Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My B-movie mentor - David Heavener

I went to film school in Nashville at the Watkin's Institute of Design. Approaching completion of the required credits, I was reminded that an internship was needed for the degree. Responding honestly that I had been remiss in seeking out the proper avenues to complete this final task, my advisor said, "I've got a few things you might be right for..." 

As soon as she told about David Heavener, a low budget one man show ala' Roger Corman, I jumped at the chance. The most amazing part was that I'd never heard of him - I loved low budget cult movies! I scrambled to find some of his films. After watching them, I realized why I had never heard of him. Bad movies, but I'd only found a couple and since he'd been involved in dozens of features I figured I'd give him the benefit of the doubt.

I had been hearing stories about a new film studio he had constructed outside of Nashville. The hype was, now that Nashville was growing as a production center, "big-shot" David Heavener was coming to town to crank out a series of films using locals. I have to admit, the night before my first day with Heavener I was pretty excited. As I drove the rural highways toward the border of Nashville and Kentucky, all I saw was farmland and run down gas stations selling beef jerky. I thought to myself, "This is a strange place for a film studio."

Well, it wasn't much of a film studio. More like a wooded estate with a small house and a pre-fab office and warehouse. David was affable enough and his wife and young children were delightful. He employed a thirty-something woman (whose name escapes me) that spent most of her day running down distributers for royalties owed to Heavener. David was a rare bird, a guy who acted, produced, scored, and distributed the films he wrote and directed. While most of it was admittedly shlocky, David placed his work into the world market with total control while retaining the rights to everything. We're talking a man in the mold of Corman or Russ Meyer - both extremely difficult acts to follow. 

Heavener pulls a Chow Yun Fat in "Fugitive X"

Dave's curriculum vitae

While the job was a good indicator of how boring the entertainment business can be, I'll never forget watching David pace around the office on the phone with Ike Turner, puffing a cigar and low balling the legendary wife beater for the screen rights to his life. It's a damn shame we never saw that movie. He even let me write a few scenes for a sci-fi flick he was planning to shoot in Nashville - humoring me in my pathetic first attempts at learning the craft of screenwriting. At the end of my tenure he signed the form and allowed me to graduate, even though my skills at wringing money out of his German distributers were decidedly below par.

My time with David wasn't that productive, (much like his filmmaking career in Nashville considering he high-tailed it out of there in a matter of a few years) but looking back I realize I should've "run with the ball". I have a feeling there was a lot more to learn from him than I managed to that summer. Oh, and that film he made in Nashville was called "Outlaw Prophet" AKA "Escape 2020" - a truly woeful piece of celluloid (I mean video) sampled below. David Heavener's later years never matched up to his B-movie stardom in the video boom of the eighties, but I find myself wishing him well wherever he might be.

choice cuts from Heavener's filmography

LA Goddess - Kathy Showers' unforgettable debut

"I'm gonna send you to hell, Ebert!"

David gets "tortured" in "Fugitive X"

The coin slot was rigged to blow

Heavener lining up a shot on "Fugitive X"

Babes in Filmland

Heavener's take on "Rambo" - "Kill Crazy"

"You should've tipped the valet!"

Character actor extraordinaire William Smith 

at least he got to work with Tony Curtis and Isaac Hayes

I might have to look into this

David Heavener as my hometown hero Elvis

I wonder if any of the scenes I wrote made the cut - hope not

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