Monday, January 4, 2010


"He loved everything he did for the boys during Christmas and he said, 'If I never do anything else, I'll always take pleasure and satisfaction in knowing that I helped some of our troops relax for a few moments.' -- Kathryn Crosby, on husband Bing's World War II involvement.

Boy, I wish I could have interviewed Bing Crosby or Danny Kaye, stars of the perennial holiday film, White Christmas. Alas they had been gone for many years. So, with the assignment of producing documentaries for a new anniversary DVD release of the film, I opted to seek out family and friends, hoping they'd share some fascinating insights about the stars. My gamble paid off, as I evoked great soundbites from Kathryn (Mrs. Bing Crosby), son Harry, first-class Bing biographer, Gary Giddens, Deena Kaye (Danny's daughter), Robert Wagner and Leslie Bricusse (friends of Kaye), plus several other fascinating people who knew these subjects intimately. Too often, these pieces become gushing celebrity tributes. My goal was not merely to honor these great talents, but to enlighten viewers unaware of their backgrounds. I feel it important to point out to new generations performers who once dazzled movie audiences (but whose memories may have fallen into the shadows). In the case of Danny Kaye, his comedic prowess only covers part of his multi-talented life and career. First and foremost, Kaye became the first major Good Will Ambassador for UNICEF, bringing smiles and hope to thousands of unfortunate children around the world. For Bing, I wanted people to know the enormous impact he had on troops overseas during World War II (even to the point of crossing into dangerous enemy territory to entertain soldiers). The interview subjects I chose eloquently spoke about these men and their accomplishments, unabashedly showing their emotions (in the case of Kathryn, shedding tears at recalling Bing's war efforts). Beyond the interviews, I opened a glimpse into the lives of these men by touring the cities where they lived (for Bing we travelled to his hometown of Gonzaga; for Kaye, visited a New York school and theater named in his honor). Hopefully, I did my part to keep these men's legacies alive for others to enjoy.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Sometimes, an interviewer just needs to set up the right situation and let the sparks fly. That's what happned when by luck, the stars aligned (literally) and I was able to bring together William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes and Whoopi Goldberg for "The Star Trek Summit" - a special documentary produced for The Star Trek Motion Picture Collection on DVD and Blu-Ray. As much as I prepared my host, Whoopi, with a ton of questions and was ready to direct the flow of conversation, this roundtable discussion became its own animal. I only had one chance to give everyone direction before the cameras rolled, then I had to trust Whoopi and the group to hold our attention. No problem. The most important lesson learned here was trust your talent, let them do their thing and stay out of the way. In this case everything turned out great.
Below is a sample. Decide for yourself.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

James Stewart

I once heard James Stewart ‘complain’ about shooting ‘take after take’ for Alfred Hitchcock. For those lucky few who were in Stewart’s presence at the time, it was hard to hold back laughter. Why? Because Jimmy was describing a love scene with Kim Novak, for the classic film, Vertigo. Hitch had staged this tricky circular dolly move around the actors as they embraced and smooched, creating a dizzying screen effect. In truth, Stewart savored every ‘painstakingly’ difficult take, since it meant he would have to kiss Novak ‘over and over again’. His dry wit disguised as ‘complaining’ won us over. This wonderful candid encounter with one of Hollywood’s best actors took place in Stewart’s Beverly Hills living room. I was part of the crew interviewing Jimmy on camera to hype a new release of Hitchcock films coming out on video, including Vertigo. A good interviewer--in this case veteran Hollywood Reporter columnist Robert Osborne-- knows how to evoke and decipher amusing anecdotes. As an apprentice producer, I took notes.

What I’ve learned over time is that everyone has a story. Everyone responds differently. Plucking out the best bites takes a good ear, patience, and concentration. I listen for good soundbite and edit points in my head as the person speaks, knowing that if all works out right, I can piece together the best parts, without losing the integrity of the story. It also helps when you’ve got a subject like James Stewart, known for sharing juicy anecdotes of his career on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. I felt very fortunate that day to be in his presence while he held court.

The Vertigo Scene

Interview with Stewart on YouTube

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Star Trek at 43

As Star Trek celebrated its 43rd birthday this week, I reflect on the enormous amount of interviews I’ve conducted for that franchise (easily over a hundred, including cast and crew). I’ve spoken with every principal member of the original series and each series thereafter. There are many fascinating moments on and off camera—emotional, candid, and just plain silly. Like William Shatner, who can just act plain goofy. For the first time ever, we paired him with Joan Collins to recall the acclaimed time travel episode, ‘The City on the Edge of Forever” (Collins plays Kirk’s doomed love interest). For every articulate, insightful comment from Joan, Bill would only ramble on about her beauty and sexiness. As Joan tried to stay on point, Bill would slip in aside about how ‘hot’ she was. I feared Joan was going to slap him. Another Trek original cast member, George Takei (Sulu), insisted on recounting a ‘dark chapter in American history’ during the Second World War. “Simply because we looked like the enemy,” he said, “we were rounded up and placed in barbed wired internment camps.” Then there’s James Doohan. Shortly before his passing, he allowed a rare interview at his home. Because of his ill health, James needed to read the answers to my questions off cue cards. Hampered by his struggle to articulate sentences and the amount of time it took to capture any useable footage, the interview seemed a futile exercise. But he carried on like the stalwart engineer he portrayed on TV. Then, toward the end of the ordeal, James visibly beamed and took the energy up a notch as he recalled his heroics during World War II. “I landed… on D-Day, number one off my boat,” he said, “and got shot 8 times.” He then unabashedly and proudly raised his hand to show a missing finger lost during battle. What a trooper, I thought.

On YouTube you can find more Star Trek interviews I produced:
The Cast on Kirk's love affairs.
Leonard Nimoy
Original Series stories

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


“We must go to Mars and I know how to do it!” he exclaimed. For what seemed like an eternity, I allowed him to rant, knowing that any interruption might break what fragile cooperation I’d been given to interview the second person to walk on the Moon. The passion Buzz Aldrin had for sending an astronaut to Mars caught me off-guard. As he spelled out in precise detail his plan, piercing blue eyes bore into me, pinning me to my chair inches away from him. If I looked away, I feared he’d grab me by the collar and shake me into submission. He delivered a compelling pitch, but seemed unconcerned with the enormous cost involved to build way stations and supply tons of fuel for the long mission.

We had been invited to his modest condo in Laguna to talk about Star Trek (under the guise of ‘great accomplishments in space history’), but I’d been told Buzz was no big fan of the TV show. As we set up, there was no telling this was the home of a hero, save for a few pieces of memorabilia. I was curious to hear what it was like to walk on the moon, who inspired him, and if shows like Trek inspire others to join the space program. Aldrin was more interested in discussing the faults of the space program than about himself or Star Trek. Eventually, I plucked out a few useful soundbites for my needs. Sadly, the meat of the interview remains on the cutting room floor, regardless of his fascinating insights.

Wally Schirra was the polar opposite of Aldrin. Full of laughter and whimsy, he admired Star Trek and Roddenberry’s clever use of ‘beaming up’ crew members from the planet surface to the Enterprise. I admire Schirra as one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts chosen to boldly go where none had gone before. Wally also provided one of my favorite stories as an interviewer. He told me that when he got the chance to fly to the Moon, he brought along special artifacts to leave behind. Not a flag. Not a plaque. Chicken bones. Yes, Chicken bones. Wally figured if the Russians ever landed on the Moon and ‘discovered’ the bones, they’d be dumbfounded; foolishly thinking life existed before Man arrived. And you thought astronauts didn’t have a sense of humor.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Real Deal

"I have no doubt that there are some cases where a person has feigned some mental disorder and gotten the jury to believe it."

I recently interviewed Judge Roger Boren. Doesn't ring a bell? He was one of the key law enforcement figures who helped solve the Hillside Strangler Case in the late 1970's. I'm sitting in his chambers in downtown Los Angeles to discuss convicted killer Kenneth Bianchi's failed use of the insanity defense.

"I asked Dr. Martin Orne to come in-- one of the foremost experts in the world in hypnosis. His examination of him ended with the conclusion that he was faking the hypnosis and faking being a multiple personality."

Whenever I conclude an interview, I ask if there are photos or footage I can borrow for our documentaries. Thankfully, I've enlisted Roger's trust --Boren pointing out that other filmmakers have not been so lucky-- because out of hiding comes a very special box. I'm allowed to rifle through all of the contents. But it takes a moment to don on me that these are actual case files with photos. The real deal. Having been exposed to so much CSI-type TV, it took me a moment to realize what I'm looking at--Polaroids of the crime scenes with the Hillside Strangler’s female victims, often nude. Nausea comes over me as I try to gracefully put away the contents. The images would haunt me for many days.

Friday, July 17, 2009


"People think oh fine, you take your clothes off and you go out. It’s not that easy to make it something that’s just not, a burlesque make it meaningful, ... that’s really admirable."

Dateline: Zagreb. Post-War Croatia. I’ve been given the green light to fly 16 hours for 30 precious minutes of face time with a major movie star--Richard Gere. I’m in a luxury hotel suite deciding what would make the most impressive backdrop for his on-camera interview. But why am I knee deep in Eastern Europe? Because Gere’s filming a story nearby that deals with the Bosnia conflict. I’ve no clue how cooperative this busy actor will be since the local paparazzi are hounding him and rumors are flying about a sordid affair with a female co-star.
Moments after we’ve properly lit the scene, Gere whisks in with his entourage: a high-end Italian makeup artist and hair stylist , a protective British publicist and an imposing Yugoslav bodyguard. After a brief exchange Richard disappears with his coiffeurs. I’m left chatting up the hulking bouncer. He fits the James Bond villain mold—all muscle and menace in a black pinstripe suit.
Gere returns a short time later wearing a blue denim shirt and jeans. Surprisingly casual. As we review the questions, I’m thrown off balance by his charm, easy-going manner, and lack of ego. He’s a regular guy. In fact, off camera we talk about our kids. Couple of dads swapping family stories. He shares his frustration for not being able to show his young son some of his best movies due to their explicit nature. “Officer and a Gentleman” No. “American Gigolo.” Afraid not.
Just before we launch into my questions, I make a point of thanking him for his humanitarian efforts and helping the Dalai Llama. Perhaps that helped, because the short window I planned for becomes a breezy hour of candid, revealing conversation. He freely talks about working on the film, including the difficulty of shooting nude scenes with Debra Winger (see above quote).

"The sexual burden was really on her during the movie and, and it’s not easy doing that,
she was always struggling to make it as powerful and as true as she could-- that’s really admirable."

Gere lets his guard down, revealing that at the time he was still trying to prove himself as an actor. He also admits how wrong he was about filming the climactic 'Lift Us Up Where We Belong" scene.

"We can’t shoot that scene, it’s never gonna work, never. It’s totally hokey. I’m gonna get pissed off shooting it.. and I picked up Debra and I took her out and I said okay, we’re done with that, it’s never going to be in the film (Laughter). What do I know?"

It also helps learning that making the film was one of the highlights of Gere's career. In comparison, this interview is one of mine.