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A JOURNEY TO THE OTHER SIDE: The Making of "Poltergeist II"

"One of the things we learned from Steven Spielberg is that once you've set something up, you have to deliver on it," relates Mark Victor, who together with Michael Grais and Spielberg wrote the screenplay for the 1982 hit, "Poltergeist." "In this case, we inherited a terrific first movie, which is what we have to deliver on."

"This is not an ordinary sequel," continues Michael Grais, "but a continuation of the first film. We've tried to go a little deeper with 'Poltergeist II,' through themes which are more spiritual and mystical. All of us have tried to do something really special, and I think we've succeeded."

For Grais and Victor, the process of creating "Poltergeist II: The Other Side" began in 1984 with the writing of its screenplay. As executive producer Freddie Fields explains, "Our initial risk was the decision to write the script around the same family, instead of pursuing a storyline centered on a new set of characters. Since we didn't have the cast in hand, we wanted the story to work for everyone, so that the original cast would want to come back."

"We sat down with Craig, and we talked with JoBeth and the rest to see what their interests were," continues Victor. "Beyond that, we tried to get an emotional feel for what they liked about their characters, and where they felt their characters might be going. I think those meetings fed a lot of things into the script that helped the cast feel they were a part of their characters, and consequently drew them toward wanting to do the film itself."

"The actors all seemed to identify strongly with their parts," observes Grais. "Craig had some amazing experiences with an Indian while living in Mt. Shasta, which became one of the inspirations for the character of Taylor. JoBeth told us about some experiences in her youth that brought her closer to her character, and Zelda Rubinstein has a strong feeling of clairvoyance. Through their characters, the entire cast was given the chance to express real things about their lives, and I think that earned a special commitment from each of them."

"After many months of work and rework, the end result was a wonderful script," continues Fields, "and I think that's the main reason the film got made. Although it's a continuation of 'Poltergeist,' the film has taken on many different dimensions and emotional experiences. I think the end result is something audiences will walk away from remembering, and wanting to come back to see again."

From the beginning, Victor and Grais assumed producing chores on "Poltergeist II," making their first such assignment on a motion picture. "They learn faster than almost anyone I've met," according to Fields. "They already know more than producers who have been in the business for many years."

Together, Fields, Grais and Victor share responsibility for bringing Brian Gibson on to direct "Poltergeist II." As Fields explains, "We took meetings with several directors, all of whom could have done this film and done it well. I had met Brian a year earlier about the possibility of another project, and was quite impressed with his work to date. He came in very well prepared, having read the script; his ideas were very compatible, his concept was exciting, and he was very enthusiastic. And in fact, he has given 'Poltergeist II' exactly the added dimensions we were looking for."

According to Gibson, his involvement in the project itself, as well as many of the subsequent casting decisions in which he would find himself involved, were predicted in advance by an acquaintance who became the film's psychic advisor 末 Jill Cook. "As hard as it was for my scientifically trained mind to accept, these things did in fact happen."

"Perhaps the most important aspect of 'Poltergeist II' is that all the people who have contributed to it believe in the essence of the film 末 that there is a world beyond appearances. The mystery of life carries fear and foreboding, as well as the possibility of love and hope. In life, the challenge to all of us is the degree to which we allow our fear, and our love, to propel us. That's the choice in anyone's life, and that's the choice for the characters in our film."

For returning cast members Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O'Rourke, Oliver Robins, and Zelda Rubinstein, these choices offer splendid opportunities for the continued development of the characters they originated in "Poltergeist." As Nelson observes, "The common bond between us is love, and learning how to surrender. Love is going to hold us together, and it's basically unconditional. When the family begins to find this out, it becomes a driving force for them 末 a force that unifies them throughout their experiences."

"For me, as an actor, the most interesting part of the film is the family relationship 末 trying to keep together in the face of an unbelievable experience that we have no basis for dealing with," explains JoBeth Williams. "Of course the film contains all the wonderful special effects audiences have come to expect from this genre, but this 末 the psychological drama of the family 末 is the film's other level. You really care about these people." <>Julian Beck, Will Sampson and Geraldine Fitzgerald 末 the three principal cast members who are bringing original characters to the continuing story of the Freeling family 末 each makes significant contributions to the fearful and loving dimensions of "Poltergeist II." In his final motion picture role, Beck portrays the Reverend Henry Kane 末 "a classic performance of evil," according to Michael Grais. "This movie, if it's not remembered for anything else, will be remembered for Julian's performance. It's chilling 末 just truly chilling."

Shortly before his death, Beck was asked whether he had any difficulty portraying an evil character. "No, not at all," he observed. "I've played many evil characters in the theatre. Malevolent people exist, and in the movies and on stage, it's simply part of an actor or actress' vocation to represent them. As someone once said, 'There is no aspect of human nature that is alien to me'."

In portraying a native American shaman, Will Sampson brought a more tangible degree of personal experience to the role of Taylor in "Poltergeist II." A full-blooded member of the Muskogee tribe, Sampson is a shaman in real life, "Although" he cautions, "it's not for me to say. We don't say we are."

"I saw this film as an opportunity to try and show the culture of the American Indian to a large audience 末 to show the Indian as a race of people, a family," Sampson continues. "The filmmakers were gracious enough to allow me to contribute to the process, so that our culture would be portrayed as accurately as possible. It was for this opportunity that I accepted the role."

Within these personal dimensions, the filmmakers sought to capture the struggle of humanity against inhumanity, of love against fear, all with the lives of a family at stake. And it was to these dimensions that the filmmakers brought such talented professionals as visual effects supervisor Richard Edlund, conceptual artist H. R. Giger, director of photography Andrew Laszlo, production designer Ted Haworth, and visual effects art director John Bruno for the making of "Poltergeist II."

Preceded by months of intensive preparatory work, the production fully occupied two of the largest soundstages at MGM's famed Culver City studio lot. On Stage 30, Haworth and his crew constructed a full-scale house, duplicating in exacting detail the real-life house selected to represent Gramma Jess' home in the film 末 inside and out. Meanwhile, Stage 27 held the gigantic, serpentine cavern into which the Freelings, Taylor and Tangina must descend for their final confrontation with the forces of "the other side," as well as the desert set which contained the rustic sweat lodge where Taylor prepares Steve for his fight with the Great Beast.

Principal photography included ten weeks of work at the studio, and approximately three weeks on three separate locations: a housing development in Encino, California which represented the Cuesta Verde area; a private residence in Altadena, California which became the Phoenix home of Gramma Jess; and Spider Rock in Canyon De Chelly National Park in Arizona, which served as the setting of the mysterious "power spot" seen in the film's opening sequence.

Visual effects work on "Poltergeist II" was conducted at the Marina Del Rey, California headquarters of Richard Edlund's Boss Film Co., where more than one hundred technicians contributed what Edlund describes as "virtuoso work, pure and simple" to the project every day 末 guided by John Bruno's exacting storyboards, which diagrammed every complex detail of each effects sequence.

Inside the buildings of this sprawling facility, the Creature Shop team, led by Steve Johnson and Randy Cook, brought the Great Beast to life in all its stages from the conceptualizations of Academy Award-winning artist H.R. Giger. In the Model Shop, Mark Stetson and his team duplicated Grarnina Jess' home in miniature detail for various effects sequences, while in the Matte Department, Neil Krepela, Matt Yuricich and others created the unique renderings which enhance key sequences of the film.

The Special Projects team, headed by Garry Waller, showered Gramma Jess' home with rain and wrapped Taylor with spectres drawn from the smoke of a campfire, while optical supervisor Mark Vargo and his team gave the ghostly Reverend Kane a body that merely appears to be solid flesh and bone. And only with the help of visual effects director of photography Bill Neil was the Freelings' journey to the "other side" possible.

These few examples are by no means a comprehensive list of the many contributions, both tangible and intangible, which Boss Film Co. and its outstanding movie magicians can lay claim to. Further, it is important to recognize that few if any of the film's effects were achieved individually by any one of its departments. As Richard Edlund points out, "Everybody throws their hat into the ring in this process. It's like a think tank here, in the sense that we are presented with a question 末 the script. We have to answer that question to satisfy ourselves, the director, the producers, the studio, and ultimately, the audience."

"There are two basic ways to scare an audience," Edlund continues. "One is the startling effect 末 Jack Nicholson smashing an axe through a door in 'The Shining,' for example, has an immediate and frightening impact. The other type of fear is accomplished by creating a creepy feeling that puts the audience on edge at first. Through lighting, mood, and many other things, you create a mental soup to which you add ingredients slowly and carefully. You build up to a certain point and the drama that's been built by the director takes over and makes the effects work. The effects are the tail of the whip in the drama."

"You're going to see things you've never seen before in any film," predict Victor and Grais. "It's going to be great."


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