This Thursday August 20th in theaters nationwide, the RiffTrax team is hosting a snark-a-thon live screening of the cheesy masterpiece Plan 9 from Outer Space. You can learn more at Fathom Events, or you can just show up at the Boulder screening, where I’ll probably be laughing hysterically throughout.
I had a chance to ask a few questions of Rifftrax partner and former Mystery Science Theater 3000 co-creator Kevin Murphy. Who was Kevin in MST3K? Tom Servo. Awesome!
If you haven’t seen the Mystery Science Theater 3000 (aka “MST3K”) show, it was brilliant, a series where they screened a movie and on the bottom of the screen had silhouettes of viewers (a human host and two robots, Tom Server and Crow) who added a sarcastic and biting commentary to “enhance” your viewing of the movie. It ran from 1988-1999, with just under 200 episodes screened.
Heretofor, my Q&A followed by a bit more information on Kevin…
Q: I loved Mystery Science Theater 3000 because it’s exactly how my pals and I watch bad movies, with a sarcastic running commentary. But robots? Being sent to a satellite orbiting the Earth? WTF? Where did all that backstory come from?
I believe we bought it from the Elves…
Q: There were some rather public personnel changes during MST3K. Can you share what happened now that some time has passed?
Well people move on, or don’t get along, or want to have something new in their lives, do something on their own. I had the honor of being the only member of cast and crew to participate in every single MST show, from the first pilot on KTMA TV in Minneapolis to the last show in the Sci-Fi Channel.
Q: Many years passed between the heyday of MST3K and RiffTrax. What were each of you up to in the interim?
I wrote a book in the interim called A Year at the Movies for which Bill, Mike and I worked together and developed several things – a comedy web site, a pilot for a show on NPR, another film commentary series called “The FIlm Crew,” but Rifftrax was the one that really took off, and it’s allowed us to continue to make each other laugh, which is really the reason I do it. Well, that and I get paid.
Q: Okay, now you’re part of the movie biz, especially with “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie”. That came out in 1988. Have you guys been in any movies, even as extras or with walk-on roles, since?
I played the voice of a robot in the very independent film “Hamlet A.D.D.” [imdb info]
Q: For that matter, any possibility of a RiffTrax or MST3K movie in the future?
Well you never know. As it is, the Rifftrax Live show is playing in 434 theaters across the country, so it feels like a movie opening AND a stage show. Very cool.
Q: Seems to me you’d be great guys to have review a sci-fi script before shooting begins, sort of as an “idiot filter” (no offense intended! 🙂 God knows that “SyFy” could use some help tightening up its movies. Do you ever get that kind of work?
I’ve never been asked to be a script doctor, at least not for the kind of dough they pay genuine script doctors. Besides, most studios seem hell-bent on taking a story, good or bad, and making it worse, so who am I to stand in their way?
Q: Favorite films. Yeah, you knew I’d ask. What are your top five favorite films and the two or three that make you laugh every time you watch them because they’re just so lame and pathetic?
See, this changes all the time for me, and people tend to latch onto favorites lists, so I’m not keen on them. That said, “Young Frankenstein” is still one of my favorites, as is “Dr. Strangelove.” “Local Hero” is one I can watch over and over again. As for a bad film I love, right now it’s “The Wicker Man.” Really, damn near anything with Nicolas Cage in it.
Q: Do you guys have day jobs to pay the mortgage, or is RiffTrax actually generating a sufficient revenue stream for all three of you?
Oh yeah, Rifftrax the biz is doing great. I always have a few things other going, but Rifftrax is really where my passion and energy is right now. It’s simply the most fun.
Q: And, finally, tell me about RiffTrax. The basic idea is DVD commentary tracks done by sarcastic film nuts, right? But how to people get it to sync properly with their movies, and is the intent that the movie sound track is also playing simultaneously? I mean, do people *get it*?
Sure people get it, it’s a film commentary track. thanks to DVDs, most people are familiar with commentary tracks. And it may sound slightly complicated, but it’s really quite simple – each Rifftrax comes with instructions on how to sync it up. But in addition to these, we also have a lot of DVDs of some dandy old ovies all synched up, and of course we have a ton of short subjects, on DVD and for download. The shorts are always one of my favorite things to do, and people love ’em.
Great interview Kevin! I might still consider a write-in vote for Tom Servo for President even now.
When I asked the publicity team for a “2-3 sentence bio” on Kevin here’s what they generously sent in response…
Kevin Murphy has cultivated the act of talking back to the movies into an art form and a career. For ten years on the Peabody Award-winning series Mystery Science Theater 3000, Kevin wrote, directed, and starred as the plucky red robot Tom Servo. Classic episodes of MST3K, as its legion of fans call it, continue to be one of Rhino Home Video’s top-selling DVD series.
Kevin created the ultimate movie-lover’s marathon by going to movie theaters around the globe every single day for a year, chronicling the event in the bestselling book A Year at the Movies: One Man’s Filmgoing Odyssey. Covering Kevin’s movie-watching adventures in over a hundred cities in ten countries on three continents, the book became a top 100 seller on Amazon and won national critical praise. Time’s Richard Corliss called the book “brimful of intelligent passion about films and filmgoing” while The Onion described it as “Lively, entertaining, diverse, sometimes fascinating, and deeply telling.” Publishers Weekly declared Kevin “a highbrow man of the people.”
No armchair critic he, Kevin has worked in nearly every aspect of television and film production. Among his adventures, Kevin co-wrote a medieval time-travel comedy screenplay for Sam Raimi; he fought rain and mosquitoes while working as a key grip on a low-budget horror film; line-produced a stylish indie noir thriller; and experienced all the horrors of pitching and producing a feature film for Universal Studios. While serving as a coffee-running grunt on the set of the movie Mrs. Soffel, Kevin had the unique privilege to watch a hung-over Mel Gibson vomit on the caboose of an antique train.
Kevin’s movie commentaries have been a regular feature on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday, and his eye for bad film earned him the “Bottom Shelf” column for Total Movie Magazine. Currently he’s writing a new book about the state of the American movie culture tentatively titled “Why Hollywood Sucks.” Kevin lives and works in Minnesota with his partner Jane and their ancient Cocker Spaniel, Humphrey, but continues to travel the world, watching movies everywhere he goes.
Really enjoyed this interview