Gavin Interviews William Butler
At Killer Reviews, we love actors, writers, directors and anyone else involved in the making of our favorite horror films. And today we have a special treat: William Butler, who has done all these things (acted, directed, written) and more (special effects, props). You might not recognize the name at first, but we guarantee you’ve seen some of William’s work!
As an actor, he’s appeared in “Ghoulies II”, “Friday the 13th Part VII”, “Leatherface”, the Tom Savini remake of “Night of the Living Dead” and more… special effects for “From Beyond”, “Cellar Dweller”, “Village of the Damned” and more… wrote the early drafts for “Return of the Living Dead” (parts 4 and 5) and “Gingerdead Man” (but not the final drafts)… and is currently making his name as a feature director with “Madhouse”, “Furnace” and the upcoming “Ink”…
He notoriously lived with Viggo Mortensen for five years before Viggo became Aragorn. We asked him about that experience (which seems odd to us now, looking back on it) but he declined to share the dirt. And on one occasion he left a bloody mannequin body double of Bill Moseley in a hotel, scaring the maid and getting him kicked out!
In this interview, William shares with us what it’s like working with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, starting out under the tutelage of John Carl Buechler and Charles Band, and dining on young children’s bodies with George A. Romero. Well, maybe…
GS: As near as I can tell, your first job in the world of horror was on the set of “From Beyond”. There are a lot of horror icons associated with this film: director Stuart Gordon, producer Charles Band (who seems to be how everyone I interview got their start in horror), writer-producer Brian Yuzna, and the actors Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton and Ken Foree (who is just about the nicest man I’ve ever met). How did you get this job, and do you have any recollections of what it was like to be on this set? (I would have crapped my pants.)
WB: From Beyond was truly an amazing experience for a twenty year old. In other words – I did crap my pants. It was my first time in Italy and Charles Band spared no expense when it came to feeding and housing us. It was like one big party. In fact, most of the five years that I was in Italy for CB were such a great experience. I am forever thankful to him for giving me my start and would do anything he asked to return the favor.
I met so many old and future stars and friends that I still keep in touch with to this day after first working with them in Italy. I am still very good friends with Stuart Gordon and consider him to be one of the most talented and funny guys I have every met. His wife, Carolyn, does the catering for the commercial shoots I direct. I also had a great experience in working with Mike Deak, a really great FX artist coordinator, who is now at KNB Effects. I remember that we prepped the show for about three months at MMI, John Buechler’s shop. The movie was a huge undertaking for the size of budget we had to work with (one million), but we happily took the challenge.
After everything was built, we flew to Italy and set up shop in Charlie’s studio. When the actors arrived, it was winter so it was very, very cold in the stages. Everyone would stay bundled up until it was time to shoot and then drop their coats when the camera rolled.
One of my jobs was to mix the 50 gallon barrels of slime that we used. We mixed the slime with drills and sealed up the cans a week before shooting. Unfortunately, the one thing we didn’t take into consideration was that the stuff would go bad. So every time we got a bucket out to use the stuff, the entire stage smelled like rotten crotch. The worst part is that most of the time that we used the stuff it was all over puppets that Mike and I puppeteered… so it would be pouring down onto us. We also had the crate with the giant flying preying mantis thing fall out of the airplane at the airport and open up – horrifying everyone on the plane above. There were packing peanuts blowing everywhere, turning Summer into an instant snowstorm.
Otherwise, we had such a great time. The Italians are famous for drinking frozen vodka limone during the day, and being twenty year old guys we happily joined in the fun. I think most of the crew was hammered throughout the production. Barbara Crampton became a friend of mine and we hung out for a few years after the shoot. We were both raised in the carnival circuit, so we had plenty of stories to share. Jeff Combs and I are still in touch… in fact, he met with me for Furnace, a film that is scheduled to be out by October in the US and is now available abroad – but ended up doing another at the last minute. Last, but not least, Ken Foree, who is a total rock star, and I stayed in touch and of course I eventually co-starred with him in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3. A dream come true for a fan boy geek like me!
GS: I’m curious about John Carl Buechler’s hiring techniques. His best talent might be casting after he found both you and the now-legendary Kane Hodder for “Friday the 13th, Part VII”. What’s Buechler like?
WB: Buechler is like a father to me… or older brother, I guess he’d prefer me to say! I came here to Los Angeles with very little money and ran out quickly. I was literally sleeping in my car, trying desperately to figure out a way into the system when I connected with him. I offered to sweep the floors in his shop for free… and the next thing I knew the staff was teaching me how to paint and make molds. Eventually he learned of my love of acting and he took me directly to a casting director. I am so fortunate to know someone as giving and kind as he is — anyone who meets John likes him. He is funny and fearless and a big fan of thinking positive. A lot of the way I run my own production company comes directly from the methods of business that I learned from John. He believes that things will come to be – therefore they do.
GS: I haven’t watched the “Garbage Pail Kids” since I was a kid. You did some painting and such on the dolls, I believe. Here’s my question: I have fond memories of this film, but it’s been consistently considered one of the worst films ever made in the history of cinema. If I go back and watch it now, will I find it just as revolting as the critics do?
WB: LOL! Well, isn’t that the case with most films and television shows from your childhood? I know almost every time I Tivo one of my faves, I often times scratch my head and say, “What was I thinking?” I was recently excited to hear that I Dream of Jeannie was back on TV and watched an old episode… and I gotta tell you, it drove me to drinking it was so bad. I guess we are easily entertained as kids. So, I’m sure the Garbage Pail Kids movie sucks. It was a stupid idea that was shot in a warehouse in the center of porn-town, North Hollywood. I was just happy to have a gig at that age. It was made for children, so I wouldn’t put much hope in you liking it as an adult. Then again if you smoke weed you MAY LOVE IT!
GS: People have asked you what it’s like working with Lance Henriksen, Danny Trejo, Tony Todd and others. But at Killer Reviews, we’re all about he ladies. So, what’s it like directing Jordan Ladd? Or Mary-Kate and Ashley?
WB: Well, you will be happy to know that Jordan Ladd is even foxier in person. She is a sexy, funny, and talented chick who is a total professional. I loved directing her as she would actually listen to the direction… which is not always the case with some other nameless performers I have worked with.
We had a great time in Romania and she was a total team player. I have since tried to hire her on other movies but both times she was off doing films with Eli Roth. They are really good friends and of course he has more fire-power than I at the moment, so that’s the way it goes! I look forward to working with her again. I actually auditioned tons of girls for the film… Laura Prepon, Kimberly Williams, and others who I also can’t wait to have a chance to work with, but Jordan was just a good fit with the character. I wasn’t sure if I was gonna dig her personally at first because she is kind of quiet when you first meet her… so, of course it would figure that she would be my favorite actress by the end of the shoot. I love her and would write for her till my fingers bled.
I worked with Mary-Kate and Ashley when they were children. I used to direct stuff they were in when I was under contract with Fox Family Channel. They were wonderfully well mannered and welcoming – which is saying a lot with as guarded and powerful as they were. Even when the uptight adults that handled them would meddle where they didn’t belong, the girls would always grant me the time I needed to do my job correctly. I always knew things would go smoothly when I worked with them because they were such professionals. It makes me sad now to read mean stuff about them in the trades because they are really nice people and don’t deserve the negative jabs. They’re strong and will pull through it all.
GS: Let’s ask about another fine lady: Kate Hodge. You’ve considered her your favorite co-star (from “Leatherface”) and she went on to be a producer for your film “Black Velvet Pantsuit” (which seems impossible to find). Most horror fans don’t know Kate, I presume, because she’s primarily a non-horror television actress. How did you go from meeting her to co-producing with her?
WB: Kate Hodge is probably the one that I have remained close as family with. She has actually been in a bunch of horror films as well as she was the star of She-Wolf of London, which was a television series about a woman who is bitten by a werewolf and has to live with the curse.
She did produce my first short film, Black Velvet Pantsuit, which unfortunately was never finished due to the fact that the leading actress, Penny Hamilton, died before the end of shooting. She was a funny performer who sadly developed liver cancer while I was in production. Ironically enough, the trailer for the film was what got me my first Power Rangers directing job. As for Kate, I speak to her monthly. She now lives in New York and is busy with television shows and commercials. We have often talk about how fun the shoot was out in Valencia and the terror that Kane Hodder put us through with that damn chainsaw. Kate will be appearing in a movie that I am directing in the Spring.
GS: But I do have to ask about one guy: Tom Sizemore. Based on anecdotal evidence and the film “Bottom Feeder”, he sounds like a nightmare to work with. Is he?
WB: Tom was obviously suffering through his disease while I was working with him on my project. I hired him because he really is a good guy down beneath all that drives him to do what he does in his private time – but I’d be lying if I said it was easy. I am very sorry to hear that he was sentenced to prison for breaking his probation, but he will get sober while he is in there and no doubt kick ass when he gets out. The one thing you must admit about the guy, no matter how abusive he is – is that he is truly a remarkable actor. I mean, after all, he convinced me he was well enough for me to hire him and I’ve partied A LOT in my day.
GS: Around the time of the “Night of the Living Dead” remake (1990), you had lunch with George A. Romero. What did you eat? Is it true he lives off a steady diet of brains and infant blood?
WB: What a weird question! What are you smoking? What is going on!?? I actually think we both had an Elby’s Combo, which is a burger and fries. Hmmm, sounds good right about now. For dessert, we killed a second grader and drank her spinal fluid. JUST KIDDING. Can you imagine eating lunch with the George Romero? I still get flushed just thinking about it.
GS: What makes you unique in the horror world is you’ve been killed by Leatherface, Jason Voorhees, Romero’s zombies and Freddy Krueger. You’ve also worked on “Army of Darkness” and the awesomely bad “Gingerdead Man” (which you wrote). But stepping away from horror for a second — I want to hear about your work on possibly the greatest film ever made: doing special effects for “Demolition Man”. What are the three shells for and will Taco Bell be the only restaurant in the future?
WB: First of all – I DID NOT WRITE GINGERDEAD MAN. I wrote the original screenplay which was later disregarded and rewritten by some weirdo named August White. They loosely used my idea so I got a “story by” credit and I think there is some footage in the documentary DVD extras of one of the actors auditioning with the original screenplay and I suspect that’s where that awful bit of trivia arose from. They can’t all be gems, but I can’t take credit for that one. I did, however, work on Demolition Man. I coordinated the figures in the museum of weaponry where Sly gets all the guns and stuff when he thaws out. It was a huge undertaking. I must be hungry, because now Taco Bell sounds good lol.
GS: You’ve also become semi-famous for being Viggo Mortensen’s old roommate. What’s the dirt on Viggo? Does he drink OJ from the container? Does he leave his smelly socks in the hallway?
WB: (declined to respond to this question)
GS: On certain occasions, you’ve distanced yourself from parts four and five of “Return of the Living Dead”, which you wrote. I know, for example, you were upset they didn’t follow the rules with regards to how zombies are supposed to die (like me at the bar, total annihilation). I spoke with the writers of the original ROTLD, John A. Russo and Russell Streiner, in February. John refuses to even watch the new films (he makes zombie comic books instead). On another occasion you said that “I can see that the films ultimately turned out great” and “the fans are going to love the films”. As someone who had to review part four, I will give you another opportunity to distance yourself from these films if you want to take it.
WB: Here we go… I have spoken about this subject till I am blue in the face – but, in a nutshell, Aaron Strongoni and I wrote the original drafts six years ago. As a reviewer who seems to have his finger on the pulse of how production works, I am sure you know that a screenplay goes through many hands before it is finally shot. Sadly, after we sold the original screenplays (which were written as twenty million dollar movies that were to be done at Lakeshore Entertainment), Tom Fox, the original producer/creator died and Aaron and I, as part of his team, were cut out of the process. The scripts were then taken over by the production and they did with them what they did. Later, the films were made for three million apiece, most of our stuff had been cut out and the location had been changed to Romania. I hate the movies and was furious at the outcome — they are total garbage. The earlier quotes you are speaking of were based on the trailers, which came out a year before the film was locked. I saw them online and was really hopeful and thought they may have come up with something cool — it was the first time that someone had spent more than three million dollars on a super low budget sequel in a long time. Part three was made for five hundred thousand. Aaron and I were kept out of all screenings and edit bays and the first time we saw the films we were sitting at home watching them on Sci-Fi Channel. For more details on this exhaustive subject, I recommend that your readers listen to the interview that I did for the Dead Pit Radio. I was fortunate enough not to be asked to type my own responses on that one.
In regards to your offering me a chance to “distance” myself – I will just say to you that for those of us lucky enough to continually work in the film business, not every film is going to be perfect, especially when it comes to horror franchises that are on their last leg. We were offered an opportunity to work with a remarkable man — one whom we both look up to as a father figure — on a subject that we are very fond of, and we proudly took it. If anyone else can’t bring yourself to understand the film making process – Just keep telling yourself, “Its Only A Movieeeeeeeee.”
GS: Tom Fox (who passed away in 2004) was the producer for four of the five “Return of the Living Dead” films (the exception being part three). He also produced your film “Madhouse”. Can you tell us about Tom, and would you say he was more of an “owner” or a “father” to the films he produced? (i.e., would he have been happy with the last two ROTLD films?)
WB: (declined to respond to this question, though I think some answers can be inferred from the previous question)
GS: I have heard one of your favorite films and an inspiration for you was the 1961 classic “The Innocents” — directed by Jack Clayton, and written by Truman Capote (based off the novel “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James). I just gave the credits, now you tell us what it is and why this film has really hit home for you.
WB: I like the film because you don’t know if Debra Kerr is insane, if the kids are evil, or if the place is haunted. Tivo it — it will scare the shit out of you and there isn’t a drop of blood.
GS: I’ve been watching a lot of Dario Argento lately (just finished “Phenomena” with Jennifer Connelly yesterday). Rumor has it you have a soft spot for Italian horror. Do you have a favorite director or film?
WB: I am hugely influenced by Italian filmmaking because I lived in Italy for five years. I know Dario Argento well and love to pay homage to him in everything I do — unless it’s directing Disney Channel shows in which case I am inspired by Satan himself.
GS: Do you think America should return to the gold standard, a modified gold-silver standard or simply continue on with the current economic system?
WB: STEP AWAY FROM THE BONG.
GS: One upcoming project you’ve been promoting is called “Ink”, which features — correct me if I’m wrong — people who die in a similar circumstance to the image they have tattooed on them. What more can you tell us about this one? Writer? Director? Cast?
WB: The film is a ten million dollar film that is currently in pre-production. We are just trying to figure out when my schedule will allow as I am directing the script that both Aaron and I wrote. It is about a group of young people that get tats on their last night together, only to find that their art is a grim indication of how they are gonna die. It’s Jeepers Creepers meets Final Destination. I’m really excited because it is a good old fashioned popcorn monster movie – VERY BLOODY AND MESSY just the way daddy likes it!
GS: I like to end my interviews with a generic question simply asking if there’s upcoming projects I missed or last words you have for the fans. I guess this is that time…. so have at it.
WB: Just to thank you all so much for all of the support you have given me for nearly twenty years! I love the fans and other film makers both small and large, because I am first and foremost one myself and I really appreciate all the nice things I have heard from you all through. Stay focused on your goals and never let anyone’s negativity detract you from where you want to go in life. “Furnace”, my next film, will be available everywhere on DVD in Oct. Please spread the word!
Note: Originally posted at KillerReviews.com