I WAS A TEENAGE MOVIE MAKER! Donald F. Glut on His Kaiju-Related Projects!

With Donald F. Glut in Los Angeles in August 2010. Photo © Brett Homenick.

Donald F. Glut has authored such books as The Dinosaur Scrapbook and Classic Movie Monsters and has directed films like Dinosaur Valley Girls (1996) and The Mummy‘s Kiss (2003), but he’s probably best known as an amateur filmmaker from decades past. Of particular note to Vantage Point Interviews readers, he was commissioned by Tsuburaya Productions to write a screenplay for the abandoned film “Ultraman: Hero from the Stars,” and worked briefly on Hanna-Barbera’s Godzilla cartoon from the 1970s. In 2006, in preparation for the release of I Was a Teenage Movie Maker: The Amateur Movies of Don Glut, a complete compilation of Mr. Glut’s amateur movies from the 1950s and ‘60s, Brett Homenick caught up with Mr. Glut to talk about this and his other kaiju-related projects.

Brett Homenick: First of all, tell me a little bit about what I Was a Teenage Movie Maker is.

Don Glut: Let me backtrack a bit. From the time I was a little kid through the time I was a young adult, my hobby was making amateur movies, and I made 41 of them from 1953 until 1969, and most of them can be divided into one of the following categories: dinosaur films, classic movie monsters — you know, Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, that sort of thing — teenage monsters — I Was a Teenage Werewolf, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, those kind of characters — and then superheroes. Those movies, because when I started making them, to my knowledge, I was the only person doing it. I didn’t know anyone else was making amateur movies, and I got a lot of coverage in the monster movie magazines: Famous Monsters of Filmland, Fantastic Monsters of the Films, (and) Castle of Frankenstein. Because of the publicity I got, in terms of articles and photos that they ran in those magazines, I got to be known all over the world as this amateur movie maker. And some of the people that read the articles were influenced by them, including John Carpenter, the director; he said for a long time, he wanted to be like Don Glut because I inspired him to go (into) the movies.

So for years, people have been after me to put these out, and I hadn’t really been able to figure out a viable way of doing it for all kinds of reasons, and one is they’re so many of them. Then I got approached by a couple companies, including Sinister Cinema (who) had been after me for years to put them out, and then the people who put out Monster Kid (Home Movies) were talking to me, and finally I decided, “Look, I have my own production company, why not do it myself?” So that’s how it all came about. You know, it’s funny; almost every day now since the notice got out that these were going to be available, I get e-mails from people. They just can’t wait; they’ve been waiting for 40-some years, some of the people have said. One guy actually said he had $100 he would give me at that moment, this was about two weeks ago, if I could get him the DVD right now! I said, “I’d love to take your money, but it’s not ready yet, you know. Maybe you‘d like to invest in one of our real movies instead,” and I never heard from him after that.

BH: (laughs)

DG: But it’s going to be done right. We’re going to put out not only the 41 movies, but there’s going to be a feature-length documentary on the making of them, in which I’ve interviewed a lot of the people that were either in those films or affected by them in some way, including: the director Randal Kleiser who directed Grease and played Captain America in one of my films, Bob Burns, Forry Ackerman, Dan Roebuck, Paul Davids, Bill Warren, it goes on and on and on. Then I went around with a camera, both here in the Los Angeles area and also Chicago where I made a lot of those films, and I got what we call B-roll; I got footage of what the locations are like today. For instance, in Chicago, I went to the local cemetery, the alley, the basement, the zoo, the forest preserve, the lake, and I shot footage of places we used to shoot these things.

But we’re also going to have bloopers and outtakes and commentary tracks and bonus films, deleted scenes, still gallery, poster gallery, you name it, the whole ball of wax is going to be included in this. It’s going to be, I’m guessing, anywhere from six to eight hours’ worth of stuff on this DVD. I guess it’s probably going to be a double-disc set because it’s just going to be an enormous amount of footage, and when I had it transferred over to a digital format, speeds were corrected — the films were shot at 16 frames per second and have not been seen in 16 frames per second since I shot them, pretty much. I’ve been usually showing them on sound projectors that run on 24 frames per second, or when I had them transferred over to Beta years ago, Betamax tape, they were running too fast. So they’ve never looked better; this is the best these films have ever looked, the way that you’re going to see them on this DVD.

Luckily also, my mother shot hours and hours of home movie footage over the years in 16mm and 8mm, and in this documentary, for instance, when I’m talking about leaving Chicago and going off to USC (University of Southern California), I have that footage, I have me at the airport, I have the plane taking off, I have me graduating, I have all that stuff. So it’s not going to be a lot of talking heads; it’s going to be a lot of really rare, interesting, cool visual stuff that’s never been seen before. I’m really happy with the documentary. Now Dan Golden, who’s the director — done a lot of films for Roger Corman — is putting this whole thing together for me. He’s doing an excellent job.

BH: That sounds great! How much input do you have in this project if Dan Golden is the one handling it?

DG: Well, here’s what I did. Somebody sat me down for about six hours — well, I don’t know how many it is; it seemed it went on forever — sat me down in front of a camera, and I had it in my mind kind of a template as to how the documentary should go: You know, what should we talk about first, what should we talk about last, what should we talk about here, in what order things should go in, when should we talk about the Bob Burns days, when should we talk about the superhero days, when should we talk about the dinosaur movie days, you know, the USC days. I made like an outline, and I just talked off the cuff about all these subjects, including trying to talk about things that I knew I had footage on, or I knew I had props still existing, or something I could show.

So when Dan came on the project, I said, “Look, you know, you can have as much freedom as you want, but there’s certain points I want to hit. I want to make sure these things are included.” So Dan is going to cut it; he took my interview, and he strung it together, and he took out all the false starts and the retakes and things, put it together, and I think it came out with like two and a half hours of me just talking in the order that everything’s supposed to go in. He’s going to fine-tune all that and put in the interview stuff and put in the footage and everything, and we’re probably going to end up with about a two-and-a-half-hour documentary, which is way too long. We want to cut it down to about an hour and a half.

So then Dan and I will sit together, and I’ll say, “You forgot to put this in,” or “This is not necessary,” and if we can get whole segments of things that are interesting to see but kind of interrupt the flow or aren’t really germane or aren’t really critical to what we’re talking about, I’m going to leave those whole sequences out, and they’ll be in the extras, among the deleted scenes. There may be deleted scenes, deleted sequences from the documentary itself. But I trust Dan fully, and I haven’t seen anything yet, but he calls me every once in a while, saying, “I need this, and I need that.” From what he tells me, in the things he’s asking for, I know we’re both on the same page. He seems to be having a great time because one of the reasons he took this job was because he wanted to see these movies for years. He was invited to a screening of mine about, oh, seven or eight years ago, and on the way to the screening, his car broke down, so he never got to see the movies! So in addition to me paying him, he’s also getting to see these movies. So he’s having a good time.

BH: (laughs) Well, speaking of the movies, I remember at G-Con ’97, you seemed almost embarrassed when you screened “Fire Monsters” and “Son of Tor”…

DG: I’m terribly embarrassed about that movie (“The Fire Monsters“), but that’s because the only things I showed were the movies that were related to the festival. You didn’t have anything to compare them to. So I don’t mind showing that as long as you see a better movie or one of my best movies. But seeing it by itself as an isolated incident, an isolated case, it was pretty embarrassing.

Believe me, I have movies that are much more embarrassing than “Fire Monsters,” that make “Fire Monsters” look like a masterpiece by comparison. The best of those films are still going to be crude by comparison to what kids are doing today because now kids have better equipment. They can do computer graphics, special effects at home on their home computers; they can get books to tell them how to do the special effects. I had to figure it all out myself. So compared to what some of the kids are doing today, all of them are going to be crude. But what’s important is, when you watch them all together, you see the creative growth of a filmmaker. You see somebody who started off not knowing anything and kind of had to learn everything along the way pretty much by himself, and how point A led to point B led to point C and how there’s improvement from one to the next. I think that’s what’s going to be really interesting about this, just showing the growth of somebody, and you don’t usually get to see something like that.

BH: Well, I’m certainly looking forward to this DVD; it sounds like it’ll be of great interest to me.

DG: It’ll be inspirational, too, because there are two recurring themes that keep popping up in who‘s being interviewed, it seems like, and one is the fact that we all, in those days, had to learn on our own how to make these movies and do these special effects and things. But the other thing is the importance of parents not stifling their children’s creative urges, forcing them to be an electrician or something. The other thing is, never giving up — just keep at it, and sooner or later, you‘ll succeed and become a professional, getting paid to do what you used to do as a hobby for fun. So you’re still having fun and getting paid for it but as an adult.

BH: Well, about “Fire Monsters” once again, that was actually inspired by Gigantis the Fire Monster (a.k.a. Godzilla Raids Again) …

DG: Yes, Gigantis the Fire Monster, I saw that in the theater in Chicago at the Biograph Theater where John Dillinger was shot on a double bill with Teenagers from Outer Space. I really liked Gigantis; I had a great time with that when I first saw it. It’s funny — I thought at the time it was a much more expensive movie than Godzilla (1954). I probably thought that because it had two monsters in it, but now looking back, it’s nowhere nearly as good as the first one. But I really enjoyed that movie, and I remember I got about halfway through it, and I said,” Wait a minute, that’s Godzilla! They just changed the name, that‘s all!” It took me a while to catch on, but I finally did.

BH: One movie that I was always interested in since I read The Dinosaur Scrapbook when I was a kid was “Son of Tor” …

DG: Oh, “Son of Tor,” yeah.

BH: There was always that image of Godzilla in claymation…

DG: I’m sure you being a Godzilla fan, you know which movie had come out recently when I made that because of the image I copied from. It was King Kong vs. Godzilla, and I think what I used as the model I used to make my model was the box of the Godzilla Game because it had a nice, big picture on there. I think that’s what I used to make my model.

But there’s a DVD coming out any day now, I think on the 28th of this month (March 2006), called The Sci-Fi Boys that Paul Davids made. “Son of Tor” will be included on The Sci-Fi Boys in its entirety with me introducing it. But I think they pulled the soundtrack off of it and put their own soundtrack to it. In my DVD, it will be the original dialogue and sound effects, but I‘m going to replace the music. That’s one of the reasons I had to record my own music for the teenage films was because I couldn’t use the music that I originally had on there, which were Duane Eddy records and Link Wray records.

They were all records, and to get clearance on all that would cost a lot of money. So I just decided it would be cheaper, it would be free, and it would more fun to record the music myself. Now we’re putting it out on a CD. We started off as a small, little project. We were originally going to do five or six songs at the most, and they were just going to be basically chord progressions. The more we got into it, the more complex the songs became, and the more we recorded, we finally decided, “Let’s do 12, and we’ll put them out as an album, as a CD.” So now there will be the I Was a Teenage Movie Maker DVD and also the companion I Was a Teenage Movie Maker original soundtrack CD!

BH: (laughs)

DG: (laughs) I’m having a great time doing that. So “Son of Tor” is coming out in two formats: the Paul Davids (version), which will have some narration and some music on it, I believe, and mine, which will have the real sound effects and everything. In my movie, it’s a much better print because I think Paul went from my Betamax tapes that I had made in about 1980. But mine are going to be right on 16mm film, so we took all of mine and had a professional transfer. When Paul did his, it wasn’t even a thought or an idea yet, and it would have cost a fortune, cost a lot of money to have these films transferred, which is most of the budget of the DVD.

BH: Just to switch gears for a little bit, I wanted to touch on your work on “Ultraman: Hero from the Stars.”

DG: Well, I had just written a Star Wars novel, The Empire Strikes Back, and I had a friend in Japan named Saki Hijiri whose name is known to many fans and collectors here in the United States because he comes here every so often. Saki had some friends over at Tsuburaya Productions, and he heard they were looking for an American writer to do a new, feature-length screenplay based on Ultraman to be shot in the United States. Because of my credentials on the Star Wars book, that kind of opened the door, and so they contacted me when they came out here, and they were glad I knew who Ultraman was, and I was a fan of Ultraman. So it wasn’t like they had to explain a lot of things; I already knew the character, which was a big boost for me.

I was even helping out on the casting; I remember two of the people that were being seriously considered, and I think almost had the roles, were Jackson Bostwick to play Ultraman (Jackson Bostwick played Captain Marvel in the first season of the old live-action Shazam television series that was done by Filmation), and then for the female lead, it was going to be Anne Lockhart. I don’t know if she’d actually done Battlestar Galactica yet at that point or not, but she became a regular on that. It was right around the same time. Anyway, Anne and I met, she was a nice person and everything, and she was a well-known actress, and we had a meeting. So it was going to be Anne Lockhart and Jackson Bostwick as the leads. I wrote the script, they liked the script, and then what happened was Tsuburaya just, for some reason, didn’t have the money they thought they had, so they never made the movie. I subsequently, though, became very good friends with the line producer, Naofumi Okamoto, and we’re still very good friends after all these years. We still hang out together and socialize and things.

The stipulation was that this was going to be an American Ultraman movie. It was going to be shot in the United States with American actors and everything. I remember included in the first draft of the script was a Japanese character. I like to have racially-balanced scripts, and I had a Japanese character in there who I don‘t think was from Japan, I think he was a Japanese-American character. They made me take that out; they didn’t want anything in it looking Japanese, including this character.

It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done, as far as being a writer, because you can‘t imagine what it‘s like, sitting there in your office, writing some of these scenes, trying to imagine some of these battle scenes and writing them down. I just had a great time with it. I had a scene where Ultraman is fighting off this sea monster, and it’s attacking New York, (and) Ultraman ripped, as a weapon, ripped the Statue of Liberty off its base, and hit it with the spiked crown. He used it as a weapon to beat this monster back into the sea! Of course, he put the Statue of Liberty back, and he fixed it and everything. It was fun doing that sort of thing.

It was done around the time of Superman II, and I had a scene where, I forgot what happened, but it somehow involved Mount Rushmore, and they made me change that because in Superman II they had that scene where Zod changes the faces on Mount Rushmore, so they took that out.

I had pretty much free rein, except I remember they didn’t understand a lot of the American phrases and things. I had a scene where somebody’s a member of this team, and they’re wearing uniforms. He says, “When I joined this outfit, I didn’t know there was going to be so much danger,” or something like that. They called me, “What is this outfit? They’re supposed to be wearing uniforms! Now he’s wearing an outfit of some sort?!” I said, “No, no, no, that’s just an expression.” I had another scene where he thinks somebody’s jealous of someone, and he makes the comment about, “Oh, it looks like the green-eyed monster has reared its ugly head again,” paraphrasing Shakespeare. He called me up and said, “Who’s this green-eyed monster? We have this monster, we have that, but I don’t know about any green-eyed monster!” So I had to explain that there was no green-eyed monster as a monster in the story. So there were little things like that that I had to deal with, but it was a fun project.

Unfortunately, though, it never got made. I think it was a television show called Attack of the Supermonsters or something like that, and I think some of the story elements, I think, ended up in that.

BH: Oh, is that a combination of cartoons and live action?

DG: Yeah, yeah, and it was a Tsuburaya production.                   

BH: I remember that. Now could you give me a brief rundown of what the story of “Ultraman: Hero from the Stars” was?

DG: Yes. It was based on a couple things. It was based on the notion that a comet or meteor destroyed the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago. It’s also based on the premise that one group of dinosaurs was getting a little bit more intelligent and was evolving bigger brains, eyes in front of the head, etc. So when the asteroid came, that group of dinosaurs escaped underground where they continued to evolve. Every once in a while, they would come up on land or come up on the surface, and people would get glimpses of them in earlier days, and that kind of led to the legend of demons and devils. I think it opened up with them tearing down a church, and they find behind a wall a skeleton of a humanoid that looks like a combination of reptile and human. They think the Devil’s come back to claim the Earth.

So anyway, there’s this environmental team that is going about trying to fix things up after there’s a natural disaster or if there’s an oil spill or something like that. So these reptilian humanoids think it’s finally time to reclaim the Earth, which was theirs 65 million years ago. They have been mutating; they preserved a few actual prehistoric reptiles from that period, which is a Tyrannosaur-type dinosaur, and another was a Pteranodon-like flying reptile, and the third is a Plesiosaur-like sea creature. Over the years, they’ve been using these energy sources to mutate them, so the Tyrannosaur turned into basically a Godzilla-type character, the Pteranodon turned into a Rodan-type of character, and the Plesiosaur turned into a giant sea monster. They could shoot rays and breathe fire; they were typical Japanese daikaiju monsters.

So they set these monsters loose on the Earth; one’s attacking by sea, one from the air, and one on land. So the people from (M78) realize that, once again, the Earth needs an Ultraman-type character to save them. But this time they need one really special, and all the other Ultraman characters are sort of there, living on their home world, so they select somebody who’s the leader of this environmental team. They teleport him to their world. All the preexisting Ultra-characters transfer their powers to this one new Ultraman. So he can do things that all of them can do; he can even shrink down to a tiny size. I think one of them can do that; that‘s where I got that idea. So he goes back to Earth, but in doing so he kind of sacrifices his humanity and loses the girl that he loves. Then it’s basically him fighting the monsters.

Each one of the members of this environmental team had their own personality, and their own abilities, and things. They flew around in this big, modular ship that could split apart and become separate ships kind of like the Fantastic Car from Fantastic Four. I tried to use as many North American places that people could recognize, like Mount Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty, and places like that. I even had a scene where Ultraman is walking on Sunset Boulevard, and they have a Rocky Horror Picture Show midnight screening with all the characters out there and everything. So I had a lot of fun with it.

BH: (laughs) I understand you wrote for the Godzilla cartoon in the late ’70s. Is that true?

DG: No, all I did was, I wrote a treatment or an outline, whatever you want to call it, of an episode that never got made for some reason or another. So either the show got cancelled, or they decided my episode was too similar to someone else’s. They did pay me to write one, but it never actually got made.

BH: In closing, is there anything else you’d like to (our) readers?

DG: I hope they appreciate the DVD; I hope they like it when it comes out. I hope they will forgive “The Fire Monsters”; it’s a really terrible movie! But you’ll get some nice glimpses of Chicago, what it looked like in 1959 or whenever it was I made that film. I think they’ll like “Son of Tor” a lot better; you’ll get to see Godzilla fight the Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth. That was a fun thing to do. I hope they enjoy it and take it for what it is, which is they were made by a kid. They’re not going to see state-of-the-art special effects or anything. Maybe it’ll inspire some people if there are people out there who have talents whether it’s special effects or writing or acting or making films or playing music or whatever. When they see this, I’m hoping it’s going to inspire them to the fact that if you have a dream and the ability, as long as nobody is there to discourage you, you can make your dreams come true. You can take what you like doing as a kid and make it your profession and get paid for it. Most people in the world can’t say that; most people have jobs that they hate. They can’t wait until the job ends so they can go home and relax, and the kind of job I have, you can’t wait until it starts! The most depressing thing is when it’s over! If any of the G-fans have abilities and talents and dreams, they should never give up and just pursue them to the max.

BH: Now where can people get this DVD when it comes out (on July 18)?

DG: It’ll be sold in the stores. It’ll also be sold through places like amazon.com, and it’ll also be sold through the Frontline Entertainment Web site, which is http://www.frontlinefilms.com.

BH: Well, that sounds great! I’m sure we’ll all be looking forward to this DVD with great expectations, and I think it‘ll turn out to be just great. Thank you very much for participating.

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