The backstory behind the Thief and the Cobbler Recobbled Cut is great and also. Just a little terrifying
Imagine you make a post on a message board saying “Hey, does anyone else remember this movie? I remember reading that the studio stole it from the director and fucked with it. Someone should make a cut that changes it back to the director’s vision”
Totally banal. Everyone’s made a post or a tweet that goes something like “Hey they should do this with that movie,” only it turns out that someone on that same message board happens to be the layout assistant on that movie, and they message you and say “Hey! I worked on that movie and I would also like to see a cut of that movie that changes it back to the director’s vision. I’m going to send you some material for you to get started”
And you say “What”
And they say “Great! I’ll send you some more material later and get you in contact with some of the other staff”
And then you wind up working on it for the rest of your life
(i’m sure that he was honoured to work on it etc, but still)
Garrett Gilchrist writes:
I laughed. I'm the guy being discussed here, and I laughed.
This is mostly accurate, just warped a bit to make a better punchline. It's that part which concerns me, as it makes the whole thing seem like an accident. I'd say I knew exactly what I was doing the entire time, but that's not as good a punchline, is it?
Here's my version. It's long and too personal because my stories always are. I’m a long-winded writer.
And if you've heard my stories you've heard this already.
I had been interested in The Thief and the Cobbler since 1990, when I was a child sleeping on Roger Rabbit bedsheets. I read about this great masterpiece that Roger Rabbit's animator had been trying to make for 25 years. About five years later I saw a trailer for Arabian Knight in theaters, put two and two together, and realized something had gone very wrong.
Three years later I'd become a filmmaker and the internet had become a thing, and I researched the film (thanks to Eddie Bowers). In 2000 (while attending USC film school) I put together a very rough Recobbled Cut on VHS, using analogue editing, and learned digital editing the next year.
Five years after that, I was starting to make DVDs of my own films (I'd directed about a dozen no-budget features, and as many shorts). When I had a cold one weekend, as a side project, I edited Star Wars: Deleted Magic, a documentary about how Star Wars was made and saved in the editing room. It went viral, was very influential and much imitated. Much bootlegged too. I got in trouble for that.
While looking for my next project, I posted innocently at a forum suggesting that someone should restore The Thief and the Cobbler, properly. A truly wild coincidence happened. Someone I knew at that forum, who was also archiving Star Wars material, had been layout assistant on The Thief and the Cobbler and had material no one else had, as well as some otherwise rare sources. He suggested that someone should indeed restore The Thief and the Cobbler, and that it should be me.
That was the push I needed to get going. This was not a film that the general public had heard of, but it was known in the animation community, almost as an urban legend. I found out pretty quickly that a lot of people had been waiting for someone to restore this film, hundreds of whom were happy to help out and provide materials.
From that point, to the point where I decided to stop, was about eight years. The film didn't dominate my life during that entire time. I had a lot of other creative projects, including a She-Hulk feature film, a short novel, a graphic novel, many unproduced screenplays, a career as an artist (for video games and otherwise), and an attempt to animate lost episodes of Doctor Who.
Restoring The Thief and the Cobbler did dominate my life for maybe half that time. I gave a good three or four years of my life to that film. I don't think I'll be "working on it for the rest of my life." But who knows.
I did manage to save the film's reputation. The "Arabian Knight" version which had been released was famously bad, and had turned the film into a punchline, but the Recobbled Cut is what's taught in schools now, and has a cult following. I worked very hard to create a version of the film which showed what Richard Williams intended the film to be, even if it's a film which will remain unfinished, and in some places finished poorly by lesser hands.
Almost the only person who was never involved was Richard Williams himself- who didn't speak about the film publicly for twenty years, but began screening his own workprint of the film several years before he died as "A Moment In Time," thanks in part to the film's new popularity.
It's always tempting to reduce a more complex story to a punchline. The story I'm responding to is a punchline I've often told. It's a good little story. It's certainly not the whole story. There were a lot of things that happened before and after which I could make punchlines out of too, if I wanted to.
Carrie Fisher once said, "If my life wasn't funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable."
I turned forty this week, and I've always tried to tell the more complicated truth about these things rather than reduce them to punchlines. I have always been, to put it bluntly, terrified of being misunderstood. I tend to write at length about these things and be as truthful as I can, while still reducing decades to a few sentences. It doesn't actually work. When I write at length about these things, most people aren't as interested in reading it, and find it harder to understand the truth when it's not expressed quickly and with a joke at the end.
Neil Innes said, "A poet for a lie and a clown for the truth." There is truth in humor. A joke can crystallize the entire essence of a story, explain what it meant, and give it a point and purpose. That's not easy to do, though. And just as often, a joke will miss the point, and give a false impression of what happened for the sake of brevity, and for the sake of the laugh.
Real life is complicated. Different people have different perspectives on the same events. The making of The Thief and the Cobbler was complicated, because it's the story of one man, one brilliant and temperamental artist.
One major reason why The Thief and the Cobbler was never completed as a film was because people were so adamant to reduce it to a punchline, and reduce Richard Williams to a punchline.
I've noticed that people also take my long versions of these events, and shorten them into jokes at my expense. They add something untrue to the mix.
When Richard Williams died, I wrote a series of essays, partly to process my own feelings but also to correct the record. I have become frustrated with the sheer amount of misinformation out there about this film.
When I was researching Richard Williams' work and building this archive of data, I spoke to hundreds of people who had worked with Richard, most of them brilliantly talented animators in their own right. They provided their memories, and as much actual vintage documentation as could be found.
I also had the help of certain people I trusted to go through that documentation. And the documents usually contradicted people's memories.
I have often told the story of The Thief and the Cobbler. About how the three-time Academy-Award winning animator of Who Framed Roger Rabbit was determined to become the greatest animator of all time, and make the greatest animated film of all time. Much of that was self-promotion, as he wanted to make a name for himself when he was younger. But he became one of the great teachers, and very literally wrote the book on how to animate. And he spent the early 60s to the early 90s working on one movie, and he never got to finish it. It was taken away from him when he was almost done.
And that's true, and that's unacceptable. People would rather tell the funny version of that, and turn Richard Williams into a punchline- someone who didn't have a plan for what he was doing, and who was never really going to finish the movie anyway. That his standards were too high, that he had a temper, and that what he was doing wasn't practical.
Many people who knew Richard, or knew about the film at the time, will tell some version of the story where Richard is the punchline. The story gets too painful and they find some way to twist it into a joke.
And certainly Richard could be difficult, and didn't play politics well. He shares some blame for how things went down. It's not quite as simple as the executives at Warner Bros not realizing they had a masterpiece on their hands.
But it's almost that simple. Because the executives heard all those jokes. The same jokes were going around then, about how Richard had no plan, was making it up as he went on, and would never finish the movie. Meanwhile Richard had been calling it his masterpiece for decades. There was, apparently, a disastrous screening where entire reels of the film were missing, for reasons unknown. The fact that he'd been working on the film so long became a liability instead of a mark of the excellence that Dick intended. It was used - and still is used - as proof that Dick was working slowly, at a fool's pace.
George Harrison called gossip the Devil's Radio. I've written about this before.
The real secret I discovered, when researching this film, was that Richard Williams knew exactly what he was doing. The film was meticulously planned, and that plan was carried out precisely and elegantly. The production was slow because Richard never had funding. Once he had funding from Warner Bros, a vast amount of work was completed very quickly, and the film was on target to be completed. Richard was very good at completing 90% of a film within his budget, and needing more money for the rest.
It's more complicated than that, but not by much.
Warner Bros could have trusted Richard Williams and let him finish the film as intended.
Animators who had worked with Richard in the 1970s and 80s would say, "He's lying to you! We animated that scene back in 1978!" But Richard's standards for animation - and the public's standards for animation - were higher in 1992 than they were in 1978. Those old pencil tests were very rough and not up to standard.
Richard had storyboarded the entire film in the 60s, and was still using many of those boards until he storyboarded the entire film for Warners in 1989 or 90. He had a roughly final screenplay (complete with scene and shot numbers) by 1980, ten years before production began. But always, there were the jokes. Somehow the story became that Richard had never had storyboards or a script or any kind of plan. That he was just pulling sequence ideas out of his arse. That he didn't want to finish the film.
There is a quite incredible amount of art and documentation out there now which proves exactly the opposite.
In truth Richard Williams knew exactly what he was doing the entire time, but that's not as good a punchline, is it?
Certain animators have told these stories so many times that the jokes have become the truth to them. One animator is fond of telling the story of a shot animated (as a pencil test) in the 70s. It's a very long monologue and at the end of it, the camera spins around. The animator, to this day, calls the shot absurdly overcomplicated, and says it nearly killed the veteran animator who worked on it. He uses this story to portray Dick Williams as insanely out of control.
We have that scene, that pencil test footage, in very high quality. The scene is long but quite ordinary, and the camera move at the end is brief and simple. Any animator in the 90s could have handled it, and the veteran animator did other shots which were more complex. It seems more likely that the young trainee animator, in the 70s, was struggling with learning how to animate to professional standards.
When confronted with the actual footage, the animator said, well, that's the scene but that's not the scene, somehow. And he'll keep telling his stories about Richard.
My edit of the film, and my massive archive of data related to Richard Williams' work, were intended to clear up all the misinformation. To tell the truth about a great film, and a great filmmaker, who was routinely dismissed as a joke.
Before I did the Recobbled Cut, it was common for people to say that Dick was out of control, had no plan, and that the film itself had no solid story or script.
That's reflected in how many people talk about the film to this day, in interviews and on social media.
But I like to think the film can be judged on its own merits at this point. It's hard to judge an unfinished or compromised/reedited film, and my edit was intended to show what the film would have been, as much as possible.
I didn't want to personally be part of the story of this film. That turned out to be inevitable under the circumstances.
In the nearly eight years since I spent eight years restoring The Thief and the Cobbler as The Recobbled Cut, I've seen my own efforts become part of the story of this film.
And I've seen that people tell this story as a joke. That I become a punchline in it, just as Richard Williams did.
If I join an animation community these days, I'm treated as an elder, because of that thing I did. Some people will say, oh, what you did was incredible, we're lucky to have you here.
And others will say, oh, I've heard STORIES about you, and boy are YOU a terrible person.
With a little prodding, they'll tell those stories. They're my own stories, stories I've told before on the internet, repeated back to me, but much shorter and warped somehow to portray me as crazy and out of control.
They called Richard Williams crazy and out of control too. Because that's the better punchline. The alternative- that a great film never got finished for very stupid reasons- is just too true, and too sad.
I said to this person, who disliked me without knowing much about me: "You know, I'm not a very famous creator. I don't have a lot of followers, and I'm a very private person. I also tend to write at exhausting length about all of this. If you've heard about something that happened to me, that information came from me. I understand that what you heard was a garbled version that someone rewrote as a joke at some hate site. But the incident you're describing was a private meeting between two people. One of those people is dead, and the other person is me. Why shouldn't you trust my version of events?"
"Because I hate you."
"Why? I don't know you. I've never done anything to you."
"You blocked my friend on Twitter."
"Your friend knows what he did. And you could have said that instead of making up a story."
I'm used to this.
In February 2013, I was restoring a 35mm scan of portions of The Thief and the Cobbler, removing dirt and splices frame by frame in Photoshop. It was a slow process, and I would Livestream my work for about seven viewers, just to have someone to talk to.
One night, the trolls came in. The chat was immediately flooded with the N-word and other slurs, at a rate of hundreds per second, and links to pornography.
I kept Livestreaming. I shouldn't have. Some alt-right troll website had come across my work that night. A couple years earlier I'd drawn some My Little Pony artwork, when that was popular, as I wanted to get a job doing so.
So the troll website had decided to harass me for that, since there is something LGBT-coded about drawing My Little Pony artwork. (In my case, I am simply an artist who liked Lauren Faust's work prior to this, but a lot of the people I knew in that community came out afterward.) This was enough for them to compare me to Chris-Chan, call me delusional and insane and "cringe," and start making up complex conspiracy theories involving me and people I've never met, like George Lucas and Doug Walker.
People would claim to have been a childhood friend of mine in the mid-West. I am not from the mid-West. They would go through someone else's High School Yearbook (or claim they were) and ask me if I'd stabbed any of these people (who I did not know personally). Stories would come out of nowhere and build on each other.
They would, to put it very simply, just make stuff up. By the end of that night, they'd started posting their own selfies and realized they were all about twelve years old. So they turned on each other, called each other "cringe," and that's how it ended.
These were children, who had no actual information about me that they hadn't made up themselves, but who were ready to ruin my life because I'd drawn artwork based on a children's show. And they wanted to prove they weren't children and weren't into that sort of thing.
I occasionally confront these trolls now, and they're always surprised that I'm a fairly serious, adult, forty year old man. They say: "I thought of you as an annoying kid. Like, the annoying kid that I worried that I was, at that age." Projection.
I have been a punchline in certain circles ever since, for reasons that don't make the slightest bit of sense, in 2013 or now. In certain dark corners of the internet, my name is a meme, and that's all the explanation that's needed. They will make up stories about me, as a meme. These are not people who know anything about me. They'll hear my name for the first time, do a few seconds of Googling, and make fun of anything they see, as they see it.
I rarely stream on Youtube, but somehow these people still find me. They'll crack jokes based on some conspiracy theory about me, that I haven't heard. I never understand a single thing they're saying.
This has, unfortunately, broken my Google results. Google gets worse every year for everyone, but unfortunately the trolls Googling me aren't doing so in order to learn who I am. So the results have gotten stranger, over the past seven and a half years. It's as if Google is actively making fun of me. But they're simply giving certain people what they want.
So forgive me for pushing back against this with some information:
I've been a filmmaker, artist, writer and film preservationist for twenty-five years. Most of that work was done very publicly on the internet since 1997, a lot of it was pretty famous, and yet somehow it's increasingly hard to find out about anything I've done on Google. You can, however, find weird memes about me by children who invented some version of me in their head, mixing me up with someone else. Some sort of "cringe" weirdo who, I suppose, is always wearing clown shoes and pissing his pants, or whatever punchline has been devised today by trolls who are not funny.
I have multiple Youtube channels, and the main one has about 34 million views as of this writing.
To push the point further: Whether you realize it or not, you've seen and benefited from my work if you're in a lot of fandoms online, such as Star Wars, The Muppets, Monty Python, Marvel, The Thief and the Cobbler of course, Raggedy Ann, Doctor Who, Evil Dead, Super Mario Bros and a lot more.
Almost all of that work has become anonymized over the years. Credited to no one, as if it came from the air. If all the people who enjoy my work also knew my name and followed me on social media, I could be one of the top creators on the internet. Instead, people who know me only know one thing I've done, out of thousands. And they've heard stuff about me which middle-schoolers made up as a joke- stuff which isn't worth my time to engage with. It's frustrating. My intended career in Hollywood stalled out anyway, because of the economic crash of the 2000s. I didn't have the money to build the career I trained for, and it's hard to rebuild my reputation at this point.
I've been around. I have a lot of stories. I am, as Neil Innes would say, at an age where it is impossible not to have done a whole lot.
Self-mythologizing aside, that's my story and I've been trying to reclaim it - the true version of it - for awhile now. You’ll have to pardon me for saying so.
I'm an old man by internet standards and I reject being turned into a punchline today.
Thank you for listening.
This feels so much like getting in trouble with the teacher.
In full seriousness, thank you for telling your story. I deeply appreciate the additional context especially for those who may have been unaware of the full story, and I urge anyone who follows me to read the full story instead of taking me at my stupid, stupid word.
You said so yourself that you laughed, so I hope you took this post with the good humour that was intended.
(I’m going to go back into my hole and hide for 50 years
was anyone going to tell me that garrett gilchrist was on tumblr or was I just supposed to find that out myself)