As I say each time, I am delighted that interviews are something I have finally made a regular part of this little blog of mine! When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the 80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.
This time that awesomeness is Taco Ockerse. He is best known solely by his first name and for his 1983 hit version of the Irving Berlin classic "Puttin' on the Ritz". Taco was raised mostly in Germany where he studied dance and theater. He made a name for himself on the European supper-club circuit by dressing in formal attire and performing dance versions of American standards. This is certainly represented in his most recognized song. He has not released a new studio album since 1987, but currently resides in Germany and is still performing regularly all over the world. You will find out a little more about this surprising hit single and the man behind it as we get on to some selections from my interview with Taco...
Q: You were born in Indonesia and have spent much of your life in Germany, yet you are often described as a Dutch singer and entertainer. Are you of Dutch descent?
Taco: I am to this day Dutch, was born in Indonesia and consider myself a "Planetarian" having lived, traveled and worked on nearly every continent!
Q: I have to ask about your first name. It is obviously unique. Do you know how or why your parents chose that name for you?
Taco: Taco is a typical Dutch name from the province Friesland. My parents chose this name after reading a book of children's names. Outside of the Netherlands, my name is quite unique and has been the cause for many a surprise and smiles. In Japan, Taco means octopus; in France, an old carriage taxi; in Spain, high heels; and as we all know in Mexico, a national dish. And these are just a few examples!
Q: You mentioned living in several different countries as you were growing up including the United States. How old were you when you lived in the U.S.? Did that time in the U.S. impact your musical tastes or future at all?
Taco: I was ten years old when we moved to Seattle. We stayed at my aunt's place with my four cousins. It definitely had a deep impact on my life. From 8th grade on, I started visiting the "American International Schools" and became as I'd call it a "second-hand American" from "I pledge allegiance..." to living and learning the complete American way of life.
Q: Do you consider yourself foremost an actor or singer? Do you enjoy one better than the other?
Taco: I think both professions are part of the same coin, they go hand in hand.
Q: How did you end up getting your first record contract with Polydor in 1981? What were your expectations and goals when you started out?
Taco: It occurred just by chance. I had recorded a demo tape and the particular song was chosen by a jury to participate in a German song contest "Traume brauchen Zeit" and became my first single. I had no great expectations because my goal was to sing and perform in English. I sacrificed my first record contract which contained a clause saying I would record solely in German. The rest is history!
Q: In 1983, your cover version of the single "Puttin' on the Ritz" had worldwide success. Why did you decide that you would record a cover of this song as your first single?
Taco: At that time, I composed and sang rock, soul and blues songs. To get away from the German pop image, I had to come up with a radical new image. And with the new electro pop movement, I combined the American song book with new wave beats which found very little acceptance when it was first released.
"Puttin' on the Ritz" was originally written by the legendary Irving Berlin in 1929 and was introduced in the film of the same name in 1930. The term means to dress very fashionably and is inspired by the Ritz Hotel. Taco's 1983 version of the song became a hit in over 40 countries including the U.S. where it would peak at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September of that year. Originally recorded in 1981, this surprising success was triggered when MTV picked up the video which showcased Taco's distinctive look and performance he had perfected in the supper clubs. The unlikely hit ended up becoming one of the biggest songs of 1983. Here is the music video for "Puttin' on the Ritz" by Taco...
Q: Did you feel you had something special there back then when you recorded "Puttin' on the Ritz"? Could you have ever anticipated the worldwide success it would have? Did you expect it to even get radio airplay in the U.S.?
Taco: No way, it took us all by surprise!
Q: You added some parts of other Irving Berlin songs (like "White Christmas," "Gotta Dance" and "There's No Business Like Show Business" among others) to your version. Was this intended as a tribute to Irving Berlin? Did you ever get to find out Berlin's reaction to your version?
Taco: The original "Ritz" version we recorded, contained a multitude of tributes to Broadway hits until we were notified that Mr. Berlin's songs may under no circumstance be mixed with other composers' compositions. I think that made the end result only better. Years later, I was very fortunate to be able to speak to Mr. Berlin on the phone and he told me how much he liked our version of his song.
Q: A great song can certainly be timeless. How do you explain that a song which was over 50 years old could become a highly charting pop hit?
Taco: It was the combination of the old material with the modern sounds of the Eighties.
Q: Do you attribute some of the song's success to MTV playing the music video regularly on its channel?
Taco: Definitely! I owe MTV a huge amount of the success, and it gave us the freedom to not have to travel and be present everywhere around the world anymore.
Q: How did things change for you after this song's incredible success? Were you prepared for all of the attention?
Taco: Since the song didn't really hit it off when we first released it, I got acclimated to its success very slowly, keeping me quite down to earth to this very day. Life has been a rollercoaster ride ever since!
Q: When you have a mega hit song like that, do you (or did you) ever get sick of playing it?
Taco: No, because as an actor, I take on a new approach each time I perform it, varying the arrangement and tempo over the years.
Q: What are your feelings about the song today?
Taco: Today "Ritz" is like a past lover, one that always lingers on your mind and makes you feel young again.
Q: What is personally your favorite version of this song originally written in 1929?
Taco: My very favorite version is that of Clark Gable in Idiot's Delight .
The song has been covered many times and has appeared in several films. In addition to its use in the 1930 film of the same name, "Puttin' on the Ritz" would go on to be performed by Gable in 1939's Idiot's Delight. The version that probably best popularized the song was performed by Fred Astaire in 1946's Blue Skies. Other than Taco's version, I have always been partial to the hilarious performance by Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle in the 1974 Mel Brooks film Young Frankenstein. Here is video of the performance that Taco preferred best, Clark Gable in Idiot's Delight...
Q: You note as one of career highlights being meeting the Reagan's at the Whitehouse. How did that opportunity come about? What do you remember about the experience?
Taco: My American manager at that time was friends with Gail Burt, Mrs. Reagan's private secretary. She organized an unforgettable day for us at the White House with lunch included and a letter of gratitude from Mr. Reagan personally to top it all.
Q: Your follow-up single "Singin' in the Rain" and your subsequent albums did not have success with the U.S. audience. Why do you feel that your other work never seemed to register with the U.S. audience again?
Taco: It has a lot to do with record company politics. I was signed to a publishing company and not to RCA directly at that time. And to prolong a continuous career in the States would have meant moving and living in America which I was not willing to do back then.
Q: I don't look at the term "one-hit wonder" as a negative because it is one more hit than most artists ever get to have. You have had more success outside the U.S., but here you are considered a "one-hit wonder." What are your feelings about that moniker? Are you proud of your big U.S. hit?
Taco: Of course I'm very proud and grateful for the success I have had. I love my job and have turned my hobby into a career. It has been so rewarding to see so many different places and meet so many interesting people. I can look back on a truly fulfilled life and that's what counts.
Q: Some 80s pop superstars "run away" from the 80s and some embrace the success and fans from that decade. How do you personally deal with and keep the 80s alive and in perspective?
Taco: Funny enough, it's the TV shows around the globe, the many remembrance and tribute shows that keep us 80s artists working. I, for instance, just did a couple of TV performances in Russia. And I sing in front of three generations nowadays!
Q: After well over three decades in the business, from your perspective, how has the music industry changed over that time?
Taco: It's gone from a cozy family feeling to an anonymous fast lane business.
Q: What else is Taco Ockerse up to now? Musically and otherwise?
Taco: I've worked on screenplays, still write songs, do commercials and perform my swing and soul show with my band. In my free time, I'm a regular house and garden fan, entertaining my hobbies.
I am so pleased that Taco took the time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. I need to send special thanks to his manager, Roland "RoCo" Colerus for helping to coordinate the interview. Please be sure to visit Taco's official website www.taco.tc/ to find out more about what he has been up to. I want to take this opportunity to again thank Taco Ockerse for his contributions to 80s pop culture with "Puttin' on the Ritz" and, even more, for sharing his memories with us here as well. And remember, "If you're blue and you don't know where to go to, why don't you go where fashion sits..."
That's the end of another special issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks as always for reading and hope you are enjoying the interviews as much as I am. If you want a summary of all of my Back to the 80s Interviews posted thus far, please click on that link. If you are interested in reading any of my other 80s related issues, please click there for a summary of those. You can also always click on the Archives in the upper left hand column or use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. Even if you are not a Facebook member yet, please consider joining and registering as a fan at that page. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. Let other 80s fans know about it as well! Peace and much love.
Check this out: Here's a little story that certainly is not new, but does me well to remind myself of the message every once in a while (plus it comes with a little humor too)...
A professor stood before his Philosophy 101 class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was. The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He then asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous - - yes. The professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and proceeded to pour the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed. "Now," said the professor, as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things - - your family, your partner, your health, your children, your friends, your favorite passions - - things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full." "The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else - - the small stuff." "If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out dancing. Play another 18. There will always be time for me to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal." "Take care of the golf balls first - - the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand." One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the beer represented. The professor smiled. "I'm glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of beers!!"
Quote of the day: "I don't care how old I live; I just want to be LIVING while I am living!" -Jack LaLanne
As I say each time, I am simply overjoyed that interviews are something I have finally made a regular part of this little blog of mine! When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the 80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.
This time that awesomeness is Alan Metter. He is the director of several films during the 80s and 90s, most notable being 1986's Back to School starring Rodney Dangerfield. He also directed Dangerfield's 1983 music video for "Rappin' Rodney" as well as the films Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1985) and Moving (1988) among others. You will find out some details behind the making of those films and more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Alan Metter...
Q: When and how did you discover that you first wanted to be a filmmaker? How did that opportunity finally come your way to do so?
Alan: Mine was a path of least resistance career. It began in advertising at Doyle Dane Bernbach. I took the skills learned there to the music business, creating ad campaigns -- mostly print and radio. Soon I was doing the occasional 30-second television spot for acts like ELO, Olivia Newton-John and Steve Martin (for whom I was also writing comedy material). This soon led to music videos, beginning before the dawn of MTV. I also did a documentary for Olivia's movie, Xanadu, which was produced by Larry Gordon. Larry liked my work and lobbied on my behalf with New World Pictures, for whom I made my first picture, Girls Just Want To Have Fun. For me, overnight success took fifteen years.
Q: How would you describe your directing style and priorities?
Alan: Every decision I make is for the audience, "Where do they want to be at this moment -- what's the next thing they need to see/hear?" It's all about storytelling. I look at directing as a contract with the audience.
Q: You had a big success with Rodney Dangerfield's "Rappin' Rodney" video in 1983. How did you get hooked up with Dangerfield? What were your roles in creating the video? What memories do you have from shooting the video?
Alan: Rodney and I had the same lawyer and he put us together. It's funny, but when Estelle Endler, his manager, took me to meet him she spent most of the car ride "preparing" me, saying things like, "No matter how difficult the talent may be, it's worth it to work with them" and, "When you talk to the press, nothing is off the record." I thought I was meeting Ahmadinejad. I wrote the video and then produced and directed it. At the time it was the highest budget I'd ever had for a video, so we had plenty of time to shoot it, three days I think, maybe four. Cameraman Tom Ackerman (who later shot Girls Just Want to Have Fun and Back To School for me) and I studied the scene in Heaven Can Wait trying to figure out how to do our white-on-white heaven and in the end I think ours looked even better. "Rappin' Rodney" was choreographed by Billy Goodson, who was one of the dancers in "Beat It" [Michael Jackson video]. It was the first film he'd ever done and he was just great to work with. It was a big hit. Rodney started bringing projection equipment on the road and used the video as his opening act. No "Rappin' Rodney," no Back To School for me!
I have always been a huge fan of Rodney, but this song was pushing it a little too far. It includes some of Rodney's best punch lines from his act, but with a chorus and some background singers. Believe it or not, the single broke into the Billboard Hot 100 and reached #89. Watch for cameos in the video from Fr. Guido Sarducci and Pat Benatar. Here is the music video for "Rappin' Rodney" by Rodney Dangerfield...
Q: How did the opportunity to direct 1985's Girls Just Want to Have Fun come your way?
Alan: I had a hit on MTV with "Rappin' Rodney". My music videos were little stories and, thus, suggested me for movie making. In 1983, the studio spotlight swung to wildly successful MTV and I was there. My work with Steve Martin helped too. I had a lot of support from Larry Gordon (whose kids were friends with my son -- nepotism?) and from Bill McEuen, Steve Matin's manager at the time. In Hollywood, you need credentialed believers because studio executives are insecure by nature.
Girls Just Want to Have Fun was the feature film directorial debut for Alan Metter. The film stars Sarah Jessica Parker as "Janey" who is new in town and meets "Lynne" played by Helen Hunt, who shares her passion for dancing in general and the show "Dance TV" in particular. When a competition is announced to find a new Dance TV regular couple, both girls are determined to audition despite the disapproval of Janey's father. The film also stars Jonathan Silverman and Lee Montgomery. Here's the original trailer for Girls Just Want to Have Fun...
Q: How was your experience working with young Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt in early starring roles for each of them? Did you anticipate at that point that either was destined for stardom?
Alan: Actually, I did believe that both young Sarah-Jessica and young Helen were destined for big things. Each had already done some high profile work. And they were so talented, skilled and professional. Such nice kids, too. Who was going to stop them?!
Q: Please discuss the challenges involved in directing choreographed dancing scenes. I read that you brought in the same coaches that worked with the gymnasts that did Kevin Bacon's stunts in Footloose. With the dance contest being such a focal point of the film, were you ultimately happy with what ended up on the screen? How much of the dancing is being done by the actors themselves?
Alan: If our coaches worked on Footloose, I'm not aware of it. Of course I had watched Footloose many times studying how far I could go with the doubles -- the lighting, the wigs, the size of the shots, rapidity of the cutting, etc. Neither Sarah-Jess nor Helen were trained dancers (how many skills can you acquire at 18?!), so doubles had to be used. When our choreographer presented us with his routines for the final dance contest, the villains were way better than our heroes, so gymnastics were added to make the story believable. Our producer, Chuck Russell, was friends with Chuck Gaylord (Olympic gold medalist Mitch Gaylord's brother) and he was hired to save us. The actors danced in their close-ups. Was I happy with what ended up on the screen? I was happy the audience bought it!
Q: Despite a natural based on the title and the song's popularity, Cyndi Lauper's version of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" was not used in this film due to licensing restrictions. A cover version by a few unknown singers was used instead. Any specific reason why that decision was made?
Alan: Low budget film making.
Q: Were you pleased with the final film that you created? Any other interesting stories you can share with us about filming Girls Just Want to Have Fun?
Alan: Again, so many. As any virgin will tell you, the first time isn't easy and it's not without considerable pressure. This said, I think everyone had a pretty good time. The vibe on the set was good and I've always believed that this gets on the screen somehow. We have all the usual war stories. I remember Robert Downey coming to the set when he was done for the day filming Weird Science with John Hughes. He was Sarah-Jessica's boyfriend and they must have been fighting at the time. She would come to the set to film a fun/funny scene with her mascara running down her face. I would say, "Please Robert, stop making my star cry!"
Next up for Metter was 1986's Back to School starring Rodney Dangerfield as millionaire businessman "Thornton Melon." In a misguided effort to prevent his son from dropping out of college, Dangerfield's character offers to join him at school. Once there, not surprisingly, he prefers partying to studying. After narrowly avoiding being flunked out of school, he even saves the day for his son's diving team by performing the impossible dive. The film also stars Sally Kellerman, Burt Young, Sam Kinison, Ned Beatty, Keith Gordon, William Zabka and Robert Downey, Jr. among others. The movie was a huge success and grossed over $100 million. Here is the original trailer for Back to School...
Q: How did the opportunity to direct 1986's Back to School come your way? How far along was the film before you were brought on to direct? How was the experience of working again with and directing Rodney Dangerfield? Does one actually direct Rodney or do you just get out of the way letting him do his thing? He is the king of the one liner. Does he do a lot of improvising or does he stick to the script?
Alan: I had worked with Rodney before. There was a draft of the script when I came on board, but most of it was scrapped when we got Harold Ramis to complete the job. And yes, one directs Rodney -- maybe more than any other actor I ever worked with. The movie required that we deal out "the act" and "the actor" in carefully considered situations and I worked very closely with him on this. Of course he had the act down, "Can I pop my eyes on this line?" Actually his acting instincts were very good, he just needed encouragement. His line readings could be a bit erratic, however. So sometimes we went line-by-line in the close-ups, which took the cut out of the editors' hands, because the only usable performance of a line of dialog happened in a specific shot. As you'd expect, Rodney put a lot of jokes in the movie. I encouraged him to improvise during blocking rehearsals and we added what worked, setting it in stone before we began to shoot the scene. I often sent him off to the make-up trailer, asking him for an additional joke for this or for that spot in a scene where none had been written. He never let me down.
Q: How much creative control were you given?
Alan: Orion Pictures was unique. I was given complete creative control. I chose the cast, reading the key players with Rodney, who introduced me to Sam [Kinison] the night I got the job (Rodney was in awe of Sam).
My biggest hurdle was getting Rodney to trust me. When I was done in the editing room, he made me send a cassette of the movie to his cousin Leonard in Florida for final approval. I believe Leonard is the first dentist in history to have final cut on a major motion picture!
Q: You have to have some funny stories you can share about filming with Rodney.
Alan: Once again, so many. Only some of them I can repeat. Like when we rehearsed the "Twist and Shout" scene and the dancer swung her leg up over his head, giving him quite a view of her crotch. When the playback stopped, he turned to me in front of everyone and asked, "What if I fall in love in the middle of the kick?!" As you can imagine there were a lot of these.
Q: This cast was filled with some great characters. There are two that I want to ask you about in particular. First, the best 80s bully there is, William Zabka. He is perfect as "Chas"; what do you have to say about working with Zabka? Second, what do you have to say about working with Robert Downey, Jr.? Could you tell he had the makings of an outstanding actor back then?
Alan: William Zabka is a talented, nice guy. Very easy to work with. I felt that casting him in essentially the same role he played in Karate Kid was a bit of a cop-out on my part, however. But I played it safe. I met Downey through Sara-Jessica. They used to come over my house and take my eleven year old son, Julian, on outings to Melrose Ave. I don't think Robert had enough to do in his small buddy role in Back To School. It was pretty one dimensional, beneath him in many ways. To tell you the truth I probably wouldn't have cast him as Chaplin based on his performance in my movie. Shows you how little I know!
Q: Oingo Boingo makes an appearance in the film and performs their outstanding song "Dead Man's Party". How were they chosen to be in that scene and how was that particular song chosen to be part of the soundtrack?
Alan: Ha! Producer Chuck Russell (a worrier) was horrified when I picked that song to appear in the movie. I think he was afraid Rodney might die before the movie came out! Danny [Elfman] had done the score (his first) for Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, which was produced by a friend of mine who sent me a tape. I signed Danny for Back to School immediately. No one had heard his music yet. Unlike most studios, Orion simply took my word for it.
In addition to doing the score for the film, Danny Elfman appears with his band Oingo Boingo. Here is the scene from the film featuring Oingo Boingo...
Q: I have to ask about the "Triple Lindy" dive. Who came up with the actual silly dive itself? How long did it take to film and were there any challenges?
Alan: The Triple Lindy was the vision of writer Michael Elias, who I met on a television special for Steve Martin. He was talking with Rodney about the diving horse act on the boardwalk in Atlantic City in the 40s. Suddenly he said, "Hey, why don't you do an impossible dive...The Triple Lindy..." I knew immediately I had struck gold. What an idea! Rodney's sport had been swimming before this, which gave me pause. I knew diving was an event even out-of-shape Rodney could finish! Because of the tight schedule, I made the shots with Rodney and our editor, David Rollins, shot the double in one day with a second unit (thus the inconsistency in the light, if you look at it again). When I showed it to Rodney, we shook our heads in agreement that this might be the dumbest joke ever put on film. He loved it!
Here is "Thornton Melon" performing the Triple Lindy dive...
Q: What are your feelings regarding the final film that you created? Can you share any other interesting stories about filming Back to School?
Alan: Well, I didn't realize it at the time, but it turned out to be the highlight of my career (which is over by the way). Right now, I'm writing a book with lots of anecdotal lunacy in it. So if you want more you'll have to shell out!
Q: Your 80s films included some good music choices. Can you discuss your thoughts on the importance of music in your films, how you choose the songs and the challenges of getting/affording the rights?
Alan: As I mentioned before, I came up in the music business, so I had an advantage in this area. My cousin Linda Goldner, a very gifted music publisher, helped me get the songs together for Back to School. She supervised the recordings, too. I think that Danny Elfman's main title theme music sets up the audience -- gives the movie an authority I could only have dreamed of. Music is very important.
Q: How did the opportunity to direct 1988's Moving come your way? Were you a fan of Richard Pryor going into the project?
Alan: I was in demand after Back to School. Moving came to me with Steve Martin attached and I expressed interest. While my agent at CAA was making the deal with Warner Bros., Steve dropped out to do Planes, Trains and Automobiles and I ended up making it with Richard [Pryor]. Of course I was a huge fan of Pryor, but his health was failing by this time, so it was a tough mountain to climb. I think it has its moments, though.
Moving stars Richard Pryor as "Arlo Pear" who has to move his family from New Jersey to Idaho after losing his job. This creates many amusing moments in this film written by Andy Breckman. Here is the original trailer for Moving...
Q: How was it working with the great Richard Pryor? To me, he was certainly one of the funniest people I have ever seen in my lifetime.
Alan: Richard was one of the funniest people who ever lived. Stand-ups can be difficult to direct, because their hard won persona is always being evaluated by them against their character in the film. But he was sweet and tried to give me everything I asked for.
Q: There were some other interesting cast members in Moving, too. What can you say about working with Randy Quaid? How about Dana Carvey? Anything you particularly remember about Morris Day and King Kong Bundy?
Alan: I did two films with Randy. He's a monumentally talented actor, very deep. A couple of times I was so mesmerized watching him, I'd forget to say "cut" after the take was over. Regarding Dana Carvey, there was simply no one better for "the guy with eight personalities." We threw away the script for his scenes and just let him improvise. It was so much fun! I remember Morris Day surprised me with his considerable acting skills and King Kong Bundy (producer Stuart Cornfeld's suggestion) should have won an Academy Award...for his looks alone!
Q: It was not an 80s film per se, but Police Academy started in the 80s. You directed the 7th installment in 1994's Mission to Moscow. It did not have Steve Guttenberg or a few others, but it did still have the hilarious group of Michael Winslow, David Graf, Leslie Easterbrook, George Gaynes and G.W. Bailey. How was your experience working with that group of very funny people? Were you a fan of the original or the earlier 80s sequels?
Alan: The cast was great to work with, especially the consummate actor (and all around great guy), G.W. Bailey. I was a fan of the first one only (and that includes my #7).
Q: On 1998's Billboard Dad, you worked with the Olsen twins who are best remembered from the 80s TV series Full House. How was your experience working with Mary-Kate and Ashley?
Alan: They are the sweetest girls. They learned to walk and talk in front of cameras, so they're probably the most experienced actors I ever worked with. The way they deliver lines always reminded me of John Wayne --LOL -- how's that for a comparison?!
Q: You directed the made-for-TV The Growing Pains Movie in 2000. This was catching up with the Seaver family from the popular 80s sitcom. How was this experience? Did you feel any special responsibility telling the tale of these beloved TV characters?
Alan: Well, I wasn't about to tell the cast of this iconic sitcom how to play their characters. I was pretty much a mechanic on this picture.
Q: That Growing Pains movie is the last project you officially directed. What has Alan Metter been up to more recently? Filmmaking or otherwise?
Alan: I'm happily retired, traveling and enjoying new grand-fatherhood. I'm also writing a book about my Hollywood experiences and the wilder side of film making. It will be primarily aimed at film students.
I am very grateful that Alan took the time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. I will certainly be anxious to read his book when that gets published. Back to School is an underrated comedy and certainly a much-loved film for many from that decade. I want to take this opportunity to again thank Alan Metter for his contributions to 80s pop culture through both film and music videos and, even more, for sharing his recollections with us here as well.
That'll do it for another special issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks as always for reading and hope you are enjoying the interviews as much as I am. If you want a summary of all of my Back to the 80s Interviews posted thus far, please click on that link. If you are interested in reading any of my other 80s related issues, please click there for a summary of those. You can also always click on the Archives in the upper left hand column or use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. Even if you are not a Facebook member yet, please consider joining and registering as a fan at that page. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. Let other 80s fans know about it as well! Peace and much love.
Check this out: Have you heard of www.teefury.com ? They sell a new limited-edition t-shirt every day for just 24 hours for only $9. You have to stop by daily to see what the new design offered will be. They often have a humorous pop culture slant to them like this one which brings together two 80s classics, Return of the Jedi and Ghostbusters. It has Admiral Ackbar dressed in a Ghostbusters uniform holding up a ghost trap implying his famous line, "It's a trap!" This one is not available anymore, but bringing these two icons together made it worth sharing the design with you anyways...
Quote of the day: "I have only one thing to say to you today... it's a jungle out there. You gotta look out for number one. But don't step in number two! And so, to all you graduates, as you go out into the world my advice to you is... don't go! It's rough out there. Move back with your parents. Let them worry about it!" - Rodney Dangerfield as "Thornton Melon" in Back to School (1986) during his commencement speech at graduation
As I say each time, I am just thrilled that interviews are something I have finally made a regular part of this little blog of mine! When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the 80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.
This time that awesomeness is Marcus "DJ Marcus T" Thompson. He is a founding member of the group Timex Social Club which had a huge hit in 1986 with the song "Rumors." The group also included Michael Marshall, Alex Hill and Kevin Moore. "Rumors" is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and I wanted to help commemorate that with all of you. You'll find out about the long road the song took before being released and why Timex Social Club had such a short run as we get on to some selections from my interview with Marcus Thompson...
Q: Before Timex Social Club, how did you personally get your start in music? When did you start to DJ?
Marcus: Before Timex Social Club, I was a mobile DJ. My mom bought me my first DJ mixer from Radio Shack and I received it as a Christmas present in 1980. I was a sophomore in high school. My focus back then was Funk, soul and Rap music and I was a huge Prince fan. I sang mainly in choirs, but I was not a rapper at all.
Q: You formed Timex Social Club in 1982 when you were still at Bay area Berkeley High School. You are considered the founder, so what was your role in forming the group and personally within the Timex Social Club? What were your original plans/goals for your group?
Marcus: Yes, I am the founder of Timex Social Club. Wow, let's see, I wore so many hats in the group. I was the group leader. I created the name and concept. I introduced Alex [Hill] to Michael [Marshall]. I was the choreographer for the group. Background vocals, producer and arranger. I was also the one who insisted that we copyright our songs with the library of congress and most importantly, I wrote the lyrics to our hit "Rumors."
Our goal was to write songs just for fun. Personally, I really never thought that we'd ever be signed to any record label. We were just having fun writing and recording. Since we did not have money for real studio time, we recorded on 4-track cassette mini studios at home. Our plan was to just make tapes for our friends and to play our original songs at the parties where we DJ'd. Remember, this was the early 80s. Indie labels were not really a factor or force in the music business back then.
Q: What is the meaning and/or story behind the group name, Timex Social Club?
Marcus: Well, there is really no deep meaning behind the name Timex Social Club. I was a huge Prince fan back then and the band The Time. I had a group of friends in high school and we needed a name to go by, so I picked Timex, because it was similar to the Time's name. The name Social Club came from me seeing actual social clubs in the bay area, places were these old guys would hang out, kinda like men's clubs. So one day I said, "Timex + Social Club," yeah, that sounds great. I remember that the rest of the guys did not like that name at first.
Timex Social Club hit it big with the 1986 single "Rumors." The song traveled a long road before becoming a hit. They wrote it back in 1983, but did not get the opportunity to actually record it until January 3, 1986. It was released on February 2nd and would break into the Billboard Black Singles chart at #83 on April 26th. It would reach the #1 position on that chart on July 19th (for 2 weeks) as well as the #1 position on the Billboard Hot Dance chart (for 3 weeks). "Rumors" even made an impressive showing on the Billboard Hot 100 peaking at #8 in August making it one of the most popular songs of 1986. Here is the music video for "Rumors" by Timex Social Club...
Q: Take us back to when you actually wrote the song back in 1983 (along with Michael Marshall & Alex Hill). What is the back story of how "Rumors" was conceived and written? How long did it take to write? Was any of it written about people you knew?
Marcus: It took me about two hours to write the lyrics to the song. Funny story, the song actually has four verses to it. We dropped the last verse to make it radio friendly. I wrote it about high school life at Berkeley High School. That was the high school we all went to. As for the characters in the song: Michael refers to Michael Jackson (King of Pop), Tina refers to Tina Jackson (she was a student at Berkeley High School at the time), and Susan refers to Susan Moonsie (of Vanity 6).
I wrote it while I was at work. Back then, I was a night security guard. I really wanted Michael [Marshall] to sing the song, so I went over to his house and sang it to him and let him read the lyrics. He liked it right away and agreed to sing on the demo.
Then we took it to Alex [Hill]. Alex had a small mini studio in his apartment in Oakland. When Alex heard us sing the song, he also liked it. From there, we started working on the music for the song. A few weeks later, we had a rough demo. We kept working on the song over the next year or so. We had so many versions of "Rumors," it was crazy (remixes, dub versions, radio edits, etc.). The beginning keyboard riff was an accident. Alex was playing around one day and did that as a joke and Michael and I loved it so much, we told him it had to be in the song. So that's why the song begins that way.
Q: You did not get the attention of a producer until 1985. How did you hook up with Jay King?
Marcus: Correct, it was December of 1985 when things really started happening for us. A few months earlier, I met Jesse Johnson of the group The Time. I gave him our demo tape, but he never called us. My brother Darryl (the artist that created the cover of Rumors 12") knew Jay King from Anchorage, Alaska and gave him our demo tape. King called me a few days later and we recorded "Rumors" on January 3, 1986. King's record company Jay Records funded the project.
Q: Did you feel you had something special there back then when you recorded it? Could you have ever anticipated the success it would have?
Marcus: Well, to tell you the truth, since the song was 3 years old by the time we actually made it to a 24-track studio, I was not as excited about it as I was about some of our newer songs. The song sounded bigger and cleaner than our 4-track demo. We brought in a Linn drum to give more kick to the 808 that was on the demo, but the song sounded the same. Just getting to the recording studio was the real special moment. I thought we had a 50/50 chance of it getting airplay. I guess when I think back, I really did not anticipate it going #1. I would have been just as happy if it just got on the radio and sold a few copies in the stores. The success that "Rumors" had was more than a dream come true.
Q: By May of 1986, the song was being played on urban radio stations across the country. How did it feel the first time you heard "Rumors" on the radio?
Marcus: Wow, I'll tell ya, hearing "Rumors" on the radio for the very first time was just outstanding. I really cannot describe the feeling. I screamed when I first heard it. Even when I hear it today, I still get a little choked up.
Q: Shortly after that, it was picked up by pop stations and even impressively made it to the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. How did things change for you personally and for Timex Social Club, both good and bad, after this song's incredible success? Were you prepared for all of the attention?
Marcus: Changes did occur, lots of them. Fame happened. We started earning money for performances. That was the biggest change, because up until then, we were doing shows for free. The first thing I bought with my advance was better recording equipment. Money would ultimately also be the reason for our break up.
No, we were not prepared for the success and attention that surrounded us. Things got real crazy, real fast. Michael had a manager, but Kevin, Alex and I did not have one. We were self-managed.
Q: When you have a mega hit song like that, do you (or did you) ever get sick of playing it? What are your feelings about the song today?
Marcus: Nope, I never get tired of playing or performing the song. I'm just happy that people still like it and want to hear it. I had a guy tell me one time that "Rumors" changed his life (for the better). I'm still in awe of that statement; I mean, how can a song change a person's life? Oh well. When I was writing it, all I wanted to do was make people get up and dance.
Back in the summer of 1986, Run-DMC was on top of the world after the crossover success of their Raising Hell album. The legendary tour for that album has to go down as one of the best in Rap music history. In addition to Run-DMC headlining, you also had LL Cool J, The Beastie Boys, Whodini and Timex Social Club. That's right, Russell Simmons chose Timex Social Club to join that impressive roster. The tour was unfortunately marred by violence, particularly fights between rival street gangs, and riots in several cities.
Q: Timex Social Club opened for Run-DMC on the Raising Hell tour in the Summer of 1986. What do you remember about that experience? Did you get to hang out with Run, D & Jay much? What can you tell us about those three legends?
Marcus: Oh my god, the Raising Hell tour was so much fun! There will never be another tour like that again. It was an all male tour, no females at all. We were wild! We did anything we wanted to do. If you can think it, we did it on that tour. The rap riots in multiple cities were crazy. Long Beach, St. Louis, New York. Wow! What a summer. The best show was New York; I remember we sold out Madison Square Garden! Does it get better than that?
Jam Master Jay was like a big brother to us. He was the first performer we met at the first show. He really looked out for us and I was so angry when he was shot. RIP. The Beastie Boys were the craziest group. They would trash their dressing rooms on a regular basis. They even trashed ours on occasion. Dorks! LOL
Q: Any stories you remember and can share from the tour?
Marcus: Tour stories? Yeah, I have 100 of them. One story is about the Beastie Boys, one night they flooded our dressing room. While we were onstage, they emptied the ice and water buckets from all of the food containers. When we got back, we stepped into a flood of water all over the floor of our dressing room. We could hear them laughing next door. They admitted they did it.
Q: During the tour, why was Michael Marshall suddenly replaced by Fred "Buz" Busby as lead singer? What caused this decision and did it cause tensions within the group?
Marcus: Well, let's see if I can sum that up for ya. After Michael's manager gave the rest of us his new salary demands, we decided to rejoin the Raising Hell tour sans Michael. We auditioned new singers and Fred was chosen. Fred was never signed to Danya Records, he only replaced Michael on the second leg of the Raising Hell tour. Yes, we all made the decision to hire a replacement singer for the tour. Yes, it caused a lot of tension and ultimately added to the break up. Michael has always been the lead singer of the group, we never fired him.
Q: Please describe the circumstances surrounding the break up of Timex Social Club in 1987. How can a group with a hit song that popular just disintegrate that quickly?
Marcus: Well, just like a lot of bands, we had a dispute over money and percentages. During the Raising Hell tour, Michael's manager demanded that we pay him more money than the rest of the group members were getting. He wanted Michael to receive 50% leaving the rest of us to split the other 50% three ways. Kevin, Alex and I did not go along with his manager's demands, because our verbal agreement was an equal 25% split of all monies. We took a vote and replaced Michael with singer Fred Busby and completed the remaining dates on the tour. Ultimately, we asked for a release a few months later and it was granted. This left Michael as a solo act. Alex and I did not write or produce any tracks on the album Vicious Rumors nor were we in any of the videos. Our only contribution was to the Jay Records version of "Rumors."
Q: In the video, Michael Marshall gets all the face time. Who came up with the video's concept? How come you and the rest of the guys don't appear in the video?
Marcus: For the video, I do not know who came up with the concept. Kevin, Alex and I were in the process of getting our release from the label when they were shooting it, so we do not appear in it at all.
Q: Are you proud of what you created as Timex Social Club? Any regrets about those times? Do you wish that you could have found a way to keep it going back then?
Marcus: Oh yeah, I am very proud of Timex Social Club and I really do not have regrets. I mean everything that happened is part of our story, our history. There were a lot more sunny days, than dark days. I really had a lot of fun and it was a first class education about the music business.
As far as trying to keep it going? Well, with any relationship, if one person is not happy, what do you really get out of trying to make them stay? I mean, they have to want to be there to make it work. So I really feel that even if we were able to make Michael's management happy for a few years, there would have been other demands made that would have ultimately disbanded the group, so I was happy things happened right away.
Q: How does "Rumors" actually appear on a Greatest Hits compilation album for the band Club Nouveau? I assume it has something to do with the Jay King connection (who went on to form Club Nouveau and have a #1 hit with a cover of "Lean On Me").
Marcus: You see, we never signed a recording agreement with Jay Records, so in May of 1986 we were approached by Danya and signed with them. Danya tried to buy the master recording of "Rumors" [from Jay King] but I guess the price was too steep, so King still has it and re-released it on that compilation. The surprising thing was that the artist name now says Club Nouveau, but folks know it's Timex Social Club. You'd need to ask him how that occurred.
Q: Some 80s pop superstars "run away" from the 80s and some embrace the success and fans from that decade. How do you personally deal with and keep the 80s alive and in perspective?
Marcus: I love the 80s! I really never left. I keep waiting for VH-1 to email me, so I can be in their show Best of the 80s. But seriously, I have a very large music collection and I really only listen to the older stuff. In my car, I listen to the old school station on XM satellite radio. Some of the newer music is okay, but I just cannot deal with the lyrical content, all of the profanity. I still DJ parties and I play Old School music exclusively and my clients love it.
Q: After over three decades in the business, from your perspective, how has the music industry changed over that time? And how do you see the future?
Marcus: Well, it's all digital now. I'll try not to sound like an old man. LOL. I'll just point to the obvious three inventions: 1. The personal computer 2. MP3 technology 3. The internet. Anyone with ambition, a Mac book and internet access is a songwriter these days. It's all changed since I was writing. I heard DMC from Run-DMC say once that the radio is now controlled by 12-19 year olds. He said that most of the hit songs are written by them these days. Yeah, a hit can be written by a 12-year-old, but today's child prodigies are a far cry from little Stevie Wonder. Give them Garage Band and a weekend to play around and they will come up with a nice song or what they call beats.
I really cannot imagine what the future holds, I'm hopeful that consumers will want more substance in their music and will gravitate to the more talented writers out there.
Q: Is it true that you and Michael Marshall have reunited as Timex Social Club again. Do you ever foresee creating new music as Timex Social Club again?
Marcus: Actually, we are still working things out. We have yet to do a show together, but when we do, it will be like old times.
Q: Tell us a little about Rumor Radio.
Marcus: Ah, Rumor Radio is a show I created to interview my friends. I have a lot of creative friends. Some musical, some in other areas of the arts. I wanted to have a show were I would have them tell me about the things they do and the process. I also have been able to ask them questions that I have not been able to in person. It's really fun and I enjoy it. The link to Rumor Radio is: www.blogtalkradio.com/rumor-radio.
Q: What else is Marcus Thompson up to now? Musically and otherwise?
Marcus: Well, I'm working on a few books. The first book will contain the lyrics, stories and poems I have written from 1982-2010. The second book is the story of Timex Social Club. The third book will be the best of Rumor Radio including transcripts and insights on the interviews I've done over the years. Besides being a husband and father, I've also returned to DJing. I do clubs, private parties and corporate events. My website for that is: www.oldskooldjs.com
I am very happy that Marcus took the time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. You can follow what's happening with Timex Social Club at their official website www.timexsocialclub.com. I want to take this opportunity to again thank DJ Marcus T for his contribution to 80s pop culture with "Rumors" and for doing a little reminiscing with us here for a little while as well. I still can't believe it's been 25 years since "Rumors" came out.
That's all for another special issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks as always for reading and hope you are enjoying the interviews as much as I am. If you want a summary of all of my Back to the 80s Interviews posted thus far, please click on that link. If you are interested in reading any of my other 80s related issues, please click there for a summary of those. You can also always click on the Archives in the upper left hand column or use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. Even if you are not a Facebook member yet, please consider joining and registering as a fan at that page. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. Let other 80s fans know about it as well! Peace and much love.
Check this out: The SNL Digital Shorts are only funny about a third of the time, but when they are funny they are usually really funny. In case you missed it, here is the new SNL Digital Short featuring Pee-Wee Herman (as well as some members of his Playhouse and Anderson Cooper, too)...
Quote of the day: "That old law about an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing." -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As I say each time, I am sincerely delighted that interviews are something I have finally made a regular part of this little blog of mine! When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the 80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.
This time that awesomeness is Martha Coolidge. She is probably best known to 80s fans as the director of Valley Girl (1983) and Real Genius (1985). She was a trailblazer by becoming a female director of feature films at a time when that was almost unheard of. Not only did she help make those two 80s favorites, but she has gone on to an extremely accomplished and award-winning career as a director highlighted by a term as president of the Directors' Guild of America, such films as Rambling Rose (1991) and Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999) among many others and most recently on the popular television series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. We like to focus on the 80s here and, to me and many others, it doesn't get much better than Valley Girl and Real Genius. You are certainly in for a treat in that regard as we get on to some selections from my interview with Martha Coolidge...
Q: I read that you were a professional singer and stage actor at one point in time. When and how did you discover that you first wanted to be a filmmaker? How did that opportunity come your way to do so?
Martha: When I was very young, my father had a hobby of making 8mm movies and using us kids as the actors. He edited them with a little set of rewinds at home. After he died when I was nine and the oldest of the three siblings, I became the "director". I assigned all the parts and actions to each character and played the lead. Even though without a camera, I was still the director. This came naturally to me. Not that much later, also emulating my father who sang in a madrigal group, I began singing seriously first in church choirs (and we didn't go to church), in school groups and finally as a solo singer with a guitar. By the time I was fifteen, I was singing in coffee houses in New Haven and at Hootenannies. I loved it and kept that up while joining the school theater groups and starting to perform. By senior year of high school, my natural discomfort acting on stage gave way to me trying out directing off stage and I found my calling. By this time, my slightly older friends, all lovers of foreign movies and American Independent films, (we had a great local art house plus got the big spectacle films first run) became enthralled with "filmmaking". I thought they were all crazy as it seemed so competitive. I went to RISD [Rhode Island School of Design] and in my first year came across a two-dimensional design teacher, Hardu Keck, who was in love with movies. So in class we made them: visually oriented, abstract and short but I got hooked. I continued to sing in clubs and Frat parties at Brown [University] and to perform as an actress in School plays, but by my second year I was a hard chore Avant-garde filmmaker. I became the first RISD film major by doing it as independent study within the Illustration Department, and I still dropped out before my senior year to take my films to New York and pursue my dream.
Long story short, I loved story and actors. I ended up as a special student at Columbia Grad Film School where I started working with scripts and actors, then applied to NYU Graduate Film School. Though I was told I "couldn't be a woman director because there weren't any," they accepted me. I took a year off to go work in TV and film in Canada and then returned to NYU where I earned my Masters Degree and worked on-and-off in commercials. At NYU, I started making documentaries due to lack of money and issues with the screenwriting teacher. There was a great respect for documentaries at that time and I had stories I wanted to tell that way. Later, when I was already a working filmmaker in New York, I completed my last year at RISD and got my BA.
By that time, I was aware of how impossible it was for women in Hollywood, so I stayed in New York like other women filmmakers of the time and made films independently. I moved into narrative filmmaking after having started the AIVF [Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers] and helping start the IFP [Independent Feature Project] and finally decided to go to Hollywood. It was a long road and that wasn't the end of it. It took years more but that is how I got to theatrical filmmaking from being a printmaker at RISD.
Q: You are often referred to as an "Actor's Director," so what do you feel you particularly do that gets you that recognition?
Martha: I believe that the consistently good performances that actors give in my films is the reason I'm called an "Actor's Director". I certainly made it my business to learn everything I could about all the techniques of acting and I haven't stopped. I always afford the actors a comfortable and creative working environment. And I present their best performances in editing and never let them look bad. But I consider this a normal part of a director's job description. Perhaps the title is more about the fact that some directors aren't as performance oriented as I am.
Ultimately being a good director is a unique combination of male and female qualities: You are a four star General, an inspirational leader and strategist as well as the most nurturing mother in the world. All good directors, men and women, have both these sides very well developed. We have to have a vision but we also must be good communicators to show people our vision and give them the confidence that we know what we are doing. We are mom and dad, boss and confidant and both men and women can be good at all aspects of directing, but not many have it all in spades.
Q: You have directed a lot of comedies, especially earlier in your career. Was this by choice or simply a case of where the best opportunities existed?
Martha: It's the big canvas pictures that made me want to direct film and, I guess when all is said and done and as happy and thankful as I am for my career, that part - that I haven't done pictures like that - is disappointing and something I still strive to do.
Comedy turned out to be something I had a knack for. I'm not a laugh riot as a person (unless you get me in a room with dry New Englanders) and I was never the class clown but I have an eye for funny: People, ideas, ironic situations, odd coincidences and characters and being able to direct comedy and different kinds of comedy has brought me great joy, and success.
Martha received what was to be her big break when she directed her first feature, Valley Girl. It was released in April of 1983 and would end up a huge success while also helping to launch the career of Nicolas Cage. The film is about a girl from the valley (played by Deborah Foreman) who meets a punk from the city (played by Cage). They are from different worlds and find love. Somehow she must decide whether her individuality and the boy she loves or the approval of her trendy, shallow friends is more important to her. Valley Girl is simply adored by many (especially girls) who grew up in the 80s and also happens to include an outstanding soundtrack. Here is the original trailer for Valley Girl...
Q: How did the opportunity to direct Valley Girl come your way? What (if any) preparation did you do on the subject matter before beginning production? How familiar were you with that lifestyle and manner of speaking?
Martha: Well, the irony about teen films is, though this is a youth oriented business, the filmmakers are never really teens so we are never really of that generation - if the film is contemporary. But I was uniquely prepared. I had just spent several years in the Rock n Roll clubs of Hollywood, New York and San Francisco while working on my film for Zoetrope so I really knew the new music scene. I knew the un-hip image the Valley had for both Hollywood dudes and movie people. When I was given the script by my friend, writer/producer Andrew Lane, I was pleased to see how instantaneously I "got" what the Hollywood "tribe" would be like, the dichotomy between them and the hippy parents and the label crazed Valley Girls. I also understood that the story was a funny take off on Romeo and Juliet. I helped Andy and Wayne [Crawford] craft the final script into a tight love story about romance, peer pressure and conformity vs. individuality.
I had always believed that our teenage years are the most dramatic (operatic) in our lives, so the drama was easy for me to understand. As for the "Val speak," I didn't know it (or surf jargon from whence it came) but I knew to research what was real. The cast and I went to visit, hang out and even work in Valley high schools and we did find out what was real and what was fabricated - like Moon Zappa's elaboration "gag me with a spoon." The real phrase is simply "gag me." So we never used the phrase from her song. I hired Sean Frye, a teenaged son of a movie Costume Designer, to create the punk Hollywood look - which was therefore authentic at the same time as original. All the music was from the scene I had gotten to know so well. I selected each song along with my great music supervisor, Michael Papale.
Q: Was the film always intended to be a love story? Are the Romeo and Juliet references/story line similarities intentional?
Martha: Even in the original script, the characters' names were Julie and Randy - yes, it was intentional and it was a love story. So I worked to bring it even more out front. I created a Valley look and sound (and values) and a Hollywood look and sound (and values). This heightened the stakes for Randy and Julie just as the differences between the families did in Romeo and Juliet. The parallels were always meant to be fun and not super serious, but were based on truthful observations about the local conflicts and real teen pressures. It's not about marriage, but about love and growing up and differentiating enough to love.
Q: The characters were so compelling and that all starts with Nicolas Cage as "Randy". I read that you both had to convince Cage that the film was right for him and the producers that he was the right guy for the part. What did you see in Cage that made you feel this relative unknown should be the star of your film? You must be proud of the success he has gone on to have since then.
Martha: Yes, I'm proud of him and very happy for the lucky sequence of events that led me to him. In his first audition/interview, it was obvious to me that he was perfect for Randy. He was shy and the producers weren't convinced that he had the looks to be a teen heart throb - but it was clear to me that he was fascinating, manly, boyish, funny and very talented. He was also sexy and attractive in a totally goofy way. The way that makes you want to take an actor home and take care of them. He came back in for the callback with Deborah [Foreman] and clinched the part. When I asked him to come back in I told him I was "going to make him a star." I don't know why I chose those words, but I did. Since then he has said, "It's all my (Martha's) fault!" Ha, ha. I did have to do some convincing with him as well since he was worried our shoot would interfere with his reshoots on Coppola's Rumble Fish in which he had a small part. I told him that "Francis was like family to me" and that I'd take care of that! I didn't know until I called Zoetrope that Nick's real name was Coppola!
Q: How was the experience of working with the young Nicolas Cage? I read that Cage's process included living in his car during filming to make his character more real.
Martha: During the making of the film, I did find out he was living in his car. I remember chastising him about the danger of living in his car in Hollywood and how we couldn't call him. He said he'd use pay phones. (We didn't have cell phones then!) He was living in his car to get into the character. He was 18 years old! Later, during Birdy, he lived with bandages around his head, which made it difficult for him to eat - so maybe we were lucky.
What was especially wonderful about the way Nick worked is he would come in with so many ideas for his character and different things to try. Yet he didn't hang on to them if they didn't work. He was tremendously inventive.
Q: Tell us about your choice to cast Deborah Foreman as "Julie"? After this performance, I have always been surprised that she did not go on to become more of a superstar actress.
Martha: Deborah was such a perfect Julie, and a talented girl. She had a body of work and did go on to star in some indie features. She made an appearance in my film Real Genius and then later got married. The last time I saw her at a big Film Festival Valley Girl reunion, she looked almost the same!
Q: I know you have explained this many times before, but why is Deborah Foreman's character not featured on the movie poster?
Martha: The poster story is unusual. Deborah had worked in the business and she was pretty strict about being paid. When the company needed the actors to be "generous with them" about hours or rules, Deborah was not as forgiving as some of the others. When the poster came up for whatever reason (and it may have been simply that she wanted to be paid) the company brought in a model rather than Deborah. I was shocked and thought it was petty and a really bad idea. But there was nothing I could do about it. The funny thing is it happened again on the Special Edition DVD - Nick and I came in to do interviews for free but Deborah didn't.
Q: Did you expect the film to have the incredibly positive reception that it ultimately did? It has grown even more into a cult classic, but still had a strong opening and domestic gross in theaters as well. What changed for you personally after the success of Valley Girl? Were you prepared for the opportunities it would create?
Martha: When I read Andy and Wayne's script, I knew that this was an incredible opportunity. I'd had what I had thought were going to be much bigger breaks - working on two different films that I was going to direct for Coppola and Zoetrope (which were cancelled) - several development deals with studios that ultimately were abandoned, and directing an indie feature in Toronto that went belly-up part way through. But when I got to this little, modest love story, I knew I could make something really great out of it and that it would/could change my life. I was paid $5000 which meant I had to borrow money from my mother (embarrassing at the age of 34!) and live through the year in my friend, cartoonist designer, Ron Cobb's garage. But I knew it would be worth it. Even so, you can't really know how much it's going to change your life and what is going to happen. I was more prepared than most and had already had more disappointments than some, so I jumped at the opportunity and took the kudos when they came gracefully.
All the studios were interested in the finished film, several made bids for it and, when Atlantic decided to release the film themselves, Paramount came after me signing me to a four or five picture deal including giving me a suite of offices on the lot with an experienced secretary who could have been my mother. I was told the offices had been Stallone's and I remember the desk area was raised above the floor on a platform. My secretary and I took up two rooms and the rest of the offices remained empty. I didn't really know how to make the most of the opportunity given to me at the time and, as exciting as it was to be hot, all they offered me were teen comedies, one raunchier than the last. So I turned them down one after the other. Other offers came but I had signed an exclusive deal with Paramount (not so smart) so I couldn't take outside films. After I made Joy of Sex for them, a pretty bad experience, MGM bought me out of my Paramount deal and I moved over to the Culver City lot. I have wished since then that I had been better prepared to make the most out of my opportunity, and swore I'd be more prepared if I got another chance.
Q: Speaking of 1984's National Lampoon's Joy of Sex, I read that you were let go from that film for differences regarding gratuitous nudity. How did that go down?
Martha: Paramount insisted on topless girls running down the hall because they thought the formula demanded it and it was totally gratuitous. I hated putting them in for no reason and argued against it. But when the film was previewed the audience, particularly young women and girls, hated the nudity so Paramount then asked me to cut as much of it out as I could! They had thought they were going to get a Porky's but the script was more from a girl's point of view (as was Valley Girl). It was actually a romance and certainly the women writers and I weren't the people to get a Porky's from. The movie wasn't what the execs thought it would be, they freaked, took me off the movie, cut it down and tried to make the humor broader which made it more disjointed.
The entire budget was miniscule and the music was given only $20,000! For comparison the Valley Girl sound track (not including score) cost $150,000. The whole Joy of Sex experience was pretty miserable. We were under constant pressure and scrutiny to do the impossible, we had eight days of prep, 20 days to shoot and my A.D. quit because he was so angry. I learned that I can't always save the day or be a hero and you have to protect yourself at all times. I did find some very talented actors though!
Q: I also read that there was requirement for Valley Girl that there be naked breasts in at least a certain number of scenes during the film. Is that true? It seemed to be especially important in the 80s as the Porky's formula was being imitated.
Martha: On Valley Girl, the execs made me promise to put at least four scenes with naked breasts in the film. I guess they put it that way because they felt awkward and wanted to be specific. I told them I had no problem as long as I could do it so it made sense. They said they didn't care how it was done, they "just wanted to see them." We shook hands on it. They considered the film an "exploitation genre film" meant for guys. The real success happened when we showed them the finished film. They jumped up and gasped, "It's a REAL movie!" They no longer obsessed about how many times they saw naked breasts in the film (which was barely three and one frame of a fourth). Andy, Wayne and I made a movie we could be proud of. When the studio saw it, they knew it was better to have a good, real film than a mediocre exploitation film. It put them on the map.
I have never made it a secret that I am a big fan of the film Real Genius which was also directed by Martha Coolidge. It was released in August of 1985 and again was relatively successful and again helped launch the career of another young actor. Val Kilmer plays genius "Chris Knight," a senior who is paired with "Mitch Taylor," a boy genius going off to college at just the age of 15, to head a team developing a laser for what they believe is a class project. When they find out that their professor intends to turn their work over to the government for use as a weapon, they decide to ruin his plans and "Chris" also teaches "Mitch" that there is more to life than work. I like the review by movie critic Salem Alaton when he wrote, "Producer Brian Grazer craved a feel-good picture, and she [Martha Coolidge] turned in the summer's best, and she didn't cheat to do it. There's heart in the kookiness. Real Genius has real people, real comedy and real fun." Here is the trailer for Real Genius...
Q: How did the opportunity to direct Real Genius come your way?
Martha: Brian Grazer, to his great credit, loved the humor and sensibility of Valley Girl. He came after me and never questioned my gender. I turned it down twice before I accepted it because, even though it was funny, it had a lot of penis and scatological jokes. It felt like the Paramount teen comedies I'd passed on before. But after a Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel polish I reread it, liked it and saw some great potential in the story. My meeting with Brian cemented my decision. He exclaimed with infectious exuberance, "Making a movie should be fun!" And I so much wanted to work with good people and have fun! It was. Brian was supportive, great to be around and knowledgeable about comedy and film production.
Q: I read that you spent months researching laser technology, policies of the CIA and interviewing dozens of CalTech students. What do you remember about that process and how do you feel it impacted the film?
Martha: I insisted on researching the subject and we brought in top-level consultants from the military, weapons development experts and universities. We researched Cal Tech and MIT and based most of the stories, and the visual depiction of the school on Cal Tech, particularly on Dabney Hall. There is a page on the Cal Tech website that enumerates the specific Cal Tech inspired elements of the script, at least those that they have identified.
Brian brought in comedy writer P.J. Torokvei and what a wonderful time we had! We created the story, came up with an ending and fully developed the characters. P.J. wrote unique characters like Jordan the hyperactive genius girl and much of Chris Knight's smart wise-ass remarks. I researched space based laser development that was big at the time and came up with the black money funded research project. We met many wonderful scientists and science students including the legendary Cal Tech mathematician grad who had supposedly lived in the steam tunnels. My assistant was a Cal Tech graduate who ultimately deserted science for film, though he ended up doing both by producing Nova. The dorm graffiti was copied from the real graffiti in the dorm by scenic painters and then the decorator brought in Cal Tech students to embellish and create more. The original comedy is all there, but I believe as silly as a comedy is, it has to capture real issues and personal conflict or people won't care. It is the combination of humor, the truth of the story and the real science in this picture that has made it successful for so long and has influenced many people to go into the sciences. Brian's original goal, and mine, was to make a film that focused on nerds as heroes. It was ahead of its time.
Q: I asked Gabe Jarret a similar question in my interview with him; how was your experience of working with Val Kilmer? He had only appeared previously in 1984's Top Secret, so how did you end up choosing him to play "Chris Knight" in your film?
Martha: Choosing Val was relatively easy. Out of dozens and dozens of young men who tried out for the part, Val made a standout video of himself for his first audition since he was in New York. He captured the handsome, smart whacky side of the character. The only other person we even really considered was John Cusack. Val was the best guy for the part, but not so easy to work with. He was intellectually challenging and erratic, not so surprising since that was the character. It was a big demanding part and he often avoided working by asked a lot of questions and was sometimes late to the set and moody. He was almost in every scene for about 75 days - and I'm sure he was nervous. I've learned to give young actors space and discipline, encouragement and pushing when they need it. I like actors with ideas and he had many. Ultimately, we gained a lot of trust and worked very well together. He gave a hell of a performance.
Q: What made you choose Gabe Jarret to play the role of "Mitch"? What memories do you have of working with the 15-year-old Jarret (including filming, as we discovered in my interview with him, his first two kisses)?
Martha: We spent an enormous amount of time looking for an actor for the young genius. Originally, we were seriously considering hiring a true young genius that had graduated college at (I think) 14 and was starting law school. We found Gabe late in pre-production. In the end, Gabe had the right combination of seriousness, gawkiness, intelligence and emotion that we needed. He studied with an acting teacher I brought in to help him with some of the more difficult emotional moments of the part. Working with young people like Gabe is a really refreshing experience because they do bring you back to the basic joy of acting and making movies. His naked honesty was a great contrast to Val's complex shenanigans.
Shooting kissing scenes is usually awkward and when it involves very young actors it's harder. First, I worry what it's going to be like with the whole crew watching and I try to create as intimate and relaxed an atmosphere as possible. Of course it was flu season and I forget if it was Gabe or Michelle but one of them had a cold. Then I felt guilty! But as with all acting scenes you get the actors comfortable and the get out of the way and let them work.
Q: Michelle Meyrink was in so many great 80s films. You cast her in 3 films in a row, so you must have seen something special in her and felt comfortable working with her. What can you tell us about working with Michelle?
Martha: I loved Michelle. In some ways she reminded me of me, but more so of my sister. She said I reminded her of her sister - so it was mutual! Most of all I loved her as an actress; her extreme vulnerability and seriousness touched me and made me laugh. Her face was an open book. She left Hollywood eventually but gave us some really wonderful portrayals of teenage girls with all their colors and conflicts. She took to Torokvei's "Jordan" dialogue like a duck to water. Ever since then, she's had many geeks lusting after her.
Q: Do you remember editing a lot of scenes out of Real Genius? For instance, the trailer shows several scenes not in the final film like Kilmer floating outside of the window in a lawn chair.
Martha: Yes, we cut the balloon scene out of the movie late in editing which is why it is in the trailer. The film was too long for a comedy so something had to go. That was a visually interesting scene but didn't forward the plot. There were other short scenes cut but that was the main one. I saved all those things for the special edition, but like so many studios TriStar lost the extra footage including the TV coverage (so when it came time to make the TV version we had to do it with looping). Film storage is overrated.
Q: In my interview with Jarret, we discussed the popcorn scene. Any other interesting stories you can share with us about filming Real Genius?
Martha: If there was ever a film that deserved a special edition, it's Real Genius with all the behind-the-scenes footage, crazy gags, interviews and extra scenes. For example, our Special FX guy became an expert on popcorn (which, by the way, weighs 2 pounds per cubic foot). In order to build the exploding house, he had to design all kinds of hydraulic systems to move the popcorn inside. To get that much popcorn, we had to make half of it as we couldn't buy that much popcorn from commercial companies in that short a period of time. We popped 40 tons ourselves on the lot for 6 weeks with huge poppers outside so the whole lot smelled like popcorn. We bought another 100 tons with a six week advanced order. When we shot on location we stored the popcorn in 38 40-foot tractor-trailer trucks parked up the road. It took more than a day to clean up the site to do take two, so we had to go shoot other scenes in between. It was also amazing to watch. I'll never forget tons of popcorn gushing out of that house.
Q: Were you pleased with the final film you created in Real Genius?
Martha: I am very pleased with the final film. It was harder to feel so good at first because, as you may remember, it came out [August 7, 1985] within three days of the other two "science" films [Weird Science & My Science Project] and even the critics mixed up the titles in the papers. Ours was by far the best reviewed and I think the most successful over the long run, but there is no doubt that they hurt each other coming out at the same time. Today, I have more people telling me that this is their favorite film than I ever had before. It has remained an active video rental, and one of the most successful features ever shown on HBO. It's certainly earned its place in the lexicon of 80s classics.
Q: Do you keep in touch with Kilmer or any of the other cast members?
Martha: One of the only people I have not kept up with is Val. He sent me a letter some years back, but basically he went on to big pictures and I became very busy as well. I've kept in touch in one way or another with many others from Valley Girl and Real Genius but not Gabe [Jarret] either (there is a big generation gap after all) or Deborah [Foreman]. I became really good friends with Bill Atherton who is from New Haven, CT like I am, Joanne Baron, Vilmos Zsigmond, P.J. Torokvei, Martin Gundersen and stayed in touch on and off with Nick Cage, Heidi [Holicker], Robert Prescott, and even Dean Devlin (yes, the producer who was an actor then). Some were friends already like Andy [Lane], Fred Elmes, Colleen Camp, Delia, and others. I worked with many again.
Q: I read a quote from you saying, "Music is the soul and the heartbeat of a film. It says so much more than what the actors or the scene can say alone." Your 80s films included such great music choices. You told me that music took up a large portion of your budget in Valley Girl ($150,000 not including the score) and that in Real Genius you paid $75,000 just to use "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." Can you expand a little more on the importance and challenges of music in your films including your process for choosing the perfect songs for the perfect moments? (Like choosing Modern English's "I Melt With You" for Valley Girl).
Martha: Music is closer to pure emotion than picture and it works subliminally. I love when music adds another layer to a film rather than only underscoring what is already there. Though the job of music in many movies is just that, it also helps move a film along but sometimes it brings in an element that we wouldn't notice if it weren't there, like mystery, spookiness, emotional tension, agitation, confusion, etc.
That favored-nations deal for all the songs [in Valley Girl] was put together by my attorney Peter Hoffman. Michael Papale and I chose the music. Sometimes I'd hear something on the radio and sing it to him as I did with "I Melt With You" when I heard it on KROQ. Or he'd throw a brand new, just recorded track at me like "Electric Avenue" and I'd love it. The film release brought the languishing "I Melt With You" back and up the charts.
Q: Can you explain the delay in releasing the soundtrack to Valley Girl and why there are songs included in the music credits that don't actually seem to appear in the film?
Martha: Very late in post production, CBS insisted on some changes in the music (i.e. taking out The Clash and putting in Men at Work). The studio pissed off the record people because they wouldn't remake the negative and prints for the last reel to bring the credits up to date. They didn't care if the credits were correct, they just didn't want to spend that large amount of money. So CBS pulled the record (soundtrack album) at the last minute. The film was released with the new songs in it and some of the music credits were completely wrong. The studio put out a little record of their own, but it took years for Rhino Records to put together the real soundtrack album!
Q: It is reported that you were supposed to direct Some Kind of Wonderful (1987), but had a falling out with John Hughes which prevented that from happening. Howard Deutch was re-hired to direct the film. Would you consider taking us through how that really went down?
Martha: I have actually never talked about this before. I was hired to direct Some Kind of Wonderful, developed the script, then fully prepped the film for months and was fired four days before shooting. The press release claimed we had "creative differences" but that wasn't it. I actually had a great time with John, rehearsing and getting the film ready to go. There were no signs of any problems. Mary Stuart [Masterson] was attached and I cast Eric [Stoltz], Kim Delaney and Kyle McLaughlin in the other two leads. I had Eric get long extensions and make his hair a darker red to give him some darkness and mystery. He was very steamy. Mary Stuart is always gorgeous as was Kim Delaney.
Prior to my involvement, apparently Howard Deutch had been involved with John and the film and they had a falling out. I didn't know it, but on the weekend prior to our shoot, John and Howard met and made up. John decided in a gesture of friendship to make the studio give the movie to Howard to direct. John never spoke to me. When I came in on Monday morning I got a call to come over to see Michael [Chinich], John's partner and producer. No one said anything to me, but I could feel that something was wrong. The walk to the next building felt like I was walking a gang plank. Michael was in tears when I got there and talked about his crushing disappointment in the film and his company. He directed me to sit and told me what a great job I was doing. I thought maybe Eric had died and the movie was off. Then he said that they would be making the film but not with me. He said that I was fired, with no reason, and I had to leave the lot right away. I was in shock. I insisted on talking to my actors before I left. They were already on the lot meeting with Howard. Kim and Kyle were also fired and they wanted to fire Eric Stoltz as well. He was traumatized. He had just had a terrible experience on Back to the Future before this. The studio drew the line with Eric though and said no, he was to stay. I was called to Ned Tannen's office, the president of Paramount, and he apologized. He said I hadn't done anything wrong, I was a pleasure to work with and this was a whim of John's, but John was very important to the studio so they had to do it even though it would hurt the film, and me. He promised to make it up to me and get me a film as soon as he could. Even in shock, I realized that until I started shooting I wasn't even "pay or play". But my full check for the entire salary was waiting for me by the time I got home.
Then I found something out about Hollywood. I got about a hundred phone calls from people I knew and didn't know. They told me not to be too upset, that it happens to everyone and that I was in good company being fired by John Hughes. Major heads of companies called me and were very kind. It was one of the first times I felt truly like I was a member of the community. The experience was awful, a real artistic coitus-interruptus and I hired a publicist to help me through the "Artistic Differences" public story that the company and my agents had agreed upon. After a couple days, I left town.
Years later, I ran into John on an airplane in a small first class cabin flying back from Japan for 12 long hours. He greeted me cheerfully and acted like nothing had ever happened and he had never caused me such pain. I was polite to him but felt good that I was returning from Japan with Rambling Rose and he had Curly Sue.
The thing that galled me more was I had told him my story about my disastrous plane and train trip back and forth to New York one week. My plane was delayed then diverted, the train had a collision, the food ran out, a heat wave hit, etc. I wanted to make a film out of the experience. Before I knew it, he wrote Planes, Trains and Automobiles and it was in production. The moral of that story is to never tell a good writer your best stories.
Q: I am a huge fan of the TV series Psych and remember that you directed an episode last year (2009). The show seems like it would be fun to work on. How was your experience working on the show and with the talented cast including James Roday and Dule Hill?
Martha: I had a great time on Psych, and when I met James Roday, I was in for a surprise. James told me that it was Val Kilmer in Real Genius that inspired him to become an actor. He said he saw the film and said "I can do that" and, indeed, you can tell that in ways he is channeling Chris Knight. The tone of their comedy was comfortable for me.
Q: You are one of the pioneer females in directing. What particular challenges, especially back in the 80s, do you feel you faced by being a FEMALE director?
Martha: Being a woman director has continued to be a challenge my entire life. It got much better in the 90s and then got worse. Even though there are more women directors now, there are fewer opportunities for us all. The statistics have declined and now fewer women are coming into the feature and episodic business and even into film school. I think it's because they read and hear how difficult it is. Maybe they don't want to work that hard without a real shot. I'm teaching now and I'm shocked at how few women in proportion to men are going into directing. It's worse than it was when I was in school at NYU! And there were no working women directors then.
Now, of course, I'm facing both the gender issue and the age issue which is real. I've been blessed with a good career and I'm a better director now than I've ever been. But jobs are hard to come by for all directors, mostly because of the economy, just harder for women, minorities and older directors. I've thoroughly loved directing CSI: Crime Scene Investigation because I really "get" the show, love the writers and actors and it gives me a chance to kill people and take on darker subjects than what I usually am offered. The movies that come to me now are mostly gender driven women's pictures which feels so odd, and all of them are independent films. I've been writing and developing my own films as well.
Q: You were the first female President of the Directors Guild of America (2002-2003). How was that experience? That has to be something you are deservedly proud of.
Martha: The Presidency of the Director's Guild was not only an honor for me but also history-making. I heard that in the 60s the president would address the membership "Good evening fellow directors and Mrs. Lupino." [Ida Lupino] It was important to break that ceiling and open the door for the many women and minorities who are in the Director's Guild in larger numbers. I also helped instigate programs that have pressured for more hiring of women and minorities in television. Easier to do than with features where there is little concern to be politically correct on each specific film. It was such an important experience in my life and I learned so much that I could never cover it here, but it changed my perspective on everything from business to politics. Ultimately being president demanded a whole lot of work and I needed to spend more time being a director. I let the job pass to the next guy. It's a great guild and great for any member who gets involved. The more women and minorities who get involved in the leadership of the guild, the greater the chance that some will rise to the top and lead the guild to new horizons.
Q: You have been in the industry for almost 40 years now. From your perspective, how has it changed both for the good and for the bad over those four decades?
Martha: Wow, I wouldn't say "good or bad" because value judgments on existing conditions are hard to overcome and dangerous. For example, it was impossible when I was in New York wanting to be a film director for women to do and yet if I'd said that was "bad" it might have stopped me from trying. Anyway, there are many differences and some make it seem almost impossible to get into the field. The biggest changes are due to the economy and how the industry works. My entire career the studios have been going downhill in terms of their power and reach- even though they have become global and consolidated. Many other kinds of media entertain and reach people via other platforms, so the audience has been fragmented and it's harder to reach a large audience. At the same time, cost of production has escalated. The studios like to hedge their bets and make a few big, broad spectrum entertainment films and basically nothing else. This leaves smaller production to independent financiers, small companies and foreign entities at the same time as finding investors is very, very difficult. Little films can be made on digital cameras relatively cheaply and they can go viral on the internet or be festival hits. Filmmaking is popular and hundreds, dare I say thousands, of young people graduate every year in every country specializing in it. So the result is tremendous competition for any job and filmmakers are working for nothing or next to nothing just for the opportunity to work. This has helped to undermine the unions, the artistic environment and living conditions for anyone in the field. Many young and experienced people are moving out of Los Angeles to the latest states that offer tax breaks and to foreign countries where production is cheaper and wages are lower. The simple fact is it's harder to make a living in this business than it is to work in it. When I started, we all started out working for free, then found low paying starter jobs, but the economy was good then and families had money to support young people. It was easier to get a "day job" back then to keep yourself going. Now, young people are interning for extended periods while carrying enormous school debt and with families who are struggling. I don't think salaries are ever going to come back to where they were. Not in any near future. I see young women deciding not to be directors because they look at the miserable statistics of how few women directors are working and decide it's too difficult. This makes me sad. There are fewer women in my classes than there were at NYU when they told us we couldn't do it!
On the positive side, with more interest in filmmaking and easy tools to work with, young people are visually literate and can make films, videos, etc. quickly and cheaply. The result is very talented people are emerging and rising to the top. It is the "language" of our time and I'm glad that everyone is more literate. We will benefit if we can get these talented people to careers where they can make a living. In overview, things seem similar to before, student and short films going to festivals, people starting in low paying or free positions but the pressure is much greater, the economy terrible and many will fall by the wayside.
Q: What has Martha Coolidge been up to more recently? Filmmaking or otherwise?
Martha: As usual, I have my fingers in many pots. I have several films ready to go, some that I own and some with other producers. Blowing Up is a comedy based on a true story about a small town nuclear reactor melt down in 1961. It's sort of Peyton Place meets Dr. Strangelove, written by Nick Kazan with me Producing and Directing. It's not an expensive movie but tough to set up in this environment. Likewise, Saving Seymour, a comedy about a young woman trying to pass the Bar Exam who inherits her troublesome 90+ year-old grandfather, should be easier. There is also Deja Vu, a romantic comedy of a rekindled romance in France.
I am also finishing a screenplay of my own, a thriller called The 3L3T3. I'm teaching directing at Chapman University, sitting on the board of the Academy of Motion Pictures and advising on other university committees. I've been involved for many years with a program run by Martin Gundersen trying to encourage film and television shows to be more accurate in their depiction of science. We hope to keep making the smart guys the heroes and encourage Americans to go into the sciences.
I am incredibly honored that Martha took the time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. She was extremely generous with her responses and even provided many of the great pictures featured above. I appreciate the insights on her fantastic films and her struggle to become a female director, but also especially for explaining the events surrounding Some Kind of Wonderful. We only touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all of the significant film and television work she has done. You can find out much more about her and all of her projects at Martha's official website www.marthacoolidge.com. I want to take this opportunity to again thank Martha Coolidge for her incredible contributions to film and 80s pop culture and for taking a stroll down memory lane with us for a little while as well. I certainly consider it a privilege.
That will do it for this very special issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks as always for reading and hope you are enjoying the interviews as much as I am. If you want a summary of all of my Back to the 80s Interviews posted thus far, please click on that link. If you are interested in reading any of my other 80s related issues, please click there for a summary of those. You can also always click on the Archives in the upper left hand column or use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. Even if you are not a Facebook member yet, please consider joining and registering as a fan at that page. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. Let other 80s fans know about it as well! Peace and much love.
Quote of the day: "If I had permitted my failures, or what seemed to me at the time a lack of success, to discourage me I cannot see any way in which I would ever have made progress." -Calvin Coolidge (The 30th President of the United States and who just so happens to also be a cousin of Martha Coolidge)
As I say each time, I am extremely proud that interviews are something I have finally made a regular part of this little blog of mine! When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the 80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.
This time that awesomeness is Jack Hues. He is probably best known as the lead vocalist/guitarist of the musical group Wang Chung. Along with bassist Nick Feldman, Wang Chung enjoyed quite a bit of success during the 80s including their smash hit "Everybody Have Fun Tonight." This song resulted in the name Wang Chung taking on a whole life of its own in pop culture demonstrated by the following entertaining video titled "Can You Tell Me What a Wang Chung Is?"...
Wang Chung is much more than a funny name. They created some great music along the way, too. You can find out all about the origination of the name and much, much more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Jack Hues...
Q: How did you and Nick Feldman meet?
Jack: Nick placed an ad in The Melody Maker, musicians wanted, one of the music papers of that time. I auditioned for his band The Intellektuals and got the gig. I remember he had written all these songs in a punk style but with jazz-colored harmonies. I was the only guitar player to whom he didn't have to take ages explaining the inversions!
Q: What is the official story behind choosing Huang Chung as the name for the band? How and why was it chosen? Please confirm for us what the intended meaning of the name was. In 1982, the spelling was changed to Wang Chung. Was this simply done to match the pronunciation and remove any question about how to say it?
Jack: I found the name in Jonathon Cott's book of Conversations with Karlheinz Stockhausen. It is a footnote to one of Karlheinz's rants about what we now call world music. In amongst all the philosophizing, this phrase made me laugh because it did sound to me like the sound a guitar makes - like Kerrang! But the meaning in Chinese is paraphrased as Yellow (Huang) Bell (Chung), a symbolic bell that rings at the center of the universe. Our reality resonates with the frequencies of the bell and the extent to which our world is in harmony with the yellow bell is the extent to which we fulfill our destinies. When we are not in harmony with the bell things go badly - so in ancient China when the Emperor lost a battle, the first guys who got it were the court musicians for failing to produce the right harmonies. This just happens to be what Huang Chung means in Chinese (Mandarin I think?). It is not the "reason" why we chose the name. That was more to do with it being a phrase that had no Rock n Roll connotations whatsoever. It was just a sound like a G7 chord - it doesn't "mean" anything - it's a label to categorize something. So changing the spelling - which was to do with making it more pronounceable, therefore less alienating - was not a big deal for us.
Q: What prompted the band's move to the American label Geffen Records? Was it in part to focus your music more on the U.S. market? Wang Chung had the unusual achievement of being more popular in the U.S. than in your home market of the UK. How do you explain that? Was that surprising to you?
Jack: Our first album was on Arista in the UK. We felt that they didn't really understand us! Ahh!! There was a sense then that the American market was a) more into music and b) less concerned with "fashion". I think we were always rooted in the past. I can remember people relating us to bands like Steely Dan rather than the "New Romantic" bands around at the time. The American music business then was still into musicians making great music - David Geffen, John Kalodner at Geffen, Mo Ostin, Lenny Waronker at Warner Bros - they were all into music primarily and we just wanted to make albums like the great bands from the 60s and 70s and they supported that. The name Wang Chung says a lot - in the UK people found it alienating and couldn't get past the fact that we seemed to be taking ourselves too seriously whereas in the U.S. people were curious about it and attracted to it as something different. Also we like American music, especially funk - like Bowie in the mid to late 70s - he was exploring all that on Young Americans and Station to Station. America has been good to us and we deeply appreciate it.
Q: You wrote and composed "Dance Hall Days" which was a pop hit. What inspired that song? How long did it take to write? What do you remember about the process of writing that fun song? What reaction did you get from Nick when you first played it for him?
Jack: I used to teach guitar in various schools in London, to high school kids. One afternoon someone didn't show up for a lesson and I just came up with "Dance Hall Days" - it seemed to write itself. I fiddled around with it to get the lyrics right and so on but the basic ideas - the rhythm, the "take your baby by the hand" melody, the opening chords - they all came together. The essentials of the song were there in that spare 20 minutes when the kid forgot his guitar lesson! Nick says when he heard it he immediately phoned David Massey, our manager, and said, "Jack's written a hit!!"
In 1983, the band released their first album since changing the spelling of their name and changing labels. The album, Points on the Curve, was recorded at Abbey Road Studios and included their first big hit "Dance Hall Days". The single would peak at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100, but reach #1 on the Dance/Disco chart. Here is the video for "Dance Hall Days" by Wang Chung...
Q: Did you feel you had something special there back then when you recorded "Dance Hall Days"? Could you have ever anticipated the worldwide success it would have?
Jack: In that little practice room, no, I had no idea what would come of this little song. But it changed everything for us - it cemented the deal with Geffen - I could sense that everyone was much nicer to us after they heard that song!
Q: How did the opportunity come your way to work on the soundtrack for William Friedkin's 1985 film To Live and Die in L.A.?
Jack: Bill Friedkin was a fan of Points on the Curve and particularly loved the song "Wait". He was using that as a temp track while editing To Live and Die and he got the idea to have us write more music like that to score the movie. He called me at a friend's house - I had quite a long phone conversation with him and I got a strong sense of what he wanted. I had some ideas like "Wait" that I was working on and I took them into the studio with Nick and we banged out all the music in about 7 days. We didn't see the movie until some rushes arrived late on in the week - no internet in those days to ping stuff over - but somehow Billy had downloaded all we needed to know in that conversation - it was a very creative time. We were not working to picture as I've said, so Bill did all the editing, sometimes editing the picture to the music. That opening title sequence with the money being printed - that was all Billy's skillful editing. You would think the music was written to the tempo of that machine, but it was a coincidence that they match!! Amazing when I think back on it.
In a quote from Friedkin himself, he states that the main reason he chose Wang Chung to compose the soundtrack was because the band "stands out from the rest of contemporary music... What they finally recorded has not only enhanced the film, it has given it a deeper, more powerful dimension." Here is the video for the title track "To Live and Die in L.A." by Wang Chung...
Q: How did your song "Fire in the Twilight" end up in John Hughes' 1985 film The Breakfast Club? Did you ever have any interaction with Hughes yourself?
Jack: Sadly we didn't meet John Hughes. I think we were invited as one of a number of contemporary bands to do one of the songs. We worked with Keith Forsey, Billy Idol's producer, on that project and with David Anderle at A&M. They were great people.
Q: Then came the Mosaic album in 1986. This included the hit single "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" which I certainly consider one of the most iconic songs of the decade. You and Nick are both credited with writing this one. What inspired the song? What do you remember about the process of writing that fun song? Did you feel you had a potential hit song and something special when you recorded it?
Jack: Nick and I used to get together at his flat on Finchley Road in London and play each other ideas. Nick had this chorus idea of "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" which I loved, but I heard it as deeply ironic and heard a song a bit like "Hey Jude" - slowish, long chorus fade out, sort of whimsical. I wrote the version which Nick and I worked on together and demo'd at his house - we put out that version on one of the Greatest Hits albums - "Fun Tonight: The Early Years". When we worked with Peter Wolf, he told us to ditch the irony and make a party record and really play up the "Everybody Have Fun/Everybody Wang Chung" line. We had decided we wanted a hit record, so we did as we were told for once!!
The result was a song that most people either loved or hated. Fortunately for the band, it seems more people loved it. It stayed near the top of the charts peaking at #2 and spawning an outstanding music video. Here is that video for "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" by Wang Chung...
Q: This single seemed to take Wang Chung to a whole next level. How did things change for you each personally and for Wang Chung as a group, both good and bad, after the incredible success of "Everybody Have Fun Tonight"?
Jack: I remember one interviewer saying to me that he heard "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" and felt sad because he realized that a whole bunch of people who didn't care about Wang Chung were going to like it and sort of gatecrash his private party. And in a way, that is what happened. For us it meant mainstream commercial success which is what we wanted and needed - but it was not a record that people who loved To Live And Die In L.A., for instance, would necessarily like. So it made the business people happy but created a fissure in our identity. Were we a serious Art-Rock band or a party band? Truth is we were neither and both at the same time - as musicians we could embrace all of what we did, but the business now had a whole raft of expectations around us that we couldn't, or wouldn't, live up to. It was a very interesting time in retrospect, but stressful at the time. I'm very grateful for the success and the way people embraced the song and how it has become part of the culture.
Q: The song had a memorable video that I feel is one of the best of the 80s. Who came up with the concept for the video? What do you remember about filming that video?
Jack: The video that everybody loved at that time was Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" - so we wanted to do something with stop-frame animation. Godley and Creme, as the leading video directors at that time, were brought in to work on it and they took our suggestions and came up with the wooden box location, the "serious" expressions to contrast with the party song, and everybody in black - making the whole thing quite austere. We really enjoyed working with them. The shoot was easy as I just stood as still as I could and sang the song to the camera 10 times. Nick did the same and then some poor guy edited the takes frame by frame!! In those days, it was film and scissors - God knows how they had the patience to do it!
Q: This video, as did the video for "Dance Hall Days", received a lot of play on MTV. Please discuss the power that MTV had back in the 80s to make a song successful. And also on how important "image" became in addition to the music in that regard.
Jack: MTV was incredibly important. That is one of the main reasons why Wang Chung is a household name in the U.S. and not in the UK - there was no MTV in the UK until much later. The "advertising"-style imaging of bands was then, as now, very effective. Having a video in heavy rotation on MTV was like free TV advertising - and there is no more effective way to market something. Rather like the albums, we approached each video as a different set of challenges so our "image" never really stabilized.
Q: When you have mega hit songs like that, do you (or did you) ever get sick of playing it? What are your feelings about those songs today?
Jack: I don't get sick of either of those songs. When we play them, they get such a huge enthusiastic response - how can you get sick of that?? And I think they are both good songs, interesting to perform - we develop them live all the time.
Q: What is your personal favorite of the Wang Chung hit songs? Are there any lesser known songs that you have always particularly enjoyed or wished would've become hit singles?
Jack: I probably like "Dance Hall Days" best out of the hits. I always thought "Eyes of the Girl" was a good song and could have been a hit.
"Eyes of the Girl" was on the Mosaic album, but was never released as a single. That album did include the song "Let's Go!" which would be the band's final top 10 single. It was released in January of 1987 and would peak at #9 in April of that year. Here's the video for "Let's Go!" by Wang Chung...
Q: Your follow up 1989 album, The Warmer Side of Cool, was not a commercial success. Did this surprise you at the time? Do you feel there is any other explanation other than changing musical tastes?
Jack: Nick and I were not seeing eye-to-eye on Warmer Side. I wanted to make arty, progressive type songs - Geffen wanted a follow up to "Everybody Have Fun" and Nick was into making more of a mainstream Rock album! So the album lurches from one thing to another. I like the title track and there are certain things we were attempting to get that are admirable. I guess I felt very burnt out by the time we had finished that album. The lack of success, I guess it was a surprise if I'm honest. I think I expected everything to just sort of carry on regardless of what we released. I didn't realize that it was all a game and you had to play by the rules - or write your own rules - but you couldn't just do what you liked.
Q: Please describe the circumstances surrounding the (temporary) break up of Wang Chung in 1990.
Jack: It was inevitable that we should split at that time. We wanted different things and also our manager David Massey wanted to do something different. Wang Chung was really the three of us and all the time we were riding in the same direction it was working, but by 1990 everything was changing, so it was a good time to split.
Q: Then please discuss the circumstances surrounding the decision to reunite again. How is your relationship with Nick now? What goals did you have for the group this time around?
Jack: Nick and I worked together quite a bit in the mid to late 90s. Nick was in A&R and I produced a few of his bands. So after a break of a couple of years, Nick and I were already working together. Getting Wang Chung together again was a combination of Nick leaving his A&R work therefore having enough time to devote to it; doing the TV show Hit Me, Baby One More Time and really enjoying it; doing a new publishing deal with Spirit Music - and thinking that Wang Chung was a good vehicle to use to put out the songs we were writing.
Hit Me, Baby One More Time was a 2005 reality series competition where each week former pop stars would perform one of their biggest hits and a cover of a contemporary hit. In a June episode, Wang Chung reunited and competed. The reaction they received from fans on this performance really inspired Hues and Feldman to give Wang Chung another chance. Here is the performance from that 2005 episode of Hit Me, Baby One More Time...
Q: Wang Chung was part of the 2009 Regeneration Tour and there appeared to be the opportunity to just be satisfied making a living playing the old favorites. What inspired you to actually attempt to record NEW music as Wang Chung with the new EP Abducted in the 80s? Is there more new Wang Chung music to come?
Jack: I guess when you don't have success any more, as with The Warmer Side of Cool, you either give up and feel bitter about it or, if you are a real musician, you get up and dust yourself down and just keep going. I think that's what I did - I kept writing, started co-producing with my dear friend Chris Hughes (we did an album with The Definition of Sound together), worked with Tony Banks (of Genesis) on his solo album Strictly Incognito and then producing for Nick on his A&R projects. I'm a musician - I write all the time - it just comes out and there is a lot of stuff still on the shelf that I hope will come out over the next few years together with songs that I am working on right now.
The new Abducted in the 80s EP is available for sale and download on the band's official website (www.wangchung.com). It includes their three biggest hits plus a great acoustic version of "To Live and Die in L.A." It also includes a new song called "Rent Free" which I like quite a bit along with a couple other new tracks.
Q: Some 80s pop superstars "run away" from the 80s and some embrace the success and fans from that decade. How do you personally deal with and keep the 80s alive and in perspective?
Jack: I see the 80s as a specific time in the history of pop music. The upside was that bands were embracing the new technology of drum machines, synthesizers and the early samplers - The Fairlight and Synclavier. Also everybody had a lot of respect for the craft of songwriting - even if you weren't very good at it! People wanted to write good songs and there was a feeling that it was possible to make a "definitive" statement with an album. That, in the studio, it was possible to make a perfect record if you could just spend enough time on it! I guess that's why our albums took a year in the studio (with the exception of To Live and Die in L.A.).
Q: After over three decades in the business, from your perspective, how has the music industry changed over that time?
Jack: It's changed a huge amount. When I was a kid, music was it! Nothing else mattered and becoming a musician, figuring out how to play those songs, write my own songs - that was my focus from the age of 8, and it has really gotten stronger and stronger as I've gotten older. I'm still obsessed with music and with exploring new music and bringing it into my own musical world. I still listen to a lot of Classical Music, to Jazz and some "popular music" - a lot more pop/rock than I listened to back in the 80s, but it's Classical and Jazz that I devote most listening time to. It's an essay to cover all the changes - as I've said before, the upside is that everything is open and possible and anybody can do it. The downside is that everything is open and possible and anybody can do it. But the change I regret most is the marginalization of music. It used to be central in youth culture and that carried on into people's adult lives. Now it is one of a number of commodities that you can have or not have, mostly in the background as some sort of soundtrack to the feature-length movie that you are starring in called "My Life". That seems a waste to me - there is so much to learn from sitting down and listening to music, giving it your full attention. It's no good putting it on and then doing something else.
Q: How did your song "Space Junk" end up being used in the first episode of AMC series The Walking Dead?
Jack: Apparently the director, Frank Darabont, always wanted "Space Junk" to end the first episode of the series. He loved the tune and felt a specific kind of emotion from it, I guess. We're very grateful to him.
Q: What else is Jack Hues up to now? Musically and otherwise?
Jack: Wang Chung takes up quite a bit of time now - that's nice. I also teach song writing on an undergraduate degree at Christ Church University, Canterbury and I have a jazz project. The band is called The Quartet - we have gigged locally and in London and some other parts of the UK, and we have recorded and released 2 albums with Chris Hughes for his Helium Record Label and plan to record a third. I hope we will make some progress on that this year, together with releasing more new Wang Chung material, hopefully a full album, some time this coming year.
I am ecstatic that Jack took the time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. Be sure to follow Jack and Wang Chung on Facebook, Twitter (@wangchungband) and the official website www.wangchung.com. There is also a website for his jazz group at www.the-quartet.co.uk if you are interested in finding out more about that. I want to take this opportunity to again thank Jack Hues for the amazing music and contributions to 80s pop culture through Wang Chung and for reminiscing with us for a little while here as well. Now go do as they say, "Everybody have fun tonight. Everybody Wang Chung tonight."
That brings us to the end of another special issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks as always for reading and hope you are enjoying the interviews as much as I am. If you want a summary of all of my Back to the 80s Interviews posted thus far, please click on that link. If you are interested in reading any of my other 80s related issues, please click there for a summary of those. You can also always click on the Archives in the upper left hand column or use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. Even if you are not a Facebook member yet, please consider joining and registering as a fan at that page. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. Let other 80s fans know about it as well! Peace and much love.
Check this out: I found this video www.Collegehumor.com to be hilarious, rather topical and extremely well done. Here are "Forgotten Nintendo Games of the 1980s"...
As I say each time, I am quite pleased that interviews are something I have finally made a regular part of this little blog of mine! When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the 80s, I want to continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.
This time that awesomeness is Doug Barr. He is probably best known by 80s fans as "Howie Munson," the sidekick to Lee Majors' character, on the television series The Fall Guy. After five seasons there, you may also remember him from his recurring role of "Charlene's boyfriend/husband Col. Bill Stillfield" for 4 seasons on Designing Women. Since then he has gone on to be an accomplished director, screenwriter and even wine maker. You will find out all about it as we get on to some selections from my interview with Doug Barr...
Q: When did you realize you wanted to be an actor? Then how did you go about pursuing that career?
Doug: During college where I was studying International Affairs (I wanted to be a diplomat), I took a motorcycle trip with a buddy around the Mediterranean, ran out of money in Greece, met a model from Paris on an island called Mykonos, skipped a semester in order to stay with her in France and at her urging, started modeling in order to earn enough to remain in Europe. When I returned to school in Washington DC, I continued modeling part time in New York, realized that if I could speak, I could do commercials. So I began studying acting. I continued doing so after graduating from college and was eventually cast by Bill Persky (The Dick Van Dyke Show, That Girl, Kate & Allie) in New York for a TV pilot shooting in L.A.
Q: You received your big break getting cast as "Howie Munson" on The Fall Guy in 1981. How did that opportunity come your way? Do you remember the audition process at all? Did you have any expectations going into the series? Did you ever expect this role to last as long as it did (5 seasons)?
Doug: By the time I got to The Fall Guy, I'd done the sitcom pilot I mentioned, called Semi-Tough, followed by another pilot that became a short lived series called When the Whistle Blows, and so I was familiar to the networks. That landed the audition for Glen Larson, the producer of The Fall Guy, which led to a reading with Lee [Majors], which won the roll. The pilot was a wonderful action-packed script with lots of humor and, of course Lee had a built-in fan base, so it seemed like it had a pretty good chance to be successful.
As a youngster, The Fall Guy was certainly one of my personal favorite shows back in the early 80s. It ran on the ABC network for five seasons (112 episodes) from 1981 to 1986. It was about a Hollywood stuntman, "Colt Seavers" played by Lee Majors, who moonlights as a bounty hunter with the help of co-stars Douglas Barr and Heather Thomas. I loved the truck they rode around in which was a two-tone brown jacked up GMC 4x4 pick-up with a big chrome roll bar and off-road lights. Here is a video of the opening credits from The Fall Guy including Lee Majors himself singing "The Unknown Stuntman" theme song...
Q: You got to work side by side with the great Lee Majors. Please tell us about Lee Majors as a person and that experience of working with him.
Doug: Lee was the consummate professional. Always prepared and expected the same from everyone else on the set. He was very generous, finding guest rolls for his old friends, and always available to read off camera lines with co-stars, guest stars or day players. He told me his set behavior was very much influenced by Barbara Stanwick on Big Valley.
Q: You also were able to work with the gorgeous Heather Thomas. Please tell us about Heather and also the experience of working with her.
Doug: Heather is a total delight. Kind, funny, talented and, contrary to her poster-girl image, smarter than a whip.
Q: What were the physical challenges of making The Fall Guy? The show had its share of action, but what I think made it special was the added element of humor. Was that an enjoyable aspect of your role?
Doug: We did several stunts per episode. Many performed by an amazing stunt team headed by the coordinator, Mickey Gilbert. Hundreds of stunts done and there was only one serious accident in five years. Lee and I both loved doing as much stunt work as the producers allowed which, in those days, was quite a bit. Lots of horseback, helicopter, driving, shooting and fighting "gags." That, and playing the comedic foil, made the show amazingly fun.
Q: According to a recent interview with Lee Majors, he said that the studio wanted to do another season of The Fall Guy but Majors was getting burnt out on Hollywood and felt the audience might have been getting burnt out on him. Did you feel the series could have or should have continued longer?
Doug: I was very surprised that they did not continue. The ratings were pretty solid and I think the audience would have held for at least another season. It was fairly physically demanding and the hours were very long, especially for Lee who had to be in virtually every scene, and I think he was just worn out after so many years in episodic TV.
Q: When you make a series for 5 seasons, I would expect that you become close as a cast. How do you remember your experiences with the cast making The Fall Guy? Do you keep in touch with Majors or Thomas?
Doug: We all got along professionally and socially. I haven't lived in L.A. in many years, so I see less of them than I'd like, but we're still in touch. Lee and his wife, Faith, came to visit just a few weeks ago.
Q: You followed up The Fall Guy starring on the series The Wizard which only lasted one season. What do you remember from that experience and why do you feel the show was not more successful at the time?
Doug: It was the most wonderful and inspiring show imaginable. Great fun to shoot. David Rappaport, who had the title roll, was a very talented actor and musician. He was also brilliant and decent, much like the character he played. There's still a website and a substantial fan base trying to get Fox to re-air the 20 or so episodes that were produced (including one I co-wrote). Why a terrific and uplifting program like The Wizard failed to build an audience is a mystery to me.
Q: Then in 1988, you joined the cast of Designing Women in the recurring role of "Bill Stillfield" during seasons 2-5. Your character was romantically involved with Jean Smart's character. How was the experience of working with her and all of those other great women on that popular show?
Doug: What a talented and delightful cast of actors. It was all very incestuous, as Dixie Carter was married to Hal Holbrook who played her romantic interest, while Jean's husband in real life, Richard Gilliland, played Annie Potts' boyfriend and Delta Burke's husband, Gerald McRaney, played her boyfriend. Bill Stillfield, the character I played, if I remember correctly had once been a boyfriend of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, the brilliant writer and producer of the show. Harry Thomason, who co-produced the show had also produced The Fall Guy. It was a remarkable experience. The live audience, the incredible writing and directing made it a real joy.
Q: Your character had to be written off the show after Jean Smart decided to leave the show (before season 6). Were you disappointed at that time that you were losing this role or were you ready to move on?
Doug: By the time Jean decided to move on, I had already made the transition to writing and directing. I was more than happy to move behind the camera.
Q: Are there any 80s roles (TV or movies) that you auditioned for and did not get that would be surprising or interesting especially looking back now?
Doug: Certainly easier to count the ones I got than the many I did not get. One that comes to mind was a meeting with Spielberg, (who was cooking something with Deborah Winger in the kitchen of his production office) for the Harrison Ford role in Raiders. That certainly would have been a career changer. There was no chance in hell I was going to get it, but he was extremely nice.
Q: I saw that you made appearances on both Fantasy Island and The Love Boat. What memories do you have from those appearances?
Doug: I played a trapeze artist on Fantasy Island. I recall being confused about the show's premise, fantasy versus reality, and asked Ricardo Montalban just before a take to explain it to me. He said, "I've been doing this show for many years now, and... I have no idea." I did The Love Boat a few times. Fred Grandy, like me, was from Iowa, and after the leaving show, he successfully ran for Congress and was a remarkably capable representative. He and the rest of the cast made that show really fun to work on. I think I played a jewel thief in one episode, if I'm not mistaken.
One special show I remember always enjoying in the 80s was Battle of the Network Stars which pitted teams made up of performers from the TV shows on each major network against each other. There were 19 episodes airing between 1976 and 1988 and they featured many of the most popular stars from the most popular TV series of that time. Competition included swimming, kayaking, golf, tennis, cycling, the baseball dunk tank, running races, an obstacle course, and finally the top two scoring teams face off in the tug-of-war. Barr was a participant in three of them on the ABC team (December 1981, May 1982 and December 1984).
Q: I actually remember you very well as being part of Battle of the Network Stars. What do you remember about those experiences? Was it really as competitive as it appeared?
Doug: My cousin Bobby Gregor was playing for the Chargers at that time which I remember impressed [host of the show] Howard Cosell. Unfortunately my football skills weren't as good as Bob's and Mark Harmon's team kicked our butts. The games were indeed very competitive. The payday was dependant upon how well your team placed. As I recall, there was about a $30,000 bonus for first place, so believe me, everyone was doing the best they could. They were incredibly fun. Hard to believe there weren't more injuries.
Here is a video of the relay race event from the December 1984 show which includes an impressive leg ran by Doug Barr for the ABC team...
Q: After three decades in the industry, from your perspective, how has it changed both for the good or bad?
Doug: Young audiences are so much more sophisticated than they were back in The Fall Guy days. They have high expectations in both visual and emotional content and it's up to the storytellers to keep it interesting.
Q: I asked a similar question in my interview with Family Ties creator Gary David Goldberg; I know ratings ultimately dictate the programming, but are you surprised and/or disappointed in the lack of wholesome family shows on network television today? Why don't we have as many fun shows like The Fall Guy on television today?
Doug: With limited budgets and so many competing entertainment opportunities, it's very difficult to capture attention without being in your face (sex and violence) edgy. I've just finished writing and directing two movies for NBC/Walmart - Secrets of the Mountain and The Jensen Project. Both are incredibly family friendly. Walmart is planning to do several more and I think they present a wonderful alternative, particularly for early prime time audiences. It will be interesting to see how well the whole series of movies will do ratings-wise.
Q: You have remained relatively busy working over the years. When and how did you get into directing?
Doug: I started writing while acting on The Wizard. Then wrote a feature called Conundrum for MGM which was set to star Sally Field and to be directed by Philip Noyce. It fell through at the last second and a year later I (with my friend, the producer, Thomas Baer) bought it back and sold it to Showtime. By then I'd directed (not very well) an indie picture I'd also written called Dead Badge  and so was able to convince Showtime to let me direct Conundrum . That put me in the TV movie business and I've managed (to my amazement) to stay busy at it for many years now.
Though his last credited acting role is from 1994, Barr has remained quite busy directing at least 22 projects over the last 15 years. Most of the work has been on TV Movies including the two just-finished projects he mentioned earlier for NBC/Walmart. In addition to that, back in the early 90s, he decided to try his hand at the wine business. He is co-owner and operator of the Hollywood and Vine Cellars in Napa Valley.
Q: Please tell us all about Hollywood and Vine Cellars; How it started and what it has become.
Doug: My wife, Clare, and I wanted our son to go to public school (which was difficult in the neighborhood where we lived in L.A. because of safety issues). By the time he was in Kindergarten, Clare had left acting behind (she'd been on a show called Paper Chase among many others) to return to what she had studied in college, Painting, and I was writing and no longer needed to be in L.A. We moved north to wine country, bought a house in probate, discovered the previous (deceased) owner had been a pioneer in the wine industry. His name was Maynard Amerine and he'd been a professor at UC Davis and written many text books on viticulture and oenology. I found one left behind in the cellar, read it, became interested, called my old college pal, Bruce Orosz (the buddy I went on the motorcycle trip with in your first question) who had become a producer, and asked if he wanted to make a little vino. He did, and in 1998 we released our first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. What little we produce can be found in restaurants and wine shops in 30 states, the Caribbean and bits of Europe and Canada. It's a wonderful and really interesting sideline. My son, by the way, did in fact go to public school and is about to graduate from college.
I am thrilled that Doug took the time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. You can find out more about Hollywood and Vine Cellars at the official website www.hollywoodandvinewine.comI want to take this opportunity to again thank Doug Barr for his contributions to 80s pop culture and for taking a walk down memory lane with us for a little while here as well.
That wraps up this special issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks as always for reading and hope you are enjoying the interviews as much as I am. If you want a summary of all of my Back to the 80s Interviews posted thus far, please click on that link. If you are interested in reading any of my other 80s related issues, please click there for a summary of those. You can also always click on the Archives in the upper left hand column or use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. Even if you are not a Facebook member yet, please consider joining and registering as a fan at that page. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. Let other 80s fans know about it as well! Peace and much love.
Check this out: Here is a helpful sign posted in the North District of Delhi in India. It would be reassuring that they "want you safe," don't you think? I recommend not only being cautious of the bananas, apples, tea, coffee, cold drink or biscuits. I would be cautious of any strangers offering you eatable food of any kind. Just a travel tip if you ever make it to India...
Quote of the day: "I learned that there were two ways I could live my life: following my dreams or doing something else. Dreams aren't a matter of chance, but a matter of choice. When I dream, I believe I am rehearsing my future." -David Copperfield
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