R. J. Kizer, born and raised in the New York City area, attended New York University Film School, from which he graduated in 1976. Following graduation, Mr. Kizer moved to Los Angeles in 1978. In May 1979, he began working at Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. There he met Tony Randel and pursued a career in film editing. Mr. Kizer subsequently earned a few directing and screenwriting jobs. One of his best known films as a director is the American version of Godzilla 1985 (1984). In September 2021, Mr. Kizer gave detailed answers to Brett Homenick’s questions about his directing the American scenes of Godzilla 1985 in their second interview on the subject.
Brett Homenick: Do you remember how the offer came for you to direct the American version of Godzilla 1985 (1984)?
R. J. Kizer: According my desk calendar for that year, I was invited to have dinner with Tony Randel on April 30, 1985, during which he broached the idea of my directing American scenes to be cut into a new movie that New World had obtained the North American rights to distribute: The Return of Godzilla. Beyond that note, I have absolutely no memory as to what was said or agreed to at that meeting.
However, I do recall that sometime in late 1984 I had read in the trades that Toho had made a new Godzilla movie that broke with the story line it had developed over the years. You could say it was the first movie character re-boot — an attempt to re-launch a character and start clean. But I thought that movie was called simply Godzilla. I wondered, at the time, if this Return of Godzilla was an even newer movie — a sequel to the re-boot? After our dinner, I gave the subject no further thought — the proof of this is that I had no memory of it until I recently saw the entry in my old desk calendar.
My earlier interview with you covered a lot of the info about my second meeting with Tony on Saturday, June 8. That was the meeting where Tony made me “an offer of immortality.” Little did I know how true this would be. He made a formal offer for me to direct the American scenes for the new Toho Godzilla movie. And the discussion clarified for me that this was the same movie I had read about in 1984. My start date was still to be determined, but it would either be late June or early July.
Why did Tony contact me to do this work? That may be the real point of your question. I guess you would have to ask him. I never inquired as to why I was hired; I just jumped onboard and rode the train as far as I could go.
We first met in 1980 when we were both working on Battle Beyond the Stars for Roger Corman. In 1983, we both served as film editors on Space Raiders, also for Corman. During the post-production of Raiders, Roger sold the New World company to a trio of lawyers, and then he created two new companies, New Horizon and Concorde, and continued on with those. Meanwhile, Tony got a position with this new New World group and eventually became head of its post-production department. After Raiders, I pursued film-editing work with independent companies, and, despite our paths diverging, Tony and I stayed in touch during that time.
BH: What do you remember about your meetings with Tony Randel before getting hired?
RK: As to the June 8 meeting, I don’t remember anything more in any specific detail beyond what I told you in our earlier interview. There are just flashes of ideas or concepts. For example, the whole notion of Leslie Nielsen as the lead American — that was floated as a possible direction. I don’t remember if Burr’s possible involvement was mentioned or suggested. Mind [you], this was all thinking-out-loud kind of stuff. A lot of “blue sky” talk goes on during the early days of a project.
My sense is that the notion of having Burr reprise his role was a lofty goal. It might be unattainable, and we would have to go a different route. We talked about the use of Lorne Greene in the Corman release Tidal Wave (1973) and how that would probably be the model for our material. It’s possible that Tony told me the new title for the project, “Godzilla 1985,” or I learned of it later.
Bottom line: By the time our meeting was over, I had the job. I am pretty sure I asked him if I needed to meet with anyone else at New World, and he replied that he was in charge of this project; there was no one else who needed to “sign off.”
Because I was credited as “director,” I have received requests for interviews or to answer questions about some aspect of the film. What is awkward is that many of the key creative decisions for the film were not made by me. Tony Randel was the producer, and he was the mover and shaker of that project. A lot of work had already been done by the time I came onboard. The re-cut of the Toho version was well under way, a draft of the American scenes had already been written. Work on the English dubbing script was also well under way.
Some of the first interviews I gave about working on Godzilla 1985 happened without my looking over my notes or calendar or even watching the film again. I got things out of order, mixed up actors and details of the script — all the usual mishmash when relying purely on one’s memory of things that happened 10 or 15 years before. So a bunch of not-quite-accurate stuff about Godzilla 1985 has gotten out into the world, all of which can be directly attributed to me, and I hope to correct some of those things via this interview.
For example, about the tone of the project — despite what is reported on the Wikipedia site for The Return of Godzilla, I don’t believe it was ever intended that the American version of the film would be like What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966). No one ever suggested anything like that to me in all of my discussions. And yet that claim cites an interview with me that appeared in the Steve Ryfle book Japan’s Favorite Mon-star. Sadly, I have been unable to find my copy of the book to verify that claim.
The very first script of the American war room scenes that I read took its lead more from Dr. Strangelove (1964) than anything else — straight, with a wry chaser. Just stop and think: If you were some big-shot general, suddenly summoned from your golf game, because a Soviet sub had just been sunk, and people were thinking it had to have been done by the U.S., and we’re on the verge of nuclear war, and then you discover the sub was sunk by an 80-meter-tall radioactive fire-breathing dragon-like creature, running amok in Tokyo — you would think someone was pulling your leg, right? So a certain amount of incredulity/levity in the American scenes was amply justified.
Continuing about the tone issue, I am pretty certain it was also at the June 8 meeting that Tony revealed New World had successfully obtained the rights to include Marv Newland’s short film Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969) to run as a short before the feature. Right there, you have a nudge-nudge, wink-wink set-up.
For all of us who saw Godzilla for the first time in Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956), we don’t have a strong memory of bad dubbing connected with that film. Very cleverly, they re-shot a lot of it in English with Japanese-Americans doubling some characters from the Toho original and interacting directly with the Raymond Burr character. It was all the subsequent Japanese kaiju movies that led to the creation of “like a bad Godzilla movie” as the phrase of choice for a film with bad dubbing.
Besides the two restaurant meetings mentioned above, my desk calendar indicates that I met with Tony at the New World post-production offices on the Raleigh Studios lot, June 26, Wednesday evening, at 7:00. As to what transpired, my desk calendar is silent, as is my memory. Again, according to my desk calendar, I had another meeting at Raleigh Studios on July 3 at 7:00 — whether a.m or p.m. is unclear.
The discussion at both times probably involved some of the logistics of the proposed job. Maybe I was given a copy of the script, as it stood then, as well as a VHS copy of an English-subtitled The Return of Godzilla. This videotape had to be returned to Tony because he probably obtained it on loan from the local Toho office in Century City. My guess is that, at the July 3 meeting, I was informed that a proposal had been made to Raymond Burr, and we were awaiting his response.
Some of the operating parameters were that the filming would take place over two and a half days, with two days on a Raleigh Studios sound stage and the half-day in Malibu at a house and on a hillside road. Tony wanted to have a shot showing a government car, with rotating police warning lights, making its way up a uninhabited hillside road. One of the other parameters was that we would be using a shot from The Philadelphia Experiment (1984) depicting a “war room” environment in which there were three large screens.
We would optically place footage from both the 1954 Gojira and from The Return of Godzilla onto those screens, with the intention that the view is the “other side” of our set on the Raleigh sound stage. So I was to incorporate that into my shot plan for the American scenes. And the dubbing of the Japanese into American English was given three days. The final sound mix would be sometime in early or mid-August, but I can’t find any notes as to how many days we were to spend on that. With a high degree of certainty, I can say it would have been no more than three and no less than two.
BH: When you were hired to direct, what specifically were your duties?
RK: Specifically, I was hired to direct the American scenes to be photographed, and to direct the English-speaking actors in the dubbing of the Japanese scenes. I was also tasked with trying to find suitable stock footage of contemporary Air Force jets scrambling to take off and in flight, nuclear war fail-safe material. Finally, I was to physically edit the music from both the original Japanese version as well as cues from Def-Con 4 (1985) to build the music track for Godzilla 1985.
As to why I was to cut the music for the show, all I can guess is that Tony remembered my re-editing for Space Raiders of James Horner’s music originally written for Humanoids from the Deep (1980) and Battle Beyond the Stars. That was quite an involved music-cutting job, and I imagine Tony was impressed by my “tracking.”
Again, note that I was not hired to supervise the re-cutting of the original Toho version or to consult on the writing of the English script for the dubbing. My creative task was: a) figure out how to accomplish the photography and dubbing within the schedule and budget, and b) guide and evaluate the actors’ performances while also keeping an eye on schedule and budget.
BH: You also met with Raymond Burr and his partner Robert Benevides before shooting started. Please take us back to that meeting.
RK: Yes, and I covered a lot of that in my first interview with you. I was told that Mr. Burr wanted to meet me over dinner before the first day of shooting. He would be staying at Le Mondrian hotel on Sunset Blvd., and I was to meet him there, and we would have dinner at the hotel’s restaurant.
Allow me to back up a bit. I am surprised I did not make a notation in my desk calendar on the day we learned that Raymond Burr agreed to appear in our project. I am very confident that, on my first official day on G85, Burr was not yet one of the cast. It was either at the end of my first week or the beginning of my second week we learned that Burr agreed to participate. Now, as I mentioned in our first interview, Burr’s agreement included the use of teleprompters and a specific teleprompter operator, booked from QTV, plus the employment of his stand-in, Lee Miller, for either two or three days.
The entry about this on the Wikipedia page for Godzilla 1985 makes it seem that Burr refused to memorize his lines ahead of time. The author [of the Wikipedia entry] seems to take great umbrage at this. But it is misplaced. As is revealed later in this interview, this was Burr’s preferred method of working. He knew his lines; he just didn’t want spend the time to commit them, word-for-word, to memory. He was very good at sight-reading and could do it much better than Bob Hope ever could.
My first two and a half weeks were spent on casting, stock footage research, and working up my shooting plan. This was a mixture of written notes on my script, plus drawings and diagrams on separate papers that I could shuffle and arrange according to the hour-by-hour plan ultimately arrived at. While doing this, I started to sketch out rewrites of dialog, specifically about military preparations and other aspects of nuclear tests and posturing. Nothing major was involved in this. No gigantic reconfigurations of story line occurred. I was simply looking for places where we could “punch up” the dialog with something more specific in order to give it a greater air of reality.
As it turned out, I just happened to have read Daniel Ford’s The Button when it was a series of articles in The New Yorker magazine, April ’85. I distinctly recall that I consulted the Daniel Ford article when revising some of “Steve Martin’s” lines for G85, specifically the one about the Starfish Prime upper atmosphere test of 1962.
Remember, there was no Internet, no Google back then. Research had to be done the old-fashioned way. I saw the character of Steven Martin as the voice of experience and reason. I wanted him to have lines that showed he was a learned reporter and not a National Enquirer ambulance chaser. My interpretation was probably informed by my memories of Burr’s “Chief Ironside” character — who tended to similarly serve as a dash of cold water on the speculative musings of his team.
My stock footage hunt was not productive. I believe I mentioned in my earlier interview with you that the best material for our purposes was controlled by the Air Force, and we needed permission from the Department of Defense to use it. The bureaucratic wheels turn awfully slowly on those matters, and we had to abandon that approach when it became very apparent that we could not even get a “maybe” before our film was scheduled to be in the theaters. Searches of other libraries did not yield suitable material, and so we reluctantly abandoned that aspect of the show.
And now let’s briefly talk about “Dr Pepper” — so misunderstood. The deal to include Dr Pepper — no period after “Dr” — in the body of New World’s version-to-be was engineered by Rusty Citron, the director of national promotion and merchandising for New World. [See: Los Angeles Times, “Film Clips: Dr Pepper Bubbles Up to Godzilla,” by Jack Mathews; Friday, August 2, 1985; Part VI pp. 1 and 10.] It was understood that I was to include the name of the product and have at least one shot of a principal cast member drinking the product.
As I mentioned in my earlier interview with you, someone from New World came to me on the set when Burr was working and asked me to get Burr’s consent to being photographed either drinking or holding a can of Dr Pepper. This person was probably Rusty Citron, but I can’t swear to it. Burr’s response to my request was a withering glare. And how could it be otherwise? Besides a belittlement of the metaphorical meaning of Godzilla, such a photo constituted commercial endorsement, which would mean the drafting of an entirely different contract.
My biggest mistake in handling the whole Dr Pepper connection was having Major McDonough [Travis Swords] take a sip from it in a shot that pans across our American principals. It was a mistake because the scene occurred in the second half of the movie where things are more suspenseful. Just the image of the soda can served to undercut the tension and invite the audience’s derision. All the Dr Pepper references should have been kept to before Burr’s character entered the war room. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
Back to our story: I am now in my third week of employment on this show. Thursday would be the first day of shooting, and it was to be the only day with Raymond Burr. That particular Wednesday was our pre-light day. Monday and Tuesday, July 22 to 23, was when the sets were put up on Raleigh’s sound stage 1.
Oh, let’s put to rest another odd piece of information floating around. It has been claimed that the stage we used for our G85 shoot was also one of the stages used for Citizen Kane (1941). I can categorically state, without fear of contradiction, that no one and no thing from Citizen Kane set foot on any piece of ground or in any sound stage now part of Raleigh Studios. The origin for that piece of “fake news” seems to be Rusty Citron, for he makes that claim in the same L.A. Times article cited above. The whole idea was just another piece of promotional puffery.
As I said, Wednesday was our pre-light day. I, Steve Dubin [director of photography], and Lee Berger [assistant director], walked through the various scenes with Lee Miller acting as Burr’s stand-in. By the way, Steve Dubin was my D.P. on the second-unit material I directed for City Limits, a film shot in ’83 to ’84 and released in 1985.
We had six sets constructed within stage 1: Steven Martin’s study/bedroom, a wall for Steve Martin’s living room, a T-intersection corridor, with the infamous Dr Pepper vending machine at the T-junction, immediately outside the war room, the war room itself, the launch button on board the Soviet freighter, and a pile of rubble for the shot of the watch on the tramp [Tetsuya Takeda] who died in the building collapse caused by Godzilla.
Late in the afternoon, I changed my clothes and drove from Raleigh Studios to Le Mondrian hotel, as it was called back then. It was with a high degree of trepidation that I went to that dinner meeting. Besides my brief meeting with Mr. [Warren] Kemmerling, I had never done anything like this before, and I had heard stories of lead actors meeting directors before the shoot and then declaring, “Either he goes, or I go.”
My previous interview with you described the meeting rather well, and there is very little else that I can add to it. And, no, I don’t remember what we had for dinner.
As I related to you earlier, Mr. Burr greeted me with a declaration of his commitment to honoring the original metaphorical meaning of Godzilla. And, once I satisfied him that I had no intention of changing or undermining that, he welcomed me into his hotel suite. The next order of business was his concluding monologue. He had some ideas about that, and so he bade me to sit down while he read his draft.
Nature has a way sometimes of reminding Man of just how small he is. She occasionally throws up terrible offsprings [sic] of our pride and carelessness, to remind us how puny we really are in the face of a tornado… an earthquake… or a Godzilla. The reckless ambitions of Man are often dwarfed by their dangerous consequences. For now… Godzilla… that strangely innocent and tragic monster… has gone to earth. Whether he returns or not… or is never again seen by human eyes… the things he has taught us… remain.
None of us caught the “offspring” plural error — oops.
It sounded wonderful, especially wrapped in the warm authoritative tones of Mr. Burr. I enthusiastically endorsed it, and with that we went to dinner where we discussed the finer points of Godzilla along with other aspects of his career — all of which I described in my earlier interview.
Now here, for contrast, is the original scripted version of the final Steven Martin monologue:
In the modern age… …in a world of innocence lost. Godzilla is a warning, a nightmare… escaped for a brief moment into the land of the living. A reminder that the reckless ambitions of men… are often dwarfed by the dangerous consequences… and now… he’s been summoned back to earth, to slumber again… Whether he returns…remains for future generations to decide… for themselves.
Is Burr’s creation better than the original scripted version? I thought his was just as good, and so I made an executive decision to go along with it. Understandably, Lisa Tomei in her interview thought that Burr objected to her version. To me, Mr. Burr presented his version as being more in keeping with how Steven Martin, world-travelling reporter and witness to Godzilla’s first appearance, would put things. To me, the meaning of the two versions were the same. So I put my imprimatur on Burr’s version. Sorry, Lisa.
We went to dinner. We discussed the mechanics of how we were going to get through the shoot. I asked him why he requested teleprompters on the set. He told me how on the first year of Perry Mason he dutifully memorized all his lines. But all the legal terms, and the constant re-writing of the summations before the jury, became quite fatiguing. He saw a demonstration of the QTV teleprompter system and was quickly sold on it. And he used it ever since.
Basically, the QTV operator had a typewriter-like keypad through which the text of the actor’s lines would be entered into a playback device. By that time, in 1985, it was quite possibly a PC. The teleprompters were like small TV monitors, and the lines would be displayed on them, white against a black field. There was a speed control the operator used to adjust the timing of when the lines would scroll up on the screen. Burr had specified not only the company but also the operator to be used by us for Godzilla 1985. Clearly, this person was someone Burr had worked with before and in whom he had a great degree of confidence.
In our previous interview, I talked about how Burr made his I’m-not-working-one-minute-past-eight-hours declaration and his claim that, on GKOTM, he had a deal to work one day, and they worked him 24 hours straight.
Now let’s go forward in time a bit. Whenever I thought of his comment, “They worked me a full 24 hours,” it just didn’t make sense with the amount of work that was done, especially in 1956. They may have had a low budget, but they were still using 35mm Mitchell cameras and microphone dolly booms. They were probably recording on either 35mm or 17.5mm mag film, but even the portable recorders weighed close to 80 pounds. They simply could not have worked that fast. Plus, if you work 24 hours straight through, human productivity declines dramatically.
When G-Fan magazine ran the interview with Terry Morse, Jr., in 2006, he said the shoot was five days with Burr working three of those days. That’s a much more likely work schedule for the kind of shooting done on GKOTM. Probably, the work hours were more like 10 or 12 per day.
Now, Burr was a practical joker, as was [Alfred] Hitchcock, and Burr told me that on Rear Window (1954), the two of them kept up a running battle of who could out-prank the other. He was also prone to telling tall tales. So I suspect the 24-hour day story he told me was just that — a tall tale, invented to put the “fear of Burr” in me not to expect anything more than eight hours from him.
Did Burr play any practical jokes during the G85 shoot? No. But I do suspect that his constant refreshing of my wine glass during our dinner constituted a kind of “hazing” for me, the newbie director. When I went to his dressing room/trailer the morning of the first day of shooting, he looked intently at me, as if examining my state of being — was I three sheets to the wind, was I suffering a horrific hangover? He narrowed one eye, and asked, “How are you this morning?” I put on my best performance of normality and replied, “Just fine, sir. Rarin’ to go!” I thought I could detect a tiny hint of a “You’re a good liar, son,” smile on his face.
During the dinner, I also asked him if he remembered where GKOTM was shot. He furrowed his brow and then said it was a little shooting stage, somewhere along Western Avenue, but further down from Hollywood proper. It has since been learned that it was the Visual Drama Studios at 129 North Vermont Street. The sound stage was torn down long ago, and the Frank del Olmo Elementary School now stands on the site. Burr’s memory was actually not that far off. Western Avenue is the second major artery west of Vermont Street. He probably remembered driving south on Western Avenue to get the stage, and the location is just south of Hollywood proper.
BH: What are some of memories of working with Mr. Burr on set?
RK: As I said in my first interview with you, he was the consummate professional. He was polite and respectful of everyone. He listened to my description of the blocking for a particular shot, and sometimes he would offer an alternate suggestion. Nothing major — usually, it was the suggestion of a bit of business for his character or a shifting of his position relative to the camera. He didn’t interfere at all with my notes for the other actors. He always came to the set directly when he was called.
For example, with respect to the aforementioned teleprompters, he would stand on the set where I suggested his position would be. He would glance about the area, and then announce to the operator that he would need one, two, three, or four teleprompters for the shot and indicate exactly where they should be positioned. When I did the first shot with Burr and the devices in action, to my great relief, Burr gave a perfectly natural and realistic performance. There wasn’t any indication that he was reading off cue cards.
One of Burr’s requirements for the show was that he be provided with a dressing room either on or directly adjacent to the set. For his dressing room, we rented a big RV-style vehicle and parked it either just outside or just inside the stage. After all these years, I no longer can remember for sure. But I definitely remember that Burr brought several people with him to the shoot, and they were all ensconced in that RV. In between shots, he would go there. He was knee-deep in planning the first of the Perry Mason TV movies — Perry Mason Returns, which aired December 1, 1985.
As for the shoot that one particular day, everything went very smoothly with Mr. Burr. We got through all the shots planned for him and were able to release him at 6 p.m. on the dot — as scheduled. There were no jokes, no practical jokes, no flubs. He knew his character, knew his lines — well, knew them enough to be able to read them with conviction — and he knew how to project sincerity. As the old saying goes, the secret of acting is sincerity, and, when you can fake that, you got it made. He did not joke around, but at the same time he did not hold himself aloof. He was personable to one and all — as far as I could see.
The only time he got testy with me was when we were setting up a shot of him on the set representing the living room of his character’s country house. The little boy has just called out, “Grandpa!” and we then cut to a doorway to see Martin [Mr. Burr] enter. I wanted the camera to be below eyeline, looking up at Burr. He eyed the camera’s position and frowned. “How low is that camera going to be, young man?” I replied that it was the reverse angle of the little boy’s look. “I understand, but just how low is that camera going to be?” I suddenly realized what he was asking and suggested to Steve Dubin that maybe we ought to bring the camera up a bit more and just set the angle slightly below eyeline. Burr could live with that.
I guess all actors have a touch of vanity about them, otherwise they wouldn’t be actors.
BH: Did you have much or any interaction with screenwriters Straw Weisman or Lisa Tomei?
RK: Very little. They reported directly to Tony Randel. As I mentioned earlier, the earliest script I still have was dated July 10, and I started on the show on July 8. I think I had one specific conversation with Weisman, very early on, and a very brief conversation with Lisa prior to the voice-recording sessions, which she also attended.
I talked about this in our first interview. There are two scripts in my files — one dated July 10 and the other dated July 18. Given the pagination in each of them, they were both printed out in their entirety. Here’s what is peculiar: Usually, the first draft is printed out on white pages. Each subsequent revised page is printed out on a different color — and every production company has their own progression, such as first revision is blue paper, second is yellow, third is pink, fourth is goldenrod, and so on. As the rewrites go on, the pagination gets a little funky. The revised pages can sometimes have a letter attached to the page number, such as page 12, then 12a, and 12b. Or several page numbers dropped, which results in a page numbered 24-26. The color pages are printed out separately, and the various departments swap out the appropriate pages in their copies of the script.
For the G85 scripts, we don’t have any of that. All the pagination is perfectly consecutive. The July 10 script is 72 pages long, and the July 18 is 71 pages. Probably, the script was in a home computer using an early screenplay formatting software, and the pages were automatically repaginated upon printing. Someone must have then gone through and identified all the pages with the American scenes and photocopied them onto color paper — goldenrod for the July 8 script and green for the July 18 script — and then incorporated them before handing out the scripts.
That the two scripts have the exact same dialog in the white-page sections, which covered the original Toho scenes, leads me to think that the dubbing script work was largely done in the month of June. And the preparation of the ADR programming sheets had to have been done in the first half of July because the ADR sheets use the feet+frame locations of each line of dialog, so they could not be prepared until the re-cut of the Toho version was finished. I have in my files an early production schedule that lists July 2 as the day to start preparing the ADR programming sheets. July 11 and 12 and possibly 15 are listed as the dates for recording the English tracks. Later, these days were shifted to July 29, 30, and 31 to follow the shooting of the American scenes. Why the rescheduling? I no longer remember.
What is frustrating for me is I have a distinct memory of reading a script prior to the July 10 version — one which had General Goodhue [Warren Kemmerling] exiting a helicopter as his introduction. But I don’t remember if it had Steve Martin in it or a completely different civilian character. I have in my files handwritten notes, dated June 1985, with respect to a script that must have been around prior to the July 10 version. I possibly picked up this script at my June 26 meeting. The page and scene references in my notes do not line up with the July 8 script, so I must have been commenting on an earlier version.
Sadly, if I had such a script, I didn’t hold onto it. I probably tossed it once the July 10 script arrived.
I did not type up those notes at the time. They were made as a memo to me, to be used in an expected script meeting once I officially joined the production. Such a meeting never happened, but some of my notes managed to get into the final film.
BH: Godzilla 1985‘s casting director Danny Goldman passed away in 2020. He is better known as the voice of Brainy Smurf on The Smurfs, as well as his small role in Young Frankenstein (1974). What do you remember about working with him and what he brought to the film?
RK: Casting, I remember, was a whirlwind process. I was still getting my sea legs on the project when I was sent over to Danny’s office, not too far from our production offices at Raleigh Studios.
It was quickly evident to me that Goldman had discussions with someone connected with New World several days or weeks prior. At Danny’s office, I was shown many videotapes of actors reading lines from an early script. I recall that Tony came along with me. Tony claims in his interview that he thought associate producer Andrea Stern came with me, but I don’t remember her being there.
I know that, when I was introduced to Danny, I must have looked at him with a “Where have I seen you before?” expression on my face because he responded, “Yeah, I was the guy in Young Frankenstein who kept bugging Gene Wilder. ‘Isn’t your grandfather the same guy who thought he could create new life from parts of dead people?’” After a little bit of small talk, we got down to work.
We watched many videotapes, all had three actors together — grouped to be the general, the colonel, and the major. I vaguely recall that he presented two groups of actors for the main three roles of military officers. There was one group where the actors were told to play it just lightly tongue-in-cheek, and there was another group where the actors were told to play it straight.
Afterwards, there was a credenza on which were laid out photos of the actors, all in the appropriate groups. Tony and I looked over the photos, and we each pulled out our favorites for the various roles. Then we went over them again and got them down to the final three. We needed to make a decision very quickly because Danny needed to lock in dates with some of the actors as soon as possible.
Much of the “direction” given to Danny with respect to casting came to him before I was onboard.
Consequently, I don’t have much to say about his procedure or methodology of selecting the actors to present. I think there were two casting sessions for the adults and one for the child. In the two casting sessions, one was just videotaped auditions, and the other was in-person auditions. All the auditions for the child were in person.
BH: Who were some of the actors who auditioned for roles but didn’t get cast?
RK: Of all the people who auditioned, I can only remember two. There was Dick Miller; I was familiar with him from his work in Roger Corman movies. He was in the videotape session. The other auditioning actor I remember was William Jordan, whom I recognized from the Jack Webb TV series Project U.F.O. I realize that, in my earlier interview, I conflated Mr. Jordan with Mr. [James] Hess. My conversation with Jordan happened during the audition process, not during the shoot. And that statement indicates there was some kind of live auditioning that took place in addition to the videotaped ones.
As to why he wasn’t selected for the part, I honestly don’t remember anymore. As I said earlier, casting was a whirlwind process.
But given that for a long time I had James Hess and William Jordan confused in my memory leads me to conclude that Jordan must have been a very close runner-up for the part.
BH: Do you remember anything about Dick Miller’s audition and why he wasn’t cast as General Goodhue?
RK: I remember his audition was very good, in so far as interpretation goes. But he did have a noticeable New York accent and a “Catskill” style of delivery. It just didn’t fit with the stereotypical notion of an American general.
As with most movies and TV shows, one usually casts according to how well does an actor fit into an archetype. You can go against that archetype if your story calls for such. Otherwise, visually fitting a presupposed image delivers half of the character’s information in the most time efficient manner.
BH: On the other hand, why was Warren Kemmerling cast as the general?
RK: The main reason was that he looked the part and he sounded the part. I mean, he could have played Lyndon B. Johnson and been very convincing at it! Plus, he had played a military officer, Major “Wild Bill” Walsh, in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) — a favorite film of both Tony and myself. As we reviewed the auditions, we kept going back to Mr. Kemmerling, and he became the image in our mind of that character.
I remember, back at New World’s offices on the Raleigh Studios’ lot, laying out the photo head shots of our finalists. We were grouping them according to fitting into a visual shorthand — the general would be the oldest, the colonel would be middle-aged, and the major would be on the young side. I vaguely recall we had three sets of the troika, which we got down to two, and then we settled on the group that appeared in the movie.
BH: What can you tell us about the auditions to select the child actor to play Raymond Burr’s grandson?
RK: I believe those were done at Danny’s house, as opposed to his office. He didn’t videotape them ahead of time. Rather, I was in a room, and the children would be brought in, one at time. I must have seen ten little boys. There was one who I thought was excellent — in terms of performance. I mean, scarily excellent. He could go from happy and relaxed to gut-wrenching fearful in the snap of a finger. But he had brown hair and brown eyes. Nevertheless, I put two stars next to his name. There was another boy who certainly looked very good for the part, and his acting was very good. I put a star next to his name.
Back at the production office, I showed the photos of both boys to Tony. I led off with my favorite, the brown-haired boy. And Tony’s countenance sank. He wanted the “blessings on thee, little man, barefoot boy with cheeks of tan,” all-American kid. Tom Sawyer, only younger. So I showed the second photo. “That’s more like it,” or words to that effect, and that’s how Justin Gocke won the part.
BH: In our first interview, you shared some memories of working with Warren Kemmerling. Do you have any others?
RK: It was on the second day of the shoot, the one without Mr. Burr present, that Warren was clearly feeling his oats. He was now the big actor on the set, and he let that flag fly. By that I mean he was the general, on camera and off camera. That irascible persona had the crew kind of walking on tiptoes around him. Towards the middle of the day, Warren pulled me aside and said something to the effect of, “Y’know, I’m not always this way. I’m doing it to keep my character straight.” I assured him I understood, and that he should continue to do whatever he felt he needed to do. I guess he was a bit hard on the wardrobe folks because they came to me all upset about how he reprimanded them about something or other. I poured oil over troubled waters, explained that he’s just being “in character,” and to know that it is not personal. I remember assuring them that they had only one person to please, which was me, and that I was very pleased and appreciative of their work.
Still, even with his petty nuisances, he looked and sounded perfect for the part.
BH: Was there any discussion about what rank to use for Major McDonough [Travis Swords]?
RK: You know, I am probably to blame for all this folderol about Major McDonough’s military rank. It’s the kind of thing that happens when one participates in an interview without reviewing the film or the papers one has.
In some of my earlier interviews, I kept referring to the character McDonough as the lieutenant. That was my mistake — the imperfections of memory. In all likelihood, because the last material we shot involved the lieutenant that comes to fetch Martin to the Pentagon, I simply applied that rank to the youngest of the troika in the war room.
I’m sorry, but I no longer have a strong memory about the whys and wherefores of that particular issue. But I think it’s a non-issue.
BH: What happened with the location shoot in Point Dume?
RK: The simple answer is that the truck carrying the camera and grip equipment got lost. This was before the days of GPS and cell phones. We needed daylight to do the shot, and, by the time the truck arrived, the Sun had already dipped behind the hills. There was no provision for trying to get the shot another day.
Now, why did the truck get lost? It was not hard to get to the house; it was only off the Pacific Coast Highway by a few hundred feet. Something fishy happened with that. But I never did find out the reason why.
The bottom line was that we abandoned the shot of the government car driving up the hill to fetch Steven Martin. It would’ve been nice to have, would’ve given some size and scope to our sequence.
BH: Please talk about the process of dubbing the film.
RK: The task before us was sizable. According to my notes, we had 78 specific characters to dub, only two and a half days — 20 hours — to do it in, and eight actors to do it with. Of that number, 37 had one line, 11 had two lines, six had three lines, three had four lines. Goro Maki had the greatest number of lines: 65, Professor Hayashida had 52 lines, and Naoko had 27 lines.
Toho must have delivered to New World a dialog continuity script in English. That script would have all of the dialog listed, as well as its location in the film. While Tony worked with film editor Michael Spence in re-cutting the Japanese movie, Lisa Tomei and Straw Weisman took the dialog continuity script and starting refashioning the English dialog to fit the story line that would become Godzilla 1985.
The running time of the original Toho film was 107 minutes. Over the course of re-cutting, about 31 minutes were eliminated. The American scenes were about 12 minutes in length, resulting in a final running time of 88 minutes for G85. Obviously, as scenes or sections were eliminated, that information had to be conveyed to Lisa so that she wouldn’t waste time on dialog that would no longer be in the picture. All of this was going on without my involvement, and I believe it started well before my first day on the show, which as I said earlier was July 8.
Tony hired SuperLoopers to provide the American voices for all the Japanese sections of the film. At some time, he must have shown the film to their representative so they could start casting the voices. As with the English-language script, all this was going on either before I started, or during the preparations for filming. I was not involved with any of that.
If the cryptic note on my desk calendar means what I think it means, then we started the re-voicing process on Monday, July 29, at Ryder Sound, 1161 North Vine Street, in Hollywood. Our ADR mixer was Richard D. Rogers.
ADR [automated dialog replacement] was the method used to control the playback/recording system on the stage. One did not have to cut the film and track into loops of 30 or 45 seconds in length, which was the old method colloquially known as looping. Rather, the sound editor would note on a pre-printed form the location of the given line, in our case, using feet and frames. There was a space to indicate the character’s name and the line to be spoken. Lisa chose to type only the first few words and last few words of the line in the space reserved for the dialog, probably because some of the lines were too long for the indicated space.
During the recording session, we all had a copy of the dubbing script and the ADR programming sheets. We started at the very beginning and proceeded along, line by line, character by character, recording everything onto a piece of 35mm fullcoat audio film stock. The programming sheets would guide the ADR mixer as to which cue we were to record, and the rest of us would use the sheet to find the indicated line in the full dialog script.
Because there was such a short amount of time between recording and doing the final sound mix, we had to record all the lines in their proper order and sequence. Normally, one would go through and record all the lines for character A first, then go back and record character B, and so on. But, in the case of G85, we did it all line by line. The only time we might record all the lines per character was when we had a scene involving two or three characters that lasted a while. For those, we would do A first, then B, then C.
The 35mm fullcoat on that stage could record three channels. There was a quarter-inch tape machine that would roll every time we did a take, and so every line had a back-up recording that could be transferred to 35mm mag stock at a later date, if needed.
With ADR, the mixer would enter the address of the cue to be recorded into the machine controller, and, upon pressing the preview button, the projector, sound reproducer, and sound recorder would roll down, in sync with each other, at four times sound speed to a point about 20 feet prior to the start of the cue and go into playback. The system would generate tones or beeps that would sound at every foot — 16 frames in 35mm or 2/3 of a second at sound speed — starting at three feet [two seconds] before the cue start.
These beeps served as a means of cuing the actor when to speak. Beep, beep, beep, talk. You could think of it as three, two, one, talk. The stop address could also be entered into the controller, and this would close the recorder to avoid accidentally recording into a line on the mag film occurring shortly thereafter. For our purposes on G85, the stop addresses were seldom needed, but it was handy for me to gauge on the fly the length of a line.
These programming sheets were legal size [8 ½” x 14”] and had four or five sheets attached together at the top. They were carbon sets; whatever you typed on the front sheet would be pressed through to the sheets underneath, so when finished you had four or five copies of the same. Always, the problem was that the last sheet usually received the lightest impression, and that was typically the sound editor’s copy. All this changed later on with the proliferation of personal computers, ADR programming software, and photocopiers.
As we recorded the principal characters, we would pick up various minor characters as well — the actors “changing” their voices accordingly. And then, because we knew we had half a day of group walla, some single-line characters I would note to have recorded by someone during that session. This would, hopefully, minimize the “everybody sounds the same” problem.
Back in those days, the rule of thumb for ADR recording was to allow 10 minutes per cue. Once we got up to speed — which was achieved pretty quickly; we had to — we were averaging between three and four minutes per cue. According to my files, I calculated we had about 412 cues to record.
Once everything was recorded, transfers of each channel were made for every reel. This material was delivered to Bob Biggert, the supervising sound editor on the project. He would then go about building the dialog sound units using these single-channel transfers. Being single-channel transfers, he could editorially adjust the sync of the recording to better fit the visual.
BH: Very little seems to be known about the SuperLoopers. What can you tell us about working with them?
RK: In Hollywood, there are cohorts of voice actors who are very good at improvising. These bands of people are usually called walla groups. “Walla” is jargon for indistinct background voices — imagine ten people gently going “walla, walla, walla, walla,” at each individual’s own pace. The origin of this term, walla, has never been definitively found; some evidence suggests it goes back to live theater days in the late 19th or early 20th century. Walla group recording sessions can be half a day to many days, depending on the requirements of the show. The bread and butter for such groups, then and now, was landing the contract to do a long-run episodic TV series. SuperLoopers, for example, eventually landed such contracts with the shows L.A. Law and Hill Street Blues.
Walla groups, however, are not solely used for indistinct crowd murmurs; they also provide distinct and intentionally audible individual lines, usually from an off-screen, unidentified character, but also from people visible in a shot who appear to be talking.
SuperLoopers was founded by Dee Marcus. Tony Randel had used them on several previous shows, most notably C.H.U.D. (1984). Their biggest claim to fame back then was they did the American dubbing for The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980). The SuperLoopers were already booked to do G85 by the time I was hired. For myself, G85 was the first time I used them, but it was not the last. I liked them a lot; they were all personable and very professional.
Paul Wilson was the voice for Professor Hiyashida, Tony Plana for Goro Maki, Lara Cody for Naoko Okumura, and Andy Goldberg for Hiroshi Okumura. Ed and Linda Cook and Dee Marcus provided voices for other minor characters. And I think there was one other voice actor present, but sadly I do not remember his or her name. Maybe we only had seven. My files don’t have a list of the voice actors for that session.
BH: I understand that you were not very satisfied with the dubbing script. Why was that, and what adjustments had to be made?
RK: To be clear, I did not have any problem with the content of the dubbing script. My problem was that, once we got on the ADR stage, it was very apparent that some of the new lines did not make sense against the visual of the lip movements. Not on every line, but there were enough to cause me a bit of agita. Remember, we didn’t have a lot of time to record all the material needed.
Now, after reading your interview with Lisa Tomei, I understand that they did review the lines against the movie. The problem was that sometimes Lisa and Straw would start a line when the camera was on someone else or something else in order buy time for a longer line. So this would mean for us to start a line, then pause very briefly, as we cut to the actor, and then resume talking when the actor on camera starts to move his mouth. It’s tricky to do, and it takes a little practice to work out the timing. A couple of times, I had to have Lisa come on the stage and demonstrate how the line was supposed to go — starting on the shot of a different character, continuing on the shot of the actual speaking character, continuing on the reverse shot, and finishing on the cut to yet another character. We got through it without incurring any overtime.
Ideally, we would have had a couple of days to review the script against the picture. That way, she could have demonstrated to me what was intended, and I would’ve made notes in my script on how to approach the line. There was a time when major motion pictures would have the dubbing script editor record a sync reference track in the appropriate language that could be played on the recording stage for the actors. Well, we were not a major motion picture. We had two and a half days for the principals and half a day for walla group and various single lines. One does what one can.
So when you say I “wasn’t satisfied with the dubbing script,” it was more of an existential irritation with the speed by which we had to do a difficult job — and not a criticism of Lisa Tomei and Straw Weisman’s work.
Now, since we’re on the topic of dubbing, here we run into the can’t-win aspect of doing a project like G85. No matter how well you try to come up with a plausible line of English, it will still look “like a Godzilla movie.” It can’t help but look “like a Godzilla movie.” As I mentioned in my earlier interview with you, the differences between English and Japanese are such that no amount of massaging and tweaking will ever get the dubbing to be invisible the way you can with Spanish, French, Italian, or even German.
Plus, we had the other problem that is peculiar to translations between Asian and Western languages — syntax and grammar. The Japanese language frequently has sentences that end with vowels. For example, I the stairs down go. Everybody talks like Yoda. Also, in Japanese you often have characters’ mouths open at the end of a line. In English, we tend to have our mouths either completely closed or somewhat closed. Short exclamations like “No,” “Go,” and “Hey!” are some of the exceptions that prove the rule. On the other hand, I am sure the same problem occurs going in the opposite direction — dubbing a film from English to Japanese must be hellishly difficult to make look believable. For example, I would love to see a Japanese dubbed version of His Girl Friday (1940)!
In G85, I distinctly remember one shot with a government official saying his line but ending with his mouth wide open. I spoke of this in our earlier interview. Our dubbing script had, “You say here the birds’ frequency will trigger a conditioned response, and Godzilla will follow anywhere we decide to lead him.” [Character Kanzaki, reel 5, at 67 feet + 08 frames.] When the American voice actor tried the line, we could all see right away that the line was not a great fit. So I suggested he add a questioning open-mouth vocal at the end and adjust the timing of the middle of the line. The end result was: “You say here the birds’ frequency will trigger a conditioned response, and, uh, Godzilla will follow anywhere we decide to lead him, aah?” This line occurs a little past the 36-minute mark in G85.
In Return of Godzilla, the subtitled version is as follows and occurs at about the 42:33 mark: “(off-camera) I don’t get it… (on-camera) You’re saying you’ll use Godzilla’s ‘homing instinct’ and some ‘magnetic area’ and come up with a synthetic sound wave that will lure it in?” And, in the Toho-commissioned English dubbed version: “(off-camera) I don’t get it… (on-camera) Godzilla responds… to a homing instinct… you construct… a machine… to reproduce that <cut away> same… (when the character is interrupted by another).” In this version, the dubbing actors timed the delivery of the words so that the open-mouth sound — “that” — fell on the visual of the actor’s open mouth.
Sometimes, we had the problem that the character on screen was “flapping his gums” faster than any of our actors could replicate. I remember one cue near the very beginning where the onscreen Japanese actor was moving his mouth so fast, that we had to try three voice actors to even get in the neighborhood in terms of speed. We didn’t have time to experiment with mechanically speeding up and pitch-correcting our recording in order to have it fit better. We just did the best we could and said to ourselves, “Well, it’s a Godzilla movie.”
Please note that all the American voice actors we used proved to be extremely good at adjusting their written lines — not only to better fit both the beginning and ends of lines, but all the little pauses or hesitations in the middle. I was very happy with the quality and skill of the SuperLoopers team.
BH: Tony Plana, in particular, went on to have a successful career onscreen as an actor. Do you remember anything about working with him?
RK: Only that he was very good at dubbing. It is a very specific skill. I really don’t have much to add to that, sorry. He was a serious worker and approached the job with a high degree of professionalism and skill.
As I mentioned earlier, we recorded the dubbing over the course of two and a half days, which is an astonishingly fast time for the amount of lines. Major movies would spend up to 20 days on that kind of recording. We really should have spent at least five days on the process, if not 10, but such was not in the budget or the schedule.
My desk calendar is not conclusive as to how many days we had for this process. In my files, I have an early production schedule listing three days for the recording session, albeit very early in the schedule. There must have been a revised production schedule made, but I did not save a copy of it. My desk calendar notes July 29, 30, and 31 with “looping” — the common term for post-sync dialog replacement. That must be when it actually was done because I am very certain we did those sessions after we did the photography. This left Mr. Biggert, our sound editor, with only seven days to get all that dialog fitted and prepped for the final sound mix.
BH: Why was the music from Def-Con 4 chosen to be inserted into the film? Do you remember anything about the process of selecting and adding those cues from the movie?
RK: The decision to use Chris Young’s music from Def-Con 4 had already been made by Tony Randel prior to my arrival on the show. He understandably felt that we would need additional score to at least fill in under the American scenes and possibly help out on areas of the original Japanese version that had been radically re-ordered so that the Japanese score no longer made sense for it. The Def-Con 4 score was suitably dramatic and suspenseful and the orchestral coloring was similar enough that it could successfully augment the Japanese score.
As with so many other aspects of G85, the actual cutting of the music was done very quickly. I began work on the music on August 2. Looking at the dates written on the dubbing cue sheets, I see that I worked through that weekend.
I saved photocopies of the mixing cue sheets used for the music units, and I was surprised to see that three out of the 10 editorial reels were not in my handwriting. Reels 1, 9, and 10 were prepared by someone else, identity unknown. It could have been Mike Spence, the film editor, or even Tony Randel.
This actually makes much better sense than my original memory of cutting every reel. We would have been hard-pressed to get it all done in time for the final sound mix with only one person cutting. I think we only had one KEM flatbed editing machine to use, so I and the other person must have tag-teamed the work. This leads me to suspect Tony was the other music editor.
A side note: Toho’s Return of Godzilla was mixed in Dolby Stereo. New World received a copy of the Dolby Stereo M-and-E [music and effects, no dialog], plus a mono D-M-E [dialog, music, and effects, each on a separate channel]. Deep into the re-cutting process, it was discovered that the Dolby Stereo M-and-E was exactly that — music and sound effects mixed together and spread across four audio channels: left, center, right, and surround. So you could not isolate the music separately from the sound effects. Hollywood mixing stages, starting in 1979, were making stems for stereo elements.
A dialog stem would be all the dialog, and only the dialog, across the four audio channels: left, center, right, surround. A music stem would be likewise, as would the effects stem. Playing all three back in perfect synchronization with each other would allow for the creation of a four-track master, which in turn would be used to create a specially matrixed two-channel printmaster — also called the Lt-Rt, pronounced “el-tee arr-tee,” for Left total/Right total. And, from that printmaster, the optical track negative would be made and then printed onto the release print.
Dolby Stereo took a while to be adopted by other national film markets, and it may have taken another year or so for them to see the utility of making stereo stems, especially for use in making dubbed versions.
Additionally, the use of stems allowed the re-cutting of movies for foreign market requirements without having to sacrifice the stereo mix.
The above is a long-winded explanation as to why Godzilla 1985 was released in mono and not Dolby Stereo. Without separate music and effects stereo stems, we could not conform those elements to match the re-cuts made to the original Japanese film. The changes made were not simple, full-scene deletions. In some cases, scenes were transposed; indeed, individual shots were transposed.
We had the mono D-M-E, and so it was from that source all the sound elements were taken to be used in G85. To explain further, the D-M-E lived on 35mm fullcoat magnetic stock. One audio channel had the mono dialog, the other had the mono music, and the third had the mono sound effects. We ordered up transfers of each channel onto separate rolls of single-channel mag film. For each reel, we had three rolls of sound. We could then line them all up in sync with the picture reel and conform them to match the new edited picture. This also allowed us to change music for sections without affecting the sound effects and vice versa.
At the time, Tony and I both felt that the theatrical box office returns for G85 would have been helped had we been able to deliver that title in Dolby Stereo.
BH: To your knowledge, did any mistakes make it into the final film that perhaps the audience might not have noticed?
RK: I am sure they did, but I honestly don’t remember any.
BH: Did you work with Ernest Farino, who designed the main titles?
RK: Only to the extent that I agreed with Tony when he suggested using Farino to create a main title sequence. Both of us knew Ernie from our days at Corman’s. I had no participation in any discussions as to approach or concept. When Farino came with a test print of the first execution of the idea, I was present with Tony. I just remember when the sequence started, I was puzzled by the coloring of the background and said so.
As I recall, the idea was to have a background of steel, into which a fiery beam would be etching the letters of “GODZILLA.” Ernie had found a steel plate that already started to rust, that had a lot of inherently interesting coloration. Unfortunately, given the angle on the steel plate, it didn’t read to me as steel. It was a background with a lot of interesting colors, but I’m certain no one seeing it would have identified it as being a steel plate.
I hasten to add — this is the fault of no one. Many times, you shoot things that, on the set, make sense but, when seen on the big screen in a theater, don’t read the way you thought they would. Even the difference between small screen and large screen can reveal the flaws of a shot.
Because we had such a tight schedule, there was no time to go out and find another piece of steel plate and film a new background plate. I think we all agreed to just run the fiery etching of the letters on a plain black background and call it done.
Going back to the idea that sometimes things that seem to work on the set don’t work when viewing it on the big screen, we had a shot that was supposed to try to pay off the tramp character. He kind of disappears, and I always assumed he was crushed under the debris of a building Godzilla knocks down. My plan was to start with a black screen which wipes off quickly — as though it was Godzilla’s shadow moving away — revealing the arm of the tramp lying on top of a pile of rubble.
On the wrist of that arm would be a wristwatch. I wanted the time on the watch frozen to 8:15 — the time the first atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima. The fortieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima was only 11 days away, and there was a lot of press already about it. I thought, maybe naively, that it would be a nice acknowledgment of the connection between Godzilla and the historical event [that led] to his creation.
We filmed this shot. But, once we tried cutting it into the movie, we realized that it didn’t “read.” No one interpreted the black shape moving away as Godzilla’s shadow, and no one connected the watch on the arm to the tramp. Hindsight being 20/20 and all, I realized afterward that I had designed the shot all wrong. I was way too tight; the shot lacked context. What I needed to do was cover the action in three or four shots: one wide enough to see the arm and the rubble, then one a little bit closer to see that there is a wristwatch on the arm, and then one tight enough on the wristwatch to be able to see the time. Each cut closer should have been accompanied by a Godzilla footstep, walking away — boom, boom, boom. And, as we’re looking at the time on the watch, a Godzilla roar.
Oh, well. Save it for the next one.
BH: What was the budget for the production?
RK: I was never shown a formal budget. I remember hearing the figure of $150,000 for the show, plus $50,000 for Raymond Burr. Beyond that, there were articles in the trade papers at the time that reported New World would be spending $3 million on the film. Clearly, that amount covered our work, plus making release prints, TV and radio ad campaigns, billboards, and newspaper ads.
There is information posted on the Wikipedia page for Godzilla 1985 that does a fairly thorough breakdown of expenses and earnings. I can’t vouch for its accuracy, but it’s probably more right than wrong.
BH: Do you have any idea how a poster for the film ended up in Roger Ebert’s office and was seen for years during the intro to Siskel & Ebert?
RK: None whatsoever. I was as surprised as you were to see that, especially considering that he gave the film such a withering review. I guess he just liked having a Godzilla poster in his office, and G85 was the best — and largest — one he could get.
BH: Is there anything else you could share about Godzilla 1985 that we haven’t already covered?
RK: On July 1 of ‘85, I rented and watched Godzilla, King of the Monsters! in order to re-familiarize myself with how it integrated American-filmed material with the original film from Japan. The last time I had seen the film was when it was first shown on American television sometime between 1960 and 1963 when I was between eight and 11 years old. I remember the film was very scary — so I was probably on the younger side when it aired — and I could only recall fleeting images from it in my mind, but nothing in detail.
Even though I was watching a VHS tape on a standard-definition television set, I could easily see the shifts in grain and contrast as the shots went from the 1954 original Toho version to the 1956 American staging. But, beyond the tell-tale grain and contrast shifts, I was astounded by the sheer amount of material the American version had replaced! This was no mere inserting shots of Burr talking into a microphone while supposedly watching the destruction through a window. They had staged scenes with Burr interacting with Japanese-American actors that would be editorially linked to the existing Toho footage. It was a very, very involved job.
When I discussed this with Tony later on, he reassured me that for G85 we would not be trying to place Steve Martin in the body of the Japanese version, but rather our scenes would be in addition to — as in, “Meanwhile, back in the USA.” His plan was more in line with what was done for Submersion of Japan (1973) when it was released in the USA by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures as Tidal Wave (1975) — simply re-cutting some of the original material and adding American characters that do not interact with the characters filmed in Japan.
Back to the whole grain shift problem, I sketched out a workflow that could have minimized the grain and contrast differences, but it was a bit complicated and would have added time and money to our schedule and budget. Since we had very little wiggle room in both areas, I dropped the whole idea.
I was always embarrassed by the screen credit I received, as well as on the theatrical poster, which suggested that Koji Hashimoto and I were “equal” co-directors. This was a continuation of a tradition by American movie companies to pretend that certain titles were joint productions. Such decisions were based on marketing concerns, usually along the lines of minimizing the “foreignness” of a given production. I understand why it was done, but I’m still embarrassed by the implications of it.
To this day, I can tell that people interpret my directing credit as meaning the same as on a regular feature film. In fact, it was more like working on a long-running episodic television series — the producer wielded far more creative control than I. And I am not complaining about that; I am merely stating a fact.
I remember three things when I watched a subtitled version of The Return of Godzilla back in the early days of July 1985. 1) I did not like the depiction of nuclear weapons orbiting above the earth. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 specifically banned the stationing of any nuclear weapons either in orbit or on other planets or moons. That the movie depicted orbiting nuclear weapons, I thought, was a dangerous liberty to take. 2) I did not like the S-R-X or Super X vehicle. I thought it looked like a flying collapsible hair dryer, and the bombastically heroic music that accompanied its appearance made me cringe. It also bore an unfortunate resemblance to the end title music for the old Dragnet 1967 TV series. 3) Finally, I thought that scaling Godzilla 30 meters taller than the original made the miniature work that much harder to look real.
It seems counter-intuitive, but miniatures have to be large to be convincing on film. I always felt that the miniature sets of the city needed to be built up on a platform at least four feet tall if not a little more. Then the camera could be looking up at Godzilla, which would be the normal point of view of people on the street. I attended a talk given by Douglas Trumbull, and in it he said that the key thing he learned from Stanley Kubrick while they were working on 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was that the best way to making visual effects look believable was to photograph them in a manner that suggested they were real occurrences. So include lens flare, shaky cameras — all the things we have been conditioned by news camera footage to interpret as something really happening in front of the camera.
Story-wise, the introduction of the S-R-X [Super X] seems to come completely out of left field. There is no hint of a classified weapon development program earlier in the film. If this was the first re-appearance of Godzilla after 1954, then why would the Japanese government develop such a weapon that fires cadmium missiles? What was the threat to be countered? And then, after Godzilla is revivified by the lightning strikes, Godzilla easily defeats the aircraft. So… why was it used?
I was going along with the film, even with the lengthy digression of our heroes being trapped in the high-rise, until the S-R-X appears. Then it became too much like some of the earlier Toho science fiction stories — convenient introductions of miraculous weapons that are perfectly matched to counter the menace of whatever.
We had five extras — background actors who do not have any scripted lines — on our two principal photography days, Thursday, July 25, and Friday, July 26. Their names were Bobby Brown, Patrick Feren, Mark Simon, Shepard Stern, and Alan Waserman. Bobby Brown was an African-American man, and this has caused people to think that he was the same Bobby Brown who married Whitney Houston. However, according to the production list of extras, G85’s Bobby Brown was 31 years old at the time. Whitney Houston’s Bobby Brown was born in 1969, which would make him 16 years old at the time of Godzilla 1985. So I think what we have here is a case of the same name for two different people.
I have one VHS player that still works, and I watched G85 again, paying particular attention to any images of Mr. Brown. To my eye, the G85 Bobby Brown looks different than Whitney Houston’s Bobby Brown.
Continuing on the subject of extras, in hindsight, I wish we had 15 extras and not just five. Nothing says “low budget” like too few extras.
On December 6, 1991, I participated in a phone conversation that was taped for broadcast on a Japan-based radio program called Pangaea Club. The conversation was between myself and Koji Hashimoto, the real director of The Return of Godzilla and, by extension, Godzilla 1985. Obviously, there was a translator/go-between, as well. I don’t remember what exactly we talked about, but I do remember he was curious to know what I thought about the special visual effects in Return. We chatted a bit about what worked well and what was problematic. He too was bothered by the challenges presented by making Godzilla much taller than in the original ’54 version.
It was a very pleasant conversation, just made a bit awkward by the necessary waiting for translation back and forth.
Why the change from having the Soviet commander trying to prevent the launch of the nuclear missile to having the commander actually launching the missile? Okay, I have contributed greatly to this whole plot point kerfuffle, so let me try to put things straight. My saying that maybe the whole changing of the Soviet officer’s behavior was due to the political outlook of the owners of New World was pure speculation! It was inspired by a casual conversation I had with Tony Randel after the movie was finished and released where I completely misunderstood Tony’s response to my statement. When he said to me, “Bob, consider what this company is,” he was referring to the type of budget for projects, not their political content or perceived political content. But I, like the fool that I am, took it the other way.
When Steve Ryfle interviewed me back in 1995 for his book, I naively blurted out my speculation as to why we changed the Soviet officer’s action. I repeated it again — once you’ve put your foot in your mouth, you might as well keep going, right? — at the G-Fest ’99 convention in Burbank. Tony Randel was present, and he immediately jumped in and shot it down. But, once an idea is out, it can take on a life of its own. The true answer is the one Tony gave in his interview with you: Let’s up the threat level and have the fellow actually launch the missile as opposed to dying before he can prevent its launch. That’s all there was to it. There was no other significance.
Besides having dinner with Raymond Burr, the biggest treat I had working on G85 was seeing the original Gojira on a 35mm subtitled print — screening room unknown. The Toho office in L.A. provided the print. In 1985, that film was unavailable for viewing. In recent years, it’s been released on Toho DVD, as well as Criterion DVD. But, back then, it was as hard to find as the missing footage of the Frankenstein monster dunking the little girl [in a scene originally edited out of Universal’s 1931 Frankenstein].
I was very impressed by the original Gojira, directed by Ishiro Honda. It was a very powerful film in spite of the giant radioactive monster trope. That night, I rented Godzilla, King of the Monsters! and watched it again while the Toho original was still fresh in my memory. And again I was amazed at the amount of work Terry O. Morse put in to adapt the film for an American audience of 1956.
Some websites claim that Bambi Meets Godzilla was included on the home video releases. This is partly correct. The short film is on the original 1985 New World VHS home video release. But it was not included on the LaserDisc release.
Why hasn’t the film been released on DVD or Blu-ray? I wish I knew. I suspect that the buyout contract with Chris Young for his Def-Con 4 music limited home video use to only the existing formats at the time, namely VHS and LaserDisc. And there was probably a limited time frame for TV syndication release. Whoever has control of Godzilla 1985 nowadays — maybe it is Lakeshore Entertainment, for they seem to have all the new New World product — would have to go back to Chris Young and negotiate a new home video release contract to include DVD and Blu-ray and Ultra-HD. That just doesn’t seem likely to happen. Plus, you have the other big elephant in the room: Godzilla, in the form of Toho. Toho may not want G85 out in the world marketplace any more than it was already. They just might be content to let it remain a fading memory.
BH: At the time, what did you think of the finished product?
RK: I was a little disappointed with how it all turned out. I thought our material looked decidedly cut-rate compared with the Toho scenes. Though, truthfully, how could it not? We didn’t have matched resources when we made our scenes. At the time, I felt that all our scenes stood out like a sore thumb.
But, when I saw the film with a paying audience in New York City late in August, our scenes sailed right by. As I mentioned in my earlier interview with you, I could feel the audience was all keyed up. They were clearly expecting to experience the awe and mystery of a Godzilla movie made with the kind of movie magic used on the Star Wars, Superman, and Indiana Jones movies. But, once we settled on the first scene where Godzilla is fully visible and wreaking his havoc, I could feel the energy in the house just dissipate — like air leaking out of a balloon.
That was the biggest disappointment for the audience — it was still a guy in a rubber suit, kicking over papier-mâché buildings. Also, while they enjoyed seeing Raymond Burr reprising his role, I could feel in the theater that they clearly expected, and wanted, to have him interact with the Japanese characters the way he did in GKOTM. The psychic connection between Burr and Godzilla, represented by Burr’s little dragon talisman, didn’t really land at all with viewers.
BH: What do you think of Godzilla 1985 now?
RK: Pretty much the same. As I said, I re-watched the VHS copy of the movie, and I found that our material wasn’t all that out of place. The material in the second half of the movie works a lot better than the material in the first half. In hindsight, we should have found a way to speed up our introduction to the general and gotten him into the war room much sooner.
Nevertheless, Tony did a very good job of simplifying the Toho story and moving it along in a more satisfying manner. He and film editor Mike Spence simplified the second act’s B-story about the dangers of super tall high-rise buildings. It’s a B-story that probably made a lot of sense, and had some impact, in Japan at the time. But it was a story line that was a distraction to an American audience.
In the end, Godzilla 1985 was a purely commercial construction. There is no reason for it to exist other than to make a play for nostalgia in the audience that remembers the 1956 Raymond Burr version of Godzilla and to tie in to the 1985 Dr Pepper ad campaign. Nothing that we did in the American scenes adds to the experience of the film — and, given many of the comments people have made over the years, our scenes are generally perceived to weaken the film.
Looking back, from a purely theatrical box office point of view, I think New World would have been better off simply releasing the original Toho version with the Dolby Stereo track. All we needed to do was to spend a little more time preparing and recording a new English track.
We were very ambitious given our resources, but I feel the end result called more attention to our intervention. There was nothing we could do about the Dr Pepper connection. It was a non-negotiable item in all the planning. No matter how one would try to minimize its presence in the film, all the TV commercials and print ads featuring Godzilla and Dr Pepper at the time couldn’t help but draw from an audience a snarky snicker at the merest hint of the soft drink.
But the addition of Raymond Burr, however strained, was a tremendous asset when it came to the home video market. The fact that it sold almost 100,000 units — at 80 bucks a pop — can be directly attributed to Burr’s name on the video box.
I am my own worst critic. But I take some pride in having a connection to the Big G, however tangential and however controversial. Our mission was to insert Raymond Burr into the latest Toho interpretation of Godzilla and do it for the money and for the schedule. Good, bad, or indifferent — we accomplished that task, and we all did it to the best of our ability.
Tony Randel could have hired anybody to direct the American scenes. As Roger Corman used to say about hiring directors: This is Los Angeles — throw a stick out the window, and you’ll hit one. So I am very grateful that he decided to throw his stick at me.