“Reality Queen” is the latest movie by New York City-bred filmmaker Steven Jay Bernheim who has been making films since the age of seven. Suffice to say, his films have vastly improved over the years. The former Harvard Lampoon editor’s latest film, “Reality Queen,” hits theaters and home entertainment platforms in January. Steven recently discussed this film and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM: Where’s home for you, can you tell us where the Bernheim clan come from, Steven?
Steven Jay Bernheim (SJB): I’ve lived in Los Angeles so long that I consider myself a native, but I’m originally from New York City. Then lived in Boston while attending Harvard. My fam still lives out in NY.
MM: And were your folks actors or filmmakers?
SJB: My mom’s a retired teacher; my dad, a retired lawyer.
MM: Was there a particular film or filmmaker that spurred your decision to get into ‘the movies’?
SJB: Since my number one interest has always been making people laugh, my inspirations were the great comedy directors: Mel Brooks, especially “The Producers” which I’ve memorized, Rob Reiner, especially “This Is Spinal Tap,” which I’ve also memorized, and Stanley Kubrick, especially “Dr. Strangelove,” which I’ve also memorized. There are homages to each of those directors/films in Reality Queen! I always wanted to make a film half as funny as those are.
MM: Was it always about directing for you?
SJB: I’ve had a love of filmmaking since I was a child – I made my first 8mm silent horror film at the age of seven (it was about what you’d expect from a 7-year-old!) I made my first stop action animated short film at age ten (science fiction – again, about what you’d expect from a 10-year-old). After being an editor of the nation’s oldest humor magazine – the Harvard Lampoon – I came out to Hollywood to try and make movies
MM: What was the first film?
SJB: The first film over which I had creative control (as opposed to producing someone else’s vision) was a comedy-horror parody called, “The Backlot Murders” shot on the Universal Studios back lot. It’s currently out on Blu-Ray via Dark Force Entertainment.
MM: And how do you think you’ve improved as a filmmaker since then?
SJB: I’ve become more relaxed and easier going as I’ve matured, and I think that’s helped – creates a looser and more creative atmosphere on set
MM: Can you see any connecting themes or patterns to the seven films you’ve done?
SJB: The main pattern is that I’ve always had to make do with small budgets. Other than that, not really. I’ve made action B-movies, straight horror, comedy.
MM: How was it directing a film for the first time? What surprised you most about captaining your own ship?
SJB: It was a very liberating experience – having the final word on the creative vision. What surprised me most was how much help the “captain” gets from his “mates and crew” – it’s a team all pulling together. That supports allowed me to delegate some of the technical stuff so I could work closely with the actors; in my opinion that is the director’s number one job, at least in comedy.
MM: Did you feel more pressure directing than you ever did producing?
SJB: I did, because ultimately, I’m solely responsible for whether the movie “works” – I’ll be the only one taking the heat if it fails. We’ll soon know the verdict – the movie opens in theaters January 10 in at least 15 major US markets.
MM: How hard was it to entice big names like Denise Richards and Mike Tyson into the movie?
SJB: Surprisingly easy. There was actually a lot of competition from big names for Denise’s role – quite a few actors wanted to be part of it. It was the script that won everybody over, they said – once they laughed out loud, they wanted in. Ironically, Denise is currently starring in one of the most successful reality series of all time: “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” Life imitating art, maybe?
MM: Did you have any of the cast watch any particular reality TV shows before the shoot?
SJB: Yes. I asked everyone to watch old episodes of “The Simple Life,” starring Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie. And “The Kardashians,” of course.
MM: What’s the message of “Reality Queen”?
SJB: As London herself puts it: “America doesn’t know what it wants. . . until it’s TOLD!” Put another way, “We’ve met the enemy and she is. . . US!” We ordinary folks empower these famous-for-no-reason billionaires ourselves, by buying into their images and their product lines. So, don’t criticize THEM – criticize US. Along with that goes the message that Paris, Kim, etc., do lack education, broad knowledge about the world and high IQs, but they more than make up for their deficits with brilliant instincts when it comes to mass manipulation.