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Mike Nelson talks ‘RiffTrax Live: Sharknado’ and ‘RiffTrax Live: Godzilla’

Mike Nelson
Photo courtesy of RiffTrax, used with permission

The stars of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” will return to the big screen this summer to take on last year’s most talked about B-movie. “RiffTrax Live: Sharknado” will broadcast to select theaters nationwide on July 10 with an encore presentation on July 15.

The show will be presented live at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT and tape-delayed at 7 p.m. MT/8 p.m. PT. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased on the Fathom Events website or at your local theater box office.

Admission is $11.50 for adults; $10.50 for students and seniors; and $9.50 for children. The doors will open roughly 30 minutes before showtime. Be sure to get there early for a hilarious pre-show.

This event will broadcast in Chico, CA at Cinemark 14. Click here to purchase tickets. For those who don’t live in Chico, click here to see if it is playing near you.

In addition, Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett will be doing a live simulcast riffing of 1998’s “Godzilla” on August 14, after they successfully raised enough money on Kickstarter to obtain the rights for it. More information about that show will be available shortly.

Recently, the Chico Movie Examiner conducted an over-the-phone interview with Nelson about the upcoming shows. It should be noted that this interview occurred prior to the announcement of the “stretch goal” on their “Godzilla” Kickstarter page.

Now that they have secured the rights to “Godzilla,” the guys have extended the goal to $250,000, so they can obtain the rights to 1997’s “Anaconda” for a live riffing on Oct. 30. At the time of this publication, $182,643 has been raised. The goal must be met by June 11.

David Wangberg: I finally watched “Sharknado” for the first time this past weekend. I had never actually seen it before.

Mike Nelson: Yes!

DW: And this got a lot of buzz on Twitter months before they released it. Did you guys plan on spoofing it before it was released, or did you guys plan on spoofing it after you had already seen it?

MN: Well, we got so many suggestions to do it. And I always wonder, with Twitter, did anyone actually see it? [laughs]

So, we decided afterward to try to pursue it, and it worked out just by a little bit of accident. I think Fathom Events had been in talks with the people from “Sharknado,” and it was like, “Hey, you’ve got the chocolate and the peanut butter here – let’s try to put it together.” So, we had just kind of walked into it.

DW: [Fathom Events] had done a previous event – I think they did a midnight showing of “Sharknado” for select theaters. Was it easier for you guys to get the licensing for this movie than it was for “Starship Troopers” and “Godzilla?”

MN: Yeah. I mean, that’s getting easier for us, because we have a relationship with the studios now, and they realize these are fun events. They don’t burn down the movie and ruin it forever, and we’re pretty lighthearted about what we do. But, yeah, it’s tougher with the big films. Studios are just, understandably, a little more wary of having their product made fun of.

DW: Yeah, that’s understandable. Now, do you guys usually get emails from the director of the film, or one of the actors from the film, saying, “Hey, thanks for the great jokes. It was a fun time.” or anything like that?

MN: Yeah. You know, everything we’ve done that’s been contemporary usually get pretty good response from both actors and writers or what have you, once they actually see it. And, like I said, we’re lighthearted, and we’re all in this just to have fun, so there’s nothing mean-spirited about it, and people generally take it in the spirit it was intended.

DW: One of the complaints I saw people making on Facebook and Twitter was that “Sharknado” makes fun of itself. What do you say to people who have a hard time believing that a film that makes fun of itself can be riffed by you guys?

MN: I’ve heard that before, but it’s pretty analogous to almost everything we’ve ever done on “Mystery Science” and RiffTrax, where if the movie… like, we did “The Killer Shrews” or something. That has the same spirit to it, where nobody who made “The Killer Shrews” was unaware that it’s pretty silly to have killer shrews. [laughs]

But it also is trying to be straightforward as a movie. It’s trying to offer its thrills and chills and all of that with a little bit of levity to it, and we’ve done a lot of movies like that. If it’s not flat-out self-parody or super jokey, then I think it’s pretty easy for us to handle.

DW: Is there a film that you guys simply cannot and will not spoof, because of the subject matter or anything else?

MN: Yeah, I think subject matter is probably the only thing that would bar us. And we’ve always thought that failed comedies would be very fun to be pointing out, “Oh, there’s another failed bit.” That doesn’t quite work layering comedy on top of real, failed comedy. With that said, we have done them. We did a couple for “Mystery Science,” where they were pretty straightforward comedies, but they just had some other weird element that made them doable. But, yeah, I think subject matter would be the thing that would be the real barrier.

DW: How many times do you watch a film before you get the right jokes you want to use for it during “Mystery Science Theater” or RiffTrax?

MN: The repetition of it is probably not a ton, but what we do is sort of write it slowly. We divide it up and give it to writers. It’s more about the hours spent watching it, and I think those have to be in the hundreds, when you combine all the times. It’s more like a painfully slow watching of it and all. [laughs]

And we do watch it, of course, a number of times, but each time is telescoped out to many hours.

DW: With films like “Manos” and “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians,” you did those both on “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and “RiffTrax Live.” Is it harder for you guys to come up with jokes for something you riffed on in the past?

MN: Not really. For one thing, I have a very, very short memory. [laughs]

It’s kind of like you empty out your ram to deal with the next thing. I really do forget stuff, and especially over the years, I just don’t remember what we did. Those we went through after the fact to make sure we weren’t repeating ourselves. It would just be kind of weird to accidentally steal our own jokes. But we didn’t look at them beforehand, so that we weren’t influenced by it – which is weird to say.

But that’s how much we’ve forgotten it, to where we go, “I don’t want to see what I did in the past, so that I repeat it.” It’s just a strange thing. It’s weird how you do forget those things, and only when you watch it again does it kind of make you go, “Oh, yeah, that’s right.” You tend to get a little bit of your memory back.

DW: You guys also have the “Godzilla” Kickstarter going, and that started [May 12], and it’s already exceeded the $100,000 goal.

MN: Yeah.

DW: People can still donate to it, correct?

MN: Yeah, that’s right. The rewards are pretty… we’re aware that it’s kind of a weird thing to be offering this thing that you can’t really… like, we can’t pre-sell tickets, which would be the obvious thing, but it’s darn near impossible to do. In fact, it is impossible. [laughs]

So, we kind of have to set up a rewards structure, and, so, we try to be pretty generous about that. And people really respond to it, so we’re quite grateful.

DW: Yeah. And people really respond well, when you guys have these Kickstarters. I remember the last one, for “Twilight,” that was met within the day – in, like, five hours or so. This one took a little bit longer, but still, it’s fascinating how people just jump on it.

MN: Yeah, it’s really great. We always say we have the greatest fans in the world, but it’s a nice position to be in where I think people trust us. We’ve just been doing this for so long, and we’ve met so many people. We’ve done our own conventions [and] we’ve gone to so many, and we meet people.

We’ve always had the advantage of being a little closer to our fans. “Mystery Science” was sort of a favorite, as the Internet was really getting up and running, and we’ve always had that kind of closeness with it – which has been really cool.

DW: Last year, when you guys did the Kickstarter for “Twilight,” you had trouble getting the licensing, even though you raised the funds. With your new one, “Godzilla,” did Sony tell you that you could get the license as long as you could raise $100,000?

MN: Yeah, exactly. We felt it’s much better to have a concrete target. And with “Twilight,” we were pretty clear about that. We just wanted to do something, because so many people had asked for it, and we just said, “We would do it; we’re pretty sure we can’t get the rights, so let’s do a Kickstarter.” The only way we could get the rights is if we basically just show up with a check and go, “All right. Come on, let’s do it.” [laughs]

The Summit people were actually open to it, but there was some reason that they said that it didn’t fit in with their plans and maybe in the future. We got close to that, but luckily we were able to, beforehand, sort of present people with the menu of, “We’ll move down our list and try to find it.” Quickly going to that B-plan was great, and it was a really cool show.

DW: It was. Did you guys want to spoof the 1998 “Godzilla” not just because it’s a corny film but also because the new one got released this year?

MN: Yeah, that just kind of worked out. But this movie is one of the most requested, ever. We have a little list up, where people just anecdotally or whatever, on our forums, keep asking us why we haven’t done “Godzilla.” And it’s like, “Well, you know, you gotta get the rights to it.”

It was cool to be able to already have a relationship with Sony and then say, “Can we have Godzilla?” and if it showed up on one of their lists of “These are some movies that we might be able to clear.” It worked out really well.

DW: Usually with your shows, you do one in August and then one in, say, October for Halloween – you make some holiday-themed shows. This is the first time I’ve seen you guys do it to where it’s July and August, so it’s back-to-back. Are there plans to do other live shows in October or December?

MN: Yeah, we’re planning on it. We don’t have any titles yet, but we’re hoping to get out there for a couple more this year.

This concludes the interview, but the Chico Movie Examiner would like to thank Mike Nelson for taking the time to talk about “RiffTrax Live: Sharknado” and “RiffTrax Live: Godzilla.”

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