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Gremlins 30th Anniversary

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Title Page

A


Front Matter

Acknowledgements

To my family, who have put up with my incessant Gremlins

chatter for countless years. To my father in particular who helped

edit draft after draft. To my grandfather, who passed away while

I was writing, but always believed that I could do anything I put

my mind to.

A huge thank-you to the Mog-Squad, such an amazing group

of Gremlins fans that continously inspired me to keep going...

and to Bart Vogelaar in particular, who has been supportive of

this project since shortly after it’s conception, and who scoured

the internet for every piece of Gremlins merchandise known to

mankind.

I cannot adequately express my gratitude to the cast and crew

members who took the time to contribute to this book. Joe

Dante, Chris Walas, Howie Weed, Brent Baker, Richard Stutsman,

Jay Davis, Valerie Sofranko, Randal M. Dutra, Randy Ottenberg,

Blair Clark, John Hora, Belinda Balaski, and Mark Dodson, you are

all incredible!

Most of all, thank you to the Gremlins. Especially the Brain

Gremlin whose genius and eloquence are rivaled only by his

good looks. I was in no way forced or coerced into making this

statement. Not even by a Gremlin. Wearing glasses. Sitting next

to me. HELP!

This book has not been approved, licensed, or sponsored by any

entity involved in creating or producing Gremlins. This book is a work

of scholarship, unrelated to any trademark status and represents no

venture of Warner Bros. Pictorial material that appears here is for

the sole purpose of illustrating the creative processes involved in the

making of the motion picture.

Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and the various

individual contributors.

30 Years of Gremlins. Copyright © 2014 by Aelia Petro. All rights

reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any

manner whatsoever without written permissoin except in the case

of brief quotations embodied in articles or reviews. For information,

contact Aelia Petro at gremlin_in_your_house@yahoo.ca.

The film Gremlins is copyright © Warner Bros. Studios, Inc.

Copyright © Aelia Petro

i


30 Years of Gremlins

Front Matter

Contents

Forward

Preface

What is Gremlins? 1

Well, It’s not a Gangster Movie 2

Whose Film is it Anyway? 3

Working with Spielberg 4

Evolution of a Movie 5

Script Changes 7

Kate’s ‘Why I hate Christmas Speech’ 9

It’s Not Over ‘till it’s Over 11

The Original Script, Gone but not Forgotten 12

Casting Gremlins 13

The Cast ~ 15

Zach Galligan ~ Billy Peltzer 17

Phoebe Cates ~ Kate Berringer 21

Hoyt Axton ~ Rand Peltzer 25

Francis Lee McCain ~ Lynn Peltzer 28

Dick Miller ~ Murray Futterman 29

Jackie Joseph ~ Sheila Futterman 31

Polly Holliday ~ Ruby Deagle 32

Keye Luke ~ Mr. Wing 33

Howie Mandel ~ Gizmo 34

Belinda Balaski ~ Mrs Harris 35

Mark Dodson ~ Mogwai/Gremlin Voices 39

Mushroom ~ Barney 43

The Crew ~ 45

Joe Dante ~ Director 47

Mike Finnell ~ Producer 55

Chris Columbus ~ Writer 57

Steven Spielber ~ Executive Producer 59

John Hora ~ Director of Photography 61

Jerry Goldsmith ~ Composer 67

Peter Gabriel ~ Song Writer 68

Chris Walas ~ Creator of the Gremlins 69

Tony McVey ~ Creature Crew 73

Brent Baker ~ Creature Crew 75

Howie Weed ~ Creature Crew 79

Richard Stutsman ~ Special Effects Foreman 81

Jay Davis ~ Creature Crew 83

Randal M. Dutra ~ Creature Crew 85

Valerie Sofranko ~ Creature Crew 87

Marghe McMahon ~ Creature Crew 89

Blair Clark ~ Creature Crew 91

Randy Ottenberg ~ Creature Crew 93

iii

iv

Behind the Scenes ~ 95

Behind the Scenes Introduction 97

Special Effects Introduction 101

Designing Kingston Falls 115

Kingson Falls Matte Painting 117

Making it Snow 118

Doodles in the Margin 119

Fantastic Ideas for a Fantastic World 121

Inventors Convention 124

The Mogwai 125

Gizmo 129

Multiplying Mogwai 139

The Gremlins 145

Chinatown 153

Gizmo’s First Scene 155

Bonding with Gizmo 157

The Putrid Stage 161

Weird Science 163

Do you Hear What I Hear? 165

Gingerbread Cookies 166

The Peltzer Mixer 167

Plate-Throwing Practice 168

Microwave Madness 169

Oh! Christmas Tree 170

Stripe’s Escape 170

It’s Fun to Stay at the... YMCA 171

Backpack Gizmo 171

The Sheriff’s Station 174

Stop Motion Commotion 175

Kentucky Harvester 177

The Fall of Kingston Falls 179

I Hate Christmas Carolers 181

Dorry’s Tavern 183

The Theatre 193

Department Store 203

Gizmo’s Car 209

All’s Well that Ends Well 215

Post-Production 216

Deleted Scenes 219

Critical Response to Gremlins 221

Response to the Film & Lasting Impact 223

Appendix - Merchandise ~ 225

Bibliography ~ 245

Index ~ 247

ii


Forward Front Matter

It’s hard to believe thirty years have passed since we all threw caution to the

winds and embarked on the most unlikely summertime blockbuster ever, with state of

the art puppet technology that we literally made up as we went along. The day to day

frustrations, triumphs and epiphanies that comprised our efforts are faithfully recounted

herein by those who lived the adventure, many of whom were fed after midnight. That so

many people the world over have enjoyed Gremlins over the years has been a constant

source of surprise and satisfaction to all of us who worked on the picture. Kudos to Aelia

and company for digging into our past to keep the legend of the Mogwai alive.

-- Joe Dante

iii


Preface Front Matter

I wasn’t necessarily sold on the idea of writing a preface to this book. In part, I

guess I’ve always considered them to be a bit self-indulgent. But after spending over 3

years quietly chugging away at this project, I thought I should explain myself.

Gremlins is my favourite movie, and has been for some time... but that wasn’t

always the case. Growing up it was the only film that ever really scared me. You have to

understand that I wasn’t a horror-movie featherweight by any definition. I watched more

than my share of horror films, starting at a very young age, but something about Gremlins

struck a cord. I had an off-brand mogwai plush toy that I insisted my parents get for me

because Gizmo was so cute and I wanted to have him around... but every single night I’d

be terrified that he’d pick himself up and walk off to the fridge for a post-midnight snack!

Took me a few years to watch the film again, and with more mature eyes I saw the dark

humour and fell in love with more than just the adorable little mogwai, but with the

gremlins too!

When I first discovered making-of stories, I was enraptured. As someone who loved

movies of all kinds, a window into how they were made (be it in the form of a featurette,

or a book) is a wonderful treat. I’d collected quite a nice little library of behind-the-scenes

books for films and television series of many different genres over the years, and began

to search for one about Gremlins. I searched every book store, and when online shopping

became more prevalent, I scoured the net, but without avail. I came to the realization

that it hadn’t been written. I started to hope that someone would revisit Gremlins and

tell us its story. My hopes peaked around the 25th Anniversary. When it came and went,

and no book was forthcoming, I resolved to do something about it myself.

I already owned a fairly comprehensive library of Gremlins ephemera to use as a

foundation (magazines, press kits, even storybooks), and started to gather print material

in earnest. In the process of gathering, synthesizing, and writing, I’ve learned more about

this film than I ever imagined I could. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been

able to talk to several members of the cast and crew, and include their parts of the story

in this narrative. Their generosity, and willingness to take the time to talk to a strange

little fan who bit off way more than she should have been able to chew has been a source

not only of information, but inspiration.

Although at this point it feels as if I’ve been working on the book forever, and at

times I was convinced that I’d never reach the end, here we are. Putting together the

front matter, has made the completion that much more real.

What follows is the book I always wanted to read, that nobody ever wrote. This

book explores the film making process of the 1984 classic film Gremlins from conception,

through script-writing and editing, to casting, production, special effects, and postproduction.

It includes profiles of the principal cast and as many of the crew as possible,

and scene-by-scene breakdowns of the special effects. It’s my attempt to tell the makingof

story as completely as possible. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed

writing it.

-- Aelia Petro

June, 2014

iv


Gremlins is a film that defies neat categorization.

It has been described by different people in a variety of

ways. Actor Hoyt Axton famously touted that the film was

“E.T. with teeth”, a statement which gained popularity in

ad campaigns because of Steven Spielberg’s connection

to the movie. Producer Mike Finnell described it as “A

Disney film on acid”. Director Joe Dante identified it as

both “The Muppets on cocaine” and “Frank Capra meets

The Birds”.

Writer Chris Columbus was amused by the tag

‘E.T. with teeth’, “it’s funny that those things are always

pasted on afterwards, because Gremlins was written

before E.T. was released. I guess you could call it by that

name, but because I’ve been with the project since the

original concept, I don’t see it that way at all. But it doesn’t

bother me. If you’re going to be associated with any

movie, why not one of the greatest motion pictures of all

time?” (Chris Columbus 22 ). Dante described the process

of trying to explain Gremlins; “you say a lot of strange

things when you’re talking about a movie. I did call it

What is Book Gremlins?

Text

‘Frank Capra meets The Birds.’ And that turned out to

be fairly accurate. It’s not that I don’t agree with these

quotes, it’s just that Gremlins is something more.” (Joe

Dante 20 )

When Columbus’ original script circulated, it was

never intended to become a movie, Joe Dante recalls

that “it was claimed that it was a writing sample when it

went around town, that it wasn’t really something that

anybody had intended to make. I don’t know exactly

why that is because it seemed pretty commercial to

me” (Joe Dante 2 ). Perhaps Mike Finnell’s explanation

is accurate, “I think nobody thought it was possible to

produce, probably” (Mike Finnell 2 ). Indeed, the special

effects required to bring the gremlins and mogwais to

life seemed beyond reach. “When I first read the script

for Gremlins, I thought surely this would take five years

to make” (Joe Dante 10 ), although they would ultimately

be able to bring the film together in an exhausting yearand-a-half.

© Warner Brothers

What are Gremlins?

The term ‘Gremlin’ has been around since long before the 1980’s. During World War I, airmen were blaming tiny creatures

for problems in machinery, but the word was popularized during World War II (The big one, W. W. I. I.), when usage became more

widespread. Although the origin of the term is uncertain, it could date to the most commonly available beer during RAF operations

in India and the Middle East in the 1920’s, brewed in England by Fremlin. It was rumoured that goblins could be found in the

bottles, and ‘gremlin’ could be a blend of goblin and Fremlin. Little monster sightings do make a great deal more sense when they

originate in the bottom of a bottle of beer.

Roald Dahl published a book called “The Gremlins” in 1943, which almost became a feature film during WWII, but it never

happened 2 . Joe Dante had a copy of the book during filming, and found it inspirational.

“That idea came from the original meaning of the word gremlins, which was coined in WWII to mean anything that went wrong

with your plane... in fact there is a famous Bugs Bunny cartoon... directed by Robert Clampett, who we met before the movie shot...

actually we ran the cartoon before the cast and crew screening and everybody wanted us to talk Warner Brothers into attaching

it to the head of the movie, but they weren’t interested in that.”

Mike Finnell 2

1


Look for Gremlins in a video store today, and you

may find it in any number of locations. Sometimes you’ll

find it in the Horror section, others times Science Fiction,

Family Films, or Comedy, and on occasion it even graces

the seasonal shelves for both Halloween and Christmas!

This speaks to the fact that the film touches on several

genres, none exclusively.

Gremlins fits into nearly every genre, including

action/disaster (clash between the gremlins and the

protagonists), adventure (the small town boy struggling

to protect his surrealistic world), coming-of-age drama

(the protagonist must grow up to become the hero he

has always wanted to be, and get the girl), myth (WWII

mythological beast threatens to take over a town, and

possibly the world), fantasy (the surrealistic setting, and

fanciful creatures), horror (monsters, need I say more?),

romance (two crazy kids find love in the midst of great

upheaval), science fiction (an alien life form utilizes

technology to commit acts of mayhem), social drama

(capitalistic greed - in the form of Mrs. Deagle and the

bank - threatens the security of regular families, and they

get what’s coming), and thriller (our hero faces off against

a murderous horde). The only genres it doesn’t really

Well, It’s not Book a Gangster Text Movie

“I think in Steven’s mind, Gremlins is not a horror picture

because Poltergeist is a horror picture and this is certainly not as

horrific as Poltergeist, but it’s definitely scary. It’s a scary movie.

It is a little light to be called a horror picture, but it certainly is the

basic format of a horror kind of a picture.” (Joe Dante 9 ). Today we

might consider the film a horror-comedy. In 1984, Dante described

the first half of the film as a “small-town character comedy, while

the second half is the scary part. But even when it’s scary, it’s

still kind of funny” (Joe Dante 10 ).

fit into are crime, detective and gangster films. Perhaps

it’s easier to define Gremlins by the type of movie that it

isn’t, than what it is.

When Gremlins was made, movie makers were

resistant to classify their films as “horror movies”,

because of the perception that nobody goes to horror

movies. Dante never intended for Gremlins to be a gory

horror film, as he felt the genre had run its course. Not

only is Gremlins a bit on the lighter side to be a true

horror film, but it is filled with a pervasive dark humour

which strikes a pleasing contrast to the more frightening

elements. Although they were present in the original

script, the humourous aspects were highlighted as drafts

progressed, leading to the deliciously dark and twisted

comedy we know and love.

The lack of a clear genre isn’t a weakness, but

rather a strength. When you watch it in December, it’s

a Christmas movie. When you watch it in October, it’s a

monster movie. When it makes you laugh, it’s a comedy.

When it makes you jump, it’s a horror movie. When it

charms you, it’s a family movie.

“When it started out, it was actually

a much more serious film, more grim. If it

was truly a horror film, it would be more

horrible. There are a great number of

movies out now – like Firestarter – where

the people who made the picture are going

to great lengths to tell you that it’s not

a horror picture, because God forbid you

should think it’s a horror picture – nobody

goes to those. Gremlins is definitely scary,

though perhaps a little light to be called

horror”

Joe Dante 20

“The appeal of seeing people skewered has pretty much run out for me ‘cause I used to watch Mario Bava pictures in the

Sixties, which were Italian horror films which were the original versions of Friday the 13th, only done with a lot more style. So I

sort of O.D.ed on that kind of stuff even before they made these kind of pictures here... I think that in the end, the difference

between a movie that has a wider audience and a movie that has a narrower audience is how many people can stand to see

it without walking out of the theater. Obviously, that has something to do with it. But commercial considerations – which is

interesting with my background of totally commercial movies – that’s never been a consideration of mine. Once I pick a genre

that is economically viable, I don’t think you have to worry about making sure the movie is going to be a big solid hit by blandizing

it out so that more people will like it or taking out the eccentricities lest somebody not like them. This movie has done considerably

better than I ever expected”

Joe Dante 9

2


Gremlins has not only been attributed to many

different genres, but also to many different people,

Chris Columbus the writer, Joe Dante the director, Steven

Spielberg the executive producer, and Chris Walas the

creature designer, to name a few. The truth of course

is that the film belongs to all of them, and many more

besides.

Because Spielberg’s name is associated

with it, people want to label it as being his film.

This factored in significantly during advertising

Whose Film Book is Textit Anyway?

campaigns, which gave the impression that Gremlins

was like E.T., and caused quite a stir when the loveable

little balls of fur turned into horrid green monsters with

vicious teeth.

Dante was quick to credit the writer, as the film

has come “from the fertile mind of Chris Columbus”

(Joe Dante 2 ), but Columbus is quick to shift focus back

to Dante. It seems a common thread among all those

involved with the film to make sure credit is given where

it is due.

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

“It is completely Joe

Dante’s film, underline

that. It’s also my film

and Chris Walas’ film and

Steven Spielberg’s film, but

Joe directed this movie.

There’s no question about

that. Steven was off

shooting Indiana Jones

and the Temple of Doom

in Sri Lanka while Joe was

directing Gremlins. All you

need to do is compare

production schedules.

Joe had freedom. It’s his

film. I can’t say anything

more about it. It gets you

angry, because I know

Joe worked his ass off

on Gremlins.”

Chris Columbus 22

“Steven [Spielberg] had

found the script by

Chris Columbus and it’s

essentially Steven’s

project, but he didn’t want

to make another picture

like E.T. He knew my

work, he said I made the

best Jaws rip-off done,

Piranha, and he knew that

Mike [Finnell] and I have

a reputation for making

films economically”

Joe Dante 20 .

“The criticisms raised by that aspect are of the nature that Dante and Spielberg have two completely different sensibilities

about filmmaking and they don’t mesh -- that the two elements take away from each other. I think it’s a legitimate point . . .

if you don’t like the movie ... Steven’s sensibility is definitely in the movie -- that’s why he liked the script. It has a lot of

elements and themes that he is interested in. However, I did not feel I was making a Steven Spielberg movie while I was

filming, because I can’t make a Spielberg movie. If I could make a Steven Spielberg movie, I’d be rich!”

Joe Dante 15

3


Steven Spielberg approached Joe Dante and Mike

Finnell to direct and produce Gremlins. Spielberg was

impressed by their work on the most popular parody

of his 1975 film, Jaws. As is the case today (evidenced

by the overwhelming number of remakes and sequels),

in the 1980’s Hollywood was afraid to make original

films. Perhaps this is why “when Steven Spielberg got

a hold of it, he had the idea of making it on the cheap”

(Joe Dante 2 ). Ultimately, Dante and Finnell convinced

Spielberg that the film could be much grander than

initially thought and despite the lack of a clearly defined

Working Book with TextSpielberg

Joe Dante and Steven Spielberg on Small Soldiers

© Warner Brothers

genre, his influence garnered the support of a studio,

and an increased budget.

Dante describes working with Spielberg on

Gremlins in a very positive light. Spielberg was off filming

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on location,

leaving the helm in Dante’s capable hands. Despite the

frequent and prolonged absences, Spielberg became

a sort of guardian angel for the film. When the studio

pressured Dante to cut a scene, or change something,

he would back the film makers, and protect the project.

“I had heard some rumors about the Spielberg/Hooper situation on

Poltergeist, and frankly I had some trepidation about it, because

nobody wants to make a picture for someone who should really be

making it himself. But my fears were groundless. Once we finally

had the script honed down and Steven approved the two leads, he

seemed much more involved in Indiana Jones. In fact, just before

he left the U.S. to shoot Indiana, the last thing he said to me was:

‘Go ahead. Make the picture. It’s your picture. Don’t even show it to

me until you think it’s finished.’ Now, even Roger Corman never said

that to me! And that’s exactly what happened. Steven was on the set

only once, for two days, when Harrison Ford hurt his back on Indy

and they had to shut down for a couple of weeks. Other than that,

Steven never even looked at the film until we had about a two-hour

rough cut to show him”

Joe Dante 8

4

“I cannot imagine a more rewarding

situation, than to be asked by a major filmmaker,

like Steven Spielberg, to make a film for him, then

have him go away and make another picture, like

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, out of the

country and not to be around. He came to visit us

for about two hours each on two different days.

Everyone was tired, exhausted; it seemed as if

we had been working on Gremlins for years, and

Steven would come by and say, ‘Hey! You guys

sure look like you’re having fun! Look at all ths

stuff and these special FX! Everybody’s laughing

and having a good time! Wow! And Gremlins did go

well. I got to make my own mistakes”

Joe Dante 20


Chris Columbus’ original script went through

a series of drafts before it was finished, eight in fact.

Columbus worked closely with Spielberg for the first

couple of drafts and that’s when the humourous edge

that was present from the beginning began to permeate

the whole film. “As the script drafts developed, the

story’s more amusing aspects were emphasized rather

than the Grade-B horror. We tried to find a new angle to

this story instead of following that well-worn path from

point A to point B. To a certain extent, when you make

movies, you must make them for yourself. And this was

an attempt to make an old-fashioned movie, but one

they never made before” (Joe Dante 20 ).

Not only did the general tone of the film change

dramatically, but so too did the behaviour of the gremlins.

“As the drafts moved along, the humor began coming

out of the characters, the gremlins, who – as opposed

to becoming straightforward monsters – started to take

on human personalities. At some point, we decided it

would be very interesting if they mimicked humans. We

wanted to make them more intelligent all along, so as

they became more comfortable with the town, they

started to imitate people. That’s why the bar scene

and the movie theater scene exist” (Chris Columbus 22 ).

Although the mood of the film and the behaviour of the

gremlins are some of the most notable changes between

Evolution Book of Texta Movie

the first and eighth drafts, there were also changes to

the plot and the characters.

As the mood of the script changed, so too did

some of the characters. The plan was originally for Billy

and Kate to be about 13 years old, but this changed as

the film evolved. There are still a few vestiges, including

the fact that Billy’s best friend is 10 years old 3 . In the

original story, Billy was more of an artist. This aspect

actually survived to the filming stages and several scenes

were shot, however wound up getting cut. The idea was

that by the end of the film, he would look like one of the

battered super heroes that he spent his time drawing.

Although an interesting concept, it didn’t seem to add

to the film and was thus removed (Joe Dante 2 ).

Some characters “would be changed on the basis

of what [the film makers] needed to do to the story;

other times a character would be changed on the basis

of who [they] wanted to cast in the part. For example,

when [they] cast Hoyt Axton as the hero’s father, that

changed the character completely. In the script he was

stiff, upper-middle-class businessman-type. Now, Hoyt

plays him as an eccentric inventor who just can’t get

anything done” (Joe Dante 10 ). This willingness to adapt

the script to the actors resulted in some truly realistic

and memorable characters.

“By the time we had finished eight drafts, my vision was very close to Joe’s. The movie is very different

from the first draft, but it was a learning experience.”

Chris Columbus 22

“When I originally wrote it, Gremlins was a straightforward, scary horror film,

but as we started to collaborate – Steven and I collaborated on the first two or

three drafts – we would make a joke or somebody would say something funny

about the gremlins, and it began to take on a more humorous edge. That stuff

was already in there. In an earlier draft, there was a scene which took place in a

certain hamburger establishment – I won’t name the place [McDonalds, for those

wondering] the gremlins had taken it over and cooked burgers. The burgers were

left alone, but the people had all been killed and devoured by the gremlins. It was

a satire on fast food. So, there were many comical moments, but in the original

script, they were a little too, well, not gruesome, but horrific. They weren’t funny

enough”

Chris Columbus 22

“We tried to make it a little

less gruesome and more of a

fun picture. It’s not a serious

picture. It has things in it that

are sort of interesting subtexts.

Also, it’s not the world’s

most logical plot, so to treat

it with any degree of gravity

probably wouldn’t have helped

people watching it.”

Joe Dante 17

5


Several changes were made to the script based like Mushroom) reacted to them spurred new ideas

Book Text

on the functionality of the puppets, and what sorts of forward. The limitations of the puppets, and the rigs

things they were physically capable of doing. Given that

the script was a writing sample, not actually meant for

production, there were a number of elements that were

simply impractical. Creating hundreds of thousands of

gremlins was simply not feasible.

that could be created to negate them shaped a further

evolution. In some cases new rigs could be created to

allow a puppet to perform a certain task, but other

times ideas were scrapped and replaced based on the

available rigs. Other times the puppets influenced the

Other alterations were a result of onset

scene almost of their own volition, for unexpected

inspiration. Seeing the physical puppets in movements inspired new gags. All these modifications

conjunction with the actors on the set, and learning

what they could do, and how people (and animals

to the script necessitated further adaptations to ensure

continuity, a domino effect.

“Once we had the special effects and we saw the gremlins in conjunction with

the characters, that changed everything. Just putting them on set with the

actors would immediately bring about the invention of new ideas. The movie’s

been in a constant state of evolving, because when you work on a picture

for a year-and-a-half – especially when the picture is basically as simple as

this movie is – you can’t help but start to fool around with it, change things,

and get one idea that leads to another.”

Joe Dante 10

© Warner Brothers

“When I first wrote the screenplay, I had a shot

of a house with hundreds of gremlins crawling

all over it, or a line like ‘100,000 gremlins walk

down the street.’ They just couldn’t do that

– so we had to indicate there were a lot of

gremlins, but we didn’t want to show that many

of them.” Chris Columbus 22

“In a script you can change one thing and then two days later, that forces you to change another thing because it is all

connected. It’s a really dangerous thing to do to start winging a script because you can lose track of where you are. One of the

reasons we didn’t was because Chris [Walas] was so together about knowing what mechanisms could be stripped and used over

and which kind of puppet worked best in which scene.

“At a certain point, we had to throw away the storyboards because the story had changed so much, and the storyboards

were planned around the mechanics of what we could see and how it needed to be operated. Storyboards are absolutely essential

to a film like this. Luckily, by that time, we gained enough facility in the operation of the shooting of the effects that we could

pretty much plan everything a shot ahead and when people were working on one shot, a group would be off working on the next

one while we were shooting. We were always behind”

Joe Dante 9 .

6


Script Book Changes Text

“It was a little more gruesome than we wanted” ~ Joe Dante 17

Second Draft © Warner Brothers

“Originally, it was a fairly violent script. It was toned down, and as a result, the film is more frightening. I, being

young, learned a lesson: what you don’t show is oftentimes more frightening. Less is really more. In the scenes

which are genuinely frightening, you don’t even have to see a gremlin”

Chris Columbus 22

As many fans are aware, Gremlins started out as a

much darker, more horrific story. The gremlins were not

always fun-loving mischief-makers, but rather vicious

monsters that fed on the flesh of their victims, including

Billy’s mom and dog! “Originally [the script] was written

on spec by Chris Columbus, who was about twenty

years old at the time. It was a little more of a standard

horror movie. All the gremlins turned into monsters,

including Gizmo. In fact, there was no Gizmo. Basically,

all they did was eat people. That was their main modus

operandi. They were hungry all the time. There was a

scene in a McDonald’s where everyone is eaten, except

the McDonald’s burgers. There were people lying on the

tables with pieces missing from them, but the burgers

were untouched, because the gremlins wouldn’t eat them.

McDonald’s wouldn’t go for that!” (Joe Dante 17 ). “They

would bite people’s legs or their kneecaps – depending

on how tall they were. But that’s not really anything

new. We’ve seen that before in movies” (Joe Dante 20 ).

“The script did change. Originally,

Gizmo became Stripe. Gizmo’s role was

increased so that he’s now in the rest of the film. That’s

the kind of input that has helped result in Steven’s

making so many popular movies. It’s a very intelligent

idea” (Joe Dante 20 ). The film makers agreed that this

kind of horror film had been done before, and instead

focused on the more humourous side of the story which

was present even in the first draft.

Dante has always had a comedic side, inspired at

a young age by Hanna Barbera cartoons, so the transition

to a less frightening, more funny film was a natural

choice for him. “One thing I liked about the first draft was

that you really felt that the gremlins just did not think in

human terms. They were crazy! As the script evolved,

I also liked the idea that all the mechanical devices

people depend on are turned against them – and the

gremlins think that’s just the funniest thing in the world”

(Joe Dante 8 ). Columbus was fairly new to the business,

and was eager to learn from Dante. Although interested

in the idea of gremlins, Walas was not immediately sold

on the overly-gruesome, vicious nature of the original

script, and was absolutely on-side with a paradigm shift.

7


“The gremlins weren’t prankish in the original version; they Book just killed Text people. Period. The idea of them being prankish came more

out of the idea that they were gremlins because gremlins have a reputation for being prankish and mischievous. Originally, it was

pretty grim. It was kind of sweet too, and had this Capraesque tone. It was always It’s A Wonderful Life meets The Birds, even

in its old version. But as it went on into production, that just appeared to be too thin to justify all the time and expense that it

was going to take just to do another picture where monsters come and bite people and get killed at the end. So to fill up the space,

we decided to try to make a somewhat better movie out of it.”

Joe Dante 9

Second Draft © Warner Brothers

“It had the potential to be a psychotic movie – in a good sense. We were all in agreement from the start, that

we wanted the gremlins to be as crazy as possible; to do everything with them that we could get away with. We

started with meetings, Joe Dante, Mike Finnell, Chris Colombus and myself, talking about different crazy things

these gremlins might do. Chris would go over the various script changes, and we’d all discuss what was possible

and impossible – naturally, I told them that just about everything was impossible, which was true – but we decided

to give it a try anyway.”

Chris Walas 14

“Originally the first draft Gremlins script was a pretty straightforward horror story, with little humor and a different set of

characters – no Mrs. Deagle and no Futtermans. In the first draft, the gremlins liked to eat. That’s all they did. They would eat

people’s legs off, chew people’s fingers. They ate the hero’s dog. They killed the hero’s mom, and her head flew down the stairs.

It was kind of grim. One sequence, though, that I am now a little sorry about being dropped from the first draft was when the

kids go into a McDonald’s and all the people have been eaten – but not the burgers.”

Joe Dante 8

Second Draft © Warner Brothers

8


Kate’s “Why I Hate Book Text Christmas Speech”

Kate’s “why I hate Christmas speech” is an

example of the ever-evolving script. The speech went

back all the way to the first draft, and was more in

keeping with the darker tone evident in the early drafts.

Long a subject of debate, many felt that the speech was

uncharacteristically dark for Kate’s character. This makes

sense given that it didn’t originally belong to her. The

character that originally delivered the lines was cut

before the final draft of the script, and the dialogue

transferred to Kate.

The controversial speech was the audition

piece for the role of Kate, perhaps because it is

her most important scene in the film. Dante didn’t

“know what the actresses thought, but it didn’t

dissuade them from wanting to do the picture”

© Warner Brothers

(Joe Dante 12 ). Not only is the speech an example of the

shifting of dialogue from one character to another during

script edits, but also an example of the editing process

after shooting. There was a great deal of trepidation

about whether or not the scene would make it to the big

screen. “It became [Dante’s] quest, to make sure that

this stayed in the picture... every movie has something

that people jump on... and this scene, for whatever

reason was the one that they just kept harping on... they

tried even after the preview... the bottom line is that we

didn’t have to cut it out, and it’s probably the best scene

in the picture performance-wise” (Joe Dante 2 ). Dante

remained adamant that the scene remain the film and

Spielberg supported his decision to keep it. The rest is

history.

“Originally, this speech was delivered by a minor character in the script; when that character was eliminated,

the speech was given to the character of Kate. There really isn’t much else in the script for that character.”

Joe Dante 12

“That’s a funny scene too, but it isn’t funny when it happens to you. It’s a very absurd way to lose a relative, but

it isn’t that funny because she’s very upset by it. I would say laughing at that scene is one response, taking it

seriously is another. There’s no one right way to react.”

Joe Dante 20

9


“After we’d shot it, Steven called me up and asked, ‘have Book you Textshot that scene with the Santa Claus story yet?’ I said that,

yeah, I had; he said, ‘oh. . . all right’, and later, when we saw the scene in rushes, everybody but Mike was saying, ‘Oh, this is never

going into the picture.’ But I sorta liked it, and thought it would work. Then Tina Hirsh, who edited the picture, didn’t understand

the scene; she called me and said, ‘I’m going to leave it out, because I don’t understand what you want,’ and when I finished

shooting I worked with her, cutting it into the picture. I got a lot of different reactions – some thought it was funny, some

thought it wasn’t, some thought it was outside the scope of what was ‘real’ for this particular picture. And some people higher up

than us – not Steven – thought that this was simply not a good thing to have in this picture. There was a serious effort to

convince me that the picture would be seriously impaired by this scene. My point was that, if people didn’t like it then – like in all

of my pictures – something else would come along very quickly”.

“And in the previews, people did not write on the little cards that this scene had ruined the picture. A lot of people took it

very seriously, others let it go by. Now I have the glorious fun of going to different screenings, and watching it play completely

differently with each audience; at the Seattle Film Festival they applauded, thought it was just hysterical; at a screening in L.A. for

movie industry people, they thought it was the sickest thing they had ever heard, so they loved it; and at an N.Y.U. screening last

night, it offended their film school sensibilities and they booed it. Too many close-ups or something I guess.”

Joe Dante 12

“People didn’t know whether they should find it funny, because it was

obviously ridiculous... but she was so sincere and she was so hurt by

it, that they didn’t know quite how to feel about it, and I thought that

ambivalence was great. People should be doing more scenes like that in

pictures, where people have to think about what they really would do if

somebody said something like this”

Joe Dante 2

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers

10


Just like the rest of the script, the ending went

through several drafts. They were acutely aware that

comparisons would inevitably be drawn between

Gremlins and E.T. - given Spielberg’s involvement and

the presence of a cute alien being - and wanted to avoid

an ending that would resemble that of E.T.. Ultimately,

they didn’t decide the ending with certainty until shortly

before shooting it.

It’s Not Over Book Text ‘Till It’s Over

© Warner Brothers

“The ending was a problem. We had, in fact, several endings. Steven was

trying not to do an E.T. ending. Yet, in trying not to do that, we ended

up with a different ending which does somewhat resemble E.T. I thought

Gizmo should say goodbye to Elliott.”

Joe Dante 20

“Gremlins had about five or six different endings. In the original draft that I read, the little Mogwai, Gizmo, beats

Stripe, but then dies and floats up into the heavens. There’s this bright aura of light and the cute little face is

smiling down, going ‘bye,bye.’ I suppose he joined E.T. somewhere.”

Hoyt Axton 24

© Warner Brothers

“One ending had Gizmo turn into this incredible butterfly, leaving a trail of fireworks behind him. Spielberg nixed it because he

thought it was too much like E.T. Then, there was another ending where, as Gizmo dies, the old Chinese man says to the little

mogwai, ‘Someday you and I will meet in the stars of the heavens and we will be as one’. Phoebe and I are hugging each other

by the window and thinking, ‘Wow, wasn’t that a night!’ Suddenly, a constellation of stars winks down at us. But then they thought

that was sort of violinish, so they bagged that one and just went for the moral-to-the-fable ending which they have now.”

Zach Galligan 25

11


The Original Script, Book Gone Text but not Forgotten

Despite the fact that the shooting script was

the result of countless changes to the original script,

executives still felt that the film was too violent. The

crew were constantly under fire, pressured to tone down

the frightening aspects of the film. Walas remarked that

if the executives knew what the original draft was like,

“they’d be on their knees thanking their lucky stars that

the picture we made was made” (Chris Walas 9 ).

Even with the more light-hearted and comedic

story that graced the screen, some critics were hard

on the horrific aspects. The most note-worthy review

however seemed to be based on the original, unaltered

script, rather than what he had seen (or missed) on

screen. “There has been fallout from the stories about

the original script. I think it has contributed to whatever

controversy still remains about the movie. When I

was in New York after the release, there was a television

film reviewer who had reviewed the movie – and hated

it. What he said he had found most disgusting was a

nonexistent close-up decapitation scene – a woman was

supposedly decapitated in extreme close-up, and another

scene where ‘arms and legs’ are chewed off, again in

close-up. These are things not in the movie. I figured he

either saw it on a double bill, fell asleep and woke up

during an Italian zombie movie. Or he hadn’t seen it at

all and read instead the stories. Or, more likely, he had

walked out on the movie, took the stories verbatim, and

reviewed the film on the basis of the stories... I thought

[the inaccuracy] was pretty irresponsible! I find it hard

to believe that a reviewer would describe scenes in a

movie which were, in fact, not in the movie and were

never even shot” (Joe Dante 15 ).

© Warner Brothers c/o Golden Storybook

© Warner Brothers c/o Golden Storybook

12


Of central importance to any film is the cast,

however this is especially true for films that rely so

heavily on special effects. The actors must respond to

the movie monsters as if they are real, in order for the

audience believe it. Gremlins also required a leading

duo with chemistry, and a cohesive family, both which

can be difficult to achieve.

Many actors were consider for the role of Billy. In

1984 a rumour persisted that Michael Jackson had been

Casting Book Gremlins Text

offered a starring role in Gremlins, but turned it down 18

This is not the only film for which this rumour existed,

as Jackson’s name was also tossed around for the role of

Jareth in Labyrinth. Emilio Estevez went out for the role,

and was in fact very close to being cast 3 . Despite the fact

that big names were being considered, Dante stressed

that “more important than the glitter of show business

‘names’, was finding a cast that projected the sense of

fabled reality we wanted for our film”(Joe Dante 1 ).

“Zach and Phoebe have a nice chemistry. There’s a sweet

undercurrent between them that I like, and they’re really

fun to watch”

Joe Dante 1

“We went to New York in order to cast several parts. Zach

and Phoebe were there on the same day, so we decided to put

them together on tape and it worked!”

Mike Finnell 1

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

“It was done under strict secrecy, so

when I auditioned for this movie and I

got the part I had no idea it had anything

to do with creatures or blowing up movie

theaters or anything. I thought it was

like some kind of teen romance or

something... I was pretty stunned when

I got the script”

Zach Galligan 3

“The day we put them on stage together, it was just . . . magic. They

look great together”

Mike Finnell 1

“The cast was great, I had fun working with them. People have said that

one of the best things about the picture is the casting, which was done by

Susan Arnold.”

Joe Dante 17

13


Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates were both his head on Cates’ shoulder, a gesture which stuck out

Book Text

cast out of New York (Mike Finnell 3 ). Casting had and contributed to the pair being cast 2 . Neither actor

already taken place in Los Angeles, but there were knew quite what they were getting into, because there

still several characters left uncast. Dante had food was a great deal of secrecy surrounding the film. Some

poisoning, and couldn’t attend the New York casting 2 . of the only material they were given to audition with

Zach and Phoebe were there on the same day, and was the scene where Billy and Kate are walking home.

already knew each other. They had both auditioned Ultimately they were very fortunate to be cast. Dante

for Tempest (1982) 2 , although neither landed a role. afforded them an unusual degree of input for such

During their audition, Galligan ad-libbed by putting young actors, eliciting feedback on the characters 2 .

“Bill Schallert did the movie as a favor. I liked Bill so much

in Twilight Zone that I wanted to have him in Gremlins. He

plays the local priest, sort of a doddering fellow. The part

was actually bigger at one point, but it ended up getting cut

to one scene. Now, his part is so small that he didn’t want

billing.”

Joe Dante 21

“It gave me another chance to do ‘Admiral Hargreaves’

again. We improvised the bit. It really wasn’t much of a part,

but we made something out of it.”

William Schallert 21

“Some people are typed because they are the character. Edward

Andrews is perfect. He specializes in crooked politicians and

stuffy bank presidents -- only one of which he plays in

Gremlins. And Scott Brady, a wonderful guy to work with,

plays his 535th Sheriff role.”

Joe Dante 20

© Warner Brothers c/o Starlog 85

© Warner Brothers

“I try to put Dick Miller in every picture I make and so far we’re both still working. Dick plays Mr. Futterman, the only character

in the film who knows about gremlins. In these pictures, you have to have somebody who knows about these supernatural

things so he can tell the audience. We find using Dick is better than going to the library and opening up books. And Jackie

Joseph -- his co-star in Little Shop of Horrors -- plays his wife.”

Joe Dante 20

14


Cast Intro

© W

Book Text

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers

15


© Warner Brothers

Book Text

© Warner Brothers

arner Brothers

16

© Warner Brothers


Raised in New York by an attorney father, and

clinical psychologist mother, Zach Galligan was the

second of four children. He wasn’t new to acting when

he was cast in Gremlins, he gained experience in school

plays and amateur theatre starting at the age of six.

According to Galligan, “I like to take life one day at a

time and just see what happens” (Zach Galligan 25 ) an

attitude which concerned his parents, “They had this

image of me at 26 saying ‘Hey, lady, where you going?’

You know, driving a cab while I was waiting to do my

one little commercial for Twix candy bars or something”

(Zach Galligan 25 ).

Galligan’s big break came during his lunch

© Warner Brothers c/o Golden Storybook

Zach Galligan Book as Text Billy Peltzer

break at Collegiate School in Manhattan, when he was

approached by Juliet Taylor, a casting director looking

for kids to audition for a movie. Although he didn’t get

the role she was casting, she knew that he was a natural

actor and provided the push that he needed to consider

a career acting. He began pursuing other roles, landing

a part in a cable TV short (“Someone’s in the Kitchen

with Jaime”), an after school special (ABC’s “It’s a Fact

of Life”), an NBC feature drama (“Prisoner Without a

Name, Cell Without a Number”), and his first theatrical

role in MGM’s “Nothing Lasts Forever” co-starring Bill

Murray, and Dan Aykroyd.

© Warner Brothers c/o Japanese Program

“It happened really fast. I met the producer, Mike

Finnell, read for him, then came back the following day

and read with Phoebe on videotape for the director,

Joe Dante. The next day, I was cast. It was the ‘Three

Days that Shook the World’.”

Zach Galligan 25

“Zach has an approachable look... he’s very good-looking

but not threatening. He has a down-to-earth

quality which makes him very sympathetic. When Joe

(Dante) and I tested him he was very good in the

reading and we put him on tape and everything just

seemed to work.”

Mike Finnell 1

17


Galligan describes the process of being cast in always easy working with the puppets however, as they

Book Text

Gremlins as a whirlwind experience, from initial reading, often precipitated long periods of down-time for repairs.

to casting in three days. Although he didn’t meet Dante The shooting schedule was fairly brutal, Galligan was on

during casting, he was excited to work with him. What set for 65 of the 70 scheduled production days, shooting

he didn’t know, was that he would be working with takes that were 1.5 hours apart, over the course of his

Spielberg, as his name was kept off the project in order 12-14 hour days (Zach Galligan 25 ). The young actor made

to avoid actors just looking to work with the famed the best of things though, gaining a reputation as an

director. Galligan initially had reservations about acting in impressionist. He often entertained the cast and crew

an effects-driven movie, although after participating in a with impersonations of crew members including the

screen test with one of the creatures, he was sold. It wasn’t producer and prop master.

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

At first, they kept Steven’s name off the project. All I knew was that Joe

was directing it. I was vacationing in Fort Lauderdale with some friends

when my mom called up and told me that I had the lead in the new Steven

Spielberg film. I thought she was pulling my leg. ‘Very funny, Ma. What is

this? April Fools?’ ‘No,’ she said ‘Gremlins is a Spielberg movie. Who did

you think saw that videotape you made?’ Well, when I found out she was

right, I was completely blown away. I mean, we’re talking about the guy

who my little brother thinks is next to godliness.”

Zach Galligan 25

“Most of my work in the film was with Zach,

and since we’re the same age, we like to do

the same things together. Most importantly,

he’s from New York and that makes a big

difference. He’s not some Malibu character

who likes to eat falafel and see Flashdance

three times.”

Phoebe Cates 19

18


Billy Peltzer is the human star of Gremlins, a town where most of the people have come to accept

Book Text

Gizmo’s new owner, who breaks the rules for their roles in life. Yet, if you go too far towards the

mogwai-ownership and then must deal with the eccentricity, the audience may think the character is

consequences. Galligan and Dante describe Billy as a ‘weird’. Billy had to be someone moviegoers could

creative young man engaging in the typical struggles believe in, a person younger audiences could accept as

of growing up. “Billy is a maverick in Kingston Falls, one of themselves” Joe Dante 1 .

© Warner Brothers

“One of the things I like best about

Billy is that he is such a normal kid...

he’s intelligent and artistic and he’s not

so much meek as he is unassuming.

The nice thing about the character is

that he evolves from being reluctant to

take control of a situation to where he

realizes the responsibility that’s been

thrust upon him and he has to take

charge”.

Zach Galligan 1

“[By the end of the film] he’s gone

from someone who’s never had to do

anything to someone who is thrust

into a situation in which he’s got to

do everything. Because he’s the only

one left who can stop these things.

He knows, deep down inside himself,

that if he pulls his off, he can become,

just for the night, what he has always

wanted to be.”

Zach Galligan 1

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

19

“The strange thing is that I was kinda

like Billy, in that I loved comic books

and was very into sci-fi and Star Trek

and stuff like that, I mean I was kind

of a geeky kid... being in this picture

for me was really kind of a dream, I

mean look what I get to do, and look

what my character gets to do, blow up

movie theaters and... got to work with

great people.”

Zach Galligan 3


One of the first scenes he shot was with Mr. Futterman, in Book the Text beginning of the film when Billy’s car won’t run. Zach recalls:

“This one I remember being extremely nervous for, we shot it over at the Warner Brothers ranch. And to this day I think

it’s my weakest moment in the movie because I was really nervous and... I just wanted to get the lines out, cause I was so

nervous. I was nervous working with Dick because he was a pro and I was a complete amateur” (Zach Galligan 3 ).

“If they got a

good take with the

creatures, I knew it

didn’t matter how bad

my performance was,

they were going with

that take... Anytime I

carried Gizmo, they

had wires running

down my arms and

legs, which were used

to make him move.

Naturally there were

times when the special

effects guys would

move those wires,

pinching the skin on

my leg hard. Real hard.

And then, of course,

there was the dog. The

dog was incredible. But

one time he stepped

on Gizmo’s head, which

was filled with all this

delicate circuitry. The

ear ripped off and

created an eight-hour

delay. Then, another

time, the dog went to

lift his leg on Gizmo

-- and all the specialeffects

people were

screaming, ‘Get the

dog away!’”

Zach Galligan 25

© Warner Brothers c/o Press Kit

20


Daughter of TV producer Joseph Cates and niece

of Directors Guild president Gilbert Cates, Phoebe Cates

was born in New York City in 1963. She began her time in

the spotlight as a dancer at Juilliard and although a knee

injury dashed her dreams of dancing professionally,

she was still drawn to the performing arts. After

Juilliard, Cates attended Manhattan’s Professional

Children’s School, which fueled her interest in the

arts. She worked as a fashion and photography model,

earning international recognition prior to beginning

her acting career. Her first successful release (Paradise)

whet her appetite for acting, and when she returned

to Manhattan from filming on location in Israel, she

Phoebe Cates Book as Text Kate Berringer

began working in earnest on her new craft. She studied

for a year with the Actors Circle theatre group under

Robert Ravan, after which she was cast in Fast Times at

Ridgemont High, Baby Sister, Private School, and Lace.

Cates was also successful as a singer, with a European

gold record for the theme song to Paradise, and two

tracks on the Private School soundtrack. Phoebe Cates

was already on a roll when she was cast in Gremlins,

having acted in 14 feature films in around two years of

professional acting 1 . Cates spoke very seriously about

her work, and her desire to hone her craft. She studied

hard to learn new techniques and refine her capabilities,

just as any professional would.

“I think there are a lot of good

natural actors who have never

studied and continue to do good

work and get good reviews... but

no matter how talented you are,

how many good reviews or good

films you get, if you’ve never

studied, one day you are going

to be confronted by a role that

you won’t know how to deal with

because you have no technique... I

study all the time... even when I’m

out here (in Los Angeles) I try to

pick up classes while I’m working.

To me it’s like playing the piano.

You may play great by ear but sit

down and try to play something

really complicated and, if you’ve

never studied, you won’t be able to

do it.”

Phoebe Cates 1

© Warner Brothers

21

“Phoebe Cates is a very underrated

actress and often cast in the

wrong part. We actually auditioned

a great many up-and-coming,

young actresses for that role. She

was just perfect, always fresh and

never difficult, even while working

under the incredibly aggravating

conditions.”

Joe Dante 20


Cates’ convincing portrayals of “bad girls” in Like many of the other actors, Cates was able

Book Text

films such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Baby to infuse the film with her own sense of character. In

Sister led Finnell and Dante to question her suitability for the first scene at Dorry’s Tavern, you might notice a

the role of Kate Berringer in Gremlins. Despite this, her small piece of rubble on Billy’s shoulder, Cates placed

audition (one of the only scenes provided was the “why it there because she felt like the characters should

I hate Christmas speech”) won them over. She read for be doing something in addition to the dialogue. So

Finnell alongside Galligan on the last day of auditions, they placed a piece of sawdust on his shoulder, that

and their chemistry made the role a lock. Cates actually Kate removes while talking with Gerald. It added a

enjoyed the infamous speech, she described it as “the air of familiarity to the scene, and a warmth between

thrill of the movie for me... I thought it was so funny and characters. This type of input from the actors allowed

dark” (Phoebe Cates 2 ). Dante and Cates seemed to be them greater ownership over their roles and brings a

the only people who liked the speech however, as the richness to the characters that permeates through the

editor fought fiercely to have it removed.

picture 2 .

“We had thought of Phoebe before but

dismissed her because she’d primarily

played ‘bad girl’ roles... but when she

read, she was just perfect. It was an

instant decision.”

Mike Finnell 3

“I just thought Phoebe was awfully

wholesome, I mean, she’s just like the

girl next door, if the girl next door was

beautiful, which she so seldom is”

Joe Dante 2

© Warner Brothers c/o Japanese Program

“Dante happened to be sick,

but I met Mike Finnell, the

producer. It was the last day

of auditions. They hadn’t really

thought of me for that kind of

role, but when they gave me

one of Kate’s more interesting

scenes to play, I knew I had

to do this movie. And I hadn’t

worked in six months, so any

project would have been good.”

Phoebe Cates 19

© Warner Brothers c/o Fangoria 37

22


Cates describes working with the gremlins as a one pop out of nowhere and I had heart palpitations.

Book Text

mixed experience. The effects always required a great I was completely freaked out; they scared me! They

deal of time to prepare, and often many takes in order really, truly scared me. It did, of course, get less scary as

to get a scene right. They were frequently the center of the weeks wore on” (Phoebe Cates 19 ). Despite struggling

attention rather than the actors. Although she enjoyed with them, Cates embraced the importance of her role

their mischievous nature, the crew’s mischief was in making the gremlins appear to be real, much to the

quite another story. Several of the scares on screen benefit of the film.

were legitimate, as crew members wouldn’t reveal the Cates was able to relate with her character,

locations of all the gremlins before shooting, and they recalling being somewhat shy like Kate is before she

would leap out and frighten her: “of course, they had started modeling.

© Warner Brothers c/o Japanese Program

“We took one really important piece of advice; that we had to completely believe that

the gremlins were real and that everything going on around us was real. Because

no matter how cleverly designed and realistic-looking the creatures may be, it’s up

to the actors to make them come alive.”

Phoebe Cates 1

© Warner Brothers c/o Japanese Program

“Working with the gremlins was a great

experience. They don’t really like to kill people, so much as

they like to be mischievous. They’re definitely violent to

a certain degree, but it’s really funny violence. Even the

film’s few killings are funny.

“Working with complicated mechanical effects

takes a great deal of time on the part of the crew as

well as the director’s attention. You find yourself being

put aside for a moment until the gremlins are ready.

Sometimes, there are many factors involved in a specific

scene, like coordinating several gremlins and working

with plastic snow while being all bundled up -- in the

summer heat.”

Phoebe Cates 19

“The actors are responsible for making the audience believe that

these gremlins are real. That was one thing I really did learn -- a

giant lesson. It took a bit of imagination, but we did it. Sometimes,

after you complete a shot, you snap out of the fantasy like after

finishing a ride at Disneyland.”

Phoebe Cates 19

© Warner Brothers c/o Fangoria 39

“I’m a real scaredy-cat. I love going to scary

movies. I sit and watch like this. . .” (slumping in

her chair, hiding her eyes behind her hands, peeking

between two fingers).

Phoebe Cates 19

23


The young actress also appreciated the this character -- her need to be normal” (Phoebe Cates

Book Text

19 )

complexity of Kate’s character, and her struggle to Cates enjoyed working with the cast of Gremlins,

find normalcy despite her dark back story. “Kate is including Dante and Finnell, who she described as

really independent, she has had a couple of tragedies “hysterical to be around. I guess I enjoyed the movie so

occur in her lifetime, although she’s only 20 years old. much because the entire cast and crew were so much

She lives on her own, has a shy side; she’s very into fun. They were mostly young people, although there

helping people. Most of all, she has an overwhelming were no problems working with the older actors. In fact,

desire to be normal. She feels abnormal and tries to Hoyt Axton has known my father for years” (Phoebe

overcompensate. That’s the most interesting part of Cates 19 ).

“I liked playing Kate very much. We

have certain similarities, but not an

awful lot. I was a bit like Kate when

I was in seventh grade before I

began modeling. I was pretty shy

-- I didn’t try to overcompensate

like Kate does, being sweet to everyone.

I wish I had. When you’re

shy around people, they misunderstand

and think you’re cold and

snobby. I was able to relate to Kate

emotionally, but the big difference

is in our backgrounds -- no one

has been through what she has.”

Phoebe Cates 19

© Warner Brothers c/o Press Kit

“Kate is a very complicated character... she’s been living on her own in her hometown for quite a while. She’s experienced some

tragedy and that’s changed the way she deals with life on a day-to-day basis.”

Phoebe Cates 1

“At first it was a little awkward -- for Kate and Billy to become romantically attracted to one another -- because they

shared a friendship first. Kate doesn’t trust people easily. But she does trust Billy.”

Phoebe Cates 1

“I think Kate and Billy knew each other all through junior and senior high school. Things happened in Kate’s life that, since

they live in a small town, she assumes Billy knows about. Billy assumes Kate is aware that his father is a gadget maker, not a

totally successful one, and that they have trouble paying the rent. The two really don’t know each other until they start working

for the bank and at that point, they’re only friendly, but there is an attraction.

“When the film begins, they start teaming up. It’s always Billy and Kate against the vice-president [Judge Reinhold] or

against Mrs. Deagle [Polly Holliday]. There’s a definite team effort there.

“The relationship changes when they must deal with the gremlins. Through that experience, Billy grows up -- he becomes

a man. He’s responsible for my life, his life, possibly the future of the world. I think, in the end, Kate becomes more comfortable

with herself. I don’t know if she becomes a woman -- the major change is that she can now deal with her past. Billy is the first

person she has ever confided in -- about her history -- psychotherapy is probably the next step for Kate. All joking aside, it’s a

big step for her to trust somebody.

“After that, who knows? They’ve only just kissed once by the movie’s end, and it was a brief kiss”

Phoebe Cates 19

24


Hoyt Axton Book as Text Rand Peltzer

Hoyt Axton was born in 1938 and grew up in

Duncan Oklahoma, a small, peaceful Southern town.

A multi-talented man, Axton was known as an actor,

singer, and songwriter. The son of a football coach and an

English teacher, his first real taste of the entertainment

industry came when he was fifteen, “my mother, who

liked to write songs as a hobby, had just made me this

triple-decker peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, when a

friend of her’s came over with a newspaper clipping. It

was about a man who had committed suicide, leaving

no form of identification save a note that read, ‘I walk

a lonely street.’ Well, the two of them sat down at

our piano, and 22 minutes later, they had written Elvis

Presley’s first million-selling record, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.

Now I saw how much fun she had writing the song and

I saw all the royalty checks, and I said, ‘Whoa! Wait a

minute!’ So, I started composing songs myself” (Hoyt

Axton 24 ). Six years later he had his first hit, “Greenback

Dollar”, which gave him enough money to get out on the

road to perform.

Axton’s songwriting career led to a singing

career, which in turn led to acting. “I would be playing

somewhere and this guy would come up to me and

ask if I wanted to do a movie” (Hoyt Axton 24 ). His

first on-screen experience came on the television

show “Bonanza”, where he played a villain in the

seventh episode of season six. “Boy, was I bad. Half

© Warner Brothers c/o Press Kit

the time, I didn’t know where the camera was, I didn’t

know my lines, and the horses drove me nuts. Have you

ever tried to sit on a horse who didn’t want you to be

there, least of all with a 250 pound Okie on top of him?”

(Hoyt Axton 24 ).

After Bonanza he landed other parts, but

often as a singing villain. He enjoyed these roles until

he realized that he had garnered him a reputation for

playing the “bad guy”, which drove him to return to his

musical roots. This point was driven home in 1965 when

he attended a screening of Smokey, where he played

his usual singing bad-guy, “I’m watching the movie

from a professional standpoint, trying to evaluate my

performance, when on the screen comes this scene in

which I sneak into a corral where Smokey is tethered

on a short rope. I have this strap in my hand. I’m going

to whip the horse, sell him to bad guys and take my illgotten

gains and chase wild women, drink and have a

good ol’ time. Unfortunately, when I beat the horse, he

breaks loose and chases me. I run for the fence, but then

I can’t get out. I’m trapped. Smokey gallops up, rears

back in the moonlight to stomp me to death. . . and just

as he comes down, [the audience] leap out of their seats

and scream, ‘Yay!’ Afterwards, I’m sitting with [the film’s

co-star] Fess Parker, 1000 photographs in front of us for

autographing. Fess signs 1000 photos. I sign one, because

a little girl’s mom felt sorry for me” (Hoyt Axton 24 ).

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

“I’ve been reading

science-fiction

anthologies since I

was a kid.”

Hoyt Axton 24

25


He ‘retired’ from acting and continued as a working with Joe Dante, the two got along well from

Book Text

songwriter (writing Steppenwolf’s “The Punisher”, Ringo their first meeting, and a week later, Axton was cast.

Starr’s “The No-No-No Song”, and Three Dog Night’s “Joy According to Axton, his time on Gremlins was his

to the World” and “Never Been to Spain” Hoyt Axton 24 ) best experience to that point in his acting career (Hoyt

and performer (working as many as 300 days a year! Axton 24 ). He would entertain the crew during lunches,

(Hoyt Axton 24 ). He continued as a songwriter until his singing and storytelling, regaling them with tales of his

return to the silver screen in 1979 for The Black Stallion. partying life of the 70’s 3 Working with Keye Luke proved

The director was such a fan of his work that he rewrote to be a pleasure for Axton. He describes Luke as being

the screenplay to include a role for Axton. His presence “very quiet, very tuned in” (Hoyt Axton 24 ). In order to

in the film world was cemented by his roles in The Black make a good first impression, on their first meeting

Stallion, Heart Like a Wheel, and Endangered Species 1 . Axton introduced himself to Luke as his “long-lost son”

Hoyt Axton was the first choice for the role of Rand which became a running gag on set. The two referred to

Peltzer, although other actors (including Pat Harrington each other as “Papa” and “Son” (Hoyt Axton 24 ).

Jr) read for the part as well. With Gremlins, Axton had the Although he got along well with the cast, his

opportunity to work with one of his favourite directors, relationship with the gremlins was not so positive, “The

Steven Spielberg, although he didn’t know when he first first time I saw them, the hair on the back of my neck

read for the role, “the filmmakers didn’t want people stood up” (Hoyt Axton, Starlog 88, 15). He did not have

on the project who were only interested in working to endure their company often however, as “they kept

with Steven” (Hoyt Axton 24 ). He did know that he’d be sending me off to conventions” (Hoyt Axton 24 ).

© Warner Brothers c/o Starlog 89

“Hoyt was our first choice for this part,

although we did see a lot of other people. I

had first seen him in the Black Stallion where

he played the kids’ father and he really had a

warmth and presence that was really special,

plus his great voice...”

Joe Dante 3

© Warner Brothers c/o German Lobby Card

26


Despite positive reviews of his role as Rand Peltzer, acting from my point-of-view. They fly me into town,

Book Text

Axton remained modest. “I guess I have what you would put me up in a nice hotel, drive me to work, brush my

call naive perspective on acting. I’m not a great actor hair, put my makeup on, give me clothes to wear, give

-- I don’t have the brains for it. I’m a daydreamer. But as me words to say, and the director tells me how to move

long as they give me short lines and keep the furniture around when I say those words. . . and then, they pay

out of my way, I can handle it. You must understand me for all of this. I like this business” (Hoyt Axton 24 ).

“Of the films that I’ve worked on, this was the only one where there weren’t people leaning

against the water cooler moaning. Twice I’ve had to save directors from mutinous crews, but

this time, everybody wanted to be there, and everyone was happy.”

Hoyt Axton 24

“One of the first conversations [Joe Dante and

I] had, I said, ‘I have some ideas now and then.

Is there ever a time when you don’t want me

to disturb you with them?’ He looked over the

top of his glasses, waved his hands in the air

and said, ‘No, no, if you have an idea -- and

you probably don’t have that many, Hoyt -- you

tell me. So, we’re right in the middle of the first

scene, the Chinese junk shop, and suddenly, I

get this idea, so I shout out, ‘Cut!’ Well, Joe

looks up at me and says, ‘Where does it say the

actor says ‘cut’? It doesn’t say that anywhere.

Where does it say the actor says ‘cut’? I look

at him. ‘I guess this is one of the times you

don’t want ideas?’ to which he replies, ‘Not while

the cameras are rolling, right.’”

Hoyt Axton 24

“Rand’s a casual kind of guy. His

inventions fall apart, but it doesn’t

seem to bother him a helluva lot. He

has a dream in his heart, and if he

never makes it happen, he’s at least

going to enjoy the trip.”

Hoyt Axton 1

“Gremlins to me, is great science fiction. I love science fiction. As far as I’m concerned, Star Wars is one of the all-time

greatest motion pictures. In fact, I’ve changed several friendships in my life over Star Wars... I write science fiction myself.

I’ve been working on a collection of short stories for about five years now. I’ve got three of the stories completed, and

hopefully, I’ll have the rest finished in a year or so... I pitched the three stories to Kathleen Kennedy [Gremlins co-producer].

She didn’t like them, but that doesn’t keep me from liking them.”

Hoyt Axton 24

27

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante


Born in York, Pennsylvania in 1944, and raised

in Los Alamitos, California, Frances Lee McCain was

initially drawn to the theatre while attending Ripon

College in Wisconsin as a Philosophy major. She acted

in several dramas in College, and was cast in the

lead role in “As You Like It”. Ripon College retained

ties with McCain, awarding her the Ripon College

Distinguished Alumni Award in 1984, and even an

Honorary Doctorate of Performing Arts in 1988. Her

drama coach at Ripon directed her towards London’s

Central School of Speech and Drama as a means of

further exploring the dramatic arts. She returned to

New York three years later (in 1969), and landed a

“I had seen Frances in ‘Tex’ and was very impressed with

her. Physically she fits right in with the rest of the family,

and there is a quiet strength about her which came

through in ‘Tex’ and which was needed here. Billy and Rand

are dreamers and she is obviously the one member of the

family with her feet on the ground.”

Joe Dante 1

Frances Lee McCain Book Textas Lynn Peltzer

role in Woody Allen’s stage production of “Play It

Again, Sam”. In 1970 she played Stella in “A Streetcar

Named Desire”, opposite Faye Dunaway and Jon Voight.

“The Laughing Policeman” offered her first major

film appearance, and was followed by “Real Life” and

“Honky-Tonk Freeway”.

It was her role as the vice-principal in Tex which

caught the eye of Joe Dante and Mike Finnell and led

to her casting in Gremlins. She carried one of the most

memorable scenes in the film, when the gremlins

invade Mrs. Peltzer’s kitchen. The rest of the cast and

crew describe her as a genuinely warm and motherly

character, and a pleasure to work with.

“The movie is a collection of a lot of familiar elements

from a lot of movies that aren’t familiar when you put them

all together. You find yourself as a filmmaker constantly

trying to play against what people expect. If you do what

they expect, they get bored. What always happens in scary

movies is that the mother runs screaming from the room,

falls down, twists her ankle (putting her at the mercy of

the ‘bad thing’). It’s a cliche, partly because it’s based on

fairy tales and it’s something that the princess always did

because she was supposed to be the vulnerable heroine. In

this movie, it’s not contemporary to have her act that way.

Mrs. Peltzer reacts the way anybody would react, man or

woman. Her home is being violated and she stands up to the

intrusion.”

Joe Dante 15

“She was a lot like my mom in certain respects... she

was great, she was really nice.”

Zach Galligan 3

“She was a trooper too.”Joe Dante 3 © Warner Brothers c/o Starburst 77

28


How many actors can say that they’ve gone up

against “alien vampires, carrot creatures, Satan, the Hell’s

Angels, telekinetic kids, rubber-fish... the Ramones” 11

and a horde of Kentucky Harverster-driving gremlins?

Just one, Dick Miller. Born in The Bronx in 1928, Dick

Miller served in the U.S. Navy and earned a prize title as

a middleweight boxer. He moved to Los Angeles, where

he was noticed by by Roger Corman and subsequently

cast in most of his films. Perhaps one of his best known

Corman roles was as flower-eating Burson Fouch in The

Little Shop of Horrors.

Miller has also appeared in almost everything

directed by Joe Dante (Hollywood Boulevard, Piranha,

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, The Howling, Twilight Zone:

The movie, Gremlins, Explorers, Innerspace, Amazon

Women on the Moon, The Burbs, Gremlins 2, Matinee,

Runaway Daughters, The Second Civil War, The Osiris

Chronicles, Small Soldiers, Looney Tunes: Back in

© Warner Brothers, c/o Fangoria 37

Dick Miller as Book Murray Text Futterman

Action, Trapped Ashes, and The Hole). Perhaps his most

memorable role was Walter Paisley in A Bucket of Blood,

a rare starring role where he played a mentally unstable

artist with suspiciously lifelike clay sculptures. With

175 acting credits to his name on the Internet Movie

Database, Dick Miller is a face most people recognize,

although he is multi-talented, with 3 writing credits, and

he directed episodes of Miami Vice and Sonny Spoon.

Joe Dante isn’t the only director to cast Miller in

multiple roles, nor is he the only director to give him

cameo appearances. He has a single line in the Tom

Cruise movie All the Right Moves because director Mike

Chapman asked him to do the scene, “I find myself

doing a lot of these cameos and vignettes for directors

who know me. I’ve built a career on fans. This was Mike

Chapman’s first director’s job and he said he thought it

would be good luck to have Dick Miller in the picture”

(Dick Miller 11 ).

© Warner Brothers, c/o Fangoria 38

“Dick is an interesting guy; he’s got this tough “street” exterior, and he’s portrayed

such a grumpy weirdo in so many of the things he’s done, but he’s really quite a sweet

gentleman, and sentimental. And (of course) extremely talented. He also has a wonderful

wife who’s just darling, and they’re excellent together. Dick likes to eat breakfast at the

same place all the time, and see whoever wanders by. I should go there sometime and

watch Dick holding court. On the set, Dick and I shared lox and bagels together.”

Jackie Joseph 7

29


Miller’s presence in the film was so influential are difficult to create without a false note. But Jackie

Book Text

that it altered the shape of the Mr. Futterman character. and I know [sic] each other for years and have worked

The character was originally intended to be a plot together in similar situations, so that type of relationship

device to forward the story about gremlins in World is already established. That’s something Dante does

War II, but his character evolved beyond that simple wisely” (Dick Miller 11 ). This friendship gave another

purpose. “When I’m on the set, I’m usually allowed a dimension to the ad-libbed dialogue between Mr. and

certain amount of input, especially if I’m working for Mrs. Futterman, “all of which was hysterical” according

Dante or someone else who knows my work real well” to Joe Dante (Joe Dante 10 ). Unfortunately much of this

(Dick Miller 11 ). In films such as The Howling, he describes was left on the cutting room floor because of film-length

having had the chance “to color the character above and considerations.

beyond what the author might have originally intended” One such deleted scene took place before Mrs.

(Dick Miller 11 ).

Futterman “warms” her hands over the artificial fireplace

His input is clearly felt in the multifaceted character and the couple discuss his termination from the noodle

that leaps from the screen. Although a relatively small factory; “‘There goes my career in noodles,’ he moans,

suggestion, it was Miller’s idea to play Mr. Futterman as to which she says, ‘There’s more to life than macaroni’”

a drunk, making some of his less politically acceptable (Dick Miller 11 ). One scene was actually deleted from the

statements more palatable 11 . Miller also ad-libed at film because Miller’s character was so enigmatic. His

times, particularly in his scenes with Jackie Joseph. The character was supposed to die graphically on screen, but

couple were able to establish a rapport quickly because “Steven Spielberg liked the character so much, he said he

of their previous work together; “A lot of times, an actor didn’t think the audience would buy him dying that way”

and an actress meet on the set and they shake hands and (Dick Miller 11 ). Although it was originally speculated that

two minutes later they’re in bed making love. Well, that Mr. Futterman died at the hands of the plough-driving

doesn’t happen so easily. Sometimes these on-screen gremlins, the death was not seen on screen, allowing

relationships of husband and wife or brother and sister him to make a return appearance in Gremlins 2.

“We changed the voiceover

on the radio at the end of the

picture so that if you listen

closely you can hear them say

that ‘we are now going to go

to the hospital where Murry

Futterman is going to, you

know, say some stuff about

whatever’”

Joe Dante 2

© Warner Brothers, 1984

© Warner Brothers, c/o Souvenir Magazine

“I was supposed to be dead” Dick Miller on

his character’s fate in Gremlins 2

© Warner Brothers, 1984

“Gremlins 2, I think it really built on the concept of who this guy [Futterman] is, that everybody thinks he’s crazy, he said he

saw things, but he knows that he saw things and his whole character arc is coming to the conclusion that he is not crazy, that

there really are gremlins”

Joe Dante 2

30


Jackie Joseph was born Sammie Jacqueline

Joseph, on November 7th, 1933 in Los Angeles

California. Her interest in the performing arts budded in

high school, when her mother (who worked at a liquor

store) “paid” for acting lessons with liquid consumables 7 .

Her career in the entertainment industry began at the

Las Palmas Theatre in Hollywood which led to work

with the ‘50s and ‘60s stage show, the Billy Barnes

Revue, where she met her first husband, Ken Berry.

They adopted 2 children, John Kenneth and Jennifer

Kate 6 . Joseph and Berry divorced in 1976, no doubt

Jackie Joseph Book as Text Sheila Futterman

contributing to her role as a cofounder and president of

the LADIES Club (Life After Divorce Is Eventually Sane), a

support group for divorced wives of stars 6 .

Joseph was a regular on The Doris Day Show,

and played Ernest T. Bass’ love interest on The Andy

Griffith Show. She is perhaps best known for her role as

the human Audrey from cult favourite The Little Shop of

Horrors, the first time that she was cast opposite Dick

Miller. Joseph enjoyed working with Joe Dante and Dick

Miller on Gremlins, and was happy to be brought back –

essentially from the grave – for Gremlins 2.

“I like that they resurrected Dick and me in Gremlins

2. I was sure we were really wiped out pretty good in

Gremlins, the first one – I mean, if you’re run over by a

snowplow or a building comes down upon you...”

Jackie Joseph 7

“Jackie Joseph was

Dicks’ co-star in Little

Shop of Horrors,

and really one of

the nicest people I

have ever met, and

really has this daffy

quality that was just

perfect”

Joe Dante 2

© Warner Brothers

© Joe Dante

© Warner Brothers

“She just comes out

of the woodwork

every few years

and plays my wife.

Excellent actress ”

Dick Miller 2

31


Polly Holliday was born in Jasper, Alabama, and

went to Florida State University for acting. She began

her acting career on stage, with a starring role in a 1972

production “Wedding Band”, reprising the role for a

television production the following year. She then moved

on to Broadway in “All Over Town” directed by Dustin

Hoffman (with whom she remained close personal

friends, they also worked on “All the President’s Men”

together). In 1976, she landed a role on Alice, playing

Flo, a southern-fried, tough-talking, trucker-loving

character who brought the phrase “kiss mah grits” into

homes across America. Her character spawned a spin-of

entitled “Flo”, and although it only lasted one season, it

earned her an Emmy Nomination.

Her role in Gremlins was a significant departure

from her part as the title character in “Flo”, and

Polly Holliday Book as TextRuby Deagle

yet she was interested in being a part of the film before

she even finished reading the script! It’s not everyday

that an actor gets the opportunity to portray such an

“evil” and unlikeable character.

Holliday saw something deeper in the character

though, a woman who was warped by her desires for

money and power (her cats were even named after

currencies from around the world). She brought an extra

dimension to the character that was so real, and raw,

and at times sympathetic that a number of small scenes

needed to be cut to preserve her villainous nature. One

scene in particular showed Mrs. Beagle looking at a

portrait of her dead husband and saying ‘Oh, Donald’.

Her portrayal was so moving that they had to cut the

scene out because it made her too sympathetic (Joe

Dante 2 ).

“There were a lot of talented, well-known actresses under consideration for Mrs. Deagle, but once Polly read, it was no contest.”

Mike Finnell 1

“Polly Holiday was really in character and... when she was doing this

scene she was incredibly mean to me and I thought to myself, ‘wow

she really isn’t a nice person’... but she was just being very good.”

Zach Galligan 3

“I remember Polly Holliday just being a joy to

work with, she was so sweet.”

Chris Walas 3

© Warner Brothers

32

© Warner Brothers

“Mrs. Deagle is a woman I feel a little

sorry for, because she has based her life

on money and power. I have compassion

for her, though, so I wanted to try to

show a character who has been warped by

this desire, not someone who is all-out

evil. I enjoyed playing the role, because

very seldom do you get the chance to be

completely mean and bad and evil”

Polly Holliday 1


Born in Canton, China, Keye Luke grew up in

Seattle Washington. He got his start in the entertainment

business as a visual artist. He designed movie posters

and even did a number of the original designs for the

King Kong Press book (Joe Dante 2 ). He also painted

the garden fairytale murals inside Grauman’s Chinese

Theatre 6 .

Luke moved into technical advising before

making his on-screen debut in The Painted Veil. He was

Keye Luke Book as TextMr. Wing

perhaps best known as “No. 1 Son” in the Charlie Chan

films of the 1930’s, and interestingly over 40 years later,

he also had the opportunity to play Charlie Chan himself

in the animated series The Amazing Chan and the Chan

Clan. Like other members of the cast, he was able to

ad-lib on Gremlins, he made up the dialogue about

the smokeless ashtray from the end of the film 2 . The

cast and crew were very fond of Keye Luke, who often

entertained them with lines from his old movies.

“Keye Luke is in the picture, and

getting to meet him and hear his

“When he did this movie, I think he

stories. . . He’s eighty years old

was in his mid 80’s, and yet when he

and looks fifty. He remembers all

took his makeup off he had incredible

the aphorisms from his old Charlie

skin and looked extremely young, and

Chan movies, and will spout them at

I would always say to him, because he

the drop of a hat. Things like ‘May

looked so good ‘Keye Luke, what’s the

your shadow always fall in pleasant

secret of your youthful appearance

places.’ He’s just a charming,

(it was ridiculous, he looked at least

wonderful guy, playing a role which

20-25 years younger than he

will not exactly advance the Chinese

actually was), and I’ll never forget

race. But, it’s a fairy tale. It’s an

it he leaned over to me and he just

affectionate stereotype, still, it is

said one thing, he said [in full Keye

nonetheless the kind of portrayal

Luke accent] ‘No fried foods’. I don’t

of Chinese people that probably

know whether he was putting me on

went out in 1940.”

or not, but I swear to God that’s

Joe Dante 17

what he said to me”

Zach Galligan 3

© Warner Brothers

“Keye Luke was

another great guy.

Keye started in

the business as a

mural artist, and

his first picture was

The Painted Vale... a

very articulate and

bright guy...

Joe Dante 3

Luke wore a black

and gold blind

eye contact lens

created by Morton

Greenspoon, an

opthamologist who

supplied specialized

lenses for

many Hollywood

productions 8 .

© Warner Brothers

33


Howie Mandel was born in Toronto, Canada

in 1955. Always a character, Mandel was expelled

from high school after convincing a local construction

company to begin work on an addition to the school by

impersonating a member of the school board. His sense

of humour, cultivated early in life has served him well.

He was “discovered” at the Comedy Store on the L.A.

Sunset Strip, having been goaded by his friends to try

out. He was spotted by a producer and hired to do an

appearance on “Make Me Laugh”, and from there went

on to talk shows and live gigs in Vegas. In 1982 he was

cast in the popular medical drama St. Elsewhere, which

helped open the door for projects such as Bobby’s World

(which he created, produced, and voice acted).

Mandel was brought into Gremlins by

Frank Welker, who told him about the picture, and

encouraged him to audition 2 . Mandel already had an

idea of what he though Gizmo would sound like going

Howie Mandel as Book The Text Voice of Gizmo

in, and his ‘baby voice’ was an immediate hit. He was

cast as Gizmo (also lending his voice to a number of

gremlins), and the other mogwais were voiced by Frank

Welker 2 . He did not voice Gizmo’s song, that part was

“one of Jerry Goldsmith’s congregation. He found this

little girl who was not a professional and he wrote this

little theme and she would sing it” 2 . Mandel and the other

voice actors did not arrive on the scene until after the

picture was largely finished. Unlike cartoon voice actors,

that provided the voices prior to animation (allowing

them more latitude), the Gremlins voice actors had to

limit their contributions to the opportunities already

on film. Dante allowed for as much freedom as possible

with the voice overs, giving them the opportunity to adlib

the mogwai and gremlin language, including Gizmo’s

gibberish. Mandel thought that Gizmo should parrot

words and phrases at first, and as the movie progresses,

he says more things on his own.

“I brought Caca to the script”

© Warner Brothers, 1984

“When I went in for the audition... I looked at this little picture

you know and he was just adorable, and... I had done baby voice

which became Bobby in my act so he was like a little baby and he

was cute and naive and I got in touch with that, and just from

the visual of him and the way he moved, I couldn’t envision going

any other way or doing something different with it. I didn’t try a

few different voices, that’s what I came out with and that’s what

[they] chose”

Howie Mandel 2

Howie Mandel 2 © Warner Brothers, 1984

“The challenge was the fact that the film was

already done, you know, and you had to work within

strict parameters of the motion of the character

and what was happening within the scene and the

story that had to be told... you were just trying to

fit a sound, that didn’t even exist before you came

to this job within the movement of this little movie

that I was watching”

Howie Mandel 3

“I think this was probably the first thing that I had done. I didn’t know

that I wanted to do anything in the voiceover world. Frank, my good

friend Frank Welker (who is the voice of Stripe and a lot of the other

gremlins) just brought me here... I had been doing sounds in my act, but

this is my first foray into the voice-over world”

Howie Mandel 2

34


Belinda Balaski Book as Text Mrs. Joe Harris

Belinda Balaski was born December 8th in

Inglewood, California. Her mother was a singer, and her

father a famous jockey. “Dad rode the Derby several

times but that was before I was born. That’s how my

parents met actually... my mother was singing in a hotel

in Louisville and somebody told my dad, who was there

to ride the Derby, ‘you have to come hear her sing’. That

was the beginning” (Belinda Balaski 35 ).

Although they had a home in Arcadia, they

travelled on a three month rotation with the race

track. They often stayed in the same places each

year when they would return to the track locations.

She attended three different schools each year,

© Warner Brothers, c/o Belinda Balaski

depending on where they were living. One of the

schools was a Catholic school, and the other two were

public schools, “it was a very well rounded education,

it really was. It wasn’t too much of this, or too much of

that. The best education anyway is traveling and I got to

do so much of it” (Belinda Balaski 35 ).

She didn’t dream of being involved in movie

making, but she was always drawn to acting, “whenever

I had a crossroads in my life, I choose to go in that

direction”. Her well rounded education and experiences

with travel allowed her a unique perspective on the

human experience and gave her invaluable insight that

would aid her performances as an actress.

“It was wonderful. It was a wonderful childhood. Filled with horses and a lot of outdoor activities.”

Belinda Balaski 35

“I certainly saw every kind of person, and I felt like I could understand their motivation and it just broadened my horizons

so far as different kinds of people, different levels of life, and good intentions bad intentions. I saw everything... It was a

very real childhood and I think that’s good quite frankly you’re really more prepared for the real world.”

Belinda Balaski 35

35


Although acting was her main passion, she was also a tiny little theatre that had a lot of impact. And a lot of

Book Text

drawn to other art forms. “I always drew, I was always really major talent” (Belinda Balaski 35 ).

a drawer” (Belinda Balaski 35 ). She would often sketch

during down time, inspired by the hustle and bustle of

everyday life. “I’ve always done artistic things, even when

I was an actress and I was working” (Belinda Balaski 35 ).

She was also an avid photographer in her youth. Her

best friend was the Sound Engineer for Crosby Stills

and Nash, so she would attend concerts with him, her

camera in tow.

Although her favourite television shows and

movies were mostly psychological thrillers ( Hitchcock

and the Twilight Zone in particular), she also loved The

Patty Duke Show (which coincidentally starred William

Schallert, who also appeared in Gremlins). On this show,

Patty Duke played two parts, girls who were identical in

appearance but the complete opposite of each other

when it came to personality and interests. Perhaps

watching one actress portray two completely different

roles is what inspired her to be a character actress.

She did not actively seek to become a television

and film actress, it was an organic evolution in her career.

She studied the great playwrights and did theatre in

Colorado and Northern California. She dreamed of going

to New York to be a theater actor, but moved to Los

Angeles where she got involved in a play called Bus Stop

Balaski’s experiences in Hollywood speak to the

interconnected nature of the business. Her first role

on a television show was on The FBI. Efrem Zimbalist

Jr. starred in The FBI, and interestingly “his daughter

Stephanie was actually going to Bishop school that I

went to for high school years before, and he would

come in and MC our fashion show... I didn’t meet him

again until I got on the set, but I told him I had gone to

bishops and it kind of sparked a camaraderie between

us. FBI was great fun. It was my first co star part so it was

very, very exciting” (Belinda Balaski 35 ).

Coincidentally, Balaski’s first job in Hollywood

was a Chevy closeout commercial shot in Yosemite. “ I

was 26 years old playing a 14 year old” (Belinda Balaski 35 ).

One of the 30 or so other actors in that commercial was

Edward Andrews, who played Mr. Corben, one of the

Gremlins actors with whom she shared a scene. “Eddie

and I had worked together before, so here it is all these

years later, and we end up on the set again. That’s what

I’m talking about, the camaraderie that happens with

people because it is such a small town and you do find

that you are constantly working with the same people.

Pretty soon they become family, Eddie became one of

my dear friends” (Belinda Balaski 35 ).

at the Met Theatre. She won the LA Drama Critics Circle Balaski’s first film role was an organic

Award “I didn’t even know they had such a thing. When

I came here [LA], I didn’t know anything, but I ended

up winning this award, and they put it in the LA Times

with a full page about me, a rare unanimous vote - all

the critics selected me. All of a sudden I was a working

actress” (Belinda Balaski 35 ). Although she was working

in a small 47-seat theatre, word got around and “all of a

sudden people like Robert De Niro and Cloris Leachman

were sitting in the audience...... producers and directors

were coming to the shows... All of us started working, all

the people involved in those shows were working. It was

development that happened as a result of a workshop

she participated in. Merrie Lynn Ross was in one of

Balaski’s classes and invited her boyfriend Mark Lester

to visit the workshop. He was directing a film and

“ended up pretty much casting the whole movie out of

our workshop. Everyone got parts... It’s funny how small

the town is... it just launched everybody’s career after

that” (Belinda Balaski 35 ). This film was called Bobbie Jo

and the Outlaw, and her experience was a very positive

one, “it was wonderful, it was so much fun” (Belinda

Balaski 35 ).

“I was an avid fan of Hitchcock and The Twilight

Zone... not really horror but more psychological

thrillers. I love psychological thrillers, they’re my

favorites.”

Belinda Balaski 35

“It just seems like everything I did always leaned towards art.”

Belinda Balaski 35

“I was very devoted to the theater and I thought that maybe ‘making it’ was ridiculous and silly.”

Belinda Balaski 35

36


Further demonstrating the closely interrelated nature of The New Batch, Eerie, Indiana, Matinee, Rebel Highway,

Book Text

Hollywood, Joe Dante was aware of Balaski before she The Second Civil War, The Osiris Chronicles, and Small

ever worked with him. While he was editing Hollywood

Boulevard, Tina Hirsch (who would edit Gremlins) was

editing Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw. In the editing room

“Tina would turn to him and say ‘Joe what do you think

of this cut’. They were there bouncing off each other in

the editing process, which is how Joe first met me but I

was completely unaware of that. It all happened in the

editing room” (Belinda Balaski 35 ).

Her lengthy professional relationship with Joe

Dante seemed fated from the outset of her career. In

1974 Balaski worked on a show called Black Eye, which

was directed by Jack Arnold (who directed The Blob and

a number of other science fiction classics). His daughter

Susan had a role on the show, where she and Balaski

first met each other. Coincidentally, Susan Arnold would

go on to cast Dante’s film Piranha (and later, Gremlins!).

In 1976, she worked on Cannonball! (later retitled

‘Carquake’), which was directed by Paul Bartel,

who was a close friend of Dante’s. Dante actually

appeared in Cannonball!, a fact that Balaski wasn’t

aware of until she went to interview for Piranha. “Here

I did Cannonball! with Paul Bartel who was a very close

friend of Joe’s and Joe was actually in the movie which

I didn’t know but when Suzy Arnold was casting this

new movie called Piranha, she called me in to meet

Joe Dante, and I walked in the room and Joe says to me

‘you and I worked on a film together’. At which point I

went ‘Oh my God, who is this guy? What movie is he

talking about?’... when suddenly I realized and I said,

‘you played that greasy car mechanic, didn’t you?’, and

he said ‘yes I did.’ and I said ‘you were wonderful!’, and

he was, he was so wonderful in it and we were from

then on fans of each other and everything after that was

easy. It’s funny though how those things happen it’s not

just one moment that makes it happen. It began to feel

like a family” (Belinda Balaski 35 ).

Soldiers).

Dante called Balaski, and asked her to be in

Gremlins. She’d already appeared in Piranha and The

Howling at that point, and she agreed to be in his new

project. Although she was not given a script, Dante

briefly described the role of Mrs. Harris and instructed

Balaski to improvise the dialogue.

“The night before I was supposed to

shoot [ Gremlins], I was sitting there waiting and

waiting for the script to arrive and suddenly

it’s 8:30 at night! I call Joe and I go ‘You know, I

haven’t got a script’, and he says ‘A what?’, and

I say ‘A script.’ and he says ‘That’s ok, neither

have I!’ and I’m thinking, wait a minute, what

are we talking about? ‘I mean I don’t even know

what a gremlin is!’, and he said ‘neither do I’ and

he said to just come in and ad-lib and I thought

just come in and ad-lib it? I don’t even know

what my part is or anything! So he kind of ran

down my part and gave me kind of an idea of

what he wanted out of me. He said ‘just come,

it’ll be fine’. Because I actually am very good

at improv. I had improv’d half the scenes and

I’d written half the scenes we did in Piranha...

I hung up the phone and panicked because I

knew I was working with Polly Holliday and I sat

there and I wrote out about 20 scenes. The next

day I arrived with this wad of paper and I say ‘I

think I panicked, could you look these over to

see if we’re on the right track?’. He said ‘I love

your first scene, just go for it’. That whole thing

was improv’d. I had no idea about anything else

in that movie. I think I eventually did get a script.

But I think it was after the fact, long after I shot,

actually after the whole movie was shot... its

funny how films are made” (Belinda Balaski 35 ).

Since their shared roles in Cannonball!, “Polly Holliday is such a wonderful actress, I

Dante has cast Balaski in many of his projects was so intimidated to work with her. I was like ‘Oh my

(Piranha, The Howling, Gremlins, Explorers, goodness! I have to adlib with Polly Holliday?’. That’s

Amazon Women on the Moon, Gremlins 2: why I ended up writing it all out” (Belinda Balaski 35 ).

“[Dick Miller and I have] both been in many Joe Dante fi lms, but in all those fi lms, Dick and I only have one

scene together... It’s the scene in the bookstore in The Howling... Dick might have been in the background

of my scenes, and I might have been in the background of his scenes, but so far as direct scenes

together, only one. They say never work with children or animals, hahaha. And Dick, he pulls focus on

anything he does so probably I was saved he’s such a good actor I love him so much.”

Belinda Balaski 35

37


Compared to her other roles with Dante, 120 degree weather, with jackets and hats and boots and

Book Text

Gremlins differed in that “for the most part I had scripts gloves...” (Belinda Balaski 35 ). She also vividly recalls the

before [filming] even though I was able to adlib and creature crew crawling around on the floor operating the

write scenes” (Belinda Balaski 35 ). Her role was also a gremlin puppets while trying to stay out of the frame.

brief one, although she enjoyed working as a character She remembers that the cast and crew were

actor, so that was not a problem. Mrs. Harris is a mother prankish, “always trying to trip each other up” (Belinda

struggling to provide for her children in hard times. Balaski Balaski 35 ) and although she wasn’t on set as often as

describes the continued relevance of her character’s her other films, she did recollect some “styrofoam

predicament; “its funny how real that became... it was snowballs. Which I was throwing at Corey Feldman. He

[filmed] at the beginning of that huge financial crunch was just a little kid so when Dick Miller and Corey were

that happened with property” (Belinda Balaski 35 ). in that scene, I was on set, so we had this wonderful

She enjoyed having a small part in Gremlins, “I little styrofoam snowball fight” (Belinda Balaski 35 ).

totally understood that you’re not going to star in every Despite having such vivid memories of the

film, and it’s fun for me as a character actor - which I set, Balaski admits that “I’ve actually only seen

am - I prefer to do all these different characters. To me, the film once... I’m the one that you can hear

that was what was fun... I promised myself I would never screaming throughout the whole screening. You

look the same in any two things” (Belinda Balaski 35 ). She could hear Joe giggling on the other side of the room

succeeded. In fact, “all of a sudden when I put my demo because he knew it was me” (Belinda Balaski 35 ).

reel together, all these huge directors started seeing When asked why Gremlins is still relevant

me that would never see me before. Suddenly I’ve got today, Balaski’s answer was simple: “Because Joe’s

these interviews. When I went in for Lynn Stalmaster, brilliant and because he mixes humour with horror.

I had to say ‘Gosh, I’ve been around for several years That’s what’s so brilliant about Joe Dante, plus

and you wouldn’t see me before, why are you bringing he’s so damn political I mean he’s very tongue and

me in now?’ he said ‘You know, I have to tell you, I have cheek political. If you are aware, you’ll realize that

seen you in every single thing you’ve done and I never there’s a lot more being said in these films then you

realized it was the same actor’” (Belinda Balaski 35 ). think the first time you see it” (Belinda Balaski 35 ).

“I just have the two scenes, although I was hanging Balaski continues her involvement in Hollywood,

around a lot it seems like because [my character has] kids grooming actors of the future. She passes along the

too, so everything takes twice as long... But [ Dante] wasn’t valuable lessons that she learned on films like The

really sure, so I think he kept me around for potential Howling and Gremlins; “I have an acting school for

other adlibs too” (Belinda Balaski 35 ). Her memories of the kids now called BB’s Kids, and I tell my kids if you don’t

Gremlins set are positive, despite the sweltering heat, believe what you’re doing there’s no way anyone else

“it was the middle of summer on the back lot of Warner can. Because there’s too many times when there’s

Brothers, walking around in styrofoam that we were nothing there and you have to be able to create it and

supposed to pretend was snow. Sweating like crazy in generate it in your mind or forget it” (Belinda Balaski 35 ).

“In Gremlins I’m just a poor victim of the

whole situation of Mrs. Deagle, and I’m basically

struggling along with my sniffl ing children trying

to make due. I say to her ‘I’ve taken on sewing

and my husbands got a really good job now’, and

I’m just trying to convince her not to foreclose

on our house basically.”

Belinda Balaski 35

“It was so much fun! It was like 30 or 40 guys blowing through straws.

People would say ‘Oh was it scary?’ Are you kidding? It was hard not

to laugh! [It was the same] on The Howling to make the werewolf face

pop, so I had experienced that before but this was sillier because the

gremlins were littler and [the creature crew] were all on their knees...

30 to 40 people all lined up blowing through straws. That’s my memory

of Gremlins. I know other people have their own memories but that’s

mine... I could almost paint it, such a funny image.”

Belinda Balaski 35

“The gremlins were defi nitely scary, Gizmo’s cute and cuddly and you want to take him home

and not feed him after midnight.”

Belinda Balaski 35

38


Mark Dodson ~ Mogwai Book Text / Gremlin Voices

Mark Dodson was born on February 1st, 1960

in St. Louis Missouri. He grew up in Crestwood, in St.

Louis County. He attended Crestwood Elementary, and

Lindbergh Middle School before moving to California

where he attended Patrick Henry High School. He

moved back to Missouri where he finished high school

at Parkway West in Chesterfield. After high school he

moved directly to Lost Angeles in 1978.

From a young age Dodson dreamed of being a

part of the entertainment industry. This love of film and

television was fostered by a combination of many types

of media. He would rush home after school to watch his

favourite shows, including The Addams Family and The

Three Stooges. His family would watch Hitchcock movies

when they ran on television in the evenings. After his

parents divorced, his father would take Dodson and his

sister to see movies every other weekend. He also took

them to the Muny Opera in St. Louis where they saw The

King and I with Yul Brynner and a number of other big stage

39

© Warner Brothers, c/o Mark Dodson

Broadway shows throughout the 60’s and early 70’s.

He vividly recalls movie festivals that would go

through town, including a Charlie Chaplain Festival,

“every weekend was a different Chaplin film one

winter, and so we went and saw The Tramp, The Great

Dictator and all of Chaplin’s movies... Chaplain was a big

influence. I was really impressed by the fact that he had

written, produced, directed, starred in, wrote the music,

everything. I was really impressed by Chaplain, and his

stuff really spoke to me” (Dodson 36 ).

He describes the biggest influence as being “the

fact that my mom and dad were very much into movies,

and who was in them, and they would talk about it”

(Dodson 36 ). This instilled him with an interest in the

people working behind the scenes to bring movies to

life, and no doubt inspired him to want to be a part of

that world. “As someone who loves movies, I liked a little

bit of everything, so all of that was a huge influence that

was all kind of coming together” (Dodson 36 ).

“I had a big interest, and a big love for entertainment of all kinds... My favorite directors would’ve been Chaplain and when I

get older Peckinpah the Wild Bunch, Hitchcock for sure. I love The Twilight Zone, I love The Addams Family TV series, love

Bella Lagosi, love Dracula, Christopher Lee - I really got into his vampire movies, and Peter Cushing, it was just a lot of stuff

all coming together.”

Mark Dodson 36


Although he initially imagined himself being a

Book Text

director, voice acting was something that interested him

from a young age. This was punctuated when he and his

sister went to visit their uncle in California, who took

them to Disneyland:

“I was really blown away by the Ghost Host in

the Haunted Mansion, and had noticed that

person’s voice earlier in the day when we went

to see Mr Lincoln, and Adventure Thru Inner

Space... I was so impressed, so blown away by

the Ghost Host, that I asked some people that

were working at Disneyland if they knew who

that was... they said ‘yeah, it was Paul Frees’, so

at the age of 10 I was like ‘wow, that’d be great,

to be able to do stuff like that and I fell in love

with Paul Frees. I got to where I had an ear for

all of his stuff, he was doing a lot of commercial

work in the 60’s and 70’s and I would hear it and

say that’s Paul Frees again” (Dodson 36 ).

His first job in the industry was with LucasFilm, working

for the Kerner compay in San Rafael as a labourer. He

helped build the studios for Sprocket Systems, which

was a sound company right next to ILM (later renamed

Skywalker Sound). After the project’s completion, he

was sent to the Skywalker Ranch, where he became an

apprentice carpenter, “the reason I took the job was

Lucasfilm was that... I was willing to do anything, and

if something opened up I would be there, and I made

it know that I wanted to get in production” (Dodson 36 ).

Dodson’s introduction to the world of voice

acting was unorthodox to say the least! Ben Burtt (who

was the director of sound at Sprocket) put out an usual

call:

“It’s really kind of strange, he put out a call that

to find out if anybody had a pet raccoon up there

in Northern California that he could record,

he wanted to get it’s chirps and the sounds

raccoons make. I just happened to have a pet

raccoon and I let Ben know, and so he came

over to our house with recording equipment.

Then we couldn’t get the raccoon to make any

noises for him so he left his recorder and said,

‘well if she does - her name was Mabel - when

she does, try to get it on tape’. So we had the

recorder for a week, got some stuff, not much,

but while I had it, I thought, ‘well, I’ll do some

stuff’ - presumptuous of me - so I did some voice

things that I could do. I had always played with it,

it was just kind of a fun thing and I took the tape

back, and Ben listened and he was like ‘wow,

you can do some good voice stuff there’, I said

40

I didn’t know how good it was, but he thought I

was alright, and I said ‘well, if you ever need any

creature voices or anything, let me know’ and he

said ‘actually this one that I’m working on, why

don’t you come by and try some stuff’. So I went

in to Ben’s studio (he was in San Anselmo) and

there was no script, he just fed me lines. He told

me that this character was an alien, and it wasn’t

male or female and he wanted me to just try to

come up with a voice that was nondescript, that

was asexual, I guess, that was nondescript as far

as male or female. He fed me lines, he said ‘say

be good’, and ‘I want you to say this boy’s name,

Elliot’, and ‘phone home’. So anyway, I did that

and ended up not getting that part, but it turned

out that the part that I was trying out for was E.T.

So that was my first audition to do a voice. So I

saw Ben at the screening of E.T. and said ‘if you

ever need anything else, give me a chance’, and

he said he would, and he did” ( Dodson 36 ).

Although he wasn’t cast as the voice of E.T., he

would have a shot at another famous Spielberg film

in short order. Burtt was as good as his word, and he

contacted Dodson to try out for some new creatures,

on a new film - Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. He initially

read for Admiral Ackbar, but serendipity had something

else in mind:

“I was nervous, I was so nervous, and he gave me

a script, and I was not ready. I was overwhelmed.

The words in Admiral Ackbar’s script, it was the

scene where he was talking about the Death

Star and how they were going to blow it up...

and I was just so nervous, so I walked away. I

said ‘Ben, I’m nervous, let me shake this out a

little’. So I walked away and I started cackling

and screaming, just trying to loosen up. He

said ‘do some of that, I think I have a creature

that that would be good for’, so Ben went on to

describe that I was a part monkey, part bird, part

rat and I was sneaking into a giant’s castle and

I was trying to steal his cheese, and now make

some sounds. Then he just went through a lot

of scenarios with this character and a giant, and

I did all that, and he said he was going to use it,

well I went to the screening of Return of the Jedi

and sure enough, there I was. And I knew right

away that was what I had done, and after the

screening I saw Ben and he asked me if I knew

which character I was and I said ‘yeah, that little

guy with Jaba that was cackling and he said

‘yeah, that’s Salacious Crumb’” (Dodson 36 ).


This first experience with voicing for film was a different than on Return of the Jedi. The Gremlins

Book Text

relaxed one. After working out his initial jitters, he spent voice actors worked in an ADR (Automatic Dialogue

about a half hour with Ben Burtt “being told scenes and Replacement) sound stage, and they did so ‘to picture’.

things to react to, and staying in that crazy, nervous This meant that he was able to look at the action on

character that I was in” (Dodson 36 ). Once again his family the screen (a black and white rough cut of the film)

played a big part (if an unknowing one) in his career, and generate voices and sounds to suit the footage

as the inspiration for the Salacious cackle came from which had already been filmed. On Jedi, there was no

Dodson’s grandmother, “that cackle was a cackle that picture to look at, not even an image of the creature he

my my grandma used to do when we were kids to try was voicing. Gremlins was the first time he worked ‘to

and scare us... it didn’t scare me, I always thought it was picture’, he recalls the setup very clearly: “you’re on a

funny, my sister too, but that’s where that came from. big stage that almost looks like a big movie theatre, with

As a kid I tried doing what she did and I guess it worked” a big screen and only a couple rows of theatre seats.

(Dodson 36 ).

There’s a microphone in the middle of the room on

Even though he didn’t voice the character he this big stage and you get up there, and you watch the

went out for, the role opened a window for future picture and you try to make it fit, and you do about ten

projects. Chris Walas and Tony McVey had made seconds at a time, and you watch it a few times and you

Salacious Crumb, and Dodson had the opportunity to think ‘I know what I’ll do for this, let’s try it’, and you do

meet them. It wasn’t long before Walas got in touch a bunch of takes until you get something that feels right.

with Dodson, at the behest of Steven Spielberg, who We’d go in there and do those kind of voices and then

was looking for the voice of Salacious Crumb to use in the sound editors put it together. They affect some of

his new movie - Gremlins.

what you do, in my case, they would pitch some of it up

Dodson’s experience on Gremlins was quite a little bit, and leave some the way it was” (Dodson 36 ).

“The best part of Gremlins

for me, as a big movie fan,

was as we’re going through

the scenes, when I saw in

the movie theatre scene and

the Seven Dwarves came on

the screen, I was so excited

because I remember saying,

‘I’m in a movie with the Seven

Dwarves!’, those are some big

stars, everybody knows the

Seven Dwarves, and that was

just so exciting to me, it still

is.”

Mark Dodson 36

© Warner Brothers

“When we did the bar room scene, I wanted to get in character and I’m a big believer in method acting, so I said ‘Well,

hey wait a minute, if we’re going to do this barroom scene, I need a beer’. I was half-joking, half-serious, but Joe

Dante said ‘Really, you want some beer? Great! That sounds good, what kind do you want?’, I said, ‘I’m a Bud drinker,

man, I’m from St. Louis’, so he said ‘Alright’, and I’m gonna say ten minutes later there was a cold case of Budweiser

on the ADR sound stage with us. So we all had a beer, and we did that scene. I was enjoying a nice cold Bud, ‘cause

I’m a Bud man, and a cards fan (laughs).”

Mark Dodson 36

41


On the first day in the sound stage, the gremlins

Book Text

After Gremlins, Dodson returned to St. Louis to be where

were there in more than spirit, it appeared that they’d he saw the finished film for the first time:

taken over the studio! “The first day that we were going “It felt surreal. I went to a theatre that as a child,

to record, the gremlins took over the sound studio that my dad had taken me to, to see movies like

we were going to record in... they could not get the Chaplain’s. Here I am in that theatre, watching

sound to work, it just wouldn’t work. We sat there all day, that screen with Gremlins, with my family, and

it was late and everybody was tired, when they finally I was in a surreal kind of place. It just didn’t

got it working, they sent everybody home and they said feel real. I loved the movie, and then I saw it a

‘Tomorrow we want Mark, and Fred (Fred Newman second time and I got more into it because I’d

who is also some of the gremlins), you guys be back put all that aside. I went and saw it at a theatre,

here tomorrow with us, everybody else, we’re good. So and did a lot of watching the people watching

Fred Newman and I went in and did the majority of the the movie, to see what their reactions were to

gremlins together” (Dodson 36 ).

different scenes and things” (Dodson 36 ).

Although he never worked on the Gremlins Dodson continues to work as a voice actor,

set, his presence in the film is both significant, and although he remembers Gremlins with particular

memorable. He voiced many of the gremlins, particularly fondness, “the majority of what I do now is commercial

ones in Dorry’s Tavern, which was one of the first scenes work, I do commercials for Panosonic, I do Universal

he worked on. “I am several of the gremlins in there, I’m Sports promos, I do Wild Turkey ‘Give ‘em the Bird’ -

the one hanging on the fan that gets spun off, the ones people seem to remember that one... there’s nothing

playing cards, (I’m not Stripe, Stripe is Frank Welker, like doing a movie with Spielberg and those people, and

and of course Gizmo is Howie Mandel, but I am the being a part of something that you know is going to be

majority). The one playing cards that’s screaming, that big (even if you don’t know it’s gonna still be enjoyed

gets mad about the other gremlin cheating, that’s me... 30 years later), and so how can you compare that

all of them sitting at the bar...” (Dodson 36 ).

experience? The truth is, I’ve been looking for something

that compares to that ever since, Gremlins 2 came close,

but nothing compares to Gremlins” (Dodson 36 ).

“The experience was great, it was fun, it was loose, it was creative... as I recall, Gremlins was about 3 full days

of cackling, screaming and carrying on.”

Mark Dodson 36

“I think Gremlins is still relevant because it’s such a great fi lm, the writing was great ( Chris Columbus), the

creatures were great, (what Chris and Tony did, the puppeteering), just the whole thing, it was a great fi lm. Joe

Dante put his mark on it, it’s his kind of movie. I think the message was a great message, that still works today

and will work forever, which is take care of nature. The very end of the movie where Mr. Wing says ‘You do not

understand, you treat mogwai like all of nature’, that’s the message of the whole movie. It’s a message that we

need to hear today. Also, it’s become a Christmas movie, probably the weirdest Christmas movie there is.. It had

a feel, it had a darkness, it had a comical horror... and I might add that the gremlins were not mean. We’re very

misunderstood. We’re just trying to have agood time and we get a little carried away, and people don’t appreciate

it, but if everybody would just sing along with us, everything would been fi ne.”

Mark Dodson 36

“This person who wanted to be behind the camera was able to still stay behind the camera and be a part of fi lms. I ended up

loving it, I ended up loving to do the voice work, seeing the fi nished product, seeing everybody involved that makes a creature

or an animated character, or anything that I am lucky enough to be a part of. I love it, I just love the process. That’s how

I got into voice acting. I wish it was an easier story.”

Mark Dodson 36

42


The Peltzer family’s perpetually patient pooch

was played by Mushroom. He was very popular with

the cast and crew, despite humble origins. He was

obtained at a pound, with no information about his

history or even his age. He was not a trained acting

dog, but what he lacked in experience and training,

he made up for with earnest enthusiasm. The actors,

especially Zach Galligan were encouraged to work

with the dog off set in order to give the appearance

of familiarity, so that “ Barney” could effectively

Mushroom Book as Text Barney

become a real part of the family.

Not only was Mushroom loved by the cast and

crew, but he became an asset to the film as well. His big

eyes and expressive face often punctuated the mood in

any given scene, and made him a natural cutaway. More

importantly, he reacted to the puppets as though they

were real, living, breathing creatures. If anyone bought

into the realism of Gizmo, it was Mushroom. As far as he

was concerned, Gizmo was a living animal, and one that

he wanted to get a better look at.

© Warner Brothers, 1984

“We loved him. They found him at the

pound -- he’s a mutt – and don’t

even know how old he is.”

Phoebe Cates 1

© Warner Brothers, 1984

“The great thing about

Mushroom was that he had

a look for every occasion...

he had so many different

looks that... he was an allpurpose

cutaway. You could

“He was an amazing dog, the fi rst

few days before I was going to

just cut to the dog and it

work with him they let me spend

would be fi ne”

about an hour with him... just playing

Joe Dante 2

with him”

Zach Galligan 3

© Warner Brothers, 1984

“He was one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with... this dog was so great. He had such an expressive face and he thought

that the puppets were real, and he was fascinated with them. And so we got some really cool stuff with him because he related

to the puppets as if they were real. The only other actor in the picture who relates on that level is Cory Feldman, who treated the

puppets like they were actually animals”.

Joe Dante 2

43


Sometimes this enthusiasm was a double-edged the performance of the puppets. The puppeteers would

Book Text

sword, particularly for the effects crew. During the first watch the dog, and get the puppets to react in kind,

scene with Gizmo, when Billy opens Gizmo’s box and “ Mushroom preforms and [the creature crew] were just

we get our first glimpse of the mogwai, Mushroom following whatever he was doing” ( Chris Walas 3 ). One

could barely contain himself. Galligan had to struggle of the best examples is the scene beneath the Christmas

to restrain him, not always successfully, “one time the tree, when Stripe spits at Gizmo, both the dog and the

dog jumped up and broke Gizmo’s ear” (Zach Galligan 2 ). puppet look at it at precisely the same time. This synergy

These incidents meant long hours of repair work for the between the flesh-and-blood and artificial animals made

creature crew and significant downtime that ate into the the effects seem more natural and realistic. In spite of

shooting schedule.

setbacks for the crew, Chris Walas spoke fondly of the

Despite difficulties, Mushroom’s influence shaped mutt, because “he was such a nice dog” (Chris Walas 3 ).

“If you look at this scene, I actually had

to hold the dog back because he wanted

to get in there and basically eat Gizmo.”

Zach Galligan 2

© Warner Brothers, 1984

© Warner Brothers, 1984

“The dog thought Gizmo was real, if you watch the scene... he’s just fascinated... It was actually a big plus for us

because as the picture goes on he always responded to the puppet as if it was real”

Joe Dante 2

Running Through Kingston Falls

Because he wasn’t a trained and experienced acting dog, his performances

on set weren’t always fl awless. For example, in the early scene when Billy and

Barney run down the streets of Kingston Falls, Mushroom was anything but

cooperative. Galligan describes the experience, “I remember this shot particularly

because the dog would never follow me. So eventually we put a monofi lament to

the dog’s collar and then attached it to my left hand so you can see that the dog’s

following me basically because it’s on an invisible leash and if you watch the dog

closely you’ll see that as I run it kind of jerks the dog along” (Zach Galligan 3 ).

Howie Mandel jokes that “today if they were doing this scene they’d put kibbles in

your underpants. Kibbles and bits” (Howie Mandel 2 ).

44

© Warner Brothers, 1984


The Crew Intro

Book Text

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers

45


Book Text

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Mag

© Warner Brothers

© Chris Walas

46


Born in Morristown, New Jersey in 1946, and

raised in Parsippany, Joe Dante started out dreaming of

being a cartoonist, a mindset that is reflected in many

of his films. It was at the Philadelphia College of Art

that he “learned how not to be an artist and went into

movies instead” 9 . He graduated from the Philadelphia

College of Art and began his career as a film reviewer

in New York. He started an apprenticeship with Roger

Corman in 1974, working as a trailer editor. “The most

interesting thing about filmmaking for me is postproduction

work, when you edit the picture. People

Joe Dante Book ~ TextDirector

don’t realize what can be done to, with, and for movies

in the editing room. I’m in on all of it in Gremlins” ( Joe

Dante 1 )

Corman promised Dante and Allan Arkrush their

directorial debut, if they could work cheap... in fact,

Hollywood Boulevard (1976) was the cheapest film

New World ever made with a budget of $60,000, and

a shooting schedule of ten days 9 . Because the film was

so inexpensive, the investment was recouped in short

order, giving Dante the opportunity to take a crack at

directing solo.

“As far as storyboarding goes, the one thing that going to art school helped me on is that I was able to do my own

storyboards for quite a while. On Gremlins, there was just so much storyboarding to be done that it was quite beyond me,

so we hired a couple of pros.”

Joe Dante 9

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

“Joe is not so much a movie-movie director, as he is a filmicstylist -- not

to be confused with a hairstylist. Joe’s movies have personality. If you led

me to a screening room, and showed me ten films without credits, I could

probably identify Dante’s efforts in the first reel. This is rather refreshing

when so many movies are odorless and colorless.” Steven Spielberg 1

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

“[Dick Miller and I] worked twice for Joe Dante, who undoubtedly is the

nicest person you could ever work for in the world. There are some

people who ... it’s like, they inhale and they’re kind. And that’s Joe Dante

-- who is also amazingly humorous and talented.” Jackie Joseph 7

47


Piranha was released in 1977 and became an other movies and media, a fact which occasionally draws

Book Text

unexpected success for New World, their best-grossing criticism. Although he suggested that perhaps he could

film of the year. One of his most popular films, The make a film or two without such nods, “I think it would

Howling came out in 1981 and is still considered one of pop out anyway. I feel more comfortable making movies

the best werewolf movies. His talents are not limited to that way. I have always liked movies that show a sense

directing however, he also co-wrote Rock ‘n’ Roll High of film history. And, if it were only about movies, people

School and edited Ron Howard’s Grand Theft Auto. wouldn’t like it much. The references are there, but not in a

Dante’s movies are laden with references to way that would obscure things for anybody” ( Joe Dante 12 )

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

“ Joe Dante seemed perfect for the job... Joe is like Stripe -- funny, devilish, and in total control”

Steven Spielberg 8 & 1

“ Joe was great. He made me feel so relaxed about doing things. He directs you, but he sort of lets what happens happen.

And he jokes all the time about how he doesn’t want any ‘acting,’ which keeps you pretty much at ease”

Zach Galligan 1

“ Joe was the easiest director to work for... I have to say it was just so much fun”

Phoebe Cates 2

“One of the things I remember about working with Joe was that because Joe’s background was editing he would not

make us do things over and over and over again like a lot of other directors I worked with subsequently”

“His attitude was right, he wasn’t too general, wasn’t too specifi c. He would leave it up to you, give you your limitations.

He’s editing in his head as he goes along because he knows what will work and what won’t. He kept the acting very

simple. He would kid around and say, ‘I don’t want any acting in this picture!’ And he’s right: there’s no way to control

what the actors are doing while keeping an eye on the set, the lighting, camera movements and the gremlins”

Phoebe Cates 19

“[ Joe Dante is] quite fun. The whole process of working with Joe is a very interesting thing.”

Belinda Balaski 35

48

Zach Galligan 3


Joe Dante thought that it was a mistake when the at New World, Gremlins had both a luxurious budget,

Book Text

Gremlins script landed on his desk, because at the time and timeline 15 . The film is visually complex, there are

he wasn’t getting a lot of work 3 . Gremlins would be the often several layers of action happening at one time

first studio picture Joe had done, with the exception of his across the screen. The Tavern, Inventor’s Convention,

portion of the Twilight Zone movie. The film seemed so and Movie Theatre scenes are a few of the most

complicated and effects-heavy that he initially thought it prominent examples. This style can be found in many

was impossible to produce. Compared to the films he made of Dante’s works, inspired by his love of Mad magazine.

“My first reaction [to the script] was thinking that it was so complex,

effects-wise, that it seemed virtually unproducible. It had not been

written to be produced, actually. It has been submitted as a writing

sample -- there had been no reason to deal with how the effects

were going to be done. There were so many gremlins and so many

actions en masse by the creatures that the only way it could have

been done as written would have been to make it an animated feature

or the most complex stop-motion film ever attempted. It did not seem

economically feasible.

“To me, part of the challenge was the technical aspect and the story

even then was appealing -- it was not just a horror picture. It

started out warm, it had this nice family. It started out with a heart,

then it got really really cold. The juxtaposition of the two was most

interesting.

“In the stages of writing and rewriting, we tried to blend those

elements together and soften them because the contrast was so

sharp they, at first, seemed mutually exclusive. It was too unpleasant

and too cute. It always ran the risk of being too contrasting, but the

way we completed it, I hope the two aspects complement each other

instead of contradicting each other.”

Joe Dante 15

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

© Warner Brothers c/o Japanese Program

“We ended up with a three and a half hour rough

cut. Which is an awful lot of film. That partly

happens because you just spend so much time

working on the picture. You sit around so much

on a special effects picture, that you start to

think, ‘We ought to be doing something with this

scene. We ought to be embellishing it somehow.’

And by the time you’re through embellishing it,

you’ve got an hour of embellishments!” (Joe

“The humor in ‘Gremlins’ has a definite edge -- one which

illuminates the small-town landscape with wit and insight

into the duality of nature. It’s a quality I’ve always liked in

movies” (5) Joe Dante

Dante 17 ). The fact that so much footage was cut

from the final film fascinates fans. We’d all love

for an “ultimate edition” of the film to be released

one day, with the deleted scenes restored. A fan

can dream...

49


“I showed [the film] to Steven, who hadn’t even looked at the Book dailies. Text He pronounced it my greatest work. I said, ‘But is it any

good?’ He seemed to be pleased with it. I think one thing that pleases him, is that although this is the kind of picture that he

likes, it’s not made the way that he would make it. Therefore, I don’t think he feels that he’s going to be accused of repeating

himself, in the sense that he’s gone off and taken a bunch of commercial elements from his previous pictures and thrown them

all together in a similar manner..

“The thing that originally attracted him to this, I think, was the tone of the script, which, even it its most horrific early

draft, was always sort of whimsical and eccentric. That’s been preserved and even enlarged upon. It also takes place in his favorite

venue, a small town. It’s got kids, it’s got families, it’s got dogs, it’s got people who are not from Earth. It’s got everything he

likes”

Joe Dante 17

“We used every technique in the book. Joe was strong

about what he wanted and had a lot to choose from

in the editing room. He had experience as an editor

and shot like an editor. You had to have options in the

editing room for something as crazy and freewheeling

as Gremlins.”

Ethan Wiley 5

© Warner Brothers c/o Fangoria 38

© Warner Brothers c/o Fangoria 39

“I’ve been working on this forever! I could have made

twenty Roger Corman movies in the time it took to make

this one. I was doing pre-production and storyboards

on Gremlins while we were making Twilight Zone, which

is something I’m never going to do again. Then, when

Twilight Zone was almost finished, everyone left and

went off to do their own things. Only Frank Marshall

and I were left to put it together, shoot the new ending,

etc. . . All the while, Mike Finnell was saying, ‘What are

you doing? We’ve got to work on Gremlins!’ And, at that

time, we didn’t know whether we were going to shoot

it on location or here, or even how we were going to

do it. The whole thing stretched into an incredibly long

period of time.”

Joe Dante 17

“What I like about making movies is doing things that you can’t do in real life, showing

things that you can’t see by walking out on the streets. My favourite movies are the ones

that show you things you can’t see anywhere but in the movies.”

Joe Dante 1

50


Book Text

“Joe Dante liked Rum and Coke. And everyone thought he parted his hair in an unusual manner. He also always wore more or

less the same thing everyday, including black high top tennis shoes. One day when we broke for lunch the wardrobe person

brought identical “Joe” clothes for the entire crew. We all put them on, including the black tenni’s. And on one of the sets Chris

put a Gremlin sitting against a wall with rum in one hand and a coke in the other. He then put a wee tuft of dark hair on the

Gremlin’s head. When Joe came back from lunch, everybody walked up to him to ask him a question. Finally he said, “I get! I get!’.

Everyone cracked up. Chris then showed Joe The Gremlin. Joe goes, “Who’s that? I think Chris said, “Who do you think?” Again

everyone cracked up. I think even after Chris told Joe it was him but he wouldn’t cop to it. Joe was a good sport and a very nice,

approachable director” Jay Davis 29

51

“Here’s the puppet we dressed up to look like

our illustrious leader, Joe Dante. Not sure he

fully appreciated the joke.”

© Chris Walas


Book Text

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

52


Spotlight on ‘Joe Dante’s Book Text Stock Company’

“Joe always wanted to have a little repertory group of actors that he’d use in all his movies, and that was his

whole goal when he was very young. He wanted to go out and be a director and have his little barnyard of actors”

(Belinda Balaski 35 ). He succeeded in this, and has included many of the same cast and crew members in different

roles throughout his career. Some common elements include:

“Joe always wanted to have a little repertory

group of actors that he’d use in all his movies, and that

was his whole goal when he was very young. He wanted

to go out and be a director and have his little barnyard

of actors” (Belinda Balaski 35 ). He succeeded in this, and

has included many of the same cast and crew members

in different roles throughout his career. Some common

elements include:

Dick Miller

Hollywood Boulevard (1976), Piranha (1978), Rock ‘n’

Roll High School (1979), The Howling (1981), Police

Squad episode ‘Testimony of Evil’ (1982), Twilight Zone:

The Movie (1983), Gremlins (1984), Explorers (1986),

Amazing Stories episode ‘The Greibble’ (1086), Amazon

Women on the Moon (1987), Innerspace (1987), The

‘Burbs (1989), Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), Eerie

Indiana episode ‘The Losers’ (1991), Matinee (1993),

Rebel Highway episode ‘Runaway Daughters’ (1994),

The Second Civil War (1997), The Osiris Chronicles

(1998), Small Soldiers (1998), Looney Tunes: Back in

Action (2003), Trapped Ashes segment ‘Wraparound’

(2006), and The Hole (2009).

Belinda Balaski

Piranha (1978), The Howling (1981), Gremlins (1984),

Explorers (1985), Amazon Women on the Moon (1987),

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), Eerie Indiana

episodes ‘Foreverware’ and ‘The Hole in the Head

Gang’ (1991 and 1992), Matinee (1993), Rebel Highway

episode ‘Runaway Daughters’ (1994), The Second Civil

War (1997), The Osiris Chronicles (1998), Small Soldiers

(1998).

Robert Picardo

The Howling (1981), Explorers (1985), Amazing Stories

episode ‘Boo!’ (1986), Amazon Women on the Moon

(1987), Innerspace (1987), The ‘Burbs (1989), Gremlins

2: The New Batch (1990), Matinee (1993), Rebel Highway

episode ‘Runaway Daughets’ (1994), The Second Civil

War (1997), Small Soldiers (1998), Looney Tunes: Back in

Action (2003), Masters of Horror episode ‘Homecoming’

(2005), CSI: NY episode ‘Boo’ (2007), Trail of Blood

(2011), Hawaii Five-O episode ‘Oleno Pa’a’ (2013).

53

Mike Finnell

Hollywood Boulevard (1976), Rock ‘n’ Roll High School

(1979), The Howling (1981), Twilight Zone: The Movie

(1983), Gremlins (1984), Explorers (1985), Innerspace

(1987), The ‘Burbs (1989), Gremlins 2: The New Batch

(1990), Matinee (1993), The Osiris Chronicles (1998),

Small Soldiers (1998), Jeremiah (2002), and Haunted

Lighthouse (2003, short).

Archie Hahn

Woked on Cannonball! (1976) with Dante. Cast in

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987), Innerspace

(1987), The ‘Burbs (1989), Gremlins 2: The New Batch

(1990), Eerie Indiana (1991), Matinee (1993), Rebel

Highway episode ‘Runaway Daughters’ (1994), Small

Soldiers (1998), Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003),

Burying the Ex (2014).

Jerry Goldsmith

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Gremlins (1984),

Explorers (1985), Amazing Stories episode ‘Boo!’ (1986),

Innerspace (1987), The ‘Burbs (1989), Gremlins 2: The

New Batch (1990), Matinee (1993), Small Soldiers

(1998), Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003).

John Hora

The Howling (1981), Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983),

Gremlins (1984), Explorers (1985), Innerspace (1987),

The ‘Burbs (1989), Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990),

Eerie Indiana (1991), and Matinee (1993).

Kevin McCarthy

Piranha (1978), The Howling (1981), Twilight Zone: The

Movie (1983), Innerspace (1987), Matinee (1993), The

Second Civil War (1997), Looney Tunes: Back in Action

(2003)

Paul Bartel

Hollywood Boulevard (1976), Grand Theft Auto (1977),

Piranha (1978), Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979), The

Howling (1981), Amazon Women on the Moon (1987),

Gremlins 2: The New Batch


Henry Gibson

Innerspace (1987), The ‘Burbs (1989), Gremlins 2: The

New Batch (1990), Eerie Indiana episode ‘The Losers’

(1991), Trapped Ashes segment ‘Wraparound’ (2006)

William Schallert

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Gremlins (1984),

Innerspace (1987), Matinee (1993), The Second Civil

War (1997).

Rance Howard

Innerspace (1987), The ‘Burbs (1989), Rebel Highway

episode ‘Runaway Daughters’ (1994), The Second Civil

War (1997), Small Soldiers (1998)

Wendy Schaal

Amazing Stories epidose ‘Boo!’ (1986), Innerspace

(1987), The ‘Burbs (1989), Rebel Highway episode

‘Runaway Daughters’ (1994), Small Soldiers (1998)

Kenneth Tobey

The Howling (1981), Gremlins (1984), Innerspace (1987),

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)

Bruce Dern

The ‘Burbs (1989), Small Soldiers (1998), CSI: NY episode

‘Boo’ (2007), The Hole (2009)

Ron Perlman

Picture Windows episode ‘Lightning’ (1995), The Second

Civil War (1997), Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003).

John Astin

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), Eerie Indiana (1991),

Rebel Highway episode ‘Runaway Daughters’ (1994).

Book Text Corey Feldman

Gremlins (1984), The ‘Burbs (1989), Splatter (ten

episodes, 2009)

Heather Haase

The ‘Burbs (1989), Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990),

The Twilight Zone episode ‘The Shadow Man/The Uncle

Devil Show/Opening Day (1985).

Phil Hartman

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987), The Second Civil

War (1997), Small Soldiers (1998)

Chuck Jones

Gremlins (1984), Innerspace (1987), Gremlins 2: The

New Batch (1990)

Jackie Joseph

Gremlins (1984), Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990),

Small Soldiers (1998)

Others include: Zach Galligan (2), Phoebe Cates (2), Cory

Danziger (2), Rick Ducommun (2), Kevin Dunn (2), Carrie

Fisher (2), Joe Flaherty (2), Courtney Gains (2), Charles

S. Haas (writer, 3), Bob Holt (voice actor, 2), Omri Katz

(2), Denis Leary (2), Sarah Lilly (3), Mark McCracken (2),

Michael McKean (2), Don McCloud (2), Cathy Moriarty

(2), Shawn C. Nelson (3), Jason Presson (3), Kathleen

Quinlan (2), Neil Ross (3), Diane Sainte-Marie (2), John

Sayles (3), Michael Scheehaan (2), Dan Stanton (3), Don

Stanton (3), Christopher Stone (2), Meshach Taylor (2),

Dee Wallace (2) and Alexandra Wilson (2).

54

© Warner Brothers c/o Fangoria 39


Mike Finnell graduated from film school at

New York University, moved to the West Coast and

joined Roger Corman’s New World Pictures in 1975.

He began his career as a production manager, and

assistant directed several of New World’s features.

He began producing with Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,

© Warner Brothers c/o Seacoast Repertory Theatre

Mike Finnell Book Text ~ Producer

co-written by Joe Dante. He ventured off on his own in

1979 to supervise effects for Airplane, and produced

The Howling in 1981. He earned on-screen billing as

‘Generally in Charge of Lots of Things’ for his work on

Airplane, for which he was the miniature and optical

effects supervisor 8 .

“Mike’s kinda like Gizmo

-- innocent, yet wise and

resourceful.”

Steven Spielberg 1

© Warner Brothers c/o Inside Gremlins

“Unbeknownst to Joe and I, Steven Spielberg was a

big fan of The Howling. After he came across Chris

Columbus’s writing sample, he fell in love with it and

bought it. Then he decided that Joe Dante was the guy

to make it into a movie.”

Mike Finnell 1

“What this movie has going for it is a visual

outrageousness and a sense of fun. I hope

it will be perceived as a modern-day fairytale.”

Mike Finnell 1

55


Finnell received the second draft for and involved quite a small purchase – a simple kitchen

Book Text

Gremlins around the time that Universal scrapped knife.

the 3-D Creature from the Black Lagoon remake 8 .

Talk to the other members of the crew,

and you might hear that Finnell ran a tight ship

financially. Although there are often issues between

producers and the special effects crews on films

because of the nature of their respective jobs,

Although other members of the crew often make

jabs about his thriftiness on the film, he learned a lot

working with Roger Corman at New World, which no

doubt impacted the way he produced films like Gremlins.

Released on the same day, Ghostbusters may have done

slightly better in the box office, but Gremlins was made

one run-in has become particularly infamous with less than one-third the budget! 14

“We liked the idea of mischievous creatures whose idea of a good time is to louse things

up and making things difficult for people.”

Mike Finnell 8

© Warner Brothers c/o Cinefex 19

“I had been talking to Chris Walas about doing Creature’s

special makeup effects, so I sent Columbus’ script up to him

and asked ‘What do you think about this?’ Chris read it, and

his first comment was: ‘Well, of course, it’s impossible. But

it might be fun to try it.’”

Mike Finnell 8

© Warner Brothers c/o Inside Gremlins

“My wife Carol handles the business end of things –

handles all the finances and paperwork, and she saw that

all the receipts went down to Mike; and I assure you

that he kept a careful eye on every one of them. We had

one tussle over an eight-dollar knife – we were doing a

puppet for the kitchen scene, the one that gets stabbed.

It’s only in the background, on the counter, kicking around

and tryin’ to pull the knife out. We wanted to pre-rig it for

a test, and we asked for $8 to buy a knife. Mike gets on the

phone and says, ‘Eight dollars is ridiculous!’ – Carol had to

fight him on the phone, Erik had to fight ‘im on the phone,

and finally I got on. ‘We don’t know what kind of knife

we’ll be using in the actual scene yet,’ he says, ‘it might be

a waste of money.’ I finally got the okay to buy the knife,

but we felt so bad about it that we went searching for the

cheapest knife we could find, which we found for $2.87. And

I think that’s the one they used in the film.”

Chris Walas 14

56


Born in Spangler, Pennsylvania in 1958 and

raised in an Ohio “factory town” (Chris Columbus 22 ),

Chris Columbus was inspired to be a filmmaker by The

Godfather at the age of 15. He dreamed of getting

away from his hometown and making it big, “you

either make movies or become a rock ‘n’ roll star to

get out, and I didn’t have much chance of becoming

a rock ‘n’ roll star” (Chris Columbus 22 ). He considered

becoming a commercial artist at one point, “I thought

I would go to New York and draw for Marvel Comics,

and that would be the greatest life in the world... I

still have all my comic books saved up under plastic. I

was a big fan of Spider-Man. ‘Spidey’ -- the old Steve

Ditko Spider-Man was the best” (Chris Columbus 22 )

(Interestingly, Columbus thought in 1984 that he’d

quite like to make a Spider-Man movie, but felt that “I

honestly don’t see how it would come off realistically.

Chris Columbus Book Text ~ Writer

“I always had a soft spot for monster movies. That was my first love.

So, I wanted to do one, and I wanted to do an original one. As my friend

said, in the past few years, the only new ‘monster’ which has been created

is the shark in Jaws. There hasn’t been anything since Jaws, and the

best way to do a monster movie is to create something new.”

Chris Columbus 22

That’s a big challenge for any writer or director”,

although this idea would be accomplished in 2002, with

two sequels and a remake in 2012, he was sadly not

involved).

A victim of circumstance, he developed a sense

of humour about his name after receiving prank calls

each year on Columbus day. As a child, he drew comic

books, a talent which came in particularly handy for

storyboarding in film school. He did get to New York,

although not as a comic book artist.

He attended New York University’s film school,

where one of his teachers read and submitted his first

screenplay Jocks to an agent. Although he sold the

screenplay, Jocks was never produced. Nonetheless, a

writing career was born. His fourth screenplay, Gremlins

was picked up by Steven Spielberg, and he moved to Los

Angeles for a year to work on rewrites.

“You can drop a stone into the black hole of

Chris’ imagination and you never hear it hit

bottom.”

Steven Spielberg 8 © Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

“[His experience on the film Reckless] almost follows the traditional writer’s story in Hollywood: you come to Hollywood and

give them your script. Then, they take it away from you and do what they want with it. When I first saw the film, which was two

months before it opened, I literally broke down and cried. That was the worst part: seeing it. Reckless was exactly what the critics

said it was. Nobody was wrong about that movie. I wasn’t involved with the production or the director; there was nothing I could

do about it. It was a terrible feeling. I guess there were gremlins on that movie set.”

Chris Columbus 22

“I wanted to do a horror film -- or rather, a

monster movie. Of course, Gremlins has evolved

into something much different.”

“A friend of mine and I were watching several Universal horror

films back then -- the old ones like The Bride of Frankenstein. I

loved them. That was the summer The Howling came out. It was

the first horror movie I had seen that wasn’t a slasher film, some

knife-wielding psychopath running around killing women. I despise

Chris Columbus 22

those movies. Coincidentally, it was Joe Dante’s film.”

Chris Columbus 22

57


Columbus famously conceived the Gremlins a fan of Spielberg, Columbus was surprised when

Book Text

concept while living in a Manhattan loft, after his the script he’d written on a lark found its way to the

graduation from New York University Film School. producer, “Steven had already optioned Gremlins

He shared the loft with a group of young filmmakers, before E.T. opened, so it was doubly exciting for me to

“By day, it was pleasant enough, but at night, what then see E.T. and realize I was working with this guy. I

sounded like a platoon of mice would come out, think E.T. is the greatest film Steven has ever made and

and to hear them skittering around in the blackness that sent me reeling even more” (Chris Columbus 22 ).

was really creepy. I thought to myself, ‘This is more Although the final film differed significantly from

frightening than a pack of German shepherds’” (Chris his original vision, Columbus seemed happy with the

Columbus 1 ). With the idea of a creature feature in hand, final product, in fact, Columbus said that he actually

the story needed a setting. Columbus drew inspiration prefered the final version to what he initially wrote.

for Kingston Falls from Chagrin Falls, a small town his

family drove through to visit relatives in Cleveland. As

“We had mice. At night you could hear them scurrying on the floor.

That was frightening. And I had this horrible fear -- when you’re

sleeping on a couch and your hand is dangling over the side, of this

little mouse nibbling on my fingers.”

Chris Columbus 22

“There was never a time I thought; ‘You can’t cut this scene. This

is essential.’ Since I had done student films in college and always

wanted to direct, I knew that what is written on the page doesn’t

always sound real coming out of an actor’s mouth. Improvisations

must happen on a film; I could never see myself being the kind

of writer who says, ‘Those are my words. How can you destroy

everything I’ve said?’ Performers must be realistic, or the film will

seem artificial.”

Chris Columbus 22

© Warner Brothers c/o Starlog 86

“I can’t compare it to anything I’ve ever seen. Gremlins

is an original film. It combines good acting, good

characterization, genuinely suspenseful scenes and humor.

It successfully touches all bases -- to Joe’s credit.”

Chris Columbus 22

“My family lived in Warren, Ohio, but we had relatives in

Cleveland, and we would drive through Chagrin Falls on the

way to visit them. Warren was a flat, grey, industrial town,

but Chagrin Falls was like something you’d see in a Capra

movie -- especially at Christmas when holiday lights were

hanging and there was snow everywhere.”

Chris Columbus 1

“I was always offended by women characters who are

sobbing, whimpering little kids. It’s because male filmmakers

have been making movies for so long. I hate those slasher

films because they’re so misogynistic and brutal. It’s

always bothered me that women never take a stand in

these movies. Gremlins is different. Kate, Phoebe Cates’

character, has a scene in which she defends herself. And

Billy’s mother enters her kitchen where she certainly takes

a stand. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best scene in the

whole film, because she protects her house -- she shows

just how courageous she really is.”

Chris Columbus 22

58


Steven Spielberg Book ~ Executive Text Producer

Born in Cincinnati Ohio in 1946, Steven Spielberg

has become one of the most influential film-makers in

history. Spielberg attended California State University,

but decided to leave in pursuit of a career in the

entertainment industry before he could graduate. He

began as an editor, and then moved on to directing

short films. His first major project as a director was The

Sugerland Express, but it was his next time, Jaws, that

led to his stardom. In 1982, E.T. was released and met

with great acclaim. Shortly after he formed his own

production company, Amblin, which produced Gremlins.

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

Steven Spielberg purchased Chris Columbus’

script for Gremlins after viewing Columbus’ short

production entitled “Gizmo”. He was closely involved

with the re-write process, during which the film evolved

from a dark horror picture to a horror comedy. Having

Steven Spielberg on Gremlins was a sort of double-edged

sword. On the one hand, he was able to protect the film,

and on the other, he influenced peoples’ expectations

for it. Among the first films produced by Spielberg under

the Amblin title, moviegoers expected an E.T. experience

from Gremlins, but had quite a different experience.

“I’d never thought of directing Gremlins myself. I wanted to take a long

vacation from anything with a wire trailing from it’s rear end that makes

a creature smile when you pull it.”

Steven Spielberg 8

“When I read the script [in March of 1982], I asked myself, ‘Could this

really happen in real life?’ When the answer came back ‘no.’ I breathed

a sigh of relief and bought the material. It’s one of the most original

things I’ve come across in many years, which is why I bought it.”

Steven Spielberg 1

“Steven wanted this picture to get made so he could see it. Steven is one of the few people in the world in the position to

actually get somebody to make a picture for him so that he can watch it without having to make it himself.”

Joe Dante 15

“People don’t expect Gremlins from Steven Spielberg. They forget that the man who made E.T. also made Jaws.”

Joe Dante 12

“After principle was done we were doing an insert shot. Spielberg was there watching. It was a table top setup and three of us

were under it pulling cables. One person had taken two cables controls but he was having a hard time pulling them both. (Must

have been ears.) so this guy said we needed another operator. Spielberg immediately volunteered and dove under the table with

us. He was great, like one of the guys. (But I had already experienced this as I had sat behind him several times during dailies

at ILM). We asked him when he was going to do an E.T. Sequel. He said he had to let Elliot grow up. Guess he’s grown now.”

Jay Davis 29

“Steven was very good to work for on this picture because not only is he a producer who knows how to make movies, which a lot

of producers don’t know how to do, but he was also busy with his own movie [Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom] which is

always the best way to work with a producer.” he joked, “He wasn’t there most of the time... Steven was very concerned with the

development of the script of Gremlins and with the casting and, of course, with the special effects, but once things looked like

they were on some kind of path, he more or less went away and didn’t ask to see the movie until I had put together a two-hour

cut of the picture. Then he’d ask, ‘What did you leave out?’, ‘What have you got left?’ -- that sort of thing. We then went over the

next cut of the picture together. It’s been a great experience for me. If there’s ever anything that comes up that Steven would

like me to do and that I’d like, I’d certainly, unhesitatingly do it again.”

Joe Dante 10

59


After he finished E.T., Spielberg was Spielberg references in Gremlins, including movie titles

Book Text

committed to Indiana Jones and the Temple of

Doom, which limited the time that he had to devote

to Gremlins. In fact, he only spent two days on set

while Indiana Jones was on hold. Mike Finnell was

selected as line producer as Spielberg couldn’t be

involved with day-to-day participation in the film.

Dante had the rare opportunity to direct Steven

Spielberg in a scene during one of his two days on set, at the

inventors’ convention. Director Joe Dante worked in several

advertised at the theatre. “A Boys Life” was the working

title for E.T. and “Watch the Skies” was the working title

for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, so that Spielberg

would be happy when he saw the dailies (Joe Dante 3 ).

Spielberg was a great help to the production,

Dante often went to him with his problems because the

studio didn’t know what to do with them. Whereas the

studio didn’t understand the horror/comedy, Spielberg

did, and he would help work through any issues 3 .

“It’s the most bizarre

project I have ever been

associated with, but one I

am very proud of”

Steven Spielberg 1

© Warner Brothers c/o Cinefex 19

“I think [the powers that be] just wanted some

involvement. So they were continually coming

in with ideas and telling Joe (Dante) how maybe

the scene was too violent or it should be cut

back or something else. But Steven Spielberg

acted as sort of a guardian angel. Finally Steven

walked in and said, ‘Well, why don’t we just leave

Joe alone and let him make the movie?’ and the

studio said, ‘Oh yes, yes, yes Mr. Spielberg’.”

Chris Walas 9

© Warner Brothers c/o Japanese Program

© Warner Brothers

“Steven worked on the same day as Robby the Robot and Bob Burns

who owns the original Time Machine. It takes place at an inventors’

convention, and we used these as inventions that are going on in

the background. Steven had broken his foot, which was in a cast, and

which lent a properly odd tone to the thing. He drives around with

his electric car, covering up the actor’s dialogue. “We did a joke in

the background where we cut back to the Time Machine, which isn’t

there anymore. This guy who has been sitting in it has obviously

been vaporized away somewhere. Every time I would shoot it over,

Steven would say, ‘No, no! Have the guy who owns it be more upset!’

It’s a background joke, it’s not supposed to be that obvious. Finally, I

did a take where this guy is throwing his briefcase up in the air and

pounding the floor. Steven said, ‘Well, maybe that one is too much.’

“That was the only time he visited the set, really. He was

there only one other day and he tried to coax me into some other

piece of outrageous directing, but I had none of it. No, directing

Steven was fine. He didn’t ask for any.”

Joe Dante 17

60


John Hora was born on February 16, 1940 in

Pasadena, California. Photography was in his blood,

stretching back three generations. His father was

an advanced amateur photographer who attended

The Art Center School of Design in Los Angeles (a

school whose faculty included Will Connell and

later Ansel Adams), his maternal grandfather

was a photographer, and his maternal greatgrandfather

had the first photo studio in Missouri.

Although he grew up around cameras and

darkrooms, it was during World War II and there was no

film available. “We couldn’t even watch our home movies

because if a bulb burned out there may not be another

one available” (John Hora 34 ). Much of his childhood was

spent in a sort of visual poverty, because “there were no

visuals from the time that I was a little kid until the end of

the war. There was no television, kids didn’t go to movies.

You just had storybooks that might have pictures in them.

His early experiences with

the entertainment industry were

dominated by radio. When he was

around nine years old, his family

visited Hollywood and got tickets to

go to a live radio show. When it turned

out that all of the marvelous action he

was listening to at home was created

by three men standing on a stage with

a handful of script pages, and a sound

man providing all of the effects, his

perspective was irrevocably altered.

“When I saw how I’d been fooled, I

went home and just started playing

radio” (John Hora 34 ).

It was around a year later that

he first encountered television, which

was starting to become more widely

available. “Then we played television.

I made cardboard television cameras,

which I still have here... and we

played television until I discovered

movies, and then once I discovered

movies I didn’t really go back. From

age 12 or 13, I just wanted to be a film

cameraman” (John Hora 34 ). When

his family would go on vacation, he

would make travel-logs with an 8mm

camera. Even these family movies

included the Dutch angles that would

become a staple in Hora’s films. He

John Hora ~ Director Book Text of Photography

61

shot in 8mm until he got into film school. Although his

first career aspiration was to be a magician (he studied

magic for a time), he also contemplated a life as a

nuclear physicist. Once he discovered movies however,

there was no looking back.

Rebel Without a Cause was his coming of age

movie. He had seen the film so many times that he was

forbidden to see it again. A rebel in his own right, he

recalls crawling out of a second-story window to go see it

again while he was supposed to be doing his homework.

He was very inspired by the photography and the score.

“When I first saw a movie, I didn’t actually understand

that they weren’t giant people down there on the screen...

it was a whole new magical experience for me.”

John Hora 34

© John Hora


After highschool, he pursued his goal of becoming Although Hora had the qualifications to join the union,

Book Text

a cinematographer by going to film school. There were he hadn’t yet done so, which meant he was able to

only three schools to choose from, NYU, USC, and UCLA. work on The Howling. He got the job because he knew

He was drawn to USC because he’d seen documentaries the Production Manager on the project from his time

shot by Irvin Kershner, a USC graduate. When he working in commercials.

attended USC he was bluntly told that “nobody from this Hora wasn’t quite sure of The Howling, in fact, he

school has ever worked one day in Hollywood after they considered turning it down: “I didn’t see the humour in

graduated” 34 , a frightening fact that was true when he it, I didn’t understand any of that until we were on the

graduated in 1962. They trained him to do industrial test set, as the film was being shot. Then I started to get it”

filming, because that was predominantly what graduates (John Hora 34 ). Soon after taking the job, he contemplated

wound up doing. This changed shortly thereafter leaving: “I was going to leave The Howling because the

however, as George Lucas and his contemporaries took catering was horrible, and we had lots of problems at

Hollywood by storm. Hora’s university roommate was the beginning... myself and my assistant said [having

Gary Kurtz, who went on to produce Star Wars Episodes started in the middle of the week], ‘well, we’ll give it to

IV and V, and The Dark Crystal.

the weekend, and then we’ll tell them we can’t do this’...

At his mother’s behest, he started working in but when we saw the dailies, they were so good that we

commercials after graduation as a way to pay the rent stayed on” (John Hora 34 ). He also wasn’t accustomed to

while waiting for his break into Hollywood. Commercials working on such a low budget project, but Dante and

paid well, and allowed for experimentation and an Michael Finnell were used to it, having come from the

opportunity to learn the technology. Although the first Roger Corman school. Fortunately, he stuck with it, and

ten years of his career were dominated by commercial in so doing, established a long working relationship with

work, it was always his goal to get into film making. His Dante that would lead to many more films.

first film project was a low-budget one, but he worked Having learned to do things the low-budget way,

with a well-known producer, director and writer, fueling he soon had to learn the studio way, as The Howling

his love for film making. He continued to work on opened the door for the Twilight Zone segment which

commercials as well as small, independent films that was their first real experience with the world of studio

“never made any money, really” 34 until The Howling. film making. Although they were working on a studio

The Howling was the first ‘real’ film that he picture, they were the new kids on the block, and were

worked on. For Hora, getting the job on The Howling therefore given the worst equipment available; lights

was “a big surprise”. Joe Dante originally wanted to that wouldn’t fit on the stands, dollies with rotten tires,

work with the same camera man that he’d had on etc. Despite this, Hora enjoyed the creative process of

Piranha, but that individual had joined the union. making The Twilight Zone.

On the set of Gremlins 2

© John Hora

“With Joe, I did The Howling, and that was the first film that was a ‘real film’, that made money on it’s own” (John Hora 34 )

62


Gremlins was their first feature, a “baptism of perfectionist in him wouldn’t allow for a repeat

Book Text

fire” as he recalls still being ‘the new kids on the block’, on Gremlins, so they used a hundred-pound Panavision

and fighting a lot of battles to get the film made. It which could drive over small obstacles and wouldn’t

didn’t help that the studio was never a big fan of the shake. It also meant that the moves were more precise

project, they wanted to work with Spielberg but didn’t because they had to be thoroughly planned out in

particularly like the cast of unknown actors nor the ugly advance so that dolly tracks could be laid. The older

little monsters. “At that point Warners was in trouble, equipment allowed him to put the camera on the

they had Atari, and Atari had financial problems that gearhead crooked, which couldn’t be done with the

were sort of sinking the studio and Joe said ‘you know newer cameras. The Panavision had the added benefit

all these people aren’t going to be here in three months of being less costly, as most people had moved away

because the company is going down, so just do what from using them 4 or 5 years before Gremlins started

you want’. Well, because of Gremlins success, all those shooting. As an additional cost-saving measure, he shot

people got permanently placed there. We saved them, almost entirely with inexpensive prime lenses and only

but they were no fans of the project” (John Hora 34 ). rented zoom lenses when they were needed.

Hora specifically choose to use older camera They did still use Panaflexes a couple of times,

technology on Gremlins. Having used the older, heavier when there wasn’t adequate space for the larger

cameras on The Howling, he learned on The Twilight Panavision. For example, when Billy goes into the

Zone that the newer, lighter Panaflex cameras weren’t basement of the theater, they shot in the powerhouse

necessarily the best choice. Small bumps in the dolly on the Warner Brothers lot, which was very confined.

track create a little wobble visible on the screen They used the Panaflex because there was far too little

when the camera doesn’t have sufficient mass. The space for the Panavision.

On the set of Gremlins

© Warner Brothers, c/o Inside Gremlins

“I devised a video system that would relay three views to the puppeteers, who usually couldn’t see what they were doing because

they were under the floor. So the one view they could have was the video from the head camera, another view was a closeup of the

[puppet] faces because different guys were running the eye-lids and the eye-balls and all that stuff, and then there’d be a wider

view where they could see the whole scene, more than the camera saw (the problem was if you just see what the camera sees, the

camera pans over and there’s a gremlin there and he’ll be slumped over because if they don’t see it, they can’t keep his posture).

So they would have three views that they could switch between and they could see what they needed to see. You could see what

the camera could see, or more than the camera was shooting so that they could be ready when the camera revealed something.”

John Hora 34

63


Hora worked on almost every scene in Gremlins.

Book Text

There wasn’t a second unit that went out and shot,

although there was some footage shot near the end that

the Howard Anderson company did, but he worked with

them as much as possible. There were some occasions on

which there were multiple cameras running, like when

the police car flips over, a necessity on one-off takes that

couldn’t be re-shot. “I try to shoot everything. I really like

to shoot all of the establishing shots and everything... if I

could, I’d shoot the title cards and the credits, although

that’s always farmed out to someone else. I like to have

control over the whole thing if possible” (John Hora 34 ).

Always one to immerse himself in the world of

the films that he is working on, Hora always thought

of the mogwai and gremlins as though they were real

creatures. Due to the fact that the puppeteers were

largely trapped under the floors or out of sight, the

puppets were always active and moving to give the

puppeteers something to do. Sometimes he would go to

take a reading with his light meter between shots, and

the puppets would grab for it!

Gremlins evolved a great deal from script to

screen. Even after the final draft of the script was

finished, many changes and additions were made as a

result of on-set inspiration and limitations. Sometimes

they would try and do something with the puppets, and

it wouldn’t work, but what the puppets did would wind

up being so funny that they decided to keep it.

64

“I like to live in the world that the film is supposed to be in.”

John Hora 34

“I always looked at them like they were real individuals,

but the entire world we were in was like a movie. I sort

of lived inside the film. At lunch I guess we came out,

but I was really in the period so to speak.”

John Hora 34

“They did a commercial or something using Gremlins

using Gizmo after the film and I happened to be doing

another commercial on the next stage and... I went over

to talk to the director and he says ‘oh yes, a real nice

toy’, and I thought ‘wait a second, he thinks of this as

a toy’. We always thought of them as real creatures. At

least, I did”.

John Hora 34

“Sometimes what happens during a take is better than you

could have imagined.”

John Hora 34

“I love John Hora!... Nobody shot me better than John

Hora and Jamie [Anderson] in Piranha. I have to admit,

John Hora and Jamie, both of them.”

Belinda Balaski 35

Spotlight on Film Music

Film music has always been a great passion and source of inspiration for him. In fact, he currently owns two organs,

two pianos, a theremin, and an extensive collection of around 45,000 vinyl records. Just as his interest in photography may be

genetic, so too might his love of music. His paternal grandmother was an organist and pianist. His grandfather was not only a

photographer, but also a cello player with the San Francisco Symphony. Hora even served on the board for the Film Music Society.

During his career, he has had the opportunity to get to know many of the great film composers, including Jerry Goldsmith,

Elmer Bernstein, John Williams, and Miklós Rózsa (who composed the score for Ben Hur. Hora actually attended a number of

recording sessions during the scoring for Ben Hur). Hora first met Goldsmith while working on The Twilight Zone. As with nearly

all of the films that he has worked on, Hora attended every single day of the Goldsmith scoring sessions. His love of music has

influenced the way that he has approached cinematography. While filming Ice Capades commercials, he witnessed first-hand the

similarity between moving a camera and dancing to music. “A lot of camera moves are like choreography, they’re really a dance,

with a rhythm” (John Hora 34 ).

His appreciation for film scoring gave him a unique insight into film making, one that allowed the composers more space

in which to work. Much of the time, film makers shoot as if the film will only be visual, not leaving room for composers to write

sweeping pieces of music to enhance the drama and atmosphere. During a basement shot on Gremlins, Hora shot a gradual reveal

which Dante feared would take too long. Hora knew that Goldsmith would write a piece of music that would build the suspense and

give the shot much greater impact. The ‘dead time’ that may be apparent on set vanishes when the composer adds their magic.

“It’s all interrelated, between the various arts. They’re all the same, they all come from inside us.” (John Hora 34 )


In most of his films, Hora uses a slow progression instead of actual horrid werewolves. I suggested to

Book Text

from normal and predictable shooting styles to more Joe that we change the camera speed so that they

unusual and exotic. This serves two main purposes, to

allow the audience to buy into the reality of the film at

the outset, and to emphasize the plot’s evolution. He

took this approach with Gremlins, which starts out with

a small-town feel, where you meet the characters and

the situation. As the plot progresses, and things become

stranger, he moved away from the usual shooting style in

favour of Dutch angles, and more exaggerated colours.

The audience doesn’t question the exotic change in

style, because having bought in at the beginning, they

want to believe.

wouldn’t vibrate at the normal rate that would identify

it as rubber” (John Hora 34 ). He feared that the audience

might catch on, so he changed the speed at different

rates for different scenes (under-cranking to give

additional speed, and over-cranking to slow things like

drool down). This gave additional weight to the puppets

and prosthetics. Joe would call out frame rates and Hora

would modify it as they were filming. When the gremlins

are working on screen, they may be at any frame rate

from as low as 12 to as high as 30. They used this all

though the film.

He learned while shooting The Howling The gremlin dangling from the ceiling fan was

that modifying the shooting speed could help an example of variable frame rates, once Phoebe is out

add realism to man-made creatures: “rubber is

rubber, and I was afraid that the audience would

start to think that these were rubber puppets

of the shot the camera was slowed to 12 frames per

second, which gives the appearance that he was twirling

around at a terrific speed.

“Most of the films that I’ve shot start normal, with the camera level, the colour normal, everything that you’d expect from

a Hollywood film... but as it gets through to the second act, things start getting more exotic. As you get to the third act,

the colours will be strange, the Dutch angles will be all over the place, everything will be much more exaggerated. So it sort

of progresses between normal colour to theatrical colour, and from level camera angles to Dutch angles, and from normal

focal-length lenses, to wide and long lenses. So it all progresses as the intensity of the story moves away from normal

toward unreality, toward things that are more fantastical. I like to have a progression.”

John Hora 34

Dutch Angles & Hora Hands

There is a consistency that comes from having a single camera man do a whole film. Different individuals have their

own style, one of the most distinctive aspects of Hora’s style is the use of Dutch angles (off-level camera shots). This type

of shot originated in 1919 with the German film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which tilted the camera to emphasize the chaos of the

post-WWI Weimar Republic. The phrase “Dutch Angle” refers not to the Holland Dutch, but is rather a corruption of the word for

German, “Deutsche”.

He became familiar with the technique from watching Rebel without a Cause, and East of Eden, which made use of them

despite having been made long after the style’s heyday in the 1920’s and 1930’s. They are also very common in comic books. He

gravitated to this style before he even began his professional career, “It’s something that I’ve just instinctively done since my

8mm days when I was 12 or 14 years old” (John Hora 34 ).

When the camera is off-level, vertical lines become diagonals, which are more energetic, and carry greater tension and

expression. It must be done carefully however, or it can take the audience out of the moment; “what I’d often try to do was find

one vertical line and keep that straight up-and-down parallel to the edge of the frame, and let the other ones fall off, and that way

you can’t even say that it’s really off-level. If you saw the floor you would see it, but if you just look at the walls, the edge of

the frame is level” (John Hora 34 ).

Another technique he often used came to be called ‘Hora Hands”. He found that he could break up the usual lighting and

create interesting patterns if he put his hand in front of a light source. He could more easily get the shadows that he wanted

than he could have done using the regular equipment, “so eventually they made a big set of cartoon hands” (John Hora 34 ). He used

the Hora Hands throughout Gremlins.

65


Hora was skeptical that Gremlins would be a hit, momentum to the fact that there are so many ‘doodles

Book Text

“I didn’t think it was going to be a success... my gaffer in the margins’ as Dante called them, extra in-jokes

said ‘this is going to be the hit of the season’, and I said and content hiding in the background and sidelines.

‘I don’t think so’.” (John Hora 34 ). He had seen a variety “There is so much happening in every frame, in the

of cuts throughout the editing process, including the corners and so forth, that when people walked out of

legendary 3- hour rough cut (which apparently was all the theatre they’d say, ‘did you notice the triffid in the

good stuff). He also colour-timed it with Spielberg, and nursery scene?’... and then they would buy a ticket next

saw the film as it was being scored. The first time he saw week and go back and see it again to see the stuff they

it with an audience was at a cast and crew screening, but missed the first time. You can probably do that 3 or 4

he didn’t get the full experience until he took his parents times because there are so many gags and funny things

to see it with a regular audience.

happening off screen in the corners that people missed”

He was amazed that “the film opened, and (John Hora 34 ).

started playing, and the business never dropped off. It When reminiscing about his experience filming

just stayed there for months and months and became Gremlins, Hora commented “There’s a story behind

their highest grossing film in their history since the almost every frame of that film (John Hora 34 )”. It’s time

Exorcist” (John Hora 34 ). He attributes this sustained for that story to be told.

On the set of Gremlins 2

© John Hora

“One of the most fun things was when the

town was all exploding and everyone was

running through it. There’s a gremlin that

screwing up a traffic light, and it was one of

the first things that we shot because it was a

test shot. The closer shot, we were trying to

get the gremlin to put the two wires together

and the puppeteers couldn’t coordinate it and

he was missing, so his hands were going

together but the wires

weren’t hitting. That made

some sparks happen. We did

that at the very beginning

as a test of the colours and

lighting fixtures but that got

resurrected and put back

in the film when we finally

did the big shot with people

running through the streets

and things exploding and so

forth. That was all a lot of

fun.” John Hora 34

On the set of Gremlins

© Warner Brothers, c/o Inside Gremlins

66


Jerrald King Goldsmith was born on February

10th, 1920 in Pasadena, California to Tessa and Morris

Goldsmith. He was introduced to music early in life,

taking up piano at age six. At thirteen he studied with

Jakob Gimpel, and by sixteen he was studying with Mario

Castelnuovo-Tedesco. His inspiration to write music for

film began in 1945 when he saw the movie Spellbound,

with music composed by Miklós Rózsa and later he

attended the University of California which afforded him

the opportunity to take classes with Rózsa.

In 1950, while working as a clerk typist in CBS’

music department, he was given the opportunity to

compose music for radio shows including “Romance”

and “CBS Radio Workshop” 6 . He stayed with CBS until

1960, moving on with a great deal of experience with

shows including The Twilight Zone. In 1962 he was hired

by Alfred Newman to score his first major film, Lonely

are the Brave. By the late 1960’s, he had already scored

several major films including Freud, A Patch of Blue, The

Sand Pebbles, and Planet of the Apes receiving an Oscar

nomination for each of them. In 1977 he won his only

Oscar, although he was nominated 17 times 6 .

His style of music pushed the boundaries and

tackled new approaches. He found non-traditional

methods for traditional instruments. He was also

unafraid to venture into the world of electronic sounds

and instruments, although he never used them merely

for their own sake 6 .

Jerry Goldsmith Book Text~ Composer

Although he felt that Gremlins was a different

sort of film for him, he already had a great deal of

experience under his belt. At the time, Goldsmith had

already been nominated for 12 Oscars, 6 Emmy’s and 5

Golden Globes, and won one Oscar (for The Omen), and

four Emmy Awards.

Goldsmith also had a brief cameo in the film,

giving Joe Dante the opportunity to direct not only

Steven Spielberg, but also the legendary composer! Like

Spielberg, Goldsmith also appeared in the inventors’

convention scene, “and he complains that I didn’t direct

him much, and he’s right. It didn’t occur to me until the

last time I looked at the scene, and I noticed that he’s

looking at the camera throughout. Nonetheless, it’s his

big moment.” (Joe Dante 17 ).

The “Gremlin Rag” was written during preproduction.

Chris Walas Inc. received a copy of the track

and found it to be inspirational for creating the gremlins

(Chris Walas 3 ). Prior to writing the rest of the music he

watched a rough cut of the film, read the script, and

consulted with Dante. Goldsmith had a lot of trouble

coming up with the theme for the gremlins. He invited

Dante over to listen to what he had been working on,

the Gremlin Rag, which he played on his piano. Dante

wasn’t sold right away, but his hesitation wasn’t voiced

because, “it’s Jerry Goldsmith, he knows what he’s

doing!” (Joe Dante 3 ).

“I’ve never done anything like this before” Jerry Goldsmith

1

“It’s very scary, but there’s a lot of strange humor to it, too... I scare pretty easily, but I think it’s scary enough”

Jerry Goldsmith 1

© Warner Brothers

c/o Souvenir Magazine

“Gizmo had his own sound theme, which is very sweet and gentle. Stripe has a very

raucous theme”

Goldsmith 1

“[The score] starts out sweet and gentle... and then all of a sudden bang! You find out that

the gremlins are these nasty little buggers and so the music takes on a totally different

tune. I used a sort of old-time rag for the menacing gremlins. I did it all electronically,

with voices mixed into it. It’s real funky.”

Goldsmith 1

“It’s one of the reasons that I’ve been as successful as I’ve been: every single movie

improved exponentially when Jerry’s music went on”

Joe Dante 5

“He [Goldsmith] was just a great guy – very critical of his own music, very critical of

others’ music. A bit of a curmudgeon in a way, probably in a Bernard Herrmann-like way.

I would frequently use Herrmann in my temp tracks and Jerry would always go, ‘Ohh! Not

Bernie again!’”

Joe Dante 5

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Peter Gabriel was born on February 13th, 1950,

in Surrey, England to Ralph Gabriel and Edith Allen. He

learned to play the piano early in life from his mother.

He attended primary school at Cable House, then went

to St. Andrews Prep School and Charterhouse School.

He founded the Rock Band Genesis in 1967 with fellow

Charterhouse School students Tony Banks, Anthony

Phillips, Mike Rutherford and Chris Stewart. He left the

band in 1975 to pursue a solo career, and had already

gained popularity as a solist by the time he was recruited

to write for Gremlins. Gremlins offered Gabriel his first

opportunity to work on a movie. He was hired to write

the track “Out Out”, which was released as a single.

Peter Gabriel Book ~ Text Song Writer

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

“The gremlins are

moving around

quite a lot, so I

thought I’d go for

a dance feel. And

I thought it would

be fun to work on

anyway.”

Peter Gabriel 1

“I wanted some weird animal-like noises, which were done on the guitar. There was also a lot of work

on the rhythm, which was done with an electronic drum machine. It’s sort of a drum-machine virtuoso.”

Peter Gabriel 1

68


Chris Walas ~ Creator Book Text of the Gremlins

Born in Chicago in 1955, and raised in New Jersey,

Chris Walas attended William Paterson College and later

moved to Los Angeles in 1975 where he attended the

L.A. City College film program. Two years later he joined

Don Post Studios as a painter, and after being promoted

to designer, he left to work on television effects makeup.

He worked on several New World Productions, where he

first encountered Joe Dante (Walas was a member of the

special effects team on Dante’s Piranha). Interestingly,

Walas and Dante attended the same high school in

Parsippany, although they didn’t know each other at the

time. Walas spent some time working with Industrial

Light and Magic (on titles including Raiders of the Lost

Ark, and Dragonslayer) before venturing out on his

own, earning the attention of the industry for his

work on Cronenberg’s Scanners, and his character

Yeti in Caveman. He formed his own special effects

company, Chris Walas Inc in the mid-1980’s.

Walas became involved with Gremlins in a

somewhat roundabout way. He was considering

two projects to work on, Starman and a proposed

Creature from the Black Lagoon 3-D movie. He

wanted to work with Mike Finnell, so decided on the

Creature remake. However, when he called about the

project it had been scrapped by Universal in favour

of Jaws 3-D, and Finnell had a different project in

mind. “He gave me this pretty amazing script that

had all these gremlins tearing people to shreds.

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

“Chris and I went to the same high school we found out later, but didn’t know each other then. He worked on Piranh along with

Rob Bottin and Phil Tippet and all those guys. In fact, it’s amazing that all these guys who went on to become individual names

all were working together in this crummy little room making rubber fish. That’s where I met him, and he did a lot of prosthetics

on the picture, and then we still remained friends but we never had a chance to work together because I didn’t make that many

more pictures. When this picture came up, he seemed to be, from the work I had seen, the best guy to hire for this particular film

considering the quantity of animation and the quality and incredible complexity of making them and working them and giving them

personalities and having so many of them. We sent him the script right away. It was before Twilight Zone, and he was working

all that time on designs and planning and casting and sculpting. It takes an incredible amount of lead time for a picture like this.

Good thing it’s not a topical movie, because if it was whatever was topical about it would be on television by now.”

Joe Dante 9

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I told Joe Dante that I like the idea of these little gremlin design while Dante and Finnell worked on

Book Text

creatures running around, but it was pretty gruesome Twilight Zone.

stuff; Joe said, ‘Yeah...I thought I was finished making Walas spent seven months working on the concept

those movies.’ But what fully persuaded me to do for the mogwai, while the gremlins met the filmmakers’

it was when Joe said, ‘I don’t want to do this movie approval almost immediately. Always one to give credit

unless it’s gonna be fun,’ and, knowing Joe’s affinity where credit is due, Walas said that his talented crew

for cartoon-like action, I figured I wanted to be in on were responsible for the distinct personalities that the

it. Of course, a lot of the stuff seemed to be impossible various gremlins and mogwai display on screen, “when

-- but we decided to give it a try anyway” (Chris you have a good team, you find out that one person can

Walas 13 ). Although Walas had worked professionally work out a specific function with an edge that no one

with Dante and Finnell, he was better acquainted else has... when you can see the character evolving,

with them as friends. He began working on the that’s when it really gets exciting” (Chris Walas 1 ).

© Warner Brothers c/o Inside Gremlins

“Gremlins seemed so intriguing a challenge that I snapped it right up. Very fortunately, for a project of this scope,

Mike and Joe kept me involved in every step of the process, from the moment I received the second draft screenplay

– which was in early 1982 – to the final cut. From the effects end, the scope of the picture was awesome. I turned

pale when I read lines like: ‘Hordes of gremlins – thousands and thousands of them – pour through the town.’ And

the creature nomenclature was a little confusing, too. In the script, they were just called mogwai all the way through.

To keep things straight, we started calling the nice little furry ones mogwai and the mean nasty ones gremlins. In fact,

to simplify it even further, our own crew got to calling the mogwai MGs and the gremlins GMs.”

© Warner Brothers c/o Cinefex 19

Chris Walas 8

“We talked [Warner Brothers] into giving

us seed-money to hire Chris Walas, to

design and build these things... every

month... we’d have to go back for more

money.”

Mike Finnell 3

“I kept getting a surprise because Mike

and Joe weren’t telling me that it was

this incremental thing”

Chris Walas 3

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Book Text

“It was insanity from the word ‘go’. I thought we had a chance when we first started pre-production, but as soon as

we started shooting it was out the window because Joe’s got a very creative style and I soon into the production

realized it was going to be a race to keep up with him... and it was, but it was great... believe me, when we started this

we were way in over our heads, because we didn’t have the budget we needed, we had the time which was great and

I think about half my crew had ever actually ever worked on a film before. But I had some really good people that

made stuff come to life, and saved our day”

Chris Walas 3

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

“We have a great working atmosphere here, it’s really like a kind of

family. And since the weather’s usually nice, we’re always having

company picnics and such... I’d really like to keep the outfit together,

even if it means taking on some smaller projects, where the staff

will take on most of the work and I’ll just act as a supervisor. I’d

much rather go about things that way, rather than pare down the

crew just to go after my own ‘personal fortune’.”

Chris Walas 14

“I had the largest crew that I had ever worked

with before, but in fact the entire film crew was

my crew because everyone had to pitch in to make

this stuff work”

Chris Walas 3

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“It shaped up as a very ambitious movie, but I also

saw it as an opportunity to have fun. I liked the

far-out, mischievous qualities of the characters I

was helping to bring to life. But what counted even

more was the fact that Joe Dante was directing. He

is exceptionally qualified in working with effects

and, as a director, has a real understanding of

what it takes to set these things up and make them

work on film”

Chris Walas 1

Book Text

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

72


Tony McVey and Chris Walas

c/o Tony McVey

Tony McVey Book ~ Text Creature Crew

I was born in 1953 in Southampton, England,

and eventually graduated from Southampton College

of Art and Design with a diploma in graphic design. In

retrospect, I may have been better off studying sculpture

but my school career advisor suggested I concentrate

on what was then known as commercial art, meaning

graphics for print, TV and package design rather than

pursuing a fine art degree, so I followed his advice.

Growing up, I remember watching lots of sci fi

and fantasy shows on TV, home-grown stuff like Dr. Who,

Space Patrol, the Gerry Anderson puppet series like

Stingray, Fireball XL5, Thunderbirds and Space 1999 and

plenty of US imports like Star Trek, Lost in Space, Voyage

to the Bottom of the Sea, Time Tunnel and The Outer

Limits. I was also a keen reader of books by authors like

H.G. Welles, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur Conan Doyle,

Robert Heinlein, Jack Vance, Ray Bradbury and Ursula

Le Guinn. Movies were my strongest influence, though.

I was 13 when I saw Willis O’Brien’s King Kong for the

first time, playing on a double bill at a local theater with

Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World, with

James Arness in the title role. Despite it’s dated style,

King Kong just blew me away. The film makers didn’t

let logic get in the way of telling a good story. It’s such

an audacious fantasy that you can’t help but be carried

along with the action.

The other movie to have a major influence

was Ray Harryhausen’s 7th Voyage of Sinbad, a film

that had a pivotal effect on a number of fans who,

like myself, decided to get into the visual fx side of the

movie business. I’d find myself working alongside some

of those folks later in my career. Ray’s films sparked a

life-long fascination with stop-motion animation and

an ambition to become an animator myself. However,

I soon discovered the impracticality of that idea and

decided to concentrate on my character design and

sculpting abilities to earn a living.

After graduating from Art School I found

nothing was happening work-wise in Southampton

but eventually landed a job model making for the

Natural History Museum in South Kensington, London.

I answered an ad a friend found in the local newspaper,

interviewed and got hired. At that time, the Museum

had it’s own model making and taxidermy studio, part

of the Exhibits Department, a unit whose job it was to

create the exhibit content for the public galleries. The

studio chief was a guy named Arthur Hayward, a longterm

employee who had risen through the ranks over

many years to eventually become the department

supervisor. I discovered that Arthur had done quite a

73


lot of unofficial work for the UK film studios, including a an adjacent costume shop, all tasked with constructing

Book Text

long stint as Ray Harryhausen’s primary sculptor starting a menagerie of aliens to populate Jabba’s Sail Barge

with Mysterious Island and working on every one of

his movies until The Valley of Gwangi. During the time

I worked there, he recounted a number anecdotes and

stories about his clandestine film assignments, including

the work he did on Ray’s features and as it turned out,

my first efforts in the film industry would be for his last

Sinbad movie, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.

Grabbing the bull by the horns, I found Ray’s

number in the phone book and called him to ask if

he needed a sculptor for his next picture. He invited

me to his home that weekend and asked me to bring

some work samples with me. Apparently I made an

impression because he hired me to sculpt the baboon

and giant walrus characters for Sinbad, and I spent the

next 3 weeks or so working after hours at the studio to

complete them. This was definitely against museum

regulations but I wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity

to work for someone who’d been such an inspiration

to me. Ray asked for a couple of revisions to both

sculpts but both were eventually cast into foam rubber

animation puppets and appear in the film.

After 4 years I left the museum to work very

briefly at Pinewood Studios on the first Superman movie

(directed by Richard Donner) then spent about a year

free-lancing on a number of TV ads before being hired

on The Dark Crystal, Jim Henson’s puppet masterwork.

sequence.

By the time I was laid off from ILM I’d been

working continuously for 2 years without a break, except

for the times spent traveling or interviewing in pursuit

of a job, so I decided this might be an opportune point

to chill out for a while. Eight months later I’m thinking

it’s time to get busy again, and I hear from a friend that

Chris Walas was looking for people to crew his shop for

an upcoming movie called Gremlins. Thirty years later

and my memory is a little fuzzy but as I recall, I met with

Chris and he explained the basic premise; if the cute little

furry Mogwai gets wet he produces tiny “eggs” that turn

into more Mogwai with unpleasant personalities, and if

they eat after midnight they’ll pupate into nasty, scaly

Gremlins, nihilistic, destructive and murderous little

monsters with personalities that are the polar opposite

of the placid and friendly Mogwai.

It took a while, but eventually the production

started, I get hired and set about sculpting the hero

Gremlin using an oil-based plastaline called Leisure

Clay (which became Van Aken when the company that

produced it changed ownership), a brand of clay new

to me at the time and that I really liked working with

then, and am still using now. The Gremlin was around

28” tall and I based the proportions on a small maquette

Chris had made several months prior. With his daily

The Henson Organization had set up a input, Chris pretty much left it to me to design the scale

puppet building workshop in the London borough

of Hampstead, directly accross the street from the

Henson family home. Consequently, the shop was

busy day and night with people eventually working

all hours to get the numerous characters designed,

pattern which is usually a slow process, but I always

enjoy the intricacy of it. Due to time constraints though,

both Chris and Randy Dutra worked on finishing the leg

texture while I completed the torso, then Randy and I

worked on the silicone molds together.

tested and completed to meet the deadlines. In addition to the big guy, I made Gremlin

By the time I was hired most of the major characters

had been assigned to others and were well underway,

so after a few months at the workshop I transferred to

Elstree Studios where shooting was scheduled to take

upper and lower tooth palates and various Gremlin

and Mogwai facial expressions, cast in the form

of foam rubber “masks” that could be attached

to the puppet underskulls to essentially change

place, to work in the Environmental Design department, the appearance and mood of the character.

part of the team working to define the look of the

plant and animal life for the movie’s swamp sequence.

I spent roughly a year on The Dark Crystal before

deciding to try my luck in the US. I flew to California

with a fellow worker and we made the rounds, visiting

various FX shops in Los Angeles before heading up to N.

California for an interview at ILM, who were just about

to start on Return of the Jedi. As luck would have it,

we both got hired to be members of the Jedi creature

shop. Eventually, the staff grew to include sculptors,

mold makers, painters, machinists and engineers, plus

I knew before I started that I didn’t want to be

involved in the puppeteering. Working on The Dark

Crystal and Jedi and witnessing the wear and tear on

those puppet performers, plus similar duties I’d done for

various TV commercials suggested that limiting myself

to puppet building would be my best option. I worked on

Gremlins for 3 months and, having completed the work

I was hired to do, my services were no longer required

and I left the production. When I finally saw the movie

I was very pleasantly surprised by it’s crazy Chuck Jones

style of anarchy and dark sense of humor (Tony McVey 38 ).

74


Brent Baker Book ~ Text Creature Crew

Brent Baker was born on October 11th, 1962 in

Concord California, but his family moved to the suburbs

of Garden Grove in Orange County soon after. When

he was thirteen, they moved to Big Bear in the San

Bernadino Mountains, where he attended middle school

and two years of high school after which he decided he’d

“be a lot happier living with my grandmother in Walnut

Creek... I finished my last years of high school there,

attending two different schools, and graduated in 1980.

No college for me, much to my grandparents chagrin”

(Brent Baker 27 ).

His first interest in the arts was drawing, and

for a long time he “flirted with becoming a comic book

artist” (Brent Baker 27 ), although as he grew older his

passion for monsters and monster movies (especially the

classic Universal Monsters, which inspired some of his

first makeups) surpassed that for drawing. The Planet

of the Apes series became a major influence on Baker,

who was inspired by behind-the-scenes and making-of

articles published in the Planet of the Apes Magazine.

Although creating a full ape makeup for himself was a bit

out of reach, he learned mask-making techniques from

an issue of ‘Cinemagic’ magazine and began producing

them in his bedroom at his Grandma’s house.

He worked odd jobs after graduating, but

continued to add books and magazines about sciencefiction

and fantasy movies to his growing library, along

with supplies for creating masks and makeups. He

“learned more and more about makeup artists like Dick

Smith and Rick Baker and Rob Bottin... The business was

exploding and makeup artists were becoming stars with

their names on the movie poster. I knew this was what

I wanted to do and now it was an expanding field that

would require lots of people, so maybe I had a chance...”

(Brent Baker 27 ).

A mutual interest in monsters had sparked a

friendship with Blair Clark, who had “this incredible

list of all the big makeup guys with their addresses

and phone numbers. He’d talked to a couple of them,

including Chris Walas, who at the time had left ILM and

had his own small shop in Marin County” (Brent Baker 27 ).

The pair called Walas a number of times with questions,

and were invited to visit the shop in person, “that was a

very exciting day. We brought our “portfolios” which in

my case was mostly photos of sculpts and some pen and

ink drawings. All terrible” (Brent Baker 27 ). His portfolio

couldn’t have been too terrible, for Walas told them to

keep in touch about the potential for work on a future

project - Gremlins!

“Chris was very nice and showed us around and

answered any questions we had. He also told us to keep

in touch, because he might be needing a lot of people for

this movie that Steven Spielberg was producing called

“Gremlins”: A monster movie with lots of scary creatures.

Oh, and Joe Dante (THE HOWLING!) was directing. This

was too much, our heads were spinning. He eventually

(nicely) kicked us out, and we said we would definitely

be in touch... I think it had to be maybe a month or

two later I was calling Chris yet again with some lame

question, and he says “Oh, it looks like that “Gremlins”

thing is going to happen, so you guys can start soon, if

you are still interested.” I’m not exaggerating, I didn’t

sleep that night. It was like Christmas, except knowing

that you get to work with Santa Claus” (Brent Baker 27 ).

“At the end of our first week, we were actually

disappointed that it was the weekend, and what were

we supposed to do for two whole days if not go in

to work?”

Brent Baker 27

“Some of my first makeups were doing myself up as The Wolfman, painting my nose black and gluing crepe hair all

over my face. They were terrible, but I had fun.”

Brent Baker 27

“I wanted more then anything back then to create my own ape makeup on myself. While I understood the

process, the actual reality of getting a life-cast made, doing the sculpting, making the molds, and especially

running the foam latex were completely beyond my capabilities and finances.”

Brent Baker 27

75


Baker and Clark helped set up basic infrastructure (sisal fiber used for mold reinforcement) and try to sleep

Book Text

(putting up partitions and moving tables) at Walas’ new for a few hours, then get up and open the molds and

workshop, and got to meet the rest of the crew, including start again” (Brent Baker 27 ).

many former Industrial Light and Magic employees. There were a few ‘heavy-duty puppet sequences’

Baker was “especially excited to meet Jon Berg, who in post production (particularly Dorry’s Tavern and the

was a bit of a legend due to his effects work, primarily Theatre) that brought him out of the workshop. He

stop motion. An amazingly kind and patient man” (Brent puppeted alongside many others on the Dorry’s Tavern

Baker 27 ). Baker was put to work in the mold department scene, mainly pulling cables for the gremlins, he’d

where he mostly made molds, but also “cast latex and “blink the eyes or move the ears on a particular puppet.

polyfoam puppet parts, did seaming, ran foam latex, Crouched underneath the set, or otherwise out of sight,

assembled background puppets”, (Brent Baker 27 ) and watching a monitor and waiting for them to call action”

also did some of the sculpting for the large and small (Brent Baker 27 ). All crew members were encouraged to

scale mogwai hands.

suggest gags for this scene, and Baker’s idea to have one

During production, Baker spent most of his time chugging beer from the tap with a growing belly made

working at Walas’ shop in Marin. The grueling hours it to the screen. He was even able to puppet the gag

took their toll on everyone, he recalls that while he was himself. Baker also stood in for Corey Feldman during

running foam “there were more than a few nights where the multiplication scene (his elbow knocks the water,

I’d work until after midnight, curl up on a pile of hemp and his hand tickle’s Stripe’s chin).

© Chris Walas, 1984, Propstore of London

Brent Baker maintaining gremlins

puppets on the shooting stage. There are

two earlier versions of the puppets on

the rear table, recognizable by the spots

on their necks. These were earlier test

versions that were called to duty as the

demands and scope of the show became

evident.

“We all had a brainstorming

session where we threw out

ideas for bits of business that

the gremlins could be doing. The

more cartoony the better. One

of mine that got picked was the

gremlin guzzling beer from a

tap as his belly swells. So that’s

me operating it in that shot. Not

exactly a masterclass in puppeteering,

but it was cool seeing

my idea make it in.”

Brent Baker 27 © Warner Brothers, 1984

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Book Text

“I was ‘the kid’ both in the shop and now on set. So when the time came to shoot some insert shots of Corey Feldman’s character,

guess who got picked? So that’s my elbow knocking the jar of water onto Gizmo, and moments later it’s my hand reaching in to

tickle Stripe the mogwai. I get a kick out of that.”

Brent Baker 27

© Warner Brothers, 1984

“There WAS this one time..... After principal filming wrapped, the puppet crew expanded, since post photography was

pretty much all puppets, all the time. So myself and a bunch of crew from Marin were now in Burbank full time. While there, I

had my 21st birthday. So, to celebrate, some of the guys dragged me to the Hollywood Tropicana, now long gone. No need for

details but we had a fun time. Too much fun.

“The next day, we were filming a scene where the gremlins are trying to escape the burning movie theater. I had

already volunteered to operate a puppet for

that bit. I can’t remember if the puppet

itself was going to be on fire, or just

be near fire. But it required that I wear

layer after layer of protective fire gear.

And then be pushed on a cart while wildly

waving a (maybe) burning gremlin. Walking

and talking was difficult enough for me

that day, much less trying to puppeteer

while smothered under 25 lbs of fireproof

clothing. Mostly I remember them yelling

‘Cut’, collapsing, and exchanging sad, sorry

looks with my fellow party goers. If I

had caught on fire, it might have been a

blessing.”

Brent Baker 27

© Warner Brothers, 1984

77


Book Text

“One thing that was a thrill for me was taking part in some early tests that would be sent to L.A. for Dante and Spielberg and

everyone else to look at. One thing to know is that while I was one of the youngest on the crew at age 20, I looked like I was

about 14. So, when the time came to shoot some video of a very crude Mogwai interacting with a ‘kid’, I volunteered. Or maybe I

was recruited.... Anyway somewhere there’s a tape of baby-face me playing with prototype Gizmo.”

Brent Baker 27

© Randal Dutra

Dutra, Walas, Baker and Ralson Videotaping Early Test Footage

“It was a year and a half of exciting memories

and experiences. Getting hired. Walking into the

shop the very first day. Flying to Los Angeles to

puppeteer for the first time. The time most of the

crew showed up on set dressed as Joe Dante as a

joke... It was a big group of us thrust into a new

and sometime scary situation in which we were in

way over our heads. This is overstating it by a lot,

but I’d equate it with having served in the military

together. There were laughs and literally tears, and

there were horribly grueling times, but we were and

are all bond together by that experience. 30 years

on, we’ve gone our separate ways, but still have

that connection.”

Brent Baker 27

“I made a wish, and my wish came true. And it changed my

life. Sappy maybe, but it happened. My rote story when I tell

people about it is this: I was a dopey kid without much talent

or skills, but I knew I wanted to make monsters. I lucked

into getting hired on this little movie where I got to learn

a lot and work at something I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able

to get to do. People trained me and gave me chances and

didn’t fire me, even though they wanted to and I deserved

to be. I got paid to go to Hollywood and stay in a hotel and

go to work at Warner Bros. and make small talk with the

director of The Howling. I sat and watched dailies in a studio

screening room. I walked by an open soundstage and saw

this strange set that someone there told me was for a movie

called Ghostbusters which had some guys from Saturday

Night Live in it. “Oh yeah, that’ll be good” I thought.”

Brent Baker 27

© Warner Brothers, c/o Cinefex 19

“I had no frame of reference for seeing a movie that I worked on, but I was a burgeoning cynic, so I prepared myself for

the worst. But it was awesome. And what a great feeling of being in a theater full of people, and you could tell everyone was

just eating it up. It was weird watching scenes that I was on set for. That was really new and disconcerting. You see it

happening on set, and then in dailies, and you see it on film and it’s so familiar, and not in a good way. It’s like, can’t people

tell this all fake?. I’ll still watch it from time to time. Pure fun.”

Brent Baker 27

78


Howie Weed was born in San Francisco in 1962.

He attended Lowell High School and later San Francisco

State University. Inspired by the movies of his youth,

particularly Logan’s Run and Silent Running, he knew by

around the time he was ten years old that he wanted to

be involved in the film industry in some capacity, he just

wasn’t sure which. Like many of those presently involved

in the industry, he grew up watching Ray Harryhausen’s

brilliantly animated films which fostered a fascination

with special effects.

Although he did some production assistant

work for television and lighting for commercials

early in his career, Weed developed a taste for

doing special effects when he was 17 and he

volunteered to work on a low budget horror film

called Dracula’s Disciple. This proved to be his gateway

Howie Weed Book ~ Text Creature Crew

into Hollywood, “the movieshot on weekends and

everyone helped build the sets and set up the lights.

I happened to notice that the special effects guys

needed more people to help mix fake blood and build

gory props. Very quickly I became friends with those

folks, and in particular with a talented guy named Brent

Baker. About a year later Brent called to tell me he was

working for makeup giant Chris Walas on a movie called

Gremlins. A few months later I joined Chris Walas Inc to

help finish Gremlins.

I made plaster molds and mixed foam rubber

to mass produce Mogwai and gremlins puppets. From

there, things just seemed to keep me busy in the

FX industry” (Howie Weed 26 ). Gremlins was his first

professional experience in the film world, and the

beginning of a long and prolific career in special effects.

“The animated films of Ray Harryhausen gave me an fascination for special effects. I was an

impressionable teen in the 1970s, so Logan’s Run and Silent Running also influenced me.”

Howie Weed 26

© Star Wars Insider

“I fell in love with the movies when I

was very young. I would often watch

classic films on the big screen at my

local ‘second run’ movie house, The

Parkside Theater in San Francisco.

They would show 2001: A Space Odyssey

along side Sinbad and the Eye of the

Tiger. Fantastic Voyage would be a

double bill with Monster Island. I would

go often and even add ideas for what

the projectionist should request for

the next week. It wasn’t long before

I acquired a Super-8 movie camera and

started shooting my own Sci-fi epics in

my garage. If you have seen the JJ

Abrams movie Super-8 then you have

witnessed my childhood.”

Howie Weed 26

In 1997, Weed began working on the Special Editions of the

original Star Wars Trilogy, and acted as several of the creatures

he created, including the Wampa!

79


On Gremlins, Weed worked as a mold maker “I once drove from our shop in Marin County

Book Text

and latex foam runner, which meant that his biggest to the Warner Brothers Studio lot in Burbank to deliver

contribution to the film was preparation for the Movie a box full of gremlin eyes to the set. I remember

Theater scene.

He helped “mass reproduce the gremlin puppets

so each crew member could have one on each arm. I

think we made over 100 puppets for that scene” (Howie

Weed 26 ). Despite the heavy workload and frequently

long work hours, Weed remembers the job fondly and

his coworkers as a “happy crew of enthusiastic creature

makers” (Howie Weed 26 ).

wandering around the huge studio lot with the box in

hand and finally discovering the stage we were shooting

on. As I walked inside all our mechanical puppet rigs

were laid out in rows being prepped for the upcoming

shots. It was really impressive to see our crew testing

the hero gremlin rigs while airbrushing the skins. It was

a real beehive of activity. A real Hollywood moment for

me” (Howie Weed 26 ).

© Warner Brothers, c/o Cinefex 19

© Warner Brothers, 1984

“There was a break dancing gremlin that could spin on his back. It was

attached to a drill under the stage floor. The crew would crack up every time

we tested him. Movie magic right there in our little shop.”

Howie Weed 26

“I think we were all stunned that it came together as a movie so well. It was a

tough one to detach oneself from and just watch as a movie. The crew had been

on stage for nearly every shot in the movie. As we were watching the film we

could almost see the tops of our heads trying to hide under the puppets. Actually,

I think in a few shots we actually did see that. The reviews for the film started

coming in and were very positive. Some named us as the creators of the effects.

That was a very proud moment. For a while CWI (Chris Wals Inc.) and its crew

were heralded “Animatronics” movie FX artists. That was pretty cool.”

Howie Weed 26

80

“Everyone put in 100% every day, and

it was fun to come to work. Honestly,

sometimes the shop supervisors

would have to force us to go home.

I remember tables covered in gremlin

heads. I remember shopping carts

filled with gremlin arms and legs.

I remember giant Mogwai ears and

yak hair being glue to them with

prosthetic glue. Really, in terms of

creature making, it was everything a

monster fan could hope for.”

Howie Weed 26


Richard Stutsman ~ Book Special Text Effects Foreman

Richard Stutsman was born in Burbank, California

in January of 1952. He attended several schools in the

Los Angeles area, followed by Arizona State University

where he graduated in 1975 with a degree in Engineering

and Political Science.

Although he enjoyed movies and television

shows that involved special effects (particularly The

Twilight Zone), he did not plan to get into it as a line

of work. A friend got him his first job in the industry

as a temporary means of employment, only meant

to tide him over until he made a permanent career

choice. Little did he know at the time that he had

a very promising career ahead of him in the field.

Before working on Gremlins, Stutsman already

had experience working with special effects. Beginning

with Jaws in 1975 as an uncredited special effects

technician, he also worked on seventeen episodes of

The Six Million Dollar Man, 1941, Raise the Titanic,

Any Which Way You Can, Wrong is Right, Firefox, Blue

Thunder, Bring ‘Em Back Alive, and Deal of the Century.

“I just fell into the work. I knew nothing about

“Hollywood” before.”

Richard Stutsman 28

Richard Stutsman mans a Gremlin puppet for the theater scene.

© Chris Walas, 1984, via Propstore of London

“My old friend and racing partner got a job at the Universal Studios prop shop. He brought me in when they needed help in the

metal shop. I looked at it as a temporary job until I figured out what else I would [do] for a living. That was in 1976.”

Richard Stutsman 28

“I designed and built the “Deagle Dummy” and launch platform that threw her and the [chair] out the window.”

Richard Stutsman 28

© Warner Brothers, 1984

© Warner Brothers, 1984

81


Stutsman was hired by Bob MacDonald Sr. up and fall down, helped rig the signal light to change

Book Text

as a special effects foreman for Gremlins “to build before stunts did a pipe-roll with a car” (Richard

gadgets and gizmos for Hoyt’s character Mr. Peltzer” Stutsman 28 ).

(Richard Stutsman 28 ). He not only worked on bringing Of these, the most difficult scene he worked on

Mr. Peltzer’s zany inventions to life, but also designed “was the Deagle Dummy only because my neck was on

and built the dummy version of Mrs. Deagle that was the line if it did not work!” (Richard Stutsman 28 ). While

launched out the window on her chair lift among the most fun was “probably the theatre scene where

other things. He “also built the mail box envelope the whole crew had hand puppets and sang ‘Hi HO, Hi

shooter, the head set that held a telephone to your ear HO,…’” (Richard Stutsman 28 ). These are just some of the

seen in the background at the inventor’s convention effects he worked on, Stutsman “was on the set almost

while Hoyt was on the phone” (Richard Stutsman 28 ). every day after working for several months prepping”

Additionally, he contributed to a number of effects (Richard Stutsman 28 ). Despite the volume of work and

in the Kingston Falls town square, “I helped snow in challenges involved in making Gremlins, Stutsman was

Court House Square at Universal, rigged signs to blow proud of the film.

“I also built the coffee machine that served

thick goo. When it sprayed coffee at the

end, that was not intended. My pressure pot

of goo ran out and spit out air. Joe Dante

loved it.”

Richard Stutsman 28 “Many of us were involved with these gags and each person

© Warner Brothers, 1984

© Warner Brothers, 1984

on the effects crew was instrumental in everything together.

It was a good team effort.”

Richard Stutsman 28

“At the end of the day after the theatre scene the prop man (who had NO sense of humor) locked up his room and went home.

Inside were cases and cases of beer that had been “comped” to the show that he would not share with the crew. So, 20 or more of

us picked the lock, pulled out a few cased and had a celebration. Then someone suggested we hide the remaining 20 or 30 cases

of beer. So, we set up a daisy chain of people and passed the cases out of his room, down the stage to another lock-up and hid

them, all the while singing “Hi HO, Hi Ho, it’s off to work we go…”. Then, I had some wood cut-outs of gremlin feet on poles

that I had used to make foot prints in the snow leading up to the swimming pool scene. We dipped them in paint and put gremlin

foot prints all over his room- floor, walls, etc. The next day when Marty came in, he had a fit. It got to the point where he was

going to call Warner Bros. security, which he did. Fortunately, someone called first to warn them of the prank. Ultimately he got

his beer back but he never loosened up after that and never really knew who pulled the stunt, or how many of us were involved.”

Richard Stutsman 28

82


A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Jay Davis

was born. Truly one to live by the adage ‘growing old

is compulsory, growing up is optional’, Davis says that

he “never grew up, but [he] was raised in Northern

California”. Perhaps this can be attributed to his lessthan-traditional

educational trajectory which took him

through Ding Dong School, Rock and Roll High School,

and Faber University (Jay Davis 29 ).

Despite a childhood goal of being the 1st man on

the moon, Davis’ life took a turn towards Hollywood in

1979, when he took a tour of Universal Studios. Seeing

The Empire Strikes Back further fueled his desire to break

into the industry. He explored drawing as a medium, but

“after a while I realized that I was really, ‘sculpting’ the

drawing. So I went into sculpting for a giftware company.

Then I realized I wanted the sculpture to move. Creature

was the place for that” (Jay Davis 29 ).

His first experience working in pictures was on an

Alien spoof entitled Illegal Alien. “I brought a model sample

to a SPEFX class I was taking. It was being taught by a person

from ILM. An independent film director there saw it.

He told me their miniature guy wasn’t working out and

asked me to step in... I fixed up one model and made

a miniature terrain and designed and built two space

ships. They were quite happy” (Jay Davis 29 ). This positive

experience helped pave the way for the first major

films, “I worked on... Poltergeist, and did bits on E.T. and

“I love SciFi and Fantasy films

and wanted to be a part of it.”

Jay Davis 29

“When we were below the set,

under the floor as soon as

someone said ‘Action’ and we’d pull

a cable, we’d hear a nut pop off or

something break. But only during

‘Action!’ never during practice.”

Jay Davis ~ Book Creature Text Crew

© Jay Davis

83

Star Trek II Wrath of Khan” (Jay Davis 29 ).

After working on Illegal Alien, he started at a

local Saturday morning animation studio. A supervisor

at that studio recommended him for the animation

department because he knew of Davis’ desire to get

into the creature shop at Industrial Light and Magic.

Although the animation project ended, he heard that

Chris Walas was hiring for a project. He took his portfolio

in and came out with a job working on Gremlins. “Then

after Gremlins went and worked in the ILM Creature

Shop. It was when Chris visited us there he told me he

turned down Gremlins 2. I’ve never seen the whole film”

(Jay Davis 29 ).

Davis worked on a significant number of special

effects scenes in Gremlins. His jobs were many and

varied, including: molding, casting, fabricating and

painting gremlins; doing the scale-up drawings for the

closeup mogwai (using his educational background in

architecture); building the foam core mockup for the

closeup mogwai for visualization; turning a gremlin

skeleton into a rotting gremlin for Stripe’s demise,

and turning it into a marionette; taking the lead on

engineering the marionette gremlins; puppeteering

both hand and marionette gremlins; pulling cables for

various gremlin puppets; creating specialty rigs; and

supervising the fabrication of ‘zero puppets’ worn on

puppeteers’ heads for the theatre scene.

stage. I alone was outside ‘Das Box’

[a trailer from an 18 wheeler that

served as a portable creature shop].

Everyone else was inside it. So I was

making sure all the cable controls on

the the ‘Super Gremlin‘ were working

right. Everything seemed to be

fine, when from behind me comes a

voice, ‘So that’s the Gremlin eh?’. I

turned around and it was Spielberg.

I affirmed that it was and showed

him how it worked. He thought it was

neat and went out to the set. When

the crew started to emerge from Das

Box I told them they had just missed

Spielberg. They didn’t believe me,..until

they went on set.”

Jay Davis 29

Jay Davis 29 “It was on the Warners sound


He was responsible for a number of important for tossing the Stripe skeleton out of the department

Book Text

shots including: the gremlins on the Futterman’s store fountain at the end of the movie. This required

TV antennas; dropping Stripe into the YMCA pool; him to lay down inside the fountain, which wasn’t filled

puppeteering the two marionette puppets in the fountain with water but rather liquid nitrogen ‘fog’. Although

scene; throwing the skeleton out of the fountain; the ‘fog’ looked better than some of the alternatives it

marionetting the gremlin climbing into the blender; as meant that Davis had to wear a special suit to protect

well as marionetting for a number of sequences that him from the extreme cold (Jay Davis 29 ). Davis describes

were ultimately cut from the film; he also suggested the theatre scene as having been the most fun, as they

to Joe Dante that Stripe nip at Pete’s finger when Billy were tossing buttered popcorn and toilet paper all over,

shows off the new mogwai.

and making mischief... “if one was unlucky, the person

In addition he worked with other crew members behind them would use a plastic tie to lash the person’s

on a number of scenes including: the scene where we beltloop to the wooden chair support” (Jay Davis 29 ).

first see the mogwai out of its box; the new mogwais It was a difficult shoot, with each effects scene

bouncing around and throwing chicken out of their box; taking a long time and a great deal of hard work. “Each

co-rigging the microwave gremlin with guts and goop took a long time to set up. Then after everyone went

(the physical effects crew rigged the explosion); Dorry’s home, we had to repair them for the next day’s shoot.

Tavern; the Theatre scene; the scene with the burning Also watched the guys trying to get the mechanisms

gremlins; the fountain scene; he was one of the crew small enough to work inside the Mogwais’ heads and

members inhaling air out of the hollow latex Stripe keep their fur nice between shots.” (Jay Davis 29 ). Despite

skeleton that appears to melt on the floor; and as an these challenges, Davis found his experience working

insert shot of the mogwai (Jay Davis 29 ).

on Gremlins to be “educational both in the process of

For the YMCA shoot, Davis worked on weighting creating and building creatures, and also the way film

and rigging the gremlin puppet to fall straight down in really works” (Jay Davis 29 ). Upon seeing the finished film

the pool. He stood at the edge of the large tank of water for the first time, Davis “thought it was okay. I knew

to drop the gremlin, which would be retrieved by a it would a hit. I was surprised how much better the

member of the physical effects crew wearing scuba gear. Mogwais looked on film compared to the Gremlins” (Jay

In another water-related scene, Davis was responsible Davis 29 ).

© Warner Brothers, 1984

© Warner Brothers, 1984

“I was put in charge of making all the marionettes from scratch. I had to figure out how to weight them, rig them etc. But knowing

film and how things go wrong onset I had to figure out a quick wire replacement setup for each marionette. And I did. One shot

was a gremlin running across some counter top. All were ready to shoot but the marionette was acting up. (I never figured out

why) Joe asked if I could fix it. I said yes but not in 5 minutes. So they called lunch and I went and replaced all the wires in

less than 15 minutes. Crew returned from lunch and it worked fine. I had done tests where I had the gremlin marionette going

up and down steps as well as walking along the top of a fence. But in order to look good we had to shoot at a low camera speed

to take the ‘sway’ out of the movements. Chris thought they looked great. But on set Joe wouldn’t go below a certain frame rate,

so they looked bad and most were cut from the film. But I did make a specialty marionette that jumped up onto a chair. The next

scene, a hand puppet blows his nose on the curtains and runs out the window. When I did the jump everybody applauded, but Joe

cut it from the film. I still have the original run and step test video tape.”

Jay Davis 29

84


Randal M. Dutra was born on September 21st,

1958 and raised in the East Bay Area of Northern

California, where he also attended school. “As a child,

my early influences were Saturday morning cartoons

including Jonny Quest, classic Warner Brothers and

Disney” (Randal M. Dutra 31 ). As he grew up he began

watching Ray Harryhausen’s films and found them to be

a source of inspiration. He “loved monsters, animation

and Visual Effects from an early age” (Randal M. Dutra 31 ).

Artistically inclined beginning in childhood, Dutra

was always painting, sculpting and animating, which

made visual effects a natural fit for him. “I began in the FX

business not by design, but by happenstance in 1981. I was

trained in the traditional fine arts of drawing, painting and

sculpture and having those fundamental skills opened

the doors to filmmaking for me” (Randal M. Dutra 31 ).

The first film that he worked on was Star Wars: Return of

the Jedi, “I began as a mold maker, then soon graduated

to location filming as a “Creature Technician” in Yuma,

Arizona (“Jaba the Hut’s Barge Exterior Sequence”). As

Randal M. Dutra Book ~ TextCreature Crew

a Key Sculptor, I sculpted “Rancor the Pit Monster” for

“JEDI” from Phil Tippett’s original design” (Randal M.

Dutra 31 ).

Dutra performed a variety of tasks on Gremlins,

he worked as a Mold Maker, Key Sculptor, Location

Puppeteer, and also made mechanical puppet

contributions. He sculpted Stripe’s interchangeable faces,

allowing the puppet to have a wider range of emotions

both broad and subtle. He sculpted the oversized Gizmo

hands that could be worn by a puppeteer and created

the Stripe skeleton that leapt from the fountain at the

end of the film. In addition, he “designed and built a

mechanical “unfurler” puppet of Gizmo. It was able

to start as a tight ball of fur, then slowly open up – or

“unfurl” – to reveal the full body of Gizmo” (Randal M.

Dutra 31 ). He served as a Key Puppeteer on location in Los

Angeles. Although his puppeteering work appeared in

many shots in the movie, perhaps the most noteworthy

was Gizmo playing the keyboard in Billy’s room (Randal

M. Dutra 31 ).

© Randal Dutra

“I was always painting, sculpting, and

animating as a child – so the fine

arts and film were a natural marriage

to me.”

Randal M. Dutra 31

© Randal Dutra

85


The overwhelming demands of such a specialeffects-heavy

film made for long hours and an next day’s shooting. Six day weeks were not unusual”

puppets and casting and fabricating new ones for the

Book Text

unforgiving schedule. According to Dutra, “my most (Randal M. Dutra 31 ).

vivid memory was the grueling schedule we all had. It Ultimately, the work paid off, as Dutra remembers

was a tight one and we had to produce a LOT of work ... the “first time I saw Gremlins I found it enjoyable and

The work in Los Angeles at the studio on the stages was quirky with Dante’s dark and mischievous sense of

both fun and demanding – LONG hours of both early humor in full display – but I have to agree with some

morning preparation for the day’s shooting AND late, of the critics that felt the more violent scenes were not

end of the day, clean up – with constant repairing of the suitable for younger children” (Randal M. Dutra 31 ).

“The shots in Gremlins each had their

own small or large technical challenges.

We prepared for most, but a lot had to

do with on-the-set spontaneity and

inventiveness.”

Randal M. Dutra 31

© Randal Dutra

Dutra sculpted separate and different face ‘caps’ for

“Stripe” – interchangeable faces with both subtle and

broad expressions for specific shot/scene needs. 31

© Randal Dutra

Dutra sculpting the larger Gizmo hands for a human

performer to wear for close-up shots. 31

“For me, the shots of Gizmo playing the keyboard were

both sensitive

© Warner Brothers, 1984

and touching

showing Billy

and Gizmo’s

bonding”

Randal M Dutra 31

© Randal Dutra

Dutra designed, sculpted and fabricated the ‘surprise’ jumping skeleton

in the fountain at the climax. 31

86


Valerie Sofranko was born and raised in Western

Pennsylvania. She attended Indiana University of

Pennsylvania where she earned a Bachelors of Fine Arts.

She Most recently attained a Masters of Entertainment

Technology at Carnegie Mellon University. She grew up

wanting to be an artist, and was inspired by King Kong,

The Fly, Godzilla, The Twilight Zone and classic B Horror

films.

Although Sofranko was a sculptor and painter,

Valerie Sofranko Book Text ~ Creature Crew

© Warner Brothers, c/o Cinefex 19

it was not always her intent to put those skills to use in

the film industry. She describes her entry into filmmaking

as ‘sheer accident’. She heard that Lucasfilm was coming

to San Rafael, California and lived such a short distance

away that the opportunity was too good to ignore.

After a somewhat unorthodox hiring process,

she was invited to become a part of the Lucasfilm team

to work on her first movie – Return of the Jedi.

“I was a sculptor/ Painter and wanted to sculpt and

Paint, so heard about Lucasfilms coming to San Rafael,

CA. and I lived 5 minutes away….HELLO!... I found out

where they were and I took a carload of artwork from

drawings, paintings and fabric sculptures, went in the

right building and “lied”, told them the Art Director wanted

to see my stuff, they asked me who, Nilo?? I said YES

Nilo! (even though I had no clue who Nilo was)…I

handed them my card and left immediately, they called

me over an hour later and asked if I could start next

Monday (on Return of the Jedi) which was called “Blue

Harvest” at that time…..got on my knees and thanked

the Lord!!”

Valerie Sofranko 30 .

© Warner Brothers, 1984

© Warner Brothers, 1984

“I had so much fun puppeteering, so I think my favorite was in the bar when Gremlins were playing Poker,

I was the female Gremlin who kept putting lipstick on and told her Gremlin mate that another Gremlin was

cheating….it was tons of fun and the scene looked great!” Valerie Sofranko 30

87


On Gremlins, Sofranko performed a variety of and smelling like a brewery: (Valerie Sofranko

Book Text

30 ).

tasks, including fabricating, painting, furring, repairing Despite these challenges, she had a good time

and puppeteering Gizmo, the other mogwai and a puppeteering, particularly the female gremlin at the

number of gremlins. She was involved with filming poker table in Dorry’s Tavern. For her 30th birthday

nearly all of the scenes with the creatures, always party “the crew gave me with the cake that blew up

puppeteering a mogwai or gremlin with the exception in my face…..I still have hearing problems!” (Valerie

of the kitchen blender scene.

Sofranko 30 ). This was not the only prank Sofranko

Many of the scenes were difficult shooting, witnessed, another memorable day saw everyone dress

particularly the theatre because of the physical demands “‘exactly’ like Joe Dante, from white shirt, tie and Khaki

on the crew. “I think the theater scene was most difficult, pants down to the black high tops for a whole day and

we were sitting on the hard floor with the theater seats it took Joe just about the whole day to notice! He kept

removed, we all had a gremlin attached to a helmet on saying something is really strange, but couldn’t figure it

our heads and a butt puppet on each arm and had to out. I actually think someone finally told him” (Valerie

have the gremlins act like they were dancing in rhythm Sofranko 30 ).

to Hi Ho Hi Ho. It was a back killer, arm killer and went After a long time shooting, a great deal of hard

on and on all day!” (Valerie Sofranko 30 ). That was not work and more than a couple of laughs, the film was

the only scene that took a toll, she still remembers “how complete. Sofranko recalls her feeling when she watched

much my skin burned from all the beer and popcorn it for the first time; “I loved it! I was very proud of the

that got down my shirt when the gremlins wreaked work and amazed at how much goodness came from

havoc in the bar scenes, then getting on a plane to such a low budget film. Chris Walas knew what the heck

fly back home to SF with that stuff still all over you he was doing” (Valerie Sofranko 30 ).

© Warner Brothers, 1984

© Warner Brothers, 1984

© Warner Brothers, c/o “Inside Gremlins”

88


Marghe McMahon Book Text ~ Creature Crew

Marghe McMahon was born on May 7, 1954

in Palo Alto. She grew up in Los Altos Hills where she

attended Los Altos High School and later the University

of California, Santa Cruz where she earned BA’s in

Neurobiology and Fine Arts.

Although she did not watch a lot of television

growing up, she distinctly remembers that “when I was

tiny I would run into the living room and dance to the

opening theme of Bonanza (Marghe McMahon 37 ).

She made the decision to work on films “because

being a bronze sculptor doesn’t pay the bills” (Marghe

McMahon 37 ). Her career in the entertainment industry

began in Santa Cruz, where she worked as a Production

Manager for Shire Films, making educational and medical

films. She had a rather dramatic introduction to the

world of special effects, she recalls that “one of the first

movies I worked on was shot in a valley north of Santa

Cruz. It featured a woman who had naked breasts which

kept the crew guys in awe. I was the “special effects”

person who applied her “bee sting wounds” with latex

and other goop. I forgot to put on a release agent and

the “wounds” wouldn’t come off of her. Ha Ha...but the

ultimate ha ha was that we stayed overnight camping

and somebody put dried poison oak into the fire and the

next day we were all sick and I had to go to hospital with

poison oak in my lungs..so not so Ha Ha. Should have

run away from “special effects” at that point”. (Marghe

McMahon 37 )

Marghe McMahon and our gal Val, Valerie Sofranko, Living the creative lifestyle... painting oversized chicken legs for the oversized Mogwai puppets.

Great, talented ladies.

© Chris Walas

89


Marghe McMahon assembling the “helmet Gremlins”. These were puppets Book Text that were simply slid onto coffee cans that had been sewn onto sport

helmets. These puppets were used in crowd scenes so one puppeteer could operate three puppets (one on each hand and one on their head).

Over the course of 17 years she worked for

Lucasfilm and “also travelled all over the US on freelance

film projects, including Top Gun, Abyss and Robocop

1 and 2” (Marghe McMahon 37 ). Special effects were

a good fit for her, because “I was good as a sculptor,

moldmaker and mixing blood. Secret ingredient...

cabernet sauvignon” (Marghe McMahon 37 ).

McMahon was hired on Gremlins to do

latex seaming, although she would participate in

nearly all of the various fabrication components on

the film, including applying fur to the mogwai. She

recalls furring in particular because “I was terrible

at it as the fur kept getting stuck to me” (Marghe

McMahon 37 ). Although involved in many areas of

production, she did not get to work on the gremlin or

© Chris Walas via Propstore of London

mogwai mechanics, “I would have loved to

be involved with the mechanics, but alas

I am no machinist” (Marghe McMahon 37 ).

McMahon not only worked on the puppets,

but also had the opportunity to operate some of them.

“Puppeteering was a lot of fun. I got to do it rarely,

but the Theater Scene stands out to me” (Marghe

McMahon 37 ). In fact, she was able to pupeteer some of

the puppets that she helped construct. She describes her

time working on Gremlins as “a wonderful adventure!!!”

(Marghe McMahon 37 ).

After a fascinating career in Hollywood,

McMahon traded in latex creatures for real ones, and

began work as a biologist for 11 years, most recently

doing small animal surgery and teaching at UCSF.

“I recall that when Steven Spielberg visited the trailer that Chris Walas warned us not to let him in

the trailer as he always played with the puppets and broke them”

Marghe McMahon 37

90


© Warner Brothers c/o Blair Clark

Blair Clark was born on January 29th, 1962 in

Herlong, California, where he attended elementary and

middle school. He then went to Lassen High School in

Susanville, California and the Oakland campus of the

California College of the Arts.

Clark found inspiration in “a mixture of: Classic

Universal Horror Films, all Hammer Horror Films, The

Wizard of Oz, Jonny Quest, Star Trek, Dark Shadows, I

Love Lucy, The Munsters, The Addams Family, Andy

Griffith, Batman, etc” (Blair Clark 33 ). He aspired from a

young age to make movie monsters. “I share a similar

story with many of my peers, of finding and devouring

every issue of “Famous Monsters of Filmland” that I

could get my hands on. It was literally the only access to

information and pictures of the genre that so many of

us loved, and because information was so hard to come

by, it became a quest to seek out and find little tidbits

of information here and there, and that led to a passion

that has driven me for years” (Blair Clark 33 ).

Blair Clark ~ Book Creature Text Crew

He actively pursued his dream of working in

special effects while at school. “I was attending art

school, and called a few people in the industry asking for

information and advice about getting a job. I eventually

got in touch with Chris Walas, who was in the early

stages of setting up his company, CWI. My friend Brent

Baker and I went and met Chris, and were hired a short

while later” (Blair Clark 33 ). His first opportunity to work

on a film was for Gremlins.

During pre-production he worked on the gremlin

“super arms” as an apprentice to Eben Stromquist.

“During principal photography, I was part of the crew

maintaining the puppets, and was a main puppeteer

for Stripe, and was part of the crew controlling other

gremlins and mogwai as needed... We all took part in

manning the controls for pretty much every scene with

a gremlin or mogwai in it” (Blair Clark 33 ).

“I had a great time with Stripe. It was such a great design and

looked so cool and evil, if you kept the poses clean, and kept him

over his center of gravity, you could really be free to go crazy with

his performance.”

Blair Clark 33

© Warner Brothers c/o Blair Clark

“In pre-production I apprenticed under Eben Stromquist and Gary Platek

learning machining and working on the gremlin “Super Arms” (A puppet

and control mechanism, that had a complete gremlin on one end, and a

mechanical duplicate of the arms on the other end that a puppeteer would

control. If the puppeteer raised the mechanism’s arm, the gremlin’s arm

would raise).”

Blair Clark 33

91


A few of the puppets presented quite a challenge like the food processor thing that chops and spits Gremlin

Book Text

during filming. The Gizmo in the Remote Control Barbie meat and goo everywhere, the Exploding Gremlin in the

Car was a frustrating piece to operate because of Microwave, a mechanical Mrs. Deagle getting thrown

interference on set, “everything would be working fine, out of the top story window, a scary thing that shot a

and then the car (and Gizmo) would just freak out and go saw blade through a wall, all of it as much fun to watch

tearing across the floor (usually in the wrong direction) in real life as it was on screen!” (Blair Clark 33 ).

until it hit something” (Blair Clark 33 ). Other puppets, His most vivid memory of his time spent on

including Stripe were a great deal of fun to work with. Gremlins is “the smell of week old beer soaked popcorn

Clark also enjoyed seeing “some of as we worked toward the end of the fight in the bar

the crazy things that Bob MacDonald and scene” (Blair Clark 33 ). He was both “excited and proud”

his crew created. [They] were very cool, the first time he watched the finished movie.

© Warner Brothers

“The closeup of Billy’s drawing of Mrs. Deagle are my hands. (and

after the first take, the script supervisor pointed out that Zach (Billy)

was right-handed. So the rest of my ‘performance’ was trying not to

look like I’m so obviously LEFT handed!).”

Blair Clark 33

“The shot behind Billy as he lifts Gizmo

out of the box in the living room is

the back of my head.”

Blair Clark 33

© Warner Brothers

“I’m one of the lucky few that has grown up doing

EXACTLY what I had obsessed about as a kid, making

monsters and special effects!” (BCI)

© Warner Brothers

“I think partly because it

was my first film, and such

a dream come true, I can

watch Gremlins now, and still

be acutely aware of where I

was standing on each shot,

and who was doing what,

etc. It’s like watching an old

home movies of you and

your friends.”

Blair Clark 33

92


Randy Ottenberg was born in Philadelphia, she

“grew up in Philly and the NJ Shore” (Randy Ottenberg 32 ).

She attended Philadelphia High School for Girls, and

Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, followed by the

Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and the San

Francisco Art Institute where she earned a Bachelor’s of

Fine Arts and a Master’s of Fine Arts in painting.

She began working at Industrial Light and Magic

in the model shop in October of 1981. Her early projects

included E.T., Poltergeist, and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

Randy Ottenberg Book Text ~ Creature Crew

“I thought that I wanted to make creatures as opposed to

models” (Randy Ottenberg 32 ), and she was hired by Chris

Walas as a part of the Gremlins creature crew. “It was the

first project that Chris Walas was doing on his own. He

had been at ILM previous to that” (Randy Ottenberg 32 ).

She worked largely with background puppets, including

fabricating and painting. “I was very happy when I was

laid off this project. I returned to ILM to work on Indiana

Jones and the Tempe of Doom. I continued my career in

the ILM model shop” (Randy Ottenberg 32 ).

© Warner Brothers c/o Randy Ottenberg

“I mainly did the background puppets [of] which there was about 26. I did fabricating and painting. I did not

go to location for the shoot. I spent about 10 months on the project” (ROI).

93


Book Text

Randy Ottenberg smiles in the middle of the

mayhem of preproduction. An early marionette

hangs in the foreground.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

Early gremlin paint test using glass eyes.

© Chris Walas, via Cesar Dacol Jr.

94


Behind the Scenes Title Card

Book Text

“In the shop we had a countdown on the wall, just to add even more pressure. M-day was the first Mogwai shoot day and G-day was the first

day for the Gremlins.” (Chris Walas)

© Chris Walas,

© Warner Brothers c/o Inside Gremlins

95

© Chris Walas,


Book Text

© Warner Brothers

shoot

© Chris Walas

96


Gremlins was realized with a meager $11,000,000

budget, and less than 10% of that budget was allocated

to special effects. Both Chris Walas Inc (James “Smash”

Isaac, Kelly Lepkowsky, Marghe McMahon, Carol Walas,

Valerie Sofranko, Brent Baker, Ralph Miller, Harold Weed,

Eben Stromquist, Mark Walas, Jay Davis, Blair Clark,

Tim Gillette, Greg Olsson) and the “guest artists” on

set (Ethan Wiley, Robert Cooper, Gary Platek, Ted Shell,

Tom St. Armand, Peter Kleinow and Thaine Morris) put

in a herculean effort and exhaustive hours to make the

movie happen 13 .

Spielberg received the original Gremlins script in

late 1981, while he was preparing for the release of E.T. 8 .

He was immediately intrigued despite the fact that the

work was meant as a writing sample and not a polished

screen-ready work. This interest was solidified when

he saw the twenty-five-minute short film “Gizmo” that

Columbus created while attending New York University,

so much so that Spielberg bought the Gremlins property 8 .

Although there were often concerns that the

film was too ambitious, and that the technology didn’t

exist to create realistic gremlins within the budget, it

was ultimately the special effects that saved the picture.

“Gremlins almost didn’t happen at all. The studio being

pitched the film doubted the special effects could even be

accomplished. CWI did a test of their own at the creature

shop to show the studio what their puppets could do.

The test showed Gizmo sliding down a pole and then

looking around the room. Based on the overwhelmingly

positive response from that test, the movie was given

the greenlight. It was really touch and go for awhile.

Chris Walas and his super talented core artists rallied

and forced that movie into existing” (Howie Weed 26 ).

“What really closed out deal with Warners was some

test footage that we shot of one of Chris’ first gremlins.

The studio looked at that in January of ‘83 and thought:

‘Well, these guys seem to be pretty serious. Let’s do it.’”

(Mike Finnell 8 ).

The effects team were afforded unusually

fair representation in the credits, especially

for a major studio in the 1980’s. “Warner

Brothers was very reasonable in allowing us

Behind-the-Scenes

Book Text

the ‘creature crew’ credit. Getting Chris a credit in

the opening titles was a little more difficult, but I think

they realized that, with a picture called Gremlins, the

gremlins themselves are a very important part of the

picture” (Mike Finnell 17 ). Although Finnell spoke of his

support for giving the creature crew adequate credit,

the effects budget was a whole other question. “That’s

the line I used on him [Finnell] throughout the whole

picture! We’d get into a disagreement on whether or not

we could spend an extra ten dollars on something, and

I’d say to him, ‘Mike... what’s the name of the picture?’

‘Gremlins.’ ‘So pay the extra ten bucks!’” (Chris Walas,

Fangoria 39, 21)

Gremlins began in a time crunch, and that set the

pace for the entire production. Director Joe Dante began

working on storyboards for Gremlins while shooting

his segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie, putting his

cartoonist training to good use. He recalls, “I would

shoot Twilight Zone during the day and then go home

and do storyboards on Gremlins. During lunch I would

do storyboards on Gremlins” (Joe Dante 10 ). Later during

pre-production, David Negron joined the team and

storyboarded most of the picture. They were joined by

Dick Lasley who worked in close conjunction with James

H. Spencer – the film’s production designer – providing

storyboards for the duration of production 8 .

Pre-production on Gremlins was a lengthy process,

“luckily, Joe and I had some storyboarding experience

with The Howling, so we decided to storyboard as many

of the Gremlins effects sequences in advance as we

could. In fact, we began boarding Gremlins while we

were still shooting Twilight Zone, because there was no

way Chris could even begin building certain puppets

until he had storyboards. In some shots, we might need

a gremlin from the waist up only, while in others there

might be a full, free-standing creature in the frame. Each

would be very different in terms of its construction. So

everything was built to storyboard. Of course, we had a

certain amount of flexibility to change these boards as

we went along; but at least Chris had, in the beginning, a

good firm idea of what we needed so he could go ahead

and start building things” (Mike Finnell 8 )

“Every time the gremlins would be called to set, 1st A.D. Jim Quinn [first assistant director] would whistle the

Muppets theme song.”

Blair Clark 33

97


“Steven’s original idea for Gremlins was to do it as a very Book low-budge, Text non-union film at the Osmonds’ studio in Utah. For

varying reasons that didn’t work out. One was that I didn’t want to do it on location; and two, once we got Chris Walas

involved, it became obvious that the special effects were going to be more expansive and the picture more expansive than

Steven had hoped. We then all realized that we were going to need studio backing in order to make the film. Just exactly how

Gremlins got to Warner Brothers I’m not really clear. I would imagine it had something to do with our doing Twilight Zone

there. But even though Warners was interested in developing the picture, they were a little recalcitrant about putting out the

money up front. We never really got a green light on Gremlins – more like yellow-green. It was okay to build sets, but it

wasn’t okay to hire the cast. It was okay to hire this person, but not that person. Gremlins got its go-ahead in dribs and

drabs. Once it finally did, though, Steven and I and Chris Columbus and Mike had changed the focus of the script, from being

a ‘B’ horror movie into something different. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you exactly what that ‘different’ is.”

Joe Dante 8

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

The Warner Logo

Joe Dante wanted to bring the classic Warner Brothers logo back for the opening credits of Gremlins. That logo hadn’t

been in use since the 1970’s when it was replaced by the so called ‘worm logo’. “This was the first time that the Warner Brothers

logo had been returned to the actual logo for a number of years... before that it was Warner Communications and they had what

is known as the ‘worm logo’... it was supposed to be arty. We thought that since we had Jerry Goldsmith do the music... wouldn’t

it be nice if this picture had some of the real feeling of the old Warner Brothers pictures, since we were going to revive some

of the Max Steinman music. So we brought it back and they liked it so much that they kept using it.”

Joe Dante 2

“We were pumping for the old Warners logo because we just felt that we didn’t want to use the worm logo. It’s a fine

trademark, but it’s not for the Warner Brothers that I remember. So we started badgering the studio about using the old logo; and

at about the same time, Swing Shift, which was also ready to come out, wanted to use the old logo as well. Finally, the combined

weight of both of these pictures managed to get Warners to make up a new ‘old’ logo. Then I told Jerry Goldsmith into redoing

the old Max Steiner fanfare. While we were all being very thrilled by this, Warner Brothers suddenly decided to adopt this logo for

all its pictures. And one of the first places they dumped it was onto The Neverending Story trailer, which went out to theaters all

over the country affixed to the head of the first reel of our Gremlins prints. So all the fun of going to the movie and suddenly

seeing the old Warner Brothers logo come on with the old music was vitiated by the fact that it had already appeared five minutes

earlier in front of this trailer”

Joe Dante 8

98


Book Text

Here’s Erik Jensen on the phone with Mike Finnell. This may actually be the phone conversation that cost like $30 discussing the cost of $1.50 knife.

© Chris Walas

99


Kitchen Knife Controversy

Book Text

“We were in pre-production, and we had to have everything

budgeted everyday of the pre-production so we put in $5 for a

knife for the temp puppet for this. So we get this call from L.A,

it’s Mike Finnell, ‘What’s this $5 for a knife?’, ‘Well, we gotta

make sure that the gag’s gonna work, we need a knife... I don’t

know if it’s gonna be $5, we’ll go to Good Will and see if we can

get a cheaper knife’. I’d already talked to the receptionist for

about twenty minutes, then Erik Jensen got on the phone for

twenty minutes, and then I got on the phone and said ‘Mike,

this phone call has cost more than $5.”

Mike Finnell 3

“Another not great photo, but it captures the desperation we felt going

into this film. This is Erik Jensen on the left, my FX producer, and

me on the right going over the storyboards and my breakdown notes.

Notice how happy we seem.” (Chris Walas)

© Chris Walas

100


Special Book Effects Text

“This movie was made this way because it was made around the limitations that were built into

the technology” - Joe Dante 3

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

The way to approach the creature effects in

Gremlins was an issue of great debate. There was no

doubt that the effects would be of central importance,

and the movie makers never tried to disguise the fact

that Gremlins would be a “popcorn movie”. Many

different methods were considered ranging from stop

motion, to marionettes, to traditional puppets and

animatronics. Given the number of creatures required,

and the complicated range of tasks they would need to

perform all of these techniques were ultimately utilized.

There were also a variety of different variations

of several types of puppet, “some puppets were

very simple, but normally it was about five people

per puppet. We had a couple of the RC puppets

that one guy could operate... we also had a lot of

puppets that had no articulation whatsoever. They

had wires in their arms and you could open and close

their mouth and that was about it. And they were

great... in the background, especially where you could

clamp their hands onto something” (Chris Walas 3 ).

Most of the gremlins were largely hand puppets

with enhanced cable controlled features, Ethan Wiley

describes this type of puppet as “a very sophisticated

Muppet” (Ethan Wiley 5 ). If approached today, the

film would no doubt be made very differently.

The talents of the creature crew were put to

good use based on their skillset, “Ethan Wiley was

very important to me. Early on, he helped quite a

bit in getting the mogwai mechanics together and

keeping them straightened out, as did Gary Platek.

Eben Stromquist designed most of the more elaborate

mechanical devices, and Tim Gillette came in a little later

and took over for Gary Platek” (Chris Walas 8 ). Randal

Dutra did a lot of sculpting work in both pre-production

and principal photography, assisted by Anthony McVey.

Peter Kleinow primarily worked off-site on the stopmotion,

but also worked directly with Walas’ gremlin

unit on special mechanics for gremlin feet that would

have bendable toes 8 .

“Actually, it was very hard to categorize most

of the people on the Gremlins crew because I tried to

give everybody a chance to change off and cross over

with different responsibilities. That held true for the

puppet operators as well. Surprisingly enough, a lot of

the puppeteering requirements were specifically spatial.

It was often just a matter of how big or how wide you

were, and whether you could fit into and maintain the

consistency of specific shots” (Chris Walas 8 ).

101


Mechanical Gremlin heads lined up on the shelf after being cleaned and Book prepped Text for the next use. The list is a checklist of procedures as well as a

list of conditions of the materials and mechanics.

© Chris Walas, 1984, via Cesar Dacol Jr.

“A script rolled in from Chris’ [Walas] old pal, Joe Dante. They had worked together on Piranha, so Gremlins

was Chris’ first big break on his own. It was going to be a fairly low budget movie. An effects movie back

then was $35-40 million, but the budget for Gremlins was like $11 million. So we had to come up with a lot of

gremlins on a tight budget. Chris hired a lot of young

people like me who were willing to work long hours and

extra weekends to get all the craziness done.”

Ethan Wiley 5

“A puppet movie like Gremlins had never been

attempted. We were having to do the research and

development while we were making it. A lot of trial

and error. But we did approach it smartly, saying,

“Look, we’ll shoot the large portion of the part with

the actors, then we’ll shut down and we’ll gear up

for the gremlins, and then we’ll go back and shoot

only a couple of minutes of gremlins.” And it was

very, very, very grueling to shoot with puppets.”

Joe Dante 5

“It was kind of early in the business for me,

and all new to me, but I knew this was on of

the first films that had attempted so many

puppets, with all the mechanics and remote

control they had, as opposed to stop motion. It

was a big endeavour making all these creatures

look as real as they did.”

Richard Ratliff 5

© Joe Dante c/o Joe Dante Biography

102


Book Text

“Welcome to our world on Warner Bros Stage 15. This was the

Shop trailer we had rigged out up north and shipped all the gear

and puppets to LA in this mobile lab. Those are the very same

steps I fell off and broke my ankle on. Memories.”

© Chris Walas,

103


Book Text

Das Box

“A trailer from an 18 wheeler was decked out like portable creature shop with Gremlin

shelves etc. at Chris’. It was named ‘Das Box’ after the German U-Boat film “Das

Boot” It was then trucked down to the Warner’s sound stage (Burbank Studios,

as it was shared with Columbia Pictures)” (Jay Davis, JDI).

Inside the trailer on one side and the front were the shelves for all the different puppet rigs.

© Chris Walas,

104


Book Text

“During principal photography, we used all sorts of

methods to operate the mogwai and gremlins – radio signals,

rods, handwork, marionetting, cables and what I call ‘throw-

‘em-across-the-room’ puppetry. Whenever possible, though, we

tried to use our cable operating system, since we felt we could

get better results in subtleties of control. In conjunction

with this, Gary Platek came up with a very versatile, very

adaptable quick-change hand control system that worked out

exceptionally well. They attached and detached in a few minutes,

and were only about the size of a book. They really bypassed

the standard levers used in cable control systems, which are

usually about three feet tall and lined up side by side in clusters

of two or four levers apiece – which takes up a lot o space. To

first practice the creature movements, we’d all stand in front

of a mirror and do little performances, just to get the basics

of puppeteering down. Once we had a smooth consistency of

movement, then we went for the little character traits.”

Chris Walas 8

© Joe Dante c/o Joe Dante Biography

“I was

hoping it wouldn’t

be stop-motion,

although it worked

for Ray Harryhausen

and on the old King

Kong. I didn’t think

stop-motion would

look as good today.

I hoped it would

be some kind of

puppetry. Someone else who read the script said, ‘Why couldn’t we

dress up spider monkeys?’ I thought that would be insane!

“Ultimately, there were part mechanical, part radiocontrolled,

with a few stop-motion shots used. Gizmo was

especially tough because he was so tiny.”

Chris Columbus 22

© Joe Dante c/o Joe Dante Biography

Jay Davis works on one of the marionette walking Gremlins.

© Chris Walas, 1984, via Cesar Dacol Jr.

“We executed whatever Bob and Joe Dante decided in meetings with producers and the art department. Sometimes we got

storyboards or drawings from the art department to build a particularly prop or machine that had to do something. It was a lot of

experimenting, too – take off and have fun. You’d build something and Bob or the art department would have a look. You’d perfect

what they wanted and show it to the director and [he would say] yes or no. [If no] you’d go back and work on it a little more.”

Richard Ratliff 5

105


A bad casting of a Mogwai became the mascot Book for Text the smaller CWI shop, known as Bogey Island.

© Chris Walas, 1984, via Propstore of London

© Joe Dante c/o Joe Dante Biography

© Joe Dante c/o Joe Dante Biography

“I never thought

the gremlins

weren’t real.

They really had

personalities,

depending on

who the puppeteer

was. They really

come up with

stuff.”

John Hora 34

© Joe Dante c/o Joe Dante Biography

“We worked on different designs and rigs because they had to do special behaviours.

There was the gremlin that gets ground up in a blender, one that explodes in a

microwave, one that rides a tricycle. Some had metal armatures, certain things

we would marionette with a monofilament line, we had a sophisticated robotic

gremlin that was an amazing piece of engineering, and basic ‘dummy gremlins’

for background action. We had a disco gremlin with rods coming out of the feet

so it could be moved like it was dancing – for a shot where it break dances, we

used a drill so it could spin.”

Ethan Wiley 5

106


Book Text

© Chris Walas, 1984, Propstore of London

Brent Baker paints latex into the gremlin mold for one of the special

puppets. Most puppets used tinted latex. Untinted latex was used to denote

to the crew that the puppet pieces were already assigned to puppet and not

for general use.

© Chris Walas, 1984, Propstore of London

© Chris Walas, 1984, Propstore of London

Gregg Olsson airbrushes the second color onto an armature

gremlin to be used as a stand-in on the set.

© Chris Walas, 1984, Propstore of London

Greg Olsson airbrushes a gremlin “Butt Puppet”, so named because the

hand access was through the bottom.

© Joe Dante c/o Joe Dante Biography

© Chris Walas, 1984, Propstore of London

Inside Bogey Island,

the smaller of the two

CWI shops, where the

painting was done. Kirk

Thatcher, Howie Weed,

Gregg Olsson and Kelly

Lepkowsky at work.

© Chris Walas, 1984, Propstore of London

107


Book Text

Gregg Olsson was the head painter, here painting he basic body colors.

© Chris Walas, via Cesar Dacol Jr.

Kirk Thatcher painting assembled gremlin puppets. Puppets were painted in

batches as soon as a large enough number were assembled.

© Chris Walas, 1984, Propstore of London

Ralph Miller doing seaming work on a gremlin

puppet.

© Chris Walas, 1984, Propstore of London

108


Book Text

A small sample of the stock generated of various Gremlin and

Mogwai body parts. As puppets had to be manufactured on an

ongoing basis, parts were kept in stock to “assemble” puppets

per the needs of the show.

© Chris Walas, 1984, Propstore of London

Mark Walas attaches hand controls to a gremlin puppet on the stage at

Warner’s.

© Chris Walas, 1984, Propstore of London

© Joe Dante c/o Joe Dante Biography

© Joe Dante c/o Joe Dante Biography

Mechanically finished gremlin heads await skinning.

© Chris Walas, via Cesar Dacol Jr.

109


Walas’ pre-production crew included around two action and one with just the effects, and the effects

Book Text

dozen workers, but swelled to nearly double that during ended up taking as long, or longer, than the principle

shooting 8 . They hit the ground running when production photography” (Joe Dante 17 ).

began, and never slowed or stopped until the film was To cope with the crunch, the creature crew

completed. Walas was already an experienced puppeteer, developed efficient methods for fabricating the puppets

having puppeteered in high school, community college, and rigs, the mogwai and gremlin components were

and community theatre, so he organized classes to train largely manufactured in northern California (at Walas’

his crew. “Everybody would volunteer their time in the facility), and shipped to Los Angeles where they were

evenings to practice along with me, and everybody got assembled in a 45-foot trailer that served as a mobile

real good at it” (Chris Walas 8 ).

workshop and storage space 8 . The crew essentially

There were seven months of pre-production created a gremlin factory. Perhaps this was part of the

for working on the props and puppets 3 , and they shot reason that the studio pushed for a sequel, although by

the creature effects in two parts, “one with the live the time they filmed one, technology had changed 3 .

“We’ve always found it better not to mix actors and effects if possible. You get the actors to do their parts and then they go

away; then you spend an incredible amount of time trying to make the effects work. The audience doesn’t relate to the special

effects in a movie, but to the characters. And if the characters are not believable, it’s worse than a bad special effect. An

actor can make a good special effect look bad, and he can also make a bad special effect look a lot better, just by the conviction

of his performance. So movies are really about people, even when they are full of special effects.”

Joe Dante 1

“We would stand in front of a

mirror and do little performances,

just to get down the basics of

puppeteering. Once we had a

consistency of movement, then

we went for the little character

traits”

Chris Walas 1

.© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

Puppeteering Class. After work hours, Chris Walas held classes for volunteers to be taught the delicate subtleties of Gremlin

operation. Note: only the unpainted puppet in the rear is the finished Gremlin sculpt. The three painted puppets are an earlier,

rushed “Proof of concept” sculpt Chris Walas did when the studio requested test footage before the Gremlin sculpture was

finished. From left to right are Ethan Wiley, Bob Cooper, Valerie Sofranko and Randy Dutra.

110


The special effects actually saved Gremlins early takes. Although it is important to have a cohesive mix

Book Text

in production. Warner Brothers considered shutting of actors and effects, Dante and Finnell already had

production down, but the crew put on an impressive

show with the puppets they had, enough so to secure

the completion of the movie.

experience in effect-heavy movies and knew that it is

best to do as many of the effects-heavy scenes without

the actors during a separate phase of production.

Puppets often required lengthy After three months of principal photography and two

setups and several runs to get the effect just months of shooting gremlins, the crew were thoroughly

right, leaving a great deal of time between exhausted.

Chris Walas and Bob Cooper

do finishing touches on the

“green light” test gremlin

puppet, so called because this

test got the film its green

light to go.

© Chris Walas, via Cesar

Dacol Jr.

“A couple of months

into the project Warner

Brothers wanted to shut

us down. Kathy Kennedy

and Frank Marshall came

up to Chris’s with the

head of Warner Bros.

We did a dog and pony

show with hastily made

Gremlins, standing in

front of a mocked up

wall. This convinced him

not to can the project,

and we pressed on.”

Jay Davis 29

Valerie Sofranko holds a gremlin to take the stress off the operator whose arm is coming through the wall. This

was the very first fully assembled, somewhat mechanized Gremlin puppet. It was raced together for a test shoot

to convince the studio to give the film the green light. This puppet also had the glowing eye effect not used in

the film.

© Chris Walas, 1984, Propstore of London

111


The creature crew were often subjected to house set was already an old one at the time of filming,

Book Text

less than ideal working conditions. “Everything was and as a result they often had rats and spiders for

raised up off the floor by about 3 or 4 feet, and there

was a little army of people living under the sets” (Joe

Dante 3 ). In this claustrophobic subterranean world, the

crew used small monitors with an on-set video feed to

coordinate their puppets. This was an acquired skill,

the monitors presented a reversed image, a factor they

had to compensate for (Joe Dante 3 ). Everybody had a

set of headphones that allowed Walas to direct their

performances (Mike Finnell 3 ).

company.

Puppeting methods also created havoc above

ground level as the set was riddled with holes, designed

for the wires for the puppets. Cast and crew had to

watch their step or risked stumbling into one of them 3 .

Additionally, the constant time crunch meant

that there wasn’t always time to rehearse with new

puppets or practice new movements, so the puppeteers

learned as they worked. A number of techniques were

As if these many challenges tried for the first time on film, some were retried, and

were not daunting enough, the Peltzer others were discarded and a new method attempted 3 .

“What everyone should remember about Gremlins while they are seeing it, is that with so many wires and crew people on the

set, it was a miracle that we could even move the camera. There were literally dozens of people, mostly puppet operators,

under and above and around the frame of virtually every shot in the movie”

Joe Dante 8

“This was our workspace under the stage. I think this was under Billy’s house. We had to get all our puppeteers,

controls and the video equipment through this maze on a daily basis” (Chris Walas)

© Chris Walas

“The puppet people often were under the floor, and sometimes they were actually in the dirt underneath the floor of the stage.

They had to cut a hole in the floor of the stage, and the puppet people would be down there. Well, they didn’t come out, so

they’re just in there. As a result, the puppets are never dead, they’re always alive. And they’re just like real creatures. When

you put your light meter in to take a reading, they’d grab it!... They had nothing else to do because they were underneath the

floor all cramped up. In fact, they had to get a Jacuzzi for them so the guys could unwind at the end of the day because they

were so stiff.”

John Hora 34

“We had to figure out ways to work through carpets and doors and sofas and all

kinds of stuff. These setups included video monitors with a flipped picture, like

looking in a mirror, to see what they were doing.”

Joe Dante 5

112


“One thing to keep in mind when you see the picture: if you Book were Text to imagine, under the frame line, hundreds of people on the

floor, hundreds of special effects people pulling wires and cables and holding things up on the floor, then you’d be amazed at

how much the camera moves, because there was literally no room -- anywhere. When you moved, you were always about to

end up stepping on somebody’s head... It’s tough enough to act in a movie with the crew around. In Gremlins, they not only

had to act with nonliving effects creatures, but had to circumnavigate a course that was not only right for the camera but that

would not make them step on the ear of some girl lying on the floor”

Joe Dante 10

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

“I had done some comedy and improv acting, and I found out I had a knack for puppeteering. You’d have your hand up

inside the creature operating the mouth, the body language and the movement. We did video tests and rehearsed before

we got to the set. Hidden underneath the stage would be eighteen operators and maybe fourteen cables for one puppet.

The operators had little guns we manufactured that they could hold to pull the different cables to make eyebrows go

up and down, ears move, noses sniffle or wiggle, to control the bladders to [simulate] breathing. You’d work in weird,

uncomfortable positions for hours, so physical stamina was an issue.”

Ethan Wiley 5

“These poor guys would be under the floor, and you’d have to pass them water and stuff.”

John Hora 34

“The preparation time on the puppets was always extensive. We would come in in the morning and line up something and have

everything in position and then there would be a two hour delay while they drilled holes and built things and the puppeteers got

underneath and so forth... It was a waiting game and the studio would hear ‘they’re not shooting anything’ and the executives

would come down to see what was going on, and the puppet guys would be building all this stuff and the crew would be sleeping

on the beds in the bedroom. They had a very bad impression of us, they really wanted to fire everybody. They wanted to fire me,

they wanted to fire Joe, they wanted to fire Chris Walas, they thought everybody was incompetent because it wasn’t a regular

show and they just weren’t in tune with it.”

John Hora 34

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“A lot of the puppeteers were people who had actually worked Book on the Text puppets so they were very familiar with what the limitations

were and how to fix them when they broke, which was more often the not”

Chris Walas 3

“You also have to realize that the puppets

we used on Gremlins were not regular

puppets. Regular puppets are made out

of cut cloth and foam and weigh all of

twelve ounces. The Gremlins puppets

were usually several pounds, or as much

as twenty pounds apiece. If you try

holding something like that over your

head for half an hour while they light a

scene, you have no blood, no strength,

no anything left in your arm. In fact,

every night we’d go back to the place

where they were putting us up and hold

our meetings in the Jacuzzi – just to

unkink.”

Chris Walas 8

“We’ll figure it out later were the

watchwords for the entire picture”

Mike Finnell 2

“This was the closest I’ve come to a

near-death experience. It was relentless”

Chris Walas 2

“We were all ready for the boobie hatch by the time it was all

over... it was nervous breakdown making”

Joe Dante 2

“It was one of those movies that if you stick with it long

enough, it eventually happens.”

Joe Dante 2

© Warner Brothers c/o Cinefex 19

Picture in Picture

The film clips shown in Gremlins were carefully

managed so as to avoid the black ‘shutter bar’ effect which

happens when video (at 30 frames per second) is filmed (on

a camera shooting at 24 frames per second). To compensate,

they went to Hal Landeker. “Landaker has perfected a 24-frame

video system. This enables video to be transferred to a rig

that runs at 24 frames per second and allows you to put your

camera in sync at the same time with no shutter bar. And

the video plays just as it would at 30 frames per second. Joe

Unsinn and Steve Payne were the two people under Landaker

who helped throughout the production with our video problems.”

Mike Finnell 8

114


© Warner Brothers

Designing Book Kingston Text Falls

The setting for Gremlins is the picturesque

small town of Kingston Falls, an idyllic sort of place that

was carefully designed to be both familiar and surreal.

Part of what drew Joe Dante to the original script was

the “ingenious small-town quality [which] makes the

picture’s bizarre happenings seem a little less criticizable,

because the setting is more of a movie milieu than a reallife

one” (Joe Dante 10 ). Much of the strength of Kingston

Falls comes from contrast, the pairing of a beautiful,

sheltered little community with horrid, chaotic green

monsters.

“There was talk initially about doing the picture

on location, going to someplace like Washington state in

winter and waiting for it to snow” (Joe Dante 1 ), but the

constraints of intricate special effects, and the inevitable

difficulties of filming on location (“when you’re on

location, there has to be cops, there has to be traffic

stopped, and if there’s a Mobil sign over in the corner of

the frame, you’ve either got to put something up to hide

it or you’ve got to have it in your picture. On the backlot

you get to design the shot, you get to plan exactly

what you want to see, and set-dress it the way you

want. It was no accident that most old movies were shot

this way”, Joe Dante 10 ) led them to remain in southern

California and to use the backlots.

Gremlins made use of the Universal Backlot,

the Warner Brothers Backlot, the Columbia Backlot

and the Warner Ranch (Joe Dante 2 ). “The bulk of

the Gremlins interiors were shot at The Burbank

Studios. We were also going to shoot the Kingston

Falls main street and town square locations

there – on what’s known as the Dukes of Hazard street

– but there were some scheduling problems, so we

moved across to Universal and used their town square

set for those shots” (Mike Finnell 8 ). The exteriors for

the Peltzer and Futterman houses were shot at the

Columbia Ranch 8 . The only on-location shooting took

place at Washington High School in Pasadena, where

the hallways of the Kingston Falls High School and the

sheriff’s office scenes were shot 8 .

Though many problems were solved with backlot

shooting, it was not without complication, particularly

when filming outdoors. “About a week before we were

to start filming at Universal, the crew of Streets of Fire

suddenly began erecting all these tall poles and tarpaulins

for their movie, right behind our buildings. That was a

problem, because we couldn’t shoot above the tops of

our buildings and had to work around all those poles.

John Hora was forced to go to a lot of trouble to hide

that” (Mike Finnell 8 ). Although rearranging the town

square setup to face the opposite direction helped fix

this problem, one shot in the film still bares the mark

of the support cables. In the lower left-hand corner of

Gioffre’s matte painting you can make out a cable that

has been brilliantly incorporated into the painting, a

lasting reminder of the complications of shooting on the

Universal lot.

Shooting on the backlots added another - and a

very important - layer of atmosphere to the film. Dante

described this as an “old-movie look” (Joe Dante 10 ),

an accurate statement considering that the set was

originally built in 1962 for To Kill a Mockingbird.

115


For a film buff like Dante, having the opportunity as It’s a Wonderful Life

Book Text

8 .

to see these sets in real life was an adventure unto itself. To give the wintery look to the warm California

Shooting on the backlot “was also to make the gremlins sets, the film makers used a variety of techniques. They

look a little bit more realistic. Because if you take the dressed the sets with various types of artificial snow, and

same gremlin down to a city street with buses going utilized a matte painting care-of Rocco Gioffre to extend

and mailboxes, it’s gonna look phonier than it does some of the foreground, and the town beyond the main

here” (Joe Dante 2 ). By making the setting less realistic, street 8 .

the “phoneyness” of the gremlins blended effectively Dante had worked with John Hora on The

giving the film a more cohesive feel. No elements stand Howling and The Twilight Zone, and his unique visual

out as being out of place, not even the incredible. style would also be utilized in Gremlins. His bold use

The nostalgic feelings created by filming on the muchused

backlots allows Gremlins to evoke not actual unusual angles furthered the surrealistic atmosphere in

of colour effects, frequent use of moving cameras and

memories, but those of remembered movies, such Kingston Falls 8 .

“Shooting on a studio lot © Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

was absolutely a conscious

decision. From my point

of view, I just felt that

this story would not have

worked if there had been

any feeling of being out in

a real town, of having real

garbage trucks driving back

and forth on real snow. The

idea was to try and create

a separate world that this

picture could take place in –

its own world, a place that

would live by its own logic

and its own set of rules.

It was almost like making a

film set on another planet.

I guess Gremlins was

really set in the world of

remembered movies”

Joe Dante 8

“Audiences will hopefully feel a kind of affectionate familiarity with the town we’ve

created in the film. Kingston Falls has the look of a place you’ve seen before, individuals

you’ve known. One reason we elected to turn our little mischief-makers loose in such an

idyllic community is because the setting suggests that amiable atmosphere of a fable”

Joe Dante 1

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

“One of the keys was to surround the movie with an atmosphere that

is not totally realistic. Everything, I think, looks like a fantasy, like a

storybook. I think you need that to make something like this work.

The audience can’t have a very realistic frame of reference. If you

saw one of these gremlins walking down an everyday street, it may

not work. But when you put one in a setting where everything is

slightly stylized, suddenly you can accept them. This is, to a certain

respect, a chance to do cartoon characters in life-action. They are a

little more sophisticated than cartoon characters, but they definitely

have that aspect”

Mike Finnell 1

116

“Given the material of Gremlins, it seemed

to me that the audience would be faced by a

story which, even at the beginning – before

anything really happened – would confront

them with this absolutely fantastic set of

circumstances. And the audience has to buy

this set of circumstances in order to like the

picture. So it seemed to me that if Gremlins

wasn’t treated like a cartoon – or at least

like a dream – then people were going to

start asking all the wrong questions. And

this is not a movie where you are supposed

to ask questions”

Joe Dante 8


© Warner Brothers, c/o “Inside Gremlins”

Kingston Falls Book Matte Text Painting

© Warner Brothers, c/o “Inside Gremlins” © Warner Brothers, c/o “Inside Gremlins” © Warner Brothers, c/o “Inside Gremlins”

The Kingston Falls matte painting was done by

Rocco Gioffre of Dream Quest Images. “The opening

Kingston Falls matte plate was shot by us at Universal. In

the medium background was the real street and a row of

buildings. Everything above and behind that is a painting

– the snow, the landscape going back to infinity and the

sky. There are roofs in the foreground, right at the bottom

of the frame, that are also painted in. Another thing we

did for that shot was to add three animated birds flying

through the sky and some moving smoke coming out of

one of the chimneys across the street. The birds were

simply bipacked when we shot the painting so that they

would register as dark silhouettes against the sky. The

smoke, which was cotton on a rotating cylinder, was done

on a separate pass and double-exposed over painted

smoke coming out of the chimney” (Rocco Gioffre 8 ).

The closing shot was a three- by fivefoot

masonlite matte painting provided by

117

Dream Quest, and composited using four camera passes.

“Our plate was shot at the Columbia Ranch, where they

had done a little neighbourhood area and dressed up the

front of the Peltzer house. What we ended up doing was

a high-angle shot, looking down on the road Keye Luke

was walking on. We then masked off virtually everything

else in the shot, painting in a curb in the road, all the

houses to the left and the right, all the scenery in the

background, the sky, the moon, moving clouds, winking

Christmas tree lights – everything!” (Rocco Gioffre 8 )

“In addition to the live-action plate and the matte

painting, we also performed two passes for moving

clouds that involved matting the same painting back

onto itself. The moon was added on a separate pass,

and we actually had a little glow pass to make the moon

look as if it had a halo around it. Finally, we burned in

the Christmas tree lights” (Rocco Gioffre 8 ).


Gremlins was shot in California, which

didn’t naturally or easily lend itself to creating

a wintery vista. Not only was it California, but

many scenes were shot in the dead of summer.

The difficult task fell to Bob MacDonald Sr.. MacDonald

and his crew combated this circumstance using a variety

of strategies including limestone snowbanks, white

flocking, polyester batting, and gypsum sand. When they

shot Christmas Eve in mid-May of 1983, they made use of

white gypsum sand, and snowmaking machines. Because

most of the snow was a type of sand, it was a bit yellowish.

John Hora corrected this by changing the filtration of the

camera to move it towards uncorrected blue. An 85c filter

took the yellow out of the snow. He also made use of a

Let (er, um, Book Make) Text it Snow

fog filter to make things feel cold (John Hora 34 ). Although

these worked for most scenes, they had to use real ice

when Billy walked towards the YMCA because it proved

impossible to create gremlin tracks with any of the fake

options 3 .

The ingenious combination of snow-making

techniques created a realistic and charming winter

atmosphere to the film, but the artificial winter wasn’t

easy for the cast to weather. They were all dressed in

heavy winter clothing, and had to act as though they

were freezing. “All these extras had to wear this heavy

winter clothing, and I remember the first assistant

director, Jim Quinn, before every take he would go ‘it’s

cold!’” (Mike Finnell 3 .)

“We used any number of different things for the snow in Gremlins, including bringing snow-making and wind machines onto

the set. Limestone stood in for snowbanks, we used a lot of gypsum sand for snow and we simply added flocking to many of

the trees. For some of the trees that were in long shot, we even used the foam that’s put on runways when an airplane’s in

trouble. But that would only hold up for about fifteen minutes. Any longer and there would be bubbles popping all over the tree”

Bob McDonald Sr. 8 .

“When we were outdoors it was June, July, August, and as you can see I’m wearing a lot of

clothing, including that parka, and I was always, always hot. I mean it was unbelievable hot

outside. There was like a heatwave summer of ‘83”

Zach Galligan 2

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

© Warner Brothers,

c/o Cinefex 19

“You can’t do fake snow

anywhere but on the studios’

back locks. The illusion is

remarkable. The first day I

went to the set, I walked down

to the town and saw the fake

snow and . . . for a minute I

felt this chill, because it looked

so real”

Joe Dante 1

“We used limestone for all of the snowbanks. The snow on the cars and trees was made with flocking and limestone. Once in

a while we’d use polyester batting, such as on window sills. We would cut out shapes and put it on to make it look like a mound

of snow. Afterward, the whole thing was a big clean-up job, which is one of the reasons why there aren’t a lot of ‘snowjobs’

anymore... To make falling snow, we used wind machines. We stood up on scissor lifts and fed snow in front of the machines.

We just stood up in the air and let it fall”

Bob MacDonald Sr. 1

118


Doodles in Book the Text Margins

Just like the margins in MAD Magazine, there © Warner Brothers

are little references hidden through Kingston Falls. For

example, many of the downtown streets and stores

are named after old movies and movie companies, like

the Allied Artists Supply Store (named for the picture

company, a division of Monogram Pictures) and the

Monogram Drug Store (named for the picture company

created in the early 1930’s). The comic book shop, “Dr.

Fantasy’s” was a nod to Frank Marshall’s stage name

when performing magic 2 .

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers

The Futtermans are watching the Red Skelton Show 2

Mrs. Deagle only works from 10:30-11:15 Monday to

Friday. Forty-five minutes a day!

“It’s something I like to do in pictures because I like it. Like Mad magazine. The first time I remember seeing that kind of artwork

was in a Mad paperback -- I’d never looked at the magazine -- the paperbacks were reprints of the comics drawn by people like

Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder and Wallace Wood. They were full of background jokes. That was the reason you could read them

over and over again. There was always something interesting to see that you may not have seen on first reading.

“Though I never thought of it as a conscious influence, I realized as I thought back on what I’ve done that I’ve always

tried for that -- I’ve always tried to fill up scenes and visuals with all sorts of different stuff going on -- though I hope it’s not

a distraction.

“On Gremlins, there was so much time where we just had to sit around and wait for things to dry, or wait for lighting or

wait for effects or wait for people to arrive, there were so many things being changed all the time the natural outgrowth was that

a lot of spare ideas started to float around and sort of found their way into the setups”

[This is very evident as Rand Peltzer calls home from the convention,] “we waited until the end of shooting to do that

set-up. Because it was an easy scene to shoot we figured whatever leftover ideas we hadn’t used could go into that scene. A

lot of times you’re stymied by the complexity of a scene. There are so many elements to consider, you don’t have time to do

experiments -- getting the movie done is more important. In fact that scene was much less elaborate than we had planned because

we were all exhausted by the time we got to the end of filming. All that was required was a close-up of Hoyt Axton on the phone,

but we had fun with it. Believe me, if this was a Corman movie, that’s all you would have seen.”

Joe Dante 15

119


As many viewers have noticed,

the poster for Rockin’ Ricky Rialto

references Indiana Jones and the

Temple of Doom, but the reason behind

this may not be immediately apparent

is Why? It was Temple of Doom that

Spielberg was working on at the time

of Gremlins, that had him away from

set. Such references to Spielberg’s

work appear throughout the film, Dante

says that he included them so that

Spielberg would be happy when he saw

the dailies.

Book Text

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers

The Howling is

scheduled to play in

the theater 2

A Hypnotism

record by “Dr

Dante”

© Warner Brothers

The E.T. doll

is a Spielberg

reference, while

Bugs Bunny and

Sylvester are a

nod to Warner

Brothers.

© Warner Brothers

120


One of the many uniquely entertaining elements

of Gremlins is the fact that Rand Peltzer is an inventor,

and not a terribly successful one at that. “Part of the

idea of Hoyt being an inventor and all that came from

the idea of entropy, that everything basically is going to

fall apart anyway and the stuff that he makes falls apart

as soon as he makes it. So we had designed a whole lot

of dumb inventions, some of which seem kinda real. In

fact, if it wasn’t for this bathroom buddy thing being so

big, I could see that they might actually be able to sell

something like this today” (Joe Dante 2 .

Perhaps the most familiar inventions

are the Bathroom Buddy, Smokeless Ashtray,

and Peeler/Juicer, but there were many other

inventions seen on screen. These inventions often

© Warner Brothers c/o

Souvenir Magazine

Fantastic Ideas for Book Text a Fantastic World

serve as MAD magazine-esque ‘doodles in the margins’,

which Dante included to keep himself (and knowing

audience members) entertained. These inventions

(including the ‘energizer artichoke’, electric hammer, and

high-speed flyswatter) may not take center stage but are

intriguing nonetheless. According to Bob MacDonald Jr,

Rand’s predilection for inventing “represents one of the

more enjoyable aspects of making the film... the idea

was to illustrate that Peltzer is always coming up with

these ideas, but he never quite makes it” 1 .

Bob MacDonald Sr. designed the power hammer,

Bob MacDonald Jr. created the automatic flyswatter,

and James Spencer produced the Peltzer blender, egg

crusher, remove phone answerer and peeler juicer.

“We should have merchandised these things instead of the dolls”

Joe Dante 2

“The idea was that Peltzer was always

coming up with things that didn’t

quite make it”

Bob McDonald Jr. 8

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

“They were very funny. Every time we

came up with a new idea for a gag, the

special effects guys came up with all

sorts of weird stuff. I mean, these guys

are in the business because they like to

make strange gadgets. As a result, that

kind of input makes the picture better”

Joe Dante 1

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

121


The challenge was not only bringing Rand’s shot it almost like a Clint Eastwood Western. I open the

Book Text

inventions to life, but also engineering them so that they cupboard, I take the glass out, and I look at it. It’s like a

wouldn’t work. Galligan recalls filming the infamous showdown between me and the juicer. And then I get

Peltzer Peeler/Juicer scene, “it was hilarious to film. They creamed” 1

“I remember thinking that the people in the prop

department were really ingenious, especially this one

with cracking the eggs. All of these scenes were

incredibly fun to shoot for me”

Zach Galligan 2

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

© Warner Brothers c/o Golden Storybook

“The scene where Billy uses the Peltzer juicer to try and get a glass

of orange juice, and ends up covering himself and the kitchen with

the stuff, was a lot of fun to shoot. We used a reservoir topped

off with real pulp and orange juice and connected it to an air hose.

But we might have had the pressure up a little too high. I was back

twenty feet away from the action when the switch was hit to empty

the tank, and I got doused. I think I was more surprised than

anybody, although Zach was very surprised when he hit the button”

Bob MacDonald Sr. 8

“The goo squirter [for the faulty coffee machine] was basically a pod full of brown goo, with air pressure on top and a suction

tube off the bottom so the air could push the liquid up the top and out a hose... but the pressure was running low and air

got into the tube. As we did the take, a big gulp of air blew out and sprayed her and everything around her. Everybody got a

laugh out of that, and they ended up using that take in the movie”

Richard Stutsman 5

© Warner Brothers

122


© Warner Brothers

Book Text

“The prop blender was a bowl-type affair that sat on top of

the counter, where we cut a hole. We ended up with a piston

we could draw down into a tube that was about two or three

inches in diameter. We poured the gremlin blood into the

tube and filled it up, with the piston at the bottom. We energized

it with air and that would bring the liquid to the top

of the tube, where we had a series of air gets that worked

sequentially, in a circular motion to blow the stuff around

the room at different angles – as if blades were spinning

and splattering this stuff around. As we were forcing the

liquid up and swimming it around, the puppet could be pulled

down through a hole, it sort of disappeared as if it was

being chewed up by the blender.”

Richard Ratliff 5

“[The blender gag] was one of the fun ones. I was in a giant bucket underneath the set in my bathing suit

and a rain poncho because when that gag went off I got completely covered in green goo.”

Ethan Wiley 5

“A trailer from an 18 wheeler was decked out like portable creature shop with Gremlin shelves etc. at Chris’. It was named ‘Das

Box’ after the German U-Boat film “Das Boot’ It was then trucked down to the Warner’s sound stage (Burbank Studios, as it was

shared with Columbia Pictures). Chris wanted a sign to keep unauthorized people out of it. So I made a sign warning that a certain

‘dangerous’ chemical was in frequent use and this was posted according to such and such health code, with page and paragraph so

noted. One day the Fire Marshall of the studio comes in and demands we take the sign down. His office was getting complaints

about this (non-existent) chemical being used on site. And his men were spending hours trying to find it in hazardous materials

books. So we took it down. But in the scene where Mr. Peltzer is testing his inventions part of the sign is seen in the background,

along with a Gremlin arm mechanism.”

Jay Davis 29

© Warner Brothers c/o Press Kit

123


Rand attends an Inventors’ Convention, and

although we don’t get to see much of that setting, we

get a brief glimpse as he calls home. This scene is the

human equivalent of Dorry’s Tavern, as there are gags

and references aplenty. Jerry Goldsmith makes a cameo

appearance, as does Steven Spielberg (he is pictured

in a leg cast, riding around in a specialized wheelchair

designed by Bob MacDonald, watching the movie

Poltergeist). Zach Galligan’s stand-in is visible, dressed

like Joe Dante. Robby the Robot (owned and operated

by Bill Malone) and the George Pal Time Machine (care

of Bob Burns) give the viewer lots to look at.

Dante recalls, “I tried to get Forray Ackerman to

be the person sitting in the time machine, but that didn’t

work out. So I had to settle for a Steven Spielberg cameo

instead. Steven had visited the Gremlins set on the day

we were shooting the little toy car zooming around the

department store, and he decided that everything was

going fine on the picture and that

Inventors Book Convention

Text

he wanted to be in it. There was still one scene left to

shoot at that point, which was the inventor’s convention.

So...” ( Joe Dante 8 ).

“The one other day [ Spielberg] was on the set

was during the convention shots while we were setting

up the ‘Time Machine’ joke. Steven kept saying, ‘Why

don’t you make it more broad? Maybe you could have

the Japanese guy throwing things up in the air so people

will look over there and see that joke?’ To make him

happy, I did in fact shoot a couple of versions of that

scene, but it was just too broad. People who didn’t get

the joke were wondering why this guy was throwing

things up in the air. It was confusing. The version we

used is subtle enough so if someone didn’t notice the

Time Machine before the fact that it is gone in the next

shot goes by almost subliminally and then the joke is

over. It’s remarkable, though, how many people get that

joke -- obviously George Pal lives” ( Joe Dante 15 ).

124


Coming up with the design for the mogwai was

no easy feat. The description in the script was vague,

and although that left room for artistic interpretation,

the film makers were very particular about what they

wanted - so particular that the mogwai design went

through several stages over the course of seven months

to develop the characters that we see on screen.

Everything from the size and colour to the overall shape

was considered, and a variety of different puppeteering

approaches were explored. At first, given Dante’s desire

for realistic looking and moving creatures, living animals

such as monkeys and squirrels were considered. This

was dismissed for a myriad of reasons, and puppets

became the focus.

Ultimately, the creature crew modified the

mogwai design to resemble the colours of Spielberg’s

cocker spaniel Chauncy, a move which won over the

famous producer. Zach Galligan recalls that “they

made the Mogwai and brought them to Spielberg

to see. They were black and white. But Steven’s

dog is brown and white, so they made them the

exact color of his dog” (Zach Galligan 1 ). Although

The Book Mogwai Text

the decision helped finalize the design, it created a

considerable amount of extra work for the creature

crew. Walas recalls “it was murder for us, we had already

started doing all these fur coats for all these puppets”

(Chris Walas 3 ).

Another issue that led to significant debate was

the size of the mogwai. Although the script called for

something around ten to eleven inches tall, the creature

crew were hoping they could increase the size in order to

facilitate the necessary mechanics. Dante and Spielberg

maintained that in order to be cute, the mogwai had to

be small. The tiny puppets were a neverending source of

misery for the crew, because not only was it difficult to

create working mechanisms that fit in their bodies, they

often broke down and needed time-consuming repairs.

The mogwai fur became yet another challenge

in the design process. Typical woven hair was too stiff,

causing odd folds and restricting the mechanics. To

combat these issues, they had synthetic fur specially

made by two companies. They kept a close eye on the

fur at all times to ensure that it was clean and brushed

the right direction.

“Initially, Joe wanted the mogwai to look very real.

At one point, we even brought in a monkey to

see if we might be able to put a monkey in a suit.

Then we thought of getting some little squirrels,

or some kind of rodent from some remote part of

the world that wouldn’t be immediately identifiable,

and do a little bit of coloring on them. But then

the decision was reached that such an approach

would make the Mogwai believable, but not very

interesting. And the dog in the film was, I think,

enough working with animals for Joe, anyway, so

we decided to go with a full effects creature.”

Chris Walas 13

One of the early Mogwai puppets gets fitted for fur. Quite

a number of puppets were completed in this fur scheme

before the design was changed.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

“In the first drafts, there was a scene where the mogwai was first revealed and he was supposed to jump out of his box, run

across the floor, pick up an ashtray and run back to the family with it. At that stage, we were actually thinking of using a little

monkey that we interviewed, just dressing him up with gremlin ears and other attachments. In fact, we had visions of twentyfive

or thirty spider monkeys running around in gremlin suits for the crowd scenes. But then his trainer told us that monkeys

hate attachments like that, and that he’d probably end up throwing a tantrum. So we decided to go a different route and design

and build our own creatures”

Chris Walas 8

125


The mogwai were never intended to survive the puppets (10” tall, with latex and urethane hands and

Book Text

entire film. Gizmo was destined to become one of the feet, and foam latex faces) were made, and of those,

gremlins, so the role of the mogwai would have been

quite limited. Spielberg decided that Gizmo was too

cute to sacrifice, and that he needed to become a hero...

one that played prominently in the whole movie! This

dramatically increased the demands on the mogwai

puppets, which required the crew to create new rigs

that could accomplish complicated tasks and provide a

greater range of expression.

a dozen were versions of Gizmo 8 . Three ‘ max’ mogwai

puppets were built. These puppets packed the maximum

amount of mechanics possible into the tiny space within

the mogwai’s head and body. They included jointed

legs, mechanical arms and fully articulated heads, all

within the tiny ten-inch frame 8 , “their armatures were

composed of intricate, hand-machined aluminum

tooling, and they were totally cable-controlled” ( Chris

Ultimately around 20 complete mogwai Walas 8 ).

“While I had had a lot of fun on the basic

gremlin design, the mogwai were another

thing entirely. It took us seven months to

nail that design down. With the mogwai, we

were constantly fooling around and changing

things, because it’s very challenging to try

and come up with something that is basically

a teddy bear but doesn’t look like a teddy bear.

The overriding idea, always, was that the

mogwai be as cute as possible, and initially

Chris Columbus had them looking like little

hamsters. But gradually we grew away from

that”

Chris Walas 8

“ Joe fi nally said, ‘He doesn’t like anything, but he

just got two Cavalier King Charles puppies’. So Joe

suggested ‘Why don’t you make Gizmo look a little

bit like a Cavalier King Charles?’ which is how Gizmo

came to be.”

Belinda Balaski 35

“ Gizmo is a lot like my dog Chauncy, who was the

inspiration for the two-tone coloration, as well as

its large, watery eyes”

Steven Spielberg 1

“About two months before the beginning of production, Steven Spielberg had a brainstorm. Instead of having Gizmo

change into the lead gremlin – which was in our script up to this point – Spielberg was going to have him remain a mogwai and

help fi ght the gremlins and become a hero at the end. This threw Chris Walas and everybody else for a lurch, because they had

made the mogwai so small that it was almost impossible to articular the structure of their bodies. Their legs were so short that

if they had taken a step, they would have fallen over. That had been okay, originally, because Gizmo was going to be there for

only about a third of the fi lm. But suddenly, he had to carry the show! It was obvious that with what little time we had left, Chris

wasn’g going to be able to come up with something sophisticated enough – especially with all the work he already had facing him.

So Joe decided the best thing to do would be to stick Gizmo in a backpack or have somebody carry him in his arms whenever he

needed to walk. That way he never had to.”

John Hora 8

126

© Chris Walas c/o Inside Gremlins


“This one is what the Mogwai looked Book like Textbefore there was ever a Gizmo”

© Chris Walas

“Another shot of one of the RC Mogwai. Pretty

sure this is the one that became the terrified

Gizmo pinned to the dartboard.”

© Chris Walas

127


Book Text

“Here’s one of the RC Mogwai underway.

We had a good number of the Mogwai

puppets built or being built when the

change came and we had to re-fur them

all and replace the ears with the seethrough

latex ones.”

© Chris Walas

128


Gizmo Book Text

“Gizmo was the biggest pain in the butt in the history of mankind”

~ Chris Walas 3 © Warner Brothers

Gizmo did not always exist in Gremlins, he was

an invention born during the rewriting process. In the

early script, all of the mogwai turned into gremlins, “the

idea for Gizmo was Steven Spielberg’s. Originally, there

were the cute creatures that all turned into gremlins.

He thought it was important to keep one of them good

throughout the movie, so that he’d be able to help Billy,

support him, and be his friend” (Mike Finnell 1 ). Because

Gizmo was so cute, Spielberg believed that the movie

would be more satisfying from an audience standpoint

if he remained sweet and friendly throughout the movie

(Joe Dante 3 ).

Although this idea made perfect sense from

a storytelling and film-making standpoint, the effects

crew were thrown for a loop. Walas recalls that when

he found out, “all I could imagine is all this action at

the whole end of the picture was Billy running around

carrying this thing with five guys racing along holding

cables behind him” (Chris Walas 3 ). “The problem was

that he hadn’t really been engineered to do a lot of the

things that he was now going to be called upon to do,

and so since this happened we found ourselves kind

of scrambling while we late in the game, were shooting

to invent ways of puppeteering Gizmo so that he would

be able to look moderately convincing. I think as the

story goes on and we get to some of the individual

shots, it will be apparent what ways we tried to do that”

(Joe Dante 3 ). The gremlins were, for the most part,

much easier to operate and the Gizmo puppets were

not designed to perform all the new tasks that would be

required.

To accommodate Gizmo’s surprising prolonged

time on screen, the creature crew designed an arsenal of

new puppets that could perform various tasks. Although

there were larger puppets for closeups, puppets with

simple mechanisms and puppets with all the bells and

whistles, they couldn’t find a way to make Gizmo walk.

They shot some test footage with the mogwais turning

themselves into furballs and bouncing down the stairs to

lure Barney out onto the porch, although it never made

it to the final cut 3 . The crew did everything that they

could to keep him from actually having to walk (such as

hiding in a helmet), which is where the idea to put him

in a backpack originated 3 .

129


Book Text

“In the original version of the picture,

Gizmo turns into Stripe, the bad gremlin,

and there’s no more Gizmo for the second

half of the movie because Gizmo is now

a monster. Well, rather late in the game,

Steven decided, obviously correctly, but

nonetheless terrifyingly, that Gizmo was

really cute, and he shouldn’t turn into

anything bad, he should always be around

for the whole movie and be Billy’s pall.”

Joe Dante 2

“ Gizmo’s really cute,

so it’s really hard to

not fall in love with

Gizmo.”

Belinda Balaski 35

“We did not have nearly the range with Gizmo that we would have had if he had been a cartoon character, but considering

what we had to work with, that approach seemed to be the best for getting the most out of exactly what there was.

“I must tell you that all of us are just astounded at how people have taken to Gizmo. Because, as you might imagine, he

was rather diffi cult on the set. It wasn’t just that he drank and complained about the contract, he was just a horror. Chris ( Walas)

kept saying, ‘can’t you make him any bigger? Please make him bigger. It’s so hard to do it when it’s small’. And I said, ‘If we don’t

do it this small, there’s no point in doing it at all because it’s gotta be small to be cute. If it’s any bigger, he’s going to be kind

of unpleasant. He’d be alike a big muskrat or something, and nobody’s going to want to have him in their house.’ And he said

(resignedly), ‘All right, all right, all right.....’ So he did, and I have to tell you it’s a miracle, just a miracle of fi lm. It fi lls me with

humility to think about the power of movies, that you could take an object as obstinately inanimate as this was and give it any

kind of personality. It’s just astonishing.”

Joe Dante 9

130


The small size of the mogwai presented quite often bore exaggerated facial expressions, because

Book Text

a challenge to the special effects crew, more so with their inhuman features did not naturally emote the way

Gizmo because of his additional screen time. In order human faces do. Not only were different faces created,

to achieve a wide variety of body movements and but entirely different puppets as well. Two “maxmogwai”

expressions in many unique circumstances, they created

puppets were constructed with the maximum

different puppets for different functions. These puppets

utilized a plethora of puppeteering methods ranging

from traditional puppeteering, to cable controls, and

radio controls. Walas utilized an ingenious mechanism

for giving the tiny puppet a variety of facial expressions,

a series of alternate faces for the mogwai that could

be exchanged to modify the expression. These faces

amount of mechanics possible. In several scenes,

Gizmo is portrayed by a 3 times larger-than-life puppet

(the super-face), with an extraordinarily wide range of

expressions. Although it meant that Gizmo could portray

much more complex emotions more effectively, this

necessitated the creation of triple-scale props as well,

including pillows, a comic book, and 3D glasses 1 .

“I wanted the mogwai to be maybe twice the size that they are, to make things a little easier on us, but Joe insisted that

they had to be cute... and of course he as right. But that left us with a head-size of about two or three inches, with the

space inside it of a small coin-purse. Within that space, we were able to pack in enough mechanization for blinking and

moving the eyes, wiggling the nose, opening and closing the mouth, moving the ears up and down, and movement of the

head – that was about it.”

Chris Walas 13

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

“Emotions are easily identified on a human face. If somebody’s sad or happy, you know it. But to try to put the same thing

across on, for instance, a crocodile, you have to go really broad. You start with two eyes, and nose and a mouth, and you go

crazy with it. We must’ve made close to ten different faces for the little guy. We shot Polaroids of each of them and put them

on a ring; before each shot, I’d take the ring up to Joe and ask him which face he wanted... ‘Eeehhh... let’s have the inquisitive

face -- no, no, no... make ’im happy. No, no, nervous. Nervous is better...’ Then we’d go to our little library of pre-furred and

pre-painted foam rubber faces and select the appropriate one, and go through the rather elaborate procedure of connecting it to

the various mechanisms, shoot the shot, and go through it again for the next shot.” Chris Walas 13

131


A Mogwai walking rig was developed by Jon Berg and others, but not used in the film.

Book Text

Here is the puppet under construction.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

© Joe Dante c/o Joe Dante Biography

Bob Cooper developing the walking rig for the Mogwai.

© Chris Walas, via Cesar Dacol Jr.

132


Book Text

© Warner Brothers

An articulated dummy version of Gizmo in the process of being furred. This was used for

shots of Gizmo flying through the air.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

“We had a wonderful, life-saving rig, actually two

of them, very simple but very effective. They

took up the entire backpack, and they raised

Gizmo up. He could look around, and his ears

went up and down, and his mouth opened and

closed. Just a life-saver... I would always beg

Joe, ‘can we use the backpack guy?’”

Chris Walas 3

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

“This thing couldn’t do anything, so Joe said ‘let’s

just put him in a backpack, and we’ll see him wiggle

and we’ll have his head pop out, but we won’t have

to have him do anything.”

John Hora 34

133


© Joe Dante c/o Joe Dante Biography

Book Text

© Joe Dante c/o Joe Dante Biography

© Joe Dante c/o Joe Dante Biography

134


Book Text

“The head space in the small MGs [mogwai] was only about two or three inches, yet even within that tiny area we were able to

pack in enough mechanics for blinking and moving the eyes, wiggling the nose, opening and closing the mouth, moving the head

and moving the ears up and down. Unfortunately, this small area limited the mechanics for facial expressions. So we made

about ten different Gizmo faces, shooting Polaroid photos of each and then clipping the pictures onto a ring. Before each shot,

I’d take the ring up to Joe and ask him which face he wanted. Then we’d go down to our little library of pre-furred and painted

foam rubber faces and select the appropriate one, going through the rather elaborate procedure of connecting the face to the

various mechanisms, filming it, and repeating the whole process over again for the next shot.” Chris Walas 8

© Joe Dante c/o Joe Dante Biography

© Joe Dante c/o Joe Dante Biography

© Joe Dante c/o Joe Dante Biography

Construction Tool Bench 15. Mark Walas adjusts the

“hand-off” RC Gizmo puppet.

© Chris Walas, via Cesar Dacol Jr.

“We also had two puppets that we called our ‘Max-mogwai’, because they were fitted out with the maximum mechanics that

we could pack in; all the facial movement that the size of their tiny heads would allow, and their mechanized mini-arms. The

mogwai’s arms were only about two and a half inches long, so they required very precise control. One of my crewmembers,

Tim Gillette, did an excellent job on them. Because of their size, we had to work with very tight set-up conditions with the

mogwai; everything had to be very carefully planned and blocked out. The gremlins, which were larger, were easier to have fun

with, and we did a lot more improvisation with them.” Chris Walas 14

135


“Putting hair on those small mogwai puppets was a problem. Book We couldn’t Text get woven hair to behave well enough on netting, since

the netting was so stiff that when it was stretched out over our interior mechanisms, it often restricted them and created awkward

folds. We did a lot of tests with rubberizing fur, but there was just so much stress and work going on with these puppets that

nothing held up very well except cloth backing. So we then had some specific synthetic fur run up for us by two companies –

one on the east coast, one of the west – We were constantly rechecking that fur before every single shot – making sure the

hair was brushed the right way, and that there weren’t any dirty marks or tears in the foam. We also had to make sure that the

mogwai’s eyes and noses were always wet.” Chris Walas 8

Valerie Sofranko cleans and touches up the eyelids on the Mogwai puppets.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

The script describes the

mogwai as “ten inches tall and

stands upright on two legs.

It has two arms, with small,

four-fingered hands. The

piercing eyes are big, sad.

Its ears are long and pointed.

A tiny black nose sits above

a wide mouth, with very small

square teeth” 1

136


Three oversized ‘superfaces’ were made, two “The mogwai nose, was half-puppy, half-monkey –

Book Text

for Gizmo (one for the positive emotions, and one for just your standard, cute, animal nose” (Chris Walas 8 ).

the negative emotions), and one for the other mogwai. To make them look more natural, the noses had to be

These cable-controlled faces were almost three feet kept wet using a methycellulose mixture 8 . The ears

across (about ten inches tall, and over a foot wide also required close attention to detail, “the latex ears

without the ears), and were capable of movement in the were slit in half, and then some heavy, correctly colored

eyes, brows, nostrils and mouth with the help of thirtysix

cable-actuated mechanisms 8 .

together again. The end result was a fine impression of

threads were glued on and the halves laminated back

All the details had to be exactly right to sell veins in the ears, ones that could be backlit and not look

the illusion that the mogwai were real creatures. too obvious” (Chris Walas 8 ).

Valerie Sofranko works on the finishing work with the

yak hair on the oversize Gizmo before starting the

trimming process.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

“The closeup head was

probably about 2 feet

across, it was pretty

darn huge. With the

ears it was at least 3

feet”

Chris Walas 3

Oversize Mogwai puppet during delicate eye surgery.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

“Once we got our superfaces going, they could give us just about any facial movement we wanted – which was fun, really,

because they could come up with a lot stranger expressions than you or I... even though the superface eyes were cablecontrolled,

we had tons of puppets, both MGs and GMs with radio-controlled eyes scattered throughout the shoot... On the MG

superfaces, the ears were a difficult problem anyway, because of their size and weight. We used an interior support system

there, one where there were clear plastic vacuformed tubes running from the tips of the ears down to the base, attached to

the underskull itself.” Chris Walas 8

137


Book Text

Ted Shell trims the hand tied yak hair on the oversize

Gizmo puppet.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

© Chris Walas, via Cesar Dacol Jr.

Construction Tool bench 12. Pete Kleinow assembles mechanisms for

the oversize Gizmo puppet.

Construction Tool Bench 9. Kelly

Lepkowsky paints Gizmo’s eyeballs for the

oversized puppet.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

“The close up Gizmo head was also tricky. Although it was oversized so you could get close, and the detail would hold up

photographically, we had so many servos and other mechanisms in the head that there wasn’t much room for the puppeteer’s

hand, so it was custom built to fit Jim Isaac, who was a very talented puppeteer, and had the smallest hands of the group.

On a rather hectic day of shooting, there were a few final touches being done to the blink mechanism on this head while on

set, in place, lit and ready to shoot, one of our crew members was carefully shaving off a rough spot on the mechanism with

a Dremel Tool, and in the blink of an eye the Dremel caught a piece of the soft foam rubber face and literally tore half of it

off! The poor guy didn’t even have time to flinch. The face was then quickly replaced with a back up, and we finish the day

without another incident.....if I remember correctly :)” Blair Clark 33

138


At first it wasn’t clear how the multiplication of

the mogwai would occur on screen, and a number of

approaches were considered. The scene was going to go

one of two ways - graphic and slimy, or less graphic and

more fun - the crew decided that fun was the way to go.

Although the early part of the scene was filmed during

the main production, but the bulk was shot afterwards.

A 30” Gizmo was constructed to allow the crew

more room to create the effect, and with a greater

level of detail. Peter Kleinow and Tim Gillette devised

a clever and convincing system that connected the

oversized back to an air cannon which launched

five balls through small slits cut in the hand-tied

fur 8 . This required equally blown-up set dressings,

including the comic books that littered Billy’s desk.

The mogwai balls “were the biggest nightmare.

There were eight guys under the table trying to

push the rubberized fur balloons up while blowing

them up” (Chris Walas 3 ). A small army of puppeteers

were required to operate the multiplying puppet

(and around 12-15 of them worked to operate

the newly hatched mogwai and Gizmo in the long

shot) 3 , but the finished effect was very impressive.

In order to create the expanding fur balls, Jon

Berg developed a system that used air bladders covered

Multiplying Book TextMogwai

with stretchy rubberized fur, connected to air lines

that were concealed through the desk. These lines

ran directly into the mouths of operators hidden under

the table who blew them up like furry balloons 8 . Walas

describes the process of animating them, “a coworker

and I just put the tubes to our lips and blew our brains

out” (Chris Walas 8 ).

When the new mogwai are ‘born’, they are

temporarily covered in a slimy substance that adds a

delightfully icky texture. “That was a methylcellulate

material we call Ultraslime, which is made by the Friendly

Plastic Company in Boulder, Colorado. It’s great stuff,

and can be mixed in any grade we need. Unlike many

of the materials that we use in this business, which are

not particularly safe, Ultraslime is completely, medically,

food-grade quality non-toxic” 8 .

One of the most complex mogwai shots showed

Gizmo and his offspring sitting on Billy’s desk, which

utilized two cable-controlled ‘max’ mogwai (one for

Gizmo, one for Stripe, each of which required several

operators hidden off camera) along with a rod-puppet

with a special armature, a basic hand puppet, and

a unique ‘back-bender’ puppet developed by Eben

Stromquist and Mark Walas. The cables were concealed

within the hollow desk 8 .

The over-sized Gizmo on an over-sized set for the furball popping effect.

Richard Ratcliff of the Special effects Crew fires the air cannons that

shot the furballs.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

Oversized Gizmo puppet (sans head) waits patiently.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

“In the design stage, we couldn’t decide how we wanted it to be done, whether it was going to be a very graphic, slimy, biological

division or whether it was going to be more fantasy oriented and more fun. We opted for the fun. To get the effects desired, we

had to build a three-times-larger than scale mock-up of Gizmo. Normally, he was 10 inches tall and the mock-up was 30 inches tall.

And we had to put in a specific mechanism to make his back bubble and churn, and air pumps to make the little fur balls pop out.

It was an involved set-up that took a lot of operators, but it worked very well.”

Chris Walas 1

139


The new Mogwai were designed to look

Book Text

was contributed by their individual puppeteers, and

similar to Gizmo, so as to obviously be members in part, the type of puppet they were and how that

of the same species, but different enough to have influenced their range of movement.

individual character. They are lighter in colour than To allow the new mogwai different

Gizmo, and their expressions less sweet and innocent.

expressions, the crew built two large scale heads

Ethan Wiley suggested that the main evil mogwai

(although only one was used for the most part) and

be given a distinctive design, the furry Mohawk

“about 8 or 9 little faces and they’d go on whatever

that came to define, and even name, the character.

Although only Stripe gets a name, the others also

puppets [were] needed for the shot” (Chris Walas, 3 ).

had characters of their own. Walas tried to give them all They also used many camera tricks to alter the

special characteristics, “one guy sneezes all the time, and movement of the mogwai to make them look more

another laughs by bouncing his head. As a matter of fact, believable (as supernatural creatures go). John Hora

we used the Seven Dwarfs as an analogy for the Mogwai would vary the camera speed, shoot in reverse,

at one point so they would have individual personalities” etc. most notably as the mogwai beg for food after

(Chris Walas) 1 . Much of the character for each mogwai midnight 2 .

© Warner Brothers c/o Golden Storybook

“For some reason, I really like that. It’s my favourite

shot. That was one of the many spontaneous

things that Joe put into the film. The storyboards

just had Billy and Gizmo alone in there, doing

nothing, and Joe said, ‘Well, why don’t we get him

to read a 3-D comic?’ That was great, a great idea.

So we took a ten-inch ‘max’ puppet, put armature

wire in the hands so he could hold onto the book

and glasses, and then posed and shot him.”

© Joe Dante c/o Joe Dante Biography

Gremlins

The comics were

blown up as well,

they were DC

comics, owned

by Warner

Brothers.

Chris Walas 8 © Warner Brothers c/o Inside

140


© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

Book Text

141


“The five MGs that Gizmo gave birth to were really characterized by the

Book Text

operators. Although we never gave them on-screen names, except for Stripe, we did

try to make each of them distinctive. Stripe, of course, has that flashy white streak

across the top of his head. One of the others sneezed all the time, and yet another

laughed by bouncing his head. But every single one of them was a different puppet.

One was rod-controlled and had an articulated, almost stop-motion-like armature and we

called him our ‘prairie dog’ puppet. Stripe was a ‘max’ puppet. Then we had one that was

just a hand puppet with a simplified head. One of the best of the five puppets, though,

was called the ‘back-bender’ [that could not only bend his back, but also a number of

other unique movements]. He was developed by Eben Stromquist and my brother Mark.”

Chris Walas 8

© Warner Brothers

The werewolf drawing on the table

was done by Joe Dante 2

Mogwai puppets and controllers laid out in prep for

shooting. Three puppeteers had to squeeze in under

the table, surrounded by an army of operators.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

“In terms of logistics and organization, the shot where you see the five MGs in the box in Billy’s bedroom was one of

the toughest shots. Billy’s bedroom and the whole Peltzer house had been built above an empty pool on Stage 15 at TBS, so we had

no trouble getting underneath the sets when we needed to operate the puppets. That below-stage work area we called ‘Down Under’

– mainly because I was always talking about sneaking off to Australia for a vacation, and so my crew would respond by inviting

me to come ‘Down Under’. The problem was, for this one shot we had five MGs packed into a very tight space. Consequently,

our mechanics had to be kept very well organized. The trunk that the five MGs – which were basically cable-controlled – were

sleeping in had no bottom, just a couple of two-by-fours on which we could rest all the puppets and set dressing that we needed.

Then a number of cables ran down beneath the stage, in a circular arrangement which terminated in operators looking at lots of

video monitors. People were crawling all over themselves. It was very crowded. But I cannot credit Jim Spencer enough. He

made the Gremlins set very mobile. We could pull back a wall or ceiling or get under the floor any time we wanted to. That was

extremely helpful.”

Chris Walas 8

142


Ethan Wiley works Book on the Text performance of the

Mogwai spitting rig before fitting the body and final

head.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

© Joe Dante c/o Joe Dante Biography

When Stripe spits on Gizmo, the ‘spit’ was supplied by Bob

MacDonald and consisted of a mixture of squash and applesauce

baby food propelled by a pressure pot 8 . Gizmo’s unhappy

expression was a result of one of the ten replacement faces.

© Warner Brothers

143


The second on-screen mogwai multiplication was

Book Text

approached in a different way. Since the first division was

clearly focused on the mogwai, this one placed emphasis

on the actors. Walas states that “I think that playing off

the actors for the second reproduction actually adds a

lot more to the scene, because you’re getting a different

perspective of what’s happening” (Chris Walas) 1 . The

two mogwai in the scene were max mogwai, to allow for

the most possible motion and realism.

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers

The notebook on the teacher’s desk was Mike Finnell’s, and were his

scribbled notes about production 2

Joe Dante did the drawing of the piranha in the classroom scene (under the mogwai) “I guess I was just

doodling all over the set. I guess one of the reasons for that was that everything took a long time and there

was a lot of downtime. One time I remember the production manager Phil Rollins came down to the set, and

something had broken and was being fixed, and everybody on the set was asleep”

Joe Dante 3

On set with the second (non-Gizmo) oversized puppet.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

144


The Book Gremlins Text

“We like to think of the gremlins as lovable but horrible. they start out real lovable and get a little

more horrible. But even when they’re horrible they’re sort of lovable. They do incredibly rude and

nasty things... and enjoy it all the while” ~ Chris Walas 1

“We wanted to take

advantage of the

‘legend’ of gremlins.

They are basically

mischievous

creatures who live

to have a good

time lousing things

up and making life

for people difficult.

Not by attacking

them physically,

necessarily, but

by getting into

machinery and

doing all sorts of

tricks. They are

practical jokers. And

it makes them very

original monsters.”

Mike Finnell 1

© Warner Brothers, 1984 c/o Cinefex 19

“They’re repulsive,

disgusting. When

they get really

angry they lean

forward, their ears

go down, their

upper lips come up,

and their brows furl.

They start twitching

and their breathing

becomes more

intense. Then they

start snarling and

giggling. They make

you kinda go bleck!”

Zach Galligan 1

“Chris originally designed the gremlin with a tail

that tapered into a “V’ shape. But when it stood

straight on to camera, lets just say, it looked like

he didn’t have any pants on. So Chris redesigned

the tail to widen into a inverted ‘V’”.

Jay Davis 29

“I had a lot of fun coming up with the basic gremlin

design. I literally sat down and set out to give this

guy the craziest look possible, really nuts, and they

just loved it. The mogwai we fooled around with

more -- fussing with the size of the eyes, the

shape of the nose and so on.”

Chris Walas 13

Chris Columbus famously conceived the idea for

Gremlins in his loft, where the mice would skitter around

the room in the dark. He recalls “I was living in a loft,

and I used to see mice on the floor. Which scared the

heck out of me. I thought that there was nothing more

frightening than some little things that you can’t see. You

don’t know where they are; they’re always in the shadows.”

Chris Columbus 1

145

There was already some gremlin lore to play with, mainly

relating to WWII. Dante wanted to bring the WWII mythology

into the film, making them more mischievous than vicious, his

gremlins “just like to do bad things and use technology against

people. All the mechanical devices that people depend on are

turned against them. And the gremlins think that that’s just the

funniest thing in the world.”

Joe Dante 10


At their most basic, the gremlins are immoral (or intentionally creates “an ambiguity of feeling about

Book Text

perhaps amoral) creatures out for nothing more than the gremlins. In certain scenes, the movie makes the

some light destruction, mischief, and a generally good audience a little unsure about how they should feel.

time. Their overtly cruel and sadistic nature from the By the time the gremlins are in the movie theater,

original script was toned down significantly, “I think that you’re thinking ‘kill the little bastards.’ But then, they’re

to work, the gremlins have to be completely immoral. watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and Billy

Stripe can do things because he’s mean, but the other says to Kate, ‘They’re watching Snow White, and they

guys just have fun. All people think about is that if love it’. It’s like sitting with somebody who you know has

they do this, something ‘great’ is going to happen and killed seven people, yet he’s pleasant and complimentary

people are going to scream. And they love to make toward you. In this movie, you still know these creatures

people scream. They like to break things, they like to be are essentially evil” (Chris Columbus 22 ).

rude, they like to belch, they like to blow their noses on Nobody imagined that the gremlin effects would

people’s curtains. They like to do all sorts of things that turn out so realistically, in fact, the convincing nature of

outrage people. You feel that they just do not think in the puppets was a cause for concern, despite the fact

human terms. They’re crazy” ( Joe Dante 1 ). “ Joe’s intent that shocking the audience wasn’t the intent. Walas’

was never to make a straight horror film at all. It was the design for the gremlins came together brilliantly, their

slightly maniacal, half-mischievous, half-terror quality large eyes, mouths and ears allowed for a great range

about the picture that really enticed both him and of inhuman expression, but also hinted at the creatures

myself” ( Chris Walas 9 ).

of the night that inspired him. There are also enough

The gremlins are seemingly simple, but the film humanoid qualities to give them significant character.

© Chris Walas, 1982 c/o Inside Gremlins

“I went more with their character than anything else. They’re just completely crazy little monsters. We know we wanted to make

them reptilian. But I also wanted them to have a real sort of wild look, so I gave them long arms and bony fi ngers. I gave them big

ears, because they’re night creatures. There’s a little suggestion there of bats. I gave them more of a face than a regular animal

would have, because they have more character. I kept the heads really low, to keep that animal look, but I brought the face forward,

almost to human proportions. It’s their character, their mischievous qualities, their frenzied, fun-loving, maniacal tendencies that

were real inspiration for the creatures.” Chris Walas 1

146


Book Text

Tony McVey and Randy Dutra applying the silicone

mold to the gremlin sculpture.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

Chris Walas inspects the final gremlin sculpture that was done by Tony

McVey with some work done by Chris Walas and Randy Dutra.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

Chris Walas applies the first coat of silicone to the finished gremlin sculpture.

© Chris Walas, via Cesar Dacol Jr.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

Randy Dutra assists

Chris Walas as he applies

the first coat of silicone

to the master gremlin

Sculpture.

147


© Joe Dante c/o Joe Dante Biography

Book Text

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

Gary Platek (L) and Chris Walas test a mock-up

for the mechanism for walking legs.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

Tony McVey holds one of the very early castings,

quite possibly the first assembly. The color scheme had

not been finalized yet and the glass eyes have rear

projection material in them for a glowing eye effect that

was never used in the film.

The gremlin puppets were originally designed with glowing eyes, but the concept was never used.

© Chris Walas, via Cesar Dacol Jr.

148


Had Gremlins been made a few years earlier, helped to define the film, cementing it’s place as a

Book Text

the creatures would have likely been portrayed by horror movie icon.

children or small actors in suits, or perhaps even An interesting aspect of puppetry is the inherent

some manner of trained animal. Puppetry was limitations, and the methods that can be used to

making great strides however, which afforded the film compensate or overcome them. “To get the gremlins to

makers an exciting alternative. “Now, things are more do the different things that they needed to do, all sorts

sophisticated, involving puppets and a kind of Muppet of rigs had to be built; a rig might be built for just one

technology with the creatures operated by cable. shot. It all depended on what piece of the gremlin would

The complicated part is that each gremlin has a great be out of frame or what side wasn’t facing the camera

many cables which must be hidden in the framing of or how fast it had to move or how many there were in

every shot. And each gremlin takes about five people the shot” (Joe Dante 10 ). The gremlins could move, but

to operate” (Joe Dante 20 ). The era very much dictated they couldn’t move off the spot, so Hora added camera

the approach with the special effects, and ultimately movement to give the impression they could move in

ways that they physically could not. This technique was

designed to take the audience’s mind off the fact that

they were largely static (John Hora 34 ).

© Warner Brothers, 1984 c/o Cinefex 19

© Warner Brothers, 1984 c/o Cinefex 19

“When I got the script from Mike and Joe, I read it and absolutely panicked because the script was just chock full

of phrases like hordes of thousands of gremlins pour through the streets”

Chris Walas 3

“We originally ‘talked’ to some monkeys about being in the picture.

A guy came over and brought a tree monkey, and we thought that

maybe we could put one in a suit. Anyway, this monkey proceeded

to run about the office, leave little monkey deposits everywhere,

and didn’t look like the most controllable kind of actor. Also, Steven

had told me a story about trying to use monkeys for aliens in

Close Encounters, and all the monkeys did was rip off their alien

costumes, run all over the set and throw things at the crew. So, it

just wouldn’t have worked. Besides, the specifics of what they had

to do were too complex. It was hard enough for people to do them,

let along asking some animal.”

Joe Dante 17

© Warner Brothers, 1984 c/o Cinefex 19

149


“If there’s a scene with 12 gremlins, that’s about 60 patience. Making Gremlins was very hard on the actors

Book Text

people lying on the set’s floor. And Phoebe and the other and all of us” (Joe Dante 20 ).

actors had to step over not only all the cables, but all these Joe Dante loves stop motion, and in fact,

bodies on the floor. It looks like the last act of Hamlet. included stop motion scenes in both Piranha and The

“There are all these technicians, all watching Howling, so it is no surprise that he initially planned

private TV monitors so they can see what they’re to use stop motion for most of the effects in Gremlins.

doing, as well as all these cables. Everything must be He realized that to make the movie this way “would’ve

hidden. Monitors don’t work, cables break, gremlins taken probably 20 years” (Joe Dante 10 ). Although the

can’t do exactly what the script had them doing. majority of the movie doesn’t utilize the technique,

“For every scene with a gremlin, there were Dante “wouldn’t do a picture without some stop-motion

maybe 20 different takes and different camera in it. C’mon, who’re you talkin’ to here?” (Joe Dante 10 ).

speeds, with the actors moving slowly or quickly, With the exception of one scene -- where the gremlins

sometimes with the actors in the frame, sometimes walk down the streets of Kingston Falls -- the effects on

not. All of this work required a tremendous amount of screen utilized other methods of puppeteering.

“There was one stop motion shot – when I first read the

script, I thought that the whole thing had to be done in stop motion

– in which case we would still be shooting two years from now (1984),

because there was so much of it. But, as it turned out, by planning it

down to the wire, we found a way to do most of what was in the script

without having to compromise too much. There were still some things

that we just couldn’t do. There’s a limit to how clever you can be in

hiding things. There were so many people on the set controlling cables

from all these various special effects, that it was literally impossible

to walk! It’s a tribute to the movie that the actors aren’t stumbling all

over the place, because underneath every frame, there’s something

like five people that they have to step over in order to get anywhere.

It’s the hardest picture I ever made.”

Joe Dante 16

As any of the gremlin puppets might be called on to perform

as “Stripe”, the paint jobs on all the puppets had to match. The

painting was not done in the main shop but in a smaller shop

dubbed “Bogey Island”.

© Chris Walas, 1984, Propstore of London

© Warner Brothers, 1984 c/o Cinefex 19

“We finally decided on doing everything with practical effects (i.e. effects created right on the soundstage). There is still some

stop motion in the picture, and there could have been more because we had the stop motion puppets, we had the facility to use

them again. As it turned out, we really racked our brains to figure out another place where we could use all these gremlins in

stop motion, but we didn’t have any small sets. That would have required building an entire part of the town again in miniature,

and the shot that we did was done against rear projection. We didn’t have another place in the movie. Dramatically, there wasn’t

another place where they were all together except in the movie theatre, and there was no point in doing that stop motion

because we had a perfectly adequate way of doing without it.”

Joe Dante 9

150


“We used a full range of mechanisms to control the creatures. We used a lot of cable-operated facial and arm movements.

There were also a lot of simple hand-operated gremlins for some of the simpler shots. There is some marionetting for some of

the more distant shots, plus several radio-controlled creatures. For example, the gremlin riding a skateboard is radio-controlled,

because the operators couldn’t get close enough during the shot. But whenever possible, we tried to use the cables, since we felt

we could get better results, as far as the subtleties of control.”

Chris Walas 1

A “Back” puppet. The hand access was through the

middle of the puppet’s back. The four cables most likely

controlled ears and eyebrows or ears and fingers.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

Book Text

Mechanical designer Eben Stromquist test fits the puppeteer collar for what

was known as the super arms.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

151

The Gremlins crew preps the “superarms” slave system

before a shot.

© Chris Walas, via Cesar Dacol Jr.


Book Text

A mechanism was developed to raise and lower the gremlin head

spines, but was never used.

© Chris Walas, via Cesar Dacol Jr.

© Joe Dante c/o Joe Dante Biography

Four of the seven or more Gremlin face sculpts.

© Chris Walas, via Cesar Dacol Jr.

Randal M. Dutra sculpting one of the Gremlin faces.

© Warner Brothers, c/o Cinefex 19

152


Gremlins opens in Chinatown, where Rand Peltzer

is searching for the perfect Christmas gift for his son, Billy.

In early drafts of the story Rand was shopping in Hong

Kong, but in the final cut it is unclear precisely where

Rand is. “At the beginning of the picture, you really don’t

know where Chinatown is. You don’t know if it’s out of the

country, in the country or what it is. It’s sort of a state of

mind, as opposed to a real place” (Joe Dante 16 ). In reality

the scene was shot at the Burbank Studios’ ‘tenement

street’, which had been recently rebuilt for Annie 8 .

Chinatown Book Text

There was a time when Dante planned to scrap the

Chinatown scene and replace it with the discovery of

Gizmo at a roadside gift shop in Texas, although the

exotic nature of Chinatown was ultimately favoured 8 .

The scene evolved not only during script rewrites

but also during editing, when it was decided that

narration would be a good addition, “the narration at

the beginning was an afterthought... the movie has sort

of a fable-like quality, so we thought bookending it with

a narration was appropriate” (Mike Finnell 3 ).

“It used to start with Rand hunting around Chinatown trying

to find a present for his kid, and there’s this scene where

he tries to buy something from an elderly lady, and the kid

comes along and says ‘no, no, I’ll take you to find something

better’, for whatever reason it didn’t really do much for the

picture... so we decided to start it just before he got here [Mr

Wing’s shop] and that meant having a narration. Which when

you have somebody with sonorous voice like Hoyt Axton, you

wonder why you didn’t think of a narration before”

Joe Dante 2

© Warner Brothers c/o Gremlins Japanese Program

“This, of course, is where Peltzer first encounters Gizmo, but you don’t see him yet. You also

don’t see a lot of the props in that shop in the final cut. We really had that place dressed to

the rafters. Skulls, paintings, books, oriental masks, a chessboard of demons and gargoyles

– everything that seemed occult-ish was in there”

John Hora 8

© Warner Brothers

c/o Gremlins Souvenir Magazine

© Warner Brothers c/o Press Kit

153


“In the literal-minded production meetings we were having,

I was forever being asked: ‘Where is this Chinatown?

San Francisco? Hong Kong? Where?’ Actually, in the first

drafts of the script, it’s specified that Rand is flying home

from Hong Kong. Well, then we were asked: ‘If this guy

is an unsuccessful inventor who is living off his son’s

salary at the town bank, where does he get the money to

fly to Hong Kong to try and sell his dumb products? And

how do you get a mogwai through customs?’ So we got

very nonspecific, and I just kept saying, ‘It’s Chinatown

at Warner Brothers!’ Luckily, when people watch the movie,

they tend to take Chinatown as a state of mind rather than

a real place.”

Joe Dante 8

Book Text

Warner’s backlot New York Street being dressed in as “Chinatown”.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

© Warner Brothers c/o Gremlins Souvenir Magazine

Phoebe’s Moped

The crew gifted Phoebe Cates with a moped for her birthday, the same moped that is seen in the opening

shot of the film, in Chinatown. Dante says, “we got Phoebe a moped, it was a sort of like a present, and the mistake

we made was giving it to her before the picture was over” (Joe Dante 2 ). Indeed, Cates recalls “we would take it for

spins, Zach and I around the lot, and there was a trip-wire set up, left over from a T.J. Hooker set... and it hit me”

(Phoebe Cates 2 ). They’d been riding around between takes, in costume complete with fake wounds (Galligan’s hand,

and Cates’ cheek) inflicted by the gremlins, which led onlookers to think that they had been injured in the incident.

Whatever happened to that moped? Cates “had one or two minor accidents, and then my parents wisely said, ‘we’ll

hang onto that’” (Phoebe Cates 2 ).

154


Gizmo’s first appearance on screen was no little

cause of stress for the crew. When they filmed this

scene, early in production, the Gizmo puppet couldn’t

really do very much. Lighting the scene proved to

be a difficult venture, Director of Photography “John

Hora took about 8-10 hours to light this livingroom”

(Zach Galligan 2 ) (although this wasn’t the only

scene that involved lighting delays, Hora got used to

lighting puppets which never moved or got tired, so

sometimes he also took a bit longer with the actors.

This lead to a bit of a running joke, and turned into a

cast and crew gift that Galligan and Cates gave out –

a T-Shirt with the phrase “Hurry Hora” written on it 2 ).

There were also some complications with

Mushroom, the dog that played Barney. He was

convinced that Gizmo was a living, breathing

creature, and acted as such. Sometimes he grew over

excited and interacted with Gizmo in ways that were

damaging to the puppet. The crew then had to stop

and make repairs before they could continue shooting.

In earlier drafts of the script, Gizmo’s reveal was

much more complicated. He was supposed to jump out

of the box, and run across the floor to retrieve an ash

tray 8 . It is a good thing that this was no longer required

Gizmo’s Book First Text Scene

because what you see him do on screen was all he could

do. Gizmo’s little jump in the box proved to be a bit of a

scare in theatres, which the film makers did not expect

(Chris Walas 3 ). In order to achieve all of the required

actions, the crew made use of several different puppets

over the course of the scene. Gizmo’s tiny 3” arms would

never have allowed him to reach up to the top of the box

while keeping his face hidden, so a special set of arms

were made that were set in front of him (Chris Walas 3 ).

In order to have both Rand and Billy pick up Gizmo, a

two-part process was used. First a radio-controlled

puppet was used for the carrying, and it was switched

out with a ‘max’ puppet when Gizmo was being held in

one place (on a lap, etc). Also included in this scene was

one of the oversized super-faces for closeups 8 .

The culmination of efforts on behalf of both cast

and crew created a scene that is highly atmospheric.

Hora’s dim, but warmly coloured lighting establishes

the cozy atmosphere and draws the audience in. The

mogwai’s gradual reveal builds anticipation, and the

viewer’s patience is rewarded when the animatronic

creature is finally exposed. Additionally, Hoyt Axton adlibbed

much of Rand Peltzer’s fatherly dialogue on the

spot, making the usual happening seem more genuine 3 .

© Warner Brothers, 1984 c/o Japanese Program

“Thank god that’s all you could see, because that’s all it could do.

That’s all we had done at that point. We’d been racing for seven

months to try and get ready for this show.”

Chris Walas 3

“My great fear was when Gizmo came out of that box. I was

just so terrified nobody was going to buy it. It was great to

see it in theater... I’ve been vindicated!”

Chris Walas 2

155


© Warner Book Brothers, Text 1984 c/o Press Kit

“You know that scene where I first

open the box and little Gizmo jumps

out?... There was an entire level

underneath me, where all the special

effects people were hiding, pulling the

wires that moved the creature. So, I’m

trying to act real serious and I open

the box, look in and say, ‘Dad, what’s

his name?’ Suddenly, everyone down

there starts screaming out different

names -- ‘Gertrude!’ and “Horatio!’

Everyone cracked up.”

Zach Galligan 25

“That was an interesting shot, because it was basically

an impossible one. If you look closely at a

mogwai you’ll see its arms are only about two-anda-half

to three inches long, so an MG could never

have exposed that much of his arms without his head

showing right along with it. To do that shot, we built

a special rig that was literally just a pair of arms, with

those real cartoony three-fingered hands. The rig

had extremely thin cables running down through the

fingers that enabled them to curl over the edge of

the box. The arms themselves were jointed, so we

just sort of reached them up through the false bottom

of the box, grabbed onto the edge and brought one

of our regular mogwai ‘max’ puppets up behind them.”

Chris Walas 8

“This is right side shot of the profile of Billy’s head

looking into the Gizmos’ box. His mouth opens in

wonderment. Sitting to his left (to camera, it’s behind

him) is Barney (Mushroom) the dog. He was panting.

His tongue was sticking out. When Billy opened his

mouth is was perfectly aligned for Barney’s tongue

to be sticking to and wiggling. It couldn’t have been

aligned more perfect. It looked hilarious!”

Jay Davis 29

© Warner Brothers, 1984 c/o Joe Dante

156


Although Gizmo’s voice was mainly provided by

Howie Mandel, when Gizmo sings, he was voiced by

a fourteen-year-old girl who had been discovered by

Jerry Goldsmith. The song was then treated by Richard

L. Anderson and Mark Mangini using a synthesizer and

Evantide Harmonizer to add the vibrato 8 . The song

wasn’t yet set in stone when they were filming however.

Walas asked which keys Gizmo needed to play so that

they could puppet him accordingly, but they didn’t know,

so just told him to hit a bunch of them (Chris Walas 3 ).

One of the many memorable Gizmo moments

(immortalized several times in toy-form, most recently

by NECA) involves the mogwai wearing a little Santa hat.

In fact, this scene was featured in National Lampoon’s

Christmas Vacation (for which Galligan receives residuals

for use of his image each time the film shows on the

Bonding Book with Text Gizmo

movie network 2 ).

Several times you see Billy put down Gizmo,

and there’s actually been a switch between puppets off

frame. They’ll have a wired Gizmo already set up, as he

puts down a stunt Gizmo 2 . This strategy was used after

Gizmo falls into the trash can and Billy walks him to the

washroom to apply a bandage. This scene was done

using a couple of different puppets in one seamless shot.

To accomplish this, Galligan carried a radio-controlled

Gizmo to the bathroom and set him down in Walas’

waiting hands out of frame, with a cable-controlled

puppet waiting on the counter to take it’s place. While

Walas took the radio-controlled puppet out of frame, a

crew of five were hidden behind the bathroom wall to

operate the cable-controlled puppet which came into

frame as the camera panned down 8 .

© Warner Brothers c/o Japanese Program

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

“This shot was something that we

set up all morning, and didn’t get

a shot before lunch... it was all set

up and ready to go... and we had to

break for lunch. It took an hour to

get everybody back in position”

Mike Finnell 3

“We hated these little guys... you

can see the face coming off. That

black line over on the right side of

his head is actually the face coming

loose”

Chris Walas 3

© Warner Brothers c/o Cinefex 19

157


© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers

Book Text

The original Chuck Jones clip is

visable in the top-left corner,

shown to the left

To Please a Lady

While hanging out in Billy’s room, Gizmo watched a clip

from the Clark Gable movie To Please a Lady. “The whole point of

that, of course, was to put this race car idea into Gizmo’s mind

so that by the end of the film, when he’s riding to the rescue in

a toy car in the department store, it would all tie together. The

car idea, by the way, was not in the script. It only evolved as we

shot the store sequence. Luckily the TV scene was scheduled

later, so we were able to set the whole thing up. Originally, the

TV showed a Chuck Jones cartoon with a small cat driving a pink

car, like the one Gizmo drives in the later scenes. But then I

realized that two cartoons in the film might be a little much – it

really killed the idea of the gremlins looking at Snow White. So

we went back and found an old picture, the Gable one, with cars

shot on process screens, because that’s how we were going to

do ours” (Joe Dante 8 ).

You can still spot the cartoon if you look carefully at

the long shot in Billy’s room. Interestingly, the Chuck Jones

cartoon would have been free to use, as it is owned by Warner

Brothers, To Please A Lady did not offer this advantage (Joe

Dante 2 ).

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

158


Book Text

159


Book Text

Ethan Wiley and Mark Walas confer beside the overscale

model of Billy’s bed made for the oversize Gizmo puppet.

© Chris Walas, via Cesar Dacol Jr.

160


Billy breaks another of the mogwai rules

when he is tricked into feeding them after midnight.

Unfortunately for Zach Galligan, the refrigerator wasn’t

plugged in and the old food held within smelled terrible

(Joe Dante 2 ). Billy brings the mogwai a plate of fried

chicken, an image which has become strongly associated

with the film (brought back again in Gremlins 2,

The Putrid Book TextStage

and referenced in toys and sculptures). The mogwai

that consume the chicken were a combination of max

puppets, hand puppets with mechanical heads and the

oversized heads 8 . A bunch of crew members hid under

the floor, throwing chicken bones up out of the box to

give the impression that the mogwai are really going to

town!

The food in the refrigerator

was old, and because it

wasn’t plugged in, it smelled

terrible (Joe Dante 2)

© Warner Brothers c/o Cinefex 19

© Warner Brothers c/o Fangoria 39

© Warner Brothers

161


After their post-midnight feast, the mogwai up being latex. I wound up having to cancel all my

Book Text

enter their pupal stage, which afforded an interesting glorious plans of brilliant effects work. I was going to

challenge to the creature crew. The gremlin vacuum-form all these little pieces over a stretchy latex

cocoons were approximately a foot-and-a-half tall

each, constructed from foam latex, and rigged

to open mechanically. Walas designed them to incorporate

some of the reptilian aspects of the gremlins, including

scales and armour plates. One side was sculpted with less

defined features, so shooting one cocoon from different

angles could evoke a different stage of development 8 .

Walas recalls that the gremlin cocoons “wound

underthing so it could crack and pop and then extend

out and have these hands come through, and ‘oh my

god, we’re shooting tomorrow! Pour ‘em in latex!’... We

would literally spread the leftover latex in the pales on

the floor and smear it and stretch it, that’s what’s glued

all over them.” (Chris Walas 2 ). The spooky effects were

care-of dry ice and green-filtered lighting concealed

within the pods 8 .

© Warner Brothers c/o Golden Storybook

Valerie Sofranko adds webbing detail to Gremlin cocoon.

© Chris Walas, via Cesar Dacol Jr.

162

Valerie Sofranko creates cotton and latex webbing for the

Gremlin cocoons.

© Chris Walas, via Cesar Dacol Jr.


Some parts of the high school scenes were shot

on location at Washington High School in Pasadena,

although Mr. Hanson’s classroom was on a sound stage 2 .

The gradual reveal of the post-transformation

gremlin builds anticipatory tension. At first, all we see of

the recently hatched gremlin is an arm that roots around

on the desk for something to eat. This ‘grabber arm’ was

developed by Eben Stromquist. Although it was a complex

mechanism, it was simple to operate and strapped onto

a puppeteer’s forearm effectively extending their reach

and allowing for realistic movement 8 .

Weird Book Science Text

When Mr. Hanson’s body is found, he is

face down with one hypodermic sticking out of his

posterior. When they first shot the scene however, he

was face up and his face was covered in hypodermic

needles (Joe Dante 2 ).

In the nurse’s office, Walas puppeteered

an arm-puppet that gives us our first real look at

a whole gremlin. They had to shoot the cupboardopening

scene several times, because Galligan kept

backing up directly in front of the door. It was also

the last scene that Galligan shot on Gremlins 2 .

The high school exterior on

the Warner’s backlot prior to

being dressed in “snow”, which

was mostly foam and salt.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore

of London

163

Hemo the Magnificent

Hemo the Magnificent shows in Mr. Hanson’s science

class. “Hemo is a Fifties educational film apparently provided

to schools by AT&T to document the circulatory system for

kids. I used it for a number of reasons. One, it had some

great shots of open heart surgery and bleeding ulcers. Two,

it’s got Richard Carlson, a great grade-B Universal character

actor from the Fifties. And three, it had a lot of good dialogue

which counterpointed what was going on in our movie. Plus, it

was directed by Frank Capra” (Joe Dante 8 ). The projector used

to run Hemo the Magnificent was just a 16mm prop piece, which

ran slightly off-speed. When filmed, this made the print look

as though it was pulsing. Hora adjusted the camera speed by

eye until the pulsing disappeared, at 25 frames (John Hora 34 ).


© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

Book Text

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers

“I was on the other side whamming,

I banged him in the head about three

times, I think”

Chris Walas 3

© Warner Brothers

“When we did Gremlins, we had really primitive technology. There’s a scene where Billy comes to the nurse’s office because he’s

been scratched and it’s written that he goes to the cabinet and a gremlin attacks him and he falls back, the gremlin jumps down

to the floor, runs across, knocks the gurney, grabs the grate off the air conditioning vent off and disappears in the ventilating

system. What we did is Billy comes into the nurses office and approaches the medicine chest, it springs open and a hand-puppet

comes out to hit him, he falls back, the camera goes with him as he falls backwards to the wall and you hear the sounds of the

gremlin jumping onto the floor, coming across and you see a gurney move, which is pulled by a string, the camera tilts down as you

hear a noise and you see the grate is the hole in the wall and a bandage is disappearing down it like he’s trailing it behind him. So

you don’t see any of that, it’s like a radio show, the sound effects are telling the story. What’s happening is the audience is now

active, the audience’s imagination is filling in the blanks. If you ask most people they will repeat the scene the way it was written,

with the thing running across the floor and ripping the grate off but they never saw that, they just heard that. The audience is

involved. The way they do it today, you would see everything, and the audience is passive, they just sit there and watch, and in

between the look at their phones to see their text messages because they’re bored. They are not participating in the movies. ”

John Hora 34

164


Joe Dante refers to the legendary kitchen sceen

as the set piece of the picture, the one that had everyone

talking (Joe Dante 2 ). “I think it’s largely because of

the situational value of it... it’s a woman alone in her

house who uses the means at her disposal to get rid

of what could be vermin or cockroaches or whatever”

(Joe Dante 2 ). The tension that begins at the highschool

quickly consumes the Peltzer home, the two locations

connected by a quick phone call. Johnny Mathis’

Christmas classic “Do You Hear What I Hear” blares on

the family’s record player drawing Lynn Peltzer towards

the kitchen.

The scene utilized a variety of puppets, opening

with the silhouette of a dummy puppet on the wall

in the hallway, “they made great shadows because

Do You Hear Book What Text I Hear?

their faces weren’t all distorted with mechanics” (Chris

Walas 3 ). From the simple to the highly complex, “this

scene involved our most difficult Gremlin, which we

called our Super Gremlin because it had fully mechanical

arms, it breathed, a fully mechanical face, and was a very

heavy puppet. Another one, going into the microwave

oven, is a different puppet, and the one popping inside

the microwave is another puppet still” (Chris Walas 1 ).

In the preview screening, after the crowd responded so

well to the kitchen scene, they knew it was going to be

a hit (Mike Finnell 3 )

Two of the most controversial special

effects shots are found within this scene, and

they remain fan-favourites - the gremlin in

the mixer, and the gremlin in the microwave 3 .

“That was our radio-control Gizmo, and he was actually shorting out there. We were

not actually controlling him, we just jammed the radio waves” (Chris Walas, Gremlins

Commentary Track #1) One of the options for “horrible things we can do to Gizmo”.

“We snuck this shot in while Mike Finnell wasn’t looking.”

Joe Dante 8

© Warner Brothers

As it disconnects the phone line,

one of the Gremlins utters a classic

Spielberg E.T. reference, ‘Phone

Home’. The arm “was just a little arm

with a handle on it” (Mike Finnell 3 ).

It consisted of a piece of aluminum

tubing and bicycle grip, and was used

a lot throughout the film.

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers, 1984 c/o Press Kit

165


Gingerbread Cookies

Book Text

The first gremlin Lynn encounters in the kitchen

is sitting on the counter eating her freshly-baked

gingerbread cookies. This gremlin was played by a

‘super puppet’, which allowed for maximum realism

and expression (Chris Walas 3 ). This super gremlin was

controlled by sixty-two cable-driven mechanisms and

required a crew of twelve to operate it 8 . It not only had

a realistically moving mouth, but also moveable ears

which aid in expression.

© Warner Brothers, 1984 c/o Gremlins Souvenir Magazine

© Warner Brothers, 1984

c/o Japanese Program

© Warner Brothers, 1984 c/o Gremlins Facebook Page

“The first GM you see in the kitchen was what we called our ‘super gremlin’, it was very heavy, and had fully mechanized

arms and a full-range face that was a simplified version of a GM superface. The ears on that puppet – in fact, all of the fullrange

puppets – were cable controlled. I always thought that the ears were going to be a strong features on these creatures;

so whenever we could, we made sure that we mechanized the back of the head.”

Chris Walas 8

166


The Peltzer Mixer

Book Text room (unless the film is run through the camera once

When Lynn looks around the corner and sees a first, the negative cutter winds up cutting the frames

gremlin lean over and begin to eat from the mixer, they upside down). To avoid this, Hora wound the film through

weren’t able to get the puppet to perform the action first and shot from the tail forward (John Hora 34 ).

appropriately. They were able to get the puppet to When Lynn turns on the mixer, the puppet has

remove his head from the bowl with greater ease than been replaced with a half-puppet, only present from

attempting to having him put his head into the bowl, the torso down 8 . The blender was brought to life by

which led them to shoot in reverse. So in order to make a spinning mechanism and hydraulic lines set up to

it look like a gremlin was crawling into the mixing bowl, splatter green goop and chunks of foam latex all over the

they actually filmed the gremlin crawling out of the room 8 . “We assumed that gremlins have green blood.

bowl and reversed the footage in post-production. At We used a compound of wheat paste and a thickener,

first, many crew members, including Chris Walas, were to which we added food coloring. Then we chopped up

skeptical that the shot would work, but it did beautifully 3 . pieces of foam rubber, latex, and other stuff. We mixed

Not all cameras are capable of shooting it all together and came up with gremlin guts” (Bob

in reverse, so the older, bulkier cameras used MacDonald Jr. 1 ). According to Walas, the first time they

on Gremlins were invaluable. They achieved the shot the gremlin-in-the-mixer scene, “the entire set was

shot by backwinding the camera, something turned green” (Chris Walas 3 ).

which can cause complications in the editing

© Warner Brothers, 1984 c/o Gremlins Souvenir Magazine

© Warner Brothers, 1984 c/o Cinefex 19

“Our gremlin guts’ were chopped up scraps of foam latex, and the blood was a mixture of wheat paste and water and

methacyl – for which the common name in the motion picture industry is ‘peel paint’, because if you wallpaper over it, it will peel

right off. Then we colored this mixture green with food dye. Getting that shot of the gremlin spinning around in the bowl and

splattering stuff all over the kitchen was complicated, though. The gremlin half-puppet was tied onto a jointed rod that went to a

drill motor that could not only whirl him around the center of the blender bowl but also pull him down into the bowl, too. In the

center of the bowl was a large cylinder with a piston – made from a hydraulic accumulator off an aircraft unit – in the middle.

We pulled the piston clear down to the bottom of the cylinder, locked it off, and then filled that empty space with gremlin blood and

guts. The last thing in the blender bowl was a series of metal elbows and eight solenoid valves that were set at strategic angles

along the bottom of the bowl. So we’d get the puppet rotating, raise up the piston, which would in turn force the gremlin guts

upwards, and then hit the solenoids, which would blow out the guts in a nice circular pattern.”

Bob MacDonald 8

167


Plate-Throwing Practice

Book Text shooting. It was literally a spring release thing that we’d

No sooner has she finished dealing with the cock, put a plate in and let fly” (Chris Walas 8 )

mixer gremlin than she is confronted with her next Lynn acts quickly and stabs this gremlin with

foe, a gremlin tossing her dinnerware at her. A special a kitchen knife. Another special rig was constructed

rig was constructed for this purpose. It functioned for a shot of this particular gremlin which was largely

using a mechanism not unlike those that launch clay eliminated. They had planned a closeup on the gremlin

pigeons for skeet shooting. The arm would be cocked, clutching at the knife, trying to pull it out as he gurgled and

a plate loaded, and then released 8 . “That was another bled, but the shot was deemed too gruesome. The rig can

special rig – one that Jon Berg came up with. The entire still be seen in the background as Lynn moves towards her

puppet was fashioned after the kind of mechanism next target. Interestingly, the semi-unused rig was not a

that throws clay pigeons into the air for skeet cause for financial concern, but the kitchen knife was!

© Warner Brothers, 1984 c/o Cinefex 19

Chris Walas, Jon Berg, Erik Jensen and

Ethan Wiley test the Gremlin puppet that gets

stabbed in the kitchen scene.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

You can make out a pupeteering rod when the gremlin throws

the plates, something that would be edited out in modern

movies 2 .

© Warner Brothers

“We rigged a special puppet for that – one

that you can see only very briefly now. But

there was a gruesome shot in the rough cut

of the gremlin pinned to a cutting board

with the knife, oozing and coughing up goo

and bubbles, with his legs twitching, trying

to pull the knife out with his hand. That was

a bit too much” (Walas, Cinefex 19, 25).

This is the plate flinger puppet that Jon Berg built.

© Chris Walas,

168


Microwave Madness

Book Text “Three different puppets were used in the

Having finished with the plate-throwing gremlin, microwave. First, Mrs. Peltzer shoves one in. Then a

Lynn is hit with a tray of gingerbread cookies and person down below was working a hand puppet up

her attention falls to yet another gremlin... or more through the bottom of the microwave – which was real

accurately, three gremlin puppets. Blowing up the oven we had cut out. The third puppet, the one that

gremlin in the microwave was achieved with help from blew up, was rubberized, packed with gremlin guts and

Bob MacDonald, “he did an air ram underneath, we rigged with air. We just blew it up until it popped like a

had huge packs of methacyl and other goo with lots of balloon. We also put a little micro-hit – which is a small

leftover rubber bits. Basically the gremlin, when he’s in explosive squib – on the inside of that tempered glass so

there he’s just a shell, a balloon... we basically just shot that when the puppet popped, it would look like it blew

the thing off” (Chris Walas 3 ).

out the door, too. Then for a little extra atmosphere, I

blew some smoke in there” (Bob MacDonald 8 ).

“I’d always heard these apocryphal

stories about people putting their

poodles in the microwave to dry

them off, or the stoned baby

sitter who puts the baby in the

microwave to dry it off. Now

maybe people will be less include

to put their kiddies in there.”

Joe Dante 8

© Warner Brothers c/o Starlog 85

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers

“People complained about that microwave scene, but they should have seen the take that didn’t make it. It was pretty gruesome.

The glass door was completely blown away and there was this garbage stuck everywhere, all over the oven, and you could see

the gremlin in there with his face blown off and the top of his head shifting around like a gooey flopping envelope. It was just

incredibly gruesome.”

Chris Walas 8

169


Oh! Christmas Tree

Book Text Gremlin, the crew used the same system that Walas

Drawn to sounds from the living room, Lynn used for decapitating the baby dragons in Dragonslayer.

arms herself with a couple of butcher knives and A tube ran up the gremlin’s body, containing a rod that

heads towards the next intruder. The fourth gremlin extended into a removable head. With careful timing,

is concealed in the Christmas Tree, and when he the head was released as Galligan swung the sword 8 .

attacks Lynn he takes the tree down with him. This The head in the fireplace was specially weighted so

gremlin was portrayed by a full-bodied puppet at that it would land correctly in the fire, and covered with

times, and an arm puppet at others, depending on the flammable plastic cement to ensure that it would catch

requirements for the shot. When Billy beheads the fire satisfyingly 8 .

© Warner Brothers c/o Golden Storybook

“She was quite a trooper”

Joe Dante 3

Ethan Wiley, a creature technician can be seen

pushing over the Christmas tree wearing a red shirt.

Stripe’s Escape

Before Stipe makes his escape, he stops briefly to blow his nose on the curtain, a gag that the crew came up

with in their free time on set 8 .

“We used the superarms again for that shot. It was a joke that, once more, we just literally made up on the

spur of the moment. Since there was never much rehearsal time, whenever we had a little free time on the set,

we’d try to work out bits of business. And we would always joke around with the puppets and have conversations

with them, because it was a lot easier to get natural reactions out of them if we pretended that they were real.

Anyway, one day we were just fooling around, getting Stripe to blow his nose, when Joe happened to walk in. All

of a sudden, this insane laugh cut across the sound stage. As soon as I heard that, I know he was going to put it in

the picture”

Chris Walas 8

170

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante


It’s fun to Book stay Text at the...

© Warner Brothers c/o Japanese Program

The footsteps had to be done in real snow, the plastic

and sand looked too obviously fake on camera.

John Hora 34

© Warner Brothers c/o Japanese Program

Backpack Gizmo

“The backpack Gizmo was a radio-controlled rig that I built. There was a rigid

support system in the pack that raised and lowered him and turned his head,

nodding it from side to side. The radio controls made his mouth open and ears

move, and gave him eye movements. The puppet itself was like an extended glove

that went down into the pack. We didn’t cut it off at the waist, but brought the

fur all the way down – just in case we accidentally shot down into the pack. We

built only one of those”

Chris Walas 8

© Warner Brothers c/o

Japanese Program

The YMCA pool was originally an outdoor pool

on the Columbia Ranch backlot, the crew constructed

two walls around it to give the impression of an indoor

pool as seen on screen 8 . The exterior shots, showing

the front of the YMCA were actually the front of the

Universal sound stage. They added the YMCA logo to

complete the image (Joe Dante 3 ).

The crew utilized several rigs in order to facilitate

the interactions between Billy and Stripe as he entered

the YMCA. For instance, Bob MacDonald used an air ram

to launch Stripe out of the fire extinguisher box 3 . The

Stripe that scratches Billy was headless, and operated

with a combination of rods and cables 8 .

Dry ice, fog machines, agitators,

air jets, coloured lights and flash bulbs

were used to create the creepy YMCA pool

171

effects (Mike Finnell 3 ). “We had a lot of air jets under the

water. The light flashes were actually photo flashbulbs

placed right under the surface” (Bob MacDonald Sr. 1 ).

The strength of the air compressors was enough to

make it feel and sound as though an earthquake was

happening. Additional effects were contributed by John

Hora, who varied the frame rates in order to manipulate

the movement in the scene 8 .

The underwater shot of Stripe sinking to the

bottom of the pool was done in a large water tank. It

proved to be quite a challenge, Walas recalls “we did like

sixty shots in the tank, and he kept flipping up and down

and upsidedown, and all around. Finally, it was about

the sixty-first take we got it, and then someone pointed

out we had forgotten Stripe’s stripe... I just felt like dirt”

(Chris Walas 3 )


Book Text

“They had brought in a large aquarium tank

full of water. I was standing on it’s edge and © Warner Brothers, 1984 c/o Cinefex 19

noting I was well above the sound stage

floor. I had to weight and rig the Gremlin so

it would fall straight down. That took several

attempts to get right, but then we shot it.

One of the physical effect guys had gotten

a new scuba outfit and I guess he wanted

to test it out. So each time I dropped the

gremlin, he’d dive to the bottom with his

equipment on to recover the gremlin. The

other efx guys just cracked up.”

Jay Davis 29

Stripe (here before his Mohawk is attached) sinks into

the tank on the stage at Warner’s. The puppet had to be

heavily weighted and the ears aligned as rudders to make

the puppet sink correctly. — at Warner Brothers Studios.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

© Warner Brothers, 1984

c/o Souvenir Magazine

The first water tank test of the weighted armature

gremlin used for the shot of Stripe sinking in

the pool.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

172


“The pool was agitated primarily by compressed air. Book Basically Text we started with a five- by twenty-foot-long air storage

chamber hooked up to a number of 1400 cubic feet per minute air compressors. From that, we had twelve in-and-a-half air lines

and another twelve three-quarter-inch air lines running out of frame down to the bottom of the pool. We painted those lines

the same color as the pool, and of course the water turbulence also hid the fact that they were down there. Each of these lines

had a heavy plated elbow welded onto the end of it, and on top of that we put these spider rigs that allowed air to come out in

four different spots. By controlling what air went into each unit, we could randomly or in sequence control the disturbance all

around the pool. And that water became disturbed. It sounded and felt like an earthquake. You could feel the vibrations through

your feet fifty yards away. We also had eight lines running down into the pool bottom that were connected to individual bottles

of liquid nitrogen. This not only enhanced the agitation but also condensed the moisture in the air, producing dense clouds and

steam. In addition to what we did, the electrical department littered the bottom of that pool with different light sources. There were

waterproofed and gelled 10K lamps down there, as well as some old #2 Photoflash bulbs that John Hora had set off intermittently

for a real interesting effect”

Bob MacDonald 8

After doing test shots, they decided to double up the lighting they’d originally planned on. Although the

test footage was shot using a tripod, they used a crane for the real shot. As Billy leaves the pool area,

the frame rate drops to 12 to make the effects speed up. Hora kept one hand on the f-stop, and one hand

on the speed control which meant that there was no variation in the exposure (John Hora 34 ).

© Warner Brothers, 1984 c/o Cinefex 19

“We prepared the swimming pool with an air compressor and air hoses to get it bubbling and then

we pumped liquid nitrogen into the water to get a steam effect to come off. We also installed a

grid of electrical sockets to put in big flash bulbs below the water’s surface. When the multiplication

sequence was coming it would be bubbling and steaming and flash bulbs would be going off, giving

the effect that a lot was happening under water.”

Richard Ratliff 5

“Another aspect of the pool scene, was the use of variable frame rates – which we employed throughout the picture. After

The Howling and Twilight Zone and Gremlins, I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of experience at that. On all three films, I’ve done filming

well above or below the standard 24 frames per second. In fact, for some shots, I’d be shooting at 24 frames for second, and

then vary the rate within the shot. For example, after Billy comes running out of the YMCA, there’s a bunch of flickering lights

behind him that intensify in their rate of movement as soon as he leaves the frame. We accomplished that by shooting Billy at

24 frames per second. Then, as soon as he was out of the picture, we slowly dropped to 16 frames per second and then to 12.

We did the same thing with the boiling pool.”

John Hora 8

173


The Sheriff’s Book Text Station

The Sheriff’s station was shot on location at a © Warner Brothers

Pasadena high school, a problematic concept for the

actor who played the Sheriff, Scott Brady. Unbeknownst

to Dante, Brady had contracted a lung condition while

filming in an asbestos mine in the fifties, and in order

to get to the set, they had to climb several flights of

stairs. “I remember somebody coming to me and saying

‘I think your actor is having a heart attack on the stairs’.

He hadn’t told anybody, and he just started walking up

the stairs on his own and he got half-way up, and was

gasping for breath” (Joe Dante 3 )

© Warner Brothers

“We had to use an MG ‘max’ puppet when Gizmo is

playing on the sheriff’s desk – and it was just not

a big room. There was a camera in there, plus three

actors and lighting equipment and six puppet operators.

All in all, a tight squeeze”

Chris Walas 8

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers

A special gremlin head was designed

with a huge smile to use as the

reaction after the sheriff’s car crash 8 .

“This was a surprise shot – a surprise to us, anyway – that came

near the end of the schedule. So we literally just wheeled the car onto

a stage, jacked it up and got one of our puppeteers, Valerie Sofranko, to

get under there and go for it. Valerie was one of the seven or eight

main puppeteers on Gremlins who had worked on the construction of the

puppets as well. Since many of our puppets were so heavily mechanized

and specialized, it seemed wiser to use the people who had built them and

were most familiar with them as puppeteers, rather than start a separate

unit which might be familiar with muppeting-type techniques only”

Chris Walas 8

174


Although Joe Dante originally considered doing

all of the effects for Gremlins with stop-motion, it

wasn’t feasible due to time and budgetary constraints.

There was talk of using stop-motion for two scenes

(the existing scene, and an additional one where the

gremlins run out of the YMCA), but in the end, only one

Stop Motion Book Text Commotion

scene was filmed using the technique (Peter Kleinow 8 ).

Executing the scene did not fall on Chris Walas, but on a

seasoned stop-motion animator, Pete Klienow. Klienow

had experience working on The Gumby Show and Davey

and Goliath and he had been a part of the Fantasy II Film

Effects team.

© Warner Brothers c/o Cinefex 19

“This is our one stop-motion scene that we

could afford in the movie (he jokes) it’s the

only time you see that many gremlins that

aren’t in the movie theater”

Joe Dante 3

“One of my original ideas had been to do all the Gremlins

effects with stop-motion. But then sanity prevailed and

I realized that this method probably would’ve taken twenty

years. So I settled for one stop-motion shot instead”

Joe Dante 8

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

“Thank God I was

never a stop-motion

animator”

Chris Walas 3

© Warner Brothers c/o Inside Gremlins

175


Kleinow took the project to Fantasy II Film gait, Kleinow studied footage of the puppets and

Book Text

“where all the puppets were built and shot for the experimented with a string puppet (Peter Kleinow 8 ).

main street scene” (Peter Kleinow 8 ). Four people were There was a slight complication when a light blew out

responsible for creating the 40 small-scale puppets, during the shoot, and there were worries that they

although Kleinow animated all of the puppets by would have to start over. Dante decided to have them

himself over the course of three ten-hour sessions 8 . keep going however, and compensated by adding a crack

To create a miniature street that would be to sound like one of the gremlins had broken a light (Joe

consistent with the rest of the film, a combination of rear Dante 3 ). After around two weeks, Kleinow finished the

projection, forced perspective miniatures, and careful scene, “And they used every piece of footage, right up

lighting was used. To get the characteristic gremlin to the last frame” (Peter Kleinow 8 ).

© Warner Brothers c/o Inside Gremlins

© Warner Brothers c/o Inside Gremlins

“All forty were used in the shot. Twenty of the puppets had full ball-jointed armatures, and twenty of them had simple

wire supports. I really ended up regretting that I hadn’t insisted that they all be ball-jointed, because the wire became a real hassle

in animating the puppets and made the shots much more complicated than they needed to be. The setup that we used during the

animation was pretty simple, though. First we took a nighttime plate that had been shot of the actual main street set – with

Christmas lights and trucks and so on – and projected that onto a very large, flexible, twelve-foot-wide rear-projection screen.

In front of that screen, we built a twelve-foot-long, five-foot-deep forced perspective miniature set – not too heavily detailed.

Basically, we just reproduced certain elements on the plate, adding our own snowbanks, sidewalks and snow-covered street. Then

we lit it to blend in with the plate. The final effect was as if you were looking down our miniature street right into the real one

on the plate.

“Although the puppet animation itself was fairly standard, there were difficulties. One was getting some of the gremlins

to actually leap up in the air over the heads of some of the other guys. I didn’t use aerial bracing there, but instead raised them

from underneath the table on wires, using the bodies in front to block the wire itself. Then, as one gremlin went over the top

of another, I’d have it hold onto the fellow’s shoulder or head or whatever. That way the puppets braced themselves during the

shot. But really, the only hard part of the animation was getting the characteristic trot of the gremlins down right so that it would

correctly match up with the other footage. I analyzed some of the live puppet movements and also experimented with a string

puppet for a while, trying to get that walk down.”

Peter Kleinow 8

176

© Warner Brothers c/o Inside Gremlins


Kentucky Harvester: It ain’t Book Text some foreign piece of crap

The back of the Futterman house was on

the Columbia backlot, the front had been used in

Denis the Menace (Joe Dante 2 ). The house was

designed by James Spencer to be collapsible. A smallscale

model of the house was constructed first so

that they could test the damage done by objects of

various weights 8 . Drawing Murry Futterman out of

the house was a series of gremlins dangling from his

antenna, ruining reception. The shot took quite a

while to film, and involved a combination of cablecontrolled,

marionetted and “just glued on” gremlins 8 .

The tractor that tears through the house was real,

they couldn’t afford to construct a fake one, which would

© Warner Brothers c/o Fangoria 37

have been more puppet-friendly and less destructive.

To make matters worse, they couldn’t make significant

modifications to the tractor because it was rented, so

they disassembled what they could to accommodate

the puppeteers 8 .

This was one of the few scenes that made use

of multiple cameras as it could only be done once (John

Hora 34 ). The main concern with the tractor was safety.

John Hora replaced the snowplow attachment with one

made of cardboard for scenes from the cab’s point of

view 8 , but having the tractor careen towards live actors

was still dangerous. To ensure it would stop where it

was supposed to, Bob MacDonald ran a reinforced steel

cable from the braking system to a firmly-implanted

telephone pole (Bob MacDonald Jr, 1 ). The cab’s pointof-view

was shot after the house had been destroyed,

with broken bits of the Futterman’s shattered home

everywhere, including under the dolly track. This added

a rough movement that really added to the scene. They

mounted headlights on the cardboard so the lighting

would also seem realistic (John Hora 34 ).

“The tractor follows him right inside the house, so we

had to make part of the house collapsible. We had to

plan this out perfectly and make sure it worked the

first time. So we made little models of the house and

sent weighted objects through it to see how it was

going to break.”

James Spencer 1

© Warner Brothers c/o Japanese Program

“When the tractor came through the wall, we were

concerned about stopping it, so we attached a heavy

cable to a telephone pole about 100 feet away from

the set. The tractor stopped dead, right where it was

supposed to.”

Bob MacDonald Jr. 1

“It wouldn’t hit the house until we were

ready because the chain would always

stop it”

John Hora 34

177


“When the gremlins are at the controls of the snowplow, that’s a real tractor. Originally we were going to use a mockup, but

couldn’t afford it. So Jim Spencer and Bob MacDonald pulled out some of the floor, stepping and door plates on the plow –

just disassembled parts of the cab wherever they could. We couldn’t cut it into it, because it was rented. Then we had puppet

operators lying across gas tanks and lying on the floor, reaching up through whatever holes they could to get the puppets

into position.”

Chris Walas 8

Book Text

© Warner Brothers c/o Golden Storybook

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

“This was fun shooting”

Chris Walas 3

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

Stuck between a rock and a hard place?

Dick Miller describes grappling with the screen door to his house, while being pursued by the gremlins, “this door there, you didn’t

realize what a handycap it was, and I didn’t even until they chase me, there was a tree that went against the screen door and

refused to open and I was stuck between the blade of the machine and the door that wouldn’t open” (Dick Miller 2 ) Dante joked that

he should have used a stuntman. “I don’t know how I opened it. You don’t consider those mechanical things” (Dick Miller 2 ).

178


Having finished with the Futtermans, the

gremlins proceed with their hostile takeover of Kingston

Falls. Father Bartlett and Mr. Anderson fall victim to a

gremlin concealed in a mailbox. This shot required no

gremlins puppets, and is followed by one that involved

the complex super-gremlin puppet. The super-gremlin

rewires a traffic light creating havoc on the roadways.

Pete is not immune to the city-wide attack, as a

series of gremlins launch an assault against his home.

This shot is an example of evolution during filming.

Originally there was only one gremlin on the roof, but

as they were shooting, Dante decided to add a couple

more... and a couple more... until there were eight!

We get a nice wide shot of chaos in the streets.

This was accomplished using a variety of puppets, mostly

simple stunt puppets that were attached to the actors

that gained their seemingly lifelike movement from the

motion of the actors flailing through the streets.

The Fall of Book Kingston Text Falls

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

“I love this scene, I don’t think the gremlins were ever done

better!” Chris Walas 3

“This was on the Universal backlot, and we

just had people running around with gremlins

attached to them.”

Mike Finnell 3

The studio thought that there were too many

gremlins, and Spielberg responded, “should we

cut them out and call it ‘People’?”

Joe Dante 3

© Warner Brothers c/o Starlog 89

These gremlins

were dummy

puppets that got

their motion from

the actor’s flailing.

(Mike Finnell 3 )

© Warner Brothers

“The super-gremlin... was the most articulation it had like sixtyeight

cables coming out of the head alone... and it had a slave

system for the arms. I can’t remember even how many people

it took, but it was very capable of doing a lot of stuff.”

Chris Walas 3

© Warner Brothers

179


Book Text

“One of the most fun things was when the town

was all exploding and everyone was running

through it. There’s a gremlin that screwing up

a traffic light, and it was one of the first things

that we shot because it was a test shot. The

closer shot, we were trying to get the gremlin

to put the two wires together and the puppeteers

couldn’t coordinate it and he was missing, so his

hands were going together but the wires weren’t

hitting. That made some sparks happen. We did

that at the very beginning as a test of the colours

and lighting fixtures but that got resurrected and

put back in the film when we finally did the big

shot with people running through the streets and

things exploding and so forth. That was all a lot

of fun.”

John Hora 34

© Warner Brothers c/o Fangoria 38

© Warner Brothers c/o Japanese Program

“The whole shot started off with just Pete and one GM in the foreground. We wound up having eight

gremlins in there. Joe kept saying: ‘Wait! Put another GM in there!’ At one point, I went out to our trailer to get

another one, and on the way back, I fell down the trailer stairs and broke my ankle. I just wasn’t paying enough

attention – maybe because I was a nervous wreck during most of the show”

Chris Walas 8

180


The Mrs. Deagle’s house set was malodorous to

say the least, thanks to the many cats scattered about.

Joe Dante recalled that “This set was so smelly... the cats

did not get along, and they screamed and sprayed” 2 . All

of the cats were named after types of money, including

Copek and Dollar Bill. Mrs. Deagle’s husband (as seen in

portraits around the house) was portrayed by Edward

Arnold, who died in 1956. The film makers actually

contacted his estate to use his likeness in the movie 2 .

At first, Mrs. Deagle chases away real carolers, and

it is not until the second time she rouses herself that she faces

off with the gremlins. Dressing the gremlins up was never

I Hate Christmas Book Text Carolers

in the script, plans or storyboards, it was something that

evolved naturally as they were shooting, and the cast

and crew really enjoyed the addition (Mike Finnell 3 ).

When shown from behind (filmed on location),

the caroling gremlins were ‘zero’ puppets, that were

simply operated using one hand to open and close the

mouth. Later in production they shot from Mrs. Deagle’s

point of view, and used ‘max’ puppets. “Most of the

Christmas caroling gremlins were what we called ‘zero’

puppets. They were just basically like muppets. A hand

up inside them controlled the head and the mouth – and

that’s about all they did” (Chris Walas 8 ).

“This was the first time we

actually dressed up the gremlins”

Chris Walas 3

© Warner Brothers c/o Cinefex 19

181


The infamous stair-climbing chair launch was kept right on going, clear out the window. It was a pretty

Book Text

a pneumatically driven special effect devised by the powerful setup. The first time we fired it, the dummy

MacDonalds (Chris Walas 3 ). Although Polly Holliday really landed on a porch across the street” (Bob MacDonald 8 ).

did ride the chair lift as it zipped along the wall, a dummy The crew describe the process: “We disconnected

was used for the shot where Mrs. Deagle flies through the the regular motor on the electric stair-climbing chair. We

window and crash lands in the street 8 . To send the dummy ran a cable along the chair’s track to the top of the set

and her chair flying, MacDonald built a twenty-five-foot and just pulled it up very fast. But, of course, we slowed

ramp from the floor to the window and attached tracks it down enough for Polly Holliday to get off the chair”

and cabling. A heavy-duty air compressor powered the (Bob MacDonald Sr. 1 ). “To shoot her out the window,

propulsion system attached to the ramp. The lift chair we had a dummy of her, which kicked and everything. It

was attached to the track with a hooking mechanism, was really great! (John Hora 1 ). “The chair was attached

in such a way that it would detach automatically at the to a ramp, and “releases and is shot right through the

top of the ramp. “The result was that this open hook window and lands in the middle of the street” (Bob

just went around the end of the track but the chair MacDonald Jr 1 ).

© Warner Brothers c/o Inside Gremlins

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

“When they first started to design this

shot, I told them that a dummy always

looks like a dummy unless its got some

kind of movement – even just one arm.

So we spent the extra time and money

to go ahead and rig it that way. Of

course, when it hit the ground, that really

finished it. I still have some of the

broken pieces”

Bob MacDonald 8

© Warner Brothers c/o 1984 Trailer

“First, the production people found this old spiral staircase in storage on the backlot; so they decided to use that on the set, which

worked out very well. Then, to install the circular stair track, we brought in an outside company that manufactures power lifts

for people who are either too infirm or too lazy to climb their own stairs. But what we then had to be able to do, after Stripe had

fiddled with the controls, was to propel that chair up the track at a rate of speed much faster than it would normally go. So we

disconnected all of their system and ran a cable around it that was hidden by the track itself and tied it onto the chair. This cable

then went out and over a headblock, up to a hydraulic compound unit that we used to pull up that chair very quickly. John, I’m sure,

enhanced it with undercranking. And that was really Polly Holliday on that seat, kicking and screaming up to the top of the stairs”

Bob MacDonald 8

182


Dorry’s Book Text Tavern

“I love Dorry’s Tavern in particular. It reminds me of Monday night football in bars across America” ~ Steven, Spielberg 1

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

The Dorry’s Tavern scene has accrued an

absolutely legendary status amongst fans, although

it represents a significant gear-shift in the movie. The

transition from relative calm to raucous action is quite

striking. Despite the fact that it took up a meager two

script pages, Dorry’s tavern is one of the longest and

most involved effects scenes in the movie. “It’s described

in about eight inches in the script, but the scene ran

almost an entire reel of film” (Joe Dante 1 ).

The bar was littered with real food and drink,

mostly popcorn and beer. The beer seen on set is real,

and the production was able to obtain it for free as

product placement (Joe Dante 2 ). Not only were they

given enough beer for set dressing and props, but a

significant amount of surplus that resided in the prop

master’s office, which became quite a bone of contention

with the rest of the crew (See Richard Stutsman).

Several puppets were soaked in beer by the end

of the shoot, and ruined 8 . The beer wasn’t as devastating

to the foam latex props as the popcorn, pretzels and

peanuts proved to be. “It wasn’t so much the beer, it

was the salt from all the pretzels and peanuts... it just

ate through everything” (Chris Walas 3 ).

The lipstick on the female gremlin at the poker table

was also very detrimental, it ate through the rubber. The

combined smell of the beer, popcorn and pretzels was

dreadful after a few days, creating “fumes that’d knock

you out” (Chris Walas 3 ).

Although Cates’s involvement was draining for

her, she was only involved with the scene for a few

days of shooting. The rest of the scene was shot over

the course of two weeks of post-production. “The shots

involving Phoebe Cates were done in about two or three

days, and then we shot the rest of the sequence on

the same set a couple of months later (Chris Walas 14 )”.

Cates recalls that “this scene took three days to shoot,

and that’s a genuine blood curdling scream at one point,

and I think Joe remembers that it came from a very large

cockroach” (Phoebe Cates 2 ).

Pests were quite fond of the set, which was

littered with food, and had been for some time before

Cates ever arrived. “It was kinda disgusting, because by

the time she [Cates] got to it, we had been shooting in

it for a long time... there were actually bottles or glasses

of bear that had popcorn in them that had tendrils that

had grown” (Joe Dante 2 ).

183


One of the most difficult shots to film took place the bar than they could outside in the snow or in another

Book Text

during the principal photography of Dorry’s Tavern. This place where they were difficult to work with” (Joe

shot ran along the bar, showing a long line of individual Dante 1 ). “Early on, Mike and Joe had put up a gremlingag

sign-up sheet, saying they’d like this scene to be

gremlins. It “required a little desperate timing. Joe had

the camera dolly down the bar to pick out the various as wacky as possible, and asking everybody just what

GMs, and as soon as they were off-camera we would they’d like to see the gremlins do” (Chris Walas 14 ). By

snatch the puppet, put a different hat or coat on it, and the time they were ready to shoot Dorry’s Tavern, over

pop him up on the other side of the bar just before the two hundred suggestions had been listed, from which

camera closed in on him again” (Chris Walas 8 ).

Joe Dante chose the ones to shoot 8 . Some of the many

Much of the scene was ad-libbed while shooting, gags include a flasher, a group of gremlins playing poker,

in part the result of creative suggestions from the crew, and a breakdancing gremlin, a gremlin picking his nose, and

in part as a result of experimentation with the capabilities even one dressed like Joe Dante. Several special rigs were

of the puppets. “We saw that because of the setting, designed specifically to accommodate the outrageous

there were more things that the gremlins could do inside activities that took place throughout the bar.

“It ended up being a lot more ambitious than we had planned. Once we saw what the gremlins

could do, we really wanted to take advantage of it. What we did was put up a big list on the

wall and asked the crew to write down anything they would like to see the Gremlins do. And

we tried to include as many of those suggestions as we could.”

Mike Finnell 1

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir

Magazine

“It was our biggest nightmare and our biggest thrill as well... we knew it was going to be the hardest scene to get right.

It was shot in about two weeks. We came up with a gag list of nearly 200 things we wanted to do. Joe picked the ones he

wanted, and we specifically rigged those. Then, for each gag going on, we had four or five more Gremlins in the background

doing something else. We used just about every Gremlin available. But the scene was particularly fun because the Gremlins

are drinking and smoking and basically being pigs. It was an anything-goes situation. We ended up putting in a flasher,

complete with the trench coat and dark glasses. We even had one Gremlin dressed up as Joe Dante” - Chris Walas (4)

© Warner Brothers c/o Cinefex 19

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

184


The creature team were able to run with their Dorry’s Tavern was designed by James Spencer to

Book Text

creative impulses, Bob MacDonald Jr. describes some of resemble a small town Irish pub 8 . “The set was pretty

the interesting rigs that he worked on: “we rigged one

Gremlin to smoke a cigar, and another to smoke three

cigarettes. The gremlins take a drag and you see the

cigar or cigarette light up, and then a smoke machine

blows the smoke back out their mouths. We also have a

gremlin on an overhead fan. He’s mounted on the end

of a long pole, and the pole is attached to a Coors beer

sign on the wall... it looks like the gremlin goes flying off

and into the beer sign. The whole sequence was a riot

easy to assemble; the look is that of a hometown Irish

pub. The only problem was keeping it messed up,

because when the gremlins get in there they just destroy

it” (Jim Spencer 1 ).

Most of the scene was shot in October 1983,

during postproduction, although the parts with Phoebe

Cates were done during principal photography; “that’s

why all the shots with Phoebe in the bar have just a few

puppets in them. We were working with only about ten

for everyone” (Bob MacDonald Jr. 1 ).

people there 8 . During the postproduction shooting,

Built inside Stage 15 at The Burbank Studios, there were twenty operators on set.

“We all wanted to have a lot

of fun with this scene. I

came on the set, carrying a

little book of storyboards, and

approached Joe Dante. He said,

‘Throw them away!’ Once we

determined what props were

available, then we got into

some specific gags.”

Chris Walas 1

“This bar set is a set on one of the sound stages and what we did was... we shot the bulk

of the movie first with the actors, and some of the effects... and then what we did was we

had another section of the picture set aside we closed down for a week or two and then

we geared back up again for another month or two... or maybe even three, of doing just

gremlins... I think it gave Chris a little bit of a breather because he had a little bit more time

to work on things while we were shooting some of the stuff. I think he really was at best

a couple of days ahead.”

Joe Dante 2

“It was outrageous, beyond Joe Dante’s wildest dreams. It becomes a movie of its own.”

James Spencer 1

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

185


© Warner Brothers

“I was exhausted. I had things thrown at me for three days, and they had

me doing all these athletic things. I got really fed up with being so abused

by the gremlins, so in some way the acting part was easy. What it took

was split-second timing. One gremlin was throwing something at me, while

another wanted me to light his cigarette. That’s when Kate notices that light

puts the gremlins off. Until then she’s just so busy thinking of a way to

appease them so they won’t kill her. It’s really very frightening.”

Phoebe Cates 1

Book Text

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

“There was a very large amount of that [ad-libbing] on the show and it wasn’t just my crew. Joe was always thinking of

things to do. But it was also a nice little loose working situation where everybody in the crew would make suggestions. It would

be ‘kick whathisname’ or ‘have him hit the other guy on the head.’ And so it went with quite a good deal of the bits, especially in

the tavern scene.

“Basically, we got my crew together and drew up a list of ideas and then presented them to Joe. He picked out the ones

he liked and shot those. If you could’ve seen some of the behind-the-scenes stuff... We had some great fun with the gremlins.

They were just real characters. Everybody had a good time with them. The cameramen would throw things at them and we’d always

throw stuff back at the crew. You know, an on-going battle. The tavern scene was our most fun scene. The crew really put their

hearts into it.” Chris Walas 9

The jumping and dancing gremlins were marionettes designed by Jay Davis

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

“The WB Stage Security Guard was terrified of the gremlins and

wouldn’t go near them.”

Blair Clark 33

186


“By the time we’d gotten to Dorry’s Tavern, we finally realized Book Text

that we had a handle on how we were going to make the

creatures move, and we had a little more confidence in how

they were going to look on-screen. So while we were in the

bar, we decided, ‘Now that we finally know how to do this, let’s

really take advantage of it.’”

Joe Dante 8 When Kate offers the gremlin a light for his cigarette,

“The break-dancing gremlin was Steven

Spielberg’s idea.”

Chris Walas 9

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

Chris Walas’ crew would play the video game between

takes (Chris Walas 3 )

we get a glimpse of the nictitating membrane that

Walas designed.

© Warner Brothers c/o Cinefex 19

187

“I had some sort of catharsis at this point, when we

started getting rid of gremlins!”

Chris Walas 3


“Directing the operation of the gremlins in the bar was

similar to the process I used all the way through the

film. We had a system of reversible (mirror image)

video monitors for the operators, while I kept to a

monitor placed as close to the camera as possible.

I would watch the action on this and then direct the

crew’s movements through the headsets we were all

wearing. I then sorted out the people in my crew

whom I thought best handled the puppet controls and

kept them for the tight closeups. I also tried to give

as many of the functions as possible to the person

operating the puppet, because the timing was critical

on a lot of this stuff. There’s a shot in the bar, for

example, of a GM blowing the head off a beer. The

operator did that with an air line that ran out of the

puppet and into his mouth.” Chris Walas 8

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

Book Text

© Warner Brothers

The gremlin playing with sock puppets was Joe

Dante’s idea.

© Warner Brothers

“There was another shot that was cut from the film where Phoebe

lights a cigar for one GM and he takes a big puff off it and blows

smoke in the air. There was a mount set in a brass coupling in

the creature’s mouth where we could place a cigar or cigarette, and

then a line ran down to a vacuum to draw on the cigar. Another

pipe ran up out near its mouth to exhale the smoke. But then we

said: ‘Wait a minute. If lighting a cigarette on this one guy scares

him off, why didn’t the cigar smoker run away?’ So we cut that

out.”

Chris Walas 8

188


Coors Sign Book & Text Ceiling Fan

“I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to see that Coors sign destroyed. All the time we were shooting in the bar, for some

reason that Coors sign was always ending up dead center in our shots. We even sprayed it down as black as we could, but you

could still see it. So when it came time to ram a gremlin into a wall, I made sure that that sign was hanging on it” (John Hora 8 ).

“We used two puppets for that scene. The first was a full-figured, radio-controlled guy that we hung from the fan by a

tight cord. One end of the cord was tied onto a screw eye at the top of the fan, and the other end was fastened onto the hands

of the gremlin over a microhit, which was about one-eighth of an inch in diameter. Then we turned on the fan, and John Hora

began slowly overcranking his camera. When the gremlin was in the position we wanted, we popped off the microhit, the cord blew

off and the puppet flew away. We then picked up a second puppet coming over the camera. This gremlin was on the end of a long

rod which ran along a guide we’d built through the back of the Coors sign on out towards the backside of the set. The rod itself

was hooked up with a quick-release mechanism on a piece of shock, or bungee cord. When we were ready, we just cocked it and

released it and the gremlin, whose body blocked out the pole, slammed into the sign (Bob MacDonald 8 ).

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers c/o Enterprise Incidents 48430

189

“I remember going onto the baroom set, and there was

a gremlin hanging on the fan. It was just wobbling

around because it was rubber, but it looked like it was

alive. I said to Joe, ‘what happens if we speed that up,

and he flies off?’. Well, we had this Coors sign, that

was in every shot and we couldn’t get rid of it because

it was product placement.. And Joe said ‘yeah, let’s fire

him into the sign and break it so we don’t have to use

it anymore. It took a few days for the effects people to

get it together. Phoebe is coming over bar, we move in

and tilt up, and she exits the frame and then we lower

the camera speed to about 12 frames or 8 frames and

correct the exposure as we do that and the guys sped

the motor up as fast as they could and pumped smoke

into it, so it really goes into hyper speed. Then we had

another shot where the gremlin is one a wire and he

goes right into the sign and actually breaks it and we

got rid of it. But that was just one of the suggestions

that came as we were working on the set and saw stuff.

There was a lot of cases in which the gremlins, the

puppeteers, and everybody were welcome to contribute

and the good ideas got built into the film, so it’s quite

different than the script.”

John Hora 34


Book Text

© Warner Brothers, c/o Inside Gremlins

The main Gremlins puppeteers at a rehearsal in the barroom. Standing back row from left to right are Ethan Wiley, Jay

Davis, Eben Stromquist, Blair Clark, Ralph Miller, Erik Jensen, Mark Walas, Marge McMahon (behind two gremlins). Front row;

Valerie Sofranko, Brent Baker, Jim Isaac, Kelly Lepkowsky, and Bob Cooper.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

190


Book Text

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

In a nod to the early connection between gremlins and aviators, the

ski-mask-clad gremlin shoots for Kate, but instead hits a photo of a

WWII-era B17.

Billy and Kate exiting Dorry’s

“Shot in a tremdous downpour of rain, which you don’t see on film, but they couldn’t use any of the sound because the noise from

the rain completely covered up the dialogue. That was really miserable, the eye peices were steaming up, you couldn’t see through

the camerea. It was like a foot and a half of water pouring through sidewalk and street there at Warner Brothers. You never see

the rain, but any that you might see you assume is snow, not rain.”

© Warner Brothers

John Hora 34

191


© Chris Walas via Cesar Dracol Jr.

Book Text

This puppet has been

soaked with beer in

the bar scene and is

draining in the bucket

while repair work is

done to it.

© Chris Walas, via Cesar

Dacol Jr.

A gremlin puppet is

cleaned after a hard

time in the bar room

shoot.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

192


Another fan-favourite scene takes place at the

movie theatre. Billy and Kate find the streets of Kingston

Falls abandoned, not a gremlin or human in sight. This

eerie atmosphere is “something like the feeling you got

when Gene Barry was wondering down L.A. at the end

of The War of the Worlds (John Hora 8 ). The duo discover

that the gremlin horde has congregated to watch a film

– Snow White of all things!

The choice to use Snow White

The Book Theatre Text

provided a similar kind of contrast as the calm outside of

the movie theatre and the chaos within. Snow White is

sweet and innocent and the gremlins have proven to be

anything but! Perhaps his experience as a child watching

Snow White influenced Dante’s decision to include it in

Gremlins, “when I was a kid, I saw Snow White which,

though a great picture, was a very upsetting experience

for me. It does have its moments of sheer horror” (Joe

Dante 20 ).

© Warner Brothers c/o German Lobby Card

“This scene was a real challenge, but it was more a challenge of coordination than anything else, we had 100 or

so puppets that all had to be active in the same shot. In order to get enough gremlins working, we had nearly

40 people operating three puppets each. We had one Gremlin on each arm. Then we mounted another puppet on

top of bicycle helmets on our heads. This was the clever idea of Director of Photography John Hora. Then we

just bounced them around and kept generally active.”

Chris Walas 9

193


The exterior of the theatre was shot on the attempting to film a running movie. To avoid projection

Book Text

Universal backlot, while the interiors were constructed at issues, he synchronized the 35mm unit camera with the

Burbank Studios on Stage 15 8 . The filmmakers employed projector that was showing Snow White 8 . He also set up

a variety of different strategies in order to create the a projection screen that could work for both front and

theatre and the massive collection of gremlins held rear projection, depending on the requirements of the

within.

scene.

The interior elements of the theatre – including Although there were quite a few gremlin

the walls, the projection booth, etc – were a matt puppets (and puppeteers), there were not enough to

painting. In fact, even a few gremlins were painted into fill a large movie theatre. To compensate for this, two

the background. A 16mm projector was pointed directly separate plates (a foreground set of sixty-four seats, and

into the camera in a smoke-filled environment to create a background set of sixty-four seats, which were the

the impression of a functioning theatre and the footage same seats filmed from different distances) were shot

was laid into the finished scene as if coming from the and composited together in post production. These two

projection booth 8 .

sections were duplicated optically to produce additional

Bill Hansard worked out the issues inherent with sections on the left and right, beyond the isles.

© Warner Brothers c/o Special Effects: An

Introduction to Movie Magic

© Warner Brothers c/o Inside Gremlins

“Actually, the theatre interior where you see the vast audience of gremlins makes use of extensive matte work. Dream Quest first

shot two plates of the set over at TBS. That part was fairly simple. There size of that set was eight rows across and eight deep,

so there were only sixty-four seats in all. We shot one plate for a close position, and then walked backwards twenty-two feet –

which was exactly the same distance as the length of the grouping of seats there on the Burbank Studios sound stage – and

set up our camera on high sticks and shot a back position of the gremlins, too. So now we had two distinct, spatially different

shots that we could composite one in front of the other to make the theater seem twice as deep. In both positions, we allowed

the gremlins to throw as much popcorn as they wanted to, because black velvet had been draped behind the seats, which lead to

the shot matting itself. We could allow the gremlin heads and popcorn buckets and handfuls of popcorn to be thrown right into the

matte area. Then, in addition to the two center sections, we duplicated and optically repositioned the rear section to fill in the sides

across the aisles. So now we had four sections of gremlins instead of just one. To add a little variety to that shot, we also shot

a gremlin swinging on a rope against a small blue screen we have here at Dream Quest. The final element was a matte painting

of the interior of the theatre, which was done by Mark Sullivan.”

Rocco Gioffre 8

194


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Ethan Wiley, Blair Clark and Mark Walas in the front row. 1st AD Jim Quinn second row left

© Chris Walas

195


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Jay Davis suited up for the big theater scene.

© Chris Walas

196


Creative camera tricks and matte paintings aside, the filming of other scenes) and only forty people to

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there were still a great many gremlins that needed to be operate them. To make it work, most of the crew had

in motion to fill the theatre. Over the course of a week one gremlin puppet on each hand, and some had one

in postproduction, the crew (essentially the entire crew, mounted on a helmet on their head as well! In addition,

including all available hands from various departments) “there were a bunch of gremlins tied to a board with

all migrated to the theatre set and donned puppets. somebody shaking it” (Chris Walas 3 ). It was difficult for

Everybody was operating a gremlin, including Mike the puppeteers to sway in time with the music weighted

Finnell and all the office staff. Joe Dante puppeteered down by all the puppets, so they wound up slowing the

a gremlin in the front row 3 . By the time they filmed film to around 20 frames. To do this, they also had to slow

the scene, there were around one-hundred- and-eight down the sound the puppeteers were listening to so that

puppets (a few had been damaged or destroyed during when played back, it would sound normal (John Hora 34 ).

We were in a state of continual exhaustion on the film and by the time we got to the theater

scene it was a struggle to stay awake. In between camera set-ups (yes, the puppeteers had to

wait for camera sometimes!) Blair Clark and Mark Walas in dreamland between set-ups.

“When we did the theater scene each

of us wore a bike helmet with a coffee

can attached to the top of it. Over the

coffee can was placed a Zero puppet.

We then had a hand puppet in each

hand, so each person worked three

Gremlins. When we ran out of crew, I

think the physical efx guys were placed

all the way back. Several puppets were

connected by line and each guy would

pull them”

Jay Davis 29

Marghe McMahon demonstrates one of the helmet Gremlins used in

the theater scene.

© Chris Walas

“We spent about a week in postproduction shooting those theatre

scenes, and we really went crazy in there; I mean, the crew

just went nuts! We enjoyed ourselves during that part of the

shoot just as much as we had while we were getting zany in

Dorry’s Tavern. There are supposed to be about four hundred

gremlins in the theatre. Actually, there were about 108 puppets in

there being manipulated by forty operators, who were crouching

behind a sectionalized set of approximately sixty theatre seats.

The puppeteers had a GM on each hand, and were hopping and

jumping behind the seats having a good time. John Hora even

came up with the idea of gluing gremlin ears on the operators’

heads. That was vetoed, but we did end up sticking additional

puppets on bicycle helmets that were then strapped onto each

operator. That maximized our puppeteering in the theatre, since

each operator could control three puppets simultaneously.”

Chris Walas 8

197

© Chris Walas via Propstore of London

“You’d have to hide

the puppeteers’

heads otherwise,

and I remember in

the 5,000 fingers

of Dr T the kids

wear hats with

hands sticking out

of them” (John

Hora, JHI)


Just like Dorry’s Tavern, the Theatre offers a bags and boxes on their ears or heads, many are wearing

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wealth of in-jokes, spoofs and references to those tinsel and various articles of clothing (hats, scarves,

that care to look. One gremlin wears a pair of Micky shirts). The flasher even makes a second appearance

Mouse ears, appropriate given the film that they in the theatre. Another appears as a doctor, complete

are watching. Another is wearing Scott Brady’s with surgical mask, and yet another wearing a fireman’s

Sherif hat. Several gremlins have adorned popcorn helmet.

“We were throwing buttered popcorn and toilet paper all over the place, then

switching positions and doing it again. If one was unlucky the person behind

them would use a plastic tie to lash the person’s beltloop to the wooden chair

support. The scene itself was shot several times and composited together. The

theater’s interior walls was a matt painting. We shot surrounded by Curtains”

Jay Davis 29

© Warner Brothers c/o Cinefex 19

Kelly Lepkowsky of the CWI crew in between

takes of the big theater scene.

© Chris Walas via Propstore of London

© Warner Brothers c/o Cinefex 19

198


“We had to use Snow

White. First of all, it’s got

dwarfs in it, which is kind

of nice because they’re

small and they sing, but

there’s also what Snow

White means to people.

It’s such a nice, sweet,

wonderful movie, and

the gremlins are just so

awful. The fact that they

can watch Snow White

and get such a kick out

of it is very funny; the

contrast is wonderful.”

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Joe Dante 1

While most Gremlin faces were run out of foam rubber, the “big smile” face had to be run out of urethane

for it’s elasticity.

© Chris Walas, via Cesar Dacol Jr.

“[The theatre scene was] all hands on

deck. It was a ground floor set, so we all

crawled down between the theater seats.

We’d move our puppets and be tossing

popcorn and cups around, and when the

dwarfs start stinting ‘Heigh-Ho, Heigh-

Ho, it’s off to work we go,’ we were all

waving back and forth to the music.”

Richard Stutsman 5

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers c/o Inside Gremlins

“A bell on the sound stage would

ring at the beginning of a scene.

This indicated to everyone not

in the scene that they MUST be

quiet. When the scene finished,

the bell would ring again and

everyone could make noise

again. We took two weeks off to

get ready for the theater scene.

upon returning the bell was

gone. I thought it was standard

sound stage equipment. Nope.

The production wouldn’t pay for

it so now if anyone made noise

during a scene the A.D [Assistant

Director] had to yell, ‘We’re on a

bell!’” Jay Davis 29

199


The theatre setup required the film to be visible VCE, Inc. (operated by Peter Kuran), rear-projected onto

Book Text

on both the front and back of the movie screen, which the screen that Bill Hansard designed for projection

created a technical challenge for the crew. They really from both directions.

did have a 35mm print of Snow White, shown on a real To have the gremlins rip through the screen, the

screen using a real projector. They could only afford to crew set up a four- by eight-foot projection screen on

buy the rights to around 20 seconds of the film, so they Stage 15, and affixed scalpel blades to the claws of a

ran it on a loop over and over again (John Hora 34 ). few gremlin rod arms. With careful choreography, other

Gremlins aren’t the best projectionists, and puppeteers using hand puppets pushed through the

when the film is interrupted the horde notice Billy and screen 8 .

Kate working behind the screen. To create the illusion of The gremlins that run after Billy and Kate were

a large group of gremlins running towards the screen, known as the gremlin train, “all on a flat-bed with

an original piece of animation was made specifically for wheels, and they were being pushed and pulled in

this shot. The visual was a piece of cell animation by various scenes” (Chris Walas 3 ).

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers

“We contributed only that one shot to Gremlins, but then Mike

Finnell always seems to give us an obligatory shot or two in each

of his productions. The animation was done by Bruce Woodside, a

really good character animator who recently worked on Dreamscape.

The gremlin shadows were done in five different camera passes,

because each pass had the silhouette appearing in a slightly different

size. We photographed each size slightly more out of focus than

the preceding one, so that the larger they were, the more out of

focus they were. This, of course, was to suggest their coming

closer to the screen. By the time the gremlin shadows were small

and sharp-edged, they were supposed to be just about on top of the

screen. Finally, when we composited all this on black-and-white film

– since we weren’t really dealing with anything more than black

silhouettes – we put the footage on the two-headed optical printer

we have here at VCE. All in all, that was a pretty straightforward

piece of work.”

Peter Kuran 8

We called this the “Gremlin Train”. Two large carts on dolly track holding all the puppeteers that would fit. This is for the shots of a crowd of

Gremlins running through the theater. Chris Walas in Joe Dante’s chair with the Mog Squad T-shirt and Joe Dante to the left in the blue Gremlins

crew jacket.

© Chris Walas via Propstore of London

200


In order to kill all the gremlins, Billy and Kate blow out only just so far into the street. We also placed

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blow up the theatre. The MacDonalds handled the fire bombs, which were big plastic bags filled with

explosives, as they already had experience with naphthalene and a bursting charge, all around the

demolition. Bob MacDonald Sr. describes the process: interior of that facade. That way, when they exploded,

“the movie house explosion involved a plywood we created quite a large ball of flame all around them”

facade we built and filmed at the Universal lot. We (Bob MacDonald 8 ). With the exception of some singed

used a number of black powder charges we call cone hair, the crew emerged from the scene unharmed,

mortars that blew out the windows and doors. Cable although a few gremlin puppets were casualties of the

stops were tied onto those doors so that they could fire 3 .

© Warner Brothers c/o Japanese Program

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

“When they blew up

the theatre, that was

a monumental thing,

because it happened once.

It was around 3 in the

morning that we finally

set off the explosion that

blows the theatre up and

it caused a concussion

that smashed a window

in a house over in Taluka

Lake.”

John Hora 34

“While we were shooting

it, there was flaming

material dropping from

the top of the set – and

it caught my hair on fire.

I called ‘Cut!’ and then

somebody said, ‘Boy, not

all the fires are out yet!’

Sure enough my hair was

smoking. But it wasn’t

serious.”

Joe Dante 8

© Warner Brothers c/o Japanese Program

201


Chris Walas inspects the damage after a take with the burning Book puppets Text in the theater scene.

© Chris Walas via Propstore of London

suit prepares for

the theater scene

with burning gremlin

puppets.

© Chris Walas via Propstore of London

Mark Walas in safety

“It took all night to get that thing ready to blow up.”

John Hora 34

© Warner Brothers c/o Golden Storybook

202


Stripe has escaped the blast, having ventured

into a nearby store for more candy. The filmmakers

hadn’t planned to use a Montgomery Ward – it was not

in the script – but they managed to wrangle up product

placement for it. When they realized that a department

store was going to be required, they decided that a

number of items could be naturally placed there. It

worked well for everyone because Montgomery Ward

supplied all the set dressing for the department store 2 .

The Department Store was shot on backlots and

sets, “it had to be because of all the gremlin nonsense

that goes on” 2 .

The exterior of the Montgomery Ward was

shot at the Universal backlot, and the interiors

at the Burbank Studios, on Stage 26 (Stage 15

for the fountain scene) 8 . By this point in the film,

The Department Book Text Store

they had “figured out that a lot of the stuff that was

working was stuff that had not necessarily been planned,

so we were always looking around for new gags and new

things to do” (Joe Dante 2 ).

Zach Galligan had pinkeye during the shooting

of the department store scene 2 , perhaps reduced vision

was to blame for the fact that he broke the “CANDY”

sign in the store’s front window. He had been explicitly

told not to do so because it cost too much money and

actually presented a danger of electrocution 2 .

Pinkeye or not, the scene saw a kiss between

Billy and Kate. Spielberg’s main concern about this shot

was to make sure that Gizmo was in it. At one point they

bounced around the idea of Gizmo getting in between

them and foiling the kiss (they even shot it a few times

that way) 2 .

© Warner Brothers

“I desperately wanted to have Stripe tearing

up that E.T. doll, but they wouldn’t let me do it.”

Chris Walas 8

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

203


Stripe makes his last-ditch effort to evade Billy, we used large gel batteries that were mounted on the

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Kate and Gizmo, and attempts to find a water source off-camera side of the skateboard. Incidentally, this

to repopulate after the explosion. “The first thing was the same electrical system we used later on in the

Stripe uses to try and get away from Gizmo and Billy is department store, when Gizmo is driving the toy car”

a skateboard. Again, this was one of Joe’s last-minute (ChrisWalas 8 ). Eben Stromquist came up with the rig

ideas, where he asked himself: ‘How can we get Stripe to that allowed Stripe to skateboard (Chris Walas 3 )

go from point A to point B and make it interesting?’ For Having attempted simply to avoid his would-be

that shot, we used an actual two-foot-long skateboard, captors, Stripe takes an offensive tack, throwing saw

and a three-foot-high, totally self-supported puppet blades at Billy’s head. Bob MacDonald Jr describes the

that must have weighed close to thirty pounds. There process that made the illusion possible, “we brought the

were some very nice, almost ground-breaking repeating saw blade in from the other side of the wall, behind Billy.

mechanisms installed in that puppet – a very intricate We had a mechanism that slammed the blade into the

cam system for the leg that pushes him along, coupled plywood wall. We also made a cut in the wall for the blade

with a radio-controlled head to give him versatility. to come through, filled it in, and then painted over it so

The whole thing was quite heavy, because for power the camera couldn’t see the cut” (Bob MacDonald Jr. 1 ).

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

“That saw blade, was thrown nowhere near Zach. Instead, we had another blade on the other side of the wall

that was pushed by a mechanism through the plywood partition right after the puppet let go of the dummy

blade. We’d already pre-cut through that wall, filled it in and painted over the slot where it was going to come

through. The final effect looked just like Stripe had thrown a blade that embedded itself in the wall next to

Billy’s head.”

Chris Walas 8

204


Stripe flees once again, this time on a tricycle. puppeting. Piano wire guided the bolt from the

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This required a special leg-armatured puppet, that had crossbow 8 .

his feet fastened to the peddles. The tricycle was then

pulled forward by a wire, and his feet moved naturally

with the peddles 8 . This gremlin rig was one of the

simplest rigs, one that the creature crew would have

liked to have used more!

In a brilliant homage to Tobe Hooper’s Texas

Chainsaw Massacre, Stripe emerges from a clothing rack

wielding a chainsaw. This scene was not in the shooting

script, it was conceived on set by Joe Dante and Zach

Galligan 2 . The crew secured a mount for the chainsaw

Stripe’s second main attack involved that allowed it to pivot safely, and a control arm was put

the use of a crossbow. This required the aid

of a cable release, and utilized hand and rod

in place for Galligan’s protection – the chainsaw that

ripped through the baseball bat was real.

Mark Walas and Chris Walas (foreground) testing the

tricycle rig.

© Chris Walas via Cesar Dacol Jr.

The skateboard gremlin. Mechanism designed and

built by Eben Stromquist.

© Chris Walas

“We just tied his feet down, and propped him up,

and put a little radio controlled bobbing head”

Chris Walas 3

205


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© Warner Brothers c/o Gremlins Facebook Page

206


It took two days to shoot the department store chainsaw would only move in a circumscribed area, and

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scene with the chainsaw fight, Galligan recalls that “they wouldn’t go very low, even if you stood on it. It took a

had to drill a steel platform into the ground so that you while, but when they finished, I knew it was safe. The

couldn’t budge it. On top of that, they mounted another only way I could have gotten hurt would have been if I

platform, where they placed the chainsaw. Finally, had put my hands together on the bat and held them

they wrapped Stripe around the chainsaw so that the underneath the chainsaw blade” (Zach Galligan 25 ).

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

“Joe Dante and I came up with that scene on the set. Joe had the idea for the chainsaw. I said, ‘Great, why don’t we do a final

climactic battle with the chainsaw? Nothing will really happen, but it’ll be really exciting -- the classic cliffhanger.’ Joe turned to me

and asked, ‘What are we going to do?’ So, I said, ‘I’m down under some boxes and Stripe swings down on me. I’ll have a baseball

bat and he’ll have the chainsaw. Then, the bat can get sawed in half, and there’ll be a question as to whether or not Billy will make

it. And then the lights can come on and save the day.’ Together, we decided to go for it, and I think it’s an exciting scene.”

Zach Galligan 25

© Warner Brothers c/o Cinefex 19

207


“The chainsaw was real, about twenty inches in length, and was Book wired Text to a Stripe hand-puppet’s arms so that he could really hold

onto it. For several of the waist-up shots where he’s attacking, we had the puppeteer lay down on a forward-protruding platform

that we’d attached to the camera dolly; then he’d just squeak around the frame line manipulating the puppet. Billy’s bat was being

genuinely chewed up by that saw. Bob MacDonald fastened an ingenious rig – sort of a jointed and pivoting metal column on

the end of that saw which allowed me, as the puppeteer, to really wildly fling that thing around but yet not be able to get it past

a certain point. It was a guaranteed stopping point; I literally couldn’t get any closer to Billy. Bob was very safety conscious

throughout the show.” Chris Walas 8

© Warner Brothers c/o Fangoria 39

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

“The bat was about an inch and a half from my face as

the chainsaw was cutting through it. My reactions have to

be the most natural I’ve ever done. I’ve never been so

exhausted from shooting something in my entire life.”

Zach Galligan 1

208

His assault is halted when Kate finds the light

switches and Stripe is knocked back. He is dragged

across the floor by the still-whirring chainsaw. Although

the chainsaw that was used when Stripe chews through

Billy’s protective baseball bat was in tact and very real,

later, as a radio-controlled Stripe is pulled across the

floor by the chainsaw, the blades were ground flat 8 .

Stripe bumps his head and we hear the familiar

bird-chirping sound from the Warner Brothers sound

effects library. Dante notes that “that’s probably one of

the most blatantly cartoonish noises in the entire show.

Steven kept saying, ‘I don’t know, do you think that’s

a little much?’ And I’d say: ‘Oh, come on. I mean, the

picture’s almost over.’” (Joe Dante 8 ).


Gizmo’s Car

Book Text decision as it was an on-set happenstance, “that car

Getting Gizmo from Point-A to Point-B continued was not that controllable actually, because we had so

to prove problematic for the crew. Blair Clark’s main much interference from the sound stage” (Chris Walas 3 ).

contribution to the film was a special Gizmo puppet Ultimately, they expanded Gizmo’s time in the car

rigged to crawl across the floor. This puppet was difficult because they were pleased with the way that it worked 3 .

to use, but allowed Gizmo to move independently if only The downside of all the extra use was the

for a brief stint.

constant drain on the batteries. Walas describes the

A new rig was built for Gizmo, mounting problem, “we were using up so many batteries for so

him in a Barbie car. There were two half-puppets many takes of the radio-controlled puppets and the car

built for Gizmo to drive the Barbie car, both radiocontrolled

that we were constantly burning our way through our

8 . It appears on screen that Gizmo is a battery library. Sometimes we were only a step away

terrible driver, this wasn’t so much a conscious from having no power” (Chris Walas 8 ).

© Warner Brothers c/o Star Invaders CDC00592

“I shot all of those closeups of Gizmo in the car using rear projection. One of the reasons for that is that the superfaces were

slightly out of proportion in comparison to the ‘max’ puppet heads – although nobody ever notices. But I was afraid that shooting

the head ‘live’ against real backgrounds would tip off the scale differential, so I opted for rear projection instead. Also it was nice

to do an old-movie style rear projection here because a lot of the elements in Gremlins were throwbacks to old film techniques.”

John Hora 8

209


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The oversized Gizmo puppet set up for the driving shots. These

shots used rear-projection plates.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

© Warner Brothers

“It was radio controlled, but it would never go where

we wanted it to go. It would always hit things. So

we just decided that Gizmo was just a bad driver.

We shot a lot of bits where he kept running into

things and it turned out to be very funny. I think

it’s just the spectacle of this little thing in the car

running amuck.” Joe Dante 15

“I remember the RC Barbie Car

that Gizmo drives being a pain.

There was so much interference

from the metal shelves, lights, and

other equipment and the RC stuff

we were using was pretty basic by

today’s standards, everything would

be working fi ne, and then the car

(and Gizmo) would just freak out

and go tearing across the fl oor

(usually in the wrong direction)

until it hit something.”

Blair Clark

33

210


© Chris Walas via Propstore of London

The greenhouse portion of the Department

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Store scene was shot on Stage 15 in the Burbank studios.

Bob MacDonald enhanced the atmosphere to give it a

greenhouse feel, “we had to pump in steam, as well as

smoke made with dry ice” (Bob MacDonald Jr. 1 ). John

Hora added in a special filter to diffuse the light, “we had

to create a shaft of light, while a lot of steam was coming

from the back of the fountain. So we had a fog filter on

the camera to stretch the light” (John Hora 1 ).

The Stripe puppet standing in the water fountain was a

marionette with a radio controlled head, one of few marionetted

shots to make it to the final cut (Chris Walas, Gremlins

Commentary Track #1). A regular puppet was used during

the multiplication shot, his back was adorned with a separate

appliance utilizing Skinflex air bladders covered by a latex skin.

These bladders were inflated using air lines and foot pumps

off-screen (Cinefex 19, 38).

“We got a triffid from

Spielberg, he had made a

triffid from E.T. because he

wanted E.T. to water one in

the beginning when he was

tending the plants... and then

we put it in Gremlins. Only

real afficionados or fans

would catch it, and they’d tell

their friends and explain it

and then they’d go back and

see the film again to catch

that.”

John Hora 34

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

211


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© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

212


After he is exposed to the light, Stripe begins was constructed (with mechanical ears, brow, mouth

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to melt. This highly complex scene involved several and arms) that continued to ooze. “The second stage,

different puppets and a variety of distinct stages. First, revolved around a still-oozing Stripe puppet, made by

a regular stripe puppet was fitted with tubular lines that Randy Dutra, that was in a more advanced stage of

ran throughout his body and oozed Ultraslime in greens, decomposition. This was a half-skeleton, half-fleshcovered

sort of thing with quite a bit of tubing in it, and

blues and yellows.

Second, a more heavily decomposed cablecontrolled

puppet with a partially visible skeletal structure were all mechanized for movement” (Chris Walas 8

it was cable controlled. The ears, brow, mouth and arms

).

© Warner Brothers

Randy Dutra creating the build-up on the rotting Stripe

puppet for the fountain scene.

© Chris Walas, via Propstore of London

213

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine


Third came a jointed skeleton marionette Walas countersank a portion of the floor, and filled the

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that simply dropped into the fountain. Fourth was empty space with Ultraslime, dry ice, smoke lines and

a differently constructed skeleton puppet that was urethane air bladders to create the finished effect 8 .

dropped onto the floor. The last stageinvolved a hollow “The skeleton that then leaps out at Billy was

skeleton, including skull, cast out of urethane affixed to completely jointed and done by Jay Davis, who also

a rib cage made of flexible foam. Using a system of rods marionetted it. Then, for the shot of the bones landing on

running under the floor, the rib cage was pulled down the floor, another separate, differently jointed skeleton

and a special set of tubes connected to the bones pulled puppet had to be built. We literally just dropped that one

the air out. Ultraslime was pumped through the floor onto the floor, and then positioned it so that it would

around Stripe’s decaying remains 8 . To give the puddle match the next setup, which was of the disintegrating

of bubbling gremlin goo the most realistic appearance, skeleton” (Chris Walas 8 ).

© Warner Brothers

An attempt was made to do the Stripe melting gag using wax castings. The effect was never

filmed an alternate approach was adopted.

© Warner Brothers

© Chris Walas via Propstore of London

Stripe’s skeletal body was made out of sponge, so that it could deflate

and collapse on itself 3

© Warner Brothers c/o Cinefex 19

© Warner Brothers c/o Souvenir Magazine

214


The ending of the film was not truly set in stone

until it was filmed. It changed throughout the many

drafts of the script, and what we see on screen isn’t

even in the shooting script. When Mr. Wing returns to

pick up Gizmo, the dialogue was largely improvised. The

part where Rand tries to give Mr. Wing the smokeless

ashtray was entirely improvised while shooting.

The scene was nearly unrecognizable from anything

Chris Columbus had written. Naturally, this was the

day that Columbus and his family visited the set 3 .

The television runs news stories about the disaster

in Kingston Falls. It utilized fire footage reportedly from

All’s Well Book that TextEnds Well

the theatre fire, but actually real footage of the Malibu

fire (Joe Dante 2 ). The newscaster describes the events,

scoffing at the description of “little green men”, reminding

the audience that the world that they’ve been inhabiting

for the last 100 minutes is a fanciful one. This character

was played by Jim McKrell, who played the exact same

role in The Howling (that of the television reporter

surveying the damage). He even had the same name, and

worked for the same television station in both movies.

Gizmo’s heartfelt last words to Billy weren’t

scripted. They were chosen while the crew was filming

the closing scene 2 .

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers

215


August 3rd was the final day of principal

photography, during this time the first unit averaged

around eight or nine setups each day, which was

significantly fewer than Dante was used to from his

Roger Corman days (“when [he’d] get thirty to forty a

day”, Joe Dante 8 ). “Immediately we went into Phase One

of our postproduction period, when the majority of the

creature scenes were photographed, from August 4th to

the 12th. We shot for that week in the department store

set, because it was going to be struck soon. Then, from

August 15th through September 5th, the production was

on hiatus. This gave Chris Walas and his crew a chance

to clean up and ready all the puppets. Phase Two, when

most of the gremlins were filmed,

© Chris Walas

Postproduction

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went from September 6th through October 21st. Our

final phase came from October 24th to November 1st,

with a very small crew getting in a lot of tight shots”

(Mike Finnell 8 ).

“Interestingly enough, one of the most critical

problems we had during postproduction was one of

focus. This was because of the way we lit our sets. Every

creature had to be on its mark. If an operator’s arm

got tired or moved one inch, the take was ruined” (Joe

Dante 8 ). The original budget for creature effects was

$1.3 million, “but given the subsequent reshoots and a

couple of inserts Joe decided he needed, we deviated

just a little from that” to $1.5 million (Chris Walas 8 ).

“We did bring Phoebe Cates back for the bar scene. But for the most part we shot without sound and we just shot gremlins. We

shot them in slow motion, we shot them in fast motion, we shot in every speed. Every gremlin had at least three technicians

on it, so for crowd scenes all the sets were built on stilts and underneath there was a little community of people looking at

their monitors and moving their hands and trying to make the gremlins do something that was recognizably human. And it was

quite the talent – it was certainly a talent I didn’t have. There were a lot of people there and you got to know them quite well.”

Joe Dante 5

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Besides the post-production shooting, another

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Ultimately nine voice actors were hired for

major component of post production time was sound Gremlins, but only seven were used: Howie Mandel,

effects 8 . Dante began his search for sounds in the Warner Frank Welker, Mark Dodson, Fred Newman, Mike

Brothers cartoon sound effects library 8 . Thundertracks Sheehan, Peter Cullen, and Mark Berger. Some vocal

Ltd., owned by Mark Mangini, Richard Anderson and effects were also provided by Mangini’s year-old son

Steve Flick, produced the majority of the sound effects. Matthew (when Gizmo coughs after Stripe’s death, the

Mangini had experience working for Hanna-Barbera. He sound was from when Matthew had croup, they simply

originally imagined using animal sounds for the gremlins, sped it up) 8 .

until he realized that they were acting like people on Audiences at the sneak preview saw a slightly

screen. At that point he decided to cast voice actors. He different version of the film from that which was officially

considered Mel Blanc (famous for voicing Bugs Bunny), released on June 8, 1984. Several shots were altered or

and Daws Butler, but then opened auditions to a wider deleted, and two minor sub-plots were cut last minute,

range of actors.

taking the film from 111 to 106 minutes 8 .

“Actually, it’s the Treg Brown Library. Treg did many of the sounds for the old Warners cartoons, and they still

have all of those noises on file – though a lot of times the quality isn’t too good. We had pretty much gone

through the whole list for our Twilight Zone segment, so we had a good idea of where everything was. But really,

there aren’t that many cartoon sound effects in Gremlins. If anything, we practiced restraint in our use of the

cartoon track. There was a lot more at one time, and then we pulled back on them a little bit. But we refused to

compromise on such memorable moments as the gremlin with the derby shaking his head after getting popped

in the noggin.” Joe Dante 8

© Warner Brothers c/o Joe Dante

“We came in on time and under budget, but we were working on Gremlins right up to its release date. Most of that last time

period was spent in dubbing and trimming back the final print from approximately two-and-a-half hours to well under two hours

in length.”

Mike Finnell 8

“After first seeing the rough-cut, Steven turned to me and said, ‘It’s your greatest work.’ So I looked back at him

and asked, ‘Yeah – but is it any good?’” Joe Dante 8

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Mark Mangini headed up the sound FX for the film and at one point he came into our trailer to record all the goofy sounds we

puppeteers had been making when we operated the puppets. This is me in the foreground, pretty sure Mark is directly in front

of me and my puppeteers making silly sounds are Valerie Sofranko, Bob Cooper, randy Dutra and Ethan Wiley.

© Chris Walas

© Warner Brothers

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Given the length of the rough cut, a great deal of

material was left on the cutting room floor to complete

the film that we know and love. Hoyt Axton recalled an

opening scene that was ultimately cut from the film,

“ Rand’s in a small, typical tourist shop, trying to explain

to a Chinese woman who doesn’t speak English that he

wants to buy a present for his son. She has no idea what

I’m looking for, so she keeps handing me all this oddball

stuff – a Japanese lantern, a blowfish, a radio, I thought

it was all really funny, and I yelled and screamed when I

heard that they had dropped it” (Hoyt Axton 24 ).

As the film evolved from full-on horror, to

horror-comedy, a number of very graphic scenes were

cut (some that were never filmed, and others left on

the cutting room floor). “In the scene where the mother

knifes the gremlin in the kitchen there was a separate

shot of it which was quite gruesome. It was basically

the gremlin pinned to the cutting board and sort of just

coughing up green gremlin goop. It was twitching and

trying to pull the knife out. It affected us. In dailies we

couldn’t even watch it... and there was a good closeup

with a very sickening sound, but that one was taken

out” ( Chris Walas 9 ). It is still possible to see this gremlin,

however it is from a more distant angle (look at the

counter behind Lynn in the microwave scene, you can

just see him squirming).

Another of the infamous alternate scenes

Deleted Book Scenes Text

involved Roy Hanson, Billy’s biology teacher. The

original scene was so disturbing that they felt the need

to reshoot. “There was a reshot of the biology teacher

because initially Joe shot it with the man’s face showing

and the guy had eight or nine hypodermic needles

stuck in him” (Chris Walas 9 ). This shot still contains a

single hypodermic needle, but his face isn’t visible.

Additionally, by showing his entire body, it was clear

that the gremlins hadn’t feasted on him, which was

suggested in the original shot.

The memorable flasher gremlin shot was

partially left on the cutting room floor, originally “that

was intended to be more of a running gag, for instance,

there was another shot where he pops open his coat

and he’s got a dozen watches for sale. Some was lost

because of running time” (Chris Walas 13 )

One of the scenes cut from the film involved Mrs.

Deagle. Those in the know will recognize the portraits of

Mr. Deagle as being Edward Arnold, famous for playing

corrupt tycoons in Frank Capra movies. This scene

showed Mrs. Deagle making a fuss about a photo of her

late husband that had fallen into a box of kitty litter. The

problem with this scene was that “it made the character

too sympathetic for us to shoot her out the window;

it’s weird that I had to go back and make that character

even more like a cartoon to get the desired effect” (Joe

Dante 12 )

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers

© Warner Brothers

219


Although not quite a deleted scene, the film’s of the film, and wanted him to save the day. Although

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end was slightly altered in post-production. To start this ending is familiar to us, it is not the ending originally

with, it was uncertain how the film was going to end shot. Billy was supposed to open the blinds, letting in

until right before shooting. The way that the story ends the sun that kills Stripe. They largely re-shot the scene to

in the shooting script varies slightly. Naturally, that was make Gizmo a more active part of the film’s climax (Mike

the day that Chris Columbus and his parents visited the Finnell 3 ). This is because “Steven felt that Gizmo was the

set... a day in which they filmed off script 2 .

hero of the movie, not Billy” ( Joe Dante 2 )

Steven Spielberg felt that Gizmo was the hero

“This is the only bit of bitterness that

I ever had about these two Gremlins

movies... in here you see I’m crouching

behind these fl ower pots... when we

originally shot it, I do this running

leap over the fl ower pots and I pull the

shade that sends the light streaming

in that kills the guy. And when I see

the movie, they very cunningly cut it

so that Gizmo does it, and steals my

moment of heroic glory! I’m upstaged

by a puppet.”

Zach Galligan 2

© Warner Brothers

“I was not really all that crazy about this idea, but I must say that audience-wise,

they are invested in Gizmo.” Joe Dante 3

Wait... what do you

mean Gizmo opened the

blinds?

© Warner Brothers

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Joe Dante was surprised by the reviews of the

film that came out at the time: “The reviews of the

picture have surprised me. I don’t think it has gotten less

than two stars in the midwest where you usually don’t

expect to get good reviews for this kind of film [Gremlins

actually did better than Ghostbusters in NYC, because

citizens remembered the inconvenience of having

Ghostbusters shooting there]. But I’ve heard criticisms

that surprise me. I think that the people who don’t like

it basically can’t understand what kind of movie it’s

supposed to be. It doesn’t stop to be one thing for any

length of time and that, to them, is confusing. There

has also been criticism because it starts out as a sweet,

wholesome sort of film, then the mood changes and

people actually get killed. Not that those scenes are

there to hamper people’s enjoyment -- they are there to

contrast.

“Gremlins is a movie full of contrasts. It keeps

changing all the time, juxtaposing one element with

another. One of the things that happens while you

are watching is you are forced to decide whether you

approve of what is going on. Does Mrs. Deagle deserve

what she gets? Or does it bother you? Did it bother you