1 How did a filmmaker
born in Poland and growth in Jerusalem become a director in Hollywood? Did you
always want to pursue a career in the film industry?
I was born in Poland in 1950. The same year, I immigrated
with my parents and sister from war-ravaged Europe to Jerusalem, Israel. From
an early age, I became addicted to movies. My home in Jerusalem was next door
to a movie theater. Each Tuesday afternoon, from the age of five, I and my
friends would go to the weekly double feature. Like many youngsters around the
world, I thrived on a steady diet of American movies: westerns, war pictures,
and Tarzans. Not understanding English, and too young to read the Hebrew
subtitles, I would sit for hours, mesmerized by the moving images on the
At this young age I also began to "create"
movies to entertain my friends. Horrifying my mother, I would cut up books,
stringing together the pictures and rolling them up. I would then put the roll
into a box with a cut out window, shining a flashlight from behind, and
manually pull the roll, revealing the pictures through the window in sequence.
Sometimes I would plan a special show in which my sister narrated the
"film" based on a script I concocted, and my father would accompany
on the violin. As I grew up I found a hobby in photography and by high school
had turned the bedroom into a darkroom where I would earn pocket money by
developing pictures for friends.
When I was 21, after finishing high school and serving three
years in the military, I came to America with a purpose. Filmmaking was my goal.
It was 1972, I went to film school and at the same time found work in the movie
industry I worked my way up the ranks, starting as a stagehand and production
assistant and then as an assistant director for 5 years. During this time I
completed my higher education, earning my B.A. and M.A. in Cinema, and at the
same time directing numerous shorts which eventually led to my first full
feature directorial debut. In the fall of 1979, I was working towards a
Master's degree in Film at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles., With
school facilities, equipment and classmate crew available, and plenty of chutzpah
and ingenuity, I convinced the faculty to let me expand my half hour master's
thesis into a full-length movie. Based on my own script, I recruited
then-unknown actors Kirstie Alley (of Cheers), Johnny LaMotta (of
Alf), and Michael Pataki. Two years later the movie “One
More Chance was completed and then I declared myself a film director in
2 How did you get
involved in Revenge of the Ninja? Why
did Golan & Globus choose you?
I met Menahem
Golan when I was 22 years old and a film
student at Columbia College in Los Angeles. He had just arrived in Hollywood,
to produce and direct his first American movie, “Lepke” with Tony Curtis and I
was invited to join the production. Seven years later, while at Loyola
Marymount University in Los Angeles, working towards a Masters degree in film,
I directed my first full length feature film “One More Chance” and Golan as
head of Canon Film took it for distribution. While I was busy editing “One More
Chance” Golan got involved as a producer and director of the first of a new
breed of action movies. It was “Enter the Ninja” the first martial arts movie
to introduce the Ninja phenomenon to western viewers. The movie enjoyed a
moderate success in the international and US markets so Golan decided to
produce a sequel entitled “Revenge of the Ninja.” Golan was busy running the
company so he decided not to direct it himself but rather, to hire someone else
to direct and that someone else would be me. After the completion of “One More
chance” Golan was willing to take a chance on me. The big question was whether
I could handle action, could I tackle a fight sequence or a chase. Clearly I
did not have experience in these areas, but when he asked if I could do it,
with utmost confidence I gave a positive yes. I was not going to let this once
in a lifetime opportunity slip away. Apparently
my self confidence assured them so the next question was what kind of salary I
would demand. I told Golan to pay me whatever he saw fit and so the deal was
made and I was given the script and asked to start pre-production immediately,
you tell us about these legendary producers? How was your working relationship?
known Menahem and Yoram for many years, in fact many
years before I directed Revenge of the Ninja - I worked as an assistant
director on many of their films, even one that Menahem Golan directed (Diamonds
with Robert Shaw). The way they worked was that Yoram Globus was in charge of
finances, and had little input on the creative side; Menahem Golan was the
creative producer, involved in all the stages of making the movies. His main
interest was in the script and in the editing. So much was written about these
producers it can fill many books some of the stories are positive and some
negative but my experience with them was generally good. In all the movies I
have directed for them, during the shooting I was basically left alone. I would
say that in this sense, it was very easy to work with them, as long as we did
not go over budget or exceed the schedule - which I never did. They trusted me
and we had a very good working relationship.
4 And what about Sho Kosugi?
Sho is an accomplished martial
artist, knowledgeable in all fields of martial art, he was also a teacher
(sense) with a group of dedicated students. When we first met we hit it off
right away, I did not know a thing about the martial arts and did not pretend
to know any so I rather adapted Sho as my teacher and gave him the necessary
respect therefore eliminating any potential conflicts regarding that area he in
return excepted my as the director the final authority on all cinematic
matters. This mutual respect and appreciation lead to an actually friendship
later on during shooting the years we worked together.
5 The following year you shot Ninja
3, also starring Sho Kosugi, but
this film has some original horror elements mixed to the ninja adventures. What’s your personal
opinion on this feature?
After the release of Revenge of the
Ninja Menahem Golan head of Canon Film wanted to produce a third sequel to the
Ninja franchise but this time with a female heroin at the lead. I just saw the
movie “Poltergeist” and since we knew that women did not receive Ninjitsu
training I come up with the idea that the main character the actress Lucinda
Dickey will be possessed by the spirit of a dead Ninja and this possession will
propel the plot of the movie. Since we already dealt with that genera we throw
in also some elements from the movie “The Exorcist” that I saw years earlier
and impressed me a lot. Apparently the Ninja audience was not crazy with that
combination and they did not accept the idea of a women ninja in the lead part.
6 Can you
tell us more about making American Ninja?
the lukewarm reception of “Ninja III, The Domination” Cannon Film decided to
keep the Ninja series alive. The producers wanted to switch from an Oriental
to an American Ninja.
When I was directing and editing “Breakin 2, Electric Boogaloo” the “American
Ninja” project was already approved, so while finishing the editing of
“Boogaloo” I was also involved in the writing and preparation of “American
Ninja.” I didn’t even have to think about doing it; I was just offered the job
by the company and accepted the challenge right away. For the part of Joe Armstrong I
interviewed more than 400 young actors and martial artists, but when Michael
Dudikoff walked in and did the reading I felt that he was the American Ninja.
After few call backs we had 5 finalists with Michael one of them. He already
had some credit to his name including “Bachelor Party” and “Radioactive Dreams”
in the lead. After putting them all on tape and viewing it we all agreed that
Dudikoff is the American Ninja.
he had no previous Martial Arts training prior to being cast. But he was very
athletic from years of surfing; he had little previous experience in films and
never on an action picture. Working on American Ninja was Mike Stone as
our choreographer. Mike himself is a very famous Martial Artist. He was
associated with Bruce Lee and served as Elvis’s personal Karate teacher. Stone
started to work with Dudikoff rehearsing fight sequences four weeks prior to
filming. During this time I would check in with Stone and he assured me that
Dudikoff was very good. During filming Stone and his team would show Dudikoff a
six to eight move segment of a fight and I would film that, cut and then shoot
the following set of movements. One of Dudikoff’s stunt doubles in the film is
Richard Norton, who by his own right later became something of a Karate movie
star. If you watch the film closely you can tell it’s Richard some times and
not Dudikoff, but they look very much alike. American Ninja was a great
fun: well balanced movie with good main plot some mystery, good secondary plot,
nice romantic story, great back story, a handsome innocent hero and a terrific
sidekick. But best of all lots of exciting action beautifully cerographed and
executed in an exotic location.
7 After America Ninja
Michael Dudikoff became an
action star. How was it working with him?
I made four movies with
Michael Dudikoff all on-location so we spent a lot of time together. Sometimes
12 hours on the set and many times off the set as well. There was a great
understanding between Michael and me and good working relationship. He was
always hard working actor well prepared and willing to do any difficult action
that is needed for the movie. Until today we are friends and meet once in
8 Tell us about your experience on America
The second American ninja was filmed
in South Africa. The story is not as strong as the original American Ninja but
it still has great action and martial art fight sequences. The budget and
schedule were dissent and working in Africa is fantastic, so we had good time
great fun and also made a successful movie that the fans liked.
9 I think that Avenging Force
is one of the best Cannon’s action flicks and one of
the best works of your filmography. The script is good and the locations in New
Orleans are perfect for the story…
Many people fill that “Avenging
Force” is the best action movie I have directed and one of Cannon’s best. The script for Avenging Force was
written by James Booth It was so good that I did not do any changes to it. The
story is tight, the characters are strong, the acting is solid, there are big
scenes the action is exciting, I am happy with the directing and the results
and there is a political message in it as well. Avenging Force was written for Chuck
Norris but he didn’t want to do it, so after American Ninja’s success Canon
decided to give it to me to direct with Michael Dudikoff and Steve James as
leads. I saw John P. Ryan in Runaway Train and wanted him for the part of the
lead bad guy. Canon had the contact with him and they arranged a meeting
between us. Johan is a very intense actor with a great ability of
transformation into the character he portrays, so working with him was magical.
The mystery of the taste of moviegoers is impossible to decipher or understand,
I also agree that Avenging Force is a better movie but the audience preferred
the American Ninja.
10 Breakin’ 2 is very
different than the other movies you’ve directed.
Why did you choose such a different genre?
Golan head of Canon film offered me to direct Breakin 2 I excepted his offer
because I believed that directing dances is probably not very different from
directing fights and because I knew that doing a dance musical movie is going
to be a lot of fun and great enjoyment and I was right it was indeed a great
experience. I think the movie was at the height of the breakdance era.
The first movie to come out was Breakin’ and then a movie called Beat Street,
but “Breakin’2-Electric Boogaloo” topped them all and became a national and
worldwide immediate hit with the young audience. It was 1985 and even today, I
still get fan mail from people who say that this movie influenced them as
teenagers. I have been told that on e-bay original posters and laser discs go
for about $200- $300 apiece! It became an icon of the 1980’s.
11 In 2000 you shot The Alternate,
a good direct-to-video,
with good fight sequences and three b- movies icons like Eric Roberts, Ice T
and Bryan Genesse…
The Alternate was a low budget
movie, shot in one location but working with Eric Roberts was a very memorable
experience, he is one of the greatest actors alive. It was one of very few
movies I directed in Los Angeles.
12 Did your way of shooting change
with the passage to direct-to-video productions (Cyborg Cop series, The Alternate,
Spiders 2, Operation Delta Force…)?
Not really in every film I direct I
try to give the maximum, get the most production value for the given budget. I
don’t care if it goes to theaters or directly to video my job is to create
excitement on the screen, big or small.
13 You were recently involved in a
film that was based on rediscovered footage from an unreleased film by the
infamous Ed Wood. Can you tell us about this project?
One day I got a phone call from my friend,
scriptwriter Sam Oldham. The excitement and urgency in his voice told me
something was up. I felt right away that this call was going to change things
for me. And I was right.
Sam is a devoted, if not fanatic, fan of old
sci-fi flicks. VHS, DVD, posters, props, magazines, websites, you name it, he loves
it. “Forbidden Planet,” “This Island Earth,” “Queen of Outer Space,” "The
Creeping Terror" -- these are the kinds of movies he lives for. When he
called me, he was working at one of the small, dingy, forgotten film vaults
that exist all over Hollywood. His job was to check the condition of old
negatives and prints stored in rusting tin cans, to see if any were worth
saving, and catalog them.
You all know of Ed Wood, director of the
infamous “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” the man who was crowned the worst director
of all time, and immortalized in Tim Burton's movie. Many people are devoted to
his work; he is probably the original cult director, and his name is connected
to quite a few tacky Hollywood projects. But for many years, rumors have
circulated in Hollywood about one last project Ed Wood started but never
finished. He either ran out of money or died before it was finished, depending
on who tells the story. Ed Wood was so strange that it is not unlikely that
such a film, or part of a film, really exists. The supposed title of the lost
film was “Amazon Women from Outer Space,” definitely a typical Ed Wood title.
No one has come up with any evidence to authenticate the rumors, but
nevertheless, they keep resurfacing. Not long ago, however, a lost and forgotten
Ed Wood script was found and produced -- so you see, miracles can sometimes
happen. You can imagine the excitement that would be stirred up if any
"lost" Ed Wood footage were discovered today.
Now back to the phone call! Sam Oldham is on the
phone with me, sounding emotional and maybe a little bit crazed. He tells me
he's found some reels of celluloid tucked away on a hard-to-reach,
cobweb-covered shelf. After running the film through the viewer, he now
strongly believes that he has discovered the lost “Amazon Women from Outer
"Yeah, right," I said. I am
notoriously skeptical when it comes to sensational information. On the other
hand, Sam's knowledge of sci-fi films is vast. He can recite 20-minute passages
from any old horror or sci-fi flick, so I had to give him the benefit of the
doubt. It was after midnight, but Sam asked me to come down and look at the
footage. I found myself twenty minutes later in a pitch-dark, rat-infested
alley off Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood, knocking at the back door, and soon
we were hunched over the viewer, watching the moving images on the small square
glass. I am not an expert on old sci-fi flicks, nor on Ed Wood’s filmography,
but it struck me immediately that my friend might be right. The yards and yards
of unedited material we viewed were so tacky, so ridiculous, and so incoherent,
that they definitely had the Ed Wood touch. The footage was full of Amazon-type
women running around in skimpy outfits on cheap spaceship sets. But the cans
and boxes were not labeled, and the scenes were not slated, so there was no way
to determine whether Sam was right. None of the actresses was even remotely
familiar either. And the script pages he mentioned? I turned them over in my
hands, fearful that they would crumble to dust right then and there. They
seemed to correspond to the film images. We knew we had to contact experts in
the area immediately, to help us authenticate, recover, and maybe even restore
the remnants of the historic “Amazon Women from Outer Space.”
The next few weeks were devoted to running the
material by authorities on Ed Wood -- film historians, directors, sci-fi buffs,
and the hard-core sci-fi B-movie geek crowd. This process proved to be an
emotional roller coaster for us, and by the end of it, we felt as if we'd been
turned inside-out. As soon as one expert supported the Ed Wood theory, another
would dismiss it as preposterous. Sam and I were nervous wrecks. Did we have
something, or didn't we?
One of the people we approached was a hard-core
sci-fi fan, Dr. Elliott Haimoff, documentary producer, Elliott was so excited
when he heard about our discovery, he immediately insisted on joining us on our
mission. We decided that the evidence strongly suggested that the footage was,
indeed, Ed Wood material, and as a trio of producer, director, and writer, we
resolved to rescue and restore the treasure we had found.
The first step was to purchase the original
negatives and prints that were part of that mystery package. Sam gathered each
and every piece of film in the vault that he suspected was related to this
production. Since ownership of the property could not be established, the vault
management sold us the film by the pound and we launched into our next task,
which was to try to make sense of it all. It was basically a collection of
takes, we had no slates, and the script pages were very few, so we were
completely lost as to how it all went together. But as confused as we were, we
could still tell that the film fit into that special category - an incoherent
mess, executed with complete disregard for continuity or logic. We decided to
just go for it and start slamming it together. Continuity is for sissies,
Now enters editor Denny Hooten, another diehard
sci-fi buff (they tend to stick together). He threatens violence if we don't
let him join our group, and lends his editing computer to the task. For three
long months, we tried endless combinations of shots, and finally it seemed to
gel together, with its own twisted logic. We had our Ed Wood-type movie -- the
most hideous, ridiculous, campy, tacky sci-fi we ever saw. It was one ugly
baby, worse than “Plan 9” -- and we were in love with it. The plan was to give
it the right exposure, bring it out to the public so the sci-fi crowd could
judge it for themselves. But the product was too short, at 62 minutes, and it
had no beginning and no end. It was clear that this movie, which we now
officially called “Amazon Women From Outer Space,” was never completed. As
exciting as it was, we all felt unsatisfied. Discussing and debating our
predicament, we made the decision to go the extra mile and attempt to extend
and complete “Amazon Women” into a 90-minute full feature, with a beginning,
middle, and end. It was too good to neglect.
Having in our group a writer, a producer, an
editor, and myself a director, we were confident that we could pull it off. Sam
Oldham bashed out a script utilizing the original pages, first off. In the
revamped story, the Amazon women from outer space realize they need a male in
order to ensure the survival of their species, and find the ideal mate on
Earth. They kidnap their chosen male, and the story is off and running. With
the male at the center of the new script, the title of the new movie became
“The Interplanetary Surplus Male and the Amazon Women of Outer Space.”
As I said in the beginning, Sam’s phone call
changed things for me. Maybe I am now a co-director with Ed Wood on a movie,
maybe with someone else. In any event, we ended up with a very funny, very
campy, very authentic 50’s-style sci-fi spoof.