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Untold Tales of Hollywood #69

Pierluigi Basile and I were deeply involved in creating the set in which Jehnna (Olivia D’Abo) enters a circular crypt. I was intrigued by Olivia for a couple of reasons. She was incredibly attractive, especially the first time she showed up at the commissary for lunch in her quite revealing diaphanous Jehhna costume. In addition, she was the daughter of one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Michael D’Abo. Mike wrote “Handbags and Gladrags”, as well as the Foundations hit “Build Me Up Buttercup.” He replaced Paul Jones, the lead singer of Manfred Mann, after Paul left the band. The very poppy D’Abo iteration of Manfred Mann had loads of UK and European hits. Their big #1 American hit (sung by D’Abo) was their interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)”, which Dylan loved.

Piero changed the look of the Iron Dragon, making it more rounded and dome-like, giving it a kind of salamander look.

In the story, Jehnna enters a sacred chamber by walking through the Iron Dragon’s mouth. Here’s Piero’s sketch of that interior:

As you can see, it was originally planned to have Jehnna enter the sacred chamber totally nude. That idea didn’t fly with a PG-rated movie. Nevertheless, here’s my interpretation:

I love this circular set. The idea for this set is that it is a sacred chamber, honoring the great warriors of the past. Each of the warriors’ mummified heads are kept in individual nooks. Below their head is a symbolic stylized bronze bas-relief sculpture that represents who they were in life. Below that, at the base, is a collection of weapons and other items that were precious and meaningful to the warriors.

Piero had me design a load of bas relief tiles for this set (I don’t recall if they were used on the inside of the dragon set or on the outside). I made a HUGE mistake and made every tile different:

It was really stupid of me to make them all different. They were only on screen for a second. There’s no way a viewer could tell if they were all different or not. In retrospect, I should have designed about a dozen or so, and then rotated them to create the illusion of them all being different. I wasted my time and the production’s time making each tile unique, excusing myself and convincing myself that I was creating Art to stand the test of time. Bullshit, Bill — you’re making a quick Conan movie. Get it done, don’t waste time and move on. It’s called the “Film Business“, sucker — not the “Art of Film.”

Here’s the thing about the film biz: You’re tested a lot to see how clever or smart you are. In all of the many job interviews I’ve had in The Biz (and there have been a lot), I have never been told what job I was up for. That used to blow my mind; now I accept it. On the job, you often aren’t given detailed instructions. They want to see if you’re a self-starter and can get stuff accomplished without having to ask a bunch of questions. That’s one reason why my rotting mammoth set piece was so well received. I didn’t ask anyone’s permission to come up with that design; I just thought it up and did it.

Piero could have told me the solution to the tiles design dilemma. But he wanted to see if I would come up with that solution on my own. I failed that test Big Time.

1 thought on “Untold Tales of Hollywood #69

  1. Bill,
    Despite how badly written the film was it had an incredible cast. Such a wasted opportunity is nothing new in moviemaking. The one thing that still hangs me up a little is the casting of Olivia D’Abo. She looked gorgeous, there’s no getting around that and her costumes were very ….revealing. But by the time this film was released she was only in her 15th year. It was one thing to ogle Douglas and Jones (both women are remarkably striking and very talented actors), but when I found out how young D’Abo was, I felt weird, dirty old man weird. I hate to come off as prude because I’m not in the least (love your “feltching” strip) but I had to wonder why they cast someone so young in such a role. And I was living in Germany at the time this aired and lived in Europe a combined 11 years, so I know that casting young women as young as 15 in somewhat sexualized roles is nothing new. CtD had great snow white kind of vibe subplot with the gorgeous stepdaughter outshining the also gorgeous stepmother, and the jealousy for the young woman’s flourishing beauty that ensued. Still, maybe I’m too American, but Olivia’s age hung me up a bit and worse because it was discovered much late, about ten years afterwards when I was in my thirties (until then I always assumed that in that role she was at least 18).
    Lastly, WHEN this get’s compiled I hope all the art, from props to sets to character designs is featured large enough and detailed enough to get lost in the images for a while. Your art is the best thing that resulted from this film being made.


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