Albert Pyun, Director of such films as RADIOACTIVE DREAMS, CYBORG, BRAINSMASHER: A LOVE STORY talks about his 1990 film CAPTAIN AMERICA in the aftermath of it's recent screening at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con.
TV STORE ONLINE: CAPTAIN AMERICA (1990) seems to come a bit out of left-field in comparison to the other genres that you had worked in prior to making it...I wanted to see how your CAPTAIN film came about?
PYUN: In the early '80s when I was just starting out...I never figured that I'd get the opportunity to make one film, let alone many. So I figured that if I was going to get the opportunity to make a film I was going to try to do something that hadn't been done before. So after I made my first film I knew that if I got the chance to make another one or several I'd make a film in every one of the genres that I had enjoyed as a little kid.
When I first started at Cannon Films....They had a Captain America poster on wall because they had wanted to make that movie for a while. I had been a fan of the comic book as a kid. I really liked the Steve Rogers character. His life story was the most fascinating aspect to me of the Captain America mythos. Originally, the director Joseph Zito was supposed to make Captain America and Spiderman at Cannon Films, but it didn't work out for whatever reason. I used to run into Zito on the stairway at Cannon Films because he'd be out smoking a cigar because they didn't allow smoking in the building and in talking to him is how I originally found out about Cannon wanting to make a Captain America film. In 1987 there was a stock market crash and that prevented Cannon from making new films and the cousins that ran Cannon, Menahem Golan & Yoram Globus decided to split it. I was in Golan's office one day and he was asking me about the projects that I thought that he should take with him to his new company and one of those was the script that they had for CAPTAIN AMERICA.
TV STORE ONLINE: What kind of input did you get from Stan Lee at Marvel in regards to the film?
PYUN: Stan Lee supported the idea of sticking with the Steve Rogers story and making it the film's central focus. I think Stan was intrigued with the idea of a normal human being who volunteers for this process and his life becomes something that he never expected it to be. I talked to both Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and they were both very supportive as well. Back then...The special effects were an issue too, because we didn't have CGI...So Marvel was concerned with some of the elements of the script, because they had remembered seeing how the late '70s Captain America television movies had turned out.
Because the film was being made with a new company, the budget needed to bring the script to the screen just wasn't there. I don't think that Marvel really wanted Golan to have the property because of their concerns with the budget. With the budget we had, we had to make certain adjustments so the script would fit our budget and Marvel didn't like that. We didn't have the money that the script needed, and Marvel ended up being quite difficult on us because of that. They really pushed the production into a corner and we really had to move forward with a script that really didn't fit our budget. Golan just couldn't get the money collected for the budget and about half-way through the production we ran out of money. That's why most of the action sequences in the finished movie are heavily truncated. There was a lot of stuff in the script that we just couldn't do because of our budget.
TV STORE ONLINE: Did you ever make an attempt at re-writing Stephen Tolkin's original script for the film?
PYUN: No, because I really liked his script. Stan Lee liked Stephen's script too. Even though we had to cut a lot of stuff out of his script due to our budget I tried to retain his fish out of water thing where Steve Rogers is this guy from the '40s that comes back from Alaska and he's now in the 1990's.
TV STORE ONLINE: Do you storyboard? I really adore that opening shot in CAPTAIN AMERICA...It's a long crane shot where the camera comes down, goes across the street in Renado Beach, into a yard and takes us into the story via the home of Steve Rogers through his kitchen window...
PYUN: Not really, but we did some initial concept drawings in the pre-production. We didn't see any purpose in spending money for storyboard artists because we knew from the beginning that we wouldn't be able to afford many of the big action sequences or set pieces in Stephen Tolkin's script.
TV STORE ONLINE: How did Matt Salinger become part of the project? Was he always your first choice to play Captain America?
PYUN: Well, originally my idea was to cast two different actors to play Captain America. There would have been no way then that one actor could've played the little Steve Rogers and then also play the Captain America Steve Rogers. For the Captain America Steve Rogers I had originally wanted to cast Howie Long. I went out to his house and met with him and he was a Captain America fan and he was really excited because even though he was still playing football at the time becoming an actor was a career path that he wanted to pursue. But Marvel wouldn't allow it. They told me that he wouldn't work because he wasn't an actor even though he had the build for Captain America.
We came to Matt Salinger as a sort of compromise because he was tall and he had this sort of All-American face and plus I had really liked his audition reading because he did a great job at showing the sensitive side of Steve Rogers. He was great and could convey the hurt and pain of having to live up to someone else's idea of who he was supposed to be. While he was tall...Matt could've been each incarnation of Steve Rogers but in the end we had to build a body suit for him for the Captain America side of the story, and I'm not sure now how that worked in finished film.
TV STORE ONLINE: That's one of the things that I like so much about your CAPTAIN film is that Steve Rogers is in fact this tortured soul of sorts. He's not really the definition of what a super hero should be according to everyone's standards...I love those scenes with him and the girl...
PYUN: Right...That's what Matt was really focusing on. He brought that to it.
TV STORE ONLINE: What a great cast too...Melinda Dillon, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox...Was this a project that people wanted to be a part of or were they people that you wanted to cast?
PYUN: They were people that I wanted. Many of those actors I had just been an admirer of. I really liked certain qualities that I had seen in all their work. Melinda had a great quality in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)....Ronny had a very unique quality in DELIVERANCE (1972). In real life, Ronny has that kind soul that the character in DELIVERANCE has. He's just the sweetest guy. Then after I got Ronny I went after Ned Beatty because I really loved the chemistry that he and Ronny had had together in DELIVERANCE. I just really wanted to bring certain qualities to CAPTAIN AMERICA. Melinda Dillon...She had done a film that I was a big fan of called A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983) with Darren McGavin. I had to fly to London to get Darren McGavin for CAPTAIN AMERICA because he was living there at the time. None of these actors had to audition. I just offered them their roles because I thought that they all had a special quality and I wanted that to come across in CAPTAIN AMERICA.
TV STORE ONLINE: What about Scott Paulin in the role of 'The Red Skull'?
PYUN: Well, I had just worked with Scott prior on a small three day movie called DECEIT (1992). I was completely taken with his ability to take small moments and turn them into something magical. So I figured if he could do that on a small film that was shot in three days, he could properly bring something really great to The Red Skull. Scott really added something to The Red Skull that made him something more than just a tradition villain. I know that CAPTAIN AMERICA was a difficult experience for Scott too because so much of his work was cut out from the movie.
TV STORE ONLINE: What about that great Red Skull make-up that we see him in at the very beginning of your CAPTAIN AMERICA? Was there any trial and error getting what you wanted for that?
PYUN: Well, Greg Cannom did the make-up and he's went on to win Oscars. Greg was very specific in the regard that he wanted me to cast someone who didn't have a breach in his nose and of course I cast Scott who had everything that Greg didn't want in order to achieve a great make-up effect. So that really posed a challenge to Greg...Because remember we didn't have CGI back then so it wasn't like he could have a little bit of make-up on and then let a computer do the rest. That Red Skull make-up was also a challenge for Scott too because each day he had to spend four to six hours in a chair getting made up.
TV STORE ONLINE: There's also a unique sense of humor at play in your CAPTAIN AMERICA as well...I love that bit where Steve Rogers is in truck first with Ned Beatty, then later on with that girl....and every time he gets stressed out he plays a trick on them by saying, "Pull over for a second I think I'm going to be sick." Then he gets out and runs away from them. Was that type of stuff in the script or was that something that the actors or yourself brought to it.
PYUN: It was in the original script but I just magnified it a little bit. What was interesting to me what the fact that if you're a superhero and you have to steal from somebody then you don't really want to hurt anybody in the process of doing that. He had to steal those cars because he had to get out of the bind that he was in and and once he found that this worked with Ned Beatty's character he thought it might work time and time again...laughing I know a lot of people don't really like that aspect of the film but I thought it was really clever. People don't like the film because it doesn't have those set pieces and the Captain America type of action that they were expecting.
TV STORE ONLINE: It seems to me that the reason why many people don't appreciate your CAPTAIN AMERICA film is because they don't know or understand your sensibilities. Do you think that hurt the film?
PYUN: I do. I did what I could do with the budget I had for CAPTAIN AMERICA. Not having the budget I needed really made the shoot tough so I just tried to focus in on certain aspects that I found amusing and fun. We knew we couldn't do big action pieces so we focused in on the people that were coming after Steve Rogers. They weren't the biggest guys and they didn't have any type of special weapon. In a weird way I saw the action in the film as something from a '40s movie. I wanted just quick fist-a-cuffs and somebody goes down. I didn't want anyone flying around on a wire. I think I just brought a old school sensibility to it.
TV STORE ONLINE: Well, you can clearly see how someone like Sergio Leone influenced you as a filmmaker...There's that showdown at the end of CAPTAIN AMERICA where you've set up the framing where Captain America is on the left side of the frame in a medium shot, then you cut to a extreme close-up of The Red Skull's face all the way to the right of the frame....
PYUN: Right, that was always my intention. I always saw that showdown as something out of a Spaghetti Western. When we first cut the film together and showed it to the studio executives they didn't like that. I mean, it's very much like the opening of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968). They couldn't understand why these two actors were giving each other these looks. I did something similar in CYBORG (1989) at the end too. I love them personally. A Showdown is one of my favorite things in films. I like it when two characters can sort of examine each other.
TV STORE ONLINE: Some fans might not be aware of the fact that there are in fact now two different versions of your CAPTAIN AMERICA available. There's the studio version cut then your specially made Director's cut of the film based off of a work-print. I personally prefer your Director's cut . I mean you revise the story arc with the insertion of that scene of The Red Skull as a young boy playing piano at the end of the film, where in the studio cut that scene appears at the very front....
PYUN: Right...The original ending that I had intended for the film I actually couldn't find even for my Director's cut. In my original first cut of the film...It started with the scene that you see now of The Red Skull as a little boy playing that piano and then the Nazi's break in, shoot everyone and kidnap him. Then the film was going to end with him thinking back to that same moment but at the end you would've seen him play that entire piano piece completely and then you came back and The Red Skull commited suicide. When I showed it to the studio...They didn't like it. They didn't think that the bad guy should get off the hook. They didn't get it. Steve Rogers really understood The Red Skull because they both were men that were set off on someone else's destiny and not their own. I think Steve Rogers really understood and related to The Red Skull's pain. So we had to go back and shoot that little bit for the end where Steve Rogers as Captain America throws his shield and kills The Red Skull.
The studio didn't understand that pain and sadness and pathos. These guys at the studio clearly hadn't read the comic book in the '60s. Because if they had they would've understood how Steve Rogers was in the comic book. He was a superhero that solved his problems very uniquely. He was a superhero who was very in-tune or sensitive to others around him. The studio wanted him to be a killer, and he wasn't a killer in the comic book. I was shocked to see Captain America in the new film with a gun. When I saw that I couldn't believe that.
Albert Pyun's new film ROAD TO HELL will be hitting theaters in select cities in The United States this August 2013.
To purchase Albert Pyun's Director's Cut of CAPTAIN AMERICA please visit his site HERE:
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