Stephen Hopkins Interview

Posted by Darkness on January 8, 2021 (Updated: 04-Mar-2021)

 Stephen Hopkins Interview

Predator on the Eastern Building.

AJ: One of the questions we do love to ask people who made the films we love so much is about souvenirs. Is there anything that you kept after production. Do you possibly have a Predator mask or a smart disc sitting around your house somewhere?

No, there was no way they were gonna let us any of us have any of that stuff. I think I was given some action figures which are still in boxes. I got all the storyboards, got a lot of paintings I did personally for the film including ideas for… I did one of Danny Glover hanging off this kind of gargoyle with a Predator standing above it with L.A. behind. I often have to paint stuff and draw my stuff myself to imagine it. To place it but I’ve never been much of a keeper of things. I think there’s stuff in storage but there’s no way they wanted you to have it. They’re expecting to do Predator 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, and I’m not sure why they didn’t because the film didn’t perform so badly that it was…

I think one of the reasons we did the new version of the 70mm print last year of the film is because Shane’s film was coming out. They thought that was going to read re-ignite the series again and because it didn’t happen, now they didn’t put out a 30th anniversary which they wouldn’t have been able to do this year anyway now I guess because no one’s in the cinema but it’s interesting that… I guess the Predator never had massive audiences did it? It was never a worldwide blockbuster.

I’ve got to say my residual checks say something different because a lot of people have seen that. It’s kept me going for a long time but it was never the size of the Alien films was it. It was always a kind of a smaller weirder hybrid wasn’t it between horror and science fiction. I think a lot of people perceive it as a guy in a rubber suit kind of piece but I think most of the films have been very good to the Predator. I think when the Predator and the Aliens both went digital, something got lost for me in those films. We had a guy there and at one point, we had eight guys there all-in suits and they’re all standing there. You’ve got a camera and the actors are there and you can feel it.

It’s different when you’re told there’s someone walking around with a tennis ball on a stick and say “Oh look how scary this is.” But when you’ve got something real to play with, you get great photographic accidents and all sorts of exciting stuff happen. I think it’s a bit of a loss in the film world as much as I love it sometimes. we’re having to do this digital stuff. Not to have the real things in front of you… and to this day I did a pilot I thought was great last year for Dark Tower which was a huge tv pilot for the new series. It was really epic in scale this thing but we almost never had a green screen. We built everything and everything was there for real and the actors really reacted to it.

Clearly Amazon didn’t but I think there was a change of the guard while we were making it. So what we ended up doing which is what we intended to do was not what they wanted. when you build stuff for real, I think it really helps everyone and it gives you a feeling you can touch something. You need to get the right guy in the suit too. Kevin Peter Hall. A master. He was like a brilliant dancer and he could contort his body. He was incredibly fit and physical. His costume weighed like 120 pounds so he had to run around with that thing on. His headpiece by itself was like 40, 50 pounds and he had all these electronics and five or six people operating remote control stuff on his head while he’s acting. He was an extraordinary person. There’s no coincidence that the films he was in, when he was in costume, was so successful, I think.

 Stephen Hopkins Interview

Kevin Peter Hall

AJ: It was so sad to lose him. I think he died within six months of the film’s release and at the time everyone knew it was a blood transfusion and I thought a lot of us thought he might have had a blood disease like a haemophiliac or something but we were able to find an article in the New York Times that he got a blood transfusion due to a car accident and they just weren’t testing blood for HIV at that time and it was just so tragic to lose him so young. I think he was early 30’s.

Yeah, and I think in the suit, he got really hot and really cold constantly and we couldn’t afford to take the whole thing off all the time. Because of the awful experience with the HIV transfusion, it turned into pneumonia and that’s one of the primary ways that HIV used to get people in those days. It just killed his immune system and obviously none of us knew it happened. It was very last minute when we all found out about it.

There’s something about animating something the way you want to do it and someone playing it because if you animate it to do anything you want, then it defies gravity to a certain extent. However beautifully done it is nowadays all the time, if there’s a choice you have it there for real, I think. So it has it has weight and it isn’t just perfect. when it’s too perfect I think unconsciously you don’t believe it as an audience member. He did a lot of studies in African dance for this character and he brought that sense into how he moved and how he held the spear and all that kind of stuff.

Aaron: You’ve mentioned a couple of times now that you and Peter Levy had prepared a new 70mm version of Predator 2 for a potential anniversary release. Was that more just a 4K upscale kind of thing?

It was off the 70mm print so it looked awesome. Yeah, it was gorgeous and it was with brand new color timing technology. I miss film grain in my old age. I think there’s something again that makes you kind of… when everything’s crystal clear, then sometimes I don’t believe… I was at Mark Goldblatt’s house a while ago. I remember he got a new projection system and he put in this this 4K version of 2001. It just looked awful. It just lost all its epic. We had to f**k around with the controls for ages to just to get it looking right again. They pumped a lot of light into a lot of these things because they think you want it to be brighter. All you end up is seeing the matte lines and not believing what you’re seeing anymore.

AJ: Were you involved with the Predator 2 4K transfer?

Yeah, Peter and Fox and did it a bunch of times. I went and saw one version because I was out of the country while I passed through L.A.. I was living in New York at the time so I passed through. We obviously worked on the first one so much, he just made it look as good as it can I think but yeah you can keep the darkness, you don’t have to make everything bright because it’s going to 4K.

Aaron: The shooting script that we got our dirty mitts on came with two alternate endings. One is the one we get in the film but there was a second one where the Elder, the Greyback Predator actually dealt the death blow to City Hunter and beheaded him. Was that actually filmed or was that dropped during shooting?

It was talked about a lot but I think like you were saying earlier we just all felt it was much more interesting to have a code of honor. To drop a history piece in which is taken from the first film and from the comic book too. The idea of having the gun with the date and so it’s partially to set up future films but it was also a nice literally coda at the end of the film where no one really wins in the end and there’s like more like a nice great 70’s thriller ending so Danny doesn’t win. Keyes’ lot don’t win. The Predators don’t win and it was a really good ending. I think some people thought it was anticlimactic.

 Stephen Hopkins Interview

The Flintlock Pistol.

Aaron: So, in a Starburst interview that we’ve mentioned, Predator 2 was a rushed release, a rush production. It resulted in three different versions of the film being shown across the states as post-production work was being completed at the same time you were putting these things together. we know there was a pirated copy floating around New York in VHS with the no music or effects shots. These different versions that came out in the States, was it pretty much just the quality of the effects work that was being done on them? Was that the only real difference?

It was quality and I think there may have been some not perfectly MPAA cut with a frame here and a frame there. But it’s mostly about visual effects being finished or not being finished. I got sold a VHS in a market in New York where they had all the Predator sequences after we finished shooting the film while we’re editing. We had to shoot for another four weeks of the Predator in red costume. A red Predator, a green Predator and blue Predator on wires against different colored screens on wires doing all the different things so you could create the… on motion control cameras which were pretty difficult to work in those days.

So, the camera would be doing the same thing and do the same thing every time. You could create the prism invisible effect. You needed the different colors and so all the scenes we put the Predator, in different colored screens, in red, green or blue ones because we’d have to send it off to Tenessee [?] all the time to get back so we could talk to Greenberg’s in New York. So, someone in New York snuck a version and I had the same thing happened when I was doing the movie Blown Away. I finished the film. I went to England for a couple of weeks while they assembled it. In Camden market, there was a version of Blown Away on VHS before I’d even started editing it. So hacking is not a new thing but it was done pretty brazenly in those days.

AJ: Well, many years later after the release of Predator 2, fans were treated with this wonderful video that came out of nowhere that was featuring all the Lost Predators on the spaceship set doing a choreographed dance with Danny Glover joining in the end. I was just wondering if you recall that wonderful sequence and the story behind it and why like this was never released by the studio as a home video supplemental?

Well Danny actually persuaded… because he was a huge Lakers fan. When we were shooting if we had two or three cameras, we’d split the screen and the bottom right-hand corner would be the Laker’s game going on because he had to watch them all. I knew Magic Johnson a bit because his business manager company was my business manager so he invited them all to come and do it. Not Magic but the rest of them and then I went to lunch one day and on the Fox lot.

When I came back, I was presented with this VHS which I still have of them getting down with the ghetto blaster in the dry ice. They persuaded the visual effects guys to stay at lunchtime and do the dry ice and do this extraordinary thing because these guys are huge. It was a pity in a way that they didn’t have like someone normal sized in there or something normal size because when you watch it, you realize how enormous these guys were all in their suits. They were between 7’9″ and 8’3″ tall. When you watch them doing that stuff and you imagine them if they’d fallen over in these huge suits. Yeah, that was just a piece of genius. There are all sorts of legal rights and reasons why it could never be shown anywhere. You’d have to get all the guys to sign off and I think the music too they didn’t own the music or all that stuff.

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