We are drive-in mutants. We are not like other people. We are sick. We believe in blood, In breasts, And in beasts. We believe in Kung Fu City. If life had a vomit meter, We’d be off the scale. As long as one single drive-in Remains on the planet Earth, We will party like jungle animals, We will boogie till we puke. Heads will roll. The drive-in will never die. Amen.
When you hear The Drive-In oath you know that the one and only Joe Bob Briggs is near. I’ve had the immense honor of getting to speak with Joe Bob Briggs for the past three years at The Chattanooga Film Festival. Joe Bob is one of my idol’s from growing up watching him on The Movie Channel and TNT, reading all of his books to now being able to sit and speak with him on topics ranging from politics to fake Drive-Ins. Ladies and gentlemen I present to you the man, the myth, the legend, Joe Bob Briggs.
Terror Time: Hi Joe Bob, let me start off by saying that your presentation on the films of Tennessee was awe inspiring. It felt that when you spoke about the current state of the world that we got the real John Bloom as opposed to Joe Bob Briggs. Was that your plan to go that route?
Joe Bob Briggs: Thank you for saying that about the presentation. I don’t think that I said anything that wasn’t Joe Bob-ish. When I was putting together the films of Tennessee the fact that the very first national film that was shot in Tennessee was People of the Cumberland which tells the story of the murder of a mining union organizer in Wilder Tennessee in the 1930s and how that resulted in all kinds of good things in terms of the civil rights movement for example. The fact that for years and years and years and years Blacks and Whites worked together because they were working on things that affected poor people. That was the common denominator not that they were black or white or that it was a black cause or white cause because it was a poor people cause. It was an environmental cause because the rivers were being destroyed and things like that. All this work at some point dissolved and became red state vs blue state. We became sectionalized again. The Civil War was supposed to end sectionalism. Suddenly we’re talking about red state versus blue state, we’re talking about white versus black, we’re talking about law enforcement abuse, we’re talking about all these issues that we supposedly solved decades ago and what makes it strange in 2017 is that all the ignorance is not in the south anymore it’s in New York and San Francisco and Los Angeles and Seattle. It’s the idea that there is this huge part of the country that’s made up of rubes who are racist and reactionary and responsible for Donald Trump and because we’re responsible for Donald Trump there’s this rampant bigoted sectionalism. We’re not responsible for Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton is responsible for Donald Trump. I had that poll result that I pointed out in the presentation that the people of East Tennessee who voted for Donald Trump would have voted for Bernie Sanders. They’re not pro-Trump there anti-establishment and always have been. They have been for hundreds of years so they’re not anti-corporation they’re anti-establishment. They saw Hillary Clinton as the establishment. It’s a sad thing that’s happened because it divides people. You can’t fight it because the whole Eastern establishment supports the idea. I thought it was an appropriate way to end because that was the first film made in Tennessee and I had that great Pete Seeger clip I showed and he’s from Maine but Pete got it, he understood it.
TT: That was the perfect exclamation point for the evening and you were talking about supporting small businesses and small organizations and that struck a chord because when the country is at its most turbulent is when we get some of the best genre films. Do you think the film industry is too big to go back to that turbulence or is there a chance for that turbulence to return to widely seen art?
JBB: Yeah that’s very true but it’s already influencing art. Donald Trump is in the subtext of almost everything that’s created today. We’ve entered an interesting and divisive time and one thing I know is any time this happens if you push the South or try to punish the South they dig in and they don’t surrender so it’s something that could go on for a very long time I’m afraid.
TT: With streaming and all the viewing options is it a better route for filmmakers to sell their DVD’s at conventions and go the small business route? You can’t get a film in theaters anymore and streaming doesn’t pay the filmmakers. So, what avenue do they take?
JBB: I don’t think you have to get a film in theaters today. The technology for making films has become so cheap and we shouldn’t be making films that are so expensive that you can’t make your money back on streaming. Would I say automatically sell your films to Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes? No. I would say first try all the other ways to make money with your film but at the end you have the safety net. Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes will take your film if it’s of a certain quality and you have this almost guaranteed income stream from these digital distributors. First you try to get a theatrical release then you want to get a pay-per-view release then you want to try and get a foreign sale then a DVD release. There are all kinds of ways to make money with a movie but you have the safety net in digital that is guaranteed at some point in the life of the movie that you’ll get something from the digital distributors. We should look at it as an asset. Before we had streaming we had downloading and downloading was a nightmare because it was just a license to steal. With streaming, we know who is watching and they have to pay to watch it which is a great thing for the filmmaker.
TT: Back then though it was make your film and it’s going to the theater, it’s going to the drive in, and then it’ll go to VHS, and finally TV. Now people must keep in the back of their head how is this money going to be recouped. Does that take some of the danger away from the films?
JBB: Most people that make films don’t think enough about how their money is going to be recouped. They tend to do things that are passion projects or use their family’s money to finance the film. An enterprising filmmaker who keeps the budget within reasonable bounds should be able to make a living if there any good at all by producing what are now called genre films. They’re not called exploitation films anymore they’re called genre films but traditionally they were called exploitation films.
TT: A lot of your peers are gone and you’re still out there championing the genre. How were you able to adapt and survive throughout the years?
JBB: I was always a writer and the writers never go away. When we’re 98 years old we’re still writing. I came at it from the writing side and the performing and the TV hosting and all of that was just a bonus. Writing is still the main thing that I do because believe it or not this world still needs writers. Even though it’s all visual you still have to have a writer.
TT: Speaking of writing your Taki Mag articles are amazing because they touch on everything that is going on in the world and it’s just sheer brilliance that makes you think. You research and give facts that force the reader to think and that’s fantastic and what we need.
JBB: Thank you so much for that I appreciate it. Taki Mag is a great publication. I get criticized from a lot of my longtime fans for writing those articles because they say it’s an alt right organ but I’ve written articles for them where the first 200 comments on the article is me being lambasted by the alt right. It’s a publication that lets a lot of different types of people write in their own style so it’s perfect for me because I have a pretty distinctive style that’s not easy to edit.
TT: You have your hands in so many things like the hosting and writing. Is there one that really calls to you and is your true love?
JBB: I’ve never been a fan of the writing process itself it’s drudgery to me. I’m a perfectionist and that’s a bad quality to have when you’re a writer so I like finishing writing. What I would like to do at this point in my life is produce films. I have that in the works I’m trying to get set up to produce the type of films that I’ve championed all my life but do it with young filmmakers who might need a little guidance because there are a lot of young filmmakers who worship the 80’s and they do these homage films to the 80’s therefore the film doesn’t have a very wide audience or their great directors but lousy writers. Now because there’s so many filmmakers we don’t have any discipline to the process. We don’t have any great producers so one of the people I’ve admired for many years and who’s been a friend of mine for years is Roger Corman. Many of the things in my original newspaper column were created by conversations with Roger. Roger’s system of making movies was good in 1954 and it’s good today it’s just a different world now. You don’t make movies for drive-ins today you make movies for digital release but the same principles apply to how you reduce budget but reward talent and create good stories. I would like to produce a few of those in the future.
TT: Speaking of drive-ins. What’s your take on the indoor drive in craze that’s popping up where people are building indoor drive-ins with fake cars? That’s not a drive-in to me.
JBB: Ha ha. That’s not a drive-in. That’s more of a hipster affectation.
TT: Exactly! What’s your one piece of advice for anyone who wants to cover cinema as a career and wants to make it their own?
JBB: The main thing is just to start doing it and do it every day. There’s never been a time when the field is so crowded with critics and would be critics and want to be critics because the Internet makes it so easy to publish your views. You have to be more than a reviewer. You must have a distinctive attitude and distinctive style but you also have to be careful with your prose. There’s so much that’s on the Internet that’s just slapped up there because it’s the first thing off their head. There’s very little editing and shaping of writing because it’s so easy to post. Excellent writing will always rise to the top it will eventually prevail even if it doesn’t seem like it at first if you have no other outlet, no other way to do it then start a blog but make it a really good blog and make the writing really superb, edit it, work on it, re-edit it don’t publish it until it’s really fun to read. When I started at the newspaper the film critic was almost an afterthought no one considered it a serious thing at the paper but now people would fight over those film critic jobs. I don’t know how to get one of those newspaper jobs now but none of those jobs matter anymore. There aren’t any critics that have enormous influence anymore even the New York Times film critic doesn’t have influence over viewers anymore. Probably the type of printed material that has more effect on movie attendance more than anything else is a site like Rotten Tomatoes where it’s just an algorithm.
TT: That’s so sad though because back in the day you had critics who could articulate the films instead of just typing a plot synopsis as a review or giving it a score.
JBB: Also, back then you didn’t know what the box office was. You didn’t know what the number one movie in the country was or the number 20 in the country was. Your decision was based on the one sheet or the buzz from your friends. This enormous emphasis on this movie made $50 million but this movie only made $5 million is really destructive to a movie’s ability to grow in the second week. It almost never happens anymore.
TT: Well at least The Howling 7 is fondly remembered by the MONSTERVISION generation. You should release The Howling 7 on special edition Blu-ray. That’s a guaranteed moneymaker.
JBB: Ha ha ha. I actually looked into that. They only have little pieces of the film left. They never put together a full complete print of the film. The VHS version is the only version that exists.
TT: That’s wild and it’s hilarious that over the years of you showing the film on MonsterVision it has now become a holy grail film for genre fans.
JBB: I still haven’t made it out to Pioneer Town where they filmed it. It’s on my list though.
TT: Alamo Drafthouse needs to put a temporary drive in at Pioneer Town and screen the film with you hosting it. That would be an event. Speaking of Alamo Drafthouse, you’ve been doing some amazing screenings in conjunction with them.
JBB: Yeah I did my first show at Alamo Austin 20 years ago and I’ve always had a relationship with them so I do presentations for them at their new Brooklyn theater. They have one in Yonkers New York that I’ve done presentations at as well and I’ve also done ones at the Alamo’s in Kansas City and Omaha.
TT: You even did a screening of Class of 1984 there which I wish I could have attended.
JBB: Yeah I’ve done Class of 1984 a couple of times. Class of 1984 is an evergreen and people absolutely love it.
TT: What can people look forward to from Joe Bob Briggs?
JBB: I’m writing another book on the history of exploitation movies. I’ll keep writing for Taki Mag and I’m hoping to be able to announce some films pretty soon.
TT: I can’t wait to see the films and other work. Joe Bob, thank you so much for the discussion and time. It is always an honor to speak with you and I truly appreciate it.
JBB: Thank you. Anytime.
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