Now Living Under Museum
June 19, 2004:
By Chris Langley, Inyo County Film CommissionA 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.
Tremors scribe visits Film Museum and Tremors exhibit
December 22, 2007:
Recently, Brent Maddock, one of the writing partners who created Tremors, stopped by the Museum and enjoyed the exhibits.
When the Director Ron Underwood, writer S.S. Wilson, and Producer Nancy Roberts visited a few years back and did a panel at the Festival, Brent was unable to attend. He is busy with projects, even though the writers' strike has slowed everything down. He comes through Lone Pine from time to time because his brother-in-law lives in Bishop and was surprised by the museum and all it had on display. He also enjoyed the orientation film immensely.
He had very kind words for the Tremors exhibit, which, of course, he had a great interest in. Looking at some production stills on display, he was surprised how much younger he was when he was here working on the film. He was particularly pleased with all the work and enthusiasm our student intern Sage Haithcoate had put into his design of the exhibit. High School Senior Sage is a great fan of the movie series and designed the entire exhibit.
Nancy Roberts facilitated the gift of the graboid puppets and other props from Universal studios. Michael Gross contributed his script, hat and chair back from the location. The Langley collection of Tremors posters from around the world have also added to the quality of the display. The Museum is always interested in more material.
When Executive Director Chris Langley spoke with Maddock about the plans to make one of the themes of the 2008 Festival "Writers of the Purple Sage," he was very enthusiastic about working on a panel focused on the art of adapting prose to movie script. During the chat, he stressed the "discipline of telling the story in 90 pages and getting everything moving quickly but entertainingly." He hopes to be able to attend the Festival October 10-12.
He and his writing partner Steve Wilson have just signed on to adapt a novel called The Adventures of Slim and Howdy, a novel to be published in early 2008, to the screen. The book is written by Kix Brooks, Ronnie Dunn and Stephen A. Bly. Bly is the writer of Christan westerns and Maddock indicated that the film project would be a western.
Maddock and Wilson wrote many other successful projects including the science fiction film Short Circuit. He has stated that the idea came out of an educational film that Wilson had written called "How to Write a Library Report." "That little film had a small robot (built and stop-motion animated by Steve) as its star. We thought we could use the film as a selling tool to raise money to do a low budget feature film about a robot. We wanted our film school buddy, Ron Underwood, who had directed this particular short, to direct the feature if and when we ever got it written and found funding."
The script turned out to be Short Circuit and everyone wanted it. It was produced but Ron was not hired as the director, so eventually the team wrote Tremors for Underwood to direct. Wilson has explained the idea came from ant lions he had observed while working on an educational film at Ridgecrest.
Brent updated us on Ron Underwood's work lately. He just directed a film for television called Holiday in Handcuffs, which was very well received. He also directed a Reaper episode titled "Magic" and two Boston Legal episodes. Brent said that William Shatner had started calling Ron "The Kid," which gave Ron a "big kick."
Hopefully we'll see this team reunited soon and back in Lone Pine working, who knows, maybe on a western.