On a muggy, rain-slick, mosquito-infested Monday morning, famed B-movie director Jim Wynorski cursed the skies as he stood at the mouth of a cave in the swamps of Caverns State Park.
“(Bleep, bleep) planes, I hate them,” Wynorski said as what sounded like a crop duster droned by overhead, completely ruining a take on the set of his latest movie, “Cobragator.”
“It’s OK, we’re going to go in the cave in a little bit and they can land a B-57 in here if they want,” Wynorski said. “We won’t be able to hear it.”
Before he was so rudely interrupted by the buzzing aircraft, Wynorski was filming the opening scene of “Cobragator,” which is a monster movie being made for the SyFy Channel. It stars Michael Madsen, the dude who sliced off the cop’s ear in “Reservoir Dogs” (1992), as — and this is Wynorski’s synopsis — “a Southern redneck who is still mad at the North so he stole some genomes from a lab and he created a Cobragator to get his revenge.”
Oh, that old saw.
The start of “Cobragator” features a father (Jack Teague) who drags his reluctant son (Joshua Shiek) and scantily clad daughter (Allison Cain) to a “well-lit tourist trap” of a cave. Dad wants to play an ancient flute that is made from a vulture bone inside “the world’s first underground cathedral.”
Wynorski, a native New Yorker in his mid-60s who is playfully brusque, made the three actors do the scene over and over. It is amazing how many times you can say the words “vulture bone” without getting tired of it.
“It’s got to be great, it’s the opening of the movie,” Wynorski said to his actors. “Be better. … Don’t act … Hate it, say it again. … I just want it to be good. … This is your close-up, make the most of it.”
Some of Wynorski’s other acting directions included: “Well, that was a down payment on fair.” And, this gem: “Shake your head (yes or no) so I can hear the screws.”
After directing nearly 100 low-budget movies, Wynorski knows how to work fast. His resume includes such cult classics as the immortal “Chopping Mall” (1986), the remake of “Not of This Earth” (1988) and the “Gremlins”-inspired comedy “Munchie” (1992). Using assumed names, he also directed many made-for-cable, soft-core nudie flicks with titles such as “The Devil Wears Nada” (2009) and “The Hills Have Thighs” (2010).
Yes, those are real titles.
“I have shot films in two days, I’ve shot 14 pages (of script) in one day,” Wynorski said while another plane passed overhead. “This is a 15-day shoot. Plenty of time.”
In January, Wynorski and actress Traci Lords, who also starred in his reboot of “Not of This Earth,” spent 13 days in the Caverns State Park shooting the “Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre.” Wynorski, who said he came up with the “Sharkansas” title while he was in the shower one morning, liked the Caverns so much that he came back to shoot his next monster masterpiece.
After more than hour of cajoling, hectoring and praising his “Cobragator” actors, Wynorski was happy with the shot. He told his film crew of four to break camp and move the equipment to the next location.
“It’s cave time,” Wynorski said and grinned.
Meet Roger Corman
Even though Wynorski started out working in the publishing business for Doubleday in New York, he first stepped behind the camera while making TV commercials that were shown during Mets baseball games. The ads were “loud and obnoxious” in their approach to pitch appliances.
“I wouldn’t tell anyone I shot them because people hated them so much,” Wynorski said.
In the ‘70s, Wynorski said he “went to L.A. to strike it rich and I struck it poor. … There’s no ads for directors in the L.A. Times.”
In 1979, he finally landed a full-time job working on the TV series “Breaking Away,” which was based on the hit movie of the same name. It starred Shaun Cassidy and was shot on location in Athens, Ga.
“It was a dud,” Wynorski said. “They fired everyone they could fire and I was the first. …. They did buy me a first-class ticket back to L.A., though.”
By coincidence, during the plane flight, Wynorski met movie producer Marcy Gross, who listened to the struggling filmmaker’s tale of woe. Gross set up a meeting between Wynorski and legendary film producer and director Roger Corman, who was looking for an advertising manager. Corman, who helped start the careers of such directors as Jonathan Demme and Martin Scorsese, hired Wynorski on the spot, thanks to his Doubleday experience.
“I would have taken a janitorial job just to get his ear,” Wynorski said.
After working his way up, eventually Wynorski was directing such Corman projects as “The Wasp Woman” (1995), “Raptor” (2001) and “Piranhaconda” (2012). Corman, whose company played a part in making “Cobragator,” even visited the set at the Caverns State Park earlier this month.
“I like working for Roger Corman,” “Cobragator” producer Steven Goldenberg said. “You’re doing something right when you’re working for Roger Corman. He is the best.”
Goldenberg, who graduated from Florida State University in 2001 with a degree in art education, got into the movie business in much the same way as Wynorski.
“I wrote Jim a fan letter and he replied,” Goldenberg said as he helped carry equipment into the largest cave in Caverns State Park. “Eight years later, here I am.”
While Wynorski was waiting for his crew to light the next shot in stalactite-draped South America Room of the Florida Caverns, he talked about his love of classic sci-fi films such as “Forbidden Planet” (1956) and “Attack of the Crab Monsters” (1957).
“People like to watch fun monster movies,” Wynorski said. “There are no drive-ins anymore, so that’s why these monster mash-up movies are so popular. CGI has really leveled the playing field. … I think I have been successful because of the humor I put in my films.”
Every 20 minutes or so, a tour group of kids and parents passed through the South America Room, which got its name thanks to a pool of water shaped like the continent. Wynorski greeted them by saying, “Be sure to watch ‘Cobragator’ on the SyFy Channel.”
The underground scene involved the father playing his vulture bone flute while his perturbed kids tried to get signals on their cellphones. Little does the dopey dad realize that the sound of his flute is luring the dreaded Cobragator out of its subterranean lair, like a snake-charmer. Thanks to the miracle of CGI-generated special effects, the hideous mutant beast decides to have a little vulture-bone flute snack by devouring dear ol’ poppa.
“OK, now it looks like a movie,” Wynorski said as he looked through the lens. “Let’s kill some people.”
Wynorski is a man who clearly loves his work.