Tony Randel is a successful filmmaker, screenwriter, and film editor, whose credits as a director include Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), Children of the Night (1991), and Ticks (1993). In the mid-1980s, Mr. Randel produced the American scenes of Godzilla 1985 (1984) for New World Pictures, which were directed by R. J. Kizer. More recently, Mr. Randel directed the thriller The Double Born (2008), which stars Sammi Davis and Jon Lindstrom, as well as the family film A Doggone Adventure (2018). In 2007, Mr. Randel spoke with Brett Homenick about producing the American inserts of Godzilla 1985.
Brett Homenick: First of all, I’m going to write an introduction for the interview, so if you want to give me some background information, feel free to give it to me. I’ll incorporate it into the introduction.
Tony Randel: I was a film editor, and I worked for Roger Corman before I worked for New World Entertainment. I was head of post-production for New World Entertainment when they acquired The Return of Godzilla. I think that’s what it was called. Because I was head of post-production, it was requested that I come up with some sort of Americanization of it, and I don’t think they were actually aware that it had been done before, that Raymond Burr had done it in the — was it the ’50s, ‘56?
TR: One of the executives had said, “Oh, you know that in the old days, there was a film called Tidal Wave, a Japanese film, and they hired Lorne Greene to shoot some stuff.” It was suggested, “Why don’t you hire Lorne Greene?” (laughs) I said, “Well, they actually did this before with Raymond Burr, so why don’t we hire Raymond Burr to make it sort of consistent.” That’s how I got started.
BH: Now you talked about how you got involved, but legend has it that the reason that the movie ultimately became titled Godzilla 1985 was because you were inspired by Frankenstein 1970. Is that correct?
TR: God, you’re right. I’d forgotten that. That’s right.
BH: Were there any other titles that were being tossed around, other than that?
TR: I don’t think so. I just saw that movie again on television recently! (laughs) Frankenstein 1970, because it was like, “Ooh, the future.” (It was) made in the ‘60s or something. But yeah, that is right. That’s where the title came from.
BH: When you were initially hired to work on Godzilla 1985, who did you hire? There’s Straw Weisman, Lisa Tomei — these were some of the people who were hired originally. But what went into the idea to hire them, and who else did you look at or hire for the film?
TR: Well, Straw and Lisa were just sort of around, and it really was such a “just put something together” kind of thing. I didn’t really have a lot of contacts, so it was sort of the people I knew. Then Bob (R. J.) Kizer, who directed it, had just been an editor I had worked with. I had a lot of respect for his ability to get things done, and he was a professional. So I really just went with people I knew that could get the job done. We weren’t trying to create art here. We were trying to do a job, which was to Americanize the film so New World could distribute it with American actors’ names associated with it. So it was people I was working with, I knew, and trusted.
BH: Well, not a lot is known about Lisa Tomei — her background, or who she was. Do you remember anything about her?
TR: Yeah, she was my girlfriend at the time. (laughs) She was an aspiring writer — very talented artist. That’s why I put her together with Straw to write the script.
BH: Did she have any other credits?
TR: No, she didn’t. She was working in graphic design — the early days of video graphics. To my knowledge, she still does. I have not talked to her in many years, but I believe she’s an Emmy Award-winning graphic designer and makes a lot of money doing it, I’m sure. But I know she’s won an Emmy, among other things.
BH: Is it true that, in the initial planning stages of Godzilla 1985, the original thought was to make it a parody and to hire Leslie Nielsen? Is that true?
BH: That’s what has been said in the past, that it was originally going to be a parody, and Leslie Nielsen was going to be sort of a wacky scientist or something.
TR: No, no. In fact, anybody that knows me (knows that) I love parody, but I don’t do parody. So that’s just absolutely not true.
BH: That’s very interesting. I’m glad you said that because I’ve always wondered about that, and I did mention to you that I interviewed R. J. Kizer. He said that Straw Weisman’s original script was more along the lines of a parody and that Leslie Nielsen was going to be hired, then something happened, and you decided to hire Raymond Burr instead. I guess that’s not true.
TR: Not to my recollection, no. Everybody loved Leslie Nielsen, and we actually hired him to narrate a product reel once, but no, to my recollection. Maybe we joked about it, but no, I always took it rather seriously. The idea of taking the film and joking it up is just not my thing. I would have found it disrespectful.
BH: That’s totally against what’s being reported about this film, so that’s very interesting.
TR: Well, my memory is certainly different. Just knowing me, I would have found it to be a disrespectful thing to do.
BH: Going back to what you said a little bit earlier, I take it that Raymond Burr was always in the back of your mind as being part of the Americanization. You never really wanted to look anywhere else but Raymond Burr.
TR: Never. No, never. When the idea was first brought up, and the whole Lorne Greene thing came up, I just said, “Well, Raymond Burr.” That was it. I mean, it’s possible. It was a long time ago, but I just don’t remember going through any other processes other than perhaps joking about it, but I don’t recall it ever being a serious thought. It was always Raymond Burr.
BH: When you approached Raymond Burr, what did he think about the film? Did he have any special demands? What was that whole process like?
TR: One of the executives at New World negotiated the deal, an executive named Jeff Schechtman. Burr did some changing on the script when he came in. He just shortened it. Just some of his dialogue he shortened up a bit, and there were a few things, I think, he wanted to say that he put in there. That was the only demand. It wasn’t really a demand; he was just doing what actors do. So he was very, very cooperative, extremely nice and professional. He only worked for one day. We did everything of his in a single day. I think he was kind of amused to come back all these years — almost 30 years later — and do the same role. I think it kind of tickled him in some way.
BH: Were you involved in the casting of any of the other parts, such as Warren Kemmerling or Travis Swords or James Hess?
TR: To a little extent, but basically Bob Kizer did it because I was also running post-production at the same time, so my time was very split up. But Bob and Andrea Stern, as I recall, really cast those other roles. I don’t even know what happened to Warren Kemmerling. He was such a good character actor. I don’t know what’s become of him.
BH: He died a couple of years ago.
TR: He was really good — nice guy.
BH: Did you work with any of the other actors at all, or do you have any memories of them?
TR: No. I don’t really remember. I’ve been told — I wasn’t aware at the time — that Whitney Houston’s ex-husband (Bobby Brown) was in there.
BH: (laughs) I talked to R. J., and he said the same thing.
TR: Bobby Brown?
BH: Bobby Brown. I mean, is it standard procedure to hire 16-year-olds? That’s the age that Bobby Brown would have been at the time.
TR: Well, I wonder how that rumor got started. He would have been one of the extras, one of the people in the War Room, which is another story — the whole War Room thing. I always got a kick out of that, but that’s what I’ve heard. So I don’t know. I don’t remember him being there.
I thought they were pretty solid. It was basically the three actors. There was some kid, Travis.
TR: Swords. There was another actor. I forgot his name. He was very solid, I thought.
BH: James Hess?
TR: Maybe that’s who it was.
BH: He played the colonel.
TR: Yeah. But I’ve really never seen much of them beyond that.
BH: What are your memories of the War Room?
TR: Well, New World had just released a film called The Philadelphia Experiment, and in The Philadelphia Experiment there was a Mission Control set. There was people running around and computers, and there was big blue screens. So what I did is, I took that footage and just built the three walls behind it for our set. So whenever they cut to this War Room, it’s actually from The Philadelphia Experiment. Then we just composited in maps of Japan or some scenes from the original Godzilla film. I think Ernie Farino did all that stuff, if I remember correctly.
BH: Do you remember much about the crew, working with them?
TR: I remember the cameraman. I can’t recall his name.
BH: Steve Dubin.
TR: I’ve really kind of lost track. I don’t know what’s become of Steve. But I just don’t remember that much about it, other than the fact that we did it all in three days. It was very quick. We had to shoot all of Raymond Burr’s stuff first. He required a teleprompter. I remember that. I have sort of vague recollections of the shooting of it. We did it at Raleigh Studios. We shot at Raleigh for two days and then at a house up in Malibu for a day or half a day or whatever it was. That’s really all I recall. But I just don’t have memories of the crew. Maybe there were people in there who I would know now, but I just don’t remember who they were.
BH: Well, another rumor is that Kuppin and Sloan, the heads of New World at the time, were conservatives, and they objected to having the Russians portrayed as good guys, as they were in the original film.
TR: (laughs) That is hilarious! (laughs)
BH: (laughs) Have you heard that before?
TR: (laughs) That was totally me. It had nothing to do with Kuppin and Sloan. I don’t think they ever saw the movie! That was a complete joke I did. (laughs) I did it. I remember looking over the film and trying to figure out how we were going to integrate scenes. I had a really funny idea: Let’s make it so the Russians start the whole thing! (laughs) It had nothing to do with their politics. In fact, Harry Sloan was not conservative. He was very big in the Democratic Party. Kuppin, I think, was conservative, but Sloan was not. Bob Rehme was not, either. He ran the company. So no, that was me. I’ll take 100% blame for that, and to this day I get the biggest laugh about it. Because it was the Reagan era, and because I made it look like the Russians started the whole (thing), it was a 1980s joke.
BH: (laughs) Well, speaking of that, I have to mention R. J. again because I asked him about that. He said essentially the same thing that you did, but he also said that he had suggested an idea to you about a movie he wanted to make. He couldn’t remember the details of it. You said to him in reply that that idea wouldn’t fly at New World because they were doing movies like Last Plane Out and Def-Con 4 and other films with, I guess, a right-wing slant to them.
TR: I don’t recall what it was. But those movies were not made by New World. They were acquisitions. Maybe I was full of crap at the time. I can’t remember. But I know that Kuppin was conservative, and I know that Sloan was a liberal, politically. I’m almost positive of that. I know Bob Rehme was pretty big in the Democratic Party, as well. So I don’t think it was politics. I don’t know what the film was he suggested. But I don’t know if it was political. Anyway, I can’t recall.
BH: Did you have any other memories that you wanted to share?
TR: Not so much that’s on the set. I remember it was a lot of fun doing it. I know that the people that dubbed the picture had also recently done The Gods Must Be Crazy. This was the same group, and I sort of vaguely remember recording the dubbing.
We cut a lot out of the original film. We really streamlined it, which I got a lot of flak for. There is a contingent I’ve read out there that says that the original Japanese film is some sort of work. It really wasn’t, but I thought we made improvements to the film by just making it swifter and shorter.
We used some of Chris Young’s music in the film. You probably knew that. We pirated music from Def-Con 4, one of Chris’s early scores.
BH: I actually have the soundtrack to that.
TR: It’s a good score. That score was inspired by a Tangerine Dream song that I had heard once. I thought, “Oh, that sounds like the music to Def-Con 4.” I played it for Chris, and he got mad at me, but anyway…
TR: (laughs) But Chris was always getting mad at me! We had an interesting relationship.
The trailer was very successful for Godzilla ’85. I came up with this idea that I had. This writer named Nelson Lyon (wrote) the trailer, and it was actually nominated for one of the five best trailers of that year. I think it lost to E.T. or something like that. It wasn’t E.T., but it was some big movie that won the award, and Godzilla ’85 was up there as one of the top trailers. I’m very pleased with that because it got a lot of laughs; it’s funny. I don’t know if you ever saw it, but it’s all title cards and serious narration until the very end.
It was fun doing it. How often do you ever get a chance to do something like that in life where somebody just hands you something and says, “Do something with it”? It was never really scrutinized that carefully by the executives at New World. It was, “Just do it.” That was great. It was very, very successful. That is the other thing that I would say. It made a lot of money for New World. I got one of those video awards, “100,000 units sold.” I know it sold at least 100,000 units, which was a lot for them. So it was a big moneymaker.