Eli Roth breaks bread with a whole new crop of filmmakers

As one of the most recognizable director's in the horror genre, Eli Roth got his start by marshaling everyone he could (and all the money he could scrape together) to make his first film, Cabin Fever. He followed up that success with two films in his Hostel franchise. Now Roth is going to take what he's learned and apply it to his job as a guest judge on the Fox Reality show, On the Lot.

On this show, 16 aspiring filmmakers compete to become the next big Hollywood director and sign a development deal with DreamWorks.

When doing On the Lot do you think that maybe you feel a little more for these aspiring directors? You're somewhat closer in age to them...

Eli Roth: I think that Garry Marshall and Carrie Fisher, everybody started from somewhere. I think the other judges that are on there, when you see these people you can't help but see yourself. I do feel that because of where I came from, which is the independent film world, no film connections, putting in the money for my own films and selling it at a festival, I do feel like these people are going to listen to me in a different way. I'm closer to them in age and I'm closer to them from where I came from.

As a guest judge on this show is there anything in particular that you're looking for from these filmmakers?

Eli Roth: Yeah, I'm looking for that raw creative energy. I'm not looking for slickness, I'm not looking for something to look professional. I'm looking to see how can they execute a simple idea? How effectively can they communicate it, on a low budget, in a short amount of time? Everything I've done to date has been on a low budget. My first two films were extremely low budget, so I'm judging them on what they can pull off with nothing.

What do you think is the biggest misconception that wannabe directors have about directing?

Eli Roth: (Laughs) I think that everybody thinks it's all about framing the shots and calling action, and then holding up your thumbs and making a little square and saying, "I see it looking like this and I want it like that." The trick is how do you do it when there's people making noise, the crew is hungry and people want to go to lunch, you have an actor that's cranky and the makeup person got in a fight with the assistant director. 99% of making a movie is babysitting. You have to motivate the troops and just manage personalities. Really, I think that 1% of it is picking the shot and calling "Action, cut" and directing the action. There's so little actual moviemaking when you're making a movie. I think that everybody thinks that when you're sitting in a chair it all automatically happens.

Then they get there and they have this big wakeup call. They realize that they got the studio breathing down their neck, you have actors that don't want to say the lines, you have a DP that doesn't want to do the shots, and you've somehow got to pull everyone together and keep them motivated and get them to do what you want in a way that excites them and inspires them.

Before Cabin Fever did what it did for you, did you ever think about entering it in something like Project Greenlight? If On the Lot had been around would you have tried to get on the show?

Eli Roth:Cabin Fever was a Project Greenlight reject. I was rejected from Project Greenlight. I had written Cabin Fever in 1995. I was trying to get that movie made any way I could. I was rejected from Project Greenlight. People voted me off. I didn't even make it past the first round.

But you had the last laugh, right?

Eli Roth: Yeah! I also knew, look at the other people who are judging. They're not... Project Greenlight wasn't like professionals... the truth is, even the so called industry professionals who read Cabin Fever and said, "What the hell is this?" I knew the only way to make this was to risk everything, raise the money and make it myself as an independent film. If On the Lot was around, of course, I would have been the first one to enter. Probably would have been rejected...

How is Cell coming along? Any thoughts on when you might start shooting that?

Eli Roth: Right now, I literally, this weekend, I just got back from Europe doing International Press for Hostel: Part II. That was on Saturday that I landed. Cell is a little bit away. I'm gonna have to take some time and decompress and just unwind a little bit and start some time in, probably, 2008.

Are you still planning on doing a movie of fake trailers?

Eli Roth: Yeah, Trailer Trash. I definitely want to do Trailer Trash. I'm not certain which I want to do next. It will either be Cell or Trailer Trash. Probably, Trailer Trash is my gut, because Trailer Trash I can actually get going this year. It's not a bad idea to exercise that side of my brain.

I gotta ask, what about Thanksgiving?

Eli Roth: You see, I have to make sure the movie lives up to the trailer. When we shot the trailer we thought, no movie would ever be as funny as this trailer. I'd like to do it. That would be like a side project between movies. Almost as an experiment, but I'd only do it if I could do it as a double bill with Edgar Wright and Don't. We'd have to do it as like 2, 45 minute movies and we'd have to set it the way Dogme '95 had rules, or Dogcrap 2005, where you only get one take, you can't rehearse anything, I'd have to really shoot it ultra low budget and if I'm shooting a scene in a high school, then everyone in the high school has to be at least 25 years old. I'm 35 so I'd play a senior. (Laughs)

Do you agree with the assessment that "torture porn", horror films have run their course? Or, do you see it as horror going through one of its many cycles?

Eli Roth: Look, things go in cycles. Someone said to me, "You didn't make Hostel: Part II, you made Hostel 7." I think clearly whenever there is a flood of one type of product people are going to go, "Okay, another one of these types of movies." It was great that Hostel felt, at the time, like the beginning of this wave, but you can clearly see the audiences are responding to PG-13, ghost movies right now with the success of 1408.

I think the key is to go out and make the best film you can and you either hit the zeitgeist or you don't. The key is to make them at a responsible budget so that the films are always profitable. Look, we only made Hostel: Part II for $10 million dollars, which compared to the other summer movies is 1/30th the cost. As long as these movies keep making money the studios will keep making them. It's really whatever the public's in the mood for.

Did you ever have any idea when you were younger that you would end up contributing to a generation of films similar to the ones that inspired you?

Eli Roth: This has been my dream since I was 8 years old. To get out there and be a director. Specifically, when I was 11 I was shooting chainsaw movies and this was all I've ever wanted to do. There was a point, I remember when I was 25 and I was completely broke, and I was in this apartment with rat infestation thinking, "There's gotta be more than this." I had Cabin Fever written and I was like, "I have two choices here, I can either get depressed about this or I can work harder." I just turned it up and worked harder and I never quit. I never gave up. No matter how many people told me I could never do it and that nobody wants to see this, I never gave up.

I feel really, really lucky that it worked out. This is a goal that I've been focused on and working everyday towards since I was 8. I feel so fortunate that I felt something in my gut that there was a lack of a certain type of movie that I really, genuinely missed, and I feel really, really happy to have been a part of bringing that back to cinema. That's the thing that I feel the most proud of. That I made a contribution and I made a difference. I know it's a number of people that did it. The Saw guys, and Rob Zombie, Neil Marshall. I just felt like it was kind of this perfect storm of horror. Where you had a bunch of horror geeks that finally got to a position where they finally got to make their dream film. They really just went for it and the audiences thankfully responded.

Have you seen a cut of Rob Zombie's Halloween?

Eli Roth: No, but I've been emailing with Rob and he's psyched about it. I can't wait to see it because, man, did I love The Devil's Rejects.

On the Lot will air at 8 pm Tonight on Fox.

Dont't forget to also check out: On the Lot