The two actors discussed their new production company on the eve of San Diego Comic-Con International’s 30th Anniversary Panel for Aliens
Actor Michael Biehn has had a long and varied career as an actor, beginning in 1977 with a role on the pilot for the TV series, “James At 16.” Although he’s best known for his association with James Cameron, having starred in The Terminator (1985) as Kyle Reese, Aliens (1986) as Corporal Hicks, and The Abyss (1989) as Lt. Hiram Coffey for the director, he’s also had numerous stand-out roles on TV and in film, including Chris Larabee on “The Magnificent Seven” and Johnny Ringo in Tombstone (1993).
In the past few years, Biehn, 60, has moved into a new phase of his career, producing (and occasionally directing) films for his company, Blanc Biehn Productions (BBP), with his wife, fellow actress and director Jennifer Blanc-Biehn, 42, who played Kate on TV’s “Party of Five” and Kendra on “Dark Angel” (which gives her a James Cameron connection as well). The two starred together in The Victim (2011), which Biehn also directed and for which he wrote the screenplay, and were recently in San Diego for the San Diego Comic-Con to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Aliens.
The Nerd Element sat in on a roundtable interview with the pair, who are eager to promote the upcoming slate of films from BBP, most of which are in the horror and thriller genres, and many of which are being directed by women, an emphasis that is intentional, not accidental. Biehn and Blanc-Biehn, both casually dressed in black and keeping an ear out for their 16-month-old son, who was sleeping in the next room, frequently complemented each other’s thoughts in their enthusiasm to discuss their partnership.
One of the major collaborations between the two was the aforementioned The Victim, a low-budget affair that’s acquired somewhat of a cult following. “We didn’t know how funny and how sexploitation funny The Victim was” when they made it, Blanc-Biehn said. “There’s a lot of one-liners in it.”
“I made that movie for $100,000,” Biehn said, with Blanc-Biehn quickly adding, “And shot it in 11-1/2 days.”
“Shot it in 12 days, wrote it in 12 days,” Biehn continued. “You can tell by the sparsity of locations and actors and so on and so forth that it was a very low budget film. That kind of started us off on this idea—you know, Anchor Bay saw it and they picked it up and said they would distribute it, and we thought, ‘Well, that’s great!’ And we thought, ‘Let’s do another one.’ […] All of a sudden, we started making these little movies that now we’ve done—how many?
“Somewhere around 15,” Blanc-Biehn added.
According to both Biehn and Blanc-Biehn, the budgets for the films they produce range between $25,000 and $600,000. They’ve recently entered into partnerships with Splash House, Industry Works, and E One Entertainment to distribute BBP’s films, including a remake of Hidden In The Woods (due out December 2, 2016). Other upcoming films on BBP’s slate are The Girl (also known as Psychopath), which Blanc-Biehn directed, and She Rises, with Angus Macfadyen.
The couple enjoys the autonomy of making their own films. Biehn said, “One of the great things about running the company is we get to make all the decisions,” with Blanc-Biehn adding jokingly, “Then distributers get in and we lose all that power.”
On a more serious note, Blanc-Biehn added that a “lot of people are very courteous and show us what they’re doing, and a lot of times, they do a great job.”
Another aspect important to the burgeoning company is its relationship with its distributors. “We have The Night Visitor Chronicles coming out in November that is also Slash House and E One,” Blanc-Biehn said. “We did a big acquisition with them, [and] a three-movie acquisition with Industry Works. Once we get a good momentum with somebody, we like to keep working.”
The Nerd Element asked about the production company’s emphasis on horror, and both Biehn and Blanc-Biehn said it’s a conscious decision because of horror’s fan base and because horror films tend to have lower budgets.
Biehn noted that “for me, at my age, it’s not only the fact that I’m too old to work that hard any more, but also what I think is interesting and what an 18-year-old or 16-year-old young man thinks is interesting is two different things. I always say if I was at a studio, and I was running a company and somebody came in with Paranormal Activity, and said, ‘Listen, I got this movie here,’ I would’ve looked at it and said, ‘Get the fuck outta here. Get outta here. This movie is garbage!’” he added, laughing.
Blanc-Biehn also described She Rises as Byronesque, saying “it’s like one nasty acid trip. You could take acid and then watch it and then maybe it would make sense, or you could not take acid and then you would feel like you’re on an acid trip.” The film is currently in post-production.
In addition to its focus on horror, BBP is dedicated to giving female directors a chance to get their films made. The Nerd Element asked how the company is helping female directors.
“One of our investors is very interested in female directors and their plight, and their point of view,” Blanc-Biehn said. “That helps because a lot of his stuff gets funded.”
Tony DeBenedetto, one of the producer/investors in BBP who was present at the roundtable, enjoyed working with one female director because of her focus, noting that “she had a vision, she knew what she wanted, and she communicated that very well.”
“I think that’s exactly right, like female communication and emotion might be a little more successful,” Blanc-Biehn added.
For Biehn, the focus is on finding directors who are passionate about filmmaking.
“I want to find somebody who’s really passionate about wanting to make this movie—I couldn’t care if it’s a woman or a man, it doesn’t make any difference,” he said.
He also credits Gale Anne Hurd with pushing Cameron to success. “She’s a rock, and Jim would not have had the kind of success that he had early on in his career without Gale Anne Hurd being there. She could have been directing the movie [Aliens], [but] she happened to be producing it.”
For her part, Blanc-Biehn is excited about getting Jamielyn Lippman, director of When The Bough Breaks, a documentary about postpartum depression narrated by Brooke Shields, in talks to direct BBP’s Killer Weekend.
“We actually have three movies in prep right now,” Blanc-Biehn began. “One of them is being directed by a man, but two are women and it’s constantly like that for us. For every few movies, it’s very female-heavy.”
Blanc-Biehn is also excited about getting The Girl out for people to see. The Girl stars Tia Carrere as a woman whose husband is described as “Ted Bundyish” by Biehn. “She’s so good in it,” Blanc-Biehn enthused. “I was watching her and I’d forgotten how funny she can be, too. She plays this very, very neurotic, strange woman who’s living with a crazy person and is totally blind to it. But there’s a comic element to her blindness—she’s a hoarder, she likes to shop online, the shopping network on TV all day long, you see boxes stacked behind her.”
“That has a supernatural/science fiction element to it as well,” she continued. “It could just be a straight-out horror film, but [producer/story writer Lony Ruhmann] wanted there to be sort of a spiritual side to it and sort of an other-worldly side to it.”
30 Years Later, Aliens Still A Source of Pride for Biehn
Biehn was also happy to discuss his time on Aliens, including getting to reunite with his friends in the cast, as well as Cameron and Hurd. Even Carrie Henn, who left acting shortly after completing her role as Newt in the film, was at the panel at Comic-Con. The panel got a very enthusiastic reception from the fans in the audience.
Biehn had nothing but praise for the film and the people in it and behind it. “Many, many people that weren’t born when we made the movie love it—they love it! It’s Jim Cameron, it’s Gale Hurd, and it’s Sigourney Weaver. Those three people together are just unstoppable, and the vibe that they put out as far as hard work and enjoying the work at the same time—the three of them inspired the rest of the crew and cast to really step up the game,” he noted.
The Nerd Element asked him about his experience coming in to play Hicks shortly after James Remar exited the role. Because of the short time frame from when Biehn was hired to the beginning of shooting, he did not have the same time to prepare as the other actors.
“Well, the good news is that I had worked with Jim before,” he said, smiling, “so Jim and I had a very good working relationship, and it was a successful movie, and that always helps a relationship. Gale Hurd also was producing that movie, and so I knew that they were very confident that I could do the role.”
“I read a script recently somebody sent me and it had so much dialogue,” he added. “I told the screenwriter, ‘There’s more dialogue on this one page than I had in The Terminator, Aliens, and The Abyss.’”
“When you look at Hicks,” he continued, “there’s not very many days where I probably had more than one or two lines, so it wasn’t any problem. I’ve worked with [Bill] Paxton before. Bill was very happy to have me come on…. I was confident at the time, I felt lucky, I came in and the sets were incredible and the only person I hadn’t really worked with or would’ve been a little intimidated by was Sigourney, and she was just gracious and lovely and wonderful to work with. It was a very, very smooth transition. [T]he good news was I didn’t have to do that B.S. two-week boot camp thing that everyone else did,” he noted, laughing.
Biehn was asked how he felt about the science fiction genre, having starred in three iconic science fiction films, all directed by Cameron.
“I go back to Rod Serling, Twilight Zone,” he said, continuing, “I watched a bunch of those, they have them on marathons and you know, for years and years and years, people have been interested in that. It used to be like Westerns, to a certain extent, but then the kids kind of stopped watching them.”
Biehn noted that “there’s something about the unknown that’s fascinating if it’s done really well. I always talk about Twilight Zone, you can watch one after another after another, they’ve got great actors in them and they’re only like a half-hour long. They’re science fiction [and] they’re weird scary.”
Biehn noted that it’s not so much the genre he’s attracted to as good stories and characters. “Johnny Ringo, man, that’s a great character, I want to play that character, not because it was a Western but I like to play good characters. It’s the same thing with science fiction. I’ve been lucky enough to be working with James Cameron and Gale Hurd…. [T]hey’ve made two or three of the best science fiction movies in the last 30 years. Aliens, I know that I am—I’ve got a dog in the fight—as far as I’m concerned, Aliens is the best fan-friendly science fiction movie.”
The Nerd Element asked if Biehn was excited to be celebrating the film after 30 years, to which he quickly said, “Oh, absolutely, absolutely! One of the great things about that cast is that we’ve always—everybody gets along—you never heard anybody say anything derogatory about another cast member. […] We’re just really good friends that come together. The thing that’s really odd about us is we had one [reunion] without Jim, without Gale four weeks ago and it’s like Lance [Henriksen] and everybody and Sigourney [Weaver], it’s like nothing’s changed from when we made that movie. Nothing has changed.”
Biehn also addressed the rumors that Neil Blomkamp will be directing an Alien film taking place directly after Aliens, one where Hicks and Newt survive along with Ripley.
Biehn said that “the idea always was to act like 3 [Alien3] and 4 [Alien: Resurrection] never happened,” a certain distaste for the two films evident in his tone. “A year ago, I was approached by Neil about this. […] I thought the franchise was dead, I didn’t really like the franchise anyway because of what they did to Hicks, Cameron didn’t really like the franchise very much either because of what they did to Newt—the whole movie was about saving Newt and the idea that she turns up dead before the next one starts I don’t think made Jim very happy. So when Neil came out with this idea and sold Sigourney on it, things just started moving and it looked like we were going to go into production on it.”
“Here’s the way I feel about it,” he continued. “I would love to be in a movie, an Aliens movie, and […] I think they owe it to her [Sigourney and her character, Ripley] to send her off the right way.” He added, smiling, “I think, knowing Sigourney, she’ll get it done. I don’t know when they’re going to do it, but I think they’ll get it done.”
“But I’m happy,” Biehn said. “I’m happy to be in Aliens.”
Biehn noted that the film still continues to bring him recognition, albeit from a younger source than he expected. “Children eight, nine, ten years old have seen the movie,” he said, “and it’s surprising that a lot of parents will let their children watch it because it’s so scary, but I have children come up and say, ‘It’s my favorite movie.’ And I say, ‘Really, what’s your real favorite movie? Captain America?’ ‘Aliens, you know.’” He’s even met people whose fathers named them Hicks after him, as well as people with tattoos of his face.
Biehn was also asked if his perspective has changed at all in the 30 years since he worked on Aliens.
“Nobody knows if a movie’s going to be good until you put it in front of an audience,” he said. “We didn’t. Did I enjoy myself? Did I think I was working on a good movie? Yes. Did I think I would be talking about it 30 years later? First of all, there was no such thing as Comic-Con! But did I think that it would have the—I’ve been editing myself for too long. Just fuck it, man, it’s a classic! It’s a classic, you know, and finally I’m gonna start saying it,” he laughed.