GODZILLA GETS AMERICANIZED! Straw Weisman on Rewriting Godzilla 1985!

Screenwriter Straw Weisman in 2007. Photo © Straw Weisman.

Straw Weisman, born in Brooklyn in 1952, is a successful writer/producer/director. Among his credits, he has directed the horror film Dead Mate (1988) and Man of the Year (2002) with John Ritter, which was shot with 20 cameras and 25 actors in one house in one night. He’s also worked on over 2,500 movie advertising campaigns, on top of having written or co-written 10 movies, including Cyborg 3: The Recycler (1994), Red Scorpion 2 (1994), and many other feature films. To cult movie fans, Mr. Weisman is arguably best known for writing and producing the infamous video nasty Fight for Your Life (1977), which is still banned in Great Britain. But to Vantage Point Interviews readers, his best known credit is the American version of Godzilla 1985 (1984), on which he was credited as creative consultant, even though he actually served as an uncredited screenwriter with Lisa Tomei. In 2007, Mr. Weisman spoke with Brett Homenick about his screenwriting duties on Godzilla 1985.

Brett Homenick: What led to your involvement in Godzilla 1985?

Straw Weisman: I was working at New World Pictures with their post-production department. I was doing trailers and promo reels for them at that time, and they knew I was a writer. When the opportunity came along to participate, I got myself involved. They came to me; I came to them. It was a mutual decision, and I found myself on the show.

BH: We talked about this earlier, but you were not aware of any involvement that Leslie Nielsen was supposed to have as part of a parody that they were originally thinking about making.

SW: No. There may have been discussion about that. My involvement with it was, they were going to take this Godzilla, we’re going to purchase the rights, we’re going to add some American scenes, rewrite all the dialogue in English, and release it as Godzilla 1985, an American picture. That was the reason for bringing Raymond Burr back.

BH: Now talk about working with Lisa Tomei, writing the screenplay.

SW: These are the days when the best technology available for rewind and play was VHS. So the writing sessions consisted of sitting in one of various locations with a VHS deck and TV monitor, and two yellow pads, going back and forth over the dialogue. “What did the Japanese say? What do the Japanese mean? How can we write something that fits into the lips of the Americans who basically tell the same story?”

I think Variety or Hollywood Reporter picked up on some of the dialogue we wrote at the time, saying, “They seem to be concerned with why the birds are changing direction,” which was one of those lines where we looked at what the Japanese were saying. We interpolated what the subtitles were about, and we tried really hard to find words that fit and told the story that suggested the migrational interference with the birds’ patterns due to their reaction to the radiation because all the Godzilla movies are really about getting bombed by the Americans. That’s where Godzilla really comes from. Godzilla is a product of the nuclear holocaust of Hiroshima. That brought us way down, didn’t it?

BH: (laughs) Well, who exactly was Lisa Tomei? Not a lot is known about her.

SW: I don’t believe Lisa Tomei is still in the industry, although I could be wrong. Lisa Tomei was dating Tony Randel at the time, so I guess you could call her his girlfriend. My understanding was that they were either living together or dating. I was told that I would be co-writing with her. I said fine, and we worked really well together. It was painstaking work because American idioms and American syllables don’t easily fit into Japanese mouth action. The people who do anime today have an easier time with it.

I believe Lisa was a writer. I don’t know what she wrote before that or what she’s written since, and I haven‘t seen or heard of her in many years — many, many years.

BH: (laughs) I’m very interested to ask you about the American inserts that were written. What ideas did you get for some of the characters, like the hokey major who cracked jokes all the time. Where did those ideas come from if they came from anywhere?

SW: The truth is that it’s so long ago that it’s hard to remember everything. The idea was to freshen the material. So those characters were of that moment and of that time. We knew we needed a military hierarchy to surround Raymond Burr, and the characters just kind of happened. You’re probably hoping for a much more detailed recollection on this. I’m sorry I don’t have one. Tony Randel had a lot to do with the tone and the new scenes.

BH: So the idea was always there to have sort of the military involved as the main thing.

SW: Yeah.

BH: Now you talked about it a little bit, but do you have anything else to say about the process of dubbing, some of the decisions that you would make?

SW: Only that after we wrote it, it went to Tony, and Tony was the director of the live action. Actually, Tony was producing, and (R. J.) Kizer directed the live action. Kizer was an editor at New World at that point, and I think he’s gone on to work in laboratories. They looked at what we had, and they made comments, and we made changes, and it just evolved. But our rewritten dialogue was so specific and perfect in every detail that they hardly changed much because it’s too hard to do.

BH: Do you remember some of the lines, such as “Sayonara sucker”? Did you have fun writing those lines?

SW: Oh, yeah! We were young. It was tongue-in-cheek but meant to be straight. We were writing for a horror/monster audience, and the idea was to have fun with the material and the characters. And how could you not? How could you not write, “Sayonara sucker”?

BH: (laughs) Did you get to work with Raymond Burr at all?

SW: No, I was not there. It’s common knowledge in Hollywood that you don’t let the writers near the set. You try to keep the writers off the set because the moment anybody changes anything, the writers always flip out.

BH: (laughs) Now what was it like to work with Tony Randel and R. J. Kizer on the film?

SW: Tony and R. J., also known as Bob, were very collaborative filmmakers. They were all young and inspired. Kizer’s a little older than I am, and Tony’s younger. They were good teammates. Everybody was working together. We were all excited to be part of a big motion picture like Godzilla. It was 1985, and we didn’t know any better.

BH: Before we wrap up here, is there anything else that you wanted to say about Godzilla 1985?

SW: It was made at a time when home video hadn’t really caught on, and so everything went theatrical. It was a big-screen monster. It was meant to be a big-screen movie. We took ourselves very seriously with a little tongue-in-cheek. The goal was to make something that people all over the country and all over the world could see and hopefully could be a hit for New World.

New World in those days was a great place to work. They were trying very hard to be a cutting-edge independent film company, and for a little while they were. It was a great time and great fun.

BH: I know another thing I wanted to ask you. It’s rumored that the heads of New World sort of interfered with the making of the film and made the writers or the producers put in a scene of the Russians launching the nuclear missile, whereas in the Japanese version that’s not the case. They try to stop the missile from being launched.

SW: There was no political interference. New World was an exploitation company. If that happened, it happened without my knowledge. These guys were lawyers and financiers and filmmakers. Bob Rehme went on to do a lot of work at Paramount, I think — partnered up with guys like Mace Neufeld on much larger movies. Bob had come out of exhibition. Sloan and Kuppin, the lawyers who put New World together when they bought it from Roger Corman, were interested in buying cheap and making a bunch of movies and selling high, which they eventually did. Sloan is running MGM today.

BH: Do you know why you weren’t given screen credit as a writer on the film?

SW: Oh, yeah. I was flirting with the Writers Guild, having gotten my Guild affiliation through one of the Troma pictures, probably The Outdoorsters. So I took a creative consultant credit instead.

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