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 château 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 http://www.smtabet.com/The 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