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Unwritten Rules of Hollywood #2

Rule #2: Never Suggest “Fixes” for a Finished Film
One of the axioms peculiar to Hollywood is that the more you can afford to see movies, the less you have to pay for them.

Way back when I was a struggling artist, I was also a gigantic film buff. I wanted to see EVERYTHING! I went to film festivals, movie marathons, triple bills — you name it. Because I was relatively poor, however, I needed to be selective. I ended up missing out on a lot of movies because of my financial situation. As they say in the movies, CUT TO: Many years later.

Well-established in the film biz and making good dough, I could afford to see any film I wanted to view. The weird thing is that for the most part, I found myself living in a situation in which I rarely had to pay to see films anymore. I knew most everyone in the Film Biz by that point (or knew someone who knew someone) — the Film Biz is a really small world — so I was constantly being invited to screenings of their new movies.

Early on at these events I made a really rookie mistake. After the film was over and the lights went up I’d greet the director, writer, producer or whomever had invited me to the screening. They’d always ask “Well, what did you think?”

Stupidly, I would tell them the truth.

I’d tell them what I liked, what I didn’t like and how to fix it.

Big mistake. HUGE mistake.

By the time I saw the movie, it was finished. There was no going back and fixing anything. So, any criticism I had just ended up frustrating and pissing off my friend. “Where the fuck were you when I could have used that advice?” was a common response; sometimes spoken, sometimes spoken only with their eyes.

It’s a very quick way to lose friends — and, potentially, jobs — in the film business.

So, you might ask — what does one do?

If the film is good, there’s no problem. Ignore anything that might have bothered you and honestly praise it to the heavens.

If the film is just OK, remember everything that was right or good about the film and praise the filmmaker for those particular qualities.

If the film was a stinker, before it’s over check to see if there are any exits you can take to avoid the inevitable question. If there aren’t any (there usually aren’t), then find something, ANYTHING, to praise about the film. Make your goodbyes and congratulations brief and get the hell out of there.

And be very happy you didn’t work on it (unless you truly could have helped it in its early stages).

Sadly, I didn’t learn this Unwritten Rule until it had cost me some friends and jobs.

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Unwritten Rules of Hollywood #1

When I got into the film business I was a complete innocent. I made a lot of rookie mistakes and broke heaps of rules. One reason for this is that most of the rules guiding behavior in Hollywood are unwritten. If you’re in The Biz, you’re just supposed to know them. Many of these rules made me feel like I was Alice in a bizarre Hollywood version of Wonderland.

So, I’ve had this idea for a long time of actually writing down these unwritten rules so that other young filmmakers don’t make the same blunders I did as a novice.

My plan was to write a book — but who’s got time for that? Not me. Instead, I’ve decided to write about the subject one rule at a time. If, eventually, I end up with enough for a book, well, great. If not, I’ll have at least disseminated some valuable information out there that I know I sure could have used way back when.

So here we go with my first entry:

Rule #1: That Was Then, This Is Now
It raises nary a single eyebrow in Hollywood if you’re suing someone on a previous project while working for or with them on a current project.

I can use myself as an example.

I was suing Dino DeLaurentiis for damages. His production company “lost” a big chunk of my original art from Conan the Barbarian. At the same time I was suing Dino over the “lost” art on Conan the Barbarian, I was working for him on the sequel, Conan the Destroyer.

Personally, I found this situation bizarre — but no one else did.

As I was working on a film for them, I saw Dino’s people on a daily basis. They were always courteous and friendly to me. No one I knew in the business thought that was unusual, because that was then, this is now. Let’s not let the business of the past get in the way of the business of the present (or future; I ultimately worked on six films for Dino).

The brilliant film director Joe Johnston just gave me a recent variation on that rule. A lot of people who have a bad experience with someone or some studio publicly vow that they will never work for them again. After Joe’s grueling experiences with the Walt Disney Company on Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and The Rocketeer, Joe excoriated Disney often to any reporter who would listen, very publicly swearing he would never work for that company again in this or any other lifetime.

Joe’s latest film is due for release July 22. There is high anticipation for this new superhero film — it’s Captain America. The film’s studio? You guessed it: Disney.

That was then, this is now.

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What a Tool

I was recently asked by an artist in Mexico about the tools and materials I work with in creating my work. I thought I’d share my responses:

Thank you for the kind words regarding my work.

There are certain art supplies that are my favorites, although I agree with you that an artist’s thinking, problem solving abilities and talent are far more important than the tools that he or she uses. When I was making Conan the Barbarian in Zaghreb the art supplies available there were absolutely pitiful. I ended up coloring my designs with a children’s watercolor set intended for ages 3 to 6. No other watercolors were available there. Nevertheless, I made it work.

I lived in Mexico city when I was making the second Conan film, Conan the Destroyer. I don’t recall getting art supplies in Mexico to be too difficult, except for getting the kind of illustration board and matte boards I liked to work on. I noticed, also, that the Pelikan inks in Mexico had a different formula than their German counterparts.

The only art supplies that I am really picky about are my brushes. I insist on using the very expensive Winsor Newton Series 7 brushes, although in Zaghreb I was forced to use the little children’s brushes that fan out (they won’t/can’t come to a proper point)!

Nevertheless, here are the tools I use most often:

Black & white art:
3H and HB (or #2) pencils, any brand
Magic Rub eraser (these are great erasers; they don’t tear up the paper)

Bruning electric eraserPanasonic electric pencil sharpener

Hunt Crowquil pen, standard 102 tip and holder

Speedball B tip pens for lettering (mostly B-5, B-5 1/2 and B-6)

Osmiroid chisel tip pen for regular comic book text lettering

Higgins Black Magic India ink (not the greatest ink; that would have been ArtTone Extra Dense Black, which Higgins bought out. Higgins changed the formula, ruined the ink and then discontinued it)

Winsor Newton Series 7 #1 brush (Dave Stevens used the Series 7 #2)
I use a lot of Sharpie markers, too, for quick sketches. They are very permanent and don’t bleed over time (although many of the colored ones can fade).

Fredrix canvas (when I stretch my own) or high quality pre-stretched canvases from Dick Blick. I’ve tried a variety of Fredrix canvases; they’ve all been good.
Winsor Newton Galleria acrylics (for my underpainting)
Winsor Newton Griffin Alkyd oil paints.
Any good large brushes for the painting lay-ins
Winsor Newton Series 7 #s 1, 2 and 3 for details.
Liquin medium (I add turpentine for a 50/50 mix)

Crescent extra heavyweight (less warping with extra heavyweight) cold press illustration board
Prismacolor pencils (Prismacolors are great; these pencils have saved many of my pictures. Don’t forget to spray them with a fixative, though, after you’ve finished your picture, or they will eventually “bloom” with a light, powdery mold)
Winsor Newton Designer’s gouache or watercolor; I NEVER use Dr. Marten’s dyes (they fade and don’t photograph properly. The reds fluoresce and fool the camera, turning brown in the photo)
Artist’s sponge (a true sea sponge; not artificial)

I like any sketchbook with good toned paper. The toning of the paper (I prefer light brown) allows me to add white when I need to.

I color my comics work digitally using PhotoShop.

I hope that helps you out. I think everything listed above is available online from Dick Blick Art Supplies. I don’t know if they ship to Mexico, though.

Good Luck!

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Wonderful Rocketeer Video Tribute

I just saw this wonderful tribute to Dave Stevens and his creation, The Rocketeer. Here’s the link:

On a sad related note, I was informed that Dave’s mom, Carolyn Stevens, has passed away. I am happy that she got to see the huge and enthusiastic celebration on Tuesday night of her son and his creation. She and Dave’s sister Jenny received a big round of applause when it was noted from the stage that they were in attendance. I had a nice chat with her afterwards at the VIP party hosted by Taylor White/Creature Features and Disney.

I met Dave’s parents over twenty years ago. Upon talking to his mom and dad, I could easily see the origins of Dave’s sweet natured goodness. They were both so (rightfully) proud of their son — as are we all.

Carolyn was planning to visit me and other friends of Dave at Comic-Con this year. She will be missed.

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The Rocketeer Flies Again!

Billy Campbell, Tiny Ron and William Stout (photo by Samantha Holmes)

Billy Campbell, Tiny Ron and Yours Truly (photo by Samantha Holmes)

Last night was an amazing evening. After parking in the El Capitan Theater parking lot, I was telling my friend Samantha Holmes that there has been a dramatic upturn in the last year or two of my being recognized on the street.

“Sure, Bill,” was Sam’s response.

We rounded the corner on our way to the theater (to attend and participate in the 20th anniversary celebration of the premiere of The Rocketeer) and suddenly I was mobbed by autograph seekers! This has never happened to me. Really! Sure, I get requests for autographs at my convention appearances — but this was a full blown movie star-like assault! It felt very weird. I enjoyed it at first — but then it began to show signs of not letting up. Was I ever going to make it into the theater?

The frenzy finally subsided. Sam turned to me and said, “I’ll never doubt you again.”

The event was amazing. My pal Taylor White put it together, a Herculean effort. He eventually got Disney on board and everything escalated into a huge (efficiently run) Big Deal.

In the Green Room (the place where celebrities traditionally wait before making an appearance) I chatted and caught up with the other guests for the evening: the film’s brilliant director Joe Johnston, star Billy Campbell, “Lothar” actor Tiny Ron (that’s me with Billy and Tiny in the photo above; look how tall they are compared to me — and I’m 6’3″! Billy’s got very lo-o-ong legs!), screenwriters William Dear, Paul De Meo and Danny Bilson, and special make-up effects wizard (and my long time friend) Rick Baker, who created Tiny’s Lothar (Rondo Hatton) make-up for the film. After the film we held a Q & A hosted by the always entertaining and hilarious Kevin Smith. Dave’s and my mutual good friend Thomas Jane showed up — dressed like the Rocketeer! He was even wearing Dave’s original Rocketeer boots.

The print we watched was the first showing of a brand new digital restoration. It looked INCREDIBLE! I hope that Disney brings out a Blue-Ray version of this with loads of extras.

The theater was packed with fans, many of whom flew in for the event from back east. The enthusiastic reception to the film was extremely gratifying, as it was not a big hit upon its initial release (how the internet would have changed that if it had existed back then!).

As I wrote yesterday, the celebration was bittersweet, as The Rocketeer‘s creator, Dave Stevens, was not there (except, perhaps, in spirit). His friends and family were out in droves, though.

Me with Dave's beautiful sister Jenny (photo by Samantha Holmes)

Dave’s little sister Jenny and his mom Carolyn were proclaimed from the stage to be in attendance (which they were), which brought a huge round of applause.

After the screening and Q & A we (and our friends) were whisked off the the Hollywood Museum (in the Max Factor Building) for a private reception and celebration.

I had been requested to design a commemorative print for the event (see yesterday’s Journal entry); they sold briskly.

This was the third time I had viewed The Rocketeer. The first time was with Dave and my wife twenty years ago at the premiere (at the same theater). The second time was when I watched the DVD on the day Dave died. This time was the best. The film really holds up and was even better than I remembered. It’s a terrific film and all who were involved should be very proud of the resulting movie. And Hey! — no CG! Everything was executed cinematic Old School style, adding to the film’s warmth.

Seeing it on the big screen added so much. I saw Dave’s handiwork all over the movie. He was a very hands-on producer. His highly personal period hand lettering and all kinds of little Dave touches were everywhere throughout the movie.

His own scene was crystal clear and Dave was very recognizable (Dave played the Nazi flyer in the German propaganda film, the first flyer to try the Nazi rocket pack. He turns it on and it explodes).

The evening was supposed to end at 11:30 PM but it went on until a half past midnight, when the patient Disney folks had to kick us out. It was such a love fest, we didn’t want last night to end!

If you were there, you know what I’m talking about. If not, it was, sadly, your great loss.

Dave would have loved the vindication and ultimate appreciation (which I’m sure will continue to grow) of his graphic and cinematic baby…and I’m sure he would have been completely embarrassed by all the well-deserved attention.

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The Rocketeer 20th Anniversary

Rocketeer Commemorative Print Image

Today is the 20th Anniversary of the premiere of Dave Stevens’ film version of The Rocketeer.

The Walt Disney Company is putting on a huge celebration at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, the site of the original premiere. Taylor White of Creature Features spearheaded this entire effort to recognize Dave, his beloved hero and the film that ultimately resulted from Dave’s hard work.

This brings back a lot of memories, as my wife and I were with Dave at the premiere.

I will be part of a Q & A that will include the film’s great director, Joe Johnston, as well as actor Bill Campbell, my friend and Oscar winning make-up designer Rick Baker and screenwriters Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo.

Here’s a link to an article about the event:

(I’m sure there’s lots more stuff out there on this on the net)

I look forward to seeing lots of Dave’s fans tonight. I drew up the above image for a commemorative print that will be sold at the event this evening. That’s our hero and his gal atop the roof of the Graumann’s Chinese Theatre.

Obviously, for me and Dave’s friends and family, tonight’s celebration will be bittersweet, as the person we would all most love to have attending tonight is Dave. Hopefully, he’ll be there with us all in spirit, bashfully laughing at our over-the-top enthusiasm for the amazing stories and ravishing art of his that led to tonight’s cinematic celebration.

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Bobcat in Eaton Canyon

Today I’m working on my San Diego Zoo murals. As I was revising my bobcats in each mural, I recalled a day when I was doing prehistoric and native plant research in nearby Eaton Canyon Nature Park for my San Diego Natural History Museum murals. After I had finished my reference photography there, some motion through some bushes caught my eye.

Bobcat walking (shot by excited artist)

At first it looked like the biggest darn tabby I had ever seen. I soon realized it was a massive bobcat — about three times the size of a large house cat, the biggest bobcat I had ever seen.

I still had my camera handy so I snapped a few pictures which I thought you might like to see.

Sorry about the blur in the walking bobcat photo — I was just too dang excited!

Bobcat turns for one last look at me...