Science Fiction Filme.) First of all, I would like to thank you for your time doing this Interview. I think you´re a busy man and I don´t want to interrupt while your working just for an interview with a little fella who loves good ol´ effects. So thank you again.
A couple of month ago, your Brother Rob was so kind to give me an interview. Now It´s your turn and I´m very pleased for this opportunity. Rob told me a lot of your family background. Your family is a real legacy in movie making, especially for make-up design. You grow up with tons of inspirational masks or make-up-creations, I supposed.
Could you please tell us something what you did before you come into film business? Why have you choose the way of being into special effects? What was your first job in this business and how did you get it?
Barney Burman) Funny you should ask, because I’m working on a television show and we’re on location shooting around the Los Angeles area. Yesterday we filmed at a place called Calamigos Picnic Ranch and I was going down memory lane because I used to work there as a summer job right out of high school. I worked at a video store and a submarine sandwich shop and all kinds of odd jobs. I did this because I needed to work and I had no real interest in being a make-up artist. I was more interested in becoming an actor.
My very 1st job in the business, however, was when I was 11 years old. My father used my head and hands to build the small aliens in Close Encounters of the 3rtd Kind over. I got paid $75 dollars from production.
SFF.) Your Brother told me, that he was working at The Burman Studios as a teenager. So do you? And if so what was your job?
BB.) Yes I did. Also in high school and after graduating. Mostly it was in order to make some money… Until he fired me. Lol. I remember I got fired from my father and from the sandwich shop in the same 24 hours. I guess I wasn’t a very good employee. I’ve never been diagnosed but I believe I have ADD or maybe ADHD and I’m easily distracted.
SFF.) You can correct me if I´m wrong, but I would feel so proud when I woke up in a house (or wherever your lived as a kid) with such talented people like your family. Is there anyone or any movie or event or tv-series or whatever which made you think: “Alright, I want to do the same thing.” Do you have any personal idols in your business?
BB) I was proud. I was my father’s biggest fan. I loved everything he did when I was a kid. But I didn’t think I wanted to do it until I was actually doing it. It was the experience of making people up that got me to love making people up. As for idols… there are certainly people I respect and people who have taught me valuable lessons. But they say “Don’t meet your idols.” Well, maybe you can meet them but don’t get to know them. You’ll find they’re only human, just like you.
SFF.) I guess it´s not easy to do the same stuff like your (grand-) fathers. Who is the most critical person regarding your make-up work?
BB) I don’t know about that. I think, for me, it’s been a pretty big motivational factor. “He (or they) did it like this… how can I do it better?”
SFF.) In 2004 your starting your own company named B2FX. Why did you choose starting an own company at that time and not before? Is it because you want to do your own independent thing?
BB) Yes, actually. I wasn’t interested in following in my father’s or my brother’s footsteps. But I was enjoying doing make-up more and more. And one day I was on set for a TV show, I won’t mention which one, and I was applying prosthetics someone else’s shop had made and they were terrible. And I thought, if this idiot can have a shop and make crap like this and still get producers to hire him, then I can too, and I’ll do it much better. Proving myself has been a pretty consistent theme in my life, lol.
SFF.) In one of my posts from my FB-Page you were telling the audience, that you are one of the aliens at the end from the brilliant SF-Movie CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977). What exactly did you do there and what was your father’s job? Please tell us anything you know about your (young) work on this masterpiece of SFX, lights and sounds.
BB) Ha… all I did was sit for a life cast so my dad had a child’s head and hands to sculpt on. But, like I said, they paid me.
SFF.) Before you come into make-up you want to become an actor. Is that right and why did you change this decision?
BB) I don’t think I ever did change the decision. I still want to be an actor. I just don’t enjoy the pursuit of being an actor. But I still act every now and then, either in friend’s films or my own. But I definitely fell in love with applying makeups on set and that became more rewarding financially, and more importantly, creatively.
SFF.) You were getting a union accreditation for Victor Salva’s POWDER (1995). A splendid job. But what do you think about the whole controversy about the movie?
BB) I was as surprised as anyone when that came to light. I had a great time working on that film and had a lot of respect for Victor as a director.
SFF.) I believe movies don´t belong to awards. They are for the audience not for prices. But what do you think of your kind of work in film? Is it just a technical one or is it art? Do Make-Up get enough recognition?
BB.) There are certainly a lot of technical and artistic elements in what we do. And it does get quite a lot of recognition and respect… and sometimes it doesn’t. A friend of mine named Steve Wang (brilliant makeup fx artist and director) once said “In then80’s we were rock stars. Now we’re vendors.” And there’s a lot of truth in that as well. The work we do has become commonplace enough that producers who don’t know better think they can call up and just order something off the shelf. And sometimes they can. I just don’t like to work that way.
SFF.) CGI nowadays could be a curse or a blessing. What do you think about it comparing to “old school”- films back in the days?
BB) Like my brother said, it’s another tool. When used properly it can be anything from affective to powerful. My problem with it is that now that we can do anything on film, almost nothing seems real anymore… even if it is. Paraphrasing what Syndrome said in The Incredibles, “When everything is special… nothing will be.”
SFF.) I´m a teacher for children with special needs. I´ve had done this for nearly 20 years right now. I know my job because I want to do it, I´m enthusiastic and I have several educations to work with kids. What is your opinion about education to become an expert in special/ visual effects? Is there any requirement or talent you need to have next to enthusiasm?
BB) First of all, bravo to you! Thank you for doing that. My niece has special needs and I’m so grateful to people like yourself who dedicate their time and energy to teaching them.
You know… enthusiasm, drive, passion, these things can go a long way. And if you have that, if you go after the thing you love in the right way, you’ll find your place in it.
SFF.) You were receiving an Academy Award for Make-Up for STAR TREK (2009). I´m guessing the time schedule on such a big budget movie is enormously tight. Did you get enough time to prepare the make-up or was there a big pressure to get it ready on time?
BB )Stupidly tight! I wouldn’t do that again. No there was not nearly enough time and it was the hardest thing I ever did. I slept 4 hours per night for six months with no days off. But I was driven to do the best I could possibly do.
SFF.) Please tell me a normal process of creating a “monster”. From the first drawing, sculpturing, texturing and modeling. Take some of your creature for example. Is there any special technic or products that helps your through this process?
BB) Oh… that’s a long and involved answer. That’s just too much to get into here. I’d have to come up with a whole class lesson.
SFF.) If we look back to the movies you have done, we see that you did a lot of genre-movies. I am really into science fiction (or fantasy movies in general) because I think, that those kinds of movies are the best way to show actual political and social events. For example SOYLENT GREEN or SILENT RUNNING. Do you believe that these genres can transfer something to the people?
BB.) Yeah sure… no not really… maybe? I don’t know. I’d like to think so but I think it’s too easy for people to consider it science fiction and not reality and then they go and behave however it suits them. But maybe it strikes a chord now and then and maybe, just maybe, sometimes it’s an important chord.
SFF.) Do you have a project you always wanted to do or are there something in progress we can enjoy in the future?
BB.) I have several projects I want to do. A few of them are as a make-up artist but mostly I’d like to direct. I just finished my first film, Barney Burman’s Wild Boar. The trailer is on Youtube. I put my name above the title so I can brand myself right away. Anyway I have several other screenplays I’d love to see get made. I’m working on it.
SFF.) I held up with the most important question for everyone to the end: What was the most difficult effect you were working on and why?
BB.) Difficult how? Technically? Artistically? Emotionally? If it all comes down to just one challenging effect, it had to be the “lava man” from the second season of GRIMM. We had 12 days to make a full head to toe creature suit that had to glow from the inside. I was pretty damned proud of my crew for pulling it off.
SFF.) Dear Mr. Burman. Thanks for your time. Please be so kind and say hello to your brother and your father and tell him I´m in love with his work on BUCKAROO BANZAI, HOWARD – THE DUCK and DIE HARD 2. Oh and by the way: my wife is a huge GRIMM-fan. She gets crazy when I´m telling her who I´m talking to….
BB.) Thank you so much. Please give your wife a big hug from me.