It’s finally here! The lost film Chief Zabu has finally been found and released! And we had the glorious opportunity to chat with the minds behind it’s creation, Neil Cohen and Zack Norman!
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Cohen and Norman Part 1
[00:00:00] Jeff Haas: hello listeners, a spoiler country today on the show, we had the fantastic nail Cohen and Zach Norman, how are we both doing?
Zach Norman: I’m doing well. I’m I’m, I’m doing even better. So I don’t want to get carried away, but I’m told as a kneel and younger than me. Unfortunately, you’re not looking at me, but I won’t go any further than that.
It’s pretty true.
Jeff Haas: Well, that’s what matters, right? You,
so how are we both doing in the current situation that we all live in? Well,
Zach Norman: I’m finding.
Neil Cohen: Yeah. And I’m finding I’m, you know, liking being a hermit more than I thought I would. So I think I missed out on this by being social my whole life. It’s a very interesting,
Zach Norman: well, I don’t find it that way because before the pandemic, my wife and I both wore masks in the house.
Jeff Haas: So [00:01:00] this is just everyday for you guys.
Zach Norman: It’s just another day. Yeah, it’s great. Getting older.
Jeff Haas: Well, well, I, I do save as someone who is, as myself, a germaphobic walking around outside with gloves and a mask on is actually a pretty good deal. I’ve been waiting my life for this.
Zach Norman: That’s great. But is there anybody particularly that you would dress up as
Jeff Haas: for, for Halloween?
Zach Norman: No just for the
Jeff Haas: pandemic. Although I, I dress up as someone who does not as an AP social individual does not like other people,
both of you. How are we doing during this part of the season?
Zach Norman: Oh, are you kidding me? If I’m breathing? It’s a
Jeff Haas: spectacular, I
Neil Cohen: mean, for me, I’m usually with my wife in the Hudson Valley during the autumn. So we’ve missed that cause we haven’t, yeah, we’re in Southern California. We haven’t risk getting on a plane.
So I’m missing the autumn. You’re going to have to handle [00:02:00] that for me, Jeff.
Jeff Haas: So obviously you guys are, are promoting, chief. I’m gonna pronounce it wrong again. It’s Abu,
Zach Norman: Abu.
Jeff Haas: Yeah. Now because of the pandemic and because there’s convention seasons, obviously it’s not active, is it become more difficult or, to promote your movie and do you have to be more creative in how you’re doing it?
Neil Cohen: Well, I think we have to be afraid at all. I mean, we’re just having fun, getting it out there. And the fact that it’s on these platforms, you know, it’s on Amazon and iTunes and Google and voodoo. more people get a chance to see it and it’s, Yeah. People are very uptight right now, but they’re fixated on politics.
So if they want to have a little fun with politics, it’s a perfect thing for them to take a look at. It’s kind of fun to sell it during this time. The man.
Zach Norman: Yes, I agree. I love shelling and madness.
Jeff Haas: So is this part of the grand plan to release it during [00:03:00] election season?
Zach Norman: No, we were originally going to release it in 1987.
Jeff Haas: So you took this the window?
Zach Norman: No, no, no. We didn’t miss the window. We were ready and we had one of the fine independent film distributors distributing for us in a week before we opened in Los Angeles. And New York and going to the rest of the country, the distributor went into bankruptcy. Well, that’s a tough thing go that brought us right here to the pandemic.
Jeff Haas: Well, after seeing the movie and honestly knowing the plot of your movie and having it. relate to some extent with Donald Trump, it seems almost faded that it’s released instead this much better opportunity when you have Trump, as president of the entire world, I guess, is paying attention to this man.
And your movie is a perfect satire of him. So in some ways it was like they kind of intervened apparently.
Zach Norman: It, it it’s truly, the, the [00:04:00] most, the best description I’ve heard because we did make this movie and we did base it on a younger Donald Trump. He had just finished three years before building the Trump tower and.
Could we ever imagine that that guy, that we were sad, tiring, and based the movie on the character, the lead character would become the president of the United States. It was
Jeff Haas: impossible
Zach Norman: and it’s still impossible.
Jeff Haas: So, I mean, you guys must be thinking now, chief Abu the sequel with Ben sit bed Sydney as president
Neil Cohen: president of the chief sun shows up.
Zach Norman: Fortunately, the day that we finished the newest and final cut on this picture, April 7th, this year, our star [00:05:00] Alan Garfield. So unfortunately passed away from the disease.
Neil Cohen: The
Zach Norman: COVID. The th th the disease itself, the virus, and it’s just such a, a bizarre, happening is that, Neil and I had forgotten about the movie after a few years went by.
And all of a sudden, one day we’re having a lunch together. And it was that day that Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States and Neil and I looked at each other, like it was absolutely a dream impossible.
Neil Cohen: Yeah. And, we said, wait a second, we made a movie about a New York real estate developer who wants to have political power.
Maybe we should take another look at our film.
Zach Norman: Yeah. It took us, it took us only six months to find it. That’s all. We had to go look [00:06:00] in every place in the world and found it under my stairs in the basement, but we found it. Yeah. And tell him Neil, how great it was.
Neil Cohen: You know, we, we didn’t know where the movie was and then we found it.
And, we said, let’s take a look at this thing. And we had to get a transferred to a digital, just to look at it. It was on 35 millimeter in a can that hadn’t been opened for. 30 years. And, we took it to the last lab in LA that does a 35 millimeter and told them the crazy story about this movie. And could he, transfer it to digital, but there was only one problem we had, we didn’t have any money.
The guy said, well, this is the craziest story I’ve ever heard in my life about this movie. And, The thing is you are legitimately, even though you’re 143 years old as an aggregate, you are legitimate first time, low budget, independent [00:07:00] filmmakers. So I’ll give you guys the student rate. So that’s how we got the movie on to digital so that we could do another pass at the edit and that we didn’t have any outtakes.
Of course, all we could do is cut out everything we didn’t like after 30 years and get it down into a fun fighting speed. And that was a great. A creative exercise and restarted showing it to people. And next thing you know, the Hollywood reporters writing a great review of it. And there’s a feature story about it in the New York times and all these bloggers are embracing it.
So, you know, we’re a couple of nutty cult filmmakers out there having some fun with how many about Donald Trump?
Zach Norman: If I may interject just one sitting and I know Neil agrees that. It’s such a revelation as to what happens to somebody after 30 years as an adult, the two of us, you know, we would fight when we were making the movie, but all of a [00:08:00] sudden, after 30 years, we, we both had a different perspective and I don’t think we had one argument about one cut.
Did we nail it?
Neil Cohen: No, no. It was just like, we’d look at each other and say, that’s out, or we’d look at each other and say, that’s coming in too late. It should be moved up or that’s too early. It should be moved back. And it was kind of like rearranging a jigsaw puzzle because as I said, we didn’t have any outtakes.
There was no additional footage. What we could do is take out, move things around. and, we weren’t going to bring any actors back in for a reshoot.
Jeff Haas: No,
Zach Norman: no, no. Most of those people were too busy. You understand? I hope you do understand. That’s right. They weren’t around anymore,
Neil Cohen: up on a cloud. So
Zach Norman: we just got this thing done.
By and, and started to do some, movie, film festivals. And it was the, evening before the election that we did [00:09:00] the Fort Lauderdale film festival. And let me tell you. Again, it was, so it was now years in the making many years and we didn’t finish the final cut until April 7th of this year.
Neil Cohen: Yeah, my
Jeff Haas: God.
Zach Norman: that’s the reality. And it’s been the greatest experience I’ve ever had creatively, but. Look, what happened? Look how you, grow up in all those years. It’s amazing. So we’re delighted to be here. Believe me.
Jeff Haas: Th th that’s kind of interesting is that, when you mentioned, Alan Garfield who played Benson, who died of, as you say, COVID 19.
And interestingly enough, once again, he plays Ben Sidney, who is, based on, on some level, but Donald Trump, who in many ways is one of the major culprits for the. COVID 19 pandemic in this country, or at least the spread of it. obviously I [00:10:00] can give him blaming for the virus existing, but he obviously is Potter the reason why it keeps spreading, because of that connection and what happened to, mr.
Garfield, did that add an extra element of purpose and urgency to completing the project? Well,
Zach Norman: I think so. I think without question that we, we really, had not, not in completing it because it was literally the day that he died, that we finished cutting it. This year, April 7th. But what it did do is give us a different perspective and a different, view of how important it was for us to have people laugh, enjoy, and take a look at this movie.
And that’s what we intended to do. And that’s how we got on all those platforms and really great platforms and people watching it and really. Enjoying it. And now here we come to this election and it’s, it’s just mind boggling to both of us, [00:11:00] as we, as we see and hear and think about Alan and he, and the party played.
And don’t forget at the end of the real picture
Jeff Haas: itself,
Zach Norman: he becomes a California representative in Congress. So we knew that he would then become the president and Holy moly, there he was the president. That’s great. So. Yeah, go ahead.
Jeff Haas: Yeah. So looking after basically 30 years since you developed the movie initially, or initially wrote the movie, did your perspective on things and including maybe politics, having, knowing what happened with Trump, did you find that your, you viewed it in a more cynical fashion or, And, and how do you maybe change the cut of the movie at all because of maybe the changing times and how you felt towards,
Neil Cohen: Oh, no.
The, the, the vibe and the political take and the satire that’s in the movie that was original to what we [00:12:00] paid when we shot the movie. and, you know, you have to understand, you know, we, we wrote a script and then shot it. In a very fast and furious way. I I’m sure a lot of your listeners are themselves independent filmmakers or people who were at film school, thinking about making a movie and, what we didn’t understand, Probably to our benefit.
If we had understood this, we never would have done anything, but we didn’t understand that when you make your first low budget movie that you’re going to make in 15 days, conventionally, it’s not supposed to have 43 speaking roles, 23 locations. And, Take place in the three cities on two continents. So, as you can imagine, in 15 days we were doing a lot of scrambling.
but we had a pretty tight script and then the actors had a lot of fun with it. so there was nothing in the cut in the re cut where we were saying, let’s pump this up or, or let’s take that step. All that was baked into it already.
Zach Norman: No, but [00:13:00] the, the, the final cut, that we agreed to do really happened because of Alan’s death.
In my opinion, you know, that he was, he was sick there. So what I’m saying about his death is that what we did is we took the film. The beginning of the film, almost like a prologue. And we brought it to the present day. So when we started the picture, it became a different thing. And you knew immediately who the main character was, which preceding that if you, if you agree, Neil.
It took a while to figure out who was the star of the picture. Right?
Neil Cohen: Well, Jeff, of course hasn’t seen the earlier cuts, so we’ll just take it on a, the way it is now that, yeah, we messed around with the beginning a little bit to get a little more focused as Zach is correct. And, I think giving it that focus [00:14:00] on Ben Sydney at the beginning, you know, helps the viewer to watch the movie, you know, There’s, there’s a bunch of crazy people in here, you know, who you’re supposed to be following.
Zach Norman: Exactly.
Jeff Haas: So we’re gonna back up just a little bit and, for, for our listeners, how did you guys first meet and what do you guys, because when did you, when you have two people who work in a team, there’s usually idea that you gotta compliment each other’s skillset quite a bit. So how’s it. So what do you guys each add to your team that makes you guys that perfect combination?
Neil Cohen: I think, you know, I was probably the more of the writer and Zach was probably more of the director. And then there’s a Venn diagram where, what we were doing crossed over. of course, before. Chief sat bull. Zack had made many movies and had produced and financed the many movies. one of the movies he financed won the Academy award, a documentary, the great anti-Vietnam war, documentary hearts and minds won the Academy [00:15:00] award in 1974.
Was it act.
Zach Norman: Yeah, 74, one
Neil Cohen: 73, the studio is too scared to release it and Zach raise the money and that’s how the movie got released. He’s the presenter of that. He also raised the money for, a movie that is. Everybody’s talking about online right now called daughters of darkness. And that happens every Halloween.
It’s the first lesbian vampire, a horror movie. That’s a very classy movie.
Zach Norman: Incidentally, you must say that it was the first lesbian vampire movie that I had done.
Neil Cohen: And Zach had made a bunch of comedies and he had made a bunch of thrillers. So, you know, he knew the business a lot more than I did.
Zach Norman: Let me tell you, let me tell you if I may, that I couldn’t have written this thing period, without Neil, because he was right [00:16:00] there every step of the way and created the thing I may have helped.
You know, here and there, comedically and otherwise. But, Neil really did the job, knew what he was doing and would take ideas that I had perhaps, and created some great stuff.
Neil Cohen: And yet to go back to your question on that is thanks to Robert Downey jr. Because Robert Downey jr. His father was a guy named Robert Downey, sr and Downey sr.
The sixties made a series of quite bizarre and wonderfully hilarious and very strange independent films with titles like Putney Swope, people can look up and Greaser’s palace and pound. I mean, he was one of the originators of New York, independent filmmaking and, Robert Downey, sr and Zack were looking to do some casting and, through a strange [00:17:00] series of events, I was.
A talent agent for about, you know, 18 seconds in my life. And they walked into the office of the talent agency, where there was a client we had that they wanted. And the head of the talent agency had no idea who Zach Norman was or, Robert Downey senior. So he called me up from the basement and said, you would probably know who these guys are, talk to them.
And, we had a good time. We put together a deal for this actress and I walked them to the elevator. And, Zach said, I must say, you’re the, you seem like the most unhappy person I’ve ever met in the world.
Zach Norman: And
Neil Cohen: I said, you know, you’re a hundred percent, right. And he said, why is that? I said, I don’t want to be here.
You know? And they said, well, what do you want to do it? So I want to write, I write scripts. So I’m here. I got to pay the rent. He said, well, show me a script. I showed him a script. He said, why don’t you quit your job and come work for me? Well, the develop some scripts. So that’s how we started working together.
And then one [00:18:00] day we’re writing a script and Zach. Yeah, it comes into the office. He starts telling me a story of being summoned to the Sherry Netherland hotel on fifth Avenue, a very fancy hotel on central park, for a business deal, that, all these people were going to attend and we gets there.
It’s a business deal where every hustler and shyster and con man in New York is surrounding a guy named chief Kapow.
Jeff Haas: Who’s
Zach Norman: Clement kupu don’t
Neil Cohen: Oh, from the movie who’s trying to break away from South Africa and he’s in New York trying to have a meeting at the UN
Zach Norman: and was having a meeting
Neil Cohen: that’s right, right.
And also at the meeting is Warren Beatty and Elizabeth Taylor for some reason. Yeah.
Zach Norman: I think they were looking to buy a place in Namibia.
Neil Cohen: Yeah. So just, you know, sees that this guy is doomed and every hustler is there. And, Zach turns around, leaves comes back. He tells me this story. I said, we gotta throw out everything we’re working on.
This is the [00:19:00] script we got it. Right. You
Zach Norman: know? And he went down and literally what happened in that room is how this happened in the picture with a guy standing up and he says, listen, The name of the game has changed. There’s no more mergers and acquisitions. The name of the game today is countries.
Jeff Haas: Wow.
Zach Norman: You imagine that that’s what happened. Everybody was looking for a piece of this and a piece of that. And, Neil started writing and bingo. I’m looking at a piece of paper that I got. I just blocked, looked at some old, reviews that came out on this picture. And one, I don’t think Neil has, will remember, but it says my most Holy film experience,
Jeff Haas: like that’s true.
Zach Norman: Like finding out unicorns are real or Santa’s exists.
[00:20:00] Neil Cohen: Because so many people have heard of the movie, but it never, you know, knew if it was real or not, you know? And so we took that real story and then set it in the South Pacific. As, at that very time, there were a whole bunch of violence in the South Pacific that were French colonies, trying to break away and get.
Their independence. And, but at the same time, France was testing nuclear weapons in the open air in the South Pacific. So we said, okay, these characters are going to talk themselves into a deal.
Zach Norman: Jeff, let me ask you if I may do you have, if I may. Could you guess, where do you think where you think we shot, this Namibian location, this, this Polynesian place where bombs were going off?
May I tell you. Sure sure. We shot. We shot it at my timeshare in the, in the Caribbean
Jeff Haas: and nice
Zach Norman: wouldn’t you wouldn’t you.
[00:21:00] Jeff Haas: Of course. And I never, I never knew there was value in timeshares shows. There was value.
Neil Cohen: That was the one timeshare that paid off. And then we were lucky enough, through the offices of Alan Garfield.
Who was a major player at the actors studio? He said, you know, I think my friend would love to be in this picture. My friend is Manu tupo. So mano Tupelo who plays the chief is legitimate, the Tongan royalty. And, he was in many movies and he was a big teacher at the actor’s studio and he read the script.
He said, I’d love to do this movie guy. So that’s
Jeff Haas: what
Zach Norman: I forget. That that’s how Manu Tupou really replaced, chief Sabu. I mean the chief capital, I keep getting who mixed up.
Jeff Haas: So that’s, I mean, kind of funny , I mean, you had written before a movie, or worked on a movie before the lesbian vampires and [00:22:00] this, this experience that you found with, And think with the investors and the celebrities that wasn’t been extremely vampire attic as well.
I mean, did you have the sense that they were literally feeding on this guy and everything that he might’ve had? They were trying to almost like devour.
Zach Norman: Oh, they would, they were trying to mutilate this guy and he didn’t know it. Unfortunately about eight months after that meeting, this guy was assassinated in his friend.
Home country. So it’s pretty heavy stuff. However, we got very lucky and as much as we really kind of, did so much because of this chief and, and we’re so pleased and proud, we shot the entire picture and Neil can explain it so much better than me. All the interiors, when you’re in New York city, which we spent maybe Neil in a day and a half maximum, we’d be outside the Plaza hotel.
We’d be outside this place or that. And when you [00:23:00] walked in doors, you were read Bard college up in New York state. Yeah, cause we shot all the interiors of the movie at this college. We lived in the dormitory during the month hiatus and we ate in the school cafeteria.
Neil Cohen: And we
Zach Norman: talk about making a cheap picture.
Neil Cohen: Yeah. And we had 22 student interns who we were sharing the dormitory and with the bunk beds. So, it was, you know, a kind of thing. I don’t know that it’s legal now to do such a thing, but everybody was well behaved and we had a lot of fun. and, yeah, I mean, that was, I think part of being able to shoot on this college campus.
For us, it was as if we were on the MGM lot in the 1940s. You know, if you needed, if you needed the Plaza hotel, while you went into some grand building and redress, the inside is the Plaza hotel. If you needed a Chinese restaurant, if you needed a radio [00:24:00] station in timber, Rocco, every interior is on the campus of barn.
Zach Norman: That’s right. And the only one person who did not stay in the dormitory was Alan Garfield because he was playing chiefs.
Jeff Haas: Yeah.
Zach Norman: And then he would come over to the cafeteria at night. But what a time it was. Yeah.
Neil Cohen: And you know, and you know, this whole, I mean, it’s not by mistake or by happenstance. I mean, the intent of the movie is that everyone who’s trying to take advantage of chief Zappo. Somehow or another at the end winds up getting their dream based on the fact that they were taken advantage chiefs Abu the only person who doesn’t get what he wants is chief Zappo and that’s, you know, you don’t always get to make a, a slam dash [00:25:00] comedy about colonialism, but yes we did.
Jeff Haas: So. So in the eighties, what is it about Donald Trump that makes him so rifer satire?
Zach Norman: The man himself was unbelievable and whoever thought not in a million years that he would run for president, never mind become the president. He finished the Trump tower in 1983. And that was the piece, the resist thous for, for, for this script.
Coupled with the story of chief kupu. We just said there’s only one person in the world that could do this. And that’s the guy that walked around New York. Like he owned it. And he walked and he needed people in love and it was just that kind of guy. So that’s who we found in Allen Garfield, a guy,
Neil Cohen: a guy who was out there and super needful and not particularly [00:26:00] bright.
another element I was constantly, you know, hammered home to us is, Living in New York, you know, you’re, if you’re flying to Los Angeles or you’re flying to Boston or wherever you’re flying, you’re going down to the airport and on the way to the airport right next to the highway. And it’s still there today.
And it was there 30 years ago, 40 years ago. There’s literally the. Ugliest six story building that overlooks the highway and the borough of Queens right outside of the airport. And on top of this building is a sign with the worst letter spacing you can imagine that says the Trump pavilion. And it’s been an old age home that his father built in it.
And it’s like such a, you see it, it’s like a sight gag. It’s like, okay, let’s get a really ugly building. And then some people who are full of themselves are going to put a sign up about themselves, but they’re going to pick the worst [00:27:00] letters and it’s going to be the ugliest thing. So we always laughed about the Trump civilian and, that’s why in the movie the boys are talking about there’s going to be the Ben Sidney pavilion,
Zach Norman: and we fortunately were able to point to the tower itself.
Jeff Haas: well,
Neil Cohen: okay, good. Because I think what you Zach missed was you telling me that you liked the movie?
Jeff Haas: I didn’t really like the movie. I thought it was fantastic.
Zach Norman: Wow. Wonderful. I didn’t know. You even saw the movie. I was trying to send you, she didn’t go to the movie.
Jeff Haas: No, no, no. Monica was very nice to make sure I got a screener copy and I made sure to watch.
I actually watched, watched it yesterday.
Zach Norman: So you actually think you actually know that I’m bald.
Jeff Haas: Yeah. Th th th th th that secret is revealed pretty early on.
Zach Norman: I kept, I kept running my hand through my hair.
Jeff Haas: No. at least I did see, I really did enjoy [00:28:00] it. I, I enjoyed the comedy and once again, as someone who is very strongly anti-Trump, I really appreciated the mockery of the man, but, , we’re actually, what I found a little bit was that Ben city, the way he was written.
It feels like is, is, is, vocabulary slightly elevated then the man himself, like you actually made a smarter version of Trump, even on some level. I don’t know. I don’t know if you noticed that or not.
Neil Cohen: Let’s see, you know, the actor, the actor actually became Ben Sidney, you know, and as the movie evolved, he took on a grandiosity in the shooting of it.
I mean, not me. It was hilarious and wonderful to watch.
Zach Norman: Yeah. He really became a very important guy and the more he got important, the more he wanted, I don’t think he started out thinking about the presidency, but he ended up in Congress, which was mind boggling. Wasn’t it.
Neil Cohen: And
Zach Norman: you know where he was going from there.
Neil Cohen: Yeah. And just from an actor [00:29:00] and a director and a writer, point of view, what me and Zach and each of us individually, by the time he makes that political speech at the end, Alan Garfield as Ben, Sidney, the crew and the extras were laughing. And, after we said, cut a, he came over to us. He said, why are, why are people laughing?
Zach Norman: Forgot about the comedy man. He was who he was.
Jeff Haas: He would
Zach Norman: be in Sydney. Well, that’s it.
Jeff Haas: I’m going to hold off just for a minute and let the time run out. And then at least I’m going
Cohen and Norman Part 1.output: to meet you. [00:30:00]