FrightFest Interview: Mark A. Altman for 1982: GREATEST GEEK YEAR EVER!
Updated: Aug 24
Part 1 of 3
As well as writing bestselling oral histories on Star Trek and James Bond, writer/producer Mark A. Altman is also the showrunner of the hit TV series Pandora. Having already been broadcast as a docu-series in the US, with 1982: Greatest Geek Year Ever! Altman has managed to write the perfect love letter to this liminal year in movie history and help curate the ultimate nostalgia trip.
First off: personal favourites from ’82?
My favourite sci-fi films of 1982 would be Blade Runner and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, though certainly The Verdict, Missing, Diner and My Favorite Year are among my top films of this amazing year. It’s hard to really focus on just one since it’s such an extraordinary year; everything from Fast Times at Ridgemont High to Conan the Barbarian to John Carpenter’s The Thing and Tron. But my favourite sequence in the entire documentary is Megaforce; the oft-derided, campy action-adventure starring Barry Bostwick who is so delightfully self-deprecating it’s impossible not to be won over.
How did this project begin?
I’ve always been obsessed with the films of 1982 and during the pandemic talked with my fellow producers Roger Lay and Scott Mantz about joining me in chronicling the history of this milestone year in cinema. It was a true labor of love for all of us and I had just finished shooting the second season of Pandora. We were in the middle of the pandemic, and this seemed like something we could actually shoot during that time.
How does one go about building such a story? List the films, shoot the interviews, pull out the nuggets of conversation?
It starts with the list of films and then we do a wish list of interviews we want to target. Once we have completed all the interviews, we’re able to look at clips and find the narrative that we want to explore. Roger and I had talked at length about the nostalgia we wanted to capture, but also avoid the usual stories and really explore these films in a different way than they had been in the past. Even at over two hours, there are still many key films, we neglect or are given short; Alan Parker’s The Wall and Don Bluth’s The Secret Of Nimh. I wish we had talked more about this being the progenitor of the independent film movement and gotten into exploring Diva as well as Smithereens and Chan Is Missing in more depth. Also, we cut Liquid Sky out late in the process since it had its festival premiere in 1982, but didn’t actually get a theatrical release in 1983. I’m still not sure we made the right call… since it’s such a bizarre and wonderful little film.
The film was originally released episodically in the US. Was there any requirement to release a shorter version?
The original rough cut was over four hours so this is the edited version. And if it’s successful, we’re looking at revisiting it and adding additional material. The TV version has about two minutes of new footage on video games that weren’t in the theatrical version, but only because some of the material needed to be cut for network broadcast standards and practices.
You sum it up as the greatest ‘geek’ year, but what else is it about the spirit of these particular movies that defined 1982?
‘Geek’ is a catch-all term given the plethora of extraordinary genre films that year in the sci-fi, fantasy and horror space as well as teensploitation. But the range of incredible films is far more than just geek films… so to speak. We touch on many of the great action films like Rocky III, 48 Hours, First Blood and Firefox, as well as the remarkable comedies such as Tootsie and My Favorite Year. Although one of the interesting revelations in making the film is Diner, which is not a genre film, but is (in many ways) the ultimate geek film.
There are so many people sharing their memories. How long did it take to organise the final roster?
We shot during the pandemic, so it was difficult and that’s why a lot of people are shot via video or outside. It was challenging and we lost interviews with people who didn’t want a camera crew in their home or to come to our studio. That said, we were very lucky in the range of people we did talk to and the insights they shared which included 100+ stars, writers, producers, studio executives, critics and directors. But it was a long post-production window as it took over a year to organise and edit the footage and it was still way too long at that point, although many people would argue there is no such thing as too long for a subject like this. Even so, it played at Sitges in Spain and the response was rapturous, and when it aired on TV in the U.S., the critical response was universally positive and exceeded all my expectations, so that was very exciting for all of us.
For so many people involved, there must have been hours of additional footage. How did you handle the editing process, especially pulling together all the conversations for a coherent story on each film?
This is a testament to Roger Lay Jr. and the fantastic job he did as an editor, in addition to his directing. Along with producer Scott Mantz, Roger, Tom Vitale and I along spent a lot of time finding the narrative structure of the piece. Shaping the clay, if you will. There’s a lot we had to lose that, while we felt was personally fascinating, unbalanced the narrative as we would spend too long on one specific film which didn’t warrant that kind of deep dive. You can get away with that with Star Trek II or Poltergeist or Blade Runner… but it’s hard to justify in the case of some more obscure films.
A hard one to top, but any plans to tackle other definitive years, or another movie topic entirely?
Given the success of the docu-series on American television and the interest we’ve had internationally, I think it’s more likely than not that you haven’t seen the last of Greatest Geek Year Ever. The real question is what year we’ll be tackling next as there isn’t necessarily a consensus in the way there was with 1982. Stay tuned and find out… or “Watch the skies.”
1982: Greatest Geek Year Ever! has its UK premiere at FrightFest on Saturday 26th August. Book your tickets now.