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Movies, Kong, Squid & Whale

Two days in a row, friends and fans!

Because I’m a WGA (Writers Guild of America) member, now is the time of the year I get to see free movies. The studios (in league with the theater owners) provide this service in the hopes that the different motion picture union members will nominate and vote for their films for the various awards that come out early next year (including the Academy Awards). I just flash my WGA card and my guest and I are allowed entry at any theater for any film even remotely in the running for an award. Because of all of the awards, this is also the time of year that most of the studios release (in Los Angeles, at least) most of what they consider their most important films.

That’s great because 1) I think movie ticket prices are outrageous; 2) I don’t really like to go to the movies (very few good ones, idiots in the audience talk, my anger and impatience with those idiots always holds the potential for violence, cell phones go off, the screens are a lot smaller now, etc.); and 3) my poor culturally-deprived wife (who loves going to the movies) finally gets me out of the house and finds out about what the rest of the world is talking about around their water coolers at work.

I used to LOVE going to the movies but that whole experience has really changed. I think a lot of the movie theater audiences think they’re still in their living room, watching TV. Or, they think that just because they bought a ticket they can behave in any manner they damn well please once they’re inside the theater. Another WGA bonus: If I’m willing to drive to the studios I can watch the films in a screening room. Great sound, great picture, the comfiest of seats — and no one talks!

So, I’ve been seeing a bunch of movies lately — unusual for me. I’ll use this blog to try to steer you to some good ones over the next month.

Last night I went to the midnight debut (all of my friends know that I’m a major King Kong nut; see my essay on Kong in the new paperback collection Kong Unbound) of Peter Jackson’s King Kong. It had some good stuff in it; I liked those nasty Spider Pit critters. It was fun, too, seeing my friends (and fellow Kong nuts) Bob and Cathy Burns in cameos.

The night before we saw The Squid and the Whale. This film is terrific: great original script, incredible performances (what a cast!). It’s a black, black comedy if you possess the same dark sense of humor that I have. Jeff Daniels is one of the most underrated actors in the biz — he has an unbelievably extraordinary range. He can hold his own in comedy with Jim Carrey (Dumb and Dumber), play a great goofy loser husband in Terms of Endearment and then turn around to deliver this dry, pinched, biting, pitch perfect Squid and the Whale performance. Wow!

Capote will probably be the next film I see. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is one of my very favorite actors. I invariably love his film role choices; they’re always off center and unpredictable.

Mural watch: I’m attempting to finish the first three of my San Diego murals today.

Hey — I gotta run (literally — three miles of hills every other day). See you in the blogosphere!

Bill

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Whoa! It’s been so long! I’ve been SO busy!

Mea Culpa! I haven’t blogged in ages! I’ve just been so busy! Here’s what’s been going on….

Filmfax magazine has been running a huge three part interview with Yours Truly. Some pick-up art (my cover for The Empire Strikes Back LP) was used for the first issue; the second issue’s cover was not by me (that issue is on the stands right now); but I painted a special Kong piece (I just replaced my Dragons image with this painting on the home page of my website) for the issue with the third installment of my interview (on sale soon!).

It’s free movie time for me (I’m a WGA — Writers Guild of America — member) so I’ve been seeing a lot of films. I can recommend Good Night and Good Luck as well as the new Harry Potter film (best of the four). I’ll be seeing a bunch more shortly…

Joss Whedon tipped me to Veronica Mars through an article in the Los Angeles Times. What a wonderful, well-written (and acted) show! And, WOW! is Kristin Bell the most talented young actress working today, or what?! If you haven’t seen any episodes, I recommend renting the first season on DVD and watching them in sequence. What a treat that was for me — I didn’t have to wait a week between shows — and no commercials!

The main project occupying nearly every waking moment of my time is my San Diego Natural History Museum mural commission. I’ve been hired to paint twelve murals depicting the prehistoric life of San Diego for a new permanent prehistoric hall opening in the summer of 2006. The largest of the twelve is 35 feet long, depicting a feeding frenzy of prehistoric whales and fish!

The John Carter of Mars film project has now bounced from Kerry (Sky Captain) Conran to Jon (Swingers, Elf, Zathura) Favreau. Jon and I had a great meeting — what a wonderful guy! Paramount initially agreed to my terms and then pulled a sudden 180! The Powers That Be at Paramount reversed themselves and decided that I couldn’t keep my original art (I’ve kept my originals on all of the 35 feature films with which I’ve been involved), nor — get this — could I ever reproduce my art for the film! So a future Art of William Stout book would have blank pages, I guess, to represent those years of my work. Sad….

Meanwhile I’m being courted for a film being directed by one of the most interesting directors in Hollywood: Christopher (Memento, Batman Begins) Nolan. The film is called The Prestige and stars Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as two 1900 London magicians embroiled in a rivalry that descends them both into madness. The Prestige is one of the best screenplays I have ever read! Killer!

Okay; I’ve got to start working the phones to see if I can get into any advance screenings of King Kong. I’ve heard a really sad and pathetic tale as to why I wasn’t hired on that film — but I probably shouldn’t go public with it…

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Glacier National Park, New Auctions

I’m back from a great vacation. I always take two or three weeks off after Comic-Con International (this year’s show was my best ever — thank you!) and treat my family to a trip. I book all of the hotels and lodges way in advance so that I can get exactly the rooms that I want. After carefully researching and cross-referencing all of the attractions and restaurants, I then write up a detailed itinerary. I illustrate the itinerary in full color (often with cartoons of the family in clothing or costumes appropriate to the location) and then print them up for my family members. These itineraries can get pretty elaborate sometimes!

I began these itineraries as both an exploration of possibilities for our trip (other than the pre-booked lodgings, the itinerary is flexible, full of suggestions) and as a teaching tool for my boys. Peppered throughout the itinerary are historical, geological, geographical and natural history facts about the places we’re visiting. Getting the itinerary in advance of the trip also gets everyone excited about our journey; plus, I never get asked “What are we going to do today?” It’s all there within the illustrated sheets. Eclectic music fan that I am, I also make a whole case full of casette recordings of music appropriate to the region in which we’re traveling to play while we’re in the car. I like both high and low American culture, so I plan our trips to include both art museums and roadside attractions, the National Gallery of Art and Gator-Rama. I think both are important in defining whom we are as Americans.

Last year we went to Washington, D. C., Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. This year we took off for Glacier Waterton International Peace Park in Montana and Alberta. I chose this place for two main reasons. One, I wanted to see the Glaciers before they disappeared (they’re melting; there are only 30 glaciers left now out of the original 270). Two, I have this goal of staying at all of the great lodges of the western National Parks — and Glacier has got five of them! I love their incredibly beautiful and very American (for the most part) architecture, much of it executed by the WPA. So, we leisurely traveled around and through the park, staying at each lodge. Now I only have one National Park lodge left on my list: Mount Rainier.

We didn’t see as much wildlife as I thought we would see, not like I always see in Yellowstone. I did shoot three rolls of film on mountain goats, though, which we encountered up close and in abundance at Logan Pass. I painted eight plein air studies of some of the landscapes there. I got up at 6:00 AM each morning and painted them on our balcony while my family slept. Sometimes I’d paint a late-in-the-day picture after dinner as well. I took James on a half hour helicopter ride over the glaciers. It scared the bejesus out of him. He loved it!

After each trip I write up an annotated non-illustrated version of the itinerary and send it to my mom and brothers to guide them on what to see, what to avoid and where to eat (and not eat) should they choose to vacation at the same place.

Next year will be easy for me. For my son Andy’s graduation present (he’s graduating from Yale, said his proud father) I’m taking him and our family on an Alaskan cruise. We’re also going to explore Denali National Park and Tombstone Park in the Alaskan interior. I’ll still make one of my itineraries, but most of the daily planning has already been taken care of by Holland American Lines, our cruise company.

I’m back in Pasadena and I’m heavily re-involved in my murals for the San Diego Natural History Museum.

A couple of weeks ago I participated in the American Cinematheque celebration of the 20th anniversary of the release of “Return of Living Dead”, my first film as production designer. It was held at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The place was packed and the screening was extremely well-received. That little movie really holds up! Afterwards I participated in the Q & A with the cast of the film as well as the film’s writer-director, Dan O’Bannon. It was great to see everyone looking so good after all of these years! There was a lot of love in that room that evening.

I love show biz tales. I can currently recommend to great TV shows about the Industry: The Comeback (with the incredibly brave and talented Lisa Kudrow) and Entourage (with Jeremy Piven), They’re both terrific and both on HBO. Both shows are very truthful about the biz; both are extremely funny, too (The Comeback somehow manages to be both funny and painfully sad at the same time). If you can find someone with tapes of the years-past FX show Action (with Jay Mohr), that’s a pretty amazing, hysterically funny (and truthful) show, too.

Now that summer is over I plan to resume my regular biweekly Ebay auctions of original drawings. I just put three new drawings up on Ebay. After this long absence, I need to beef up my PayPal account! So if you see something you like, don’t be afraid to bid!

Love to you all!

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Comic-Con and FilmFax

Check out the latest issue of FilmFax magazine! The cover is an old Empire Strikes Back piece by Yours Truly. Inside is the first of a well-illustrated three part interview with moi. The guys at FilmFax did a great job on this issue. The interview touches on things I’ve never talked about in public before. I think it turned out great so far — Let me know what you think!

Comic-Con International 2005 turned out to be my best ever Comic-Con. Attendance is rumored to have topped 100,000 attendees! By Friday night I had already cracked my previous Comic-Con sales record. I sold lots of original art and plenty of books. By Friday I had also sold out of all the copies I had brought of William Stout: 50 Convention Sketches – Volume 11 as well as my Tribute to Ray Harryhausen Sketchbooks. I celebrated with my longtime friends and collectors and sold quite a few pieces to some Stout newbies, too, inviting them into our ever-widening circle.

We held a very touching memorial for my friend and publisher Byron Preiss on Sunday at Comic-Con. It was very well-attended. Many people came up to share their thoughts and memories of Byron. My thanks to all who came to remember this dear, dear man who was a beloved father and husband as well as a friend to many.

Movie Tip: Although it’s timeliness is now slightly blunted by the passing of the G-8 Summit (its release was timed so that it screened on HBO just before the Summit meeting), one of the best movies of the year is the made-for-HBO film The Girl in the Cafe. Written by Richard Curtis, the same fellow who wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually, this is his finest script. It is filled out and illuminated with a heartbreakingly painful (and funny) performance by the great Bill Nighy (I also loved Nighy in Love Actually and Still Crazy but this is hands down his best work) as well as a deft, rich and stunning turn by Kelly MacDonald (that cute sexy teen in Trainspotting). I believe that if this had been a theatrical release Bill Nighy would have received a well-deserved nomination for a Best Actor Academy Award.

If the Music Header above appears with this entry (sometimes it disappears when I hit “Add this entry” — Hey, I don’t know why) it should mention Saint Etienne. I’ve been grooving to their latest CD: Tales From Turnpike House. It’s sort of Brian Wilson-meets-60s Jobim with a sexy chick singer. Yum! This new CD also includes an extra “children’s” CD in the package which is a terrific bonus.

My murals are coming along quite well, thank you. I hope to have something to show you all soon. At Comic-Con I discussed a deal with John Fleskes (John published the recent book on Franklin Booth , two great books on Joseph Clement Coll and the latest Mark Schultz sketchbook) to produce a book on the making of the murals. I also approached the great Randy Dahlk (designer of several stunning Mark Schultz projects) at Comic-Con to be the book’s designer. You got the scoop here, my friends!

I’ll see you in a bit; I need a vacation!

Bill

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BYRON PREISS

I am devastated by the news of the death of my dear friend Byron Preiss. I expected to be seeing him this Wednesday. We always had dinner together the Friday evening of Comic-Con at the Panda Inn in Horton Plaza. Byron always picked up the tab. This year I planned to surprise him and pay for him and his crew, just to see the expression on his face.

Byron Preiss has been a part of my family since the late 1970s. Byron shared my triumphs in this funny business; I shared his. Together we celebrated the mainstream success of our 1981 book THE DINOSAURS – A Fantastic New View of a Lost Era. While I produced the content for that book, Byron was the glue that held it together, the engine running the machine. We met and mutually (and wholeheartedly) approved of each other’s future spouses. In fact I met my wife-to-be at LAX, coming home from a New York meeting with Byron regarding my dinosaur book in 1980. It’s funny how fate is. If I had never worked with Byron I never would have met my wife. When Byron and I became parents we were both as proud of each other’s kids as we were of our own. Whenever Byron phoned me he greeted me, “Hiya, Uncle Bill”.

In reality, Byron was more like a brother to me than a nephew. We took turns at being each other’s older and younger brothers. Like brothers we had our disagreements — but these were always business disagreements, differences of aesthetics or production — rarely anything major. And even though I was usually the hothead in these arguments not for once did I ever let that color or diminish our personal relationship or the love I felt for him and his family.

We shared many common loves. Despite (or maybe because of) being a New Yorker, Byron was a huge Beach Boys fan. One of our first projects together was The Authorized Beach Boys Biography. Through Byron I was able to meet the Beach Boys I hadn

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Top Ten Films

Long time, no blog.

When I first saw the film “High Fidelity” my wife jabbed and poked at me throughout the entire film. “That’s you,” she said, referring to the John Cusack character.

One of the things that made her say that (besides my ongoing obsession with music and making mix tapes) was the Cusack character’s penchant for making Top Five lists. I never read the book upon which this movie was based; I understand, though, that in the book the character actually makes Top Ten lists. These were apparently halved to facilitate cinematic efficiency.

Well, yes: as an enjoyable little side exercise in my life, I make Top Ten lists. Besides being a fun pasttime for me, Top Ten lists provide a quick snapshot or index of someone’s tastes and passions. They also infuriate my family (which I find hilarious) because, in mock-arrogance, I proclaim these lists to them as absolute truths. “How can you say that these are the ten greatest films of all time? How can you even make such a list? What about John Ford? Howard Hawks? John Huston?” they exasperate. “Hey, just tell me where I’m wrong,” I respond. So, from time to time, I will pepper my journal with some of these lists. Hopefully, they’ll turn you on to something wonderful you might have missed. Maybe (like my family) they’ll really piss you off. Anyway, here’s the first.

INDISPUTABLY
THE TOP TEN GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME
(In no particular order except for the first one)
1. King Kong
2. Walt Disney’s Fantasia
3. The Wizard of Oz
4. Fellini Satyricon
5. It’s A Wonderful life
6. Sullivan’s Travels
7. The Shawshank Redemption
8. Brazil
9. Sunset Boulevard
10. Citizen Kane

If you’ve read this far and are still interested, Blow-Up sits at #11, Bladerunner is #12, Dersu Uzala is #13, The Man Who Would Be King #14. For a long time Women in Love and Morgan – A Suitable Case for Treatment were on the list, but they’ve been bumped by Shawshank and Brazil. If there are any movies on this list you haven’t seen — well, get on it! You won’t be disappointed.

I found the Top Ten Films list one of the easier lists to compile. Very few films truly stand the test of time and repeated viewings. At a certain point with even a lot of the best films, their resonance begins to diminish (that’s why Morgan and Women in Love got bumped, yet Bladerunner and Dersu are waiting in the wings). There are a lot of great films (like John Ford’s and Howard Hawks’ movies) — but, great as they are, I just can’t watch them over and over with any frequency and still get a substantial creative or inspirational buzz with each viewing. Or, over time they accumulate a quaint datedness that the quality of the film no longer seems to overcome.

I’ve been asked to write a critical appreciation of King Kong for a book on that subject. I’ll post that here on my Journal after it’s finished. From time to time I’ll also add essays about the other nine films and tell you why I think they deserve to be on this list.

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Muppets Wizard of Oz — Hey! William Stout Credit!

Well, Friends & Fans,
A funny thing happened the other Friday night. At the end of “The Muppets Wizard of Oz” broadcast on ABC my credit somehow appeared!

I haven’t yet figured out why (after being told by the Henson people that it would be impossible to add my name to both the film and DVD), but I have a feeling it might have had something to do with the actions of my ace litigator, David Rudich.

Thus begins a good week!

Bill

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Brutal Honesty About the Film Business

Hiya Film Fans,
At least once a month I get asked advice (usually from a young artist or film student) about how to get into the film business. In fact, I got an e-mail letter this morning. I’d like to share the response and advice I gave to this young man.

Before you read my advice you should know that despite the brutally harsh tone of my advice I am not bitter about my experiences in The Biz. I have a strong sense of humor (particularly black humor) as well as a healthy sense of irony that helps me to keep any of the crap that’s thrown my way in fine perspective. I have met a lot of my very best friends in The Business, have made some decent money (although I must say I earned every single friggin’ penny I ever made in that screwy world) and have met some of the smartest and funniest people in the world. To paraphrase Charles Dickens, working in movies has been the best of times and the worst of times — often all at once.

But when someone asks me for advice about The Biz I figure that they already pretty much know (or think they know) the good stuff about working in film. I figure my job is to tell them the things I wish someone had told me the first day I was about to climb aboard this Cockeyed Caravan. So I deliver a kind of Reality Check about this biz we call Show.

Do not read the following if you wish to retain your fantasy that working in the film business is a fun, glamorous experience in which the annointed few of us who are in it feel just so darn peachy lucky to be a small part of the Magic that is Hollywood.

Here’s the response I wrote to the letter. If you’ve ever worked as a carny in a low rent circus, much of this will be familar to you.

Hi M***,
I hope you appreciate honesty. I would never willingly help someone get into the film business. I am too kind a person to do something that cruel to someone. Although I could have easily given them jobs or found work for them I have successfully discouraged all of my relatives from working in the movies. I always try to advise anyone who is thinking about getting into the film business not to. It is a hard, hard business and it will always eventually break your heart — repeatedly, if you let it. If you can do anything else, for God’s sake, do it.

If this all still sounds appealing to you, then here are ten points of advice (there’s much, much more, but I’ve got to get back to work):

1) Move to L. A. This is where the film business is. It’s not anywhere else in the country (well, there’s a little bit — and I do mean little — in New York).

2) If you have a wife or girlfriend, dump her. Now. Why prolong a relationship that is eventually going to be destroyed by the Business? Anyway, once you’re on a film you’ll only see her when she’s sleeping. Don’t even think about having kids.

3) Once here in Los Angeles, take any job in films that you can get in any department. Two reasons: You will learn more about making movies in two weeks spent as a P. A. (Production Assistant — a “Go-fer” — the lowest job on the film biz totem pole) on a feature film than you will in four years of film school. Also, your future film jobs will come from the people with whom you work on these films.

4) If you’re lucky (or unlucky) enough to get work on a film, work your ass off. When you’re on a film, do not work less than 18 hours a day, seven days a week. If you work less than that you are slacking and not really serious about a film career. There is a line of young people ready and willing to work that hard who will happily replace you.

5) Remember the name of every single person in the business that you encounter as well as what they do. They are your links to future work.

6) Never say a bad thing about ANYONE in the business. Often the people you hate the most are the source of your next job.

7) Be kind to everyone you encounter no matter how awful they are to you. That snotty little P. A. might just be a studio executive next year.

8) Don’t expect anything in the film world to make any kind of “normal” sense at first. The film biz culture has its own set of arcane rules, logic and moralities. It will take you years to learn the Unwritten Rules of Hollywood.

9) If you can at all avoid it, never try to ask anyone for a favor. The film biz is like the Mafia. Every single favor is counted and remembered. One day you will be asked to return that favor. When that happens you will probably be asked to do something that will make you feel uncomfortable, guilty or ashamed. Nevertheless, you will have to do it. That’s the rules.

10) Asking me to take valuable time (in the time it took to compose this response I could have made several hundred dollars) out from my intensely busy schedule and away from the precious little time I have for my enormously patient family to help you with advice was asking for a favor. Never forget who gave you the most honest (and maybe the only honest) advice you will ever get in this business and, in return, toss me a job once in awhile. You won’t regret it.

Good Luck!

Most Sincerely,

William Stout

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Muppets Wizard of Oz: Hey — No William Stout Credit!!

Good News & Bad News…First, the Bad News:
My colleague Rick Delgado informed me that this Friday’s broadcast of “The Muppets Wizard of Oz” on ABC will not carry the Conceptual Designer credit for which I was contracted — despite the fact that it was my presentation paintings that got the financing for the film…and despite the fact that my art has been used on the Jim Henson Studios website for the past several months to promote the film!

Not only that, my credit won’t appear on the first pressing of the DVD, either!

So, what happened?

They said they simply forgot. And also that they changed legal counsel midway through the film and my credit sort of “fell through the cracks”.

I received a round of personal apologies from Christine Belson (initial project developer), Martin Baker (producer) and Kirk Thatcher (director) as well as conveyed apologies from Lisa and Brian Henson. The Hensons also promised that they would pay Disney to have my name added to the second pressing of the DVD (should there be one). I’m talking to my attorney…

I still look forward to seeing the movie, though.

Oh, yeah — the Good News:
My Oz opening at Every Picture Tells A Story went extremely well; there was a good turnout and a beautiful display of my original art from many of the Wizard of Oz projects (including “The Muppets Wizard of Oz”) with which I’ve been associated. It will be up for about another week and a half (call first before coming over to the gallery).

Meanwhile, I’m hard at work on my San Diego Natural History Museum murals and the illustrations for the “Trouble Under Oz” book. More later!