Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ask Me a Question: Carl Weathers Night

Honestly, this post could be called Predator & Action Jackson reunion night as we had so many people in attendance who worked on both of tonight's films.  To spice up the evening, I secured author David J. Moore to appear in the lobby talking to attendees about his work covering action, horror and genre movies, his recently published book on post-apocalyptic films World Gone Wild and his next literary effort, a guide to action movies.  We also had Shannon Shea from Stan Winston's Studio set up with tons of behind the scenes photos and some video he shot during the production of Predator.  Was crazy to hear how the guys working on the Predator suit were all in their early 20's and younger, how it was crisis mode all the way for the 5 weeks they had to prep and get down to Mexico to shoot.  Mechanical Designer Richard Landon joined Shannon while Mr. Carl Weathers, stunt coordinator and director Craig Baxley, editor Mark Helfrich and a slew of stunt guys who worked on both films mingled and reunited in the Egyptian Theatre's lobby.

Mark Helfrich was cool enough to provide his original crew jacket from the then titled, The Predator, to give away as a prize.  I got to chat with Mr. Helfrich out in the lobby for a few minutes and he was just an awesome, funny guy who has shaped memorable flicks like Revenge of the Ninja, I Come In Peace, Rambo: First Blood Part II and all of Brett Ratner's films.  Weathers, Baxley and everyone who worked on Action Jackson signed a VHS copy that I gave away as another prize.  The house lights went down and it was time for 1987's Predator.

This is the 2nd or 3rd time I've seen it on the big screen and tonight's digital print looked absolutely beautiful.  The spaceship drop off, the incoming choppers, the quick introduction of the Arnold Schwarzenegger led military squad all set to Alan Silvestri's pounding, memorable score and Carl and Arnold's epically macho handshake make for one of the greatest openings in cinema history.  Even though I had watched it at home recently to prep, seeing it on the big screen with big sound highlighted how quickly the film moves.  The John McTiernan directed film is full of iconic scenes from the handshake, to the helicopter ride and sexual tyrannosaurus talk, finding the mutilated bodies in the chopper wreckage to the huge end to Act I's assault on the complex sequence.  Man I did not realize how much carnage there is in that sequence between the rolling truck with a bomb in the back, machine guns, grenades, explosions, bodies flying, projectile machetes, wow.  Baxley has always shot incredible action in camera and for the first time I noticed Carl Weathers running through a scene with an explosion going off behind him and flames all around, all real.

After the flick, I took to the mic to introduce our special guest of the evening, Mr. Carl Weathers. Who I should note had just been so great through the whole process of getting this night going.  Just a kind, easy going, funny and smart guy.  It's odd, being up there, I honestly don't remember everything we talked about as I was worried about not looking stupid or asking dumb questions (which I ended up doing anyway...), boring the audience, etc.  But I love Carl's work and had done my homework so our discussion just flowed naturally.

- Acting bug bit him from a young age, stage plays through high school and majored in Theater but girls loved the football player so he went down that route.
- Never had a problem balancing acting and athletics, just did things his own way, once he latched on to something, just went after it with everything he had.
- Landed in Los Angeles looking to play for the Rams but ended up in Oakland with the Raiders then Canada, always wanting to get back to L.A. because that's where the acting jobs were.
- Didn't really struggle much once focused on becoming a professional actor, landed 10's of episodics on television then Rocky.
- Rocky audition, just lots of huge guys around but Weathers was chomping at the bit and the producers were having trouble filling the role.
- Knew it was something special early on, during production, told everyone it was going to be huge.  - Met Mark Hamill who had just come off of Star Wars who had a feeling his flick was going to be big as well.
- Got a call from manager that Rocky II was happening, says he made 15 cents on first, made a dollar on the second, it was a nice paycheck.
- Predator came onto his radar through his talent agent who said producer Joel Silver really wanted to meet him, read script but just wasn't there, character didn't even have a name.  Met Silver who said they wanted him and would make it what he wanted.  Met with writers who took his notes.
- Dillon wasn't even named in the script, came up with Marshall Dillon because it was just a "macho ass name".
- Gives props to Arnold and everyone involved for delivering solid performances, McTiernan being so talented behind the camera.
- Arnold had a gym brought down to Mexico so would use that before getting on the bus out to location, sometimes at 4:00 AM.
- The whole cast was so bent but he was the straight guy, had a lot of fun.  Totally ridiculous on and off set, lots of tequila involved.
- At this point, someone yelled from the audience and it was cast member Richard Chaves!  Who played Poncho in the film.  This was totally unplanned but just added to the evening's reunion feel.  Everyone in attendance had nothing but love for each other.
- Chaves says Weathers saved his life but wasn't that macho as on set. Watched for 3 months as Weathers took care of a little bird and fed it using an eye dropper each day.
- Handshake came from having these two physical characters reunited and how they would interact, had a little beef that Arnold got the angle to show off his bicep but I told Carl I could see his pumped, vascular forearms.
- Craig Baxley joined us at this point and I asked about the infamous assault on the complex scene and keeping actors safe among all the Boom Boom Boom.
- Sequence originally scheduled for 3-4 weeks of shooting but production was running out of money. Joel Silver told Baxley he had 6 days and would be given the full cast.
- Jim and John Thomas had written a terrific scene that Baxley rewrote to fit the schedule with their blessing and got it done.
- I asked about the young, unknown, Jean-Claude Van Damme working as the original creature. Weathers remembers JCVD was one of the most ambitious people he had ever met and was constantly talking about becoming a movie star.  Wanted to do some kickboxing in the suit because that's what he was good at.
- Baxley recalled seeing JCVD coming down a hallway with a 10 person entourage, called out to Joel Silver and jumped in the air, doing a 6 foot full split.
- Van Damme didn't tell anyone he was claustrophobic so when he put on the $10,000 creature head for the first time, he shuddered, pulled it off and threw it to the ground, breaking it.  Joel Silver fired him on the spot and uttered the famous line, "you'll never work in this town again!"  Which you know, wasn't true.
- Weathers works out more as an actor than as an athlete.  Actors have nothing to do between jobs so just got into pumping iron, worked out with Vince Gironda for years who had a tiny gym filled with tons of equipment and approached bodybuilding as sculpture.
- Action Jackson came from Weathers and Joel Silver talking about blaxploitation films on set.
- Title came from an Australian crew member then Weathers went off to flesh out the story of a cop after a high profile businessman villain, started with the name, Jericho "Action"Jackson.
- Many stunt performers from the film were in attendance and Baxley gave them all a shout out.
- Baxley has ghost directed lots of films, had just come off of 5 years of The A-Team on TV and worked with likes of Warren Beatty and Walter Hill.
- Had 3 weeks to prep 32 day shoot, 5 days of 2nd Unit, Silver gave them carte blanche as he was more concerned about getting to know Sharon Stone.
- Made huge profit for Lorimar Film division, among their top earners.

More and more was talked about of course but I don't want to bore you.  I took one question from the crowd and it was my mistake not to preface it with "a succinct and good question" as the asker went on for a bit after we had already been talking for at least 45 minutes, still had a signing and another film to screen.  So apologies to anyone who didn't get to ask a question as lots of hands went up.  Weathers took to the lobby to do a quick signing and photo session.  Was great to see the enthusiasm of the fans who all wanted a Predator shake or fists up Rocky photo.  A surprising amount of Action Jackson DVD's, laser disks and the like showed up as well.

It's hard to process these things as they happen but it was a great night with so many wonderful people in attendance.  Lots of total strangers congratulated me on a job well done so I'll take it where I can get it. Big thanks to the American Cinematheque for having us, Grant and Christian for their support and guidance, Oliver for getting everything set up, Carl for being such a great guest, Craig Baxley, Mark Helfrich, Shannon Shea and everyone who worked on the films for being so cool and approachable, friend and photographer Jeremy for documenting, Dammaged Goods supporters Tammi, Tim, Anna and Phil for working the crowd and of course any of you who attended, I hope you got one of the custom shirts.

Until the next one...

1 comment:

  1. This was a really great screening and Q&A, thanks for putting it together.