Brian Vander Ark & Jeff Daniels: Simple Truths [Album]


Longtime reader(s) of Trainwreck’d will definitely remember an interview we did with Brian Vander Ark a few years ago that was a real treat to add to the collection. Such a sweet and wonderfully talented dude. And in that interview, we brought up the fact that The latest album from his group The Verve Pipe happened to feature some guitar work from a man that I had always assumed was just an amazing actor, Jeff Daniels, (one of the greatest performances in a film since Nicholson in Cuckoo’s Nest was from Jeff with his performance in The Squid and the Whale), but turned out to have a bit of guitar chops to him as well. I remember going back and checking out some more work and live videos and what not of Jeff playing and singing and seriously had a thought that went sort of like this: “Man, it would be so cool if Brian and Jeff put out an album together. That would be so cool.” Well folks, I am hear to tell you that I might be a god damned fortune teller, because here we are now. Although I will admit, I could have never guessed just how great a full blown collaboration between the two would be. And I’m also here to tell you folks, it’s really is that damn good. I’d like tell you more if you would care to listen.

Simple Truths is a spectacular album through and through. I feel like I need to get that out first off. For fans of very straight forward country & blues driven songs, this album will simply blow your mind. The songs are mostly dark, yet only mildly depressing. But the sadness seems to only walk the brink along the lines of Johnny Cash’s work with Rick Rubin in his later years before circling back into their own special brand of cool & collective brand of exploration into the simple truths (pun intended) of life, love, worry, regret, and the metaphorically emptied bar stool of death and loss. And I can’t forget to mention, the tracks are catchy as hell at points!

Some of the songs touch on some very serious matters that feel deeply personal and the likes of which we can only imagine spark a fire deep in the soul of both Brian and Jeff. Brian’s tearjerker of track “Behold the Brave” made me want to reach out to my own father as fast as digitally possible to remind him that I love him. And Jeff’s political lament within “Another American Down” can fuel the fire of anyone searching for answers in these strange and trying political times, but just can’t quite seem to find the answers. Some very serious shit is happening here, and it is truly amazing. But, it’s not all gloom and sadness, I must add. The Vander Ark voiced “Four Wheel Drive” is a nice twang infused down home country song that will get your toes a tapping’ before the blues come back around. I wouldn’t say it is a “silly song”, but it’s about as lighthearted as you are going to get, and is just a truly fun song to embrace before the dark.

But, the darkness definitely comes swiftly back around with two tracks that are personally my favorite of the bunch. “Forevers Over Just Like That” is a seriously dark track that brings the album as close as it ever gets to the fore mentioned Cash & Rubin sessions. It’s so dark, yet might be able to be misinterpreted and as a full on suicide note to the average listener. But, a listener who may dig deeper into a listen should recognize that that is not entirely true. I won’t pretend to know what exactly Daniels is getting at (I’d love to ask him someday!) with the song, I just know that it is so damn real and beautiful and is just about one of the most beautiful blues heavy country songs I have heard in the last decade (and I listen to a shit ton of Blitzen Trapper, mind you!). The other track, and my favorite by far I have to had, is another one fronted Jeff called “Hurry Home” that is absolutely mesmerizing with it’s old school country vibe that feels like it could have been toured with the Highwaymen several decades ago. It’s absolutely brilliant, straight forward, blues driven country music. It has all of the elements that make country music incredible, and none of the elements that make it a disgusting mess at time. I don’t say this too often…but I truly believe that “Hurry Home” is a a perfectly arranged song. The chorus is catchy, the story is heart felt, and Daniels is at his height of blues craftsmanship on this track.


Overall, I have to say, listening to this album is an all around wonderful experience. It has taken a lot of effort lately for me to really dig in to find new music that is worthwhile and can make me turn off a podcast every now and again, to hear a story set to some well played music. And that is exactly what Simple Truths can be summed up as: A brilliant collection of stories with some amazing guitar work and outstanding vocals. Just a damn good album altogether.

You can pick up a copy of the album at, which also where you can discover a lot more of his music work that is also incredible. You can find more stuff form Brian and And for those of you who may be new to TWS, you can check out our previous interview with Brian, as well as our review for The Verve Pipe’s Overboard, in which we originally talked about how great Jeff’s guitar work was, and what would eventually lead me to realize that maybe I can see the future, but I may never understand just how bright it can be. Because these guys exceeded all expectations with this amazing album!

Casper Kelly [Interview]

12/5/2016 Adult Swim Chris Casper Kelly Photo Jeremy Freeman

12/5/2016 Adult Swim Chris Casper Kelly Photo Jeremy Freeman

We have an amazing interview for you fine folks today! By some type of possible miracle, we have manage to convince the incredible Chris ‘Casper” Kelly to share a few words with us about his amazing career that is truly just beginning to flourish. Fans of Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell will know him by name. Others who may not spend much time in the wee hours of the night watching Adult Swim and eating garbage food may not. But, I can almost guarantee they have seen his brilliant short that was a massive success entitled Too Many Cooks. And if you have not seen that one, folks, climb out from under that proverbial rock and get with the fucking now!

All that being said, We are honored that Casper Kelly was willing to be featured on the site, and we are ecstatic to keep following his career that can only lead to even more success in the future. He is the mastermind behind Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell, which will be returning to Adult Swim in April. And if you are so out of the loop at this point, please watch the video following the amazing words only if you want to have your mind completely blown and your life changed forever. Or just to laugh, like a whole lot. Please enjoy some words with the amazing Casper Kelly!

How did you find yourself in your current business?

A mixture of obsession, flexibility, and luck. I had done cartoon strips, short films, and short stories in high school and college. When I graduated my first movie job was working as a PA for a horror film called Basket Case 3 (which I would later find out also employed Aqua Teen’s Matt Malliero and our SFX make up artist Shane Morton). My parents would wait up and see me come home at 2am from a long day of production with a big smile on my face. I was hooked from there.
Did you know you wanted to write and create television at a young age?

Yes. I remember seeing The Year without a Santa Claus with Heat Miser and that just haunted me. I wanted to make a cartoon with it but I couldn’t so I did a comic book. But I was too young to know how to write words so I just put scratches where I thought the words should be.

How did you manage to become such a staple in the Adult Swim community? And what was Cartoon Network like in those early days?

I started in the Cartoon Network promo department where I did things like a Scooby Doo Blair Witch parody and a promo, for example, where Fred Flinstone, Thundarr, and Chicken from Cow and Chicken, are all hunting for a parking space after lunch. Working there was totally freewheeling and fun and wonderful. Michael Ouweleen (Birdman) hired me and would have us take improv classes or take us to New Orleans for inspiration. He was also kind enough to let me write for his show when that started. One Christmas the executives put on a performance of A Charlie Brown Christmas. I believe Mike Lazzo was Woodstock but I can’t remember sure.

As far as being an Adult Swim “staple” I’m flattered. I’ll just say I was a superfan before I worked there so I offered to write on any of those shows that would have me. I love it so much. If I worked somewhere else I would still watch all those shows. And it’s crazy that all these years later it is still good, still surprises me. I’ve been nursing a desire to write an oral history of Adult Swim for some time.


Where did the idea for Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell stem from? Essentially, what is the origin story of this fine program?

It started with an idea for a short film I had that I ended up making with Dave Willis who added to it and made it better. It was about a cult that promises an afterlife with a thousand virgins and a river of milk and cotton candy and all that. These guys join the cult and go to that afterlife but the joke is after a million years of it they hate it – they hate the virgins, the cotton candy, etc. and they end up trying to make a rocket ship out of virgin bones to escape.

Well, a side story of that short was one of the friends didn’t quite follow the rules exactly so he was across the cotton candy river in hell getting stabbed over and over for a million years. Dave Willis played the demon stabbing him over and over. And Dave and I started joking while editing that it is just as horrible for the demon as the guy getting whipped. And we thought that might be a good idea for a show. And it was!

Your hilarious short Too Many Cooks is still one of the finest airings to ever appear on the televised screen. And it was quite a hit in the internets. Where you at all surprised by its success? Was the the reaction to it anywhere near what you expected it to be? Why or why not?

Thank you! I was very shocked and truly expected it to drop without a trace. Even during the editing of it (which took a lot longer than I expected) I kept wondering why I was spending so much time on it instead of a “real” project like a TV pilot. But it’s funny that Your Pretty Face started from a one off short film so I’ve had a lot of good things happen from these short films I did purely for fun rather than some calculated career plan.

Cast of "Too Many Cooks"

Cast of “Too Many Cooks”

What do the early stages of developing a show entail for you? What gives you the feeling that an original idea you are having is something that can be both hilarious and successful?

It’s a fairly simple answer that I’ve learned from Dave Willis. It’s just a feeling, a good feeling. And if the idea makes people laugh when you just describe the basics. Dave works intuitively rather than intellectualizing things too much. You just start joking around with a writing partner about an idea and if the ideas keep coming and you’re laughing it’s a good sign.

What are some things our readers/your fans brought to us via Twitter or something similar can look forward to in the coming future from you? Anything to plug?

I’ve been doing radio plays for a podcast called The Truth which people have liked – the first one is called The Dark End of the Mall. We have the second half of season three of Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell airing in April of 2017. I’m writing a movie. I’m doing another 4 a.m. short. I’m doing a bunch of things. I probably need to get smarter about prioritizing.
When the pending apocalypse finally does begin to set in, and so many are annihilated, including yourself, how would you like the unfortunate survivors to remember you? What do you feel are your most memorable contributions to the world of art and entertainment?

I hope I’m remembered as a corpse that provided a good meal for someone that was desparately hungry and my meat helped them live another day in order to make it to the military outpost where they’ll be safe.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

The Greasy Strangler! That really rang my bell.

Jim Wynorski [Interview]


Today’s interview is, well, interesting. The subject of today’s questions is an accomplished filmmaker in the world of exploitive and horror films. The abundance of credits this man has amassed over the years is quite impressive in his field. To keep it simple, this man means business when he creates. And he is also not a huge fan of us, as you will soon read.

I have been asked by my respected colleagues, “Why would you want to put this out there?”. For me, the answer is simple. Trainwreck’d Society IS Jim Wynorski, whether he wants to believe it or not. When it comes to blogging and “journalism” as we see it, I can not pretend that we are on par with the likes of The Village Voice or even Entertainment Weekly. No, we are not concerned about image, we just do what we like and what we think others may like, with no real concern for popularity, and at times, quality. It is the exact reason we have turned down suggested interviews with certain YouTube “celebrities” or folks in the world of film and music that simply do not appeal to us, but might have gotten us a few extra clicks. We may not have created a solid fan base that is based around one certain ideal, but we have stuck to one idealism: Feature what interests us. Basically, if we have no interest in the subject, we just can’t do it. We will not fake it. That being said, we happen to be interested in ALOT of shit. So, take that as you will.

But how does this make us like Jim Wynorski? We are due to the fact that we will continue to pump out products that we find interesting, and do it at an alarming rate. In the world of blogging, we have always been pretty exploitive, and explorative (not a word, but you’ll understand this one later). The consequences of these actions does have a downside at times. The downside being we may not put out the purest product and can get sloppy from time to time. Which, again, is very Jim Wynorski like. But when you are pumping out so much content so quickly, things are bound to slip through the cracks. And Jim Wynorski was a man who was not afraid to call us out on that. And for this, we are extremely thankful for his insight.

More importantly, we are fans of Jim’s work. As we stated, he has a lot of it out there. So we wanted to ask a bit about some of the things he has done over the years. And despite Jim’s mild attempts to thwart us because of our ignorance, he still managed to give some great insight into some products we have loved over the years. So please enjoy a very interesting interview with legendary filmmaker, Jim Wynorski!

What initially made you want to get into the world of filmmaking? Was it early an early aspiration or did you sort of stumble upon it?

Ron, horrible first question. I’ve been asked this a hundred times before. I liked horror movies as a kid growing up on Long Island. I made commercials in New York before moving out to Hollywood to try my luck there. I wanted three things…money, chicks and most importantly to make entertaining B-movies like Roger Corman, Bert I. Gordon and Herman Cohen.

And when did your work with Roger Corman begin? What were some of the early projects you worked on for him?

Anybody with a computer can look this up on IMDB. Everything’s listed. A better question would be “Which famous actress did you sleep with first?”.

I’ve heard tales of the breakneck pace and a budget strains of working on a Corman production. So how was this experience for you? What are some fond memories you have of this time?

Making commercials in the Big Apple prepared me for the pace. Fond memories include nude pool parties, cashing big checks and helping move a giant 15-foot-tall maggot onto a set to rape a shapely astronaut in Galaxy of Terror.



You have had a great deal of success in the world of horror and exploration [meant to be exploitation], often blending the genres. How did you end of gravitating towards this line of work? And what keeps you wanting [to] create these very entertaining pieces of art?

Call the grammar police and alert the spelling committee – I’ve made dozens of horror flicks but never once did an ‘exploration’ film. I assume you meant ‘exploitation.’ Did you read these questions back to yourself even once before sending them to me? Don’t think so. And you also left out the word “to” between ‘wanting create.’ Is this indicative of your blog? I know it’s called Train Wreck, but it feels more like a devastating plane crash.

To answer your question, I like horror and exploitation flicks. I always try to combine the best elements of both genres in my pictures. What keeps me active is that very few others are doing it right, at least in my less-than-humble opinion. With 165 movies(or more) to my credit, I’m hoping to hit the 200 mark before heading up to the big grind house in the sky.
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In 1991 you became a part of the cult classic Beastmaster franchise with Beastmaster 2:
Through the Portal of Time
. What drew you to this world? And what are your thoughts on your contribution to the franchise?

Producer Sylvio Tabet lured me into the sequel with the prospect of writing and directing. He’d made the first film, but then waited close to seven years to make the second. Along with my writing partner, R. J. Robertson, we wrote him a helluva good screenplay. Then at the last moment, he pulls the rug out from under me and says he’s directing it himself. And then tops it off by threatening to take our writing credits off the picture. I took the bastard straight to court. He hired big time attorneys to stall paying out the final script installments. I hated his guts. But I got the last laugh when Republic Pictures picked up the show. They wanted a picture totally clean of legal entanglements. So they came to me to make a deal and I held them up but good. Cleaned up. I still remember Tabet’s pained face when I told him what it would take to get me to sign off. Even my own lawyer whined!

When you look back on your insanely varied and illustrious career, what would you say you are most proud of?

I’m always most proud of my next film. Bringing life to a script is always exciting and rewarding. And besides, who knows what lovely actress I’ll be meeting??!!


What do you have coming up? Anything you would like to tell our readers about?

I’ve got a monster mash-up show I just delivered to SyFy called Cobragator. Also doing family films now that horror has tanked in the market. All the newbies are still making haunted house movies; you know the kind – 10 kids trapped in a spooky old mansion somewhere. They aren’t aware that that ship has already sailed. Walmart has a dumpster in their video section where you can buy 10 recent terror flicks on dvd for five bucks. Let them end up there while I cry all the way to the bank with Doggone films.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

Someone I know got a pie in the face.

So that is it folks, quite the experience, right? Now please enjoy a nice galleria of sorts featuring some of the other works of Jim Wynorski, in a career spanning over 4 decades and close to 200 film and television credits. Pick up his films wherever you find movies. From iTunes, to the bargain bins at your local Dollar General, you are almost certain to find the work of Jim Wynorski somewhere out there. Chances are you already have. Enjoy!










Barbara Bingham [Interview]


Sometimes I feel a genuine concern for certain folks in the film world when it feels like I have not watched them appear on screen in a number of years. I feel a strange bit of concern and fear that they are not doing well. But, usually I am overreacting, and they are doing well and doing exactly what they want to to do. Perhaps they have moved to Australia, began a successful corporate acting firm, and raised a family. Hell, maybe it turns out they weren’t actually in a movie you believed they were in!

Obviously I am getting quite specific here. I am indeed talking about the absolutely lovely actress Barbara Bingham, who appeared in great films like Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan and Beyond Darkness. I would also learn from Barbara that she was NOT in the 80’s sex comedy Splitz, no matter what those lying liars at IMDb would have me believe! Nonetheless, Barbara is an amazing actress with some amazing credits and has carved out a very successful life for herself over the years. And she may very well make her way back into the mainstream acting world very soon, which would be amazing for everyone. So let’s keep our fingers crossed for that one!

And with that, please enjoy some great words with the amazing actress, Barbara Bingham.

When did you first decide you wanted to join the world of acting? Was there a certain moment you can recall that had you making that final decision?

I was originally studying to be a dancer with my eye on doing musical theatre. After starring in my high school musicals at Punahou in Hawaii, I went to college in San Diego with a focus on jazz and tap dance and they kept putting me back in the chorus. I kept on thinking, “No! I belong out front and center!”

Well, apparently it was obvious I didn’t have the dancing chops.

I quit college after 6 months and moved back to Honolulu with the plan to continue my modeling career that I had started sophomore year in high school and booked quite a bit of work. I had only been home a couple weeks when I was cast in a commercial and the producer of that spot was very kind and thought I should meet the producers over at Hawaii 5-0. After the shoot he drove me over to meet the casting director, Margaret Doversola and I booked the role on the spot playing opposite John Hillerman. A few days later on set, James MacArthur, who played Danny Williams approached me and asked me if I was nervous, I nodded and he said, Just hit your marks and you’ll be fine.” I questioned, “Marks?” having no idea what he was talking about and he gave me a ten minute on-set master class on finding your key light and hitting your marks. He was my hero.

It was on the set that day when I realized this is what I wanted to be doing the rest of my life!


In 1990, you had a great role in Rob Hedden’s addition to the Friday the 13th series with Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. How was your experience in making this film? Where you a fan or knowledgeable of the series worked prior to taking on this role?

Shooting Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason takes Manhattan was one of my favorite shoots, mostly because Kane Hodder who played Jason was divine to work with. Rob Hedden was an incredibly insightful director and he hired terrific young actors like Kelly Hu, Scott Reeves and Jensen Daggett. I looked forward to getting on set every day and see who Kane/Jason was going to kill that night! I was familiar with the Friday the 13th series of movies and couldn’t believe they were actually making an 8th installment, I thought these fans are loyal!
What was it like to work with Italian directors?

I starred in a movie called Beyond Darkness with Italian director, Claudio Fragasso, directing. He spoke no English and used an Italian/English dictionary to search for what he was trying to say! One of my more challenging days was when Claudio needed more emotion from me as I was searching for my lost son (Michael Stephenson) and after a couple takes he is screaming in Italian for three minutes with his arms flailing and when he was done the cinematographer, Giancarlo Ferrando translates his rant to English with “Do again, with more!”  Michael Paul Stephenson did a terrific job as my son and he went on to do more work with Claudio on Trolls 2 and then he directed Best Worst Movie.


I have come to learn that you did some studying with legendary groups like Second City and the Groundlings Theater. What sort of techniques did you take away from these places that you may still use today? And do you remember who some of your cohorts were during these periods?

As much as I loved Second City and the Groundlings, it was actually in Stephen Book’s acting class where we studied Violin Spolin Improvisation Technique that I really flourished with improvisation. At the time, Grant Heslov, Tate Donovan and Marg Helgenberger were also in class and there were scenes that I watched with Grant and Tate that were comedy gold. Out of my acting tool kit, Violin Spolin techniques are the ones I continuously use.

As somebody far removed from the scene, what exactly is “corporate acting”, and how did you find yourself in this line of work? And what do you find most rewarding about it?

Corporate acting, role play and forum theater found me almost 15 years ago. My first job in Sydney was with KPMG and we role played with the senior managers being groomed for partner. We would have 30 minute meetings where I would play difficult, demanding clients and/or people in their team who were “off the boil” and not engaged with their work. After the meeting, we would discuss the conversation, what they did well and what they could improve.

I find that communication, emotional intelligence and cultural intelligence are becoming increasingly important tools in the corporate world. My work has expanded over the years and I actually started my own company with three other actors called Corporate Actors Australia. What I find most rewarding when working with a client, is when I see the “penny drop” and they understand how their current style of communicating may not be the most conducive to positive results.


Was this what brought you out to reside in Australia? How do you like it out there? What is the acting life like in Sydney?

My husband, Bill and I wanted to live in a foreign country “for a couple years”. My son was 10 months old when we moved to Sydney and we planned to move back to Malibu in time for him to start preschool.
Needless to say, he just turned 21 and we are still here!

Sydney is a beautiful city and we are 5 minutes from the beach and we love it here. I’ve signed with a new agent, my son has gone off to college in CA and I am ready for this new chapter of my life. Stay tuned!

So what does the future hold for you? Anything you’d like to plug here?

I’d love to get back into shooting movies and television. It’s an exciting time for the industry with so many streaming services needing and producing content. I’m excited to see what “middle aged” roles I can sink my teeth into!

What was the last thing that made you smile?

Jumping in the ocean this morning and frolicking in the waves!

Austen Jaye [Interview]



Every once in a while I get pointed in the direction of a working actor/writer/filmmaker/spearfishing enthusiast, what have you, that I might not have truly been aware of at the time, but so happy I learned what they are doing in the world of art and entertainment. And today is no exception whatsoever.

Today we are talking with Austen Jaye. Austen is an actor with an immense amount of talent who is destined to be a favorite in this business. He has stacked up credits on shows like Angie Tribeca and The Bold and the Beautiful, but most impressive is his portrayal of Harry Belafonte in his acclaimed one man show that you can catch now! I have yet to see this amazing show, but it sounds like it is nothing short of fabulous. If his work in film and television is any indication that this will be an amazing show, we should all be in great shape.

So, please enjoy a great conversation with up and coming man of the screen and stage alike, the wonderful Austen Jaye!

What was the first role you can remember doing, whether stage or screen?

As a child I performed in many church plays and I was the most shy kid you would have ever met. As I got older I decided to actually become an actor an explore what this artist thing consist of. I’ve had chances do to tv, film, and stage and the things that impact me come from a place of truth and honesty. I know this can be considered entertainment but most of what I attach myself to affects me because I’m thinking how can I find the honest root that most people aren’t interested in look at.

When did you first decide you wanted to enter the world of acting as a profession?

I decided to enter during my late teens. Right out of high school. I watched people on tv inspire and make people laugh. I said I wanted to do that, not knowing they were acting. Also as I decided to get into the acting world I realized how powerful being a story teller can be. Artist help shape this world. We all tell stories from actor, writer, director, singer, painters, and dancers. All at forms

Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming stage performance Belafonte Unauthorized: A Shared Humanity. What can an audience expect from the show?

Well the first thing the audience can expect is to learn more about a historical figure that in my mind has been forgotten. The understanding of a journey not easily matched or duplicated.

Belafonte is obviously a legend in his own right, but what was it about Harry that made you want to create this show?

There are so many stories out there about Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. I wanted to tell a story about someone else that contributed as much to the Civil Right’s movement if not more. Also I knew some about Harry Belafonte yet not enough until I started researching. The more I read about him and listened to him speak I started gaining a respect for him that most people my age or younger definitely haven’t been exposed to. So my original idea was a movie because Harry’s life story is important to America and the black community and I wanted to tell more people about what I found so interesting. A friend of mine named Penelope suggested I create a one man show. So I said sure and that’s how it’s started to take off.

If you were given the chance to take on a starring role as any famous African American politician or activist, beyond Belafonte of course, in American history, who would it be?

Funny you ask because some people that I’ve met, just speaking to or in passing suggest I create a show about Barack Obama. I don’t know if I’m ready for that task yet but it is intriguing. I’m currently learning more about African-American men and women that have helped shaped America. So many choices that it makes it hard to find just one.

When you’re not doing stage work or acting in general, what do you do for a bit of “me time”? What do you do to keep yourself centered and just relax?

I love to read and learn from different people. As an actor or artist I know that the title I hold is what I’ve chosen. I’m not entitled to anything because its what I do. So when I get a chance to be to myself I’m a pretty simple guy. I will spend time in the gym, a theme park, or a movie. Some might find it weird but I sometimes go to a movie by myself.

What was the last the last thing that made you smile?

Over the holidays I got the chance to hang out with extended family. When you’re running around Los Angeles working all the time producing a show, its good to just be around family you love. Family that’s supports you through it all. That made me laugh and smile.


Caroline Thompson [Interview]


Oh sweet hell, we have a great one for you fine readers today! I have actually been trying to get this one going for quite a while, and well, ladies and gentlemen….we got her! Caroline Thompson is arguably one of the greatest screenwriters of the late 20th century. She has been the person behind the pen of some of the most iconic film’s of the 1990’s, and one of the greatest storytellers to ever tell a tale. Thompson penned the story behind what is arguably the greatest accomplishment of Tim Burton’s career, the cinematic masterpiece Edward Scissorhands. And her credits just continue to stack up with films like The Addams Family, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Secret Garden, and many more!

Seriously folks, I am SO excited to share these amazing words with one of my favorite writers in the business. I would have been happy with just a few yay or nay answers, but Caroline being the amazing person that she is, she got very deep into her career and provided some amazing insight on several of her projects in the past. I absolutely adore her work, and though she has entered into a semi-retirement of sorts, I will continue to hold on to the hope that she might allow us to watch/read another of her amazing tales. But for now, please enjoy this great interview with the amazing Caroline Thompson!

When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer? Has it always been a passion? Can you pinpoint any sort of event that lead you to write for a living?

The summer I turned 16, my parents rented a house in London.  The house was owned by a journalist named Connor Cruise O’Brien.  There were strange paintings on the wall (abstract geometry the likes of which I’d never seen), a purple velvet chaise longue and a wall of Penguin paperbacks.  I had never been much of a reader before that, but that summer I devoured those books – Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Woolf – much to the chagrin of my mother who wanted me to go look at cathedrals and God-only-knows-what.  Reading those books stirred me to write.  My first dream was to be a fiction writer.  But I also discovered movies that summer — A Clockwork Orange was released.  And, oh yes, boys.

You’ve been a major part in three of the greatest works of Tim Burton to date, in my simple opinion. Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Corpse Bride. That being noted, what do you believe it is with your collaboration with Burton that just simply works. Do you share common sensibilities? Are brain waves crossing or something?

Tim and I recognized one another as psychic soul mates the minute we met.  We shared a sensibility, beyond shared, really.  It is so sad that we have had our 13th major break-up and don’t work together any more because I feel we were each other’s finest collaborators.   Thanks for thinking so too.   That said, I was not really part of Corpse Bride, haven’t actually seen more than the first few minutes.  There was betrayal involved.  My name is on it because it got the green light to go forward on account of my participation.  Sigh.


Through the glory of the Internet, I’ve managed to see strings of well deserved praise for the above mentioned films. But, your catalog and track record of writing films that have made it to screen is extremely varying and impressive! So, when you look back on these films, how happy are you in general with how your words came out on screen? Is it mostly all there, or are there examples of when you might have said, “Well, that’s not it at all”?

It’s funny that you think of my movies as ‘extremely varied.’ To me, they are all basically the same story.  They are all animal stories (literally, in some cases; metaphorically, in most).   What does it feel like when the world is not made for you and you are basically expected simply to slot in?  The table is so high you can only see the bottom, for example.  Those are my stories.

Basically, I have been happy with their execution.  With great exceptions on both ends.  I was thrilled with Edward Scissorhands and I was miserable with City of Ember.

You were tapped to pen the amazing reboot of The Addams Family, that was released shortly after Edward. What was it like to be tasked to reboot a legendary television show? And what are you thoughts on the final outcome of the film?

I agreed to do The Addams Family for two reasons.  One, I was assured that we would be faithful to Charles Addams’ sensibility, which was much diluted in the tv show from my youth.  And, two, the producer introduced me to Larry Wilson, one of the Beetlejuice writers, as my potential co-writer.  I instantly agreed to collaborating with Larry.  He and I laughed every minute of every day working on the script.  He is still a great pal.  But… we had the shit beat out of us by the producer and the director and Charles Addams’ beautifully bent sensibility found little expression in the final film.  I don’t regret the experience, but I honestly don’t think much of the movie.  Still, it beats the crap out of the pile of poo that followed it.


Speaking of adaptations, you had a string of great youth-oriented films in the 90’s. Including the legendary Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, This film was fascinating to say the least. So, what was it like to adapt a story that involves animals with dialogue?  How does it differ rom writing dialogue that could usually be meant for humans?

When I was a kid, I loved the film The Incredible Journey.  I suggested the re-make to Disney and am very glad I did.  It is still my only movie that actually makes me cry.  The director, Duwayne Dunham (before directing he was a legendary editor, trained by George Lucas’s wife, Marcia, and editor for some of David Lynch’s wildest works), sure knows how to tease an ending.  I know the old dog is going to come over the hill – I wrote it for fuck’s sake – but the waiting is agony beyond agony and I can’t help but getting choked up and then releasing the tears when his limping self appears.  Amazing, right?

I was fired off that project three or four times.  They let me go after my initial flurry of drafts, but brought me back on to rewrite the animal dialogue.  It, and my Black Beauty, were, I believe, two of the last films where the animals’ mouths weren’t CGI’d around the dialogue so the dialogue could be changed and changed and changed.  I was fired and re-hired and fired again.  But I had the last pass, so the animal dialogue is mine.

Since all my movies, as I have said, are essentially animal movies, writing dialogue for them comes naturally.  As naturally as speaking for my stuffed animals when I was four, or for any of my dogs or horses today.

Also during this period, you managed to get behind the camera a couple of times as well. But, you haven’t seemed to have gone back to this world too much lately. Have you thought about directing again? Or is writing the true passion you strive towards?

I wanted to direct because I wanted to see if I could.  I did – I talked the powers that be into it, and I worked hard and I am proud of the movies I made — but I did not enjoy it.  I am an introvert and would rather stay home.


Once again, through the glory of the Internet, I learned that there was once a process going with our old friend Penelope Spheeris to adapt your novel, First Born, but it didn’t quite pan out. Would you be able to elaborate on these events? What did you learn from this experience?

My first dream, as I have said, was to be a fiction writer.  I realized that dream.  At 26, I published my first novel, First Born, a strange, angry adolescent examination of suburbia, the dark precursor to Edward Scissorhands.  Penelope Spheeris had made an amazing documentary called The Decline of Western Civilization about the LA punk scene.  I had my book sent to her (I was living in LA by then and flirting with writing for the movies) and she wanted to do it.  I gave her an option on the book for $1 in exchange for co-writing the script with her.  I took my computer to her house (an original portable that weighed 40 lbs!) and she cooked lunch, and we wrote the script.  Her agent was gobsmacked by it and asked to represent me.  He is still my agent today.

The movie didn’t get made, but it did get optioned several times which is a miracle considering how weird and disturbing the story is.  

So, what is next for you? Do you have anything you would like to plug here?

I have basically retired from the movie business.  The occasional great project comes my way, but nothing has panned out lately.  Instead, I have taken up oil painting.  Mostly I paint from police photographs of 1920’s murder scenes.  Loving it.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

I went to the January 21st Woman’s March – the LA version.  It was a joyous, delightful, love-filled madhouse.  That made me smile.

Liz Stauber [Interview]


Today’s interview is a true prime example of why I started this site in the first place. I love to do these interviews with masters of their crafts, and Liz Stauber is definitely a mastermind in the world of acting. Today she is a renowned stage actress who is killing it in that spectrum and moving forward everyday. But, what drew me initially to Stauber was the abundance of film credits that Liz has amassed over the years. I was in love with her work during my younger years and have continued to follow her career very closely. I first recognized Liz in the seminal 90’s classic Can’t Hardly Wait, as well as Teaching Mrs. Tingle. And her impressive list of credits truly goes on and on (The Village, White Oleander, Almost Famous, While We’re Young, etc.)

So, please enjoy this wonderful interview with a truly wonderful person in the world of acting, the brilliant Liz Stauber!

When did you first begin seriously looking into becoming an actress? Was it something you have always been passionate about?

I envisioned making acting my career from a very young age. As a child in plays at Indiana Repertory Theatre I was totally in awe of these adult professionals who lived in New York City and worked in regional theatre all over the country. That was my first exposure to what a working actor’s life looked like, not movies or TV, but theatre. I was really fostered and mentored at that theatre and I feel grateful for that. No one told me that pursing acting was a silly idea or out of reach.

And, what keeps you motivated to continue on in the world of acting?

I’ve re evaluated my relationship to acting as a career many times over the years. There is something very specific and gratifying about it that keeps me coming back. I’ve found a balance in my lifestyle where I’m able to make my living elsewhere. That freedom from the need for a particular kind of monetary success allows me to really focus on the immediate experience when I do work. Even an audition feels like fun to me now, I try to get as much as I can out of every opportunity to act.

One of your first film roles was in the now 90’s classic Can’t Hardly Wait. Can you tell us a bit about this experience? Was it strange jumping into the world of young Hollywood at that time?

It was so fun! It was a great time to be young in Hollywood, there was so much energy and excitement. It felt like belonging to a very cool club, it was kind of like college for me. I made good friends during that time that I’m still close to now.

And I have to ask as a HUGE fan of the work of Noah Baumbach, how was your experience on While We’re Young? Is Baumbach the type of guy that you can be directed by with ease?

I’m also a huge Noah Baumbach fan and I loved working with him. I always feel so honored to be cast by directors I respect so much. He’s very smart in the way that he communicates with actors, very confident and specific in his vision.


I understand you are no stranger to the world of theater as well, especially with the sensational Off-Broadway company at Vineyard Theatre in Manhattan. How does stage work compare to work on television or film, for you personally? And do you have a preference towards a certain medium?

The differences between theatre and film are so vast and so many you could dedicate an entire book to exploring that question in depth! Personally, I enjoy the immediacy of theatre-it lives in the moment, it grows and changes from performance to performance. In a way it is never fixed in time so that makes it more ephemeral. I’ve seen multiple productions of the same play that never feel alike. The audience plays such a big role, their involvement and participation influences the performance enormously. I feel grateful to have had very positive experiences in both mediums but theatre is probably my first love.

If you were given the chance to star as the lead in any Biopic about any female in American history, who would it be?

I couldn’t play her but I recently watched the documentary about Shirley Chisholm, the first woman to seriously run for president, and still the only black woman to run. The story is fascinating and still so relevant. Someone needs to make a good bio pic about her!

So what can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?

I think some of the best story telling now is happening in tv. I would love to have a regular role on a smart, character driven show. The opportunity to really take time, to develop a character over the course of a few years is really a dream.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

I attended the Women’s March on Washington this past weekend. That left me smiling with my whole being.


Andre Bormanis [Interview]


So, we have a big one for you fine folks today. Our dearest geek readers and friends will definitely need to rejoice at this one. If you are a fan of Star Trek, you know this guy. And if you claim to be a Trekkie at heart, and you don’t know this genius of a writer, I am afraid that I have to tell you that you are a fraud and should not be trusted.

I will admit this though….I am not a Trekkie. I am actually very uninformed when it comes to the Star Trek universe. But, I have always respected it, and this made me very excited to have the great Andre Bormanis on the site. I also knew he worked for Cosmos, and that was where I was most intrigued. But, c’mon, this is a Star Trek god! So, I decided to enlist some help from a dear old friend, and former contributor to the TWS world, the great Adam Mattson. This cat knows his Star Trek almost as well as he knows his psychotic death metal. And I believe the questions that he came up with definitely prove this point. Basically, if you don’t like a question in the following interview, you can believe that it was mine. And if you loved it, it was Adam’s. Facts.

So please enjoy a great set of questions from one of the screenwriters of our generation, or the next (all pun intended). Please enjoy some great words from the amazing writer Andre Bormanis!

You started as a science consultant on Star Trek: The Next Generation. How important was it to the showrunners that the science was accurate? In the inevitable compromise, did the science or story take precedent?

A big reason for the amazing success of Star Trek has been its scientific credibility. The Star Trek universe is built on a foundation of real science and technology, extrapolated hundreds of years into the future. The size and scope of our galaxy, the nature of extrasolar planets, how the fabric of spacetime could be manipulated to travel interstellar distances in short time frames — all of this is based on real science. In a dramatic TV series, story is always paramount, but we rarely violated an established scientific fact for the sake of a plot point. When that happened (and yes, sometimes it did) it was due to ignorance on my part, or something just slipping through the cracks. But some of the ideas that the writers came up with made me stretch my scientific imagination. Sometimes I’d read a script and think, No, that’s not possible, but then I’d think about it some more and realize that maybe it seems impossible today, but sometime in the next 400 years we might discover it isn’t.


You transitioned to a screenwriting advisor on Deep Space Nine and Voyager, and eventual full time writer for Enterprise. How did your attitude change about the writing as you progressed? Was it a smooth transition?

It was a fairly smooth transition since I started writing short stories and scripts long before I worked for Star Trek. Part of the reason I got the job as science consultant is because I’d written a Next Generation spec script, proving that I knew the show and understood the challenges involved in writing TV scripts. The big difference when you become a staff writer is dealing with the deadlines. Usually, once we had a story outlined, we only had a couple of weeks to write the teleplay. When you’re new to the process, that feels like a lot of pressure! But as you become more experienced, the deadlines become less intimidating and more stimulating.


Do you find yourself critiquing the science in other pieces of science fiction often?

Yeah, I guess it’s an occupational hazard! When I watch a science fiction movie or a TV show, I can’t help but look at it from both the perspective of a writer and the perspective of a scientist. But that’s part of the fun too. Of course if a movie is straight comedy or drama, or something in the fantasy genre, like the Harry Potter films, science is rarely an issue. Most of the shows and movies I watch, and the books I read for that matter, fall into the drama and comedy categories.


How does your background influence the way you view science fiction?

I guess it makes me a little more critical, but I can forgive science blunders if the work has great characters and a great story. I’m much more bothered by unearned plot twists or unmotivated / uninteresting characters than inaccuracies in the depiction of science. I enjoyed the movie Independence Day even though the “science” was ludicrous. But I am bothered greatly when scientists are portrayed as power hungry mad men or other hackneyed stereotypes.

Is there any current science fiction that stands out to you in terms of accuracy?

SF writers like Greg Benford, David Brin, Greg Bear, Stephen Baxter, and many others in the “Hard SF” field certainly stand out. What I’ve seen of The Expanse seems to really care about technical accuracy, as did the recent CBS program Extant, although they certainly took some liberties as the series developed. Arthur C Clarke’s 3001: The Final Odyssey is being turned into a miniseries at SyFy. I’m certainly looking forward to that.


What futuristic aspects of Star Trek do you feel humanity will reach first? How far off are we?

Computer and communication technology has already gone far beyond what Star Trek depicted, particularly in The Original Series. Replicators, in the form of 3D printers, are already a reality and improving by leaps and bounds every year. A company in Israel has created a simple food replicator that combines a handful of stock ingredients into a variety of meals in a couple of minutes or less. Warp drive is a theoretical possibility, although a long shot. I don’t think we’ll see anything like that in this century or even the next. Despite all the recent news about “quantum teleportation” I think that transporter technology, as depicted on Star Trek, will never exist. But as Arthur C Clarke once said, if a scientist tells you something can never exist, you can bet money he’s wrong!

The documentary style content of Cosmos allows much less wiggle room than the science fiction of Star Trek. What are some of the greater challenges you face with this format?

Since Cosmos is a show about science, we have to be absolutely correct every time about how we portray science and its discoveries. The biggest challenge on Cosmos was finding the most recent science relevant to the topics covered in the episode. On the Cosmic Calendar featured on the show, for example, we indicate that the first flowers bloomed on Earth something like 100,000,000 years ago. But of course paleontologists keep making new discoveries, so we’re always shooting at a moving target. Same with the discovery of Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. New ones are being discovered on a regular basis, making it hard to keep up. Pluto was “demoted” from full-fledged planet status a few years, so we talked about eight planets in our solar system, but now there’s strong circumstantial evidence for a ninth planet beyond the orbit of Pluto, which could be verified any time now. The list goes on and on.


So what does the future hold for you? Anything new coming out that we should be looking forward to seeing/reading?

I was a writer and producer on the Mars miniseries that recently aired on the National Geographic channel. They’re planning a second season of that show, but I don’t know yet if I’ll be involved. I’m helping out with a new season of Cosmos that’s in the works, and right now we’re filming the pilot of a show called Orville that I’m also a writer / producer on. It stars Seth MacFarlane as the captain of the a starship. It’s great fun, and great science fiction. It will air in the fall on Fox, so be sure to watch!

What was the last thing that made you smile?

My cat Suki.


Jon & Al Kaplan [Interview]




We are breaking our generally stagnant mold here folks, we have a serious treat for you fine reader(s). For the first time since we started doing these things, we have a duel interview going! It’s not that we were ever against it. We just never really had the offer. But today we are fortunate enough to have a filmmaking duo that is so god damned spectacular, that I now realize that it would have been a disaster to not have the both of them on at the same time. The work that I fell in love with is a combined effort, so of course we need to have both of them.

With that, today’s interview is with a couple of brothers who have taken on the world of filmmaking, music, stage craft, and more in a magnificent way. It is no secret that TWS is a HUGE advocate of campy horror presentations, and these guys could very well be one of the greatest proprietors of such a genre, as the dudes behind the cult classic film Zombeavers. For those of you who are unaware, yes, it’s a film featuring zombie beavers. And yes, it is fucking fantastic. And as per usual, I would come to find out that these cats have done even more amazing work that deserves a genuine showcase. Work like an off broadway musical based on Silence of the Lambs. Seriously, that exists, and it is genius. So with that, please enjoy our wonderful interview with the brilliant filmmakers/musicians/writers/lots of things, Jon and Al Kaplan. Enjoy!

How did you find yourself in your line of work? Was it always something you aspired to do with your life?

Al: We’re still not exactly sure what our line of work is.

Jon: We grew up listening to soundtracks from when we were born, and we’ve wanted to actually be in the film music industry since college. Doing musicals and writing scripts started out as ways to stay involved in the industry and pass time when we weren’t getting enough composing work. Now we have more script work than composing work, but sometimes we get to score our own scripts once they’re produced, like Zombeavers.

You guys work rather closely with one another on most things. What do you believe it is about your partnership that tends to work pretty well?

Jon: We have similar tastes in music and comedy. There are also some key differences that make us into one well rounded brain, as opposed to two semi-functioning ones. Without each other, at least one of us would be in a mental hospital.

When going into the work of a film as crazy and freaky as something like Zombeavers, what is your process, and what are you looking to convey to an audience music & story wise?

Al: Our friend Jordan Rubin was looking to make his directorial debut, and we pitched him Zombeavers. We have great respect for the horror genre; our original intent was to play the situation very straight with both the script and score, and that the comedy would come from how seriously we were treating a ridiculous concept… but the beaver puppets came out so silly-looking that a choice was made to have the film be more overtly comedic and jokey, with lots of profanity.

Jon: There is an audience for that kind of thing though, so it found a fan base, even if it’s not exactly what we originally envisioned. In the end, we were still able to treat the music very seriously, and scored the beavers as if they were a genuine threat.


Random Zombeavers questions: As a huge stand up comedy fan, I have to ask, how did Bill Burr manage to become a member of the film’s cast, even briefly? Was the part written for him specifically?

Jon: Jordan is friends with Bill Burr, and the majority of Bill’s part was improvised. Jordan always planned to have celebrity cameos in both truck driver roles. John Mayer was the other trucker and they both did a great job.

I am extremely intrigued by your work on the Off Broadway production, Silence! Can you tell our readers, who are sure to love the idea, a bit about this project, and how did you become involved with this project?

Jon: We created Silence! (a musical parody of Silence of the Lambs) in 2002 as an audio-only internet musical before there was such a thing as an internet musical, and much to our surprise it was a big hit. After developing a cult following, the first stage version of the show premiered at the NY Fringe Festival in 2005, and had a long and winding road before finally making it back to NY, Off Broadway at three different spaces, while running over the course of two years. One of our favorite versions of the show was actually in LA, where it premiered exactly 10 years after we first wrote it.

Al: Most of the filmmakers and cast members from the actual Silence of the Lambs movie have come to see the show, which we had originally conceived as a screw-around project, and it’s been beyond our wildest dreams.


You have done some work as a “Music Arranger” for a couple of awards shows in your time. What exactly is a Music Arranger, for those of us who are obviously ill informed? And what have you personally done in this line of work?

Jon: It basically just means taking a piece of music that already exists and reconceiving it in some way—like in the case of the “Lonely Island Medley” for the MTV Movie Awards, where we were asked to take Andy Samberg’s raps and translate them into show tune styles.

Al: We were working on that show initially as writers, doing presenter patter; Andy Samberg was hosting and there was a plan to do a big number in the middle of the show, so they turned to us for the music. It was a lot of fun but stressful. Adam Lambert was scheduled to sing the big “Dick in a Box” finale, but he dropped out at the last minute because he thought the medley was somehow insulting to Broadway. Forest Whitaker came on board at the last minute and saved the day.

So what is next for you guys? Anything you would like to plug here?

Jon: We have a new movie that we wrote with Jordan that’s in post-production right now. It’s called The Drone, and it’s about a Phantom-3 consumer drone that gets possessed by the soul of a killer. We hope it comes out this year. We have a few similar things in the works but they are not quite announceable yet.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

Jon: The last fart I made.

Al: Seroquel.


C. Courtney Joyner [Interview]


Today’s interviewee is a person who definitely reminded me why I got into creating a site like Trainwreck’d. He is the prime example of who we love speaking to the most here. A brilliant writer in his own right, sure. Obviously, that is why we sought him out to share a few words with us. But, it is always an amazing surprise when the magic happens: The person is even more interesting than we could have ever imagined. And he shares A LOT with us! I will be the first to admit that I absolutely adore anyone who is willing to give us a plethora of great stories, as well as insight into a business we are so fascinated about. And ladies and gentlemen who feel the same, you are definitely in for a motherfucking treat today!

Our highlight of the day is the amazing screenwriter, novelist, master of all things involved words, C. Courtney Joyner. For those of you who remember a couple of years past, we confessed our love and admiration to the Puppet Master series during our annual Week of Horror celebration, where we had the series’s original creator (Dave Schmoeller) as the highlight of the event. And we could have tried to hold off on showcasing Mr. Joyner until then, but I simply could not wait. And it turns out it was the right idea all along because, while Joyner’s work in the world of horror is impeccable and outrageously impressive, we would soon learn that he has done FAR more than just the Puppet Master series, and has moved into realms you may have never guessed. Which is all a part of the journey you are about to embark on now with the amazing writer C. Courtney Joyner, right now! Enjoy!

When did you first realize you wanted to be in the world of cinema? Was it always a passion of yours?

I was a film and comics geek since I was born, and maybe before that! I was lucky enough to find myself in that 60’s Monster Boom – so, nine and ten years old, and surrounded in stores by Aurora monster models, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Castle of Frankenstein, Warren black and white comics, and Marvel and DC books, which were in their Golden Age, and just knocking our heads off with images and story. My local drugstore had a spinning rack of all those great Conan, Tarzan, and Doc Savage paperbacks with Frazetta and James Bama covers, and it was half-a-morning just looking at all of them – with the guy behind the counter yelling, because I wasn’t buying enough! But it didn’t matter – I was transfixed. Add to this, puzzles, boardgames, records, trading cards, Don Post masks, etc. etc. and it was, truly, a monster avalanche.

I remember at school, a friend showed me his Viewmaster slides of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, done in 3-D with all those tiny sculpted figures, and I wanted to see them in an animated movie! If you loved this stuff – as I did – there was just no shortage of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. And, at the local theaters, Hammer and AIP flicks were still playing at those screens – and drive-ins, if I could get my sister to take me – while the Universal classics were all over the tube. And the big movies were Planet of the Apes, Fantastic Voyage, and Rosemary’s Baby (which I wasn’t allowed to see). But in the 60’s, monsters really were everywhere. For a brief period, there were, amazingly, part of the cultural landscape, and for a kid thinking about writing stories, or drawing comics, or making movies, – and I was dreaming about all three – it was great.

And what drew you to work so much in the world of horror, although not primarily?

Those are the worlds where your imagination can run wild.

In 1991 you joined a long line of very talented individuals to become a part of the Puppet Master franchise when Puppetmaster III: Toulon’s Revenge was released. Were you a fan of the series prior to becoming a part of it? What were you hoping to bring to the series, and do you feel like your ideas made it to the final product?

After writing Prison for Empire, I worked at New Line, Atlantic, Cannon, and other companies, and wrote some movies like Class of 1999, and even did some TV, before coming to Full Moon. I actually was just tagging along with a buddy, who was auditioning for a Full Moon film on a Friday afternoon, and by sheer chance, had a great reunion with Charlie, and his father, Albert, in the office hallway. We hadn’t seen each other since the Empire days, and talked up a storm, and a week or so later, Charlie asked me to write some films, and since the new company was financed by Paramount he could make an over-all deal with me for several movies, and also give me the chance to direct, which I really wanted, and that turned out to be Trancers 3.


The first movie Charlie wanted me involved with was Puppetmaster 3, which was going to be made by a great friend, David DeCoteau, and shot in Rumania. Charlie wanted a pre-quel to the first movie – which I had seen at a screening at USC when I was still in college – and I was actually on set for the second film – just visiting – which David D. produced, and David Allen directed. But, Puppet 3 was supposed to tell the tale of Toulon and his time in Germany, and fleeing from the Nazi Agents who find him at the start of the first film – so a bit of history there, and I talked to David, and we decided on a “Pinewood Studios” approach – make it the Where Eagles Dare/Night of the Generals/Operation Crossbow – of Puppetmaster movies. That was really exciting to me, because I love those movies, and David watched a ton of those films, to get the idea of the look, and the feeling. I wrote it trying to capture that “60’s Alistair MacLean adventure” tone – knowing we had limited money, but also knowing David’s strengths in staging, and his ability at getting so much worth out of his budgets. I’m not saying I was always successful at it, but I tried to write to what I felt was the strength of the directors I was fortunate to work with – whether it was David or Jeff Burr or Mark Lester or Renny Harlin; I always tried to write my scenes in the best way that they would be shot by the director, given our money, and time, on these films. And with David, I think it worked out really well.


Pre-production was going great, until we lost our Romanian locations – Full Moon wasn’t completely set-up over there yet, so we ended up on the backlot at Universal, thanks to David and John Schouweiler making a great deal for us. What fun that was, and what a God-send, filming in “Frankenstein village,” so we had the echoes of those classic films in every shot, and a real “studio look,” which was marvelous, especially for the night scenes. Then, we were able to put together a wonderful cast. I was very pleased with the way the film turned out, and I still think it’s one of Dave’s best directing jobs, ably assisted by Adolfo Bartoli’s superb camerawork, and some of the best puppet effects of the series; I remember describing Six Shooter crawling up the outside wall of the bordello as the “Zanti Misfit” shot, and David Allen, of course, nailed it. I love that bit of animation; especially the moment when Six Shooter looks at the ground below before he keeps crawling toward camera. Great stuff.  All the pieces to Puppetmaster 3 just came together as a little – what I would call – “horror-adventure,” which was exactly the goal. So it was quite satisfying that we achieved that, and I’m proud it’s considered one of Full Moon’s better efforts.

And 13 years later, you returned to the franchise with Puppetmaster Vs. Demonic Toys. What was it like making your way back into the series?

That was an unusual situation. Despite so many of the Full Moon folks being involved – myself, Adolfo, Ted Nicolaou, etc. – the project was developed outside of the company, and I was working directly with Tom Vitale at the Sci-Fi Channel, back when they spelled it correctly. The intention was to do a new series – with a “Gremlins” feel, but with all the great, original puppets – and to star someone like Fred Willard or Martin Mull. When Cory Feldman was cast, I thought that was pretty cool, and was expecting to do a series of re-writes to accommodate him, and his age; that he should be the dim grand-nephew of Andre Toulon, but it never happened, and they shot with him in the fright wig, etc. It was a chance, and they took it – and the results, well, not what I expected. I loved Vanessa Angel as the sexy baddie, and all of the cool, little robot puppets and new, evil toys we came up with were all in the script, and Ted directed it quite well. Also, it had a bigger look, with nice production touches. The film was shot in Bulgaria, back-to-back with The Man with the Screaming Brain, which Bruce Campbell starred in and directed. This was all for the same producer.

I never saw any of Puppet V. Demonic until it’s TV debut – and had to find someone who got the Sci-Fi Channel in those days, which wasn’t on every cable provider. At the very last minute, a pal volunteered the house that he was house-sitting because they got the channel. We raced over, I missed the credits, but we watched, and the drinks started flowing. I mention all this because it had been a hell of an effort to see it, and – well, I did scratch my head about some stuff. The movie has an odd feeling to it, because the beautiful girl playing the niece seems more like Cory’s girlfriend than a relative, and he looks like he’s in weird disguise, and not an actual, older person. It’s not intentional, but there’s an uncomfortable under-current to their scenes – I think – that stems from not re-writing the role to be age appropriate for the actor who was cast, and it’s quite obvious.


But, I thought that Ted’s execution of the puppet scenes was quite good, with lots of coverage. He has a great eye. And, he was in synch with the “Gremlin-tone” of the piece; it played as lighter, and more fun.

The incredible thing is, that particular movie was put out everywhere. It was amazing how many copies it seemed to ship. Not my favorite flick, but it certainly got into stores. Years later, I ran into Cory Feldman, and when I introduced myself, he instantly apologized for his performance, which was nice, but not necessary. Something was tried – everyone surely worked hard – but it didn’t completely work, which is the name of the game.

In the literary world, you have done very well on the Western front (no pun intended). What is it that you enjoy about the Western genre? What draws you to this genre?

Scope, action, and a human story. That’s the western to me.

I think most horror fans and filmmakers – certainly in their 50’s – have a great feeling for westerns, as well as horror. The Eastwood/Leone films were the great staple – along with James Bond – of the ABC Sunday Night movie, and taking them in, through our 12 year old eyes, we were all touched by their style, and technique. How could we not? The Euro-western exploded at the same time as the horror boom in the late 60’s, even as John Wayne, Steve McQueen, Burt Lancaster, were still making westerns for the theaters. The Cowboys and Ulzana’s Raid were searing pieces, with moments of raw power, as well as great visual scope. In so many ways, westerns are pure cinema. And during this time, there was the rise of Sam Peckinpah. Violence on the screen was pushed by the western, and all these elements came together, influences, I think, to all of us.

Also, for me, it was the discovery of John Ford, and Howard Hawks, Raoul Walsh and Henry Hathaway – all on TV. Their work just struck a deep chord, even if I was seeing them compromised on television, I didn’t care. Their directorial power still came through; the stories still carried me off. The first time I saw My Darling Clementine on the late show – it was like being hypnotized – like the first time I saw King Kong or The Bride of Frankenstein – and Clementine remains an enormous watershed for me. Like so much classic horror over the decades, this is one of the westerns I return to over and over; it’s the sense of scene, of background, and eye for composition, and Clementine has it. Plus, that gorgeous black and white cinematography. It doesn’t matter what genre – truly great black and white photography is always, I feel, truly great. It makes you feel the movies.

Ultimately, western films pointed me toward western writers. One of the first novels I ever read was Elmore Leonard’s Hombre, and then, Valdez is Coming, which has been a huge influence on my writing. I actually read both novels long before I saw the movies made from them. I also loved movie tie-ins, so I was reading The Man with No Name series, and the novelizations of The Wild Bunch and Hannie Caulder. I remember working my way through Frank O’Rourke’s The Professionals (“A Mule for the Marquesa”), and just marveling at the language, and setting. It’s a wonderful novel, and one I return to. This is all before I ever cracked Donald Hamilton’s The Big Country or Jack Shaeffer’s Shane. Of course, these were all paperbacks that I clutched as greedily as I did Conan, or Famous Monsters Strike Back!

All of these western elements cooked for years – even as I wrote spec westerm screenplays that I couldn’t sell. No matter what I was doing assignment-wise in horror or action, I always returned to the western, even if I couldn’t sell one of my spec scripts. I kept trying, and they kept stacking up behind my door. It all came to a head more than a decade ago, when the bottom fell out of the “B” movie market – salaries went through the floor – and I wasn’t getting studio assignments any more. So, I went to prose.

This was all years before the break-outs of the Cohen’s True Grit or Django [Unchained], so the genre on screen was really dead-on-arrival, but there was hope at the bookstores. Larry MacMurtry and Elmore Leonard were the icons, on their own path, but the western fiction I thought I might have a chance at breaking into still existed as paperbacks. But I’d never written a novel, and didn’t know any fiction editors at all. I was starting at zero – and probably less than that.

I’ve been writing about the history of film, with an emphasis on westerns, starting in the 1970’s and high school, and ever since the 90’s, doing commentaries and being in documentaries about films and filmmaking. This work actually got me my entree into The Western Writers of America, an organization that changed my life.

Through the WWA, I met some great people – some true titans – who were incredibly open with advice and support to a newbie, and through them, I submitted and was accepted into an anthology that was published in the UK, but got some notice here, called Fistful of Legends. That led to a new short story appearing in a collection featuring John Jakes (North and South), and Loren D. Estleman, along with some other true heavy-weights. It was amazing I was put in that company, and that book, Law of the Gun – which is in a brand new printing – opened the door for every opportunity I have had since. Fiction was a whole new world for me, and I got some award attention for my story, and soon, was offered a novel contract for Shotgun, by editor Gary Goldstein. All I had was a pitch, and a few pages of a failed comic book attempt, and nothing more. Not even a finished first chapter.


I wrote Shotgun, my first-ever attempt at the novel form, and that ended up spawning a continuing series for Pinnacle/Random House, and I’m writing the third book right now, with a 4th, 5th, and 6th coming. These are all mass-market paperbacks – and very Euro-western in their approach – at least that’s what I’ve attempted to capture – but, they’ve done well, and garnered some very kind reviews and sales.

And, it’s great fun to see my work on the racks at Walmart, Barnes and Noble, at the airport bookstores, and even CVS. I’ve stayed with the novels these last few years, and that’s brought me back to screenwriting for the studios again. After 30 years, “suddenly” I’m a “real” writer, which can drive you a little crazy, but because of the novels that’s the industry perception, and so you roll with it. I still dive into the world of short stories, a very tough form to get right, and am proud to have been included in Hell Comes to Hollywood, Beat To A Pulp, The Traditional Western, and about a dozen others, right alongside some truly terrific writers that I admire.
As to the movies and TV, after all this, I found myself working on a western, of course. It was for Paramount, our old Full Moon distributor, so it does feel like the writing’s come full circle, even if things have changed a little bit. I’ve always gravitated toward period subjects, including Puppet 3, so western-adventure is a good, comfortable fit for me, and that’s what the production companies have me working on at the moment, so I know I’m very, very fortunate to have these opportunities. And when the subject of all my old flicks comes up, invariably some executive says, “Oh, my God, I used to rent those movies when I was in seventh grade!” That’s when you smile and nod. I do a lot of that these days. But now, if I can only come up with a great horror pitch, at least I have places to take it.
When you look back on your illustrious career as a screenwriter, author, actor, & more, what would you say you are most proud of?

Thanks so much for the kind question, but I certainly wouldn’t use the word “illustrious” – maybe “industrious” fits a little better, because that’s how I feel. I just keep working, and if I’m most proud about anything within my writing career so far, it’s that I was able to shift into another form, and move forward. We’ll see what happens from here, but being able to jump between movies and books is something the writers I most admire were able to do, and it feels good to be able to trail along after them.

So what are you up to these days? Anything we can look forward to seeing or reading in 2017?

The large-print edition of Shotgun: The Bleeding Ground, which is the second novel, was just released. And the third, Violent Times, will be in stores for the end of July, followed by re-issues of the first and second books. But, this December will see the release of my big fantasy-adventure Nemo Rising. This is coming from Tor, and is my first hardback, and has been given the Christmas slot, so I’m very excited about that. We’ve already gotten some very nice attention from steampunk and fantasy websites, so I’m quite pleased. Also, this is my nod to Mr. Verne and Mr. Harryhausen, so I hope it’s a fun read. There is also a board game adaptation in the offing, and I hope, the TV pilot, which has been prepping for some time, will be shooting by then.



On the movie and TV front, a few things boiling, with some Blu-Ray commentaries and on-camera appearances, but I am very excited about Celluloid Wizards in the Video Wasteland, Daniel Griffith’s amazing, feature-length documentary about the history of Empire Pictures. He’s done an incredible job, as always, but this is really special as it covers not just the wacky world of Charles Band movies, but also how the VHS boom and indie production companies thrived, and then dived. I’m a talking head in that one, but also one of the movie’s Executive Producers, which, for this old-hand writer, feels like wonderful, and ironic, revenge.


What was the last thing that made you smile?

I like to think I’m a pretty smiley guy – but I can say – despite the controversy – that seeing Peter Cushing in Rogue One was really something. For good or bad, there he was, and all I could think of was, “Wow, this is The Revenge of Frankenstein – for real!”