ASCII by Jason Scott

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Computer Beach Party … PART TWO —

Stuff happens for a reason; that’s what I was again reminded of after a 40 minute conversation with Gary Troy, director of Computer Beach Party.

When we last left this story, I’d seen a terrible film at the Found Footage Festival. Since I’m the Computer History Guy, I wanted to get the story behind it. In a few hours, I was talking to crew members, and tracking actors down. And then I was provided the director’s cell-phone number, and he generously granted an interview with me, and filled me in about the movie.

It probably helps to have seen the film to get a context on the kinds of questions I asked and what his answers were, but history is history, and if some poor soul watches the film cold with no warning, in the mega-multi future when Lion’s Gate’s entire film library is available online as part of a $6.99/month package deal in 2020, maybe my writings will be buried somewhere in the online networks and they’ll understand, finally understand, and then go back to eating their McDomino’s KFCburger on their flying Segway.

So, Gary Troy and Computer Beach Party.

I’m going to just discuss what we talked about, giving Gary’s side and opinion about the work from our conversation.. (For brevity, I’ll call him “Gary”, because “Mr. Troy” doesn’t come across as how cool and friendly he was.) I’m working from notes and from memory, so I apologize ahead of time if I slightly mis-state or bunch things up; but here’s what went on.

The plan had always been for Computer Beach Party to be a legitimate film. The idea that Gary had for this film was a guy or guys living on the beach and hiring a nerd to hack into a computer dating service, filling the beach with beautiful girls and guys and having a wicked good time, when their beach is threatened by the mayor finding there might be gold on the beach and trying to kick everyone out so he could dig for the gold. Through their awesome computer skills and other tricks, our heroes successfully drive out the mayor and the beach is saved.

Obviously, to anyone who saw the final work, it didn’t work out. Gary was wistful about this, understandably. He was surprised, for example, that I actually watched it completely. Or that others have been watching it and deriving entertainment from the result.

The writer was a hire by Gary to fill out the story and the screenwriting, flown down to Galveston to work onset.  It didn’t work out; Gary feels the writer “fell on his face” and couldn’t keep up with the pressure of so much to do so quickly.  The performances and shooting days, now in motion and with a $125k budget (Gary’s figure), were improvised, choppy.

Scenes were not filmed that needed to be, shots didn’t work out. Gary mentioned one sequence where the heroes have put a jet engine into their car to win a race. In the original vision, this is what you’d have seen – they’d do this amazing work of installing a jet engine into a car in stealth and then do a huge bet against winning and then activate the jet engine with the computer. In the final cut, however, we just see the main character whip out a computer in his glove box and, for all purposes, turn the engine into a jet engine, and then win. It almost seems cheating, like he’s trying to put one over to win. Gary mentioned how they put smoke grenades in the car’s tailpipe and elsewhere to make it look like it was a jet shooting smoke, but “it turns out smoke grenades don’t make that much smoke” in that situation, and the shot wasn’t very convincing. (I didn’t ask, but it appears takes were rather limited.)

In the final work, the car doesn’t really go fast and the shot doesn’t look very good. Additional shots are in the movie of people turning REALLY FAST to show how fast the car was going by:

These actually work against the effect – they make the car seem slower. And of course we don’t see any people along the beach in the behind-the-wheel shots, so the more astute (or vaguely astute) viewers are unconvinced and the whole thing just doesn’t work. And that’s just setting aside the whole “no explanation for the car/jet engine” issue.

Gary has positive feelings for the production – he enjoyed the time with his crew and hanging out there. But he did point out one issue about shooting in Texas – a ban on nudity or softcore filming. Absolutely illegal, subject to arrest. This brings up this shot, of two people making out in a car:

Gary gave me two points of trivia. First, the shot is stolen, that is, it’s shot very quickly out at a time when nobody’s around, so they aren’t arrested. Technically, a crime was committed. Second, these are crew members. He’s the Gaffer, she’s the script girl (continuity person, in today’s parlance).

Gary’s hope was to have a lot more sexiness and a lot more fun raciness (think, say, Animal House), but as Galveston and Texas weren’t the places to be shooting such things, the movie found itself a heck of a lot tamer than expected.

I asked how many parties were filmed for Computer Beach Party. Every weekend, he said. Many of the people in the shots are crew members. He said they had a great time, and laughed at my mentioning the production manager’s characterization of the movie as a great party that they shot a film for in their spare time.

So, I asked about the talking dog.

“What talking dog?”

Gary takes credit for the producing, directing, and editing, as he last saw it.  But when the distributor bought it, they chopped it up and handed it off to another set of folks who had their way with it, as I had suspected.  Things like the talking dog, the weird voices on some of the actors, a lot of other strange situations, were all the work of the second crew from Vestron who packaged it up for video release. The film never saw a theatrical run – it was definitely purchased in the open market, but it was immediately put onto video.

And why would Vestron buy it?

Gary told me the leading lady, who was his girlfriend, broke up with him and dated the head of Vestron.

As a result, her film debut was bought up and a legendary film was saved from disappearance and 25 years later, singes the hearts and eyes of a new generation.  I mean, isn’t life fantastic?

Gary still has a HI-8 video master of the film, but all the rest of it, negatives, positives, all associated materials, are in the film library of Lion’s Gate, who bought up Vestron’s library (and the library of a bunch of other studios).  He hasn’t really watched it, although he did remember basically everything I referred to. Occasionally, a few things were something he hadn’t known were added, like this title card intended to fix a plot hole:

So there we go. Computer Beach Party was meant to be so much more, a fun sex romp with computers thrown in and a fun hit gracing drive-ins and theaters throughout the country. Like a lot of dreams, it didn’t happen. Unlike a lot of dreams, it sort of happened and was converted to digital form, and ended up out in the world anyway.

Gary Troy was kind to give me 40 minutes to discuss a long-ago movie, one I thought might be a painful memory, what with losing the girl and the movie being god-awful. But no, he said it wasn’t painful for him, it was a lot of fun memories, a lot of fun times, and a few great parties.

And then he had to go.

He was in the middle of casting for a new movie.

Categorised as: computer history

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  1. Joe Crawford says:

    True life kicks fiction’s ass every time.

  2. Nick P. says:

    Nice detective work, sir!

  3. Channel F says:

    Great job! This could be a new feature for you. A behind the scenes detective work on truly awful films. The low hanging fruit of the 80s would give you material for years.

  4. Rubes says:

    Damn, that was a great read.

  5. Two great articles and an excellent story about a horrendous movie whose plot I still can’t exactly figure out—either what it was supposed to be or what it ended up being. But like you said yourself, it’s not the movie itself that’s worth thinking about (and I take your recommendations against doing so to heart); it’s the story of the people behind it and how such a thing came to be, and how it all worked out pretty okay in the end for everyone involved, although mercifully not due to this movie.

    Well done sir! Unlike what you said about watching this movie, reading these articles was time very well spent.

  6. Chris says:

    I knew when I donated to your Kickstarter fund that the money would be put to good use! Keep up the great work!!

  7. Bruce says:

    Great job! This could be a new feature for you. A behind the scenes detective work on truly awful films. The low hanging fruit of the 80s would give you material for years.

  8. Roger Nemour says:

    A friend told me about you and your research and your excellent report of this (I cringe to say) “movie”. I haven’t enjoyed a non-stop belly aching laugh as I did when I read your comments about this abomination. I think that your descriptive analysis of “CBP” has the makings of a great
    film. Something like the movie “Ed Wood”. Anyway, we should talk sometime so I could tell you some of the true mysteries about the making of the film and even about Gary Troy

    • Tom says:

      Roger, I and probably many others would be interested in hearing more stories that you have. Please share some here and maybe Jason Scott might write a third part.

  9. Will says:

    Wow. I have owned a VHS copy of this movie for about 15 years that I purchased from a video rental store. Every time someone tries to tell me that they have just seen the worst movie ever, I try to explain Computer Beach Party to them. I have watched the movie several times, usually just to make others sit through it. Great work, I hope there is a part 3 that explains why they went to NASA to research a gold coin.