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Special Effects: Spheres to Chex - An Interview with David Barton PDF Print E-mail
Written by Written by Joe Sherlock   
Aug 11, 2005 at 02:00 AM
DG: First of all, let me say that I'm jealous of you getting to work on a Phantasm flick, being a big fan of the series. What did your work entail?

David Barton: Actually, I worked on Phantasm #2 and Phantasm #3. Phantasm 2 was the first full film I worked on Los Angeles.

I worked for Mark Shostrom who is a great guy and I moved out from Ohio to South Pasadena to work with him on the project. Largely, I handled the design and construction of all of the animatronics for the projects, moldmaking, lab work and some sculpture. The movie shot in a warehouse in Reseda. I got to go on set a number of days, the most memorable being the days that we shot the demise of the Tall Man, which was really fun. It was great to see all the cool sets firsthand and Angus was a great guy to work with too. It was a wonderful first film to be involved with.

I also gave Steve Patino, who made the silver spheres on Phantasm 2 some ideas on how to mechanise the various spheres used on the film.

On Phantasm 3, Shostrom had an incredibly tight budget and I worked for a third of my rate just to help him. I appreciated him bringing me out to LA, giving me my first job and this was my way of paying him back a little. I handled some lab work, sculpted the twisted neck appliance for the possessed nurse (I think that was the character) gave some ideas about mechanics, and worked on set for a day or two for the scene where the dwarves are jumping around in trees.

I also created the eye-ball that protrudes out of the one silver spheres.

DG: That was way creepy!

David Barton: A friend of the guy who created the spheres on the third one saw the very detailed eye at my house, asked if his friend could borrow it and I said "sure". To date ... I have not gotten my eyeball back.

DG: Bummer. 1993's FREAKED is another fave of mine - completely whacked-out! You did work on the siamese twin puppets, correct? Tell us about the shoot.

David Barton: I was the "supervisor" for the siamese twin effects (working at Steve Johnson's XFX) and essentially designed how everything would work for the twins, make-ups, special harnesses, and animatronic puppets. I had just returned from working on Pet Semetary 2 (also for Steve Johnson) and essentially was handed the work for FREAKED. I had two great assistants, Brian Sipe and Tom Williamson and the three of us handled most of this work. At the same time, I was trying to set up my own shop and Albert Pyun had a sizeable show coming up (KNIGHTS) that would allow me to start-up. So, instead of going on set, I finished the work and then arranged for Tom to go on set with the puppets while Brian and I went away to do the work on KNIGHTS.

DG: Aside from work on Hollywood productions like BOUND and THE USUAL SUSPECTS, you've done a ton of work with Tempe Video. You and Tempe head Honcho J.R. Bookwalter are childhood buddies, right?

David Barton: Beyond those films I worked on shows like STARSHIP TROOPERS, FACE-OFF, BICENTENNIAL MAN, A BEAUTIFUL MIND and others.

J.R. and I met in 7th grade in an English class. We were supposed to write a story or something and present a little play and instead we made a Super 8 short, A GHOST IN THE HOUSE, for the class. Our frienship grew from that moment and continues until today.

DG: You must have a million behind-the-scenes stories about the various Tempe productions. Care to share one?

David Barton: J.R. and I share a lot of memories, some bad but most good. It is always a challenge working on lower budgeted films and unfortunately many of the stories are pretty personal or else you'd have to be there, know the people and personalities to appreciate them. Probably one of the wackiest things I ever saw was watching J.R. and crew essentially destroy a Resusci-Annie on THE DEAD NEXT DOOR. J.R. was given permission to film TDND in a local high school and somebody dug out this very expensive eduactional doll and decided that it should be the domesticated Jason Zombie's play mate. Next you know it's slathered with blood, clothes soaked with blood, hair soaked with blood and lying on the bottom of the zombie cage. I never saw what it looked like cleaned up but the head was made of vinyl and vinyl stains like crazy. It couldn't have been pretty and I'm sure the school was less than pleased.

Another story was on HORRORVISION. We were filming out in the desert and JR got some wacky restaurant run by biker looking men and women to cater out breakfast and lunches. The food was mostly edible, but the restaurant had these sign posted everywhere that "NO KETCHUP -- DON'T ASK" and we where told ahead of time to not ask for ketchup that they get very angry. This was no fancy restaurant, there were hairs in the food, the cook is scratching his pits while cooking, but don't ask for any ketchup or they would ask you to leave. Naturally, I asked if "catsup" was allowable ... you never know, right.

DG: DEAD & ROTTING is one cool horror flick - and not just because of Debbie Rochon wet and naked in a bathtub - it was a cool story told with style and nifty plot twists. Tell us about how the project came about.

David Barton: I had written a rip-off DEAD & BURIED script many years before and JR was pitching stories to Charlie Band. Matt Walsh reminded him of my script DEAD & BURIED, JR presented it to Charlie and Charlie liked the title. JR approached me with the idea and I was receptive to directing but told him that DEAD & ROTTING was a bad script and would be way beyond the budget. Consequently, I was stuck with the title DEAD & ROTTING and strained my brain to come up with a story in short order that fit the titular bill. Miraculously (others may disagree) after a lot of agonising, I came up with the story line that became the film.

DG: How was the DEAD & ROTTING shoot? Were there a lot of mishaps or did things go pretty smoothly?

David Barton: Any director looks at a finished film and sees a million things they like to fix, I'm no different. But, again, there are always problems with movies of any budget, DEAD & ROTTING was poverty level, "section 8" filmmaking. Roughly the budget for bottled water on say ... SOLARIS. Fortunately, I had a good cast and crew that did a thorough job all things considered. I had worked on many, many films, of all budgets, by this time and was totally comfortable with directing and how things should go. What I try to tell people on any project that is potentially gruelling is that ... it's going to be tough, even miserable at times ... but just know that six months from know, no matter how miserable, we'll all be laughing about this and looking back fondly on the experience.

I had a blast on set and it was generally very light, moods were good. It was just an eight and a half day shoot (about 8 hours a day if memory serves), which is pretty tough for anyone except David Decoteau especially with all these locations and other variables we had with this script. Yet, we only went over schedule two and a half hours collectively. That's practically unheard of on low budget scripts, particularly with a first time director. Some may argue, well perhaps you should have gone over a little more, but there are certain realistic limitations that have to be dealt with. There is only so much that can realistically be achieved in a given time with limited resources and I think we met and exceeded that expectation. Pushing any harder just exasperates an underpaid cast and crew.

The only thing that I had a problem with was a crewmember who threw up there hands with a very minor problem. Work on any film set and there are problems that must be dealt with. You have to dig in, become even more determined, and find a solution. Nobody appreciates a quitter.

DG: Has there been any talk of a sequel?

David Barton: Yes, John Woo's production company has been talking to me about a sequel but we can't agree whether it should be called "DEAD & ROTTING 2" or "DEAD & ROTTING II" ... so we are at a negotiation standstill and likely the sequel will never happen. Actually, there has been no talk of sequels and really I wouldn't be interested in such an endeavor anyway without a substantially larger budget.

DG: A few years back you left Hollywood and moved back to the midwest, right? I see that you show up in the credits of "A Beautiful Mind" as "makeup effects sculptor." What else might we see in the near future from you?

I have a few scripts I'm trying to get made and sold. If you have seen any of the animated CHEX MIX commercials, I've built about a million rubber and plastic CHEX MIX cereal, pretzels, raisins, breadsticks, etc. for those commercials. A company in Burbank animates those. I have been spending a lot of time creating a big budget haunted house attraction but I hope to be working in LA and films again soon. I also have a few low-budget film projects that a producer has agreed to finance. We are just waiting for all the pieces to come together.

DG: Wow - I'll never look at those CHEX commercials again without thinking of YOU! Or maybe Debbie in that bathtub, but I guess that's my problem. Thanks for talking with us, Dave!


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