Monday, March 25, 2013
Friday, November 2, 2012
Amazing Stories was in its second season when I stumbled onto the tie-in at the local drugstore. At the time, my favourite episode was the Martin Scorsese directed 'Mirror Mirror' and my $4.75 purchase was undoubtedly driven by its inclusion in the anthology.
Adapted from Joseph Minion's teleplay by Steven Bauer (a professor at Miami University, not the actor- I could only dream of the shenanigans the ex Mr Melanie Griffith could have come up with ), the Mirror Mirror short story rehashes the plot of a Stephen King-esque writer who begins to see a ghoulish masked man in reflective surfaces. Even as an elementary school student I recognized a hastily put together cash-in when I saw it and understood the episode itself didn't compare in quality in the slightest.
Perhaps the difference owes to the talent of episode director Martin Scorsese ... well, duh, of course it does. Not only does he use clips from Hammer's The Plague of The Zombies as a fake movie based on the writer's (played brilliantly by Sam Waterston) work, but the director brings his usual cinematic flair to this TV network production. A masked -and unrecognizable -Tim Robbins plays the creature that torments Waterston throughout the episode to great effect.
Watching the episode today awakens old memories of being absolutely terrified of mirrors brought upon by this episode and undoubtedly the legend of Bloody Mary which plagued my school at the time.
I had the great privilege of meeting fellow novelization collector John Waters who asked me if I had ever tried to read one after I admitted I was a fellow movie-tie in fan. After I said, no not really, he said, yeah they're awful, which led me to think there has to be at least one good one
So I'm going to try to attempt to read some of my titles in my collection in the upcoming weeks and review them here. It very well may be a suicide mission, but who needs great literature when an adaptation of of Tom Holland's Fright Night exists?
Friday, June 8, 2012
Friday, May 15, 2009
Throughout his career, Adam Rifkin has proven adept in almost every conceivable genre. He's directed some truly subversive entertainment (The Dark Backward; The Chase) and scripted clever family fare (Mouse Hunt; Small Soldiers) devoid of saccharine.
Fans of his charming first film, Never On Tuesday, will be pleased to learn that it’s finally being released to DVD this summer. Disappointingly, the disc will be barebones – the company apparently refusing to add the extras created specifically for it – I’d still recommend seeking it out, as it’s an unsung gem primed for rediscovery.
It’s a self-contained dramady in the desert as a group of twentysomethings (Peter Berg, Andrew Lauer and Claudia Christian) form a friendship following a car crash en route to
I had a chance to interview Adam for the DVD release of his latest project, LOOK, for Uptown Magazine. Here’s the full version that couldn’t be used due to space constraints.
What are the origins of LOOK?
The original idea struck me when I received a ticket from a red light camera. Apparently, I had gone through a red light here in
A few weeks later, the ticket showed up at my address with a photograph of me running the light. First of all, it was unnerving because it was a terrible picture of me. I was probably singing to the radio or something and my expression was very embarrassing. Aside from that, I found it disturbing that somebody was able to take my picture without my knowledge and mail it to my home address.
Then I just started to think what other cameras might be capturing without my knowledge. Everybody knows that there are cameras in banks and ATMs, but I was blissfully unaware just how pervasive they are. I suddenly started to realize that everywhere I looked I saw more and more cameras. Then I did a little research and I found out the average American was captured on camera over 200 times a day. I just thought that this could be an interesting way to tell a story. I’ve never seen a movie shot entirely with surveillance cameras before, and that’s pretty much how it came about.
Did you construct it as a traditional screenplay?
Stylistically, I knew I was going to film the whole movie through the point of view of surveillance cameras. When I actually started writing the script, I purposely forgot about that because I wanted the characters and the storylines just to stand on their own. I wanted this to be the kind of movie that would be compelling whether it was shot conventionally or not. I did purposely gear some of the stories toward what I thought would be surveillance-centric storylines. I felt I had to address things like terrorism, child abduction - things that we come to know as being iconic surveillance camera imagery. I also wanted to show how the cameras could benefit the people being photographed - that they could be seen as both good and bad things.
I believe that the issue of surveillance cameras and privacy laws is a very gray area. Some people say, 'The more cameras the better. I’ll gladly give up some civil rights if it means I’m going to live in a safer society.' Other people say, ‘This is a total invasion of my privacy. I don’t want cameras photographing me all the time. This is George Orwell’s nightmare come true.’ In my research, I found that there are compelling arguments for both sides. I didn’t want the film to take a stand. I wanted to show both sides and have the film spark the debate.
On technically achieving the reality:
I knew going into the idea that I wanted to maintain complete accuracy as far as where the cameras would be placed. We shot in locations where real surveillance cameras obviously were and we would put our cameras right next to them. We had a technical consultant who is a security expert on the set at all time to make sure everything maintained accuracy. I didn’t want anyone to be able to say that we cheated. When I was writing the script, I didn’t really think about exactly where the camera was going to be for the sake of the drama of the scene. I just knew that when we got to locations where surveillance cameras would be, I would only shoot the sequences from those perspectives.
When did you realise that the movie was more than just a gimmick?
It really started to come together for me when we started cutting it together, and when we started to add to the imagery, the time code stamp, and all those visual triggers that fooled you into believing that these can be real surveillance camera shots. Once we started adding those, and once we started degrading the image, making it look like real surveillance footage, I started to get very excited because the more it looked like real footage the better it was. My fear was that being wide angled, in high perspectives, and not having close-ups was going to make you feel too removed from the actors and the emotion, and was going to leave you cold. Especially for a character drama.
I later felt - when it started to look more and more like real surveillance footage - that those fears I had actually became the film’s strength. Because the more removed you felt, the more you felt like you were peering in on people’s lives from an objective perceptive, the more I felt that it put the audience in the world of voyeur. I felt that it added to the creepiness and the drama because suddenly the audience is complicit in something illicit. You’re suddenly a participant in something you shouldn’t be a part of. You watch a James Bond movie, and the audience is James Bond. That’s the fun of movies; you vicariously live out these adventures through the characters that you’re watching. LOOK continues to remind you that you’re not in the movie, you’re watching through the window.
Besides Giuseppe Andrews, who you've worked with before [Detroit Rock City], your cast is full of newcomers.
That was very intentional; when we started pre-production I said these have to be unknowns. Because we’re not going to fool people into believing it’s real surveillance footage and if a big movie star is playing one of the parts, it’s going to take you out of that reality. When we were presenting the script to the agencies, we told them that we don’t want stars, we just want your best actors. And for the first time in my career, the agencies were throwing stars at us. For of course, whatever reason, just our luck, because usually we’re chasing stars. And some very big names wanted to be in the film and it was very tempting to abandon my original idea and go with some of these big names because it adds so much value to an independent film. Ultimately, I stuck to my guns and felt it was important, creatively, that the characters maintain that realism. I feel creatively I made the right decision, if I had gone with some of these stars, I’m sure I would be a lot richer right now, but I’m okay with that.
And you also have John Landis in a cameo.
John’s always been sort of my mentor. When I was 21 or so, I just finished my first film, and had never met him before, but I was a huge fan so I contacted him and asked him if he’d watch my film. He invited me to the Universal lot and screened it, and took me to lunch, and he was very generous with his time. After that, whenever I wrote a script, he’d read it or he’d give me ideas if I was about to make a new movie.
He’d help me – like when I made the movie The Chase, I had never directed action before, he gave me insight on how to analyse an action scene. He’s really been, like I said, very much my mentor, and as the years have gone on, he’s just sort of evolved into a good friend. So, when I needed a famous
What's been the most satisfying part of making the film?
One of the things that was really great about this experience was the creative freedom as a filmmaker when you’re making a movie that’s “under the radar”.
We basically just did what we wanted, and when you get to explore, and be experimental in that way, because you’re not spending a lot of money, you don’t have a lot of people looking around your shoulder. It enables you to flex some creative muscles that you otherwise might suppress if you’re working for a studio. In terms of the reaction to the film, we thought making a movie that was very much an experiment; it was a very risky proposition to see if the idea would even work. The fact that the reaction has been so positive has been really exciting. The idea that people have embraced the movie even though it’s been made in such an unconventional way, all the fears I had going it that it wasn’t going in or was this idea worth exploring, it put those to rest. And it really feels good.
Would you work so unconventionally again?
I hope I always get the opportunity to always do unconventional things. I will tell you that LOOK has spawned a television series that we’re prepping right now - once again, we’re going to shoot entirely from surveillance cameras. I can’t tell you for which network yet, because we haven’t made a formal announcement, but what I can tell you that it’s a premium pay cable network and it’s going to start shooting in four weeks. We have eight episodes that we’re going to do.
Suffice it to say, it’s a channel that we can show the things, and say the things that will enable the show to be as controversial and as bold as the movie. We’re not going to be saddled with standards and practices telling us we can’t do things.
Would it be following the same characters as the movie?
The only characters that we’re going to follow are the Giuseppe Andrews character and his buddy played by Miles Dougal. That storyline continues through the series and all the other characters are going to be new.
How different is your process when writing scripts for other people to direct?
My theory is that I love movies for other people. My favourite thing to do is write and direct. I mean, first off, that’s my passion, that’s what I always wanted to do since I was little kid. When I get an opportunity to do that, I cherish it. Being a writer/director of a project, there’s nothing more satisfying than to have an idea, and to see that idea through to the screen.
It’s an entirely different experience when I write something for somebody else. In many instances, you know, it turns out very differently than the way I imagined it when I was writing it. But that’s okay because filmmaking is a director’s medium and so when I write something that I know I’m not directing, I know that whoever is the director is going to take it and run with it and interpret it however he or she wants to. It’s all kind of the fun of the experience to see how somebody else interprets your words. I interpret my words one way, other people would interpret them another way.
I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to write some movies that have gone to be big studio hits. It’s really neat, and I want to keep doing it, as often as possible. Also, too, when I get to do those things, those opportunities afford me the freedom to take the time to do a movie like LOOK. Listen, the same year, that we were shooting LOOK, Underdog, which was a movie that I wrote, came out. Right, so the budget of Underdog was $100 million dollars and LOOK’S budget was probably less than the dog food budget for Underdog. But to me, I always want to be able to have one foot in both worlds. The big studio world and the independent world because, in each one, gives you an opportunity to flex different muscles. Guys that I really, really admire like John Cassavetes and Orson Welles did it that way and John Sayles does it that way.
Who are some of your other influences?
I’m a huge Woody Allen fan. I obviously worship the same gurus that so many other filmmakers worship. Francis Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Hal Ashby, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick. I love those guys. But you know what, I love all kinds of movies. I love B movies, I love arty movies, I love foreign movies, I love big
What were some of the bad movies that inspired you?
It’s tough to say. There’s so many, let me try to narrow it down. When I was a kid growing up, there was a movie that came out called Up The Academy. It came out during the Animal House, Porky’s, teen comedy era. It was presented by Mad Magazine, so it was called Mad Magazine presents Up The Academy. Now, it was a financial failure, and it’s not remembered as a particularly good movie. I wouldn't even consider it a good movie myself. But when I was making
I will say this. Up the Academy has one of the best soundtracks. There are some great songs in that movie. I listened to that soundtrack over and over again during pre-production of
And the soundtrack for
We used a couple songs from The Sweet, all kinds of obscure songs; we used Black Superman, the Muhammad Ali song, and the Pina Colada Song by Rupert Holmes.
We also used some great rock and roll songs. The way we got the soundtrack was that when were editing, we used all the songs we wished we could have but knew we could never afford. The budget for the music of DRC was pretty high in the budget. We had $500 grand going in. But we put in every song we wanted for the first test screening, knowing that after we’d have to come back down to reality and strip it of all the songs we couldn’t afford and figure out ways to score the rest. The test screening went so well, and the scores were so high, that the studio said just pay for all the songs. Just lock the songs where they are. So in one momentary decision by Bob Shaye, the chairman of New Line Cinema, the budget of the soundtrack went from $500,000 to $2.5 million dollars. It was amazing.
That’s a film that you directed that you don’t have a writing credit on.
My friend Carl Dupre did the original draft. I did do a lot of writing on it, but I didn’t want to take credit away from him. Giving him an opportunity to take sole credit was the right thing to do. He was the assistant editor on The Chase, and I had read the original draft of DRC way back then.
When I got Bone Chillers going on ABC, I hired him and another assistant editor that I had worked with too. The two of them were both very funny, and they were friends, so I hired them both to be a writing team on that show. It was actually the most highly rated show of the children's lineup, but the same year Disney bought the network, and they canceled everything they didn’t own. So it suddenly changed to all Disney programming. It was sort of like the last gasp of Saturday morning programming for kids.
What are some things you’re working on now?
I wrote a graphic novel that just came out called Schmobots - a comedy about slacker robots. It's published by Boom Studios, so I’m excited about that. My full time job right now is the LOOK television series, and we’re getting ready to shoot that in just about 4 weeks.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
I came across this rare clip on YouTube of an episode of David Letterman interviewing one of my favourite radio personalities, Henry Morgan. He goes into detail about his very bitter divorce which has, in the past, marked him as a misogynist. Although, if I had to move from my home to escape an arrest warrant, I would hate women too.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Here's a longer version of my interview with Ed Naha that ran in Uptown.
Writer Ed Naha is, in his words, "a professional schizophrenic."
Starting out with Roger Corman's company, he wrote everything from comedy to fantasy before pairing up with Stuart Gordon for one of the best killer-toy movies ever made, Dolls, and the original version of Honey I Shrunk The Kids. Speaking with
What were the challenges of adapting a well known story?
It’s weird because a lot of people who know the story of The Ten Commandments will tell you things they think were in the Bible, but they’ve seen the DeMille movie so many times that they’re convinced that it’s the real deal. For instance, the character Ramses in the Bible isn’t named, he’s just Pharaoh. Ramses came about with DeMille and now he’s in there.
So you were you influenced by both the Bible and the DeMille film?
I think you can’t help but be influenced by the Demille movie. We were all in agreement that our Moses should not be Charlton Heston, because Moses in the Bible is a very hesitant prophet. He tries to weasel his way out of the gig when God speaks to him in the burning bush. “You know I’m not really good with people” and God saying, “No, you’re the one.” My first thought was Jimmy Stewart because he usually played reluctant heroes like in Destry Rides Again. So I just blurted that out in the first meeting we had, and everyone got it. So we took it from there and tried to put a lot of things in our movie that were in the book of Exodus that weren’t filmed before. We tried to tell the entire story of Moses. We had to do it in a way that wouldn’t be four and a half hours long.
How did you get involved in this project?
Sheer serendipity. I had met Cindy Bond of Promenade Pictures, and we were just talking about all the movies we saw when we were kids and how that type of movie isn’t really made anymore. Sometimes they’ll be made for television but most of the movies now aren’t that character driven, and much more FX oriented. You don’t really go to see Night at the Museum because you’re a Ben Stiller fan, you go to see all the things that come alive. I said, if there was anything you think I’d be good for, give me a call. So she called me a month later, and said that we’d like to do an animated family version of The Ten Commandments. And my jaw dropped so hard that it ricocheted because there is nothing in my background that would suggest I’d be good for this unless I was going to shrink Moses. So they scheduled a meeting, and the director, and the producers ,and Frank Yablans who’s like Mr. Movie – the man ran
Did writing for animation free you up at all?
Actually, it was really cool, because you get to describe the scenes which is really neat for a writer. You always have it in your head and because I was writing for this director –John Stronach – who co-directed the film with Bill Boyce – but Stronach was amazing. He approached this as a movie as opposed to an animated film. John loves all those big vistas and wide shots that are like 1956 Cinemascope Technicolor, so I could write those shots, and it was just really neat. It was disgustingly fun. We were just complementing each other - it was like Alphonse and Gaston – “Oh, you’re great! “Oh no you’re great, oh no no no, you are.” They were the loveliest bunch of people I’ve ever worked with.
This was a low budget movie. I started in low budget, when I first started I was doing fantasy, and comedies for Roger Corman. So I knew what it was like to write for a budget and then having worked in syndicated television (The Adventures of Sinbad), you never have enough money. I mean, it’s like, “Do we have a scene, or do we have a sandwich.?” You’re always making choices. The nice thing about this, since it was a little movie, everyone on this gave 110%, it was just phenomenonal what they came up with the money they had. Everything from the score to the actors – I was so happy with the cast. It was one of the few times I’ve been thanked by the actors. When Ben Kingsley says thank you for the words, Christian Slater calls up and says ‘great part dude’ You know It was really not to belabor the word, miraculous. And I still haven’t been hit by lightning.
I was working for TV in 5 years, and it was interesting to see your work on the screen immediately. If 60% of what you wrote got on the screen, you felt like putting on a party hat. And it was just wonderful when I did Ten Commandments, when I saw the first cut with the music by Reg Powell, who did a beautiful score. I sat at the director’s house, which is odd in the first place, it’s usually like the Hatfields and the McCoys - and I’m sitting there with three of the producers and I was just stunned. I never had anything that was actually filmed the way I wrote it, and I’m getting to be a geezer, and I was just flabbergasted. I’m speechless now, just thinking about it. I was just so pleased and it was like the antithesis of some of the surprises I got seeing a movie I made in the 80s. Dolls being the exception, but when I saw Troll, or Honey, or went to see some of the Corman things, you would just sit there and want to have Advil pate. Ten Commandments just blew me out of the water.
I don’t know if that often happens with animation. We’re doing Noah’s Ark now, and they put down the vocal tracks already and then we’ll be doing David and Goliath, but maybe it’s just animation, I don’t know. It was beautiful. The wide shots in certain scenes, and it’s funny, some of the movie reviews, accuse of us cheating because when Ramses and his army comes over the ridge to the
It’s really tricky stuff, especially now, religion has been politicized, and everyone has preconceived ideas of what Christianity should be and what is valid and what is not. And you have to have that in the back of your noodle when you’re doing these, because you don’t want to offend anybody. And at the same time, you want to reach everybody. And in the 50s and the 60s when they did biblical epics, they had a little more wiggle room, you could have love triangles that weren’t in the Bible, and you could introduce a lot of characters and subplots who weren’t in there either. If you tried to do that today, you’d be called on it. It’s almost like people are more rigid now, which is a shame.
I give a lot of credit to Christian Slater. He really delivered on this. As the character Moses grows more comfortable in his role as leader, Christan’s voice grows more confident as well. It’s a really very good acting job. Alfred Molina as Ramses, blew me away. And Eliott Gould! Is he a cool God or what? I was raised on Elliott Gould movies, MASH, and stuff like that, and he just nailed it. He played it as God, the Father, he was very paternal. I read one review, who said God wasn’t hateful enough! Can you imagine thinking God was too nice! We should have got a wrestler, but then we got Elliott Gould.
How did you interest in movies begin?
I was a pre-geek, geek. When I was a kid, I used to see five horror movies a week on TV plus there would be what they call kiddie matinees every Saturday. And for a quarter or thirty five cents you could see two horror movies. So I’d be there all the time and I’d take notes. I was one of those guys – (putting on a kid voice) “In the movie Konga, I was offended by the fact that you could see the zipper.” And that turned into to be my first book, Horrors From Screen to Scream. Before the internet, that was the first encyclopedia of horror movies. And it was based on a lot of notes I took when I was a kid. I used to clip out reviews from the papers back in
You also wrote the movie Dolls, which is one of the better killer toy stories.
I still love that movie. Stuart Gordon and I are still friends and we did the commentary track for the DVD a couple of years ago. That was fun. They had a screening down in
And you wrote Honey I Shrunk The Kids when it was originally attached to Stuart Gordon to direct.
That was the probably the biggest personal disappointment I ever had because Stuart and Brian Yuzna and I all came to Disney together and it was really the first time I worked at a major studio and it was like the Ironman competition. It took forever to be in development and at the very end, there was a lot of pressure, and Stuart wound up getting ill. Then Brian left, and they brought in all new people. I think it’s a good movie, it’s a fun movie, but I think it would’ve been a more heartfelt movie had Stuart and I stayed with it.
What was writing the movie Troll like?
That was interesting. You can look at anything as being interesting, like “I’ve been shot” would be interesting too. My mom and dad liked it a lot. But having seen some of the dailies, I knew I didn’t have to polish up my Oscar speech. The coolest thing was a whole bunch of us went down to the theater to see it together, and it was just one of those things, where you go “oh my God”, and afterwards there was a studio executive there who said, “You know, if you closed your eyes, it sounded like a good movie.” I just said, “Great, I can write for radio.” It’s known today for having the lead’s character named Harry Potter. A lot of people like it because it’s so over the top.
It also has that crazy scene where Michael Moriarty dances by himself.
The infamous Blue Cheer Summertime Blues scene. I wrote him to play air guitar, but I didn’t exactly envision it going on for what seems like an hour.
What are you most proud of in your career?
Right now, what I’m happiest about is The Ten Commandments. I’ve done a lot of bizarre things, but it’s nice to be given a chance to do one good thing. Right now, I could point to this movie as one good thing. Not because it’s going to win an Oscar, not because it’s broken box office records or anything like that, but because it’s going to be around for a while. I have a little sticker here in this room that passes as an office, and I love Laurel and Hardy, and there’s a picture of
Living down here, and I have a political blog, and it’s just every day, you pick up a newspaper, and it’s a combination of Orwell, Kafka, and Looney Tunes. And this passes for news. It’s nice to retreat from that a little bit. Rather than focus your energy on all this bad stuff that’s going on. Try to conjure up some good stuff. For an hour and half, you don’t have to deal with what passes for contemporary life.