Interviewer: How did you get started in show business and producing?
Bryan Hickox: Well, I came out of an entrepreneurial background - I founded and ran entertainment service oriented companies. One day I walked into one of my competitor’s facilities and saw he had an amazing array of new equipment and very plush surroundings. I decided at that moment I no longer wanted to be in the service business, I would much rather be one of his biggest customers. So, within a month or two, I got out of the service business and starting producing by virtue of a coincidence. George Slaughter [Executive Producer of Laugh In], who I had helped out on a number of occasions, called me. He said, ‘Technically you know film and tape better than anybody I know and I’m about to direct my first feature film called Norman, Is That You? We’re shooting it on tape and film and intercutting the two. Would you be interested in helping to produce it?’ I said, ‘I don’t know what a producer does, but sure, I’d be glad to help you out.’ So, I was interviewed and ultimately hired as the associate producer of the show. It was a successful film and George recommended me to someone else who was doing a pilot called Klein Time. And that show was successful. Then somebody else hired me to produce another [show] and pretty soon I was a producer. That was a lot of shows ago. I’ve been doing it now for 35 or 40 years.
Interviewer: What do you like best about producing?
Bryan Hickox: I think the variety of projects is one thing that appeals to me. We are so privileged in what we do. Out of the 70 television movies of the week [I’ve produced], probably over 40 of them have been true stories or based on true stories. So, I get to go places and live that world in a very privileged way. I enjoy that aspect of it. There’s never a dull moment. I’ve been blessed through the years in having really quality scripts that have something to say to the human condition. I also enjoy that very much - mounting those kinds of films that I know will touch people where they live and perhaps change their opinions or change their behavior or their attitudes. That’s very rewarding. In the old days of television [and] movies of the week there were only three television networks so when you had a successful film, you were invited into forty million living rooms. That is an awesome responsibility. It’s a very powerful medium and I take it very seriously. So, that’s a very long-winded way of answering your question. I enjoy bringing a message to people in terms of the end result and the making of the film is also very rewarding. I don’t know any other business where, in the case of a feature film, 60 to 100 disparate people get together for eight or nine weeks, 20 hours a day, six or seven days a week and then and four to six months later the film opens. The original investment is all paid off and you’re in profit and you’ve had this incredible experience of working with these inordinately gifted and talented people. It’s a real privilege. I just enjoy it a lot. I can’t imagine having this much fun and getting paid for it.
Interviewer: Mr. Wooley talks about that [in his book]. All these people coming together that you don’t know… and suddenly they’re friends and you have to leave. He told some good stories.
Bryan Hickox: He certainly did. Peter [Wooley] is one of my dearest friends. Richard Colla [director of The Kidnap episode] introduced me to him on a pilot we did for CBS called Jake’s Way. Richard said, ‘There’s this wonderful production designer I would like you to meet’ and so, I met Peter. I was relatively new in the business and upon Richard’s recommendation, I hired Peter and he was one of the certifiably craziest people I’ve ever met in my life. His attention to detail and his creative abilities are just staggering. I stand in awe of people like that. The first experience I had knowing how crazy he was [was when] we were shooting a burial scene that took place in a church in west Texas. Peter had found this wonderful, old one-room church with a tall steeple. So Richard Colla and I went out and looked at it. It had this wonderful boot hill cemetery outside and Peter said, ‘If we shoot this very, very early in the morning, the sun will backlight the church and we’ll have these harsh shadows running across the tombstones. It’ll be very wonderful photographically.’ We decided that’s what we were going to do and Richard said, ‘Bryan, I’d like you to get a camera and do some second unit detailing for me.’ That’s when you shoot cut-aways that the director can use [like] closeups of tombstones. So, I went out the morning we were going to shoot. Peter had an effects guy lay fog in… he had [also] gotten a sheepherder and they brought some sheep in to graze among the tombstones. So I’m out there, knowing that the company’s on its way [so] I gotta knock off these shots very quickly. I photograph the tombstones, the sheep walking across the frame, the shots of the front door of the church, and the sun coming up and all [that]. The next day we’re in dailies and when you look at dailies you look at the dialogue with the principal actors and the last thing of the day, you look at the second unit. So, we’re looking at the dailies of the stuff I’d shot the day before and the second shot in… I’ll never forget this as long as I live… the second shot was of a tombstone. A sheep walks in front of the camera and on the sheep’s mouth… Peter had painted lipstick on the thing.
Interviewer: [laughs] Oh my gosh!
Bryan Hickox: I knew at that moment that I loved this guy. I wanted him to be on every picture I ever did. He’s that kind of a nut. But, that’s how I met Peter and he is a dear friend. Because he cares so much and no matter what the budget – if it’s high budget it’s marvelous. If it’s, ‘Peter, I have no money on this show’ he says ‘Don’t worry about it, it’ll get done’ and he gets it done. And, relating this all back to Wizards and Warriors, it was particularly challenging task for a production designer because what we were shooting, really, every week was a sword and sorcery feature film. We had to put those kinds of production values in it. We did traveling matte shots and we had a 60-piece orchestra with 20 voices. No one had ever done that on network television, within the confines of those schedules and budgets. Don Reo and Judith [Allison] were so skillful in their ability to deliver us very exciting scripts that pushed way beyond the envelope [that] we were really challenged every week to meet the creative challenge that Don and his writing staff put in the scripts. And [we had to] match that – creatively, visually, sound and picture. Don’t forget this series was set in a time that never was and a place that never was… we had to create monsters that never existed. People had no frame of reference. It was a wonderful, creative challenge every week. And Peter was just the best at it.
Interviewer: He said that he had a lot of fun doing something totally fantastical. It was just beautiful visually.
Bryan Hickox: We had so little money [that] to try and do a weekly television show with that kind of scope and size was really challenging. I said ‘Peter, I don’t know how I’m gonna do this castle. This thing is huge. I don’t know how we’re gonna do this.’ So Peter found a castle that they were photographing for Steve Martin’s feature The Man With Two Brains. I went over and talked to David Picker, the producer, and I said ‘David, can we buy this after the shoot?’ He said ‘No, no. There’s no way. We don’t want this used or photographed in any way.’ Peter knew the construction foreman on the show, and we, over a series of many drinks and many bars, finally persuaded him that when they broke that set up, he would score it and number the pieces. So they cut it up into pieces and numbered them. [They] threw them out in a dumpster where our truck was waiting and we drove that entire castle off. [And] we had our castle. We reconfigured it so it didn’t look like theirs, but all of those set pieces, those injection molded stones that go into making a castle… we pirated all of that stuff.
Interviewer: [laughs] What a great story!
Bryan Hickox: Magically, it just appeared, you know? We were able with very, very little money to deliver a look that was a lot bigger than anything on episodic television.
Interviewer: Oh, it was so wonderful. I was blown away that it wasn’t picked up…
Bryan Hickox: We were all blown away, too. We were all thinking, ‘This thing is so out of the box and so wonderful that there’s no way the network’s gonna say no.’ But I think those were the times when it needed a longer period of time to develop an audience. The network, for their own reasons, never gave us that time. Had we done more than nine episodes and even had a full thirteen, it may have been picked up.
Interviewer: Were there actually nine [episodes] that were shot or eight? We have an unaired script called The Games…
Bryan Hickox: I’ve never seen that script nor would I know anything about it. There are always, on a series, abandoned scripts. You always write more than you shoot. So, that does not surprise me. But Don Reo was such a gifted writer that 99% of the stuff that he wrote the network loved. Very rarely would we get extensive notes back that I knew about. Now sometimes, Don would take the network notes and change them before I ever saw the script. I usually ended up getting a script in its formative stages to look at it for production comments. But other than that, I had very little input in the script. If there was a production problem, I’d mention it and Don and Judy were great in making those changes. I didn’t have anything to do with the pitching of the stories; the breaking of the stories, the development of the beat sheets or outlines of the finished scripts themselves other than reacting to them from a production perspective.
Interviewer: Was something you'd go over with everyone?
Bryan Hickox: Once the script was locked [in] we would distribute it to all the departments. I’d sit down with each one of the department heads and watch them all throw up and say, ‘How can we do this for the money?’
Interviewer: In one of the articles it was mentioned [that the show] had a huge budget for that time frame.
Bryan Hickox: No, we didn’t have a huge budget. It was a little bit more than a standard episodic budget but we did not have a lot of money. We had to be very, very creative to bring this show in [at budget]. We were one of the few shows on the lot that came in under budget every week.
Interviewer: That’s interesting to find out. So what does the supervising producer on a series do?
Bryan Hickox: The supervising producer is a title that was conceived out of discord and disharmony with the Writer’s Guild. The Writer’s Guild started according producer’s credits to writers or insisting that they get producer’s credits. In other words if they were writer and producer, they could get a fee for writing and a fee for producing, even though they wouldn’t know how to produce a show if they found one in their soup. So, the supervising producer was really the producer who supervised the production, who was the line guy responsible for the decisions of what was spent, what was scheduled, how it was scheduled, who was hired – all of that. So, that’s what a supervising producer does. And that’s what I did on Wizards and Warriors.
Interviewer: Were you involved with selling Wizards and Warriors to Warner Brothers?
Bryan Hickox: No. I was brought in after it was sold, before the pilot was shot, but after Warner Brothers had sold it to CBS.
Interviewer: How did you get the supervising producer position?
Bryan Hickox: I got it over the objection of Don Reo and Judy Allison because Don wanted Judy to produce the show. Warner's was not comfortable with that for one reason or another, I never, to this day, will know why, because she is a very gifted and talented lady. But they felt they wanted someone with whom they’d had prior producing experience. They knew I was very budget conscious and would bring this in for whatever dollar amount I was given. So, I think, much against Don Reo’s objections, Warner Brothers put me on that show. I think there was some initial animosity, but Don is such a gifted, talented and creative guy that went away very quickly. I mean, literally within a matter of a week or so he said, ‘OK, this is what I have to work with – let’s go.’ We all shared the same vision for the show and there was never from that point on any animosity. I think, to this day, I can safely say that Don and Judy are friends and we have a wonderful relationship. We were all very proud of the work we did on that show.
Interviewer: Had you worked with Don Reo before that?
Bryan Hickox: No, I had never worked with him prior to that experience. [I] would work with him again in a heartbeat. He’s a very talented and lovely man. When you think of the characterizations that he created on that show… The character of the princess was really out of Don’s head - that nail polishing, kind of Bronx-esque approach to a princess. Don thinks out of the box and if you’ve looked at and studied his career throughout the years… even The John Laraquette Show –here’s an alcoholic that he’s dealing with every week. Those are not conventional characters and Don, I think as well as anybody in our medium, does those characters brilliantly. There’s pathos to them and there’s humor to them and there’s dimensionality to them.
Interviewer: All the characters were very much 3-D on the show. Who did you work with most closely?
Bryan Hickox: I think Don and Judy and the directors. One of the producer’s responsibilities is to prep the director [since] I have continuity. That is, I know the crew, I’ve hired most of the crew and know what their limitations, assets and liabilities are. I know our budget constraints. So I can take the director and we can start preparing the show together in terms of the schedule and what kind of things that we’ll deliver to them to use. So, I worked with all of the directors very closely. Including, incidentally, Richard Colla, who I hired because he wanted to really have input on who these characters were. Nobody at the networks seemed to know what they had bought because it was such a fantasy. I brought Richard in because he had directed nine pilots for Universal and every one of them sold – from Battlestar Galactica, McCloud, The Bold Ones - The Lawyers, The Bold Ones -The Doctors, to Tenafly. I knew that this guy had a real grasp of how to create characters. So I brought Richard in to direct the first episode and he wanted to do the first episode.
Interviewer: The Kidnap?
Bryan Hickox: Yes, and that ended up being the prequel to the pilot, which ended up as the second episode. So I worked with the directors and really, the entire crew. We worked very, very closely together. I think they were seven-day episodes, [so] when you do a major motion picture in seven days, you get pretty close to the crew because you’re working with them around the clock.
Interviewer: Did you have any input on choosing who would be in the departments?
Bryan Hickox: My philosophy is when I hire a department head, like the production designer, I have to let them chose their own departmental people. The only time I would ever get in the way of that is if I’d had a particularly bad experience with someone in the industry and they said, ‘Gee, we’re hiring Fred Glick [as an example] for our lead man’ and I’d had a previous experience with a Fred Glick. I would say, ‘You know, that’s a problem for me.’ But I will say this - on Wizards and Warriors I never had that experience. I never had a name [of a person come up] that I had a bad experience with, so each department ran its own department.
Interviewer: It sounds like you had an incredible team.
Bryan Hickox: We had a great crew. A wonderful crew. And there was a lot of laughter and a lot of giggling. When you’re doing that kind of scheduling, you get giddy. And we had a lot of those giddy days.
Interviewer: How much input did you have on the direction of the show?
Bryan Hickox: Very little. This all came out of Don and Judy’s heads and they really cast the mold in terms of the characters or working with the costuming. I had very little to do with that. I wish I could take credit for it but I can’t.
Interviewer: What were your favorite and least favorite aspects of the show?
Bryan Hickox: I think my favorite was the collaboration with an extraordinarily talented crew and cast. It was just a pleasure to go to work to see what these idiots would come up with. And I say idiots in an absolutely affectionate way. It was a terrific experience.
Interviewer: How much improvisation was there on the set?
Bryan Hickox: Very little. Because of the great writing I don’t think that the actors needed to improvise very much. We had table readings with the actors ahead of time. If there were comments or jokes they felt their characters would deliver, they were usually done at that stage and then written into the script. I don’t remember an awful lot of improvisation on the show. I’ll tell you another funny Wooley story… there was one show and I can’t even remember the name, but there was a bar…
Interviewer: The Sword and Skull…
Bryan Hickox: Yes. You’ll notice at the beginning of that bar [scene], the shot pans down what were supposed to be human skulls that were hollowed out [for use like glasses]. We put dry ice in there. Art LeFleur, who was the bartender, milked a rattlesnake into the glass and you could see the bubbles and steam come out of the glass. Well, as we pan down that series of skulls, you’ll notice one of them has braces.
Interviewer: [laughs] I’ve never noticed that!
Bryan Hickox: Well, there’s eight thousand things you would never notice unless you’re really looking for them. There’s Wooley-isms all over every episode. Just off the wall things like that. So, I don’t think I had a least favorite aspect. I guess it was just trying to squeeze it within budget. I didn’t like going to those budget meetings every week. But other than that, it was a great experience.
Interviewer: Did everyone get along?
Bryan Hickox: No, they never do, but we were all trying to do something very different and wonderful and that unified us. I mean, when people would get tired and out of sorts there were those moments, but there was nothing serious.
Interviewer: Have you kept in touch with any of the cast or crew of the show?
Bryan Hickox: Yes, I keep in touch. I’ve worked with a number of the people since from the cast and crew. I did a pilot for CBS with Julia Duffy and Duncan Regehr immediately after that called The Real Adventures of Alexander Hawkins. I’ve worked with a lot of them. I have a lot of friends that I work with on things.
Interviewer: You’ve also worked on a number of series and features – any favorites?
Bryan Hickox: Probably my favorite series was Scene Of The Crime, which was a series I did for Steve Cannell. We shot eleven episodes in Vancouver, British Columbia and eleven in Paris, France. That was a wonderful show. It was fun because it was a repertory cast, so we had the same group of actors every week playing entirely different characters. One week a man would be a killer, the next he’d be a bartender and the next he’d be a lover. It was the same group of nine actors playing different roles every week in an anthological drama. It was an extraordinary experience. [It was] great for the actors and for the cast. That was a lot of fun. In terms of individual shows, I don’t know. It’s always seems like it’s the last one you’ve done and the last feature film I’ve done is something called The Painting. That’s a wonderful feature film that will be released in about three months. In our test screenings, we’ve had audiences in tears and laughter. I guess one of the early films I did called Dead Wrong – The John Evans Story with Peter Wooley [would be one of my favorites]. It was about the electrocution of a guy in Atmore, Alabama. Before he was electrocuted he asked the prison chaplain to bring a camera in and he said, ‘I want to talk to the young people of America and let them know that the kind of life I led is not the kind of life that they want to lead. And in case you don’t know what I’m talking about, my name’s John Evans and I’m gonna die in the electric chair in four days.’ It was an amazing piece. [We] had fifty to sixty thousand pieces of mail from parents and kids whose lives were inalterably changed from the experience. You do that kind of television and you don’t want to do anything else, you know? You really know you’re impacting people. That was an After School Special for CBS and it was just really a wonderful experience. I’ve been blessed. I’ve done a lot of really fun shows and some that have had quite a bit to say.
Interviewer: I noticed that you're doing a mini-series for 8 to 14 year olds.
Bryan Hickox: I’m in the process of doing that right now. It’s called Crisis In Our Community and it’s for tweens and teens. It’s a six-hour mini-series that deals with everything from drugs, drug abuse, teenage sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, abstinence, teenage violence in high schools, teenage suicide and how to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk. I’m also doing a film for President Bush, Dick Cheney and Colin Powell on eliminating poverty in the inner cities of this country. And I’m just starting to prep a feature film with Peter O’Toole and Omar Shariff, which we’re shooting in Vancouver, B.C. and London, called Skinning The Cat.
Interviewer: Wow! I was going to touch again on a previous question. Any favorite memories you had [of Wizards and Warriors]?
Bryan Hickox: I think some of the moments that were the most enjoyable were working with Bill Bixby. He was such a high-energy guy and there were some really delightful moments with Bill and Richard Colla because he’s so visual. One of the great moments was, when we cast Jeff Conaway one of the questions we asked [him] was ‘Do you ride horses?’ and it’s the old story… every actor says ‘Oh, of course. I’m an accomplished equestrian, are you kidding?’ And of course when we got out there in Newhall and put him on a horse it was just insane. It was hysterically funny because he couldn’t ride a lick. We had to give him riding lessons. Jeff looked insane on a horse. So we did the pilot and screened it for a test group in LA. That’s where the whole audience has buttons and they give reactions, then there’s a focus group afterwards. One of the questions in the focus group was ‘At what point did you realize this was a comedy?’ One of the women said, ‘The minute I saw Lord Greystone on a horse.’ It was hysterical. But, the challenges to do electric sword fights – that hadn’t been done before. We broke so much ground and we used special effects all the time… mechanical and optical special effects. Nobody did moving matte paintings on a television series. And that castle was only a piece and the rest of it was painted.
Interviewer: And the castle [on the horizon] was a hanging miniature.
Bryan Hickox: Absolutely. Three feet in front of the camera. That big castle way off in the distance was about four feet long and twenty inches high. It had a flagpole, but obviously the flag blowing in the breeze would be the wrong scale, so these huge flags were half a mile off held up by weather balloons… in scale, so they would be waving and looking exactly real.
Interviewer: Talk about attention to detail!
Bryan Hickox: Well, you had to or you’d have blown the whole illusion. We certainly didn’t have the money to build a scale castle.
Interviewer: What did you think about the show and direction it was going?
Bryan Hickox: I loved the show and thought it was wonderfully creative. Obviously the network didn’t or they may have, but it never found an audience in the short period of time we were given to find one. It was very, very different for it’s day.
Interviewer: Well, it wasn’t a consistent airing. I was floored [when I went online] that others remembered it.
Bryan Hickox: That’s wonderful. It’s very gratifying to those of us who knocked ourselves out [working on Wizards and Warriors].
Interviewer: We want you to know we enjoyed it very much.
Bryan Hickox: You do television and it goes to that great screening room in the sky, you know? It airs once and it’s forgotten. And those of us practitioners in the business always love to know that we’ve impacted or affected someone in a funny way or a good way and people remember it.
Interviewer: We certainly do. Thank you very much for your time.
Bryan Hickox: You’re welcome.
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