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Untold Tales of Hollywood #102

I intentionally channeled the clean, well-designed storytelling skills of Alex Toth in my boards for The Hitcher.

The Hitcher was a box office success. Robert Harmon called me to board his next feature, Eyes of an Angel. I passed. It was a dark, nasty script with a dog fighting background. I’m really glad I didn’t take that gig. The dog fighting subject matter was incredibly distasteful. I heard later that the set on that film had the ugliest of vibes. I was told there were fights on set, as many of the crew tapped into and were affected by the set’s and story’s mean atmosphere. The film was released direct to video, making The Hitcher Robert Harmon’s first and only theatrically released feature film.

I recalled the sage advice of director George Pan Cosmatos when he told me, “Getting your first film to direct is easy — it’s the second one that’s hard. With your first film, you could be the next Steven Spielberg. After you’ve made it, there is now visual proof that you either are or are not the next Spielberg. If you did well, your second film comes relatively easily. If you did not, you probably will never get another chance to direct.”

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See You at POWER-CON!

Tomorrow (Saturday, September 11) and Sunday I’ll be guesting at Power-Con, the convention devoted to Masters of the Universe. Come by my booth!

It’s at the Anaheim Hilton. I’ll have MOTU original art on display and will be selling my German Masters of the Universe book with a translation of my long MOTU interview.

Cos-Play expert Rebekah Cox will be appearing dressed as She-Ra — wearing MY She-Ra costume design. Sadly, She-Ra was cut from the film.

I hope to see you there!

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Untold Tales of Hollywood #101

Here are more of my storyboards for The Hitcher:

The similarity between my storytelling style and Robert Harmon’s caused a bit of embarrassment.

There are a lot of folks in France who are fans of my film work. The French pop culture magazine StarFix ran an article on The Hitcher. They printed some of my storyboards next to shots from the film and (wrongly) concluded that I had secretly directed The Hitcher!

Understandably, director Robert Harmon was not real happy about this.

Dennis Gassner quickly became a top production designer. He received Academy Award nominations for his work on Barton Fink, Road to Perdition, The Golden Compass, Into the Woods, Bladerunner 2049 and 1917. He won for Bugsy.

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Dragon Con 2021

I have been selected by Dragon Con as their Artist Guest of Honor for this year. I’ll be doing lots of panels and sharing a multitude of fascinating stories, many about the 75 film projects in which I have been involved. I had more than twenty pieces of original art shipped to the show, including a new Dragon Con poster and a new poster for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I hope to see as many of my friends and fans as possible — and safely. Instead of my usual location at AmericasMart, I’ll be set up in the Art Show room. Please follow my lead and take all necessary precautions. I take COVID very seriously. Do not approach me if you have not been double vaxxed. Even though I’ve been double-vaxxed, my grandchildren aren’t. I do not want to bring this terrible disease back to them, nor do I want this to be my last Dragon Con.

Let’s make this a Dragon Con to remember for all the right reasons!

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Untold Tales of Hollywood #100

Dennis Gassner was The Hitcher‘s production designer. I don’t think I’ve ever met a production designer with so much class and taste. He had hired a smart, terrific and incredibly dedicated and talented crew, a few of which (myself included) who had worked as production designers on some of their previous films. The crew contained much more than enough knowledge to make this film.

The members of the art department that Dennis had assembled all had fast, sharp, wicked senses of humor. That skill atrophies without use; I was glad to be constantly upping my game in that arena with them around.

In addition to storyboarding the movie, Dennis asked me to design the County Sheriff’s station exterior and interior.

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Untold Tales of Hollywood #98

Film #20: The Hitcher(1985)
Directed by Robert Harmon
Production Designed by Dennis Gassner

The experience of making The Return of the Living Dead was so brutal, that I quit the Film Biz for nine months after making that film.

Then I was sent the script for The Hitcher. It was a terrific screenplay by a young new writer, Eric Red.

As I recall, Eric was hitchhiking from the Midwest to Hollywood to break into the Film Biz when he got stuck in the middle of nowhere with only enough money to make one last phone call. He used his very last quarter to make a call to set up a meeting in regards to his screenplay for The Hitcher.

Eric miss-dialed and called the wrong number with that last quarter.

The number he accidentally called was that of an agent — Dan O’Bannon‘s agent. The agent listened to Eric’s pitch over the phone and immediately wired him the money to complete his trip to Hollywood. Red’s screenplay was sold immediately and his career in film suddenly skyrocketed. What are the odds?

Robert Harmon was signed to direct The Hitcher. When I got hired, Robert was out of town on a location scout.

“Since Robert’s not here, what would you like me to board?”

“Start with Page One, Scene One and go.”

Which is what I did. I began to fill the walls with my storyboards for The Hitcher. Members of the film’s crew would occasionally pop in to see what I was doing. From every single one of them I got the same bizarre response. Each person gasped looking at my boards and said something to the effect of “Holy cow…” or “Oh my God…” Then they would leave the room. I was mystified as to their response. It felt really weird.

The line producer came to see me.

“We want to show you Robert’s first film as a director. It’s a short called China Lake. We’ve set up a screening for you at 6:30 PM over at Technicolor.”

I drove over to Technicolor. I had the screening room all to myself. I told the projectionist he could roll film.

China Lake began to unspool.

I was shocked. China Lake looked like a film I had directed but had forgotten I’d directed it. Robert Harmon’s visual storytelling and screen composition styles were exactly the same as mine. Now I knew why I was getting such weird reactions from The Hitcher team.

Robert Harmon got back from his location scout a couple of weeks later. He came in, briefly glanced at the boards, and proclaimed, “Yup. That’s exactly how I’m going to shoot it.”

I pictured the hitchhiking monster as a skeletal, vulture-like character and drew him that way. I thought Harry Dean Stanton would have been perfectly cast as this devil-like hitchhiker. Here’s how I boarded the film’s opening: