IFFR 2013: A Talk With Richard Raaphorst About FRANKENSTEIN'S ARMY. Part 1 of 2: Getting Started...
Last year I visited the set in the Czech Republic and was very much taken with what I saw. Therefore it was with great anticipation that I awaited the press premiere. After that, and literally a few hours before the official world premiere, I was able to get a few minutes with director Richard Raaphorst, who was at that time excited enough to walk on the ceiling...
ScreenAnarchy: First of all, thank you for taking the time to talk with me, especially today. In a few hours Frankenstein's Army will have its world premiere, your first full-length feature...
Richard Raaphorst: Yes, correct, that's right.
... Yet we've been hearing about Richard Raaphorst for a very, VERY long time already.
[laughs] Is that so? I was never aware of that, to be honest.
It's true though: ever since those two promos for Worst Case Scenario hit the Internet, people have been very interested in you.
And that totally passed me by. I only discovered that in hindsight, years later. At the time I had no idea that those promos were so popular internationally.
They have been watched literally millions of times on Youtube and similar channels since they appeared... when was that? 2006?
The first one was made in 2004, the second one was made and released in 2006. That is the one with the balloons, and it's still my favorite.
I love that promo. I actually wrote in my review that the only thing missing in Frankenstein's Army is a gigantic air force of Nazi zombie cyborg balloons.
Yes, well... never say never. Those ideas and designs are still around for possible future use, they're not going anywhere.
Aha, I love hearing you say that! Speaking of ideas, how much of what you planned for Worst Case Scenario still remains in Frankenstein's Army?
Basically: Nazis, and living dead. Project-wise that would be the only things linking the two together. All other similarities have to do with my visual sense of style. That is a personal thing to me, a signature, and Frankenstein's Army is suffused with it. People who liked the promos will probably recognize that when they see the film.
It is now 2013 and we're at the World Premiere. What has been the most difficult part of getting Frankenstein's Army to the cinemas?
It actually went so fast... so fluidly. After all the trouble and disappointments of trying to get Worst Case Scenario made, at one point I decided to definitely end it. I left that team, started from scratch by myself on something new, completely chucked away what we originally had wanted to do and went into a different direction. That was on purpose, also because I no longer had any of the rights of Worst Case Scenario. I needed to do a 180 degree turn.
And I had an idea for a story, and also knew what it ought to look like, but I didn't have a title yet. And I knew that the moment I'd have a title, I'd be able to go free... to let my imagination go totally wild on this project. It took me several weeks to come up with a good title. I didn't want some non-descriptive bullshit title, I wanted one that immediately would state the content. So I thought: what is it exactly what I want to create here? An army consisting of "Monsters of Frankenstein". So why not just call it Frankenstein's Army? That's the kind of dialog I held with myself.
Back in 2009, I sent you an email asking what the status was on Worst Case Scenario. In the reply you told us that no, that project had stopped, but you were working on something else and you sent us a drawing. It was the one with the zombies giving the Nazi salute, for what was then still called Army of Frankenstein...
[smiles] Then it started with you.
And then you... wait, what? You're kidding me.
No. You were the ignition in this engine. When you sent that mail. Yes.
Wow. Well, when we posted that drawing it was one of our best-read articles that month.
But that article was the key. Let me tell you, the day after you guys showed that picture on your site, my mailbox was completely flooded with emails from all over.
Yeah, well, I just showed that drawing to Todd and said: "Look at what Richard Raaphorst sent in reply..."
But this is very, very interesting. No bullshit, after I had left the team I followed that quote from Francis Ford Coppola: "When you restart, make a 180-degree turn". I started experimenting a bit with that. When I got to the point I just told you about, where I had the title of Frankenstein's Army, I started testing that title and concept on several people. You were one of them. And you were the one who published it.
Yes, but come on! It was because of that picture...
Yes, yes, but that picture got published, and noticed, and copied, copied, copied, copied! I got emails from all over the world about it. Then I started making screenprints of all the sites which were running that picture, and made a book of them. That book ended up being over 150 pages thick. With THAT book I started convincing producers that there was a market, look, see? I didn't have a script yet, I used that book.
Then Todd called me, "Hi, I'm Todd Brown, I'm from ScreenAnarchy, tadadada, I'm also connected to XYZ pictures, what would you think of them trying to help finance this?". At that time I had the reputation of being traumatized, burned too often by the whole Worst Case Scenario thing. I got respect from people but they were also very careful with me. You know, "Watch out for Raaphorst, he's so suspicious".
So I was happy with the offer and immediately told Todd it was fine with me. He asked if there was a script, I said no, but there is a treatment. He read it and liked it so I raced to Miguel Tejada-Flores, who also wrote Worst Case, and said: "Miguel, I can't pay you or anything but look what happened, help me get this show on the road as quickly as possible, because I honestly think we have a chance here."
Which year is this?
Still 2009, this all happened in the same week after that sketch first got published. I took immediate action, didn't wait for a second. We made a synopsis, I made more sketches, drawings. A few months later Todd called again and said he'd found a possible partner in MPI. According to Greg Newman this would fit perfectly in their new slate of horror films, and would I mind talking to him? So I said I'd love to talk to him! By then we had changed the title from Army of Frankenstein into Frankenstein's Army. That was a tip from Miguel Tejada-Flores, because he said there were too many films already starting with "Army of...", making it almost impossible to find on the Internet. I didn't mind either way so it was ok with me.
That is an interesting detail though: you changed the title because Frankenstein's Army is easier to Google?
Correct, Googling for the current title gets you to us a lot faster. If you type "Army of..." you get endless pages about war and military stuff.
Anyway, Miguel and I had finished the first draft and finalised the first act in detail. Then we got Greg on the phone, more people from MPI... I was working at an advertising firm as a storyboard artist and I just was almost overwhelmed with all that was happening all of a sudden.
It must have been a very different experience from what you encountered with Worst Case....
Indeed, at one point I had seven producers on the phone at the same time! I was doing the utmost to follow all conversations, scared to death I would screw things up. I thought it was now or never, if this project also stalls to nothing I will never be able to make a film ever again.
The message I got was to find a Dutch producer to help create the film on this side, and try to possibly find some more funding in The Netherlands. I investigated Dutch film funding but discovered it was very hard to get people to take me seriously. They weren't laughing at me but at the same time it was oh, there's that guy from Worst Case Scenario again with his monsters. Look at this, a storyboard artist, a designer, trying to direct a movie. First get a script and a cost breakdown, then we'll have a look.
I also got the advice to first make a television movie, apply for a government grant, and maybe in the future a film might be possible. And of course I hadn't directed a film before, just some commercials and videoclips.
So I kept saying, no, this needs to be finished before this and this deadline to fit in MPI's slate, and we already have a budget. We have an existing slot to fit this film in!
I discovered that in The Netherlands, there is a rigid way of making films unlike what you see in the States. First you do a script, then you decide how much budget is needed to film the script, then you start finding the money. But we HAD a budget already, and we were fitting the film to be as good as possible given that budget, that timeframe.
Then I met Nick Jongerius who was starting a new company, and he is the kind of no-bullshit producer who knows how to make a film on a small budget. He brought me to Daniel Koevoet, a guy with great business acumen who can close deals and has a lot of necessary legal know-how. I introduced them to MPI as possible co-producers, there was a spark, and a year later we were on a set actually shooting the film.
So it's been three-and-a-half years, one of which was for negotiations and the rest for actually producing and making Frankenstein's Army.
And now we're here at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. It was basically one fluid, ongoing process.
So now that the film is finished, how do you feel?
I feel like the whole project has overtaken me and left me behind. It feels like I helped create something which is so much larger than me.
Because I have no idea what's happening right now. [we both laugh]
Well, it IS your first feature film.
I just have no idea what will happen next. Everything is new to me. I mean, this? Interviews are new to me. Reviews are new to me. Having people think something about me is new to me.
I'm told this is already a measure of success, but recognizing it as such is new to me too. What you told me about those old promos being so successful? I never knew, never recognized them as such.
This all... this is kind of scary. Mind you, I'm enjoying it immensely... [we both laugh]
...but at the same time it is like I need to deny it or something. It's weird.
Everyone I spoke with at the press screening yesterday agreed that this film will easily break even, nobody was worried about its financial success. That must feel good.
That feels very good because you do worry. People like Greg Newman have fought so hard to make this a success, he has invested so much in me, an unknown and untested European director. He had the guts to go for it, he was what I needed and I have such a huge amount of respect for him. But there are many other people as well, they were links in the chain which made this possible. It's a dream come true and I am so thankful.
And that finishes the first half of our interview.
Next up in part two: The "Found Footage" decision, a ridiculously awesome location, video game influences, Karel Roden and monsters on set!