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Creator of Creatures That Go Bump (And Grind) In The Night

Part 2

This interview originally took place the Summer of 2004.

Article by Robert Long II

Robert: My next question you’ve actually kind of answered before, and if you have anything to add that’s great. Do you feel it is important to get together with the cast and crew – before shooting officially commences – to go over the film’s plot or the duties of the individuals? Perhaps making sure that they know what kind of conduct or etiquette is expected on the set.
Don: I like to go over it with my 1st AD and my DP. We will go to locations; we walk through scenes together, noting camera placement and possible angles. I also have this editor that I work closely with; sometimes I will get him to go along as well, because he usually has some good suggestions. But people like the boom operator, the sound mixer, and the make-up artists? Those people I will meet in the office. There I will go over what is needed from them and find out if they can do it.
I do like to have a script read with the cast — and some crew present — if at all possible. What is good about those is that you will sometimes have an actress take a part that requires nudity. She says she can do it and it is not a problem. Well, there is the chance that when they sit down and really read the script, they’ll find that they really don’t want to do it after all. This is good because it gives you the time to replace that performer before you get into a situation you can’t get out of.

Robert: So hopefully you are dealing with people who are in the business and have done more than one movie; they know what they’re doing and what is expected of them. They act professional and don’t do idiotic things on the set.
Don: Yeah, you know you assume that everybody knows what they’re supposed to do; they know how they’re supposed to behave. Once in a while you will get a bad egg. On one of my films I had a make-up artist – who I actually thought was gay, so it was a big surprise to me – came on VERY strongly to every one of my actresses. So much so that when we went to shoot pick ups, the actress said “I won’t do it if that makeup artist is there.” So I didn’t bring him back.
Sometimes people turn out to be too slow, or they rub people the wrong way in some respects, or they have an attitude problem. Those are the people you don’t bring back next time. Sooner or later you get a crew together that you are comfortable with, and hopefully you can get those people back over and over again. It’s best to have as much harmony on set as possible, which gets things done faster and better.

Robert: Don, besides your cast – for the four films you’ve done – what does the crew that you work with usually consist of? Is there money set-aside in the budget to hire actual grips as well as grips trucks?
Don: Grips? Yes, we have to have a truck to bring the camera equipment. Luckily in the last film Gary Graver was my DP; he had a truck with most of the equipment already in it. That meant there was very little we had to rent. The films before that, the “grip packages,” as they are called, came separately; that was a whole separate expense and we have to pay it. We pay everybody. A lot of people that make films like mine don’t pay for anything except the camera and the raw stock – but that’s about it. Everybody else works for free.
We don’t like to do that. When you’re not paying people, you have no guarantee people will stick around for all the time they’re needed. When people are getting paid you have a better chance of them being there and doing their best work. We also make sure they’re fed well on the set. When they’re not getting paid you have absolutely no guarantee that they will even show up. If something better comes up, they’ll take the better paying job. I believe that people should be compensated for the work they do.
Sometimes we move very fast; we usually shoot a movie in five or six days, sometimes less. Some of the people that work on what you would call “micro-budget movies,” the ones that cost $2,000 to $3,000 to make and nobody gets paid and they spend over a year shooting them… they have to wait till everybody’s available. They’ll get together for an afternoon or weekend and shoot some scenes. Don’t get me wrong – they can get a lot of coverage – but it takes them forever to make the movie. We try to strike while the iron’s hot and just do it. When we made “The Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula” – from the day that we agreed to make this movie to the day we got it “in the can” (this includes raising the money, writing the script, doing the posters, cutting a trailer, and shooting the movie) was a total of three weeks – from start to finish. And we did it. That included one car problem that put me back a few days, and a death that set me back a couple of days. Plus there was a holiday weekend in there where there was no mail delivery, nor could you go to the bank for the investment money coming in to deposit it. But we were still able to do it in three weeks.

Robert: Well, that is incredible. So you have yourself as the director, you have your director of photography, you have an executive producer, a grip, and a line producer. Now what exactly IS a line producer?
Don: A line producer is the person who actually hires everybody and sits there with the checkbook and works out the budget, the schedule, and everything else. This person does everything that I simply am not capable of doing, so I can concentrate on the more creative aspects of the project.

Robert: Excellent! And of course you have your sound and make-up crew.
Don: Well the sound, on this last one we couldn’t afford a separate sound mixer. Instead we had somebody with headphones and a boom microphone to handle the sound, as opposed to being recorded on a separate track altogether. It was recorded right to the videotape. Then separate make-up and costume personnel…


Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula

Robert: Okay, that’s right. Let’s talk about wardrobe. How is the costuming handled on a project? Is it “everybody wear what you want to wear”?
Don: No, I’m very specific on what the cast wears, and a lot of the costumes are actually custom-made outfits for us – such as some of the ones that you’ll see in “The Mummy’s Kiss.” Everything from the handmaiden’s outfits to the mummy’ costume…the latter was done by my good friend John Beachler, who has a horror effects shop and who is also a director.
The only time I have really been satisfied with the costume person was on “The Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula.” It was a woman; and right here is where I am going to get into a lot of trouble. I will probably be labeled a homophobe, politically incorrect, I don’t care. The costume person on “Erotic Rites” was a woman; the costume personnel on the other three movies were men. She did exactly what I wanted. I would say that I want a sexy miniskirt, or I want this, or I want that… and she gave me everything and really delivered.
The other three people went off and did their own thing; I hated some of the costume choices and still cringe and stew about them when I see them on screen – though I won’t tell you which ones, and for which movies. It got to a point where at times I just told the actresses “Bring your own clothes. Whatever they give you, come up to me, and I will tell you when to wear your own clothes.” The girls always ended up coming to set wearing something much, much better and sexier. I think the males who run wardrobes are sometimes more concerned about their fabrics and putting on a fashion show than giving me what I want.
On “Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood” the Valerie character – when not wearing the cape – was to wear a gown that was cut so low that she looked like a girl from a Hammer film; a fraction of an inch shorter and her nipples would have shown. That’s how far I wanted it. And I discussed this in detail prior to shooting with the costume person, to make sure we were exactly on the same page with this. The actress showed up on the set with a gown that literally went up to her neck. I just went ballistic! There was no time to find another dress. I looked around for a pair of scissors. The wardrobe guy was like “You can’t cut that dress! We rented that!” I just looked at him and said “Add it to the budget.” I literarily cut the dress down to an approximation of what I wanted.

Robert: I know which scene you speak of and recall a slightly rough edge on the neckline.
Don: Yeah, and it still wasn’t exactly what I wanted. It happens every time, so I think from now on I will always go with a female costume designer. The issue isn’t negotiable.

Robert: You were trying for the Ingrid Pitt look.
Don: Yeah, definitely, the Hammer babes, the Hammer girls. “Two” of the reasons we went to see those movies when we were kids (chuckles).

Robert: (laughs) Okay, so you have had costuming on all four films so the actors and actresses don’t have to provide it.
Don: Well, unless they have something. In the case of Glori-Anne Gilbert – who has this incredible wardrobe of sexy clothes – she brought all her own stuff. She even had the 19th century outfit; the one she wears in 1897. She told me over the phone that she had this. I said, “Well, it all depends on how fast you can get out of it, because your ‘strip’ scene has to be done on camera.” She replied “I can get out of this in about four seconds.” Plus she could get back into it in about four seconds, which was astonishing!

Robert: Yes, complete with the 1897 thong I believe.
Don: (laughs) Now wait! There sort of is an explanation for that! When she leaves the crypt and goes out on the town the first time, we don’t see everything she does. She could have conceivably stopped at a dress shop or somewhere and bought – or just stolen — one of those. We were also shooting the scene in the crypt where all the scenes had to be shot the same night. Glori-Anne had a few different outfits. When we were shooting, because of some of the props involved or the other actors that were involved, she would have to go from one outfit to the next in rapid succession. She would just change in front of the whole crew – wham wham wham – she was suddenly in the other outfit. In and out of those things so fast it was amazing, like Diana Prince changing to Wonder Woman.


Jana Thompson

Robert: Don, you have worked on both sets and natural locations. What do you feel to be the pros and cons of both? Do you have to deal with permits while on location?
Don: Yes, well we’re going to go on here for a while! First of all the pros and cons: when you shoot on a soundstage where you build a set and everything, the big advantages are that you don’t need a permit, and you don’t have airplanes and other outside distractions to deal with. In “Dinosaur Valley Girls” for instance, we not only had the sound of airplanes flying overhead, we had the vapor trails to deal with sometimes. You had to wait till they dissipated before you could shoot. On a soundstage you have pretty good control over the sound, as well as the sound that doesn’t get in. Also, the weather.
I think though that a location looks a little more real. The Chinatown location in “The Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula” is something we could have never built. I think a real alley – like the ones I used in so many of my old amateur movies — looks more realistic than the soundstage alley we shot for “Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood” on. Sometimes you can get a location cheaper than a soundstage. In the case of “Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood” we found a soundstage out in the San Fernando Valley called “Digital Blue,” which basically had or could build anything we needed. That way it’s one stop; you’re not constantly driving people around – along with the equipment and crew – to a new location. It takes time just getting from one place to another. And it’s costly. So this studio was one stop. We got there, parked our trucks, settled in and shot a couple days there.
Permits are expensive. Sometimes you can get away with shooting without a permit. We shot all of the motel sequences in “The Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula” without a permit. This was miraculous considering the motel was located on Sunset Boulevard, right off of Highland, in one of the most movie-busy places of Hollywood. Somehow we never got caught, even with the big trucks parked outside. On the other hand, when we shot “Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood” we were shooting at a privately owned house in Burbank, where the police are always looking for ways to ticket or fine you. My friend who lived there assured me that there were no problems with the neighbors. What we didn’t know was that the neighbor was going to be home that day atop a cherry picker looking into the yard while we were shooting the hot tub scene with two naked girls. Now he’s apparently not a prude or anything, but we also didn’t know that he had a problem with my friend. What happened was this; my friend is very “rules conscious.” He likes things to be very orderly and everything. The guy next door had held one extra yard sale than you are supposed to have in Burbank per month. Well, my friend called the cops and blew the whistle on him a few months back. My friend didn’t realize that anything was wrong with this, or that the guy might take it personally. It simply was the way the rules are.
So this neignbor – figuring now was his chance to “get even” with my friend — called the cops on us. Strangely, he waited until we moved away from the hot tub and inside the house and he couldn’t see the girls anymore. I don’t know if there was a cause and effect relationship there. So we are inside the house – it’s on the blooper reel — and suddenly the doorbell rings. It was the police, and we had to shut down. We lost half a day of shooting that day which we never recouped. We also lost the actress, who had to go to Arizona because of a funeral in the family. We stalled the cops. We said, “Okay, we’re moving the stuff right away.” While crew members were moving all the things out of the back, we kept shooting inside the house so we could get as much footage as we possibly could. I had to rewrite parts of the script to accommodate the fact that we couldn’t shoot all the scenes that we needed to shoot there. So, it’s best to get a permit. I don’t think I’ll ever shoot on the sly again, unless it is really out in the middle of the boondocks where they don’t know what a camera crew is. However, anywhere in the Los Angeles area it is very dangerous to shoot with a crew and no permit.

Robert: Okay, I have one or two things to add to these answers. The first is that you’ve been out here since the 1960’s and are certainly more versed at this than I am. I had no idea that you could not go on personal property – where you had permission – and you still need a permit. The second is – having seen the bloopers and outtake reel – is it written into the permits that you can or cannot do nudity at a certain location; for instance if it is being shot outside.
Don: The only time you cannot do nudity is if the people who own the property are very prudish and state that you cannot do any nudity at their house or grounds. Or if the people in the scenes are under 18 years old. The property owners should tell you upfront if they have a problem with nudity. Or say the location is county land, and it is a rule built into the county laws. A friend of mine was shooting a werewolf movie in Bronson Canyon in Griffith Park; he didn’t know you couldn’t do that. He had the actress take her top off. The minute that top came off, the park ranger that was supervising the shoot shut them down. Pleading ignorance didn’t help. He said “Nope. You’re out of here — forever.” My friend didn’t know the rule, nobody told him that, and they didn’t figure ignorance into the mix; they simply shut him down. It’s best to do your homework before you shoot!

Robert: So the shot where Glori-Anne is taking her top off outside; she couldn’t do that because…?
Don: That was because the owner of the property didn’t want any nudity outside.. Inside the house was fine, but not outside. This was because it’s dark out at night, and Glori-Anne is lit up like a bright bulb on a hill. Right next to the property is a road and a main highway. He didn’t want her attracting a lot of attention, which Glori-Anne can do clothed from head to toe!

Robert: So the owner basically didn’t want this nude human billboard right outside of his house.
Don: Right. We did have a permit for shooting there, but we didn’t have a permit for shooting off guns. There is a cowboy scene in the abbey crypt, and originally he was going to take the gun out and fire at the actress. Kim Ray didn’t want to risk it because we didn’t have the proper firearms permit for that. I and the actor were willing to take the chance, but she wasn’t – and I respected and liked Kim too much to go exert my own authority on that issue.

Robert: Now, back to your friend of Burbank; so the production company can still get in trouble even if they have full permission to use the person’s private property. Law enforcement can still be called on you.
Don: Right. Anyway that they can squeeze an extra tax dollar out of you or something in this state… they will. One of the ways of doing that is with permits.

Robert: Okay, a question that has to be brought up. You’re on your location, miles away from civilization, and of course “nature calls.” When you have been on a remote location, how have you had to handle the problem of bathroom facilities for cast and crew?
Don: Usually, if we are shooting at a home or something, the owners will let you use their bathroom. Sometimes they won’t. Sometimes we are in the middle of the desert and we bring one of those portable bathrooms (Port-A-Potties®). I’m sure some of the people on “Dinosaur Valley Girls” had to use the bushes because it was too far to walk to the Port-A-Pottie®. I didn’t ask any questions! Also, that added to the “realism.” I doubt Cro-Magnons even had outhouses!

Robert: (laughing)

Robert: For your cast and crew, what kind of food catering have you set up for them? What kind of food has been prepared and on hand to keep them happy and keep them up and running for that day?
Don: We have always been pretty lavish in our meals, with the exception of the last movie. Kim, bless her heart, tried to find away around that to save us more money. We’ve always had our shoots fully catered. We’ve had a caterer that has either done craft services, or had it done by two separate people. We have craft services stuff there at the location all day long; everything from apples to bagels to munchies. Candy and beverages – no alcoholic drinks, of course and no drugs (at least to our knowledge). So, they were there all day long. We always served two full meals, and those meals were different everyday. Some of those meals were pretty elaborate. On the first three movies we went into overtime, going into eighteen-hour days. With Kim at the helm we were able to work with a much more professional crew, and get the days down to twelve to thirteen hours. That became our standard. I don’t think we went over that. Fifteen at the tops, but never like the seventeen and eighteen hour days. When it goes into those kinds of hours, that’s when we would get into a third meal. That usually meant somebody would go out to McDonald’s, or we would have pizzas brought in. It also raised the film’s budget.
Now on the last movie, Kim was trying to keep the budget down by not having it catered at all. Her husband (and my friend) Fred Olen Ray would go out to the restaurants and get things like Chinese take-out. We never got to the point to where it was like Roger Corman with a bag of candy and some hamburgers that he grilled himself. It never went that far or got that crazy. Kim came up with the idea that we could save maybe a couple hundred dollars per day if the caterers brought the food in… and then left it! Instead of like what we had done in the first three movies, where the caterers stayed and served it. So it became like a buffet, and that worked much better and nobody cared. What’s the difference? You walk in a line; either you scoop out the food, or somebody is there to do it for you. It still ends up being the same food on your plate and in your stomach.
One of the things we’ve always believed is that if you are working those long hours, everybody’s working real fast, everybody is under a strain. The cast and crew are not getting paid the same wages that you would get on a Spielberg movie. What do you do? You keep them happy by keeping them well fed. You can really put the pounds on working on a low-budget movie – although the long hours of being on the go can also take them off.

Robert: I would have to agree with that. Oh, and an addendum to that is that with Roger Corman, actor Richard Deacon had the worst experience with Roger where Corman brought a gallon of milk and a bag of sandwiches for the entire cast and crew. He chased Corman out into the ocean.
Don: Oh boy…

Robert: Now while you may have employed special effects artists and makeup artists in your films; have you ever hired a makeup artist for the glamour makeup for the actors and actresses? Is that left up to the individual performer?
Don: Usually and unfortunately, the make-up artists we hire are most specialized in glamour and making people look good more than anything else. If we are doing a horror effect we have to bring in somebody special for that. I know we had some problems with the “Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula.” The make-up people in general didn’t know how to do wounds on the neck or scars or anything like that. They could make the girls beautiful, but they couldn’t do that. So, remembering my amateur movie days when I did my own make-up and effects, I’m there saying, “This is how you do this effect and this is how you do a vampire bite on the neck…”



Robert: (laughs)

Don: And then I brought in John Carl Buechler for a couple of things – either people that work for John Carl or John himself – working in his studio or on the set with items from his studio to do the mummy characters and things. But, most makeup artist don’t specialize in the horror or the wounds, the fangs or the prosthetic effects. They specialize more in the realm of making people look really good. A couple of actresses have insisted on doing their own makeup; we had an Asian- American actress who told me that most makeup artist don’t know how to do Asian women, so she did her own makeup. That turned out fine as long as she knew what she was doing. This also cuts down on the sit down makeup artist’s time.

Robert: Was this the actress in “Mummy’s Kiss?”
Don: Yes, Aysia Lee, who was really great to work with. It was a good experience with her. I wish we had had her do more nudity, though – which was in the script, and she would have done – but we ran out of time again. It turned out that the second unit crew was taking up way too much time with the camera and the tripod and everything else, so we had to rush her scenes; her sexy scenes basically.

Robert: Now I believe that it was a body double for her because I thought I read some place in the credits that it was a body double.
Don: No, it was most definitely Aysia. I’ve never used a body double… ever. I wanted to get more scenes were you could see her from the waist up and were able to see her face, too; but we were shooting it so fast, and there was no monitor because the second unit was taking their time shooting with it on another stage. So, they had the monitor so I couldn’t look at what the camera was seeing and had to rely on myself and my photographer – who really didn’t seem to “get” what I was looking for. I understand your point though, because usually you see a face and bare boobs in the same shot. When you see those in separate shots, it’s a red flag for body double. Now there is a scene that if you look real quick you can see her breasts and about half of her face in frame. I insisted with the editor that that shot be in there somewhere because I wanted people to know that that was really her and not a body double.
But you were probably thinking of the credit for another Asian actress, Makiko, who doubled for the actual mummy in a few shots. She was really attractive, too, and it’s a shame we never got to show her as she really looked. Actually, Makiko was contracted to play one of the handmaidens…but had that INS problem I’d mentioned earlier.

Robert: You have already pretty much answered this next question by stating that you use local actors because they are readily accessible. You also don’t have to deal with them flying in and using them only when they are available. Now you have made two exceptions to that rule; one being Glori-Ann Gilbert and the other one being Paul Naschy.
Don: Oh yes, Paul Naschy! Paul Naschy flew in. He’s a great man and I knew and loved his work. I don’t think there were any other actors from out of state, except for people doing cameos. Friends of mine would come in from Chicago, some of them investors in the film, and be in them, so I have done a few of those. If their scenes were taken out, the movie usually wouldn’t be really affected.



Robert: Now you brought Paul and his family over. Is that correct?
Don: That’s right.

Robert: I suppose you got them situated and set them up in a hotel in Hollywood.
Don: That’s correct. We tried to treat them as royally as we could within our budget. To make the deal a little bit sweeter, I remember what Roger Corman did to have Boris Karloff on for an extra day when shooting “The Terror.” I called Fred Olen Ray and said “Fred, look – I’m going to have Paul Naschy. Is there anything you can work him into? Are you shooting?” Well of course Fred always seems to be shooting something, and so he was making a movie called “The Unliving, ” which he quickly then rewrote to include Paul Naschy. He contacted Paul and asked him if he might possibly do the werewolf character in the film. Paul said yes – which is why Fred completely rewrote the script to turn it into a werewolf movie, which was then retitled “Tomb of the Werewolf.”

Robert: Paul is best known for several films that he did over in Europe during the early to mid seventies, is that correct?
Don: He’s still doing them. He just finished two Spanish movies; he’s from Spain. Most of his work is best known in Europe and in Asia. Among hardcore horror fans he’s a pretty big star, and I try to treat him that way. I’m a really big fan of his so why not?

Robert: So the big names for “Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood” were of course Glori-Anne Gilbert and Paul Naschy
Don: Yes, and of course Count Gore De Vol.

Robert: (laughs) Oh yes, and Count Gore De Vol!
Don: Who has a small part in the film. He’s great, and is a good friend of mine too. Dick Dyszel, who is Count Gore, has been doing this since the 70s. The first footage that was actually shot for that movie was with Count Gore De Vol. He and his wife took me out to dinner in Chicago when I was visiting my mother there. He had mentioned before when I was on his web show, “Hey, do you have a small part for the Count?” So right away I was thinking that he lives in Chicago so what am I going to do? I made a comment on his show that most of the scenes are shot during the day, so you’re going to have a problem with that! (chuckles) Well I kept thinking about that, and I had a scene where the Renfield character was watching TV. So I thought,”Why don’t I get Dick to shoot an actual segment, like it’s on his TV show – but directed towards my movie. So I had him throw in some jokes and references to “Dinosaur Valley Girls” and “The Vampire Strikes Back” which has become a running gag with me because of “The Empire Strikes Back” for which I wrote the book. And I asked him if he would be interested in shooting something for the movie. I told him what I wanted, and then asked him if he could also shoot a little thing that could be an intro for the bloopers. So I got that also. And we also took one of the interviews that he did with me on his weekly web show where I’m talking about this movie and Paul Naschy. We put that as one of the extras on the DVD. As I said we have become very good friends and so every time I’m in Chicago – which is generally 3 or 4 times a year – we get together.

Robert: The Count is a great guy. I met him in 2004. Of course, I interviewed several of your actresses with him.
Don: You shot the video?

Robert: Yes, for anyone that’s reading this I am the one that did the lousy video work for Don’s DVD.
Don: (chuckles) well you shoot fast and think fast.

Robert: Yes, it doesn’t matter that one of the fill lights is showing as I zoomed out (laughs).

Don: Pay no attention to that fill light behind the curtain!

Robert: Due to the many personalities that you deal with, ranging from your performers to your crew, how do you handle any friction that comes up on the set? Is it up to you to handle that, is it somebody else’s job to do that and play referee and peacemaker?
Don: It’s usually up to someone else, because I don’t have time to be wet nursing people and to stop arguments, break up fistfights. You know, try to take the guns out of their hands – things like that. I have to make the movie and get it done. Except when I lose it, and I don’t lose it very often. I lost it a couple times when things went to hell and an actor was giving me so much grief. I almost lost it…or when I had to do the cutting to the black dresses or a prop that was supposed to be on set had not been made. I lost it a little bit on “Orgy,” but I directed it unfortunately towards Kim, I think. But anyway, usually somebody else will try to come in and straighten things out. I may have a problem with an actor that rubs all the other actors the wrong way, and then the other actors don’t want to work. They won’t give me the performance I want because they have a chip on their shoulder. So it’s usually someone else that does that. Sometimes this has to be done; if somebody isn’t working out and there is a problem, you have to step in. I literally had to break up a catfight between two actresses at a wrap party. There was hair pulling and everything.

Robert: At the wrap party?
Don: Yeah, for “Dinosaur Valley Girls.” These two girls were going at it; it was the hostility that they had building up throughout the shoot. Well, it came to a head that night.

Robert: Undoubtedly when there was alcohol present, and they finally let go! (chuckles)
Don: Yeah. The reason for their fight was also present. I won’t go into any details there…

Robert: Ah, I see…
Don: It was an incredible situation; it was great – it really made the evening. I still have people talking about that! The highlight of the party!

Robert: You should have had your video camera handy – it would have been an extra outtake on the DVD.
Don: It was better than the staged fight we had in the movie! (chuckles)

Craving more? Then head on to part three of Don Glüt’s interview.

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