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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!

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Princess of Mars Retraction — Sorry, Mike!

Yikes! I’ve made only a handful of blog entries and I’ve already got to make my first news retraction!

ATTENTION: As much as we all would love to see him on board such a production, Michael Kaluta is NOT working on the film version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “A Princess of Mars”. Bernie Wrightson still is — but not Michael. Mike worked about as long as I did on the show.

Michael may still be hired if the “…Princess…” project jumps its next batch of hurdles and gets its final green light from Paramount (to mix a few metaphors). Let’s all wish him luck!

If you want to see some great artwork be sure to visit the Official Michael Wm Kaluta Website: www.kaluta.com

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Lilly’s Light, Part Two

Here is a list of the cast and crew involved in “Lilly’s Light”, the children’s television show whose pilot I designed:
CAST
Sherry Hursey – Lilly
Hal B. Klein – Al Patchitt
Gregg Martin (Gregg’s also my screenwriting partner) – Professor Crabble
(Gregg says he patterned his character after me!)
Mindy Sterling – Peaches
Philece Sampler – Devarella
Jean-Luc Martin – Will Patchitt
Lizzi Jones – Ashley
Russell Lyons – Maxwell
Brianne Tju – Katie Lynn
Leroy White – Fisherman Fitz
Vitor Philipe (watch this talented actor go right to the top; I predict Vitor is going to be a huge teen heartthrob as well) – Daniel

MAIN CREW
Director – Daniel Carrey
Directors of Photography – Steven Douglas Smith, Jack Conroy
Production Designer – William Stout (who?)
Costume Designer – Sunny Chayes
Key Make up & Hair – Elizabeth Dahl
Set Decorator – Stefanie Girard
Property Master – Alixia Bermak
Set Construction Coordinator – Jerry McConnell
Set Construction Supervisor – Kevin Myers
Scenic Artists – Daniel C. Nyiri, Robert Brigham
Special Effects – Taffy Cyclone
Sound Mixer – Chris Leplus
Casting Directors – Philece Sampler, Karen E. Prisant (Associate)

PRODUCERS
Art Klein, Sherry Hursey, Georgia Simon, Philece Sampler, Fred Kennamer, Melissa Wohl.

My Production Designer’s cap is off in salute to these great people and their hard working crews for the outstanding work they all did on the show!

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Lilly’s Light

Yesterday I visited a set to watch the shooting of the pilot for a new children’s television show, “Lilly’s Light”. I designed the sets for the show but because of my intense travel schedule recently I was not able to oversee their construction. I’m usually a pretty hands-on kinda guy when it comes to production design and a real stickler for details in all aspects of the design (including set decoration, costumes, props, etc.). None of my regular people were hired to execute my designs, so even though the designs I gave them to work from were highly detailed color renderings, I approached viewing my sets for the first time with great apprehension.

Much to my relief everything looks SPECTACULAR! Everyone has done an incredible job, from construction to painters to props to costumes; it’s as if they were channeling exactly what I had in mind! The minor changes to the design necessitated by the practical nature of the shooting were made exactly the way I would have made them. All of the color choices work beautifiully together. Amazing!

The star of the show (and I believe the major reason why this whole show has come together as stunningly as it has) is Sherry Hursey (Sherry plays Lilly; she was a regular on “Home Improvement”). Besides being one of the most talented people I have ever met (man, can she sing!), Sherry also is the possessor of one of the biggest hearts and kindest souls I’ve ever encountered.

Director Daniel Carrey is one of the most prepared directors I’ve ever worked with; he shot nine pages (that’s a lot) yesterday! His positive attitude, efficiency and enthusiasm really help drive this production in the best way possible.

I’m going back to visit the set today and take some pictures. I’ll get you blog readers more details on the show, too. Plus — Attention, Ladies! — today my screenwriting partner, that debonair Englishman and Royal Shakespearean actor Gregg Martin, is a character on the show.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night; I was so excited about what I had seen that I had a hard time getting back to sleep. It felt like Christmas!

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Two Recent Movies on DVD

I watched two DVDs recently that I think are worth mentioning.

As you know I love horror movies, so I was delighted to come across a really creepy one: “The Grudge”. Great mood, good cast (although I kept hoping that Buffy…er…Sarah Michelle Gellar would kick some scary ghost butt). Watch it it late at night with the lights out!

The other one I had already heard good stuff about: “Metallica – Some Kind of a Monster”. It’s a documentary about the making of Metallica’s latest CD, “St. Anger”. It is also about the disintegration of the band and its triumph over such adversity. It’s very funny, very Spinal Tap — except it’s real! Kudos to the guys in the band for not being afraid to look so foolish at times. I really ended up admiring their deep dedication to pushing themselves to produce the absolute best quality art that they possibly could (my own philosophy, too). It can be painful, but the end product is worth it.

Kirk Hammett (who comes off as the most level-headed of the group) has got a great collection at home. We briefly get to see his fine Mark Ryden painting, his mounted cave bear skeleton (Kirk: Did you pick that up in Tucson?) and his diverse collection of hominid skulls. Go Kirk! I noticed you don’t have any Stout paintings, though…