Interview: John Gulager, Piranha 3DD

I spoke to John Gulager on August 28, 2012 about his latest release, “Piranha 3DD”. John is amazing and something of a horror upstart. His roots run deep, with his father being Clu Gulager, known for his countless film and television roles (often in Westerns). But John has really come into his own, most notably with the “Feast” franchise. He has a great sense of humor, and it was an honor to briefly chat with him.

Below you will find a slightly edited version of our chat, though there are a few fun facts you may not know and did not get included. Most interestingly, Ving Rhames was not written into the script. He personally called the producers and demanded to be in the film. And I’m glad he did — his character is one of the funniest things about 3DD. You may also not be aware that John used to work for Russ Meyer, the legendary director of “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” and “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” fame. What a mentor to have!

But without further ado, the interview!

GS: Hello, John. Thank you for making the greatest love letter to David Hasselhoff I have ever seen.

JG: I liked David in the movie.

GS: I think it’s the best thing he’s done in twenty years.

JG: If I say yes to that I might sound a bit full of myself, but yeah, I think so, too. He did a good job and he has the last word in the film — literally. And I think that’s kinda cool — I wrote the “Fish Hunter” song for him. It was a reworking of the love song he was working on in the hotel room, but he apparently then gets the television series and changed the words. There’s the back story. It’s the same tune and lyrical structure — I think the change from “Love Hunter” to “Fish Hunter” was pretty obvious.

GS: Yeah. I know you’ve been friends with the writers for many years now, so I’m curious if you were always involved with the project or got hired on later.

JG: I think I got involved pretty early. And then we found a water park, a huge one with giant slides that twist around and look like giant snakes. We worked that into the story, but then they ended up reading the script and told us we couldn’t do it there. Instead, we went to North Carolina and they were happy to have us. So I was involved early on, and then Marcus and Patrick came on and we shot the film.

GS: You were hired on before Patrick and Marcus?

JG: Yeah, or about the same time. I think they had the idea that we would all be doing it together.

GS: How do you agree to direct a film that you haven’t seen a script for?

JG: Well, that’s the thing. You think you can make it what you want it to be, which doesn’t really happen. So you have to go off the title. I’m probably one of the only people in the world that like the title “Piranha 3DD” (pronounced three-double-d). I was told that on the phone by Bob Weinstein and thought it was pretty funny. He offered a few ideas of things he wanted in the film, and I admit they were funny, so we gave it a shot. That’s the way it went.

GS: I mean no disrespect, but I went in thinking the movie was going to be terrible…

JG: A lot of people did. (laughs) A lot of people still do. (laughs)

GS: But it wasn’t. I clearly see you guys went in there just to have fun and I think it was the right approach.

JG: From the very beginning the mandate was to make a fun movie. I kind of wanted to be closer to the Aja version, but I think the studio clearly wanted it to be different. So the mandate from beginning to end was “make a fun movie”. To me, I think we succeeded. Everyone has their idea of what a fun movie is, but I’d say this was a fun fucking movie! (laughs)

GS: In the first fifteen minutes, I think you may have set the record for the most nudity outside of a porn film…

JG: A lot of people called it a porn film, so they clearly don’t watch the same porn I do. It’s not easy to get people naked, I’ll tell you. There wasn’t a Spring Break or somewhere where we could call someone aside to get naked. People would agree to it and then show up on the set and then disagree. It was tough. It’s strange to say it’s a tough job getting people to take their clothes off, but it is. And I blame it on Harold and Kumar. First “Feast 2” and then this film, we’re always behind a Harold and Kumar movie. Their films sweep through the area right before us and they have tons, and tons and tons of money. So they can pay the big bucks to get a woman naked or have her shave her pubic area or whatever it is they want. Then we come along, and we’re broke, and they say, “Harold and Kumar offered us…” So I clench my fist and yell, KUMAAAAAAAR!!!

In the end, it worked out fine. It’s always different than you think it’s going to be. You think it’s going to be lots of fun shooting nudity, but there’s no thrill. Maybe if you were visiting the set, which we discourage, would be kind of fun. But it’s much more work than you think keeping girls from drowning and there’s some sort of natural thing that happens where the water suddenly gets cold at 3 in the afternoon. It doesn’t seem like the weather’s changed much, but we had a couple actors get hypothermia and we had to stop shooting — in a swimming pool!

GS: Were there any concerns from the producers?

JG: Well it is called 3DD. And they had some awesome nudity in the Aja version. They had one actor, Kelly Brook, get nude — which was awesome. So, we didn’t have that and had to go the other route — getting extras to go the extra mile for us. And they did. A lot of the young girls did not get the humor we were going for, but the slightly older women — not the twentysomethings — totally got it. A woman named Tabitha Taylor that was running — this is in the trailer — she totally got it and didn’t think anything we were doing was weird. The younger ones didn’t know the history of the films we were goofing on. The humor is juvenile ,and I think a lot of people think we went for “cheap” jokes, but there’s actually a lot of multi-layered jokes in there.

GS: Is there even a 1% chance we will see a Piranha movie featuring the Fish Hunter?

JG: There’s always a 1% chance.

GS: That would be the greatest movie… ever.

JG: (laughs) Well, David wants to make a “Knight Rider” movie. The Weinsteins own the rights to that, which I think is why he did our movie. But, yeah, Fish Hunter the Movie… but Lloyd Bridges is gone, so it will have to be just David. That joke probably doesn’t make sense — Lloyd Bridges was known around our house as “Webfoot” for a long time. [Bridges starred in “Sea Hunt” in the 1950s.]

GS: Thanks so much for your time, John.

JG: Absolutely.

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