How Did This Get Made? TOP DOG (An Oral History)

Lame Norris Film Comes Too Soon After Bombing

PART 3: Dog Eat Dog World

Seth: Look, people are interested in movies. Why movies get made, and how they get made it’s an interesting area that you’re going in. I’ve been in this business since 1971 and I used to think that intelligence and analysis were enough to make a successful movie. But what I found was that making a movie was like being at war. You need the experience and the instinctive judgment to really do it right.

Peter: The week that Top Dog was coming out, I had just started to date a new girl. And I remember thinking: it’s coming out in Westwood, I’ll take her to see the movie on opening day. There will be all these people there; that might impress her.

top dog

Tim: Well, that same week the Oklahoma City bombing tragedy happened and not so many people wanted to relive the idea of white supremacist people blowing up buildings.

Peter: As I recall, one of the first scenes in the movies is these two domestic terrorists planting a bomb in a building and blowing it up. So, as it turned out, my date and I were the only two people in the theater. On a Friday. Opening Day.

Tim: I believe actual historic events prove that the film was prescient but it was injured at the box office because the country was in mourning about Oklahoma City.

Seth: That’s true, but more significant was that I had I actually sold it to Turner on behalf of the Norris’. And then it got caught up in the merger between Turner and Warner Bros. so it didn’t get as much exploitation—which is a word that we used in the movie business to mean “distribution.”

Boone: But I gotta say: some of the best movie experiences of my entire career were ones that were stinkers. But making them was fun.

Peter: In all honesty, it was probably one of the most pleasant productions that I was ever on.

Seth: It wasn’t a break-out hit, but I think it was a successful business and creative venture that met the needs of the people involved. Which doesn’t happen that often.

Boone: Looking back on Top Dog, the first thing I think about is my son. During production he came out one day to see me. He was 16 years old at the time, living with his Mom in Oklahoma. It was a big deal for him to be on set with Chuck Norris. A big deal for me too. But when the cameras start rolling, I get to working non-stop. So I don’t see my son until we wrap for the day. Then he and I, we load up the dogs, get in the truck and start driving off. But after a minute or so, a cop pulls me over. He comes over to my window and asks “is that your son?” Now look, I thought my son was a good kid, but when you’re divorced and only see your son but once a year, they’re different people, you know? So all these weird things are going through my head. So I go: “yes, sir, that’s my son.” And then the cop leans closer and says, “I work with juvenile kids all the time and I just want to tell you that your son is the nicest kid I’ve ever met.” Turns out it was the cop from on set, and my son had spent the whole day on set hanging out with him. “You have a hell of a son,” the cop says before leaving. And so, whenever I think of Top Dog, I think of my son. I even keep a poster from that movie in my man cave for that very reason.

Peter: How do I feel about having films like Top Dog and Barb Wire on my resume? I embrace it. I’m proud of the work that I’ve done. Plus, you know, when I stand up in front of the class I teach at Emerson college I get to say: [with faux confidence] yup I’m the guy who worked with both Chuck Norris and Pam Anderson…but I still put my pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of you.

The feature is a companion to the podcast How Did This Get Made with Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas and June Diane Raphael which focuses on movies so bad they are amazing.  You can listen to the Top Dog episode of the How Did This Get Made podcast on the HDTGM website.

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