Friday, April 29, 2016

Witness The Ghastly Love of Johnny X with film director Paul Bunnell!

Just the other day I watched a film that kinda blew me away. I didn’t expect much (based on the title), but in return I received a bucket-load of fun. Of course I’m talking about The Ghastly Love of Johnny X. (I know, right?). Immediately, as a goofy fan-boy, I hit up the director. To my delight, Paul Bunnell agreed to be pummeled (“Bunnelled?”) on my blog.

SRW: Paul! Thanks for hanging out.

PB: My pleasure. I’m always happy to hear from folks who appreciate the Johnny Xperience. It was a fun movie to make.

SRW: Okay. I’m a fan. Honestly, The Ghastly Love of Johnny X kinda blew me away. Tell everyone in Tornado Alley-land what it’s about.

PB: GLJX follows the misadventures of a band of rogue aliens who have been exiled to Earth, because they refuse to fit in with society on their own planet. The leader is Johnny X, and at the start of the picture, they’re tracking his ex-girlfriend, who took off with something very important to him. Intrigue ensues, including romantic entanglements, demonstrations of otherworldly powers, and the occasional dance routine, all in beautiful black and white!

SRW: The film’s an encapsulation of everything great from ‘50’s and ‘60’s era drive-in flicks. Quick run-down, Paul, off the top of your head…favorite drive-in flicks. Countdown (to the lobby) starts now!

PB: I’m a fan of THE BLOB, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (original version, obviously) and TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE for examples of drive-in movies of the sci-fi or horror variety. And of course, for more serious, intellectual fare, I love anything directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

SRW: What in the world did inspire you to create Johnny X? I can’t imagine Hollywood producers were clamoring for a
project like this (shows them how much they know).

PB: Well, the idea of GLJX was always in the back of my mind. I can’t honestly say it was inspired by any single movie or moment in my life. But I definitely wanted to create something that harkened back to the fun of a good, old-fashioned, loopy drive-in movie. And the story itself went through a bunch of changes before I settled on the final plot.

SRW: Paul, my favorite part of Johnny X is the musical numbers. And I’m not really a musical guy. But the performances are very well-mounted and clearly choreographed to a tee. Practically mini-operas in that they effectively progress the story and showcase different characters in their arc. All set to the same song. Impressive. I imagine it took hella work to film. Any heartache/back-break tales of woe?

PB: No real tales of woe, unless you count a six-year hiatus. There are some cuts in the drive-in sequence that were actually filmed years apart, like when Chip and Bliss exit the car and we cut to them walking away, it’s six years later. How’s that for continuity? Interestingly, the movie was not originally conceived as a musical. I wanted to stage
one elaborate number as my nod to movie musicals, which was the fantasy diner number (“The Rumble”). I was kind of poking fun at the conventions of the musical, where gangs, as in WEST SIDE STORY, for example, would unexpectedly break into song and dance to further the plot or reveal character issues. That is why this sequence is fairly long, compared to all the other songs, it was intended to be the big
set-piece. And, of course, the plan had been to include at least one concert song performed by Mickey O’Flynn later, and that would have been it. As development on the script went along, though, I found it was more effective to condense scenes or dialogue I was not too happy with into song – for some reason this just worked better. It added a little more punch, and took what might have otherwise been a stagnant, exposition-heavy piece of drama into something way more
entertaining to watch. So before you knew it, there were songs everywhere! Although I still don’t honestly consider GLJX a cookie-cutter musical, strictly speaking.

SRW: A six-year hiatus!!! That's some dedication. (It paid off, though. "The Rumble" is a great sequence).

I recognized Reggie Bannister (the world’s most unlikely, balding, pony-tailed action hero from about a kazillion Phantasm movies) and Paul Williams (although I thought he was Bud Cort throughout the film!) in the cast. But, in my opinion, your big “Get” was Kevin McCarthy. Wearing a silly Devo-looking cup hat. As always, he was great. (And if you don’t know who he is, folks, shame on you and go do homework. Now. I’ll still be here when you’re done). Am I correct that this was his last film, Paul?
PB: Yes, GLJX was indeed Kevin McCarthy’s very last film. Great actor and consummate professional on the set. By the time I started editing, he was in failing health, unfortunately. Sadly, he didn’t get to see the final product. However, I am happy to say I did visit him, and was able to show him a rough cut of his scene, which he seemed to enjoy.
Also, regarding the hat, I have to tell you that it was actually Kevin’s idea! We had been discussing his character, and at some point he came across a picture of Devo, which for some reason he found intriguing. He sent me the picture and asked what I thought of adding such a hat to his costume. I thought “why the heck not!”, so my movie sports the one and only Kevin McCarthy in all his glory, outer space judicial robes, Devo hat and all!

SRW: Dang, Paul, I didn’t even realize Mickey O’Flynn was portrayed by Creed Bratton until the credits rolled. Unrecognizable. (Most people will recognize him from his portrayal of the skeevy, questionable guy in The Office). I knew Bratton had a musical background and here you utilize his talents magnificently. I’m curious if you wrote the
part of the Frankensteinian O’Flynn with Bratton in mind or if he came after the script.

PB: The part wasn’t written with Creed in mind as Mickey, but I agree that he is unrecognizable, and a totally unique, bizarre character. Really a pitch perfect performance that matches the sensibilities of the movie in every way. Since you brought it up, I’d initially hoped Paul Williams would play Mickey O’Flynn, and worked pretty hard to make it happen for a long time. I think Paul would have been great, no
doubt a very different take on the character, and I’ve always been a big fan of PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. But there is no question Creed owns the role. And Paul himself told me he agreed that Creed was an excellent fit.

SRW: Yeah, I love Phantom of the Paradise, too. Where’d you find the rest of your cast? Actors, dancers or singers first?

PB: I cast for acting, primarily, but since there was always going to be the one big diner number, we held singing auditions at the same time, with Scott Martin, who wrote the songs. A couple of roles were filled by friends of mine who I knew fit the parts perfectly. All the other characters were auditioned in the usual manner. Luckily, as the number of
song and dance sequences expanded, everyone turned out to be more than up to the task.

SRW: I really enjoyed Heather Provost’s performance. So I looked her up. How ‘bout this for credentials? Not only is she Tony-nominated but she appeared in something called Fagney and Gaycey. Yow!

PB: Yes, she is sort of a talent powerhouse, really! And I love the comedic touch she brings to her scenes. I’m happy with all the gang members, too, who have such interesting and distinct personalities. And speaking of comedy, I hope to see more in the future from De Anna Joy Brooks, who plays Bliss with such terrific timing and incredible, subtle expressions.

SRW: So. We have juvenile delinquents, teen gangs, aliens, music numbers, sodajerks, drag races, bombshells, femme fatales, and so many more staples of the old days drive-in cinema. Paul, I kinda kept waiting for a giant ant or something to crawl out of the woodwork. But it’s really perfect. Except for the post-modern irony and occasional cursing, this flick could’ve been birthed in the ‘50’s. What did convince you to take on such a mammoth labor of love?

PB: GLJX is basically my love letter to B-movies of yore. That is why it is filled to the brim with the staples you mention. I truly love going to the movies, and wanted to make something that wouldn’t have appeared out of place on a big, old-fashioned drive-in screen. And I didn’t want to make something too modern or hyper realistic just to sell
tickets. It would have been easy, even with this fantasy based material, to churn out an expletive laden gore-fest, but that was never a style I wanted to embrace just for the sake of it. That is also why this was planned from day one as a black and white picture. I felt like it was the best way to convey the spirit of the movie, even when everyone around me insisted today’s audiences would refuse to see anything that wasn’t shot in color.

SRW: Whoa. It took you 18 years to make Johnny X since your last film. Um. What happened? What’ve you been up to?

PB: The witness protection program comes to mind. But seriously, it just took a lot of time to get another “quality” independent movie produced. Funding is always the hardest thing and I didn’t want to do it on the cheap. If I’m going to make a movie it has to be the best that it can be. It must be a quality show. My goal is to make good art.

SRW: Lol. I didn’t realize until today that I’ve seen your ’94 flick That Little Monster. Who could forget the legendary Forrest J Ackerman’s stellar performance? (Cough.)

PB: Wow, that is actually really something - I mean that you had previously already watched THAT LITTLE MONSTER! As for Forry Ackerman’s performance, well… he’s “The Poor Man’s Vincent Price,” and I say that with love. So I guess that makes me the “Poor Man,” right? I was pretty happy to snag him.

SRW: Actually, I would've called you the "Poor Man's Roger Corman,", that kinda seems redundant. Okay, Paul, what’s up next for you? Please don’t take another 18 years for your follow-up film. I’m a fan, but you gotta keep giving.

PB: I have a couple of possible projects in the wings, one of which is something you might be interested in, called ROCKET GIRL. It is not related in any way to GLJX, but it does involve visitors from outer space. But it isn’t a comedy, or a musical, at least not right now. Rest assured, I will do everything in my power to see that it does NOT take 18 years to get made! The script is being fine-tuned, so I don’t want to say too much about it, other than I hope to make a movie that is above everything just a lot of fun.

SRW: Ta-dahhhh! Take a bow, Paul. Thanks for visiting. Shout at my readers (very loudly) where they can find your awesome film or where to chat you up.

PB: Thanks for your kind words and for discovering my movie. Your readers can also discover it On Demand and DVD from Strand Releasing. When on Earth visit (ask for Sluggo).

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