JANE LANDIS TAKE TWO:
Fun with Larry Cohen, the horror of the Children and Upstate Murders!
Jane, Stefan Czapsky, Paul Glickman in the Executive Offices Building (From Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover) All photos courtesy of Jane Landis.
KC) Can you tell us what type of film work came your way upon completing the Devil's Express? How much time between jobs goes by before landing more work? Did you notice that because of your involvement in Devil's Express that you tended to get more work in horror films than any other genre?
JL) After doing "Devil's Express" I began to actively pursue production work. It was after that film that I decided to become a sound recordist and I needed to get some experience. It took about a year or two of working for free or for very low pay to really make headway and I also did work as a PA here and there until I was able to save up to buy sound equipment of my own.
It's not so much that I sought out horror films, or that I was "type cast" as a horror film technician, it's just that that was often the kind of work that was available to nonunion people. I didn't get into NABET Local 15 the erstwhile "alternative" freelancers film union, until about 3 years after I began working in the industry. (Later NABET was disbanded and we were absorbed into IATSE which is the large theatrical union).Even as a union member I worked on low budget stuff because NABET was flexible about nonunion gigs. The quality of the stuff I worked on did in fact improve with my experience; I started to set higher standards for myself and I turned down stuff that didn't appeal to me.
I actually did a lot of work for European television when I first began freelancing in sound recording. My earliest jobs were for Finnish, Dutch, German and Italian TV and later for the BBC which had a New York bureau. As time went on, my "bread and butter" jobs were industrials, commercials, television stuff, documentaries, and short dramatic films (one short got nominated for an Academy Award). Features came around only once or twice a year. Spring and summer were the busy times due to weather. Because features often shot for 6 weeks or more the pay was decent, though low by normal day rate standards.
Sometimes there were often long lapses between jobs, but I only needed to work about 4 or 5 days a month to cover expenses. Those were the days!
Bob Ghiraldini (Boom Mic), Broderick Crawford, Dan Dailey (From The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover).
KC) You said you worked on a few Larry Cohen films. Could you tell me which titles you were involved with? Was your job the same with each film, or did you climb up from production to production?
JL) I believe the first one was "God Told Me To" then I worked on "The Private Files of J Edgar Hoover" and on "Q". I was in part, a sound assistant for Jeffrey Hayes on " God Told Me To" (though I might have a PA credit on that one; I don't remember) and "Q", where I did get sound assistant or boom credit. I was also sound assistant with Bob Ghiraldini on "Private Files". Fred Murphy was the DP on "Q". He went on to shoot a lot of features and TV, including "Freddy vs Jason" "Drillbit Taylor" and most recently, "Ghost Town" starring Ricky Gervais. Also, my husband, Bob Ipcar, shot the helicopter stuff (POV of the monster) in that movie.
Stefan Czapsky, Larry Cohen, Paul Gickman and Itzak (can’t remember his last name; he was on the crew) at Pimlico racetrack. (Hoover liked to bet on the horses).
KC) What kind of man is Larry Cohen? Is he an easy personality to get along with? What kind of problems did you encounter on a Larry Cohen film? Were his budgets big enough to make production comfortable, or was it little more than a smoother more experienced version of working on something like Devil's Express?
JL) These were definitely low budget films, but they were more expensive than the Devil's Express. I think we even got overtime after 10 hours. Cohen always hired veteran actors, some of who were well known so it gave the experience more of an air of professionalism. The crew were put up in hotels on location and given a generous per diem for meals, so compared to the other films I worked on, these seemed far more "legit".
Larry was an interesting guy to work for. Rather intense at times, but always interesting .He had done a lot of television, and as a Hollywood guy he knew what he wanted and was definitely in control .On the other hand , he could be a "fly by the seat of your pants" kind of director which at times made things chaotic . He had a tendency to write script revisions on the spot, hand them to the actor, then proceed to shoot a scene. I even saw him cast an actor at the Harlem location we were shooting in that morning, then shoot the scene with the newly hired actor a short time later.
Larry was incredibly lucky despite occasionally being under prepared for the day's filming. Case in point: We were filming in downtown Manhattan near the Federal Court buildings on "God Told Me To". Larry decided he needed a scene of two police detectives talking. I don't remember whether this idea was Larry's or Paul 's (the cameraman) but Paul put the Panaflex camera on his shoulder, the sound man grabbed his Nagra recorder and a couple of guys with lights on stands walked into a coffee shop. The actors (who had radio mics on) were told to sit down at the counter, given lines, and Larry asked the perplexed waiter for a couple of donuts and coffee for the actors. The gaffer plugged in the lights and we filmed the scene, then they all quickly unplugged and walked out before the restaurant manager could figure out what was going on!
Another time, in the same film, we were about to shoot a pivotal scene in which a sniper takes a dive off a water tower which is on top of a high rise in Manhattan. We shot it on East 57th street, in the building where Larry's mother lived. Larry realized that he forgot to get a prop gun for the scene. So here we all were, on top of the roof, stuntman in place, but no rifle. A woman tenant was up there and overheard Larry talking and said: "Oh, I have a rifle you can use". Can you imagine? This was midtown Manhattan, in a posh co-op, and the woman had a high- powered rifle with a telescopic sight! So the shoot was saved. Larry was always lucking into stuff like that.
The only time we had a problem was while shooting "Q". We did shots of David Carradine literally atop the Chrysler Building fighting off the flying reptile Quetzaquatl. We had helicopters overhead and actors in full SWAT-team regalia shooting blanks from AK47s. Larry had neglected to mention when he applied for the permit to shoot, that there would be gunfire. Shell casings were raining down on the street below so passersby thought there was a real sniper situation going on and sent for the cops. As you can imagine, they were fuming and they shut down the production. They yanked Larry's permit. The crew was told to go home. His production staff was cut, so they closed the office.
I was really upset, because I expected a 6 week gig and we'd only shot about 3 weeks. What ended up happening was that Larry continued to shoot surreptitiously the next week or two with a tiny skeleton crew: The Cameraman, and 1 assistant, 1 sound mixer (minus yours truly; Jeffrey did the rest of the film using radio mics) 1 gaffer and a script person. So Larry somehow finished the film under the radar. I was pretty bummed out at not being considered essential to the production, because I worked my ass off, but at least I got my credit.
Jane gets a hug from Michael Parks (who was in Kill Bill and Planet Terror) and Larry Cohen watches!
KC) Ok, now for some of the more painful memories. In our first conversation you mentioned having worked on Max Kalmanowicz's The Children. You also mentioned that you left that production. Could you give us some insight to that film and perhaps even explain why you bailed out?
JL) Long story short: We shot in the Berkshires and the crew was put up in a boarding school dormitory. I had no privacy, which everyone else didn't seem to care about, but I really didn't like sharing the bathroom with the guys, particularly since most of the shower stalls lacked curtains.
Also, we fell drastically behind in schedule. A 10 hour turn around had been agreed upon, but we kept finishing later and later as a result of not getting stuff done. So we 'd be shooting at midnight, although the scene had to be lit for day and we'd finish at 1 or 2 AM. The next day we'd start at noon, run out of daylight and continue going. Our end time got later and later, which meant our start time was later and later.
I was exhausted and hated the schedule. I did not want to be thought of as a quitter or a "wimp" but I knew that I had to bow out. It was the only time I ever quit a job and believe me, I worked on some crazy stuff that required incredible stamina and dedication. This one just tried my patience. People were getting testy and irritable; it just started to feel like drudgery. It was hard for me to do. I was a very dedicated worker with very high standards for myself professionally, since I felt that as a woman I always needed to prove that I was as competent, if not more so than the average guy in the business. But I later had no regrets.
I was the sound mixer on "The Children" and my assistant, Rich Murphy was really disappointed when I left, but I made it up to him by hiring him as my assistant on "Angel My Love" a film directed by Robert Duvall.
(left to right) Cathy McNulty, Bob Ghiraldini, Denver Collins, Broderick Crawford (seated), Stefan Czapsky, Max Kalmanowitz(YES, that Max, before his directorial debut), Larry Cohen.
KC) Can you tell us more about Max Kalmanowicz and how you became involved in the Children? It was shot in Massachusetts, just how long were you there? Have you ever seen the film, because in some ways it makes Devil's Express look like Citizen Kane? It seems the filmmaker wanted to make some statements regarding nuclear energy, but the production values weakened the end result...what's your take on this?
I quit after 2 weeks. Max is actually a very nice guy . I had met him on some smaller productions. I don't really know much about his politics or "vision". I always thought the film was an homage to "Village of the Damned", the 1960 horror movie. I never did see the film although my husband did and thought it was passably scary. Maybe he was being kind! It's no surprise to me that the production values were weak.
Postscript: Max does sound these days and I saw his name as soundman in the credits for the TV comedy Show "Flight of the Conchords".
Larry (behind the camera), Rip Torn, Jane (behind sound cart), Dan Dailey.
KC) Ok, tell me about The Upstate Murders? Once again, how did you become involved, and what was your final thoughts on the film, have you ever seen it? They claim it was shot in 1976 and not released until 1980, you can confirm this?
Rick Waddell, a fellow sound recordist who wanted to join IATSE, asked me to assist him. He talked me into working for free because he said it was low budget but it might be a good opportunity to work with some IATSE people. Since that union was considered to be big time "Hollywood", I agreed to do it in hopes of making some good connections. But it didn't exactly turn out that way.
I found out when I got on location that everyone else was being paid but me! I went into the production office that first week and told them that I refused to be the only non-paid person on the crew, so they paid me a token weekly sum. At least I felt less like I was being used.
We shot in Upstate New York (yes, in 1976) somewhere near Vermont and the crew was put up in an old farmhouse, which also served as a location. Some of the crew were convinced the place was haunted, and I must say it did give me the creeps. We shot there for 4 weeks. I know they did some additional work later on, but by then I was probably booked on other jobs.
Dan Dailey, Broderick Crawford, Michael Parks, Larry Cohen and unfortunately hidden from view, Raymond St Jacques outside the Executive Offices Building in Washington DC.
KC) Talk to me about director David Paulsen...what kind of a man are we talking about...was he easy to work with? With guys like Paulsen and Kalmanowicz, did they display the type of assurance a director should show, were they in control, or were the productions as haywire as the final product? In my opinion the Upstate Murders was much better than the Children. It was sleazy, almost porn like in it's sex scenes, then suddenly it launches into slasher territory and takes off with some fairly gruesome murders. The trailer they had for it on the Paragon video tape made it look outrageous, hence why so many of us hungered for it. Where was it shot and how long did the shooting take? Did you know that Upstate Murders is infamous for how many times the boom mic was spotted in the frame?
JL) David Paulsen at that point in time was best known for writing soap operas, but I was unfamiliar with his work. I rolled my eyes when I read the script, but I figured that soap operas were supposed to be melodramatic and over the top. I liked him well enough. He certainly appeared confident and he surrounded himself with professionals who were willing to work on this film as a favor. The cameraman, Zoli Vidor was an ASC cinematographer, Norman Leigh, another union "big shot" was doing the lighting. I can't say that I was bowled over by the professionalism. It seemed like every other low budget film I ever worked on. I guess I expected a different level of production values, but I honestly didn't see it. Zoli was a nice man ,and a good cameraman and I thought he did a good job, but all I ever saw were a few rushes; I never saw the completed film.
Yea, it was a sleazy film, and I must admit I was uncomfortable about the simulated sex scenes and gratuitous nudity. The dialogue, as I said, came straight out of a soap opera.
As for the boom being in the shot, I must defend myself by saying that there was NO video monitor, and if the final aspect ratio of the released film was wider on top than the way it was shot (which was for theaters as opposed to TV) then the mic would undoubtedly be in the shot. People have to remember that it's really the cameraman's call when it comes to booms in the shot. Rick was always telling me during rehearsals: "Get that mic closer!" so I did. We waited for the camera crew to say something; they're the ones looking through the lens. Once again, if the final film was formatted for TV, then the frame would be wider, so what would work for a theatrical format (an elongated more rectangular frame) doesn't work in TV format.
Sound gets short shrift. A light gets moved at the last second and all of a sudden there's a shadow so you have to move, or the blocking changes, so all of a sudden the boom person is in the way. You gotta scramble quickly and find another viable spot while everyone else is grumbling and being impatient. They'd give hours for the camera and lights to set up and about 30 seconds to ready the sound.
As a boom person you can estimate, you can ask the camera crew what lens is on the camera (wide or close) and set up a ceiling point to abide by while blocking the scene. After that it's up to the cameraman to let you know if you're encroaching into the shot. I always stood on ladders or apple boxes so I'd be comfortably above the frame, assessed the lighting situation (for boom shadows). That's really all a boom person can do when there's no video monitor to check or feedback from the person behind the lens.
Article on Larry Cohen's Q from the New York Post.
KC) The Upstate Murders has two actors in it that went on to bigger things. David Gale, an Englishman, went on to do Reanimator. And William Sanderson went on to the Bob Newhart show. What was your memory of these two men? Christopher Allport was also a popular character actor on TV, what do you remember about him?
Often there would be a social distance between crew and actors, so it was rare to get to know them off set. The talent hung out together and the crew hung out together and often "never the twain would meet". I honestly don't have any personal recollections about either David Gale or William Sanderson. Sanderson played the creepy farmer, I think. I remember Marilyn Hamlin, Caitlin O'Heany; I liked them both. I also remember Devin Goldenberg getting annoyed with me because I walked into the dressing room to put a radio mic on him and he was in his underwear. I figured I had practically seen him "buck naked" the day before, so why should he care? But he asked me to leave until he finished dressing.
I did briefly become friends with Chris Allport. In addition to being an actor he was also an accomplished musician having written some musical theater. He and I once got together to play guitar and sing; somewhere I have an old reel-to-reel tape of him and me singing one of his tunes. He moved to LA and we lost touch. I used to see him on TV from time to time. I googled him recently and was sorry to learn that he died in an avalanche while skiing out west earlier this year. He was a really nice man, unpretentious, funny and very talented.
Another Q article!
KC) Ok, is there any other classic pieces of exploitation/horror cinema that you now feel comfortable owning up to? They were at the height of production at the same time you were at the height of your sound work, is there any title I missed in your resume?
I was the sound mixer on "Blood Bride" which was directed by Robert Avrech, who later went on to write "Body Double" which Brian DiPalma directed, as well as a slew of TV stuff. Again, it was low budget, shot in Vermont and New York City and it took a long time to release; it may have come out straight to video. The working title was "Marie".
KC) Classic if not mundane question...Do you have any advice for young folks wanting to enter the film industry in specialized areas like what you did?
JL) Remember the old joke about the guy who came in after the circus performance was finished to sweep up the elephant dung? He was asked why he didn't quit, since it was lousy money and crappy work. He answered: "What, and give up show business"? That's what it's like in the film biz for most people; drudgery, long hours, thankless work. However, it can also be exciting and very gratifying.
If you really want to be in the film business you'll need to be persistent. Persistence is probably more important than talent, although you'd better know your s@#t if you want to keep working! Freelancing is not for the faint of heart. It takes constant shmoozing and selling yourself , a willingness to cold call strangers, to work long hours at short notice and a life style that is flexible. If you're the kind of person who likes 9 to 5, health benefits and pensions, this is NOT the career for you. This is the field for those who like other slightly crazy, creative people. It's filled with starts and stops, promise and disappointment.
The law of averages dictates that the more you get out there the more likely you are to make an impact. This business is dependent on connections. Work for free or cheap at first, get experience, build a resume you can show off to people. Hopefully you'll meet someone who will recommend you to the next job, or take you along with them on the higher budget gigs.
The film world has changed a lot since the 1970's when I was starting out; people are now shooting in high def video on shoestring budgets and posting their work on line. Production values? What production values! The competition was always fierce, but I suspect it is even more so now, since anyone can pick up a camera and shoot. However if you think you have the talent and the will, then it's still worth a try. As they say, "the cream always rises to the top". If you develop good work habits, can get along with people and work well under pressure you're bound to make progress.
The film industry really is show biz; it's creative, and it's always different. If you're lucky you'll get to travel and meet all kinds of interesting people. So if you love it, then go for it! I'm very glad I did.