Thursday, April 26, 2012

A-Z Challenge 2012: W is for The Wizard of Speed and Time!

With the April 2012 A-Z Blogging Challenge nearing its end - I find myself wishing for the magic to live it all again. And magic should be easy to find in this post, since...

W is for The Wizard of Speed and Time!

Spotlight on: Mike Jittlov!

Mike Jittlov had been making short films for about ten years in the mid-to-late 70's, full of pixellated animation and ingenious effects, with lots of heart and imagination. Legend has it that he'd come to the Disney company's attention when Regis Philbin saw some of his work and got some of the shorts aired on California television. Jittlov was first hired to produce a short film for one of Disney's television specials celebrating Mickey Mouse's 50th birthday. The short was called Mouse Mania. Here is is, introduced by Leonard Maltin, and with Spanish subtitles, for some reason:

    In the late 70's, The Wonderful World of Disney aired Sunday evenings on NBC. It was not a staple of my Sunday night viewing, but I would tune in once in a while when they had something cool or unusual. Somehow I found out - perhaps through Starlog magazine, but considering a monthly magazine's lead time more likely TV Guide - that there was going to be a special on how Disney did their special effects - told in a fantasy fictional way with Wizards in charge of the various kinds of effects at the studio. It aired December 19th, 1979. Among the wizards was "Makeup Wizard" played by future Friday the 13th Part 6 Jason Lives director Tom McLoughlin.
    But I digress. And so soon!
    The wizard we're here to talk about - The Wizard of Speed and Time - was played none other than Mike Jittlov.

Because Jittlov was known to always wear a green jacket, the WoS&T wears a green hooded robe in exactly the same color. Jittlov produced another special effects short for the Disney special, but apparently somehow was able to maintain ownership of the short itself as he has shown it in festivals, and later expanded on it - more on that in a bit. Here is the original Wizard of Speed and Time short:

It is truly an amazing piece of effects work - keep in mind this is a guy working with a crew of one or two - interiors done in his garage, and exteriors done guerrilla style - run in, shoot, run out - no licenses, no clearances, no insurance, nothing. I'm not going to exhaustively break the short down - but I have to mention some jaw dropping bits, because how they were achieved just makes them all the more incredible! When the Wizard runs down the wall in the alley? That was shot by having Jittlov jump up, hitting both feet on the wall - while his cohort snapped off one frame in the movie camera. Then Jittlov, now on the ground, would get up, dust himself off, move a couple of feet down the alley, and repeat the jump. Take a look at how many steps the Wizard takes getting down that alley and be amazed. The race with the train was achieved by watching the local train yards for slow moving trains - then jumping the fence, outrunning the train while the camera was under cranked, and then escaping before the yard security could show up to arrest them for trespassing. Now that's filmmaking!

Not long after that special aired Mike Jittlov was featured in an article in Starlog magazine, even making the cover as can be seen above. It revolved mainly around the Disney special, though it did also mention Jittlov's history of shooting his short effects flicks. It was a good article and one I read and re-read several times. But then, a short time later again, a lesser light in the world of sci-fi mags, Fantastic Films, put out an even better article on Jittlov and his work. It went over the short films in detail, with Jittlov telling funny stories about their production.

Actually, I found the whole article posted page by page. If you want to read it, click on the pictures, each one will hopefully blow up to a full readable size. Those who don't want to read several pages of thirty year old magazine article written by someone else can just skip down to the next paragraph.

What an eclectic and interesting guy, too! Grew up in Los Angeles, developed into a truly interesting Renaissance man - he speaks multiple languages, writes 23 lines to the inch, and built a motorized briefcase that can be ridden at 30 mph thanks to spring out handlebars that are built in. He took animation as a necessary arts course for his elongated college career and developed his love of filmmaking while producing his first short.  The rest of the article details the shorts themselves.

Mike Jittlov demonstrates the Fastest Briefcase Ever.

As much fun as that Fantastic Films article/interview was, there was an equally notable bit to be found in the Classifieds section of the magazine. Firstly, in these days just before the home video boom, there was an ad offering 16mm prints of Mike Jittlov's shorts for $110 a pop! (I wonder how many he sold?). Even more interesting than this ad was another classified ad - this one from Mike Jittlov offering free filmmaking advice and publishing his home telephone number!!! I was boggled by this, but having no filmmaking questions to ask (not that my Super-8 filmmaking couldn't have used some advice) and fearing long distance calls appearing on my parents' phone bill, I didn't call. I did, however, put that magazine away carefully.

After this he developed video pieces used for the launch of the Disney Channel, including a Mickey Mouse Satellite, and other video effects pieces used for a few years over there. Here is the very first image ever seen on The Disney Channel, created by Mike Jittlov, along with some later shot video of Mike holding the satellite model - which he was at one time planning to sell. Anyway, it's 15 seconds long - what have you got to lose?

 Years pass, and I see a movie sitting on my local video store's shelf - The Wizard of Speed and Time! Apparently Jittlov started work on a feature film version of the short in 1983. It had a small and brief theatrical run somewhere in 1989, and came out on home video in 1990.

The movie cleverly avoids trying to take the Wizard character and building a feature length film around him. Instead it tells the story of Mike Jittlov, the filmmaker, and his trials and travails in Hollywood, but with his usual magic and fantasy bits intact. It incorporates the short - with a new leading lady in carefully refilmed shots substituting for the original young lady. I really enjoyed the movie - it's low budget and rough around the edges but has an undeniable sweetness and lots of heart.

At this point in my life I had graduated college with a film degree and was living at home with my parents, marshalling my resources for a move somewhere with a film industry. Having been delighted by his movie, and now needing advice on how to break into the movie business, I dug out that old magazine and called Mike Jittlov. Sure enough, he hadn't moved, and within seconds I was speaking to the man himself.

He was very pleasant on the phone, accepted my praise of TWoSaT with good grace, then proceeded to tell me that in a bizarre twist of fate, the story that he told in the movie of losing the movie to a underhanded producer actually happened, and making it all even weirder, the real-life underhanded producer was also the man who played the underhanded producer in the movie! As a result, he said the movie that I had watched was not complete - there were still unfinished special effects and editing issues with the movie in Jittlov's mind, but he was glad I enjoyed it. He told me if I had the ability to dub off a copy of the VHS tape I had his permission. Obviously, this would not have cut much soap with Interpol (who have been assigned to the case of video piracy since that big meeting on September 8th, 1977...) but I felt morally okay doing that very thing - dubbing off a copy of the movie with Jittlov's permission. I have since purchased a prerecorded VHS copy too, now that the prices aren't so outrageous.

The rest of the conversation dealt with my impending push to gain employment in the film industry. Unfortunately Jittlov was at a low point at the time, having just gone through the whole thing with his first feature, so he mostly offered cautionary advice to be careful who I trusted. But I appreciated his viewpoint nonetheless, and thanked him for his time, which ended up being 30-40 minutes on the phone.

Since that time Jittlov has carried on, occasionally working on the visual effects crews of movies like Ghost and doing whatever it is that he does in the day to day, although from research I've done online it appears the bitterness against the film industry that was developing at the time we spoke on the phone has fully taken hold and he now no longer has anything to do with filmmaking per se.

Mike Jittlov circa 1996
He did though have some notoriety in the last few years when he helped out on a Star Wars fan film called Vader's Psychic Hotline, providing the voice for Han Solo. He maintained a website - Wizworld.com -  and although it doesn't appear to have been updated for years, there is a lot of entertaining info there. And no matter what he chooses to do or if he never makes another movie he'll always be our once and future Wizard.

Cheers to Mike Jittlov! Thanks for all the entertainment!

And that is a wrap. I think an X cellent idea would be for you to return for tomorrow's post. Until then, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. What an interesting story and how cool is it that you got to talk to him! Jittlov is an amazing filmmaker and very ambitious.
    The Geek Twins

  2. Yes his work is amazing. He's the very definition of what a true artist is. I wish that the WOSAT would get a DVD release.

    1. So do I... have seen the movie only once, way back in the early Nineties, but it sure burned some of it's images in my mind. I'd love to see it on DVD or blu ray, with a decent transfer. Also, quite by accident, I bought a copy of that same old 'Fantastic Films' issue withe the article about Mike and the movie.

  3. Thanks, Maurice! It was an amazing conversation! He's incredibly talented and should be better known!

  4. I would so love to catch this show on DVD or Blu-ray. You always catch up with the coolest people and have the most amazing encounters. And you know, I'm digging that Star Log cover. Will Han Solo be back...LOL

    1. I wish someone would put it out - and that it would make tons of money for Mr. Jittlov. And Starlog was a great magazine - I subscribed for years. By the way, I think several of Mr. Jittlov's shorts are viewable on YouTube!