Michael Stephenson believed Troll 2 would be a great movie when he starred in it, and he was crushed when he saw the final product. Now, years later, he talks about making a documentary embracing his cult-status, Best Worst Movie.
Did you know nilbog is goblin spelled backwards? If you didn't know that, then go immediately to your Netflix queue and snag Troll 2, so you can familiarize yourself with this hilariously bad movie. After that, you can learn more about nilbogs and go behind the scenes to see what the actors of Troll 2 are up to in the present day with Best Worst Movie, a new documentary from Michael Stephenson, also known as the child star of Troll 2.
Is this whole Best Worst Movie phenomenon keeping you pretty busy?
Yeah! It's been really wild. It's been over four years now, and I'm kind of trapped in this Troll tunnel. We started filming the documentary just after April 2006. Here we are over four years later, and we opened in Austin and New York. We opened in Los Angeles last week, and we are continuing to open the movie in theaters throughout the summer.
Do you have any idea how many interviews you've gotten over the past year?
I have no idea. Quite a few, but it's great because it really helps with a film like Best Worst Movie. So much of it is driven by word of mouth and people talking about small independent films. We don't have these big ad budgets and these big marketing campaigns. You just hope that people like it, and that they will talk about it and eventually that adds up to something.
Nobody could have anticipated where this has gone. Have the surprises leveled off or are there still new surprises all over the place?
There have been surprises that continue on with this thing. I don't even know how to categorize it. The first part of May, we were showing the film to a lot of Lucas Films employees. Recently we just got invited to screen the film to all of the Disney employees. So there are surprises and good things that continue to come. It's still great to go to a screening. I've seen the movie I don't know how many times, but I enjoy going to the theater and feeling the outpouring of love for the film. That feeling is very tangible and it still surprises me. Every screening I go to, I kind of think, "This one's not going to be as good," but it's always a positive experience.
Well, I'm glad it's been a very positive experience for you! So where else is the movie going from here?
We open in Salt Lake City on Friday. I leave from L.A. just a couple of days from now. Then we open in San Francisco the following week, then Dallas. We have a list of cities on the website www.bestworstmovie.com. We've also added some cities that aren't on the website yet. I would guess right now that it's about 20 cities, but it's changing every week. What we have booked right now will take us through the first part of August.
Is it just you [at the screenings] or are there other cast members?
George [Hardy] will be there. We will probably have some of the other filmmakers and producers. Sometimes the other cast will decide to come at the last minute. It's hard to know. There's a website called gordonandthewhale.com. It's a movie site and they are really good guys and I think they're going to help host it [Dallas Screening].
How does it feel to be part of one of history's best worst movies ever?
My position on Troll 2 and being part of it has changed. I did the movie as a 10-year-old. It was my first movie, and I thought I was making a really great movie. (Sigh) The result was something much different than I had imagined. I was actually very embarrassed by it and my role in the film. I continued to act, but I just wanted nothing to do with Troll 2. It was one of those things I didn't want to talk about, but it was always being seen. The people in my town where I grew up would always see the movie and want to talk about it. I was embarrassed though and wanted nothing to do with it.
Now all these years later, it's like a dream coming true after a little bit of a nightmare. As cliché as that sounds, it's an amazing experience to have the opportunity to make my first film around a subject matter that's very personal to me, very accessible to me, and being able to work with an amazingly talented team, and have all the creative control in the world, and end up producing something I'm very proud of and I'm very happy with. I couldn't have asked for anything more. It's priceless. So I would have to say that I have this great deal of affection for Troll 2. I really love it. It's one of these things where it's part of me. It's part of who I've become, and it's led me to where I'm going. I've grown closer to that crazy movie.
When did you realize that Troll 2 was not so great of a film, and then when did you realize it was the ‘best worst movie?'
The first time I saw Troll 2, it was actually Christmas morning. Backing up a little bit further, I had finished the movie and in my mind I thought, "Okay, we'll go and watch this at the movie theater." That's what I imagined, but it never happened. Then there was this long silence. It kind of disappeared. We forgot about the movie and didn't know what was going on with it. Then a year and a half had passed and on Christmas morning, I was unwrapping one of my last presents under the tree and…there it was. It was my movie. We put it in the VCR and watched it as a family. It was not more than 20 seconds into it and I remember my dad saying, "Oh, Michael, this is a terrible movie." I remember looking at the TV thinking, "Oh my gosh! This is horrible!" I was 11½ at that time, but I was old enough to know it was a really bad movie. That set me off into that experience of not wanting anything to do with it. I was embarrassed by it really. I mean I continued to act. I continued to get work in other productions and other roles. With each role that I booked or each acting job that I got I thought, "Okay, this will be more notable and more memorable." Then for some reason, Troll 2 continued to be seen more, and it just wouldn't go away.
That was my experience up until about 4 years ago when I moved back to Los Angeles. And living where I live now and continuing to pursue a career in the entertainment industry, I was actually writing a script at the time and I was working as a freelance shooter and a freelance editor. I was also continuing to audition and meet with casting directors. A few months after living here, out of nowhere, I started getting these messages on MySpace from kids who said they were fans of Troll 2. I remember getting these messages and at first thinking nothing about it. "Oh man, this thing is never going to go away."
Then soon after that, I started interacting with some of the fans online and answering their questions. The next thing I new, they started sending me these pictures of Troll 2 parties they were having in their basements. The interesting thing is that this was happening in different parts of the country and none of these Troll 2 fans knew about each other. I had this feeling that something special was happening with Troll 2. Up until that point, Troll 2 had never been in a theater or played to a really large group.
I was really interested in looking at these pictures of these parties and at how much fun it appears they were having dressing up as trolls and eating green food. They were kind of championing this movie and having a great deal of fun. I just remember looking at the pictures and thinking, "Why? How did this happen?"
Being compelled to look more into it, I started noticing kids all over the place listing Troll 2 as their favorite movie. On MySpace, there would be a list of 10 different movies, and most of the movies would be big blockbusters. Then right after Shawshank Redemption there would be Troll 2. I was very interested in how this happened by word of mouth and it all started with the fans.
And so you decided to make a movie.
It was actually that same month. April 2006, I woke up one morning with a really warm feeling and I was smiling ear to ear. I was next to my wife and I said, "I am the child star of the worst movie ever made…there's a story here." Immediately I thought documentary and I thought Best Worst Movie. I started the next day writing stuff and thinking about it and diving into it. One of the first things I did was creating the website. That brought a lot of fans together and helped me as I was making the documentary.
There was no way I could have foreseen what was going to happen and how the phenomenon would eventually blossom. I had this feeling and reassurance knowing how this Italian production crew ended up in Utah and worked with actors who couldn't act and this guy who was a dentist half the time. He would come on to the set after filling cavities. I remember thinking that there is great potential for a good story here.
There is a rather eclectic group of people that was brought together for this film. Who was the most difficult to get a hold of to participate in the documentary?
Don Packard, the guy who said he wanted to kill me as a child. (laughs) It was quite a process. When I contacted him, he said, "That's a stupid idea. Why would you want to make a movie about a bad movie?" I couldn't convince him I just wanted to make this movie and it took some time. He was one of the last interviews I ended up getting. Then the girl who played my sister, Connie, she and I had similar perspectives on Troll 2 before I had my awakening. I could understand where she was coming from. She wasn't unpleasant or anything, she just didn't want to make any time to talk about Troll 2. It took a little persistence. Over time, everybody came together.
What was one of the most challenging things you had to face when creating the documentary?
The hardest thing I think was knowing when to stop filming. I mean, even today, the phenomenon continues. The subject matter is very organic in itself. It's all over the world. There are documentaries that are framed around one specific event or moment in time. This is a subject matter that was happening everywhere spontaneously all at once. It was frustrating because a lot of the stuff I wasn't able to get to, or there were times I felt like I couldn't stop filming. For example, I got an email from some fans in New York one day, and they had snuck up to the roof top of a building. They hung a bed sheet and had a projector. They were watching Troll 2 to celebrate one of their friend's birthdays. I was so frustrated because I missed it. I was thinking, "I should have been there for that!" It's constant agitation feeling like you can't cover everything because it was all happening so quick. I remember turning the camera off, and then George would do something amazing or hilarious and I was like, "Oh man, I missed it! I should have been recording that." I think overall that was the biggest challenge.
Are you going to do a follow up documentary, The Best Worst Movie Movie?
(laughing) No, I don't know what the next film will be, whether it's a narrative or a documentary. I've been asked to direct a narrative written by one of the programmers of the Alamo Drafthouse. It is an amazing script. I don't know if that will be the next project, but I hope to have the opportunity to help get that movie made. I'm also considering some other projects that are in development right now. Whatever it is, I intend to find another project that resonates well with me and my team. I had such an amazing experience working with everyone on this film that my intent would be to find another project where I can work with the same team.
What was your most surreal moment while making the documentary?
There were so many. I guess actually making the movie was weird. We were making the film and I would be looking at clips of Troll 2 with me in it, and I felt completely removed, like that wasn't me. I would say things like, "Oh we don't want anymore of that kid, that's horrible." Then I would think, "Wait a minute, that kid is me." It was a very weird feeling to see me as a kid. That was pretty surreal.
When we opened in New York City, that was really surreal because we were back in New York and that was the very first city I filmed in for the documentary. John Gemberling, who hosted the original Troll 2 party three years ago, he hosted our premiere in New York. Believe it or not, this was completely by accident but he wore the exact same shirt that he wore when I interviewed him for the film. That was really surreal.
What are some of your favorite bad movies?
Before doing Troll 2, I never watched bad movies. I'm not a bad movie expert. Maybe after starring in one, it kind of traumatized me a little bit. But, one that I really love and that I would recommend checking out is called Carnival Magic. It's a story about a linguistically gifted primate that is part of this carnival family. It's amazing.
Now for the million dollar question: Would you be in Troll 2: Part 2 if Claudio asked you to?
Believe it or not, Claudio actually called me today. He's very excited about doing a Troll 2: Part 2. I think that Troll 2 is perfect as it is now. I can't imagine a sequel working. However, it's a double edged sword for me. If George was starring in this film, Troll 2: Part 2, and I had a chance to work with him again on camera, I don't know if I could turn it down.
This post by Katrina Hill originally appeared at Action Flick Chick.