Life is strange. Often, through a chance meeting a life is changed forever, (as demonstrated in Chewbacca, Chinese soup and the Minotaur's shoes). I was a party to such events on several occasions. This story concerns one such occasion.
The sweet smell of success.
In the early 80's, my wife Gloria and I kept a lot of exotic animals. Actually, it was more like a private zoo. Our house was a rambling 400 year old coaching barn, the half way stop for the London to Oxford stage coach in the 16th Century. We had over 200 pets there, lizards, snakes, monkeys, parrots, hawks, owls, foxes, etc. We were a safehouse for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals........ even London Zoo use to offer us their geriatric animals. It was at this time that we became aquainted with a teenager named Jill Hopper who came to us with an interest in keeping reptiles. She joined Gloria's band of young helpers who liked to come by regularly to feed the animals. Over the years she developed into an attractive young woman with a bright smile and a witty competitive spirit.
and Bob Keen in Nick's studio 1983
Bob Keen would often come over to work in my studio and slowly a friendship developed between him and Jill.
When we started on LIFEFORCE Bobby asked me to take Jill on as a tea girl. I knew we would need a lot of help on that project (and a lot of tea!) and although Jill didn't have the background I normally looked for I knew she was a good worker and so I didn't put up too hard a fight. In fact that competitive spirit made her very useful and she quickly settled into the team.
I really enjoyed making LIFEFORCE, to a large extent because Tobe Hopper was so good to work with but, the work was very extensive and the schedule was ludicrously short. To get the job done in time created a lot of tension and we worked between 80 and 110 hours a week. As always seemed to happen on movies where we worked excessively hard, we let off steam with the same enthusiasm. Having known Jill for several years I ribbed mercilessly about her new career. As her confidence grew, she ribbed me back too and before we knew it we had started a well humored feud. A long series of practical jokes developed. As each joke progressed to be that much more intense than the last, we rapidly found ourselves engaged in an all out war.
One Friday at about 6.00 PM, (we never went home before 9.00) I wandered into the main fabrication area to find about 50 of my crew assembled there. I knew the moment I entered that Jill had set me up for something. Before I could make a tactical withdrawal a fat old lady, aged about 70, emerged from the crowd and, tearing off her top, announced that she was there to present me with a Kiss-o-Gram. I never knew old ladies could be that strong. She came at me like a roller coaster knocking me back into a chair and sitting on my lap, slapped me in the face with her wrinkled breasts and showered me with kisses. I tried to escape the sniggering with a modicum of dignity and congratulating Jill on the caliber of her onslaught. I knew that the retaliation needed to be swift and savage.
In my lab I had a book which contained assorted chemical formulas. One was a formula for stink bombs which combined Sulfates with Sulfuric Acid to produce an incredibly awful smell. To my delight I discovered I had all the ingredients. I loaded the mixture into a plant spritzer and in a matter of minutes was back in the workshop where the laughter had hardly subsided. With uncanny accuracy I sprayed the mixture onto her baggy clothes. Just a few drops was enough to clear the room. I particularly liked the fact that either the smell went home with her or she drove home naked and about a week later her clothes developed huge holes until they completely fell apart. Needless to say neither of us could think of anything to top these event without running the risk of serious bodily harm. We declared a truce.
There was a by-product of this prank. At the same time as we were making LIFEFORCE, Jim Henson was making RETURN TO OZ. Their creature work shop was literally just one building away from ours and naturally there was a degree of rivalry amongst the two crews. As a testament to my crew's appreciation of the potency of my mixture I noticed a few days later that the ingredients had gone missing. Several people had asked me about the formula so it was impossible to be certain of the culprits, (though I had my suspicions). Who ever it was, they raided the OZ workshop, putting a jar of the mixture next to the air conditioner intake and used so much stuff that they not only cleared the workshop but stank up half of Borham Wood as well.
During the making of LIFEFORCE Jill and Bob separated and she developed a relationship with another of my crew, Danny Parker. LIFEFORCE was the first real challenge of Danny's talents. A challenge he certainly lived up to as he progressed to design MFX for many movies including the DeNero version of FRANKENSTEIN. He and Jill lived together for many years. And she progressed from Make-up Effects runner to the Production office.
If a young girl's unlikely interest in lizards hadn't lead her to my house she would never have met Bob, gotten into the movies, or lived with Danny. Last I heard, in 1997, she was a Production Manager at Dreamworks.
text © CineSecrets 97/98
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