Joel D Wynkoop is probably the hardest- working man in the film business today. Not only is he an actor, but he is also a writer, editor, producer, and director among many other things when it comes to film making. The guy has a career that spans over several decades and has worked on a huge number of films. He has worked with such awesome people as Tim Ritter and H.G. Lewis, and is highly respected and looked up to by filmmakers everywhere. The guy is a living legend and I was lucky enough to have to opportunity to interview him recently.
Todd Martin: How old were you when you first realized that you wanted to make movies? What movies and television shows did you watch growing up that played a part in making you want to be a filmmaker?
Joel D. Wynkoop: I think around 25 or so. I was making Super 8 movies in the seventies but never thought of it as a career till around 1984 I think. Almost everything, such as Star Trek, Batman, The Six-Million Dollar Man, and many others. When I heard Evil Dead was shot originally on Super 8 and that footage was taken around to doctors and lawyers to invest in I was like “I should do this”. Pretty much anything I watched I was like “I wish I could do that part or I should make a movie like that”.
TM: How did your parents and other family members react when you told them that you wanted to make movies?
JDW: They weren’t too whatever either way. They all knew I made super 8 movies but it was just for fun. I don’t think any of them thought I would try to do it for a living. My dad passed away before getting to see anything I did except my super 8 stuff. My mom supported me as far as knowing it was what I wanted to do, she really didn’t care much for the horror but she knew I wanted to act. The rest of the family I think were the same as well I don’t think they understood the drive but no one really does unless you’re another actor. Well I guess anyone with the drive to do something so bad does it. For instance, a friend of mine named “Thumper” is a drummer and his girlfriend once told me “When I listen to you I hear the same drive that Thumper has to play drums in a band.” so people can relate if they have something they are striving to do.
Now that I think of it I don’t think I ever came out and said “I’m going to make movies, what does everyone think?” It was more like I was doing them and they would find out later. My first was Twisted Illusions. I remember showing my brother Wally and he wasn’t too impressed, and neither was anyone else. The bloody “Truth or Dare” segment really turned them off, still they knew this was the avenue I was now pursuing. When Tim and I did “Truth or Dare: A Critical Madness” they thought that was pretty cool because I was being paid and it was a big production. My mom asked after “Truth or Dare” was over “Is this what you are going to do now, make movies?” I said “Well if there is one I can work on yes.” I think my brothers Wally and Bruce liked my movie “Lost Faith”. My sister Cheri didn’t like the bloodshed in a lot of my movies and neither did my other sister Chris but they all seemed to like “Lost Faith”. My sisters did think it was pretty cool when I appeared on the cover of “Alternative Cinema” and “Hackers Source” magazines. They now know that it is the path I have chosen and it is what I plan to do for as long as I can. My brother Bruce saw me on “Forensic Files” and thought that was pretty cool so that was good to hear.
TM: Tell us about the first film set that you worked on. What was your role and what was the experience like for you?
JDW: Well “Twisted Illusions” was our first movie but it was just Tim Ritter, Al Nicolosi, myself, and our actors from a neighborhood theatre. Our first “real” set was “Truth Or Dare: A Critical Madness”. That was my first taste of a real movie set. People being set on fire, transformers exploding, car chases and car crashes, people smashing through car sunroofs, cool fight scenes, gun fire, exploding buildings it was great! I was an actor, p.a., property master and stunt person so it was pretty cool. I also helped Tim do rewrites when we would go back to my nephew Terry’s house where I was staying to write new dialogue. I would go through the script and find all the props they would need and then I would go out and get them. For the fight scenes and some of the driving scenes I would double for John Brace, the star of the movie. I found myself more than once behind the wheel in the mask and blue shirt of the copper masked killer. I also doubled for Chief Rosenberg in the movie. Doing the fight scene with Jere Bere was great. We worked out the fight scene out by the hotel pool. Sadly we did shoot it and it was cool but they didn’t use it in the movie for some reason. I was always promised that footage but I never got it. “Truth or Dare” I would have to say was the real beginning. I mean yes we did “Twisted Illusions” first but this was such a bigger scale. To quote “A Tale of Two Cities” “It was the best of times it was the worst of times.” Sadly it wasn’t all cool, I saw my best friend Tim get fired, I seen the effects guy get fired and when I heard Tim was fired I said “Man this sucks now, this was our dream, I feel like quitting now.” and the executive producer said to me “My friend, if you quit this movie I will black ball you from the industry and you will never work as an actor ever again.” I went to Tim and asked “What do you want me to do man?’ and he told me “Don’t quit. At least one of us will be there to see what’s going on.” so I did. Anyway even Tim will tell you today it was a great experience for both of us and a lot of fun.
TM: You’ve worked with the very talented and just all around great guy Tim Ritter on a number of occasions. How many projects have you guys worked on together and how did you meet?
JDW: I helped package and sell Day of the Reaper with Tim, as well as “Twisted Illusions”, “Truth or Dare”, “Lost Faith”, “Killing Spree” The “Alien Agenda” movies, “Wicked Games”, “Creep”, “Screaming for Sanity” and the two “Dirty Cop” movies. Tim and I first met when I moved to Lake Park, Florida from Lake Elmo, Minnesota. Tim lived across the street from my family on Australian circle. After we had been there a bit Mrs. Ritter asked my Dad if I could watch Tim and Wendy for her, I accepted and started watching them Monday through Friday and sometimes weekends if need be. It was over the summer so I was out of school then as were they. Tim and I became good friends right away. Tim, when he heard we were making a dinosaur movie he brought over his T-Rex model and let us use it in our movie. Later when we made “The Eight Million Dollar Boy meets The Invisible Transport Boy” Tim became one of the cast members that helped capture the two heroes of the movie. We both moved from the area but ten years later my nephew Terry told me about a school newspaper that advertised a movie called “Day of the Reaper” and it was by some kid named Tim Ritter and Terry wanted to know if it was the same Tim Ritter I used to take care of. Long story short it was, we got together almost immediately and started talking about doing our own movie. He told me about “Day of the Reaper” and I helped him package and sell it and next we started our own script called “Inner Forces” but it turned out too much to do effects wise so we came up with the name “Twisted Illusions” where we would have seven sort “Twilight Zone” stories and that would be our first movie.
TM: Out of the many films that you’ve been a part of what would you say was your favorite and why?
JDW: I still think “Creep” was awesome. Herschell Gordon Lewis’ “The Uh-Oh Show“ was another that was a lot of fun. It’s hard to pick a favorite but I think those two are up on top. I’ve done about 80 now so it is really hard to choose one and pretty much on every set I have been on I am treated like I am someone special, everybody is so cool. “Creep” was great because Tim really let me run with the character. I pretty much got to go crazy with the part and Tim would just turn me loose. I had scenes where I was crying like a baby, scenes where I was screaming and going on a rampage. I also had a lot of control on “Creep” because I was assistant director and one of the executive producers as well. “Current Affair” (the TV show) came one night so it was pretty cool to be on a national show talking about our movie. “Creep” was an awesome experience, I really got to create a weird crazed killer and it was a lot of fun to play.
Herschell Gordon Lewis’ “The Uh-Oh Show” was another one that was awesome to work on. First day of that shoot I was still being dressed by wardrobe as I walked out for my first scene, someone was sewing the cuff on my pant leg, someone else was doing my make-up, and another was doing my hair. I also got to work with Brooke McCarter from “The Lost Boys” which was a movie I saw at the Village Green movie theatre back in 1988 so that was pretty cool to be working with him. Working with Herschell was great as well, I remember one day I changed some of his dialogue and I told him so and he said “We shall see how it goes Mr. Wynkoop” and after I finished shooting the scene he said “Mr. Wynkoop you are the only one who is allowed to rewrite my dialogue.” There were a couple of other compliments he sent my way but I’ll sound uppity if I say what he said but they were complimentary to my acting and it was great to hear coming from The Godfather of Gore. Herschell was also super nice to me and we even played a joke on the producers one day. He stopped me in a hallway and explained it to me and I told him “Oh Herschell I am the king at this kind of thing you got to let me get in on it.” so he told me “Okay, jump in when you’re ready.” They were in the main room where the big “Uh-Oh Show” wheel was (think Wheel of Fortune except this one is standing up and looks like a buzz saw.) there were at least 60 people in the room, actors, techs, Fangoria reporters, producers, press and everyone else that is needed to make a movie of this magnitude.
Herschell was arguing with two of the camera men and Andrew got between them saying “What’s happening? What’s going on?” and I shouted “What’s going on here?” and Andrew, one of the producers told me to “Stay out of it Joel!!” and I yelled “This is a big mess! This would never happen on a Tim Ritter movie!!” Andrew exploded and grabbed me by the arm and said “I want to see you in my office NOW!!!” He dragged me through the crowd of people saying “You are in so much trouble!!” but I yanked my arm away from him yelling “Get your hand off me!!!” We were about to come to punches with each other out when Herschell yelled through the crowd “Andrew, Andrew, Andrew!” and Andrew responded “Yes Herschell” and Herschell answered “April Fools”, Andrew turned to me realizing it was all a joke and said to me “You’re the best f*cking actor in the world!!” Everyone laughed, and it was a great April Fools’ Day joke. I have liked all the movies I have worked on and everyone has been so good to me on all my shoots but I’d have to say those two movies were the best!!
TM: Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies?
JDW: Well I was born in Owatonna Minnesota and ended up in Lake Park Florida in the 70’s. From there I moved to West Palm Beach then Tampa then back to Port St Lucie then Fort Pierce and after bouncing around in these communities I made my life in Tampa Florida with my wife Cathy. I have always been into comics since I was a little kid, Batman and Spiderman I learned about when I moved to Lake Park. The Planet of the Apes movies were popular then so I ended up with all the models from the movies and it is all my neighborhood friends talked about. When I showed interest in making movies my dad bought me a super 8 camera and it just kind of went on from there. I took filmmaking in High School even did a one hour movie for my filmmaking class called “Breakaway from Banyoull IV” which I received an A- on, My teacher said I got an A- because there was no sex in it. I was into “Dawn of the Dead”, “Animal House”, “King Kong” all those movies that made the years move along.
By the time I met up with Tim Ritter for the second time in my life it was all about making movies. I was working for Dave Rothrock moving at one point then Armellini Express, Sandpiper Bay once as a busboy and once as security, the carwash and a bunch of other menial labor jobs and finally Crystal Springs Water Company which is where I remained for the next 20 years until 2008 when I made a decision to go into acting full time, I prayed about it for weeks before giving my notice but then in April I gave my boss my two week notice and left the company, no regrets. I had two movies lined up one in Iowa (Body in a Dumpster) and one in Indiana (Post Mortem America 2021). I’m approaching 80 movies now on my IMDB and continue to work in the business with three projects coming up in the New Year. I teach an acting class at a local TV station and shoot TV commercials for myself or other business from time to time. I have an agent Benz Model and Talent who get me work for TV commercials as well as TV shows whether it is audience members or speaking roles or whatever the case may be. At this moment this is the first free time I have had.
The last few weeks have been tied up on another project I have going, a big new release on my movie “Lost Faith” but more about that later. I took Tae Kwon Do and other forms of Martial Arts including Jeet Kune Do and Tang Soo Do back in the 80’s and still dabble in The Martial Arts at this time. My movie “Lost Faith” and “The Bite” and even Cope Ransom from “The Alien Agenda” movies was a Martial Artist and it was fun to adapt the arts into my movies. It is way of giving back to the world your art form. They say that once you learn it you should give back to the world as an instructor or some form of showing it and my choice was in the movies. Free time, well I mess around with editing but I also do that to make a little cash too. Friends have demo reels they need done I will do that or if they have a short they want cut together or just something personal of theirs to be edited I will do it.
We go to the movies when we can, I think the last movie we saw was “Skyfall” which was pretty cool but I didn’t like them killing off “M” and introducing Moneypenny as if she didn’t exist in all the other Bond films, whatever. I was also upset Peter Parker wasn’t wearing web shooters in the first “Spiderman” and in the reboot he had them but they changed his costume and put the web shooters on the outside, like I said, whatever. Hobbies, I like to do karaoke occasionally and try to show up for movie related social events like one we have here in Tampa is called The Coffee House Review hosted by Paul Guzzo of The Buzz right here in town. It is where movie makers can bring their shorts or movies and showcase them for others to see. Other than that we watch “Supernatural” and “Big Bang Theory” and repeats of “Seinfeld” and movies. We’re pretty boring.
TM: What is your favorite movie of all time?
JDW: Too many to even list. There are so many I have enjoyed over the years it’s hard to pin down. “Escape from New York” has always been one of my favorites. “Robocop” is another also “Dawn of the Dead” and “Evil Dead”, I could go on and on. It’s hard to choose just one, so many cool movies. Recently I would have to say J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. That was AWESOME!!
TM: If you could work with anyone on a film project (that you haven’t worked with yet) who would it be and why?
JDW: Chuck Norris, I have been a fan of his since “Good Guys Where Black”. I have all his movies and some seasons of “Walker Texas Ranger.” I still need to get the other seasons of that.
TM: What is the scariest movie ever made in your opinion?
JDW: The Exorcist, because demon possession is real. I have never seen it. It’s funny because I watch “Supernatural” and I’ve seen other movies with demon possession like “Evil Dead” and others more recent but “The Exorcist” just seems to me the scariest movie ever made. Mostly because like I said demon possession is real and that scares me. People that worship the devil think it is so cool but so un cool to worship or believe in God. If you believe in the devil you have to believe in God and vice versa. Anyway yes other movies have made me jump like “Signs” when that alien comes around the corner or even “Poltergeist” but if you were to ask me today what’s the scariest I’d have to say “The Exorcist”. It doesn’t matter if I have seen it or not, I know of it and what it’s about and seen parts of it, that’s enough for me. Yeah, yeah I know, what a wimp.
TM: You’ve done a little bit of everything when it comes to making movies such as acting, directing, writing, etc. If you had to only do one of these things what would it be and why?
JDW: That’s a hard answer too, I like acting the best but I also like directing and writing too, so this is hard to answer. If I could put them in order it would be acting first, then directing, then producing, then writing. If I have nothing going on this is when I become a writer and producer so I can act again. If I could write myself a really cool leading role I would find someone who had my vision and have them direct so I could totally immerse myself into my character and just concentrate on becoming him. Although I love doing it all I think acting would have to be job one for me. On other sets where I am acting I always find myself saying to the director “I have an idea” I can’t help myself, fortunately I would say every director I have worked for has always said to me “Please you have 30 years experience please tell me.”
TM: What projects are you currently working on? Could you tell us a little bit about them?
JDW: “Lost Faith” has been my baby since shooting it in 1988 and now it is getting a new release through Cult Movie Mania. I actually went back to the beta master (Which was the RED of its day) and made new copies of the movie. It is going to have a pretty big release with extras and possibly commentaries and other versions of the movie along with instructionals, behind the scenes, bloopers, deleted scenes and all kinds of stuff that is going to make this release awesome. Check with Cult Movie Mania on Facebook or go directly to the website to check out Joel D. Wynkoop’s “Lost Faith”.
Recent things have been shorts for other movie makers and editing but the biggest thing I got going now is my re-release of “Lost Faith”. I will be doing Terence Muncey’s “Bikini Monster 2 Red Tide” in February and still have Joe Davison’s “Journey to Hell” along with Cyndi Crott’s “Hells Little Angels” plus Luis Montavo’s “The Magician” and a feature I would like to shoot with my partner Pauliana A. Morris. “Lost Faith” is about Steve Nekoda who is having a bad day and it is complicated when his model wife is kidnapped into white slavery along with her model friends. Nekoda has to go up against the bad guys by himself (The cops are crooked) and save his wife and the other girls from The Master’s evil grip, it is a Martial Arts Comedy Action Faith based Adventure. After seeing “Good Guys Where Black” this is the kind of movie I wanted to make one with a lot of karate and a lot of action. My father was a minister who preached on the pulpit in front of many I wanted to tell people about God in a different way, I put it in my movies whenever I can. I don’t cram it down your throat it is like sugar sprinkled lightly on cereal. It’s there but you don’t realize it, you’re too caught up in the story but the message seeps in.
“Bikini Monsters 2 Red Tide” is a sequel to “Bikini Monsters”. A man has made experiments of some luscious bikini clad lovely’s and turned them into -you guessed it- monsters who wreck carnage along the coastline. In part two my character is introduced and stars throughout the movie. Let’s just say I make the sexy monsters a little more juicy. “Journey to Hell” will be the first time I play in an era piece taking us back to the 1950’s, I play a mobster fighting the cops and monsters from alternate reality’s “Hells Little Angels” I play Butch, a guy that owns a bar and takes in three sexy runaways with a connection to murder. They’re not Charlie’s Angels, they’re “Hells Little Angels”…and they work for me. “The Magician” is about a down on his luck magician (played by myself) who is about to lose everything he has ever worked for; his home, his wife maybe even his own life. Until someone convinces him to do such a diabolical thing that he cannot even conceive it but then thinks revenge is sweet, and all those that have done him wrong will pay…with their lives.
TM: Much of the general public thinks that the big budget movies that Hollywood keeps puking out are much better than independent, low budget films, which we all know is bullshit. What would you say to these people to make them change their minds and realize that low budget movies are usually better?
JDW: I can’t really say Hollywood movies are all crap and Indies are all awesome. It goes both ways, I’ve seen some Hollywood movies that I thought “What? That was terrible why do people like this?” But on the other hand I’ve seen indies that I say “Man that is terrible.” A good example I think of a good indie is John Ruznak’s House of Blood, this put some Hollywood horror movies to shame. This movie was awesome. I screened it at The Sunscreen Film Festival about a year ago and it was awesome. The acting was great, the effects outstanding, the storyline was very good and it made for an all out awesome movie and it was shot for almost nothing the director tells me. I think there is room for both, well there is room for both it’s just that sadly us guys and gals that make indie movies are hardly ever taken seriously. If you took one of our indies and some Hollywood guy grabbed it and made it into a big movie and released it in all the theatres all over the world people would be like “WOW This is amazing” but they won’t give that same movie a chance if it is just on video at a rental place or on line. That’s why it is so hard for indies to get a break, yes there’s “Blair Witch” and “Open Water” and the “Paranormal Activity” films but those are the lucky ones that really scored on something and made the break through. I still like Hollywood movies such as “The Avengers”, “Independence Day”, “Sky fall”, and “Robocop,” but people just need to give the upcoming movie makers a break. Sadly they are just not as accepted as the big movies in the theatres. I don’t know if low budget films are better than Hollywood movies and I don’t know if the Hollywood movies are better than the indie movies. They all have something to show but people have to accept the indies as well, there’s a lot of bad indies as well as a lot of bad Hollywood movies. Just give them both the same chance.
TM: Is there anyone that you would like to give a shout out to or anything you’d like to add?
JDW: Indie movie makers if you want your work to be noticed don’t do it half- assed. Do the best you can with what you have. Do the best audio you can and the best effects you can and make sure you have a cool story line. It’s so hard to compete against a million dollar movie, give them something they can look at and say “Man they did a really cool job for not being a big Hollywood movie.” To all the movie makers I have worked for such as HG Lewis, Tim Ritter, Ryan Cavalline, Phil Herman, Jason Stephenson, Garland Hewlitt, Michael Hoffman, Richard Cecerre, John Matheney, Kevin Lindenmuth, John Lewis, Nick Cuti, Conrad Broks, Andrew Allan, Andy Lalino, Marcus Koch, Dustin Hubbard, Christian Cousins, Kristian Day, Cameron Scott, Jason Liquori, Mark Ford, Krista Grotte, Ken Anthony, Johann Tetrault, Chris Woods, John Miller and so many others I can’t list, thank you all. Finally, to all of you who have watched my movies thank you so much for your support over all these years.
Many thanks to Mr. Wynkoop for taking the time to speak with me!
Interview: Joel D. Wynkoop