JOHN CALLAS – Interview
Filmmaker John Callas is one of the busiest men in Hollywood. He’s not a household name like Lucas, Coppola, or Spielberg, but he has done more than most and is well-known throughout the entertainment industry as one of the “nicest men you’ll ever work with..”. John is originally from New Jersey and at age 13 he was sent to military school (they thought he had a “discipline problem”, hard to believe).
He spent 3yrs. there until he went to Webster Academy in Massachusetts to finish his High School. It was then off to Dean College for 2yrs., he then moved to Colorado where he completed his undergraduate work. University Without Walls in CO as an undergraduate, this was a program designed for students who knew what they wanted and didn’t fit in usual College classrooms. While at Loretto Heights College, he was placed in a program, John was the only student ever to be accepted in the Third Eye Theatre and at helped rebuild it, worked as an actor, did lighting, and was a stage hand. The he was accepted at Williamstown Summer Stock where he wrote and performed Preludes & Interludes on Sitar for a play called Good Woman of Setzuan which was written by Bertolt Brecht. He then went to Occidental College in Eagle Rock, CA where he received his Master Degree in directing. He moved to California in 1975 to pursue his career in the film industry.
John’s first project while in California, came from a friend who brought him on a set where he met Harry Woolman (Harry was a long-time Hollywood stuntman and F/X innovator, doubling for such actors as Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, William Bendix, and John Carradine). John spent 3yrs. with him as his assistant in Special Mechanical Effects. John then worked in many departments gaining experience. He eventually became a unit production manager, assistant director, and producer on commercials, music videos, corporate films and a documentary that he directed on location in Russia. John has B.A. Degrees & M.A. Degrees in Theater and Directing, he is listed as writer, producer, director, author, and he has awards from New York Critics Choice Awards for Lonewolf, The Clio and Bending Awards for his Sunkist campaign. He has also won awards for Best of the West for directorial work, and a MTV Award for Best Music Video Concept for Glen Frey’s “Smugglers Blues” music video. He is known in the industry as always being able to bring his projects in on time and within budget which makes him unique and a valuable talent.
With a huge list of credits, John has worked on over 200 commercials including Kellogg’s, Dodge, Sunkist, Toyota, McDonald’s, & for the Walt Disney Company. He has worked with cable channels such as, HBO, Showtime, and the Disney Channel. The list of A-lister’s he’s worked with range from Mel Gibson, Walter Matthau, Jack Nicholson, Madonna, Eddie Murphy, and Mel Brooks just to name a few. He has worked on film teaster’s/trailers for films ranging from Spaceballs, Cocoon 2, A Few Good Men, & Poltergeist 3 just to name a few. He has also worked on live-action title sequences, laser disc projects, worked on Broadway Play Phantom of the Opera, & redesigned the 1993 TriStar logo. He directed the award winning film Short, THE WHITE GORILLA as well.
John Callas is also an author of ‘Survival Guide to Avoid Unnecessary & Wild Spending’ and ‘Secrets’. His film credits include 1977′s YOUNG LADY CHATTERLEY, HAPPY HOOKER GOES HOLLYWOOD (1980), HILLS HAVE EYES 2 (1984), LONE WOLF (1988, as director), and the Number One show on FOX, BOBBY’S WORLD (1990-1998) which he won an Emmy nomination for. You can add a new film to John’s credits, NO SOLICITORS which will be released later this year. From Writer to Producer to Director to Author – whatever the title is, John brings it to the table & delievers his best with kindness, professionalism, and grace. The best way to describe John Callas is for him to tell you himself: ‘It’s been one Hell of a ride getting to where I am today. It was not easy and often very frustrating, but since it was in my blood to write, direct, and produce films I had no choice but to push on against all obstacles.‘ – John Callas
(Q) You traveled around a lot growing up, did you always know you wanted to get into the entertainment field while in military school or various schools during your youth?
As a boy I saw Pinocchio and wanted to know how they made his nose grow. Started College as a Chemistry major to cure cancer. My professor said even though I was an A student he knew I was creative and told me to go find myself. In my second year at College I joined the theatre department and wrote & directed my first play, “An Assassinated Love.”
(Q) I read that you “supposedly” had a “discipline problem” growing up, yet it is known in the entertainment industry that you are one of the easiest men to work within the industry. What do you feel makes working with John Callas a “fun” experience?
Coming from nothing (my biological father died 10 days after my 3rd birthday – Mom miscarried a 4th child at the funeral – Life was ugly) I soon realized the value in making life what you want it to be. I like laughter on my set, not finger pointing – I expect excellence from all but always treat everyone with respect and dignity. Life is too short to surround yourself with negative people and energy.
(Q) What was it like filming in Russia and at such a young age? What specifically did you film there?
I was given a political pass to film anything to support the concept that the infra structure of Russia was already falling apart before Reagan claimed to have brought the evil empire down, which he didn’t. I filmed interviews with KGB members, high level politicians, and people on the street. I was given a tour where their archive files where kept of everyone’s dossier. I got to hold Joseph Stalin’s communist card – I am one of very few Westerners ever to see or hold this card – It was exciting and spooky at the same time. Needless to say it was an amazing experience.
(Q) You have had MANY titles in your career (writer, producer, director, unit production manager, assistant director, producer of commercials, music videos, corporate films, film teasers, trailers, documentaries, assistant in special mechanical effects, and author). What was your most challenging of all these titles?
Tough question – My most challenging was to create the newly designed TriStar logo. The studio demanded that other than the wings on the horse, all elements had to be real. Shot in vista vision, super 35 and other formats. There was about 200 composited shots. All before the digital world really came into full bloom – so this was old school filmmaking – Very complex. I’m not trying to avoid this question but in reality I was not wanting to get pigeon holed into any one. My goal was to write/direct/produce. The most challenging is raising the money to be creative. I am fortunate to have both sides of my brain able to cooperate with each other.
(Q) One of my personal favorite songs/music videos from the 1980′s is Glen Frey’s ‘Smugglers Blues’ which spawned the show Miami Vice. Tell us how you came up with that music video story line and concept?
I produced that video. Duncan Gibson and Glenn Fry came up with the music video concept.
(Q) The public love movie trailers when they go to the movie’s. They get almost more excited over them than the film they’ve gone to see. You’ve done a lot of work on movie trailers and teasers. Was that an easy job cutting trailers, trying to decide what goes in & what doesn’t or did it come naturally?
The teasers I created were made before the films were shot (or during). They were “concepts” that had to look and feel like scenes from the movie. We used a principal cast member to assure the teaser felt like scenes from the film. The teasers were designed to gather a larger viewing audience by the time the film was released and therefore increasing the potential box office in the opening weeks – It was a successful idea that the studios benefitted financially. This was very challenging but incredibly creative.
(Q) You’ve worked with some of the biggest names in show business. George Burns once said: ‘Give him a raise.’, Howie Mandel: ‘Best Director I’ve worked with in this town.’ and Beverly Randolph: ‘John is a lovely! He is charming and sweet. A few times he raised his voice a pinch to get things done. He isn’t a diva director at all, if you want to say something differently, he is open to hearing about it! Love, love, love him! I told him that if I lived closer, I would drop over for morning coffee all the time. He and his family are just as kind as can be. He is married to a beautiful woman and she is equally as charming! Felissa Rose, John’s wife Linda, and I had a blast together. I wish we all had more time together.’ – What comes to mind when you hear such praise from your fellow peers?
I feel honored that I could make a difference in a disingenuous business. Beverly is such an amazing actor and deserves the best – She was always available as an actor, relaxed, confident, and creatively collaborative working together. I hope to live up to the praise.
(Q) Out of all the scripts that you’ve seen, what attracted you most to NO SOLICITOR’S?
Probably because I wrote it – I wanted to do something different in the horror genre other than 4 girls and a guy in the woods getting killed. The Norman Rockwell “front” with the horror behind the mask really intrigued me to go after.
(Q) What changes did you make to make this film and what did you personally wanted to bring to the table?
The change’s came from everywhere – I listened to anyone who read the script to see if what they said would improve the written words. Unjalee (Sripty) brought up that I was giving away too much in the first act, so I rewrote it with her suggestion. Kim Poirier wrote me daily with ideas about her character and we work toward’s a common goal. Rehearsals were exciting because the actors engaged in the creative process and didn’t just say the words I wrote. It was a fantastic collaboration and process for me. I appreciate all who contributed to making this film excellent.
(Q) So many horror fans these days are very particular, how do you handle the pressure to keep the fans happy?
Listen to what they like. Don’t trick them or give them clichés they’ve already seen – Entertain them in the way they love to be entertained while throwing in twists that will excite them over and over again. The discovery of clues when they see it the next time is very exciting for them as well.
(Q) What was your main goal you wanted to achieve about this film?
To give the audience a new experience in this genre, have twists in the plot, and keep them entertained. I wanted a total creative, collaborate team focused on doing the best of all our collective talents.
(Q)There is a lot of gore and “parts” in this film. Were there any difficulties filming with so many special effects and gory make-up?
SPFX is not an exact science. We had our challenges but everyone pulled together to make it work.
(Q) You had huge success in the FOX channel television show, BOBBY’S WORLD. Tell us how some of your stand-out memories working on that show?
I directed all 80 episodes of the live action – The most memorable was how Howie treated everyone with kindness and respect – Kept us all laughing. When we had celebrities as cameos, they came and had fun with all of us. No divas, no dramas.
(Q) What is your greatest moment so far with all of your success in television and films?
The Emmy nomination and other awards, working with Jack Nicholson, Walter Matthau, Mel Brooks, Eddie Murphy, Mel Gibson, Eric Roberts, and others. They were all real people and we had a great time working together. I’ll share the most embarrassing moment. While working on Raging Bull I was asked to give Robert De Niro an envelope – Now I am and never will be star struck – just not me. BUT at that time I considered De Niro to be an amazing artist. I waived the envelop while he was in the practice ring and he nodded ok. He got out of the ring, took off his glove, extended his hand to shake mine and said “Hi, what’s your name?” I shook his hand and said “Robert De Niro.” Instead of making me feel like a complete putz, he smiled warmly at me and said, “Actually that’s my name.” I shook my head and said John Callas. Never forgot that moment .
(Q) You are also the author of the book, SECRETS, a ‘suspense/espionage/conspiracy theory/love story’ that Nazi’s wanting to change history and take over the world in a ‘James Bond’ type story line. What inspired you to write this and when can we expect the sequel?
My biological dad was in the Provost Marshall during WWII and was one of the only American’s with a pass to Dachau concentration camp (Still have the pass). I have always had a fascination about that ugly time period. I use to fanaticize about him on missions. I took my fantasies and created a cathartic moment in Secrets.
(Q) As an established man in the film industry, how do you see the future in Hollywood entertainment and what are your thoughts on the current trend’s of “reboots”, “remakes”, and numerous sequels? Do you feel the film industry is at its dry spell for originality?
The future will always bring change and that can be scary for most. Distribution, the process of making a film in digital, and all the technology has forever changed Hollywood. Either you embrace it, learn to use it, or you will either be lost or leave the business. “Reboots.” Most make money and that is the driving factor – As far as originality – There are 7 basic themes to write about – Take any theme, study what’s come before, then the challenge is to tell a story in a new way – Hollywood is afraid to take chances so they reboot/sequel a lot. But when someone does take a chance and it is successful, everyone piles on – Most in positions to green light films CTA (cover their asses) with “I want something different as long as it’s the same as….”
(Q) When can the general public see NO SOLICITORS? Will there be a sequel to it as well as your book SECRETS?
As far as Secrets, I am honored to now have a publisher, Fountain Blue Publishing, who will be releasing the book’s second edition soon. I am thinking about the sequel for No Solicitors, but not until I finish the new book I am currently working on – Tentatively called “When The Rain Stops.” I am currently speaking with distributors about No Solicitors so hopefully it will be released soon.
(Q) Final question, What is next for John Callas?
I am adapting a novel by New York Times Bestselling author, William H LaBarge. The project is called “Lightning Strikes Twice.” We have had two meetings with the Navy for their support. They are favorable towards the story I wrote and are waiting for the next draft to send to DOD and then Washington. I am also working to get my other project “Christmas Voices” financed.
And there you have it, Hollywood’s full of talented and entertaining filmmakers that are a cut above the rest, John Callas is one of those lucky few. I want to Thank John for his time and patience for giving me this interview as well as actress Beverly Randolph for the “bonus” interview feature. You can find John’s book, Secrets at Amazon for purchase and keep a look out later this year for No solicitors as well as future Johnprojects.
John Callas, I thougt that we have only one God in our Universe; but after reading your enterview; I began to count that we thougt that 1+1 in Space is not longer = 1 when both have the same speed. Now we have to know that 1+1 = 2 even if both have the same importance. Am I wrong? of course no. because I`m a writer. John and all the family: You will have a beautiful life, Why? That`s because I said that.