The name Alex Zamm may not roll off your tongue, but the director, whom I talked to recently for his latest movie, Woody Woodpecker, is responsible for some of the most successful family films of all time.
He is quite possibly the king of family film sequels, with the movies Inspector Gadget 2, Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2, Dr. Dolittle 2, Jingle All The Way 2 and The Little Rascals Save the Day, to name a few, under this belt.
His movie A Christmas Price was released on Netflix right before Thanksgiving and was one of the top three movies on Netflix from the day it debuted until after the New Year. “Netflix has over 110 million subscribers (households) and is in over 200 countries and the movie was in the Top 10 most watched list, sometimes in the top 3-5, for the first 6 weeks it was on.”
The expression “truth is stranger than fiction” is something that is heard all the time, but when it comes to the life of Alex Zamm, it is apropos. Throughout his childhood, Zamm, who is in his mid-50s now, loved drawing.
“My life has been full of a lot of wonderful happy accidents. When I was 12 years old I fell in love with Mad Magazine. My father was great in that he called up (Mad) and asked if his son could go in with his portfolio. So one afternoon I walked in and sat with Bill Gaines (Mad Magazine publisher) and showed him my portfolio and started working toward becoming a cartoonist and learning about humor, visual humor, and written jokes.”
His luck didn’t end there.
“While in high school I stumbled into a man in my father’s office and he said, ‘I work at NPR. You should do interviews for me.” I ended up doing that for six years. I had great mentorships during my whole time growing up.”
When Zamm was a little older things got even better.
“When I went to college, I fell in love once again with storytelling and made a little short film called Croutons and You, which is a parody of old PSAs and Graham Chapman (Monty Python) saw it at a film festival and asked if he could rent this movie to put in my new HBO show. And I thought, I guess people can do this for a living. I got a couple of hundred dollar check and the next thing you know I am writing my own stories and was fortunate enough that Columbia University took me and I had great mentors there. I was just very lucky that people were interested in my quirky point of view of the world.”
One of the things that Zamm believes in more than anything is “being passionate about whatever you do.
“I was going to stay in NYC to make short films for the rest of my life. HBO also funded one of my first movies, Maestro, and that went to The Cannes Film Festival. When I went to Cannes I felt like a real filmmaker. And then all of these opportunities to meet with people in LA came along. I was the first writer on The Green Lantern. It went through about 25 writers over 10 years.
“I moved to LA and got another job to do a feature at Paramount (that fell apart, administrations fell apart and things changed. But it was my welcome to LA.) Ever since then I have been working.”
Woody Woodpecker was a 12 year journey. “I fell in love with him as a kid. I finally felt that technology was at the point where it was affordable to make him as a real character, photo-integrated into the real world. And at the same time I love making films about animals behaving like people. I pursued the rights but no one wanted to make it. Woody Woodpecker is one of the most well-known cartoon characters universally. I made the movie Little Rascals reboot for Universal and they said we love the film you just made, What do you want to do next? They read the treatment, and said we love it. Go make this movie.”
As for casting the two main roles in the Woody Woodpecker film, this is what Zamm says. “Timothy Omudnson I had known for a while. Loved his work on Psych. He is a great asset on this project.
“Eric Bauza was able to do not only voice Woody Woodpercker but brought the character to life. I didn’t want Woody to be this soft and cute cuddly character. I wanted him to have a lot of attitude and be a little bratty.”
While Woody Woodpecker isn’t arriving in theaters in the United States, it did get a theatrical release in Latin and South America. “This is part of a trend in split releases. Woody is coming off a spectacular theatrical release in Brazil. The character has never been off the air in Brazil. It was the #1 movie in theaters in Brazil. And then it has been on an 11 country tour of Latin and South America. Mexico, Columbia where it did very well.”
Woody Woodpecker was released on digital and streaming and DVD and Netflix in the rest of the world.
“It is challenging, “says Zamm, referring to the somewhat new movie ‘class sytem.’
“You have movies that are released in theaters, movies that go directly to streaming (Netflix) or VOD. And other movies that are straight to DVD. Costs of releasing movies have risen exponentially. And there is a conundrum with this fairly recent class distinction. But there are so many more venues for filmmakers to showcase their work with the opportunity for their work to potentially be seen by many more people than they could have ever imagined.”