Science Fiction Filme) First of all, I would like to thank you for your time doing this Interview. I think you´re work have got a huge fan base here in Germany. Especially because for films like THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN (1977) or GALAXINA (1980). You were also the co-writer of EXTERMINATOR 2 (1984). A lot of movie maniacs know the films you´re involved. Could you please tell us what you did before you come into film business. Why have you chosen the way of being into directing/ writing?
William Sachs) Before I answer your question I would like you to know that I was not only the co-writer of Exterminator 2, I also directed over half of the film, and remade the other half. In case you don’t know, much of my career consisted of replacing directors and doctoring films, basically saving the film, sometimes credited, sometimes not. I did that to over 25 films. As to the co-directing credit, my credit is “additional scenes directed by” at the end of the film. When the film was completed the original director didn’t want to share the credits, the Writers Guild got me the co-writer credit. I wasn’t in the Director’s Guild yet but I did a big credit after what is one of my favorite shots of any film. Check it out, it’s the tunnel shot, the last shot of the movie. By the way I did the entire end sequence in the factory as well as a lot of other stuff throughout the film.
Before I was in the film business I was in college, the United States Air Force, college again, and film school. After film school I never did anything else but film.
I wanted to be a writer since I was a child. I also was into photography. I didn’t want to do anything else but write and direct films. I started in editing, which I believe is the best way to learn how films are constructed.
SFF.) You were working on very different kind of movies. Sometime very frightening ones like THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN and sometimes very thrilling like in JUDGEMENT (1992). Where did you get your inspiration from and do you have some basic preparation for a movie?
W.S.) I like to do something different after I make a certain kind of movie. I don’t want to get into a rut. Depending on the film, I do a lot of research before getting into it. For example on Judgment (AKA Hitz) I spent over three months riding along with the Los Angeles police gang unit at night and attending Juvenile court during the day. I don’t really like the movie because the distributer recut it to make it more of a gang movie when it was supposed to be about the conditions that led to kids joining gangs. (I majored in sociology in college).
My inspiration comes from various places, usually somewhere in my mind.
As to preparation, it varies due to the subject, for example one of my favorite films – mostly because they let me do what I wanted-- is Concrete War or The Last Hour depending where you see it.
Since the film was mostly action I used it to experiment with different visual techniques. I planned out every shot and put each shot on a piece of paper with my stick figure storyboards and specific notes. I put the pages in two spiral notebooks and each time we did a shot the page was taken out of the notebook and put in a shots completed notebook. When the shot notebooks were empty we were finished shooting. I had a 20 day schedule and we finished a day early because it was planned out in advance. This kind of planning isn’t necessary if you have a film that is mostly dialogue, and it’s very time consuming, but it’s better than wasting time dicking around when you’re supposed to be shooting, especially when you are on a tight schedule.
SFF) Do you have any personal idols or role models in your business? Is there a movie or an event which make you think: “I want to do the same thing.”?
W.S.) I don’t want to do the same thing as any other director. I have turned down offers for directing TV for that reason. Every episode looks the same no matter who directed it. I’m not just a traffic cop as they say. I do have trouble when I can’t go by my gut and have to deal with what somebody else wants. This has happened too often.
I do have various people I admire in various capacities and for various reasons. I grew up watching a lot of sci-fi and horror films. When I was in film school I got into the experimental films and the surreal films of Fellini, Bunuel, Bergman etc. I also like a good action film, drama, comedy, even some Romantic comedies like Notting Hill. It did help that I lived in Notting Hill for a time when I was going to film school in London.
My first feature film There is No 13 was my surreal film. Here is a review from the Berlin Film Festival, where I was told by one of the judges that they wanted to give me the Golden Bear but they were afraid of a riot because it was an American film and the Viet Nam war was going on. There had been protests during the screening. It’s weird because There is No 13 is basically an antiwar film.
THERE IS NO 13
"Unforgettable masterpieces of film that are written in golden letters in the records are rare. There Is No 13, a debut by the young American, William Sachs, is one such masterpiece. Undoubtedly, Sachs, whose remarkable fantasy film gives indications of a new direction in film storytelling, is influenced in his structure by the synthesis of reality and imagination of Fellini, Resnais and Bunuel. Yet this style has been further developed It is a deeply touching film, because this auteur's film, which is at first seen to be about a young man who is pushed by a film producer into fully distorted fantasies that follow one another in turbulent succession along with self ridicule, is then surprisingly experienced as a striking and stirring film about the human condition. The distantiation of Brecht is applied in a masterful manner. We will be hearing again from William Sachs. He has it in his hands." (Piet Ruivenkamp, Haags-che Courant, at the Berlin Film Festival)
Unfortunately a storage facility lost all my materials for the film. There may be some in Italy where I did the post production and music (Riz Ortolani) but I have to go there or find someone in Italy that can search for them.
SFF) Your movie THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN (1977) is one of the goriest funny movie I have ever seen. Rick Baker was responsible, along with his assistants Rob Bottin and Greg Cannom, for the make-up effects. How did he get the job and did you give him and his team a free hand in designing the effects? Did you have any idea in which direction the effects would develop?
W.S.) First of all I look at the Melting Man as a comedy. Look at the ending. The producers wanted a straight horror film and changed it drastically. I don’t like straight gore films like Saw for example because they are too realistic. With humor I feel I can do gory stuff because it’s more tongue in cheek.
I get very involved in all aspects of a film, make up effects included. That being said, I trusted Rick to do his thing.
SFF) How did it come about that the later director Jonathan Demme took part in your film?
W.S.) He was a friend of the producer, and it was fun to have him in the film.
SFF) Was it always your intention that the film tended in this rather bloody direction?
W.S.) A bloody comedy, actually I wanted more slime and goo than blood. Rick’s wife spent hours at home mixing “ghoul glop” as we called it. We used tons of it. I went with Rick to buy a pickup truck to transport the huge vats of it in.
SFF) Do you think it is a coincidence that the make-up effects during the acid sequence of Emil (Paul McCrane) in ROBOCOP (1987) resemble those in MELTING MAN? After all, Rob Bottin was partly responsible for both films.
W.S.) I can’t say what was in his head.
SFF) Your movies had often a dark matter and some kind of scary atmosphere. Do you process personal opinions/ fears in your movies?
W.S.) I see film visually. If I decide I want it dark, I make it that way in my head. When I write a script, I watch and hear the film and write down what I see and hear. It’s my job as a writer/director to get what’s in my head onto the screen through people.
I think the darkness is more from my visuals and research than from my own deep fears or whatever, but I guess you’d have to get a shrink to talk to me for a while to find out the deeper answer to that question.
SFF) I have a guilty pleasure named GALAXINA (1980). Really, I believe it´s a very good movie. What do you think of this film today and why did you choose this project?
W.S.) I was approached by Crown to do a low budget western after I did Van Nuys Blvd. for them. When I started doing research I realized that there hadn’t been many westerns around that time and we’d have to do a lot of set building etc. I really wanted to do a Sci-fi comedy so I approached them and said wanted to change it from a western to sci-fi. They agreed and I made Galaxina. If you remember there is a scene in a western town. That was a left over from when it was a western. I shot it at the Paramount Ranch which has since burned down.
I feel the film moves too slowly. That is because the shoot was scheduled during very bad rainstorms. They were so bad in LA that houses were falling off hills. We only had a 20 day shoot to start with, and lost quite a few shooting days. Instead of giving me more days they ripped pages from the script, so a lot of what I wanted was not shot and I had to leave scenes long to fill up the time.
By the way I was the first director to use a computer for visual effects in Galaxina, and also I believe the only director to use Infra-red Ektachrome, which had to be kept frozen until eight hours before shooting with it.
Melting Man was shot in 14 long days.
SFF) For me GALAXINA almost seems to be a kind of homage to certain fantasy films or series. Because you hear and see things from BATMAN or STAR TREK. Is this intentional or was it necessary?
W.S.) I wanted Galaxina to be a spoof of sci-fi films, that’s why the opening credits are like Star Wars credits, the actually Batmobile is in the film (it was supposed to drive down the street but it wouldn’t start so I had aliens trying to get it started in the film. I believe in using every problem to an advantage). There is also a Mr. Spot, with his ears flopping down instead of up, and other sci-fi film references. Also if you look carefully you might notice certain alien masks in the human restaurant from another Sci-fi film I’m sure you’ve seen.
SFF) The later academy award winner Chris Walas had one of his first jobs at GALAXINA. How did you experience him and did you recognize his talent?
W.S.) Chris is a terrific and creative guy and a friend. We may work together again. I knew he would go far, and I like the sense of humor he instills in his work.
SFF) What do you like the most: producing, writing or directing?
W.S.) I hate the business stuff involved in producing, but I find it necessary to get what I need. The bottom line is control, and I learned the hard way that it’s essential. I like the research and writing, and certain aspects of directing, like casting, working with the actors, visualizing and lining up shots, editing, and I really enjoy the sound mix because it’s when everything comes together for the first time. I hate the time pressure and dealing with people who don’t care about the film.
SFF) We all have our favorite movies. Mine is PHASE IV for example. But which movies do you really don´t like and why?
W.S.) I have seen so many movies I have long lists of likes and hates. There are some movies that I like parts of and hate other parts. There are a lot of movies that I can’t say I hate because I only watched a bit of them.
SFF) What is your opinion about education to become an expert in directing? Is there any requirement or talent you need to have next to enthusiasm?
W.S.) I don’t know what you would call an expert in directing. There is always more to learn, and unlearn. Education can be found in a lot of ways, I enjoyed film school but I wish the school had gone into the business of filmmaking as well as the creative aspects, because that’s where THEY get you.
Enthusiasm will only get you so far. You have to be willing to never give up, to fight for what you want, to put up with- if you have to -or get rid of assholes when you can, have good shoes and change them half way through the day, be among the first ones there at the beginning of the day and among the last to leave, work on days off, not get enough sleep, on set injuries, a punch up now and then… stuff like that. It’s not for the meek. It’s always a fight. Every film is a war.
SFF) What are your future projects?
W.S.) In march I was getting the copyright for Galaxina back, but I haven’t decided what to do with it yet. I am working on a script for a new sci-fi character, and a TV series based on my movie Spooky House, among a few other things. I thought I retired a while ago but I got bored so here I am. I don’t think I could ever stop making movies. By now it’s part of me, it’s in my blood.
SFF) Dear Mr. Sachs. I thank you immensely for taking time doing this interview and wish you all the best for your future movie making.
W.S.) Thanks, good questions.