Before Lucas and Spielberg, there was Pal. I devoured George Pal films as a kid in the mid 70's. Sci Fi entertainment then was... comic books, Star Trek reruns, Famous Monsters magazine and old movies on TV. Before Star Wars arrived and the genre exploded with new life, seeing an old George Pal film come on after Saturday morning cartoons was a perfect weekend.
In 1995 Dick Crew Productions produced an episode about him for the SCI FI Channel "Masters of Fantasy" TV series which showcased icons in the genre. It was going to be hosted by director John Landis on a set I was asked to design. I was thrilled.
It had to have elements from all of George Pal's body of work, as a fan my head spun with ideas, but they also wanted to it to be installed and ready to shoot on in 5 days.
With time against me, I drew a quick set sketch that would be a large collage of well known and iconic images from Pal's films.
I imagined I would take old photos, get enlarged, printed, pasted on foamcore, cut out and artistically arrange on set. One day was spent researching the photos to use and making numerous calls to print shops. No one could make happen within the deadline I had at the scale I wanted. Day two was spent at Kinko's experimenting with enlarging images via the self serve copy machine and splicing together, it was too complex a task in the time allowed. Let alone the pasting on stiffer board and coloring.
Then it hit me, maybe the set could feel like an old illustrated 50's poster...thinking I could paint the images faster in the rough, quick style. I called the producers and they liked the idea. This is when I really screwed myself. I bought large foam core sheets, paint, fresh x-acto blades and a giant can of coffee to brew. 48 hours later with no sleep, it was done...
On the install day, the popular MTV show at the time "Singled Out" was filming on another stage. The audience line was in the hall outside our studio door. Everyone in the wannabe hipster crowd waiting to see Jenny McCarthy (when they came into eye line of our stage) had some "arm chair" art direction comment...it was a long day.
Set pieces were still wet as the film/lighting crew arrived and began setting up. The backdrop was hung in some haste but we pulled it tight looking good for the camera frame and ignored the corners beyond it. John Landis arrived on set and quickly pointed out the wrinkles in the corners. I was not going to argue. I jumped up to fix only because I could then add "worked for John Landis" on my resume.
Now, before the next part of the story, I must explain that for some reason almost every production I work on there is another person named Dave on it. People with like names are distinguished on set by their the name followed by the job, like "Dave Director" but I'm always just "Dave Lowe". Even in High School when others are called by last names in Gym, I was always...Dave Lowe.
At the end of the day John Landis liked the dragon I painted from Pal's "Wonderful World of the Brother's Grimm". He told the director he was taking it home. The director told him to ask "Dave Lowe", as I made it. I'll never forget seeing John Landis spinning around asking...
"Dave Lowe? Paging Dave Lowe! Dave Lowe? Who's Dave Lowe?"
I said "me" and he asked if he could have the dragon. I was beyond complimented and stunned. I stood silent for a second or two. Here was the director of Animal House and Blues Brothers asking if he could have something I made.
He noted my pause but took it as reluctant to give the dragon away. He said he knew I made it and worth more than just giving it away. He offered a picture of me and him in exchange for the dragon.
In the end the show aired without my set or John Landis hosting. I don't know why. I 'm happy though. Now that I've got years of set design experience under my belt, I cringe looking at the pictures. The set looked no better than a cheap knockoff of the lowest budget grammar school play in history. I'll give myself credit for the effort. I tried.