It’s not every day you get to interview an Academy Award winner while wearing a demon hat. Well… actually it is, for me. I love my job!
Dread Central sent me to the set of Fire City: Interpreter of Signs to chat with cast and crew. It’s the directorial debut of monster master Tom Woodruff, Jr., and he’s got his own junior, David Woodruff, following in his F/X footsteps.
Along for the ride into the depths of hell is makeup/effects artist Dave Elsey (The Wolfman, 2010 Academy Award – Best Achievement in Makeup).
Dread Central: So how did each of you hear about Fire City initially?
David Woodruff: Well, when they started the project, they went over to my dad’s studio ADI to do the creature for the first of what was then, three years ago I believe, supposed to be a web series. And then his first time directing with these guys was for King of Miseries, which was a short that was a one- to two-day project that I came into to do makeup for and then from there I formed a relationship with the guys and they asked me on the feature.
DC: And yourself?
Dave Elsey: Well, I talked about the project a little bit with Tom Woodruff who I’ve known for a long while and but not in terms of really doing the film, and we talked generally of it happening and what he was trying to do and I literally got a random email from Tom saying would you like to do one of the makeups and I said yeah absolutely because I knew what Tom was trying to achieve and you know what he was trying to do with this film, and I just wanted to be involved and to help him out. I didn’t realize at the time that it was gonna be Vine, the main makeup. I didn’t actually realize that until I turned up and realized that I volunteered for the whole movie and not just one day.
DC: Oh boy. So how’s it going so far? You are like two weeks through shooting.
DE: Yeah it is actually going really well, and the makeup is going really well and Tobias the actor is fantastic to work with. Everybody is fantastic to work with and it has been a lot of fun. And you know that was the main thing because we are basically working all night every night on this thing you know, six days a week. And if it wasn’t fun it would be horrible. I’ve done a few jobs like that before where it’s been hideous. But this is actually every night we come in, we do it, we do the makeup, we get it done and have a laugh, and I’ve got to say the results [are] looking really great on film. I think Tom is doing a fantastic job of making everything look as good as it can and as you would expect from somebody with his background.
DC: How have the creatures evolved or been modified since you first heard about the project to what you are actually shooting?
DW: Umm you know, not much honestly. I think they had a plan coming in of what they wanted and we knew some stuff that we could repurpose at ADI and kind of piece together some of these creatures so they really had a plan of what they wanted. I think they might have even gone through and looked at extra stuff that we had or pieces that we could put together and wrote some of the characters around stuff that we had access to, I believe that is what I heard but they changed very little from that concept initially.
DC: Can you talk a little about Vine’s look in this film and how it sort of makes him embody the character?
DE: Well I had previously only seen illustrations of the character and we did a quick makeup test just before we started on it and it went really well. And this is the first makeup in about twenty-five years that I didn’t design… but of course I’m happy to do that because it is Tom and I just know it is gonna be good and everything is gonna work and it is gonna go together. So, so far it has been going great. Like I said, I didn’t come to this project really knowing an awful lot about it except that Tom was involved; that was my gateway into it. But having said that, now that I am involved I can’t wait to see it.
DC: Yeah, the creatures look really scary, and they look sort of, you know, like the “Bosch” style old school demons. But is that what audiences want and expect? They want the horns and the teeth and the bone.
DW: Yeah, I think there is a level that they are expecting. I’m really pleased with what we’ve done and taking that and alternating that and making it fit to the style of this film. You look at a character like Vine and he doesn’t have your stereotypical demon horns; he doesn’t have two horns coming out of the top of his head, but what we have done is we have taken this kind of horn aspect and turned it almost into a crown, if you will. There is something very kind of a royal looking [about] his character. I think the other thing is, too, especially gluing down somebody else’s makeup, he also had a lot of play room to make it his own. We had a sketch or one, kind of full Photoshop render in the case of Vine, but for the others they had a single sketch or no concept work at all and they kind of designed themselves in the clay.
DE: But I’ve got to say the beauty of this job is that because of everyone who is involved with it, that’s a strength rather than a weakness because if this was a big budget movie we’d spend months doing millions of designs, going around in circles and arguing about every single look, every single wrinkle, every single face, and we’d probably end up with going back to the very first design again, which is what we normally do, but in this case everybody’s main thing is does it look cool and if it looks cool, we go with it. There is no real filter system. So that really frees you up. It’s really nice; it’s been a really pleasant part of the job because I know whatever we do if we think it looks right and think it is exciting to us, and Tom agrees, that’s it. It’s in.
DW: That’s the other thing… just like with Danny, of all people. She’s just the interpreter and she’s the character the movie is based around and we didn’t have her. She was the last person at least that has any demon makeup or outfit that was cast and so it got to the point where I would sit down with a generic face which would be the approximate size of what only we could imagine… And we brought Danny in the Wednesday before we shot, so I think that was four or five days before we shot. We brought her in to life cast her and we had this rough clay sculpture that we had essentially matched on her face to guarantee a better and proper fit. But that was the extent of that design. We had this roughed out concept and we got Danny in and we got this five days before. We did a one-day sculpture that matched the direction we were going in, and we came in with that makeup. I think when you are stuck with that kind of a time constraint and that open of a design aspect it is an opportunity to be more creative than you would have on something else.
DC: Are you guys also doing the blood and gore effects too, or is that someone else?
DE: I’m just staying to one character, but David is doing everything else.
DW: Yeah, I’m kind of heading the show for the first time. Hit the ground running I guess. I think the human gore is very minimal in this one. We did have a death that was very graphic; there was one human death. I don’t know how much we wanna say about that.
DE: But it was so beautifully shot though. I was looking at the frame – it’s what we shot last night, right?
DW: No, this was ah… Maria’s death… the throat gag that we did. We had to have somebody’s throat torn out and we had a blood gag underneath you know so it’s running blood down her face and the way that was shot was fantastic too and just because of the pieces themselves we had to have Danny step in. There is so much going on in this one scene – it’s where we are introduced to the transition between the human and demon world and what humans can and can’t see so we went from our human Cornelia (actress Mary-Margaret Humes) to Danny. In this sequence Mary-Margaret is there to initially slash out the throat, and then we cut to the character of Maria. We start at her face and then we come down and we see that she is bleeding out and there’s this gaping wound in her neck. We cut back and it’s Danny in full demon makeup dropping this piece of larynx on the table… we made it bleed right out of the trachea I believe so Danny is able to reach in and pinch that shut. And we watch Maria die from lack of oxygen; it’s not because she is bleeding out but it’s because she can’t breathe. Like she’s being choked from the inside. And that was great because we got to take advantage of a couple of background characters and for Maria’s throat we are able to take advantage of another FX expert who has been in the business for years; his name is Roland Blankaflore of RBFX. And he has done an entire line of custom generic foam rubber appliances that are just made to fit anybody. We didn’t have anybody cast for Maria for a while and it’s a pretty generic throat gag, and at that time we just finished and started preparing his ripped-out throats. And we went over and took a look at his catalog and yeah, perfect timing !
We picked up that and picked up a couple pieces for our demons later in the club sequence. But that is just a fantastic library to pull from; until he started that under a year ago, that wasn’t an option for people. They would be scrounging or something so we had a brilliant quality bloody professional piece to do that effect.
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