MST3K: Joel Hodgson Reveals the Secrets of the Gizmoplex, Teases “the Next Manos”

Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson speaks with us about the show's latest Kickstarter campaign and the paradox that is Manos: The Hands of Fate.

Make More MST3K Kickstarter

A few years ago, Mystery Science Theater 3000 made its grand return. Through an incredibly successful Kickstarter, they raised enough money and showed proof of enough fan interest to get the show back with a new season. Netflix acted as the home to the eleventh season with fourteen episodes and much fun was had by all. The Return also led to a series of live tours that kept going until COVID kicked in and they also did a Dark Horse comic spinoff.

Unfortunately, Netflix wasn’t so enthusiastic in the aftermath. The twelfth season only contained six episodes, emphasizing the challenge of binge-watching them. Then Netflix unceremoniously dumped the show. Well, at least we have the fourth season of GLOW to look forward to.

…oh, you bastards.

But now the MST3K team have a brand-new Kickstarter project, “Let’s Make More MST3K & and Build the Gizmoplex!” Yes, Joel Hodgson and friends are going the Bender route (minus the blackjack and hookers) of making their own streaming service of sorts specifically for MST3K viewing and checking out the brand-new episodes. The good news is that the initial goals were met, but the true, final goal is still a ways to go. They have until Friday night, May 7 to hit $5.5 million. If they meet that, there will be twelve episodes instead of the definite six.

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Also cool is that while previous incarnations of MST3K have been based on mad scientists torturing one group of subjects at a time, the upcoming thirteenth season will feature two separate groups! Jonah will return with Baron Vaughn as Tom Servo and Hampton Yount as Crow for some episodes, but other episodes will feature the the cast from MST3K Live with Emily Marsh as Emily Crenshaw along with Conor McGiffen as Tom Servo and Nate Begle as Crow.

And if they reach the final stretch goal, Joel Robinson will come back into the theater for another round or two! Neat!

Speaking of Joel, I had the pleasure of speaking with series creator Joel Hodgson about the Kickstarter and the new episodes. Here’s what he had to say.

Den of Geek: So to start with, we have a new Kickstarter out there, “Make More MST3K.” This time, rather than shopping it around, the funding is based around building Gizmoplex, a streaming service. Can you give us a basic idea of what the Gizmoplex is all about?

Joel: Well, the idea of the Gizmoplex is a premiere theater. The Mads have built a Cineplex on the moon, and they’re prepping the make it a tourist attraction and screening movies there. And on the practical level, the way you access it is you can watch it on a lot of your different devices and on smart TVs and stuff like that. And there’s also a few features, like you can watch it with friends and chat. If you happen to buy episodes or bought episodes through the last Kickstarter, you can watch those there, too, kind of like your own locker or library with your shows in it.

Very nice. So since you’d be calling the shots this time, would you still restrict the episode length, or would you keep it uniform?

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I think most the time we found that the sweet spot is the whole show should be about 90 minutes. We tend to cut the movies so they fit that. We don’t show them in their entirety, because sometimes these movies are poorly made.

Ha! I’ve caught on to that, yes.

Yeah. Right?

So last season you guys did “Ah-tor”/”A-tor”…I don’t know how to pronounce it, Ator the Fighting Eagle.

A-tor, yeah. Everybody says it different. I say “A-tor,” but a lot of people say “Ah-tor.”

Which was a huge deal, because it’s the prequel to what I consider to be the first true classic episode of MST3K, Cave Dwellers. Are there any other series you’d like to revisit? Any chance we might finally get some more Master Ninja out there?

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We’re always looking for that. The tough thing with me with Master Ninja is that it’s made for TV. And so, the aspect ratio is… It doesn’t really give you that immersive academy aperture vibe. So I tend to want to do movies that are more wide screen. 4:3 to me is just so tough because everybody has these nice big TVs now and phones, so it doesn’t quite look right there. But we are experimenting and looking into trying something where we might be able to use a 4:3 in and change the aspect ratio, so it looks right.

Yeah, because one of my favorite sub-genres of Mystery Science Theater movies, I’m just fascinated by it, is just, whenever just two episodes of a TV show or a pilot or something are stitched together and they try and say it’s a movie. I always think those are just the weirdest experiments.

It’s true. And they are really interesting, and they are really super disjointed. I agree. They do have a unique profile, I think.

We have a movie we just screened that we’re trying to get, that I have to say is… We watched it, Matt and Sharyl and I, the other day, and it left us all really, really depressed. And we had ended the day, saying that’s a no-go on that movie. And then I thought about it, and I realized that we should probably do it. It might have components of that same kind of – oh man, what would you call it? It’s not like despair. It’s kind of like…a malaise, kind of the same way that a Manos: The Hands of Fate has this kind of malaise feeling to it. It was really weird, but I do think in some ways it could out-Manos, Manos.

I think Manos works because you get this really weird feeling as you watch it. You can’t tell if the filmmaker is really talented and is giving you this feeling of…almost like the air has gotten sucked out of the movie, and you wonder if they know what they’re doing or if it’s just a happy accident, that the movie gives you this really weird kind of feeling…

Yeah. Just kind of like a dread that goes through it. There’s just a dread feeling as you’re watching it mixed with wanting to take a shower.

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Yeah, yeah. It’s really funny. You can’t tell if the filmmaker did that deliberately, or if it’s an accident, because there were things that work with that movie, where it was like they shot it with a specific type of camera that only could shoot 35 seconds of film at a time and then they did all the sound later. And by the time we got it, the print was really bad.

This new movie has those same kind of feelings that you can’t put your finger on, but it’s amazing in its own right. I had never seen this movie before. I never even heard of it before. But when we first watched it, we just said, “we can’t do this movie.” Then I realized that it would be really great if we could do it.

I’m very much looking forward to that one. So are we ever going to see any of the live touring shows in any form? I know it defeats the point and the purpose, but with 2020 and the whole pandemic screwing everything up, maybe we could get a little taste?

We’re looking into it on a couple of different levels, and we would really like do that. It’s really different, and it’s very ambitious to shoot a live show. We’re up for it, and we’d like to try it.

So to answer your question, I believe we’re planning on…I think the touring cast is going out once COVID is wrapped. We’re already planning another tour. We’re interested in recording those new ones, if possible.

With the comeback, the villain henchmen, the Boneheads, are based on the bad guys from Infra-Man. Has there been any plans or interest in covering that movie for the show at all?

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I do love that movie. It’s actually a really good point. I’m going to look into that. I do love Infra-Man, and it would be really fun to do that. I mean, it kind of changed my life, man. I saw Infra-Man when I was… It was probably in the early ’80s at an art house cinema, and it was pretty amazing. I thought it was pretty great. And the idea of an ironic viewing and all that, that was when it dawned on me.

In fact, I’ll tell you something. When I was working on the idea of Kinga, the way I did it was I took the Dragon Queen from Infra-Man and I put Lucille Ball’s head on her in Photoshop. So that’s kind of was the beginning of Kinga. And then I thought that Felicia Day was probably the closest thing we have to Lucille Ball right now.

No disagreement here. One thing I’ve noticed with the MST3K resurgence over the past few years is that it seems like when you left the show, you decided to, I guess, distance yourself from it for a time, which is understandable. Since you’ve come back home, you’re now seeing all these Mike era episodes that you’ve never seen before. I know the other night you saw Hobgoblins for the first time, which was a treat to watch. What’s the experience been like? And are there any moments or movies that really stand out to you?

It’s really fun. I mean, I think that obviously it’s really fun to see one that I haven’t seen, and there are style things that are really different that they did after I left, that kind of in my mind, feels really foreign to me. So it always takes a little getting used to.

I’ll give you an example. The set is very disorienting to me, the way they lit it, because I think they actually lit the back of the set brighter than the characters. My thinking was always the set is the background plate and you want to light the characters. So that’s always really disorienting to me. It’s kind of shadowy, and the idea was… It’s just a style difference. Right? Nobody seems to notice, but that’s always a little disorienting for me is the way it’s lit, the whole segment.

Were there any movies that if you really wanted to do, but weren’t available for whatever reason, especially for the Netflix seasons?

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It doesn’t work like that. We always start with lists of movies that are clearable. We don’t window shop and then tell the lawyers to go talk to other lawyers about clearing a movie, because that never works. So we just start with movies that are available and use that to create the aggregate of what we can go for.

The thankless job of the show is that you have to watch these movies over and over and over and over again. Are there any movies that just didn’t get old for you?

You’re kind of like an animator when you go through it, so it’s manageable. This one movie that I’m kind of billboard-ing as the next Manos, I’m not even sure I want one writing team to manage it, because I think it would bring a lot of despair. So I’m going to break it up between two or three writing groups. They’ll each manage a third of it, and they don’t have to watch the whole thing and be responsible for riffing on the whole thing. That one I’m really concerned about, and I’m going to make it as a challenge, and I’m going to bring it in when everybody’s got their chops. I mean, it’ll probably be the last movie we write for this series just because I want everybody to feel really comfortable and confident that they can get through it.

I was a big fan of the Dark Horse comic series you guys were involved in. Are there any other special projects cooking or that you’re interested in trying down the line?

Joel: The Gizmoplex is fascinating because it is really limitless, the kind of content we can make for it. And the nice thing is we can do events around specific movies. It’s really wide open, and I’m looking forward to that. It could be a vehicle for a lot of our ideas and a lot of the things we want to do.

I mean, one of the things I’d like to do… We experimented a little bit. We did this with the men and women from Critical Role. We did a night where we read the comic book and it was projected on a big screen in a club. We did it at a comedy club in LA, and it worked really great. So I think it’s very likely for us to do more things like that. If we wanted to, we could do the whole comic book series, and break it up, so it’s 20-minute installments that happen before a feature, or a classic episode, et cetera.

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In the meantime, as we get closer to the Kickstarter deadline, the MST3K crew are hosting a series of live events online. Most of them are commentary while they watch classic episodes. Here’s what’s going on, leading to the big finale.

MST3K Livestreaming Schedule