Category Archives: Interviews

The Making of: A Conversation with Robert Meyer Burnett by Kent Hill

I love behind the scenes documentaries – always have. What began as 60 minute specials and from there graduating to EPKs (or Electronic Press Kits) have become full-blown features, at times several hours long. And the longer the better I say.

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Robert Burnett has been that guy. The guy behind the scenes. Armed with light-weight equipment and a small crew, he has captured the people who make the magic and the war it is to bring a dream to life on film.

He has been there to witness the making of the multi-Oscar winning Lord of the Rings trilogy. He has seen what it took to orchestrate Superman’s return. He has ventured back in time and brought us wonderful retrospective looks at films like Disney’s cult classic Tron.

But Robert is also a passionate filmmaker in his own right. Having made his own film Free Enterprise, directing episodes of the TV series Femme Fatales along with short films as well. He is a prolific producer having shepherded films like The Hills Run Red and Agent Cody Banks 2. And, just when you’re about to say, “Stop it Rob, you’re just too talented,” he is also an experienced editor; often times chopping his own work, whether it be for DVD special features content or the films he has worked on.

Beneath all of his success, Robert is a massive film lover, citing The Right Stuff, All That Jazz and The Godfather among the countless films he adores.

It was a real pleasure to chat with him about all he has seen behind the scenes, but more so to simply chat movies with a man who knows his stuff. Turns out he loved his time here in the great southern land (Australia), along with our beer and music. It is my hope Rob finds his way back so that I might take him up on my invitation to share a cold VB (Victoria Bitter) and talk movies…

…but until then, enjoy our chat.

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Weaving with Magic: An Interview with Ellis Flyte by Kent Hill

Really awesome it is to interview people who have been a part of the cinematic high water marks of one’s life. But this one was special. Several weeks back my beloved wife, Jennifer, was looking at pictures online from the MoPOP (The Museum of Popular Culture): Jim Henson exhibit. She, as am I, is a fan of the worlds created by Henson and particularly thrilled at seeing Sarah’s ball gown from Labyrinth. She said I needed to track down the costume designer and interview her. So I did. Easier said than done right? Well yeah. I admit, I have had ridiculous luck since joining the crew at podcastingthemsofly.com when it has come to tracking down industry professionals for a chat. During the construction of my anthology trilogy Straight to Video, I had prided myself on getting a hold of filmmakers, some of whom I knew, but many I didn’t. Following that, and in starting my on modest publishing business, I tried to keep the magic going – hoping to secure forewords from filmmakers who were willing to read friend’s books and write introductions for them.

I was so happy to do it this time for my wife, who, while she has tastes that differ from mine, we certainly share a bunch of common cinematic favorites of which Labyrinth is one.

So I am proud to present this brief insight into the life of Ellis Flyte, costume designer on Labyrinth and also part of the creative team that brought us that other Henson spectacular, The Dark Crystal. From humble beginnings, she worked in theater and television but also enjoyed success as a fashion designer in demand. Then there came her work with the Henson Company; on two of its crowning glories. She was also, for a time, married to Henson’s son Brian.

Ellis was very generous to lend some of her time to answer a handful of questions on her contribution to a remarkable film.

So through dangers untold, and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to present to you, ladies and gentlemen . . . Ellis Flyte.

 

KH: Could you tell us a little of your origins?

EF: In brief, I am Scottish and as a youth spent a lot of time making clothes out of rugs and similar strange fabrics to everyone’s amusement, but primarily wanted to be a ballet dancer. Following a very severe accident I completed my exams at school and left to London to study fashion instead.

KH: What were your creative aspirations? Was working in the fashion industry or film always your dream?

EF: My first employment during college evenings was in theatre in the costume department which I thoroughly enjoyed. Both fashion and costume would be the two key passions for most of my life, and I worked in many great theatres, contemporary dance studios and television. However I was to become more celebrated in those years as a fashion designer, working from my living room in South London, and selling through Liberty and Browns and Harvey Nichols. Later on in my career I would also design and dress actors, singers and celebrity as well as my collections. Both are really all-consuming creative lifestyles with very little time off but you love it so I have no problems with this!

KH: How did you come to work for the Henson Company?  It must have been so incredible to work with Jim Henson; he seems to have been such a vital spark, a creative genius?

EF: I had taken a television job which was coming to an end and I saw an advert to work in film, so I went along for an interview. You can imagine how astonished I was to be asked if I had ever worked on puppets. My first job was as an assistant to Polly Smith, working on the extraordinary “Dark Crystal”. This was of course a Jim Henson film and also the concept of Brian Froud, where I and a large team of the best artists and technicians worked together in various departments creating the special effects vital to the end result. Long hours but so much fun. We shot the film at Elstree.

Following the release of Dark Crystal six of us were asked to design the “Dark Crystal fashion collection” of gowns based on the movie characters which turned into another totally new and exciting project! So as you can see I had already met the genius Jim Henson and loved working in their company!

KH: Tell us about your experience on the production of Labyrinth? Sarah’s masquerade dress in Labyrinth, indeed all the costumes you did, were based on concepts created by you along with Brian Froud?

EF: Labyrinth was considerably later and a joy to be chosen for the position! Yes it is a Jim Henson film and once again the Conceptual Designer was Brian Froud.

He brought to me many sketches of costumes from which my job would be to create and realise the ideas and also introduce new detail or interpretation. My first responsibility would be to David Bowie and to Jennifer Connelly, and then to the surreal costume ball. It has to be said that I employed a large team of people from  pattern cutters and sewing technicians, screen print and dye specialists, special effect creators, jewellery designers and make-up and hair stylists, amongst others, and it is due to their continued hard work, originality and independent skills that we came to the finished product!

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KH: Did the final costumes mirror the concept drawings or we’re the altered as filming commenced, and material did you use? The dress now seems yellowed in photos from the MoPOP exhibit,  is that purely due to age or was that the way it was lit during filming to lend it the ethereal quality of the sequence?

EF: Sarah’s ball gown took a lot of sampling and camera tests to achieve! We wanted her to look like an otherworldly princess and very different to the others at the ball. The ethereal effect was achieved by many secret devices including layers of lace, lame and rainbow paper, spray paint and broken jewels, and then the entire ballroom garments were distressed to look as if they had been dancing forever! Hemlines were broken down and dust was sprayed into the creases – the masks also present a sinister look to the event don’t they? The fabric choice for the ladies was chosen to give depth and colour and also for movement as you say, although of course all dresses were crinoline underneath.

KH: What was your favourite costume to design and which costumes were the most challenging to not only create but to realize in a finished garment?

EF: The ballroom sequence was a terrific challenge but I really enjoyed all of it, my two favourite costumes in that sequence were probably those for Jennifer and David’s jewelled velvet tail coat. The trickiest pieces were most of David’s as they were designed to be highly original and didn’t always transfer from sketch to actual garment! A leather jacket with a special effect finish was particularly tricky but we got there in the end! Plus we had a load of laughs with the stretch trousers over various cod-pieces. We also tried many different hair styles and make-up effects before Jim and Brian made their final selection! To realise the characters and then have the creative freedom to add or expand my ideas is a costume designers dream and when it works it is really wonderful! It was a huge task to put it all together plus detail of jewellery, accessories and hair pieces but I loved the way it was shot.

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KH: Labyrinth is a treasured film of my youth. Looking back at the film and the experience, how do you see the work and the film today?

EF: I think Labyrinth was ahead of its time as was Dark Crystal.

KH: What aspects of costume design do you enjoy the most and do you feel that costume design is an underrated element in films, attaining the recognition it deserves?

EF: To design costume there are so many dynamics – you have to enjoy the ability to multi-task!

You must understand the person you are dressing and their bodies, their favourite parts and their insecurities so that you can give your personal touch and increase their confidence and happiness and never disturb their performance. Also it is important to know how and where to shop for everything from highly individual/ period costume /unusual accessories/ to ordinary base cloth! And then to know how to work many different effects from any base or other fabrics and add the knowledge of what works on-screen in terms of colours, textures and finishes. I enjoy all of this, regardless of the project, and I have been lucky enough to have worked on many very different projects! Each one is challenging in a different way and a lot of research is required before you start. I do think costume is valued especially when it is well done! It is as important as the script or storyline and should help to identify a character, whatever the circumstances. It is now beginning to receive the acclaim it deserves.

KH: Have you ever been approached or would you consider putting out a book of your work?

EF: The book – that seems to be a constant question. I have had several magazine features but not yet a book on my fashion and film work.

 

There you have it. I was just as surprised to get in touch with Ellis as I was to have her participate in this interview, so, I send a big thank you.

I would like to add that the questions for Ellis were prepared by my wife and I was thrilled at her response to the answers. This one’s for you baby and I am here always…

…should you need us.

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20 years in the making: An Interview with Steve Alten by Kent Hill

 

Sometimes good things take time. Still, it is rare that Hollywood, being in possession of what it believes is such a ‘hot property’, would allow said property to languish in the depths of development hell. Especially for 20 years. But that is exactly where Steve Alten’s bestseller has been in residence. That, of course, is about to change.

 

Yes ladies and gentlemen (and in case you haven’t been following the story) next year Alten’s leviathan shall rise and finally arrive at a cinema near you. I have long been fascinated with the journeys  movies take on the road to the big screens on which we witness them. Some of these films never arrive, some appear in a confused and unfinished form. Others are the victims of too many cooks and most are a product of the machine.

For the films that don’t make it, (see great documentaries like Lost in La Mancha and Jodorowsky’s Dune (though Gilliam seems to have at last remedied this)) their journey is often as intriguing, if not more so, than what the final product might have been. But with MEG, the powers that be have what is a potentially massive franchise on their hands. So, why the wait?

 

The fates are strange and fickle. Steve Alten’s bestseller was optioned before it was complete, but it has taken the better part of two decades to arrive. I found this story intriguing, mainly because this was not some sort of artsy passion project or some grand tale of ridiculous hubris. No, what could have been, and what we may yet experience, might very well be the next JAWS? And while Spielberg’s film is by its nature a far more intimate piece; the shark menaces a small community and finally three men set out to kill the beast, MEG is something we are definitely going need a bigger boat for. A really BIG boat for!

 

Thus Steve Alten agreed to have a chat with me about the origins of his book’s long gestation toward its screen adaptation. What he relayed I found fascinating, and still believe it could become a great extra feature or a terrific stand-alone documentary of the ride this big shark movie as taken. But, like most fans, I am just grateful that with each passing day, we finally are at last drawing closer to the MEG movie’s premiere. Of course the real relief belongs to the creator. In many ways it has been worse for him, he having served on the front lines, he having been present for each false start and each heartbreaking hurdle. I have agreed to catch up with Steve before the film’s premiere next year. As the hype builds and teasers and trailers and all the ads  bombard our senses, what brings me pause and makes me smile is the thought of Steve Alten waking the red carpet, entering the theatre, taking his seat . . . and enjoying the movie…

…as I hope you will enjoy this.

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Beneath a sky so full of Sharks: An Interview with Anthony C. Ferrante by Kent Hill

 

It would be easy for me to simply sit here and wax lyrical about my love of SHARKNADO okay – real easy. But to do that does a disservice to one of the major components of its success, and that comes in the form of the director at the helm of the franchise; (now moving into its 5th installment) the dynamic Mr. Anthony C. Ferrante.

 

It was 2014. I was at work on the sequel volume to an anthology whose content was the collected author’s visions of their ultimate B movie. Anthony was prepping SHARKNADO 3 at the time for release. Still, I managed to get a hold of him to write the foreword for that book, and subsequently, the release of the book and SHARKNADO 3 fell in pretty close succession.

 

The desire to make movies and equally the passion for them, strikes one out of the blue. Anthony was not yet in his teens when that voice inside us all called out to him, and from that point forward, he knew making movies was exactly what he was going to do.

Now like I said earlier, to simply classify him as the SHARKNADO GUY, is to be completely unjust. Anthony is a renaissance man of the highest order. This writer, director, producer, sometimes actor, make-up effects artist, songwriter, comic book author – the list is longer than the list of cameos in the SHARKNADO franchise thus far.

But as you will hear, some of the best training Anthony received during his journey, was while writing for the likes Fangoria and Cinescape Magazine. For it was during this time that he was tasked to cover films being made in the local area. So he found himself hanging out on the sets of movies and getting to witness first-hand, all the the stuff they don’t teach you in film school.

 

It was this and the do-with-what-you-got attitude he cultivated while making his early films in his home town that has enabled him, or perhaps, weaponized him for the career he has enjoyed and one that continues to flourish. It is this shooting-from-hip type filmmaking that lends his work a frenetic energy. Fittingly you might say, he is the right man for the job at hand when it comes to the wild, bombastic and beloved lunacy that is the SHARKNADO franchise.

But beneath that,  I think we are witnessing a great filmmaker on the rise. A man whose talent and skill will I hope be utilized to its full potential. Anthony C. Ferrante may indeed be the antidote these tired, Hollywood tent-pole movies are sorely lacking.

But enough to this. GO, GO, GO, GO, GO, GO, GO – listen to this interview, and don’t forget to tune into the upcoming SHARKNADO!

Robot Cops, Giant Bugs and Big Snakes in the Jungle: An Interview with Ed Neumeier by Kent Hill

 

 

I remember vividly the first time a saw RoboCop. Watching it with the cousins in my bedroom and my mother walking past, hearing a flurry of coarse language, then sticking her head through the door to see what we were viewing. My cousin Rick, was good at putting spin on such incidents, so that we might avoid reprisal and be allowed to keep the movie going. Needless to say, that first time, I was pretty much doing what Rick told my mother I was doing – I was waiting for RoboCop to show up and not listening to the foul language at all. Well, maybe just a little.

Then we have Starship Troopers for which I blew off a lecture at university to go see. The prospect of this large-scale, B-movie flavored extravaganza was too good to pass up. I walked out of the picture exhilarated and so glad I skipped an hour long spiel on The Trojan Women to partake in this, the third time a director named Paul Verhoeven had blown my joyous, cinema-obsessive brains out.

 

But there’s another character responsible for this pair of uber-cool films and that is their scribe, Ed Neumeier, who as a young man wanted nothing more than to make movies. He, at that time his his life, had had his own mind blown when he learned that in his home town of Marin County a man named George Lucas was making movies. “It is possible,” he said to himself and thus took off for California. Once there, after finishing college, spending time as reader for the studios and a short time as an executive, he had an idea for a story that would eventually become a cinema classic. He joined forces with another filmmaker by the name of Michael Miner and together they got down to writing RoboCop.

 

The film would go on to become a phenomenon, spawning two sequels, a remake, and TV series and even an animated series (and a it-looks-really-cool documentary, RoboDoc). The film gave Ed the start he was looking for and introduced him to the director (Verhoeven) with whom he would mount his next assault at cinematic glory. It would take place beyond the stars on planets menaced by giant insects in their hundreds and thousands. Based on the Robert Heinlein novel of the same name, Ed would bring his love of science fiction and personal blend of humor and action to Troopers, and, for the second time, he and Paul were on a winner which would have sequels, Troopers 3 which he himself would direct, as well as animated films, Traitor of Mars is set to be released, comics and games.

 

Yes folks, Ed Neumeier is indeed a world builder and he’s working in the movie business and living the dream. He is cooking up a new film, and we that have grown up watching and loving the movies he has thus far penned, (yes, I kinda like Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid) look forward to see where this talented screenwriter is going to take us next. Whether it be alien bugs, cyborg cops or those oversized killer serpents you don’t want to have lunch with, I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say, we’re in good hands.

Here he is folks, the man, the one and only . . . Ed Neumeier.

 

Too many Cowboys and not enough Aliens: An Interview with Scott Mitchell Rosenberg by Kent Hill

The dreams we have when we are children don’t often materialize into reality. We make-believe we are the heroes of the books, comic books, films that we hold dear. They inspire us to move forward; to go on and build new worlds. We stand on the shoulders of those giants so that we might become gods – the creators of fantastic realms and legendary heroes. That flame we carry within us during those early years, often falls prey to the winds of change. It is ever whipping across the fabric of our dreams, trying to collapse that once impenetrable shield of our imaginations.

Now, there are many who simply let that flame flicker in the wind until it finally sputters out. They put aside childhood wonder and move on. But, then there is the few, the happy few, the small band of us that for whom such a notion is not only unacceptable, but impossible. Our dreams are that which fuels us. Our dreams are our lives. Scott Mitchell Rosenberg is one of these dreamers. His childhood games of cowboys and aliens have become so much more than fun and plastic ray-guns. He told me he ‘stumbled’ into the movie business, and the journey to bring Cowboys & Aliens to the big screen was not unlike pushing a boulder up a hill using only your nose.

Lucky for us his nose held up, otherwise he might not have been there for the gathering of such illustrious talent, both in front and behind the camera, that would merge to bring Scott’s graphic novel creation to life. With the likes of Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Steven Spielberg, Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof and John Favreau, it makes me think of the fabled Dream Team of ’92 that boasted Jordan, Bird and Magic. Combine those ingredients with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and the new Bond (Daniel Craig) – along with an impressive supporting cast which featured Dano, Brown, Carradine, Rockwell and Wilde – the live-action treatment Cowboys & Aliens would receive is something of a marvel.

I told Scott that my initial viewing had been sullied by a bad day, but subsequently I was able to go back and re-watch it with fresh eyes. I admit that I prefer the extended cut to the theatrical release, but really,  when you break it down, I just really love Cowboys & Aliens and have done so since I read the comic when it first came out. It was a real thrill to finally sit down and chat with its creator, a great gentleman and I feel in some ways a kindred ‘creative’ spirit. For this movie speaks to those out there that of course (A), love a really cool movie but also (B), those creative few, those happy few, that band of dreamers still reaching for the stars. Let the journey of Scott Rosenberg be an example to you. Don’t quit, toughen up your nose and give that boulder hell!

Enjoy…

Fantastic Beasts and the Man who made them: An Interview with Chris Walas by Kent Hill

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When I think of the work of Chris Walas, a few things pop into my head.

The first is how much I loved Dragonslayer when I saw it at the cinema as a kid. It like The Black Hole was a dark, different Disney movie. This was the era when Disney was trying to be more like a studio and not purely focused on the animation that had garnered it so much love.  I remember waiting for the moment when the dragon would finally be revealed and I was not disappointed. I was becoming aware of how movies were made at that time, so the prospect of any giant creature on screen, knowing that it was actually there, that it had to be built was incredible.

The second is Enemy Mine. A movie for the longest time I had only seen the last twenty minutes of. During the heyday of video piracy, it was not uncommon to borrow a tape from friends or family and find the tail ends of stuff that had been taped over. Ironically I can’t remember the film that was taped over it, but those final scenes from Enemy had me intrigued. I think it was one of my cousins who I borrowed the tape from, so I asked him about the clip at the end. “Oh I taped over that ‘cause it was kinda boring. Some dude and an alien have a baby together.” Yes folks, I have some really classy relatives, and that was how he pitched Enemy Mine to me. Still, undaunted, I sought it out and it is a whole lot more than that; indeed another great film from Wolfgang Petersen who had blown my mind prior with The Neverending Story.

Finally I reflect on The Fly 2. One of two films I have literally lost my lunch watching. And, let me be clear, up to that point, I had seen gruesome stuff before so it wasn’t so much the imagery as it was the visceral qualities of the imagery. As the years go by, and because I haven’t seen it in a long time, so it’s sketchy at best, but one thing that I recall was Daphne Zuniga wiping away Eric Stoltz’s slimy coating from this one scene and giving him a kiss. I remember that or something like that, like I said, it’s been a long time between drinks, but that scene and a few others helped my lunch get its own sequel that day.

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But enough about me, let’s talk about Chris.

Chris Walas has worked on a handful of truly iconic films. You can see is work in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Return of the Jedi, Gremlins. He is an Academy Award winner – that Oscar being for The Fly and part of a terrific association with David Cronenberg who he would go on to work with on other films like Scanners and Naked Lunch.

He has sat in the director’s chair on (of course) The Fly 2, The Vagrant and “Til Death”, an episode of Tales from the Crypt. He was part of the Roger Corman stable; he worked on Airplane!, Galaxina, Caveman and Virtuosity – he is a very talented man who has had a hand in the truly grand cinematic experiences of my youth and it was an utter delight to interview him, and subsequently, to present said interview to you. Ladies and Gentlemen . . . I give you . . . Chris Walas

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KH: Sir, it is truly an honour to make your acquaintance. You have the distinction of being the first Oscar winner I have interviewed for podcastingthemsoftly.com

CW: That’s hard to believe with all the Oscar winners out there these days, but I’m happy to be here.

KH: Before we get into the meat of things, I was wondering if working in the picture business has be a lifelong pursuit, and if so, what were the films that lit the fire, so to speak?

CW: You know, it’s interesting because so many interviewers ask “What was the film that made you want to do what you do?”  I don’t think it’s a simple as that. It’s like asking painter what painting made them want to be a painter. It’s not about a single event; it’s about an artform that creates the magic in the imagination. I was a movie fan as far back as I can remember. I loved all films. I loved what the medium could do. I didn’t understand any of it, but I loved “Citizen Kane” as a little kid. It was riveting to me. I grew up on the old Universal Horror Classics and still love them. The Sci Fi films of the 50’s hold a special place in my heart for sure. But I can definitively say that the single film that made me DECIDE that movies were where I wanted to be was Ray Harryhausen’s , “Jason and the Argonauts”. It was the first film I ever saw in a theatre and I was transfixed by the experience. I knew at that moment (even though I understood nothing about it) that that was what I needed to be a part of in my life.

KH: You have worked on some truly iconic movies, many of which are my personal favourites. But, how did you get into the business after your schooling ended?

CW: I wanted to get into films somehow. At that time I was on the East Coast and the film business was pretty dead just then. So I left for Hollywood with a couple hundred bucks in my wallet and a sublime ignorance of the realities of LA.  I was lucky enough to get a job shipping film for Disney, which was magical for a naive kid from New Jersey. Discount tickets to Disneyland, and I could spend all my lunch hours on the back lot talking to the original animators of Snow White or the wire rigger for the Squid tentacles from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. They all brought their lunches and sat out in the backlot relaxing or practicing their watercolours. And they loved to talk. It was my introduction to the world of movies. Wonderful. I then took filmmaking classes for a year until my money ran out and I took a job at Don Post Studios, a company that made high quality Halloween masks and occasionally did some film and TV work. I was there a year and started out painting a gross of masks a day on the cheap line to being a member of the lab crew, developing new product and working on the occasional outside project. It was an education I would have paid for. I learned more in that year than in four years of college. But I was antsy and impatient, and one of the other Lab guys (Bob Short) and I left and started a little partnership doing odd projects. We both started to get good reputations, but each doing different things, so we split up and went our separate ways. And it just grew from there.

KH: Tell us, if you will, about working on some of your early credits like Island of the Fishmen (Screamers), Humanoids from the Deep and Piranha?

CW: Piranha was my first on set film experience. Jon Berg, who was in charge of the effects on the film, had been to Don Post to see about them running some of the rubber piranhas. That didn’t work out, but the connection had been made and when the FX shoot needed more people, Bob Short got pulled on board and then through Bob, I got pulled in. That was my entry into the crazy world of Roger Corman films. It was wild and desperate filmmaking in those days; no money, no time. The only good part was that IF you could actually make something to get in front of the camera within the meagre time and budget, you were a hero. It was a process that very quickly filtered out those who could from those who couldn’t. But it was exhilarating and magic at the same time. Isle of the Fishmen was a bit of a mess. The original Italian production had been purchased by some fly by night LA outfit and they wanted to “beef it up” for the American audience. We had almost nothing as far as a budget, but it was with some people that I felt comfortable with.  Miller Drake and (unofficially) Joe Dante. It was a small and relatively close group in those days at New World Pictures. We shot out at the beach in the middle of the night in January and nearly froze to death soaking wet in the Fishman costume. Other inserts were shot in Joe’s garage; it was that kind of filmmaking.  But Humanoids was a different story. New World had asked me to do it, but I was busy on GALAXINA and a couple of other films at the time, so I suggested Rob Bottin. But the schedule was a tough one on that show and Rob asked me to come in and do a bunch of the sculpting and running on the Humanoid costumes. As well as those absurdly huge arm extensions! It was an extremely intense time for me as there was way too much work and not enough people in town to do it all.

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KH: I know you probably get a lot of “Fly” questions and I think that if people really want a good insight into the making of that film they should watch the comprehensive Fear the Flesh. But, you worked on a few movies with Cronenberg (The Fly, Scanners and Naked Lunch). What was making pictures with David like?

CW: This is a great question, if for no other reason than it lets me applaud one of my very favourite directors I’ve had the honour to work with.  David Cronenberg is an amazing filmmaker. He’s not just a director. His films truly belong to him. They are his vision. He’s an astonishing writer. When I was first approached for The FLY, I turned it down. I didn’t want to do a remake, etc. Stuart Cornfeld, the producer, said, ” I know,  I agree. Just read the script”. I read the script and it was superb. David had redone the original script and made it his own. I couldn’t say no to that script.  And David is an astonishing director because he really understands the process that everyone is going through. A lot of directors are absolutists; it has to be a certain way. David understands that production is about compromises and that a good director only makes compromises that don’t hurt the film. He was demanding and understanding at the same time. Very unique qualities in a film director and I feel very fortunate to have worked with him.

KH: I have vivid memories of The Fly 2. I remember watching it on video with some cousins and felt my lunch coming back on me a couple of times during that flick. How was it to finally sit in the director’s chair on Fly 2 and the other films you directed?

CW: Somehow, we hold the director’s chair as some ethereal pinnacle in filmmaking. And in some ways it is. It is the ultimate decisive position, historically. But I had already been directing teams of dozens of artists at my company, coordinating large operations and such, so I don’t think I was as intimidated as a lot of first time directors. I was quite comfortable directing, especially as I had such a wonderful crew of true talents on the FLY II. I never actually wanted to be an effects person. It was just the easiest way for me to get into the business.  Besides, it’s ALL filmmaking. All of it. From craft service to timing final prints. Directing is just the most focused, exhausting position. But I loved it.

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KH: I interviewed William Sachs recently, director of Galaxina. Can you tell us about your work on that film?

CW: I’ve only lost money on two films. GALAXINA was the first one. At that time there were a lot of productions trying to cash in on the STAR WARS phenomenon. So there were a lot of over-ambitious, under-funded films being made. GALAXINA was right smack in the middle of those. Bill (Sachs) had his hands full on that film. He really did. And for me, it was a really, really tough show as there was a lot of stuff and very little money. We had to make a couple of the alien costumes overnight; the schedule kept changing wildly. I don’t know how Bill dealt with it all, honestly. It was furious alien making, to be sure. We had Angelo Rossito as the little alien creature. Little Angie, as he had been known, was a dwarf who had worked on countless films. The schedule changed dramatically and the three weeks we had scheduled to make his suit turned into 18 hours. But he was a total pro. He showed up with some of his old clothes for us to use as the base for the suit! We built the suit right on him and he never had a word of complaint at all. Total pro. Everything we did for Galaxina was done scraping the bottom of the barrel because there was so much work.

 

KH: I have a great fondness for both Dragonslayer and Enemy Mine, they speak to my youth. Tell us about working on those pictures; especially Enemy Mine, it’s one of my all-time favourites?

CW: Phil Tippet brought me up to ILM to work on the team for Dragonslayer. And that was a wonderful experience working with some of the absolute top talent in the field. Every day was an education for me. I was strictly on the in-house FX team and didn’t go over to England for the shoot. I made most of the molds for the dragons and baby dragons as well as running most of the rubber pieces.  I rigged the puppets for the baby dragons and built a few odds and ends pieces for individual shots; smaller scale grabbing legs, a bit of wing, etc. The biggest thing I was involved with was the close up Vermithrax puppet. It wasn’t part of the original plan, but they just couldn’t get the footage they wanted out of the full size head and neck that Disney had done, so I designed and built, and operated an animatronic puppet head. That was exhausting because the puppet had to be dripping water all the time, so the puppet became supersaturated and just kept getting heavier and heavier. But I think it worked in the end and helped the picture.

Enemy Mine was basically problem after problem. I started out working with the first director, Richard Loncraine, who I really liked and admired. We shot for six weeks on lava fields in Iceland before 20th Century Fox closed the picture down and hired Wolfgang Peterson to direct. We were supposed to be closed down for two weeks for the restart, but it was a full six months before we got going again.  I think, for us, the production got bogged down in a lot of committee decision making, which slowed everything down.  But in the end I was happy with the designs. We had an opportunity to do quite a lot of different effects for the film between the Dracs and all the odd creatures. The newborn Zammis puppet was one of my favourite rigs on that show.

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KH: You worked with Joe Dante on Gremlins which was produced by Steve Spielberg whom you worked with on Raiders which was produced by George who brought us Return of the Jedi which you are also credited as having worked on. In retrospect, what was it like working on these milestones of cinema?

CW: Every once in a while you get lucky. Gremlins was a true milestone for me in both my life and my career. It was the first time I was in charge of running such a big crew on a studio picture. It was truly an insane experience for me as the picture just kept changing and growing, with new gags being developed for the Gremlins almost daily.  I don’t think I’ve ever been worn out so completely on any other film. But at the same time it was great fun, like a bunch of grown up kids playing. We had no idea we were working on a film that would be so successful and impacting.

Working on Raiders of the Lost Ark was great. Challenging. But it was at ILM, which was then the absolute pinnacle of FX houses in the entire world. I really wasn’t used to being able to say, “I sure could use one of these…” and then having someone order it right up or just get it from another department. So I had options available to me that I hadn’t really had up to that time.  Richard Edlund was in charge of the FX on the show and he was great about making sure that I had what I needed for the melting head and the other shots. I didn’t get to see the film until just before it opened and I was blown away. It’s such an amazing film. I feel so lucky to have been a small part of it.

For Jedi, I really only did design maquettes for some of the alien races in the film. I set up the creature shop for ILM, but then I left to pursue other projects. It was very nice to be included in the credits on that one!

 

KH: You have a number of diverse entries among your credits like Deep Star Six, Arachnophobia, Hot Shots and Virtuosity. Were these genres you sought after or were the film’s concepts interesting or was it simply the want to be constantly working that brought you to these projects?

CW: After Gremlins, I had set up a genuine facility with a great crew who knew what they were doing and so I had to take what projects I could to keep the shop going. But some of the projects were favours; Deep Star Six was for Jim Isaac, who was striking out on his own after being on my crew for a number of years. House II was for Ethan Wiley, who had also been a member of my crew on Gremlins and others. Some films were projects I really wanted to do; ANYTHING David Cronenberg was doing. Anything for Amblin, Spielberg’s company. But in between those projects it was a matter of trying to choose what projects seemed like they might be good films as well as keeping the shop going as long as possible.

KH: You’ve been a writer, director and producer having a film you co-wrote come out in 2016. Did you ever want to make more of your own pictures and do you, like so many people in the industry, have dream projects that might have come close but never saw the flickering light of the silver screen?

CW: I would have loved to have done more directing.  But it just wasn’t in the cards. I have a number of projects I would love to see resurrected someday. One of my favourites is a project called “Dathulgon”, which is a steampunk combination of characters and plot lines from Jules Verne and other early steampunk writers mixed with the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft. That project was humming along nicely when the big market crash ruined a lot of financing for films.  I have a whole list of projects I would still like to see happen!

KH: Well sir, as a long-time fan this has been a very large pleasure, and though we were not able to conduct this interview via recording I care not, for as I said I am honoured to have met you and am humbled that you have taken this time to be interviewed for podcastingthemsoftly?

CW: It’s been a pleasure. It’s fun to reminisce and I really appreciate knowing that there are people out there who look back fondly and remember the work kindly. Thanks!

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So there you have it. Chris Walas folks. Applause is totally necessary for this talented man and his amazing career.

 

I’ll just take a moment to let you know some other interviews I have coming up. I’ll be bring you chats with Mike Marvin (director of The Wraith), Chris Olen Ray (Two & Three-Headed Shark Attack), The Outlaw film critic VERN, Scott Rosenberg (creator of Cowboys and Aliens). Prior to the release of SHARKNADO 5 (because that’s the kind of nerd I am) I’ll be presenting a double feature that week prior to August 6th of my interviews with Steve Alten (we discuss the long cinematic gestation of Meg) and the man himself Anthony C. Ferrante (director of the SHARKNADO series). So as ever, thank you for checking out podcastingthemsoftly.com, and watch this space…

Cheers

Kent