ALFRED SOLE INTERVIEW by Joseph Stargensky
SHARING COMMUNION WITH ALFRED SOLE, DIRECTOR OF ALICE SWEET ALICE
In conducting this interview, I was more interested in obtaining information that I couldn't readily find on the Internet or DVD commentary. I've always been fascinated by the nomenclature of filmmaking and the happenstance of doing an undertaking of an independent film - or any film, for that matter. If I've missed some gaps I would strongly urge a listen to the Anchor Bay commentary - it's a good one. You might find your answer there. Even though I've steered clear of topics that were covered in that DVD, some stories are repeated, and believe me, some are worth repeating. And fittingly, I conducted the interview on a Sunday in March 2006, almost 30 years to the time of actual production. (30 seems to be a magical number now in DVD land and well, you know about Sundays) in his office as production designer for the television show Veronica Mars. So, sit back, grab a chalice of your favorite beverage and enjoy the gossip, memories and stories of a rebel Catholic.
We can get bio information from you on the Internet. I'm going to dispense with the regular bio information and get to the good stuff. I'll do a fast recap: Born in 1943. Grew up in Paterson New Jersey. Catholic family.
Correct. It was madness. It was a dysfunctional Italian family. But nice. They were all good people, but my grandmother was very religious. She lived next to a church and was very friendly with the priests. She was always donating statues and different things to the church. Every year she would go off to Italy. Her stepson actually worked for the Papal See for Pope John XXIII. He was the Pope who did the Ecumenical Council. I had a wonderful opportunity of actually going to the Ecumenical Council in Rome and hanging out with all the bishops, and one day going to breakfast with him [her stepson] and the pope, which was quite an unbelievable experience. At the time I didn't realize it because I was so like a hippie, you know - God and church - you know.
Were your parents strict Catholics?
No. Well, they were strict in the sense that I had to go to church, but they never went. And if I didn't go to church, my father would threaten to break my legs.
What did your parents do for a living?
My father worked in a factory. We were an Italian middle class third generation family struggling to get ahead. Actually, I was the first one in my family to graduate college.
Do you remember the first movie you ever saw?
YES. It was sort of like Knights of the Round Table and Robin Hood. I spent every Saturday of my life in a movie theater. They [my parents] would drop me off, and that was like the babysitter. They would drop me off so they could go food shopping. And I used to sit there all day long watching all these movies, the same two movies because it was a double- feature. I remember my first impression was that when they killed people in the movies, they went to the prisons and gave people who were on death row the choice of either dying -
This is how you thought movies were made?
Right. They went to these prisoners and said, "Okay, you can either die in a movie or you can die in the electric chair. What do you want to do?" I rationalized that's how movies were made.
How old were you at this time?
Early. I was six or seven. Maybe nine.
So did you ever go to the movies as a family?
Yeah. My father loved the movies. And he loved the theatre. He used to take us all the time. That was kind of my beginning. I remember once all three of us going to Diaboliques and they hated it. At that time Diaboliques had this new cinematic jump cutting, and I just sat there thinking I had just seen God, because it was so scary and creepy. And I knew then that I loved horror movies. And then I discovered Hitchcock, and I fell in love with Hitchcock, then Fellini. I was fortunate too because the 60's and 70's had all those foreign films.
Did Paterson have its own movie theater?
We had two movie theaters in downtown Paterson. I would take the bus on my own. Very early on I was always allowed to go alone. Both my parents worked so I was allowed to do anything I wanted. There was no problem taking a bus or going anywhere downtown. That was the thing anyway, to go downtown shopping every weekend.
You attended University in Italy for architecture?
I started at the Academy of Fine Arts. What brought this on was when my mother sent me to go see Rome Adventure, because they were giving away free dishes. My grandmother would go to Italy once a year and we would see her off on those beautiful ships - the Cristoforo Colombo, the Leonardo Da Vinci. And we saw these great ships and I thought, "My God, I got to do this some day." So, I had a scholarship to Cooper Union, and my father and mother just didn't want me to go to New York because they thought I was going to become a drug addict. In their heads I was going to become a drug addict because I was painting and always artistic. My brother was a jock, and I was an artist. My father use to tease me, but he would always grab me and check my arms.
So, I would go on these beautiful ocean liners and think, "I gotta go. I gotta get on one of these things and get out of here." So, I went to see Rome Adventure at the same time that my parents were arguing about going to Cooper Union. And I went to my grandmother and I said, "Look! I want to be an artist and I want to go to school in Italy. Can you help me?" My grandmother had some money. So, before I knew it, I had a ticket on the Cristoforo Colombo going to Italy to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. I wanted to be a painter. When I got there I realized I wasn't very good. My roommate actually came from New York City. He was actually a brilliant painter. So I would paint on one end of the room and he would paint on the other end of the room, and I'd look at his stuff and I knew, I really wasn't good. So I switched over to architecture at the University. I look upon it now, as, you know, foreign films and Italian movies…
But weren't there film schools at the time and why didn't you choose that path?
Film schools were very elitist at the time. They were like the big colleges and the expensive colleges. My parents didn't have the money to send me to those. They didn't have huge film departments in those days. They had theater but very small film departments. Though they did exist, I didn't really know too much about it. My interest at the time was not film but painting. So, when I came back I got married, and got a job in a furniture store to support my family. And then I opened up a design department for them. They didn't have that in the store - an interior design department. It did really well. And then I decided to go out on my own; and I had met these two women, and we opened a small architectural firm. We had big clients in New Jersey.
And did you open the shop in Paterson?
Yeah. We actually had an office. And then I started getting bored. I really wasn't happy. So I bought a Bolex [camera]. Then I was reading - well - that's the other thing that changed my life. I got a copy of American Cinematographer and I started reading that. And I thought, "Oh man, what a world that is." So, I got a Bolex and started making little shorts. And that's all I wanted to do all day long, was make movies. I was working to support my films. Sixteen millimeter was more expensive than I thought.
In a bio I read, you were working at a filmmaker's office and really got interested in filmmaking then.
Oh yes, he was a client. Yes, that was the thing that really got me into filmmaking. I remember I was on an elevator with him. He had a commercial house, and he had made this movie. It was his first feature about - it was about the President. While I was working with him I would listen to him to talk to these people, and he would talk about his commercials. One day in the elevator I was telling him I had a Bolex and he pooh poohed it and said, "Yeah, well, I went to film school." When someone tells me I can't do something is when I kind of do it. In the meantime, I just loved the movies. Even to this day I go to the movies. I don't go to therapy anymore I just go to the movies. I see everything and anything. You name it I've seen it.
So how did you get the job for Deep Sleep, your first theatrical movie?
I didn't get the job. I made it. I produced it. I had all these really wealthy clients from my design firm. And we would play cards once every two or three weeks. I wanted to make a western. I was telling these guys about it and I was trying to get the money. And one of the guys at the table said, "If you make an X rated movie I'll give you money." So, the light bulb went off and I said "Okay, I'm going to make an X rated movie." And that was the time in the 60's when X-rated movies were in the suburbs. It was becoming very fashionable. People were into sex. There was a whole big thing in Time magazine about the evolution of X-rated movies.
Now did X mean the same thing as today because Midnight Cowboy was X- rated?
No, X meant hardcore X. I'm talking about double XX. Midnight Cowboy was something else. So, I thought, "These guys are going to give me some money." And we had another card game at my house, and I raised $25,000. I got $5,000 from everyone at the table. One was a lawyer. One was the president of a bank. They were all very successful people, and $5,000 meant nothing to these guys. And the idea of getting on the set of an X-rated movie made it worth five grand to these guys. Then I raised the money and thought, "Now I have to make an X-rated movie." This is not what I really want to do. But it still is making a movie.
I went to all these X-rated movies, and I got really depressed. Then I decided, okay, I'm going to make a musical. I was going to have original music, I was going to have body makeup, beautiful locations, and I was going to make the prettiest X-rated movie ever made. And the funniest. I decided it should be a comedy. So, I made it.
I used all my friends. I had designed a funeral parlor for a friend, so I used the funeral parlor. One of my partners had a five-acre estate in Marlton, New Jersey that would blow you away. We used her estate. I needed a mansion, so I used the archbishop of the Catholic Church's mansion.
I had the mayor's wife in it. I had my mother in it. All my relatives were in it.
They knew it was X rated?
They all knew it was X rated.
Was there a script?
Yeah, there was a script. I interviewed all these X-rated movie people like Harry Reems. So, I made it and I showed it. What I didn't know was in New York there were two people that owned all the X- rated theaters. It was this Greek woman and this other guy - an Italian guy. I had an appointment to see both of them and show them the movie. While a guy is watching two people have sex, a dog comes along and starts humping his leg. This is all sort of soft core. Sort of. And The Greek woman LOVED that. That dog turned her on. So she decided to distribute the movie, but I had to put more hardcore stuff in it, which I did. We went back and shot some more hardcore stuff, which is easy to cut in. You'll notice the pubic hairs change a lot. It would go from blonde to brown on all the actors. The movie got released, and we won first prize at the New York Erotic Film Festival. We were playing in Wayne, New Jersey and we were out grossing The Poseidon Adventure, which was playing at the same complex. And people were going to the movie and saying, "That's his house", "that's this," and they were all in shock because there were people fucking on the screen in my house. I had the mayor's wife in it. I had my mother in it. I had all these schoolteachers in it. I had my brother who's a cop in it. And everybody had speaking parts. I designed the funeral parlor for my friend. Then all of a sudden things started happening, like, the funeral association was checking on his license because we had these two people fucking in a coffin in his funeral home. And the archbishop got wind of it because his house was in it. My mother in law didn't speak to me for two years because I corrupted her daughter. And her son in law was a schoolteacher. And he came to my house, I swear to God, with a shotgun. He was going to kill me. I swear this is a true story; he wanted me to stop the print because he was worried about his teaching career. And I understand that. I had other friends who were teachers too. My wife was a schoolteacher. It became like this witch-hunt in Paterson. Each day the press would run a story about the prosecutor investigating all these schoolteachers. I was blacklisted from all my friends. Nobody wanted to talk to me because they were afraid of me. They were afraid about their jobs. And that was very uncomfortable. And the shit hit the fan. The local Paterson prosecutor, who wanted to make a name for himself got wind of it. He was looking to make this his big case. Well, I got indicted for all this stuff. On the books was carnal indecency, conspiracy to commit carnal indecency - all these 18th century laws that were on the books in New Jersey. I was on the news every night. And then the church did this thing where they had a human chain blocking the highway to go into the theater. And that was on the news. It was funny at the time, and I thought this would blow over but it starting getting serious because then the teachers that were in the movie starting worrying about their jobs. The guy who owned the funeral home was worried about his license. Then I started worrying. The mayor's wife was freaking out because I was ruining her husband's career. They were really nice. We were friends. I had designed their house. But the people who invested in the movie were worried. This one was the president of the bank, this guy was a lawyer, and they all started getting worried because the prosecutor was sniffing around. And then there was an article in the paper saying the movie was financed by the mafia. I had a trial coming up. I had to get a lawyer. Then one day I got a call from United Press International saying the print was stolen in a movie theater. So, I called the movie theater and sure enough the print was stolen in Wayne, New Jersey. Someone had stolen it. Two weeks after that or three weeks after that I got a call that the print had played in Oklahoma City for two minutes. The FBI was there. They confiscated the print, and I was indicted for Transportation of Pornographic Material - a federal offense. And they indicted me for every state that the plane flew over. Then we found out that the prosecutor had the print and somehow he was there in Oklahoma City. It was a total set up. I was then on trial in Oklahoma City for this federal offense. And it was pretty scary because I could've gone to jail for 15 or 20 years. So I had to go to Oklahoma for the trial. The Playboy Foundation had come into my life and said "Don't worry we're going to take care of everything. We're going to pay for your lawyer. We're going to get you the best lawyer." They were there in the fight. Then I started to really worry because the other stuff was local misdemeanors. This was federal. So we went to trial and after the trial had started, one of the lawyers that the Playboy Foundation had hired came to me and said "Look, I play golf with the judge. I'm going to talk to him when we play golf. And maybe we can do something." So, he played golf with the judge, and this is an absolute true story, the judge asked for ten thousand dollars. The Playboy Foundation played golf with him again and slipped him the ten thousand dollars. And the trial was stopped and I copped a plea. He was supposed to dismiss everything and drop all the charges down to a misdemeanor if I had copped a plea. So I did, and he put me on two years probation. As I was walking out of the courtroom, the clerk had the print in his hand. It was in a metal can. And they were all laughing because they were going to play the movie for their Christmas party. But I was off because the Playboy Foundation was really, really good to me. So that was out of my life, and then I had to go take care of the other misdemeanors in New Jersey. In the meantime I still wanted to make a movie and I had written this script Communion. I went back to my friend, the mayor, and said, "You know, I really want to make this movie in my hometown." He took one look at me and said, "Do whatever you want. I don't care." So, I had the full cooperation of the fire department, the police department. I had every location that I wanted in Paterson. And we made Alice, Sweet Alice also called Communion. [Also called Holy Terror]
How old were you at that time?
Early thirties. I called it Deep Sleep because of Deep Throat. It was at a time when Deep Throat was on the cover of Time. So, I thought, "Oh good, I'm going to call my movie Deep Sleep."
And what did your parents think about THIS?
My mother didn't care. My mother said, "I don't care about the movie." My mother fed the crew. She was in the movie. All she knew was that her son was trying to make a film. She would go picket. They would picket the courthouse with all these signs "Free Alfred Sole". My mom was great. She was crazy. I was excommunicated from the Catholic Church because of Deep Sleep. What can I say, you know, the bishop had a great house. Great columns. So we pulled into his driveway and just shot. Nobody came out. We were guerilla filmmakers. I even had a helicopter in an X-rated movie. I went to a place and I met some guy and asked if I could shoot his helicopter and have these girls running out. I had a Rolls Royce. I mean it was a very classy. It had original music.
During Deep Sleep did you already have the idea for Alice Sweet Alice?
Yeah. My love, my first love is horror movies. Anything bloody. And killing people. I love to kill people.
Your co-screenwriter on ASA was Rosemary Ritvo. What was your relationship with her?
She was my neighbor. And she wanted to be a screenwriter. One day I told her my story. I don't like writing by myself because I need someone to bounce ideas off. She was Catholic and really into the church, and we hit it off. It started with Deep Sleep, and she would come to me and say she hated what they were doing to me, you got to come back and write another one. She was a really good person, and she use to teach English at the college. She's very smart, very bright and very articulate.
And there are no prints of DEEP SLEEP right?
There are no prints around because the federal government, oh, that was another thing. The movie was making a ton of money. And that's another thing that brought it to the attention of the FBI. That's why the prosecutors were able to do this because it made eight million dollars, maybe seven. It was doing very well.
And you saw that money?
No. They took it all. They went to the distributor, got all the prints and I saw nothing. What I saw was going to jail for about fifteen years.
So Deep Sleep was 1972/73 and you were writing Alice at this time?
Yeah. I went around looking for all these great locations. I had this vision of this girl being killed on her first holy communion. That's where it started. I love the rituals of the Catholic Church. Take my body, take my blood. So, we wrote it and once again I went to my friends. I mortgaged my house. My mother gave me some money. My father gave me some money. My mother had some money that my father didn't know about. My brother - basically my family gave me this money. Then I had a friend who was a lawyer. I made a deal with him that for screen credit he would take care of all the legal stuff. But he turned out to be a pretty shyster lawyer. He had me sign all these papers, and he was getting more money. At the time I didn't care, I just wanted to make this movie. We would stop and start because we ran out of money. I had like seven different cameramen. I had done all my homework. I had storyboards. I picked all the locations. That was the other thing, one of the things I was involved with, that's why I became friends with the mayor's wife, I was involved in all the restorations of all the historic buildings in Paterson because of my architectural background. We had restored Rogers Automotive store in Paterson. It was the factory that made the steam engines. Colt .45 had their first factory there. Alexander Hamilton turned us into this little industrial city. Actually it was one of the biggest manufacturers of silk. So Paterson had this great history of working class people. I had all these beautiful buildings. I found an abandoned house, which my friends and me repainted and wallpapered and turned it into Alice's house.
In your commentary, you stated you would be shopping and saying, "Oh there's my movie lamp". Or "There's Alice's dress" and that's how you started collecting your props. How long was that going on for?
A couple years. Or a year.
You didn't make any money on Deep Sleep so how were you living?
I was still making money on my designing. I was fortunate enough to be always busy. That was my bread and butter.
It was 1975 when you made Alice but you set it in 1961. Why? Didn't you think that making a period piece made it more difficult to produce?
I set it in '61 because that was the era that you were not allowed to get a divorce. That was a period in history when getting a divorce was a big deal. And that was the whole thing about the psychology behind the church and divorce. That was the whole thing about setting it in the 60's. I think in the 60's the Catholic Church was always the strongest in terms of the control of the people and what it meant to working class and upper middle class. I always remembered listening to people talk about getting a divorce, and God forbid you get a divorce. My mother would say, "I can't divorce your father because we're Catholic." You know what I mean. It was that kind of working class mentality of the church. In those days it was a big deal if you got a divorce. Movie stars went to Vegas and it was a big deal. I remember in my house when Liz Taylor and Debbie Reynolds were involved in a big divorce - my mother was addicted to that stuff.
But the 60's, I wanted that. I knew where to find that stuff. I knew the architecture [in Paterson] was from that period. I knew that period really well.
How did you write with Rosemary?
We were in a room together. I would come in and would jot down all my ideas. I would run them by her. She just opened a door. She started reading poetry to me. It just somehow worked.
It's a movie with a lot of female point of views.
Yes. She kind of told me stories about her aunts and relatives. She came from the same kind of really Catholic-Italian background. She was really like my rock.
You have said that the 1973 movie Don't Look Now was an inspiration for Alice.
It was a BIG inspiration.
Story-wise or the production design of it?
Story wise. That little girl with the raincoat, she had that yellow slicker. I was just blown away by Don't Look Now. . It's one of my favorite, favorite films. Every once in a while I rent it and watch it. It still holds up. And it had one of the most amazing sex scenes put on film. It was amazing. That movie was the most underrated movie. It was very popular in England. In the United States it didn't do too well.
What was the filmmaking climate at the time? You had Scorsese, Friedkin, Lumet, Cassavete; all working in New York.
Scorsese was coming out of Taxi Driver at the time.
Those kinds of movies didn't influence you?
Taxi Driver? Oh yeah. As a matter of fact, one of the first movie sets I ever saw was Taxi Driver. I was in New York and I turned a corner and there they were filming Taxi Driver. And I thought, "Oh man, look at these trucks and lights. I got to do this."
Did you have money at that time to make Alice?
No, I didn't have a lot of money. I started raising money then. But I decided I'd start casting. When we finished [the script] Alice Sweet Alice, I went to a lot of theater. I used to sneak into the second acts. That's how I took it to Geraldine Page. I went to the box office and I left a script for her. And I was in love at the time with Geraldine Page. I don't remember what the piece was, but I saw it and I left the script with a note, and believe it or not, but about three weeks later I got a call from Geraldine Page thanking me for leaving the script. She turned it down of course, but it was like I could not believe I got a phone call from Geraldine Page. It was like this big actress.
No money AND you started casting?
Yeah. There was Brooke Shields' picture in a magazine. At the time she was this little model. She was like 12 or 13 going on 30. It was a whole series, and I don't know if it was Vogue or one of those magazines, but these German fashion photographers dressed her up like an older woman. And I tracked her down. I knew she lived in New Jersey. Or her father lived in New Jersey. I went to see the mother. The mother and I hit it off great. And she was looking for something for Brooke. I don't know if she took me serious or not, but I told her I wanted Brooke to be in this movie and she said, "Okay we'll do it."
She had no objections to the script? Her daughter dies in it!
No. She loved it. She thought it was great. And then I had a cousin who studied acting with Andre Gregory, from My Dinner with Andre. My cousin wanted to be an actor, and he was taking classes with Andre Gregory. They were doing a play in Connecticut at some college, and I was there auditing certain classes, and I saw this girl dancing and I thought "Oh my God, that's Alice." It was Paula Sheppard. That's how we met. And I went up to her, and I started talking to her and I said, "Someday I'm going to make this movie and I want you to be the star." She looked at me like, you're a...you know. She was great because she wasn't quite a midget and she wasn't quite ummm…
On your side shots she looks the same height as Brooke but Paula was 19, Brooke was 12?
Yeah. The whole thing about Alice was if she didn't get enough love and attention because she wasn't pretty she would either grow up to be a killer or she'd grow up to be…well, she'd never be normal. That was the whole thing with Alice, because I loved Alice. Her lot in life was not to be pretty. I started getting some money. I got my friends to give me some seed money. And then we started shooting.
Was this like the poker table? 5,000 here 5,000 there?
At what point did you say 'I have enough money, I'm ready to shoot'.
25,000 dollars. That was my key. It was always 25. The other one I started at 25. And now I had 25.
The executive producer with you was Richard Rosenberg. Who was he?
I was the client and he was my lawyer. I made a deal with him that if he did the legal stuff I would give him screen credit. Actually, he was my lawyer during my criminal charges. That's how we met. And then I designed his house for him and we became friends. I remember having to sign all these papers from Richard because of tax problems. We had a distribution deal with Columbia Pictures. One of my clients had set that up. I remember going to the office of Columbia Pictures in New York, and there were all these Academy Awards and a beautiful corporate office, and I thought I died and went to heaven. They decided to release the picture. They asked me to cut a few scenes shorter. It was part of the deal. Not only that but they made a book deal. There was a book called "Communion". A paperback.
Based on your movie?
Yeah. I have it. It's from Bantam Books. It was one of the first times they were releasing a book on a movie. They were bragging about how they were doing this tie-in. So, they flew me to LA to shorten the movie. I got a phone call from Richard Rosenberg saying that we lost the deal because the motion picture association gave it an X and Columbia is dropping the project. And I was devastated because here I was with Columbia Pictures and I had a book deal. The book went through. The book was already going out. They were going to release the book and the movie at the same time. I'm cutting the movie and Richard is saying, "It's your fault that it's getting an X rating." I then got a phone call from my friend who put this deal together saying he (Rosenberg) is a thief. They dropped the picture because he was buying off everybody. During the making of this movie he would say, "If you want this ten thousand dollars you have to sign these papers." I was just signing all these papers that he was throwing in front of me. I was directing. I wasn't being stupid. I just didn't care. I just wanted this ten thousand dollars because we were just raising this money as we went along just to finish. And the picture cost, like, two hundred fifty thousand, and he was raising more money than he needed. I don't care if you say this or not but he was really, really sleazy.
Is this the same shyster lawyer you mentioned earlier?
Is he living?
He's living. And when we got dropped, I went to him and confronted him with that. And he just blew me off. We didn't talk after that. And then later all this tax stuff came out. I had no idea what he was doing, where he was getting this money. What was going on? But I do know that I would hear stories and I would say, "I'm not seeing money." We were struggling to make this movie, and somebody came by and said they invested ten thousand dollars in your movie and I would say, "You did?" Well, how come I don't have THAT ten thousand dollars? He was raising more money and pocketing it.
You didn't get a weekly salary?
No! My mother was cooking every day for the crew and paying for it herself. I mean that's how we were working. Nobody got paid. Rosenberg was giving us money but we were begging every week to keep going. He was bragging about keeping us going.
So Rosenberg said he had twenty five thousand dollars and you said let's begin?
No. I had raised twenty five thousand dollars with my friends. Then I went to him because I needed a lawyer. I asked him if he wanted to get involved with movie making and he did because he was a young guy and he took care of all the legal stuff. At one point he came to me and said "it cost a half million dollars to make this movie" and I KNOW it wasn't that. I said, "Excuse me?" The most it ever cost to make a movie with me was three hundred thousand dollars. I know. I know what we were shooting. I know what money he gave me. He took care of everything so I signed off a lot of rights to him. Basically when I got done he owned the movie. My family was upset because I wanted them to get money back. This is the same story that all filmmakers talk about.
Were the actors getting paid?
Were you afraid you would never get them back after a break?
Yeah. I had seven different cameramen, different sound men. I did the wardrobe. I did the special effects. I put names on the film because I wanted it to look bigger than it actually was. We gave all these big credits because we wanted it to look like this big movie. I was location scouting. I did all the props. My next-door neighbor made the knife for me. I did most of the makeup. I couldn't afford a stunt person so I got a dummy. We let it fall out of the building and you saw it through the broken glass. And then I had the actor fall in front of the camera. That really worked.
Was Brooke Shields a big name model at the time?
She was really hot.
She was a hot commodity and you didn't pay? Did you put her or your actors up at a hotel?
We did it in Paterson. They all drove to Paterson. Everybody came from Paterson except for Brooke Shields. We got Terry (Brooke's mom) some money. She came to the set every day. She loved my mom. They would cook together. Terry would even help cook. Terry was a sweetheart.
So they were working on deferred payment?
Yeah. Everybody was basically working in that way.
Were the actors demanding?
One actress was. Linda Miller was a nightmare. She was the actress from hell. As a matter of fact she slit her wrists on the set. She was Jackie Gleason's daughter. And someone told me I should go see her because she was this up and coming actress. They said she was really good. And I went to see her in this play. And she was married to the priest in The Exorcist, Jason Miller. They were living in New Jersey. We have made peace with each other over the years and we've come to like each other, but she was a nightmare. This is an absolute true story. We were shooting a scene, and all of a sudden, Linda comes running in screaming with both of her hands up in the air. She had cut both her wrists, blood coming down her wrists. I thought, "That's it. It's over. I don't have a movie anymore. I'm done." We were three quarters of the way through. So, we shut down. It wasn't deep enough. If you notice, you'll see all her dresses are really tight around the sleeves. And she came back and finished the movie.
Do you remember the scene?
Yes. We had a fight. She had this thing, she was Jackie Gleason's daughter and she didn't want any one to know that she was Jackie Gleason's daughter. I mentioned it to someone. Meanwhile, she was going around telling everyone else she was Jackie Gleason's daughter. I mentioned to someone and she came after me because I had told some of the extras who she was. They came up and starting talking about her father to her. How much they loved her father. And the next thing I knew we were having this huge fight. She really ripped me a new asshole for saying something. And the next thing I knew she came on set and she had cut her wrists. You never knew if she was going to be stable or not.
Did you have drivers pick her up to make sure she showed up?
No. We'd just wait and pray that she showed up.
You have Adrienne Hamlian listed as your Assistant Director. He's in charge of scheduling each day's shooting schedule. Did you work off call sheets or schedules? How did people know when to show up?
He was my neighbor. We had no call sheets. None of that stuff.
No production office?
We had a production office. Rosemary Ritvo ran the production office. She was the production coordinator. She ran everything. I had every one of my friends, every one of my neighbors, they all pitched in.
But Alfred, you had huge scenes. You had kids…
They were all my relatives.
How was it all coordinated?
I had a girl help me out who got the credit. She wanted to be a costume designer. She was a local person. Before we started shooting, I want you to know that we had all the costumes. We had all the locations. I had all the priests' gear. I had all the props. I had shopped that. We had it all sitting all ready to go. The matching pill box hats, because I wanted it to be like the Kennedy's. We had done all that stuff. Rosemary and I went shopping for the mom's dress. We just had all this stuff in a box.
Were there any contracts? Did locations just tell you to come whenever?
Whenever. I needed rain, so I called the mayor's office, and I told him I needed rain and the fire department supplied rain through their hoses. I needed a police station, and I got the real Paterson police station.
Were there professionals on the crew?
The cameramen were professional. All the sound guys were out of New York. The cameramen were out of New York. The assistant cameramen were out of New York. All the camera people were friends with the cameramen.
Did they respect you as a first time filmmaker?
Yes. The assistants I got along with great. I didn't get along with the cameraman because he wanted certain things. I knew all my angles. He was pissed off. I had done my storyboards. I bought all these books - filmmaking 101. I learned from the X-rated movie. I didn't go to film school. I just knew what I wanted. There wasn't a day that went by that I didn't know where I wanted the camera to be. All the extras were family, friends or relatives - all Paterson people. I relied on my friends and relatives and that's how it got done. Every one of those weird people is a relative.
Did you have call times? Did you say 6AM call, be here?
Yeah. And everyone showed up.
Did you know how many scenes you wanted to complete in one day?
We knew what scenes we were doing. We didn't know how long it would take.
So your Assistant Director didn't make a strip board for a schedule?
No. I actually made a board. I sent away for one of those boards with the movable strips through American Cinematographer. Bill Lustig helped me out a lot too. He had some film experience.
I'm guessing this was before his movie Maniac?
Yes. He was a lover of movies. He was a walking encyclopedia. He wanted to be a director so he helped out in the office. It was also totally Rosemary. I said to her "You're running the show." And everybody came to her and volunteered. Nobody made a movie before except the camera department.
Do you remember the first day of shooting?
No. But that opening church wasn't really a church that we shot in. It was in a hospital.
Every scene in the church? Even the beginning communion scene?
The exteriors were not in a Catholic church. That's a Protestant church because the Catholic Church wouldn't let me film there.
Is this because you were ex-communicated from the Catholic Church for Deep Sleep?
Yeah. That was one of the biggest problems we had. I needed a church. We were scouting locations for the hospital; it was the old Paterson General Hospital. And in the hospital there was a chapel. And the exterior was the Protestant church. And then we found a little priest's house next to the church.
Did they read the script?
And did they know the grisly things that happened in the church in your script?
Yeah. They didn't care. The mayor's wife really helped a lot. I got full cooperation.
New York and New Jersey are big union towns, any problems with your independent film?
We paid them off. My uncle was once the head of the Teamsters. He was dead at this point though. But I had five thousand dollars, and we went to New York, and we sat in a diner. We gave this one guy five thousand dollars. To get the equipment out of the union place you had to have union drivers. I have a Teamster card with my name on it. For five thousand dollars my guys were given cards to pick up the equipment. This guy kept going [putting palms up] "Hey what's the weather like?" and that meant it was time to slip him something behind his back. So we got Teamster cards and we used them to pick up equipment. I mean I shot my first film in 16mm. I shot Alice in 35mm. I didn't know all these rules.
I do want to talk about the photography because it's absolutely great. But you talk of many different cameramen? How did that work?
Seven different cameramen.
It's all very consistent. Did you have dailies? Did you see dailies? Did the cameramen see footage from previous cameramen?
I'm not trying to inflate myself. I knew what I wanted in terms of the lighting for the windows. I saw enough movies. I would just say, "Look, this is what I want." I didn't know that much about lighting, but I knew what I wanted it to look like. I knew that I wanted it to be dark. I went looking for all this woodwork. I wanted the architecture to be consistent. I researched the period. Everything was there for these guys when they walked on the set.
You don't have a Directory of Photography in the opening credits. You have two cameramen listed on the credit roll, John Friberg and Chuck Hall. Did they light the set?
Were you behind the camera?
Yeah. I was always behind the camera. I would squint and see my shot. I bought one of those viewfinders from American Cinematography; this big thing that hung around my neck. I pride myself on that movie. I had no relationships with DP's; they all hated me. Their attitude was "You don't know anything about filmmaking." I would go home and talk to my wife and ask, "Why don't these guys get it? Why are they always fighting me?" I would say, "Put the camera here," and they'd say, "No, put the camera there." They always thought I was stupid. They always approached me like I was a total novice and I didn't know anything about filmmaking. I was honest about that to them because this was my second movie but they took advantage of it. It was that New York attitude of 'I made so many commercials, I did this, I did that.' I couldn't find a great cameraman that I got along with. Plus, they acted like they were doing me a favor. We paid the camera people. They were probably the only ones who got paid up front. And the sound guy, we paid him up front. But then I would make friends with the lower guys down the line. The grips and electric, they were really nice. They would go to me and not to camera and we'd talk about different things and that's how it began to work on the set.
There were many interesting shots, architecturally speaking. Cross hatches, interesting lines in the frame. Did you put a lot of thought into your shots?
It was all Hitchcock. Watching movies, man.
It was all on the storyboard?
I story boarded because I found the locations and I walked the locations. I had plenty of time because I had no money, and I would go there and walk it and I would set it up, so every time the cameraman got there I knew exactly where the camera was going to be. And the architect in me played a lot into it. I think it's part of my visual sense.
How did you know what you shot was working?
I went to the lab. It was at Technicolor. We got Technicolor to defer. So I would go to the lab every…hmmm…let me see…I didn't see them on a daily basis. But, I must say this. I had the best editor in the world. Eddie Salier. We bonded and we became best friends.
When did he come on the project?
I don't remember when I met Eddie. I knew Eddie from New York. He was there night and day for me. This guy was terrific. And we're still close friends. He really loved the project. I have to give Eddie a lot of credit.
He's still an editor right?
Yeah. That's what he wanted to be. When I met him, the goal in his life was to be a film editor. He had made some documentaries. He lived in New York where Technicolor was.
You said it took about 24 days to shoot but not consecutively. How long did this go on?
And weren't you afraid you'd lose anybody?
Oh yes. I was always afraid. I lived in fear. When Linda cut her wrists I feared. I was afraid it would just stop and I'd lose everything. I was afraid I'd lose Brooke if she got a big modeling job.
Was Eddie cutting the film the whole time? Did you have to show what was completed to get more money?
I don't remember. But he would go to Technicolor when they were printing. That's the other thing. When they finished he'd call me up and say, "It's okay," or "You need this." We never screened dailies. We didn't have money. Well, no, I really don't ever remember screening dailies. I could be wrong.
So, did you take your cameramen to Hitchcock movies to show them what you want? I guess there was no VHS or anything like that?
No. They were people I would call up and say, "Hey, I have a project" and they'd say, "how much?" The cameramen I had had no love for my project. There was one assistant cameraman who stayed and he's a cameraman now, his name was Joe Friedman. I remember he stayed on my project until the end. When Friberg left, Joe stayed. Making friends with people is what got this made. I mean people either got it or they didn't get it. Friberg didn't even read the script. He didn't even give a shit - just an arrogant son of a bitch.
It's just the process of filmmaking that there are arguments. It doesn't mean you hate somebody just to argue. So, with that, were there any big disagreements on the set?
Only Linda Miller. I also just want to say that the original name for the movie was Communion and they changed the title to Alice and I hated it. But there was nothing I could do about it.
And cameramen like you said?
Well, we didn't argue. It was just a constant telling me what I was doing was wrong. This arrogance of "we've made a movie and you haven't." It was letting me know every moment that they were doing me a favor. We never fought. I was just really quiet and very cajoling with them. I only fought with Linda Miller.
You stated you did acting classes to prepare for directing.
With HB Studios.
Camera courses or lighting courses?
How would you describe your directing style? Did you spend more times with actors or camera?
Both. I was very hands on. I put Alphonso in because he was a friend. Everything was a known.
Alphonso was in BLOOD SUCKING FREAKS? Did you see him in that or was this before that movie?
He was a bouncer in a gay bar. This is how I met Alphonso. He had this racket going on. He would dress up as a priest and hang out in Paterson at the graveyard. And when people would visit their loved ones they'd say, "Oh father can you say a prayer?" And they would give him some money. So he had this thing going on and that's how we met. I went to visit somebody at their grave, and there was Alphonso. He was a real character.
Did you have a color palette for the film? Were you thinking in those terms?
It was Don't Look Now. I took everything from Don't Look Now. And I learned from reading all these film books that everything is monochromatic except for the one actress with the red dress. I watched movies and studied that. I'm really self-taught. I stole shots. I stole them from Hitchcock. It was just from a love of movies. I'm sure it's original because you put your own spin on it. Believe me, they were stolen moments from great movies I saw.
Around the time of Alice, the horror movies coming out were The Exorcist, Legend of Hell House, Last of Sheila…did you follow these films?
No. No. No. It was older movies - Bette Davis movies. The Letter, you ever see The Letter with Bette Davis?
That movie blew me away. I looked at movies in terms of camera. When I use to teach writing I taught this: watch movies without sound. You could see the cut. You could see how long a shot lasted and camera angles.
Tell me if I'm reading too much into this but I noticed a relationship with 3's. Alice's family was a threesome. Many shots of 3 people perfectly framed. The lieutenant was on the 3rd floor. Was this conscious?
No. You're reading too much into it. The family was supposed to be the holy trinity but other than that…no. Maybe it was subconscious. The mother and two daughters made up the three. Yeah, that was on purpose. Rosemary and I would talk about all that Catholic stuff. We knew those Catholic families really well. That's what we were trying to capture.
Lots of feet references.
I did that on purpose. The other thing I did on purpose was I stabbed her in the foot on purpose. I was in New York and I went to see this Italian movie about the mob. It was this great theater across the street from Bloomingdale's. The design studio where I use to take clients was in that building right near it. I'm sitting in this movie theater watching this movie, and in the movie these guys come in and blow everyone away. And there's no reaction from the audience. And then a guy spits in someone's face and everyone in the audience gasps. I started thinking about that, and why that reaction was there. You can relate to being spit in the face. I don't know what it feels like to be shot. I can relate to hitting my hand and feeling pain. So, what could I do that would be really cool where people would say gasp, and then I started thinking about your feet. I know from banging my feet on the bed how painful that is. You can relate to things like hitting your toes. So that's why I decided to stab her in the foot. From that movie the whole process of thought came down to the foot. And that's why we stabbed Danny in the foot.
How long were your days?
We shot twelve to eighteen hour days. We did one marathon 24-hour day. Then we stopped for three days and started again - over and over again.
There were like two or three scenes in sunshine. Was that deliberate?
I was always looking for a dark, dreary, Venice look.
The scene where Niles McMaster is thrown out of the building was amazing to me. In yourDVD commentary you said that was done in one take. How long did it take to set up?
I read once that they use mirrors in movies. We didn't have money for a stunt person, so we made a dummy, and we positioned the mirror on the ground, and that's how we did that. The dummy is thrown beyond the mirror, and then the actor's head hits the ground, popping the glass bottles.
And then her head pops out at the top of the screen. I mean that was coordination. No walkie-talkies?
You just shouted?
Yeah. "Mildred, come out!" It didn't take long to set up. We shot it very quick. The problem I had was with the glass. I had gotten there the day before. That's the Roger locomotive building. I know that building really well because I was helping restore that building. Originally we were just going to throw the dummy off. And I thought, "This looks like shit." It's like this stuffed thing that we made. It was terrible. I remembered the broken mirror scene in that Rita Hayworth movie by Orson Welles (The Lady From Shanghai). He had that scene with the mirrors in the round. I thought of that when I did this. Believe me, everything I've done I've seen in another movie.
You're a production designer now, currently doing Veronica Mars. John Lawless was your production designer on Alice. How did you work with him?
There was no production designer.
Well, no. John Lawless was a friend, some gay guy from New York. He helped out a lot. Actually, I can't take credit away from John. He wanted to be in the movie business. He was in drag clubs in New York.
Did he do sketches?
No. I did the sketches myself. John was just a good friend.
The nun falling in the beginning of the film…no stunt person?
I asked her to fall and she fell.
Who mixed the blood?
We did. But we got the blood from Halloween stores. There was also a place in New York where make-up artists went. I use to read about this stuff then go to New York and find these places to buy it.
For HALLOWEEN they say the mask was a William Shatner mask with the eyes cut out? Where did the mask that plays prominently in your film come from?
It was a mask we found in a department store in Chinatown. It was the beginning of those clear plastic masks. I was so turned on by that.
Are you religious now?
Noooo. But I believe in the Ten Commandments and how we should behave.
So this movie is not a condemnation of religion?
Many nasty things happen in the church. You have divorce. You have pedophilia.
I got that from "M". I'm telling you everything is based on some movie somewhere.
Did you ever get interference from executives? Make it more bloody, less bloody?
No. Eddie salvaged every little piece of footage we had. We reversed footage. We
skipped frames to make it all work. We did spend a lot of time in the editing room.
Was it totally done when you got a distributor?
Yep. All cut.
How long between the finished film and getting a distributor?
I got the distributor because of my friend who worked at Columbia Pictures. That was another thing. There was a guy at the lab at Technicolor who really loved the movie. And he would come up every day and watch. That's how I got Brooke Shields to test for Audrey Rose for Robert Wise. Technicolor in New York had all these editing bays upstairs in those days. They gave us carte blanche. They were so nice to us at Technicolor. And this guy was such a big fan of this film. We had our own editing facilities, our own editing bays, and Robert Wise was doing something in that building. Another editor was talking to Robert Wise. And one day there's a knock at the door, and there's fucking Robert Wise.
He's my favorite.
Let me tell you something, I almost shit in my pants. And he said "I hear you're making this movie" and we started talking and I said "I have this young girl in the movie and she's absolutely fabulous. The camera loves her." I'm not sure about her acting because she was a kid but the camera loves her. We set it up for him and he watched it.
Did you have any say on marketing? The poster art?
I did the poster. I put the doll and the knife and staged it.
And that's the original poster?
Did they have test screenings back then?
Well, we had a screening in Paterson, New Jersey. It was a disaster. Nobody knew how bloody it was. So the next day the newspapers wrote about the mayor and how he was having this screening.
Oh no, it started all over again.
Yes. They wrote of the blood fest. They criticized it.
What did the Protestant church think?
They didn't mind.
Even with the slaughter of the priest in the church?
Well, that was shot at the hospital chapel. And it was being torn down so it wasn't consecrated ground anymore.
Did all your friends think it was too bloody?
No. Nobody thought it was bloody. I didn't think it was bloody. The Paterson Evening News was just being bitchy.
Did it get a wide distribution?
Well, it played but it was limited. It wasn't treated like this big movie. It was this little horror movie.
Did you go opening day to see it?
I would go to New York and sit in a theater because I couldn't resist it. But I was totally disappointed because Columbia had this whole big campaign going. Allied Artists treated it like this drive-in movie. They changed the name and I hated the name. It went from Columbia Pictures - the top - I don't know what they saw but it went from a big book tie in, to nothing for months, then Allied Artists and a sleazy deal.
It won Saturn awards…each time Brooke came out with another movie.
Yeah. We won the Chicago Film Festival. Roger Ebert loved the movie, I remember that.
Your next film Tanya's Island was 1980. Four years after Alice. Was it the same circumstance; friends around a poker table?
No. I met this crazy Canadian. I lived in Canada for a year. I lived in a hotel for one year. I had written a script, which was my next movie that I wanted to make. It was about a woman who falls in love with her son's murderer. I had a gay character in it. The husband was gay. I wrote this thing and called it Gray's Rhapsody. It was an elaborate big budget script. It was written when my gay gene kicked in. It was a gay character and nobody wanted it. I had all these other scripts. And there was a time with all these tax shelters and scripts. I met this Canadian who was thinking of Gray's Rhapsody if I would write some other stuff for him. I agreed to do it because I really wanted to make Gray Rhapsody. He had me go to Canada to start writing. And before I knew it he asked me to write some stuff. He needed a movie right away, so I called up Rosemary and we were talking about things we wanted to do. And I said, "What would happen if we did a reverse of Beauty and the Beast." The beast fucks the girl and she leaves the guy for the gorilla. So we wrote this movie, which was so bad. So bad. It got worse because we did half of it in Puerto Rico. It wasn't THAT bad because we got Rick Baker to do me a favor and make me a gorilla costume. Then the tax shelter people said "No! We're not going to give you this money because the Canadian content was not strong enough." After we finished the movie we had to go back and make all this Canadian content. The whole thing got totally convoluted. We started writing this stuff that had no meaning at all.
It has a long wait on my online service.
It does? You can get it? On DVD? I want a copy.
Blockbuster won't carry it.
It's because the fucking gorilla fucks the girl. So, there's a DVD of it? I didn't know that.
Who owns it?
Pierre David does. The Canadians own it. And you know what? I shot the whole movie in steadicam. I read in American Cinematographer about the steadicam. I had no money.
Yeah. Him. He came down and shot the damn thing.
Who owns Alice now?
It says copyright Alfred Sole on the cover art and IMDB says Harristown Funding.
That's me. I own it.
The horror filmmaker Dante Tomaselli calls you his inspiration.
He's my cousin.
He says you gave him your blessing to do Alice 2.
If he wants it. He was very sweet. He said, "I want to do it," and I said, "Go. Do it." I'm not involved. He makes horror movies. He's sick.
Being a production designer and having directed before, is it hard to not steer directors you work for into your own vision?
You know what? It all pays off. Being an architect, being a production designer, being a writer. I mean, I will always be a frustrated film director but only frustrated in that I'm not making the movies I want to make. I've had opportunities to do movies of the week, but that doesn't do anything for me. If I can't make the movies I want to make then I don't want to direct. Plus, in terms of my career, nobody was offering me good movies. I hung out in Hollywood for two years to make Gray's Rhapsody and that didn't happen. So, finally I had to take a job, and I was really broke so I took a job directing Pandemonium with the Tom Smothers.
That was your first studio film?
Yeah. It bombed because the studio [Columbia] was going out of business. That was the David Begelman fiasco.
The check writing scandal at Columbia?
Yeah. I got caught up in that. So, I started writing and met Paul Monatte. Paul and I were writing partners for 12 years together. We wrote the Friday the 13th series together.
Any special editions of Tanya's Island or Pandemonium coming our way?
Nothing on Tanya's Island. Pandemonium, my studio film, I just signed a deal for it to be released on DVD. That movie was the nail in my directing coffin.
Interview conducted by Joseph Stargensky 3/19/06 at Stu Segall Productions