iMahal Interview Series:
Bill Riead
November 12, 2000

Bill:  I said, "Absolutely!" So I went to Columbia Pictures in Burbank and met with everybody there, including the president of Columbia, David Biegelman. Now, had I had a chance to really think about it, I would have been very intimidated because I didn't know that all the upper echelon brass would be in that room. They asked me many questions, which I answered, and then they asked me if I would like to go to Malta on a movie called Midnight Express. They wanted me to direct a 'behind-the-scenes' film titled, "The Making of Midnight Express."

I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I said, "Of course!" and that began a whole slew of that type of film product that Columbia innovated, with me in charge.

Midnight Express When I went to Malta they also sent Billy Hayes. He had written the book, Midnight Express, after escaping from a Turkish prison in which he had spent 5 years. So there I was: I made a movie about Billy Hayes watching the movie being made about his time in the Turkish prison. It was an extremely interesting experience to say the least.
iMahal:  I am still curious about your early job with the Figure Salon. Was that your first job in LA?
Bill:  No, the first one was for a television commercial for the Custom Craft Carpet Company. And it started off with the president of Custom Craft, who would step in front of the camera and say, "You know what that machine is doing? That machine is called a carpet loom and it's making carpet for Custom Craft." And then he would step away from the camera and into his office, where he would say, "I'm the president of Custom Craft and we have only the finest carpet for our customers," and so forth. I had written and directed that series of commercials.
iMahal:  But how did you get that first job to start with?
Bill:  I watched TV. And I saw these commercials and I thought they were terrible. So I picked up the telephone and I called the president of Custom Craft, and the president of Gloria Marshal Figure Salon and I got these presidents on the line over a series of 3 or 4 days and I told them, "If I may be so bold, these commercials are terrible."
iMahal:  Now that sounds bold. How old were you at that time?
Gorky Park Bill:  I was probably in my mid-20s. And I was bold because I was very confident in my ability to do this type of work. I had been working as a news-reel cameraman for a television station in the midwest originally while I was in college and then wound up working for CBS News. I was very well respected in that arena and I brought to LA a lot of confidence.

So when I saw this work, I called and told them what I thought of the commercials. I remember someone at Custom Craft asking me on the phone, "You feel you could do better?" I said "I KNOW I could do better. I could do a HUNDRED times better than what you have, and probably for less money." They said, "Then get in your car, get on the freeway, and come and see us." So I did, and we shook hands on the deal, and I made their commercial.

At about the same time I got a call from Sid Craig from Gloria Marshal Figure Salon and he said, "Come over to my office, let's talk." I went over and I met Alan Birgendall who was Gloria Marshal's husband and the two of them had a meeting with me and I told them, "Look your commercials aren't all that good, and I can do a much better job, and let me do it!" And they said okay.

Most of these people are still my friends to this very day.



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