Stephen J. Cannell (Producer - 'Demon Hunter')
'The Master Hunter Returns!'
An Emmy award-winning writer/producer and Chairman of Cannell Studios, Stephen J. Cannell overcame severe dyslexia to become one of television's most prolific writers. In a highly successful career that spans three decades, he has created or co-created more than 40 shows, of which he has scripted more than 450 episodes and produced or executive produced more than 1,500 episodes. His hits include The Rockford Files, Greatest American Hero, The A-Team, and Hunter, to name but a few!
An unstoppable creative force, Cannell is also a savvy businessman. In 1979, Cannell formed his own independent production company, Stephen J. Cannell Productions, in order to achieve creative control over material he was writing and producing. Seven years later, he formed The Cannell Studios to oversee all aspects of the organization's operations. Having surpassed the $1 billion mark in production outlays, the studio experienced remarkable growth and diversification in such areas as production (films, mini-series, commercials), merchandising, and first-run/off-network programming.
With his newly-produced film 'Demon Hunter' having just now been released by Anchor Bay Entertainment, I recently sat down with the show's Producer, Stephen J. Cannell to find out more about this great man and his life therein.
From an early age, you suffered from undiagnosed dyslexia. So, how does one then go on to become such a profound scriptwriter and novelist ... and do you still suffer from dyslexia? "People tend to misunderstand this condition. Dyslexia is a complicated series of learning differences ranging from transposing numbers or letters, to recall and sequencing difficulties. It has nothing to do with IQ. Often, dyslexics are much better with abstract thought than people without this condition. For example, Edison and Einstein were both dyslexics and great abstract thinkers. Creating ideas out of thin air is the ultimate in abstract thought. My own feeling is that without this condition, I probably wouldn’t have had the career I’ve had. And since it is a condition, I’m still as affected today as I was when I flunked the first grade."
What was running through your head back in '66 when you sold you first story ideas to 'Mission Impossible'? "I had struggled so long to get to the point where I even had an agent who could submit me to a show, that the idea that I had finally sold anything was the biggest mind-blower of my life. I couldn’t believe that it had happened. The producers of 'Mission Impossible' didn’t trust me to write the script, but I sold those guys two story ideas. It was a huge step for me."
Is it true that after you created a character named Rockford for a script you initially wrote for the series 'Toma,' that it eventually became the pilot for the classic NBC series, 'The Rockford Files'?! "This is more or less accurate. I was producing a series called “Toma” and we had just come off of a three month writer’s strike. We gathered back at the studio to work out our pre and post-production schedules. Quickly, we realized that, because of time lost to the strike, we had no time to get scripts ready. Our only option was to push back the start of principle photography, which meant we were slammed up against the network premiere date. We asked the network (ABC) to pre-empt us, but they refused because they had used up all the pre-emptions during the strike. We had no way to get the fifth episode of “Toma” on the air. It would still be in the lab being developed when it was supposed to be broadcast."
"The executive producer of “Toma” was my mentor, Roy Huggins, and he came up with a great idea, suggesting that we create our own pre-emption. Toma was a homicide cop and Roy’s idea was that Toma would have a case that he was sure was a murder, while his boss thought it was a suicide and closed it over Toma’s objections. Toma then takes the case to his friend (Rockford) who only handled closed cases (the files) and Rockford would solve the murder. In the tag, Toma would thank him for the effort. The idea was we would shoot the Rockford episode alongside the fifth Toma and air it in front, thus creating seven extra days in our post-production schedule."
"ABC went for the idea and I wrote the script. Nobody at the network much cared who this guy Rockford was, so I had a wide-open field in front of me. I decided to make Rockford the total pragmatist. He didn’t want to get beat up and quit every time the thugs in the story threatened him. Rockford also wanted to get paid. He had rent and phone bills. When his vulnerable client bounced a check on him, he ran a credit check on her and later took the pink slip on her car. All stuff that I thought was funny (Roy agreed)."
"We handed the script in to ABC and they hated it. All of the things that we thought were funny, they thought were horrible. “You’ll hate this guy,” they said. But Roy held his ground and refused to change anything. They refused to let us shoot it."
"We were right back where we started, except we now had a script called “The Rockford Files” that both Roy and I thought was good. Roy said to me, “We need to add some casting.” He had created and produced “Maverick” and told me I had written a contemporary version of “Maverick”. He got the script the Jim Garner and Jim agreed to do it. We took it to NBC, and the rest is history."
With regard your newly-Produced movie 'Demon Hunter,' it's opening scenes of the Hunter beating the snot out of a young girl were very graphic! Did you ever consider toning them down, perhaps? "No. It seemed the right way to do this movie."
What was physically the hardest known part of this short shoot for the cast and crew? "Long hours and shooting in difficult locations in downtown L.A."
The ending monologue between the "changed" 'Sara' and the Hunter 'Jake' was very thought provoking. Was it always meant to be so in your mind? "To begin with, let’s remember that this script was written by Mitchell Gould, not by me. He and I have discussed it and I think his answer is yes. It was intended to make you think."
OK, so come on, why WAS that alley that you filmed the last "jumping" scene of 'Jake' in just so horridly stench-ridden? Did anyone check the origin of the putrid smell?! "Talk to the location department. I just approved a bunch of Polaroids!"
Are there any plans afoot for a 'Demon Hunter 2,' perhaps?! "If this DVD sells, you bet. We’d love to give it another ride."
The filmed logo for your production company showed you at a typewriter, typing something onto a piece of paper, then throwing the paper in the air. What were you actually typing and is it perturbing to still be remembered for this image all these years on?! "I was typing gibberish. And no, I love being recognized because of that logo. People come up to me and tell me how much joy my shows have brought them. Who wouldn’t want to hear that? Nobody throws tomatoes (at least, not yet) and I usually get pretty good tables at restaurants when I get recognized."
Please tell us more about your forthcoming plans for the film version of 'The A-Team'! When can we see it, who's locked in for the 4 main roles, and will there be cameo's from any of the originals?! "The script for “The A-Team” is still in development at Twentieth Century Fox. Until it’s finished and ready to submit to actors, obviously no one will be chosen. Lots of great performers come to mind, budget not withstanding. Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson for Hannibal. Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt for Face. Jim Carrey for Murdock. Michael Clark Duncan for B.A. And yes, I would certainly like to include members of the original cast in “The A-Team” movie."
Finally, I like Penguins ... do you?! "YOU BET!"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
If you would like to win the 'Demon Hunter' on DVD, just answer this easy question about Stephen J. Cannell: Which of Stephen's published books sweeps from the exclusive enclaves of Beverly Hills to the mean streets of South Central, to the deadly labyrinth of Hong Kong's mysterious walled city?!
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these great new 'Demon Hunter' DVD! Just send us an e:mail here before March 15th with your answer and the subject title 'DEMON HUNTER DVDs' to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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