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Here’s a test of your schlock cre­den­tials: are you famil­iar with the work of David Worth?  Chances are that you’ve seen some of it even if you don’t know him by name.  Since the 1970’s, he’s built an impres­sive list of cred­its as both cin­e­matog­ra­pher and direc­tor.  Here’s a tiny sam­ple of the famous names he’s worked with: Clint Eastwood, Shelley Winters, Robert Ginty, Slim Pickens, Donald Pleasance and Jean Claude Van Damme.  The films he’s worked on?  A small selec­tion would include Poor Pretty Eddie, Death Game, Bronco Billy, Warrior Of The Lost World, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, Never Too Young To Die and Kickboxer.

Read on for the first part of an inter­view that will walk you through Worth’s impres­sive career as a cin­e­matic jour­ney­man.  You’ll quickly dis­cover he is a witty, ener­getic raconteur…

Your biog­ra­phy says you decided to become a film­maker after see­ing CITIZEN KANE for the first time.  What qual­i­ties of this clas­sic film inspired your decision?

DW: Just about every­thing. Remember, this was way, way back in the 1950’s & I was used to see­ing The Mickey Mouse Club, American Bandstand, Maverick & Jackie Gleason… To all of a sud­den be con­fronted with this amaz­ing film told in a totally uncon­ven­tional man­ner, begin­ning with Kane’s Death, then a “sim­u­lated news reel” of his pub­lic life, then flash­backs of his real life all described dif­fer­ently by each char­ac­ter and then finally the rev­e­la­tion of “Rosebud” as all of his earthly pos­ses­sions went up in smoke…

WOW!!! I was totally blown away, and even with all the com­mer­cials, I still “got it” & that started me down the long, long road that I still seem to be on…

You fur­thered your pas­sion for cin­ema by study­ing film at UCLA.  After you com­pleted your stud­ies, how did you make the tran­si­tion into work­ing in the film business?

DW: When I reached my senior year at UCLA I began to ask my pro­fes­sors if there was some kind of an appren­tice or intern pro­gram to give us an entry into Hollywood after we had received our degrees. The answer was “No,” so since I had already been work­ing pro­fes­sion­ally, I dropped out of UCLA and began to pur­sue find­ing work in the film busi­ness on a full time basis. I shot small com­mer­cials, inserts, titles, built sets and finally began to find work as a Cinematographer & Editor…

One of your most inter­est­ing early cred­its is the unusual cult item POOR PRETTY EDDIE.  In addi­tion to shoot­ing this film, you are also cred­ited as pro­duc­tion super­vi­sor.  How did you get involved in this one of a kind film?

DW: I had been work­ing with the direc­tor, Richard Robinson, for sev­eral years at his pro­duc­tion com­pany Modern Art Productions, where I was the Cinematographer, Editor & basi­cally “in charge of pro­duc­tion” on sev­eral small for­get­table Westerns (White Justice & The Preacher) When we hap­pened to land a larger pro­duc­tion like Poor Pretty Eddie we brought on a major film cast headed up by Shelley Winters and a major film edi­tor, Frank Mazzola.  I stayed on as the Director of Photography and Production Supervisor…

Along with star Michael Christian, you put together a re-edited ver­sion of POOR PRETTY EDDIE called HEARTBREAK MOTEL.  On this ver­sion, you are cred­ited as direc­tor — and Christian has been quoted as say­ing you co-directed the orig­i­nal ver­sion as well.  How much direc­to­r­ial input did you have into the two ver­sions of the film — and what is your opin­ion on the two dif­fer­ent versions?

DW: As I recall, we attempted to make a PG ver­sion of what had been an R rated film that had not been accepted very well at the time. We real­ized that we had the footage to give the orig­i­nal film a softer spin and we attempted to do so. Richard Robinson was basi­cally a hus­tler who lived in the fast lane and man­aged to raise the money for the films that we did at Modern Art Productions. However, when it came to the actual film­mak­ing — the crews, cam­eras, lenses, light­ing, block­ing, edit­ing, etc., etc. — that was usu­ally, in a large part left up to me. Both ver­sions of the film did not make the grade. We had an amaz­ing cast and pro­duc­tion val­ues to work with but with­out a stel­lar script the mate­r­ial didn’t impress any­one at the time. Over the years the orig­i­nal with all of its insan­ity has become a cult favorite and rightly so.

The cast for POOR PRETTY EDDIE is rather amaz­ing: Shelly Winters, Leslie Uggams, Dub Taylor, Slim Pickens and Ted “Lurch” Cassidy all appear in it.  Word has it that Winters was quite a char­ac­ter on set.  What are your mem­o­ries of work­ing with her?

DW: She was an amaz­ing actress. One day the lights were set, the cast was assem­bled, the cam­era was ready and Shelley was sit­ting in the chair on her mark, “moti­vat­ing.” I was pac­ing around the set mak­ing sure that every­thing was in order and I hap­pened to glance at my watch as I passed in front of her. Suddenly at the top of her voice she shouted: “NEVER LOOK AT YOUR WATCH WHEN I’M ACTING!”  I real­ized that I had made the mis­take of get­ting into her “eye line” while I was check­ing the time and so I calmly walked behind Ms Winters to check my watch and see how were doing as far as stay­ing on sched­ule that day. I never took it per­son­ally, she was right & I was wrong.

Always give a method actor a wide berth when they are motivating!

In the late 1970’s, you also shot another unusual cult item in DEATH GAME.  The pho­tog­ra­phy is quite styl­ish in this film, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing a set­piece involv­ing in a large fish tank.  Since most of the film takes place in one loca­tion, what did you as cin­e­matog­ra­pher to keep this film visu­ally interesting?

DW: This small, basi­cally unre­leased film was very piv­otal in what I laugh­ingly refer to as “my career”. This was the first time I had used the 35mm Panavison Panaflex cam­era & I imme­di­ately fell in love with using it in its hand held mode. I had already done sev­eral 16mm fea­tures using the French Éclair cam­era and I decided to treat the Panaflex like it was a big Éclair! Because of our lim­ited time and bud­get, I often hand­held the cam­era, even for 75mm close ups of the actors, just by curl­ing up in a nearby chair and brac­ing myself. Instead of tak­ing the time to put the cam­era on a tri­pod, level the tri­pod, lower it and adjust it sev­eral times, etc. etc. By that time I could have done sev­eral set ups handheld.

Another deci­sion that changed both the look of the film and my pro­fes­sional life hap­pened when I decided to light the film to a 2.2 on my light meter but then to under expose the neg­a­tive by 3/4 of a stop by set­ting the lens to a 2.8. Because our star Sondra Locke has such fair almost translu­cent skin, she usu­ally looks over exposed on most film sets. My under­ex­pos­ing the film made her skin look great and in her mind this was the “best she had ever been photographed…”

She hap­pened to go from DEATH GAME to a film called THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, where she began a nearly 14 year rela­tion­ship with Mr. Eastwood. She began to men­tion me to him as a Cinematographer and even­tu­ally that led to my doing BRONCO BILLY and ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN!  So you can see how impor­tant a film DEATHGAME is for me and why I tell my stu­dents that even on the small­est films you always must do your very best work.

In your biog­ra­phy, it says shoot­ing on the Eastwood film BRONCO BILLY was com­pleted 2 1/2 weeks ahead of sched­ule because of your shoot­ing style.  Could you please describe the nature of that shoot­ing style and how it allowed the pro­duc­tion to save time?

DW: I had devel­oped my light­ing style pri­mar­ily from being able to study Stanley Kubrick’s film A CLOCKWORK ORANGE up close and per­sonal. Remember,this was back in the day when there were no VHS tapes or DVD’s. The only way to study a film was to go to a screen­ing… and by the way the pro­jec­tion­ist would not go back and play your favorite scenes again after the show for you to study.

While I was edit­ing DEATH GAME, our lab was MGM. When I sent for a box of “fill leader,” which was unused 35mm prints that were used for filler in sound tracks, they hap­pened to send me a 35mm print of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE with French Subtitles.

I was in Filmmaker Heaven. I imme­di­ately took my work off of the old upright movi­ola, put Mr. Kubrick’s work on it and began to run all of my favorite scenes for­ward and back­wards. When I came to the scene where lit­tle Alex kills the Cat Lady with the sculp­ture of a giant phal­lus, I was run­ning the scene for­ward and back­ward when I sud­denly stopped cold!  What the fuck? I could plainly see that Mr. Kubrick was chas­ing the two char­acters around the room 360 degrees with a hand held Arriflex IIC cam­era & an 18mm lens and I could see all four walls, the floor and the ceil­ing… But There Were NO MOVIE LIGHTS!!!

Mr. Kubrick had cre­ated sev­eral light sculp­tures con­tain­ing 100 or 150 watt bulbs, placed then around the room said “OK we’re lit…” and shot the scene!!! This was a moment of enlight­en­ment for me & changed my style of light­ing for­ever. Building the light­ing entirely into the sets or loca­tions so that you can work 360 degrees with out hav­ing to relight or break the actors con­cen­tra­tion is an amaz­ingly actor-friendly and production-friendly way of work­ing. That is exactly the tech­nique that I used on BRONCO BILLY in order to shave our orig­i­nal 8 week shoot­ing sched­ule down to 5 & 1/2 weeks!

The same year, you also shot a sec­ond Eastwood film, ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN.  This sequel to EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE fea­tures a chim­panzee as one of its main char­ac­ters — did that present any unique chal­lenges to your work as a cinematographer?

DW: I had already done a lot of “ani­mal work” by direct­ing the 2nd Unit on the NBC TV Series THE LIFE & TIMES OF GRIZZLY ADAMS so I was pre­pared to “wait” for Clyde if we had to.

We never had to! The trainer, Boon Nar had, Clyde primed and ready. Whenever Clyde came on set, he was ready to go and do all of his tricks. Everyone loved Clyde because he was always either kiss­ing Clint or try­ing to guz­zle someone’s beer. He was a very easy ani­mal actor to work with.

In 1983, you directed WARRIOR OF THE LOST WORLD.  That film had a very unique cast: Robert Ginty, Persis Khambatta and Donald Pleasance.  Would you care to offer any impres­sions or anec­dotes about what it was like work­ing with this cast?

DW: It was an honor and a priv­i­lege for me as a young direc­tor to make this film on loca­tion in Rome with such an amaz­ing inter­na­tional cast.  We all had a great time mak­ing this small pro­duc­tion in this out­stand­ing European city. Mr. Ginty loved play­ing “The Warrior” which we both saw as basi­cally “Clint Eastwood on a motor­cy­cle.” Persis was as lovely as she was hard work­ing and Mr. Pleasance encour­aged her to really spit in his face, when her char­ac­ter needed to. It seemed to give him motivation!

WARRIOR OF THE LOST WORLD was also the recip­i­ent of a mem­o­rable MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 episode, which has become some­thing of a cult favorite with the show’s fans.  What do you think of MST3K and what was your reac­tion to hav­ing your work used by the show?

DW: I loved it! I laughed & laughed. All of the MST3K riffs at the expense of WOTLW were absolutely hilar­i­ous! I’ve seen the show sev­eral times and it’s always very funny! Of course we take our work seri­ously but if we can’t step back and see the com­i­cal flip side of what we do then per­haps we’re tak­ing our­selves too seriously!

In 1986, you shot NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE — a film whose look could be defined as “1980’s action flick meets post-apocalyptic music video.”  How did you go about get­ting that uniquely styl­ized look?

DW: “The Look” of any film starts with what is writ­ten in the script. Then, the director’s vision as well as the cast, wardrobe and loca­tions have a lot to do with it. Back in the ’80’s pro­duc­ers used to ask me if I could give them the “Miami Vice” look. I would say of course all I have to do is use my Miami Vice Filter on the lens!  Then I would explain my lit­tle joke by say­ing that the “Look” of any pro­duc­tion, espe­cially Miami Vice, was the result of the needs of the script as well as the col­lab­o­ra­tion of loca­tion, cast, hair­style, wardrobe, pro­duc­tion design, art direc­tion.  Then the cin­e­matog­ra­pher would set up his lights and turn on the cam­era and “Wow”: the Miami Vice look.

You worked with another once-in-a-lifetime cast when you shot NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE — Gene Simmons, Vanity and John Stamos.  Any unique mem­o­ries of work­ing with this cast?

DW: John Stamos was hilar­i­ous and was con­stantly riff­ing about doing (almost) all of his own stunts and mak­ing sure that it said so on his resume! The love scene between John and Vanity was very, very hot and I think that she sur­prised him by how into it she actu­ally was. Gene Simmons was and still is and will always be a huge star… but see­ing him in Drag is still etched per­haps a bit too firmly in my mind.

In the late 1980’s, you served as 2nd unit cin­e­matog­ra­pher on a cou­ple of major Hollywood pro­duc­tions, REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS and INNERSPACE.  What are the chal­lenges of doing 2nd unit work on a large pro­duc­tion as opposed to being the cin­e­matog­ra­pher on an indie production?

DW: In a word, it was “thrilling!” These were huge films and I was for­tu­nate and hon­ored to be work­ing on them, espe­cially to be work­ing with the out­stand­ing 2nd unit direc­tor: Glenn Randall! He had done RAIDERS & STAR WARS and was a total pro­fes­sional. We had a fan­tas­tic time on both pro­duc­tions doing all the major action set pieces as well as eat­ing at all of the best restau­rants in Mexico and San Francisco. Unlike first unit, 2nd unit can be less stress­ful since they largely do their work on nat­ural loca­tions with avail­able light and stunt peo­ple, only occa­sion­ally inter­fac­ing with first unit or hav­ing a star come in for a par­tic­u­lar shot in a par­tic­u­lar scene. 2nd unit was a job that I really enjoyed and hoped would con­tinue but noth­ing lasts for­ever in our business.

On most of the films you’ve done from the 1990’s on, you fre­quently serve as both cin­e­matog­ra­pher and direc­tor.  What are the chal­lenges inher­ent to doing these two cru­cial jobs at once and how do you main­tain a bal­ance between the demands of each task?

DW: When I started to get work back in the day, I came up against what I liked to call “Gucci Bag direc­tors.” These were guys who were cute, had the gift of gab, man­aged to raise $100,000 then bought a Gucci Bag, splashed some tan­ning lotion on their face and declared that they were a “direc­tor.” Usually, they did not know about cam­era or edit­ing or even film­mak­ing but they “had what it takes” to make some waves in Business of Show.

I decided to take a long appren­tice­ship as a cin­e­matog­ra­pher and edi­tor before I moved myself up to being a direc­tor and I believe that it paid off. Being my own DP when I’m direct­ing saves me a lot of con­ver­sa­tions every day of pro­duc­tion and keeps every­thing stream­lined. However, I do not oper­ate the cam­era when I’m doing both jobs but I do pre-light the sets or loca­tions and take care of most of the “tech­ni­cal” aspects of shoot­ing as well as rehears­ing the cast before­hand. Then on the day, we kick ass, take names and get the job done!

If you want to learn more about David Worth and his career, check out his excel­lent web­site:  http://www.davidworthfilm.com/

And be sure to tune in to Schlockmania on Friday, March 5th for Part 2 of this interview!