The following is not the whole story, things never run that smoothly in Hollywood, but here are the highlights.
During the early 80's, as West Coast editors of Fantastic Films magazine living in Los Angeles, Jim Ferguson and I were in the perfect location to cover all manner of genre film. The magazine was a one-man operation, published out of Chicago, which kept our editor and chief happily out of our hair. A happy coincidence was Blake Publishing published the magazine, and no matter how I tried, the studios were never really convinced that I didn't print it.
Over the years we made numerous, lasting friendships with studio executives and since we were considered specialists in the field, when the studios had a genre picture they had problems with, they would call us. Sometimes it was just to put them in touch with other folks, sometimes it was to take trailers, slide shows, handouts, etc. and do presentations at the conventions.
It was late summer 1983 and once again we were working against deadline for the big Christmas issue. Fighting the studios for visuals, nagging our publisher for payment for the last issue, selling advertising, dodging calls from agents wanting us to interview the latest genre bimbo. So it was with some surprise when we got a call from 20th Century Fox. We knew they had nothing on tap until next summer so it was with a sinking feeling in my stomach that the conversation started out with a discussion of a quirky little science fiction film that they knew would be perfect for us. After listening patiently to all my lame excuses, the words I dreaded came across the wires. "You owe me, Blake." Why? This is an another saga way too painful to go into here. After I went looking for Jim to tell him I had dumped us into the pot again and managed to outrun him did I realize I had agreed to the job and didn't even know the name of the film.
That first meeting took place on the Fox lot in a small, windowless room on the third floor of a newly converted office building. We were advised the film's director, someone by the name of W.D. Richter, would be joining the meeting to explain the film to us.
Sidebar: Two famous Hollywood chestnuts - If a film takes more than three sentences to explain you're in turnaround. Two. Any director with initials for a first name is trouble.
A month later, I would realize Buckaroo Banzai couldn't be explained in a college thesis and you can forget the initials one.
W.D. Richter is a slender, intelligent looking man who looks like he'd be more at home teaching at UCLA then in a director's chair dealing with studio accountants and union grips (both of which he handled just fine). His charm is of the lethal, fast acting kind, and totally painless. Within a half-hour, we were completely sold on his film - even if it did have a silly name. Protective of him, he seemed too honest to cope with the folks in this business...well, you get the idea.
The next several weeks were spent in contract negotiations with Fox, multiple meetings with Sherwood Productions and everyone involved with Buckaroo Banzai. We selected slides, wrote the show, arranged for crew jackets as a special giveaways at each con, designed a special prize for the winner of the costume competition, worked on securing the 16mm and video clips to show to the fans, all 101 of those little things necessary to mount a show of this type.
One day, while going over film clips for the trailer we would use, I came upon something which made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It was always part of the arrangement with any studio we had worked with to select the promotional items to be given away. Everyone had suggested the usual - buttons, hats, fly swatters. Jim and I didn't feel any of those would work with this film but with time running out and our first convention rushing up on us...
In one small clip, Buckaroo is seated in the cockpit of the jetcar. He is about to put on his helmet but before he does, he puts on a simple red and yellow headband. The interior of the jetcar is dark, he's wearing all black, but here is this bright yellow and red headband. I started muttering, "that's it. That's it." One look at Jim nodding "yes" and we knew we'd found our giveaway.
It took a few days for everyone involved to see the clip in question and, of course, Fox wanted to drag in one of their corporate p.r. people but by the end of the week, a large meeting was scheduled to look over our work. It was held at the Sherwood Productions offices in a large glass and steel room with matching furniture. There were about two dozen people there from Fox, Sherwood, Buckaroo Banzai, and us. Names are omitted to protect the guilty. We were feeling pretty good going into this meeting. Things seemed to be falling right into place.
Once the coffee and donuts were dealt with and other silly little things had been gone over, the meeting started in ernest. Simple me. I had been under the impression the discovery of the headband as a giveaway, the issue had been settled. Wrong!
There was a prolonged discussion on the merits of cloisonné pins as opposed to simple picture buttons with show and tell examples of each. And before we know it, the guy from Fox p.r. began his presentation. Suddenly, our simple red and yellow headband had been turned into a red, white, and blue spectacular with the name of the film and pictures of the stars on one side and a huge American flag on the other. The dust storm this sent up when on for an hour.
Red in the face and talking about 60 miles an hour, I began shouting the others down. How stupid this all was. How fans wanted things they had seen in the movie. That the original was like the favor worn into battle by a knight-errant and it would ring true with the fans, etc. etc. When I finally ran out of air, I realized the room was dead silent and there were two dozen pairs of eyes staring at me. As I slid down into my seat and began fiddling with my notepad when from the far end of the table, a voice said quietly.
"She's right. That's the one I'd want."
I glanced down to the end of the table to see who had crossed to my side of the river. While the only name I ever knew him by was 'Bones". I'd heard he was the man who wrote the music for Buckaroo, Michael Boddicker. In that instant I fell in love with him - still do to this day.
ON THE ROAD
Florida was to be our test subject.
The weather was typical Florida - beautiful, the con promoters - extremely friendly, and the crowds - huge. Not having the entire show ready at this point, we went just to see if we could get peoples attention. The 30-second, tell nothing trailer began running in the film room the moment I got there and I went off to the various panels the con folks had put me on. Retiring to my room late Friday night, I found a message waiting for me. A representative from Fox would be joining me to observe. Surprise!
Well, if she was going to observe, might as well put her to work. I had designed a special award for the costume competition, a framed collection of Buckaroo Banzai items to be awarded for - The Best Representation of Heroism. Guess who would be up on stage giving that award?
More importantly, even a little as it was, the trailer was working. Despite the fact this was a Doctor Who convention, with the entire British cast, folks were beginning to question me about the film, even the Dr. Who brits.
After three days at the Con, I was feeling very good about the film's potential; however, I had no idea what my little shadow would say to the boys' back home.
I could have saved my concerns. Fox received a glowing report. Other than insisting on a report and pictures from each con attended, the project was a go. We signed on for six months. Fox produced the red and gold headbands, production crew jackets stickers, lapel pins, and assorted other memorabilia, and we were off.
NEW JERSEY AND SNOW -
In L.A. you forget winter comes with the stuff. Newark came as a swift kick in the memory gland and a slam to the consciousness as it dawned on me - Buckaroo wouldn't have the summer to itself.
Normally, I arrange a good position to go on Sunday with our show - it gives me two days to work the crowd. By Saturday, we'd been bumped twice and were scheduled for 2:00 that afternoon. Jim and I both took a bag of headbands and frantically began working the crowd. I have never seen so many babies with headbands.
Arriving just before 2:00, I looked around the room we'd been given. At least it was large. The Paramount rep was on and the crowd was good sized so I was hopeful we'd be able to hang onto them. The show ran over and the crowd goes up to leave, my stomach dropping to the floor. Dashing to the stage, I began to vamp and the tide slowed. By 2:30, the room was filled to overflowing. An hour later, what a success. As Jim pointed out later, our competition, even Spielberg's people, had been watching from the back of the room. And while I wasn't quite sure how I felt about that, a success was a success.
We had three weeks to go before our next show. A large media con in New York City.
THE BIG APPLE AND A LITTLE LIZARD -
NYC is the same regardless of the season. Big, loud, and over priced. The con was held in a large, old 5th avenue hotel with rooms the size of pay toilets and almost as comfortable. This would be the first time we'd had all the pieces together and we'd managed to snag a good Sunday afternoon spot. We hit the ground running, actually running, as it seems native New Yorkers are naturally suspicious of anything free, which made giving away the headbands an interesting affair. But by late Saturday night, especially after the costume comp, the hotel was a sea of red and gold and people were looking for our headbands.
Sunday, we went looking for the assigned room. Paramount was on again but I was to pooped to care. The meeting room was the largest in the hotel, with a balcony at the back. For some reason, it looked very familiar. It took me a couple of minutes but film buffs would recognize it immediately.
A quiz: Stocks, greed and a Gecko.
Pumped by that memory and the shouts of the packed house, I took the stage. Buckaroo Banzai had met New Yorkers and had become fast friends.
BAKED BEANS AND BUCKAROO -
Boston was ready for us. The con folks went out of their way and the fans were eager. The headbands flew out of our bags, becoming objects used for barter in the dealers' room and hallways. The Sunday show was SRO, with a large, boisterous crowd and the competition again standing in the back of the room. But even as we boarded the plane to return home, disturbing rumors reached us.
Buckaroo had problems at home.
Sources around L.A. said someone VERY HIGH UP in Fox didn't like the movie, didn't understand the movie, and it wouldn't be opening in June with heavy advertising as promised. Other voices had even stronger suggestions, but the vote was in.
KILL THE FILM.
Never known for shyness, I began calling the brass, looking for answers. Everyone I spoke to denied the rumor. Nothing could be further from the truth. Full steam ahead. Not terribly reassured by these words, I decided to make them eat them. Fans bought movie tickets, not studio execs.
The race was on.
Baltimore, where a jazz band in a club across town performed in Buckaroo Banzai headbands. Chicago, where the stars came out. College Station Texas, with the greatest theater I've ever worked with very up fans. Hot Houston, where I had to stop the show twice to stop fans from photographing the slides off the screen. Tulsa - born again Christians with bibles and headbands.
Portland, where the crowd was so noisy, Harlan Ellison came over to complain, not that it stopped us for a moment. Los Angeles, where Richter and the crew jazzed up the fans and George Lucas was rumored to be in the crowd. Florida again where Stephen King requested a private showing of the trailers in his room.
Spring came and went, summer had a good head start, and Buckaroo still had not opened. The Olympics were due in L.A. so we pumped a few more cons into the schedule. Atlanta was to be the last one we did. A World Fantasy Con. Our room loaded up twice and the show went over great. But the one question we couldn't answer was - when it would open?
A six-month contract had stretched out to well over a year. We had done what we could. Now, it was up to the fans. We turned in our last expense report to Fox and stopped answering their calls. Later, we learned that a Fox employee had taken a version of our show to World Con over Labor Day, but by that time we didn't care. The movie had been released right in the middle of the Olympics with no advertising and had promptly died. No matter how much the fans tried, they were not enough to sustain the film.
Over the years, Buckaroo keeps popping up in our lives. It's nice to hear so many nice things about our efforts on behalf of the film. It was the last film we ever worked for the studios and we left the magazine shortly thereafter. A few years later we left L.A. as well, but reminders like this website always bring smiles to our lips.
Thanks for remembering.
P.S. The answer to the quiz. "Wall Street". The room where Michael Douglas gives his "greed is good" speech.
Copyright 1999 - James D. Ferguson
If you would like to contact Jim Ferguson or Blake Mitchell, send an e-mail to (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Do you have memories you want to share about going to one of the shows that Blake and Jim were doing? Drop me a line at email@example.com and I'll add your memories to this page.
Banzai Samurai headbands
From: Jaredmcf (Date: Fri, 9 Feb 96)
"The Buckaroo Banzai headbands WITHOUT trademarks were handed out at a promo at WesterCon just before BB was released. They showed the long trailer, several brief teasers, and snippets of behind-the-scenes footage. They also got the crowd of around 200 chanting, "Where are we going?" "Planet Ten!" etc., etc. The reason this was so memorable was that Harlan Ellison was in the next ballroom over, trying to do a reading. Needless to say the BB crowd was SO loud, he came over to shush us. Despite Harlan's rather godlike demeanor, we would not be shushed, and he went away. I never heard whether he was able to finish the reading, and the BB group continued to be loud and rowdy for the remainder of the presentation. I have two of the original headbands; later versions DO have trademarks, or so I've been told.
Besides the trademark referenced by Jaredmcf on 2-9-96, another way to tell the original headbands from the later mass-produced versions is the fabric itself. The originals were 100% cotton and soft. The later ones were part polyester and have a slick sheen to them. The actual prop is owned by a fan in northern California. It is hand-painted on a stiff canvas fabric. And FYI, the Japanese inscription translates as "beauty in daily life."
According to Bruce Tomlin :
"I wasn't there myself, but at AggieCon (a long-running Texas A&M SF convention), I think it was AggieCon 17, they also gave out the original headband. A friend of mine was there, and he gave me one which I still have.
He told me they gave out SO damn many of these that people were wearing headbands anywhere they could tie them on. Arms, legs, whatever."
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