We’re pleased to bring you our next installment of 3 for 3, this time discussing the works of John Carpenter. Carpenter is one of our favorite filmmakers who is responsible for many classics ranging from HALLOWEEN, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, to STARMAN. Please stay tuned for our next 3 for 3 regarding our favorite character actors, as well as a 3 for 3 – For Your Ears Only crossover where we pay tribute to Sean Connery, and talk about his diverse contribution to film beyond James Bond.
Eva Rojano is not your average RoboCop fan. I remember Mark Hamill’s narration of the TV special SPFX: The Empire Strikes Back, in which he states, and I’m paraphrasing here: “that Star Wars has excited a generation to such an extent that the children who have seen the film are motivated to become doers . . . as well as watchers.
Eva seems to be the modern day personification of this ideology. What began at the tender age of eight, has blossomed into more the obsession. It is now, unbridled creation. Of course with all artists, we find and fixate on books, movies, comics, fine art, music. These, while they may not have planted the seed, are certainly the fertilizer in which the formation and manifestation of dreams thrive.
Eva’s journey through the wilds of the universe which began with the brutal murder of officer Alex J. Murphy and his subsequent, phoenix-like resurrection as RoboCop, has seen her not only receive friendship and guidance for two of the franchises integral staples; in the form of Nancy Allen (eternally the dynamic and resourceful Officer Anne Lewis) and Edward Neumeier (one half of the creative genius writing team that gave rise to a franchise).
Under luminous glow and encouragement, Eva has ascended from her enthusiastic efforts in the production of electrifying art and fan-fiction, directly associated with the Robo-Universe, to a place where she now has the courage, just as all artists who have come before her, to step out from under the wing of the movie that has nurtured her dreams, and into the light that is birth of her own original concept and voice.
This current incarnation of Rojano’s prolific creative output manifests itself as a novel entitled: The Black Butterfly. And I was intrigued as ever to learn the story, the motivation . . . the journey behind what drove this fan among fans to dig below the surface of her own creative crust – unearthing something fresh, unique and touchingly profound.
What was once purely driven by that glorious cinema classic that is part man, part machine, all cop, now transforms into a bold new vision from a creator that has been fostered by the cinematic equivalent of lightning in a bottle – exploding on to the printed page near you…
It was an absolute thrill to sit and chat with Cheryl Wheeler, legendary stunt woman, stunt double, and stunt driver of the movie industry. She has been the stunt double for Rene Russo, Kathleen Turner, and Goldie Hawn.
Cheryl began studying Yoshukai Karate at 15 – coming from a family of mostly boys; she was forced to learn to hold her own. She started kickboxing when her instructor commenced training an amateur team. She has also studied Judo, Aikido, and grappling and trained for a while with kickboxer and actor Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, and is a three-time WKA World Kickboxing Champion
Beginning work in the film industry in 1987, Cheryl’s extensive filmography of stunt work in such films as Back to the Future Part II, Bird on a Wire, Die Hard 2, Lethal Weapon III & IV, Demolition Man, The Thomas Crown Affair and Charlie’s Angels. She was inducted into Black Belt Magazine’s Hall of Fame as 1996 Woman of the Year. She appeared on the cover and in a feature article in Black Belt Magazine in July 1997, and also received a Stunt Award for “Best Stunt Sequence” in the 2000 film of Charlie’s Angels.
I could honestly have spoken to Cheryl for hours – slowly traversing and delighting in the stories from all of the films she has participated in. We also chat about her involvement in The Martial Arts Kid 2 which she comes to as a producer with her long-time friends Don Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock.
It was a true pleasure, and I trust you will enjoy this fascinating interview with an awesome Hollywood veteran. Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Cheryl Wheeler.
Growing up I was a huge sword & sorcery fan . . . still am. The older one gets, you find yourself using the phrase, “they don’t make ’em like they used to,” more and more. In the case of sword & sorcery it is all too clear why it is sad, in some ways, to reminisce. But I can’t fully transmit to you in words, just how much the show Wizards & Warriors was then, and would later become, an integral influence. It took something with reasonably defined staples and subverted them in the best possible way.
This was part of the reason the more recent effort, Your Highness, was such a dismal failure. I admit I was hopeful all the way up to until I finally set eyes on the picture. Yes, it dealt irreverently with the source influences. But, ultimately forgot what made them so glorious in the first place. While Wizards & Warriors, on the other hand, was so ahead of its time it’s ridiculous. Subverted genre work is more prevalent today, but back then, it was a bold choice. I soaked it up, and it quickly became the stuff of which permeated my dreams, dominated my day-long make-believe adventures and of course was a the well from which I have many times gone back to with my own works like Deathmaster, Sword Dude, and the like.
So you can, possibly, only imagine the joyous moment when I finally was able to chat with Prince Greystone’s faithful vassal Marko, played by the supremely talented Walter Olkewicz .
In Walter’s tales from his illustrious career I uncovered the story of an effortless performer, a loyal friend, a devoted family man, and a true inspiration to all those who have the dream of being a player of many parts.
His credits speak for themselves, and I found it most intriguing, that a man who has known such heights could remain, I believe, as he has ever been – the salt of the earth. Walter has though, of late, been suffering with medical issues. It is comforting to hear however, that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Please do take a moment, if you can, to support his recovery, so that Walter can get back to doing what he does best. (Please follow this link: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-walter-save-his-leg#/ )
Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m proud to present, Walter Olkewicz.
To talk about W.D. (Rick) Richter, is to talk about one of my all-time favorite films, Big Trouble in Little China. It is, to put it simply, one of those films that comes along (not so much anymore) once in a generation. As we know in this age of remakes, reboots and re-imaginations, there is a very good chance that this film, because of its staying power and built-in fan base, will more than likely resurface with Dwayne Johnson playing Jack Burton. Just like Hansel in Zoolander he is, as far as the Studios are concerned, so hot right now!
And you can be your bottom dollar that it will try like hell to recapture the magic of what was – and more than likely – crash ‘n’ burn in its attempt to do so. I might be wrong. Because, BTILC, was and is what is often referred to as a “happy accident”. What began as a seemingly awkward combination of a western with a plot that involved Chinese black magic became, thanks to my guest, a glorious blending of genres that there is really no recipe for.
I rarely get nervous doing interviews, but I was glad to be sitting down for this one. When the person on the other end of the line had a hand in creating a couple of the seminal film of one’s existence . . . it is tough to play it cool, plus for the first time in a long time, I found the need to have my questions written, rather than merely see what the conversation would provoke. Primarily because I knew I was only going to have a limited time, and secondly because during our email exchanges prior to the chat, I found Rick to be extremely matter-of-fact and, wishing not to have the interview published in audio form, he merely wanted to be concise and not ramble on as, he says, has happened in the past.
So I sat and pondered questions. Having read other interviews with him in the past, before he’d stepped away from the business, the focus was on the films he had released at the time and didn’t really get below the surface. Off the record, we spoke about a few of the things that were beneath the polished exterior of the press kits, but that was not all that interested me. There have been many books and articles on his films, as well as many having excellent special features and commentary tracks which mine their depths – so I wasn’t going to waste time there.
In the end I waited till the last minute and scribbled down the first questions that popped into my head. Some of course are elementary, but one or two I’ve had on my mind for a while.
Well, it took a long time, but sometimes, good things do. It was well worth the wait and the frustrating silences in between messages from Rick’s friend who very graciously made the introductions, and I, as a fan first, was humbled, honored and thrilled at the prospect of speaking to yet another film-making idol of mine.
While Rick, early in our email exchanges said, “I prefer to let he films, for better or worse, speak for themselves.” I am and will be forever grateful he took the time to talk a little about his work. In the end I wasn’t nervous or scared at all . . . I felt kind of invincible.
KH: Did you always want to work in movies and if so what were the films which influenced you?
WDR: First I wanted a paper route. Then I wanted to run a circus. Then I thought about pursuing a career as an English teacher. Then I thought, “Why not aspire to become an actual tenured English professor?” But, by the time I got to college, graduate film programs were springing up here and there. Having loved movies since childhood, but never imagining there was a route available into the business, I suddenly saw a way to pursue a career in film in a structured, sensible way.
I went to a lot of movies of all kinds as a kid, but mostly B horror films from the mid-fifties through the mid-sixties. In 1964, I saw DR. STRANGELOVE and in 1965 THE LOVED ONE. They suggested a new direction and deeply influenced me.
KH: How did you break in to the business?
WDR: I wrote screenplays at USC, and one of them secured me an agent. I then worked as a reader for Warners and wrote on the side and continued to do so when Warners and Irvin Kershner let me work as his assistant while he was prepping DIRTY HARRY for Sinatra. That project fell apart, but a spec script I’d written, SLITHER, got to the director Howard Zeiff, and he set it up, odd as it was, and we shot it. Presto! I was a produced screenwriter.
KH: Your early career was full of greats like Dracula, Body Snatchers and your Oscar nod for Brubaker. How much does momentum play a factor in one’s career (films coming out and performing well) as well as recognition for one’s talent?
WDR: Actually, none of those films did perform well, but they were respected, and, as a result, I was respected as a young writer with perceived potential. You must remember that during the seventies and eighties eccentric characters in unusual, small stories were nothing Hollywood ran screaming from. That came later.
WDR: I’ve never given much thought to being “remembered”. After all, sooner or later, this whole planet is going to be forgotten.
KH: If people want the skinny on Banzai, you have already provided an excellent commentary. What I would ask is, did you ever see Kevin Smith’s Q & A whose guests were Weller and Lithgow, and how did you feel about possible versions of the continuing story of Banzai?
WDR: I thought Kevin did a spectacular job that evening, and it was nice to learn how much the movie shaped him. As long as Mac Rauch is involved, I feel quite confident that a “new” BUCKAROO could be as startling as the original.
KH: BTILC was ahead of its time, in my opinion. What I’ve always wanted to know is, what the “western version” was like prior to your work on the script, and how much of the finished film remains your work?
WDR: The “western version” just didn’t work for anybody, sad to say. It all seemed too distant…the Old West and the Asian occult, etc. So I proposed moving it to a modern, familiar setting and swapping the hero’s horse for a big rig. The pitch went over well, and, with a writers’ strike looming, I dug into the challenge of creating a contemporary script in about seven weeks, choosing to do that with a somewhat dim but hopefully lovable hero at the center. The finished film stayed absolutely true to my screenplay, apart from the inevitable ad libs here and there. Jack Burton’s John-Wayne cadences, though, are definitely nothing I wrote or endorsed. John and Kurt settled on that themselves.
You asked me prior to this conversation: “Did you write the line or was it improvised: I feel pretty good. I’m not, uh, I’m not scared at all. I just feel kind of… feel kind of invincible?”
Turns out I did write it. I wrote the whole script furiously in longhand in several spiral notebooks, and a typist transcribed them into script format.
KH: There was a significant gap between Home for the Holidays and Stealth. I have interviewed many writers who talk of these periods. They say, it’s not that I wasn’t writing, it’s just my scripts weren’t getting made. Was that true of your career at the time?
WDR: Definitely. I had movies actually green-lighted then cancelled when directors went over budget in pre-production.
KH: I understand Stealth was a troubled production.
WDR: STEALTH was just a bizarre and massively unpleasant experience. Directors and location scouts shouldn’t rewrite writers, if you want my opinion. Kind of like Presidents shouldn’t tweet.
KH: Did your involvement end after the writing?
WDR: The “writing” never really stopped. I was removed from the picture several times when my revisions failed to please the director. But I was repeatedly brought back by the studio to pull the script back from the brink after the director (who shall remain nameless) had worked it over again in his spare time. It’s the only film I’ve had made that, with great care, I kept my distance from during production and through release.
KH: I also love Needful Things. What was it like to adapt King?
WDR: Crazy. The book is 690-pages of single-spaced prose. My script was 124 pages, and you know how much “air” there is on a script page. I figured that if one were to retype the novel in a crude screenplay format, it might easily hit 1000 pages. So I lost roughly 876 pages while trying to keep King’s story and mood intact. I have no sense of how that worked out because I’ve never reread the book, but I always imagined a looser, grittier, less-arch movie.
KH: Any advice you would give to a struggling screenwriter – not unlike myself?
WDR: Write. Write. Write. But always try to imagine the movie itself playing to paying strangers. Why would they — or you! — want to watch it?
KH: Sir it has been a profound honor to converse with you. I cherish the moment and humbly thank you.
WDR: Thank you, Kent. Take care.
It took a while to get a hold of Mighty Mick – but I’m glad I had the patience. See Mick Garris is one helluva talented man. His passage through the movies is a veritable plethora of Amazing Stories – apart from the show-of-the-same-name where he achieved career lift off.
Since those early days he has gone on to become a prolific writer, director, producer, author, podcaster – the list goes on. He made me laugh with Critters 2, he was the writer of The Fly 2, which was one of the only times a film has forced me bring up my lunch, and he has conducted wonderful and insightful interviews with fellow filmmakers – some, sadly, that are no longer with us.
Through it all Mick remains the soft-spoken gentleman with a passion for his work and cinema in total. He has had a long successful run of adapting the works of Stephen King for the screen. I have vivid memories of sitting through, night after night, his extraordinary adaption of The Stand. This he beautifully followed up with further adaptions of Bag of Bones and The Shining, in which King adapted his own book, and which Mick credits as one of the best screenplays he’s ever read.
He was instrumental in bringing together the Masters of Horror as he was composing the elements which formed great movies either under his pen, or benefiting from his exquisite direction. Follow this link ( https://www.mickgarrisinterviews.com/ ) to Mick’s site and check out the bona fide feast of delights for cineastes he has on offer. As I said to the man himself, “You have a lot of fingers in a lot of pies, and I can’t wait to cut me a slice of whatever you serve up next.”
So, without further ado, it is my privilege to present to you . . . the one, the only . . . Mick Garris.
John Carpenter’s Escape From New York is lean mean, brawny and one of the director’s best efforts, one of his leaps into non horror territory and a high concept, exploitation template that has become so iconic that he’s had to sue one production for literally copying and pasting. More iconic still is growling Snake Plissken, a nasty, uncooperative, maladjusted piece of work that has calcified into both a genre titan and one of Kurt Russell’s most instantly recognizable, badass characters. Plissken is basically a villain transplanted into the protagonist’s seat, where he gets to shake up the formula and push the boundaries of being an antihero nicely. By now everyone knows the story. The President (Donald Pleasence) ejects out of Air Force One and crash lands in futuristic NYC, now a giant penitentiary housing unwanted criminals from all over, cordoned off from the rest of the world. Snake is sent in by General Hauk (Lee Van Cleef is a sadistic snake in his own right) as a ‘fight fire with fire’ ditch effort, given twenty four hours to retrieve POTUS at an extraction point and implanted with a microchip that will blow him into hamburger helper if he doesn’t make his deadline. Cue explosions, car chases, wicked stunts and set pieces galore, done in Carpenter’s careful, tactile, authentic and slightly non-Hollywood manner. The guy just has a knack for taking formulaic premises and giving them a just-south-of-normal spin, his own flavour and one that makes cult classics that are built to last. Adrienne Barbeau, Isaac Hayes, Ernest Borgnine, freaky Frank Doubleday, Charles Cyphers, Tom Atkins and good old Harry Dean Stanton all provide standout support. My favourite aspect of the film is the original score, composed by Carpenter himself, of course. It’s a spooky, atmospheric riff that’s akin to the music in The Thing, and just has this synth-y way about it that transports you to the specific time and place of the film flawlessly, it’s a showcase example of an auditory mood board. No remake could ever touch this, it’s too idiosyncratic and special to be updated, and the sooner studios realize their never ending goose chase to capture lightning in a bottle twice is a fool’s errand, the sooner we’ll get back on track and make original contemporary films that will becomes genre classics in the future, just like this. I love Plissken’s final act of brutal rebellion, a reminder that this is not a nice guy we’re dealing with here, but one who plays by his own rules and shirks the standards, much like Carpenter himself. I imagine Plissken’s reaction to news of a remake would be similar, if not more hotheaded, than that final, lethal sleight of hand prank he pulls on a government that stabs him in the back. Solid gold.
Jino Kang, the gentle-spoken son of a Hapkido Grand Master, grew up in South Korea during the 60’s, a time when the influence of the Western world was just beginning to emerge. The Kang family immigrated to California in 70’s.
Jino adapted quickly to a new language and culture, all the while following the traditions of his father. He opened his Martial Arts school in the 80’s (http://hapkidousa.com/http://hapkidousa.com/). Jino holds a seventh degree black belt in Hapkido and continues to teach in San Francisco. He was inducted in to Master’s Hall of Fame in 2009.
Although Martial Arts is in Jino’s blood, he had another passion – filmmaking. He began by making movies with his friends in Junior High School, his early screen heroes were Kurosawa and his frequent leading man Toshiro Mifune. Studying at the College of Marin, Jino elevated his skills and appreciation for the craft of making movies.
In 90’s, Jino starred in, directed and produced his first feature film, “Blade Warrior”, shot in glorious 16mm. Jino has since shot, produced, and acted in Fist 2 Fist aka Hand 2 Hand. Fist 2 Fist won numerous awards and critically acclaimed as “belongs in the top end of the scale of Martial Arts films”. His new film, Fist 2 Fist 2: Weapon of Choice won “Action Film of the Year” at Action on Film International Film Festival in 2014. He is currently at work on new films including a short subject action series, Kid Fury, starring one of his pupils Timothy Mah.
His balletic style and approach to action cinema set him apart from the multitude of entries in the genre. I believe should he continue to embrace this as he grows in his ambition, we shall someday soon no doubt witness an action/martial arts spectacle the likes of which this world has never seen.
9. Bone Tomahawk
8. The Deadly Tower
7. The Hateful Eight
6. Escape from New York
4. Big Trouble in Little China
3. Dark Blue
2. The Thing
1. Death Proof
This week we’re back to our regularly scheduled podcast, discussing John Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and the top five films of both Kurt Russell and John Carpenter!