Hey wow, in anticipation of the upcoming Shout! Factory DVD release of The Mystery Science Theater Collection Volume XVI, check out this exclusive interivew with Kevin Murphy!
Before you hooked up with MST3K crew, you did some production work on Jim Mallon’s Blood Hook, a movie where people are killed by a giant fishhook that was distsributed by Troma in the 80s. How did you wind up working on this project and what can you tell us about your experiences working on it?
I was working at WHA, the public TV station, and I’d run into Jim at shoots and parties. We seemed to share a warped sense of humor, and at that time I was taking any job I could get that paid and seemed fun, so I was hired on as a grip. After the DP was canned, I was promoted to Key Grip. I learned on the job how to work a camera dolly and hang lights over water for night boat-to-boat shooting. Damn near killed myself a half-dozen times, but that shoot was the most fun I’ve ever had on a movie set.
The biography on your website mentions that “As a location production assistant on the film Mrs. Soffel in 1983, Kevin witnessed Mel Gibson puking on the steps of a train caboose.” There’s got to be more to this story. Care to dish?
Sure, but there’s really not much to say. Mel came to up Baraboo, WI for the shoot, started drinking immediately, partied all night,. I was working as a grunt PA, and my pal Harry was in charge of “handling” Mel – he never told any tales. But as I was stringing cables for the first shot of the day, Mel came out of the caboose of the train we were lighting, crouched on the steps and let fly. Say what you want, he was on time for his call and worked all day.
Moving on to the MST3K material, you weren’t Tom Servo’s original voice, you replaced J. Elvis Weinstein. Why did Weinstein leave and how did you wind up taking his place?
Josh left for a number of reasons, all best left to Josh to answer. As for me, I sensed an opportunity and simply asked Jim and Joel if I could have the job. To my astonishment, they said Yes.
How do you feel about the massive and enduring cult following that the MST3K shows have garnered over the years? Is it flattering? Scary? Maybe a bit of both?
It still amazes me. Our audience seems to be getting older and younger at the same time. it’s as if MST has spanned generations, and come around to being cool again.
A lot of purists tend to rag on the show for poking fun at movies that they feel should be taken seriously. As one of the show’s chief writers and producers, how do you respond to those critics?
During the MST3K days, you wore a lot of hats – writer, producer, set builder, actor – what was your favorite aspect of working on the show and why?
I loved writing sketches and songs, but I loved the shoot days the most, the camaraderie, the focus, the improvisations and colorings which would turn something funny to something DAMN funny. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time, in every cast combination, we all worked together splendidly, no ego battles, no prima donna fits, none of that jazz. just fun and puppets and low-tech wizardry.
Where there any films you wanted to take on for MST3K but never got the chance to?
We came close to acquiring the Lily Tomlin – John Travolta movie “Moment by Moment,” but I think somebody realized what we had in mind and pulled the license. Same thing happened with the Elvis Presley movie “Charro.”
When MST3K went off the air, you spent a year globetrotting and going to a different movie every single day and then writing a book about your experiences. That sounds exhausting and amazing all at the same time and it’s amazing that you didn’t kill yourself. Tell us about this, and have you got any other book projects in the pipeline?
The book was a labor of love, my love for the movies, and my disillusionment as an audience member.
I’ve been doing lectures and appearances with a slide show called “Why Hollywood Sucks.” it’s the basis of a book that no major publisher wants to touch because now they’re all owned by huge media companies that also own studios. So I changed the title to “Why Movies Suck” and I’m taking it back on the road. it’s still Hollywood’s fault, I just don’t say it in the title.
In 2006 you reteamed with Michael J. Nelson for the Riff Trax commentary project. What sets these tracks apart from the MST3K material, aside from the lack of puppets and talking apes? And how does this differ from the Film Crew releases you guys have been working on for Shout! Factory?
Well with Rifftrax we don’t try to put on a persona or a fiction, we just try to make the riffs as funny as Hell. The thing that has set Rifftrax apart is that we offer commentaries as podcast-type files, which you can download and play along with a movie you own, buy or rent. This allows us to riff on any movie we want. Any. Movie. We want. (insert your own evil laughter) For instance, we’ve had a huge success with our riff of Twilight, and we just finished up Titanic. In addition, we also do those dependably corny old movies and shorts that MST fans came to know and love and those you can buy or download as DVDs or files.
A bunch of other MST3K alumni teamed up for the Cinematic Titanic commentaries but you didn’t take part in it. Why is that?
I wasn’t invited.
The Riff Trax crew recently did a live show. How did this go over and are you guys considering maybe taking this idea on the road?
The Rifftrax Live Nationwide show was very successful and the most fun I’ve ever had on a stage. What we did was stage a live Riffing of Plan 9 From Outer Space at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville, and beamed it out to 435 theaters across the country, LIVE. The wonderful thing about it is that we could reach people all over the country, not just in the big cities, and we didn’t have to charge an arm and a leg to do it. We sold out hundreds of theaters, entertained tens of thousands of people, and even got to show the live show again as an encore. And yes, do do hope to do another sometime soon. Stay tuned.
You’re rumored to be working on a book entitled Why Movies Suck and What We Can Do About It. It’s true that a lot of movies do suck and I’d be interested in learning more about what I can do about it. Sell me on this.
When I write, it’s always as an audience member. So I’m preparing ninety-five Theses regarding why movies suck, and lots of advice on direct action we can all take. On publication I intend to nail the Theses to the door of the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Hopefully it will bring about a great schism.
It must be kind of cool to see the MST3K material finding new life on DVD and to have all of the various new projects in the works. Looking back on this long and illustrious career, what’s been the highlight?
The continuing blessing of it all is getting to make a career out of something I love to do, and working with the most splendid and funniest people I know.
To close, what else have you got in the works? Anything else you want to tell us about?
I’m writing my first comic book – it’s about the world of the Con, from both sides of the autograph table. Geek Lit, pure and simple.
Awesome, thanks Kevin!
Interested parties are encouraged to keep up with all that is Kevin J. Murphy by visiting his website here!