June 19, 2004:
By Chris Langley, Inyo County Film Commission
A unique film presents an instructive opportunity to understand creativity in human imagination. While great Hollywood classics might first spring to mind, the film Tremors has gained in popularity since it was filmed in Lone Pine and presents an interesting study. It spawned two sequels, one prequel and a television series. Nancy Roberts, one of the producers and creative minds behind the franchise, called recently to let me know she and her partners had finally retired the series, that she had moved to Kanab, Utah and was pursuing other film projects.
Now is a good time to reflect back on the creative origins of the film. Producer and "mother" of Tremors Nancy Roberts, director Ron Underwood and writer-producer-director of the sequels, Steve Wilson attended the 13th Film Festival and I had an opportunity to explore with them how the movie came to be made.
Originally, Nancy was the talent agent for Steve and his partner Brent Maddux However, she functioned more as a "producer," in Steve's words, in getting the film pitched, written and "greenlighted." ("Greenlighted" means getting permission from the executives to go ahead with filming the project.)
Explaining her passion for the project, Nancy told me "What appealed to me is that I love westerns and it is basically a western, a horror western. It takes place in the daytime. It is not murky, it is not aliens, not atmospheric in the classic horror genre." I remember during filming that one of the production people told me that the challenge was to do Jaws in the daylight. He had said that the film would be as effective and scary as the creatures. He called it "Jaws in the desert."
Nancy had continued by citing the writing of the characters by Steve and Brent. "I loved the people. I thought the people were real people, every day people who were faced with an extraordinary situation. They used real tools to solve their problems by using their wits. I think that might be why the sophisticated executives took so long to get it. They used different methods of solving problems."
I asked Steve specifically about how he had come up with the original idea. He explained, "The original scrap of paper was written while I worked down at the China Lake Naval base as a film editor, one of my first jobs. I was hiking out there. I had been aware of the ant lions. There are a lot right here in town. They make cone shaped holes in sand. When an ant comes by they flick dirt up and the ant is sucked under.
"I happened to watch this happen. I was hiking on some big rocks, similar to but not as cool as the ones up here in the Alabama Hills. I just jotted a note down, 'Gee what would happen if I was under the sand and I couldn't get off of this rock.'" The basic premise of the film was born.
Steve continued, "That note sat in a file folder for five or six years till we sold Short Circuit." At that point Nancy had asked the writing team to come in with ten of the their favorite ideas. They had worked on the idea, got the characters established, focusing on two "ne'er-do-well" characters. Usually they would be eaten in a horror picture by the end of the first reel, but the creative idea was to turn them into the heroes of the piece.
"When we pitched it to Nancy she said "oh, land sharks." We never called it that but she did. Then Saturday Night Live did a skit called that. It was a long time before we came up with the name 'graboid.' We had as much trouble coming up with that name as the characters in the movie."
When Nancy had called me, she also had wonderful news for the Lone Pine Film History Museum now in final design stages. I had told her that weekend that at some future time, should the opportunity present itself, I would love to have one of the graboids, as they are called, for the museum. She told me that during the call that she had procured from Universal the "bursting head graboid" from the first film that appeared in all the others, and we could have it for the museum. It is fourteen feet of delicate latex, but it will spend the rest of its days in Lone Pine. She also got the miniature of Chang's store used in the special effects for the last movie, and told us we could also have her own personal mounted specimen of a "shreiker" from the second movie. Other props and memorabilia are pending.