Actor / Writer / Director Richard Gabai talks with TV STORE ONLINE about his prolific body of films including VIRGIN HIGH, HOT UNDER THE COLLAR, VICE GIRLS, and INSIGHT.
A long long time ago in a galaxy far far away when late night television was very different, and the B movie had a place within that realm, Richard Gabai rode the airwaves. As writer, director, producer and star his films like, VIRGIN HIGH (1991), ASSAULT OF THE PARTY NERDS (1989), HOT UNDER THE COLLAR (1992), and ASSAULT OF THE PART NERDS II: THE HEAVY PETTING DETECTIVE (1995) were big staples in the final years when pay cable didn't suck.
Gabai's fun and raunchy teen sex comedies have become cult classics for many today. His sense of humor, timing and concept predate now typical fare as the dubiously popular AMERICAN PIE films and VAN WILDER series.
Gabai grew up in California. He developed an intense love of music and film at an very early age, eventually starting his own rock band, 'The Checks'. In addition to music, Gabai worked as an actor, maintaining that profession while beginning to write, direct and produce his own films. When Gabai makes a film, he becomes it. He writes, directs and produces it. He casts himself in the lead role, and most often contributes music to the film. He does it all, and Gabai's work has a very distinct feel to it. You can always tell that what you're watching is a Richard Gabai film. His style is his own, and his films are always great fun.
As an actor, perhaps more than any other of his generation, Gabai, is the definition of the everyday man. The next door man-child that's just like all of us red blooded Americans. Gabai, on our behalf, sets out to achieve the essence of the American dream - to be the hero, and to get US laid.
From "Jerry Kaminski" of 'VIRGIN HIGH to "John Skeemer" in Jim Wynorski's and Fred Olen Ray's DINOSAUR ISLAND (1994), Gabai has a unique charm that allows us to accept him as a sort of everyday sex crazed Don Knotts/Groucho Marx offspring. Gabai, playing these characters throughout his fun career and all are Superman types for all us nerds to admire out here in movieland.
Gabai has been in the game for over 20 years. He's worked with everyone from Jim Wynorski, Jennifer Rubin, Linnea Quigley, Michelle Bauer, Dan Golden, Leslie Mann to Christopher Lloyd.
In addition to creating some of the funniest teen sex comedies of their time, Gabai has also directed several "serious" types of films over the years as well. Films like, CALL OF THE WILD 3D (2009), VIRTUAL GIRL (1998), MIRACLE DOGS TOO (2006), POPSTAR (2005), and MOTOCROSS KIDS (2004), have all proven must see's as well as being hugely successful in the home video and television markets.
His 2011 film, INSIGHT is a supremely well crafted film with elements of the supernatural cleverly in play. Natalie Zea is Kaitlyn, an emergency room nurse who attempts to save the life of a woman brought in via ambulance one rainy evening, and without warning, is zapped with the dying woman's dark and traumatic memories.
Becoming obsessed and haunted by these memories Kaitlyn sets out to uncover the truths about the woman's murder that the police can't seem to figure out. Along the way, she encounters a cast of wonderful veteran players; Christopher Lloyd, Sean-Patrick Flanery, Max Perlich, Adam Baldwin, and a great cameo by Veronica Cartwright. They all refuse to believe her and question what she’s “remembering” from the perspective of the murder victim.
What makes INSIGHT worth your time is Gabai's razor sharp direction and how the film's screenwriters; Aaron Ginsburg and Wade McIntyre take the over-used cliche of the psychological thriller (which, by the way has been beaten to a predictable pulp over the last twenty years with films like ANGEL EYES (2001), HEAR NO EVIL (1993), DERAILED (2005) ECT...) and give it this surprisingly new and re-inventive perspective. Plus, there's a twist that would make Hitchcock jealous.
INSIGHT is cast flawlessly. Everything is done outside-of-the-box here. Gabai casts under-rated character actors (Gabai is underrated as an actor, himself) into positions that perhaps fans would never assume any of them would fit into. It's this ideology that allows InSight to stand high above many other films that attempt to exist in this genre. Also, director of photography Scott Peck's camera is wonderfully subjective. It's constantly in motion and this highlights brilliantly that InSight's ultimate victim, the beautiful and tragic female question mark here -- is witnessing events after she's gone. INSIGHT works. It's one of those under-the-radar films that you'll regret not seeing it if you overlook it. Richard Gabai is a tireless writer, actor, director and comedian. Talking with Gabai finds one experiencing a guy who is very funny, insightful, interesting, clever, and also at times a little bit mischievous.
TV STORE ONLINE: Tell me about how your first film ASSAULT OF THE PARTY NERDS came into being?
GABAI: Well, before PARTY NERDS, all I had really done was starred in David DeCoteau's NIGHTMARE SISTERS (1987), and then I acted in a little known dramatic film, which is actually really great called, THE WHITMORE'S HAVE COMPANY released as NIGHT VISITORS (1987). So after that, I decided I was going to make my own movie. On THE WHITMORE's I met Michael Becker and Rob Dorfman. Michael Becker and I have been working together for the last 22 years, and Rob Dorfman played "Chip" in ASSAULT OF THE PARTY NERDS. I met him because he was a production assistant and the guy who drove the actor's van on THE WHITMORE'S.
ASSAULT OF THE PARTY NERDS is really the film that is responsible for me getting into the movie business as a filmmaker. As much as some parts of the film make me cringe, I still think it's a classic entry into genre and into Gabai-dom..laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: You were born and spent the first few years of your life in New York City... How the heck did you end up out in California?
GABAI: Well, my dad got transferred. I was born in New York City, and lived for the first few years of my life in Washington Heights, an area of New York City. Right before my sixth birthday, we moved to Orange County, California. And after a couple years there, we moved to the San Fernando Valley, and that's basically were I grew up.
TV STORE ONLINE: So as a kid...How early did you develop an interest in acting, film and music?
GABAI: It was pretty early. I think I've always been a performer, but I really didn't think of myself that way, but the neighbors did. Our neighbor recommended that I go to this summer theater program at Cal State Northridge. It was just a few miles from where I grew up. I did musical theater there every summer. As a kid, everyone has that thing that you can do - that feels right. I always liked basketball and football, but I knew I wasn't gonna be on the school team. So, I knew this was the place for me. Also, it was a major draw to the girls...laughing Even as a kid, I wanted to meet the girls. It was great. I totally loved the people, and the vibe. It just felt really natural - me being there.
I did a few professional acting gigs as a kid too, but I lost interest in the whole auditioning thing, but it stuck with me.
With the music, you can tie together my desire to make movies, and my desire to play music and write songs to one incident that happened to me when I was like 10 or 11. I was going to meet some friends to see a movie at the mall, it was about a mile and a half walk from my house. We had planned to all meet at a certain time. It was in the days of no cell-phones. You couldn't text anyone. We got our wires crossed, and no one showed up. So I sat there and decided that I wasn't going to just walk back the mile and half. I looked at the glass case of the theater and I saw this poster of a guy holding an electric guitar. I said to myself, "This looks cool..." It was THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY (1978). I had no idea who Buddy Holly was, but I went anyway. I dug the music, I loved the movie. When it ended, I kinda touched my face and realized that I had tears coming down my cheek. I looked around really quick to make sure that no one in the theater was looking at me.
The whole thing blew me away. Then I went out and bought a Buddy Holly record, and I hated it. Because, I really liked the Gary Busey versions of the songs. I now have the complete recordings of Buddy Holly, and I can't listen to the film's soundtrack anymore. But at the time, you always fall in love with the first one that you hear, right? So this was important and it excited me because it put the thought in my head that I wanted to someday make films and make music that could effect people in a similar fashion. Also, it made me wanna play guitar and write songs, and I had to get a Stratocaster as soon as possible, and I did... A couple years down the road.
TV STORE ONLINE: So do you have like a Top Five favorite musical artists or Top Five favorite albums?
GABAI: Tough one... I can't do albums. But I think I could do artists. If I really had to give you a number one. I go with the following in the number one category. The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison. Then after that would be, Queen, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash....That's enough...That's almost ten, right?
TV STORE ONLINE: How did the concept for your film VICE GIRLS (1997) come about?
GABAI: It's funny. One of the guys I met in the teen drama program that I used to go to was Michael Baldwin. He is the star of the PHANTASM (1979-98) movies. So he's been a lifetime friend, and we always wanted to make a film together, and of course, he's in VICE GIRLS. So I pitched to the company that was willing to make the film with me, it's "PULP FICTION (1994) meets Charlie's Angels." That was the pitch. They said, sounds great. So I got together with Michael and developed it, and Michael wrote the screenplay. If you're an aficionado of the film, there is a huge subtext of the original Star Trek television series in the film. Very few have picked up on it, but Baldwin infused it in there. I loved how the film turned out.
TV STORE ONLINE: What was it like working with Lana Clarkson on VICE GIRLS?
GABAI: She was very dedicated to her craft. She was very serious about what she was doing. I think it meant a lot of her that she was doing the role, and I think she's great in the film.
TV STORE ONLINE: Would you comment on the Lana Clarkson and Phil Spector incident?
GABAI: Well, what can I say? It's just so awful. I don't think there is anything I can say. The guy is and was obviously insane. It's not the first time he had pulled a gun on somebody. It's just disgusting. My heart goes out to her family, friends and fans. I hadn't actually seen her in years, but this whole thing really taught me about American culture. Once it happened my phone starting ringing off the hook. I was getting approached by the National Enquirer, E!, Time, and Newsweek.
The National Enquirer was ultimately the most respectful. I gave them a quote. Time and Newsweek pestered and harassed me like crazy. 'Do you have any personal photos of Lana?" "Did you date Lana, sometimes the director dates the leading actress..." One women reporter was calling me asking me to meet her for a drink. It was a shame. The television show Inside Edition offered me $1500 dollars to do an on camera interview about Lana. I passed. It was just really interesting how the reporters that you think are gonna be sleazy are actually the most respectful.
TV STORE ONLINE: You're making a different caliber of film these days as opposed to what you where you making in the late '80s and early '90s... Why the jump?
GABAI: Well, I've never jumped to anything. I've just grown up. I've changed. I'm not the same guy I was at 29. I directed the PARTY NERDS movies, I acted in Fred Ray's and Jim Wynorski's DINOSAUR ISLAND. I love being in Fred Ray's films. As a creator of product, you never say never. This is what I do. I make films to eat, to make a living. I've been doing it for 22 years. I don't look down on any project, no project is to good for me. I just have made a conscious decision to move toward something else. I wanna tell more personal stories. I want to move people emotionally. I've been married for 11 years, and I have three kids. I want to make stuff that I can share with them. I'm proud of all the work, and when my kids get to the appropriate age, I'll proudly show and tell them about everything I've done. At this stage in the game, I can't give a project I don't relate to the attention it would require anymore, I'm not interested in doing those types of films as a director, my heart's not "in" it. But if it came down to it, I'd certainly do it to make a living - and I'd never say "No" to any of my director pals who might call me to play a role in the films they're making.
TV STORE ONLINE: On that note, how was your DINOSAUR ISLAND experience?
GABAI: Loved it. Loved the girls. Not ashamed. It was a blast. It's not on DVD, and it should be on Blu-Ray...laughing...From the first day of shooting through to the wrap party...I swear some day I'm gonna write a book called Blue Collar Hollywood: How I Made 1000 Movies In Hollywood And Never Caught The Clap. We started the wrap party at the late David Carradine's house, and somehow and someway I ended up in some girls dorm room at UCLA, and I don't have any clue or memory of how I got there! I woke up looking at a poster of the Backstreet Boys and I sat up and said, "Where the hell am I... Oh yeah.." Again, it was a different time in my life.
TV STORE ONLINE: Do you think you've got another ASSAULT OF THE PARTY NERDS in you?
GABAI: Yes, that's one that I do think I have in me. PARTY NERDS 3D. Also, I think we should do a remake of the original ASSAULT OF THE PARTY NERDS. That could happen.
TV STORE ONLINE: With films like ASSAULT OF THE PARTY NERDS and VIRGIN HIGH wouldn't you say you were really ahead of your time in creating a type of movie, that's now become so popular today?
GABAI: We pushed the envelope for sure. The M.P.A.A gave both those films an 'X' rating on initial screening when they reviewed them. It didn't make any sense. One of the issues they had for example, was that scene in VIRGIN HIGH where I'm standing there with the other guy talking, as we're taking a leak. There was another film that year that was put out by a studio and a famous director, and Huey Lewis whips it out and leeks away. That they considered "art." It was all because we were an independent film. Look at what's come since the AMERICAN PIE movies and the Judd Apatow films. It's interesting - and ironically I discovered Leslie Mann on the set of VIRGIN HIGH. She was an extra and I knew she had something special going on so I wrote that bit for her in the classroom scene. Now she's married to Judd and is a big star.
TV STORE ONLINE: What was the inspiration for you behind making VIRGIN HIGH?
GABAI: I developed that with my writer buddy David Fulk. My pitch was FAST TIMES IN RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982) in Catholic school. That may be our funniest film. For me the first five minutes of that film really work. Burt Ward is a riot in that. He's a great guy.
TV STORE ONLINE: How did you get involved with Jim Wynorski's remake of THE WASP WOMAN (1995)?
GABAI: I was just lucky. I'll always be grateful to Jim for giving me that role. I am thrilled to be in that movie. I like that movie a lot. I was a big fan of Jennifer Rubin too, so it was nice to work with her. How many people can say they shot a love scene with Jennifer Rubin, a body double, and a giant wasp on the same day?
TV STORE ONLINE: You've directed Christopher Lloyd on a few of your most recent films...What's it like to direct Lloyd? Is it difficult to give direction to an actor of his caliber?
GABAI: No, it's incredibly easy. He's a professional actor, and he actually respects me as an director. Which is difficult for me to accept. He takes direction and he wants direction. He's become a very good friend. He's one of my hero's. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (1975) was one of those films that took me to another planet, and that's Christopher Lloyd's first movie. That's one of the most interesting things about being in this business. The fact that you get to meet and work with your heroes, and often it's not disappointing.
TV STORE ONLINE: What are you working on now?
GABAI: I just shot a movie for IMAX, TIME: THE FOURTH DIMENSION (2014).
TV STORE ONLINE: What's your favorite movie that you've made? Early career and later career?
GABAI: I'm most excited about whatever is coming next, but early on I'd have to say VIRGIN HIGH. Because it's just so funny,and we had so much fun making it. And more recently, INSIGHT.
TV STORE ONLINE: When you go out to work on a film as an actor...What's your acting process detail?
GABAI: Well my process is that I try to make the guys watching the movie in the theater or at home think that I'm them. My goal has always been to humanize the role. I want people to identify with the character I"m playing. I'm jealous of the guy's your playing in your earlier film's like VIRGIN HIGH.... Yeah, well when I look back at those films, I'm jealous of the guys I'm playing too...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: You mentioned 2011's INSIGHT as one of your more recent favorite projects....I was curious to see how you came across the script, and what was it about the script that made you decide that you wanted to direct the project?
GABAI: Scott Peck, my director of photography and a co-producer on INSIGHT brought me the script. I read it in one go which for me is rare. The script was written by two extremely talented guys Aaron Ginsburg and Wade McIntyre. The subject matter intrigued me - exploring the line between what is real and what isn't. The film is much more than a murder mystery. What's interesting is some people feel that it's a psychological thriller, others are sure it's supernatural. I'm sure it makes the audience think and throws in a few really good scares.
TV STORE ONLINE: INSIGHT has this amazing cast...How were you able to cull together such an assemble?
GABAI: Divine providence! Sean Patrick Flanery is one of the only actors who came aboard through the traditional casting process. Natalie Zea from the great TV show Justified was introduced to me by a friend. She read and liked it, we had a coffee together and I hired her on the spot. I think this film is a tour de force for both her and Sean. Chris Lloyd and I had done CALL OF THE WILD 3D together so I got it to him and he said it wasn't like anything he'd done before so he signed on.
The same for Veronica Cartwright who plays Natalie's ailing Mom, we worked together before. She's incredible - she gave "The Beaver" his first kiss, won an Emmy for an episode of Dragnet and had her thirteenth birthday party thrown for her by Alfred Hitchcock when she was starring in THE BIRDS (1963). All this before INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978), ALIEN (1979) and THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (1987). Adam Baldwin and I have some common friends, and that's how that happened. So honored to have him in the film and man is he good. Thom Nicholas, Max Perlich, Lesley-Ann Brandt, and Juliet Landau round out my ideal cast. Just perfect. It's fun also that we got a chance to "introduce" Angeline-Rose Troy, like in an old fashioned movie. She's the helpless victim of course and she's beautifully tragic.
TV STORE ONLINE: I wanted to see if you could talk some about the visual aesthetic of the film?
GABAI: That's a conversation I had with director of photography Scott Peck and production designer Gabor Norman early on. I wanted to make a classic noir film set in today's world. So the look is dark and has a retro vibe, yet you never feel like you are watching an old film, or that it takes place in another time. Jeff Murphy, the editor and I wanted to keep the pace snappy and keep the story moving along until the right moments when we let it breathe a bit. I also tried to keep elements that would date the film off screen, so that hopefully it has a shellfire, like maybe a thousand years or so...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: How do you think INSIGHT stands out in comparison of some of your work that you've done over the course of your career?
GABAI: Now remember you're talking to the guy that made VIRGIN HIGH, ASSAULT OF THE PARTY NERDS, and starred in DINOSAUR ISLAND, so it does stand out!!! (laughs) The truth is my career has been evolving and I've been working towards INSIGHT and films like it for a long time. I'm really proud of INSIGHT and the last few films we've done like CALL OF THE WILD 3D and BEAUTIFUL BOY (2012) with Maria Bello and Michael Sheen, which I executive produced.
TV STORE ONLINE: Also...What about the score in INSIGHT?
GABAI: As a musician myself I focus as much on the score and the overall sound of the film as I do on the visual. The score for InSight was written by Golden Globe Winner and Oscar nominee Lisa Gerrard and Marcello De Franscisi and it is just perfect. Hauntingly beautiful. Again just incredible how everything seemed to fall into place on this one.
TV STORE ONLINE: I was curious how long it took you to finish INSIGHT from script to screen and did you encounter any sort of obstacles along the way?
GABAI: From script to screen INSIGHT took us a about nine months. We shot the film last summer and premiered it at the Newport Beach Film Festival in April of this year, and sure there were obstacles. Everywhere!!! But there always is - you just deal with them one at a time. Our main location where we staged a good portion of the movie, had another film shooting at the same time because we couldn't afford to buy out the place, so we were trying to be quite in between takes for each other. At times it was a mess, but we go through it. INSIGHT is truly an Indie shot on a shoestring budget but it doesn't look or sound like it and It is only because of the great team that we've put together that we got through it at all. John and Elaine Constantine are not only my producing partners but have become two of my closest friends. That happens on movies... Either that or... Well, you know. Rich Iott my executive producer and great pal and Larissa Michel have been with me on other films too. Couldn't do it without all of them.
TV STORE ONLINE: Do you think that INSIGHT exists within any sort of one genre? I mean, there are elements of the possible supernatural at play, then you have elements of the film making it a possible thriller?
GABAI: INSIGHT is a very personal film for me so no, It's not "just a thriller." There are supernatural elements just as I think that there are supernatural elements in our daily lives. My bed can't make itself and I'm thinking this world probably didn't either. There is definitely something in play. The writers would argue with me...but hey film is still a director's medium, right? I'm most interested in what the audience thinks though, and I can't wait.
TV STORE ONLINE: Who are some of your directing influences?
GABAI: Hitchcock, Scorsese, Forman, Spielberg...How's that for cliche'? Well, it's the truth.
TV STORE ONLINE: What are you working on next?
GABAI: I'm developing another thriller, and a family film. Also we have TIME: THE FOURTH DIMENSION a educational IMAX film we're working on now.
For more with Richard Gabai please visit his official website HERE: