Tony Krantz of this unique new horror comedy talks about the film, the cast and the ill-fated theatrical release
It's unlikely you know Tony Krantz by name, but you certainly know some of the many works he's produced in television and film like 24 and one of my favorite shows of all time, Sports Night. The longtime producer has now moved to the directors chair with his first film, Sublime and this, his second directorial effort, Otis, which hits the shelves on DVD and Blu-Ray on June 10. I had a chance to speak with Krantz over the phone about this wonderful new film, and here's what he had to say.
You had your directorial debut, Sublime with writer Erik Jendersen, who co-wrote Otis. Did he pitch this to you while you were working on Sublime?
Tony Krantz: No, we pitched it to him, actually. A writer by the name of Thomas Schnauz, who's also credited as being one of the writers on the movie, wrote a first draft of the movie, but the idea for Otis was my idea. We had a deal with Warner Bros. to make these Raw Feed movies and it was one of the movies that we had presented to Warner Bros. but among the three of us, it was one of the ideas that I had.
You've produced a number of films and TV shows in a wide variety of genres. Why go to horror for your first few directorial efforts?
Tony Krantz: Well, the real reason is because it was there. That's the truth of it. I had been an agent for 15 years. I was the guy who ran the primetime television department at Creative Artists Agency. I packaged television shows and then I became a producer, partnering with Brian Grazer and Ron Howard in running Imagine Television, but I had never directed anything. I hadn't directed a stage play, I hadn't directed a casting session, I hadn't directed a frame of film and I didn't have anything to showcase my abilities. All of the sudden I found myself producing with my partners in the Raw Feed venture. Three of these hybrid, sci-fi, horror and thriller movies and it really didn't occur to me, at the time we sold these movies, to be the director of one of them, but it just popped into my head. I just said, 'Why don't I direct one of them? Everyone's gotta start somewhere.' It came out really well, I think. It's this really surreal, psychological thriller and we quickly produced those and I directed it quickly in 15 days and all of the sudden, Warner Bros. wanted more movies. We started to develop Otis, and I hadn't planned to direct that one either. We were looking long and hard for a director I could hire and with the particular brand of humor and tone of satire, we were finding it difficult to land a director who sort of saw the same vision as we had. So, six weeks before we were going to begin production, I said, 'We can't find a director, I guess I'll just direct it.' The rest is history.
So how did you go about casting for this film? Obviously you have some pretty heavy talent with Kevin Pollack, Illeana Douglas and Ashley Johnson, but how did you come across Bostin Christopher? He seems like quite a catch.
Tony Krantz: He really is a catch. I think Bostin is an extraordinary actor and really delivered a terrific performance in this movie. Bostin came in through the normal straight-up-and-down casting process. We had a terrific casting director, he had cast Election and a few other movies and he has an eye for interesting talent. Bostin was one of the actors who came in based on the breakdown we sent to agents. He came in and I liked him immediately, but I wasn't certain that, given his lack of experience, honestly, that he could be the center of this movie, or the title character anyway. Bostin continued to come in and read and each time he got better and better and we gave it to him. He was terrific. With regard to the other actors, Danny Stern and Illeana Douglas and Kevin Pollack and Jere Burns, I really wanted, in pretty much every role, a comedic actor. Somebody who the audience would know kind of represented comedy, because even though we're doing a horror movie, it's a comedic horror movie, a satirical horror movie. I really wanted to send a very clear signal to the audience that the actors in this movie are comedic actors or known for their comedic performances. We created a list of actors that we went after and we were unbelievably fortunate to get the people that we got. Each one of the actors came in after meeting me and, being assured that the kind of movie that we wanted to do was not a spoof or a farce, but really walked the line of comedy and satire, I think the fun that the had on the set, the camaraderie and the spirit of our cast members was really a function of how terrific and professional all of our actors were.
Since Bostin is a relative newcomer, did he take to the spotlight right away, to taking the reins of this movie over?
Tony Krantz: First of all, he didn't take the movie over, he just played the part. He played the part impeccably from the first day of shooting, in which we were on location and he had some scenes with Kevin Pollack, the very first day. Kevin is a consummate actor, he's an extraordinary actor, brilliant comedian and an incredible dramatic actor. So here's Bostin Christopher playing Kevin Pollack's brother, in scenes where Kevin Pollack is slapping him. It's a heady experience, it's a challenging experience and I remember Kevin saying to me, after a couple of takes, 'You have an extraordinary actor on your hands. This young guy, Bostin Christopher, is going to go places.' This was off a couple of takes that Kevin and Bostin did and Bostin just really hit the ground running from day one. It wasn't really a case of taking over the movie, or rising to the occasion, he had risen to the occasion the minute he walked on the set, because he really is that talented an actor. It just worked out wonderfully. Some of the scenes with Ashley Johnson, who needs to be mentioned along with Jared Kusnitz, Jared plays Ashley's brother Reid, and Ashley plays Riley, the girl who gets kidnapped. Some of the scenes between Ashley and Bostin are incredibly touching and you really develop some empathy for Bostin, this serial killer, this psychopath. I think it's a credit to him as a person, it's a credit to his performance, but I think you really develop empathy and sympathy for him and that's exactly what we were hoping, that this lumbering giant, if you will, would be a character that the audience, at the end of the day, had complex feelings about. They could empathize with him and they can be horrified by him.
It's like the whole audience gets the Stockholm Syndrome.
Tony Krantz: A little bit, yes, if you will.
It seemed for a while that this was heading for a theatrical release. I remember seeing a trailer on the site and it seemed like it was gearing up for a theatrical release. Is there a reason why there wasn't a theatrical release and it went straight to DVD?
Tony Krantz: Yeah. I think it's a function, honestly, of the studio that we made the movie with. Warner Bros. is really in the tentpole business. They're movie business are movies that cost $100 million or more, largely, not exclusively, but they're really in that business. They're in the big event, blockbuster business. They have another division called Warner Independent Pictures, which has just been folded into regular Warner Bros. They really don't have a distribution apparatus and a skill set in the area of low-budget, specialty movies. It just isn't what they do. I think we found ourselves a little betwixt. Everybody loved the movie, but we couldn't get the attention compared to gigantic mega-movies like Speed Racer and Batman and those kinds of things. Unfortunately, I think it will never get a limited theatrical release, by virtue of that. Perhaps at a different studio it might be different, but we found ourselves within a period of downsizing within Warner, as related to the specialty division, the folding of New Line into Warner Bros., their attention was really focused on that and they weren't really looking at a low-budget movie like this to be something they would put a $15, $20, $25 million advertising campaign behind it.
I saw there is an alternate ending on the DVD. Is that alternate ending the original scripted ending?
Tony Krantz: That is. The alternate ending is in fact the original scripted ending. Warner Bros. Home Video thought that it was too... what's the word, I would say they felt it was too unusual an ending to put onto the main body of the movie. When we came up with a different ending, which we liked equally, we were not upset with their feelings, we put that on the movie and we shot the original ending and made that the alternate ending. We were thrilled with that and happy with that. The alternate ending that we ended up shooting, which has Otis returning to the family and holding them hostage, would've actually required, had we put it into the actual movie, a number of connective scenes of Otis actually coming back to the house, of Riley waking up at the middle of the night, Otis dispatching several other people around the house, police, FBI, the television journalist, etc. etc. From a pure production and budgetary point of view, we were happy with the direction that we went because it was a simpler piece of photography and with the budget we had and the number of shooting days we had, we would've been very very stretched to put the original ending in the main body of the movie by virtue of the need for this connective tissue.
You've been a producer for so long and you're also producing the films you direct. Does that make your job easier, as a director, coming from a producing standpoint?
Tony Krantz: It does, it really does, for a couple of reasons. One, I'm kind of the boss. I could fire myself if I ever got out of line, and I can hire myself too which is a good thing. It gives me a responsibility to the financial realities of the picture. I think I'm an extremely conscientious producer and now equally as a director and it now gives me the opportunity to look at the entire movie and really allow the movie to be the creative vision of the actors, the writer and myself, because I'm in charge of it from a producer and a director point of view. It gives me freedom and it gives me a certain degree of responsibility at the same time. When you're making a movie in 18 days, which this is, you have to be able to make decisions and have a streamlined reporting structure. I think for the other movies I'll be doing, out into the future, and I think there will be many more to come, in each case, I'll be the producer-director of those movies.
I also saw you executive produced one of my absolute favorite shows of all time, Sports Night. Are you involved in the new DVD set that's coming out in September?
Tony Krantz: You know, I saw that, and the answer is no, I'm not. I saw the article, I guess it was in Broadcasting and Cable or something like that, and I thought it was fascinating. That was a show that was right on the edge of going the distance. A little known fact of that show is that ABC was going to pick up a third season of that show, but they wanted some creative changes in the show, and they wanted some reassurances about what was going to happen in the third season. To Aaron Sorkin's credit, he felt that the show creatively, and I agreed with him, was exactly where it should've been. If after 45 episodes, the network wasn't sure about what the show is, they shouldn't pick it up. They were right on the edge of picking it up for third season and I think if it had been picked up for a third season, it would've been able to generate the, literally, 500,000 viewers necessary to turn it into a hit.
Yeah. It was such a phenomenal show. I absolutely love it.
Tony Krantz: Thank you.
Well, that's about all I have for you. Thanks so much for your time, Tony.
Tony Krantz: Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate it.
You can find Otis on DVD shelves everywhere on June 10.