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Interview with Edoardo Favaron, for Bizzarrocinema, Italy



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 screen.

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 Hollywood.

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,

 

3 Could you tell us about these legendary producers? How was your working relationship?

 

I have 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?

 

Despite 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 Ninja 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.

It’s true 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 awhile.

 

8 Tell us about your experience on America Ninja 2

 

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?

 

Menahem 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 Space.”

 

"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, right?

 

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.

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