I Was A Monster Movie Maker
By Tom Weaver*

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I Was A Monster Movie Maker (McFarland, 2001) is an illustrated volume that collects 22 interviews with the moviemakers responsible for bringing such films as This Island Earth, The Haunting, Carnival of Souls, Pit and the Pendulum, House of Wax, Tarzan the Ape Man, The Black Cat, Them! and Invasion of the Body Snatchers to the movie screen. Faith Domergue, Michael Forest, Anne Helm, Candace Hilligoss, Suzanna Leigh, Norman Lloyd, Maureen O’Sullivan, Shirley Ulmer, Dana Wynter and many more are interviewed. I Was A Monster Movie Maker is loaded with fascinating tidbits, such as this excerpted section on Phil Brown:

New to the autograph show "scene" in 1997 is Star Wars’ Uncle Owen, the scowling, careworn moisture farmer who ekes out a living on the desert planet Tattoine (with the reluctant help of footloose nephew Luke Skywalker) in the opening reels of the 1977 space saga. Fans line up for actor Phil Brown’s signature, hear his memories of the making of Star Wars, peruse his résumé—and try to read the film titles that have been crossed off this list of credits. In this interview, Brown remembers Star Wars, the 1940s horror movies he’d just as soon forget (Weird Woman and The Jungle Captive), and describes the real-life horrors of his brush with the House Un-American Activities Committee.

How did you land your part as Luke Skywalker’s uncle in Star Wars?

I’m a working actor who lived in England for 40 years and worked there a lot. George Lucas came over to England to cast a lot of the roles in Star Wars, and in the normal course of events I went around and met him and he said, "You got the part."

What were your first impressions of this project you were getting involved with?

Well, I didn’t really know. The script was kind of minimal, because a lot of the stuff was going to be put in as special effects and so on later. So [in the script] you had short bursts of scenes. The whole section that I’m in, the early part, was all spelled out in dialogue and where we were and why we were there and so on. But then, as you got further on into the script, into the big battle sequences and so forth, it was kind of minimal. I didn’t get an idea of the shape of the whole thing until...well [laughs], until I saw it on the screen!

Your desert scenes were shot in Tunisia.

I had known Alec Guinness before Star Wars, and we just happened to end up together on the plane which was taking the few [actors] who worked in Tunisia, plus the whole crew. I sat next to him and we were chatting, and we both said, "What’s it all about??" [Laughs] It didn’t seem quite clear at the time; as I said, it wasn’t clear to me until I saw it. It was just a job for me, that was all—just another job. I’m grateful it turned out so nicely.

Your impressions of George Lucas?

George is a very interesting man. He’s a genius, as you know—he has a special genius for inventing and putting together these fantasies. And then there’s his great knowledge of the technical side of these things. He is not a great "actor’s director" (and he doesn’t claim to be), so you are allowed a great deal of freedom as to what you do. He was very pleasant to work with, but he was shy, and I didn’t spend a lot of time with him off-screen, at the hotel. But he was busy anyway—a director’s always twice as busy as all the actors put together! So I didn’t get to know him terribly well, except that he’s a very nice man. That’s about the size of it.

"Uncle Owen" is a "moisture farmer." What exactly is a "moisture farmer"?

I wish you knew. If you find out, tell me [laughs], ‘cause I don’t know! It’s a question I didn’t ask! I just played a man who had certain characteristics which I could get my fingers on easily enough. I didn’t ask a lot of questions, I’m sorry to say—I suppose I should have! But I didn’t think it was going to help my performance, let’s put it that way. I had scenes to play with human beings, thank god: My wife [Shelagh Fraser], my charge Luke Skywalker [Mark Hamill] and so forth.

What was Mark Hamill like at that point?

He was a very nice chap. To me, he seemed terribly young—which he was! I was 60 or 65, and he was barely 20. He seemed very nice and lively and brash, and very talented, pleasant to work with.

Uncle Owen is a gruff character. Was that spelled out in the script, or something you brought to it?

No, no, it was pretty much there in the script, he plays that function in the storyline. He has to be gruff with this young man, trying to prevent him from going off to join the wars. He’s selfish, because he wants to boy to stay there and help him work. And he is trying to convey that idea to the boy, and make him feel it’s important. So he comes out as a gruff man.

Any memories of the various actors playing the Jawas?

The Jawas were little Tunisian kids.

The interior scene, where the family is eating—where was that shot?

The interior was shot back in London, after we got back from Tunisia. You made your entrances and exits through holes in the ground or holes in the wall in Tunisia, and then you came out in London [laughs]!

What did you think of Star Wars when you first saw it?

Oh, I was enormously impressed with it. Since George had not bothered to detail (and why should he?) the special effects things, it all came as a great surprise to me. I was very impressed with his inventiveness, his ability to imagine all these technical things, and then to cause them to be conceived, and then get ‘em made and put it all together. I think it’s fantastic.

*Tom Weaver has been interviewing moviemakers since the early 1980s. He has contributed to numerous magazines, including Fangoria, Starlog, Monsters of the Vault and Video Watchdog. He is also the author of Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Flashbacks (1998), Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes (1999), Poverty Row HORRORS! (1999) and John Carradine: The Films (1999).

I Was A Monster Movie Maker is in hardback at 320 pages (with illustrations) and sells for $38.50. Click the cover image to buy it on!