Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Artist Cal Schnekel on Working With Frank Zappa on 200 MOTELS

Artist and animator Cal Schenkel talks about working with Frank Zappa on his 1971 rock music culture film satire 200 MOTELS...

TV STORE ONLINE:   I'm a huge fan of the Frank Zappa film 200 MOTELS (1971)....Do you hear that a lot?

SCHENKEL:   No I don't! (Laughing)  I've heard various comments about the film over the years but I don't think I've ever met a "huge" fan of the film... (Laughing)

TV STORE ONLINE:   Given it's sort of free-form aesthetic I was wondering if there was actually ever a script written for 200 MOTELS and did you ever see it?

SCHENKEL:  I did.   I still have a copy of it somewhere.    Of course, the script went through quite a bit of changes along the way as you can imagine.   The whole thing started...I went to London in November of 1970 about a month or two before the filming started.  I went to get together with the art director.  I had done some initial drawings for the backgrounds and other elements that were based on some discussions that I had had with Frank.   We were shooting the film at Pinewood Studios outside of London.   I can't remember now, but it was sometime around the Christmas holiday that Frank, myself and his secretary Pauline [Butcher] had a number of meetings and in those Frank began to dictate the script to Pauline and I took some notes on various things that he wanted to see included.    As I said, there were a number of changes that were fairly complex.   It was a quick shoot, and we didn't take a lot of pre-production time at the studio either.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How about the building of the 'Centerville' sets?  What was the inspiration for those?

SCHENKEL:  Well, Frank and I talked quite a bit about that.  We wanted to keep it simple, and we wanted to keep it flat, and he wanted it to be just this basic average little downtown area outside of the suburbs.  Frank had wanted me to do some of the actual painting of the set but the union schedules at the studio wouldn't allow for that.  We played with a lot of interesting things.  We used vacuum form PVC for a lot of the sets, because it gave a dimensional look to the sets.

TV STORE ONLINE:  You designed the blue penis mobile that we see in the film...

SCHENKEL:  I did, it wasn't too complicated and I just drew it up in one afternoon.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Did Frank ever discuss the idea behind the concept for the film?  Did he ever say, "This is a movie about what I think that people actually think that a rock stars life is like on the road."

SCHENKEL: Oh no, not in any way.  There may have been some idle talk at an evening out to dinner or something like that but it just wasn't something that would have been discussed.  It wasn't a weird shoot or anything like that either.  It was a pretty normal shoot at Pinewood Studios.  All of the crew members that were employed at Pinewood just did their jobs for us.   They didn't ask any questions about what we were doing, but the Orchestra that was used in the film, initially, they didn't take what they were doing very seriously.

TV STORE ONLINE:   The film was shot at Pinewood Studios, and in 200 MOTELS we see an homage to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) with the appearance of the black monolith in a scene in the film...

SCHENKEL:   Right, yeah (Laughing).   2001 was such a popular film at the time that we were shooting 200 MOTELS.  I don't know if Frank was a fan of 2001 and I'm not sure why he put that into 200 MOTELS.   He was always satirizing things, so that may have been why he included it into the film.  He may have just included it in 200 MOTELS because 2001 was also shot at Pinewood.  The thing I remember the most about shooting at Pinewood was that FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (1971) and one of the James Bond films were also filming there at the same time that we were, so it was fun to go down and hang out around the studio commissary and meet some of the actors and crew members from those movies. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  A year or two ago there was a new DVD of 200 MOTELS released and there is a audio commentary track on the release by the "Director" of 200 MOTELS Tony Palmer.  On the commentary track he says some nice things about the production and also about working with Frank, but yet it's fairly common knowledge amongst Zappa fans that Palmer and Frank had a falling out at the end of the shoot of the film, where Palmer threatened to take the master tapes of the film away....

SCHENKEL:  Right, there was a falling out.  I think that both Frank and Tony each had their own ideas about what 200 MOTELS should be.  I also think that the conflict came because they were both trying to jam so much stuff into that movie and there wasn't enough money for them to each get in everything that they had wanted to include.    There were things that didn't quite come out right, and things that just didn't get done.  That's the reason why the animated sequence made it into the film, because originally it was supposed to be done live-action.   I can't remember now if the filming for it wasn't complete or if something just went wrong, but Frank, in the end just decided that we should just do it as an animated sequence.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Didn't you have a hand in doing that animated sequence yourself?

SCHENKEL:    I designed it, and I did some of the hand animation for it.  The lions share of the work went to Chuck Swenson, who was a master of animation.  I did a lot of background stuff and a few of the characters that are in that sequence.

  I'm a huge fan of Jeff Simmons, and the record of his that Frank played guitar on and released on his Bizarre record label called Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up.   Jeff was supposed to be in 200 MOTELS but was fired by Frank...

SCHENKEL:  (Laughing).  Right, yeah.   You probably know the story then about how Jeff was replaced for the film, then?    Frank started auditioning people to play Jeff's character in 200 MOTELS and he just couldn't find anyone that fit, so finally he said, "The next person that walks through the door is going to play Jeff."   The next person to walk through the door was Ringo Starr's chauffeur...(Laughing)    So Frank gave him Jeff's part.

  I heard once that Frank had wanted to cast British actor Wilfrid Brambell, who played Ringo Starr's grandfather in A HARD DAYS NIGHT (1964), for Jeff's part?

Jeff Simmons & Wilfrid Brambell
SCHENKEL:  (Laughing)  He did.  Frank brought him to the studio to try out for Jeff's part. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  That would have been wonderfully insane...

SCHENKEL: It would have been really cool.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Did you have anything to do with the movie poster art for 200 MOTELS?

SCHENKEL: I didn't.  That is a great illustration.   I did do the inside packaging for the 200 MOTELS album though.  I was just too busy with the animation in the movie at the time to do the cover.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Off subject of 200 MOTELS, one of the things that I really love that you did animation wise was that television commercial that you did for Frank's 1974 album Apostrophe (') with the DJ Dogg....

SCHENKEL:   Thanks.   I worked with an animator on that.  I think the concept generally just came from Frank.  To be honest, I don't really remember any of the details now about how that all came about or how long it took to complete.   It was pretty basic in that the animation was done around the soundtrack.  So Frank did the soundtrack and then gave it to me and I designed and produced it around that.     See YouTube here.

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung
For more with Cal Schenkel please visit his official website here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

INTERVIEW: Josh Becker on The Magnificent Ambersons Of Unreleased Folk Musicals: If I Had A Hammer

 Josh Becker on his still as-of-yet unreleased musical IF I HAD A HAMMER.

TV STORE ONLINE:   What was your initial inspiration for what would eventually become IF I HAD A HAMMER (1999)?

BECKER:  I was reading Peter Bogdanovich's book Who The Devil Made It...There was an interview in there with Allan Dwan, a director who had been working since the Silent Era in Hollywood.   He was talking about a how he had wanted to make a musical but the company that he was working for wouldn't put up the money for the songs, so he made it about Stephen Foster because all of those songs were in the public domain.    I thought that it would be cool to make a movie with all of those older songs that were in the public domain.   But I didn't end up sticking with that idea because the song "If I Had A Hammer" wasn't actually in the public domain, but most of the songs that we used from the '20s by Huddie Ledbetter for example fell under that.  I came up with the idea to use the folk songs in the folk era, but I think that whole idea really came out of my admiration for Orson Welles' THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1942).    Because that's a film about the ending of an era and the start of another.    My story takes place in what I believe to be the last weekend of the folk movement.  That movement had been so strong.  Bob Dylan had came into the spotlight, Elvis was gone off to Germany via the Army, Little Richard and Chuck Berry had been busted for tax evasion.  Rock 'n' Roll had been effectively killed by 1958.   There was this rise of the folk movement between 1958-64.  

There is no reference to THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS in the film, but it is the concept that I put into the script.   The girl in IF I HAD A HAMMER represents the folk era, and the boy represents the new incoming Rock 'n' Roll era.  It was the last weekend of the folk era because at the end of that weekend The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show (1948-1971)

Josh Becker and actor Brett Beardslee
TV STORE ONLINE:  How long did it take you to write the script for IF I HAD A HAMMER?

BECKER:  Oh, not long.  It doesn't take me very long to write a script.  It probably took me like three months to finish it.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Was the folk era something that was of interest to you before you had decided to make the film?

BECKER:  Certainly.  I've always been a fan of The Weavers. I wasn't a huge folk fan though, but I did like The Weavers because they would cover the songs of Leadbelly. I did a lot of studying up on the movement while I was writing the script, and during that time I discovered this 1964 Playboy magazine from the particular month that The Beatles appeared on Sullivan and inside it there was this really cool lexicon of words that were considered "out" and the words that were also considered "in".  For example, it said that "cool" was out, and that "tuff" was in.  So I used that in the script.   Another hip word was "boss".  That all came from that Playboy issue.

Beardslee as 'Phil Buckley'
TV STORE ONLINE:  Is there any aspect of Josh Becker in the "Phil Buckley" character in IF I HAD A HAMMER?

BECKER:  Well, I can't play the guitar.   I did take guitar lessons as a kid, but it hurt my fingers.  There is a little bit of me in every character that I've ever written.

TV STORE ONLINE:   What I really admire about the film is that you've created this array of characters that seem on initial introduce to be cliche, but they all transcend that by the end of the film...

BECKER:   Everybody represents something except Phil [Brett Beardslee] in the movie.  Everyone has a cause and each stands for something.  Phil doesn't and he's faking it.  Even the heroin junkies in the film care about issues.  Everyone cares about something except for Phil.   I've always thought that that was what Rock 'n' Roll was all about.   Look at Punk Rock, and how the musicians took pride in not being able to play their instruments.   

TV STORE ONLINE:   The film is very smoky too...

BECKER:  I made everyone smoke in the film.  I made the Prop Guy go around and give everyone cigarettes.   My memories of 1964, when I was a little kid, was that everyone smoked.   I remember as a kid seeing a cigarette commercial that featured "Fred Flintstone" smoking.   It was a totally different world back then.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Was the film easy to cast for you?

BECKER:  Oh No.  There was a lot of casting. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  Did every actor that you cast in IF I HAD A HAMMER actually have musical ability?
Actress Lisa Records and Brett

BECKER:   Well, I had a Casting Director.   I said to her, "All the actors have to be able to sing, play an instrument and act."  She said, "Well you're setting the bar awfully high, aren't you?"  I said, "I'm not asking them to dance."  If you came to Hollywood back in the '40s you damn well better have known how to sing, dance and act.   Making the film in Los Angeles made that fairly easy because there was no shortage of actors that could play the guitar.   I had quite a few casting sessions, and I put together my own Weavers with "The Four Feathers".  That group had never met each other before they started work on the movie.   I had the most challenging time casting the role of "Bobby Lee Baker".  I couldn't find anyone for that part.  I auditioned actors for that part for weeks.  Eventually I just had actors come to my house.   Usually I could find someone who could sing, but they just couldn't be angry.   Then the Casting Director sent over David Zink. He came over to my house.   He lit a cigarette and we started going through a scene.  As the character he got really angry and he took his cigarette and threw it down on my carpet and grounded it out.   I said, "Fuck, you've got the part!"   

TV STORE ONLINE:  I like how the film flirts with filmic time and space...The story unfolds in a real time, but it also exists in this interpretation of that particular time. It seems very specific to you...   The film feels like it exists in this sort of pop culture purgatory...

BECKER:  I get what you're saying...I've always thought that the whole thing is an allegory and I can't tell you honesty that I was intending to do what you're talking about.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Most of the characters in your films seem to take stock in their eccentric personalities.  I'm thinking about the quirkiness of the characters in IF I HAD A HAMMER but also the characters in LUNATICS: A LOVE STORY (1991)...  You seem to be attracted to the eccentric love story in your work...

Becker on the Los Angeles set of IF I HAD A HAMMER

BECKER:   Well, we could mention RUNNING TIME (1997) as well.   I went for the happy ending on that.   The thing about IF I HAD A HAMMER is that "Lorraine" [Lisa Records] represents a different era.  She represents the folk era and so there is no way that she and Phil could have ended up together because of what each of them represent.

TV STORE ONLINE:   When I first saw the film I was really enamored with the character that actress Lisa Records played and then over repeated viewings I had become more enamored with the character that Brett Beardslee plays because of how eccentric, goofy and awkward that Phil Buckley character actually is... 
BECKER:   There are two leads in the film, but Phil is really the main lead.  The funny thing about Brett was that he actually plays guitar very well, and it was because of that I think that Phil's awful guitar playing in the movie actually comes across as really convincing.    It was a fun movie to shoot because that set was always musical.  Because everyone played instruments it was like a non-stop Hootenanny going on.  Everyone was playing music with everyone every day.

  TV STORE ONLINE:   Brett Beardslee is really incredible as Phil Buckley...

BECKER:   When he came in for the casting session, he just stole that part.   He just nailed it.  He really got it, and that is what is great about casting sessions.   You'll see twenty people and none of them will be right or they just won't get it, and then that one person will walk through the door and instantly you just know that they are the person that you're looking for.

Actress Lisa Records as 'Lorraine'

TV STORE ONLINE:  Let's talk about the visual style of IF I HAD A HAMMER...You and I have talked in the past about the visual aesthetic of LUNATICS: A LOVE STORY and your love of using big colors.  I love the big usages of the colors red and green in IF I HAD A HAMMER...

BECKER:  I just wanted as much color as I could get.  On IF I HAD A HAMMER I shot a very slow film stock, and I wanted it to look like one of old movies that was shot on Kodachrome.   

TV STORE ONLINE:  It's like a psychotic Technicolor..... It gives the film a slightly surreal look and feel - there is a way colors hit certain faces in the film and then also how those lights hit those older out-of-place people in the folk club in the tuxedos...

BECKER:   I was just trying to populate it with every kind of character that I could think of.  It's probably unrealistic because of that.   Like when the rich kids show up and start doing impressions of Jim Backus from IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963).   It was just one of those things where once I had conceived myself of the idea I knew that I had to make it.   Along the way, people would ask me, "Who are you making this film for?"  I said, "I'm making it for me!"  It had no stars.  If I would've been smart I would've cast Bruce Campbell in the film as the 'Emcee'.   There wasn't a distributor in Hollywood that would touch the film after it was completed, and it ended up putting me in bankruptcy.  There just wasn't an interest in a folk music musical....(Laughing) 

Interview Conducted By:  Justin Bozung
Photos courtesy of Becker Films
To purchase a DVD of IF I HAD A HAMMER please visit Josh Becker's official website here.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

George A. Romero: Film Legend and Social Commentator

Filmmaker George A. Romero will forever be remembered as the man who made zombies a part of daily conversation. In 1968 he released the seminal NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD which has since become a horror classic. Despite the fact that it was a low-budget exploitation film, it is now even listed on the Library of Congress' National Film Registry. On the surface, the movie was about a group of people attempting to survive a siege of the undead. Underneath, it was a social commentary about fear, confusion, distrust, and humanity’s inability to cooperate in the face of adversity. It also established many of the ground rules for future zombie movies, and demonstrated that zombie films can provide an excellent lens for social commentary and exploration.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was divisive, with some viewers of the time being turned off by the unprecedented violence and gore, and others heralding the film as groundbreaking. Original fans praised its gritty realism, which was parallel with the increased violence and gore televised during the ongoing war in Vietnam, and at the height of the Civil Rights movement, the film was one of the first to feature an African-American actor (Duane Jones) as a main character. Despite initial ambivalence from some critics, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was a financial success and allowed George Romero to continue his path as a filmmaker. According to his biography on the Internet Movie Database, Romero was only 28 years old when he made NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and his meager $100,000 budget had been cobbled together by members of his production company, Image Ten Productions.

A decade later, Romero released DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978). Offering more blatant social commentary, the protagonists were trapped by the undead in a shopping mall, again dealing with fear, confusion, and distrust, but also issues of materialism. This film spawned the "zombie apocalypse" genre, with the scale of the undead being far wider, especially urban, and exploring concepts like mass panic, infrastructural strengths and weaknesses, and urban warfare. Trapped in a shopping mall, which they have fortified to keep out the zombies, the protagonists must struggle between living in imprisoned luxury, brutal death always trying to get in, or trying to escape to a place of freedom and peace.

DAWN OF THE DEAD has become a horror staple and set the stage for countless films, including a 2004 remake, featuring the fast zombies of films like RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985) and Danny Boyle’s 28 DAYS LATER (2002).

DAY OF THE DEAD, released in 1985, featured powerful new themes to the zombie genre. Set after the nation, and possibly the world, has been overrun by the undead, a group of military and civilian survivors work in an underground bunker to discover a cure. Exploring the divide between military and civilian, the film focused on power dynamics in a confined space. And while DAY's box-office performance paled in comparison to earlier installments of Romero’s series, it is perhaps now, the Dead film which feels the most relevant to our time. The film itself is getting  a lot of airplay on TV thanks to screenings on EL Rey Network, which is itself getting picked up by more and more major cable providers (more details on that here), but the themes of DAY also have been explored in more modern fare. For example, 28 DAYS LATER also featured a military versus civilian subplot, and so has the popular television series The Walking Dead. The concept of finding a cure for the plague of the undead has also inspired more recent zombie films, beginning with RESIDENT EVIL and 28 DAYS LATER, when a virus was asserted to turn people into zombies.

The idea of zombies as people who have been infected by a fast-developing disease has given rise to the exploration of infection, pandemic, social proximity, and relationships in horror films. How many people can an infected person infect? How do you cope when a loved one becomes infected?

Though Romero's zombie fare took a hiatus after DAY OF THE DEAD, there was a dramatic rise of big-budget, mainstream zombie movie in the early 2000s, which typically featured themes around unethical scientific experimentation, viral plagues and contagions, and fast-moving infected, essentially "upping the ante," brought Romero back to the forefront with LAND OF THE DEAD in 2005. This film featured much more direct social commentary and examined class structures through the lens of a city of survivors of a zombie apocalypse. The city offered different roles and lifestyles for different classes of survivors, with the wealthy living in luxury and the poor struggling in dangerous and dirty conditions. Poor people could risk their lives scavenging for supplies outside the safety of the city in hope of being allowed to join the ranks of the wealthy and privileged.

Romero has continued to explore social commentary with subsequent films, including DIARY OF THE DEAD (2007) and SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (2009), with the latter focusing on the concept of relationships and grudges persisting into death and beyond.

The popularity of zombie films, begun by Romero's work in the 1960s and 1970s, has eventually spawned big-budget parodies and comedies about zombies and zombie apocalypses, including direct spoof SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004) and ZOMBIELAND (2009), which took a humorous look at surviving a zombie epidemic. The recent comedy WARM BODIES (2013) looks at zombie evolution and relationships with humans from a zombie perspective, switching the usual paradigm. In 1968, who could have predicted that Romero's first movie would spawn all this?

Written By: Brandon Engel

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hollywood choreographer Sylvia Lewis on Jerry Lewis, Singin' In The Rain and Nicholas Ray

Actress / Director/ Choreographer Sylvia Lewis has been dancing since the '40s in Hollywood.  She has worked with the likes of The Three Stooges, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Spike Jones, and Ray Bolger, most famous for his work as the 'Scarecrow' in the WIZARD OF OZ (1939).  In the '50s Lewis would appear on the landmark comedy television series The Colgate Comedy Hour and go on to work with directors like Jerry Lewis, Frank Tashlin, and Nicholas Ray.   Lewis played 'Miss Cartilage ' in the fantasy finale of the 1961 Jerry Lewis comedy THE LADIES' MAN.  She shares some of her stories with us here at TV Store Online....

TV STORE ONLINE:  How did you end up working for Jerry Lewis on THE LADIES' MAN?

LEWIS:  Well, THE LADIES' MAN wasn't the first time that I had actually worked with Jerry.    Before I tell you about THE LADIES' MAN, I just want to say that I think Jerry is a completely underrated and gifted performer.

TV STORE ONLINE:  He's a very underrated and gifted director too...

LEWIS:  True.  He was always very visual.  I just remember him telling me about how he would get visions in his head when we worked together.  He was one of those performers, writers, and directors that just saw it all in his head and if he couldn't figure out how to achieve it he would go to his crew members and he would pick their brains.  That was how he learned.  That was just how he gathered information and I think that over time in doing that he became one of the most well informed directors working.  He really is a comedic genius, but I think that he always wanted to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor too.   He is just a ball of talent and you can't limit him to any one particular medium.  There were times when he was difficult to work for, like when I was working with him on The Colgate Comedy Hour (1955) on television. I was married to Jerry's head writer there Ed Simmons.   I was barely out of my teen years when I did that with both he and Dean [Martin], and at that time I wasn't very focused on what they were doing, but only on the fact that there was this new four-camera thing that was going on in live television. 

By the time we got to THE LADIES' MAN, I had gotten to know him better and I saw all of these different sides of him.  I spent eleven weeks working on THE LADIES' MAN, and during those weeks I went into the studio every day hoping that I could catch Jerry to talk to him about the sequence that we ultimately did with the Harry James Orchestra.  I was there all day, every day for those eleven weeks and I never got an opportunity to talk to him or rehearse for the finale that I was hired to be a part of in THE LADIES' MAN.   

But I sat there for those weeks and I just watched him work, and this was when he had just invented the Video Asst.   It was a busy set, and it was fantastic.  There were tourists coming through, there were set visitors, and it was exciting because people wanted to see these technical innovations at work that he had created.  Jerry could wear all of the hats too.  He could at the same time, direct the scene and be in front of the camera as a performer and he did it with incredible ease.    

At the end of those eleven weeks, Jerry took me aside and we went over onto the set were we were going to shoot the sequence.  He had Edith Head design the costume for me.  We were standing on that set, and he told me about how he had envisioned the entire set as being done in all white.  

He had envisioned me in all black he said, with a white face and that red lipstick.    I was a creature to him.  He pointed up in the air and asked me to look at the chandelier.  He said, "I had that crystal chandelier made in the shape of your body."   You can't see it in the film completely, but it was those little details that he focused on that made that movie so wonderful.

He played me the track "Bang-Tail" by the Harry James Orchestra and he told me about how they were going to appear.  He said, "I've listened to this track a few times.  I just want you to follow me.  Do it as a dancer, but just follow me."   He put the track on and he started across the set.  I was literally just chasing him around the set.  What you see in the finished scene is literally just what he asked me to do.  We rehearsed it about half a dozen times, and then we shot it.  There was no choreography, there were just moves, and they were almost improvised.   He trusted me to do that with him.
TV STORE ONLINE:  How long did you have to hang upside down as we see you at the beginning of the scene in the movie?

LEWIS:  Well, we shot for two days.   I can't remember if that was done on the first day or second.  I just remember that I could barely walk in that black dress.  Harry James and the band were there on the set waiting, and Jerry started to talk about it.  Jerry said, "Get the casting people down here. I don't want Sylvia doing that.  It's too dangerous.  Let's get a stunt double."  So he gives instructions to have someone get four or five stunt girls from casting.  About four or five hours later, the casting people come and they bring about half a dozen gals with them. Jerry lines them up, he takes a look at them.  He seemed like he was starting to get annoyed because none of the girls looked like me.  I said, "Jerry. I can do this.  The guys will hold me up there!  This is really no big deal."     So two of the biggest and strongest guys you've ever seen pulled me into the air.  One guy held one ankle, and another my other ankle.  Jerry gave them specific instructions on how they should lower me right to his eye level.  We did a rehearsal of it, and then I went back up into the ceiling and Jerry had the cameras rolling the entire time as so there would be no danger whatsoever.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Is it true that you also worked on SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952) as a dancer?

LEWIS:   Yes.  That was the second movie that I ever worked on in fact.   Do you remember the scene with Donald O'Connor where he sings "Make'em Laugh" and he does that back flip?

Of course!  That's my favorite sequence in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN...

LEWIS:  I was actually standing next to the camera as Donald was doing that.   I worked on SINGIN' IN THE RAIN for a long time, and as I remember it, it seemed like every dancer in Hollywood was working on the film too.   At the time I wasn't a very happy chorus girl, but I knew it was going to be a very good and long job, but we had no idea that the film would become a classic.   I had known Donald for a long time, because I had worked with him on television before all that.  Standing there, and watching Donald do "Make'em Laugh", it was impossible to have any awareness that what he was doing was instantly timeless and in the minute that he did that no less.  

TV STORE ONLINE:  You're going to call me out on my bullsh*t when I say that I think Jerry Lewis is just as good of a dancer as someone like Gene Kelly or Donald O'Connor....

LEWIS:  You're wrong for one reason, but that's not to say that he couldn't have been.   He didn't have the formal training that either Gene or Donald had, and that is what separates the men from the boys.   He could've been right up there though if he had wanted to be.   Jerry has always had perfect rhythm and a very good pitch when it comes to music. He has all the tools to be a great dancer except the training.

TV STORE ONLINE:  You also worked with Nicholas Ray on his film HOT BLOOD (1956)...

LEWIS:  Oh Boy!   Yes, I did work on that as a choreographer.   By that time, I was a fairly well known choreographer and my agent called me one day and said that Nick Ray would like myself and another choreographer [Matt Maddox] to come to see him about a job on his next film.    We went in there, and Nick was the most charming and adorable person that you could meet. He was so enthusiastic about his next project.  He had just come off of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955).  He started telling us about his idea for the movie and it was really his baby.   It was a project that he had been working on for a very long time.  He spent a lot of time researching these New York gypsies.  He said, "This is culture that is so interesting.  We don't know anything about them and they are incredibly fascinating."  This was during the pre-production for the film.   He hired Les Baxter to do the music for the film.  Things were moving really fast.  

Nick would have me come in every couple of weeks before they started shooting.  We would go over the scenes that involved music and dance.   As a good director does, he was filling us in on the ambiance of the culture of the gypsies.  Around that time he also started hiring his supporting characters for the movie.   He hadn't even hired his lead actors yet!   It got just a couple weeks before he was to start shooting and he still hadn't hired his leads.  I went in to see him and he said, "Well, we might have Cornel Wilde, but we're not sure.  I'm getting pressure from the front office also to use Jane Russell in the movie but she's not right for the role."    I will say that for Cornel Wilde, he had talents that we hadn't seen of him on the big screen yet up till that point, and he at least, looked right for the part.

In the final week before Nick was to start shooting he became very stressed out and unhappy.  He was being backed up against the wall because he was forced by Harry Cohn at Columbia to hire Jane Russell for HOT BLOOD.   He became very despondent and was forced to move forward with the movie.   Matt and I had only a week or ten days to teach both Jane Russell and Cornel, who were non-dancing actors, what we had come up with for the wedding dance, and that thing with the whip...  We tried to make the steps simple so that they would be able to learn them in such a short time.   Nick said, "You choreograph what you like and if necessary we'll just shoot you and Matt doing it and then we'll cut in."   We worked our asses off trying to teach Jane and Cornel those dances.   It was not an easy task.  As we got as far along as we could, Nick would come down and watch us.   He figured out how he wanted to shoot it as he was watching Jane and Cornel dance.   The long shots that you see of them dancing in HOT BLOOD were done by Matt and I, and the close-ups are obviously Jane and Cornel.  

Jane Russell and Nick Ray during HOT BLOOD
As Nick started shooting he got more and more frustrated with Jane and Cornel. It just wasn't working.  Nick was a very unhappy man, and he was drinking heavily during the shooting of HOT BLOOD, and it was so sad to see this man who had had this incredibly personal movie that he had envisioned, and then to have it taken away and dictated by the studio really drove him into a very dark state of being.

We did the wedding dance sequence as Nick had planned it out, and a week later the studio asked to see it.  The screening didn't go well.  They told Nick that they could clearly see where the dancers were Matt and I, and then when they were Jane Russell and Cornel Wilde.   They demanded that he re-shoot it.   So Nick had to go and re-hire all of the extras that he had used and get everyone back for it.   He was so pissed off that he purposely set the camera back as far away from us as he could get it (Laughing).   Matt and I are still dancing in the sequence but the camera is so far away that we look like two ants on the screen (Laughing).  

But, it didn't matter how far he got away with the camera, you can still tell when we are dancing and when Jane and Cornell are on the screen.   Jane and Cornell were both very sweet, and they really tried very hard to get it right, but they just weren't right for those parts.  I think that the both of them could tell that Nick wasn't happy that they were being forced on him.   It really was doomed from the start.  Had the studio left Nick alone to make the film that he wanted to it would've been something wonderful, because the script really was good.

Nick was living at the Chateau Marmont at the time, and on the weekends he would invite all of us over to his bungalow and we would have dinner and booze together.   Natalie Wood would show up, and some of the other members of the REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE crew.  He would use the time to try to get over the trauma and the week-after-week torture that the studio put him through during HOT BLOOD.   He was a very quiet man, and he really was a wonderful director and I've always felt sad about how HOT BLOOD turned out for him.   

TV STORE ONLINE:  For every bit of criticism that HOT BLOOD has received, the one thing that really comes across beautifully in the film is Nick's attention to that gypsy sub-culture...

LEWIS:  Yeah, I would agree.   But going into HOT BLOOD you really need to be forewarned of that.  Any review I ever read of the film when it was released or since, no critic has ever picked up on that.  It's really in there but it's lost in a way in the movie.

TV STORE ONLINE:  You also worked on a little movie in the mid '70s that I adore called HEARTS OF THE WEST (1975)...

LEWIS:  I just recently saw the film for the first time since it was released theatrically.  It's a fun and delightful little movie.  The cast of it is so wonderful.

TV STORE ONLINE:  The musical number that you did in the film is my favorite moment in the movie...

You think?  There was so much of it that was cut out!  That number, how I came to do that number, it was a point in time where tap-dancing had made a brief comeback.  It had been gone from movies for decades and for some reason there was a resurgence.  The movie got a lot of publicity for the time because of how tap-dancing had become so popular again. One day when we were shooting, NBC came to the set with a crew, as they were planning on doing a special segment on tap-dancing which was to air shortly thereafter.  It was obviously a publicity thing connected with the studio.   They shot us doing the entire dance number from three different angles. When it aired on NBC they showed the entire dance number!  They didn't cut any of it.    When I went to the theater to see the movie I saw that they had actually cut a bunch of it out.  I was so mad.

HEARTS OF THE WEST had a flawless cast.  They couldn't do anything wrong.  I didn't get along with the director  Howard Zieff.  He was a very tiny details oriented guy.  He had done a bunch of very successful television commercials and he was very focused on the tiniest of details.   If an ashtray was out of place he would cut a scene and re-adjust it himself.   I had my own very specific way of putting together a dance number and he just couldn't understand my way of working because it clashed with his own.   I don't choreograph anything unless I have music to work with and for the life of me I just couldn't get him to approve a piece of music for that number in the film.  Finally, as a last resort, I started working with "Pagan Love Song" by Arthur Freed.  MGM owned the song.   I found a recording of the song done by Lawrence Welk and there was tap-dancing on the record.  I used that during rehearsals.   I knew that they wouldn't be able to use the Lawrence Welk version but I figured that they could just put a different version of the song over it during post-production.

They were able to do exactly that but they weren't happy that they had to do it, and when it came time to record the tap-dancing sound I had to go in and dance it myself.   I had to do it twelve times and I was very aware of where I was.   I did it on the same floor that Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly had danced on for post-production.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Of all the actors and actresses that you have worked with over the years...Who was the easiest to teach to dance?

LEWIS:  The easiest non-dancer that I ever worked with was Dick Van Dyke.  He was just like Jerry Lewis.  He wasn't trained but he had this natural ability that made everything so easy.  Everything that I showed him he picked up instantly.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Who was the most difficult actor or actress that you had to work with in your career in regards to teaching dance?

LEWIS:  Jane Russell!  I'm sorry...(Laughing)

TV STORE ONLINE:  Well, she's dead now...

LEWIS:  She was such a sweet person though.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Given your many years of experience in Hollywood and training those to dance ...What do you think of something today like Dancing With The Stars?

LEWIS:  I guess I'm an old grouch because I find the whole idea of competitive dancing very offensive.  I can't watch that show.   I did try to watch the show, but I had to leave it behind.  I will some times tune in near the end of the competition to see who is left and how far they have come along in their training. 

Having these non-dancers pushing themselves to see who can kick higher or push themselves to an end point is difficult to watch.  I still consider dance to be an art-form and I'm just not sure where that train of thought has gone today....I don't see that in anything in the mainstream today.   I've gone back to appreciating the classical "hoofers".   I even admire someone like Gregory Hines, and he's not here to show people the art form any longer.    I've gone back to enjoying the classic ballet because no one has tried to corrupt that all of these years later.   What is mainstream dance now - is not my cup of tea.

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung
For more with Sylvia Lewis please visit her official website HERE:

Friday, August 8, 2014

True Blood's Kristina Anapau talks with TV STORE ONLINE about playing fairy and her new movie ALTERGEIST

True Blood's Kristina Anapau talks with TV STORE ONLINE about playing fairy and her new movie ALTERGEIST (2014)

TV STORE ONLINE:  How did the opportunity to play 'Maurella' on True Blood come to you?

ANAPAU:  True Blood came to me through an audition. I went in and read for the show creator Alan Ball and I guess he liked what he saw because I was offered Maurella a couple hours after I left.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Did you do any types of research into mythological creatures or fairies or anything like that before you started on the show?

ANAPAU:  Well, Maurella is a pretty fanciful character, and as an actor that gives you a lot of freedoms that you wouldn't have if you were playing a sort of average person.  There wasn't really any research to do beyond what everyone has done growing up and learning about mythological creatures.  Chris Bauer who plays 'Andy Bellefleur' really helped me out on the my first day of shooting when he really let me in on how the writers of True Blood write and how its this sort of this Darwinian process.  The writers watch the nuances of the actors and they use those to write further story lines.   We decided together that Maurella should be this little creature and that she would kiss him with her eyes open and that she should lick his mouth.  I made her into a creature and the writers really liked that.  That conversation with Chris on that first day was really responsible in a huge way for me getting to come back in the next season.

TV STORE ONLINE:  When I think back about Season 4 of True Blood and Season 5, those two big scenes that you had with Chris are two of the most memorable moments of the show....I'm referring to the "sex scene" with Chris Bauer as Andy Bellefleur in the woods but also the scene where your character gives birth to all of Andy's fairy children on the pool table inside of Merlottes....

ANAPAU:  Right.  I don't think I would really call it a sex scene because all of that was cut out.  Working with Chris was great, and acting is so technical and everything was really blocked out.   It was fun though.  It was a nice day to kind of get to know Chris and all of the Producers on the show.  We shot that scene out in the woods of Calabash.  

Then with the pool table scene, that was near the end of Season 5 [Episode #11 'Sunset']  and it was really special because that episode was Alan Ball's last episode of the show.  He wrote that particular episode as well, and he was there on set the entire time and the whole thing was just so over-the-top and amazing and it took about fourteen hours to shoot that...

TV STORE ONLINE:  You went through fourteen hours of labor...

ANAPAU:  Yeah, and it was really hard on my voice...It was wonderful though.  When you go into something like that you just have to sort of surrender to the weirdness of it.  You can't be concerned about how you're going to look.  I started thinking about all of the weird things that had happened on the show in Merelottes and I really just tried to sort of channel that for the scene.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Speaking of sets...That fairy set with the MOULIN ROUGE (2001) like stage on it was pretty great...

ANAPAU:  That was a great set, wasn't it?    The fairies sort of transformed over Season 4 to Season 5.   They started out wearing these long-flowing gowns and then eventually they were wearing only lingerie on that set. 

TV STORE ONLINE:   Tell me about your new film project ALTERGEIST (2014)?

ANAPAU:  I was sent the script by my lawyer, which really isn't the traditional route that is taken, but he sent it to me and asked me to take a look at it.      He asked me to look at the part of "Sarah", but I really wasn't feeling "Sarah".   I was interested in the part of "Theresa".  At the time though "Theresa" had already been cast. Michelle Rodriguez was supposed to play her.   I went in to audition for the filmmakers, and as I was reading the Sarah scenes I tried to read them like I was playing Theresa.   I had a really solid audition with them and over the next couple weeks they offered me the role of Theresa.

TV STORE ONLINE:  So what can people expect from ALTERGEIST?

ANAPAU:  It's a scary movie.  It's a paranormal thriller and what sets it apart from other genre films is that it has some really developed characters and it is shot beautifully.  It's very scary and very entertaining and the filmmakers did a really good job at adding facets and dimensions to it that other filmmakers of genre films don't really care about.  I think that all of these elements are really gonna help it when it gets released.


ANAPAU:  Well, I have a few different movies coming out after ALTERGEIST.  The first is MISS INDIA AMERICA (2014) which is the directorial debut of Ravi Kapur. It was great to work with him.  Another is called  NEAR MYTH: THE OSKAR KNIGHT STORY (2014) which is this mockumentary where I play myself but very heightened.   It's really cleverly written.  It's super cerebral.  I'm also about to launch a company called Color It New and it's for my fashion based product.  We're releasing it in September of this year and it's a product that is going to change peoples' closets forever and I'm excited to share it with the world in a few weeks.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Is it a product as cool as "The Wonder Hanger" as seen on television?

ANAPAU:  (Laughing)....It's much cooler than that.  That isn't even in the same ballpark with this.   People should visit ColorItNew.com and sign up for updates and they'll be notified when the product is made available.   Or visit us on Facebook.

Check out the trailer for ALTERGEIST here. 
Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Allison Anders looks back at GRACE OF MY HEART (1996)

Writer / Director Allison Anders talks with TV STORE ONLINE about her 1996 film GRACE OF MY HEART starring Illeana Douglas, Eric Stolz, and John Turturro.

TV STORE ONLINE:  What was your inspiration for GRACE OF MY HEART (1996)?

ANDERS:  When I was at UCLA film school I had really wanted to do a movie about the girl group The Shangri-Las.  I had always been a huge Shangri-Las fan. So I wanted to do something that was inspired by them, but I couldn't really crack it.    I wanted to do it in a narrative structure that went past, present, and future.   I thought a lot about it, but then I decided that I just had to hold off on it.  This was right before I had started work on BORDER RADIO (1987).  Another thing that really impacted me around that time too was a book that Alan Betrock put out called Girl Groups: The Story of A Sound.    That had amazing photographs in it of the songwriters of the Brill Building.   Along with photos of the girl groups there were photos of Carole King and Gerry Goffin then others like Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann.  It was really amazing to see those photographs of the songwriters and to see what the Brill Building looked like back then, and it was interesting to read what Alan had to say about what that time was like back then and how they were all really just kids when they had been apart of that.

Then I met Ruth Charny.  Ruth had just produced a film with Illeana [Douglas], and she was Martin Scorsese's girlfriend at the time.  Ruth had wanted to produce something with Illeana that would be part of a deal that Martin Scorsese had at the time with Universal Studios.   When I met Illeana that whole interest in the Brill Building and the songwriters came flooding back to me. We looked at some books and we looked at some properties, and then I said, "Let's see if there is something in the Brill Building."  It didn't occur to me at the time that Martin Scorsese would feel a affinity with the Brill Building.  But of course, he really did.  He really loves that music, and it really interested him.  He had tried to crack his own Brill Building story even.  He was really into it, and it was great for me because I knew how great that Illeana was at playing that sort of awkward character and that was really how I saw Carole King.  I saw her as a awkward girl with great talent who was behind-the-scenes until she came out in front.    

TV STORE ONLINE:  I read in a interview with you that came out around the time the film did that your process for writing is that you'll assemble a mixed tape of songs you like and you'll use those for inspiration as you're working...

ANDERS:  Oh yeah.  I did do that.  In fact I did that throughout the entire process of making the film. For each song that was written for the film, I had at least 5 Brill Building songs that I really loved and when the songwriters were writing the music for the film I gave them some music and said, "Okay, this is what we're going for here."  Believe me, I do this every time.  It drives the people that I live with crazy.  They say, "Really? We're going to listen to this again?"

TV STORE ONLINE:  I think it was in the same interview with you where you had said that writing the script for GRACE was very difficult because it contained some personal elements for you in it...

ANDERS:   Yes, for sure.  There were some personal things in that movie for sure.  I think some of my past relationships or failed romances were really a motivating factor at that time and they ended up in the script. 
TV STORE ONLINE:  One of the aspects of GRACE OF MY HEART that is really amazing is just how ballsy it was for you to intertwine characters based on real people to create this fantasy music mythology...

ANDERS:  Right! (Laughing) I know.   I think about it still all these years later. I think it really drove people crazy.   I still remember one reviewer who wrote something like, "Didn't you know that Carole King and Brian Wilson got together..." (Laughing)   I couldn't help it though!

TV STORE ONLINE:   It is a great fantasy...

ANDERS:  Right, and who knows what kind of record Carole King could have made with Brian Wilson if the two would have actually gotten together...The hilarious thing in the film is just how much Illeana turned out to look just like Brian's first wife, Marilyn Wilson.  It was really weird that that happened.

TV STORE ONLINE:  I've noticed that in the many times that I've seen the film as well...

ANDERS:  I think at the time that I was really moved with the whole idea of Brian Wilson and I was really infatuated with him as an icon.   Kurt Cobain had just died, and there was something about him that reminded me about Brian Wilson as well.  I think there were a lot of different things that came together at the time that created that character.  Plus, I knew that I had Matt Dillion.  Matt was a big Dinosaur Jr. fan and he had even directed one of J's music videos. It all came together.  People don't really think of Matt as a West Coast person, but I've always thought of him as a surfer.   Brian Wilson wasn't a surfer...(Laughing)

TV STORE ONLINE:   I love your attention to details with the Brian character..When you put him in his Buddy Holly glasses and the Pet Sounds era suit...

ANDERS:  I know... Aren't they so great in that scene?  It was the simplest of scenes.. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  It's my favorite scene in the film.

ANDERS:   We just shot and shot that.  I think that was the first scene that we shot with Matt, and that's pretty incredible.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How many takes on something like that?  It's such a  pivotal scene in the film, because if you're not invested at that point..It's the scene that puts you over the edge.

ANDERS:  I think we did like 8 takes on each side.  It wasn't a Kubrick situation...(Laughing)   For me that was a lot though actually.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How did you approach that scene as a director?   Did you let Illeana go and allow her to be in that moment or were you more tedious in instruction?  For example, the way that Illeana expresses herself physically in the way that she moves her arms is really incredible...

ANDERS:   What was happening there was that Illeana was just playing Kristen Vigard's movements as she had seen her sing in the recording studio when she was recording 'God Give Me Strength'.  All of the music in the film had to be pre-recorded before we even started shooting the film.   It's also Illeana being completely vulnerable.  That character was shattered.   Plus, they just did that too.  I really didn't do much there.  All I did was gave them the safety for them to go there.  The way Matt Dillion looks at her is just incredible.   It's the moment in the film where those two characters fall in love.   Matt and Illeana were friends, and they had worked together on TO DIE FOR (1995).  I think the song also made that all possible as well.

TV STORE ONLINE:   I gotta say that I'm not really a fan of the Elvis Costello version of 'God Give Me Strength'... I prefer the Kristen Vigard take..

ANDERS:  I feel really bad to this day that her version wasn't on the soundtrack.  I don't feel like we did all of the different versions of that song justice.  That scene though is my favorite scene in the movie.

TV STORE ONLINE:  I know you reached out to Gerry Goffin to write some of the music for the film...I recently read an interview with Goffin from '96 where he talked about GRACE OF MY HEART and how he felt that the script that he was first shown wasn't the film that was released...I was curious to see if you could talk about that?

ANDERS:  Well, from his point-of-view it probably wasn't.   I think that he was really hooked into the fact that early on the Eric Stolz character was very political.   He really liked that for himself as he was that character.  A lot of that got lost along the way.  I shot everything that he initially saw in the script though.  As you go along you lose scenes and there was some political stuff that was lost.  It's missing, but I think that you can still see his character in GRACE OF MY HEART as the leftist songwriter.

TV STORE ONLINE:  It is really nice to see Bruce Davison in GRACE OF MY HEART...

ANDERS:  I know. He's so great.  I can't remember if he was someone who we wanted from the start.  We had John Turturro and Eric Stolz in mind right from the start, but I don't think we had anyone in mind for that character and then when our casting director [Russell Gray] mentioned him I knew that he would be perfect. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  Is there any truth to what I've heard about Leslie Gore contributing to the 'Secret Love' song in the film?

ANDERS:  She did.   I think she was offended too.  She wasn't invited to the premiere.  It was the fault of the people who put that together in New York City. They did such a stupid job.   They invited Neil Sedaka and he was like, "Hell No.  They didn't invite me to write a song for the film..." (Laughing) I really felt awful.  Who wants to upset Leslie Gore?  I didn't make a lot of friends with my heroes.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Then there is that scene with Bridget Fonda where she gives her lover that look... Was that a product of the same synergy that we talked about earlier between Matt and Illeana?

ANDERS:  I think so.  That was all Bridget and Lucinda [Jenney].  That was played out so great.  That whole dynamic with Larry Klein and him trying to pick up on Bridget's girlfriend.

TV STORE ONLINE:  You had mentioned earlier about some of the things in the script that had to be cut out...What were some of the other things that you lost during the edit?

ANDERS:  I had a 'Singing Nun' kind-of-thing with Victoria Williams.  She was singing with some kids. There was a scene with Illeana and Eric Stolz and they were going to some foreign film.  There was quite a bit.  There was a beautiful scene between Illeana and Eric which came after she breaks it off with Bruce Davison's character and they met and Eric comforts her even though his character is re-married.   That was one of our favorite scenes.  

TV STORE ONLINE:  I really love the photo montage that ends the film...It really hits on a visceral level...Was that something you had planned from the beginning or was that something that you had to create to get out of the film?

ANDERS:  I know that worked really well.   That was actually a idea that Illeana had.   She loved those photographs. They were taken by Claudia Barris and I had worked with her before on FOUR ROOMS (1995).  She was fantastic and she would take the actors off and shoot these special stills.  Illeana had the idea to bring the photos back at the end, and originally we didn't have the Mother character come back at the end either. To me, her business with her Mother was done. She was a cold bitch, but when we tested the film, people wanted the closure.

TV STORE ONLINE:  When GRACE OF MY HEART came out it didn't get the attention that it deserved... It seems like it didn't get the proper marketing it needed by the studio, I don't remember seeing it playing in theaters for very long and it seems like it was overshadowed for some reason by the Tom Hanks film THAT THING YOU DO (1996).

ANDERS:  I'd have to agree with you. (Laughing)  I don't get it either.  I think we had a really bad poster. I hate that poster.  Frankly, I just don't think that the studio did a very good job marketing it.   It was really weird.  I guess THAT THING YOU DO had some good marketing behind it.  It's one of those weird things where if you film ends up with a distributor who didn't have anything to do with your film from the start, they just don't care about it really.   I don't think that anyone can hold their head high to say that they did a good job in bringing GRACE OF MY HEART to the public consciousness.

TV STORE ONLINE:  When the film was released...Were you ever worried about how any of the people portrayed in the film would react to it?  I can't help but think about how Brian Wilson could have reacted after seeing the film?

ANDERS:  I know! (Laughing)  It's terrible.  He did see some of the film before it was complete.  In fact, Brian gave me some music for the film but I didn't end up using it.

TV STORE ONLINE:  What's wrong with you?!?!

  I couldn't figure out how to work it in.   He came into the process very late.   I was at the airport after the film was released and this woman comes up to me.  She says,"Are you Alison Anders?  I'm Brian Wilson's wife."   She started to berate me. She says, "Why did you do that?  That hurt him so much!"   I was just devastated.  Who wants to hurt Brian Wilson?   What did I do?  Of all the people in the word...   She starts to cry. I start to cry.  We're both sitting there in the airport waiting room trying to get through this.  Brian walks up and says, "Hey Allison!"  He opens his arms up and he starts patting me.  He said, "You got some of it right!"  (Laughing)  I said, "Well Godamnnit.  I got Matt Dillion to play you!  He's cute, right?"  

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung
Follow Allison Anders on Twitter HERE: