We had the pleasure of sitting down with RiffTrax cast member Mike Nelson to talk about the series as well as his work on the twice Emmy-nominated, Peabody Award-winning Mystery Science Theater 3000.
How did RiffTrax get started?
M. Nelson: I’d done some commentary tracks on DVDs for a company called Legend Films and enjoyed working with all the people there. So I had the idea to do RiffTrax, I kind of pitched it to them. The technology has come to be so wide spread where MP3 players, obviously, are on all computers and everything. So once the time seemed like it was right for it, I just thought – I’d been wanting to do it for years so let’s team up with someone who knows what they’re doing.
I always thought it would be awesome for you guys to do more recent films.
M. Nelson: Yeah, it was very painful to see movies come out and not be able to touch them in anyway.
What made you choose the 10 movies for the DVD release?
M. Nelson: They were movies that we had really good prints for, so that was one of the reasons. So we kind of waded through those that we thought would work well. You know, to be honest, the movie selection – I mean there’s certain criterion that go into, but one of the things that we like to do is kind of challenge ourselves to do stuff that might be slightly outside of our genre or films that are actually good in some way or films that we like. And in that case, we have to adjust our writing, so I like doing this. So these titles are sort of, although they seem to be all kind of cultish movies, they’re varying levels of qualilty and levels of respect that I have for them.
Has writing for RiffTrax been any different than writing for Mystery Science Theater?
M. Nelson: Yeah, it is. We tend to write solo a little bit more. For one thing it’s a lot more efficient, and then we sort of team up at the end and do group writing after that. We kind of did it the opposite way before, and we just had more resources in terms of writers. So this way-it works a lot better.
When recording with Kevin and Bill and your guest stars, do you find that you guys tend to improvise or do you pretty much stick to the script?
M. Nelson: We have it so buttoned down by the time we get to the studio that we do stick to the script, but within that, what you try to do, what I always try to do, is try to crack up the other people by doing different readings. So it’s that spontaneity that you’re going for so you hold back in rehearsals or try to do things differently. That’s the way to kind of keep it fresh.
Is there anything you do to prepare for writing the riffs, especially when you know the movie’s going to be horrible?
M. Nelson: One of the things is just constant research on the movie and references to it. But every movie has its painful things to write and you can’t quite prepare yourself for that. What I tend to do is stay up really late because you keep putting it off like, “Uh! I don’t want to do this scene with Hayden Christensen.” So I put it off until late at night until I get punchy and that seems to make it go easier.
Has there been any film that you didn’t mind watching repeatedly while you were writing?
M. Nelson: I’m really fond of a lot of the movies that we’ve done. You know, Jaws we did, and Jaws is a great movie, and The Lord of the Rings-I really enjoy those. But when you’re going so slowly through it and having to look at them so closely that it’s painful almost always. It’s kind of like, you may love your boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/whatever, but you don’t want to sit a half an inch from their face, staring at them for hours on end. You know, where you start to go, “I need a little distance.”
Conversely, is there any movie that you’ll never be able to watch again?
M. Nelson: Well, I hope I never have to see the Star Wars trilogy again. I sincerely hope. The earlier, the first three were a breeze. We kind of worked backwards and they were much, much easier.
I recently watched The Wild World of Batwoman episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and it had to be one of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen. Are there any films from MST that you remember being just completely bizarre?
M. Nelson: Yeah. Red Zone Cuba. It’s-oh wow-it’s about Wild World of Batwoman level. It was by a guy named Coleman Francis who made a number of films that are virtually unwatchable and incomprehensible as well. So it does kind of make writing tough, although there are certain people who just take to those movies as their favorite. I am not-I’m not in that group.
A few weeks ago, I discovered a copy of Death Rat! at my library’s book sale. I’m only halfway through, but I’m really enjoying it. Do you have plans for writing more books in the future?
M. Nelson: No. It was sort of a disappointing experience. I got a three book contract and almost immediately after getting it, my editor left and it kind of became a long process then of talking to people who don’t care that you’re writing these books and obviously so much goes into it and then they come out a year, two years, three years later. It’s sort of hard to maintain your own passion for doing something that you know might just be thrown away or not promoted in any way. So it’s one of the reasons that I actually ran towards RiffTrax was the ability to get your stuff out to people who actually want to see it, do it in a timely fashion, and be able to react-and interact-with those people.
At FanBolt, we love knowing what TV shows other people are watching; what are some of your favorites?
M. Nelson: I’m a big fan of the British Office, I like the American one a lot as well. I love Arrested Development. And some of my coworkers will roundly chastise me for this but, as dumb as they can be, The Mighty Boosh. They make me laugh a lot which is rare. I cherish moments that I can actually be laughing really hard and they’re very hard to explain why you’re laughing at them.
Do you prefer the shows that make you laugh over the shows like Lost that are more serious?
M. Nelson: I don’t watch many serious TV shows. I don’t actually have TV, so everything I watch is on DVD. So I kind of see it, you know, years later; when no one’s talking about a show any more I’ll just be, “Hey! Have you ever seen the show The Andy Griffith Show? It’s really good!” I’m on an extreme delayed reaction with TV, but the comedies always find their way to me. I always figure if a show is going to be good enough I’m going to hear about it eventually. Somebody will give me a DVD or something. So that’s kind of how I found out about my favorite shows, is just people insisting that I watch them.
Interview By: Jessica Mahn