Interview: Chiodo Brothers

The Chiodo Brothers, Charles and Stephen Chiodo, appeared October 9, 2010 at the Music Box Theater in Chicago. They answered a series of questions from the host and the audience, almost entirely focusing on Killer Klowns from Outer Space. (The Chiodos have also worked on Critters and Team America: World Police, among many others.)

As I cannot differentiate between the two men’s voices, their answers will simply be listed as “Chiodo Brothers” (unless it’s obvious who is who), under the assumption that anything one says the other would agree with.

Transcribed by Gavin Schmitt.

Music Box: Alright guys, with killer klowns and acidic pies and all this… where did the idea start?

Chiodo Brothers: A single conversation. I was trying to figure out what the most frightening thing possible would be, and for me, it was driving down a road at night, having someone pass you on the left, and when I turned to see who it was, it was a clown. A clown driving a car. A clown being where it shouldn’t be is scary. And then we said, what if the clown wasn’t in a car? And we decided if a clown came up beside you and it wasn’t in a car, it would have to be from outer space. It’s one of the primal fears: spiders, snakes and clowns.

MB: The film has many scenes that go from funny to scary and back and forth. What was the writing process like?

CB: We tried to create what we call “candy-coated kills”. We took ever circus and carnival motif we could but put a twist on it. We tried to do with the toilet bowl what Alfred Hitchcock did for the shower. One time we had a fan come up and tell us that we hit on his wife’s two phobias: she’s afraid of clowns and she’s afraid of the toilet.

MB: How were you guys able to bring all this to the table?

CB: Really old school technology. It was a low budget film, and we got our friends to do the miniature and animation effects. It was really pulling all our friends and family together. But the imagery came from our influences, like the Corman films, the AIP films. Everything was done conventionally. There were hand puppets, and there was stop motion animation. The shadow puppet gag was all stop motion.

MB: A lot of people love the look of the klowns — the face, the costume, everything. Can you take us through the process of making one of these?

CB: I thought they would be like these giant, looming quiet things. But then we wanted them to be more maniacal. And they’re aliens. Maniacs in clown makeup attack people with knives. But these are aliens, so we wanted more fantasy. We tried to make a new life form that just happened to look like clowns, create a new mythology. Albino-type skin, but a new life form.

MB: Where did the laugh come from?

CB: Yeah, actually, originally the klowns didn’t speak at all. But as we went through various cuts, we realized we needed to give them a language. The director of the music video ended up doing the voices. They say things like “modo”, and maybe saying we gave clowns a brain would be going too far, but we wanted them to have a kind of crazy intelligence.

MB: Is there ever a reaction that people have to your movies that really stands out in your mind?

CB: You know, it’s funny, to be creative artists and do something to express ourselves and to get the reaction we got tonight is just amazing. You laughed in the right places, and it was great. But yet, I was really surprised, because everyone applauded when Dave came out of the car. I was really surprised, because there’s this love triangle going on there, and in the original script Dave got killed. He did not survive the blast, only the Terenzi Brothers did. And I noticed you didn’t applaud them. It’s interesting, our executive at TransWorld told us, “guys, it isn’t that kind of movie where you have to kill the hero.” So we came up with this ending where Dave crawls into the car and survives. We shot the whole thing in a parking lot after the rest of the film had wrapped. The car came down, they came out, and then we hit them with pies. But the executive was right. You want to laugh and feel happy when you leave the theater. Of course, if you look at the timing closely, he couldn’t have made it. So remember, if there’s an atomic bomb or something, hide in the freezer with the ice cream.

MB: I think Indiana Jones just did that. What was it like working with John Vernon?

CB: He was great, one of the real pros we had in the show. He showed up, and John was making sure I got respect from the crew as a first-time director, and made sure I got the time i needed to work with him. He was great with comic timing. The scene where the klown squirts him with the flower in the police station, I directed it so there’s one squirt and John reacted, and I was fine with that. John said, “No, let’s have him squirt me once, wait a second, and then one big burst.” We did that, at John’s suggestion.

MB: And the ventriloquist scene?

CB: The ventriloquist scene was really bringing to the film what we thought was scary in the first place. Clowns may be scary, but ventriloquist dummies top even clowns.

MB: Was the film dubbed over?

CB: No, but it should have been. We had the worst sound mix. We found a cheaper place that would give us the same deal for two weeks as the expensive place would for one. Then it was cut to one week, so we had one week in the bad place. The soundboard blew up, we had to loop some extra lines in there. We were sitting there, saying “raise that, lower that, this sounds perfect” and after we finish it the technician tells us that what we have been hearing is not necessarily what has been laid down. What the fuck are we doing?

MB: What about a sequel?

CB: We’ve been working on a sequel ever since the first one came out, but it’s a bunch of legal ramblings, with the film getting tossed from one studio to another. We are working on it, we have a great concept, and we’ve now been working on it so long that we debated between a sequel and a regular remake. We did both. We have content in it that will introduce it to new audiences, but there’s material in there that will make it a really great sequel. The only problem is that after 22 years of ideas, we’ve tried to throw it all into one thing. We have three or four movies’ worth.

MB: Any backlash from the clown industry?

CB: I get letters and threats like you wouldn’t believe. No, no, that’s not true. But they may have shut down the Ringling Clown College because of us. We talk to a lot of people, and let me ask you: how many of you are afraid of clowns? (audience roars) How many like clowns? (bigger roar) No, that’s scary! Most people have a phobia. We did meet one guy who said our movie was bad for the kiddies, so we told him, “You know what? You’re kinda bad for the kiddies.” He’s a clown performer and he says people crystallize at a very young age, and he was afraid about a person who doesn’t look like a person walking into your space. That first impression could stick with you for life.

MB: What was it like working with the Dickies?

CB: They were great! It was interesting, one of our crew knew the Dickies, and he asked them, “Hey guys, do you want to write a song for Killer Klowns From Outer Space?” They knew only the title, and those guys came up with that really great song. What’s cool is I think they brought in a whole different audience than we had intended. Now we get these hard rockers that love the Dickies and who love the film.

MB: I’ve been wondering this for fifteen years: why is Mike making out with Debbie on a raft?

CB: Mike Tobacco and the Terenzi Brothers went out one night on the raft in Long Island Sound, the police were looking for them, and when they got back Mike’s father was so mad he took a knife and stabbed the raft. Mike Tobacco entertains the ladies in the back of his Pinto with a rubber raft. We had to dub over that, because two people rolling around in a rubber raft makes fart sounds. We didn’t know that, but after we heard the fart sounds we had to dub the dialogue over the top of that. That explanation is in the movie. Debbie asks why the raft is in the car and Mike tells her the story. But we had to cut it from the film because we had too much exposition. We thank MGM for giving us a great DVD to put some of that back on the disc.

MB: How many scenes did you have to cut out of the film?

CB: Mostly in the beginning of the film, stuff with Mike and Debbie, like them in the woods and him trying to scare her. Typical horror stuff. We just wanted to get to the klowns. We figured you have to see a klown in the first reel, the first ten minutes, or you lose the audience. There is another scene, a tragedy of this being a low budget movie. They are in the tent, and they are walking a tightrope. The tightrope becomes a staircase ,and they go up above into something coming out sideways into the Room of Doors. They ope na door, a klown comes out, and they shoot its head off. It was cut because of technical problems. It was a labor of love, and we appreciate how supportive the fans have been.

Gavin adds: In a private conversation that evening, the Chiodo Brothers explained that there are no female klowns. This is why the men went into cotton candy and the women went into balloons. The two female klowns who slept with the Terenzi Brothers are not actually female, but male transvestites. A possible plot for the sequel involves the Terenzis being pregnant with the klown babies. How they intend to explain the 20-plus year gap remains a mystery.

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