Monday, March 12, 2018

Everything I Know About 'Poltergeist'

Every tweet with every piece of information I have tweet-compiled on Poltergeist.  #17 in total.  Apologies to any privacy boundaries I may be crossing, but I have officially transitioned into a DEFCON 1 level DGAFness about things.  It feels good!

A teacher, Ralph Langer, visited the set of Poltergeist, and gives an account of his visit.  One day, in which they filmed part of Diane Freeling's attack where she is dragged onto the ceiling.  Spielberg was not present that day.

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Hooper selling Lifeforce as a further realizing of his commercial style.
(He offers the idea that he and Spielberg share a lot of interests in terms of visual style.  It may have never been a matter of Hooper aping Spielberg's style (this is implicit in him saying Lifeforce has a "Tobe Hooper look," unequivocally, but it sells better when looked at askew as a "Steven Spielberg look."  They have always been drawn to the same things in cinema, particularly classical Hollywood, and Hooper made Poltergeist with the good faith that Spielberg would let him fully explore his developing aesthetic concerns, seeing as how their stylistic goals come from a similar place.)

Following Mick Garris's testimony about Poltergeist on his Post Mortem podcast, I used it as an opportunity to univocally claim my answer to a previous query about Hooper's involvement in the pre-production on Poltergeist.  An opportune out-of-context extraction presented itself in Garris making one seemingly unambiguous statement, in an interview of mostly polite hedging and justifications for eyewitnesses' dogged doubts.
(I had previously asked, was Hooper as impotent (so alleged) in the pre-production phase of Poltergeist as he was in the shooting of it?  GARRIS: "ALL THE PRE-PRODUCTION WAS DONE BY TOBE."  At another point he also makes the statement, "Hooper was deeply involved in the pre-production.")

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Following my dissatisfaction with Garris and his overly honest account of the set on his podcast (Garris's deference to being truthful is fine, but his biggest betrayal is him saying the words "directing" and "Spielberg" in the same sentence, and I quote, "Hooper directed that movie... Spielberg had a lot to do with directing that movie, too." Way to finally bring the debate to a close, Mick... I get making concessions to Spielberg's contributions and constant presence on set, but can you at least make one value judgment, perhaps a percentage or ratio of Spielberg:Hooper?), I jumped on more assertive tweets he and Caroline Williams made in the aftermath of that podcast, in which they were replying to followers.

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(Caroline Williams calling Spielberg a "backseat driver" may be my favorite thing.  It seems perfectly in line with my view of events: Hooper was in control, but he would let Spielberg have a biscuit or two - as long as it conformed with his view of the film.  Hooper was the true driver, tolerating what he must, but with the ability to approve or veto any and all suggestions.  Garris's tweet finally shows he may be able to make an evaluative judgment.  In his podcast, he says two additional things: "Yes, I would see him climb on the camera and say maybe we should push in on a two shot here and do this or that there, and Tobe would be watching, Tobe was always calling "Action" and "Cut," Tobe had been deeply involved in the pre-production and everything, but Steven is a guy who will come in and call the shots.  And so you're on your first studio film, hired by Steven Spielberg, who is enthusiastically involved in this movie.  Are you going to say, "Stop that, let me do this"?  Which he did, Tobe directed that movie.  Steven Spielberg had a lot to do with directing that movie, too." and
"I understand how people can perceive it otherwise, but Tobe was a terrific filmmaker.  And I don't think it was that Steven was controlling, I think it was Steven was enthusiastic as a filmmaker who has celluloid running through his veins, and nobody was there to protect Tobe... [but] Tobe was there throughout, Tobe's vision is very much realized there, and Tobe got credit because he deserved that credit, including Steven Spielberg said that." It sounds, to me, like a lot of attempts to explain the continued clashing accounts of the set.  I think above, in his tweet, he realizes he can finally make a clear judgment, free of the interpretability of defensive and reactive speech - without the pressure of the microphone and the dialoguing with both Williams and the context of the issue being brought up again.

 I think it's clear Garris's position.  "Both made the movie," if in differing capacities.  But in this comment, I chose to highlight something that I've always constantly questioned, something which I think should be obvious, and which I again chose to extract as a final statement of fact: Garris states, "Tobe was heavily involved in the storyboarding, too."

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A BTS still of a clapboard in front of the staircase set shows, not just "T. Hooper" on the slate (which has no significance, I'm sure slates still read the director's name, even when its 2nd Unit shooting), but "R. Edlund" as cameraman.
(This could be solely for VFX, considering there's a "V" next to the scene number and Edlund is behind the camera, but it is happening rather early in the shooting schedule (June 30th), so I'd like to think JoBeth Williams's stunt double is being prepared to tumble down those stairs in any second. (A specter was supposed to be superimposed at the top of the staircase in this scene, but this idea didn't make it into the final cut.))

A BTS still that shows Hooper standing in a rain slicker watching over the shooting of a scene in the pool.  I erroneously identify the man on the right as Craig T. Nelson, but it is actually JoBeth Williams being filmed, who you can see submerged in the water at the bottom of the frame.

A BTS still of Spielberg on the very first day of shooting.
(I stand by my first thought: Annoying.)
(Back off, Spielberg, I know it was Hooper's idea to shoot from behind the tombstones... (I don't know, but I'm putting it out there anyway.))

 A random bit of hearsay from an online poster who seemed to not have any actual source.  I can believe this, though... I also repeat something I've always repeated about Rubinstein's account, that her most objective, impartial statement on her time on the Poltergeist set is actually the following: "It was a split decision," she stated, between Hooper and Spielberg, both apparently always present.
(Me: "true... not true... true.")

An account by a horror filmmaker about asking James Karen about the directorial credit of Poltergeist.  "[Karen] jumped down my throat" (presumably in defense of Hooper).

Excerpts from primary source material circa-1982, interviews with cast and crew from newspaper publications like the LA Times.  I took to this one from JoBeth Williams particularly, who states very clearly, "Our director, Tobe Hooper," while characterizing Spielberg as a sort of "big picture" man.  What is a director, also, but someone who takes the "babies" of others (the writers, the producers, the studio execs) and does what he or she can to emancipate that baby from its cloying, protective parent?

 My descriptor explains it all: "A turgid, possibly untrue on-set story."
(Detailed is the account of Steven blowing up at Hooper for not being able to finish a scene between Beatrice Straight and her assistants, in which they are tasked to deliver a bunch of scientific gobbledy-gook.  Allegedly Beatrice Straight went to bat for Hooper, claiming the dialogue was impossible.  Spielberg wrapped the set, went home to do rewrites, then brought them back the next day, after which Hooper finished the scene with no problem, with his actors.  Spielberg then apologized to the entire crew for his flare-up.)

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 Another primary source excerpt from the time of the film's release, Hooper to the L.A. Times.
(Hooper's claims of ownership: "I directed the film" (I was not a pushover to Spielberg.)
"I did fully half of the storyboards" (Spielberg may have been a child on the set of Poltergeist, but I gave the film its look from the very pre-production.)
"I'm quite proud of what I did" (It is the things people will not pay attention to that I am proud of, the small things I determined, and so if I need approval from anyone for the mark I left on the film, it can only be mostly from myself.)
"I can't understand why I'm being slighted" (I can understand, my mark is the imperceptible, Spielberg's mark is the scary tree and the roller coaster finale.  But I can say I don't understand to perhaps suggest to people that the small, the imperceptible, is just as important as the big stuff.)
"I love the changes that were made from my cut" (I and Spielberg had similar goals, another reason not to ignore my position as director.)
"I worked for a very good producer who is also a great showman" (Spielberg let me show you what I have got, by working with me and not against me.  I have always wanted to work in this idiom of filmmaking that Spielberg finally allowed me to.)
"I felt that was a plus, because Steven and I think in terms of the same visual style." (Ibid, above.  This picture is me.)

Another testimony from Hooper, answering the question at the 2010 London Frightfest Event.  Spielberg was a "presence" on set.  It makes the film no less his.

An interview with Hooper on YouTube that seemed monumental in that it mined the most Poltergeist stories from Hooper than I had ever personally heard.  He talks about Heather O' Rourke, as well as the director controversy in an achingly honest way.  "No one got this shit but me."  Oh, Mr. Hooper, you were going up against The Steven Spielberg.  Accept your lot, and the fact you are one of a kind, the one fate chose to carry this Great Subjugation to the Great and Untoward Spielberg.

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 Martin Casella's farewell to Hooper on his Facebook page.  Pretty self-explanatory.

An interview with Oliver Robins I found, in which he gives his account of Hooper being the only one who worked with him, in a full director's capacity.

Finally, another article about Hooper's Q&A at London Frightfest, with a little more details.
(Hooper: "Poltergeist was "definitely my baby: I designed it, I directed it, it has my 'feel.'"
Not sure how much that was paraphrased, but it's really all I need to fully attribute the film, with all its Spielberg-isms, to hell or high water, to Hooper and Hooper alone.


Anonymous said...

I really want to believe that Hooper deserves directing credit but stories like this come around and really make me question his role.

JR said...

I think Hooper has a particular way of doing things that is not always abided by by very competent industry guys, of which Poltergeist was a set teeming with such. I think Spielberg played to these guys. No wonder Edlund will single out a Spielberg anecdote, which probably involved Hooper and Spielberg deliberating together what they want when Williams opens the door (in the shooting script, the vortex force pulling the door shut is not depicted). And what does Edlund know about the shooting of anything that is not the visual effects photography? What is this “first production day” he is talking about? And what of the other days? I think he’s full of shit, he takes an impression or two of his and is using the “industry talk” to assume the rest and that the case has been settled, when, with close study, the film obviously shows Hooper trademarks and at least two actors have avowed to Hooper being the main director.

I’m not arguing that the set was one without hiccups, or that Hooper did not present some issues in terms of professional demeanor and qualifications on this particular set. But he was on set throughout the shoot. He was never fired, and Edlund even seems to give away that Spielberg never intended to “steal” the film from him from the get-go. Spielberg was there probably being a fun, proactive dad, to the delight and satisfaction of much of the crew, obviously, but Hooper never left and never conceded his vision. Edlund is not in Hooper’s mind and he’s not in Spielberg’s mind. He has a single story about a single set-up. He is only a VFX guy. He probably saw Hooper on set as much as Spielberg but still can only slag off on Hooper because he had the nerve to require a learning curve. Edlund is not studying the aesthetic qualities of Spielberg and of Hooper. He is going off bias and whatever he was around to see. His statement here sounds like an assumption and he inadvertently says one of Spielberg’s best directed films is one he couldn’t pull off without another director. His anecdote about Spielberg pulling the door is essentially equal to the one about Spielberg pointing the stick at the three scientists,an enthusiastic big-idea guy, while Hooper is behind the camera, determining the angle, movements and slow zoom-in. The film feels like a Hooper film to me, and really all I need is his word and a few actors’ to be satisfied, and not the shit-talking of the man mostly in charge of the big puppets.

Guess I’ll always be an angry Poltergeist truther. 😫

Anonymous said...

And here is another deliberation that you may or may not have read. It spits in the face of the talk that I have read about Hooper respecting Spielberg and "being the best of friends" unless that was facetious, which it didn't seem so as Hooper seemed to be a non-bullshit type of guy.

JR said...

I did manage to come across that one! And I got some satisfaction from it. I think Hooper came onto a set hoping to have freedom and respect, but was instead greeted by producers and crew people as skeptical and set in industry practices as Hollywood offered. I think Spielberg didn’t do much to help Hooper’s image with the crew, and even if Hooper needed the help, the ire Edlund shows here is symptomatic of an inexcusable disinterest of Spielberg in protecting an individualistic artist on a set full of industry prejudice.

I think Hooper wanted to believe in a friendship with Spielberg, but I don’t doubt Holland’s probably slightly-exaggerated statement that Hooper “hated” Spielberg. I think the resentment was there, this fostering of this tendency to discredit Hooper’s role by Spielberg’s close associates (Edlund, Marshall, etc). I don’t think Spielberg did this maliciously, but he did nothing to discourage it. I think Hooper wanted to take the high road, to never dwell on it, but deep down, “hate” might not be far from his feelings. Considering this recent Edlund interview, I think Hooper’s completely entitled to it. This attitude against his practices and his film’s credit to him is so prejudicial, especially when numerous other accounts don’t hesitate to say Hooper was doing a vital job on the set.

JR said...

*this film’s credit to him (which is tangible, quantifiable, evinced in how different this feels from Raiders and E.T., yet Edlund refuses to see that)

JR said...

And also, we have enough accounts to realize the experience of the set is going to be different for different people. We can get 10 more accounts from 10 more VFX or even crew guys who say Spielberg told them everything, and it still won’t matter to me as much as what I see on the screen, Hooper’s word, and the actors’ word. If Spielberg was the interpreter and surrogate for Hooper implementing his subtle, subverting designs that crew people cannot see, that’s fine with me.

Anonymous said...

Hey JR and all Hooper fans. I'm a Hooper fan. I've been one since I was a kid in the 80s. Chainsaw was the first video I ever rented one unforgettable day in 1985. But I don't believe Hooper was the "real" director of Poltergeist, and I'll tell you why.

The story from the FX guy about the first day of production should not be dismissed. I've heard another version of the story from a strong source. Yes, the pre-production was all Hooper. The crew all showed up for the first day of shooting under the impression Tobe Hooper would be the director. But then he couldn't decide how to block out the first shot, couldn't make up his mind where he wanted to put the camera. (The first day of shooting should be clarified; it was the outside scene of the dad and his real estate boss climbing grassy hill)

It's worth noting -- this kind of time wasting was not unprecedented for Hooper. It previously got him fired from The Dark, and although accounts vary, there is evidence he was dismissed from the Funhouse before it was finished as well. He was also quit (or was fired from) Eaten Alive way before it was finished filming. And he quit Venom. As far as I know, his only good production experience between Chainsaw and Poltergeist was Salem's Lot. Apparently no problems on that one. Chainsaw's classic status was already a thing in the late 70s and early 80s, and its reputation alone kept big name filmmakers very interested in working with Tobe.

But all evidence points to him being a slow director. Taking too much time to decide where to put the camera, and falling behind schedule. Yes, an artist should be allowed to take his time, but you would allow I'm sure that a schedule exists for a reason. He fell way behind on the very first day. So Steven showed up and basically started calling the shots (other photos of that first day exist; look up the one of Hooper standing there with a can of Coke in his hand while Steven points/directs). According to the source I mentioned (he was the prop master, worked on a number of Speilberg films), before lunch on that first day everyone assumed Hooper was in charge. After lunch, they realized that wasn't the case.

His extensive involvement with pre-production isn't questioned. But contrast that with his involvement with post. Everything really did change on that very first day of shooting imho.

JR said...

Hi, thanks for commenting. That said, I don't buy it.

First, if a major part of your argument is Hooper's past dust-ups in previous films, those incidents speak to nothing but obstructionist producers (unlike Spielberg, who was working towards the same goals as Hooper) and Hooper's more demanding, less obligatory process. If Hooper tended to offend his producers for how "slow" he worked, it was in the effort to create a film that came from his personal sense of artistry. That Hooper would cede all authority on a film is thus dubious, if his strong-willed methods weren't being honored.

There is also no reason to believe he left The Funhouse before finishing it. He is on record saying he himself edited the film to its minutest specifications. Eaten Alive was also a set full of many disagreements with his producers, to the point where they were shooting sex scenes without him, but he claims never to have abandoned the film and was, according to photographic proof, there on the last day. It was a troublesome production not because of time-wasting, but because the producers wanted to enact things against his will and he would storm out in order to get his way.

Salem's Lot was indeed a successful production, and it was a film the length of two features shot in the production time frame of one. He was working incredibly fast. With the help of supportive ADs and producers, there is no reason to believe he couldn't adapt - that is, unless a crew was actively hostile to him. Maybe that's why he needed Spielberg around talking to crew members who couldn't get past the fact he wouldn't just film what was exactly on the page or in the shot list. That brings up the other question to Edlund's version of the events: if Hooper was working slow, why did it come down to Spielbeg and not the AD having a productive conversation with him? Directors go over-schedule all the time. If an AD can't help him finish a scene before day's out, then it's not just the director who's forgotten how to make a film all of a sudden, but the AD.

I've discussed the events of the first day of production extensively elsewhere, but there is very little we could conclusively extrapolate from the so-called happenings claimed to have occurred on that day. You reiterate Edlund's claims as to what happened, but it remains as vague and assumptive as his account. In my other studies of the scene in such places as my twitter account Poltergeist Thoughts, I've found this account of the day highly suspect because Hooper is said to have spent the entire morning talking to the actors and that cameras hadn't even rolled by noon. Spielberg is said to have then been called to come in.

First of all, Hooper was not just sitting around doing nothing in those first few hours. What he was telling the actors was not nothing, and even if he was moving the camera about this place and that, it was in an effort to narrow down his options. When Spielberg came in, there is no way he could simply determine the entire the blocking of a scene after hours allegedly "wasted." Hooper's work in the first hours of the day must have been integral for the very fact that the scene differs in considerable ways from the version of it scripted. The entire first few lines between the two characters is completely lopped off. The two are not supposed to be climbing the hill, but already on top, looking off at the neighborhood. Something as elaborate as the placing down of dolly tracks to allow for the slow emergence of graves in the foreground could not have been decided by a producer forced to take over the scene. My conclusions and conjectures are this:

JR said...

1) Apart from the fact it's hard to believe Spielberg would not want to be there in the first place, it might've been Hooper's express wish to have him there so he could alter the scene as he saw fit. He discussed his changes with Spielberg during lunch and then they went about executing it when they reassembled.

2) Any "calling the shots" Spielberg did after coming in must have been in direct collaboration with Hooper, who was rehearsing the actors for most of the day. He is, after all, talking to Hooper in that picture of them on the hilltop.

I understand you have a source, the prop master, but when it comes to who was directly influencing the look and feel of the film, the prop master is not who you'd get that conclusion from. It would be the actors, who largely come in support of Hooper. Sure, Mr. Raiche probably experienced a shock to the system seeing Hooper working so closely with Spielberg, but this extrapolation people cite - that "before lunch, it was Hooper's film, after, everything changed" - is likely highly sensationalized and totally impractical. And this is after the FIRST DAY? An entire film's trajectory instantly changes after one day of filming? Seems they wanted to project a first day's misconception onto an entire production before considering Hooper and Spielberg might be working in tandem to create something even better than they conceived in pre-production.

What does a prop master know about the pre-production of shot lists and a vision? If Hooper's vision was diverted from, what exactly was this Hooper version of the film they were all privy to (I'm sure the prop master had first dibs on the storyboards) and how do they know who was changing what? Whatever method Hooper had with Spielberg to split up duties, there is simply no way of extricating Hooper's effect on the film as Spielberg's go-to creative collaborator. Hooper likely directed the characters to walk up the hill. He told them how to perform, where to stop, and likely decided to film from behind a tombstone. He decided he didn't want the camera to pan around to the cemetery but to reveal it gradually. It is very similar to sequences in Salem's Lot. These are involved decisions not made by a late-coming substitute.

Which brings me to post. Hooper did edit the first cut of the film. No matter what casual observers like Richard Edlund (what ILM shot is during that hilltop scene? Only one, the wide shot matte painting) deem to have happened by seeing Spielberg not there at one moment and there the next, Hooper was not just going to film what "they" wanted him to, and maybe that's why people thought him incompetent. If they didn't want to deal with Hooper's methods, they should've fired him. Instead, Spielberg seemed to support him. Random observers don't want to consider this fact and the fact Hooper was thinking like an independent artist who didn't care about pissing off people. The prop master probably couldn't get his head around Spielberg's presence and weaved fantasy from there (such as this idea that "everything changed after lunch," because yeah, surely lunch is not a time where a director talks to his producer and writer about the changes he wanted to make to a scene).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the in-depth reply. I very, very much wanted to believe Poltergeist was a real Tobe Hooper film, and I've studied the mystery of who "really" directed it for many years. I'd like to see your post detailing the first day of shooting.

As someone who studied this case extensively, can I presume you were already aware of the prop master's story? It was his testimoney that ultimately swayed me, not because it was a random "oh yeah that one really directed it" (which is what you mainly get from most of the actors), but because he goes into compelling detail of what it was like to make that classic movie.

Here's a quote I'm presuming you've seen before, from the prop master:

"Our very first shot, on the very first day of principal photography took place on a hilltop overlooking the area that was Cuesta Verde. It was the scene where James Karen offers an already frazzled C.T. Nelson a higher position within the real estate firm. Tobe's decisions were tentative beyond belief, and it took him a ridiculously long time just to decide the blocking of that Spielberg jumped in and did it for him. Having taken that initial step, Spielberg, not Hooper, immediately and forever found himself answering all pertinent questions from both cast and crew."

That was posted several years ago, and aligns strikingly with the testimoney from the FX guy. Does it not? It's not the sort of statement a professional crew member with his kind of track record would "make up".

He also says this: "Now, the scene with Dirk Blocker peddling 6-packs o' beer on a bmx bicycle was NOT a 2nd Unit shot. In shooting those backyard and frontyard scenes simultaneoulsy, we were simply trying to pick up the time as was squandered by Hooper back on the hilltop."

And this: "...on that first day I half jokingly asked Steven if I'd prepared the film with the wrong person. He said that he would work with whatever Tobe had already decided. (I'm sure that was not an intentional fib, but it certainly did not work out that way.)"

Pretty damning imo.

Anonymous said...

Another mystery, or rather set of mysteries, concern the production of every film Tobe was involved with between Chainsaw and Poltergeist.

The rumors of Tobe's problems with the producers of the Funhouse have circulated for years, most of them in print, pre-internet. An early book of "scholarly essays" on the work of Stephen King, delves into the three film adaptions that had been made up to that point (Carrie, Shining, SLot). I'm trying to track that book title down now, because I had it years ago and it mentioned the Funhouse firing rumors. That stuck in my head when I read it in the early 90s.

Also: on the bluray of the Funhouse, there's a brief interview with William Finley, who suggests Hooper was fired and then rehired during production. Listen to the commentary track from the producers, who make statements like "the film just got away from Tobe".

Regarding Eaten Alive, track down the special edition DVD from the late 2000s. Two or three separate people claim (in both commentary tracks and crew interviews) that Tobe left halfway through production, with the DP taking over as director. Perhaps they convinced him to come back for photos on the last day to "prove" he was there the whole time. That's not as far fetched as you might think. Those Grindhouse producers wanted Tobe Hooper's name on the posters and trailers for a reason. It was a strong selling point -- which is why they hype it in the trailers. Likewise for the Funhouse -- they wanted his name. As to which Eaten Alive actors or crew claim the DP took over, the only one I can remember off the top of my head is Reardon. He states in a commentary track that the "DP had taken over directing by that time". I believe the producter let that slip during his commentary track as well.

And no one disputes that Tobe was fired from the Dark for falling behind schedule. The Venom "falling out" is likewise shrouded in mystery.

JR said...

Oh wow, so we are actually saying we know who the pseudonymous "BenThere" that supplied those quotes is, the prop master? I've never seen it outwardly stated before.

But yes, I have studied those quotes very closely, they are perhaps the foremost account against Hooper made after in the 2000s, and I've put up a number of arguments against them.

First of all, we are talking about ONE day. Second of all, I do not find them detailed at all. What we have is someone on the sideline presuming they know what is happening due to being an outside observer to Hooper and Spielberg's process. What baffles me about these crew member accounts is that they claim so surely that they know what they are talking about from what they see. Thirdly, I simply do no trust their sweeping view of what happened, as I have outlined. We KNOW Hooper put in his work that day, no matter how derisively these two individuals consider it. What at all a VFX Supervisor and a Prop Master have to do with the nitty-gritty camerawork and performance directing, I have no idea. They were either standing right next to Hooper and Spielberg at all points during that day, or they are full of it.

Fourthly, what is most demonstrable is that the scene does feature Hooper's unique sense of camerawork and the fact it reinterpets and revisualizes a lot that is integrally different in the script, from Steve Freeling's more hapless demeanor and the fact the camera is supposed to swivel 180º to the graveyard, not slowly reveal it.

While he wouldn't make it up, he could be conceivably misinterpreting what he apparently witnessed. Like I said, someone doesn't just show up after lunch equipped with an entire vision of the scene. No matter what integral role Spielberg played after lunch ended, Hooper was there right next to Spielberg determining the particulars of the scene. This concept that the film "changed" all of a sudden and that Hooper took a complete backseat after that point is highly doubtful and primarily attributable to people wanting to assume what they want to assume.

I don't know why this individual automatically had to assume Spielberg was "fibbing." By all means, he was working with what Hooper already decided.

What authority he has to say that the biking scene was not 2nd Unit shows his faulty sense of confidence. I really care less how much time Hooper "squandered," directors go off the rails all the time (Spielberg is said to have done the same thing on "Close Encounters" and "1941," making demands that ultimately led his efficiency to be questioned). I don't see an entire morning talking to the actors as "squandered." That said, we DO know that Hooper was in the backyard filming the canary funeral single-handedly, a far more subtle and directorially idiosyncratic scene than some shots of remote control cars (which Hooper surely signed off on, which allowed Spielberg to take control of shooting it).

Damning of his professional comportment? Maybe. Like I said, Hooper was an individual artist who was not just going to film what was on the page. But demonstrative of who was determining the overall feel of the film and what was actually going before the camera? Not so much. If Spielberg found himself "answering all pertinent questions of cast and crew" after that point, then lets turn our attention towards actors like Martin Casella and Oliver Robins, who both claim Hooper was the one "mostly" - and by some accounts "the only" - one giving them, the actors, direction, on the set in general, not just these paltry two days.

JR said...

The following week of shooting was scenes from the climax - with all the chaos involving the imploding house and self-destructing suburb - which are heavily stunt and effects heavy scenes. Spielberg was probably integral as the "line producer," which is what he said his function on the set was. But that climactic scene also has a number of peculiar divergences from the script and the boards. The house was supposed to implode from Steven Freeling's POV down the road. Dana was supposed to come in earlier into the scene and the windows were supposed to explode outward and surprise her. These changes surely came about from Hooper discussing things with Spielberg, and so a prop master and even VFX guy are only to be let in on the discussion after Hooper and Spielberg had their first discussion. This is not proof of Hooper being sidelined. It's proof of people wanting to see what they want to see, and deriding an artist in the process for no reason than their scandal-mongering.

I've already tried to debunk as forthrightly as I know how the stories about Hooper's films between 'Chainsaw' and 'Poltergeist.' I've listened to that Finley interview and I'm not sure which producer commentary you are talking about, but again, Finley has only a walk-on role in 'The Funhouse' and it's not unlike people to simply assume things in the wrong way (and we know he directed the scenes that Finley was actually in). I've listened to producer Derek Power's audio commentary for 'The Funhouse' and I'm pretty sure he outwardly stated Hooper was never let go and completed the film. We cannot assume everything we read in print is true. If you want to suggest a "Where there's smoke, there's fire" thing, I concede Hooper was a temperamental artist fighting against personal prejudices against him and his methods. I don't concede that these films were shepherded without his perspective.

I've also studied extensively the production of 'Eaten Alive,' and as said, Hooper was on and off that set because of his disagreements with the producers. That said, if he was back the next day, as Hooper has claimed, that's not exactly the film "getting away from him," but merely his tactics to complete the film. The individuals you speak of are probably actress Janus Blythe and Craig Reardon. I don't recall producer Mardi Rustam ever letting slip that Hooper was fired or even not present on a scene (though we know he did not shoot everything in the film - mainly the sex scene).

A lot can be chalked up to the vagueness of human memory. Yes, at least two Janus Blythe scenes were filmed without Hooper, but, unlike in the DVD interview, she has stated in a separate interview online that she did work with Hooper, but she has a hard time remembering it. Hooper wasn't the most memorable presence on sets, but that doesn't mean he wasn't steering a film. I don't believe at all that Hooper was simply brought on set for "proof." It's just not something Hooper would do, plus he is in active directing-mode in those shots of the ultimate shooting day.

Now 'The Dark,' those producers were simply crooks. They never wanted a director to film a film the way he wanted to, so directors simply left. On the film 'Mutant,' they ousted another young director and again replaced him with John "Bud" Cardos a week into filming. It wasn't Hooper, it was them.

JR said...

Directors get replaced all the time. "Creative differences." Hooper is singular enough a voice that he was going to piss off his producers. You're right, "Venom" is a completely unknown variable, but I've heard stories that it was Tony Richmond, the DP, who was drinking on set to deal with a chaotic production. Hooper states a drunk "producer" on one of the films he was fired from almost got into a physical fight with him and so he quit (I choose to assume this is "Venom," even though he doesn't divulge the production). Firings happen all the time, and a lot of the time it is exactly what it is: producers and directors not getting along. This is not the case on "Poltergeist." Point is, laying the blame on Hooper's feet in order to make a point about 'Poltergeist,' in which the presence of the great and powerful Spielberg already meant people were going to have his head (we recall stories from other Spielberg produced films like "Used Cars" and "The Goonies," do we not?) is a fualty premise. All evidence points to Spielberg fully working with Hooper to help him realize Hooper's vision. People were simply dying to misinterpret this. A Prop Master who claims he saw Spielberg doing everything is a Prop Master who is severely going above and beyond the auspices of his (yes, integral) role and presuming to be a major creative collaborator, when in fact he is being relayed information that is being decided between the major creative collaborators. His thoughts on who was "in charge" can easily be colored.

Anonymous said...

Yes, "Ben There" was definitely the prop master. He was identified as such on the old playmountain speilberg board, and another source verified this to me several years ago when I mistakenly guessed he was Reardon. He is a respected professional, having worked with Speilberg on several subsequent films. I think he's retired now.

Thanks for the insights. I just wish we knew more. There's *still* a weird reluctance on the part of the filmmakers (not the actors) to discuss Tobe's unique contributions on Poltergeist. It's like he gets a token acknowledgment and that's all. Particularly from Frank Marshall. I'd like more footage of him on the set -- footage which exists but has been locked away for whatever reasons. I'd really like Steven himself to give an updated version of "his" side of the story. As far as I know, after the apology to Tobe in Variety, he never again addressed the issue publicly.

Did Tobe have a project he longed to make after he realized how successful Chainsaw was? A passion project? Was he writing original scripts at the time? I know William Friedkin wanted to work with him, but that never happened. A unique, fascinating career.

JR said...

Yes, it's true, a very fascinating career.

I'd like to ask him why he worked so hard to decimate a man's role when he has about two stories worth telling and none of the actors back up what he says. I've read other quotes by him and he obviously didn't like Hooper's work. I ask the same thing about Edlund. Can't they see that they speak from ignorance? Why did all these crew people hate him and not care to actually see what he was doing? Anyway, that's what I say/think, I don't want to state that as absolute truth.

Same, man. Footage and more pictures. Let's just see the truth at this point.

There's just too much baggage. Though he did also make this statement to TIME that I believe was after the Variety letter:

Hooper had an original project called "The Lights" he wanted to make after "Poltergeist" that never panned out for some reason. He worked with Friedkin from, I'm guessing, 1977-1980 but literally none of his projects were picked up. This was when he was trying to develop his ghost story idea and meeting all of the mediums and researchers Friedkin knew.

JR said...

He also wrote a treatment for the The Thing remake with Kim Henkel that was deemed unusable by Universal. Have always been fascinated by that.