The Case of The Shawshank Redemption

In honor of National Novel Writing Month, we spent last week talking about the 2003 classic family film, Holes. This week, we’re continuing our theme with one of the most beloved films of all time. 

There’s no doubt that Stephen King is a master of horror. In fact, when you suggest one of his books to someone who isn’t a horror fan, they might give you a funny look. But the truth is, King has contributed to several genres, and it’s quite possible that his source material is responsible for one of your favorite films as well. For example, popular movies like Stand By Me and The Green Mile were both based on his work. However, of all of the films adapted from King’s writing, one of the most lauded is The Shawshank Redemption. 

Based on a novella by King, this 1994 film was a slow-burning success. Although it didn’t catch the attention of audiences immediately, it soon made up for it with several Oscar nominations. Today, it’s achieved cult classic status, and currently holds the number one rated film on IMDB. 

So come join us as we learn all about this low-budget box office flop and how it crawled its way to cinematic glory!

SUMMARY

  • After being wrongly convicted of murdering his wife and her lover, Andy Dufresne is sentenced to two life sentences back to back at Shawshank Prison. Andy makes friends with Red, another prisoner and the man with connections to the outside. For nearly two decades they navigate the violent and psychological horrors of Shawshank together, while holding onto the hope that one day they will be free men again.

IT STARTED WITH A STORY

  • The Shawshank Redemption is based on a Stephen King novella called, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, published in a collection of stories in 1982. The collection is called Different Seasons and has three other stories, including The Body, which was made into another fan-favorite film, Stand By Me.
  • Only eight years earlier had King launched his writing career with his breakout horror novel, Carrie. Since then, he had penned classics like The Shining and The Stand. But, Different Seasons focused more on dramatic stories, and strayed from the horror fiction that fans expected. 
  • In 1983 Frank Darabont made his first Stephen King adaptation. At the time he was in his early twenties. Buying the rights to an author’s story can vary in price but Stephen King has a program that has given many young filmmakers a unique opportunity. It’s called the “Dollar Baby” program, and he offers certain titles to be bought for the low price of $1. The short film Darabont created was The Woman in the Room(1984). You can find it here in this link.
    • King still has this program open to young filmmakers looking to adapt works! The link of selected works that you can request for contract can be here: https://stephenking.com/dollar-baby/ 
  • Darabont felt he needed a little more experience under his belt before he approached Stephen King for the story he truly had his eyes on. After 1987, and his first screenplay credit under A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, he felt he was ready to request Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. He signed a check to the amount of $5000 to Stephen King. 
    • The story was written from the perspective of a prisoner serving a life sentence. Much of the text was a stream of consciousness, and King himself was unsure how the story could be made into a movie. But, since he enjoyed Darabont’s take on The Woman in the Room, he gave his blessing.  Though Darabont got the rights, it took him 5 years before he sat down to begin the screenplay. Once he did, it took a mere eight weeks. He wanted to keep the spirit and core of the source material, lifting lines directly from the story. Because the character Red’s voice is present throughout the story, Darabont decided that this character would also narrate the film. 
  • After directing the 1986 film Stand By Me, Rob Reiner co-founded Castle Rock Entertainment, named for the fictional town in which Stand By Me takes place. After Darabont completed the script, it ended up in the hands of Liz Glotzer, who became so enthralled with the story that she didn’t even want to finish the script before seeing the movie. Glotzer fought hard for Shawshank, even threatening to quit if the company didn’t produce the film. When Rob Reiner heard about the project, he reportedly offered Darabont a “shitload” of money to direct the film, AND Castle Rock would finance any other film Darabont would want to direct. But, Darabont stuck to his guns. If he hadn’t, this would have been a different movie. 
    • Reiner later joked to Liz Glotzer that, “‘[Different Seasons] is on my desk for years. You would have thought we’d have read the next story! But we didn’t.”
  • Darabont added his own flair to the story, creating storylines that drove the message home and adding some violence. 
    • In the book, the two main characters Andy and Red look very different. Andy is described as short with small clever hands and gold-rimmed glasses. Red is a white Irish man, which they joke about in the movie.
    • Brooks is a major character within the movie and a key emotional storyline. Within the book, however, he dies uneventfully in a home for the elderly.
    • Tommy, who has information that could free Andy, was dealt with in a different way in the book versus the movie. In the movie, he is shot to death but in the book he trades his silence on the matter to be switched to a lower security prison. 
    • Darabont also condenses the part of three wardens into that of the one Warden Norton. 
    • The ending of the movie is different because Liz Glotzer fought for us to be able to see the two friends reunite in Mexico. Darabont had wanted the film to end as the book does, with Red on his way to Andy but with no payoff. Glotzer was adamant that if the intention was for the two to get together, then the audience should have the satisfaction of seeing it. 

MAKING OF

  • Director Frank Darabont and the rest of the cast and crew started filming The Shawshank Redemption in the summer of 1993. The film had a budget of $25 million dollars, which isn’t very high. In comparison, The Flintstones, which also came out in 1994, had a budget of $46 million. 
  • While Darabont and Production Designer Terence Marsh were location scouting for the film, they found the Ohio State Reformatory, a prison on the brink of demolition in Mansfield, OH. The buildings of the reformatory had been abandoned for several years, with piles of paint chips in almost every room.
    • The production was set up in Mansfield, and the crew would use other Ohio locations for the rest of the film. Many of the guards used in the movie were actually residents of Mansfield that were guards at the prison when it was in operation. 
  • The opening scene of the movie shows us two scenes at once. We see our main character Andy Dufresne sitting in his car while his wife has an affair inside. This was shot at Malabar Farms in Ohio. The other scene takes place in a courtroom in Upper Sandusky! 
    • According to Darabont, the two scenes were written separately but had to be cut together because they could only shoot at the farms for one night. The scene works very well cut together, as we see Andy pull out his gun, cut together with a prosecutor laying out the crime that had been committed. 
  • When Shawshank is first introduced in the film, we see a beautiful aerial shot of the building and 500 extras in the yard. Marsh also had the idea for that shot as well! 
    • This shot was pretty tricky to get. It had been raining off and on all day, and because of budget issues, production had to let go of most of their extras by the end of the day. This meant they only had a small window of time to get it right, coordinating the extras as the helicopter pilot glided over the prison yard.
  • Terence Marsh had the difficult task of taking the interior of the prison and making it look like it was still in operation. Locations like the offices, the mess hall, and the courtyard were all at the reformatory. But, the cell block itself was an elaborate hand-built set.
    • On the upper level of the cell blocks, it got to be almost 100 degrees during an Ohio summer, especially with all the production lights. 
    • Production had to build their own sets because the actual cells were only 6ft by 9ft, making them impossible to light. They were also meant for two men to share, creating a virtually unlivable situation. 
    • Andy Dufresne’s cell is covered in magazines and newspaper clippings that had been brought in by the production designers and hand-selected by Tim Robbins to make the set feel more like his space. 
  • When it came time to cast the film, it became quite clear that the film could not be called: Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. The original title seemed to be confusing, leading people to believe that the film was a biopic. Agents were calling Darabont and his team, saying that their clients would be perfect to play Rita Hayworth. 
    • To help work Rita Hayworth into the story, there’s a scene where the prisoners are watching one of her movies in the reformatory theater. In the original story, they are watching a different movie that would have been too expensive for the studio to use. So, Darabont found one of Rita Hayworth’s films on a list of movies that Castle Rock already had the rights to and they were able to use that. 
  • The cast is one of the many reasons why this film works so well. The two main actors don’t match the descriptions of their book counterparts, but they still fit their roles perfectly. 
    • When Rob Reiner tried to direct the film, he actually had Tom Cruise in mind to play Andy Dufresne. According to Morgan Freeman, he was the one that suggested Tim Robbins for the role. Despite the fact that Tom Hanks and Kevin Costner were both offered the role, it went to Robbins. Robbins delivered a stoic performance that perfectly captured the soul of an innocent man who has landed in an impossible situation. Robbins went on to win an Oscar ten years later for Mystic River
      • When Tim Robbins was asked why he thought the film has continued to resonate with audiences he said, “One is that there are very, very few films that are about the relationship, the friendship between two men that doesn’t involve car chases or being charming with the ladies and those kinds of buddy movies. This one is about a true, deep friendship that lasts. And part of me thinks that people want or need that kind of story to be told.”
    • Morgan Freeman embodied the character of Ellis Boyd (Red) Redding so well, it’s impossible to imagine the character being played by anyone else. Because the book counterpart is a white Irishman, Freeman wasn’t even initially considered for the role. 
      • After looking at several names like Harrison Ford and Gene Hackman, Liz Glotzer stepped in once again with a movie-saving suggestion. She advocated for throwing out the look of the character in the book and going with Morgan Freeman, an actor that Darabont did like for the part. 
        • Freeman was shocked when he was offered the part of Red, the character that sets the tone of the entire film with his voice. 
      • Usually, voiceover narration is completed after a production wraps, but because the pace of the film was so reliant on Morgan Freeman’s delivery, Darabont had Freeman record the narration first. Then, they played the narration on set while acting out certain scenes so that they could time action and dialogue with his words. 
        • However, there was a problem with the original recording’s audio, meaning that it would have to be completely re-recorded. Freeman completed the first version in only 45 minutes. The re-record, however, took three weeks. 
      • In the audio commentary, Frank Darabont praised Morgan Freeman for his patience throughout filming. In one scene, the actor is playing catch while talking to Andy (Tim Robbins). The shot took 9 hours to get, meaning Freeman had to throw the ball for that entire period of time. According to Darabont, he never complained. 
    • One storyline that added depth to the film was the story of a fellow inmate named Brooks. Possibly one of the most loved characters in the movie, Brooks Hatlen was played by James Whitmore. 
      • While much of Shawshank focuses on the horrors that occur inside prison, Brooks’ story highlights what can happen after a longtime inmate is released. 
      • Darabont had been a fan of Whitmore for a very long time, and was absolutely thrilled to work with him. You’ll notice that he got the “and” credit during the opening of the movie. 
      • Whitmore was a veteran TV and film actor that captured Darabont’s attention in the 1954 film Them!
      • Whitmore carried a live crow around throughout filming, as his character cared for the animal. Production had a woman from the ASPCA on set to ensure that the animal was treated humanely. During one scene, Whitmore was supposed to feed a live wax worm to the crow, and the ASPCA representative objected. She told Darabont that not only could he only feed a dead worm to the crow, but it also had to be a worm that “died of natural causes.” 
    • When Frank Darabont wrote the character of Warden Samuel Norton, he was concerned that religious audiences would take offense to the character, as he’s the only overtly religious person in the film and is absolutely despicable. His intention was to call out people like the warden that hide behind doctrine to justify their horrific acts. 
      • In the audio commentary, he mentions that he’s gotten more positive feedback from religious viewers, as many of them have interpreted Shawshank to be a religious allegory. 
    • The warden is a conglomerate of several characters in the original novella. Bob Gunton brought a foreboding presence to the character and was Darabont’s first choice to play the role. However, according to a screen rant article, Gunton almost didn’t get the part because his head was shaved for another film. He wore a wig while filming until his hair grew out.  
  • The Shawshank Redemption is a perfect storm of great writing, directing, acting, music, and cinematography. Roger Deakins was the director of photography and crafted the perfect visual aesthetic to match the tone of the movie. Deakins is a veteran cinematographer that has painted the light for many major films, like 1917 (2019) and The Big Lebowski (1998). 
  • One of the most important elements of this film is the soundtrack. Thomas Newman composed a score that is both foreboding and deeply hopeful. The music as Andy crawls his way to freedom is (in our opinion) one of the most uplifting pieces of cinematic music ever written. The scene would be completely different without it. 
    • Newman has scored classics like Wall-E and Finding Nemo. 

STARRING

  • As we mentioned before, this film stars Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. 
  • Bob Gunton as Warden Norton
    • Bob was Dr. Walcott in “Patch Adams”
  • Clancy Brown as Captain Hadley
    • Clancy is a fantastic voice actor, you may know him as Mr. Krabs in Spongebob! 
    • There is a popular fan theory that Andy Dufresne was actually guilty of the double homicide and that Captain Hadley was not a bad guy. Evidence for this theory is seen when Hadley protects Andy from “The Sisters” and beats up Bogs.
  • Mark Rolston as Bogs Diamond
    • Bogs is the leader of “The Sisters” and is the main attacker and sexual assaulter to Andy. 
    • Darabont saw Mark in the movie Aliens and wanted him for the movie.
  • Gil Bellows as Tommy
    • Tommy’s character helps to show Andy how greedy and heartless the Warden is. The Warden has him shot by Hadley on purpose in order to keep Tommy from testifying on behalf of Andy.
    • Gil is also well known as Billy Thomas in Ally McBeal.
  • William Sadler as Heywood
    • William is known also to be in Tales of the Crypt which is what prompted Darabont to choose him for this movie.
  • James Whitmore as Brooks Hatlen

TWITTER THOUGHTS

AWARDS/RECEPTION

  • Unfortunately Shawshank was not appreciated immediately. To illustrate this, in one 1994 review by David Hiltbrand from People Magazine he says, “Shawshank runs nearly 2 1/2 hours and sometimes gives audiences the sense of doing a 20-year stretch. Ultimately the rewards aren’t commensurate with the outlay of time. The movie’s message about the triumph of the human spirit and its exhortation to “Get busy living or get busy dying” seem rather paltry payoffs.” 
  • It was nominated for 7 Oscars but sadly did not win one. 
  • It actually won “Best Foreign Film” at the Awards of the Japanese Academy.

FUN FACTS

  • You might remember that Frank Darabont paid Stephen King $5000 for the rights to the story. However, King never cashed the check. Years after the film was released, King sent back the $5000 unendorsed check to Darabont with a note that said, “In case you ever need bail money. Love, Steve.”
  • Morgan Freeman’s son appears in the movie. He is the mugshot of young Red and also shows up as an extra in the prison yard.
  • In 2018, Hulu premiered the horror anthology show Castle Rock, a series based in the Stephen King universe.
    • The entire first season is set in Shawshank prison.
    • There are several references to the movie in the first episode, including the song that Andy Dufresne played on the record player over the speakers for the prisoners.
    • Tim Robbins plays “Pop” Merrill in season 2 of the Castle Rock Series.
    • A nod to the film may also be felt because the main title of Castle Rock and the score for the first two episodes was composed by Thomas Newman. 

CONCLUSION

The Shawshank Redemption is a cinematic journey. It’s two and a half hours of a carefully crafted tale that reminds audiences of the endurance of the human spirit. It’s a movie that takes its time but wastes none of it. Shawshank is a story about hope and friendship, set on a backdrop of a seemingly hopeless situation. 

This is a movie with a history as fascinating as the story itself. It started as a lower-budget flop, and was deemed a financial failure. But just like geology, filmmaking is the study of pressure and time. Eventually, The Shawshank Redemption lived up to its name, and this prison movie that couldn’t find an audience is now thought to be one of the greatest films ever made. 

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The Case Full of Holes

November is national novel writing month! You might be wondering, what does this have to do with a movie/TV podcast? Well, plenty, actually! Whether it be Jurassic Park or The Princess Bride, some of our favorite films were adapted from novels. So, we’re marking this occasion by bringing you three episodes all about books and the movies that followed. This week, we’re taking a look at a childhood favorite. 

In 1997, young adult fiction author Louis Sachar began writing his most ambitious book yet. He had covered stories about children in school and home, but this time, he decided to focus on a location he hadn’t explored: what about kids in prison? For 18 months he sat at his computer, mapping out the history of a place called Camp Green Lake, and building the story of a boy whose last name is his first name, backward. 

Holes is possibly Louis Sachar’s best-known book. It won the Newbery Award in 1999, cementing its place in children’s literature alongside the likes of The Giver and Bridge to Terabithia. Five years later, the story got the full Hollywood treatment, with a feature film starring Jon Voight, Sigourney Weaver, and Shia LaBeouf.

So Cassettes, hop on the bus with us to Camp Green Lake, and we’ll DIG into the history of Holes (2003). 

THE BOOK

  • When Louis Sachar set out to write Holes, he focused on the location of the story first. The author had moved to Texas a few years before, and he wanted to tell a story inspired by the heat he experienced in his new home.
  • He didn’t set out to write a story with any particular moral or lesson, he just wanted to write something thought-provoking and entertaining. This method seemed to work because the book was a favorite among kids everywhere. In our school, it was one of the only required reading books that most children genuinely enjoyed. 
    • The story does touch on themes like friendship, racism, destiny, and hope. But, another lesson is that stories change over time, and perspective is everything. The story is written on a foundation of misunderstandings. Stanley believes the outlaw Kate Barlow to be a ruthless thief when that’s not the whole story. Similarly, Stanley is wrongly accused of stealing, which starts the whole story. 
  • While he was creating the story, Sachar decided not to interrupt his train of thought to come up with a last name for the main character. So, he just spelled the character’s first name backward and left it at that. As the story process continued, there became plot points surrounding the name, and so it stayed that way. 
  • Like we said before, the book was ambitious and challenging. So, he started every day by typing the word, “try” before writing anything else. It took him a year and a half to get it done, relying on the help of his young daughter to let him know when the story didn’t make any sense. 
  • Holes was published in 1998, and quickly became part of the reading curriculum at many schools. Not long after, it got the attention of producer Teresa Tucker-Davies who shared it with director Andrew Davis.
  • Davis wanted to adapt the book into a live-action film, and he contacted Sachar about the idea. Sachar was hesitant, but Davis assured him that he would be included in the process.  
  • With some collaborative help from Davis, Sachar took over a year to complete the screenplay, keeping the story as true to the book as possible with some important practical changes. 
  • The film was green-lit by Disney, and filming began in the summer of 2002, only four years after the book was originally published. 

SUMMARY

  • Stanley Yelnats has never had the best luck, thanks to his no-good, dirty-rotten, pig-stealing, great-great-grandfather. This becomes especially apparent when Stanley is wrongfully accused of stealing a pair of expensive sneakers. Just like that, a judge sentences Stanley to Camp Green Lake, a reformatory program for teenagers. Run by a mysterious warden and an aggressive counselor known only as Mr. Sir, this camp’s program consists of mainly one activity: digging holes. After spending a few weeks in the blistering heat, Stanley discovers that there’s a deeper purpose to the digging, and it’s not “to build character.” 

MAKING OF

  • Just like the book, the film establishes the location early on, with the characters coming in later. The first shot of Holes shows us Camp Green Lake, a barren waterbed with thousands of holes. Four hundred and fifty of those holes were physically dug, with 9500 added in post. The shot was filmed using a helicopter.
    • For months, the cast and crew braved the heat and intense weather conditions in a California desert. Every young actor had to go through something called, “desert boot camp,” led by the stunt director, Alex Daniels. 
    • Tents with water misters helped keep everyone on set cool in the 90+ degree heat. 
  • Shooting occurred in three principal locations that were all very close to each other in distance. The Camp Green Lake set was located on the Disney ranch. The Mess Hall and Office for the camp counselors was actually a re-purposed set from an Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence comedy called Life made just a few years earlier. 
    • For lighting purposes and because it was true to the book, the characters all live in tents. There was a big debate during production, but tents made it easier to set up lighting situations. 
  • Louis Sachar’s script relies heavily on jumping through time. The first sequences of the movie are even flashbacks, as the audience becomes acquainted with the main character, Stanley. Sachar and director Andrew Davis wanted the jump in the timeline to happen early on, so the audience could get acclimated with how the story would be told. Even before the movie introduces the plotlines from Camp Green Lake’s past, Stanley sees the ghosts of its history on his way into camp. 
    • Sachar had to make several changes to the story while adapting it to the screen. For example, he added the character of Stanley’s grandfather, who first mentions a so-called family curse. The actor that played him was Andrew Davis’ father! Another big change (that many book fans might notice) is Stanley’s size. In the book Holes, Stanley is overweight, and he loses weight throughout the course of the story. This plot didn’t make it to the film adaptation because it would have been too physically grueling to ask a child to lose weight while filming. Also, this would have meant that the film would have to be shot in continuity, which is famously inconvenient. 
    • As the film lays out Stanley’s origin and introduces us to his family, it shows the audience scenes from the Yelnats home. Set designers were only given the direction that there would be “piles of shoes,” as Stanley’s father is an inventor trying to find a cure for stinky feet. The designers went completely over the top, building rigs and fake machines that showed all of Mr. Yelnats’ failed attempts.
  • When it came time to cast the kids for the movie, Andrew Davis asked producer Teresa Tucker Davies for someone that was a “young Tom Hanks” to play the lead. When Davies suggested actor Shia LeBeouf for the part, she said she had found him a “cross between Tom Hanks and Dustin Hoffman” instead. 
    • At this point, LeBeouf was starring as Louis Stevens on the Disney sitcom Even Stevens. However, he had never had a starring role in a film, and the character Stanley was a far cry from the zany, trouble-making Louis. 
    • The rest of the kids were hand-picked for their roles to make sure they fit the characters perfectly.
      • The actors embodied their parts so well, they were allowed to ad-lib lines. 
  • Casting directors Cathy Sandrich Gelford and Amanda Mackey put together a fairly well-known group of stars for the adult roles.  
    • Since he was still a young teenager, Shia LeBeouf was a little star-struck by Jon Voight, who played the tyrannical Mr. Sir. For each day of shooting, make-up artists spent an hour transforming Voight into the character, complete with a beer belly. Mr. Sir constantly chews sunflower seeds, a detail that Louis Sachar picked up from a friend that had recently quit smoking. 
      • Voight came up with the idea that his character is paranoid of being arrested, which prompted Sachar to add a backstory to his character that involved the warden and Dr. Pendanski. 
    • Holes plays with the concepts of first impressions and misunderstandings. Right after Stanley arrives at Camp Green Lake, he’s shocked to find that there is no lake. The surprises don’t end there, as Stanley immediately assumes that Mr. Sir is the warden. 
    • Dr. Pendanski is the second official that Stanley encounters at the camp, a faux doctor that refuses to acknowledge the kids by their chosen nicknames. Pendenski was played by Tim Blake Nelson, a versatile actor and director. On the audio commentary, director Andrew Davis referred to him as a man that “does it all.” 
      • Pendanski has several scenes with the kids, which set up his toxic behavior toward Zero specifically. 
  • Holes breaks up the monotony of Stanley digging a hole for several hours by cutting together flashbacks. Director of Photography Steven St. John was responsible for stitching the different time periods together with seamless transitions. 
    • As Stanley sticks his shovel into the dirt, we see his great-great-grandfather shoveling animal droppings. It’s during this flashback that we meet Madame Zeroni, played by the legendary singer and actress Eartha Kitt. 
      • During filming, Eartha Kitt was 75 at the time and would tell stories about the golden age of Hollywood and James Dean. Only a few years earlier she starred as Yzma in The Emperor’s New Groove. In the 90s, she appeared in Earnest Scared Stupid. But one of her most iconic roles was Catwoman in the 1960’s Batman. 
    • When Sigourney Weaver’s daughter read Holes, she told her mom that she should play the warden. Andrew Davis wanted to build up to her entrance in the film, so they purposely held off showing her face. In fact, they never refer to the warden as female until Weaver appears on-screen. 
      • Andrew Davis said that she understood the role perfectly. 
    • When Stanley first arrives at Camp Green Lake, he sees the ghost of a man with his donkey. The incident does not come up again, and the audience doesn’t learn about the character until Pendanski tells Stanley about the history of the lake and the fact that the warden’s grandfather owned the town. 
      • The character is Sam, played by Dulé Hill. At the time of filming, Hill still had a recurring role on the hit TV series West Wing but was fairly unknown to children’s audiences. Dule Hill wanted to understand everything he possibly could about his character, and he developed a detailed backstory that didn’t make it into the film. 
      • In Hill’s first scene, Louis Sachar plays a cameo as a man that buys a cure for his balding head. 
    • During Sam’s first scene, the audience sees Kate Barlow for the second time. Barlow was played by Patricia Arquette, an Oscar-winning actress that has starred in multiple TV shows. 
    • Arquette first appears in Holes as “Kissin’ Kate Barlow,” a notorious outlaw. As the film progresses, we see a love story unfold between her and Sam that ultimately comes to a violent end. 
      • Throughout their story, Dulé Hill’s Sam begins fixing up Kate’s schoolhouse and often utters the words, “I can fix that.” In one of the most touching scenes in the film, he finds Kate crying alone in the schoolhouse. The plan was for Arquette to say a line about a broken heart, and Sam would tell her he could fix it before kissing her. However, Arquette opted out of saying anything, making the scene far more powerful. 
      • Sam gets executed by the townsfolk after he’s seen kissing Katherine in the church, prompting her to become Kissin’ Kate Barlow. When the film shows a montage of Barlow robbing and killing, filmmakers edited in footage from old westerns. 
      • Earlier on in the movie, there’s a flashback of Stanley’s grandfather telling him about his ancestor that was robbed by Kate Barlow. They talk about the mystery of Kate not killing Stanley’s ancestor, but if you look closely, Kate only kills people that were connected to Sam’s murder. 
      • Eventually, Kate dies after finding Sam’s overturned boat in the dried-up lake bed. Production designer Maher Ahmed actually created three versions of the boat to use in the film. The first was Sam’s version, the second was the boat where Kate dies, and the third is the boat that Zero and Stanley find. 
  • One of the biggest elements of the story is the Yellow-spotted lizard. These reptiles are deadly and will kill you with one bite. Sachar invented the animal for the story, so production had to find ways to bring them to life. 
    • So, the production brought in 14 Australian Bearded Dragons and hand-painted them with 11 yellow spots each. Animal trainer Larry Madrid taught four of the dragons to play principal parts. CGI versions of the reptiles also appeared in the film, like when Stanley is almost attacked by one. Jon Voight had a lot of fun shooting the scenes with the lizards, as he was the one that got to fire at them. 
  • Visual Effects artists used CGI for establishing shots, like the one of Green Lake during the time of Kate Barlow. Artists did a lot of research to find a lake that would match the dried-up lake bed. They used Lake Casitas in California. 
  • Stunts
    • The biggest stunt that was needed for the movie was when Stanley drives the water truck into a hole while trying to escape and find Zero. They shot the stunt from several different angles.
      • The lead-up to this crash is Stanley joyriding in the truck. Since the team was filming on private land they could make sure it was safe for Shia to actually drive. 
      • When we see Mr. Sir hanging from the door of the truck trying to stop Stanley, Jon Voight is actually on a platform alongside the car. When the character falls into a hole it is a double. 
    • In the scenes where Stanley and Hector are climbing the mountain, it is actually mostly Shia and Khleo! There were only a couple of times when it was stunt doubles because it was too dangerous. 
      • There was a scene where Stanley is having trouble getting up the mountain and Zero uses the shovel to help pull him up. Shia had to be cabled and although it looks like it was 300 ft, it was only about 30 ft up. 
  • After Stanley and Zero escape Camp Green Lake, we start to see how the land is still marked by its past. They walk past a skull which is meant to be the skull of Mary-Lou, Sam’s donkey. This shows the audience Stanley’s story is physically connected to what happened in the past, not only through the story of his ancestor but with the story of Katherine and Sam. 
  • Near the end of the film, Stanley and Zero return to Camp Green Lake to dig up Kate Barlow’s treasure, something that the warden has been searching for her entire life. Louis Sachar felt like denying the warden the treasure was punishment enough for her behavior, but director Andrew Davis disagreed. Davis had worked on several law enforcement shows, and he felt like Mr. Sir, Pendanski, and The Warden deserved to be arrested for the misery they inflicted on the kids at the camp. The scene where the trio gets arrested feels especially triumphant because it begins to rain. Production brought in giant rain machines, which the kids loved because it was often 100 degrees in the desert. 
    • In the book, Sachar never explicitly says that the curse has been lifted, but it’s very apparent in the film. There’s even a voiceover tying up the loose ends of the story, which was recorded after the entire film was shot.  

MUSIC

  • Music supervisor Karyn Rachtman helped find and negotiate a lot of the music for the film. The soundtrack is filled with many great songs.
  • Andrew Davis discovered singer Teresa James performing on Ventura Boulevard one night. When they needed a country cover of Fats Domino’s “I’m Gonna Be a Wheel Someday,” they asked her to do it. 
    • Teresa James’ version appears in the movie after Stanley finds Kate Barlow’s lipstick tube, and the kids begin digging together. 
  • Joel McNeely did the score for the film. He’s scored a lot of Disney projects, including many of the straight-to-video sequels of the 2000s. 
  • The most memorable part of the Holes soundtrack was the song, “Dig It.” Performed by the cast of young actors. The song appears in the first scene of the film and during the credits. The artist for the song is officially credited as the “D-tent Boys,” and was written by the cast members during their downtime on set. 

STARRING

  • As we mentioned before, this was Shia Labeouf’s first starring role in a feature film. In the credits, it even bills him with: “Introducing Shia LeBeouf.”  
  • Khleo Thomas played Hector Zeroni (or Zero), reportedly beating out well-known child actors like Taj Mowry. The two boys had great chemistry together. Since Holes, Thomas has had parts in TV shows like Shameless and Parenthood and will appear in the upcoming film Scrap. 
  • Jon Voight, Sigourney Weaver, Eartha Kitt, Patricia Arquette, Henry Winkler, Dule Hill, and Tim Blake Nelson.
  • The others that played the young boys in D-tent were Max Kasch (Zigzag), Byron Cotton(Armpit), Miguel Castro (Magnet), Noah Poletiek (Twitch), Jake M. Smith (Squid), and Brendan Jefferson (X-Ray).

FUN FACTS

  • The stunt coordinator Alex Daniels got to be the one to arrest Jon Voight’s character in the movie.
  • The “Sploosh” that Hector finds under Mary Lou was actually made of Molasses and applesauce. The “dirt” on the jar was crushed up graham crackers.
  • The onion bulbs that Stanley and Hector eat on the top of the mountain are actually apples wrapped in rice paper. The rice paper had been dyed purple with beet juice and real onion tops were attached to the make-shift onion bulb.

AWARDS/RECEPTION

  • Holes was released in April of 2003 and became an instant classic. School kids all over America watched the film in English class. Worldwide, the movie grossed over 70 million dollars with an original budget of 20 million. 
  • The film won three awards, including the Las Vegas Film Critics Society Award for Best Family Film. 

By the mid-2000s, it would be hard to find a middle-school kid that hadn’t seen Holes. It was a movie that defined a generation, one that now parents show their kids and say, “I loved this when I was your age.” The film perfectly expresses themes of friendship and learning from the past. At every turn, Holes reminds the audience that nothing and no one is ever quite as it seems, holding onto the spirit of the original book. 

Holes is the kind of book that gets kids excited about reading, and in turn, the film is just as inspirational. It’s a film that entertains the entire family and holds the all-important lesson to never judge a BOOK by its cover. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, Carlos, and Jaren!

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @  buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary   

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


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A (Brief) Case in the Haunted Library

Happy Halloween, Cassettes! This year, we recorded our annual (brief) case in a very special location: Wagnalls Memorial Library in Lithopolis, OH! The Library has a reputation for being haunted, so we thought it would be the perfect place to cozy up with a good scary book.

For this episode, we found three spooky tales from books in the library that all take place in our home state: Ohio! So, settle in and don’t get too scared!

THE MOONVILLE TUNNEL

Our first story comes from a book called “Guide to Ohio University Ghosts and Legends” by Craig Tremblay. This story, however, is about Moonville, a small ghost town in Lake Hope State Park. Moonville is a ghost town in the literal and figurative sense. It’s a completely abandoned town that is most famous for the ghosts that people have spotted there. For more information on The Moonville Tunnel, check out this link!

THE OHIO STATE PENITENTIARY

Our second story comes from the book “Haunted Ohio II” by Chris Woodyard. This scary tale recounts the horrific tragedy that occurred in the Ohio State Penitentiary on Easter Sunday 1930 when fires broke out in the prison. Over three hundred people were killed, and the event shocked the entire country. If you would like to know more, check out this link.


THE GHOST THAT ROARED

Our final story also came from “Haunted Ohio II.” It was a personal account of a haunting in someone’s home in Cincinnati, Ohio. The haunting took place in the 1960s, and involved a demon and a bookcase!

Now that you’ve heard the stories, here are some more photos of the haunted library!

Wagnalls Memorial Library was founded my Mabel Wagnalls in 1925. For more info, follow this link!

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The Case of Frankenweenie

On a rainy afternoon in 1816, a 20-year-old woman named Mary Shelley wrote a story that would change the world forever. It was possibly the first science fiction novel, a book about a scientist that created a living creature from corpses. Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus challenged the romantic idea of beauty and explored philosophical themes about the nature of man and the power of creation. 

Today, Frankenstein is a Halloween staple. It’s a story so ingrained in western celebrations of the holiday, it’s hard to imagine a world without it. The story inspired many different adaptations, but one of the strangest and most original was created by Tim Burton in 1984. 

Frankenweenie followed the story of a young boy that uses electricity to bring his beloved dog back to life. Twenty-eight years later, Disney gave Burton the chance to remake this short film in his favorite medium: stop-motion. Today, we’re bringing you through the history of this fun re-telling of a classic tale. So grab your popcorn and settle in for the SHOCKing story of Sparky and his human Victor!

THE ORIGINAL FRANKENWEENIE

  • Based on his films, it’s no surprise that Tim Burton is a fan of horror stories. He grew up watching the Universal Monster movies and Japanese monster films. One of his favorite aspects of these movies was that the monsters were almost never what they seemed to be. 
  • Burton had the original idea for Frankenweenie while working at Disney in the 1980s. 
    • The story came from experience. When Burton was a child, he had a dog named Pepe that he loved dearly. It was his first major relationship and the first big death that he experienced. This, combined with the Frankenstein storyline, created a new kind of adaptation that flipped the original story on its head. The original monster in Frankenstein was cast out by its creator because it wasn’t a product of love. In this story, Victor only attempts to create life because he misses his best friend. 
  • The project was green-lit, and Burton was able to direct a live-action version of the story starring Barret Oliver, Daniel Stern, and Shelly Duvall. Its runtime was only 30 minutes, and it was set to premiere on television. But, the test screenings appeared to scare children, and the short film was pulled. 
    • Years later, Disney released the short film on home video. It quickly became a hit, and today it has a cult following. Now, it can be streamed on Disney+ and can be found on many The Nightmare Before Christmas DVDs. 
  • When Tim Burton was gathering pieces for a Museum of Modern Art exhibit, he came across the concept drawings for the film and decided he’d like to revisit the story again. By now, Burton was an accomplished filmmaker with hits like Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas under his belt. So, he brought the idea to Disney which would eventually fund the project.  
    • To Burton, this didn’t really feel like a remake. This time he had the budget and the resources to incorporate all of the personal experiences and monster movie influences that birthed the original concept. 
      • Burton decided the film wouldn’t be live-action, but stop-motion instead! Burton said of using stop motion, “It’s a form that I do love because there’s something that’s very tactile about it, you know, it’s a set and the lights and characters are going in and out of shadows, you see that. There’s something, yes, why I love Ray Harryhausen’s work where you can feel hands on it, you can feel there’s an energy to it.” 
    • When asked why redo an already successful movie, Tim Burton replied to puppet designer Peter Sanders that he wanted more of a performance from the dog Sparky. This would be more possible with a stop motion dog than a live-action dog. 

SYNOPSIS

Victor Frankenstein loves his dog, Sparky. They do everything together, including making their very own monster movies. One day, while Victor is playing baseball, Sparky runs into the street and gets hit by a car. Victor is devastated. After learning about the possibilities of combining electricity with a dead frog in science class, Victor decides to use lightning to bring Sparky back to life! As other students catch wind of the experiment, they want to try it as well. But, things go awry and the town is soon under attack by a group of pets-turned-monsters!  

MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • Based on an original idea by Tim Burton, the 1984 screenplay was written by Leonard Ripps. John August wrote the screenplay for the 2012 film. 
    • Tim Burton was adamant that the film be in black and white. Thankfully, there was no push back from the studio to produce a color film. It was a nice coincidence that the black and white film The Artist won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2012 validating the choice for black and white. 
    • In order to give the filmmakers more aesthetic options, it was shot in color and changed in post to be black and white.
  • 3D
    • To keep up with the monster movie tradition, the team knew immediately that the film should be 3D. A test was conducted to make sure that the effects worked well with the black and white aesthetic. After the test was done they saw right away it worked. The contrast of the film even helps to intensify the effect. 
    • Instead of shooting the film originally in 3D the team shot normally and gave the different elements, such as the set and characters, to a visual effects house team. This team then put it all together into a 3D film. 
  • Stop Motion
    • Stop motion is a time-consuming art form that we have discussed before. In order to keep filming going smoothly, Exposure Sheets are used. 
      • Exposure Sheets help to clarify what a character is doing in each frame so that everything can be mapped out. The sheets include frame numbers, the waveform for the score, and the phonetics of the words formed by the characters for mouth movement. Frankenweenie was shot at the standard 24 frames per second. For animators, that meant that for one second of film the puppets must be moved 24 times. Most often one animator is able to animate about 5 seconds of the film a week. 
    • In order to speed up the process animators would be working on different scenes at the same time with the multiples of puppets that were created.
  • Puppets
    • Inspiration for the puppets began from the drawings by Burton. Not only did they have his original concept drawing from the 1984 film, but he drew some new ones as well. The team of artists worked closely off of these and consulted Burton often on the personalities and looks of the characters. 
    • The puppets were cast from sculptures and then cast into foam rubber. All of the clothes had to be hand sewn as the puppets were only about a foot in height, and Sparky was about 4 inches.
    • In total, there ended up being over 200 puppets that needed to be cared for. A special Puppet Hospital was created where there was a team that made repairs for the clothing, limbs, and more.
  • Production
    • The production designer Rick Heinrichs had worked with Tim Burton before on both the short film Vincent and Nightmare Before Christmas. The longtime collaborators had also done well with the 1984 Frankenweenie. When Rick heard that Burton intended to remake the movie in stop motion, he was in from the start. Rick saw opportunities to improve what they built with the original. 
    • Rick Heinrichs was blown away by the animators working on the film. He was thrilled to see the story in black and white again and loved the controlled nature of stop-motion. He said, “When you’re doing a live-action film, you’re dealing with a lot more people and, as much as you want to control the sets and control the lighting, it’s like wearing boxing gloves to try to do something delicate. With stop-motion animation, the cinematographer is lighting the set, and the set decorators and the model makers and the animators are all people you’re talking directly to. You can fix things. It’s on a scale where it’s all fixable, and you can continue to manipulate things until it shoots. It’s a longer process of prep and production as well, so you can really bring more continuity to bear, on the whole process.”
    • The sets were built on tabletops complete with trap doors, similar to the ones we learned about when Nightmare Before Christmas was made! The attention to detail on the sets was incredible. 
      • Art director Sandra Walker, when talking about the sets, said that they strived to create Burton’s version of American Suburbia. What’s strange isn’t the neighborhood, it’s what happens in the neighborhood. Burton grew up in a 50’s/60’s middle-class Burbank-type area.
      • This story takes place in the fictional town of New Holland with a classic-looking windmill near the town. In the climax of the original film, Victor and Sparky become trapped in the windmill at the local golf course. So, the animated film needed to have a windmill for the ending as well. Heinrichs said about using the cultural aspects of New Holland, It was all about having Dutch day, and also about how American communities really take these Old World elements and they turn it into this flat, suburban thing. They knock down all the maple trees and they call it Maple Street. It’s this absconding of things out in the world and making it your own thing. There was something characteristically American and charming about that…To be honest with you, I really think that it establishes a purpose for the windmill.
  • Artists
    • Working on a stop motion film is incredibly physical work. Instead of working in front of a screen, you are constantly moving. One frame of movement would include several changes that would all have to be physically and meticulously moved. It is a very hands-on process that is evident in the final product. 
  • Film references and research
    • Burton believes that references should not be used just to have them there. He enjoys referencing older movies but you should not have to know what is being referenced to enjoy the movie. It should pass by as you are paying attention to the story. 
    • Producer Allison Abbate said that in order to be able to reference these movies, and with a purpose, the animators all watched the classic monster movies, paying special attention to the old Frankenstein movies. 
    • Here are just some of the references that we noticed throughout the film!
      • Frankenstein- Including a character similar to Igor
      • Sleepy Hollow and Frankenstein both have a windmill that burns down as well
      • Rodan- In the short film that Victor created at the beginning
      • Bride of Frankenstein- Sparky’s love interest Persephone ends up with white hair
      • Pet Sematary 
      • Invisible Man- Invisible fish
      • Gremlins-The sea monkeys resemble Gremlins
      • The Mummy- Nassor’s Colossus the hamster, and also when Nassor gets wrapped up and shoved into a large nesting doll
      • The Birds- Phone Booth scene with all the sea monkeys trying to get in
      • Gamera: The Giant Monster
      • Jurassic Park- The mayor tries to hide in a Porta Potty 

SCORE

  • Danny Elfman of course!
  • In an article in Films in Review from 1992, Ken Hanke comments that “Elfman’s scores are far more creative, far more in line with Burton’s combined sense of charm, irony, and absurdity, and generally just better music.”

STARRING

While the actors recorded their lines for the performances, video references were taken. These videos would be watched for behaviors, movements, and idiosyncrasies that could be used in the performance of the puppets.

Burton in an interview with Collider commented on the casting saying “Always, the voices have to be right.  With Martin [Short] and Catherine [O’Hara], they’re so good.  That’s why I had them do three voices each.  To me, there’s a great energy with that.  And Winona [Ryder], I hadn’t seen for many years.  Same with Martin [Landau].  Anything like that just makes it that much more personal.”

  • Winona Ryder as Elsa Van Helsing
    • Can it even be a Tim Burton film without Winona?
    • She is a favorite of Burton’s and was also in Beetlejuice.
    • Van Helsing references Bram Stoker’s character from his novel, Dracula. 
  • Catherine O’Hara as Mrs. Frankenstein, the gym teacher, and the weird girl
    • She was in Beetlejuice but is also well known as the mom in Home Alone.
    • In this universe, there is no Frankenstein story. These people ARE the Frankensteins. 
  • Martin Short as Mr. Frankenstein, Nassor, and Mr. Burgermeister
    • Martin Short is most recently seen in Only Murders in the Building!
    • In the Rankin and Bass episode, we talked about how much Burton enjoyed their work, and so in this film, he pays tribute with the character Mr. Burgermeister. The character is similar in a lot of ways to Burgermeister Meisterburger in Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. 
  • Charlie Tahan as Victor Frankenstein
    • Charlie most recently has been in Ozark.
    • You can see in his character’s room a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea poster.
  • Frank Welker as Sparky 
    • Frank is a voice actor that did voices for the live-action Transformers.
    • Sparky is given the classic bolts on the sides of his head in reference to Frankenstein’s monster.
  • Martin Landau as the teacher Mr. Rzykruski
    • This character may look very familiar to you because he is modeled after Vincent Price!
    • Martin was in many films before he passed away, most recently Abe and Phil’s Last Poker Game in 2017.
  • Also features the voices of Atticus Shaffer, Robert Capron, James Liao, Conchata Ferrell, Jon Donahue, Tom Kenny, and Dee Bradley Baker.

RECEPTION

  • There are lots of opinions out there as to whether or not Tim Burton’s films are for children. Burton himself grew up where death was a taboo topic. But, monster movies made him feel more optimistic about it all and reminded him of how life and death go hand in hand. He never felt he had a morbid fascination with death. Frankenweenie in particular was made with kids in mind and distances you from the scary with its emotional storyline, humor, and animation. Animation inherently shows you it is not real and therefore children are more receptive to the scariness. 
  • The film did not do well commercially, but it did make back its budget. 

FUN FACTS

  • There was an “Art of Frankenweenie Exhibition” that toured the world after the premiere. It had a wonderful reception and even came to Comic-Con in San Diego! You were able to tour some of the sets, props, and characters.
  • Burton invited his high school art teacher to the movie premiere.
  • Names of animators’ animals were on the gravestones at the pet cemetery.

AWARDS

Frankenweenie was nominated for a lot of awards, including for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature which it, unfortunately, did not win. It lost to Brave. It did, however, win a lot of awards in different states and Saturn Awards for Best Animated Film and Best Music.

Frankenweenie is a wonderful retelling of a classic story, with an optimistic twist. The original Frankenstein ends with the monster becoming increasingly destructive as he faces more cruelty, and the townsfolk end up hunting down a being that was initially harmless, his only crime being his existence. In Frankenweenie, the townsfolk make this same mistake but have the capacity to learn and grow, deciding to bring Sparky back to life. This concept can be summed up with the line, “Sometimes adults don’t know what they’re talking about,” spoken by Victor’s father at the end of the movie. 

In the tradition of the original, this movie explores human nature, the strength of an act of love, and how dangerous an act of fear can be. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, Carlos, and Jaren!

You can now buy us Popcorn! @  buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary   

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


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Some Case Wicked This Way Comes

Well ghosts and goblins, it’s time for part 2 of our month of Disney Halloween! This week, we’re covering one of the scariest and most obscure Disney Live-action releases! 

Everyone knows that the 80s was the scariest decade for Disney movies. In animation, there were dark flops like The Black Cauldron. But live-action was the real horror show. Three of the scariest films ever released by Disney came out during this time, two of which we’ve already covered on this show. They were: The Watcher in the Woods, Return to Oz, and finally now, Something Wicked This Way Comes. 

Tonight, we’re taking you to Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival on the edge of Greentown, Illinois. We’ll walk through the mirror maze as we discover our deepest desires…or our greatest fears. Come join us, won’t you? By the pricking of my thumbs…Something Wicked This Way Comes!

FROM SHORT STORY TO SCREENPLAY TO NOVEL TO SCREENPLAY AGAIN

  • In the early 1930s, a carnival came to the small town of Waukegan, Illinois. Among its visitors, there was a young boy that would grow up to be one of the most famous authors of the 20th century; his name was Ray Bradbury. Even as a child, Bradbury was a fan of horror and fantasy. The first film he ever saw was The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Lon Chaney’s portrayal of the main character inspired him, as did Chaney’s other movies. So, gazing at the mysterious oddities of the traveling carnival sparked Bradbury’s imagination, and gave birth to an idea for one of his most popular novels. 
  • One member of the carnival was a man named Electrico, that would shoot electricity through his body every night as part of his show. Electrico took Bradbury around the carnival to meet everyone there. This encounter was so influential to him, that Bradbury later said that Electrico was largely responsible for his career as an author. 
  • Ray Bradbury drew from these influences for a short story published in 1948 for a horror pulp fiction magazine called Weird Tales. This story followed two boys as they visited a mysterious carnival, with a Ferris Wheel that could change the age of a person by just moving forward or backward. 
  • A few years later, Ray Bradbury met up with actor Gene Kelly. He was really impressed with a film that Kelly had just directed, and Kelly asked Bradbury if he had a story he’d like to make into a film. Bradbury decided to repurpose Dark Ferris into a screenplay. Gene Kelly tried to get funding to make the film but was unsuccessful. So Bradbury re-purposed the story once again into a novel. 
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes was published in 1962. The novel also followed the story of two boys, and how their lives changed when a sinister carnival came to town. The story focuses on the relationships between Will Halloway and his father, and between Will and his best friend, Jim Nightshade. 
    • Will and Jim complement each other, exhibiting opposite traits while remaining best friends. Will is blonde, while Jim has dark hair. Will was born one minute before midnight on October 30th, while Jim was born one minute after midnight on October 31st. As they run together through the town, Will speeds up to keep with Jim, while Jim slows down to keep with Will. 
    • Alternatively, Will’s father, Charles Halloway, and the carnival owner, Mr. Dark, are antagonistic foils. While Halloway represents the light in Will and Jim’s life, Mr. Dark represents the evil threatening to snuff that light out. 
  • This coming-of-age tale steeped in darkness was a big hit, and it was only a matter of time before it would be adapted as a film, as that was Ray Bradbury’s intention for the story before writing the novel. Many producers and directors expressed interest, including Steven Spielberg. But, when director Jack Clayton mentioned to Bradbury his desire to adapt the book, Bradbury handed over his hefty 257-page screenplay. 
    • Clayton worked with Bradbury on a new screenplay, cutting down several pages a day. Together they decided to place the story in the 1930s, because as Clayton would later say, “…children, like the ones Ray had written about, just don’t exist anymore. A carnival coming to town used to be a big event years ago, but now what with the advent of television, something like that hardly causes a ripple.”
    • Another big change was the relationship dynamic between Will and his father. Charles Halloway is an old man in Will’s eyes and the film emphasizes how much this upsets Charles. For the film, Clayton and Bradbury portrayed their relationship as a tense one that deepens over time, while in the book, Charles and Will have a sweeter relationship from the beginning. 
  • After finishing the screenplay, Clayton and Bradbury brought the project to several studios that passed. Eventually, they ended up at Walt Disney. Clayton hadn’t directed a film in 9 years and was excited to get back in the director’s chair. Filming lasted 90 days, from October to December, and took place almost exclusively on the Disney lot and the Disney ranch. In fact, the water tower shown in the movie is the Disney water tower, re-painted to say Greentown!

SYNOPSIS

It’s late October in Greentown, IL when a strange carnival comes to town. Best friends Will and Jim go exploring and discover that under its friendly facade, the festival is much more sinister than it seems. As adults in the town start to go missing, the boys realize that the carnival feasts on the desires of men and uses them to do their bidding. 

MAKING OF

Usually, we run through the facts of how a movie is made, but this week we’re doing something a little different. We understand that this movie is fairly obscure, and many listeners may not have seen it–or at least maybe it’s been a long time. So, we’re going to run through some of the biggest scenes in the film while discussing how it was made! Hopefully, this will give listeners more context. 

The top portion shows the matte painting. The middle shows the matte painting and the projection. The bottom image shows the final product.
The top portion shows the matte painting. The middle shows the matte painting and the projection. The bottom image shows the final product.
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes begins with an ominous and energetic theme, written by the late great composer James Horner. Originally, the score was written by another composer, Georges Delerue. Disney felt that his score was too somber for modern audiences, and made the switch to Horner, much to Jack Clayton’s dismay. But, Ray Bradbury ultimately agreed that Horner truly brought the magic with his score. (Here is a link to some of the original music for you to enjoy!) 
  • The first image on-screen is the train, bringing Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium carnival to town. This scene was originally CGI, but it was eventually deemed to be too hokey for the dark and menacing tone of the beginning. Throughout the film, there aren’t very many visual effects. This was due to the fact that TRON was in production at the same time, and took most of the focus in terms of effects. Jack Clayton also fought against the use of too many effects, leaving more for the audience’s imagination. 
    • The title sequence was actually a practical effect, with the letters of the title appearing to look like liquid. It was actually re-dyed milk on a metal plate.
  • “First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys.” When the audience sees Greentown for the first time, we hear a narrator introduce the story. The first spoken line was also the first line of the book’s prologue. When filmmakers decided they wanted narration, they had Ray Bradbury himself record it. But, as Ray himself put it, he “didn’t do a very good job.” 
    • The beginning establishes the main characters and the setting. We see Tom Fury, a lightning-rod salesman, walking down the road with Greentown, IL in the distance. Of course, the town is fictional and not actually along that road. So, the footage of Tom Fury was combined with a matte painting of the town. This effect was used several times in the film. The matte paintings are put onto glass and an area is left open where the live-action shots are projected. It is composited in this manner and filmed together to produce the final result we see. (You can see this in the picture above.)
      • This beginning is meant to seem quiet and mundane. Jack Clayton said,  “You can only make a fantasy – or even a farce for that matter – only provided you root the beginning in reality. Something Wicked starts very normal-ly and from that…it’s just my theory, whether it will work or not we will just have to wait and see.” 
    • The production team built the entire town square on the lot, and Bradbury said it was so similar to the town he grew up in, that he felt like he was visiting home again. Many of the sets were composites, meaning they were actual buildings with several enclosed rooms and floors, and many of them were connected. 
      • Many of the outside scenes were shot in the early part of the day to get a gloomier look. When this wasn’t possible, the production team would “silk” over the top of the set to soften the natural light. 
    • Just after the narration introduced Will and Jim, we see them running through the town, ending up at the library. Many of these shots are continuous, and the camera was mounted on a car so it could follow the running boys. 
  • “But I suppose that this is really the story of my father.”
    • The library that Will and Jim enter was a detailed set, designed to look like the Carnegie libraries donated to many small towns in the 1920s. This scene introduces Charles Halloway, Will’s father, and sets up his dilemma of being a man too old to keep up with his growing son. This is also where we learn that Jim doesn’t have a father, though he pretends that his father writes to him. 
      • Jack Clayton didn’t like doing several takes with young actors because their acting tended to fall apart after saying the same lines over and over again. So, scenes like this have very minimal cuts. 
    • Now that the film has implied Charles’ desire to be young, we see him interact with the other adult characters. This scene sets up their unique wants, as the barber wishes to be with women, the cigar store owner wants money, and the barkeep wishes to be an athlete again. 
    • After this, Charles encounters the first piece of the carnival in his own town, the “most beautiful woman in the world” encased in ice. The red ring on her hand glows, which was one of the many visual effects that producers added after the first cut of the film was too ambiguous. Clayton and Bradbury didn’t initially agree that audiences needed to see effects to understand the magical aspects of the film, but felt that most of the effects added did enhance the story. 
  • The Carnival arrives
    • Will and Jim are safely home in their beds when they awake to the sounds of a train. Their bedrooms were composite sets, and very difficult to film in. So, sometimes the ceiling had to be taken out in order to fit all the filming equipment. 
    • The boys sneak out of their windows and run to see the train. This scene was shot on the Disney ranch, and bright lights were flashed on the boys’ faces to make it appear as if a train was passing by. The moment that the train stops, a carnival appears out of nowhere. 
      • Filmmakers used miniatures to show the carnival as a whole, while individual sets were built for the actors to interact with. 
      • In this scene, we meet the dust witch character for the first time. She’s dressed in a black costume of spider lace. In the book, the witch is more fairytale-like, but in the movie, they combined this character and “the most beautiful woman in the world.” Ray Bradbury loved the costume for this character. 
    • After Will returns home from seeing the carnival, he confronts his father who was also out late. This encounter shines a light on the tension in their relationship. Instead of using multiple cameras to shoot this scene, they utilized the lighting to get the audience to focus on specific characters at certain times. The key light is on Charles, played by Jason Robards, because this scene is about him and his regrets. 
  • “It’s just an ordinary carnival” 
    • The boys return to the carnival in the daytime, and are almost disappointed to discover that it is a seemingly ordinary carnival that just looked evil at night. But, while they explore, the audience witnesses the adults become consumed by their own desires. 
    • The boys walk past a tent of dancing women, and Will wants to keep walking. But, Jim peeps through a hole in the fabric to watch the dancing ladies. 
      • Set designers specifically made the carnival appear weathered and broken down, with ripped canvases and unkempt attractions. It added to the creepy aesthetic, but it also proved how old the carnival itself was. 
      • This scene replaces a moment in the book, when Jim witnesses something happening with adults in their bedroom at night. Will wants to keep walking, but Jim can’t tear himself away. This speaks to the difference in their characters and how even though they are the same age, they are at different places mentally. 
    • The boys sneak into the off-limits part of the carnival and run into Mr. Dark, the man that runs the place. At first, his face is shrouded in darkness to symbolize the presence of his evil. 
      • Before sending the boys away, he shows the boys the shifting tattoos on his hands, which seems to be his carnival trick. To achieve this effect, the director projected the image of a kaleidoscope onto Jonathan Pryce’s arm. 
  • The backward carousel
    • Convinced that something strange might happen at night, the boys stay behind and sneak back into the carousel’s tent. They watch as the ride runs in reverse, lowering the age of the man riding it until he becomes a little boy!
    • Filmmakers used a real carousel for the scene that they found on Long Beach. They took it apart and shipped the parts to Los Angeles, where it was rebuilt on the sound stage. 
      • The director overlayed past frames to get the dragging, blurred effect as the carousel ran.
    • The man, Mr. Cooger, is one of the carnival owners in the book. He turns into a little boy to do Mr. Dark’s bidding. The boy that played this role was very young and didn’t really understand what was happening. This helped bring a creepiness to the character. 
  • The talk on the porch
    • After returning home, Will has another talk with his father. It’s in this scene that we realize that Will almost drowned as a younger child, and Charles was unable to save him. Will had been saved by Jim’s father, and Charles has felt like a failure ever since. 
    • This scene was cut up by the studio, making it one of the choppier scenes in the movie. It also has the tightest close-ups in the entire film, as it’s an important moment for both characters. 
    • At the end of the scene, Will challenges his father to climb up the side of the house and into his bedroom window. Charles refuses, because Jack Clayton felt it would build the tension between the two characters. 
      • In the book, Charles rises to the challenge and almost falls. But Will saves him, setting up the final act when Charles must rise to the challenge of saving his own son. 
  • Seeing something they shouldn’t
    • Miss Foley, Jim and Will’s teacher, looks into her mirror and sees a younger version of herself. She so desperately wants to be young again, and suddenly becomes her younger self…but immediately goes blind. 
      • To create this sequence, filmmakers used a sodium vapor technique that predates green screens. It’s a version of matte photography that allowed them to overlay images in a realistic way. 
    • After seeing the magical power of the carousel, Jim also gives into his desire to be grown, and heads to the carnival to make his wish come true. Luckily, Will stops him. The boys discover all the adults in the town under the tent, and Mr. Dark has Tom Fury, the lightning salesman strapped to an electric chair. Mr. Dark demands Fury tell him when the next storm is, for storms wash away the carnival.  
    • The sky in this scene was created by using a cloud tank. The bottom layer of the tank is salt water, while the top layer is freshwater. Various liquids are injected into the tank to create clouds! 
    • From this point on in the movie, a lot of visual effects were added to enhance the story. This involved adding hand-drawn animations of dust, smoke, and glowing objects. A green, hand-drawn smoke follows Will and Jim as they run home. 
  • The Spider scene
    • The first cut of Something Wicked did not do well with audiences. The film went through major cuts, and some re-shoots were done for the ending. Originally, there was a scene that involved a giant hand reaching into Will and Jim’s bedrooms. The hand was animatronic, and didn’t seem to look real enough to keep the scary tone of the movie. 
    • So, about one year after initial filming, the actors that played Will and Jim had to return to shoot a new scene that involved hundreds of tarantula spiders. Jack Clayton had to be careful which angles to shoot the boys from, because it was obvious that they had grown. In fact, the actor that played Will had to wear a wig.
    • The scene features a lot of real spiders, which gave most of the crew a bad allergic reaction. The special effects team also built animatronic spiders, but they didn’t match up to the real ones. So, the spiders under the blankets on the boys’ beds are actually animatronic. 
  • The Parade
    • After experiencing the horrible night terror of the spiders in their beds (a vision sent by the Dust Witch, presumably), Will and Jim are certain that Mr. Dark is searching for them because they’ve witnessed too much. 
    • Mr. Dark leads a parade through the town, and for the first time, we see all the people that he has tricked and transformed, but none of the other townsfolk seem to care. Charles Halloway notices when a young boy shows up, wearing the exact clothes of the barkeep, a man that had lost his leg and arm. The little boy catches a football the exact same way the barkeep would, confirming Charles’ suspicion that something nefarious is going on. 
    • Mr. Dark approaches Charles and asks about Will and Jim, showing him tattooed images of them on his hands. The images were photos of the boys that the make-up department had to draw on Jonathan Pryce’s hands. When Charles refuses to give the boys up, Mr. Dark closes his hand so tightly, that blood drips from it. This effect was achieved with a simple sponge with cosmetic blood. 
  • “By the pricking of my thumbs” 
    • The most intense scene of the film takes place in the library, as Will and Jim hide from Mr. Dark. Charles tries to hold him off, buying the boys more time, but Mr. Dark proves to be too powerful. This was Ray Bradbury’s favorite part of the movie. Jonathan Pryce and Jason Robards (who played Charles) were able to act out the scene over and over to give the director lots of different options for the final cut. The scene took a week to shoot.
      • This scene involves pages being ripped from a book. As each page falls to  the floor, it glows. An animator has to use rotoscoping to trace the images frame by frame to add the effect. 
    • This is the scene where the audience learns about Mr. Dark and who he truly is. They are “the hungry ones” that feed off the desires of men. As Mr. Dark attempts to tempt Charles, he quotes the song, “I heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The song is heavily featured in the book, and Ray Bradbury felt it appropriate for the story. Mr. Dark is mocking the idea of love and goodwill. 
    • Mr. Dark then breaks Charles’ hand, solidifying his defeat. This was a prosthetic hand, and the scene was initially too gory and had to be cut down. Mr. Dark then finds the boys and steals them away, as a Dust Witch gives Charles a “taste of death.” As Mr. Dark pulls the boys away, he shuts off the barber pole in the town, symbolizing the end of life. 
  • The Mirror Maze
    • When Charles awakes, he runs to the carnival to save the boys and gets trapped in a mirror maze. This was another scene that needed to be re-shot. If you look closely, Will is wearing the same wig in this scene that he wears in the spider sequence. 
      • Originally, the scene showed Charles running through a series of mirrors with older men without their false teeth on the other side. This represented his fear of being too old, but the climax didn’t work well with the test audiences. 
      • So, the story was changed, and Charles instead saw the memory of him failing to save his son. Special effects artists added rounded edges to the mirrors so that the audience understood that he was looking in a mirror and not a screen or a doorway. 
    •  Charles is able to break through the mirror and save Will, as Tom Fury defeats the Dust Witch. But, their troubles aren’t entirely over until Mr. Dark accidentally falls victim to his own tricks and is forced to age rapidly on the carousel. 
      • This scene was far too extensive in the original cut, which made the audience laugh. 
    • The scene ends with the carnival being swept up in a cloud that was created with a cloud tank. The miniature carnival was shot upside-down, and filmmakers simply dropped the pieces from the ceiling!
    • After the carnival is swept away, Will, Jim, and Charles all head skipping back to Greentown. The light on the Barber’s Pole flicks on again, and everything seems to be okay. 

STARRING

  • Vidal Peterson as Will Halloway
    • He also played the elder in Mork and Mindy!
  • Shawn Carson as Jim Nightshade
    • This was his biggest role.
  • Diane Ladd as Jim’s mother Mrs. Nightshade
    • Diane has been in many films including National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
  • Jason Robards as Will’s father Charles Halloway
    • Jason had several credits, such as Little Big League and Parenthood to name a few.
    • He was Ray Bradbury’s first choice for the character! The two got to know each other well during filming. 
  • Jonathan Pryce as Mr. Dark
    • Jonathan has also been a well-known actor in things as recent as Pirates of the Caribbean and The Crown.
  • Royal Dano as Tom Fury
    • He was in a lot of things, even Killer Klowns from Outer Space!
  • Pam Grier as the Dust Witch
    • Pam is an influential woman who starred in blaxploitation films in the 70’s like Foxy Brown. She now has an autobiography Foxy: My Life in Three Acts. 

RECEPTION

  • When the test audience watched Something Wicked This Way Comes, they did not give it a good reception. According to Ray Bradbury, at least ¼ of the film had to be changed. 
  • The movie was a commercial flop, making only about half of its budget. It’s not available to stream, and is still relatively obscure. But, Ray Bradbury was incredibly proud of it. 
  • The movie won two Saturn Awards for Best Fantasy Film and Best Writing. It was also nominated for several other awards, including best director. 
  • In 1983 Roger Ebert gave it three and a half stars and wrote “It’s one of the few literary adaptations I’ve seen in which the film not only captures the mood and tone of the novel, but also the novel’s style…In its descriptions of autumn days, in its heartfelt conversations between a father and a son, in the unabashed romanticism of its evil carnival and even in the perfect rhythm of its title, this is a horror movie with elegance.”

Something Wicked This Way Comes is dark and magical. Pressing play on this film is like opening a time capsule to 1980s Disney, when they weren’t afraid to get truly scary. The film is frightening for children and adults alike, but for different reasons. For children, the fears are literal, like darkness and spiders. For adults, the frights are more abstract: like failure and weakness. And this story makes us all face the question: If you were faced with the chance to fulfill your deepest desires, what price would you pay? 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, and Carlos!

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @  buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary   

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


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The Hollywood Case of Terror

Well cassettes, it’s the SPOOKY MONTH! This is not a drill! It’s time to get spooky! Two years ago, we spent October learning all about some Disney Halloween movies. This year, we’re doing it again! Get ready for three episodes on some of our favorite spooky stories from Walt Disney. 

Before Emily Blunt rode off on a Jungle Cruise, before Captain Jack Sparrow sailed on The Black Pearl, before Eddie Murphy got trapped in the Haunted Mansion, Steve Guttenberg helped a group of ghosts move on from their untimely death in an elevator shaft. Not sure what I’m talking about, well, strap in because you are in for one thrilling ride. 

Back in 1997, The Wonderful World of Disney on ABC premiered its latest made-for-TV movie. It starred Steve Guttenberg as a former journalist, and a pre-Spiderman Kirsten Dunst playing his niece. The film had an interesting concept, to say the least. It was based on a Disney World ride: The Hollywood Tower of Terror!

Today, we’re taking you back to the late 90s, as we uncover the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of 5 guests at the Hollywood Tower Hotel on Halloween night, 1939. Join us as we take a terrifying look at this spooky Disney gem. 

HISTORY (OF THE RIDE)

  • The Twilight Zone
    • We don’t know about you, but we LOVE rides with themes. Not only do you get a thrilling ride but a story that keeps you interested while you wait in line. In Ohio the best example of this, and the ride that we personally (Robin and Marci at least) love is called Flight of Fear at Kings Island and has a history of its own. 
    • On May 1st, 1989 Disney-MGM studios opened in Florida. Imagineers modeled this park to look like a soundstage, as it was themed around films and TV. 
    • When Disney needed to add shorter attractions to their parks, Imagineer Kevin Rafferty began brainstorming with his coworkers. One idea that had been tossed around, was the concept of a haunted Hollywood hotel. He was talking with another imagineer named Steve Kirk when he considered the idea of working in The Twilight Zone to draw the ride into a TV theme. Then, the name of the ride just came to him: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Rafferty later said that when he said the name, Steve Kirk dropped the pencil he was holding and said, “you may be on to something.” 
    • Rafferty recently recounted pitching the idea to Disney executives, saying, “Michael Eisner just lit up when I said, ‘Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.’ When he asked, ‘What happens?’ I knew I had him.” Later, he added, “This is one of my most vivid memories in my entire career: Michael looked at me and said, ‘This is a home run. We’ve got to do this.’ It was awesome!”
    • So, the Imagineers got to work. The design of the building was modeled after the early revival styles of the 20th century in California. Buildings that were looked at for inspiration included the Mission Inn, the Biltmore Hotel, and the Chateau Marmont.
    • Since the ride has a 1939 theme, the aesthetic of the building was planned out, including how tall it would be. Imagineers wanted it to be as tall as possible. Due to FAA regulations at the time, any building over 200 feet must have a red beacon at the top. Since this would take away from the theme, it was built to 199 feet to avoid the red eyesore. It is currently the second tallest attraction in the Walt Disney World Resort after Expedition Everest which is 6 inches taller. 
    • As they prepared to design this themed ride, the Imagineers reportedly watched all 165 episodes of The Twilight Zone twice! Some of them were screened even more. The building’s entrance is littered with references to many Twilight Zone episodes. The music, props, settings, and more were created in the spirit of the TV show.
      • Although it is not centered around an already existing episode, the ride’s plot was inspired by a few certain episodes. “Little Lost Girl” (Season 3 Episode 26) is what prompted the team to center the ride around entering the 5th dimension. Though mostly they talk about the 4th dimension in this episode, at the very end Rod Serling questions if it was the fourth dimension or even a fifth dimension. The footage of Rod Serling in the ride’s pre-show was taken and transformed from the 8th episode of season 3, “It’s a Good Life.” 
      • Since Rod Serling had passed away before they created the ride, Imagineers watched Rod Sterling’s opening and ending credits a minimum of 10 times in order to pull out the common phrasing he used. This in turn helped them to fashion the pre-show ride video.
    • CBS licensed the rights of Twilight Zone to the Disney Theme Parks. On July 22nd, 1994 Twilight Zone Tower of Terror opened and quickly became one of its most popular attractions. It was located in Florida, at the end of Sunset Blvd.
  • After walking into the lobby of the ride, visitors watch as Rod Sterling introduces the pre-ride video. A voice actor imitating Sterling then recounts the unfortunate events that occurred in 1939, when 5 people mysteriously disappeared after entering the elevator. Then, the voice invites the visitors to ride up the service elevator and into The Twilight Zone. 
  • Multiple sources said that the 1930’s costumes used for the bellhops in the video were the most expensive, costing over $1000 per uniform. This made it the most expensive costume for any ride at Walt Disney World.
    • Because the video is in black and white, audiences don’t see that the uniform that the bellhop wears is actually blue, and not the iconic deep red color that bellhops tend to wear.
  • Eventually, the ride was so successful, it had four different locations! 
    • The original ride is in Florida. In 2004, Disneyland added its own version of the ride, which was also a major success. 
      • Many fans were incredibly upset in 2016 when it was announced that renovations would be made to this location to turn it into the Guardians of the Galaxy-Mission: Breakout! We will link to the youtube video of the announcement and by looking at the thumbs down and comments, you can see what we mean.
    • The Tokyo DisneySea version was completed in 2006. 
      • Imagineers had to reimagine the story for this version of the thrilling ride. This was due to the fact that The Twilight Zone was not popular in Japan. The story became about Harrison Hightower III who was a collector and multi-millionaire. On the Eve of New Years in 1899 he vanished after having collected a strange statue from Africa. His elevator crashes to the ground and only the statue is found in the elevator. 
    • The Tower of Terror in Paris opened in 2007
      • It follows the story of the original but in 2019 they announced a new dimension of chills where 5 new experiences were put into the ride. This included shaft creatures that become scarier the more you scream and the little girl haunts you even more while you are in the elevator. 

SYNOPSIS

  • It is Halloween night in 1939 and there is a party at the Hollywood Tower Hotel. Five guests board the elevator to head up to the Tip Top Club on the 12th floor. Strange green lightning strikes the hotel and the guests on the elevator disappear. Sixty years later a disgraced journalist, Buzzy Crocker, continues to try to make his way back into The Los Angeles Banner.  As he continues to work toward that goal he creates fake news stories for the tabloids with his niece, Anna. His “stories” attract the attention of Abigail Gregory, an elderly woman that was at the hotel on the day of the fateful incident and has information that will shed light on what happened to the five that disappeared. 

MAKING OF

  • In the mid-1990s, writer and director DJ MacHale was finishing up his groundbreaking children’s horror anthology show, Are You Afraid of the Dark. If you have heard our podcast before, you may have heard us mention that show from time to time. Some Nickelodeon producers jumped ship to Disney around the time DJ was wrapping up his final episodes, and they asked DJ if he would be willing to work on a project for Disney. MacHale had built a reputation as someone that had “honed his craft” of creating entertainment that was scary, but not tooo scary. 
    • When asked by Beyond the Mouse Podcast about how he kept this balance, DJ said, “It’s all about tension. It’s about (and this applies to all horror movies frankly) it’s what’s truly scary is what you think you might see, not what you see. Using that kind of tension 101 you can translate that to a kids show because the payoffs will never be as gruesome as they are in adult movies.”
  • When DJ MacHale started writing the script for this film, he had to drop any reference to The Twilight Zone because Disney did not secure the rights to the show. Although it might seem like this would make the writing process more difficult, DJ MacHale was thankful that he did not have to work it into the story. Since the characters in the pre-show were not given detailed backstories, he could use their appearances to give them character, stories, and personalities. 
    • Disney did not give the team the budget for a big production, so MacHale knew that he could not afford to create a period piece that would span the whole movie. For this reason, we are brought into a contemporary setting for most of the film. The story only needed to have two major points that matched the ride; the characters from the elevator and the lightning. DJ MacHale felt it was easier to have parameters than to make up a story from scratch.
    • In order to begin preparation for the film, DJ got to meet with the Imagineers that worked on creating the ride. When he arrived at the Glendale offices he noted how bland and unimaginative the offices were with all their normal cubby holes. Once you stepped inside each cubby however you got to see where all the magic and innovation came from. In order to protect all this magic, DJ had to sign non-disclosure agreements before entering. When he talked with the creators it was obvious how proud of Tower of Terror they were. The Imagineers did not hesitate to show him all the schematics and information they had on it. They gave him all the information they could, and let him control the story.
    • Tower of Terror Replica
      • As mentioned before, the ride is incredibly detailed. DJ assumed that a lot of the filming would be done within the actual building of the ride, but Disney did not want to shut down the ride for the duration of filming. They also do not let you skip the line, even if you are making a movie about the ride (according to DJ.) So in order to film at the location, they would have only been able to shoot during the hours of midnight to 4 am. Due to this short time frame, they were not able to film on location. Although there were soundstages nearby, the production team could not use them because they had been booked for months. So, they moved production from Florida to California. There are shots of the actual ride in the film, however. They are wide building shots and detail shots of statues and carvings that are shown when Buzzy Crocker first enters the building.
        • The beginning exterior shot of the film set in 1939 needed a Hollywood Tower Hotel that looked new because the audience needed to believe that it had recently been built. DJ MacHale was worried that the team would have to use CGI to light all the letters on the sign as some of them blink or are not on. When they went to the top of the tower with a worker they were in luck and found that there were switches for the neon lights that would fully light the sign.
      • The Production designer was Phil Dagort (pronounced Dagore). He most recently has worked on the set design for the TV series Why Women Kill. Dagort was dedicated to creating the perfect aesthetic for the film, which also meant building an almost exact replica of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror’s lobby. The only major difference between the replica and the real lobby was that the replica did not have a ceiling! Because a quarter of the budget went to building this set, more scenes needed to take place in the lobby to justify the expense. DJ MacHale had scenes that were going to happen in other parts of the hotel; like the kitchen, but they got moved into the Lobby. Luckily the room was so diverse and expansive that it does not look like it was all shot in that room.
    • One major feature of the hotel is its enormous gates that display the HTH acronym. While searching for a cheap material to make the gates, they found themselves at the same shop that had created the gates for the actual attraction. Not only had they done that, but they had also created a backup set! MacHale could not recall for sure but he believes that they were given to the team for free because they were in a scrap pile.

CAST

When DJ was interviewed by Beyond the Mouse Podcast, he commented on what it was like hiring and working with the cast. This was one of the few movies that he shot in Los Angeles, so many actors that came in to audition were well known. Because of this, he was actually a little starstruck. On another note, he mentioned that it was fun to be able to work with a predominantly adult cast who could carry the workload after having worked with almost exclusively kids. 

  • Steve Guttenberg as Buzzy Crocker
    • Known for his roles in the Police Academy series and Three Men and A Baby 
    • This was not the first time that DJ MacHale had used the name Buzzy Crocker for a character. As an NYU student, he made a film called Deadline and the reporter’s name was Buzzy Crocker.
    • When having to replace audio, DJ met up with Steve at a street cafe in Toronto where Steve was recognized constantly and everyone who saw him wanted to say hello. DJ said that Steve was genuinely happy and nice to each and every person.
  • Kirsten Dunst as Anna Petterson
    • Starred in many child roles until one of her most popular roles in Spider-Man (2002)
  • Nia Peeples as Jill Perry
    • Was in the show Fame from 1983 to 1987 as well as Walker, Texas Ranger from 1999 to 2001
  • Michael McShane as Chris ‘Q’ Todd
    • Known for his roles in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Office Space, and the voices for both Tuck and Roll in A Bug’s Life
  • Amzie Strickland as Abigail Gregory
    • Her acting career dates as far back as 1937 in many uncredited roles, as well as many TV series like Seventh Heaven and Sister, Sister. 
    • DJ MacHale said that she was one of the greatest people to work with because she had been in pretty much everything. He said that normally resumes come in chronological order but hers was in alphabetical order.
  • Melora Hardin as Claire Poulet
    • And actress with many TV roles such as Little House on the Prairie, Murder, She Wrote, and Gilmore Girls
    • The song that she sings at the end is one that a close friend of hers wrote. 
  • Alastair Duncan as Gilbert London
    • He has become a well-known voice actor for video games and cartoons such as The Batman (2004), Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, and the recent God of War
  • Lindsay Ridgeway as Sally Shine
    • She doesn’t have very many credits, but those she does have to include Boy Meets World from 1996 to 2000, and Cats Don’t Dance
  • John Franklin as Dewey Todd
    • Another actor with relatively few credits, but he appeared in films and series such as Tammy and the T-Rex, Star Trek: Voyager, and The Addams Family
    • Dewey appears in the book series Pendragon that DJ MacHale created! The events take place prior to 1939 in Manhattan and in book 3  he says he is going to go to work at his Grandfather’s Hotel in California. In book 8 they go back to the Manhattan hotel and someone comments on the fact that Dewey disappeared at the California hotel.
  • Wendy Worthington as Emeline Partridge
    • She has had many roles and Tower of Terror is one of her most well-known. Others include Ally McBeal, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer

RECEPTION

  • Although it’s not the most well-known film from The Wonderful World of Disney, Tower of Terror has garnered a cult following in recent years. Kirsten Dunst was nominated for a Young Artist Award for best actress in a TV movie/mini-series/pilot!
  • You cannot currently watch the movie online, but it is available for purchase! 

TALKS OF NEW MOVIE

  • Recently there had been talks about creating a new movie based around the Twilight Zone of Terror. This movie would also have its own story due to CBS still owning the rights to The Twilight Zone. Scarlet Johanson’s Three Pictures Production Company was set to produce the film, and have her as the lead. Pre-production for the film halted due to the recent legal disputes between Scarlet Johanson and Disney. This does not completely rule out a new Tower of Terror but it will most likely not be with Scarlett Johanson.  

Although Disney’s Tower of Terror wasn’t technically a Disney Channel Original Movie, it was prominently featured on Disney Channel for several years. For many of us 90s kids, it was a Halloween staple, a fun ride that felt like a prolonged episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark. 

So, for our first episode of Disney Halloween, we were happy to take you into the fourth or maybe fifth dimension…down an elevator shaft and into the not-so-Twilight zone (because copyright I guess). 

So if you haven’t seen this wonderful Disney charmer, go ahead and give it a go. We’re sure you’ll FALL in love. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, Carlos, and Jaren!

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @  buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary   

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


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Little Case of Horrors

On the 23rd day of the month of September, in an early year of this decade of our own, the human race not-so-suddenly encountered an informative film podcast hosted by three old friends. 

And this (hopefully) educational episode surfaced, as such indie podcasts often do, in the seemingly most common and likely of places…

The Black Case Diaries!

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Well, it’s that time of year again. The temperature outside is dropping, Spirit Halloween stores are taking over vacant retail spaces, and the evening air is starting to smell like woodsmoke. Summer’s end has come, and Autumn is here! 

And since the end of September is fast approaching, we thought it was the perfect time to talk about something a little…horrifying. In December of 1986, a strange and mysterious plant appeared on theatre screens across America. Cared for by a soft-spoken man named Seymour, the botanical oddity quickly seized the attention of audiences throughout the country. The only problem was that this plant didn’t feed on sunshine and water, but instead craved human blood! 

Little Shop of Horrors is not your average Hollywood musical film. It’s darkly funny, with the gritty texture of the off-Broadway production on which it was based. While musicals like The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music featured brightly colored locations and sweeping cinematography, Little Shop of Horrors takes place on the bleak and infamous street called  “Skid Row,” and follows a protagonist that feeds people to an evil plant from outer space.

This wonderfully odd film appeals to the strangeness in all of us and gives a biting commentary (pun intended) on human nature. Not to mention, it’s absolutely packed with hilarious comedic performances, incredible songs, and mind-blowing special effects! 

So, let’s head back to an early year in a decade not too long before our own to explore the seemingly innocent and unlikely origin of the greatest threat to human existence, in…Little Shop of Horrors

Before Little Shop of Horrors became a movie musical, it was a stage musical. And before it was a stage musical, it was a movie! So, let’s talk about the origins of this odd story, and how it went from movie to musical to movie musical! 

  • In the late 1950s, director Roger Corman started experimenting with horror-comedy films. A studio manager that was friends with Corman told him that a film was about to wrap with no projects on deck. This gave Corman a funny idea, and he decided to give himself a unique challenge. He asked the manager to leave up the sets from the previous movie so he could come in and shoot another film in only two days. 
  • Corman and screenwriter Charles B. Griffith brainstormed for a day and developed the general plot of a horror/comedy B-movie about a man-eating plant. Griffith then spent about two weeks writing the screenplay before the film began production with a budget between $15,000 and $22,500.
  • For years, rumors circulated that Corman shot the film on the infamous 2-day deadline because of a bet. Others speculated that he wanted to throw together one last low-budget film before a new rule went into effect, which would require filmmakers to pay actors residuals for their performances after films had been released. Corman has never confirmed this and says it was more of a joke–he did it to see if it was possible.
  • The movie turned out to be a joke in more ways than one. First of all, audiences found the film to be hilarious, including a cameo appearance from rising star Jack Nicholson as a masochist. Second, the two-day filming schedule cemented the film in B-movie history, and it was widely regarded as one of Hollywood’s most notorious jokes. 
  • But, as you might’ve guessed, the influence of the film didn’t stop there. For years, the film was replayed on late-night TV shows, which is how a young teenager named Howard Ashman first saw it. 
  • In 1979, Ashman wrote and directed a musical called, “God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater,” with musician Alan Menken (it was their first collaboration). The musical was a hit at the WPA theatre where it premiered but hadn’t done well outside of those productions. 
  • Ashman wanted their next project to be fun and remembered the off-beat silliness of Little Shop of Horrors. The next time the film aired on TV, Ashman taped it, and Menken immediately saw the musical potential for the story. 
  • According to Kyle Renick, then-producing director of the WPA theatre where Little Shop of Horrors would eventually premiere, it took the theatre a year to secure the rights to the film, and 8 months for Ashman and Menken to write the musical. 
    • Ashman wrote the book and lyrics, while Menken composed the music. Menken said, “I decided that I wanted the musical approach to come from some early 1960s music—the girl group sound. It has a very dark, menacing ring. You can almost hear whips and chains in the background. There were two ponytailed teenagers in the movie and we decided to turn them into a black trio that functions as a Greek chorus, commenting on the action.” 
    • Although the plot was similar, Ashman made major changes to the story. He cut out characters and changed the ending. Every death in the original movie was accidental, while Ashman’s version showed the protagonist, Seymour, killing people and feeding them to the plant. 
    • The subject matter may seem gruesome, but because of the humor in the show, audiences didn’t seem to mind. 
  •  For Audrey II, the theatre hired Martin Robinson, a Muppet performer known for portraying Snuffleupagus on Sesame Street. Apparently, Little Shop of Horrors was Robinson’s favorite film, and he had been dreaming of developing the plant for years. He would finally get his chance.
  • In May of 1982, Little Shop of Horrors opened at the WPA theatre to rave reviews. It quickly became a crowd favorite, selling out almost every show. After a couple of months, the WPA was approached by at least 26 different producers that wanted to move the show to Broadway. Eventually, it opened at the Orpheum Theatre on Broadway, where it ran for 2,209 performances. 
  • As the musical’s popularity continued, talks of a major motion picture began to emerge. Producer David Geffen, who helped bring the show to Broadway, signed on to produce a film adaptation of the play. 

1986 FILM SYNOPSIS

  • Seymour Krelbourne is a young assistant at a struggling flower shop in Manhattan. He pines after his beautiful coworker, Audrey, as they both dream of one day breaking free of their financial burdens and escaping Skid Row. One day, Seymour witnesses a total eclipse of the sun and discovers a very strange and unusual plant that he names Audrey II. Just when Seymour’s boss is about the close the shop for good, the exotic plant attracts a great deal of attention to the store, allowing it to stay open. As Seymour cares for the plant, he soon discovers that the only way to make it grow is to feed it human flesh! Although he doesn’t initially want to hurt anyone, Seymour must choose between his morals and his only chance at finding a way out of Skid Row and starting a new life. 

MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • Years after producing the Broadway musical and the feature film, David Geffen admitted that he initially thought that a musical version of the 1960 film Little Shop of Horrors was possibly the worst idea he had ever heard. Of course, audiences disagreed, as the show was an undeniable commercial and critical success. 
  • Geffen’s original plan for the film was to not surpass a 6 million dollar budget, and have Stephen Spielberg as a producer, with Martin Scorsese as the film’s director. This plan never came to pass.
  • The film would eventually reach an estimated budget of about 25 million dollars. Instead of Martin Scorsese as a director, Geffen approached puppet master Frank Oz. Oz had previously co-directed The Dark Crystal with Jim Henson, and just recently finished directing his first muppet film, Muppets Take Manhattan. Initially, Oz wanted to turn down the project, as he was unsure how to make it work. It was actually the concept of the three women that acted as a Greek chorus, narrating the story on stage, that convinced him to take the job. He felt like they were the key to making the story flow, and they added a certain magic and style to the production. 
    • Frank Oz started the directing process by storyboarding almost every scene, especially musical numbers with Audrey II. This way, he could figure out exactly how big the sets needed to be, and how to work around the limitations of the plant. Each scene averages about 30 takes, and sometimes the takes would last only a few seconds. 
    • Oz wanted the film to flow seamlessly between scenes. One way he achieved this was by planning out each scene’s transition. If you watch the movie carefully, you will notice how well the transitions fit together. 
    • In many scenes, Oz utilized tight angles and close-ups to help the audience connect with the main characters. He refrained from using wide shots, because he felt like they made the setting look grand and very “Hollywood.” 
  • Howard Ashman stayed with the project to write the screenplay for the film, and also penned additional lyrics. When Frank Oz was planning scenes for the film, Ashman was there to help him through the process. Ashman told Oz that it wasn’t just the music that had rhythm, but that there was a rhythm to his dialogue as well. Oz said that advice was incredibly helpful. 
    • Ashman also made sure that Oz understood that the musical wasn’t meant to be subtle. Ashman and Menken’s songs don’t ease the audience into the music, the music just starts and the viewer either accepts it or they don’t. The film is unapologetic in every aspect. 
  • The entire film was shot over 6 months at Pinewood Studios in the UK, on the 007 stage. Oz wanted the movie to be a strange hybrid of stage musical and film, so he knew they would have to create their own universe and environment for the story to take place. Many films are concerned with realism, making their environments look as close as possible to real-world situations. In Little Shop of Horrors, everything is real to the characters, and whether or not the sets and backdrops look realistic to the audience is immaterial. That being said, Audrey II is as real as it gets! 
    • Roy Walker was the production designer for Little Shop and is also known for The Shining as well. It took him and his team three months to build a Skid Row replica. Walker created three different sets for the flower shop in the film. One set was for people to act alone. Another set was for people to act with the plant, and the third set was specifically for the finale, when Audrey II destroys the store. 
    • In order to make the set look as American as possible, Walker gathered up huge containers with trash cans to place on the street corners of skid row. 
  • The key to Little Shop of Horrors was Audrey II, and having a director with puppet experience was vital for production. Oz had previous experience working with designer Lyle Conway in Jim Henson’s creature shop. Lyle was the mastermind behind Audrey II.
    • According to Frank Oz, it took Conway and his team 9 months to prepare the plants for the shoot, and they continued to work on them even during production. 
    • Oz said that Lyle researched extensively about plants in order to create the beautiful textures and colors within Audrey II. At the end of production he and his team had created 15,000 handmade leaves, 20,000 feet of vine, and 11.5 miles of cable for all the plants combined!
    • Conway created 7 different sizes of Audrey II, and some that performed different actions for the movie. With each size, more people had to operate the plant. When the plant was small, only two or three people needed to operate it. But by the end of the film, about sixty people stood in a tank underneath the massive plant, looking at monitors as they operated its movement. One person even stood inside the plant’s mouth to make it move, while Brian Henson was camouflaged in a suit of vines and leaves as he helped operate the head. 
    • In order to make vines that would bend seamlessly without wearing down, the filmmakers had to approach the Atomic Energy Institute to research the best metal core to use. 

THE MUSIC

As we mentioned before, Little Shop of Horrors features music by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman. Composer Miles Goodman wrote the score for the feature film. Goodman was a prolific composer who wrote music for films like A Muppet Christmas Carol and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. In this film, he used the foreboding sounds of organ music in his theme for Audrey II. 

PROLOGUE (LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) 

  • Little Shop of Horrors opens with a drumroll that leads into the prologue music, followed by an iconic narration, setting up the story. This opening gives off the vibes of a classic horror B movie, much like the one on which it was based. The style of music shifts into a 1960s era number, and as the camera takes us through 16 different cues, we hear the voices of the greek chorus that will lead us through the story. 
  • As we mentioned before, Frank Oz almost turned down this movie. In a 1986 LA Times article he says “I didn’t think I could get my hands around it. There were too many elements. It was a period piece, it was horror, it was comedy, there were 14 songs and a puppet that was going to weigh a ton.” He was finally able to bury these worries and take a chance on the film, and one of the reasons he did so was because of the three muses.
    • The singers bring the camera around the set, introducing the location and characters to the audience as they manage to stay dry during a rainstorm. They provide a type of visual exposition, ending with our main character Seymour. 

SKID ROW (DOWNTOWN)

  • Skid Row is the first ensemble song, and further introduces the setting and intentions of the characters. We hear the two leads, Seymour and Audrey, sing for the first time, and learn more about their characters. 
  • Frank Oz planned “Skid Row” a year before shooting, and the actors knew exactly how many steps they needed to take during the song. 
    • The chorus walks in an off-beat way on purpose, to further drive home the uneasiness and discomfort of their lives. 
  • The song ends with a medium shot of all the actors singing out toward the camera, in a unifying moment. Frank Oz purposely kept the shot tight because he didn’t want the number to feel grandiose. 

DA-DOO

  • Seymour introduces his boss, Mr. Mushnik, to a strange and interesting plant that he named after his coworker and love-interest, Audrey. Immediately after placing the small plant in the window, a man steps into the office to inquire about it. 
    • According to Frank Oz, Christopher Guest (who played the customer in this scene) would play the scene much too seriously. Finally, he gave a over-the-top performance that made it into the final cut. 
  • In the song, Da-doo, Seymour explains that he discovered the plant during a total eclipse of the sun. The song features one of the only optical effects in the film, as a light shines around Audrey II. 

GROW FOR ME

  • After just one day, Audrey II’s presence has boosted business for Mr. Mushnik’s flower shop. However, the plant seems to be wilting, and Seymour stays late to care for it. It’s in this song that he discovers the plant’s lust for blood. 
  • For this scene, only a couple people needed to operate the plant. When Seymour leaves the room, Audrey II breaks through its coffee can and grows. The special effects team achieved this effect by placing the plant behind the coffee can, and just moving it closer to the camera to create the illusion that it was growing. 

SOMEWHERE THAT’S GREEN

  • In this song, Audrey reveals to the audience her true dreams of marrying Seymour and moving into a suburban home with a chain link fence. She highlights the “luxurious” lifestyle she pines for, taken straight from 1950s sitcoms. 
  • For this scene Ellen Greene wanted to make sure that she really felt at home before shooting, and spent time in her on-screen bedroom. 
  • The scenery for this song is an excellent example of how Frank Oz leaned into the theatre and pushed the boundaries. 
  • The scene is packed with visual jokes that, according to Frank Oz, test audiences reacted to even more than they had hoped. One such visual is an animated bird that lands on Audrey’s hand, akin to Cinderella. The scene took immense planning, especially for that effect to work well. 
    • In order to get a real magazine that they liked for the shot, Frank Oz flipped through dozens of old magazines until he found a Better Homes and Garden magazine that had the perfect imagery of homes and appliances that he was looking for. They used the magazine with permission from Better Homes and Gardens.
  • When Howard Ashman wrote the screenplay, he expressed that he wanted a continuous shot from Audrey’s room to the rooftop, leading seamlessly into the next song. To make that happen, Frank Oz needed to put two cranes on top of each other, as there didn’t exist a crane tall enough to film the sequence. 

SOME FUN NOW

  • “Somewhere That’s Green” transitions to this next song, where the greek chorus sings about the “fun” Seymour is having taking care of Audrey II. 
  • Since the muses are up at the top of the buildings, they are surrounded by billboard space. Oz hates product placement, so an art director suggested that they use a product from the 50s that no longer existed for the billboard, hence the Chooz billboard.
  • The scene originally showed more footage of Seymour feeding Audrey II, but test audiences were squeamish, so Oz cut out much of it. 

DENTIST

  • In this song, we meet Audrey’s sadistic boyfriend, a dentist played by Steve Martin. The song opens with Martin riding a motorcycle in front of a 3-foot model, composited onto a blue screen behind him. 
  • Before Roy Walker built the set, Oz had counted out how many steps Martin needed to take while filming the number. The steps needed to match up perfectly with the music. 
  • Although he has one of the biggest roles of the celebrity cameos in the film, Martin was only on set for 6 weeks of shooting. Martin brought a lot of hilarious ideas to the role, and worked hard to avoid comparisons with characters like Fonzie.
  • For one shot in this song, Lyle Conway created a gigantic human mouth for Steve to sing into, while holding a huge dental tool to scale. 

FEED ME (GIT IT) 

  • After Seymour sees Audrey ride off with her abusive boyfriend, Audrey II speaks for the first time. It tries to convince Seymour to kill people for plant food, offering him anything he could possibly want. This is the moment when he decides to make a deal with the devil. 
  • Because the plant couldn’t move fast enough to sing along with Seymour (Rick Moranis), Rick was forced to film sequences in slow motion, so they could be later sped-up. When he’s singing alone on screen, he’s singing at a normal speed and the film was 24 frames per second. When he’s singing on screen with the plant, he’s moving slowly and the speed is 16 frames per second! It was like this for every scene filmed with a talking/singing Audrey II. 

SUDDENLY SEYMOUR

  • After Audrey’s boyfriend disappears (because Seymour fed him to Audrey II), Audrey is free to pursue a romantic relationship with Seymour. Suddenly Seymour toes the fine line between funny and sweet, as Howard Ashman meant for the song to be very tongue-in-cheek, yet the characters are taking it very seriously. 
  • The imagery for the scene references Romeo and Juliet, which foreshadows a not-so-happy end for the two protagonists. 
  • At the end of the scene, the actors run up a fire escape and embrace with the sun behind them. The scene took about 36 takes, and they used the final take. Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene both got lip burns from kissing. 

SUPPERTIME

  • When Seymour cut up Orin, Audrey’s boyfriend, he was spotted by his boss, Mr. Mushnik. In “Supertime,” Mushnik confronts Seymour, threatening him with a gun. Seymour has the option of leaving town, letting Mushnik take over the plant. But instead, he lets Audrey II eat his boss. 
  • The scene is incredibly dark, but is offset by the quick transition into the next song. 

MEEK SHALL INHERIT

  • After feeding two people to the plant, Seymour has found immense fame and success. But, the plant wants more. Some of the song’s imagery was inspired by “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

MEAN GREEN MOTHER FROM OUTER SPACE

  • In the theatrical release of the film, Seymour confronts Audrey II just after the plant attempts to eat Audrey. The scene escalates as Audrey II reveals that it is being from outer space, here to take over the human race. It’s clear that the plant is too powerful for Seymour to control, and he must destroy it. 
  • This scene was shot in bits and pieces, but pieced together to create a cohesive musical number. At this point, the plant had sixty people operating it, with giant levers and machinery. On set, the music was slowed down so the operators could mouth the words correctly with the song. 
  • The end of this scene is different in the original version of the film, but in the theatrical release, we see Seymour rise from the rubble of the flower shop and electrocute Audrey II. 

After Seymour defeats the plant, we see him and Audrey start their fairytale life…with another Audrey II not far away. 

STARRING

  • Rick Moranis as Seymour Krelborn
    • We all know him from movies like Spaceballs, Ghostbusters, and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
    • Rick was cast before they even knew he could sing! Geffen had Rick in mind for the role the entire time. He even saw Rick at a concert and told him that he would star in his movie someday. 
  • Ellen Greene as Audrey
    • She has been in films like The Cooler, and Talk Radio.
    • She had performed Audrey on the Off-Off Broadway for 4 years and David Geffen wanted her for the part because he knew she would be perfect. Warner Bros had actually wanted Barabara Streisand for the role.
  • The three young girls that act as a Greek Chorus or muses that lead us through the movie were:
    •  Tisha Campbell as Chiffon
      • She was most notably also in Martin and My Wife and Kids.
    • Tichina Arnold as Crystal 
      • She has been in The Main Event and The Lena Baker Story.
    • Michelle Weeks as Ronette
      • She has not been in much but a TV movie called Norman’s Corner.
  • Vincent Gardenia as Mr. Mushnik
    • Known for parts in Moonstruck, Death Wish and more.
  • Levi Stubbs as the voice of Audrey II
    • Most well known for his role as Audry II, as well as Captain N: The Game Master.
  • Steve Martin as Orin Scrivello (the dentist) 
    • A very popular comedian known for roles in Roxanne and Cheaper by the Dozen.
  • Jim Belushi as Patrick Martin
    • Known for many movies including Red Heat and K-9.
  • John Candy as Wink Wilkinson
    • A comedian who we just talked about in our John Hughes episode! 
    • Frank Oz didn’t want any ad-libbing but he made exceptions for some of the comedic actors in the film, like John Candy, who was known to be one of the best ad libbers in the business. 
  • Bill Murray as Arthur Denton (the masochist)
    • Well known for many roles such as Ghostbusters.
    • When Bill Murray came in to do his role, he wasn’t sure about the dialogue. So, even though Steve Martin’s lines are completely scripted, Bill Murray’s weren’t. Every take was different, and the men decided how to end the scene together. 
  • Stanley Jones as the Narrator
    • He is a voice actor most known for his roles as Scourge in the Transformers animated series, and Lex Luthor in the Justice League animated series. 

ALTERNATE ENDING

  • When the test audience saw Little Shop of Horrors, the screening went very well. That was, until the end of the film. In the stage musical Little Shop of Horrors, Seymour and Audrey do not end up somewhere that’s green. Instead, Seymour suffers greatly for his deeds, when his true love dies at the hands of Audrey II. Seymour then feeds Audrey to Audrey II, and gets eaten himself. 
    • Then, the muses sing the finale, “Don’t Feed the Plants,” which describes how Audrey II and its clippings spread across the country, eventually taking over. 
  • When he was adapting the screenplay, Howard Ashman felt it was important to keep the original ending. First of all, it drives home the message of the story. Secondly, fans of the musical might be disappointed if the film ends differently. Frank Oz was on Ashman’s side, and convinced David Geffen to let them shoot the ending that Ashman had written. Geffen told them from the beginning that it wouldn’t work, and that they would eventually need to change it. They went ahead anyway, hoping Geffen was wrong. 
  • Frank Oz said in an Entertainment Weekly article in 2017 that, “We [screened] the film the way Howard and I wanted it. The audience was clapping after every number. Then, when Seymour and Audrey died, they turned like an icebox. The reaction was so bad, Warner Bros. wasn’t going to release it. When one dies in the theater, one dies and comes back for a curtain call, but in the movie you don’t come back for a curtain call. The audience was very angry.” 
    • Special effects artist Richard Conway developed a fantastic sequence of the plants, taking over the US. It was dark, yet comical, with groundbreaking visuals and incredible sound design. It was essentially a mini monster movie, ending with a comically large, “THE END?!?” as a plant covered the statue of liberty. 
    • Only 13% of the test audience said they would recommend the film, so Oz and Ashman worked on a new ending and called back the actors for re-shoots. Unfortunately, this also meant that Conway’s effects wouldn’t be seen by most audiences, which Frank Oz felt was the real tragedy. 
  • Oz has said that he learned a very valuable lesson from the experience. While he prefers the original ending (and he knew Ashman did too) he understood that he wasn’t making a movie for him, he was making it for millions of people. 

RECEPTION

  • The film grossed $39 million at the box office which, from the viewpoint of the studio, was considered an underperformer. However, it became a smash hit upon its home video release in 1987 on home video.
  • Roger Ebert said in his review: “All of the wonders of Little Shop of Horrors are accomplished with an offhand, casual charm. This is the kind of movie that cults are made of, and after Little Shop finishes its first run, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it develop as one of those movies that fans want to include in their lives.”
  • The film was nominated for two Academy Awards: one for Best Visual Effects and one for Best Original Song for “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space”. The song was the first Oscar-nominated song to contain profanity in the lyrics and also the first to be sung by a villain. The film was also nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Original Score at the 44th Golden Globe Awards. 

FUN FACTS

  • Heather Henson plays the distraught young dental patient with the headgear on. 
  • Pieces of Orin the dentist’s body were created for Seymour to toss into Audrey II’s mouth, including Steve Martin’s severed head, dripping with blood. This was deemed too graphic, and the pieces were used, but they are covered in newspapers so the audience wouldn’t see them. 
  • The film was originally going to be gorier. For example, there was supposed to be blood on the walls of the dentist office. 
  • If you watch the original ending, there is a scene where Seymour tries to commit suicide after Audrey dies. The scene has no musical score because it became clear that they would not use it in the final cut. 

When Ashman first had the idea to turn a B horror film into a musical, it was because he wanted to make something fun. And boy, was he successful. Little Shop of Horrors is weird and wonderful, with a solid story and killer musical numbers. Its lyrics are heartfelt and hilarious, and its performances are to die for. 

It’s been forty years and yet, this film seems to get better every time we watch it. So if you’re hungry for a good time, turn on this treat of a film. It’s suppertime!

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, Carlos, and Jaren!

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The Wonder Case

It’s been a blast going back to school with you all. This week, we’re finishing up Back-to-school September with a very special episode about a very special TV series and its pilot episode. On March 15th, 1988, the world met Kevin Arnold, a 12-year-old suburban boy growing up in the 1960s. Guided by the voice of Daniel Stern, The Wonder Years took audiences back in time to an era of change and uncertainty and reminded them what it was like to be a kid again. 

Throughout its 5 seasons, The Wonder Years connected with audiences in the late 1980s and early 90s, but many of its themes are timeless. It also made its star, Fred Savage, a household name, and forever made a mark on American pop culture. 

This week, we’re discussing the history of The Wonder Years, with a focus on the pilot episode of the show. Because the show starts with the main character going back to school, we thought it would be the perfect topic to close out our series of school-related episodes! 

Before we go into the events of the episode, let’s talk a little about the historical context of the show. 

THE FIRST TELEVISED WAR

  • The late 1960s was a turbulent time. The war in Vietnam forever changed and destroyed the lives of countless people, including those that lived in stucco houses, nestled safely in American suburbia. Between 1964 and 1973, over 2 million American men were drafted to fight in the war. 
  • When America entered the Vietnam war in 1965, it had been less than 20 years since the end of the second world war, and a little over 10 years since the Korean War. The American people were familiar with the pain, anxieties, and struggle of war. Back then, it was common for people to get updates on the conflict through newspapers and newsreels at the local theater. But by the 1960s, a new medium existed to reach wider audiences: TV. 
  • For the first time, the bleak and disturbing realities of war and the names of dead American sons were broadcast daily to audiences across the country. This new exposure further enlightened many to the horror of war, experiencing it for the first time in their living rooms.
  • This and the other major events of the 1960s, like the civil rights movement, the counterculture movement, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr, John F Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy, defined a generation. It was an era of immense turmoil and great change. 
  • Because The Wonder Years begins in this decade, the backdrop of the war is important to the storyline, showing the effect it had on American families directly. The show began less than 20 years after the end of the war, meaning that there were writers, crew members, and even actors that had either fought in the war or knew someone that did. 

MAKING OF

  • Shortly after creating the sitcom Growing Pains in the mid-1980s, Neal Marlens felt like he was done with TV for a while. After working on a film with his wife Carol Black, the two of them decided to make another movie told from the perspective of a little boy. The more they discussed the idea, they realized it would be better suited as a TV show. They wrote the first episode in about two weeks. 
    • Marlens and Black understood that what they were creating was unorthodox compared to the usual TV sitcom, as it would feature a single camera and narration. So, they decided to write the script before pitching the idea, so that the producers would have a better understanding of what they were going for.
    • Using their own childhood experiences for inspiration, the couple set the show in the late 1960s. Carol Black said in an interview that she started her childhood watching shows like “Leave it to Beaver,” but as she grew up, the entire country changed. 
    • Since the beginning of the writing process, the creators were certain they wanted an adult narration driving the story forward, so they could avoid writing unnatural dialogue for the child actors. The narrator also made the show work for adult audiences, so it became a show for all ages. 
    • The show was not autobiographical, but it touched on shared experiences of many Americans, and because of that, it felt very authentic. 
  • The house in the pilot episode was a real house on a street in Burbank, California. It was perfect for the show because all of the trees looked young, just like the trees in the recently built suburban neighborhoods of the 1960s. 
  • Daniel Stern received the script so he could audition for the role of the narrator, and showed it to his brother, Dave. Dave then wrote a spec script for the show, and became the first writer hired by Carol and Neal! Just as the show was starting, there was a writer’s strike, so this script was helpful. 
    • All the auditions for the narrator were blind, meaning that the creators did not know anyone’s name or face. They chose actor Daniel Stern solely on his voice and ability to connect with the character. 
    • The showrunners would talk to the kids and sometimes put stories or lines in the script based on their ideas. 
  • When Carol Black and Neal Marlens were interviewing casting directors, almost all of them told them that no matter what they do, they should audition this child actor named Fred Savage. They saw some footage of his work and mailed him a pilot script. Later on, Savage would say that it was his parents that decided that it was worth it to fly to California for an audition. Fred got the part and became one of the biggest child stars of the 90s. 
  • The creators searched for a month to find someone to play Winnie Cooper, the lead female character opposite Fred Savage. Danica McKellar and her sister Crystal were both finalists for the role. For them, acting was just a hobby and not a career, and their mother would normally not allow them to audition for a pilot episode of a show for that reason. However, the role at this stage in development was actually a one-off, so their mother allowed them to audition. Both girls were equally talented, and the role eventually went to Danica, because she had dark hair that matched Fred Savage’s hair. The writers created another character for her sister to play, as well. 
  • When they were writing the parents, Carol and Neal considered the generational divide that was happening between parents and their kids in the 1960s. It’s something that occurs with every generation, but there had been so much radical change throughout the decade, this issue really affected the family dynamic.
    • For Jack Arnold, Kevin’s father, they cast Dan Lauria. The creators were looking for someone who had an “everyman” feeling, a working-class person that audiences would connect to. Jack is meant to embody the classic 1960s father, a man that had sacrificed everything for his family, and just wants quiet at the end of the day. 
    • Alley Mills was cast as Norma Arnold, the peace-keeping matriarch of the Arnold family. The relationship dynamics between men and women had changed so much since the 1960s, many actresses that auditioned for the role played the character “too modern.” Mills understood that her role wasn’t to win the arguments with her male counterpart but to keep the harmony of the household. Mills also had great chemistry with Olivia d’Abo, who was cast as her teenage daughter. 
  • The Pilot episode was directed by Steve Miner with some scenes filmed at John Burroughs High School in California. 

MUSIC

  • W.G. “Snuffy” Walden composed the music for the show, notably the theme for Winnie Cooper. The music for the show is usually acoustic, giving it a more personal feeling. 

STARS

  • Narrated by Daniel Stern as the grown-up Kevin Arnold
    • According to Daniel Stern, he was hired to narrate the show but got fired after recording the pilot episode. Apparently, the show was concerned that Stern’s film career would make him unavailable to record. In his place, the show hired actor Arye Gross and his narration was heard in the pilot that aired on January 31st. Shortly after the pilot aired, the show asked Stern to return as the narrator.
  • Fred Savage as young Kevin Arnold
    • Fred is an actor and director that you may remember as the little boy in The Princess Bride.
  • Danica McKellar as Winnie Cooper
    • Danica has since done several Hallmark movies but is also a mathematician who has written several children’s books about math.
  • Josh Saviano as Kevin’s best friend Paul Pfeiffer
    • Josh no longer acts and is now a lawyer.
  • Dan Lauria as his father Jack Arnold
    • Dan is an actor that has been in many things such as the tv show Sullivan and Son.
  • Alley Mills as his mother Norma Arnold
    • Alley is an actress and has most recently had a recurring role on The Bold and the Beautiful since 2006.  
  • Olivia d’Abo as his sister Karen Arnold
    • Olivia is an actress that was in Conan the Destroyer as Princess Jehnna.
  • Jason Harvey as his brother Wayne Arnold
    • Jason is an actor and tv producer. He was also in Back to the Future.


THE EPISODE

The pilot episode of The Wonder Years aired on January 31st, 1988, after the Super Bowl. It opened with the song, “A Little Help from my Friends,” sung by Joe Cocker. The show creators felt the song’s combination of vulnerability and levity was perfect for the show. Because they were unable to license anything by the Beatles, they went with the Joe Cocker version. They also felt that Cocker’s version was more emotionally raw. 

  • We see the actors through the silent home movies of the era, introducing the family dynamic and playing on the nostalgia of the 1960s. After the opening credits, we hear, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by The Byrds. Music is often a tool for transporting audiences to specific decades, and that technique is used often in The Wonder Years. For the first time, we hear the narration by Daniel Stern, who introduces the main conflict of the episode: Kevin Arnold’s first day of middle school. He refers to the late 1960s as a golden age for kids. 
  • Eventually, we meet Kevin Arnold, as he plays football on the street with some friends. We’re introduced to Winnie Cooper, the neighbor girl that used to be close with Kevin, and of course, we meet Kevin’s older brother Wayne. In this scene, we also meet Paul, Kevin’s best friend that’s allergic to everything. Paul was based on a real friend of co-creator Neal Marlens!
  • Wayne and Kevin get into a fight, and as Wayne is beating up his younger brother, Winnie Cooper’s older brother, Brian, yells for him to stop. The narration introduces Brian’s character as the epitome of cool, a 19-year-old that never stopped working on his El Camino. Even after he was drafted to fight in Vietnam, the car still sat out on blocks, as a reminder of “who really ran things.” Brian was played by Robert Mitchum’s grandson, Bentley Mitchum.  
  • In the next scene, we see Kevin and Paul eating dinner while we get a glimpse of the news coverage of the war on their TV. We meet Kevin’s mom, who pleads with Kevin not to make his father upset when he comes home from work. Kevin’s dad, Jack, walks in shortly after, exhausted from a long day. Soon we see all of the family at the table, including Kevin’s sister, Karen, and brother, Wayne. Norma, Kevin’s mother, hands his father a vodka tonic as the entire family starts to eat. 
    • Karen breaks the tense silence at the table by announcing that she, a teenager in 1968, is getting birth control pills, and the scene ends with the entire family arguing. 
  • The next scene opens with the song, “Both Sides, Now,” by Joni Mitchell, as we see a montage of Kevin’s summer memories, the last summer of his childhood. The next few scenes focus on Kevin and Paul as they prepare for the first day of school; looking over a copy of, “Our bodies, ourselves,” (while listening to “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James & The Shondells) and Kevin attempting to wear the latest styles to the bus stop. Just after, Kevin and Paul encounter Winnie Cooper without her signature braids and glasses, with hot-ironed hair and stylish clothes, and going by the name Gwendolyn. 
  • As Kevin and Paul head into the school, the narrator tells us that the school had recently been renamed Robert F Kennedy High School, as many schools had been rebranded to honor the recently assassinated politician. 
  • Kevin’s first day of school isn’t going very well. In homeroom, a teacher recognizes him as Wayne’s brother, which essentially puts a target on his back. In the hall, a bully tosses a knife and some drugs in Kevin’s locker, threatening him in the process. And of course, his first class was phys ed. 
    • Robert Picardo, a brilliant physical comedian, played Kevin’s gym teacher, Coach Cutlip. He had “the biggest inferiority complex since Napoleon.” 
    • Kevin gets called on to explain the jockstrap, as we hear the sound of a plane crashing in Kevin’s mind. 
  • It’s lunchtime, and Kevin and Paul are sitting together when Winnie Cooper comes to join them. Kevin’s nerves start to calm when his brother Wayne spots him and begins to make fun of him and Winnie. Kevin, angry and annoyed, grabs the apple off his tray and heads out of the cafeteria, when the vice principal stops him. He tells Kevin that if he leaves with the apple, he will get detention. When the vice principal stops him again, Kevin considers what Brian Cooper, Winnie’s older brother, would do in this situation. So, Kevin throws the apple into the cafeteria, landing him in deep trouble. 
  • In the next scene, we see Kevin in the vice principal’s office with his mother. It’s clear that he’s in trouble, but he has a hard time explaining why he did what he did. It isn’t until the end of the scene that we find out that Kevin’s father, Jack, is also in the room. Jack cracks his knuckles and says, “I’d like to take him home, now.” 
  • As Kevin rides home with his parents, he considers the fact that a physical punishment is in his near future, and he resolves to imagine that he’s his brother as his dad inevitably hits him for what he did. 
  • When the family arrives home, Karen and Wayne come out the front door to greet Kevin and their parents, looking distraught. There’s a long pause before Karen says the words, “Brian Cooper was killed.” The family stands in a moment of shocked silence, and Kevin’s father, who moments earlier was considering Kevin’s punishment, firmly places his hand on Kevin’s shoulder. 
  • Kevin decides to go for a walk at dusk, and as he heads to the woods, he comes across Winnie, sitting alone on a big rock. Kevin sat down and told her he was sorry. He pulls off his jacket and places it around her shoulders as the song “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge begins to play. Kevin and Winnie then share a kiss and a hug as the camera zooms out. The episode ends with the narration: “Whenever some blowhard starts talking about the anonymity of the suburbs, or the mindlessness of the TV generation, because we know that inside each one of those identical boxes with its Dodge parked out front, and its white bread on the table, and its TV set glowing blue in the falling dusk, there were people with stories, there were families bound together in the pain and the struggle of love. There were moments that made us cry with laughter, and there were moments, like that one, of sorrow and wonder.” 
    • It was the first kiss for the characters and the actors. They were both incredibly nervous, and they had to do six different takes. Someone on the set clapped when the kids kissed, which made them feel even more self-conscious. Danica McKellar says that they used the 6th take because it was the only take when Kevin gently stroked Winnie’s hair. 
    • Fred also noted that he was so nervous that he was picking at the fake rock they sat on for the kiss.

HOW IT WAS RECEIVED

  • The very first episode aired after Super Bowl XXII on January 31st, 1988.
  • The show was so well-received that even more people tuned in the next week to watch the second episode! In 1988 The Wonder Years won an Emmy for best comedy series, and it had only released six episodes. The first episode was so well written that the network wanted to order 13 episodes, but the creators knew they could only handle six. 

THE NEW REBOOT ANNOUNCEMENT

  • In August, ABC released a trailer and officially announced that The Wonder Years was getting a reboot! The reboot is heavily influenced by the original series and takes place in the 1960s. However, the main difference is that the show centers around a black middle-class family in Montgomery, Alabama, and their 12-year-old son Dean. It has Don Cheadle as the narrator and also stars Dulé Hill. It will be released shortly on September 22nd.

Over thirty years later, The Wonder Years continues to connect with audiences. When the show aired in 1988, parents watched it with their children, and today those children are sharing it with their kids. Every actor in the show has expressed nothing but affection for their time on the sitcom, especially Fred Savage, who feels lucky to have been part of something that is so special to so many people. 

The Wonder Years ran for five seasons, but the pilot episode is one of the show’s most iconic moments. The show found a way to appeal to every generation, not just the people that remember the 1960s. All of us can watch The Wonder Years and remember that confusing, magical, strange, and painful time in our lives; when we realized that the world just doesn’t make sense sometimes. We all know what it’s like to grow up, and when we watch The Wonder Years, we’re reminded that we didn’t have to grow up alone. 


SOURCES:

The Case of John Hughes

Good morning/afternoon/evening, class! Thank you for joining us once again for Back-to-School September. Last week, we gave you a crash course in three of our favorite school-themed films. This week, we’re talking about a man that revolutionized the teen comedy genre, connecting with an entire generation of high-schoolers in a way no filmmaker had ever done before or since.

In the 1980’s, up-and-coming filmmakers weren’t jumping at the chance to make teen comedies. Along came John Hughes, a man that saw the current youth films as a means of entertaining adults much more than children. This was a man that never forgot what it was like to be a kid, to be treated as if your opinions are invalid. He remembered the complex social structure of high school, and what it meant to be an outsider. Hughes applied all of this to his films, becoming one of the most successful filmmakers in Hollywood. Of course, Hughes wouldn’t focus solely on the teen comedy, but it was this part of his career for which he would be most remembered. 

John Hughes is known as the king of the coming-of-age comedy. Even still today you will find teenagers watching his films. No matter how dated the movies become, there still exists a sense of timelessness to these films about teen life. 

Hughes was an autobiographical writer, imbuing his own life experiences into every story brought to the screen. Because of this, each one of his films was deeply human in a way that audiences everywhere could understand. So, come learn with us as we explore the life of this man that brought us so many wonderful movie memories!

FAMILY/YOUNG LIFE

  • John Hughes was born on February 18, 1950 in Lansing, Michigan. He was the second oldest child and the only son. His father was a salesman, and would sometimes struggle to support the family. The Hughes family often found themselves to be a lower-class family among wealthy suburban communities. As a result, class issues would one day be prominent plot points in his films. 
  • The Hughes family moved around often throughout John’s childhood, but stayed most prominently in Grosse Pointe, a suburb of Detroit. Hughes was a constant observer of his suburban life. He would carry around a notebook and fill it with notes on the people he met, places he saw, and jokes that popped into his mind. He was rarely found without a notebook on his person, and he would use his childhood experiences to help him craft some of his most iconic stories. When John was 13, the family moved to Northbrook, a suburb of Chicago. This and Grosse Pointe would become the basis for Shermer, Illinois, the fictional town in which many of his films were based. John Hughes’ films had their own universe, with characters that John had imagined, but never even put in his films. He knew who lived where, who were friends, and who were related. 
    • In the beginning of The Breakfast Club, one character recites the zip code as 60062. This is the actual zip code for Northbrook, IL. However, as explained in Kirk Honeycutt’s book John Hughes: A Life in Film, the town was originally known as Shermerville, and one of its most prominent roads is named Shermer Road. 
    • Producers began to notice after working with John Hughes that most of the homes in his films had the same layout. Michelle Manning, who produced 16 Candles and The Breakfast Club, has said that they were very similar to the home Hughes lived in as a teen. 
  • Hughes was an unpopular teenager, who was considered a problem student and reportedly had a rocky relationship with his parents. He found escape in film, and solace in music. When he got into making movies, he was determined to get the music right. Music was a big part of his writing process, as he often blasted British rock music while crafting his stories. Tarquin Gotch, a frequent music supervisor for Hughes’ films, referred to him as a “modern Frank Capra.” Hughes’ films examined American life, and he wanted the actors to feel involved in the process.
  • After high school, John Hughes attended the University of Arizona but dropped out before graduating. He moved back home and married the love of his life, a woman named Nancy that he had met while in high school. He was only 20-years-old at the time, and the couple ended up living in his parents’ basement until Hughes began a career in advertising. Eventually, he would become the creative director at the Leo Burnett Company, but he never lost his ambition to become a writer. John started ghostwriting for a comic strip called, The Berrys. He started submitting jokes to comedians like Rodney Dangerfield and Joan Rivers. John also became a freelance writer for Playboy Magazine. On business trips to New York, Hughes would visit the offices of The National Lampoon for assignments. 
    • The National Lampoon seemed to be the perfect place for a young comedic writer. They allowed their contributors to have their own unique voices, and although the magazine was raunchy and hip, it relied on nostalgia to connect with its audience. John became a contributing editor until he was offered a full-time job. John accepted, but kept his other job in advertising. This meant he had to work nonstop, even sometimes catching flights to New York during the workweek. 
  • John kept up both careers until the famed blizzard of 1978 grounded him in his Chicago-area home with his wife and son. John spent those days writing and reflecting on his career. He had seen his fellow writers in advertising become frustrated with their work, losing track of what they wanted to be. When John later spoke of this time, he said, “What if I’m sixty-five and retired with all my stock, my profit-sharing, my money, and I’m sitting on the porch thinking I should have been a writer–I wonder if I could have done it?” So, Hughes quit his advertising job and took a big pay cut to work at The National Lampoon. He continued to write parodies, including issues about family holidays and vacations; stories that would eventually make it to the big screen. 

FIRST PROJECTS

  • Over the course of his career, John Hughes wrote 37 films, produced 23, and directed eight. The first film project he worked on was a Jaws parody called, Jaws 3, People 0. The project was eventually pulled by a Universal Studios executive. Hughes then worked on a screenplay for National Lampoon’s Joy of Sex, but its star, John Belushi, passed away suddenly just days before filming was set to begin. Hughes’ script was thrown out and the film was made by another studio. After that, there was Delta House, a TV spinoff of Animal House, but it only lasted one season. 
  • After attending a high school reunion, John Hughes penned a script that would become his first screen credit. It was a horror/sex comedy called, National Lampoon’s Class Reunion. The film holds a lot of the notes and character archetypes that would become familiar in his later films, but ultimately it was a box office failure. 
  • John continued to write, and struck up a friendship with a young producer named Lauren Shuler (who would one day be Lauren Shuler Donner, as she married Richard Donner!) Lauren had called John to pitch a story, and their friendship led to him presenting her with the pages of an unfinished screenplay based on his days as a househusband when his wife went out of town. Lauren loved the pages and wanted to make the film. Learning from his early experiences in film, John decided to complete the script before bringing it to a studio. He realized that if someone paid him before the script was done, he had less creative freedom. This was how he preferred to work for the rest of his career.
  • This film would become Mr. Mom, a fairly successful comedy starring Michael Keaton. However, John Hughes was fired as a screenwriter during the production process, and two uncredited writers polished the screenplay. The film was not what John Hughes and Lauren Shuler Donner wanted to make, and the experience might have planted the seeds for John Hughes’ famous distaste for Hollywood in the years to come. 
  • While writing for The National Lampoon, John Hughes published a story called Vacation ‘58, based on his childhood family vacations. It followed The Griswold Family and their ill-fated trip from Grosse Pointe, Michigan to Walt Disneyland in California. Marty Simmons, the owner of the Lampoon eventually shared the story with an executive from Warner Brothers, and soon the project was underway with John Hughes as the screenwriter. Because the studio wanted to draw in Saturday Night Live fans, they cast Caddyshack star Chevy Chase as the lead. Harold Ramis signed on to direct, and John adapted his screenplay to match Chase’s comedic delivery. The story stayed generally the same, but Hughes built on his younger characters, giving them more personality. The original ending didn’t do well with audiences, and Hughes was forced to do a rewrite where the family actually did arrive at their destination: Wally World. Because of the rewrite, comedian John Candy was added to the cast, playing a hilarious guard at the vacant park. Candy would become synonymous with John Hughes in later years, and the two were very close friends. The new ending did well, and Vacation was a hit. It essentially created a new genre of film, the family road trip. 
  • Now that Hughes had two major successes under his belt, it wasn’t hard for him to find screenwriting jobs. He quit his job at the Lampoon and was on his way to directing his first feature film. 

A FEW OF HIS MOST INFLUENTIAL MOVIES

  • John Hughes was a rare man in his field. He was a midwestern conservative, working amongst Hollywood liberals. He held a disdain for authority (something he picked up from his youth) and a distrust of Hollywood bigwigs. Instead of filming in Los Angeles like many other filmmakers, John liked to film in Chicago, away from the big studios. He hated studio notes and wanted freedom. A few of his films were filmed in the New Trier Township High School, an abandoned school! Ferris Bueler’s Day Off, Uncle Buck, and Home Alone were all shot here. Filming in the midwest also meant taking young actors away from their friends and the partying scene in California. But most of all, John Hughes was an autobiographical filmmaker. His stories took place in the midwest because that’s where he was from, and so that’s where they would be filmed. 

So let’s talk about some of John Hughes’ most influential films. We won’t have a chance to talk about all of them. So let us know if we missed your favorite or if you’d like us to cover any of these in a future episode!

  • SIXTEEN CANDLES (1984)
    • In the early 1980’s, one of Hollywood’s biggest agents was circulating a script for a teen comedy. Many studios were interested, but the major hang-up was that the screenwriter, John Hughes, wanted to direct the film as well. Producer Michelle Manning mentioned the screenplay while in a job interview with filmmaker Ted Tanen. Tanen liked giving first-time directors a chance, and was interested in the idea. Manning contacted Hughes, and they were able to strike a deal for Sixteen Candles. 
    • When the agency ICM first agreed to represent John Hughes, they gave him a batch of headshots for potential actors in his films. Hughes fixated on one photo in particular, and placed the photo over his workspace as he wrote Sixteen Candles. The photo was of Molly Ringwald, and in John’s mind, she had already been cast in the leading role. Hughes also decided that Anthony Michael Hall, who had appeared in Vacation should play the film’s famous geek character. 
    • Sixteen Candles relies heavily on high school tropes like the jock, the geek, the prom queen, and the wallflower. But, it unexpectedly turned the unspoken rule of the teen comedy on its head. Audiences were shocked and delighted when the quiet girl got the surprisingly sensitive jock at the end, instead of learning some kind of hard lesson. One of the film’s biggest surprises was Samantha’s (Molly Ringwald) touching conversation with her father, and the empathy that he shows his teenage daughter. 
    • This was Hughes’ breakout as a director and started his meteoric rise as the king of teen comedy. Of course, there are components in the film that do not pass the test of time. Featured prominently is a foreign exchange student that plays into hurtful stereotypes. It’s also hard for modern audiences to brush aside the casual attitude toward date rape, which seems to be prominent throughout the film.
  • THE BREAKFAST CLUB (1985)
    • True to his style, he filmed this as well in small-town high schools, this time in Illinois. This forced the cast to become closer as there were not many entertainment options in town. The most common things they would do were to go to the Hughes home for dinner or go to see a blues band together.
    • Judd Nelson would stay in character as Bender, even after scenes were shot. This almost cost him the role as Hughes noticed that he would continue to treat Molly Ringwold terribly. Hughes felt responsible for her and therefore wanted Michelle Manning to fire him. It was worked out however when Manning discussed the issue with his manager/live-in girlfriend, Laurie Rodkin. After that it was never an issue again.
    • In order for Judd Nelson and Emilio Estevez to understand the divisions between jocks and the outcasts, Hughes sent them back to high school. Nobody seemed to recognize Judd, but unfortunately for the experiment, Emilio was recognized almost immediately. 
    • As the set was being built, the cast began getting ready for rehearsals. John had a few different drafts of the script. After Emilio asked to see them, John brought all of them in for the cast to look through. Each actor read through them and picked out the pieces from each script that they felt connected with their characters. Hughes spent that night cutting and pasting those pieces together and presented a new script the very next morning. 
    • The film was actually shot in continuity, and the Principal was based on a real gym teacher of Hughes’s that did not like his attitude!
    • This film is what brought about the term “Brat Pack.” The term refers to teens that often appeared in multiple movies together in the 80’s. For example, Hughes knew after Sixteen Candles that he wanted Anthony Michael Hall and Molly Ringwald to be in this movie as well. The ensemble group of talented kids did not take kindly to the term and even stopped hanging out all the time because of it.
  • WEIRD SCIENCE (1985)
    • Directed and wrote
  • FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986)
    • Directed by and wrote
    • The screenplay was written in just seven days, though Hughes claimed he did it in four. Hughes was famous for writing his stories in short, manic bursts. 
    • The name Ferris Bueller came from Hughes’s long term friend Bert Bueller and the character of Sloane was based on his wife.
    • To help immerse the actors Hughes drove them around the Chicago town, showing them the sights and talking about his life as a high schooler. As he did this he put cassettes into the player with the songs that he intended to run throughout the movie.
    • When Broderick first met with Hughes Pretty in Pink was going to be released soon. As the pair walked and talked Hughes plastered Pretty in Pink stickers on every lamp post. He was brilliant at advertising. Hughes would pen a newsletter, and it would be mailed out to many fans of which he had a database from all the fan mail Hughes Entertainment received.
  • PRETTY IN PINK (1986)
    • Written by
    • John Hughes continued his reign as the teen comedy king with Pretty in Pink, another classic starring Molly Ringwald. It was named after a 1981 Psychedelic Furs song that Hughes liked, and even included in the film. In fact, Hughes selected about 90% of the film’s soundtrack. 
    • This movie continued to explore the difficulties of living in a working class family, surrounded by upper class peers. It also featured one of Hughes’ most iconic ‘80s characters, Duckie, played by Jon Cryer. 
    • Duckie was a classic Hughes geek, a guy that has everything going for him but doesn’t know it. According to Jon Cryer, Molly Ringwald was uncertain of his taking the role, she reportedly wanted Robert Downey Junior to play the character. 
    • In the original ending, Ringwald’s character, Andie, ends up with Duckie. But, test audiences didn’t like this ending. So, the crew reshot the ending to have her character end up with Blane, the rich boy played by the dreamy Andrew McCarthy. There were many challenges to the reshoot, including the fact that Andrew McCarthy had shaved his head and had to wear a wig.  
  • PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES (1987)
    • Directed and wrote
    • This movie has become the perfect model for future buddy comedies. The two characters are forced together into situations where they must walk in the other’s shoes.
    • When Steve Martin read the screenplay and accepted the part, he noticed that it was a hefty 145 pages. The typical for a comedy would be about 90. When Martin asked what would be cut, Hughes looked at him quizzically and Martin realized that Hughes did not plan to cut a thing!
    • The movie, while only modestly successful at the time, became treasured by Hughes and many others. Roger Ebert even said in a tribute article that it is in his “Great Movie Collection.”
  • SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL (1987)
    • Written by
  • NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989)
    • In 1988, John Hughes wrote and directed She’s Having a Baby, a deeply personal film and probably his most autobiographical. However, the film didn’t do very well, despite the star power of Kevin Bacon and Alec Baldwin. Some theorize that because this film didn’t find the same success as his other projects, John began moving away from personal stories for films. 
    • In 1989, two of Hughes’ films premiered. They were Uncle Buck and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Both did fairly well at the box office, with Christmas Vacation eventually becoming a holiday staple in many American households. Critics felt that the film lacked the magic of the original, as it had less of a cohesive plot and more of a string of hilarious holiday mishaps jumbled together in a film. This would be the final Vacation film written by John Hughes, though two more would be made–one in 1997 and 2015. 
  • HOME ALONE (1990)
    • After working with Macaulay Culkin in Uncle Buck, John Hughes thought it would be interesting to have a movie centered around a 9 year old. He had thoroughly enjoyed working with Macaulay after never having worked with that age group before.
    • Chris Columbus, who directed the film, expressed that he was afraid that nobody would give him another shot at directing after his recent flop Heartbreak Hotel. John Hughes, however, had faith in him and liked his style. Chris was originally supposed to direct the previous Christmas movie we just talked about but had difficulties with Chevy Chase. Chevy refused to take direction from him because he saw Chris as too new to know anything about directing properly. Hughes therefore brought Chris on to direct Home Alone! Since Chris was also a writer, the script went back and forth between the two until they felt it was ready. It was then pitched to Warner Brothers, who said that they would make it for the low budget of 10 million dollars. When they inevitably surpassed that budget (though not by much to 14.7 million), Warner Brothers shut down the project. We almost didn’t have this Christmas joy.
      • Luckily Hughes was behind the project as its writer and had secretly met with his friend Tom Jacobson at 20th Century Fox. When Tom and chairman Joe Roth heard the storyline, the 14.7 million dollar budget, and that Hughes was fighting with WB they said they would make it! All they had to do was wait for WB to officially pull the plug because legally they weren’t really supposed to know about the project while another studio owned it. Once the phone call came, those that knew about the switch had to feign sadness and fear before calling up 20th Century Fox to seamlessly continue the picture.
    • Chris Columbus said that John Hughes was a director’s dream, essentially staying offset except when John Candy arrived for his scenes. He was receptive to ideas, and allowed Columbus to add his own touch to the story, giving it more heart to balance out the slapstick humor.     
    • All the sets for the insides of the house were built in New Trier Township High School, including the scene when the house is flooding. The crew knew that the set would leak due to all the water, so they built it right in the school’s empty swimming pool!
    • Hughes’ close friend and colleague John Candy made an extended cameo in the film, appearing on set for 23 hours of shooting. He appeared in the film as a favor to Hughes, and was paid even less than the pizza delivery boy that appears in the early scenes of the film.  
    • Some believe this was John Hughes last greatest film, and in later years he would move away from autobiographical works and films focused on midwestern families. 
  • HONORABLE MENTIONS
    • Baby’s Day Out (1994)
    • Beethoven
    • Flubber
    • 101 Dalmatians

AWARDS

  • John Hughes was the epitome of a cult classic. He wasn’t universally loved in Hollywood, and held grudges that, as Molly Ringwald would later put it, “were almost supernatural things.” But, the man certainly had a following, and still does to this day. Despite connecting with and influencing generations, he didn’t win very many awards. 
  • In 2020, Hughes was posthumously inducted into the OFTA Hall of Fame. In 1991, he won the Showest award for Producer of the Year
  • On a more negative note, Hughes won two “Stinkers Bad Movie Awards.” One was “Worst Resurrection of a TV show” for Dennis the Menace. The other was “Worst screenplay for a film grossing more than 100 million” for Flubber

DEATH AND LEGACY

In August of 2009, John Hughes died suddenly of a heart attack while visiting family in New York. He was 59. The news of his sudden death shocked and saddened his collaborators, including the young actors that started their careers with Hughes. Hughes had continued to write until his death, with his last credit being Drillbit Taylor. At the 82nd Oscars, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Matthew Broderick, John Cryer, and Macaulay Culkin all paid tribute to John Hughes. This included a montage of his most well-known films, ending with a classic moment from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “Life moves pretty fast; If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you might miss it.”

John Hughes was one of a kind. He didn’t do things the normal way, the popular way. In reality, Hughes was the outsider that he put on screen. He was a man that never forgot how it felt to be a teenager, with all the anxieties of life, but none of the respect of adulthood. He talked to his actors, young and old, as if they were his collaborators and not his employees. And because of this, he created art that resonated with millions of people.  

Not only did John Hughes give voice to the younger generations in his movies, he helped to launch the careers of so many others around him. John Hughes was funny and strange, intelligent and to some, frustrating. But, he made meaningful connections to audiences and his fellow filmmakers that would last a lifetime. In a foreword for Kurt Honeycutt’s book John Hughes a Life in Film, Chris Columbus wrote, “John’s films have inspired a few generations and they will continue to do so for many, many more decades. His work has profoundly changed millions of lives. I know that he profoundly changed mine. Without John, I may not still be directing today. I owe everything that’s happened in my cinematic life over the past twenty-five years to John Hughes.”

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The Case That Went Back to School

We all know the feeling. You’re playing outside on a hot August day, and suddenly a cool breeze hits your face as a yellow bus drives by, running a test route for the coming school year. You go inside and hear a particularly catchy Office Max commercial boasting about their school supplies sale. Your heart falls as a parent hands you a letter from your school containing a message from your new teacher. You look around, wondering where the summer went. 

Well, August is over, and school is officially back in session! So grab your pencils and your composition notebooks! It’s Back to School September! In this first episode of the month, we decided to give you a crash course in three of our favorite school-themed films. 

ADAM’S PICK: SCHOOL OF ROCK 

Synopsis

  • The film stars Jack Black playing a struggling rock guitarist named Dewey Finn. The story begins with Dewey’s band kicking him out for his over-the-top rock and roll shenanigans. Out of a job and in desperate need of money, he disguises himself as his roommate, a substitute teacher, and accepts a job at a prep school. After witnessing the musical talent of the students, Dewey forms a band of fifth-graders under the guise of a school project to attempt to win the upcoming Battle of the Bands.

Production

  • School of Rock was directed by Richard Linklater, produced by Scott Rudin, and written by Mike White. White called up his friend and once-neighbor Jack Black to pitch an idea for a film, partly inspired by the Langley Schools Music Project of the 1970s. Recorded in 1976–77, it is a collection of children’s choruses singing pop hits of the time, from the Beach Boys, Paul McCartney, and David Bowie. They were found and re-released 25 years later in 2001. So basically, the world’s first Kidz Bop! (Which, by the way, was first released in 2001 as well!)
  • Some additional inspiration came from Jack Black. He said he once witnessed a stage dive gone wrong involving a man named Ian Astbury of rock band The Cult. This story made its way into the opening of the film. 
  • Much of the film was shot on location in New York City. For the interior shots of the school, the film uses the Main Hall at Wagner College in Staten Island, New York. According to some of the children in the movie, the different hallway scenes were all shot in one hallway with slight changes to the walls. 

Music

  • The movie is obviously filled to the brim with many well-known rock and roll songs, including top bands and artists such as AC/DC, The Doors, Kiss, Black Sabbath, The Who, Metallica, The Black Keys, Stevie Nicks, David Bowie, and much more. If you are looking for a great selection of rock to jam to, look no further than School of Rock. 
  • Musician James Jr. of the band The Mooney Suzuki and screenwriter Mike White wrote the title track, “School of Rock.” The Mooney Suzuki played as backup for the child musicians on the soundtrack recording of the song. 
  • One interesting thing to note is that the soundtrack also includes “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin. For years, the band had been known to be stingy with the use of their music in media. Director Richard Linklater had first-hand experience with this issue, as he wanted to use their song, “Dazed and Confused,” in his 1993 film of the same name. So, Linklater filmed a video of Jack Black standing on the stage used at the end of the film, begging the band for permission to use the song. According to Jack Black, about 1000 extras were chanting behind him. After receiving the video, the three living members of Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones) granted permission for the song.

Cast

  • Jack Black as Dewey Finn
    • A very well-known actor who has been in many things. Films such as Kung Fu Panda, Goosebumps, Nacho Libre, and Jumanji: The Next Level, to name a few.
  • Joan Cusack as Principal Rosalie Mullins
    • Cusack is another very well-known actress who has had a very successful career since the 80s. Some of her top movies include, In & Out, Working Girl, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. 
  • Mike White as Ned Schneebly
    • Primarily known as a writer for shows such as Dawson’s Creek, Freaks and Geeks, Nacho Libre, and the screenplay of Pitch Perfect 3.
  • Sarah Silverman as Patty Di Marco, Ned’s girlfriend
    • Silverman is a comedian who was on Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld, Robot Chicken, and more recently provided voices on Bob’s Burgers.

-All the kid cast members had rock and roll names in the movie and throughout production.

  • Miranda Cosgrove as Summer “Tinkerbell” Hathaway (band manager)
    • Unsurprisingly, she went on to have a hugely successful acting career after School of Rock. Especially with iCarly being as popular as it was.
  • Joey Gaydos Jr. as Zack “Zack-Attack” Mooneyham (lead guitar)
    • After School of Rock, Joey quit acting and instead decided to focus on his music.
  • Kevin Clark as Freddy “Spazzy McGee” Jones (drums)
    • Sadly, he passed away in May of this year at age 32.
  • Rivkah Reyes as Katie “Posh Spice” (bass)
    • She still plays bass and is part of the band Sweet Revenge. She has also appeared in several other titles on-and-off since the movie.
  • Robert Tsai as Lawrence “Mr. Cool” (keyboards)
    • He has also left acting and still plays concert piano.
  • Maryam Hassan as Tomika “Turkey Sub” (lead and backing vocals)
    • She is a musician under the name Mayhrenate, and as of this year, she has released a few singles and one album.   
  • Aleisha Allen as Alicia “Brace Face” (lead and backing vocals)
    • Her career as an actor started as the voice of Sidetable Drawer on Blue’s Clues and has been in various other films since School of Rock. 
  • Caitlin Hale as Marta “Blondie” (lead and backing vocals)
    • She took a break from acting to focus on her studies and would later graduate from Arizona State with a degree in journalism.
  • Brian Falduto as Billy “Fancy Pants” (band stylist)
    • He is no longer an actor, but he does sing and is a successful life coach.
  • Angelo Massagli as Frankie “Tough Guy” (security)
    • After School of Rock, he featured in some titles, including Stuart Little 2 and The Sopranos. Also, as a side note, he and Catlin Hale are currently a couple.
  • Cole Hawkins as Leonard “Short Stop” (security)
    • He has been in a few movies before and after School of Rock and has had appearances in Law and Order: SVU.
  • Z Infante as Gordon “Roadrunner” (assistant, lights)
    • They have continued acting and were in the TV series Gotham and the 2016 film Carrie Pilby.
  • James Hosey as Marco “Carrot Top” (assistant, special effects)
    • He has been in a few TV series since School of Rock, such as Boardwalk Empire and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Reception

  • The opening in 2003 was well-received, grossing $131 million worldwide on a $35 million budget. The film received positive reviews from critics, with praise for Black’s performance and humor. It was the highest-grossing music-themed comedy of all time until 2015 when surpassed by Pitch Perfect 2. Due to this success, a stage musical adaptation was developed for Broadway in 2015, and a television adaptation also made its way to Nickelodeon in 2016.
  • The film received several awards and nominations, including a Movies for Grownups Award for “Best Movie for Grownups Who Refuse to Grow Up.” It won Best Comedy Film at the British Comedy Awards and a Grammy nomination for “Best Compilation Soundtrack Album.” Additionally, Jack Black received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor and won an MTV Movie Award for Best Comedic Performance.
  • In 2013, a 10th-anniversary screening of the film was held in Austin, Texas, at the Paramount Theatre. Those in attendance included director Richard Linklater, Jack Black, Mike White, and most of the young cast members. The event had a red carpet, a full cast and crew Q&A after the screening, and a VIP after-party performance by the School of Rock band where they reportedly played “School of Rock (Teacher’s Pet),” “The Legend of The Rent,” “Step Off” and “It’s a Long Way to the Top.”

ROBIN’S PICK: DIARY OF A WIMPY KID

  • Why I Chose it: 
    • Middle school was not a good time for me. I was just as weird and awkward as I am now, but in a cesspool of mean and unaccepting pre-teens. Marci and I had just started going to a new school, which is actually how we met Adam! But alas, Adam was one of the few bright spots in this otherwise bleak time. Am I being dramatic? Probably, but I think anyone who was an awkward middle-schooler might relate. 
    • In middle school we had a computer class elective, and were allowed to spend free time on approved websites. One such site was called, “Funbrain,” and was filled with games and comics. This is where I first discovered an online web series that I really identified with. It followed an awkward middle school kid as he navigated the perils of growing up. It was called, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”
    • It may sound silly now, coming from a woman who is just south of 30, but this comic really helped me get through school. I actually remember when Jeff Kinney, the creator, hinted that he may someday make a book! About three years later, the first book of the series hit shelves, and the rest is history. Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a huge franchise made of 11 books and four feature films. Greg Heffley, the series’ main protagonist, even has a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. 
    • In 2010, when I had grown from an awkward pre-teen to an awkward teenager, I went to see the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid in theaters. Of course, I was past the age of the target audience, but I still went with my younger sister and our mom. To my delight, the movie was entertaining, funny, and downright adorable. I still think it is one of the best back-to-school movies out there, so I chose to talk about it today!
  • Synopsis
    • Greg Heffley is nervous for his first day of middle school. As many of his peers have experienced early growth spurts, Greg is one of the smallest boys in school. Determined to have a great year, Greg devises a series of schemes with his best friend Rowley, in an attempt to achieve popularity. As each plan backfires, Greg and Rowley learn more and more about growing up. 
  • Production Behind the Scenes – Diary of a Wimpy Kid 
    • Directed by Thor Freudenthal, Diary of a Wimpy Kid premiered in March of 2010. The film was a faithful adaptation of Jeff Kinney’s bestselling book series of the same name, with some scenes created and staged based solely on the cartoonist’s illustrations. 
      • Thor had worked as a special effects artist and animator before becoming a director, which would be great experiences for him to build on for this project. He wanted to use whatever film techniques necessary to create the feel of a comic-turned-film. This meant blending animation and live-action in some sequences, and finding an animation studio that could bring Jeff Kinney’s work to life, while maintaining its style and charm. 
      • One of his favorite scenes to shoot was the “cheese touch” sequence, which had been planned from the very beginning of the production process. The cheese itself is a character, and its creation was a group effort between the prop designer and the team at Custom Film Effects, who used CGI to update the look of the cheese throughout the film. 
    • Writers Jackie Filgo, Jeff Filgo, Gabe Sachs, and Jeff Judah all worked on the screenplay. Sachs has said that adapting a book of funny, episodic stories was difficult. The writers had to create a through-line story that connected these silly moments that Greg would write about in his diary. The writers decided to focus the film on the relationship between Greg and his best friend, Rowley, and the challenges young friends face as they grow up together. 
      • The screenplay went through 10 different drafts before 20th Century Fox settled on a final version. 
    • They auditioned 5000 kids across the US and Canada before filming the movie in Vancouver. Zachary Gordon won the part with an audition using the title sequence monologue of the movie. Freudenthal said that he stood out because he was such a likable kid, who really brought a layered performance. Gordon was able to act with a cockiness and snark that clearly masked someone with a lot of insecurities. 
  • Music
    • Theodor Shapiro composed the music for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, crafting a main theme that is reminiscent of Vincer Guaraldi’s Linus and Lucy. Shapiro has scored many film projects like Tropic Thunder and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Most recently he scored The Mysterious Benedict Society on Disney+. 
  • Cast 
    • Zachary Gordon as Greg Heffley
      • Writer Jeff Kinney first created Greg Heffley in 1998, the same year that Zachary Gordon was born. Eleven years later, Gordon would be cast as the character. Before the film was even in production, Gordon had read the book and told his mom that he wanted to play Greg if they ever made the movie. 
      • Gordon starred in the next two Wimpy Kid films. He has a recurring role on the TV series “Good Trouble.” 
    • Devon Bostick as Roderick Heffley
      • Thor Freudenthal said on the DVD commentary that Bostick was one of the biggest surprises that came with making this film. He is a very talented actor, and really brought Roderick’s character alive as a gleefully mean older brother. 
      • Bostick had a recurring role on the TV series The 100, and has appeared in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. 
    • Robert Capron as Rowley Jefferson
      • Capron was very popular with the adults on set, as he was much like his character, Rowley. In one scene, he famously dances to the Beastie Boys song, “Intergalactic” with his real-life and on-screen mother!
      • Capron has recently done a lot of voice work, and will reprise his role as Rowley for an animated Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie and TV show! 
    • Rachel Harris as Susan Heffley
      • An experienced comedic and dramatic actor, Harris has recurring roles in Suits and Lucifer. She is also known for her role in The Hangover.  
    • Steve Zahn as Frank Heffley
      • Steven Zahn would bring a lot of ideas to his role as Frank Heffley, adding hilarious pieces to his character. He perfectly encapsulated the Frank Heffley of the book, a seemingly angry and annoyed man that, deep down, was off-beat and silly. 
    • Chloe Grace Moretz as Angie Steadman
      • Moretz’s character was not in the book, and was added by the writers to help give the story more depth. Director Thor Freudenthal noted that the book doesn’t have any main female characters, and that most of the girls are all drawn similarly. He read this as an indication that Greg doesn’t understand girls, and therefore doesn’t know how to represent them. The character Angie also serves as a, quote, “jiminy cricket” character to Greg, showing up and questioning his decisions.
      • Moretz recently starred in the film “Tom and Jerry,” but is also known for her roles in “Hugo” and “Kick-Ass.” 
    • Karan Brar as Chirag Gupta
      • Part of the reason that the film works so well is because it focuses on mundane issues, blown out of proportion from a child’s perspective. Karan Brar as Chirag Gupta really sold his scenes by delivering his lines in a dramatic way.
      • Brar had never acted before but has since been in a lot of projects, including the Disney show Jessie
    •   Grayson Russel as Fregley 
      • Russel was perfect for the role of the off-beat and unusual Fregley. He is also set to reprise his role in the animated film! 
  • Reception
    • Although the movie wasn’t highly promoted, it still made well over its budget with a worldwide gross of over 76 million dollars. It also gained respectable critical reviews. Roger Ebert gave the movie 3.5 out of four stars and called it, “a bright little charmer.” He said in his review: “It is so hard to do a movie like this well. “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” is a PG-rated comedy about the hero’s first year of middle school, and it’s nimble, bright and funny. It doesn’t dumb down. It doesn’t patronize. It knows something about human nature. It isn’t as good as “A Christmas Story,” as few movies are, but it deserves a place in the same sentence. Here is a family movie you don’t need a family to enjoy. You must, however, have been a wimpy kid. Most kids are wimpy in their secret hearts.”

MARCI’S PICK: BACK TO SCHOOL

  • For my pick we head back to college! It portrays a wilder college experience, especially because it is an 80’s movie version of college. Although some of the humor may be dated it still brings about all the embarrassment, pressure, and fun that school has to offer.
  • Synopsis
    • Thornton Melon is a self-made millionaire that got his riches without attending college. He becomes worried that his son Jason is unsure about finishing college and Thornton therefore makes a deal with him that he will attend college as well. Hilarity ensues as Thornton falls in love with Professor Diane Turner and uses his riches to get through his courses while his son Jason falls for another student and tries to make the cut for the diving team.
  • Production
    • Grand Lakes University was actually portrayed by three different colleges: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Southern California, and California State University.
      • The divers in the movie were expert college divers! They were told to perform their worst as the Grand Lakes University team.
    • Originally the idea was that the character of Thornton would be a struggling father that would need to work and do dishes in order to just be there. The team was having trouble getting the script right and so one night director Alan Metter was talking with Harold Ramis.
      • Ramis said he would rather go back to college after he had all the money and resources so he could just have fun and “get laid.” This led the script to be changed to what it is now.
    • When casting his love interest was a difficult job, they needed someone kind and warm but that set his sights higher than you might expect for a comedy such as this. They talked to so many women but Sally Kellerman really stood out when she came in.
    • They packed the entire movie with jokes!
    • The first scene shot was Rodney walking across the campus in his bathrobe. Metter felt that it would break the ice since everyone was so nervous for shooting.
    • One of the funniest and most impressive things in this movie is when Thornton does The Triple Lindy dive into the pool. This dive was about 6 different dives put together and Rodney of course had a stunt double, Michael Ostovich. He didn’t actually have to land on the other boards. In order to make it look like it was actually Rodney they did a cast of his face to create a mask. They also used foam rubber to make the stomach. Michael Ostovich wore all this and put an old diving suit on to cover the fake belly. The first time getting it all on took 6 hours. Rodney avoided him because it would just freak him out.
    • Rodney was the glue. The talent was all amazing and that helped make this movie great.
  • Music
    • Danny Elfman composed the music for the movie. The director made the condition that Elfman and his band Oingo Boingo must be in the movie. So much to our delight they are in the party scene playing Dead Man’s Party.
  • Cast
    • Rodney Dangerfield as Thornton Melon
      • Rodney took a little while to find his footing as an actor but once he did it was gold. You may know him from other things such as Caddyshack!
    • Sally Kellerman as Dr. Diane Turner
      • Sally appeared in MASH and several other things.
    • Keith Gordon as Jason Melon
      • He is an actor and now a director as well, directing the FX show Fargo.
    • Terry Farrell
      • She plays the love interest for Jason and was one of the last people cast. She was so charming that she got the part. They were only a smidge reluctant because she is taller than Keith Gordon. It ended up being no problem however and the two seemed to enjoy kissing!
      • She is also known for being in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
    • And plenty of others such as Robert Downey Jr. as his friend Derek Lutz! He at the time was also starring in SNL. Also William Zabka as Chas who is known for playing bad guys but did not want to make this character evil.
  • Reception
    • The Chicago Tribune called it “the surprise hit of the summer.”
    • With a budget of a mere $11 million, it grossed an impressive $91 million in the US making it the second highest grossing comedy of ‘86.
    • Roger Ebert said that “The most interesting thing about “Back to School,” which is otherwise a pleasant but routine comedy, is the puzzle of Rodney Dangerfield. Here is a man who reminds us of some of the great comedians of the early days of the talkies – of Groucho Marx and W. C. Fields – because, like them, he projects a certain mystery. Marx and Fields were never just being funny. There was the sense that they were getting even for hurts so deep that all they could do was laugh about them. It’s the same with Dangerfield.”
  • Fun Facts
    • Jim Carrey almost got the part of the screaming Professor Terguson but it was decided that he was too young to be the professor and so it went to Sam Kinison instead. Sam improvised to shock the students and it worked, those were real reactions.
    • Dangerfield’s final oral exam room may look familiar as it is also where the dance scene from Flashdance happened!
    • Kurt Vonnegut loved the lines about him and thought they were hilarious.

Well kids (of all ages) we know that the end of summer can be sad, but at least you have these movies to get you through it. Summer will always live on in our hearts, and help us find something good about every season…even the season that makes you go back to school. 

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