In the tradition of Disney live-action comedy classics, three 17th century witches (BETTE MIDLER, SARAH JESSICA PARKER, KATHY NAJIMY) are in for a devil of a time when their restless spirits are accidentally conjured up on Halloween Night, in present-day Salem, Massachusetts. Banished 300 years ago for practicing their sorcery, this trio of triple-threat demons vowed to one day reappear -- and now they’re back – weaving an outrageous web of comedy and chaos.
Hungry to pick up where they left off, this tricky trio must surmount still one more hurdle in order to guarantee their immortality. However, the things they need are the same things that stand in their way: Young Max Dennison (OMRI KATZ) , his little sister Dani (THORA BIRCH) , and the beautiful Allison (VINESSA SHAW) , three kids with the power to make or break the witch’s spell.
In the meantime, with eye of newt, toe of frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog (and a talking cat named Binx) , this newly materialized ménage are brewing the perfect recipe for fun and excitement as they plot to bring the whole town of Salem under their dubious spell, in Walt Disney Pictures’ new live-action comedy/adventure “Hocus Pocus.”
A Walt Disney Pictures presentation, “Hocus Pocus” is directed by Kenny Ortega from a screenplay by Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert and a story by David Kirschner and Mick Garris. The producers are David Kirschner and Steven Haft. The co-producer is Bonnie Bruckheimer. Ralph Winter serves as the executive producer and Mick Garris the co-executive producer. Buena Vista Pictures distributes.
Storytelling is a staple of producer David Kirschner’s family activities. As he explains, “All my films start out as anecdotes for my kids. I’m forever telling them legends and lore.”
The gestation for “Hocus Pocus” also began this way. One night, Kirschner and his young daughter were sitting outside their home watching neighborhood activity, when Sam, a neighbor’s black cat strayed by. Then and there Kirschner began to unspool a narrative of how Sam the cat was once a boy who was changed into a feline.
“My daughter was spellbound. ‘How did that happen?’ she asked. I contrived that 300 years ago a young boy was trying to protect his little sister from three witches who then cast a hex on him. The story terrified and delighted her.”
The rapt attention of Kirschner’s daughter led him to embellish the idea into a treatment for a feature film. The story of three witches, three children and a talking cat named Binx sprang forth and came to life.
Director Kenny Ortega, the talented director/choreographer who recently directed Walt Disney Pictures’ live-action musical “Newsies,” and choreographed Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” tour, was the perfect choice to helm this outrageous roller coaster ride of a story.
As producer Steven Haft recalls his first impressions of the director, “I met Kenny soon after I read the script. After spending three hours with him it was clear why he was selected for this film and how vast his contributions were going to be. Kenny is a masterful choreographer, and as a director, he has the sense of movement of Gene Kelly or Stanley Donen. I think he combines that with the visual imagination of director Bob Zemeckis and a brilliant sense of comedy. An important reason I accepted this project was Kenny Ortega.”
Mr. Ortega, who shares a fascination for the myths and imagery of Halloween with many of those involved in the production, was also drawn to the project because it meant he would have the opportunity to work with Bette Midler again. “We worked together years ago on ‘The Rose.’ I love her voice, her personality and that core that just makes her Bette Midler. When I was told Bette was going to do ‘Hocus Pocus’ I became very interested in directing this film.”
Sister sorceresses Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy were both long-time Midler fans and acknowledge that a major incentive for them to do this film was the chance to work with the “Divine Miss M.” “She’s an idol of mine,” says Najimy. Parker agrees, “I didn’t even have to look at the text of the script to know that I wanted to do this film because it was a chance to work closely with Bette.”
And so the three women came together for a six-week rehearsal period prior to the start of principal photography, to brew their own blend of acting magic. As Kenny Ortega observes, “They compliment each other in so many ways. Kathy is a wonderful improv actor. She brings confidence to everything and excites everyone around her. She and Bette fuel each other. Sarah Jessica Parker is subtle and magical. She’s a balance for the threesome and lots of fun. Bette is amazing. She works so hard to be prepared and gives every scene her all.”
Choreographer Peggy Holmes worked closely with the actresses to create their physical movements, the manner in which they would interact with one another, and the way they would “fly.” Each actress flew “in character,” Holmes explains. “Winifred [Midler] is in charge and much more aggressive than the other two. She’s always leading the way and looking for children. Sarah [Parker] loves to fly. She’s always lifting up her mop and can’t wait to get up in the air, whereas Mary [Najimy] is more cautious. Like a good driver, she signals with her hand. Mary is the safe and steady flier.”
The filmmakers and the actresses worked together sifting through books, illustrations, history, and anywhere they might find inspiration for the characters. “The witches were born out of a lot of fun research,” notes director Ortega, “from cartoons to storybooks to fabulous men and women, real and fictitious, throughout time. Each actress found something unique and original to bring to her character.”
Kathy Najimy explains, “Mary is really Eddie Haskell as a witch,” she says, referring to the obsequious character on the classic television series “Leave it to Beaver.” “She sucks up to Winifred every chance she gets. She wants to be part of the power club and Winifred’s got the power. Mary’s talent is her sense of smell. Her father was a bloodhound. She was ashamed of this at first but with the help of support groups for adult children of dogs she is now proud to be different,” the actress jokes.
“My idea for Mary was to make her immediately identifiable,” continues Najimy. “Sarah’s hair is long and blonde, and Winifred had a great big pile of red hair. Because of my keen sense of smell, there had to be something distinguished about my face, so we put an extension on my nose to make it more pronounced. But I wanted the audience to see Mary’s shadow and know it was her. One day during rehearsals I saw a pumpkin that someone in the art department had made. It had a great stem that was big on the bottom and curled up like a decrepit branch at the top, ending with a twist. I thought ‘there’s my hair!.’ Now I have a great twisting purple wig that looks like it’s a branch growing out of my head with spiders and dirt.”
Bette was very serious in her approach to playing Winifred, which turned out to be an amalgam of Cruella De Vil meets the Queen of Hearts from “Alice in Wonderland.” She was looking for a signature witch, different from the classic 17th century sorceresses of legend and lore; a concept all her own that no one had ever seen before. With an assortment of different noses and chins, she tested warts and eyebrows and searched through nearly every book that exists about witches. After sifting through untold numbers of photos of stage and screen witches, she finally arrived at her ideal.
Sarah Jessica Parker’s challenge in creating the character of Sarah Sanderson came when it was time to find a voice. “It would have been inexcusable to use my regular voice because these are such fantasy characters and there’s nothing about them that’s real. I loved the idea of being able to create Sarah. It was liberating. I felt the character wasn’t me, it was someone entirely different and so I wasn’t at all embarrassed about trying things out.
“Of course the Friday before we started shooting arrived and I still hadn’t found a voice. For a while I wanted to do an English boy, a take-off on Dana Carvey impersonating George Michael. So I tried it out but no one was particularly excited about it. I liked the idea of Marilyn Monroe but that voice was too whispery. I wanted Sarah to be a bit like the Shakespeare nymphs, with a little Lolita and a bit of half-wit thrown in. I came up with the voice and once we started shooting there was no going back.”
Central to the witches appearance are their costumes. Designer Mary Vogt began her research early on. She recalls, “I read many books about Salem, Massachusetts, in the time of our story. I even read diaries of women who were hanged as witches. I went on to read fairy tales and that is where our real inspiration came from; stories like ‘Sleepy Hollow’ and Grimm’s fairy tales. I read these to get the feeling of fantasy. The first thing Kenny and I decided was that the women should wear colors instead of the typical puritanical black. Because the film is a fairy tale and a fantasy we wanted it to be lively and colorful.
“We decided that Bette’s character, Winifred, was a timeless, medieval magician. She is dressed in a deep velvet green with a purple lining and various symbols embossed on the gown. She has striped tights and layers of silk around her.
“Sarah was more like Shakespeare’s Ophelia, floating around, child-like, slightly mad. Her clothes are fluid, sexy and lighter. I looked at pictures of early 20th century dancers such as Agnes DeMille, Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis to get an idea of how she might look.
“Kathy Najimy’s character, Mary, was the opposite of that. I pictured her an herbalist, staying home cooking and concocting potions. She is dressed in earthy colors with rings on her belt where, I imagined, she could hang herbs or dead rodents for her most recent brew.”
In addition to three fabulous witches the script also called for three young actors who were able not only to work along side Bette, Sarah and Kathy, but could also carry a good portion of the story on their own as they try to save the children of Salem from the wicked witches. Director Ortega clearly remembers the casting process. “Thora Birch was one of the top five children in her age group. We didn’t see many kids for the role of Dani. She is a very dynamic little girl and once we met her, we knew she was our Dani. Then we had to find her a brother. We needed someone strong enough to hold the screen with her. We saw over 600 boys. It was like ‘Newsies’ all over again. We came close a couple of times and actually passed over Omri Katz at one point. He was sick during his first audition and a sparkle was missing from him. He recovered and came back a second time and we were absolutely sure he was right for the role of Max. Vinessa was also chosen for the part of Allison after a long process. We were really fortunate to end up with a strong ensemble of young actors. Thora and Omri have been working since they were 4 years old and Vinessa is one of the top young models.”
Billy the Butcher, the poor old soul who had the unfortunate luck of capturing Winifred Sanderson’s fancy 300 years earlier, is brought back to life and forced to serve as an accomplice to the troublesome trio. The character of Billy, played by actor Doug Jones, was a special effects project unto itself. Two and a half hours of preparation was required every day that Billy was to appear on camera. Special effects make-up artist Tony Gardner explains, “Doug wears a make-up appliance of a paper thin foam latex that covers everything from his ears forward and his entire neck. In addition, he wears a full body suit, long gloves with acrylic extensions on the ends of his fingers to add length, a ratty wig and big shoes with fake toes coming through them.
“The intention,” Gardner continues, “was to create a character who would walk a fine line between grotesque – because he has been dead for quite some time – and handsome.” Billy ends up as a sympathetic character, one who has suffered under Winifred’s evil hands much longer than any one else. Gardner envisioned the character as a ghoulish version of Ichabod Crane. “He is regal, an aristocrat, but very dead.
“We exaggerated Doug’s physical features,” Gardner explains. “He has a small nose and a very narrow face onto which we could place the latex, reshaping his face, with hollowed cheeks and deep-set eyes. Kenny wanted him to look innocent, a Bambi-look, with doe eyes. Doug’s eyes are very expressive and stand out with the make-up. Underneath his costume he wears the body suit with all the textural details of a zombie, exaggerated bone structure at the knees and elbows.”
Doug Jones shares the character of Billy with the actress Karyn Malchus who plays the headless Billy. Malchus, who is 5’4” fits neatly into character, sans head, by wearing shoe lifts and a body suit that shifts everything up proportionately.”
“Hocus Pocus” was shot at the Walt Disney Studios where production designer William Sandell took over the studio’s largest sound stage to build the Sanderson house, its surrounding environment and the cemetery where the film’s final confrontation between the witches and the kids takes place.
In addition to designing a cemetery with careful attention paid to topography, trees and rocks, Sandell and his team spent months researching houses until they came up with a perfect design for the witches’ house. “We looked at a number of restored and preserved houses in Salem, including The House of Seven Gables. We examined many books and illustrations, but the architecture was always fairly simple and stark. Nothing compared to the ‘Hansel and Gretel’ witch-type of motif we wanted. Our house ended up being an amalgam of everybody’s vision of a witch’s house – from fairy tales to Mother Goose.”
To achieve the right mix of reality and fantasy, Sandell built the house using some of the same techniques Salem settlers employed in building their homes 300 years ago. “It’s a mortise and tenon old-style architecture where the logs are split and seamed together. We tried to build it as authentically as we could, using heavy timber as opposed to box timber. We shaped the wood by axing, grinding and sandblasting to add a patina of age. We imitated a wattle and daub, which is a technique of mixing clay with chopped straw used originally by New Englanders in lieu of plaster to weatherize their houses.
“This is a real house, with a nod to fairy tales,” he says. “All the beams are real and in the correct fashion. You could take this house, place it on a hill somewhere, bring it up to code and live in it, which I’d like to do. It would make great artist’s studio.”
Of course a Halloween story must also have lots of magic. To help the fantasy come to life, the film employs “every possible special / visual effect you can think of,” points out executive producer Ralph Winter. “There are traditional effects, matte paintings, animation, etc. used throughout. And we use the Blue Screen to capture the Sandersons flying.
“We also created a talking cat, which is computer generated,” Winter continues. “This specific computer technology has never been used to the extent that we’re using it here. The cat image is put into the computer where we remove the cat’s head and replace it with a completely synthetic, anatomically correct, three-dimensional articulated cat head. When we’re done, it looks like the cat is actually talking.”
“The process is a lot like flying a miniature airplane,” explains animation supervisor Chris Bailey. “We build a 3D model out of clay and then scan the model into a computer. On the computer you can move the image up and down, side to side, across the horizon, and back into space. Then we shoot the real cat in a scene, feed the image into the computer, remove the cat, shoot the blank background (without the cat) and use the blank background to matte the real cat’s head out of the shot. So what you have in the computer is a headless cat on which we begin building the computer-generated image of the head bobbing around and talking.
“For each shot,” Bailey continues “we work with Kenny to determine how the line is delivered, for example ‘is he angry here?’ Additionally, we must also light each new head. You have the real cat’s body in the scene and it’s important that the light reflecting on the real cat matches the computer generated image.”
While some of the flying scenes were achieved with the use of miniatures and matte paintings, many of the aerial stunts were done by the principal actresses. Each of the women were placed in a special harness under her costume (special versions of the costumes were make for the flying scenes) which would then be rigged to the ceiling of the stage with heavy wires and operated by the special effects team.
Actress Kathy Najimy recalls her experiences “flying.” “After I was cast, they told me I would fly, but I hadn’t really given it much thought. I guess I thought they’d do it with animation. When it came time to actually fly I was really excited. I loved it. There’s a danger but it’s really fun. It feels like swimming or sailing or being weightless. Everyone dreams of flying, and this was a great feeling of going fast and being free.” Even visiting journalist Rex Reed took a little spin on a spare broom one day during the shoot.
Many involved in the production share a love of Halloween and the rich fantasy that surrounds the holiday. As producer Kirschner observes, “What’s wonderful is that this work is bringing out the child in all of these people who, as adults, are quite brilliant. But what they’re able to do now is combine these childhood memories with the imaginations they have today.
Production designer Sandell agrees, “Any production designer would jump at a chance to do a movie like this. It’s loaded with interesting visual images: the spooky house, the black cauldron, all of these are icons that you just die to get involved with. Everybody on the picture, on the creative end at least, certainly finds the work fascinating because Halloween is a part of our childhood and one of the myths that shapes our imaginations.”
This love of fantasy extended beyond the story to the process of filmmaking itself. As director Kenny Ortega observes, “The page of script is only a starting point. It’s what the actors and I create at the moment that makes this fun. I have always liked the process of directing and watching magical moments happen. This has been a difficult shoot, with children, witches, stunts, talking animals and every possible special effect. Still, there is something very thrilling about working this way. It’s been very magical.”
When not shooting on stage, the production filmed at various locations throughout the greater Los Angeles area as well as one week on location in Salem, Massachusetts.
BETTE MIDLER (Winifred Sanderson) is an internationally recognized star of film, television, and recordings. Her diverse talents have earned her two Academy Award nominations for her performances in “The Rose” and “For the Boys,” two Emmy Awards, three Grammy Awards, and a Tony Award.
Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, Midler landed her first role as an extra in George Roy Hill’s “Hawaii.” From there she moved to New York and within a matter of months, made her theatrical debut in Tom Eyen’s “Miss Nefertiti Regrets” and later took over the role of Tzeitel in Jerome Robbins’ hit Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” After several singing arrangements at popular New York cabarets, Midler opened a record-breaking run at New York’s Down Stairs at the Upstairs, a breakthrough that led to a national tour and a recording contract with Atlantic Records.
In 1975, Midler won a Grammy Award as best new artist for her album The Divine Miss M, an album which later went gold. That same year, she received a special Tony Award for her appearance at Broadway’s Palace Theatre. Midler’s meteoric career escalated during the next four years with her “Clams on the Half Shell” revue, “The Fabulous Bette Midler Show” for HBO, the Emmy Award-winning television special “Ol’ Red Hair is Back,” and four more record albums: Bette Midler, Songs for the New Depression, Live at Last and Broken Blossom. In 1979, her portrayal of the tormented, self-destructive rock singer in Mark Rydell’s “The Rose” earned Midler an Academy Award nomination and two Golden Globes (best actress and newcomer of the year), and the film’s soundtrack went platinum.
That same year, she opened “Divine Madness” on Broadway and starred in its motion picture adaptation, directed by Michael Ritchie. She received a second and third Grammy Award for the title song from “The Rose” and “Blueberry Pie” (which she performed on the children’s album In Harmony).
She has written two books A View from a Broad, memoirs of her European tour, and The Saga of Baby Divine, a children’s book, and recorded a comedy album, “Mud Will Be Flung Tonight.”
She starred in a string of successful comedies for Touchstone Pictures including “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” “Ruthless People,” “Outrageous Fortune” and “Big Buisiness.”
In 1985 Midler formed All Girl Productions, her own production company based at the Walt Disney Studios and starred in and produced the film “Beaches.” The film’s soundtrack album reached #2 on the record charts, and the single “The Wind Beneath My Wings” soared to #1. She then starred in “Stella” and with Woody Allen in “Scenes From a Mall.”
Midler reunited with Mark Rydell to film “For the Boys,” for which she received an Oscar nomination. She is currently working on “Gypsy” a Movie-of-the-Week for Universal television.
She is married to Martin Von Haselburg and has a young daughter, Sophie.
SARAH JESSICA PARKER (Sarah Sanderson), was born in Nelsonville, Ohio and raised in Cincinnati. She studied and performed ballet with both the Cincinnati Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre (in such pieces as “The Nutcracker” and “La Sylphide” with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland). She also sang with the Metropolitan Opera in such productions as “Hansel and Gretel,” “Cavalaria Rusticana,” “Pagliacci” and “Parade.” She appeared in her first television special, “The Little Match Girl” at age 8.
Both Sarah and her older brother were cast in the Broadway play “The Innocents” directed by Harold Pinter. Later, she and her family moved to New York and she was cast as the star of “Annie” on Broadway, a part she played for two years. Over the years, Parker has appeared in numerous stage productions, including participating in the Eugene O’Neil Theatre Conference. She recently earned critical acclaim for her work in both the off-Broadway and Lincoln Center productions of “The Substance of Fire” and the off-Broadway production of Wendy Wasserstein’s “The Heidi Chronicles.”
Parker gained national recognition with her starring role in the popular series “Square Pegs,” and was a series regular on “Equal Justice” and “A Year in the Life.” She also starred in several made-for-television movies including “The Best Interest of the Children,” “The Ryan White Story” and “The Room Upstairs.”
Her film credits include “L.A. Story,” “Rich Kids,” “Footloose,” “First Born” and “Flight of the Navigator” and she recently starred with Nicholas Cage and James Caan in “Honeymoon in Vegas.” Parker also co-stars with Bruce Willis in the upcoming “Striking Distance.”
Ms. Parker is currently a member of the New York City Ensemble Studio Theatre.
This past year has been a remarkable one for KATHY NAJIMY (Mary Sanderson). A two-time Cable ACE Award winner for her work on the HBO production of “The Kathy and Mo Show,” which she wrote and starred in, she also enjoyed rave reviews for her performance in the blockbuster hit “Sister Act.” Her portrayal of Sister Mary Patrick won her an American Comedy Award for funniest supporting female in a motion picture. Her other feature film credits include “This Is My Life,” “The Fisher King,” “Soapdish,” “The Hard Way” and “Topsy and Bunker.” Najimy also received rave reviews for the off-Broadway production of “Back to Bacharach and David,” which she directed.
In addition to six years of “The Kathy and Mo Show,” which garnered an Obie Award, her other stage credits include roles at The Old Globe, the San Diego Public Theatre, and over a dozen musicals including “Godspell” and “Grease.” She was a five-year member of the feminist theatre “Sisters On Stage” and soloed in “It’s My Party,” her one-woman show.
Kathy has been published in The New York Times, as well as several national magazines. She contributed a chapter to the Random House book The Choices We Made, which was released on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.
In addition, Ms. Najimy directed the off-off-Broadway play “Don’t Get Me Started,” and the award-winning “I Can Put My Fist In My Mouth,” in Los Angeles. She is proud of her four years as resident director of the Emmy Award-winning New Image Teen Theatre.
With Mo Gaffney, Kathy has just finished writing The Kathy and Mo Book. She lives in New York with composer John Boswell and their dog, Al Finney.
OMRI KATZ (Max Dennison) was born in Los Angeles, California and has been acting since he was 3 ½ years old. In 1983, he won the role of J.R. Ewing, Jr. on the hit series “Dallas.” The following year he received the Soap Opera Digest Award for best youth actor in a prime-time drama. In addition to eight years on “Dallas,” Omri’s credits include the lead role in the series “Eerie Indiana,” and appearances as a guest star on several series including “Zorro” and “Circus of the Stars.” He starred in the feature film “Adventures in Dinosaur City” and co-starred with John Goodman in “Matinee.”
Born in Los Angeles, 11-year-old THORA BIRCH (Dani Dennison) began her career when she was 4, starring in 14 Quaker Oatmeal commercials with Wilford Brimley. After completing over 40 commercials including the “Just Say No” to drugs campaign and a role on the NBC series “Day by Day,” Miss Birch landed her first feature film role in “Purple People Eater,” with Shelley Winters and Ned Beatty.
At age 9, Thora won the hearts of audiences and critics alike with her performance as Billie Pike, in the Touchstone Pictures’ sensitive drama “Paradise,” starring Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith. She then starred in “Patriot Games” with Harrison Ford, and “All I Want for Christmas.”
When not acting or attending school, the young actress enjoys studying piano, karate, swimming and hanging out with friends.
VINESSA SHAW (Allison) began her professional career as a young model. A third generation California native, Vinessa grew up surrounded by creative energy; both her mother and sister are actresses and her father is a psychologist. The Shaw’s neighbors also had an artistic flair and when the folk singer Peter Alsop was looking for a young vocalist he found her right next door! At 11 years old Vinessa began touring and recording with Peter and his band as part of the Karamazoff Brothers Circus. The following year, Vinessa filmed her first television commercial and by the time she turned 13, she was signed with Elite Models. Her portfolio includes photographs by Bruce Weber, Matthew Rolston, Alberto Tolot, Pamela Hanson and Manuela Pavesi.
Television producers began to take notice of Vinessa and signed her to star with Mark Harmon on NBC’s “The Long Road Home.” Additional television roles followed and in 1991 she starred in her first feature film, “Ladybugs.” In 1992 she became a regular cast member on Fox Television’s series “Great Scott.” Vinessa will be seen later this year on Showtime’s “Fallen Angels,” directed by Steven Soderburgh.
In addition to her professional career, Vinessa is also a scholar and is listed in Who’s Who of American High School Students.
SEAN MURRAY (Thackery Binx and the voice of Binx the cat) began his film career as an extra on “My Blue Heaven” with Steve Martin and Rick Moranis. He has worked extensively in television, starring in two movies-of-the-week, “Backfield in Motion,” starring Roseanne and Tom Arnold, and “Murder On the Rio Grande,” opposite Victoria Principal. He has been cast in the new CBS television series “Harts of the West” with Beau Bridges and Harley Jane Kozak.
Sean made his feature film debut this year in “This Boys Life” starring Robert DeNiro and Ellen Barkin.
CHARLES ROCKET (Mr. Dennison) first came to the public’s attention as a regular on “Saturday Night Live” and as Bruce Willis’ brother on the hit series “Moonlighting.” His feature credits include “Dances With Wolves,” “Earth Girls are Easy,” “Delirious” and the upcoming Robert Altman film “LA Shortcuts.” He has guest starred on numerous television series such as “Quantum Leap,” “thirtysomething” and “Flying Blind.” In addition, he has appeared as a regular on “Max Headroom” and Oliver Stone’s “Wild Palms.”
STEPHANIE FARACY (Mrs. Dennison) is perhaps best known for her role opposite John Candy in “The Great Outdoors.” Ms. Faracy’s feature credits “Blind Date,” “Heaven Can Wait,” “When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?” and “Scavenger Hunt.”
Stephanie recently starred for two years in the Fox comedy series “True Colors.” Prior to that, she played opposite Martin Mull in “His & Hers” for CBS. She also produced the light hearted detective series “Eye to Eye” co-starring with Charles Durning, and will soon be seen in the BBC production of “Armistead Maupin: Tales of the City.”
Renowned character actress KATHLEEN FREEMAN (Mrs. Olin) has enjoyed a long and distinguished career on stage and in motion pictures and television. Extending from Hollywood’s golden age through the present, a partial list of Freeman’s extraordinary repertoire includes 10 classic slapstick comedies starring with Jerry Lewis, such as “The Nutty Professor,” “The Disorderly Orderly” and “Three on a Couch,” as well as the musical favorite “Singin’ in the Rain,” the sci-fi thriller “The Fly” and “North to Alaska,” starring John Wayne. More recently, Ms. Freeman provided a character voice for the animated feature “FernGully,” and appeared in “Gremlins II,” “Dutch,” “Chances Are,” “Dragnet,” “In the Wood,” “Innerspace” and “The Blues Brothers.”
Television audiences are familiar with Ms. Freeman from her roles on “Nurses,” “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” “Major Dad,” “Matlock,” “L.A. Law,” “The Golden Girls,” “Simon & Simon,” “Murphy Brown,” “Mama’s Family” and several episodes of such classics as “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Lucy Show” and “Hogan’s Heroes.”
Ms. Freeman is also a respected drama coach and has appeared on stage in the national tours of “Deathtrap” as well as the musicals “Annie,” which she portrayed Miss Hannigan and “Woman of the Year,” among many others.
DOUG JONES (Billy the Butcher) has appeared in numerous feature films, including “I’ll Do Anything,” “Batman Returns,” “Hook” and “Carnal Crimes.” His television credits include “Tales from the Crypt,” “In Living Color,” “Revenge of the Nerds,” “Get a Life” and “It’s a Living.” In addition, he starred in the famous “Mac Tonight” McDonald’s commercial. Doug’s stage credits include roles in “Godspell,” “The Butler Did It,” “Timons of Athens” and “A Time for Madness.”
KENNY ORTEGA (Director) was born in Palo Alto, California, and grew up in Redwood City. At an early age he developed an interest in music and dance, earning scholarships to several dance academies in the Bay area. As a teenager, his interest in the arts expanded beyond dance to legitimate theater.
At age 13, Ortega began working as an actor in the local repertory theater which quickly became his passion. While working in high school productions, he was simultaneously a member of the Hyatt Music Theatre in Burlingame, California, and the Circle Star Theatre in San Carlos, where as a member of their company he appeared in such shows as “Oliver” with Georgia Brown.
In 1968, he enrolled in Cañada College, majoring in theater arts and dance. The following year he landed the role of George Berger in the San Francisco company of “Hair.” This was followed by a featured role in “The Last Sweet Days of Isaac” for the American Conservatory Theatre (ACT) and once again with the role of Berger in the national touring company of “Hair.” After three years of touring, he returned to the Bay area where he began to work with A&M Records multi-media/recording artists The Tubes. This began a new phase of his career in which he staged and performed for five world tours with that group.
In a Tubes performance at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles, Cher approached Kenny to choreograph her television special. This marked the beginning of a very successful choreography career and a professional relationship with Cher that is on-going, and led to assisting Toni Basil on “The Rose,” choreographer on “Xanadu,” starring Gene Kelly and Olivia Newton-John. Ortega credits Kelly with teaching him the art of choreography for the camera.
In the following years he divided his choreography work between television, stage shows, films, and music videos. He has staged and choreographed concert acts for Cher, The Pointer Sisters, Bette Midler, Kiss, Oingo Boingo and Miami Sound Machine, among others. His TV credits include specials for Olivia Newton-John, Cher, The Pointer Sisters, Neil Diamond, NBC’s “Motown Revue” starring Smokey Robinson, and many awards shows including the American Music Awards and the Academy Awards.
Kenny’s film credits for choreography include “One From the Heart” (1982), “St. Elmo’s Fire” (1985), “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986), “Pretty in Pink” (1986) and the 1987 box office smash “Dirty Dancing,” among many others.
He was one of the early pioneers in the field of choreographing music videos and worked on such landmark projects as Fleetwood Mac’s “Gypsy” and Billy Joel’s “Allentown.” He went on to work with pop music stars Elton John, Rod Stewart, Diana Ross and Madonna (“Material Girl”), among many others, and has choreographed almost all of Cher’s videos including “We All Sleep Alone,” “Turn Back Time” and “I Found Someone,” which he also co-directed. He also choreographed Miami Sound Machine’s video “Comin’ Out of the Dark.”
Kenny’s debut as a television director came in 1988 with the series “Dirty Dancing.” In 1990 he directed the pilot and several episodes of “Hull High,” a program he also co-executive produced and choreographed.
His first feature film directing credit was Walt Disney Pictures live-action musical “Newsies.”
He has won many awards for his work, including a NARAS Award for “Material Girl,” MTV Best International Video/Latin for his work with Cheyanne, Golden Eagle Awards for best choreography for “Dirty Dancing” and “Salsa,” and the American Dance Honors Award for choreographing “Dirty Dancing.”
BONNIE BRUCKHEIMER (Co-Producer) has been associated with Bette Midler for 13 years. A partner in Midler’s All Girl Productions, formed in 1985, Bruckheimer made her debut as a film producer on “Beaches,” having served previously as associate producer on “Big Business,” the hit comedy starring Midler and Lilly Tomlin.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Bruckheimer began her professional career in advertising and public relations and ultimately accepted a position with the treasurer of Columbia Pictures. She then moved to Los Angeles, where she became an assistant to some of the film community’s most noted producers and directors, including Arthur Penn and Ross Hunter.
In 1991, Ms. Bruckheimer produced “For the Boys” starring Midler and James Caan for Twentieth Century Fox. Some of Bruckheimer’s upcoming projects include “Pals Forever” and “Gypsy.”
At 23, DAVID KIRSCHNER (Producer/Story by) began writing and illustrating a series of children’s books, entitled Rose Petal Place, while holding down a job illustrating Muppet and Sesame Street characters. Rose Petal Place became an amazing success, from which Kirschner produced 16 books and two television specials. He also authored the story “Hocus Pocus” from which the film is adapted.
Mr. Kirschner was already a prominent independent producer when Cincinnati-based Great American Broadcasting company hired him to run Hanna-Barbera. Under his own production banner, he devised and created the characters for the smash hit film “An American Tail” which he executive produced with Steven Speilburg, and produced the horror movie blockbuster “Child’s Play,” its sequels “Child’s Play 2” and “Child’s Play 3” and “An American Tail: Fievel Goes West.” He is currently in production with the live-action/animated feature “The Pagemaster,” starring Macaulay Culkin, which he also created and co-wrote.
STEVEN HAFT (Producer) is currently a partner in the Haft/Nasatir Company. His productions include “Beyond Therapy” and “Mr. North,” as well as Touchstone Pictures’ Academy Award winning “Dead Poets Society,” which was nominated for four Oscars and won the British Academy Award, the French Caesar, and the Donatello in Italy.
Haft recently produced along with partner Marcia Nasatir, the television movie, “Mrs. Cage” featuring Anne Bancroft and Hector Elizondo. The American Playhouse production was nominated for two Emmy Awards. Additionally, Haft/Nasatir produced “Stormy Weathers” starring Cybill Shepherd for ABC. Haft served as executive producer of the series “Nightcap” for A&E and also for the CBS series pilot “Working it Out” and “News at 12” (based on a British series of the same name).
Steven Haft serves on the board of directors of the Sundance Institute.
RALPH WINTER (Executive Producer) was born and raised in Southern California. He attended the University of California where he received his degree in History. After heading up post-production at Paramount, Mr. Winter joined with producer Harve Bennett and served as executive in charge of production on the Emmy Award-winning movie-of-the-week “A Woman Called Golda” and the highly acclaimed “The Jessie Owens Story.”
In 1991, he produced the feature film “The Perfect Weapon” as well as serving as co-executive producer on “Flight of the Intruder.”
Ralph also served as executive producer on “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” which was nominated for four Academy Awards, “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” and for Walt Disney Television, “Plymouth.” He also produced the successful “Star Trek VI” which was nominated for two Academy Awards.
Mr. Winter has an overall deal with Walt Disney Studios and most recently served as executive producer on the Touchstone Pictures comedy “Captain Ron.”
Los Angeles native MICK GARRIS (Screenplay/Story by/Co-Executive Producer) began making 8mm films when he was in junior high school. Working first as a music and film journalist various newspapers and magazines he spent much of the ‘70s as lead singer for the rock group, Horsefeathers, before serving as host and producer of the “Fantasy Film Festival” on local Los Angeles television.
He started his first movie job in 1977, as a receptionist for George Lucas’s Star Wars Corporation, and went on to work in special publicity at Avco Embassy Pictures and Universal Studios, creating several “The Making of…” documentaries, including behind-the-scenes films on “Gremlins,” “The Thing” and “The Goonies.”
Steven Spielburg gave Garris his first opportunity as a screenwriter, hiring him as story editor for the “Amazing Stories” television series in 1985. His first produced script on that show was directed by Martin Scorsese, and his script for “The Sitter” episode won an Image Award from the NAACP. In addition, his teleplay, “The Amazing Falsworth,” from a story by Spielburg, won the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award in 1986. He then directed the “Life on Death Row” episode from his own story, and also scripted “*batteries not included” for Spielburg.
Garris made his directorial debut with “Fuzzbucket,” a one-hour film for ABC’s “Disney Sunday Movie,” which he also wrote and produced. The script was nominated for best children’s teleplay by the Writers Guild of America.
Following that, Garris wrote the sequel to “The Fly” before tackling his first feature as director: “Critters 2: The Main Course,” which he co-wrote with David Twohy. Garris won a special award at the Paris Film Festival for his work as director of that film. His second directorial assignment was “Psycho IV: The Beginning,” made for the Showtime Network.
He has also published several works of short fiction in magazines and book anthologies such as Hot Blood and Silver Scream, and created the syndicated “She-Wolf of London” (also known as “Love and Curses”) for MCA-TV with Tom McLoughlin.
Mick began his collaboration with Stephen King on the author’s first original screenplay, “Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers,” and is currently on location directing King’s cross-country epic, “The Stand,” as an eight-hour miniseries for ABC-TV.
Garris lives in Los Angeles with his wife of 10 years, actress-singer-songwriter Cynthia Garris.
NEIL CUTHBURT (Screenplay) was born and grew up in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. He attended Rutgers University where he majored in English and received an MPA in Playwriting. He is a member playwright of the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York, where his productions include “The Soft Touch,” “The Perfect Stranger,” “Buddy Pals” and “Strange Behavior.”
For television, Mr. Cuthbert wrote one of the original scripts for the critically acclaimed episodic drama “St. Elsewhere,” as well as the pilot for a series based on the popular “Washingtoon” comic strip for the Showtime cable channel.
He is presently working on the forthcoming “Mrs. Faust” for Laurence Mark Productions and Hollywood Pictures and an original screenplay “Pluto Nash” for Bregman/Baer Productions.
He lives in New York with his wife, painter Wende Dasteel.
HIRO NARITA (Director of Photography) started his career as a graphic designer and story illustrator. Increasingly interested in movie images, he followed military service with several years work with independent filmmaker John Korty.
Born in Korea to Japanese parents, Narita immigrated to Hawaii in 1957 where he attended Kaimuki High School. Encouraged by his art teacher to enter a national competition, he was awarded a four-year scholarship to the school of his choice. Choosing the San Francisco Art Institute in 1960, he majored in Graphic Design and Illustration, twice winning the Outstanding Student in Design Award before receiving his BFA in 1964.
After working at a design firm, Narita moved into television and received an Emmy Award nomination for the critically acclaimed John Korty telefilm, “Farewell to Manzanar.” He followed that working as one of several cinematographers on the concert film, “The Last Waltz,” Martin Scorsese’s chronicle of The Band’s farewell concert.
Narita spent the better part of two years in Alaska photographing Carroll Ballard’s “Never Cry Wolf,” for which he won the National Society of Film Critics Award for cinematography. His work for television also includes “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” the epic miniseries “Amerika,” “Blue Yonder,” for which he won cable television’s ACE Award and “Plymouth.”
Narita was called upon to do additional photography on “Zabriskie Point,” “Return of the Jedi,” “Indiana Jones” and “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” He was behind the camera on Tim Hunter’s “Sylvester” and Peter Warner’s “No Man’s Land.”
Pairing up his talents with Joe Johnston, Narita shot Walt Disney Pictures’ “The Rocketeer” and “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” and shot “Star Trek VI” for Paramount.
WILLIAM SANDELL (Production Designer) received critical acclaim for his work on the sci-fi hit “Robocop,” directed by Paul Verhoeven. In 1989 he reteamed with Verhoeven on the blockbuster sci-fi thriller “Total Recall” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Originally an artist who created kinetic sculptures, Sandell was encouraged by friends to transfer his talents to the film business. His first credit was assistant art director on Marin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” (1973). He assisted the art department in various capacities on a number of Roger Corman-produced films, before becoming art director on Jonathan Demme’s “Fighting Mad” in 1976.
Since then, as production designer, he has contributed to the look of Anthony Page’s “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” (1977), Gilbert Cates’ “The Promise” (1979), Bill Persky’s “Serial” (1980), Jeffrey Bloom’s “Blood Beach” (1981), Ken Finkelman’s “Airplane II: The Sequel” (1982), Art Linson’s “The Wild Life” (1984), and Joel Schumacher’s “St. Elmo’s Fire” (1985).
In 1988, Sandell teamed with “Airplane’s” Jim Abrahams for Touchstone Pictures’ “Big Business” starring Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin. He then worked on “Nothing But Trouble” starring Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Demi Moore and John Candy.
MARY VOGT (Costume Designer) was born in Long Beach, Long Island and attended the New York Fashion Institute of Technology and the Art Center college of Design in Pasadena. She began her motion picture career working as a design assistant on “Zorro, The Gay Blade,” “Diner,” “Fletch” and “Dune” (assisting Bob Ringwood), among others.
Vogt’s credits as a costume designer include “Short Circuit,” “Stakeout,” “The Hard Way,” “Project X,” “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!” “Crazy People,” “Only the Lonely” and most recently, “Batman Returns.”
PETER E. BERGER, A.C.E. (Film Editor) was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on “Fatal Attraction.” His other film credits include “The Good Mother,” “Dead Again,” “Memories of Me,” “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier,” “First Monday in October,” “Oh God! Book II,” “The Promise” and “Less than Zero.”
Emmy Award-winner JOHN DEBNEY (Composer) has had a distinguished career writing music for feature films and television. Among his motion picture credits are “The Gunman,” “The Jetsons: The Movie,” “Not Since Casanova,” “Seven Hours to Judgment,” “The Further Adventures of Tennessee Buck,” “The Curse” and “The Wild Pair.”
For over a decade, Mr. Debney’s memorable scores have graced the small screen and include the recent critical success “Class of ’61,” as well as “Still Not Quite Human,” “Sunstroke,” “Into the Badlands,” “A Seduction in Travis County” and “Trenchcoat in Paradise.” His television series work includes “The Young Riders,” for which he received his Emmy Award for best score, and a nomination for best theme. His other TV credits include “The Trials of Rosie O’Neill,” “Cagney & Lacey,” “Jack’s Place” and “Fame.” He has also composed special material for the Walt Disney World Theme Park, as well as the logo music for Disney, Touchstone, and Transworld Pictures.
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