The collected The Cannon Film Guide author Austin Trunick interviews

I had a great time talking with Austin Trunick, writer of The Cannon Film Guide Volume I and The Cannon Film Guide Volume II and hopefully you’ve been reading it all week.

Here are the links to all five parts:

  • Part 1: How did Austin first encounter Cannon and why did he write these books?
  • Part 2: Ninjas and where it all went wrong
  • Part 3: Tobe Hooper and Cannon
  • Part 4: Cannon urban legends and getting more of their movies on blu ray
  • Part 5: Least favorites and what movies Cannon didn’t make

You can — and should — get both books from Bear Manor Media. You can also find Austin on Twitter for daily blasts of Cannon facts.

Austin recently guested on The Cannon Canon and it’s great, an interview packed with even more Cannon trivia than we got to in our conversation!

Interview with The Cannon Film Guide author Austin Trunick part 5

Thanks to Austin Trunick, writer of The Cannon Film Guide Volume I and The Cannon Film Guide Volume II, for spending an entire week on our site discussing all things Cannon.

Stay tuned — August will be the second Cannon month on our site. To check out every Cannon Film we’ve covered so far, check out the Letterboxd list.

B&S About Movies: Some Cannon movies are just so hard to find.

Austin: Didn’t you have trouble finding The Secret of Yolanda?

B&S: Yeah.

Austin: You’re not missing much. It’s worth a watch for the whole premise, but it’s not a great movie. The Berlin Affair is another one that’s a tough watch. It’s supposed to be this steamy love affair and this love triangle between the characters but there’s no chemistry at all.

B&S: It needs someone other than Liliana Cavani to direct it. Like if Jess Franco directed it…is it your least favorite Cannon Film?

Austin: It’s supposed to be this forbidden erotic film and nothing feels that forbidden or feels very erotic and you’re not even sure if the actors even like each other. I’m very hard on Mio Takaki in the chapter in the book. That’s probably my least favorite one.

B&S: Not Bolero?

Austin: Bolero is tough. Whenever I do a podcast about Cannon, people always ask if I want to do that movie and I ask, “Can we do another movie?” (laughs)

B&S: It’s supposed to be this erotic movie filled with so much sex and it’s robotic.

Austin: On Karina Longsworth’s podcast You Must Remember This her current series is the erotic 80s. And she did episodes on both Bo Derek and Brooke Shields. And in particular, the Brooke Shields episode was good. They both have very interesting paths into their careers and definitely both worked on some pretty skeevy projects on the way.

B&S: Cannon threw both of them a lot of money.

Austin: They’re both sex symbols and Menahem just fell for that. He wanted to be part of that phenomenon.

B&S: Luigi Cozzi is another person that Cannon worked with a lot. Menahem did after Cannon, too.

Austin: Menahem just saw him as someone reliable. His movies look like they cost twice as much as they did. He’s a very creative person and Hercules has great effects. The Adventures of Hercules may have a crazy production history and people may make fun of it because they don’t have the money to do it the same way as Clash of the Titans. But he made the monsters robots so that would explain why they’re moving choppy and they had that sort of stilted motion.

He can squeeze a lot out of a little and for a while, he was going to do Lifeforce even before he did Hercules. Klaus Kinski was going to be in it.

I love finding stuff about Cannon stuff that didn’t happen. Like I have the paperwork from Joe Don Baker with Golan and Globus, pre-Cannon, that voids his contract for their 70s attempt to make 52 Pick-Up

My files are just full of canceled projects and that’s going to be so much of the third book.

B&S: What’s the best one?

Austin: I’m probably going to cover around 150 projects that never happened. The most famous might be the Charles Bronson and J. Lee Thompson movie The Golem, which was based on the Jewish legend, and this guy was controlling the golem and using it to kill people and then it would down and escape through the pipes. He’s going in and out of these New York City apartments with no evidence.

The plan was to do it with the stop motion animation with clay and actually do this monster. I would have loved to have seen that. Yeah, it was just way too expensive for Cannon to make. That would have been one I would have loved.

They were going to make Cobra 2 with Marion Cobretti wiping out the entire cocaine racket. Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, basically, but with Stallone instead.

Gunga Din was another one they advertised again and again with Roger Moore, Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley. Menahem wanted to make it and finally Moore said, “We’re too old to play these soldiers now.”

They were even planning a Barbie movie when working with Mattel. The idea was that a girl wasn’t fitting into school and Barbie could come to life and help her. Bo Derek playing Barbie would have been Menahem’s dream casting. Or maybe Victoria Barrett.

There was also Pinocchio the Robot by Tobe Hooper with Lee Marvin as Gepetto.

These ads were pre-Photoshop just getting things put together as fast as possible before Cannes. A lot of them were made at the last minute. Like the ad for Death Wish 3, they took Bronson to the roof of a hotel to quickly get pictures of him holding the gun. And for Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, all they had was just a picture of Bronson from 10 to Midnight.

Thanks again to Austin for spending so much time discussing his books with us.

Grab Austin’s books now. They’re amazing and I use them constantly as reference material. The Cannon Film Guide Volume I covered 1981 to 1984 while the new The Cannon Film Guide Volume II is all about 1985 to 1987 and has sixty Cannon movies, more than forty new interviews and 300 images across 1,000 pages.

You can — and should — get both books from Bear Manor Media by clicking the links. You can also find Austin on Twitter.

Interview with The Cannon Film Guide author Austin Trunick part 4

In part four of my discussion with The Cannon Film Guide Volume I and The Cannon Film Guide Volume II author Austin Trunick, we’ll get into the tall tales of Cannon.

B&S About Movies: Is there any truth to the story that Menahem Golan thought Spider-Man should have eight arms?

Austin Trunick: Yeah, when Menahem originally bought Spider-Man, he supposedly thought that it was like a Teen Wolf-style movie and a story about a teenager who transforms into a horrifying spider monster. Which is very funny. But that story may not even be true. Nothing exists beyond people saying that. But I don’t think that it was ever part of a synopsis or in any sort of script.

I think they convinced him really quick like, “Hey, if you’re going to meet with these Marvel executives don’t, you gotta know that this guy’s not a big giant hairy, terrifying spider.”

B&S: But when it comes to stories about the Go-Go Boys, I believe every one. I can be skeptical and still believe every single one.

Austin: Menahem Golan — especially later in his life — he was very big on his own mythmaking.

He would embellish stories and it’s funny because for every story there is, you wonder if the story is being embellished a little bit. And then sometimes you hear the actual story and it’s so much crazier! What I’m trying to do with these books is get to the realest version of the story, the closest version to the truth.

The biggest stories are the ones Menahem told! He repeated the story over and over and over again, through interviews and different profiles, about how he discovered Jean Claude Van Damme. And it’s always the story that he went out to a French restaurant and Van Damme was a waiter and brought out a bowl of soup for him and kicked the high kick over Menahem’s head without spilling the soup. He repeated that story so many times and I wanted to get the real Menahem meeting story from Van Damme himself.

B&S: I’ve even heard the detail that it was turtle soup.

Austin: Never mind that Van Damme had already been like an extra in Breakin’ and he went into the Cannon offices every day for like several years. When Bloodsport came out,  everybody wants to know where this new young action star came from and Menahem cooks up the soup story.

B&S: That’s why I love Cannon. It’s ballyhoo. It’s Chuck Norris reading Reader’s Digest and coming up with Invasion U.S.A.

Austin: Like the Barfly story that Menahem kept telling. Barbet Schroeder came into the office with a saw and was going to cut his fingers off if he didn’t get to make it. Menahem wasn’t even there at the time! He was off making Over the Top.

B&S: I think there’s a tie between Cannon and pro wrestling. Most wrestlers end up believing their character so much they become that character and can’t stop embellishing stories.

Austin: That’s a great way to describe them. It totally fits.

B&S: Menahem is very much like Stan Lee, too.

Austin: But there’s something to these B movie guys, they really have to grow larger. And then their legend grows larger and larger as time moves on. And part of that’s their own like sort of self-mythologizing, but I think people just continue telling these stories. I love to believe all of these stories.

B&S: Why is Tough Guys Don’t Dance so fascinating?

Austin: When I started the first book, that’s one of the ones that I wasn’t as familiar with. I was probably not familiar with other than the title. And it’s one that I just sort of discovered during my time researching Cannon that I grew to love it more and more. It’s the one I’ve probably watched the most in the last three years.

I talked about it on The Cannon Canon, but I also took a few trips left to Provincetown to search out the shooting locations. I got to interview Wings Hauser and John Bedford Lloyd for it. This is funny, but my wife also enjoys this movie, and she loves the Michael Dudikoff movies. She’ll watch some other ones with me now and then but for the most part, a lot of Cannon viewings for the books are just me on my own.

B&S: She didn’t want to watch Private Popsicle?

Austin: She’s watched Tough Guys Don’t Dance multiple times now and has gone to the location so that’s fun.

B&S: I think the only Cannon movie my wife likes is The Apple.

Austin: It gets better every time you watch it. Not too long ago, I got the 12-inch extended disco mix of “Coming.” So if you want to have more disco drum beats and have it be like several minutes longer, that’s something that you can bring into your life.

B&S: Why do you think — outside of a few exceptions — Cannon avoided the slasher craze?

Austin: There was a lot of competition there. And they tended to make action movies where they didn’t have as much competition. There was no shortage of low budget horror and I think it was harder for them to resell a horror movie and compete for that shelf space.

B&S: So they could put out weirder stuff instead, like Body and Soul.

Austin: Leon Isaac Kennedy! He had a lot of appreciation for Cannon. That movie has Muhammad Ali, who is probably one of the most famous people at the time on the entire planet. He’s in this small low budget boxing drama for Cannon, which was incredible. I mean, Leon Kennedy was able to just basically to call in a favor. He was just friends with Muhammad Ali, which is awesome.

B&S: I want more Cannon stuff to come out on blu ray and be reconsidered.

Austin: I want Vinegar Syndrome to release Camorra (A Story of Streets, Women and Crime). It hasn’t gotten any sort of official US release. It’s available in Europe, but here it’s near impossible to see. When I watched that, the copy I was working from for the book was a VHS rip onto a DVD with Greek subtitles that I ordered from like an English bootleg site. You couldn’t find it, right?

B&S: I watched it on a Russian bootleg site with someone screaming Russian dialogue over the actual movie. (laughs) That’s the only way to watch a movie.

Austin: It’s by Lina Wertmüller, a critically acclaimed director but also she wrote some great Italian movies, genre movies. It has Harvey Keitel playing a drug smuggler. Angela Molina is in it and there’s a mysterious killer. It’s very giallo, but someone is stalking and murdering drug dealers and leaving as their calling card — a heroin syringe jammed in the crotch. And it’s a wild movie and it’s a Golan Globus production and has never been released in the U.S.

Vinegar Syndrome or even Fun City should be all over that movie.

There are so many that are kind of languishing right now and haven’t had any sort of release. I don’t know the rights situation for Godard’s King Lear which is a movie that I like talking about it more than watching it. And you would think that somebody, if not Criterion, would have at least put out something. Maybe it had an MGM release in the U.S. on DVD but I even feel like that was like a region one bootleg or something in all regions from somewhere else.

Scorpion/Code Red has put out some stuff, though.

Can I pitch you on one of my ultimate releases?

If they’re not already working on it, one of these labels should be working on it. America 3000 is a weird, weird movie but it hasn’t had a release with its original soundtrack. Not even on VHS. Shout! Factory released it on a four-pack but it’s the wrong soundtrack. David Engelbach had actually gone and did an entirely different soundtrack, the voiceover was different, much less pronounced and the music cues were all different.

That’s what was in theaters, so there are theoretically film prints with the correct audio. But every version that’s been on streaming or DVD has the wrong music and dialogue on it.

B&S: Kino Lorber has been releasing lots of Bronson stuff like Murphy’s Law, a hangout movie of two people who should never hang out.

Austin: I’ve seen the script and like at the last minute, they changed the dialogue from just basic profanity to whatever language is in that film. I mean, Kathleen Wilhoite says language that is just as vulgar, but much more surreal and goofy and nonsensical.

In the final part of this interview, Austin talks about his least favorite Cannon film and we wrap things up.

Interview with The Cannon Film Guide author Austin Trunick part 3

As we start part three of my discussion with The Cannon Film Guide Volume I and The Cannon Film Guide Volume II author Austin Trunick, we’re at the end of discussing Cannon’s attempts at making movies with Marvel.

B&S: I want a Joe Zito Spider-Man.

Austin: I wish he had done more for Cannon.

B&S: Well, Red Scorpion feels like a spiritual Cannon movie. And it has Savini effects!

Austin: He did Invasion U.S.A. with Zito too. He also did John Savage’s burned-up hand on Maria’s Lovers.

B&S: It’s not a far drive from Bloomfield to Brownsville.

Austin: And of course, he did Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 for Cannon.

B&S: I love that Tobe Hooper did three movies for Cannon. He had a good experience there, right?

Austin: Yeah, I mean, up until the end, I would say it was good for Tobe and Cannon. But both sides soured pretty hard by the end. He did speak nicely of them afterward so maybe it wasn’t too bad.

He got to make Lifeforce. Basically a Hammer-style movie with gore, nudity, a large budget and an incredibly long shoot for Cannon. And so many people worked on that, between Nick Maley, John Dykstra, Dan O’Bannon on the script. It would be really hard to ask for me.

Unfortunately, with Invaders from Mars, which he was excited about, that’s another project where he got pressured a lot by Cannon toward the end, because he was going over budget and over schedule and Cannon rarely allowed that in any of their movies. He got away with it there. And they also wanted it to be scarier.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was a movie that Tobe initially didn’t want to direct but they couldn’t get any directors approved that he wanted. They finally needed someone to shoot it fast because they have already pre-sold it and promised to theaters, so Tobe ended up jumping in to take it over. They made that movie ridiculously fast and Cannon did not get it.

I mean, I don’t think anybody got the Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel they expected.

You can see in the trailers and print ads that Cannon was selling it as a continuation of the original movie and they didn’t get that. (laughs)

It’s such a fun movie, but you can tell that they were just horrified seeing the footage. They sent Newt Arnold, who directed Bloodsport, as kind of a company man to finish the movie if they had to fire Tobe and keep it on schedule.

That made a lot of ill will between Tobe and his crew with Cannon. Who was Cannon to send one of their goons to take the movie out of their hands?

Does a promo photo get any better?

B&S: That’s not the first time Tobe had issues, like he was fired from The Dark and there’s this big period between Eaten Alive and The Funhouse where projects kept falling to pieces.

Austin: I did get some great Tobe Hooper stories in the second volume. You definitely get the sense that he was somebody who like to shoot stuff over and over and over again until it was right. He loved to play around a lot on the set which is the opposite of Cannon. They wanted stuff to be on time and on budget.

B&S: I always have felt that Hooper would have been a better regional filmmaker, closer to George Romero. Other than getting stuck in what he called the horror ghetto, Romero made the right path for himself. Staying around Pittsburgh — and Canada at the end of his career — he was able to control and have his crew that he trusted.

Meanwhile, Tobe went to Hollywood and he’d often call people out — like Wayne Bell — to Hollywood from Texas because he didn’t trust anyone. Maybe he got overwhelmed by the system.

But Romero and Hooper both made their Citizen Kane with their first film. Romero took a few decades, but he eclipsed it. Hooper didn’t.

That’s a lot to live up to, much less working for Cannon.

Austin: I think Cannon in the end was just kind of disappointed that Lifeforce wasn’t this giant film. You know, the next Star Wars or at least 2001: A Space Odyssey.

For them, they gave Tobe Hooper all the time in the world to really do this stuff. And it’s a very unique movie.

But those movies maybe don’t have the gonzo magic of shooting in this filthy smelly cabin in the middle of Texas. It was visionary magic maybe because of the limited resources.

Invaders from Mars is the one that I like the least. I love the alien designs and things like that, but of his three Cannon movies, it’s probably my least favorite. It’s the least successful just because it was one where I think he would have wanted more time. He was not around for the post-production at all.

B&S: Strange Invaders is a similar failure.

Austin: A lot of these directors who were kids in the 50s and saw a lot of these science fiction films, probably on TV in the 60s, and fell in love with them. So you have a whole generation of directors who suddenly wanted to make that sort of movie. And audiences didn’t want to see it.

B&S: John Carpenter’s The Thing is a classic now but was hated when it came out.

When it comes to Tobe Hooper’s Cannon movies, my wife said, “These movies failed because only people like you love them. They were for you. And there weren’t enough people like you to make them successful.”

She also said that Chainsaw 2  is the most unrelenting gross movie. Not because of the gore, which it has, but because every scene is covered in decay and filth.

Austin: The carnival lair is so incredible. That’s something I asked people who worked on the film about, because they got local art students to fill that place out because they filled out this gigantic set — the inside of the Austin American Statesman’s old printing facilities — in the middle of a June heatwave with animal parts from a slaughterhouse.

When I spoke with Bill Moseley and Bill Johnson, they both talked about how this place kind was just so hot — 120 degrees — with all the lighting and equipment and just having all this meat in there that’s still rotting. They can still remember how disgusting it was.

A lot of the crew got sick. Everyone except for Bill Mosley!

There was a rumor going around that it was because they used actual skeletons, the kind that came from medical schools in India.

B&S: Savini said every movie used the same place, so maybe every movie is cursed.

Austin: Today, a place once filled with rotten carcasses, the Sawyer house from the first movie, is a bed and breakfast.

B&S: Speaking of Star Wars, Cannon sold Masters of the Universe as the Star Wars of the 80s.

Austin: That movie went through so many problems and changes but even when they got to the TV spots with audience reactions, there’s a kid saying, “This is as good as Star Wars.” And they use that in their national campaign for the movie. But I think that’s Cannon and unfortunately, they didn’t come anywhere near being Star Wars.

B&S: No one making it wanted to make a toy movie. They made a Jack Kirby movie. Then why pay for the rights?

Austin: Yeah, I mean, I remember feeling disappointed as a kid. I wondered, where are all the characters? Where’s Orko?

He-Man had been a phenomena but by the time Cannon made it, it was nearly dead. Mattel thought it would save the toy line but they only made a few figures from it. Edward R. Pressman had been trying to make it for years and by the time it happened, it was too late.

B&S: It feels like Cannon was decades ahead of the streaming model of just constantly making content.

Austin: Cannon took more chances. I’m paraphrasing Roger Ebert here, but he had commended Cannon for taking more chances than really any other studio in the 80s. And to their credit, they could do that because they were very good at pre-selling the movies.

In the next part of this interview, we discuss the tall tales of Cannon and if they’re true, false or if that even matters.

Interview with The Cannon Film Guide author Austin Trunick part 2

In the first part of this conversation with The Cannon Film Guide Volume I and The Cannon Film Guide Volume II author Austin Trunick, we discussed how he first found Cannon and why he decided to write his books. Read on to get deep into Cannon love in this free-ranging discussion.

B&S About Movies: I vividly remember being in elementary school and people actively losing their minds over Sho Kosugi. They’d seen Pray for Death and it became so hyperbolic, them getting excited about a movie that was better than the actual movie the way they were telling it.

Then again, you can’t really exaggerate Ninja 3: The Domination.

Austin Trunick: Oh, not at all. I mean, that’s impossible. No description can live up to just the beginning, those first ten minutes of the movie.

B&S: Cannon was ahead of the ninja trend, right?

Austin: Absolutely. I mean, you had some ninjas showing up here and there, usually as bad guys. The biggest appearance, at least in the West, before Cannon’s movies, was The Octagon, which had Chuck Norris fighting ninjas in there. 

But Cannon were the first ones to really put ninjas front and center. In The Cannon Film GuideVolume I I talked about how Sho Kosugi created so many of the things that we associate with ninjas in pop culture. Most of it came from a big bag of weapons that he brought with him to the set of Enter the Ninja

There are many times when Cannon followed a trend, but this is one time when you can argue that they were ahead of it, as they really kicked off the ninja craze that was everywhere in the 1980s.

B&S: G.I. Joe is my other passion in life next to movies. The entire Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow relationship — foreigner learns ninjutsu and the native son hates that an outsider has moved above him — that’s Enter the Ninja.

Austin: What year is that?

B&S: 1984.

Austin: So definitely after Enter the Ninja.

B&S: It’s not far from Franco Nero to Snakes Eyes.

The most important moment of Sam’s childhood.

Austin: Have you ever been to Keith Raineville’s Vintage Ninja site?

He has a section for you called Kosugi Kicks, which finds all these different examples of comic book artwork, toy artwork and video game artwork where it’s just basically artists copying the same four or five famous Sho Kosugi poses.

Suddenly, Sho Kosugi was everywhere. He was the most prominent ninja in those early years.

B&S: I love how in Grady Hendrix and Chris Poggiali’s These Fists Break Bricks, the book begins with how Hollywood used Asian actors and ends with Sho Kosugi as the biggest action star of the time and him eventually walking away from Hollywood.

Austin: Sho Kosugi was definitely one of my favorites, especially as a very young person. One of the first video stores I remember was Brookfield Video and I can still remember the layout of that store. I can’t remember details of my daily life but I remember everything about that store when I was five years old. In the Action section, Stallone and Chuck were up high on the shelves but at eye level for a very short kid was martial arts movies. Not just Sho Kosugi but lots of Godfrey Ho. Those movies need a big book written about them.

B&S: They’re less movies as they are hallucinogenics. Stephen Thrower said in Nightmare U.S.A. that he originally watched so many of those movies under the influence and can get the same high watching them. For me, it’s true. That’s why I call them movie drugs. You can get the same zoned-out high and bliss from murderdrone movies or Godfrey Ho’s re-edited ninjas.

My hometown video store was Prime Time Video and there was a definite hierarchy to the Action section. I can see the hand-drawn sign for that section and there was Arnold, Stallone and Chuck at the top, followed by probably Bronson but in the middle, it’s all Cannon.

Austin: Action — Bronson and Norris making action — was their bread and butter. They had appeal abroad, so Cannon had the formula: pre-sell a movie for $10 million, then make it for $5 million. They would come out ahead and if they had just stuck with that, they would have been in business for a long time.

B&S: I’m obsessed by that. They could have just kept on doing that. In that mindset, couldn’t they have lasted longer?

Austin: Oh, absolutely. The big movies were a problem.

The most frustrating part thing for me, when I think of where Cannon went wrong, was at the beginning of 1986. You have all these articles about how these two Israelis came in and took Hollywood by storm. People laughed them off at first but now, you have legitimate actors signing deals with them. You have the Stallone deal. They had Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino and John Travolta, all these big names. I mean, theoretically, they had them (laughs).

You have directors who are starting to line up for work with them. And they have box office success. Coming off of Runaway Train they’re even getting Oscar nominations.

Early 1986 is the peak period. They had $300 million in a line of credit, which is impossible to think of, and investors had confidence in them. They could have spent some of that $300 million to make Superman IV for the full $24 million. They could have put more into their big movies like Masters of the Universe and Over the Top

How many $5 million dollar movies could Cannon have made with that money?

Instead, they went and bought Thorn EMI, which was an English company with a huge catalog of films but they also had a theater chain and Elstree Studios over in London. That cost $270 million of the $300 million that they had.

So the money they were supposed to put into movies, they spent on real estate and facilities that they didn’t need. It’s unfortunate because they make that deal and suddenly everything suddenly starts to fall apart. That’s the moment where everything begins to unravel. It’s sad because at that point, they also start getting investigated by the SEC. All of their productions that they were supposed to make that summer, they had to move or they were yanking budgets. They just didn’t have the money anymore.

They went from being $300 million in the green to $100 million dollars in the red over the course of three or four months.

B&S: When they got to the second act of the Hero’s Journey, they didn’t come back. They took the fall and couldn’t get it back. Did they start believing their own press?

Austin: Probably. I mean their motto became that they were the seventh major studio. Suddenly, they have stars and directors working for them. Famous names like Norman Mailer, writing scripts with a lot of prestige.

I think it’s probably easy to believe that suddenly you’re there, that you had made that step up even though there’s probably half the stairway in front of you at that point to climb.

B&S: It reminds me of how exploitation films suffered for a bit when blockbusters like Jaws took their formula but did it on a bigger budget. Did Hollywood catch on to the Cannon formula?

Austin: I think it’s more that Cannon got away from what was successful for them.

If you’re spending $20 million or more on a movie, you needed to make more than $500,000 at the box office. That’s the model they had for years. It didn’t matter how a Cannon movie did in the theaters. It didn’t matter if it was a flop or it wasn’t a critical success because they already made a profit on cable, foreign sales and video.

But when you’re spending a lot more on the movie, they couldn’t do that anymore. Some of these films needed to be hits and none of their big movies were.

B&S: Pirates was already a flop by those standards even before it was made.

Austin: Pirates is a very Cannon pickup because that’s a movie that several studios had already sunk money into. And then they abandoned it because they saw it was a sinking ship. They washed their hands and took the loss then instead of a bigger loss later. It looked like the movie wasn’t going to get released or even finished.

Cannon swoops into the rescue. I think they thought they could do it. Did they think that Walter Matthau or Roman Polanski’s names could make it a big hit?

I think they had other things they wanted out of the deal. They wanted to shoot a swashbuckling TV series called Sea Hawk and their thought was, “We’ll get a pirate ship out of this deal.”

That made the budget of the TV show lower. Part of the budget they were sinking into Pirates was also going to get them that ship. They made sure that the ship was included in the deal.

And it ends up parked near Cannes for years.

There’s a picture of Placido Domingo posing in front of it with Golan and Globus.

But that wasn’t their whole plan.

They thought that they could get their money back and Polanski promised them more films. They were really hoping to get to make The Two Jakes, the sequel to Chinatown, but there was no way that Jack Nicholson was going to make a movie at Cannon.

There’s a great reel on YouTube that has a bunch of unmade Cannon stuff. Their campaign books do that too. There’s an ad for a movie listed as “A Roman Polanski film.” No plot, no synopsis or anything. Just a picture of Roman Polanski and the Cannon logo! (laughs)

B&S: They did that all the time. There were ads for Spider-Man forever. Captain America too.

Austin: That’s probably the most famous unmade Cannon movie. Everyone that worked at Cannon or directed one of their movies was attached at one time or another. Tobe Hooper, Joe Zito…

Captain America had David Engelbach attached. Michael Winner too! I can only imagine what Michael Winner’s Captain America would look like. John Stockwell who did Dangerously Close at Cannon and some surf movies later on, his name was on it. Alberty Pyun finally got to do it (at 21st Century). And he was supposed to make Spider-Man too.

B&S: Cannon nearly made a DC and Marvel move in the same year.

Austin: Cannon paid $250,000 for those Marvel rights. That’s unbelievable.

In our next part, Austin discusses Tobe Hooper’s movies for Cannon.

Interview with The Cannon Film Guide author Austin Trunick part 1

The Cannon Film Guide is a series of books by Austin Trunick and the first time that the movies of that vulnerable studio have been given the deep dive treatment that they so richly deserve. The Cannon Film Guide Volume I covered 1981 to 1984 while the new — and absolutely titanic in size and scope — The Cannon Film GuideVolume II is all about 1985 to 1987 and has sixty Cannon movies, more than forty new interviews and 300 images across 1,000 pages.

You can — and should — get both books from Bear Manor Media by clicking the links. You can also find Austin on Twitter for daily blasts of Cannon facts.

I had the tremendous opportunity to talk with Austin about all things Cannon. Instead of coming up with a big list of questions, I thought it would be more entertaining — and a better read — to share the stream of consciousness fun when two people obsessed with Menahem Golan, Yoram Globus and their studio.

B&S About Movies: When you talk to people serious about serious movies, they often scoff at Cannon. Yet they made Runaway TrainBarflyLove Streams

Austin Trunick: Oh, absolutely. A lot of those influential, big-name guys wanted to work with them again. John Cassavetes briefly explored doing another movie with them, a follow-up to Love Streams. Even Robert Altman, he was developing Ready to Wear for Cannon for a while in late 1985. Those guys must have liked working with them.

B&S: Outside of the scandals we learned about later, people used to always talk about what a great studio Miramax was. But as Dimension, they were horrific to work with for so many genre filmmakers.

Austin: I mean, you’ll also find people who didn’t enjoy their time with Cannon and had a different experience.

B&S: How did you get started writing The Cannon Film Guide?

Austin: I did a lot of movie stuff for magazines. The main place was Under the Radar magazine. Right around the time my daughter was born — she’s going to be seven — I wanted a project that I could work on by myself, on my own, with my own guidance. That was really where this project started. It was something I could do on the side. Eventually, it ate up more and more of my time. A little bit here, a little bit there, and it became what I’m working on most of the time.

It was really born out of wanting my own project and Cannon was something that I loved and grew up with. You know as well as I do that the stories behind their movies are often as crazy as what was actually on screen. I wanted to get into those stories and find out everything that I could.

B&S: I think you picked the right time because there’s a danger of so many of these people being gone soon.

Austin: We’re at a crucial time. Especially when you’re looking at the early 80s, many of these actors and filmmakers are getting old. Many of these films, b-movies in particular, still aren’t getting the historical or critical looks that they deserve. And if someone doesn’t start doing those interviews, we run the risk of losing a lot of the people who have information and stories that we’ll want to hear.

One of the people I was most excited to talk to for the second book was James Karen – sadly, he passed away a few months after we did the interview. He’s someone who I was really thankful I got to talk to, and that I got to hear his stories.

We’re talking about movies that were made more than 40 years ago. Some of these people are in their 80s or older, and unfortunately could go at any time. It’s good to get their stories where we can. There are people that I sadly just missed out on, where I exchanged emails back and forth and it just didn’t work out. One in particular that was heartbreaking was Yehuda Efroni. He was in so many Cannon movies, a character actor that just pops up everywhere. I had finally found a way to contact him and I’d emailed. Then I heard back that he had passed away. It wasn’t even on IMDb or anything like that yet, it wasn’t really public. They’re just like oh, he passed away a while ago.

Cannon’s utility player Yehuda Efroni.

B&S: He’s so important to Cannon. He’s like the secret word, when he shows up, you go nuts.

Austin: I’m pretty sure he’s in more Cannon productions than any other actor by a huge margin.

B&S: He’d worked with Goram and Globus all the way back to Escape to the Sun, Operation Thunderbolt and The Uranium Conspiracy.

Austin: I think he was just someone that was close to Menahem, and they always brought him back.

B&S: What starts your love of Cannon? When was the first time you remember the logo before a movie? I’m not sure with Cannon, but I can remember the Orion Pictures opening or Vestron Video and I thought to myself, “This is going to be good because I like other movies with this logo.”

Austin: I definitely saw so many Cannon movies before I realized that they were all linked by one company. My first exposure to some of these movies was going to the video store with my father, when I was probably too young to be watching Chuck Norris movies. As I got a little older, I started renting lots of ninja movies with my friends after school. Then I realized when I would see the Cannon logo, “Oh, they make the Sho Kosugi movies. They’re the same people. They made American Ninja.”

Cannon was very good about putting their logo really prominently on their video boxes. Also, they had that large logo at the beginning of their later movies, and that spectacular music you hear when the film starts up. You could clearly see their logo on the spines or the fronts of the tapes, especially if it was Cannon Video or one of the big MGM boxes.

I think I really started to notice Cannon when I got a bit older and started to rent movies on my own. I would seek out Cannon movies when I started buying and collecting tapes at the end of the 90s — everyone was clearing them out to make way for DVDs – and that’s when I started to say, “Let’s collect these labels. They look cool on a shelf. Thematically, they tie together.” But it was a few years of watching Cannon movies before I started to realize that they all came from the same place.

In the next part of this interview, Austin gets into how Cannon influenced everything we know about ninjas, as well as what Charles Bronson meant to Cannon and exactly why the studio failed when they had a can’t lose plan.

Exclusive interview with James Duval

Starting with his first appearances in the Gregg Araki Teenage Apocalypse film trilogy and Independence Day, James Duval has created a memorable career in so many films. I was honored that he spent so much time speaking with me not just about movies, but about inspiration, art and his real life.

B&S About Movies: You were born in Detroit, right? So how did you make it to LA?

James Duval: When I was young, my father got a job and took him out of Detroit to Tucson. We went to Tucson for six months, then LA. I still have family in Michigan and up until 1981, I used to go there for the summers to spend time with them and give my parents a break.

B&S: You started off as a musician…

James: I grew up playing classical piano and used to do recitals and stuff when I was nine or ten. I did theater for a couple of years then and when I got to high school, the drama club was like, “Oh, we don’t let the freshman do plays.” And I found that really standoffish. It kind of turned me off to acting.

I was playing music and ended up meeting Gregg Araki in a cafe, record shopping in Hollywood.  He approached me and asked if I was an actor and if I’d be interested in being in a movie.

So here’s where I was: I had turned 18, moved to Hollywood, took an acting class for three months and couldn’t afford it. Had to stop. Met Gregg Araki and auditioned. Got hired and that set the stage for the rest of my career.

It helped that I had such a great working relationship with him that even when I wasn’t really working that much with other people, I was always working.

B&S: You always had someone who could find a role for you.

James: Yeah. For me, it was just trying to break out from working just with Greg to see if I could work with other people, which is sort of how I built my career over the years.

B&S: What’s it like to go from an independent movie to Independence Day?

James: That was wild. I was doing both at the same time, so that was like a dream for me. I get to make Nowhere and then I get to make Independence Day and I get to shoot them at the same time. Wow, this is going to be insane.

But I took the challenge. I got to say it was not as difficult as I thought. Because when you walk onto a set, the actors that you’re working with and the crew that’s on set — the director, the size of the budget, all those things — it kind of lends itself to this sort of environment.

I’m literally walking from a $1.5 million budget kids in Hollywood sort of making fun of Melrose Place parody and all of a sudden I land a multi-million dollar movie about the end of the world. Those environments completely lent themselves to the performance so it was very easy for me to shift from one character to the other.

I had a blast because they were so different.

B&S: Were you used to independent budgets and then saw the waste on a big budget film?

James: I gotta say, I became pretty good friends with Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin. Since I got to know a little bit of the workings of the movie, it was budgeted $70 million actually. They brought it in at around $76 million and only went over three days — which by today’s standards is kind of insane because today, you couldn’t make Independence Day for less than $150 or $200 million.

It was really a testament to those two Roland and Dean who had come in so hot off of Stargate. To see how they kind of were easily able to manage this.

But you know, it was also quite incredible to witness Gregg Araki’s ascension. Actually, the ascension of both of these unique filmmakers to the next levels of their careers and being involved with that to some degree. You don’t think of that when you’re a young actor, but you look back on it later. I guess it was kind of like one step to the other with those filmmakers.

B&S: They’re such wildly divergent paths…

James: An such wildly different filmmakers! And they both love each other, but they do not make movies that are remotely anything like each other.

B&S: That’s why your career is so interesting. It crosses into so many different fandoms and so many different films.

James: I think I’ve been really lucky. That’s kind of my taste — all over the map. In the beginning of my career, it was kind of frustrating because it was like, “Am I the geek? Was I that weirdo? Am I that alternative guy?” They were trying to pigeonhole me.

in some ways, you know, I took roles refusing to be pigeonholed. Not necessarily an unconscious matter, but as an artist or an actor — if I can call myself an artist — I have to challenge myself. I needed to challenge myself.

B&S: Did you avoid genre films?

James: You’re gonna be mindblown by this, but in the 90s I did not want to do horror.

And I love horror! I love it. But we were kind of talking about being pigeonholed. And to some degree after a while. I was like, I don’t want to be thought of as this or that. Which in some ways held me back in the sense that Hollywood wants to rely on a certain time of actor.

So what kind of actor is Jim? I hadn’t decided that yet. Maybe I still haven’t established that I’m this kind of act or have gotten across the idea that I can play a range of characters.

B&S: But wasn’t that the time in the 90s when every horror movie was more about the gorgeous faces on the poster, the teen stars, than the monsters?

James: I wasn’t a fan. I found that stuff to be quite unwatchable for me.

It may have been great to see horror grow and change, but you know — I grew up with Halloween and Friday the 13th and The Exorcist.

I was so possessive of the genre that when they start to change it or when it starts to grow, well I was very opinionated. I wasn’t afraid to say I don’t like this.

So it’s been an interesting journey for me. Because the whole time I’m saying no to horror, I’m saying that because I love it so much. I don’t want to be involved with something that might turn me off because I’m so desperately attached to the idea that everything has to be good.

That was holding me back artistically. Because I was saying no to jobs and saying no to opportunities. And when I say I was saying no, it wasn’t like I was doing something else.

Instead of being a little bit more worried about how people perceive me — or being concerned with my ego or what my resume was — I had to really push that all aside and start focusing on learning and growing as an actor. The only way that I was going to do that was to constantly push myself.

After that, there was this weird transition where I did start saying yes to all these things.

I think one of the first ones I said yes to — and I love the movie to this day — was May. I said, I gotta get on this somehow!

I consider Lucky McKee to be such a great filmmaker and writer. I admire him on so many levels. One of my favorite things to do is to make him laugh. He’s got the greatest laugh in the world.

B&S: Wild Horses has one of the wildest casts! Angelyne is in it!

James: When I first moved to Hollywood, she used to live a couple blocks down the street. When I would get my coffee, she would walk in and I thought, “This must be where she lives.”

In the late 80s and early 90s, my friends and I had a saying. “If you see Angelyne, you’re going to have good luck.”

B&S: She was ahead of the reality show curve. She was selling nothing as if it was something. And there’s still some level of mystery about her, even in a world with no mystery left.

James: I don’t correspond on Facebook at all. When I first got off Facebook, it was because I decided that I didn’t need people I didn’t know knowing things about me. Where I am, what I’m doing, what I’m eating — is it anyone’s business?

It’s a generational thing. I started acting when I was 18 in 1991. And I feel like, as I learned about my career and made a transition, you have to fight these things that poisoned your ego which is so easy in this town and in this business. So it’s this constant fight.

I don’t want to talk about myself. I don’t want to promote myself. I don’t want to do any of that. How are you? What are you up to today? Tell me something interesting. What are we doing to get attention? And then when social media came in…well it’s like everything that you have to fight against as an artist, not as a celebrity but as an artist.

You’re fighting as an artist and trying to become an artist and work as a true artist. All of a sudden this social media comes in where everyone’s self-promoting and everyone’s talking about themselves and you’re not going to work if you don’t…

Look, I’m not going to knock you on that level. But I have to say that that’s just not a river that I want to go down.

B&S: It’s strange because when I was young, bands were important and mysterious because they fought doing press.

James: That was a wild thing when I was growing up. Of course, things evolve and change but a big thing was like, “Don’t ever be a sell-out.”

That’s changed. I mean, if you’re super rich, and then you’re doing things just for the money,  that’s selling out. But if you’re struggling to eat and pay rent for a few months, even though it’s for a commercial, I have no issue with that.

It’s when people already have proved that they’re resilient and have power and influence and maybe don’t need to make money that way and still do? When they don’t care — when they say they’re not responsible for what that company supports or does…

That’s just it’s kind of freaky to me.

So I love the idea that Angelyne still has that air of mystery. I mean, she still has it!

B&S: For decades!

James: I remember seeing her in the late 70s on Merv Griffin! She was the most famous person for not doing anything. Just because her husband started putting the billboards up. No reality show, no television, nothing. But she was in Earth Girls Are Easy!

B&S: Speaking of cultural impact, you’re Frank the Bunny.

James: That’s something I feel very fortunate about. It’s beyond flattering because Donnie Darko is one of my favorite movies I’ve ever done. Even without the following because from the moment I read that script, I was taken the same way everybody else is when they’re watching that movie.

I just knew something special because I could feel it.

It’s incredible to me to have that movie be part of my life, to play that character.

The fact that I got to be in Donnie Darko and see Jake’s performance, everyone’s performance. I really love it because the actors are all so incredible. The love between Jake and Jena is the center of that movie and the relationship with his parents even if it’s broken down…it’s like all of these people truly love each other. But it’s missed connections on all these relationships and we all get that. We’ve all lived that!

Then it moves into this other realm, this Twilight Zone!

That was my initial impression when I read the script. Like wow, this is like a modern-day Twilight Zone. The remakes and the comove come close, but they don’t have that magic that Rod Serling wrote, there’s something missing.

The script made me feel the way the Twilight Zone made me feel. Watching those original Twilight Zone episodes, there’s this dark moral compass happening that comes from this unimaginable place. Is it a twist of fate or is something being controlled or manipulated? Somewhere in between daytime and somewhere in that Twilight Zone, like darkness exists.

That said everything to me about the movie. I really like that kind of feeling. It’s kind of exactly how I approached it.

How I feel today…so for me, it’s so flattering to be recognized for that because I know people who are not happy about the work they’ve done and being recognized for it.

Maybe I would feel that way if they recognized me for some ridiculous role I did. “I really love that homeless guy you played in Now Apocalypse that gets raped by space aliens.”

That’s pretty funny actually.

B&S: Every character could be someone’s favorite.

James: If I did a character and it made you laugh and it made an impression, it could be any size role. Like in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, I love everybody. Even the smallest characters get a chance to shine, like Richard Edson as the garage attendant! He had the best day after he took that car. Bronson Pinchot in Beverly Hills Cop!

B&S: You’re in Sushi Girl with one of my favorite actors, Tony Todd.

James: I’m happy you brought that up because it’s one of my favorite movies that I’ve done. And Tony is one of my favorite people. I first met him back in 2007 and we constantly tried to find a picture to work together. We had a couple of fell apart and it finally culminated in Sushi Girl. Wow, what a movie for it to all work out.

Tony has always been such a gentleman to me. He’s the most absolutely incredible actor I’ve ever seen. When I met him, I said, you know it would be such an honor to work with. I felt like, I have to work with this actor before I die.

We also got to work with Mark Hamill, Noah Hathaway, Andy Mackenzie and even day players like Jeff Fahey and Michael Biehn who came in. Everybody on that was so awesome and it was such a special movie for us. It was one of the most fun movies I’ve ever made. I wish more people would see it.

B&S: Is there another movie you’re proud of that you wish more people would check out?

James: I think Sushi Girl would be one. There’s a movie I did that played at Sundance called The Doe Boy and I don’t think many people saw it. I’m really proud of it. It’s kind of like a  dramatic coming of age and someone was brave enough to cast me in that.

B&S: I thought Beast Mode was fun.

James: That was really fun. Thank you for reminding me of that. You know, I don’t remember so many movies! I remember when you bring them up, but I’m fortunate enough to work so much and sometimes I’ll do like six or seven projects in a row, so I don’t remember him right off the bat. That comes from years of training in that sense to be quite honest. As actors, we get so attached to what we make. We get so attached to everything we perform, even auditions. So I felt this tremendous weight in the 90s when I did an audition and would worry. What do they think? What is the feedback? Yeah, it took so many years to get past that.

So the moment that I wrap, it’s kind of like, the moment I come out of an audition. Like if it comes out and it’s great, awesome. If it doesn’t come out, well, I went and did my best. And I kind of don’t think about it.

So the downside to that is there are some movies that I have done recently that I’m very proud of that I think that people haven’t seen. There’s a movie called I Challenger that’s playing now and it’s about an older stoner guy who sells weed to underage kids. He’s looking for direction in his life and he finds these Russian videos on burying yourself underground and decides he’s going to bury himself for 24 hours on a livestream. I’m very proud of that movie.

There’s also Without Ward and that stars Michael Gladis from Mad Men who absolutely delivers one of the best performances. It’s in the future and Martin Landau plays Ward, this guy who has created a drug that gives you whatever you want and keeps you asleep in these dreams and fantasies.

Twenty years later, they run out of the drug and everyone who was on it wakes up and the other part of the world that didn’t do the drug puts them under house arrest. Billions of people are quarantined for years and you can’t leave your house under penalty of death.

Now, the movie is about how a family and how have they been faring together? How is your future living locked in your house under the penalty of death? How was this twenty years of time and what distance has passed between them? That’s our movie and it starts wild and weird. All I can say to some degree — without spoiling it — is Michael Gladis’ character is watching a neighbor. (laughs) He’s kind of being a peeping tom and masturbating to her, but it’s funny — they fall in love without touching. And maybe that masturbation leads to saving the world.

I also loved this movie called The Runner that I did with a band called Boy Harsher. I’m super jazzed about this. I’m such a fan and it’d be crazy not to talk about it. It’s really, really great.

I’m really quite proud of a series of movies — they’re not available yet — with my roommate where we got frustrated for sitting around and ended up making six movies over three years in between other jobs. We have Harry Dean Stanton and got him just before he passed away. We have so many of our friends we met over making movies over the last few years. Some really great people, but I’m really proud of those movies.

We’ve got to try to make them available at some point but that’s what I started producing a little bit. It wasn’t a lot of money, but a lot of resources to get them together. The script got written by Brian McGuire — who also directed — in three days! 78 pages or 17 scenes and we shot it in nine days for almost no money.

It’s very much in the vein of sort of early John Cassavetes.

There’s one called The Block, another is On Holiday which takes place over a three-year holiday in Los Angeles and another is called Prevertere, which is the Latin base for pervert. It’s a pretty interesting movie and totally off the radar.

B&S: I love Cassavetes. Have you seen Love Streams?

James: The end of that is such Cassavetes with the dog. In some ways, his movies are real life with a sort of surrealism. There’s ridiculousness in real life that always comes into play. You find yourself in the middle of the most kind of depressing situation and the most absurd thing happens. They’re both happening at the same time. It’s so bizarre and inexplicable.

I was in The Weekend with Gena Rowlands. I lived in a bed and breakfast with her, Brooke Shields and D.B. Sweeney for three months and the other house was Jared Harris, Gary Dourdan and Deborah Kara Unger.

So of course, all I did was say, You know tell me everything! I need to know!”

She and her boyfriend Bob were so wonderful and so gracious to me. And she was such a joy to work with. I have to say she was such a pro and so open. She was welcoming in every sense of the word. One of my favorite people that I’ve ever worked with. I was inspired by her then and I’m still inspired by her now. I was going through a bad breakup and she was so supportive. And it was a tough shoot at one point because we spent four or five 12-hour days on a dinner scene, all jammed together.

She didn’t get frustrated. She handled herself with grace. We all split a 20-year-old bottle of whiskey at the wrap party.

B&S: It reminds me of when I spoke with Courtney Gains about Robert Duvall. He said they did a scene on Colors and there was an hour delay. He was ready to see this great actor get mad and instead, he had humility. He said, “Now I have an hour to think about this scene.”

James: I can attest to that. When I worked on Gone In Sixty Seconds, we had those scenes where we were all in the garage and stacked up. And I was so nervous, I kept calling him Mr. Duvall and he’s like, “Call me Bob, kid.”

There we are and there’s Nicolas Cage, Scott Caan, Vinnie Jones, T.J. Cross, William Lee Scott, Angelina Jolie and we’re stacked up in that shot and you’re trying to figure out how to stand with those lenses. And everyone is watching playback but Robert Duvall and I asked, “Don’t you want to see how it looks?” He said, “That’s fine if they want to watch the scenes, but we could be doing another take right now.” And he was still looking at his scenes for the day! I took that with me. He was the only actor that never watched playback!

So many actors, so little room.

B&S: How much has yoga helped your career?

James: Yoga is not just a physical thing. It starts off as a physical thing, but the actual definition of yoga is to be joined together. The idea is you’re joining your physical attributes, mental attributes, and metaphysical or spiritual if you believe in that.

To give you an example, if you’re doing stretching yoga and you’re going well, my balance is more on the left than I am on my right. And I’m overextending my down in degrees, but not beyond that. You’re just moving physically and you’re thinking about that and checking in with your body. You are now mentally and physically linking those two aspects. So there’s a mental focus that comes with the physical practice.

Some poses are pretty difficult. You want to pop out of it mentally. When you start thinking about things like a bad relationship, instead you focus on the pose, you focus on being in the moment, which is everyone’s biggest challenge. I’m not in that relationship, I’m not worried about my rent, I’m just focused on my breathing. And by learning that, you’re literally learning how to mentally control your thoughts.

Most of our worries come from future events that haven’t happened or things that have already happened that we’ve moved beyond but that we’re still carrying with us. That doesn’t allow you to be in the moment. You have to get past that and say, “You’re okay. You have your vision, your hearing and you’re healthy. You can walk, you have a house, I’m okay.” And you know, for so many people, that’s a very difficult thing to do.

If you’re focused in the moment, then you can do pretty much anything.

I use yoga and there’s a side effect that you just get really strong and healthy. So if you’re practicing to get stronger, you’re gonna get the mental stuff, even if you’re not really trying to, because it’s part of the practice and vice versa.

As my yoga teacher says, It has increased my potential as a human being. To become a stronger person, to have more potential — in that sense, it helps me. It definitely helps.

B&S: Tell me about Tales from the Other Side.

James: I’m very flattered to be talking about it and to be a part of this movie. To be honest, it was a pleasant surprise to be talking about the movie because it was just shot last August.

I’m really, really jazzed about it and to be a part of this anthology series.

Without spoilers, my character may or may not be insane. The audience has to figure that out and we take them down that road, but it’s one of the things that attracted me to that project. The perception of who is my character? Is he who he says he is? How does he appear to you? Is he the same person at the end? We live in an insane world. Is he insane? I love that dichotomy.

B&S: Anthology horror is so great.

James: Yeah, I got to be part of Tales of Halloween and American Nightmares too.

B&S: Rusty Cundieff!

James: Yeah! He actually reached out to me because he liked my work. And that’s the biggest thrill. I also did another fun movie called ColdWater (Sam note: It was released as It Watches) and I play a really weird character. This guy is trapped and these escaped convicts are loose in the hills and there may or may not be some cold waters. And that movie, Rusty saw that and that’s how I got cast in American Nightmares.

B&S: You’re in Amityville Karen too.

James: (laughs) OK, Shawn C. Phillips. That script — I thought it was genius. It’s really funny. And super ridiculous. Just the ridiculous crap that we see daily on the news happening. Real life is now like a bad movie. You can’t believe people really behave that way.

B&S: It’s hard to stay centered with the news.

James: You know, one of the biggest lessons I always hear, you can’t love someone else. If you don’t love yourself — if you don’t like yourself — you’re the only person who knows you best, and you have to like yourself. How the hell could you ever accept anyone else? It’s not gonna happen. To learn to create a relationship with yourself — as crazy as that might sound — where you love yourself, where you treat yourself kindly and do things that are healthy for you.

That’s how you’ll thrive and then you can play with other people and they can thrive.

B&S: It only took me like forty-plus years to learn that.

James: I’m still working it out. Check back on me next week.

To see James Duvall in Tales from the Other Side, grab it now on DVD and on digital from Uncork’d Entertainment.

Exclusive interview with Vernon Wells

Vernon Wells is someone that really needs no introduction, as his roles in movies like Mad Max and Commando define 80s action film villainy. I had the chance to interview him by phone in advance of the release of his film Tales from the Other Side and had a blast learning more about this hard-working actor.

You may notice how many times the word (laughs) appears. That’s no accident. Mr. Wells is one of the best-humored and genuinely funny people I’ve had the incredible opportunity to interview.

B&S About Movies: How did you go from working in a quarry to being an actor?

Vernon Wells: Well, I was a dumb ass (laughs). To be perfectly honest, I never wanted to be an actor. I was working in bands as a vocalist and following in the footsteps of my mother. Then I was in a car accident and I compressed three vertebrae in my back so I wasn’t able to do much. I was becoming very painful to be around so my manager took me around and got me work as an extra’s extra. Way back in the background.

I started getting work because I could ride horses and drive anything with wheels and shoot anything that’s a weapon. So I became the go-to boy for a while.

Then, George Miller’s girlfriend caught me in a stage play in Melbourne called Hosanna. It was written by Michel Tremblay, a French-Canadian writer, and about how Montreal wanted to secede from Canada and become a French-speaking autonomous area. I had one of the leads — it was a two-person play, so yeah it was a lead (laughs).

She spoke to George after seeing me, I spoke to George and the rest is history as they say.

Vernon about to do something ill-advised.

B&S: What was it like to go from a background character to suddenly being part of Road Warrior, a movie that became famous worldwide?

Vernon: Terrifying. If I had it my way, I probably would have never done it. And I had never really done a film, so I had no idea. I thought that it would be fun but I had no idea what I was in for.

B&S: You did the stunt work too, right?

Vernon: I did a lot of the stunt work on it.

B&S: Was it as terrifying as it looks in the film?

Vernon: It was probably more terrifying (laughs). Because we were doing it! No, it was very safe. George is very critical of anything that looks like it won’t be safe or that people could get hurt. He will figure out ways of doing it so that you’re not going to get hurt but it’ll still look terrifying on screen. I have to give him that. He always makes sure the actors and crew are taken care of.

Because I don’t care who you are, you can’t 100% of the time be safe all of the time. Someone is occasionally going to get hurt. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured except for the stunt coordinator. I think he got the same thing I got when I was young, the accident that I had before I became an actor — a compression fracture.

All that wild stuff we filmed and the fact that just one person got hurt was amazing.

Then again, we could show you where we buried the people who didn’t make it, but of course, we don’t talk about this. (laughs)

B&S: How did you end up in Weird Science?

Vernon: Joe Silver the producer decided that he wanted me to reprise the role of Wez in a comedy and I didn’t want to because it was like, “This isn’t gonna work.” We had to change the look and costume because of copyright infringement. And then it turned out to be great.

B&S: In my small hometown, it was a battle to rent Commando at the video store. And you’re so incredible in that.

Vernon: I find it it’s incredibly enchanting that people actually think enough of what I do in a movie and tell me, “Oh, I dressed up as you for Halloween.”

I think that’s the pinnacle we all look for is that people get so involved and invested in the character that they see themselves as that character. And just to have that is the greatest accolade an actor can get. Way more than any bloody awards.

B&S: It’s because you took what could be a generic bad guy role and you made a meal out of it.

Vernon: I think it’s because I was doing it my way. I believe one of the comments from Arnold was, “Never give him a real knife.” He was a bit afraid about me actually cutting his throat!

I couldn’t see any other way of doing the character because Arnold is so big. And if I don’t act bigger than him, my character is going to look so weak.

“Let off some steam, Bennett!”

B&S: I’m sure you’ve heard that both Wez and Bennett are homosexual characters.

Vernon: Yeah, I love that. I was gay in Road Warrior according to half the world and I was gay in bloody Commando too! (laughs)

No, I don’t think Bennett was ever in love with Matrix. I think what he thought was that he was better than him And the only way he could prove that — the whole film was about how he set up everything he could set up — the point for him was who was the tougher man when the two of them finally faced off? Mano y mano, only one could walk away.

Why would I fight him if I was in love with him? I was pissed off. I wasn’t him. I wanted to be the big boy. I wanted to be the big kahuna.

B&S: People find subtext in things even if you didn’t even think of it when you were the one actually acting in the role. They insist that it has to be true.

Vernon: Yes! Everybody insists that the kid on the back of a bike in Road Warrior was my boyfriend. Actually, I rescued him from being killed and he was like my son!

People buy into a theory based on one scene without looking back on what happened before. When I got pissed off that he got the boomerang in his head, well…and he was my son and then he got killed. Why wouldn’t they take it the other way?

B&S: I saw Road Warrior perhaps way younger than I should have, at a drive-in, and that scene was the first thing I saw and I was shocked.

Vernon: (laughs) Well, here’s how I look at it. The point is that my job, as an actor, is to give you an hour and a half to two hours of total fantasy. I need to take you away from the everyday problems of the world and even yourself and what’s going on around you. My job is to put you somewhere that has nothing to do with that. I want to give you a respite. And that’s what I look at as my job…to help people forget.

B&S: The escapism has become so necessary today when so many bad things happen outside our doors now. Road Warrior is looking more real every day.

Vernon: if you look at Road Warrior now, you go, “What was George Miller on when he wrote this?” (laughs)

Because so much of what we live in now today, the world is getting that way. You may not have all of the weird cars, but you do have the weird dress and weird clothes and what’s happening right now, you look around and say, “What happened?”

B&S: I didn’t think the end of the world would be being quarantined in my house. You didn’t prepare me for that!

Vernon: What’s going to happen when gas gets to $10 a gallon? It’s gonna be mohawks and assless chaps from here to the ocean! (laughs) It’s $6.46 here in Los Angeles!

B&S: You’ve done so many memorable roles. Innerspace was a huge movie.

Vernon: Innerspace to me was funny because space was. To me it was funny. Interesting, because Spielberg loved the role I did in Road Warrior. And what he wanted was to create that character in his own way. But with Mr. Igoe, I couldn’t talk — I just had to be this entity, this thing and when you turned the corner and saw him, you just turned back.

It was actually a difficult part for me to play. I’m silent, I have on sunglasses and I had a fake arm. So it was like everything that I used to act was taken away and I was like, “Damn, what do I do?”

And I loved it. I thought that was such a cool movie. It was really cool to be able to put all those emotions on screen without talking.

And that was my introduction to Joe Dante! and I did three films with him. Love him!

B&S: You’re great in Looney Tunes: Back In Action as the Acme VP of Child Labor,

Vernon: That was so fun. That movie was never done as a comedy, it was done very straight. It was like another world! It was just so fun! I love all that kind of stuff. Like everybody was very strange, these major actors are being serious but saying these lines. He doesn’t play it for laughs which is why his movies are so funny.

I mean, only Joe could make that movie with the little guys — Gremlins! — and make it work. They’re so cute and then you get them wet and they become raving lunatics!

B&S: You’re in two different movies called Fortress. Which is better?

Vernon: The 1985 movie — that’s based on a true story and that’s why it’s so interesting. The kids were taken hostage and buried, then held for ransom. The kids didn’t escape and kill them, that’s made up for the film, but otherwise, that’s a true story.

I really enjoyed the other Fortress because they didn’t have a role for me. I auditioned and they liked me so much, they wrote Dabby Duck just for me. I’m 999 or 666 whichever way you look at me. I loved it and I had so much fun with the cast. We filmed it in Australia and I knew most of the crew.

B&S: You’ve been in a lot of cyberpunk films! What do you love about the genre?

Vernon: They don’t take themselves seriously. They do things that make you think, but they don’t take themselves seriously. They also often make you decide what is a good idea or a bad idea. And I like that attitude because it gives people a reason to want to go and see it so they can decide what they think on their own basis.

Vernon as Plughead from Circuitry Man.

B&S: You have so many different fandoms who know who you are. Some of them might only know you as Ransik from Power Rangers Time Force!

Vernon: It’s never little kids that come up to me at a convention that know that. It’s 25-year-old adults who are still mad that I killed the Red Ranger! (laughs)

Actually, I thought that series was really good because they really wrote good scripts. I’m very proud of it because they did a lot with my character. With Ranik, for the first time on that show, they did a backstory so you could see why he was the way that he was and maybe you understand him a little better. In other series, the villain is just the villain. He was once a doctor or scientist and not totally evil. I thought that was so interesting.

B&S: You also worked with Fred Olen Ray on Billy Frankenstein.

Vernon: I loved Billy Frankenstein and I loved Fred Olen Ray. It was such a fun movie. I had such fun with that character and that totally way out there — that scene where I don’t realize that I’m talking to the real Frankenstein! I loved it!

B&S: What’s the best role you’ve done?

Vernon: To answer that, I’d have to say there are probably five or six films that I’ve done. One was Beckett in King of the Ants. The role I have in it…they say no good deed goes unpunished and my character is a villain trying to be good and it ends up getting him killed!

There’s another one coming out where I play a priest and another where I’m a doctor who is trying to help a married couple dealing with cancer. There are a lot of really, really good films that I’m doing which has really good storylines and they have better storylines than a lot of the stuff I’ve done prior to that. Don’t get me wrong, I love everything I’ve done. But these movies are more adults now if you get what I’m saying.

Don’t get me wrong, I still like doing movies where I slam things around. But I love doing these movies where I am really getting into myself and my roles.  I get to have a variety of now — fathers, grandfathers, not just the bad guys, though I still do that!

B&S: You’re so busy! Are you enjoying it?

Vernon:  When I’m hired, I’m the happiest bloke in the world.

B&S: Tell us about Tales from the Other Side.

Vernon: It’s got some great stories that are all different and quite horrific. Each one gets more horrific! I’ve done two movies like this before and there was one where it was the devil coming to Earth and it was just him and me. I love that! I love anthologies because you get to tell a similar story three or four different ways and see how different directors and their actors handle that story.

B&S: So were you in a Fantasm movie? Or Felicity? I don’t want to embarrass you.

Vernon: (laughs) Don’t worry about it! When I was being an ass, my mother would threaten to tell my friends, “Vernon is doing porn now.” We all have something in our closets!

You can see Vernon Wells in Tales from the Other Side, a movie in which three kids want to have the most legendary Halloween night ever. It’s now available on DVD and on demand from Uncork’d Entertainment!

Interview with William Stout Part 5

In the final chapter of our interview with William Stout, we learn about how he worked on his first blockbuster and some of his greatest art achievements.

B&S: Did working with Henson before lead to your work on the Muppet Wizard of Oz?

Stout: No, that was all Kirk Thatcher. I helped him out very early in his career. He never forgot that. He was a big fan of my stuff and used to buy my paintings once he started becoming successful as a director. And he personally asked me to work on the project.

B&S: How did you come on for Pan’s Labyrinth?

Stout: Guillermo and I have a lot of friends in common and they all kept saying oh you got to get with Guillermo. You guys are like two peas in a pod. We kept just missing each other, though Frank Darabont was a big fan and collector of mine. He’s the host of a special dinner at Comic Con in San Diego every year where he would invite all his favorite artists and occasionally invite director friends of his like Cronenberg. He invited me to dinner and seated me opposite del Toro. We started talking and the next day, he came to my booth at Comic Con and bought a couple of paintings.

He asked if I would mind delivering them to his home; I was happy to. At his home he talked to me about this little Spanish film he wanted to make. That little film ended up being Pan’s Labyrinth

He had specific things he wanted me to design, so we were talking. He got a call he had to take, so he went into the other room. I could hear his side of the conversation. 

He said. “I feel so honored and that’s wonderful, but I’m sorry. Thank you so much. But I need to make my little Spanish film.”

He came back in and I asked what the call was about. He said, “That was Warner Brothers. They just offered me Harry Potter.”

My esteem for him skyrocketed — to just blow off the Harry Potter franchise so that he could make a personal film!

B&S: How much of the Predator did you design?

Stout: I did the original design, Robert Short added the sort of high-tech dreadlocks and then somebody working for Stan Winston added the four-pronged mouth which I thought was really awesome. 

Rick Baker brought me in on that. I had lunch with Rick and with the director John McTiernan and his production designer. We were discussing the design of the creature. They pulled out a book on H. R. Giger, the guy who designed the creatures in Alien. He turned to a page and said, “I would not be unhappy if it looked just like this.”

I said, “If you want that, just hire HR Giger because I’m not going to rip off his style. I don’t steal from people.”

They suddenly excused themselves and Rick leaned over to me and said, “You know what? I really don’t like these guys. I’m just doing this for the money.”

That was my first big studio film, though, and I was ecstatic. Prior to that I’d done all these independent non-studio movies, so this put me on the map in a major way in the film business.

B&S: Are there any projects – outside of the dinosaur film – that didn’t get made that you wished had?

Stout: That’s a favorite topic of discussion on any new film I work on. I always ask “Okay, what’s the greatest film you’ve ever worked on?” 

For me, it’s Godzilla – King of the Monsters. I worked for two years on an American Godzilla – Godzilla – King of the Monsters in 3-D – that was going to be absolutely spectacular. Really great script by Fred Dekker. I was the production designer. I hired Dave Stevens and Doug Wildey for the storyboards. For the stop-motion effects, David Allen. Steve Czerkas built the stop motion model for me. Rick Baker was going to build a huge robotic Godzilla head for me. And that’s when I first met Steve Miner. He was the producer and director.

It was the right project at the wrong time.

It was obviously going to be a very expensive film with effects shots in almost every scene. And at that time, four big budget films really died at the box office, particularly Heaven’s Gate. No studio wanted to put up the budget.

I would do the film today in a heartbeat. The script was so good. It all took place in San Francisco, starting out with Godzilla destroying the Golden Gate Bridge. Godzilla ends up dying on Alcatraz.

From William Stout’s site — https://www.williamstout.com/news/journal/2019/09/ — this movie SHOULD have been made.

Mr. Stout and Godzilla!

I also would like to make At the Mountains of Madness and Something Wicked This Way Comes, my favorite Bradbury novel. The Disney movie made the mistake of having Ray write the script for his own story.

B&S: Plus, you moved on to theme parks. Do you still do that work?

Stout: Theme parks were my main business for so many years. Occasionally something will pop up in Korea. That’s all over now. There used to be an entire floor at Universal for the theme parks. Now, it’s not even a chair.

Film stuff still comes my way. I was asked to direct a film by some producers in Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve been trying to get the script together for that. It’s nowhere near what it needs to be. I explained to them that you have just one shot when it comes to offering it to an actor. If you give the script to an actor and he turns it down, you can’t rewrite it and come back to him and say “It’s better now.” It should have been better from the beginning. It has to be absolutely perfect.

B&S: There are so many movies, but has the quality dipped with so much product?

Stout: There’s a lot of really amazing stuff out there. I really admire Steven Soderbergh and the work he’s been doing. He directed a great little film called Unsane that he shot entirely on his iPhone. It’s a fantastic thriller.

B&S: Your animal art has taken you all over the world, too.

Stout: I was in Antarctica for four months on my last trip there. Two months at McMurdo Station and two months at Palmer Station. Originally, my first time in 1989 was as a tourist on a cruise ship and I was blown away by how spectacular the place was. I had to do something to help preserve this place for my kids and grandkids. I got the idea of doing a one man show of paintings of the wildlife of Antarctica. To make sure that every kid dragged their parents to see the show, I included prehistoric Antarctica.

As soon as I got back from my first Antarctic trip, I made a beeline to the Byrd Polar Research Center in Columbus, Ohio, where I got a crash course in Antarctic paleontology. I started to notice the same paleontologists coming up over and over in articles and papers about prehistoric Antarctica. Those guys and gals became friends of mine. They shared a lot of their Antarctic knowledge with me. The Natural History Museum of LA County was nice enough to host my one man show and then they traveled the show for seven years. It was my attempt to raise the public awareness of why Antarctica is so special and what could be lost if we’re not careful. We need to take care of that place.

A self-portrait.

B&S: From Firesign Theater to bootleg albums to movies to theme parks to fine art, your career is everywhere.

Stout: I’ve got to be the hardest guy to collect because you never know where I’m going to pop up. (laughs)

Right now I’m finishing up a big three-volume box set, each book being 350 pages, on all my comics-related art. I’m almost finished with the book on all my underground comix art. And my most requested book is one on my music related work, like the bootleg record covers, and I’m about 80% finished with that book. I’m going to do a book on all my entertainment advertising work, like movie posters and TV ads, and then I’m going to do one on all of my film design. So, I’ve got lots of stuff in the pipeline.

I can’t even explain what a complete thrill it was to speak with Mr. Stout at length. His work on comics, film, music and so much more is of the very fabric of our pop culture.

Previous parts of this interview:

To learn more about William Stout, visit his official site at https://www.williamstout.com

Interview with William Stout Part 4

Last time, we got into William Stout’s work on Return of the Living Dead. This time, we learn about his visit to Eternia.

B&S About Movies: Masters of the Universe isn’t really a He-Man movie, huh? It’s a Jack Kirby movie. 

Stout: Oh, absolutely. You nailed it. Gary Goddard, the director of the film, is a huge Jack Kirby fan. When I started out in that film, it was just to storyboard the movie. But on the side, I would do some costume designs and different things. Gary just loved my work. And plus, we had a great shorthand, because we had such a passion for Kirby. 

When Gary would say, “Can you Kirby this up a little bit more?” I knew exactly what he was talking about. But the production designer we had didn’t know comics. He was a guy from England named Jeff Kirkland. He and Gary were constantly butting heads. Finally, Jeff left the film. He recommended to Gary that I take over as the production designer. A production designer, for those who don’t know, is responsible for everything you see on the screen except for the performances of the actors.

Skeletor from the Fourth World.

B&S: You had Jean “Moebius” Giraud working with you, correct?

Stout: Giraud was a really good friend of mine. He was living in Santa Monica at the time trying to get some animated films off the ground. I hired him to do some of the design work for Masters of the Universe

From William Stout’s website — https://www.williamstout.com/news/journal/2012/04/02/jean-moebius-giraud-–-part-five/ — which has even more about Moebius’ movie art.

B&S: I must confess, as a kid, I wanted the movie to look like the toys. And as I get older, I love the movie more and more.

Stout: I didn’t want He-Man to look like that toy because he looked like a rejected member of Abba. Horrible haircut! We did a redesign and Mattel, of course, fought me every inch of the way.

B&S: And now they make toys of your designs. Cannon referred to it as the “Star Wars of the 80s.” The movie has the feel of something like Star Wars, there’s some grandeur to the character designs. You did Kirby it up.

Stout: Our goal was unique and I wanted it to have a terrific look.

Masters of the Universe Collector’s Choice William Stout Collection by Super7

B&S: Did you know Kirby?

Stout: We were actually good friends. Here’s a Kirby story: I was doing a lot of work for Mattel. I did the box art for Heroes in Action, SWAT, Big Jim and other stuff. They called me up one day and said, “Oh, we’ve got something we think is right up your alley.”

It was an entire line of superhero stuff and they said, “We want art like this.” And they showed me some Jack Kirby art.

I said, “You know what? Why don’t you hire Jack? He just moved to LA and I bet he could use the work.” They replied, “Do you know how much money you’re turning down?” (laughs)

I knew how much they paid me, but I would have felt like such a jerk if I had ripped off Kirby and made money off Jack when he could have done it. 

Two months later, I’m at a convention and I run into Jack and I ask how the Mattel job went.

He got excited and said “You’re the guy. Oh my God, I never made so much money in my life. That job came just after I had moved to LA. I had no contacts. I had no jobs. I didn’t know where my next paycheck was coming from. This Mattel job saved my life. It was so much money. Why did you turn that job down?”

I said, “That job was meant for you. It had to be your gig. The right and proper thing was to have you do the job.”

Kirby’s art made Big Jim a must-have toy for me. From http://toy-history.blogspot.com/2012/10/big-jim-pack.html

He was a pretty spectacular guy. And so nice and so honest. So down to Earth. 

I got to ink an issue of The Demon. Mike Royer called me. He wanted to take some vacation time. He said, “Would you like to do Kamandi or The Demon?” The Demon! I wanted to do the monsters. Talk about a learning experience. I inked right over Kirby’s pencils. Talk about pressure!

B&S: What inspired the gold costume for Skeletor?

Stout: Well at that point in the film, Skeletor gets all the power in the universe. It’s got to change him and I just decided this sort of gold supervillain look would be awesome. I tried to make the costume as lavish and intricate as possible. The costume designer fought me on that because she wanted to use Western Costume to make the costume. I wasn’t really happy with their work. She was also very upset that I was designing all the costumes for the film, which was her job. And I told her, “Look: 20 years from now, people will look at this film. It says ‘Costume Designer: Julie Weiss.’ And the public will never know I did it. So don’t sweat it.” (laughs)

The best-looking version of Skeletor ever.

B&S: Going through your resume and I thought I knew everything you worked on and I keep being surprised. You worked on House?

Stout: That was a fun gig. I did three or four huge paintings for that. I did the layouts for them and my studio mate Richard finished all of them but one. 

B&S: Big Ben looks like a Jack Davis drawing, so more EC Comics.

Stout: Yeah, I also did the art that got the financing for the film. I used to do a lot of that back when I was doing movie posters. They were called presentation paintings. Nobody in Hollywood likes to read, but they’ll happily look at a picture. As an example, there was a producer named Sandy Howard who produced low budget movies. He’d come to me every year and he’d have 12 titles. 

He’d say, “OK, Terror Train, teenage girls terrorized on a train:

I would do 12 pictures to go with those titles. He wouldn’t even have a script. But then he would take those pictures and those twelve titles to the Cannes Film Festival or to MiFed in Italy. He’d get the financing for all twelve films. And that’s how a lot of movies were sold back then.

B&S: The Cannon way of selling movies.

Stout: It was wacky. At a time when I think of the major studios, Warner Brothers had the most in production with six, Cannon had like 82 movies in production.

B&S: Sometimes an ad would say, “A new Dustin Hofman project” and that’s it.

Stout: And yet they had never talked to Dustin about that.

I actually attended the black tie opening for Delta Force, a film directed by the president of the company. It starred Chuck Norris. A tuxedo opening for a Chuck Norris movie! After the movie, the premiere audience went back to the Cannon offices where they had four parking garages. Each level of the parking garage had a different chef serving spectacular food all night long. And every single person who ever worked for Cannon was there that night. I ran into Charles Bronson and all kinds of movie stars. It was crazy.

The line producers on Invaders from Mars had worked with Menahem Golan when he was in Israel, because that’s where Menahem came from and they told me this one story about him directing this scene. His wife came onto the set with their new baby. Menahem got really excited when he saw the baby. He grabbed the baby and put him in the back of a buckboard and then he stood back and called “Action!” The horses took off and the buckboard hit a bump which launched the baby flying into the air. Menahem’s wife lunges to get the baby and he stops her and says, “Darling! Never in the middle of a take.” (laughs)

B&S: What did you do on The Willies? Creature design?

Stout: Was that Brian Peck’s movie? (laughs) Because I don’t even remember doing that. Brian was a great guy, he helped so much on the set, he even helped puppeteer the half corpse.

In our final chapter, we’ll learn about some of William Stout’s true passion projects.

Previous parts of this interview:

To get some of Mr. Stour’s art, visit The Worlds of William Stout and explore.