Chapter 25: In And Out Of The Woods
PS: In case I've given the impression that my work with Weston Woods was uninterrupted creative bliss -- and in accord with the subtitle of this book -- I cannot fail to reveal the fate of one of my most important films for WW. It was adapted from the great classic by William Steig, "Sylvester & The Magic Pebble."
I was warned at the outset of the production, that Steig, already in his 80s, was suffering from a deep guilt complex in relation to his son. He insisted that his son must compose the music. He was quoted to me as having said, "I didn't pay enough attention to my son when he was growing up, so this is the least I can do for him!" This totally irrational and self-destructive dictum was from one of the great storytellers of our time, the creator of an array of glorious children's books, including "Shrek," from which the blockbuster movie was developed. (His son did not do the score for "Shrek!")
Even assuming that his son would be up to the task -- (which he was not; I'd heard samples of his elevator music) -- it was practically and financially impossible to work with a composer so far away. I have always conceived my films as a whole. I usually have a musical concept from my very first thoughts about a new film. To me, the musical score is as vital a component of the whole as is the animation itself, and I could not make a film without simultaneously developing the music. So I took a gamble. I brought in one of the finest contemporary Czech composers to do the score, hoping against hope that Steig, when experiencing the film in its totality, with the lyric music "Sylvester" required, that he would realize what was in the best interests of his creation. I believed that the result was one of our finest little movies, and felt confident that William Steig, who certainly values his own works, would accept the totality of our production. I was wrong. He refused to even listen to our rich, surround-sound track, but insisted on viewing the film silently! He loved the animation, but the film was released in a crippled form, the music bland, the atmosphere lost. It was one of my most crushing defeats, yet my esteem for Steig's work goes on. His 1945 book, "Persistent faces," was one of my early graphic influences. Ironically, his "Shrek" very likely made his son very rich.