Having started out in the mid-1970s directing shorts, Dutch filmmaker produced his feature debut in 1983. De Lift, released as The Elevator in the United States, told of a group of people murdered by the deranged eponymous machine, gaining critical acclaim and launching Maas’ career in his native country. Following the comedy Flodder, Maas returned to the thriller genre in 1988 with Amsterdamned, which would make its way onto VHS via Vestron Video. Refusing to be typecast, Maas then directed two comedy sequels and a small screen spinoff to his Flodder hit.
Do Not Disturb followed in 1999, in which American tourists William Hurt and Jennifer Tilly attempt to save their young daughter after she witnesses a murder, with comedian Denis Leary once again portraying a deranged villain following his appearance in Judgement Night. Maas then remade his earlier success De Lift as Down with James Marshall (Twin Peaks) and Naomi Watts (Mulholland Drive) in the lead roles. Most recently he developed the ambitious fantasy Sint.
Dick Maas talks about the Dutch film industry and the evolution of his career over the last thirty years.
Having grown up in the Netherlands, what was your first introduction to cinema and at what point did you decide that you wanted to become a filmmaker yourself?
As a kid I frequented the local cinema a lot. I saw a lot of comedies, especially the Laurel and Hardy features. One of my first serious films was, if I remember correctly, Spartacus from Kubrick. I think I was ten at the time. I was always drawing comics and I started to write stories, plays, and screenplays. I also played the guitar and put a band together. Somehow it all seemed to merge together when I was sixteen and I kinda thought it was cool to make movies, because most movies that were made in Holland at that time were terrible. I thought I could do better. So when I left school I went to the Dutch Film Academy. It took me three years before I was admitted.
What were your early experiments with filmmaking and how supportive did you find the Holland film industry?
I started making movies at film school. I just wrote a script, took a camera and went off with some friends to make a short movie. In general, in Holland you can’t make a movie without government funding. So that was – and still is – the problem.
Your early efforts included horror and black comedy. What genre were you particularly interested in and which filmmakers were the greatest influences on you?
Those films I made when I was studying at the Film Academy. In contrast to most Dutch fimmakers at that time I was very interested in American cinema. While most of my colleagues still made European movies influenced by the Nouvelle Vague, I wanted to make movies like Don Siegel, Hitchcock, Spielberg. Also at that time there were some Italian directors who influenced me a lot, like Ettore Scola, Fellini, Dario Argento.
How restrictive was it to work for Holland television during the early 1980s?
I made only a few movies for television or partly funded by them. I had complete freedom and basicly could do what I wanted.
How did you make the transition to features in 1983 with De Lift?
When I left film school I started to write screenplays. The idea for my first feature De Lift was sparked by a short story of Stephen King The Mangler. I always thought it was very strange that nobody had ever made a movie or wrote a story about a killer elevator. It would have been a perfect subject for Stephen King himself. So I thought the idea was brilliant. I copied the dramatic structure of Jaws and it proved to work. The movie was made for very little money. We had a hectic schedule, no stunt people, and all the special effects we did ourselves. The whole post production was done in six weeks and I also had to do the score in that time. We took the film to Cannes and everyone wanted to buy it. De Lift was a big succces in Holland and it was the first Dutch movie that got a worldwide release through Warner Brothers.
How come you decided to remake it in America in 2001 with Down?
Immediately after I took the movie to Cannes, everybody approached me to do an English remake. But I had other movies to make at that time – Flodder and Amsterdamned – so I didn’t see the point in making my movie again. In the nineties I was approached again by Warner to do a remake and at that time I was open for it. I thought I could make an even more exciting movie then the original. Also the progress in VFX technology was a factor. So I could really make it bigger and better.
How does shooting music videos compare to feature films and how did you come to work with Golden Earring?
The Earring approached me in the eighties on basis of my television movies. I made a music video for Twilight Zone and it went into the Billboard Top Ten. After that I made a lot of videoclips for them and others.
How would you compare making horror/thrillers to comedy, and which do you find easiest to both write and shoot?
I like both genres. You can’t say one is more difficult then the other. Every movie in every genre is difficult if you want to make a good movie. Comedy is difficult because it is so clear if you succeeded or not. If the audience doesn’t laugh, you fucked up. A good scary movie will have people running from the cinema screaming with fear, and returning to get scared again. I had that luck with De Lift.
One movie that is about to find a new audience on DVD is Amsterdamned. How was this idea first conceived and was this your take on the Italian giallo genre?
The story was inspired by an incident that took place by the local prison. Someone escaped from the prison and was helped by a diver. That triggered the story. A killer hiding in the canals of Amsterdam seemed a good starting point. The Italian giallo genro didn’t have much to with it. I hope the new DVD release will be uncensored. Because of legal problems, I don’t own my movies anymore. So the releases of my movies are not under my supervision or with my consent. A lot of my movies are released on DVD nowadays with the wrong aspect ratio, printed from the wrong master, with the wrong editing, etc. It happened with Down in the US and with Amsterdamned in Germany. So chances are that the upcoming UK release will suffer the same problems.
How difficult was it to shoot the various action sequences, such as the speedboat chase, and was it easy to gain permission to film in Amsterdam?
We had a very good cooperation with the Amsterdam authorities. We were allowed to go full speed with the speedboats in certain canals. I think we spend two weeks shooting the chase sequence and in my opinion it is the best and most exciting boat chase ever filmed. Trivia: veteran stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong doubles for the diver in the beginning of the chase.
How did you come to direct an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles for George Lucas?
George Lucas had seen De Lift and they had an episode that had some horror elements in it, so Rick McCallum, the series producer, called me. It was a lot of fun to do, but I don’t know if the episode has been aired unscensored, because there was some controversy about the amount of gore in it.
Do Not Disturb was an international success, shot in Holland yet starring a Hollywood cast. How did this project come about?
I produced the movie myself. I wanted to make an international English language movie. Originally one of the storylines was about Michael Jackson staying in an Amsterdam hotel. The little girl that is chased by the hitman, finds refugee in his suite. I thought this was a very funny story line, and always regretted that I had to take that out because of legal reasons.
I wanted to do an outright comedy again. I wanted to poke fun at the beauty industry and all those trophy wives that go to extreme lenghts to stay young and beautiful. It was aimed for a big audience and it did very well in Holland. At the moment I’m setting it up for an American remake. It is difficult to get funding for movies in Holland. Me and the Filmfund are not a happy match. I have to file lawsuits against them to get money. European rules are also interfering with local policies. There is especially a dislike for genre movies like I’m making. For my latest movie Sint, a horror flick about a killer St. Nicholas, I tried to get funding in Germany, with the Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen. They refused because of it’s genre. They said they had a great controversy over another English horror movie they funded, Creep, so they won’t fund horror or even thrillers with to much gore anymore.In 2007, you made Moordwijven (Killer Babes). What kind of market were you aiming for with this movie and how do you feel the Dutch film industry has changed over the years?
Is Sint a horror or a children’s fantasy and what is the story about?
Sint is about the legend of St. Niklas. Whenever there is a full moon on the 5 December, he will come to Holland to murder children. St. Nicholas (Sinterklaas) is a very popular celebration each year in Holland. He’s sort of a Santa Claus. I will show his dark side in the movie. It won’t be a spoof. I’m aiming for a dark brooding horror/thriller movie. With a lot of suspense and also some gore. It is funny to see that even the announcement of the movie going into production sparked a lot of controversy.
What are your intentions with Sint? Will this be released theatrically or straight to video?
We start shooting end of this year. Sint will be released by the end of next year, when the St. Nicholas celebration is at it’s highest point. It will be a major theatrical release. And it will be a huge success.