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Arrow Video FrightFest 2021 interview: Pierce Berolzheimer opens up about the long road to making ‘Crabs!’ and starting out as a filmmaker

The film-maker sits down with us for an in-depth conversation.

Pierce Berolzheimer
Credit: Pierce Berolzheimer

Pierce Berolzheimer brought his hilariously entertaining creature feature ‘Crabs!‘ to Arrow Video FrightFest last month and it went down a storm.

After catching up with him on the red carpet ahead of the screening, I wanted to sit down for a longer conversation to really dig into the making of ‘Crabs!’ and find out more about Pierce’s journey to becoming a film-maker.

In this in-depth conversation we talk about why it took six years to make ‘Crabs!’, the potential for a sequel and the influences that have helped shape Pierce into the filmmaker he is today…

We spoke before the screening of ‘Crabs!’ and now we’re a few days after it. How did the screening go?

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It was wild. It was really cool. The audience loved it. Everyone was laughing at all the right spots and that felt really rewarding. Seeing it with an audience for the first time was wild, too, because I was standing in the entrance to the theatre and watching when the crab crawls up the beach in the opening of the movie. I was like, ‘Oh, God, I hope this goes well. I hope this works’. There’s a joke at the end of the opening scene that sets the tone for what we’re doing with the movie and everyone laughed.

This film took you six years to make. Can you tell me about that journey and why it took so long?

I wrote the first draft of script when I was about 19. It was very different and characters that are in the movie weren’t in that that script, and there were characters that were in the script that are no longer in the movie at all. (It had) very different locations (and was a) totally different story. When we committed to production and we really started getting everything off the ground, that was about 2014. We raised money in 2014 and shot it in February 2015.

We got 70% of the movie filmed, basically up until the final fight scene, and the next step was figuring out how to do the final fight scene. I had no idea how to do that. We wanted to build this miniature set but we went through the process of trying to do that and found out it was just too expensive. We had to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to accomplish it and that took a long time, that took about a year. We also needed to raise more money at that point in order to film the final fight on a green screen studio. We had to storyboard the final fight because we didn’t know exactly how we were going to do it prior to that and that took a little bit of time. Once we shot that we, again, didn’t quite know how to do the rest of it.

We knew we needed drone footage but at that point, this is 2016 now, the DJI drones weren’t what they are today so we had to find a drone cinematographer that had a really nice rig for his drone in order to take the background shots for the final fight scene. We didn’t know that we needed a drone cinematographer until we found a VFX team but to find a VFX team we needed to find out what our budget was and then we shopped the film around a bunch of different companies and found out the right team to do it was in Vietnam. We had the footage and the drone footage, but we needed to do all the VFX. The deal we had with the team in Vietnam was that they could take as much time as they wanted to finish the film. They roughly estimated about a year and a half but they would be training their artists on it. They were a new company and they had just done ‘Hidden Figures’ and then they took on ‘Crabs!’. It didn’t go great for a while and I ended up needing to go to Vietnam three different times to oversee the project. It was a lot of start and stop. Everything that could have gone wrong, did go wrong. There were multiple different artists that left the company and then they needed to train new artists on it. There was some artistic direction stuff that wasn’t going great and some stuff that wasn’t going great.

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Pierce Berolzheimer
Credit: Entertainment Focus

The biggest issue was actually the way that we shot it. We shot the final fight scene with at 300 frames per second and because we didn’t know what we’re doing, we put all the tracking markers in the wrong spot. The characters at the end of the movie, we had to actually roto all of them out from 300 frames, we had to do every single frame, and we had to do that for 380 shots. 15 minutes of footage at 300 frames a second is a lot of frames of rotoing. It’s incredibly tedious, exhausting, unfulfilling work to roto these characters out. The team in Vietnam did a great job doing that and that was the main bulk of all the work. Once we got that done, I went to Vietnam, and we kept working on it and I was there for about nine months over the course of three years overseeing the project and trying to get the VFX, right. We didn’t end up finishing the movie in Vietnam. We took it back to LA in 2019 and took about another year of raising a little bit of money, and doing all the finishing work on the VFX stuff. In 2020 we started sound design and ADR, which again took a while, we had to find the right people. Composing the score took a long time too.

I was working on it basically on my own from 2017 until 2019, and producing it on my own. All during that time too we had Raven Banner Entertainment, who have been great, on board and helping as much as I needed but because the work was being done in Vietnam, they didn’t really need to be involved until 2019. They brought on our colorist, our sound mixer and our composer. We had about a year and a half of work there too. It was a long process.

Even though it was a very long process, it sounds as if you learned plenty that will help with your next film…

Oh, yeah. The way I think about this whole project is it was like going to film school. I didn’t know how to do any of it when we started out and now I could explain exactly how you need to shoot something so that you don’t run into any of the problems that we ran into. I learned how to oversee visual effects. I learned how to oversee sound design. I learned how to do ADR properly. I learned the pitfalls of editing it yourself on a Macbook. It’s been a real learning process. At some point, I’ve touched every aspect of the movie and had to learn how the hell to do it because I was completely inexperienced and had no idea what I was doing. When we started on this project I had only ever directed a short film and I had no idea how to accomplish any of it. We just had this story that I really wanted to tell and learned along the way how to do it.

When did you know that making films was something that you wanted to do?

I think it was ‘South Park’. There’s a couple different times that I made that decision but I think ‘South Park’ was the thing (that made me go) ‘I have to do this’. I taught myself how to make stop motion animations. The first film-making I ever did was just taking little cardboard cutouts and animating them like ‘South Park’. The other thing I can think of is ‘Billy Madison’. I loved ‘Billy Madison’ as a kid and my siblings and I would recreate scenes from it. We would all act in them and then change roles… one of us would be behind the camera, but we had the whole film memorized. I must have been seven or eight.

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Was it always your intention to write a creature feature as your first feature or did you work through other ideas first?

I knew that was gonna be the first thing I did. I tried to do a creature feature short in college and I didn’t have the resources to be able to do it. I didn’t have any budget, I didn’t have any know how and I had a (firm) deadline so I gave up on it. When I started writing ‘Crabs!’, I didn’t think I’d be able to get that done as my first film. I thought it would be a script that sat in my drawer for 25 years and then once I had some film-making wherewithal, and I had gotten to a certain point in my career, then maybe I could get that made. I had the opportunity to try to raise funds and get a movie made, it felt like it was the right time after having produced a couple of projects, that we started raising money on this other movie, this possession movie that I wrote. I liked the concept but it definitely felt like it was something that I was (using to try and) get my foot in the door with, not something that I was super passionate about that I would have been cool spending six years making. One of the producers could tell that that was the case and he said, ‘if you’re not willing to spend three years committed to this project every day with the same level of enthusiasm to see it through, don’t do this’ and I was like, ‘shit, I’m not. This isn’t what I want to be doing’. He asked, ‘well, what do you want to be doing? Obviously, you want to make movies…’ and I said, ‘what I really want to do is make this crazy script I wrote’. I showed it to him and he said, ‘this is gonna be the hardest project I’ve ever worked on, This is gonna be insane but screw it, let’s do it’. From that point on we committed to it.

Credit: Raven Banner

For a first film, you really didn’t make it easy for yourself. Was there any point over the six years where you wished you hadn’t started it?

No, I never regretted it. I knew it was gonna be a challenge and I like that. I like doing things that I don’t know how to do. If somebody’s telling me, ‘no, you can’t do that’ or ‘that’s gonna be too hard, you won’t be able to get that done’, that gives me a fire in my belly. I knew that I would be able to figure out how to do it, I just didn’t know how to do it. Going into it, I knew I would have to learn a lot and even thinking that I was prepared for a challenge, I had no idea what a challenge this was actually going to be. I shot myself in the foot pretty hard (laughs) and I wouldn’t recommend anybody’s first movie having six+ main characters, four different types of monsters, a lead character in a wheelchair, improvising on multiple sets… I would simplify everything. If I could go back and tell give myself advice, I would be like, ‘let’s simplify the hell out of this project. Cut your chops on it and then move on to something more complicated’ but I also know I wouldn’t have listened. I would have still made ‘Crabs!’.

The film feels like it could be a franchise but how on earth do you top ‘Crabs!’?

I have some ideas, actually and it’s all things again, I have no idea how to do. I have a couple of different ideas and I would definitely need to workshop the different ideas with producers to find out which one feels like the right one because they’re all vastly different. Some of them are even different genres. If ‘Crabs!’ does well enough and there’s a desire for ‘Crabs! 2’ I’d love to do it. I’ve talked to all the actors too and they’re all on board. The way that I think about ‘Crabs!’ if there’s a sequel is that it’s a platform to experiment with genre and expectations. What I wanted to do with ‘Crabs!’ is not really ever have you know what the next scene was gonna be. I never really wanted you to be able to expect where the movie was going and if you’d started to expect then I wanted to veer somewhere else and give you something that you didn’t know you might want. The sequel would be more of that and most of the ideas I have are, visually at least and creatively, things that I don’t currently know how to do either. I could take some of what I learned on ‘Crabs!’ and do that but that would be part of the fun with ‘Crabs! 2’ would be really specifically trying to not replicate the process, but replicate the same level of creativity. I would want it to have the same level of you don’t know where it’s going and it’s something new.

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Now that ‘Crabs!’ is out there and people are reacting to it, that must be giving you the fire to think about what’s next. What are you plans after this film?

I’m really excited about the next step. This is the first time in my career, and the first time in the last six years since we began this project, that I’ve felt like I can really make a career out of this and where there might actually be a next project. While I was making ‘Crabs!’ I really didn’t have any flexibility to look forward to the next thing because I was so committed to getting this out there and getting this done. The thought of another project was so far in the future and so complicated that I couldn’t even get there yet. Now that I’ve had a little bit of time before the festival to sit with it, I’m really ready to make the next one. I don’t want to do the same thing. I want to do something very different. ‘Crabs!’ is fun and silly, and that’s exactly what I wanted for this project. I’d be happy to do that again and I’d love to play in that sort of world a second time, whether it’s ‘Crabs! 2’ or some other type of project, but I think it’s important for me creatively and for my career as a filmmaker to do something to again challenge myself. I don’t want to repeat myself right away, at least.

The next project I have in mind… the way I’m going to pitch it is basically ‘The Raid’ during medieval times. It’s a very simple, small, low amount of dialogue, revenge story, that is just a couple of characters going on a very specific (journey). Sort of like ‘John Wick’ where you get in the opening act exactly why this person wants revenge. There’s not a lot of dialogue and the trajectory of the characters are very clear and simple. ‘Crabs!’ is so convoluted and all over the place. The story is really complicated and logically there’s no consistency. It jumps from genre to genre. I want to narrow my focus with the next one. The goal is to perfect something simple instead of trying to do a lot and as broadly as I can.

Credit: Raven Banner

Which filmmakers would you say have influenced your style and the kind of films you’re interested in making?

Joe Dante is a big one. Roland Emmerich is another one. I love his movies. I grew up with his movies and I think that the way that he’s able to do really grand things is incredibly unique. I think there aren’t very many people that can do grandeur quite like him. Stephen Spielberg is, obviously, hugely influential. ‘Jurassic Park’ is probably my favourite movie of all-time. That movie more than anything else has been the thing to reach towards, that’s my shining star for quality filmmaking especially in this genre, and creature features.

There’s a lot of indie filmmakers that that are hugely influential to me too. Jeremy Gardner is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting working directors right now. I think that ‘The Battery’ was the movie that made me realise that I just have to go and (make films). I watched that movie with one of the producers on ‘Crabs!’ while we were producing another movie and I got a fire in my belly. I think it’s one of the best zombie movies ever made.

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If you were able to remake any film, which one would you choose and why?

Remake? Wow, that’s a good question. I gotta think about that. I’d want to remake a movie that I think has a lot of potential, I wouldn’t want to touch something that I love unless it’s a spin-off or a sequel. I’d kill to make a ‘Pokemon’ movie or ‘Jurassic Park’ spin-off or a ‘Power Rangers’ sequel but I wouldn’t want to remake those necessarily. I have an idea for a reboot of a cartoon series from the 90s. I wrote the script for a film version. My concept would be to launch with a film reboot that would then lead into multiple seasons of the TV show being resurrected. It’s called ‘The Wild West C.O.W-Boys of Moo Mesa’ and it’s made by one of the creators of the Ninja Turtles. It’s this brilliant animated TV show from the 90s that only got two seasons. The general concept is a meteor crashes to Earth, kills all the people and all the animals get anthropomorphised. It takes place in the West and each episode is a parody of a Western using anthropomorphised cows as the sheriff and the deputy. Some of the bad guys are rattlesnakes and scorpions. It’s really smart. Every episode is a unique parody on different genre tropes and for a kid’s show in the 90s that felt smarter than anybody gave it credit for. I have an idea for how to bring it back. It has one of the best theme songs of all-time.

‘Crabs!’ was shown as part of Arrow Video FrightFest 2021 in August. Watch a clip from the film below:

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