Andy Sidaris: Bullets, Bombs, and Babes
by Rich Rosell
After a long and celebrated career with ABC Sports, Andy Sidaris became the undisputed king of the all-important girls-and-guns genre, working as a writer, director, and producer. He is responsible for a string of twelve (so far) mindlessly fun titles, all starring an array of Playboy Playmates.
Sidaris, along with his wife Arlene, has built a formula that works well, and dOc had the opportunity to sit down for an enjoyable chat with Andy, the interview equivalent of trying to pick up a blob of mercury with greasy fingers. He talks a mile a minute, like a modern day P.T. Barnum, and his occasional frank comments are refreshing in these days of "happy talk" political correctness.
[The views presented in this interview are solely those of the people providing them and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of digitallyOBSESSED.]
dOc: Having been born in Chicago, are you a Cubs fan or a Sox fan?
Andy Sidaris: I'm really an Angels fan right now, but I'm a Cub fan. I feel for these guys, it's so close, so near, yet so far away. It reminds of when I was a Laker fan, when I first came to California. Every year the Lakers would play Boston?it was almost like the Cubs winning their division?and the Lakers would get so close but Boston would just nail 'em.
dOc: Before you became the legendary filmmaker that you are now, you spent a lot of time with ABC Sports.
AS: I was the best television director that ever lived. You'll never hear me say that about film, but I was. I created everything that ABC Sports did, the creative stuff.
dOc: How did you get started with ABC Sports?
AS: When I was a kid I went to SMU on a baseball scholarship, and I went to work for a local station, at 18, for WFAA in Dallas. That happened to be the most prestigious station there, I guess it would be like WGN in Chicago. It was THE station. It was owned by the Dallas Morning News paper, along with a radio and television station. The radio had been around for 350 years, and the newspaper had been there since Jesus, but they had this TV station and I went to work as a stage manager for a couple of months. It was something I loved. I was a sophomore by then, and I was pretty smart in school?I had a great, solid C- f****** average. I was something to be dealt with academically. By the time I was 19, I was the main director at the station, working with guys who were 28, 29, 30. I was going to school from 8am to noon, then going to the station and doing all the important shows from 1pm to sign-off; in those days, we would do 15 to 20 live shows a day. I was directing there, and it was something I knew that I could do, and that I was good at. I started doing a lot of sports for them down there, so by the time Roone Arledge had called me, and they formed ABC Sports, I had moved out to California and had ten years of experience, and he had three months of experience. He had produced the Sherri Lewis show, which was gal that had a puppet.
dOc: Oh yeah, Lambchop.
AS: Yes, Lambchop, or whatever the f***. Meanwhile, some people said "Well, Roone created sports." I said, "Who do you think wrote the book?" Roone had done three months of Lambchop, and I've done ten years of maybe 150 sports telecasts?I wrote the book on coverage, where the cameras should go, all that stuff. I was the first guy Roone hired, and I directed the first Wide World of Sports, along with Bill Bennington. It was a two-parter. Then I was with Roone for 28 years, and I was the main director. What I did basically was set up every professional and college stadium, where the cameras went. Everything. I was only in my twenties then, and I did all of that stuff, but it wasn't enough for me. I don't want to sound like a pain in the ass to you, Rich, but it wasn't satisfying enough.
dOc: So what happened next?
AS: I started directing some television stuff, like I directed a Kojak and a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys, and by then my wife Arlene was producing the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys show. I directed a documentary picture in 1967 or 1968 with James Garner called The Racing Scene, which was done for Filmways. It was a fantastic movie, but Jim Garner got in a pissing contest with the president of Filmways, so it never got the proper release. It's being revived today, and it recently played at the Peterson Museum for about 500 people, and I got a standing ovation. They let me be the speaker, and James Garner was there, Parnelli Jones, Carol Shelby, Mario Andretti?all the big race guys that are still alive. They just loved this movie so much. I went from that documentary to a picture called Stacey, which I did with Roger Corman.
dOc: The lovely Anne Randall was in that.
AS: Ah yes, Anne Randall. But [Corman] was a pain in the ass to be in business with?"Here's the money, find it." I didn't do it for the money, but it was like a creative f***** for me. It was a break away from the f****** action, you can do a lot of football and it's important, and the games are important, and the people love it, but if you have half a brain you can only do so many kickoffs. It's coverage. I've always said that when I'm doing a football game I'm covering say, Joe Montana or Joe Namath or Fran Tarkenton, I'm covering those guys commanding a football team. When I'm doing a movie, I am f****** Joe Namath. That's the difference. One, your just covering what they're doing, the other you are the f*****.
dOc: You've covered the Olympics during your time at ABC?
AS: Ten of them.
dOc: I've always been a big Olympics fan, and I still have vivid memories of certain Olympic events that I saw on television when I was a kid. When you're there directing, do you get the same sense of excitement, or is it just a job?
AS: You get a little fired up for the Olympics. Especially in Munich, I was there as the main director when all that shit hit the fan. It's a memorable son-of-a-bitch, and you just don't f****** walk away from that. Being Greek, the Olympics mean a lot to me. I used to tell Jim McKay "we were holding the Olympic games while your people were living in trees." When the black guys held their fists up in Mexico City, that started all this s***, and people realized that if you did something at the Olympics, it gets covered. It was billions. Forget the "m's", you're into "b's" now, your into a billion of people watching. And if you want to make an impression, that's the place to do it. It's worldwide.
dOc: You also were responsible for the famous football game sequence in Robert Altman's M*A*S*H, correct?
AS: Altman came to me in tears, and he begged me and said "I don't know a f****** thing about football." I was with ABC for so long, and I said "Ok, I'll do this for you". What a prick. If you call up central casting and say "send me a prick over," he shows up. I not only did the f****** thing, and helped him cast it and shot all the stuff, I even ad-libbed everything. Everything on the field, except for one or two lines they had, was directed by me. He did the stuff on the sidelines, but I did the stuff on the field. When John Schuck's character says "I'm gonna take your f****** head off," I wrote that as a joke.
dOc: That's one of the most memorable sequences in the whole film.
AS: Exactly. I did all that on the spot. I told him what color uniforms to get, where to get it, and I found the location. They were going all over, looking at stadiums. They didn't want a stadium, this was a f****** M*A*S*H unit, so I found a place in Griffin Park, but the field was only 110 yards long. But you need 120 yards, because you have to have both end zones. I told him where to put the cameras, where to put the trucks. I set this whole f****** thing up.
dOc: How did it go afterwards?
AS: At the end of the picture, I went to a screening they had at Fox. I went to the door, and the PR guy and the producer are hugging me, saying "My God, Andy, without you we couldn't have never done this f****** picture." Now this particular screening was for sportcasters and sportswriters all over the country, 300 of them, and they stood up and gave it a standing ovation. Then I looked at the closing credits and I saw that they taken my name off. Robert Altman took all the credit. They all thought he did it. That was a very bad experience, a chicken-s*** experience.
dOc: So even with all of that aggravation, you still went into directing movies starring Playboy Playmates.
AS: Yeah, I did Stacey and a lot of other movies. I used Playboy Playmates because there was a certain cache with them then, and there still is.
dOc: Being a Playmate does indeed carry something with it.
AS: Certain of our girls, like Roberta Vasquez, Dona Speir, and in some cases Cynthia Brimhall, they are as good as the gals who the soaps or do the stuff at night. But because they were Playmates, people thought they weren't going to be very good actresses. Check out some of the f****** broads on late-night television, they've got one blonde broad on The Pretender, and one blond broad on C.S.I., they are f****** awful. They're not awful, you can't understand them. I've always said at least our girls enunciated.
dOc: Did you have to get the blessing of Hugh Hefner?
AS: I did Malibu Express with Hefner, we did that picture for half a million bucks. We both put up the money, I put up $250,000, and Hef put up $250,000. We finished the picture, and his people at Playboy had sold off to MGM for a $10,000 advance, and they said "Yeah, we sold off part of the picture to MGM." I said "F*** you, I didn't give you my permission." I paid them their 250, and got the movie back. Hef wasn't crazy about the movie, because it had girls running and sweating and shooting, and he wanted us to do a little romance. I don't do a little romance, I do f****** action. He wanted Doris Day. This isn't Doris Day and Rock Hudson, this is girls sweating a little bit, then kicking ass. Especially later on, when I did Hard Ticket To Hawaii and stuff like that.
dOc: Malibu Express worked out well for you.
AS: Malibu Express was a very big score for me, which gave us a little money, and jumpstarted everything we're doing. We were able to finance Hard Ticket To Hawaii, we rolled it over to the next picture, etc. We use our own money. I can't go through the regular process. I can't do a script, turn it over to a studio, have a reader read it, and have some kid out of college come to me and say "That doesn't work for me." I'm gonna kill the f*****, and I'll be in jail. It serves me well, and is cheaper, to finance my own movies.
dOc: Playmates Dona Speir and Hope Marie Carlton starred together in number of your films throughout the 1980s, as a team. Dona is in your later films, but no Hope Marie. I know she (Carlton) is still making movies. Where did she go? She was always one of my favorites.
AS: Hope was terrific. She was good on the screen, but she was difficult. She thought she should be doing bigger and better, and we said please go do bigger and better. She was not a team player as much as we would have liked, but she delivered for us. She was always late, and very difficult, and she knows it. But we're happy she did our pictures, and she certainly had great sex appeal, but she just wasn't quite with the program. She's a nice enough person, she just wasn't right for the program. She finally had her breasts made just right, and when we were getting ready to make Guns, she said "I don't want to expose my breasts." We said "Hope, bless you, child, we think the world of you, God Bless you, but we'll see you later." Who the hell are we kidding?
dOc: That's part of the appeal of your films.
AS: It is, Rich. We've never shown anything below the waist, and we don't do any bumping and grinding or any of that crap. We just do a little bit of sexy stuff. I like our pictures, because they're nice little adventure pictures. They're not mean-spirited, and I think you know that. In our movies, we don't put a knife to some girl's throat and say "We're gonna cut your t*** off, or cut your throat." We don't do crap like that. We have a family atmosphere, we pay well, and we pay on time.
dOc: How's the work coming on Volume Two of The Andy Sidaris Collection?
AS: Our work is to finish the next four DVDs, which would be Fit To Kill, Day Of The Warrior, Dallas Connection, and Return To Savage Beach. Those four we're doing soon. After we go through this with Ventura, then we're going to try direct response, which would mean you'd get the book, the 12 volume DVD set, the whole thing. We going to do another picture called Battlezone Hawaii, and we going to do a whole behind the scenes thing from day one, from the time we cast on.
dOc: There are an enormous amount of great supplementals on the Volume One set, especially if you're a fan. The behind-the-scenes film school segments are a blast.
AS: For Battlezone Hawaii, there will tons of that stuff, everything from cameras in the dressing room when the girls are getting dressed, to the guys getting prepared, and all the rehearsals. We will shooting a couple of cameras just for that, and I think it will be an interesting background.
dOc: Has Battlezone Hawaii been cast yet?
AS: No, it's been written. I wrote it in about four days. It's a lot of fun, it's about a theft of a Faberge Egg. I don't like to do drug pictures, everybody does drug pictures. I'm sick of f****** drug pictures. We haven't cast it yet, but we will have Julie Strain in it. She's like Bosley in Charlie's Angels.
dOc: You seem to be grooming former Penthouse Pet Julie Strain as your next big leading actress.
AS: She's going to be our lead, but not really our lead, if you know what I mean. We need younger girls, but she's like Bosley, and is going to be there like the mothership. But look at Shae Marks, let's face it, "they" are bigger than life. "They" are spectacular. Our pictures are bigger than life, and if people take them seriously then they don't have a sense of humor. Our girls have got to be bigger than life. Don't you agree?
dOc: Most definitely. What's the creative process when you sit down to write one of your films?
AS: My wife Arlene uses all of these fancy words like "motivation" and "story". Where the f*** did you learn those words? I couldn't spell "story" if you spotted me the "s" and the "t", for chrissakes. I have an idea in my head of locations, and I kind of know who I want to cast. I think in terms of Julie Strain, and little Julie Smith, because I know what they can do and what they're about. Julie Smith is one of the greatest dancers who ever lived, and there's nobody sexier than that. There's nothing sexier than Shae Marks when it comes to just walking down the street. Shae makes guys fall to their knees. She's very nice and sweet, as is little Julie and big Julie. They're just terrific gals. I have locations that I already know I can use, in Hawaii, Texas, Louisiana, stuff that would cost the studios nine 18-wheelers, 3 stunt people, 14 f****** people working on the honey wagon, and that s***. We're just going to go to my son's house we built in Louisiana, we sit there and have a donut and a cup of coffee, and say "Ok, get on the motorcycles." Our stars get on, our doubles get on, and we start kicking ass.
dOc: What's the average budget on your projects?
AS: We don't say much about that. We're not going to lie to you and say they're ten million dollar pictures, but they look like three million dollar pictures. You won't find prettier pictures shot. I know f****** pictures. I know what every shot is. I know these lenses better than the directors of photography, I say give me a 50 or give me a 35. I have DP's that help me, too, and always give me more than I ask. I don't take a fee, Arlene doesn't take a fee, but if you did it normally it would be about one or two million.
dOc: When you're writing a screenplay, do you have an Andy Sidaris formula for how long between in a convenient nude scene?
AS: No, I just throw them in wherever it's convenient. A lot of people have asked me if I do x number of exposures, or x number of nude scenes, but normally it just comes out to like five or six. Sometimes they're paced close together, sometimes that's the way the story goes, and other times there'll be four together and there won't be anything for an hour. I feel like when there's nudity required, it's there. Certainly some of it is gratuitous, I'm not going to lie to you, but hey, that's what we're here for. In the play 42nd Street, where he says "You go on that stage an unknown, you come off that stage a star," I say "You step into that hot tub an unknown, you step out that hot tub a star."
dOc: That's quite a mantra.
AS: That's it. And I first uttered it at age five. It depends on how it fits in there. Toward the end, when we did Fit To Kill, Dona (Speir) said to Arlene "I feel like in this script there's a little bit more nudity," and Arlene said "Rest assured, Dona. You're absolutely f****** right." There was a lot more nudity, but that's the way it's going to be. That's just the way that one worked out.
dOc: Have you found the boundaries of the R-rating to have expanded at all over the years?
AS: No. To the little guy, it hasn't. Some things have happened to us with this rating situation, that have just been abominable, but then I read where other people get whacked with it too, so I don't just think it's me. Some of the big shots get it to. I had a scene in Malibu Express that was unbelievable, and I couldn't do it without it because the whole picture sort of revolved around it. It was the scene with Brett Clark, the chauffeur that was the bad guy, and he's in bed with Shelley Taylor Morgan, and it's after they've made love. It was one of those positions where she's on her right elbow, and he's on his right elbow, and I just wanted to see both of their faces, and he's just talking over her shoulder. They told me I had to take that scene out because it looked like he was giving it to her in the ass. I said "What!?" I wouldn't take that scene out, we fought for it, and it probably delayed me two weeks. We tightened it here and there, but they were just talking! I can't take the scene out.
dOc: It's a key plot point.
AS: At that point, he has to get out of bed, and take the videotape out of the thing, and it just sort of wraps the scene up. What the f***? It comes out of the blue, and it totally f**** you up for a week or two, you can't make a print, and there was no way to edit around it. That's the kind of stupidity you fall into.