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Director Jeffrey Bleckner reflects on ‘The Beast’

Jeffrey Bleckner is a director well known for his work in television from the 1980s up until the present day.

He has worked on shows such as Hill Street Blues, American Playhouse and Boston Legal but in 1996 he was given the chance to adapt Peter Benchley’s The Beast into a two-night TV movie from a screenplay by J.B White.

Bloody Flicks got the chance to catch up with Jeffrey and reminisce about his mini series pitting William Petersen versus a giant squid.

Can you recall how you got involved with The Beast?

I was working on a possible remake of “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” at Universal, but it fell through.

What was the collaboration like with J.B White in terms of adapting the Peter Benchley material?

It was very exciting to work with JB and a lot of fun. We had fun!

Being a TV mini-series was your vision compromised by budget at all?

The filming process in Australia was very economical and efficient and we made very few compromises. Weekends were sacrosanct in Australia. You wrapped early on every Friday and started the afternoon on every Monday!

The crews worked hard and very little time was wasted and we worked no more than 10 hours every day. Except for one day when we were shooting at a tide pool and we had to spend time waiting for the tide levels to make it possible for us to make our setups. The crew decided that they would take a vote whether or not to do 2 hours of overtime to finish the day’s work. A secret ballot! One nay vote and we would leave after ten hours. They voted to finish the day in twelve hours!

How much of a coup was it to get William Petersen signed up as the lead?

It was a big deal. Bill was a big football fan and so was I. Still am! We promised him that we would make sure he got coverage of the NFL results every Monday morning while we were on the set in Australia. If I remember correctly, he was a Bear fan and a big deal in the Chicago theatre community.

In 1996, we are a few years out from Jaws but Benchley is still quite marketable, did this help get the series noticed?

I don’t know! I think the title helped a bit and the fact that it was a creature feature helped a lot. Peterson was a big draw too!

Was it always the plan to do a mini-series or was there consideration for doing one feature-length movie?

It was always planned as a mini-series for the TV market. It kept us on budget.

Why was Australia chosen to shoot The Beast?

The east coast of Australia is loaded with fantastic harbours and bays and is surrounded by exquisite inlets and watersheds.

I can recall the series having some fantastic practical effects sequences, was there any pushback on this from the studio as we were now in a post-Jurassic Park world where CGI was being used?

I think there was very little fuss about visual effects and CGI. We did what we felt was needed and that was that.

How closely did you work with cinematographer Geoff Burton on the look of The Beast?

Geoff was a pleasure to work with. He had a great red beard and was a gentle soul who made sure the light was right and the images stunning!

Did you ever get the chance to rewatch The Beast, and if so how did it hold up for you?

I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t revisited “The Beast” recently. Now that you’ve asked me about it, I might take another look at it sometime soon. And by the way, the wrap party for the show was the greatest wrap party I’ve ever been to. I left the premises at 3:00AM and called the production manager at three the following afternoon. The festivities were still in full swing!

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