Filmmaker Jason Baker Talks Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini
Anyone who reads this site with any regularity knows the name "Tom Savini" and knows it well. His Special Makeup FX work on films such as Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Creepshow, and Friday the 13th are legendary. His acting roles in From Dusk Till Dawn, Planet Terror, and Land of the Dead equally so. However, as well as audiences think they know his work, the man behind the FX magic is a mystery… not unlike the great and powerful Oz.
In production now is a documentary called Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini which aims to change all of that by lifting the veil and showing who exactly Tom Savini really is. Recently, filmmaker Jason Baker unveiled a trailer for his film online and the response has been incredible to say the least. The donations to the film's Kickstarter page have yielded unprecedented results.
Dread Central recently spoke with Baker and learned a bit about the making of the film, its subject matter and plans for its release.
Dread Central: Tell me about yourself: did you go to film school and did you attend Savini’s makeup school?
Jason Baker: Originally, I’m from the Seattle area and I always had a huge thing for film and for Special FX. I really didn’t know much about Tom. I just kind of came to do Special FX. His school is advertised so much in FANGORIA, so if FANGORIA says this place is legit, then it’s got to be pretty good. I looked into it and thought it was the best deal for my money, so I came. I did that and I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. Then, I got a really good deal on a second student loan, so I just took the film program. As I was in the film program, I got to know Tom a little bit and I thought, “Man, this guy is not like people think” and decided to make it my life’s mission for the next couple of years to get his story out there.
DC: I’ve read of you saying that a couple of times… “He’s not like people think.” What DO people think?
JB: Well, I think one of the biggest misconceptions about Tom is that he’s really arrogant and very hard-headed and egotistical. I think a lot of fans get this misreading of him when they meet him at conventions or things of that nature. I think people confuse arrogance with confidence a lot of the time. I think the other thing that throws people off is how old Tom is and Tom is sixty-four. He’s lived the better part of his life and he’s no-nonsense.
DC: People also often mistake being reserved for being stand-offish.
JB: I completely agree, and that’s the thing, he is not this guy. He’s the nicest person to everyone. You get out of him what you put into him. If you’re nice to him, if you’re courteous and professional, he will treat you the same way. If you’re laughing and smiling and having a good time, he will joke and crack jokes with you. But, if you come up and you have an attitude towards him, he’ll give it back ten-fold.
DC: What was his reaction to the idea of the documentary?
JB: At first, I think Tom was like, “Ok, great… whatever. You kids have fun with whatever you’re doing.” I think he thought it was going to be like a little ten minute student final. When I pitched it to him, I told him that I wanted to do it feature length because how else do you show sixty-four years of just a regular human’s life, but him being such an iconic person not only in the horror genre, but in film itself? There’s been things like SCREAM GREATS and a lot of little behind the scenes DVD documentaries done on Tom, but nobody’s ever really talked to him about where he truly came from or what it was like and that was the angle we pitched to him and that’s what I think really caught him off-guard.
DC: How many hours did you guys sit and talk with him?
JB: Oh, god… We have shot Tom collectively… we have at least a hundred hours with him. I mean, he’s a storyteller and he loves to just talk. And that’s the great thing about interviewing Tom, you won’t just throw him a subject and he’ll just answer the question. You throw him a subject and he’ll tell a story which will lead him to something else and then he’ll have an epiphany about something and that will lead to something else. He’s all over the place, but in a good way. [laughs] Every time is an adventure.
DC: I was kind of shocked at how forthcoming he is in the pieces of interview that are featured in the online trailer. Is that footage just a matter of a hundred hours of keeping Tom talking?
JB: We shot that over several times. That was the other hard part… being a student, we were literally paying out of pocket because we’re so passionate about this film. Tom works and we’re not paying him, so it was always like, “Hey, Tom… can we set up an interview?” and he’d say, “No, I have to go to Germany for six weeks.” But we kept after him for so long that he’d return our calls and say, “Ok, I’ve got an afternoon free if you guys want to come up to my house or do you want to meet at the school?” What was so great was that Tom didn’t treat us differently because we were from the school. I’ve seen him work with other interviewers and other documentarians and he treated us in the same way he treated them. He was like, “Look, if you guys can fit into my schedule, great. If not, too bad.” Not in like a rude way, but the guy has his career. But also, I feel that in the last year that we’ve been interviewing him, a lot of the biggest part was building that trust with him trusting me and my crew and telling us things. I think another big thing I noticed was that we did a couple of those interviews at different locations and he would be himself and he would talk, but when I interviewed him at his home, he was completely different. He was so much more relaxed and calm and those defenses that everybody puts up would kind of be lowered, if you understand where I’m going with that. He’s lived in the same house since he was born, so that is his comfort zone.