John David Landis (born August 3, 1950) is an American film director, screenwriter, actor, and producer. John is known for his comedy films, his horror films, and his music videos with Michael Jackson.
||This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (March 2010)|
John Landis at The Blues Brothers 25th Anniversary
|Born||John David Landis
August 3, 1950
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Residence||Beverly Hills, California |
|Influenced by||Steven Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock, J. Lee Thompson, Richard Fleischer, Arthur Hiller, George Lucas, David Cronenberg, Roger Corman, George Waggner, Ivan Reitman, Michael Ritchie, Jonathan Lynn, Jim Henson, Carl Gottlieb|
|Influenced||Kevin Smith, Jerry Zucker, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Joe Dante, Robert K. Weiss, Max Landis, Gurinder Chadha, Sam Raimi, Frank Oz, Amy Heckerling, Jonathan Demme, Harold Ramis, Seth Green|
|Net worth||$70 Million|
|Spouse(s)||Deborah Nadoolman Landis (1980-present)|
John David Landis (born August 3, 1950) is an American film director, screenwriter, actor, and producer. John is known for his comedy films, his horror films, and his music videos with Michael Jackson.
Some of his best known works were the Thriller music video for Michael Jackson, The Blues Brothers, and Beverly Hills Cop III. He was well known and active in the '80s and still occasionally directs today.
Landis was born to a Jewish family in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Shirley Levine (née Magaziner) and Marshall Landis, an interior designer and decorator. His family relocated to Los Angeles when he was four months old. Though having mostly lived in the Los Angeles area, Landis still fondly refers to Chicago as his hometown and is a fan of the Chicago White Sox. Landis wryly inserted a line referring to the White Sox while re-writing the original screenplay for The Blues Brothers. Though the line was later cut in production, Landis jokes about it in the Directors Cut version of the movie. In the scene, Dan Aykroyd's character Elwood admits to John Belushi's Jake that he falsely used 1060 W. Addison (home address of Chicago's Wrigley Field) as their home address. Sensing the significance of 1060 W. Addison, Jake frustratingly questions Elwood, to which Elwood responds, "Because everyone knows we're White Sox fans".
He began working as a mailboy at 20th Century Fox. His first noteworthy job in Hollywood was working as a "go-fer" and then as an assistant director during filming MGM's Kelly's Heroes in Yugoslavia in 1969; he replaced the film's original assistant director, who suffered from a nervous breakdown and was sent home by the producers. While filming, he met actors Don Rickles and Donald Sutherland, both of whom he would later cast in his own films. Following this, Landis worked on many films made in Europe (especially in Italy and England), most notably, Once Upon a Time in the West, El Condor and A Town Called Bastard (a.k.a. A Town Called Hell). Landis also worked as a stunt double.
|“||I worked on some pirates movies, all kind of movies. French foreign movies. I worked on a movie called Red Sun where Toshiro Mifune kills me, puts a sword through me. (...) I worked as a stunt guy. I worked as a dialogue coach. I worked as an actor. I worked as a production assistant.||”|
I had complete suspension of disbelief—really, I was eight years old and it transported me. I was on that beach running from that dragon, fighting that Cyclops. It just really dazzled me, and I bought it completely. And so, I actually sat through it twice and when I got home, I asked my mom, “Who does that? Who makes the movie?”
In 1971, Landis made his feature debut as a director in the US with Schlock. He was 21 years old. The film, which he also wrote and appeared in, is a tribute to monster movies. The gorilla suit for the film was made by Rick Baker—the beginning of a long-term collaboration between Landis and Baker. Schlock was a failure, and Landis was not offered another directing job for some time.
In his own words, he "parked a lot of cars" during this fallow period. In 1977, Landis directed Kentucky Fried Movie. The film was inspired by the satirical sketch comedy of shows like Monty Python, Free the Army, The National Lampoon Radio Hour and Saturday Night Live.
In 1978, Landis directed his first film for Universal Studios, National Lampoon's Animal House, which was both critically and financially successful. This created new opportunities for Landis under Universal's umbrella.
In 1979, Landis co-wrote and directed The Blues Brothers, a comedy starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. It features musical numbers by R&B and soul legends James Brown, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker. It was, at the time, one of the most expensive films ever made (cost: almost $30 million) (for comparison: the earlier Steven Spielberg's contemporary 1941 cost $35 million). It is speculated that Spielberg and Landis engaged in a rivalry, the goal of which was to make the more expensive movie. The rivalry might have been a friendly one, as Spielberg makes a cameo appearance in Blues Brothers (as the unnamed desk clerk near the very end) and Landis had made a cameo in 1941 as a messenger.
In 1981, Landis wrote and directed another cult-status movie, the comedy-horror An American Werewolf in London. American Werewolf was perhaps Landis' most personal project; he had been planning to make it since 1969, while in Yugoslavia.
Landis next directed the opening teaser and first segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie in 1983.
On July 23, 1982, during the filming of Twilight Zone, actor Vic Morrow and child extras Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen were killed in an accident involving an out-of-control helicopter. The National Transportation Safety Board reported in October 1984:
|“||The probable cause of the accident was the detonation of debris-laden high temperature special effects explosions too near a low flying helicopter leading to foreign object damage to one rotor blade and delamination due to heat to the other rotor blade, the separation of the helicopter's tail rotor assembly, and the uncontrolled descent of the helicopter. The proximity of the helicopter to the special effects explosions was due to the failure to establish direct communications and coordination between the pilot, who was in command of the helicopter operation, and the film director, who was in charge of the filming operation.||”|
Landis and several crew members were subsequently charged with involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. The prosecutors attempted to show that Landis was reckless and had violated laws relating to child actors by not telling parents and others of the children's proximity to explosives and helicopters and of limitations on their working hours. Numerous members of the film crew testified that the director was warned, but ignored these dangers. After an extended jury trial, Landis, represented by criminal defense attorney Harland Braun, and other crew members were acquitted of the charges.
Landis was later reprimanded for circumventing the State of California's child labor laws in hiring the two children killed in the accident. This tragedy resulted in stricter safety measures and enforcement of child labor laws, in the State of California. The parents of the children sued, and would later settle out of court with the studio for $2 million per family. Morrow's children, one of them being actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, who was 20 at the time, also settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
Despite these settlements, Landis has never publicly accepted responsibility for the accident. During an interview with Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan, Landis said:
|“||When you read about the accident, they say we were blowing up huts—which we weren't—and that debris hit the tail rotor of the helicopter—which it didn't. (...) The FBI Crime Lab, who was working for the prosecution, finally figured out that tail rotor delaminated, which is why the pilot lost control. The Special effects man who made the mistake, by setting off a fireball at the wrong time, was never charged.||”|
Trading Places, a Prince and the Pauper-style comedy starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy was filmed directly after the Twilight Zone accident. After filming ended, Landis and his family went to London: then he was approached by Michael Jackson to make a video for his song, "Thriller". "Thriller" forever changed MTV and the concept of music videos; it has won numerous awards, including the Video Vanguard Award for The Greatest Video in the History of the World. In 2009 (months before Jackson died), Landis sued the Jackson estate in a dispute over royalties for the video; he claims to be owed at least four years' worth of royalties.
Next, Landis directed Into the Night, starring Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer and David Bowie (a film was inspired by Hitchcock productions; Landis played in this film a mute member of the quartet of Iranian hitmen). To promote this movie, he collaborated with Jeff Okun to direct a documentary film called B.B. King "Into the Night". Landis directed music videos for three of King's songs as part of the film: "Lucille", "Into the Night" (specially composed by Ira Newborn for movie Into the Night) and "In the Midnight Hour."
His next film, Spies Like Us, (starring co-writer Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase) was an homage to the Road to... films, starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Hope made a cameo in the film as himself. The movie also pays homage to spy movies such as the James Bond series; the crew included special effects makers Ray Harryhausen and Derek Meddings, both of whom had worked on Bond movies. Landis also directed a video for Paul McCartney as part of the promotion for Spies Like Us, and co-wrote the comedy film Clue.
In 1986, Landis directed ¡Three Amigos! for HBO. The film starred Chevy Chase, Martin Short and Steve Martin. Landis was the second choice to direct; Steven Spielberg had refused. The film was a tribute to old Mexican style westerns and musical movies. Randy Newman wrote three original songs for the film, which was shot in Technicolor to make it look like older Westerns.
Landis next directed the Eddie Murphy film, Coming to America, which was a huge commercial success. It was also the subject of Buchwald v. Paramount, a civil suit filed by Art Buchwald in 1990 against the film's producers. Buchwald claimed that the concept for the film had been stolen from a 1982 script that Paramount optioned from Buchwald. Buchwald won the breach of contract action.
In 1991, Landis collaborated again with Michael Jackson on the music video for the song "Black or White". In the same year, he directed Sylvester Stallone in Oscar, based on a Claude Magnier stage play. Oscar recreates a 1930 era film, including the gestures along with bit acts and with some slapstick, as a homage to old Hollywood films. In 1992, he directed Innocent Blood, a horror-crime film.
In 1994, Landis directed Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop III. They had previously worked together on Trading Places and Coming to America. In 1996, he directed The Stupids. Landis returned to Universal to direct Blues Brothers 2000 in 1998, the same year he directed Susan's Plan. The four movies did not score with critics and audiences.
Burke and Hare was released in 2010, Landis's first theatrical release for over a decade.
Landis directed Kentucky Fried Movie, which is a tribute to television. Later, he co-directed Amazon Women on the Moon in the same vein. Landis has been active in television as the executive producer (and often director) of the series Dream On (1990), Weird Science (1994), Sliders (1995), Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show (1997), Campus Cops (1995), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1998), Masters of Horror, and various episodes of Psych. He also made commercials for DirecTV, Taco Bell, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Kellogg's, and Disney.
His first documentary, Coming Soon from 1982, was released only on VHS. Next, he co-directed B.B. King "Into the Night" (1985) and in 2002 directed Where Are They Now?: A Delta Alumni Update, which can be seen as a part of the Animal House DVD extras. Initially, his documentaries were only made to promote his feature films. However, later in his career, he became more serious about the oeuvre and made Slasher (2004), Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project (2007) and the upcoming Starz Inside: Ladies or Gentlemen (2009). All of these documentaries were filmed for television; Landis won a 2008 Emmy Award for Mr. Warmth. He worked currently on the Making of Thriller which will shot in 3-D. Landis stars in the Spanish documentary The Man Who Saw Frankenstein Cry, which centers the life and career of Paul Naschy.
Landis is married to Deborah Nadoolman Landis, an Oscar-nominated costume designer, two-term president of the Costume Designers Guild, and chair of The David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design at UCLA. They have two children: Max, writer of Chronicle, and Rachel, a school teacher with a Master's Degree in Human Development. In a BBC Radio interview, he stated that he is an atheist.
One of Landis' trademarks is to insert references to a fictional film called See You Next Wednesday in movies that he directs. The line is from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey; this is how Frank Poole's parents end their video to him. The line is also mentioned in the opening scene of Michael Jackson's Thriller, when the police decode a message from Jackson's were-cat character. The phrase is featured in the movie American Werewolf in London as a title of a movie listed on the movie marquee.
This is an advertisement for the tour at Universal Studios, from John Landis movies made for Universal. This is also referring (shown at the end of the credits) to the character Babs from the movie National Lampoon's Animal House. When in Hollywood... is showing at the end of the credits, and it consists of three blue cards, the first saying "Universal Studios—the Entertainment Center of the World," the second saying "When in Hollywood Visit Universal Studios," and the last adding "Ask for Babs". An alternate version lacks "Ask for Babs", leaving it as "When in Hollywood Visit Universal Studios". The new version of this advertisement, which appeared in Blues Brothers 2000 includes only one card: "Universal Studios—Hollywood and Florida. See the stars and ride the movies! (Ask for Babs)." An Alternate version doesn't use "Ask for Babs", but in its place is "Fun the whole family can enjoy!". Patrons who asked for Babs were once given a certain degree of reward; any promo was long since discontinued, save a simple smile or acknowledgment from a park staffer. In one DVD release of Animal House, there was a Where Are They Now?: A Delta Alumni Update mockumentary that featured, among others, Martha Smith (who played Babs) indeed working the rounds as a tour guide at Universal Studios in Hollywood.
List of films with When in Hollywood, Visit Universal Studios. Ask for Babs:
In non-Landis works:
Landis's films often feature a montage either before or during the end credits, which shows clips or outtakes from the movie, with the names of the featured actors at the bottom of the screen. This device was used in "Trading Places" and "Coming to America", but does not feature in "Animal House", Schlock, The Kentucky Fried Movie, An American Werewolf in London, Three Amigos or Beverly Hills Cop III. The montages for Spies like Us and Innocent Blood also contain jokes.
Landis casts famous film directors in cameo appearances in almost all of his movies (Spies Like Us has several in one memorable scene). He frequently invited director Frank Oz to play small parts in his movies, and others such as Roger Vadim, Paul Mazursky, Jim Henson, Jonathan Demme, and David Cronenberg in Into the Night; Terry Gilliam, Joel Coen, Michael Apted in Spies Like Us; Sam Raimi in Spies Like Us and Innocent Blood; George Lucas in Beverly Hills Cop III; Steven Spielberg in Blues Brothers; Dario Argento in Innocent Blood; and Costa-Gavras in The Stupids. In 2011, this trademark was paid homage to when Landis himself was cast to play the part of a director in episode two of the second series of British TV horror-comedy Psychoville. Although he didn't direct the movie, he made a cameo appearance as a doctor in the Sam Raimi movie Darkman, starring Liam Neeson (Landis is one of the doctors examining Neeson after he was burned in the building) and also in the Roger Corman production Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader as the Professor White.
Several of Landis' films break the fourth wall. In Animal House, Bluto turns to the camera and raises an eyebrow while peeking through the window of a sorority house. In Trading Places, Billy Ray Valentine shares a glance with the audience while being taken away in a police car and while being patronized by the Duke brothers' explanation of commodities markets. In An American Werewolf in London, David stares for a moment into the camera during his first transformation. In Coming to America, Prince Akeem raises his eyes to look at the camera after seeing his new bride make animal sounds at his request. Later in that same movie, Daryl looks up at the camera in surprise as Patrice starts to unzip him after he comes in from the rain. Another example is at the end of the Thriller music video, when Michael Jackson looks back at the camera with the infamous yellow eyes.
Many of his films feature references to the Oldsmobile. It appeared in Animal House (Mayor Carmine DePasto owns an Oldsmobile dealership and allows his vehicles to be used during the parade), Trading Places (Duke & Duke limousine), Thriller (Jackson's car), Twilight Zone: The Movie (during Prologue), Into the Night (Diana's brother's car), The Blues Brothers (while driving through the mall, Elwood said: "The new Oldsmobiles are in early this year"), The Three Amigos (during scenes in Santo Poco), and Oscar.
In many Landis movies, there are also car crashes: the final sequence in Animal House; in many scenes in The Blues Brothers and Blues Brothers 2000; during the final sequence near Piccadilly Circus in American Werewolf; during the opening sequence in Into the Night (while the crew's credits are showing); during the final sequence in Innocent Blood (when Macelli was run down by bus and taxi); and during one scene in The Stupids (cars crash because of Mrs. Stupid).
In many scenes, actors do something while we see movies/cartoons playing on television or hear sound from the TV set, which serves as commentary for actors' actions during scenes. In the television version of Trading Places, Clarence Beeks drugs a security guard and steals the crop report while Sunset Boulevard is showing; in Into the Night in Hamid's apartment, the movie Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is playing while Ed is looking for Diana and later, when Mr. Morris fighting with Mr. Williams. In Spies Like Us, Emmit Fitzhume (Chevy Chase) is watching the musical She's Working Her Way Through College (from 1952, starring Ronald Reagan), and later during the press conference, the clips from this movie are showing on TV. In Innocent Blood in several scenes, Phantom of the Rue Morgue (from 1954) is showing on the television during the morgue scenes (with Macielli).
Landis created several characters with similarities to King Kong in his films (including Schlock – the title hero; in Kentucky Fried Movie – animal showing during TV's show; in An American Werewolf in London in ZOO; in Trading Places in the train during New Year's Eve) or inserted images of gorillas in his films as part of production designs: in The Blues Brothers on promotional poster of fictional movie called See You Next Wednesday (the same situation in The Stupids) and on the poster in Three Amigos (shows as one of advertisement of Goldsmith Studios), in Innocent Blood we may see a monkey from the movie playing on television; in Blues Brothers 2000 it appears as a huge gorilla's figure in Queen Mousette's House.
||This section of a biography of a living person does not include any references or sources. (May 2012)|
Aykroyd wrote the original script for the movie The Blues Brothers, which at 324 pages was three times longer than a standard screenplay. Landis was given the task of editing the script into a usable screenplay, and the film was released in 1980 as a musical comedy. Aykroyd then starred (along with Murphy) in Trading Places. In the same year (1983), he appeared in Twilight Zone: The Movie. Two years later, he made a cameo in Into the Night and B.B. King "Into the Night" (as one of B.B. King's band members) and starred in (as well as co-wrote) Spies Like Us. This would be Aykroyd's last role in a Landis film until 1998.
Eddie Murphy first collaborated with Landis during Trading Places. Murphy frequently collaborated with Landis, and appeared also in Coming to America and Beverly Hills Cop III. Murphy made a cameo in Landis's two videos for B.B. King: In the Midnight Hour and My Lucille in which he played band's member as drummer.
When Landis and his family were living in London, he was approached by Michael Jackson to make a video for his song, "Thriller". "Thriller" forever changed MTV and the concept of music videos; it has won many awards. In 2009, Landis sued Jackson in a dispute over royalties for the video; he claims to be owed four years' worth of royalties, effectively ending their friendship. In 1991 Landis directed a second video for Jackson, "Black or White", in which Landis appeared as himself.
During an interview with Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan Landis said:
|“||The difference between Thriller and Black or White really is that Thriller was mine; Black or White was more Michael's. One of the problems with it is it's all over the place. My job was trying to make it semi – coherent. (...) Michael obviously felt pressure to keep topping himself. He always wanted it bigger, I always wanted it smaller.||”|
Landis has cast Oz in small roles in several of his movies. Oz played a corrections officer in The Blues Brothers and Blues Brothers 2000. He also had roles in An American Werewolf in London, Trading Places, Spies Like Us and Innocent Blood. Even if he's not appeared in a Landis movie, his name is often spoken in the background. During airport scenes in Into the Night and Coming to America, there are announcements on the PA system requesting a 'Mr. Frank Oznowicz' to pick up the white courtesy phone. Oznowicz is Oz's given name. During interview with Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan, Frank Oz said:
|“||Whenever he needs a prick, he asks for me. "I need a prick. Get me Frank Oz". He just wants some uptight prick and he immediately thinks of me.||”|
Throughout his career, Landis has utilized his wife, Deborah Nadoolman Landis, as a costume designer. She created such costumes as Bluto's toga in Animal House; black suits, hats and glasses for the Blues Brothers; Michael Jackson's red jacket in Thriller; sheepskin jackets for Spies Like Us; the protagonists' costumes in ¡Three Amigos!; and Prince Akeem's coronation outfit in Coming to America. Deborah Nadoolman was nominated for an Academy Award in 1988 for Coming to America.
Richard Baker is an Academy Award-winning special makeup effects artist known for his realistic creature effects. Baker worked with Landis for the first time during Schlock. Baker also created special makeup effects for Landis' An American Werewolf in London (for which he won the Academy Award), Twilight Zone: The Movie, Thriller, and Coming to America (which garnered him an Academy Award nomination). Baker also appeared in Into the Night as a drug dealer.
George Folsey is a producer and editor. He edited or co-edited six Landis' films, from Schlock (1973) to The Blues Brothers (1980), Thriller and Coming to America. Folsey produced eleven films directed or co-directed by Landis (Schlock, The Blues Brothers, all films from An American Werewolf in London to Coming to America). He was also second unit director collaborated with Landis during his Trading Places, Into the Night and ¡Three Amigos!.
Leslie Belzberg is a film and television producer. She produced ten films directed by Landis, from Into the Night to Susan's Plan) and four TV series in which Landis participated, including The Lost World and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show. Belzberg was George Folsey's assistant during filming Trading Places, and also was Blues Brothers 2000 executive music producer. She won – along with Landis – CableACE Awards for Dream on series and appeared in The Making of "Blues Brothers 2000" as herself.
Bernstein composed music for eight of Landis' movies: National Lampoon's Animal House ("Faber College Theme"), The Blues Brothers ("God's Music"), An American Werewolf in London (about 7-minutes of score), Trading Places (most of score is variations on Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro"), Thriller ("Scary Music"), Spies Like Us, ¡Three Amigos! and Oscar (score is adaption of "The Barber of Seville" by Rossini). Bernstein was nominated for Academy Award for Trading Places score in 1984.
Newborn composed music for three of Landis' movies: the smoky jazz score for Into the Night, for which he wrote music for B.B. King (included two songs especially wrote for the film soundtrack: My Lucille and Into the Night); 'wallpaper' music for "Mondo Condo" novel from Amazon Women on the Moon and urban jazzy big-band score for Innocent Blood. He supervised and conducted music for The Blues Brothers movie. Newborn's music was also used by Landis in a 1985 documentary film directed by Jeff Okun called B.B. King "Into the Night". This film contains three music videos directed by Landis to two songs written by Newborn and one arranged by the composer. Two songs co-written by Newborn were also added to "Into the Night" LP soundtrack edition, but neither of them were used in the film.
Landis worked with cinematographer Robert Paynter on five films: An American Werewolf in London, Trading Places, Thriller, Into the Night and Spies Like Us. Paynter helped to create a "pop" comic book-style of American Werewolf, Thriller and Into the Night. He also made a cameo in Into the Night (as Security Guard), Spies like Us (as Dr. Gill) and Burke and Hare (as Distinguished Doctor) - his last credit before his death.
Landis worked with a Swedish cinematographer Mac Ahlberg on three feature films in the early 1990s : Oscar, Innocent Blood and Beverly Hills Cop III. Ahlberg was also director of photography of two television episodes from Dream on series: The First Episode and The Second Greatest Story Ever Told - both directed by Landis. Ahlberg and Landis also collaborated on Michael Jackson's Black or White music video.
Directed by Landis:
Co-directed by Landis:
Written by Landis:
As an actor:
Co-directed by Landis:
Short films for Michael Jackson:
For B.B. King (from film B.B. King "Into the Night"):
For Paul McCartney: