'Teen Wolf' director

Movie director Rod Daniel poses for a portrait in Traverse City, Mich. (William DeShazer/Chicago Tribune)

Say the last time you walked out during a movie was 20 years ago, and say that movie you could no longer put up with was an interminable comedy named "The Super." Joe Pesci plays a slumlord, ordered by a court to live in one of his own questionable buildings and learn valuable life lessons; though, of course, it's hard to say whether Pesci learned many of those life lessons because you left after 45 tedious minutes. Say there was only one other time you walked out of a movie, and that was two years before "The Super." The movie was named "K-9" — something about Jim Belushi and a police dog.

Anyway, now let's say you heard that a retired filmmaker recently moved to Chicago, the guy who directed the original "Teen Wolf" movie.

Curious, you look up his other credits. Remarkably, he also directed the only movies you ever bailed on.

His name is Rod Daniel, and though I had never heard of him, a scan of his filmography revealed that he had stolen an inordinate number of hours of my leisure time. His resume, which begins in sitcoms, graduates to features, then turns toward TV movies, is a monument to mediocrity, to unambitious vehicles and exhausted franchises, to the cannon fodder thrown on weekend TV between the Super Bowl and opening day of baseball — anonymous, impersonal work.

Indeed, though it's hard to believe one man was responsible, Daniel made not only "Teen Wolf," "K-9" and "The Super," but the Kirk Cameron-Dudley Moore body-swap comedy "Like Father Like Son" (1987), "Beethoven's 2nd" (1993) and the made-for-TV "Home Alone 4" (2002). Daniel also directed 33 episodes of "WKRP in Cincinnati" (though, alas, not the beloved Thanksgiving episode). The rest is a smattering of failed pilots and brief stints directing episodes of TV series as varied as "Newhart," "Caroline in the City," "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Magnum, P.I."

Daniel's was a marginal career. The new "Teen Wolf" series on MTV (which he has nothing to do with) is as close as it gets to relevance. And yet it's all so consistently blah, you wonder — well, I wondered — was it indifferent by design? Who is this guy? And did he know what he was doing?

'I hold no illusions'

I called him. Not wanting to sound cruel, I cringed as I asked if he knew what kind of a filmmaker he was.

"I hold no illusions," he said quickly. "It's going to sound like a cop-out, but when I retired, I never once thought about it. Does that answer your question? I don't rank with the greats. I made these (expletive) movies because I could, and because they paid me a great deal of money. Which is not to say I didn't believe in what I did. But I hold no illusions. I wouldn't buy a ticket to any of my movies."

Rod Daniel sees himself as a remnant of a fading tradition — the working, rank-and-file, bang-it-out-move-on director, the kind of anonymous filmmaker who comes to the job without pretense, an independent film background, a film school pedigree or even a real love of movies. He was a director because it was a good job, and because someone has to make the cinematic flotsam that occupies movie screens until blockbusters and Oscar bait take its place.

He's 67 and has been married to his wife, Marti, since 1968. He moved into a condo off Michigan Avenue in the spring. A Tennessee native, he retired from filmmaking eight years ago and settled here because one of his two sons, a technology executive, lives here, and, after initially leaving Los Angeles for rural Tennessee, he missed city living.

We met a few days later.

He came to the door of his River North apartment wearing a sleeveless T-shirt and jeans and, though the view from his place overlooked boutique shops and expensive hotels, he had the sweaty pallor of a guy who just finished plowing a field. When he spoke, his Tennessee roots poked through — he spoke fast, but it sounded languid, Southern.

Before I could ask a question, he squashed the palm of his hand to his face, tilted his head back and began: "My movies were content movies, first of all."

High-concept, I said.

"High-concept. Brandon Tartikoff (the late television executive), had this line: 'Don't show me the movie, show me the one-sheet,' the poster. That was true for what I made, movies easily understood, easy to watch. Couple that with the fact you got to feed your (expletive) family, and if you sit around and (expletive) say, 'I'll wait until the right movie,' forget it. If I made two movies in 20 years …"

Like a Terrence Malick, who has made only five since 1973, most recently the art epic "Tree of Life."

"Exactly. Like a Malick. Was he begging for (expletive) food all those years between movies or what? Did he have a (expletive) trust fund? I had to make a (expletive) living. I held out as long as I could (for better scripts), until my family would run out of money if I didn't direct. I had a responsibility to my children long before I had a responsibility to the (expletive) movies.

"'The Super'? Perfect example. I took the movie knowing we had script problems, but if you have script problems you're not going to solve it (during production). The problem was Joe Pesci wasn't a fish out of water — he was a fish in water. That was the problem. Larry Gordon (the producer) said to me, originally, 'Look, get Chevy Chase, put him the ghetto.' That was the concept, but it was too pat — take a really white guy and run him through standard jokes about gangs and rap music, and since it's Chevy, comedy's there? I remember sitting in my suite at the Regency in New York with cards from the (expletive) script all over the place and Nora Ephron, who wrote a lot of it, curled up in a fetal position under the dining room table. Because we could not solve the problem at the center of this movie.

"So we just started shooting it. And you can't do that. But you get in a bubble on a movie. I mean, I gave (the studio) a 21/2-hour cut! Can you imagine 21/2 hours of 'The Super'! You'd shoot yourself in the (expletive) head."