INTERVIEW: Doomed! director MARTY LANGFORD
– Stephen ‘Folklore’ chats to Doomed!: The Untold Story Of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four director
Marty, thank you so much for speaking to us. I absolutely loved DOOMED!! I thought it was a charming movie, so, firstly, congratulations!
Did the documentary come out as you planned? You must be thrilled with it?
It did. It absolutely did. Because our budget was so tight, I was kind of forced to be the editor, as well as the director. And while I’d consider myself a competent offline editor, my preference would have been to hire a pro. Having said that, I think we would have ended up with the same movie, more or less, it just would have been a less painful process.
The lost Fantastic Four film is so unique, it seems that the more the years tick by it gets more popular! Would you go so far as to say it’s reached cult status?
Oh absolutely. And the funny thing is that BECAUSE it was shelved, because it was never released, more people have probably seen it than otherwise would have. Without the mystery, it would be sitting on a shelf with Albert Pyun’s CAPTAIN AMERICA and Mark Goldblatt’s THE PUNISHER. But because of the shenanigans that went on, it developed into this curiosity – this cult thing.
What attracted you to The Fantastic Four so much you needed to make a film about it?
Well, honestly, it was simply because nobody else was doing it. I waited 20 years to hear the story, to read the book or watch the documentary about what happened to this movie. And at some point, I realized that nobody else was going to do it. I was childhood friends with Mark (Sikes, executive producer of DOOMED!) who was the casting assistant on the Corman film (as well as Roger Corman’s receptionist), and with his help on the west coast we were able to secure most/all of the cast/crew to talk with us about the story.
People seem obsessed by these types of LOST films that never were, such as the Tim Burton axed Superman film. Why do you think that is?
Hmm. Good question. I think I have a theory about that. For years, we in comic fandom were our own little community. It wasn’t cool or hip to be a comic book geek, and we read and shared and discussed our love of comics together. But once the mainstream caught up with us, once comics entered pop culture, we lost a little of that identity. Now everyone was wearing Green Lantern shirts and getting Superman tattoos. With this little sub-genre I share with Jon Schnepp’s THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN LIVES and the upcoming doc on George Miller’s aborted JUSTICE LEAGUE movie, we as fans are taking back a little slice of of fandom, you know what I mean? Maybe we can’t have THE AVENGERS and BATMAN to ourselves anymore, but we can have Corman’s FF and Nicolas Cage in a Superman suit.
What I like so much about DOOMED! was that the cast and crew were really enthusiastic and have fond memories of the process initially, even though they knew it was being made on a shoestring budget?
I decided early on to approach the subject with a sense of honor and respect. I love the original film, I really do. And I firmly believe that the cast and crew of Oley Sassone’s film got royally screwed. They went in with the best of intentions and worked their asses off to make the very best FF movie they could. Yeah, they only had a million bucks or so. Yeah, they were working on a ridiculously tight schedule. Yeah, they were working for a notoriously schlocky producer. But they took it very seriously.
In your opinion, if The Fantastic Four film would have been released do you think it would have been a success?
In terms of a Roger Corman-success, yeah. He intended it to go theatrical. He was going to treat it differently than the other films he released through Concorde-New Horizons. So yeah, I could have seen it grossing in the low eight figures. It wouldn’t have performed on the level of BATMAN, but I think it would have been bigger than the previous Marvel movies.
For what those actors did in post-production, promotion-wise (toured the film and advertised endlessly, paying for it themselves), they really deserved more success. How much sympathy do you have for them, especially after meeting them in person whilst making this film?
Alex Hyde-White said it best himself – that by trying to promote the movies themselves, in a grassroots fashion, they probably accelerated the downfall and ultimate shelving of the movie. The higher-ups at Constantin Films (the German company who co-executive the film, and who owned the option to the property) certainly weren’t on board with their actions. What they (the actors) did, was start to bring more awareness to the fans for a property that they (Constantin) weren’t too sure what they were going to do with.
The cast and crew were screwed from the very top weren’t they?! A pre-planned almost conspiracy style screwing! I don’t want to spoil this documentary for those who don’t know the story, but it’s all pretty shitty isn’t it?
Well, it depends on who you mean by “the top”. There were so many players involved – Roger Corman (Concorde-NewHorizons), Constantin Films, Marvel, 20th Century Fox – and the answer I was looking for was, “who knew what when”. And while I relied on hearsay and a little speculation, I think we got to the bottom of it and answered as many questions as anyone ever will.
I’m certainly not slamming Stan Lee and Avi Arad, but it doesn’t paint them in a good light, especially Lee’s multiple visits to the set only to slam the film during a convention Q&A. Were you surprised when you heard this information?
Not really surprised, because there was an amazing LA Magazine article written by Robert Ito (http://robert-ito.com/film-stories/fantastic-faux/) that made it pretty clear the feelings of Lee and Arad. We desperately tried to get interviews with them both, and while Arad never responded to ANY requests (email, phone, social media, etc…), Lee at least respectfully denied an interview. We were SO lucky to get the convention video footage we licensed of Stan Lee publicly dissing the Sassone film. We received that footage from a fan who responded to the many requests we put out there, primarily on Facebook, of any content that may have been useful to the production of our film.
In their defence they did what they did to further Marvel, I guess. In hindsight, Marvel wasn’t in a great place at the time unlike the billion dollar power-house it is today, but I remember the shoddy Spider-Man and Captain America films, so I doubt a wobbly Fantastic Four movie would have altered time!? What are your thoughts?
Yeah – that was the fear that Marvel and Constantin had, that a low budget FF would “hurt” the property and confuse audiences when they made their eventual big budget film. Of course, that took quite a bit longer than they anticipated. At the time, Avi Arad was trying to make the Marvel forays into TV, animation and film much more respectable than what had come out before.
The lost Fantastic Four movie has possibly become more successful since not being released, would you say? It probably wouldn’t have done wonderfully if released in theatres, but through bootlegs has gained mythical status. You’ve obviously seen the film? In all honestly what do you think of it?
I love it. I honestly do. Since I bought that first VHS bootleg in ’98/’99, I’ve upgraded each time I’ve found a better quality version. I’m probably up to my 7th or 8th copy. It gets right what the subsequent films get wrong; which is – a loyal adaptation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original incarnation of Marvel’s “First Family”. First and foremost, Sassone’s film is a story about the family dynamic.
Through making DOOMED! did it give you a better understanding of how Hollywood works and especially Marvel?
It’s a good question. But I think, because of the unique circumstances of FF, I learned A LOT about that situation. It’s such an oddball example of corporate interests versus artistic expression, which I guess, in an ongoing, always present battle in Hollywood. It certainly gave me insight into the mindset of Marvel as a fledgling company who were looking to exploit their properties in the 90s.
So who do you really believe was to blame for this whole fiasco?
Again, there are so many players. I honestly believe that Roger Corman was an unwitting player in the initial shenanigans. He was just being a good businessman. Marvel and Constantin, along with 20th Century Fox, were more to “blame”, and each of them, at some point, made decisions that led to the shelving of the film. Ultimately, their ruse worked, though, didn’t it? Constantin continued their hold on the FF option, 20th Century Fox went on to produce the subsequent films, and Marvel has turned into one of the most powerful and profitable companies in the world. Corman got a check. And the cast/crew were left in the cold, stuck being associated with a movie that most, at the time, believed was unreleasable. Or else, why wasn’t it released? I’m just happy to have played a role in explaining what actually happened – and make clear that the shelving had nothing to do with the quality of their work, but rather the back room dealings of businesspeople who were trying to “protect” their investment.
Marty, I thank you so much for the chat, my friend. DOOMED! is a great film, I absolutely loved it and wish you all the very best with it. Not only is this a wonderful piece, I hope it sheds light on the real story of that lost Fantastic Four movie.
So, so happy to have done so. Thanks.
Read Patrick Ricketts’ review of Doomed!: The Untold Story Of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four HERE!