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Tuesday, 31 August 2010

MST3K - Mystery Science Theatre 3000 - DVD List

For reference

DVD 01:
MST3K - K04 - Gamera Vs. Barugon.avi
MST3K - K05 - Gamera.avi
MST3K - K06 - Gamera Vs. Gaos.avi
MST3K - K07 - Gamera Vs. Zigra.avi
MST3K - K08 - Gamera Vs. Guiron.avi
MST3K - K09 - Phase IV.avi

DVD 02:
MST3K - K10 - Cosmic Princess.avi
MST3K - K11 - Humanoid Woman.avi
MST3K - K12 - Fugitive Alien.avi
MST3K - K13 - SST Death Flight.avi
MST3K - K14 - Mighty Jack.avi
MST3K - K15 - Superdome.avi

DVD 03:
MST3K - K16 - City On Fire.avi
MST3K - K17 - Time of the Apes.avi
MST3K - K18 - The Million Eyes of Su-Muru.avi
MST3K - K19 - Hangar 18.avi
MST3K - K20 - The Last Chase.avi
MST3K - K21 - Legend of the Dinosaur.avi

DVD 04:
MST3K - S01E01 - The Crawling Eye.avi
MST3K - S01E02 - The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy.avi
MST3K - S01E03 - Mad Monster.avi
MST3K - S01E04 - Women of the Prehistoric Planet.avi
MST3K - S01E05 - The Corpse Vanishes.avi
MST3K - S01E06 - The Crawling Hand.avi

DVD 05:
MST3K - S01E07 - Robot Monster.avi
MST3K - S01E08 - The Slime People.avi
MST3K - S01E09 - Project Moonbase.avi
MST3K - S01E10 - Robot Holocaust.avi
MST3K - S01E11 - Moon Zero Two.avi
MST3K - S01E12 - Untamed Youth.avi

DVD 06:
MST3K - S01E13 - The Black Scorpion.avi
MST3K - S02E01 - Rocketship X-M.avi
MST3K - S02E02 - Sidehackers.avi
MST3K - S02E03 - Jungle Goddess.avi
MST3K - S02E04 - Catalina Caper.avi
MST3K - S02E05 - Rocket Attack USA.avi

DVD 07:
MST3K - S02E06 - Ring of Terror.avi
MST3K - S02E07 - Wild Rebels.avi
MST3K - S02E08 - Lost Continent.avi
MST3K - S02E09 - The Hellcats.avi
MST3K - S02E10 - King Dinosaur.avi
MST3K - S02E11 - First Spaceship On Venus.avi

DVD 08:
MST3K - S02E12 - Godzilla vs. Megalon.avi
MST3K - S02E13 - Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster.avi
MST3K - S03E01 - Cave Dwellers.avi
MST3K - S03E02 - Gamera.avi
MST3K - S03E03 - Pod People.avi
MST3K - S03E04 - Gamera vs. Barugon.avi

DVD 09:
MST3K - S03E05 - Stranded in Space.avi
MST3K - S03E06 - Time Of The Apes.avi
MST3K - S03E07 - Daddy-O.avi
MST3K - S03E08 - Gamera vs. Gaos.avi
MST3K - S03E09 - The Amazing Colossal Man.avi
MST3K - S03E10 - Fugitive Alien.avi

DVD 10:
MST3K - S03E11 - It Conquered the World.avi
MST3K - S03E12 - Gamera Vs. Guiron.avi
MST3K - S03E13 - Earth Vs. The Spider.avi
MST3K - S03E14 - Mighty Jack.avi
MST3K - S03E15 - Teenage Caveman.avi
MST3K - S03E16 - Gamera Vs. Zigra.avi

DVD 11:
MST3K - S03E17 - Viking Women and the Sea Serpent.avi
MST3K - S03E18 - Star Force (Fugitive Alien 2).avi
MST3K - S03E19 - War of the Colossal Beast.avi
MST3K - S03E20 - The Unearthly.avi
MST3K - S03E21 - Santa Claus Conquers The Martians.avi
MST3K - S03E22 - Master Ninja I.avi

DVD 12:
MST3K - S03E23 - The Castle of Fu-Manchu.avi
MST3K - S03E24 - Master Ninja II.avi
MST3K - S04E01 - Space Travelers.avi
MST3K - S04E02 - The Giant Gila Monster.avi
MST3K - S04E03 - City Limits.avi
MST3K - S04E04 - Teenagers From Outer Space.avi

DVD 13:
MST3K - S04E05 - Being From Another Planet.avi
MST3K - S04E06 - Attack Of The Giant Leeches.avi
MST3K - S04E07 - The Killer Shrews.avi
MST3K - S04E08 - Hercules Unchained.avi
MST3K - S04E09 - The Indestructible Man.avi
MST3K - S04E10 - Hercules Against The Moon Men.avi

DVD 14:
MST3K - S04E11 - The Magic Sword.avi
MST3K - S04E12 - Hercules And The Captive Women.avi
MST3K - S04E13 - Manhunt In Space.avi
MST3K - S04E14 - Tormented.avi
MST3K - S04E15 - The Beatniks.avi
MST3K - S04E16 - Fire Maidens Of Outer Space.avi

DVD 15:
MST3K - S04E17 - Crash of the Moons.avi
MST3K - S04E18 - Attack of the The Eye Creatures.avi
MST3K - S04E19 - The Rebel Set.avi
MST3K - S04E20 - The Human Duplicators.avi
MST3K - S04E21 - Monster A-Go-Go.avi
MST3K - S04E22 - The Day The Earth Froze.avi

DVD 16:
MST3K - S04E23 - Bride of the Monster.avi
MST3K - S04E24 - Manos the Hands of Fate.avi
MST3K - S05E01 - Warrior of the Lost World.avi
MST3K - S05E02 - Hercules.avi
MST3K - S05E03 - Swamp Diamonds.avi
MST3K - S05E04 - Secret Agent Super Dragon.avi

DVD 17:
MST3K - S05E05 - The Magic Voyage of Sinbad.avi
MST3K - S05E06 - Eegah!.avi
MST3K - S05E07 - I Accuse My Parents.avi
MST3K - S05E08 - Operation Double 007.avi
MST3K - S05E09 - The Girl In Lovers Lane.avi
MST3K - S05E10 - The Painted Hills.avi

DVD 18:
MST3K - S05E11 - The Gunslinger.avi
MST3K - S05E12 - Mitchell.avi
MST3K - S05E13 - The Brain That Wouldn't Die.avi
MST3K - S05E14 - Teenage Strangler.avi
MST3K - S05E15 - The Wild, Wild World Of Batwoman.avi
MST3K - S05E16 - Alien From LA.avi

DVD 19:
MST3K - S05E17 - Beginning Of The End.avi
MST3K - S05E18 - The Atomic Brain.avi
MST3K - S05E19 - Outlaw.avi
MST3K - S05E20 - Radar Secret Service.avi
MST3K - S05E21 - Santa Claus.avi
MST3K - S05E22 - Teenage Crime Wave.avi

DVD 20:
MST3K - S05E23 - Village of the Giants.avi
MST3K - S05E24 - 12 To the Moon.avi
MST3K - S06E01 - Girls Town.avi
MST3K - S06E02 - Invasion USA.avi
MST3K - S06E03 - The Dead Talk Back.avi
MST3K - S06E04 - Zombie Nightmare.avi

DVD 21:
MST3K - S06E05 - Colossus And The Headhunters.avi
MST3K - S06E06 - The Creeping Terror.avi
MST3K - S06E07 - Bloodlust.avi
MST3K - S06E08 - Code Name Diamond Head.avi
MST3K - S06E09 - The Skydivers.avi
MST3K - S06E10 - The Violent Years.avi

DVD 22:
MST3K - S06E11 - Last of the Wild Horses.avi
MST3K - S06E12 - The Starfighters.avi
MST3K - S06E13 - The Sinister Urge.avi
MST3K - S06E14 - San Francisco International.avi
MST3K - S06E15 - Kitten With a Whip.avi
MST3K - S06E16 - Racket Girls.avi

DVD 23:
MST3K - S06E17 - The Sword and the Dragon.avi
MST3K - S06E18 - High School Big Shot.avi
MST3K - S06E19 - Red Zone Cuba.avi
MST3K - S06E20 - Danger! Death Ray.avi
MST3K - S06E21 - Beast Of Yucca Flats.avi
MST3K - S06E22 - Angels Revenge.avi

DVD 24:
MST3K - S06E23 - The Amazing Transparent Man.avi
MST3K - S06E24 - Samson vs. The Vampire Women.avi
MST3K - S07E01 - Night Of The Blood Beast.avi
MST3K - S07E02 - The Brute Man.avi
MST3K - S07E03 - Deathstalker and the Warriors From Hell.avi
MST3K - S07E04 - The Incredible Melting Man.avi

DVD 25:
MST3K - S07E05 - Escape 2000.avi
MST3K - S07E06 - Laserblast.avi
MST3K - S08E01 - Revenge of the Creature.avi
MST3K - S08E02 - The Leech Woman.avi
MST3K - S08E03 - The Mole People.avi
MST3K - S08E04 - The Deadly Mantis.avi

DVD 26:
MST3K - S08E05 - The Thing That Couldn't Die.avi
MST3K - S08E06 - The Undead.avi
MST3K - S08E07 - Terror From The Year 5000.avi
MST3K - S08E08 - The She-Creature.avi
MST3K - S08E09 - I Was a Teenage Werewolf.avi
MST3K - S08E10 - The Giant Spider Invasion.avi

DVD 27:
MST3K - S08E11 - Parts The Clonus Horror.avi
MST3K - S08E12 - The Incredibly Strange Creatures....avi
MST3K - S08E13 - Jack Frost.avi
MST3K - S08E14 - Riding With Death.avi
MST3K - S08E15 - Agent For H.A.R.M.avi
MST3K - S08E16 - Prince Of Space.avi

DVD 28:
MST3K - S08E17 - Horror of Party Beach.avi
MST3K - S08E18 - Devil Doll.avi
MST3K - S08E19 - Invasion of the Neptune Men.avi
MST3K - S08E20 - Space Mutiny.avi
MST3K - S08E21 - Time Chasers.avi
MST3K - S08E22 - Overdrawn At the Memory Bank.avi

DVD 29:
MST3K - S09E01 - The Projected Man.avi
MST3K - S09E02 - The Phantom Planet.avi
MST3K - S09E03 - Puma Man.avi
MST3K - S09E04 - Werewolf.avi
MST3K - S09E05 - The Deadly Bees.avi
MST3K - S09E06 - The Space Children.avi

DVD 30:
MST3K - S09E07 - Hobgoblins.avi
MST3K - S09E08 - The Touch Of Satan.avi
MST3K - S09E09 - Gorgo.avi
MST3K - S09E10 - The Final Sacrifice.avi
MST3K - S09E11 - Devil Fish.avi
MST3K - S09E12 - The Screaming Skull.avi

DVD 31:
MST3K - S09E13 - Quest Of The Delta Knights.avi
MST3K - S10E01 - Soultaker.avi
MST3K - S10E02 - Girl in Gold Boots.avi
MST3K - S10E03 - Merlin's Shop Of Mystical Wonders.avi
MST3K - S10E04 - Future War.avi
MST3K - S10E05 - Blood Waters of Dr. Z.avi

DVD 32:
MST3K - S10E06 - Boggy Creek II.avi
MST3K - S10E07 - Track Of The Moon Beast.avi
MST3K - S10E08 - Final Justice.avi
MST3K - S10E09 - Hamlet.avi
MST3K - S10E10 - It Lives By Night.avi
MST3K - S10E11 - The Horrors of Spider Island.avi

DVD 33:
MST3K - S10E12 - Squirm.avi
MST3K - S10E13 - Diabolik.avi

DVD 34:
MST3K - S01 - PSXUnderground.avi
MST3K - S02 - CBS Saturday Morning News.avi
MST3K - S03 - 1st Annual Summer Blockbuster Review.avi
MST3K - S04 - 2nd Annual Summer Blockbuster Review.avi
MST3K - S05 - Poopie Parade of Values.avi
MST3K - S06 - World News Guest Appearance.avi
MST3K - S07 - The Making of MST3K.avi
MST3K - S08 - This is MST3K.avi
MST3K - S09 - Turkey Day '95.avi
MST3K - S10 - Academy Of Robots' Choice Awards Special.avi
MST3K - S11 - Shorts (Volume 1).avi
MST3K - S12 - Shorts (Volume 2).avi
MST3K - S13 - Shorts (Volume 3).avi
MST3K - S14 - Little Gold Statue Preview Special.avi
MST3K - S15 - Turkey Day '92.avi
MST3K - S16 - SF Vortex 1-24-97.avi

DVD 35:
MST3K - Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy Interview.mpg
MST3K - Mr. B's Lost Shorts.avi
MST3K - S07E01 - Night Of The Blood Beast (Turkey Day).avi
MST3K - S17 - Home Game Behind the Scenes.avi
MST3K - S18 - MTV Week in Rock Appearance.avi
MST3K - S19 - Assignment Venezuela.mpg
MST3K - S20 - Scrapbook.avi
Reefer Madness - Commentary By Mike Nelson (1938-2004).avi
Space Ghost C2C - 023 - Joel Hodgson - $20.01.avi
Joel Hodgson - 8th Annual Young Comedians Show.avi

Friday, 20 August 2010

Aliens laserdisc transfer

Reprinted from Widescreen Review magazine, published by Gary Reber: Volume 5, Number 3, Issue 20. Dated August 1996. Article “Film-to-Tape Horror Stories: Inside Telecine” by Marc Wielage.

One last story. There’s an infamous laserdisc out there – you might guess which one it is, but you won’t find out from me – which is known for being a particularly ugly transfer of a major science-fiction blockbuster.

Why do good-looking films wind up looking so bad sometimes? In this case, the director was too busy to supervise the film transfer, so he sent over his official representative, Mr. Y, to do the day-to-day work, then the director would come by once a week to view what had been done and then ask for changes where he felt they were necessary. So far so good.

Unfortunately, the facility chosen for this film transfer wasn’t exactly one of the top transfer houses in LA. (In fact, it’s since gone bankrupt.) Their Rank Flying-Spot Scanners were ten years old at the time of the transfer, and although well-maintained, there’s only so much that old equipment can do with difficult films. This particular Science Fiction epic had numerous opticals, explosions, and effects, which made it particularly difficult to transfer, with widely-varying exposures and density levels.

To make things worse, the telecine operator assigned to this job was a bit inexperienced. That, combined with the poor judgement of Mr. Y, made many of the film’s dark scenes come out somewhat grainy and “pushed”-looking. This is a typical problem when the gamma (mid-range) settings for the Rank are misadjusted, which tends to exaggerate grain while it brings out more detail.

When the director came in to view the finished result, he decided to bring in his own personal TV set to view the transfer. All the engineers and telecine operators at the facility were aghast, and tried mightily to explain to the director that there’s no way a $1,000 TV set can reproduce the subtleties of a $10,000 broadcast monitor, but the director wouldn’t hear of it. “Nonsense,” he retorted. “I’ve watched hundreds of films on this set. This is my own personal standard, and I just want to use it as an additional reference.” Numerous changes were made, just comparing the image on the expensive lab-grade monitor and the cheap consumer set, sometimes averaging a compromised setting between the two. This necessitated even more time and expense, since sometimes, the frustrated telecine colorist could make the image look good on one of the monitors, but not both at the same time.

The director was also unhappy with the grain in the problem scenes. As luck would have it, the transfer was recorded on the component digital D-1 video format*, which is now the standard for the telecine industry. Mr. Y suggested that they remove the grain by dubbing the master tape through a noise-reduction device. These noise-reducers (also known as grain reducers) essentially use a computer to make intelligent decisions on a pixel-by-pixel basis, analyzing which part of the picture is noise and which is actual detail, and then subtracting the noise pixels. Unfortunately, when overused, the noise-reducers tend to add a degree of “lag” and “smearing” to the image, as the overtaxed circuits can’t make their decisions fast enough. This adds artifacts and flaws, and also tends to make the picture soft.

When he looked at the new tape, the director felt that the image was better, but now it lacked the crispness of the original. Now, the second-generation D-1 tape was fed through an image enhancer, which sharpens images by delaying one line of information and adding a subtle black outline to sharp edges. The director viewed this tape, and he pronounced it better still, but now, too much of the grain was back!

Rather than do the transfer over again, Mr. Y made the decision to again feed the enhanced D-1 dub through the noise-reduction box, only this time, it would be done at a much lower setting. At last, the director viewed the fourth-generation D-1 tape, and approved the noise-reduced, enhanced, and noise-reduced image. But that doesn’t mean the picture looked good.

Any audiophile knows that the ideal amplifier is a straight wire with gain. The more processing you add to the circuit, the more distortion and noise gets added to the sound. The same is true of video. All this extra processing to this film image created a very strange, “mushy” kind of image. The grain patterns tended to “float” around the screen in odd, unnatural patterns – one of the artifacts of certain kinds of noise reducers – and the extra enhancement added a harsh edginess that exaggerated details and made them very unpleasant. In short, what you basically had was a terribly over-processed picture. If the original transfer had been made on decent equipment to start with, most likely, none of this would have been necessary.

A few weeks after the laserdisc came out, laserdisc buffs started complaining about how strange the transfer looked. This particular disc began attracting a reputation as one of the ugliest on the market. Someone managed to get ahold of Mr. Y, who concocted a story that the grain was an intentional part of the film, giving it a deliberate “texture” to those shots, and was a result of the high-speed stock used for the production. But even Mr. Y was at a loss to explain why sometimes, back-to-back shots had different degrees of grain and enhancement.

A few months later, after the studio had been deluged with complaints, they decided to try some tests to see if the film could look better with different equipment. A friend of mine was assigned the task of retransferring the first 10 minutes, just to compare it with the original version.

Mr. Y came in and was understandably perplexed and chagrined to find that the new transfer was sharp, crisp, full of detail, and yet had hardly a spec of grain. He was even more embarrassed to discover that the inexperienced operator who had done the first transfer had misframed the Rank and cut off quite a bit of the image on one side of the frame. The new transfer revealed at least 10 percent more picture, showing more detail and more of the sets and characters.

“I don’t care that it’s better,” he snapped. “We’re not going to go back to square one and re-do this picture from scratch. Besides, the director is much too busy to concern himself with this. The old transfer stays as-is.” And with that, he stormed out of the facility.

A few years later, a new transfer was quietly prepared and reissued to much fanfare. It was light-years better than the old one. True, the director again brought in his trusty TV set as his own “personal reference” and – despite the fact that the facility managed to drop it and wound up buying a new one – the new transfer was beautiful. Mr. Y subsequently left the director’s production company and went on to some success in a different part of the industry.

I don’t know if there’s a moral here, except that bad equipment and inexperienced people will invariably result in bad-looking laserdiscs. In fact, I’d argue that a great telecine operator can probably make better pictures on a mediocre Rank than a horrible telecine operator could on a great Rank. But the key is that excessive video processing isn’t the right way to fix a bad transfer.

* The professional D-1 digital component format stores the luminance and color-difference signals separately, providing unusually high detail and very low noise compared to any other format. The D-1 tape signal is virtually identical to that coming out of the Rank itself, and subsequent dubs and tape generations should theoretically be identical to the original. 

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Rob Bowman - Reign of Fire Interview

The Director
Behind ‘The X-Files’ Drags Dragons Into 2084 Britain
by Deborah Baxtrom
I was never a science fiction fan as a kid,” says Rob Bowman, whose name is nearly synonymous with the genre. “And I was never a ‘Star Trek’ fan as a kid, but now I’ve directed ‘Star Trek’ and ‘X-Files’ and those are the two things on TV that people know me for.” 
In fact, Bowman directed a whopping 35 episodes of “The X-Files” and 13 episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and in 1998 brought “X-Files” to the big screen as his second feature. But like many filmmakers whose reputations are built on tales of the fantastic, Bowman appears more interested in storytelling than categorization.
“As it happened, those were the shows that I liked and they offered me some creative latitude,” he offers. “With ‘Star Trek’ anything could happen each week, and with ‘X-Files’ every episode was a completely different animal, so I was able to stretch. Those shows are hard to pull off. They really challenge your storytelling muscles because they can become funny and goofy and bad very easily. So I had to be strict about my approach. I really found it a challenge.” 
Born in Texas but reared in the media mecca of Burbank, Calif., Bowman started out in the Paramount mailroom before he segued in 1982 to directing insert shots and second-unit footage for “A-Team” producer Stephen Cannell. Making his debut as episode director with a 1985 installment of Cannell’s action series “Stingray,” Bowman soon became one of the busiest hourlong directors in Hollywood, helming everything from “Alien Nation” and “Quantum Leap” to “Baywatch” and “MacGyver.” Bowman received three Emmy nominations for his work on “The X-Files” (he was also a producer on the series), and made his 1993 feature film debut with the teen actioner “Airborne.”
His third film, “Reign of Fire,” is a futuristic thriller starring Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey and Izabella Scorupco. Set in 2084 England, the July 12 Touchstone release depicts small bands of humans struggling to survive in a world dominated by enormous fire-breathing dragons. 
It focuses on a British “fire chief” named Quinn (Bale), who is responsible for containing the firestorms precipitated by beasts he inadvertently unleashed as a boy. Quinn manages to keep a small community of survivors alive in an abandoned castle. Van Zan (McConaughey) is a cocky American who comes to England to prove he can kill the beasts and save mankind. Scorupco plays a pilot and Bale’s love interest. 
In Focus spoke to Bowman about, among other things, why he didn’t covet the biggest stars for “Reign of Fire,” how the film’s dragons are inspired by his golden retriever, and how he hopes to top 1981’s “Dragonslayer.”
“Reign of Fire” seems to be a mix of genres. How would you categorize it?
It has an aspect of fantasy because of the dragons – it’s about a world overrun by dragons, so I guess that also categorizes it as science fiction, but it really is a suspense thriller.
Christian Bale said he agreed to make “Reign of Fire” because he liked your take on the material. How did your vision of the story differ from the original script?
Originally it was a very dense, exaggerated story, too much like “Independence Day.” I said, “First of all, they’ve already made that movie. Secondly, I don’t like that version.” I told him I’d rather make it more atmospheric and suspenseful, with less focus on the dragons and more on the characters and their day-to-day struggle.
Is it their day-to-day struggle that drives the movie?
What drives the movie are the two philosophies. Quinn is a survivalist. He doesn’t think people should be tangling with dragons; they’re too overwhelming. So he’s dug in and is waiting for them to starve off. Van Zan’s approach is: “Don’t wait for them to die, go out and kill them.” But there are too many. You can’t kill them all at once, so his plan is to figure out a way to break their spirit by taking out their leader. Both characters make sense; each is right and wrong in his own way. As long as they’re both reasonable it makes for a good argument.
Was this central character conflict present in the original script or was it part of your development?
It was already there, but I worked a great deal on each character’s traits. Quinn was originally very passive, kind of a spineless wimp. Van Zan was a huge braggart, always exaggerating the point. So I toned him down and made Quinn very strict and just as much a man as Van Zan. I didn’t want Van Zan to be all about grandstanding because I thought it hurt the chances of making the movie realistic. Each character is more likable and reasonable now, and the audience can say “I understand his point of view. He makes sense.”
In terms of casting, what were you looking for in your actors?
I wanted Quinn to be intelligent, soulful and hardy. Van Zan is an insane character but I wanted somebody who could balance that. Matthew, born in Texas, a good ole’ boy – you know that no matter what his mission is there’s still a warm heart in there. Now he’s a very mean, focused character, Van Zan is. His mindset is that he’s not intimidated by the dragons. He’s the dragon’s worst enemy – or the dragon’s dragon. So it seemed the right balance to have a guy with Matthew’s down home sensibilities to play against Christian’s strictness.
The roles they play are unusual for both of them.
Yeah, and you wouldn’t recognize either one of them. [McConaughey’s head is shaved and Bale sports a full beard.]
Did you always have them in mind?
I had those guys in mind very early on, but at that point in the movie, knowing the cost of the movie, of course everybody wanted to put big stars in the film. But I thought, “Look, the movie is the star. I don’t want a name actor to take over the movie.” If we’d have gotten a huge star then it would have just been that actor in this movie, as opposed to a story with characters. That’s certainly no slight to the stars. They’ve gotten where they are because they’re good. In the end I just went for the actors that I liked. I thought if one of them happened to be a superstar, fine, as long as Anthony Hopkins or whoever can be a chameleon and doesn’t step in front of the story.
How important is the look of the dragons to the film?
Critical. I spent months and months and months designing them, figuring out their flight dynamics. The look of the dragons is critical because if I’m saying that I’m taking a realistic approach to a fantastic idea then the dragons have to look as real as anything else in the scene. The audience knows they’re synthetic and that they don’t really exist, but they’re hoping that I’m going to help them buy into the idea. So everything that I could do to make them realistic I needed to do. And I think we did it.
So can we expect to see something new in cinematic dragons?
You’ve never seen anything like it. The last bar was set by “Dragonslayer,” which had a really great looking dragon, but it was a puppet and [when using a puppet] you’re limited by the limitations of puppets. In “Reign of Fire” we have full-scale live action. I can do anything I can think of with these dragons. I can even change their flight patterns. When a scene is shot with a puppet, it’s shot. To change it you’ve got to re-shoot it. In our case I can say “I want the heads to do this” and we can do it.
Does that help make the dragons more frightening on-screen?
Yes. These dragons are some very, very nasty, tenacious opponents. They love to fight. Their tails are wagging all over the place because they’re so keen on conflict. I think I got the idea for the wagging tails from my dog. When I come home my golden retriever just goes nuts and I thought, since the dragons can’t smile or laugh, it would be really cool if when a dragon is trying to kill ya, he’s having a good time! So their tails are wagging all over the place. It’s a way to get a little personality into them. It’s like they’re saying, “I’m way in the zone. You’re way out of your league and I’m perfectly comfortable.”
Was it difficult for the actors to play against CGI dragons?
It was tough in the beginning. A lot of it had to do with showing them illustrations and animatronics of the dragons, and the rest had to do with them trusting me. After a while I’d show them sequences, or I’d show them dragon animatronics cut into an existing scene, and they’d say, “Oh, I get it. OK, this is going to be cool.”
You’ve worked with special effects and CGI before. How did this experience differ?
The level of complication skyrocketed through the roof. When you’re creating a digital animal you create everything. You create how it flies and how heavy it is and how fast it goes and how wide it’ll turn at 150 miles an hour and how fast it will stop. None of this stuff is like training a pet, where it already has a lot of inherent capabilities. Digital dragons have no inherent capabilities; you have to make it all. The attention to detail that’s required is extraordinary, but that, in the end, is what will make them special.
The trailers and ads haven’t revealed the faces of the dragons. Are you keeping their look a secret, a la “Jurassic Park”?
A little bit. The problem with “Jurassic Park” is you can go to a museum and see a dinosaur. These dragons are my design and they don’t exist anywhere else. They’re not completely different than anything you’ve ever seen physiologically, but they are my version of a winged serpent that blows fire. It’s taken me a year in post production to get the dragons done. I’ve never done that before.
Speaking of creating unique visual worlds, how much of the distinct look and feel of “The X-Files” are you responsible for?
Well, I didn’t invent it. I took [“X-Files” creator] Chris [Carter]’s lead. He just said “dark and creepy,” but specifically how to do that, and what my opinion of that was, is what I think I helped define on the show. So I would say ultimately, certainly by the end of the second season and into the third and fourth seasons, a lot of it was me. But again, I didn’t walk in and say “It’s too bright. I’m going to make it dark.” Chris said “dark and creepy.”
Since you were so close to the TV show, how difficult was it for you to take the “The X-Files” from small to large screen?
Actually it wasn’t hard at all because I always thought that it was a big screen idea, that we were just shooting it on the wrong format. So when we finally got it on the big screen I was very confident that the ideas that were in the series were big enough to hold up on a big screen. It just felt due, actually. When we finally did it I felt like, “I’ve been waiting for this for three years.”
When you were preparing for the film did you do anything differently from your series prep work?
I did watch “Lawrence of Arabia” at least twice a month when I was prepping and shooting the “The X-Files” movie, to make sure that I was thinking as big as I could and about how to stage and compose for the big screen, what lenses were appropriate and all that sort of thing. But when I was shooting the series I used to tape off my monitor top and bottom, so I was always shooting wide screen for the TV show even though it wasn’t aired that way. I was always practicing my composition for the large format.
How important is character versus visuals in your films?
Simply, movies are only about one thing and that’s people. It’s a visual medium so it’s going to be visual, and it’s better to show it than to say it. It’s also important for directors to find visual metaphors to express ideas, and sets and lighting and wardrobe can express themes in the movie, but you’ve got to have characters first. Nothing else matters if you don’t have people.
What films or filmmakers have most influenced you?
Victor Fleming, who directed “Gone with the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz.” Also, Ford and Huston. In my teen-age years, Spielberg. Some of the Scorsese stuff. Coppola. William Wyler. Billy Wilder.
It’s been said that you like to keep your cast and crew comfortable on the set. Does a pleasant atmosphere make for a better film?
It’s not so much about being comfortable, but I think people need to know that they’re doing something they’re going to be proud of and I’m in charge of that. One, they need to see that I know what I’m doing and I know what I want – and what I want is what’s best for the movie. And two, I live on movie sets. I’m either on a movie set or editing and I like my environment to be healthy and creative. That doesn’t mean there aren’t days when I don’t straighten somebody out who needs it. It’s just the environment that I like to live in, and I find I get better performances. I get more out of my crew because they enjoy being there and I think they know that I respect them and appreciate their extra efforts. So it seems like when the set is happier then the movie’s better. Seems like a good formula to me.
How did you get your first directing job?
I was in the mailroom at Paramount. I said I wanted to be a director and was told “You should start shooting inserts and work your way up.” So I was going to film school at night, and in the daytime I was xeroxing scripts. Eventually Steven [Cannell] said, “Go down and shoot me a newspaper headline. Go down and shoot me an insert of a key going into the ignition.” I just worked my way up from the bottom.
What film school did you go to?
All of them. UCLA, USC, Glendale JC, AFI. It was all weekend and night school. I took the chance that if I was working for the studio, once I was in the door I would figure out a way to get to where I wanted to go. The problem with film school is that you can get a masters degree in filmmaking and you still have to get a job in the mailroom. So I figured I’d just do both at the same time. I’d go to school at night and be in the faces of the producers in the day. I’d keep them up to date on what I was doing, without annoying them, and say “Hey, I’m not asking for much. Just let me do the inserts.”
Your first full directing job was an episode of “Stingray.”
Yeah, but by that point I’d shot hundreds of hours of second unit and inserts. I’d say in two-and-a-half years I probably worked on about 400 TV shows, shooting inserts and editing, sitting in when they re-cut the show, just learning about storytelling and editing. Both of those things were incredibly desirable when I actually got my own job.
Your first feature in 1993, “Airborne,” didn’t do as well as you’d might have hoped. Why do you think that was?
It was a little Disney-kinda-esque film. Again, it was me trying to figure out how to get into the movie business. I’d say the movie is far better than the script was. It was a great learning experience. I probably learned more on “Airborne” than in the previous few years of television directing combined, about lighting, composition, story, what works on the big screen, what doesn’t work. It didn’t do that well in the theaters because they didn’t market it. I have a feeling the reason they didn’t market it was because they were concerned about the [downhill rollerblade] race at the end. Being an unprotected race it was sort of irresponsible. I hold no guilt or regret about it because I told them not to do it. I said, “This shot should be on blocked-off, abandoned roads.” It wasn’t me – I won’t say who it was but it wasn’t me – who said, “No, it’s going to be on unprotected roads because that’s exciting.” I thought it should be exciting but I was also thinking “What if some kid copies it?” So I think they pulled back on the marketing because of that.
Is there anything you would do differently on any of your films if you could?
I try to work as hard as I can and plan as hard as I can. If I’d have been a bigger bully on “Airborne” it would have been a better movie – if I would have said the racing is going to be protected and they’re going to wear their hockey uniforms so the audience knows who the heck is who. I think you need to know when to protect a movie and when to agree to let other people’s ideas affect the movie. The one thing I’ve gotten better at is carrying a sledgehammer around so if somebody comes up with an idea that I think is going to hurt the movie I don’t let them do it.
Would you like to write and direct your own original script?
You kind of do anyway; that’s part of the director’s job. But I haven’t written an original for myself yet. I’ve just been too busy. I wrote a few of them a long, long time ago, but these days I barely have time to hang out with my girlfriend let alone write a script.
What happened to “Generation Ship” and “I Am Legend"?
“I Am Legend” [a vampire film based on the novel by Richard Matheson] was too expensive. They decided not to make it. “Generation Ship” is still in the oven. It’s not dead. ("Generation Ship” is based on the novel “Phoenix without Ashes," by Harlan Ellison, about the remnants of humanity traveling on a spaceship looking for a new home world.)
Are there any more “X-Files” films in the works?
I think so. I only know what you know, which is whatever we’ve read. Chris [Carter] hasn’t called me, nor has he invited me to direct it. If he does and I’m available I would love to do it, and if he doesn’t then I can’t wait to see it, no hard feelings.
What is your goal as a director – how would you like to be remembered?
I love movies and I want to enjoy myself and enjoy challenging myself each time out. I want to make each job a new learning experience, because you learn so much each time, and not to repeat myself. People want us [filmmakers] to use the available technology and hardware to put a good story up on the screen, and they want it to be timeless and memorable. I’d like to be remembered as a director who told stories about people that were entertaining, and who took audiences on journeys where they got to see things in the theater that they wouldn’t get to see anywhere else