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It isn’t hard to find someone who absolutely knows why they love The Lost Boys, as the 1987 film has endured as a classic in the horror-comedy genre. But as we’ve seen time and again with movies that have left such a lasting impact on the world, not everyone knows when they have a hit on their hands. Actor Alex Winter is one of those people who, when signing onto the late director Joel Schumacher’s ‘80s landmark, had no clue where The Lost Boys was going, even after reading the script. This was most apparent when he showed up to his first day on set, which happened to be the day when oiled-up sax legend Tim Cappello was doing his thing.
During my recent interview with Mr. Winter, in promotion of TCM’s Growing Up On Screen series, the subject of Alex Winter’s career as a documentary filmmaker came up, as this programming block was tied to his film Showbiz Kids. While he had mentioned that he wasn’t inclined to do so, at least not at the current moment, he did mention his Lost Boys experience in passing. So naturally, as a fan, I had to ask if he had any fun stories about working on that project, which yielded that anecdote about the first day on set:
I wish I had a camera while we were shooting Lost Boys, because that entire shoot was absolutely insane, and wild, and fun, and very specific to its era. … My first day on set, I got to Santa Cruz the day they were shooting the beach party scene. There’s Tim Cappello, the sax guy, all oiled up, right? Bonfires, and all of this insanity, and I was like ‘What the hell is this movie I just signed onto? What is this thing?’
Again, hindsight easily tells the world that Tim Capello’s appearance at that beach party, wailing on that saxophone and singing “I Still Believe,” is an absolute banger of a movie moment. But when making The Lost Boys into the movie it’s known as today, there’s never a sure sign as to what will hit and what won’t. Sure, there’s indicators that could make for strong feelings about a project’s longevity, but even Alex Winter and the cast of The Lost Boys didn’t really have any idea what was in store for them.
However, the matter of trying to peg where exactly The Lost Boys was going came down to one specific component: the tone of the film. Written from a story by Janice Fischer & James Jeremias, and with assistance from blockbuster scribe Jeffrey Boam, the script itself was obviously the bedrock for the entire experience. Naturally, through translating that story into the visual medium, all sorts of context and direction are added through the process.
Even without knowing the exact stage directions of that scene, the story behind how Tim Cappello got the gig (as told to io9) is basically a tribute to Joel Schumacher's vision. So when Alex Winter continued to recount how the project felt on the page, you can see where the shock would have come in when seeing a roaring fire, a crowded beach and an oiled up sax guy holding court. Winter’s recollections continue below:
We really didn’t know what Joel had in mind, it was really hard to tell from the script. It seemed cool, he was really smart, and he was inspiring. You put your trust in him, and you felt he had a control of the vision. But even making the film, none of us exactly knew what the tone was, because there was so much to the film, and it could really have gone in any direction. I remember the script was we were riding Triumph motorcycles, I think, and we were pretty badass. Almost more like [James] Dean in Rebel Without A Cause, or [Marlon] Brando in The Wild One. I remember getting to the location, after doing my wardrobe and doing rehearsals, and I mean I knew what was going on.
The Lost Boys invokes that youthful counterculture energy that both James Dean and Marlon Brando invoked in their work, especially in the conflict between Jason Patric’s Michael and Kiefer Sutherland’s David. But then there’s another whole facet of the film that covers the domestic comedy of Corey Haim’s Sam trying to determine whether or not his mother is dating a vampire. It’s a shift that reads better with the aid of visual storytelling, which is what Alex Winter and the rest of the cast learned during the first complete screening:
I remember seeing the film finally done, when we all went to the cast and crew [screening,] I think it was at Warner Bros. And we were like, we were all blown away, because [Joel] just managed to synthesize all of these different ideas and genres and themes and tones into this thing that just worked. The movie is what it is, I’m not trying to elevate it too much, but it’s just semi-miraculous that he pulled it off, I think.
Much like Caddyshack balanced the stories of snobs vs. slobs on various fronts, The Lost Boys was able to maintain a ratio of horror and comedy that delivered a movie which would gain a reputation as a roller coaster of fun and fright. And thanks to the entire cast and crew throwing their faith into Joel Schumacher’s direction, memories like the one Alex Winter shared above are all the more entertaining to hear about. From the sound of it, the inclusion of Tim Cappello’s siren song was indeed one of those lynchpins that made the entire thing come together, as that fan favorite moment triggers all the right stories.
If you still believe in the power of The Lost Boys, HBO Max will be able to help quench that thirst. So you’ll want to check out the pre-paid subscription discount that’s running right now. And while you’re at it, you can take a look at Mr. Winter’s documentary, Showbiz Kids, which is also streaming on the platform. Last, but not least, don’t forget to check out TCM’s Growing Up On Screen program, which runs every Tuesday through the month of March.