Real Political Face Talk interviews Greg Quinn about ‘Return to Lake Havasu: the story of the making of Day of the Wolves’, 'Winning Big' and of course, 'Day of the Wolves'
. . . . . .Late last year or early this year a friend showed me a neat little crime drama called ‘Day of the Wolves’. The film is a low budget heist feature from the 70s that I had never heard of and knew nothing about. Chances are that you have not heard of the film either and that means you could be in for a treat if you get to check it out. ‘Day of the Wolves’ never got much of a theatrical run and has never had an official release on DVD. There were some copyright issues and as a result ‘Day of the Wolves’ has had some small cheapo’ releases that are not the best quality. (I have a link at the bottom of the page to the DVD that is supposed to be the best of the available releases.) When I watched the film the first time, I was hooked. I wanted to A) know more about it and B) pass on the word to others. I read what I could and wrote a review (see it HERE.) In doing so I stumbled upon a documentary about ‘Day of the Wolves’ called ‘Return to Lake Havasu: the story of the making of Day of the Wolves’. The documentary is still being finished but I contacted the director Greg Quinn who graciously took some time out of his busy schedule to answer all of my annoying questions. He was more than patient with me and while I focused primarily on ‘Return to Lake Havasu: the story of the making of Day of the Wolves’, I also asked about another documentary he is working on called ‘Winning Big’. That film follows Debbie Bramwell, a female body builder as she prepares for competition. Without further ramblings from me, here goes:
When did you first see ‘Day of the Wolves’? Greg:
I think I watched it with my brother in the UK (where I originally hail from). Probably about 1977 on one of the UK TV stations, not the BBC. We were both taken with the cool ending and the rock music score.
Why was the theatrical run of 'Day of the Wolves' so short? Greg:
‘Day of the Wolves’ was funded by a TV syndication company called Goldkey Entertainment, which doesn't exist anymore; it eventually got taken over a few times and is now part of 20th century Fox. Goldkey had north American rights and Ferde Grofe had the rest of the world. So it was made to be a TV movie, at least in the US. In practice it was heavily shown as an in flight movie as well as on local TV stations, but was never shown theatrically in the US except for a few limited runs; for example, it was shown in the local theater in Lake Havasu in 1971/1972. Outside the US it did have theatrical runs in some places, and the one page posters that crop up occasionally on Ebay are testament to that. Incidentally, there are two kinds of one page posters of ‘Day of the Wolves’; the Goldkey version which has a montage of photos, and one that Ferde Grofe had drawn in the Philippines. Both are fairly rare.
I also saw your short film 'Beyond the Garage' about Sean Bonniwell (who created the music for 'Day of the Wolves'). He seems like quite the character (and he is way too youthful for someone who is 67(!!!) How did you end up meeting him? Greg:
Sean was an easy contact, since he has a web site and is very responsive. He's a great guy and clearly a wonderful musician. He has an underground following from his work with the Music Machine. His web site is: http://bonniwellmusicmachine.com
Below is the first part of Quinn's film on Bonniwell. More is on Youtube and can be found HERE.
Was it hard getting in touch with other people involved in making ‘Day of the Wolves’? Greg:
Some more than others; Ric Waite has his own website, so he was easy to contact and a great guy to interview. Peter MacGregor-Scott was straightforward to contact too, and like Ric helped enormously. Contact with Martha Hyer needed to be made through an intermediary, and some of the technical societies helped in finding the crew. I found Len Travis (Johnny, the young punk in the film) by a fluke Google search - his picture was on a real estate website. I also placed adverts in the Lake Havasu Herald and the help of Dan Delasantos of the Havasu High School alumni association was invaluable.
Did the people that you talked to look back on 'Day of the Wolves' in a positive light? Greg:
Very mixed. All of the actors I spoke with have very fond memories of the production; the crew less so. Mike Scott, then a grip now a well respected assistant cameraman is somewhat scathing about the whole production and in particular the way Ferde Grofe ran it, as will be evident in the documentary.
When I showed ‘Day of the Wolves’ to my father he pointed and exclaimed “Hey, that’s Richard Egan!” Egan is probably the most well known name in the feature. Do you know how he ended up in it? Greg:
By the early 1970's, Richard Egan was less popular than in his heyday as a studio contract player and he had started to work in lower budget films and TV projects. Egan's agent allowed Ferde to pitch the story to Egan even though the money was low ($15000, half of which was deferred). Ferde by virtue of his own personal charm and the compelling storyline managed to convince Egan to become involved. Martha Hyer was a surprise inclusion and Ferde was amazed that she took a relatively low-paying role since she like Egan was a major star, and married to Hal Wallis no less. Robert Walker Jr was originally envisaged by Ferde to fill the role of Wolf number 4, but Goldkey objected (they had casting approval) and suggested Rick Jason. Similarly, for the central role of Number one, Grofe wanted the ventriloquist Paul Winchell, but again Goldkey objected and suggested Jan Murray (who turned out to be brilliant in the role). They apparently even objected to Martha Hyer's involvement, though it's not clear to me why.
I saw on the wikipedia page that 'Day of the Wolves' had many locals filling out the cast. Where they people that just happened to live in Lake Havasu or was there an open casting call? Greg:
The production manager Peter MacGregor-Scott, incorrectly listed in the credits as AD, contacted Floyd Hamilton who was president of the Lake Havasu Theater Guild at that time. He mentioned that there would be several non-speaking and a few speaking roles available for locals to fill. There was no open casting process per se, but the fact that roles were available was mentioned in the Lake Havasu newspaper, so I guess that's kind of a casting call. Steve Manone's mother was involved with the theater guild and tipped him off that they were casting for the son of Richard Egan's character, and he got the role. John Braatz, the local fire chief and Mel Scarborough who was at that time actually a deputy sheriff, played deputy sheriffs. Floyd Hamilton played the role of chauffeur and pilot, although his major role was facilitating the production and driving Rick Jason around. Interestingly, Michael Biehn of Terminator fame was at Lake Havasu high school at that time and acted in theater guild productions, but appears not to have auditioned for a role.
From the clips you posted, I see that the rumor that real guns and live ammunition were used in the training sequence is true! Was that the only sequence where real ammunition was used? Greg:
Rick Jason was a gun aficionado, having served in the forces when he was younger, so when the rumor first surfaced the implication was that Rick was behind it. In practice it turns out that Ferde had used live ammo before in some of his Philippine productions; it saves time over setting up squibs, etc, but it is of course incredibly dangerous. The only place that was used was at the old mining ghost town of Swansea, some 15 miles into the desert east of Parker, Arizona. Swansea is a fascinating place and I hope to put up a clip from the doc about it soon on YouTube.
The trailer for 'Return to Lake Havasu: the story of the making of Day of the Wolves' is below.
From what I understand, there is a long held rumor that Quentin Tarantino is a fan of ‘Day of the Wolves’. Do you know if there is any truth to that? Greg:
Good question. I started off the project thinking the answer was yes, but I'm not sure any more. I tried for a while to get an interview with him with no luck. So for the moment, that question remains unanswered.
Have you come across others in the film industry that are fans of the film? Greg:
Sure; the horror film director/writer Jeff Burr is a huge fan of the film. Also, the filmmaker/film critic Wade Majors is another fan of the film, and went to school with Jan Murray's grandson, and so has a direct connection to the film.
How did the documentary 'Return to Lake Havasu' come about? Greg:
My production partner Erika Paul and I started a film production company several years back, and we wanted some small projects to work on while we were developing narrative film projects. "Return to lake Havasu" ended up being the focus of my work for some time, so we're still working on the narrative stuff.
How hard was it to get financing? Greg:
What runtime do you think the documentary will be? Greg:
Still editing, so I can't be precise but hope it'll hit about 60 minutes, although the first rough cut was 4 hours long! I've got way too much material, and now I know way too much about ‘Day of the Wolves’!
Below is a clip of opening credits in 'Day of the Wolves' (which includes Bonniwell's catchy theme.)
Will it be released theatrically first? Greg:
Nope, this kind of documentary is highly unlikely to find a theatrical run, regardless of how well it ends up being produced; DVD and online distribution is likely.
Do you have a tentative release time for the DVD? (This would be one of the first times that a documentary about a film would come out on DVD before the film does.) Greg:
Yes, the plan is to have something out on DVD at the beginning on 2010 as well as submitting it to the usual raft of festivals.
Along those lines, do youthink there is any hope for a DVD release of ‘Day of the Wolves’? (I saw the copyright has finally been secured.) Greg:
(as above, it's already available on DVD from public domain packagers). Not sure what Ferde's plans are regarding its release on DVD - that could be tied to the timing of a remake (Ferde is currently discussing a remake with a studio) or its 40th anniversary in 2011. He still has the original Kodak Negative master of the film (and outtakes I believe) so a high quality HD transfer is very possible.
'Day of the Wolves' writer/director/producer Ferde Grofé Jr. & production manager Peter MacGregor-Scott from Qunn's film:
I found a spotty filmography for 'Day of the Wolves' writer/ director/ producer Ferde Grofé Jr. Has he been working with film over the years or has he moved on? Greg:
Ferde started off as an ideas man for Sam Katzman (low budget films from Clover Pictures) at Columbia Studios in the late 1950's, moved onto producing low budget films starring George Montgomery in the Philippines in the 1960's, and then war documentaries thereafter. His last film was a horror flick made in 1985 called the 'Third Hand' (AKA 'Judgment Day') which is a pretty good film but has never been on cable. He's a fascinating character who has worked in independent features for years, and knows all the old school independent players such as Roger Corman and Russ Meyer.
I’ve seen some clips from another documentary that you are making. The film is called 'Winning Big' and is about Debbie Bramwell, a pro female bodybuilder. How did you meet Bramwell and end up making the film about her? Greg:
Debbie used to cut my hair at a SuperCuts in San Diego! She mentioned to me that she was going for her pro card and we agreed to make a doc about her.
In one of the clips, I learned that Bramwell is hearing impaired. Is there any correlation between her disability and her competitive drive? Greg:
Yes, I'm sure. She credits Tony Robbins as a big influence. Debbie's a great person, very easy to work with.
Below is the trailer for 'Winning Big'. Clips from the film can be found HERE.
The website for 'Winning Big' has a link for a DVD but it does not seem to be active yet. When will the DVD be available (or is it already?) Greg:
So many things to do, so little time! I planned to release “Winning Big” before the Wolves documentary, by December. The truth is that there's a bigger potential market for Debbie's doc than the Wolve's doc.
It seems as though there is a much bigger audience than there used to be for documentaries. Do you think that you have more freedom as a filmmaker now, than say 10 to 20 years ago? Greg:
I think documentary filmmakers have always had freedom, but like narrative filmmaking, the financial hurdles have been immense but the bar is lowering.
Do you think the internet has helped make it easier for offbeat films to be successful? Greg:
Good question - the whole issue of film distribution via the internet is still in flux and the business models have yet to form. Certainly an unrivaled publicity channel.
How did you become a filmmaker? Greg:
Started off the usual way making home movie scifi with my brother in the UK; I even processed my own 8mm footage, so we had dailies! I've worked in science research for many years. Some of the work involved making educational material, interviews etc., and I've been writing screenplays for ever. With the advent of consumer HD digital, it seemed the time to start producing my own screenplays (since no else wanted to!)
Do you think DV cameras and software like Final Cut, Avid, Premiere, etc has made things easier for filmmakers with tighter budgets? Greg:
Yes, as I mentioned above, it's making a huge difference to filmmaking. The last bastion of filmmaking is distribution, but even that's changing with the internet.
I have to ask, where does the title of your production company come from? Greg:
Erika has blue eyes.
Is there anything that people who are interested in your films can do to help? Greg:
Buy the DVD's!
Is there anything else that that you would like to add? Greg:
Nate, thanks for your interest in the documentary. It's been a hard slog in a lot of ways; it's great that you find ‘Day of the Wolves’ a cool film and hopefully the documentary will alert people to the merits of the film.
. . . . . .There you have it. I would like to give my sincere thanks to Mr. Quinn for taking the time to humor me and answer all of my questions. I was not expecting him to give me so much time and I hope that if nothing else, this interview does its part to spread the word about his work. Look for ‘Return to Lake Havasu: the story of the making of Day of the Wolves’ in 2010 and ‘Winning Big’ in late 2009 or 2010. Check his sites for updated information and release dates. Again, I have to extend my thanks to Mr. Quinn! -Nate
You can buy 'Day of the Wolves' on DVD, although I am not sure as to how legitimate the below release is. I am told this is one of the better looking DVDs but I think this was taken from a print in poor condition. If you want to see the film, this DVD from "Synergy Ent" (?) is supposedly the best of the available releases:
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