The very first time I ever worked in the Screen Actor’s Guild, I worked for Wes Craven. I was a young, baby-faced actor in my 20’s. I’m fairly short (5’6″) and was pretty skinny (125lbs.). Tony Cecere was Wes Craven’s long-time stunt coordinator, and he was a good friend of my buddy Lee Waddell.
At the time, I had no real interest in stunts. Tony needed someone to double a teenager on a show called ‘Casebusters’ that he was working on for Disney’s Magical World television series. Lee told Tony that I had just got my union card and was a good match for the kid. Most of the stunt guys that were short were often ex-gymnasts which meant they were stocky and had thick arms and chests. That was NOT me. I had arms like a scrawny 13 year old, and that’s just what was needed.
I did the stunt which was basically just sitting in the passenger seat during a relatively mild chase scene.
Although Wes was well-known for “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “The Last House on the Left” most people didn’t know that he was also happy to work on mainstream projects and he did dozens of directing jobs on TV that had nothing to do with horror.
Since my work was a stunt, I was part of the 2nd Unit team which would film the stunts without the director being there. You had to be a very trustworthy stunt coordinator to get a 2nd Unit director job. Directors are notoriously worried that the action sequences shot by the 2nd Unit, would not match the rest of the show.
So…my first time working for Wes, I really didn’t see much of him other an him looking me over to see if I matched the actor well enough.
The 2nd time I worked for Wes, was for a movie called “The People under the Stairs”. That shoot was a BLAST. Getting to dress up like some sort of creature was always fun. My particular creature got to burst through the wall in the climactic end sequence where the creepy couple that have been holding a young girl captive get taken down by the people literally living in the walls and under the floorboards of the house.
A handful of years later, I was at a point where I was getting too old to do stunts. I was moving into web design which was becoming a very in-demand job. Wes asked Tony if he knew how to get a site made. Tony and I had become business partners on a site called STUNTNet, which allowed stunt coordinators the ability to look up stunt performers by putting in a description of the actor they were looking to double and it would pump out a list of people who matched that description. It sounds pretty simple now, but back then, it was pretty sophisticated. Tony gave me Wes’ phone number and I gave Wes a call. Tony told me NOT to tell Wes about us having worked together before because Wes had asked him if “this is some actor trying to get to meet me for an acting job?” I had worked for Wes before, but with all the makeup, he really couldn’t have recognized me.
This time I got to know and work with Wes. He invited me to his home in Hollywood. He was quite proud that his house was as close as any house could be to the iconic Hollywood sign.
At this point in Wes’ career, he was working on Scream, but he was concerned that he had been so pigeon-holed as a director that he would never get the chance to do anything but horror. He wasn’t ungrateful, but he felt the genre was just over-played. Horror movies had become formulaic to the point that it was just new ways to carve up kids with forgettable characters and no real plot development.
Well, Scream really broke the mold and created a franchise (as well as the Scary Movie films inspired by Scream). Still, when Wes asked me to design and build his site, he insisted that the design not be “walls dripping with blood”. Creepy was fine, but he wanted to be able to promote other projects he was working on. He gave me 100% creative freedom, which was AWESOME. I worked all-night sometimes coming up with new and interesting ideas to make the site better. Wes and I would talk about what he was working on and I’d take notes. I wrote the text for the site as if Wes was writing, based on our conversations and I wrote replies to fans for him. Not long after, the site was chosen by People Magazine as a “site to see”. That was a HUGE boost to my career and I have Wes to thank for that.
Over the next couple of years, he did find a way to direct other films and he was excited to talk about them on his site. I would say Wes was at his happiest when he was working on “Music of the Heart” with Meryl Streep. As a director, working with a star of her caliber showed the world that you could work with the very best. He was still working on Scream 3 (which he INSISTED would be the last) and wrote a novel called “The Fountain Society”.
Wes was an extraordinarily bright guy. Very focused. Very motivated. He knew the impact he had on the movie industry and was proud of what he’d accomplished, but he wanted to be remembered for more than just horror. He understood the ‘business’ side and was a practical man. He expressed some frustration about the way Hollywood forces you into a mold, but he also recognized how lucky he was to have the opportunity to make movies that people wanted to see.
I became so busy with a full-time web career that I really couldn’t devote time to Wes’ site after a while and he hired another web developer. He let the new developer have the same creative freedom he gave to me.
I owe Wes a big “thank you”. He gave me my start in 2 careers. He was also a very funny, very complex man that got the opportunity to pursue and succeed in the career he dreamt of. Luckily for us all, his work lives on and can be enjoyed forever.