Producer David Michael Latt on B-movie phenomenon Sharknado
David Michael Latt, one of the founders of The Asylum that produced the worldwide B-movie phenomenon that is Sharknado and zombie television series Z Nation, talks to Exit 6 producer Mark Brennan about life inside and out of perhaps the busiest loony bin in film.
Filmmaking is exhausting.
It takes all your passion, all your drive, a lot of money and even more time. Especially if you’re doing it right. So you would be forgiven for thinking a man producing 2 to 3 features a month, over 200 films across a 20 year career, for not being full of beans and good humour when taking the time to do an interview for an overseas blog.
“You only get two questions, that is it. The first one is ‘What is my name?’ and then you have a free for all for the other question. I'm basing this on the United States debate tactic, so prepare for a lot of swearing.”
You’d be forgiven, but with David Michael Latt you would also be very wrong. The same creative energy and enthusiasm that saw him co-found The Asylum all those years ago is still very much apparent from the second you start speaking with him – despite his long work days.
“After twenty years it becomes a very normalised chaos. My day starts usually around 7am, I get up and take the kids to school. I'll be at work by about 9am, stay at the office until about 5-5:30pm, go home, play with the kids, have dinner, put them to bed by about 9 or 10pm then work till about 2 or 3 in the morning, then repeat the cycle”.
Making movies every day is a cycle that a lot of up and coming filmmakers would kill for, especially those looking to make their first feature, let alone number 201. With such a vast and quick-fire catalogue it would be easy to consider the producer of titles such as Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus  and ‘mockbuster’ Snakes On A Train  as strictly a money man out for quick buck. However, like so many filmmakers, David’s path into film began with falling in love at a young age.
“As a kid I was producing short films and plays in the neighbourhood. It has always been a passion and the turning point for me was when I was 12, I saw Star Wars . This was a life-changing moment where I watched that film with my jaw on the floor and said, 'this is what I want to do for the rest of my life'.”
While not replicating the success of Star Wars just yet, regardless of any critical reaction to the (amazing) titles from The Asylum production line, it’s impossible not to admire the man who has created his own opportunities.
“There was never a question that it wasn't going to happen in the way that it happened. I didn't even think about how it wasn't going to happen. I never saw anyone giving me a break, I was enjoying myself, one step at a time, and now I have the benefit of looking back behind me and going, oh wow, look at what I created. Look at all the fun stuff.”
That’s not to say, as with all things, that a certain element of good fortune didn’t play its part.
“When I look back, I was really dumb lucky about a lot of stuff. The fact that I met my partner, who is still my partner after twenty plus years, David Rimawi, was dumb luck. David had a roommate that went from his college to my college and he was my roommate, we met that way. How different my life would have been if I didn't meet him. He wanted just to produce I wanted just to direct. When he got money to make a film he said, ‘Hey Latt you want to direct this movie?’ and that was our first project together. Easily could have gone different ways, maybe better, maybe worse, but super proud of where I'm at.”
And where David is now is at the head of a successful movie-making machine that hit the big time with the Sharknado franchise launching in 2013. Surely an incredible experience, what were some of the surprises to come from producing the cult phenomenon?
“The most immediate thing is the ability to cast people that I've idolized. The films are so heavily stacked with cameos. It is just fun to have this out of body experience of meeting people in all walks of life. Sharknado gives you politicians and sports figures and reality star people and of course actors. That has been really cool and just, well, a weird experience. Becoming a Jeopardy question, becoming an answer in the New York Times crossword puzzle. Having President Obama talk about Sharknado on Jimmy Kimmel.”
“Yeah, it was so surreal. It's really neat to see that kind of impact.”
Beyond the name of the company, The Asylum is actually a fully stuffed production house that David considers something of a teaching hospital for young filmmakers coming through. How hard is it to find new comers that fit the bill?
“Finding new talent is not that difficult. People are really lured by the film making process and creating creative content. What is difficult is to find the chosen ones. The ones that really have that same passion, that realize that it is not just a 9-5 job that people are collectively into this. It is not an auteurs medium, it is a collaborative medium. Everyone contributes."
Due to the low budget (and therefore high demand) aspect of his movies, like anyone who has put together a lo/no budget project, Latt has a very specific view on the kind of people he wants to work with, and the kind most likely to succeed in the industry.
“People that play nice in the sand box. It’s very important to me that people play nice in the sandbox because we'll be there for long hours, they are intense hours and you just don't want that sour grape in that bunch. We have people that worked on fifty, sixty, seventy movies for the company. At a certain point I have to kick them out and tell them, you have to go, because there is more to this business than The Asylum. The Asylum is this bubble that doesn't necessarily translate to the real world.”
The affection and pride with which Latt speaks of the team he has assembled and worked with over the years is evident. He’s quick to mention just some of the names that have graduated from The Asylum and have branched out into the industry beyond.
“I think for the most part a lot of them are working professionally in the bigger shows, which is great. Rachel Goldenburg (Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis) has won an Emmy already, Chris Ray (A House Is Not a Home) seems to be off on his own doing a whole bunch of things, Anthony C. Ferrante, who I've known for twenty years, his success is our success because of the Sharknado series which he directed. We don't have our James Gunn but we have a lot of people working out there. We have a nice army out there that is fighting the good fight.”
It’s hard not to wish The Asylum was here in the UK, it’s a teaching hospital that would be inundated with patients wanting to be let in, but it’s good to know that even over here Latt is flying the flag for low budget filmmaking.
“We've probably shot ten films in Wales. We have a director that has been with us since the get go, his name is Mark Atkins (Dragon Crusaders, In The Name Of Ben Hur) and he loves shooting in Wales and we love giving him movies to do so he just tends to shoot a bunch.”
I struggle to hide my disappointment upon discovering Latt himself has not been to the UK for over 20 years.
“Look, I've been busy like making movies, making movies, making movies, and it is one of those things that up until about Sharknado time, about five years ago, I didn't even know that we had a fan base. Sincerely. Now that that has changed and I see on a daily basis the fandom we are creating and the projects that get the notoriety, there certainly is a possibility of festivals driving me out there. My partners have already said they are going to kidnap me in May to go to Cannes. I've never been to Cannes.”
So after years of producing (and not visiting the UK) does the world’s busiest movie producer ever see the dailies roll in and feel the urge to get back in the director’s chair?
“I have it all the time. I definitely get to direct but more from an armchair. The kids are getting older now and I did kind of say when the youngest one is old enough I would start directing again. The really exciting thing for me is that I have a passion for directing but I haven't had the desire necessarily to go and drop everything and do it at the moment. I feel like if you are going to direct you need to be all in. I don't half ass things, and don't want a director to half ass it as well. I've had a couple opportunities to direct an episode or two of Z Nation and elected not to. If there is a season four I might do it. If there is another new series I might do that. We'll see.”
You can follow David on Twitter: @DavidMLatt
Keep up to date with all The Asylum news and releases at their official website.