Saturday, 10 August 2013

interview: Al and Jean Guest

Al and Jean Guest, the animation producers behind such popular shows as The Undersea Adventures of Captain Nemo and Rocket Robin Hood, contacted me in June 2006 after I reviewed Brer Rabbit’s Christmas Carol. They very kindly agreed to answer some questions by e-mail about just a few of their many projects.

How on earth did you come up with the idea to combine the Uncle Remus characters with Charles Dickens?
“We know this seems weird. We had just come off years of writing and producing adaptations of a number of classic books including three Dickens novels and one on the original Joel Chandler Harris' 'Brer Rabbit' stories. For every classic we produced we had to read many more which weren't produced (including War and Peace!). They all still careen around in our heads.”

How and where was Brer Rabbit's Christmas Carol broadcast/distributed? What sort of response did it get?
“The broadcast history was quite convoluted. It was broadcast in most of Europe and Latin America before we were aware of it. It has subsequently found new life as a DVD.”

There are a lot of 50-minute animated adaptations of public domain stories out there. What was the market for this sort of thing like at the time, and what is it like now?
“When we produced the bulk (10 shows) of our ‘classic’ specials (1985-1989) the market was already waning. We produced them in partnership with Don Taffner who had produced 16 others, some years earlier, and had actually created the market. As an aside: interestingly enough, Don had at one time had an inquiry from a US network which was considering producing a version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as an American TV series. We advised him on the necessary special effects needed.”

What would you consider to be the distinguishing traits of a Guest/Mathieson animation?
“We have always insisted the physical settings be meticulously researched and artistically reproduced, but beyond a doubt, the writing is our main contribution to the genre. Animation production is a group effort and as with all groups, some are better than others. Money is also a factor. More money, better people, better shows.”

What was the special that you made for/about the band Klaatu?
“The Klaatu special grew out of one of the first music videos ever produced. We made this for their record label about 1975. When Canada opened the tax door to investment, we were able to raise enough money to add to it to make the final half-hour film.”

How did The Hilarious House of Frightenstein come about and what was Vincent Price like?
“The Frightenstein we talk about was animated. This was a commissioned series and we lost track of it. We did some writing for it (particularly the Librarian segments), produced the titles, credits and animated inserts for the live action series. We put the producer in touch with Forry Ackerman, his agent, but we never met Vincent Price. He came in for several days, shot his stuff and left.”

Wikipedia mentions a couple of things of which I can find no mention elsewhere: an animation called Mighty Bigfoot and a live-action horror film called House of Darkness. What are/were these?
Mighty Bigfoot was commissioned by PM Productions as a follow up to their live action feature, Bigfoot: The Unforgettable Encounter. We delivered it several years ago, but have heard nothing of it since. House of Darkness has been retitled The Vessel and is stuck in post until the producer can raise some additional funds.”

How much of your vast output of shows, commercials, specials etc do you have copies of? Do you maintain records on everything that you have done?
“We have copies of some stuff, less than half of what we produced. Although we've kept a record of the shows we produced, we have few records and few copies of our commercials, other than a number of awards on our wall.”

What projects are you currently working on?
“We have an updated Captain Nemo series, titled Nemo 3000, in presentation form making the rounds, and in development a pre-school television series for which we have a pilot commitment. Al is writing a supernatural-themed book, and Jean, in addition to working on our productions, is working as the Controller for a video games company in which our daughter is partnered.”

Is there a dream project that you have never got round to doing?
“Our dream project is any one that has enough money and time to give it our best shot. This has never happened in our careers. Maybe, one day...”

interview originally posted 6th July 2006

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