An Interview with Ed Glaser, Founder of Dark Maze Studios
Do not attempt to adjust your set, because it’s time for another exciting episode of Mendo Talks to Rather Interesting People from Around the Internet!
I have a diabolical riddle for you: What do Mortal Kombat, Turkish Star Wars, and the Agony Booth all have in common?
A man by the name of Ed Glaser!
I know, his name may not ring too many bells, but he and his film company Dark Maze Studios have been making quite a name for themselves recently, as anyone who’s seen the infamous Press Start can tell you. And they’ll be in for quite the profile boost when they become the official American distributors for the next great film from the makers of Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam: Turkish Rambo!
Yes, yes, I know. Turkish Rambo sounds like it’ll be made of awesome, but what about the guy who’s bringing it to America?
Well, for starters, Ed Glaser is one of our own. If the name Dark Maze sounds familiar, that’s because one of our forum members goes by that name. Coincidence?
But more than that, he’s a modern day Roger Corman. He might not have attained the same level of infamy, but he’s certainly keeping the B-movie alive in ways that today’s indies could only dream about. He runs a self-sufficient film company that’s able to draw buzz from all corners, with a diversity of subject matter that’ll appeal to any fan of movies.
Also, I got some free DVDs out of this interview. What’s not to like?
So sit back, relax, and enjoy an article that’s at least tangentially related to the site’s theme, as we discuss foreign films, getting popular video game actors to make cameos, and how downloading movies to your cell phone might be the wave of the future, after all!
Mendo: What’s the story behind Dark Maze Films? Where did it come from? How did it come to be?
Dark Maze Studios was really a gradual evolution that began in 2000 when I teamed up with a cohort of mine to do a Mystery Science Theater-style treatment of the atrocious Dungeons & Dragons movie. This was just after high school. The idea was to turn the events of the movie into a D&D campaign being played by a bunch of kids.
So we filmed new scenes of the kids and recorded an audio track with them riffing the movie, as if commenting on the game. Many years later, the project found its way to YouTube, and I was stunned to discover that D&D star Justin Whalin was actually a fan, and had segments from our version on his MySpace page!
Anyhoo, in college we decided to move on to more original movies, and we did a bunch of short films ranging from about 15 to 45 minutes, most of them horror-oriented and very cheap. We formed a two-man production company called Mobled Queen Entertainment (an obscure reference to Shakespeare that we thought was amusing at the time) and put the movies out on DVD through outlets like CustomFlix. Eventually, my cohort left to pursue a writing career and MQ became a one-man company, the name of which I changed to Dark Maze Studios, shortly before we started work on Press Start.
Mendo: What does “Dark Maze” mean?
I was working on changing the name of the studio about the time we started working on Press Start, so it ended up being rather videogame-inspired. Dark, mysterious labyrinths are something prevalent in games, from classic stuff like Colossal Cave Adventure to modern first-person shooters. I can’t remember exactly how the name came to mind, but it stuck with me and had a nice ring to it.
Mendo: What’s all this about Turkish Rambo? And how did you become the US distributor?
I have a fascination with “remakesploitation” films—overseas knock-offs of American movies—like Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam (Turkish Star Wars), Time of the Apes (Japanese Planet of the Apes), and Sangharsh (Bollywood Silence of the Lambs [!]). In fact, every couple of weeks my wife and I have a bunch of friends over to watch stuff like that.
A while back, a friend of mine pointed me to a YouTube video of a film called Korkusuz, better known as Turkish Rambo, featuring the lead actor Serdar blowing a bunch of stuff up with the most outrageously cheap rocket launcher I’ve ever seen. I knew immediately that I had to get my hands on it.
The problem was that there weren’t any subtitled or dubbed versions of it. So I decided I’d take the next, uh, obvious step: I’d buy the rights and create a dubbed version myself! I contacted Bill Barounis, a distributor in Greece who releases a number of films like Turkish Superman through his Onar Films label, and he got me in touch with a producer in Turkey who was able to sell me the rights to Korkusuz. It was pretty amazing, because I had never done anything like that before—I’m no big shot producer; I’m just a guy.
So I’m putting together the first ever official DVD release of Korkusuz, dubbed in English and with some nifty special features.
Mendo: Exactly how similar is the Turkish Rambo to American Rambo?
Korkusuz borrows a lot of elements from Rambo: First Blood Part II. Obviously, there’s the muscle-bound shirtless military guy with a headband and a rocket launcher, but there are also a few similar plot elements which I wouldn’t want to spoil, particularly for those who haven’t seen Rambo. In many ways, though, it’s also an original story.
That sort of thing is not uncommon, however. In a lot of Turkish remakesploitation flicks, the filmmakers would take the most iconic elements of an American film and then tell a more “localized” story—something that was more geared toward a Turkish audience. In this case, rather than telling a story about American POWs being held by the Vietnamese, Korkusuz references Turkish soldiers being killed by Kurdish separatists near the Iraqi border in the 1980s.
The story revolves around Serdar being sent to infiltrate a group of terrorists living in the mountains. However, if one were to replace Serdar with Sylvester Stallone, the film would make a fairly believable “lost” entry in the Rambo series.
Also, the villain is incredible—he’s like a Turkish Vincent Price.
Mendo: If it sells well enough, do you plan to import other such films?
Absolutely! I’m a huge fan and I think there are lots of folks who would really get a kick out of them. The unfortunate thing is that Turkey wasn’t very big on film preservation, so a lot of these movies have been completely lost or destroyed. The ones that remain are often in very poor condition, which is a terrible shame.
I’m particularly fond of the films of Cetin Inanc, who directed Korkusuz as well as Turkish Star Wars.
Mendo: Are there any countries other than Turkey you might be interested in importing from? I understand old school action films are very popular in places like Africa and Russia.
It’s certainly a possibility, although a lot depends on what I can afford. I’d especially be interested in releasing other remakesploitation flicks; there are some truly incredible ones from all over the world. I recently saw a Nigerian film called Masoyiyata Titanic—as one might expect, it’s a knock-off of James Cameron’s Titanic, and it goes so far as to blatantly steal footage from the original (a la Turkish Star Wars) as well as an interminable loop of “My Heart Will Go On”. It’s unbelievable—most of it appears to be shot in an apartment complex pretending to be the titular ship. For copyright reasons, there’s no way I could ever release that one, but there’s lots of others out there I’d love to put out.
Mendo: Your company’s probably most famous for the film Press Start. Can you tell us a little about its history?
Press Start is a comedy about an average kid who wakes up one day to discover that his world suddenly works like a videogame. And before he can even finish his breakfast, he’s recruited by an ill-tempered ninja and a tough space heroine to save the world from an insecure evil sorcerer.
It was the most ambitious thing I’ve ever done, and it was an absolute blast. The idea was to essentially make “Videogame: The Movie”, and when I pitched it to Kevin Folliard, the writer, he loved it and came up with a wonderful screenplay. I produced and directed the project, which became a two-year labor of love.
What was even more exciting was how much it grew! It was made with basically no money, and yet we got folks like Daniel and Carlos Pesina (the original Johnny Cage/Scorpion/Sub-Zero and Raiden from Mortal Kombat) in it, and a score by Contra 4 composer Jake Kaufman! And the premiere was sponsored by videogame developer Volition, the folks responsible for the Saints Row and Red Faction games. It was an enormous thrill.
During the long production period, we also produced a Flash cartoon series called Press Start: Bonus Levels, which set up the Press Start universe and characters and led up to the events of the movie. Kevin taught himself Flash in order to animate it (he also wrote the episodes), and I produced and directed it. We even had a bunch of guest voice actors like David Humphrey (Shadow the Hedgehog from Sonic Adventure 2 and Sonic Heroes), John Turk (Sub-Zero from Mortal Kombat 3 and Mortal Kombat: Mythologies), and Robert Belgrade (Alucard from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night). This was crazy because, again, we’re just ordinary guys, not big shots. These guys were doing it just because they wanted to, and really dug the project. That blew our minds. These were all people who were icons in the games we grew up with, and now here they were in our no-budget spoof!
Mendo: Press Start took two years to make, what was the delay?
It’s not so much that there was a delay, but rather that it was just a very slow process. Everyone involved either had full-time jobs or were college students, so scheduling was tough and I was squeezing a lot of the cast’s free time.
Also, the costumes, props, and sets took a lot of time and effort to create. Part of the problem was that essentially, we were making a fantasy movie, so as much as possible, nothing could look ordinary. We couldn’t just film in an apartment, or have the villain’s lair be an office cubicle and call it a day. We had to build a lot of stuff from scratch, and when you don’t have a lot of money, you have to spend a lot of time.
Moreover, there was no crew. With a few very rare exceptions, every day of shooting involved no more than the actors you see on screen, and myself operating the camera, lights, and whatever else needed to be fiddled with. Or when a particular actor wasn’t on camera for a take, they were acting as crew, whacking actors with branches, or blocking part of the light to avoid lens flare. Without a real crew, everything takes longer.
Mendo: Press Start looks pretty slick for a no-budget film. What were some of the ways you overcame your budget constraints?
It helped to work with incredibly talented people. Kevin’s script really held everything together, and our visual effects producer, Rod Contreras, put a small fortune’s worth of work into the film for nothing, including Count Vile’s lair, the talking tree, and Zippy. I actually lost track of the number of FX shots in the film.
Jake Kaufman, our composer, also gave the movie a far more epic score than we had any right to ask for. There wasn’t a lot of money on the screen, but his music made the scale much, much larger.
Lighting was also very important. By lighting sets as carefully as I could and with a lot of color, it helped to ramp up the production value and avoid that home-movie feel.
There were a number of little tricks, too—everything from using stock footage, to using existing sets from other movies I had made.
Mendo: Your series RoboGirl was first made available for download onto mobile phones. Why do you think other, larger film companies haven’t tried that marketing strategy?
I think many have—there have been “mobisodes” for TV series like Lost, and Cartoon Network has some of their stuff available on mobile phones as well. But it’s a bigger deal overseas than it is in America. The mobile video thing hasn’t quite caught on here to the same degree. We’re only just now getting serious 3G support in the states, but it’s been available elsewhere for a while now.
Mendo: How did that project come about, and whose idea was it to distribute it that way?
Actually, in this case the distribution method came first. About a year ago I was approached by a mobile distributor, Thundersquid, who was interested in releasing the Press Start: Bonus Levels cartoons to mobile devices. Not long after that, I asked if they were interested in live-action content as well, which they were.
“Snack entertainment” is the name of the game for mobile phones, so I started developing a short-form action serial that would work in 3-minute episodes.
The first iteration was Ninja Huntress, a supernatural revenge story fueled by my love of kung fu cinema and ’80s action flicks like American Ninja. The problem was that my budget was particularly minuscule, and I discovered that, given my existing resources, I could actually do a sci-fi project more economically than the ninja series, with just as much action and even higher production values. So Ninja Huntress was moved to the back burner and I started developing RoboGirl with Press Start writer Kevin Folliard.
RoboGirl is in many ways an homage to ’80s sci-fi/action movies (can you tell I love the ’80s?), but there’s lots of other stuff in there as well.
Mendo: Do you think that mobile download films will become more prevalent in America?
If you’re talking about feature-length films, I’d say the answer is decidedly no. Studios tried it once and I think the response was essentially “why would I watch a 90-minute movie on a screen the size of a postage stamp?” With the price of portable DVD players constantly dropping, there’s just no reason for it.
But short-form content is another animal. The philosophy behind it is that it’s something fun to watch while waiting—say, on a bus, or in line at Six Flags. I think it’s especially popular overseas because train and subway commutes are so common. Mobile videos are something to occupy you on your way to work. In America, where more of us drive cars, it’s not as big a deal.
It’s hard to say whether it’ll really catch on big time here. Cell phone games have certainly become more popular, and with texting being so big I think there’s more interest here in cell phones as an interactive technology rather than a passive one. But only time will tell.
Mendo: I’m curious as to how you choose your projects.
There’s no real secret to it, I’m afraid. I just try to make and/or release the kinds of movies that I’d want to see. Fortunately, that’s resulted in quite a diverse range.
Mendo: You’ve become the latest distributor for the silent horror classic The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. Tell us, what does your version offer that others don’t?
Caligari was actually something we did back in 2004, using a public domain print of the movie. It was originally created as part of the Marathon of Fright, a local event we put together featuring a couple of our early films that were loosely inspired by Caligari. Our version featured a new score by industrial band Acrylic Flames, which was a really nice fit for the silent film’s visuals.
Ultimately, we put all three films onto a Marathon of Fright DVD, but for anyone interested in really experiencing The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at its best, I recommend Kino Video’s release, which is incredible.
Mendo: What else do you have in the pipeline?
After a (too long) hiatus, we’re bringing back Press Start: Bonus Levels, renamed Press Start Adventures. A new batch of 10 episodes is in the works right now, which takes place after the events of the movie, and finds our main characters dealing with some new challenges, along with some familiar baddies. It’s very exciting to be working on Press Start again, and these new toons are going to be a lot of fun.
Mendo: Do you have plans for any other animations?
Unfortunately not. I love directing and producing them, but Press Start Adventures is already a lot of work for our single animator.
Mendo: Would you be interested in doing any literary adaptations?
Several years ago I did a Hamlet video for school in the style of the 1960s German TV version that was shown on MST3K. Other than that, I don’t really have any plans for literary adaptations. But if the right opportunity presented itself, I’d absolutely be up for it. It just has to be something fun.
And there you have it: You get to be one of the first to hear about the next big thing in cult cinema, I get some free DVDs, and our friend gets some free advertising. Everybody’s a winner on Mendo’s Rather Interesting People.
And that’s our show! If you’d like to be one of Mendo’s Rather Interesting People from Around the Internet, feel free to contact me, and then go out and do something… rather interesting!