2009 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Dan O'Bannon's "Howie" Acceptance Speech transcription

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transcription of interview found at

Jason V Brock: I'm doing this for the HP Lovecraft film festival, CthulhuCon of Portland , Oregan, and you would like to be there I understand but, right now you can't, so they've bestowed what they call the Howie aware which is in honour of H P Lovecraft of course, and er, I wonted to get some of your thoughts on receiving the awards.

Dan O'Bannon:
I've seen what it looks like, very handsome

Jason V Brock: It is nice

Dan O'Bannon: Oh, very handsome

Jason V Brock: Good 

Dan O'Bannon: Lovecraft would have had mixed feelings, he didn't much like seeing pictures of himself, he was a very handsome man

Jason V Brock: I think he was pretty distinguished looking but…

Dan O'Bannon: Oh yeah. Well, his mother had told him he was not good looking and he believed it. It's a genuine honour to receive this award from this great company of men and women who admire H P Lovecraft just as much as I do….. He's the greatest horror writer who has ever lived and his work is unlikely to be ever exceeded

Jason V Brock: You think he's better than Poe for example

Dan O'Bannon: Oh yes.

Jason V Brock: Why is that?

Dan O'Bannon: Well, they didn't write the same stuff really. Poe was more into, erm,  physical mayhem, the conte-cruel , and Lovecraft was into… he was interested in cosmic awe. The thing that makes Lovecraft's work so astonishing is, it isn't just there to… to er, you know, inspire fear or loathing, those are the side dressing of the sense of cosmic amazement that Lovecraft had, kind of placement in the universe, very similar to Einstein. Bot of them thought that the universe was the ultimate of of awe and terror, sense of fear of god, not that they believed in god

Jason V Brock: When were you first interested in Lovecraft's work?

Dan O'Bannon: When I was twelve, and I had picked up this used copy of er anthology of science fiction stories, it was Science Fiction Omnibus edited by Groff Conklin , there was this moldy old copy in a box in some store, half the cover torn off, I bought it for a nickel to the dollar, and in it was the story "The Colour Out Of Space"  by H P Lovecraft, I'd never heard of it, but  the title was intriguing, and erm, I think I was very fortunate to encounter this story first, because it's generally recognised that it's his finest work and I stayed up all night reading the thing and it just knocked my socks off, and the story, one of the elements in the story is of course,vegetation growing out of season, and when I read it , it was mid winter and we were living down in the Ozarks. Next day when I got out, the whole ground was covered in snow, and when I went out to look around, I found a single rose growing up through the snow, and it really spooked me "oh my god". After that I sought out the work of Lovecraft, it was very hard to obtain in those days, in the fifties. Not much of those were in publication

Jason V Brock: What other stories kind of captured your imagination, caught your attention,

Dan O'Bannon: Oh my, it… it's hard to recall at this date, but erm. Ace books put out a little collection called "Cry Horror", which contained a , you know, a sampling of Lovecraft's work. It was cool air at first, it was a real grabber, and… I don't know, several of his best are in there along with a couple of his worst.

Jason V Brock: Did you like er, Call of Cthulhu

Dan O'Bannon: Well, certainly in some respects that is his best work but it's uneven, it's flawed, it was… Colour Out Of Space is a perfect gem. Call of Cthulhu is an imperfect construct with unequaled peaks. I guess the most disappointing thing about… by the way, you know, it was an issue about how do you pronounce that name, that word. I have done a great deal of research into this, Lovecraft said various things to various people, he wrote in letters, you know, how it should be pronounced and he gave different pronunciations as different times. The closest I can get to the definitive pronunciation would have been Cghlugthlu, and I'm not going to keep saying that. It was not meant to be spoken by human palettes.

Jason V Brock: What about the Mountains of Madness or some of his other

Dan O'Bannon: It's a good novel but his best er horror novel, by that time he was beginning to transition into, into um, a different sort of science fiction, and if he lived longer, he would have to evolve. I think he finally said what he wanted to say after years of labour , of slaving, of experimentation, finally had it burst in a dozen or so stories over a couple of years, achieved what he set out to achieve and I think he was moving on

Jason V Brock:What other writers, other than Lovecraft, did you start getting into other writers as a result of that?

Dan O'Bannon: Oh, I was already a fan of er, of fantasy horror and science fiction. My earliest recollection from when I was about five years old was seeing The Thing From Another World, which er, frightened me in a good way, and I was always drawn to that type of literature and cinema. So by the time I loved Lovecraft, aged twelve, I was already a seasoned reader of that type of material. What do you feel made the best films of the stories of his.

He is so hard to film adequately. Practically nobody has done it yet. There's only one cinema adaptation of Lovecraft that really works. And erm, that is The Re-Animator, and it works because it's an atypical Lovecraft, it's you know, very powerful story but it works different techniques than he normally used, and it turned out to be adapted into a film so, to date, only the Re-Animator in my mind is adequate adaptation.

Jason V Brock: Outside of best adaptations or best films, what films do you think are the best cosmic / Lovecraft, you know, if you explain … if you expand the definition beyond just Lovecraft.

Dan O'Bannon: Oh my, there's not much you know. It's very very difficult to achieve that tone in film. I'm not sure anybody has. I tried very hard on Alien to do that, to do erm. Alien was strongly influenced tone wise of Lovecraft, and one of the things that proved it is that you can't adapt Lovecraft without an extremely strong visual style. It has to be very very stylised and very particular. What you need is a cinematic equivalent of Lovecraft's prose, that's the problem, that's very hard to achieve. Lovecraft can't be adequately adapted for ordinary cinematography at all. So it's still there to be done if anyone wants to stick his neck in it

Jason V Brock: Explain your feelings now in retrospect about Alien and The Resurrected, two movies

Dan O'Bannon:  Well

Jason V Brock: Do you believe they were successful in other words?

Dan O'Bannon:  I do think that Alien managed to capture some quality of Lovecraft, obviously the storyline is completely different. but in terms of atmosphere, it may have been successful at that, it's very gratifying. And The Resurrected, it is a film that was erm, aborted before it could be born, it is possible to obtain a print of this, but it's not the film I made. It was erm, the producers took it away from me before it could be released, and did an extremely bad job of re-editing it. It's a shame, when I finished shooting it, if I was editing it myself I would, I thought it was my best work to date, and to have it mutilated and trashed like that was very disappointing

Jason V Brock: Do you think that Giger exceeded in conveying Lovecraft, he's a Lovecraft aficionado too

Dan O'Bannon: Oh boy, did he. I mean, there is no other artist who managed to convey in the Lovecraft quality other than Giger, he's the man

Jason V Brock: How did you find his work?

Dan O'Bannon: Well, once again through Jodorowksy, I was over there in Paris in 1975, Jorodorowksy was bringing together these amazing fantasy artists, Jean Giraud, like Chris Foss, different countries and Giger had a show at the Pompadou art museum , I believe it was, and Alejandro went to it and came back very enthusiastic and he had Giger over at his hotel suite and he had me to meet him and I met him there, he brought with him a book of his work which had been printed to accompany the show and I looked at it and I was fascinated and I asked if I could borrow it to look at over night and I took it back to my hotel room and I stayed up all night looking through it and I was transformed. I would say that Alien was part of that moment in my life. "Boy Gee Whiz, if somebody could get this guy to design a monster movie, nobody would have seen anything like that ever on the screen. And of course it's impossible, nobody's ever going to achieve that."

Jason V Brock: What do you think of him as an individual?

Dan O'Bannon:  He's a wonderful guy, Rudi. You look at pictures of him, he dresses like Dracula, he puts on these expressions, you might think he's a spooky person, but i spent a lot of time with him and he's the nicest guy in the world. I've always enjoyed adapting the works of really fine writers of horror and science fiction, I've had the opportunity to adapt Philip K Dick, Lovecraft and others and, it's always very stimulating, er, very exciting to have the opportunity to work with the works of people who are, of works that I admire so much. They're hard to adapt. they're very very difficult to adapt, that's part of the thrill, seeing if you can convey what's written onto the screen and it gives me a certain smug chuckle to watch try to adapt his other works onto the screen and fall all over the themselves

Jason V Brock: Well, you've done well with it.

Dan O'Bannon: I've done okay with it

Jason V Brock: Mmm, you're very good at it

Dan O'Bannon: Well, I'm very very loyal to the word, the written word as. well what I try to do you see , is I try to keep, catch and convey the very best qualities of the original author while fixing things that don't work technically about structures and things like that, things that are fully explained, come up with a better justifications while not changing the good stuff. That would be my advice to anybody adapting the works of any really good author. If it aint broke, don't fix it.

Jason V Brock:  Now, you have an obvious interest in Lovecraft and arcane things and Lovecraft's circle people as well. Can you talk about your project the Necronomicon a little bit, what drove you to start to do that?

Dan O'Bannon: Well now, i came across this project in a very mysterious way, back in 1975 I was in Paris working with Alexandro Jodorowsky, actually on a film then, and he was very much a mystic and you might say for a time he was my guru, and he discovered something in the Bibliotech National, a er, a document, and it was someone's PhD thesis and he brought it to my attention and I looked at it and it turned out to be a study of the Necronomicon, the real Necronomicon, the closest I had ever gotten to the actual original text, and I was so struck by this that I felt it needed to be brought to the attention of English speaking readers, so I spent the better part of ten years carefully translating this into English and I finally got it to a point where it's ready to be seen by the public at large. All that remains is a … to discover a way to market this so that people who want a copy can obtain it.

Jason V Brock: So this document, was it written by multiple individuals

Dan O'Bannon: No, it was a, it was a PhD thesis of a student at the erm, was it the Sarbonne or something, i forget the…. he certain quoted many other individuals but it's primarily written, a long essay quoting substantial chunks of the Necronomicon from different translations obviously, the Latin translation, the Greek translation, the English translation, and this author had managed to obtain the opportunity the book had recently copied, cope extensive passages from it, because it was then the last several years, a couple of books marketed under the name of the Necronomicon, but when you open them, they turn out not to be the real thing. So I became very impatient with these erm fictional Necronomicons and I think it's time the world saw the real thing.

Jason V Brock: Any comments you'd like to add about Lovecraft/ Cosmic Horror adapting the works

Dan O'Bannon: Lovecraft lived the perfect life of the horror fantasist writer, he was destitute, a alone in the world, blacked out the windows so he could be writing at night, had dreams when he could write his dreams, worked with absolute focus and concentration, achieving what he set out to achieve and then lived a short life. He was as perfect, he lived a perfect all life as a horror writer as Van Gogh to lived for a painter. Both of them gave everything that had to their work, they achieved the ultimate, no one equals Van Gogh as a painter and no one equals Lovecraft as a writer, and neither of them lived to see the full appreciation of their work. As for me, to receive this award at this time in my life is in some respects a culmination of my career, I'm er, I'm very grateful for it, it's a beautiful thing, I thank you very much.

Thankyou Andrew

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