Behind the Scenes
I have been operating the Disney History blog for two years now and for the first time this week I received a vicious comment about one of my posts. I guess it was long overdue.
The comment was the following:
“You've got a talented illustrator for your covers. People who transcribe the interviews (most of which were given many years before most of us could spell) and ... uh, what do you again besides put your name on the book?”
It came from a mature reader named Anonymous, who else.
Since I have now cooled down, I thought I might take this opportunity to explain what it takes to publish Walt’s People and what other Disney-related projects are in store.
[Update: Just to clarify even more, I am no longer upset and I am not really responding to this comment, I am just taking it as a springboard to explain step by step how WP is put together and the projects I am working on in parrallel.]
As I mentioned in the past, the idea for the WP project came from an exchange of emails with Jim Korkis. After that exchange, I research which solution I could use to release the books and found out about “print-on-demand”, which seemed both very practical and inexpensive.
Once I had decided that this was the solution I would use and that I would be willing to invest the first $1000 dollars that would be needed to start the project (and that I had no hope of seeing ever again), came the task of convincing Disney historians to participate to the project. Sounds easy. You have to remember, however, that those historians had spent years and years collecting material, financing their research from their own pocket, spending hours and hours doing research to prepare the interviews, spending money to meet the interviewees,... and since I knew WP would never make a profit, just break even to allow for the project to finance itself, I would not promise them any money. So easy it was not, but I was lucky enough to have spent the last 20 years of my life researching Disney history and building a good reputation in the community, so the Disney historians I was approaching knew that I was also ready to spend a lot of my time and money to increase Disney history knowledge and that my philosophy had always been: “share as much as possible without expecting anything in return, and hope that the more you share the more others will also want to share.”
But even then, you have to remind the contributors of deadlines in a tactful way, call them over the phone sometimes (remember that I am based in Spain and most of them are in the US), send them emails or physical letters, use some of their friends to act as go-betweens,...
I even planed some of my vacations around cities of residence of key contributors that I really wanted to see coming on board. My vacations in New York were an example of this.
I forgot to mention that some key contributors are sometimes even difficult to locate and you have to become a private eye to find them. That was the case with the widow of Richard Hubler, who was in her ‘90s and blind when I located her. Richard Hubler’s son had run away and could not be found, so I finally managed to get in touch with a son-in-law who was kind enough to help (again, international phone calls, countless letters, hours spent on the internet looking for a potential lead,...)
And I started receiving interviews in various formats: some in digital format, some on paper, some on tapes.
You would think that the transcripts in digital format would be tremendously easy to manage. Our friend Anonymous has this image of me copying and pasting the files in a master word document and “presto” book ready to send to Xlibris. Have you ever seen a rough transcript of an interview? The amount of work it entails to make it readable is often staggering. It gets even worse when the person interviewed is a senior citizen, who loses his trail of thoughts, does not finish his or her sentences, etc. I still remember having had to spend a complete Sunday working on the interview of Rudy Ising by JB Kaufman to make it readable, instead of enjoying a reunion with my wife’s family. Don’t get me wrong: I loved working on that interview, I loved the feeling of the text being tightened up little by little, and I would do it again. Even after I had done all of this work on the transcript, JB had to work on it quite a bit too, to get to the final version. Multiply this by the number of interviews that appear in each volume (even though to be accurate about 10% of the interviews do reach me already perfectly edited), add the introductions that need to be researched and written for each piece, and you will get an idea of what that first phase of the project means in terms of workload. Most of my summer was spent on this.
What about transcripts that would reach me in paper format? For the first few years of the project, I would scan them myself. Our friend “Anonymous” is now thinking “big deal! With character recognition softwares (CRS) this task is quick and easy.” Unfortunately not so again: CRS do not always recognize properly characters typed on a typewriter and you have to spend hours cleaning the scan. After you clean the scan you go back to the editing process that I described above for the transcripts that reach me in digital format. Thankfully some readers like Ed Mazzilli are now helping with the digitizing part of the process.
Finally there are the interviews that arrive on a tape. Since the tapes are old they often include horrendous background noise. Quite a few readers, like James D. Marks, Jeff Petterson, or Dave De Caro (and others) are now transcribing those for me, thankfully. But once again, this does not eliminate the arduous editing phase that follows.
What comes next? Once the transcriptions are gathered and edited, I send them to Bob Welbaum who checks issues with the spelling, with typos, grammar,... and send me back his corrections that I then spend time integrating into the main document.
The edited interviews are them sent to Percy Willis for another round of edits.
Once I get that document, I then send it to all the contributors to get their feedback on factual errors, inconsistencies, or any issue they can locate. They always locate quite a few, which makes the overall books much better, and which I input one by one in the master.
Then comes the cover-drawings phase, with Pete Emslie creating the caricatures. Even that step is sometimes far from easy. To create the great caricatures he sends me, Pete has to work from video images from the subject, not still photographs, and I at times have to help him find that reference footage. Once the caricatures are ready, they go to a friend called Josh Noah in Paris, who creates the frames around them.
After having typed the table of content and other supporting texts requested by Xlibris, I am now in a position to send the book to Xlibris for publication.
A few weeks later, Xlibris sends me the galleys that I have to print and review. Those always include a large number of formatting mistakes that I have to list in a form provided by Xlibris. Once those are corrected a few weeks later, the book is ready for printing and is officially made available when I approve the writer’s copy.
After this is done, I order the 30 contributor copies (in average) that I will have to send one by one to the different participants.
This is all non-profit and the only goal is to make more Disney history material available to encourage even more sharing and additional research (I have been motivated to interview quite a few additional artists myself in the last few years).
As you see, there is a large number of people helping the Walt’s People project, without whom this project would not exist, but I am happy to say that I do contribute my fair share.
And I love it. Which is why, in addition to volumes 7 (which is ready to go to the printer), 8, 9 and 10 (special Bob Thomas volume) of Walt’s People on which I am working at the moment, I am also tackling three other book projects:
1. I am still at work on Bugs’ Buddies, although the target publication date is now end of 2009 or mid-2010.
2. I am helping Mel Shaw put in publishable shape his autobiography (with the help of Don Peri, JB. Kaufman, David Lesjak, Jim Korkis and Michael Barrier).
3. Along with Greg Ehrbar, author of Mouse Tracks, I am helping Grey Johnson put in publishable shape the autobiography of his father Jimmy Johnson, who headed the Disney Music Company for more than 30 years.
Needless to say, with so few projects on my plate I had a lot of free time this summer. Did I already mention that I adore researching Disney history?