It’s true. SILVERDOCS is run by great folks who don’t piss on hospitality. Normally that sentence would set off PC-Violation alarm bells, but when it is a play on the crucial line from the worst movie every made, cult-classic TROLL 2, conveyed by the film’s former child-star and helmer of the SILVERDOCS 2009 Doc chronicling the fiasco–BEST WORST MOVIE–it has to pass the censors, right? We’ll have a new FCC chairman soon. I’ll check with him on that. While we’re waiting, read about Michael Paul Stephenson and his seminal role as both an actor and a director. You heard it here first, he now has two cult classics on his hands—and you can see them both if you bring a balony sandwich the right SILVERDOCS screening. I hear that there may be a caravan of Troll 2 fans driving down for this. Please let them be in Goblin costumes.
Michael Paul Stephenson’s career in the entertainment industry began when he was cast as the child star of the worst-movie-ever-made: TROLL 2. But starring in the worst movie ever made didn’t ruin him or his desire to work in the industry. Michael spent most of his teenage years as a punk-kid making skateboarding videos with his pals while writing screenplays and short stories. He continued acting into his early twenties and has worked with outstanding directors such as Academy Award nominee Taika Waititi and Robert Redford. As a cinematographer Michael has worked on numerous projects, most recently with Oscar nominee Mel Stuart. He has written, produced and edited various projects for clients such as GRB TV, Shape Magazine, GE, ABC and more. Today, Michael resides in Los Angeles with his producing-partner and wife, Lindsay Rowles Stephenson. He’s the recipient of the prestigious American Gem Screenplay Award for his screenplay, ORANGE, and an award-winning filmmaker for his acclaimed feature-directing debut, BEST WORST MOVIE.
What inspired this film? How did you find your subjects?
Strangely, this whole adventure really began about twenty years ago and has now come full circle in a very odd and round about way. After starring in the worst movie ever made, I wanted nothing to do with it. I HATED TROLL 2. As a teenager, I shuddered every time I heard the name “Joshua”. Bologna sandwiches haunted me and I had sweaty, green nightmares of vegan goblins eating me… tree-limb by tree-limb. But I could run from my bad movie legacy for only so long. TROLL 2 finally caught up with me and there was no escaping it. Twenty-something “fans” started sending me photos of their TROLL 2 parties. Kids throughout the world were dressing-up like goblins, eating green-food and even… pissing on dinner tables. A complete stranger sent me a MySpace message that read, “Are you Joshua Waits? Please say it is so!” One morning I awoke and exclaimed, “I’m the star of the worst movie ever made! I have to tell this story.” Smiling, I said to myself, “Yes…I am Joshua Waits.”
What were some of the biggest challenges/surprises?
For me, the biggest challenge was knowing when to put the camera down. The TROLL 2 resurgence is a living, breathing, spontaneous and complicated subject matter that continues to unfold throughout all parts of the world…everyday. Of course, we couldn’t be in all places at all times. There was always an agonizing feeling and pressure to make sure we were able to wrangle and capture the most important characters, events and environments to tell our story. The organic nature of this project often led to last-minute red-eye flights, organizational chaos and one-chance-only attempts. It felt as though we were hanging onto the tail of a dragon, or… a Troll.
Who are some of your favorite filmmakers?
Chris Smith for AMERICAN MOVIE, Seth Gordon for KING OF KONG, Jeff Feuerzeig for THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON, Werner Herzog for GRIZZLY MAN, Heidi Ewing for JESUS CAMP and Frank Oz for THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN.
What is your all time favorite documentary?
What other projects are in the pipeline?
I’ve recently been asked to direct a narrative film titled KAIJU. It’s an extraordinary and beautifully written father-son underdog story about Kenji, an actor in the Tokyo studio system whose job consists of being the guy inside the rubber suit who plays a movie monster. It’s charming, pathetically humorous, warm, full of heart, dysfunctional, dignified and meaningful. I’m in love with this story. Also, I’m also adapting my award-winning short screenplay, Orange, into a feature length script. Through BEST WORST MOVIE, I’ve fallen in love with the documentary filmmaking process. I’ve learned that truth is stranger than fiction. This is an exciting time for non-fiction films as we’re moving away from the misconceived generalization that all documentaries are about war, disease or poverty stricken villages. There is a lot of opportunity in the documentary genre to tell stories outside of the sociopolitical gamut and it’s my strong belief that general audiences are hungry for these types of stories. Whether my “next project” is another documentary or a narrative, it’s inconsequential to me. Simply, I’m interested in telling genuine and heartfelt stories that resonate with the human spirit through a fresh voice.
Why did you become a filmmaker?
Please see above.
What are some of your creative influences?
Generally speaking, I’ve always been inspired through God, culture, music, and Sour Patch Kids. Early on I felt as though we had a real-life Christopher Guest story in the making and I wanted the story to be character-driven. I didn’t want to make a movie just about “fandom”. I knew there was more to this story than signing autographs at sold-out screenings of TROLL 2. I saw a story with a human element that would connect with a much broader audience than TROLL 2 fans. As we went into post-production, fortunately, I worked with two of the most talented editors, Andrew Matthews and Katie Graham. Not only did they catch hold of the vision; they added to, challenged and built upon the common “space” that we were all coming from. And believe it or not, the genesis for Andrew and Katie actually started as…TROLL 2 fans. BEST WORST MOVIE is their first film and my relationship with them started after they had created a spoof trailer that made TROLL 2 look like a heart-wrenching indie film. It was brilliant. Throughout the process, we watched many of our favorite docs for inspiration, films such as AMERICAN MOVIE and KING OF KONG. We also watched a lot of documentaries for examples of what not to do. But, I’ll leave those nameless. We took daily office trips to Pink Berry and we brought our dogs to work to comfort us in those moments of utter despair.
Did you go to film school?
What do you shoot on?
We shot BEST WORST MOVIE on DVX-100A’s and I’m looking forward to shooting my next film using one of the emerging HD formats.
What has been the most unexpected thing to happen since taking the film on the festival circuit?
Edgar Wright attended one of our screenings in Toronto at Hot Docs. We’re now Facebook friends and he was kind enough to send me a great message telling me how much he loved BEST WORST MOVIE.
Why did you want to screen your film at SILVERDOCS?
Apart from it being an honor to showcase BEST WORST MOVIE in the country’s most prestigious doc film fest, alongside the best documentaries in the world, SILVERDOCS is run by great folks who don’t piss on hospitality!