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Remembrances of the Cannon Movie Tales:
A Chat with Len Talan
I sent a list of questions to Len Talan, the writer/director of Hansel
and Gretel and the writer of The Emperor's New Clothes, and
was delighted when
he gave CannonFilms.com readers some inside stories about the making
of these beloved films. Here's his response to my questions. Enjoy! -- Patrick
was aware of the films almost from their inception in New York. Menahem Golan
and Patricia Ruben had the idea for the productions. Cannon Films was
expanding and had recently purchased a chain of movie theaters in the U.K.
Menahem, who had begun his career directing children's theater, was interested
in re-establishing children's Saturday matinees at the movies. His idea was
to alternate bookings between Disney-type faire and his own Cannon-produced
films. He'd also recently become a grandfather and wanted to do something
I had a background in both live-action films and animation (Sesame Street,
Electric Company and high-end corporate image films) and was recruited to the
project by Patricia Ruben. I met Menahem in NYC and discussed their overall
intentions to produce a dozen muscial fairytale films using well-known stars.
Patricia Ruben had been a top casting agent in NYC, she'd done work on Woody
Allen films and others. She had the extremely tough assignment of assembling
the writers, directors and stars for the entire line-up of films.
liked the Grimm's telling of Hansel & Gretel and loved Hans Christian
Anderson's The Emperor's New Clothes, so I chose to write versions of those
screenwriting partner (and wife), Nancy Weems.
Originally, the films were going to be done in Budapest, Hungary. We'd sent
some location scouts to look at various castles and old cities that were ideal
for our European stories. About a month or two before production was scheduled
to begin, we received word from Menahem that we were going to be
shooting in Israel -- where he was in the process of building a complex of
Although they hadn't done something like these projects before, the Israeli
crews turned out to be hard-working and talented. Most of them had worked on
Cannon's Delta Force action films and knew a lot about production -- especially
how to blow things up really well.
I specifically remember long talks with the special effects and construction
crews regarding how we intended to destroy the witch's house. Some wanted to
blow it up (not a very fairytale-like visual), and I think I wanted to take
it apart in stop-action (too time-consuming) to have it turn to ruins.
Finally our construction supervisor, Aria BenIshay, an incredibly resourceful
man, came up with a wonderful idea. He contacted the local fire department
near the woods where we'd built the house and got them to assist us by pumping
fire-fighting foam through the back of the set and out the windows and roof.
We added large quantities of food coloring and with a couple of fireballs and
colored smokebombs, we had our scene.
The films were very low budget and to
save even more money, we would shoot two at a time (except for Rumpelstiltskin
which was the first). Hansel & Gretel
shot simultaneously with Sleeping Beauty. This wasn't the best of situations
in that often the two crews would be competing for the limited equipment, costumes
and sets. I forgot to mention that the sound studios that Menahem 'was building'
were still on the drawing board -- so we wound up shooting in a complex of
old tuna canneries without plumbing or electricity (we brought everything in)
that smelled horrible and got very extremely hot.
The crews were almost entirely made up of Israelis - but had a distinctive
international flavor because many of the Israelis were originally from Iran,
Lebanon, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Morocco, England, France and elsewhere
and were transplants. (most took Hebrew names when they became
citizens of Israel).
Another silly thing I remember is that these crews generally smoked a lot.
Cloris Leachman hates cigarette smoke and had to wear a lot of prosthetic make-up
for her part as the witch. The smoke would get into her mask and irritate her.
She begged them not to smoke near her which they begrudgingly tried to remember
not to do.
My cast was wonderful. I found both the kids in
England. Nicola Stapleton, who played Gretel, was actually 13-years-old at
the time of the filming. Her 'older brother' Hansel, Hugh Pollard, was only
10-years-old. There was a lot of competition between these two as to who could
remember their lines
David Warner has been a favorite of mine for many years. He's a great actor,
a truly nice man and we've stayed good friends over the years. This was the
first (and last) time he sang in a movie I think. Cloris Leachman is obviously
great and always willing to give a director more than you'd ever expect. Although
we had a double for her in the scene where she has to be dumped into the cauldron
-- she insisted on doing it herself. She was covered from head to foot with
flour and water -- a sticky mess so thick -- we had to literally hose her down
to get her clean.
Patrick, thank you for your interest and love of these pictures. They were
inexpensive but we had lots of fun doing them. Only a couple of years ago we
were considering doing some more in Russia, but the financing fell through.
I wrote a version of The Golden Goose and we had some really funny actors lined
up. Jackson Hunsicker was set to do a couple more as well and had written some
More about all this another time.