Interview: Running ‘The Gauntlet’ With ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’
The new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 has finally come to Netflix, bringing with it [...]
The new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 has finally come to Netflix, bringing with it "The Gauntlet," a new experiment featuring six back-to-back bad films, including "gems" like Mac & Me and Atlantic Rim, the really, really awful alternate take on Pacific Rim. (And with Graham Greene, no less.)
But before you go and indulge in "The Gauntlet" and everything it stands for, it helps to get an insider's perspective on what makes this latest season tick. We sat down with creator Joel Hodgson, alongside actors Jonah Ray and Felicia Day, to see what went into this short but sweet season, as well as what we can expect next.
First off, congratulations on the new season renewal! But why only six episodes instead of the usual amount? Will we see more down the road, maybe in 2019?
Joel: I do not know. The reason why there's 6 is because the backers commissioned fourteen episodes and Netflix absorbed all those. It's way bigger than the usual series on Netflix. It's probably 2 or 3 times longer. So for all the diehard fans – they loved it. But for the newcomers, the other 90 million people that get Netflix, it was kind of too big. It's like we created an enchanted forest they can crawl in, but they can't get out of because of the length of it. So Netflix came back and said can you make this the shape of a usual order on Netflix and we said absolutely! So that's the reason.
The Best Way To Riff, and Feedback From Last Season
What's probably the most entertaining part of soaking in these bad movies? Finding the right riff for the right situation? Or realizing the potential of a bad movie to be great? Or both?
Joel: Well to answer your question, we don't know what the potential is of a bad movie. We just try to do our thing, we try to create a piece of derivative work that comes off the movie. We do our best each time. But then, it's once the audience sees it, they're the ones who figure out what are the great MST's. We don't know it while we're making it. We're just doing our very best. Then it's the audience watching it, it's the movie combined with where we're at, at the time, the riffs and the sketches that they go 'Oh you guys really landed it'. For example, for Season 11 everybody loves Cry Wilderness, that's like everyone's favorite, but we didn't know it while we were making it. We just thought it was one of the fourteen episodes.
Jonah: I just really enjoy seeing these movies go for it. They might have not had the means to make a movie at the scope they attempted, but they swung for the fences anyway. It's hard to make anything, let alone something as big as a movie. And as someone who's made a ton of stuff you realize that sometimes it's the passage of time will make something considered bad. Also, placing the perfectly timed fart sound in one of these movies is also quite fulfilling.
Felicia: I love watching bad movies because it makes the whole process seem accessible to everyone. It's like figure skating. When you see the top 5 in the world at the Olympics skate, you kind of take for granted how hard it is. It's not until you see the qualifiers and like the 40th best in the world that you realize, "Oh! This is really super difficult!" Riffing is magical when you get something amazing in a moment. And grueling when you have a spot to fill but literally can come up with NOTHING because the scene is sooooo bad. Thankfully the team as an aggregate is brilliant, so there are no huge holes in the finished product.
How has the feedback been for the previous season of MST3K? Do folks like the new format? The guest stars? The movie choices?
Joel: Yeah, for all practical purposes we stuck the landing. The longtime fans are happy with it, they all love Jonah, they love all our new choices for the cast, and feel like we stuck the landing. From a critical perspective, we're the highest rated show on Netflix. We're 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes so for the most part, we feel like people are pretty happy with it. Thank you.
Jonah: I've gotten a lot of positive feedback about Season 11. I received a bit of online skepticism when I was announced as the new host, naturally, but I noticed a lot less of it once the show premiered. Some people thought there should be more BLACK AND WHITE films but we figured that we're in a new HD format and we should try and make the show look good. Some of these movies can be tough to get through based off of their own pacing, let's at least give the audience something nice to look at.
Felicia: I've heard amazingly positive feedback from fans, whew! Lots of kudos on the music in particular, there were several songs that just set the bar super high (thanks to Paul and Storm, who contributed a lot last season!) I was most relieved when I started meeting people at conventions or events who backed the season on Kickstarter and said they loved it. When someone directly supports you, they're the last people you want to disappoint.prevnext
The Tour, The Scripts and the Villainy
For Felicia specifically, how thrilled are you to portray a "villain" in the MST3K series again? Do you get a kick out of being so "bad"?
I am generally cast as very nice people who are subsequently killed because people will feel bad. So to be a villain and really let loose is such a treat, especially since it's a comedy. We are SO LARGE with our evil acting and yet there's nothing but delight underneath our performances. I'd love to play evil again in something more serious actually after this experience.
How's the live tour going? Looks like a lot of fans are really enjoying the series.
Joel: It's going great. We're in Dallas today at the Majestic Theater, which really is majestic. The tour is going great and every night we're letting people know about the new series on Netflix and encouraging them to join us on Thanksgiving.
Jonah: I have been doing live performing as a stand up and sketch performer for a long time, so it's great to be doing that on this scale. With all this production value. Touring itself can be tiring and arduous, it's hard to sleep on a bus and shower in a 100 year old theaters dated shower. But, and as cheesy as this may seem, once you run out and you see all the MSTies out there it all goes away. One of my favorite things is seeing the multi-generational fans come out. Parents bringing their kids who are into the new series. It's like when you go to a Weird Al show and you see families all being able to be into this one thing. That's pretty rare outside of sports.
What's the toughest challenge when it comes to putting together the right script? Do you have to lose certain riffs in order to keep a proper flow going with the show?
Joel: Yeah, all the time. We generate thousands of riffs every movie and then we have to kind of trim them down and get them to fit in the context of the movie. We also do stuff to try to embellish certain characters and give them ongoing jokes and stuff like that. So there's what we call runners that stick with certain characters throughout. All that has to be shaped and that's the job after we create all the riffs. A couple people from the staff go in and do what we call riff producing, which is going through the script and shaping it to figure out what's the best riff for a given situation.
Jonah: Yeah, certain times a joke is so perfect for that moment. and sometimes it's not. When you are writing riffs, you could hear a character say a line, then you pause the movie and write the PERFECT riff, then you press play...and the scene changes instantly or some other character starts talking...then you realize that that PERFECT RIFF is gone. You have to pick your battles when it comes to what to use.
Felicia: I'm not in charge of assembling the scripts, so I can't speak to that question. As a writer, I just provide as many funny jokes as I can. When one gets a big laugh in the room as we go through the pitches and is eventually picked to be a part of the show, it's a pretty magical feeling. I got to write a sketch this season and when I walked on set one day they were coincidentally filming it, and almost the whole sketch was what I had written. I cried when I watched the monitor I have to admit.prevnext
The Movies The Cast Wants Covered, and What's Next?
How excited are you with the series premiere on Turkey Day, where MST3K technically got its start?
Joel: Well it's a dream come true. We approached Netflix and said wow we just noticed that we have the possibility of premiering this show on Thanksgiving. The show will be done. It'll have gone through all the reviews and all the technical speck checks, and we could have this out – it'd be ready by Thanksgiving. They loved the idea so we were really glad about that.
Jonah: VERY excited. I grew up watching the TURKEY DAY MARATHONS. So, to think that people will be home and sick of their family so they sequester themselves and blaze through our episodes makes me very happy.
Felicia: I'm so excited they decided to premiere on such an amazing anniversary. It's a great way to give homage to fans as well as hopefully catch new audience on Netflix who are browsing to avoid their families!
Are there any bad movies that you guys haven't covered yet that you very much want to? The Room, perhaps? (Oh, hai, Mark.) Or maybe Hobgoblins 2? There's also Samurai Cop 2, dare we suggest.
Joel: There is one I gotta say. When we did the pilot, the proof of concept for Mystery Science Theater was The Green Slime. To me, it's the perfect Mystery Science Theater movie. It just has everything you'd want. Unfortunately, it's owned by Toho and it would be wildly expensive to try to get that from them. They don't like Mystery Science Theater. That's why none of the Gamera movies are available because they won't license us Gamera.
Jonah: I feel The Room has been done. But in that same vein of a crazy person making their own movie. I'd love to do Neil Breen's Fateful Findings, that thing is bonkers. GETEVEN, which is a movie that the people from EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE found by this trial attorney from Los Angeles named John DeHart. The movie itself is called "GET EVEN" but he messed up the kerning on the title card. So everybody calls it GETEVEN. For the new season of MST3k I wanted to do Stephen King's MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE. We didn't do it, BUT I was able to do a commentary track on the new Blu-Ray release of it along with Ryan Turek from Blumhouse.
Felicia: I like all three of these suggestions. The one I really want to see is The Wraith. Where Charlie Sheen plays a murderous alien car-man. For real. (Fun fact: we've seen this!)
Finally, what's next after this MST3K run?
Jonah: After tour is done I'm jumping into a couple different writing projects as well as getting ready to do a DVD/iTunes release of both seasons of my show HIDDEN AMERICA. And probably do a short tour with my band PRESSERS to promote our EP. Then hopefully jump right back into riffing on movies.
Felicia: I have a few guest appearances on TV shows coming up, Supernatural for one, and I'm working hard on a few writing projects that will be out next year that I can't talk about but I'm thrilled to finish! Maybe! Deadlines around the holidays are great! Not! I'm going to go cry now!
You can catch the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 on Netflix now.prev