Filmshaft Exclusive Director Eric Forsberg on Mega Piranha and the rise of the Mockbuster

The mockbuster genre has spawned from a long and fine tradition of exploitation cinema. There’s films such as Eric Forsberg’s Mega Piranha that are finding audiences across the world desperate for some hokey and ludicrous fun. The old adage that ‘nobody sets out to make a bad movie’ has been turned upside down.

The collective experience of watching a dreadful film, whether on the cinema screen or with friends, is turning into something of a cult phenomenon. Laced with irony, but played straight and with some seriously deranged ideas, the mockbuster series might become a new art form unto itself. Are they the product of counter-cinema or just bad film-making? Like Larry Kaufman’s Troma outfit, these new breed of movies are marketed as ‘so bad they’re good’, and it works.

Could the mockbuster be the evil twin of the Hollywood blockbuster set to wreck havoc of its own?

FilmShaft talks exclusively to mockbuster trailblazer Eric Forsberg to discuss his latest break-out ‘monster’ hit, Mega Piranha, and the rise of the mockbuster.

Did you go to film school?

Yes – I went to Tufts University in Boston, MA. I took my studio/film classes at The Boston School for the Museum of Fine Arts, which acted as Tufts “art” college. I loved Boston and I made a lot of “art” films there. The Museum School was really into “art” films, like Kenneth Anger and Maya Darren. Later I took year of grad courses at The School for the Art Institute in Chicago. Again, more art and less practical filmmaking. I really learned more about making movies from my stage work – at least the writing and directing part.

How did you get into the film industry?

I have always been in the film industry because my father was an independent filmmaker back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. He made truly groundbreaking films, very personal, most of them with a message. He was often hired by religious groups to make moving films that were Christian in nature, even though he was a staunch Buddhist at the time. I was raised in this independent film world (at least my early years), I did PA work, helped to edit, helped with make-up, and acted in many of them from the time I was five until I went to college. My mother gave me my first camera at the age of nine and I started making movies right away.

Are you a fan of horror?

Some horror. My favorite horror films are Jacob’s Ladder, The Tenant, Alien, and Attack of the Mushroom People. I also enjoy the Evil Dead series, and Romero’s zombie movies, and all of the great classic horrors. I like all films – good or bad – there is something to watch and enjoy. My background is as much comedy as anything else. I grew up in the halls of The Second City in Chicago – the comedy Cabaret that launched Bill Murray, Mike Myers, and Steve Carell. I even directed Steve Carell in one of my early stage plays. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of my favorite films of all time.

What do you think of the current trend called the ‘mockbuster’?

I helped to start it – although it is the brainchild of David Latt and David Rimawi at The Asylum. I was hired in 2006 to write a haunted house film and then suddenly I got a call telling me to change it to a film called “Snakes On A Train”. I wasn’t given anything but the title and it was set to shoot and be released before the big studio pic Snakes on a Plane came out. So I wrote a great little script that was as different from snakes on a plane as I could make it. Since then I have written and directed quite a few “mockbusters” for the Asylum. Mega Piranha is a “mockbuster” in many ways – with Piranha 3D coming out next month. I am sure that the trend will transform soon. It is even transforming now, with the “mega” franchise.

What was the inspiration for Mega Piranha?

The Asylum gave me the title and asked for a pitch. After a few incarnations they were happy with the story and told me to write it. Then they attached me as a director. So I guess i was essentially hired to do it, although I found the idea a lot of fun and I had a great time with it.

Did you write the script?

Yes. After my brief treatment was accepted I was given three weeks to write it. I finished it on Christmas Eve.

How did the former pop star Tiffany get involved?

The brilliance of casting – the producers at The Asylum brainstormed and came up with her. I was very please. Tiffany is a wonderful person.

How do you react to the critical maulings of Mega Piranha and people making fun of it. Although I suppose it’s not as bad as The Room.

I am not so upset. The American audiences liked it a lot more than the British audience did. I’m not sure why but it must have something to do with the campy b-movie comedic situations taken so seriously. I know that British humor tends to wink at itself – like the characters know that they are in a comedy. But Mega Piranha is just a wild romp of everything but the kitchen sink – and I directed it as if it were a desperate, high-stakes situation – even when the situation was ridiculous, like giant fish flying through the air into buildings – or eating steel submarines like potato chips, or fighting them under the sea hand-to-fin. Some people really liked it, especially in America. So I don’t feel mauled at all on this side of the pond. And I appreciate the venom with which I am attacked by those who hate the film. Some folks want to grind my nuts under a rock and peel my face off with a sharp stick. The things they’ve posted online are deliciously horrific. It makes me feel like Ed Wood merged with Pasolini.

Are you happy with the film?

I am happy with the fact that it has been well received and that it makes people laugh and feel entertained. We had very little money and very little time and many problems during the shoot and it is truly something that we got it to the screen in as good a shape as it is. It is touted as the pinnacle of “so-bad-it’s-good” movies on some sites – and I’m fine with that. I am sure that the producers are too. And I can’t wait to see if Piranha 3D fares better in the press. It may not. And it probably cost fifty times more.

What was the special effects budget of the movie and is it hard to visualise scenes to a high standard with so little money?

Very little budget – for anything. But VFX fared better than most. My script called for over 150 VFX, some of them with multiple elements, and we actually got more than half of those in the can before the producers said “enough”. Unfortunately one effect that didn’t make the cut was the last series of shots that showed the fate of the Piranhas. There were other places that had VFX shots left out but that end series does leave a logic gap in an already crazy movie plot. But again, I was super ambitious with this film – and the studio that made it stepped up to the plate more than I ever thought that they would with one of the producers himself staying up night after night after work to pound out extra VFX of his own because they didn’t have the budget in place to hire the outside FX House for everything we needed.

Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

Always – tons – many – some will happen and some wont’ — I am already writing another project for The Asylum, and I am working on some deals for other movies for Syfy through other companies. I even have a television show proposal that is going out to the studios next week. After the success of Mega Piranha (even the mauling I got in the UK is a success in my book), I will be working in the action movie and fun creature genre for a while. Keep your eyes open for the next one.

Mega Piranha is released on DVD 9th August