A Spotlite on the Founder of the GOLDEN RASPBERRY AWARDS: JOHN WILSON

By Tyler Malone

Winter 2013-2014

The universe is filled with opposing forces–good and evil, black and white–to every yin there is a yang. While the uber-prestigious Academy Awards may steal the spotlight every awards season, there”s another awards show that I think deserves much more attention than it gets. I consider it the yang to the Oscars” yin. And no, I”m not talking about the Golden Globes or the Independent Spirit Awards. Nor do I mean the SAG Awards or the DGA Awards. I mean those lovely little “negative nancy” awards known as the Razzies.

The Golden Raspberry Awards recognize the worst in film every year, and have done so for over three decades now. Started by John Wilson in his living room in 1981 to celebrate the movies of 1980, the tradition grew from a few dozen voters comprised of John Wilson”s friends in that first year to recently upwards of 800 journalists, cinema fans, and professionals from the industry. Categories include obvious counterparts to Oscar awards, such as Worst Actor/Actress, Worst Supporting Actor/Actress, and Worst Picture. But there are also more fun categories that feel more the antithesis of certain MTV Movie Awards, such as Worst Screen Combo and Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-Off, or Sequel.

For a guy like me, who loves to hate on horrible films as much as I love to heap praise on those that deserve it, there are few things better than the Razzies. And while the Oscar ceremony always ends up feeling like a bit of a circle jerk, don”t assume that the Razzies are just a circle of jerks. As John Wilson has said, “We”re funny, not cruel, but I guess if you win one, you probably think we”re horrible. We poke fun; we”re the banana peel on the floor, not the slap in the face. We”re not saying “fuck you”; we”re asking “why?”"

Someone needs to acknowledge the pain of sitting through that recent Adam Sandler comedy, or Tyler Perry melodrama, or Jennifer Aniston rom-com, or M. Night Shyamalan gratuitous plot twister, or Michael Bay assault on the eyes and ears. There”s a pleasure in recognizing a mutual pain. The Razzies don”t tear people apart by being nasty, they bring people together to heal.

I caught up with Golden Raspberry founder John Wilson to talk all that Razzie-matazz.

Tyler Malone: So why don”t we start by having you tell our readers a little bit about how the Razzies were started and how the idea came to you.

John Wilson: I actually remember the exact moment I came up with the idea. I was driving home in August of 1980 from a double feature of Olivia Newton John in Xanadu and the Village People in Can”t Stop the Music. There weren”t two worse disco musicals. I only paid 99 cents to see them, but I still wanted my money back. They refused to give me my money back. So as I was driving home I remember thinking, “There really ought to be an award for stuff like this.” In my head that evening, I came up with a dozen titles I had seen that year besides those two that if there were an award for the worst in film, they would certainly deserve to be nominated.

At that time, I worked for Trailer House doing film promos, and I worked for a film festival, so in that one year I say some 250 films. When you see that many films, you realize that the odds don”t favor the Oscar stuff. Also, at that time, I used to throw an Oscar potluck party every year on Academy Awards night. So I just made it a part of that. We set up a cardboard podium in my living room alcove. We hauled people up from the buffet table. Someone was over trying to get mac-n-cheese, and I grabbed them and said, “Excuse me, you”re now presenting Worst Screenplay.” It was very silly, very impromptu, a great deal of fun. If you”re old enough to get the reference, it was very much like the old Mickey Rooney / Judy Garland “let”s put on a show” kind of things. The guests, and there were dozens of them, all came up to me afterwards and told me how much fun they had, and what a terrific idea it was. It”s just snowballed completely out of control from there to the point where I get press clippings from all over the world. My favorite is from back when Showgirls came out in 1997, somebody sent me a clipping from the Beijing Times. It was entirely in Chinese, but it had a photo of Showgirls, and I knew it was in reference to the Razzies. I never intended it to become the great big thing that it has, but I think it”s kind of cool, and kind of funny, that it has become as well known as it is.

TM: What is the Razzie voting body like today compared to the ones voting in that first awards ceremony back in 1981 in your living room?

JW: Well, the first one, I handed out ballots at work. I gave them out with the invites to that Oscar party. We had about 45 voters that first year. We just sent the final ballot out last night. It”s now up close to 800 voters. They are in 47 or 48 of the United States, and something like 18 or 19 foreign countries. Certain countries we have a bigger contingent than others. Australia, for some reason, is big on the Razzies. Britain has a number of Razzie members, and this year that was a factor in the nominated process because I think almost all our voting members from Britain insisted we nominated Naomi Watts as Princess Diana. The British public loathed that movie. It didn”t do terribly well here, but here I don”t think anyone was threatening to firebomb the theaters.

But yes, it”s a fairly large voting body now. As I like to point out, the industry takes the Golden Globes very seriously now (God knows why!?). I think it”s because it”s been turned into a tool to promote Oscar consideration. But the voting membership of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the people who decide the Golden Globes, does not even total 100 people. Most people don”t realize that. If you run the numbers, you can win a Golden Globe with as few as 17 votes. So it doesn”t mean squat.

TM: So how does someone become a Razzie voting member?

JW: Have a credit card that will clear the bank. Ha. If you want to be part of this thing, I”m assuming you have a sense of humor. Realistically though, it isn”t a terribly complicated process, but the membership has three elements to it. The general public can join at our website. We are also running a campaign this year through a crowd-funding website called IndieGoGo where we”re trying defray some of the production costs that way, as well as the member fees. But the general public makes up a little more than a third of the voting body. The other two elements are people who cover the business (journalists, critics, correspondents, whatever) and people who actually work in the business (editors, screenwriters, directors, etc.). We have one really famous director who has always said don”t you dare tell them my name, but he has paid his dues every year for almost thirty years now.

TM: When is the actual ceremony this year?

JW: Every year it takes place the night before the Oscars. It took us a few years to realize we could no longer do it on the night of the Oscars if we wanted to get any press. We just could never outshine them, obviously, because they”re enormous. One of my clients, for I think the fourth year, suggested we do it Saturday night, the night before the Oscars. That was the key to it getting well-known because the press from literally around the globe is already here for the Oscars with nothing better to do on Saturday night than to shoot but the rehearsals for the songs that are nominated (most of which aren”t really that good anyways). So they”re here, they”re on an expense account, so why not buzz on over to our venue the night before and have some fun seeing the other end of the filmmaking scale?

TM: Do you get a little excited and start chomping at the bit when someone like Adam Sandler or M. Night Shyamalan are about to release a movie? Filmmakers that you know have a Razzie pedigree…

JW: When we heard shortly before the show last year that Sandler was casting Taylor Lautner as a secondary character in his sequel to Grown-Ups, we wondered: is he actually asking for a Razzie? And Grown-Ups 2 didn”t disappoint. It is our most nominated film this year. We have nine categories this year, I think, and it has eight nominations. The only one it missed was “Lead Actress” because there isn”t really a leading female role in the film. There are a couple of misleading ones.

TM: When someone like Michael Caine calls the Razzies “the pustule on the butt of Hollywood,” how do you react?

JW: Clearly having one a few Oscars, he”s a very gifted actor. The one we picked on him for was Jaws 3D…or was it Jaws 4F? After the second one, they all kind of run together. He actually gave up showing up to accept an Oscar to shoot that Jaws movie. So yeah, I”d be pretty pissed if on top of not getting to go to the Oscars, I was a Razzie nominee. One of the dumber decisions any actor has ever made. I think he was being British and sly. I don”t think that he”s actually pissed off. There are people that have made it abundantly clear that they are actually pissed off. My favorite one–and I don”t know if it”s apocryphal because it does involve a British newspaper, and as we all know much of that is made up–but Faye Dunaway tied with Bo Derek for Worst Actress for her role in Mommie Dearest and according to the tabloid she “flew into a litigious rage.” That”s such a British phrase! And to picture Faye Dunaway freaking out because someone at some Oscar party told her she won a Razzie is just a great image.

TM: Do you call the winners “winners” or are they the “losers” or do you have some other affectionate term for them?

JW: We use the word “winner” in quotes. We are pretty much the only awards show where “just being nominated” is actually NOT an honor.

TM: Some “winners” do come and accept their awards though sometimes…

JW: Yes, and the few people who have had the guts to come and accept the award have actually come off looking quite well. We have a youtube channel where we have some classic clips up there like Haley Berry accepting Worst Actress for Catwoman. It is just about the best comedic routine any Academy Award winner has ever done. She”s making fun of herself, she”s making fun of the picture, she”s making fun of us, she”s making fun of the industry, and the whole time she”s having a blast up there. Her take on it is that it was incredibly empowering to step onto a stage with an audience that you knew thought you sucked and get them to laugh and applaud. And she did!

Also, Sandra Bullock. The year she won Worst Actress for All About Steve, it was literally 24 hours later that she won an Academy Award for The Blind Side, and then about 72 hours after that her personal life exploded in her face. We like to think that the fact that she showed up to the Razzies and was a terrific good sport contributed to the good will she got. I don”t think I”ve ever seen someone whose personal travails got so much sympathy from the public.

TM: Do you have a favorite Razzie category?

JW: We”ve done a bunch of rotating categories, usually coinciding with whatever the trend of the year was. I think my favorite of those was Worst Eye-Gouging Misuse of 3D a few years ago.

TM: I know that Stanley Kubrick was nominated for Worst Director for The Shining in that first year of the Razzies. What are some other films or filmmakers that you and/or the voting body thought were worthy of nomination back in their year but now have perhaps come around on and look upon more favorably in retrospect?

JW: You”re assuming that I”m sorry we nominated Kubrick, which I”m not. A large number of my friends who made up the core group that voted that first year were fans of Stephen King. Frankly, what Kubrick did with that novel wasn”t criminal, but it was almost close. It bore almost no resemblance to the novel.

One of the other ones that comes up a lot is Brian DePalma being nominated for Scarface. At that point, I was working with a crew of people who did a lot of promos. One of the movies we did promos for was Scarface, so we saw the dailies. Seeing the dailies for Scarface made it so blatantly clear that DePalma had no freaking idea what he wanted. There”s this one scene where they”re doing a mob meeting at a nightclub. There”s a clown singing on stage. He shot three angles on the clown, just the clown. He shot five wide angles. He shot every two shot combo he could come up with at the table. He shot individual close-ups. For one scene that on screen was maybe two minutes, we sat through an hour of film. And this was what he printed, not just what he shot.

The other thing that I”ve always been upset about is that among the scenes we were sent dailies for was the infamous chainsaw bathtub scene. He lied for years about what he actually shot. I saw the dailies. They were black and white and they made me want to vomit. They were horribly graphic, and kind of twisted. He has always damned the MPAA, and he”s lied, and never been honest about it. Being openly dishonest is a great way to get attention from us.

TM: As an expert on “worst movies,” what do you think is the ACTUAL worst movie of all time?

JW: Well, there are two different kinds of worst. There”s the “I enjoy how bad this is,” and then there”s the “if this goes on another minute I”m gonna put a gun in my mouth” bad. For the just out and out awful, I think I would say Inchon, the Reverend Moon movie about the Korean War that won our Worst Picture award. It”s so good, it”s never been on home video. It cost something like 40 million dollars and grossed about 1.3 million. They offered people a Rolls Royce to try to get them in the theaters. And that movie received one of my favorite critic quotes of all time. I think it was Time magazine that called it “a turkey the size of Godzilla.” It”s boring. It”s self-indulgent. I know people think that Laurence Olivier is one of the greatest actors of the 20th century, but they haven”t seen this. He”s doing this weird Yiddish-British Nebraska accent that changes from one line to the next. He”s got this make-up that makes it look like it”s the first film he made after he died. No matter how you come at the movie, it”s just wretched.

For the best enjoyable worst movie, that”s a three-way tie for me. Because it set out to be a serious film about child abuse, I personally have always found the fact that Mommie Dearest gets laughed at wildly amusing. It”s usually at the “get me an axe” line, but I have never seen an audience get through the film without laughing. The next one is The Lonely Lady with Pia Zadora. I got to see the first cut of it. I was literally falling on the floor with tears streaming down my face from laughing so hard. I would love to do the Razzie equivalent of restoring a great film and restore a great bad film. The version released in theaters is pretty funny too, but the original version of it is just absolutely hilarious. The last one is Paul Verhoeven”s Showgirls. It set out to be a serious drama about lapdancers in Las Vegas, and right off the top, you”re like, “WHAT?!?” By the way, if you”re going to watch it, turn on the closed captioning for the deaf because the dialogue for that movie is so unbelievable. You will not believe they are saying what they are actually saying, but if you have the titles on, it prints right across the screen: “She looks better than a ten inch dick and you know it!”

TM: I know you mentioned it before, but tell me about your current IndieGoGo campaign.

JW: Next year will be our 35th annual, and we think it”s about time that the thing was seen by more people than will fit in whatever hall we”re in on awards night. The thrust of that is we”re trying to raise funds to help do a high-end shoot of the actual ceremony. When you donate to that campaign, you are rewarded. We have souvenir t-shirts, award programs, tickets, a membership. One of the other things that we”re doing there is the “I Want My Ten Bucks Back” Award. Some lucky donor will be chosen, and if they can attend the ceremony, they will be presented live on our stage with a gigantic check giving them their ten dollars back.

TM: So, whisper in my ear, who is gonna win Worst Picture this year? You have to have some inside info, no?

JW: I personally am torn between three of them. After After Earth, I didn”t just want my money back, I wanted my time back. Every year, I have to say, Adam Sandler is surprise. I come at his films with a certain degree of dread, but I think: “Well, it can”t be as bad as Jack and Jill. It can”t be as bad as That”s My Boy!” But he always manages to outdo himself. Grown-Ups 2 is the one I actually disliked the experience of watching the most. But I still cant get my head around how Disney expected to make money doing a 250 million dollar remake of the legend of the Lone Ranger. I get that Johnny Depp is a huge box office draw. All four Pirate movies made a fortune. It is the same director too. But casting a caucasian actor as a Native American and having him do essentially the same stuff that Sacheen Littlefeather was so upset about Marlon Brando doing when he won Best Actor forty years ago. It actually to me is almost a remake of the Will Smith remake of Wild Wild West. It”s awfully similar. There”s a moment where Tonto is climbing on the undercarriage of a train and winks at someone through a hole in the floor. That is directly from Wild Wild West. It”s not coincidence, that is a reference. So they knew they were making a P.O.S.

TM: Before we end here. Since I”m sure you spend a lot of time talking about “worst movies,” I wanted to flip it around. What is your favorite film?

JW: I absolutely love and can practically recite Sunset Boulevard. When I was a kid, the Norma Desmond character used to give me the creeps. That movie is everything that a movie should be. It”s romantic, it”s scary, it”s got action, it”s got comedy. It”s a brilliant film.

John Wilson is the founder of the Golden Raspberry Awards (aka the Razzies), which recognize the worst in film every year.


The Razzies Official Site

Written by Tyler Malone

Photography Courtesy of John Wilson

Design by Mina Darius


Photography Courtesy of John Wilson

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