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They're helling it like it is, baby!

Independent-International: What You Didn't Know
(An exclusive interview!)

When it comes to B-movie companies, I have noticed something unusual. There's plenty of knowledge and coverage for companies like American International or New World (and the subsequent Corman-headed spinoffs). But when it comes to Independent-International, there is both less coverage and knowledge of the company, even though the company achieved great box office success with many of its movies. Yes, certain movies from this company like Dracula Vs. Frankenstein or Satan's Sadists are fairly well known and loved. But when it comes to the going-ons behind these movies, there is a remarkable lack of coverage, except maybe for the occasional brief coverage of cult producer/director Al Adamson.

I was fortunate recently to get in touch with Independent-International producer Sam Sherman. He was kind enough to answer a number of questions surrounding his company, films, and Adamson. Here is the interview:

GREYWIZARD: Can you tell us about your background before you met Adamson?

SAM SHERMAN: I was born in New York City and was/am an avid movie fan since a small kid when I went to see movies in theatres. I was/am a big Western and Horror fan, read a lot of comic books and listened to dramatic radio shows. Was a big TV fan when that came in of the same kind of films. I also had a longtime interest in Photography and Movie-Making, which I started with at the age of 8. I did my own little 8MM filming, plus still photography and eventually graduated from the CCNY Institute of Film Techniques. I also am a longtime collector of old movies on 16MM film, way before you could own films on VHS or DVD. That is how I got The Old Oregon Trail (1928) produced/directed by Denver Dixon (Victor Adamson) - Al's father and co-starring Al's mother - Delores Booth. That is how I got interested in wanting to meet Denver. While going to college I also worked as a film editor and a writer/editor for James Warren - Famous Monsters, Wildest Westerns, Screen Thrills Illustrated etc. I interviewed many actors for stories from John Wayne to John Carradine etc.

G: How did you meet Al Adamson?

SS: In 1962 I went to Hollywood for the first time and met many actors and filmmakers I had only known over the phone and by mail. One I was looking to meet was Denver Dixon, actor-producer-writer of silent Westerns. I came to interview Denver for an article in the Warren magazine SCREEN THRILLS ILLUSTRATED. While visiting him at his home his son came in (Al Adamson) who was then running a night club in the San Fernando Valley.

We had a brief talk. Al told me his mother was related to the famous stage actor Edwin Booth. Denver Dixon (born Albert Victor Adamson (Sr.) was born in Auckland, New Zealand and went to Australia as a real ranch hand. He made the first western (silent) in Australia in 1910 - STOCKMAN JOE. William Morris (agent - formed the big agency later) booked him in vaudeville in Australia as "Denver Dick" - in a cowboy roping act (claiming he was from USA). Denver came to the the US in the early teens and worked in films on the east coast - Fort Lee etc. - before going to Hollywood. He appeared in THE SQUAW MAN an important early feature western done in Hollwood by Cecil B. DeMille. Denver started making his own films (silent era), discovered stars such as Jean Arthur and others and owned 5 studios during his career. He continued making small westerns into the early sound era and later playing small parts in films to support himself, including films like MY FAIR LADY. He continued to distribute films theatrically in the south in the 1960s and taught me theatrical film distribution.

When I went back to New York, I worked with Denver in distributing the 1934 The Scarlet Letter in theatrical reissue. Al made a film So there's a difference between a zombie and a living corpse?(his first he directed) called Echo Of Terror and brought it to New York to see me and have me set up distribution on it. (New York was then the center of film distribution, while most production was in LA). That was in January 1965 and we bonded and worked to try to sell the film, which nobody wanted. To attempt to make the film more commercial Al and I devised his adding Go-Go Musical numbers and more violence to the film. We changed the title to Psycho A Go-Go. I later set distribution of this film with Hemisphere Pictures in New York, a company that I worked for and which made films in the Philippines. (Note- Psycho A Go-Go is just coming on on DVD from Troma Entertainment.) (Note: many years later we still had this failed film and to get some value from it, used footage from it in a new film we made - Blood Of Ghastly Horror (a/k/a Man With The Synthetic Brain.)

We realized we needed our own distribution company and in September 1968 we started Independent-International Pictures Corp. along with my friend,TV distributor and former theatre owner Dan Kennis. I was (and still am) president, Dan was Chairman of the Board and Al was executive vice president. Our first production Satan's Sadists (made for the new company) was shot in California in October 1968. IIP was more formally organized in January of 1969, but did not do much until May 1969 when I went on the road selling Satan's Sadists.

We took films that Al had already shot (unreleased) and modified them and put them out after Satan - much of this is well known.

Danny and I ran the company and Al did most (but not all) of the production which was done in LA. We also made films on the east coast and were involved with overseas productions. Al spent most of his time with his real estate enterprises. IIP also did its own TV and international distribution (in addition to outside sales firms) and had its own home video company - Super Video Inc.

The story of what we did (and still do) at IIP is so long and complex (and not known to the public) that it would take its own book to explain.

G: What kind of person was Al?

SS: Soft-spoken, polite, easy to get to know. He was tall and thin and a great athlete. He was a big fan of the LA Lakers and also played basketball for many years as a sport. Other than sports, he loved the many dogs he owned, was devoted to his wife Regina Carrol, and spent a lot of time buying and selling real estate and building homes. He also owned and operated hotels and guest ranches. He had grown up in the 1930s depression and at one time delivered newspapers for a living. He decided to never be deprived again and this drove him into real estate. At the time of his death he was a wealthy man. He and I had a wonderful relationship (like the brother I never had) and we enjoyed being together and working together. Al always said: "That when we were both together in the same place (New York or LA) we always made great things happen."

Al's wife, actress Regina Carrol died in November 1992 and that started Al on a long downward emotional spiral - which led to the events which led to his death. Al disappeared in June of 1995 and I could not find him. Al's brother Ken and I started a police investigation in June 1995 and that led to the discovery of his buried body on the premises of Al's home in Indio, California. It was a very unhappy period for me during that time and took some time for me to recover (I will never recover completely). Eventually the murderer (Fred Fulford) was caught and convicted and given life in prison - no parole.

Al had no formal funeral and was cremated. In September, 1995 I came toLos Angeles to organize a memorial service for Al, which was done by Al and Denver's friend Ewing "Lucky" Brown and myself. We held this at the Sportsman's Lodge in Studio City in California. Almost 200 people attended to pay tribute to Al - friends, family and industry co-workers. What started as very depressing turned out well with many of us telling humorous stories about the history of Al, whom we all knew well and loved.

Al Adamson's legacy: No budget was too small, no job too tough. He would take on any project I wanted him to do. He was a great friend and great partner and I was lucky to have known him. He was a very skilled director and always wanted to do bigger and better films, but the budgets were never there. In my opinion he was capable of making big budget, high quality films but never had the chance. I was the one who put him into cult/horror/drive-in movies. I was also the one who wanted to make them zany and looney. Unfortunately, Al is credited with liking this type of thing (untrue) and his true talents are not recognized. But ... at least I know the truth.

G: As a filmmaker, what were his strengths and weaknesses?

SS: His strength behind the camera was: first in using good cameramen and generally good actors and actresses who knew their lines. Al was always for having a good script and actors well prepared - he did not improvise on-set.His great skill was to previsualize a completed scene - how it would play - how it should be covered from what angles and how it would look when it was finally cut together. So he would not run the entire scene from every angle - just enough of each angle to give him what he needed to cut together. That was a great skill to keep the schedule short and economical. Al was great at staging and making a scene play. My only criticism I had of his work was the few times he would cast amateurs in acting roles because they looked right to him for the part and he felt he could make them work. While it scared me to use anything but pro actors, I must admit that most of the time Al made those amateurs work really well.

G: Opinions on Al's movies have wildly varied with both critics andaudiences. What did Al think of his own movies?

SS: Al was well aware of what was good and bad in his films. He said it was a
problem of low budgets. i.e. "We have some good stuff and we have some crap," speaking about how scenes in an individual film looked to him. I would advise re-shooting bad material and Al was happy to do this as long as I could come up with the money needed to do this. He was always conscious of what could be done or not be done on a low budget.

G: You and Al managed to generate significant box office success with your very low budget movies, despite competing with higher budgeted major studio and B studio product. What was your secret for success?

SS: We had some of the highest grossing low budget and drive-in movies. This considering that our films usually cost less than 1/3 of the budget The poster is the best thing about this movie, trust meof similar films made at the time by Roger Corman, AIP, Fanfare and others. The secret of our success was an important part of what I did at Independent-International Pictures Corp. as president and in charge of production. I would come up with concepts which were hot at the time and Al and I would write many of the original stories (sometimes we each wrote scripts too) to build in strong marketing elements. Then I would give the films a catchy, easy to identify title, and I did all of the marketing campaigns - ads, posters, trailers, radio & TV spot ads etc. I had been in film marketing as a profession and knew how to make this work. Sometimes Al depended too much on me for this. When we had a problem in a production, he would say, "You can come up with a catchy title and do a good campaign and make this film sell well." I would say yes, but the film must be good enough to screen for the major circuit buyers and overseas buyers first. This led me to get more money to fix up problems still in films in the work print phase so the films became better and would screen better or we would not get them booked. Each of our films played 4000-6000 US percentage playdates, which was more than  many major studio releases.

There are legends about Al and myself that are not true. That every film was a re-shoot or patch-up of something else and not one good consistent film. It is true we learned to re-shoot and fix problem (uncommercial) films and even took films made by others and changed them into something else. That was a marketing decision that I made to make money for the company, not our overall policy. Too many people know of the work that Al Adamson and I did from patch jobs like Blood Of Ghastly Horror and Horror Of The Blood Monsters, which have been successful because of their craziness, not how great they are. It was always my concept that if you have a very small budget make the film different by very bizarre, crazy, looney elements - and this always worked.

Some of our better films were not patch jobs - they are each one individual,consistent film which worked well and was successful - and I include- Satan's Sadists, Angels' Wild Women, The Naughty Stewardesses, Black Heat, Girls For Rent (I Spit On Your Corpse), The Dynamite Brothers, Blazing Stewardesses and Nurse Sherri.

G: Did the patch jobs, as well as the frequent renaming and rereleasing of your movies, ever get you in any kind of trouble with audiences or anyone else?

SS: The patch jobs and retitles never caused any problems. Most patch jobs were on films that had never been released or hardly ever had been seen anywhere. Re-titles normally went to different markets. I.e.. a theatrical film had a tamer title for TV, as they did not want "blood" etc. in the titles. Other titles were made for foreign markets as the US title might not be as easily understood in different cultures. A very few films were reissued later to drive ins - and played to different audiences as the younger ones from the first release had usually grown up and passed the drive in dating stage.

G: Since you have probably been asked many times about Lon Chaney Jr. and John Carradine, can you tell any wild stories about Jim Kelly, George Lazenby, or Harold "Odd Job" Sakata?

SS:
I had nothing to do with Death Dimension which featured Lazenby, Sakata and Jim Kelly. Al did talk to me by phone during the shooting of the film and told me Sakata could not be understood and they would have to dub him with another voice. He also said Kelly did not easily take direction (he did two films with him).

G: Can you tell me of any movie projects that were planned but ultimately never made?

SS: Gangster Women - Group of misfit tough women rob banks and so forth.

No Ransom For Regan -
Sort of a Dirty Dozen group saves a kidnap victim.

Gold Fever -
Girl hires downtrodden detective to find father's lost mine.

The Unavenged -
Big Western (had been set to be made as major film) with star cast and familiar plot.

Sequel to Dracula Vs. Frankenstein

Sequel to Satan's Sadists

My dog story Skipper - was badly made as Lost.

The Happy Hobo -
Family film about girl and lost parents with hobo saving her

and a few others which don't come to mind at the moment.

G:
What are you up to these days?

SS: I still keep IIP going (now headquartered in New Jersey - where we had moved How can you guess Paramount didn't release this DVD?our main office from New York City in 1978). Dan Kennis is retired in
California. At one time, our good friend Irwin Pizor (formerly president of Hemisphere Pictures Inc. - Brides Of Blood etc.) was with our company as vice president and was connected with us until his death in Florida in the 1990s. Irwin went way back with all of us as Dan Kennis and he were partners in the TV distribution company Teledynamics Corp.. Irwin's father William Pizor (one of the early international distributors) did the international distribution of Denver's films in the 1920s. I worked for Irwin at Hemisphere in the 1960s. So you will note how all of this ties in. Denver came to New York in the 1960s and I took him to see Irwin, who was amazed to meet him again after so many years.

G: What's going on behind the doors of Independent-International right now?

SS: A- Projects with John Russo (Night Of The Living Dead, Midnight) now in development include Escape Of The Living Dead, The Black Cat (based on the John Russo novel), Hell's Creation (based on the John Russo novel) and some others.

B-
UFO- themed projects (which Al Adamson also worked on with me) -
and most of this filmed already.

1- Beyond This Earth
- feature film docu-drama about UFO incursion on Earth.
2- From Other World
- UFO documentary
3- I Slept With An Alien -
Dramatic cult feature assembled from footage already directed by Al Adamson.
4- The Edwards Air Force Base Encounter -
based on my audio documentary of this true story.

C-
Remake or sequel to Dracula Vs. Frankenstein.

D-
Remake of The Abominable Snowman Of The Himalayas- Peter Cushing film which we own major rights to.
 

My deepest thanks to Mr. Sherman for this interview!
 

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