John Huff is a veteran writer who has worked as a story editor
for MGM Television. He likes to spread his talent around and
as a consequence he's worked for every major studio in Hollywood.
Huff's first break through came when he got the opportunity
to work on Kolchak: The Nightstalker. Over the years
he has been responsible for contributing to shows that shaped
the minds of a generation: CHiPs, Fall Guy,
Knightrider, Street Hawk, 240 Robert,
Glitter, and Barbary Coast. He also co-wrote
the feature, Hunter's Moon starring Burt Reynolds,
Keith Carradine, Pat Hingle and Charles Napier. John met Cyxork
7's producer and co-writer Andreas Kossak on the set of
Howling VII. They became writing partners and after
turning out a number of screenplays over the years, they focussed
their satiric attention on the movie industry phenomena of
'sequelitis' and 'Reality TV.' Cyxork 7 was born and
Huff was chosen to direct. Darren Rea caught up with him as
was released on DVD...
How did you originally get involved with Cyxork 7 and
what was it about the script that appealed to you?
Huff: The original idea of a film crew that finds a new level
of meaning in the midst of an apocalypse appealed to me both
as comedy and drama. I sat on a few pages of treatment for
several years. I tried to get Clever Bill Emory interested
in that but it was no go.
many fingers am I holding up?" - Director John
Huff checking that Ray Wise has not turned up to work
drunk on the set of Cyxork 7
more time I got re-animated about the project and asked Andreas
Kossak to look at a script I had produced in the meantime.
He felt some of my narrative was treacly and sentimental which
is probably correct. He saw a potential for something darker.
My original treatment and scripts had killed off everyone
or almost everyone at the end so I was intrigued with how
to make it darker. The
answer, of course, was in the type of comedy.
both appreciated one of the greatest comedies ever done, Dr
Strangelove, directed by Stanley Kubrick. It is an eminent
film, a perfect film. To aim our little script into that comedic
galaxy was daunting and exciting. One does not do comedies
first out. It is better wisdom to do a picture with a buff
woman in panties and bra, alone in a house with only a hatchet
and her wits to protect herself.
were cocky. We went for comedy. I decided it was better to
try and fail at Kubrick than to try and succeed emulating
You've been involved with some of the TV shows that a generation
of kids grew up loving (CHiPs, Knight Rider,
Fall Guy and Street Hawk) how has the industry
changed, from your perspective over the years? Would you say
it's easier or harder to work in the industry?
How has the industry changed over the years? One sea-change
is the advent of computer generated effects routinely used
in episodic TV today.
date myself to a period when mastadons still roamed Beverly
Hills without buzzcuts, but CHiPs was the last industrial
production of its kind. In its six year history, to the best
of my knowledge, there was not one blue/green screen shot.
Other shows of the time routinely already used that technique
in their productions. (Dukes of Hazard, etc.) Not CHiPs.
It was a "dinosaur" in terms of: what you see is what you
get. Old fashioned but comfortably real, practical effects
that either worked or didn't but they were always neat.
Smith and John Huff talk over a scene in Cyxork 7
Chermak, the executive producer for most of the series, once
flew a very famous stunt driver named Joey Chitwood from Florida
to do a single take shot that involved a real second story
car-leap through power lines. Chitwood specialized in that
particular aerial stunt at the time and was basically the
best in the country. So Cy just flew him in from Florida to
do it for CHiPs. The stunt team and stunt directors
for CHiPs were the best in the business. Period.
in a celebrity stunt specialist was indicative of how high
the bar was on CHiPs every week. Often, as story editors/writers
we would concoct what we thought were amazing stunts. And
they were. On paper. In the real world, the stunt director
comes down the hall to "get an idea of what you gentlemen
(the way he says it, though you know he means "f*cking idiots")
were thinking of". Then, being a literate man and not
just a tough mother, he explains the facts of stunt life and
helps you rewrite the stunt so it can be ("f*cking")
done ("you crazy f*ckups").
only had glancing involvement with Knight Rider and
Fall Guy, but Street Hawk was a good concept
that, I think, suffered from bad timing.
to Fall Guy. The original pilot for that series,
written by Glen A. Larson, is one of the finest pro-forma
pilots ever done for any television series anywhere. Look
to it as a pattern for what pilots must and must not do. I
broke into episodic writing with Kolchak: The Nightstalker.
My writing partner at the time (L. Ford Neale) and I wrote
three of those and the first, Bad Medicine, is one
of the best realized examples of my work, and of Ford Neale's,
ever. I owe that to the late great Darren McGavin, who with
his wife, Kathie, shepherded us into the writing business.
Smith relaxing between takes
I say it's easier or harder to work in the industry? It's
as hard now as it always was. The inbuilt challenge of getting
your writing seen, let alone liked, always threatens to overwhelm
and befuddle every generation of writers People in power are
afraid to say anything is good because that affirmation can
be risky for their careers. It's easier to say "no." It's
easier not to read new writers. For the writer it gets down
to that first contact and how one reaches that first contact,
that first reader who actually reads and maybe sees something
in your writing.
to get to them? No one way and many ways. But lately, as Andreas
Kossak and I have been visiting film festivals, we've been
telling film students: DON'T GO TO HOLLYWOOD-unless you have
a first contact. Stay where you are and do theatre and film
and video where you are.
or whatever the UK equivalent is, is atomizing. This is because
wonderful tools are now accessible to everyone. Film has entered
its "garage band era." You can do a movie with a garage band
budget. It's happening all over the world. We are in the early
stages of a huge transformation in the art of film. It's more
significant than the advent of sound and is going to have
social consequences dimly imaginable now.
Filmmaking is accessible to the general population. This has
never happened before. The rampant resolute populism of this
is already apparent in the range of content in film festivals
and video festivals across the world. So, in this sense, there
has never been a better time to get your hands on the right
tools and shoot a movie of your script.
find an audience at festivals. You follow up with already-existing
groups who have a natural tie-in with your film's subject
matter. Doing a film is never easy but it is quite possible.
Cyxork 7's tag line sums up the movie pretty well,
but would you have risked your life to make this movie?
Smith, Laura Katz, Gary Robert, Starlene Hamilton, Cassandra
Creech, Cynthia Chanin and Michael Maxwell
I did. We were shot at during the production. I had to start
a political/legal imbroglio that has (hopefully) now ended.
So much did I appreciate my cast and crew for their trust
and understanding that I did not want to blemish this work
experience in my memory. They stood by me. I wanted to stand
by them with as much hospitality as I could muster. You
see, most of Cyxork was shot at my home where I lived
at the time.
as a leukaemia and chemo-therapy patient I've had the Reaper
run his eager, jittery digits over my rib cage more than once.
So, in a way, doing this movie was as important as life itself
to me. It represented a quality of life I would die for, yes,
if a Coors-Lite cowboy shoots at me and my film crew, I can
handle it, like Ringo says, "With the help of my friends."
It ended up with four squad cars and deputies bigger than
Hulk Hogan and everything was okay. We didn't lose a day or
a even a shot. I've wanted to direct a movie since I saw my
first movie: Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
I saw that enduring classic in the front seat of my brother's
car, in its first release, at the Kansas Drive-in, saw it
in "sh*tty nappies," as I believe you folks say.
What was the best and worst experience you had working on
It was all good because even the inevitable bad times were
faced with a team experience. That made the bad times good.
It was the best work experience of my life. I'm so spoiled
it's not funny.
Are there still things, that due to budget restrictions or
time, that you wish you'd done on the movie?
Yeah, I wish we'd included a sequence we never shot where
Jacey Anderson (Beata Pozniak) is accosted on a lonely desert
road by a boy and girlfriend serial killer team. It played
well in auditions but Clever Bill Emory (you understand, I'm
referring to our Clever Bill Emory, every movie has one) thought
it was too grotesque for her character.
proof that the directing experience didn't affect John
retrospect, I don't think so. I was curbed by concerns like
that. If I ever get the chance to direct again, I will be
a know-it-all, I'm sure. More boulders moving, certainly,
that would have been cool. The shot we now call "Vick gets
stoned" is our most expensive shot in the movie. About six
seconds for twelve grand.
so you know my heart beats pure despite my aged appearance:
Every time I see Vick get stoned I automatically think of
Ray Harryhausen. That sequence, its framing, composition,
art direction and what I can only describe as "kinetic joyousness,"
is my homage to Ray Harryhausen. "Nico" Strehl gave me that.
are a couple of shots that include power lines too. I wish
we could have had the money to wipe those out. But that's
the way it is. Maybe in the HD edition.
DR: Are there any actors that you'd
love to work with? And why?
There are many living actors I would love to work with but
I don't want to appear slavish. They know their names. Dead
actors I wish I could have stood in the presence of: Brando,
Clift, Dean, Peck, Tracy. Ladies: Stanwyck, Stanwyck, Stanwyck.
If someone were to make a movie of your life, who would play
An unknown. And well hung.
DR: Cyxork 7 is out on DVD; did
you get involved with the extras? And can you tell us a little
about what is on the disc?
I asked for a cast photo to be included so the box isn't sh*tty
looking and empty on the left side when you open it. Andreas
went one better and included the very collectible print of
the classic black Cyxork poster. Both are on quality
you get a DVD without the photos, it's a pirate f*ck-stick
and I'll bet its picture is not as clean as ours. Pirates
do burns and they don't print "extra" photos, it's not in
their heads. We defeat them with their psychology. This
DVD is an imprint from a glass master derived from the HD
D-5 original. I can't stress to you enough how good the eventual
HD DVD is going to look.
Wise, Paget Brewster, Cassandra Creech and Cynthia Chanin
"real" extras you're talking about are still under construction
and being produced. (i.e. just recently Andreas did an exhaustive,
incisive interview with our editor, Alan Shefland. There are
the obligatory interesting anecdotes, yes, but also a 101
course on film editing given by one of the best people in
the art and trade.) We've also interviewed many of our principal
actors and have some good material there.
special effects guru Nicolai Strehl (James Cameron alumnus)
will show how he delivered special effects on a shoestring.
Michael Negrin our respected DP will talk about HD cinematography
in a high desert wilderness location. Our costume designer,
herself a cult figure, Jana Marie Bonar, will tell and show
how she created signature looks for each character. Andreas
is planning a panorama of interest-oriented mini-films that,
in aggregate, will be a crash course in both the art and business
of the indie film. The good, the bad and the ugly.
will come out after or during our preview release and we will
not penalize people who have already purchased a copy. We'll
sell this production profile (which might be several hours
long or even a two-disc set) separately and at a reduced price.
We want people who want this information to be able to have
Given half a chance, would you do a Lucas and make Cyxork
1-6 if money was no option?
Of course. Ideas have been coming to me whether I like it
or not. Cyxork is a clammy, clinging f*cker. It doesn't
want to let go. It thinks it's overdue for attention. It's
jealous of Lucas. Kommander 88 cops to this in the script.
I have to respect that.
What are you working on next?
I've written a western treatment for Sonya Smith which I've
only told her about but not shown her. It's living in the
drawer now. I have those files on Cyxork. Also,
there is an untitled story, definitely some bench-pressing
for an actor ready to do an inner odyssey on concrete. I
have a police procedural novel in the drawer that I would
like to direct but the giant Cairn Terrier barking right now
is not heralding a lawyer with a contract.
all this sounds febrile, it is. One gets many ideas which
never become more than just that, an idea. And maybe that's
all they were supposed to be anyway. All I know is that after
this tender soul-searching I've got waiting for me a pizza
and an ice cold Corona. Then I'll know what I really should
have said, here, to you - but it'll be too late.
is such a predictable butt-kick.. I'll just have to work with
Thank you for your time.
Huff checking shots with DP Michael Negrin and script supervisor
Kelly Leffler. J
thanks to Andreas Kossak
7 is released to own on DVD from Gamma
on the 01 July 2006
this DVD for $19.99 by clicking here