Hey hey, my my... who knew I'd learn about FVI?

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 Ventures International.

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 afterwards.

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 doubled.

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 wereIf it has John Cassavetes in the cast, it must be high class! 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 country.

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 him?

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 question.

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 In just a couple of years, FVI was as lively as onethere. 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, 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 FVI soon felt a bite from Universal's lawyersas 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 movie?

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 information?

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. All they are saying... is give "Pieces" a chance...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 this:

"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 with this:

"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:

"Dear Greywizard,

"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 @ 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."