JOE WIEZYCKI'S DREAM:
Back in the fall of 1973, longtime WTVT director Joe Wiezycki decided to pursue his dream of directing an honest-to-gosh low-budget feature, shot entirely in the Tampa Bay area, using local cast and crew. Because Joe and I had gotten along fairly well during the short time I had been at the station, he asked me to be the assistant camera operator for the production.
At the time, it was an exciting idea: I mean, here's a guy who's spent about ten years directing local TV and news, and here's his big break getting to do a real movie, shot on actual 35mm film- - a far cry from the cheap and tawdry stuff we did at good old Channel 13. Joe was obviously tired of the stuff he'd done over the past decade or two - - everything from producing and directing Pulse Plus to putting together the Ernie Lee Show every morning at WTVT, along with a half-dozen other 'classic' WTVT local shows like Shock Theatre and The Mary Ellen Show. If Joe's movie became successful, it could be a stepping-stone to bigger and better things...maybe for all of us.
The reality, though was different. For several weeks, I'd get up at about 6AM, drive down to a rundown warehouse about 20 miles from Tampa, on the outskirts of Sarasota (as I dimly recall), and would work on loading the camera, tweaking focus, and otherwise assisting D/P Mak McKinnon as he shot the film. Then, at about 2p.m., I'd jump back in my car, drive like a maniac back to Tampa, and get to work just in time to do my normal 3p.m. to midnight shift. After that, I'd stagger home, fall into bed, then wake up at the crack o' dawn again and start the whole routine over.
But it was an education as to how 'real' movies were shot...even though this one was being put together by local TV people who really had no clue how to do it. Like a lot of people making no-budget independent films, we made a lot of mistakes, but it was a lot of fun actually doing it. What follows is kind of a diary that I kept at the time, which I wrote for a self-published science-fiction fanzine that friends of mine used to put out in the seventies (back when I was a full-time fan instead of trying to get laid, which I now regret). Bear in mind it was written from the viewpoint of a 19 year-old know-it-all, so please forgive my attitude and writing style of the time.
The Production of
Being at a television station gives you a chance to meet some highly interesting people, basically because only those who are hopelessly snapped are in TV in the first place. There's a guy at the station who is a director/producer of our local mid-day news, weather, and entertainment show, who has always had visions of escaping his now-boring job by making a quickie, but successful, low-budgeted feature. Well, Joe (which is what I will call this person, since his name is Joe anyway) got together a few thousand dollars a few years ago and, with the help of various station employees (and without knowledge or consent of the station's management) filmed a 'feature' over a period of months on weekends that they had time off. Everyone involved put in $1,000, gambling that the movie would be successful enough to provide a substantial return on their initial investment.
Needless to say, the movie was so bad, apparently, and there were so many problems involved with it that Willy's Gone (which was the ill-fated production's name) sort of went straight down the drain, along with everyone's investments.
Well, good old Joe, always hoping for that magic break that just might come along any day now, began planning for a new movie. It would be exciting, appeal to young people, and have just a touch of sex and violence (the old S&V) needed to attract the public.
I might add here that a number of feature films have been made in the Tampa Bay area, most of which were really raunchy and made next-to-nothing at the box office. They were mostly forgettable films like Fireball Jungle and Scream Bloody Murder, which were lucky to end up as a third feature at a fourth-run drive-in theater.
I first heard of this new film of Joe's when I overheard him talking with one of my fellow cameramen, another guy named Joe (which only complicates matters), about whether he would be interested in working on this latest picture in the future. I asked Joe the director if I could be of any help since I had at least a little experience working for 'TVT for 8 months and making a few student films of my own. He asked me if I had ever worked in 35 (35mm) before; nope, I said, but I would be willing to learn. 'Great,' he said. 'We'll put you on as assistant cinematographer when we start shooting two weeks from now. We can only pay you $50 a day, but at least you'll get free food.'
Hell, I would've paid him $50 a day for the privilege of working on a real honest-to-gosh Hollywood movie! I can see the credits now: "Assistant Cinematographer - Marc Wielage". Better yet, "Marcus F. Wielage". Wait -- how about "Marcus F. Wielage, A.S.C."?
I had been involved in the picture five minutes and already I was preparing my Academy Awards acceptance speech for Best Assistant Cinematographer for 1974.
Meanwhile, our preparations had to be made in secret, since Joe didn't want anybody at WTVT to find out that we were working on a freelance project away from the station. He was able to take off for three weeks' vacation, so he wouldn't be there on his usual shift with Ernie Lee and Pulse Plus, while the rest of us had to just grin and bear it and work two jobs, 18 hours a day.
Anyway, let us now dissolve to Gibsontown, Florida, one of those middle-of-nowhere-type redneck cities that people on country music stations are always singing about. I drove out with some station cohorts who were also working on the picture out to Joe's 'studio' - - and I use the term 'studio' very loosely; when we got there, we found a large, metal, hulking barn. Un-soundproofed; un-air-conditioned, even in our hot Florida weather, right next to a busy, noisy highway in Redneckland, Florida.
I expected MGM and got what appeared to be only a step above MPC. [MPC was a fake company I ran for laughs while I was a college student in the early 70s... 'Miracle Productions Company,' as in 'if it's a good production, it's a miracle.']
We entered the 'studio' and first saw a large 3-sided group of walls...sort of a room with one wall removed. This was to serve as our only set used in the studio; it would be repainted and relit as needed to appear to be a different room for each different scene. Most people were sitting around and goofing off, while others where painting the 'room's' walls and arranging some non-descript furniture in it.
I was greeted by Joe the director, who introduced me to some of the cast and crew-members. The cinematographer/camera-operator was 'Mak' Makinen, head of the Photography Department at the station. Joe Puleo, the fellow TV cameraman would light the scenes; Bill, a local disc-jockey, was the sound man; Larry, Joe-the-director's-son, would be the set designer. John, a guy from another local TV station, would supervise make-up and special effects. And I would be the (ta-da) assistant cameraman.
I again imagined how the credits would look on the screen. 'Assistant Cinematographer' sounds much more impressive than assistant camera operator, I thought.
Before I go into all of the fun and excitement involved in the making of this classic motion picture, brace yourself for a synopsis of the story from the original screenplay written by Gary Garrett and Joe the director (now turned screen-writer).
STERLING INTERNATIONAL PICTURES
We fade in on a typical middle-class suburban home. Bobby Douglas, a good looking boy about 16 years old, is unhappily mowing the back yard. His father, Mr. Douglas, is trimming a hedge nearby. Bobby's step-sister, Janis, about Bobby's age, is lying lazily along the side of the Douglas' swimming pool.
Bobby, perhaps jealous of his comfortable sister, swerves his lawn mower over in such a way as to drown Janis in a quick spray of grass clippings. She is appropriately un-amused.
Bobby finishes mowing, and goes into the house to take a shower. Meanwhile, his father decides that Bobby did a poor job on the lawn and sends Janis in the house to get Bobby outside.
Finding Bobby dressed only in a towel enables Janis to lead Bobby on with a little cruel prick-teasing, then angrily tells him that he's a total idiot and to get out and finish the lawn. Bobby, furious at his own helplessness, is more than slightly P.O.'d.
(courtesy Something Weird Video)
(Bobby is a weak individual, forever being bossed around by both his father and step-sister. He's also a loser in many ways, but strange thing could cause a surprising turn of events!)
Mr. Douglas, unreasonable as usual, makes Bobby finish the lawn.
(courtesy Something Weird Video)
At dinner that night, Janis again teases Bobby unmercifully and then announces to Mr. Douglas that she found some dope in Bobby's bedroom. Bobby, unable to take any more, leaps up and flees from the lion's den out into the night. 'Go to hell!' he screams at them as he runs away.
(Hmmm. Perhaps a hint of things to come, heh, heh.)
Bobby winds up at a local diner where an aging homo tries unsuccessfully to pick him up. A greasy motorcycle hood, Jake, throws the old fart out on his ear and befriends the thankful Bobby. All of Bobby's troubles come pouring out as he tells Jake of his predicament. Jake takes Bobby back to his crumbling apartment ostensibly to let him sleep the night; but later, along with some of his hood type friends, attacks and repeatedly rapes poor Bobby and dumps him in a ditch in the middle of nowhere.
(With friends like that, who needs...yeah, right.)
In the morning, we see a group of young people romping around in a large open field. They romp over to where Bobby is lying, bound, gagged and beaten, and take him to their leader.
Yes, folks...these are (dum dum dummmmmmm) SATAN'S CHILDREN!
These people are involved in a (shudder) coven of Satan, a devil-worshipping group which engage in hangin's, tortures, rapes and all sorts of fun stuff your mother never told you about.
Anyway, the coven people take Bobby to their acting leader, Sherry, who is in command since their real leader, Simon, is off somewhere doing evil deeds or buying souls or something. Sherry immediately falls in love with Bobby (much to the chagrin of Monica, token lesbian member of the coven, who loves Sherry), and they later spend a night in her room.
(You've got to admit...this movie really has something for everyone.)
Meanwhile, certain members of the coven do not agree with Sherry's decision to let Bobby into their elite group. These infidels are promptly strung up in 'hang 'em high' fashion, while the rest of the coven shouts 'Satan! Master! Lucifer!'. (A laugh a minute.)
Bobby has no idea of what's going on. All he knows is that after being beaten and bruised by Jake and company, he's in a place where he's being taken care of, thanks to Sherry. And at this point, he's still in such bad shape from being beaten and raped that he can barely get out of bed (and who would want to with Sherry around.)
In the meantime, Simon returns. Angered by Sherry's irrational acts because of her love for Bobby (this sounds like a soap opera), he orders her buried up to her head in sand and covered with sweet syrup to be eaten alive by ants (reminiscent of Dr. Phibes).
(courtesy Something Weird Video)
As for Bobby, he manages to escape the coven and runs through the swamp area surrounding the group's building and successfully eludes his pursuers.
Two of them drown in quicksand (which looks suspiciously like oatmeal; more on that later) and two more die much the manner of Oddjob in Goldfinger... by being quick-fried to a crackly crunch by an electrified fence surrounding the swamp.
Bobby (now pretty well snapped, by the way) returns to his home in a car he picked up on the way, and proceeds to murder his father by smashing several bottles over his head,
...and he rapes his terrified sister (off camera, I might add). He ties her up securely, throws her in the back of the car, and journeys over to Jake's place, where he kills not only Jake but also his cohorts with the old Sam Peckinpah shoot-em-with-the-shotgun-in-slow-motion trick and then removes their heads with a long, gleaming butcher knife.
(The more I think about it, the more I wonder how this movie is going to get a PG rating like Joe wants!)
Bobby returns to the coven with proof of his worthiness to join the forces of Satan (with his four severed heads and hog-tied sister as initiation fee), Simon allows him to join their little club and releases Sherry from her underground prison.
And accompanied with a soft, lilting ballad, Bobby and Sherry lovingly cuddle together in bed while the other members of the coven proceed to crucify Janis on a tall, make-shift cross.
* * * * * *
Sounds like a real family picture, doesn't it?
After I glanced over the script, I told Joe that I really hoped that the sheriff didn't have us all arrested for making pornographic movies, contributing to the delinquency of minors, and fighting against truth, justice and the American way. He explained that most of the script sounded worse than it would actually appear on the screen. Rats, I thought. That'l take all the fun out of the production!
The first week, we filmed the interior scenes: the Douglas home, including a dining room, Bobby's bedroom, Janis' bedroom, kitchen, Jake's house, the coven's interiors, and a living room all from the same basic set consisting of only three walls, one door and a window, plus several removable wall sections that could be moved in place as needed. Cheap, but perhaps effective. All furniture and props appeared to have come from the local Goodwill store, a result of the film's rather limited budget (between 25 and 50 thousand dollars, depending on who you talked to). The picture was not backed by Joe or us, this time, Joe had been able to convince a fly-by-night film company (Sterling International Films) in Miami to come up with the cash. The producer of the film, a well-dressed Italian man who had a penchant for black pinstriped suits and white ties, occasionally showed up to see how we were getting along.
Evidently these people were able to make Joe an offer he couldn't refuse. (You knew that one was coming.)
My main job in the film was to assist the cameraman in setting up and maintaining the Arriflex IIC 35mm camera used in our production. This meant seeing that all magazines were ready and loaded, that exposed film was carefully put away (together with the appropriate information needed by the lab processing the film), and that each scene was properly slated (with the familiar clapboard seen in Hollywood). Of course, there were problems involved. For one thing, I had to be back at the station every day by 3 or 4:00 p.m., so I always had to leave before the day's shooting was over. Also, because Joe had such a limited budget, he was unable to afford whole 400 or 1000 foot rolls normally used in professional filmmaking; we had to get by with what are known as 'short ends'...small left-over pieces of film that larger companies usually just throw away. These rolls of film averaged around only 200 feet or so (enough for a two-minute take), never more than 300 feet, so as a result I was constantly loading and unloading magazines. Halfway through the first day of shooting, I had to delegate the responsibility of slating the scenes to whoever wasn't busy at the moment, because I was inundated with reloading constantly throughout the day.
Incidentally, towards the end of shooting, I found a can on unexposed film with 'Universal Pictures' labels all over it, and to my amazement found that it was a perfect short-end roll of film left over from the shooting of The Sting. I stared at the can in wonder, almost in shock. To think we were using film that was in the same camera used in that Academy-award winning production. What a dubious distinction.
The first week inside the 'studio' had its share of problems. Since the building was not sound-proofed, we had to stop shooting every time a large truck barreled down the highway or when a plane passed overhead. It also got hot as hell inside since we were lighting it at about 400 foot-candles, which is a great deal of light; even more than what we are used to working with at the station with TV cameras. To give you an example of how bright this is, an average living room might have perhaps 50 foot-candles with all the lights on. Inside the enclosed, hot warehouse/studio, temperatures probably got to at least 90-95 degrees and possibly more. And me, with my hot little hands fumbling inside a large black, light-tight changing bag, replacing film in magazines, sweated my skinny little arms off.
I was amazed at how rotten most of the actors were. Almost all of them had come from the nearby University of South Florida's theater department to pick up a quick buck or two. For the most part, they were all really bad news, but better-than-nothing considering the circumstances. And most of the female actresses were sort of 'eh' looking; not particularly attractive, even with most of their clothes off.
We had some interesting events in the studio. For instances, flies would swarm in when the doors were opened between takes. These flies almost screwed up several scenes, since you can't have flies in one scene and not in another one immediately following it when they both take place in the same location...no scene-to-scene continuity. And they also buzzed the boom-mike, bugging the hell out of Bill the sound-man and the rest of us as well.
But even with these and other problems, shooting went pretty smoothly at the studio, and the days dragged on until it was time to begin shooting on location.
A number of interesting scenes had been shot at our warehouse. I saw Mr. Douglas smashed on the head several times with some rather phony-looking breakaway bottles, with his face made up to appear quite bloody with John the make-up man's fake blood. I managed to miss Janis' rape scene (dammit) and the hoods getting shotgunned, but those who did see them told me they were pretty hokey. The boy's rape scene took place inside a car, and mainly consisted of reaction shots from his face, though I was surprised that he actually did get naked for the scene.
Our first location exterior was a large farm near Lutz, Florida, which is not too far from where I now live in Tampa. This location was a large, sprawling rural area which could serve as the swamp and grass area near the coven's old building. Their house, incidentally, was actually a few miles away from this location.
Our mobile operations center was a rented mobile home used by the cast and crew as a restaurant, bathroom facility, and in general a good place to goof off. I changed film in the magazines while inside the van to avoid the sunlight and dirt outside.
It's a real hassle to film stuff on location. It's hot as hell, clouds from out of nowhere obscure the sun's light at the worst possible moments, and planes, boats and trains roar their way through constantly, spoiling important scenes. On top of this, Jim, the assistant sound-man, or Typhoid Jim, as I called him...managed to infect all of us with a cold-like virus that I am still suffering with. Even as I sit typing these words, I still occasionally sniffle and wipe my eyes. Grrr. Grrrr.
On the other hand, location shooting is great because everything is real and looks that much better on the screen. Because of today's light-weight production equipment, it's possible to film scenes on location quicker, better and more efficiently than in a studio. And most importantly, it can be cheaper going on locations, especially with Hollywood film technicians' unions demanding such high wages in the studio. All in all, I think that the results are usually worth the problems one has to go through when shooting on location.
Scenes shot at this location included those where the three scheming infidels are hung (a parachute-like harness and specially-tied rope did the trick, although it looked fake to me); where Sherry is buried up to her neck in sand and covered with syrup (which was done by digging a hole and covering her with a cloth so that real ants wouldn't get to her). Cut-away shots of groups of ants (I guess obtained from a local ant rental company) floundering in syrup were filmed so that they could be edited in such a way as to build up tension during Sherry's imprisonment sequences. It'll probably have as much tension as an episode of Ruff and Reddy.
An interesting point about the quicksand scenes, which were also shot at this location: since no real quicksand was available, and would be too risky anyway, John and crew dug another large hole and filled it with water and $178 worth of oatmeal.
Yes. $178 worth of oatmeal. I never saw so much oatmeal in my life. We wanted to get 30 or so gallons of milk, maybe 10 pounds of sugar, and a few cases of butter and eat it over a period of a few days, but we decided against it since we didn't have enough spoons to go around and besides, the ants and buzzards sort of beat us to it.
They tell me that the guys never did sink all of the way down into the quicksand pool; this is understandable, since it was only 3 or 4 feet deep. Joe looked over at the mess, shook his head, and made the decision that the actors would have to sort of sit down in the muck and lean back in such a way as to look convincing on camera. To my disappointment, when the actors 'died,' they never sank down past their heads, which is the standard bit in most Hollywood quicksand scenes. Too bad... would've been a great (and possibly tasty) bit!
As I explained earlier, the actual exterior of our 'house' was a few miles away, tucked back in a very secluded wooded area. Unfortunately I had to miss these scenes because they were done late in the day and I had to get back to the station before they got suspicious.
Other locations we used included a large rural area used by the Royal American Shows carnival people as a storage place/winter quarters area. We filmed more swamp chase scenes here, with the two guys hamming it up as they 'fry' on the 'electrified' fence. No burnt and smoldering bodies; no Irwin Allen electrical shower of sparks; just a few un-convincing screams and laughable eye-rolling from the shocked men. We also used a suburban home in Tampa for the Douglas place, and a nearby tavern was the location for the diner in which Bobby meets Jake and the dirty old man.
Anyway, the picture was finally completed. The lab reported that some scenes were fogged slightly (due to the slightly old and damaged rental equipment we used, and the nature of short-ends) but most could be used with no problem. I could at least sigh with relief knowing that I had not, in some way, screwed up the picture even worse than it already was.
So, I consider myself actually lucky to have been able to work on this crazy picture. Although things could have been better, they also could have been a lot worse. At least I was paid for my efforts and learned a little about 'professional' feature film production, something most cinematography students would practically sell their souls for (subtle Devil joke there).
What did I learn from the experience? For one thing, to check out all equipment rented from film rental companies. Our local dealer really tried to rip us off in certain instances of faulty wires, bad magazines, etc. I also learned to get a really good story-line worked up for the film's screenplay. The story written by Gary the writer was not exactly of Pulitzer-prize-winning quality, as I'm sure you will agree. A low-budget movie, it appears, can be successful, and it'll definitely have a much better chance of at least making a profit if the story is well-written, or has interesting ideas involved... for example, Night of the Living Dead. Now that would really have been a fun film to work on.
Gerry, when I asked him what kind of story he wrote, smiled and replied 'Exploitive.' Gee. I expected 'horror' or 'crummy' or "psychological drama". But 'exploitive'? I guess he may be right. His next idea concerns kidnappings (probably torn from today's headlines ala Patricia Hearst). Gerry, by the way, is a guy who thinks he is, like, 'cool' wears dark glasses even indoors, says 'babe' every third or fourth word in sentences, and in general acts like a swine.
I talked with the actors a bit about what they though about the film. The guy who played Bobby told me he thought his character was slightly insane due to the constant pressure and put-downs from his father and step-sister. The actions of Jake and later on those of the coven's only served to push him over the edge and kill and/or rape everybody. I asked him if he thought Bobby in the film was similar to Norman Bates in Psycho. He agreed, saying that Bobby was probably always a bit squirrely, although most of it doesn't surface until after his trek through the swamp back to his house.
The actor playing Simon told me that he had played in a couple of Dan Curtis ABC made-for-TV movies on the ABC Wide World of Entertainment. He was probably one of those strange people lurking in the background with bit parts. Simon was a very tall guy, about 6'6", and since this is about a foot taller than me, we didn't exactly see eye-to-eye on a few things. He was probably the most experienced actor in the cast, and was fairly good in the picture (compared to the others).
As for the direction...well, I certainly don't know much about acting, but then neither did Joe. Basically he was concerned with getting X amount of scenes shot each day so that we could stay on schedule, regardless of how crummy the scenes might be; so there are a few minor mistakes, missed lines, background noises, and so on in the movie that Joe says can be taken care of in the editing and sound mixing process. I certainly hope so.
And thus ends the strange saga of Satan's Children. It will be released in June or July of 1974, and may well appear soon at a theater near you.
It will be worth it just to see 'Assistant Cameraman - Marc Wielage' up there on the silver screen.
So that's what I wrote back in 1973. The aftermath of the film was somewhat disappointing. Me, Joe, and the rest of the crew eagerly attended a 'sneak preview' of the movie in North Tampa a few months later. We laughed at all the scary and dramatic parts of the movie, and kinda snored through the rest. Joe kinda shrugged his shoulders, and said, 'well, it's not bad for what it is.' But they misspelled my goddamned name... which, considering how bad it was, might not be such a bad thing.
As far as I know, it never got released in Tampa...maybe not even anywhere in Florida. Around the fall of 1974, Joe excitedly told me that 'the film's playing in New York this week.' I kinda chuckled and asked him what theater was playing it. Later on, I checked one of the New York papers, and it had an ad for something like 'Fists of Fury... plus a 2nd exciting action picture!' So I guess the second one was Satan's Children.
Needless to say, the film wasn't a big success. Joe kept his job at WTVT, and worked there up until his retirement, which I think was in the late 1980s. As far as I know, none of the other people who worked on the film wound up in the industry at all, except for me (doing color timing here in LA) and Joe Puleo, who works as a freelance cameraman on sports remotes in NY.
I've searched high and low for nearly three decades now, but too my eternal sorrow, Satan's Children has never turned up on any reference book, magazine, movie database, or Internet site. It's as if it never even existed... but since I actually worked on it and saw the thing, I know at least one print was made somewhere, somehow. Joe Puleo saw it, too, but the last time I saw him in the early 1990s, he told me he'd never seen or heard of it since 1974, either.
I hope that one of these days, before I make that final slow fade to black, maybe I'll switch on the boob tube in the middle of the night, turn the channel to some godawful channel on DirecTV, and Satan's Children will pop up from out of nowhere.
If nothing else, maybe itll preserve Joe Wiezycki's legacy, and I can remember what it was like to be young, working my heart out for WTVT, and have a crazy dream of working in the movie business...
8 August 2002
Last-minute addition: Not long after I put this article together for the Big 13 website, I did a quick Yahoo search for Satan's Children, thinking maybe I might get a hit or two somewhere. I had tried this several years ago, and never found anything, but I figured... what the hell.
Imagine my surprise when the thing popped back and gave me the addresses of several websites, all of which featured Satan's Children! One glance at the description told me it was the same movie...and it was coming out in September 2002 on DVD, from Image Entertainment. By an incredible coincidence, Image's offices are only about five miles from me, here in the San Fernando Valley. Mike and I will report back later on and do a little run-down on this movie.
Maybe it's gotten better after 27 years. Naaaaa.
Look to this site soon for a review of Satan's Children!
You can buy your own DVD copy of Satan's Children. It's been released by Something Weird Video and is part of a double bill. Asylum of Satan, by cult director William B. Girdler, is on the cover, with Satan's Children listed on the bottom. It's available through Amazon.com, major retailers of DVDs, or through Somethingweird.com.
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