Starting Small, Dreaming BIG & Making Movie Magic! with Howard Berger

10 Jul Starting Small, Dreaming BIG & Making Movie Magic! with Howard Berger

This week, we have a returning friend, Howard Berger. You may remember Howard from episode 74 of DREAM THINK DO. He’s an Academy Award and Emmy Award-winning special effects artist.

He and his KNB EFX Group have been involved with over 800 feature films and television shows… including the Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, the Orville, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (which he won an Oscar), Hitchcock, and every Quentin Tarantino movie… just to name a few.  

The first film that he worked on was Aliens, and he did that the day after he graduated from high school.

If you go to his IMDb page, you’ll realize that he’s touched just about every horror movie that’s scared the stuffing out of you the last 20+ years!  I can’t wait to talk again, so let’s get to this!

Listen To The Podcast:

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INTERVIEW:

Howard, welcome back to DREAM THINK DO.

Thank you so much. That was a good intro. It was definitely shorter than the last one.

I think so.  The last time, I think I went about 10 minutes because the list is so long!  I knew I needed to keep this one under five minutes.

I put it out to the DREAM THINK DO community that you were coming back. I said, “Alright, what would you ask Howard this time?” And we got flooded with some great questions, so I can’t wait to pepper those in as we go. But what have you been up to lately?

I’ve been busy with KNB, which this is its 30th year in existence.

Greg Nicotero and I own it and run it for the last 30 years. I was talking with someone the other day about how we used to do all movie work, rarely TV. Now it’s tons of television, be it Netflix, or AMC, or whatever it is.

TV has become more of a creative venue for us than feature films to some degree. We love working on movies; it’s a whole different animal too.

But, it’s been great. I started working on Seth McFarland’s Sci-Fi drama comedy hit, the Orville. Then I got approached for a TV show called Legion. This was for season two. I signed on to that, then Orville went over.

I had planned for two weeks off. I had three days. I had Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and I was on set Monday for Legion for the next several months, and then I went onto a film with Mark Wahlberg, a film called Mile 22 that’s coming out August third.

My wife Miriam and I just got back from Atlanta, where we shot Mile 22. I had four days off, and then started another movie with Mark. Kind of a family comedy called Instant Family that’ll be out next year, I think Valentine’s Day. We just finished, and I just got home, and I’m just getting acclimated to my house, my bed, my things that I haven’t seen in seven months.

Well, you know you’ve been away for a long time when you get to your own bed and go, “This is the best hotel I’ve been in for a long time.”

Yeah, you feel like you’re on location in LA.

 

That’s amazing. It leads into one of my first questions. So, you love what you’re doing, but that’s a tough schedule for anybody, whether you love what you’re doing or not. How do you stay fresh when you’re running a marathon like that? What are some of the things you do for Howard to cultivate creativity, to stay fresh as you’re doing this?

Well, I’m not getting any younger. I find that what keeps me going is I love everything I do. So, I’m always enthusiastic about the people I work with, and the projects I work on. I always try to have as much fun on everything as I can. But, on my days off, I like to not think about it, and I just need to decompress. I love spending time with my wife. We are big foodies. When we were in Atlanta, I literally would plan Friday, Saturday, Sunday because there are so many great restaurants in Atlanta.

Oh, it’s amazing, yeah.

So, we had seven months of amazing restaurants. I think we ate at one restaurant three times. That was the most.

I like just chilling and taking long walks, and doing art with my wife because she’s an artist, a fine artist. She inspires me to do things outside my comfort zone.

I’m sort of interested in golf, not that I’m good at it, on any level.

I think golf is a great sport as long as you don’t put the pressure on yourself to actually care about the game. That’s the wrong attitude to have, but that’s the only way I can enjoy golf.

Last year, the production on Orville put together a golfing tournament for charity. Everybody came out, Seth McFarland, all the actors, it was great. My team came in last place. That’s how good I was.

You had smiles on your face, I guarantee it.

We laughed the entire time. We were pissing off everyone because we didn’t understand. At that point we didn’t understand the rules, we just thought like, “Keep hitting it ’til it gets in the hole.”

I’ve played mini-golf a thousand times; it’s how you do it. Where’s the windmill?

I’ve got all these great questions. How do you describe what it is you do? Because you do special effects, it’s makeup; it’s animals for Dances with Wolves, all the way to zombies for Walking Dead. How do you describe what it you do?

I think the general public is more aware now of what we provide, what we do. When I go, “I’m a special makeup effects artist.” They know what that is.

People ask, “What is it you do?” I’m like, “Oh, well, I’m a special makeup effects artist and a make-up artist.” Next question is, “Do you ever watch Walking Dead?” I get to tell them my company KNB Effects Group does all the makeup for the Walking Dead.  Response, “Oh my goodness!”

I was just going to say, once they get back up off the floor from falling over.

Well, it’s always funny. Right away, either you hear, I’d love to be a zombie on that show, Or people share how they are thinking about becoming a make-up artist. I say, “Okay, that sounds great.”

It’s a little bit of work.

I don’t have to explain it as much as I used to have to explain.

You can do now a 20-second version versus the 20-minute version.

Pretty much.

I love it. I’ve got history questions for you. Personal history, stories from the industry, I’ll try not to put you on the spot too much.

That’s okay.

All sorts. So, Jim Adams and Randy Marsh both asked similar questions, so we’ll go with the theme. They were wondering of all the things you’ve worked on, what’s one of the most complex projects you’ve been involved with?

I’d say for the size, was the Chronicles of Narnia. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. I’d never been involved with something that monstrous. I was on that film for over a year and a half, between the prep and the shoot in New Zealand. I’d also never had a crew that big. I think I had 45 crew members that were dressers, makeup artists, and hair stylists. It was a monster machine. The locations we were shooting at could be very difficult. Some of the locations we had to helicopter it in. It was a difficult, difficult show. And it was 175-day shoot in New Zealand, and I was dog tired.

I can’t even imagine. That’s one of my family’s favorite movies. Alright, you’ve got to helicopter in for some of those scenes. Are you getting the actors ready in a studio?

Yes. We had several makeup trailers, a giant tent city. In that tent city, we organized so actors would come in the morning, they’d check in, they’d go through wardrobe, then they’d go to hair and make-up, then they’d go to props, and then they’d go to set. So, it was a big, giant machine that we came up with. It was brilliant. I’d never seen anything like it before.

The location department on the Narnia films was brilliant. Some of the best I’ve ever worked with. We just ended up having this system, and it worked really, really well. Then we’d have to get in helicopters or whatever, all-terrain vehicles, and go up to a mountaintop and fight Tilda Swinton as the White Witch all day.

I would sometimes just want to get down to start to clean up, and I’d run down the hill, and not wait for the helicopter, because there was a long line.

This is New Zealand for crying out loud, that was probably not a small hill.

No, it was a big hill. I was in great shape, by the end of it though.

Listen, no movie is easy. I did a film called The Gray that Joe Carnahan directed. That was one of the coldest I’ve ever been in my life. The most physically exhausted I’ve ever been in my life. Because the locations were so monstrous. I look back at it now, and I would probably not do it. One, I think it was fairly dangerous, and there were some very questionable moments on set, up on a glacier, that would white out every day. You’re like, “If I step one step forward, for all I know that’s a cliff, and I’m gonna go over it.”

Right, and I don’t have a stunt person. You’re like, “I’m Howard Berger, I don’t have a stunt person. Liam Neeson has a stunt person.”

Yeah, he does. But then I would look over, and there’s Liam running around doing the stunt. I’ll just shut up now because he’s running around in a sweater, I’m literally in eight layers of clothing, and I was so cold. Originally Greg was going to go on location. But something came up, he’s like, “Howard, can you go up to Canada, up to Vancouver and do the first week?” I’m like, “Yeah, no worries.”

Yeah, it’s just a little shoot, it’s up in Canada.

I thought it would be a fun, light week. I ended up going to this place called Smithers, which is as North as you can go in Canada. I couldn’t believe how cold it was. My day would start at four AM; we’d all meet downstairs. I had to bundle up; I’m wearing eight layers of snow gear.

We’d get into a Snowcat, and we’d drive straight up a hill to a glacier. Snow was up to my waist, and I’m lugging bodies with two of my guys. Greg called, and I cursed him prolifically and said, “This is the worst experience I’ve ever had.” But like anything, if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger. I’m glad I did the movie.

When I got offset one day, I went down to an automobile store, and I bought antifreeze. I took the antifreeze and used that as my base, and I made blood out of antifreeze so I had some form of pourable blood. The blood we brought, I literally opened it up and it had turned into a bloodcicle.

Nice. Okay, so, a lot of folks wondered about the beginning. I’m going to say go back and listen to episode 74.  You need to hear about how Howard got his start. And speaking of blood, there’s a fun story about Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill in episode 74.

Johnathan Cunningham asked a great question. How did you convince yourself to go after such an out of the box profession? Megan Garrett, kind of along the same thing. How did you have the guts? How’d you have the courage to do what you did?

You know what, I think I was just always driven as a kid. It was weird. I wasn’t a very aggressive kid. I was very shy and quiet. People that meet me today don’t believe that. But it’s true; I was just a shy guy. I loved monsters. I was so obsessed with monsters, and I knew that somebody made monsters for film, and I wanted to do that when I grew up. So, I just went for it.

Then, when I graduated, I had got a job at Stan Winston Studios, who at the time had just gotten Aliens and another movie called Invaders From Mars, and I got hired there. I was just a grunt, so I didn’t do anything special. I was in the shop, under Stan Winston’s supervision. That was amazing.

When we finished that we ended up working on a film called Predator. I was selected as one of the handful of guys to go onto that show. Because that was kind of like an off-shoot show. There’s another big show going on at Stan’s, which was a film called Monster Squad. So, a handful of us, like Steve Wang, Matt Rose, Shannon Shay, Bob Curtzman, Graham Art, and myself, got pulled off of Monster Squad and put onto Predator. At that point, we didn’t know what the hell it was, and we had like a month and a half to build this creature. And Steve Wang was the leader of the pack.

Steve Wang was an amazing artist and designer and a brilliant, brilliant guy. He ran that show. We just did whatever he said to do. I didn’t get to go to Mexico, but they came back and did two weeks of green screen in Culver City. I went to do that, and that was super fun getting to be on set and do all the pickup stuff. Arnold was there for one day, but we did tons of pickup stuff. When I watched the movie, I’m like, “Oh, that’s … We did that. That’s pick up.”

Anyhow, I worked for Stan, and he gave me a tremendous amount of opportunity. Like he let me go to set for Child’s Play, and that’s where I got to be a puppeteer. I joined SAG, Screen Actors Guild, as a puppeteer. That was the first time I had done that. Then he asked me to go do Robert Englund’s makeup for Nightmare on Elm Street 4.

At a certain point, I didn’t want to work for people anymore, and so I talked to my buddies, Robert Kurtzman and Greg Nicotero, and I said, “Why don’t we get together. Why don’t we take a chance, roll the dice,” and it was a huge dice roll because we were broke. We didn’t have any money, and we were young. This was in 1988, and we just did it. One thing led to another, to another, to another and as the company, every year, grew a little bit bigger, little bit bigger, little bigger. It started off in an 800 square foot shop. We now have a 20,000 square foot shop, and it’s the monster that it is now.

One of the reasons I decided to step up to the plate and just go full force is that my mom had gotten sick when I was young. I was 20, and she passed away, and I thought, “You know what? I can go on this path, the safe path, working for other people the rest of my career, or I can take a chance and just bulldoze.” I decided to do that. That was the moment that things clicked. I still love taking chances. It’s scary, and though I’ve been doing this for 36 years, every new show I’m nervous the first day, and I don’t sleep the night before because I’m worried about things that I doubt in myself.

Well, and it’s not the absence of fear, because the absence of fear is actually insanity. But to be able to overcome fear is bravery. So you are not looking for situations where you don’t feel fear anymore, but to look for ways to be brave.

Yes.

It’s so true, because I would imagine, you’ve done all these cool things, which I’m sure helps to equip you to do more cool things, but at the same time, I know you’re driven, so you’re probably always trying to push. I’m sure you’re wanting to please the director, please the audience, all of that, but I’m sure a lot of it is also you want to take it to the next level.

Okay, oh gosh, there’s just so many questions. Aleshia Unns asked a great question. I’m going to hijack it a little bit. She asked, “Was there a moment, especially, what was that first project where you felt like “Oh, we’re making it,” or “It’s happening?” I’m going to hijack it a little bit and get beyond your first project. What was that project where it dawned on you that you guys had something special?

I’ll tell you when. It’s post-1988, it’s 1989. We had done a film for Disney called, Gross Anatomy, and we had done all these cadavers. It’s not a very good film.

Yeah, I remember it though.

We had done these cadavers for almost no money at all, and one day we got a phone call from Kevin Costner’s office, and he said, “Hey listen, I saw the stuff you did for this movie, Gross Anatomy and I figure if you can do dead bodies, you can probably do dead buffalo.” This is Kevin’s first directing job. Nobody knew what was going to go on. It was a real roll of the dice for the studio. It was a 27 million dollar movie, which was huge back in 1989. We just said, “Yeah, we could do that.” We didn’t have a clue how to do it.

What do buffaloes look like again?

It was a big engineering job. We had to build 16 dead buffalo that could be used skinned and pre-skinned. We had to make all these fur suits that could be pulled off. Instead of doing double the amount of work, we just made one base and we could use them for two specific things. We also built some mechanical buffaloes. We’re out there in Pierre, South Dakota. Up to that point, we’d been doing a lot of horror stuff, and with this, we saw it and thought, “Wow – this is a good movie!”

That’s when we thought, “I think we might be on to something.” It was also the first film we did that wasn’t gore related because we were making animal replicas, and Kevin was super cool, and Jim Wilson, his producer, was great. It was an adventure.

Oh, I bet.

It went on and on, and on.

Can I tell you, I mean that movie, it’s one of my favorite movies to this day. It was a truly epic film. I remember those buffalo. I remember thinking to myself, “How did they do that?” It was so real; I’m thinking you don’t have stunt buffaloes. You don’t teach a buffalo to grind into the ground and act kind of dead, and I remember thinking, in the theater, like being so captivated with the movie, but part of my brain was like, “How did they do that?”

Yeah.

That’s a credit to you because I remember that emotion, and that wasn’t something that came out last week. That’s amazing, but I wonder, did you feel that while you were on set, or did you feel that when you were watching the movie afterward, probably a little combination of both.

Well, I went to see the movie with my father. I took my dad to see it. We walked out, and he went, “I am so proud of you.”

Oh wow.

That meant a lot. I can’t believe, and that buffalo hunt is a lot of different things, so the one thing it’s not is any visual effects. That entire, that sequence is all in camera, be it real, because they had 4,000 head of buffalo. They’re not very smart, and literally, they followed, the one in front is where they follow.

If that one in front goes over a mountain, they’re all going over a mountain, so they’re pretty stupid, or they start running, and they stop because they don’t remember why they’re running. I learned a lot about buffalo, but we did have, we had two say quote/unquote, “trained,” I say tame buffaloes or domesticated buffaloes. One was named Cody, and one was named Mammoth, and we had them because they were a little more docile, like one of them, I want to say, I think Mammoth used to be Neil Young. Neil Young owned Mammoth, and then Norman Howell, who’s a great stunt actor and actor, who would double Kevin, he ended up owning Mammoth and brought Mammoth to South Dakota, so anyhow, we had two that you could deal with to some degree, which were used to humans. The other ones were being bred to eat, and wear, and all that stuff.

Then we built all these other buffaloes. We had buffaloes that we called the wheel barrel buffalo, and it was half a buffalo, and we’d run and slide it into the dirt so those tight shots of a buffalo, that’s all the wheel barrel buffalo.

Holy cow.

I have to say, one of the most spectacular things that I have ever seen on set was standing on set, and all the sudden you hear thunder, and the ground beneath your feet, it starts rumbling and shaking, and 4,000 head of buffalo come over a peak, and are coming right at you, and you’re like, “I better move.”

That’s right, and where do I go?

Yeah, but all that footage the first time Kevin runs up a hill at night –  they had all these production vans parked along the mountain so that the buffaloes wouldn’t go over, and Kevin would dodge in between, and then run out. That’s Kevin in the middle of a stampede, for real. That’s not visual effects.

It was insane.

I want to go home. I want to go home.

Anyhow, to answer your question, that was the film where I thought, “Wow, I think this might take off.”

People in my industry had a lot of doubt. They thought we wouldn’t get along. But me, Greg and Bob Kurtzman got along like wildfire, and we were like brothers. We fought and argued.

Sure, but that’s what family does, right?

Yeah, there might be a fist fight in the parking lot, but at the end of the day we were all good, and went out drinking that night, and everybody was fine.

Well, that leads to another question that I have. I know about your partnership with Greg, and I know Rick was involved. When you’re partnering with friends, it can be a beautiful thing. A lot of people talk about walking out dreams with their friends and all that, but it’s not necessarily easy, and it’s not always pretty. Why has your partnership worked, and what would you say to someone contemplating partnering with a friend? What advice would you give?

Well, I think why Greg and I, why it worked so well with Greg and me, we both love monsters and we both love movies.

We both love each other, but we also, at times, don’t love each other. We both have our own interests, as far as what aspect of the industry we like. I tend to steer away from the horror world, although I worked a lot on those movies. I’m not a fan of working in all that blood. I like fantasy. I like the makeup aspect. That’s how we covered the gamut because we don’t have the same likes. We both don’t love zombies. We both don’t love portrait makeup. We both don’t love this, so I love this, Greg loves that, and we cover a lot of territory that way.

Well and you guys come from different backgrounds, right? Greg was pre-med, right, so he’s all about anatomy and all that kind of stuff, and you’ve got your passions.

Yes, and also Greg grew up in Pittsburgh, which is the land of the zombies, so he idolized George Romero. He loved Tom Savini, who did all the makeup effects for Friday the 13th Part 1 and Day of the Dead, and Dawn of the Dead, and Creep Show.

That’s where Greg started. That was his interest. His father was a prominent surgeon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Greg was kind of pressured, I think, into going to med school, and then he met George Romero, and then met Tom Savini, and he’s like, “Naa, I want to do this.”

I’m out.

Yeah.

I’m going to take what I know, and I’m going to apply it in a completely different direction.

He moved to LA, living with myself, we lived at my dad’s house, and it was a weird world for him because it’s very different. North Hills, Pennsylvania is very different from Los Angeles.

It was quite an awakening for Greg, but it was what he wanted to do at the end of the day. Obviously, it’s turned out quite well for him.

Yeah, it’s worked out pretty good.

Yeah, not too bad. Pretty proud of him.

He works on Walking Dead quite a bit. He’s known for getting the makeup on and getting out there, and actually being a zombie and all of that.

Oh yeah, he loves it.

Do you ever do that?

You know what, I don’t enjoy it. He loves it. He wears it like war paint. Greg loves to be a monster and put on a zombie. He’s great at it. He’s a great zombie. He can play to that. Makeup effects guys make the best monsters, always.

I suppose because you know all sides of it, right?

Well yes, and we’re in their heads, so we know what we’re making and how it should be. Sometimes you get some really bad zombies, and you have to say, “No, no, no. That’s not how you do it.”

Well, that is an awesome segue to my next question. Dixie Gillespie asked this question: “How do you think the look you achieve, especially with the makeup, impacts the actor’s interpretation of their role?”

Oh, it’s huge.

She’s done some acting, but she’s never really been able to do something with the caliber of special effects and makeup that you do, so she wondered, “What does that do,” as you watch the actor transform, how do you think that informs them?

Before we get started, I want to make sure the actor is invested in it because we can do a great job, but if they’re not into it, it’s going to be a fail. I’ve had that, going into production saying, “I don’t think this is going to fly,” and sometimes production listens, sometimes they don’t.

You kind of walk them through the process so they understand what’s going to happen and we’re working as a team. I look at it as a team. I bring a certain percentage to the table with what we do, and that, to me, is a tool. I give the actor a tool to help bring the character to life.

One example: I’m going to do this movie, Hitchcock, with Tony Hopkins, and so I meet Tony.

Sir Anthony for the rest of us, but for you it’s Tony. I got it.

Yeah, for me it’s Tony. I go and I have a meeting with Tony, and I leave the meeting, and I get a call:  “You’ve got the job.” Tony is an exceptional person on a hundred different levels. So part of my process as a makeup artist is testing. Testing, testing, testing until I’m happy and Tony is happy, and the production people are happy.

We did six tests before we went to camera.

Wow.

To start production, and Tony showed up every day for that test, that I wanted to do, here in Chatsworth, and he lives in Malibu. Usually, you never even get the actor in, and you do it on doubles, which is inaccurate.

Right.

The first time I did the makeup, the first pass, it looked very much like Alfred Hitchcock, but I had lost Tony in there, so for me, it wasn’t 100%, but Tony looked at it and said, “I don’t even need to act in this.” I said, “Yes you do.” I said, “You have to bring it to life,” but we got him already, and then I put him in the fat suit. I got him dressed. I even had on my phone the theme, you know, the dun-ta-da-da-da–dum-at-da.

Oh yeah.

Everybody was out there, all the producers and all, and I hit the music, and he came out, and Tony was in character, and everyone was like, “Holy moly, this is amazing.”

Yeah.

I kept looking at it, and then talking to Tony, and talking to Sacha, and said, “Yeah, it’s a likeness makeup, but I want to pull it back and do a portrait. I want it to be more a Hopkins Hitchcock than just all Hitchcock.”

We kept testing and testing, and testing, and re-sculpting the pieces, and we finally hit it, but Tony, of course, brought that makeup to life. He would always say, “Howard, this helps me so much. Me wearing this makeup and the fat suit, and everything. It’s such an easy character to fall into because I have all the tools,” and to me, that was a great compliment. We shot that movie here in LA in 35 days, and it was some of the best 35 days of my life. I just got to be with Tony Hopkins every day, and do this makeup, and be proud of it, and work on a movie I really, really liked.

I have way more happy experiences than bad experiences, you know?

Yeah.

People are always asking, “Oh, you must work with a lot of bad actors.” I’m like, “Actually I don’t. I have two actors that I’m not fond of, but outside of that, I have 2,000 that I think are just spectacular. It is a partnership, but yes, when you get an actor who resists every single aspect and makes it miserable, nobody does a good job.

Well, it’s funny because my next question was from Tammy Danielson, and she was going to ask about working with a difficult actor.

Oh yeah.

You don’t have to name names, necessarily.

No, no, no.

I’m a speaker, a storyteller is all I am, but how you’re treated as you’re getting ready to do your art, as you’re getting ready to do your craft, people can have an impact on your ability to deliver something you’re very good at naturally. If they’re hurting the creative process, it’s tough.

Well yeah.

Do you have much control in those situations working with difficult people?

No, I can. I mean I feel, like now, I had a situation last year with an actor. We didn’t click.

It was a difficult thing from day one. I knew it was going to be a problem and I called production. I sent up a red flag that fell on deaf ears for quite a while until it affected production, and then it started to cost them money. I felt like it never got dealt with properly, but I had to deal with it on my end. My concern was protecting my crew, and myself, and my reputation against somebody who was falsely foiling things. Luckily, towards the end, everybody saw it, from cast to crew, to Kraft services.

They all realized that this person was basically a Veruca Salt. But that happens sometimes, but it’s rare. We’re very friendly people, and we run a very friendly and accommodating and welcoming makeup environment. Actors start their day with us, and they finish their day with us.

I bet, yeah.

I take great care in handling them. I always tell my crew that part of our job is to do the work, do the makeup, but the other half is just to watch out for our actors and make sure they’re ok and ask them, even though they may have an assistant or they’re self-sufficient. Just so they know someone is always looking out for them. On a film set it’s very fast and furious, and sometimes people get overlooked, and you want to treat your actors with love and respect. I try to do that the best I can and so does my crew.

Sometimes the trouble I get are from people that are not famous. They are people that aren’t really trained actors. I don’t really look at them as being professionals, so I don’t expect them to behave professionally. It’s unfortunate that we, in the industry, will go for hiring people that aren’t professional actors. And it also puts the real actors that are on set a little off when there’s somebody that just can’t remember their line. It’s very frustrating to the crew, and you lose the momentum of the scene as well.

That’s interesting. You know, my boys both want to be in the industry, one behind the camera, one in front of the camera. We’ve talked about this a little bit, but our younger son is acting. Some people have given advice about getting into the industry. One person said, listen, be ready for ten years of grind. But they say, don’t dismiss that time because, like you said, that time is where you learn your craft, but you also learn to be humble. He was a person that has worked with a lot of big name actors, and he said, most of the big name actors that you meet are pretty kind and pretty humble because they’ve put in their time to get here. Don’t despise the slow start because the slow start prepares you for that bigger role. Sometimes people jump some rungs and get into a big role, they’re not ready for it, and it can hurt everything.

Absolutely.

Okay, I’ve got three more questions for you.

A fourteen-year-old, Rowen Kidd submitted some questions. He’s already doing special effects. Right now he’s using different things like, eyelash glue and toilet paper, are a couple of his favorite tools of the trade. Tapping into YouTube a little bit. He asks, what words of wisdom do you offer? Somebody, a fourteen-year-old who’s thinking about it. And also, what are some specific steps that you might suggest? But also do you have any tricks for doing makeup on a budget?

Well, everything is on a budget. We’re always hit with that limitation. I wish they could just give us a blank check and we’re like, yeah let’s do whatever with this blank check, we’ll fill it in in three months.

When I first started out, I started playing around with makeup when I was about eight years old, but I certainly did eyelash adhesive, which is called duo.

I have three sisters that are younger, and they were all my victims. I would stipple on duo and then take toilet paper, or tissue paper works even better, and stipple, and you can do cool things with that, and that’s always good. And then I started to gravitate towards doing things bigger like sculpting and so forth.

So, I would say, the biggest thing is just practice, practice, practice. That’s what you need to do. When I started drawing when I was younger, I was probably about twelve years old, and I had a drawing table, and I was committed to it. I would sit there and draw one body part every night. Forty versions of a hand, etc.

I think the big thing is you just have to do it. I say this all the time cause I’ll work with professional makeup artists who want to do more about makeup effects. I’m thinking about going to school or taking a course, I’m like, just do it. Just buy some clay, and start sculpting. You don’t need to go to school. Just do it. The schools are great for a base, but you have to take what you learn from the school and then create your own.

What I did was all based on the thing I learned from other makeup people and reading what I could find back then, cause there wasn’t a lot back then, cause we didn’t have the internet and when I was eight years old.

This is pre-YouTube.

This is pre-everything.

Anyhow, it’s just doing it. I can’t say it enough. My wife, who’s an artist, always says the hardest part is starting and the other hardest part is stopping. And it is. I’ll draw or paint, and I’m looking at a blank canvas, and I’m like, “honey I’m gonna go clean the garage real quick.”

Exactly. I’m gonna wait on this!

I think also it’s important to look at the big picture and not focus on the little things at first, the little details. It’s about blocking it out, and again, my wife has taught me. She’s 16 years younger than me, and she’s way smarter than I am.

I’ve got one more question that I want to ask from a DREAM THINK DO-er, but I’m going to sneak one of my own in. Do you still enjoy going to movies? And follow up, when you go to movies, do you just allow yourself to be immersed in the movie or do you find yourself getting caught up in looking at the special effects and the makeup and things like that? Do you find yourself just enjoying the movie or do you look at other people’s stuff?

I love going to the movies. I go every week. I never miss a week going to the movies, to the theater. Sometimes if I can squeeze two movies in, I do. I love going to the movie theater. I steer away from effects films, to tell you the truth. I just love movies in general. And I’m always happy when I see something that’s really good and enjoyable. I get deflated very fast when I see a film that’s lied, and it’s not good. I feel like, wow you just took three and a half hours of my life and 50 dollars, and this is the crap you’re selling. I hate that. I don’t like that at all. I think it’s very unfair to the public, but once in awhile, you get that gem.

Yeah. Like my life is better because I saw this movie.

But then when I see a film that’s effects related, I love going. I don’t nitpick it. And then if it’s great, then I’m going to watch it and look at what the work is.

But you let yourself that first time just enjoy the film.

For instance, The Darkest Hour. The film that came out last year with Gary Oldman, he won an Oscar for it and then Kazu, who did the makeup on it, won an Oscar for. I had seen photos and was so impressed by the unbelievably amazing makeup. But I knew Gary Oldman loves makeup. And he immersed himself 100%, and Kazu is a very specific artist and very critical of himself. I knew it was going to be more than perfect and it was. So I watched the movie, and I took that equation out of my mind because I already knew the makeup was outstanding, so I wanted to see the performance and the movie. Of course, Gary Oldman is spectacular.

Exactly.

I’m a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science in the makeup and hair branch, and we meet often in the year and discuss films. I like to go in and be very prepared and educated, and at times I’ll send emails out or post it on the message board saying, hey I suggest maybe see this movie. I try to be thorough. When it comes time for voting that we select the films that best earned the position, and sometimes we do, and sometimes we don’t. But I try to see everything I can and enjoy it.

I think the unfortunate thing these days with films is that there’s nothing iconic anymore. I fear that there won’t be any more iconic movies. And when I’m saying iconic to me are films like E.T., and Back to the Future, and Raiders of the Lost Arc, and Star Wars and even farther back, Gone With the Wind, which is not one of my favorite films, but it’s iconic. Wizard of Oz, The Charles Laughton Hunchback of Notre Dame, the African Queen, the Searchers with John Wayne which is my all time favorite western. And those movies are iconic. They stick with you forever. But today, I’d say it’s hard to find.

You wonder, what are we going to think of right now in twenty years that we’ll think of as iconic?

You’re not. You’re not really. It’s all about the box office. I like the Marvel movies, but I’d say for me, Iron Man is bloody fantastic. And I love the first Captain America. I think those two movies are badass. Both directed by great directors, Jon Favreau, who’s amazing and Joe Johnston who started his career as an illustrator on Star Wars. Those guys have a real love for film and its history.

A lot of movies that have come out, you hear stories from set about how that director was lost and confused and had no idea what was going on. Hopefully, production loads the deck for that director who’s inexperienced with a great cinematographer and a great crew and a great AD staff, and that’s what usually pulls the movie off.

You do see some of these directors just rocket to success. And you wonder, Are they ready? And sometimes you just gotta take the leap. Kevin Costner calls you guys and you’re like, are we ready? But sometimes it works out, it is beautiful. This just seals it. Me asking that questions means I’ve gotta have you back. We’re just going to talk for an hour about movies. Cause I’d love to do that.

I’ve got one last question. It comes from Steve Kelting. He’s a big fan of episode 74. He loves it. He asks, “If you could go back and tell your 20-year-old self-something about work or relationships or about life, what’s a piece of advice you’d go back and tell your 20-year-old Howard?”

Wow.

I know right? Profound.

I always say if I can go back in time I’d do this differently, but then everything would be different. I probably would go back and say, keep doing what you’re doing, because it’ll end up all great. Don’t change anything. It’s going to be hard, but if it were easy everybody would do it, and you’re going to do it. So stick with it and do your best and be loyal and faithful and truthful and you’ll do okay.

That’s a good word of advice. Keep going.

I’d love to go back and say, don’t go out with that girl!

Save a little money on the front end.

That’s true. It’s like the Ray Bradbury story where he goes back in time and steps on a butterfly, and it changed the fate of the entire world. Sounds of Thunder, that’s what that book was or the story. It’s always a scary thing. I love playing games in the shop or on set. Okay so you have a time machine, you can go back in time and do anything. And instead of like go back and kill Hitler or do this, or that. We are a bunch of dorks. God forbid we help mankind.

I want to go back and be on the set of Star Wars. Okay. Game over guys.

Well Howard, thanks so much for being on DREAM THINK DO. Every time I walk in the theater I think about you and smile. It’s awesome, so you’re inspiring the world my friend.

Thank you so much. And listen, it’s always a pleasure, any time, you just let me know. I’ll hop on.

We’ll do it.

Alright.

Alright, what’d you think of that one?

I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Leave a comment and let me know which story or piece of wisdom stood out to YOU!  

I can’t wait to hear from you!

Mitch

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