The Original Halloween: A Debra Hill Production

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This week the latest installment of the horror franchise Halloween was released to great box office success. A direct sequel to the original, it ignores all other installments and re-boots and has broken box office records.

In celebration, Jamie Lee Curtis tweeted the following:

The Tweet was shared on the horror social media page Dread Central and although it was received positively by most, there was also the expected backlash against anything celebrating the achievements of women by more than several of the rank and file immature fanboys. One commenter asserted that John Carpenter created the original film and therefore Curtis owes the success of the new film (and the entire franchise) to him. The facts beg to differ.

Halloween was co-created by a woman. Her name was Debra Hill. She is credited as the film’s co-writer and producer. It’s right up there on the screen with Carpenter’s name, although – despite their supposed literacy – many viewers have simply ignored its presence. In the minds of some fans, it’s almost like her name isn’t there at all. “This,” I replied to the commenter, “is why we need feminism.”

In the interest of fairness and equality, let’s talk a bit about Ms. Hill.

Debra Hill first met John Carpenter in 1975 when he was looking for a script supervisor on Assault From Precinct 13. A few years later, they went on to create Halloween together. She co-wrote the screenplay and also acted as producer.

Hill was responsible for all of the character development and dialogue of the three female leads. Without her, there would be no Annie with her sarcastic put-downs, no giggling, air-headed Lynda and – most importantly – no Laurie Strode, the shy intelligent final girl who sings to herself “I wish I had you all alone…just the two of us…” An unforgettable characteristic to be sure.

Hill’s realistic dialogue gave 1978 audience someone they could relate to. The scene that best illustrates this is the one in the car where Annie attempts to get Laurie out of her shell and ask a boy on a date while smoking weed. Hill herself directed the largely improvised scene, having discussed the context with the actors beforehand. The result is that we sympathize with these young women and in the end, root for Laurie to survive. Without the likability of three characters, Halloween would likely not have struck a chord with audiences of the day and would be forgotten rather than serving as a template for the countless imitators that came after it.

Hill is also responsible for the naming of the town Haddonfield, where the film takes place. She was born in Haddonfield, New Jersey and went to Haddonfield High School. She chose all the (now iconic) houses for the locations and she even played the hands of the young Michael Myers that pick up the clown mask at the opening of the film.

She went on to work as producer on Halloween II and III and re-united with Carpenter for 1980’sThe Fog, 1981’s Escape From New York and its 1996 sequel, Escape From L.A. In 1985, she produced David Cronenberg’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel The Dead Zonestarting Christopher Walken as well as the Tim Curry classic Clueand 1988’s Big Top Pee Wee.

THE FOG, producer Debra Hill, Jamie Lee Curtis on set, 1980, (c) Avco Embassy

As one of Hollywood’s first female producers, she was a member of the Producer’s Guild of America, eventually coming to serve on their board of directors as well as on the Executive Committee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her work on Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King, which also won a Golden Globe for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy for the year 1991.

In 2002, I was honored to watch Ms. Hill give a presentation at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood, California on the films she worked on with John Carpenter. Along with anecdotes from the making of the films, she spoke of the need for more women in the film industry to get behind the camera and the difficulties she faced as a female writer/producer. “I was assumed to be the make-up and hair person, or the script person…everybody called me “Honey.” I was never assumed to be the writer or producer.”

I was later shocked to learn that she was likely ill on the day I watched her speak. In 2005, after a long battle with cancer in which she had both legs amputated below the knee, she passed away. She was only 54.

In her name, The Producer’s Guild of America has established The Debra Hill Fellowship, which awards both men and women who complete an accredited graduate program in producing and “whose work, professionalism and passion mirror that of Debra Hill.”

In October of 2012, The New Beverly Cinema hosted the first Debra Hill film festival with all proceeds going to the Fellowship.

Debra Hill once said, “I hope someday there won’t be a need for women in film. It will just be people in film.” She was a pioneer who should not be forgotten by anyone. Least of all by horror fans to whom they owe a debt of gratitude for helping to create one of the genre’s most beloved modern classics. Thank you, Ms. Hill. Rest In Peace.

 

Sources:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/debra-hill-527694.html

https://www.thewrap.com/debra-hill-film-festival-honor-pioneering-producer-60091/

https://www.producersguild.org/page/DebraHill

http://www.cinefilles.ca/2015/10/01/remembering-halloween-co-writer-and-reel-survivor-girl-debra-hill/

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1485210/Debra-Hill.html

Spotlight: Filmmaker Julia Marchese

Out of Print

 

This Thursday, London’s top revival independent cinema The Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square will be screening first-time-director Julia Marchese’s indie-documentary Out of Print, a fun and informative film that highlights theatres just like the Prince Charles. Those reasonably priced privately owned cinemas with double features, theme nights and old-school popcorn with real butter. There aren’t many of these places left in 2016 no matter where you live and that is why Marchese made this movie.

Although the film largely focuses on Marchese’s former employer, The New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles as seen through the eyes of its employees and customers such as director Joe Dante, the broader theme highlights the consequence of the advent of digital formats on the little guys. It also showcases the relevance of watching older films in their intended formats with an audience and the importance of film preservation in general.

The financial struggle for these cinemas is real. Especially in the light of a recent decision by several major studios to halt the striking and distribution of any 35mm prints for any films, new or old, regardless of how they were originally made.

As a Los Angeles resident with for 15 years with a passion for film, I spent many an evening at the New Beverly. I remember Julia selling tickets and wondered how she made the transition from behind the ticket counter to behind the camera. She was kind enough to answer my questions in an interview conducted via e-mail last week. This is the edited version. Julia herself will be on hand Thursday at the screening to answer more questions after the film.

Q: Independent filmmakers all face great challenges, from raising money in the beginning to distribution in the end. Looking back over the past 4 years, which were the most difficult challenges to overcome and what are you the most proud of?

A: “I’m proud that I set out to make a film and I did. My motto (like Elvis’) is Taking Care of Business In A Flash. I’m proud that I took this movie from an idea in my head to a 35mm print. The most fun thing about it was learning how to do everything. And luckily I had so many incredible people to guide me through every step.”

“The most difficult thing was getting fired from the New Beverly after the film was already complete. It was so bloody crushing to have a film that suddenly switches from a joyous one to a melancholy one. I have a film that promotes a place that I no longer wish to promote, so I feel like that has hindered my joy about the whole project a bit. If I were making this film now I would make an entirely different film, of course. But, the film has a bigger message – that EVERY independent cinema is important, so THAT I can be proud of.”

Q: When making Out of Print, where did you draw your inspiration? Were there any documentaries that you watched that inspired you? 

A: “Yes! The four that I repeatedly watched were Exit Through the Gift Shop, Grey Gardens, Cinemania and American Movie. All of these films treat their subjects with reverence and a sense of humor that I love. Each one is endlessly watchable and absolutely fascinating every time.”

Q: Who is your favorite filmmaker?  

A: “Alejandro Jodorowsky. His films absolutely blow my mind. He is unlike any other filmmaker out there, and he is still making such extraordinary work. Dance of Reality was terrific and I donated to his campaign for his new movie, Endless Poetry.”  

Q: Since your petition to preserve film prints, what positive developments have happened in the area of film preservation? 

 A: “Across the world, there are thousands of dedicated souls working in archives everyday to preserve film prints. They were there before I made Out of Print, and they will be there after, and I am so grateful to each and every one of them for choosing to spend their lives saving the past. No matter what the studios decide, we will always have these silent warriors fighting the good fight.”

Q: In Out of Print, one of the interview subjects drew a very apt parallel with the digitalization of music. Vinyl has had a recent resurgence, with many old classic albums being re-issued over the past 18 month and bands even releasing new material in both formats side by side. Do you see this as a trend that may happen with film? Why or why not? 

A: “…The thing about vinyl is that it is a medium directly available to the public – film prints are owned by companies. There are 35mm collectors, but they are few and far between, and prints were never meant to be owned by the public. …It’s tricky.”

Q: What other developments, technical or otherwise, do you potentially see happening in the future regarding film preservation?  

A:  “Sooner or later, the studios are going to realize that all films need to be stored on film. Hopefully that will cause them to up their production of it again – digital just isn’t permanent.”

Q: This film goes a long way at getting the word out on the importance of revival cinemas. What do you think that revival and repertory theaters could do on their own to help the cause and improve their bottom lines? 

A: “Making every single customer feel comfortable and like they’re part of the community is so important. Try new things. See what others around you are programming, and ask for help if you need it.”

Q: You spent some time filming in London at the Prince Charles Cinema for Out of Print. What is the biggest difference in the film-geek culture that you saw in Los Angeles vs. London? 

 A: “I programmed a double feature of Fast Times at Ridgemont High & Night of the Comet at the Prince Charles Cinema, so I got to see those up on the big screen, and I caught a midnight screening of El Topo there too. (Jodorowsky! Yay!) The audiences for both were awesome. There really wasn’t much of a difference and that was what was so bitchin’. Movie geeks are pretty awesome everywhere you go – that’s what makes independent cinemas so cool! “ 

Q: What project or projects are you working on now?

A: “I am hoping to start a new project in the UK, filming a series of mini-docs. Each one will focus on a single cinema, and we will see it through the eyes of the employees and regulars – the people who love it most. I’m really excited!”

Tickets for Thursday’s screening with director Q&A are available here: https://www.princecharlescinema.com/performances/16661/