Untold Tales of Hollywood #44

Film #13: Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1982)
Produced & Directed by Steve Miner
Written by Fred Dekker
Production designed by William Stout

When I was in the thick of painting movie posters, I was also creating something called presentation art. Presentation art usually looked just like a movie poster. Typically, it was commissioned for a film project that a producer wanted to make. It’s hard to get people to read your script in this town but almost no one has a problem looking at pictures.

The presentation art solves a couple of problems. It tells the viewer just what kind of movie you want financed, and it also indicates how that movie might be advertised and sold. Producer Sandy Howard used to come to me each year with a dozen titles. For example:

“Bill, this one’s called Terror Train — teenage girls get terrorized on a train.”

On the basis of that title and Sandy’s (very) brief description, I would come up with the art that I thought would sell the project. Sandy didn’t have any scripts, mind you — just titles. On the basis of each title and my art he would then go to Cannes or MiFed and get the financing for each of his twelve movies. I created the presentation art for Terror Train (it got made with Jamie Lee Curtis) and lots of other movies. My batting average when it came to getting the financing for a film based upon my art was incredibly high. That’s how Re-Animator got its money and green light.

Those were exciting times! It was so much easier (and cheaper) to make movies back then…

One day I got a call from horror director Steve Miner (Steve directed Friday the 13th 2 and 3). He needed a presentation painting for an American Godzilla movie he wanted to direct. He planned to shoot it in 3-D and wanted the presentation art to reflect that. In Steve’s movie Godzilla attacks San Francisco, beginning with the Golden Gate Bridge. I drew up this charcoal piece:

After Steve approved it, I did a full color painted version of it. Unfortunately, that color piece seems to have disappeared.

Steve was very impressed by my painting and visual storytelling skills. When he found out that I had storyboarded First Blood, he hired me to start storyboarding Godzilla, King of the Monsters in 3-D. I read the screenplay by Fred Dekker. It was great; one of the best screenplays I have ever read. It was told from the point of view of a junior high school boy with a fascination for reptiles (he has his own pet iguana). Since there were going to be special effects in almost every shot in the movie, the entire film needed to be storyboarded. The boards also helped in Steve’s presentations to the movie studios. Because the storyboards were also being used as presentation art, I made the panels fairly large and detailed.

During this time Mentor Huebner was considered to be the best storyboard artist in the Film Biz. He boarded North by Northwest for Alfred Hitchcock. He and Sherm Labby storyboarded BladeRunner. As an unusual side note, Mentor’s wife Louise Huebner was the Official Witch of Los Angeles.

Mentor was also a friend of mine. He was visiting my studio when he saw some of my Godzilla storyboards.

“My God, Bill,” he exclaimed, “With the detail you’ve put into these boards, you’re actually designing the film. They can build from your drawings. You should ask to be the production designer.”

I hadn’t thought of that. I decided to take Mentor’s advice. I called Steve Miner and asked him to consider me as being the film’s production designer.

“Let me make a few calls,” he said. After doing a background check on me with some of the people I had worked with in film (including Ron Cobb), Steve called me back.

“You’ve got the job.”

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