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: Now in your last four features –
Don: Which are also my first four features (please don’t say “last”)…
Robert: (chuckles) … and counting, you have dealt with nudity in your features. Now, what is the proper conduct to deal with this so everybody’s comfortable and you get the shots you need. I do have an addendum to this dealing with the R-rated version versus say the Director’s Cut or Pay-Per-View.
Don: The first film I ever shot was “Dinosaur Valley Girls,” which was pretty much tame stuff. To me, I just couldn’t wait, you know to be around all those topless chick. But after you are on the set around five or ten minutes, you know… it really is just business. I mean we were shooting “The Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula.” We were there like way past midnight and we’re shooting this scene with four naked girls – four very sexy naked girls. I was standing there with my 1st AD (assistant director) and said to him, “You know, we should really be enjoying this… but I just want to go home and watch TV or something.” and he was like, “You know, you’re right. This has been a really long day and night.”
That’s the way it is; you get so accustomed to it. Like when you are dealing with Glori-Anne Gilbert. She was so natural at it that I made the joke on the last day of shooting that we should get at least one or two gratuitous shots of Glori-Anne with her clothes ON! I mean, sometimes we look at the girls when they put on their miniskirt or halter top; sometimes that’s more sexy than seeing them standing around naked. As far as the girls are concerned, a lot of them are doing this for the first time and are kind of nervous. After about five minutes though they just consider it work, and nobody is paying any attention. The camera and grip crew are more concerned about where the cables go, where to put the generator, where the scrim is going to go; that sort of thing.
It’s easy for me to say that to somebody who hasn’t gone through it, but it really is a job, and it really is hard work. I’ve gotten to the point to where the most boring scenes to shoot on these movies are the love scenes. I just tell the camera operator to pan and move around them, and I’m thinking to myself, “I can’t wait until we get to some dialog!”
Robert: (laughs) So on these four films you haven’t had to do a closed set, or you really haven’t run into any problems…
Don: We’ve always supported the actors and actresses if they want to do a closed set. But, on the first movie where we didn’t know what the protocol was, it really got ridiculous. We really didn’t know and we took a lot of crap from these actresses; one in particular wanted it to be a closed set that was so closed that we would have the female make-up artist working the boom mike because there could be no men except the DP and myself on the set… except me. The sound man was behind a wall, so he couldn’t see what we were shooting. She was telling us where we could put the camera and how close we could get to her and so on. Well, I will never do that again – ever again. Because it turned out so tame, we had a hard time selling “DVG” — because it wasn’t erotic enough. The actress would say, ” I don’t think we should do that for this scene.” They were basically dictating to us how it should be shot. This was not only from the actors, but also the wives of investors. Of course you don’t want to offend an investor or their wife, so if they saw or read something they didn’t agree with, you had to bend over backwards to appease them. We ended up taking so much out of that movie – or not shooting what was intended and in the script — that it became very difficult to sell; we couldn’t compete with our much sexier competition.
Robert: Now be it that it was a sci-fi fantasy erotic film – not to get too far off track – were you able to help compensate for some of the tameness of it? Could this be helped by the inclusion or your postproduction special effects?
Don: No, because special effects or no special effects, the people that are going to see that movie are there for the girls. They are not there to particularly see dinosaurs or magic icons. They were there to see naked girls, and a lot of the girls that had agreed to do nudity wouldn’t do it! One of them is making a problem so the rest of them wouldn’t do it. We originally had in the cast that most of those girls did topless scenes.; it ended up that only four of the girls did, and they are the same ones you see over and over and over again. When we eventually do the sequel, we are just going to get girls that are really accustomed to doing nudity. There is just going to be a LOT of nudity in “Dinosaur Valley Girls 2.” A lot of “in your face” nudity. And that’s what will sell the movie.
Robert: (laughs) Now Don, I’m getting this from one of the DVDs that you have out. You are doing “Hard R,” which is borderline or what have you – mostly women on women. I had rented “Mummy’s Kiss” which is R-rated, and obtained it from one of the larger video chains. I have some knowledge as far as R ratings are concerned, as far as what they are willing to show… as well as what they won’t. I also know that some of the actresses that you are using do erotic dancing, centerfold layouts, and some of them do adult films. Now this is a really odd question; I don’t know quite how to put it. I guess I would say that a large percentage of these performers “shorn” themselves or shall I say “go Brazilian” down in the pubic area. In R-rated films, they generally do not want that look or it to be that explicit. They usually want something covering that area up. Have you ever had to go to any of your actresses and say in effect, “Well, we are going to have to add some makeup or something here so that it will be acceptable for the R-rated release… ” It’s a weird question, yet valid question.
Don: Ah… it’s a question that nobody has ever asked me, and it has never come up on the set. When they took their clothes off sometimes they were shorn nut most times they were not. Whatever shows up is what we get. I never thought of it one way or the other. I just assume some people would rather see it with the pubic hair, and others without it. It’s difficult enough just finding actress young and pretty enough at all who will do nudity for what our budget can pay them. And since we are not doing porno films, we never dwell on the crotch area anyway. You’ll always see a wider shot, or from an angle where you don’t really get a good shot of it.
I like to compare our movies to our competition’s. I have seen a lot of our competition’s stuff, and it’s usually really raunchy and grunty and sweaty and so on. As a comparison, I like to think that our movies are more like Playboy than Hustler; we’re always trying to keep it very tasteful, pretty, and lyrical in a sense. So that’s how I try to make our movies different from basically the rest of the heap. Fred Olen Ray’s sexy movies are a lot “rougher” than mine; mine are comparatively “gentle.” I’ve seen some of the EI stuff and you know, and it’s also raunchier. I try to keep ours – at the risk of sounding pretentious — more artistic.
Robert: Well, I think from seeing what I have of your films you’re trying to do a balance between erotica and also the flavor – or theme – of your movie, whether horror, monster, or sci-fi. You’re not out to make it look like it stuck in a bedroom somewhere with a person that has fangs. For an hour and a half, we’re just going to see two people go at it.
Don: Oddly enough, I think I’ve started to cut the sex scenes a little bit shorter. You could take all of “Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood” sex scenes out and you would still have left a full-length movie. I’m a writer, so I’m interested more in the story and the characters. We’ve made two vampire movies now, and if you just take the stories – they’re pretty solid, especially the one for “Orgy.” Now the first one was kind of flimsy, but it had a basic premise: a woman becomes a vampire. She doesn’t want to be one, so she finds a way out to where she can be human again. The second one is a vampire with a problem; he can’t drink blood. The only way he can survive is to have the blood filtered through his much more evil lesbian sister. I have a third one called “Countess Dracula and The Mummy’s Kiss” which is based on a vampire who realizes that she needs to be able to stay out in the sunlight. How she does that is to involve the Egyptian Gods and such.
Some of these stories – like when I was writing for animation; everybody writing animation will generally write the same script over and over again, targeting a common denominator. They’re writing for the lowest human viewers on the food chain, without ever doing anything creative, artistic, or original. I would always try to put SOMETHING into my animation scripts that would give it a little something; a moment for the characters that would make it different from the usual Saturday morning garbage. It’s the same with these erotic movies. I try to give them something a little bit extra – that many people will probably never pick up on. But if they do, that’s great!
Robert: The reason I originally brought the question up is that in the R-rated version of “The Mummy’s Kiss” there is one scene – and only one – scene in the entire movie where there is a full body nude shot. Your actress playing the sorceress is the one that did it. She’s in the pool and is the only actress where the viewer gets to see a full body shot. If you had anything else in there, from what I can tell it was taken out. The rest were just topless only.
Don: Jeez, sounds like you watched the “watered-down” version, pun intended.
Robert: Don, how do you go about scheduling your actors and crewmembers for the days they’re needed? Is there somebody in charge of continuity and logging scenes and such?
Don: Yes, it is either the line producer or the unit production manager. They’ll figure out and come up to me and say, “Don, you only need this actor here for one line on this location. Do you really need that actor?” That’s when the brain starts going and the wheels start turning. “Okay,” I’ll say, “I’ll have that line said in this scene instead of that scene.” That way we don’t have to pay the actor extra and waste their time for one day to say just that one line. The line producer or the UPN will work that all out.
Robert: Now, you don’t shoot weekends for your features; you actually try to set up time to where you are shooting non-stop.
Don: Hmmm… sometimes we’ll go to a Saturday. However, usually we won’t shoot Saturday AND Sunday. If we shoot one of those days, we most likely won’t shoot the other. We do try to shoot non-stop, right from the get-go. For “Dinosaur Valley Girls” we had two weeks; fifteen days. We had weekends off in-between. Otherwise your momentum and everything else gets lost; people look different, they put on weight, they lose arms in accidents, they get sex changes. All kinds of things can happen when you don’t shoot within a reasonably short amount of time.
Robert: Here is a questioned that I have posed to other directors and producers: there are television and movie studios that have their talent sign a clause that through the duration of the production or the season – they cannot partake in any sort of dangerous sport or hobby. This is of course to help protect both the talent and the investment by keeping the chances for an accident to a minimum. Do you have any sort of clause like that in your contracts?
Don: You know, it could very well be in those contracts. I don’t read them; the line producer reads them. I don’t have time to read the contracts, as I have to worry about other things. So, It could very well say something like that…but I doubt it, as these are low-budget movies that don’t take a lot of time to shoot.
Robert: As you said, people could lose limbs…
Don: And sometimes they just decide that they don’t want to be an actor anymore. They get married and the wife tells her husband, “you’re not going to do a scene with a topless girl!” or something like that. Or they take a day job and they’re just not available anymore. Some of these actresses are always constantly changing their telephone numbers without keeping us up to date as to where they are! You can’t reach them when you want to hire them for another movie role!
Robert: (chuckling) Don, what importance do you put on a crew member documenting the making of the movie, as well as taking publicity photos of the actors, sets, and locations that you are using?
Don: Publicity photos I feel are very important. In the past, we had photographers who really didn’t know what that meant, until the last movie. Dan Golden, who has had a lot of experience doing stills, is also a fine director, and he’s had a lot of experience shooting beautiful women. He was our still man on the “Orgy” project and did a fabulous job. He also authored our DVD for us. He’s very talented and can do a lot of things. Like me, he’s from Chicago, and he’s a great guy and I like working with him.
We had two documentaries made; one during “Dinosaur Valley Girls” and one during “The Mummy’s Kiss.” In both cases I think, in some ways, it was a waste of time. On “Dinosaur Valley Girls” it was okay because we were able to salvage the footage. The person that shot it really didn’t know what we wanted, even though we tried explaining it to her over and over again. Almost everything she shot turned out to be totally unusable. Well, I recut the thing and rewrote everything, inserted a lot of footage I’d shot, and we made a documentary out of it, which is on the DVD.
The second one, the behind-the-scenes team on “The Mummy’s Kiss” was always on set, getting in the way of shots. While we were ready to go, they were still setting their stuff up. They were constantly watching me, and I couldn’t think anymore because there were all these cameras in front of me. So I’m there trying to look good, presentable, and respectable while I at the same time was trying to keep focus on what I was supposed to be doing – directing a movie. Turns out the director of this documentary never even used any of the material she’d shot; it was a complete waste of time.
If you’re making a movie like “Spiderman” and want to shoot that kind of footage, that’s great; people want to see that kind of stuff on DVDs. For myself on a low-budget movie; I don’t think I’m going to do it anymore – unless I make a big movie, or unless the documentarian knows what he or she is doing.
Robert: Will you still continue to do commentaries and such?
Don: Commentaries are fine; I love doing commentaries. I just don’t care for a presence on the set that’s getting in the way, and then have it be something that never comes to fruition anyway. You end up losing hours and hours and hours of stuff that was shot. We had behind the scenes footage and interviews done on “The Mummy’s Kiss” that will probably never see the light of day. Too bad. Much of it was very good.
Robert: So for yourself, it’s still okay to have a photographer on hand, taking glamour shots of the actresses while the crew is setting up. Is this correct?
Don: On “Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood,” Dan Golden set up a little studio right there on the digital blue sound stage… a photography studio! All the equipment and lighting were there, and he shot all the glamour shots and portrait shots while those actors and actresses were not being used on set.
Robert: This next question is about product or service brand names; some film-makers do everything they can to cover the brand names of products and such that appear in their movies, while others simply don’t care. Do you happen to know what is the rule on product placement?
Don: Yeah… in the old days – if you look at older movies – the camera will pick up a Coca-Cola® machine or a Texaco® gasoline sign, and it didn’t matter. I think people viewed it as free advertising and publicity.
Then somewhere along the line – I don’t know when it happened, but I think it’s been in the last 20 to 30 years – people started to get “sue” crazy. “Hey, you didn’t get clearance to shoot our sign as you drove by our supermarket!” and situations like that. So then, a few things happened; people started paying to have their products shown in a movie. Product placement companies opened up, and those people would feature your brand of jeans – Levi’s – in a film production’s movie prominently. They will either be provided as props and wardrobe, or they pay a fee to promote their product or service in the movie. Today such placements can be very conspicuous.
When we shot “Dinosaur Valley Girls” we had a scene where we were in a storeroom that had a lot of boxes on the shelves. We covered up all the brand labels that were on them. Anywhere there was something printed on the boxes, we covered it up. The only time we didn’t was when we shot 2nd unit on the two vampire movies. The actors are driving down the street and you can see signs and things in the background – Hollywood landmarks – that we didn’t bother asking for.
You have to be careful; anybody will sue you for anything or any reason now. In some ways it’s really stupid. I mean, what better way to get your product on screen for free? Someone is sitting in a movie theatre and sees a character on screen drinking a Pepsi®, it might make that person thirsty and want to go out and get one at the concession counter and buy one.
Robert: Of course the other side to this is if an actor on screen is portraying a crazy killer character, shooting of a machine gun into the crowds, and he’s wearing a Pepsi® T-shirt.
Don: Right, right. And of course in some movies there is a lot of nudity. I’m sure some prudes don’t want their products to be associated with that.
Robert: With four films and counting, you’ve got people that have to deal with sound effects and soundtracks for these features. How are these areas handled? Do you hire composers or use stock music as well as stock sound effects? Music and effects-wise, what would you recommend for someone just starting out?
Don: Well, when it comes to music, we’ve hired a composer for most of the films. We didn’t really have the budget for a composer on ‘The Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula.” So I put out the word in the “Goth” circles, because I thought Goth music might work in lieu of an actual newly composed soundtrack. So anybody that wanted to get his or her music in a movie and get a screen credit were welcomed to send in a CD or demo. It works in their favor, as their music may be reaching a larger audience – the ones viewing the movie. We got a considerable amount of submissions and that worked out great. There were a few little filler interludes that Tom Morse – the composer on “Dinosaur Valley Girls” – added. Nothing else was composed for that movie.
In “The Mummy’s Kiss” we went back to hiring an actual composer – Terry Huud. I said I wanted two things included: I wanted the opening credits to be “Swan Lake” as an homage to the 1932 Boris Karloff mummy film. That movie opened the same way, as did various other early 1930s horror-film classic. Now, for strictly commercial reasons – I am a capitalist more than I am an artist – and I don’t care much for this style of music, but I wrote a rap song called “The Mummy’s Wrap.” I performed it for the end credits of the movie. I can at least appreciate rap now; it’s very difficult to perform. So I wrote this “Mummy’s Wrap” song and my partner Kevin – who is very straight-laced – thought it sounded racist. It didn’t sound racist to me, it was just a rap song! I wasn’t trying to sound “black” or anything. But, he thought it sounded racist. We had an argument, and I finally got tired of arguing with him. I said “Okay, we’ll put a reprise of ‘Swan Lake’ at the end.” We did put a little bit of the rap song on a scene with two security guard characters listening to a radio. Then we ended up putting the rap song in its entirety on the DVD. One of the first reviews said, “Boy, that rap song was so good I couldn’t get it out of my head!” So now when I do the sequel to “The Mummy’s Kiss,” that song will go back on the end credits where it originally belonged.
I do add a few songs of my own. Three of them were in “Dinosaur Valley Girls.” As I own my own music publishing company, Dinodon Music, every time that music plays on TV, I get a royalty check.
In the last film we had a composer – but I said I also want Gothic music as well. So whenever there are love scenes, or stalking, or whatever – we put the Goth music in. We had a bands and a solo artist — WILLOW WISP and LUCAN WOLF. They just worked out perfectly. The Goth music I felt really fit the scenes and the visuals. I became very dependent on WILLOW and LUKAN WOLF, and hope they come back to do more music for me.
Robert: I have to admit those two bands worked very well for that last movie. I got to meet them in person over at “Dark Delicacies.” Quite a look they have!
Don: You know, they’re very nice guys. I always feel like I’m spoiling their “Goth” reputations by saying that, but they really are nice guys.
Robert: Okay, your film is “in the can.” It’s edited, it has sound effects, special effects – everything has come together. At this point, this is where you run into your second biggest nightmare; how do you go about finding a distributor? Do you have any distributors that you like to work with? Have you run into nothing but nightmares with distributors?
Don: Oh boy, I have plenty of nightmare stories. Our first distributor – who will remain nameless – was supposed to be a rep, but turned out to be more of “rip” as in “rip off.” We sued, because we found out he was selling our movie all over the world – and not telling us. So we sued him, and did our due diligence. The bill for our legal fees was climbing towards $5,000.00. We got to the point to where we got a judgment against him, and he basically called our bluff. He said “Hey, take me to trial.” Now here’s the thing; all his money was presumably hidden away. Nobody knew where the money was, so “technically” he was broke. Let’s say we would have gone to the next step and taken him to trial; let’s say that trial cost us $40,000.00 or $50,000.00 or more. Let’s say we found out he owed us $35,000.00. Even if we collected, we would be in the hole, but probably we wouldn’t be able to collect it. So we figured it was just the “Law of Diminishing Returns”; we had to cut our losses. We did our duty for the investors, but it was time to move on.
John Landis once told me that EVERYBODY gets ripped off on his or her first movie. What separates the men from the boys, however, is this; some of the people will get all disenchanted and disgruntled and swear that they will never make another movie again. And they throw in the towel, give up. The other folks will have the attitude of “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” They will put this bad experience behind them, and move on. That’s what we did.
Right now I’m pretty happy with where we are at. We’re with Image Entertainment, and have people representing us that we can trust. When we did our first movie – “Dinosaur Valley Girls” – we were like babes in the woods; we didn’t know where to go or what to do when we got there. We tried distributing it ourselves. We would send copies of the movie to Cinemax, hoping they would buy it. We found out that – just like actors sending their headshots out to production companies – probably stacks of these movies arrive everyday. Who has time to look at all of them? You need someone to represent you. So, we were not able to succeed with that. So for television we found a company called Bruder Releasing, Inc., otherwise known as BRI. They did pretty well for us on the USA Network. In later years though, BRI got to be much bigger and didn’t want to handle low-budget movies. So we moved away from Bruder and then were with All-Channel.
We’ve gotten to the point where we don’t make a movie unless we know in advance that we can sell it. It’s not like we’re going to a distributor and saying ‘Hey, would you take my movie?” We know the kinds of movies the distributor wants made. As long as we give them that type of movie and a certain level of quality… selling it is no big deal. As of this writing we are with a bigger DVD company, Image Entertainment. We had no difficulty in doing that at all. Fred Olen Ray – whose company is Retro Media – is distributed by Image, and so they took our movie via Fred. It was as simple as that.
If it’s a movie we don’t think we are going to be able to sell or will be a bit of a hassle, we don’t make it. I know a lot of independent filmmakers end up with a movie that is very well made, it’s professional, etc. They can’t sell it because they didn’t do their homework; the kind of movie they made nobody wants to see.
I’ve seen people go to the American Film Market year after year and get shot down. Because we make these sexy, campy horror pictures, they’ll look at us and will say things like, “Well, no offense… but we’re making a movie about a guy dying of cancer. It’s a real heavy drama.” And I’ll say, “Oh really? Who’s in it? Any name actors?” They’ll reply “Well no, nobody you’ve ever heard of. But that doesn’t matter because the subject matter is so important.” I’ll ask “Is there any nudity?” “Oh no,” they’ll respond ” We’re not going to go that route.” So again, they end up with something they can’t give away, something they can’t sell. Then they get all disillusioned and will never make another movie. Now that we know where to take our films and who will sell them, we know in advance if the movie is saleable or not. Right now the agenda is to raise enough money to do these other movies; because if we do, we know they will sell.
Robert: Because of the kind of genre you are in, what do you think sells out there – as far as independent genre films are concerned? The direct to video market.
Don: When you’re making movies as an independent, the only way you can compete with the major studios – the companies that get their films in theatres – is to put something in your movie that the majors are not giving. Sometimes it’s a lot of excessive gore and violence. Of course our movies don’t go that route because it is very hard to sell something that mixes sex and gore. We were even a little reluctant to go as far as we did in “The Mummy’s Kiss,” with the removal of the heart – which is done off camera. Or in “Orgy,” the blood on Glori- Anne Gilbert’s breast when she cuts herself so the blood can go into the chalice. We didn’t know if that was going to be considered going over the top. The people that buy our movies want to see a lot of the girls, and not so much gore. So, you either give the customer one or the other – sex or violence and gore – because the major studios aren’t doing that. That’s going to sell your movie.
You also always try to put one name actor in the film. Hopefully it is an actor known by people who are NOT genre fans. That way, if they see him playing in the movie in a TV Guide notice, it will be a name they recognize. They can be a has-been. To them an actor – who we know had a hit TV show 10 years before or whatever but hasn’t worked since – the audience doesn’t know that person’s a has-been; to them it’s a recognizable name, a big star. So you do try to get someone who is a name in your movie.
The three toughest things to accomplish in making an independent film are: first – you have to finish it. You have to finish it before your money runs out. Second is that after you have finish it, it has to cut together. Some people will make a movie that turns out all hodge-podge; they don’t have any continuity and they’ve shot themselves in the foot. They’ve never directed a movie, they don’t know about “crossing the line” in a two-shot, or matching cuts. And you can’t edit the result. Now the third thing is if you do finish it, and it does cut together… then you have to be able to sell it. You sell it by making it something commercial, putting a name actor in it. In our case we try to make the movie look as expensive as we possibly can; we always try to make them look like they cost $200,000.00 to $300,000.00 more than they really did.
Robert: Of your movies that I have seen, I think you have been very successful with that.
Don: Thanks. I’ve seen moves that cost more than ours… and it’s about four or five people in a house. They walk around from one room to the next, have conversations. Wow.
Robert: (laughing) Yeah, I’m going to go rush out and get that one.
Don: Mark Borde – who used to be a producer, but now mostly just distributes movies – a couple of the things he warned me against were this: try to avoid using live animals, and try to avoid shooting any exteriors at night. So, on our first movie where are we? In the desert at night outside. Scenes with lizards; have you ever tried to work with a lizard? Try to get it to do ANYTHING that you want it to? Oh boy. So we did ALL the things Mark warned me not to do. Another bit of advice was to not have more that four to five main characters. What did we have? Around 35 or so major roles in “Dinosaur Valley Girls.”
Robert: Heed this advice, readers! My next question is; what kind of marketing materials should you have on hand to help promote the movie project you are working on?
Don: Well, it’s pretty much cut and dry. You should have a trailer put together of your movie, you should have screeners made to send out (that say “screener. For screening purposes only” across it as it’s played) to reviewers and potential distributors. You need to have art for your movie. This is usually in the form of a flyer; it’s funny but most people now refer to those as one-sheets. Back in the day, a one-sheet was a big movie poster banner that everybody wanted as they stood outside the movie theatre. The one that you would try to buy from the owner or bribe an employee to sell you. “Nope! We have to send them back to National Screen Service.” They would tell you. The flyers, or one sheets as they are now called, are 8.5″ x 11″ printed on thick semi-gloss paper. You know, I still call them flyers, not one sheets. They are usually two-sided; on the front is generally the image of what the poster would look like – if you take it to the step of being a poster. On the back you have more photos, usually in the form of a montage. Also a brief synopsis of the movie. The trick is to try to use as few words as possible; the most amount of information with as little as possible for the person to read. A lot of people make this mistake of having too much on there. They are not professional writers and do not know how to keep things brief and concise. Basically they go overboard and ramble on and on and on. Something that should only take one sentence turns into a paragraph. Something that needs a good editor and proof-reader. It is better to have a really striking image on there rather than words. I have a few that you can take and use for the book for examples.
Robert: Now I did notice that on the front of the flyer I am looking at now, it has very provocative photography – yet it is very tasteful. There is also no real nudity on the back per sé. Was that intentional, and if so is it a strategic way of marketing these type of films?
Don: Yes. We never put nudity on our flyers, posters, or our website; tons of it in the movies, and most of it in the trailers. You know, you want to lure those buyers from Asia when they come to the American Film Market. But the flyer? This is something I could show my mother; I can’t show her the movie, but I can show her the flyer. Of course the flyer you’re holding with Glori-Anne Gilbert on it – Mom might have an objection to that (chuckles). But like I was saying, even on the back it tastefully gives you a flavor of what the movie’s about. You don’t want the nudity on your website; it just opens more possibilities of getting a large amount of junk email from porno sites, etc.
We also try to give the movie a tagline. Our tagline here is “Lust is Eternal,” which I stole from Abraham Lincoln – sort of. When I was in high school, I played in the high school band. We performed for a senior play there, the name of which was “Love is Eternal.” I was playing in the orchestra every night of this play – a really boring play. The thing ended with Mary Todd saying “You know Abe, love is eternal. You remember that, don’t you? That’s what I had inscribed on your wedding ring.” So Abe says “Yes. Mary, love is eternal blah blah blah…” Then the orchestra would start playing and it was the end, probably “Battle Hymn to the Republic” – and not Republic Pictures. For some reason, I never forgot that line and the play’s title. So for my movie, I just changed the tagline to read “Lust is Eternal.” It’s funny; after we shot the movie, I was at home watching a three-part mini series on Abe Lincoln. They said in there that on the wedding ring was inscribed “Love is Eternal.” Ah ha! So it was true about the ring, after all! So thanks to Abraham Lincoln, I had a tagline.
Robert: So Don, everything is done with the movie. Do you then get intouch with everybody involved and say “Hey, we’re going to hold a premiere.” or maybe “We’re going to have a wrap party on this date.” Do you hold those kinds of celebrations for the cast and crew. If so, how do they come about?
Don: Usually, if we have enough money, we’ll throw a cast and crew party – whatever you want to call it. We will try to find a place to have it; somebody will offer the use of their home, and a lot of entertainment industry friends will be invited. Since there may be some people there that I am trying to make an impression on, I will invite a lot of pretty girls to be there even if they’re not in the movie; that never hurts at a party. Sometimes to defray the cost, we will ask people who were not part of the production if perhaps they can bring some wine or some sort of finger food. Strangely enough though, at the wrap party very few of the actual cast and crew will show up; they’re already off on another project – shooting that night.
I have had a lot of strangers at these wrap parties – I don’t know where they come from. I don’t care though; I’m a party guy and the more the merrier.
Robert: Are there any genres out there that you wish you were doing, but due to money constraints or the market for it isn’t there? Are their any genres that you refuse to touch?
Don: I would probably like to make some regular “straight” horror pictures or an action movie. But with the budgets we have, I couldn’t do justice to an action movie. Action movies, especially modern ones, require a lot of real quick cuts; that means an awful lot of camera set-ups for coverage. I can average about fifty set ups per day; my friend Fred Olen Ray can do seventy-five. You’re only supposed to do a maximum of about thirteen, usually a lot less on a big-budget show. So while I am not up to Fred’s speed level yet, I’m still working faster than your average movie director. We don’t have the time to shoot all the little close-ups, the camera set ups, inserts and different angles. Therefore we have to compensate by doing things like having the camera slowly pushed forward and zoom into the scene.
I’d also like to do a western; I love them. Maybe a jungle movie – I mean, not much is being done with that genre these days. I don’t think I’d like to do a straight drama because I have this tragic flaw – it even effects my songwriting. I have tried for years to sit down and write a serious blues song. By about the third line, it has already turned into a parody. I think if I were doing a straight drama, I would have this uncontrollable urge to gradually turn it into a comedy (chuckles). I have a lot of comedy even entering into my horror films. I never thought of myself as a comedy writer, but it just keeps sneaking in. We had problems with the distributor of “Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood” because he wanted a straight erotic horror movie. He actually took some of the gags out of it for the television release! I don’t know; I just have a weird sense of humor. I think if I made a movie about a guy dying of cancer… it would probably turn into a black comedy by the time it was done.
Comedies – I don’t find most modern comedies funny. Plus comedies are really hard to sell overseas; the jokes don’t translate well. I would like to do some science fiction. You know, I’m happy doing horror, science fiction, fantasy. I wouldn’t mind doing some film noir stuff, something that has the look of the late 1940s. I have a whole sequence in “Dinosaur Valley Girls” that is a parody of Phillip Marlow. I have a guy in an office. He has a beat up old record player and he’s listening to some old “nourish” type music, which is also part of the scene’s soundtrack. I’d love to shoot that sequence in black and white.
I would also love the opportunity of doing a superhero film. I may actually have one coming up; not for our company but for someone else. I would probably design and shoot it like the old Republic serials; they did not have a lot of quick cuts. There were long pans where the camera would just follow the action. But in today’s age, with movies like “Spider-Man” and “X-Men,” could such a movie make it? I like the kind of movies I’m doing with the sex and all that, but I wouldn’t mind doing something more monster- related, like the classic monsters. I want to do Frankenstein, Dracula, Mummy and Werewolf – all those kind of things. I like it when the monster is played by an actor or a model, rather than a CGI-animated “cartoon.”
Robert: Yes, makeup and real actors as opposed to a bunch of computer pixels.
Don: Exactly. I mean, I’d hate to see “The Creature From The Black Lagoon” if it was done with CGI; that’s probably how they will do it if there ever is a remake. I went and saw “The Mummy” and “Van Helsing.” The monsters in both were done with CGI and they looked like high-tech cartoons to me. “The Hulk”… well, first of all the story was incomprehensible – I still do not know the origin of the Hulk from that movie. Anyway, the Hulk reminded me of a big budget version of the old Kirk Allen Superman serials – it was all live action until Superman flew. Then he turned into a cartoon. The Hulk, once Bruce Banner became the character, looked like a cartoon to me. It was very well done but still looked like a cartoon.
People these days are so willing to accept anything that is CGI, even if the effects could be better accomplished in some other and “old-fashioned” way. To me, most CGI doesn’t look like the creatures are even in the same spatial area as the live action. Watching “The Hulk” and “Van Helsing” I felt like I was stuck in video games for a couple hours.
Robert: CGI can be a problem and there is a chapter on the website devoted to when you should use it, and when you shouldn’t. I feel there is still a place for practical effects – especially in low-budget projects. If big-budget movies are still having a hard time selling the CGI to the audience, low-budget movies are certainly not going to fare much better in that department.
Don: Well, we had the option of doing it that way on “Dinosaur Valley Girls.” It was right after “Jurassic Park,” and the only CGI I had seen up to that point that I thought was any good… was in that movie. I knew we couldn’t afford effects like that, so we made what may be the last stop-motion dinosaur movie.
Robert: That’s very possible.
Don: It was done with both stop-motion and animatronics. We did some forced perspective with our animatronic Allosaurus, that people now ask us “How did do that? That is incredible CGI! I have never seen anything like it!” But neither CGI nor optical work were involved. It was just a big, mechanical head with mountains in the background. I had my pet tegu lizard crawling up in the foreground using the same method I’d used when I was making amateur dinosaur movies in Chicago! Either in the foreground on a rock, or in front of the mountains, and he looks like he’s gigantic. We shot the lizard from a low angle and in slow motion to give him a sense of greater size and weight.
Robert: There is absolutely nothing wrong with that approach. Don, this has been a great interview. My last question for the book; do you have anything to say to the readers that are getting into the business, or are already in the business, from your experiences? Is there anything to add?
Don: If your passion is making movies, you gotta do what the late but great Joseph Campbell said – “Follow your bliss.” Do what you are destined to do. You can do anything else and be frustrated, do something you’ll hate doing for the rest of your life, day after day – like most of my friends from Chicago do to this very day. You’ll see what I mean if you continue to go to the high school reunions and you find out that everybody hates their job and can’t wait to retire. Movie making is like playing and getting paid for it; but first you have got to move to Southern California. I have friends in Chicago that are making these movies that take two years and more to make. The actors are aging and so on and so on… they can never get them finished. You have to move here where it’s really happening.
Treat it as your day job; it is not a hobby. People have asked me recently what my hobbies are. I tell them I don’t HAVE any hobbies; all of my hobbies are also my work. My only “hobby” is probably walking down the street; going to the supermarket. That’s a hobby – I try to do it as rarely as I can (chuckles). Washing the dishes are another “hobby” for that matter (laughs). So again, treat your art as your day job; this is what you do for a living. When someone asks you what you do, it’s not “I’m a market researcher trying to make a movie.” I am a filmmaker; I am a director, and a producer.
If you get ripped off on your first movie – which you probably will, which comes with the territory – chalk it up to getting your battle scars. DON’T GET DISCOURAGED! But don’t think that EVERYBODY is a scumbag in this business trying to rip you off, and then turn your back on it and return to your day job. Put the bad behind you and continue to work on your dream; it can be achieved. Most people don’t realize that dreams can be achieved.When I was in Chicago I had no encouragement from any of my relatives or friends and very little understanding regarding what I wanted to do. I would go to the high school and college meets where all of the representatives from the Midwestern Universities would be, hawking their schools. I would sit there all day long and I would say to the friend next to me “I don’t want to major in any of those things! I don’t want to be an electrician or CPA or do any of that stuff!”
I came out here to LA during my high school graduation vacation. My high school graduation gift from my mother was a trip to Hollywood. I got to meet Bob Burns and Forry Ackerman during that vacation; a couple things happened during those few days I was here that were epiphanies to me. Forry had wanted to see my amateur movies. So I brought them all over; Forry didn’t have a projector; a friend – a science fiction fan named Ray Craig – was going to bring over a projector. The only other person there was Bert I. Gordon, who had made all those movies like “The Amazing Colossal Man.”
So the two things that happened that day that gave a profound meaning to my life. One was when Bert I. Gordon watched my films. Here I am, this punk kid from Chicago making dinosaur and Frankenstein movies. In the one we were watching, a “King Kong” type thing called “Tor, King of Beasts,” I had a guy being chased by a dinosaur. It was a forced perspective shot, and the dinosaur was a stop-motion model in the foreground, animated outside atop a picnic table in broad daylight. The dinosaur looked huge, because I had the clay model in the foreground – the guy being chased in the background. “How did you do that?” he asked. Bert I. Gordon was asking me how I did it?
The second thing that happened — I asked Ray Craig where got the movie projector? He said he got it from the USC Film School. “Film school?” I asked. “You go to school, and your homework is making movies?” Right then and there, in part because I got that encouragement from Bert I. Gordon, I could pursue this new opportunity; go to college and get a degree – while making movies! I decided right then and there that I was going to move to Southern California. Ray took me down to the USC campus and showed me around. Then I went back to Chicago, I got most of my credits taken care of at DePaul University. After that I transferred to USC.
About a year and a half ago I was at a screening, and lo and behold, there was Bert I. Gordon. I went over and thanked him. I told him who I was and how we had met. I said to him, “If you had blown me off that day, I probably would have gotten a job at my uncle’s pet shop or something. I may have never come out here.” That day, back in the early 1960’s, was indeed a profound day for me.
I realized just how profound when, in the very early 1980s, I went back to my high school, St. Benedict in Chicago. The school office contacted me to see if I would be interested in talking to some of the students. So I went. I was at my old high school, and there was such a feeling of disinterest from the majority of the students in the junior and senior class. This was back when Reagan was serving his first years as President. One of the things I remember a student saying to me was, “You know, it’s really interesting to hear what you have to say. But all of us know that we really aren’t going to pursue our dreams. People don’t really do that. I mean, no one from Illinois – except yourself – could be President or something.” I said “Well, you’ve got one right now! Reagan is from Illinois.” The general reaction of the group was, “He is?”
It was so sad because these kids had probably already made their decisions as to what they were going to do for the rest of their lives – these juniors and seniors. If they had any talent for writing or dancing or sports or music, they had probably regarded it already as kid stuff. Time to grow up, settle down and get a “real” job! Once they get to the age of 18 or 19 years old, they flush their dreams down the toilet instead of pursuing them. Once in a while, somebody does pursue their dream. Again, it was just so sad that most of those kids didn’t realize that their dreams CAN also be their profession.
Robert: Well, it seems like you’ve had a lot of fun doing it, Don.
Don: Oh, I have fun all the time! The only bad parts of it are the in-between times, when you’re not working and you’re broke. That’s okay. To me it’s the trade off to be able to do what I want and not have someone I don’t respect or like telling me what to do all day long…for so many days a year…and for so many years.. Especially if it wasn’t something I wanted to do to begin with, in a dead end job that isn’t going to lead anywhere. Every day is like an adventure to me. Every day you are on a movie set. every day that you go through the process as creator of a project. When I come up with the idea, and I can see the whole movie in my head; or the music…when I write the lyrics to a song before it is ever recorded. You see these things come together step-by-step. Then the final product – when it’s done – has some resemblance to what you originally had in mind. THAT… is an incredible rush; it really is fabulous.
Robert: Even if you only get about 10% of what you had in mind! (laughs)
Don: Well, it’s still about taking control of your projects. Take for instance Kimberly Ray, my line producer on “Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood.” She didn’t try to get too involved in the creative end of it; I had more control over everything this time around. In the past, we had 2nd unit camera crews that would shoot things that were not what I wanted in the shoot, or arbitrarily shoot things were not called for in the script. I would get the footage from them and would have to live with whatever it was they shot…or not use it. This time I had one camera crew, one camera, one unit – and I did everything. So whatever merits or faults, I can take most of the blame or credit for them. I can’t go around saying “Oh, my 2nd unit didn’t shoot what I had in mind. I believe I got 75% to 80% of what I had envisioned for this movie… up on the screen. There were some things we couldn’t shoot because of time constraints or money running out. But in all, it’s better than 50%…or less.
Robert: Well 75% or 80% – especially in an independent film – is pretty incredible. That’s to be commended, because a lot of us don’t even get close to that percentage. Don, I would like to say it has been a true pleasure. I have had a lot of fun with this interview. Thanks for taking the time to give the readers your insights to the business.
Don: My Pleasure.
For more information on Don Glüt, his movies, books, and career – check out the links listed below: