AR: Welcome to Action Reloaded Austin! Thank you for taking the time to chat with me!
AT: Thank you for having me!
AR: Man, you have released an amazing book titled The Canon Film guide! What inspired the book?
AT: Thanks for that – I’m really you glad you dug it. I have many wonderful memories from when I was a kid, going to the video store and renting movies with my dad and mom. I feel like it was almost a weekly ritual. Where I grew up it was kind of a haul to drive to a movie theater, and we didn’t have cable, so one of the things we looked forward to throughout the weekend was watching through that stack of tapes we rented on Friday evening. This was in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, and in those days you couldn’t wave your arms around without knocking a Cannon tape or two of the shelves. My dad was cool about action movies, and so I saw a few Chuck Norris movies, Schwarzenegger, and that stuff with him when I was a kid. But even the movies I didn’t see until I was older, I have vivid memories of staring at on the shelf. Like Revenge of the Ninja, for instance – what kid is not going to stop and stare at that cover? Cannon had a real knack for their artwork.
When I got a little older, into middle school age, I started renting a lot of those on my own. Tapes were 99 cents for a night, and so we’d grab a movie after school and watch it at a buddy’s house. Our store didn’t care about renting an R-rated action movie to a 12- or 13-year-old. I was lucky. That’s where I started seeing a lot of Cannon movies. The Ninja flicks, Chuck Norris – I loved those.
At college, one of my degrees was in cinema studies. I wrote my final paper on Hard Target, and John Woo’s transition from Hong Kong to Hollywood, so it’s sort of like I’ve come full circle, in a way. I started writing about movies online and for a magazine, Under the Radar. I was being sent some of the old Cannon movies on Blu-ray, to review, and those were a blast to revisit after all those years. Hearing the crazy stories behind some of them, in the commentary tracks and such, I just wanted to know more.
I started writing a series of essays similar to the chapters you read in the book: part history, part critical appraisal. I didn’t know what I was going to do with them at first, but eventually it took the shape of a book, and then kept growing from there. Once I started interviewing many of the people who made the movies, it really exploded. I wanted to know everything I could about this company. That’s when it became the massive, three-volume exploration it is today.
AR: I loved all the Charles Bronson movies that Canon made, I am sure you have a huge collection of Canon memorabilia and movies.
AT: Oh, yeah, it’s out of control. I’ve got a kid-sized dresser full of Cannon VHS tapes, several bankers’ boxes full of marketing materials, rolls after rolls of posters from around the word. A bunch of catalogs, dozens of press kits, maybe three or four hundred lobby cards.
Once I was sure this was going be a book, I started gathering these materials pretty seriously. I’ve been hunting down Cannon stuff for almost six years now. I sold off a really big collection of VHS horror tapes, records, and other things to finance it all. The only bummer is that obviously I can only use a fraction of these things in the books, because there’s only so much space in print. I’ll keep sharing a lot of the stuff that didn’t make the cut on The Cannon Film Guide’s Facebook page. That’s been a nice way to share that material with other Cannon fans, and get conversations rolling. I’ve shared scans of some of my Cannon items for booklets and special features on Blu-ray releases, and I’ll keep doing that as long as labels keep releasing new editions of Cannon movies on home video. Maybe there’s a full-color coffee table book somewhere in the future? That’d be cool.
AR: Growing up who were your heroes on screen?
AT: Optimus Prime was my first one. I wanted to be able to turn into a truck when I grew up. When I got a little older I was really into ninjas, so Michael Dudikoff and Sho Kosugi would have been big ones for me.
AR: Was it challenging trying to get all the interviews together for the book?
AT: In some cases, yeah. Some were tough to track down. The nice thing about having the first volume out there in the world and being pretty well-received is that I’ve been able to point to it when reaching out to potential subjects for the next two volumes. They can see I’m serious about the project, and not just some nutty super-fan. I am that, too, but they can see there’s a book out there with a publisher behind it, and so an interview won’t be a waste of their time. Volume Two will be quite a bit bigger than the first, and some of that is because people are quicker to agree to interviews.
AR: An interview I loved was the one with Kane Kosugi, was original badass Sho unavailable?
AT: I got a very nice note back from one of Sho Kosugi’s assistants, politely declining and explaining that he wasn’t doing any interviews. The response I received felt very ninja-like, which kept me from being too disappointed.
AR: Was there anyone you wish you could have interviewed, but they have sadly passed away? (Steve James for sure) *Laughs*
AT: Bronson! And Steve James, for sure. Menahem Golan is the big one – I’d do anything to get in a time machine and pick his brain for a day. Thankfully he was such a big talker while he was alive, so interviews with him are very plentiful. Yehuda Efroni, whom I came very close to interviewing before he passed in 2017. Sylvia Kristel. A few directors, like J. Lee Thompson. Cassavetes. There are a lot, actually.
I was fortunate enough to have a very long, wonderful chat with James Karen, of Return of the Living Dead and Poltergeist, just before he passed away, about his incredibly long career and Invaders from Mars. That’s for volume two – I might have been the last person who ever interviewed him. He was a WWII vet who had been working since the 1940s. Understudied Marlon Brando in the Broadway run of Streetcar Named Desire. He had one heck of a career.
AR: The artwork you have throughout is also a thing of beauty, the old school posters etc, how did you manage to obtain these gems?
AT: Many of those came from other collectors, or from getting to know dealers I’d purchased pieces from already and the sending out wish lists of stuff I was looking for. Especially when you’re buying foreign materials, that’s the best way to do it. Once you’re already paying to ship, say, a poster tube from overseas, it’s only marginally more expensive for each additional poster they drop in there. The big thing is that I’ve had more than half a decade to search for Cannon stuff! Over that time, it’s been a lot of trawling over eBay and foreign auction sites, sending e-mails, asking around Facebook groups…
AR: The Cannon era was wild and I am assuming that you plan to cover it all! How many more volumes can we expect?
AT: Two more. Volume Two: 1985-1987 is almost finished – I had already written roughly half of it before I starting pitching the first book to publishers, which gave me a nice head start. That one covers the years when Cannon was making bigger movies, and more of them. It includes lots of classics, like American Ninja, Delta Force, Invasion USA, Lifeforce, King Solomon’s Mines, Masters of the Universe, Over the Top, and Superman IV. It’s when Cannon reached the height of their power – and began their rapid plummet toward financial ruin.
Volume Three: 1988-1994 will cover the longest span of years, but it’s an era when Cannon was doing everything they could just to stay alive, and so many of their movies were cheap, direct-to-video-level fare. I jokingly refer to this as the “dark” period. Outside of Bloodsport, the hits were few and far between over those final years.
AR: Are you going to do make a side-quel book of the Canon films that never got made? I am sure there are some gems. I remember a Norris, Dudikoff & Bronson movie that was meant to be, but sadly never got made.
AT: That’s actually my plan to help fill out the third book – an end section, potentially titled “Canceled Cannon,” that gives an overview of their many, many unmade projects. The way Cannon worked, they would basically throw an entire catalog’s worth of ideas at the wall to see what sticks. They’d take that portfolio of half-cooked (or worse) ideas to international markets, and once enough territories had agreed to buy a movie, they made it. Of course, a large portion of those movie ideas never made it past that bogus artwork stage. I’ve got dozens and dozens of advertisements for movie they never wound up making, plus some synopses and pitch packages for ones that got a little further into planning. It’s been fun trying to piece together what these films might have been like had they gone into production.
AR: Can you tease anything about the second book? Franchises, Interviews? Did you snag Norris or Dudikoff! (laughs)
AT: I mentioned a bunch before, but a lot of the big ones are covered in here. The Delta Force and American Ninja movies. Invasion USA. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Avenging Force. Over the Top. Masters of the Universe. Runaway Train. Barfly. Tough Guys Don’t Dance. 52 Pick-Up. Murphy’s Law. Assassination. Even a few smaller, really crazy movies that I adore, like Too Much, Penitentiary III, and Aladdin with Bud Spencer.
As far as the interviews go, I don’t want to give anything away until the book’s contents are fully announced. I will say that I snagged some people that Cannon fans will be excited about!
AR: What’s the most challenging part writing/ putting together this outstanding book series?
AT: Transcription! Everything about watching, researching, and writing about these movies has largely been a joy. Talking to the people who worked on them, doubly so. Afterwards, though, playing back and typing out those hours and hours’ worth of phone conversations, fact-checking and cross-referencing it all as you do it… it’s all necessary, but extremely tedious.
AR: What would be your top 5 favourite Canon movies?
AT: This changes week-to-week – I’m always tempted to say whatever Cannon movie it is I’m writing about at that moment. Since you’re asking me right now, though, I’ll say: Revenge of the Ninja, Invasion USA, The Apple, Tough Guys Don’t Dance, and 10 to Midnight.
AR: Thank you for coming to chat with me. I am looking forward to Volume 2, Austin. Keep up the good work and stay safe!