Tom Leetch - Interview, Producer - Watcher In The Woods
Note: Spoilers ahead. Do not read unless you've seen the film.
When this interview was conducted it a while after the original release of the film, and after the actual release of the shorter/second version of the film.
Mr. Leetch spoke in a very different tone compared to how he spoke to me off the record. His reflections on the film are more negative and closer in touch to the Studio's opinion. It's sad really since he was the film's originator and Producer. He had succumbed to the Studio's view, no doubt to keep his job. Within a year he would leave the Walt Disney Studios and work for I.T.C. and then move on to work on the NBC series, Northern Exposure. It is while he worked on that series he learned he had illness that would soon take his life. I knew him as an out going personable figure. He was like where ever he worked. My work on the Anchor Bay DVD release of WATCHER was done in his name. He was with the Walt Disney Studios for many years, it's truly a shame how he was treated by them in the end.
SB- okay, from the beginning - what first attracted you to the novel to make it into a film?
TL- I guess the uniqueness of It. I was not prepared... usually when you read a book you think most people try and figure it out as the story unfolds. Your mind is racing ahead to try and see where the author is taking you and in this case the author totally bamboozled me. I had no idea that it was going take the turn that it had toward in the end. That was really the main attraction that something
could be so realistic for three fourths of the read and then take a 360 degree switch and stiII make sense to me. That was the initial attraction.
SB - Was there any intention to change the ending of the book for the film? Even though second ending is slightly closer.
TL - No. We knew that would be from a film production stand point, that it would be the most demanding - of turning it from a reading experience to a film experience. Because of the special effects and the obviously additional costs that go with that. So we were always a little leery of how we would treat the end. But never deliberately or intentionally how we would change that. We just started to develop it the normal way we would develop any book into a script, and things then evolved as they evolved.
SB- Was it ever considered to use the television sequence - when the Watcher uses it to show the characters a trip through space to its Planet?
TL - No. We thought that was rather hokey. We didn't think that particular approach was worthy of the rest of it. The trip itself to the "Other World" was the giant challenge. To depict that over a television screen did not appeal to us.
SB- What was the trip into the Other World going to be like?
Co-Producer Tom Leetch seen center, holding camera - setting up filming for "The Other World"
TL - WeII hard question to answer. We had sketch artists and our own ideas of what should be. We attempted to accomplished that and it just became to grandiose. To do it and to do it in a quality manner - to fit the rest of the picture, which I think, and still think we served it very well. It's a very professionally crafted introduced picture. Up to the point where it steps from realism and into the science fiction world.
And every way we would turn with the science fiction part of it was expensive. Mostly too expensive. Secondly, we had a difficulty coming to an agreement with the creative powers that were involved as to what was correct and wasn't correct, and what was the right way to go. An error on our part was to leave that untold; our back was against the wall. We had to make a choice at a certain point to finish the picture and get it released as advertised. In retrospect we should have spent more pre-production time on that portion of the show, and got it settled to our own liking before we stepped into production.
SB- The nice thing about the film, both versions, is like you said, you don't know where it's going to take you. It has a supernatural quality to It and then at times it hints at science fiction, and going back and forth until the end were it's left up to the viewer to decide.
TL- Yes. The book kinda did a little of that too and we tried to retain that but as I said, it's easy to look back on it after you've done it and made a mistake and say I wish I would have done this. And I've experience it myself and observed other people make the same basic mistake in jumping into a project too quickly and not having it pre-thought out, and fundamentally agreed to it on paper; and or storyboards, or whatever tool you use. That just has to be done long before you start hiring actors and cameramen and getting into the craziness of actually producing a picture.
Co-Producer, Tom Leetch, second from left in white shirt setting up a shot for the "Other World" sequence.
SB- Was it ever decided the Watcher to be a "little girl", as in the book instead of the creature in the original ending, and glowing pillar in the second version?
TL- Oh gosh, it's so long ago now I'm sure we entertained that avenue. Yes. We entertained so many different ways, Scott, that I honestly would be hard pressed to try and remember aII the ways we went. It was a mind boggling opportunity, and you'd think that as creative film makers we would welcome an operation like that because usually you're restricted. Here there was no restriction as to what we could think up or conjure up. And perhaps that was part of the problem too. We didn't have to put blinkers on. In any way. you could just think from any direction you wanted to. And we had a plethora of ideas, so many that it confused us perhaps, and then you couldn't make a choice. It's like a kid in a candy store. I mean there were just 92 thousand ways to do it and you'd like a little bit of this and a little bit of that and you put it all together and it became more a hodgepodge, and undefined rather than more focused and appropriate to the story.
SB- The Watcher takes on a completely different appearance when comparing the original ending to the second.
TL- I think we over re-acted to the criticism from the first one we just were in a bit of state of confusion as to exactly which way was the correct way to end it. We more or less went 360 again to get away from the creature because that garnered most of the criticism. The approach to, and the looks of the creature, and there was confusion as to what exactly the ending was and what exactly had happened. It became extremely difficult to describe an Other World exchange. I could do it always in production meetings and with the help of a storyboard, but to film that and to keep it brief. Another discussion - that you shouldn't try and rap up such a complex kind of story and leave yourself so little time to do it. We didn't leave the audience enough time to absorb the complexities of what actually happened. This is a backhanded complement to it though - because everything else had been working so well up to that point. We're right back Lo the first question you asked me- "What attracted me?" I wasn't ready for that kind of a switch, and I think the motion picture audience wasn't ready either. But when we gave it to them we didn't leave ourselves enough time to give them a long enough, lucid enough explanation of what had happened. Does that make any sense?
SB - It typifies the film. It can been seen on so many levels which ls why it's so fascinating. Yet there are so many red herrings left which were tied into the original ending.
TL - That's another unavoidable problem at the point where you change something like we attempted to do, there are some hangovers. And you didn't intend to do a scene in blue and green originally it was original intended to be in red and yellow so regardless how you change that you're gonna have some holdovers. We were faced with that all the time. There was just so much we could do with version number two because we had 3/4 or even 7/8 of the picture was already shot so you had to follow certain things that were already laid down and on film-
SB- Now in the original version when Lynn-Holly disappears with he Watcher into the other dimension was anything filmed in that other dimension? And was it cut out because it was felt that it still didn't explain enough of what was going on?
TL- Yes. it was. As I recall it did not work for enough people. We did some basic elements certainly. Did an awful lot of testing. And we did some basic elements we never married the elements because it did not get a group approval from anybody. We just felt we had gone too far. We were doing another movie all of a sudden, and we only had about 3 more minutes to finish it. Here we were doing a Steven Spielberg number on another planet, and that was the basic problem of the show. What was good with the book, and the script, and the idea, turned out to be what was wrong with it. I keep repeating myself here - but the uniqueness of leading you down one path for so many pages or so many minutes then jerking you in another direction you never would have thought of for 60 or 70 minutes then trying to tie it all up, and then also coming back to real life. You have to end the picture and come back with the last scene and it's just an extremely difficult thing to do. To take the audience out of the realm of real and into science fiction and back again - and do it convincingly. We thought we had given the audience enough to fill in the cracks. To give them enough information, enough of what had supposedly happened and leave the rest to their imaginations.
SB- Which is why it was decided in the second version that she (Lynn-Holly) was knocked out of the beam instead of going through in to the other realm as in the first?
TL - Yes, of course. One version as I recall we went with her to that other world, and every time we would discuss that, and every time we'd sit down and try to draw it out we went into such gigantic open areas we just could not come into an agreement how grandiose it should be. That is another budget all together. And by that time to the economic of making of films we had to enter in to it too. You can only pour so many dollars into a project. And the management was very, very fair, in my estimation. ln allowing us to attempt it a second time. I guess it's been done many times before that something didn't quite work and you go and re- do it, but perhaps not quite to the extent that we did it. We went to some pretty lengthy and extensive steps to try to better the picture.
SB- Is a different version available in Europe?
TL - To my knowledge it may be subtly changed for whatever reason. There are sometimes phrases or gestures and certain things that don't work and they make their changes accordingly. But nothing major.
SB - In the original the Watcher comes across more supernatural, and in the second version it comes across more alien?
TL - We dealt with it on a much more basic level. An accidental exchange to another world. A science fiction angle. There was nothing bad about it - that was intentional. It had not been a bad experience for the young girl. It had been a suspended animation, if you wilI. That term we kept using over and over and over and trying to figure a way to show it pictorially; and to get it across to the audience as to what had happened. That it hadn't been a bad experience and that everybody's life would go on and
be happy. It was intended to be a very happy uplifting ending.
SB - It's not that lt's confusing it just that it's a...
TL - ... different perception.
SB - Yes.
TL - And that isn't always bad either. We knew that would happen. I've been on other shows where you do that by design you don't care if 100 per cent of the audience knows that is the exactly the way you intended it. It's something more provocative to have them walk up the isle exchanging among themselves "well I think he did it" and someone else saying "No, I think the butler did it". That's good as long as its been an entertaining satisfying experience.
SB - It seems only the press took it the wrong way.
TL - That's part of it too. - and this may be me looking for an out but I do feel that a small amount was the timing of things. Which of course life as well as film making is so dependent on. On that element, I think they were looking to this corporation at that time for ways to s1am. I can remember some of the reviews, commenting on what what Disney would have done had he been around etc., etc... I think the press was more anxious in those days at that time and look to the negative, and to the wrong side, and was not giving us any benefit of the doubt at the time.
SB - Especially since that was during the pioneer day of PG rating system for Disney.
TL - True, true. That's right.
SB - Even the warning on the poster recommending that parents pre-screen the film because it's not meant for small children. If this film was Touchstone no one would have complained.
TL - You're right.
SB- It would work for you.
SB- Maybe there's more of an audience for this film now?
TL- I hadn't thought of that. But perhaps it is. The thinking and reactions change. And it certainly has been a shift since the time we released Watcher, and what you see today.
It might be better received.
SB - So maybe that's where it's chance lies then.
TL- l feel, that would not be for me to say under this new setup with the studio. I'm almost positive that will not happen. If it were to happen it would thought of already. The gentlemen and ladies that run the place the place now have certainly examined everything that has been done here and I don't think that they have any thoughts of re-earthing any of our old pictures that didn't do to well, to re-release them to make more money. They have more contemporary ideas and are developing things, and very
well I might add, evidence by the first efforts like, Down and Out In Beverly Hills. If that's any indication how the rest of it is gonna go they're pretty good filmmakers and deciders.
SB - Maybe it'll find it's area elsewhere.
SB- It seems to have a cult following now among the video circuit.
TL- That's encouraging. I guess things like that could get a little ball rolling perhaps something else could be done. But to my knowledge, there are no thoughts in that direction.
SB- WeII, time will teII.
TL- It always does.