Tuesday, August 18, 2009

An interview with Best Worst Movie director Michael Stephenson

By Doug Gibson

This article originally appeared in on Aug. 11:

I had a great interview with Michael Stephenson, the director of the indy documentary “Best Worst Movie.” BWM is the story of “Troll 2,” a film Stephenson starred in as a child.The film was an unmitigated disaster that for a long time never played a theater in the world. Now it’s a cult film. How that happened, and how it changed the life of the cast, most notably an Alabama dentist named George Hardy who starred with Stephenson in “Troll 2,” is funny, heartwarming and interesting.

“Best Worst Movie,” which plays this weekend at the Salt Lake City Film Festival, is garnering great reviews on the festival circuit. There’s a chance the film will get a theatrical release early next year and a DVD release is planned for next spring.

Stephenson admits that for a long time he tried to forget “Troll 2.” I asked him when he first began to realize the film was gaining a cult following.

“It was about four years ago,” he says. He started receiving MySpace messages from young people asking if he was the boy in “Troll 2.” The messages came with pictures of fans recreating scenes from the film, such as eating green “goblin” food. (”Troll 2″ is really about vegetarian human-consuming goblins, which adds to its lunacy.)

Stephenson noticed that these “Troll 2″ fans didn’t seem to know about each other. “I became intrigued,” he said, adding, “I’m the star of the worst movie … There’s a story here.”

Stephenson, still a working actor and living in LA, called Hardy and things started to roll from there. The first theatrical screening was in New York City. The premiere there of “Troll 2″ was a huge success. Since then, it’s played to large crowds in many cities.

Stephenson decided to make the charismatic Hardy the focus of the documentary “Best Worst Movie.” “He’s so genuine. He’s so likable,” says Stephenson, adding that Hardy represents what makes “Troll 2″ overcome anonymity: he has real sincerity and great rapport with the film’s fans.

The “Troll 2″ fans are as unique as “Best Worst Movie” portrays them, says Stephenson. They can also surprise, he says. “In Seattle a kid came dressed up as a tree in a pot and his friends dragged him into the theater,” recalls Stephenson laughing. (The fan was paying homage to segments of “Troll 2″ that featured North Ogden actor Darren Ewing.)

Stephenson was just a kid when “Troll 2″ was filmed, mostly in Morgan County, and was amazed to learn facts about cast members that he didn’t know then. Utahn Don Packard, who played a goblin store owner in “Troll 2,” admits in “Best Worst Movie” that he was a mental institute outpatient while making “Troll 2.” In the documentary, Packard admits he literally wanted to kill the young Stephenson. “I wasn’t acting,” he says.

Other cast members Stephenson reconnected with included “Grandpa Seth” Robert Ormsby and the reclusive Margo Prey, who played his mom in the film. The visit to her home, recounted in BWM, “was the bright spot of her year,” he said.

The director of “Troll 2″ is Claudio Fragasso, a veteran Italian filmmaker. After “Troll 2,” Stephenson made another film with Fragasso. Called “Beyond Darkness,” or “House 5″ or a couple of other titles, it’s a haunted house tale set in New Orleans. Stephenson played a possessed boy. Fragasso said the film made money in Europe, but it remains largely forgotten as “Troll 2″ grows in popularity.

Fragasso is a fascinating man. He can be a showman and play to the crowd in BWM, but Stephenson captures his anger at “Troll 2″ being called the “worst film” of all time. In BWM, during a “Nilbog Invasion” event in Morgan, Fragasso is visibly angry at criticism of his film.

Nevertheless, Fragasso and his partner, “Troll 2″ screenwriter Rossella Drudi, plan to make a Troll 2: Part 2. Stephenson is conflicted by the idea of a sequel, but I get the feeling he would — again — get intrigued enough to try.

“You can’t create something like “Troll 2″ intentionally,” he says. But then he adds, “maybe they (Fragasso and Drudi) will do it again.”

Recently “Troll 2″ was placed on, where fans can watch it for free on the Net. I can also be watched via its page.

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