FAN AT HEART: “HARDWARE WARS” AND MICHæL WIESE

“Hardware Wars” premiered just shortly after Star Wars in 1978. It was the first satirical look at the galaxy far, far away and featured characters like Auggie Ben Doggie, Princess Anne Droid and Fluke Starbucker. This unapologetic parody is returning to video in “gasp!” a Special Edition with added effects and scenes. Film Threat Weekly caught up with producer Michæl Wiese to talk about the film and the Star Wars phenomenon.
[ Are you a Star Wars fan? ] ^ You betcha. Do I have the pajamas and Star Wars sheets? I’d rather not say. I do have the “Hardware Wars” digital watch however which says how much our little film is grossing at any moment.
[ How and when did you first get the idea to do a parody of Star Wars? ] ^ Ernie Fosselius is the genius behind the film. (I am the producer and
cinematographer. He dreamt it up, I got it done and out there.) Ernie lived
in my neighborhood in San Francisco. We use to do shadow plays for parties.
One night we hung a sheet up between two doors and did a shadow play
rendition of “Jaws”. He killed me. I loved it. A few days later, he pitched
the idea to me at a Chinese restaurant using a soy sauce bottle as a space
ship. I was on the floor. We signed a deal memo then and there.
[ Did the title “Hardware Wars” just hit you? ] ^ That was Ernie’s idea based on the concept that we would only use household appliances for all the space ships. The spoof was not only on “Star Wars” but on Hollywood in general and how they promote their “big” movies. Using kitchen appliances is something that everyone is familiar with.
[ Is there anything in satire that you wouldn’t do? Can you go too far? ] ^ I think for me to do a parody on Kennedy’s assassination or Christopher Reeves’ accident. In “Hardware Wars” we did go too far but those things hit the cutting room floor. For example, in the debriefing scene (the lecturer is Ernie Fosselius!) amongst all the technical slides was an upside down slide of a nude pin-up. Just the sort of thing some NASA techie would have forgotten to take out of the slide tray. When the LA School District saw it they refused to buy dozens of film prints unless we cut it out. Hey, what would you do?!
[ Have you ever had to worry about legal problems with LucasFilm? Has
George ever seen the film or others affiliated with Lucas? ] ^ George saw the film at his house right after his Thanksgiving dinner. We had a friend sneak it in to show it to him. He said, “it was a very cute film.” I wish he’d have said more but. . . .later he arranged for me to meet Alan Ladd, Jr. (“Laddie”) who was then the studio head of 20th Century Fox.
He brought his three lawyers who wore the exact same three-piece suit. It
was the worse screening we ever had. No one laughed. I think someone coughed once which I interpreted to be a laugh just to make myself feel
better. They didn’t find any copyright infringements so they took off my hand cuffs. Later 20th booked it in their midnight movie theaters.
Then I took it over to Paramount and showed it some of the guys that were doing the effects for the first Star Trek. They said, “cool opticals, man”! That kind a burst my bubble as there were no opticals in Star Wars. I
mean we lit the wires for crimminy sakes!
When Lucas was suing “Battlestar Galactica” for copyright infringement the defendants showed “Hardware Wars” in court. They said, “why are going after us, you never went after them?”
When you make a parody you are well protected by the First Amendment. You can parody the characters, the plot, the look, the title. Just as long as no one is confused and think they might be seeing “Star Wars.” In the new
SPECIAL EDITION of HARDWARE WARS that we just finished we parodied the “Star
Wars” campaign on the video slip sleeve. (Something I’ve always wanted to do.)
[ What made YOU want to do a re-release of a special edition of “Hardware
Wars”? Similar reasons that Lucas had in re-releasing “Star Wars”? ] ^ When the re-release was first announced we started getting dozens of calls and letters from fans asking if there would be a “Special Edition”. I thought it was a good idea, so discussions began with four very talented special “defect” artists who work at Digital Domain. We came up with about 20 new scenes.
[ What are the new effects and shots? Does it ruin the integrity of the
original 1977 edition? ] ^ Some of the new “special defects” include a spoof of the THX logo(“The audience is bored with logos.”), a spoof of the studio logo which now reads 20th Century Foss (after the great Ernie Fosselius).
We replaced the funky planets and tape recorder “escape pod” with a hipper version of a cassette deck careening off into space toward a giant watermelon planet. The most elaborate re-creation is during the escape scene when Augie-Ben Doggie and Fluke are trying to get past the “steam troopers”.
The scene was previously shot in a desert. In the new scene, the special effects wizards created an entire city made up of camcorders and circuit
boards. This was all done in the computer and then composited with the
original scene so that it now takes place in a “city.”
Before Fluke and Augie enter the space bar, where they will meet Ham Salad, a new creature walks past them.
New space ship irons and a griddle iron planet were all created as new scenes to replace some of the existing scenes. (We did not want to replace them all because hey, you gotta see those wires!)
Hyperspace is a black hole vortex which sucks everything imaginable into it. It parodies the “Twilight Zone” opening and then there is a liquid iron
(reminiscent of the water snake in “The Abyss”. There’s lots of cool stuff
hidden in some of the new effects that I don’t want to give away. We try to
pay homage to all the greats that have come before.
My favorite scene is saved for last during the film’s final moments when an entire fleet of corkscrews fly by opening and closing. To create this, special effect artist Fred Tepper created one corkscrew opening and closing.
Then he cloned it a dozen or more times. Each one was offset just a bit so
that they now open and close at slightly different rates. He instructed the
camera in his computer to follow one corkscrew so that the result is an
action pan of a whole fleet of corkscrew space ships. Truly awesome!
From the few aficionados who have seen it, everyone thinks it’s better and doesn’t hurt the integrity of the original. No way would I have wanted to do anything that would damage the reputation of what we did before. Fans
take that real seriously. But I echo George when I say, “there were some
scenes that really bothered me because we didn’t have the time or money to
finish them. I’m glad the studio gave us $12 million more to be able to go
back in and fix them.” Did I say $12 million? I mean $12 dollars.
[ Did you ever consider doing a parody of The Empire Strikes Back? (The
Empire Strikes Quack with an all duck cast perhaps?) ] ^ Hey, we could do the whole trilogy! No, I haven’t thought about doing more parodies. Ernie’s retired from the film biz and even so, how can we top “Hardware Wars”? Mel Brooks tried with “Space Balls” and see what happened? Lightning strikes but once my lad. . .there will only be one “Hardware Wars.”

“Hardware Wars” is available by calling [ 1-800-833-5738. ] Androids are
standing by. Contact Michæl Wiese at [ wiese@earthlink.net ] and May the Farce Be With You. Cheers.
Check out FILMTHREAT.com’s INTERVIEW ARCHIVES and read hundreds of fascinating in-depth interviews with directors, filmmakers, actors and celebrities from the world of film!




Posted on April 14, 1997 in Interviews by
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