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Joe Dante Talks “BURYING THE EX” – Part One

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FANGORIA had the unique chance to chat up legendary genre film force Joe Dante (PIRANHA, THE HOWLING, GREMLINS) about his latest picture, the LA-shot BURYING THE EX, not once, but twice. The first time, Fango’s David Ian McKendry grilled the man on set , in the midst of making his movie last year. The second, FANGORIA editor Chris Alexander trapped Joe while he was on the cusp of screening the finished film in Venice (it screens tomorrow as part of the Venice Film Festival). Here then is David’s on-set verbal ping-pong with the man…

Today’s scene of Joe Dante’s BURYING THE EX takes place under the bright LA sun, just across the street from the La Brea Tar Pits. Exteriors are being shot first as production trucks line the streets. Anton Yelchin (STAR TREK, FRIGHT NIGHT) rolls in on a scooter as he enters an old UCLA annex that’s been converted into a police station.  Next they’ll move on to interiors as Yelchin reports the strange reappearance of his dead girlfriend to the local law, played by Dante and Roger Corman regular Dick Miller.

It’s here in Downtown Los Angeles, where production has become increasingly rare, that Fango spoke with Joe Dante about his new film.

FANGORIA: So what’s it like to get to actually film in Los Angeles?

JOE DANTE: It’s astounding, it’s amazing. It’s sort of like the old days when I got into the movies; in the beginning where you could actually go to work, do your work, go home and sleep in your own bed. This is a luxury that is not afforded to many of us anymore. The last feature I made here was in 2003, 10 years ago, and everything since then has been in Vancouver or somewhere else, some other state because that’s just the way the business is. Given the economy and the way that the studios deal with unions, LA has sort of lost its patina as the movie capital of the world. It’s the TV capital of the world for sure. Even when the sound stages are filled, it’s almost always with TV and not with features. Feature films generally go elsewhere. Also, there’s been a huge shift. The kind of movies I used to make, the mid-range movies, don’t really exist anymore, the movies are either very, very, very cheap or they’re very, very, very expensive, and everything in between has gone to cable television

FANG: Please tell us a little about BURYING THE EX.

DANTE: BURYING THE EX is about a guy who, like many people can relate to, is with a girlfriend and they’re not really making it. She’s a little difficult and he would really like to break up with her, but he doesn’t want to hurt her feelings so he stays with her, as many people do in relationships. Then when she’s hit by a bus and killed, he feels really guilty because he sort of wanted that, but not really. Then, he meets another girl who’s very nice and it looks like they might be getting along, except his original girlfriend comes back from the grave as a zombie and now he can’t get rid of her and can’t kill her. So fresh farce ensues.

FANG: I heard you were visited by the paparazzi during one of lead actress Ashley Greene’s (pictured above) scenes…

DANTE: Yesterday we did a stunt with Ashley and she was not looking her best. She was the victim of the stunt and I suddenly saw everyone carrying umbrellas. I’m wrapped up in what I do, so I never know who’s having affairs with anybody, I’m just doing what I’m doing. I realized that right around the corner there was a big mob of paparazzi who had discovered that she was shooting there and were trying to get pictures of her, which are apparently all over the internet now. Which on the one han,d it’s ok because it’s publicity, but on the other hand I wouldn’t want to have that in my life.

FANG:  And I see you found a part for Dick Miller…

DANTE: Well I always try to find a perfect Dick. Dick is officially sort of, I guess I would say semi-retired, but whenever I ask him, he comes out of his retirement and pops in for a part. And this is a better part than in my last film, where he had no lines. Early on, I became a fan of Dick’s, before I ever met him, and when I made my first picture I decided I wanted to have him in it. We got along really well and I thought ‘Well, why shouldn’t I have him in every picture?’

So I would read scripts, and with one eye just as “is this a script I would want to do?” and with the other eye I’d be reading, “is there for a part for Dick?” And if there was no part for Dick, no movie! That’s actually not true but I always managed to find something. Sometimes it was a glorified cameo and other times it was a decent part, that’s what the great character actors can you know, go from very small parts to large feature roles.

FANG: So, is this a Walter Paisley film?

DANTE: It is now. I see that he just added a line identifying himself as Officer Paisley, so now it’s Officer Paisley.

FANG:  BURYING THE EX is based on a short film by Alan Trezza.  How did you come across his short and how did the feature develop?

DANTE:  I never saw it, I didn’t want to see it. I read the script, I liked the script, I thought it was funny. This was a number of years ago. I said, “if you ever can get this together, let me know.” Then we joined forces and tried to get it made over a period of another couple of years. Finally, just seemingly out of the blue, financing suddenly came together. I think somewhat linked to the success of WORLD WAR Z, because even WALKING DEAD, which is extremely successful, didn’t seem to be enough impetus to get this thing off the ground. But then suddenly zombies were in and everybody wanted a zombie movie and it’s sort of like “What do you got in your drawer?” and here’s one and of course it’s a comedy, it’s a zom-com. It just seemed like the time was right for it.

FANG: Without seeing the short, how did the story come to your attention?

DANTE: I think Alan must have sent me the script, or my agent did and it was something that I liked and kept. I have a pile of scripts that I would like to do if anyone ever gets financing for them. And then there’s some that you go out and solicit yourself, and this one stayed in the first pile for a while. Then when it got a little more active, I went out and tried to raise a little money myself.

FANG: I understand FANGORIA has a cameo?

DANTE: The hero, Anton , works at a place called “Scary Mary’s” which is sort of a glorified Halloween store and they sell masks. It’s kind of like “Hollywood Book and Poster” in a way but with costumes, and props, and things and so just to up the verisimilitude, rather than make up phony magazines to sell, we figured, “Well, we should get the real magazines that people come in to buy.”  So we have Fangoria right up there on top…

Tune in tomorrow to get Joe’s thoughts about his contemporary Zom-Com, post-edit. BURYING THE EX premieres September 4th at the 71st Venice International Film Festival. 

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