William Winckler is a man of many talents; director, producer, writer and all-around filmmaker. Son of ‘golden age’ child actor Robert Winckler, often credited Bobby Winkler, William Winckler first came to the attention of B-movie fans several years ago with his modern sexploitation classic The Double-D Avenger. Featuring big-breasted veterans of Russ Meyer, the movie has since gained a cult following and was soon followed by Frankenstein vs. the Creature from Blood Cove.
Prior to making his name as a filmmaker, Winckler had appeared in such TV shows as Knight Rider, Murder, She Wrote and The Fall Guy during the 1980s and had directed the animation Tekkaman the Space Knight in 1986. With his own company, William Winckler Productions, Inc, he has spent the last decade working in a variety of genres; from horror and science fiction to fantasy. Inspired by the likes of Roger Corman, he has produced dozens of projects on low budgets that have resembled studio pictures due to the talents of his collaborators.
William Winckler reminisces over his experiences in low budget filmmaking.
With your father, Robert Winkler, having worked as a child actor during the 1930s, do you feel that it was inevitable that you would eventually turn to show business yourself?
His name is spelled Robert Winckler, or sometimes Winkler, depending on the film’s credits. Sometimes he’s credited as Bobby Winkler. Actually, I feel I have an inner creative, artistic personality that made me enter showbiz. I love acting, writing, directing and producing. Although my late dad was my best friend, my father, adviser, etc., he really didn’t influence my decision to go into the business. I did it on my own, and actually my career really took off years after he passed away. To date I’ve done twenty-eight films, and am about to start a new pilot.
What kind of film and television were you most interested in growing up and who would you say were your greatest influences growing up?
Japanese monster movies, Godzilla, Gamera, Ultraman, Japanese anime, Speed Racer, the Universal monsters, Creature From the Black Lagoon, Hammer horror, the AIP films, especially the Vincent Price Poe pictures, Count Yorga Vampire, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds and UFO, Tom Baker’s Doctor Who, Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and movies in general, even exploitation films, Russ Meyer, Faster, Pussycat Kill! Kill!, Supervixens!, Biker flicks, Blacksploitation, Coffy and spaghetti westerns. They all influenced me. I think Roger Corman, and Russ Meyer really influenced me as an independent producer/director. They were/are two of the most successful indie producers America ever had.
How did your time at UCLA shape your passion and style and do you recall any of your earlier filmmaking efforts?
Don Richardson, who taught acting and directing to stars like Ann Bancroft, Zero Mostel, John Cassavettes, Elizabeth Montgomery, Grace Kelly, and many others was my acting and directing teacher! He was brilliant and I learned a great deal from Don. He taught an alternative to Method acting, and enabled me to be a real “actors director” instead of a typical camera pusher. Early filmmaking efforts? My first film was a sci-fi short done on super 8 film, when I was like fourteen. It is hilarious! A rocket crash lands on a planet, and the miniature rolls down a cliff like a cigar!
What do you recall of your work on Tekkaman the Space Knight during the mid-1980s and was this the only time you were able to work with your father?
Yes, Tekkaman was the one time I worked with my father on a film or TV show. He was terrific as Dr. Edward Richardson, the man who invented the armor for Tekkaman. I have many, many fun memories of Tekkaman. We dubbed the show in Bob Clampett’s old Hollywood recording studio, and had a lot of fun. We recorded at night, and the actor who played Barry Gallagher/Tekkaman, was like a Method actor, and whenever the battles came up, he’d literally be jumping up and down in the booth yelling ‘Space Lance!’
He really became Tekkaman! However, one time, during a break outside, the cast was talking in the parking lot, and suddenly gun shots were heard in the distance! We were all scared shitless, and the first guy to run back into the studio was Tekkaman himself! Tekkaman got great ratings, and it was syndicated all over the country on TV. Today, it has a strong underground cult following. Some guy put clips of various Tekkaman battles on YouTube, and the comments are hilarious.
How did working on commercials prepare you for your later career as an independent filmmaker and how did you first make the transition to movies?
When I worked on mainstream TV shows and commercials, I realised how much time and money is WASTED on those shoots. I learned from mainstream Hollywood’s mistakes of how not to waste tons of money on a film. I also learned that first few takes of any one scene are generally the best you’ll ever get, so there’s no point in wasting all day shooting 187 takes. My first transition to movies was The Double-D Avenger. The story behind Double-D is a long one, but basically I produced a ‘reunion’ film of Russ Meyer’s famous stars; a silly, Z-grade, intentionally ridiculous film and it made a lot of money and continues to make money to this day! There is even a French language version and a Japanese language version of the film. We even licensed a model bust fans can buy from GeoMetric Designs.
Having formed your own company in 2001, how did your first feature come about?
As I said, the film was the twenty-something year reunion movie of Russ Meyer’s biggest (pun intended) stars, plus Forrest J Ackerman made a cameo. I was a fan of Russ’ work, but hadn’t really seen much of Doris Wishman’s films. As a coincidence, the Coney Island Film Festival had a double-bill of my film, The Double-D Avenger, with Doris Wishman’s Nude on the Moon. In 2001 I had left a company called Galaxy Online, where I was head of development and celebrities, and when that company folded due to the dot-com bubble burst, I immediately wanted to form my own production company à la Roger Corman. That was the start of it.
How did you approach casting the movie and was it an intentional reference to Russ Meyer by hiring Raven De La Croix, Kitten Natividad and Haji?
Originally it was to be a film only starring young, sexy, twenty-one year old Playboy Magazine type models, then Kitten was going to be cast to do a cameo. However, I thought, what if I turn the film into a campy farce, and make Kitten the lead?! It was a good idea, and then Kitten said I should also cast Haji and Raven, so the whole project evolved into a Russ Meyer reunion movie! Every Russ Meyer film fan, I think, has purchased the film on DVD, VHS, or downloaded it, mostly through Amazon.com by now.
It really is an amazing success for such a crazy, nutty little movie! Many fans love the Forrest J Ackerman scenes, where he’s the demented wax museum caretaker, taking to the classic monster statues in the Chamber of Horrors, who romantically hits on Kitten. We had a blast shooting that at the Movieland Wax Museum, a famous Southern California tourist attraction, now sadly gone.
What impact did the film have on your career and were you proud of the end result?
The film made money and I was able to produce Frankenstein Vs. the Creature From Blood Cove, which was a much bigger film; it had a big budget, great effects and great production values, and it won a Best Feature Film award at the 2006 World Horror Convention. From there, I went on to twenty-six other films! So, it all started with Double-D! I often joke, Walt Disney once said ‘we must never forget that it all started with a mouse,’ and I like to say ‘we must never forget that it all started with a giant pair of foam rubber tits!’
Today, I laugh at the Double-D Avenger, because it’s such a campy, silly, low-budget film, the other films I’ve done since are light years ahead of it. But I still have a soft spot in my heart for the goofy little movie! Today, I’m still very close, dear friends with wonderful character actor G. Larry Butler, who stole the show as the villain Al Purplewood. I count Larry as one of my real, true friends.
How do you feel about how sexuality and nudity are portrayed in horror and fantasy cinema and what would you say to those who may consider The Double-D Avenger as exploitation of women?
I love to see sexuality and nudity in horror and fantasy films, so long as it works within the context of the stories. Lesbians and vampires seem to go very, very well together! As a straight man, a bachelor, I love woman and really enjoy seeing them in films and TV, barefoot all over! As for feminists crying exploitation, I don’t buy any of that crap and in Double-D, Chastity Knott is a superheroine who overcomes her personal illness, as well as defeats the bad guys! She’s in control, she’s not exploited. So long as we have a constitution in the country and the first amendment, I say it’s none of anyone’s business to interfere with art, literature, music, poetry, films or TV. Fuck ‘em!
Would you say that Frankenstein vs. the Creature from Blood Cove was a love letter to the golden era of Universal horror and did you encounter any issues with using the character?
Yes, it was. No issues using the monster character, because it is in the public domain. In fact, our Frankenstein monster is actually based on the original Mary Shelly description of him. We did not copy the make-up designs of any other Frankenstein monster for our film.
How come you decided to shoot the movie in black-and-white and was it challenging trying to recreate an authentic-looking old horror film?
The whole point with the black and white photography was to recreate the retro look and style of the good old days of classic monsters and creature features! Many fans tell me we really succeeded. The film was originally shot in color, but lit for black and white, then in the editing, we rendered it all in black and white. Actually, on camera our creatures and monsters look excellent, that’s why we won awards, sold so many DVDs on Amazon, etc. However, in real life, the Blood Cove creature suit was having loads of troubles.
Thank goodness for the black and white photography, because it wound up hiding a multitude of sins! The costume problems you could see in color where never visible in black and white. Black-and-white photography also gave the whole film more of a creepy look, it made the interiors and the exteriors more eerie.
Having acted for many years and appeared in your own films, would you consider yourself a filmmaker first or an actor and how do you manage to balance the two on set?
It’s all the same creative energy just working its way out in different forms; acting, writing, directing, producing. I wear all the hats and am comfortable doing it all. The late Michael Landon was exactly the same way. In fact, I had a little role in an episode of Highway to Heaven, and I saw first hand, on the set, how Landon switched back and forth from acting to directing, all in the same scene! I thought, we’ll that’s how you do it.
Do you consider the terms B-movie or schlock offensive for low budget flicks and do you intend on working on more mainstream movies later in your career?
No, I don’t consider those terms at all. As long as a movie is entertaining, it’s good with me! I’ve worked on low-budget films, and also high budget films. In fact, the pilot we’re doing next month, in partnership with a major Japanese film studio, will be the biggest project I’ve done to date. It is on par with a major Hollywood studio production. The short answer is I love many films, so long as they are entertaining and hold my interest.
The budgets don’t really matter to me. I’ve been doing a lot of work for Japanese studios lately, producing many English language anime films based on iconic properties, and I also wrote, produced and directed the English version of the Japanese horror film Zombrex Dead Rising Sun, which is loosely based on the Capcom zombie video game Dead Rising.