Talking Pictures #16: Jan de Bont, Director of TWISTER

Filmmaker Jan de Bont became famous as one of the most creative and exciting cinematographers of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. He started out in the Netherlands where he worked on Wim Verstappen’s controversial film BLUE MOVIE and quickly became known for his collaborations with director Paul Verhoeven on movies like TURKISH DELIGHT, KEETJE TIPPEL and THE FOURTH MAN. He continued working with Verhoeven in America on FLESH & BLOOD and BASIC INSTINCT and became a sought-after DP for blockbusters like DIE HARD, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, LETHAL WEAPON 3 and FLATLINERS.

But Jan de Bont is also a very talented and unique director in his own right. He made his 1994 directorial debut with the wonderfully tense action thriller SPEED, which he quickly followed up with the amazing adventure/disaster movie TWISTER, which was written by Michael Crichton and his wife and produced by Steven Spielberg. He also made the much-maligned sequel SPEED 2, which is actually a very fun action thriller if taken on its own terms; he directed the Spielberg-produced horror movie THE HAUNTING, which features one of the greatest horror houses in recent horror history, and the video game movie TOMB RAIDER 2 which features numerous inventive action sequences.

I spoke with Jan de Bont about the making of TWISTER and his philosophies of creating realism on screen. Our conversation took place in connection with a video featurette I produced for a 25th anniversary re-release of TWISTER for the German label Turbine who created a beautiful mediabook issue of the film with a new Dolby Atmos & Auro 3D soundtrack. More info on the release can be found here, my interview featurette is called STORM CHASERS – JAN DE BONT ON TWISTER.

We also talked about Jan’s casting choices, his admiration of Stanley Kubrick’s movies, and much more. Please forgive a couple of moments where the sound quality isn’t ideal, but I feel the conversation is definitely insightful and also entertaining enough to ignore a few background noises.

If you speak German, make sure to also listen to our companion podcast Lichtspielplatz and check out episode #50, which features an in-depth discussion of TWISTER in German.

So with no further ado, here’s Talking Pictures with maestro Jan de Bont!

The mp3 file can be downloaded HERE.

Photo of Jan de Bont (C) Ghost Light Productions/Turbine Medien GmbH.
Thanks to Dr. Wily, my Lichtspielplatz podcasting partner for audio editing. The music was created by Clark Kent.

Talking Pictures #15: Steve Beck, Director of THIR13TEN GHOSTS and GHOST SHIP

Filmmaker Steve Beck created two notable horror movies in the early 2000’s: THIRTEEN GHOSTS, which came out in 2001, and GHOST SHIP, which followed in 2002 – both of them produced by Robert Zemeckis, Joel Silver and Gilbert Adler for their company Dark Castle Entertainment. THIRTEEN GHOSTS was a remake of William Castle’s B-movie classic by the same name from 1960, whereas GHOST SHIP was an original story. Both movies are effective ghost stories starring several recognizable actors like F. Murray Abraham, Gabriel Byrne, Tony Shalhoub, Matthew Lillard, and even a young Emily Browning. The real star of both films, however, is the production design – both movies take place in fascinating, unusual horror houses: THIRTEEN GHOSTS is set in a house made of glass that works like an intricate, demonic machine, while GHOST SHIP is set on an abandoned 1960’s ocean liner that is reminiscent of the underwater wreckage of the Titanic.

Steve Beck directing Alec Roberts in THIR13EN GHOSTS.
Steve Beck discussing a scene with young Emily Browning on the set of GHOST SHIP.

Unfortunately, THIRTEEN GHOSTS and GHOST SHIP were Steve’s only feature films. In his main career, he was an award-winning commercial director who created several SuperBowl commercials and worked for clients such as First Union, Pepsi, Gatorade, Toyota, Ford, BMW, Intel, Burger King, and other large brands. Steve also worked as a graphic designer and worked as a visual effects art director for Industrial Light & Magic, where he was involved with movies like INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, THE ABYSS and THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. He also worked as a theme park designer and producer, as an illustrator, and a sculptor, and more.

In our interview, Steve shares his memories of the making of both THIRTEEN GHOSTS and GHOST SHIP, talks about the cast and the incredible spaces that were created for both films, discusses some of the unmade projects he worked on afterwards, and more.

Steve Beck (left) with John DeSantos, who played the Juggernaut ghost, and Gil Adler (right), who produced both movies, on the set of THIR13EN GHOSTS.
Steve Beck (left) on the set of GHOST SHIP with DP Gale Tattersall, who also worked on THIR13EN GHOSTS, and 2nd AD Jennifer Leacey.

The interview with Steve Beck was conducted in connection with our German-language podcast Lichtspielplatz, so if you speak German, please visit www.lichtspielplatz.at and check out episode #49, which features an in-depth discussion of both THIR13EN GHOSTS and GHOST SHIP.

So with no further ado, here’s Talking Pictures with Steve Beck!

The mp3 file can be downloaded HERE.

Photos courtesy of Steve Beck
Thanks to Dr. Wily, my Lichtspielplatz podcasting partner for audio editing. The music was created by Clark Kent.

Talking Pictures #14: Bert I. Gordon, Director of THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN

Bert I. Gordon at the 37th Annual Saturn Awards at The Castaway, Burbank, California June 23, 2011. Photo Credit Sue Schneider_MGP Agency

Our latest episode features a very special interview with a legendary filmmaker who put his own unique stamp on horror movies. His initials are B.I.G., and size is also one of the major themes of his movies which featured giant lizards, giant grasshoppers, giant cats, giant spiders, giant rats, giant ducks and yes, even giant teenagers.

I’ve had the pleasure of talking to Mr. Bert I. Gordon, who, starting in the Fifties, created many beloved B movies like THE CYCLOPS, THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, BEGINNING OF THE END, EARTH VS. THE SPIDER, ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE, VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS, FOOD OF THE GODS, and many others as a director, writer, producer, and special effects creator. He’s also done fantasy movies like THE MAGIC SWORD, thrillers like THE MAD BOMBER, and even sex comedies like HOW TO SUCCEED WITH SEX or THE BIG BET. In 2009, he released his autobiography, THE AMAZING COLOSSAL WORLDS OF MR. B.I.G., and in 2014, at age 92, and sixty years after his first feature, he released a wonderful new black-humored psychological thriller called SECRETS OF A PSYCHOPATH.

The amazing Mr. Gordon is now 98 years young, and I was able to talk to him over the phone about his life and his movies with a little help from his daughter Christina. Bert even teases a new screenplay that he has been working on!

The interview was conducted in connection with our German-language companion podcast Lichtspielplatz – so if you speak German, make sure to check out our episode #48, which features an entertaining journey through the monster movies of the Fifties and Sixties, including several of Mr. Gordon’s films and also movie by contemporaries such as Jack Arnold.

So without further ado, here’s Talking Pictures with Bert I. Gordon!

The mp3 file can be downloaded HERE.

Photos: (C) Bert I. Gordon

Special thanks to Christina Gordon for her help in setting up and conducting the interview.
Thanks to Dr. Wily, my Lichtspielplatz podcasting partner for audio editing. The music was created by Clark Kent.

Talking Pictures #13: Zak Penn, Screenwriter of READY PLAYER ONE

Today’s guest is Zak Penn, best known as a screenwriter on several big-budget superhero movies like X-MEN 2, X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, THE INCREDIBLE HULK and THE AVENGERS. Zak also wrote the 1993 comedy LAST ACTION HERO starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he directed a wonderful mockumentary called INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS, in which he, together with German director Werner Herzog, ventures out to find the Loch Ness monster.

My conversation with Zak focuses on his work on Steven Spielberg’s 2018 sci-fi movie READY PLAYER ONE, which Zak adapted from Ernest Cline’s novel by the same name. The story is set in 2045 and revolves around a virtual reality world called the Oasis, which is largely based on the pop culture of the 1980’s, recreating early video games, cult movies and the pop music of the decade. The story follows a teenager named Parzival and his friends and their quest to find and solve a series of hidden clues and puzzles, so-called “Easter Eggs”, hidden within the Oasis by its late creator, a Steve-Jobs-like figure by the name of Jim Halliday who promised that whoever solves his game will gain complete control over the Oasis. Along the way, Parzival falls in love with a girl he meets in the Oasis named Art3mis, receives a little help from Halliday’s former business partner Ogden Morrow, and he fights the so-called “Sixers”, an army of treasure hunters led by the evil Nolan Sorrento, whose company IOI seeks control over the Oasis for commercial gain.

In our interview, Zak discusses how he adapted Ernie Cline’s book and how certain choices and changes were made to make the story more cinematic. He talks about the characters and the pop culture that informs the story, and he discusses how one of the movie’s best scenes came about – a segment where the characters enter a recreation of Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING in order to solve a puzzle. Zak also talks about his 2014 documentary ATARI: GAME OVER, which was in many ways a precursor to his work on READY PLAYER ONE – it’s the story of digging up the infamous Atari 2600 game E.T., which was buried in a landfill in New Mexico, and it features not only several themes which are connected to READY PLAER ONE, but it also stars Ernie Cline as one of the protagonists.

The interview with Zak Penn was conducted in connection with our German-language podcast Lichtspielplatz, so if you speak German, you’ll find an in-depth discussion of READY PLAYER ONE in episode #46.

So here’s Talking Pictures with Zak Penn!

The mp3 file can be downloaded HERE.

Photo: (C) Zak Penn
Special thanks to Dr. Wily, my Lichtspielplatz podcasting partner for audio editing. The music was created by Clark Kent.

Talking Pictures #12: Jeremy Pikser, Co-Writer of BULWORTH

Today’s guest is screenwriter Jeremy Pikser, best known as the co-writer of Warren Beatty’s political satire BULWORTH for which they got both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe nomination. In BULWORTH, a senator decides to end his life and spend his last few days telling the truth wherever he goes during his re-election campaign – which, naturally, completely disrupts the world of politics. Jeremy talks about the genesis of the movie, which came out in 1998, during Bill Clinton’s 2nd term, about the difficult writing process with Warren Beatty, about truth in politics, about the often-discussed ending of the movie, about Aaron Sorkin’s contributions to the screenplay, and about the idea of a Bulworth figure in today’s political landscape.

We also talk about some of the other projects Jeremy’s been involved in. His career started as a contributor to Warren Beatty’s REDS, a film about the life of communist activist John Reed, he wrote the Diane Keaton movie THE LEMON SISTERS, and more recently, he was the co-writer of another political satire, WAR, INC., starring John Cusack.

The interview was conducted in connection with our German-language companion podcast Lichtspielplatz. If you speak German, you’ll find an in-depth discussion of BULWORTH in episode #45.

So here’s Talking Pictures with Jeremy Pikser!

The mp3 file can be downloaded HERE.

Pikser’s photo was taken from the website of Johns Hopkins University.
Special thanks to Dr. Wily, my Lichtspielplatz podcasting partner for audio editing. The music was created by Clark Kent.

Talking Pictures #11: Joshua Michael Stern, Director/Writer of SWING VOTE

Today’s guest is director and screenwriter Joshua Michael Stern, best known for his 2013 biopic of Steve Jobs starring Ashton Kutcher, and his 2016 TV series GRAVES starring Nick Nolte as a former president of the United States. In our conversation, we focus on Stern’s 2008 movie SWING VOTE which stars Kevin Costner as a working-class man who suddenly finds himself in a very curious position: through several circumstances, the outcome of the current presidential election will depend on his vote – and so both political parties try to win him over by tailoring their campaigns to what they think will appeal to this one individual person.

A satirical movie about the election process, SWING VOTE emphasizes the importance of voting and engaging with politics – and so our discussion of the film quickly opened up to include many of the issues of the political reality of today’s America. The conversation was recorded at the end of September 2020, and when we mention “yesterday’s debate”, we are referring to the first TV debate of Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Joshua talks about the necessity of being involved, the ideas of democracy and the challenges it’s currently facing, the impact of social media, the themes of his work, and much more.

The interview was conducted in connection with our German-language companion podcast Lichtspielplatz. If you speak German, go to www.lichtspielplatz.at , where you’ll find an in-depth discussion of SWING VOTE in episode #44.

So here’s Talking Pictures with Joshua Michael Stern!

The mp3 file can be downloaded HERE.

Photo (C) Joshua Michael Stern.
Special thanks to Dr. Wily, my Lichtspielplatz podcasting partner for audio editing. The music was created by Clark Kent.

Talking Pictures #10: Jackie Kong, Director of BLOOD DINER

Today’s guest is cult filmmaker Jackie Kong, best known for her outrageous horror comedy BLOOD DINER – the charming story of two homicidal brothers who dig up their uncle’s corpse and follow the instructions from his undead brain to kill a large number of people so that they can use the body parts to resurrect the ancient Lumerian goddess Sheetar. The film, which came out in 1987, is now well-regarded as an underground cult movie which has seen quite a few successful revival screenings in the past few years.

Jackie Kong directing Carl Crew on the set of BLOOD DINER.

Kong made her first film in her early twenties: a monster movie called THE BEING, shot in 1980, released in 1983, starring Martin Landau, Jose Ferrer, and Howard Ziehm‘s former producing partner Bill Osco. Jackie also made two comedies, both in the vein of the POLICE ACADEMY movies: NIGHT PATROL, starring The Unknown Comic Murray Langston and Linda Blair, and THE UNDERACHIEVERS, starring Edward Albert and Barbara Carrera.

And then, after four films, she stopped making movies and mostly disappeared from the public eye, briefly resurfacing in 2001 with an early webseries called KARAOKE NIGHTS. In recent years, she’s launched a website where she addressed rumors about herself, she attended many screenings of her films, she recorded audio commentaries for re-releases of her movies, and she’s currently working on a new project. In our interview, Jackie talks about the making of BLOOD DINER, her aesthetic and her characters, she discusses her particular twisted brand of Americana, and she teases a new project she’s currently working on.

You can find out more about Jackie on her website jackiekongdirector.com. BLOOD DINER is available on Hulu.

So here’s Talking Pictures with Jackie Kong!

The mp3 file can be downloaded HERE.

All photos (C) Jackie Kong.
Special thanks to Dr. Wily, my Lichtspielplatz podcasting partner for audio editing. The music was created by Clark Kent.

Talking Pictures #9: Charlie Haas, Screenwriter of MATINEE

Today’s guest is screenwriter Charlie Haas, best known for his work with cult filmmaker Joe Dante. Our conversation focuses on their movie MATINEE, released in 1993 – a love letter to the horror films of the 50’s and 60’s set during the Cuban Missile Crisis: John Goodman plays Lawrence Woolsey, a producer not unlike William Castle, who comes to Key West, Florida, to promote his new monster movie MANT! – half man, half ant, all terror! The story is told from the perspective of a young boy who loves horror cinema, and who befriends the eccentric producer while out in the real world, the United States and the Soviet Union come close to a full-scale nuclear war during the October Crisis of 1962.

In our interview, Charlie talks about his own movie-going experiences and his memories of the Cold War, about working with a film scholar like Joe Dante, about the development of MATINEE and the inspiration behind the Lawrence Woolsey character. We also talked about some of Charlie’s other work, including the teen rebellion drama OVER THE EDGE, the sci-fi cult classic TRON, Joe Dante’s anarchic sequel GREMLINS 2, their TV movie RUNAWAY DAUGHTERS – and an exciting project they worked on which unfortunately didn’t come to fruition.

The interview was conducted in connection with the German-language podcast Lichtspielplatz where we produced an entire episode on MATINEE, so if you speak German, check out our Lichtspielplatz episode #43 at www.lichtspielplatz.at.

So here’s Talking Pictures with Charlie Haas!

The mp3 file can be downloaded HERE.

All photos (C) Charlie Haas.
Special thanks to Dr. Wily, my Lichtspielplatz podcasting partner for audio editing. The music was created by Clark Kent.

Talking Pictures #8: Midge Costin, Director of MAKING WAVES

Today’s guest is sound editor-turned-filmmaker Midge Costin. Midge worked as a sound and dialogue editor on some of the biggest films of the Nineties – ARMAGEDDON, CON AIR, THE ROCK, BROKEN ARROW, CRIMSON TIDE – but also on films like CRY-BABY, LEAP OF FAITH or SWING KIDS. She later became a teacher at the University of Southern California – and most recently, she created a brilliant documentary called MAKING WAVES – THE ART OF CINEMATIC SOUND which I became aware of when she ran a very successful Kickstarter campaign to finish the film. The film premiered at the Tribeca film festival in 2019 and also ran at the Munich Film Festival, at Cannes, and other film festivals.

MAKING WAVES discusses the history and the art of sound design and features interviews with filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Ryan Coogler or Barbra Streisand – but more to the point, it features dozens of interviews with excellent sound artists like Ben Burtt, Walter Murch, Gary Rydstrom, Anna Behlmer, Ai-Ling Lee, Cecilia Hall, and many others, taking an in-depth look at scenes from movies like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, STAR WARS or APOCALYPSE NOW, and many others.

Midge Costin with legendary sound designer Walter Murch.

I first contacted Midge because I was writing an article on the documentary for the German trade magazine Film & TV Kamera (a shortened version can be found online here). In our interview, Midge not only discusses the importance of good sound design and the individual creative roles of the sound artists – she also explains why it took the team nine years to finish the film, why there is a strong focus on the New Hollywood era, and she discusses the sound design of the documentary itself. You can learn more about the movie at makingwavesmovie.com.

So here’s Talking Pictures with Midge Costin!

The mp3 file can be downloaded HERE.

All photos (C) Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet/Dogwoof.
Special thanks to Dr. Wily, my Lichtspielplatz podcasting partner for audio editing. The music was created by Clark Kent.

Talking Pictures #7: John Orloff, Screenwriter of ANONYMOUS

Today’s guest is John Orloff, the screenwriter of Roland Emmerich’s ANONYMOUS – a complex and fascinating historical drama about the theory that William Shakespeare may not be the author of the works of William Shakespeare. Instead, the movie claims that the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, wrote famous plays like HAMLET and ROMEO AND JULIET, and that through complex political scheming he wasn’t able to receive credit for them, but instead a hapless young actor, William Shakespeare, served as a front for him.

In our interview, John discusses the long process of developing the script, which began with a completely different take on Shakespeare. He talks about his collaboration with Roland Emmerich, which added many new elements to the story, and about the intricate structure of the film, which Orloff himself says may be a little bit too complicated. He discusses the angry reactions and reviews the movie received, and he talks about why he believes that Shakespeare isn’t the author of the plays – and why discussing the authorship issue is a worthwhile debate.

John also discusses some of the other projects he’s worked on, like the BAND OF BROTHERS miniseries which was produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, and he talks about some of the guiding themes of his work.

The interview was done in connection with our Lichtspielplatz podcast on ANONYMOUS, so if you speak German, check out episode #40 of our Lichtspielplatz podcast with an in-depth discussion of the film and its themes.

So here’s Talking Pictures with screenwriter John Orloff!

The mp3 file can be downloaded HERE.
The Talking Pictures podcast can be found on iTunes: HERE.

All photos (C) John Orloff.
Special thanks to Dr. Wily, my Lichtspielplatz podcasting partner for audio editing. The music was created by Clark Kent.

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