Tag Archives: Elvis

My interview with Don Coscarelli posts to Creative Screenwriting magazine

14 Apr

Phantasm: Remastering a Classic | Creative Screenwriting MagazinFor 35 years fantasy screenwriter and director Don Coscarelli has garnered a cult following for his 1979 horror film, Phantasm, and its four sequels: Phantasm II (1988), Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994,) Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998,) and Phantasm V: Ravager (2014.) The low-budget movies featured the late Angus Scrimm as the antagonistic Tall Man, who in Phantasm inhabits a creepy mausoleum and chases the 13-year-old protagonist, Mike Pearson, portrayed by Michael Baldwin.

At this year’s South-by-Southwest Interactive, Film and Music Festival, Coscarelli screened a remastered version of his original movie, to the delight of his fans. Doing so, Coscarelli introduced a new generation to his innovations in video and sound that in 1979 seemed years ahead of their time.

Creative Screenwriting talked with Coscarelli about writing sequels, why the time is right for a re-release of Phantasm, and writing when not writing.
You wrote the cult classic Phantasm 37 years ago. There are four sequels currently; did you originally envision it as a series?

You know, truthfully, no. I always looked at it as having a pretty finite ending. I guess it’s OK to have spoilers now that the movie’s been out for several decades, but obviously the kid loses—Tall Man wins, game over.

There was a long gap there—I think it was like nine years—before the first sequel came out. Being a young filmmaker I wanted to distinguish myself in other genres, but the other part of it was that I didn’t know how to approach a sequel. I just didn’t.

I know this might sound just lame, but one day it came to me. The kid got yanked into the mirror, but he had left Reggie downstairs. What was going on downstairs? Reggie hears this crash and he could run upstairs and take it from there.

So it was that simple breakthrough that made me realize I could write a whole story now. Then also, there was an idea to go into a new direction. Rather than be contained in the one claustrophobic town, it would then become almost a road movie. A few years later Reggie would team up with the Mike who was older and they would go on an adventure to track down and kill the Tall Man once and for all. So, once I had that in mind, it was a pretty straight shot to make that sequel movie.
At the time of Phantasm’s original release you stated in an interview that you were curious about how our culture handles death. That led you to create the mysterious grave robber and antagonist, the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) as death dressed in a tight-fitting suit, wearing lifts on his shoes. However, what does the Lady in Lavender represent to you?

Well, I think from my perspective now—and I’m not telling you I had all these answers when I made the movie, because certainly it evolved over time—when I first started filming Phantasm, the Lady in Lavender and the Tall Man were two completely distinct and separate characters. He turns into her, but I didn’t have that idea or make that decision until well into production. It was a feeling that they were two partial characters and this idea that I could fuse the two of them made it so much stranger and so much more bizarre, so it was what we did.

Now that I do look back on it—I have to tell you that some of this has come through analysis from fans that have told me about things, about their interpretations of the movie—I do see it now that a big chunk of the movie is about this adolescent boy and he has lost his brother.

Maybe as Mike is maturing, the Lady in Lavender could have been a fear of sex. It could have been a fear of losing his brother to a woman, which is the natural course when a brother gets married and moves away.

So those were the levels of anxiety. The funny thing about it is, I did write an ending that we never shot where Mike woke up and he was going to his brother’s wedding and his brother was marrying the Lady in Lavender. The Tall Man was going to be presiding at the wedding, but it didn’t seem at the time as the right way to go.
Which films influenced you, growing up?

There were a lot of influences, many, many. I wanted to make a movie that was set in a funeral home or graveyard. I just felt fascinated with that setting, the mausoleum. I grew up in a town south of Los Angeles, in a town called Long Beach and there was a magnificent, gigantic marble mausoleum that when you walk around in it was so bizarre and so creepy, and that was a trigger for a great setting for the movie. At the same time, I had just finished a film about children, Kenny & Company, with this great actor Michael Baldwin, so I was thinking about a young boy’s focus movie.

One of the movies that really freaked me out when I was young that played on television all of the time was called Invaders from Mars, (a 1953 film written by Richard Blake and directed by William Cameron Menzies.) Really freaky stuff, but at the same time it is essentially about a little boy who has seen something and no one believes him. So that was a really important theme that I thought could work.

Then there were some peripheral influences; I really liked Something Wicked This Way Comes (a  novel written by Ray Bradbury in 1962,) where this dark character comes into town, which probably gave some influence to the creation of the figure the Tall Man.

There were other things, some strange sci-fi movie aspects that came out of (Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film,) 2001: A Space Odyssey. That whole whiteness of those Odyssey scenes maybe influenced me.

I took elements from the movies that I grew up watching and made something bizarre out of them.
How did you come up with the idea for the unique weapon, a silver orb that flies through the air and attacks its victims with mini dagger-like spears?

That is probably the only idea that I put on film today that came out of a dream. When I was much younger I remember having a dream and being pursued by a floating orb. It didn’t have any of the mechanical stuff that showed up in later movies—that came later.

I just had a vision of it chasing me around in this nightmare. It kind of stuck with me. For some reason when Phantasm went into this bizarre science fiction direction, it just seemed natural that we could do that.

Why is the timing of this re-release of Phantasm so perfect for today’s audiences?

In some respects Phantasm is eternal because it has a lot to do with the questions of death and what happens when you die and the Grim Reaper and all that sort of thing. I think that the thing about this remastering process is that we are showing the movie in the best possible way. I’m just hoping that we can get it into as many theatrical venues as possible so that folks can enjoy it on the big screen—both the sound and visuals.

I think that in terms of ‘why now?’ probably the best reason would be with the recent passing of Angus Scrimm that this movie really is a testament to him in a lot of ways and it shows him off to his best advantage. We can just look at it as a tribute to him now that we’ve lost him. He was the first adult actor that I had ever worked with and I developed a good friendship with him over a lot of years.

When Phantasm came out, in 1979 or 1980, the distributor sent the two of us all over the country publicizing the movie. That was back when Angus would go out in his costume; he would wear his Tall Man outfit. He would put his own makeup on and he would go to interviews and make appearances on television in it. It was just crazy. In any case, I think that the fans will really enjoy being able to see him do his thing in the best way possible.
Phantasm explores the fear of death from of a boy’s perspective. Did you draw on your own childhood experiences at all?

We all go through this, but one day I realized that I was going to die and I couldn’t believe it. I think I was about six or seven years old. It was mortifying. I remember lying in bed one night and thinking: ‘oh my God, my mother’s gonna die, my father’s gonna die, I’m gonna die;’ you know? It was pretty frightening actually.

Obviously it’s the great question that sticks with all of us to this day. You think about the gigantic worldwide religions that have been developed pretty much to explain away what happens when we die. It’s probably the core question: ‘I’m going to die; what does that mean? Why?’ So I’m sure a lot of it came out of that, being this unanswerable question and potentially terrifying.

Creating a character like Tall Man who is essentially the embodiment of death and pursuing a young kid, probably comes from something like that. Probably a more practical idea came from trying to find a venue to make a movie that would offer some good jump scares on its base level. I remember my grandfather died, but he had been living in St. Louis, Missouri, which was half a country away. So it wasn’t really up close and personal. President Kennedy got shot when I was a kid; I think I was like in fourth grade or something like that.
You also wrote the screenplay, Bubba Ho-Tep, (2002) an adaptation of the short story by Joe R. Lansdale. Both JFK and Elvis are alive in nursing homes and they fight to save their fellow residents from an ancient Egyptian mummy. What did you like most about writing that screenplay?

It was Joe’s basic storyline, which was wonderful, but we really tried to play both characters—I know this sounds ridiculous—but we tried to play them both with dignity. As ridiculous as Elvis was, he had a lot of good qualities: he loved his mother, he was kind and respectful to most people, and we tried to treat him with respect. The same thing with our Kennedy character, even though he didn’t necessarily look like Kennedy, we always wanted to keep him very presidential.

Yet, Kennedy had a sense of humor about him and that’s why Ossie Davis played him that way in that movie. Think about it. There’s that crazy line in the movie where Davis says “but I have been dyed black.” You almost think that the real Kennedy, if he had been dyed black, would make a joke about it. It’s so ridiculous; there is a sense of humor about it.

Here you have these men who were at the top of the world and then as they grew older in age they were marginalized and basically warehoused to die. Which I hate to tell you is the fate that we all have in front of us if we live too long, you know?

That’s a real horror story, but we tried to humanize them as much as possible with Elvis lamenting about the loss of a relationship with a daughter. That would be a catastrophic thing to have happen to you. That whole thing about JFK saying ‘well, we did the best we could under the circumstances.’ It’s ridiculous, but it’s also strangely moving. You know? So, as Joe, the writer, used to say when he talked about the story, he said he always saw it as ‘ride the high country in a walker and a wheel chair,’ kind of going out in a blaze of glory.
You also wrote the screenplay for John Dies in the End (2012), based on the story by David Wong. It also dealt with traveling across time and dimensions to save the world.

What I liked was that the book was about perception and how even in our normal every day reality there are contradictions all around us. The writer who wrote that book was really brilliant. He would write these strange bits of philosophy into that and maybe I was crazy to try to keep it in, but I remember there is this one character (Roger North) played by Doug Jones who is from an altered dimension.

He’s talking about how bees work their whole lives for the service of men and he asks do they really understand what they’re doing? Then the other guy talks about there being strange things all around us like the radio waves; you can’t see them but they’re there. This whole idea that there are levels of reality and perception, and of course with both of us having grown up in the age of LSD and all that about expanding your mind, there was a lot of interesting commentary in that book that really appealed to me.

Then it’s all told as an adventure from these two slackers and there’s a lot of raw humor in it too. Do you remember when we were in high school, everybody was reading Carlos Castaneda’s books and people were taking peyote buttons and mushrooms to try to have out-of-body experiences? That’s sort of gone away. People don’t take drugs for those types of purposes anymore.
How do you get into your writing mindset?

There’s no question that music has a way of focusing and tuning you creatively. Sometimes it’s about finding the right music at the right time. You’re thinking of the right problem and you’ll have one of those ‘aha’ breakthroughs. So there’s something to it.

The whole idea of sitting at a table and just coming up with something is very hard to do it that way. Usually, when you’re doing your household stuff—you’re vacuuming, or walking the dog—something suddenly hits you. Something clicks. You think, ‘oh he could do that and that.’ Basically you’re doing the writing right at that moment, but you’re not writing. You’re doing other stuff. So then the writing’s easy.

Once you have those things, then you go back and transcribe it all down and sort of organize it. Lately, I’ve been using a phone app. It works really nicely because if you can get through the menus and get to it quickly enough you can record your ideas, but then it’s a bit of a challenge to transcribe it. You have to go through and you have to listen to every idea in the transcript, then go through and sort of edit it. Sometimes it’s more work in that respect. It’s a great way to get from your head to paper. Carrying around a pen and paper is really a hard way to access your ideas, but everyone has a phone in their pocket.

The composers for the Phantasm movies were ahead of their time.

Absolutely, but that really came about because those two composers, Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave were firmly grounded in classical music. That’s where they came from. They learned about orchestra and orchestration, but then when I met them they were just starting to produce rock bands. So they really had a fusion of both genres. They had the music chops, but they also knew what was new in that respect.

We ended up with these gorgeous thematic moments, even using choral voices. Also, we used some strange instrumentation and percussions. A lot of stuff they did was experimental where they would take a drumstick and scrape it across a cymbal or something. There was a lovely scene where we used Meinl Tabla drums, which I have started to see used more often now. It was a very different time. We were all listening to Pink Floyd and Vangelis. You know, that kind of stuff. It was great.

Please see my interview posted to Creative Screenwriting by following this link:


Presley sings about ‘Storm and Grace’ at SXSW

16 Mar

Larger than life singer-songwriter Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of the legendary Elvis, left her own musical mark March 14 in downtown Austin as part of SXSW at Quantum Collective’s third annual Southwest Invasion.

The event featured 32 artists, including Presley. Acts performed over two days, March 14 and 15, on the rooftop at Whole Foods world headquarters. Presley had performed just two days earlier at another all ages SXSW venue, Old School Bar and Grill, but her fans obviously couldn’t get enough of her.

Throngs of middle-aged women as well as plenty of young millennials of all genders, waited 20 minutes beyond her concert start time as band members worked out some sound issues. Fans took up nearly every square foot of space on Whole Food’s rooftop as both water other drink refreshments ran scarce in the late afternoon heat.

Diminutive in size and stature, Presley’s nearly waist-length red hair blew around her face as she performed in black satin skinny jeans and a matching long-sleeved jacket with red sequined cuffs. She played a tiny silver encrusted tambourine as she sang.

Although it was her first appearance at SXSW, it marked Presley’s last in the U.S. before she heads to Australia as part of her 36-city tour to promote the release of her latest album, “Storm and Grace.” Presley’s first album in seven years also marks a Universal Republic/XIX Recordings debut. Her guitarist and music producer husband, Michael Lockwood, performed alongside Presley with her band.

Presley sounded raw and powerful, singing from her collection of folk, country, and blues songs made popular throughout two decades and three albums released during her singing career. She performed “Storm and Grace,” “Over Me, and “Storm of Nails,” from her latest album.

Following the event, Presley allowed only two brief exclusive interviews: with CBS “Insider” anchors and with this contributing writer for Austin Fusion Magazine on the red carpet.

Presley said her new release has been an easy transition, now that her 5-year-old twins, Harper and Finley, have reached an age that they can travel easily along with her on her tour.

“I jumped off the train and I’ve jumped right back on it,” Presley said. “I just recorded the record (‘Storm and Grace’) and then T Bone (Burnett) got interested and then things got rolling. It really wasn’t planned or timed or not timed to get back on.”

Living in the world as the only child of late rock icon and movie star, Elvis Presley, exposed every minutia of her family’s lives to the public and to the media who have held the microscope close. Personally, however, she admits that the King still lives inside his four grandchildren.

“My son and I think all of us, have his (Elvis’) sense of humor I will say,” Presley said. “All my kids are really intense, but they’re also really sweet. So it is a good mix I would say. I’m their mom and I’m proud, but they all got his (Elvis’) humor, his intensity levels and his sweetness. They got the best of all of us, I think.”

Presley talked about her song writing process and the inspirations for lyrics that have come from living life large and with her extended family. She said that her eldest daughter, 24-year-old Riley Keough, inspired the “you” mentioned in the lyrics of the song “Forgiving” on “Storm and Grace.”

The song’s lyrics suggest Presley once sought a lesson in forgiveness from her equally famous actress daughter: “I want to find in me/that I can still believe/and be forgiving/yes I want to be like you/Can you teach me how to be forgiving…”

Keough, also the daughter of Presley’s first husband, Danny Keough, once modeled for Dolce & Gabbana, appeared on the covers of Vogue magazine, and earned her acting debut in “The Runaways” (2010). That led to a slew of other jobs acting including: “The Good Doctor” (2011), “Jack and Diane” (2012) and Steven Soderberg’s “Magic Mike” (2012).

The song shares the album’s title, “Storm and Grace,” Presley wrote about her 20-year-old son, Ben Keough, who may just be the spitting image of his late grandfather.

“Storm and Grace” song lyrics reveal his maternal ancestor’s contributions to his good looks: “You are the most beautiful man/ that I have ever known/ too much to offer/ and too much held close to the bone…”

A more private member of the Presley family, Ben Keough works as a London musician who may soon release an album himself.

Another song from Presley’s current album, “Over Me,” she admits that she wrote during a different time in her life, years before she shared it with Lockwood and their two children.

“That’s correct,” she said. “I don’t normally say who I write my songs about, but I will say that is correct. Absolutely. It’s not anybody predictable though, not anybody famous. I will say that.”

Her song “Storm and Nails” has the potential to derive universal appeal from fans who may have a tendency to give too much of themselves to others. The daily sacrifices result, as Presley poetically translates, into overwhelming feelings. Through song, she identifies herself as a “nail” being driven by large metaphorical “hammers” in her life.

“There are hammers everywhere, aren’t there? There are hammers every day in our lives, some days more than others,” Presley said. “I think that I wrote that on a particular day when there were an awful lot of them.”

The lyrics begin: “it’s been a long highway/where do I get off and drive away/ I’m looking for a sign that should say/when you’ve had enough, exit this way…” 

Born in 1968, Presley lived on her father’s Graceland estate in Memphis, Tenn., until her parents divorced when she was 4 years old. Afterwards, she split her time between both of her parents’ homes, including the one she shared in L.A. with her mother, Priscilla Presley.

She married four times, first to Keough in 1988; in 1994 they divorced and she married another rock icon, Michael Jackson. They divorced two years later and in 2002 she married actor Nicolas Cage. That marriage ended in divorce only 108 days later.

Presley released her debut album in 2003, “To Whom It May Concern,” which reached No. 5 on Billboard magazine’s top 200 charts. The album went gold in 2005 and in 2007 she released a posthumous duet with her late father for the single, “In the Ghetto.” That song reached No. 1 on iTunes and No. 16 on singles’ charts for Billboard. In 2006, Lisa Marie Presley married Lockwood and the couple currently divides their time living in either of two homes located in both the US and the UK.

At this time in her life, Presley appears finally comfortable in her own skin. She has become the woman, singer-songwriter, mother, and wife that destiny always meant for her to become. The song off the album, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” sounds like a mantra more than a proclamation.

The song’s lyrics ring self-evident: “I’m a bit transgressive and suppressive as well/you ain’t seen nothin’ yet…”

Presley said that her husband has contributed to her personal and very public metamorphosis. His wife’s images dominate Lockwood’s official website.

“Oh Michael has grounded me. He’s been very inspirational,” Presley said. “He’s the boss of the band when we’re working, absolutely. But actually we’re a team. I wouldn’t say that anyone is the boss really. He knows what he’s doing and I sort of know what I’m doing sometimes. When I don’t, he sort of helps me back in the right direction.”

Though they did not write any of the songs on her album together, the two have collaborated during intimate showcase concerts like the one on Whole Foods’ rooftop recently. Lockwood wore a tall black top hat, black pants and a jacket with an Ace of Clubs emblem and played four of his favorite Gretch guitars.

“We just haven’t written together, but he was really behind my collaborating with Richard Hawley and Ed Harcourt. He was kind of championing me from behind, you know?” she said.

Hawley, a former member of the band, Pulp, provides some bluesy harmony vocals on the album and blends well with Lisa Marie Presley’s husky voice. Harcourt helped to write “Weary,” one of the songs for “Storm and Grace.” Sacha Skarbek, whose credits include working with Adele, James Blunt and Lana Del Rey, also collaborated on the album.

Next in her tour, Presley heads for Hornsby, Australia, where she performs March 19-April 3 before embarking for Tokyo, Japan. She returns to the U.S. for a Midwest tour April 29 before heading to the East Coast through June 14 through 22, followed by a few short appearances in Canada to end the month.

She also supports two charities: Presley Place and Presley Charitable Foundation. She also works closely with the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, self-described as a mental health “watchdog” organization that fights against crimes against psychiatric patients. She also supports the Dream Factory, created by Avril Mills, former fundraiser and manager for Haven House Children’s Hospice.


Published by Austin Fusion magazine at: http://austinfusionmagazine.com/2014/03/16/lisa-marie-presley-plays-quantum-collectives-southwest-invasion

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