25th Anniversary Academy Screening
As part of its "Prime Tech" screening series, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Science and Technology Council presented a 25th Anniversary screening of "Poltergeist." It was held at the Linwood Dunn Theater on Thursday, October 25, 2007, at 7:30 pm. I was very fortunate to be able to attend, and I had a great time. Following is my report. The first paragraph is an excerpt from a post by "BenThere" over at SpielbergFilms.com. The rest is mine.
Co-producer Frank Marshall relayed his recollection of "Poltergeist's" genesis; Richard Edlund allowed an almost word for word retelling of his recent interview http://www.calendarlive.com/movies/cl-ca-cinefile21oct21,0,812790.story?coll=cl-movies; Sound Editors, Richard Anderson and Steven Hunter Flick provided personal insight into their technical/foley work; Optical Photographer, Bruce Nicholson, and Matte Photographer, Neil Krepela, explained their work in the days preceding digital/computer enhancement; and Craig Reardon explained his work in terms of Hooper's and Spielberg's input.
It was very frustrating that they didn't take any audience questions, and also that the panel discussion lasted only 30 minutes. And of course that not a single mention was made of the "real" director. But, I expected that. The print looked fantastic; MUCH MUCH better than that Fathom Events "digital" projection a few weeks ago. And it was presented in the proper aspect ratio! The colors were so vivid, and I even noticed a few things I hadn't seen before, like when the tornado takes the tree away and Diane, Steve, Dana and Robbie rush back into the house, you can see the Tuthills in their backyard with a flashlight looking up toward where the tornado was. There was something I noticed about the print though. Even though it looked fantastic, there were a couple of scratches here and there, scratches which were actually removed from the recent DVD transfer.
It was great when the audience applauded during the specific effects scenes worked on by those on the panel. It was also fun to hear everyone laugh at certain parts. And of course during the end credits, people applauded when the names of the panelists appeared. I got the sense that many (most?) in the audience were industry people or at least those who worked in film production. As such, I felt a bit out of place. They even had a reception area with snacks and what looked to be an open bar for the panelists and their guests set up outside the auditorium. The Academy videotaped the whole discussion. I asked if they were going to sell copies to the public, and they said no. However, there would be a tape made available later that people could look at but only if you visit the Academy. Yeah, some help that is. I did make some mental notes of what the panel talked about, however.
Frank Marshall left after the panel discussion, but the others hung around for a bit after the screening and ended up talking with people in the lobby. My friend Justin and I managed to go up to Richard Edlund at one point. We asked him about the alternate scene (of which there is a photo of in the CD soundtrack liner notes) of Jobeth being dragged over the enlarged "spider" stain on the bedroom wall. Richard said he didn't remember that scene, but it may be because he did the optical effects, and this likely was more of a practical on set thing. Richard did jokingly mention how Jobeth's panties kept being revealed by Steven's insisting that the Beast pull her shirt up.
There was also a cameraman who was talking to Richard who mentioned that he had worked on "Poltergeist III." Edlund seemed amused by this. I asked the guy what he did on the film, and he said he was an assistant cameraman. I also asked if he worked on the re-shot ending which was done in L.A., but he said he only worked on the Chicago principal photography stuff, and said he hadn't been aware of the re-shoot. I wished I would have thought to ask Edlund (and the others who were standing around after the show) some more questions, but I was sort of "in awe" of everyone and seeing as how they had a lot of other people talking to them I missed out.
I did notice a guy who was wearing a "Poltergeist" T-shirt; I think he may have said something about being in the film (as an extra?). He didn't look familiar; maybe he was one of the neighborhood kids or something?
In the lobby, they had some items under glass from the Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills. The most interesting items were:
1. The front page of a very early draft script. The title was "Nighttime by Steven Spielberg," and it was dated March 1980.
2. The second was the title page of a revision of that script, and it was labled "It's Nighttime" and "Story by Steven Spielberg." This was dated August 1980.
3. A page that mentioned "Non Pot Smoking Scene" Continuity Script (and I think "Reel 16" was also mentioned). It looks like the studio may have been prepared to remove the scene where the Freeling parents get high in case they got any flack from the MPAA?
4. A page of what looked like "Script Coverage" by someone at MGM who summarized the overall story, and then broke it down into the major sequences after reading the script.
5. They had some publicity stills on the other side of this case, and in the one across the hall, had an alternate sketch and small model of the Beast's head which emerges from the closet, along with an alternate small cast of the version of the Beast which appears in front of the kids' bedroom door (both of these can be seen in earlier magazine articles about the film, and on this web site).
6. Finally, there was a roped off area with an early 1980s television set showing a brief "National Anthem" sign off scene and flashes of static. There was a film camera set up in front of it, and you could look through the viewfinder to see how when filming a TV, since the frames per second don't match, there is a flicker on video monitors. There was a plaque which explained how when "Poltergeist" was filmed, they had to design a new camera system that allowed television set images to be captured on film without the flicker.
As far as the awkward cut (when Jobeth says in the kitchen to Craig "And you're moving along and.." and then it cuts very abrubtly to the Tuthill's porch): That was still in the film. HOWEVER, something about it seemed smoother to me. Maybe I was just imagining it, but it seemed like the audio didn't seem as muffled when the actual cut takes place.
OH! One more interesting thing: at one point Frank Marshall was talking about the rotating bedroom set and mentioned how "it was talked about on the DVD." Both me and Justin looked at each other and almost started to laugh. What was Frank talking about? The rotating bedroom set was shown and talked about on the "Making of 'Poltergeist," which is seen on the old MGM laserdisc. Or, was the "Making Of" supposed to also be on the new DVD, but Frank wasn't aware it had been kept off? Hmmmmm....
All in all, it was a great trip. At least now I can say I've seen "Poltergeist" on the big screen four times now. Once at the little theater in the small town of Elizabeth, PA last October (a projection of the old DVD), an actual print at the 25th Anniversary Screening this past June in Santa Monica, the questionable Fathom Events Screening October 4th, and then finally a great looking print hosted by the Academy.
Some more notes on what the panel particpants said-
Steven had been developing "Poltergeist" around 1980 as "Raiders" was in post;
The script had come in (presumably the draft done by Grais and Victor) but it wasn't quite what Steven wanted;
Steven, Frank, and Kathy Kennedy spent 5 nights working at Steven's house re-writing the script, using books on poltergeists and hauntings as research. Steven focused on the family aspect and childhood memories to create the story;
Then Tobe came in, casting was done. They then looked at the script and said "How do we do this?" They brought in a team of people to figure out how to accomplish the effects "for real." They handed the script over and said "here's the scene...how do we solve it?" Later Frank compared the 150 or so FX shots in "Poltergeist" to the 500 in the new "Indiana Jones" film. Also said the pieces from the model of the imploded house are in a glass case in his office, and said it was really cool (tiny lamps, furniture, and shotgun shells can be seen).
The SFX on "Star Wars," "Empire" and to a certain extent, "Raiders," were fantasy based, but "Poltergeist" took place in the "house next door" and had to "appear to be real." They didn't really have time to design the FX because of the looming DGA strike (which ended up not happening). Many of the effects were made up as they went along. On set, they came up with ideas. For example, the scene with the ghost coming down the stairs, they used a 10 K light bulb to cast eerie shadows along the wall; many effects were shot late in production; Richard later described how the house implosion scene was done using the model pulled through a vacuum tunnel and blown up by shotgun blasts
Neil J. Krepela:
"Poltergeist" had about 150 FX shots in the film; many of the matte paintings such as the storm clouds rolling in had to be added over shots of the neighborhood that often had totally different weather going on; also added matte paintings of other houses in the neighborhood to the backyard set at MGM
Richard L. Anderson
Mentioned how he recorded hours and hours of "suburban sounds" from Simi Valley, so as to establish the reality of the Freeling's neighborhood early in the film. This way the audience would be fooled into thinking the supernatural intrusion was really happening later on. Said he at first wanted to use audio tracks that people had made of real tornadoes for the scene when the tornado sucks the tree away, but realized that the recordings made were very low fi and wouldn't be good enough. Finally, he ended up recording the wind tunnel type sounds made by the side vents on his pick up truck as he sped down the freeway. For the scene of the flying toys in the bedroom, said he recorded the sounds of toys being carried around a room in circles to get the ambiance
Steven Hunter Flick
Mentioned how he realized that the house in the film basically "eats you up before excreting you out"
As a result he recorded sounds to reflect this. Said he was in the shower one day and accidentally bumped up against the wet shower wall with his back. He later dressed in a wet suit and made audio recordings of the sounds of his brother pushing him up against that wall in the bathroom to create "wet fart" sounds. This presumably was used for the sounds of things coming out of the ceiling portal.
They spent weeks and weeks working on the sequence of the toys flying around the bedroom; as this was still fairly early in the optical era; back then they were all mostly young guys who worked well together in coming up with creative solutions that worked
Talked about working on the face peeling scene and the shot of the steak crawling across the counter; mentioned how he hid rods in the dark grout of the kitchen counter top in order to move the steak along. Said that after Tobe viewed the face ripping scene, Tobe told him he went into the bathroom to throw up because "that scene is really disturbing, man."