Ethan Wiley [Interview]
May 28, 2013 Leave a comment
In a world so obsessed with notoriety and acclaim, there are brilliant minds in the film industry that tend to go unnoticed to the outside world but hold great accord within the industry and the products we know and love, and see virtually every day, would not be the same without them. Case in point – the illustrious Ethan Wiley. In so many different shapes and forms, he has been involved in some of the greatest sagas in film history. From writing and directing the classic 80’s horror film series House, to chiming in in his own right to the Friday the 13th series, Gremlins, Star Wars, etc., etc. And there are his original inputs like the latest christmas romp featuring Wee-Man of the hit television show Jackass, and his forthcoming feature, China Bigfoot: Legend of the Yeren featuring Sasha Jackson.
This is a man who is constantly giving his greatest efforts in the film, and music, industry and has literally produced nothing short of greatness. His tireless effort to provide great cinema will definitely not go unnoticed as he proceeds to wow audiences across the globe. We were for fortunate enough to steal a few words from the man himself to tell us about the glory days of yesteryears, and what the future holds for this great artist. So check it out folks, this is a great one for ya!
In your early days, you were a special effects guru, designed some very well known creatures like Gremlins. You even worked on a small independent 1983 film called Return of the Jedi. What was your role in the final film of that little known saga?
Guru is an overused word, which I use all of the time. I happened to get a job literally sweeping the floors of the creature shop at ILM, and then when things got busy I got my first assignment: making Ewok feet. Then soon after, I was called to the 2nd unit location in Northern California (still the biggest movie I ever worked on) and was an Ewok “wrangler” helping outfit and costume the Ewoks for filming. What a time to be in that world, surrounded by people such as Joe Johnston, Dennis Muren, Ken Ralston, Phil Tippett — even a young guy named David Fincher was in the camera department.
Later I left ILM to become employee #1 for Chris Walas, who left to start his own company, CWI. After bidding on several movies, we finally landed Gremlins. I worked on Gremlins for almost 2 years, from initial design phases to puppeteering for the movie. It was an amazing experience, everyone was so cool with allowing a hungry 21-year-old kid to follow them around and ask stupid questions. Joe let me sit in on picture editing sessions, Mark Mangini let me watch him edit the sound. Chris Columbus took me to dinner to share some of his hard-knock screenwriting experiences. I learned so much working on that movie.
What sort of consideration goes into creating, not just a sequel, but a 5th addition to a well loved series as you did in Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror? How much do you reference the 4 previous films?
I had seen the original film, but not the sequels. The first thing was to sit down and watch all the films so I wouldn’t go into Miramax and pitch something that might already have been done. Dimension was definitely in “Scream” mode and wanted the movie populated by a group of hip, attractive 20-somethings. I happened to have a total unknown named Eva Mendes walk in the door to audition. So I tried to go back to the basic premise of “what if a real cult of children existed”? How would it function, why had this group of children ended up on this rural farm? So I explored the idea of these children having been abused and neglected by the adult world, so they create a “religion” and isolate themselves from the “adult” world. And then added lots of sharp objects that rip through people in various ways.
You’re film Elf-Man is one I might share with my small children. The rest of your body of work for the most part, not so much. What made you decide to enter the world of making a family friendly film? Was it a tough transition?
No, actually, it was pretty easy to go in that direction for me. If my work has one connective thread, I believe it is creating worlds where “imagination” or “fantasy” play a big part in the storytelling. Also, I hope that my movies usually have a sense of humor, so I’ve always loved writing comedy. House 2 is pretty much a children’s movie in a lot of ways. Why family films? Because there’s a market for them, and it’s a nice change of pace from gore and slasher flicks.
I understand you are also quite the musician, and have even released an instrumental album. Care to tell us a bit about this? What do you play?
I play mandolin and mandocello mostly, also guitar and bass. After I moved to New York in the ’90’s, I became good friends with guitarist Jon Sholle, who had toured and recorded with two of my mandolin heroes, David Grisman and Andy Statman. One day I got the courage to play Jon four-track demos for my tunes and he was really impressed and said we should record them. So, we gathered some of the best acoustic musicians on the East Coast and we put out the CD, which thankfully was very well received. If anybody’s curious you can hear the music at www.meanbunny.bandcamp.com. I also play on soundtracks, do some gigs around town and record on other people’s CD’s. My greatest claim to fame was opening for Chris Thile (Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers, a MacArthur Genius) when he was eight years old. I was just so thankful I went on BEFORE him, instead of after, or I never would’ve gotten up on the stage. Sometime I’ll get to making another CD, but the movies keep me pretty busy lately.
How did you come to be the man behind those great little ditties from Jason X?
I was good friends with the late Jim Isaac (who tragically passed away last year from cancer). We grew up together and worked on many movies together. He needed end credit and source music and was in a panic because they were about to start their final mix. He called me on a Friday night, because he knew I had a pretty good knowledge of music and musicians. He told me he needed some “space anthem rock” and did I know someone who could deliver him six minutes of music by Monday morning? I said, Jon and I will take a crack at it. We sent him the tracks, he loved them and put them in the movie. We went for a purposely “retro-futuristic rock rave space” music and it turned out pretty well, thanks to Jon’s insane guitar wizardry and despite my dubious keyboard skills.
Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming project The Quarry?
The Quarry is actually on the back burner at the moment and we have some other projects that will be coming along sooner. I just finished directing China Bigfoot: Legend Of The Yeren , shot in the remote mountains of rural China. We’re currently in post-production. Chris Walas did the creature design and we also wrote the script together, so it’s been fun working with my old boss again, after many years. Chris also did the Elf-Man design and created a lot of the fun props for the movie. Richard Jefferies is now my partner in Wiseacre FIlms, and he’ll direct a new family “dog” movie next, which we just wrote. We’re also prepping Elf- Man 2 , and we’re in talks to do another Chinese creature movie.
What was the last thing that made you smile?
Or laugh out loud? A great new documentary about the wild life of Cream drummer Ginger Baker. Beware of Mr. Barker. Highly recommended.