A Man Who Knows Where Hes Going
John Carpenter is a very hot young director who has risen to the top in a hurry. He has just been signed by producers George Braunstein and Ron Hamady to adapt a screenplay for and direct THE PROMETHEUS CRISIS; a film budgeted at around seven million dollars.
Carpenters first film, released just four years ago, was made for only 60,000 dollars. That was DARK STAR, described by its maker as a science-fiction adventure film, a comedy, which has become sort of a cult film on college campuses. The 60,000 dollars was his own money.
Carpenters career has dramatically accelerated into high gear since the release of HALLOWEEN, which he wrote and directed for Irwin Yablans Compass International. He directed the three-hour TV movie, ELVIS, which beat both GONE WITH THE WIND and ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOOS NEST in the American TV ratings last month (it is being sold by PSO for theatrical release overseas) and will soon begin principal photography on THE FOG for Avco-Embassy.
PROMETHEUS CRISIS is based on the best selling novel of the same name by Tom Scortia and Frank Robinson, who also authored THE GLASS INFERNO, on which THE TOWERING INFERNO was built. Chelsea Pictures International, a new company formed by New York banker Dan Sobol to produce this film and others, is providing the financing.
Braunstein and Hamady bought PROMETHEUS after finishing their first film as co-producers, TRAIN RIDE TO HOLLYWOOD, a picture never released because Tom Laughlin and his Billy Jack Enterprises had bought distribution rights for TRAIN RIDE from its producers and the picture is still tied up in Laughlins legal proceedings.
The pair interested Carpenter, whom Braunstein describes as an unconfusing, straightforward storyteller, in doing the PROMETHEUS movie.
He did about three pages of ideas of how to rewrite the film what sort of direction to take the picture in then the project was taken to Chelsea and the deal was made.
I think all of us like the original idea, Carpenter said, which is simply a nuclear power plant melts down. Thats what happens when a disaster strikes. It melts into the earth, releasing giant clouds of radioactive steam.
Noting that disaster movies are kind of over with, Carpenter added that his approach to adapting the book for the screen will be to do more of a horror film, mixed in a little bit with a NORTH BY NORTHWEST, the old Alfred Hitchcock picture. One always hates to say what theyre going to do before they do it, but at this point Id say thats my tentative plan.
Carpenter grew up in a small town in mid-America Bowling Green, Kentucky and always has been fascinated with the idea of radiation clouds.
Where I lived back in the Sixties when there was the threat that the bomb was going to drop any day, it wasnt the idea that the bomb would drop on you, but something called radiation was going to be coming in on the wind and you couldnt hide from it. It used to terrify me.
If all goes well, he will begin filming on PROMETHEUS in late June. He is working on the script now while waiting to begin principal photography on THE FOG, which rolls in Northern California on April 2, backed by a two-million-dollar budget.
Carpenter was married on January 1 to actress Adrienne Barbeau (she will have a part in FOG), and he wrote the FOG script since returning from their Switzerland honeymoon.
The deal had been set up based on an idea I had. I just went in and talked to the people at Avco Embassy and said I want to do a ghost story and I want to call it THE FOG. And its about this mist. And they said yes.
Debra Hill co-wrote FOG with Carpenter and will be its producer. She also was co-writer on HALLOWEEN. Were a team, Carpenter stated simply.
So far Carpenter is best known for HALLOWEEN, which he made for only 300,000 dollars and which has been toting up millions at the box office. Carpenter and Yablans met when the latter distributed the formers second film, ASSULT ON PRECINCT 13. Irwin formed a partnership with Moustapha Akkad, Carpenter related. Moustapha wanted to fund some films in this country, so one of the first was HALLOWEEN.
Wed had an idea to do a film, a horror film about these three girls in a small town that are stalked by
you fill in the blank. Theres something out there. I tossed at Irwin the idea: Lets have it happen on Halloween night. He called me up one night and said: Do you think its on the nose to call it HALLOWEEN?
And at that moment the whole movie took shape for me and I said: thats the greatest. Its a great title. Somehow that raised the film to another level. Its not just a story about something stalking three girls; its a story about all scary stuff. If I titled the film THE BABYSITTER KILLER, a real schlocky kind of title, it would be a little tiny thing. But calling it HALLOWEEN, you can take more chances, you can be broader, because its about Halloween night when youre a little kid and you get scared. Its a fantasy.
He is a fast writer and can knock out a full feature-length script in about one month when I write a film that I am to direct. Because I can see the entire film in my head. I try to make it in my deals now that I have complete creative control of the films I am to direct. When there are other forces at work people saying Well, we want to see this and this and this then it takes a little longer.
He writes best, he said, under extreme pressure. Most of a script is written in about a two or three day period, after having outlined it and culled over it.
A 30 minute film Carpenter co-wrote, co-directed, edited and wrote the music for with a classmate in the film school at the University of Southern California, THE RESURRECTION OF BRONCO BILLY, won an Oscar in 1970 for best short film of the year.
He also wrote the original screenplay for the EYES OF LAURA MARS (the film that was on the screen was not my film; it was re-written and so forth by about 12 writers) and wrote and directed SOMEONES WATCHING ME, a TV movie that aired last year staring Lauren Hutton.
He knew at the age of eight that he wanted to be a film director, Carpenter declared, and got his start making movies with his dads 8mm movie camera. A young man who knew and knows here hes going.
Coming up in 1980? A Western with EMI called EL DIABLO and thats all Ill say about it now.