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Stassen Speaks on Haunted Castle Controversy


Written by: Ross Anthony; Mark Kresser (Addition)
Date: February 5th, 2001; April 2nd, 2001 (Addition)

Interview with writer/director Ben Stassen about his new film, HAUNTED CASTLE, and the controversy surrounding it. ADDITION: Stassen discusses the impact of IMAX Corporation's new "Hollywood" President of film, and the consequences of the impending digital age.


Category: Interviews

Editor's Note: By now you may have heard of the controversy surrounding HAUNTED CASTLE. But what exactly is it that happened? What is each side's postiion?

IMAX Corporation produces some Big Movies, but also builds cameras and projectors, and leases this equipment along with the use of the Imax brand name to more than 220 theaters worldwide. Adding to the general public's confusion, IMAX Corp. also owns and operates 11 Big Movie theaters.

In a December 5th, 2000 fax to theaters leasing its equipment, IMAX Corp. states that theaters using their equipment signed leases giving IMAX Corp. the right to prohibit them from playing certain films. With regard to HAUNTED CASTLE, the fax doesn't go that far, but states that scenes of torture and violence might taint people's wholesome view of the IMAX® brand, and urges all theaters using IMAX equipment and the IMAX name not to play the film, or to post a warning with its PG rating if it does. Euromax, the European consortium of giant screen theaters, immediately writes a letter of protest to Mary Pat Ryan. The makers of HAUNTED CASTLE cry censorship, and say there's room for all kinds of Big Movies.

What is your position on the HAUNTED CASTLE controversy?

Watch BMZ Original Clip on Haunted Castle, and the controversy!

Associate BMZ reviewer Ross Anthony caught up with Director Ben Stassen at a HAUNTED CASTLE screening.


Ross Anthony: Ben, I spoke with you a year or two ago about ENCOUNTER IN THE THIRD DIMENSION (read that interview) which was very enjoyable. You screened it at CalSci Center, which is located right at USC where you graduated.

Ben Stassen: Yes.

RA: So I asked you at that time if you invited any of your old professors...

BS: Yes, I remember the question. And I said, 'No, I should have, but I didn't.' And you know what? I didn't again. (chuckles)

RA: Well, then, let's get right into the issue with "Haunted Castle," I've read that the fax sent to theaters strongly recommending skipping this film, due to the violence and scenes of torture ... now did they send you that fax first?

BS: No, actually, we have to put that in context. We had pre-licensed the film to 30 or 35 theaters and we showed the film in November ... and we invited the people who owned and operated IMAX theaters because they had pre-licensed the film. Upon seeing the film the exhibitors had 5 days to pull out if for some reason they didn't like the film. I fully respect the IMAX [Corp.] decision not to license our film. That's their right.

By the way, IMAX [Corp.] was the only one who pulled out of the deal, everyone else took the film. So what really wasn't acceptable what they did was, from a private screening ... they then decided to send a letter not as owned and operator division but as a manufacturer of the projector to all the theaters worldwide, they didn't censor the film, but as far as they could go in writing without really trying to censor the film. It's been a very good thing because now everyone's talking about it ... so in fact they handed us on a silver platter a way to market our film. And the great thing is all the exhibitors have shown great support. Exhibitors don't want to be told what to license.

Copyright (C) 2001.

Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit:



BMZ caught up with Stassen again at his company's Los Angeles offices (ironically, located right next to IMAX Corporation's L.A. offices) on April 2, 2001. In light of recent announcements from IMAX Corporation, Mark Kresser decided to ask Ben some follow-up questions ...

BMZ: I’m sure you saw that the new President of Filmed Entertainment at IMAX Corporation is a former Hollywood veteran Executive Producer. And the two heads of IMAX are saying they’re ready to take the films in a different direction, entertainment related. Is this ironic, in light of the fax from Mary Pat Ryan which sought to censor just this type of "Hollywood" content?

BS: They wanted to take the brand to Hollywood . . . to try to attract Hollywood to the brand. It's a tricky issue. I'm not saying it's necessarily a bad thing to that. Because having a close association with the great storytelling that only Hollywood can provide, is a good thing.

But we have to be very conscious of the fact that the large format industry has been a very small industry for many years, but highly visible. Weare highly visible because we offer a completely different kind of entertainment. It's very unique.

I think that the SHREK 3D experiment was ideal. [Ed: Dreamworks was planning to release an original animated feature, SHREK, in two versions -- first in normal theaters, followed a few months later by 15/70, IMAX format.] Because here they were taking a very high-end film, and not just blowing it up to the big screen, but taking it and creating a 3D, 15/70 version.

Now, to digitally convert 35mm film to 15/70, that's the end of the format. Not only for commercial theaters -- in the long run, all they'll have to offer is a somewhat bigger screen. But it's also going to damage the image of the format, for insitutional theaters. People will not see the difference anymore between a GLADIATOR blown up from 35mm to 15/70, and an original 15/70 immersive production like AMAZING CAVES, or whatever we or our friends might create. [For an explanation of the difference between 35mm "Hollywood" film and "15/70," and other 70mm "Big Movies," see our "What is a Big Movie" section.]

It ["Hollywood film" blown up to 15/70] may look great, just like FANTASIA looked great. [Ed: In January 2000, Disney re-released its classic animated film, FANTASIA, in a 15/70 version on IMAX screens.] A lot of people got exposed to the big screen, thanks to FANTASIA. But it should not be a trend. Because if that's what the format is all about, then we're just going to become a new ancillary market for Hollywood to dump their fares, besides, you know, Pay TV, DVDs, etc.

And that's not what the format is about. It's about creating immersive entertainment. And you cannot do that by simply taking a Hollywood film and blowing it up. FANTASIA was not an immersive experience.

Now taking Hollywood content and creating large format films, either from scratch or using elements from these films, that's something else. Then you can truly talk about preserving the essence of the medium.

BMZ: What if, instead of blowing up film, there's a digital camera that makes films for the giant digital screen? Will it necessarily be an IMAX camera?

BS: The evolution of the production tool is a completely different issue. I am praying every day for the advent of the digital camera that will allow us to shoot large format films, especially large format 3D films.

The production technology today is completely unmanageable. These cameras are too heavy, and especially in 3D, it's so difficult to make these films, let's face it. In 1999, four [3D] films were released. Last year three films were released. And this year in 2001, HAUNTED CASTLE will probably be the only 3D film released.

Why? Because they’re just impossible to make. Impossible to make and impossible to make money, at making these films. We need new tools. And whether the tools will come from Sony or whoever, I don’t care. But that [digital cameras] will revolutionize the industry and will make it possible for, uh, mainstream filmmakers to tackle the medium. Because right now ... a Hollywood filmmaker has much more to lose by trying his hand at a large format film. And most probably failing. It's not an issue of talent, it's just an issue of money, of production capabilities.

We're having fun with it [nWave is virtually the only company currently producing Large Format 3D films], because we make a certain kind of film, without much story. But we try to deliver, you know, a good experience. It's not all things to all people ... but it's a different experience that people cannot experience elsewhere, that's a great first step. The next step is to tell stories ... and that will only happen if we have new production technologies.

BMZ: If the new technology isn't made by IMAX Corporation, will this change people's idea of large format films and the IMAX brand association?

BS: I mean, the IMAX film experience as it has become known, uh, is a great thing. And the brand name is a great thing. And people absolutely do not care as to how these films were made. And, it’s, it’s going to make no difference whatsoever to the public, or to the perception, or to the enjoyment of the experience, whether these films were made with traditional fifteen-seventy cameras or with digital cameras. As long as the experience remains immersive, the large format film experience is here to stay. The revolution in production technology is absolutely not, not going to harm IMAX as a brand.

IMAX® is a registered trademark of IMAX Corporation.

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