25 Years of Zen: An Interview with W. D. Richter (June, 2010)

This interview originally appeared in the June, 2010 edition of the World Watch One newsletter. You can find more information about the newsletter under the question Was there an official Buckaroo Banzai newsletter?

25 Years of Zen: An Interview with W. D. Richter
By Dan “Big Shoulders” Berger

In a letter to Michelangelo Besso dated 21 March, 1955, Einstein once said of time, "The distinction between past, present, and future is an illusion, however persistent." And yet it is humanity‘s relationship with the enduring semblance of past, present and future that defines us most. We ain‘t around forever, so we do our best to figure things out while we can.

Some things remain mysterious no matter how much time passes, like producer David Begelman‘s transition from the man who green-lighted The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai to archetypical Banzai detractor and obstructionist.

Then there‘s the upside to our preoccupation with chronographic bogies: Every once in a while something comes along worth celebrating. In this respect, the 25th anniversary of Buckaroo Banzai qualifies as singularly party-worthy. And who better to celebrate Team Banzai‘s 25 years of Zen with than W.D. "Rick" Richter, the film‘s director and widely respected Hollywood screenwriter? We caught up with Rick by e-mail in August, 2009 to see what he had to say on the matter.

Dan Berger: Looking back--well, how do you feel about looking back on the last 25 years, Buckaroo Banzai or no?

W.D. Richter: I don‘t know how I had the energy to live them. I must have been considerably younger.

Dan Berger: Do you see anniversaries like this as a welcome opportunity to reminisce or an unwelcome house guest distracting you from the future… or something else entirely?

W.D. Richter: Neither. I'm not a reminisicist, nor am I distractible, because if something succeeds in getting my attention, it‘s probably something I‘d prefer to do to what I was doing at the time it distracted me.

Dan Berger: What is the one question you are asked about Buckaroo Banzai that you never need to hear again?

W.D. Richter: Why did you make that ridiculous movie? I didn‘t get it at all.

Dan Berger: Unreal. What is the one question you are never asked about Buckaroo Banzai that you wish someone would?

W.D. Richter: Did you actually have any idea what the movie was really going to be like?

Dan Berger: Did you?

W.D. Richter: No.

Dan Berger: If you were to take an inventory of the items in the Banzai archives, what would be some of the highlights on that list? A particular story treatment or drawing on a napkin or a photograph?

W.D. Richter: Without a doubt, the earliest drafts of Mac Rauch‘s partial Buckaroo Bandy scripts. They explain everything, even the watermelon.

Dan Berger: It is tempting to ask questions like, "If you had it all to do again..." or, "What would you change if you were making the film today..." when an anniversary comes up. What do you think of these sorts of questions?

W.D. Richter: I think I wish Jordan Cronenweth hadn‘t been fired by David Begelman for making the first stuff we shot look too much like Blade Runner, and I wish we‘d had a few extra weeks to shoot so that the truly gifted cast and crew might have been able to savor Mac‘s script more. Oh, the lost possibilities. What would I change? That goddamn lollipop Peter Weller insisted he suck during the crucial Orson-Welles staircase scene. I‘d change it to a fish-hook-on-a-stick. Dan Berger: Do you naturally find yourself asking these questions as well or not so much?

W.D. Richter: You mean "Do I talk to myself?" Or "Do I ask strangers I meet?"

Dan Berger: Yes.

W.D. Richter: Neither.

Dan Berger: If you have been mulling those sorts of questions, what are some of your answers? How do they differ from they way you would have answered them 25 years ago?

W.D. Richter: Are these all trick questions?

Dan Berger: Believe me, it was worse. Be glad, "Is Buckaroo Banzai in any way a love letter to Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche‘s Thus Spoke Zarathustra?" got axed.

W.D. Richter: Jesus, who knows? Civilization hadn‘t even hinted that it was imploding back then. I was having a good time, more or less. I think.

Dan Berger: You are trapped in a room with a loaf of bread, a penguin, the ghost of Cesar Romero, and an old beat up copy of Tiger Beat magazine. How long does it take you to totally disregard the scenario and move onto something else?

W.D. Richter: This is precisely one of those questions that‘s going to stall health-care reform in Congress and derail the peace process in Iraq.

Dan Berger: Of the several Banzai projects that ran the gauntlet and didn‘t make it over the last 25 years, which one were you most disappointed to see go by the wayside?

W.D. Richter: The TV pilot. Mac wrote a sensational script about Dr. Lizardo and potato guns. It was too frightening for Fox, more terrifying than homosexuality in their eyes.

Dan Berger: Which one gave you the most joy putting together?

W.D. Richter: Again, the pilot script. So many wonderful BB fans, mostly on Star Trek, designed better graphics for free than we had in the movie, and Mac‘s script was beyond the fringe. It was published in truncated form as a Moonstone Comic caleld Return Of The Screw. But if we‘d actually filmed it? David Begelman would have lost his fudge in his grave. That said, I miss David. He was sincerely mean to me. He meant ill.

Dan Berger: Are there any current goings on regarding Buckaroo?

W.D. Richter: There‘s chatter about a hybrid Jet Car and an animated TV series, and more comics are in the works. I‘m the wrong guy to ask, though. Perfect Tommy is producing for the Institute now that Mrs. Johnson is on maternity leave.

Dan Berger: Any final thoughts on the anniversary?

W.D. Richter: I think all BB fans should each send Mac Rauch a bottle of champagne. He picks up his mail at Moonstone Comics. No cheap shit, either.

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