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)

11 Fascinating Facts About Mad Max

Mel Gibson stars in George Miller's Mad Max (1979).
Mel Gibson stars in George Miller's Mad Max (1979).
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

What began as director George Miller's ambitious action film about a solitary cop (Mel Gibson) on a mission to take down a violent biker gang has evolved into a post-apocalyptic sensory overload of a franchise that now has four films to its credit—Mad Max (1979), The Road Warrior (1981), Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)—and additional sequels in the works. So let's obsess over Miller’s masterpieces even more with these 11 things you might not know about the franchise.

1. Director George Miller worked as a doctor to raise money for Mad Max.

Mel Gibson in Mad Max (1979)
Mel Gibson in Mad Max (1979).
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

Since the film only had a budget of $350,000, Miller scraped together extra money as an emergency room doctor to keep the movie going. “It was very low budget and we ran out of money for editing and post-production, so I spent a year editing the film by myself in our kitchen, while Byron Kennedy did the sound,” Miller told CraveOnline. “And then working as an emergency doctor on the weekends to earn money to keep going. I’d got my best friend, and friends of friends of friends of his, and Byron ditto, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, we made a film and it won’t cut together and we’re going to lose all their money.’”

Miller’s medical training is all over the film: Max Rockatansky is named after physician Carl von Rokitansky, a pathologist who created the Rokitansky procedure, a method for removing organs in an autopsy.

2. Mel Gibson went to the Mad Max audition to accompany his friend, not for the part.

Gibson was black and blue after a recent brawl with “half a rugby team” when his friend asked him to drop him off at his Mad Max audition. Because the agency was also casting “freaks,” they took pictures of Gibson, who was simply waiting around, and asked him to come back when he healed. When he did, Miller gave him the role on the spot. In a clip for Scream Factory, Gibson recalled the moment: “It was real weird. [Miller] said, ‘Can you memorize this?’ and it was like two pages of dialogue with a big speech and stuff. I was like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ I went into the other room and just got a gist of what it was and I came out and just ad-libbed what I could remember. I guess they bought it.”

3. George Miller paid Mad Max crew members in beer.

With barely enough money to finish the original film, Miller offered to pay ambulance drivers, a tractor driver, and some of the bikers on set with “slabs” (Australian for a case of 24 cans) of beer, according to The Guardian.

4. Real-life motorcycle club the Vigilanties played Toecutter’s gang for Mad Max.

Forget the money required to train stuntmen; Miller and crew hired real bikers to professionally ride into production. In an interview with Motorcyclist Online, actor Tim Burns said about working with them: “[The Vigilanties] all wanted to ride the bikes as fast as possible, as often as possible, by their nature. Their riding was individually and collectively superb.” Additionally, stuntman Dale Bensch, a member of The Vigilanties, recalled seeing the ad for the shoot at a local bike shop, and took a moment to clarify a mishap that had happened during production. Bensch said, “There’s an urban myth that a stuntman was killed, and that was me. The scariest thing was dropping the bike on that bridge. They took the speedo and tach off because they didn’t want to damage more than they had to. They wet the surface to make it easier, but I hung onto the bike too long and it flipped me over with it; that’s why it looked bad. But it’s a famous scene, so it worked out all right!”

5. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior was inspired by the oil crises of the 1970s.

During an interview with The Daily Beast, Miller discussed the making of The Road Warrior. Of its inspiration, he said, “I’d lived in a very lovely and sedate city in Melbourne, and during OPEC and the extreme oil crisis—where the only people who could get any gas were emergency workers, firemen, hospital staff, and police—it took 10 days in this really peaceful city for the first shot to be fired, so I thought, ‘What if this happened over 10 years?’”

6. Mel Gibson only had 16 lines of dialogue in The Road Warrior.

Upon Fury Road’s release in 2015, social media lit up with complaints that Tom Hardy was underutilized, only there to grunt and utter a couple of one-liners. But just to remind you, in Mad Max 2, Mel Gibson only has 16 lines of dialogue in The Road Warrior.

On his use of sparse dialogue, Miller told The New York Times, “Hitchcock had this wonderful saying: ‘I try to make films where they don’t have to read the subtitles in Japan.’ And that was what I tried to do in Mad Max 1, and I’m still trying to do that three decades later with Fury Road.”

7. Mel Gibson says The Road Warrior is his favorite movie in the original trilogy.

Once upon a time Mel Gibson enthusiastically spoke about Beyond Thunderdome, telling Rolling Stone, "[The films are] a sort of cinematic equivalent to rock music. It's something to do with the nihilistic sentiments of the music of the ’80s—which can't continue. I say, let's get back to romanticism. And this film [Thunderdome] is actually doing that. It's using that nihilism as a vehicle, I think, to get back to romance.”

Years later, he told Playboy what he really thought of the films, namely that The Road Warrior was his favorite. “It still holds up because it’s so basic,” Gibson said. “It’s about energy—it didn’t spare anyone: people flying under wheels, a girl gets it, a dog gets it, everybody gets it. It was the first Mad Max, but done better. The third one didn’t work at all.”

8. Beyond Thunderdome was inspired by Lord Of The Flies.

Mel Gibson and Tina Turner in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985).
Mel Gibson and Tina Turner in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985).
Warner Home Video

Even though Miller and his producers were on the fence about a third Mad Max, they couldn’t help but give in. "George was sitting and talking to me about … quantum mechanics, I think," Miller’s co-writer Terry Hayes recalled to Rolling Stone. "The theory of the oscillating universe. You could say he's got a broad range of interests. And I said something about ‘Well, if there was ever a Mad Max III ...' And he said, 'Well, if there was ...'"

In a 1985 interview with Time Out, Miller recalled the story himself. “We were talking one day and Terry Hayes started talking about mythology and how where people are short on knowledge, they tend to be very big on belief. In other words, they take a few fragments of knowledge and, if you take like the Aboriginal tribes of Australia, they just take simple empirical information and using those little bits of the jigsaw construct very elaborate mythological beliefs, which explain the whole universe,” Miller said. “Terry was saying if you had a tribe of kids after the apocalypse who had only a few fragments of knowledge, [they would construct] a mythological belief as to what was before. And what would happen if Max or someone like that [came in] ... and it kicked off the idea of kids who were Lord of the Flies-type kids, and that led to this story.”

9. Tina Turner was cast in Beyond Thunderdome because of her positive persona.

According to Rolling Stone, Tina Turner beat out Jane Fonda and Lindsay Wagner for the role of Aunty Entity. On her casting, Miller told Time Out, “One of the main reasons we cast Tina Turner is that she’s perceived as being a fairly positive persona. You don’t think of Tina Turner as someone dark. You think of the core of Tina Turner being basically a positive thing. And that’s what we wanted. We felt that she might be more tragic in that sense. But more importantly [when] we actually wrote the character, as a shorthand way of describing the character we said someone ‘like Tina Turner’—without even thinking of casting her. We wanted a woman ... we wanted someone who had a lot of power, charisma, someone who would hold a place like that together—or build it in the first place. And we wanted someone who was a survivor.”

10. Mad Max characters’ names hint at their backstories.

One of the most peculiar quirks of Miller’s franchise has to be his bizarre character names. In an interview with Fandango, Miller explained exactly how he comes up with them: “One of the things is that everything in the story has to have some sort of underlying backstory. Not just every character, but every vehicle, every weapon, every costume—and the same with the language. So [the concept] was always found objects, repurposed. Immortan Joe is a slight adjustment to the word 'immortal.' The character Nux says 'mcfeasting' instead of using the word 'feasting,’” Miller explained, adding that his favorite name of all is Fury Road’s The Dag (played by Abbey Lee). “In Australia, the dag is sort of a goofball-type.”

11. George Miller is a proud feminist.

Director George Miller, recipient of the Feature Film Nomination Plaque for “Mad Max: Fury Road," poses in the press room during the 68th Annual Directors Guild Of America Awards at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on February 6, 2016 in Los Angeles
George Miller poses with the Feature Film Nomination Plaque for Mad Max: Fury Road during the 68th annual Directors Guild Of America Awards in 2016.
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Perhaps evidenced by Charlize Theron’s scene-stealing role as Imperator Furiosa, Miller is a proud, outspoken feminist. He told Vanity Fair, “I’ve gone from being very male dominant to being surrounded by magnificent women. I can’t help but be a feminist.” That female influence even stretched behind the scenes, with Miller asking his wife Margaret Sixel to edit Fury Road. “I said, ‘You have to edit this movie, because it won’t look like every other action movie,” Miller recalled. Moreover, feminist activist Eve Ensler also consulted on the film to offer, according to Ensler herself, “perspective on violence against women around the world, particularly in war zones.”

What Happens During a Jeopardy! Commercial Break?

Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek chats with the show's contestants.
Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek chats with the show's contestants.
Getty Images Entertainment

Jennifer Quail:

Typical Break One: First, if there are "pickups" (re-recordings where Alex misspoke or coughed or stuttered, or Johnny mispronounced someone’s name or hometown) to record, they do those. A stagehand brings water bottles for the contestants. The production team who wrangles contestants comes over and gives their pep talk, makes any corrections, like if someone is consistently buzzing early; and keeps you quiet if there are pickups. Alex gets the cards with the "fun facts" (there are about three, one highlighted, but which one he goes for is ultimately up to Alex alone) and when the crew is ready, they come back from commercial to Alex’s chat with the contestants.

Typical Break Two: If there are any pickups from the second half of the Jeopardy! round they do those, the water gets distributed, the production team reminds the contestants how Double Jeopardy! works and that there’s still lots of money out there to win, and Alex comes over to take a picture with the two challengers (the champion will have had their picture taken during their first match.) Then we come back to Double Jeopardy!.

Typical Third Break: This is the big one. There are pickups, water, etc. and they activate the section of the screen where you write your wager. One of the team members brings you a half-sheet of paper ... and you work out what you want to bet. One of your "wranglers" checks it, as does another production team member, to make sure it’s legible and when you’re sure that’s what you want, you lock it in. At that point you can’t change it. They take away the scratch paper and the part of the board where you write your answer is unlocked. Someone will tell you to write either WHO or WHAT in the upper left corner, so you do know at least whether it’s a person or thing. They make sure the "backup card" (a piece of card stock sitting on your podium) is turned to the correct who or what side, just in case your touchscreen fails. If everything’s ready, then as soon as the crew says, they come back and Final Jeopardy! starts.

There are breaks you don’t [even know about, too]. If there is a question about someone’s final answer, they will actually stop tape while the research team checks. Sometimes if something goes really off, like Alex completely misreads a category during the start of a round, they’ll stop and pick it up immediately. Those [are breaks] you’ll never notice because they’ll be completely edited out.

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