Bad is relative: An Interview with Best Worst Movie’s Michael Paul Stephenson

Bad is relative: An Interview with Best Worst Movie’s Michael Paul Stephenson

WARNING: The following interview goes into detail on some of the events that take place in Best Worst Movie. If you have not seen the film yet, WHAT ARE YOU DOING! GO NOW!

With that said, in one weeks time I watched Best Worst Movie five times. There was something absolutely fascinating and endearing about the film and the way it is able to take what many have referred to as the worst film of all time and cast it in an entirely different light. I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with the films director and star of Troll 2, Michael Paul Stephenson, about all things Troll 2, Best Worst Movie and the cultural phenomenon it has become.

Blood Sprayer: One of the things that struck me about the documentary is that there isn’t much talk about how Troll 2 effected your life and the journey that led up to you undertaking Best Worst Movie. I was wondering if you could talk a little about that experience.

Michael Paul Stephenson:When we were making the film and it was nearing completion I kept thinking that we had just made the next Gremlins or Labyrinth and in a few months we’d be able to go down to the local cineplex and see my movie. Of Course, that didn’t happen. Then months and months later on Christmas morning I remember opening my last gift and it being a VHS copy of this Troll 2 and I was absolutely puzzled. As you know, when we shot the film it was titled Goblins, so I didn’t really know what I was looking at until my mom finally said “Oh, that’s your movie Michael. Let’s watch it.” I turned the tape over and saw myself making a ridiculous face and I realized that this was my movie. So I put it in the VCR and hit play and I remember only a few minutes in my father just putting his head in his hands and saying “Oh Michael…this is a bad movie. I just looked at the screen and thought “What? What is this? This can’t be my movie.”. I mean I was young but I still knew this was a bad movie.
I was truly embarrassed by it and it was one of those things where it ended up being everywhere. HBO, Showtime, all of these cable channels. It was on non-stop. But I tried to put it behind me. I continued to act and get parts and kept thinking that my next role would set me apart from Troll 2. As a teenager I had that one uncle who would call me and say “Hey Michael! That crappy movie of yours is on again!” and every Sunday I’d run to the paper, pull out the t.v. guide and pray that I wouldn’t find it listed but it was always there at least 5 or 6 times and it always had a little black turkey icon next to it and my father would say, “See Michael, your movie is so bad it can’t even get half a star!”.
But Troll 2 would just continue to surface at different parts of my life. I always wanted to be a filmmaker so I was writing and acting and I had done some commercial work, things like music videos and then about 5 years ago I moved back to Los Angeles where I still worked as a shooter and editor and wouldn’t you know it, Troll 2 came back in my life, this time in the form of a Myspace message. A fan wrote and asked me “Are you Joshua Waits from Troll 2?”. Now this is in April of 2006 and the strangest thing was happening; I got even more messages that same months from fans all over the world who said they had been having Troll 2 parties in their basements with their friends and they’d send photos of them dressed as goblins and characters from the film.
The thing that struck me the most was that none of them knew about each other and that this film brought these people together and it just had such a will to live. I would have given anything to get rid of this film in its entirety forever but these people just kept knocking at my door and I started to correspond with these fans. I felt that there was something to this and at the end of that April I remember waking up one morning smiling and rolling over to my wife and saying “I am the child star of the worst movie ever made.” and I thought there had to be a story here. So that’s where Best Worst Movie evolved from. Things moved very quickly from there.

BS: Did you have doubts when you set out to make this documentary?

MPS: Oh boy…Its funny because when you start a project like this there is a certain degree of ignorance is bliss you know? I just kept thinking this was a Christopher Guest type story and I kept thinking about the director Claudio Fragasso and about how he would feel about how people loved his film because it was truly awful and about the dentist who played my dad. It was never an idea where I thought “should I do this?”. It just completely overtook me and I put one foot in front of the other.
I couldn’t spend a lot of time worrying about the film as a whole but more one hurdle after the next, so I’d finish one thing and then had to say “ok…now how am I going to get to New York City?” and I had to be at that first big screening. All of the actors were going to be there and it was Troll 2 in New York City, I just had to do it. From there we went onto the Alamo Drafthouse but it was very much like climbing to the top of a mountain and thinking “OK just over this next bit and I’m home free but getting to the top and seeing 8 or 9 more mountains in front of you. After you’ve climbed so far you say “well I can’t turn back now”.
Gathering everyone was a real time consuming process with everyone having different attitudes towards the film. Some loved the idea while others, like Don Packard [The Nilbog Store Owner], thought it was a terrible idea. But I just had to be persistent with everyone. And with documentary film, you hope that you have at least one really good character but for me I had George and then I had Claudio and Don and I thought this is really amazing.

BS: What were some of the most gratifying/surprising moments in making the documentary?

MPS: Well we had wanted to go back to all of those shooting locations and we wanted Claudio there and once we got there it was like being on set again. I mean Claudio just jumped in and was telling us where to be and what to say and it was all just very bizarre. Another example, when we’re in Margo’s house and after 6 or 7 hours there we end up singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and its just crazy. It was all just very gratifying and you could never plan for any of it. It was great to see everyone just being themselves after so many years.

BS: Lets talk a little about some of the cast members you re-unite with:

-What was it like to talk to Don Packard (Nilbog Store Owner) and hearing about his mental state during filming and his feelings about you on set?

MPS:Well when I was on set I just remember being very terrified of that man and him having this looming, dark presence but I had no idea about his personal story and that he wanted to kill me as a child. I mean I had no idea about the mental hospital or his feeling about me as a child. I had talked to him and knew he was a really interesting guy and I really thought he’d be a great interview and he totally was.

BS: One of the more touching moments of the film for me is when Claudio actually gets to hold the reels of the film. How do you feel about his reaction to the film even after all these years?

MPS: Its funny that you bring that up because I’ve seen this move so many times but every time I see Claudio holding that reel of the film I think “this is why I made this movie”. I mean it just really speaks to me. When Claudio made this film 20 years ago, he didn’t speak English, he was working with actors who didn’t know how to act and was stuck in this little town in Utah just to make his film and somehow he got the movie made. He got it finished and strangely, after all these years it is still making an impression and for that I have the utmost respect for him. Even when I was working on Best Worst Movie and all of the hills we had to climb and I would think back to Claudio and wonder “man, how did he do it?”.
I mean he made the movie how he wanted to and he made it earnestly and sincerely and I think that speaks volumes in this age where so many movies are pumped out with greater resources and the they are utterly forgettable and I know that 100 years from now people will remember Troll 2 and it will make them smile over how bad it really is. but bad or good is irrelevant to me. The object of a movie is to make a memory and that’s exactly what Claudio did and I think he can be proud about that. Even if he doesn’t fully understand it, he still is grateful for the the audience that his film has found.

BS: One of the most startling moments in the film was your and George’s arrival at Margo Prey’s house with the notice outside and the cat pictures and what not. What was it like talking to her and being a part of her world?

MPS: It was definitely a situation where you wonder “what’s behind this door” and when we knocked I didn’t think Margo would even answer and when I heard her voice from the other side of the door it felt as though I had fallen into a frozen lake, I could hardly breath and I thought “she’s behind that door, she’s going to answer”. She opened the door and let us in and I told her what we were doing and that we were making this documentary and she just lit up and said she’d love to do it and she needed to put some makeup on and we should come back. We left for an hour and George and I just couldn’t believe it. George kept saying “Something ain’t right” and I kept wondering what are we going to find in there.
But we came back and she let us in and she had such a likable presence like Greta Garbo and to learn her take on the film- comparing it to Casablanca or a Bogart film and I realized her take wasn’t much different than Claudio’s and that “bad” is relative. Even though people may think her take is out there and crazy you have to think, not to her. to her that’s what Troll 2 was.
The visit was kind of sad and kind of tragic because you could tell she didn’t really leave her house and it was strange. I mean the first thing she did when we walked in was hand me a copy of her resume and head shot from twenty years ago and it was if time had stopped for her. But in the same breath she doesn’t want pity. she’s happy and she’s living the way she wants to.

BS: The Troll 2 screenings that appear in the film seem like they were a blast and you and George and all of the attending actors seem to have a blast…then you attend conventions and it seems to be the complete opposite. can you talk about both experiences?

MPS:Here’s the thing, the screenings and sold out shows with fans were a lot of fun and just a riot to do but I don’t think I ever would have gone to one if I wasn’t making the documentary. I mean it was amazing but it was very worrisome for me because after a year of filming I had all these sold out screenings and it was like “rah rah Troll 2 phenomenon” and it just didn’t feel like the reality of it all. I mean these screenings were just one note. So I kept waiting for that moment where it became grounded and put into perspective what this cult celebrity really was and all of a sudden we had this memorabilia convention in the U.K. and it just bottomed out there. It was great as a filmmaker to get that on film where you realize that no one cares about us or this film there. We were able to capture that cult celebrity essence where we were surrounded at these conventions by actors who did one or two things and now they were charging $5 for an autograph and it was depressing. But those were the moments where it really felt like there was dimension to the film.

BS: Where did you find all of the different fans for the documentary (The couple who made their own troll masks, troll Olympics, Troll in Iraq, Troll Video game, etc.)

MPS: When we first started work on the film we made a website to bring fans together, the original Best Worst Movie site (what is now fans could post all of their Troll 2 whatnot and the girl with the Troll Olympics was one of the first people to contact me and she was just very genuine about it all. Then the mask makers we met at the Chicago screening and we’re still friends. While I was working on the early teaser trailer of the film I was contacted by a guy who told me he brought Troll 2 to Iraq and I was like “What?!” and then we were able to find a camera man there who shot all of this stuff in Iraq and they were able to send me the footage. But one of the hardest things about making Best Worst Movie was the fact that there are so many fans. I mean we had to cut a lot of people out like Hungarian fans who had translated the entire film into Hungarian and made sure their local video store carried it and there was just this amazing level of love for Troll 2. Best Worst Movie could have easily just been about fandom but I had to have a balance of Troll 2 and the fandom and the humanity that existed with everyone who made the film.

BS: You and George have been across the United States with the film and I’m sure you both get asked to recite lines and re-enact scenes all of the time. Does the fandom experience stay enjoyable or has it been tiring?

MPS:I love meeting the fans and talking to them but the big screenings and the sold out audiences and signing autographs just isn’t me. I just don’t have the desire to keep going to the screenings now that Best Worst Movie is over. You have these midnight screenings and don’t end up doing the Q and A till 2:30 in the morning, yeah you’re tired but I’ll tell you this, we go into these screenings and you immediately feel the love and enthusiasm about Troll 2 and it was a constant reminder about how special it was so we did everything we could to support that. But people ask if I’m going to keep going to screenings and I say…No! (laughs) there’s just no reason for me to do that.

BS: So I guess the next big question is what’s next?

MPS: Well that’s a great question. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just become a dentist. (Laughs) but no right now I’m working on a film with Zack Carlson who got the Troll 2 tattoo in the film and who works with Alamo Drafthouse and we’ve become very close over this whole process. But its a dark comedy and its really amazing. But right now we’re wrapping things up with Best Worst Movie so its hard to confidently focus on something new until we’re done.

BS: You said that people will remember Troll 2 for many years to come, so how does it feel to not only have been a part of that film put to have made this documentary that put Troll 2 in a whole new light?

MPS: I can’t even explain it. To have had, even as a ten year old, a dream of being able to tell stories as a filmmaker then having this film that you are dreadfully embarrassed by come around all these years later in this very strange way that opened up the doors to be able to tell a story that you can be very proud of has been priceless. Making Best Worst Movie over the last 4 years and getting to know the fans and the cast and crew of this film I ran from over the last 20 years has provided me with some of the most enriching experiences of my life. This film is so personal and meaningful that I don’t really know whats next. I don’t know that there will be another project that means this much to me. I’m very proud of this film and I’m proud that in some way it has almost made Claudio a legend and it kind of brings it to a whole new audience. I couldn’t be more grateful and I really can’t even tell you that Troll 2 is a bad movie. I think its an amazing movie.

BS: Lastly, will there be another cast reunion for Troll 2 Part 2?

MPS: (laughs) I don’t know. I guess George is on board so I don’t know. i guess Claudio wants to have all of the cast members back and he said “even the dead ones”. I mean we could talk an hour on that…whether I think its right or wrong or whatever but I’d almost have to support George in anything he did. So even if he ended up in Troll 10 or 11 I’d have to. I don’t think I could turn him down even if it was the second worst movie ever made.

Special thanks to Michael Paul Stephenson for taking the time to talk with me and another thanks to Sommer Hixson of New Video distribution for all of her help.

Best Worst Movie is available now from all of the following sources:
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Mike is not only a writer here but also the owner and operator of a film production and special effects makeup company. Mike is gearing up to work on fellow Blood Sprayer contributors new film, Idiot Gore, which is sure to be a raucous, gory, helluva good time. He is also in production on his short film, Die, Develkok, Die!. The film is a love letter to exploitation movies of the 70's and 80's and is influenced by modern films like Grindhouse and Hobo With a Shotgun. He is also working on a feature length documentary in the spirit of American Scary that chronicles the history of the Tennessee horror hosts called "The Tennessee Horror Show!". Mike loves all things horror and is very excited to share with the Blood Sprayer community!

7 Responses to “Bad is relative: An Interview with Best Worst Movie’s Michael Paul Stephenson”

  1. Incredible interview Mike. Troll 2 is one of my all time favorites. In fact, I showed it to a bunch of friends (it was their first time watching it) this past Halloween. Everytime I hang with them now, a quote from the film is made.

    And I have yet to see Best Worst Movie. Remedying this via U-Verse on demand, ASAP.

    • Thank you so much man! it really means a lot to me. We’re actually about to have our first Troll 2 party in a few weeks. Its just been a great experience all around!

      Let me know what you think of Best Worst Movie when you see it!

  2. Great job Mike. This was a great read.

  3. Yeah, Went to Yellow Springs a couple months back and watched on the big screen. It was part of their 4th annual horror movie marathon. They played BWM first then went straight into Troll 2. It was a lot of fun. I wrote an article about it on here but it became more about the great time I had with my brothers in the name of horror.

  4. What a fun film, finally checked it out last night. A little sad considering the current mental state of some of the actors. But overall, it was interesting to see just how much of a cult phenomenon this film has become.

    Bring on Troll 2: Part 2!

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