Mike Jittlov’s “The Wizard of Speed and Time”: His Life’s A Special Effect!

By on April 29, 2015

The 1979 low-budget short The Wizard of Speed and Time began life as a three-minute demo reel that Mike Jittlov made for two producers from The Walt Disney Studio, and like virtually all of his work before and since, it was made on a shoestring budget in Jittlov’s home garage using a multiplane animation table that he built himself for $200.

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In the mid-70s, Jittlov was a math/language major at UCLA, but he’d taken an animation course to satisfy an art requirement in order to graduate, and that’s when something clicked. He began making films, first on Super 8mm, and he enjoyed the creative process. One of those films, The Leap, was enlarged to 16mm in order be able for Jittlov to participate in film festivals in the early 70s. Jittlov then entered his 16mm student film Good Grief into Academy Awards competition for short films, and it made it to the finals, the first of several of his short films to do so. Some of his other original film shorts — including The Interview, Swing Shift, Animato, and Time Tripper (released separately and as a collection called Animato) — began winning top short film awards, and were screened at multiple film festivals, bringing Jittlov to the attention of Disney’s animation company.

In 1978, Disney brought him aboard to create a short stop-motion film, Mouse Mania, which showed hundreds of Disney toys speedily moving around a psychiatrist’s office — it was the first time Mickey Mouse had ever been animated with this kind of in-camera echnique — and it was included on their two-hour TV special, Mickey’s 50th. Since Disney did not allow usually individual creators to receive credit on their television productions (preferring a generic thanks to “the many Disney animators who made this possible”) Jittlov put his and filmmaking partner Deven Chierighino‘s names on the toys in the final production number, where they couldn’t be edited out.

He thought this short film might lead to more work for Disney, and it did. Producers Phil May and Nick Bennion had liked his films, and soon Jittlov began working on a new short film for them, of an animated satellite shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head (this effect was later reproduced for the special features of the DVD version of Disney’s 1937 film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and also was shown at Disneyland, to the people waiting in line at Space Mountain; it’s also shown to Disney employees during orientation).

This little film led to additional work for Disney, and in late 1979 Jittlov’s short film, The Wizard of Speed and Time, which first appeared on Disney’s Major Effects TV special, a special episode of “The Wonderful World of Disney” which aired as cross-promotion for Disney’s new studio film The Black Hole.

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Jittlov (left) with Joseph Bottoms (right) in a promotional still from the Disney TV special Major Effects (1979), where The Wizard Of Speed And Time short appeared in its first incarnation. Jittlov played the “Camera Wizard” in bridging segments during the special.

The Wizard was filmed in around Hollywood, California (you’ll no doubt recognize Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Sign, and the touristy Hollywood Blvd.), and on Maltman Avenue in Los Angeles, CA, where Jittlov lives. Jittlov plays the green-cloaked wizard himself, and he’s seen speeding around the world and spreading magic until he ends up slipping on a banana peel, a classic comedy gag, which sends him flying straight into a pile of film cans, which he then proceeds to animate along with plenty of other film equipment. As one reviewer wrote about the film, Zittlov “wrote, directed, produced, audited, gripped, funded, cranked, cameraed, composed, googled, flamboozed, and starred” in this one, and cast not only himself and some of his friends, but also his mom.

A few years after making the original film, Jittlov took his idea and expanded it into a low-budget feature, also called The Wizard of Speed and Time, which tells the story of a young filmmaker — also named Mike Jittlov — and his struggle to make a special-effects-laden short film for a TV special despite having few resources (i.e., money) while battling the Hollywood bureaucracy. The tricks of his movie magic are exposed — stop-motion, speeded-up motion — but so are the trials and tribulations of the independent moviemaker working around the heavily-unionized Hollywood film industry.

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The feature film’s storyline is also simply crammed with a number of interesting ideas and themes including — and there are simply too many to mention all of them here — subliminal messages (many are hidden in single frames during the “Wizard Run” sequence); a startling new use for a chrome bust of Mickey Mouse, the horrors of dealing with unionized labor; a few plugs for the Church of the Sub-genius; lots of deftly-employed stock footage; and the most terrifying “pizza with everything” you’ll ever see. And there’s even an intentionally-horrible musical number about the creation of the universe, which is thankfully interrupted by a ridiculous Presidential announcement, and there’s at least one visual homage to the Walt Disney Company itself, and one of Disney’s original “nine old men,” animator Ward Kimball, who makes a brief appearance as an examiner for the so-called “Infernal Revenue Service.”

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The cast also includes a former Miss Virginia, the beautiful Paige Moore; Miami Vice‘s Philip Michael Thomas (TV producers later asked if he had ever played a police officer, and he replied “Yes, I was a cop in a feature film,” which led to his being cast on “Miami Vice”); and Angelique Pettyohn, from TV’s “Get Smart,” and fans of the original “Star Trek” series might also remember her from “The Gamesters of Triskelion” — if you don’t remember, there’s a poster on the wall in one scene of her Star Trek character “Shana,” dressed in the aluminum foil bathing suit that she wore from the episode). There’s also a cameo appearance by noted sci-fi collector Forrest J. Ackerman.

The feature film was filmed in 1983, and released to theaters in 1989 (though it was never widely distributed), and although it didn’t do great box-office numbers it has developed a cult following since its release on VHS videotape and laserdisk, and collector’s regularly traded copies of the VHS tapes until the film was made available online. According to Jittlov, the film’s co-producer, Richard Kaye, credited with providing additional dialogue too), allegedly made off with the film’s completion money before the film was done: Jittlov considers the film to be only about 75 % completed.

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During the 1980s, the full-length Wizard movie began to be shown at sci-fi conventions around the country, gaining popularity and eventually giving Jittlov the opportunity to create a heavily fictionalized account of how the film was made, allowing him to create a spurious “making of” short film that contains some special effects that weren’t included in the Wizard films. Jittlov has made the most of these appearances, dressed in his green wizard cloak-jacket and green shoes that he’d worn in the film. Jittlov later worked as a special effects technician on the film Ghost, and he has also appeared in fan films, including Darth Vader’s Psychic Hotline.

Incidentally, Jittlov is not the only one who worked on the Wizard movie who went on to work in Hollywood: Cinematographer Russell Carpenter would go on to work on such films as The Lawnmower Man, The Indian In The Cupboard, Titanic, Charlie’s Angels and the sequel Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Shallow Hal and Monster-In-Law, and composer John Massari’s résumé  includes Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Skeletons, and Retro-Puppet Master. The film’s musical score that plays during “the Wizard’s Run” was also used in a trailer for the Toy Story 3 videogame.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • chas_m

    I remember meeting Mike in the late 70s and was completely electrified by his films. I remember one conversation where I had him explain to me practically shot-by-shot how he made the first “WoSaT” short and all the subtle stuff in his short films. He’s a lovely guy and I hope his work continues to reach a wider audience: I consider him the Georges Melies of his day.

  • L Roger Speakman

    I met Mike while working as a video tech in the 1980s at the USC Film School. We got to know each other as I helped him gain access to the school’s video editing facilities to re-cut his trailer for the feature, WoS&T.

    I’ve moved back to the Midwest (Omaha), but we’ve stayed in touch and I usually visit him on trips back to LA. The kindest, most friendly celebrity I’ve ever met, and the only one I’ve gotten to know!

  • http://sobieniak.blogspot.com/ Chris Sobieniak

    We hope. Certainly a BluRay of his work woudn’t hurt if it happens.

  • http://sobieniak.blogspot.com/ Chris Sobieniak

    Miami Vice‘s Philip Michael Thomas (TV producers later asked if he had ever played a police officer, and he replied “Yes, I was a cop in a feature film,” which led to his being cast on “Miami Vice”)

    Not bad for a guy who starred in Ralph Bakshi’s “Coonskin” a decade earlier.

    Reminded years back I came across someone who had correspondence with Mike who got several articles he sent over including a 16mm reel of his shorts that I’d love to see on the big screen, though the Eastman prints are beet red color-wise and I don’t really have much time or patience to use a projector much these days.

    Incidentally, here’s Mike’s UCLA film “Good Grief”, which I saw back on Pay TV in the early 80’s and it scared me s–tless!
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xi9whm_good-grief_shortfilms

    Reminded a podcaster I listen did did a review for Mike’s feature, and the opinions seem to vary throughout over the film and Jittlov himself when it comes to certain quirks often noticed within, like Mike’s insistence of not shaking hands. It still amused one guy I know who had to bring up how Mike still lives in the same house with his mom that she shot the film at. I’m sure this has been passed around for years and has since become irrelevant anyway, but it’s one of those things to keep in mind while viewing Mike’s work and ask yourself why he never really got much of a big break within “the system”.
    https://gmepodcast.com/2014/06/20/mike-jittlov-is-the-good-kind-of-wizard/

    It’s still rather a shame we have yet to see a restored and ‘competed’ version of The Wizard of Speed & Time”, we’re already coming up to the big 4-0 in a few years and it would be a nice thought if Mike could be working secretly to make it possible. At least something to stick on BluRay in High Def so we won’t have to make due with our 480p rips from the LaserDisc release. One person said Mike was hoping technology could be developed where he could simply hum into a mike and compose the music that way if he wanted to finish the music for the film.

    BTW, here’s Mike at Dragon*Con ’97, explaining his work and other things, not great footage but it’s all we have…
    https://vimeo.com/24145315