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Interview with Rolfe Kanefsky
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Image Rarely, and it is becoming more so as time goes by, I pick up a VHS or DVD on a whim and find myself happily surprised by the movie. There's Nothing Out There was one of those hidden gems. When luck brought me into contact with the writer and director, Rolfe Kanefsky, I immediately asked about an interview.

Interview Date: 31 May 2002

Andrew: "There's Nothing Out There" is, to me, such an interesting movie due to the fact that I've watched countless science fiction and horror films. Seeing Mike is like watching a parallel version of myself dealing with a rapacious alien from outer space. When and how did the basic idea come about? You must have watched numerous horror and monster movies, but do you have a degree in film or is this the fruit of a self-taught moviephile?
Rolfe Kanefsky: The basic idea came out of boredom and frustration. I was in high school, working on a murder mystery comedy play/movie that I wrote. It was spring break and I wanted to do something else that wouldn't take me too much time so, as a challenge, I wondered how long it would take me to write a teen exploitation horror flick. I was not a horror fan growing up because horror films scared me, but that didn't stop me from watching Saturday afternoon creature features. I had terrible nightmares. However, I loved Abbott and Costello movies, especially their "Meet the monsters" films, so I guess comedy/horror always appealed to me.

When I turned 14, I knew that I wanted to be a writer/director for a living so I decided to do my homework. At that time, I realized that most directors, Sam Raimi, Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Francis Ford Coppola, etc...started their careers with horror films because they were cheap to make and there was always an audience for them. It didn't depend on name stars or huge car crashes/explosions. So, I said to myself, "Well, if I'm going to be a director and my first film is a horror film, I better know the genre inside and out." That's when I started renting out "every horror film on videotape." Watching film after film, I quickly became aware of how many awful films there were. Of course, this is the case for every genre, but some horror films really annoyed me. How many times do we need a cat to jump out and scare us? Why do they always drop the knife? Go out to investigate strange sounds alone in the middle of the night?

Around this time, I actually wrote a slasher spoof entitled, "Kill Here, Kill There, Kill Almost Anywhere" starring two comical detectives I had created, Nick and Neel - my answer to the Hardy Boys crossed with Abbott and Costello. (NOTE: This is becoming a very long answer. Sorry.)
Anyway, jump forward to senior year in high school. I had never written a teen horror film and wondered how long it would take. At page three, I had to make up my mind if I wanted to write a slasher movie or a monster movie. I decided to go with monster, since I had already written my slasher story and I thought you could do more imaginative things with a monster.

By page ten, I almost gave up. I was starting to write the same old clichés, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. That's when I threw in the character of Mike, who was basically me, complete with no girlfriend. Through him I could finally make fun of all the lousy clichés these bad horror films do time and time again. By this time I had seen many, many horror films and was reading Fangoria faithfully. I had become a fan so I didn't want to knock horror films because, like "EVIL DEAD," "THE STEPFATHER," "FRIGHT NIGHT," "AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON," "SUSPIRA," etc...there are many, many great ones. I wanted to knock the clichés and Mike allowed me to do just that. At that time, before "SCREAM," it had never really been done. "STUDENT BODIES" did it with slasher films, but that was total comedy. I wanted the laugh/scream ratio.

The first draft was written in five days. I read it to a few friends, including Craig Peck, who I went to high school with and was the lead in my senior play project, "MURDER IN WINTER." Everyone thought it was cute and I put it aside to finish the play and go to college.

A year later, my parents and I felt that I was ready to make a real movie. Looking at all my scripts, that by this time was around seven, I decided that "THERE'S NOTHING OUT THERE" was the cheapest, most commercial, and easiest to do. At this time, 1988, horror films were still huge. JASON and FREDDY ruled the box office. Smaller horror films like "NIGHT OF THE DEMONS" and "HELL HIGH" were still getting theatrical releases. I convinced my parents and friends it would be a good investment and we began to raise some money for it. I was still in college, majoring in film at Hampshire. I left to make the film in the summer of 1989 with the encouraging words from my college advisor, "You know, you're not going to learn anything by making this film."

Image "So, I said to myself, 'Well, if I'm going to be a director and my first film is a horror film, I better know the genre inside and out.' That's when I started renting out 'every horror film on videotape.'"

Andrew: Was the college advisor correct? It is difficult to imagine that putting a feature film together would not broaden your horizons.
Rolfe Kanefsky: My college advisor was way off track about me not learning anything from making "NOTHING." It was probably the best learning experience there is. No matter how many film courses you take, nothing compares to actually being on a set and making a movie. In this business, school and the real world are very, very different. My advice to any people who want to get into films is to start making films, shorts, video, 8mm, whatever. Hands on experience is the only way you really understand what it takes. Film books can give you hints and ideas, but that's all. It's about doing, not reading.

The one good thing about my college not believing that I would learn anything was it prompted me to write a full book, "MAKING NOTHING AT THE AGE OF 20," to prove that I did learn a lot. The entire book is on the website. I've had a lot of comments from aspiring filmmakers saying that they found it very helpful.

Image "That's when I threw in the character of Mike, who was basically me, complete with no girlfriend. Through him I could finally make fun of all the lousy clichés these bad horror films do time and time again."

Andrew: What are some of your favorite films and why?
Rolfe Kanefsky: Favorite films. Fell in love with "E.T." when I saw it. I was twelve, the perfect age. "THE BLUES BROTHERS" is wonderful. I would love to make a huge comedy/musical/car chase movie. "PSYCHO 2" surprised the hell out of me. I thought it was a really good horror film without all the gore when that was really popular. I followed Richard Franklin's career for a while after that. I think his "PATRICK," "ROAD GAMES," and even "LINK" are a lot of fun. "AFTER HOURS" is a great black comedy. I have a script like it, sort of a suburban "After House" which I'd love to make someday. I thought "FRIGHT NIGHT" was a great modern take on the vampire story and an amazing directorial debut by Tom Holland, who I was also following since he wrote "Psycho II." "THE STEPFATHER" is also a great underrated film, it deserves some of "THE SHINING's" acclaim.

I've always loved older comedies. Abbott and Costello, Marx Brothers, Keaton, and Laurel and Hardy are great. And if you want incredible dialogue, "HIS GIRL FRIDAY," "CHRISTMAS IN JULY," "SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS," and the original "UNFAITHFULLY YOURS." Preston Sturges and Howard Hawks rule.

I'm a huge Hitchcock fan. "NORTH BY NORTHWEST" and "STRANGERS ON A TRAIN" are probably my favorites. Innocent man caught in horrible situation thrillers are also my favorites. I was also a big Danny Kaye fan and have always loved musicals. "THE COURT JESTER" is a classic.

But sticking with horror, I'd have to say the 1978 "INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS" gave me nightmares for weeks. "EXORCIST III" is very underrated and still contains one of the greatest jumps ever! "SUSPIRIA," "OPERA," "TENEBRE," "DEEP RED" - Argento's peak. The T.V. movie, "DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK" can still give chills. As you can see, I'm pretty much a movie fanatic. This year the academy award should go to "MOULIN ROUGE."

Andrew: Sometimes getting a shot is living hell. The actor is not hitting the lines in the manner you are looking for, the boom mike dips into the shot, the filter is all wrong, somebody accidentally steps out of frame - the list goes on. Is there any specific part or scene that just did not come off as you wished? One that made you tear your hair out?
Rolfe Kanefsky: The shooting actually went pretty smooth. Before this time I had already made two feature length films shot on video, "STRENGTH IN NUMBERS," "MURDER IN WINTER," and some super 8 shorts: "PEEK-A-BOO" and "JUST LISTEN" (which appears on the video monitor in the beginning of "NOTHING") with no crew and very little support. This was the first time I had people that really wanted to be actors and a professional crew. Probably the biggest disaster was the car stunt in the pond towards the end. The original car that the kids drive up in didn't have enough power. We shot the stunt on the last day of the shoot and the car didn't make it into the pond. It just died.

We were all so disappointed that we'd have to come back and shoot the stunt again with another car that I just decided to cut a large scene towards the end after the creature blows up in the oven. There was a funny scene in the script when Mike, Nick, and Stacy walk back and see the smoking creature and Mike, making sure that there would be no sequel, hacks up the remains of the creature with an axe, then pours gasoline on it and burns it again, and finally hacks it up some more. You didn't need it for the story, but I think the horror audience would have gotten a kick out of it.

Andrew: While the acting might be "hamming it" at times, it is all above what I would normally see in an independent film. Were the actors and actresses people you knew beforehand? Was there a general casting call?
Rolfe Kanefsky: The only actor I knew beforehand was Craig Peck from high school. We cast the film through a commercial casting director, Bill Williams, based in New York City. All of the girls were models and most of the guys had recently moved to New York. It was everyone's first film except for John Carhart III. He had been a dancer in John Waters' "Hairspray." (NOTE: I do talk a lot about the casting in my "Making Of Nothing" book on the TNOT website for more info.)

Andrew: Seeing "Scream" and the aware character Randy must have been a surprise. For all intents and purposes, here is a lesser version of Mike, dropped into the slasher genre.
Rolfe Kanefsky: The whole "SCREAM" thing was kinda of a double-edge sword for me. I was delighted that it was a huge success and helped bring horror back. I did see some of the similarities, especially with Randy. I still do not have any proof that Kevin Williamson saw "NOTHING" on cable or video or laser before he wrote SCREAM. I'm guessing that he did and liked the gimmick. Besides the horror movie buff, SCREAM is obviously a very different film. I mean the first half hour owes a lot more to "WHEN A STRANGER CALLS" than "THERE'S NOTHING OUT THERE."

My only real annoyance was that everyone raved that this type of horror/comedy had never been done before and it was so fresh and original. That started to get to me but, luckily, many others saw the "NOTHING" inspiration and started writing about it. That's what triggered the website and finally this whole re-release. Because of that I'm delighted and grateful. Right now, I have two producers actively trying to set up the sequel as a five million dollar movie!

Image "No matter how many film courses you take, nothing compares to actually being on a set and making a movie."

Andrew: What was the rough budget for the production and, since it is an independent project, where did the funding come from?
Rolfe Kanefsky: The budget in cash was somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 thousand dollars. It came from my parents and some friends/business associates of my parents.

Andrew: That is a very small budget for a movie. The equipment and film alone would account for a large portion of your funds. Were there any considerations, such as effects or equipment, which hinged on the budget? How about food and lodging for the crew?
Rolfe Kanefsky: Yes, the budget was very low and we got a lot of favors and deferments. We had cast and crew stay at people's homes in the area. Thanks to the mother of a good friend of mine, we got the entire community behind this film. They put people up for free. The church let us use their kitchen to cook the meals. We found a person with a nineteen foot crane nearby who let us use it as much as we wanted as long as we could keep it on the set. He also supplied cars for the stunts. There was an amazing amount of support for the film.

Image "We found a person with a nineteen foot crane nearby who let us use it as much as we wanted as long as we could keep it on the set. He also supplied cars for the stunts."

Andrew: The alien is a simple, yet effective, bit of work. How did that design come about?
Rolfe Kanefsky: The creature design obviously started with me when I wrote the script. I wanted the creature to be small but deadly. When I was watching all those horror films, most of those creatures movies were large guys in monster suits and they usually looked like large guys in monster suits. I thought a puppet type creature with large teeth and tentacles would work better. We nicknamed him "Little Guy." Imageffects Studios in New Jersey molded and built him. They later worked on "Vampires And Other Stereotypes" and a flick called, "The Basement." I don't think they are still in business.

Andrew: Since the creature prop "survived," is it still kicking around somewhere, possibly your home? The toothy beast would be a terrific Halloween decoration.
Rolfe Kanefsky: Yes, I do still have one "stunt" creature in my apartment in L.A. About a year ago, we did a new photo shoot with the creature to help advertise the re-release of "NOTHING."

Andrew: Strange question, but the possible answer amuses me: did you have an ex-girlfriend with green eyes?
Rolfe Kanefsky: Sorry. Never had an ex-girlfriend with green eyes. All the female characters in my movies come completely from my imagination. It's an unfortunate, and sometimes depressing, fact of life that I would like to change someday.

Image "Never had an ex-girlfriend with green eyes. All the female characters in my movies come completely from my imagination."

Andrew: Are you currently working on any projects?
Rolfe Kanefsky: Currently, I'm working on selling my latest feature, "PRETTY COOL," a teen comedy in the tradition of "Zapped!"/"Weird Science" about mind control. Another film I made called, "ROD STEELE 0014: You Only Live Until You Die" was recently released on video and DVD. It's a sexy James Bond parody. New Concorde (Roger Corman's) company is putting it out. On June 18, a so-so erotic horror movie, "RESTLESS SOULS" is getting released on video/DVD. I wrote this one only. It's a haunted house/"Rosemary's Baby"/"Legend Of Hell House"/"Carrie"/"Entity" type flick. Not a spoof, but not to be taken too seriously either.

Right now, I'm working on getting a project entitled, "DEMONS SUCK!" off the ground. Best described as a "Dumb And Dumber" meets "Beetlejuice." In my mind it's "Abbott and Costello Meet The Demons," but it will probably be sold as "Dude, We're in hell!" - a supernatural comedy. Think "Buffy" with stoners.

There is also a sequel to "ROD STEELE" in the works. A third part of my "ALIEN FILES/ALIEN EROTICA" series. I have also recently written a vampire film, "Club Mystere" and a completely over the top horror/comedy entitled, "SKUNKS AND SQUIRRELS." It's "American Pie" meets "The Birds." Don't expect this one to get produced anytime soon but you never know in this business.

Andrew: Last, but not least, is there anything you would like to say to the readers? Speaking to a captive and very interested audience.
Rolfe Kanefsky: I just want to thank everyone for there interest and support in "THERE'S NOTHING OUT THERE" and my career. I've been able to keep making films because of your support. Everything I've done has come from "NOTHING." Hopefully, my other films will become better known in the near future. I have directed ten features already. Although none have been exactly horror/comedy, I'm still very interested in returning to the genre. Craig Peck has agreed to return if "THERE'S STILL NOTHING OUT THERE" gets off the ground. After 13 years, it would be something. The script is ready to go with the tag line: "If You Were Afraid of 'NOTHING'...It's Back!"

An honest thanks to Mr. Kanefsky for his time and patience during this interview and best wishes in his future endeavors. Make sure to visit the official There's Nothing Out There Website where you can read Rolfe's book, "Making Nothing at the Age of 20," in its entirety.

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