“Watch films you love,
watch films you hate,
and take something away from both.”
Hailing from the same neighborhood as Ed Wood, you Bastards know you’re in good hands with Mr. William Burke.
Having dabbled in such titillating fare as Forbidden Science, Lingerie, and Sin City Diaries, you’ve probably rubbed one out to his work. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
But don’t pigeonhole him. Mr. Burke has also produced and directed documentaries, worked on genre classics like SPOOKIES and BEWARE: CHILDREN AT PLAY – and though this hasn’t been verified, I’m pretty sure he’s also responsible for ROAD HOUSE.
With SWEET PRUDENCE AND THE EROTIC ADVENTURE OF BIGFOOT about to drop, William Burke is about to become a Hollywood icon. Buckle up, Bastards!
FEATURED FILMMAKERS CHAPTER 21:
DIRECTOR OF SWEET PRUDENCE
AND THE EROTIC ADVENTURE OF BIGFOOT
DAILY GRINDHOUSE: What was the first film that changed your life and made you want to be a filmmaker?
BILL BURKE: Like a lot of people my age, Famous Monsters magazine was a huge influence on me as a kid, though living in Poughkeepsie, I think we only got about every third issue at the drug store. Watching KING KONG was a yearly ritual for me, because WOR television ran the film endlessly every Thanksgiving, and I could sneak in at least one viewing before the big meal. Anyway, Famous Monsters ran a photo of Harryhausen’s stop motion model from THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, with his hand in the shot, and that was one of those lightning strike moments when I realized there was genuine magic in movies, and somehow I wanted to be part of it. Unfortunately, my arts and craft skills were pretty poor, so I shifted from wanting to be an animator to wanting to make films. I think the only other filmmaker to come out of Poughkeepsie was Ed Wood, so at least I can only be the second worst filmmaker to come out of the neighborhood.
If I’m not mistaken, your first professional gig was as a Production Manager on BEWARE: CHILDREN AT PLAY, Mik Cribben’s epic from 1989. Tell us a little about that experience.
BB: I had gotten out of the Air Force and gone to broadcast engineering school, because for some reason, I was still clinging to the idea that I could get a responsible job and be normal. I managed to blunder into a job at United Nations television, where I was a cameraman and engineer for about two years. During that period I still tried to dabble in horror, and actually directed and produced AN INTRODUCTION TO SPECIAL EFFECTS MAKEUP, which the Alcone Company sold for years. I met John Dods on that video and that led to spending weekends working on the crew of a film called TWISTED SOULS, which later became SPOOKIES.
Fortunately (in retrospect), Reganomics cut the UN staff considerably, and like many others, I was adrift – freelancing for local stations. So since the world was suddenly wide open, I decided to dive into film full-time and forgo the safer world of being a “TV station” guy.
Somebody mentioned Mik Cribben’s film (then titled GOBLINS) to me, which he had already shot two days on. I went in and became the production manager, finding free crew and working weekends until the film was finally finished. It was a strange experience, but an important one. The film was shot on short ends – half or quarter rolls of unexposed film leftover from bigger shows, so we were constantly “rolling out” and having to do takes again on another piece of unmatched film – Kodak, Fuji…whatever somebody had sold for nickels on the dollar.
The infamous killing scene was shot over two days in this pretty silly looking camp that was built in a New Jersey field. I always thought it was strange that they set the film in New Jersey, despite it being a backwoods “hicksploitation” romp that just does not scream “Jersey.”
In a first film experience, you just roll with the punches, and things don’t seem as strange or potentially lethal as they really are. Those were all real guns that extras brought with them (along with a few cases of beer), and they were all being fired around children…what the fuck were they thinking?
However, I did get to direct a few scenes, including the infamous kid with a gun in his mouth bit, and supervised setups on the exploding head shot. There was a lot learned on the shoot, so it was invaluable down the line.
Mik and Ellen were very nice people, but I tend to think they didn’t quite have a handle on what horror fans would want. They figured a bunch of kids getting killed had never been seen, so it would be a revelation. But in truth, I think horror fans draw the line at certain things, though the bad child action and overall cheapness sort of took the sting out. Unfortunately, the film sat on the shelf for many years before Troma picked it up. I do give Mik and Ellen a lot of credit for staying the course and making a feature out of pretty much beaks and claws and no money.
Is there a stigma connected to making adult/softcore fare? And on a related note: Would your resume be a hindrance to directing and/or producing something outside of that genre?
BB: There is always some stigma-or at least pre conceived notions-attached to anything that is vaguely adult in content. It would be a lie to say that was not true. Fortunately, I have always done other genre projects, from documentary to TV series work, so nobody has quite sewn a scarlet letter on my chest – maybe I just don’t stand still long enough. I think they have more trouble trying to figure me out – which I kind of like. My main thing is that I love being in production, and the genre is often not as important as the fun of making something creative.
Much of film or television production revolves around what you can accomplish that someone needs, so if you are capable and can make things happen, people suddenly recover from any tunnel vision they had.
Many projects such as documentary films take forever to climb the chain of command and get their funding in place, whereas a film like PRUDENCE went from pen and paper to post-production incredibly fast, so it really lets you be creative and think on your feet. It puts the fun back in the process.
I take a lot of pride in the fact that people, be they actors or crew, often point to me as someone who treats them as they should be treated – so our actresses never feel vulnerable or awkward because someone is making improper advances. I don’t do it and it simply isn’t tolerated. I wish the rest of the industry would follow that lead, because I hear stories that make my skin crawl – which is kind of ironic I suppose. That sort of Karma comes back to you, and the cast of PRUDENCE just jumped through hoops to make the film better, and even the crew who I had worked with before did things that I don’t think they would have done for others. When we shot the opening lake scene, the main crew was standing up to their shoulders in a rather chilly lake to get the perfect shot – so I’m a lucky guy. By the way, I was also in the lake with them.
Another nice thing about having done all the Cinemax “softcore” shows is that I now have a full in-house post facility, which comes in very handy when I want to experiment with pilot shows or personal projects or just finishing something like SWEET PRUDENCE. It also allows me to open things up to other filmmakers who need something. Recently Steven Kostanski was scrambling to get an HD master of MANBORG made for Fantasia Fest, and he somehow connected with my regular editor Chris Brown, and together they re-mastered the film at my place at no cost, and that could have cost a struggling Filmmaker a small fortune. That felt good, and it turned out the film is terrific and did great at several festivals – Stephen is really a guy to watch, expect great things. Ironically, Stephen was at a wedding and in passing mentioned SWEET PRUDENCE to an editor at Fangoria, so when I contacted the magazine, the editor was already eager to see it. So, what comes around goes around.
Does your work with SWEET PRUDENCE stem from your stint studying Cryptozoology on Creepy Canada?
BB: SWEET PRUDENCE stems more from my general love of monster movies and (of course) pretty women. But Creepy really did help me hone various monster movie skills, because despite being a paranormal show, it was very much a B-Movie marathon. I think that’s why Creepy did well here in Canada with traditional “paranormal show” fans, as well as 12-year old boys and stoned college students.
Working with paranormal researchers and crypto people for three seasons did make some of the Bigfoot hunter stuff flow more easily. I mean, you always resist the urge to make jokes about some of this stuff, so it’s a nice release to just let it fly on paper.
Actually, one segment in particular of Creepy led directly to my making SWEET PRUDENCE. During the third season, we went to Pennsylvania to shoot the “Bigfoot UFO” segment, which was about an outbreak of UFO and Bigfoot sightings in the seventies. It had Bigfoot, Aliens, Men in Black, and everything else short of Elvis, so it was fun. I located a good Bigfoot costume that was built for a television commercial, and had it shipped to PA. Unfortunately, there was a very rare April snowstorm that blanketed the area and caused a power blackout. I spent the day staring at the expensive rental costume and pondering all the ways it could be used, and over the course of a few dozen beers, I concocted a ridiculous Bigfoot nudie girl scenario. I filed that away in my brain someplace and eventually it became SWEET PRUDENCE. The costume is actually the same one from the segment.
What kind of difficulties did you come across making the film?
BB: All of them. No, actually we were pretty lucky, and since I’m a glass half-full sort of guy, I can tell you the really good stuff first. During the final season of the Cinemax series Lingerie, we had several actors who came in and auditioned who were great, but only wound up in one or two day roles. I mentally filed them away and while I was writing the script I pictured Angie Bates (Prudence) and Albina Nahar (Veruca) in their roles, and decided they were perfect. I even had their pictures side-by-side to help visualize them as the sexy Lucy and Ethel. I didn’t mention that to them at the time, because that’s a pretty poor actor-negotiating tactic, but fortunately both of them were 100% excited and came aboard. Heather O’Donnell (Flower) had also done one day on Lingerie and was excited about the film. I had written her character as someone who teaches yoga, and enjoys underwater sexual antics. It turned out Heather not only had taught yoga, but was a lifeguard too! Luke Gallo, who played Dirk, had done one day for me on Forbidden Science, but made a real impression. So after not seeing him for about three years, I cast Luke sight unseen. He pretty much hit that role out of the park. Lynzey Patterson was new, but was such a perfect Ginger that it was the ideal choice. Daniel Moshe Johnson stepped in to play Bigfoot, despite my describing the role in the most uncomfortable terms imaginable, and not exaggerating a bit in doing so. Michael Slade was just the perfect Russ Meyer-ish “guy’s guy,” that it really was perfect. So the casting all succeeded beyond my expectations. Half your battle on any film project is the cast, so it really helps set the compass towards success.
Having been an Assistant Director and a UPM during my time, I really anticipated a lot of problems and eliminated them before they happened – kind of knowing my limitations and doing a preemptive strike on the script. I knew our schedule would not permit moving around to various locations, so I looked for a place where we could have actors frolic naked, keep the location isolated, and get a beautiful look. The actual nudist resort I found was ideal, and was open to the idea – hence the primary setting of the film becoming a nudist resort. They would not close though, so the park was actually in operation while we were shooting. The cast was fine with it, though dallies have some strange moments of actual nudists bouncing into frame.
Time and weather are always the enemy on these things, but the weather stayed on our side – probably a lifetime first for me. Having only a few days to shoot a whole film is tough, and sometimes just not letting the stress show is half the battle. When we fell behind, which happens at close to 20 pages a day, I managed to re-block the locations so that we really never went much further than walking distance from home base. So the mighty Scottish Loch Ness was shifted from the big lake to the tiny pond near base camp – which became a sight gag in and of itself.
One scheduling trick was trying to use the resort’s pool, which was important because I really wanted to get the underwater footage to highlight that love scene. Unfortunately, the only time we could shoot that location was early morning before the naked hordes arrived, and the only morning we had was day one. So, we had to shoot a girl/girl love scene between two ladies who had only met briefly, which is usually a no no. Lynzey meet Heather, Heather, Lynzey – now go at each other! They were both troopers and we pulled it off and the scene was great. Again, sometimes your cast is everything.
The heat was probably the toughest thing, because although the bulk of the cast was frolicking about naked on and off camera, Daniel was wearing about thirty pounds of latex, yak hair and fiberglass – so scheduling him in the shortest bursts possible was tricky. I bet he left the show 20 pounds lighter than when he arrived. A better man than I.
My partner in the film, Russ Mackay, was a huge help, and though he’s primarily a composer and audio guru, he handled a lot of first day on-set snags that I was too busy to notice. Later, he worked with another composer and created the perfect Les Baxter-ish score that really elevates the movie. Renaissance man.
So overall, not so many horrible events as one would expect. Probably because I’ve already made most of the mistakes possible on previous projects (and invented new ones), so I eliminated many before they happened. Gray hair has its advantages.
What advice do you have for prospective filmmakers kicking around their first project?
BB: Broaden your horizons as much as you can. Much like my wonderful cast and golden crew members, you have to expand your circle to find those who share the same enthusiasm and will encourage *and* challenge you to be better. Don’t cast your friends when there is some terrific actor would probably drive fifty miles through a snowstorm to be in your movie, no matter how small that film is.
The technology that exists now (remember: I have gray hair, lots of it) makes it possible to create professional looking films without the huge costs of film stock, labs, cameras, and all the related stuff. So, with that financial obstacle out of the way, looking professional is now a given – and you will probably have to work even harder to stand out. I recommend making as many shorts and projects as possible, but in the same breath, take acting classes, work in theatre, intern in summer stock, and ingest all the things that the performing arts have to offer – even if being an actor or working in theatre is not your goal, you will learn. There’s theatre in every town, and you’ll probably be running the place in six months.
Watch films you love, watch films you hate, and take something away from both. Write, write and write some more – a five-page script is *still* a script. It does not have to be some epic or feature that is so daunting you’ll talk yourself out of writing it. Make personal projects that carry something of you in them, even if they’re small. Your obscure experiences and thoughts will touch people in more ways than you can imagine.
Set your camcorder aside sometimes and study still photography with different lenses (you can rent them pretty cheap) because that’s your canvas.
Also, be stupidly fierce, and show your films (large or small) to anyone who will watch them, even if you think your film is terrible – which is normal because you’ve learned so much since making it two weeks ago. Most people talk about making movies, but so few people do it. Folks will be dazzled by your determination. The ones who aren’t dazzled are just jealous, because they are talkers. You’ll take some lumps in criticism, but that will give you the Rhino hide that you’re going to need.
Also, putting your movie on YouTube is fine, but always watch them in a room with people (not just your friends and the cast who like everything) and take in the live response – you will learn volumes from their reactions and it will make you better. You are your own ringmaster, announcer, and promoter.
If you still think acting classes are silly, remember they are filled with attractive women who will find you interesting, even if you do insist on wearing an EVIL DEAD t- shirt three days a week.
What are some of your favorite Squatchploitation films?
BB: Bigfoot sort of gets the short straw in movies, but his few appearances are memorable. I saw LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK as a kid at and loved it. I also got to see VALLEY OF THE GWANGI on the same big screen, which of course turned into a porn theatre six months later and remained that way long enough for me to see THE OPENING OF MISTY BEETHOVEN at fifteen – memories, light the corners of my mind.
Hands down, the best Squatchploitation movie is Night of the Demon. It’s hilarious, but also interesting because it actually looks like somebody who knew what they were doing made one movie, and then in an attempt to ride the slasher bandwagon, incorporated a whole different mini-movie – which included thirty-year-old girl scouts, and bikers getting their dicks pulled off. Somehow that sleazy Amish quilt became something incredibly entertaining.
Who are the directors out there you follow?
I already mentioned everyone should be on the lookout for Stephen Kostanski – big things ahead. Nowadays, I have been looking at more films from my past than the present, as I dislike remakes and remodels. So I’m always going back to the Russ Meyer or Roger Corman films of my past. I’m a huge Werner Herzog lover, and talk about fearless – be him. He is constantly evolving which I really admire. Sam Raimi has never let me down, and probably never will.
Please tell our readers about your work with Michael York on the documentary CORPUS.
BB: Michael York came to be in CORPUS because his wife Pat is a photographer who shot fascinating photos of dead bodies in many forms, from normal postmortem to autopsied pieces. It sounds grisly, but she brings a genuine poetry to them and is incredibly talented. Michael and Pat are sort of inseparable in the most beautiful way two people can be, so when Pat flew to Vegas to be interviewed, Michael came along and also added his insights into having a house filled with, as he put it, “challenging images.” A truly charming man, completely down to earth with an encyclopedic knowledge of Shakespeare and the arts. I’ve been lucky enough to work with many famous people: from actors to rock stars to heads of state and the occasional tin-plated dictator (it was the UN), and Michael stands out as a true gentleman. His wife Pat is delightful and they are incredibly British in the way that only Brits not living in England can be.
What’s next on the docket?
BB: Some television projects are cooking and coming to fruition soon, mostly in the documentary realm. We are also concocting some more horror and science fiction related projects that will continue to grow. There are several more PRUDENCE projects rolling around in my laptop, with titles ranging from “Sweet Prudence and the Curse of the Haunted Vibrator” to “Sweet Prudence & the Lost Virgins of Voodoo Island” – but first we must see how the world’s viewing audiences respond to the first film.
We just won the Audience Choice Award at the Cinekink International Film Festival, which is very rare for something that is really a monster/nudie film. It was great to see an audience laugh in all the right places. I was very touched that the two leads, Angie and Albina, took it upon themselves to fly to New York to attend the screening. See what I mean about a great cast?
At the moment I am handling the international sales on PRUDENCE (it debuts in the USA on Cinemax in April) and that is going very well. Doing the sales is an interesting experience that I have always avoided. Now I am re-learning the art of being stupidly fierce, and that is how one keeps moving forward in business even when the gray hairs begin to win the fight.