VIDEO WATCHDOG: 150th Issue Celebration Interview with Tim & Donna Lucas!

VIDEO WATCHDOG: 150th Issue Celebration Interview with Tim and Donna Lucas!

This piece was originally published November 12th, 2012

This week celebrates the 150th issue of Video Watchdog!For anyone who is yet to be a fan, the magazine is a monthly digest sized gem that is edited/published and designed by Tim and Donna Lucas, began life in 1990, and features a host of superb regular contributors for what is simply the finest in critical and extremely detailed writing, interviews and reviews of genre films.

As well as publishing the magazine, Tim and Donna also published the stunningly beautiful (and gigantic at 12 pounds!) definitive book on the great Italian director Mario Bava, entitled Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark in 2007.

As a celebration of Video Watchdog, I had the honor of interviewing Tim and Donna Lucas and my very special thanks goes out to them for this interview. Their recollections on publishing VW, thoughts about looking forward toward VW's future, and insightful comments regarding print media, the internet and fave films, easily place this among my favorite pieces that I have done for The Mystery Box.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do...

Tim and Donna: From #1 to #150

Robert Jaz: First off, let me congratulate the both of you on this milestone. It must feel like quite an accomplishment.

DONNA: Thank you Robert! The time has flown by. Now... onto #200!

TIM: I'm just trying to focus on #151 at the moment. We publish on such a hectic schedule, especially with the many other things I do factored in, that it's all like a blur to me. But it's interesting... It wasn't intentional, but I noticed that Steve Bissette's name is on the cover of #150, just as it was on the cover of our very first issue -- and the recurrence of that single detail somehow puts put the whole, long, strange trip into focus. That's the level where I can appreciate the accomplishment. Otherwise, I feel sort of barred from an awareness of it, because I have to experience everything from the navigator's seat, while Donna's in the driver's seat.

RJ: VW's origin includes first being a column in Video Times, and also as a column in Fangoria's Gorezone, but there was also featurette produced by Michael Nesmith and hosted by you, Tim. Wondering how that came about and why it only ended up being a one-shot?

TIM: The Nesmith project was called OVERVIEW and it was a one-shot video magazine that was published on videotape to be sold as a kind of consumer guide in video stores. It was released in January 1987. My participation came about because VIDEO TIMES, the Chicago-based magazine where I introduced "Video Watchdog," announced they were suspending publication. I wanted to find a new home for the column, and a friend who worked in a music store read an article somewhere announcing that Michael Nesmith was starting OVERVIEW and suggested I send a feature proposal to his Pacific Arts Corporation company. I did, and to my surprise, they phoned me and were enthusiastic about the idea. They had me send pictures of myself to show I was suitable for appearing on-camera, and they flew me out to Los Angeles in November 1986 -- my first trip out there, and it was to write and star in my own video segment, which was photographed on location with an actual 35mm camera crew. The cinematographer was Tom Richmond, whose big credit at the time was HARDBODIES, but who later worked for Oliver Stone. It was a wonderful experience, but the project hit a snag right away when Hal Roach threatened to sue PAC for mocking his company's colorization of THE ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR! The first issue of OVERVIEW was test-marketed in a few American cities with the highest saturation of video sales, and was well-reviewed, but even at the cost of a blank videocassette, did not sell well enough to encourage Nesmith to continue with a second issue. I was delighted to be involved, not only to get some camera experience, but because Donna has always been a major Monkees fan and had all of Nesmith's solo albums. So, by working on OVERVIEW, I acquired the reflected glory of becoming sort of a member of the extended Monkees family.

DONNA: We love the segment, and it will be shared shortly on our website. It's the perfect visual introduction to VIDEO WATCHDOG for the uninitiated -- and a lot of fun for those who know the magazine already!

RJ: From that very first issue #1 to the latest issue, #150, what would you say arethe most important changes that have been made to the magazine? The ones that really stand out as positive progressions?

TIM: It's in the nature of my job that VIDEO WATCHDOG exists for me before it materializes in print; by the time an issue comes back from the printer, I am usually working on the next issue or two, so I can't enjoy the final printed issue the way our readers can. That said, three changes stand out for me: 1) the introduction of color covers with #13, 2) the transition to full interior color with #100, and 3) VW #55, when we went monthly. I'm sure Donna can think of a few more...

DONNA: Wow, I sure can! Let's see...

  • Issue 1 — Started the whole thing, and was nominated for a Fanex Award right out of the gate.
  • Issue 2 - Our page count increased from 60 to 64 pages. Also, this is the first issue printed by our current printer, Crest Graphics, and done right on the right kind of paper and with the template that would define the interiors for many issues to come. The TWIN PEAKS article spread ("Blood & Donuts") was one of my favorites.
  • Issue 3 - Our first Bi-monthly issue.
  • Issue 6 - Never-before-published behind the scenes of THE EXORCIST, with now-famous subliminal images from the feature and early TV trailers shown for the first time anywhere.
  • Issue 9 - This issue replaced Tim's original "Letterbox" drawing with a photograph or screen image of people reading or writing, which continues to this day -- and has even been copied by some other magazines!
  • Issue 10 - Our introduction of Laserdisc coverage.
  • Issue 11 - The inside front cover included a special handwritten message to VIDEO WATCHDOG readers from Vincent Price!
  • Issue 15 - Our page count Increased from 64 to 80 pages! On the front cover shot of THE LODGER, Laird Cregar's eyes were tinted blue -- this was still before full desktop publishing capabilities were available to us, so our printer Dan Reckman did the tinting by hand!
  • Issue 19 - More experimentation with inside color in a NOSFERATU article - the color red is splashed across 16 pages.
  • VIDEO WATCHDOG Special Edition #1 - Published with perfect bound spine and a mind-boggling 176 pages! For the first time, outside advertising was accepted. Contains first index of issues 1-12. Back cover shows the covers of issues 1-20 in full color for the first time.
  • Issue 22 - Douglas E. Winter's long-running "Audio Watchdog" column was introduced, and the first time the cover was generated as an EPS file on the computer, rather than manually.
  • Issue 23 - Our first full-color back cover.
  • Issue 24 - This was our first issue to be designed and generated into EPS files on the computer, both covers and interior. Before that, I was doing manual paste-ups with laser pages and pictures pasted on the pages.
  • VIDEO WATCHDOG Special Edition #2 - Contained outside ads and index of issues 13-26. This was the last Special Edition. This issue also features the only cover that was exclusively photographed for our cover, featuring Udo Kier, who was interviewed for the issue. We loved it, but some people thought it was too gruesome!

Images from The Monkees' Head

  • Issue 28 - OK, personal favorite here. We reviewed HEAD by The Monkees, one of my favorite movies, so I got to dive into my Monkees scrapbooks and find pictures of Davy, Micky, Peter and Mike reading or writing for the Letterbox section - and I gave Davy Jones a copy of this issue personally!
  • Issue 29 - For the first time, the image on our front cover's "TV screen" projected from the frame three-dimensionally. It was ROBOCOP's arm and handgun -- and it was very hard to do!
  • Issue 30 - For the first and only time, we used a spot color (red) in inside front and back covers - to recreate (using only a B&W still) the image of the hand rising from the bathtub filled with blood in THE TINGLER.
  • Issue 41 - The first and only time I tried colorizing a B&W photo for the cover, from Edgar G. Ulmer's THE BLACK CAT.
  • Issue 42 - The first issue to review DVDs!
  • Issue 50 - This was our first milestone issue! We introduced our writers, who wrote personal essays about how they discovered and came to love horror and fantasy films, and included photos of them, our designers and other behind-the-scenes people who were part of the VIDEO WATCHDOG family.
  • Issue 55 - January 2000 - VW goes monthly! From then on, it's a blur...
  • Issue 66 - First ad for MARIO BAVA - ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, December 2000.
  • Issue 83 - Joe Dante's "Fleapit Flashbacks" column debuted. It ran from VW #83-127 (45 issues!), at which point we had reprinted all of Joe's surviving film criticism.
  • Issue 84 - The debut of our cover artist Charlie Largent. He designed a few on and off until issue 96, and then each one after that.
  • Issue 97 - First color inside front and back covers -- and the first peek at the Bava book's cover in full color.
  • Issue 100 - Here VW went all-color! Charlie's cover design took our TV screen frame and extended it to widescreen for the first time, reflecting a new era. "Dog Bytes", our column of shorter reviews, was introduced. I fell in love with this issue and never wanted to go back to B&W interiors again! We kept the all-color part a secret from all of our contributors, except John Charles, who helped us to proof-read, and Charlie -- who found the WIZARD OF OZ still and suggested we keep Dorothy in sepia colors and the Table of Contents page in B&W, as usual, to prolong the surprise. So when the issue came out, our writers were just as surprised as everyone else by the transition!
  • Issue 112 - Our first Signature Edition with an alternate hand-signed cover by SON OF FRANKENSTEIN star Donnie Dunagan, our first laminated cover, and a new printer - CJK. The switch was necessary to learn about printing processes that would be essential for the Bava book.
  • Issue 124 - Introduced the column "Ramsey's Rambles" by the great British horror novelist Ramsey Campbell.
  • Issue 127 - This BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS issue sold out while it was still on the newsstands. Our print run ran short.
  • Issue 137 - Our second Signature Edition with an alternate cover design personally signed by THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE star Ann Carter.
  • Issue 140 - I personally colorized the picture of Hazel Court on the inside front cover and the opening article.
  • Issue 141 - We switched printers back to Crest-Graphics, our original printer, since they had their new prepress system in place.
  • Issue 150 - Here we are!

TIM: That's a very healthy list, but I am actually reminded of some others. In issues 4, 5 and 7, we published a three-part article of mine charting how a Yugoslavian film called OPERATION TITIAN became the Roger Corman import PORTRAIT IN TERROR, and how it in turn was re-edited to become the Jack Hill release BLOOD BATH and a padded TV version called TRACK OF THE VAMPIRE. The sheer size and obsessive depth of this article made it necessary for VIDEO WATCHDOG to exist, because no other magazine would have published it! Likewise, when I found myself becoming obsessed with Andy Milligan's films, I had the "available canvas" to devote three feature articles to his work (VW #52-54).

Subliminal image of Eileen Dietz from The Exorcist

I'm also reminded that the articles I co-wrote with Mark Kermode about THE EXORCIST and Ken Russell's THE DEVILS directly led to Mark recovering lost footage from both films -- the spider-walk scene from THE EXORCIST and the legendary "Rape of Christ" scene from THE DEVILS, which have since been made public. I was also told by people at MGM that my outraged writings about the cut and rescored version of Michael Reeves' WITCHFINDER GENERAL (THE CONQUEROR WORM), which was the only one in circulation for 20-some years, was influential in its restoration. Many of our readers went on to work in the video industry, and they've cited VW as inspiring them to go on to restore numerous important films, such as Don May, Jr. of Synapse Films, whose career has encompassed the restoration of Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and Hooper's THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. Making the horror genre more respectable and inspiring others to help preserve it -- these have been the most important changes effected by VIDEO WATCHDOG.

RJ: You have never opened VW up to unrelated advertising, paid classifieds etc. Has this always been one of your founding principles? That the magazine be self sufficient? or has there been the temptation to run some profitable soft drink ads?

DONNA: Yes, we never wanted to run ads. We are not very fond of them, but I know that advertisers keep magazines in existence. In the past, as long as our newsstand presence was working out, and our subscriber base was strong, we didn't see the need for them in the magazine. Some other concerns were:1) Conflict of interest - do we take an ad for a movie we might not endorse? Or, if we reviewed it well, would it look like we were reviewing it well just to promote the advertiser? Would there be pressure?2) I knew I would have to be the one to set the deadlines for the ads, solicit for the ads, and do all the work to make sure the proofs were in hand, the money paid, the issue out on time, etc. -- and I don't have the time to do it all. Also, the computer software wasn't 'there' yet.We did accept ads for our Special Editions, and I remember it was pretty difficult. At the time, the ads weren't delivered electronically and I had to paste them up. It was new territory for us, and too much of a hassle to do regularly. But we tried it, for both Special Editions, then shelved the idea.Now that too many magazines are folding, there may be advertisers who are seeking a place in print, and since everything is digital now, we may consider it again. Sometimes the right ads can enhance the reading experience. People can keep abreast what's new and unusual, especially if they don't have internet access. If we do decide to accept print ads, they will not interrupt the content, and will be unobtrusive. No soft drink ads... :-)

RJ: Since your first issue, formats for consumers have drastically changed: Video, DVD, Blu--ray, downloads. You have always seemed to roll with these and embrace the new. How comfortable have you been with this over the years?

TIM: I have always found these periodic paradigm shifts refreshing. My novel THROAT SPROCKETS, in some ways, charts the way the presentation of motion pictures had evolved during my lifetime—from movie palace to shoebox cinemas to cattleplexes to the home entertainment system—and the magazine, in its own way, has charted its continued evolution. Some would call it "devolution," but I much prefer now to watch movies at home. We almost never go to theaters anymore. What I loved about that experience seems to be long dead. People always say, "Maybe in Cincinnati," when I say that, but when we saw THE INCREDIBLE HULK at the Cinerama theater in Los Angeles last year, we both recognized that the aspect ratio was compromised by the curvature of the screen. The other people in the audience sat there and kept taking their cell phone calls like nothing was wrong...

RJ: Ever felt the need for a name change from "Video" to anything else? Has this ever been considered at all? I imagine that your established name and identity have always been more important.

TIM: "Videotape" is an extinct format, but "video" will never be an extinct term as long as movies and other programming are conveyed visually. It's analogous to "audio." So I don't see the name of the magazine as being outdated. In fact, we were thrilled to notice that the letters HD were positioned together in our name, so we began highlighting them when High Definition was introduced. Some people ask us if we shouldn't discontinue this because HD was overtaken by Blu-ray, but Blu-ray is a brand name. The medium is still High Definition. When you see such programming on cable, it's HD.

DONNA: Sometimes Tim goes through periods where he considers changing our tagline of "The Perfectionist's Guide to Fantastic Video" to something else. I think it's fine as it is -- if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

TIM: We actually had a little contest among our contributors when we were preparing our 100th issue, because I thought that would be the perfect time to change it. We came up with things like "Where Art House Meets Grindhouse" -- but nothing quite had the same ring as "The Perfectionist's Guide..." which was actually coined spontaneously as we were finishing up the cover of our very first issue!

RJ: Tim, between VW's monthly schedule, your extensive blog, working on novels, screenplays, other projects such as writing DVD release liner notes, and doing DVD commentaries, how do you find the time for anything else, like sleeping, eating, and actually watching all these films?

TIM: I think we all find the time to do what we need to do. I've been focusing on writing screenplays for the past few years, and two have been optioned. These days, there is not a lot of money in that, so I have to keep working at everything until something takes off and brings me a decent pay-day. I'd love to be writing novels full-time, but the market isn't healthy right now. The internet hasn't made the world a healthy place for any of the arts, I'm afraid. People are communicating now in great numbers, rather than looking inside themselves. When we started VW, I used to watch at least one or two movies a day; now, I might go through an entire week without watching more than one. Fortunately I don't have to see everything that the magazine reviews!

RJ: You have branched out at times with some CD soundtrack releases. Is this something that you will keep pursuing, and perhaps branching out into a few other VW non magazine or book projects?

TIM: We have distributed, or helped to distribute, some import CD releases for which I wrote the liner notes, but we've never produced our own. I would love to branch out into more book projects. We should have self-published my VIDEODROME book, but it was too soon after all the energies we had expended on the Bava book, so I let Millipede Press do it. But their "Studies in the Horror Film" series is probably something we should have done, and I certainly had the idea for a series of books like that a long time ago. Unfortunately, we are a two-person office, and with our first priority being the production of a monthly magazine, it doesn't leave Donna much time or opportunity to design books as well.

DONNA: And I have to keep reminding him of that!

RJ: Other than film soundtracks, for which you both have an obvious love, is there a place for any other musical favorites? Bands? Genres?

TIM: I've written a lot about music at Video WatchBlog, and it's mostly what I write about on my Facebook page, oddly enough. It's a big love of mine. I count myself very fortunate to have been born at a time when I could have witnessed an actual 1950s sock hop, loved Elvis (the first Elvis), seen the Beatles on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW, gone through the Sixties and the punk invasion of the Seventies, and heard the way all the music was revitalized by the transition from vinyl to CD. I am tremendously excited about SACD and DVD-Audio. Hearing Björk's VESPERTINE, Genesis' THE LAMB LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY or The Beach Boys' PET SOUNDS in 5.1 sound is a great thrill for me. I've been relistening to a lot of Françoise Hardy and Eighties music recently, and I'm very excited that the Pixies' back catalogue is coming out later this year in 5.1. All of this makes me sound like a rock snob, but I'm fairly omnivorous musically. I love jazz and soundtrack music as well.

DONNA: Did I mention The Monkees? (smiles)

RJ: In 2007 you finally self published the long awaited Mario Bava book. I own a copy and it really is something to behold. There are few books about any director that are as detailed and beautiful as this one is. Why was Bava the choice for such a large project for you and Donna? I know the response for it has been tremendous.

DONNA: Thank you, Robert! As many others have pointed out, this was a labor of love.I think Bava chose Tim. He had been writing the book since 1975, at first, as a way to discover and understand the films, then the man behind the films. So little was known, and it took years for the research means to come to light (video, internet, DVDs, email, and even our magazine). Once we started the magazine and got the publishing business and connections together, we knew that we were the ones who would have to publish it to make it the way we wanted it to be. We got rejection letters from publishers years before who didn't think the subject matter would be popular enough to sell. So, since we knew our audience with the magazine, we had a valuable resource to make it saleable.We were able to publish it with the help of many friends and contributors, and our wonderful Special Patrons who financed the whole project by ordering copies years in advance. They are all part of this book, and we are very grateful.

TIM: When I look back on the whole adventure of researching and writing the Bava book, I have a very personal and spiritual feeling about it. It's almost hard to talk about, really. We are very proud of the book's success, but we both worked on it for so long, and with such single-minded intensity (Donna spent four years alone on the layout), that we feel very humble in relation to it. It is as if we were chosen to work in service to the book, and to the memory of Bava and his family's 100 year history in the cinema. It was a lifetime's calling for me, that became a gift of love. Keeping the promise of this book raised my spirit and reinvented me as a writer and as a person. When the Bava family responded to it by sending us a photograph of them all assembled proudly around it, it was probably the most fulfilling moment I've ever known as a writer —and Lamberto Bava subsequently made me an "honorary member of the family," which must be the highest accolade any biographer can achieve!

RJ: How do you feel about still being heavily involved in print media within a world that seems to be moving away from it. You also have a blog, so of course you embrace digital journalism as well to a certain extent.

TIM: I published a fanzine as a teenager, and I can tell you that having a blog is exactly like having a fanzine. There is great charm to the idea of writing down your thoughts and having feedback at the end of the day -- even at the end of the hour! Last year I posted a reverie about the movie SWEDEN HEAVEN AND HELL and almost immediately received an e-mail response from Sweden! But the world still needs print media very badly. Someday there may be a catastrophe of some kind that will help reaffirm this. The only means we have of archiving the material we read online is Google and Favorite Placing, and many times I have revisited sites where I found articles worth referring to, only to find them taken down or the entire site gone. There is no money in the internet, so the writing found there, however good it is, literally has no enduring value. Publication is the hallmark of writing of enduring value. I also have doubts about how well or carefully people read anything they find online. I used to spend two or three hours writing something to post on my blog, and the statistics would tell me that the average page visit that day was slightly over one minute. So I don't think the material I created for the blog, and there is literally thousands of pages of it, can be properly assessed until it's in print. Print media is something we take into our lives like an intimacy, a direct link between writer and reader; we pick up a book or magazine when we have the time to involve ourselves in what they have to offer. People think the internet has them reading more than ever, but what they are really doing is glancing at everything, sucking up a lot of information indiscriminately and actually processing very little of it. It encourages shortened attention span.

RJ: Do you foresee any big changes with VW in the near future?

DONNA: Tim is the visionary here. I only know that we hope to embrace new ideas and continue in the spirit of our founding principles. To bring to our readers what we love about cinema, introduce them to filmmakers they have never seen before, and share different ways of looking at film and give insights about the people who make them. As far as BIG changes -- NO! (ha ha) We'll never change the size of our magazine! I will continue to look into areas that may help to broaden the scope of our distribution, but we are currently at some Barnes & Nobles, Borders, independent book sellers, and have subscribers world-wide.

TIM: It's hard for me to look more than an issue ahead at a time. In fact -- and people never believe it when I say this -- but I don't usually know fully what any issue of VW is going to be until the week we finish it. Sometimes I don't decide what the feature article or articles will be until the Monday of the week we finish. So every issue comes together in an almost intuitive fashion, and often surprises me!

RJ: Could both you and Donna each let the readers of The Mystery Box know some of your favorite VW strange films?

DONNA: I would pick HEAD, the original DAWN OF THE DEAD, TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME, George Pal's THE TIME MACHINE (which we watched on New Year's Eve 2000, so we could say "Happy New Century, George!"), THE LATHE OF HEAVEN, THE ABYSS, Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, John Carpenter's THE THING, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, THE EXORCIST, THE INNOCENTS, THE HAUNTING, the original HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, JACOB'S LADDER and FIGHT CLUB.

TIM: Of all the movies I have seen and watched during the 20 years VIDEO WATCHDOG has been active, the ones that haunt me most are: Ulmer's THE BLACK CAT; Rene Clement's FORBIDDEN GAMES; DAUGHTER OF HORROR; THE ASTOUNDING SHE MONSTER (I can't really explain why - perhaps someday I'll try); Michael Powell's PEEPING TOM; Resnais' LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD; Godard's CONTEMPT and ALPHAVILLE; Polanski's REPULSION; much of Joe Sarno's work but certainly RED ROSES OF PASSION and THE INDELICATE BALANCE (it's included as a bonus feature with THE SEDUCTION OF INGA); Bava's KILL, BABY... KILL!; Fellini's TOBY DAMMIT; Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST; many Ken Russell films including WOMEN IN LOVE, THE DEVILS and TOMMY; Andy Milligan's unfinished SEEDS OF SIN (a DVD bonus feature with THE GHASTLY ONES); Zulawski's POSSESSION and L'IMPORTANT C'EST D'AIMER; and numerous Jess Franco films from THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF to EUGENIE, THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION and FEMALE VAMPIRE. Plus the Edgar Wallace krimis and Karl May westerns from West Germany in the 1960s. The best horror films in recent years, in my opinion, have been UZUMAKI (SPIRAL), A TALE OF TWO SISTERS and LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. There is another film I've seen only once which keeps coming back to roost in my thoughts, so I will probably watch it again soon: MOONLIGHT WHISPERS, a 1999 Japanese film about two lovestruck adolescents who gradually awaken to the sado-masochistic nature of their connection. I remember it as being a surprisingly sweet little film.

RJ: Anything that you would like to add for anyone who has yet to discover Video Watchdog for themselves?

TIM: We're really not like any other film magazine out there. Horror and fantasy are the nucleus of our coverage, but we branch out in many other directions. We've always been ahead of the curve, and we're still determined to be innovative. Our 150th issue adapts my "Video WatchBlog" to the print medium, and it also introduces the first print magazine column devoted to reviewing internet movie downloads. I'm pushing to discover new evolutions in the way films can be reviewed. We're determined to deliver an experience people can't find online.

DONNA: Now is a good time to decide for yourself if VW is your kind of magazine. We have a BIG sale going on now! Visit our website at Video Watchdog Specials to see the specials, and check out some free article samples in our back issues area by clicking on the covers. If you like what you see, you can subscribe -- or just order one copy at a time.Want to order one issue with a review of your favorite movie? Find it in the VW Index on our website. Check out Tim's award-winning "Video WatchBlog" for more samples of what we are likely to cover in the magazine. There's plenty of content to browse through to help you decide if you want to subscribe.Thanks to everyone whose support has allowed us to reach this 150th issue. We've been here since 1990, and are looking forward to our next Milestone Issue: #200!

No comments:

Post a Comment