MONSTERS, MADMEN, AND MAIDENS:
DONALD F. GLÜT
Creator of Creatures That Go Bump (And Grind) In The Night
This interview originally took place the Summer of 2004.
Article by Robert Long II
Robert: I’m sitting here with Don Glüt. I’ve been a huge fan of Don’s work for many years, and it’s a pleasure to be here with him. Don is a Jack-Of-All-Trades. He was in the 60’s rock band “Penny Arkade” (managed at the time by Monkees guitarist Michael Nesmith). He has been an artist. Don was a well-regarded young filmmaker from the 1950’s to the late 1960’s, producing well forty-one 16mm amateur films based on dinosaurs, gorillas, super heroes, and famous Universal monsters. He’s an amateur paleontologist, a prolific writer of several magazine articles and books, and has contributed many scripts for various animation projects as well. But, today we are going to talk to Don about his getting back into the movie business.
Don: Well, I don’t really count the amateur movies as being part of the movie business, although some of them have been released in one way or another. Four of them, all super hero films from the late 1960’s became part of this underground movement at the time, and were shown in theaters, as well as on television. I remember my mother calling me from Chicago “I’m watching you on TV right now!” I said “What???”
What had happened is that the station had rented them through the Chicago Cinema CO-OP. They ran “Spy Smasher vs. the Purple Monster,” which is a four chapter serial, on TV in Chicago one chapter a week. They played it like a real serial. This was after its ‘theatrical run’ at the Aardvark Theater in Old Town. It was amazing! Another one “The Rocket Man Flies Again” actually got released on 16mm from Glenn Photo Supply, which was putting out a lot of movies. You could also get it on Super 8. “Batman and Robin” and “Captain America Battles The Red Skull” were also part of those four films. Colleges and students for film festivals rented them quite frequently. This was back in the mid-60’s when they could be called underground. It’s funny, because I made them as a kid in the 50’s to 1960s. First they were home movies, then they became ‘underground movies’ in the 60’s, and I think I think after a while they became experimental films and then maybe student films, because I was a student while I made some of them. Not yet film school, but I was a student. They just eventually got out there. I think now people view them as independent movies, but they were really home movies shot in the backyard and the basement, alleys, the local cemeteries, and places like that.
Robert: It must have helped immeasurably to have friendships with people like Bob Burns and Forry Ackerman.
Don: Oh, yeah – for sure, especially Bob Burns. Bob Burns was like… well I call him my “honorary big brother.” He was my mentor really. If you look at all my amateur films up to like “pre-Bob Burns,” they all have a much more crude look. After I met Bob, who was a film editor at CBS, he taught me some basics about editing that I didn’t know. Plus, when I just started hanging out with Bob, I had access to a lot of his props, a lot of his costumes – which went into my films. And of course I had access to Bob! Bob was an adult so I had an actual real adult in my movies; there was also his wife Kathy, so I had an actual attractive adult female in my movies! So that was a big turning point once Bob entered the picture; the movies took on a much more professional look. But to answer your first question, I don’t really count that as part of my movie career. It was actually more of a hobby. My career as a Producer and Director really didn’t start until I did “Dinosaur Valley Girls” in 1995.
Robert: Okay so 1995. I guess I was under the impression that that was the late 1980’s.
Don: No, we shot “DVG” in ’95, and I believe it was first released to TV in ’96 and on video in ’97.
Robert: Now in your earlier “hobby” films you were obviously shooting on film. Did you continue with film when you got into professional movie making, or did you go the digital video route? Hi-8 or what did you deal with here?
Don: “Dinosaur Valley Girls” was shot on 16mm film. I was really hoping to finally shoot a 35mm movie, but we didn’t have it in our budget to shoot with 35mm. I remember how disappointed I was when one of my two partners on the film, Kevin Glover, came told me that we had to shoot it on 16mm. The first thing that went through my head was “Oh man, this is going to look like all of the old movies I made when I was a kid!” I mean it was going to be the same quality and everything, so that was a big letdown for me.
Since “Dinosaur Valley Girls” it’s been hard to raise money to shoot on film because your budgets go way up, and it has been more economically feasible for us to shoot with the digital processes. We shot the last three features on mini DV and then we put them through this “film look” process. I have to admit that it looks pretty much like 35mm film, but I would still like to shoot a 35mm movie. But the way things are now, a lot of people are going the digital route; even some theatrical releases are being shot on digital. You save a tremendous amount of time and save a lot of money; your raw stock is cheap. You can get a lot more takes in. At the time I was shooting “Dinosaur Valley Girls” my first AD (assistant director) or someone would come up to me and say “Okay, you have only have enough film stock for one take, so you have to get this shot in one take. We don’t have enough film to last us the rest of the day to make our quota.” So I would have to be satisfied with something that I knew as it was being shot that it wasn’t particularly good; I would have to accept something mediocre and be satisfied with that. You have the opportunity for more options taking your time with digital.
Robert: That’s excellent! I’m not quite sure that this next question pertains to you, but more to your crew and your DP. It’s basically the question of what type of camera have you used, what kind of equipment has been involved with the productions.
Don: For the digital, I forgot what we shot the 16mm on, but for the video I know it was a Canon XL-1 for the three subsequent movies.
Robert: So you have done what – four to five movies since 1995?
Don: If you are talking about feature-length movies, it’s been four: “Dinosaur Valley Girls,” “The Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula,” “The Mummy’s Kiss,” followed by “Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood.”
Robert: Okay… within those four features, can you give me an example of the “Murphy’s Law” incidents that have happened on these low-budget shoots?
Can you possibly tell us how you had to deal with it and get around them? You probably didn’t have the luxury of time or money to deal with most of them the way you would have liked to.
Don: Oh jeez, you know there is at least one of those situations in every one of those films. For “Dinosaur Valley Girls” we were shooting out in the desert, and our DP (Director of Photography) was very good, but was also very slow. Now that would cost us a lot of time and we were constantly fighting the sun going down. We shot a lot of it outdoors, and there was one day to shot on the desert location, and we couldn’t come back. We were shooting a scene that in the script was going to be about 10 pages long – it might have been closer to 15. There was a lot of dialog in it, and it was basically about the time traveling hero teaching the Dinosaur Valley Girls how to use various makeshift weapons. These were made out of underwear to create bolos and slingshots and things. He was also teaching them martial arts. Now the sun was steadily heading over the edge of the cliff. Once it reached the end of the cliff, we would not have enough light to shoot. My first AD looked at his watch and said, “You have an hour.” That little time for 10 to 15 pages of script. Well, one thing I learned by becoming a producer was being able to be very ruthless with my stuff when it comes down to money and the bottom line. So I looked at the script and crossed everything out to where we would get it down to a couple of shots: we would do the master shot, and then we would go in for the close ups of each girl. This reduced the script to a couple lines of dialog. It probably worked out better this way. Had we shot everything it probably would have been boring and too long.
Don: In “The Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula” we had a whole subplot with a character by the name of Mal, who was the “masher” of the film; he was also one of the investors. He and an adult actress named Charlie were to do a scene together in a nightclub – with lots of dialogue. Again I find out we have no time to shoot ANY of this. So I had to take her part – she played a waitress at the club – and reduce it to only her fantasy hot tub skinny-dipping sequence. This was all shot second unit. I had poor Jason Peter’s part reduced to just a few lines, which we had to improvise on the set because the new stuff didn’t match what was in the original script. So that whole subplot between Jason and Charlie was eliminated. I did promise him I was going to make it up to him some day – which I did in the sequel.
On “The Mummy’s Kiss” I went down to the location a day or so before with my DP to see where we were shooting the scenes. We mapped out every shot and broke the whole thing down into a shooting script. This was so we would be able to work as efficiently as possible when we arrived on the set. I think we may have even had an alternate plan in case we didn’t have time to shoot all those scenes. So I drove up to the location the next day; and there is an ENORMOUS truck – six blocks long this truck is – trying to park on the location’s property. The truck is a makeup and costume truck. Only one of the rooms in it was in use. We really didn’t need this truck, but somehow, for some reason… we had this truck. I don’t know if the costume guy was insisting on it, or if Kevin wanted this to look like a much bigger production than it was.
Anyway, they were trying to… well, whatever. By now we had already lost the first hour, and it turns out that the only spot they can park this behemoth, the only place large enough for it, was exactly where we had worked out all the shots for that whole sequence. So by the seat of my pants – going into total guerrilla filmmaking mode – I had to rethink the scene for a different part of the building. Unfortunately there weren’t that many different parts to the building; we couldn’t shoot by the swimming pool, because this is supposed to be a scene where the characters are leaving a restaurant. Plus, the actors were supposed to walk through the parking lot to one of the character’s cars. Well, now the parking lot was filled up with cast and crew cars. Basically I had to make it up as we went along.
In “Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood,” almost everything that was planned for the crypt – which is the area where the vampires get staked and coffins are underneath the abbey – we didn’t have time to shoot what I had wanted to, so I had to take pretty much everything that I had planned to shoot down there and just improvise on the spot. Sometimes, all the cuts and things I had planned got reduced to one master shot, just sort of dollying in on the faces of the characters. We didn’t have time to get all the coverage we wanted. It’s funny that now that I have gone through that experience, I watch other movies – even big budget movies – where I have seen two characters simply having a conversation… and the camera is slooooooowly pushing in on them. I sit there and think, “They didn’t have the time to get all the coverage they needed.” They’re doing the same thing I’m doing here. These are some of the compromises I’ve had to make because of, as you said, “Murphy’s Law.”
Robert: I believe that while you were on that abbey set, one of your actors could not fit in the coffin, so that had to be an extra consideration.
Don: Oh, that was something I hadn’t figured on. Arthur Roberts, who plays Lord Ruffin is way over six feet tall. I didn’t think of such things as different-sized coffins, so we had to shoot all of his scenes where his feet don’t show because they are sticking out the foot end of the coffin. And we couldn’t close the coffin all the way because of his feet being there. If you look at the film, every time we’re closing the coffin, it never quite comes down all the way, or it starts from a position where there’s already a crack of it open.
We also only had one prop skeleton; you see this one long shot of Renfield and Martine coming in and they discover the skeleton on the floor, and then we keep pulling back and discover the skeleton in the coffin. It’s the same skeleton. I just had to cut away and call cut, then we would reposition the skeleton. That actually kind of threw everybody off. The way I’m used to working – and I had a whole different crew this time, including a different producer – is to have it all in my head, and to say to people “stand over here, look over there, point in that direction, and say these lines.” Most of the time they don’t have a clue as to what I’m doing or they’re doing, and I have to say, “Trust me it will cut together.” And it always does. This crew, they had to have the scene enacted in front of them in its entirety before we could shoot it. Not all of them understood this problem with the skeleton. They’d say “We only have one skeleton!” and I would say “Trust me, we’re going to move the skeleton and end up with two.” Then they would bring up that they weren’t able to move it when we were rehearsing the shot. It really wasn’t a conflict at that point, but it did show the several different ways of working and differences of opinions. Some of the crewmembers found it a little hard to understand what was in my mind at the time, but it all worked out.
Robert: That’s great! Now Don, what kind of preplanning do you do for an upcoming film? Do you storyboard, do you hold a script meeting to get feedback on what will and will not work?
Don: The planning is usually about a week before we start. (chuckles) There really is no planning other that. The planning is done between the line producer and myself. To bring people in for all those meetings we have to pay them; a lot of people who make low- or no-budget films don’t pay anyone anything, but we do. They have to do a lot of driving around to locations and all that kind of thing. The only film that had storyboards was “Dinosaur Valley Girls.” It had a much bigger budget, at least $250,000. And we had Frank Brunner – a good friend of mine and also a very good and quite famous comic book fantasy artist – did up the storyboards for only the scenes that involved dinosaurs. But, we really work close to the wire. If we are lucky, we might get a script-reading — if we already have the finished script. We did have an over-pizza script reading and an in-studio rehearsal for “Dinosaur Valley Girls.” I had a script reading on “Erotic Rites” and one for “The Mummy’s Kiss.” Not all the actors were present. Some people doubled up on roles.
On “Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood” there was no script reading. The rehearsal was basically was right before the first take, and so sometimes we shot the rehearsal too in case it was good. So there is almost no planning except for what goes on in my mind and what is spoken about between the line producer and myself. Such things as locations we’re going to rent, props we’re going to rent or have built and that sort of stuff are discussed then. The actor usually shows up for the first time on set.
Robert: Now have they been given the script ahead of time at all?
Don: Ah, yes, the actor is always given the script ahead of time: sometimes the actors know their lines, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they forget their lines and have to cheat off cue card. You never really know what to expect. So usually we shoot it for the first time and if it is not exactly the performance I want; if there’s time, we’ll do it again. Sometimes the performances are not what I planned, because there is just no time to reshoot them and get another take.
Robert: Now other than the considerations of rented space, the advantages of using video here is that you CAN get in a few extra shots without worrying about using up precious film stock.
Don: Yes, and not only that but you can look at it and watch it right away. If somebody is not sure if a camera boom got in the way, or an actor looked at the lens or something, we can look at it instantly by winding it back and checking it out. Also, if you are doing pick up shots – you need an insert of a hand or a close up something you didn’t have before or be at a totally different location, you can see it on the monitor screen. Then you can light your insert or pick-up shot exactly so it matches the other footage.
We did that for instance in “Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood.” We ran out of time at our castle location, and all the stuff around the dinner table where Dracula’s girlfriend, Valerie, is serving him the blood – that was all done in a master shot because we just didn’t have the time to shoot it. So I went back maybe a month later. I brought a very small crew and the two actors I needed for those shots – Tony Clay and Jana Thompson. I was able to get in all those close ups of her making the line about a Hammer Film’s barmaid and looking at her cleavage and all that. Those were all done as pickup shots and we just pieced them all together. Martine was only there when we did the actual scene.
Robert: I do remember that and it did cut together very well. Now on these movies that you do, are they self-financed or do you have investors? If you have investors, what is your advice to the indie filmmaker out there as to how to obtain them?
Don: Financing is the only really difficult part about making movies. The raising of the money is nightmarishly difficult. If we could raise the money, I would be making four to five movies a year – cranking them out like Roger Corman did. We have never been in the position where we have been able to raise the money during short, short intervals. All the money comes from friends and relatives. People I’ve met at parties, people I’ve talked to, old fans of mine that I’ve met over the internet and they end up becoming investors.
You’ve got to remember that when you are making a big studio movie for $100,000,000, it’s sometimes easier to get the money. When you’re dealing with low-budget films, you are dealing with individuals with a checkbook. They have to (A) trust you enough to write you a check for something they don’t even know is ever going to get made; and (B) believe you’ll make something that’s going to get their money back. They hear all these horror stories about Hollywood and creative bookkeeping and everything and people getting ripped off. And people like me who are really making movies – movies that will hopefully turn a profit – I have to work at it, because they look at me the same way.
I’m also dealing with people that don’t understand the movie business; they don’t understand trends. I deal with a lot of blue-collar and also white-collar worker friends in Chicago who doesn’t seem to understand that you can invest in more than one movie; that the more movies we can crank out, the more money they’re going to make in the long haul. We could have an entire product line instead of being one of these guys that only makes one movie every two years. You get a product line going. But they look at it as “Well, I’ve got one savings account, why would I want two savings accounts?” or they want to wait until they get their money back… and it takes about three years for that to happen usually because of the nature of the retail business and so forth.
So every time we are going to make a movie, we’re always starting at ground zero; I have to start ALL over again and I have to go find a mostly whole new group of potential investors. Unfortunately I meet a lot of people that string me along for months: they want to be part of the Hollywood scene, they want to experience that glamour, they want to meet the pretty girls and go to the parties. When it gets to that moment of truth, somebody – a spouse, an investment counselor, CPA or somebody – will say, “Hey, movies are a risky investment and you don’t want to take a risk.” Then they’ll go and invest their money in property or something.
We had one guy from Chicago that was going to put in $60,000 to $70,000 into a film project, and he told me that he would be in Los Angeles in three months. So for three months we got our “dog and pony show” together to do a big presentation for him. The night before the presentation, he called me up and he said, “I’m here. I will be at your office at ten o’clock in the morning tomorrow to see your pitch.” Nine o’clock the next morning he called me and he said “I just talked to my wife, and she won’t let me do it.” Well, that was the end of that! All that time down the drain.
We had two guys from Iran that were oilmen who were going to invest in “Dinosaur Valley Girls.” I had a party for them, we had girls dressed up as cave girls, we had food, and we had a video on the TV that was playing a constant series of clips from old dinosaur movies. I had the guys who were going to do the special effects come over to give them a demonstration as to how stop-motion worked. Everything was fine. They strung us along for six months, and they finally said, “We’ve decided to buy property in Malibu.” which about to or three weeks later went down in a flood and a mudslide. You know? That’s what I have to deal with.
At the time of the posting on this website (2004 – not 2008), we still owe $25,000 on “Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood.” The movie has been out for less than a week and a half on DVD. It has already sold out once on Amazon and has been selling constantly since even the week before it came out had been on Amazon.com’s bestseller list already. It has two bookings with the two top pay-per-view channels this September, and I can’t raise this $25,000. It’s like betting on a horse that has already crossed the finish line.
People will tell me “Oh, maybe on the next one” The next one? First of all we have to make the movie, raise the money, make the next movie… and that may be six to seven months after you put your initial money into the project. Then it’s going to be about three years before you see any of that. It’s got to go through post-production including post sound, editing, titles, color corrections, and special effects, cutting it together. So we have this movie that is sold, it’s already selling, and I can’t raise the money to pay the outstanding debts on this movie. That is the single biggest problem I have — raising the money for these movies. The only way you are going to be able to do it is by getting people to write you checks. I have people – would-be film-makers — that walk around with letters of intent; that means nothing in the world of low-budget independent films. That only works when you have Tom Cruise attached to a $75,000,000 movie. So when you’re walking around with somebody like Richard Lynch’s name in the cast; the first thing is…the investors you are going to talk to probably have no idea who he is. You could probably put Christopher Lee’s name on it for a horror movie and they wouldn’t know who Christopher Lee is. Most of our investors don’t even know what the title of our movie is or what it’s about. All they want to know about is their numbers. And they have to have a certain amount of trust in you to give you any money. And I found that out, through hard experience.
You see, the people with a lot of money are professional investor types; these people are the most unlikely to invest in your project because they have found that movies are a risk. Now our features are small risks, but movies in general are a risk. Now if you are a professional investor, the last thing you want to do is take a risk. So, I try to go after people that have a love of the entertainment business, but have never really been a part of it. I go to people whom I know to have large 16mm film collections in their basement. I go after people who used to be in rock bands, but are now grandfathers; they miss performing, they miss all that excitement. Those are the people I go after, and those are the people most likely to come forward and write me a check.
Robert: So basically it is an incredible amount of knocking on doors and saying to these people “Look, I’ve done four films. They are out there, they are profitable, and they are being seen…
Don: It doesn’t matter. I talk to people all the time. I say, “This movie’s a hit! You can be part of the new movie we’re doing.” They come back with “Well, we’re just having our bathroom remodeled and that’s costing us a lot of money…” Or here’s the other thing I get; people who are would-be producers. They’ll say, “We’re making our own movie first. As soon as that makes its profits back, then we’ll invest in yours.” I ask them what kind of movie are they going to make, and it’s usually some esoteric thing that is totally non-commercial, it has no names in it, and it’s not going to sell. And they end up with stocking stuffers for Christmas; they give them away. It’s like people who publish their own books; they give them away as gifts because there is no distribution and nobody wants to buy them. I see this over and over and over again. That’s what I’m up against.
Robert: We’ve hit on this a bit already, but as far as your movies go, what has been your largest budget? What has been your smallest budget? Can you give me examples of where the money goes in a project, and why one feature may cost more than another?
Don: Here are the budgets on the four features: “Dinosaur Valley Girls,” which was shot on 16mm film in 1995, in two weeks, cost approximately $250,000. The next one, “The Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula” cost about $73,000. “Mummy’s Kiss” was about $130,000, and “Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood” will come in a just maybe a little under $100,000. I would like to stay around $100,000. “Dinosaur Valley Girls” was shot on film, we had more time, and we had a big cast. We also had a lot of costumes and special effects; that’s why that one cost more.
“Erotic Rites” cost less because that is all the money I could raise. So we had to make due, and we ended up being short because a lot of those scenes I couldn’t film; like scene with Mal the Masher and the other waitress. So we came in short, and we had to pad it out by adding more to the love scenes. That’s why the love scenes seem to drag on forever in that movie. Also, there’s a music video at the end. That added about another three minutes to it.
“Mummy’s Kiss” was… I think my partner Kevin just spent too much money on it. But we also had matte paintings that we had never done before, and that all adds in to the budget. They were needed to create ancient Egypt. The fourth movie was line-produced by Fred Olen Ray’s wife Kim. She just did a fabulous job. She taught me things, and was very hard-nosed about it. I really respect her for it. I’ll give you an example: in the past, say we needed extra scripts. Kevin would simply run them off and say, “Don, you gotta raise some more money to pay for these scripts.” I would tell Kim I needed another script, and she would say “Nope. The budget only allowed for fifteen scripts; we’ve already given the fifteen scripts out. Somebody will have to double up, or photocopy someone else’s script.” She was very adamant about it. She would teach me things like the production didn’t need more than one PA (Production Assistant). We used to have “armies” of PAs that we would pay. We didn’t need a makeup truck. We didn’t need transportation shuttling everybody to the set; people could drive on their own. All totaled we saved a tremendous amount of money doing it Kim’s way. I really learned how to save money from Kim doing the budget and Kim sticking to that budget.
Robert: I’m sure that means that more of the production budget shows up in front of the movie screen, not behind it.
Don: Oh yeah. Every dollar we raise shows up on the screen. I think “Mummy’s Kiss” was budgeted at $70,000 or $80,000 and it came in at $130,000. I had to raise that extra money. A lot of it went on credit cards – my credit cards. The $16,000 from “Erotic Rites” went on my credit card that I have never been paid back for. Where as in “Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood,” Kim asked me how much money I had. I told her about $100,000. She said, “That IS the budget.” Everything was based on that $100,000; we did not go over budget.
Robert: That’s excellent to hear! Okay, be it that you yourself write the screenplays, my question is this; do you use some sort of script-writing software program or template to put them together? If you do use a script-writing program, what is the brand name? Or do you create the scripts in a more traditional manner?
Don: I don’t use any script-writing software. I do it the old-fashioned way. I’m writing them now in Microsoft™ Word. I used to write them in Word Star, which I much more preferred for my purposes. Unfortunately nobody can read Word Star files anymore. I still write my Dinosaur books in Word Star. But anyway, I write my scripts in Microsoft™ Word, and at the time I couldn’t afford script-writing program. So I simply set my tabs and made a template. Every time I’m writing another script now, I will take one of my previous scripts that are in my computer. I will call it up on the screen, and then simply scroll down from “Fade In” to the very “End,” and do a delete to the entire script. This will leave me with a blank page with all my tabs set. Then I will change the title of the document… and start writing from there.
Robert: You start from square one and you have everything you need. Now, who comes up with the story for the script? Is it at all a collaborative effort? Do you allow outside contributors to provide input on the storyline or to bring in their ideas?
Don: Well, first of all, the ideas – the answer to that question is yes. “Dinosaur Valley Girls” was completely my own idea. Kevin Glover, my friend – we hadn’t formed the company yet – just called me. He said that he had a deal with Playboy (which we never went with) to do a series of low-budget T & A movies. He asked if I wanted to direct them. “Sure,” I said, ” but can we do something with some science fiction or fantasy or something in it?”
Kevin didn’t see any reason why we couldn’t do that. Then I said, “Dare I say it, but can we do something with dinosaurs?” Again, Kevin couldn’t see a reason why we couldn’t do that, you know – something like a comedy version of “One Million B.C.” with girls in it. I asked him what kind of things he wanted; he said, wet t-shirt contests, girls getting their tops ripped off… that sort of thing. I said “Okay, but I’d really like to do something with a little more substance and some story to it.” And while we were talking about science fiction and fantasy, I was talking later on the telephone, and I just got it into my head to do a sexy version of “One Million B.C.” During the conversation, these words just popped into my head and, as they did, I said “What about ‘Dinosaur Valley Girls’?” Kevin started laughing! I said “Great! There’s already a response!” because I had just thought of those words in that instance. After that, anybody I mentioned the title to laughed or reacted in some way to it. So that film was completely my idea.
“Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula”: that idea came up when EI Independent Cinema – which was releasing our films at that time – called me up and said “Don, you have to make us an erotic lesbian vampire movie. You just gotta do it and we’ll make a lotta money.” So Seduction Cinema or EI – the same company – suggested to me to do an erotic lesbian vampire movie.
I was planning on following up with a sequel when Mike Rasso, who suggested the first one, told us to hold off and do a mummy-themed one instead. At the time mummies were really hot. Universal’s remake of “The Mummy” was about to come out. It may have been “The Mummy Returns” was coming out. Now we noticed that on TV there were an awful lot of shows about mummies on the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, and the Learning Channel. Also, my series of Frankenstein novels that “Scary Monsters” was putting out; they were getting a lot of advanced orders on one called “Frankenstein in the Mummy’s Tomb.” I said “This mummy thing; maybe he’s on to something.” So I decided to do “Mummy’s Kiss.”
It was my idea to do “Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood” because I wanted to do a sequel, and I thought it was too soon to do a sequel to “The Mummy’s Kiss.” Therefore, I did the sequel to “Erotic Rites.” The next one will be the follow up to “The Mummy’s Kiss,” and again these are my ideas. I have a script already written for a werewolf picture; an erotic werewolf type movie, as well as a script for a Frankenstein movie. Then I want to bring all these monsters together in a “House of Frankenstein” type movie. I’ve written a script combining “Countess Dracula” and “The Mummy’s Kiss,” where the two characters meet.
None of the investors are allowed to make changes; they are all limited partners so they have no creative say. If they want to make a comment, maybe I’ll listen to it. But I am under no obligation to use any of their comments or suggestions. In the past, Kevin has made suggestions to the script; a couple of times he even made demands. Most of those suggestions turned out not to work, or I was sorry afterwards, because they caused various problems. Sometimes we would shoot those changes, but later took them out in the edit.
Robert: So basically you trust your own instincts as to what’s good and what’s not.
Don: I find that ALWAYS I have to trust my own instincts. It just works out better. I have a good sense of what’s commercial, of story, and how things hold together. A lot of times people will… well let me give you an example. Kevin had an idea for a subplot in “The Mummy’s Kiss” involving a private detective who’s investigating the case. That’s the part actor Richard Lynch was originally supposed to play. So under protest I wrote in this whole subplot, to appease Kevin, but I realized almost from the get-go…that every time I read the script – every time that character came up – the movie came to a standstill. He really had nothing to do but snoop around. Finally I just removed that character all together. I made Richard Lynch the professor, which kind of caught him off guard. He had worked up the whole characterization as the detective, a Columbo-like character. So I’m telling him “You’re not playing him; that character doesn’t exist anymore. You’re playing the Egyptologist.” Well, he wasn’t real happy about that, but everything worked out okay because he’s a great actor and was able to re-adapt.
Robert: One question about your “House of Frankenstein” idea. Would that be following the same path as the other erotic horror films you have been doing?
Don: Yes, I even have a title for it, but don’t want to give that out at this time. I think my werewolf title is sensational, but a couple people thought it might be offensive, so I haven’t finalized the werewolf title yet. And yes, I do have a great Frankenstein title, which I’m just hoping nobody else uses; it’s never been used and sort of sounds like another movie that was very successful in recent years. Anyway, “House of Frankenstein” will be an erotic movie in which I would have Countess Dracula, the werewolf character, Renfield of course, the mummy, and the eventual Frankenstein character.
Robert: Don, how do you go about holding auditions for a new project? How do you get the word out, and where do you hold the auditions?
Don: The way we find our actors are basically two ways: one is we put our notices in all the places actors will see them – THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, VARIETY, BACKSTAGE WEST, THE BREAKDOWN. We contact agents that we have worked with in the past. They get a description of the character to be played, and how much the role pays, what days we’re shooting, etc. Then we get flooded with submissions that I open personally and respond to visually…to an actor that sort of looks like our character that I have in mind. We call them in for an audition, IF they were smart enough to remember to include some sort of a name, telephone number or something. A lot of them don’t. We get pictures of people with no contact information. My partner will ask, “Who is this?” Well, since I am not psychic, I don’t know. They end up in the trash.
If they come in with a management company, I won’t work with managers. Most of them – at least the ones I’ve encountered — are nothing but problems – nightmarish problems. Photos of actors working through managers will be thrown in the trash – unopened. Then we hope and we pray that the person coming through the door looks something like the picture on the headshot; close to 50% of the time they don’t. The headshot will be of a clean cut, straight-laced guy in a business suit, but the guy coming through the door is covered with tattoos, piercings all over his head, and spiked hair. Actresses are notorious for sending in glamorized pictures of themselves, heavily retouched or maybe 10 to 15 years old. I have developed a really low tolerance for that stuff. If they come in and they don’t look like the picture, they’re wasting their time and my time. I’ll send them home.
I really prefer working with actors that I have some sort of history with that I know, that I have networked with; friends of mine or someone I have a personal attachment to. People that I know in advance as to what I’m getting into; drug problems, alcohol problems, jealous boyfriend problems, jealous girlfriend problems – whatever. So I prefer working with people I know, but they don’t always fit the bill. Therefore I have to go the other route.
Auditions are almost always held in our office – whatever office we’re in at the time; during business hours. There have been rare exceptions, because I have a problem with actresses. They tend to be very flaky people – at least the pretty ones. Sorry to say that. It sounds like a sexist remark, but it’s true. We always try to have backups because you never know who’s going to flake out at the last minute. On “The Mummy’s Kiss” we had eight actresses either cancel out the night before or simply not show up on the set at all. We were constantly re-casting. I remember one night; it was midnight on the sound stage, and we were shooting the scene where the mummy attacks a security guard. I was racing, running to the other side of the building to audition actresses who were coming in for a co-starring role we were shooting the next morning at 10:00AM.This is one of the REALLY “fun” parts of guerrilla film-making! But this was midnight, on a sound stage, and desperately needing an actress for the next day. What do you do? We had to find an actress by the next morning… and we did at the last moment, a friend of a friend of a member of the crew.
Robert: So this may be the reason why the actresses may not be totally comfortable with the scene, because they have just gotten the script five minutes before the scene is shot.
Don: Not really. Normally they get the script a week or so before shooting begins. They have plenty of time to read the whole thing and decide if they don’t want to do it. Also, we always explain to them the first time they come into the office the sexual nature of these films. So there should be no surprises on set. Some of the actresses…to this day I’m still waiting to hear from an actress that we hired on to be in “The Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula.” We were ready to shoot her scene and she hadn’t shown up for makeup. So we called her and there was nobody there, so we had to bring in a backup actress at the last minute – who luckily wasn’t doing anything that day. Only one of them has to this day given me a legitimate excuse. An actress on “The Mummy’s Kiss” (I didn’t find this out until a week later) got picked up on an INS violation and was in jail; she couldn’t call me. I suppose she’d used up her “one phone call” getting in touch with her lawyer or someone to bail her out! I accepted that; it was a legitimate excuse. She couldn’t help it. On “Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood” one of the actresses discovered the night before the shoot that she had a conflict with her school. She had cut class so many times, and finals were coming up – she couldn’t make it. So we replaced her at the last minute. I accepted that excuse, too. But few others, if any.
And sure, you can sue them for breach of contract and all that, but that’s not going to get your movie done; the bottom line is that you’ve got to get your movie done. So they get away with it, but what they don’t realize is that they don’t work again for the same producer or director. People like myself – who are very loquacious – we bad-mouth them every chance we get. Somebody will call up and say, “Hey, have you ever worked with this actress?” I’ll reply with “Let me tell you about this actress…” They just don’t realize that their reputation is preceding them and is preventing them from getting jobs.
One director friend of mine asked me about an actress in one of my films; she claimed to be a good friend of mine and was using me as a credit and a reference. “So, what about this actress?” he asked. I posed the question “We’re friends, right?” He said, of course we are. That’s when I read him the riot act on this girl, and everything she’d done to us. He tore up her headshot and threw it in the trash. To this day she doesn’t know she lost a part in a pretty big-budget movie because the director asked me for an honest opinion of her.
Robert: What you’re telling me is that these people are slitting their own throats because LA is a big city, but a very small town.
Don: Yes, and they are sabotaging their careers without knowing it. They really think their wonderful talent is going to get them the next job; it isn’t Or that they’re doing us a favor by letting us hire them. Every day in this town an airplane lands, a train pulls into the station, a bus pulls up, people drive in – everyday those means of transportation are bringing more actors and actresses in to Los Angeles. There are just too many actors in the town and the number just keeps on growing. It makes the competition that much tougher. It’s been said that more than 97% of Screen Actors Guild members basically never work; it’s that same 3% that seem to get all the jobs because those are the ones that know how to manage their careers and treat it as a business. They are not flaky and take advantage of opportunities. Most actresses don’t. They sit around at home waiting for their phone to ring… and it doesn’t. Or they think because they’re pretty they can get away with anything.
I brought an actress to a party last night. We just happened to run into a producer friend. We started a conversation and I said, ” So what are you working on now?” And the producer friend told us that they were shooting a film on Tuesday. I said, “Do you need anyone else that looks like her?” With a big smile the producer said, “Yes, she starts Tuesday morning.” How many of these other actresses COULD have been at this party?
Robert: It’s all about opportunity and several other different factors; most of them just do not get it.
Don: I had an ex-girlfriend – much emphasis on the prefix ex – I took her around to meet Sam Raimi. This was about the time that he was doing “Darkman.” First of all she was like at least a half an hour late. All the way over to the place where Sam was, she’s like “Who is this guy Sam Raimi again?” So I’m sitting there in the car explaining to her again who Sam Raimi is. We finally got there, and she went blank; didn’t have a clue who he was. She basically lost and ruined the entire introduction. I’ve had people that I’ve introduced to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas and they have never known really what to do. I’ve introduced people like Randall Kleiser and John Milius – you know, big time directors – and they just waste the moment.
You wonder how many people you pass on the street that could be the person to give you that job, but you don’t know who that person is. I was recognized in a supermarket once. A guy said, ” I know you! I saw you speak at a seminar. You’re a director!” I ended up hiring him for a video project we were doing. Actors just don’t know. They think they’re so wonderful, and their talent is so fabulous, that people are just going to know who they are and call them. The saying is “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” but really it should be “It’s not who you know, but who knows you!” Those are the people that get the work, and they work all the time.
Robert: So to everyone reading this, show respect to people on the streets of tinsel town, and do your homework.
Don: It’s amazing; I put a HUGE value on the way actors or crew people treat me in my personal life… because this will reflect how they will treat me on the film. If somebody just dumps on you every way they possibly can – and then suddenly find out you’re a director – oooohhhhh boy! And if an actor doesn’t return phone calls… hey, if I have to call an actor two or three times before I get a return call, that’s telling me that he or she does not have enough respect for my time to call me back. That in turn is going to translate to how they are going to treat my project; to my way of thinking, they’ve already auditioned and blown it.
Robert: Now, about the auditions: you’ve talked about how you will have an office, you might bring some of the performers in, etc. Do you ever videotape those auditions?
Don: I videotaped the auditions for “Dinosaur Valley Girls” and we put them on the DVD – the ones that actually got picked. Their acting was pretty good and they were sexy. The girls were auditioning in bikinis as the “Dinosaur Valley Girls” characters, the cave girls. Ultimately it got to be too much of a hassle; some actors are self-conscious if you are videotaping them. So I just didn’t bother doing that on the other projects.
Robert: Now do you ever allow somebody to say – they aren’t available that day but they really DO want to work for you – do you ever allow them to send in videotaped auditions?
Don: The only time I did that was with Glori-Anne Gilbert; she lived in a different state. I knew she was very popular and was very good to look at. I didn’t know anything about her acting ability, so she sent me a couple DVDs showing her playing a villain – including a vampire. I hired her on the basis of that. There was another actor that I was really sorry I hired who basically auditioned over the telephone from Florida. He caused huge problems – just all kinds of problems. I went into some (but not all) detail about it in the book I wrote about “Dinosaur Valley Girls.”
Now I will only work with actors who are local. There may be the rare exception like Glori-Anne Gilbert; that worked out fine. Or with a “guest star” I’m bringing in from somewhere, as when I brought horror star Paul Naschy in from Spain, someone who doesn’t have to audition because his work and abilities are already known commodities. But usually, I will only work with actors that I can audition in person, and who are local. I won’t work with actors who are out of state or live further than say San Diego. They have to have a good reputation for showing up on time. You never know what is going to happen with an actor that lives out of state. They lose their ticket, their flight is canceled, the plane gets hijacked, or something. The film shoot is just too critical to make allowances for them – and there are too many local actors to choose from.
If an actor really wants to make it in this business, they’ve got to live in the Los Angeles area. One day last week I got a request from actors in Pennsylvania, Florida, and London. They asked if I would consider putting them in my next movie. I said no, because I will not wait for these people to fly in only when it’s convenient for them and their schedule. I just have to hold up a sign in the front of our offices for five minutes – it stating that we’re casting a movie – and within a short time I’ll be flooded with people. They will look exactly like I need them to and will have just the right acting abilities. I don’t need to go looking around in other cities, states, and countries for that fact.
Robert: Yes, you have hundreds of thousands of people right here in this city that want to do it.
Don: When I go to visit my mother in Chicago – which is where I’m from — I’m always running into people who are would-be special effects artists, make-up artists, and so on. Some of them are very good; but I know people much better out here, and I can out my door and go two blocks to land in their office.