BM: It was crucial. In reality, as effective as the special effects are, and as well designed as they are, the reality is the film is very basic, given our budget and the time we had. So what elevates the film is the characters and the quality of the performances. So that was crucial. We really ended up with an ensemble movie, and in an ensemble film every character's important and the way they play off of each other is important. So the casting process was really crucial to us. And in some cases, we got lucky.
SSW: I can say that, as a group, it was very much Ron Underwood and Brent and I sitting in on the casting sessions. I'll give us credit for some good decisions, and yet some remarkably lucky things came our way too. I can't remember exactly how Kevin Bacon came on board, but he was actually crucial for the studio, for example, for giving us the final, final green light. And Michael Gross was best known at that time for his role in the American TV show Family Ties, which couldn't be further from the survivalist character he plays in the movie. It was almost a fluke that he came in to read - he was surprised that we asked him. And then Reba McEntire, who turned in a wonderful performance in her first film, came in purely out of politics. She wanted to be an actress, she wanted to move away from the country and western singing thing, and she was a huge MCA star at Universal in the music division. We had to read her: 'You don't have to take her but you have to read her.'
BM: There was this moment of, 'Oh no, this is where the movie starts to go South...' She came in and read for the part and - wow! She was great, absolutely great. I remember telling her, 'We're going to be out in the desert, it's going to be real basic and real dirty. Nobody's going to get pampered.' And she said, 'No problem.' Well, it turned out that she's about as down-to-earth a person as you can get, so she was terrific.
SSW: One of the things that all the women who read for Heather had to do was: we had a pump shotgun from the prop department in the office, and they all had to show that they knew how to use it with authority. And she did that quite well! The other funny thing is, Ron asked here, 'What about make-up?' Because she has this very glitzy stage persona. She said, 'I don't care about that, but you'd better understand: there's a lot of freckles under here!'
MJS: Where did you shoot the movie?
BM: We shot most of it up in Lone Pine which is on the Eastern slope of the Sierra Nevadas, about three hours North of LA. We actually shot in the same locations as Gunga Din was filmed. The mountains in Gunga Dun which are 'Northern India' are the same mountains in Tremors - and a whole bunch of other movies.
SSW: Lots of movies have been shot up there. How The West Was Won...
BM: Lots of Roy Rogers movies. Everything.
MJS: Were there any problems with shooting in the desert?
BM: Well, there's always heat, and there's always the wind blowing dust all over the place.
SSW: We had a couple of enormous dust-storms. There are some amusing pictures of the entire crew wearing dust-masks, trying to get through a day.
BM: The first day of shooting it actually snowed. It was that cold. We went from that to some days that were incredibly hot, so we had the full range of everything. We had a snake wrangler on the set. Some local guy who knew everything about rattlesnakes, walking around with a burlap bag and a stick. It was his job to look for rattlesnakes.
SSW: He used to go around in the morning and collect rattlesnakes that had snuck into the set overnight. Not that there was one every morning, but there were a few. And there were the jets. The navy base at which I had scribbled the original idea is not too far from the location in which we shot, and for whatever reason, their jets would occasionally come over at a hundred feet.
MJS: Why was Ron Underwood picked to direct the movie?
BM: Ron is an old friend of ours. We had all met years ago at USC film school, and after we got out of film school we had all worked together on educational and industrial films; Ron as a director and Steve and I as writers and directors as well. We worked on a lot of short films together, and originally when Steve and I wrote Short Circuit the plan was - pretty naively - to write a script and raise the money ourselves, and have Ron direct it. Well, that never happened. Everybody wanted to buy the script and we needed the money, so we sold it.
SSW: And Ron very graciously backed out early on in the process. Because he, more politically savvy than we, recognised that he would be an impediment to selling the script if he tried to attach himself to it.
BM: So years later, after we had gone off and written a number of other movies, we wrote Tremors with the intent of Ron getting to direct it. Ron was still in a completely different area of film-making, so it took a lot of leverage to get Universal to agree to have Ron - who had never directed a feature film before, although he had directed all sorts of things - to agree to let him direct this film.
MJS: Steve, you shot second unit on the film. What did that involve?
SSW: Much more than I anticipated. I did not have any designs on being a director when we began Tremors. But the reason we had known Ron so long was: we met him at USC and he had hired us to do our first jobs, working in the short film market here in the US when there was a bustling little industry making educational films for schools and libraries. I was his special effects guy for these short little movies on 'How to look up a word in the dictionary' and so forth. I would do little flying gags or other kinds of special effects, and occasionally shoot stop-motion animation to put into these movies. So when it became clear that there was going to be a special effects unit, Ron said, 'Well, you've always done this for me. Why don't you just do it?' I rather cavalierly said, 'Oh, sure.' thinking it would be me and a camera. The second unit grew to have its own special effects team and an assistant director and all this other stuff, which was at first very intimidating for me. But it turned out to be great fun. From then on I badgered Nancy, saying, 'Gee, when do I get to do his?'
MJS: How many full-size graboids did you use?
SSW: I believe there were three. There was the big body that is half a body longitudinally, if that's the right word. Then there were, I believe, three functioning heads with the mouths that opened. Those were eight feet high and they each had that beak at the top of them. They were designed so that two men could operate them from down in a pit, or Tom Woodruff, who gets inside all of the ADI creatures that he can possibly fit inside, would get inside this eight-foot-high thing and operate it. He would stand inside and then we would build up the earth around the base of it so it looked like the thing was sticking out of the ground. We in fact buried Tom alive for a fairly long period of time for the scene in which it pops out of the ground right next to Chang's store. The preparation for getting that first up-shot required that the scene be dressed, so Tom was buried in his pit underground with nothing but a one-inch video camera in front of his eye for light, talking to his crew over a head-set. He does not have any fear of enclosed places, obviously.
MJS: Did you use miniatures and puppets for some shot?
SSW: Yes. There were three full-scale creatures which we used extensively, and then Bob and Denny Skotak, who have done many, many effects in many, many movies, came in. Tom and Alec made a quarter-scale worm, and Bob and Denny came in and did a number of shots with that which were very effective in tying things together. Working the way they work, out in the real sunlight, working with high-speed cameras, painted backdrops that perfectly matched the Sierras: the shots are absolutely flawless. It's the oldest style of film-making, and when it's done right it's as low-tech as could be. Denny will stand beside their old Mitchell camera and when the monster bursts up out of the ground, he'll hit the ground with a two-by-four so it appears that the ground shook when the thing came through. These are the kind of tricks they use to fool the eye.