Monday, January 5, 2015

Actor/Filmmaker Greg Travis on his new film MIDLIFE

 Actor/Filmmaker Greg Travis (Starship Troopers, Showgirls, Watchmen) on his new film MIDLIFE.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Thanks for the opportunity to check out your film.  I really thought the film was great. 

TRAVIS:  Thanks. I feel like it’s a good movie and I want people to see it. 

Upcoming Greg Travis Film Dark Seduction
TV STORE ONLINE: Researching you... I stumbled on your YouTube channel.   Where can I get copies of DARK SEDUCTION and NIGHT CREEP?   Are each of these actual features or just trailer shorts?  

TRAVIS:  Both of those are feature films I directed. And will be coming out later this year. I’m still finishing up DARK SEDUCTION and will re-release NIGHT CREEP as well.

  I went through your YouTube Channel and was really blown away by some of your short films that you've put up there.  In particular, I really appreciated your ULTRA DOPES ON PUNK and your Art Of Noise "Bombs" music video.  There's a fun mix of avant-garde and comedy through your early short films....

Ultra Dopes On Punk: Greg Travis Short Film
TRAVIS: Thanks yes. I made about twenty shorts during the 80’s and a few in the 90’s. And that mix is correct they were mostly wild comedy or very experimental. The Consumer Panasonic VHS video cameras came out in '83 and made it much easier to make videos. Before that it was three quarter or Super 8 with sound.  I had a few filmmaker friends and we would come up with an idea and then a week later we would shoot it. Before coming to California and going to film school. I had already made two feature length Super 8 films in High school. That is how it all began.

TV STORE ONLINE:  I also caught your ANDY WARHOL'S 15-SECOND WORKOUT short on your YouTube Channel....I thought that was completely genius---and it aired on Saturday Night Live in the '80s did it not?   How did you come to get involved with SNL and were you working with the likes of Tom Schiller on any of your SNL stuff?  

  Thanks yes.  I was up for the show as a player but they already had a blond named Dana Carvey so they gave me the chance to make a few shorts for the show. I made ANDY WARHOL'S 15-SECOND WORKOUT and another one called NICK NOLTE NEVER GETS OUT OF BED.  I don’t think Tom Schiller was there when I was. There was some guy that was a friend of Loren Michaels that was the head of the short film department. He was a compete drug addict who never showed up and was completely disorganized. What I saw behind the scene’s at SNL was pretty scary. I really don’t know how they managed to put on a show every week.  There was all this negative energy coming from the top down and it was very hard to know who was in charge and everyone seemed like jealous high school kids. When I showed the Warhol video to Loren and Al Franken neither one of them got it and Al said “shouldn’t it be 15 seconds long”?  I said “it’s kind of hard to be funny in 15 seconds”.  I did two shorts for the show.  The Warhol one did show later on and the other one didn’t at all.  The cool part of the whole ordeal was that I got to meet Andy Warhol at his studio and also at one of his art shows. And believe it or not he was two different people. 

Greg Travis as Andy Warhol in SNL Short Film
At the art show he was the usual slow talking everything is wonderful “Oh, that’s great...” sort of guy. And then at his studio.  I watched him from a corner of the room, and he didn't know that I was there.   When he was there, he was sharp, fast thinking and talking, and very high energy.  He really did have a public persona that was all for show.

TV STORE ONLINE:  I know that you have a wealth of background in stand-up comedy and that you worked with the great Rodney Dangerfield.  What was that experience like? 

TRAVIS:  Yes, I started in stand-up while I was going to film school and it became obvious that I could make money doing stand-up much faster than filmmaking. So I did it for about twenty years. I performed all over the county, headlining all the comedy clubs and I was the opening act for many big singers as well. Rodney was great to me and gave me a big break on his HBO show. He also put me in his next special as a sketch actor. He was a mixed bag of old school tough guy and big softy. In private he was a bit of an exhibitionists, as he would sometimes walk around naked.  And he loved his pot. He was a high-strung guy and I guess it was the only way he could relax after his shows every night.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Going back to your Art Of Noise "Bombs" music video again for a moment...Thinking about all the numerous movie posters we see on the walls in many of the scenes in your new wife MIDLIFE--I have to ask about your love of film.   Seeing "BOMBS" as a filmic collage really shows how much you love cinema.   Growing up in Texas, did you frequent drive-ins?  What are some of the films that have influenced you and why?

TRAVIS:  My parents owned a health food store, and across the street there was a movie theater. So that’s where I spent all my time, growing up with all the classic cinema of the sixties and seventies. I was lucky because I was seeing everything that came out every weekend. I was a big James Bond fan, I loved Steve McQueen, any kind of fantasy or science fiction film. I would sit through just about anything from John Wayne and Hammer. I think Christopher Lee’s Dracula was the first really scary experience for me. Also I remember being blown away seeing Bruce Lee in FISTS OF FURY (1971).

I knew him from the The Green Hornet as 'Kato' and really liked him from that show. But to see him on the big screen kicking so much ass was a dream come true. He was so youthful and fresh. All the stars in the early seventies were old left overs from the sixties, so it was great to see him break out and every kid on the planet wanted to be Bruce Lee back then. 

TV STORE ONLINE: I have to ask about HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1980)... How did that opportunity come to you?  It's an incredible film...

TRAVIS:  I was 'Madman Mike,' a local radio DJ at the carnival event. That was my first film as an actor in Hollywood and it got me in the union. I just read for the part and then they called me up. I think it was all down via re-shoots that Roger Corman wanted for the film.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How about working with Bobcat Goldthwait on SHAKES THE CLOWN?   

TRAVIS: Yeah, I loved working with Bobcat. He’s a really nice guy, he's funny, and he knows what he's doing.  We had a great time on the film and my ex-girlfriend Julie Brown co-starred in it. She was my first girlfriend in Hollywood, and we went together for a couple years.  So we got re-acquainted with each other as best we could. The film is a bit of a cult classic now.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Of course, I'm no different than many,  in that I've always been a fan of your work in SHOWGIRLS.  I'm a huge fan of the film and I've never understand the bad-wrap that the film has received over time...   What was your experience on SHOWGIRLS like?  Do you think the film has been misunderstood?   It's grown into a major cult film over the years...

TRAVIS: SHOWGIRLS is interesting because I knew at the time we were shooting it, that script had problems and that it was over the top and a little bit silly. I assumed that Paul and the writer we're going to fix that. But Paul shot that movie exactly the way it was written. There were a few minor changes, but he pretty much shot the script the way it was written and he took it seriously. I think that’s the problem with it. The subject matter of a stripper turned showgirl, is just not that serious. But he might have been doing that to make it more of a satire. I don’t know. He’s a super smart man so maybe he knew exactly what he was doing.

TV STORE ONLINE:  You worked with Paul Verhoeven twice. First on SHOWGIRLS and then on STARSHIP TROOPERS--another great film. A brilliant satire...Had you been a fan of Verhoeven prior to working with him?  Had you seen things like THE 4th MAN, or TURKISH DELIGHT or SOLDIER OF ORANGE?

Yes, I have always been a big Verhoeven fan and I had seen SOLDIER OF ORANGE ,THE 4TH MAN and ROBOCOP in the theater. When I first met Paul to read for SHOWGIRLS we talked about all of his early films and I think that's why gave me the part. I loved working on STARSHIP TROOPERS.  It was a great experience. We were in Casper, Wyoming in a huge snake pit rock formation. It was raining every hour and we shot only at night. They almost killed me twice on that film. Lots of fun.

TV STORE ONLINE:  I'm a fan of David Lynch, just as many are--so I have to ask you about working with Lynch on LOST HIGHWAY...

TRAVIS:  Well everybody loves David.  He's got an incredible energy, he’s super creative he’s super nice and he's doing something that nobody else but David can do. To be a part of a David Lynch film was just an amazing thing. I was very lucky that his casting director decided to bring me in. I remember going over to his house and meeting him and just thinking it was wonderful. He was shooting shots of the fireplace. He lets actors play a little bit and is open to trying things. But he also knows exactly what he is going for with a scene, so he gets that as well. I think he’s like Andy Warhol in that, he too, has a public persona and a different private side to his personality.

TV STORE ONLINE: Did the fact that you had played Andy Warhol back in the '80s in your short have any influence on Zac Snyder when he cast you as Warhol in WATCHMEN (2009)?

TRAVIS:  Yes, I sent him a copy of my ANDY WARHOL short and they brought me into audition. So, I went in to see him in total Warhol make up and I stayed in the Andy character thought-out the audition.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How about working with Bob Rafelson on POODLE SPRINGS?  I really like that film a lot, and it's one that almost no-one has seen if you talk to anyone about Rafelson.  What was your experience like working with Rafelson?

TRAVIS:  I really liked Bob and I liked working with him. He was a little intimidating. He was super old-school, super macho, and a little ruff around the edges--but a great filmmaker. I’ve always been a fan of his early films KING OF MARVIN GARDENS and FIVE EASY PIECES. I’m not sure POODLE SPRINGS was all it was meant to be. The Tom Stoppard script was much longer and a lot of it was cut out.   

I really liked MIDLIFE.  I found 'David Stanton' completely sleazy and unlikeable in a sense, yet at the same time--charming, likeable--I even felt empathic towards him. He's a complex guy, and it takes a special type of person to be a salesman. How did you find him? Is there an element of yourself in David Stanton?

Leilani Sarelle and Greg Travis in MIDLIFE
TRAVIS:  My Uncle David and my mother were both super sales people and could sell anything to anyone, so that was a starting point. I am not like that but I do have a big personality and I guess I could have been a salesman if I had wanted to.

TV STORE ONLINE: What was the inspiration for MIDLIFE? There's a hint of John Cassavetes roaming around in MIDLIFE.  Were you influenced by Cassavetes and what is it about his films that have influenced you?

TRAVIS: I love complex characters. I was influenced by Marlon Brando, who I love, and he always plays complex characters. Especially in something like LAST TANGO IN PARIS, which is one of my favorite films. As far as John Cassavettes: HUSBANDS and FACES were also influential and the work of Mike Leigh too.  I guess even Woody Allen has been a influence. The thing with David is that he’s a '70s guy in a 2014 world. He has a lot of the characteristics of the 70’s period. All the drinking and smoking that he does just makes people crazy. I learned this the hard way and wanted to say something about that in this film.

TV STORE ONLINE: And you wrote MIDLIFE?  It seems like something that could be centered in pure improvisation?  Was that a way of working for you on the film?

TRAVIS: Well, there was a lot of improv in the film. In some cases I wrote out a scene and we shot it exactly that way, and in other scenes I had a loose idea of what I wanted and we improvised that. But with a comedy background, I am very comfortable doing that and I really like working that way and I must say that all the actors in MIDLIFE brought a great deal to the film as well. It was a group effort. I did have a script but I didn’t always show it to them.  

TV STORE ONLINE: Can that spontaneity work better than something that is completely beat-for-beat scripted out?  

TRAVIS: Yes, and that is the whole point. It’s hard for a writer to capture what could be said in a moment, so the idea was to see what happens in that moment and say exactly what they would say then. It’s much more natural that way.

TV STORE ONLINE: How long did it take you to shoot the film?

We shot it in 14 days total. And I went to NYC and shot for two days as well.

TV STORE ONLINE:  There are two sequences that stick out to me in the film:  1.  The sequence in the loft with Leilani Sarelle and then 2.  The talk David has with his daughter.    When you mapped the film out initially did you have a clear vision of how these would play out as the writer/director? 

TRAVIS: Leilani brought her own take to the character and made it much better than I imagined it and so did Laci Kay as David's daughter. Both scenes were scripted, but I didn’t show them the script. I just guided the scenes along the way so I could go where I wanted. Being an actor in the middle of it all is great because you can do that. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  Given how accessible technology is today--and how it gives every Joe the ability to shoot a film today--do you worry about a film like this getting lost in a saturated marketplace? 

TRAVIS: Not really, and I love the technology.  However,  I did try to make it look as much like film as humanly possible.  We put a grain on it. I shot it and lit it like we were shooting on film. My first love is still the film look,  so that digital look is not my favorite. But it's getting better and better all the time.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How do you market something like MIDLIFE?  It's a great film, but how do you put it out in front an audience today?

TRAVIS: Well, it's tricky.  You can go with a transitional distributor and sometimes it works and other times, it doesn't. I had three opportunities to do that but I decided to go with the digital distribution and see how it would work I don't know if it will, it’s an experiment as well. With the help of people like yourself though, I hope to get the word out so people can find the film.

TV STORE ONLINE: Where can people see the film now?

TRAVIS: Right now its on ITUNES and will soon be on Amazon Prime and Netflix as well as a few other places. 

  What are you working on now?

I have three other film projects ready to go. I am working on putting them together and I’m always writing a script or two at the same time. I really want to see if I can get my directing career going and so I’m trying to make some cool movies in the next few years. Thanks so much for this interview and for helping me promote MIDLIFE. I hope people will go and find it and watch it.

Interview Conducted by:  Justin Bozung
Check out the official website of MIDLIFE here.
Follow Greg Travis on Facebook here.