Saturday, March 7, 2009

Steve Rogers interview 6th March 2009

An original Pig In Space: Steve Rogers circa 2008

Andrew: Let’s go back to your first film in the Philippines.

Steve: Stryker (1983). Cirio H. Santiago. One of his first for Corman.

Andrew: And the one Cirio always said was his favourite film, as it started the busiest phase of his career!

Steve: Might not have been the favourite at the time, went way over schedule. He was still getting it refined then. He would never have spent that much later on. Weeks and weeks on location, lots in Ilocos.

Andrew: It was a real make-or-break film for him, though...

Steve: Went from break to make, I think... lots of pressure, over budget... but in the end it made good money, which is what counts.

Andrew: What were you doing in the 'Pines at the time?

Steve: Just hanging out. Had been down in Mindanao trying to be a journalist, got maybe a little more than I'd looked for. That was after peace corps.

Andrew: So you first arrived in the Philippines during a stint in the Peace Corps?

Steve: Yes, '79-'81. Eastern Mindanao.

Andrew: Can you describe what was happening in the south at that time?

Steve: Which time? Changed a lot... pretty calm when I was in Peace Corps, deteriorated very fast from 81-82 and onward.

Andrew: These are the final years of Marcos...

Steve: Yeah. Aquino assassination was 83. Early 80s Marcos got sick and lost control, and the assorted feudal lords kinda took over. We used to say the only government enterprises Marcos ever privatized were the army and the police.

Andrew: The South has always been portrayed as a hotbed of potential revolt and the kind of place you're likely to be kidnapped and held to ransom - particularly if you're white. What were your experiences during your stint there?

Steve: That's the Muslim side, southwest. That was actually pretty quiet early 80s, the scene then was a heavy NPA presence in the east. NPA practically took over Davao at one point, they used to call Agdao Nicaragdao.

Andrew: As the Peace Corps, what were your duties?

Steve: Pretty vaguely defined. I was working with a rural health unit, basically it was just about trying to find something useful to do. We had lots of meetings and seminars on nutrition, family planning, etc. Fixed some wells. More as a celebrity draw... having a pink in the house got more people to show up.

Andrew: Your were exotic!

Steve: Yup. Not a big foreign presence in that area at that time.

Andrew: There's obviously a moment in your life where you decide this is your home…

Steve: Or you don't decide and it just sorta happens.

Andrew: How did you drift into journalism after the Peace Corps?

Steve: Went back to the US for a while... I was kinda political then, thought that if Americans really knew what Marcos was up to the US wouldn't support him. Of course nobody gave a fuck. Americans aren't malicious, just ignorant, like everybody else. Problem is they have power, and ignorance + power is worse than maliciousness. I mean, can you imagine if the Philippine government had the kind of power the US does?

Andrew: Oh god yes. With Americans it's a kind of thoughtlessness.

Steve: Sure... like I said, same with everybody else, but with everybody else nobody notices. If a mouse steps on your dick you don't care. If an elephant steps on your dick...

Andrew: So you're in the States - what draws you back?

Steve: Boredom. You miss the chaos. Plus after 6 months in NY City I got this flash like if I don't get out of there right now I never will.

Andrew: You studied journalism? Writing?

Steve: Not formally. My parents are both English professors, I learned to write by osmosis.

Andrew: Ok, cut forward to Mindanao, trying to get work as a journalist...

Steve: Writing stuff and sending out out... like by mail. Didn't get much work. I didn't have a clue. Going out looking for The Story, getting my ass kicked, shot at, etc. Ended up in Ermita, drinking a lot and telling stories. Met Ken Metcalfe, who recruited me as an extra. Got on the set. Cirio liked me, I speak Cebuano. Ended up with some lines here and there, little stuff. Movie sets were cooler, after the battle all the dead guys get up and walk away. Some people romanticize real wars, like they're cool or something. In my view, not.

Andrew: Did you see much action?

Steve: Saw enough.

Andrew: Ken was a drinking buddy at the time?

Steve: Yeah, his mistress had a little place where people played darts and drank before going out to the girlie bars.

Andrew: Ken had been in the Philippines since the Sixties; he must have had a strange connection to the place. What do you think was his trip?

Steve: He found a niche. He was making a little money, didn't have to compete much. He was not an aggressive guy, once found a place he was gonna stay in it.

Andrew: Everyone misses him a lot, it seems.

Steve: I hadn't been in touch with him forever... wonder what he did when the movie business ran down. He had a heart attack long ago, apparently wife and mistress showed up in his hospital room to visit at the same time. It was said to have been quite a scene!

Andrew: You and Ken were in Searchers Of The Voodoo Mountain (1985) together.

Steve: Must say I didn't much care for Bobby [Suarez]. Quite the opposite of Cirio. Not a fun shoot.

Andrew: Bobby's renowned for being a real firebrand.

Steve: One way of putting it. Also kind of a weird cast. Would have been much more tolerable with a few Pigs around. Off a set and on a set are very different. He trips on the power. Bigtime. There are very few scenarios that give one person as much control over others as that of a director/producer on a Philippine movie set. He was not as bad as Vitt Romero. That is the essence of damning with faint praise.

Andrew: Oh yeah, Firebird Conspiracy...

Andrew: Firebird Catastrophe! That's a movie with enough stories for 3. Enough shooting days for 7, of course. He went completely berserk. Completely.

Andrew: What set him off? A feeling of absolute power?

Steve: That and other things. He was a little off to start with. Ambition out of proportion to budget and no effective control. He actually had some talent, but needed an effective producer and didn't have one.

Andrew: Premiere at its inception was like a family dynasty, with the Santiagos as the Sun Kings.

Steve: Yup. A very Filipino system. My first script was for Spyder (1988). We worked hard on that. Could have been better than it was. The leads were awful, though some of the supporting work was quite good.

Andrew: That seems par for the course though... especially on some of the Corman-distributed pictures. AWFUL leads. Was it Roger who picked 'em?

Steve: I guess…

Andrew: Whereas the supporting cast are always well-seasoned veterans!

Steve: Chosen by the director, unlike the leads.

Andrew: What was your first experiences on the set of Stryker?

Steve: Hmmm... not sure which ones came first. Pretty bizarre scene really, but after Mindanao... Don't even remember where we were first day. Burgos I think, but not sure. Or the dunes. The dunes sucked. Hotter than fuck, no shade, and we were all in black vinyl.

Andrew: Regulation Apocalypse wear, right?

Steve: Standard issue!

Andrew: So Cirio's barking orders...

Steve: ADs bark orders. Directors mutter sotto voce to ADs. Unless the director is Bobby. I once saw exactly that scenario in real life, one of the weirdest scenes ever seen... It was right after Pinatubo, at Clark. The air force had bailed completely. A bunch of retirees had got hold of a bulldozer and plowed a runway. Ash everywhere, mountains of it. Grey sky, grey ash. All these big bellied guys in leather with ZZ top beards and little filipina hooker girlfriends having drag races with old muscle cars and Harleys. The ground was still shaking like a bass guitar string. It was like... whoah, the movies just got real.

Andrew: The End is nigh!!!

Steve: The end had already come!

Andrew: Right! I'm imagining a day on a Cirio set is like two on a normal one?

Steve: Not sure what "normal" is... There were easier people to work with, also harder ones. The Israelis were among the worst. Cannon. Lots of accidents. The mellowest shoots I was ever on were with an Italian director, Antonio Margheriti. Great guy, super easy. And he shot as much in a day as the Israelis with all their shrieking and cursing. Eddie Romero also great fun to work with, nice guy. Platoon (1986) was cool. A few others. The one we shot in Baguio with Cirio was maybe the high point in terms of just having fun with it.

Andrew: Which film did you do for Cannon?

Steve: A bunch. Forget the names. Missing in Action, various American Ninji. We used to assume the plural of ninja is ninji. That may not be right. I wrote a very funny script once with Butch Perez. Never got made of course, but it still makes me laugh.Vietnam black comedy. The company has serviced an Australian production and had a big set and lots of props left over. Marilyn Ong. What a bitch. We used to talk of starting an organization called "Kapisanan ng mga Binarat ni Marilyn Ong".

Andrew: Eastern Films Management Corporation? With Tony Ginnane?

Steve: Eastern, yeah. We did 2 scripts for them, they didn't make either. The other was based on the premise that we could use the Bataan nuclear plant as a set. My idea. I figured it would be cool to have the most expensive movie set ever made...

Andrew: Jim says Ong and co ruined it for other co-productions.

Steve: They didn't help. Gringo Honasan didn't help either. The coup in ‘89 chased a lot of people away.

Andrew: '89 seems to be the year it turned sour.

Steve: Yup. The coup made a huge mess. I remember we had tons of stuff lined up for January, 1990 and it all vanished except some real fly by night stuff.

Andrew: Davian International (David Hung and Vivian Hermosa's company) kicked into production around '89 after distributing for a few years?

Steve: Something like that. We basically lived off him for a few years. I did some writing for him.

Andrew: Can you tell me more about David's set up?

Steve: Small. We'd work out of his house. I wasn't on that many of his shoots, worked mainly as a writer. Though I'm drawing a complete blank on the names of the movies!

Andrew: Sudden Thunder, Triple Impact… with David directing those as "David Hunt"?

Steve: Yup. I wrote both. Triple impact was a kickboxing thing? Fighters as actors. I remember writing a line for one of them... "I'm gonna kick your teeth so far down your throat you're gonna have to chew with your asshole". He just didn't get it.

Andrew: So after a few years producing (and before that, cameraman for Bobby Suarez!), David wanted to be a director?

Steve: Yup. And he became one... And learned that producing and directing at the same time has pitfalls.

Andrew: What were his strengths and weaknesses (as producer, and director)?

Steve: I don't think he really knew enough about the nuts and bolts to direct. It's something everyone thinks they can do. Every director needs someone behind him with a mallet. That's the producer. And when it's the same person... Nice guy though, I liked working with him.

Andrew: At the time, could you feel the market start to shrink?

Steve: Of course. Though it was always hand to mouth. When you have a project all's well, when you don't, it's not, and you work as an extra for Cannon, which is like being in the Israeli army, but more dangerous.

You want to hear a funny Nick story, from the Platoon set? Oliver wanted a shot of a helicopter flying right across a blood-red setting sun. So one day we have just the right sunset. Sun sets fast in the tropics, so big panic to get it quick. There's a guy in the chopper with a radio, directing the pilot, because none of the PAF Hueys have working radios. Everybody's shouting higher higher lower lower and he can't get right across the sun. Major freakout. Finally Nick shouts "everybody shut up", and they do. Nick gets the pilot on the radio. Can you see the camera on the ground? Yes. Can you see your shadow on the ground? Yes. PUT YOUR SHADOW OVER THE CAMERA. Done. One take. And Oliver and his crew of geniuses got really quiet for about 5 minutes.

I recall a moment I had like that. Young American director and cinematographer. Arrogant as all hell. Prison scene. Can't remember the movie. They wanted a closeup of a foot hitting Curtis Carter's face. Young guy, fat, right out of film school. European I think. So they kept having Curtis take 2 steps in, throw the punch, and take the hit, and of course he was always out of the frame. They give him shit. Finally I'm like... fuck the 2 steps, just turn into the punch and take the hit, without moving. Done. Too easy.

Andrew: Cirio would have done it right the first time.

Steve: Right!

Andrew: You also did time with Kimmy Lim's Silver Star...SFX Retaliator (1987).

Steve: I never recognize the names. Most of them were shot under different names than the release. I must have been truly broke. Nobody worked for KY unless they were desperate. KY was Kinavesa, no? Or did he release under different production names too...

Andrew: Kinavesa was the company name in the Philippines, Silver Star overseas.

Steve: Ah ok. Office address: behind the pipes, Quiapo, Metro Manila.

Andrew: Chinatown, Santa Cruz. But the pipes bit you got right.

Steve: All the same pipes. But yeah, buried down there. Best bookstore in Manila used to be right down the street. Used to be a well kept secret.

Andrew: So the film with Kinavesa wasn't a memorable experience...

Steve: Guess not, can't remember a thing about it.

Andrew: Then there's Bloodfist 2 (1990), one of the last "big" productions in the Philippines.

Steve: That one I remember. "Big" in relative terms. Ernest, I think I was. I remember a funny back-scene scene from that one... None of the kickboxer/actors had actually read the script. When they found out that most of them were gonna get killed they freaked out. They though they all get to win all their fights. Then Don Wilson was like... Guys, don't worry, I went and read the script and there's a reason for it. The upshot of it all was I had to get my ass kicked because none of them was willing to get torn up in the scene where they establish how bad the bad guy is. Of course it didn't work so well, beating me up is not the most impressive feat.

Andrew: Classic! the only things bruised were your ass and their egos!

Steve: As usual.

Andrew: It was one of the last "big" films for Corman made in the 'Pines.

Steve: Why did they stop?

Andrew: The others were much smaller releases, like Killzone, Live By The Fist...

Why? Relocating their operations to America or South America.

Steve: As far as I could tell it just kind of died. I drifted away from it, heard about stuff once in a while.

Andrew: The VHS market was shrinking, and cable was biting into the direct-to-video market. As a result, companies like Concorde scaled down their operations back to home base, or nearer the US.

Steve: Every once in a while I still hear this "hey, I saw you in a movie" thing.

Andrew: Those films are in full revival right now, especially the Cirio ones.

Steve: I also got the feeling that local producers were always trying to spend less and keep more of the budget. Even Cirio, though not to the extent of outright fraud. That lifestyle is not cheap to maintain. Always the temptation to shave and save on the operational end. Have you ever seen a picture of the old Premiere generator truck? That thing was in antique in WW2.

Andrew: No, just the jeepneys used to transport the cast and crew!

Steve: I wonder if I have one... haven't looked through those pix in ages. I did find a great one of Henry with a Fundadorean Pig, the official cocktail of the pigs in space. You haven't heard of that one? We used to have a very nicely polished bamboo tube that we used as a sort of bong. Insert a joint in one end, etc.

Andrew: I've seen it... held it even!!

Steve: Anyway, if you flame Fundador Brandy in a big snifter, then get the tube full of smoke, you can roll the smoke down into the snifter and get a layer of hot brandy, then a layer of smoke. So you uncover, suck the smoke off (mixed with brandy fumes), and take a taste of brandy to finish. Killer high. But if you tip the snifter while you're sucking the smoke, you inhale brandy and bad things happen. I think that happened to Johnny Depp once. I wonder if he remembers, and if he'd admit it. He was just a wide-eyed rookie kid then, Platoon.

The Pigs In Space circa 1985 (left to right): Steve Rogers, Nick Nicholson, Don Gordon Bell, Henry Strzalkowski

Andrew: So who, how and where did the "Pigs in Space" moniker come about?

Steve: I think during that shoot in Baguio, forgot the name of it, but we were the dope growers. Pigs In Space was from the Muppets, a Miss Piggy thing.

Andrew: Do you remember who came up with the name?

Steve: No. I wonder if anyone remembers. Or it could have been during Hell Camp. I have a vague notion that some snotty female said we were a bunch of pigs, and it all went on from there. But that could be wrong.

Andrew: It's a good story!

Steve: It works... and we were arguably a bit on the piggish side, especially on first impression. It was a fairly raucous time.

Andrew: So the core members were...

Steve: Nick, Henry, Don, me. Bill Kipp, who has pretty much vanished. Rafael Schulz, who wasn't in the movies so much but was a good friend.

Andrew:...and bamboo tube buddy?

Steve: Bill Steis was an honorary Pig. Rafael actually made the tube.

Andrew: And I'm assuming the rules for membership were a prodigious appetite for...

Steve: Lots of prodigious appetites were generally involved, but they weren't core criteria. I mean, lots of people who shared the appetites were not Pigs.

Andrew: What did it take to be a Pig?

Steve: A perverse sense of humor was necessary. And when the shit hit the fan, as it occasionally did, you had to be reliable. The fun was a big part of it, but in that world your friends were your security. We trusted each other, and with reason. There were a lot of people in that world who were never Pigs, or maybe were peripherally porcine but never made it inside. No conscious process, we didn't evaluate applicants. Either you were or you weren't.

Andrew: You "knew"...

Steve: Of course. It was a group of friends, really. Not organized.

Andrew: Do you remember the last film you did?

Steve: No. At the time I wouldn't have expected it to be the last. Maybe with David, but I'm not sure.

Andrew: What was life like between movies in the Eighties?

Steve: Right after a shoot, lots of drinking, partying, bars, etc. Then as the money ran out it would get more creative! Lots of time hanging out with Pigs, usually around our houses.

Andrew: No wonder you said you burnt yourself out!

Steve: Oh yeah. Lots of drinking, too much really. By late 80s we were mostly out of Ermita and living quieter, had to. Do that every night and it adds up.

Andrew: Ermita sounds like a wild place!

Steve: It was. Not so much now.

Andrew: Nick talks a lot about “Central Casting”. What are your memories?

Steve: Would that have been Raymond's aka "the hot dog stand"? Open air drinking area. The hot dog stand was where the pedophiles hung out. Each perversion had their own turf. Did anyone ever mention Godfrey Hazelton? He lived in a treehouse in Luneta Park with this completely deranged burned out hooker who actually died in the treehouse. He thought she was sleeping until he saw the maggots. Her name was Mercy, not that life had much of it for her! It was harsh. Behind all the fun, it could be really fucking harsh. You needed your wits and your friends or you could end up in the shit.

Andrew: You'd need a black sense of humour to survive as well?

Steve: Naturally. Although some people with no wit, no friends, and no humour did get through it. David Light, take a bow...

Andrew: Tell me more!

Steve: Nobody much liked David. Charlie Spohn once called him "the most cuddyput (kuripot) motherfucker on the face of the planet. But despite being a cheapskate he was constantly losing money and getting ripped off.

Andrew: Karma chewed him a new asshole time and time again, huh?

Steve: Yup. But he carried on. Cirio liked his look - tall rugged looking guy - so he always worked. Not that anyone could make a living at it. Looked tough, wasn't, but in movies looks matter. Hey, Rock Lobster looked tough.

Andrew: And in his own way, dependable.

Steve: David, yes, dependable. Rock, Not so sure.

Andrew: Mad Mel was another pedophile?

Steve: Yes, Mel the Antichrist. Robert Marius called him that, and it kind of stuck.

Andrew: It's like these guys would be unable to function in any polite form of society!

Steve: Rock Lobster (Rex Cutter) was a total closet case, but the closet had a thin door. God only knows what he was into.

Andrew:...and they find their place in the Philippines.

Steve: That's why they were in Ermita.

Andrew: I don't know about Rex…

Steve: He was in a few Cirio movies. Older guy, maybe late 50s. Also tall, rugged looking guy. Complete wanker. Word was he was on the run from something. He always talked about his Hollywood years. Turned out he'd been a Klingon or something on Battlestar Galactica, wrapped up in an alien suit. I guess Klingons were Star Trek, but the equivalent of... I think he was one. Maybe he ran out on them. I think maybe it was gambling debts. His real name was Frank Short, I think. He wanted to be called Rex, so he became Rock, and Lobster was only natural. We drove him fuckin’ nuts.

Andrew: Ha! I really want to explore this idea: the Philippines as a kind of frontier town, where outlaws and scoundrels come to reinvent themselves. Present company excluded, of course...

Steve: I reinvented myself a number of times.

Andrew: Actor, writer to name but two...

Steve: Here's another... River guide and mountain bike trailmaster as well...Gotta be able to function in multiple environments. I would honestly rather run rivers.

Andrew: A bit more about Ermita - how did the film companies find their extras?

Steve: Drove a jeep down MH Del Pilar at 5 AM and tossed unconscious bodies in. Not quite, but almost. Nick and Henry were the experts at that, I never did casting.

Andrew: Then came the Italian invasion in the early 80s.

Steve: Pagsanjan, they all went there. Italian movies and pedophiles kept the place alive. Did you here the story about the actor who dove in the pool? That was on an Italian shoot. Actor was German, forgot his name. Muscles all over, but blind as a bat without contacts. Rapids Hotel pool has a restaurant at one end, cabins at the other. Every morning this guy would come out of his cabin, stand by the deep end of the pool, flex his masses of muscles, dive in, and swim some laps. On Fridays they drain the pool. You can guess the rest. 2 broken arms! We were sitting in the restaurant watching, didn't realize til too late that he didn't have his lenses in and had no idea.

Andrew: Schaize!

Steve: That's probably what went through his head when he realized... That one required some script revisions.

Andrew: Major! The Italians, from what I've heard, usually had their own crews, so it must have been a completely different way of working.

Steve: Nice way. Long lunches, late starts, wine or beer at lunch. But they kept on schedule and got it done.

Andrew: Margheriti was a real pro.

Steve: Yup. No pretensions, he knew what he was doing and how to do it. Stayed cool always.

Andrew: Do you remember the film? Any of the actors, storyline...?

Steve: Not at all. Maybe one with mercenaries? Or was that all of them. I think I was only in one scene, was usually that way.

Andrew: Probably had Klaus Kinski in it...

Steve: We’d always wanted Klaus top bring his daughter, but he never did.

Andrew: I heard Robert Marius died a few years ago?

Steve: Did he? How? I had no idea?

Andrew: I heard it from both Jim Gaines and Bobby... maybe two years ago. He was still living in the PI on an inheritance from his parents' passing.

Steve: His parents were pretty wealthy. Wonder how that happened, he was pretty young, and seemed to have a relatively healthy lifestyle. Robert was into the meth for a while, wonder if he drifted back to it? Not good for the heart...

Andrew: Was he gay?

Steve: Totally.

Andrew: Then I think he committed suicide. It may have something to do with meth and his lover.

Steve: That I would believe. Bad combination. He was given to severe depressions, often involving that combination. Not a bad guy really.

Andrew: Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings.

Steve: Long ago and far away... still, sorry to hear it. He always had dreams about being a great respected artist some day, I think it bothered him also that he had to let that go at some point. And all his affairs seemed tragic, he just drew that type, or was drawn to it. Livin' a movie...

Andrew: And again, he ended up in the Philippines.

Steve: Yup. Obvious place to end up for someone with those tastes.


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