Articles: Part III


Gary Sherman Interview:

This interview excerpt is from a longer interview as conducted a few months ago by the guys over at  The full version can be read at:

Interesting to know that Mr. Sherman was originally considered for the directing role on "Poltergeist II". It's a good interview, but keep in mind that his claim about Heather passing away before they could film the original ending is not accurate. For the real story (she died before they could do a RE-SHOOT of the ending), check out

Here's the Interview:

Q: I was 12 when ‘Poltergeist 3’ came out, and although I wasn’t initially aware of the problems thru-out the production until much later on, I really, really enjoyed it. I have very fond memories of seeing it all the time on cable. How’d you get involved in that project and was it difficult or intimidating for you to write and direct the 3 rd movie knowing that you were following up two successful films?

Sherman: First of all, I was approached to do Poltergeist 2 before Brian (Gibson). And for several reasons, I didn’t do it. I had just written a pilot for NBC, and the pilot got picked up for production and I had already committed to directing it. And also… I felt that the budget for 2 was a little over-inflated for what it needed to be. There were a lot of people involved in the production and there was a lot of money being spent on the production that wasn’t going to end up on the screen. And that’s always been a real major thing for me. When I make a movie, I want the money on the screen, I don’t want the money going into lining the pockets of all kinds of people, including myself. I think the idea is to take that money and give that money to your audience, and not keep that money for yourself. That’s the way I’ve always been with all my productions. So, anyway, it just didn’t work out when it came to Part 2.

‘Vice Squad’ had been out there already and it was a film that had gotten a lot of attention from other directors. I can’t tell you the number of director’s that contacted me after ‘Vice Squad’ and just started talking to me about what a significant film it was. It was really mind boggling for me, but also humbling to get calls from Walter Hill, and John Milius and Martin Scorcese. (laughs) John Milius had told me how he sat and watched it with Steven Speilberg and supposedly that’s how my name got brought up for Poltergeist 2. This is second hand information, but that’s what I’d heard. I wasn’t available for it, so it just didn’t work out, but when they decided to do ‘Poltergeist 3’, they came to me first before they went to anyone else and said, “Would you like to do Poltergeist 3 and would you like to produce it, write it and direct it?” The producer’s of ‘Death Line’ were at that time running MGM, and I had a long standing relationship with them, so I said OK.

I had just done ‘Wanted: Dead Or Alive’ (with Rutger Hauer) and they loved it. So, that’s what I ended up doing. It started out to be a lot of fun to do ‘Poltergeist 3’ and I’d sold them on the idea that this was going to be the last film ever made that has no CGI in it. Not only no CGI, but I didn’t want any opticals in the movie. I wanted no film tricks at all. I told them I think I can do the whole movie as a magic show and do every effect live on camera.

Question: I watch it and am baffled by the visual effects in the movie. Especially a lot of the tricks with the mirrors. Did you use pretty much everything you had learned on previous films about visual effects in ‘Poltergeist 3’?

Sherman: I used not only what I learned from my films, but I have a masters in photography and I went to a technical school, so you had to take scientific courses as well, so I studied physics in college. Optics were always a big thing for me. Another thing, while working my way thru school, I not only did it by being a session musician, but I also got myself a job at an optical laboratory once I got interested in film and learned how to use a lot of techniques that we don’t use anymore.

All the tricks that were used to do special effects before CGI came along, which included manipulating film and using blue screen. I had a background in that and I loved doing that stuff, and my career in commercials was really based on special effects because I used to do all kinds of special effects commercials. I loved the idea of doing long tracking shots and really manipulating the camera. I brought all of those things together to do ‘Poltergeist 3’.

It was a film I was really excited about making until Heather (O’ Rourke) died. (Carol Anne) It’s the great unfinished film. I don’t think anything could be more significant to a director then the film that he lost a star on.

Q: It must have been so difficult. I had read a bit of the backstory on the production, and I had read that you and a lot of the people involved in the film didn’t even want to complete it once Heather passed away.

Sherman: I didn’t want to complete it at that point. I mean, I loved that little girl. She was just so special. If I could’ve adopted her, I would have. If she could’ve been my kid, I would have absolutely loved it. She was just an amazing person and the sweetest little thing you could believe. When she died, I was in shock. I was a pallbearer at her funeral and it was probably the worst day of my entire life. There was never a sadder moment in my life then that day. You know, it was hard. I didn’t care about the film anymore. The studio said let’s just bury the film. How can you release a film with a dead 12 year old in it anyways? I think it’s awful.

And we don’t have an ending. There’s no ending shot. At the beginning, everyone agreed with me that we shouldn’t try to finish the film. And then pressure from the board at MGM changed that. They pretty much said “You finish the film, or someone else will.” And I wasn’t about to throw my footage over to someone else.

So, I wrote that little bullshit scene that now ends the movie. And we shot that little 2 second scene with a double, and the camera going back up thru the window and the lightening striking the top of the building and… it’s just… a bullshit ending. I hate it. And the rest of the movie, even after we shot that ending, the film was too short. So, I had to go back in and stretch and use scenes in the film that I had NEVER intended on using.

There are scenes that I wrote because the studio felt I need to elaborate on certain things, and I knew those scenes would never end up in the finished films, and unfortunately they did, because I had to stretch the length of the film. I think I got 77 or 78 minutes out of the first cut and so, in order to bring it up to its delivery requirements, I had to just keep stretching. So, we stretched anywhere we could. Even on that 77 minute version, we had stretched the opening titles for as long as you could possibly bear to have the opening titles go.

Q: For what it’s worth, I saw it at 12 and I loved it back then for the visuals and it left an impression on me. So, I hope that’s worth something! (laughs)

Sherman: Well, thank you. (laughs) It’s my least favorite of all my movies. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen it since I made it. I remember every frame of it, I don’t think I’ve seen it since it was released in the theater. I have the DVD but I’ve never watched it. I’ve let other people watch it, but I have not watched it. I don’t even know what the transfer on the DVD looks like. Mainly it’s an emotional thing. I can’t watch that film and think about directing Heather and losing her. It’s pretty awful to lose someone.

We lost Jack Albertson right after ‘Dead & Buried’ and Donald Pleasence is gone now. It’s kind of strange watching films of people who were your friends and knowing that they’re gone. But when there are pleasant memories connected to it, it’s a lot easier. Because of the fact of the way she died, it just was not pleasant.

Q: It’s was a terrible tragedy.

Sherman: It was. And I think she would’ve gone on to be a great director. Seriously. At 12 years old, she knew more about filmmaking then a lot of people that are out there making films today. That’s what she wanted to do. That was her goal. She was going to stop acting, because she wanted to direct. She wanted to go to film school. And I think the world lost a really good filmmaker.

Q: I would assume that experience turned you off from filmmaking for a while?

Sherman: Well, I had done ‘Lisa’ right after, which was another horror story. The making of ‘Lisa’ was THE worst production nightmare I’ve ever gone thru. And even after the productions of the film, the release of the picture was an even bigger nightmare. I don’t want to go into all, but it was horrible. I did one film where my star died and the next film where the studio died while I was making the film. So, there was no money to release the film once the film was finished. And they forced me into doing stuff that I didn’t want to do. I really felt like slave labor on that film. Because they had taken a project I was very close to and a script that I really loved and they turned it into a piece of shit. And then didn’t release it properly. And that’s really why I decided to take a hiatus. I had had my fill. Television had been very, very good to me over the years, so I just left the world of feature films and went back to producing television.

Q: Gary, I’m so sorry! I feel like I should apologize to you!

Sherman: (laughs) It’s ok!

L.A. Times

March, 1988

MGM Ponders Selling of 'Poltergeist III'

By MICHAEL CIEPLY, Times Staff Writer


The sudden death last month of "Poltergeist III" child star Heather O'Rourke brings MGM face to face with one of the toughest dilemmas any studio's movie marketers can expect to encounter.

   The second "Poltergeist" sequel was already in the can, at a cost of more than $10 million, when the 12-year-old actress died of what had seemed to be flu symptoms, but proved to be septic shock from an unsuspected bowel obstruction.

   Now MGM has to sell the picture without seeming to exploit Heather, and without creating ghoulish confusion between screen threats to little Carol Anne Freeling and the young actress who played her.

   "We're caught in a dilemma," acknowledges MGM marketing senior vice president Barry Lorie.

   As Lorie sees it, "normal adults, and obviously fathers with daughters, like myself, might be very offended" by almost any reference to Carol Anne/Heather in a studio marketing campaign.

   O'Rourke was featured on poster ads for the first two "Poltergeist" films and is among the top name stars in the third. But Lorie can already imagine angry letters to MGM/UA Communications Co. chairman Lee Rich if the MGM division appears in any way to trade on O'Rourke's death in handling "Poltergeist III."

   Yet, says Lorie, the likely letter writers "are people who might never see the movie anyway." The "Poltergeist" audience is young and male–the same people who love such grisly fare as "Friday the 13th" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street." By Lorie's reckoning, those viewers probably won't be disturbed by O'Rourke's death.

   So how will MGM catch the eye of teen terror-fiends without deeply offending their parents? The studio hasn't firmed up marketing plans for the June 10 release yet. But some things are clear:

   –Publicity is out: Promotional interviews are a favorite tool in selling horror films, and O'Rourke did some publicity for the earlier films. But MGM wants stars Tom Skerritt and Nancy Allen generally to avoid interviews, which would inevitably lead to maudlin questions about Heather.

   MGM is particularly worried that the tabloids might try to conjure some spooky mumbo jumbo from the fact that an actor has died shortly after finishing each of the "Poltergeist" films. Dominique Dunne, Carol Anne's older sister in the first movie, was strangled to death by an ex-boyfriend in 1982. Julian Beck, who played the evil Rev. Kane in "Poltergeist II:the Other Side" died of cancer at age 60 shortly after finishing that film in 1985.

   –Testing is in: Before setting up an ad campaign-which might or might not feature O'Rourke-the studio plans extensive audience-reaction screenings. The tests might help MGM calculate how viewers take to such touches as a proposed dedication to O'Rourke, whose "They're here" and "They're back" lines helped sell the first two films.

   David Wardlow, Heather's agent and a close associate of her mother, says the film "will be dedicated to Heather. There's no question about that." But Wardlow says the survivors have no veto rights over marketing plans.

   –Meanwhile, safe is better than sorry: Scrambling to regroup after O'Rourke's death, cautious studio exectives trimmed a shot of the actress from their initial trailer. But they left in a voice-over in which she delivers the new kicker: "Guess who's back in town...?"

   In the movie, Carol Anne, still dogged by ghostly visitors, is sent to a school for gifted children and lives in Chicago with an uncle played by Skerritt and an aunt played by Allen. Producer Barry Bernardi, Lorie and Wardlow all said they didn't believe the film would need special editing to defuse any horror scenes that might seem tasteless in light of O'Rourke's death.

   Still, MGM hasn't always been as tactful in handling a death among its roster of stars.

   For instance, when 26-year-old Jean Harlow died just weeks before finishing "Saratoga" in 1937, studio chief Louis B. Mayer initially promised to discard all the footage and start from scratch rather than put out an incomplete Harlow film.

   But some film historians have speculated that it was only a publicity ploy. At any rate, Mayer quickly changed course, finishing the movie with a dubbed voice and a double who was photographed mostly from behind. The result was a big hit.

   Things worked out less well in 1981, when Natalie Wood drowned before the studio, by then known as MGM/UA, had finished "Brainstorm," a $25-million science-fiction thriller. MGM/UA quickly shut down production and filed a $15-million insurance claim with Lloyd's of London. Lloyd's gave director Douglas Trumbull $3 million to finish the movie instead, but MGM/UA decided it didn't like the result and sent Wood's last film from studio to studio in search of a new home. Finding no takers, MGM finally released "Brainstorm" in 1983, to poor audience response.

   Then there was the case of David Niven.

   When Niven died in 1983 before finishing the "Curse of the Pink Panther," the studio forged ahead, bringing in impressionist Rich Little to dub the actor's final scenes. The result was what one reviewer called an "unethical and unfunny picture." It, too, flopped.

UPDATE: In January 2006, I sent an email to Barry Lorie, who was the marketing senior vice president for MGM back in 1988 and who was quoted in the article above. I asked him if he could shed any more light on how the studio handled publicity for the film after Heather's passing. Here's what he sent me:
"It's too long ago for me to recall any more info than you already have. MGM wasn't too keen about the picture from the git go, and with the untimely death of the child, it was a project that sort of fell through the cracks. I'm sorry I can't be of more help. B. Lorie."