Study Guide

The Rocky Horror Picture Show Behind the Scenes

  • Director

    Jim Sharman

    Director Jim Sharman is probably the only person on this planet (or, probably, others) whose Wikipedia page introduces him as the "son of [a] boxing tent entrepreneur." In addition to letting us know that "boxing tent entrepreneur" is a valid career choice, Jim Sharman also brought us The Rocky Horror Show, the 1973 musical that would eventually be adapted into The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

    Yep, this movie started as a stage musical, and Sharman appears to be much more at home in the Australian theatre, directing over four dozen plays over a forty-year career. As for moving pictures, Sharman directed only five films. His first, Shirley Thompson vs. the Aliens, was a schlocky throwback to 1950's horror movies, even though it was made in 1972.

    Clearly, being the son of a circus man influenced Sharman greatly…and we don't mean that Jim is a dude covered in tattoos or a fan of sword-swallowing. Rocky Horror' s a mix of vaudeville and freak show, featuring performers who live not just on the fringes of society, but in fact live on the fringes of the galaxy. (Fringe festival indeed.)

    Besides Rocky Horror, Sharman directed a couple other sci-fi/suspense flicks. His last film was Shock Treatment (1981), a follow-up/reunion of sorts to Rocky Horror. It starred different actors as Brad and Janet, and featured Richard O'Brien, Patricia Quinn, and Little Nell as different characters.

    But Sharman's still as quirky as he was in the 1970's. In 2012, he directed the "visual art film" ANDY X, a tribute to Andy Warhol released digitally on the 25th anniversary of Wahol's death, at the exact minute he died. (Source)

    We wouldn't be surprised if someone did the same for Sharman, a cult figure himself, on a future anniversary of his own death. (Or perhaps on the return to his home planet?)

  • Screenwriter

    Richard O'Brien and Jim Sharman

    Somewhere out there—not in another galaxy, but in this one—there is a person who actually likes the corny horror movies skewered by Crow and Tom Servo on Mystery Science Theater 3000. And that person is Richard O'Brien.

    O'Brien wrote The Rocky Horror Show, the original stage production, as an homage to the '50s sci-fi/horror movies he loved. It's a spoof of all the movies he name-drops in the opening song "Science Fiction/Double Feature," full of aliens, metallic underwear, and mayhem. He wrote the book, music and lyrics, and his play was more successful than O'Brien anticipated. It was awarded "Best Musical of 1973" by the London Evening Standard. (Source)

    Not bad for a play featuring a character named Frank-N-Furter.

    After being discovered by Lou Adler, O'Brien adapted his play into an American film with Jim Sharman, who also directed. (You can check out more about him on our "Director" page.) O'Brien himself played the role of Riff Raff. He later lamented that he had seen very few royalties from the film, which continues to be successful to this day. (Source)

    To make ends meet, O'Brien took a variety of roles, including the host of a British game show called The Crystal Maze and the co-starring role in Elvira's Haunted Hills. Working with Elvira allowed O'Brien to play a classic horror character in the vein of Christopher Lee. (Source)

    Did we say dream come true? As Elvira might say, this was an unpleasant dream come true…but O'Brien's a man who's never shied away from the unpleasant.

  • Production Studio

    Lou Adler-Michael White Production

    It's possible that the dynamic duo of Lou Adler and Michael White know every celebrity on the planet. Forget six degrees of Kevin Bacon. These guys are one degree from an eclectic mix of famous folk, from Carole King and Jack Nicholson to Margaret Thatcher and Cheech & Chong.

    How do they have such incredible connections? Easy: Lou Adler's a music producer with a career more colorful than the rainbow goo Frank-N-Furter uses to bring Rocky to life. As a music producer, he jumpstarted the careers of the Mamas and the Papas, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. When he saw the stage production of The Rocky Horror Show, he bought the rights and produced it in the United States with Michael White. (Source)

    Michael White was the producer of The Rocky Horror Show, and co-producing the film adaptation led him to continue producing films like Monty Python and the Holy Grail and A Chorus Line. He was also quite the party animal, even attending the opening of the infamous Studio 54. (Source)

    One person White isn't partying with, though, is former buddy Lou Adler. He alleges in The Last Impresario, a documentary about himself, that Adler took advantage of him when acquiring the North American rights to Rocky Horror. He had to sell of many of his assets to recoup the losses. (Source)

    But don't be too upset about that. The man had plenty of other projects and buckets of cash, making him about as broke as Hillary Clinton. (Source)

    That same documentary calls Michael White "the most famous person you've never heard of." Now that you know who he is, you can prove them wrong.

  • Production Design

    House of Horrors

    Even though Frank looks like a million bucks, the budget for the entire movie was barely more than that. Rocky Horror – both the movie and the character – were made on a budget. (Source)

    For almost everyone on set, it was their first movie, making it quite a surprise to finish the shoot in less than six weeks and under budget. They did it at the expense of adequate heating though, as poor Susan Sarandon caught pneumonia during the swimming pool scene. Never underestimate the dangers of swimming in only your underpants. (Source)

    The movie was filmed at a house near a film studio in the UK. Yes, it's real. It was used as Dracula's castle in Christopher Lee's Horror of Dracula (1958) before being taken over by interstellar transsexuals. The house became a hotel in 1979 and we hope they had nightly dance parties with the guests in the ballroom. Although, considering the dinner scene where they ate Eddie, we'd be wary about getting room service. (Source)

    Sharman's cinematographer was Peter Suschitsky, who'd later go on to work with one of the biggest weirdoes in show business—Suschitsky is a long-time collaborator with director David Cronenberg, who put Viggo Mortenson in a naked knife fight in Eastern Promises and taught us that some people are turned on by car accidents in Crash (1996). Filming a rowdy group of aliens dancing to "The Time Warp" doesn't seem so weird after seeing those movies.

  • Music (Score)

    Richard O'Brien and Richard Hartley

    Frank's castle wouldn't be able to function without Riff Raff and Magenta, yet they don't seem to get any respect, because most of what these servants do is behind the scenes. In a similar vein The Rocky Horror Picture Show wouldn't be what it is without Richard O'Brien (who also played Riff Raff) and Richard Harley (who didn't play Magenta).

    The two Richards wrote and composed the music for the movie's stage predecessor, the Rocky Horror Show. O'Brien wrote the script and the lyrics while Hartley worked on the musical arrangements. (Source)

    Just as the movie itself tackles a series of cheesy sci-fi subgenres, the music, too runs the gamut. There's some classic rock ("Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul"), a pure dance number ("The Time Warp") and a heartfelt ballad that wouldn't be out of place in a mainstream musical ("Rose Tint My World").

    The movie wouldn't be the same without the music. Like any good musical, the songs enhance the feelings of the characters, and punctuate major moments in their lives. Brad doesn't just propose, he declares his love with the passionate "Dammit, Janet." And Janet doesn't experience a private sexual awakening, she declares her newfound sexuality with the steamy number "Touch-a Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me."

    Because the show was originally only forty minutes long, O'Brien and Hartley added songs on the fly. (Source)

    But moving from stage to screen caused a few songs to be eliminated. If you want to hear "Superheroes" or "Once in a While," you have to hunt down special-edition DVDs or Blu-rays of the film. (Source)

    You don't need to be a superhero to find it, though. It's readily available on Amazon…and not just every once in a while. (Source)

  • Fandoms

    The Rocky Horror Picture Show basically invented fandom. There has never been a fandom like this one—and yes, we're including Star Wars . It all started when The Rocky Horror Picture Show flopped.

    Yes, it was a total bomb.

    A small group of weirdoes—Riff Raff and Magenta in different form, perhaps?—kept the passion for the film going, though, and producers at 20th Century Fox began screening the movie at midnight in New York City. Through word of mouth, the popularity of the film grew.

    That didn't simply mean more butts in seats. In fact, people didn't just sit and watch Rocky Horror, they stood up, they dressed up, and they sang along. They brought props, like teddy bears and noisemakers, and they did The Time Warp in the aisles of the theaters.

    Yeah—if you're someone who shushes anyone who breathes too loud in the seat next to you, Rocky Horror is not for you.

    The film's a cultural rite of passage for many, especially those who feel like they're on the fringes of society, not quite fitting in, just like the characters in the movie. Rocky Horror featured prominently in The Perks of Being a Wallflower , which is set in the 1980s, at the height of Rocky Horror mania.

    Due to its packed midnight showings, it became the longest-running theatrical film of all time. It played for a whopping twenty-six years at the Waverly Theater in Greenwich Village and for an insane twenty-eight years at an AMC Loews in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The fishnet industry in Boston collapsed after all those Harvard students stopped attending the midnight shows. (Source)

    The long-lasting popularity also, unsurprisingly, led to multiple revivals for Rocky Horror on Broadway. (Source)

    There's also a live TV production on FOX (a la Sound of Music and Grease) starring Laverne Cox. (Swoon!) (Source)

    In fact, the show's still so popular, you might feel like you did the time warp back to when it first premiered.