Interview with Marcus van Bavel 8/3/96
Interviewer: C. Arnold Barent
Permission to copy is hereby granted.
Q: So what's a REDBOY 13?
A: It's a codename for this spy, a kid who is hired and trained by a half-crazed Air Force Colonel and inducted into a secret branch of the military called the "CYA." The kid's an assassin and a counter-terrorist agent, kind of a mix of James Bond and Rambo, but carries a Teddy Bear. Unfortunately for the CYA, it's the end of the Cold War and the dirty tricks budget has been slashed. So they are forced to operate illegally, fighting bad guys and the FBI at the same time. In addition, little Redboy has his own problems-- his family is breaking up, he's not doing well in school... and he's tired of being a killer and wants to return to normal life.
Q: Where'd you get the idea for this film? Did you write the script?
A: Yes, I wrote it in 1990. It was sort of inspired by the fall of the Berlin Wall and a trip I made to Germany in '87, and also by the "Rambo" movies and all the wide-screen adventures that I grew up with, in the 60's.
Q: For a low-budget film, it has an interesting look, kind of an epic feeling, in some scenes. How did you achieve that?
A: Choice of music, maybe, the 35mm CinemaScope format, and the 30-ft camera boom that we used for some of the scenes, especially when Redboy is running to school. I like the sweeping movements and the over-dramatic score... kind of gives it a Lawrence of Arabia feel. Also the presence of the Mt. Rushmore-esque Robert Logan, veteran of epics like "Bridge at Remagen" and other pictures. The style of photography, which is deliberately static for dialog, then mobile for action sequences... is a throwback, really, to when sound cameras were heavy, bulky. A lot of REDBOY was shot with a Mitchell camera, practically an antique I suppose, but it has a certain quality you don't get nowadays.
Q: Why CinemaScope? Isn't that an obsolete process?
A: Not really, it's the same squeeze as Panavision, 2 to 1, used for blockblusters like "ID4" and "Eraser." The Bausch and Lomb CinemaScope lenses are hard to find these days, though... I bought 'em from a crazy guy who lived behind Grauman's Chinese theater, selling off his collection to pay the rent.
Q: Didn't those lenses have a problem with close-ups... make people look fat?
A: I built a close-up lens from a Nikon zoom and an Eiki adapter to get around that problem. The B&L's were used for wide shots.
Q: There's a lot of planes, helicopters, and tanks in the movie. Some of it's pretty impressive. How did you do it?
A: Couldn't afford the real thing, of course-- I think a C5A costs ten grand an hour to fly, just in kerosene. Those shots are a mix of miniatures and computer animation. My profession, my "day job" is software engineering, and I've been messing around with 3D animation since I was a kid. For REDBOY, I ported over an old animation and rendering program of mine, originally written in FORTRAN, to the SGI Indigo Elan. Back then, in 1994, film animation packages like "Alias" were going for $100K plus, and I couldn't afford that. So I rolled my own, using the the built-in libraries of the Indigo, and put together a film recorder from a high-res monitor and the same Mitchell camera that was used for the live action.
Q: How did you learn to do all that stuff? Your degree is in...
A: Electrical Engineering, not film production. I took film as an elective.
Q: Seems like it came in handy. How did you get interested in film?
A: I guess it was from writing, which I did a lot of in high school. I wrote a lot of science fiction stories, comic plays, little radio programs...
Q: Any of the stories published?
A: No, they were pretty bad. Then in college I did a lot of stand-up comedy. I would do impressions, like Jimmy Carter, or characters from Star Trek. My first film, THE TEXAS COMEDY MASSACRE, is sort of taken from my stand-up days.
Q: I haven't seen that.
A: No, no one has!
Q: It's a lot of skits and stuff--?
A: Like KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE, or THE GROOVE TUBE.
Q: Was it shown theatrically?
A: No, only at film festivals. I was hoping for a videocassette release but it didn't happen, because of liability problems. For example, one segment was "Paramutual of Omaha's Mild Kingdom." None of the distribs wanted to go toe-to-toe with this insurance company, with their giant spigots of hot and cold running lawyers. However, parts of the Star Trek parody were shown on that ABC series, "America's Funniest People," and for that, the network gave me ten thousand dollars. I invested it in REDBOY.
Q: So not a total loss.
A: I guess not!
Q: You play a few parts in REDBOY. Three parts.
A: Yeah, reduced down from 25 in the COMEDY MASSACRE. That was a world record, I think. Maybe I should apply. Actually four parts in REDBOY: the helicopter pilot, Doctor Zed, Doctor Heimlich Manure, and also the reporter that gets the camera shoved down his throat.
Q: Why do you do that, play different parts?
A: I dunno, it makes it fun for me. Just directing isn't enough of a challenge. I'm a frustrated Peter Sellers. The characters are so different, so buried in makeup and accents I don't think anyone will guess that they're the same person.
Q: Where did you meet Robert Logan, who plays Colonel Calcan?
A: At a film festival in Florence, Italy. I recognized him from "The Wilderness Family." Then I found out he'd been in dozens of films, and old television shows like "77 Sunset Strip" and "Daniel Boone." We stayed in touch. I sent him the script for REDBOY. I thinked he was amused by the smart aleck dialog. Also probably liked the idea of playing a tough guy, a military man, which he'd never done before. Bob's never been in the military, so we worked together on the cadence, the deadpan delivery. I guess I picked that up from working for Tracor Aerospace, a defense contractor here in Austin.
Q: Logan's pretty great in the movie-- an aging, weather-beaten Cold Warrior. What about Devon Roy-Brown, who plays Redboy, and some of the other actors?
A: Devon is the stepson of an old friend of mine from high school, Bill Gelber, who teaches drama, and his wife is also into acting and is a choreographer. She plays the teacher in the film. Devon auditioned for the part along with three other kids. He was the only one that could ennunciate "terminate with extreme prejudice," so my choice was easy. Charlie Schmidt, who plays Sgt. Hurter, I met at the IFFM in '87. He was the star of a movie called ONLY A BUCK, which I thought was pretty amusing. Tito Moreno, who plays Commander Paisano, is a music conductor and composer, lives in San Antonio.
Q: He's really funny... really looks the part of a "jungle general."
A: Yes he does. And then there's David Boone, another old friend, who plays Dave, the other helicopter pilot. David is a great filmmaker, he made a Super-8 classic called INVASION OF THE ALUMINUM PEOPLE. He also co-produced REDBOY with me and supervised the sound recording.
Q: Sounds like you have a big circle of friends in Austin to draw upon.
A: Yeah, there were other filmmakers involved, friends of mine, like Jim Crosby, Kirk Hunter, Earl Saathoff, and Robert Burns, who was the lead production designer... he's famous for building the sets for the original "Chainsaw Massacre" and cult films like REANIMATOR and THE HOWLING. The camera crew were all graduate students from UT Austin, including Brian O'Kelley, the cinematographer. They were really patient with the postwar equipment and worked horrible, horrible hours.
Q: Were there a lot of sets built for REDBOY?
A: Yes, a ton of them. Almost all the interiors were shot on sets. That's the only way to do it, if you ask me. I built a huge soundstage in Bastrop for REDBOY, a geodesic dome, seventy feet across in the center, thirty feet high--
Q: Why a geodesic dome?
A: It's the lightest, cheapest structure that has no supporting columns. Columns get in the way if you're doing large sets, or front-screen projection. Nine sets were built for principal photography, and then these were dismantled for another group of sets, the dungeon, the jungle camp scenes and the helicopter interiors for the second round of shooting.
Q: How did you finance the film? What was the budget?
A: I raised a small amount to start the film, all from private investors. Mostly people who knew me pretty well, probably felt sorry for me... never underestimate the sympathy factor. But that was only enough to shoot the dialog scenes. To finish the film, I had to spend many, many times the original investment. The completion money came from a variety of sources. One guy, Ed Toutant, put up his winnings from "Jeopardy." I put in money I got from ABC... so in a small way, REDBOY was financed from trash TV! As to the total dollar amount-- I'm holding my cards closely, I guess. I know that many people are intensely curious about that sort of thing... maybe I can be more open about it after the film is sold. It was a "medium" budget film... somewhere between EL MARIACHI and WATERWORLD.
Q: Oh boy, that narrows it down. C'mon, you can tell us.
A: You'll have to buy the book. If there is one.
Q: Anxious to quit your day job and become a professional film maker?
A: Oh, I dunno. If the right thing came along. I kind of like my amateur status. There seems to be a resurgent interest in science fiction, though, and I have the equipment, the know-how, and the inclination to make a science fiction film, I mean a really good one, sci-fi that's fun to watch but doesn't insult your intelligence... I wish I could get several million to do that. But if not, I'll probably make it anyway, just with the money I make from REDBOY. I've also written a couple of action-comedies which could be made very cheaply. We'll see.
Q: Anything else?
A: Oh, there's lots... haven't had enough self-congratulatory nonsense?
Q: We'll let the public decide.
A: Fair enough.