Straight To Video
Many moons ago, I used to write for the movie magazine Premiere. Here is an article I wrote for them on Playboy Playmate and Thriller Goddess Shannon Tweed. I figure if I am gonna start writing again and “Blog” why not start with Shannon?
Somewhere in Florida, Demi Moore is getting paid twelve million dollars to take off her clothes in Striptease. Entertainment Tonight is there. So is Extra, Hard Copy and pretty much every news crew in the world that isn’t out bird dogging O.J…
Simultaneously, in an abandoned warehouse near downtown Los Angeles, thriller star Shannon Tweed is wrapping her latest movie, White Cargo. Shannon doesn’t have Entertainment Tonight covering her. She doesn’t have Extra or Hard Copy or even Scream Queens Illustrated. What she does have is Toronto’s Movie Television, and me from Premiere, plus she gets to keep her clothes on. On the other hand, her check is probably a few zeroes shy of twelve million.
Movie Television isn’t exactly covering her; they’re covering me as I cover her. I was hoping to then find some journalist who could cover them as they covered me. Then maybe I could cover that journalist and we could forget about Shannon and her movie and all cover each other; A does a story about how B is doing a story on C who is doing a story on A. They give Pulitzers for this stuff, I hear.
But Bob Barrett, who is a segment producer for Movie Television, doesn’t quite see it this way; he’s insisting I actually report on Shannon for Movie Television’s huge audience. “We’re syndicated all over the world… even seen in third world countries,” he explains. “That’s basically the bulk of the market.” (I wonder how many people in Rwanda get Cinemax.) He ticks off a list of stars he’s recently interviewed: Johnny Depp, Cindy Crawford… “I’ve interviewed Shannon before, on the same kind of schlocky picture. I got the feeling she was a bit of an ice queen.” Great, I think. I’m assigned to do a story about the star of such hot and steamy erotic classics as Night Eyes, Night Eyes 2, and Cannibal Woman in the Avacado Jungle of Death and she’s an ice queen! Maybe I can get her to melt me some cinematic secrets. No matter what, I’m determined to show all of Rwanda how I can ferret out some juicy, salacious hunk of dirt… something so seemly that The Globe would reject as being in poor taste. There’s got to be something on the set of an Erotic Thriller, right?
So we arrive at the warehouse where they’re lensing White Cargo, about which I know zero (except, of course, that I auditioned for a part and once again did not get it). I wait for Shannon, wondering if maybe I should have bought along one of those Miracle Thaw platters that defrosts a frozen carp in eleven seconds. Minutes later, I see her walking towards me — a classical beauty with blonde hair, blue-eyes, an air of confidence surrounding her… But something is wrong. Shannon Tweed, star of Sexual Response, Indecent Behavior and Cold Sweat should be clad in a diaphanous negligee with one strap off the shoulder. Or a torn t-shirt with nipples raised like Braille. She could at least have the decency to be naked. But, instead, she’s wearing a business suit and, after the hellos, she immediately launches into a sound-bite: “People think it’s okay to see Schwarzenegger blow somebody’s head off, but it’s not okay to see some man kissing my butt.”
I am about to ask her to elaborate on men kissing her butt when the 1st Assistant Director scurries up and announces she’s needed on the set. Shannon goes off to blow somebody’s head off or get her butt kissed and I decide to wander.
Executive Producer Bob Burge is in his office. I have always wondered just what an Executive Producer does and here I finally find out: They play golf. Bob is practicing with a putter and explaining things about lies and shanks to the female Unit Production Manager. “Now, this is firm, not stiff,” she says, referring (I hope) to the golf club. He tells me he is a professional golfer and that he grew up in a all black neigborhood in the South. He loves golf but his real dream after, “watching every performance of John Wayne in the Flying Leathernecks” was to be in the movie business.
He started out in Union Bank’s entertainment division in ‘64 and soon wound up in the film completion bond business, putting up bonds for, “guys who ran out of money.” He’s produced many movies himself, sometimes directing a few — Death Stalks the Streets, The Killers and The Sunbathers. “I also did a movie called Vasectomy is a Delicate Matter, starring Paul Sorvino and Abe Vigoda. It was very successful.”
He hired Shannon on Dark Dancer and again for this film because, he says, “She’s a good actress. She’s not doing anything erotic in this film necessarily. The film has its own eroticism by the nature of some of the stuff that’s in it. I don’t hire anybody because they’ll take their clothes off. If they can’t act, I don’t care how good their body is.
He settles in behind a huge desk. He’s clad all in black leather, looking for all the world like a B-movie bad guy and starts talking about the press: ”You all make the same mistake. What you don’t understand is that a person taking off their clothes will not attract people to see them. If that’s the case, porno stars would all be big stars. They don’t…because they can’t act. The word ‘erotic’ goes right out the door.”
“What’s the budget on this movie?” I ask him.
“Close to two million,” he answers.
This is all interesting…but putting and marketing is not going to enthrall the dirtseeking public. I excuse myself to go find Shannon when all of a sudden, Burge stares at me. “Weren’t you that skinny thing in Hollywood Hot Tubs?” I nod a meek yes, explaining that I’m wearing baggy clothes today. “I financed it. Big tits and skinny. You gained weight.” I remind him that the movie was shot twelve years ago and that I’m still skinny. I leave him muttering, swearing that I was skinnier back then. (Who wasn’t?)
Shannon tells me her life story between takes. She grew up in a small province of Canada and her big dream was to be a “model for the Sears catalog.” She and her family moved to the midwest of Canada were her aspirations grew to beauty contests. She finally went to the big city — Toronto — but life wasn’t easy. “I’ve had shitty jobs with low pay. I’ve sold cosmetics door-to-door. I’ve worked at department stores. I’ve sold shoes. I slung beer in a bar for eight years. You put six drafts in each hand, you go out and sell them.” She finally moved to Los Angeles and wound up in the centerfold of Playboy and on The Playboy Channel hosting a show called Playboy on the Scene, covering important stories like “The Life of a Hooker in Russia.” I would say her dreams of being a Sears Catalog model had changed a bit. All that “weird stuff” (as she calls it) led to her being asked to audition for the TV series, Falcon Crest and she ended up doing twenty-one episodes as a series regular.
“Then I did a couple years of Days of Our Lives,” she says. “Now I can remember forty pages of dialogue and nobody’s name.” She followed this with an HBO series called First and Ten, plus her own series for CBS entitled, Fly By Night.
She segues to talking about her significent other, “squarest of the squares,” Gene Simmons of the rock group KISS. They’ve had an eleven-year relationship (and a couple of kids) and, just as I’m about to ask the real important question, she gets called away to the set. So I never do find out how long Gene’s tongue is.
I still need a scandal or something. I start to walk around and I bump into the director, Dan Reardon. “How’s it going?” I ask. Dan, who has Boy Scout good looks and big blue eyes, eagerly tells me, “the dailies are spectacular! We’re shooting an ‘A’ movie on a ‘B’ budget.” Yeah, I think to myself: When does a director ever tell you the dallies look crummy?
I drift back to Bob Burge’s office because I’ve suddenly decided I need clarification on the category for this film — “erotic thriller.” Burge becomes instantly animated over the phrase. “There’s no such animal.” I ask him when he goes to sell the film, how does he describe it?
“You mean, what category this film falls into? Well, it’s not a comedy. It’s not an action-adventure. It’s not sci-fi. It’s not horror. So what’s left? Can I say drama?” His voice deepens, once more telling me that, because of press tags, drama is only thought of as “Merchant Ivory.” I try to joke, saying that at least the press created a category for him to sell his movie. He doesn’t laugh.
“I’m only a B-movie queen until someone’s movie next week. I’m okay with that,” Shannon says during a lull in shooting. I point out that at least two Blockbuster Video stores I’d cased each had a whole shelf devoted to her films. “It’s funny.” she notes. “Blockbuster will carry all of my movies but not Showgirls.”
Ms. Tweed returns to in front of the lights and I decide I should meet the lead actor. David Bradley came to L.A. to be a singer-songwriter but he ended up playing a rock star on a soap opera, then replaced Michael Dudikoff in the American Ninja franchise. So now he’s an action-movie star, a job he does not at all dislike. “I like bringing qualities that are redeemable to a hero, ” he says. “I like morals in films.” I ask him then what made him want to do this movie? He tells me about his “very upbeat character” and how he saves the “streets from drugs.”
White Cargo has nothing in common with two previous movies with the same title. This one’s the story of a rich cop (David) who sets out to solve a series of brutal serial murders involving a powerful model’s agent (Shannon) and high class fashion models. There are drugs, prostitution and even Chinese Tong members.
“So you this movie because you genuinely believed in the script?” I ask.
A very pregnant pause. “Yeah. I stand behind my movies. I help promote them. This is one of the reasons I keep working.”
He opens his trailer and out jumps Keto, (not Kato) David’s black lab. “I’d love to be doing a triple-A picture with a forty million budget. I don’t take my movies and bad mouth them…it is what it is.” David offers me a beverage and while he chain-smokes, tells me about a film he worked on that was offered to him as “a big action movie with dueling helicopters, M-16’s and plenty of explosives.” When he got to the location in this “third world country” he asked where the helicopters were. They explained there were no helicopters. “Where are all the guns and stunt guys?” They graciously explained that guns were illegal in their country…but someone on the crew had a friend who was a policeman and on Friday when he gets off work, he would them use his gun.
“I couldn’t believe it,” David explains. So the stunts were out, the guns were out and the movie became this “military guy running around without a gun, having Karate fights.”
David seems like an honest guy so I decide to see if I can get some dirt on Shannon out of him… anything to inject a not of seaminess into the proceeding. “She’s a professional,” he says. How disappointing.
So I try the director. As Dan saunters past, I ask him. Surely he must be angry over some temper tantrum, some dark and ego-driven excess of his leading lady. “She’s a total professional,” he says. And worse, he seems to mean it.
“Yeah, but where’s the dirt?,” I ask him. No tantrums? No demands for a Jacuzzi in her trailer stocked with plaid M-and-M’s and young studs? “No,” he says. “Working with Shannon is a breeze.” But he clearly doesn’t want to disappoint me so he thinks hard then adds, “Okay, there is one thing…”
Goody, goody… time to slice-and-dice a star.
“Lots of brown rice,” he divulges. “That’s her deep, dark secret. Keep lots of brown rice on the set and then she’ll be happy,” That’s it?
This is getting serious. Here I am, covering the making of an Erotic Thriller and I can’t dig up any dirt. I can’t even get anyone to admit that it is an Erotic Thriller. Worse, I have Movie Television peering over my shoulder, waiting for me to glom onto some juicy tidbit to sate the gossip cravings of certain third-world nations. I need some dirt and I need it quick.
I try Myke the Make-Up Man, a.k.a. “Wolf”. Myke Michaels says he won an Emmy for Babylon 5 but is really an actor who happens to make “heads, bodies, legs…got a whole bunch coming in tomorrow, delivered by my assistant.” Who needs coroners? “Legs, torsos, guts…got a bunch in the car.” He tells me of how on a couple of occasions, cops would pull him over (I wonder why) and have him spread-eagle across the fender, explaining away his “body parts.”
“So how much do you think this movie is costing?” I ask him.
“A mil,” he says. “Amazing what you can do for a million dollars, isn’t it? Some people can live on it for their whole lives. Others can make a movie.”
The director and I sit on a grassy area away from the set and Dan tells me that he also wrote White Cargo with Shannon in mind. He originally called it “Body Angles” but he didn’t want people to get the wrong idea from the title. He was afraid people would think it was one of those “erotic thriller types” and that “White Cargo is a character-driven police thriller involving prostitution, white slavery, drug smuggling…things like that.” I’m not sure I get the distinction. He says he is at the, “apex of his career. Getting a chance to direct you own material and to have properly financed.”
Dan tells me that his inspiration for movies came at the age of six. “Goldfinger. I’ll never forget it.” He started with 8mm in high school, studied film making in college, then free-lanced as a photographer until he got the chance to make movies. “The characters are good. The script is great. It’s got this real film noirish look.”
“Film noir” is a much overused phrase among low-budget filmmakers. It’s right up there with the “dailies are spectacular.” Most of the time, “film noir” means “badly-lit with cheap sets.” The latter, at least, seems to apply here. (I haven’t seen the dailies but I’m told they’re spectacular.) There’s circus stuff…a purple tacky sofa, some sort of handmade-that-morning art deco lamp, a raggedy white rug with a glass table and a tan chair. A tapestry of “Constantine the Daring Sword Swallower” is hung from the wall along with “The Great Umberto.” If the storyline had the Ringling Brothers operating a Brothel, this might be a good set but it’s all supposed to be part of the “glamorous world of high fashion,” I’m told. Even when I squint, I somehow can’t see Cindy Crawford lounging around, awaiting her next Vogue cover.
“So what’s the budget?” I ask, recalling that “Wolf” thought it was a million.
“Two million. It’s not a studio budget, but you can make a tremendous film for that kind of money.” Over at Dreamworks, that’s about what David Geffen spends on his passport photos but it’s a decent figure for a film of this type. Still, it’s hard to see where the money is going — probably not to the stars, certainly not for the sets. And there’s the question of why the make-up man (and a few other crew members) pegged it at one million or under when the producer and director are both telling me two. Hmm….
Later, I sit with Burge on a whorehouse-red, tacky chaise lounge and ask him, “Is there any project you worked on real hard that didn’t work out?” Everyone in Hollywood has a trunk of those; Burge’s is a script called “The Alex Hurley Story.”
“It’s the story of a football coach who I think is one of the great men of our time,” he explains. “He died taking his team to the championship. I’ve worked for seven years to get that movie on the sceen and I’ve failed.”
He goes on about studio execs and deaf ears. And as he talks, an amazing thing happens. This man — who produces thrillers and looks like he should be playing the heavy in one — starts to mist up. His eyes grow red as he goes on: “It’s the story of a black man who overcame all odds and saved a high school and a bunch of young men’s lives. It’s everything America is about. He was one of my heroes in life.”
That is not acting. There is no acting this convincing anywhere on the set of White Cargo. No, this man is genuinely tearing up at the thought of bringing an inspirational message to the screen in lieu of erotica and martial arts.
“I’m not an art film maker,” he shakes his head sadly. “This isn’t that kind of company.”
But the moment is quickly forgotten. Shannon walks up and he quickly conceals his tears. The filming continues.
Dan assures me that things will be getting exciting on the set; that next week, there will be lots of explosions. This is encouraging news. I rush to tell Bob from Movie Television that my sense is that next week would be a good time to interview Shannon for his program. He agrees and I assure him that we’ll find lots of erotic and thrilling things on the set of this erotic thriller (excuse me — character-driven police thriller).
Privately, my goal is to solve the mystery of the missing million dollars.
The following week, on a night we were told would involve a lot things getting blown up, the crew from Movie Television invades the set of White Cargo. There’s Bob Barrett, his camera guy, and me, wearing a tight white dress that I hope makes me look like a serious investigative reporter. I’m barely there five minutes when Shannon almost kicks me in the head.
She’s practicing her martial arts, it turns out…limbering up for a scene. At least, I hope it’s just practice.
“Chick, you’re looking B-babeish,” she says, which is another kick-in-the-head. I tell her that I hope I look reporterish, noting that my dress has black trim, matches my shoes and, most importantly, goes well with the black, mini-micro tape recorder I am holding.
She laughs. “You know, I would take one line if Pacino was standing in the scene.” I nod. I know exactly how she feels, except in my case it’s Kevin Costner. She adds, “I would walk through, topless.” I bet Pacino wouldn’t mind that. And then Shannon sighs the sigh of every actress who has made too many shitty movies. Believe me, I know that sigh. “I would shave my head for a really good movie,” she says. “The issue is not how I feel. The issue is that nobody knows that.” There is a brief moment of mutual mourning.
Dan runs up to me very concerned, saying that he didn’t want to sound “obnoxious or conceited” when he told me that making movies were easy and that all it took “is money.” He wants to make the point that, equally important, is “planning and communication. Those are very inexpensive things.” I agree. However, I note that applying those inexpensive things always seem to be just as hard as finding the money. Dan hurries off to try and bring some order to the chaos that reigns on his set tonight.
Bob Barrett and our little team try to find a good spot to shoot all the explosions. Instead we find Bob Burge in the midst of one of his own explosion on how the industry should be run. “They paid Demi Moore twelve million dollars for a piece of shit. It’s the independents that make the world go around.”
Somehow, even old Lee Iococca makes it into Burge’s discourse. “He understood how to make a car. He was a carmaker. What you gotta do is get filmakers back to running the studios, not these jackasses from Wall Street.”
While Bob Burge is likening movies to cars, Bob Barrett is over talking with Shannon. Moments later, he comes up to me. “You know Shannon’s a real pro…”
“You mean to she’s not the ice queen you thought?”
“She never complains. A lot of actors would be bitching up and down.” It’s now one a.m. and Shannon still hasn’t shot her scene. She has been shooting nights on this film and, during the day, working on an episode of Married With Children.
And not one complaint. Oh, she has one comment: “Who do I have to sleep with to get off the set tonight?” A few more hours of this and we may all be pondering this matter.
Like Shannon, we wait. And wait. Every so often, I’m shoved in front of Movie Television’s camera to ask someone a question and extract another sound-bite. At one point, I find myself quizzing the caterer, who thoughtlessly divulges what was previously the biggest secret I’d learned about Shannon — that she likes brown rice. Well, there it is, out in the open now.
It dawns on me that I am not extracting great wads of must-know information in my interviews; that my principle function for Movie Television is to look good. As the night wears on, that becomes increasingly difficult and I find myself sneaking over to Wolf
and mooching little touch-ups off the movie’s make-up department.
They tell us the explosive scene will be coming up around two a.m., after lunch. Before I got into show business, I thought “lunch” was a meal served on or about the noon hour. But thanks to the magic of movies, “lunch” can be any meal at any time, even the middle of the night. These crazy Hollywood people!
Everyone is exhausted. Bob Barrett whispers in my ear, “I have a bad feeling about the whole movie…looks very cliched. No direction.” Oh, sure there is. Dan is sitting right there in his director’s chair. “It doesn’t look like a two million dollar movie,” Bob continues. Then I tell him the make-up man told me he thought it was about a million. I’ve also been polling others and the caterer thought it was about a million and one of the assistants thought it might be seven hundred thousand. But the executive producer assured me it was two million… could he have fibbed?
“Producers tell you whatever they want to. If a movie costs under a million, everyone will think it’s gonna be a piece of shit. But people make bad two million dollar movies too.” And for that matter, forty million dollar ones.
Speaking of big budgets, Shannon had this comment: “If you’re budget’s over ten million and you’re acting opposite Michael Douglas…it’s okay to show your crotch. You’re not called a B-movie queen. You’re suddenly a high paid Actress.” I nod. “I pick the best of the crap that comes my way…I try to pick potential…”
What a misleading word — potential.
Lunch comes and goes in the still of the night but still no explosions. Shannon, Bob and I are leaning against a wall staring into space. We’re all getting punchy.
“My goal, honest to God, is to have a TV show. I’d kill for an hour drama or sitcom.” Shannon says.
“Well,” I ask. “What’s the determination for how you choose your projects?”
“How bored I am, how broke I am, how entertained I am by the script, who else is in it…” We’re both doing a fine job holding up a wall. Shannon continues, “I read a script and go ‘Oh, that’s really interesting..then I see it and think…that’s not what I read.” There should be a rule that every script comes with an interpreter.
“I should go talk to Dan now, ” I say.
“Who?” Shannon asks.
I pause for a moment. “You know, Dan. Your director?” Shannon must be very tired. Either that, or hanging around the Married With Children cast is definitely having an effect on her.
We pass a few of the bad guys, all dressed in black, along with one bad girl, also dressed in black. I ask the lead bad guy, Lenoardo Donato, if he has any anecdotes about Shannon. “Every beautiful blonde likes a bad man,” he says. Then he tells me that he’s wondering if should keep his name Leonardo or change it. Yeah, he’s one bad man.
Dan looks calm…how does he do it? Everybody is getting irritable and I even catch a few crew members falling asleep. In fact, our own camera guy has been dozing. “Anything interesting happening?” I ask Dan, trying to sound enthusiastic.
“We’ve had a heart attack — a real one — sprained ankle, an acute case of pancreatitis…” His eyes are wide in excitement. He looks like a doe caught in a headlight of an oncoming Mack truck, not a clue to his fate. “It’s just the affect I have on people.” Yeah, so much for team work.
I find Bob telling Shannon he doesn’t think she’ll end up working tonight. Her double is going home and the explosion scene needs a double. Shannon smiles and goes off to find out if this is true.
“The scene is not lit properly,” says Scott, our cameraman. I say maybe they haven’t finished lighting it yet. “They’re rolling film,” Scott notes. Oh. “There’s this shadow they didn’t even notice.” I suggest this is how they’re going to achieve the aforementioned “film noir” effect.“No,” Scott says. “It’s just not lit properly.”
The lighting, it turns out, is the least of Dan Reardon’s worries…because an explosion is coming and not one charged by the special effects guy. Before our very eyes, the director is losing the movie. For all his calm, for all his seemlying command of the situation, he is not in control. And if you’re the director and you’re not in control, you’re not the director for very long.
The early warning signs come around David, the lead actor. He’s getting increasingly pissed with the lack of direction and feels he has better ideas. (Show me the who doesn’t.) He makes a few suggestions and, before you know it, David is specifying where to place the camera. Dan is just standing by his director’s chair, blissfully unaware that Mack truck is barrelling down on him. Barrett whispers to me, “They’re debating over how many people should be killed by Shannon and David…”
Then comes Executive Producer Burge yelling about, “Amateur filmmakers.” Then Burge is suddenly doing what the assistant director normally does: Screaming at the top of his lungs. “The next person who makes a peep will be extricated from the set.” Everyone freezes. “If you think I’m kidding, try me.” No one tries him. And as the shoot progressses, we see David giving orders, we see the stunt coordinator giving orders…so many people are suddenly discussing camera placements and acting directions that I don’t even know who they all are. Everyone’s directing this thing but the director.
“I’ve seen a director of photography take it away from the director before. I’ve never seen an Executive Producer take it away from a director,” says Barrett. He goes on to tell me what directors do. “95% of the job is just to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.” As far as set-ups were concerned, he felt Dan, “just didn’t have his act together.” The director is clearly under tremendous pressure. I would feel horrible if the Executive Producer came down on me in front of everyone.“I direct, too,” Bob adds. “Everyone’s looking at the director…you better have an answer, or at least the loudest voice on the set.” Still, I think Dan is a nice guy with an obviously small voice. We decide to pack it up and come back tomorrow to tape the explosions. We pass Dan — and Bob can’t resist asking him, “Are you a little nervous here?” Dan flashed that Boy Scout smile at him —
But what came out of it was, “No.” Obviously a man of very few words.
We pass Burge and a man I’ve seen hovering around Bob for the entire evening. In my usual, tactful way, I ask him, “Who are you? You look like you’re attached at the hip to Bob.”
“I’m the accountant.” Well, that makes sense. (Maybe he knows where the missing million dollars is…)
Movie Television has what they want…or, at least, all they’re going to get this evening. They don’t have any explosions — they’ll have to return on another night — but they have lots of footage of me looking cute (I hope) as I interview everyone who has had a hand in directing this movie including, amazingly, the director. And Bob Barrett has grown to like Shannon, the “ice queen” having effectively thawed her detractor. Between her and the crew and the explosions they’ve yet to tape, plus this Premiere reporter in her reporter suit (with matching tape recorder), they can cut together four minutes that will enlighten Rwanda.
Whether Dan – or whoever winds up editing White Cargo – can cut it together remains to be seen. But the budget, whatever it is, is low surely low enough that, between cassettes and cable, no one’s going to lose any money. And who knows? A few more of these and Bob Burge may be able to squirrel away enough bucks to make the movie that brings tears to his eyes. I sure hope so.
Shannon Tweed has a few new fans and another credit. It may not get her any closer to that scene, clothed or unclothed, with Pacino…but 90% of S.A.G. would kill for a resume like hers. Dan Reardon may not make another film for Bob Burge but I’ll bet he makes more for somebody…maybe even makes something so notable that they trot this one out as an interesting early effort.
But, best of all, I think I’ve got enough to write this article. So I’ve covered the movie… and Movie Television has covered me covering the movie. And then I’ve covered how they covered me covering the movie. And then if someone will just write about me covering them covering me…then I could write about them and…
Well, apart from the fact that I never did find the missing million dollars… it’s perfect.