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Steve Newburn Special Effects Interview
Have you ever worked on a movie and realized that the effect needed just couldn’t be accomplished or was going to be very difficult to do?
There is generally a pretty extensive pre-production process for bigger budget films. It's not the kind of thing where people just get together and say, let's make a movie next week. You pretty much need to have an idea of what you're going to do, before you even bid the project. How else would you know what to charge, right? After you've been doing this a long time, the gags become second nature for the most part. You just reference everything you've done before, and cut and paste a new method together. Especially in horror films, there just isn't the time and money to get overly experimental, and, for the most part, the scripts never dictate the need to. There are certainly big budget movies that you go into knowing you’ll be experimenting with stuff.
‘Artificial Intelligence’ was one of them for me, personally. Myself, and my friend Justin, had to try to figure out puppet versions of the 'future' robots for the end sequence, transparent, yet animatronic. The materials aren’t really out there for that, since the components of silicone that make it elastic, are the same components that fog it up. Ultimately, we developed a hybrid of about half a dozen different materials that served our needs. It was a crazy process though, and nobody has tried it since. In the end, the puppets were never finished, but that's another story in itself (laughs.)
There’s a lot of re-makes happening at the moment, especially within the horror genre – do you feel that some movies need to be updated or do you feel it’s a disservice to the original films? For example, with the original re-make of ‘The Thing’ everybody was watching thinking, ‘how on earth did they do that?’ Now, of course people presume it’s mostly CGI.
Frankly, I hate remakes of classic films. I was a part of destroying ‘Time Machine,’ unfortunately. It was a huge dis-service to the original film, in my opinion. I don't really know what to think of the ‘Rob Zombie’s Halloween.’ It was OK, and if it had been its own movie, I think I might have liked it more. I just don’t think it was necessary to remake the movie though, since the first is a classic.
The remake of ‘Psycho’ was essentially frame for frame - what's the point? Now they've got ‘Day The Earth Stood Still’ coming up. Another one of the greatest sci-fi films made in it's time. It had a message behind it, regarding what was happening in the world then. Obviously, I haven't seen the new one, but it's already being promoted as a big FX film... something that was not the point of the original.
For all the source material that is out there in the form of books (etc), it's just a shame that Hollywood is always resorting to the tried and true, and usually ruining the original in the process. As you know, my buddy was Jason in the new ‘Friday the 13th.’ I'm hoping it's good. ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ remake was okay, so hopefully this will follow in those footsteps.
But really, ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ - c’mon! ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ shouldn't be remade. Another classic! I'd like to see someone come up with a new classic villain - show me a NEW Leatherface, Freddy, or Jason.
The ‘Saw’ films are a great example of intelligent and original horror; something with all the graphicness that horror fans want to see, but with a 'reason' behind it. With four sequels done now, they've still progressed with the story. They've never resorted to just remaking the last movie ten times. That's good filmmaking.
With regards to horror, do you feel that there’s only so much to accomplish, or have you surprised yourself with an effect? (I see your working on Cabin Fever 2)
There's plenty of ground to be gained by horror films. There just needs to be a level of respect from non-horror fans for what you're attempting. I have a good friend who hates horror films, but still has seen all the ‘Saw’ movies, because he thinks there is a message in those films, albeit maybe a bit sickly distorted (laughs.) They aren’t just about blood. There's intelligence, and some thought put into them.
In my opinion, this is the direction horror needs to go to maintain itself. People need and want to be scared sometimes, but most don't feel the need to be grossed out for no reason. It's a well known fact that your imagination can scare you and un-nerve you far more than anything someone puts on film. That's not to say that horror film killings should be off screen. It's more to say that the genre would benefit from having good filmmakers, who are fans as well. I'm constantly amazed by how many people end up directing horror films that aren't fans, or are fans, but don’t know the first thing about directing, or even the movie business in general.
As for the effects themselves, as I said, the standard horror films these days don't call for anything but the most basic of blood gags, just a different weapon generally. This is why I say I'd like to see good filmmakers who are fans come in and work out semi-intelligent stories... we might just see something that called for a truly original or inventive effect. For now, it isn't happening, at least not on a regular basis.
What movies do you get questioned about the most?
You know, movies seem to come and go and are forgotten pretty quickly really. It's surprising how fast people forget and move on to the next thing. So few movies have the staying power of the original ‘Star Wars’, ‘Raiders’, or ‘Aliens.’ (Hesitates)
I don't know... I think at the time it was released and for a short time after, ‘Spiderman’ was probably one of the big ones. There were a lot of questions about ‘The X-Files movie’ (the first one) at the time, since the show was still going strong. I couldn't wear any of the crew stuff in public. People would literally ask if they could buy the jacket off you, and you're like, “umm, no, it's cold outside..." (Laughs)
How do you remain grounded within the industry?
Most of my friends are in the industry as well. Half of Southern California is in the business in some way, shape, or form, so most people don't think about it. It's not until you go to a convention that the fan-boys come out of the woodwork. I took a full size ‘Starship Troopers’ bug to the Shrine Comic Convention back in '97 and had people asking the craziest things you've ever heard...
Q: "So, what do they eat?"
Q: "No, seriously... What do they eat?"
A: "Dude... it's just a movie. They don't really exist..."
Q: "If I was wearing body armour, could it kill me?"
A: "It has a 20' leg span... I'd guess so... if it was real... They killed plenty of people in the movie..."
Q: "Well, that's just a movie. I'm talking in real life..."
A: "I have to go now..."
Seriously, that's the kind of thing you would get. If I didn't know better, I'd think I was on Candid Camera or something.
FOURTH PART OF THE INTERVIEW CONTINUES NEXT WEEK
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