One of the most popular and profitable independent film studios of the 1970’s was Sunn Classics. They were also known as Schick Sunn Classics, part of the razor company.
Known for their speculative documentaries, they would use market research to create a film, go into a town and rent out theatres, saturate the market with advertising, and clean up at the box office. This process, known as “Four Walling”, was very successful for them. Orson Welles was especially interesting in their way of doing business, visiting their studio to learn about it.
Among the films that Sunn released were
IN SEARCH OF NOAH’S ARK which along with IN SEARCH OF HISTORIC JESUS speculated on the history behind religious finds.
The reincarnation film BEYOND AND BACK. They also released THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE, ENCOUNTERS WITH DISASTER and MYSTERIOUS MONSTERS.
My personal favorite was
THE LINCOLN CONSPIRACY. I saw this a couple times during its run and had the tie in paperback.
The folks behind Sunn were marketing geniuses. Every film had a tie in paperback. They got you going into the film and made money from you again by buying the book.
Most of the films were narrated by the late great Brad Crandall, who had one of the best voices of the day.
They even branched out into television.
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GRIZZLY ADAMS was first a film for Sunn in 1974, but became better known as a TV series (1977-1978).
The created the GREATEST HEROES OF THE BIBLE series, where TV stars of the 70’s were cast as Biblical characters (see Eve Plumb as Noah’s Wife!).
And there was the CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED series of films based on great works of literature. Some of these, such as THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW with Jeff Golblum, became very popular (I remember having a school wide assembly to watch it in the auditorium).
As the studio grew in popularity, it unfortunately led to its downfall. Known for its family films, it expanded into PG rated narrative films (like HANGAR 18) and even R rated horror films (THE BOOGENS). It was bought out by other companies and eventually disappeared.
One of the key figures behind Sunn, who wrote, produced and sometimes directed the films was Charles E. Sellier Jr.
After the demise of Sunn he continued to make films. In one of the strangest career tracks, he may be best known for his directing the very controversial killer Santa Claus film SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT. I always found this to be a shock, as Sunn was such a family company and Sellier was the creator of Grizzly Adams (plus a Born Again Christian).
It turns out, it wasn’t that much of a shock. On the SILENT NIGHT DVD, there is an interview with him where it states that he had just finished shooting a film when he got a call from a friend from his time at NBC, who was now in charge of Tri Star (who was then involved with SILENT NIGHT). The friend said they needed a director. Sellier had no interest in the film. Since he had a crew together from his last film, he figured it was a way to keep them working rather than having to let them all go. So, he made the film.
Sunn tried to come back in the early 90’s. As Sunn International Pictures, they made several more Biblical speculation films for CBS, known as ANCIENT SECRETS OF THE BIBLE. Aaron Eckhart got his start playing Samson in one of these films.
They ran into a bit of trouble with this as it turns out one of the people they interviewed, about the finding of Noah’s Ark, was a renowned hoaxer. He did the interview as a joke and, after it aired, came out to say he was making it all up. CBS was embarrassed and didn’t continue with more films with Sunn.
There were a few more documentaries (including a series about UFOs), mainly for cable, but that was it for the second incarnation of Sunn.
Sellier continues to make films, mainly religious documentaries, under the title Grizzly Adams Productions.
In recent years, Sunn has attempted to come back for a third time, with many of those originally involved with the studio (minus Sellier). They launched a website, and have ambitious plans for a new movie studio, with some films in development (including Tim Conway's DORF character). Although since the site's launch a couple years ago, there has been little updating.
As for all of their early films, most have never seen the light of day on DVD. Many were released on VHS by Vestron, Vid America, and VCI Home Video (and all are extremely expensive to find on Ebay). VCI is still in business, but I contacted them a few years ago and they no longer had the rights to them.
So who has the rights?
Paramount of all companies. As Sunn went from company to company, it eventually wound up being owned by one of Aaron Spelling’s companies, which are now owned by Paramount. Although I don’t know if even Paramount is aware of this fact.
THE BOOGENS is the only one that has had a TV airing (on the Sundance Channel) where it played with a Paramount opening logo.
You would think that a box set of GRIZZLY ADAMS would do well. It was a well known family film and series that people would buy out of nostalgia, and feel safe showing to their children. It hasn’t been seen since the early 90’s when it aired on a then little known TV channel, FX.
Sunn Classics came around at a time where it was still possible for independent film companies to succeed in Hollywood. Today, with movie theatres owned by big corporations, showing only the blockbuster Hollywood films, you rarely find documentaries, especially independent documentaries, on movie screens.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Sunday, July 20, 2008
NBC seems to devote three hours a week or so to reruns of MOST OUTRAGEOUS MOMENTS, a hybrid of a blooper show and AMERICA'S FUNNIEST HOME VIDEOS. It airs in the 8 to 9 PM hour several times a week. As I write this, it is on.
I guess it is popular. They show the same episodes over and over again, yet I find myself putting down the remote when it is on. What can I say, bloopers are easy entertainment. Especially local news bloopers.
That said, the show sometimes really bothers me. Not the canned laughter or the phony voice overs they add, but the way they often try to pass off staged footage as actual bloopers.
Take this one that is on tonight's episode:
Do they expect us to believe that is real? C'mon now.
Or this one:
Again, staged for the cameras. If you check Youtube, there are multiple versions of this online.
Most of the security camera footage they show is phony. And phony is not funny.
Sometimes they doctor the footage in a very strange way.
Take this very famous clip:
On MOST OUTRAGEOUS MOMENTS, they have it with a voice over dubbed in that makes it sounds like Clinton is laughing because the interpreter belched during the translation. That never happened. Who do they think they are fooling? Hasn't everyone seen this clip in the standard way?
Still, what can I say, the show airs so often (and is probably cheap to air) that I don't think anyone else is complaining.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
The sitcom WE GOT IT MADE told the story of David (Matt McCoy) and Jay (Tom Villard), two single men who share an apartment. They decide to hire housekeeper Mickey Mackenzie (Teri Copley). Get it: maid, made? Each week, they had wacky adventures.
Critics hated the show, seeing it as another example of the "Jiggle TV" trend created by THREE'S COMPANY. I remember watching it every week. I was less picky then.
Teri Copley was sort of a Marilyn Monroe-esque character, with the squeaky voice and all. Stephanie Kramer (later a star of HUNTER) was also in the cast as David's girlfriend. She left halfway through the first season.
The show aired on NBC for one season, from 1983-1984. They then cancelled it.
Like CHARLES IN CHARGE, the show was revived in syndication in 1987. This time, Matt McCoy didn't appear. He was replaced by John Hillner. This new version only lasted one year as well.
Usually I try to find a YouTube clip for these old TV shows, but as I write this, nothing is available. It seems the show is quite forgotten.
Matt McCoy seemed to do well by leaving the show. He is still a very familiar face on TV, appearing most memorably as Lloyd Braun, George's nemesis, on SEINFELD.
Tom Villard, who had previously appeared in GREASE 2, went on to appear in ONE CRAZY SUMMER, was a regular on game shows and sitcoms, before dying of AIDS in 1994. There was a very sad story, before his death, about how he needed work to keep up his insurance, and how people were helping out. I remember him getting work on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, to keep his insurance going.
As for Teri Copley, she would continue acting through the mid 90's in smaller roles. She posed for Playboy in 1990. She is now a Born Again Christian and motivational speaker. In 2005 she wrote the religious book "Conversations Between a Girl and Her God".
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Before there was BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD, before there was MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER, there was Julie Brown.
Not to be confused with the “Wubba Wubba Wubba” Club MTV host, Julie Brown was the red haired host of JUST SAY JULIE, "the hottest little henna-head on MTV" as the theme song proclaimed. It was one of the most original and funniest shows of the 80’s.
Julie was an actress (EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY) and a musician (“The Homecoming Queen’s Got A Gun”).
JUST SAY JULIE aired on MTV beginning in 1989. It was a PEE WEE’S PLAYHOUSE sort of show, with Julie in her apartment talking to the camera. She would introduce videos and sometimes talk over them, or via a blue screen, enter into them and dance along. It was an early form of directors commentary (or MST3K or B&B).
The funniest episode was the blonde episode where she visited Venice Beach asking people their opinion of blondes ("No blonde woman has ever read a book").
The show may have been too much for MTV, as she was constantly mocking the biggest musical stars of the day. I think you can tie in the decline of MTV to the fact that this show no longer aired.
Today you can buy a DVD of the best moments of the show direct from Julie herself on Ebay. A great DVD. It doesn’t include most of the music videos she mocked (because of music rights issues) but has many of her greatest moments. And it includes most of her own music videos (which are alone worth picking up the disc for).
Julie continues to act. She just appeared in (as well as co-wrote) the big Disney Channel musical CAMP ROCK. She may be better known to some for her work on CLUELESS.
But JUST SAY JULIE will always be her masterpiece.
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Music videos used to be a lot more important than they are today. They were a major part of movie marketing.
In the days when MTV played music videos, some videos were shamless tie ins to the films they were promoting, made up of nothing but clips from the film.
Here are a few of the best:
BREAKIN - “There’s No Stopping Us” by Ollie and Jerry - The ultimate in movie videos, all clips from the film, no shots of the band. You get a good look at what the film was like (heck, you even see the finale)
FOOTLOOSE THEME by Kenny Loggins - This video and song were so popular that many have forgotten that the scene in the warehouse, with Kevin Bacon dancing, is set to a different song (“Never”).
DRAGNET - “City of Crime” by Tom Hanks and Dan Akroyd - Sometimes they got creative and went a whole different way with the video. Here they got the cast to make a special video to promote the film. You see the stars rapping to a big Paula Abdul choreographed number.
While I loved this song and video, saw it many times back on MTV, it didn't get me to the theatre. I didn’t see the film until video. And this clip is a lot more fun than the movie. Why isn’t it on the DVD? I would buy the DVD just to see the video again (in a better version than the above clip).
GHOSTBUSTERS THEME by Ray Parker Jr. - I’ll be honest here, I always liked this video more than the film (which I never cared for). They got in a bit of trouble with the song though. Originally the filmmakers wanted to use the Huey Lewis song “I Want A New Drug” in the film and, when they couldn’t get the rights, created this sound a like song. Huey won quite a bit from the producers, which is one of the reasons why this video isn’t on the DVD.
AT CLOSE RANGE - “Live to Tell” by Madonna - AT CLOSE RANGE is one of the best films of the 80’s. This video gives a good mix of footage from the film and Madonna singing it.
WHO’S THAT GIRL THEME by Madonna - Another Madonna song, in another film directed by James Foley. Again, good mix of Madonna and clips.
ELECTRIC DREAMS - “Together in Electric Dreams” by Phil Oakley - Great song by Phil Oakley (of Human League). I like how they have the clips as well as the cast appearing with the singer in new footage. Funny, this video is on the Human League DVD but the film is still MIA on DVD (and is one of my Forgotten Films).
SING - “Romance” by Paul Carrack and Terri Nunn - Seeing this video on VH1 Classics a few years back got me to track down a copy of the 1989 film (reviewed here). 15 years later, it still worked as a promotion. Great song with enough of the film to make you want to see more.
ROCKY IV “Burning Heart” by Survivor - What is it about Survivor being able to make such iconic movie songs as this and “Eye of the Tiger” from ROCKY III. I could have also gone with Robert Tepper’s “No Easy Way Out” from ROCKY IV.
HOWARD THE DUCK THEME by Lea Thompson and Thomas Dolby - Ok, this video didn’t get much or any play. I remember the Today Show had a piece on the making of the music video, anticipating the film was going to be a big hit. It wasn't.
Sadly, the art of music video is dead today. And even when these films make it to DVD, the music videos are usually left off. They may say that music rights issues are the reason, but in many cases the songs were only on the soundtrack album and the artist is largely forgotten. I think it is just laziness.
I mean, if the DVD of the Andrew Dice Clay film THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE can be released as a budget DVD and include the video for Billy Idol’s “Cradle of Love” which was a bigger hit than the movie, any of these can be on DVD.
NOTE: This post contains YouTube clips. If reading this from an outside site, click through to view.