Fortune has smiled upon me and over the past several weeks and I have had the opportunity to pick the brains of some of my childhood heroes (still my heroes). This week I am excited to present to you, S.S. Wilson. The geeky readers among you will have just flipped out and as for the rest of you, if you don't know his name you will certainly know his films.
Starting in animation his career has taken him to the dizzying heights of Hollywood with the hugely popular Short Circuit opening #1 at the American Box Office. His films have seen him work with the likes of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Barry Sonnenfeld, Robert Downey Jr and Sidney Poitier to name just some. In addition to creating the ever-enduring Tremors franchise he has also turned his imagination to writing books with his first novel, Tucker's Monster, being published in 2010.
So far my featured interviews have all been with people who have influenced me in one way or another. S.S. Wilson and his writing partner, Brent Maddock, were like guardians to me. So much of my childhood was spent square-eyed in front of the tv lost in their universe and always looking for the next adventure. His brand of fantasy is the type that inspires my own writing and, in my opinion, is what cinema is all about (escapism).
He was so gracious in granting me his time and as you will see his thoughts are insightful, fascinating and candid.
What was your favourite movie as a child?
I had many I liked, but King Kong (1933) remained one I returned to over and over.
Was there a particular moment when you realised that you wanted make movies?
Yes. I had just enrolled in college and signed up to take psychology classes, since my father was a psychologist. During my first week, he asked why I wasn’t signed up for film or television courses. “You’ve been making movies since you were 12!” he pointed out. So he talked to my advisors and changed my courses. Strange to say, I’d never thought about making it a career. Seemed like a hobby. But from that point on my path was set.
Was your family supportive of your decision to write?
Yes, see above. They were very supportive of all my early experiments with stop motion animation. Later, I made a living doing animation for some years before succeeding as a writer.
How did you first become involved in the industry?
I went to USC film school for graduate work. There I met people whom I would work with for much of my career. Ron Underwood (who years later would direct Tremors) hired me to do animation for short films he was working on. Brent Maddock and I started writing spec scripts off and on, eventually selling Short Circuit.
Some of my readers may not know that you co-write most of your work with Brent Maddock. How did the two of you form a writing partnership?
Brent and I met at USC. We shared an apartment for some years and worked on short films together. Brent wrote and directed some of them. I did animation. We both worked in production, animation, editing, sound, etc. From time to time we would write spec screenplays in hopes of breaking into “main stream” Hollywood. After years of such efforts, it did not seem like it was going to happen. But then we wrote Short Circuit --
Your first produced screenplay was Short Circuit. This was a hugely successful hit. How did things change for you personally and artistically from this moment?
It was an enormous change. I went from working as an animator on obscure short films to getting calls from Steven Spielberg, then getting an office at his Amblin Entertainment on the Universal lot. This all happened very quickly with the sale and production of Short Circuit. While we were thrilled to have all the work and attention, creatively we soon found that writers have little or no say in production, casting, editing. So after a time, we began to be frustrated, as we were used to having more creative control (in our short film days).
Was Short Circuit 2 something that you championed or was it the product of the studio’s desire to milk the success of the original?
The studio wanted to do it as the first film was a big success in its day. We were advised not to do it. Believe it or not, in those days people who did sequels were considered hacks or 2nd tier film makers. But we were protective of our character, Number Five, and we felt it’d be fun to work out another adventure with him, so we agreed to write the script.
Will you be having any involvement with the upcoming Short Circuit remake?
We wrote two drafts for the production company, but they did not like them. For one thing, they felt a little kid should be added to the story. We were unable to convince them otherwise. A number of writers and directors have come and gone since. We don’t know what stage the project is in now.
*batteries not inc. was an important film to me as a kid. How did this little gem come about?
First of all, I love that you got the title right. This was written during our time at Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. At first it was to be an Amazing Story (TV series of the time), but it got elevated to theatrical film status. Matt Robbins and Brad Byrd had revised Mick Garris’ script, and pre-production was already underway. But Spielberg felt it needed to be shortened (partly to fit the budget). Robbins, the director, was increasingly busy with
pre-production, so they brought us in to work on it. We went through several more drafts, working with Spielberg, Robbins, and Byrd on revisions, ultimately doing quite a bit of
Of course your name is synonymous with the hugely popular Tremors franchise. How much of the final film represented your original vision?
With Tremors we got back creative control, as we sold it as a spec script with ourselves attached as producers and our friend Ron Underwood directing. So, more than anything else we’ve ever worked on, Tremors comes closest to being exactly what we envisioned.
You directed Tremors 2 and 4. Do you enjoy directing?
I love it. I’d never considered directing until Ron asked me to direct 2nd unit on Tremors. I felt that as a writer and animator (both done alone, very slowly) I wasn’t cut out for the frantic pace and pressure of handling a crew in live action production. But once I realized I could direct the fairly large 2nd unit crew, I really got the bug. So I jumped at the chance to do T-2 when Universal decided they wanted a direct-to-video follow-up.
Your films attract a large fan base. Do you attend many conventions and do you enjoy a connection with these fans?
I enjoy connecting with fans. For many years I was too busy to get to many conventions. But I try to answer fan questions on our company website, Stampede Entertainment. Lately, as I’ve branched out into writing novels like Tucker’s Monster, I’ve been able to get to more conventions and special screenings. It’s always fun. You meet people dressed up as Graboids. Really.
There has been a lot of chatter and gossip about a fifth Tremors movie being set in Australia. Is there any truth to this?
The script for Tremors 5 was written because Universal expected it to follow Tremors 4 immediately. And yes it is set in Australia. But the dynamics of the DVD market changed – people started buying less – and Universal pulled the plug. So, it has always driven fans crazy that the script exists but that Universal (which owns all the rights and has total control over what is done or not done) does not want to pursue it.
What’s been a personal career high for you?
Tremors! Selling Short Circuit was the big break, but Tremors and its sequels were the most creatively satisfying.
And what about a personal low?
The death of Frankenstein vs the Wolfman. We were hand-picked by the head of Universal to write what was to be ILM’s (George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic) first all-CG feature. Brent was to co-direct. An enormous staff went to work and some awesome state-of-the-art tests were shot. Brent moved to Marin County to start pre-production. But by then several Universal movies had under-performed at the box office and Universal’s head was replaced. The incoming exec had never liked the Frankenstein idea and killed it, basically over night. This was a huge disappointment, as everyone really liked the script and, at the time, the movie would have been something really different, both technically and artistically.
Burt Gummer (Tremors)
Which of your films is most personal to you?
Again, it’s the Tremors movies. I love all the characters and I’ve particularly enjoyed trying to create a world that is true to itself, that does not cheat on the rules that have been established in each previous film.
Are there any scripts of yours yet to be made?
Not that Hollywood will buy. We have other scripts that we think are exciting and fresh and that we care deeply about, but Hollywood is not interested in them, given that the studios now do only remakes and sequels. I very much doubt that we could sell Tremors in today’s Hollywood. But we keep trying. And I have some guarded hope that one of my novels might, ironically, get turned into a movie, since studios will only make projects that are based on something already known in the marketplace, like that mega-hit, Battleship.
With the current popularity of remakes, do you think that originality been tapped out in Hollywood or is this a way of keeping legacies relevant?
Originality has not been tapped out. It is being ignored. It is nearly impossible to sell. It is the independent movie world where the creative films are being made, like Looper. Keeping legacies “relevant” is primarily the dream of the marketing departments that now run Hollywood.
Do you have a favourite film?
No. I love lots and lots of movies equally. For me, movies fall into many different categories, and I’d find it impossible to say that “x” comedy is better than “x” drama, for example, as though there’s a series of check boxes you can fill in, or a point system you can use to arrive at the one all-time great film.
I ask most of my guests if they have any favourite Australian films? Do you?
Off the top of my head, The Road Warrior, but I’m breaking my own rule if I say that. I’m sure if I thought more I’d come up with others I like just as much.
If there were one film in history that you wish you could have written, what would it be?
Well, it sounds suspiciously like another “what’s your favourite film” question, but I’ll say this: I’m a comedy-action-science-fiction writer. I’m completely in awe of many films that have what I consider really great writing (character and dialogue). Paddy Chayefsky’s Network is an example, and I could name a dozen others that I like (and am in awe of) equally. But I’d never even aspire to write something like that. Partly that’s because all the ideas I get have fantastical elements. They just come to me. Stories about “real life” or the human condition don’t. I think I’ve found what I’m good at. Oh, and I enjoy it.
What’s next for you?
Brent and I working on another spec, still trying to find what today’s Hollywood will buy. We also have a project we humorously call “Tremors in a building” we’re trying to interest people in. I’m about to put out a second novel called Fraidy Cats ( in which it is revealed that two cats actually caused all of Dr. Frankenstein’s problems!).
SS Wilson, thank you for your time and thank you for Burt Gummer… my hero!
You’re welcome. I like Burt, too. He’s one of the few characters in our scripts that I named (Brent usually comes up with the character names). I even live in a solar powered house out in the desert. Maybe I’m turning into a (slightly milder) version of Burt!
Lulu McClatchy is a star performer. From an early age it was clear that her calling was a life of performing and her career has been impressive. From Ramsey Street to an Elton John World Tour... she has mixed n' mingled with superstars, had her very own British sit-com and starred alongside Rebel Wilson in Bogan Pride. Lulu McClatchy is an absolute all rounder and her talent is unquestionable. Right now you can see her on the big screen in The Sunset Six and support her upcoming project The Happiness, The Heartache.Michelle McClatchy, Arna Pletes & Lulu.
Lulu recently gave me the honour is asking her a series of questions and if she lives up to her awesomeness, she will let me visit with her again for a follow-up article. If you don't know her yet, click some of the links below and you will discover one of Australia's most outstanding and versatile personalities.
What were some of your favourite films as a kid?
I always loved Gone With The Wind and used to watch it whenever I was sick at home from school. Lots of Classics really, and comedies, Dumb and Dumber and Wayne’s World.
Were your family performers?
My sister is an actress as well and my grandfather used to perform for the troops in the war but mum and dad aren’t in the business at all.
At what age did it hit you that you wanted to pursue a life in show business?
I came out with Jazz hands really, I have wanted to perform since I could talk. At age 5 I said I wanted to be a movie star or a stripper, not sure how I knew about the latter!
Who inspired you in the early days?
I always loved Shirley Temple movies and was into British comedies early like the Young Ones and French & Saunders.
What was your first gig?
I had a role in Carson’s Law for Grundy’s when I was 9 years old.
You came to prominence with SuperGirly. Can you explain to my readers what this is?
SuperGirly is a character I developed when I moved to the UK in 1997. She’s a delusional wannabe pop star and a compulsive liar. And she sings comedy Parodies of pop songs. I ended up doing a lot of celebrity parties and it took off from there.
SuperGirly became a hit in the UK where you scored your own sitcom and a supporting spot on Elton John's 2002 tour. How did both of these come about?
My own sitcom came about because I did a season at the Guilded Balloon at the Edinburgh Festival and someone from the BBC came and offered a sitcom to me, I wasn’t going to say no! And David Furnish, Elton’s husband, had come to a gig of mine in the West End and asked if I would perform at their house for the White Tiara Ball, this lead to a few more parties for them and performing at the opening of the Lion King in the West End. Then when Elton was touring Australia they told him he had to have an Aussie support act so he asked me and I jumped at the chance.
How did this success affect you personally and creatively?
It escalated my career in the UK and meant that I was offered quite a few gigs and could afford to pick and choose a bit more. It was extremely demanding to keep writing fresh material. It also meant I had a lot less spare time!
Do you still perform SuperGirly?
I occasionally do a SuperGirly gig but I was so known as that character that when I came back to Australia and no one really knew about any of that I had the opportunity to branch out onto other areas, so that’s what I’ve been doing.
You appeared in teen girly-com Aquamarine. How was your experience working for a big studio (FOX)?
It was awesome, they are usually pretty much Australian crews, so everyone is extremely hard working but with a bigger budget, they know how to look after you!
Emma Roberts, Lulu & Joanna Levesque.
I have a 14-year-old daughter and so, I confess, I have seen the film more times than I should have. Surprisingly it's packed with great Aussie talent. Claudia Karvan, Bruce Spence, Roy Billing and Shaun Micallef to name some... working amongst peers like this must have been fantastic. Was it an enjoyable film to make?
It was a fabulous film to be a part of, most of the time I stayed in Burleigh Heads and had plenty of time to enjoy the surroundings as well as have a laugh on set. I mainly worked with Bruce Spence and Roy Billing. We laughed all day, everyday. A really great group of people and one of my favourite jobs.
Who's American accent was better? Yours or Shaun's?
I didn’t actually have any scenes with Shaun unfortunately. I wish I had he’s one of my favourite Aussie comedians.
Emma Roberts starred in that film and she has gone onto big things. Did she dish any dirt on her famous family? Any scoops you can offer FakeShemp.Net?
This was pretty early in Emma’s career, she was very sweet, and normal I’m pleased to say! She had her mum and little sister Gracie with her who was 5 and my daughter was there also, who was 2 at the time, so they played together. No dirt other than the two of them getting too much sand on them.
Let me congratulate you on a stellar performance in Bogan Pride. Was Aunt Cassandra written with you in mind?
Thank you! I LOVED Bogan Pride, it was definitely a highlight and I still can’t believe I got to play such a fun, yet wrong character. It was written by Rebel Wilson and based on her aunt. Rebel was originally going to play the part of the Aunt, but decided to play Jenny. I’m grateful she made that decision.
Lulu & Rebel Wilson
Were there ever any plans for a second series?
There were talks of a second series which would have been amazing, but I think Rebel had already planned to head to the USA, which was a great choice for her.
I've been hearing & reading a lot about your upcoming project The Happiness, The Heartache. What’s this all about?
The Happiness, The Heartache is a serial soap opera based on shows like The Bold and Beautiful, Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless, but it’s funny. We will be performing it seriously but its set in the late 80’s so the costumes, characters and storylines are hilarious.
How long as the concept been bouncing around your head for?
I did a stage version of it in 1996 and since then let it rest, but I have re-written it and I am doing this TV pilot as a dedication to Ronn Moss who has just left the Bold and the Beautiful after 25 years.
It boasts an impressive cast, including Lawrence Mooney. His new live show on ABC is fantastic. Good timing or what?
It’s fabulous Lawrence has finally got his own show; he is a very funny guy and a great actor, which not a lot of people know about him. He was actually in the original version we did in 1996 and he was awesome so I am excited he is doing it again now.
I'll give you this opportunity to spruik the shit out of the show. What would you like people to know?
The reason we are crowd funding is because we need to film an episode so we can then pitch it to the networks. I have heard a lot of people complaining about the lack of Australian comedies on TV so I figured I would give the public an opportunity to help me fix that problem! You can read more about the show, watch a funny video, and contribute right here!
If you can’t donate just sharing the link with everyone you know helps. We really only need about 2500 people to give $25 each. And we have fabulous perks you can get too including t-shirts, DVD’s and walk on roles so check it out.
You have a such a bright & bubbly personality with a sparkle in your eyes... but do you, however, enjoy some darker pleasures? What are some of your favourite non-comedy/musical films?
I am a huge thriller fan. I love ‘Copycat’, ‘Stir of Echoes’, ‘ Sleeping with the Enemy’. Anything that gets the heart pumping. I will always choose to see a horror, thriller or action film before a comedy. I think it’s because I spend so much time with comedy, it’s my release. And I love a movie that keeps you guessing. Catfish was fabulous too.
Do you have a favourite film?
I don’t just have one. I love The Hangover, What Lies Beneath, Gone With the Wind (Still) and love a fantasy film too like Red Riding Hood. Too many to name.
If there was one character in history you could own, who would it be?
Probably Dorothy Gale. That character is so known throughout the world and every generation still gets to know her. The Wizard of Oz still hasn’t dated. It’s as good as it ever was.
Do you have any other upcoming project?
I’m in a film out at the Nova Cinema at the moment, which is a comedy, called The Sunset Six. It’s about a band and I play the drummer, it’s a low budget indie film but we had great fun making it and Kristin Holland from The Happiness, The Heartache is in it too. Apparently it got more stars in the age than the Great Gatsby, so I’m happy with that!
Lulu, thank you so much for your time. I'll be rooting twice as hard for The Happiness, The Heartache.
Thanks Glenn!! =)
Josh Whittall is a Canadian filmmaker and pop-culture fiend from Vancouver. In 2006 his first feature film, The Gutter Diaries, travelled the international film festival circuit, picking up numerous awards including "Best Director" at the New York Independent & Video Awards and Pumelo International Film Festival in Mumbai India. In 2008 he followed this up with his second feature film, Impulse, which was later retitled City of Vendettas.
In addition to making his own films Josh has also served as 2nd and 3rd assistant director on various films and television programs and has most recently turned his attention to creating and producing an upcoming graphic novel titled "Fate".
With the rise of independent micro-budget filmmaking over the last decade, Josh has been a champion of the format, proving to the bigger players that story, above all else, is key to making quality films. I have personally known Josh for 15 years and of the many filmmakers I know, he is absolutely one of the steeliest. Unperturbed by industry rules he pursues his visions until the product is in hand. I am VERY excited to see how his new graphic novel turns out and you will find an exclusive sneak peak below. It's my pleasure to introduce you to Josh Whittall...
Have you always had a passion for movies?
Yes. As the youngest of 3 it was great growing up in the 80's & 90's, my older brother and sister would rent the restricted films to watch with their friends before going out to parties. That was my chance to sneak in and watch Alien, Blade Runner, or First Blood alone. My parents were really cool to, they didn't really seem to overly care I was watching films like Robocop. From their position I was occupied, not messing up the house, and it gave them more time to conjure up punishments on my two older siblings for breaking curfew.
What was your favourite movie as a kid?
Really tough question. I think you go through your genres as a kid. I remember seeing Lion Heart and Blood Sport for the first time - instantly I wanted to see everything martial arts or with JCVD. Films like Revenge of the Ninja, American Ninja, and all the Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris flicks. Weekdays after school were spent kicking the shit out of friends on the trampoline acting out those films. But looking back, it has to be the SciFi movies of the 80's. they still hold up so well today.
When did you decide to pursue film making?
Funny but you largely played a part in that. When we first met in high school we got talking and I remember you telling me all about some night courses you were taking at the Vancouver film school. And this was really before film schools were so popular. I had never heard of anything like what you were doing. I was so fascinated with what you were doing. Of course we both had a love for films and it was shortly after graduation I got asked to attend an open house by a teacher that was looking to fill a roster for a film program at the local college. I was hooked after that.
Was it something your family supported?
They supported it but deep down I think they were worried I was getting into a very tough industry and the worry came from what all parents want and that's for their kids to have job security and be successful. I was very lucky to have parents that paid for my education in that regard, much gratitude to them for having to overcome the reality that I was not going down the traditional employment path.
How did you get into it?
How did I get into film school? I had to write an essay on why I wanted to be in the program. I was lucky, the film school I went to was only in its 2nd year so it was a bumpy ride.
You have made two low budget features. Can you tell us about those?
Very tough. You learn everything about people but more importantly yourself. How quickly can you adapt? How are your problem solving skills? How far can your patience go? How far are you willing to push your body mentally and physically when you have no idea what the payoff will be? It's a very hard lifestyle on so many levels. Trying to sustain a regular job to pay bills, a relationship, health, it's clearly not for everyone.
Micro-budget filmmaking has become a popular and viable way for people to get a start in the film biz. What piece of advice would you give to anyone wanting to get a start?
Start making shorts and little 30 second funny vids you can shoot out online to get noticed. It's important to get critiqued and to read and understand what people are saying. At the same time I think a never ending marriage between a filmmaker and the structure of STORY is so important. I relate what I learned with Aristotle's dialectic to everything I do creatively now.
What's been the most challenging aspect of making films?
Post. When you have no budget you're on other people's time.
Do you prefer writing or directing?
Writing. But directing is more interactive, which I really enjoy. I try and surround myself with people who are fun to be around but will push and challenge me creatively. When writing I am at war with my mind.
What are your thoughts on Canada's film industry?
I think it's still a work in progress. The crews are some of the most adaptable in the world when you factor in our weather and the talent is here. Trying to get funding however is very difficult.
Which film makers have influenced to your work?
Tarantino, Francois Ozon, Sam Peckinpah, David Cronenberg, Chris Nolan, Ridley Scott, Steven Soderbergh, Roger Corman, and Coppola just to start.
If there was one film in history that you would love to have directed, which would it be?
There's a novel by Elmore Leonard called Glitz, I'd love to make that film.
What are some of your favourite Australian movies?
The Proposition jumps to the top of the list, I loved that movie. Romper Stomper and Chopper both are sensational and come on, Mad Max.
What's your favourite genre?
Do you currently have any new projects on the go?
I'm currently taking a break from filmmaking to try another passion, graphic novels. I found an amazing Chilean artist Maria Barros and we're working on the 2nd issue to a series called FATE that I hope to have published early 2014.
What is FATE about?
It's a scifi saga about where we came from, where we are going, and ultimately what it means to be human.
Awaking alone to find himself in the middle of the woods on presumingly an unknown world in a full astronaut suit and a case of amnesia, Ryder, who's only memory is of his wife and daughter, struggles for answers. His only companion is an onboard computer called p.h.i.l. (Post Humanoid Intelligence Liaison) that appears to withhold vital information from him. Determined to get to his family and to uncover answers as to why this is happening, Ryder will learn he is a mere puppet who's strings are being pulled by the most powerful man on planet Earth known only as the Project Manager.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Prison! No just kidding but at a major comic-con signing my book and hopefully trying to squire financing to turn Fate into a film.
Josh, thanks for your time and keep it real, mate. Cant wait for FATE!
My pleasure homie, it was fun.
Continuing the theme of exploitation, this week's Brain Pick belongs to Melbourne based director, Stuart Simpson. With 2 feature films under his belt and a 3rd on it's way, he's ferociously forging a name for himself in genre circles. With his Lost Art Films production company he has also created a series of incredible short films as well as being an established music video director, having made clips for Blood Duster, La Bastard and Bodyjar (amongst others). And as if this isn't enough, he dabbles in photography! His work can be compared with the likes of David Cronenberg, Lucky McKee and Sam Raimi all the while maintaining his own unique and visceral signature.
In addition to all of this he has created an ever-evolving web-based anthology project called Dark Psychosis, where his short films are connected with an interluding narrative arch. Gore hounds will convulse at this graphic and disturbing experimental concept and you can see it for yourself in the video below.
I was first introduced to his work at a film festival in 2008 when one of his shorts was announced as a surprise edition to the closing night lineup. It was something of a revelation for me because it was clear that a new talent had arrived and the years to follow would see him step from one strength to another. So far so good and his upcoming third feature, Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry is almost upon us.
Stuart recently took the time to answer my questions.
Stuart Simpson and producer Fabian Pisani receive "Best In Fest" award for Monstro at the Royal Flush Festival, New York, 2010.
Glenn Maynard in CSV
What was your favourite film as a child?
I grew up loving Jim Henson's genius. So the Dark Crystal had a massive impact on me.
What ignited your passion for genre films?
Dad being pretty slack in protecting my fragile young mind from horror films as a kid probably haha
Obvious choices but Mad Max 1 & 2 are fucking brilliant. Also love Turkey Shoot, Stone, The Cars That Ate Paris, Road Games, Barry Mckenzie, Wake in Fright, Walkabout, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Man from Hong Kong Long Weekend, Harlequin, Dead-End Drive In, Fortress, Storm Boy, Howling 3, Dogs in Space, Ghosts...Of the Civil Dead.
Your third feature film is currently in post production. Can you tell us about that?
Its called Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla starring Glenn Maynard (Face to Face) and Kyrie Capri (Monstro). It's a black comedy about a lonely Mr.Whippy driver who is pushed to the edge.
This is also your first feature to be based on someone else's script. How have you found working with another person’s material?
Yeah it was a totally different process. It was always something I wanted to do, the challenge of adapting someones else words. It helped that I shared a house with the writer, Addison Heath, during this period and we would discuss the screenplay in detail. We came up with the story outline together and themes that would be cool to explore and then he went off and wrote the screenplay. So it was interesting to see it come alive through someone elses eyes and the ideas he put emphasis on, characters and dialogue, etc. Addison has a good feel for character and dialogue that I really like, and I'm really happy with what we ended up with.
When should be expect to see it?
It is in it's final stage of audio post production, so it should hit the festival curcuit soon. Join the FB page to keep up to date... (click here)
You have also created an online anthology experiment called Dark Psychosis, which I'm a little bit obsessed with. What’s that all about?
Well thats a project I come back to between bigger projects, although there's only one episode up at the moment. Look it up on youtube. Crazy and weird horror webisode series.
You have been likened to a young Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson. That must be humbling.
It's nice to read such things but I don't take any of it seriously. I'd never put my films in the same basket as Evil Dead or Brain Dead.
You have also made a fair amount of music videos. Will you keep making these?
Sure. It's a fun format and a cool outlet to experiment with visual ideas/concepts.
Everyone has a guilty pleasure flick. What’s yours?
Can you name one movie throughout the history of cinema you would love to have directed?
Stuart, thanks for your time and keep ‘em coming.
Click these images for more info. DEMONS|AMONG|US and El Monstro Del Mar available on DVD.
If you’re a child of the 70s or 80s then there’s a good chance Brian Trenchard-Smith has been a significant part of your life (whether you know it or not.) A renegade of Aussie new wave cinema and exploitation, Brian was amongst a group of visionaries who pushed limits and audience expectations. With a catalogue of work too long to name, some of his films include; The Man From Hong Kong, BMX Bandits, Dead End Drive-In and Turkey Shoot.
Born in England, Brian’s career began in television during the late 60s. Working as a writer, editor and promotions-director he went on to form his own production company in the early 70s and produced a string of successful documentaries as well as an impressive number of movie-trailers. He then moved on to feature films and has churned out an impressive 40+ movies as well as a heap of television work including Mission Impossible, Tarzan, Flipper and Chemistry amongst others. With a career that’s still going strong it’s clear that Brian’s visual sense of storytelling and ability to stretch every buck has kept him relevant and in demand after all these years.
Quentin Tarantino famously boasted Brian Trenchard-Smith as one of his favourite directors and his career has been introduced to a whole new generation of movie-goers. Beautifully captured in Mark Hartley’s amazing documentary, Not Quite Hollywood, it’s a career most filmmakers would kill for!
The purpose of FakeShemp.net is to present movie stuff in laymen’s terms and this article barely scratches the surface of Brian’s legacy and the profound impact it’s had on Australian cinema. What a gentleman he is and with an ever-demanding schedule (he's in production right now) Brian found the time to answer some of my questions.
What was your favourite film or television show as a child?Nina Foch
I was at boarding school 8 months of the year without television. When at home, I liked The Flintstones, and The Avengers.
How old were you when you made up your mind to pursue film as a career?
13. We lived in the small English village of Odiham in Hampshire. 3000 people, 7 pubs, one picture palace - The Regal. I was 13 years old, and for the first time I was allowed to go to the movies on a winter’s night by myself (my mother, bless her, was a little over-protective, hence my later flirtation with stunts). To get to the Regal on the outskirts of town, I had to walk through the cemetery of the Norman era church. Dark shadows. Wisps of fog. Knowing I was going to see a film crafted by a director dubbed the Master of Suspense made the graveyard all the spookier. VERTIGO was on its re-release, making its way through the secondary circuit of British cinemas that played two double bills, three days each, per week, then a pair of older re-issues on Sunday evening. Hitchcock’s richly atmospheric story of obsession had not been a critical or commercial hit in America, so here it was paired with a Rory Calhoun B western FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER! FOUR GUNS was passable. Little did I know that in 1980 I would take a course in acting from one of the 4 GUNS cast, Nina Foch (pictured below). Barry Manilow was in the class too, displaying a flair for comedy. But that’s another story. Even a dull western in color was better than those on monochrome TV (”Color?” the experts said in the 20’s “It’s just a fad”). I loved “going to the Cinema” as it was called in middle class England of the day, however my Cinema education was limited to reading occasional copies of PHOTOPLAY, but I was beginning to notice technical things like back projection. Didn’t look real. The lighting difference when studio desert sets were intercut with actual desert photography…Why didn’t they shoot it all out of doors? The reason I was asking myself such questions did not coalesce till that night. When VERTIGO began with the stunning Saul Bass title sequence propelled by Bernard Herrmann’s score, something took hold of me. I had seen films before, but this time I was transported into a new universe, rich in color, dark in motivation. My first encounter with an anti hero. And who better to confuse your loyalties than the inherently sympathetic James Stewart. Of course, at age 13, some of the moral dilemmas and sexual undertones escaped me, but the film took me on an emotional thrill ride. I loved the way it made me feel, and I knew then and there that I wanted to make other people feel that way too. I knew one day I would leave school and have to do what grown ups do - " work for a living ". Eureka! I realized. People get paid to make movies. Great! That's what I will do. Thus my ambition was born. Luck and persistence gave me opportunity. My pleasure became my vocation. Obviously, I am no Hitchcock. I am no fencing champion either, but I still compete.
Was this a career that your family encouraged?
Yes, my mother had been a bit part actress before she married my father. He saw my passion and said go for it.
You moved to Australia in the mid 1960s. What brought you to these shores?
The UK film union operated a closed shop, so I went to the land of my father in 1966 where there was no film industry but there was television of a sort. News film editing led to station promos, which led to me being hired by an American company to make trailers in the UK.
How did the Australian lifestyle influence your work?
It was and still is a sunny "can do" country.
One of those actors was Henry Thomas who had recently made ET with Spielberg. That movie was Frog Dreaming. How was he to work with?
Henry was great at 14, and when I cast him again at 28 in my Happy Face Murders, he was still the same decent, kind, smart, gifted actor he was as a kid.
Much of your early-mid career is explored in the Ozploitation documentary, Not Quite Hollywood. Has this introduced you to a whole new audience?
Yes, my sense of humor seems to connect with today's young film geeks.
You were once attached to direct a big budged sci-fi movie for Disney. What ever happened to that one?
I wrote it in an office they gave me on the corner of Mickey Avenue and Dopey Drive. They bought it, but did not make it, after The Black Hole cost more and grossed less than they expected.
You also directed a sort of prequel to the Porky’s franchise several years ago but it never got a release. What was the story behind that?
If you google my name and Porky's and lawsuit, you'll find a Hollywood reporter story on it.
Do you think that Australia has forgotten how to make good genre films?
Australian film makers have not forgotten how, it's just hard to compete when American films culturally dominate the world and have infinitely bigger advertising budgets.
Are there any up and coming film makers you recommend following?
Mark Hartley, The Speirig Brothers, many others no doubt. As I live in LA, I am out of the local loop.
You always appear to be busy. What’s next for you?
As always I have many balls in the air, including my own....maybe a buddy action comedy, maybe a horror movie.
If you were to be remembered for just 3 films, which would they be?
MAN FROM HONG KONG, DEAD END DRIVE IN, THE SIEGE OF FIREBASE GLORIA, but I love all 41 of my celluloid children for different reasons. Each film is a great adventure, and the adventure continues.
Brian, thank you for your time and thank you for making Aussie cinema exciting!
With an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema, Brian's brain is definitely one I would love to tap into some more. Hopefully down the road he will grant me the time for a more indepth discussion about all different aspects of cinema. Please share this page and help generate more traffic. The more hits, the more big profiles I can wrangle!
UPDATE: Shortly after completing this interview Brian mentioned to me that he was prepping for something exciting. This week he revealed that he's shooting a buddy-cop action comedy starring John Cusack & Thomas Jane. What a coup!! I'm definitely excited. Check out the article here. - 11/06/2013
Putting words together to describe Astron-6 isn’t easy. They are a film collective from Winnipeg, Canada consisting of five Gen-X dudes. They commit themselves to subversive and twisted filmmaking that taps into everything that’s awesome about 80s genre. With shoestring budgets they somehow manage to produce quality retro-centric pulp that’s resonated across the world and has been embraced by just about everyone who recalls BETA and VHS with fondness (and hard ons). Their debut feature was FATHER’S DAY, a kick-ass celebration of hardcore grindhouse cinema that also pays homage to the better films of Troma. You may recall that it was denied classification twice by the Australian Classification Board… yep BANNED! With a passionate persistence the film’s Aussie distributor (Monster Pictures) fought feverishly to get it released and its now out there proudly flipping a “fuck-you” finger at the censors. Their follow-up release is MANBORG, a Chroma-key feast for the eyes. Shot almost entirely in a small garage against a green screen in the midst of a Canadian winter, the film is a testament to Astron-6's passion for 80's cult cinema. I’ll let the trailer speak for itself but I do encourage y’all to watch this gem of a thing. With an awesome line-up of short films and pseudo trailers, Astron-6 is riding a high right now and we can only hope that there’s stacks more to come.
FakeShemp is a modest hobby site and having such personalities give their time generously is a huge boost. This week’s Brain-Pick belongs to Adam Brooks and Conor Sweeney from Astron-6 who were too kind in giving me their time.
Were you addicted to movies from a young age?
Conor: Yeah. I would rent the same handful of movies every weekend, week after week.
What were some of your favourite movies growing up?
Adam: Back to the Future, Something Wicked this way Comes, Terminator, The Karate Kid, Ghostbusters etc.
Conor: Back to The Future, Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Return of the Jedi, Ghostbusters, The Neverending Story
When did you decide to pursue film making?
Adam: I tried to make a lil' zombie movie on hi-8 in 2001, but it fell apart. my friends proved to be unreliable as far as unpaid, non-actors go.
Conor: I started doing it seriously and consistently when I met Matt in high school. We started shooting sketches together and performing live comedy for about five years leading up to us joining Astron-6.
Has the Canadian lifestyle influenced your work in any way?
Adam: I don't think taking a dogsled ride to school from my igloo house has made me any different, but how would I know, eh?
Conor: Canadian film and TV is exceptionally terrible, especially comedy. All our good comedy writers and performers migrate south, so we're left with castrated unfunny garbage. There's the occasional SCTV or Kids in the Hall, but these are exceptions to the rule. We're influenced in the regard that we don't want to make traditionally "Canadian" content.
What are some of your favourite Canadian films?
Adam: Videodrome, The Fly, Hardcore Logo, Pontypool and Beyond The Black Rainbow.
Conor: Videodrome, Rituals, Black Christmas, C.R.A.Z.Y., PIN, The Fly
Where did your love of genre films come from?
Adam: I think it came from growing up in the 80's when genre film seemed to be everywhere.
Conor: The mom and pop corner video store by my place. The horror section was alluring and terrifying. Video stores were a great hangout for kids in the 90's. It had an arcade and pizza and candy and hardcore porn if you were sneaky enough. It was a great time.
Are there any Canadian directors who have helped shape your love of genre?
Conor: David Cronenberg
As Astron-6 have you received any praise from other filmmakers?
Adam: Guy Maddin, The Soskas, Jason Eisener and James Bickert have all been very kind to us.
Conor: Mark Neveldine, the Soska sisters are awesome. Steven Spielberg, Werner Herzo
Father’s Day was denied classification twice in Australia. Was this a bitter sweet sentiment?
Conor: It's pretty annoying, but I guess it's cool.
Monster Pictures eventually released the movie down under, have you had much interaction with those guys?
Adam: yea, they seem nice.
Conor: Yeah we have a good relationship with them.
With several obvious references to Troma in the movie, was it always intended to be part of their catalogue?
Adam: Unfortunately it was.
Conor: There are references to Troma? This was unintentional if so. Other than the Tromaville license plate and Lloyd's cameo... now that I think about it there are a bunch of Troma references in Father's Day, my bad.
How did you find working with Troma, particularly Lloyd Kaufman?
Adam: a nightmare.
Conor: Absolutely awful. I recommend any filmmaker considering working for them to make think long and hard about their decision.
A few years ago the retrospective documentary Not Quite Hollywood was made showcasing the glory days of Aussie exploitation movies. Have you seen many Ozploitation flicks?
Adam: a few.
Conor: Yeah, there are some fun ones. Crocodile Dundee counts right?
What are some of your favourite Aussie movies?
Adam: Long weekend.
Written by Everett DeRoche.
Conor: I liked Dead End Drive In. The Howling III, Long Weekend, Mad Dog Morgan, Stunt Rock.
Your most recent film is Manborg. How did this little nugget come to be?
Adam: Skostanski and Jer came up with it, and then we all suffered for about a year in Kostanski's parent's garage.... then a couple years later it was finished.
Conor: Steve wrote it right before Father's Day, then for the next year I had to squeeze into painted on jeans and steel toed boots and act in front of a green screen in either a boiling garage or a dusty asbestos filled concrete basement of a blinds store.
Conor, you tackled an Aussie accent in the movie. Aside from the occasional mispronunciation, you NAILED IT! What was your secret?
Conor: I'm really from Australia, mate. You should be asking how I nail a Canadian accent.
How did shooting this compare with Father’s Day?
Adam: for me it was completely different because almost all of my scenes in Manborg were shot alone in front of greenscreen with no other actors to work off of. they're very different movies.
Conor: It was a lot less fun. Shooting in front of a green screen is very limiting, and it was always either too hot or too cold. And I can't stress how miserable doing action scenes in those pants was. I couldn't bend my knees.
Whats next for Astron-6?
Adam: The Editor.
Conor: The Editor, A sexy Giallo throwback.
Who are some other up and coming Canadian names we should be aiming our attention at?
Adam: The Soskas.
Conor: Panos Cosmatos, Jen and Sylvia Soska, Milos Mitrovic
Adam & Conor thank you so much for you time. I am salivating for The Editor!
Monster Pictures recently interviewed Manborg's director and Astron-6 member Steve Kostanski.
Click the image and check it out.