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DVD Producer J.M. Kenny talks
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate
DVD producer J.M. Kenny has been
involved in many of your favorite discs, from Universal's The
Blues Brothers and Fast Times at Ridgemont
High, to Warner's The Perfect Storm.
He recently joined New Wave Entertainment's DVD production department, and is
currently working on many more great titles. Earlier this year, J.M. finished
the upcoming 30th anniversary edition of Willy Wonka
and the Chocolate Factory, which will include an original, 30-minute
documentary (featuring new interviews with Gene Wilder and more), as well as an
audio commentary track featuring all of the actors who played the children in
the film. I recently caught up with J.M. to talk about the project, so here's a
transcript of our conversation. Enjoy!
Bill Hunt (The Digital Bits): Tell me how
you got involved in the new Wonka DVD in
the first place. How did the idea come up to revisit the title? Was it an
J.M. Kenny (New Wave Entertainment):
Well... I'm a big fan of the movie. It's one of my favorites. I watch it every
time they replay it on TV, and I had a copy of the 25th anniversary DVD. And as
somebody who likes to see a lot of special edition materials on DVD, it occurred
to me that they really didn't have anything with the kids, or Gene, or the
director on the disc. They had bio information, but that was about it. And I
thought that, maybe if people were all still alive - obviously I knew Gene was.
But I thought that now would be a good time to try to get something down on
So I called Paul Hemstreet at Warner Bros. and said, "You know, the 30th
anniversary of Wonka is coming up. Have
you guys thought about doing something for this DVD?" And he said that it
was on their slate, but they didn't have any plans made yet. So I figured, why
don't we go after the kids and do a retrospective documentary on them? What
ended up happening was that Warner was okay with the idea, as long as I could
also get either Gene Wilder or Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie.
Bill Hunt: They wanted to have one of the
main leads involved, which makes sense.
J.M. Kenny: Right. And I sat down with a
guy by the name of Chris Raimo, who was my associate producer on a lot of titles
through Two Dog Productions... before I came here to New Wave. He started
researching things, using the web - which is a great vehicle for doing that kind
of searching - and we came across a guy by the name of Gene Crowell. Gene was
responsible for putting the kids together at a convention called Chiller, in New
Jersey. Chiller is like a horror genre show, but it has other things... they
might have the guy who played Don West on the old Lost
in Space or something...
Bill Hunt: Sort of like the way Comic-Con
blends into movies and other areas.
J.M. Kenny: Yeah, exactly. And it turned
out that Gene is a collector of Wonka
things. And somehow, he was able to get a hold of the kids, and he put them
together to do this appearance at another convention. He struck up this
relationship with them and they did a few of these shows - one down in Florida
and others. So I called him. And once I was able to convince him that I was
legit, and that I was working on behalf of Warner Bros. for this new DVD - which
took a few phone calls - he said, "What would you like to do?" And I
told him that I'd like to get a hold of all the kids, so we started arranging
Meanwhile, we found out on the Internet Movie Database that screenwriter David
Seltzer was involved in the film. So I contacted him. I knew David previously,
because he wrote The Omen and he was
heavily involved in the documentary I did on the DVD - 666:
The Omen Revealed. And I said, "I'm doing this new DVD for Wonka
- what do you know about it? What can you tell me?" He started telling me
these great stories. And I asked him, "Do you think Gene Wilder would
participate?" He said, "Well... he might. I'll give him a call."
So he called Gene and talked with him.
Bill Hunt: This would be for the new
J.M. Kenny: Yeah. So at the same time we
were lining up interviews in L.A., which were with Mel Stuart, David L. Wolper
and David Seltzer, we were putting together a day when the kids could get
together again in New York. They're Julie Dawn Cole, Paris Themmen, Peter
Ostrum, Denise Nickerson and Michael Bollner, who played Veruca, Mike TV,
Charlie, Violet and Augustus. They were all coming together in New York for
Chiller. So we figured we'd fly there to do their interviews.
Bill Hunt: And so getting Gene Wilder was
the only variable?
J.M. Kenny: Right... which depended on
David's relationship with him. And I had spoken to all the kids by this time,
because the date they were meeting for Chiller had been set in stone for months.
And when I was speaking with Julie Dawn Cole, she said to me, "Are you
aware that none of us have ever seen the film together, at the same time? We've
never been in the same room before to watch it." And then it was obvious
what we had to do - I asked if they wanted to do an audio commentary track
together. When I explained what that was, she said that would be great. And I
wanted to start the commentary with her saying that - "This is Julie Dawn
Cole, and this is the first time we've all seen this film together..." and
then let them all introduce themselves. So when you hear the commentary, that's
how it all plays out.
Bill Hunt: That's great.
J.M. Kenny: What we ended up doing was, a
few days before we travelled, I did David Seltzer's interview, and then we did
Mel Stuart and David Wolper's the next day. And by this time, David Seltzer had
given me Gene Wilder's phone number. So I got to Mel Stuart's office early, and
while I was waiting, I thought I might as well call him. And Gene lives on the
East Coast, so even though it was early, I knew he was 3 hours ahead. So I
called, and he answered the phone himself. Which was a trip...
Bill Hunt: I can imagine... especially
since you're such a big fan of the film.
J.M. Kenny: I explained who I was, and
he'd been expecting me to call after talking with David. He wanted to know what
my intentions were for the DVD, and I explained what it was going to be like. I
got the impression that he doesn't really do many interviews. But David had told
me that I just needed to talk to Gene with the passion I have for the project -
really communicate that to him. And so we were talking, and I said something
like, "Well... I'll be honest with you. This is gonna be a really good
documentary, and it's gonna be a really good DVD. But it would be a great DVD if
you participated." And then he just said, "Okay... when are you coming
to New York?" I told him that I was coming in a couple of days to record
the interviews with the kids. He said, "Come to my house the next day, and
we'll do it."
Bill Hunt: You must have been on cloud
J.M. Kenny: Definitely. So we did
everything within the course of a week. The prep time was months, coordinating
everything. And Chris Raimo was amazing at this. So what we did was, Chris and I
flew to New York on a Friday to get into the hotel and get everything situated.
And Saturday, the convention started at 11 AM. So we did a half hour interview
with each kid before the show on Saturday. And they went off to do their thing.
Then we re-convened at 6 PM, and we had a car service take all of us from the
hotel into Manhattan, to a facility I use there called Gizmo, which is a great
place to record commentaries. And we had dinner waiting for them there, then we
recorded the track, and we were back at the hotel by Midnight or 1 AM. Then on
Sunday morning, Chris and I drove out to Connecticut and did Gene's interview at
his house, and that night we flew back to California with a stack of tapes in
Hunt: That's a busy couple of days, but what a sense of
accomplishment when you're done.
J.M. Kenny: Sure. But then there's still
all this work to come back to! I sat down with my editor, who really deserves a
lot of credit for the look of the piece. His name is Michael Fallavollita. And
we put this documentary together, which is called Pure
Imagination. I think the cool thing for all of us about this title -
it was not a big budgeted title, so it was really a labor of love. We knew we
were all gonna be a part of something we were all fans of. So Michael's work on
the documentary, and all the work Chris Raimo put into it, and my work and Gene
Crowell... it was a passion for everyone who participated. And even the talent -
Mel Stuart and the kids and everyone - they all spoke from the heart about the
making of this movie. And it's been 30 years, almost to the day.
Hunt: The anniversary is coming up soon actually, isn't it?
J.M. Kenny: In fact, as we do this
interview, the 30th anniversary is Saturday. [Editor's
Note - The actual date was Saturday, June 30th]
Bill Hunt: What's the street date of the
J.M. Kenny: It comes out on August 28th.
Bill Hunt: And what's the complete rundown
of the extras?
J.M. Kenny: You have the audio commentary
with the kids, we have the 30-minute documentary, which has all the interviews.
And, you know, the one person I haven't mentioned yet, is that for the
documentary, we also got Rusty Goffe, who played one of the Oompa-Loompas.
Bill Hunt: No doubt?
J.M. Kenny: The budget wasn't there to fly
to London where Rusty was, so we had a crew in London set up the interview with
Rusty. And I faxed them the questions, and they did the interview and Fed-Exed
back the tape. I love technology!
Bill Hunt: Can you imagine trying to do
that 20 years ago?
J.M. Kenny: Really. No way. And the key
was that these people in London really did it right. So Rusty appears in the
documentary. We also have three Sing-Along Songs, which are I
Want it Now, Pure Imagination
and I've Got a Golden Ticket. We basically
put the highlighted words on so you can sing along with the songs. There's the
original production featurette. There are also some production stills. And
they've done some really great animated menu screens, of course...
Bill Hunt: What was your lead time on the
J.M. Kenny: We shot in October of 2000,
over 4 or 5 separate days. We started researching it in, I think, July. But we
weren't green-lit at that point. We were doing research on a pitch basis,
saying, "This is what we think we can get..."
Bill Hunt: So what else did you find then
for the documentary? You've got the interviews...
J.M. Kenny: Oh, yeah. The really amazing
thing is that we were able to find rare footage. So there's rare,
behind-the-scenes stuff. Most of it came from a guy by the name of Hank Wynands.
He was a set decorator, I think. And he actually shot home movies on the set, so
we got permission to use a lot of that.
Bill Hunt: Wow.
J.M. Kenny: There was also some stuff that
came from Warner as well. But as far as schedule again, I think by August or
September of 2000, we were working full bore on it. And then we shot in October.
I think we were on the project for about six months. We were really pretty
lucky, in the end. If the kids hadn't been assembled in one setting, we never
would have been able to get them all. Not one of them lived in the same area.
One was in L.A., one was in London, one was in Iowa, one was in Germany, and one
was in New York... it would never have happened. The cost would have just been
too great. And I also wanted to be there for the interviews, because I wanted to
ask certain things - to really get them to tell interesting stories.
Bill Hunt: So it really was pretty amazing
that it all came together the way it did.
J.M. Kenny: Very good luck. And a lot of
hard work. I should also mention that Warner supported us 110% - Paul Hemstreet,
Kristin Grosshandler - those people really went out of their way. You know,
Warner DVD really agreed with what we wanted to get, and they really wanted us
to succeed. They believe in the title. And I think that will really show in the
amount of publicity they give the title leading up to its release date. Warner's
definitely committed to DVD, and they want to give you something extra whenever
they can. Even on their catalog stuff, they really try to give you new, original
material whenever they can.
Bill Hunt: Well, it sounds like a great
disc. I think a lot of people are definitely looking forward to it. Thanks,
J.M. Kenny: You bet!
The staff of The Digital Bits would like
to thank J.M. Keny for taking the time to speak with us about his work on the
new Willy Wonka DVD. Thanks also to
everyone at New Wave Entertainment and Warner Home Video for their support.
As always, I welcome your comments.
The Digital Bits