FVI: What You Didn't Know
(An exclusive interview!)
In my pursuit of B movies over the years, I
have prided myself during this time in gaining substantial information
about the people and companies that made these movies. I have learned
more than any sane person needs to know about Samuel Z. Arkoff and
American-International Pictures... Roger Corman and New World
Pictures... and I can't leave out Menahem Golan, Yoram Globus, and
Cannon Pictures. However, there has been one B movie mogul and his
production company that I've found exceedingly difficult to find
information about during all of these years: Edward L. Montoro and Film
Until recently, pretty much all that I knew
about FVI and Montoro was from their movies. Coming out of nowhere
during the golden age of the drive-in, by the early '70s FVI and
Montoro were starting to make a significant impression on the drive-in
market with the movies they made and/or distributed. A number of these
movies are still well-known today, like Grizzly, Beyond The
Door I and II, Day Of The Animals, The House On
Sorority Row, The Incubus, The Unearthling, Pieces, They Call Me Bruce,
and Vigilante. At The
Unknown Movies, I have reviewed some of their more obscure
efforts: The Dark, Don't Go In The House, Mutant,
The Shape Of Things To Come, Survival Run, and The Last Shark (a.k.a. Great
White). The little else I knew about Montoro and FVI was that
during the early '80s, Montoro stole a million dollars from his company
and vanished, never to be seen again, and that FVI folded shortly
So you can imagine my delight when recently
I received an e-mail from Jim Bertges, a former employee at FVI who
read the commentary by myself and readers on the company and Montoro,
and offered to share information from the best of his recollections and
personal experience from his 1979 to 1984 stint there. He was gracious
enough to agree to an interview, which I am now happy to present:
GREYWIZARD: Can you tell us a
little of your background before you worked with FVI?
JIM BERTGES: As a Southern California boy (I moved
here in 1962), I worked in movie theatres starting in 1969. I was in
theatres from '69 until '75, most of that time in San Bernardino. In
'73 I moved to LA to study film making a LA City College. My theatre
experience did more to get me a job in the movie business than any film
courses I took. In '75 I went to work for Buena Vista (Disney's
distribution arm) in Coop Advertising (that's newspaper advertising and
requires some boring explanation, but let's leave it at that). I was
only at BV for a year and spent the subsequent two years as a shipping
clerk at a printing company. After that I went to work in a company
founded by one of my former Disney bosses called Producers Creative
Services. We did advertising and other things for film producers who
wanted to distribute their own films. I mostly worked on films like The
Billion Dollar Hobo and The Magic of Lassie.
When that venture began slowly sinking and could no longer afford my
services, I searched for and found work at FVI.
G: How did you end up working with FVI?
JB: Because of my previous jobs I had skills the
needed at the time. FVI had a one man advertising department. When they hired me, that number
G: What were your duties there?
JB: At first my main duties involved placing
newspaper advertising for the releases of the films, but they also
included writing synopses of the films for various purposes, writing
sales letters to excite exhibitors about upcoming product and
participating in the creative aspects of putting together advertising
campaigns. Eventually I ended up being Director of Media and watched
over the placement of TV and Radio advertising as well as doing the
newspaper and other work.
G: How would a typical FVI movie get promoted?
JB: This takes a little explaining. Back in the
early 80s it was a different world for film distribution than it is
today. VCRs were barely getting started as were pay cable channels the
only way most people could see a movie was when it was broadcast on TV
or in a theatre. Drive Ins and "Grind Houses" were the places where you
could see "exploitation" films like much of the FVI product.
However, FVI was branching out into more
mainstream type films at that time and was enjoying some success. Small
distributors like FVI released films on a regional basis through a
system of sub-distributors. These were independent
business that took care of getting a distributor's films booked into
local theatres, generally they dealt with a specific area of the
country--New York, LA, Chicago, Dallas, New Orleans, Atlanta etc. Each
distributor had relationships with exhibitors in his area and handled
booking the pictures and transporting the film to the theatres. So, we
would end up playing no more than 200 or so houses in a given area of
the country during a film's release. Advertising and promotion was
naturally targeted in that area. We made local TV buys, local radio
buys, placed local newspaper ads and occasionally sent some of our
"stars" to appear on area talk shows to promote an opening. For The
Incubus we hired a Hollywood witch named Babetta (yes she was
an actual Wiccan) to make the rounds in Texas when we opened there.
Susan Stokey (now there's a star) was sent to San Francisco to appear
on Creature Features with John Stanley to discuss The
Power. This way the distributor's financial exposure was
minimalized even if the film was a total disaster in one part of the
G: What were your initial impressions of the
company when you first started working there?
JB: For me it was pretty cool, what young film fan
wouldn't have a great time working at a "real" film company? Especially if that fan was a horror
fan and that was the specialty of the house? I started there in '79,
not long after the release of The Dark and the place was
full of energy. I discovered that many of the people working there had
come over from AIP after its demise and it was fun working with all
these people with so much experience.
G: How about in subsequent years?
JB: I always enjoyed working at FVI, it's a cliché
to say this, but it was a family like atmosphere there. It was a very
strange family, but a kind of family non-the-less. In fact, up until
the final year or so, Ed's wife worked there as his secretary and his
son Michael was also on the staff in various capacities. It only got
bad for me near the end when things started falling apart, but that's
the answer to another question.
G: Did you ever get to meet Edward L. Montoro?
If so, what can you tell us about him?
JB: This was a small company, you couldn't avoid
Ed. He had previously worked as a printer, but his dream was to be a
commercial airline pilot. That dream ended when he was in a plane crash
and faced major reconstructive surgery. Of course you'd never know this
to see him, he was a lanky, tall square-headed guy who always seemed to
be thinking about something. He'd walk down the hall, looking down into
his coffee cup, lost in thought until he got to where he was going. I
wouldn't say he was overly friendly, but he wasn't mean or sullen
either. Ed did have a knack for recognizing exploitable product and
that's what drove FVI. For the most part he could tell what would sell
or see some aspect of a movie that would make it exploitable. Of course
there were misses, but there were enough successful films to keep FVI
in business for 14 years. I'm not saying these were good films, but
they made money.
G: What did others in and out of FVI think of
JB: I think Ed was respected by those who worked
with him. I don't think he or any of us were respected by those in the
industry. We were just low level distributors after all. As a person Ed had his flaws and that got him
and the company in trouble, but that also is the answer to another
G: The Dark seems
to have had a very chaotic history,
with original director Tobe Hooper being fired and the origin of the
killer being completely changed during production. Can you reveal
anything on this troubled production?
JB: The Dark was made before my time at FVI,
but I did learn something about it from my co-workers there. Let's
start with Tobe. At that time Tobe was having problems of his own.
Early in the shoot Tobe took two days to complete a scene that took
place in a phone booth. The production didn't have money or time to
waste on that sort of thing, so producer Igo Kantor called in a
director he'd worked with previously on Kingdom of the Spiders,
John "Bud" Cardos.
The original story of The Dark did involve a revived
Indian mummy of some sort that went on a killing spree. However, around that time there was
another kind of horror film making big money, it was called Alien.
So, ever attuned to a trend, it was decided by the FVI powers to change
from a mummy killer to an alien killer. They even threw around the
title Alien Encounter and gave their killer laser beams
and fireballs to toss around. It may not have been a result of the
changes, but the movie did OK at the box office.
G: Did FVI ever get any flack over movies like Don't
Go In The House and Pieces, which had misogynistic tones?
JB: Because these releases were in limited areas
and played for a relatively short period of time, the protests were
localized and short lived. Remember we didn't do any national releases
or promotion for these films. Besides, these were exploitation films
and were not taken seriously.
I did encounter an interesting bit of flack
in Texas when we were releasing Mortuary there. We had a special TV spot
made up (mainly because there wasn't anything good in the movie to make
a TV spot from) featuring Michael Berryman (or as Ed called him," That
bullet-headed kid from Hills Have Eyes") as a grave
digger. It was directed by Frank Laloggia and was very simply done. The
camera slowly moved in on Berryman as he finished patting the dirt down
on a grave and the narrator read the exact copy from our print ads
"Before they throw the last shovel of dirt on your coffin, etc....be
sure you're really dead! and with that last line a hand reaches up out
of the grave and grabs a terrified Michael by the ankle and pulls him
down into the grave. When we tried to air that in Texas I got a call
from a local TV station that refused to run it because the station
manager felt we were "promoting death".
G: As many people know, Great White
(a.k.a. The Last Shark) got entangled in a
lawsuit that makes it to this day very hard to find a copy to watch.
Can you tell us anything we might not know about the production and
marketing of this interesting Jaws rip-off?
JB: Ok, this is one I've been wanting to sink my
teeth into, so to speak. People universally blame the "Great White
Lawsuit" for the demise of Film Ventures, this is not true. To begin at
the beginning, Great White was a blatant Italian made
rip off of Jaws. They went so far as to have Vic Morrow
with a Scottish accent as the grizzled shark hunter and James
Franciscus as the sheriff who hunts the shark, but the difference was
that Franciscus had a daughter, not sons! See, that makes it OK. Also
wrong. When Ed approached the Italians about the movie, the assured him
that they had no problem with Universal and he foolishly believed them.
It was probably wishful thinking because he knew that movie would make
money. We did a lot of promotion for that film. We made thousands of
small inflatable sharks with Great White printed on the
side. We made special "shark bucks" to send to exhibitors. These were
dollar bills with a sticker of a shark perfectly die cut to cover
George Washington's face. We created a special "pop up" mailing piece
for the exhibitors. We really went all out. The picture was released in
several territories to great success and would have been FVI's most
successful release, except that Universal had already sued the Italians
to stop them from selling the film. They then came after FVI and
stopped any further release or
exploitation of the film. They took all the prints and all the rights
and to this day they are sitting on it. Yes it did cost us some money,
but not enough to kill the company. Take a look at the release date for
Great White, the company didn't fold until
1985. We had other successful releases after GW, stuff
like They Call Me Bruce and The Incubus
came after Great White. Nope, the death of Film Ventures
International came for an entirely different reason.
G: The two James Ryan martial arts movies (Kill
Or Be Killed & Kill And Kill Again) FVI released were a
lot of fun. Is there anything of interest you can tell us about them?
JB: Kill or be Killed was a martial arts
movie unlike any other that had been seen at that time. This is because is starred mostly Caucasian martial
artists instead of Asians. The film was made in South Africa during the
time of Apartheid and most US companies weren't doing business there,
except Film Ventures, of course. Ed saw that there was something
exploitable in the movie and he was right. It was a big success in the
US for FVI. In fact it was such a success that Ed decided to make a
sequel. A screenplay was commissioned from John Crowther (son of the NY
Times film critic Bosley Crowther) and Ed dispatched his favorite
producer Igo Kantor to South Africa to make Kill and Kill Again.
The idea was to make a light hearted/James Bondish/martial arts film,
but to disguise the fact that it was shot in South Africa. It turned
out to be a moderately good little movie, but it didn't have the
success it should have in US theatres. Even Roger Ebert chose it as one
of his "guilty pleasures" on his TV show (it didn't hurt that he knew
Igo Kantor from the time they both worked on Russ Myers Beyond
the Valley of the Dolls).
G: Sources say Christopher George died in the
middle of Mortuary. How much of a setback was his death to the
JB: Mortuary, like most of Film Ventures'
releases was a finished film that we picked up for release. It was produced by Marlene Schmidt and Howard
Avedis who also did The Fifth Floor. Even though Ed was
listed as Executive Producer, his involvement with the film was
strictly after the fact.
G: In Night Shadows
(retitled Mutant), Montoro teamed up with
producer Dick Clark - quite an odd combination. There must be some
interesting stories there.
JB: I don't remember any involvement of Dick Clark
in Night Shadows (which was the shooting title, the
actual release title and subsequent video title was officially
Mutant). He was involved with The Dark and may
have had some investment in this movie, but I never saw or heard from
or about him regarding this movie.
This is another of FVI's "replaced director movies", the original
director Mark Rossman (his work on House on Sorority Row
impressed Ed) shot for less than a week in Georgia. The commentary back
in LA about the footage he produced was "it looks like he's shooting
for TV. It's too bright!" So, once again, producer Igo Kantor called in
John "Bud" Cardos to finish up the job. The movie turned out OK, but it
was, at best, a mediocre zombie movie that never got a real theatrical
release. Although it did well on video, it was the budget of this film
that was partially responsible for the demise of FVI.
G: There seems to be some dispute as to if
Montoro did produce an unreleased sequel to Grizzly
before he disappeared. Can you settle the question once and for all
concerning the existence of this movie?
JB: To the best of my knowledge, this movie doesn't
exist. If it does, Ed Montoro had nothing to do with it. Ed took all his marbles and
disappeared in 1985 and according to all accounts this Grizzly sequel
was supposedly made in 1987, two years later. Mutant was the last film
ever produced by Ed
Montoro's FVI. I'd really like to talk to somebody who actually saw
this movie, or better yet, get a copy of it myself and have a look.
That is if there is such a thing. Where do these people get their
G: Were you still at FVI when Montoro took funds
from the company and disappeared? Can you tell us more about this, and give us details of
just what happened when it was discovered what Montoro did?
JB: Yes I was there. Here's the real scoop on Ed's
departure. About a year prior to his leaving, Ed broke up with his wife
of many years. It seems he had
been playing the part of Hollywood producer too often and with too many
other women. California is a community property state and when the
divorce finalized, Ed's wife would have been entitled to half of
everything he owned, including Film Ventures. Instead of facing that
possibility, Ed took a million dollars in cash out of the company and
headed for parts unknown. It wasn't "discovered", it was planned. He
left the company in the hands of four executives who struggled
valiantly to keep the company afloat, but the costs of producing Mutant
and several other factors made the whole enterprise untenable. In the
end it was the fact that Ed began to believe his own hype about being
an exploitation expert that brought down the company. He poured
hundreds of thousands of dollars into finished movies like The
Power and Alley Cat, trying to "fix" them when
they would have performed just as poorly without the expense. He wasn't
running from lawsuits or creditors, he was escaping a collapsing
company and a bad divorce settlement.
G: There are rumors concerning just what ever
happened to Montoro, ranging from claims he is still hiding in Mexico
or South America, to claims that he died several years ago. Do you have
any idea as to what happened to him?
JB: The speculation was that he went to Mexico, but
that was never confirmed. I heard that there had been a earthquake in
Mexico not long after he left and he called his son, Michael, to let
him know he was OK, but that's all I ever heard.
G: Are there any other FVI experiences/memories
you'd like to mention?
JB: I'd like to address a couple of comments made
by John Blythe in your letters section. John got many things right in
his letter, but he was wrong about the formation of ARC. Artists Releasing Corporation was formed as a
sister company to Film Ventures. The thinking was that a new name would help
play down some of the notoriety of FVI, but it only added to the confusion.
The company never went bankrupt. After Ed left FVI operated on a limited
basis, run by the four executives he left behind. Eventually FVI and all its
assets were bought by a small TV syndicator called INI. One of the executives
went along to INI and I don't know if they are even still in business.
[Star of Pieces] Paul
L. Smith... earlier in his career he made a western in Spain or Italy
which was a copy of the successful Trinity westerns. He
was teamed up with another actor who kind of looked like Terence Hill
and he did the Bud Spencer, side-kick part. When FVI picked up the
picture, they decided to carry the deception one step farther,
re-titling the movie (this is where my memory fails and I can't find it
on the IMDb) and changing the names of the actors to Terrence Hall and
Bob Spencer. I guess they figured the public wouldn't notice the
difference and think they were seeing another installment of the Trinity
series. Anyway, Smith sued over the name change, stating that "The only
thing an actor has is his name and if that's taken away, he has
nothing." The judicial system agreed with him and ruled against FVI.
they had to pay Smith damages and court costs. I don't know if his name
was restored to the movie because I can't find any reference to it and
I can't remember the damn title.
G: What have you been doing since you left FVI?
JB: After Film Ventures, I worked for Sam Arkoff
for a few months while he and Billy Fine were trying to release the
abominable Hellhole. Then I went to Cannon for two years from the time of Runaway Train to
about the time of Invaders from Mars. After that I spent six
years at an advertising agency
called Design Projects Incorporated (aside from the advertising, we
made 5 movies in those six years. Ask me about Demonwarp, the
one I co-wrote). And currently I'm at New Line. This is the best place
I've ever worked.
G: When you today look back on your days at FVI,
what are your feelings?
JB: I really enjoyed my time there. I learned a lot
about the business and got a
lot of insight into things. It really is a part of film history, a very
small, possibly insignificant part, but it's something I had a hand in.
Thanks for this opportunity to share some of my memories and set some
of the misconceptions straight about Film Ventures and Ed Montoro. I welcome
any other questions you or your readers may come up with. We'll have to do
this again sometime.
And thank you, Jim Bertges, for taking the
time to tell us all this. Jim was also generous enough to offer to
answer any reader inquiries about FVI for a limited time. You can read
the readers' questions and Jim's answers here.
UPDATE: Rick Albert wrote in with
"I recently read your interview with Jim
Bertges on Film Ventures -- which was exceptionally accurate. My name
is Rick Albert -- I owned the advertising company that created the ad
campaigns for FVI's films -- all of the one-sheets you display were
created by my company, we wrote all the taglines. I hired Jim Bertges
to work at my company, and we made some movies together.
"Although I have little to ad to the speculation where Ed Montoro is, I
worked with him on a daily basis, and was privy to the business and
marketing of many of FVI's pictures and companies.
"Ed was very sick about 5 months before he disappeared. He was in
Cedars Sinai, a big hospital here. Many of us visited him -- I gave him
a stuffed shark-puppet to cheer him up. Some speculate besides the
divorce from Joan, it was the hospital stay that convinced him to
leave. He abandoned his boat, his Rolls Royce, his Beverly Hills house,
and left after the Cannes film festival, right about this time of the
year. Bob Steuer and Mike Ricci were left in charge. He had high hopes
for Mutant -- but it opened that
winter in St. Louis during a blizzard and did poorly. Ed was devastated.
"The money Ed took was more than enough to keep the company afloat --
it was not bankrupt, but for the cash he took out, and its inability to
successfully release movies to theatres after he left. Home Video and
TV revenues kept it limping along -- when Irv Hollendar bought it out
of bankruptcy, he changed the name to INI and mined the TV syndication
rights for iots films -- something he had experience with after working
at ZIV. He also co-produced the short-lived Women's Wrestling show-
G.L.O.W. -- but by then the Film Ventures identity was gone.
"Ed was a showman -- a person who really understood a certain audience
segment. He called them "the mug-house crowd" and used to say that
unlike Westerns, the Horror genre would always be vital -- because the
mug-house crowd had to get out of the house on the weekends.
"Unlike Corman, or Arkoff, Montoro was not a self-promoter -- he loved
to sell movies -- not himself. He started the business almost by
accident in Atlanta, moved to Hollywood (when I first met him in 1979)
and rode the wave of exploitation releases before the major studios
began to compete in that area with Porky's and Animal House.
"They were interesting days."
UPDATE 2: "Duncan Gray" wrote in
"Dear Greywizard...just finished reading
your article and interview about "little known" FVI. Thought you might
like to know how FVI originally started.
"I was one of the people in Atlanta who put together the format for Ed
Montoro to start FVI.
"I and another individual who ended up on the board of FVI had a small
venture capital firm in Atlanta. A friend who had been with the Arthur
Rank corp. brought Ed and Abraham Fine, a cinematographer who had just
won a Cleo for a public works commercial to us for help in financing a
movie they wanted to produce.
"Ed had a script for a movie entitled Massacre at Peachtree.
He was fresh from his financial success with Getting into Heaven.
His introduction to us was to show us clips from that. LOL. But, he had
a terrific idea for making this movie in Georgia to save money.
However, his key idea was having the distribution rights. He knew quite
a lot about this and it ultimately became the saving grace for FVI as
you are no doubt aware.
"We accepted the challenge and set about determining a way to raise the
moneies he needed. To make a long story short, we ended up forming a
limited partnership to fund the venture and create FVI. As part of the
"trust" piece if the venture, I was made secretary/treasurer of the
corporation. This corporation was carefully set up through a very
respectable Atlanta law firm. I remember Ed was really "hippy" looking
at the time with bell bottom jeans, beard and long hair. We had a PR
man get him shaved, hair cut and cleaned up and into a banker's suit
for his appearance/appeal. We invited a lot of monied people from our
files and met in the boardroom at the National Bank of Georgia where a
presentation ensued. As it turned out, enough investors came in to fund
the deal and FVI was on the way. Shortly after, I gave up my place and
left for another business venture. In a recent conversation with my
then partner who stayed with it and kept a share, he made a fortune off
of it. Guess in retrospect I should have stayed.
"Anyway, I ran into Ed a few times after that when they had imported
their first Italian western and were making money. Then I lost track as
I moved from Atlanta.
"A quick aside about Ed. Though, I'm sure he had ties to some
illegitimate characters in the underworld, he was a great guy to be
around as was Joanne, his wife. He, Joanne and my secretary (whose name
I can't remember) often lunched together at underground Atlanta and he
and I spent many an afternoon together at the outdoor bar at the
Marriott off Houston St. Ed used to tell me I reminded him of Lee Van
Cleef and he wanted to use me in some movie if the chance came up. He
actually did get me and my partner a bit part in some B production a
friend asked him to direct. It was a parody of the Our Man Flint
movies. They shot a scene in a park in Atlanta and we got to
participate. All in all, Ed was fun to be around and you always got the
feeling that he would be straight with you and take care of you.
"As to the situation with Joanne, his wife, Ed was always going on
about some chick or another and she seemed to let it roll off her back,
but I guess it must have become just a little too much. She too, was a
lot of fun to be around.
"So that is my tale of the beginnings of FVI. Hope this sheds a little
light on things."
UPDATE 3: I got
this letter from Chris Kruize:
"I just ran across your interview with Jim Bertges about his career
with Ed Montoro and Film Ventures International, and the eventual
demise of the company. I wanted to let you know how much I
enjoyed it. I was one of the original screenwriters of Mutant (aka Night
Shadows), along with my friend Michael Jones, so
we were sort of peripherally involved with the last days of FVI.
"I won't bore you with details of that time, other than to say that:
1. Jim Bertges was a smart, professional, pleasant guy to deal
with. I have every confidence that everything he said in his
interview is true and factual.
2. I did an email
interview with Andrew Borntreger @ badmovies.org a few years ago about Mutant. Here's the link in
case you or any of your readers are interested:
"You have a fun website. Keep up the good work."