Readers of Vantage Point Interviews probably know James Melkonian for writing and directing the mid-1990s comedies The Stoned Age (1994) and The Jerky Boys (1995), but he got his start in the film industry at New World Pictures in the ’80s, working in the post-production department. During this time, he worked on the post-production side of the Americanization of Godzilla 1985 (1984). In May 2022, Mr. Melkonian answered Brett Homenick’s questions about his work on Godzilla 1985.
Brett Homenick: Please talk about your early life, such as where you were born and grew up?
James Melkonian: I was born in Pasadena, CA, and grew up in Santa Barbara.
BH: How did you become interested in movies?
JM: I became interested in movies upon seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) in the theater as a kid.
BH: How did you join New World Pictures?
JM: I started in the New World post-production department at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood as an intern while in college and was hired on as an assistant editor from there.
BH: In the beginning, what were your duties at the company?
JM: The post-production department would edit and produce trailers and other promotional materials in-house for the studio, as well as oversee the post-production and delivery of the films being produced and acquired for distribution by New World.
Occasionally, we would take on a project like Godzilla 1985 (1984) where some additional editing or production would be done in-house. My initial duties were as an assistant editor in the cutting room. I then cut some trailers and spots, and from there began coordinating and supervising post-production on films.
BH: At New World, who was your boss?
JM: Anthony Randel hired me out of college and was my boss. After I did some editorial work and learned my way around, he gave me the opportunity to start handling some of the post-supervising work, as he became more involved in creative production work, such as Godzilla 1985 and other film projects.
BH: Generally speaking, what was it like to work with Anthony Randel?
JM: Anthony was a great mentor. He came from the original Roger Corman New World Pictures, so he had a lot of hands-on knowledge and vision about editing and filmmaking in general, especially lower-budget genre filmmaking. I learned a lot from him, and he gave me the opportunities that helped start my career.
BH: Let’s talk about Godzilla 1985. What did you think of the project when you first hear about it?
JM: I was excited because it was something that we were doing in-house. I thought the idea of bringing back Raymond Burr the way that was originally done in the ‘50s was a really smart way to bring Godzilla back into American theaters.
BH: How familiar were you with the character of Godzilla in 1985?
JM: I was familiar and had seen the original along with several in the series.
BH: Could you tell us what you did on the film?
JM: My involvement was not substantial. I handled some of the logistical post-production work, like coordinating, scheduling, attending sound-mixing sessions and lab screenings, etc. We also cut the teaser and the TV spots in-house, so I handled some of the post-production logistics on those, as well.
BH: Did you work with anyone else on it?
JM: Anthony Randel, of course, along with Michael Spence, who edited the U.S. version, and others.
BH: How about your general memories of working with Michael Spence? What did you learn from him?
JM: Michael Spence was one of the top editors to work with us. He was mainly a feature editor and also cut Reform School Girls (1986) for New World, along with many features for other companies. I know he went on to direct a number of films, as well.
BH: Do you have any other memories or anecdotes to share about the making of Godzilla 1985?
JM: New World was a low-budget company, and we needed to make the additional scenes as cheaply as possible, so a product-placement deal was made with Dr. Pepper to offset some of the production costs. I remember seeing on the set that the military command center where Burr’s scenes took place had a prominent Dr. Pepper vending machine, which struck me as funny.
Also, I thought the teaser, which was written by Nelson Lyon, was such a brilliant and hilarious way to reintroduce a character like Godzilla: It’s a dramatic build, suggesting there was this legendary actor from the ‘50s who had retired from films but who was now making his triumphant return — before revealing it was in fact the fire-breathing monster Godzilla.
BH: The American scenes were directed by R. J. Kizer. Did you ever work with him at New World?
JM: Yes, he directed the Godzilla scenes and was involved in many projects before and during my time there, but we worked together only in passing.
BH: How long would you say that you worked on Godzilla 1985?
JM: A few months overall but only off and on.
BH: When you saw the finished product, what were your impressions of it?
JM: I think it turned out very well and became one of the more memorable films we did that year at New World.
BH: What else did you work on at New World?
JM: As an editor, I cut trailers and spots before concentrating more on post-supervision duties. I became head of the feature post-production department in ’86, so I worked as the studio post supervisor on basically all of the films that New World produced and distributed over that period, some with more involvement than others, depending on the situation.
The job was more like being a representative for the studio than a crew member on a film, and I would be involved on many films simultaneously. Some of the films that come to mind are: C.H.U.D. (1984), The Stuff (1985), Vamp (1986), Hellraiser (1987), [Hellbound:] Hellraiser II (1988), The Telephone (1988), Dead Heat (1988), Warlock (1989), Heathers (1989), The Punisher (1989), and many others.
BH: What was your favorite project at New World to work on?
JM: There are so many so I can’t pick a favorite, but going to London for the final post work on Hellraiser at Pinewood Studios was one of the more memorable experiences for me. Hellraiser was such a groundbreaking film, so I was proud to be involved with that, as well as with Hellraiser II, which Anthony Randel directed. Another favorite was Heathers, a truly original film, which has only gained in popularity and cultural impact in the years since.
BH: Overall, how would you rate your experience at New World?
JM: It was a great place to learn and start a career. So many films and so many awesome people and experiences.
BH: Finally, as someone who’s enjoyed the Jerky Boys since the early ’90s, could you share any memories of writing and directing The Jerky Boys (1995)?
JM: It was definitely a great opportunity and experience, writing the film and shooting on location in New York City, with Johnny [Brennan] and Kamal [Ahmed] and our amazing cast, including Alan Arkin, Suzanne Shepherd, Ozzy Osbourne, and so many others.
One memory is that, working in NYC, some of our Teamster crew members seemed like they might be mob-connected guys, and we had a driver who wasn’t really a very good driver at all; in fact, he was a pretty terrible driver, so we speculated he must have gotten his job as a reward for a successful “hit” or something. We knew to keep our mouths shut about that, though.
BH: What are you working on now?
JM: I write screenplays and write and produce movie trailers.
BH: Do you have any final comments for this interview?
JM: I hope my responses are of interest to you.