Alex Cox Interview
In the booklet for the Masters of Cinema Blu-ray release of Repo Man you comment that you can write ten to twenty pages in a good day. What sort of writing habit do you have? Do you ever get ‘writer’s block’ and if so how do you cope with it?
I haven’t experienced writers block. Not that everything I write is any good, or that those 10-20 pages won’t end up in the bin. But I’ve no problem spewing.
You both write films and write about films, which comes easier to you and is there one that you prefer more? If so, why?
Screenwriting is much more fun. It is a wonderful art form in itself and for many years I wrote scripts for the pleasure of it. But film-related writing is recompensed, which helps pay for the dog food.
What was the experience of actually filming Repo Man like, what particular challenges did you face and was there anything in particular that you learnt in the process?
It was a hot experience since it took place over six weeks in July and August, all in downtown Los Angeles which in those days was highly polluted. Tiring, too, since there were so many night shoots. So I learned to write fewer night exterior scenes! Dealing with most of the actors was a breeze since they were for the most part very professional and willing. Harry Dean Stanton was less of a pleasure – fighting with the other actors, trying to direct them, demanding salary increases – but also a very, very good actor, which made the experience worthwhile.
I understand that you originally intended to include animated sequences and flashbacks in Repo Man. Can you talk a little about these and why they did not end up in the film?
I don’t remember any flashbacks. One of the car chases was meant to turn into a cartoon along the lines of the one I drew. But in those days these things weren’t farmed out to slaves in China and Korea. Animation was much more expensive and we didn’t pursue the cartoon angle.
What do you think is the key to keeping costs down in feature filmmaking and how did you achieve it with Repo Man?
We didn’t. Most of the $1.8 million budget of REPO MAN was wasted, on Studio overheads, producer overheads, huge trucks, honey wagons, the exec producer’s trailer and other giant, slow-moving frivolities. The film should have cost $100,000, and been shot in four weeks, starring Sy Richardson and Dick Rude.
Where do you see the future of film production moving, particularly when considering current trends towards extremely expensive special effects heavy blockbusters and super cheap indies shot using easily available digital equipment?
Philippe Dauman, head of Viacom (which owns MTV and Paramount) announced that the huge returns on TRANSFORMERS 3 “affirmed our strategy of a reduced release slate and a focus on franchises.” In other words, the studios have given up on lower-budget films and want to make as few pictures as possible – toy- and superhero-based children’s films – with beef slaughterhouse and game tie-ins. Low budget and independent films will continue to be made – but how do they reach an audience? How do they make a profit when theatrical distribution and online sales are locked up by massive corporations?
As a teacher what do you think the most important lesson you teach your students is?
That they should make allies among their colleagues and continue to do creative projects with them after they leave school. This worked for me and the producers of REPO MAN (all ex-UCLA), and for Trey Parker and the SOUTH PARK guys, after they exited the University of Colorado.
I always thought the ‘generic products’ in Repo Man to be something of a deliberate satirical swipe at consumerism in the eighties but I read recently that this wasn’t the original intention. Can you talk a little about how you decided on the labelling and why?
Originally we wanted to get product placement – free beer and such – but after we drew a blank (only the Car-Freshener Corp. would give us any product!) I thought fine! Generic it shall be! Ralphs’ supermarket gave us a lot of generic goods; the DRINK and FOOD cans we made ourselves.
What can you tell me about Repo Pup? [Cox's introduction to Repo Man on the Blu-ray ends with "Coming soon..." and then an image of two dogs superimposed on a picture of space and the text "REPO PUP. Coming soon to a media device in your galaxy."]
The dogs are in their spacesuits and raring to go. But I’m waiting for a ‘cease and desist’ letter to arrive from Universal’s head of litigation. That’s what gives me energy to pursue the REPO brand.