TIM FERRANTE, RAIDER OF THE LIVING DEAD
A Jabootu Interview
Ladies and Gentlemen, one of the most pleasant aspects of these interviews that I have done is that I have had the pleasure of getting to know some genuinely nice people. I’ve always been interested in the field of exploitation movie-making and the people involved, so discovering first hand that the field is populated with such warm and friendly people is gratifying. Here’s one now; Mr. Tim Ferrante.
When I was preparing my interview with Robert Deveau, Bob and I were having trouble digging up a still I wanted to use. Bob pointed me in Tim’s direction, and not only did I get the shot I wanted to use, but an interview with Sam Sherman of Independent International Pictures!
As much for thanks as for my continued education, I wanted to interview Tim. The results are below. Somewhat hampering my efforts in this instance were two things. One, Tim had already given some great interviews that covered a wide spectrum of his career. Two, as you will see, the internet is filled with misinformation. I put together some questions, and Tim was more than kind in responding. I hope you all enjoy.
1) As is the custom, I will first ask you to tell us a bit about yourself and how you became involved in the picture business.
To say I was in the “picture” business is partially accurate. I started early on as a theater projectionist and worked as a stagehand in an amphitheater here in New Jersey. In 1980 I was hired at ABC-TV in New York City as a screening room engineer where I ran countless TV shows, movies and private screenings for nine years. I met hundreds of famous people both in front of and behind the camera. My last couple of years at ABC was as a technical director and a master control engineer.
All during that time I was busy with outside projects. I was a writer for Fangoria and Gorezone and did a few articles for sister pubs Starlog and Comics Scene. I wrote for other genre publishers and the contemporaneous fanzines, too. I also founded Westerns … All’Italiana!, in 1983, a spaghetti western fanzine which, incredibly, is still being published today, albeit electronically. My friend Tom Betts took it over in the late ‘80s. You can check out his daily blog here: http://westernsallitaliana.
I also found time to work on Raiders of the Living Dead, and was vice-president of Imagine, Inc. Imagine was a horror entertainment publishing company based in Pittsburgh and my partners included John (Jack) Russo of Night of the Living Dead fame. The ‘80s were a very busy and productive time for me and it was through Imagine that I made the Drive-In Madness! video. After leaving ABC I co-founded The Phantom of the Movies’ VideoScope magazine with Joe Kane. I then worked with Sam Sherman at I-IP on the unreleased UFO documentary, Beyond This Earth, which was Al Adamson’s last directorial effort.
From there I went back into the publishing business and bought an existing magazine called GameRoom. It was monthly and dealt with hobbyists and enthusiasts of coin-operated amusements (i.e.; pinball machines, arcade video games, etc.) and jukeboxes. GameRoom was a very full time endeavor for the next 10 years and I sold it in 2005. Unfortunately, the fellow who bought it wasn’t a businessman and lost his shirt. He closed it October 2010.
In 2007 and 2008 I produced two soundtrack CDs — Mad Doctor of Blood Island and Dracula vs. Frankenstein. Sam Sherman owns these films so it was easy to obtain the rights. Rock, I could go on, but that’s probably more than you expected.
2) In 1986, you were given a ‘special thanks’ credit in a movie called Roller Blade, an obscure epic about roller-skating nuns (!) leading a rebellion against an oppressive regime in the future (!), which sired a number of sequels! What can you tell us about Roller Blade, and the credit thanking you?
Well sir, I don’t remember why I was thanked! I really don’t recall the circumstances. I’m guessing it had something to do with my association with Fangoria?
3) How did you become involved with Sam Sherman and Independent-International?
I’ve known Sam nearly 30 years. I used to see him at NJ film collector shows. I had no @*$%#^ idea who he was; I just knew he was a guy named Sam. He’d bring 16mm films and odds and ends to sell and trade. These collector events happened a few times a year. I’d been looking for some rewinding equipment at one of them when someone said I talk to Sam Sherman. I said, ‘Sam Sherman? Samuel M. Sherman? Independent-International Pictures Sam Sherman?! That’s him? NO WAY!’ I was stunned.
At the time, the company had been running ads for Russo’s Midnight in the trade publications. So I asked Sam about it and said I’d love to speak with John Russo. I’d already read every one of Russo’s horror novels up to that point and I was an enormous fan going back to Night of the Living Dead. I knew Midnight very well because I loved that novel. It had one of the most horrific scenes I’d ever read and the thought of there being a movie was just mind-blowing.
Anyway, Sam connected me with Russo who I later interviewed for Donald Farmer’s The Splatter Times. A friend of mine, Gary Dorst, then suggested I send the interview to Fangoria. I argued they’d never publish anything by an amateur. I sent it anyway because he seemed so sure they would like it. And damned if he wasn’t right! It was my first ever article in Fango. I was paid $200 and I just kept on writing for them until about 1996.
As things happen, I became close friends with Sam and with Jack Russo as well as becoming his business partner. I admired both of these men years before I’d met them. Even now, as well as I know them, I’m still enamored and awestruck. The reason is because the two of them, as human beings, are as wonderful as any “fan” could have ever hoped they’d be.
4) You scored Raiders of the Living Dead. Does that include the catchy theme song?
No, I didn’t score Raiders. The Internet is a fantastic resource, but it’s littered with errors. My correct credit is “Music Coordinator” which appears in the Main Titles and “Unit Publicist” in the End Titles. As the film was nearing completion, Sam was hoping to use an original score. The budget was very limited. My friend, George Ott, is a terrific musician and he agreed to be involved.
Sam suggested I try writing the lyrics for a title song. So I did and it was crap. No, it was worse than crap. I gave them to George anyway knowing he’d write his own. He wrote and sang that catchy title tune. It was engineered by Mike Penny, his live performance partner at the time. Sam then integrated some of George’s instrumental mixes with his own underscore choices that he pulled from a stock music library. To be clear, I wrote no music for Raiders. In hindsight, I think the film would have benefited with an original rock-oriented score. Had there been time and budget, I think George would have composed a very memorable work.
5) On your website, you mention having the time of your life during the production of Raiders of the Living Dead, but didn’t get too heavy into your ruminating. Please consider this your opportunity to do so! What was it like on that set?
For a complete understanding of the making of that film, I invite folks to listen to Sam’s commentaries on the two-DVD set released by Image Entertainment in 2002. Personally, I was excited to be working with my friend and the very notion of being a part of an Independent-International Pictures movie.
Keep in mind that it was two different shoots and Sam was doing a lot of work. Not everyone agreed with his filmmaking methodology. I would hear all of the various factions privately voicing their displeasure. Nevertheless, everyone worked very hard to put out the production fires when they popped up. Sam worked relatively fast directing scenes. He knew what he needed while at the same time knowing he didn’t have the luxury of unlimited funds and time.
I remember one day when in the middle of a scene the sound man suddenly said, “Roll out!” He failed to estimate how much tape he needed to record the next take and it just ran out. Another instance was someone forgetting to pick up co-star Bob Allen whose scenes were being shot that morning. Sam reworked the script on the spot and shot around Bob’s absence. He just kept on going and filmed a quick and simple scene later in the day that explained why Bob and the kids had separated. Oh, I did some voiceover dubbing for a few of the scenes that were filmed without sound and I also shot all of the black and white stills. Basically, it was a joy to be with all of those great people and I’d do it again in a minute.
6) Dave Kosanke interviewed you on your 1987 documentary Drive-In Madness! (as can be found on your website here: http://www.timferrante.com/
That interview hits the high points although there are plenty of other memories, of course. And yes, there is a DVD still available. Everyone involved with that video did so with their hearts and friendship. It wasn’t as though I was handing out pay checks left and right. I was still working at ABC, so I’d use my vacation time to work on it.
In the end, John Russo helped with the completion. He and Bill Hinzman (the Night of the Living Dead cemetery ghoul) shot the Tom Savini/George Romero interview for me. Russo also shot the supplementary drive-in footage of “Johnny” and “Shirley”.
Here are a couple of memories I rarely tell. I was waiting outside Forry’s famed “Ackermansion” for Linnea Quigley to arrive. A car pulls up and two women get out who I don’t recognize. One approaches me, extends her hand and says, “Are you Tim? Hi, I’m Linnea.” Having never met her in person, dressed in her everyday clothes without any makeup or styled hair … well, it took me several seconds to see it was really her.
Keep in mind I’d only seen this petite lovely person in movies and professional photographs. Hell, we’d all seen her naked in Return of the Living Dead by that point! The other woman was her hair and makeup artist. As evidenced in the video, Linnea’s screen persona is something very special. She is a gem and did the shoot as a favor, bless her.
As did Bobbie Breese and Forry, for that matter. Bobbie and her husband, Frank, are also two special people. So nice. That day she wore a see-through top without a bra. She looked sensational, but I knew I couldn’t use the raw footage because it would have distracted the viewer from what she was saying. Trust me on that!
When I got into the editing suite, I had the editor create a diffused mask to cover her breasts. When you watch her segment, look carefully and you’ll see a dark shadowy mask gently fade up on her chest. You do catch a glimpse of her true self, though! Off topic: Bobbie is a terrific cook! By the way, I mentioned a moment ago about errors on the Internet … IMDB has Sam Sherman listed as co-producer of Drive-In Madness!. That’s not true; Sam appears in it and loaned us trailers, but he wasn’t a producer.
(It really is a small world, folks! I was chosen to draw a Linnea Quigley horror comic a couple of years ago. Sadly, the project never made it off the planning boards.)
7) You are doing soundtrack and DVD reviews for VideoScope Magazine (samples of which can be found here:http://www.timferrante.
VideoScope started as a seed of an idea that I discussed with my wife and friends Joe Kane and his wife, Nancy Naglin. The original concept was to create a “Bargain Bin Video” review fanzine; to only review movies that we found in department store racks and clearance bins. The basic concept was weak, but suddenly we were all excited about producing something together. Nancy came up with the name VideoScope which was damn inventive.
Joe’s alter-ego, The Phantom of the Movies, was a very popular and mysterious columnist for The NY Daily News at the time. Long story short, we all partnered in a bi-monthly newsletter called The Phantom of the Movies’ VideoScope which he was able to promote in his column. I laid it out and sold the advertising, Joe did the writing and did the editing with Nancy and my wife handled the subscriptions and mail.
We published about 14 issues, but weren’t making any appreciable money. It was never intended as a hobby. Joe and Nancy wanted to expand it into a full-blown magazine. So we ended the partnership and they continued on. There was NO friction; it just made perfect sense to do it that way. They remain our close friends and we see them often.
I then went from co-owner to contributor and shortly thereafter I had my own magazine to worry about: GameRoom. More recently I suggested to Joe that it would be cool if the mag had a regular soundtrack column and he said okay! I also co-author a column called Split Screen with my friend Scott Voisin. I had hired Scott several years ago to write for GameRoom and got him involved with VideoScope later on. Scott is a superb writer and interviewer. He has a book out through Bear Manor Media called Character Kings (www.scottvoisin.com). I had the pleasure of designing its cover. He’s already working on its sequel.
8) Your sole acting credit is for a 2005 video feature titled Flesh Eaters From Outer Space. There’s practically nothing about it listed on the IMDB, so please tell us a bit more about the project.
Please go here for detailed info about that film and its creator, Warren Disbrow (http://www.warrenfdisbrow.
I have one scene in Flesh Eaters From Outer Space as a “mad bomber” fumbling with a bundle of dynamite in his garage. I hear a noise outside and that’s when the alien monster smashes my head into a concrete wall. I had a life cast made and my scenes were shot at the house where I was living at the time in Keyport, NJ.
The movie was actually shot on Super VHS in the mid-‘80s; it was released on DVD in 2005. I’m not sure of the precise year it was shot. Warren is an extremely resourceful and clever man. I admire his tenacity and dedication to filmmaking. He’s still active and you really should check out his website. Contact him and interview him. Tell him I sent you!
9) Mark Hason conducted a very nice interview with you (http://www.kqek.com/
I believe the Dracula vs. Frankenstein CD contains the world’s first “Audio Liner Notes”. As I was planning its booklet, it suddenly struck me to have a “Commentary Track” similar to DVDs rather than write the background material … let’s hear the history of this music first-hand! Sam is an engaging speaker and who knows more about that film and its music than him? So he recorded a fascinating track that I called “Audio Liner Notes” and the booklet became a collector’s photo album! I’ve never seen it done this way before.
I then added a ton of Independent-International Pictures radio spot commercials as another special track. I had admired the DvF and Mad Doctor scores for years and simply wanted to make them available to fans. I produced them with the mindset of a fan. Meaning, if I were to buy one of these CDs as an outsider, what would I hope would be on them and in their packaging?
Their sales were moderately successful. No one lost any money, but no one got rich, either! I sold half of each run pretty quickly to both single copy buyers and quantities to soundtrack retailers. Those sales brought each project into the black. For me, producing a soundtrack CD wasn’t all that difficult. Once Sam released the rights to the music and provided the source material I drew upon my experience as a writer, editor and print publisher. Not to mention being a lifelong fan of film scores and understanding how to sequence a CD’s listenability, if that’s a word. I had all of the skills to do everything that was required. A couple of friends, Michael Maimone and Nicholas Montano, were very helpful to me, too.
The discs were pressed here in NJ at Disc Makers and its driving distance for me. I was able to go there and have plenty of face time with their staff and got a wonderful tour of the factory. It’s an amazing manufacturing process and Disc Makers are total professionals. I didn’t know that each and every CD disc is weighed once the artwork has been screened on it. There’s a specific weight tolerance for a final CD. Too much ink and it’s rejected as it could affect play. Who knew? It’s all done by machines at fast speed, but it was an interesting tidbit. Once the CDs were finished I was able to pick them up which spared me from paying a hefty freight charge.
10) Now that you’ve managed to get soundtrack CDs on the market, and have been involved in various aspects of the movie business, what would be your dream project now? Anything big you’re working on for the future?
For the moment I’m content writing for VideoScope. One of my pastimes of late is having joined an audience casting company. Periodically they need people to attend game shows and other programs where a paid audience is required and typically seen on camera as part of the “set.”
I recently did the premiere episode of Food Network’s Celebrity Cookoff which goes on the air Jan 1st, 2012. We were required to mingle with eight competing celebrities and its hosts Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri. We tasted food, critiqued it and were interviewed about our opinions. It was a blast. It’s not quite the same as working on an Independent-International Pictures horror movie, but it’s still a lot of fun.
And Rock, there’s one more thing you need to know. I’ve been married for 23 years to the most remarkable woman the good Lord ever created. My wife, Jackie, has been 100% involved and supportive of all these crazy projects and ideas!
I can’t think of anything more inspirational than that! Thanks again, Tim, its been a real pleasure!
Rock Baker is a professional comic book art, bad movie fan and all around mensch. For samples of his ‘good girl’ art and various other goodies, check out his highly-recommended blog.