MASTER OF THE BEASTMASTER: An Interview With Sylvio Tabet, Part 1

A good idea can take you a long way in Hollywood.  That’s certainly true for Sylvio Tabet, a producer who was able to spin the cultish success of his production The Beastmaster into a veritable dynasty that includes two film sequels, a hit television show and a few novels.  This fantasy-adventure series remains as popular as ever today and continues to convert new fans to its ever-growing following.

But that’s not all there is to Mr. Tabet.  He’s a renaissance man who started out as a commercial director in his native Lebanon before becoming a feature film producer in France.   He eventually moved to California, where he produced several films known and loved by the cult-film cognoscenti: Fade To Black, Evilspeak and the aforementioned Beastmaster to name just a few.  His career has found him working with directors as varied as Don Coscarelli and Francis Ford Coppola as well as directing and writing both screenplays and novels.

Your Humble Reviewer recently had the pleasure of conducting a career-spanning interview with Mr. Tabet.  Here is the first segment of this exclusive interview, starting with his beginnings as a film producer and continuing up to The Beastmaster.  Enjoy…

Schlockmania readers will likely be interested in the fact that you were a producer on Bilitis, a noteworthy example of the kind of upscale European art-erotica that became popular during the mid-1970’s.   It also enjoyed a long life via VHS and cable screenings.   How did you get involved and what drew you to the project?

David Hamilton’s pictures: erotic, suggestive, classy.  The commitment of Francis Lai (Love Story and so many others), a TALENT, and the fact I could gather all these talents: the upcoming star Bernard Giraudeau, not to forget Henri Colpi, who was the technical advisor on the movie…  and not to forget shooting in St. Tropez , in a fabulous property (today  “Le chateau de la Messardiere”).  I used to live on my 42-foot Chris Craft in the old port during the shooting.

Of the five films you produced in France, which was your favorite and why?

Each film is a favorite for something.  Le Toubib for my collaboration with Alain Delon, Cours Apres Moi Que Je T’attrape and Le Pion, for the laughs I shared with these extraordinary comedians.  I like French comedies.

In 1979, you made the move to the U.S. and started producing films in Hollywood.  Did a specific project bring you to the U.S. or was there a more general reason?

I moved to Hollywood  because I fell in love with Beverly Hills, its greenery, the ocean… and because hiking and skiing were only two hours away.   It reminds me a lot of my native country, Lebanon.  I grew up watching American movies, with oca and popcorn.  It was meant to be – Hollywood was my virtual home.

The t.v. miniseries Freedom Road found you working with the likes of Muhammad Ali and Kris Kristofferson.  Did you any have interaction with the aforementioned stars and, if so, could you tell us about it?

Unfortunately, I missed these great icons.  I was involved in the financial side.

Defiance was a gritty street drama, impressively directed by John Flynn.   It is interesting to note that it was released through American International Pictures, one of the premier independents of the time and a leading source of drive-in fare.  What was your involvement in the production and what was it like to work with Samuel Z.  Arkoff?

At that time, I had tax shelter funding from Germany.  Arkoff was an idol for me, Roger Corman, all these guys, kings of the so-called B movies…  I was raised with these movies,  a “rat de cinematheque.”  Arkoff used to smoke cigars like me so it was more easy to connect.  It’s too bad that Defiance had a limited release.

Fade To Black is a unique blend of the psycho-thriller with commentary on cinematic obsession and the film-buff subculture (a topic your interviewer can relate to).  What are your feelings about the film’s take on the dangers of movie obsession?

Movie obsession is definitely a danger.  In the US, most of the households keep their TV on for 12 hours, at least.  Lonely kids spend hours on TV.  When I  was 16, I used to go to the movies every night.  Thank God James Dean and Elvis Presley were my obsessions  and movies like Lonely Are The Brave with Kirk Douglas but history proved that these obsessions can turn to our “dark side.”  Fade To Black and Evilspeak won awards at the sci-fi festival in Avoriaz, France.

Evilspeak is an unusual and entertaining take on the horror genre, particularly in its early use of computer technology as part of its supernatural premise.  Do you feel the film was ahead of its time in this respect?  What is your opinion of the finished film?

It was ahead, yes…  I could not find a distributor: they considered it too violent, anti-Christian.  It was banned in England.  I had terrible problems during the shooting and the crew thought it was the work of the devil.  A quote from Khalil Gibran, from his short story ” Satan,” saved the movie: “Evil and Good are one, they cannot exist without each other.”

The Beastmaster found you working with cult-movie icon Don Coscarelli (of Phantasm series fame).  Coscarelli has said in interviews that you two didn’t always see eye to eye.  What are your feelings about having worked with him?

It s true what he said but I consider Don a very talented director and there is no reason we cannot work together again.   After all, we are aged…

It is worth nothing that The Beastmaster had an impressive budget for an independently-produced effort.  What methods were used to raise the money and what was your involvement in the process?

Impressive budget!  I do not know, we should have had 3 times this budget.

I come from commercials, I shot nearly 400 hundred of them.  Most of them were shot in Lebanon where budgets were very tight .  I had sets build strictly to capture the angle of the lenses we were using.  In Beastmaster II, I went to East Berlin to record the score, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Interviewer’s End Notes:  Your Humble Reviewer would like to thank Mr. Tabet for being generous with his time and memories.  Schlockmania also owes a debt of gratitude to Neil Butler, who made this interview possible.  If you want any further information on Mr. Tabet and his career, just check out his personal website at Beastmaster is available from Anchor Bay Home Entertainment and a sale link can be found below.

Stay tuned for Part 2, which will be posted later in the week.  There will be much more about The Beastmaster and its many spinoffs as well as tales of working with Coppola on The Cotton Club

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