Interviews: Director Steve Mitchell Talks About The Documentary King Cohen

The highly anticipated King Cohen, the true story of writer, producer, director, creator and all-around maverick, Larry Cohen, will receive a full theatrical run across the U.S - including Los Angeles and New York - beginning July 27 courtesy Dark Star Pictures.

Cohen, best known for resourceful low-budget horror and thriller films that combine social commentary with prerequisite scares and welcome humor, is responsible for celluloid classics including Black Caesar, It’s Alive, Q: The Winged Serpent, and The Stuff. He was also a major player in the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s, as well as a prominent Hollywood screenwriter (Phone Booth).

The acclaimed film features interviews with such industry luminaries as Martin Scorsese, J.J Abrams, Joe Dante, Mick Garris, John Landis, Fred Williamson as well as Cohen himself. Cohen’s remarkable one-of-a-kind career, from 60’s TV series creator (Branded, The Invaders), to 70’s and 80’s independent film icon and beyond, is chronicled with freewheeling and insightful verve.

Winner of the 2017 Fantasia Fest Best Documentary Feature Audience Award, King Cohen hails from Rondo Award-winning writer/director Steve Mitchell, whose film and television credits include co-writing the beloved cult horror/comedy Chopping Mall. King Cohen is a La-La Land Entertainment production, in association with Big And Tall Pictures and Off The Cliff Productions. It is directed and produced by Steve Mitchell and produced by Matt Verboys and Dan McKeon.

We had the opportunity to speak with director Steve Mitchell about the film.

TMS: What inspired this rather unique – and very fun - particular yarn?

SM: I was looking to do a feature: plain and simple. I was working at IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT… probably working on the DVD extras for the old TV series, COMBAT, and I was checking something out on the IMDB about Larry Cohen, and was impressed by the amount of projects I did NOT know about! His over - all career really impressed me. So many scripts and projects were unknown to me, and I considered myself a fan. I had the notion that a movie about Larry might be a good subject for a documentary. Most creative projects start with an impulse. Doing a film about Larry was an impulse I couldn’t shake, and, so, here we are.

TMSDid you sit down and watch similar docs before shooting King Cohen?

SMAs a movie fan, and a fan of film history, I watch lots of docs, but I didn’t watch anything in particular to prep for KING COHEN. I didn’t want to be too influenced by other films. Most entertainment docs usually start with early years and childhood. It is sort of a cliché, and the basic structure of this kind of storytelling. I was lucky that Larry’s early life told us a lot about Larry before he even started to work in the business. For me movies are about great and interesting characters, and in Larry’s case, he was pretty interesting even as a young lad.

TMSDo you work from a script when shooting a doc like this?

SMI don’t. I write a ton of questions based on research. I rewatched his features, and as much of his TV work as I could find. Then the interview phase begins and I cross my fingers...hoping to get fascinating material which will help me determine the shape and content of the film along with creating, I hope, an interesting portrait, of a creative person. In Larry’s case, I found out quickly just how interesting, and perhaps, even more importantly, just how entertaining he is. The guy is a dynamo! I often refer to him as “the energizer bunny” as he just keeps going and going.

TMSWhen do you get commitments from interviewees? As your filming or beforehand?

SMA little of both. Obviously, we had to get Larry on board. No “king,” no KING COHEN, right? I had an idea early on in the process who I wanted and needed to talk to, then we just kept gathering “cast.” There is a lot of hunting and gathering when you make a doc, and a lot of the requests take place during production. I was always open to talk with anyone who knew or worked with Larry. 

TMSAnyone you wanted to get for the movie that couldn’t get? 

SMThere were a few folks I couldn’t get. I wish we had talked with Tony Lo Bianco, Sharon Farrell, and Joel Schumacher, but we just couldn’t make it work.

TMSBesides Larry, Who was the most fun to talk to?

SMThis is one of those “which of your children do you like best” questions, which is a little unfair. I am profoundly grateful to everyone who participated in KING COHEN, and the fun of doing a project like this is meeting people who you have long admired, and respected. How great is that! BUT...if you twist my arm, Fred Williamson, was pretty damn funny.

TMSWhy do you think Larry's movies have had such long lasting appeal?

SMHis movies make an impression because they are original, kind of outrageous, and very entertaining, yet they are always about something. Larry is an auteur, and probably a bit more so than most, because he is a triple hyphenate, and he really earns that single card that follows all of his pictures. He is also a genre film maker, and genre films often stand the test of time, much more than traditional films. Larry’s movies are usually a lot of fun, and fun never gets old for the audience, I think.