The following interview was conducted by Scott Essman, who we let out of the closet every now and then. But not too often.
Englishman Paul Davis was more than a fan of the classic 1981 Universal film, An American Werewolf in London; he was also an aspiring filmmaker. Yet with no credits to his name, undertaking a documentary about this property was a long shot in the minds of many, including Davis.
However, after nearly three years of work, his documentary, Beware the Moon: Remembering An American Werewolf in London, has found a home in, of all places, Universal Studios Home Entertainment’s September 15, 2009 Full Moon Edition 2-Disc DVD, and Blu-ray Hi-Def release of the film.
In this exclusive interview, he tells the entire story of creating the film, from conception through it’s now remarkably unlikely release.
What was the first impetus for starting this film?
It was my first film – I had never made anything before. The project officially began at the tail end of 2006 while writing a 25th anniversary article on An American Werewolf in London for HorrorHound Magazine. I've been a fan of in-depth, retrospective documentaries ever since I saw the BBC produced doc on the making of The Exorcist in 1998, and while writing the article, it struck me that there are so many classic horror movies that have had the documentary treatment, why not AWIL? In fact, AWIL hardly had anything done on it - yet in my opinion, it's more than deserving as some of those that had. I've always loved An American Werewolf in London; it was the first monster movie I ever saw, aged three, after realizing (through The Making of Thriller) that movies were well crafted works of fiction. People made these things. It was fascinating to me even at that young age.
I figured that considering the film was practically shot in my backyard and that a lot of the cast and crew were British based, if I didn't embark on this project now then someone else would. With that I spoke to my partner at the time, Romy Alford, and she was fully behind the project. We started our own production company (Kesslerboy Productions Ltd.) and I started to write the backbone of what it was I wanted to do and the story I wanted to tell. We then brought in a recently acquainted filmmaker called Anthony Bueno to shoot and edit the project.
Anthony and his sister Claire had their own production company and fortunately had all the equipment we would need to go out and make this happen. By the beginning of the year (literally - January 2nd 2007), I had started tracking down members of the cast and crew while Romy was securing opportunities to shoot at the original locations. I'd decided early on that I wanted the chance to host/narrate the piece and wanted to do so from a selection of the film's original backdrops in the order in which they appear in the movie - like I was following them, to a degree. We technically didn't have a budget and literally worked it around our own day jobs. Once we got paid, we could go out and shoot. It was as simple as that - and that is how it remained for the entire project (that probably cost us in excess of just under $14,000).
How did you end up finding the cast and crew interview subjects for the film?
It was remarkable how simple if was to track down a majority of the interviewees we ended up with in the project. I initially figured that since a lot of the cast and crew were no longer active in the industry, the chances of finding them were slim to zero... BUT thank God for Guilds! We got a majority of the crew through the various Guilds in the UK, and regarding the cast, there was always an agent who had a friend who knew the person we were after. So we were very lucky.
John Landis was one of the first people we heard back from (Jan 3rd). I'd gotten in touch with him through a mutual friend, Mick Garris (director of The Stand and Sleepwalkers), and John's initial reaction was "I'm flattered, but why? And what do you expect to do with it?" My naivety led me to believe that if we made the very thing that was swimming around in my head then we would be able to probably get it on television in the UK and maybe on a new DVD release of AWIL considering the last one was in 2001 and Universal aren't afraid to double dip from time to time. Of course I knew that the rights would be an issue, but I also figured that if anyone can put me in touch with the right people then it would be Landis, and he did, and guess what? They turned it down!
Despite the initial rejection from the studio, why did you decide to continue and complete the film?
That huge blow didn't deter us. We started shooting all our location stuff on March 8th 2007 and began shooting our scheduled interviews (with Jenny Agutter, John Woodvine and several others) later that month. With every interview in the can I would send a photo to Landis to show him who we had found and who was taking part. He seemed to be incredibly impressed by it and actually encouraged us not to stop.
With that, and NEEDING to secure John's involvement, I called the licensing department at Universal Studios Home Entertainment in LA and inquired as to how much money we would be looking at to achieve what we wanted... well, suffice to say we couldn't afford it. The price was mountainous! Something like $80,000 for 25mins of film footage. The lady I was speaking to then asked exactly what the project was and once I explained it in detail, she feared that there may be a conflict of interest if we did go ahead and make an independent documentary about a property owned by Universal Studios. With that she then, off her own back, offered to talk to those in charge at Home Entertainment to see if she could muster some interest on our behalf... and guess what? She did, and it worked!
I had an email merely an hour later stating that we should finish the piece, with their blessing, and send it to them when it's done. With that in writing, I forwarded the message on to Landis who then revealed that he would be in London in April and that he'd like to see what we had done at that point. By this point we had already gotten confirmation that Rick Baker was interested to take part, but in addition that David Naughton wasn't interested at all! Bummer!
We met John at the very end of April in 2007 (meeting Landis for the first time was a whirlwind experience in itself!) and showed him a 5 minute reel that he seemed genuinely impressed with. He was so excited and enthusiastic every time a different member of the cast or crew popped up - "I didn't know he/she was still alive!" he yelled on occasion.
After spending two glorious hours with the director, he cemented his involvement with us and agreed to do an interview when we got to LA in June. In addition, he also agreed to get in touch with David Naughton and turn him around on the project, and as it turns out, David had totally gotten the wrong idea about the project. He was told that it was an official documentary for Universal which would mean sitting in a studio etc - which he didn't want to do again (he did the commentary for them in 2001). Once John explained that we were literally filming wherever we could (Jenny in her dressing room at the Gielgud theater for example), Naughton agreed to take part.
How did you end up finishing the film – did you ultimately have to come to America to do interviews?
Yes, we continued to shoot the remainder of the UK based interviews right up until it was time to head to Los Angeles at the end of June. Once in LA (first time for all three of us) we spent four days interviewing the likes of John, [makeup effects head] Rick Baker, [production designer] Les Dilley, [producer] George Folsey, among others - and also visiting the original props at Bob Burns place, and getting a complimentary visit to Universal Studios arranged by Mr. Landis.
From Los Angeles we flew straight to New York, where we were supposed to film an interview with Griffin Dunne, but was canceled at the last minute. On top of that bad news our luggage, with all the camera equipment and footage we shot in LA, was delayed! We had to wait two days before we even knew what had happened to it!
Our trip ended with a short break in Indianapolis for the first HorrorHound Weekend. We returned to the States October of 07 to film our last two interviews, David Naughton and Griffin Dunne and had the entire thing wrapped by November. The first cut was in place by March/April 2008 and it was then that Landis called me to say that Universal were planning a Blu-ray release of An American Werewolf in London and that they wanted to see the workprint. You cannot imagine how rejoiced we were. For over a year Landis had warned us not to get our hopes up because of the rights issue, but here we were... on the verge of getting this thing acquired by Universal.
What was your reaction when it was acquired by Universal Studios Home Entertainment?
After a lot of waiting, the studio had agreed to take it by the end of the summer. Amazing! We were bowled over excited! However, there was the rather large issue of legal clearances that needed to be dealt with. Romy and I spent a day with Landis in London going through a seventeen-page document of things that the lawyers at Universal had addressed and wanted clearances for - a lot of it was OWNED by Universal ;).
Several weeks later John informed me that Universal were going to hire a post production house in LA to not only recreate the doc from scratch to clean it up, but to take the reins and make sure everything is cleared legally for the proposed March release date (to coincide with the original release date of the new film of The Wolf Man).
What has happened since the spring 2008 clearance to have the studio release the film on DVD?
Well, November 08 swings around and Romy and I were flown out to Hollywood to oversee the final cut of Beware the Moon and make sure everything was how it should be. We spent a couple of days with Landis, who had retrieved his entire still collection from the Motion Picture Academy, and even had a surprise visit from Rick Baker, who provided us with make-up test footage that has never been publicly seen - he hadn't even seen it in 27-years!
While in LA, the deal was signed and the documentary was sold to Universal Studios Home Entertainment. Landis approved the final cut before we left, and after all the legal clearances were complete, the piece was officially done by the end of March 09 - with the release then pushed along with The Wolf Man to September (the film is now scheduled for release in early 2010).
We get our world premiere at the prestigious Film4 Frightfest on the biggest screen in the UK at The Empire Leicester Square on August 28th and in America at The New Beverly on September 14th. If anyone had said to me 3-years ago that any of this would have happened - I'd have laughed at them!