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EXCL: David DeCoteau on the New Puppet Master

Director returns with Axis Of Evil!

For someone who spent a lot of time frequenting the local “mom and pop” video store and living off a steady diet of Full Moon features during the late 80’s, early 90’s, this writer will always hold a special place in his heart for Charlie Band and his vengeful killer dolls from the Puppet Master series. Some are better than others, but most fans can agree that Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge is definitely a high point in the series in terms of quality and star power. I’ll go as far as to cite it as my all time favorite Full Moon movie.

So, after two dismal entries – Puppet Master: The Legacy, which was primarily stitched together using stock footage and the made-for-TV Puppet Master Vs Demonic Toys, Shock was excited to learn that David DeCoteau, the director who helmed that third entry was back to guide Puppet Master: Axis Of Evil to the screen.

In part two of our Full Moon coverage (which started right here with an interview with William Butler on Demonic Toys 2: Personal Demons), we candidly chatted with the director of the latest in the Puppet Master series to find out where our deadly dolls pick up in this latest installment.

Robg.: First off, I have to start out by saying how much I love Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge. It’s not only my favorite of the series, but my favorite Full Moon movie.

David DeCoteau: Thank you. Puppet Master III was one of those rare moments where it all came together. The script worked, the budget was there. I had the resources and the cast was just sensational. There were some great actors in that.

Robg.: Having Guy Rolfe as Toulon was great!

David: That was Charlie Band’s idea. I would’ve never thought of him, but he was great and it was a good experience. Paramount was very happy with the film too.

Robg.: It’s one of the best looking of the Full Moon films. The scope of it felt so big considering we were going back to the beginning of the puppets and Toulon’s story.

David: Well, we tried to make it epic. We were making a horror movie version of Where Eagles Dare. This is also a movie where the writer was also one of the producers. Courtney Joyner and his knowledge of film history really helped. He came up with a lot of these ideas for casting and I had the writer involved and had him on set everyday. I try to do that, because it really helps. Again, the cast – we had Walter Gotell from the James Bond movies, Guy Rolfe from Mr. Sardonicus, Sarah Douglas from Superman, Ian Abercrombie. Just all incredible people.

Robg.: Jumping ahead, how’d Puppet Master: Axis Of Evil come to you? Is it technically a sequel to Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge?

David: Yes. The script for Axis Of Evil had been around for a couple of years and Charlie was going to direct it a few years ago, but then he got busy with other stuff. That’s essentially what happened on Puppet Master III. That was originally going to be a production I was going to shoot in Romania. No director in their right mind would do this movie in Romania, so they assigned me because they knew I’d do it. [Laughs] Puppet Master III was supposed to be a Romanian shoot, but by the time we got greenlit, it was winter, and there were massive storms with lots of snow, so we decided to shoot it here in LA. With Axis Of Evil, Charlie was going to direct it but he was too busy doing other stuff and he thought it’d be cool to have the director of part three, which seems to be the fan favorite, do this new one. So I was available and we shot this in China. It’s the longest shooting schedule of all the films and a much bigger budget. To me, I think it delivers, but also the characters are really good in this and the actors were really good. I think it’s going to be a cool movie.

Robg.: How much influence did you have on the story once you jumped on board?

David: Not much. The script was already done and delivered. I did not make any changes, I shot what I was given. I did do a couple of things when I got to China where we filmed this, some production changes to make it work with the location. The movie is set in Chinatown in downtown Los Angeles during the later 40’s, early 50’s. Because China was a little bit of a production challenge, I had to make the home of the family not be suburban, I had to set it in Chinatown as well. It’s really tough to sell suburban America in China production wise. The whole thing takes place in Chinatown, in an opera house, which we built. The entire thing was shot on soundstages, all the sets were built from the ground up. All the exteriors of the movie were shot in one day on the backlot of the old Chinese Film Studio, which they call haunted Chinatown. It was really a spectacular set that we got to shoot on, so we wrapped the script around that.

Robg.: Was this the first time you’d shot a movie in China? What was that whole experience like?

David: Well, I’ve worked all over the planet, so I’m used to parachuting into these third world countries and getting a movie done in no time with no money, so I was looking forward to this challenge. This was even more of a challenge. This was a mammoth undertaking because we really wanted to get it right. We felt we had the resources, so it was a little difficult to change 100 years of China communist work ethic into a productive, efficient production. I was the first one in and they had not made a film quite like this. Most of the films shot in China are shot in Beijing, we shot this in the Southern part of China about two hours from Hong Kong. Everything had to be made by hand, but the craftsman there were pretty incredible. The movie is much more story driven, and much more character driven. And we have a brand new puppet in it as well. That new puppet was my idea. We had one written, and then I came up with a better idea that would fit into the Chinatown setting. I don’t think I’m supposed to say, but his name is “Ninja”.

Robg.: Does he pop up in the teaser?

David: Yeah he’s in the teaser and you can see he’s a ninja so that’s the new character.

Robg.: One of the things I’ve noticed fans mention from watching the teaser is the absence of Six-Shooter. Any reason you didn’t use him for this entry in the series?

David: Well, I’m the one who introduced Six-Shooter in part three. The thing is, we had all new puppets for this one. They were made completely different and they did completely different things. Back in the day, we had multiple versions of each puppet. Each one did different things. For example, one was a rod puppet, one was a marionette, one was animated. This was a little different. This had to be all shot live on that set as it happened. So we weren’t going to do any animation and no CGI besides some rod removal. We wanted everything to be live and right there. So, Gage Hubbard who created the puppets and was also there along with some amazing Chinese puppeteers were able to make those puppets do what we wanted them to do. When I got the script, Six-Shooter was not in it and I brought it up, and there was a feeling that he was too complicated a puppet to create for this one. He does have a presence. He is in the movie, but he doesn’t do much. You’ll see him in the movie. And it’s not like we used stock footage. We brought him out there, but we just used him in a different way.

Robg.: I’m curious to see how! Were you able to sneak in some subtle homages to the previous films in there?

David: This is really a sequel to part one. The events after the opening of part one. I had to re-stage the scenes from part one on sets in China, such as Toulon’s suicide scene, when the Nazi’s come in. We had to rebuild all those sets, get photos and redo that, which was a real challenge. Technically this is after part one, so it’s like a secondary story.

Robg.: Do you have a new Toulon in this movie?

David: We have the young boy who is a friend of Toulon’s who takes the puppet case and brings it back to the states. He brings it from San Francisco and back to Los Angeles.

Robg.: I know William Butler was telling us he used quite a bit of CGI in Demonic Toys 2. So how about on Puppet Master: Axis Of Evil? Did you try to balance it between practical and CG?

David: I don’t like CG at all. Even on the biggest movies, it just takes you right out of it. It doesn’t look real to me, and I’m older so I’m not used to the video game world! [Laughs] What I like to use CGI for is just rod removal or wire removal. I just use it to take certain things out of the picture. We don’t have any 3D characters or anything like that. We didn’t do that at all. It’s pretty old fashioned.

Robg.: Is it safe to say that Richard Band’s classic Puppet Master score will resurface for this?

David: Oh yeah. It’s kind of a given. Richard will be back and I’ve been working with him quite a bit recently. He’s doing some original score too. The film’s in post production right now.

Robg.: Anything stand out about the shoot? Either a moment or a scene?

David: There’s a moment where on the opera house stage where our head Nazi is in his full Nazi regalia, he’s got a bomb in one hand and he’s got a luger in the other. We think he’s about to kill our leading man and leading lady and there’s a woman who’s sort of a female Fu Manchu who’s like a dragon lady. It’s kind of the most insane sequence I’ve ever directed in the 70 movies I’ve directed. It’s a very bizarre sequence that when I looked at it I thought, this is one weird movie! [Laughs] That was the highlight of the shoot for me. Levi Fiehler who’s the lead of the movie is really sensational and an absolute find for us. One of the best young actors I’ve ever worked with. I hope people see him in this because he was an overall trooper and did a lot. There’s some scenes in here that are awfully politically incorrect too, which is weird for me because I often try to be as politically correct as possible. It’s a script about that time. The language that people used in those days about minorities is pretty shocking. I’m usually pretty sensitive to that stuff, but it fit the time period of this movie.

Robg.: When will we be able to see it?

David: I think it’ll be Spring of 2010. I shot a lot of footage so there is a lot of stuff. We shot a ton of behind the scenes stuff on it, a lot of it on You Tube. But on day three, Charlie went back to Los Angeles, and I carried through and shot more. I can’t say for sure, but it’d be nice to have a feature length documentary on the movie for the DVD. We have at least 10 hours of footage, so you can easily put together an 80-90 minute featurette on there.

Robg.: Do you have a favorite puppet, personally?

David: Leechwoman. Yeah, she’s my favorite. There’s just something about her. I’d love to make a whole movie about her. I’d love to make a whole movie of her battling the Asian doll from Blood Dolls. I’d like to do two doll chicks fighting it out. That’s what I’d like to do next for Charlie! [Laughs]

Robg.: Hey! Puppet Master Vs Blood Dolls. Why not?

David: The next Full Moon movie I’m doing is Zombie Castle in 3D, which we’re shooting in Italy. As far as I’m concerned, you haven’t directed a zombie movie until you’ve done one in Italy. [Laughs] The script’s being written now and we shoot it next year, so that should be a hoot.

You can check out the first teaser trailer for Puppet Master: Axis Of Evil at our previous news post right here. Also, hit up Full Moon’s You Tube page to see a bunch of behind the scenes video clips right here.

Source: Robg.