In 2014, Facebook acquired Oculus—a scrappy start-up dedicated to resurrecting virtual reality—for $2 billion. Since then, every major player in the tech space (from Google and Microsoft to Sony and Samsung) has begun to prepare for a very virtual future.
With this incredible technology now on its way, I’ve spent the past couple of years working on a new book about the unlikely heroes of this virtual reality revolution. During that time, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with those in the burgeoning VR industry and, at some point, almost inevitably, The Lawnmower Man—the 1992 sci-film film directed by Brett Leonard—eventually comes up.
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No matter how you feel about the films of Brian Taylor — a high-voltage assortment that includes Crank, Gamer, and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance — they all, at first glance, inspire a shared singular question: how the fuck did this get made?
Seriously. Just look at what these movies are about:
- To avoid dying, a British hitman must keep adrenaline coursing through his body.
- In a future where kids can control humans as if they were video game characters, a wrongly imprisoned death row convict seeks freedom.
- Years after making a deal with the Devil, a hell-on-wheels monster known as “The Ghost Rider” must save a young boy (and, ultimately, the world).
To many, these films are considered “guilty pleasures.” Yet interestingly enough, they come from an unexpectedly honest place: a desire to provide viewers with an alternative to the four-quadrant, check-the-boxes, CGI-everything Hollywood Machine.
This underlying, upend-the-system ethos was just one the many things I learned during my conversation with Taylor. But by no means was it the most interesting. Not compared to hearing about his wild and crazy “maniac” days, the strange legacy of Gamer and what it’s really like to work with the iconic and eccentric enigma that is Nicolas Cage. Read More »
Typically in this space, we speak with the director, writer or producer of a film, but sometimes it can be valuable to see things from a different point of view. Especially when that point of view is such a common one in Hollywood: the perspective of an outsider—of an ambitious young filmmaker—who takes a high-pressure, entry-level job (at an agency, studio, production company, etc.) with the hopes of one day becoming an insider.
It’s a tale as old as Hollywood, isn’t? But this one comes with a little twist. Because when Barry P. gets a job working for one of his heroes—Lawrence Kasdan, the guy who co-wrote Empire Strikes Back! Who directed The Big Chill!!—he learns not only how the sausage is made but, more importantly, who gets to cook the sausage. And, in the process, the strange reality of how a legend like Kasdan ends up directing a very un-legendary movie like Dreamcatcher.
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If you stick around and watch the credits of almost any movie featuring armed combat, you’re likely to find someone listed as that film’s “Military Advisor.” But what, exactly, does this job entail? And how much more realistic does their work make our movies?
To find out, we spoke with Jon Iles—a 25+ year veteran of the Royal Australian Navy—who has served as the Military Advisor on several films. An impressive roster that includes Suicide Squad, Mad Max: Fury Road and, of course, the movie it all began with: Stealth.
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On February 17, 1936, Lee Falk’s comic strip hero The Phantom was introduced to the world. Over the following years—as the character reached millions of fans through an unparalleled-for-that-era level of worldwide syndication—The Phantom became an international sensation. The comic strip (clearly) excelled in many countries around the world, but perhaps none more so than Australia. So it seems fitting that, six decades later, the man who would finally bring this hero to the big screen would be an Australian himself: Simon Wincer.
To learn about how The Phantom was made, I spoke at length with Simon Wincer. But it took a little while before we even got to talking about the masked crusader. Because, frankly, there was just too much to talk about. Like how Wincer swooped into to replace the original director of Free Willy (and ended up helping to save that film). Or how he helmed an Emmy-dominant, prestige miniseries (years before such things were du jour). We spoke about all those things and much more (like the cinematic value of manure). Below is a copy of our conversation…
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Following an unexpected success with the ’80s rom-com Mannequin, the reasons why a sequel were made are about as interesting (and artistically-driven) as one would imagine. But one aspect of that sequel—Mannequin 2: On the Move—that’s especially interesting is the film’s director: Stewart Raffill.
Stewart Raffill is a guy who broke into the business by training lions, tigers and bears. A guy who directed an award-winning sci-fi film and then, three years later, took home the Razzie for worst director. And also a guy who wrote one of my favorite childhood films, although the version I saw was much different from the one he had envisioned. I sat down with Raffill to discuss all those things and, of course, get the inscape scoop on Mannequin 2. Read More »
In the 1970’s, Mark Tarlov worked as a speechwriter for the Supreme Court and then as an attorney for the Justice Department. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, Tarlov produced over a dozen films and, just before the millennium, directed his first (Simply Irresistible). Nowadays, as the co-founder of Maison L’Envoyé, he is best known as a wine-maker.
To the untrained eye, Mark Tarlov’s career might seem like a strange sequence of unconnected dots. But that’s not how he sees it. Not at all. Because there’s a thread that binds all of those seemingly disparate professions together: storytelling. And, above all else, Tarlov is a storyteller at heart. Which was both evident and enjoyable as we spent just over an hour chatting about all sorts of topics. From rescuing Willy Wonka and playing pick-up basketball with Peter Falk to the beauty and difficulty of telling personal stories in Hollywood.
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A couple months back, Paul Scheer and the gang covered The Covenant on How Did This Get Made? Ever since then, Paul and I have been trying to arrange an interview with the film’s director, the great Renny Harlin, a Finnish-born filmmaker best known for helming action-packed classics like Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger.
It took a little while to coordinate the conversation, as Harlin has been stationed in China these past two years. But luckily for us, between finishing post on his upcoming Jackie Chan film Skiptrace and launching his new production company in Beijing, Harlin carved out an hour to take a stroll down memory lane.
During our chat, we talked about all sorts of things. From his mission to assemble the “sexiest cast ever” for The Covenant to his original choice to play the villain in Cliffhanger. But as interesting as details like that can be—and as wonderfully quotable as Harlin tends to be—they pale in comparison to the unexpected and over-arching story of Harlin’s career. A career that, as you will now see, never even should have been…
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Cool Posts From Around the Web:
In June 1987, in an interview for The New York Times, Stanley Kubrick spoke glowingly about a series of Michelob beer commercials.
“They’re just boy-girl, night-fun,” Kubrick praised, “leading up to pouring the beer, all in 30 seconds, beautifully edited and photographed. Economy of statement is not something that films are noted for.”
That piece published on a Sunday. The following day—after interested parties tracked down who was responsible for these spots—the phone of fashion photographer turned commercial director Jeremiah Chechik started rining off the hook.
Living up to that hype, Jeremiah Chechik’s first feature, Christmas Vacation, dazzled at the box office. Over the next decade, Chechik continued to rise up the ranks, establishing himself as a profitable director and, perhaps as importantly, a director known to work well with actors and the studios. Which is why, in the mid-‘90s, he was tapped by Warner Bros. to direct a $60 million summer action film based on a popular ‘60’s British TV show called The Avengers. With a stellar cast (Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman and Sean Connery) a legendary producer (Jerry Weintraub) and a top-tier British screenwriter (Don Macpherson), The Avengers seemed like a can’t miss film.
Unfortunately though, it missed the mark by a wide margin and drastically changed the trajectory of Jeremiah Chechik’s career. But what, at first, may have looked like a fall from grace wound up leading Chechik to terrific success in another medium. To find out what went wrong and then, ultimately, what went right, we spoke with the talented filmmaker and took a stroll down memory lane…
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From Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein to Spaceballs and The Producers, legendary filmmaker Mel Brooks has been responsible for some of the most beloved movies ever made. And unsurprisingly, at various points in his career, he has discussed the making of almost all his films. Except for one—the lone dud in his canon—a film so bad The New York Times declared it “an embarrassment,” and which Brooks has never publicly discussed: Solarbabies. Well, at least not until now. Because last week, on behalf of the How Did This Get Made? podcast, I spoke with Brooks at length to try and figure out how (the hell) did this get made?
Going into the interview, I expected to hear tales of unforeseen calamity and production run amok. But what I didn’t expect—and what became the prevailing thread of our conversation—was the enormous personal toll that Solarbabies had on Brooks.
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