Joel Soisson’s biography reads like a list of everything people watched and rented in the 80s and 90s, including Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Phantoms, Pulse, Trick or Treat, The Supernaturals, The Prophecy and so many more.
With the release of his new film, My Best Worst Adventure, we had the amazing opportunity to discuss Mr. Soisson’s career. We’re incredibly indebted to him for his time and energy. Please check out his new film on Amazon, Comcast, FandangoNow, Vudu, Verizon Cable, Overdrive, Vimeo and more right now.
B&S About Movies: Tell us all about My Best Worst Adventure.
Joel Soisson: I was looking for something that had a little bit more heart and substance than a lot of the genre stuff that I’ve been doing for quite some time. I wanted to find a sort of a vehicle that would allow me to scratch that itch, but I didn’t want to get so far from my sort of horror/action/suspensive roots that it got soft.
When I was actually shooting a little horror-thriller in Bangkok, I met the producer there and started talking to her about her own life in Northern Thailand and growing up with this crazy sport called buffalo racing, which you know from seeing the movie is kind of insane. I mean, kids riding stampeding buffaloes!
That was kind of my way into the story, it’s like I want to do an alien kid on an alien planet, someone who lands in the middle of this place where it’s scary and exasperating and predatory and completely outside of their frame of reference. And she’s got to survive. In the middle of that, she has her sort of coming of age.
B&S: It is an alien place. And one not often explored in a western-made film.
Joel: Oh, it isn’t! And the parts that are, are kind of like The Hangover 3 aspects of Thailand. The glitz and the seamy underbelly of Bangkok. But there’s also this whole other side to Thailand that is ancient and spiritual and just super fascinating, especially from somebody from a culture like ours where you just don’t share a lot in the same experiences. But it does turn out that we share a lot of the same values and that’s sort of one of the discoveries that the lead character makes.
B&S: People are still put off by foreign countries and say, “It’s so strange.” Yes! It’s foreign. Celebrate that there is a different place outside of your experience.
Joel: I wasn’t trying to make necessarily a timely movie, but this is such a factionalized divided country in a divided world. At some point, the divisions kind of melt away and you have to look at what drives people. And to me, it’s bonding between people and family and the desire to do well by one another.
There are moments of abuse and bullying in the film. There are these traumas, but even with the perpetrators of these acts, I wanted to find their hearts. Is there some merit in their lives? Can they ultimately come around? Because this film does not have a conventional bad guy and so much of my career has been based around defining the bad guy and allowing him to pillage and plunder and behead people for 65 minutes until he gets his in the end. And then we say, “OK! We’re satisfied. We for our revenge!” (laughs)
B&S: It struck me as anything but a traditional Hollywood coming of age movie.
Joel: I think that’s because it is real. It’s not biographical per se but it was based on real experiences that this producer had. And so it informs the whole story. There was the challenge of animals, children, language and culture, but I felt like I had her on my side guiding me. What was legitimately Thai? What was her experience? And when I became my crass Hollywood self, she was never shy to point out that I was falling back on my old Hollywood tropes.
B&S: So I went a little crazy researching your career and you’ve worked on a lot of movies that I’m quite frankly obsessed about. You said that you’ve worked in every role there is, well, here’s your first credit and you were the boom operator on David Hess’ To All a Good Night.
Joel: Wow. (laughs) Yes, yes. Okay. Obviously, you’re on the level. Wow, I’m glad that I have an audience for some of the things that I thought just slipped away in the anonymity — whether deserved or not.
B&S: I may have watched it more than a few times. I mean, Harry Reems shows up in it.
Joel: So what did you think of my sound mixing? (laughs) At least the boom doesn’t show up in the movie! When I was hired, I had no skills whatsoever except that was six foot three, so they figured, “Okay he can keep that thing out of the way.”
This is a first for me because I’ve never been asked about To All A Goodnight. I’m just like having a little bit of PTSD, so you’ll have to forgive me. All of the cast and crew were put up in the same house, there was no money whatsoever and it was just bedlam. And somehow, something comes out of that kind of thing. I guess it’s watchable!
B&S: I mean, look at the conditions of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre!
Joel: I’ve actually only quit a film once in my career and it was during the same period I was booming. I want to say that the title was Operation Overkill and it was shot in Reno. The production manager had this brilliant idea to take all of the catering money and half the production budget and run over to the casino and see if he could double it and have us actually have a credible budget.
It did not go down that way.
Rather than return to the seat of the set, he just took off because, you know, he had failed us. Basically, we are now getting no money and no food. And that was the killer. Right there, I said that I was done with this film. If my book comes out about the art of making movies, it’s going to be titled Make the Food Good.
B&S: Another early film in your career was Superstition and it’s another movie that I’m kind of fascinated with because — you can tell it wants to be Suspiria — but it also feels like it outright hates its characters.
Joel: It also outright hated the people who paid to watch it!
Full disclosure: I don’t know if I’ve ever actually seen either of those films but the memories are still raw after 35 years. I was in the art department on that one. It was another learning experience about what I’m not good at. I was driving the art department van through Los Angeles on Fairfax and there was a light on a pole and I took a corner wrong and scrape! There was just this incredible gouge on the side of this five-ton truck that I had to drive back to the set.
I’d been in the business just a few months and I thought my career was over. How do you get out of that anonymously, like how can you return the truck and get away with it? I didn’t succeed in doing that and had to own up to being the worst hire on the set.
B&S: Which brings us to The Supernaturals. And what a cast this had.
Joel: Doesn’t it? Yeah, again, I wouldn’t say the movie I’m most proud of! There was a guy named Sandy Howard that did probably pound for pound as many films as Roger Corman was doing back in the day. They were cranking those out and anybody that was even remotely in his orbit could wind up producing, writing or even occasionally directing just because he’d have so many movies. He’d look around and say, “Who can do this?”
There was one thought that he gave us to guide the movie. There was an s on the end and it was The Supernaturals, not the Supernatural. So we have to have more than one supernatural.
B&S: There’s an urban legend that Maurice Gibb is in the movie in the Civil War scenes.
Joel: No, but he did some music for it and we dumped the score he wrote! I remember meeting him at the Plaza Hotel which was a trippy experience for me. I’m a wide-eyed 22-year-old film geek and here I am meeting a Bee Gee.
If we could have set the whole Civil War minefield scene to “Stayin’ Alive,” that would have been great. I don’t think he would have gone for it.
B&S: He should have been in it. It would have been an actual good film unlike Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Joel: (laughs) I would love to be compared favorably to Sgt. Pepper’s!
B&S: The movie is a rough watch.
Joel: Aren’t you the guy who likes To All a Goodnight?
COMING UP TOMORROW: Joel gets into some of the 90s films that he’s best known for such as Trick or Treat and The Prophecy.