“A Snake Pit Gig”: The Making (and Undoing) of Abel Ferrara’s “Cat Chaser”

Poster of Vestron's 1991 video release of

Cover art for “Cat Chaser” (1989); never shown in theaters, it was distributed on VHS in 1991 and later released on DVD. A rare three-hour raw cut screened last summer at New York City’s Anthology Film Archives.

by Sam Weisberg

A retired—but still heavily armed—right-wing Dominican general who used to strip his victims and torture them with golf clubs, now living high on the hog in Miami. A one-time foot soldier in the 1965 Dominican Civil War, now fronting a run-down Miami hotel. His search for the female Dominican sniper who saved his life from a would-be assassin. A smoldering affair between the hotelier and the general’s stunning wife. Creepy denizens. A bent cop. $2 million worth of stolen divorce settlement money. Boat dock explosions. Rapes. Drownings. And lots and lots of silencers.

In 1988, hot off several acclaimed “Miami Vice” episodes and the ultra-violent 1987 crime/romance drama “China Girl,” director Abel Ferrara was a surefire choice to adapt Elmore Leonard’s hard-boiled 1982 novel “Cat Chaser.” Peter Weller, hot off “RoboCop,” was slated to play the ruffled yet handsome hotel owner, George Moran; Kelly McGillis, hot, period, was cast as his eventual love interest, Mary DeBoya; the chilling Tomás Milián was to play her abusive husband, the general; character actor Frederic Forrest, known for portraying sleazebags, signed on as the sleazy Nolen, a fellow vet who may or not be in cahoots with the general; and larger-than-life wisecracker Charles Durning played the crooked detective, Jiggs Scully. Even legendary Nicaraguan boxer Alexis Argüello was on hand as a henchman.

Jim Borrelli, a budding screenwriter who had provided Weller’s “Shakedown” with its sassiest jokes, helped Ferrara adapt the script—later given some reworking by Leonard (AKA Dutch) himself—and stayed true to Leonard’s patented swaggering dialogue. (Example: Scully to his nemesis, after pulling off an elaborate double-cross while supposedly urinating in the bathroom: “Something I learned a long time ago. Never take your joint out with guys you don’t trust.”) What could go wrong?

Everything. Between when filming launched in November 1988, on location in Miami, and wrapped in early 1989 in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico (filling in for Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic), a series of horrific, near-deadly accidents occurred on-set. The two leads, according to most of the people I interviewed, clashed viciously. (McGillis, though never singling out Weller, has publicly deemed “Cat Chaser” to be the film that spurred her to quit movie acting for several years.) Worst of all, a late-stage re-edit—orchestrated by producers Bill Panzer and Peter Davis of “Highlander” fame—removed much of the heart and grit from the material, even adding needless omniscient narration (from actor Reni Santoni, who played Clint Eastwood’s partner in “Dirty Harry”).

So far, only this truncated, 90-minute Vestron Pictures version—which Ferrara, Weller and several crew members disavowed—has been released on VHS and DVD. But last summer, New York City’s Anthology Film Archives screened the only existing VHS transfer of the raw cut of “Cat Chaser”—a grainy, dimly lit three-hour affair, with video time code intact—followed by some anecdote-rich Q&A with its editor, Anthony Redman (some of which is cited here). The flashback sequences to Moran’s soldier days in Santo Domingo were, mysteriously, not included on this cut, but both Ferrara and Redman said in subsequent interviews that, a few rough edges aside, this was the truest available copy of their work.

Both versions are true to Leonard’s basic plot; it’s difficult to pinpoint exact scenes or lines that were altered or excised, though the DVD cut certainly has a more rushed feel. The dialogue and character development in the raw version are decidedly more naturalistic, though some scenes drag (Ferrara himself admits that he never intended to release a three-hour movie). But there is no doubt that the narrator gimmick in the DVD version is clunky and dopey and, as Ferrara puts it, “destroys” the essence of the film. I wanted to know how and why the film’s undoing came about—and how accurate McGillis’ complaints were about the making of it (no one involved has, until now, responded to her in print).

Over the past year, I have spoken with Ferrara, Weller, Redman, Borrelli (who is now a hypnotherapist), “Cat Chaser’s” director of photography Anthony Richmond, executive producer Josi Konski, first assistant director Louis D’Esposito (now co-president at Marvel Studios) and second assistant director Glen Trotiner. I also heard from Milián, via a brief email sent by his publicist. Co-executive producer Guy Collins provided some scant recollections via email (basically that the film remains a fond memory despite certain “dynamics” between Ferrara and the cast). He referred all other questions to Peter Davis, who politely declined to be interviewed. (Panzer died in a freak ice skating accident in 2007; Leonard died in 2013 and Durning in 2012). Other performers, including Forrest and McGillis, also politely refused interviews, and Santoni, as well as several associate producers and crew members, did not return calls or emails.

The accounts of those willing to be interviewed comprise a multifaceted, sometimes tragic story, about a would-be classic crime caper that wasn’t properly developed or released—and, with the right tools, effort and publicity, still could be.

Director Abel Ferrara at work.

Director Abel Ferrara.

PETER WELLER, STAR:

I was promoting “RoboCop” in Detroit, where it ostensibly takes place, and I was talking to the critic at the Detroit Free Press, and she put me and Elmore Leonard together. Elmore wrote two of my favorite westerns, “Hombre” and “3:10 to Yuma,” and [the screenplay for] “Joe Kidd.” And I read “LaBrava” and [thought] his dialogue as a crime writer was remarkable. I started reading all his stuff.

I had been doing a movie in Rome [in 1988], “Leviathan,” and when I came back [to Los Angeles], Bill Panzer and Peter Davis wanted me to do “Cat Chaser.” But they had this script [by Alan Sharp] that was bullshit. [NOTE: Sharp, who also penned the screenplays for “Rob Roy” and “The Osterman Weekend,” died in 2013.] They took a book that was essentially character-driven and they turned it into a real plot piece. It wasn’t even an adaptation. The guy runs the hotel, and he runs into the general and there’s a dogfight and then he shoots the general. There was nothing really at stake. It was just sort of a heroic, clichéd crime thing.

ABEL FERRARA, DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER:

The [Sharp] script was really lame. I mean, every little thing in Elmore’s book is so wonderful. [They took] something [from the original] like, “The guy drove this old-style boxy white Mercedes,” and they changed it to a blue BMW. I said to Panzer, “Dude, just explain to me why you changed that car and I will understand everything. You paid $500,000 for a brilliant…” [pause] I mean to me, Elmore’s like the Mark Twain of the fucking 20th Century or even the 21st Century.

When the producers first gave us the script, [separately], I said, “I don’t want to do this bullshit,” and unbeknownst to me, neither did Weller. But Panzer said, “Listen, Peter loves the script,” and they told Peter that I loved the script.

PETER WELLER:

I went to this loft where [Panzer] worked and I said, “I’ve got a problem. You have a brilliant book and you made a mediocre script.” And we’re waiting for Abel, and he shows up 20 minutes into our conversation. And right off the bat, he says, “I hate this fucking script. You got a brilliant book and a bullshit script. What the fuck did you fuck up this book for?” So now there’s an issue with me and the director.

Abel walked in with fuck-you shoes and I was trying to be diplomatic. I was glad he did, because otherwise I would have had to dance my way into these people’s lives, trying to get them to change it back to the book.

ABEL FERRARA:

I thought it was Panzer’s loft. Meanwhile, he had rented the loft for one day just to impress me and Weller. He started by serving us drinks. I don’t want to disparage the dead, but this guy was a big drinker. I was drinking at the time, too.

Peter goes, “What do you think of the script?” and I said, “You know, I think it sucks,” and he goes, “Yeah, me too,” and I said, “Well, let’s just do the book.” The producers agreed, because without me and Weller they wouldn’t have gotten the $6 million they got from Vestron [Pictures], which was a lot of money at the time.

PETER WELLER:

I said, “I know a really good writer, Jim Borrelli. You oughtta just do the book, man.”

JIM BORRELLI, SCREENWRITER:

I knew Weller because I was an actor for years, in New York. I had written a couple of plays and I was transitioning into screenwriting. And I basically did a dialogue wash for “Shakedown.” Any place that needed a laugh, that’s my laugh. They wanted to replicate that “Lethal Weapon” repartee thing. Weller said, “Do you have any lines I can say here and there?” and I said, “Yeah, say this, say that.” And he brought them to [producer] James Glickenhaus. Then I rewrote a whole scene, and Glickenhaus said to Peter, “Wow, you’re a hell of a writer,” and Peter said, “It’s actually not me, it’s a friend of mine.” So Glickenhaus said, “Let me meet him.” I sat down with him and he said, “Look, this is all great shit.” But he didn’t have the agreement with WGA to [allow me] credit for it. But that was OK. I got money.

So Weller knew that I could write a whole script. I read [Sharp’s] script and [agreed] it was just undoable. There was also a problem with the novel, structurally. Leonard is so brilliant with dialogue and character dynamics that he can sometimes be kind of footloose with the structure. The challenge was that there were basically two narratives, one where the Cat Chaser is in Santo Domingo, and he got that nickname because he was quick on his feet in the alleys, and he had a relationship with one of the natives. And then the book picks up later in Miami, where the Cat Chaser is running a hotel, and he gets involved with the wife of a dictator. So the question was, do you drop one narrative and then basically make something else, or do you combine the two together? And Weller and Ferrara felt that Elmore Leonard fans would flip out if you dropped too much of [either] narrative.

Peter loved all the stuff in Santo Domingo, because it made him an action hero type. And Kelly, I think, was interested in the whole dark affair between her and the Weller character.

PETER WELLER:

If you go back to Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane, even Dashiell Hammett, usually the thug is the guy that works for Mr. Big and eventually has to be done away with, in order for our hero to get whoever the Oz is behind the plot. With Dutch, though, he made the thug, who is seemingly the imbecile—the gun-toting, knee-capping asshole—the [main] guy, you know? Let’s make the thug the real henchman, because he knows more of the street, and he’s really sociopathic, with no compunction for how his violence falls out. Make him the real badguy, let him do away with Mr. Big. In “Cat Chaser,” the real badguy isn’t the general, it’s the knee-capper.

JIM BORRELLI:

I remember one meeting where Abel brought in his demo tape. He’d done some “Miami Vice” episodes which he showed the producers, and they liked it because he was really good with action stuff and he was gritty and he knew Miami.

Abel and I agreed that the script needed a Page One rewrite. He had a loft downtown where he lived and worked. We went to this Xerox copy center. He had the entire novel blown up to 11×14 copies, where the print was very big. And then he and I went through it with magic markers, marking out these blocks of dialogue, or certain parts or scenes that he wanted to hone. Abel and I locked ourselves inside this loft for about a month. We would work all day on the script and then he would stay up all night. I used to call him The Vampire.

After a month, we got a workable script together. I personally was not happy with it, because I didn’t feel that we had solved the problem of the narrative structure. I said, “Abel, we got holes here, we got holes there,” and he said, “I know, but I can do it visually.” And I didn’t know the way he was working. I didn’t go on the set. That’s probably what he did on the three-hour version. He may have extended things and expanded things so he could get them in. In any event, we finished the script and then it all fell into place.

PETER WELLER:

Jim did a bang-up job. The best Leonard stuff is easy to adapt, because he writes like a movie. The dialogue gives you the ad-lib and improvisation, and if you try to change the dialogue, you’re screwed. He writes in machine-gun verse. He doesn’t write polemics, or long-script dialogues.

Author Elmore Leonard and screenwriter Jim Borrelli.

jim borrelli Author/screenwriter Elmore Leonard, top, and screenwriter Jim Borrelli.

EXCERPT FROM OCTOBER 1995 ARTICLE ON ELMORE LEONARD IN THE RECORD:

“Ferrara sent me the script and said, `We’re having some trouble,’ ” Leonard says. “I read it, and I said, `Yeah, I know you’re having trouble. You got 11 pages of straight dialogue with two guys talking and you don’t move them around. You know better than that.’ “

ABEL FERRARA:

He said that, and I told him, “But we really love your dialogue.” Everything was essential, everything was so beautiful.

The producers and Peter and I were at the Chateau Marmont, and Elmore Leonard came. The producers are wearing tennis outfits and carrying tennis rackets, but they don’t play tennis. They were just trying to impress Elmore. Peter knew Elmore, he was calling him “Dutch,” but it was the first time I met him.

Anyway, Elmore sat with these clown producers, and they brought up the dopiest shit. He’s listening to these guys and their retarded fucking [ideas]. And when they said, “I don’t know about this, I don’t know about that,” Elmore, instead of arguing—which is my normal thing—instead of getting bent out of shape, or pissed off, he just kept coming up with different ways to resolve their problems. “If you don’t like that, what about this?” Off the top of his head. He basically wrote ten scripts in this two-hour meeting. It was a brilliant lesson. The level of creativity in that cat was off the hook!

I went out to dinner with Elmore that night. And I said, “Dude, how could you fucking, you know, put up with this kind of bullshit?” He obviously didn’t need the money, although I obviously did. And he said, “I’m only here because I’m researching a book about Hollywood I’m gonna write,” [which became] “Get Shorty” [released in 1990]. And I’m saying, “Holy shit, now we’re gonna be in this fucking book.” So then he looks at me and says, “Just tell me one thing. Which one of those guys was Panzer and which was Davis?” Which I thought was pretty funny, considering he took like a half a million from them.

He wrote about me in “Get Shorty.” In those days, we used to wear suits with the shirt buttoned up. So in that book, it says [something like], “Yeah, these young dudes in Hollywood, they dress in suits with the shirt buttoned up to the top but no tie, as if they’re getting away with something. Instead, they look like they just walked off the fucking reservation.”

EXCERPT FROM MARCH 1996 ARTICLE ABOUT LEONARD, THE GUARDIAN:

For “Cat Chaser,” Leonard was given $20,000 to re-write the first 20 pages of the script, but couldn’t stop and did the whole thing (‘only 100 pages’).”

ABEL FERRARA:

Leonard’s script, I didn’t want to use that either. When I got him on the phone, I said, “You changed the whole fucking story, man. I love the book.” The actors I chose all were big Elmore Leonard fans. Frederic Forrest, Charles Durning. They knew the book inside and out and were intending to recreate it, dialogue and all. Elmore said, “Dude, I don’t even remember the book. I’ve written ten books since then.” So when he saw those eight pages of dialogue at the beginning, which is kind of abstract, he said, “Come on, dude, you can’t make a film like that.” He wrote “3:10 To Yuma,” and other great films and some TV series. All great writing, but we were coming from a different place. But he didn’t give a shit [that his new script wasn’t used]. He was a cool guy.

Clockwise

Clockwise from top: “Cat Chaser’s” cinematographer Anthony Richmond; first assistant director Louis D’Esposito; second assistant director Glen Trotiner; and editor Anthony Redman.

ANTHONY REDMAN, EDITOR:

I met Panzer at a screening of “China Girl,” which we had just finished, and he said, “We’re gonna surround Abel with a whole new crew on ‘Cat Chaser.’” It looked like I was gonna get fucked out of a job, and that’s all I cared about. I thought, “What does that mean? I’m in the old crew and I won’t get hired?”

TONY RICHMOND, DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY:

I met Abel on a pilot that this associate producer asked me to do. It was for Aaron Spelling, of all people. [“The Loner,” 1988]. You can imagine that combination. It was a bit too intelligent for American television at that time.

For me, Abel was the right director for “Cat Chaser.” I like his process. He’s very immediate. He doesn’t necessarily do a lot of homework. He reminded me in many respects of a director that I’ve shot a lot of movies for, Nicolas Roeg, another auteur.

LOUIS D’ESPOSITO, FIRST ASSISTANT DIRECTOR:

Abel’s a fun director to work with. I had worked with him before on “China Girl” [in New York City] and I understood his personality. There were a lot of characters around. Abel knows a lot of characters on Mulberry Street.

PETER WELLER:

Abel’s a maverick, man. I loved working with him. The costume designer, Michael [Kaplan], was a terrific guy. I just worked with him again on “Star Trek Into Darkness.” And Tony Richmond, like most British DPs, he was a bon vivant. That’s why they call them maestros, sort of like painters. He made the movie look good.

GLEN TROTINER, SECOND ASSISTANT DIRECTOR:

I love Abel, so I can say no wrong about him. He’s a real artist, he’s a great guy, he’s good to his friends. He tries to make people laugh. He’s very mentor-like. I wish circumstances in my life had gotten me to work with him a little more, but I went the bigger movie route for a long time. He’s always reached out to me, even recently.

ANTHONY RICHMOND:

I got on a roll doing bigger movies and Abel started doing smaller movies. I haven’t seen him for years and years. Whether you like his movies or not, they are always interesting. And he pushes the envelope, which you’re supposed to do.

cat-chaserKellyABEL FERRARA:

The first time Kelly McGillis and I had a meeting was at the Chateau Marmont. I had just seen her in “Witness,” so I’m thinking she’s like some little Quaker girl. I didn’t see “Top Gun” or anything. Anyway, the door knocks, and there’s this chick, it’s like ten-thirty in the morning, and I’m thinking it’s a fucking hooker or something, knocking on the wrong door. This chick is six feet tall, dressed all in black, platinum blonde hair, made up to the nines. I couldn’t fucking believe it. Yeah, she was wild.

We had the meeting with the producers later that day, and it was in her contract that there was full-frontal nudity. I think she got a million bucks, a little more than Weller. And she says, “Uh, guys, the first thing I wanna know is: what exactly is full-frontal nudity?” And then she says, to Panzer, “You’re the producer, right? Well I’m having my period, and I don’t have any tampons. Go get me some!” She was awesome. I loved that chick and she was great in the movie.

PETER WELLER:

I don’t think Kelly and I got along from the day she walked into the Chateau Marmont. She basically walked in and said essentially that she’s the star of the movie.

JIM BORRELLI:

I was hearing through Weller that there was a lot of discord on the set between him and McGillis. Although [everyone] thought the chemistry would be great between the two of them, they were like oil and water. It just did not work. Abel was basically refereeing. They were bickering back and forth. Really bad tension.

GLEN TROTINER:

Peter is a method actor. He’s in character all the time. And Kelly doesn’t work that way. Also, I’m not quite sure that they even liked each other. I do not remember them doing particularly well together.

PETER WELLER:

I don’t know any more about Kelly McGillis than I do about this leaf I’m looking at now in my backyard. She was a good actress, but I don’t know what her deal was. She was really distant. She was just sort of not necessarily—I don’t wanna say not friendly with me, because then again maybe I wasn’t friendly with her, either. I thought she was great in the movie, though.

ABEL FERRARA:

She just came in with a hurricane of attitude. She didn’t know me, she didn’t know Peter, you dig? Whether [or not] we battled on the fucking set…I don’t pay attention to shit like that. What happens on the set between the actors and the director should stay in-house.

I know she had negative things to say about me [later on]. And I probably was…whatever. But I thought she was great. And I apologize to her for whatever she thinks I did against her.

ANTHONY RICHMOND:

We did prep in Miami and then closed down, I think, for two weeks over Christmas. And during the Christmas break, Kelly had a tit job done. She had a perfectly nice body before Christmas and she came back with ginormous tits. And Abel and I just looked at each other, you know, “What are we gonna do?!”

ANTHONY REDMAN:

She had nude scenes, and she went the extra mile to look fabulous, so she had breast augmentation. You could see the scar on her breast. I pointed that out to the post-production crew as we worked.

Davis and Panzer didn’t want a lot of people to see the dailies of Kelly’s nude scenes. To fuck with Tony Richmond, when he came to dailies one morning, I said, “I can’t show you the dailies because Peter and Bill don’t want them to be shown.” And he threatened to quit if he didn’t see all the dailies of her naked.

Josi Konski, executive producer.

Josi Konski, co-executive producer.

JOSI KONSKI, CO-EXECUTIVE PRODUCER:

I remember that from the time that we signed her up until the time she came to set, there was a big breast change. She came to me and said, “How do you like the way I look? I had my breast job.” I said, “Oh, wonderful.” And she said, “Oh, I wanna show ‘em in a nice way.”

ANTHONY REDMAN:

There’s a scene with Tomás Milián having dinner with Kelly McGillis, one of my favorite scenes in the movie. I think I made that shorter for the release. You could really see what a prick [the general] was, and in a very quiet way, because he really never raises his voice, until he rapes her.

I asked Peter Davis, “How far do you want me to go with this rape scene?” And he said, “I want you to go all the way. Really make it graphic.” So I did that. In fact, I made it longer than it could’ve been. When Peter saw that, he said, “My God! I know I told you to go all the way, but Jesus! I mean, this is overkill!”

He thought it was demeaning to women and that sort of thing, and you know, [I thought it was] not nearly enough! I put an extra beat in there where Milián starts with [the gun on] her pussy, then it goes into her mouth and then he drags it down again to her pussy, that kind of thing. That last beat wasn’t supposed to be there. I just kind of milked it as best I could, with the material I had. I’m a child of exploitation films. Seeing it now, I probably would have done even more.

It made me laugh. I said, “If the feminists see this, they’re gonna hang me in Times Square, you know, by my nuts, at high noon.”

ABEL FERRARA:

During that rape scene, the [characters are] rolling around and punching [each other], which was kind of a stunt deal. So I was thinking, “Maybe we should have a [body] double,” and I didn’t even talk to Kelly about it. And then she finds out and she’s saying to me, “You don’t like my body? You want another chick?” I said, “What, are you kidding me? I’d never even think of replacing an actress with a double for that reason.” I just thought maybe she’d want somebody, [at least] for the rehearsals. But she took it as, “Oh, I don’t think she’s beautiful enough and we’ve gotta have another girl,” which is ridiculous, because she’s a beautiful woman.

JOSI KONSKI:

I think she got upset that we were using a body double. I said, “The director wants it. Nobody’s gonna make you do a nude scene. That’s why we have a body double.”

ABEL FERRARA:

The rape scene, she [eventually] wrote that herself. I remember that. I sat her down and said, “What can you do?” And she wrote the scene that we shot. She didn’t do that scene with a gun to her head. That was her scene.

TOMAS MILIAN, ACTOR:

I recall filming that scene, but do not remember [what Kelly’s behavior was]. I had a truly wonderful experience making the film and have good memories of it.

Tomás Milián, above, and Kelly McGillis post-assault.

mcgillispostattack Tomás Milián, top, as the general, and Kelly McGillis as his estranged wife, post-assault.

ANTHONY RICHMOND:

After the Miami prep [sessions], we all went for a few days to the Dominican Republic, where we were gonna shoot. And we couldn’t shoot there. It would have been too expensive, because you had to pay everybody off. And it was scary. Wherever we went, there were armed guards.

LOUIS D’ESPOSITO:

We ended up shooting [the Dominican Republic sequences] in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, because Santo Domingo seemed like not a viable choice. It was more difficult to bring equipment in and have a crew there. It was very poor. I remember, even at the hotel we were staying at, the lights would go out. Puerto Rico had a real film community and things had been shot there. It was a lot easier. And Old San Juan gave us a lot of the same look.

ANTHONY RICHMOND:

I remember Peter Weller came with us on that scout and he had a lot to say about certain things. Weller had a lot more control than most actors had ever had.

JIM BORRELLI:

Weller was really instrumental in this whole project being done. He was really the driving force. He knew Elmore Leonard. They were pals in some way. He’d always loved Leonard and when he had the chance to do this, he seized it. And they were all there because of him. Ferrara knew it. Ferrara was always conferring with him.

LOUIS D’ESPOSITO:

Peter was so involved and he championed this project and Abel was just being courteous and reaching out to him. It would have been bad if he didn’t come [on the scout], and then we told him, “We’re not shooting in Santo Domingo.” This way, he was [able to see] the difficulties of shooting there.

ANTHONY RICHMOND:

The first scene we shot [in Miami] took place in this lunchtime restaurant. It was a big circular shot with just Weller and Charlie Durning. I remember Abel was gonna do it in one shot, so we did it on a circular track, which is difficult to do when there’s only two actors [involved]. And I remember saying something to Peter Weller—being British, we were trained a certain way, you always called actors “Mister” or “Miss,” certainly in front of the crew. And eventually he said, “Are you talking to me?” and I said “Yes,” and he said, “My name is Moran.” He would only respond to his character’s name. I just think that’s a bit over the top.

GLEN TROTINER:

Peter was only difficult for me because he stayed in character all the time. Even asking him what he wanted for lunch was like a project. It’s like with Daniel Day-Lewis. What do you say? “Mr. Lincoln, can I bring you the Emancipation Proclamation right now with your turkey sandwich?” That was a little bit of a comical thing to me.

LOUIS D’ESPOSITO:

After awhile, [we thought], “Come on, Peter, stop it.” But what can you say?

ANTHONY RICHMOND:

Every now and again [during the restaurant scene], Peter Weller’s digital watch would go off. So when we broke for lunch, I asked the prop man to take the battery out. And Weller went crazy.

Remember the scene, it’s a party during the day around a swimming pool? We did a long take, hand-held. I had to [move the camera] through Peter and the person he was talking to, and as I went through, I just touched him, gently, to move him out of the way. And he just went apeshit. “Don’t you touch me!” Even though he wasn’t on camera, I took him out of character.

[That said], though he got pissed at me that time, [generally] he wasn’t screaming or shouting. He didn’t curse and he wasn’t running off the set or anything. I just found him really difficult. He’s one of those actors that takes method to the nth degree.

PETER WELLER:

I always clash with DPs. As a director, I’ve clashed with them. You gotta use your DPs for their great ideas, and then you gotta say no, when they vilify your own ideas. I have a lot of physical ideas as an actor, and many times, a director has a game plan, he comes with an idea for the staging of the thing, and he’ll work with me on the staging. And you don’t necessarily have a DP who’s gonna be on board. But Tony was for the most part on board with us.

I’m a chatty guy, an easy-going guy, but when I’m acting I just go to the set, and I don’t really talk a whole lot. When I’m directing, I’m a whole different animal. I’m a lot more fun. When I’m acting, I gotta stay in that bubble. Otherwise I lose it.

ABEL FERRARA:

That’s normal. That’s not outrageous. That’s a technique a lot of actors use.

JIM BORRELLI:

Peter does that in every movie. A lot of guys do that. That’s not unique to him. It’s only because he gets so into the character. He doesn’t suffer fools. I mean, I get that. But he’s not gonna turn around and say, “You so-and-so, what’s wrong with you?” That’s not his style.

Peter Weller is the consummate professional. I’m not gonna tell you that Peter doesn’t want his own way. He was the star. But you get crew guys, some below-the-line guys in there, and they don’t give a fuck. They’re union. You’re always gonna find some friction with someone on the set. But was he the badguy? I doubt it.

Charlie Durning and Weller, in the aforementioned restaurant scene.

Charles Durning and Weller, in the aforementioned restaurant scene.

ANTHONY RICHMOND:

You remember the scene where Moran’s running along with the gun [in Santo Domingo] and he goes into the barricade? It was a barricade that we built and it was quite high, and it was corrugated iron. I think I was running behind Peter with a hand-held camera, low. And I said, “When you get to that barricade, don’t go into it too hard, because I’m gonna slide around and look up at you.” Well, fuck me. He went into that barricade so hard, this huge piece of metal came flying up, and it actually cut my eye. I had to go to the hospital in Puerto Rico and get stitches.

LOUIS D’ESPOSITO:

I took Anthony to the hospital. Those things happen all the time, though. An accident like that is very hard to prevent.

PETER WELLER:

I can barely remember something like that. All I remember about stunts is that I had to punch [Nicaraguan boxer] Alexis Argüello. I think he was the lightweight champion of the world. He complimented me on the punch.

I would take a lot of things that people said about that movie with a grain of salt. I don’t wanna say that I was on the set with a bunch of liars. But I was certainly on the set with a bunch of fairly dramatic people, including Abel Ferrara, myself and Tony Richmond.

LOUIS D’ESPOSITO:

When we shot the scene where the boat dock blows up, I was running the set, everyone was clear, the camera assistant was in position. Once everyone’s clear, you tell the effects person to “go hot,” and they hook up the wires, so they’re ready to press the button for the explosion. Prior to that, the wires are not hooked up, because anything can set it off, maybe even a walkie-talkie. That rarely happens. It’s a precaution taken, but I’ve never seen it prior to or after that day.

Well, once we went hot, the dock blew up. Now, we had a couple of cameras upstairs, in the bedroom. I think [McGillis and Milián] were kissing [by the window] and it blew up [in the foreground] while they were kissing. The two camera people down below turned their cameras on and sent the extras out—they were [cast as De Boya’s] security guards, and they were running out towards the bridge. Luckily, no one got hurt. [NOTE: in the VHS/DVD cut, they are not kissing, they are fighting about the divorce settlement, quite far from the window, and there’s one wide shot of the explosion, no shots on the ground, no extras.]

I looked over at Abel, collapsed on the floor in disgust. It was a low-budget movie and this was a big moment, and he probably thought we wouldn’t be able to get it [again].

GLEN TROTINER:

The dock blew up during a rehearsal. We’d spent all night rigging that explosion and we did a rehearsal to test everything. And we weren’t rolling! We should have rolled on it, in retrospect. All three cameras were off, and one was particularly close to the boat. The camera assistant got pretty rattled by it.

LOUIS D’ESPOSITO:

I’ll never forget this. The production designer was a short guy, very nice—tough, though—and the sets guy was six-foot-something. And the production designer ran up to him like he was gonna punch him in the face. That cracked me up. I could not stop laughing watching those two go at it.

I also remember distinctly the effects guy saying, “The same thing happened on ‘Red Dawn.’”

ABEL FERRARA:

People had just left that dock a minute before [that explosion]. We came close to killing ten people. And that’s because these producers wanted some big stupid explosion that we didn’t even fucking need. They took all this money to make the movie, but they didn’t want to pay for the right people to do these big stunts.

ANTHONY RICHMOND:

That was a horrendous error. We had a really practical special effects guy, and he asked for more help and [the producers] said no. I guess there was a lot of dew and it got damp and somehow it made a conduit and it blew up and we weren’t running [film]. So we had to go back and sort of attach the dock back together again.

LOUIS D’ESPOSITO:

I had them rebuild the dock. I think they took the wood that exploded and put [the planks] on top of each other and glued it together as best they could. Obviously, the dock didn’t look the way it had before, but we were able to use some of the previous cut in that take.

GLEN TROTINER:

We were working sixteen hours a day, through the night, night after night. That probably gives you a sense of just how tired we were. In hindsight, I can look back and laugh on it, but at the time the pressure was pretty intense to keep [to the schedule] and keep the crew from revolting about the hours. And I do remember it being a set where probably more accident-type things happened than on all the rest of my movies combined.

ABEL FERRARA:

People were getting hurt left and right. The DP ended up in the hospital in Puerto Rico. A kid almost drowned on set with no nurse [there]. It was a nightmare, that fucking film. And the responsibility of all that is on me, you dig? Somebody gets hurt on the set, it’s on me.

LOUIS D’ESPOSITO:

I remember another funny moment. We were in Old San Juan, and we were shooting Peter Weller running through the streets, during the flashback. We had a hand-held camera. There’s people everywhere, watching, from their balconies. There are these things called zirc guns. You can put dust or sparks in them and it looks like gunfire is coming back at you. It’s an inexpensive way to get gunfire without putting actual bullet hits in the ground, because that’s very time-consuming.

I see the effects guy and his gun isn’t working, so he points it up in the air and he pulls the trigger and it works, and all the gunfire hits this balcony where this woman and child are standing, and they run off their balcony. They thought they were getting shot at! Now that story’s not funny, but I remember vividly that I could not stop laughing.

GLEN TROTINER:

It was a very tense set. The thing about that movie is—-think about it: we’re living on the beach. And it’s misery. So something’s wrong. I spent the last x number of weeks on the movie living at a casino in San Juan. And it’s misery.

EXCERPT FROM KELLY MCGILLIS INTERVIEW WITH THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER’S CARRIE RICKEY, AT PHILADELPHIA QFEST (QUEERFEST) IN JULY 2010 (NOTE: the full interview can be heard on the blog/podcast Regrettable Sincerity):

I hated acting after that job. First off, it was absolute sexual harassment. I had just gotten married to Fred [Tillman, a yacht salesman; they divorced in 2002, and in September 2010 McGillis entered into a civil union with her long-time lover, Melanie Leis. They split in 2012 and McGillis now teaches acting at The New York Studio for Stage and Screen in Asheville, North Carolina]. And I go in to work one day and I’m supposed to be doing a nude scene, and unnamed people had hired a stripper from a club in Miami as my body stand-in. I walk into the room and this girl is on all fours with her top down, and every male crew member is telling her what Kelly would be doing, and they’re feeling her breasts. It was terrible. I’m sitting there in the back of the room…and I watched it for about four minutes, and I said, “You know what? Obviously you don’t need me to do this scene today, so I’m gonna go home.”

I called my agent and I said, “I do not know what to do. I don’t want to go to work. I don’t want to do that scene.” And he told me that I could exercise my right—you know, in SAG, there’s a rule that any time you have a nude scene in a movie, you always can get out of it, at any time you want. You can say, “You know what? I changed my mind. This isn’t going the way I wanted it to. I’m not doing it.” And so I did that.

Well, that just disintegrated into name-calling, threatening—oh, it was terrible! I just said, “Well, you’re not gonna get me to go back to work by calling me ugly names!” Fred goes, “Does this always happen?” And I said, “No, it’s never happened to me before!”

So I ended up finishing the film by doing one final scene, and that was just torturous. I will not even talk about what happened. I said, “You have one shot with me,” did the shot, and afterwards I said, “Are you all done with me now?” and they go, “Yeah.” I went into the hair and makeup trailer and I shaved my head completely. And I said, “Fuck you. I’m getting on a boat. You won’t be able to find me.” And I went sailing for six months. And I really never wanted to act again after that. I thought, “If this is what making movies is like, I don’t ever wanna do this again.” I never saw [the movie]. Fortunately, not very many other people did.

ABEL FERRARA:

Look, whatever went down, whatever she remembers, I apologize to her if she feels the way she feels. But the performance speaks for itself. Only you can’t see her [full] performance because it was destroyed by a couple of hack producers.

ANTHONY RICHMOND:

I don’t believe there was any tension between Abel and Kelly. She might have been complaining about Peter. But you can’t get rid of the leading man in the middle of the movie.

I don’t think Peter was respectful of her. The sex scene with her and Peter was the last thing we shot, in Puerto Rico. It’s in a hotel suite. And they’re making love on the floor. We were [shooting] over Peter’s back, and he needed to take his underpants off, because you [were supposed to] see his ass, you know? And something happened during that scene. I mean, he made some horrible remarks to her. “I’m not gonna do this, I’m not gonna take my pants off,” and then he made some cutting remark about her, about what he might catch, something like that.

I know that when we finished the scene, she just walked off the set, and then she came back and she’d chopped all of her hair off. And she said, “I’m not even coming back for retakes.”

PETER WELLER:

She left the set every day angry! I don’t know what the fuck was going on with her, man. I knocked on her dressing room door one time to find out what the hell was going on, and she wouldn’t even answer the door.

I don’t remember her not wanting to do a scene with me, but I do know that she was difficult as shit. She had some bug up her ass. I’m sure she thought I was a pain in the ass, too. I’m not saying I’m a day at the beach either. I’m a lot more easygoing now than I was then. I get a ton of ideas—a ton, man—and I’m not just along for the ride. I’m throwing in all kinds of stuff. I’m in seventh gear.

Someone came up to me recently—I hang out with crews, and I love being on movie sets—and he said, “You know, you’re sort of pushy.” I said, “Really?” He said, “Yeah, a lot of people say their nerves are shattered around you.” I said, “How many people?” He said, “Well, a couple.” I said, “Well, you know out of all the crews on 180 different sets, you can’t please everybody.” And then this DP came up right after and said, “Hey, Weller is not a B-type personality. He’s got a lot of stuff to say.” I’m glad he said that.

chaserlove

JIM BORRELLI:

I question whether one incident can cause someone to drop an entire career. There’s other factors involved in her psychology. Look at the source. It doesn’t appear as if this woman was very stable. It sounds like Abel and those guys were picking up the check on something that was simmering for a long time.

Peter comes from a very straight-laced background. His father is a judge. With guys, you know, he’ll say, “Fuck this, fuck that,” but not around women. So I don’t buy that version at all.

GLEN TROTINER:

The stripper part is true and her dislike of the film is true. I don’t remember [much else about that].

ANTHONY REDMAN:

I was not there, but the way I was told the story was, she had redone her body and she was totally nude. And supposedly Weller and Abel laughed about something, a private joke, and she thought it was about her or her nudity or what her body looked like, and I think she had a real problem with it.

JOSI KONSKI:

The [fights] were fairly public. They were, like, competing with each other. I seem to recall that Peter was showing himself off, naked, [on one shoot]. And the next day she did the same thing—in the same place where he had been lying naked, she was lying naked. That kind of competition. Whatever one would do, the other one would try to top.

PETER WELLER:

I know there was some real shit-stirring going on. I got ideas that people were feeding things to her that were upsetting, and I don’t know who. She came up with something like I was trying to sabotage her performance, that so-and-so said that. Or that Abel and I were in cahoots against her. Someone was feeding her paranoia. You can’t just be that suspicious of the leading man and the director or crew unless someone’s telling you something.

I know that she’d been abused and that she was very wary of men. I have a lot of compassion for her. My only problem with her is that she wouldn’t just tell me what her problem was. Subsequently, I kept feeling like I was in the dark about some drama that I knew nothing about.

JOSI KONSKI:

Somehow, during the making of the movie, she didn’t want to do that nude scene [anymore]. And I said, “No problem, we’ll get a body double,” because that was in the contract. So we did. We never made her do it. I remember we flew in a body double from Miami. And then she might have done the nude scene anyway. I don’t remember exactly.

LOUIS D’ESPOSITO:

When you do a love scene, sometimes it’s tough. They’re baring themselves in front of a crew and each other. And I remember in the book that the Peter Weller character had a very large orgasm [in that scene]. And it said that in the script, too. I think it’s still in the movie. [NOTE: the prolonged orgasm is in the raw cut but not the VHS version.]

ANTHONY REDMAN:

It may have been Peter Davis [that coerced Kelly]. That was his department. He’s the tough guy, the litigious one, the notorious suer.

JOSI KONSKI:

Abel was always very affable with the actors. Maybe Davis or Panzer [got angry at her], but not me. Maybe behind the scenes they called the agent or did something I didn’t know about. Sometimes producers, instead of threatening the actor, they threaten the agent.

ABEL FERRARA:

I’m sure her fucking agent or her lawyer told her she had to do [the scene]. I would never tell anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. I would never let anyone bully an actor into doing anything. Never.

But you can’t sign a contract and take a million dollars and then say, “Oh, I don’t feel like going to work, because I don’t like the actor or the director.” It didn’t come up one morning, where I [suddenly] said, “Hey, you guys are gonna fuck each other today!” It was in the script, it was in the book, it was in the contract and the contract called for full-frontal nudity. We were [basically] making an X-rated movie—I’m not saying a porno film, but it was about a totally impassioned love affair, and she had to do nudity. How could it be in her SAG contract [that she could get out of the scene]? Now, then and since the day Hollywood started, if you take money from a producer, as an actor, you better do what the fuck is in that script, or give the money back. And don’t expect to ever work again.

[As for the stripper fondling allegations], what is Kelly, the judge and jury of on-set relationships? I’m sure the guy wasn’t raping her. What if it was the stripper’s boyfriend? Come on, this is all bullshit.

PETER WELLER:

Who knows, man? There was probably too much testosterone on the set. I really don’t want to seem like I’m chastising Kelly McGillis. I was just confused by her behavior.

ANTHONY RICHMOND:

I think she realized [she was a lesbian] before she was married, frankly.

JOSI KONSKI:

She fell head over heels in love with [Tillman]. It’s not a secret that she’s gay, so that was a little bit of a surprise. Back then, she already was living with her other half, who was around the set. So it was a surprise to everybody that she took up with a guy like that.

ANTHONY RICHMOND:

I got along well with Kelly. When I went up to her suite after [the final scene], it was about four o’clock in the morning. We had a drink so she could say goodbye. And she said, “I’ve got a present for you.” She threw Kate Chopin’s book “The Awakening” at me and said, “I’m doing that next. I’m gonna star in it and produce it. I want you to direct it.” Nothing ever came of it for me, but she eventually made the movie [titled “Grand Isle,” directed by Mary Lambert, released straight to video in 1991.]

LOUIS D’ESPOSITO:

She had a good rapport with me and then at one point her and her assistant were angry at me. They heard I said something about her and I never said anything. I was always very cordial and respectful and we got through it. There was Peter’s camp and her camp a little bit, and she probably thought I was in Peter’s camp. But I was in nobody’s camp, I was in the film’s camp.

GLEN TROTINER:

I didn’t really interact with Kelly all that much. All I remember was how insanely early she had to go in for hair and makeup [every day]. But [to be fair], I remember [there were] makeshift hair/makeup spaces and that probably was a little uncomfortable for the actors. Looking back on the budget, which I think was around $10 million, I’m wondering why we didn’t have the tools we should have had.

I do remember we were shooting a dining room scene. I had a Casio watch, and it [beeped] in the middle of the take. Kelly went ballistic. You would think that paparazzi had been let into the room or something. “I can’t work like this!” Instead of [just handling it like], “OK, just take it back a couple of lines,” like you’d do in any other circumstance, it just became an event. I think we didn’t shoot for a while, until everyone calmed down. [Her outburst] was so out of proportion to the circumstances. Even Abel was like, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

Abel was fairly even-keeled. He would always take the side of the little guy, if the actors were coming after me. And I really respected that about him. I give that guy nothing but the highest marks in conducting himself on the set and making it as fun as possible, when everybody else was working against it to make it as un-fun as possible. But there wasn’t a great sense of camaraderie, where people were grabbing lunch together and grabbing drinks at the end of the day. It wasn’t that kind of set, for anybody.

LOUIS D’ESPOSITO:

I got along well with Tony [Richmond]. I liked working with Charles Durning, he was fantastic. Freddie Forrest was great. It was a kick to have Alexis Argüello on the set.

ANTHONY RICHMOND:

Charles Durning was one of the best greasy hit men in any movie. I was friends with Charlie, so it was a great experience. The scenes with him are just fantastic.

JIM BORRELLI:

I knew Charlie Durning as an actor and a buddy. I used to run around and drink with him. He was happy [on that set]. That was my favorite stuff, the scenes with Charlie, especially the assassination in the bathroom. That’s pure Charlie, because he was second wave at Omaha Beach on D-Day. He told me a story that he beat a German soldier’s head flat with a rock, in mano a mano combat. He’s got shrapnel all over his body. Fifty years later, he was still digging out pieces of shrapnel showing up in his legs. He was a real tough guy.

GLEN TROTINER:

Charles Durning was a bit more of a class clown than other people. It was more fun when he was around.

PETER WELLER:

Frederic Forrest is good in it, he’s a friend, but the guy I really wanted [to play Nolen] was Dean Stockwell. Brilliant guy and a brilliant actor. The producers wanted to read him! I said, “Are you kidding me?! Just make him the offer!” He was sort of loath to do it, and then they came up with Freddie and I said OK. I wasn’t in charge of the political game. I had to be smart. But, read Dean Stockwell?! These guys had a thumb up their ass.

ANTHONY REDMAN:

I’ve seen Tony [Richmond] once or twice [since]. There’s no love lost, particularly. I think it’s because he’s sober now, and I guess he doesn’t like to be reminded of—or even look at—somebody that knew him when [he drank]. But I’m sober as well now.

ANTHONY RICHMOND:

We were all wild in those days. Absolutely, my God! It was like one big party.

ABEL FERRARA:

I was drinking and using [at the time].

ANTHONY REDMAN:

Cocaine was all over Miami, but I think we were all—or at least I was—smart enough to stay away from it then, because [the area] was very dangerous. That was the same year the 49ers played the Bengals in the Superbowl, in Miami, and those riots occurred in Overtown. They were shooting at people on the freeway and stuff like that. I was driving down the freeway hunched down.

I was staying at one of those resident suites that they have for out-of-town businessmen. The place was half empty. And I’m walking my dog in this empty parking lot, and I see this fucking guy who has an apartment way on the other side, walking around with an automatic weapon on his shoulder. And I’m thinking, “This must be cocaine-[related].” So I said, “C’mon, Trixie, do your business. I wanna get out of here.” [Miami] was even wilder when we did “The Blackout” [nearly a decade later].

ABEL FERRARA:

The night before the last day of shooting, there were two wrap parties. Peter Weller had one and Kelly McGillis had one. And it was either you went to one or the other. We had to shoot at seven o’clock [the next] morning. And the only people that made it to the set were me and Glen Trotiner. Everyone else was hung over and figured they’d come late. And while we’re talking, a car comes and runs over Glen’s toe. Can you imagine this? He looks at me, and he goes, “I think that car rolled over my foot.”

So, a kid almost drowns in a pool, we almost blow up ten people, the fucking DP gets cut to shit, and now, I’m there with one guy on the last day of the shoot, and the one car within five miles rolls over his toe! It was a snake pit gig from the beginning.

Producers Peter Davis, left, and Bill Panzer, at a 1998

Producers Peter Davis, left, and Bill Panzer, at a 1998 “Highlander” event.

PETER WELLER:

I went to Abel’s [initial] screening [for the cast, crew and producers] and I loved it, but thought it needed to be trimmed. There’s a lot of directors I love, but they can’t cut. As the great Paul Mazursky told me when I started to direct, “Get yourself a best friend. Not the producer, not the editor, but another filmmaker to tell you what needs to go.” [For a director], everything is too fucking precious. So Abel was probably one of those dudes.

I thought the [first] scene with Kelly and Tomás Milián went on too long. It’s not that I wanted to dominate the movie. It’s just that it was a B-story you don’t really care about, about him being a murderer. Milián went through his whole Actor’s Studio shtick.

ANTHONY REDMAN:

That [initial] version was about a half-hour to forty-five minutes longer than the released version. It did have the rebellion flashbacks. I don’t know why I didn’t put them in to the raw cut. I don’t think it’s necessarily a better film with them being there. I think those scenes stink. But they kind of help [clarify] the [sniper] subplot.

Anyway, the screening did not go over well [with the executives]. They thought it was too long. They wanted an hour and a half movie and that’s what they wound up with.

JIM BORRELLI:

I went on to do another job for Davis and Panzer. It was a re-write of a movie called “Savage Red,” [directed by] Bill Tannen. It was about two rock stars marooned on an island and then they are hunted down by this right-wing guy, who hunts human beings for sport. Gary Busey was supposed to [do it] and he fell out of the deal, right at the time I completed a script. So it never came through.

Anyway, I was in their production company, albeit a B-company. They needed a hit. Not necessarily a big box-office smash, but something to get them on the map. I remember they were looking to shave “Cat Chaser”down so they could fit it into a two-hour slot, so distributors could run it. You’ve got your movie houses that want to run that thing four, five times a day. If it’s three hours and ten minutes long, and you’re not Francis Ford Coppola, then what? They’re gonna run it two, three times a day for you? You’re not gonna get distribution!

ABEL FERRARA:

We obviously weren’t gonna put out a three-hour movie. It was the first fucking cut. We’d have made it shorter. But we were going in that “Jackie Brown” direction, like Quentin [Tarantino], where we’d let Elmore’s dialogue play.

ANTHONY REDMAN:

The producers made me trim a lot of stuff I didn’t like doing. They didn’t like the Freddie Forrest character at all, because there was so much exposition there. The audience seemed to get bored. But I loved it. I thought it was sensational. They made me trim down the murders of DeBoya and Corky in the bathroom, which is my favorite scene in the movie.

PETER WELLER:

It took too long [to introduce] Freddie’s character. There’s a lot of actors in television that wonder why their scene didn’t stay. Unless you’re Marlon Brando, where you can turn the camera on and let it sit there forever and you don’t care what he’s doing—because he’s got such internal life going on—usually if you take that [much] time, you’re not gonna be in the movie. The movie has to get going. You’re not making the minimalist cinema of Andy Warhol, for fuck’s sake. Nolen was an amazing character, but waiting forever for Freddie to say a line was excruciating.

But if there was any scene that was lifted that I really wanted to burn—to toilet paper—those two producers for, it was this payoff scene, where I’m being beaten the shit out of in my own hotel bathroom and Charles Durning is standing at the bathroom door and tells me what’s gonna go down. “You’ve lost and I’m winning and this is a violent deal and you’re way over your head.” They lifted that scene and really pulled the rug out from the drama between my character and Charlie’s. If you take that out, then you got no reason for me to kill him. [NOTE: the book does not contain that detail either, so the screenwriters or Leonard must have added it to the final screenplay.]

Frederic Forrest, left, as Nolen. Executive producer Josi Konski.

Frederic Forrest, left, as Nolen.

ANTHONY REDMAN:

Tomás Milián gave me some great music, for the scene where he realizes Kelly’s character is cheating on him. It was an Agustín Lara song called “Imposible.” It was so perfect for the movie. Chick Corea [ended up doing] the whole score for the VHS version. The producers hired him. I didn’t like it. It was a piss-poor score. And he was a wise guy on top of it. He was trying to be funny, but it went over like a lead balloon with me, because I didn’t care for his music.

Also, we added that phony voice-over. The actor that did it, Reni Santoni, is a terrific guy, really a good actor. He played Clint Eastwood’s partner in one of the “Dirty Harry” movies. But his voice isn’t remotely like Peter’s. It was a conceit that I hated.

Peter Weller refused to do the [voice-overs] that Bill Panzer had written. He wanted to stick to the Elmore Leonard stuff and he was pulling stuff from the book for the voice-over. And when Panzer saw that, he said no. He wanted stuff that was more on the nose.

JIM BORRELLI:

The idea of using a voice-over came up at the beginning and Peter was adamantly against that. It was not true to the novel. So you had this sort of tug-of-war. The producers were maintaining it was the only way to save the movie. After chopping it down, it made no sense. So they [felt they needed] a voice-over to make it make some kind of sense.

PETER WELLER:

I called the producers. I complained. They wrote alternate shit, they cut scenes out of it, they were trying to force a square peg down a round hole. And I just said, “I’m not doing any post shit for you, man.”

ABEL FERRARA:

The voice-over—it was like a film for the blind. “Here comes a car, a car pulls up.” It was totally butchered, it was totally destroyed, and it was really a crime. That was a film where I learned my lesson, because I didn’t have final cut. And I never would work again without it—although I did for “Body Snatchers,” again for the money, but at least we ended up with a film we are proud of.

The only upside was that I left to start “King of New York,” in which I had final cut, and that was a whole different experience with a whole different outcome, mainly because the producers were from Italy. That’s one of the reasons I am living and working there now.

In the end, the producers tried to take the footage we shot and conform it to that horrible [original] script that they had. I’m thinking, “If I stay in this editing room, I might kill this guy, and then I’ll never make another movie.” I was drinking and using, Panzer was an alcoholic. Davis was no help either. And if I stayed to do battle with them, I’d probably still be in jail now, because I would have killed one of those dudes, in the mindset I used to be in.

ANTHONY REDMAN:

Whatever, it was a paycheck. If it wasn’t me [editing], it’d be someone else and the producers would really be whipping the shit out of him. It was better that I was there, at least massaging it in some way without totally letting them have their way with it.

JIM BORRELLI:

There were sequences that Abel did brilliantly. That section where they assassinate that guy casually in the swimming pool was chilling. That’s pure Elmore Leonard and that’s pure Abel Ferrara coming together. But I don’t think it worked as a whole, because I don’t think the book works as a whole, as one narrative.

GLEN TROTINER:

I did not think the movie made sense when I saw the VHS version. I remember being disappointed watching it.

PETER WELLER:

I think I saw the final version once. The producers chopped the shit out of it. It was a very sad thing.

But it was an inventive set. Except for not knowing what was going on with Kelly, I really loved making the movie. There’s very few sets I’ve been on where I wished it was over. I just did some directing a year ago and I couldn’t wait for it to be over. But that movie wasn’t one of those [situations].

[In 1997], I had a deal with Showtime to direct a long-form movie. And 20th Century Fox had an option on Elmore Leonard’s “Gold Coast,” which he got back and gave to me to make for Showtime/Paramount. I think it was the first 1.85:1 aspect ratio film Showtime had ever done. It’s very faithful. Elmore said it was one of the most if not the most faithful adaptations he’d seen to date.

There’s a beautiful script of [Leonard’s] “City Primeval: High Noon at Detroit.” I chased it but MGM was not interested in making it. I may revisit that. They own it outright.

I just directed the last season of “Justified,” based on the book “Bronco.” I tried to get in on that directing chain almost from the beginning, but it never worked out because of scheduling [conflicts with] “Sons of Anarchy.” And then [producer] Michael Dinner offered me Episode Nine, with Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins. It was amazing. It’s an honor to be back in the Elmore Leonard loop, even though he passed away. He’s still executive producer and the guidepost for all the dialogue and everybody in it.

ABEL FERRARA:

I had a very good relationship with Elmore for a long time. You know, he gave me the rights to “Get Shorty,” and I spent a year trying to get it financed, but I couldn’t. Then a mutual friend of mine and Danny DeVito’s called me and said, “Listen, you better back off of this, because Danny’s doing it.”

With “Cat Chaser,” what’s out there is an abomination, but now I’d never let that happen to me. [NOTE: Beginning in the spring of 2014 and continuing into May 2015, IndieWire and other publications reported that Ferrara was battling with his distributor, Vincent Maraval, as well as IFC, over whether or not IFC should screen Ferrara’s original version of “Welcome to New York”—versus an R-rated cut that Maraval had put together—at its New York City theater. In the U.S., the edited version only received a brief theatrical run in San Francisco. To date, both versions of “Welcome to New York” have been released on DVD and VOD in various countries].

For “Welcome to New York,” [Maraval] and IFC made a real sweet Showtime deal after we made the film, and part of that was that the film had to be the same theatrically as it was on Showtime. Well, that don’t fly with me, man. OK? I’m not making a film to fit the parameters of a Showtime deal. When they asked me to make the cut, I said, “I’m not gonna.” And I’ll tell you, at this point in my life, I’m never gonna change the cut that me and my editor have for any reason or any venue. You dig? It’s just how we are now. It’s the position we have arrived at.

That [three-hour] VHS—Tony [Redman] and I just found that on a shelf somewhere by accident. It’d be nice to go back and re-cut that. Maybe Tony will.

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6 thoughts on ““A Snake Pit Gig”: The Making (and Undoing) of Abel Ferrara’s “Cat Chaser”

  1. In Weller’s final quote, I believe the book he’s referring to is PRONTO, not “Bronco.” Leonard’s PRONTO is the novel that introduced the Raylan Givens character that Olyphant played in JUSTIFIED.

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