Saturday, June 11, 2016

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: The Merc Talks With David Michael Latt, Film Producer And Co-Founder Of The Asylum Film Studio

I recently had the opportunity to sit down and chat with David Michael Latt, one of the co-founders of The Asylum, the film production studio responsible for the very popular Sharknado film franchise and the hit Syfy zombie series, Z Nation.

Check out the interview below:

MERC WITH A MOVIE BLOG:  Your studio, The Asylum, produces a lot of tie-ins, or what is referred to as “Mockbusters”, of big, main stream movie, including such films as Transmorphers, Snakes on a Train, and Martian Land.  Do you decide which films to tie into, or do people come to you with the idea?  Or is it a mixture of both?

DAVID MICHAEL LATT:  It’s actually kind of boring.  We don’t come up with the ideas.  When it comes down to it, our buyers tell us what to make.  The studio is a fully functioning studio, so we have distribution deals from all over the world with some of the largest wholesalers out there, and basically when the want something they ask us and we go make it.  So, really, that’s how that happens, “mockbusters” included.

MERC:  The Asylum produces several films a year.  How long does it typically take from start to finish for you to get a film made?

DML:  From “Let’s go make a movie” to “Here’s the finished master”, about 5-6 months.

MERC:  Now, you've definitely had great success with these tie-ins, but your most popular films have to be the Sharknado series.  Where did the idea for a tornado of sharks originate from?

DML:  Well, you know we make a lot of creature films, a lot of mashable films, and this was just born out of that.  Again, it’s one of those things where we don’t necessarily come up with the ideas, our buyers tell us what they want, and I’m sure somewhere along the way someone said they wanted to see a tornado full of sharks, and we developed that idea and gave it a story.  And that kind of all came to fruition with Syfy when we told them what we were doing and that we were making this particular movie, and they were like “Wow, that’s great because we have this title we’ve always wanted to use called ‘Sharknado’, but we didn’t have a plot for it.  Can we attach our title to your plot?”  And we were like “Yeah, that sounds good. [laughs] It’s a better title than ours”.  And so that’s how Sharknado came about.

MERC:  When you made the first Sharknado film back in 2013, did you have any idea it was going to explode in popularity the way it did?  And were you planning on making sequels even before the amazing fan reaction?

DML:  You know, we always hope for success, I mean we’d made about 150 movie before that, so there’s expectations about what it’s going to do, but clearly, no one expected it to do what it did.  I mean it’s winning the lottery, and then some, the powerballlottery really [laughs].  So, no not at that level, and as far as sequels go, sequels never typically do as well, so we pretty much stay away from that, although we have made a few.  And we only make them when there’s really a need from our buyers and they REALLY want us to do it, because it is an expensive venture and they, again, typically don’t do very well.  But with the ratings, what they were with Syfy, the success was clearly showing and they took advantage of this and ordered a sequel.

We had this relationship with Syfy where they could’ve just said “Let’s do another shark movie, but this time let’s put them in quicksand” and we’d have done that, but they recognized that there was a franchise here and ordered part 2, part 3, part 4, and they’ll keep ordering more if the ratings continue to do well.  If they sink, then no more Sharknado.

MERC:  Now, I know that LavaLantula and Sharknado take place in the same universe.  With both films releasing  sequels this year, will we see an expansion of this shared universe in either film, maybe with characters from one showing up in the other, like in the first LavaLantula?

DML:  Uhhhh…yeah, [laughs] there’ll be some surprises like that.  I mean we don’t own the franchise to LavaLantula, so it’s very limited, but it’s one of those things were Syfy likes to share those universes and we like to accommodate.

MERC:  In an interview with Marketplace shortly after Sharknado 2 came out, you were quoted saying that you'd be happy to field offers from bigger studios interested in buying you out.  With your growing success, is this still the case?

DML:  Sure! [laughs] I’ll entertain any ideas.  We may have a different philosophy now about that, in that we’re becoming something more prominent, but at the end of the day, sure if someone offers us a nice, healthy check and then we get to go buy an island and retire and live our days, then that sounds pretty good too. [laughs

MERC:  In the same interview you state that you've made over 200 films, and none of them have lost money.  Does this record still hold true today?

DML:  Yep, yep, yep.  I mean, it’s really not a big secret on how to make money in this business.  You know how much you’re going to sell it for and you don’t make it for any more than that.  So, [laughs] there you go, the secret to success, and that’s what we do.

MERC:  Alright, let's shift gears away from the films.  Your studio has also produced its very first television series with Z Nation, your take on the serialized zombie genre, made popular by The Walking Dead.  How different has it been producing a television show compared to films, and do you have plans for any other series?

DML:  Well, the difference is, for us it’s a different level of people, we have such seasoned veterans doing this show.  And the way I always describe The Asylum, it’s like a teaching hospital, we get a lot of kids off the bus, right out of school, and teaching and training them.  But with Z Nation, and the people we brought in, they’re definitely teaching us on how to produce a television series, and it’s been extraordinary with that education.  

Every day has been new and exciting and wonderful, I mean, it’s great, I love it.  I honestly don’t know how our showrunners and producers do it because even though people look at my schedule and go “Wow, you’re really busy” doing two films a month, they’re working ten times harder than I am.  They’re 24/7, nonstop for the whole year, and it’s inspiring how much they can put into the show, and they understand how important it is to put that kind of effort into it.  They see it has to get done, and they get it done.  So on that level, it’s very different, but there are still some similarities.  We’re making movies on a weekly basis for a lot of the time, and it’s a joy to produce and be a fan of them.  I’ve said that if I wasn’t a producer of the TV series, I’d be watching it, and I sincerely mean that, it’s a fun show.  I hope we get that lucky with another series.  We definitely hit the lottery with Z Nation being Syfy’s #1 scripted show, and I don’t know if the next one with be that lucky but hopefully we’ll find a project that works that well for everybody, with either Syfy or another network.

MERC:  Z Nation goes in directions that The Walking Dead would never go, particularly with Z weed and the zombie baby, Lucy.  Has it been difficult setting yourself apart from that show and all the others out there?

DML:  It’s only difficult if you don’t watch it.  So when someone doesn’t watch Z Nation, they typical say “Oh, it’s just another zombie show like ‘The Walking Dead’” or “They’re just trying to steal from [The Walking Dead]”, and if you just watch one episode you’d see that it’s so much different.  The difference is like when ER was on and then Scrubs.  You had two medical shows, on around the same time, but very points of view, very different sensibilities.  And then you have all the different procedural shows that go on.  You could look at any primetime lineup and probably see three or four or five different procedural shows.  Doesn’t mean they’re derivative of one another, it just means they’re trying to share the same space, with different stories to tell and different points of view, and that’s what we have here with the zombie thing.  

Yes, everyone acknowledges that The Walking Dead is out there, and it’s the big elephant in the room, but it doesn’t mean that we aren’t our own circus and we’re just doing our own thing, which we are, and I think once you watch it, you appreciate it.  You either get into it andunderstand that we’re being different and fun and funny and not the drama that is The Walking Dead.  When we were pitching it around and were asked about the differences, I would always say, ours is the RUNNING dead [laughs], so it kind of puts it in that space.

MERC:  At the end of season 2, we see a scene of not-so-baby Lucy having a zombie tea party.  Will we get to see more of her in season 3?

DML:  Oh, I’m sure you will. [laughs] You can’t just throw away that character, because she’s just such an unknown.  So, [executive producer] Karl [Schaefer] has some great plans for season 3 with Lucy, and if we get a season 4 and 5, all bets are off.  We’re really excited for that character.

MERC:  And with season 3 right around the corner, can you give us any hints as to what else we can expect when the show returns?  Like what will the theme be for this new season?

DML:  Up until this point it’s been going to California and saving everything, but now for season 3, Murphy is basically saying he’s done with it.  He’s like “forget it, I’m done.  I’m on my own, gonna do my own thing, and I’m gonna go forward with my blended army, and try and save humanity that way.  Because being  the only resource for the blood for the vaccine isn’t in my best interest, or the best interest of others because it ends up in fighting and conflict and warring tribes, so screw it, I’m on my own, I’ll be my own king.”  So I thing King Murphy is going to be emerging in season three in a very substantial way.

MERC:  And finally, are there any future projects you're able to share with us?

DML:  We have a premiere on AXS TV in August called ‘Elvis Lives!’, and of course ‘Sharknado 4’ is July 31st [on Syfy].  We just a lot of stuff coming out.  Just go to and that’ll kind of update you on all of the things going on.

Check out the trailer for Sharknado: The 4th Awakens below:

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