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Incredibly Strange Films Excerpt: Ted V. Mikels

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TED V. MIKELS: . . . When a dedicated filmmaker finds a way to make a film, he needs all the support he can get (it might take 20 years to pay for a camera). Imagine you were an artist with an easel set up to paint a picture somewhere, and somebody comes along and says, ‘What’s that thing made out of? Sticks? You can’t have that on this beach.’ Then someone else comes along and says, ‘That paper you’re painting on is flammable; we don’t want any fires here,’ and takes that away. Then someone else comes along and says, ‘What are you doing on this beach; don’t you know it’s private property?’ [laughs] Anyway, the restrictions are tremendous.

Once we were shooting a picture with people who theoretically had survived a nuclear holocaust—mutants. Well, the actors in make-up and beards looked so bad that neighbors called the police. Now, police keeping an eye out for shady characters is one thing, but when they come and shut you down, that’s another.

I’ve always said that making a film is the easy part. From writing, producing, directing, lighting, cinematography, editing and so on, making a movie should be simple! The hardest part is: (1) getting the money to make it; (2) getting the money back after it’s been made. Last is: making the film. That’s the way I look at it . . .

R/S: Tura Satana—how did you meet her?

TVM: I was flying with some friends from central Oregon down to Mazatlan for the last vacation I ever took—that was 1959 [laughs]. On the way we stopped in Vegas. When I first saw her she was an exotic dancer; what a gorgeous, lovely lady! I didn’t meet her until seven years later. I was about to do Astro Zombies, and an agent mentioned Tura Satana. I said, ‘Wow! I remember her from Vegas.’ So she came in for a reading, and I revamped the part especially for her, to make her a ‘Dragon Lady,’ and promptly fell in love with her (and all that).

She was also in my Doll Squad picture. She is a very good lady, and I still consider her a very close friend. And the same with the rest of her family: her daughter Kilani, her daughter’s husband and their kids. You become very close when you make films—I don’t believe I’ve ever done a picture where the people involved aren’t to this day good friends.

She just moved back to Hollywood after living out in the Valley for years. I don’t think she wants to stay out of the public eye; if I had the right picture for her we’d be back in production together again. I was smitten with her the first time I met her, and I’ve loved her ever since.

R/S: Tura Satana should be a household name!

TVM: Yeah! There are those of us who love the characters she’s very capable of creating. And she’s still very beautiful. She did have an accident that caused a lot of grief—she was hit full on in the side of her vehicle, and for the past two years has been out of commission with those injuries. But I understand she’s better. Anyway, she’s good, and I enjoy making that type of film.

Astro Zombies was made with practically no money. When you realize we had people like Wendell Corey and John Carradine in the studio, I’m almost aghast when I think what tiny, tiny pennies we made that picture for. Everything was a creation from nothing. One prop was just a painted plastic thing with little lights flashing underneath . . .

One story about the making of Astro Zombies: I had some lots I was buying on Mount Washington (later I had to surrender them because I used them as collateral on a picture). I was filming up there on my own property, and out of nowhere came the fire department and the police department—they just converged on me. I had about twelve people there. What was funny was: we just turned the cameras on them and used the footage in the film! We edited it in and it looks like part of the movie—it’s great! For a long time that was our private joke.

R/S: Wasn’t something burning?

TVM: Well, we had a little bit of a smokepot. I appreciate the fact that someone was concerned enough to immediately come out, but it was just a tiny smokepot. There was an old wreck on the property that we’d turned into a car that had just crashed over an embankment, containing a body that was theoretically just killed—the astro zombie—and the demented doctor who was collecting body parts had to get to that body quick so he could take parts out of it. So, it was kind of delightful to see all those police cars pouring out of nowhere onto the property. It made our scene!

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