Ignored by everyone but Reel World, that is.
We elbowed our way through the thousands of conventioneers attending the Direct Marketing Association's 81st annual conference and exposition last week to have a few words, in the bowels of Moscone Center, with none other than Herschell Gordon Lewis. Lewis got his start 40 years ago making "nudie" flicks for grindhouses and drive-ins; when that lode petered out (excuse the pun) he switched to gore. His early '60s ultra-low-budget bloodfests Blood Feast (which was called a "blot on the American film industry" by the L.A. Times and advertised by the producer as "the worst film ever made") and Color Me Blood Red (recently screened by the prankish Joel Shepard at Center for the Arts) influenced everyone from George Romero to Wes Craven. All right, so maybe the one-time University of Mississippi English professor (or so he's claimed in the past) isn't exactly a candidate for the S.F. Film Festival's Kurosawa Award for lifetime achievement. But Lewis, like his contemporaries Samuel Z. Arkoff and Roger Corman, readily (and refreshingly) admitted he was always in the movie business to make money, not art.
Nowadays, Lewis is a hugely successful Florida-based direct marketing consultant and columnist ("Curmudgeon-at-Large") for the DM industry's leading trade magazine. His pithy, humorous, and jargon-free presentation (a dissection of good and lousy junk mail) at Moscone was a standing-room-only affair; our old college buddy, who tipped us to Lewis' current endeavors, estimated that at least 98 percent of the audience was unaware of the filmmaker's glory days behind the camera. Afterward, as the crowd filed out, we asked Lewis how one makes the transition from horror films to direct marketing. "The transition," he replied, eying us warily as he packed up his notes and shook hands with old acquaintances, "is recognizing that salesmanship is the key to getting people in the theater, as well as the key to getting people to respond to an advertising message. The auteur syndrome may salve one's ego but will damage response."
American Zoetrope, which produced Agnieszka Holland's The Secret Garden, reunites with the talented but inconsistent director on The Third Miracle. An exploration of religious faith starring Ed Harris and Anne Heche, Miracle begins shooting next week in Toronto. Zoetrope's Fred Fuchs is one of the producers and Francis Ford Coppola receives an executive producer credit; check your favorite weekly mags for Anne & Ellen pix. ... Jonathan Demme's nephew Ted (Monument Ave.) spends a couple of days in Napa Valley shooting Coppola for a handful of U.S. Satellite Broadcasting commercials. Coppola succeeds Martin Scorsese in the "Directors" campaign, presumably for a hefty check. ... ILM has begun working on a CGI-animated Frankenstein movie for Universal, targeted for a summer 2000 release. The Wolf Man also has a part in the film, which marks ILM's first venture into computer-animated features following the local successes of Pixar and PDI. Dave Carson and Brent Maddock are directing from Maddock and S.S. Wilson's original script. ... Roger Corman appears at the Monterey Conference Center on Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. as part of the Monterey County Film Commission's lecture series; call (831) 646-0910 to reserve tickets for a mere $15.
By Michael Fox