Monday, May 22, 2006

The Day Vance Gerry Erupted

This is actually another "Disney early development" story, but I'm focusing on something else here. The moment when one of Disney's finest -- and most even-tempererd -- story artists lost it... 'Round about 1983, a small group of story artists spent a couple of months developing Beauty and the Beast. This early development had nothing to do with the B & B that was a monster hit at Disney eight years later. This story-work was just part of the usual "maybe there's something to this, go see what you can cook up" routine that was part of the ebb and flow around the Mouse House's story department at the time. Somebody got approval to explore the story possibilities of a classic fairy tale, it got explored, interest waned and the parade moved on. In this instance, there were about four of us working on it: Pete Young, Vance Gerry, me, and a veteran story artist named Patrick (not his real name - for reasons that will become evident as this tale unfolds.) Patrick had been in the animation business a long time and was a solid artist. But he'd only been at Disney Feature Animation a year or two, having arrived to work on The Black Cauldron. Just then he had a little free time and so joined the other story artists who had left Cauldron earlier. And therefore had more free time on their hands. I don't remember who pushed for Beauty and the Beast's development, but we did the usual kind of research: looked at books and drawing, viewed the 1946 Cocteau film, did exploratory character sketches. I wrote up a short treatment. Twenty-two years later I have no memory of whether the treatment was good, bad or indifferent. I know I got input from Pete and the others. What I do have a memory of is when we all sat down in a second-floor story room to discuss it, Patrick tapped the pages with a forefinger and said: "I read this thing, and...and...I don't know. What's going on?" I wasn't sure what he meant, but I explained what was going on. The enchanted castle. The animals outside on the castle grounds (no teapots and utensils in this version). The beast inside. The girl from town. Patrick shrugged, smiled, twitched. "Yeah, but I just...I don't understand it. You think this is...I don't know... going somewhere? Because I just don't get it..." I explained some more. Patrick cut me off. "I guess...I don't know...It just isn't very good. It...it doesn't do anything for me. It...it... I don't know..." Vance Gerry, who had been sitting silently, turned bright red. "G*ddamnit Pat! You do this EVERY F*cking time! And I'm SICK of it. You have a problem with something, give us something BETTER! But don't sit there and tell us you don't get it and you don't understand and it isn't any good! You do that kind of crap over and over! And I'm f*cking SICK of it!" We all stared at Vance with our mouths hanging open. And the reason our mouths were ajar was because this was a country mile away from the normal Mr. Gerry. You have to understand that Vance G. never complained. Never griped about anything. Never blew up angrily, even when he was justified. When his boards were changed for the worse, he never argued about it. When a director or layout supervisor loused up one of his delicate color studies of a character or landscape, he never protested. In fact, in all the years I knew him, I never saw him erupt over anything. Except this one time. This one afternoon. Vance's face remained bright red. His eyes remained wide. Patrick goggled at him and stammered: "Va..Vance. I didn't mean...I didn't think I...I wasn't..." "You never MEAN anything, Pat! But you just pull this all the TIME! And I can't stand it anymore! So just SHUT THE F*CK UP!" Two decades later, I still don't know what exactly set Vance off. I don't think it was to defend my sterling prose, but more like really bad chemistry. Everybody stared at the pages in their laps. Patrick made a feeble effort to get a sentence out, stopped at the second word, fell silent. I finally cleared my throat and said: "Ah, let me go through this." And I did. We worked our way through the treatment, looked at early sketches that had been drawn, and ended the meeting. There was a little more development work that was done, but not a lot. Treatment and drawings went off to the morgue (later known as "Animation Research.") Patrick went back to The Black Cauldron and everyone else forged ahead on Basil of Baker Street, (later released as The Great Mouse Detective.) Very little stays in my mind about the project. The only memory shard that remains vivid and twinkly is the afternoon that Vance Gerry erupted.

4 comments:

floyd norman said...

Now, you've got me going, Steve. I think I know who "Patrick" might be, but I'm not completely sure.

Anyway, you're right about Vance. Nothing seemed to ever touch him in all the years I've known him. I wonder what set him off?

I sure miss him.

Steve Hulett said...

Since P. is still among the living, I decline to say who he is.

Ain't important anyway. It's an anecdote. A piffle. A small tile in the large mosaic of Disney Animation.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like he just couldn't stand that guy, Floyd.
I don't think such a scenario could ever happen to you. : )

Skribbl said...

Wow! I could never imagine Vance using profanity! Good for Vance!!

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