Thursday, January 30, 2014

Nightmare Factory: making your dreams come true

Last night was documentary night at my house (again). I watched Nightmare Factory, the 2011 flick which traces the history of Greg Nicotero (mostly) and Howard Berger, the most well-known of modern make-up and special effects artists.

The Canadian-produced feature explores Nicotero's beginnings as a rambunctious youth who became obsessed with effects work then randomly met George Romero in Italy while on vacation with his family. This chance meeting and Nicotero's determination got him work on Day of the Dead and Evil Dead 2. During this time, he met Berger and their other effects partner Robert Kurtzman (KNB Effects ... see?) Romero, John Carpenter, Robert Rodriguez, and Frank Darabont all give insight into working with Nicotero and how directors work with the effects supevisors.

That relationship provides one of the film's most poignant moments. While not on camera together, Carpenter and Nicotero spar over the success, or lack thereof, of Carpenter's bomb Ghosts of Mars. Carpenter -- and the other directors -- call effects artists the ultimate divas of the film business. Nicotero, for his part, doesn't deny a diva streak, but states that it is because he wants the make the best films he can and when an effect goes wrong (even if it is not the effects artist's fault) it makes everyone look bad.

Late in the film, Berger and Nicotero lament the notion that there are no up and coming effects artists similar to them. Berger is much more pessimistic about it than Nicotero. Watching this part of the film, I wondered if a massive operation such as KNB would be willing to offer similar chances to someone who tried to hand them samples as they were given when they were young.

There is a conversation about the incorporation of digital effects, and again, it's a love/hate situation. Using Darabont's The Mist as an example, Nicotero explains that practical and digital effects need to work together to get the best image on the screen. He presents a very diplomatic front which did not always feel genuine.

What is genuine is Nicotero's love of monsters and make-up. Nightmare Factory includes clips of Nicotero's 2010 film The United Monster Talent Agency. Darabont, Rodriguez, Eli Roth, Jeffrey Combs, Cerina Vincent, Dana Gould, and Derek Mears all appear in the black and white 8-minute homage to Universal Monsters and Nicotero's youth.
The United Monster Talent Agency from Generate on Vimeo.

I would have liked to see more from other effects artists as opposed to ones who have only worked with Nicotero. Part of the beauty of Nightmare Factory are the moments when Nicotero meets and works with his heroes. Somewhere out there is an artist who holds Nicotero and Berger as heroes. Let's talk to them, too.

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