Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. How I found myself in Drew Struzan’s small studio behind his suburban home is hard to explain. It just so happened that my timing was impeccable. Like most amazing things in life luck played a big part of this quite extraordinary situation.
Did I know when I booked a short LA trip to visit a TV show set and see a screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark with Steven Spielberg in attendance that I’d also get to meet the greatest living poster artist of all time? No sir, but lady luck smiled upon me and my good friends at Mondo were headed over there to get Mr. Struzan to sign and number his amazing Frankenstein prints. Check it out below:
That’s a thing of beauty, isn’t it?
I can barely describe the sensation of walking into Struzan’s Pasadena studio. When the smell of his paints hit my senses it was like a ton of bricks fell on me; an instant rush of nostalgic love of Struzan’s incredible work on the posters of my childhood overwhelmed me. Indiana Jones, Marty McFly, Kermit, Luke Skywalker… they all flashed before me. I must have been grinning like a loon.
Struzan’s studio was a hodgepodge of oddities, froma Darth Vader statue to cow skulls to vintage Disney puppets and an Abe Lincoln life mask hanging from the wall. It’s exactly as it should have been, in other words.
Watching Mondo’s Justin Ishmael quietly geek out as he discussed the lost art of poster design with the master was enough to set me off, too, but then I was assigned the task of helping stack the posters as Struzan went through them, one by one, signing and numbering them. I took over for the last leg, calling out which number we were on as Struzan powered through the final fifty posters. So, if you nab a poster numbered between 275 and 325, my fingers touched them (I swear my hands were clean!).
It was surreal, to say the least. From Mr. Struzan’s house I ended up having lunch on the Warner Bros lot with a good, nameless friend and showed Justin around the place, including a tour to the very awesome Warner Museum. If you ever arrange a tour of the WB lot, I can’t recommend stopping by this amazing museum enough. They have props and wardrobe on display from all sorts of films, from classic to current.
For instance, I got a close up look at The Joker’s outfit from Dark Knight, noticed for the first time that the top two buttons on the vest are different from the rest, one of them being a pressed penny. That small detail gave a subtle impression of chaos. The museum also housed Sam’s piano from Casablanca, John Wayne’s rifle from Stagecoach, giant costumes from Where the Wild Things Are and all the costumes from The Departed.
Upstairs was the Harry Potter wing, filled with many wizardly oddities, including the creepily frozen Hermione from Chamber of Secrets, Dementor maquettes from Azkaban, kitty plates from Order of the Phoenix and, in a weird bit of syncronicity, Drew Struzan’s original artwork for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone poster. Close up you could make out where Struzan blacked out (at the request of the studio) a Quidditch game happening amongst the Hogwarts tower.
I gotta give a little shout out to my buddy Leith Adams whose passion for preservation of cinema history should be praised from the rooftops. He’s a very smart man working tirelessly to keep these iconic pieces of movie history preserved for future generations, rescuing artifacts to keep them safe and sound in a museum… much like a certain famous adventuring archeologist.
How’s that for a segue? My day closed with the bit LA Times/Hero Complex screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark hosted by my buddy Geoff Boucher. Screening was a 2K restoration from the original negative with the one and only Steven Spielberg on hand to answer some questions about one of his best films.
Now, I’ve covered the basic information from the Q&A in this article here, so it’s no longer a surprise that Harrison Ford showed up, but it was quite something to experience that audience excitement when Spielberg was interrupted by Harrison Ford’s voice. That split second of silence as the realization built to a standing ovation was priceless.
Now on the stage Harrison Ford was kind of typical interview Harrison Ford… slow, serious low key answers, but the real sparks came out when Ford and Spielberg interacted. With some playful jabs you could actually get a sense at their friendship.
This came out specifically when Spielberg was recalling how he cast Ford as Indiana Jones. Tom Selleck was cast, but then the network wouldn’t let him out of his Magnum PI contract. We know this part really well, but I don’t know if I’d ever heard the conditions of Spielberg figuring out that Ford should be cast in the role.
Lucas had Spielberg over to watch a rough cut of Empire Strikes Back and Spielberg pointed at the screen and said, “There’s our Indiana Jones. He’s Han Solo.” Lucas thought Ford might be too associated with Han Solo to work in the role (Spielberg actually imitated Lucas’ voice here and it was kind of hilarious), but Steven said that Ford’s an actor, that’s what actors do… create different characters.
So, the decision was made. Ford joked that, “Yeah, I’m an “actor” but apparently the only time I can act for you is Indiana Jones. I have to wait for Tom Hanks to get a series…” The audience cracked up and Spielberg protested, dropping the bomb that he offered Ford the role of Alan Grant in Jurassic Park first, even going so far as to having a piece of production art made up with Ford as Grant and the children running from a T-Rex. Ford’s reaction was a simple “whatever” shrug.
When asked about a further Indiana Jones adventure there was one “Wooo!” from the audience and Spielberg pointed in that guy’s direction and said, “There’s the one bridge I didn’t burn down with the last one!” The official line sounded very much like the line before Indy IV happened. Spielberg said he’d want to do one, but nothing’s set up yet. Ford said he was absolutely return for another Indiana Jones movie, “but I ain’t going to Mars!”
As mentioned in the initial article, the main takeaway from the night was Spielberg reiterating his position he mentioned in our big interview, that he won’t be doing any further digital alterations to his old films as they hit Blu-Ray.
In particular his comments on how he felt like he was “robbing” everybody’s memories of the original version hit true. Much like our interview he prefaced this by saying that George is George and he wouldn’t have it any other way (he even said he’s never had a better creative collaborator on anything in his career), but his own personal philosophy is to let the films be the films they are.
Lucas and Spielberg are an interesting contrast. I’d pay good money to see them in a conversation together on stage in front of an audience of fans debating their different stances on digital/creative tinkering of their films. It would be respectful, I’m sure, but hearing these two discuss this topic together would be fascinating.
Ford told a great story about brilliant DP Doug Slocombe on the set of Raiders. Slocombe shot the first three Indy movies and, I feel, is one of the key missing elements in Crystal Skull. Anyway, on the set of Raiders of the Lost Ark Slocombe never used a light meter, a cinematographer's key piece of equipment. It's how they tell how an image will read on film. Ford held up his hand like he was about to do a karate chop and had his thumb cocked out infront of his palm to demonstrate how Slocombe took readers... Instead of using a light meter he gauged the density of the shadow of his thumb against the palm of his hand. How gangster is that shit?!?
The last bit of interesting stuff brought up at this Q&A was Spielberg’s observation of the differences of studio filmmaking in the ‘70s vs. today. He said back in the ‘70s the studios looked to the filmmakers, directors and writers, to come up with the movies and made them that way. Today the studio comes up with the kinds of movies they want and then hires the director and writer. He even admitted to falling victim to attitude of the studio knowing what’s best as the head of his own studio and has to remind himself to let the filmmakers take the creative reigns on their projects.
I hope Spielberg feels the love out there for him over the last few months where he’s actually come out and interacted with fans, be it in a small way with our little chat or in a much more massive way at Comic-Con. He comes across as a humble guy who genuinely listens to the fans (maybe sometimes too much, hence Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) and owns up to bad decisions instead of doubling down on them.
From my interactions with the fans I can tell that this approach is a breath of fresh air and we are thankful for this outlook from The Beard.
So, that was my big first day in LA. From Struzan to Spielberg. Hey… that’s a good headline for this thing…
Stay tuned next week as I turn Ain’t It Cool News into Ain’t It Community News with a set report and a series of legitimately certifiable 1:1 interviews with the entire cast, including one that is hilarious, but untranscribable… so it’ll be the first time I post a full interview in audio format.