to develop IPs with young filmmakers, release them digitally, grow the audience, then pair them with Eli Roth or have Eli help them to grow their idea past digital and into TV or film. For more info follow CryptTV on Twitter.