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Eli Roth (born April 18, 1972) is an American film director, producer, writer and actor. He is a member of a group of filmmakers dubbed the Splat Pack, because of their association and their focus on the horror genre. Roth is widely credited with bringing back R-rated horror, which had all but disappeared from cinemas before Cabin Fever was released, and for making extremely violent, low-budget horror box office hits.
Roth was born in Boston, Massachusetts to Dr. Sheldon Roth, a psychiatrist/psychoanalyst and professor at Harvard University, and Cora Roth, a painter. He had a Jewish upbringing.
Roth began shooting films at the age of eight after watching Ridley Scott's Alien (1979). He made over 50 short films with his brothers Adam and Gabe before graduating at Newton South High School and attending film school (the Tisch School of the Arts) at New York University, from which he graduated in 1994.
By the age of 20, and while still a student at NYU, Roth was an intern / office manager / development head for producer Frederick Zollo, eventually leaving to devote himself to writing full-time. To earn his living, Roth did budgets and schedules for films such as A Price Above Rubies and Illuminata.
After chatting together at her mother's seder, actress Camryn Manheim gave Roth one of his first jobs in Hollywood, putting him on as an extra on The Practice when he first moved to Los Angeles. (Roth had originally met Manheim in NYC at a 1993 premiere.) Roth would stay in Manheim's dressing room working on his scripts while she filmed the show. Roth also met Manheim's cousin Howie Nuchow (former EVP of Mandalay Sports Entertainment and also from the Boston, MA area) at this same seder -- this led to Roth's two animation projects in the years that followed. Roth also co-wrote a project called "The Extra" with Manheim; Manheim would later sell the pitch to producer (and former CEO and Chairman of Fox Studios) Bill Mechanic's Pandemonium company.
Early creative works
In his final years (1993/1994) at NYU film school, Roth wrote and directed a student film called Restaurant Dogs as an homage to Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. The film was nominated for a Student Academy Award in 1995, and won its division (Division III.)
Through his internship with producer Fred Zollo in years prior, Roth met David Lynch, and Roth remained in contact with Lynch over the years, eventually producing content for Lynch with his fledgling website in the late 1990s. Roth met film and TV composer Angelo Badalamenti through Lynch; Roth would later use Badalamenti's music in his first feature film. Roth also met a member of special effects company KNB EFX through Lynch; KNB EFX would later contribute to his first feature.
Roth moved from NYC to LA in 1999; shortly thereafter Roth wrote, directed, edited, produced, animated, and provided voices for a series of animated shorts called Chowdaheads for Mandalay Sports Entertainment. The shorts were intended to be shown between WCW Monday Nitro pro wrestling matches, but the C.E.O. of WCW who had green lit the project was fired the weekend before they aired, and they were never actually broadcast, despite being completed. Roth's friend Noah Belson co-wrote the shorts and provided additional character voices.
After receiving $40,000 from the website Z.com to deliver a 5-minute pilot, Roth wrote, directed, animated and produced a series of stop-motion shorts in mid-2000 called The Rotten Fruit. The company (z.com) folded shortly after several episodes were completed, and the domain name "z.com" was picked up by Nissan years later to promote their sports car of the same name. A portion of the work for The Rotten Fruit was done at the Snake Pit studios in Burbank using miniature sets, poseable clay and foam figures, two high-end digital still cameras, and a pair of Macintosh computers. Roth's friend Noah Belson co-wrote the shorts and provided additional character voices.
Feature film writing and directing career
In 1995, a year after graduating from NYU, Roth co-wrote Cabin Fever with his roommate and friend from NYU Randy Pearlstein. Roth based the premise of the script on his own unfortunate encounter with an allergy he contracted while training horses at a farm in Selfoss, Iceland, in 1991. Much of the script was written while Roth was working as a production assistant for Howard Stern's movie Private Parts; Stern remembered and congratulated Roth on his January 11, 2006 radio show.
Roth's NYU classmate Evan Astrowsky agreed to sign on as a producer Cabin Fever with Roth; Astrowsky brought the project to a pair of producers he had worked with before, Lauren Moews and the North Carolina-based Sam Froelich. The four producers were eventually able to raise enough money to begin production, but only three days before shooting began the main funding pulled out. They had already spent $50,000, but did not shut down production, and were raising money every day while they were shooting. Cabin Fever was filmed in 2001 on a shoestring budget of $1.5 million (raised with private investors, including Roth's own father who put in his retirement savings, and Roth's Aunt Gladys) despite being shut down by the union, who demanded back pay and took a good deal of the profits. Cabin Fever was sold at the 2002 Toronto Film Festival for $3.5 million dollars after a massive bidding war between eight studios. It was the biggest sale of the festival that year. Cabin Fever made $34,553,394 theatrically worldwide. It was the highest grossing film for Lionsgate that year (who also committed $12 million to prints and advertising for the film).
Lionsgate used the theatrical success of Cabin Fever to raise the money to purchase Artisan Entertainment. Lionsgate's stock rose from $1.98 a share at the time Cabin Fever was purchased at the Toronto Film Festival to nearly $6 a share after "Cabin Fever" was released theatrically.
Roth's second feature film, Hostel, was made on a budget of a little more than $4 million, in 2005. It opened to #1 at the box office in January 2006, taking in $20 million dollars opening weekend, and knocking out The Chronicles of Narnia from the #1 spot (although it was the 5th weekend for Narnia, which still managed to gross $16 million). It went on to gross $80 million worldwide in box office, and over $180 million worldwide on DVD. In April of 2006, on Eli Roth's birthday, Hostel opened on DVD at #1, again outselling The Chronicles of Narnia, which had opened at the #1 sales slot only one week prior. The movie takes place in Slovakia, where three college students visit a hostel, where they think that all of their sexual fantasies will come true. Instead, they find an international syndicate with the express purpose of torturing and killing backpackers for the sadistic pleasures of rich businessmen. The film pushed the boundaries of realistic violence and was voted the #1 scariest movie moment on the Bravo TV special 100 Scariest Movie Moments: Even Scarier Moments. Empire Magazine readers voted the "Hostel" Best Horror Film of 2006. In October 2007 H.M.V. stores annual horror poll ranked "Hostel" as one of the ten scariest horror films of all time. It was the only film on the list made after 1988.
Roth reportedly turned down numerous studio directing jobs to make Hostel. Roth took a directing salary of only $10,000 on Hostel in order to keep the budget as low as possible, so there would be no limitations on the violence. Roth shot the film as an NC-17 movie, but the film passed through the ratings board with an R.
At the very first public screening of "Hostel" at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival, two separate ambulances were called for people having such extreme reactions to the film. One man left the theater during Josh's torture, fainted, and tumbled down the escalator, and during Paxton's torture a woman had festival volunteers call an ambulance, claiming the film was giving her a heart attack. Both patrons were okay, and local media thought it was a publicity stunt by director Eli Roth. Roth knew nothing of the incident, as he was in the theater watching the film, and only found out after when he was told by festival programmer Colin Geddes of the chaos that transpired.
In January 2006, film critic David Edelstein in New York Magazine credited Roth with creating the horror sub-genre 'torture porn,' or 'gorno,' using excessive violence to excite audiences like a sexual act. Writer and Attorney Julie Hilden denounced the term 'Torture Porn' and defended the "Hostel" films in an essay.
In 2007, Roth directed the fake trailer segment Thanksgiving for Grindhouse, in addition to acting in Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino's segment of the film. Roth and co-writer Jeff Rendell won a 2007 Spike TV Scream Award for Best Screamplay for their writing in "Grindhouse," sharing the award with Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Rob Zombie, and Edgar Wright.
While Hostel Part II did not produce the same box office results as the first Hostel, the production costs were a mere $10 million dollars, and earned close to $30 million dollars worldwide within three weeks of its release - when it was removed from theaters domestically. The film was nominated for six Spike TV "Scream Awards," more than any other horror film that year. Roth was nominated for Best Director, and along with singer Amy Lee introduced the grand finale of the show, an all star tribute to Alice Cooper.
Roth is working on other film projects, including an adaptation of the Stephen King novel Cell. He also talked about doing a film called Trailer Trash; a film made of fake trailers; according to an appearance on G4. Roth confirms that MGM will be releasing Trailer Trash on August 22 2008, Roth was quoted saying "Trailer Trash is not a horror film, it's a comedy. It will be very R-rated and completely insane, and I'm producing it with Mike Fleiss".
Roth has been a guest on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," "Your World Today with Neil Cavuto," "The Howard Stern Show," "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," and served as a guest judge on the filmmaking reality series "On The Lot." He has been profiled and interviewed in the New York Times, G.Q., Elle Magazine, Maxim, Le Monde, La Republica, Time Out: London, Time Magazine, Empire Magazine, Premiere, and Italian Vogue. Dolce & Gabbana and Nike give him clothes for all his public appearances. Roth has also appeared three times as an answer in the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle.
"Men's Fitness" magazine voted Roth Most Fit Director in their July 2006 issue, a title Roth takes very seriously with a strict workout routine that he documents on the "Hostel" DVDs. Roth claims he treats every red carpet like it was a Milan runway, and often jokes that he only makes films as a way to live out his lifelong dream of being a male supermodel. He spoke of his love for fashion in his interview in the October 2007 issue of Italian Vogue.
Roth is an accomplished animator, having written, produced, directed, animated and voiced two series: Chowdaheads (1999) and The Rotten Fruit (2000). Chowdaheads was co-written and co-voiced with friend Noah Belson, and was made with traditional hand-drawn animation. The Rotten Fruit, which Roth again co-wrote and co-voiced with Belson, was made with stop-motion animation done with foam puppets.
Roth also participated in the 2006 animated comedy film, Disaster!, voicing the lumberjack during the opening moments of the film. The comical 'death by squirrels' the lumberjack suffers is inspired by Roth's gruesome and often ironic ways of killing characters in his own films.
Roth participated in a DVD audio commentary for Blood Sucking Freaks in 1996, having no formal credits, as a "Blood and Guts Expert." The DVD is one of the highest selling DVDs for Troma. Roth often makes uncredited cameos in Troma films, thanks to NYU friend Gabe Friedman, a former Troma editor also hailing from the Boston, MA area.
Roth had a role in Quentin Tarantino's half of Grindhouse, Death Proof, in a scene with Jordan Ladd. Tarantino was so impressed by Roth's brief role as Justin in "Cabin Fever," he asked Roth to audition for the film. Roth left his preproduction on "Hostel Part II" in Prague to fly to Austin Texas for one week to film the scene at the Texas Chili Parlor. Roth said working as an actor for Tarantino was like taking a masterclass in directing, and said the only directors he would ever act for were people who had won the Palme D'Or at Cannes. Roth also made appearances in several projects that David Lynch directed for Davidlynch.com.
Eli Roth brought the now-infamous "Raiders of the Lost Ark" shot for shot remake by kids to the attention of both Harry Knowles and Steven Spielberg. Roth had a copy in his collection of videos for years before showing it at Harry Knowles' butt-numb-a-thon film festival in December, 2002. The response was so overwhelming that Roth took the tape to his very first meeting at Dreamworks, and gave it to an executive to give to Steven Spielberg. The executive called Roth the next week saying that Spielberg loved it and wanted to contact the filmmakers. Roth had never met the filmmakers, but google searched every name in the credits until he got a hold of Jayson Lamb, the cinematographer. The three filmmakers, Lamb, Chris Strompolis, and Eric Zala had not spoken to each other in years when Roth contacted them out of the blue saying that Spielberg wanted to write them a letter. This reunited the friends, who began touring the world doing charity screenings with the film. Roth felt that the film was so powerful he had to do whatever he could to make sure fans around the world saw it. Roth introduced the film at its premiere at Mann's Chinese Theater in May of 2008, five and a half years after he first got the tape to Knowles and Spielberg.
Cabin Fever (2003)
Hostel Part II (2007)
Trailer Trash (2008)
Cabin Fever (2003)
2001 Maniacs (2005)
Death Proof (2007)
Chowdaheads (1999) (animated)
The Rotten Fruit (2003) (animated)
MTV Movie Awards (2004) (animation sequences)
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