10 Killer Facts About They Live

Roddy Piper stars in They Live (1988).
Roddy Piper stars in They Live (1988).
Shout! Factory

In the mid-1980s, John Carpenter stumbled upon a comic book story set in a world where aliens were secretly controlling the entire human race. A lifelong fan of science fiction, Carpenter saw a metaphor lurking there that tied the aliens to Reagan-era Republican politicians, and a story began brewing in his mind. That story became They Live, Carpenter’s cult masterpiece about an American everyman who sees the world for what it really is with the help of a very special pair of sunglasses.

Teaming with professional wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper for the lead role, Carpenter and company set out to make a film full of alien ghouls (most of which were the same guy), borrowed props, and a fight scene that seemed like it would never end. The result is one of greatest cult films of the 1980s, which also happens to feature one of the greatest movie lines of all time. We have come here to chew bubble gum and give you 10 facts about the making of They Live … and we’re all out of bubble gum.

1. They Live was inspired by a comic book adaptation of a short story.

They Live is an adaptation of Ray Nelson’s science fiction short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning,” which was originally published in the 1960s. But John Carpenter’s more direct inspiration was an Eclipse Comics adaptation of Nelson’s story, which he stumbled across in the mid-1980s. Intrigued by the idea of aliens enslaving humanity, Carpenter then sought out the original prose work.

"'Eight O’Clock in the Morning is' a D.O.A.-type of story, in which a man is put in a trance by a stage hypnotist,” Carpenter told Starlog in 1988. "When he awakens, he realizes that the entire human race has been hypnotized, and that alien creatures are controlling humanity. He has only until eight o'clock in the morning to solve the problem."

Though Carpenter liked the idea of the entire populace being controlled subliminally by an alien menace, he wasn’t too keen on the hypnotism idea. He bought the rights to the story and began adapting it, changing hypnotism to the very 1980s notion of Americans being controlled via subliminal messaging.

2. They Live was a response to Ronald Reagan's America.

Carpenter has described They Live as a “primal scream against Reaganomics,” a story that uses a science fiction concept to pour on social commentary about the way he saw what was happening to the American middle class in the 1980s. In a 1988 interview with Starlog promoting the film’s release, Carpenter noted that he’d begun watching television more frequently while developing the story, and realized “it’s all about wanting us to buy something,” which further influenced his take on the material.

“I wanted to strike out in some way, so I cast the Republicans as alien creatures,” Carpenter later recalled.

Even years later, Carpenter continues to believe in the relevance of the rich-get-richer conspiracy at the heart of the film. "They’re still here, making more money than ever, and they’re still among us,” he said.

3. John Carpenter wrote They Live under an alias.

Carpenter has always been a multi-hyphenate kind of filmmaker, directing, writing, producing and scoring his movies. But by the time They Live came around, he’d grown a little disillusioned with the idea of continuing to have his name plastered absolutely everywhere. With that in mind, he decided that he’d use a pseudonym for They Live’s screenplay credit.

“It was a reaction to seeing my name all over these movies,” Carpenter explained to Entertainment Weekly in 2012. "I think the height of it was Christine. It was like, John Carpenter’s Christine, directed by John Carpenter, music by John Carpenter … what an egotist!”

Carpenter chose the pseudonym Frank Armitage, which is a character from H.P. Lovecraft’s story “The Dunwich Horror,” which he picked “just because I love Lovecraft.”

4. Roddy Piper had never heard of John Carpenter.

For the role of “John Nada,” They Live's central character, Carpenter was on the hunt for an everyman who could embody the blue collar working class. A lifelong wrestling fan, Carpenter was intrigued by the prospect of meeting with “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, and the two were introduced by Piper’s manager after Wrestlemania III. Piper was interested in getting into more acting roles, but later admitted he had no idea who Carpenter was before meeting him.

“The guy who was managing me at the time, Dave Wolfe, said, ‘I want you have dinner with this guy.’ I never heard of him, but that’s my bad, you know? ’Cause I had been fighting pro since I was 15, I was rolling pretty hard,” Piper recalled. “And he said, ‘Ok, after [Wrestlemania is] over, after it’s over.’ So we sat down and, I’m trying not to be too facetious, but it was pretty close to this—‘Could you pass me the butter? You want a roll? Yeah. Want to star in my next movie? Sure. Can I have some more champagne? Sure.’ It wasn’t much more than that, really.”

For his part, Carpenter felt Piper’s look and demeanor perfectly matched the Nada he was looking for.

“His face, his scars, everything about him. He seemed completely believable,” Carpenter said.

5. They Live's most famous line came from Roddy Piper.

Even if you’ve never seen They Live, you’ve probably heard someone at some point in your life say: “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubble gum.” Ever since Nada delivered that line in the film, it’s maintained a life even beyond They Live, becoming one of the most popular and frequently quoted lines in all of pop culture. According to Carpenter, the line came straight from Piper, who kept a notebook full of quips like that to use in his wrestling promos.

“Traveling all around the country wrestling different people, those guys come up with a lot of stuff to hype matches in interviews. They have to come up with one-liners. Roddy had a book full of them that he carried with him,” Carpenter explained. “He’d sit on a plane and come up with these things. He gave me the book when I was writing the script and that was the best one in there. I think he was wrestling Playboy Buddy Rose and he may have said the line then.”

According to Piper, the line actually didn’t enter the picture until the day they shot the scene, but either way both men agree that he wrote it.

6. They Live's subliminal messaging proved costly.

They Live was a relatively low-budget film, and Carpenter recalled a budget of only about $4 million when he and Piper recorded a commentary track for the film years later, so the filmmakers sometimes had to get creative when depicting a world secretly taken over by aliens. In some cases, this was relatively easy, as in the moments when Nada looks through his sunglasses up at billboards on the sides of buildings. For that, Carpenter and company turned to classic matte paintings rather than paying to have new billboards hung and filmed. “It was just old-fashioned filmmaking, one of the oldest tricks in the book,” Carpenter recalled.

The scene in which Nada comes upon a supermarket full of aliens (or ghouls, to use Carpenter’s preferred term) was more complicated because every visible label in the store had to be replaced with a plain white label revealing the subliminal messaging. According to Carpenter, the crew attempted to shoot the scene on location at a real market, but they simply couldn’t cover everything, so a set had to be built instead.

“That was our biggest expenditure,” Carpenter said of the subliminal supermarket.

7. They Live's props were recycled from other movies.

In a few shots of They Live, particularly in the scenes set in the alien compound near the end, you might notice the alien characters using strange, sci-fi-looking devices as communicators, and realize they look similar to props used as ghost detection devices in Ghostbusters. That’s because they’re the same props. According to Carpenter, the film was so low-budget that they rented various things from prop houses, and that’s how the got those devices.

This money-saving technique also meant that the film got props left over from another Carpenter film. According to Piper, Big Trouble in Little China is responsible for the sunglasses at the center of the story.

“When John did Big Trouble in Little China with Kurt Russell, there’s a scene with the 18-wheeler … if you look at those glasses, they had a whole bunch of those glasses left over,” Piper said. “That’s the glasses we used in They Live. And, yes, I have a couple of pairs of the original glasses.”

8. Yes, They Live's iconic fight scene was always meant to be that long.

They Live is perhaps most famous for Roddy Piper’s “bubble gum” line, but longtime fans of the film also recall the fight scene between Nada and Frank (Keith David) as an equally important hallmark. It lasts more than five minutes at a key point in the film and goes through several evolutions, though the argument is always just over Frank’s refusal to put on Nada’s sunglasses. According to Carpenter, the fight was scripted as several nearly-blank pages in the screenplay that simply read “The Fight Continues,” signifying that it was always meant to be a long scene.

To make it come to life, Imada rehearsed and choreographed the scene for more than a month with Piper and David. Working with pads outside Carpenter’s office, they practiced each major beat (including several pro wrestling moves) over and over until they could hit each other for real while also pulling their punches to reduce injury. The result is what we see in the film.

Years later, during an interview for the DVD release, Carpenter was asked if he ever considered making the fight any shorter in the editing room. His response: “F**k no!”

9. One guy played (almost) every alien.

The whole point of the alien “ghouls” at the center of They Live is that they can be anybody, from the lady next to you at the supermarket to the cop who’s arresting you to the President of the United States. In actual fact, though, the ghouls in the film aren’t just anybody. They’re mostly one guy: Jeff Imada, who was also the film’s stunt coordinator. According to Imada, Carpenter originally hired actors to play the ghouls in the film, but wasn’t too happy with the male actor in particular, and asked Imada to begin doubling.

“It was funny because I ended up doubling a lot of the stunt guys that were in there,” Imada recalled.

Imada played “not all of them, but quite a few” in the film, including the very last ghoul we see, who’s having sex with a woman when the alien signal is shut down and all of the ghouls are revealed as they truly appear.

10. John Carpenter improvised the score.

Like many of his films, Carpenter also served as a composer for They Live, working once again with composer and sound designer Alan Howarth for what turned out to be a largely improvisational process. “I walked into Alan’s studio with a complete blank,” Carpenter said, and noted that he has taken a similarly blank slate approach to many of his films.

With Howarth (who recalled that Carpenter didn’t even want the faintest explanation of how his synthesizers worked) working on the programming side of things, Carpenter sat down at a keyboard with a cut of the movie playing on a screen in front of him, and started to make up the music as the film went along, beginning with the tempo, which was pulled directly from the pace of Nada’s walk across the train tracks in the opening shot. From there, Carpenter was off, and Howarth made adjustments as they went.

“I just invented this little bass part and put everything around it,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter was also responsible for one other key element of the film’s sound: The deep alien voice saying “sleep” is his, recorded and manipulated by Howarth. 

Additional Sources:
“Independent Thought”: An Interview with Writer/Director John Carpenter (Shout! Factory, 2012)
“Watch, Look, Listen”: The Sights and Sounds of They Live (Shout! Factory, 2012)

13 Facts About Amadeus On Its 35th Anniversary

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Though much has been written about the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the most entertaining look at the master composer's life might very well be Amadeus, Milos Forman's film about the artist's life (and rivalries), which was released on September 19, 1984.

Here's a look back at the Oscar-winning biopic that not only brought renewed interest to Mozart's music in the 1980s, but inspired Austrian rocker Falco to write the chart-topping "Rock Me Amadeus." Poor Salieri never stood a chance.

1. Amadeus began life as a Tony Award-winning play.

Russian poet/playwright Alexander Pushkin wrote a short play in 1830 called Mozart and Salieri, and playwright Peter Shaffer—who was already a Tony winner for Equus—took inspiration from that to write his own play. Amadeus played in various theaters in London beginning in 1979, then premiered on Broadway in 1980 with Ian McKellen as Antonio Salieri, Tim Curry as Mozart, and Jane Seymour as Constanze, Mozart's wife. The production won five Tonys, including Best Play and Best Actor for McKellen, who beat out Curry for the award; the two leads had been nominated in the same category.

2. Mark Hamill wanted the lead role, but Milos Forman wouldn't let him audition.

In an attempt to circumvent any typecasting he might get after three blockbuster Star Wars films launched his career, Mark Hamill played the composer on Broadway for nine months in 1983. But when the time came for the movie to be made, Czech director Miloš Forman couldn’t get the space cowboy image out of his head. “Miloš Forman told me, ‘Oh no, you must not play the Mozart because the people not believing the Luke Spacewalker as Mozart,’” Hamill said in a 1986 interview. “He was very upfront about it, and I appreciated that rather than getting my hopes up that it was possible I’d be playing the role.”

3. Kenneth Branagh legitimately thought he had landed the lead role.

A young Kenneth Branagh was an early contender for the part of Mozart. In his autobiography, he wrote that he thought he had the part in the bag until Forman informed him they were casting Americans for the leads. Other actors who auditioned for the Mozart role included Tim Curry and Mel Gibson. Though Mozart was a rock star in his day, actual rock star Mick Jagger was also turned down after his audition.

4. Mozart's frequent collaborator Emanuel Schikaneder was played by another stage Mozart.

Actor Simon Callow originated the role of Mozart at the Royal National Theater production of Amadeus in 1979, and though Forman told him his portrayal was "truly brilliant, fantastic, asshole and genius, funny, tragic, crazy, a baby and a god," the director wasn't prepared to give him the title role in the film. Instead, he cast Callow as Emanuel Schikaneder, the librettist who worked with Mozart on The Magic Flute and played the part of Papageno the bird catcher.

5. The movie was shot without the use of light bulbs or other modern lighting devices.

The Tyl Theatre in Prague was the original theater where Don Giovanni first premiered in October 1787, and the authenticity of the building was a huge boon for the production since it had hardly been updated since it was first built in 1783. “[The Tyl is] where the opera premiered. And he conducted the first performance. And none of the opera house had been touched since he was there," choreographer Twyla Tharp recalled in 2015. "We had fire everywhere. We could have burnt down the opera house. We had live fire in the chandelier. We were lighting people on stage, and these guys were whipping these torches around."

Patrizia von Brandenstein—who became the first woman to win the Oscar for Best Art Direction with this movie—had nightmares about damaging the all-wooden opera house. "I thought, 'God will truly punish me if this place catches on fire,'" she said.

6. Tom Hulce practiced piano for four to five hours a day.

In order to look believable on camera, Hulce spent a month with a piano teacher before filming. Although he knew some basics—he could read music, and had played violin and sung in choirs as a child—he needed to look like a natural. "I spent four weeks, four to five hours a day learning to play,” Hulce told People in 1984. “The first two days were scales and exercises. The next day was a concerto." And for that scene at the masquerade ball when Mozart plays a tune while lying on his back? That was really Hulce.

7. Tom Hulce's laugh is semi-historical, though he had trouble recreating it.

Throughout the movie, Mozart has an infectious cackle—it comes out just as often when he’s giddy as when he’s uncomfortable. Though there are dubious historical reports that the real Mozart had such an obnoxious laugh, Hulce created the giggle after Forman asked him to come up with "something extreme." "I've never been able to make that sound except in front of a camera," Hulce later said. "When we did the looping nine months later, I couldn't find the laugh. I had to raid the producer's private bar and have a shot of whiskey to jar myself into it."

8. Someone really did commission a requiem from Mozart—it just wasn't Salieri.

The script clearly took some artistic liberties, including the plot line of the masked man who comes to Mozart pretending to be his dead father. This was not, as the movie portrays, Salieri. But in 1791, Austrian Count Franz von Walsegg—who had a penchant for commissioning music to pass off as his own at his twice-weekly concerts—approached Mozart and asked for a requiem for his beloved wife, who had died on Valentine’s Day.

According to a famously censored document in which a teacher near Vienna, Anton Herzog, recorded firsthand accounts of von Walsegg’s court, the Count often rewrote these commissioned quartets and other scores in his own hand and didn’t give credit to the original composers. His staff musicians often laughed this off because it seemed to amuse the Count, and because the Count was also an amateur musician in his own right. Mozart’s “Requiem Mass in D minor,” the document alleges, was one such piece. And Mozart really did die later that year, in December, before completing the full mass. Salieri didn’t help him complete it though; Austrian composer and possible Mozart student Franz Süssmayr took that on.

9. The actors felt intense jealousy, too.

Salieri and Mozart were the 18th-century equivalent of frenemies: They were contemporaries in a competitive field, and though they needed each other’s support, they weren’t above petty jealousies and a little backstabbing. Hulce and F. Murray Abraham (who played Salieri) also felt those pressures. ''Tom and Meg [Tilly, the actress originally cast as Constanze] were very close,'' Abraham told The New York Times in 1984. ''They had these secret jokes and were always laughing together. I was pushed out, and I was resentful. I began to have very nasty feelings that were exactly like Salieri's feelings toward Mozart. When that correspondence between a film and real life occurs, it's a director's dream.''

“Occasionally Murray and I would go out and drink this terrible sweet champagne that they have in Prague," added Hulce. "But at other times there was a rivalry between us, and I found myself suspicious of him.''

10. It was shot almost entirely on location in Prague—while under surveillance from the Secret Police.

During filming in 1983, Czechoslovakia was under Communist rule. The production team was often followed around by the secret police, and Forman and the cast spoke about their fears that a Fourth of July prank—the unfurling of the American flag in the concert hall and the singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" by the large cast and crew—would lead to their arrests for inciting rebellion. Many suspected that their hotel rooms had been bugged during the six months they spent filming the movie.

Forman, who was considered a traitor for becoming an American citizen and not returning to the Soviet-controlled area, had previously had one of his movies banned in the country (then called the Czech Socialist Republic). According to Twyla Tharp, in order to shoot in red territory, Forman had to make certain concessions. "Miloš had to sign an agreement that he would go to his hotel every night for the year that he was there and that his driver would be his best friend from the old days," Tharp told The Hollywood Reporter. "And everybody knew what would happen to his best friend if something untoward politically happened around Miloš, because Miloš was a sort of local hero and he was dangerous to the authorities."

11. A teenage Cynthia Nixon had a small but pivotal role.

At age 17, Nixon played Lorl, the maid employed by Salieri to spy on Mozart. Though she was an experienced child actor at that point, she was also trying to finish her schooling. Thus, she and her parents were cautious of the time she'd need to be abroad for filming. "When I was cast in Amadeus with Miloš Forman, which was shooting in Europe," Nixon said in 2014, "I said, 'I want to be in your film so much, but I have a request: If I don’t shoot for two days in a row, you have to send me home.' They agreed."

12. The distributor made a promotional video depicting Mozart as a modern rock star.

Since the movie wasn't financed by a major studio with lots of promotional dollars behind it, the distributor, Orion Pictures, decided to get creative. And what better way to promote a rock star in the age of MTV than with a music video featuring David Lee Roth and cuts of Bruce Springsteen, Van Halen, KISS, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, and Madonna dancing along to Mozart's "Symphony No. 25 in G minor"?

13. The movie was a huge hit.

The film nearly tripled its $18 million budget at the box office, which was particularly impressive considering it opened in a limited 25 theaters and didn’t have a wide release until several months later. The movie also swept the Academy Awards—of its 11 nominations, it won eight, including Best Picture and Best Director. And, just as on Broadway, Salieri won the Best Actor statuette over Mozart, with Abraham beating out Hulce.

Pod Search, a Search Engine for Podcasts, Can Help You Find Your Next Binge-Listen

Milkos/iStock via Getty Images
Milkos/iStock via Getty Images

Having too many options definitely seems like the best problem to have when it comes to picking your next top podcast obsession, but that doesn’t make it any less overwhelming. To streamline the hunt, try Pod Search—a website and mobile app that has all the information you need in order to choose a winner.

As Lifehacker reports, the user-friendly site is organized in several different ways, depending on how you’d like to operate your search. You can browse its list of about 30 categories, which range from “Storytelling” to “Crime & Law,” and each has a set of subcategories so you can get even more specific. If you trust the opinions of the general public, you can choose an already-popular podcast from the “Top Podcasts” tab. Or, if you like to be the first to recommend the next big thing to your friends, you can pick a program from the list of new podcasts.

Pod Search also has a handy tool called MyPodSearch which will pretty much do all the work of choosing the perfect podcast for you. All you have to do is check whichever categories interest you and add any additional keywords you’d like (which is optional), and MyPodSearch will deliver a list of podcasts personalized for your tastes. This is great for people who have wide-ranging interests, a proclivity for indecision, or both.

Each podcast has its own landing page with a description, audio samples, places you can listen, website and social media links for the podcast, and a list of other podcasts from the same producers. You can also create an account and bookmark podcasts for the future—so, hypothetically, you could have MyPodSearch create a personalized list for you, bookmark them all, and then have a binge-listening itinerary that’ll last you until next year.

[h/t Lifehacker]