Chapter 8 - Coast to Coast
This next chapter would take me literally coast to coast. Beginning on the Pacific Ocean in Del Mar to the Atlantic Ocean at Disney Studios Florida.
After all the wonderful homes I had shared with Jane, I arrived in Del Mar with a car packed with some belongings. Most of my stuff was put in storage, which was to become a pattern. I had storage units for years scattered all over California. Going back into them later was like opening a tomb of a past life, but in this case Joyce had a fully functioning house just two blocks of Del Mar beach, so all I really needed was my toothbrush.
I am not sure if Joyce ever talked to the girls about me coming to live with them. We had spent some time together and for the most part it had gone well. Some stuff with Sevrin did foreshadow some of what was to come. I don’t think we ever talked to them together. How would I know to do that? I didn’t know anything about being a parent or what children were capable of understanding. I just figured we would wing it.
I settled in with them in this beautiful beach town and set out to find something to do for work. Joyce and I were still in the honeymoon period, sneaking off to be together all times of day. She was adventurous and I loved it.
Training for the Longer Race
One of the things that Del Mar turned me on to was triathlons. I had run 10K and half marathons before, but coming up to my 40th birthday I wanted to do something more to mark the moment. I was really tired of just running and Del Mar was ground zero for the development of triathlons as a consumer sport. There had always been these crazy long distant events like the Ironman in Hawaii, but those were for professional athletes. What was developing in Del Mar was for all the rest of us.
I went down to one of the events and watched them swim the first section in the ocean, then bike inland and finish up with a 10K run along the coast. I liked their energy. People seemed really open and friendly and other than the pros not particularly competitive. I talked to some of them and they were encouraging. I reasoned I had been a good swimmer in high school, I had enjoyed the running craze and I knew how to ride a bike from when I was a kid. How hard could this be?
First thing I did was find an old bike and go out for a ride. Del Mar had all kinds of roads that crisscrossed Hwy 1, so I just set out. First learning experience, it was dangerous riding in traffic. Cars could not see you and would do all kinds of stupid stuff that could put you in a heap on the side of the road. I survived, but was exhausted after a couple of miles. The bike didn’t help. It was old and didn’t have the correct gearing, so that was something I had to look into.
The next thing I did was call up the adult swim program at the nearby Cal campus. They had an amazing swimming complex with a 50 meter pool like Olympic athletes trained in. I went up one night and the instructor told me to get in the pool and start swimming splits. These were 8-10 lap sequences repeated a number of times. I took off with the group (which turned out to be really good triathlon athletes) made it 50 meters, turned and headed back. In the middle of the return trip I ran out of gas. I thought I was going to drown. I got out and sheepishly said I would be back when I was in better shape.
This training looked impossible. A mile swim usually in the ocean, 26 miles on the bike and a 10K run. And the transitions from one discipline to the other were really challenging because each sport used a different set of muscles and it took a while for the body to adjust. What saved me and what made it possible for me to do this was a book I found that offered a 13 week training program that claimed it could get me in decent enough shape to finish one of these events. I looked at the graduated training schedule and thought it looked doable, and it was.
The Mason Family
By this time I had settled into the Mason family dynamics. I had fun with the kids at the beach and making breakfast like my Dad had. Joyce and I were deeply into it. I did gradually begin to notice the family’s shadow. We all have them. Sevrin when I met her was eight. One night early on at a beach restaurant she had crawled up in my lap and said “I am going to be an actress”. I wrote it off as a child’s fantasy not knowing this would be a driving force in her life and something I would help her do much later. Sevrin was a very physical child and needed a lot of attention or she would create it herself. Christine was a very cute 4 year old, with an angelic face and manner and seemed happy to just be around while Sevrin held court.
Over the years and all the ups and downs with Sevrin, we just assumed Christine was ok. This was hardly the case, but that would come up later for her as a teenager. Their relationship with their real father was also troubled. I began to hear stories from Joyce about the last years of her marriage to Kit. And currently they were going through the final divorce proceedings so it was all coming up again.
I had no training or an inkling of understanding about what it meant to be a step parent. I just assumed I would be like the Dad on TV, but nothing could be further from the truth. My mother’s husband Pat tried to coach me. After all he was a step parent to all of us and his advice was to remember that no matter what… I was NOT going to be their real father, so I had to find some other way to be of value.
We went on a great many weekend road trips in a Toyota van we bought. Many good memories from all of those but Sevrin’s demanding to be the center of attention also really started to emerge. I am sure it wasn’t helped by my male “fatherly” reactions that were hardly friendly when she got out of line for the hundredth time.
The other thing that was weighing on me was that I didn’t have a job. There was not much going on in Del Mar and San Diego was too far away. I set up an office and dreamed up things to do to no avail. So, when the call came from Malibu Grand Prix that they were interested in building and distributing Freedom Fighter arcade games I took them up on it. The only issue was their offices and the plant where we built the units was in the valley north of LA. This meant I was driving three-four hours through horrendous traffic on Friday and Sunday nights, barely making it home for weekends in one piece. I would stay in a cheap hotel when I was working at Malibu. I continued my triathlon training. Swimming in YMCA pools and riding my bike and running in the east Hollywood hills. Between the training and building Freedom Fighter units I was dog tired. And there wasn’t much left of me on the weekends. Really not fair to Joyce and the kids, but I had to work at something. I would arrive late Friday night, have Saturday to reconnect and then start disconnecting on Sunday. Not ideal for building trust in relationships.
The Malibu job was challenging. They had bought surplus arcade game hardware sets and Philips laserdisc players that we needed to run the game. It took a lot of work to get them working. Ken Melville joined me for some of the design and construction. We took test units to arcade shows and when the game worked it got a bunch of great press. Malibu owned entertainment centers and miniature golf courses up and down California. They were designated as our next test centers. We built 30 units and distributed them. When the players worked they made real money, but the dust from the arcade centers kept clogging the laserdiscs which caused them to stop working. I traveled up and down California to the centers to get them working again, but it was a losing battle. The program finally crashed too many times and I was back in Del Mar unemployed.
In spite of that happening, I ended up doing 5 triathlons in 3 years. I almost drowned in the big waves during the first one. Gradually I learned how to approach it and really enjoyed the distraction. I trained so hard I got down to a ridiculous 6% body fat, rail thin and had to eat 7,000 calories a day to keep fueled.
Defender of the Crown
All the driving I did to LA in that period did convince me I could do it. So when nothing was panning out in Del Mar I figured I was going back into the film business in Hollywood. What changed that notion was a chance visit from Joyce’s older brother. He was somewhat of a computer geek and brought over one of the new Amiga computers. He wanted to show me a game from a company called Cinemaware. It was called "Defender of the Crown," based on the old Robin Hood movies.
The Amiga’s graphics were outstanding and although the game was just computer graphics and not video, it had a film orientation to the design. I played it all weekend. I remember Joyce looking over my shoulder when some scantily dressed damsel in distress appeared commenting… this is computer game? I loved it, looked up the address of the company and basically sent them a fan letter with some mention of my background in linear film and interactive games. Bob Jacob, the owner of the company called me.
He said I had a very eclectic background and suggested I should come see them. And guess where they were... Thousand Oaks, Where my family had first moved when my Dad and Mother got back together again. And it was an hour north past where Malibu had been. What was I to do?
I went to the address they gave me and expected to see a real company up and running. Defender of the Crown was a hit and I just figured they were happening. I pushed open the front door that was partially blocked by new computer boxes. Bob met me and introduced me to his wife Phyllis who ran the business side, John Cutter their one game designer and a couple of artists. That was it. They were in the very midst of starting up. I had brought a video reel of Freedom Fighter, Matchmaker and some of the rollercoaster tests we did at Atari. They were all impressed and then Bob asked me if I was going to do a game based on a movie, which one would it be. I did not hesitate. I said.. a big bug movie like “Them.” If you remember I first had this idea about ANTS six years prior when I was at Lucasfilm games. Hadn't done anything with it but here we were... again. Bob laughed and said that was the one he had not thought of. Would I like to do it for them?
I drove home not knowing what I would tell Joyce and the kids. I really wanted to do this, but the drive, the separation was all there again. I don’t remember exactly how much we discussed it, but lacking another option, Joyce agreed I had to do it. She also sensed my excitement about exploring this new medium and was not going to hold me back. She was generous like that. She was just beginning to find her career feet as well, but that was still a ways off.
Thousand Oaks – A New/Old Galaxy
Cinemaware arranged for me to live in one of those executive apartments, which was sort of furnished. They gave me one of Apples new Macintosh computers and I just sat staring at it for a while.
There really was no precedent or tools for designing interactive movie games. However, the Mac had a revolutionary program called Hypercard that was basically a stack of three by five cards that you could connect into interactive maps. Each card presented a scene. You could “play” a game design by linking the individual cards together, but I remember feeling very far away from the real movie biz.
I finally reasoned that I would develop “It Came From the Desert” like I would a film. I dreamed up this little desert town of Lizard Breath and starting mapping locations like I had seen in the big bug movie... "Them". These included the police station, the newspaper office, the local radio station, farms, mines and special touches like the Drive In movie theater. I figured I needed a map to start. An artist and I laid it all out from my initial story.
Next I dreamed up characters that lived in the town. Again, I stole from the archetypical characters from real creature movies and started story boarding the whole idea as I initially imagined it and then it came time for the game design.
One of the things I thought was strange about video adventure games at that point, was that most of them had no ticking clock. I thought that was very un-movie like. The ticking clock in movies establishes the creative tension. I reasoned our ticking clock would be 15 days from the time the ants showed up in the desert outside of town until they ate everyone if you hadn’t stopped them. Again, without scripting tools there was no real way to plot a matrix of scenes (this would get remedied later) so I used a basic graphic program designed for organizational flow charts. I mapped the scenes in sort of a choose your own adventure format with if/then decisions at the proper points in the story,
I tell you all of this not because it is that interesting now, but at the time interactive entertainment had no tools and film production processes for creating projects. The movies had been like that in the beginning. At first they were just visual amusements... like watching a film of a train coming into a station. The experience was so outside the box, there were stories from those early days where people watching the image on the screen fainted as if they had seen a ghost.
Eventually folks with theater and acting backgrounds started telling dramatic stories and then the big development came… EDITING. In all storytelling up to that point the book author started with some initial premise and then moved chapter to chapter until the end. Editing as a concept suggested that you didn’t need to show all of that. For example, if a couple was walking to the train station, in an "edited" film you could shoot them leaving home, then cut to maybe a street scene at the half way point in their journey and then cut to their arrival at the station. It was an outrageous idea. Old timers said the audience would never be able to follow the story thourhg these jumps. It turned out this new "edited" medium caused an evolution of our brains to accept (and fill in) the parts between edits and a whole new cinema language was born. With interactive entertainment with its multi-path stories we had to develop the tools that would make it possible to create much more complex designs.
The New Normal
So, I was settling in and driving home to Del Mar for the weekends. I am not saying we didn’t have our fun as a family, but there was always this issue of me not being present for the week’s activities. There was something else. I realized I disliked living alone in Thousand Oaks. For most of my life I had lived with other people. My family, the bands, movie crews etc. Now I was a lone designer and I started to feel uneasy. It was also weird that I was living in the town my father had chosen when he first came south. Work was fun, but the nights were long.
This need to be around people had always been a paradox of my life. If you asked anyone who knew me, they would tell you that I liked to play alone as a child. I also needed isolation to create stuff, but the fact I always had someone around that I could hang out with if I chose to was also comforting. In Thousand Oaks I felt like when I had first come to LA. Alone in the middle of millions of people.
This trait also showed up in my intimate relationships. For as long as I could remember I had gone from one woman to the next. Now, it seems like a real unhealthy thing to do, but at the time this issue of potentially being the one that was left, shaped my relationships. In my younger days, I always had someone in the wings. I would get to the bottom of this in therapy in the 90’s, but at this time it was like an interactive movie with lots of conflicting paths to choose from.
In my first year at Cinemaware it became a real company. The follow ups to Defender of the Crown were getting a lot of positive press and selling well. Everyone seemed to love this idea of creating games out of our favorite movies. Because of my background in linear movies, Bob was constantly looking for ways to utilize my talents producing films in addition to designing and directing It Came From the Desert.
One of the projects that came up early was with Disney. They had agreed to create interactive kid games for a new VHS based system that View Master (the viewer folks) was coming out with called Interactive Vision. All the big companies were trying to figure a way into this fledgling business and View Master reasoned that every home had a VHS cassette player already, so why not design a system game that got its film visuals from the tape and the interaction from overlaid computer chip graphics. Not a bad idea, but the system was really limited.
View Master had contracted with Disney, PBS/Sesame Street and the Muppet's to create their launch programs using their video footage from television and films. Disney at the time did not have an interactive entertainment group in house, so they chose Cinenaware to contract with. Apparently, they were looking at a few companies, but Bob trotted me out with my film background and I suggested that if they were going to do something it had to star their three main animated characters, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy. Here is a video blog from many years later where the geek explains what we did.
Disney had a huge archive of footage stretching back years, including the classics from the 40's. The reason I knew this is because I had met a puzzle designer named Cliff Johnson who was a Disney freak and could rattle off all the old episodes featuring those characters. He was also an premier puzzle designer. Because of the limitations of the graphic overlays, he was the perfect person to design that part of the game. We were both really excited about getting into Disney’s footage archive and particularly getting access to Mickey and Donald cartoons before they became corporate spokes characters. We wrote an original script and voiced the existing footage with Disney voice talent for our host character Ludwig Von Drake. The original voice had been done by a famous voice talent, Paul Freeze. Unfortunately he died an alcoholic. We used a second generation voice talent that had to smoke cigarettes and drink bourbon at 10 o'clock in the morning to get the voice right. Those voice sessions were hilarious.
As a result of the success of Disney’s Cartoon Arcade, Bob decided that I was going to head a new group within the company that would focus on movies applications.
I would still design and direct Desert (that was headed towards real actors anyway) but I would look to develop other types of projects that used real movie footage.
Bob paired me with a technical director named David Todd. David was a brilliant coder in his own right, and interested in what I was suggesting about interactive movies. We set out together to address the lack of scripting and editing tools for interactive movies. We began a relationship that would last through three companies. I never would have been able to create Voyeur or Thunder in Paradise without him. He made my creative impulses real in code and I stretched him to think about these creations as more than just video games. Here we are with the folks from NEC - Turbo Grax 16.
He also was tired of the “coders” culture that at times could hold us all hostage because they were hard coding the games. Inevitably, as the project would come to the finish line we literally had coders extort us for more money to finish the game. He and I were not satisfied with that dynamic and set out to design a set of tools that would allow storytellers and coders to do what they loved and not be dependent on hard coding. These tools that David developed with his team made it possible for us to do much more complex designs. We moved quickly from chose your own adventure designs to interactive “state” environments that offered much more complex logic and game play.
Cinemeware was also the darling of the game business. As a niche house we were always advancing the art and promoting those creations at the Consumer Electronic Shows with lots of flair. I had never been to one of these exhibitor gatherings before. All the big manufacturers like Sony, Panasonic and Phillips would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote their TV’s, computers and sound systems. Games were added to the mix when they became a thing just about the same time as PORN VIDEOS. Staying in fancy Las Vegas hotels, cruising in limos, attending wild parties reminded me of my rock and roll days. To some extent this new game business was for me another version of that.
I won’t go into the details of making ‘It Came from the Desert’ here. In the interactive entertainment section you can watch a 20 minute documentary I did for the release of the “It Came from the Desert” FILM that was done in 2017. They asked me to tell the "inside" stories about creating that game series, and where it eventually led. That doc was about as well as I could tell the story, so I will let it speak for itself.
Cinemaware, in a sense, lurched forward trying to stay relevant in the rapidly evolving game business. As I have mentioned, the big studios were all trying to find a way in and so Sony came calling in 1990. Sony had recently bought Columbia Pictures in 1989 as part of the Japanese invasion of Hollywood and installed two fairly radical producers to run it, Peter Guber (he is later part of the management group that buys the Golden State Warriors for their amazing championship run) and hairdresser Jon Peters.
Peter was convinced that Sony should be in the interactive entertainment business and somehow found his way to Cinemaware. He visited a number of times. Bob and Phyllis were very excited about a possible sale. We all were too, but I had seen this before and I cautioned them that these kind of deals rarely happen in the film business, particularly when a big company is thinking about acquiring a relatively small company like Cinemaware.
Our lives, in addition to making interactive entertainment, were now consumed presenting to a succession of American and Japanese Sony executives. What all of us didn’t know is that Bob and Phyllis had bet the farm on this deal and had taken Cinemaware’s adequate cash flow and pumped it up a bit. (Borrowed money to do this) The day that the Vice Chairman of Sony showed up in a limo, I thought maybe this was going to happen. During this courting process that went on for six months, Peter and Jon’s first movies came out at Sony and they were less than successful. In the end, the call came from Peter. They were forcing him to pay attention to movie making and this little deal was just a distraction. By that time we had all bought into the idea and so it was devastating for everyone. Little did we employees know that the loans that were taken out would eventually crash the company in 1991.
Cinemaware had a relatively short life but its influence on the game business continued to be noticed for years. Game industry observers made a number of "History of Cinemaware" Youtube videos, even as late as 2010. Here's a portion of one of them. This segment talks about the importance of "It Came From the Desert" to the development of the company.
The Earth Rumbles
In the 1989 the San Francisco Giants had a great year. Bruce and I had sat in the cold and the wind of Candlestick Park for years watching bad teams. This year however, they won the National League and as fate would have it, the Oakland A’s from across the bay won the American League. What were the odds? They called the World Series the Battle of the the Bay. I was not going to miss this, so Bruce got us tickets for the first game at Candlestick, Game 3.
The A’s were clearly better and had won the first two games in Oakland, but we didn’t care. This was the World Series. When I think about it now, I don’t know how much the tickets cost. The Internet suggests they were $25 a piece. Bruce had two season tickets with a bunch of his friends, so they got offered the chance to purchase tickets. When I compare the $25 dollar ticket price to the thousands of dollars World Series tickets cost now, I am amazed. Collectors now price tickets from that third game at roughly $175. The reason for that is coming.
I flew up in my suit and tie from Cinemaware and went straight to the park peeling off my business disguise before game time. It was a beautiful October night, actually quite warm. I met Bruce just as twilight set in. We made our way to our seats on the third base side. We were back underneath the overhang of the second deck but, had a great vantage place from which to watch. The game was sold out and as Bruce and I settled in we exclaimed… can you believe this is happening and we are here.
Bruce was hungry and left to go to the concession stands back behind us. I was sitting there by myself in bliss, when this rumbling started. At first it was a low sound. I thought people were stamping their feet to get the game started. I looked around as the rumbling got louder. It then exploded in a defining roar. Strangers all, we turned and yelled at the same time…’earthquake”. I had grown up in the Bay Area and was no stranger to earthquakes. You usually would wait while it ran its course and then go back to what you were doing. This one seemed bigger than any of those. The last major earthquake in SF was in 1906. The entire city was destroyed in the shaking and the fire that came after. That's why it has a such a Victorian look to the homes. They all got built in the recovery. The “big” one was due, but you didn’t think about it much.
As the roar intensified, I looked up at the overhang above me and saw it violently moving up and down. A quick thought entered my mind that Bruce would come back to find me flattened under the fallen concrete. We all just held on to our seat rails and watched a surreal scene unfold. Pieces of the stadium and the scoreboard went flying in all directions. We held our breath for what seemed like forever and then it stopped. There was this momentary silence and then everyone erupted into cheers and yelled “play ball”.
One side light, the pre-game television broadcast had been in progress when the quake hit. When you look at the archived footage you can see the frame jump as the cameras began shaking, then its goes blank. It was the first earthquake in the US to be broadcast “live.”
It turned out later that the stadium pieces that flew in all directions were actually part of the design. The sections between the stands were designed to break away to relieve the pressure and save the stands from collapsing. For once, something worked.
We started settling in for the game (no joke) and then noticed the power was out. Behind me a guy with a small battery powered TV exclaimed… “the bridge is down.” We all looked and sure enough a span of the Bay Bridge to the East Bay had collapsed. A few cars were dangerously close to going in the water. Normally at that time of night the bridge would have been full of rush hour traffic, but that night everyone had gone home early to watch the game on TV so thankfully only a few cars actually were crunched. This scene was coupled with rising smoke that we could now see in a number of directions in the city. What we had just lived through was a 6.9 almost 7.0 quake. Not the big one, but close enough.
The first thing that happened was the police disappeared. Supposedly to go to their emergency stations, but later we would learn some rushed home to see about their families. No counting on them in a real crisis. In the darkening stadium we were left to watch the players unite with their families as they walked to center field to board their busses. No one said anything to us for a while. Some people left, but at this point Bruce had made it back from the food stand to where I was standing in the open seating, out from beneath the overhang, in case of aftershocks. Finally an usher said we had to leave. And go where? The bridge to Oakland was down. We found Bruce’s Giant mobile (his trusty sedan painted black and orange) in the parking lot as people freaked out around us.
We made our way slowly out of the stadium lot. In those days Candlestick was built at Hunters Point. The houses near by were nearest thing the SF had to a poor black area. We drove out and noticed there were no police directing anybody. People had already started looting the stores. Us two white guys kept our heads down until we were clear.
We headed south towards San Jose thinking we would hook around the bottom of the bay and come up the Oakland side to our Mothers house where I was staying. As we joined the long slow lines of cars making their way, Bruce suddenly realized we did not have much gas. He had intended to fill up, but was late for the game. So, here we were running on fumes. I envisioned that we would get as far as we could and then pull off the highway and sleep the night on the side of the road.
The migration south was eerie. There were no lights anywhere except for the headlights of cars. The Bay Area was completely blacked out. We were pondering our fate when all of a sudden out of the blackness came a bright beacon. As we got closer we realized it was a gas station and a McDonalds that were open. They must have had a generator. We wasted no time getting in line for gas and then buying a big bag of McDonalds as supplies for the night. It took us close to 4 hours to make a 1 1/2 hour trip to our mothers. We arrived thankful to have made it and settled in trying to get news of how bad it was. It was bad...
... but it could have been so much worse. The top deck of the Embarcadero freeway in Oakland collapsed on to the bottom deck crushing a number of cars underneath. This would be the scene of some miraculous rescues. Other selected neighborhoods were extremely damaged. There was no rhyme or reason why some got hit and others didn't.
I slept off and on that night and then got on a plane the next morning when the airport opened. I got back to Cinemaware in a daze. Suddenly I was safe, but that had just happened. Little did I know then that I would live through a second major quake in LA a few years later.
The WALL Comes a Tumbling Down
In 1989, the Berlin Wall that had artificially divided Germany since the 2nd World War came down. Long a symbol of the oppression of the Russian backed Eastern Germany regime, the spontaneous final act by citizens of Germany on both sides of the wall came after the Soviet Union began showing signs of collapse. Five years later when I was the head of Time Warner Interactive, they gave us actual pieces of the wall encased in plexiglass to remind us nothing is impossible.
Personal Life Continues
All the back and forth from Thousand Oaks to Del Mar was taking a toll on all of us. In that period however, we did a lot of things as a family that began to include my family as well. The Masons/Donaldson’s had a tradition of going to the high country camps above Yosemite at Tuolumne Meadows. These camps had been around forever and consisted of a bunch of tents built on top of wood platforms organized around a big dining hall and bathrooms. We had always camped in rustic places or really roughed it with the Boy Scouts. In comparison Tuolumne was luxury. It was also the jumping off place for all kinds of high country trails leading to other lakes etc. I really loved those times. It was totally family centric, with hikes during the day and home to hot showers and beds at night. A little bit of heaven.
With all that was the going on at Cinemaware, Joyce and I had talked about getting married. So, I don't think it was much of a surprise when I proposed to her at one of her favorite spots at Tuolumne. We then proceeded to tell the girls on a hike later that day.
Marriage meant them moving to Thousand Oaks. I didn’t know what I expected from the girls, but at the news both of them went into a kind of hysterical response and ran down the mountain towards the car. Joyce and I looked at each other and said… well, that went well. This was the first time I had ever suggested moving to the kids. In my life, I was out of the house when my family did it. Del Mar was mostly what they had known and Thousand Oaks seemed like it was on Mars. I got it, but what were we supposed to do.
The other thing that was going on was the beginning of Sevrin’s decent into crisis. Around age 11, she started showing clear signs of being traumatized. Certainly her relationship with her father and to a certain extent me, really left her feeling deeply conflicted. It had gotten to the point that our household was mostly governed by Sevrin’s moods. I didn’t get the full brunt of this until later, because I was gone from Del Mar during the week. It got serious enough to commit Sevrin to a facility for observation and treatment. Christine was caught in a tough place. She wanted to support her sister and yet her needs were completely overlooked as a result of all the focus being on Sevrin. She pushed on like a trooper at some cost.
I had some experience of this as a child. I was the subject of fights between my parents about what to do with me when I was failing school. In typical style my father would be the tough guy and my mom the protector. You would think that I could have remembered what it felt like to be the unwanted center of attention, but I didn’t have access to those feelings until later.
Joyce and I would fight over what to do. Joyce insisted standing by Sevrin no matter what, and I argued for more tough love that would hopefully set some boundaries for Sevrin’s behavior and allow us more peaceful family time. We would go through good periods where this tension would fade into the background and then periods when it dominated our lives. This would come to a head latter in Thousand Oaks. The interesting thing through all of this is that Sevrin and I really liked a lot of the same things. I totally got her wanting to be a dramatic actress. I would help her stage plays sometimes just for fun. It was this strange paradox that would color our relationship for a long time. A real mix of connecting mixed with these periods of mortal combat.
Against this background, my life in Thousand Oaks evolved. I rented a real house that would later become our family home and as I already mentioned, we headed towards marriage.
Just as all this was unspooling, Cinemaware suddenly crashed. The loans that Bob had taken out to try to get the Sony deal done came due. Here were Joyce and the kids planning on moving to TO and suddenly I didn’t have a job. Joyce was understandably concerned. Almost immediately David Todd and I hatched a plan to keep our group together at another company. We had a good reputation and there was interest from Electronic Arts and others to join them.
In the end, we couldn’t get the commitments we were looking for from EA. That was when I got a call from Gordon Stulberg who was running an interactive production group for Philips Media.
Philips was a big international corporation that had pioneered audio CD’s and a bunch of other technologies. Their new project was CD-Interactive which was another entry into the home game market. Gordon Stulberg was an ex-movie studio executive complete with the big cigar and larger than life manner.
I picked up the phone and this voice said, “I am going to change your life” He was dramatic like that. I didn’t even know him that well, but agreed to meet him at a famous Hollywood deli in LA. Over pastrami sandwiches, I laid out what we were looking for. Keep the group together, stay in Thousand Oaks and a commitment of enough funds to do 3 big projects at a million dollars apiece.
Philips Media was on the west side of LA and it was natural for him to want us in-house. But I knew better. I wanted to be as far away as we could from the bean counters. In the end, my argument that we would get more done if we didn't have to drive in and out of LA every day won. He chewed on his cigar and rattled on like an old movie studio head from black and white films days. I actually liked him for that. He knew nothing about interactive entertainment so that left us with a lot of room to experiment. And we could talk movies.
Like that... we had a new creative home, with plenty of money to work with. Joyce obviously breathed easier and Bernie,
Gordon's right hand VP of Development at Philips Media, came to our wedding and gave a toast about how I had it made. At the time it just seemed to me like another miracle had worked out just when I needed it the most. This would be another interesting pattern to track. Later, the difference between miracles and entitlement would complicate many of my decisions about how to move forward. More about that in a bit…
We planned the wedding. This time we included our family members. Having been through this once before we both knew a little more of what we wanted. Joyce wanted a church wedding. Exactly the opposite from what Jane and I had done. I was fine with it. Both girls really got into it and we invited quite a few family and friends to the church in Del Mar and the big reception at a beach club in beautiful La Jolla.
I had trained in the ocean of La Jolla cove for the triathlons I did. We hired a great rock and roll band. The only issue was because of noise ordnances they could only play until 10PM. We would test this. The church wedding went off beautifully. When Joyce arrived at the back of the church, she was backlit by the sun through stain glass windows. I felt an overwhelming love for her that brought tears to my eyes.
We made our way to the club and over dinner the toasts started. I had remembered what happened at my wedding to Jane, so we were going to let people talk and then talk ourselves.
Joyce, Sevrin, Christine and I stood close together as folks toasted us.
Finally it got to be too much and we went up to the head of the room. Joyce gave her thanks and then turned to me. It was a moment when many things had come together... work, family etc and I said some of that. At the end I spotted Patrick and my mother sitting at a table in the middle of the room. I said something I would later be so thankful for. I thanked Pat for being the rock for our family and making my mother and all of us happy. It was short, but afterwards Pat came up to me with tears in his eyes. We had a moment. As he walked off and I turned to party, I heard him take this deep, heaving cough. A sign that something was coming… soon.
Joyce and I had a great time that night, surrounded by family and friends. At some point they forced us to shut down the music and we went off to bed. Next morning we joined everyone for breakfast somewhat blurry.
We were leaving for our honeymoon in Yosemite that afternoon. We were staying at the beautiful Ahwahnee Hotel in the bridal suite.
In a sense our trip was partially mirroring what my Grandfather and Grandmother had done on their honeymoon. We took pictures that matched some of theirs from many years prior.
We arrived at the hotel late that night and pushed through the door of the suite. At first all we could see was the bedroom and pallor. I thought… is that all there is? Joyce called to me after she had opened another door and before us was a sprawling semicircular grand room with wrap around windows and unbroken views of the valley. Lots of great memories from those days, but the next morning, I went out on a walk by myself. Joyce was sleeping. I was taking in the beauty of the valley when I was suddenly overcome with emotion. I began to weep quietly. I wasn’t upset, but overwhelmed by the completeness of the moment. Everything I loved had come together into one moment. And for the first time in a while I missed my father not being there.
When Love Comes It is Often Accompanied
Joyce and I made our way home to start our new lives in Thousand Oaks. We got a call from my mother three weeks later. Patrick had a cancer tumor the size of a baseball in his chest. They had sent him home to die. It was such a shock. He’d had a cough for a year, but was misdiagnosed. My mother was in a state as you can well imagine.
Two days later I was on a plane to the Bay Area. Joyce had to stay behind for the moment to care for the kids. While I was in flight, Pat died. As I walked up to their house, Bruce and Jane met me and gave me the news. It had all happened so fast and so close to a moment in our lives that had been filled with so much joy, it was hard to take in. As was her nature my mother actually tried to comfort me, but she was deeply hurting.
Pat’s body was still on the bed in their bedroom upstairs. I went up by myself and sat next to him. It was the first time I had been this close to a dead body. Particularly, someone I was close to. My emotions rose and I sobbed, my chest heaving in deep grief. Pat had just retired and they were going to travel. It just wasn’t fair. What surprised me most about my emotional reaction was that I had never cried like that over my Dad’s death. I was not sure why. Maybe by this time I was more comfortable letting my emotions out. Whatever the reason, I felt totally spent afterwards.
Joyce flew up a few days later. We got a hotel room because I wanted a break from the deep grief in the air of their home. Joyce always helped like that. My mother was now facing a recovery period after 14 years with Pat. It just seemed like she had been through so much, but as they say... there are no guarantees in life, you just try to roll with it as it comes up. She turned out to be a trooper at it and a model for me in my life. This would come up again, many years later, as I sat by her bed as she left us.
After Patrick died my mother was truly on her own. She also held an interesting place in the larger Pinger/Riordan extended family. She was the last of her generation. She was the only one that knew the stories about all that had come before us. In a sense, she became the matriarch of the family. Her life and stories were now a connecting point for all of us. She had this lovely practice of writing letters and notes for all our birthdays or just to check in with someone. Through this gesture of kindness she unintentionally created a big connected network. We would gather at what we would come to call "Barb Fests."
We decided that she should be celebrated on her birthday. The first fest was on her 70th. I remember thinking at the time, she might not be here that much longer. Of course she had a long run ahead of her. Jane, Bruce and I organized the first one at the University Club at Cal. It seemed fitting. Although my mother always said she did not want us to fuss over her, I think she enjoyed seeing all her old friends and family in one place.
Jane created fabulous food, Bruce organized the artifacts of her life and I arranged for Mark, my old singing partner from high school, to join me in singing to her like we had way back then. It was very hot that day and we had the doors of the club open to the patio. For some reason I immediately started sweating. I had always run hot, and sweated easily, but this was something else. I tried drinking cold water, I stayed in the shade, but nothing seemed to help. I kept going to the bathroom to wipe off. I was worried that I would get up in front of everybody with sweat rolling down my face. Obviously, something was going on emotionally for me and there was, in a sense, an anxiety/panic element to it. This was years before my mother would come to my therapy sessions, where we got into my stuff that was lingering from childhood. All I remember at the time is that I loved her deeply and wanted very badly to give her something of value that day.
This celebration went so well, they became a tradition. We toured all the places of her life in the Bay Area on her 75th lie Park Merced which was our original home from birth for Bruce and I. She also took us to the Presido and showed us where she had danced with our Dad the fateful night they connected for the first time.
We did one in Yosemite for her 80th.
The 80th was a bit weird for me. I was still in the middle of my dark spin and Yosemite and the high country camps held a lot of memories for me with Joyce. Claytie ended up coming with me and that really helped. The morning after the party I was feeling really empty so I set out on a walk that turned into a long hike. I ended up climbing high along the first ridge that surrounds Yosemite. That filled me up as the natural world always did. Later that day as all of us were coming back from a joint hike to Inspiration Point, we were listening to the Cal/USC football game on the radio.
It was early in the season, and even though Cal was supposed to be better, they rarely beat USC. Aaron Rogers (QB who would go on to star in the NFL had an amazing day. The game came down to a 1st and ten on the USC ten yard line. All Cal had to do was score to win. It was so unexpected, but the four plays ended with an incomplete pass and Cal lost. Yet, another Cal football heartbreak.
They went on that season to beat everyone else, but that one early loss to USC really impacted their chances to go to the Rose Bowl. Our childhood dream. That was the last year they got that close to going. Later they would change the College Bowl post season so that the Rose Bowl was no longer the game it had been for years and our Cal Bears “dream” died with it.
Mother’s 90th was at Bruce’s and Virginia’s. We dubbed it “Barb Fest 90”
We had done a lot of stuff for her already so this time we decided to tell stories about each era that she had been alive. At 90 she had been through so many changes in the world, we thought we would attempt to align world events with times in her life. Each cousin took on the assignment differently and wonderfully. We taped the whole thing. It would be the last time that this group would all be together until my mother’s memorial service 3 years later. Looking at it now I am so appreciative that Lou decided to record it with his I-Pad. As a result, we have our mother’s stories on that day in her own words.
Back to Phillips POV (1991)
With our Philips Media budget in the bank we leased office space in Thousand Oaks, ten minutes from our homes and furnished and equipped it for interactive production. The name we chose for our new group was "The Point of View Entertainment Group." Quickly shortened to... Philips POV. The term is a movie term meaning where the camera is looking. For example, if you are watching an actor look at the sunset from a normal third person film perspective and then the camera view cuts to looking out as him.... that is called the actors POV. Because we were creating interactive movies with multiple POVs I thought it was appropriate.
The first thing I noticed about being a part of a large corporation was that we had much bigger budgets. It seemed like the perfect match. We had the support and deep pockets, but the freedom to create on our own without much interference. Gordon, being the ex-movie mogul loved to make a big splash and he learned very early in our relationship that he had in us something to promote in Hollywood. That meant I got away with pushing everyone at corporate to let us do more. David and his technical staff got to work on what the CD-I hardware would do. It turned out it was a weird combination of a family CD video player and a game machine. Whoever the engineers where who designed it, certainly didn’t ask any game designer about what it should do. It did have the promise of full motion video, but that was not a part of the original release.
I hired writers and producers to help us fill out the slate of projects that were in play. Mostly, these folks impressed me as just being smart. There were still not a lot of people that had any deep experience in what we were doing. I figured I could train them. In addition to the 3 big projects, they gave us some smaller more gaming types of titles that were great to cut our teeth on.
One of them was.. “Girls Club.” Sarina Simon, our Phillips executive in charge was a very sharp woman who wanted something for girls to play. She reasoned that pre-teen girls have all kinds of fantasy’s about boys at that age. I thought it was an interesting idea and set out to develop an interactive television concept, with a teenage female host and six other girls as contestants vying to win dates with fantasy boyfriends.
We couldn’t deliver full motion video yet, but I wanted real girls as the characters in the show, so David and his staff figured out a way to give us about 25% of the screen with some semblance of audio sync. With this I could shoot actors against green screen. This was a tried and true film technique that we had used shooting actors in the third release of the Desert series. As with any new medium, we wanted whatever we were doing to build on what we had done before, but raise the stakes a bit. We shot the teen actors mostly from the waist up and featured them in pop up bubbles against graphic backgrounds. The effect was quite interesting. Sort of like teen magazines graphic style at the time. I even wrote the theme song. It was really fun being back in the music studio.
Another thing about moving towards making interactive movies and TV was that we had casting calls for actors just like the real movie business. I had been involved in these types of casting sessions in my linear film work and they are as advertised awkward affairs. You send out the call sheets to agents and they would send over 8X10 glossy photographs of the actor in a couple of poses. You'd chose the ones you liked visually and then they would show up to the live casting sessions. At these sessions we (the director, producers) would have them read lines from the script. It is as demeaning a process as you see when movies portray these sessions. The actors are nervous, trying to find something we will like. Particularly, with young actors like we used in Girls Club, they were accompanied by their stage Moms or Dads. They would sit out in the hallway and try to figure out how to get the best showing for their kid. Some, like in the movies, were super pushy, drama queens and kings.
At this point Servin was in her early teens. She had done some plays in school and dreamed of being on the big screen. Seeing as how we were experimenting, I asked her to try out. I left it to the other staff to decide if she made it or not. I explained this to her and she said she was game. She actually nailed the audition, creating this very quirky character that fit well in the ensemble. This was the first time I actually directed her. We had fun and she did great. It was times like these that we made our connection around our love of stories. Later, I would become her stage Dad when Sevrin auditioned for the dramas departments at the big Eastern universities, but that was a ways off.
The Big Swings
While we worked on these smaller projects, my attention turned to the big ones. One of my favorite movies growing up was Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window" starring Jimmy Stuart and Grace Kelly before she became the Princess of Morocco. Raymond Burr (The original TV Perry Mason) was the bad guy. It may only be of interest to me, but when I was at Universal in the mail room I delivered mail to Alfred Hitchcock and Raymond Burr. This film featured interesting work by both of them in their younger days.
Stuart played a photographer who was laid up in a wheel chair from an accident. Grace Kelly plays his friend and love interest. The back windows of his New York apartment looked out on to an inner courtyard and into the back windows of the apartments across the way. Bored out his mind, he watched people come in and out of those apartments makes up stories about them that he shared with Kelly. A real voyeur.
One of the interesting things about his point of view from his apartment is that he can only see what is taking place through the windows themselves. People came in and out of his eye line as they walked around their apartments. Often, someone would start by coming in the door of their apartment that he could see through their rear window. As they walked towards the kitchen however, they would disappear from his view for a while and then reappear in the kitchen window. Stuart could only imagine what they are doing when he couldn't see them.
I thought the premise of Rear Window was the perfect candidate for an interactive movie. For one thing, you only had to shoot video scenes for the window openings. Those windows were well within the limitations of the CD-I player's ability at that point. It could play 25% of the screen with some audio sync. The rest of the building could be created out of computer graphics. We pitched it to Gordon and his staff and they loved it. "Voyeur" was about to emerge to fame, fortune and being featured in Time Magazine.
The other potential big project emerged out of Philip Media’s relationship with Caesars Palace in Las Vegas., the fanciest and biggest hotel on the strip. At the time Caesars was one of the top Las Vegas destinations for boxing’s heavyweight and middle weight divisions. That meant they had the biggest, most important fights at their outdoor arena. Fights like Sugar Ray and Marvin Hagler.
I had been in Las Vegas a bunch of times before at CES conventions, although I didn’t want to spend a lot of time there, I was always fascinated by the Las Vegas no holds barred approach to decadence. As a young guy it was fun to play in that garden once in a while. David and I had done a boxing game at Cinemaware and he thought he could adapt the graphic game fight sequences for CD-I. Also, at that point the full motion video capability of the CD-I player was coming on line. That meant I could shoot full frame TV quality video.
I reasoned you could interact with the variety of characters, managers, press, and trainers etc in full frame video and then go to the graphic sequences when you boxed. You would start as a fighter at the bottom of the Caesars boxing world with limited capabilities. As you won fights and made certain choices about who you got to help you get the title shot, your abilities improved. There were many roads to the top beginning with who you chose to be starting out... a “puncher,” a “boxer” or a combination of both skill sets.
We went to a number of fights at Caesars both at the inside arena and the huge outdoor stadium. As VIP guests we got the full behind the scenes experience of who inhabited this fight game. I had watched boxing on television with my dad in the 50's, but I had never gone to a fight... live. Sitting ringside the first thing that hit me (no pun intended) was how hard the boxers hit each other. You didn't get that impact watching on television. I don't know how they remained standing. Even the winners would be spitting up blood in their locker rooms after the fight. A brutal sport to say the least, but one that many could not turn their eyes away from .
I thought I could design a believable, interesting, interactive boxing world where you attempted to fight your way up to the championship. I spent the better part of a year planning and creating that project. It included shooting in all the high roller poker rooms and fantasy suites that Caesars offered that the ordinary public had never seen. More on how it all went in a bit.
When I found my feet in interactive entertainment I grew into a sense of confidence that I could simply create something from nothing. This interactive entertainment business had barely existed when I jumped into it. This would be a pattern from here on out in my life. Faced with obstacles I would just pick a course and plow through them.
At this point in this fledgling medium, lots of film writers and producers were showing up wanting jobs. I had my pick of the lot and for the most part made good choices. However, there were a few that could not cut it and that’s where my managing style would sometimes fail me. I was so passionate about what we were doing I expected everyone else to meet me there. For all the best or worst reasons sometimes they would fail and instead of helping them I would cut them loose. Not pleasant in any case, but whatever it took to get the project done successfully I thought was the way to go. I certainly wasn’t going to get any breaks from my bosses.
In my varied careers I had always worked around unpleasant people who I would complain about. Here, I was in charge and it took a while to get used to it. I had not been trained in good leadership skills at that point, so I was sort of winging it with good and not so good results.
1992 Political Awakening
This is how much I was out of it I was as it related to politics at that point. I remember siting in a flat in San Francisco when someone came in and said Bill Clinton had been elected. My friends were very excited about it. It had been 12 years of Republicans so it seemed a bit surreal to me. Clinton's charisma, combined with a skilled campaign strategy, led to victory. There was also the Ross Perot factor, as he took many votes from the angry base due to Bush's breaking of the no tax pledge. Bill Clinton also focused on the economy in 1992 due to the recession. Clinton was also our first
"baby boomer" president. And in keeping with that came a sort of "cool/hip" vibe like when he played his famous rendition of Elvis' Heartbreak Hotel on his sax on the top rated Arsenio Hall show. Clinton in those days was a great communicator. He could take a complicated political concept and explain it plain english. I remembered him being asked why we didn't have gun control in America, and he said it would wait until citizens voted for politicians that supported it. That pointed to where we are still at today. He was poised to lead a great progressive movement in America and around the globe, but his personal sexual failings and his tendency to lie about it would get him impeached. I think American's lost a lot of faith in him after that and in some way it may have been one of the reasons voters didn't trust Hillary Clinton when she ran for president in 2008 and 2016 with disastrous consequences.
The Other Big Thing
In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee has published a formal proposal for the World Wide Web. Even now in 1992 no one fully grasped the sea change this represented in global communications. I had experienced a few dial up message boards, but nothing like was coming. It would eventually emerge into the entertainment marketplace when I was at Time Warner in 1995. We would do one of the first visual chat apps called
"The Palace" the next year. By 2000 the internet would change everything I was interested in pursuing.
Things at Home
Joyce and I bought the house I had been renting in Thousand Oaks. We immediately set to work to add a wing that would include our master bedroom, bathroom and offices. The existing wing would become Sevrin’s and Claytie’s rooms and a playroom. The kitchen, dining room, living room, media room were in the middle. If you want to find out the strength and weaknesses of your relationship, try renovating a house together. In our case, it worked well. We visualized a new master bedroom, master bath and office and then worked with contractors to get it done. The house sat on a big lot so there was plenty of room to expand and still have a big back yard. We moved all of us into the existing wing, opened up the entrance to the new wing and put sticks in the air. We decided to live in the house during construction. There is no easy way to do this, but we got through having dust and noise everywhere during the day. When the renovation was completed, we spread out in the new home and settled in for living. It now felt like our home, not mine.
In this period, Joyce’s divorce proceedings were still going on with Kit. It was not a pleasant thing to be a party to. It eventually ended up in court with the girls having to testify against their father. I would go through this later with Jennifer and her ex. What I learned is that if you can avoid court, do it at all costs. What is said in one of these trials is always hurtful to someone, particularly in this case, where the Masons were trying to divide up their prior life. All the drama did not help the challenging relationship the girls had with their father. That tension hung in the air around us.
Sevrin was also having trouble in school. Something I knew a lot about from my childhood. I was aware enough not to cross examine her about her school work like my father had with me. The one thing she loved was theater. All A’s there and not much of a surprise because this had been her life’s dream since I met her. At this juncture, when Sevrin and I would get tangled up it had to do with her pattern of her behavior controlling the mood in our home. If she was good, we prospered, when she challenged, it was a growing problem. I also struggled to attempt to make it better for all of us.
Christine in all of this simply tried to get along. She hated the tension in the house, and acted reasonably, as she would say later, because she did not want to get the flak Sevrin was getting. Joyce and I managed to enjoy our relationship regardless and when it got too much for me I ended up at the studio working late. I felt somewhat powerless at the time. I seemed to have all the responsibility of a father without any of the authority to make it better. This is the challenge for step parents and I for one had not gone through my own stuff about “feeling unseen” yet that I would later explore.
All my life I had a tendency to bury myself in my work. For me it wasn’t work, but what I was drawn to creatively. Long hours were required and that pulled me away from family, especially when we were going through one of our bouts with Sevrin. This work orientation also positioned my team as another kind of family. I had enjoyed the comradery of the bands and production teams as a type of family before. What we were doing together was rewarding and all the better that you could share it with friends who were working with you.
When we got fully into creating Voyeur and Caesars World of Boxing at the same time it was an overload so I handed the early Voyeur work off to one of my producer/writers to come up with a story treatment. I focused on the Boxing project because there were higher stakes with that one given the partnership Phillips Media had with Caesars Palace.
However, when I got the Voyeur story treatment, I was not happy. I felt the story was trite and the game design sophomoric. Here was where my leadership or lack of it came into play. The producer in question was already not getting along with lots of the staff. He had started out very appreciative of the opportunity we gave him, but quickly developed a pattern of being a hard ass with people. I had heard these complaints and tried to coach him, but when the treatment came in, I realized we would have to start all over. And I was not happy about that.
When we discussed it, he got defensive and started blaming others (a pet peeve of mine) and I came down on him. The tone of the conversation increased to an exceedingly hot level that collimated in a moment of anger and I fired him. I am not saying that it would have worked out anyway, but the way I did this only added to my reputation as one not to be crossed. People, my staff/family were partially afraid of my wrath when it emerged. In spite of getting results, it was not an illuminated place to lead from. It would take me years to really understand that.
At this point however, I had a project in Voyeur that needed to be re-booted. I pulled myself away from the Boxing project and laid out some initial thoughts. I then went looking for a writer that I could work with. When we had shot the third "It Came from the Desert" game with real actors, a Swedish actress named Lena Pousette did a great job with one of the more mystical characters.
We had talked at the shoot about her interest in writing for this new interactive medium. I dug out her number and invited her to come in . We went back and forth for most of the day. I decided to hire her and her partner to write the script from a story we both came up with. This would mean we would be working very closely with each other. I had always used these creative explorations to get into something new and then bring it into my personal life. For example, Lena and I went looking for an eastern energetic self development system that one of the Voyeur characters was supposed to be into. Lena found a teacher named Mantak Chia that taught a Taoist form of energy work.
It involved working with the energy that flowed through your body’s systems. By circulating the energy and eliminating blockages you could bring yourself more into balance. Lena and I took some classes with him and used it to shape the back story of the Voyeur character. The fact that part of the teaching had to do with sexual energy was not unnoticed by me.
I tell you this not because you need the detail, but it is an example of how my life sometimes imitated my art. I would find a new lifestyle or a point of view as I developed my stories and then I would get interested in exploring it for real in my personal life. This is one thing I loved about storytelling. Literally, you could expand your life experiences creating these stories. I mentioned before that actors get in trouble on films when they sometimes confuse the parts they are playing with who they really are. Particularly if the other actor is the opposite sex. They sometimes loose track of themselves as they made their way through the scripted scenes. Often times it was just the roles they have taken on, but the sexual heat that was generated in those moments could get any one in trouble.
We intended to shoot both Voyeur and Boxing at the same time to save money and make our release dates. It was a complicated undertaking so we partnered with a hip, trendy film production company in the Philips Media family to provide production services. They had recently completed a film called “The Game” with Michael Douglas that I had looked at as possible interactive material, so I thought they were an appropriate choice. In this moment... I had come full circle from my original linear movie production work to being back on set shooting interactive entertainment in just 10 years.
Leave it in Las Vegas
Voyeur used graphic background plates that we blended with the actor’s videos we shot against green screen in Hollywood. Boxing on the other hand was meant to be shot in full motion video. That meant we shot live action background footage with extras at Caesars Palace and then used that footage as moving backdrops with the actors we then shot in Hollywood. With Voyeur back on track I asked Lena to go with me to Vegas. She would end up being one of the writers on Boxing as well as Voyeur. That would mean we would be spending even more time with each other.
Caesars gave us an open run of the casino and the hotel with one exception. We wanted to shoot in some of the places the ordinary public never got to see like the high roller rooms upstairs from the main casino and the fantasy suites where celebrities stayed. We got a YES to all our requests unless it conflicted with them making money.
The high roller rooms had a minimum bet of $50,000. That’s where the chips started. The deal was we could shoot there with the understanding that if they got a call from an Arab sheik flying in to play high stakes, we would have to vacate. We also needed background plates of the main boxing ring that was outdoors at the Caesars arena. That included having crowds in the shot, so we were granted an hour to shoot the location and the crowd before the next big fight. That was a scramble.
Here is the trailer for the game that included a crazy helicopter shot we did winging our way down the strip to Caesars. This clip is not that great in terms of resolution because we captured it off the low rez output of the CD-I player. After the opening you will see a run through of some of the game play. The second reel shows you some some of the characters you interacted with as the player. Sleazy managers, trainers and reporters etc. We shot the actors against green screen and blended them with the motion background footage we shot live at Caesars to get the final result.
A couple of production stills, the pool scene at Caesars on the left and me and part of the crew from the Hollywood character shoots...
All through this my production team including Lena worked into the night getting what we needed. When you are in close proximity like that, relationships deepen. Lena and I were no exception, although we did not do anything about it at that time. However, that familiar pull was there again. I was flying on top of the world, convinced I could do anything with not a lot of thought about who it might affect.
Actors Lost in Green Screen
We got into casting for Voyeur and wanted recognized stars. At the time interactive entertainment was in all the trades like Variety and the Hollywood Reporter so actors were leaning towards doing things with us. In the early days of POV we had used a post-production audio studio owned by Robbie Weaver. Robbie was the son of Dennis Weaver, the well-known western actor. The image below is Robbie and I on the set of Thunder in Paradise we did later at Disney Studios in Florida.
Robbie had aspirations to direct, so when I decided to direct Boxing, he signed on to do Voyeur. Through his family he had access to some really good actors and in the end he convinced Robert Culp and Grace Zabrisky to play the lead roles. Culp the villain billionaire and Grace his evil sister. Images below are Robert and Grace with Sherrie Rose on the Voyeur set.
The Voyeur story was now taking place inside the Presidential Political Campaign of a very rich entrepreneur.
It was too early to use tech billionaires as models so we played him like a version of the industrialist Howard Hughes. Culps character was not above murdering his family members if they tried to stop him from becoming president. Your job was to expose him or die trying.
The shoot arrived and for three weeks we shot the character videos for both Voyeur and Boxing. Actors were not unaccustomed to working against green screen, but in our case it was extreme. After a while we would have to give them a break because they started seeing only green. In addition, the interactive script with all its different versions of situations was confusing to them in the beginning. They literally had to trust us that it would all cut together.
Again my romantic feelings about the old Hollywood surfaced. During the shoot we all stayed in Hollywood because of the long days. I picked the Roosevelt Hotel which had been refurnished since its old Hollywood golden days. We felt like we were back in the forties. The Roosevelt was also the first location that hosted the Academy Awards, so we hoped that might rub off on us.
Stop the Presses
While we were producing Voyeur I was speaking a lot at Hollywood conferences about interactive entertainment. These were big affairs now the studios had gotten into it. We had created a demo of the opening scene from Voyeur that involves some bondage between a couple, one of them a very attractive actress in black lingerie. They made us put an adult code at the beginning of Voyeur to keep children from playing it. The other reel shows an example of game play. This game play reel is one path through the narrative. In this one you fail. If you had succeed, Reed is arrested for murder.
At that time, adult content (R rated) had not been done so when I showed the demo at these conferences, the audience was stunned. This resulted in a great deal of press, including being featured with four other games on the cover of Time Magazine that included a three page interior spread just about Voyeur.
We seemed at the top of our game, (no pun intended) there was only one issue. Phillips kept screwing up the promotion of their CD-I machine and in spite of the notices we were getting, we were not selling the copies we should of. This would soon cause a change in my work address again.
When we had finished and released Voyeur and Boxing to great reviews and multiple interactive academy awards, we began turning to big project 3. For this one we wanted to go all the way. We reasoned we could shoot a normal linear television show and an interactive game version at the same time. Robbie Weaver, who was now a part of POV, knew the guys that created and produced Bay Watch. (The most watched program in the world for a while.) They were doing a new adventure show called "Thunder in Paradise
Bay Watch was known for its beautiful life guards running in slow motion down the beach. The new action adventure show they were developing starred Hulk Hogan, the infamous professional wrestler and aspiring actor.
We convinced them to partner with us on a two part episode that would involve shooting both linear and interactive versions. If they had known what they were signing up for they never would have done it. It was a monumental job to organize two different film crews and coordinate when the actors and the stunt folks were shooting with each. We shot the whole thing at Disney Studios in Florida. Here are some production shots of me, Robbie, Lina, David and Carrie.
And now the sizzle reel... you will see the game cut to the kids POV for the action sequences.
After all that, I was exhausted from two years of intense production work. However, change was already in the wind, but the direction it would take would again surprise me.