Archive for June, 2009

Michael Jackson – Four Stories

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

First of all, I want to thank everyone who showed up for my talk and opening last Saturday at Nucleus Gallery. It was a healthy turnout and my lecture went well, I thought (I did my career overview slide show).

Good news in that regard: Although the exhibition officially closed late yesterday, it is being moved to the upstairs gallery at Nucleus today. It will be on view for a few more weeks. This is the very first public display of any of my preliminary studies and paintings for the San Diego Natural History Museum murals. They look great out of my crowded house and on big bare walls, beautifully lit. Don’t miss seeing them!

Now, on to the title subject.

I never met Michael Jackson. Our paths kept crossing throughout the past thirty years but we just kept missing each other.

Michael Story #1: In 1981 I received a call from director John Landis. John wanted me to storyboard a film he was making of Michael Jackson’s song “Thriller.” Sadly, I had to turn John down. My work plate was far too full at the time. I recommended my studio mate Dave Stevens for the gig.

Dave, not surprisingly, did a great job. The “Thriller” video became legendary. My friend Rick Baker created the make-ups for the film; my friends Mick Garris (the film director) and Cynthia Garris (talented actress & musician and Mick’s wife) appeared as zombies in the short movie.

Michael really admired Dave’s work and gave him many more jobs after “Thriller”, like storyboarding the Jackson 5 dance moves for their “Victory” tour.

Michael already had a slight reputation for being a unique individual, so I asked Dave if he had any interesting stories, as Dave was spending a lot of time at Michael’s Encino mansion.

Dave Stevens was a very private person. Being such, he respected the privacy of others. He did tell me one detail of Michael’s life, however, I’ve never heard or read elsewhere.

Dave related that Michael’s personal assistant/secretary was the most beautiful woman he had ever met. To Dave’s amazement, in rooms all over the mansion were various full sized body cast/sculptures of her in a staggering array of sexual positions. Dave and I pondered the implications of that for quite some time.

Michael Story #2: It’s pretty well known that I have a sizable collection of early twentieth century illustrated children’s books. I particularly love the illustrations of Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, the Detmold brothers and Kay Nielsen. Many of the volumes I have in my collection were acquired from Gene Blum, the owner of Cherokee Books. Cherokee Books used to be on Hollywood Boulevard near Whitley, down the street from the location of Ozcot, L. Frank Baum’s home and gardens. I began going to Cherokee Books in the late 1960s — not for the illustrated books, which were downstairs, but for the rare comic books being sold upstairs by Gene’s brother Burt. It was hard for me not to slowly become familiar with Gene, as I passed by him at least once a week on my way upstairs to see Burt.

Eventually as my collecting habits changed I saw lots more of Gene. He’d call me when anything special came in. Gene had a great, very dry, sense of humor (he’s a professional poker player now). At one point in our client/provider relationship I began to notice that Gene’s calls were becoming fewer. When asked about it, Gene revealed that I had some competition for the books I was collecting: Michael Jackson. Gene was helping Michael to put together a fantastic collection of classic illustrated children’s books. Money was no object.

I thanked Gene for the info and spread my collecting net farther.

I still stopped in to see Gene once a week to see if there was anything that Michael might have passed on. On one such afternoon Gene told me, “I just had the strangest customer. He walked in here wearing a long trenchcoat and a slouch hat. He had on big, dark horn-rimmed glasses and Jerry Lewis’ huge protruding teeth from ‘The Nutty Professor.'”

Gene continued. “I began to usher this bizarre character out of my shop when he stopped me.”

In that unmistakable sweet, high voice of his, he said, “Gene — It’s Michael.”

Michael Story #3: Two of my dearest friends, Virginia Johnstone and Mick Mashbir, worked on the “Billie Jean” video. Virginia was a set decorator at the time. Her future hubby Mick was the lead guitarist for Alice Cooper and The Turtles/Flo & Eddie. Mick was in between gigs so he was helping out with the set dec.

While waiting for the lighting to be set up, Mick found time to talk to Michael as a fellow musician. At one point Michael asked what Mick was doing currently. “Looking for a record deal,” was Mick’s reply. Mick still chuckles at Michael’s shocked response. “In Michael’s world, one never had to look for a record deal. It was always there. It was a gimme. He was truly shocked that for some musicians it wasn’t any easy thing to readily acquire a record deal. That possibility had never even occurred to him.”

I asked how the shoot went. Virginia said that while everything was being set up (properly lighting a set often seems to take forever) she noticed that Michael was getting increasingly anxious with each passing minute. The longer it took, the more tense Michael became. She said you could see it all physically building within him.

Finally, everything was ready. Michael excitedly took his place on the set. The music blasted over the P. A. system and Michael began to dance. WHOOOSH! All of that anxiety disappeared in an instant! All of that tenseness, all of that anxiety — Michael had just needed to dance. That suppressed bundle of pent-up energy was completely channeled and released into his electric dancing for that video. Michael lived for performing.

Michael Story #4: I’ve done a lot of themed entertainment design, beginning with a two year stint as a full time consultant for Walt Disney Imagineering. I bounced back and forth between Disney and Universal after that. Almost any project in that field that Disney or Universal didn’t do was picked up and executed by the Landmark Entertainment Group. Landmark’s founder, Gary Goddard, was my director on “Masters of the Universe.”

For a long time I was annoyed that Landmark hadn’t called me in on their Wizard of Oz theme park they were designing for Kansas City. I later found out why when I finally was called in to work on it. The money for what I was needed for hadn’t been in place. As soon as it was, I got the call. Designing Oz day in and day out was the most fun nine months I’ve ever had.

In the middle of my Oz work I was suddenly pulled off the project for a few days.

Landmark president Tony Christopher told me, “We need to have you design some new gates for Michael Jackson’s NeverLand.”

Michael Jackson was nuts about theme parks — particularly DisneyLand. This is why he had turned his own place of residence, NeverLand (named after fantasy island from “Peter Pan”) into his very own mini-theme park. Thinking he wanted to expand in that area, Michael teamed up with a Middle Eastern sheik to purchase controlling interest in Landmark. Landmark’s chiefs welcomed this huge infusion of cash.

Michael had his fingers in a lot of business pies. There was a flurry of activity on Michael’s behalf after the initial acquisition of the company. Then, Michael’s attention drifted to other areas of his business world. At Landmark, life fell back into Business As Usual.

Every once in awhile, Michael would remember he owned this theme park design company. Landmark would get a “What have you done for me lately?” call from Michael. The company would immediately switch gears and create something to satisfy Michael. Michael would be thrilled and his attention would drift away once more and Landmark would return to their regular jobs.

That was the reason I was told to drop everything and design some new wrought iron gates for NeverLand. Michael had called.

I had a blast doing that job. I am a HUGE Peter Pan freak. I also knew that Michael’s and my collecting tastes were identical. I knew I could create something that Michael would love. I was secretly hoping that through this gig I’d finally get to meet Michael (I really wanted to see his book collection) but that did not come to pass.

The gate design was fun. I created wrought iron silhouettes of all the main elements from “Peter Pan”. They included Peter, Captain Hook, Tinker Bell, the Darling children, mermaids, pirates, Indians and Hook’s pirate ship, the Jolly Roger. I don’t know if it was ever made but I heard that Michael was thrilled by my design.

Conclusion…
From all the accounts I read, including excerpts from his own autobiography, Michael Jackson was an incredibly lonely person. He didn’t need to be. I believe, especially after reading recollections from those closest to him, that Michael ultimately had the wrong motivations at the core of his being. He was a very competitive person, which is fine — to a point.

I see this problem with a lot of brilliant creators (except for Michael, I won’t name names here because a lot of them are my friends). Most (if not all) of their initial motivation came out of anger, an anger that made them determined to “show the world.” That truly works as a great motivator. But what happens when, as in Michael’s case (and with a number of people I know), you have shown the world? Where do you go from there, when you don’t have anyone left to show, and when that was the main drive and motivation of your life and career? If you don’t have the correct answer for that one, you either stop working or try to fill that sudden, gnawing emptiness with quick-fix surface obsessions, like extravagant spending, seclusion, drug use, sex, grand gestures and the like. None of it works for long. It’s all like little band-aids being placed on gaping wounds.

Here’s what does work: the work itself. Michael needed to be satisfied and excited by the creative process — and not by what that process brought him in terms of fame, money and awards. He needed to keep stretching and pushing himself artistically, whether what he did sold or not. He needed to take creative chances. Michael needed to be his own biggest fan. He should have been bursting with excitement just to see what he would do next. That would have taken him out of himself and put him in touch with other creators with similar problems and challenges. It would have imbued him a confidence, contentment and joy that would emanate from the very core of his being, something whose pleasure would be minimally affected, if at all, by the surface trappings of money, fame and the rest.

Does this eliminate pain and doubt in your life? No. But it does take you out of yourself in an extremely positive way. The big change is this: Instead of competing with others being your sole motivation, you begin competing with yourself. Others will rise and fall & come and go. You will always be there.

Follow this path and creatively you will make mistakes. I tell my students I’ve learned more from my mistakes, though, than I’ve learned from my successes. It’s often my mistakes that create the path to my successes. As a creator you need to take chances in order to grow. You need to be fearless.

If you’re sufficiently philosophical on top of all this, you’ll realize realistically that you’re not going to hit it out of the park with everything you do. Instead, you’ll remember that overall, in the Big Picture of things, what you’re really shooting for here is a really high batting average. The more you produce (with the highest quality always in mind), the more home runs you’re going to hit. If you’re a serious creator, you’re in this cockeyed caravan for the long haul.

This is something I have learned that applies to all of us who work as creators in the arts. Perhaps this important message resonates to those outside the arts as well.

On Dad… (belated Father’s Day entry)

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Last Sunday was Father’s Day. I had a great Father’s Day. Both of my sons were home. We drove over to nearby Eaton Canyon Nature Park. On the hike I led through the myriad trails there I spotted a California king snake. Besides just being together and enjoying nature, that was the highlight of our hike. I hadn’t see one in the wild since I was a Boy Scout (about a hundred years ago). These snakes are endangered and incredibly beautiful with their ivory yellow and dark chocolate rings.

Back at home my wife made me one of my favorite dinners, filet mignon with Manchego cheese and chipotle pepper sauce (on a lightly fried tortilla). Accompanying my steak was an Indian (from India) salad with tomatoes, onion, ginger (lots!), jícama (my wife’s own clever addition), cilantro, lemons and serrano chiles. Yum!

Afterward we drove over to Bulgarini Gelato, proclaimed by food scribe Jonathan Gold as one of the five best gelato makers in the United States. I had a triple threat gelato of yogurt & oil (It doesn’t sound good but it was incredible, tasting a lot like my mom’s cheesecake), peach sorbet and an incredible nectarine gelato. I sampled a rich strawberry with hot peppers gelato, too. Incredible! My favorite, still, is Bulgarini’s grapefruit sorbet. It magically captures all of the best essences of grapefruit flavor and concentrates that flavor a hundred fold into each bite. The blood orange flavor is darn nice, too, as is their pomegranate.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about.

Being Father’s Day and all, I wanted to write a little bit about my dad.

My dad and I had a rocky (when it wasn’t non-existent) relationship for the last thirty years of his life (he was a heavy smoker & died a horrible death from emphysema). I won’t go into that stupid mess. Instead, I’ve set myself the challenge of only saying nice things about my dad. Here goes.

It was my dad who fed and nurtured my great love of nature and wildlife. Although we both loved nature, we came at it from different points of view. My father, who grew up on an Idaho farm, was an avid fisherman and hunter. I never went on his hunting trips (he shot deer and stocked our freezer with venison each season) nor on his deep sea fishing trips (we enjoyed fresh bonita, halibut, barracuda and shark from those ventures). Every summer, however, he took my brothers and me (and occasionally my mom — but only if the trip ended in Reno) trout fishing in the High Sierras, specifically the area around June Lake.

We fished using bait and lures. The goal of my brothers and myself was to out-fish my dad. We loved watching him fly into a genuine rage when this occurred (and it occurred often). In hindsight, it was pure luck on our part when we beat him but he thought it all had to do with skill. That made him more determined than ever to redouble his efforts to out-fish us — which made it even funnier to us boys when he didn’t. By the time we arrived home with our catch he was laughing at himself and was expressing great pride in regards to our fishing skills. In the right mood, my dad had a great sense of humor.

I liked fishing but I had a pretty short attention span. If the trout were biting I was fine. If not, I liked to put down my pole and wander, hoping to catch a glimpse of some marvel of nature. I was overjoyed to find a dead porcupine on the trail one afternoon, as well as the rotting carcass of a deer. I tried to identify each bird I encountered and was ever on the lookout for snakes and lizards.

On the five hour drive home I would identify and remark on each roadkill. Once, driving at night, we saw a coyote pursuing a jackrabbit. I loved those two week trips. Often, we would end them with a trip to Bodie, a ghost town not terribly far from Mono Lake. My dad, you see, was a big history buff and a western fan. Back then Bodie was not protected nor operated by the state as a historical park. We had the run of the place. We entered the ancient abandoned dwellings at our own risk. It was exciting. We never knew what page from the past would be revealed in our explorations. We found old square nails, one hundred year old bottles turned purple by the sun, and signage from a bygone era. In the mining quarries I found rocks flecked with minute amounts of silver (Bodie was a gold and silver mining town). We read all of the tombstones on Boot Hill, laughing together at the humor possessed by some of those old westerners, even in moments of adversity. We were silent when we calculated the brief lives led by so many of the buried when we did the math and calculated their sad, early death ages.

Over the years I noticed that the roadkill count grew disappointingly less and less. This wasn’t because the wild animals were getting better at dodging cars and trucks. It was because humans were encroaching on animal territory as well as killing the critters they encountered for the sheer fun of it. A lot of wildlife was shot or poisoned to protect livestock or crops.

My dad was not big on apologies. On those rare occasions when he did apologize, I always listened carefully. I’ll never forget one apology.

I was in my first year at art school. Because of his proximity to my college, I began living with him upon my graduation from high school (my parents divorced when I was fourteen). Out of the blue he got very melancholy and contemplative.

He turned to me and said, “I really want to apologize for the way my generation has left this country for your generation. We have not been good stewards of our wild lands. I hope that you and your generation will not make the same mistakes that we have made.”

I mentioned my father loved westerns. He passed on his great love of westerns to me. I was thrilled and proud to return the favor when I took him to see his first spaghetti western, “For a Few Dollars More.” I was tickled to see he was knocked out by that film (as was I) and by the other Eastwood/Leone collaborations.

The other film genre he loved was science fiction. I think he really liked the “science” part of it, the “what if” possibility that what we were watching could possibly happen some day. He had his own wacky theory that the visitors and flying saucers from other worlds either came from cloud-shrouded Venus or from an Earth doppleganger that rotated around the sun in our exact orbit but always on the opposite side of the sun (which is why we couldn’t see it but why it was convenient for the aliens, travel-wise).

When it came to business dealings my father was one of the most honest people I ever met. I recall one time we were selling my car so that I could upgrade. He thoroughly checked out my vehicle (he was a pretty darn good car mechanic; I still have barely a clue. I once watched my dad completely take my car apart down its nuts and bolts and put it all back together again), determined what was wrong with it and had it completely repaired.

I noticed he spent some substantial money doing this and asked him why he went to the trouble and didn’t just sell the car “as is.” His reply was simple. “What if I sold this car to a friend and his son was killed in an auto accident because of some defect I hadn’t bothered to fix?”

Although he didn’t express it very often, my dad was proud of my work as an artist and I appreciate the few bashful (the men in my dad’s generation were not comfortable with expressing their feelings) words of praise that came my way on occasion.

Perhaps the greatest gift my dad gave me was giving me a love of books and reading. He taught me to read (phonetically) when I was three. I think that made a profound difference in my life. He always made the lessons fun — and funny. He did drawings to represent the words I was learning. We would both laugh at his meager graphic attempts. I ended up teaching both of my sons using the same method (with only slightly better drawings; the crappyness of the depictions was part of the charm). I know that learning to read early in life made a huge difference in their lives, too. I was happy to pass that on.

So Dad, here’s to you. I have tried to pass on all of your best qualities to your grandkids. I think you’d be proud.

Bob Peak Exhibition

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

This afternoon my wife Kent, my son James and I made the short drive from Pasadena down to Alhambra to see the Bob Peak exhibition at the Nucleus Gallery. The exhibition got a fortuitous front page mention in the Los Angeles Times. Immediately after the Peak show (June 27) I’ll have a very quick (3 days) exhibition of my own work kicked off by a lecture and book signing (my murals book) at Nucleus. I hope to see you there!

From the mid-1960s through the late 1970s Bob Peak was the king of the movie poster illustrators. He painted the posters for “My Fair Lady,” “Camelot,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Star Trek – The Motion Picture,” “Excalibur,” and “Silverado” to name just a few.

Peak established a style that would dominate the 60s and 70s. Limited as a renderer, Peak produced illustrations that were basically evocative line drawings over flat color. He often added swatches of color pattern as well, obviously influenced by Gustav Klimt. Peak changed illustration forever with his fresh style. He often mixed media, combining charcoal pencil, watercolor, gouache, pastels and acrylics.

About 80% of the work on display in this exhibition is original art that was loaned to the gallery by the Peak family (Bob passed away years ago after he fell from a ladder). Bob liked to work huge, which increases the drama of seeing his original work. Besides his movie posters, there are early advertising illustrations, post-movie poster period commissions, personal work and giclee prints on display. Everything is for sale. I highly recommend that any fan of illustration from the Golden Age of movie poster illustration visit this remarkable exhibition. And don’t miss the original Bob Peak paintings in the newly opened upstairs portion of the gallery!

While visiting today we ran into my old friends Kevin Routon and Howard Chaykin. Howie immediately introduced me to Bob Peak’s son Tom. Another of my “coincidences”…?

Nucleus Gallery itself is worth the visit. Half gallery, half bookstore, owner Ben Zhu stocks the book section with incredible art books not found anywhere else. Ben regularly makes trips to China, bringing back phenomenal books printed there (but not distributed to these shores) featuring gorgeous art by Chinese and Russian painters. Ben also stocks his shelves with the best American pop and illustration art books, as well as art books by the great comic illustrators. The bookstore portion is kind of like a mini-Bud Plant catalogue but with more of an international flair. Incredible. They have great hours, too: open ’til 9:00 PM on weekdays!

Ben has already hosted a series of very classy shows at Nucleus. The first one I saw was an exhibition of work by my friend Drew Struzan, the man to whom Bob Peak’s King of the Movie Poster Illustrators’ crown passed. It was a stunning exhibition of Drew’s poster work and personal pieces.

I suggest you check out the Nucleus Gallery website for future shows: http://www.gallerynucleus.com

Here’s the basics: Nucleus Gallery, 210 E. Main Street (a block or two east of Garfield), Alhambra, CA 91801; Store: 626/458-7482; Gallery: 626/458-7477; Mon-Thurs: Noon-9pm; Fri-Sun: 11am-10pm.

David Carradine, R. I. P. …and My Beginnings as a Screenwriter

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

This morning I was deeply saddened to learn that David Carradine has taken his own life in Bangkok, Thailand.

David was the star of the first film I ever wrote, “The Warrior and the Sorceress”. He was my first choice for the lead role. He was the son of the great actor John Carradine and brother to the brilliant actors Keith, Robert and Chris.

Pardon this sidebar, but David’s story relates to how my first screenwriting gig came about.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s I was drawing and painting tons of movie posters. I also created a lot of work in a related field known as “presentation art.”

Presentation art was created for movies that hadn’t yet been financed. Most of it followed this pattern: a producer would have an idea and title for a film. He would commission me to paint a fake movie poster. The art would visually express what the film was and how it would be sold to the public. The producer would take the art to the Cannes Film Festival or MiFed and on the basis of the film’s concept and my artwork, he’d line up financing for his movie.

Producer Sandy Howard and I would do this every year. Sandy would come to me with twelve high concept titles (not even scripts!). I would produce twelve pieces of art. Sandy would take both to Cannes and come back with the financing for twelve different movies.

An example of this was “Terror Train.” “Teenage girls terrorized on a train!” Sandy enthusiastically exclaimed. I painted a mini-poster of a teenage girl inside a train corridor being threatened by a menacing shadow of someone holding a big knife. Voila! The next thing I knew, it was a Jamie Lee Curtis movie!

I was approached by the low budget producer (and sometimes director) John C. Broderick about doing presentation art for a film version of the first Gor novel by John Norman. Actually, John wasn’t that specific. He just wanted to rip off the Gor concept (sword & sorcery mixed with T & A and S & M) and make it into a movie.

I misunderstood and heard “Gor” as “gore”. I told John I was intimately familiar with the sword & sorcery genre, especially as it related to gore (as I was a passionate fan of Robert E. Howard’s Conan books). Eventually I figured out John was talking about “Gor” (with which I was also familiar, although not a fan), not “gore” — but by that time I was already hip deep in the job.

Because of my enthusiasm and story suggestions, but primarily because John thought I was an expert on John Norman’s erotic world of Gor (which I wasn’t), John began to have me write the screenplay. John asked me if I had ever seen the Akira Kurosawa film, “Yojimbo”. I hadn’t. “How about ‘Fistful of Dollars’?” “Sure!” “Same movie.” John screened “Yojimbo” for me. Quite frankly, John wanted me to steal the story from “Yojimbo” and then layer it with as many sexy elements as possible from Norman’s Gor novels.

I had never written a screenplay. I didn’t know how long they were and was only the slightest bit aware of their format. I also didn’t type, so my screenplay (and each subsequent draft) was entirely written in longhand (back then there were screenplay typing services for guys like me)!

I wasn’t about to steal someone else’s story, so here is what I did. I watched “Yojimbo” and made story notes. Those notes gave me the length and structure. Once I had written that all out, I went back and changed every element that was distinctly “Yojimbo” to something else. I ended up with an almost completely different story that was the same length as “Yojimbo”. When I was finished it bore no relationship at all to that classic film.

Writing “Kain of Dark Planet” (my title) was hard — one of the hardest creative exercises I’d ever attempted. I would hone the script to what I thought was perfection. Then John would tear it apart and make me do a complete rewrite. It psychologically felt like I was flaying my own skin from my body. The screenplay went through about seven of these rewrites.

John took the finished screenplay and verbally pitched his version of it to Roger Corman. “Yojimbo!” blurted Roger, no slouch when it came to cinema history. “On another planet. Great!”

I didn’t hear anything from John for months. I did receive a phone call, however, from the head of publicity for Roger (I had been creating movie posters for Roger for films like “Up From the Depths” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School”). In the midst of catching up with each other I asked what films New World (Roger’s film company) had in the works. “Kain of Dark Planet” really caught my ear.

“Kain of Dark Planet?” I asked.

“Yeah; I’ve got the screenplay right here.”

“Do me a favor and turn to the front page.”

“Sure.”

“Please read it for me.”

“’Kain of Dark Planet’; Screenplay by John C. Broderick.”

“…and…?”

“No ‘and’…”

“My name’s not on that title page?”

“Nope.”

My next call was to my attorney, Henry Holmes. His next call was to Roger Corman.

Roger Corman may be tight with a buck but he’s an ethical guy. He immediately docked the pay of the director (John Broderick) and sent me the money in payment for my screenplay.

Roger had just made a film down in Argentina. The sets were still up so Roger called John Broderick and told him he could shoot “Kain of Dark Planet” using those sets. I think that Roger gave John a film budget of $80,000(!). Broderick based the rest of the production design on a series of presentation paintings I had done for the project.

Shortly thereafter, I received a frantic call from Argentina. It was John. I asked him why on earth he had taken my name off the screenplay.

“It’s easier to sell a script if there’s only one name on it,” he lied. I just laughed. His reasons for calling were to smooth things over between us but mainly because he didn’t want to share screenplay or story credit with me. He thought he could talk me out of it. His ego demanded that the film credit read “Written & Directed by John C. Broderick.”

Welcome to Show Biz.

I was sorry this had happened. I really liked John. I learned a lot from him about screenwriting. John turned me on to Kurosawa’s films. He introduced me to the man who brought Godzilla to these shores, old time showman Harry Rybnick. During my gig writing “Kain of Dark Planet” we wrote other stuff together: “Galaxy of Terror” and “Time Gate” (also uncredited). It was quite an education in The Biz.

When the film came out in 1984, Roger had re-titled it “Warrior and the Sorceress”, even though there was no sorceress in the film! It was re-titled that way so that New World could have a sexy sorceress in the ads and on the movie poster. John Broderick had wanted to cast his old friend Gary Lockwood in the lead but Roger gave John my first choice, David Carradine, to play Kain the Warrior.

About that name…

Some people assume I called David’s character “Kain” because David played “Caine” in the “Kung Fu” TV series. Not so. To this day I have never seen a single episode of “Kung Fu.” “Kung Fu” came out at a time when I wasn’t watching any television (except to view old movies late at night). I was aware of it and its impact on pop culture — one would have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to be. It’s just that I was fresh out of art school and was much too busy trying to make it as a freelancer to watch network TV shows. I had admired David for his work in the films like “Q”, “The Long Riders”, “Death Race 2000” and “The Long Goodbye.” The Kain name was sheer coincidence.

I was horrified when I saw the film at the World Theater (“3 Films for 99¢!”) in Hollywood. John had taken most of my original ideas as well as the dialogue on which I had worked so hard and jettisoned them. He went right back to aping “Yojimbo.” The movie came off as a complete plagiarism.

There is still some confusion as to my writing credit. IMDB does not have me listed as the writer. An early print of the film was missing my credit. Subsequent prints, videos and the cable & TV versions all have my writing credit. The credit helped me to become a member of the Writers Guild of America West.

Years later, David Carradine tracked me down at San Diego’s Comic-Con and asked me to write a sequel to “Warrior and the Sorceress”. I remember being shocked by his deep, gravelly voice (I assume it was in practice for a role since his voice subsequently returned to normal). I also felt deeply honored. I’m sorry I didn’t follow through on that request. I think two factors discouraged me from writing the sequel.

One, I was worried I couldn’t deliver a script worthy of David. I’m pretty damn confident about my art (on my good days) but I still have doubts regarding my writing abilities. I set the same high standards for my writing as I do for my art. I might also have been really busy at the time, which is likely.

Two, I was concerned that if I wrote this on my own that I might (ironically) be sued by John Broderick, with whom I shared screenplay credit on the original.

So I didn’t do it. In retrospect, I think I should have, just to have had the experience of working with David.

The last time I spoke with David was just a couple of years ago. We were both guests at a convention back east. After the convention we shared a limo ride back to the airport. I reminded him who I was and that he had starred in the first screenplay I ever wrote. David lit up and regaled me with tales of the making of that production for the entire ride to the airport. His stories were both funny and insightful, told by one of the world’s great raconteurs.

I have had other Carradine connections besides David. I worked with David’s brother Chris at Walt Disney Imagineering. Chris is perhaps the finest actor of the Carradine brothers (he convinced an entire corporation — and Michael Eisner — that he was an architect!). Chris is quite the dazzling showman. Although because of my film biz background (and my inner bullshit detector) I always saw right through his dramatic presentations, I nevertheless marveled at how Chris pulled them off, convincing the rest of the room that they had just seen something deep and fantastic. In the conversations I had with Chris about his family, Chris’ edge softened and he became another man. He obviously was very proud of his dad and brothers’ acting accomplishments…and rightfully so.

My brother John had many conversations with John Carradine when he would run into him at Carradine’s favorite Ventura County watering hole. Being a monster fan I, of course, love John Carradine’s performances in the many horror films (“Invisible Man”, “Bride of Frankenstein”, House of Frankenstein”, “House of Dracula”, etc.) of his career. I think my favorite performance of his, however, was his haunted portrayal of Casy in the non-genre classic (although a horror film in its own way), “The Grapes of Wrath”.

Thank you, Quentin Tarantino, for giving David’s career a lift (with “Kill Bill”) just when he needed it and reminding the world of David’s enormous acting talent (the guy had the lead in a Bergman film, for chrissake!).

I’m going to miss seeing David at conventions. I’m also going to miss the many fine performances I know he still had left in him.

Goodbye, Grasshopper.

Hey, Benno!

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

This message is for Benno Rothschild.

I’ve been trying to reach you and answer your questions but your spam blocker, Barracuda Reputation, keeps bouncing my e-mails to you right back to me. Please disable the blocker or put me on your Trusted Senders List and I’ll re-send my answers (and images) to your queries. Thanks!

I get your e-mails just fine, by the way.

Da Movie & Convention Biz

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

Monsterpalooza was wonderful. It was very much like the old Mad Model Party, but with less of an emphasis on model kits. I hope it becomes an annual event. It was incredibly well-run. I’m going to restrain myself from name-dropping here. I saw a lot of old friends at Monsterpalooza, mostly guys I know or have worked with in the Special EFX and Special Makeup EFX biz.

Let me just tell you that nearly all of my early friends in the movie biz worked either as Special EFX Makeup artists or in Special Visual EFX. My passion for special effects (initially fueled and fired by the original King Kong and the films of Ray Harryhausen) and my knowledge of the genre made me gravitate towards EFX films when I began making my own movies. I quickly became known in the business as a designer with an easy familiarity of that world.

Speaking of my own films, “War Monkeys!” (like nearly every other movie project in this town right now) has been delayed for three or four weeks. It’s been getting really good buzz on the Net. I am going to help try to make this movie as kick-ass, fun and funny as possible. Live, crazed baboons with AK-47s — what’s not to love?!

Too bad about the delay, but on the up side, that gives me more time to prepare for Comic-Con. Is there anything special you’d like me to bring this year? Of course, I’ll have stacks of my murals books, all ready to sign for you. Right now I’m working on a Barsoomian piece to sell at Comic-Con. If I knew how to Twitter, that’s what I’d be twittering.

OK; back to Tars Tarkas…