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Interview with Lev Spiro
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Image Recently I reviewed the film Welcome to Planet Earth. The director, Lev Spiro, happened to see the review and dropped off a comment. Mr. Spiro agreed to an interview via email and here is the fruit of three sets of questions:

Interview Date: 26 February 1999

Andrew: What is your background in film? The little information I found via the Internet Movie Database indicates "Welcome to Planet Earth" was your directing debut. Were there any hidden gems before that?
Lev Spiro: Here's my official publicity BIO. I made two short films in graduate school which did very well on the festival circuit - "Circle Dance", based on a Raymond Carver short story, and the above-mentioned "The Convict", based on the story by James Lee Burke. "The Convict" won a dozen festivals, and got me signed by an agent when I came out to LA.

My first break in LA was making a no-budget ($45,000) feature, which I wrote and directed for several of Roger Corman's producers who were kind of going out on their own. We shot it in 12 days, no one got paid (I got $500 to write the script and $500 to direct it.), yet it made over $300,000 overseas. I won't tell you the name because I'd just as soon no one ever saw it. It's a long story... ...they had certain pieces of stock footage around which they wanted me to write the story - a car chase, whitewater rafting, a Cessna crashing into a lake, etc. Anyway, they liked my work a lot, and it earned me the chance to direct a "real" Corman feature, for $1.5 million - which became "Welcome to Planet Earth."

Andrew: How in the world did the production come together on a movie like this? Movies, even ones like our subject matter, must take work. No offense, as you could see by my review I actually enjoyed it. Much unlike Peter Weir's first film... ...the horror, the horror. Was Roger Corman just walking down the street one day when Michael MacDonald's script flew out a window and stuck to him?
Lev Spiro: Yeah, they take a lot of work. It may look easy, but it ain't. The film was one of a series of 12 that Roger was doing for Showtime, called "Roger Corman Presents." Michael MacDonald had written and directed for Roger before (Michael is a member of the Groundlings in LA, by the way, a very funny and talented guy). He was originally going to direct the film himself, but he and Roger had a falling out over certain creative choices. That's when Roger offered it to me.

Andrew: Creative differences between the writer and Mr. Corman? It wasn't over George Wendt playing the big, jovial, slaughtering alien by any chance?
Lev Spiro: No.

Andrew: He was very cool in the role if you ask me, is he fun to work with?
Lev Spiro: Very. George is a very down-to-earth guy, and also extremely funny, as you know.

Andrew: Did Roger Corman know you before the film?
Lev Spiro: Yes, from my work on the no-budget feature, which I wrote and directed for Roger's VP of Development and VP of Production, and Studio Head, all of whom were making films on their own, with Roger's backing.

Andrew: How does one react with being offered a directing position for "Welcome to Planet Earth" aka "Alien Avengers?" Was it the "big break" you were looking for? Very interested in this aspect after noting quite a few big stars and directors made b-movies at some point in their past.
Lev Spiro: Well, unless you're very pretentious, a complete idiot, or are fairly deluded, when someone offers you the chance to direct your "first" feature, you're tremendously excited and grateful for the opportunity to prove yourself, no matter what the material. In this case, I was really fortunate to be handed a gem of a script by Michael MacDonald. The story's not for everyone, but I love black comedy, and it's pretty rare in the low-budget world, so I was even luckier, in that regard.

Andrew: Speaking of cool characters, let's talk about Daphne. MacDonald found a few good places for her to shed clothing for no reason, especially inside the police station. (Great scene.) Were there any problems with her being shy at times?
Lev Spiro: No reason? What are you, on glue? The nudity is COMPLETELY motivated, Rick -- I don't know what the fuck you're talking about... ...All right, maybe there's a little gratuitous nudity. Hey, that's why they call them "B" movies. People don't usually watch them because they're adaptations of Dostoevsky novels. Actually, in fact there was more nudity that we cut. Roger liked the movie so much that he asked me to take most of the nudity out of it. He told me he asks filmmakers to do that about once a blue moon.

Andrew: Since we're on people, is it difficult keeping everyone together and motivated? There must be times when somebody get's mad or upset and doesn't want to shoot a scene.
Lev Spiro: We had a pretty fun atmosphere on the set of this movie. People were into it, the cast and crew enjoyed the comedy for the most part, and our days were short. Yeah, people get pissed off some times, it's like any other job. You deal with it and move on. Most folks in the industry are pretty easy-going; the ones that aren't don't work as much.

And, for the record, those other three movies on your web page probably do suck. "Welcome to Planet Earth" is a great fucking film! Fun for the whole family! Anyone reading this should go rent it and enjoy! (One or two beers pre-viewing would probably heighten your viewing enjoyment.) And if you don't enjoy people being beaten to death with their own limbs, then go watch Animal Planet. See if I care. And remember, in the words of Groucho Marx; "I find television very educational... everytime someone turns it on, I go into the other room and read a book."

Andrew: You are currently shooting "The Journey of Allen Strange" for Nickelodeon. What's it about and when will it be on the air?
Lev Spiro: "Journey of Allen Strange" is a cool kid's show; a comedy/sci-fi/coming-of-age drama, about a juvenile alien who stows away on a ship and gets stranded on Earth. Several of my funniest episodes are coming up; Monday March 10th at 8:30pm on Nickelodeon is the premiere of the new season, kicking off with one of my episodes, called "Unmasked." Monday March 24th (also at 8:30pm, PST) there's one of mine called "Space Bugs." And Monday April 14th, same time, there's another of mine called "Strike Out." The show is intended for kids ages 6 to 12, but I try to put in lots of humor to keep their parents entertained as well. And my sense of humor is fairly whacked.

Andrew: It seems often after a director creates a b-movie or just off track film, that is successful, they go on to bigger and better things. Would you direct another movie in the genre like "Welcome to Planet Earth?"
Lev Spiro: Sure, I really enjoy black comedy and off-beat comedy. Hopefully, the next one will be on more than a shoestring. It's harder to do good work under adverse conditions.

Andrew: Last question, quite a few people have movies which they really like and friends always wonder why. For myself it's a terrible piece of work called "Uninvited" about a giant mutant cat, well - thing. (Which looks like a rug with teeth pretty much.) Do you have a favorite b-movie?
Lev Spiro: Well, the subjects and genres that used to be the private domain of b-movies have now been completely co-opted by the studios. Where monsters, horror and sci-fi used to be low-budget, now we have "Jurassic Park," "Armaggedon," "Men In Black," etc. "Men In Black" was a great movie, one of my favorites. If you mean "b-movie" to mean "low-budget," "Red Rock West" (John Dahl) and "Blood Simple" (Coen Brothers) are two excellent films that were made for very little. And if you mean "b-movies" in the traditional, campy sense, I guess "Plan 9 From Outer Space" would be my choice. It's so amazingly bad that it's pretty entertaining.

A big thanks to Mr. Spiro for taking the time for the interview.

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