Creature Feature Interviews
David Sheldon (Grizzly, Predator: The Concert, Frogs, Squirm)
There are many creature features with strange and/or questionable origins but none are more elusive than the unfinished and unreleased killer bear movie, Predator: The Concert, or as it is known informally, Grizzly 2.
The plot of the film is nice and simple: A park ranger rushes to stop the rampage of a giant grizzly bear before a big rock concert is scheduled to take place at the park. Forced into an uneasy alliance with a bear activist and an intrepid hunter, the ranger must stop the Grizzly’s reign of terror before it ruins the big event.
The film started shooting in Hungary in 1985 but, after shooting 75% of the material, the production was shut down for mysterious reasons. Despite being over 30 years old, the online leak of a 2007 workprint of Predator sparked a lot of interest from the online community mostly due to the film’s fantastic cast including Academy Award winner Louise Fletcher and Lord of the Rings star John Rhys Davies along with future stars Laura Dern, Charlie Sheen and George Clooney in supporting roles.
There are a lot of conflicting stories, reports and theories available online so in order to get to the bottom of things once and for all, I spoke with the writer and producer of both Grizzly and Predator, David Sheldon to talk about the film, the cast and the remake…
Harvey Flaxman, a friend who was my stage manager and director in New York, told me about a scare his family experience while camping in a state park — a bear was terrorizing campers. What a great idea for a movie, I thought. I made a deal with Harvey. I wrote a long, detailed scene-by-scene outline-treatment called “Grizzly” and gave it to him to flesh out with dialogue. He did so in a few weeks. I did some doctoring on it. When William Girdler, my partner on other movies, saw the script on my desk he said he could get it financed if he would be the director. I had intended to direct it myself. At the same time I gave the script to warner brothers and almost had a deal, but bill girdler’s source got to me first and within weeks we were in production in the mountains in Georgia where “deliverance” was shot. The movie was the top grossing independent film of the year and grossed 50 times its cost.
I have read some reports that Predator was always intended to be an original production and I have read other reports stating it was always planned as a sequel to Grizzly that wasn’t picked up by the studio. The two reports are polar opposites so what was the original intention for the project?
The script for predator was written by me and Joan McCall to be a sequel to grizzly with me directing. Ed Montoro who financed and distributed “Grizzly” couldn’t get the financing together and all rights to the script reverted to me. So I sought a buyer for it as an original screenplay, not as a sequel to Grizzly, thus the title “Predator.”
It needs to be referred to as Predator for legal reasons. Joseph Proctor did not have the sequel rights to Grizzly.
I believe it’s a reputation thing. He had a partner, Lloyd Adams, in his Film Ventures International who split with him after Grizzly to produce his own films.
The idea of the grizzly attacking a rock concert was my idea. We will probably use it when we do a remake of Grizzly.
Offers came in to provide funding, but fell through until Joseph Proctor heard about it. My initial thoughts were good. I liked him.
Yes. I was supposed to direct it. Joan and I were paid handsomely for the screenplay. But directing was and still is my first love. The genre of killer bears is not my first love but I saw the box-office potential.
One of the more bizarre stories that I read, was that the entire production was moved to Hungary and you were not told. Is this true because if so, that’s a quite a remarkable turn of events? Why did this happen?
That is true. Joe Proctor had made a co-production deal with Szuza (aka Suzanne) Nagy to produce the picture in Hungary. After I cast the movie the entire US crew flew to Hungary without my knowledge, leaving me behind with no explanation. Proctor had already engaged a Hungarian director who had never directed a movie. He did commercials there.
We had a contract only for the script. Proctor kept putting off giving me a contract to direct.
Andre Szots came to LA to approve the casting and sat in on the auditions. No further contact.
I didn’t know that you had a hand in casting the movie. Considering the subsequent success of the actors involved, you must have quite an eye for talent. What did you think of some of the actors who would later go on to big success (Laura Dern, George Clooney, Charlie Sheen, John Rhys Davies etc.)? Equally how easy was it to acquire Oscar Winner Louise Fletcher?
Joan and I cast them because they were talented and perfect for the roles. We saw lots of other actors. Dern, Clooney and Sheen auditioned for us. Davies and Fletcher were handled through their agents. No problem.
When the production moved to Hungary, to what extent were you still involved with the film? IMDB has you listed as a producer alongside Joseph Proctor, Ross Massbaum and Suzanne C Nagy, to what extent did you work with these individuals and if so, what were your impressions of them?
I performed producing activities in the states until they moved to Hungary and then post production in Los Angeles with Szuza when I re-cut the picture. I never met Ross Massbaum and still have no idea what his involvement was. I like Szuza and we got along fine.
If I was in your position, with the production having left me behind, and somebody had asked me to continue working on the film in post-production, I probably would have given them a less than polite reply. Why did you stay on to edit the film despite everything that had happened?
I didn’t edit the film. I had nothing to do with the “rough cut” which was really just an assemblage of what was shot. I did the re-cut.
One thing that continues to confuse me is the time scale of the production, I have found dates referring to the film as a 1983, 1985 and 1987 production. Can you recall the actual time scale of events?
We wrote the script in 1978 after the success of Grizzly. After Montoro couldn’t get a production going, Lloyd Adams optioned the screenplay as “Predator” (not a sequel to Grizzly) around 1983 and did a lot of promotion for it. We had a good relationship with him but he, too, failed to finance it and lost the rights. Proctor bought the screenplay from us in 1985 and waltzed over to Hungary with it. I’m not sure 1987 is the year, but after proctor disappeared, Szuza Nagy came to us to re-cut the footage that was shot and complete it.
Perhaps the most bizarre story that I have read surrounding the film was that the script was, during production, rewritten by the Hungarian caterer. As a writer, this seems mind-boggling, is there any truth to this story? If so, how did you find out and how did this make you feel?
Yes, it is a bizarre story. Mickey Blowitz told me about the caterer. Proctor wanted to add more rock & roll feel to the script. It was all scrapped and the dialogue that was shot was all the original.
The main reasons that are cited for the closing down of the production are funds going missing and the animatronic bear being faulty. Were you aware of the financial issues of the production? Nick Maley has openly stated that the bear worked perfectly and was not to blame for the production’s failure which directly contradicts statements by Ross Massbaum, to what extent were you involved with the special effects side? Did you ever get to see the giant animatronic bear?
I was told that the bear was working well, but the builders were demanding payment before shipping it to Hungary. As I was told, not being paid, they stripped it. I never saw it myself.
There was no serious interference by the Hungarian government that I know of. Szuza Nagy was well connected over there. The failure was inability to complete the picture because of lack of funds.
Lack of funds to finish it and the disappearance of Joe Proctor.
I have no idea why he disappeared or where the funds went and I don’t want to speculate. Proctor reappeared in recent years with an offer for me to shoot additional scenes and add digital effects. But he again disappeared. I later found out he was in prison.
Whilst I was researching, I found a few sources that claimed that the shot material was purchased by Cannon Films in 1987 who had plans to finish and release the film but went bankrupt before this could be started. Is there any truth in this? Who does own the rights to Grizzly 2/ Predator?
I had no knowledge of the cannon deal. Harvey Flaxman and I own the sequel and remake rights to “Grizzly.” We never assigned these rights. But Joseph Proctor’s company bought “Predator” unrelated to Grizzly. Szuza might have had a separate ownership arrangement with him.
Yes. Not my genre of choice.
I haven’t seen what was leaked online, but I worked with the actual workprint in re-cutting it for Szuza. It had some great scenes, poorly directed of course. But it lacked the grizzly. Go figure. I have the re-cut version, but nobody else has seen it. So it had to be the original work print that was leaked.
The revelation that you have the re-cut version of Predator is remarkably exciting, especially considering the following that the film has gained since 2007. In what format does it still exist? Has it been digitalised? Do you have any plans for your Predator footage?
I re-cut it on video and have the tape. But I do not own it. It’s impossible to do anything with it now because of the ages of the actors and has no value without the bear.
We plan to do a remake, but not for at least a year. We have 8 other movies lined up to shoot.
There is another killer bear movie with the name Grizzly that is coming out later this year (starring Billy Bob Thornton, James Marsden & Thomas Jane); I presume that this production has nothing to do with your films? If so, what are the legal rules for releasing films with the exact same title as existing films?
There’s no law against it unless both productions are going on at the same time or if one is using elements of the other. I think the James Marsden Grizzly came and went so it won’t hurt a Grizzly remake. It does cause confusion however when Grizzly is researched on IMDB.
Not too often.
For everyone who is still a little confused by the ‘Grizzly 2/ Predator’ saga, come back next month to check out my Creature Feature History: Grizzly 2 article.
And for everyone who is curious, the leaked workprint of Predator: The Concert can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube.