Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Collaborator Odyssey, Part Two by Greg Dziawer

Some of the films of sound mixer Sam Kopetzky.

Sam Kopetzky
"Sam the man. I liked Sam," Jacques Descent recently told me.

Just because Jacques had produced two Ed Wood scripts, 1972's The Undergraduate and 1969's gone-missing Operation Redlight (for which he also served as cinematographer), I had no reason to think he also knew sound mixer Sam Kopetzky (1937-2003) when I emailed him the credits to Sam's only directorial effort listed on the IMDb: 2069 A.D., a sci-fi soft porn feature starring Marsha Jordan (as Marsha Kopete). I wondered if, given the associations and credits, it was something he had somehow worked on. As it turned out, Jacques knew Sam well, and ended his reminiscences by saying, "Speak well of Sam." I will.

Perhaps we need to back up a moment. Who is Sam Kopetzky?

If the name rings a bell, then congratulate yourself on being a true fan of niche exploitation and sexploitation films. This was Sam's milieu. His first (uncredited) work was doing sound pickups on Plan 9 from Outer Space, and as much as anyone, Sam remained a constant thread in all of the fabric of Ed's remaining film work, performing post-production sound duties on upwards of ten films involving Ed. In all, he claimed on his company website (still up) more than a decade after his passing) to have worked on over 200 films. The roster of filmmakers he worked with at the time is dizzying to any sexploitation film junkie: Arch Hall, Ray Dennis Steckler, Harry Novak, David Friedman, Roger Corman, Gary Graver, Don Davis, Bob Cresse and Lee Frost, H.G. Lewis, Manuel Conde, and, of course, Jacques Descent.

"Sam worked for me on more than a dozen projects," Jacques recalled. "He was a good sound engineer and together with Larry Johnson, a huge black man, built my sound and dubbing room at the studio." That studio was his independent lab, the Cinema 35 Center in Hollywood at 1676 N. Western Ave, at the corner of Hollywood Blvd. There, with a crew of USC and UCLA film students paid weekly in cash, Jacques employed a full-stack studio/lab, with a sound stage, post-production facilities and multi-gauge laboratory processing: "It had a dubbing and projection room, two sound stages of 50 x 70 ft with 24 ft cathedral ceilings, all sound proofed, and of course a full motion picture laboratory, negative cutting and editing facilities, etc. Two adjoining buildings of 50 x 170 ft."

Being in the heart of the crucible of the then-burgeoning sex film industry, Jacques and Sam often crossed paths:

"Sam was always around the studio. He lived only 2 miles away so he would drop by a house a short distance from the studio at the start of the Los Feliz hills district. He did sell some prints for me and he had a good source of actresses. I often let him use some space, either for editing or production but he never used my sound stage. He [once] showed up at the studio and tells me he has a couple of beautiful girls ready to shoot a film, and I gave him equipment and negative stock and $2,000. and I did the lab work for him. When the film is finished  I think it was called Georgia Peaches or Georgia Girls, something like that  he wants to sell me the film. A 16mm production, but when I screened part of it one of the girls had a large sore next to her vagina, and that turned me off and I said no deal. Sam knew everyone in town and no one spoke ill of him, a rarity in that business at that time."

Sam was not a businessman, in Jacques' recollection: "In 1969-70 he came to the studio with an aluminum suit case with two still two-and-a-quarter-inch square format Konica cameras, lenses, etc. (purchased in 1966) and wanted to borrow $600. I gave him the money and told him that if he did not pay me back within six months then this equipment was mine."

Numerology fittingly ascribes the number three to the name Kopetzky: Communication, Interaction, Friendship, Joy, Lightness, Humor, Art, Positivity, Optimism. “Let's make movies,” as his site still proclaims, dancing starfishes with happy faces adorning the page. Sam there also foregoes business for capital-A art, stating a commitment to student films. (Fulfilled by another Kopetzky, Dana, one of a number of Kopetzkys who now work in the film sound business, presumably including offspring.) And coincidentally, if not ironically, there is an auditory syndrome dubbed (har har) King–Kopetzky Syndrome : An auditory disability characterized by difficulty in hearing speech in the presence of background noise (i.e. the set of a no-budget sex film). The condition is named after one Samuel J. Kopetzky, who first described the condition in 1948.

Dr. Robert Kiss spoke to Sam not long before his passing in 2003, noting that Kopetzky "surely also turned out a number of anonymous hardcore flicks during the 1970s, although he didn't consider these 'real directing work.'"

Sam's work lives on in myriad, unknown ways. Again and again, he associated himself with producers who came and went. His IMDb page tantalizes with its noms de porn:

Alternate Names:
Samuel Kopetsky | Sam Kopetsky | Sam Kopetzy | 'Speek' Lauder |Bob Lily | O. Verload

The soundtrack album for Tongue.
The projection/sound and dubbing room he and Larry Johnson built at Jacques' studio was, relatively, state-of-the-art: “I had purchased a used 8 track recording system from Larry Johnson and Sam took two tracks and installed for me 4 running loop players on each track to make it 16 tracks. 8 of the tracks played continuous loops of sex sound effects and I could switch from one to the other depending on the action on the screen. It did take a while to get all this working well but Sam got it all together. I had purchased a 16mm Bauer projector with a 4 track magnetic recording synchronized system that I could play forward and reverse so that we could go over the same scene over and over till we had the sound decent enough for release.”

“I remember mixing [the 1976 erotic blaxploitation film] Tongue on the system,” Jacques told me. An 18-minute track called "Party Time," which takes up the entirety of Side 2 of the film's official soundtrack album, is a rare funkadelic classic by Roger Hamilton Spotts.

And finally, Sam mentions Wicked West as title of a film he worked on with Ed. Ed mentions this same mysterious title on the resume he provided to Fred Olen Ray in 1978, paranthetically crediting the equally mysterious Capricorn Industries. Sam's corroboration cements it, another Wood film to discover.

If you're wondering where the cameras/lenses Sam once owned are today (yes, displayed upon a painting by Jacques Descent):

Cameras once owned by Sam Kopetzky, displayed atop a painting by Jacques Descent.

Get excited!

Special thanks to Jacques Descent, for sharing anecdotes from the forthcoming book Hollywood Unknown, coming in early 2017, by Jacques Descent and Greg Dziawer.