City Paper is not for tourists
Stephenson starred in Troll 2 as Joshua, a boy whose dead grandfather would appear to him to warn of vegetarian goblins — not trolls — that were out to get his family. Naturally, Joshua’s folks don’t believe him and pack the clan up for a nice vacation in the farming village of Nilbog. But that’s…goblin spelled backward! Cheesy pseudo-terror ensues. Troll 2 is so entertainingly bad that it’s reached cult status, its devotees hosting annual parties during which they dress up, serve green food, and, of course, show the film, which most of them probably know by heart. (The big line? “You can’t piss on hospitality!” a gem yelled by Joshua’s dad after the boy pees on a feast left by the goblins to prevent his family from eating it.)
Italian director Claudio Fragasso helmed and co-wrote the film when he barely spoke English, which explains a lot of the movie’s utter incompetence in every respect. None of the cast had much success in the biz afterward: George Hardy, the dad, is now living a happy small-town life as a dentist; Margo Prey and Don Packard, the mom and village drugstore owner/goblin, respectively, allude to health issues that prevent them from working. (Well, Packard flat-out says he was crazy — fresh out of a mental institution, in fact — when Troll 2 was filmed.)
And now Stephenson has turned the whole bizarre experience into a documentary gem. Below he talks about his inspiration for Best Worst Movie, the irresistible charm of George Hardy, and how both have embraced their contribution to, yes, one of the worst films ever made.
First, let me say I loved both films. When did you first learn that Troll 2 had turned into such a big…thing?
About four years ago, before any of the screenings and before it became a phenomenon, 20-something Troll 2 “fans” sent me photos of themselves dressing up like goblins, eating green food, and even… pissing on dinner tables. Small, basement Troll 2 parties started to organically pop up everywhere and none of the other fans knew about each other.
This type of “thing” was happening throughout the world, on its own. On MySpace, I noticed that fans listed Troll 2 amongst their favorite movies:
1. Shawshank Redemption 2. Crash 3. Troll 2
Something special was happening. The question that kept running though my head… “Whhhyyyyyyyy?”
What inspired you to document the phenomenon?
Strangely, this whole adventure really began 20 years ago and has now come full-circle in a very odd and roundabout way. I was 10 years old when I was cast as the child star of Troll 2. Although slightly traumatized, Troll 2 did not ruin me — or my desire to work in entertainment.
I led a fairly normal life and spent most of my teenage years a punk-kid making skateboarding videos with my pals and writing screenplays and short stories. I always wanted to be a filmmaker and I continued to work as an actor into my early 20s, primarily in television and commercials.
Up until four years ago, I ran from everything related to 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. On a brighter note, I did develop quite a penchant for spelling words backward at a young age.
About four years ago, a complete stranger sent me a MySpace message that read, “Are you Joshua Waits?!” After running from my my bad movie legacy for so long, Troll 2 finally caught up with me and there was no escaping it. 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.”
Soon after, a few fans (stalkers) had tracked down where I lived, doorbell-ditched me, and left a cake on my doorstep. Written across the top, in green frosting, it read, “Welcome to Nilbog!”
IMDb lists this as your directorial debut. Had you been involved with filmmaking before?
Best Worst Movie is my directing debut and my first feature film.
Would you have continued with the project if George Hardy didn’t want to participate? He was such a good sport about it — if a bit of a hard-seller toward the end — and totally made me love him. Whereas while watching Troll 2 I couldn’t stop saying, “God! I can’t stand that guy!”
During that epiphanous “I am the child star of the worst movie ever made” morning, I knew I had to tell this story. It was as if Grandpa Seth came to me in a mirror and said, “You must do it! You must do it!” And once I began, there was no turning back. After I made that commitment, all of the integral pieces started to fall into place, including George Hardy.
After the first Troll 2 revival screening in NYC at the Upright Citizens Brigade, it became clear to me that George would become the primary vehicle for telling this story. I saw contrast in his small-town life as an Alabama dentist and his newfound cult-movie fame as Farmer Waits. He’s a radiantly charming and supernaturally engaging person and truly a star!
Suggesting the film without George Hardy would be to rip out the very heart and soul of Best Worst Movie. But to suggest that George Hardy would actually shy away from the limelight, now that’s…impossible!
George seemed a little weirded out when you went to Margo Prey’s house. Did you have any reservations about including that footage — especially the part when she says that, during the night, she hears what sounds like shrieks in her neighborhood?
From the very beginning, I wanted to tell a story that was honest and character-driven. I didn’t want to make a movie only about “fandom.” I knew there was more to this story than signing autographs at sold-out screenings of Troll 2. I saw a human element and a story that promised to be both triumphant and…tragic.
One morning during postproduction I woke up at 3 a.m. with a single thought running through my head: “We have to treat Margo Prey with sensitivity.” 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 also their first film and our relationship started after they had created a spoof trailer that made Troll 2 look like a heart-wrenching indie film.)
Everybody in Best Worst Movie is like family to me, and albeit dysfunctional, it’s still family nonetheless. I feel as though we were able to find a balance between being honest and remaining sensitive. I hope that viewers find themselves feeling a wide range of emotions, not only with Margo but with each of the characters. It’s not black and white. These characters are real people, and real people are complicated.
The cast member I really would have liked to have seen more of is Deborah Reed. God, she was bad. Did she not want to be involved?
We did shoot footage with Deborah but it ended up on the editing floor. Basically, it came down to being unnecessary and more appropriate for DVD extras. She didn’t stand a chance against characters like George, Claudio [Fragasso], Margo, and Don [Packard] — don’t forget Don!
Claudio seems like a dick. Accurate assessment?
Wow. Hmm…well, as a filmmaker Claudio is a very passionate person, and actually I respect him tremendously for having the balls and courage to make a movie the way that he wanted to make it in a country where he couldn’t even speak the language!
People making movies today need more passion and heart, and Claudio has plenty to spare. And although his movie may have failed across all cinematic principles (i.e. writing, directing, acting, special effects, etc.) it does not fail at being creative or, most important, entertaining.
Now personally speaking, let’s just say that at times Claudio can be less than hospitable.
Do you have any inkling why the hell the movie was called Troll 2 when it has nothing to do with the first Troll?
Are you suggesting that there are flaws in Troll 2?
Was there any city in which the fervor seemed particularly crazed? Three-way tie: Austin, New York City, and Boston.
I hear that Edgar Wright is a fan, which to me is the highest praise you can get. Have you heard from any other big names in the business?
Yeah, you never know who is in the audience, and I was thrilled to learn that Edgar Wright loved Best Worst Movie. No other big names come to mind but it’s still early on. Fortunately, we’ve already received acclaim on the festival circuit and throughout several media outlets, including Entertainment Weekly, Hollywood Reporter, and Ain’t It Cool News. Word of mouth continues to build.
Actually, I get most excited when a 68-year-old grandma comes up to me afterward and says, “I loved your film and now I have to go rent Troll 2!” It has always been our hope that Best Worst Movie would appeal to grandmas…or at least have a broader appeal than to just Troll 2 fans.
It seems like the film cursed everyone’s acting careers. Do you regret it? Never. No regrets here. I bleed green.
Lastly, you posed this question to George, so let me throw it at you: Would you make Troll 3?
If I had another chance to star in a film with George Hardy, I don’t know how I could turn it down.