C. Courtney Joyner [Interview]

at-mortons


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.

puppet-master-iii

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.

palooza-court

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.

puppetmasterdemonictoys

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.

the-culpepper-cattle-co-blu-ray-cover

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.

shot2

shotgun-2-large-print

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.

CELULOID WIZARDS: https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=yfp-t-s&p=celluloid+wizards+in+the+video+wasteland#id=1&vid=c6f5d88a790ede655e5975dca6e421f0&action=click

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!”

Advertisements

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

2 Responses to C. Courtney Joyner [Interview]

  1. Courtney Joyner says:

    Thanks so much for the great interview! It was a pleasure, and it looks terrific. Cheers!

  2. mikegaglio says:

    WoW. great and really fun interview!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: