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Prior to launching a career as a director, Declan O’Brien had aspirations of becoming an actor. After studying in New York he eventually relocated to California but after several unsuccessful auditions he decided to turn his attention to production. After learning the basics of filmmaking from Brian Gibson, O’Brien was finally given the chance to direct with the 2008 horror Rock Monsters, but while its impact would be minimal it would prove that he could handle low budget movies, leading to his first real assignment, Cyclops, which starred B-movie veteran Eric Roberts as an evil emperor.
In 2009 he directed the direct-to-video sequel Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead, the latest instalment of the popular monster movie series that owed a debt to both Deliverance and The Hills Have Eyes. Following this O’Brien teamed up with legendary independent producer Roger Corman (whom he had previously worked with on Cyclops) for the tongue-in-cheek creature flick Sharktopus, which once again saw him working alongside Roberts.
Declan O’Brien talks about his work on Sharktopus and his experiences in low budget filmmaking.
With your last film being Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead, how would you compare directing a straight-to-DVD sequel to a TV movie?
Well, Wrong Turn 3 was a very gory horror film with lots of action and stunts, etc. Sharktopus, on the other hand, was just plain fun. I knew what we were doing from the beginning…make an entertaining film and make the audience laugh, because nobody can take a Sharktopus seriously. If you don’t have your tongue firmly planted in cheek on a film called Sharktopus, you’re missing the bus.
There are obvious comparisons between Sharktopus and Jaws, but how did you approach making the movie more than just a carbon copy of similar ‘monsters in the water’ films?
Of course I referenced Jaws. I saw the film as a kid and it has never gone out of my mind since. It’s a brilliant film and I hope I paid homage to it in a funny way. There is a difference between stealing from the greats like Mr. Spielberg and paying homage to him as a fan. I hope the latter is what I did.
Syfy have been involved in a low of low budget b-movies over recent years, such as High Plains Invaders and Lake Placid 3. How supportive are they towards their filmmakers and the films that they produce?
Syfy is great. I love those guys. The team they have in place to make these low budget films is incredible. The team is lead by Tom Vitale, with Chris Regina, Ray Canella and Karen O’Hara. I honestly don’t know how they manage to supervise so many films a year. It’s a Herculean task but they do it well. I’ve always felt they were on my side.
Many filmmakers began their careers under the guidance of Roger Corman. What role did he play in the making of the movie and how would you describe him as a collaborator?
Roger was right there from the beginning. I can’t tell you what an honour it is to work for him. The first film I directed for Roger was Cyclops and Roger is old school. Before you start directing for him, you spend the day with him talking about directing. It’s like film school in a day; he talks about depth of field, how to shoot close ups, etc. I just sat there enjoying myself, thinking this is the same talk he gave to Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme and Ron Howard and many more all those years ago. It is a privilege working for him and I count being a member of the ‘Roger Corman Film School’ as one of the exclusive clubs to be in.
Corman has already produced similar movies with Piranha and Humanoids from the Deep, was he conscious about repeating himself?
It’s funny. Roger really was reluctant to produce Sharktopus. He thought it would be too over-the-top, camp-wise. I don’t think Roger was thinking about his past films but was concerned about this one. I stepped in and embraced the camp and even wrote a cameo for Roger. I think it was then he felt comfortable with the film. He has a great sense of humour and loved doing his cameo.Did you consider attempting to create the special effects of the sharktopus without the use of CGI or would this prove impossible with the time and budget you were allocated?
Well, we’re in low budget land. I did do some practical tentacles and jaws but the creature was always planned as CGI. An old friend, TJ Sakasegawa at Dialated Pixels, brought the CGI in for me at and incredible price. We would not have had a film without him. I still owe him dinner; so if he’s reading this, your choice of restaurants, my friend.
Would you say that shooting Sharktopus was an enjoyable experience and how do you feel about the finished product?
I loved shooting Sharktopus. Eighteen days, nine of them on the water, getting a good tan, beautiful Puerto Vallarta…What’s not to love? It was really guerilla filmmaking but it was fun. I am thrilled with the final product and thrilled it caught the attention of so many people across the world. It’s just plain fun and it was always meant to be that way.