Screen: Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Local filmaker Bret McCormick would be happy if you never saw one of his B-movies.
Attack of the Redneck Mutant

Catching up with local indie filmmaker Bret McCormick.


After a decade of producing and directing more than a dozen movies, local independent filmmaker Bret McCormick fell off the radar. Well, more like threw himself off. Fed up with the agonies of independent filmmaking, family crises, and one sour movie deal after another, McCormick — who’ll probably be in debt for the rest of his life because of indie filmmaking — packed his bags one day several years ago and moved to Tulsa, Okla., about as far from the idea of Hollywood as you can imagine.

At 46 now, McCormick delivers pizzas, works a FedEx counter, and has absolutely nothing to do with making movies. Funny thing is, he’s never been happier. A close second might be his senior year at Paschal High School, where his hankering for cinema began.

A typical day for McCormick about 30 years ago began with the auteur, garbed in black trench coat and with an unlit cigar screwed into the corner of his mouth, firing up the Firebird in his mother’s driveway, just two blocks from the Fort Worth Zoo. Accompanied by ZZ Top on the eight-track and a Super 8 cam sliding around the back seat, he’d drive straight past Paschal (with homeroom bells ringing) and head to the Water Gardens downtown. There, with buddy Bob Camp, McCormick would begin mocking up what would become his drive-in debacles.

“None of my films ever played theatrically, thank God,” McCormick said by phone recently. “I entered filmmaking when a lot of fly-by-night [home video] distribution companies sprang up. I consider it a blessing that so few people have heard of me. When someone sees one of my films, it is highly unlikely that they will recommend it, except maybe as an object of derision.”

Movie moguls eventually took notice of McCormick. Guys like Fred Williamson and the godfather of independent film himself, Roger Corman, tossed projects his way. Of course, this wasn’t because the veteran execs were inspired by some mind-bending social commentary in McCormick’s work. It probably had something to do with the fact that the guy knew how to separate dimes from nickels.

“I was good at stretching production dollars,” McCormick said. “I could usually carve out at least [$10,000] from even a modest budget for my services. I had a wife and three sons, so I wasn’t just tearing it up.” After high school projects, McCormick briefly attended film school at UTA. With his wife, he then moved west to Santa Barbara, to continue his film studies. Their stay was short-lived. Los Angeles, in McCormick’s opinion, just wasn’t a good place to raise a family. The couple returned to Fort Worth, scoring a home off West Berry Street for cheap. McCormick’s mother, who would also serve as nanny, lived right around the corner. The potential filmmaker, now an expecting father, began scrounging for production money while working as a customer service agent for Allied Film & Video in Las Colinas.

After a couple of years, he had optioned a screenplay to Peter Fonda. Word got out, and financiers started taking McCormick seriously. Nothing ever happened with Fonda, but the rumor mill alone raised $112,000 for McCormick (with comic Matt Shaffren) to make his first feature, Tabloid. “It was a crime,” McCormick said. “The film wasn’t marketable. I was inexperienced and had no one to rely on for advice. We would’ve been better off doing a slasher picture for [$20,000].”

Lesson learned. The following year McCormick and Shaffren got backing for Ozone! Attack of the Redneck Mutants and another for the backwoods criterion collection called The Abomination. Both made scratch. More importantly, this is where deals with Williamson (Steele’s Law, 3 Days to a Kill) and Corman (Rumble in the Streets) started to happen. McCormick’s career took flight.

“I was pleased, but I didn’t have any hopes of being the next big thing,” McCormick said. “I was just glad to work regularly on pictures with budgets over $100,000.”

After he shot and boxed five films in 1995, McCormick made two more in 1997 (Time Tracers, featuring his three sons, and Lethal Betrayal, for which his only contribution was as screenwriter). His last film, Protector, was in 1999, for Corman. The local boy was rockin’ and rollin’. Or so it seemed.

Carolyn (a.k.a. Blue Thompson, star of three of his films) divorced McCormick in 1996, after 18 years of marriage. She relocated to Tulsa with the kids, remarried, and became a trauma nurse. Said McCormick: “I’m pleased my ex-wife finally got to move on to the lifestyle she wanted.” A couple of years after Time Tracers appeared, McCormick lost one of his sons to an accident. “Joshua’s death is certainly the well of my sorrow, but that had nothing to do with my decision to get out of the movies,” he said. The straw that broke him was a bum deal with a so-called cohort. McCormick lost a bundle, forcing him to walk away from the movie biz for good.

McCormick caught up with his other kids in Tulsa and started over. His creative outlets now are writing and painting. “Making movies was great, but my priorities changed,” he said. “I realized if I wanted to see my two living sons I had to be nearer to them. I have a very simple, peaceful life now, and everything makes sense.”

McCormick’s movies are still available, on some store shelves, mostly online. As horrible as they may be, they still earn him taps on the shoulder from producers from his previous life. Local Kevin Bagley (Impact Media) is always trying to get some work out of McCormick — feature, commercial, whatever. But “to take that step back in” would be tough, McCormick said. “I don’t know if that’ll ever happen.” l

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