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12.18.2017
Jeff Farley
Special Effects Artist
Horror Interview by The Gravedigger
01.11.10

Q: Let's start at the beginning. How did you first get into doing special effects. Your first credit listed on the internet movie database is on KINGDOM OF THE SPI-DERS as prop spider wrangler...

I was at Forry Ackerman's, it must have been in 1975-76, on New Years Eve meet-ing Ray Harryhausen. And there was another guy there, Douglas Barrett Jones, and I remember him because one of the issues of FAMOUS MONSTERS magazine was dedicated to him. So I knew who he was. He was a makeup artist who had worked for Burman Studios on FOOD OF THE GODS, and he was working for Steve Neill on KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS and it turns out he lived in Glendale, so he calls me up one day and says "I need some help, do you and your friends want to come over and help me with these spiders?". We were promised a mask as payment from Steve Neill. We never got them, but it was okay. For us it was the thrill of being involved in some-thing. We helped cast some of them, trimmed them up, got them ready, so that's how I started. We all started there, knowing Forry Ackerman. And he also turned me on to Jim Danforth, David Allen and Dennis Muren (I am a huge fan of EQUINOX). So I think I had a pretty lucky childhood living in Southern California. Richard Chew who is one of the editors of STAR WARS, lived a few houses down from me as well. So I'd go down to his place and his Oscar was on the mantle and I'd hold it. It was a great way to grow up and immerse myself in this. So, I had the bug from an early age. It was that knowl-edge that this is what I wanted to do for a living. What I can say is that Jim Danforth gave me the best bit of advice about getting in the business. It was one word--"Don't!" (laughter). He was just being protective...

Q: Well, it's that persistence thing as well.

It really is. To do anything that is a passion it does a take a specialized person be-cause it's so easy to fall by the way side. This is a very tough industry.

Q: On THE LOBSTER MAN FROM MARS were you the guy in the costume?

I was in the costume for all of the shots chasing Debra Foreman around the park, where he's boiled alive, with Anthony Hickox (director of WAXWORK 1 & 2), that was all me. There was footage shot before with another actor, who was in Robocop, the guy who said "I'd Buy that for a dollar". They didn't get the film finished and still had stuff they had to do. Since this guy and I were the same size and Brian Penikas was a friend, I said "okay". It was fun. I ran into Anthony Hickox in Bulgaria a few years ago and I said "I was the guy in the Lobsterman suit" and we had a laugh over that.

Q: Do you have any good FULL MOON stories.

I actually go way back, to the Empire days. I started on PRISON and you got bumped up pretty quick at Buechler's (CELLAR DWELLER). I did the last year of Em-pire and went over to Italy to do ARENA and then Charlie starts up Full Moon. It was quite a few years before I went back and worked for Charlie. I think it was MANDROID and then PRIMEVALS came up and I got to supervising that. So that got me back in to Full Moon. Mark Williams, who was doing effects on KILLER EYE and BLOOD DOLLS, passed away and by virtue of being on the radar we got picked up to do it. It got me back in with Dave DeCoteau, who I've known for years but we never worked together. He was awesome to work with. Our crew thought we were going to be killed on a four-day shoot and halfway through the first day said "You guys are wrapped for the day". We could actually go back and build the stuff we needed for the next day. Dave was really cognizant of the pressures we were under and always did the best he could to make things as simple as he could for us. They don't give you the time or budgets yet want to see the quality of work they see on an A List film but don't want to pay A List prices. Things had changed since the time Stan Winston was working for Charlie and the time we were working for Charlie. The budgets were better at that time because the dollar was stronger and spending more money on low budget films. By the time I did EVIL BONG for Charlie is was sort of whittled down to where I refused that show at first--but ended up taking it. It turned out to be a good thing, because it was a cute show.

Charlie is a really good guy but it's hard to pin him down sometimes. He's as loyal as anyone in Hollywood and I can't really fault him for that. Like others, he does like to give a lot of people work. Working with Charlie is interesting because he always comes to you with this Tom Sawyer like attitude of how you paint the fence. It sort of works but I'd really have to think twice about doing another Charlie show at this point because af-ter doing stuff like CAMERA OBSCURA. But then again I've been doing stuff for the Asylum lately (laughter), which I don't think can be considered a step up... in fact, I had to step away from PRINCESS OF MARS because they would not meet a reasonable budget. But that meant someone else had to pick up the reigns. These effects guys are taking chump change just for the chance to do it. But working with Charlie was always a hoot and at the end of the day you came out of it alive...

and the trips to Romania where always fun, but it would take an entire interview to tell any "good" stories (laughter)!!

Q: Talk about PRIMEVALS...

As I remember, there was only one little bit of first unit shot that still had to be done that they could get around but as it was, 99% of the live action was done and 75% of the stop motion complete. I know Chris Endicott is still pushing it and keeping the torch alive and get somebody to put money behind it. I think Charlie failed the memory of Dave Allen miserably by putting Dave through all those years of "I'm going to do your show" in order for Dave to do his shows. And Dave gave Charlie some of his best qual-ity work and I don't think he ever appreciated that. Dave put his heart and soul and ulti-mately his life on the line for PRIMEVALS and it's 15 years later....and that started in 1965, when the initial concept came out, RAIDERS OF THE STONE RING. It's seri-ously one of the longest running productions in the history of movie-making. On one hand I'm extremely proud with having been involved with it, one of my prime motivators for getting into the industry. But at the same time, having seen how it devolved into this low budget movie was disappointing. Dave was constantly faced with an uphill battle.

Q: You did the creature design for RAZORTOOTH, which was a CGI realized mon-ster. How would you say CGI has impacted special effects?

There's a whole story behind that. At first it was going to be more of a physical effects show. We were set to build the full scale creature, about sixteen feet long and that was going to be quite expensive. And so we did a maquette. I probably did more designs for that one thing than I did any other show. They picked one and did the ma-quette for American Film Market in 2002. That was at the time that FRANKENFISH and a multitude of sea creature movies being made during the time and ours fell through the cracks and never got done. Then, when I was doing LIGHTSPEED, RAZORTOOTH got revived and they found a company in China to do all the CG for free. What I didn't know that this company in China redesigned the creature, so the monster in the film isn't the one we designed. That company has a credit at the beginning of the movie for the crea-ture and we have a credit at the end, which is kind of confusing.

The CG boom, I think, has hit its stride and died down a bit. I hear more and more from a lot of producers that they want to use CG but use it as a tool. I think when it becomes the story rather than the film it's missing the mark. For example, I enjoyed the first TRANSFORMERS film but couldn't tell what was happening. I like to actually see the action happen, not look at a blurry image. The producers that are starting to come in now are nostalgic for stuff they grew up with and a lot of that involves physical gore ef-fects. And now they are starting to incorporate that with computer images. So I think there will be some amazing stuff. Of course, there's AVATAR to consider...

Q: You've also done a lot of television work. You did the pilot episode of SUPER-NATURAL and were makeup supervisor on BABYLON 5 the last few years....and did FREAKYLINKS. How is doing TV different than features?

That's a good question because the way I liken doing a TV show is doing a low budget feature every week for twenty-two weeks. And you really have to be on your game, you can't slip. There's always someone keeping their eye on you in television. BABYLON 5 was a great experience, it was a well oiled machine and I knew people on the crew already. Everyone was incredibly nice. I found it a very surrealistic experience talking with Tony Dow about the visual effects. Wally from LEAVE IT TO BEAVER was our liason for the visual effects crew, that was odd, but cool at the same time. I got to work with people like Penn & Teller, Turhan Bey (THE MUMMY'S TOMB) was there for an episode. Gerry Gergely and I where on cloud nine talking with him about the old Uni-versal days.

Doing the the SUPERNATURAL pilot was great, working with Ed French, because he knows what he needs and trusts me enough to let me do it. And then there's FREAKY-LINKS (sigh). I left halfway through, I was so happy to be off that show...

It was a situation where they were riding high on the success of BLAIR WITCH (Haxan Productions) but they didn't trust themselves enough. Is it scary enough? Does that look silly? We had a girl who was supposed to be dead for a year in an oil tank and we made a pretty horrifying looking corpse and the producer was "do you think people might laugh?" When you hear that someone doesn't trust you it makes it very difficult for you to do your job. I really was happy to be off that particular show.

Q: Talk about CAMERA OBSCURA, the upcoming horror web series...

I think it will be an outstanding show. I've seen the first four episodes and it has an emotional punch that resonates. It's certainly the best show I've been involved with. Of course, I was brought in to create the creatures but during production, I was given an associate producer credit as the MWG Entertainment was so pleased with what they were seeing. They have been incredibly supportive. Drew Daywalt is an amazing film-maker and I'm thrilled to be working with him. For a web series it has the look of a fea-ture and the story really comes together. He sold the goods. The performances are out-standing. Jack Klugman is great and the lead, Reagan Dale Neis, is amazing. She gives an outstanding performance. It may be for internet what BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER was to television. It has that vibe to it without the campiness. Working on this project was a great situation all around. You know when you're on something special and this really has that feeling.


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