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John Landis

John Landis at The Blues Brothers 25th Anniversary
Born John David Landis
August 3, 1950 (1950-08-03) (age 59)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Occupation Film director
Spouse(s) Deborah Nadoolman Landis

John David Landis (born August 3, 1950) is an American film director, screenwriter, actor, and producer. He is known for his comedies, his horror films, and his music videos with singer Michael Jackson.

Contents

Early life and family

Landis was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Shirley Levine (née Magaziner) and Marshall David Landis, an interior decorator.[1] His family relocated to Los Angeles when he was just four months old.

Early career

His career began as a teenager, working as a mailboy at 20th Century Fox. His first noteworthy job in Hollywood was working as an assistant director during filming MGM's Kelly's Heroes in Yugoslavia in 1969. He replaced the film's original assistant director, who suffered from a nervous breakdown and was sent home by the producers.[2] While filming he met actors Don Rickles and Donald Sutherland, both of whom he would later cast in his own films. Following this, Landis worked on many films made in Europe (especially in Italy and England), most notably, Once Upon a Time in the West, El Condor and A Town Called Bastard.[2] Landis also worked as a stunt double.

Landis recalled:

I worked on some pirates movies, all kind of movies. French foreign movies. I worked on a movie called Red Sun where Toshiro Mifune kills me, puts a sword through me. (...) I worked as a stunt guy. I worked as a dialogue coach. I worked as an actor. I worked as a production assistant.[2]

After his experience working as a stunt double, he moved to London and worked as an uncredited co-writer for the film The Spy Who Loved Me.[citation needed]

Career as a director

Beginning of a career

In 1971, Landis returned to the US and made his feature debut as a director with Schlock. He was 21 years old. The film, which he also wrote and appeared in, is a tribute to monster movies.[2] The gorilla suit for the film was made by Rick Baker and this would be the beginning of a long-term collaboration between Landis and Baker. Schlock was a failure, and Landis was not offered another directing job for some time.[citation needed]

In his own words, he "parked a lot of cars" during this fallow period.[citation needed] In 1977, Landis directed Kentucky Fried Movie. The film was inspired by the satirical sketch comedy of shows like Monty Python, Free the Army, The National Lampoon Radio Hour and Saturday Night Live.[2]

Transition to Hollywood

A still from American Werewolf.

In 1978, Landis directed his first film for Universal Studios, National Lampoon's Animal House, which was both critically and financially successful. This created new opportunities for Landis under Universal's umbrella.

In 1980, Landis co-wrote and directed The Blues Brothers, a comedy starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. It features musical numbers by R&B and soul legends James Brown, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker. It was at the time one of the most expensive films ever made (cost: almost $30 million) (for comparison: the earlier Steven Spielberg's contemporary 1941 cost $35 million). Some believe that Spielberg and Landis engaged in a rivalry, the goal of which was to make the more expensive movie.[2] The rivalry might have been a friendly one, as Spielberg makes a cameo appearance in Blues Brothers.

In 1981 Landis wrote and directed another cult-status movie, the comedy-horror An American Werewolf in London. American Werewolf was perhaps Landis' most personal project, a film which he had been planning to make since 1969, while in Yugoslavia.

Landis next directed the opening teaser and first segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie in 1983.

Accident and trial

On July 23, 1982 during the filming of Twilight Zone, actor Vic Morrow and child extras Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen were killed in an accident involving an out of control helicopter. The National Transportation Safety Board reported in October 1984:

[T]he probable cause of the accident was the detonation of debris-laden high temperature special effects explosions too near a low flying helicopter leading to foreign object damage to one rotor blade and delamination due to heat to the other rotor blade, the separation of the helicopter's tail rotor assembly, and the uncontrolled descent of the helicopter. The proximity of the helicopter to the special effects explosions was due to the failure to establish direct communications and coordination between the pilot, who was in command of the helicopter operation, and the film director, who was in charge of the filming operation.[3]

Landis and several crew members were subsequently charged with involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. The prosecutors attempted to show that Landis was reckless and had violated laws relating to child actors by not telling parents and others of the children's proximity to explosives and helicopters and of limitations on their working hours. Numerous members of the film crew testified that the director was warned, but ignored these dangers. After an extended jury trial, Landis, represented by a Nashville attorney, James F. Neal, and the other crew members were acquitted of the charges.[4]

Landis was later reprimanded for circumventing the State of California's child labor laws in hiring the two children killed in the accident. This tragedy resulted in stricter safety measures and enforcement of child labor laws, in the State of California.[4] The parents of the children sued, and would later settle out of court for $2 million per family. Vic Morrow's daughters, Carrie Morrow and actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, similarly pursued a lawsuit that settled for an undisclosed amount purportedly in the $800,000 range.[citation needed]

Landis (during interviews with Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan) has stated: "When you read about the accident, they say we were blowing up huts - which we weren't - and that debris hit the tail rotor of the helicopter - which it didn't. (...) The FBI Crime Lab, who was working for the prosecution, finally figured out that tail rotor delaminated, which is why the pilot lost control. The Special FX man who made the mistake, by setting off a fireball at the wrong time, he was never charged."[2]

Later career

Trading Places, a Prince and the Pauper-style comedy starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy was filmed directly after the Twilight Zone accident. Right after filming ended, Landis and his family went to London: then he was approached by Michael Jackson to make a video for his song, "Thriller".[2] "Thriller" forever changed MTV and the concept of music videos; it has won many awards, including the Video Vanguard Award for The Greatest Video in the History of the World. In 2009, Landis sued Jackson in a dispute over royalties for the video; he claims to be owed four years worth of royalties.[5][6]

Next, Landis directed Into The Night, starring Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer and David Bowie (a film was inspired by Hitchcock productions; Landis played in this film a mute member of the quartet of Iranian hitmen). To promote this movie, he collaborated with Jeff Okun to direct a documentary film called B.B. King "Into the Night". Landis directed music videos for three of King's songs as part of the film:"Lucille", "Into the Night" (specially composed by Ira Newborn for movie Into the Night) and In the Midnight Hour.

His next film, Spies Like Us, (starring co-writer Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase) was an homage to the Road to... films, starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Hope made a cameo in the film as himself. The movie also pays homage to spy movies such as the James Bond series; the crew included special effects makers Ray Harryhausen and Derek Meddings, both of whom had worked on Bond movies. Landis also directed a video for Paul McCartney as part of the promotion for Spies Like Us.[citation needed] He also co-wrote the comedy film Clue.

In 1986 Landis directed ¡Three Amigos! for HBO. The film starred Chevy Chase, Martin Short and Steve Martin. Landis was the second choice to direct; Steven Spielberg had refused. The film was a tribute to old Mexican style westerns and musical movies. Randy Newman wrote three original songs for the film, and the film was shot in Technicolor to make it look like older Westerns.[citation needed]

Landis next directed the Eddie Murphy film, Coming to America, which was a huge commercial success. It was also the subject of Buchwald v. Paramount, a civil suit filed by Art Buchwald in 1990 against the film's producers. Buchwald claimed that the concept for the film had been stolen from a 1982 script that Paramount optioned from Buchwald. Buchwald won the breach of contract action.[citation needed]

In 1991, Landis collaborated again with Michael Jackson on the music video for the song "Black or White". In the same year, he directed Sylvester Stallone in a title role in Oscar. Based on Claude Magnier stage play, it's not a remake of the 1967 film of the same name. Oscar recreates a 1930 era film, including the gestures along with bit acts and with some slapstick, and was a homage to old Hollywood films.[citation needed] In 1992 he directed Innocent Blood, a horror-crime film.

In 1994 Landis directed Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop III. They had previously worked together on Trading Places and Coming to America. It is the third film in the Beverly Hills Cop series. In 1996, he directed The Stupids. Landis returned to Universal to direct Blues Brothers 2000 in 1998, the same year he directed Susan's Plan.

Upcoming projects

Burke and Hare

Landis is due to direct Burke and Hare,[7] based on the true story about the famous body-snatchers Burke and Hare. The film follows the hapless exploits of the two men as they fall into the highly profitable business of providing cadavers for the medical fraternity in 19th-century Edinburgh, then the centre of medical learning. The one thing they were short of was bodies. The film is set to star Simon Pegg as William Burke.[8] David Tennant was initially reported to star with Pegg[9] but has since been replaced by Andy Serkis.[10] Isla Fisher stars as Helen M'Dougal and Tom Wilkinson will star as Dr. Robert Knox.[11] It is to be filmed on location beginning January 31, 2010 in Edinburgh, London and at Ealing Studios. The script was written by Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft, who previously wrote St. Trinian's, also for Ealing, which was the highest grossing British independent film of the last 10 years.

Landis stated:

Working at a revitalised Ealing Studios will be a great honour (...) Films like Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Ladykillers have been guiding examples to me over the years, and I hope to honour that mix of darkness and comedy again with Burke and Hare.[12]

Some Guy Who Kills People

Landis is set to produce the crime thriller Some Guy Who Kills People, written by Ryan Levin and directed by Jack Perez.[13] Filming is expected to begin in January 2010[14] and stars Kevin Corrigan in a lead role.[15]

Television

Landis directed Kentucky Fried Movie, which is a tribute to television. Later he co-directed Amazon Women on the Moon along the same vein. Landis has also been active in television as the executive producer (and often director) of the series Dream On (1990), Weird Science (1994), Sliders (1995), Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show (1997), Campus Cops (1995) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1998), and Masters of Horror. He made also commercials for DirecTV, Taco Bell, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Kellogg's, and Disney).

Documentaries

His first documentary, Coming Soon from 1982, was released only on VHS. Next, he co-directed B.B. King "Into the Night" (1985) and in 2002 directed Where Are They Now?: A Delta Alumni Update, which can be seen as a part of the Animal House DVD extras. Initially, his documentaries were only made to promote his feature films. However, later in his career, he became more serious about the oeuvre and made Slasher (2004), Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project (2007) and the upcoming Starz Inside: Ladies or Gentlemen (2009). All of these documentaries were filmed for television; Landis won a 2008 Emmy Award for Mr. Warmth. He worked currently on the Making of Thriller which will shot in 3-D.[16]

Personal life

Landis is married to Deborah Nadoolman Landis, an Oscar-nominated costume designer (who is President of the Costume Designers Guild), with whom he has two children: Max (with whom Landis co-wrote Deer Woman screenplay) and Rachel.

Style and techniques

Recurring motifs

See You Next Wednesday

See You Next Wednesday billboard as seen in The Blues Brothers.

One of Landis' trademarks is to insert references to a fictional film called See You Next Wednesday in movies he directs. The line is from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey as the final goodbye from Frank Poole's parents on the video from them he is watching. The line is also mentioned in the opening scene for Michael Jackson's "Thriller" when the police decode a message from Jackson's werewolf character.

When in Hollywood, Visit Universal Studios. Ask for Babs

This is an advertisement for the tour at Universal Studios, from John Landis movies made for Universal. This is also referring (shown at the end of the credits) to the character, Babs, from the movie National Lampoon's Animal House. When in Hollywood.. is showing at the end of the credits, and it consists of three blue cards, the first saying "Universal Studios -- The Entertainment Center of the World", the second saying "When in Hollywood Visit Universal Studios", and the last adding "Ask for Babs". The new version of this advertisement, which appeared in Blues Brothers 2000 (first film directed by Landis for Universal since Amazon Woman on the Moon) includes only one card: "Universal Studios - Hollywood and Florida. See the stars and ride the movies (ask for Babs)". Patrons who "asked for Babs," were once given a certain degree of reward, any promo has long since been discontinued, save a simple smile or acknowledgment from a park staffer. In one DVD release of Animal House there was a Where are They Now? mockumentary which featured, among others, Martha Smith (who played Babs) indeed working the rounds as a tour guide at Universal Studios in Hollywood.

Closing credits

Landis's films often feature a montage either before or during the end credits. These montages show clips or outtakes from the movie, with the names of the featured actors at the bottom of the screen. This device was first used in Animal House, but does not feature in Schlock, The Kentucky Fried Movie, American Werewolf in London, Three Amigos or Beverly Hills Cop III. The montages for Spies like Us and Innocent Blood also contain jokes.

Directors cameos

Landis casts famous film directors in cameo appearances in almost all of his movies (Spies Like Us has several in one memorable scene). He frequently invited director Frank Oz to play small parts in his movies. Other well-known directors also asked by Landis were: Roger Vadim, Paul Mazursky, Jim Henson, Jonathan Demme and David Cronenberg in Into the Night; Terry Gilliam, Joel Coen, Michael Apted in Spies Like Us, Sam Raimi in Spies Like Us and Innocent Blood; George Lucas in Beverly Hills Cop III'; Steven Spielberg in Blues Brothers.

Break the fourth wall

Several of Landis' films break the fourth wall.[2] In Animal House, Bluto turns to the camera and raises an eyebrow while peeking through the window of a sorority house. In Trading Places, Billy Ray Valentine shares a glance with the audience while being patronized by the Duke brothers' explanation of commodities markets. In An American Werewolf in London, David stares for a moment into the camera during his first transformation. In Coming to America, Prince Akeem raises his eyes to look at the camera after seeing his new bride make animal sounds at his request. Later in that same movie, Daryl looks up at the camera in surprise as Patrice starts to unzip him after he comes in from the rain. And also Michael Jackson's infamous yellow eyes looking back at the camera at the end of his Thriller music video.

Oldsmobiles and car crashes

Many of his films feature references to the Oldsmobile.[2] It appeared in: Animal House (Mayor Carmine DePasto owns an Oldsmobile dealership and allows his vehicles to be used during the parade), Trading Places (Duke&Duke limousine), Thriller (Jackson's car), Twilight Zone (during Prologue), Into The Night (Dianas' brother's car), Blues Brothers (while driving through the mall, Elwood said: "The new Oldsmobiles are in early this year"), Three Amigos (during scenes in Santo Poco) and Oscar.

In many Landis movies, there are also cars crashes, for example: during final sequence in Animal House; in many scenes in Blues Brothers and Blues Brothers 2000; during final sequence happening near to Piccadilly Circus in American Werewolf; during opening sequence in Into The Night (while crew's credits are showing), during final sequence in Innocent Blood (when Macelli was run down by bus and taxi) and during one scene in The Stupids (cars crashes due to Mrs. Stupid).

References to old movies playing on television

In many scenes in John Landis movies, actors do something while we see movies/cartoons playing on television or listen the sound from TV set (which is commentary for actors' actions during scenes).[2] That was in: television version of Trading Places (Clarence Beeks drugs a security guard and steals the crop report while Sunset Boulevard is showing); in Into the Night in Hamid's apartment (movie Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein is playing while Ed is looking for Diana and later, when Mr. Morris fighting with Mr. Williams). In Spies Like Us Emmit Fitzhume (Chevy Chase) watching musical She's Working Her Way Through College (from 1952, starring Ronald Reagan), and later during press conferention the clips from this movie are showing on TV. In Innocent Blood in several scenes, f.e. Phantom of the Rue Morgue (from 1954) is showing on television during the morgue scenes (with Macielli). Separately situations are from American Werewolf, and they happening in Cinema, where is showing pornographic movie while policeman is going through the scene.

Image of King Kong

Landis created several characters with similarities to King Kong[17] in his films (including Schlock - the title hero; in Kentucky Fried Movie - animal showing during TV's show; in An American Werewolf in London in ZOO; in Trading Places in train during New Year's Eve) or inserted images of gorillas in his films as part of production designs: in Blues Brothers on promotional poster of fictional movie called See You Next Wednesday (the same situation in The Stupids) and on the poster in Three Amigos (shows as one of adverisement of Goldsmith Studios), in Innocent Blood we may see monkey from movie playing on television; in Blues Brothers 2000 appearing as a huge gorilla's figure in Queen Mousette's House.

Awards

According to the Internet Movie Database, John Landis has won or been nominated for the following awards:[18]

Nominations
Awards won
  • Schlock won the Best Film award during Fantafestival
  • Into the Night won the Special Jury Prize at the Cognac Festival du Film Policier
  • "Dream On" won a CableACE Award in the Comedy Series in 1992
  • Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project won in the "Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special" category at the Emmy Awards
Landis was honoured by
[19]
  • French government in 1985 (Chevalier dans l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres)
  • Rimini Cinema Festival in Italy (Federico Fellini Prize)
  • The Eastman House in Rochester, New York (named a George Eastman Scholar)
  • Sitges Film Festival in Spain (Time Machine Career Achievement Award)

Significant collaborations

Cast

With Dan Aykroyd

Aykroyd wrote the original script for the movie The Blues Brothers, which at 324 pages was three times longer than a standard screenplay. Landis was given the task of editing the script into a usable screenplay, and the film was realised in 1980 as a musical comedy and was a huge commercial success. Aykroyd then starred (along with Murphy) in Trading Places. In the same year (1983) he appeared in Twilight Zone: The Movie. Two years later he made a cameo in Into the Night and B.B. King "Into the Night" (as one of B.B. King's band members) and starred in (as well as co-wrote) Spies Like Us. This would be Aykroyd's last role in a Landis film until 1998.

With Eddie Murphy

Eddie Murphy first collaborated with Landis during Trading Places. Murphy later became a frequent director's collaborator, who appeared also in Coming to America and Beverly Hills Cop III. Murphy made a cameo in Landis's two videos for B.B. King: In the Midnight Hour and My Lucille in which he played band's member as drummer.

With Michael Jackson

When Landis and his family were living in London he was approached by Michael Jackson to make a video for his song, "Thriller".[2] "Thriller" forever changed MTV and the concept of music videos; it has won many awards. In 2009, Landis sued Jackson in a dispute over royalties for the video; he claims to be owed four years worth of royalties.[5][6] In 1992 Landis directed a second video for Jackson, "Black or White", in which Landis appeared as himself.

During interview with Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan Landis said:

The difference between Thriller and Black or White really is that Thriller was mine; Black or White was more Michael's. One of the problem with it is it's all over the place. My job was trying to make it semi - coherent. (...) Michael obviously felt pressure to keep topping himself. He always wanted it bigger, I always wanted it smaller.[2]
With Frank Oz

Landis has cast Oz in small roles in several of his movies. Oz played a corrections officer in Blues Brothers and Blues Brothers 2000. He also had roles in An American Werewolf in London, Trading Places, Spies Like Us, and Innocent Blood. Even if he's not appeared in a Landis movie, his name is often spoken in the background. During airport scenes in Into the Night and Coming to America, there are announcements on the PA system requesting a 'Mr. Frank Oznowicz' to pick up the white courtesy phone. Oznowicz is Oz's given name. During interview with Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan, Frank Oz said:

Whenever he needs a prick, he asks for me. "I need a prick. Get me Frank Oz". He just wants some uplight prick and he immediately thinks of me.[2]

Crew

With Deborah Nadoolman Landis

Throughout his career, Landis has utilized his wife, Deborah Nadoolman Landis, as a costume designer. She created such costumes as Bluto's toga in Animal House; black suits, hats and glasses for the Blues Brothers; Michael Jackson's red jacket in Thriller; sheepskin jackets for Spies Like Us; the protagonists' costumes in ¡Three Amigos!; and Prince Akeem's coronation outfit in Coming to America. Deborah Nadoolman was nominated for an Academy Award in 1988 for Coming to America.

With Rick Baker

Richard Baker is an Academy Award-winning special makeup effects artist known for his realistic creature effects. Baker worked with Landis for the first time during Schlock. Baker also created special makeup effects for Landis' An American Werewolf in London (for which he won the Academy Award), Twilight Zone: The Movie, Thriller, and Coming to America (which garnered him an Academy Award nomination). Baker also appeared in Into the Night as a drug dealer.

With George Folsey Jr.

George Folsey is a producer and editor. He edited or co-edited six Landis' films: all productions from Schlock (1973) to The Blues Brothers (1980), Thriller and Coming to America. Folsey produced eleven films directed or co-directed by Landis (Schlock, The Blues Brothers, all films from An American Werewolf in London to Coming to America). He was also second unit director collaborated with Landis during his Trading Places, Into the Night and ¡Three Amigos!.

With Leslie Belzberg

Leslie Belzberg is a film and television producer. She produced ten films directed by Landis (all Landis' films from Into the Night to Susans Plan) and four TV series in which Landis participated (including The Lost World and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show). Belzberg was George Folsey's assistant during filming Trading Places, she also was Blues Brothers 2000 executive music producer. He won - along with Landis - CableACE Awards for Dream on series and appeared in The Making of "Blues Brothers 2000" as herself.

With Elmer Bernstein

Bernstein composed music for eight of Landis' movies: National Lampoon's Animal House, Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London, Trading Places, Thriller, Spies Like Us, ¡Three Amigos! and Oscar.

With Robert Paynter

Landis worked with cinematographer Robert Paynter on five films: An American Werewolf in London, Trading Places, Thriller, Into the Night and Spies Like Us. Paynter helped to create a "pop" comic book-style of American Werewolf, Thriller and Into the Night. He also made a cameo in Into the Night (as Security Guard) and Spies like Us (as Dr. Gill).

Filmography

Feature

Directed by Landis:

Co-directed by Landis:

Documentary films

For Video/DVD:

  • Coming Soon (1982)
  • Where Are They Now?: A Delta Alumni Update (2002)

For Television:

  • Slasher (2004)
  • Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project (2007)

Co-directed by Landis:

Music videos

Shorts films for Michael Jackson:

For B.B. King (from film B.B. King "Into the Night"):

For Paul McCartney:

Television episodes

  • Disneyland's 30th Anniversary Celebration (1 episode, 1985)
  • Georg Burns Disaster at Buzz Creek (1 episode, 1985)
  • Disneyland's 35th Anniversary Celebration (1 episode, 1990)
  • Dream On (9 episodes, 1990-1995)
  • Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show (1 episode, 1999)
  • Masters of Horror
"Deer Woman" (2005)
"Family" (2006)
  • The Great Sketch Experiment (segments, 2006)
  • Psych (3 episodes, 2007, 2008)
  • Fear Itself (1 episode, 2008)

Other works

  • Universal 360: A Cinesphere Spectacular (2006)

Books about John Landis

  • Alberto Farina (1995). "John Landis". Il Castoro. ISBN 9788880330301
  • Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan (2008). "John Landis". M Press. ISBN 1595820418

References

External links

Interviews
About Twillight Zone accident

Simple English

File:John
John Landis

John Landis (born August 3, 1950) is an American movie director.

Some of his films are:

  • The Kentucky Fried Movie
  • Animal House
  • The Blues Brothers
  • American Werewolf in London
  • Trading Places

He has also done the music videos for Michael Jackson "Thriller" and "Black or White"








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