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Interview: David Arquette

Better known to horror fans for his work in front of the camera in films like the Scream Trilogy and “Masters of Horror” creator’s Stephen King’s Riding the Bullet, David Arquette makes his debut as feature film director with The Tripper, a slasher film set at an outdoor music festival where a bunch of hippies have gathered to camp out and get high. The party has an uninvited guest – a hippie-hating killer decked out in a very realistic looking Ronald Reagan costume.

Better known to horror fans for his work in front of the camera in films like the Scream Trilogy and “Masters of Horror” creator’s Stephen King’s Riding the Bullet, David Arquette makes his debut as feature film director with The Tripper, a slasher film set at an outdoor music festival where a bunch of hippies have gathered to camp out and get high. The party has an uninvited guest – a hippie-hating killer decked out in a very realistic looking Ronald Reagan costume.

This is also the feature film debut for producer Steve Niles, a name that should be, for comic book fans, synonymous with horror. Niles has penned some of the best horror stories to make it to the illustrated page in the past decade, including the story that laid the groundwork for the upcoming 30 Days of Night (due just before next Halloween), about an Alaskan town under siege by vampires.

For an indie horror-comedy flick, The Tripper is boasting quite a cast – Courtney Cox Arquette (David’s wife and fellow Scream alumni), Jamie King (Sin City), Jason Mewes (Clerks), and Thomas Jane (The Punisher), along with Arquette himself, pulling double duty in front of and behind the camera. Horror and comedy are two words that usually mean a hefty box office haul individually, but when placed side by side, are disastrous for profits, as seen in the case of the critically-adored Slither. Arquette obviously had what it takes to get a film made – great concept, solid script, and connections (actor Jane is married to his sister, and partners with Niles at RAW Studios). He’s also been working his ass off promoting the film, taking it on a nationwide tour, and taking time to talk to horror fans and members of the press, like myself. I had the chance to speak with him on the phone earlier in the week. Below is a transcript of our conversation.

Jameson Kowalczyk: How’s the bus tour going?
David Arquette: The bus tour is done. The bus part of it. We’re still on tour, but now we’re taking… we’re driving and we’re flying places.

JK: Cool. I guess what I want to start with is, what horror films are you a fan of?
DA: I like the 70’s sort of horror films. I like the original Chainsaw, I like… The Shining is probably one of my favorites, and then Halloween. Whenever I go to horror films it’s just so much fun, sort of the excitement of that and all the craziness. It’s a blast.

JK: What made you decide to move behind the camera, to go from actor to filmmaker?
DA: Well I’ve always wanted to make films, and sort of diversify in what I’m doing. It’s just sort of a progression of thinking about things and wanting to tell different stories, and wanting to do more than just acting.

JK: When did you start writing this screenplay?
DA: About three years ago… That’s when I sat down and started really writing it. It might have been a little more. I was doing a film called Riding the Bullet and I finally sat down and did it. Mick Garris, the director of that, gave me a book called On Writing by Stephen King that was really inspirational to just sitting down and getting it done. And then after I wrote a crazy script that was really out there, because I was reading a lot of serial killer books at the time, I started honing it a little more, and then I got it to a co-writer, Joe Harris, and he really started to help me structure it, help me sort of focus it, and brought a lot of political satire to it. And then it just started shaping up, several, you know, back and forth, and then trimming it down and everything, we finally got it to a place where it was sort of produce-able.

JK: Did it take you a while to get a greenlight for the screenplay?
DA: Yeah, it did. It did. A lot of studios and people didn’t get it. They didn’t really support it, so we went out and made it ourselves.

JK: How hard was it to get independent financing for the film?
DA: It was really difficult. We ended up financing it ourselves. It was a really crazy process, but it’s been an amazing one.

JK: Which do you like better, directing or acting?
DA: Acting’s just sort of… you can have a lot of fun doing it. It’s kind of like playing in a way. You get to become these different characters and people set up these world for you, and you just have to kind of be on your game as far as learning your lines and preparing and knowing where you are in the film, and arching your character and all that stuff. And that’s a lot of fun. But directing is a lot more detailed and specific and time-consuming and all encompassing. So there’s a great reward to accomplishing it, but it’s difficult.

JK: How did Steve Niles and Thomas Jane become involved in this project?
DA: Well, I wrote the script and Thomas was one of the first people I sent it to. They have a first look deal at Lionsgate. And then read it, and Thomas was really… he really got it, and Steve got it, and Thomas really wanted to play Buzz, as I was hoping he would. So it really came together after that. After we got them on board it was a lot easier to get Paul Reubens, Lukas Haas, other friends of mine… and Balthazar Getty and Brad Hunt. And once we got those guys in, it was easy to flip it to the next level and get Jason Mewes… people I was a fan of, but didn’t have a personal relationship with. And Jaime King.

JK: Were you a fan of Steve Niles, or familiar with his work?
DA: I’d read a few of his comics. Yeah, he’s amazing.

JK: Which ones have you read?
DA: Bigfoot and… what’s the one about the… something of the Heartland, a few of those. And there’s one… I’m not sure… oh! Giant Monster [laughs].

JK: Why Reagan?
DA: I grew up in Los Angles and I was always a fan of Ronald Reagan, I liked him. But… I saw some of his policies have a direct effect on the world around me, like… as far as the cuts on mental health care, and that sort of played into the story a lot. And I don’t know, all the pieces kind of came together. I saw a scary Reagan mask, and it reminded me of the mask in Halloween. And I wanted to pit the left against the right, and the fact that Reagan hated hippies, that had something to do with it. I can tell you where the main idea came from. I was at an outdoor music festival, and I saw… as the lights when out and the sun went down, I had this crazy idea, ‘What if a killer came out of the Redwood forest and started hacking up all these hippies.’ That’s kind of what stated all that.

JK: Who has been the scariest president in U.S. history?
DA: I think the people behind Bush are scary, I don’t think Bush is that scary. But the people behind him… I think Cooper was a little out there.

JK: Are you more conservative or more liberal in your political views?
DA: I’m definitely more liberal.

JK: Do you consider yourself a hippie?
DA: Oh yeah, totally. Well, I’m not really a hippie, but my mother was. My sister is. And yeah, I like what hippies stand for. There’s hippies in my film that are sort of a different breed of hippie, that’s all about getting wasted, and doesn’t really vote, would never protest. So… not those hippies. I mean, I like hanging out with some of those hippies, but the hippies in my film, it’s not like, ‘The hippies are good and Reagan is bad.’ When Reagan killed the first hippie in the film last night, somebody yells, ‘Four more years!’ [laughs] So I think people will get it. It’s not a movie to make a demon out of Reagan. In a lot of these horror films, they’re kind of looked at as heroes anyway. So there is definitely an element of him becoming a superhero, in my movie.

JK: How have audiences reacted to the film so far?
DA: It went really well last night, we had a screening in a graveyard last night. It had the real outdoor vibe of the music festival. It really captures the spirit of it. I dug it. One of my favorite parts of horror films is when they yell at the screen. And they were yelling stuff at the screen, and it was really fun.

JK: Is there going to be a sequel?
DA: Yeah, there’s a sequel. It’s called The Tripper 2: The Burning Bush and it’s a Burning Man setting.

JK: Does that mean the killer will be in a Bush mask?
DA: Not necessarily. It might be a Democratic Party President.

JK: Are you writing the sequel?
DA: I developed the story, but there’s nothing finalized.

JK: Do you know what your next project as a director will be?
DA: If it’s not that, I’m writing a script that I hope will be. It’s more along the lines of a Braveheart kind of world, where there’s still violence, but there’s a different kind of ancient story going on.

JK: Do you have any advice for someone who’s out there right now, trying to get their film made?
DA: Yeah. Just do whatever you can to get it made. Don’t stop, make it on a video camera, put it on the web. Just doing things is half the battle, getting something finished, not taking ‘No’ for an answer. All along the way, someone always says, ‘No that can’t be done. No, that’s impossible.’ Or, ‘Don’t do that. You got to wait. This and that.’ Sometimes you’ve got to forge ahead. Sometimes it bites you in the ass, but sometimes you accomplish something that takes a lot longer when people are negative.

JK: Anything else you would like to add?
DA: Just that people go to, and they can learn more about it and follow along on the bus tour and maybe win the van, or come visit us, or find out where the theaters are, so we can hopefully have a great opening weekend, and hopefully get it into more theaters across the country.

The Tripper opens today in a limited release.
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