This week’s episode is the first in almost two years. During that hiatus the Rogueriffers never stopped watching movies, but we decided to start the podcast again. You’re welcome, audience. Eric.
We’ve already watched and discussed “A Slow Bullet…” but brought it back for our triumphant return after Brian Coghill of Hangar 18 Props, who worked on the film, contacted us and graciously agreed to an interview about his experience.
In lieu of the normal write-up, here is the transcript of the interview with Coghill, which has been edited for length and clarity. Sorry you have to read it with your face instead of hearing it in your ears, but the audio quality of the conversation wasn’t salvagable.
Once you’re finished reading the interview and listening to the podcast, head over to our audio commentary tracks page to download our film commentary to sync up with your copy of the movie.
RR: How old were you and how did you get involved with the movie, and what did you do?
Coghill: I was the weapons handler and pyrotechnician for the Vietnam scenes. I wasn’t involved in any of the interior studio stuff. It was my first day in film. It was the first thing I ever did. My mother was in real estate. A guy by the name of John Boisseau of Ft. Lauderdale Productions Central purchased a large piece of property (and) my mom had talked to him and said I was a big movie buff, always wanted to get into the industry. And he said, ‘Well why don’t you bring your son down sometime and we’ll show him around the lot.’ I went down and they just happened to be shooting this movie.
One of the first thing that happens was John took me out there and pulled out one of the pyro kits and showed me this object which was a squib he started to say what it was and I rattled off all this book knowledge — I was pretty much a smart ass kid — and he kind of looked at me and said ‘Here you go. We need 15 hits on him, on this first scene that’s going to be coming up. (Quan Nguyen T, credited as “The V.C.”), needs to die in this scene so go ahead and wire him up, and I said ‘Alright, no problem.”
I was duct taping these squibs to him. My vast knowledge at this time forgot to inform me that there were plates that go behind these to protect the actor and I didn’t know this. So I was just duct taping them right to his skin. And I didn’t know you had to cut the cloth on the inside to help them burst a little bit, but I did know about the condoms filled with fake blood. We had plenty of those around so I wire up 15 rounds on this guy and run all the leads out his pant leg to a nail board which is a two-by-four with 16 penny nails in it and a car battery. This is real old school and real low budget.
(They call action) and I do what’s called the zip, basically I run the nail board, and the action (Nguyen) gets of just being bounced around was completely real. It wasn’t acting. The squibs were going off against his body — he was knocked unconscious from it. I ran over to see if he’s okay and he was kind of quiet for a few seconds then he came to. I’m apologizing and everything else and he was like, ‘Oh, that’s the first time that’s ever happened.’ I felt like a complete jerk because everybody on the set knew what happened immediately. He was okay. He had a couple little burns but he was alright.
They had called for a second take on it and I was like ‘Okay we’ll do it right this time,’ so John, the owner of the company I was working for went down and got the plates. He was laughing the entire time. He said, ‘Yeah you’re lucky these weren’t 40s because they would have blown holes in his skin.’ These were pretty small ones, mainly because there was such a low budget they couldn’t afford the larger squibs.
RR: You mentioned the budget. Do you know anything about what the budget was for this film?
Coghill: We never got paid. They completely defaulted on the studio we worked at. I didn’t even see the movie until about five years ago. We weren’t even given copies of it. Big Mama’s Home Video was the name of the company behind it and they kind of vanished not long after this film.
RR: Did you meet Jim Baskin? Was he actually a vet or was just interested in the subject matter?
Coghill: Yeah. I worked with the entire crew and the director. They were great guys, and we actually had a lot of fun on the shoot. (Jim) was actually a vet. There were a couple of guys that were in it were actual vets because they were giving me pointers on how they did things. During the weapons handling I had the M16s and these guys were always saying, ‘Well this is how we did this,’ and they give you stripper clips so I was loading them in the traditional style that they did in Vietnam. They did all this to kind of get me used to it.
They were like, ‘We’re going to use this type of oil,’ and I thought, ‘Wait this is a film. You can’t smell the stuff.’ He says, ‘No, but it puts us in place.’ Some of their patches and they way their clothing is done was all stuff they did on their own to personalize it and it was the way they did things apparently in Vietnam. When Vietnam ended I was like six years old so I don’t really remember it.
There was a napalm run that was shot for the film that was never used because whoever was doing the camera didn’t filter the lens. There’s actually quite a few of them. There’s an entire reason why the flashback scenes were done in this acid-trippy look to them. A lot of the stuff they did was mistakes. The hooch we blew up, the shack, that there’s an explosion scene in, that was five gallons of diesel and gasoline and a mortar with black powder in it, and they forgot to filter the camera on that one and completely over exposed it. So what they did was posterize all the video that had to do with those flashbacks so they could use the explosions, but the napalm run was too strong — they couldn’t do it. They had set about 200 gallons of gasoline — they had the fire department on standby — and created this beautiful tornado of fire in the woods, absolutely gorgeous explosion, and it never saw the film.
RR: Can you tell us about the location used for the Vietnam scenes?
Coghill: There was a lot of speculation on where it was filmed. In Ft. Lauderdale there’s a place called The Thunderbird Swap Shop. It was a drive in movie theater and a great big flea market. About four miles north of the swap shop, John had purchased this incinerator plant that had about 125 acres of property on it. The incinerator, we used this in, I can’t even begin to tell you what other movies and 125 or so other TV commercials and stuff like that we did there.
The area we were in was only about three acres of woods. All the scenes of Vietnam you see is on a single trail, maybe 80 feet long, and it’s just filmed from multiple angles to give it a different look on each (shot). It was all done in this very compact area with an incinerator maybe eight or nine stories tall, maybe a 100 yards south of where we were, that you could see right through the woods.
RR: Are you still involved in the industry?
Coghill: Yeah, I own a prop company called Hangar 18 Props. I have done stuff with “Flight of the Navigator.” I used to work with Disney, I personally have done stuff, but our crew, which is my wife and the rest of our team, they’re all fairly new to it. My only other credit on imdb even though I’ve got a lot of TV commercial credits and things like that, is for a movie called “The Gulf,” which we’re getting ready to film on. I worked on “Lethal Weapon 3,” too.
RR: There’s no information out there about this movie or the people in it. Tell me about Jim Baskin. What was he like? Is he still alive?
Coghill: I’m not sure (if he’s still alive). I’m one of the few people that actually claims responsibility for this film. It was weird because there was kind of a dual-personality to him. There were times when he was real intense almost like, I guess it would have been PTSD, where he was just scream and yell at people. But this was not a common thing. I didn’t know as a kid if he was just slipping into the role, or if he was really reliving something. He would just go, pardon the expression, batshit crazy on the crew or on the other actors. But 90 percent of the time he was this really cool guy that would bring you in, put his arm around you, and tell about stuff that had happened before. I’d have a stack of M16s in my lap and he’d come over and sit down and me, ‘This is how we used to do this.’ He would give me all these pointers.
He didn’t know anything about the movie, though. He just knew about the weapons. This one explosion, he said, ‘Okay this needs to look like a mushroom cloud … because this is the way it was,’ and I would look into it more and that wasn’t the way it was but this is how he was remembering it. It was almost like some of these scenes were coming out of nightmares. He was very particular about the way things would have to look.
It was much more stylized. No one questioned, and I certainly didn’t (being) new on the scene.
People did point things out. Some of the palms were not indigenous to Vietnam. (Baskin said) ‘Don’t worry about that. Nobody will be watching that.’
RR: What was it that made you want to finally go back and watch the movie?
Coghill: I was mad. I told family members, my wife, I had worked on this film and it was really bad. It was basically a vehicle for two thrash metal bands. Basically a two-hour long Vietnam music video.
One of the bands or both were friends with the production company, and they wanted a way of getting out there, and this movie was the vehicle for it. That was one of things we talked about on set. But the guys were taking it very seriously. It was almost like the production company and crew were two entirely different entities. They wanted their serious Vietnam flick, and they weren’t joking around about any of this stuff. But then there was this whole aspect of the music. I was told by my boss this is what it was. I was told by the guys ‘Oh we have to go film this damn thing for these two hair metal bands.’ We were told this but I never got to hear any of the music, and that’s one of other reasons I wanted the video.
I remember it was part of the timing of some of the shots we had to do, being told we had to have this much in this sequence or montage or flashback we’re doing, and it has to be ‘x’ long.
RR: Were you around for the scene where the soldier kills the Vietnamese woman and has sex with her? What was it like watching that happen?
Coghill: I had to do a little work for the setup of it, but it was a cleared set.
RR: Do you know anything about the Ft. Lauderdale scenes, with Jim Baskin’s character and his girlfriend?
Coghill: It was in somebody’s office that they’d converted into a small room. I guess it was supposed to be his apartment, but if you look at it really closely it’s got a high ceiling for it to have been an apartment and it was more of a commercial building.
RR: It looks like they might really be having sex during those scenes.
Coghill: Ah, they were. They were. We were told about it on set. We got done filming some of our stuff and took two days off. It was at that point they went and filmed some of those scenes a few miles away. When they came back everybody was joking around and basically, ‘Oh, Jim got laid.’
We were in a bad part of town. There were hookers all over the place. I said, ‘Wait, it wasn’t one of the ones from down-?’
‘Oh no it was for the scene from the movie.’
Some of the other guys pulled me aside and explained it’s an ex girlfriend of his or something like that. Apparently they went at it pretty hot and heavy. If you notice they way it’s edited, the camera crew kind of just left eventually. There’s a couple of fadeouts that happened and that’s where they kind of just said, ‘Uh, we’re going to go get a cup of coffee or something,’ and they just split.
RR: What was one of the most memorable things that happened while filming?
Coghill: There’s quite a few scenes if you watch where there’s shooting and you notice that suddenly the muzzle flash stops and they’re shaking the guns, and the entire mechanics of what they’re doing change. That’s because they were being told that it was going to be fixed in post — they would add muzzle flash — to just shake the guns and would work fine. Well, this is when these things got jammed, and was just because, if you aimed the M16 into the air and shot, or straight down at the ground and shot, it fired no problem. The minute you leveled it out, it always jammed, like within five rounds. So they just started shaking the M16s and I remember just doing everything I could to not laugh on film. I was just rolling behind the camera thinking to myself, ‘God just call cut and I’ll fix it. I’ll go clean the guns again,’ and they just wouldn’t do it. They were so into the scene. They were so into the scene and they had that mentality going on they were just die hard into it, and they just started shaking the guns like they were playing cowboys and indians.
Some of those scenes are just absolutely ridiculous. It had everything to do with the budget. They didn’t have money to do anything post. They didn’t have the effects to do anything post. They would have had to do hand-drawn animation on it.
RR: It seems like there’s a lot of padding in this film.
Coghill: I’m not sure who did the final edit on this. That’s where it all kind of fell apart, because the Vietnam stuff we filmed all made chronological sense. Normally you don’t, but we filmed the Vietnam scenes in flat chronological order. We saw the story take place in front of us. (But in the final product) there are scenes completely missing. There is a lot of this movie that’s missing, at least in the stuff I worked on, so can’t imagine what’s missing from some of the other parts.
RR: Did Nguyen ever object to the portrayal of Vietnamese people in this film?
Coghill: I remember him being a really nice guy. He never seemed offended by any of it. He would show up and take off his Dukes of Hazard shirt, it was like a ripped up half shirt, something you would Ft. Lauderdale in the 80s, and he would just take that off and get changed.
RR: So, you didn’t do the weapons handling for the ‘interior’ scenes?
Coghill: No. That was a cringe-inducing for me. The range at which that (final scene where Baskin’s character shoots his girlfriend) took place, bothered me because I knew the quality of weapon they were using and when i looked at that I was fairly certain that wasn’t a prop. It could have had a starter blank in it. But started blanks are usually 22s or 25s, and that certainly wasn’t one of those. With that low of a budget, I saw that scene and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, he actually pointed that weapon at someone and fired it.” It could have been a prop gun, but it didn’t resemble one.
RR: Last question: Did you get the sense that the people working on this movie were industry professionals?
Coghill: (These were guys with) day jobs. Even then from what I knew, I knew this was not handled the way normal production was. They never paid us. I never got a copy of it. I think it had to do with the final production there was a fight or something that took place, and I think it may have been between Baskins and Big Mama.