Sunday, 23 March 2014

interview: Ed Naha

I spoke with Ed Naha by phone at the time that The Adventures of Sinbad was just starting on British TV, in May 1997. This interview was published in a different form in SFX.

Where and how did the Sinbad TV series originate?
"Actually, I wanted to do Sinbad as soon as Honey, I Shrunk the Kids came out. I'd fallen in love with Sinbad when I was eleven. I hadn't seen any of the movies at that point, but I used to read Famous Monsters of Filmland and they had an article on Ray Harryhausen and they ran stills. I was too little when the first movie came out, but eventually I caught up with it. After Honey, I Shrunk the Kids came out, I just figured everyone would understand what I wanted to do - and no-one did.

"So we fast-forward to about a year and a half ago. I was up at All American Television, talking to a Vice-President up there; just a 'Hello. How are you? I won't kill you' meeting. And we were talking about fantasy action series. He said, 'Would you be interested in something along the lines of Sinbad?' So I said, 'If you can wait a day, I can get you sixty pages.' So I went home, found my movie treatment, added characters, and basically within a week, All American bought the series. Then about a week later Atlantis Films joined in. Then we sold it here in the States to Tribune Syndication and we were up and running.

"The thing that's so funny is that we had the commitment for a show on the basis of an outline. We had no script, we had no cast. So the first season was really... It's a little bit of a different take on the traditional Sinbad film, in that our Sinbad is younger, and we emphasise not only the character of Sinbad, but the people aboard his ship. He has a small crew that really form sort of a seafaring family. Only one of the crew members is actually a blood relation - his older brother Dubar is there."

If the original treatment was a movie, have you used the ideas from that, or just the characters?
"Actually the idea for the original film became our first two-hour episode, which is sometimes shown as a two-hour and sometimes shown as two one-hour episodes. But basically, yes, I just played with it and we wound up doing a movie. It was like: wow!"

As executive producer, creator and writer of some episodes, how much control have you got over how the series progresses?
"It's pretty much between myself and David Gerber, who is the President of All American Television. David has been around television for ever. He has more awards in his closet than I have shirts in mine. And the nice thing about it is, David and I share a passion for old movies, so we can talk in shorthand. Whenever we're thinking of modifying, changing direction, or whatever, rather than us go at it in terms of little yuppy-puppy Hollywood buzzwords, he'll say something along the lines of, 'Akim Tamaroff!' And I'll go, 'Yes, or perhaps Turhan Bey!' And I'll know exactly what he's talking about, and he'll know what I'm talking about. And between the two of us, it's a very nice situation. It's a nice give and take."

Akim Tamaroff rings a bell, but Turhan Bey I know. He was in a Mummy movie.
"Akim Tamaroff was also a villain. He was one of those villains in bad toupées. He was in Touch of Evil, the Orson Welles, Venice California film. The longest crane shot in the world is the opening shot! So that's one thing. And we're also trying to do something that harkens back to the swashbuckling films of yesteryear. Now, for me, I grew up watching Jason and the Argonauts and Mysterious Island and the Sinbad films. For David, it's the things that I later saw on television: Thief of Baghdad, Captain Blood, The Crimson Pirate. We're trying to be as evocative as possible and still be contemporary."

The two things that make this the right time for the series are the accessibility of special effects, and the vogue for mythical adventure that was sparked off by Hercules and Xena. How much has each of these contributed to making Sinbad a success?
"Honestly, I don't know. Certainly Hercules paved the way for us, Xena, and Robin Hood, which is over here now on the Turner Network. That proved that there was an audience. And thank God for CGI! Because, having grown up watching the stop-motion movies and just drooling over them, but also being knowledgeable of what it takes, I realised that you can't use stop-motion on a weekly series. We were very fortunate in finding an effects house in Toronto that's headed by a fellow who loves all those old movies. So he's got it from the get-go.

"It's a lark. It's been very hard work: seven days a week, 16-17 hours a day. But at the end of the day, when you see the show, it's like we're doing a Saturday matinee every week. And our take is a little different from Xena and Hercules, in that we do emphasise the magical aspects of our time period. Whereas Hercules is the son of a god, and Xena has some whammies at her disposal. Sinbad, in terms of magic and super-powers, is just a sailor, he's just a guy. And he has no magical abilities, no super-strength. It's all his brain and his athletic prowess. He's a clever guy. And in terms of the magical aspects of it, we have a character, Nhaim, who's a sorcerer's apprentice. But since she's a sorceress in training, she's not exactly up to speed on some of the spells that she casts. So it makes for some nice give and take.

"The camaraderie with the crew has really proven to be a plus with our viewers here. Dubar, Sinbad's older brother, he's the older brother that, had I had an older brother, I wish it was him. He's sort of the gentle giant, Nhaim is the sorceress. We have a sort of a Leonardo da Vinci type, an absent-minded inventor, aboard, who invents things but never writes stuff down. So his inventions are lost until someone reinvents them hundreds of years later. He comes up with the hang-glider, he discovers dynamite, sort of a laser beam. But whenever anyone asks him, 'Aren't you going to write this down?' he just points to his head: 'Nah, it's all up here.' Probably the most fun is that he actually invents the jacuzzi. Not only does he invent it, but it actually plays a pivotal role. We just sit there at the end of the day, just going, 'I can't believe we've got a jacuzzi! I can't believe that it plays a part in the story.' Then we have a knife-throwing dwarf whose tongue has been cut out, for reasons that we don't know, initially. We're actually starting the second season here now, and we'll be addressing that in the second season. And the crew is rounded out by Dermot, who is Nhaim's familiar, who is a hawk."

This is the one that's listed in the press notes as being played by 'a hawk'.
"But he's gone Hollywood now, so he's hyphenating his name!"

Do you use a real bird or animatronic?
"Real bird. We're very fortunate in that Jaclyn who plays Nhaim just loves animals. She and the hawk just hit it off wonderfully."

That's good, because if you work with birds of prey and they don't get on with you, you've got problems.
"The word 'eyepatch' comes to mind! It's really been nice, because Zen Gessler who plays Sinbad, this is his biggest role to date. The nice thing about the show, from my perspective now at the end of the first season, is that these people were basically dropped into a situation cold. We didn't have that much time. We were casting two weeks before production. And the nice thing about the show is that everyone did pull together as a crew. Zen, as the captain of the ship, is wonderful for me. He actually fell into that role off-camera as well. So the camaraderie is just lovely."

How were the leads cast?
"We had open casting for Sinbad, and we had about 25 people in the end reading sides. I figured I wrote audition sides such that if anyone could get through the sides, they could get through the series. We got down to around ten people. Basically, Zen didn't tell us very much about himself. We just felt that he embodied Sinbad and later we found out he's an expert swordsman. His mom is an actress as well, which he didn't let on, and his mom made a film when Zen was about six years old, where Zen finds a magic sword of a conquistador. We couldn't believe it - this guy was born to play Sinbad. Then later on, we arranged for him to meet Douglas Fairbanks Jr, who played Sinbad in the '40s, and the two of them just sat there for two hours and just talked about swashbuckling! It was really interesting."

Have you thought of asking Fairbanks to do a cameo in the series?
"He's a tad frail."

I'm not thinking of getting him to do a sword fight!
"But it's a really tough life. We were the first series to be shot in Cape Town of this magnitude. We were also the first series to work the kind of hours in that area, so it's really tough. So I really would've liked to, but it just would have been too difficult. I don't want to put anyone in a situation where they could get sick."

Why did you choose South Africa for filming?
"It was really interesting. This is a very bizarre production because half of us are down in South Africa, one company's in Los Angeles and the other company's in Toronto. Between the two countries, with our time schedule in terms of getting the show done by 'x' date, we couldn't use either America or Canada. So then it was: could we find a tropical location? Well, yes we could, and there are a lot of them, but since every episode is a separate voyage, we needed a place that really had a varied selection of locations. So Cape Town is perfect because you have beaches, forests, deserts, mountains - there's a variety of looks. It just seemed like a beautiful place, the people were great. We knew it would be a challenge: we had to build our own soundstage. So we took over an old warehouse and made our own soundstage, built our own boat. Then basically used a combination of local actors and actresses, our cast and Canadian guest stars."

I understand that the shooting stage is linked to Toronto and LA by an ISDN line. Is that vital?
"Yes it is, especially because we are doing a lot of green screen. We use more computer generated imagery than any other show on television, with the possible exception of space shows where you're looking at spaceships and so on. But in terms of actual creature features... We've completed one episode, that hasn't aired yet, where we have Sinbad and his crew attacked by 200 skeletons. Having that link helps because you can use motion capture, and that makes it easier for the guys at Calibre, our effects house. We've used every kind of effect you can imagine. We have herds of CGI monsters. The first season we have sea serpents; we have an avalanche of rocks that reconfigures into a rock giant; we have harpies. We have this one thing that's like a floating eyeball with tentacles."

Oh cool!
"It looks like something after twelve gin and tonics. You wake up in the morning: 'Ah, jeez!' And we have sorcerers, you know. One thing that we can do in year two is using a combination of CGI stuff and real animals, so you will have a giant spider or a giant lizard. We have a cyclops - and a giant goat! This is the way the show is. They're confronted by a giant ram, and the ram's about 60 feet tall. Sinbad is worried that they're going to be crushed. And Faruz the scientist points out: 'We really don't have much to worry about because they're herbivores.' Sinbad's worrying about the hoof, and the scientist is basically saying, 'Well, you know, they're vegetarian. So they're not going to eat us'."

Which is more important to the series: the special effects or the scripts?
"The scripts, no contest. I lived in a movie theatre when I was young. When I was eleven I was probably a lot harsher a critic than I am now. So one of the things that bothered me about a lot of the fantasy films of the '60s and the '70s - and today - is that the accent is almost totally on special effects and the plot is almost an afterthought. When I was a kid, I loved Jason and the Argonauts. I thought that was a smart movie. And I loved The Three Worlds of Gulliver and I loved Mysterious Island, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. It was just 'Huh?' - the plot was minimalistic to the point where your popcorn really looked interesting. So one of the things that we tried to do was have a story that would hold up whether we had a CGI effect or a guy in a bunny suit. As long as the plot holds up and you really love the characters, then we're home and free."

Do you know if Ray Harryhausen has seen the series?
"You know, I don't. Someone asked us once if we were ripping off Ray. I'm not uncomfortable with that question, because obviously he is the king. But it's more that I grew up watching Ray Harryhausen and George Pal and Willis O'Brien; and in the B-movies Bert Gordon. It's almost like me personally saying thank you: thank you for my childhood and thank you for giving me a sense of magic and wonder that I still have. Maybe now in a little way I can turn around and pass them on to someone else. When you look back and you think of Willis O'Brien, Ray Harryhausen, Jim Danforth, George Pal: these guys had no money, no time, and they produced movies that influenced so many people. I'm sounding like a preacher."

I'm hoping to see Ray later this year.
"Tell him I said hi. I haven't seen him since... I used to work for a magazine in the States called Starlog and we did a couple of things on Ray while I was there."

You were founding editor?
"Not of Starlog. I was the founding editor of Fangoria. I was one of the editors and half the staff of Starlog. I had twelve different names. Which is great training, by the way. You know how it is with deadlines. I was working on three magazines for the same publishing company: Fangoria, Future Life and Starlog. You would come in in the morning and you would be writing a science article on space stations for one of the magazines. Then somebody would come in and say, 'We need three pages on Lou Ferrigno. By three o'clock.' Oh fine! But that was a lot of fun."

What were Starlog and Fango like to work on in the really early days?
"It was hysterical. I used to be an A&R man at Columbia Records. And I totally burnt out after Born to Run, because - boy! - that was like pulling teeth, getting that out. So I answered an ad in the New York Times and went up to meet Kerry O'Quinn who was one of the publishers. It was such a tiny, tiny place! The editor-in-chief's office at that time was a reconverted storage closet! His desk was positioned longways so he wouldn't have to climb over it to get to his chair. So when I started working there, they moved to bigger offices, but they were still smallish. It would have two people in an office with their desks facing each other, so it looked like a Ferrante and Teicher piano set-up. There was only us, really, and Cinefantastique. But we had a schedule; I believe we were published ten times a year. Then we started Fangoria as a one-shot; then we had poster magazines. Then we had Future Life which was sort of a pre-Omni Omni magazine. It was like a Marx Brothers movie with ferns. You had people like Boris Vallejo doing artwork. He had no money! And everyone felt sorry for him."

How long did you stay on Starlog and Fango for?
"I was there three years. Then I decided that it was see if I could make a living writing freelance. I had been writing. I had published a couple of novels that I wrote at night while I had my full-time job."

Was this The Paradise Plot and The Suicide Plague?

You see: I've done my research! Tell me a bit about those two novels.
"Oh God! Well, actually The Paradise Plot was published because I was pissed off. Future Life were having a series on what life on a space station would be like, on an L5 colony. Everyone was writing these little articles: everything's going to be fine, everything's going to be perfect, we're all going to kiss and hug and play Donovan records. So when it came for me to do the chapter, I was wondering what would happen if you had a loose cannon up there, like Ed Gein. Well, I was called into the publisher's office and they skinned me alive. It was like: how dare I have such a jaded, cynical attitude, blah blah blah? So I figured, 'Ah!'

"Then I went out one day with an editor from Bantam books who worked with Fred Pohl. I knew Fred, but I didn't know this lady, so we were just talking. We got lacquered and started complaining about attitudes: when people looked to the future, they were always expecting pie in the sky. I said people are people, so she said, 'Why don't you do up a little outline?' Now, at this point, apart from Sherlock Holmes, I had never read a mystery. So I went to a book store and I said, 'I'd like $30-worth of mystery novels'! They said, 'Do you want the good stuff, or The Crap That Sells?' so I said, 'Well, how about half and half?' I read a lot of crap, and then I fell in love with people I'd never read at that point in my life: Chandler, Hammett, and at that point Elmore Leonard wasn't known as a mystery writer but for his westerns. So someone said, 'You should check out Elmore Leonard. He's starting to write mysteries.'

“So I read all that stuff and thought, 'Yes, this is cool.' So I handed in this outline and they bought the outline and I got the book out. And it did well enough - or they felt sorry for me enough; I'm not sure which - that I did the second one. [Although it meant nothing at the time of this interview, it has since become notable that the central character of these two novels is named Harry Potter - MJS] Then I felt cocky enough in 1980, because I had been a rock'n'roll writer as well, that I had enough freelance stuff going on that I could pay my rent. Then I wrote a book on Roger Corman. I figured, 'Well, I've been in New York for ten years. Gee, maybe I'll pack up my dogs and go to California.' So I came out here with no plans at all and walked into Roger Corman's office - by that time we knew each other - and said, 'You know, I think it's about time I wrote a movie for you.' So he just went, 'Okay.' I wrote a movie..."

Which movie was that?
"God! Eventually it wasn't so much released as let loose. It was called Oddballs. It was a grotesquely unfunny comedy; it has all the comedic timing of a major telethon. Then I did a fantasy adventure for him that was filmed in Argentina! That was hideous, called Wizard Wars. Again it did so well on tape that they had a sequel."

That's not the same as Wizards of the Demon Sword, is it?

I guess they must just film hundreds of wizard films in Argentina. [Wizard Wars was released as Wizards of the Lost Kingdom - MJS]
"As a matter of fact, this was filmed bad because 90% of the actors were speaking their lines in English phonetically. And they would just drop stuff. We had one entire speech, a pivotal speech dropped. And the line that the actor read was, 'Good! Good! Varrry good!' And I'm going, 'Holy Jeez...'! I wrote 400 loop-lines for this movie. By the time they cut together the usable footage, we had a 62-minute movie. So Roger, undaunted, went out and he assembled 20 minutes of footage from other sword and fantasy films that he had done. And that was both the prologue - that had nothing to do with the movie - and during the movie, three or four times, characters have flashbacks to other movies!"

That's Roger Corman. That's what he does.
"I know. At a certain point, I found myself behind a Moviola. I had never seen a Moviola, let alone worked on one. And I'm in an attic in Venice, California, and it's about 120 degrees, and I'm looking at bad footage from Argentina. And I just thought, 'You know, life doesn't get much better than this.'!

"I'll just tell you this. We had a flying lion that was supposed to be in the movie. So they had a costume and the wings and they had a crane. Well, the director got fired after a day. So the lead actor and the Argentinian producer decided that they were going to direct the film themselves. So the first thing they did was cut out the lion. Now unfortunately, the lion was the sidekick. So they took off the wings. Now you had a guy in a lion suit, who looked like he was Nana the dog in a bad production of Peter Pan, the kind of production where you see a play and get a sandwich. So they said, 'Well, why don't we just stand him up?' So now there's a guy standing up in a lion suit!"

All you need is a tin man and a scarecrow and you're there!
"Oh no, it wasn't even like that. It looked like someone in seedy pyjamas. So they covered him in fur. Now they had something that looked like... something the cat threw up. So to really polish it off, they covered the fur with yak hair. So basically, in this movie the young wizard has a sidekick that looks like a six-foot-three hairball with bell-bottom legs."

Like Cousin Itt grown up.
"Yes, except it was white! I have no idea what this thing looked like. Mystery Science Theatre wouldn't touch this. It was really a mess. From there I went to working for Charles Band and met Stuart Gordon on a film. And then Stuart and I and the producer of one of our movies came up with the idea of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. From there I moved up - or down, depending on your point of view."

This is bizarrely synchronous, because our next issue has got an interview with Stuart Gordon in it to tie in with Space Truckers.
"Really? Oh cool."

And the next issue has an interview with John Carl Buechler, who did Troll, which was one of yours.
"I wouldn't even go into Troll, man! I wouldn't even go into that film! Suffice to say that it bankrupted Empire Pictures!" [The central character in Troll is also called Harry Potter! - MJS]

What was your connection with it?
"I wrote it and then hid. The nicest complement I ever got for Troll was that a whole bunch of us went to see it on opening night. At the time I was a tequila man, and somebody brought a bottle of tequila in their purse into the theatre. It didn't take me long to know I'd need it. So afterward we were holding a kind of wake for the film. Somebody from the studio was there and said to me, 'You know, if you closed your eyes, it sounded good'! Oh great; now I have a career in radio! If they bring back Inner Sanctum I can write! Stuart was okay, though. He's an amazing man, Stuart Gordon, he's brilliant."

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is really not the sort of film we associate with him.
"Well, you know, it's interesting because we did Dolls together. He has children, and so does Brian Yuzna, who did Re-Animator and Dolls, and they wanted to do a movie that their kids could see. We all sat down and came up with this idea and I did a treatment, and Disney flipped out over it. My only regret about that whole episode, that whole time period in my life, is that Stuart did not get the chance to direct that movie. Because I know it would have been, not really that different, because we really went out of our way to do a traditional Disney film. But it would have been a little smarter, and it certainly would have been more coherent. Out of everything I've ever done, that's the only disappointment that I've had; not getting to have Stuart direct that."

But the rest of it you're pretty pleased with? Even Troll?
"What are you gonna do? When you put the words on paper, you have to hope that maybe three out of ten words survive. Which is the nice thing about Sinbad. It's really a nice experience to write something and then see it in dailies a month later. In film, that just doesn't happen."

I believe you also did a few Tales from the Crypt.
"Yes, I did Tales from the Cryptkeeper."

The cartoon series.
"That was really interesting because I had never dealt with a network before. And man, the things you have to go through! It basically depends on how much fibre the person you're dealing with has had that morning for breakfast. Because you're dealing with censors, you're dealing with children's watchdogs. To me it was amusing, because when I was little, the Catholic Church back East had something that they called the Legion of Decency. Now, in the Catholic newspaper they would print ratings for all the movies. Horror movies almost across the board were rated 'O' - 'objectionable in part for everybody'. So kids weren't allowed to see them. Fortunately, most of our movies were so obscure that they didn't make the list.

"So my mom would make me call the arch-diocese of Newark and I'd get a little old lady on the phone: 'Yes, may I help you?' 'Yeah, I'd like to know the ratings for Circus of Horrors and A Bucket of Blood.' And she'd say, 'Oh no, you can't see those! Your mind will turn to tapioca!' So I'd hang up the phone: 'Thank you, lady.' And my mom would say, 'What did she say?' and I'd just go, 'Oh, she said they was fine'! So I'd go out and see these movies and I didn't become an axe-murderer. But apparently now, everyone's worried that if a child sees someone turn into a werewolf and attack someone that they're going to actually become a lycanthrope when they grow up. As opposed to watching the evening news, where the body count is in two or three digits. It's a very, very interesting retro time period in terms of morality. Everyone seems to think they have a lock on it."

Do you think that's why clean-cut, nice things like Sinbad are so successful?
"Well, I don't know that it's because they're clean-cut and/or nice. I think it's nice to sit down with a show and go to a movie, or even read a book, where there is a hero. And the hero basically isn't embarrassed to be a hero, and isn't embarrassed that he's working for the good guys. He's not a closet heroin addict, and he doesn't snort coke, and he doesn't come home and beat his children. It's just, 'I'm a hero. Hello! You're bad. I'll get ya.'

"I think overall, in terms of the recent revival in fantasy action on television, that people kind of crave that. At the end of the day, you're in a job that you hate, or you're going to school and you're bored stiff, you have to pay the rent, you have to do this, or you have to do whatever, you're just burnt. And you can turn on a TV set and see someone who has problems that are slightly different and a lot more grotesque than yours. Which is worse: dealing with a teacher you hate or a sixty-foot cyclops who's carnivorous? Although oftentimes they feel the same. This guy just steps up to the plate and confronts evil. It's kind of a reassuring feeling that yes, there are people that still think this way."

Let me just go through a few recent projects. What is Omega Doom?
"Omega Doom is this strange movie that Rutger Hauer stars in, and Albert Pyun directed it. The only time I ever met Albert was about 15 years ago, and the reason we remembered each other, is we both wear Hawaiian shirts. I had worked with the producer on the film, prior to this, and they needed a re-write - a drastic re-write, four weeks before production. So I thought, 'Yes, here's a really good idea.' So I did a re-write and it's a very, very stylised post-apocalyptic movie about basically a loner who's almost like an avenging angel. But he's an android."

An android? In an Albert Pyun movie? No way!
"It's a stretch, but we thought it's about time he made that leap!"

I don't know if that's out over here yet. Videos come out all the time under odd names, and we go, 'What the hell is this?'
"I know!"

And they're usually by Albert Pyun! No, I'm a sucker for his stuff. The sign of a good film is killer androids or giant ants. If it hasn't got either of those, I'm not interested.
"That's why I was so disappointed with the last Meryl Streep film."

I think they edited them out after its first run. Anyway, it says here, 'ABC and Disney have chosen him to write Babes in Toyland'. Babes in Toyland?
"Well, yes. But not the drecky version. I am a total, total, total Laurel and Hardy fan. My company is called A Fine Mess Incorporated. My house, right now I have run out of wall-space. As I speak right now, six feet away from me are life-size cut-outs of the boys, next to Laurel and Hardy clocks. These guys just saved my butt at a time in my life when I just needed levity, there they were. And they did Babes in Toyland, and it's a very twisted movie, it's kind of creepy.

"And like a lot of Laurel and Hardy's pictures that had music in it, it was almost completely terrible except for Laurel and Hardy. It's a trap that some comedians fell into, like the Marx Brothers. You'd love the Marx Brothers, but then you had to sit through Zeppo crooning a tune: 'Oh God.' So I came up with an idea about two guys, but they're not Laurel and Hardy. There's a lot more physical comedy, and it skews much more towards traditional comedy than Frankie Avalon and Annette and Ed Wynn running around the Disney lot being cute. We'll see. That's in the development stages, so it might or might not happen."

The other thing that's got us all excited is To Serve Man. Is this going to get made?
"To Serve Man, I just dropped out of. And it's something that I wanted to do for the last five years. The producer was wonderful, and he tracked me down, and I signed to do it. Then basically what happened is that Sinbad turned into my life. So I didn't want to do a bad job or a perfunctory pass at it, because I really love Damon Knight. But they are developing it at CBS in the States as a television film."

How are they going to pad it out to two hours? It just builds up to that one great joke at the end.
"The thing is, I don't know whether they'll pursue this idea, but I came up with something that basically that punchline is the end of the first hour. The second hour is, if you take that and spin it forward, set it aboard the spaceship. That's when the fun begins. Whether or not they'll go forward in that direction, I don't know."

The Encyclopaedia of SF says there are 13 books in the Traveller series by DB Drumm. It says that you definitely wrote the first one, but they think that most of the rest were written by John Shirley.
"No. John is... Were there 13 books in the Traveller series?"

It lists 13.
"Jeez! Do they combine Traveller and The Marauders?"

I don't know. It goes up as far as #13: Ghost Dancers.
"Oh yes. I did all of them, except for... I don't have the list in front of me. I didn't do, I think, three of them. Whenever you see ones that have large animals, like a Buddhist monk riding on a 15-foot rat, that's John. Mine were more spaghetti western hardcore stuff. Then I did a series of books as Michael McGann: The Marauders. I don't know how many of those I did. They were post-apocalyptic, swashbuckling, guns'n'ammo books that won the accolade of the mercenary crowd! 'Hey! You like guns? I like guns!' I'm thinking of moving to the Republic of Texas."

Finally, I have your bio in the press notes, which I suspect you wrote yourself...

'As a plumber', it says 'you haven't accomplished a hell of a lot.' Are you getting better at being a plumber?
"Yes, actually, I can do something. When the toilet runs, I can do something more than just jiggle the knob. I actually know how to screw around with that little chain inside the tank that really is the all-important link to the flush chain."

If the writing collapses, you've got a second career.
"And if my plumbing continues like that, I would like to get in touch with Jim Cameron, because I think for $200 million I think we probably could film a scintillating film about my toilet. We would have to use a few thousand CGI shots."

Or you could get back with Stuart Gordon and do Honey I Flushed the Kids Away.
"I was thinking more along the lines of the Titanic. One thing I did want to tell you in terms of Zen, because I can't say enough about this guy. He's the nicest guy in the world, and just an incredible trooper. One thing that might be interesting is that he actually was the assistant fight director at the Royal Opera House. He earned an advanced certificate from the Society of British Fight Directors, and he went to school and the London Academy. He went to the Summer programme on Shakespeare."

The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, LAMDA. That's one of the really big ones.
"And he wound up doing fight scenes. That's kind of a lost art in itself, especially in television. There's a lot of jumping and running and leaping, but not a lot of actual swordplay."

So does he do all his own fight sequences?
"Yes. He missed out a couple of days. He actually got the chicken pox. And the way he got it was typical. He had all these schoolkids come to the set. And one of the kids had the chicken pox, and he had never had the chicken pox when he was a kid. He continued this episode, it was the samurai episode, he continued until he physically he couldn't move. He would not leave. They had so much pancake on him, he was sweating through it. They put different lenses on so he didn't look like a George Romero film festival. This guy is just amazing. I'm not going to say the first season was easy because it really was not. We had everything going against us, and he just pulled everyone together. So I would like to tip my hat to him.”

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