John Huff

John Huff is a veteran writer who has worked as a story editor for MGM Television. He likes to spread his talent around and as a consequence he's worked for every major studio in Hollywood. Huff's first break through came when he got the opportunity to work on
Kolchak: The Nightstalker. Over the years he has been responsible for contributing to shows that shaped the minds of a generation: CHiPs, Fall Guy, Knightrider, Street Hawk, 240 Robert, Glitter, and Barbary Coast. He also co-wrote the feature, Hunter's Moon starring Burt Reynolds, Keith Carradine, Pat Hingle and Charles Napier. John met Cyxork 7's producer and co-writer Andreas Kossak on the set of Howling VII. They became writing partners and after turning out a number of screenplays over the years, they focussed their satiric attention on the movie industry phenomena of 'sequelitis' and 'Reality TV.' Cyxork 7 was born and Huff was chosen to direct. Darren Rea caught up with him as Cyxork 7
was released on DVD...

Darren Rea: How did you originally get involved with Cyxork 7 and what was it about the script that appealed to you?

John Huff: The original idea of a film crew that finds a new level of meaning in the midst of an apocalypse appealed to me both as comedy and drama. I sat on a few pages of treatment for several years. I tried to get Clever Bill Emory interested in that but it was no go.

"How many fingers am I holding up?" - Director John Huff checking that Ray Wise has not turned up to work drunk on the set of Cyxork 7

After more time I got re-animated about the project and asked Andreas Kossak to look at a script I had produced in the meantime. He felt some of my narrative was treacly and sentimental which is probably correct. He saw a potential for something darker. My original treatment and scripts had killed off everyone or almost everyone at the end so I was intrigued with how to make it darker. The answer, of course, was in the type of comedy.

We both appreciated one of the greatest comedies ever done, Dr Strangelove, directed by Stanley Kubrick. It is an eminent film, a perfect film. To aim our little script into that comedic galaxy was daunting and exciting. One does not do comedies first out. It is better wisdom to do a picture with a buff woman in panties and bra, alone in a house with only a hatchet and her wits to protect herself.

We were cocky. We went for comedy. I decided it was better to try and fail at Kubrick than to try and succeed emulating others.

DR: You've been involved with some of the TV shows that a generation of kids grew up loving (CHiPs, Knight Rider, Fall Guy and Street Hawk) how has the industry changed, from your perspective over the years? Would you say it's easier or harder to work in the industry?

JH: How has the industry changed over the years? One sea-change is the advent of computer generated effects routinely used in episodic TV today.

I date myself to a period when mastadons still roamed Beverly Hills without buzzcuts, but CHiPs was the last industrial production of its kind. In its six year history, to the best of my knowledge, there was not one blue/green screen shot. Other shows of the time routinely already used that technique in their productions. (Dukes of Hazard, etc.) Not CHiPs. It was a "dinosaur" in terms of: what you see is what you get. Old fashioned but comfortably real, practical effects that either worked or didn't but they were always neat.

Sonya Smith and John Huff talk over a scene in Cyxork 7

Cy Chermak, the executive producer for most of the series, once flew a very famous stunt driver named Joey Chitwood from Florida to do a single take shot that involved a real second story car-leap through power lines. Chitwood specialized in that particular aerial stunt at the time and was basically the best in the country. So Cy just flew him in from Florida to do it for CHiPs. The stunt team and stunt directors for CHiPs were the best in the business. Period.

Flying in a celebrity stunt specialist was indicative of how high the bar was on CHiPs every week. Often, as story editors/writers we would concoct what we thought were amazing stunts. And they were. On paper. In the real world, the stunt director comes down the hall to "get an idea of what you gentlemen (the way he says it, though you know he means "f*cking idiots") were thinking of". Then, being a literate man and not just a tough mother, he explains the facts of stunt life and helps you rewrite the stunt so it can be ("f*cking") done ("you crazy f*ckups").

I only had glancing involvement with Knight Rider and Fall Guy, but Street Hawk was a good concept that, I think, suffered from bad timing.

Back to Fall Guy. The original pilot for that series, written by Glen A. Larson, is one of the finest pro-forma pilots ever done for any television series anywhere. Look to it as a pattern for what pilots must and must not do. I broke into episodic writing with Kolchak: The Nightstalker. My writing partner at the time (L. Ford Neale) and I wrote three of those and the first, Bad Medicine, is one of the best realized examples of my work, and of Ford Neale's, ever. I owe that to the late great Darren McGavin, who with his wife, Kathie, shepherded us into the writing business.

Sonya Smith relaxing between takes

Would I say it's easier or harder to work in the industry? It's as hard now as it always was. The inbuilt challenge of getting your writing seen, let alone liked, always threatens to overwhelm and befuddle every generation of writers People in power are afraid to say anything is good because that affirmation can be risky for their careers. It's easier to say "no." It's easier not to read new writers. For the writer it gets down to that first contact and how one reaches that first contact, that first reader who actually reads and maybe sees something in your writing.

How to get to them? No one way and many ways. But lately, as Andreas Kossak and I have been visiting film festivals, we've been telling film students: DON'T GO TO HOLLYWOOD-unless you have a first contact. Stay where you are and do theatre and film and video where you are.

Hollywood, or whatever the UK equivalent is, is atomizing. This is because wonderful tools are now accessible to everyone. Film has entered its "garage band era." You can do a movie with a garage band budget. It's happening all over the world. We are in the early stages of a huge transformation in the art of film. It's more significant than the advent of sound and is going to have social consequences dimly imaginable now.

Filmmaking is accessible to the general population. This has never happened before. The rampant resolute populism of this is already apparent in the range of content in film festivals and video festivals across the world. So, in this sense, there has never been a better time to get your hands on the right tools and shoot a movie of your script.

You find an audience at festivals. You follow up with already-existing groups who have a natural tie-in with your film's subject matter. Doing a film is never easy but it is quite possible.

DR: Cyxork 7's tag line sums up the movie pretty well, but would you have risked your life to make this movie?

Sonya Smith, Laura Katz, Gary Robert, Starlene Hamilton, Cassandra Creech, Cynthia Chanin and Michael Maxwell

JH: I did. We were shot at during the production. I had to start a political/legal imbroglio that has (hopefully) now ended. So much did I appreciate my cast and crew for their trust and understanding that I did not want to blemish this work experience in my memory. They stood by me. I wanted to stand by them with as much hospitality as I could muster. You see, most of Cyxork was shot at my home where I lived at the time.

Also, as a leukaemia and chemo-therapy patient I've had the Reaper run his eager, jittery digits over my rib cage more than once. So, in a way, doing this movie was as important as life itself to me. It represented a quality of life I would die for, yes, without ambivalence.

So if a Coors-Lite cowboy shoots at me and my film crew, I can handle it, like Ringo says, "With the help of my friends." It ended up with four squad cars and deputies bigger than Hulk Hogan and everything was okay. We didn't lose a day or a even a shot. I've wanted to direct a movie since I saw my first movie: Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. I saw that enduring classic in the front seat of my brother's car, in its first release, at the Kansas Drive-in, saw it in "sh*tty nappies," as I believe you folks say.

DR: What was the best and worst experience you had working on the movie?

JH: It was all good because even the inevitable bad times were faced with a team experience. That made the bad times good. It was the best work experience of my life. I'm so spoiled it's not funny.

DR: Are there still things, that due to budget restrictions or time, that you wish you'd done on the movie?

JH: Yeah, I wish we'd included a sequence we never shot where Jacey Anderson (Beata Pozniak) is accosted on a lonely desert road by a boy and girlfriend serial killer team. It played well in auditions but Clever Bill Emory (you understand, I'm referring to our Clever Bill Emory, every movie has one) thought it was too grotesque for her character.

Photographic proof that the directing experience didn't affect John Huff's ego

In retrospect, I don't think so. I was curbed by concerns like that. If I ever get the chance to direct again, I will be a know-it-all, I'm sure. More boulders moving, certainly, that would have been cool. The shot we now call "Vick gets stoned" is our most expensive shot in the movie. About six seconds for twelve grand.

Just so you know my heart beats pure despite my aged appearance: Every time I see Vick get stoned I automatically think of Ray Harryhausen. That sequence, its framing, composition, art direction and what I can only describe as "kinetic joyousness," is my homage to Ray Harryhausen. "Nico" Strehl gave me that.

There are a couple of shots that include power lines too. I wish we could have had the money to wipe those out. But that's the way it is. Maybe in the HD edition.

DR: Are there any actors that you'd love to work with? And why?

JH: There are many living actors I would love to work with but I don't want to appear slavish. They know their names. Dead actors I wish I could have stood in the presence of: Brando, Clift, Dean, Peck, Tracy. Ladies: Stanwyck, Stanwyck, Stanwyck.

DR: If someone were to make a movie of your life, who would play you?

JH: An unknown. And well hung.

DR: Cyxork 7 is out on DVD; did you get involved with the extras? And can you tell us a little about what is on the disc?

JH: I asked for a cast photo to be included so the box isn't sh*tty looking and empty on the left side when you open it. Andreas went one better and included the very collectible print of the classic black Cyxork poster. Both are on quality card stock.

If you get a DVD without the photos, it's a pirate f*ck-stick and I'll bet its picture is not as clean as ours. Pirates do burns and they don't print "extra" photos, it's not in their heads. We defeat them with their psychology. This DVD is an imprint from a glass master derived from the HD D-5 original. I can't stress to you enough how good the eventual HD DVD is going to look.

Ray Wise, Paget Brewster, Cassandra Creech and Cynthia Chanin

The "real" extras you're talking about are still under construction and being produced. (i.e. just recently Andreas did an exhaustive, incisive interview with our editor, Alan Shefland. There are the obligatory interesting anecdotes, yes, but also a 101 course on film editing given by one of the best people in the art and trade.) We've also interviewed many of our principal actors and have some good material there.

Our special effects guru Nicolai Strehl (James Cameron alumnus) will show how he delivered special effects on a shoestring. Michael Negrin our respected DP will talk about HD cinematography in a high desert wilderness location. Our costume designer, herself a cult figure, Jana Marie Bonar, will tell and show how she created signature looks for each character. Andreas is planning a panorama of interest-oriented mini-films that, in aggregate, will be a crash course in both the art and business of the indie film. The good, the bad and the ugly.

This will come out after or during our preview release and we will not penalize people who have already purchased a copy. We'll sell this production profile (which might be several hours long or even a two-disc set) separately and at a reduced price. We want people who want this information to be able to have it.

DR: Given half a chance, would you do a Lucas and make Cyxork 1-6 if money was no option?

JH: Of course. Ideas have been coming to me whether I like it or not. Cyxork is a clammy, clinging f*cker. It doesn't want to let go. It thinks it's overdue for attention. It's jealous of Lucas. Kommander 88 cops to this in the script. I have to respect that.

DR: What are you working on next?

JH: I've written a western treatment for Sonya Smith which I've only told her about but not shown her. It's living in the drawer now. I have those files on Cyxork. Also, there is an untitled story, definitely some bench-pressing for an actor ready to do an inner odyssey on concrete. I have a police procedural novel in the drawer that I would like to direct but the giant Cairn Terrier barking right now is not heralding a lawyer with a contract.

If all this sounds febrile, it is. One gets many ideas which never become more than just that, an idea. And maybe that's all they were supposed to be anyway. All I know is that after this tender soul-searching I've got waiting for me a pizza and an ice cold Corona. Then I'll know what I really should have said, here, to you - but it'll be too late.

Life is such a predictable butt-kick.. I'll just have to work with it.

DR: Thank you for your time.

John Huff checking shots with DP Michael Negrin and script supervisor Kelly Leffler. J

With thanks to Andreas Kossak

Cyxork 7 is released to own on DVD from Gamma Gulch Productions on the 01 July 2006

Order this DVD for $19.99 by clicking here

Return to...

banner ad