Actor and co-writer of Things Barry J. Gillis answers a few questions about his Super 8 cult hit Things!
Chip Parton: With VHS/ Betamax being the “technology of the future” for low budget horror films in the 80’s, what was the motive for filming with Super 8mm? Was it budgetary restraints, or did you just prefer the looks? Especially since Things was made for the VHS market.
Barry J. Gillis: Shooting on Super 8 was Andy’s Idea… (Andrew Jordan) Andy convinced me that shooting on Super 8 would look great. He showed me some movies/footage that were shot on Super 8, and I believe he told me that Aerosmith had shot a music video in Super 8 that was so impressive that they had to cheapen/dullen the footage to make it look more like a home movie. Anyway, the bottom line is that we were determined to shoot on film to get the cinema look. We had begun shooting BRUTAL VIOLENCE which was a total disaster on a zero budget, using a regular RCA video camera that my father bought me for Christmas… It was a second hand camera that I put money down on, and many months later was still not paid off, and we wanted to shoot a movie. Back then video cameras had a problem with light. You would get an afterburn effect when moving away from a light,etc,etc… We packed in BRUTAL VIOLENCE not long after we started shooting it. A few clips are playing on the T.V. in THINGS) However, we learned a few lessons from our experience shooting the never to be BRUTAL VIOLENCE, and one of those lessons was that we should shoot on film if we ever hoped to get our next movie distributed. (The movie that we were going to unleash upon humanity, hehehhehe) Another lesson that we learned was that we were going to need some money to shoot a movie. It wasn’t like today… where with dogged determination and no money you can actually shoot a feature film. You had to have some kind of money to pull off what we wanted to do… What did we want to do??? We wanted to make a movie that would be distributed to video stores, and even play on Canada’s First Choice/Super Channel if it was good enough… In any event, the original footage looked awesome. It is sharp and clear. It is nothing short of amazing. The muddy look comes from the transfer. Andy and I could not believe the crappy transfer that we got onto 3/4 tape by the company that did the transfer. By then there was no turning back. All of the movie was shot with the exception of Amber Lynn’s scenes. (Which we shot in one hour) Mel Lieberman put up the $2500.00 hundred dollars cash for Amber Lynn. We still have the original Super 8 footage which is unbelievable. The Intervison release is the best quality version of THINGS ever available because the picture did not go through a bunch of various processes before going onto the DVD this time. (Or before VHS copies were made when Mel released the movie)
CP: While we’re on the topic of Super 8, I can’t help but notice the slight resemblance of the “Things” to the tumor monsters in The Abomination (and in hindsight, some of the underdeveloped creatures also had a large resemblance to the alien spawns in Deadly Spawn). Did Abomination, or any other low-budget film, inspire the appearance of the “Things”?
BJG: I haven’t seen THE ABOMINTAION, nor have I seen DEADLY SPAWN, although I may have seen a few clips of DEADLY SPAWN. I’m not sure if any low budget film inspired Andy to draw what he did. All I know was that Andy drew up this picture in pencil from his brain and Glen Orr made the original Irving. The first THINGS creature made was named Irving by Glenn Orr. The rest were clones. It moved really great, etc,etc… However that all changed when goo and gunk got all over IRVING…
BJG: I honestly cannot remember how many were made. There may have been 40 or 50. I do remember that Andy and I helped during the molding process to keep costs down. It was Glenn Orr’s idea to use crab legs, and I believe they were king crab legs that were bought in Toronto’s Chinatown. There was some kind of rubberized substance used as well. I can assure you that none of the creatures were made of paper mache as some of the reviews throughout the years allude too… hehehhe Andy would be a better candidate for this question, and the last question as well.
CP: Did any other films influence Things? Not the look of the creatures per say, but certain scenes like the drill rampage or the footage of Dr. Lucas. I know the drill on the cover of the VHS and original DVD (which is different than what’s used in the film) looks strikingly like the one used in the semi-popular SOV slasher Dreamaniac. Was this a possible influence as well? Or am I just a hopeless nerd that’s seen way too many shitty movies…
BJG: Andy and I never set out to directly copycat any other feature films. Neither of us believe in copycatting. Andy had a copy of DREAMANIAC and he showed it to me after he had already watched it. Which was the case most of the time. Andy had the best collection of movies around, and he made a point of showing me all of the direct to video movies that he could. Including BOARDINGHOUSE as well. These movies were more of an influence in terms of, "They did it, so we can do it." kind of thing. The giant drill bit was not planned. We shot the poster at Glenn Orrs after most of the movie was shot. Glenn lived in a warehouse with tools, gadgets, and all kinds of motorized stuff around as well. I believe a day before the poster shoot, or days before, or whenever we were discussing the shoot with Glenn and setting up some of the decorations for the poster shoot, he produced this giant drill bit. I can remember laughing, and laughing, and I can remember Andy laughing, and whoever else was around. We had already shot most of the footage for the movie. The main movie shoot was over and we had already shot the scene with the electric drill and a small drill bit… but, what the hell… It’s our movie and even though this giant sized drill bit wasn’t used in the movie, what the heck, let’s go with it on the poster. So the day of the shoot I remember asking Glenn where the drill bit was. Come to think of it, I believe Glenn played a little bit of a game because he knew how much we wanted to use the giant drill bit for the poster. I can remember him giving us a couple of big drill bits to choose from on the day of the shoot, but neither matched the size of the one that we had already witnessed. Andy and I were wondering where the monster sized drill bit was. I cannot remember every detail at this moment, but I know like kids in a candy store, we were drooling to use the drill bit as seen on the poster, and Glenn played some kind of game of witholding it from us for awhile before he decided to go somewhere in private and bring it to us. I remember we were very happy when he finally appeared with what we really wanted. In all honestly, who knows what was going on in our brains and how we were consciously and subconsciously influenced by Cronenberg and every other crazy movie coming down the pike.
CP: Information on the VHS of Things is pretty scarce here in the states. Could you comment on the VHS release?
BJG: I will assure you that THINGS was released on VHS in 1989 in Canada and in the United States of America. I ended up being hired by Mel Lieberman and I personally made phone calls to VHS wholesalers/distributors in Canada and the U.S.A. Lieberman had released upwards of 100 movies or more on VHS. He was the president of Lettuce Entertain You Inc. Vestron turned down THINGS after seeing the trailer, and I think we may have sent the trailer somewhere else and never heard back. So we decided that we would give Lettuce a try. Since Lettuce had a Toronto address on their VHS movies, we thought what the hell, let’s contact this company and see what happens. Mel Lieberman was responsible and released ITALIAN STALLION starring Sylvester Stallone in North America. He bought the rights and sat on the movie for a year he told me. He was a little worried that someone might pay him a "little visit" if he released the movie. Stallone was a Hollywood Superstar when he bought the rights off of someone in England. Anyway, I sold that movie as well as everything else in the Lettuce stable of movies. Some of the movies were released under other labels. The only other thing I can say about the VHS release is that people were stealing the movie. They would rent THINGS and not return the movie. In those days there were sometimes hundreds of video stores in big cities. Even the smallest towns had a few video stores or more. Some pizza joints and even laundry cleaning places would rent movies out as well. Everybody and their mother owned a video store in those days, and they were cropping up everywhere as well. I would visit various video stores in Toronto and ask about THINGS, and I was hearing that the movie was never returned. Some stores had 3 or more copies, and you would walk in and the movie box would be on the shelf in some instances, but the movie wasn’t returned since who knows when. At the time, I wasn’t sure if people were just not returning the movie like a library book that was overdue, or if they just wanted to own a copy of the movie. With the invention of the internet, and the internet age, it became very clear that THINGS was rented and never returned because people wanted to own a copy. I have heard this story from fans that I have met in person as well. After The B movie market went bust, and Lieberman walked away from the distribution business, there was no more copies of THINGS being sold or manufactured, and I guess with very little supply of something around, demand goes up. Neither Andy or I knew that THINGS was making the impact that it was on some people that watched the movie. With the invention of the Internet, we started getting e-mails from fans, and we started realizing that our movie had a following. Getting back to your original question, original VHS copies of THINGS are sold on E-Bay every now and then.
CP: The lighting is especially interesting. I’m very curious to know what prompted the heavy use of vibrant colors in most scenes.
BJG: The lighting was Andy’s idea. He bought these plastic gels or whatever they were called that would go over the lights. There was blue, red, and green that I can remember. There may have even been yellow. I think Andy may have been influenced by Argento, or some Italian films, but I’m not 100% sure on that one. At this particular moment in time I cannot remember. I just remember going along with Andy’s various color gels, and thinking how cool that it was to be getting all of these fantastic colors. We did discuss using certain colors for certain scenes.
CP: You mentioned earlier that audio was recorded, but dumped because of inferior quality. Was the original track as goofy and hokey as the dub that was used? Or was that how you coped with having to re-do almost 90 minutes of audio work?
BJG: Most of the audio track was recorded word for word from what I remember. We kept dubbing and dubbing until it seemed to match the original. Some of the off screen audio was thrown in later. What alot of people don’t know is that Bruce Roach came up with alot of the dialogue when he dies in the room where the creatures burst out of Susan’s stomach. I always liked the part where he says, "Huh, what?" hahhaha. This is when one of the THINGS bites the electric cord of his chainsaw and he knows that he is doomed to be eaten alive by horrible THINGS.
CP: I jokingly remarked in the review that Amber Lynn’s involvement was probably because “a friend of a friend knew her and she agreed to shoot a few minutes of footage”. Was I in the right ballpark, or what’s the real story behind her appearance?
BJG: It was announced that she was going to be stripping at The House Of Lancaster in Toronto. I think that I saw this in the paper and mentioned it to Andy. Although it could have happened the other way around as well. In any event, an idea was hatched to offer her money that we never had to be in THINGS. Mel Lieberman ended up putting up the cash. If it wasn’t for Mel Lieberman Amber Lynn would not have been in our movie. After her performance we approached her when she was taking Polaroid’s and signing posters, etc, etc. She was one of the biggest porn stars at the time, if not the biggest. She told us that we had to talk to her agent. We offered $1000 dollars. That offer was turned down by her agent/boyfriend but not before he gave us his business card… Somehow we came up with $2500.00 dollars for an hour of her time. We figured that this offer would not be easy to turn down. We talked to her and Umberto lots. Now we only had one problem, how are we going to pay for her? Andy’s parents were not putting another dime into the movie, and we were busted. Let’s just say hours and hours of phone calls were made to Mel Lieberman from a telephone booth in Toronto, and there was lots of begging and convincing. When he said yes, we knew that we had Amber Lynn. There was some crazy time line that was set up, and we had to get back to Amber Lynn with an answer about when we would be shooting because she was going to the United States to do more shows. I believe that she was being paid $25,000 dollars per week to strip in clubs at that time. I believe that it was 4 shows per day. She was the first or one of the first porn stars to start stripping for money, and the coin being made by porn stars then to strip was huge.
CP: I’m sure you knew this question was coming… what the hell happened to Fred in the mouse hole?
BJG: Actually, I never knew this question was coming. This is the first I have ever been asked this question, hahahhha I believe that Bruce couldn’t make it for filming and we had to keep moving forward. This happened a few times where people could not make it. However, the show must go on when you are making a movie. We had to move on and continue making THINGS, and we had to have him go away after the electricity went out mainly because he was there before the lights went out, but not after. Some of the stuff we were coming up with is so absurd, or unbelievable that I often wonder what the hell we were thinking. Hahhahhahah
CP: The ending almost had a slight sequel bait vibe. Was a second film planed? And does the potential new wave of fans make a sequel a possibility?
BJG: There was no second film planned from what I remember at the time. That’s not to say that it was never discussed. We were just glad to get our first movie made. It is a miracle that THINGS was completed, and distributed. Everything, and anything that could go wrong did go wrong. I just had the same experience shooting THE KILLING GAMES, and to a lesser extent WICKED WORLD. I think every movie has its challenges. If there is a fan out there with access to an investor with a million or more dollars we could make a great sequel. I have personally learned alot after being involved in three feature film shoots, and I can guarantee that if Andy and I made a sequel that it would be over the top, and you would see some truly amazing filmmaking. Money is the biggest key now. We’ve learned the filmmaking lessons the hard way. THE KILLING GAMES trailer is on YouTube, and is being used as my demo on IMDB.com as well. It can be watched in 1080 H.D. on YouTube. (click the 1080 H.D option) I am currently in post production on THE KILLING GAMES and anyone in their right mind can see major improvements in filmmaking technique. I don’t want to discuss the budget for THE KILLING GAMES at this time, but for very little money it is amazing what has been captured. I never ever attended film school, I learned from the school of hard knocks as is evidenced by anybody who has seen THINGS, and/or WICKED WORLD. I believe THINGS should be watched by anyone who is interested in making movies. I believe that THINGS is one of those movies that can help potential filmmakers in a list of endless ways. Also, I will say that if anyone, or any company wants to buy the rights to make a sequel for THINGS, Andy and I are up for that as well. We’re even up for a remake. Andy and I are the copyright owners of THINGS, so the only way that a sequel or a franchise can be created is to come to us. There is potentially millions to be made for the intelligent investor or company that wants to buy or license the rights and produce a sequel.
CP: I’ve heard a series of comics were in the works. How’s that project going? Is there any other spin-off merchandise available/ in the works?
BJG: A comic book of THINGS exists. Rue Morgue Magazine reviewed the comic awhile back… Ed Brisson and K.C. Green created the comic book. Brisson even wrote a cool prequel.
CP: Last questions. Things has gained a decently good sized cult following. Did you expect it to become as popular as it has? Also the celebrity testimonies on the DVD make me curious to any unmentioned celebrity fans you know of?
BJG: I honestly didn’t know what to expect in terms of a cult following. I think Andy would say the same thing. For a movie to become a true cult film is something that I believe many filmmakers wish for, but to actually have your movie become a certified cult classic is some kind of a miracle. Andy and I are very happy with the Intervison release and what Evan Husney is doing with the movie. I personally can hardly wait to see the DVD and all of the new extras. THINGS is the movie it has become because of the fans, and some of the fans own websites such as Paul Corupe who runs Canuxploitation.com, Robin Bougie of Cinemasewer.com, and the list goes on and on of fans who have helped bring THINGS to the attention of the outer world. Every single one of them knows who they are and I cannot say enough about all of them for what they have done for the movie. I absolutely loved HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN and I am personally looking forward to seeing Director Jason Eisener and producer Rob Cotterill of HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN discussing THINGS or whatever they are doing with weird THINGS style lighting in a kitchen somewhere. I guess the guys from Bleeding Skull are on the extras, Joseph A. Ziemba and Dun Budnik as well as the Cinefamily, and another THINGS-ite named Joey Izzo. By the way, Steve Szczepaniak coined the term THINGS-ite. I hear rumors of celebrity fans out there, however until they decide to take the plunge like Eisener and Cotterill and announce to the world that one of their secret pleasures is watching THINGS, I’ll leave their names to remain off the record.
Before we wrap up this interview Chip, I meant to say that Amber Lynns scenes were shot in 16mm film. We also chose Super 8 for most of the movie because we couldn’t afford 35mm or 16mm for the entire movie. We didn’t want to have Amber Lynn back out when she saw a Super 8 camera, so this is why we shot her scenes in 16mm. As far as the drill bit goes, I believe that we brought the same drill bit along for the front cover color photo which was done many months after the original black and white poster shoot. The color drill shot and the chicks legs with the Irving were taken in Grand Rapids, Michigan by Dean Wilson for the original VHS cover art. I meant to also say that there were some T-shirts available in the past as well. Andy and I will be discussing some merchandising ideas when I get to Toronto at the end of this month. We are planning on doing a special edition reprint of the poster. This would be a short run, and all posters would be signed and numbered by us… We are looking into this now actually. The reason that we are going to do this is that there are only a few original posters left of THINGS from the original printing. The original poster is 28 by 40. It’s a big sucker. Anyway, getting back to a sequel. Can you imagine Bruce Campbell in THINGS part 2 and him fighting all kinds of THINGS, and new creatures,etc,etc… With really awesome special effects??? Now that would be a great movie…
CP: Haha, sounds awesome. I’ll be sure to post any additional info on Things Merch in the near future. As for the sequel- that MUST happen, haha. Thanks for your time, Barry. It’s been awesome talking with you.
BJG: Thank You for your time, Chip