From right to left : John, Myself, Production Manager Robert Brown, Associate Producer Larry Franco. The Juneau Ice Field. Location Scout April, 1981

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


                 THE THING, having been produced on the cusp of a digital universe, is a resolutely all-analog film, without a frame electronically processed. It is somehow fitting that the computers appearing in the movie are both mock ups, non-functioning props made out of bits and pieces, with the video display portion in both cases shot well after principal photography.

              Originally a much shorter moment containing less specific information, with Blair at the computer John essentially created a new scene in post-production built out of inserts. The only two pieces done during filming were those of Blair intently watching. John saw this as an opportunity to hammer home to the audience, in the simplest possible way, the idea of assimilation and it's consequences ( this became a primary concern as editing on the film advanced ).


                      An analog endeavour, the program simulation was written by John and animated on film by fellow USC alumnus John Wash.    None of us had any idea what this ought to  look like, so JC instructed John to make it as simple and familiar as possible by using video game graphics... 

                    It was then transferred ( at a special 24 frame rate in order to avoid scanning lines) to U Matic 3/4 inch tape, fed back to a monitor, and photographed.

                 This information, written by John, was designed to lay out the stakes for the men ( and the audience) in sledgehammer fashion. There is nothing coy or shaded about the message here... 

                      Also added by John, Blair's reach for the gun was shot on the insert stage later ( with someone else's hands ) to complete the scene...

                McCready's chess game was an actual program, something designed for an Apple II computer ( the only one I knew of  was owned and offered up by our Production Manager Robert Brown). On set we tried to photograph it operating in the same frame with Kurt, but the results were a mess. For photographic purposes it too was converted to 24 frame analog video, recorded onto 3/4 inch tape and played back later, which resulted in an acceptable image...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


                     The day finally came when we to receive Universal's official "green light" to schedule THE THING for production. As the meeting began in Production President Ned Tannen's office John revealed that he had a script of his own with another company (EMI ) also targeted for production, a special effects western that had been budgeted at Twenty Five Million Dollars ( I believe this was the first incarnation of EL DIABLO ). Much as he wanted to direct THE THING, he said this film was set up first and took precedence - he would feel honor bound to make it next if it were to be green lit, which he felt was just around the corner.

               This was news to us. The meeting turned from a celebration into something close to a wake. As eager as the studio was to make the film with John the screenplay had achieved its own level of stardom and they were not prepared to wait any longer. While agents and lawyers scrambled to figure something out, we were instructed to look into other directors.

                   I was stunned. I could not believe after all this time and being this close to having John make this movie things were about to fall apart. I was so used to the idea of John and this material as an ideal match that I couldn't even think of anyone else to direct. When David Foster asked me if I had any initial thoughts, in jest and exasperation I said "What about Sam Peckinpah?". David, who had successfully worked with Peckinpah on THE GETAWAY, paused for a second and said "Well, You Know"...
             It took a week or so for the natural order of things to be restored. In that week I can't be certain whether David made a call to Peckinpah or not. I do know he made an exploratory call to Walter Hill, who wasn't interested ( Bill Lancaster, also at a loss, suggested his BAD NEWS BEARS director Michael Ritchie ). Fortunately for you and for me EL DIABLO wasn't as far along as was previously thought, and John was finally clear to begin preparation...

Walter Hill on the set of SOUTHERN COMFORT