FrightFest Interview: Roger Lay Jr. for 1982: GREATEST GEEK YEAR EVER!
Part 3 of 3
There’s more to Roger Lay Jr. than meets the eye. A founding partner at Lay-Carnagey Entertainment — a media production company that creates innovative content for film, television, and themed entertainment attractions across the globe — he recently produced and directed the large format 3D ride film at the heart of Legendary Pictures’ groundbreaking Pacific Rim: Shatterdome Strike theme park attraction in Jakarta. Film producing credits include Universal’s Aliens Ate My Homework (based on Simon & Schuster’s best-selling children’s book series) as well as the sequel Aliens Stole My Body, HBO’s 95 Miles to Go (starring Ray Romano), and Chrysalis; based on the short story by internationally-acclaimed author Ray Bradbury. Roger is also the Saturn Award-winning producer/director of multiple specials and documentaries including Remembering Rod Serling, Star Trek: Inside the Roddenberry Vault, and Star Trek: The Journey to the Silver Screen, to name a few.
I’ve asked this of Mark and Scott, so would also love to hear your personal favourite from ’82.
For me, it’s a tie between Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and E.T. the Extraterrestrial. But during the process of making the documentary, I kept falling in love with a different film every couple of days. As with Mark; even some of the lesser-known ones like Night Shift and Diner have a special place in my heart.
Where did you begin with this project as director?
Mark Altman had been doing a panel at various conventions in which he and other industry talent made their case for 1982 being the most significant year for cinema and pop culture. Both he and I felt it would be a great subject for a documentary, which would allow us to chronicle the making of these iconic films while also exploring the landscape for such a unique era in our industry. Back then studios were developing and greenlighting some very unique ideas for major theatrical motion pictures with huge marketing efforts to deliver a colossal hit at the box office week after week. It felt like a magical period for filmmakers and movie fans, and we really wanted to chart the milestones that led to such a groundbreaking moment in cinema history. It was a matter of figuring out how to put together a structure and a workflow that would allow us to properly achieve such an ambitious goal.
What was your process in helping to build the story and what else were you attempting to capture other than the films themselves?
We didn’t want to create something that felt like a collection of behind-the-scenes featurettes or DVD/Blu-ray special features. In addition to celebrating the classic films from 1982, our goal was to help current moviegoers understand how special the cinema-going experience used to be at a time when a movie could remain at the top of the box office for months due to repeat viewing; a time when our relationship with the stories we loved lasted much more than just 90 to 120 minutes. Our attention wasn’t as fragmented as it is now. With the documentary we had to build a narrative that could cover all aspects of the business; from the industry precedents that were guiding studio executives in the early ’80s to make very bold choices, to the wonder of the communal theatrical experience and the new crop of filmmakers and artists that were dreaming up new and fantastic (yet deeply personal stories) which connected with viewers all over the world and changed the visual language of cinema. We’re both very familiar with the films and the careers of the filmmakers who created them, so it was very easy for us to put a list together for all the interviews we needed to conduct. The difficult task was convincing over 100 people on that list to come out and do the interviews during the early days of Covid.
How did you make it work as both a docu-series and documentary?
We premiered the 3+ hour feature-length version at SITGES a couple of months before the TV broadcasts so it was simply a matter of splitting that into 4 episodes for the US TV broadcasts. Mark and I knew that the episodic distribution route would probably be an option down the road so during the edit period of the film we devised a 4-act structure with organic endpoints and starts to each act. Each of those acts could be delivered as a TV episode. We did not have to spend weeks or months sacrificing portions of the documentary and building a different structure in order to meet the needs of the TV episodic format delivery.
You all sum it up as the greatest ‘geek’ year. Adding to Mark and Scott's views, what else is it about the spirit of these particular movies that defined 1982?
For me what defined the spirit of the films from this seminal year is the sense of wonder and the optimistic outlook at the core of most of them. I love that aspect… and what’s most impressive is the level of quality. So many of these films are remarkably good and still stand the test of time. They’re much better and far more original than any studio tentpoles we get these days. Even the ones that were considered disasters back then (such as Blade Runner and The Thing) are truly terrific works of art that perhaps audiences in 1982 were not ready for quite yet. However, they have certainly been reassessed and are now also considered classics within their genres.
What else can you add about the miles of footage you must have gathered?
I believe we spent about four months planning and filming interviews. As mentioned, after that period we had over 100 hours of interview footage to cull from in order to tell our story. We also spent many months going through extensive collections of archival photos, documents, BTS footage, film clips, historical or news footage from the era, deleted scenes, magazine, and newspaper articles, etc.
Organising all of the footage was the most challenging part of the process, and it probably took about a year to build the story utilizing all the interviews. We needed to make sure that we were not leaving any stone unturned or that we were ignoring any relevant aspect of the films and the filmmaking industry/fandom landscape. I would spend weeks editing a particular section of the documentary and would end up with massive reels that needed to be fine-tuned. Mark would watch these reels and help offer great insights and notes to streamline and fine-tune the narrative. Then I would go back in and continue editing. Between the two of us, we probably watched every single assembly of each act dozens of times throughout this process but our commitment to making this the definitive doc on this important era kept us going!
I hear there could be plans for more.
Yes. As Mark and Scott have also pointed out, we all feel 1984 is a strong candidate for another edition of Greatest Geek Year Ever!
1982: Greatest Geek Year Ever! has its UK premiere at FrightFest on Saturday 26th August. Book your tickets now.