Screenwriter and director Jose Prendes has been in the movie business for over a decade now, turning out low-budget scripts and movies primarily for the notorious “mockbuster” outfit The Asylum. The latest movie he has scripted, coming out at the end of the January, is the third in the Mega Shark franchise, Mega Shark vs Mecha Shark. Prendes also is turning to the literary scene with his debut novel, Sharcano, which has a premise that must be heard to be believed!
I recently got a chance to sit down with Prendes to talk about his work, The Asylum, and all things monster.
Geeks of Doom: You have a new film you’ve written, Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark, currently scheduled for release at the end of the month from The Asylum. How did you become involved in the project?
Jose Prendes: I was asked by the producers to come on board and write the 3rd installment. They were under the gun production wise and I’m one of their fastest writers. I had been asking for work for a while, seeing as a few other projects had either dried up and blown away or were in limbo, so I jumped at the chance. It was daunting because it’s a beloved series, believe it or not, so I did my best to appease the fans and myself creatively while still adhering to the strict guidelines imposed on the script. I wrote about nine drafts in a two month period. It was not an easy project to make work to deliver the big action set pieces the producers wanted, but still staying within the tight monetary constraints and making it shootable for the director, Emile Smith. But I think we cracked the nut pretty nicely. It’s certainly the most unique Mega Shark film.
Geeks of Doom: So, as part of the script writing process with The Asylum, they gives you some guidelines and requirements of action set pieces and scenarios to include within the move?
Jose Prendes: Yeah, again, believe it or not, they are very careful with their scripts and very exacting, much to the frustration of the writers. I don’t want to reveal all the tricks of the trade, but there is a certain amount of things they want. They always want scope and worldwide mayhem, but the problem is the limits and FX and budget never quite matches up. They always want to make Transformers on the budget for Blair Witch Project, God bless’em.
Geeks of Doom: Even with their exacting measures, are you still able to still find your own “voice” for the story and add your own flourishes?
Jose Prendes: You have to be sneaky about it, but yes. Humor is a usually a big no-no, and I think it’s because they feel it won’t translate as well overseas. But humor is crucial to me, especially in something like a giant shark movie. You just can’t take that world too seriously, because the audience laughs at you instead of with you. There has to be a sense of fun, and they usually stress the dramatic. It doesn’t logically make sense to me, so I try to find a way to weave my magic under the skin of piece. Throw in references and subtle humor that won’t be gutted in re-writes. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
Unfortunately, when you are working for hire the sad fact is that the work is never truly in your own “voice.” It is filtered by what the producers want to see, and it’s up to you to make it work. But every once and while you can sneak something into the work. People who see my films can tell whether I wrote it or not, or so I have been told by The Asylum staff. That’s a huge compliment, because it means it stands out favorably.
Geeks of Doom: That’s awesome to be able to build a following like that! You’ve been writing for The Asylum since about 2009, with I believe The Terminators being your first project with them. How did you come to work with them?
Jose Prendes: Asylum ended up distributing my second film Corpses are Forever, and when I moved to L.A. from Miami, I knocked on their door for some work. The first thing I wrote for them was Countdown: Jerusalem, a religious thriller that had since been retitled a dozen times. That was back in the earlier days when they were focusing on one movie a month and the producers would take my script and rewrite it themselves. I’m not a hundred percent pleased with it, but it could have been worse. The Terminators was a supposed to be a ghost writing gig, but I ended up getting credited.
I then worked on The Haunting of Winchester House, but I had a bad experience with the director who threw away my script and rewrote it. I got my revenge a few years later when I was able to write and direct The Haunting of Whaley House, which featured almost all of my ideas that were tossed from the last haunted house film. I am very happy with that film. I got to be left alone with my friends to make a scary movie. Yeah, we had a small budget, but we all wanted to be there and that’s crucial on these small shoots.
Geeks of Doom: That’s absolutely crucial, and it’s great you were able to still bring about some of your haunted house visions! It seems like The Asylum is drifting into “larger” budget (relatively speaking, of course) films. Can you give us some insight as to how they choose their projects and which blockbuster films to riff, and where does the writer come into play during all this?
Jose Prendes: Well, I can’t speak too much toward budgets. I’ve worked on relatively small-scale stuff. They do work on stuff that’s significantly higher, but I really wouldn’t know a number figure to share. As for mockbusters, that’s a mystery. It almost seems like they pick the most random films to copy, and usually are the ones that do badly at the box office. The three main producers are the guys that pick all the ideas, which means it is usually never an original pitch that gets sold. They just don’t do that. The writers come on to the project once a film idea has been solidified between them and they get the wheels rolling into the outline and treatment stage. Sometimes they will ask writers to pitch them plots based on a title, which is what happened with The Haunting of Whaley House and my mock of Hansel and Gretel.