May 8, 2019
RiffTrax contributor talks with HNTP (that’s us!) about taking on Godzilla in theaters this Thursday
RiffTrax returns to movie theaters this Thursday, August 14, to take a Godzilla-sized dump on Japan’s most famous movie monster. Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett will be broadcasting live from Nashville as fans all across the country sit back and watch the 1999 Matthew Broderick disaster together.
A direct descendant of the old Mystery Science Theater 3000 TV show, RiffTrax has made an art out of mocking Hollywood’s hard work. And since that’s pretty much my job description here at Happy Nice Time People, I figured I ought to reach out RiffTrax contributor Jason Miller to learn a few tricks of the trade:
HNTP: Dude, RiffTrax is kind of the gold standard for mocking movies. How did you first get involved with the RiffTrax team?
Jason: First, thanks so much for having me. RiffTrax really is amazing, isn’t it? The guys have been doing this–and doing it so well–for so long that you just marvel at the entire enterprise. For my part, I was fortunate enough to meet RiffTrax writers Sean Thomason (@TheThomason) and Conor Lastowka (@clastowka) on Twitter. RiffTrax frequently comes here to Nashville for their live shows, too, so I got to meet everybody in person (and get bounced from 12th South Taproom in the Notorious Pizza Incident, of which nothing further can be said). I expressed interest in doing some writing, in case they were ever looking for contributors. Before long, there was an audition availability and I tried out over a period of several months and here we are. Frankly, I’m still kinda in shock.
HNTP: What is the writing process like for you as a RiffTrax contributor? When they come to you and say, “okay, we’re doing Godzilla,” what do you do next?
Jason: Basically, we start with a divvy list that divides the movie or short up among whoever’s assigned to it. So you get a chunk of, for example, Godzilla and you start building out a script from that. You watch these things over and over (and over!) again until their rhythm kind of gets in your head. Obviously, a Roland Emmerich catastrophe is different than, say, a short about traffic safety from the 1950s, so a big part of the process is learning the movie well enough to talk back to it without running roughshod over it. After your piece of the script is done, we do rewrites and kinda hammer everything out–moving stuff around, rejiggering lines, pitching new jokes, that kind of thing–until there’s a rehearsal script. It’s a collaborative process and, for me, a process of learning what works and what doesn’t in this unique style of comedy writing.
HNTP: How many contributors and staff writers are typically part of a single script?
Jason: Mostly it depends on the length of the piece. A short will typically be divided in half or cut into three pieces. Features (like Godzilla, which has a run time of 8 + 1) usually have more hands on deck. Mike, Kevin, and Bill do a huge part of the writing–along with Sean and Conor–and we contributors (there are four of us) take the rest.
HNTP: Out of the RiffTrax scripts you’ve been a part of so far, which was the most fun to create?
Jason: We’ve been doing Sam Katzman’s 1949 Batman and Robin serial for the last–what?–two hundred years or so. It’s fifteen chapters long. Plot-wise, there’s just not much happening. It’s repetitive (every episode ends with a car careering over a cliffside). The villain is a drag. Batman is a suburban doofus who carries an acetylene torch in his shorts. Robin is approximately eighty years old. But I love them. They’ve got that Katzman magic where everybody appears to be making it up as they go that’s just tremendously fun to write and watch.
HNTP: You guys did some great work with the National Geographic Channel for April Fool’s Day this year. Any plans for more TV gigs coming up?
Jason: Thanks! Yeah, the guys did a great job with that. Completely hilarious. Also strangely moving. I still cry about that damn goose sometimes. This is a question for RiffTrax HQ, but I suppose anything is possible and it’d be a lot of fun to get to work on something like that.
HNTP: Any chance of RiffTrax becoming a regular TV show like Mystery Science Theater 3000 used to be?
Jason: This is a question that the guys have had put to them quite a bit over the years. My sense is that they’re very pleased with the way RiffTrax has developed online, and the flexibility that it gives them to do a mix of old B-movies and new releases.
HNTP: I see you’ve got a novel coming out soon—congratulations! What other projects are you working on outside of RiffTrax these days?
Jason: Thanks! The book is out from Harper Perennial in March 2015. It’s called Down Don’t Bother Me and is a mystery story about a killing in a coal mine. RiffTrax and novel-writing keep me pretty busy these days, actually. I’ve got a new digital-only comic book series in development that my brother (who co-writes) and I hope to have out sometime later this year or very early next. I’m working on the sequel to my novel–and the sequel to that sequel–so that’s a pretty full writing schedule.
A big thanks to Jason for agreeing to talk with HNTP!
Jason warns you to follow him on Twitter or face a terrible curse birthed from the shadows of time long before recorded history. Also follow the lovely and hilarious @RiffTrax people @mi