Wednesday, 30 April 2014

interview: William Winckler

William Winckler is the writer, director, producer and star of the snappily titled William Winckler's Frankenstein vs the Creature from Blood Cove. He kindly agreed to answer some e-mail questions in July 2005. My thanks to Jeff Berkwits of Perplex PR for arranging and co-ordinating this interview.

What was the initial inspiration to make this film?
“I absolutely love classic monster movies and creature features. I grew up watching the old Universal films, the Hammer horror productions, the wonderful AIP drive-in movies, and classic Japanese monsters like Godzilla and Gamera. I love pure, entertaining, escapist horror, sci-fi and fantasy. These classic films are what inspired me to make William Winckler's Frankenstein vs the Creature from Blood Cove, and of course served as the inspiration for me to originally form my own production company, William Winckler Productions, in 2001.

“I also have to be honest: having worked in ‘mainstream Hollywood’ for the past two decades or so, I just can't stand most of the genre films cranked out each year. I strongly feel the Golden Age of horror and sci-fi films was back in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and early to mid-1970s. I love the classics because they were intelligently written and often produced with love and low budgets, forcing film-makers to focus on characters, not $100 million CGI effects. The horror genre used to be about many different subjects - vampires, mummies, werewolves, mad scientists, ghosts etc - but then in the 1980s the slasher films took over, essentially hijacking the entire horror genre. Horror films haven't been the same since. It's a tragedy, because for nearly 60 years the horror film was something totally different - it was a wide, wonderful world of different styles of monsters and creature features.

“I should note that I do like some slasher films, like John Carpenter's Halloween and of course Hitchcock's Psycho, but most horror films today are just absolute, bloody garbage and ‘paint-by-numbers’ gorefests. Some are good, most are not. What these film-makers (and I use the term loosely) don't understand is that human emotion - the physiological emotion of ‘fear’ - is totally the opposite of ‘disgust’. ‘Fear’ and ‘I'm going to throw up’ are two different emotions. I believe horror films should entertain, frighten and keep audiences on the edges of their seats - they shouldn't make you want to run out of the theatre feeling like you want to barf your guts out.

“So, taken together, all of these elements inspired the type of work I do. I'm interested in recapturing the magic and classic-style storytelling of the ‘good old days’ of horror. In fact, my idea of a perfect afternoon is relaxing on a comfortable sofa with my wife, drinking a nice cup of British PG Tips tea and watching an old Vincent Price movie (The House on Haunted Hill being a favourite). What more could anyone want in life?”

What sort of budgetary and time constraints did you work under?
“For William Winckler's Frankenstein vs the Creature from Blood Cove, I actually had a nice-sized budget (for an independent film). It was comparatively large, which enabled us to shoot the underwater footage, shoot at the many marvelous locations, have numerous monsters appear in the film, build a full-body latex creature suit and hire a cast and crew of over 60 people. So I actually had good money to make this film, and that's why I think the quality of the movie turned out so damn great. Fans, industry professionals, movie critics and others have just been blown away by our production values, which are incredibly high for an independent horror film.

“As for time constraints, we shot the movie in 21 days but we were in pre-production for months, so we really didn't have too many time constraints as far as schedule was concerned. We did have a limited number of days to shoot at the laboratory set location - which, incidentally, was a real working lab - but we got all of our footage shot in time. The only minor problem during the production was the long time it took for the various monster make-ups. It took about three hours to get our actor Lawrence Furbish into the Frankenstein monster makeup. The monster designs are incredible, and they look even better on screen, but they did take forever and a day to get made up and onto the set each day. That was the one constant worry that haunted me throughout the picture.”

Of all the classic monster films, to which this is an obvious homage, which is your favourite and why?
“It's hard for me to pick a favourite - I love them all for different reasons. Still, some of my favourite films are the classics like The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The House on Haunted Hill, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, the classic Mummy sequels, the early Hammer films featuring Dracula and Frankenstein, the early Godzilla movies (like Godzilla vs the Thing), War of the Gargantuas, Mario Bava's Black Sunday, Monster on Campus, the Amicus films like The House That Dripped Blood, and the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. On television, I loved Darren McGavin's Kolchak: The Night Stalker films and TV series, and Rod Serling's Night Gallery, among others.”

I was very impressed with the black and white cinematography. Can you give me some technical details about how the film's look was achieved?
“We shot Frankenstein vs the Creature from Blood Cove using state-of-the-art digital equipment, not unlike George Lucas' most recent Star Wars pictures. However, my cinematographer, Matthias Schubert, did a few tricks during filmmaking and post-production to give the finished movie the look of a full-fledged 35mm Panavision, widescreen, black-and-white film. And, as I've said before, audiences and critics have seemed thoroughly impressed by the high production values. Most can't believe it's not film!”

What sort of instructions did you give Rich Knight in terms of designing and creating the monsters?
“Tons of instructions! First off, unlike many other indie pictures, for Frankenstein vs the Creature from Blood Cove the special effects team had over a year to prepare. Not only was the budget high for an independent film, but much of that money went to visual and editing effects, not necessarily make-up. I also called out specifically what we needed in the script. For example, I carefully detailed what all the monster characters looked like. Frankenstein's monster is based on Mary Shelley's description: long black hair, yellowish skin and a corpse-like face. As we hashed out the designs I had multiple meetings and phone calls and e-mails with Rich. He drew up designs based on my instructions - like any process, some were good, some were less-than-good - and we kept improving upon the good ones. For legal reasons I wanted to be certain that all the monsters in our film were totally original in design so that we would not infringe on the rights held by any other studio. For example, our Frankenstein monster does not resemble the Universal/Karloff character nor does it resemble the Hammer character, nor any other horror character. The same goes for our Creature from Blood Cove amphibious beast. It does not resemble The Creature from the Black Lagoon or The Monster of Piedras Blancas or any of the fishmen Paul Zastupnevich (who was a friend of mine) designed for Lost in Space or Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

“The Creature costume was especially difficult. It was a full body suit, rubber mask, gloves and feet. Poor Corey J Marshall, the actor who portrayed the Creature, had to be squeezed into this costume each day, and he not only had to fight on land, but also in the ocean! So the costume had to be strong and durable enough to withstand all the underwater photography, with the Creature swimming and fighting under the waves. It's very tough to make a rubber suit that can endure that much punishment, and the costume was continually being stitched and glued for repairs (none of which are visible on camera).

“Both Frankenstein's monster and the Creature also had special dentures made. Rufus Hearn made these for Corey and Lawrence, casting moulds of their mouths and teeth, and then later the monster teeth were cast. The final result looked great, but imagine having to act in an unwieldy monster suit with uncomfortable dentures in your mouth. Then, as director, I tell you to battle, both on sand and underwater! Yes, the dentures fell out some times (it's pretty funny, and fans will be able to see it on the extras when the DVD comes out).

“Frankenstein's boots were a real pain for Lawrence, too. They gave him more height, but were difficult to walk around in on the sandy beach. We finally got special socks and protective cushions for Lawrence's feet. All in all, it's just not easy being a monster!”

What did you learn from making your previous film, The Double-D Avenger, that helped you when making WWFVTCFBC?
“Though I pretty much applied the same working methods to both films, the thing I learned from The Double-D Avenger that surprised me was that you really don't need ‘star names’ in genre films today. Without naming any names, I worked with some big cult film stars who turned out to be royal pains-in-the-ass and very difficult to deal with. As a result, it was harder to shoot The Double-D Avenger than it should have been. Then, when I discovered that 90 per cent of the customers who purchased the movie had never heard of our stars - that they were actually buying the film based primarily on the unique subject matter - I realised that the time had come, at least for small, independent films, where you just don't need ‘stars’ anymore.

“Now, for William Winckler's Frankenstein vs the Creature from Blood Cove, we do have many celebrity cameos and some cult film stars playing leading roles, like the wonderful Larry Butler (who also starred as the villain in The Double-D Avenger). But nowadays, it's clear that you don't need temperamental movie stars in your film for it to succeed and make money. This was the biggest lesson I learned. At the same time, star or no star, I should point out that of course the biggest name in our movie is really Frankenstein's monster.”

Far be it from me to complain about young ladies taking their clothes off, but I felt the T&A sequences interrupted the story and weren't necessary. Why did you include them?
“One major problem with the old classic horror pictures is that, more often than not, they didn't have enough sex appeal. In the Hammer horror films of the late 1960s and 1970s, the brief nudity added so much to the films, especially the vampire pictures. At the same time, the classic Italian horror movies of Mario Bava included nudity. So I felt that brief, tasteful, Playboy-style nudity would be important and nothing but a plus for the picture.

“From a story viewpoint, our heroes were a small group working for a cheesecake magazine, and it just wouldn't make logical sense story-wise for us not to show the models posing in the nude. The public today simply knows that men's magazines feature nudity.

“We also have a climatic scene in the story that takes place at a seaside bar/strip club. Now, what on Earth is the stripper going to do? Dance in a bikini? Everyone knows that strippers strip! To me, it's always ridiculous in cop shows on TV when the policeman or detective investigates a strip club and all the girls on stage are wearing bikinis!

“So, for logical story-related reasons, as well as being influenced by Hammer and Italian classics, I went ahead and incorporated a bit of T&A in the picture. I auditioned hundreds of women, and finally cast Playboy model Carla Harvey (who also starred on Playboy TV), real-life glamour model Tera Cooley and rising adult-film queen Selena Silver. Of course, if you don't like the nudity you can easily fast forward your DVD. There is only about two minutes of T&A scattered throughout the entire picture, which runs 90 minutes. But I think most viewers will find it fun.”

To what extent are your films fanboy wish-fulfillment and to what extent are they intended as commercial feature films?
“What I was trying to do with Frankenstein vs the Creature from Blood Cove was to make a new retro-classic. However, I'm a businessman too, and I've been in the business for over 20 years. I am making profits on my movies, and making a living doing what I love to do. Yet I also love and respect vintage horror films, and not many producers at the major Hollywood studios have that same love and respect. In fact, some of the studio producers I know have nothing but contempt for both classic horror films and genre audiences! Well, I love the fans, in large part because I am one! So I'm a balance of fan and professional, and it's the businessman in me that keeps me in business.”

I understand that the late Michael Billington was approached about playing the monster: how did that come about and why did it not happen in the end?
“Years ago I worked for a company called Galaxy Online. It was a website designed to be like the Sci-Fi Channel on the internet, devoted to science fiction, fantasy and horror. I was an executive there, and we were supposed to produce movies for DVD and webcast featuring various stars from famous science fiction films and TV shows. As part of the job, I visited Pinewood Studios and met with Sylvia Anderson (UFO, Thunderbirds, Space: 1999), Mike Billington (star of UFO), Elizabeth Sladen (Doctor Who) and many other English actors. Mike and I hit it off, and he was paid by Galaxy Online to help promote the company in England. Well, when the dotcom bubble burst, Galaxy burst too. However, Mike and I remained friends and kept in contact.

“As a person, he was fantastic: a down-to-Earth guy, friendly, nice and willing to work with me on my independent films. He loved The Double-D Avenger and was anxious to star in my next horror film. He didn't care that he'd have to be under lots of make-up, and was looking forward to the opportunity. Well, we were all set to go around November/December 2004, but there was a work visa problem. Mike told me that because he'd overstayed on his most recent trip to America (he and his son had visited Florida), there was a ‘mark’ against his visa. He was afraid there would be problems on his visit, and as a result he suggested I recast the Frankenstein monster role because he didn't want to screw up our schedule. So, reluctantly, I did recast the role. I told Mike he could be in my next film, playing a Christopher Lee-type vampire, and he was thrilled about that, because he loved the Hammer vampire films.

“Well, after that, there was a long silence from him. I had sent him a couple e-mails, and never heard back, but I simply thought he might have gone to Italy or something for a UFO convention. Then I found out he had died. I can't tell you how saddened and shocked I was ... it totally blew me away. A real tragedy, because he was not only a great actor, but also a helluva nice guy.”

What has been the reception to WWFVTCFBC so far and what are your plans for distributing the film?
William Winckler's Frankenstein vs the Creature from Blood Cove will be distributed all over the world, through different distributors, some in different dubbed languages (such as Japanese) in the coming months. The US DVD release should be out later this year, likely by November or December. Here in America, we also have various theatrical screenings planned, and some of the cast and crew will be making personal appearances at these events.

“Among those who have seen it, the reception has been absolutely incredible! All of the reviews thus far have basically been positive, and the fan response has been fantastic. In fact, recently the editor of Cult Movies magazine (a well-known genre publication in Hollywood) and his staff had a screening of the film, and they absolutely flipped over the picture. The editor, Michael Copner, told me it was like a trip back in time for him, like watching a long-lost AIP classic, which is exactly what I set out to do - to make a true, honest, dramatic, loving homage to the classics ... an homage done out of respect, not ridicule.”

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