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DVD Producer J.M. Kenny talks
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: 30th Anniversary Edition

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 anniversary?

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 record.

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 that.

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 documentary?

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 nine.

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 hand.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: 30th Anniversary Edition Bill 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.

Bill 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 title?

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 project?

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..

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.

Bill Hunt, Editor
The Digital Bits
[email protected]

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