Lewis Teague: “The job of a director on the set to a large degree is to keep everybody’s moral up”

For as long as I can remember and ever since I first became familiar with his work, I always thought filmmaker Lewis Teague (b. 1938) was terribly underrated. He’s a very knowledgable, versatile and efficient craftsman with quite a bit of highly skilled films to his credit, he was a very productive from the 1970 through the 1990s, and his film legacy so far is very appealing.

Born in New York, he went to New York University where his classmates included Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma. By the end of his second year at NYU, he accidentally took a film production class and ‘got hit by a bolt of lighting,’ as he says. He knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life: he wanted to become a filmmaker. After making shorts at NYU in the early 1960s—influenced by the French New Wave directors such as Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut and Jacques Rivette, rather than the classic American cinema—he got a scholarship in 1963. Mr. Teague moved to Los Angeles after he landed a director’s contract at Universal, he apprenticed with Sydney Pollack and directed an episode of “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” (1964), but in the end opened and ran an underground movie theater called Cinematheque 16 on Sunset Strip in 1965, programming art house films and documentaries for the next few years. He then returned to filmmaking, did second unit work, was production manager (“Woodstock,” 1970) and edited, and by the late 1970s, he had become a full-fledged film director of features such as “The Lady in Red” (1979), “Alligator” (1980), “Cujo” (1983), “Cat’s Eye” (1985), “The Jewel of the Nile” (1985), “Collision Course” (1989) and “Navy Seals” (1990).

Just like watching his movies, it was a thrill to meet Mr. Teague in person at his home in Los Angeles, where he talked passionately about his work, Roger Corman, “Cujo” and many of the other projects he worked on over the years. As a born storyteller—and what a superb and delightful storyteller he is—Mr. Teague really knows what filmmaking is all about. I was all ears.

Martin Scorsese, one of the most significent and influential filmmakers of his generation. Photograph: © Leo/Film Talk

Mr. Teague, is it true that Martin Scorsese suggested you to start working for Roger Corman?

Yes, that’s true. In fact we were in school together [NYU]. Marty had just finished “Boxcar Bertha” [1972] for Roger, and Roger called Marty, asking him to edit a film. But Marty said, ‘I can’t because I’m starting a feature called “Mean Streets” [1973], so I’m not avialable.’ Apparantly he suggested Roger to call me, which he did, and that’s how I got to edit something. I was about to start a little low-budget film myself, called “Dirty O’Neil” [1974], so I had to pass on that at that time. But I realized that Roger was giving everybody opportunities to direct, so if I could edit for him, that would be my entrance to his company. When Monte Hellman, a friend of mine, was doing a film for Roger called “Cockfighter” [1974] and I got to edit it, that was my foot in the door.

Wasn’t that one of those Roger Corman films that had various titles?

Yes, and that also happened a lot with Monte’s films. Roger had told me once, ‘Lewis, I will never lose money on a film if I have the right title and a low enough budget.’ After we finished “Cockfighter,” it was released in the South—I think Georgia—on a Friday, and that Monday morning I got a call from Roger. He said, ‘Lewis, I thought people in the South would be interested in a film about cockfighting, and apparently they’re not, so I’m changing the title and I want to make a new trailer with sex and action in it.’ At that time Joe Dante was cutting trailers for Roger, and Roger said, ‘Give Joe all the shots with sex and violence.’ And I said, ‘Roger, Monte didn’t shoot any sex and violence.’ There was a long pause, and then Roger said, ‘I don’t care where you get them, just get Joe some shots of sex and violence.’ Roger’s company New World Pictures had a huge library of exploitation films of different genres. There was this student nurse genre, a women in jail genre—all kind of stuff like that—so I went through those films and I found shots of police cars and student nurses opening their blouses, and I gave all those shots to Joe Dante to make a new trailer. But I didn’t feel good about it, because those shots weren’t in the film. So I called Roger and I talked to him about it. And then he said, ‘Oh, you’re right. Put them in the film.’ So I had to recut the film. There’s a scene in there where Warren Oates goes to sleep and it fades out and then fades in the next morning. And now, Warren goes to sleep, dreams about police cars and nurses opening their blouses. It was pretty silly, but that’s what it was like to work for Roger.

Independent filmmaker Roger Corman, now 93, produced over four hundred films since his first feature “Highway Dragnet” (1954) starring Richard Conte and Joan Bennett. From the 1950s through the 1980s, he also directed several features. Photograph: © Leo/Film Talk

When you started directing, I always thought it was interesting to see how you were able to tell a story with animals in a leading role, like you did in your early films “Alligator” [1980], “Cat’s Eye” [1985], and especially “Cujo” [1983] about a dog terrorizing a village.

When I did “Cujo,” I tried to make certain scenes as scary as possible. It was a Stephen King adaptation, and the first one of his that I had seen, was “Carrie” [1976]. Brian De Palma had done a very good job, and one of the main reasons for the film’s effectiveness, I thought, was the fact that he had a very scary shot at the end of the film when the hand popped up. The entire audience screamed, and that’s the thing they remembered best because it was at the very end of the film. So when I did “Cujo,” I wanted to tell a good story about something meaningful, and I knew the success would depend on whether I could make it scary. I studied films that I found very scary or that I knew were very effective when they had been shown to an audience, to extract whatever principles filmmakers used in those films to get their adiences to jump, and somehow make that work.

And all of that started with “Alligator”?

Yes, I wanted to make that scary, but I sort of changed course right before we started shooting. We built a thirty-six-foot alligator out of rubber with an aluminum frame that was articulated so the legs could move, and two very strong men with powerful legs who had to carry that weight, got inside. One man had his legs in the front, the other in the rear, and they would walk. This wasn’t my idea, I had been very sceptical about it, because I had heard about all the problems that Steven Spielberg had with his giant rubber shark when he had made “Jaws” [1975]. I knew the history of that film, and they only used the rubber shark in a few shots. For the most part he had to create scary scenes from a certain point of view. So I was very sceptical about this rubber alligator, but the producer had already started spending money to build it before I got hired to direct the film. When we had completed this alligator, we had set it up on a parking lot out in the San Fernando Valley, behind the studio of the special effects company that had built it. We set up a couple of cameras to shoot it, that took about two or three hours to get everything set up, all the cameras in position, we discussed everything we wanted to do, and by the time we shot it, a huge crowd had gathered, maybe a hundred and fifty people. They were just standing around and watching, and when the two men got inside of the alligator suit, I called ‘Action!’ for them to start walking. If you watch a real alligator, it moves this close to the ground and has legs that stand out quite a distance as it’s moving forward. But the geometry of two men in an alligator suit is totally different, and when our alligator started walking, everybody burst into laughter. I thought, ‘This is a comedy, this isn’t going to be a scary film.’ So we’d better tell a funny story. John Sayles wrote a very witty script with a lot of funny lines. That was effective. I did try to put in a few very scary scenes, but they turned out to be not that very scary.

[The trailer of “Alligator”]

Where did you find your inspiration to shoot scary scenes, or make scary movies?

Well, before I did “Alligator” I went out to study films that I thought were scary. The two main films that I zerod in on, were “Wait Until Dark” [1967] with Audrey Hepburn as the blind woman, and “Jaws.” In “Wait Until Dark” there’s this scene where she thinks she stabbed Alan Arkin and she leaves him lying on the floor, she then wants to get out of the apartment but she can’t open the door, and she remembers there’s this window. Do you remember that scene? The other film is “Jaws” with this scene where Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider are out in the ocean and they find a boat that has been overturned. Dreyfuss jumps overboard and swims over to the boat, and there’s a big hole on one side. I examined this scene, and I found that it contains most of the same principles that are also in the scene from “Wait Until Dark”: there’s a monster that we know is lethal, we’re in the monster’s domain—whether it’s an apartment or the ocean—but Spielberg added things to make it even scarier: the fact that it’s night, when it’s always spookier because things can appear out of the darkness, and he has two people and he separates them. So you’re in the shark’s domain, it’s night, you see a boat with a hole in it, and you know immediately the shark has been there and that he has attacked. He’s probably nearby, or he could be, and you hear the music of John Williams, sneaking in the shark theme [hums the theme]. Everything is telling the audience that the shark is about to attack Richard Dreyfuss. Only instead of the shark coming in from the direction you’d expect, your attention is drawn to the other direction. So the principle is to create a scary environment with a monster that you think will attack, you use the music to create suspense, you use the camera to lead the audience to expect the attack is going to occur from a specific direction, maybe at a specific time, and then it doesn’t happen. It’s an exercise in biochemistry: you get the audience to be scared, they’re nervous, they get a lot of adrenaline into their system, and they’re prepared for the attack. If the attack happens when and from the direction they expect it to, they’re not going to react because they’re prepared. In “Alligator” I tried to include a scene based on these principles, but it didn’t work correctly, it just didn’t seem scary. So when I was doing it, I thought, ‘Why can’t I get it to work?’ I wished I could have called Spielberg. But I remembered that the editor on “Jaws” was Verna Fields. I thought, ‘Maybe I can call her, maybe she can help me out here.’

Were you able to reach her?

Yes, when we did “Alligator” she was in charge of post-production at Universal, so I phoned her office, and got her secretary on the phone. I asked if I could speak to her. ‘No, she’s busy, she’s in a meeting. But I can take a message. What’s this regarding?’ I said, ‘Please tell her that I ripped off a scene from “Jaws,” I stole a scene from the film and I can’t make it work. I would like to talk to her to help me out.’ Five minutes later she called me back, and we spent an hour on the phone, talking about how Spielberg had made the same mistakes that I did when they first shot that scene for “Jaws.” They had edited the film, they scored it, they previewed it and it didn’t work. Then they analyzed why it didn’t work. Verna said, ‘The first time they shot it, Richard Dreyfuss was swimming over to the boat to discover the hole, and the head was already there. As the head came into view, the audience was ready for it, and it wasn’t scary.’ They had to reshoot that scene but the studio wouldn’t give them any money, so they reshot it in her swimming pool. They recut and rescored it, and it became one of the scariest scenes in the film. Well, I couldn’t get any money to reshoot my scene, we didn’t have time when we did “Alligator,” but I knew what I had done wrong and could do better next time. So when I was shooting “Cujo,” I had a scene in there where I literally set it up the same way, and this time shot it differently so I could utilize what Verna Fields suggested that I would do. It’s the scene where Dee Wallace drives her car to the farm, she gets out of the car, and says ‘Is anybody home?’ By then you know that the dog, that lethal dog that has killed a couple of people, is somewhere on that farm. She arrives there, I start shooting from underneath the barn door, suggesting that it’s the dog’s point of view as the car comes in. The audience thinks they know where the dog is. Then Dee Wallace gets out of the car, and looks around while her son is still in the passenger’s seat. At that point I started to—whatever I can—to amplify the suspense with a three hundred and sixty move around the car, the music is getting spookier and spookier to suggest that she’s vulnerable, that she’d better get back in her car, because she’s in trouble. Quentin Tarantino calls that stretching the rubber band of suspense: you keep stretching and stretching it as far as you can, until it breaks. You have the suggestion that the dog is approaching, and the audience realizes that the dog is about to attack. And also, when we moved the camera, or did a crane shot, it’s usually going someplace, it will wind up in a position where you expect something to happen. Nowadays people move the camera for no particular reason at all, we used to have a reason to move the camera, to create either some sort of anticipation, like when you’d expect the dog to attack. So the camera moved closer and closer, and when we reached the point when you’d expect the dog to attack, the camera stops, and there’s a moment of silence. The audience has a chance to relax because the attack has not occured and then—boom—the dog smashes up in the window on the other side. And that worked. Everytime I saw it in a theater, I could see the reaction of the audience, everytime they were really screaming.

You didn’t use any special effects, did you?

No, nothing. We didn’t have any computer generated effects in those days. If you wanted it on film, you had to shoot it on film. When I worked for Roger Corman all those years, I had been doing a lot of second unit action sequences and I always used to make a deal with him and his brother Gene when I did second unit on several of their films. I said, ‘I’ll shoot it if I can edit my own material and then turn it over to the director.’ Because I would often shoot bits and pieces and nobody would know how to cut it together to create an effect. Like in “Cujo,” do you remember when the dog rams the side of the car? Well, I couldn’t get a real dog to do that. I had to plan it shot by shot. First of all, we had about ten dogs, and each dog had a different skill. One dog could run, another one could growl, another one could lick his lips—whatever we needed—we also had a mechanical dog, and I had a man in a Saint Bernard dog’s suit. So we took the dog that could run, took a straight-on shot of the car, looking directly at the front of the car, so that you couldn’t see that we had removed both doors and had taken out the front seats, and the dog had a clear passage right through the car. It could run towards the car, jump up into it, and come out at the other side. So at least I had a shot of the dog running towards the car and jumping. Then we had other shots, like where you could see that the door was closed. We put several shots together, like running to the car, jumping, throwing himself to the car, falling, lying on the ground, etc., and then you get a scene of that dog actually performing that action. Today, I can guarantee you that the studio would use CGI to do the same thing.

When you shot action sequences like that, did you use storyboards?

No, it was all pretty much in my head. I only used storyboards when I had to use a second unit director on films like “The Jewel of the Nile” [1985] and ”Navy Seals” [1990], so they would know what kind of shots I wanted. Even though I’m an artist and I like to draw, I’ve never really storyboarded too much. I like the organic discovery of coming on the set and looking at the elements that I’m going to work with, intuitively figuring out where the camera should go. Obviously I planned things, like I just described about the dog ramming the car, I had to know in my head what elements I needed. I had meetings with the cameraman, the dog trainer, the stunt man and the prop department to prepare the scenes for the following days. We would meet and discuss what we were going to do, so everybody was able to contribute. I would come on the set and the car would be there with the doors taken off and the seats taken out if that is what I needed, while the animal trainer had already spent a couple of hours with the dogs, so he also knew what he had to do.

Would you consider “Cujo” as your most personal or proudest achievement?

In a way, yes. I had so much fun working on it. I liked the people that I was working with a lot. You had Dee Wallace, Danny Pintauro who played the five-year-old kid, Jan de Bont who was the cinematographer… I had seen his first films like “Turkish Delight” [1973] and “Keetje Tippel” [1975] and I became a huge fan. We had met socially and I also knew he was a film buff. He had so much film history and knowledge. In several European countries, the cinematographer is the operator too, so then you’re only dealing with one person, because movement is so important to me, and I wanted to work with one person to plan a shot like that. When we arrived on the set, Jan and I could spend an hour in the car talking about scenes that were coming up. And if I had an idea, like for example when [the character of] Tad, the five-year-old, comes out of the bathroom, turns the light off and runs to his bed, I wanted the room to suddenly expand and go from being normal sized to twice or three times its length, shoot a shot of him running towards the camera, and then the camera tilts upside down. When I talked to Jan, he knew exactly what it was about. He is one of the hardest working cinematographers I have ever worked with, he liked the challenge of coming up with a new and interesting move, and he always managed to get it done. So I think “Cujo” is my best film, although there are quite a few films that I like a lot—“Lady in Red” [1979] and “Alligator” are also a few of them.

[The trailer of “Cujo”]

What about your latest project “Charlotta TS” [2010]? How did that come about?

You know, for a do-it-yourself project it was okay. It was shot as a web series. I got the blu-ray now to watch it on my 4K Ultra HD TV set [laughs]. But I know actress Laura Bayonas [who played Charlotta] very well, and she was really disappointed because nothing really happened with it. When I was teaching at UCLA, I became very interested in digital technology, and while I tried to learn as much as I could about digital filmmaking, I made a short called “Cante Jondo” [2007]. That was my first experiment with a do-it-yourself digital project. It was fun, and I learned a lot. Then I decided to do a web series. So I went to Laura Bayonas to talk about it. She’s from Spain where she had also worked with Pedro Almodóvar, and she said, ‘I’ve always been so jealous of the transvestites because they were so free.’ She was born during the Franco era [in 1965], during this conservative catholic culture in which women were pretty much restricted and oppressed while the transvestites seemed to be totally uninhibited. So she said, ‘I’d like to play a transvestite,’ and we did a test. She put on this outfit and we went to a club out in the San Fernando Valley that had a drag show with female impersonators. I had a tiny digital camera, and she pretended to be a transsexual. She was talking to people and everybody believed her. Then I thought, ‘Maybe she can make it work.’ That’s how it began. Originally I was going to shoot just one episode, when she’s being arrested after she and an undercover policeman did it in the back of a car, and she was trying to get out of it. Then we decided to do more episodes, and before you knew it, I think I shot a total of seventeen episodes. The season ended when the character of Charlotta returned to Barcelona, to her mother who had breast cancer, and who was going through chemo and surgery. I had rough plans for a second season, where we’d learn a lot about her background and her childhood. Looking at it the other day, I began to wonder, ‘What can we do with this now?’ because when I shot it, there was nothing on TV or in the media about transsexuals, and now it’s a big deal.

Compared to all the projects you talked about, a film like “The Jewel of the Nile” [1985] must have been a totally different experience.

Up to that point, all the films that I did were personal films. I always had the liberty to change whatever I needed to change to make it more interesting or to make it work better. When I did “The Jewel of the Nile” I just wanted to get on the A list of directors. I wanted it to be a commercial film, and hadn’t I been so eager to get on the A list, I would have been more playful and I would have had more fun with it.

[The trailer of “The Jewel of the Nile” starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner]

You are a very underestimated filmmaker, aren’t you?

I like to think so. Although I’m probably my own worst critic too.

How do you work on the set? Like when you shoot a scene—any scene—and you do multiple takes, do you also change the camera angle or the lighting?

I usually do as many takes as I need to get the specific shot that I want or that I have in mind. When I did “Fighting Back” [1982], I started to move the camera every time. The way that came about was interesting. We were shooting in New York City, in the Italian neighborhood with a lot of Italian groceries. On a cold winter day in January, we had a scene where a woman gets her purse snatched by a robber and then Tom Skerritt chases the robber. So I set up the first shot with the woman, we did it, and then I said, ‘Okay, let’s do it again.’ But then the producer on the set told me, ‘No, today you only get one take per shot.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He told me that he’d fire me if I did another take. I told him, ‘Dino De Laurentiis is producing this movie. Let’s go down to the candy store where there’s a phone and let’s call Dino.’ So we walked in the snow to the candy store, I call Dino in his office—what a character he was. Did you ever get the chance to interview him?

No, I didn’t.

He was such a wonderful human being, he was legendary. So I got him on the phone and I said, ‘Dino, there’s a problem here because the producer for some unknown reason says I can only do one take per shot, or he’ll fire me. And I got a whole crew waiting for me to solve this problem. Will you talk to him and tell him he can’t do that?’ And Dino said, ‘Okay, put him on the phone.’ So I gave him the phone, I walked out of the store and waited outside for about five minutes. The whole crew was up there in the street, waiting and looking at me, like ‘What’s happening?’ Finally the producer came out and said, ‘Dino wants to talk to you.’ So I went back in and said, ‘Dino, what does he say? Because I think he feels I haven’t been respecting him enough during the course of the production. Whenever I had a problem, I came directly to you because he had no experience, and I think now he’s trying to make a point.’ Then Dino said, ‘Lewis, be a smart guy. Move the camera one inch and it becomes a new shot. Instead of doing scene one, take two, it will now become scene two, take one.’ So I got back to the set, and the whole crew wanted to know what happened, they wanted to know who won the battle [laughs]. And I said, ‘Okay, print that shot, take one. Now take the camera and move it right here.’ Within five seconds everybody knew what I was doing, and they all burst into laughter. So for the rest of the day I just moved the camera a few inches. Then I also began to change the lens—‘Take the seventy-five off and put on a fifty’—trying to get a whole lot of coverage for the editing room. This was the momentum, people began to move faster and they got more excited, they were more interested, we picked up speed, and we finished an entire day of shooting in about half a day. What I learned then was not trying too hard to get a shot. If it’s not working after a few takes, try something different. I found out that when you do multiple takes, it has a certain impact on your cast and crew. ‘Oh, we’re not doing it right.’

[The trailer of “Death Vengeance,” a.k.a. “Fighting Back”]

That’s also what directing is all about?

The job of a director on the set to a large degree is to keep everybody’s moral up, he’s one of the very few people on the set who doesn’t have anything to do, because he’s overseeing it. He’s not shooting it, he’s not editing it, so a director needs to make sure that the cast and crew can do the best possible job. Sometimes I see films where the actors walk through it almost mechanically, and then there are other movies where every actor, top to bottom, seems to be doing a really great job. Then you know that there’s a chemistry on the set created by the director, an environment that helps them to do their work. Did you ever hear of Tamara Jenkins? She directed a film called “Private Life” [2018] with Paul Giametti and Kathryn Hahn. A great film. She does a film like every ten years or so, it’s interesting that she doesn’t do that many movies, because they’re so terrific. She also did “The Savages” [2007] with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney. I met her at the Aspen Film Festival and I told her, ‘All the performances in all your films are so great. Every character comes alive. And when I see that in films, I know that the director is the common demoninator who created this unique atmosphere to enable actors to do that. So what’s your secret?’ And she said, ‘Being goofy.’ She wrote and directed those two films, and she’s really smart, so she can act really goofy and nobody is going to think that she’s stupid. And I saw what she meant by goofy. When she introduced her film before we looked at it, she just got out of the plane, she had a hard time to get from Denver to Aspen because the plane had been delayed, it was snowing… She wasn’t trying to act cool and reserved, she was being spontaneous and acting goofy. When a director acts too cool, the actors don’t feel quite as safe. I have learned so much in the process, I hope I get the chance to make another movie. You know, I worked three, four years on “Charlotta TS” without getting paid, but it was a lot of fun to do it. Every week I would cut together the footage that I had shot, and then decided where I wanted to go with the story. Things would happen in every episode and they would give me ideas for the next episode or for future episodes, so I wrote that stuff down and gave it to Laura Bayonas. She also came up with ideas of her own, and then I’d rewrite everything to include her ideas. On the set, she never stuck to her dialogue, she would always add things which was great, because that’s confusing for other actors. She said things that weren’t in the script, which meant they had to listen and pay attention, so they were really in this situation, and that’s what made it so real. She is not a transsexual, her lesbian girlfriend is not a lesbian. But we worked very hard, we talked about the characters and what was going on to a point that they actually believed what they were doing, that it made sense to them. It was real behavior as far as they were concerned. That was very interesting, I would like to work that way again. A small crew, sometimes there was just me doing the sound, the lighting and shooting. Whenever possible, there was somebody else operating a second camera, and then in more complicated scenes like in the airport or in the plane, I had to bring in additional people to help out, like a professional sound man.

What is the biggest crew you ever worked with? “The Jewel of the Nile” probably?

Yes, although I’m not sure how big that crew was. I was actually discussing it with my assistant director from Madrid, Kuki López Rodero. We were shooting a street scene in Morocco and I was kind of frustrated because I didn’t have time to make the company move after lunch about four miles down the road, to shoot a scene in a location that it had been written for. Kuki said, ‘You cannot do this, we don’t have time to go down the road, we’ll lose the light.” He was this Spanish guy with the tone and the pose of a bullfighter. So I said, ‘Why?’ ‘Because the company is too big.’ At that moment a truck went by that had ‘Jewel of the Nile 115’ in the window. Everytime we added a vehicle to the company, we put a sign in the windshield, Jewel of the Nile with the number of the vehicle on it. So 115, that meant we had at least 115 vehicles in the production. Every vehicle had a driver, and most drivers were driving other people, so I knew that we had at least two hundred people working on this. I never got the exact amount. It really was too big, we couldn’t move. But fortunately there was Jan de Bont again, he made it very interesting. As I already told you, I love his work, and loved working with him, because I wanted to be able to move around with the camera and I wanted someone to figure out the light. With most cinematographers you’d encounter some resistence. I also loved Jack Cardiff, he was my cinematographer on “Cat’s Eye” [1985], he had this beautiful lighting. That’s what they call themselves in Britain, lighting cameramen. But when I had to talk about moves, I had to talk to the operator, and we’d have to put down tracks or boards or something. Jack didn’t like to move the camera because he liked lighting these tableaus. They would be brilliant, but when we’d start moving in, he couldn’t light it the way he wanted to. Jan on the other hand was much more practical and realistic, so he’d bounce the light, or figure out ways to use available light. Working with Jan gave me a lot more freedom to be inventive with camera moves. We did two films, and I’m sorry we didn’t do more. He then started directing and his films like “Speed” [1994] and “Twister” [1996] were so terrific, he did a really good job. The last time I met him, that was a couple of years ago, he said he had retired. He loves working in his garden now. But he has done really great work.

Dutch-born cinematographer and filmmaker Jan de Bont. Photograph: © Leo/Film Talk

Absolutely, but so did you. When I first saw “The Lady in Red” [1979] for example, that film got me introduced to your work, I was very impressed, and I asked myself, ‘Where has this man been hiding for so long?’

You know, there is so much luck involved. When I did “Cujo” a lot of ingredients came together—we had Jan de Bont, Dee Wallace, and producer Daniel H. Blatt was fantastic, he was the main producer. He knew how to get the most out of people in a creative working situation. I was still in the Roger Corman mode—you can’t waste any time, you have to move really fast. And on “Cujo” I remember once I was scheduled to shoot three scenes in one day, and each scene required an extensive make-up change on Dee Wallace. I was worried about the amount of time that she was going to be spending in the make-up trailer. So I told the make-up lady to ride out to the set with me. It was about a half hour drive from the hotel to the set, and there was the driver, the make-up lady, producer Daniel H. Blatt and me. During the whole trip I was talking to her about the make-up and how extensive the make-up change had to be. I really made it very clear to her that we had a lot of work that day and I wanted to finish the three scenes. I didn’t want Dee Wallace to be in that make-up trailer for more than half an hour, that was the only way I was going to make it. She was not a very experienced make-up lady, and she was petrified by that point. As we got out of the car, Daniel, who had been listening to the whole conversation, asked me, ‘Lew, can I talk to you?’ I said, ‘Sure, Dan.’ ‘Maybe we should just do two scenes today and do them right, rather than do three scenes and rush.’ And I said, ‘Oh, okay, of course that would be better.’ The point is that I never felt licensed to do that on my previous films, you couldn’t do that on a Roger Corman film, and have a producer who would actually reschedule things and give you more time to get the best quality, that was a totally new experience for me. Dan also knew how to talk to a director after looking at the dailies. He talked about everything that worked and that was looking well, rather than criticize. Ninety percent of the producers I worked with were pretty good, but that ten percent was pretty f**ked up. Dan was the opposite: he created comfort and confidence on the set. Everybody knew he was also counting the dollars—we had a limited budget—but he was on our side, he wanted to make the best possible film. We also had a great editor, Neil Travis. He later won an Academy Award for “Dances With Wolves” [1990]. So with “Cujo” everything came together, we had a good story, and we were able to make it scary. I like all my films for different reasons, but “Cujo” is very special to me.

Los Angeles
March 26, 2019

FILMS

LOVING (1970) DIR Irvin Kershner PROD Don Devlin PRODUCTION ASSOCIATE Lewis Teague SCR Don Devlin (novel “Brooks Wilson, Ltd.” [1966] by J. M. Ryan) CAM Gordon Willis MUS Bernardo Segall ED Robert Lawrence CAST George Segal, Eva Marie Saint, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Nancie Phillips, Janis Young, David Doyle, Sherry Lansing, Roy Scheider

WOODSTOCK (1970, documentary) DIR Michael Wadleigh PROD Bob Maurice PRODUCTION MANAGER Lewis Teague, Sonya Polonsky CAM Micharel Wadleigh, Malcolm Hart, Don Lenzer, Michael Margetts, David Meyers, Richard Pearce, Alfred Wertheimer ED Martin Scorsese, Thelma Schoonmaker, Michael Wadleigh, Jere Huggins, Stanley Warnow, Yeu-Bun Yee CAST Richie Havens, Joan Baez, The Who, Sha-Na-Na, Joe Cocker, Country Joe and the Fish, Arlo Guthrie, Crosby Stills & Nash, Ten Years After, John Sebastian, Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix, Canned Heat, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin

BONGO WOLF’S REVENGE (1970) DIR – SCR Tom Baker CAM Lewis Teague, Paul Ferrara, Frank Lisciandro ED Tom Baker, David Naftalin MUS Mike Bloomfield, Jim Ford CAST Bongo Wolf, Mike Bloomfield, Severn Darden, Jim Ford, Gemini, Noel E. Parmentel Jr., P. J. Proby, Alan White

THE HARD ROAD (1970) DIR – CAM – ED Gary Graver PROD Ed De Priest SCR Richard Stetson MUS Jaime Mendoza-Nava CAST Connie Nielson, John Alderman, Catherine Howard, Gary Kent, Liz Renay, Ray Merritt, William Bonner, Bruce Kimball, Lewis Teague [uncredited]

SUMMER RUN (1974) DIR – SCR Leon Capetanos PROD Steven Graham, James V. Hart CAM Klaus Köning ED Lewis Teague, Antranig Mahakian MUS Patrick Ferrell CAST Andrew Parks, Tina Lund, Dennis Redfield, Gail Joy, Judy Nugent, Juliet Berto, Phyllis Smith Altenhaus, Leon Capetanos

DIRTY O’NEIL (1974) DIR Lewis Teague, Leon Capetanos [Howard Freen] PROD John C. Broderick SCR Leon Capetanos [Howard Freen] CAM Stephen M. Katz MUS Raoul Kraushaar CAST Morgan Paull, Art Metrano, Pat Anderson, Jean Manson, Katie Saylor, Raymond O’Keefe, Tommy J. Huff

COCKFIGHTER (1974) DIR Monte Hellman PROD Roger Corman SCR Charles Willeford (also novel) CAM Néstor Almendros ED Lewis Teague MUS Michael Franks CAST Warren Oates, Richard B. Shull, Harry Dean Stanton, Ed Begley Jr., Laurie Bird, Troy Donahue, Millie Perkins, Charles Willeford

DEATH RACE 2000 (1975) DIR Paul Bartel SECOND UNIT DIR Lewis Teague PROD Roger Corman SCR Robert Thom, Charles B. Griffith (story “The Racer” by Ib Melchior) CAM Tak Fujimoto ED Tina Hirsch MUS Paul Chihara CAST David Carradine, Simone Griffeth, Sylvester Stallone, Louisa Moritz, Don Steele, John Landis, Paul Bartel, Charles B. Griffith, Dick Miller, Lewis Teague (Toreador [uncredited])

CRAZY MAMA (1975) DIR Jonathan Demme PROD Julie Corman SCR Robert Thom (story by Frances Doel) CAM Bruce Logan ED Lewis Teague, Allan Holzman MUS Snotty Scotty and The Hankies CAST Cloris Leachman, Stuart Whitman, Ann Sothern, Linda Purl, Jim Backus, Tisha Sterling, Donn Most, Sally Kirkland, Dick Miller, John Milius, Bill Paxton, Dennis Quaid, Will Sampson

HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD (1976) DIR Joe Dante, Allan Arkush PROD Jon Davison SCR Patrick Hobby [Danny Opatoshu] CAM Jamie Anderson MUS Andrew E. Stein ED Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, Amy Jones [Amy Holden Jones] CAST Candice Rialson, Mary Woronov, Rita George, Jeffrey Kramer, Dick Miller, Paul Bartel, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, Jonathan Demme, Danny Opatoshu, Lewis Teague (Party Guest [uncredited])

THUNDER AND LIGHTING (1977) DIR Corey Allen SECOND UNIT DIR Lewis Teague PROD Roger Corman SCR William Hjortsberg CAM James Pergola ED Anthony Redman MUS Andy Stein CAST David Carradine, Kate Jackson, Sterling Holloway, Charles Napier, Ron Feinberg, Roger C. Carmel, Eddie Barth, Patrick Cranshaw

AVALANCHE (1978) DIR Corey Allen DIR AVALANCHE SEQUENCES Lewis Teague PROD Roger Corman SCR Corey Allen, Gavin Lambert (story by Frances Doel) CAM Pierre-William Glenn ED Larry Brock, Skip Schoolnik MUS William Kraft CAST Rock Hudson, Mia Farrow, Robert Forster, Jeanette Nolan, Rick Moses, Steve Franken, Barry Primus, Jerry Douglas

FAST CHARLIE… THE MOONBEAM RIDER (1979) DIR Steve Carver SECOND UNIT DIR Lewis Teague PROD Roger Corman, Saul Krugman SCR Michael Gleason (story by Ed Spielman, Howard Friedlander) CAM William Birch MUS Stu Phillips CAST David Carradine, Brenda Vaccaro, L.Q. Jones, R.G. Armstrong, Terry Kiser, Jesse Vint, Noble Willingham, Ralph James

THE LADY IN RED (1979) DIR Lewis Teague PROD Julie Corman SCR John Sayles CAM Daniel Lacambre MUS James Horner ED Lewis Teague, Larry Bock, Ron Medico CAST Pamela Sue Martin, Robert Conrad, Louise Fletcher, Robert Hogan, Laurie Heineman, Glenn Withrow, Christopher Lloyd, Dick Miller, Robert Forster

THE BIG RED ONE (1980) DIR – SCR Samuel Fuller SECOND UNIT DIR Lewis Teague PROD Gene Corman CAM Adam Greenberg ED Morton Tubor, Bryan McKenzie MUS Dana Kaproff CAST Lee Marvin, Mark Hamill, Robert Carradine, Bobby Di Cicco, Kelly Ward, Siegfried Ralich, Stéphane Audran, Charles Macauley, Samuel Fuller

ALLIGATOR (1980) DIR Lewis Teague PROD Mark L. Rosen, Brandon Chase SCR John Sayles (story by John Sayles, Frank Ray Perilli) CAM Joseph Mangine ED Larry Bock, Ron Medico MUS Craig Huxley CAST Robert Forster, Robin Riker, Michael Gazzo, Jack Carter, Dean Jagger, Sidney Lassick, Perry Lang, Sue Lyon, Angel Tompkins, Henry Silva

FIGHTING BACK (1982) DIR Lewis Teague PROD David Permut, D. Constantine Conte SCR Thomas Hedley Jr., David Zelag Goodman CAM Franco Di Giacomo ED Jack Fitzstephens, Nicholas C. Smith MUS Piero Piccioni CAST Tom Skerritt, Patti LuPone, Michael Sarrazin, Yaphet Kotto, David Rasche, Donna DeVarona

CUJO (1983) DIR Lewis Teague PROD Daniel H. Blatt, Robert Singer SCR Lauren Currier, Don Carlos Dunaway (novel “Cujo” [1981] by Stephen King) CAM Jan de Bont ED Neil Travis MUS Charles Bernstein CAST Dee Wallace, Danny Pintauro, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Christopher Stone, Ed Lauter, Kaiulani Lee, Billy Jayne, Mills Watson

CAT’S EYE (1985) DIR Lewis Teague PROD Dino De Laurentiis SCR Stephen King CAM Jack Cardiff ED Scott Conrad MUS Alan Silvestri CAST Drew Barrymore, James Woods, Alan King, Kenneth McMillan, Robert Hays, Candy Clark, James Naughton, James Rebhorn, Tony Munafo, Court Miller, Russell Horton

THE JEWEL OF THE NILE (1985) DIR Lewis Teague PROD Michael Douglas SCR Mark Rosenthal, Lawrence Konner (characters created by Diane Thomas) CAM Jan de Bont ED Michael Ellis, Peter Boita MUS Jack Nitzsche CAST Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, Danny DeVito, Spyros Fokas, Avner Eisenberg, Paul David Magid, Howard Jay Patterson, Holland Taylor

COLLISION COURSE (1989) DIR Lewis Teague PROD Ted Field, Robert W. Cort SCR Robert Resnikoff, Frank Darius Namei CAM Donald E. Thorin ED Sonya Polonsky, Jerry Greenberg [Gerald B. Greenberg] MUS Ira Newborn CAST Pat Morita, Jay Leno, Chris Sarandon, Tom Noonan, Ernie Hudson, John Hancock, Al Waxman, Dennis Holahan, Danny Kamekona

NAVY SEALS (1990) DIR Lewis Teague PROD Brenda Feigen, Bernard Williams SCR Gary Goldman, Chuck Pfarrer CAM John A. Alonzo ED Don Zimmerman MUS Sylvester Levay CAST Charlie Sheen, Michael Biehn, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Rick Rossovich, Bill Paxton, Cyril O’Reilly, Dennis Haysbert, Chuck Pfarrer

WEDLOCK (1991) DIR Lewis Teague PROD Branko Lustig SCR Broderick Miller CAM Dietrich Lohmann ED Carl Kress MUS Richard Gibbs CAST Rutger Hauer, Mimi Rogers, Joan Chen, James Remar, Stephen Tobolowsky, Basil Wallace, Grand L. Bush, Denis Forest, Danny Trejo

TV MOVIES

SHANNON’S DEAL (1989) DIR Lewis Teague EXEC PROD Stan Rogow TELEPLAY John Sayles CAM Andrew Dintenfass ED Neil Travis MUS Wynton Marsalis CAST Jamey Sheridan, Elizabeth Peña, Martin Ferrero, Jenny Lewis, Richard Edsen, Alberta Watson, Earlene Davis, Danny Trejo

T BONE N WEASEL (1992) DIR Lewis Teague PROD Mark Levinson, Samuel Benedict TELEPLAY John Klein (also play) CAM Thomas Del Ruth ED Raja Gosnell MUS Steve Tyrell CAST Gregory Hines, Christopher Lloyd, Ned Beatty, Larry Hankin, Graham Jarvis, Wayne Knight, Rusty Schwimmer, Rip Torn

SAVED BY THE LIGHT (1995) DIR Lewis Teague PROD Ken Raskoff TELEPLAY John Mandel CAM Alan Caso ED Tina Hirsch MUS Patrick Williams CAST Eric Roberts, Lynette Walden, K Callan, Don Harvey, Ted Manson, Don McManus, Amber Elias, Chris Nelson Norris

THE DUKES OF HAZZARD: REUNION! (1997) DIR Lewis Teague PROD Skip Ward, Ira Marvin TELEPLAY Gy Waldron CAM Barry M. Wilson, Larry Lindsey ED Russell Livingstone MUS Steve Wariner CAST Tom Wopat, John Schneider, Catherine Bach, Denver Pyle, James Best, Ben Jones, Sonny Shroyer, Rick Hurst

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA (1997) DIR Félix Enríquez Alcalá, Lewis Teague [uncredited] PROD Larry Rapaport TELEPLAY Lorne Cameron, David Hoselton CAM Barry M. Wilson ED Ed Rothkowitz MUS James Raymond, John Debney CAST Matthew Settle, Kimberly Oja, John Kassir, Michelle Hurd, Kenny Johnston, David Krumholtz, Elisa Donovan, Ron Pearson

LOVE AND TREASON (2001) DIR Lewis Teague TELEPLAY Frank Torski, Susan Rhinehart CAM Ric Waite ED Marshall Harvey MUS Basil Poledouris CAST Kim Delaney, David Keith, Timothy Carhart, Luna Lauren Velez, Ken Pogue, Elizabeth Shepherd, Douglas O’Keeffe

THE TRIANGLE (2001) DIR Lewis Teague PROD Frank Siracusa TELEPLAY Ted Humphrey (story by Ted Humphrey,  Bing Howenstein) CAM Ric Waite ED Mike Lee MUS Lawrence Shragge CAST Luke Perry, Dan Cortese, Olivia d’Abo, Dorian Harewood, Polly Shannon, David Hewlett, Robert Dodds

TV MINI-SERIES

OP CENTER (1995) DIR Lewis Teague PROD Richard L. O’Connor TELEPLAY Steve Sohmer (story by Tom Clancy, Steve Pieczenik) CAM Alan Caso ED Tina Hirsch MUS Patrick Williams CAST Harry Hamlin, Patrick Bauchau, Kabir Bedi, Tom Bresnahan, William Bumiller, David Garrison, Deidre Hall, Bo Hopkins, Ken Howard, France Nuyen, John Savage, Rod Steiger, Wilford Brimley, Carl Weathers

WEB SERIES

CHARLOTTA-TS (2010) DIR – PROD – CAM – ED Lewis Teague SCR Lewis Teague, Laura Bayonas MUS Charles Bernstein CAST Laura Bayonas, Jodie Fisher, Tim Lannen, Wendy Parks, Tom Bresnahan, Frank Cherry, Mercedes Farrandiz