Dennis Villelmi: Hello, and Happy Friday the 13th, Mr. Zerner, or may we call you Larry? Welcome to The Bees Are Dead! We’re always honored to have alumni of the horror genre drop by to talk with us; most especially when they’ve been involved in such a revered franchise as “Friday the 13th.” First, let us wish you a happy belated birthday. How have you been lately?
Larry Zerner: Thank you so much. I’ve been great. Thanks for bringing me to The Bees Are Dead.
DV: Your entry into the series came with 1982’s “Friday the 13th Part III.” As the story goes, you were approached for the role of “Shelly” while taking tickets for a viewing of “Mad Max 2” in Westwood , L.A. What was it about you that the producers offered you the role?
LZ: Well, I wasn’t taking tickets, I was standing on a street in Westwood handing out passes to a sneak preview of Road Warrior. And I was approached by the screenwriters (not the producers) Carol Watson and Martin Kitrosser. But they apparently saw me on that street corner – fat, geeky, with the big afro – and that was basically exactly how they had pictured Shelly when they wrote the script. So that got me the audition.
DV: What was your initial reaction to that?
LZ: I was so excited. It was obviously a pretty amazing thing to happen to anybody.
DV: Had you any experience in acting before?
LZ: I had not acted professionally, but I was an aspiring actor. I was in my first year of college studying Theater Arts and I had acted all through junior high and high school. So, while I may not have been the best actor, I had enough experience to know what I was doing when I went to the auditions.
DV: During casting call, was there anyone there who didn’t get the part they were auditioning for, but who later went on to make a big name for himself/herself? (I ask this question with Robert Englund in mind. As many know, he’d auditioned for the role of Luke Skywalker, which ultimately went to his best friend, Mark Hamill. The rest is, of course,…).
LZ: I have no memory of any of the other people who auditioned. I was told that there were other actors who auditioned for Shelly but I never saw any of them.
DV: If you would, share with us some of your best memories from the production phase of “Part III.”
LZ: The whole experience was so much fun. Some of the highlights were filming the scene at the store and running over the motorcycles which was really great because it’s the only time in the movie that Shelly is really happy. Filming the death scene was difficult simply because it was 2 in the morning, cold and I was wet with water and fake blood. But in retrospect it’s very memorable.
DV: How did the iconic hockey mask, which your character had before Jason “appropriated” it, come into play?
LZ: A lot of people take credit for the mask. However, I was not included in any of the discussions so I don’t know the answer. They just gave me the mask. Certainly, no one expected that the hockey mask would become one of the most iconic props in film history. I did ask the producers if they would give me the mask when filming was done but they said, “no.” But I did get to keep the fake axe that Shelly puts on in the middle of the movie.
DV: The actor who portrayed Jason in the film, Richard Brooker, sadly passed away in April of 2013. Where were you when you received the news?
LZ: I was at home and got the news through Facebook. It’s obviously very sad and tragic that he died so young.
DV: Was he thoroughly immersed in the role of Jason Voorhees? In other words, did he employ a certain method that you can recall?
LZ: I can’t say that he was. The thing that I remember most about Richard was him wearing the full Jason makeup and smoking a pipe which always looked pretty strange. But Richard and I never actually had any scenes together in the movie (because my kill is off-screen) so I never got to see him “be” Jason on the set.
DV: Since the film’s release, have you kept in touch with any of the other cast members?
LZ: Yes. I’ve seen or spoke to most of the cast members over the years at screenings or conventions. I’m Facebook friends with Traci Savage and David Katims and Paul Kratka. The only cast member I’ve never spoken to since then is Jeffrey Rogers (“Andy”) who quit acting to become a doctor and has not wanted to have any further involvement with the movie.
DV: Now you’re a big name entertainment lawyer there in Los Angeles, specializing in copyright and trademark laws, and intellectual property. Why the transition from acting to law?
LZ: As you can imagine, it’s very difficult to have a career as an actor even when you’re really good, and I wasn’t that good. My father was a lawyer so when I saw that acting was not going to work out, transitioning to law made sense. But I don’t regret leaving acting. I love my job and my clients and it’s all worked out for the best.
DV: On average, how many cases do you juggle at any given time?
LZ: Juggle? I see what you did there. It depends, but I usually have 5-10 cases going at any one time.
DV: In 2006, the MPAA commissioned a study which shows that the entertainment industry loses $20.5 billion annually. Since then, the cost, no doubt, has risen; this is an unpleasant reflection of the age of social media and online streaming. What’s the most important piece of advice you give your clients that our contributing writers and artists should know in order to protect their intellectual property?
LZ: You have to register your work with the Copyright Office. It’s not expensive, easy to do, and not does it provide proof that you are the owner of the work, one can only obtain attorney’s fees and statutory damages in a lawsuit if the work is registered before the infringement begins. And don’t ever register with the WGA Registry which is just a rip-off.
DV: As the technology enabling entertainment piracy develops further, do you ever feel hard-pressed to keep up on the litigation end?
LZ: The problem of entertainment piracy is mostly a problem for the studios and big companies. I represent individuals who are mostly getting ripped-off by those same studios. So, while I do keep abreast of the new developments, it’s not something that is my main concern.
DV: One of your cases concerned a man who alleged to have had a real life horror in 1975: the late George Lutz, of Amityville infamy. Why did he take issue with the producers of the 2005 remake, and how did the case play out?
LZ: George, who was a great guy, was upset that in the 2005 remake, it showed him trying to kill his family, something that never happened and was never described in any of the books. Unfortunately, George suddenly passed away while the case was proceeding so that was the end of it.
DV: So you have a movie coming out next year, “Death House.” The cast is a ” Who’s Who” of veteran horror celebs from the looks of it. One name I noticed was Vernon Wells, of the aforementioned “Mad Max 2;” how interesting! Again, you’re a “Shelly” in this flick; has he become something of an alter ego by now? Is this going to be a kick-ass film?
LZ: I haven’t seen it yet, but everyone who has tells me that Death House is great. I’m really looking forward to seeing it. Friends of mine produced it so the Shelly thing has become an inside joke.
DV: How often do you receive movie role offers?
LZ: Not very often. My law practice keeps me busy so I’m not out there auditioning. It’s mostly friends and clients who ask me to come in and do a little part in their movie. But if someone out there is looking to hire me, I’m interested if it works out with my schedule.
DV: Let’s talk apocalypse briefly. Due to the growing concerns over North Korea ‘s long-range missile capabilities, if you were to find yourself in a Mad Max-type California tomorrow, or next week, what would you do? As a passionate litigator, could you see yourself in the role of lawgiver in a tribal society that’s emerging from the wreckage?
LZ: As a guy who’s not into guns or survival things I’m not sure how well I would do in the post-apocalypse world. I don’t think there is going to be much need for a copyright lawyer once the missile’s start flying. To steal a joke from Woody Allen, in the event of war, I would probably be a hostage.
DV: You’ve just received a call from someone representing Crystal Lake ‘s best known resident. Somebody’s been infringing on Jason’s “artistic” trademark and he wants the best lawyer in the business. Do you take the case, and what would be your fee in his case? (Laughs).
LZ: I would definitely represent Jason free of charge. All I would want for payment is to get my damn mask back!
DV: Larry, this has been a pleasure; definitely a Friday the 13th to remember. If there’s anything we at The Bees Are Dead can do to promote a future film you’re in, or anything industry -related, just give us a call. We just want you to like us! (True fans of “Friday the 13th” will catch that reference.)