Tuesday, November 25, 2014


 Special Effects genius Gabe Bartalos on the Jean Cocteau nightmare aesthetics of his feature film directorial debut SKINNED DEEP (2004).

TV STORE ONLINE:  Where did the idea for SKINNED DEEP come from?

BARTALOS:   Well, what got me into special effects was my interest in filmmaking.  When I was younger I was making Super 8 movies and no-one wanted to do any of the effects--so that left me to do them and I really had a great time with it.    I began to write the script for SKINNED DEEP when my mind became really ripe with ideas.   I knew that instead of writing something with just one character--I'd have multiple characters.   Each of the characters in the film represents some aspect of the commercial work I do every day.   I get asked to create hard-edged monsters--but I, myself, am really into absurdism and the surreal.   I really wanted to create something that featured a whole palette of characters.  The film is very much a representation of self, and it's one of those weird and strange films that I tend to celebrate when I find them.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Where do you think that interest in surrealism comes from?    Is there also a interest in dream/nightmare aesthetic-logic as well?

BARTALOS:   Looking back--I'm still a very big fan of ERASERHEAD (1977).  One of the things about surrealism or dream logic in cinema is that it can be thrown-away when it's in the wrong hands.    The challenge of it--and this is if you plan to put any sort of intellect into it--is to make sure that the things that you're presenting make sense.   Even though it's a dream--it still has to make sense.  You have to be overly disciplined when you're working that way so you make sure that it works.   You have to have a very rigid blueprint when you approach anything from that aesthetic--so it's not for the sake of having a lack of ideas but taking ideas and making them work inside of a dream logic.  That's a cool challenge.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Yet, there's a dual-aesthetic approach you're taking in SKINNED DEEP. There's the interior dream aesthetic of it, but on the exterior--inside the actual filmic approach--you've made the film look like a really cool low-budget early '80s horror film...The film is grainy....It reminds you of Frank Henenlotter's BASKET CASE (1982) or DEADLY SPAWN (1983) or something like that with it's filmic style....Were you always going after that look?

BARTALOS:  Totally.  I was aware of my financial limitations of doing a feature film.  I told everyone that worked on the film at the time that I'd be happy if, textually, I could file SKINNED DEEP somewhere between THE EVIL DEAD (1981) and BASKET CASE (1982).   I wanted you to see the film grain to a fault.   When films like BASKET CASE and THE EVIL DEAD came out--those were very important films to me.   The texture of those films--the looks of them--are like their flags of pride.  It's like they said, "Look, I know that we're working with restrictions--but we're still going to make this movie because we have a ton of ideas that we want to get out!"  There is no shame in doing a modest movie.  When I first saw BASKET CASE I said: "This movie is declaring its independence!"  It was like Frank Henenlotter was saying," Okay.  You got it?  Now I'm going to move past all that and here's this weird little story I want to tell you..."    Having had the good luck to work with Frank Henenlotter myself--he has galloped past all of those limitations with the films he made that came after BASKET CASE.

I was determined to make SKINNED DEEP on film as well.   It was my movie and so I wanted to also do some really interesting things technically as well.   We did a shot with a steadicam that starts when a crane brings the camera down before it even starts to move with the steadicam.   It made it a lot of fun to make because of that struggle with how it looks textually and then how I was trying visually to make it look like it was a IMAX film..

TV STORE ONLINE:  It certainly doesn't look or feel like a $600,000 dollar movie.   I love, for example, that sequence with the girl in the room with all of the newspapers on the wall and how you restrict the camera and only allow for it to flop and twist...

BARTALOS:   For sure.   I joke, but on SKINNED DEEP I was just happy that I was able to get the film moving through the camera.  I really wanted to learn film language on SKINNED DEEP.  With the literal--I thought if you were that girl and you were trapped in this house and that dementia of newspaper--how do I get the audience into her head?    So we brought in the steadicam.  I loved how the newspapers sealed all the seams of the room.   It was weird to shoot.  To be in that room and shoot that was really strange.  All of the crew members really got into that while we were doing that.
TV STORE ONLINE:  American film audiences don't seem to understand or even consider base cinema aesthetics when they go into a film....They walk in with expectations, they want a narrative and they don't want to have to work for anything....As a filmmaker who adheres to similar aesthetics such as yourself--is your film and your aesthetic approach worth the risk of the audience who is more than likely not going to understand your work and in the end lambast it?

BARTALOS:  I think it is.  When you're making a film, especially an indie film--there is less to lose than if you're making a big film and have to answer to your backers.    With a indie film you can really zero-in on what you want to convey.   I'm a big believer in dreams.  I track my own dreams my whole life.  I've read so much about dreams.   I've come up with my own reasons for liking dreams. I've come up with my own analysis.  I've read quite a bit about neuroscience.  I keep up with that stuff.  Scientists are wondering why we are sleeping and dreaming.  Why is it so significant?  We do we spend a third of our lives sleeping.   It's something significant.   Scientists have just discovered that the main function of sleeping--is like our hard-drives backing up.   They are finding in studies that people that are suffering from long-term memory loss is a result of lack of R.E.M sleep.   The brain is not in a relaxed-state when you're sleeping. It's actually going into a hyper-activity.  It's almost like it's calculating or filing and sorting.   I try to take all of these things and find parallels in their logic and how they relate to my projects.     The hands-on of doing the film independently allowed me to have my fingerprint on every single frame of it.  The film comes from my own reasoning.  Being so insular--there is no way that you'll have a mass status-quo approval--I'm fine with that.  I'd rather have a limited audience that can get excited about it or have a connection with it or a scene from it.   Because that's how I am.    

TV STORE ONLINE:  In SKINNED DEEP you seem to be playing around with Protagonists as well.   We have this girl who is the lone survivor of the family, and then we have these digressions where other characters begin chasing after other characters away from what many would consider the narrative with the girl.  Also bad guys become something else in the film as well.  Are these digressions of the narrative or do they owe themselves to being from some element of your psyche when we consider the Cocteau dream-like aesthetic of the film?

BARTALOS:    I think it owes itself to the idea of how when we watch films we can find ourselves somehow rooting for the bad guy.   And it doesn't matter if its conscious or not.  Look at Oliver Stone's WALL STREET (1987)... I think that film was so successful because of how Michael Douglas portrayed the bad guy.  We were supposed to click with the Charlie Sheen character and we did, but we also connected with "Gordon Gekko".   Who doesn't want what that character had?  Obviously, it was a cautionary tale, but when the film was over you were left questioning yourself as to why you liked Gordon Gekko in the first place.  I think I was trying to do that. I was trying to mess with my own laws.  You know how your own psychology works.  We told you at the beginning of SKINNED DEEP that "Plates" was a bad guy, but when I  split Plates off and had him go after that motorcycle gang in the desert in SKINNED ALIVE I wanted to explore more territories and in doing that you started to root for the bad guy.

Surgeon General at work.
TV STORE ONLINE:   Where do you think that imagery for "Surgeon General" comes from for you?

BATALOS:  Well, it's fairly straight ahead.   If you blur your eyes and look at the image of him on the movie poster his face looks like a skull.   There's a little "Invisible Man" in there as well, and his bear-trap mouth--I always thought it would be cool to rip people apart with a bear trap mouth.  It has those primal iconics as well: skull equals death.

TV STORE ONLINE:  He reminds me of "Vic" the band Megadeth's mascot that they used to feature on their album covers in the '80s...

BARTALOS:  Yeah, well..people have told me that they see all kinds of things in him. I guess it just depends on what reference point you're using and when it came to you in your lifetime.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Screenwriter Allan F. Nicholls on Robert Altman and PERFECT COUPLE (1979)

 Actor / Writer ALLAN F. NICHOLLS talks with TV STORE ONLINE about the under-appreciated 1979 Robert Altman comedy PERFECT COUPLE.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How did the idea for PERFECT COUPLE [1979] come to you initially?

NICHOLLS:  Well, it actually came about before we did A WEDDING [1978].   At the time I was living in Los Angeles with several displaced Broadway rock music types like myself.  We had all moved to Los Angeles from New York City to try to work in television and film.  Either in '76 or '77,  I put together a bunch of people and we rented the Westwood Playhouse and we put on this midnight concert.   It was well-received, and there were a number of us that performed as quartets or two-pieces on the stage.  It was great fun and people were talking about it afterward.  Robert Altman heard about it and expressed his regret about not having been able to see it.   His producer suggested that he produce the show himself.  So we put it on again at the Roxy Theater and it went for three nights, except this time it was: "Robert Altman Presents:"  We started calling ourselves "Keepin' Em Off The Streets".  It was a great success and out of that--we decided to put it on again at the Roxy a few months later.   The third time around we recorded the entire thing.  We had a Record Plant Studios truck outside the Roxy and we recorded the whole concert.   I have no idea where those recordings are today but I would love to get my hands on them.   From there--we all went to New York to find a theater to put on the show again.   But, Altman got the go-ahead to start shooting A WEDDING (1978) and we went off to do that instead.  

When we finished the shooting of A WEDDING--the idea of doing another stage show wasn't very appealing.  Altman said, "Why don't we just write it into a movie?"  Let's make it a love story and we'll have one of the characters be in the rock band."   I went for a walk one day on lunch and I discovered this video dating service.  It was two blocks down from Altman's office.  I went in, grabbed some of their pamphlets and went back to the office.  I said, "Bob, I've got it.  Let's have our couple meet through a video dating service."  He liked the idea and we sat down and wrote the movie.  The video dating service was something brand new at that time.  The first date that we wrote was to be at the Santa Monica Pier on the Ferris Wheel, but then we changed it to the Hollywood Bowl.  Altman wanted the first date to be at an event.  It's kind of a tradition in Los Angeles for people to go to the Hollywood Bowl and bring a picnic with them.  We decided that would be a great opening.  From there we decided to bring in the L.A. Philharmonic.  It was driving the producers nuts because we only had a million dollar budget or just over that--so we had to call in a lot of favors to get the film started.    

The script for PERFECT COUPLE was pretty loose.   It was basically boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl.   It was Bob's idea to develop the sexuality of all the various characters.  Which was interesting--because back in 1979 people weren't really talking about gay relationships and in PERFECT COUPLE there are three gay relationships!

TV STORE ONLINE:  It seems like Altman was really inspired by the songs that the band were doing in that stage show....

NICHOLLS:  He loved them.  I remember Roger Ebert gave the film a mediocre review saying something about how Altman didn't pay much attention to the storyline as he did to the music in the movie.   Which is funny--as I'm currently working to have PERFECT COUPLE adapted for the stage.

TV STORE ONLINE:  You hinted toward it a moment ago...One of the key themes of both PERFECT COUPLE and A WEDDING is the coming together of these two different types or cultures of people....

NICHOLLS:      They're colliding worlds....

TV STORE ONLINE:  What do you think it is about that notion that you or Altman found so fascinating? 

NICHOLLS:   Bob just liked to tell those stories.  He liked to tell stories that had something to say on social structure and culture.   He saw the families in both scripts and their dysfunction and he found that interesting as a means to make that statement.

TV STORE ONLINE:  I appreciate how PERFECT COUPLE takes the idea a step farther...The film goes so far as to alienate the lead characters from their families so that they themselves don't fit into the world from which they initially came....

NICHOLLS:   Absolutely.

TV STORE ONLINE:   One of my favorite songs in PERFECT COUPLE is "Fantasy".   That's one you wrote.  What is the origin story behind the writing of that song?

  The two main songs in the show and film were songs that I'd had in my arsenal for years.  I wrote both with friends while I was in "Hair" in 1969.   "Goodbye Friends" I wrote as a tribute to my friends Keith Carradine and Danny Sullivan.  They were leaving the show to go out to Los Angeles.   I wrote the song in between shows of a Saturday Matinee one afternoon.  It was done in that short of time.  I wrote it, and after the show that Saturday night I sung it to them. The song has been with me for a long time.    "Goodbye Friends" was used as the opener and the closer for the Keepin' Em Off The Streets concerts.   "Fantasy"  I wrote in 1971.   I was in New York City at the time and I was sub-letting Shelly Plimpton's mother's apartment. She had a baby grand piano and I sat down and just started playing.  I don't write or read music.  I just sat down and started it.  And to this day I don't know any of the notes or chords for that song.  It just came to me, and I don't know how.    The other songs in the movie I co-wrote with Ted Neeley and Tony Berg.    Ted and I wrote "Weekend Holiday" and "Love Is All There Is".  

TV STORE ONLINE:  The most impressive aspect of the music for the film is how many of the songs are constantly in a state of flux.  They are structured wonderfully...

NICHOLLS:   Tony Berg arranged the songs.  He was an amazing arranger.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How about "Lonely Millionare"?    It says on the soundtrack that actor Cliff De Young had some involvement in that track....Was he part of the band?

NICHOLLS:   He was part of the early incarnation of Keepin' Em Off The Streets.   Cliff co-wrote the song with Tony and I when we were doing the live shows.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Some of the songs have a very Disco feel to them.  Was that part of just the times in which you were working or did Disco have any influence on you?

NICHOLLS:  A little probably.  That really came from Tony doing the arrangements.  We had an amazing drummer at that time named Art Wood too.  I think he was one of the members of the band on the earlier seasons of the American Idol television show.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Was Paul Dooley always Altman's first choice for the role of "Alex" in the film PERFECT COUPLE?


TV STORE ONLINE:  So how much of the stuff in the film was improved out and then scripted out?   An example would be that great kiss that Paul Dooley shares with Marta Heflin.

NICHOLLS:  Well, almost all of it was situated.   Some things was scripted out.  Other things were improved.   Most of the great lines that Paul Dooley has in the film were from him.    We just let him go.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How about that incredible scene with Marta and Paul at the hospital--where the Doctor is sewing up Dooley's head after Marta has hit him with that fire poker?

NICHOLLS:   That was Bob.  He said, "We want the two of you to realize that you're in love with each other here..."   That whole speech that the Doctor makes about "seeing pain", came out of a discussion that Bob and I had though.  I think it came out of an old joke that Bob used to tell.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How about your big fight scene with Dooley with that same fire poker?

NICHOLLS:   We just improved it out.   We knew we were going to use a fire poker and that that line that I say, "You don't even have a fire place!"  just came in that moment while we were shooting.    The whole idea of being hit with a poker was something we took because we thought it would've been something that you'd see in a old movie.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How about the whole side-story about the parallel couple that seems to be following Dooley and Heflin in the film...

NICHOLLS:   We wanted that to be our red-herring.   We wanted to keep showing them so that audience would think that we were going to switch-over so they could see "The Perfect Couple".

Interview Conducted by: Justin Bozung

Monday, November 17, 2014

Cinematographer Isidore Mankofsky on SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1980)

Cinematographer Isidore Mankofsky talks with TV STORE ONLINE about his work in the lush and dream-like 1980 fan favorite SOMEWHERE IN TIME.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How did you come to work as the Director of Photography on SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1980)?

MANKOFSKY:  I had been working--very steadily--at Universal Studios at the time that I met [Director] Jeannot Szwarc.   Universal had about thirty-one shows shooting at any given time all at once, and you were bound to fall into shooting any one of these because of how any of the regular cameraman would get the flu, or need time off for a funeral or a wedding. 

  Jeannot Szwarc and Christopher Reeve
Whenever any of those regular cameraman was off--I'd be on stand-by and I'd get a call to go in and shoot a show for one or two days.    I got called in to fill in a couple times for Jeannot's regular cameraman.    On a Saturday, I got a call from Jeannot and he asked me to breakfast.  So I met him the next day.  He said, "I've got this script called SOMEWHERE IN TIME.  It's based on a book called Bid Time Return."    He went on to tell me that the shooting of the film would have to be done on a low-budget, because Universal really didn't want to shoot the picture.   So, he told me that if I was interested in shooting the picture with him--I'd have to do it for scale. 

Jeannot and the [Producer] Stephen Deutsch went all over the country to look for the shooting location.    I believe, in the book--the setting is based in San Diego, California.  They had wanted to shoot the film at the Hotel del Coronado--but it turned out that the interiors were too modern.    They saw the Grand Hotel in Michigan--and they decided that that would be the best fit for the film. It's never mentioned in the film that the Grand Hotel is on an island though.

We got everything around in Los Angeles and we all flew out to Michigan to shoot the film.   We arrived in the mid-winter, and the Lake was partially frozen when we arrived. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  What kind of discussions did you have with Szwarc regarding the visual style of the film?

MANKOFSKY:  Well, he had a very good idea of what he was after with the film.   He was very good at conveying his ideas to me.  He wanted the two sections of the film to be distinctly different in quality.  He wanted the early scenes in Chicago to be crisp and bright and he wanted the scenes at the Grand Hotel to be soft-toned and saturated not contrasting.   I was familiar with Kodak Film and I knew that their film was always sharp and crisp--so I decided that it would be the best stock for the shoot.   Fuji Film, which had barely been just available--tended to be more pastel and less sharp.  So we used Kodak for the present and then Fuji for the past tense in SOMEWHERE IN TIME.    It worked out great until they made the DVD of the film. When they did that--it destroyed my intent in the film.  They did everything they could do to make both parts of the film look exactly the same.  

Reeve and Seymour during shooting of film
They came to me--and they bragged about this to me!  If I had a shotgun I would've killed them! (Laughing)

TV STORE ONLINE:   It's one of those films where the image and the lighting communicate so much with the audience.  In the second half of the film--there is a hazy  almost dream-like quality to it all...

MANKOFSKY:   Yes, we talked about all that.  That was pretty much planned out.  There's an interesting thing that happens there--that you don't get the chance to do often.  It's the point where Christopher Reeve comes back to the present and he is so distraught that he starves himself to death.    From there to the very end of the film--the lighting changes almost scene-by-scene.  Reeve is sitting in that chair and then he's laying in his bed--it goes on that way until the camera moves up and over to the window and there is that dissolve to the white light where he walks into the next scene.    We shot that ending sequence on a sound stage on Mackinaw Island in Michigan.   It's still there today I believe.   It was built by a religious organization there on the island.  They built it there originally to produce religious films.  It turned out that son of the head of the organization died when he was trying to swim out on the lake--and the father [Rex Humbard] ended up selling it all and leaving there.    I don't know if it's the case any longer--but, when we shot that final sequence there--that sound stage was the largest of it's kind between New York and Los Angeles. 

Working in the hotel--it never closed.  It was open all hours of the day.   They were re-doing the dressings of the rooms for the film.   Our lights set two fires while we were shooting the film because the ceilings were so low and back then we didn't have the cool lights that they have today--so we had to tape these white cards onto the ceiling to reflect the lights and they would get too hot and catch on fire.  We never told the hotel manager! (Laughing)

TV STORE ONLINE:  And speaking of that final shot in the film...The shot that leads up to the camera moving to the window--the camera ascends out-of-body and looks down at the actors...

MANKOFSKY:   That's right.  We had to bring in a crane from Altanta, Georgia for that shot.  The final white light shot in the film and Christopher Reeve's death scene--where he is lying in bed were shot on that same sound stage.     The idea was to get the shot in just one move.    I set it up so that the camera would be looking down at Christopher Reeve in bed.    I set it up so that the lighting would change when the camera tilted up.  When the camera tilts up--that is when Christopher jumped out of bed and changed his clothes.   From there--he had to run around the wall of the hotel room on the sound stage and as the camera tilted back down and then cranes over to the window--the wall was supposed to pull apart and we'd be moving through it and into the white light.  Christopher then walked into the frame and met Jane Seymour in the final shot.  

I had twenty-six people working on the shot with me.    I had people pulling back the ceiling and rolling back the carpet of the set as we started to move the crane.  It was incredible.

But, when they edited the film--we lost it!  They did that dumb cross-dissolve in it!   I tried to get them to leave it in the way we shot it--but the editor wouldn't!   I said to him: "Why did you do that?"  He said, "You could see the window in the shot!"   I reminded him, "There was no window in the window frame!"   Then he responded with, "Well the shot went on too long!"   Can you believe it?

TV STORE ONLINE:  One of the most intriguing shots in the film is where Christopher Reeve discovers the penny in his jacket in 1912 and is then thrown back into the present--and the camera pulls back quickly for what seems like miles of distance...

MANKOFSKY:   What we did there was just reduce the lighting and we just started moving backward.  There was no wall behind us to stop us because that particular set was built on that sound stage for that exact reason.  Most of it had to be done optically in post-production because even being on a sound stage I couldn't track back far enough to achieve the end-result as it appears in the film today.   Gradually the lighting on Jane was reduced and before we started rolling--I had to put a giant black scrim around the walls of the set so that as we started to track out--the set went completely black around Jane.    From there--the optical department just had to continue the shot from were we left off.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Of course we also have the shot that everyone remembers from the film--that of Jane Seymour in the center of the frame after she's come off the stage in the past.  It's the shot of Seymour that will eventually become the photograph that Christopher Reeve will see of her when he first comes to the hotel...

MANKOFSKY:   What can I say?  (Laughing)    Jeannot and I worked together closely on the film and it was something that I'm very proud of today.  We were always on the same page.   I lit that, but Jeannot framed her.   Just the same--there are things in the film that I see all of these years later that drive me crazy.   A example: When Christopher Reeve goes up into the attic of the hotel to look at the guestbook.   He shines the flashlight into his face and not into the book.  I see that now and I say, "Jesus Christ Mankofsky!  You must be totally incompetent. Why did you do that?"     I did it because we needed a light in the scene, but in retrospect I should've just bounced some lighting in with a card.  

TV STORE ONLINE:   You lit that Hall of History Room at the hotel--that red room in the film with her picture is visually breathtaking...

MANKOFSKY:  That was a tough room to light.   Jeannot wanted it lit as if the light was coming from a sky-lite or something like that.    To do that--to see the light you'd have to have some sort of particulate in the air.   Whether it be smoke or vapor--to get what he wanted I had the grips build a fake ceiling and we put the lights down through it.  It was a nasty room to light though.   When we dollied through for the scene--we had a silk gauze on the lens so that allowed for the light to flare. 

  Did Richard Matheson have much input into the shooting of the film?  Was he there?

MANKOFSKY:  He was there.  He worked quite a bit with the actors.  He's in the film.

TV STORE ONLINE:    One of the best and understated shots in the film comes near the end --before he is sent back to the present.  It's where he is standing on the porch of the hotel with his head leaning on the white bannister and in the background we see a tiny little Jane Seymour running toward him yelling "Richard!"...

MANKOFSKY:  Right, I remember that shot.   You could never get that shot today.  All of that area at the hotel is now gone.  It's all grown up with trees.   It was done as a sort of trick shot.  We shot it with a split-diopter and Jeannot told me that he wanted them both to be in focus.  The line of focus in the shot is blended in with the white bannister on the porch.    There was supposed to be another shot in the film were we employed the split-diopter but we decided against at the last minute.   It was when Christopher Reeve is dancing with Jane Seymour and they go off into that back room to talk and Christopher Plummer is observing them.   Jeannot had wanted everyone and everything to be in focus--but in the end it just wasn't going to work.

TV STORE ONLINE:  With the framing and the focus--going in, one would expect a very deep focus all throughout but often times that isn't the case.   It's great because of how much it adds to the state of mind and being of the character...

MANKOFSKY:  Well, we tried. (Laughing)   Another scene that bothers me in the film is when Christopher Reeve is standing in the door and it's raining outside.   He is standing on the steps of the woman's home who is the old Elise McKenna's caretaker near the beginning of the film.   They go into the house.   It was raining in the scene and when he walks through the house and they begin to talk to one another--the sun begins to shine into the windows! (Laughing)  Another stupid mistake on my end!

TV STORE ONLINE:  You know..I've noticed that--but I've always chalked it up to the dream like aesthetic of the movie!

  Yeah, it didn't matter to me really. I just wanted the sun in there... (Laughing)

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Screenwriter/Playwright Israel Horovitz on the 1970 counter-culture film THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT

Obie-winning playwright Israel Horovitz talks with TV STORE ONLINE about his script for the 1970 counter-culture film THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT

A counter-culture CASABLANCA (1942) of the late '60s--THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT starring the young up-and-coming actors: Bruce Davison, Kim Darby, Bud Cort and Bob Balaban was based on a book written by Columbia University student James Simon Kunen.

The film, released by MGM in 1970--would not fair well with some film critics.   With it's pre-MTV extreme and flashy music video style--critic for the NY Times--Dotson Rader would attack the film after its initial release.

 Rader's piece in The Times would cause the film's screenwriter Israel Horovitz, who first lambasted the final film himself , to stand up to defend it.   THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT marks the first collaboration between screenwriter Horovitz, producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff and director Stuart Hagmann.  The accidental team would follow-up the film with a gritty tale of drug abuse in New York City with the 1971 film BELIEVE IN ME.   In 2013, after several years of being only available on VHS--Warner Archives, the print-on-demand label would release THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT for the first time onto DVD.   BELIEVE IN ME has not yet been released to date on any format of home video in the United States.

TV STORE ONLINE:   THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT marks your first foray into screenwriting...How did you come to get the opportunity to adapt James Kunen's book of the same name?

  Wow.  It was a long time ago.  Irwin Winkler was the producer of the film and he had saw a play that I had written at the Spoleto Festival in Italy which starred Al Pacino called The Indian Wants the Bronx.   The curtain-raiser was a play I also wrote with Marsha Mason and Jill Clayburgh called It’s Called the Sugar Plum.  Both of those plays were really successful and because of that I was a hot playwright--that's pretty much the way it went.   Winkler had asked me to read the book and if I was interested in writing the screenplay--he had asked me to come out to California and pitch the movie to a bunch of studio executives.

I had a pitch set for a movie that was very different than what the film is today.   I had thought that the film would be shot in New York at Columbia University.  At the time, there was a student group that had shot a lot of black and white documentary footage of the strikes at Columbia.  I wanted to intercut this documentary footage with the fiction that I planned to write.   I went through with the pitch at MGM and afterward there was a hush.   All of sudden, all of them started laughing and lighting up cigars.  Winkler was there and I said, "What happened?"  Winkler said:  "You've got yourself a movie kid."    So I wrote the film as I had pitched it and of course it wasn't what they wanted.    They took my script and changed the setting from Columbia to a college on the West Coast.   The director [Stuart Hagmann] was hired. He was a kid who had directed a few episodes of Mission Impossible [1966-73].

At that point I decided it would be best to meet with Kunen about the direction that the project was going.   Kunen had gone out to California and he was staying with Winkler.   Winkler said to me, "I just don't get him.  He puts on a bathing suit, gets in the pool on a raft, and sleeps all day."     After talking with Kunen for a few days  I asked myself: "Who is this movie for really?  What's the point of this?"   If it's to preach to the learned already--then it will have no worth."    While it wasn't a frame of reference at the time--in retrospect I took the approach that Michael Moore must take with his documentaries.    Moore doesn't talk to the people who are already in the know--he's talking to those who don't know.  So I started to head in that direction with the re-write of the script.

When I saw the finished film--I was really upset with it.  I thought it was too cute and Californian  and too pretty.    I really had no experience though.   When I was on the set--it was the day that they were shooting the opening sequence that takes place in the boy's shower room.   I didn't write that scene--and when I arrived on the set and saw all of these boys getting naked I said: "What the fuck is going on here?"   Stuart Hagmann told me that they were about to shoot the shower scene--I said, "What shower scene?  I didn't write any shower scene."   So they started to shoot the scene and in the middle of it I yelled "Cut!" (Laughing)

Stuart Hagmann turned around and said, "Who said that? Who did that?"   I said, "I did."   I had come from theater and I was the playwright and no-one made any changes your play.  That just wasn't done.   They shot the scene against my wishes.

When the film was finished we went to the Cannes Film Festival to screen it.   When I was asked about the film I would talk ill of it.   In fact, when they wanted to give the film an award at Cannes--the studio sent myself, my wife,  and Kunen off to Saint-Tropez to stay at a hotel while the voting at Cannes was occurring--so we could do no damage to it.   Once it won the Jury Prize at the festival they brought us back.   When it was announced that it won I ran up onto the stage with my long hair and put my fist up in the air and said: " La lutte continue..."   Everyone in the audience looked at me very oddly...(Laughing)

When the film opened... Dotson Rader, who might have been possibility a Columbia student at the time, but also, a up-and-coming journalist--wrote a piece for the New York Times that panned it.  In his piece about THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT  he claimed that it was counter-revolutionary and that it was doing the opposite of what it effectively should be doing.  That's when I clicked into gear, because I thought that everything he had written about the film was crazy.  So I wrote my own piece for the New York Times where I went on to say that the film wasn't for Dotson Rader or the Weathermen group.  The film was really for the fifteen-year-old girl who is living in Wakefield, Massachusetts and is frightened to really speak up against the war in Vietnam because she is living in such a right community--where she's in fear that she'll get a reputation as a Communist in that time for doing such.  

After that Dotson Rader piece came out--I really turned a corner and began to defend the film in a very clear way. 

A year or two after the film was released I began to just forget about it.   I didn't think about the film for several years in fact.   About ten years ago I was teaching a screenwriting workshop in France.    The film came up there and I decided to screen the film for the class.  In looking at it again for the first time with all of these kids all of those years later--the film seemed to me to be very naive.  No-one wrote the film off when I screened it or anything like that--but for me, it just seemed very silly with its fast camera work and the casting of the blond kid in the lead role.

With that being said, about 4-5 years ago I was in a partnership with a Italian company who was interested in producing a series of my plays.   When I went over to Italy--a guy approached me about speaking about the film at a screening that was being planned in Milan, Italy.   I asked him,"Why do you want to show that?"   He looked at me in amazement.  He said, "Are you kidding me?  The film is a cult film here in Italy."  He explained to me that in it's time of release--the film had a profound effect on the kids of Italy.  It had caused kids to put on demonstrations against the brutality of the police and the war in Vietnam.

I went to the screening and there was an audience of about 900 people there.  It was a mix of students and older people.  It was amazing how the film played.   Then, I was invited to Greece to screen the film and it really started to become mind-boggling to me--because we tend to live in our own mind and our own place and we forget about other people, other cultures and other places.    So I've come to accept THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT for what it is, what it was, and what it represented in the time in which it was made.   I'm glad I got to write it.

TV STORE ONLINE:  It sounds like your original script, even your re-write went through some changes versus what is in the finished film today...

HOROVITZ:  Well, not completely.  I can say though that none of my dialogue was re-written for the film.  If that would've happened--I would have killed someone.   Ultimately--the director had his own vision for the film.   The casting--although I like both Kim Darby and Bruce Davison as people--I don't think that I would have casted the film with them.  Was it a mistake to cast them in the film?  Probably not.  Would I have cast them?  Probably not.  Because they were faces that reached-out to that fifteen-year-old girl in Wakefield, Mass.   They had meaning in the time which the film was made.  

TV STORE ONLINE:  I feel a little foolish in my thoughts about the film after you've just told me all of that and your ideas centered around the writing of the film...I see the film as a CASABLANCA for the late '60s--this epic love story that occurs in that anti-war zeitgeist....For me, first and foremost that's what the film is...

HOROVITZ:  Well, clearly--I'm a different age.  I'm older than you.   I look at the film with the idea that I was there in New York at that time the Columbia strikes occurred and I was someone who experienced them.   You look at the film as if it were a fictional history.   There is a lot of baggage for me around this film.  I'm glad I wrote it and I'm glad that it has touched some people.  What more can you hope for?   The worst thing I can think of is when your work doesn't touch anyone or even carry a message to anyone.    The fact that the film got made, even in that time, is phenomenal.   It really wasn't the type of film that was being made at that time truly.  There are a couple films that we could probably argue about regarding that statement--but considering what the film is--it just wasn't being done then.   I mean, just the fact that Dotson Rader wrote that piece about the film and then The Times allowing me to respond and then printing it---that wouldn't happen today with any movie.

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung
For more information on Israel Horovitz please check out his official website here.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Nephew and filmmaker K.C. Schulberg on WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES (1958)

 Filmmaker, nephew and son of Budd and Stuart Schulberg, K.C. Schulberg talks with Justin Bozung of TV STORE ONLINE about the critically polarizing and naturalist / existential WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES (1958)

TV STORE ONLINE:  I was recently on the official website for Collier County and I found a whole slew of amazing behind-the-scenes photos from the making of WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES (1958)...

K.C. SCHULBERG:  Right, yeah.  I gave them all of those for the site.  I have all of the actual stills that document the making of the film.    There was a studio photographer who took photos on the set, and then there was another photographer that was hired to document the shoot by my Dad and my Uncle Budd.  

TV STORE ONLINE:   I just read Budd Schulberg's great book from the late '50s which has not only--the script for the film--but also his account of the making-of and how through his own sort of cosmic experiences in the Everglades--he was inspired to write the film...

K.C. SCHULBERG:  Doesn't that book also talk about a guy named Bud Kirk down here?

TV STORE ONLINE:  Yes, it does.   Your uncle writes about how he first met him and how Bud Kirk ended up saving your uncle in a bar fight.

Budd Schulberg and Christopher Plummer
K.C. SCHULBERG:   Right, yeah.   That really happened.   I'm friends with Bud Kirk's son all of these years later still and he has re-told me that story quite a few times, and then of course, my Uncle Budd--also liked to re-tell that story over the years as well.    My Uncle Budd certainly could take care of himself pretty well.  At a point, he had been a boxer and he certainly wasn't a push over either.  He was a big guy, well built, but he also had a life-long stutter.  He wasn't a push over by any means.   In the bar that night--this big Indian guy came up to him and starting messing with him.   He saw Budd as a outsider who was in this Everglades backwater criminal bar.    Budd said, "Why don't you just mind your own business?"   But he started to stutter as he said it.   Well, Bud Kirk was sitting near and he overheard their conversation.   He thought that my uncle was scared because he had heard him stutter.  So Bud Kirk intervened, went over to my uncle's table and told the Indian guy to go back to his table and he did so as if he was a little school boy. 

Bud Kirk was a big and rugged guy as well, he has been a fighter in his youth--and he was well-respected in the area.   Bud and my uncle started talking with one another and it turned out that Bud Kirk was actually a well-read guy who had read all of these great writers and also my uncle's work and so the two hit it off and they remained friends their entire lives.   Bud Kirk, also had been at one point in his life an Audubon warden down in The Glades, so you can see that he was quite the inspiration for the character that Christopher Plummer would eventually play in the film. 

Director Nick Ray with Cory Osceola
TV STORE ONLINE:  WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES was to be part of a two-picture deal that your Dad [Stuart Schulberg] and Budd Schulberg signed with Warner Brothers....The other film was to be called EIGHTH AVENUE and both were to be directed by Nicholas Ray...

K.C. SCHULBERG:  You know I'm not sure about that.  This is the first I've heard of such.    That's interesting though.   

TV STORE ONLINE:  There was a little article that was published in Variety that announced the deal a few months before the shooting of WIND started...

K.C. SCHULBERG:  Nick Ray was a wild guy, and he brought a woman with him down to Florida to shoot the movie.  She didn't help the situation.  She was a Algerian woman. She was a manic depressive and suicidal.  Everyone was drinking heavily and some people were on drugs during the shoot.  Many of the people that worked on WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES went wild.   It was hard to keep everything under control.    WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES was one of the first films to cast real Native Americans in actual Native American roles in the Florida area, so the Seminoles have a favorable memory of the shooting of the film.    There had been another film shot down here prior and instead of casting any of the actual Seminoles in the movie--the producers cast Anthony Quinn as the Chief.     My dad and my uncle Budd were part of that authentic school of filmmaking.   Budd, having come off of working with Elia Kazan on ON THE WATERFRONT (1954)--he had cast real boxers and longshoreman in some the roles in that film--and he wanted to do the same with WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES as well.

The chief of the Seminoles at the time that we shot WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES was a gentleman named Cory Osceola.  He played "Billy One-Arm" in the film.     I'm shooting a film down here now and because of how fondly WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES is remembered by the Seminoles--it has really helped me to get my film done.  I also have a few Seminoles cast in roles in my film as well. 

It was not easy to shoot the film here on location in Southwest  Florida in 1956.  It was done very rudimentary.   In that era, everyone drank--and everyone would retire at night to the local Rod and Gun Club to go through that days work and they'd do that through multiple bottles of Scotch.   My dad and my Uncle Budd fired Nick Ray at a certain point and my uncle had to finish directing the film himself.  If there was a deal in place for Nick Ray to direct a second film with my dad and uncle it certainly went out the window at that point.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Right.  I have to wonder why your dad and uncle hired Nick Ray in the first place to direct the film...

K.C. SCHULBERG:  Well, Nick Ray was a hot director at that time.  He was known for gritty realism.  My Uncle Budd had a lot of pull at that time too because he had just had success with ON THE WATERFRONT--so you'd think that he would have wanted Kazan to direct the film....

TV STORE ONLINE:  From what I've read in the handful of Nick Ray biographies that have come out over the years--is that your dad and Budd really gave Ray every opportunity to straighten up during the shooting of the film before they were forced to fire him...

K.C. SCHULBERG:   I've seen some letters that belonged to my dad where he writes about how the film was going over-budget.   Peter Falk also confirmed that as well when I got the opportunity to work with him on another film.  WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES was Peter's first movie.  He plays this kind of wild degenerate poacher with a big beard.   He told me several  stories about the shooting of WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES, and about how it went over schedule.  Originally--the shoot was supposed to finish up before Christmas in 1956 and then there were problems with Nick Ray not getting along with Christopher Plummer, and then there were bad storms that damaged the sets and they had to be re-built.      When the production took a break at Christmas time, Peter, with money in his pocket went to Havana, Cuba for his vacation.   This was before the revolution had happened there.

Peter told me about how he had been there for a few days--and he was having a great time living it up and gambling.   One night, on his way home, the Batista special police picked him up and put him in jail-accusing him of being a spy for Castro.   He said, "A spy?  I'm a actor from New York. I don't even speak Spanish..."  He had grown his beard for the shooting of WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES."   They were convinced that he was a spy because in Cuba at the time the only people that had a beard were the revolutionaries who were living in the hills there.    They were called "The Barbosa" or the "Bearded-Ones".  

Christopher Plummer and Peter Falk
They told him, "If you're not a spy, shave your beard!"  He said, "I can't... I'll be in trouble with my boss."  They said, "There you go.  That's because your boss is Che Guevara..."  He said, "No, my boss is Stuart Schulberg, here is his number..."   It created a sort of diplomatic incident.   My dad had to get the American Ambassador on the phone to get him out of the jail there.  He came back to the shoot in Florida with his hair intact.    The film didn't wrap until in early 1957.

TV STORE ONLINE:   I've read that Christopher Plummer wasn't the first choice for the role of "Walt Murdock "...

K.C. SCHULBERG:    Right, they wanted Ben Gazzara for the part but for some reason that didn't happen and Christopher Plummer sort of came on in the last minute.   At that time, Christopher Plummer wasn't a well known actor.  He had only done a couple Shakespeare plays I believe.   

 Christopher Plummer told me when I met him how he ended up first meeting my Uncle Budd.   He was in New York and at the time he was married to Tammy Grimes and they were expecting a child.   His wife was in a prolonged labor and he went down to a bar for a drink.  Budd was there at the bar for some reason, and they met and got into a conversation about drinking and writers.   He ended up staying with Budd for hours and in the end--missed the birth of his daughter.    Budd really liked Chris, and when the thing with Ben Gazzara didn't work out--it was my uncle Budd who suggested Chris for the role of Murdock.

It's quite an odd cast for a film when you think about it...  Gypsy Rose Lee, Burl Ives, Emmett Kelly, "Two-Ton Tony Galento...."

TV STORE ONLINE:   So many critics equate the film as being an awful film, but also Nick Ray's "worst" film...I see it as being a masterpiece, of pure Budd Schulberg--and I see it as being wholly existential...

K.C. SCHULBERG:    Absolutely...It's that battle between the men.  That drunken scene between Christopher Plummer and Burl Ives is quite remarkable.   You get a pretty good sense in the scene that they have this interesting respect and affection for one another.  That was something that my Uncle Budd really liked to do in his work.    That scene reminds us why the movie was made in the first place.    Warner Brothers put that documentary pastiche sequence at the beginning of the film against everyone's wishes because they felt that no-one would understand what was going on in the film.

TV STORE ONLINE:   This is very much a naturalist film.  It's set in a historical era where art was centered in the naturalist period.   Walt Murdoch could surely be modeled after Walt Whitman...   When Murdoch first goes into The Glades he is a conservationist--when he comes out he is a poet...

K.C. SCHULBERG:   Absolutely, and even Burl Ives at the end of the film says, "I guess I never looked at The Glades in that way..."    There's that great line: "They fire their shotguns up into the face of God!"   I think Budd, just as you mentioned at the start, had a transcendent experience when he first came down here to The Glades.  I think the film is very much a part of his initial experience down here.

Information on K.C. Schulberg's film A DREAM LAST NIGHT [2014] can be found here.

Interview Conducted by: Justin Bozung
All behind-the-scenes photos from WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES shot by Joseph Steinmetz are courtesy of Florida Memory.com  Please visit the site for more behind-the-scenes photos from the shooting of the film here. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Stage Actress Pat Stanley on working with Jerry Lewis in The Ladies' Man (1961)

Actress Pat Stanley on working with Jerry Lewis in his 1961 surreal comedy masterpiece, The Ladies' Man...

TV STORE ONLINE:  Could you tell me about how you came to be cast by Jerry Lewis in his 1961 film THE LADIES' MAN?

STANLEY:  I was on Broadway with another actress who also appeared in the film named Lynn Ross.   We were in Theorello at the time...

TV STORE ONLINE:   Right, and please correct me if I'm wrong--but didn't Jerry's production company or Paramount Studios have to pay that production of Theorello a few dollars in exchange for you being allowed to appear in THE LADIES' MAN?

STANLEY:  No, they didn't have to do that.   I had been with the show for a year and so when the offer came to me for THE LADIES' MAN I just left it.  I was ready to move on and try something new by that point.

TV STORE ONLINE:   So how did that work?  Did you have a agent at the time? Or were you sent out for an audition for the film or did they submit your resume and headshot for consideration...

  I'm not completely sure...What I remember now if that Jerry approached me directly and asked me if I wanted to be in the film with him.

  Yet, there is a screen-test with you on the recent DVD release of THE LADIES' MAN...

Right, but that wasn't done as an audition or anything like that. It was done as a sort of introduction.  I think what happened there was that Jerry did that with me so he could then take it to the powers that be at the studio...I remember that Jerry did come to see both Lynn and I in Theorello one night--because there was a buzz going around backstage that he was in the audience. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  But you had worked with Jerry prior in a roundabout way...

STANLEY:  Well, I had done a few things on The Colgate Comedy Hour prior to THE LADIES' MAN but we hadn't worked together directly in any capacity.    When he offered me the part in THE LADIES' MAN--he came to see me in Theorello and then called my agent.  Then I went to Los Angeles to shoot the film. 

TV STORE ONLINE:   What do you remember about shooting the film on that amazing dollhouse LADIES' MAN set at Paramount?

STANLEY:  Well, it was amazing.  He was playing Count Basie all the time and it was a big deal on the lot while we were shooting it.  We had a constant stream of visitors coming to see it.  The set was really interesting because Jerry had a basketball court set up off to the side of the soundstage.  Jerry would drive his car onto the soundstage and chase people around with it. It was crazy and fun.

TV STORE ONLINE:   I've read that Jerry would often brings all of the ladies in the movie gifts during the shooting...

STANLEY:  That was the way he was.  He was always very sweet.  He wanted everyone to have fun while they were working and be happy.  His favorite snack was Bologna and American Cheese together.  He didn't eat the bread.  He loved Coors Beer as well, and I was a beer lover and so almost everyday he would bring me a Coors Beer with bologna and cheese.   At the end of the shoot--there were a few of us that stayed out for a few days and Jerry took that time and we shot a Al Jolson number with Jerry as Jolson.  I also had a song that I sung in the movie--although it wasn't used.

This went on for about a week after we finished the shooting of the movie, and at the end of it--Jerry ended up making each of us a book with a bunch of photos from the shoot.    He also gave me at the end of the shooting--a beer dispenser.   It held a full barrel of beer and at the time--when it was delivered to my apartment in New York City--took up a large portion of it. (Laughing)   He was generous in that way though.  He did that for everyone he worked with. 

TV STORE ONLINE:   I've heard about many scenes that were shot that didn't make the final cut of the movie...I've heard about a sequence with you where the camera floats up-and-down throughout the entire set--one continuous shot--where it eventually ends up centering in on you as you're sitting on a couch reading a book...

STANLEY:  Yes! But what I was doing at the end of the shot was knitting actually.   What the camera did--I was placed on a rig in front of the camera on the Chapman crane and it carried me around in front of many of the rooms of the set before it ended.    There was a song that was being played in the background as it was carrying me around.   In the final shot--you were supposed to hear me singing the song in the movie but it was laid in via voice-over.  There were many scenes that Jerry and I shot together--but many of them were cut.  Most of them were just flirty little scenes.   His character tried to help mine in those scenes.  Jerry's whole thing with my character was his whole psychological take on relationships and I think what he was trying to do in those cut scenes was expound on those ideas.

TV STORE ONLINE:  What do you think you brought to that "Faye" character in THE LADIES' MAN that wasn't already there in the pages of the shooting script?

STANLEY:  I hope just my own experience of feeling lost and worrying about not being good enough.  Stanislavsky stuff...(Laughing)

TV STORE ONLINE:  I love that great awkward quality that Faye has in the film...Where do you think that came from?

STANLEY:  I just felt that she was uncool.  She wasn't like the other girls--but she wanted to be like the other girls in the house.   I thought that that was important to add to what was already in the script.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How much improv was Jerry allowing you in the character?

  There was a little bit of that going on.  I'd hardly say that there was much direction.  Anything like that consisted of Jerry and I going off to the side and talking together.   It was pretty loose and we went along with it to see where it would all go.   Jerry was concerned about my character--and I think that was because Faye was the female version of his own character in the movie.  

TV STORE ONLINE:  I love the speech that Faye gives at the end of the film...And what makes Jerry such a brilliant filmmaker is how he puts Faye in that bright colored shirt in the middle of a mess of girls who are wearing very dark colors...She is really a light in a darkness that is occurring in his character in the movie....

STANLEY:  Plus--Faye got to blossom too.  That came as a result of Jerry's character building Faye up over the course of the movie.  It allowed her to stand up and make Jerry's character feel good about himself in return... An interesting thing--Jerry had hired me to play a role in the movie that he was planning to do after THE LADIES' MAN.   For whatever reason though--the movie fell through and he didn't shoot it.  But, to Jerry's credit--he made the studio pay me my fee even though we never shot it.

TV STORE ONLINE:  What do you remember about shooting that incredible musical sequence in THE LADIES' MAN--where the girls are all getting ready in the morning while dancing...

STANLEY:   That was fun.  It was all choreographed out.   It was like playing a piece of music together.   He felt that he was a conductor for that and he thought that it was important because it was our entry into the movie.  After we rehearsed it--we did it in just two takes.

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung