Science Fiction Filme) Dear Mr. Burman. It has been a long time since we last spoke. A lot has happened since then. You made your directorial debut with WILD BOAR, which you also wrote and produced. You also did the makeup on a couple of music videos. But before we get to that, let's stay in the past for a bit. You told me that you worked for Boss Films in the 80's when they were called to produce PREDATOR (1987). At that time it was still under the title THE HUNTER. You mixed blood on this one. Both human and alien. What mixtures do you think are best to use to make blood? What mixing ratio would be good?
Barney Burman) LOL! Yes, I did make a lot of blood for that film. I remember going shopping and buying out all the Karo corn syrup in the local markets. In those days the blood was primarily that and food coloring. But a lot of people have made much better blood since then and, to be honest, I really don’t know what they’re using these days. Different ingredients for different needs, I suspect. Now, if I need blood, I just go to a make-up fx supply store and buy it off the shelf.
SFF) You told me that the production of PREDATOR went downhill and everything was done differently. Jean Claude van Damme was out and Stan Winston Studios took over the design. Why did everything go "downhill"?
BB.) I must confess I was pretty low on the „need to know“ list back then. I heard that Van Damme got an offer to star in his own film and wanted out of his contract. But aside from making blood, and assisting in painting the skinned, hanging bodies, I was not a very good emplyee. I goofed off a lot and got into trouble. I was at Boss Film for only a few weeks before I got fired for cutting in line in front of the big boss, Richard Edland, at the company picnic. So I can’t really speak with any certainty about what went wrong with the production.
SFF.) When you think back to the 1980s and 90s, what does that time mean to you, both artistically and personally?
BB.) I learned a lot during that time. Some valuable lessons. My father once said to me, „If someone is paying you to do a job, why not do it the very best you can?“ And my brother told me, „Every mold I make, I try to make it better than the last.“ Those words have echoed through my brain all my professional life. I also had a lot of great oppertunities at that time. Partly because I put my hand up and said „Let me do that. I can do it.“ And I believed I could, even though part of me was terrified and felt certain I could not. Fortunately though, there were enough people who trusted me and gave me the chances to learn by doing. Never having gone to any kind of actual school for make-up, I had to learn on the job. It was trial by fire. My father and my brother were two of those people but there were others fx artists like Steve LaPorte and Ed French, and filmmakers like Roger Corman and Adam Simon, who gave me my first job leading the make-up effects for his film, Brain Dead, starring Bill Pullman, Bill Paxton and Bud Cort. I’ll always be grateful for the oppotunities these people gave me early on.
SFF) When you won the Oscar for STAR TREK (2009), did certain priorities change for you after that? Did you have more freedom of choice now?
BB.) Actually it was the opposite for a while. After I finished Star Trek, I went broke and couldn’t get any jobs that paid well. I had the feeling like I needed to do more work that could be considered Oscar worthy but there had been the 2008 financial crisis, a writer’s strike and the threat of an actor’s strike. All of that shut down much of the film industry for a while and I ended up doing jobs that actually cost me money. One film I was asked to do was about alien abduction. The producers came to me and said they wanted me to make three aliens and they only had $500 in their budget. That money wouldn’t even pay for the cost of materials. And yet, I was so bored and depressed I said „I’ll do it!“ lol. But the producer of that became a good friend and you just never know how one thing will lead to another somewhere down the road.
SFF.) When you work with a lot of people, as you do, not everyone always gets all the credit a team needs. How do you see the equality of crew and team members on set or in general on big productions? Because it always seems like only the "big" names take the credit.
BB.) Big names do get the credit and most of the time those big names deserve the credit. That doesn’t mean others don’t also deserve credit, but those so-called „big names“ have worked a long time to get to where they are. They built the studio and the list of credits and the relationships and the reputation. They put years and years into getting to where they are and landing the jobs. They have the financial pressures and shceduling and crew responsiblities. It’s their ass on the line. It’s not just about doing one make-up or sculpting one cool creature. There’s so much more that goes into buidling a reputation for being a great artist and being someone who can deliver. I think most of that stuff is not considered. Fortunately we have the internet now so people can display their contributions to the masses. And rightfully so. But also it goes both ways. I’ve seen artists post a picture of a make-up they applied and then downplay the credit to the person who originally designed it and hired them to apply it. I think we should all take a moment and give credit and respect where it’s due.
SFF.) Let's briefly talk about the music videos I mentioned, such as for Skrillex or Pink. How does the time effort look like with such productions? Do you manage to do everything you want to do?
BB.) Music videos are usually pretty fast and furious but can also be a lot of fun. With limited time and budgets I almost never get to do what I really want to do but in the end, collaborating with the musician and the director, it becomes a great experience. Having worked with Kanye and Drake and Anderson Paak and Katy Perry, it’s really been an honor.
SFF.) Let's switch to today. You directed WILD BOAR. A really good movie in my opinion. Like some other makeup artists like Chris Walas, Dave Elsey or John Carl Buechler. How did that come about? What guided you to make this film? What was your intention behind it?
BB.) Thank you so much. Officially it’s called Barney Burman’s Wild Boar, which sounds really egocentric but it’s really just a marketing ploy. I learned from John Carpenter to put my name above the title to help brand myself as a director. I really like it. I think the film is fun and disturbing and funny and somewhat poignant at the same time. I do respect people’s poinions of it though, good or bad. I validate them. No movie is going to be for everybody so I just had to make something that made sense to me. It tickles me.
How it came to be is sort of a long story but in short, a freind of mine came to me with the idea of making a movie sort of like Planet of the Apes but with pigs, and that really rang my bell. That was in 2012. So I started writing. The first draft was so far out there, so whacky, that I realized it couldn’t be done for the kind of budget we were thinking of making it for. Then my friend went off to make another movie and I got busy working on Grimm, and the whole thing sort of fell by the wayside. But it kept gnawing at me. I realized I had to rewrite it and in 2015 I had a draft I thought could work. So I tried a crowd funding campaign and through that I raised just enough money to pay for the crowd funding campaign, lol.
Meanwhile I had a house that I was renting to a mad Russian florist who was also a hoarder. He stopped paying rent and I had to evict him but he left behind a house full of hoarder junk. I sold the house and used the junk for my set dressing. There were a lot of strange things like that which all fell into place. The universe was supporting my making the film and once it got started, it was something I couldn’t not do.
SFF.) As a professional make-up artist, do you have a different perspective on directing than directors who do this their whole lives? Are there any specialties?
BB.) I probably have a different perspective just because I’m me. Everyone will, and should, have their own unique perspective on telling a story. I realized on day one that I had to step back from worrying about the make-up fx and how they were done. If I involved myself in that, once we started shooting, it would have been impossible for me to focus on everything else that directing entails.
SFF.) What do you like better: directing, producing or writing?
BB.) I love to write and I love to direct. Producing is more of a necessity. I’d love to have someone come along and act as producer so I don’t have to but everything I’ve done in my life that I’m especially proud of, every project that’s involved me as a director and/or as a performer, whether it was theater or film, I’ve had to be the motivating force behind it. It’s exhausting and can be frustrating but is also always very rewarding.
SFF.) I think it was Alfred Hitchcock who once said that in a film the actual shooting is boring. What makes a film is the whole pre-production. How do you see that?
BB.) To each their own, I guess. I absolutely love the actual shooting. To me that’s the most fun part because you’re collaborating with a cast and a whole crew of artists and crafts people. I don’t see how anyone could be bored during that period.
SFF.) What does WILD BOAR mean to you in general?
BB.) That’s a very good question. I’m proud of the film. I have an immense appreciation for the many people who contributed to it. I find it pretty wonderful that, after more than a year, it’s still got 3+ stars on Amazon. But more than all of that, I’m proud of myself for doing it. For taking it from conception to completion. I feel like it’s really a signature piece of my work.
SFF.) What can we expect from your new film W.v.Z.?
BB.) W.v.Z: Bush vs The Zombies is a short film that was actually shot over 12 years ago. During Covid lockdown I found the footage and completed it. It’s available to watch on Vimeo. It’s actually in 2 parts, I can send you the links. It came about because my dear friend, Jim Nieb, who is a very talented actor, used to do a hilarious George W. Bush impression. He and I just thought it would be funny to have the then-president fight zombies. It was all in good fun.
SFF.) What can we see from you in the future? Will you continue to focus on directing?
BB.) I used to say I have „creative ADD“ but it’s probably just actual ADD. Lol. Anyway, I write almost every day and I love directing so I deffinitely plan on making more movies. I’m currently prepping a film called The 10th Victim. It’s co-written by me and my friend, Susan McCauley, who also came up with the original story. It‘s about a serial killer who suffers a crisis in his life when he falls in love with a single mother. I’ve also got a couple of scripts out there, circulating, in search of financing. In the meantime I still enjoy making monsters and aliens and old people and things that go bump in the night.
SFF.) One last question: where do you see yourself in say twenty years?
BB.) Another great question. If I had my preference I’d love to be writing and directing and acting in films and TV. When I was younger I studied with Sanford Meisner and I always thought I’d end up an old character actor. I love to act so I do it whenever I can, whenever someone asks me to be in something, I jump at the chance. I’ve done a lot of wildly different kinds of make-up and it’s getting harder to feel inspired. Although seeing some of the brilliant work done by others in recent years surely helps. Every one of the Oscar contenders for make-up this year are brilliant. But I have so many stories I’d like to see realized on the screen, both big and small, my hope is that I still have the privilege of telling them twenty years from now, and beyond.
SFF.) Thank you for your time. Let's see when we will have the third interview. In 20 years maybe?