REWIND FEATURE: INTERVIEW WITH SCREENWRITER KEN LAMPLUGH

We are proud to present another of our interview features. This time Sam Scott's recent interview with screenwriter Ken Lamplugh, whose next film is $40m THE TECHNICIAN, directed by Gary Fleder (Runaway Jury, Don't Say a Word, and Jason Statham's latest, Homefront).

First of all Ken, thanks for joining us. I'm sure the question you get asked more than any other, is how did you become a sceenwriter and what were the difficulties you faced before your first opportunity came about?

Well, you could say that I became a screenwriter almost by accident. In fact it was probably the last thing in the film industry I wanted to do, mainly because I had no clue how one even approached writing a screenplay! As a kid I was way into visual and make-up effects and early on had set my sights on attempting to gain a foothold in that part of the business. After a stint in the military, I moved to Los Angeles, enrolled in make-up school and also starting taking film-related classes at UCLA. Also around the same time I managed to get some samples of my fx work to legendary make-up artist Dick Smith (The Exorcist, The Godfather, Altered States), who was offering an advanced special make-up fx correspondence course to qualified candidates. I was very lucky and honored to be accepted as one of his students. So, between 1988 and 1991 I worked on a ton of mostly low-budget, mostly Roger Corman produced flicks such as THE TERROR WITHIN, TRANSYLVANIA TWIST, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, WATCHERS II. Worked at John Carl Buechler's shop on GHOULIES III (aka GHOULIES GO TO COLLEGE) amongst other things. Anyway, even though I had no writing aspirations at the time, I always loved reading screenplays. I especially liked comparing early versions of scripts to the finished product - I found it endlessly fascinating how things would change and evolve. So to make a long story even longer, around this time (early 90's), by chance, I met John Weidner, who was working as an editor at PM Entertainment. John had recently moved to L.A. from New York, pursuing his dream of directing features. After realizing we had the same demented taste in movies, we struck up a quick friendship. John had worked his way up the ranks at PM and was in a position to pitch material to Richard Pepin and Joseph Mehri, the P&M respectively, of PM Entertainment. For some still unexplained reason, John thought that I - despite never having written a script before - would make a good collaborator. So, after many hours of brainstorming (and equally as many pints), we finally came up with what would eventually become MAXIMUM FORCE, pitched it to the powers-that-be and low and behold they said 'yes!' Boom - instant screenwriter. Luckily for me, John had several produced scripts under his belt (most notably DEAD MAN WALKING - the Wings Hauser/Brion James post-apocalyptic flick, not to be confused with the Sean Penn/Oscar-winner, in case you were confused). He became my guru, my mentor. Everything I know about screenwriting I can thank/blame him for. After being produced, MAXIMUM FORCE was quite successful for PM, so they quickly approached us for a follow up. LA FEMME NIKITA had recently come out, so Joseph Merhi decided he wanted the PM version. He came up with the 'original' story, which we had to flesh out. During production, John got to dip his toe in the directing world, doing alot of second unit (and occasional 1st unit when Joe decided he had directed enough for the day). The end result, CIA: CODE NAME ALEXA, was not our favourite film, but it again, was successful. Knowing PM would soon be coming to us for something else, we came up with PRIVATE WARS, and pitched it as John's directorial debut. Given the success of our first two films, they agreed and off we went.

Your first two movies, "CIA Code Name: Alexa" and "Maximum Force" were directed by Joseph Merhi, who eventually focused on producing over 130 independent b-movies, many with his company PM Entertainment. Were there plans to work with each other again, or did opportunities arise elsewhere?

Soon after PRIVATE WARS wrapped, PM wanted us to write the sequel to CODE NAME ALEXA, but after three films in rapid succession we were a little burnt-out on what we called the PM factory mentality and decided it was time to move on. We declined their offer and were lucky enough to set up our horror script, MIDNIGHT KISS, with some independent financiers soon thereafter. We certainly appreciate the opportunity that PM gave us, but we ultimately felt we'd be churning out the same old stuff after awhile and we definitely needed to flex our writing muscles and expand our horizons a bit at that point in our careers. Looking back, I guess I can say I'm a proud graduate of both the Corman and PM schools of filmmaking!

Do you get to spend much time on the sets of the movies that have been made using your screenplays?

I didn't spend much time on set during those early films mainly because I was still working make-up FX jobs. I got to visit a few times which was cool cause you get treated with a certain amount of respect, plus just seeing so much activity revolving around some words you put on paper is always an interesting experience. It's always beyond surreal to see something you've written actually come to life Also got to meet some B-movie heroes of mine - John Saxon, Richard Lynch, Mickey Rooney and even... O.J. Simpson (hey, what can I say, he was a nice guy when I met him!). But ultimately, nobody working on a film set wants a pain-in-the-ass writer hanging around for too long!

Do directors come to you when they feel a change might be needed during filming, or do they just go right ahead and make the changes without consulting you?

Depends on the director. But when you're in the midst of shooting - in the heat of battle, so to speak - especially on a lower budgeted project, the writer will probably be the last person consulted if any changes are needed.

Which film are you most proud of so far, and why?

Hmm, probably PRIVATE WARS. Even though it was done on a smaller budget even by PM standards, it's probably closest to our sensibilities. We had some epic battles with PM in regard to tone on that one. They kept saying 'Why is it so funny? It's not supposed to be funny!' I think we were inspired by some of our favorite 80's action films like ROBOCOP and THE HIDDEN, so we kept trying to inject alot of absurdist, dark humor in the script which they definitely did not get. We figured if we delivered the requisite amount of action, we could have a little bit of fun with the other stuff.

You took a 14-year gap between 1993's Midnight Kiss and 2007's Body Armour. Was this planned, or did you write screenplays in between that so far have not been picked up?

Well, after PRIVATE WARS, I was still interested in pursuing a career in make-up fx and John wanted to pursue directing, so we took a bit of a hiatus from writing. However after a little while I think we both realized writing was what we were good at and what we really had a passion for so we reconnected and have been writing partners ever since. Between PRIVATE WARS and BODY ARMOUR we sold scripts, optioned material, did paid rewrites on other screenplays. Finally, around '05 we set up BODY ARMOUR at Silver Pictures and it took another year and a half or so for it to get produced. Actually, looking back, we've been pretty lucky in terms of actually getting stuff produced. We know many screenwriters far more successful/wealthier than us who have never gotten anything produced, so I guess we've been lucky in that regard!

Your newest screenplay, "The Technician", is due out later this year, and with it, you have a director who has made more mainstream and well known films than any director you have worked with previously (Gary Fleder - Kiss the Girls, Don't Say a Word, Runaway Jury). IMDB states this to have a $40,000,000 budget. Both these things must excite you right?

Very excited but cautiously optimistic at the same time. We've been around the business long enough to know there are no guarantees, so we're just taking it one step at a time. Right now, the project is very much still in development, but things seem to be moving in the right direction. And we're getting paid!

Can you give us a synopsis for "The Technician", and reveal any possible casting decisions (if you know of course!)?

Ah, the dreaded 'logline.' Well, THE TECHNICIAN is an action-thriller. It's about a burned-out SWAT sniper who has to go up against his former mentor, with every life in the city of San Francisco (or wherever they end up shooting it) hanging in the balance. One producer appropriately enough dubbed it 'SPEED with guns.' We know the director, Gary Fleder, is very keen on Matthew McConaughey, but given the year he's had and the fact that he's probably going to win an Academy Award, I'd say he's probably a hard get. We know Gerard Butler's people were very interested, but he's supposedly booked solid for the next year, so we're moving on, (which is actually a good thing, cause it sounds like they really want to get this thing rolling this year). Anyway, who they want and who they ultimately get are two different things - at this point, we just want them to make the bloody thing!

Have you ever been involved with any extra features for home media? If so, what, and if not, which film would you most love to record a commentary for and why?

Unfortunately have not been involved in any extra feature stuff for any of my movies, mainly because none of the films have had any extra feature stuff when they appeared on home video! Would love to do a commentary on PRIVATE WARS cause there's a lot of bonkers stuff there to talk about. Also, have a soft spot for MAXIMUM FORCE, it being our first produced film. Plus, it's kind of wacky in it's own right. Would definitely like to be involved with the extra features for THE TECHNICIAN, if and when it happens.

As you're aware, out site compares different releases around the world to help people decide which release may suit them best. Do you own a home cinema, and do you buy many movies? What are your three favourite DVD/Blu-ray releases and why?

Absolutely! I've always been a huge movie geek, well before I got into the business. Had a ridiculously insane VHS collection which I immediately dumped when laserdisc came along. Man, the amount of cash I spent on laserdiscs (especially Criterion) boggles the mind. Of course, as soon as DVD came along, out went the laserdiscs! Well, that's not entirely true - I still have all my PM stuff, plus MIDNIGHT KISS on laser. Also kept my limited edition PHANTASM laser, as well. So now, I've still got a fair amount of DVDs and BLUs, but definitely trying to be more selective these days, but it's tough given the sheer volume of great releases out there. Obviously love Criterion and it's UK equivalent, Masters of Cinema, but I just love the stuff that both SHOUT FACTORY and ARROW UK are coming out with. Those two companies are quickly driving me to the poor house! As far as favorite DVDs/BLUs, that's tough, man. Off the top of my head, I'd say the APOCALYPSE NOW (Full Disclosure) blu is a up there. It's one of my favorite movies of all time, so to have the original theatrical, plus the redux versions AND the amazing HEARTS OF DARKNESS doc all in one package is great. Plus all the extras! It's just worth it for the Coppola interviewing John Milius (my screenwriting GOD) featurette alone. The recent TAXI DRIVER blu would have to be toward the top of my list, too. They finally ported over the amazing Scorsese commentary from the laserdisc. The new 4K restoration of Verhoeven's ROBOCOP is pretty sweet. Also just got the Criterion of THIEF - looks amazing. Other recent acquisitions that spring to mind are Arrow UK's releases of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS ('78), BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, Second Sight's STREETS OF FIRE. See, way too much good stuff! I could go on for days.

You can purchase Ken's films from Amazon using the following links: UK: US: Canada: