Madman Producer Gary Sales: Exclusive Interview

Madman Marz Logo80's Horror; Gary, please tell us a little about yourself and how you became involved in film-making. 

   I was a musician as a teen and played a lot of rock and roll.  When I got into college, I was into sex and drugs and rock and roll.
So I majored in music and drama to pursue those interests and maybe improve my musicianship and acting in the bargain.
   Back in the day, I found myself drawn to the electronic music department at Queens college, where I studied the workings of Moogs, Buchlas and Arps— the top synths of the day.  And back then, they weren’t digital… they were analog and used something called, “voltage control” to do their magic.
We were all thrilled with them because nothing like music synthesis ever really existed before and they were cutting edge instruments.
That’s why, when I finally got to make Madman, the entire underscore is a fully electronic music soundtrack.
Master Synthesist, Stephen Horelick came aboard with me and composed the music from some samples, ideas and conversations we had.
All the songs and background music on the movie are also mine.  A soundtrack album is due out for this Halloween.

   Sorry.. I digressed… must be the drugs part of my history… anyway, music conservatory was a blast and I was learning some serious music history and really stretching from my rock roots to live up to the program there.  At the same time I was living in the East Village, hitting the Filmore East on a regular basis and checking out the downtown theatre scene in Manhattan. One day I woke up and realized that I was in classes at school next to dudes that were already prodigies and where I was struggling to just keep up, they were all skating along.

   I played in the jazz band for a bit and that was cool doing some Miles, Bird, etc. but the drama stuff I was doing around town began to take over my imagination as to where I could go with my career.  Not that I wasn’t digging the music, but what I was really drawn to there was all the new info on the engineering, the sound reinforcement techniques and cutting edge understandings of the actual sonic DNA of music and sound.

   Before music videos came to the US from Europe I was shooting small super 8 movies and soundtracking them with “concrete” sounds— the natural sounds of the city, like: bull dozers, jack hammers, pile drivers, taxi horns, buses, trains, crowds, subways…  everything I could record and mix together and lay over images I shot and cut together.  It was pretty rad at the time and even my classmates didn’t fully get it when I showed the 8, 10 and 12 minutes works to them.  I wasn’t sure what I was doing exactly but something was coming out of me, it felt natural and organic to what was on my mind and it was fun and went very well with the panama red that was invading the country at the time.

One day, word buzzed around campus that, at another school in the City of NY University system, one called Richmond College in Staten Island    (a borough that really should have belonged to NJ but was won in a ferry boat race and became part of NY instead). I had to take the ferry across the bay back and forth every day, BUT.. the big news about the school was the following:
pass/fail & honors  grades only; no attendance rules;  very progressive profs;  a rockin’ avante garde student body; and up to $5000 toward making your student films if you were a film major. JUMP CUT!

Me and a bunch of my bros on the ferry to S.I. after transferring our asses there as quickly as possible.  It was at Richmond College (it’s now called the College of Staten Island and is way different)  that I met Joe Giannone, my partner, good buddy and the late screenwriter and director of MADMAN.  We were both in the film      and theatre dept there and did productions and projects along with a few other folks I’m still in touch with.  Joey and I knew the only way into the business for us was to make our own feature.  We studied  Roger Corman and other guys like Irwin Yablans (Halloween) and Sean S. Cunnigham (Friday the 13th) and looked for a way to write something, raise money, make a feature and break into the movie bizz.

   My first summer of after starting at Richmond I ran into a XXX porn movie shooting on the stage of the old Anderson Theater in the East Village and talked myself into a PA job.  (started for $0, but come onnnn… the sites alone were worth the price of admission.   Actually, I got desensitized to the sex after a few days and it was mostly a job… not a bad one.. but you’re working. I had a great time and it led me to other work on R-rated sex comedies, documentaries, and other productions in and around the city.  Best education for budding filmmakers is to get on a set as soon as possible. Film School’s good for history, some    techniques, meeting others you can partner up with and getting free gear to use—  but working on a set burns the protocols and process into you at warp speed.  You also get to learn where your talents and interests lie as well. Everyone cannot be a director.

   When we got out of school I found myself producing off-off Broadway theatre for a while with Joey and another alumnus, playwright and now screenwriter, AJ Cipolla.  AJ and I were just coming up with plays and talking our way into small houses in downtown Manhattan.  We’d produce plays that mostly came from AJs dreams.   It was pure creativity and business moxie as we just dived in with no real experience.

   I was sort of the show runner (that term didn’t exist then but that’s what I was, in essence, doing).  AJ would come up with scripts, I’d critique and he’d revise them, while I found a house to play them in and put together a running crew.  We cast them together from our cronies from school or open calls in the city. Some I’d direct as well and some of the bigger ones, we’d bring Joe Giannone in to direct because I had to many responsibilities and not enough time to do it.

   It was a riot.. We ran ourselves ragged.  I hardly slept.  Once, I nodded out while driving home and had my VW Beetle’s left fender ripped off by a taxi going in the other direction on one of the transverses that cut through Central Park.  Shit… another few inches and it coulda been a head on.  Oh well. I was happy to take my mom’s POV. “Your number wasn’t up yet!”   So I pressed on, producing and directing OOB but Joey and I were also realizing that there wasn’t going to be much money in it and we were also filmmakers that wanted to make movies.  When the low budget but brilliant, John Carpenter’s, Halloween blew the doors off the box office and was followed by Friday the 13th being picked up by Major Studio, Paramount, and booking $60,000,000 in US grosses, we knew what we had to do.  We were also influenced by the fact that,  Armand Mastroianni, a classmate then and movie/TV director ever since, made, “He Knows You’re Alone," for about $600K and MGM picked it up for over  $1mil.  That’s what we heard at the time at least. BTW, Paramount’s pick up of indie Friday the 13th was the first time an indie genre picture got distribution from a major studio.  It’s success touched off a  feeding frenzy by all the studios because none of them had any horror like it on the shelf and they bought anything that came to their screening rooms that had blood on it.

   BTW— no video and no net back then. Everyone had to book screening room time and drag 50 pounds of 35mm movie reels in heavy metal containers to and from.  Execs had to make their way down to the screening rooms and watch movies.  In another post, I can tell some stories about what we saw when we paid off the projectionists to let us hang out and watch from their booth.

   Backtracking a little.. so Joey and I decided to go after writing a horror movie and raising the money to make it.  We flipped a coin for who would direct and he won, but it wouldn’t have mattered, because I was the one with the mouth who could make a cold call and I was the one producing and sometimes directing “Industrials” for Fortune 500 companies and had all the connections to crews and gear.   We had great respect for each other and were a natural combination of opposites.  He was tight and careful and precise and I was loose and would shoot from the hip when instincts told me to. Between us, we made a good  team because we got each other’s talents and allowed ourselves to learn from each other.  Not that we didn’t go head to head sometimes, but it was always for the good of the project and each of us would, at times, just relent without resentment to the other’s POV.  He was like a brother to me.  Gotta say, I miss him.

   So, to wrap up my movie bizz entry story, we built the legend of MADMAN script around a campfire tale that I was told year after year at sleep away camp up in the Catskill Mountains of NY.  Joey and I spent many long days and nights together working out the story and then he moved back into his parent’s house and worked on the screenplay. We’d talk on the phone late into every night and then we’d meet up every week or so at the offices of the company I worked for in the city and after hours we'd go over the script and use their copy machines, typewriters and the phones to reach out to investors, crew, cast, etc.  Back in those days… No faxes.  No internet.  Just IBM Selectrics with their crazy ball of type and the magic of correction tape too. Touch Tone phones where also where it was at.

   I got serious about learning how to sell deals and practiced the techniques of a cool book I found called, THE POWER OF THE SUBCONSCIOUS MIND. Basically, it was all about using visualization, which meant you had to play the reel of your goals on the screen of your mind each night as you drifted off to sleep and your subconscious rose up to rule your dreams.  That, and kicking my weed habit until the movie was made served us well as I began to reach out to anyone who would talk with me about financing our picture.  At the time, the working title was, THE LEGEND LIVES.   (now 35 years later… I know the Legend does live.)

   Consider that our 35 year old, cult horror fave, has been holding in the Top Ten on Amazon’s Movies-Blu-ray-Horror section since we announced the pre-orders in March.  To me, that’s Legendary. After releasing on May 26th,  we stayed at #1 in front of Poltergeist and Maggie… two movies released and heavily advertised by majors, Lionsgate and Universal.  Ahead of Penny Dreadful and other big names too. Not bad for a 35 year old, unsung cult 80s slasher picture.  I digress again, sorry.

   After about eight months of knocking on doors and taking meetings with people’s uncles, fathers, brothers, accountants, stock brokers and fortune tellers, we finally walked into the offices of a baby carriage manufacturer who understood our pitch.  At that point the indie, lobo horror genre was a big success and cranking out a couple of pictures a week to the screens around the country.  Remember.. this is 1979/80. VHS and Betamax were still duking it out for the Home Video market and the net was not even a twinkle in a geek’s eye back then.  What we brought into the pitch meetings were these simple phrases,
“Low budget horror films don’t need stars and they’re making big money at the box office.”
"Horror and fright are the stars and we can deliver them to the audience with our grisly campfire tale that all audiences will relate to.”
“Don’t believe us… but you might want to believe these guys!”
At the point I’d drop a stack of newspapers and magazines on the desk that included: The New York & LA Times, The Chicago Tribune, Time Magazine, Newsweek, Us News and World Report, Business Week, etc.
They all had headlines like, “ Low budget horror makes millions for studios and investors.”
I’d follow this up with this phrase,
“And with your investment, we’re going to make the same product the big studios are putting out, but for 1/20th of their cost.  And then, we’re going to go out and compete in the same marketplace alongside them and have 1/20th of their nut to recoup before hitting profit.”

   By the time we got into this meeting with Sam, in his tiny, disheveled office in the back of his plant, I was ready to go for the gold. This was like my 77th pitch.
Contrary to asking him to buy a share, when he asked us what we were looking for, I blurted out, “We think you’re the kind of investor that would like to fly solo on this with us and we’d like you to back the entire $400,000 budget of the picture!”  Joey nearly fell off his chair. I could hear him gulp.  We’d only been trying to sell shares at $25K each. This was insane. But after 8 months of pitches and countless failures or half wins, I’d developed an instinct. I guess I was also getting tired of the game and maybe I also grew a pair at that moment. Sam took another look at our 9 page proposal.  He immediately went to the budget… cut our salaries out and suddenly we were making the picture for $350,000 and we were funded.

   It was late in August 1980 now and we were planning to shoot nights upstate NY where it would be cold— really cold. When he told us to have our lawyer contact his lawyer, I piped up that it would take weeks for them to make their money on us and we needed to start right away.  I boldly said, “If we’re on the same team, Sam, we need $20 grand right now so we can open a production office, get casting underway and not lose anymore time. We can sign the legal papers later if that’s okay with you.  He took out his check book and wrote the 20K check on the spot. We all shook hands.  A bottle of scotch appeared and we toasted to a successful production of The Legend Lives.

80's Horror; You recently re-released Madman on Blu Ray what are the special features and improvements contained in the Blu-Ray version?

First.. let me say, that as far as special features, bonuses and extras… the new MADMAN Blu-ray has every one we’ve ever made, including:
 - the 90 minute doc known as, THE LEGEND LIVES: 30 YEARS OF MADMAN.
plus all this new media that we’ve created just for the Blu-ray:
 - a brand new commentary from the four man genre team, THE HYSTERIA CONTINUES.
Madman Blu-Ray Case - 35 YEARS OF MADMAN - an interview with me at the Vinegar Syndrome offices talking about my own history and that of MADMAN
 - New interviews with Madman Paul Ehlers that also include a tour of his private lair filled with MADMAN MEMORABILIA and fan made gifts
 - New Interview with actor Jimmy Steele, who played RICHIE, the jackass kid that screams “MADMAN MARZ” into the woods against Max’s warnings and brings on the bloodshed and murder.
 - A new and rare acoustic track of ESCAPE FROM HELLVIEW, by former CKY front man and songwriter, Deron Miller, who was inspired to write it after his first viewing of Madman
 - New around the kitchen table chats with Me, Madman and Jimmy Steele.

   I love providing the fanz with new extras and bonus material to watch but other BADASS NEWS when it comes to IMPROVEMENTS that will answer your two part question, is the tech info on how we made the new MADMAN Blu-ray.  Anyone that has been following MADMAN over the years knows that we released the 30 Year Anniversary Edition in 2010 through Code Red in standard def. We added value to that release with lots of new extras and the 90 minute doc, The Legend Lives: 30 Years of Madman, directed by Victor Bonacore.  And those same fanz and many others have been asking for the Blu-ray for a very long time.  However, I wasn’t ready to do a MADMAN Blu-ray because I’d been waiting for the right company to come along and do the best restoration possible at a price I could afford.

   I finally found that company in Vinegar Syndrome and Joe Rubin.  His mission, and that of the VS team, is to restore and preserve 60s/70s/80s genre pictures shot on film for new generations of genre film lovers to watch and enjoy them.  The man actually chases around the country tracking genre pictures down so VS can restore them through the talents of his partner, master colorist and film restorer, Ryan Emerson, who must be some sort of wizard on the side.
Quick aside for those who do not know what Vinegar Syndrome is… when movie film goes bad, it emits an aroma that smells like vinegar.

So here’s the tech dealio for the geeks who care..  We took my original 35mm negative that I’ve been holding onto for these last 35 years.  (the neg and elements are gold to a filmmaker) Using a very expensive Arri Laser Scanner VS scanned all 127,000 frames of MADMAN to 4K digital files. It took them about 10 days.
These are the highest resolution that’s practical to work with these days and gets the best images you can from the neg.
Ryan then blew off any dust or film particles and went through the movie scene by scene fixing small scratches and other things wherever they appeared.
Certain scratches that were the result of a bad film magazine during shooting, remain on the picture. They’re part of it’s history.
He then did a scene by scene color correction on a top of the line Black Magic DaVinci Resolve computerized color computer where he set the color and contrast for every scene. I then had the pleasure of joining him for another scene by scene pass where I was able to add my input to get the color exactly the way James Lemo, our talented DP, had designed it.

   For those who are aware of the fan uproar over the lack of the blue night tint of the Code Red version for the 30 Year Anniversary Edition in 201,  that won’t happen this time.
The blue is back and it’s even better than the one that everyone fell in love with based on the Anchor Bay version of 2000.  They sorta overdid it and the blue affected some of the definition in our blacks.  The new MADMAN Blu-ray is right on the money of the original timing that Lemo did back at the Cineffects Lab in 1980.  They’re no longer with us.. as most film labs are sadly, out of bizz.

   We now have a stunning looking 4K file and it looks like we shot the film yesterday.  I’ve seen it projected twice on the big screen now… once at the Alamo Draft House in Yonkers, NY and just last Friday, May 29th at The Cinefamily’s, Friday Night Frights show at Midnite in LA.  Both times the BIG SCREEN PICTURE looked fantastic.  Managers of both houses came up to me to say so without prompting.   Suffice it to say, I’m feeling pretty, pretty good.

   Stephen Horelick’s electronic score also sounds awesome and very fresh 35 years after its creation.   It was always way ahead of its time.  I believe that we’re the first all electronic music score ever done for a horror film.  BIG PLUG HERE: there’s a MADMAN SOUNDTRACK ALBUM coming out on Vinyl and digital this coming Halloween. Like us and Watch MadmanMarzMovie on Facebook where all of our upcoming details and dialogue with our fanz takes place.  The more fanz the merrier, so please like us.  The more fanz we have the better our case to studios and equity investors that we deserve a remake, which I’ve been actively working on.  IMHO the horror genre cycles between it’s sub groups and the Zombies, Vampires and Paranormals have had the screens for a while now.  Slasher Style.. not so much. Therefore, I think it’s time to “bring back slashy."

80's Horror; The Madman Blu-Ray sales have been impressive, reaching number one in the Horror category. A re-imagining, remake or sequel would seem to be imminent.  What are your plans to further the franchise from here?

"You betcha!" as that woman from Alaska would say.  We are definitely working toward a reboot of the franchise starting with remaking MADMAN and following that up with HUNT THE MADMAN,  an action-horror sequel that will take the survivors of MADMAN on a perilous adventure to find and destroy him.
Beyond that is the PREQUEL which I was inspired to sketch out after a Facebook Fan asked me, “What made Madman go mad?”  It got me to thinking and THIRTY MOONS TO MADNESS was born.  It goes back in time and covers the final 30 days that led MARZ to go over the edge and it’s full of twists and turns you wouldn’t believe.   In the effort to set up the MADMAN MARZ reboot I just spent a solid weekend in LA pitching it to 15 production companies, including Blumhouse, who’s been putting out great horror.  Cross your fingers or better yet, use them to bug them and your favorite production companies and/or distributors to get behind a MADMAN REBOOT.

80's Horror; Do you still have any contact with other members of the original cast and crew?

Absolutely.  In fact, several of them will be coming with me on June 13th to the Hudson Horror Show in Poughkeepsie, NY on June 13th.  I’ll name them:  Paul MADMAN Ehlers,  Jimmy RICHIE Steele (the jackass kid that screamed Marz’s name out against Max’s warnings) and this is an exclusive first because I just found out about it today and haven’t even announced it the Chris Alo at the Hudson Horror Show yet… the inimitable and rarely seen except on film, Michael DIPPY Sullivan.  For the autograph seekers, RICHIE and DIPPY are very rare treats.

80's Horror; Your involvement with the film industry began long before the internet, YouTube, and the proliferation of digital video technology. Do you think the digital age has had a negative or positive effect on the film industry?

IMHO every technological advance in society is a two edged sword.  Having said that, here’s my take:
The good news of digital is that it’s less expensive and easier to make hi quality movies and television.
The bad news is there’s so much being made now, not all of it great, that the marketplace is getting very cluttered.
The good news though, is that there’s lots of great, authentic new work being presented.
The bad news is that some of it ain’t so great or authentic and is often a lot of copycatting or studios redoing former hits poorly and ad nauseam.
The good news is that there are more and more outlets to watch what we want to see now matter where we are: Cell phone, Tablets, pico projectors, awesome   home screens.  It’s great.
The bad news is that it’s hard to keep up with all of it and still have a life.
The good news is also the resurgence of great television because of HD and now 4K technology and harnessing the power of the net and the cloud.
The bad news for filmmakers is trying to get into that market before it’s completely run by the majors. It still takes marketing to be found. And that costs money.
The good news though, is that the new approach by Netflix and Amazon and the others, of releasing complete seasons all at once, is that more product will have to be made to keep up.  Therefore, there’s more opportunities for movie-makers, storytellers to get their works picked up.

   Bottom line, technology’s all good for us consumers. We’re getting more movies for less money and they’re fucking amazing to watch.  I remember the early days of movies on VHS tapes that cost $69 each when they came out.
Today, we’re paying $10 or under for electronic download to own and like $3.99 or less to rent on demand.  And frickin’ Amazon Prime and others let you get a bunch of movies and television  for FREE.
Reminds me of what happened to long distance phone charges.  They went from $2 a minute in the early 80's to becoming a free-bee add-on or cheap charge on your cable or cell  bill today.

   Indie Filmmakers, as usual, will have to learn how to work the new system to get their movies made and out there.  BTW, I cringe whenever I write or say “filmmakers” because hardly anyone but Tarantino and Nolan are shooting film anymore.  Movie-Makers or Media-makers are more appropriate terms these days.  That said, I’ve been very honoring of film lately because of the work I was able to do restoring my 35mm negative to 4K digital and giving it a new life on Blu-ray and maybe even on TV where many broadcasters are adopting 4K for transmission.  Y’know film really has archival longevity that far outlasts anything on digital as it is today.   My 35mm negative was kept in a proper vault for its first 20 years of life but then we couldn’t afford the fees and me and my late partner/director, Joe Giannone, moved it into first his parent’s basement and then into their uninsulated garage where it spent 30 degree winters and 80+ degree summers with no humidity control for the last 15 years.
Astoundingly, that neg was still in great shape and turned out our stunning Blu-ray file.

   Currently, digital archival elements may only last about 10 years and would not live up to that kind of treatment and have to be reformatted to the latest hardware every few years or you won’t be able to read them if you get too many generations away.  In some ways, losing film is a drag.   If you think about it, as it is right now digital capture has to be at its highest level of hardware/software to achieve what film does right out of the can. I’m sure that digital will get better and better and I love it for the flexibility in post, where it beats film by a lot, but there’s something about the analog photo chemical process that is more human by its nature than a bunch of 0s and 1s.

In the end they’re all just tools to help us humans express the world we live in and leave something behind to combat our inevitable mortality.
Believe me, when I was pulling up my socks to go to the MADMAN set 35 years ago, I never thought that I’d be here now, writing these words about this movie, but that’s the thing about it.
This media is our literature now and it outlives us by decades.  Centuries even. Just think of all the books and their ideas that were written hundreds of years ago.
Guttenberg gave them the blessing and power of mass media by inventing moveable type and delivered random access to the readers of the world centuries ago.
No longer did they have to wait for the priests or teachers to read to them.
They could get the book from a library or church or store and read it themselves.  Over and over if they liked.
The advent of first, television, then videotape (VHS and Beta), and then CDs and DVDs and now streaming on the net, have delivered that random access to the audio/visual storytelling medium of movies and television and this is our new literature that stands alongside books, which will never go away.  (talk about archival longevity! Wow!)
Today, we all watch and read what we want, where we want, on what device we want, when we want.
Pretty, pretty magical to me. And exactly as Mr. A.C. Clark once wrote, “A sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

80's Horror;  Aside from your own, what are some of your favorite horror movies?

   Halloween, in it’s day, was by far one of the best constructed horror movies I’d ever seen.
Partly because it was an early proponent of the unstoppable killer but also because it scared and shocked  the shit out of me and never showed a single drop of blood.
Excellent use of classical suspense and shock techniques.
Fri13 is also high on my list because of they did such a good job of creating a world with kids we could believe (back in the day of course) BTW,..  R.I.P. dear Betsy Palmer you blew our minds.
The first OMEN, though not quite horror,  chilled me to the bone with its amazing performances and skilled, spooky storytelling.
I like Jon Gulager’s Feast series.  The original Nightmare on Elm.  Halloween Resurrection rates very high with me too.
James Whale’s original Frankenstein of course.
Hammer films just jumped into my head.  And Dario Argento.
They all have there styles and all have a place in the pantheon of the dark side of humanity.
Man, theres’ so many, it’s crushing my brain to try to think of them all, but you get the idea.

80's Horror; Please share some trivia or any interesting tidbits about the making of Madman.

Madman 1982 Original Poster 1
Madman 1982 Original Poster 2Madman Paul Ehlers was hired to be a genre consultant and design our poster, but when Joey and I woke up one day and realized we’d still not cast a good Madman, I suggested that we cast Paul because he was a martial artist, a lover of the genre and full of passion for the part (which has no dialogue) and it was the one of the best choices we ever made.

Here’s two for one trivia:
Paul’s wife was pregnant at the time of the shoot and he wanted to be at the birth, which was at a hospital about ten miles away from where we were.  It was 1980— no cell phones— not net— so I got him a beeper… not even digital … just a black box that beeped.  We gave the number to his wife and she know to call it when she went into labor.   We always attached the beeper to somewhere on his costume.  One night, while we were shooing the, now iconic, back-lit scene of him coming at the camera with axe in hand, the beeper went off.  Right then, in full drag with blood on his costume and all, he jumped into his car and drove off to the hospital.  When he rushed up to the front desk asking for the MATERNITY WARD, the person there asked if he was sure he didn’t want THE EMERGENCY ROOM.     That night, Jonathan Sebastian Ehlers was born.   He’s now a writer/ director of films in LA and just released his first feature, INK and STEEL. It can be streamed online through Ne Flix and Amazon.  I highly recommend it.  Excellent work.

I was almost killed during the shoot while shooting production stills and getting to close to an explosion effect when a piece of sugar glass hit me between the eyes and drew blood.  Any sharper or more forceful and I might not be writing this today.

MADMAN COMPOSER, Stephen Horelick, went on to win a Grammy for his work on PBS's, Reading Rainbow with Lavar Burton.

80's Horror; Thanks again Gary for sharing your story with us!
My pleasure, Anthony.  Thank you. Your fan-ship and help to promote MADMAN are greatly appreciated.

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