Python-The Movie

The Movie

Python DVD Box Cover Image
DVD Box for the movie PYTHON directed by Richard Clabaugh

Welcome to the PYTHON-THE-MOVIE web page!  My name is Richard Clabaugh and I was the director of the motion picture, PYTHON.  This page is all about that movie with explanations and behind the scenes stories.  Please note our Legal Disclaimer at the bottom of this page.

Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions about Python: The Movie
The Giant Snake Head
Cast and Crew List



This is a page for people who want to know more about how movies get made.  Not the big budget, studio pictures or the artistically crafted independent films, but bread and butter, lower budget commercial movies.  Film education, as well as filmmaking, is part of my occupational life now, so it seemed only logical to provide some information about how this film came to be the way it is, at least from my perspective.

I’ve been a movie fan all my life and have loved SciFi, horror and monster films ever since I was a kid.  I will be forever grateful to Phillip Roth, the head of Unified Film Organization and the producer of Python, for giving me the opportunity to direct this film.

Python was my first feature film as a director, having spent most of my professional life as a cinematographer.  The film was shot for a very modest budget in and around Los Angeles during the summer of 1999.  I was a financial success and I’m told that it went theatrical in every market in Asia and other parts of the world, where it did very good business.  It also sold well on  VHS and DVD here in the United States.  The DVD contains a commentary track, bonus material and selections from our out-takes reel.

The film did well enough to spawn a sequel, Python2: Pythons, which I have seen but had no connection with so I can’t say anything about that one except Lee McConnell, who directed it, is a great guy and I wish him all the success in the world.  I was also happy to see they brought back Billy Zabka as Greg Larson, which is certainly what I would have done too.  Good choice.

Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions about the movie Python

One of the first lessons you learn in making movies, as opposed to merely watching them, is that what you see on screen is not always what the makers intended but often what was possible with time, schedules, resources etc.   I spent many years working as a film instructor at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts School of Filmmaking, where I got to watch over-and-over, first hand, as so many aspiring filmmakers found themselves coming to grips with this surprisingly unexpected reality.  Just because you can imagine it perfectly doesn’t mean you can make that happen in front of a lens or in post production.

Making movies isn’t just about having a good idea in your head, it’s about marshaling forces, mastering technical and artistic skills and making that “vision” into something real using what you’ve got to work with.  As Mick Jagger says in the Rolling Stone’s song, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes… you get what you need.”

In case you had any doubt, we (those of us involved in the making of the film) are well aware that Python is not Oscar material.  Nonetheless, there was no one involved in the production who did not want to make it the best we could.  There a many reviews of the movie online and tons of User Comments on IMDB and on Amazon.  Most of them are pretty negative, but every now and then someone seems to sort of “get it,” in terms of what we were going for.  Often people will pepper their comments with frustrated rhetorical questions like “What where they thinking?”

And that’s why the “teacher” in me decided to write this.

I almost never directly respond to such posts  but since I am in the film education business, and since I see the same questions come up repeatedly, and because I actually know why these things were done the way they were, I thought it might be fun and valuable and possibly even useful to some aspiring filmmakers, to offer up some explanations (or excuses, if you like) for the more common questions.

If you’ve seen the movie, then perhaps you may have some questions like these yourself.  If you haven’t seen the movie, then go and rent it and watch it before you read these.  You might also want to listen to the commentary in which we sort of bicker about who’s responsible for the movie turning out the way it did.

In any case, this online essay is provided strictly for entertainment value and any educational side effects which may result are completely inadvertent.

Click on any of these questions to jump to it, or just read through from the top.

  1. Is Python a rip-off of Anaconda?
  2. Why is the movie so silly?
  3. How come the box says different things than the movie?
  4. What’s with the Lesbian scene?
  5. Why did you make the snake SOOOO big?
  6. What’s up with Casper Van Dien’s accent?
  7. How does a 129-foot snake hide in a 30-foot garage?
  8. Why does it spit acid?
  9. Why is the snake (and movie) called “Python” when it’s not a python?
  10. Did you know that snake’s can’t hear?
  11. Why can’t it lift the jeep?
  12. Why do they put on their bike helmets at a critical moment?
  13. Did you forget about the acid spitting part by the end?
  14. How is is possible for John to hold the snake back with his bare hands at the end?
  15. How can acid kill an acid spitting snake?
  16. Why does the ending make no sense?

Q1:  I just watched Python.  Were you deliberately trying to rip off of Anaconda?

A:  No, I was deliberately trying to rip off Tremors (1990), a much better, much funnier and much more entertaining movie than either Anaconda or Python.  If you’ve never seen it, watch it, it’s great.  Good and funny character stuff intercut with some pretty scary creature stuff.  When we were shooting Python I told everyone to watch the original film of Tremors because that was the tone I wanted to go for, mixing humor and horror.

I did watch Anaconda, but I really didn’t care for it much and the plot had nothing to do with the story we were telling, aside from the fact there was a snake.  Aside from that obvious big snake thing, I’ve never seen the reason for any comparison as there is no other similarity in the stories.

Of course, I did not originate the idea to MAKE Python, I was merely the director hired to shoot the movie.  That original story was created by Phillip Roth, head of Unified Film Organization and the producer of Python.  While I truly have no first hand knowledge about the genesis of the idea if I had to guess I’d suspect the making of Python was less influenced by Anaconda and more affected by the pre-sales on a movie called King Cobra (1999) that had sold well at the previous film market.  There was a demand for snake movies and I think it was a response to that market need that prompted the creation of Python.  But really, I don’t know anything about that aspect of things, it wasn’t anything I was involved in.

I just know I was personally ripping off Tremors, not Anaconda and although I’ve heard about it, I’ve never even seen King Cobra.

Q2:  Why is the movie so silly and stupid?

A:  The humor was in the original script when I got it and I wouldn’t have done it any other way.  It totally plugs into my sensibilities.  I love humor and in doing a giant, killer snake movie, I just wanted to make it a lot of  fun.  I found the script very entertaining and thought we could make a good, Tremors like film, even on our budget.  (Tremors was a hugely successful film, by the way, both critically and commercially, so I hoped there’d be a market for it.)  The table read for the shooting script, where we all sit around and read the script out loud before we start shooting, was hilarious.

The fact of marketing is that action knows no borders but comedy does not sell well internationally, which is a large market for a film of this type.  As the movie came in I think was some legitimate concern with how they were going to sell this thing, which did not fall into any known category they’d previously marketed. I think a desire grew to try and de-emphasize the “silly stuff” and put more focus on the action.  The result is a highly schizophrenic movie that feels like it can’t decided what to be.  As more of the humor and character back story was cut out (often for good reasons) what was left became increasingly out of place.

While I think there is much that works in this movie, the pull of different needs and concerns ultimately made it neither fish-nor-fowl.  The bottom line, I was told they couldn’t sell “my vision” of the film — which I assume means the comedy aspects, and they had to pull back and make it more serious.  That’s why the sequel is played totally straight with none of the silly stuff from the original.  It was felt the comedy didn’t work or, at the very least, comedy doesn’t sell.  Considering we’d shot it as a character-comedy with scary action moments, trying to cut it as a straight-up action film must have been a challenge.

In the end, comments I’ve read that the film looks confused, like it had a director who couldn’t make up his mind or (my favorite) that it was “directed by a series of random people, some of whom were given drugs and some of whom were children picked off the street, given a camera and told to go make a movie,” are, in fact, somewhat on target in their criticism.

Python suffers from cinematic schizophrenia.

Q3: Why does the cover of the box and other stuff say the snake is “Sixty feet of pure TERROR!” but in the movie they say it’s “…a one-hundred-and-twenty-nine foot, all-terrain vehicle…”!?

A:  The original story treatment for Python called for a 60 foot snake.  That was in all the press material used for presales before the film was made.  We changed it during production and I can only assume that rather than reprint all the sales materials they passed along what they had, based on the original concept, to the people at Fox who bought the film.  I assume the box design and promotional people worked off of that material.

Q: The box also says that Dr. Rudolph (Robert Englund) created the snake, but in the movie he says he doesn’t know how it got made but that they “discovered it” in Southeast Asia?  What’s up with that?

A:  Exactly the same note as above, actually.  In the original story he was the creator of the snake.  That changed during production because we thought it was more interesting if the origin of the snake remained a mystery to all the characters.  If he didn’t know everything about the snake then it could surprise him and he’d be less able to control or predict what it would do. He could still be the “expert” we needed for exposition, but not know everything.  We put in a scene where they speculate about the origin of the snake including the possibility that maybesomeone DID genetically engineer the snake, or maybe it was a mutant from Agent Orange or something.  The point being,  no one knows, he never got it to the lab to study it and find out.  Again, I must nod my head to Tremors for this one, they never explained the origin of their creatures either and I thought that was great and left things very open ended, especially as, really, it doesn’t matter.  When the snake is out to kill you and your friends, who made it isn’t the thing you’re dealing with.  I like mystery and unknown in this type of thing over having all the answers.  Again, the original press material reflected the original concept and it appears the box and press release material never got the update after we shot it.

If I were to do another one (which, by the way, I’m not) I’d have that it was deliberately engineered and have a plot where the eggs were being smuggled into the US by terrorists, who’d plant them around military installations, small towns, etc., knowing the resulting creatures would cause fear, horror and destruction, which is only thing a giant snake is good for anyway, and that just happens to be the goal of terrorism.  Bombs are too hard to sneak across the border now, but the eggs….   That would be my concept for another Python, if I did it.  I say someone made this snake for a reason.

Q4:  The lesbian scene at the beginning of the movie is either:
(A) the most crude and tasteless thing I’ve ever seen or…
(B) the greatest stroke of genius in B-movie history!
Who’s idea was that?

A:  This is, without a doubt, the most talked about thing in the film, the bit more people actually write to yell at me about, and the thing more people tell me they thought was brilliant.  Amazingly, I hear just as many people tell me how that scene was “the best thing in the movie” as I do people who say the opposite, feeling it was crude or tasteless or inappropriate.

So what’s the story on that and who deserves the credit and/or blame?

First, I want to say that I truly wish I COULD take credit for it, honestly, because it’s a very out-there idea and so well remembered, but it would be wrong of me to take credit for anther man’s genius. Left to me, I would never have done that scene.  The credit belongs to the father of Python, creator of the story and producer of the film, Phillip J. Roth.  And as best I can recall it, here’s how it went.

Originally the scene was a man-woman couple camping by the side of the lake.  They make love and are attacked and killed by the monster.

This seemed to many of us to be a very familiar, very 1950’s “B-picture” opening.  Now there was, in the first versions, a far more graphic, sexual and, shall we say, “unique” way by which the snake killed the woman that was definitely NOT something from a 1950’s “B” picture!  How graphic was it?  Let’s put it this way, in even alluding to it while doing the commentary track they made us stop and rerecord that section as it was deemed too nasty.  This just implying it in words on a commentary track for a film that was rated “R” already!  Heck, we were going to actually FILM it and they wouldn’t even let us say it!  Jesh!  Some people don’t get horror.

Unrelated to that plot element, in an effort to make the film more interesting and progressive, there was talk of making one of the characters in the film a lesbian.  If you’ve seen the film then you’re probably immediately thinking of certain characters and the fact is it’s probably none of the characters you’re actually thinking about being lesbians.  It wasn’t one of the women.  The idea would be to cast a woman as Deputy Larson (the part played by William Zabka in the film) and let her be a lesbian.  Everything else remains the same.  The idea would be that she had an affair with Kristin while John Cooper was gone.  The deputy and John would still get into this big fight, adding a new dynamic to the subtext, but with everything else the same, just playing Larson as a woman.

I gotta tell you, I think there’s some real merit in that idea.  I like twisting things away from the expected, but at that point I’d worked out the motivations and relationships of the characters based on the script we had and the idea of reinventing those core relationships in my mind at that stage just didn’t work for me.  Others felt the same and while it may be true that we were a gutless bunch who lacked vision, we eventually kept Deputy Greg Larson a guy.


That opening scene by the lake with the cliché 1950’s couple and the tasteless killing we didn’t want still badly needed something to make it more interesting and different.

The idea that maybe we could make THEM lesbians came up.  The flame took immediate hold, and our Producer felt it would be a totally cool twist to open the movie this way.

He’s right.  It is.  I can tell you now, I have heard more comments on that scene as “brilliant” than anything else in the movie.

Me, I had no vision.  I was gutless.  My feeling was that a giant snake movie is something for boys age 13 and up, and while I suspect they too, might greatly enjoy the lesbian scene, I wasn’t sure their parents would let them watch it.  It’s a funny thing in the United States, how parents are more upset over their kids seeing something sexual than they are letting them see extreme violence.  I can soak characters in acid and have them eaten by a giant snake, and no parent has complained yet, that’s okay for their kids to see, but one woman kissing another’s bare breast is a horror and I’m called “sick” for putting such a thing in the movie.  What kind of a messed up culture is this!?

My biggest argument against it at the time was that I felt it had nothing to do with the rest of the movie in tone or content.  I figure if you start a movie with a scene like that then you need to have a few more like it elsewhere in the film because a setup like that makes you think you’re watching that kind of movie.  If that sort of thing excites you then our film lets you down because we don’t deliver anything else like it.  If you don’t care for that, then you turn us off and never see there’s nothing else like that in the rest of the movie.  That was my only argument. I mean, I love lesbian scenes, but didn’t think we were doing this for the right reasons.

To his eternal credit, Phil Roth is a visionary, the producer without fear.  He went for it and my hat is off to him for bravery and creativity.  It did what he wanted it to do.  I can honestly say there is no other movie I know of with a lesbian eating snake scene in it.  The absurd, crazy and Freudian quality of that scene is so out there, well, I guess it fit into the movie more than I realized and Phil was a genius to insist on it.

So I hope you like it, because it’s there, and it’s more interesting than a cliche, 1950’sopening.  It works in that it’s a twist on the old expected “couple by the lake” thing and certainly lets you know when the movie starts that you’re not in the 50’s anymore and this sure ain’t Kansas.

Q5:  The idea of making a snake 129 feet long is ludicrous!  Was that your stupid idea or the writers?

A:  That was my stupid idea, totally.  Blame me.  I had some help on the numbers from Andy Hofman in the CGI department but blame me.  Why 129 feet?  A couple reasons. For one thing I’m not actually scared of snakes and I wanted something that would scare me.  I felt it would be more horrible and frightening if we created the Godzilla of snakes, a real, major monster, not just a “big snake” as in Anaconda (which did nothing for me).  The size did, of course, create many a production problem.  But there were other reasons for making it that size.

Q:  Yeah, but 129 feet?  Come on!  How’d you come up with that number!?

A:  It’s the result of one of those strange interconnectedness of things that happens in movie making.  The exact length of the snake was actually dictated by the width of a bathroom door. I wanted to prolong how long we cold terrorize the girl in the shower and that meant we had to come up with some way to keep the snake away from her for a bit after she saw it.  Otherwise she looks up, gets eaten, end of scene.  That’s no fun, we need a longer trauma which means an obstacle has to be invented for the snake.

I thought if the snake couldn’t get it’s head through the narrow door right away then it could repeatedly ram it, each time the wall giving a bit more, increasing the tension, the girl growing more terrified and desperate, until finally, with repeated attempts the snake finally breaks through.   Andy Hofman, effects supervisor, calculated the actual number.  He took scale measurements of an actual snake we had brought into the office (the python that played “Lady G.” in the film, in fact) and the most narrow bathroom door we could realistically make.  Thing is, snakes aren’t very wide, even at the head.  Even a really big snake could fit through almost any opening.  He came up with a figure and told me that he’d calculated it out and for the proportions to be correct the snake would have to be 129 feet long (or maybe it was 159 and we cheated it down a bit, I don’t recall).  We tried to make it shorter but keep the head the same, but in drawings the snake started to look sort of worm-like.  In retrospect, I think we could have cheated it a bit more than we did since we never see the full length of the snake.  Who’d have known it wasn’t 60 or anything else!?  In the script it was just a number someone said but the reality of a snake that size was a bit more awkward as we went into production.  Still, I did think a 129 foot snake would be just awesome to play with so I pushed for it.  Blame me.

Q6:  What’s up with Casper Van Dien’s accent?  Where is it supposed to be from?

A:  Casper was the only actor I did not have the pleasure of meeting prior to the shoot.  He was on another show until just before we started and, as a result, we never got a chance to discuss his character or anything.  I literally met him as he was walking to the set, in costume, and ready to shoot.  We were already lit and ready to go for his first scene in the movie.

We go in place to rehearse, I called action, and we ran the scene.  That’s the first time anyone  heard the accent.  Since we hadn’t had any time to talk before that he hadn’t mentioned it to me so I wasn’t expecting it.  After “cut on rehearsal” I walked up and said, “We’ve never had a chance to talk about your character before, why don’t you tell me what you’d like to do with this guy, how you see him, what’s his background as you want to play it?”

Casper had worked out this background for this guy as a Southern Gentleman, possibly Kentucky but certainly the Southern US, a graduate of West Point, etc… whole background.  Now as a director the thing I most love, and want to encourage in my actors is taking chances. I want them to bring choices to the table and not be afraid to try something off beat, especially in a movie like this which is not exactly high-drama.  I wanted him to be happy with the part he was playing.

The thing about an accent is you really need to rehearse it for a bit, try it on like a pair of shoes, because once you start filming with it, you have to keep it, there’s no changing your mind on day three and saying, “Ya’ know, maybe we should drop the accent.”  Having heard only a few lines I really wasn’t sure how it would play, but I did know that we had to start shooting right then to make our day and I really wanted to encourage him to have fun with his part and try interesting things with it.  For me that’s the most important part of directing actors, encouraging them to try stuff.  Shooting down the one idea he’d brought to the table seemed like a bad idea at the time.  I had to trust he’d make it work, and in that moment, on the spot, I decided to go with it because I wanted him to make this character his own.

I think, if we’d had time to talk and rehearse prior to that day, we might not have gone with it.  I think I did him a disservice.  Comments on the film have been very critical of the accent.  It’s a director’s job to protect his actors and give them the feedback they need to know how what they’re doing is playing.  I just needed more time to try it out before I could give him that feedback, and circumstances didn’t allow it.  No one’s fault, just the way it was.

I know why I made my choice but it’s clear that, for most people, the accent didn’t work.  This speaks to the importance of working with your cast before you show up on the set to shoot.  Even the best actors need time to try out their characters and experiment with different approaches before the cameras roll.

Q7: How does a 129 foot snake hide in a garage that’s only 30 feet wide?

A:  I guess it doesn’t, except in low budget snake movies where it has to.  We were looking for a mansion with an enormous, multi-car garage, but when it came down to the wire we couldn’t find a house with a garage nearly big enough.   The location we could get is the location we shot and that was the garage you saw in the movie, no matter what the script called for.

Obviously I knew it was too small at the time, so in an attempt to hide this in the first cut we omitted the shot of Kenny’s point-of-view as he looked around the garage.  To me that shot made it obvious the room was way too small and there was no place for the snake to hide.  Also, I thought it was more classy and suspenseful to stay tight on him as he looked.  It gives a sense of claustrophobia and dread when you can’t see what’s around the character but you know something is in there with him.  Close-ups, in this case, are more tense than wide shots and I was hoping that maybe if we played it that way and didn’t actually show the whole garage it wouldn’t be so obvious there was no place for the snake to hide.  Of course, that’s not the way it worked out in the final cut and maybe I was wrong about that approach anyway.

I also sort of played with the idea that since you hadn’t actually seen the snake at that point you didn’t know yet what size it really was and maybe it just keeps growing during the course of the film anyway, you know, the more it eats and all, so I thought I could get away with it.

I was wrong.

In short, yes, the size of the snake was a problem and that was my own fault, but one I was stuck with once I got into production and I STILL like the idea of the snake being that big, I just wish we could’ve found a bigger garage.

Q8:  An acid spitting snake!?  Where did that dopey idea come from!?

A:  Believe it or not, there are reasons.

Firstly, cobras actually do spit their venom to incapacitate their victim, so there was a slight precedent for having a snake spray something out of its mouth to neutralize it’s prey.  That was the impetus and the justification.  We just decided it was spitting stomach acid rather than venom.  Slap me silly and call me Shirley but I thought that could be reasonably plausible as a trait from a previously unknown species.

But frankly, we NEEDED it to spit acid in order to solve two major plot problems.

Plot problem one: Digestion.  If the snake merely eats and excretes the victims then no one can find the bodies for a least a few days after the attack.  That didn’t work.  Time wise, we needed to find horribly messed up bodies shortly after the attacks took place and we couldn’t have the story just stop and wait with our characters twiddling their thumbs for the snake to eat, digest, excrete the victim and then for someone to find the body.  By having some victims sprayed with acid and left behind while others were excreted we were able to find bodies when and where we needed them in the story without waiting for tummy-time.

Plot problem two: Motivation.  No, not the snake’s motivation, the characters.  In the story Deputy Greg Larson (William Zabka) has a grudge against our lead that motivates him to accuse John Cooper of the murders.  But why would anyone go along with that?  There was virtually no reason to suspect John Cooper had done anything and it was obvious Larson had it in for him so why would the Sheriff arrest him?

Well, it was already in the original story that he worked at a plating plant (“Perfecto Plating”) with lots of acid, and that there were issues of toxic fumes and the city trying to shut them down to make room for a new mall.  If the victims were soaked in acid, then our hero would be a more plausible suspect since he worked in an acid plant and the city would have another excuse it was looking for to close the place down.  John Cooper’s situation would worsen, the bad guys motives would be more plausible…  It just fixed a whole lot of issues.

And it’s cool.  I loved the idea of an acid spitting snake.  I’d never seen that before and it reminded me a bit of fire-breathing dragons.

I’m a fan of real horror films and we designed this really great, totally gross, guaranteed to freak you out scene where Kenny the Closer’s face melts off.  It was made by the great guys at Sota effects, who I’d worked with before on Phantoms, and they made it in stages.  First we make-up the actor to look burned and nasty, increase this in a couple stages.  Eventually we replace the actor’s head with a fake one they created after taking a mold of Scott Williamson’s head (Kenny-the-Closer).  That fake head looked like him, but messed up a bit and with this great, ready-to-tear-and-melt flesh.  So in shooting the scene we would start with the real actor, do a few shots adding make up to him, then eventually replace his head with the fake head but with the real actor’s hands and such tearing at it.  As he claws desperately at his (fake) face, as if to get the acid off, he basically starts tearing the rotting skin from his own bones and his face literally melts away on camera.  Eventually it all falls off until there’s nothing left but bare, exposed bloody bones, and he keels over dead (using a third head) dropping  to the floor with a nasty splat, and he’s nothing but  a steaming pile of pre-digested, ready-to-be-swallowed snake food.  The guys at Sota Effects made the heads and were ready to go, but we quite literally ran out of time to shoot it that day.  This was, perhaps, my biggest disappointment as I really thought that would be a true highlight of the film for horror fans.

My feeling is, if you’re doing horror, then don’t hold back, do HORROR!  I wanted to deliver the goods and I thought that would get remembered as a really cool, totally horror-movie thing to do.

So yeah, we invented an acid spitting snake because it solved plot problems and gave us a chance to do some really cool horror stuff.  And I like it.

Q9:  But the movie is called “Python” and pythons don’t spit acid!

A:  Okay, let’s get something clear.  In spite of the title, this snake is NOT a python!  It’s “Python.”

“Python” is the name Dr. Rudolph gives this creature of unknown species based on the mythological monster “Python” in classic Greek mythology.  To quote Mythnet: “Python was a monstrous snake or dragon which Apollo had to kill before he founded his oracle at Delphi. This act symbolized the triumph of the Olympian gods over earlier underworld gods.”

Dr. Rudolph called the creature “Python” after the snake-like deity of mythology.  If you listen carefully, this is the story Dr. Rudolph is muttering somewhat incoherently when Cooper and Kristin find him in the bunker.  The dialog there actually went on longer to explain this in more detail, with Cooper saying “Look buddy, I’ve seen pythons before and that ain’t no python,” and Rudolph then explaining, “not a python — PYTHON!” and he tells the story of Apollo killing the snake deity.  But it was one of those explanations often cut out to make movies move faster because it slowed the pacing down and, in the end, really didn’t affect anything in the story when removed.  Often in movies we shoot the explanations for things, but the explanations get cut because the story just stops dead while you give them.

But the idea was never that this was a python that grew big, but that it’s some kind of unique creature, of unknown origin, related to the snake family and having characteristics of different species, but it is NOT (and never was) a python that just “grew up.”.  At least not in my mind.  It’s either a mutant or a genetically created organism, but it’s NOT a big snake anymore than a great blue whale is a big minnow.  They are two entirely different species that just happen to have shared characteristics.  Python is a monster, not a snake, and I felt that left us the freedom to play a bit with what it could do.

Q10:  Is that why you let the snake “hear” when she blows the car horn or did you just not know that snakes can’t hear?

A:  We knew snakes couldn’t hear and in fact, at one point, we had at least one draft of the script where they tell Dr. Rudolph that the snake heard them and he said, “Snakes can’t hear!” and they answered back, “Well, this one can!”  But it didn’t make the movie.  The idea was that would be just one more piece in the puzzle that this wasn’t any kind of actual ‘snake’ but possibly a created organism.  But who made it, and how, and for what reason, that we wanted to remain a mystery to the characters and the audience.

Q:  If the snake is so strong how come when it’s head is stuck in the Jeep on the bridge it couldn’t lift it up?

A:  Because WE couldn’t lift it up.  The Jeep was real, not CGI, and we shook it, but didn’t have a way to lift and turn it, not on our time, schedule and budget.  So, in Snake vs. Jeep, Jeep wins, snake loses, but I gotta tell you, I would have LOVED the image of this snake rearing up with this Jeep now stuck on it’s head like a muzzle.  I would have used that and have it try to eat the people but, like a muzzled dog, unable to do so until is smashes it’s head against a rock wall and shatters the Jeep off of it.  But that was never gonna happen in this movie.

Q:  Still, there’s a lot of other pointless, silly, stupid and implausible stuff.  Like what’s with them putting on their bicycle helmets for safety as they flee the snake?  And the idea they can escape this thing on their bikes is totally inconsistent with the way you established the creature’s speed.

A:  Addressing this in two parts:  First, about the helmets, I recommend you see the move E.T. for an answer to that one.  You may recall near the end of that film there is a big bike sequence where the kids help E.T. escape the police and others.  Just as it’s about to start you see all the kids put on helmets, pull down ski masks, wrap up in scarves or whatever to cover their faces, for no apparent reason.  This is followed by an elaborate bike chase sequence with the kids doing the most amazing stunts and leaps on their bikes.  Then, the very instant the last dramatic thing has occurred the kids ALL pull off their masks and continue riding.  Why did they do that?  Because they had to hide the faces of the STUNT DOUBLES doing the bike stuff!  The kids couldn’t, and didn’t, do those bike stunts so they had to have their faces hidden.

In our case it was exactly the same reason, only the big stunt stuff didn’t make it into the movie.  We knew they’d have to do something incredible to escape the snake on bikes, so we planned this totally EXTREME biking scene where to escape the snake they go down a nearly vertical hill, jump some incredible jumps and cross terrain in ways and at speeds the snake couldn’t, so they could escape it.  They would end up on this dirt road, barely ahead of the snake and knowing it would catch up soon.  That’s when they find the bunker door and duck into it for protection.

There was a couple of funny lines I liked there that got cut out of the final film, as they went up to the bunker door.  John starts to go inside and Kristin shouts, “Wait!  You can’t go in there.  You don’t know what’s in there!”  and John answered, “I don’t care, I know what’s out here!”  Kristin says, “good point,” and pushes him aside as she goes into the dark bunker.

Sadly, the extreme biking scene never got shot.  It was in the script, it was in the schedule, but there was a bunch of problems including a major bike event at the time of our shoot that left us without access to some of the stunt people we were going to use, and location issues, and more.

Even if we had done it, I will concede, it still looks dumb to have them pull on helmets, but it looks dumb in E.T. too.  Sometimes ya’ just gotta swallow the lump and get through it because you know you have to.

Now, we DID shoot a scene where our leads got to the top of the hill, and briefly took off their helmets as they looked at what they were about to do.  John, the experienced biker, said it was too dangerous but Kristin, snake coming up behind them, says “I’ll take my chances,” puts on her helmet and charges over the edge, forcing John to slam on his helmet and follow her.  It may more sense for them to put on their helmets then and there because they were about to do something really dangerous looking (and it’s where the major stunt doubling would have taken place) but they had to grab the helmets out of the back of the truck before that or else they wouldn’t have HAD the helmets at that point.

These are the kinds of issues you have to deal with and find creative solutions too.  Sometimes you get lucky and it all works.  Often, it doesn’t.  Sometimes you’re just not smart enough to anticipate the problem or think of a good solution and in the end it’s these silly things in filmmaking that often bite ya’ in the butt.

It will always look stupid and get a laugh, but now you at least know WHY the director had them put on their helmets; it was to allow stunt doubles to do the extreme stuff that would have made it plausible that they could actually escape the snake, but that didn’t make it into the final film.

Q:  Okay, but back to that acid spitting bit…  Once you did it, how come you forgot about it at the end of the movie?

A:  We didn’t.  If you watch carefully you’ll see that MOST of the explanation I’m about to give actually IS in the film, although if you blink you’ll miss it, but it’s there, really, you can check get the DVD and check me on this.

First, at the beginning of the movie, a missing shot that might have helped:  Close-up establishing John Cooper stirring the vats of clearly labeled “acid” while wearing bright yellow acid-proof gloves and using a large metal, crow-bar-like acid-stir.  The close up was not used in the final cut, but it’s still there, briefly, in a wide shot, at the beginning of the movie when we first see John in the plating plant.  That shot was to set up the acid-protective gloves, the vats of acid and the tool he used to stir it, which we’d pay off at the end.  Then, as he walks off, he removes his acid gloves and puts the big metal stir aside.  That’s the set up.

Later, Dr. Rudolph explained how the snake pulls up the acid from its stomach into sacks around the back of the mouth and throat area then “contracts those sacks” to spit the acid and incapacitate the victim.

Now, at the end of the movie, we’re back inside Perfecto Plating with Python.  John knows it can spit acid.  But he knows about working with acid, so you see him put on his acid gloves from the beginning and grab the spiky-metal-acid-stir.  He waits for the snake and when it moves over him he jumps on a crate and makes like Apollo again Python, doing battle.  Now at this point we were supposed to see the snake rear back and prepare to spit the acid on him, and that’s where John jams the pointy end of the metal stir into the sacks and punctures them.  They rip open, bright green-yellow acid spills visibly so we know he’s done this.  John hides behind this metal grate, pulling off his now smoking from the acid gloves, and when the Python tries to spray him with acid, it can’t.  This is when both the snake and the audience are supposed to realize it has lost that ability and is unable to spit acid anymore because John rip open the sacks.

Most of that is actually in there, but sadly, it goes by so quickly and the rupturing of the sacks is so small in the frame, that the story point gets lost, but you can check me on this.  It’s there, so we didn’t actually “forget” about it, we just failed to communicate that story point clearly.

Also in the ending scene a couple of shots ended up out of sequence for some reason, which didn’t help the clarity of what was happening.  For example, John was supposed to stay hidden behind the metal grille until Kristin hits the snake with the electricity.  That causes the snake to turn and chase her and after the snake has left that’s when John was supposed to come out from behind the grille work, not before that.  Coming out when he does now one would have expected him to be eaten alive.

Q:  Near the end, John is flat on his back and he’s holding the snake’s head back with his bare hands like he’s Superman or something, pounding on it with his fists.  After all the snake has done how the hell is THAT supposed to make sense?

A:  That snake was not supposed to be rearing up and down at him, but was supposed to be pinned down by the steel girder and slowly pulling itself  forward, inching closer, bit by bit, in an obvious struggle, wriggling to reach him with John just barely beyond it’s teeth.  That’s when Kristin drops another girder on it to keep it in place until the acid can dissolve the outside of it and to save John.  When we shot it, that’s the way we staged the action, using the fake snake head we had as an interactive device for the actor to work with and pound on.  Circumstances and other choices replaced the “inching, pinned” snake we’d imagined with a rearing up snake in a big, dramatic shot.  While this is a hell of a lot more dramatic, it also makes it quite unlikely that John would still be with us and the shots of him hitting it on the nose and (apparently) holding it back do seem a bit ludicrous in that context.

Q:  How come the snake can be dissolved by acid when it actually spits acid?

A:  Just because it has something inside doesn’t mean it’s immune to it.  People have acid in our stomachs yet we’re not immune to it.  Most of your blood is saltwater, but I don’t recommend you drink any the next time you’re at the beach, it can kill you.  There are in fact, many creatures, including the fugu fish, that have toxins inside that would kill them if not contained in a specific part of their body.  The fact you have it in you doesn’t make you safe from it.

I had no trouble with the concept that the outside of the snake could be susceptible to acid.  Also it’s what our characters had access to in the end so I had to make it work.

Q:  That ending is weird and makes no sense.  What’s with her being pregnant, where did that come from?

A:  There were several scenes we shot that didn’t make the cut that were related to character development.  There was a story between John and Kristin about how she hadn’t forgiven him for leaving town.  She liked Ruby and wanted to settle down, have a family, all that basic family values stuff.  But John left because he wasn’t ready for that yet, he wanted to see the world.  But now he’s back and feeling different.  They kiss, they make up, they start to make love and…

Tommy comes bursting into the apartment with Theresa, returning from the concert he’d gone to that day, and unknowingly interrupting their moment of passion.

Later, Tommy is spending the night at Theresa’s (where he will be eaten by the snake) and John and Kristin are left alone.  John is now ready to settle down, they kiss, they make love.  John commits to her fully.

I kinda wanted this because normally you kill the couple that makes love, so I wanted Tommy and Theresa to NOT do it, (and then become victims) while John and Kristin DID do it, and lived.

The scene didn’t make the cut, so the ending with her being pregnant now has no set up at all and no relevance as a payoff to anything.

Q:  Still, the ending is pretty lame.

A:  Well, the big action-climax is missing.

What was supposed to happen was this…

Snake dissolves in acid, dies, head falls off and lands on John.  The snake’s body goes wild like, well, a snake’s body when the head is cut off.  It thrashes wildly, smashing pipes and rupturing pressure stuff in Perfecto Plating.  Remember at the beginning, the bit about something going to “blow up” if they didn’t turn a valve and release the pressure?  Well, guess what?  The snake has ruptured that pipe and now it’s smashed and it’s gonna blow up.

They struggle to get John out from under the dead snake’s head and then run from the building just as it explodes behind them.

They look back at the ruins, John comforts Kristin, who kisses him, Greg kisses Theresa (who smacks him), and the two dumb guys comment how the smell of burning snake “smells like chicken.”  (That chicken bit between them is on the outtake reel on the DVD, but cut next to a burned body for humor.)

That’s an action movie ending.  Things just blow up.

I think we ran out of time in post to create the explosions to make it work, but I also had trouble with a smoke machine that day which didn’t let the stuff tie in properly as being beside an exploded building, we got rushed in shooting it due to delays on set that day…. in short, it got cut out for many goods reasons, but it is what was intended.

The ending in the bike shop was supposed to be a sort of kicker, funny, tie it up out.  We shot it on the first day of filming and (like everything) we were rushed in doing it due to delays that day.  The characters hadn’t found there space yet, I only had time to cover it in one master shot (which really wasn’t the best way to shoot it, but had to!) and all in all, it just falls as an ending, it.

But by then, who cared, the movie was over and you either like it or not.

Oh, we DID have the camera tilt down at the last moment because the ending of the script had us plunging into the earth to find snake eggs under the town waiting to hatch.  I think we all felt it was a very predictable way to end it, but I can’t say we ever came up with anything better.  Even now, I don’t know what would have made a surprising, but plausible, non-cliché button-out.

In the end, Python was meant to be a fun popcorn movie, hopefully worth the price of your rental or DVD purchase and the time you would spend watching it.  Anyone who says they were “horribly disappointed” by this movie probably should have been renting Lord of the Rings in the first place instead of a movie whose premise is a giant, acid spitting, man-and-lesbian eating, killer snake.

If you didn’t care for it, I’m sorry, I don’t provide refunds but I promise I won’t make you watch it again, unless you want to.

I can tell you that making Python was a lot of fun, though not without its major stressful and traumatic moments.  I think we all knew we were NOT setting out to make a great work of art here, but all of us working on Python set out to do our very best work on the project and our intention was to make  the kind of movie we ourselves would enjoy sitting down to watch.  I was blessed with a wonderful, hard working cast who gave there all in bringing to life the diverse group of colorful characters that populate this piece.  I’d like to hope that, even when they’re not being attacked and killed by a 129′ giant serpent, they’re worth watching.

Over the next months, as time permits,  I plan to post photos and storyboards from the production here and talk a bit about the film, how we went about it, the frustrations and the joys of trying to make it work and why, in spite of good efforts from talented people, movies STILL end up with things in them that just aren’t what anyone wanted ’em to be.

The Giant Snake Head Controversy

The practical python head shown here with PYTHON director Richard Clabaugh on the set of the movie.
The practical python head shown here with PYTHON director Richard Clabaugh on the set of the movie.

Here is a photo of yours truly with the ginormous snake head made by the great guys at Sota Effects for use as a practical in the film Python.  This head was used during principal photography and largely replaced by a fully computer generated (CG) version in post-production due to changes in the look of the snake, differences in matching  the CG  version with the practical and very strongly differing opinions on the head itself.

I liked it.  I thought it was good for many of the shots we had to do that were mostly angles on the actors (as opposed to shots of the snake itself) but with a part of the snake visible in the shot, usually out of focus in the foreground, or when the head was rapidly moving in and out of frame in an “attack” mode.  The original idea was to never see it all at once, or for long, but to use it in quick cuts and to see it only in “pieces” during close-ups of actors where putting in and rendering the full CG snake would be difficult, expensive, impractical or all of the above.

The shots in which it was used were usually the “across the snake” shots looking into the actors face as they stare it down.  We also used it where someone had to touch, strike or otherwise physically interact with the snake (as in hitting it) or where it was slamming into solid objects that would move, such as the bars someone is hiding behind in one scene.

It was the feeling of the FX animators that the look didn’t really match the quality of what they felt they were doing in post and so a great deal of time and man power was spent covering up the head with a CGI snake in shots that were never intended to have a CGI snake put in.  This lead to considerable frustration on the part of our effects animators.

If you look at the beginning of the scene in the garage, the first time we see Python full on, that is an example of a sequence where we shot fully intending to put in the CG snake.  “Kenny the Closer” was standing in front of a blue screen for the first part where the snake is seen rising up behind him.  This allowed the effects animators to easily separate him from the background.  On other shots the camera was locked off tightly so no movement would occur and placement of actor and CG snake was carefully storyboarded out.  (I hope to post the storyboards for the garage scene in the future.)  In those shots you can see the snake looks excellent.  That’s because the animators had good stuff to work with.

Because the shots with the practical snake head were not MEANT to have a CGI snake put in, and thus were not shot in a way that was very animator friendly, the work is not always representative of their best efforts.  The camera was not locked off, forcing them to “track” the shot.  The existing snake head had to be covered up and its movements copied, that restricted them greatly.  Other aspects of the shooting tied their hands when they had to put a snake into a shot where we had not originally INTENDED to put a snake in at all, for example, there is a snake POV that ended up with a snake in the foreground and that must have been hell to animate.

Knowing the situation I think the effects animators did an excellent job, but because of those limitations, I personally feel we might have been better off keeping the prosthetic snake head in the film from time to time.  Andy said he felt it often looked like “a big, rubber snake head.”  Perhaps, but was it better to replace it with a big, CGI looking snake head?   The snake head you see above is not at all properly lit.  This was taken in the naked glare of a flashbulb, which doesn’t even make PEOPLE look good.  Properly lit, properly used, I felt it would have been another tool in saving production time, money and resources and allowing the snake to not be a single effect throughout the movie.

Principal Cast and Crew

It takes the efforts of a lot of people to make a movie and although this list is incomplete, I had to mention at least some of the great people who worked so hard on this film.  I am grateful to all of them for their time, effort and taking their work on the project seriously, in spite of the subject.

Thank You All!

Principal Cast
Robert Englund Dr. Anton Rudolph
Casper Van Dien NSA Agent Parker
Frayne Rosanoff John Cooper
Dana Barron Kristin
Wil Wheaton Tommy
Sara Mornell Theresa
Chris Owens Brian Cooper
William Zabka Officer Greg
Sean Whalen Deputy LewisRoss 
Gary Grubbs Sheriff Griffin Wade
John Franklin Coroner Floyd Fuller
Theo Nichola Pagones Dootsen
Scott Williamson Kenny the Closer
Jenny McCarthy Francesca Girabaldi
Principal Crew
Chris Neal,
Gary Hershberger
Paul “Boghie” Bogh
Melanie J. Elin Line Producer
Andrew Hofman Visual Effect Supervisor
Phillip Roth Executive Producer
Patrick Rousseau Director of Photography
Christian McIntire Editor, Second Unit and Additional Sequence Director
David Huang Production Designer
Roger Baer Art Director
James H. Coburn Location Sound Mixer
Bill Reinhardt 2nd Unit Sound Mixer
John Cappilla Gaffer
Mark Fragale First Assistant Camera
Kia Dawson Second Assistant Camera
David Darwin Best Boy Electric
Courtney Jones Key Grip
Chad Wilson Steadicam Operator

Online Reviews

Movie Central Online

DVD Authority Online

Codejunkies Online

DVD Answerman

DVD File Online

DVD Angle

Eventually I hope to post the full Storyboards from Python.  Right now the page is just a place holder, but in my spare time (laffs) I hope to add them.

Legal Disclaimer

The information and opinions expressed on this page are those of the author and DO NOT reflect ANY official statements on the part of Unified Film Organization or FOX Home Video, which made and released the film.  This is an UNOFFICIAL site and is not in any way condoned, endorsed or approved by those who retain legal ownership and copyright of the film, Python.  The information on this page is for educational and promotional purposes and not-for-profit in any way.