LA Times Hero Complex Film Festival: Gremlins’ Director Joe Dante Q&A

Joe DanteWhile seeing How to Train Your Dragon 2 was a neat departure for the Los Angeles Times Hero Complex Film Festival, it seemed fairly in line with the fest to watch a film like Gremlins on the big screen. The holiday-horror-comedy classic celebrates its 30th Anniversary this year and fans were treated to both a screening of the film, as well as a Q&A with its director and horror-comedy fan-favorite Joe Dante. Dante talked about the surprise hit that Gremlins became, the making of the film, a possible reboot, and other things that don’t come anywhere close to nitpicking the rules of the Mogwai.


This Q&A was recorded and ideally I will be able to embed the video soon, but for now, here are some general notes that I took away from the conversation:

One thing Dante really wanted to emphasize, early on in the discussion, was how hard it was to make Gremlins. Between studio notes and the actual production process, the film presented many challenges. Dante described how the film had a lengthy shooting schedule involving nothing but puppets. While he initially shot with the actors and the puppets together, there was then a month and a half-long shoot that consisted of nothing but puppets. Dante cited Team America: World Police, and how humorous he found that South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker discovered just how difficult it was to work with puppets, when making that film, which was the exact reaction Dante had when making Gremlins.

In talking about filming with just puppets, Dante went a bit into the actual process. It involved having many stages built in order to have the puppets up on top, with the performers below, making all the Gremlin action possible. Dante explained how nowadays, performers can be on the stage with the puppets and simply taken out with visual effects, which is helpful, but back in the 80s, it was a much less forgiving process, yet still very rewarding. He went on to explain the value that does come from having performers controlling the puppets. While CG can be a useful tool, which Dante has of course utilized later in his career, as it became more available, the life created by practical effects and the people behind them is hard to get past.   About five people would be involved on some of the Gremlin puppets, all controlling different aspects, yet working together to bring life and personality to the creatures on camera.

Joe Dante did not talk much about the actual plotting or characters in the film, but he did discuss some elements that were amusing. While scripted by Chris Columbus and full of imagination provided by Dante’s direction, Dante was very aware that the film is one long suspension of disbelief, when taking the rules of the Mogwai, let alone the use of the Gremlins into account. He also added that he had plenty of fun filling the backgrounds of scenes with little jokes and bits of fun that keep the movie engaging on many levels. Dante also discussed his friend Dick Miller (he plays Mr. Futterman, the next-door neighbor, in Gremlins), whom he knew from old Roger Corman movies and has since cast in almost every one of his films. Lastly, a question from the crowd concerning the footage from Disney’s Snow White appearing in Gremlins, a Warner Brothers film, was brought up. Dante explained how they were just very lucky to get the rights, as it came around a time when Disney had a few non-successes in theaters and were open to selling some footage off (Having Steven Spielberg as a producer never hurts either).


In talking about the film’s success, Dante had to take it back to the initial reactions. Warner Brothers was not too proud of what they had on their hands initially. They apparently gave notes about “too many puppets” among other things, but some of the preview screenings apparently went over phenomenally. Upon release, Gremlins became a huge, surprise hit with audiences, which is what led to talks of a sequel. The sequel was actually three times the budget of the original film, but Dante believes that the timing just wasn’t right, which is why Gremlins 2: The New Batch has higher regard as a cult favorite, as opposed to an audience-approved solid sequel (which it is). Dante felt Ghostbusters 2 had the same issue, where both original films came out in 1984, but their sequels arrived 5+ years later and just could not find the same success, in terms of high regard.

With that said, Warner Brothers is apparently still pursuing the possibility of a remake. Dante expects that a remake would be all CG, as opposed to puppets, and he will likely have little to no involvement. He also went on to say that he is not against remakes, citing The Wizard of Oz and The Maltese Falcon as beloved remakes. It is not the idea of remakes that is troublesome, but the way originality is getting lost in the process, which is what Dante had to add. He then noted that his 1985 film, Explorers, is apparently getting remade, which is curious to him, since that film flopped originally. With all that said, Dante did add that Gremlins does have a new Blu-ray arriving this year and it apparently looks great and has new special features, so we have that to look forward to.

Moving on, Dante briefly mentioned his new film, Burying the Ex, with Anton Yelchin and Ashley Greene, which is another horror comedy that he is really excited about releasing. He explained that he has a love for the juxtaposition of the two genres, which is why he is happy to dive into it so often, as it is fun and also allows for lots of subtext and social commentary in the process. Speaking of future projects, Dante apparently still has plenty of scripts lying around, which he hopes he can someday have produced in some way, as he clearly loves being a filmmaker. He hasn’t ruled out jumping back into animation again either, as he enjoyed working on Looney Tunes: Back in Action.

Last note for those who are curious, Joe Dante listed three films as his favorites to work on: Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Matinee and Innerspace (those last two need a Blu-ray!).

Gremlins And Other Joe Dante Films Are Currently Available on Blu-ray
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Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com. Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS4.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.


Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

1 Response to “LA Times Hero Complex Film Festival: Gremlins’ Director Joe Dante Q&A”

  1. Eric Flapjack Ashley

    I love Gremlins, and I like the sequel – although I think the real reason it didn’t strike the same chord is that it was too comedic whereas the original had the wonder, the dark comedy, and even some pretty horrific moments. Gremlins 2 was all comedy. That, and the fact that it did come out so late after the first one – people were clamoring for a sequel years before one actually came out.

    Dante is a great director. I particularly love Piranha – his first collaboration with actor Dick Miller. What a great movie, and his commentary track on that film is outstanding.