John Fasano, the writer of such hit films as Another 48 Hrs., Alien 3, Darkness Falls, Tombstone, and AVP: Alien vs. Predator, was one of Hollywood’s busiest writer-directors, but it may surprise you to learn that he had also been a Godzilla fan since childhood. It was this love of the genre that ultimately led Mr. Fasano to his most tokusatsu-oriented professional activities, directing 10 episodes of Kamen Rider Dragon Knight, which at the time of this interview was airing on The CW4Kids. Mr. Fasano was glad to answer Brett Homenick’s questions about his memories of growing up as a Godzilla fan and about Kamen Rider Dragon Knight in an interview conducted in 2009.
In July 2014, John Fasano suddenly passed away at the age of 52. On a personal note, John was always supportive of my interviews and related efforts, and I’ll never forget his kindness and generosity. I’m proud to share his interview on Vantage Point Interviews in his memory.
Brett Homenick: How did you discover Godzilla?
John Fasano: Like every kid growing up in the 1960s, I was what is now known as a “Monster Kid.” My earliest memories, from before kindergarten, even, are of reading Famous Monsters magazine, poring over stills from G-films (and other monster films). I immediately took to monster movies way more than regular horror films. Honestly, I’d rather watch The Beginning of the End with its badly matted-in giant grasshoppers than the old Dracula. Godzilla films were just starting to show up on television (which had just become color, by the way), and ABC would have The 4:30 Movie every day. Mostly, it was “real movies” that I couldn’t give two shakes of King Ghidorah’s tails about, but every few months they’d have “Monster Week” on The 4:30 Movie, and then look out because it would be Monster Zero, Monster from a Prehistoric Planet (Gappa), Rodan – and there was a TV series called Ultraman that brought me giant monsters and an equally giant superhero to fight them. I was in heaven.
BH: What are some of your favorite memories of being a G-fan growing up?
JF: All the kids in the neighborhood were G-fans. Godzilla was “our” monster, the only star of new films we could see in the theaters all through the 1960s and ’70s. There was an Aurora model of Godzilla; the first one I got I painted and re-painted so many times the detail was smoothed over – and I still have that model. The tiny city at his feet has gone who knows where, but that model, based on the King Kong vs. Godzilla suit, was an amazing thing to own. Remember, this was way before there were toys available in the U.S., like today with eBay and (other) Web sites. That Godzilla model was my first monster toy. I never glued him down to his base, so he could stomp through the backyard.
Ghidorah (the Three-Headed Monster) I saw on television and was hooked, and so even though I was barely six years old my father took me to the movie theater to see Monster Zero, one of the first kaiju (if not the first) I saw in a movie theater. Then Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla.
I love Son of Godzilla – I remember watching it in the theater with my father next to me. It was extremely cool that even a monster could be a father. And the other monsters? I loved Spiga and Gimantis – we had spiders and praying mantii around the house in New York, and to see giant versions of both was awesome. And while it was clear Godzilla was a man in a suit, we had no way of knowing how they made those mantii and spider move – so they had to be real.
At the end of the picture, when Big G holds “Tadzilla,” and they are enveloped by the falling snow – my father was choked up. He started to cry. And now, over thirty years later, he and I both remember sitting there and being moved by the last scene, with the haunting, evocative score by Masaru Sato.
BH: What are some of your favorite Godzilla and other kaiju movies?
JF: Probably my favorite G-suit is Godzilla vs. the Thing. The kids in the neighborhood would call it “Godzilla Vee Ess the Thing.” I guess we were hoping he was going to fight a new monster, but when we saw the film we were like, “Wait, that’s just Mothra!”
I saw them all with my “tough football coach” father sitting next to me. He had to have been very patient because there was not a lot for him in some of these movies.
War of the Gargantuas had a big effect on me. I still remember being terrified of the scene where Russ Tamblyn and Kumi Mizuno were in the subway system and the Green Gargantua reached in and got her. The local theater showed The Green Slime (and) Yog. But I have to say that probably my favorite G-movie of all time growing up was Destroy All Monsters – mostly because the Beacon Movie Theater four blocks from my house had the poster up in the lobby one year before the movie came out. I would stand on the sidewalk and stare into the dark lobby and try to figure out what monsters were on that poster.
And the old and new Gamera movies – I loved them all! From the original, serious Gamera to the one where those kids took a mini-sub into Gamera to get some baby monsters out of his system. I love two sounds – Godzilla’s roar (which I do very well in echo-y bathrooms) and Gamera’s screeching cry. They are the sounds of my childhood.
BH: How did you become involved in the film business?
JF: When I was around six, John (The Dirty Dozen, Rosemary’s Baby) Cassavetes came to my hometown of Port Washington, New York, to film scenes for his movie Husbands with Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara. It turned out that he had grown up there and had been good friends with my dad in high school. My dad went to visit the set, and I saw a movie being made. I was hooked.
I spent the next 12 years making Super 8mm movies with my friend Frank (animator on Tarzan, Fantasia 2000) Dietz in our backyards. We burned up a lot of G.I. Joes – the foot-tall ones. I also read every book in the library about filmmaking.
When I got out of college, I went to work painting the movie posters for low-budget movies in New York. One of the companies I did posters for needed a script rewritten, I did it, and they made the movies. Another producer heard I did a good job and asked me to write the Adam West/Tia Carrere low-budgeter Zombie Nightmare, and I was on my way.
BH: Have you known any other G-fans in the movie industry?
JF: I’m lucky to know two of the world’s best motion picture technicians who are also G-fans: Steve (Guyver) Wang, one of the world’s foremost makeup effects men and sculptors, is the producer and a co-director on Kamen Rider Dragon Knight.
Richard (Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark) Edlund, winner of eight Academy Awards, including four Oscar statues for visual effects, was stationed in Japan with the U.S. Navy from 1959-60 and never lost his love for the country. He and his ILM crew kept a toy of Mechagodzilla on the camera dolly while they were shooting The Empire Strikes Back.
BH: One of your recent projects was directing episodes of Kamen Rider Dragon Knight. How did you get hired as a director?
JF: Steve Wang knew I loved Ultraman and Space Giants, and when he and his brother Mike set up the show, he called me and asked me to do a few episodes.
BH: Which episodes did you direct?
JF: I directed ten of the forty episodes. There were four directors on the series. Each of us would prepare three episodes while the previous director was making his. Steve Wang directed the most episodes, fifteen or sixteen, then me, followed by Steve’s brother Mike, an accomplished commercial director, and Mark Allen, who was also the visual effects supervisor on the show.
BH: Please describe what it was like to direct Kamen Rider.
JF: Fun! It was a life’s dream to finally direct monster suit action! We used the same suits currently being used on the Japanese Kamen Rider show. They shipped them over in giant crates. That was the most cool because, seeing Wing Knight and Dragon Knight on the set, you felt a direct link to the original series.
The episodes were shot very quickly, so I had to be prepared. There were a lot of stunts and character transformations that required painstaking alignment of the American actors with the Japanese suit actors.
Because we shot three episodes at the same time, you always had to know what episode you were doing a scene from – we drove the wardrobe department crazy by constantly asking if the actors were in the right costumes!
While the original intention was to use some of the footage of the fight scenes from the Japanese series, we ended up using very little in the episodes I did – in fact, in a couple of them we used no Japanese footage and shot all the fights ourselves.
BH: Could you please say a few words about the cast and crew?
JF: The cast was an amazing mix of seasoned pros and new faces. The main leads, Stephen Lunsford (Dragon Knight) Matt Mullins (Wing Knight) and Yvonne Arias (Maya) forged a real family relationship. I got to watch them grow as performers, and it was quite a thrill. And Matt is in real life an incredible martial artist.
The bad guys, William O’Leary (Xaviax) and Scott Bailey (Sting) had way more experience in TV and movies and worked hard to bring all the performances in the show up. It was also a kick to get to work with people whose films I had seen and admired, like Victoria Jackson from Saturday Night Live and super martial artist Mark Dacascos, TV’s Crow and Iron Chef.
But we wouldn’t have anything to show without the crew. They threw themselves into our insane schedules and never complained – from the writers Nathan Long, Scott Phillips, and Jeff Walker, to the camera crew led by veteran Frank Harris, and the costume and F/X suit wranglers led by Ivy Thaide.
There’s too many to name, and I would like to name them all, but a special shout goes out to the stunt crew coordinated by Dorenda Moore, with fights directed and choreographed by Power Rangers veteran “Yuji” Noguchi. He would disappear with a camera crew and his team of absolutely fearless stuntmen and come back with major motion picture-quality fights.
BH: What are some of your other film and TV projects you’re working on?
JF: We just completed filming a zombie-comedy Internet Web series called Woke Up Dead that I created. It stars Jon (Napoleon Dynamite) Heder, Josh (The Rocker) Gad, Wayne (Seinfeld) Knight and Dan (Halloween II) Roebuck. It’ll have started by the time you read this, airing at first on Sony’s Crackle Web site.
I also just finished work on Universal Soldier: A New Beginning and Sniper: Reloaded, both for Sony Entertainment.
BH: Not only are you a Godzilla fan, but you’re a G-Fan reader. What do you like most about the magazine?
JF: Honestly, aside from the period pictures, I love your interviews with performers and technicians from the G-films of my childhood. I always told my friends my dream was to wear the G-suit and perform on the clay-floored stages of Toho Studios. I know that will never happen now. But I get to feel what it was like back then through the voices, well, you bring to the pages of the magazine.
BH: What are your closing comments?
JF: Never forget the Big G! I thought he was dead after the TriStar GINO (Godzilla in Name Only) disaster, but he came back. Now we need more new G-films. And when they come out, whether in a theater or on DVD – go see them! Show them to your children and your children’s children. Develop in them the love we had for Godzilla and all the kaiju films.
And watch Kamen Rider Dragon Knight on Saturday mornings on your CW4Kids station!