Wednesday, 6 February 2013

interview: Timothy Bond

I interviewed director Timothy Bond in February 1998 for SFX magazine when his superior SF B-movie The Shadow Men was released on UK rental video. We talked at length about his movies, his TV episodes, and his apparent predilection for directing the second episode of each series.

The Shadow Men uses an idea also used in Men in Black. Was it made in an opportune way to capitalise on the publicity?
"Actually no, that's not the case. I don't know whether you have in the UK the urban legend that we have here about the Men in Black. Stories have been going round for 40 years that there are these people called the Men in Black who look very like the people in my film, who will show up at your door if you ever start talking to the authorities about having seen a UFO or having had a UFO encounter. And they will do anything to silence you. So that was the genesis of the project, long before we even knew that the other studio was working on a picture called Men in Black which is not about that really at all. It sort of piggybacks on the urban legends."

So The Shadow Men was already in development before the other film was announced?
"Yes. We were, I guess, financed and starting to look for actors before we first saw the press release about the Men in Black movie. Then the next thing we saw of course was a nice little lawyer's letter! This film was originally called The Men in Black."

Wasn't it called Encounter at one point?
"It was, yes. It's had a few names. It was called Encounter after the lawyer's letter arrived because the producers decided - I think, with considerable justification - that it was not something that was worth fighting."

It can't have hurt your sales to have a film that fits in with a current vogue.
"Oh, without a doubt. I think that we were in many ways very lucky that there was this coincidence. But it actually was a coincidence, and of course, nobody will ever believe that."

How long has this been in development and what was the initial inspiration?
"I wish I could tell you. I came onto it fairly late in the procreedings. I can tell you what I divined but Promark would be a better source. I believe it had been in development for about two years, which for them is a remarkably short time. Although it seemed like an extremely long time."

So did they approach you and say, 'We've got this script. Do you want to direct it?'

What attracted you to this project?
"I love doing science fiction material, material with strong visuals, and I'm also always attracted to stories about ordinary people placed into extraordinary circumstances. So all of the elements were there for me."

Were any of the cast attached at that point?
"When I was first approached, no they were not. We went through a slightly anxious period, as I'm sure you can imagine. Actually casting is not an easy thing to do these days. The picture was of course never really a go until we had Eric Roberts and Sherilyn Fenn involved. Then suddenly it was: 'Okay, how quickly can you do it? Hurry up! It's got to be ready next week!'"

It's a strong cast.
"Wasn't it a wonderful cast? Not just names either, but good actors. They don't always go together, I've discovered."

What sort of size of film is this?
"It was a comparitively small film, comparitively for Hollywood. We shot it here in Los Angeles, which was a difficult choice for the producers because it can be quite expensive here. But it worked out very well for us in that regard. I think it cost less than it looks. It was a 24-day shooting schedule. That gives you an idea. So it was made pretty quickly. My background is initially in television, so I've developed systems over the years for efficient shooting."

The finale, with anonymous MIBs laying siege to the compound, reminded me of Night of the Living Dead.
"Absolutely. That was my model. Just the idea of these lemmings or something, these horrendous people and there's always more of them. There's an abundant supply; they keep coming through the door and coming through the door. Trying to make a nightmare feeling to the climax of the picture."

It is quite scary by that point.
"Good, I'm glad to hear it."

Over here they're expecting a 15 certificate.
"There was some concern obviously that we not cut our audience way down by getting some kind of rating for violence. And I think the thing that allowed it to do that was that we decided fairly early on that we could off as many of these guys as we wanted to in as violent a way as we wanted to, as long as we proved they weren't human. So that's where the white blood comes. Because that instantly says to you: well, they're some kind of pus-filled, hideous organism that we don't care about."

Did you do a lot of research into UFO conspiracy books?
"Oh, I did, yes. I became a momentary expert."

Do you yourself think there's anything in these legends?
"Well, there is enough literature that makes you think that it's certainly possible. I approached the research with considerable scepticism. I thought, 'We'll be riding the coat-tails of an urban myth here that I know is very powerful, and won't this be fun?' Then I got into the books and met a few people who told me about UFO encounters that they had had, although not MIB encounters. I began to think, 'Ay ay ay, there is something here, but I don't know what.'"

How did you start directing?
"It's a funny story. In high school - that's when you're about 12, 13 - there were a group of us ended up in this school in Ottawa, Canada, which is where I was born, who all desperately wanted to put on plays. There had been a drama society in our school - our school was about 150 years old so it had a long tradition - but the drama society was moribund. So we revived it and announced a production, then realised, 'Oh hell, somebody's going to have to direct this thing.' We all wanted to be on stage! So we literally drew straws, and I got the short straw, and I've been directing ever since."

How did you move into television?
"It was a long process. I spent a considerable amount of time in the theatre, which I think was an excellent foundation for me, and I would recommend it to any fledgling directors or wannabe directors. Just to go and spend some time in the theatre and learn about actors and about telling stories. Because if you just jump yourself behind a movie camera, all you learn about is work. Then I went through a slightly anxious transition period when I went behind the camera, just because all the film schools said, 'You're a theatre director, you don't know anything.' Of course, I was sure they were wrong! I eventually made my way."

So what was your first TV job?
"A kiddies' show called The Edison Twins, which I think still plays around the world, a science show."

I don't think we get that over here.
"It's probably on some obscure cable channel. Here it plays on the Disney Channel, so it haunts me. Every week there would be a scientific principle that would be explored during the course of the story. I'm trying to think of a cogent example. Say, for instance, we have to open up a crack in something in order to get something out, so what they do is they pour water in it and let it freeze. It was shot in Canada, so it was always cold. The water would expand, so the crack opened, and: 'Wow, we've used science to get the thing out of the crack.' It was aimed at young teens."

How many episodes of that did you do?
"A dozen."

Was that a good place to start learning your trade?
"It was good. It was just such a treat to have somebody paying for the film. Before that I'd been making my own films, having to shell out my own money. So I would go to work and think, 'I can't believe it - they're paying for me to put all this through the camera. How nice!'"

Were these 8mm films?
"No, I think always 16mm stuff. Unfortunately, my interest in film predated the invention of the home video camera, so I was stuck having to pay for film."

What sort of films were you making?
"Some that were just attempts to make money. There was a wonderful program at CBC in Canada at the time for young film-makers, where they had this one department that would buy very short films, two to three minutes long, which they then put into a library. And if their programmes ran short one day, they would just look up: 'We've got one minute, eleven seconds. Oh here, this film of Bond's is one minute, eleven seconds.' It was actually a very nice introduction to the realities of the world, which is: you've got to sell the damn stuff after you've made it. So that's how I started. Then, with my own money, I decided to make some longer films. The most effective one was: I decided to make a horror film once to explore just how horrific you could be on camera. All I can tell you is that it was booked out of a catalogue a year later into a film festival and caused a riot! It was called Into the Heart of the Wild Wood."

Pretty gruesome?
"Oh yes! It was about a man who falls in love with this girl who's walking through the woods and he follows her. She tries to get away from him, and he chases her, knocks her down and disembowels her."

Oh, a love story!
"It was actually presented as a love story. That was his way of expressing his love. So I got to know intimately what the insides of a pig are like - which are actually quite beautiful."

Where did you move on from The Edison Twins?
"I was in Canada, and I really benefitted heavily from the fact that the Canadian dollar plummetted to an all-time low, which caused all kinds of American companies to come and shoot - particularly television - in Canada, because it was cheaper. The other thing I benefitted from was a very clever program on the part of the Canadian government, which required television channels to ensure that a percentage of their prime-time programming had to be certified Canadian content. It turned out that the definition of that came from having a points system, and there was one point if the director was Canadian. Almost always, what would happen would be a slightly marginal American project needed one more point, and they'd say, 'Oh hell, get a Canadian director. What harm can he possibly do?' So I benefitted because it was a nice body of work when I was trying to break my way into the industry. A number of my friends did the same thing and a number of them managed to build international careers from that wonderful launching pad."

What sort of stuff were you directing?
"CBC had a whole number of one-hour series that they ran late-night, at about 11.30 at night. Cop shows, basically. There was one of them called Adderly, which is what I started. It ended up being a bit of a success for a while; turned out to be a flash in the pan, but for a while it was a real success and got moved to primetime. The problem is, the moment it got moved to primetime, all of our principles went out the window because we had the money, and we wrecked the show! In the early days of Adderly, because we had no money, we had to come up with clever ways of telling our story without spending anything.

"To give you an example, I had a scene once where Adderly, who's this cop with one hand, goes to the place of work of somebody he's trying to investigate, in order to find out more about the guy. What he finds out is that the guy died of cancer, and that was it. I forget how it was written, but it was something we couldn't afford. So what I did is this. It was the depths of winter in Canada, it was freezing cold, I didn't want to go outside. So we had a corridor in the production office that was unused, and I put labels on the doors. One said 'lynx', one said 'wolverine' and one said 'grizzly bear'.

"The actor who was the other employee was a guy in a raincoat and rubber boots with a wheelbarrow full of animal parts. The interview was conducted in this corridor, and it was interrupted every now and then because the guy would disappear into one of these rooms with a bucketful of meat. And you'd just hear growling and snapping and snarling, then the guy would come out looking a little bit disheveled and go on with the interview. The third time he went into a door, which was the end of the scene, actually he just never came out. And Adderly waited and waited and finally just gave up and went. Well, once we had money we didn't do stuff like that. We had helicopters landing on the top of transport trailers on the freeway at 70 miles an hour. It lost all of its charm and oddness and stopped working. But I did a whole bunch of those. There was one called Night Heat that I did a lot of and another one called Sweating Bullets."

These sort of things turn up here at three o'clock in the morning sometimes.
"Exactly. So from there I began to get into the primetime network series and worked my way down here to Los Angeles. Got to gradually know some people down here, got onto shows like Touched By an Angel and some of the slightly bigger network shows, and from there into television movies and cable movies, and that's where I am now."

You did a couple of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
"I did. That was one of the first jobs I had in Los Angeles, actually. It was really a treat, mainly because of Patrick Stewart."

The impression one gets of Star Trek is that it's this massive, controlled thing. What did it feel like to come on board for an episode?
"It was huge, awe-inspiring. And very closely controlled. I'll give you an example from the first episode that I did. Oh by the way, I'd cut through a lot of special effects stuff by then because I'd also done the Friday the 13th televison series with lots and lots of optical effects. I'd learned a lot about opticals and trick shots and things like that. I had a phaser fight in my first show; I was called to a meeting, and they wanted to know how I was going to shoot it. They wanted to know specifically: how many set-ups I would make; how many times somebody would pull the trigger in each set-up; and how many times I would cut to each set-up. I said, 'Well, I can certainly figure this out, but tell me how this works. Why do you want to know all this, because I've never run into that before?' They said, 'Well, it's $10,000 a shot, it's $200 every time you pull the trigger, and it's another $1,000 for each time you cut back to the shot. So if you plan this out, we'll know exactly how much it's going to cost.' And I did, and they did.

"Then I got a memo, which also went to my assistant director, who was of course employed by the studio, confirming our conversation: 'This is what you will do on set.' And it is what I did. Interestingly enough, when they saw the phaser fight, the producers liked it so much they said, 'Oh, we want to make this longer!' So they used all the out-takes. But yes, Star Trek did amaze me. I believe there were 28 copies of dailies that were made every day, circulated through the vast Paramount studios to people who all had the right to comment and send notes back to you."

They always seem to have eight or nine co-producers and you think: what do all these people do?
"Yes, I often wonder that. On Star Trek, it was actually very well run. I'm sure it still is; I haven't been there in a long time. And they all actually did do things. But I've done some series where, I swear to God... I did a series with 15 producers once! A series which shall be nameless, with 15 producers, and I swear I only met four of them. Knock off three more for post-production; I don't know where the others were! It's kind of a Hollywood disease: multiplying producers. It's like a social disease."

I understand there was a problem on your second Trek episode. Wasn't David Rappaport supposed to be in it?
"Oh yes. Boy, have you ever done your research! It was actually very sad, because David Rappaport was engaged as a guest star. For people who don't know him, he was a very short man who had had a very nice career, basically playing the short guy. Including a very nice stint on LA Law as a lawyer who, whenever he approached the bench, had to stand on his briefcase in order to talk to the judge. He had a great sense of humour. Anyway, we started off shooting with him, and I shot for three days with him, and then there was a weekend. And on the weekend, he tried to kill himself. Which was horrific. Of course, none of us knew him that well really, but we never knew why he attempted suicide. People often don't know why. He didn't kill himself, fortunately, but I had to recast. And subsequently, five weeks later, he went back and tried again and succeeded.

"After the fact, you think, 'Did I say something? Did I do something?' It was tough going at the studios. We found out midnight Sunday night. My AD phoned me and said, 'Okay, I know you were deep in REM,' - I'll never forget the line, it was such a good line - 'but you're not shooting what you think you're shooting tomorrow.' We had to go on shooting of course, because it's $150,000 a day or something hideous, a huge number. So I had to put together with my AD a day's work that did not have that character, while we recast. Which was tough. The hair and make-up people were all in tears. They'd spent a lot of time with him because he had an elaborate rubber make-up. They'd spent an awful lot of time with him in moulds and big make-up sessions, so they knew him better than I did at that point."

After Trek, what did you move onto?
"I did a thing called Hard Time on Planet Earth."

Oh my God, I remember that. It was shown over here once on Sunday lunchtime. They buried it away in the hope that nobody would notice it.
"Understandably so. I had my first Hollywood awakening on that. I did the second episode, so of course all the attention went to the first episode. All the producers were clustered down around the camera and I just quietly put mine together, but the day before I was due to start shooting, they suddenly realised, 'Oh God, there's another one of these!' And there were another eleven or twelve after me as well.

"One of the producers took me aside one day and said something that I thought was tremendously helpful. He said, 'I know this is early days for the series, and I know there are going to be times on set when you are basically alone, and you're going to wonder: which way should I play this part? Should I play this for comedy, or should I play this seriously, or what should I do? I just want you to remember: bottom line, this is fundamentally a comedy.' I said, 'Oh thank you. That's so helpful.' Perfect. I'm thinking, 'A Hollywood producer. Great - these guys know.' An hour later, his partner took me aside and said the same thing, only he said it's fundamentally a drama! The next day there were two more partners there. One of them said it was an action show, the other one said it was a relationship show! So I just thought, 'Well, I'll just go down to the floor and shoot whatever the hell I feel like!'"

Disney had a stake in that, didn't they?
"Yes, that was when Disney was first trying to get into cranking out network television. So there was, I guess, a lot riding on it at the time. Disney was trying to break into this thing and of course they've broken into it in spades."

You did some Outer Limits.
"I only did one Outer Limits. I did the one that was the first of the one-hour shows to air. Does that play in England?"

On and off. We've had a lot of episodes.
"Oh good. The one I did was called 'Valerie 23' and it's one of the films I'm most proud of. It's about a wheelchair-bound scientist who works in a robotics laboratory. It was a really inspired idea, I think. This guy gets roped into being the beta-tester of this girl, Valerie 23, who is of course to-die-for gorgeous, but just a little mechanical! He falls in love with her, then realises that he's being a fool and resists. There's a whole back and forth thing that happens between them. Meanwhile, a relationship that he's been pining for, with a real woman, ends up working out. So he throws over Valerie 23, who's living in his house anyway, doing his dishes, and he starts dating this other woman. And Valerie gets jealous. And Valerie is programmed to make the relationship work - no matter what. So then she becomes a homicidal robot. It was a lot of fun."

What sort of brief were you given about making this different from, or similar to, the 1960s series?
"We were encouraged not to look at the original series. And we were basically told, which was wonderful and very liberating: 'Make movies. Don't make television.' You don't often get to hear that. Or sometimes you do but it's not actually sincere! It's a little bit tough to follow up on that brief though when you don't actually have a decent amount of time to do the work. It's all very well to say it, but how about another six days of shooting time to do that? But that of course wasn't forthcoming.

"I guess your mag is interested a lot in special effects, because I made a really cool special effects shot in that show, which I can talk about if you're interested. It was my first motion-control shot, back in the days before computers could really help you a lot. 'Back in the days' - it was three years ago! We now have computer programs that will track motion within a shot, but in the days when I was doing this thing, we still had to use a motion-control camera, which is still the prefered way to do it. I guess you know what that is and how that works. So we had a little portable motion-control rig, believe it or not, that was brought into the studio. Because usually you have to go to the camera, build your set around the camera. But it was a sweet little rig, and it really worked well.

"What we did is a shot where Valerie, the robot, is sitting in a chair, and the guy comes into the lab in his wheelchair. And she says hi and has a chat with him. They haven't dated yet, but she says, 'I understand we're going to be dating, and I'm really looking forward to it. Do you like opera? I really like opera. I think La Boheme...' And on and on. While this is going on, one of the technicians in the room takes her hair off and opens up the back of her head. We dollied around her while she was doing this, from the point of view of the guy in the wheelchair, wheeling around her, looking at the back of her head. Inside was this sort of organic goop. You could see her chatting away on the side angle, while this tool went into the back of her head and adjusted something inside her head! And it worked beautifully well. It took a lot of time."

Again, that was the second episode, after the pilot. The same on Touched By an Angel too.
"I used to be Mr Second Episode."

Is it: 'We've done the pilot. Right, get Bond in to do the next one'?
"I think that may be the case. I think also part of that is because some producers know that I can manage on my own a little bit, that I'm very organised. If you work in the special effects area of film-making you've got to be very organised. And I hope that's why I've ended up with them. I'll tell you quite frankly, I also seek them out. Because sometimes you can make a better film if you don't have everybody 'helping' you. One of the curses of television is that sometimes you get a little more help than you can actually handle. We have a saying here that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. I guess you guys have those too."

You did the the third TekWar telemovie, TekLab. When those debuted over here on video, everyone in the office said, 'You must see the third one.'
"Oh, how wonderful."

Well, what everyone wondered was: have you ever actually been to England? Because everyone looked at it and said, 'This is supposed to be in England?!'
"Did it look like it at all?"

Well, it was things like: Excalibur isn't part of the Crown Jewels!
"Does Excalibur actually exist?"

No, it's all a legend. Also there was this one double decker bus in the background of every shot. It was a pure American view of England.
"Yes. I'll tell you exactly what happened there. It's shot in Toronto, but they decided it had to be set in England. Of course, they weren't going to send me to shoot it. But what they did do was, they sent me to England for - get this - a day and a half. That was a nice trip. What I did do while I was there was look around at locations and make mental notes of things that reminded me of specific places in Toronto, to try to at least get the right feel for the location. The other thing that I did was I met up with a cameraman, a wonderful man named Paul Bisson, sort of the dean of British cameramen, someone I'd worked with before. We went around and looked at shots that he could make for me after the fact, that I could matte into my film. To at least fool an American audience, but never a British audience, that we were in London."

So he shot landmarks and things that you could matte into the background?
"Yes. Then I went back to Toronto and booked the only double decker bus and found the only two London taxi cabs, one of which was actually left-hand drive. And I nailed down locations that reminded me of places I had seen in England to get it as close as I could. I shot the film, edited the film, then sent Paul Bisson back a shot list, which was totally detailed. Focal length: I actually got ordinance maps of London. 'There's a traffic island here, in front of the National Gallery. Go to this island and orient your camera at 27 degrees from North magnetic. Put this lens on it, put this on the bottom of the frame. You'll make the shot I need.' As a result, I was able to make a rather short sequence of a car chase through London in the fog, where the cars were shot in Toronto and London was shot in London. It was a nice little technical exercise that I knew wouldn't fool you guys. You must have had a lot of laughs watching that."

It was about as English as Dick Van Dyke's accent.
"There's all the poor Canadian actors doing their best as well."

How much control did William Shatner have over the Tekwar series?
"A lot. It's his baby. He wrote the books."

It is alledged...
"He was executive producer. He wasn't there all the time; he was in Los Angeles and again we were in Toronto, because this was still during my Toronto days. But he was very much a hands-on producer, and really good. What he did was he prevented the stories from just sinking into the mire of being futuristic: let's show the world what it it's going be like however many years in the future, whenever it was set, and do a kind of college thesis on it. There was a certain kind of impetus behind this that they didn't want to do that, which is one of the things that actually made it look good. Shatner would always say 'Don't forget this is entertaining. No no no, we don't want that here. We want a car chase.'

"I really enjoyed it for that, because when you put the film together it really helped if it was entertaining. It's an area actually where Canadians are weakest. We're very earnest film-makers, I think. Bill, although he's Canadian, has spent a long time here and knows you've got to entertain the troops. Keep this moving, keep this exciting. So he was a joy to work with. I shot with him for two days only, but he was a treat. There was a great story on that. We had a huge budget cut in half the week before I was due to start shooting. A decision had been made to prepare all of our optical efffects shots - there were a hundred - to film resolution instead of video resolution. This is done after the film has started shooting, after the film has been financed, so they had to come up with I don't know how many million more dollars. So they start combing through the remaining film to try to find as much money as they could. So we had a sort of bloodletting one day and some things were cut.

"One of the things that the studio cut out of the film were the motorcycles. The kids who all thought they were Lancelot and Guinevere and Arthur, their steeds were motorcycles. They were riding around on these things with banners on the back of them. The studio said, 'Ah, you don't need the motorcycles. They can just ride around in old cars. It was a considerable saving because of using stunt drivers for the wide-shots, and instead of one car you had to have four motorcycles, also how many days of shooting. All that stuff goes on. I called Bill and I said, 'I think they're going to ruin our film if they do this. What do you think?' He said, 'Oh absolutely. This is stupid.' So he called the producer, and the producer said, 'There's nothing we can do about it, Bill. The studio's made their pronouncement: the motorcycles are cut. We tried. We went and fought. We agree with you, they should be in the film. but they said no.' Bill said, 'They won't say no to me.' And you know, they didn't! Now there's an executive producer!"

A useful guy to have on your side.
"He was a treat that way. I said, 'How did you do it?' He said, 'Oh hell, I live higher up the hill than they do'! Which is a line I've never forgotten, it's a good one. I'm sure he does live way up in the Hollywood hills."

You also did an episode of Sliders, the one where brains are valued more than sport.
"That's correct, yes. Boy, did you ever do your research."

That was a bizarre idea. How did you approach it?
"It was weird, wasn't it? I didn't invent it, of course. It was dumped in my lap. And there was a kind of an idea for a game, but no rules. So I actually spent a considerable amont of my prep-time inventing the game. I actually got the staff from the office out into the parking lot several times, playing the game, while we got workable rules. the first few times the rules were no good, the game was no fun. Eventually we came up with a set of rules which I then had to teach to all those actors. I went and got a lot of people with a sports background and we taught them the game, along with the leading actors on their lunch breaks. Then we had to construct this huge scoreboard. The producers were adamant that it look like a network sporting event, like a real thing. Which was great. So they went out and they hired real sports commentators. All those guys who were commenting on it were well-known."

Not over here of course.
"No, but in America they're really well known. I'm not much of a sports fans so [whispers] I didn't actually know who they were. But all the guys on the crew were going, 'Oh my God, that's...' 'Oh yes, that's him. That's what he said his name was.' But they were great guys, and I was amazed. You give them a subject and they just talk until you say stop. So they adlibbed a lot of their stuff, the commentary. And we came up with this scoreboard that was so big that the first time we turned it on, which was the first time we were about to make a shot, it killed the generator! It drew too much power; there had been a little miscalculation somewhere: 'What? You mean the red and the green lights are on at the same time?' So it was a very exciting time; we were down for half a day.

"It was a memorable shoot for me because I actually had one day when I had seven cameras, which was frightening. Trying to give each one of those guys a shot is a tall order, especially when your mind is screaming along, trying to keep shooting on a television schedule. Three film cameras and four video cameras. The video cameras had to be fed through a switcher to monitors on the floor, with a live cut, and also slaved off so that we could eventually change the cut and cut things into the show. But it was so the sports commenators had things to look at and so the audience could catch the action on their monitors in the background of shot."

You've also done some Hercules.
"They're fun."

That's really caught on over here.
"Has it? Oh good. Hercules is so much fun to do for a director. Partly because the executive producer Sam Raimi is a director, and you really know you're working for a company that's owned by a director because the doors are open for you: here you go. If you have an idea and it looks good, they go out and they find the money for it. If it sounds like it'll be fun, they'll really go and find the money to do any crazy idea. If there's no budget, they'll take it from somewhere else or whatever. They're very supportive of their directors. I think it shows up in the material becuse it's funny and it's light and it feels like it must have been fun to shoot, don't you think?"

The impression you always get is that it's a bunch of guys having a great time.
"We do. All day long. You have to crank it out, God knows, but it is fun all day long. That actor Kevin Sorbo is a real treat. He's everybody's favourite television star because he loves it. He realises, I think, that he came to stardom a little late in life. Most guys are about 12, but he came to it when he was in his late 20s or early 30s. So he didn't have any illusions. He knows that he's really lucky, so he shouldn't get bored or throw his weight around. So as a result he's always prepared, he's thought about things. He's very good at re-writing lines to make them funnier. He's always on time, he always knows what he's doing. He's a real treat. I look forward to doing them and I still try to do them when I can."

How many have you done so far?
"Three, I think."

It must be nice going to New Zealand.
"Well, it's a long flight. But the New Zealand film industry is a real pleasure. I guess Hercules must be by far the biggest thing in the country, because they have both Hercules and Xena. They told me at one point that between the two shows they had 750 people on the pay-roll. So they're a big employer. But it is fun, and New Zealand is great, especially in the summer."

Have you done any Xenas yet?
"No, I haven't. I would like to. I think Kevin Sorbo and I got on, and so they tended always to route me towards the Hercules for that reason, because we always enjoyed working with one another. There's a tendency to give me the really effects-intensive shows. I did one where Hercules' mother is getting married to Jason - of Argonauts fame - and at the wedding a sea-monster shows up and swallows Jason. And without blinking his eye, Hercules dives into the mouth of the sea-monster to save Jason, goes down the gullet of the sea-monster while it disappears into the ocean. Then we spent about ten minutes inside the monster while it was engaged in a battle with some other hideous creature in the depths of the ocean. So everything's sloshing around while they find their way through the guts of the monster. It was fun! Eventually, they get to the spinal column, Hercules hotwires the nervous system of the monster and causes it to lose its battle with this other thing! It gets killed and floats to the surface and they chop their way out while it's washing up on the beach, then go back to the wedding. What an opportunity for a director to do that. That was such a treat to do."

You've also done some Goosebumps episodes. How tricky is it to appeal to the bloodlust of eight-year-olds but not offend their parents?
"Well, firstly the director doesn't have to worry about that too much. I think we're all children at heart. I just go in there and make it gory and goopy and scary as I can. But they have people who are watching, particularly at the script stage. They actually have child psychologists who go over the script - and more power to them - to make sure that we don't create a generation of monsters. They look a lot for what they refer to as 'replicable behaviour'. This is not an example from one of the scripts, but if somebody goes into the post office and pulls a gun and kills everybody, that would not be in Goosebumps."

But a vampire going in and biting everybody on the neck would be okay?
"Yes, because that's fanciful and it could never happen. So they watch for that. I'm really proud of Goosebumps because I did the pilot for it, which is I think one of the highest selling children's videos around. It was called 'The Haunted Mask' and I know in America it sold something like four million copies of the tape. So I'm rather pleased that a hell of a lot of kiddies liked it. I actually had to delist my phone number because children started calling me. Actually, what they were calling for was they wanted the phone numbers of the girls!"

That must have been a big responsibility, because the Goosebumps books are an enormous franchise."
Yes, there was a lot riding on it, and this is an example of not doing episode two. So there was a lot of extremely helpful help. It was a wonderful experience because the people who were hovering and watching were very, very positive and very helpful. RL Stine, who writes the books, was there for a while and was also extremely helpful. So it was a good experience and I then went on and did a few more specials for them. It's fun material. Stine has an interesting imagination. He'll find something primal, like some primal fear.

"'The Haunted Mask' is about a girl who wants to scare her friends at Halloween, so she goes to this weird store and buys a really scary mask from this odd guy. She goes out on Halloween and does truly frighten all her friends. Then when she comes home with the mask, it won't come off. Then there's all the hocus pocus she has to go through to get it off. But it's all about wishing you were somebody you're not and how that can get you into trouble. How you can wish it in a fanciful way, but you'd better mean it because... what if you get your wish? All of his stories have some sort of underlying, powerful thing like that. They're not just scary; there's a moral there. He understands the teen and sub-teen psyche - the things that obsess them and worry them - so he taps into that in a very clever way. His material is fun to work on."

Have we covered everything now?
"Night of the Twisters."

That was on last week, and the listings mag said, 'It's okay, but it wouldn't have been made if somebody hadn't been making Twister at the same time.'
"Oh, that was definitely the case. I've done a couple of things where the cynical calculation was made, and that was definitely the case. The network involved was called The Family Channel, who are a small cable channel here that is growing very quickly because they're very shrewd about things like this. They knew that Jan de Bont was making Twister, so we made Night of the Twisters to play on television two months or three months before Twister was in the theatres. Now that is so smart. They did our advertising for us. To give them their due though, they were advertising the hell out of it. There were billboards on Sunset Boulevard. They really went at it hammer and tongs. And it was the highest-rated movie on cable television in America that year. It kept on playing and playing and playing. I'm really proud of that one too."

That was done with Atlantis, who do a lot of SF and fantasy.
"They do that Gene Roddenberry thing that people refer to as Gene Roddenberry's Trunk Show - although maybe they shouldn't. They're very active in science fiction. They have a very clever producer/production designer there who designed Tekwar, who produces an amazing look and really understands computer-generated effects."

What have you got lined up?
"I don't want to jinx this, but I've just had some enquiries about doing a pool of science fiction movies which would shoot in Europe. I don't know too much about them except that the budgets are halfway decent for television movies, and I'm to read some scripts today for the first time."

Is this the batch of stuff that UPN were thinking of doing? Variety said that they wanted a regular science fiction movie slot.
"Exactly. That has the potential to be really fun stuff so I have high hopes for it. I'm actually going to go and see them today. They're probably seeing a hundred other directors and maybe I'll never end up doing any of it. Who knows, but it does sound exciting."

Interview originally posted 9th March 2005

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