Science Fiction Filme) I had the great opportunity to interview the father of the GREMLINS and THE FLY Chris Walas a long time ago.
It's something special when a true hero of my movielife and a winner of an academy award took some time to answer a few questions.
Chris Walas) Gladly. I started in low budget films for Roger Corman. PIRANHA (1978) was my first movie with me on the set. HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1980), UP FROM THE DEPHTS (1979), GALAXINA (1980) or ISLAND OF THE NEW MONSTERS (1979) were my first cheap films. Then I started to work on higher-budgeted movies like AIRPLANE! (1980), SCANNERS (1981) or CAVEMAN (1981). For ILM (Industrial Lights and Magic) I worked on THE DRAGONSLAYER (1981), INDIANA JONES (1981), STAR WARS - RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983). Then I started my own company. My first film for this company was GREMLINS (1984) followed by ENEMY MINE (1985), THE FLY (1986), THE FLY II (1989), ARACHNOPHOBIA (1990), NAKED LUNCH (1991) and many others. I was very lucky to work with many talented people
SFF: Was there a special movie or experience that made you take the path you left?
CW: No doubt this was Ray Harryhausen's JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS. This film has defined my future. I was completely enchanted by the magic of the film. Although I've seen many monsters and fantasy movies before, it was "Jason" who made me say, "Somehow, someday, I want to be part of that magic, too." But I had no idea how Ray did it all. So Ray Harryhausen was one of my idols. And Dick Smith. At that time Dick wrote a make-up book for children who liked monster movies and how to make such masks. And so I tried out a lot already at that time. It was wonderful! But I was also influenced by many others who made the film magic possible: Willis O'Brien, Jack Pierce, Charlie Gemora. I had a wonderful world of heroes who accompanied me.
SFF: You made the SFX for GALAXINA and INDIANA JONES. Two very different films. On one hand, the low budget movie, and on the other hand, the multi-million dollar budget. Was or is there a big difference between these two types of movies? What kind of films do you prefer?
CW: Looking back, I have to say that there was even more difference back then. With the introduction of the CGI in the film business it is easier to make films, especially as far as the SFX is concerned. At that time in my time only the big films could afford the best SFX. Low budget movies could be happy with what they got with the little money they had. While it was very rewarding to work for large studios, I really liked the work on the low budget films. You had to be inventive and fast. Mostly there was no time to get everything right. I think that's what low budget movies are, in their own way, more creative.
SFF: You made your directorial debut with THE FLY II (1989). How did you get the job and what do you think of critics who did not like the movie compared to the first part?
CW: THE FLY II was a challenge. Producer Stuart Cornfield put my name on the list and the studio agreed. We use the wonderful possibilities that Cronenberg's film offered to make a venerable follower. But the studio did not like us. They only wanted a teenage movie, so I decided to make this movie less than monster movie. He was not as emotional as the first part, but I think the fans still love him.
SFF: You worked with some of the most famous directors in the world, like Steven Spielberg, David Cronenberg or Wolfgang Petersen. Who of you was the nicest and most pleasant partner?
CW: David Cronenberg is the calmest and most understanding director I've ever worked with. He has a very clear line what he wants to see in the movie. At the same time, he has a high respect for other professionals in the industry. He only shoots with people he respects to complete his version. It has been truly unique to work with so many different directors, all of whom have their own style.
SFF: Animatronics or CGI. What do you prefer?
CW: I am always amazed how CGI evolves. Every movie takes a step forward. But for me, what's better is not what counts. CGI not only allows filmmakers to show things they have never been able to show before, but also to exaggerate things. Spectacular SFX fill every smallest area of the screen with unrealistic action, causing the movie to lose its magic. The audience gets an overdose. I think it's better to choose either CGI OR the practical effects. I do not think most CGI effects look real. Stop Motion is not convincing, but it feels more honest. The same applies to animatronics. But in the end it all depends on the artist. No matter what he uses.
SFF: Which projects are you currently developing?
CW: I do not do movies anymore and enjoy my time relaxing. I do my own art and plan a few short films. Feel free to keep yourself informed on my Facebook or Instagram pages or at www.chriswalascreatures.com.
SFF: Of course one question should not be missing: which film in which you participated is your favorite one?
CW: That's GREMLINS. What a great achievement. Such a crazy, impossible and difficult project. If I had known what to expect when I finished, I would have canceled the movie. But in the end, it was pure magic, and making the Gremlins and the Mogwai a rewarding experience. Especially if I still notice today, like you, that the audience loves her.
SFF: Dear Mr. Walas. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the time that has taken and I wish you all the best for the future.