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Frank Dietz Interview

Author
Date
11-15-2002
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Frank Dietz

Disney animator, actor, screenwriter, and just a plain old geeked-out monster kid, Frank Dietz is most known in the horror community for his business SKETCHY THINGS (www.sketchythings.com). Sketchy Things is a classic-horror caricature business which sells Frank's monster sketch books, posters of Frank's works, and an opportunity to have yourself drawn with your favorite movie monster! Not to mention, Frank does a moderately decent Christopher Lee impression. I got the opportunity to talk to this perfectly charming guy and it was probably the most easy going 30 minutes I ever spent interviewing.

Classic-Horror: Hi Frank! You ready?

Frank Dietz: Sure am!

C-H: Thank you so much for doing this by the way.

Dietz: No problem!

C-H: Frank, there are two things that really attracted me to the possibility of interviewing you. First of all, you have a fascinating career in the field. Secondly, you have a great fan-based business called Sketchy Things which revolves around your personal love for classic horror movies. So, why don't you tell us about how you got into drawing classic movie monsters for a living?

Dietz: Well, I've always loved the movies. The first movie I ever remember watching was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, which I fell in love with. It just stayed with me forever. I was working for Disney, in the animation department. It was a great job...this was within the last 10 years...and I worked on some great pictures. But, I wanted to do something that was more personal. It' wonderful that I was working on Hercules, but it was like, I was doing it for THEM and not for me. You know what happened was, Bob and Kathy Burns, do you know who them are?

C-H: Absolutely! Frank, how could I be in this business and NOT know who Bob Burns is?

Dietz: (laughs) Well, I didn't know! For a Christmas present they gave me one of William Stout's dinosaur sketch books. I was looking through it and I was so amazed by his artwork, first of all. Then, I thought "You know, this is a great way to put stuff out there." So, I decided to put my own out there. The first one was all pen and ink drawings. They were like "quick sketches". I kept finding that caricature kept finding its way into them. Not to mention, it seemed that people found the caricatures the most interesting. I went to a couple conventions with that book. Soon, people were asking, "So, are you going to do another one?" So, I made my next one with a little more complex pencil drawings. I'm amazed at how popular they've become. I really appreciate getting emails from people who get a copy of the book and they appreciate the love of these monsters. These monsters has been a part of my life, forever. I was a bonafide Monster Kid with Famous Monsters of Filmland and I eventually found out that there are a lot of other people like that!

C-H: Yeah, you do! Now, prior to actually making a living as an artist, you were in films. Your first film was a movie called Zombie Nightmare where you co-starred with Adam West. What was he like to work with?

Dietz: Great guy! I couldn't ask for a better experience in my first film than being with a guy who was my hero in 1966. It was a bit of a mind-blower. He is terrific. He is a very, very funny guy. He keeps the atmosphere on the set very lively. In fact, I wrote an article on that movie for Scary Monsters magazine about a year ago. But, Adam was great. And he's still my friend to this day. I run into him at conventions, or when I'm out and about in LA.

C-H: That's wonderful! Now, didn't that movie actually appear on "Mystery Science Theater 3000?"

Dietz: Oh, thank god! As a horror movie, it stinks! But, as a comedy, it's great!

C-H: That's one of my dreams, to have one of the movies I've made on "Mystery Science Theater!" (Interviewer's Note: If you ever saw any of my movies, you'd be surprised that this proposition hasn't been made yet.)

Dietz: Absolutely! It's hilarious. Comedy Central actually sent me to a couple places like San Antonio, Texas, to San Diego, just to make personal appearances where they were screening this episode! It was so strange. Here it is 10 years later, and I was promoting this movie that had no reason to be promoted, but the fact that Mystery Science Theater made it into something halfway good!

C-H: Now, another person you got to work with was Julie Adams in Black Roses.

Dietz: Oh, yes!

C-H: Now, I absolutely love the premise behind this movie. Why don't you tell Classic-Horror's readers what this film was about and what it was like to work with Julie Adams.

Dietz: Black Roses was the parent's nightmare come true where the rock bands that your kids are following have connections to the devil. They are demons in disguise and turn the children into evil. I think I was 27 years old, and I was playing a 17 year old, which is very typical. Again, I had a terrific time making this film. I got to do a lot of effects and stunts. I never had any scenes with Julie. But, I got to sit down a lot with her. I actually found time where it was just her and I in the trailer, and of course, I was drilling her about her days on Creature from the Black Lagoon. She was such a doll about it. I remember a couple nights later, I wanted so desperately to have my picture taken with her. At one place, I stopped her and said "Ah, please, please, please?" And she said, "Eh...I don't have any makeup on...but, eh, what the hell? Let's go." Which was so great that she was willing to give up her vanity for me. And of course, I treasure this picture.

C-H: Now, you actually got to meet Chris Lee, didn't you?

Dietz: Yeah I met Chris Lee. It was very briefly as it was part of a signing. There's a funny little story behind that. I was waiting on this long line, and when I finally got to meet him, I had brought this 8x10 of him as Dracula with me. I asked him "Would you please sign it to Frank?" And he said (great Chris Lee impression followed), "Oh no, oh dear. I don't think I can do that, because if I personalize it for you I'd have to personalize it for everyone, and it would just take forever." I was like "Oh man, because when I met Peter Cushing, he signed it 'to Frank,' and I thought I could put them together." As soon as I said that, his tone changed, "You met Peter? Really, I loved Peter. He was like a brother to me. And, what did you talk about with Peter?" He wanted to know what I talked to him about, and how I met him, and he was smiling. After he finished asking me all these questions, he finally signed it "To Frank" on the photo.

C-H: Dynamite! Now, here's the question, Frank... Did you REALLY meet Peter Cushing, or did you say that just to get Chris to sign the picture?

Dietz: Oh, no. I really met him! Oh my god! It was at a famous monster convention in 1975. I only had like a minute to talk to him, but it was like one of the most thrilling minutes of my life. He was just so charming, and gentle, and warm. So, now I have both of those autographs, which I treasure.

C-H: That's wonderful! Now, you've also done some screenwriting.

Dietz: I did! I've actually had a number of films produced. Nothing has been theatrically released. That doesn't bother me at all, though. I'm just happy it was good enough to get made. I wasn't always happy with the result though...

C-H: I'm a writer myself. I understand.

Dietz: Things change, you know. Very often the writer doesn't have any opportunity to protect their work. Once you cash the check, it's theirs and they do what they want with it!

C-H: Right. Didn't you actually write Mischievous?

Dietz: Yeah, that was a weird situation. A guy came to me and told me to write this screenplay for him. I wrote it and he paid me half of the money that he told me he was going to. Then, he stopped calling. Then, I heard he was moving out of state, because he supposedly screwed some other people, probably more important than me! (laughs) You know, the type of people he should run from. Then, a couple of years later, the movie came out and I was very surprised to see that my script was still intact with his WIFE'S name as the screenwriter!

C-H: Oh, help me, Rhonda.

Dietz: (laughs) Yeah, I thought it was pretty nervy. You know it's funny, but the director did a lot of soft core, Cinemax type movies and had THAT in mind more so than the Fatal Attraction type film that I was trying to make. I just remember him coming back and saying "Um...we need more naked people!"

C-H: (laughs) Just great.

Dietz: (laughs) So, I'd say, "Uh, ok...let me see how I can squeeze that in."

C-H: Now, is screenwriting and acting something you'd like to get back into?

Dietz: Well, actually, I'm getting back into screenwriting. I've been hired to write a comedy for Marisa Tomei. I'm actually leaving in a few weeks to meet the producer in the Napa Valley and I'm going to be working on it up where they are going to be filming it. You know, for the last 6 years my manager has been pulling her hair out because there are projects she's wanted to send me for and because of my contract with Disney, I couldn't pursue them. As you know, working for a big studio they own everything you do when you work there. Your work... your first born child...

C-H: Speaking of Disney, you've worked on most of the animated films since Hercules. How did you end up getting the job at Disney?

Dietz: Well, my wife started working for Disney as a casting director. She cast The Frighteners and "The Tales From the Crypt." Then, she started to cast for voice work and started to look around and said, "You know, the guys that are doing this stuff...you can do this." And I was like, "Really? Wow!" So, I kind of talked to a couple people over there to see what I would need. Then, I really had to bone up on drawing, which I haven't done much of in a long time. So, I took some life drawing classes, anatomy, etc. I put together a portfolio. I got in right at the right time because they were still reeling from the success of The Lion King, and with the expectation they could make traditional animated movies for a long time. What a surprise, huh? Basically, I saw an opportunity I went for it. For most of the time I was there, I loved it. It was a great place to work. Things change. You know, it goes up and down. You gotta remember, before The Little Mermaid, things weren't that good either. Basically, I heard they could use people that can draw.

C-H: Hey, that works. Now, my personal favorite piece of work of yours is Fantasia 2000 because you did "Rhapsody in Blue" which was one of my favorite numbers in the movie. What parts in particular did you work on?

Dietz: In a short piece like that, pretty much everyone works on every character, as opposed to a big feature where you get one character and you work on that character. So, they basically just hand you a scene, and you draw it. So, I basically worked on every character in that piece.

C-H: Do you have any work lined up with Disney now?

Dietz: Actually, I just left. But, I think I'm working harder now that I've left them than I did when I was with them! In fact, I just recently designed the Triffid for the new Looney Tunes movie. It's going to be a very spectacular movie. They needed all these characters, and I got the job to do the new Triffid. I've also been doing some work on the new TREMORS TV series.

C-H: Now, I want to go back to SKETCHY THINGS, which is really the main reason why I wanted to talk to you for this site. What made you decide to start this business?

Dietz: Well, I guess it was combining what I love to do most with a way to make an income aside from a regular job. Because you know, people like me and my friends like to by a lot of toys!

C-H: I'm one of those people! (Either one of my parents could back me up on this) So, why don't you tell us a little bit about your SKETCHY THINGS books. You just had a new one out, correct?

Dietz: The most recent one just came out right at the beginning of the summer. You know when fans come out and people ask me "what is my approach to drawing"... Well, I put a lot of this in this book. I even put some of the old drawings in so people could see how art progresses. But, they're all still monsters!

C-H: Now you also do special commission caricatures. Why don't you tell us about that?

Dietz: Basically, what I offer to do is let them pick a movie monster and then I will work their portrait into a scene with that monster. For example, I had a guy ask to have a drawing of him sitting on Glen Strange's lap like Lou Costello. The HILARIOUS thing about that was, the guy send me the picture of himself and the guy looks just like Lou Costello. He could not have sent me the pictures, and I would just have drawn Lou, and his friends would not known the difference. It's fun though. People ask me to draw Christmas cards with monsters on them, and stuff. I'm doing a Creature from the Black Lagoon card now.

C-H: That's great! Now, perhaps my favorite example of your work is the 70 years of the Frankenstein Monster poster. Are you going to make more like that?

Dietz: Yeah. There is so much more that I want to do, but haven't had the time to get to it. Everyone seemed to really enjoy that poster, and I made it because Sarah Karloff and I were doing a convention and it was the anniversary of the monster. So, I figured I'd make this poster for the monster fans that I can sign, and then they could take it over to Sarah to sign. But, I'd love to do a Dracula and a Creature from the Black Lagoon one.

C-H: I think Ben Chapman would really enjoy the Creature from the Black Lagoon one.

Dietz: Benny is so funny because he's like, (fairly adequate Ben Chapman impression to follow) "Oh, yeah, I was the Creature. That other guy was my STUNTMAN, but I WAS the Creature!" We love Benny. We impersonate him all the time, to his face. Every time he's in town, we have a big lasagna dinner for him. Benny and I actually did a convention in Las Vegas. I'm not much a gambler, but just for fun, I put $5.00 in a Creature from the Black Lagoon slot machine, and ended up winning $250. It was the first time I ever won ANYTHING there. So, I go up to Benny and say, "Look Benny! I won $250 on a CREATURE slot machine. Can you believe it?" And he says "Where's my cut?" And I was like, "What?" So he says, "Well, it says here in my contract that I receive a percentage of anything related to the Creature." That's so typical of him. He's such a character.

C-H: Yeah, but he's a great guy though.

Dietz: Oh, yeah he is.

C-H: So, what's up and coming for you? Are you making any appearances or have any new projects?

Dietz: Well, I'll definitely be working on the movie script. I expect to be doing quite a few conventions. I'll be doing one in January here in Hollywood called MONSTERS AMONG US. Then I'm be doing one in the summer in Chicago. I expect to be doing the Chiller Theater. Then, of course, Monsterbash.

C-H: I go to Monsterbash every year. In fact, that's where I met you originally.

Dietz: Yep! I just love them. Every convention has it's own personality, but there's something just so warm and friendly about the Monsterbash. One of my friends called it for Summer Camp for Monster Kids. I love when a seven year old kid comes up to my table and he's in love with the Wolfman. It's nice to know that because of videos and DVD that these movies stayed alive. When I was growing up, it was an event if one of these movies were on TV. There was no other way to see them. Now, kids have access to them. It's great to see moms and dads bringing their kids over. Monster Kids in the making!

C-H: So, you'll definitely be at Monsterbash this year?

Dietz: Yes, I will.

C-H: I'll definitely stop by for a visit. I may be bringing my editor with me as it is quite blasphemous that he hasn't been yet.

Dietz: Absolutely, stop by! Once you go, you get bit!

C-H: That's true. Thank you Frank for talking to us!

Dietz: My pleasure!

Classic-Horror would like to thank Frank from taking the time to talk with us. He is incredibly easy to talk to, probably because he's just as much of a monster kid as we are. It was like talking to a Classic Horror staffer without the schizophrenia, neurosis, or rabid hamster qualities. Love ya, Frank, and best of luck to you!

{The management would like to point out that comparing the staff at Classic-Horror to mentally ill people is a disservice to the neurotics and schizophrenics of the world)

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