Filmmaker John Landis began his career in the mailroom of 20th Century Fox Studios in Los Angeles. A high-school dropout, in 1969 the 18-year-old Landis made his way to the former Yugoslavia to work as a “gofer” (now called “production assistants”) on the MGM comedy Kelly’s Heroes (1970). Remaining in Europe, Landis found work as an actor, dialog coach, extra and stunt man in many of the “spaghetti” westerns being made in Spain at that time. At 21 years old he made his debut as a writer-director of the very low budget feature Schlock (1971), an affectionate tribute to monster movies. Clad in an ape suit and make-up designed by the 20 year old Rick Baker, Landis starred as the “Schlockthropus” or ‘missing link.’
Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), directed by Landis and written by Jerry and David Zucker and Jim Abrahams, was a successful prelude to his next wildly successful comedy, the beloved National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978). With a record of enduring comedy classics such as The Blues Brothers (1980), Trading Places (1983), Spies Like Us (1985), Three Amigos! (1987) and Coming to America (1988), Landis has directed some of the most popular comedy blockbusters of all time. Other feature credits include Into the Night (1985), Innocent Blood (1992), Oscar (1991), and the children’s film, The Stupids (1996). At ease in every genre, Landis wrote and directed the 1981 horror classic, An American Werewolf in London, which continues to enjoy an international and multigenerational fan following. His most recent feature film is Burke & Hare (2010) starring Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Lila Fisher, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Curry, Christopher Lee, Ronnie Corbet and Hugh Bonneville from Ealing Studios in London.
John Landis wrote and directed the groundbreaking theatrical short Michael Jackson’s Thriller in 1983. With its script, transformational storyline and Hollywood production values, Thriller changed MTV and reinvented the concept of music videos forever. Thriller garnered multiple accolades including the MTV Video Music Awards for Best Overall Video and Viewer’s Choice, and the Video Vanguard Award – The Greatest Video in the History of the World. In 1991, John Landis was inducted into the MVPA’s Hall of Fame. Thriller has become a worldwide phenomenon and its influence transcends cultures. In 2009 Thriller was inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, the second film directed by John Landis to be honored in this way. National Lampoon’s Animal House was inducted by the Library of Congress into the National Film Registry in 2001. Landis collaborated once more with Michael Jackson on Black or White (1991) which premiered simultaneously in 27 countries with an estimated viewing audience of 500 million people. Black or White was the first motion picture or music video to use CGI “digital morphing” where one object appears to seamlessly metamorphose into another.
Landis has been active in television as the Executive Producer (and often director) of the Emmy and Ace Award-winning HBO comedy series Dream On. Other TV shows produced by his company St. Clare Entertainment include; Weird Science, Sliders, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Campus Cops, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. Deer Woman, an original one-hour production written by his son Max and directed by Landis, inaugurated the 2005 Masters of Horror series on Showtime, and Landis directed one more Masters of Horror entitled Family, in 2007. Landis has directed many other television shows including George Burns Comedy Week, Fear Itself, Disneyland’s 35th Anniversary Celebration, Franklin & Bash and multiple episodes of the hit USA Network show, Psych.
John Landis impressive debut in feature length documentaries began in 2004 when the Independent Film Channel broadcast Slasher, his quirky cinema verite following the exploits of a veteran used car salesman. Mr. Warmth, The Don Rickles Project, honoring the life and career of the legendary American comedian Don Rickles, premiered at the New York Film Festival in 2007. This very personal memoir includes footage from Rickles film, television, and Las Vegas performances, and hysterical personal reminiscences from such stars as Clint Eastwood, Sidney Poitier, Robert DeNiro, Robin Williams, Bob Newhart, Joan Rivers, Sarah Silverman, Christopher Guest and Chris Rock. Mr. Warmth aired on HBO December, 2007, won two Emmys, and is now available on DVD from Salient Media.
A much sought after commercial director, Landis enjoys a significant career in advertising including work for companies as diverse as Direct TV, Taco Bell, Coca Cola, Burger King, Pepsi, Kellogg’s and Disney and has directed numerous spots for Europe and Japan.
John Landis was honored with the Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French Government in 1985, awarded the Federico Fellini Prize by Rimini Cinema Festival in Italy, and has been was named a George Eastman Scholar by The Eastman House in Rochester, New York. The prestigious Edinburgh Film Festival and the Torino Film Festival have held career retrospectives of his work and in 2004 Landis received the Time Machine Career Achievement Award at the Sitges Film Festival in Spain. Landis has been given several People’s Choice and NAACP Image Awards. He recently was honored by the India International Film Festival in Goa and was given the Career Achievement Award at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal in 2011. Landis has been a juror at many film festivals including; Venice, Neuchatel, Gerardmer, and Antalya, Turkey. In February, 2009, the Cinemathéque Français in Paris hosted a John Landis career retrospective. This week of celebration included a Master Class and “Carte Blanche” series where the Cinematheque in Paris screened films of Landis’s choice. John Landis has lectured at many film schools and universities including the American Film Institute, the British Film Institute, Yale, Harvard, NYU, UCLA, UCSB, USC, Texas A&M, The North Carolina School of the Arts, University of Miami, Indiana University, The National Film School of Ireland in Dublin, Whistling Woods Film Academy in Mumbai, India, and the Sundance Institute in Utah. A long-time bibliophile, Landis edited and chose his favorite film essays for Best American Movie Writing 2001, Thunder Mouth Press, NY, 2001. John Landis’s extremely successful book Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares was published by DK in 2011.
Landis’s acting credits include movies as varied as Paul Bartel’s Death Race 2000, Frank Oz’s Muppets Take Manhattan and Sam Raimi’s Spiderman 2.
Born 1950 in Chicago, Illinois, Landis’s family moved to Los Angeles before his first birthday. He is married to Deborah Nadoolman, an Oscar nominated costume designer and costume historian with whom he has two children; Max a screenwriter (Chronicle, 2012), and Rachel, a school teacher. Deborah’s book, Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume Design, HarperCollins, 2007, is now in its third printing. Deborah Landis is the Founding Director of the David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design at UCLA. She is the Curator of the seminal exhibition “Hollywood Costume” which opened this October at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England and has had three new books published in 2012.
The monograph, John Landis, by Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan was published by M Press Books in 2008.
Animal House 35th Anniversary
Inside Joke: John Landis
Wednesday, February 6th, 9pm, Roxie Theatre