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William Winckler   

Unimonster's Interview with William Winckler. 1.06

Writer, producer, director and actor William Winckler is a Hollywood veteran of over 20 years, who produced several syndicated television series and acted in dozens of feature films, TV shows and commercials. William formed his own company in 2001, patterned loosely after the old AIP - American International Pictures - company of the 1950's and '60's. William personally creates each film following traditional genre storytelling and filmmaking techniques. His company's latest film, "William Winckler's Frankenstein Vs. The Creature From Blood Cove," is an exciting, nostalgic, good old fashioned monster movie/ creature feature, praised by fans and critics.

"We intentionally made a low-budget, goofy, Ed Wood-esque film and, by God, it was a hit and made a lot of money!"

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Unimonster: I know this is something that everyone must ask you, but how did you get your start in the entertainment industry?
William Winckler: I've always had an overactive imagination, and with that ability -- combined with growing up in southern California -- it was just natural for me to go into the business. My late father, Robert "Bobby" Winckler, was a successful child actor in Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s, and later an equally successful entertainment attorney. However, it was really that overactive imagination that got me into the biz, not my father's influence. I studied acting and directing at UCLA with award-winning director Don Richardson, who also taught Ann Bancroft, Zero Mostel, John Cassavetes, Elizabeth Montgomery, Grace Kelly and countless other stars. I learned a great deal from Don about acting and directing, and as a result I'd like to think I'm more of an "actor's director" than a typical "camera-pusher" director.

Another influence was my mentor and great friend Jonathan Harris, who's best known today as Dr. Smith from the classic TV series "Lost in Space." Jonathan and I were incredibly close throughout the 1990s. He was almost like a grandfather to me, and he taught me a great deal about acting and the "business" of show business.

Unimonster: Your love of genre films comes through very strongly in your work. Have you always had a love of movies?
William Winckler: I really love the classics, and I define classics as those sci-fi, fantasy and horror films made from the 1930s up to the mid to late 1970s. I worship the Universal monsters, the Hammer films with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, the AIP drive-in films like "I Was A Teenage Werewolf," the classic Japanese monster movies, all the Vincent Price films (especially "House on Haunted Hill") and Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe pictures. I truly believe that if you look at the entertainment value of those classics they were infinitely more enjoyable that most of the sci-fi, fantasy and horror films and TV series being produced today. The best actors, writers, producers and directors worked on these vintage productions. I mean, which would you rather see -- "House of Wax" starring Vincent Price, or the remake of "House of Wax" starring Paris Hilton?

Unimonster: What was your first job in entertainment like? Was it what you had expected?
William Winckler: One of my first acting jobs was on a Michael Landon TV movie called "Sam's Son." It was a bio-drama, and I had a bit part as a student in Michael's class. Landon was very nice to me: he gave me good direction and complimented me on what I had done. However, what really impressed me was how he was able to successfully juggle all those different skills ... writing, producing, directing and acting. I thought, "Wow, it can be done. You CAN wear all the hats."

Unimonster: You created, not one, but two televisions series [Tekkaman The Space Knight; Short Ribbs] by the time you were 25. How did they come about, and what are your memories from those experiences? Were they generally positive?
William Winckler: In the early 1980s, Tatsunoko Productions (the creators of "Speed Racer") were actively looking for American partners for their animated cartoons. I had a few meetings with their intermediary, Ike Ashida, and to make a long story short they decided they wanted to work with me. So I wrote, produced and provided some voices for the American version of "Tekkaman the Space Knight." I also directed some of the shows and scenes. That series was one of the last programs actually produced by Tatsunoko founder Tatsuo Yoshida, and it had a very classy, colorful, glossy look to it. The finished American show turned out great, since we tried to remain as faithful to the original Japanese version as possible. Keep in mind that at this time the anime boom hadn't happened yet -- it was still about ten years away -- and there were tons of lobbyists in Washington fighting against violence on children's TV. As a result, most Japanese cartoons, like "Gatchaman" (a.k.a. "Battle of the Planets") were butchered to death. We didn't do this with "Tekkaman." I was able to sell the series in syndicated TV across the country, and we also licensed home video rights, which worked out great. Congress Video Group sold something like 50,000 units of "Tekkaman," which was incredible at the time.

Well, as TV sales were beginning to pick up, several major multimillion dollar corporations jumped on the "Japanimation" bandwagon, and then the airwaves were flooded with shows like "Voltron," "Robotech," "GoBots," etc., which effectively destroyed the market. "Tekkaman" was a great, fun series, and it was infinitely better entertainment-wise than most of the competition. The show did sell, and lots of fans loved it, but the big corporations pretty much killed future sales for me, since I was a small independent producer. This was also around the time that "Speed Racer," "Gigantor" and the other classic anime shows disappeared from American TV, thanks to the greedy corporations and their partners in crime, the monster-sized toy companies. Nevertheless, I loved producing "Tekkaman" and have fond memories of the experience.

"Short Ribbs" was a live-action comedy/variety series that had a cast entirely comprised of little people. Billy Barty, who was probably the most famous little person actor in Hollywood, was the executive producer and star of the show, and I wound up being the line producer and main writer. It was supposed to be similar to "Saturday Night Live" with midgets and dwarfs, and we had big sponsors like 7-Up. Unfortunately, there was trouble from the start. Billy was very difficult to deal with, and he wanted a program like "The Lawrence Welk Show." I wanted to produce a show more in line with "Monty Python." Our different points of view were never resolved and, being the star of the show, Billy got his way. I think this destroyed the series, which ended up lasting only about 13 weeks. Looking back, it was kind of hilarious seeing him throw temper tantrums on the sets, using all kinds of profanity, because he was like a little pissed-off child surrounded by adults. I was always trying to calm him down and talk sense into him. God forbid you told him a joke wasn't funny, because then you'd get the "I've been in the business 60 years, I know what's funny!" spiel.

Still, I did have some fun making "Short Ribbs," and when the sketches didn't involve Billy, or Billy was gone for the day, we'd be able to sneak in fun, crazy, off-color humor, which worked great.

Actually, after "Short Ribbs" was canceled Billy still owed me money. He refused to pay me, so I had to sue him in, of all places, small claims court! The mainstream press had a field day, with headlines like "Little Billy Barty Sued in Small Claims Court." It actually got more publicity then the incident where Zsa Zsa Gabor slapped the Beverly Hills police officer, which happened about the same time. In fact, Billy said it was the most publicity he ever got in his entire career! Ultimately, I won the case, got my remaining money and never saw Billy again. The series was syndicated, and I heard it was a huge success in Australia. Perhaps someday it will be released on DVD -- there's certainly never been anything like on TV before or since.

Unimonster: Your first feature film, The Double-D Avenger, is a throwback to the Russ Meyer and Doris Wishman movies that a generation of men remembers fondly. What gave you the idea for that movie, and was it intended as a tribute to Meyer and that style of film-making?
William Winckler: When I formed my own production company, William Winckler Productions, Inc., we needed to start out small and work our way up. The only way to do this was to make an Ed Wood-style comedy. So I came up with the idea of a costumed, Wonder Woman-type super-heroine who used her giant breasts to fight crime. This was the seed of "The Double-D Avenger." We intentionally made a low-budget, goofy, Ed Wood-esque film and, by God, it was a hit and made a lot of money!

Originally I was going to cast Playboy models and hot, sexy unknowns. Now, it so happened that I also knew Russ Meyer star Kitten Natividad from an earlier job working at a dotcom. So I found myself wondering "What if I use her as the star of 'The Double-D Avenger'? Wouldn't that be an absolute riot? The world's only costumed super-heroine over the age of 50!" I laughed my head off, and I thought the audience would, too. Then Kitten suggested I also cast Russ Meyer actresses Haji and Raven De La Croix. That's how the movie turned into a Russ Meyer movie-star reunion picture. It really is the one and only reunion film with Russ's famous actresses.

Since it's more of a camp comedy than a sexploitation film, it didn't matter that it became what Joe Bob Briggs called "Attack of the Slutty Grandmas!" Seriously, the movie sold all over the place and made a great profit: there's a Japanese version, a French language version, and so on. It keeps selling to this day. I especially love the Japanese title for the film: "MegaPie Oba Ranger," which loosely translated means "Big-Breasted, Old Bag Power Ranger."

Unimonster: Your current film, Frankenstein vs. The Creature From Blood Cove just premiered in San Francisco, and is available for purchase on Amazon.com. How would you describe this movie?
William Winckler: It's a retro-style, black-and-white, old-fashioned monster movie/creature feature. It combines elements of the Universal monsters with the sexy Hammer horror films and the AIP/Roger Corman drive-in flicks. As I said before, I love classic monsters and horror, and don't care for contemporary terror films. So I simply made the type of movie I wanted to see. It's a straightforward monster picture with men in rubber suits, a little T&A, a mad scientist, etc. Everything seemed to work, and most of the critics seem to agree -- about 90 percent of the reviews have been positive. The DVD sales have been amazing, and the response at various theatrical screenings around the country has been equally phenomenal.

Unimonster: What was the genesis of Frankenstein vs. The Creature From Blood Cove?
William Winckler: The idea began with a nightmare I had of Frankenstein's monster battling a half-man, half-fish creature on a beach, with waves crashing in the background, lightning striking from dark clouds, etc. From this basic scene I ended up writing an entire script for the picture. The original drafts were more sci-fi in nature, and Frankenstein's monster talked a lot. The final drafts ultimately veered more towards traditional horror, and we nixed most of the monster's dialogue. We also went to great lengths so our monsters would be totally different from any other studio's creations.

Unimonster: How long did it take to come to fruition? What was the most difficult part of the process?
William Winckler: It took about two years to get off the ground. Originally we were going to shoot "The Double-D Avenger 2," but that was scrapped for various artistic, creative and marketing reasons. A decision was then made to do a retro-horror film, but the budget was very, very high for an independent movie, so it took a while to raise the money. As for the difficult part of the process, although I am well aware that latex make-ups take hours to apply, I was constantly concerned about the time it took to get our actors into the monster make-ups. As producer/director, I was naturally always watching the clock to make certain we stayed on schedule and on time each and every day. This was something that nagged at me throughout the entire production. Fortunately, nothing else was a problem. I have the greatest team in the world, including cinematographer Matthias Schubert, Editor Kate Sobol, composer Mel Lewis and all my wonderful actors, including Larry Butler -- who also starred as the villain in "The Double-D Avenger." I think Larry is one of contemporary Hollywood's greatest character actors, and I hope that thanks to "William Winckler's Frankenstein Vs. The Creature From Blood Cove" he will soon be thought of as a modern-day Vincent Price or Lon Chaney, Jr.

Unimonster: As with most independent filmmakers, you wear many hats on Frankenstein vs. The Creature From Blood Cove. Which role, (director, writer, producer, or actor) is most personally satisfying to you?
William Winckler: I love all the roles, though I have to admit that directing and acting are the most fun.

Unimonster: Which role is most difficult to fulfill?
William Winckler: Once the script is done, the toughest part is initially getting a film off the ground. So many things need to be coordinated early on -- casting, wardrobe, make-up, props, sets, locations, etc. It's like planning for a wedding, except it's more like 22 different weddings, day after day!

Unimonster: There were numerous celebrities making cameo appearances in Frankenstein vs. The Creature From Blood Cove, including Ron Jeremy, Lloyd Kaufman, even David Gerrold (writer of the original Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”). Was it difficult to get people to appear in the film, and was there anyone you would’ve liked to make a cameo that didn’t?
William Winckler: I worked as an executive developing star-driven sci-fi films for the Internet during the dotcom boom a few years ago, and while doing that I got to know a lot of cult TV and movie stars. These folks were all friends who wanted to participate in the movie. The only guy I would have loved to have had appear was Forrest J. Ackerman. Forry made a great cameo in "The Double-D Avenger," just before his health went downhill, before all of his legal troubles, and of course before the loss of his famous Ackermansion. We got him just in time, when he was still healthy and in great shape to act in a film (April, 2001). However, when we shot "William Winckler's Frankenstein Vs. The Creature From Blood Cove" earlier this year (February, 2005), Forry was not healthy enough to appear in the picture. I called him several times, but was told by everyone that he wouldn't be up to it. Which was sad, but I'm glad he at least appeared in "The Double-D Avenger."

Unimonster: Without getting too detailed, roughly how much of a budget did Frankenstein vs. The Creature From Blood Cove have?
William Winckler: We really weren't that far off from what AIP used to spend on some of their Vincent Price movies in the 1950s. Still, compared to what most indie horror filmmakers spend nowadays, this film has a huge budget. I'd have to call it a Rolls Royce or Lamborghini of a B-movie. [laughs]

Unimonster: Was this production easier than The Double-D Avenger, or more difficult? How did your experience with the first film affect your performance with the second?
William Winckler: "The Double-D Avenger" was much easier to make, although some of the actresses were pains-in-the-ass to work with (and no, I'm not naming any names!). In "William Winckler's Frankenstein Vs. The Creature From Blood Cove," I only had to worry about getting actors into make-up on time. Actually, if we had gone over by even a few days due to make-up issues, it would have caused some very serious problems. Fortunately, that didn't happen.

As far as my acting was concerned, the character I played in "The Double-D Avenger" was just a small role. I was Kitten Natividad's cousin, and in that role was also the only one who knew she was the Double-D Avenger. In "Frankenstein Vs. The Creature From Blood Cove," my character, glamour photographer Bill Grant, is totally different. He's the young lead in the film, and it's a very meaty part, so I was able to apply all my past acting experience to the role. Grant's a struggling photographer trying to make the big-time, but he's stuck working for this small men's rag. All hell breaks loose when these mad scientists suddenly hold him and his crew hostage. Bill wants to escape, but he never has the opportunity until the very end of the film. So it was a fun role to play, because he's a very emotional guy and is constantly working to resolve the problems he keeps facing.

Unimonster: In my review of Frankenstein vs. The Creature From Blood Cove, I compared you to Ed Wood, the well-known director of such movies as Glen Or Glenda, Bride Of The Monster, and his most notorious film, Plan 9 From Outer Space. Do you welcome such comparisons, and was Wood one of your influences? If not, who is?
William Winckler: I don't mind the Ed Wood connection at all, since we both really possess a true LOVE for classic genre films. However, if you look at the quality of "William Winckler's Frankenstein Vs. The Creature From Blood Cove," I was able to craft a film that, thanks to my skilled production team, was more professional and slick than most of the films Ed made (and many of the indie films made by today's low-budget moviemakers). Nevertheless, I love Ed Wood. He was wonderful. In fact, if I were given a choice of watching one of George Lucas's new "Star Wars" films or "Plan 9 From Outer Space," I'd pick "Plan 9" any day! It's infinitely more entertaining than watching a boring "video game-inspired" CGI-powered film like the latest "Star Wars" fiasco.

Unimonster: What’s next for William Winckler Productions, and for William Winckler, himself? Is there another Horror Film coming soon?
William Winckler: We have other similar horror films in the works, but for the time being, I'm busy as hell promoting and encouraging fans to buy "William Winckler's Frankenstein Vs. The Creature From Blood Cove" on Amazon.com! The movie is available other places, but for Horror-Web readers it's probably easiest just to buy the DVD directly off Amazon.com. I should add the disc is full of great extras -- bloopers, a trailer, a "making of" featurette, etc. -- and I'm confident that, once they see it, most horror fans will be thrilled to have the movie in their collections. Horror-Web would like to thank Mr. Winckler for this interview, and Jeff Berkwits for helping to set it up.

For more information please visit:
William Winckler Productions



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