Interview Mr. Burman
Science Fiction Filme) Dear Mr. Burman. I´m honored of getting an interview with you. You and your family are legends in filmhistory without a doubt. I could count a lot of good movies which involved your work like THE THING, SUPER MARIO BROS., POWER RANGERS, SPACEHUNTER or one of my favorites TERMINATOR 2. Could you please tell us something about your career and your family? Something like a short synopsis of that legacy.
Rob Burman) My Grandfather was a graduate of the Art School Of Chicago back in the 1920s. He got commissions for creating a few monuments in the Midwest (The War Memorial, Smoke Signals, etc.). He decided in the late 1930’s to move west and see if he could get work in Hollywood. He did and began making props and doing scenic art here and there. He met Jack Pierce while working on The Wolfman and created the silver-headed cane that they kill him with. Jack told my Grandfather that if he didn’t tell anybody, he’d keep him working making stuff for him. That lead to a lot of the cheesy Universal Horror sequels as well as many, many other projects supplying specialty props.
My Father grew up in that environment and when he applied to 20th Century Fox Studios in 1966 he got an apprenticeship based on his prior knowledge of lab work. Within the first few months of being an apprentice, he and John Chambers were tasked with creating The Planet of The Apes makeups. When his apprenticeship was over, he and John started a small studio away from the major studio lot, which was unheard of at the time. They needed to get away because John had a contract with the CIA to help them do disguises, etc. and couldn’t do it under the watchful eye of the Studios. Eventually my Dad and his Brother Ellis took over the studio and John retired. My Uncle Ellis went on to found his own company and that left my Dad as The Burman Studio.
I started there cleaning the shop and sweeping floors in my last two years of high school. I learned what everything was, how to work with it and how to clean it up... that was my job. When I graduated from high school, I just stayed as we were busy at the shop during that time. It wasn’t long before I was kind of running things because I was the only one that knew where everything was!
After a couple of years of that, I was about to be layed off for a time when my Dad got a call from his friend Ken Diaz who was looking for a foam latex runner. My Dad offered me and I went off to work outside my Dad’s shop for the first time... It was John Carpenter’s The Thing.
I pretty much never looked back after that.
SFF) You´re from a great artist dynasty. Are you often watched over by your family at your father's shop after all?
R.B.) As noted above, I mainly got into this because it was a good job. I “learned” to become a “Fan”. I look up to everyone that can do something better than me... and there are many. I am most self-conscious though if I know that my Father or my Brother are watching me work. Their critical eyes are amazing.
SFF) You´re mentioned THE THING. In this movie by John Carpenter you belong to the special make up effects unit. What was your job at this unit? Do you even feel “out of power” during this film like Rob Bottin (that´s what the rumors are)?
R.B.) Everything that was Foam Latex had to come by me as I was the one that made it along with my best friend at the time, Dale Brady. WE were the foam department.
SFF) You also worked for us-television. For the TV series SUPERBOY (1989 - 1992) you were responsible for the special make-up. You also made your art available to many commercials. How do you like working for television?
R.B.) TV is faster. Same work, less time/less money – unless it’s a commercial (Those are NO time/Big bucks) but I treat them all the same.
SFF) In HONEY I BLEW UP THE KID you were creating a huge shoe for a baby. Could you please describe the way how you finished this enormous prop. From the first concept til the final product .
R.B.) Bill Bryan (The Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man) built that shoe. My Wife, Jennifer McManus contributed the fabric parts of it as she is a Costume Designer. They were working for Image Engineering at the time.
SFF.) Why did you choose starting an own company ( for example rubberware)?
R.B.) Rubber Wear allows me the freedom to do the other things I want to do like art, teaching and travel. Scrambling as a freelancer from job to job and paycheck to paycheck gets old pretty quick.
SFF.) This years academy awards ceremony is going to be disrespectful, in my own eyes. Cinematographer, Editors, Directors and Producers of Live-Action-Short-Films and Make-Up Artist will be given the Oscar in commercial breaks. What is your opinion about this? Is there no recognition for this kind of filmmaking at ABC (who belongs to Disney…maybe this is a reason because no Disneyfilm is nominated in this categories)?
R.B.) The awards are a “who’s the most popular at the moment” event. I stopped watching them when I gave up “looking” for film work (I’ll take it if it comes to me and seems “fun”, but otherwise...) If you need the recognition of your peers on national television, then go for it.
SFF) What do you think about CGI comparing to “old school”- films back in the days?
R.B.) CGI is another tool. When it’s used well, it is incredible. When it isn’t, it’s embarasing. A car crash used to be impactful, you could FEEL the crunch. Now it’s a slow-motion ballet set to classical music.
SFF.) Is there something you always wanted to do, but you did not make it?
R.B.) Always wanted to direct The Hobbit but some no-body beat me to it and kind of wrecked it. Other than that, all I want to do is make things that interest me... and there are more of them than I have years left.
SFF) I held up with one of the most important question to the end: What was the most difficult effect you were working on and why?
R.B.) All of them are difficult and have a horror story attached. And always for different reasons. Probably the hardest was Power Rangers: The movie. To make that kind of thing work is REALLY hard. We were worried we weren’t going to be able to pull it off due to Produtions limitations but it worked in the end.
SFF) Dear Mr. Burman. I thank you immensely for taking time doing this interview and wish you all the best.