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Monday, February 1, 2021

Cool Ass Cinema Presents: An Interview With Award Winning Makeup Effects Artist Tom Burman


 
Tom Burman (Thomas R. Burman) is one of the motion picture and television industry's greatest and most successful special effects makeup artists. He has worked on low budget wonders and big budget favorites, hit television programs and so much more in between. Mentored by the legendary John Chambers, Burman worked alongside his friend and teacher on the groundbreaking PLANET OF THE APES (1968). From there he worked on many more films both big and small, eventually founding his own makeup effects company and winning an array of Emmy Awards. Burman Studios jump-started numerous careers that made many of the big and small screens most memorable productions. 
 
Coming from a makeup and mask-making family, Burman eventually met the love of his life while working on a film set, Bari Dreiband-Burman; and the two worked together till their retirement in 2006. Recently, he wrote and produced the incredible documentary, MAKING APES: THE ARTISTS WHO CHANGED FILM (2019), about the story of the effects men that brought the iconic PLANET OF THE APES series to life. Along with his father, brother, and wife, Tom Burman has left behind an impressive legacy of work that has dazzled audiences while inspiring the minds of many future makeup artists to do what Mr. Burman has done for nearly 50 years--bring dreams to life. 
 
Mr. Burman was kind enough to do this interview where he discussed his entire career, covering a wide range of films and topics; detailing the many difficulties encountered in creating, and making, movie magic.
 
Venoms5: Was meeting Jack Pierce as a young boy what led to you wanting to become a special effects makeup artist?

Tom Burman: That was the first time that thought ever came into my head. I didn't know who he was back then. I was really young and I didn't go to the movies. My father worked on movies and I never paid attention then. A lot of times he would have Claude Rains and Lon Chaney, Jr. over at the house; and Abbott and Costello because he did all these little gags for them. But after meeting him it really struck me that it might be really cool to be a makeup artist (insert: Pierce turning Boris Karloff into Frankenstein's Monster).

V5: When you met John Chambers that was when you knew this was your desired career path, correct?

TB: Well, what happened was I was a terrible student in school. I quit after the ninth grade and joined the marine corps when I was 17; so when I got out I did all kinds of crazy jobs. I was working at a factory in Newport Beach and my father called me and asked me if I had a couple of weeks off could I come and help him sculpt this King Kong gorilla for a wax museum up in Niagara Falls, Canada. It was at a place called Don Post Studio. I took a couple of weeks off to help him sculpt this thing and it was a 50% partner project with Don Post doing all these figures of famous actors and the big King Kong. John Chambers had designed it and had started sculpting on it but it was bigger than anything he'd ever done and my father had done monumental sculptures in Nebraska so he was a natural for it. I helped him and after two weeks they asked me to stay on (insert: Tom and Ellis Burman, Sr.). 
 
I got to know John Chambers (at left) at that time and then a guy stopped by the studio one day and I was the only one there and he said he wanted to buy a quart of latex. I didn't know what to charge him. He said he needed it for a shoot on a commercial making clown noses. He needed it right away so I just gave it to him. He asked me what I was working on and I showed him what I was doing; at that time putting the hair on the King Kong. He said, "Wow, this is great. What do you want to do in life?" And I said, "I want to be a makeup artist." He told me he was a makeup artist and there was an opening at 20th Century Fox and that I should call them. So I told John about it and he said to me, "I didn't know you wanted to become a makeup artist." I was pretty shy back then and that was what I wanted to do and John said, "I'll call them for you." I didn't see him for a week and everyday I'd come in and was expecting a phone call and nothing happened. 
 
The following Monday I was making a mold and John comes in and I asked him what did Fox say and he says, "Oh my God, Tommy, I forgot to ask them. I'm sorry, I'll go back in and tell them." He comes back and says I need to go right now because they're making up their mind this week about filling the spot. I told him, "I can't go right now, I've got plaster all over me. I look like a drywaller." And he says, "It doesn't matter. You gotta go." So I went over and interviewed with Ben Nye. He told me there were 94 or so applicants, one of them was his own son who interviewed before me. I was just destroyed. I drove home and thought to myself I'd never get into makeup. But he called me that night and said he wanted me to start Monday. So that's how I got to Fox(insert: Ben Nye applying makeup to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.).

At Fox they were talking about this movie THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER (1963). Bud Westmore had been the department head at Universal and they wanted Bud Westmore to come in and take over because Fox had already tried makeup tests on PLANET OF THE APES (1968) and it wasn't there yet and they wanted to find somebody who could really handle the job. Bud being the department head, he got total credit for THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER and I knew John Chambers had done that work because I saw the molds, I saw the pieces he had done. So I spoke up for John and they told me to get him on the phone. He told me he was busy at the time; he was making Spock's ears, actually, for STAR TREK (1966-1969). 
 
I told him they wanted Bud Westmore (at right) and Johnny hated Bud because Bud would take credit for things he didn't do. He'd take pictures of himself sculpting things John had done. He would send John to the stage and he'd have photographers cover him doing all the work which he didn't do. So John told him, "You know, Bud... you have a bad heart and one of these days you're gonna drop dead. I'm gonna find out where you're buried, and I'm gonna go up every morning, take a toilet up there, put it on top of your grave, read my paper and do my morning constitutional."
 
V5: I've heard stories about Bud Westmore from others in the business but this is the first time from someone who was actually there.
 
TB: Bud was real good to me, though. In fact, he got fired from a movie he put me on called THE GREAT NORTHFIELD MINNESOTA RAID (1972). Mike Westmore was his lab man. He made various prosthetics for me on that shoot up in Oregon and when I got there nothing worked. Everything was just crap. The director Phillip Kaufman said, "What do I do?" And I told him I could make all this stuff and do it in my motel room. So I remade all the prosthetics in the motel room and they loved it. When I came back Bud Westmore was gone. Then the new department head fired me because I didn't go through Mike Westmore. And that's the motion picture business; nepotism.
 
V5: Going back to APES, what was the biggest challenge you encountered working on that film?
 
TB: John Chambers and I started, just the two of us, on January 2nd, 1967. And it wasn't till late February or early March that Werner Keppler came aboard (at left). The biggest challenge was just to figure out how to do it. No one had ever done a film of that size and with that scope. There was no one in the film business who could handle that job better than John Chambers because he fought big and worked in many areas, including doing all kinds of medical things and whatnot. And I had been working with my father in a mask business we had set up. We had a whole production line, so it was a perfect marriage between he and I. John could give me a lot of the work that he wasn't up on and I could learn and help him in the areas he excelled at.

V5: Did the studio ever interfere with you in any way considering how much was riding on the picture and the studio?

TB: Well, the studio was in real doubt. The executive board would make fun of the movie all the time calling it 'that stupid ape movie' and that sort of thing. The studio had never spent that much money on makeup and they didn't have a lot of respect for that movie so John and Danny Striepeke had to fight for every dollar.

V5: You also worked on the first sequel BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970). What was the experience like on the sequel compared to the first movie?

TB: Well, the first movie was so exciting. I literally worked seven days a week for months and months. On the second one the story wasn't as fun. It was a little contrived. We also had to create these mutants that lived underneath the Earth and figure out what they looked like and the studio obviously didn't believe in the sequel as much as the first one because they didn't want to spend as much money on it. So everything we did they tried to go cheap with it. But Johnny and Danny Striepeke held the line again and wouldn't go along with it.

V5: Were you satisfied with the results of the second film?

TB: Yes, although I wasn't nearly as excited as I was on the first movie because it was the first one we did. It was new, it was something that nobody had ever seen before. People were just blown away by it. Some friends of mine had seen it 30-40 times, they'd go see it every time it came out. They'd buy all the paraphernalia, it's crazy. The second one was fun, though, and I left halfway through the third picture because I'd finished my apprenticeship and I went off to do the movie THE HAWAIIANS (1970) with Charlton Heston of all people.

V5: How did you end up at AIP?

TB: AIP was not a very respected company. It was above Roger Corman, but they did a lot of corny horror films. Sam Elliott and I were apprentices together. He was an actor apprentice and I was a makeup apprentice at Fox; I knew him from there. On FROGS (1972), I think it was Sam that referred me. I don't remember who gave me the call or how it came about, but it started with THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972). I did that one through the makeup lab at Fox. Danny Striepeke got the job and Charlie Schram did the animatronic head of Ray Milland that's mounted onto Rosey Grier's shoulder (laughs). Then we did a non-animatronic head of Rosey Grier sleeping for shots requiring the real Ray Milland. That was the first time I met Rick Baker. He made the two-headed gorilla in it. He was, I think, 15 or 16 years old at that time.

V5: How did the experience at AIP compare to your time at 20th Century Fox?

TB: At Fox we at least had some power. They relied on us to come through with a successful product. AIP was always resentful about ever having to spend any money in areas they'd never spent much of it before. They didn't spend much money on this mechanical head either. It was done cheap. I just charged them an hourly rate as did Charlie Schram. Most of the stuff they did were makeups done by people doing lab work that wasn't their profession. Their regular makeup artists did some special work, and most of it was cotton and morticians wax, that kind of makeups that's straight out of the case. There wasn't a lot of respect for makeups at AIP so you had to fight the good fight over there.

V5: Did anything change at the company by the time FOOD OF THE GODS (1976) came your way a few years later?

TB: No. Bert I. Gordon was a maniac. I don't know how he got all the money he did for FOOD OF THE GODS or EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977), but those things were real difficult to make because they were shot real haphazardly and it was not a fun experience whatsoever. 

V5: Do you recall how many rats you and Rick Baker built for the film? 

TB: I think we made a dozen dummy rats that were just big bodies that we stacked on top of something else to make it look like a lot more than it was. We made four mechanical rat heads.
 
 
V5: These pictures had some big names in them. Were they enjoying themselves or were they embarrassed by having been reduced to being eaten by rats, ants and other creatures?
 
TB: My feeling was they were glad to be working but at the same time they were embarrassed by it. Like Ray Milland doing FROGS (1972). He was a really great actor and I think for him to be doing FROGS was a big embarrassment for him (at right). Ida Lupino on FOOD OF THE GODS (seen above with Burman operating the rat head), she was a really sweet lady but I think she stayed a little drunk half the time. I worked with her previously on THE DEVIL'S RAIN (1975).

V5: How about Marjoe Gortner?

TB: He was the most fun for me. He got his name from Mary and Joseph. He was an evangelist preacher. He said he was marrying people when he was four years old. He never believed in any of that stuff, calling it a total con. He did a lot of drugs. I don't know whatever happened to him. He used to get stoned on set and start preaching to me and I loved it (laughs).

V5: You were back with John Chambers again on THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1977), and again at AIP. Some of the performers you made masks for like The Great John L. and Fumio Demura were required to fight with real lions and tigers. Did this present a problem for you in creating the masks?

TB: I was really disappointed. I love H.G. Wells' story, and I love the first movie ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932). So for these Humanimals to go out there with sensationalism, I thought that was the wrong take on it. Director Don Taylor, he and I got into it a few times. I didn't fight with him much I just think he made terrible choices. He stood those Humanimals out there and shot them in broad daylight kinda standing there for inspection. I've always understood in horror movies that less is more. You don't want to show people everything. Like showing the shark in JAWS (1975). When they were shooting the shark and Spielberg realized it looked like crap he was so depressed he thought he was gonna have to quit and never be able to direct again. It was Verna Fields who took the movie after people didn't react to it the first time they saw it, and she said take the shark out; you're giving away too much. If the people don't believe the shark, they don't believe the movie. And that's what I felt about THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1977). You see these creatures and you get to scrutinize them too closely for too long and you've lost the mystery. So when they started fighting animals they'd lost the mystery so I was really disappointed in that film (The Great John L. and Fumio Demura in costume in insert).

V5: You worked with Spielberg and Lucas throughout your career. What happened on CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977) with your alien designs?

TB: Joe Alves designed those aliens and John Chambers had the job in the beginning. And he gave the job to a friend of mine, Frank Griffin. Frank didn't do the kind of work that I did so he brought it to me. Here's the sketches, here's the designs, Joe Alves designed it and this is what they want. They don't want your input or anything else. So I said, okay, I can do it. For me you do something for the love of it or if somebody doesn't respect what you're doing, you do it for the money; that's the penalty, so I said, "Okay, we'll charge you this amount", and everything was fine. So we made the alien heads and we took them down to Mobile, Alabama where they were shooting in a big blimp hangar and hotter than hell. I think it was August. 
 
There were six year old little girls who were going to wear these heads. We had four six year old little boys who had animatronic heads that we made to put on them. We get there and put them on everybody and Steven Spielberg comes down and takes one look at everything, shakes his head and walks away; didn't say anything. Next thing I know I get a call from the producer Julia Phillips. She calls me up to her office and I go up there and she says to me, "Your heads suck." I said, "What?" And she says, "They suck. Steven hates them and we're suing you for 20 million dollars. We're done with you." So I said, "Okay, goodbye." I'm walking down the hallway and I'm fuming because they weren't my designs. I sent Polaroids of what we were doing and everything was supposed to have been approved. 
 
So I'm walking down the hallway and Clark Paylow, who was in charge of the money at Columbia, stopped me and asked me into his office. He asked me, "Tom, how long will it take you to do all those heads over again?" I said, "It depends. It depends on what they have to look like." He says to me, "If you really rush can you do this in two weeks?" I responded, "Maybe, why?" And Clark says to me, "The production is in trouble. Columbia wants to pull the money out of the film." And I went, "Ah ha!" They were using me as a scapegoat because they wanted to buy time, two more weeks and they're putting it on me that I screwed it up. I didn't want any part of it but Clark talked me into it. So I went back, my brother and I, and we redid all the heads in two weeks. Spielberg came out and said, "Okay, great." He walked away and never said anymore; and I said "Goodbye", and they said I couldn't leave that there was two more weeks of shooting left. I told them no after what they did to me, trying to hang me up for 20 million dollars and then ask me to stay. And that's why they didn't give me credit because I walked off the set. The film business is a very cruel business (insert: Polaroids of one of three Burman alien designs based on Alves' designs).

V5: I've heard other stories similar to this and it's eye-opening what some have had to go through in the business.

TB: I've never operated that way. I always go in with the best intentions. I want to work and be happy with the people I'm working with. I want them to be happy with me. I want to turn out a good product and for people to enjoy it. And it's unfortunate when it doesn't go that way.

V5: What was your experience like working on THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL (1978)?

TB: Stan Winston was working out of my studio, he didn't have his own yet. We were real good friends and we did all kinds of crazy stuff together. He got the job on the HOLIDAY SPECIAL but had no place to work so I told him he could use my studio. My brother helped him do the mechanical faces, the articulated faces; Stan sculpted them all, the molds and whatnot, and I helped him doing the hair to make them look as close to the original Wookie as possible. We had the original Chewbacca suit right there in the studio. It must've weighed 85 pounds. I'd met the suit creator, Stuart Freeborn, a great guy. It was just way too expensive to make multiple suits just like that one, so we had to figure out how to make'em quick because we only had two to two-and-a-half weeks to do all of them. That's really all I did on that show. I guess Stan gave me credit on it because I'm often asked about it. My participation was more in the capacity of giving advice.

V5: INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978) is not only one of the best remakes, but just a really good SciFi picture. How did this picture come your away and what was your approach to the FX compared to the 1956 original?

TB: I had worked with director Phillip Kaufman on THE GREAT NORTHFIELD MINNESOTA RAID (1972) when I was working at Universal. He remembered me so he called me to come in and told me they were starting this movie in less than three weeks and told me what they wanted to do. Kaufman asked me if we could do these parts and pieces and I said we could do it but three weeks wasn't enough time. I told him, "You're shooting up in San Francisco and I'm in Los Angeles." I've got a lot of work to do in just three weeks time. So we did the FX simultaneously as the movie was being shot. We would do the next gag for the following week. Eddie Henriques, a guy who worked for me, he and I would fly up to San Francisco, do the gag, jump on a plane, fly back and start working on the next one. I loved working on the film. 
 
Over the years I realized one of the things I enjoyed the most was pulling a rabbit out of the hat. I like to be able to do things quickly and fast and solve them. Rick Baker did the fat suits for THE NUTTY PROFESSOR in eight months. On something like NIP/TUCK and GREY'S ANATOMY, we made those fat suits in a little over two weeks. So I like that, the challenge. You don't always have the finest work, by the way. You have to save yourself sometimes using creativity. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is one of the most fun things I've done. I really enjoyed working on it. We got to do stuff that had never been seen before (insert: Burman with one of his Pod People).
 

V5: Can you describe how you did that amazing sequence in THE MANITOU (1978) where Misquamacus emerges from Susan Strasberg's back?

TB: We took a cast of Susan Strasberg's body. The Manitou was played by a midget named Felix Silla, who went all the way back to THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939). We had this balloon rubber skin that could stretch off the fake body we made, and Felix would come up through this table we built and he would emerge through that fake body out of her back. It was another fairly low budget picture. Director Bill Girlder was a great guy. We spent about three to four weeks on the picture.

V5: I've always been fascinated by PROPHECY (1979). It has a lot of suspense, a strong soundtrack, and some great photography. Everything works but the bear. Could you talk about the problems encountered while making that movie?

TB: The movie started with a huge problem. Frankenheimer had a production designer create this creature, KaTahdin. He was everything. He was the woods, he was a bird, a reptile, a mammal, he was a conglomeration of everything; and they had this 15ft tall monster they were making and it was the silliest thing you ever saw. It looked like Picasso made it. They were bringing in everybody to work on this thing. Rick Baker came in and was very honest with them and told them their whole design sucked and he wasn't interested in doing it. Stan Winston came in and said he could do it but he wanted to redesign the creature. He wanted too much money so they passed on him. I came in and told them the same thing as Rick did, but not as harshly. I told them it wasn't going to work. I asked how were they gonna move this 15 foot tall creature? They told me, "We're gonna put a guy inside of it." And I said, "If you put a man in there it's going to be so unwieldy all you gotta do is tap him and he'll fall over." So they asked me what did I suggest and I proposed making it a single mammal. It's a mercury-poisoned bear so why not make this thing into a horrendous looking bear; slightly normal-looking on one side and all messed up on the other. 
 
So I did a mock-up and they liked it and wanted to go with my design. I then told them we were limited by how big we made it by the person that would be inside the suit. So we started the film and they came back and said it's gotta be much bigger. This thing was about 8 feet tall and they wanted it to be 12 feet tall. I told them, "I don't have time to make a 12ft monster. How are you gonna make it move?" And they said, "We're not gonna have it walk, we'll operate it in different ways--have it move remotely, with cables, or something."  They hadn't figured it out yet. I told them I didn't think I could do that. So they made a 12 foot one, Jack Shafton's company made that. They had ours to go by but they didn't copy it at all they just made their own rendition. It looked silly. You don't have any true consistency in what that creature looked like on that movie. Because whenever you went to the big one it looked totally different from the one that was totally articulated with the mouth and eyes and tongue movements.

V5: How much of your work survived the finished film?

TB: I would say about one-third of the stuff got cut out of the film, and that was all of the horror stuff. That scene with the kid in the sleeping bag, we had different shots of that; the bodies down in the creek at the beginning, there was more to that than what you saw. There were a lot of wounds we made that got cut out of the movie. And then they wanted a mutant baby bear. We literally had only a few days before they wanted to shoot it. There was one baby we mocked up really quick and then they wanted another baby that was articulated with animatronics inside of it.

Another thing that was wrong with the movie was John Frankenheimer could not watch some of the horrific action we had in the film. He'd turn away when we'd smash somebody and splatter their head; or another scene where the bear slashed a character and their guts spilled out. That's what they wanted in the beginning but when they saw it on film, John Frankenheimer wouldn't even look at it. He'd wait till the dalies the next day and say, "Cut that out, that's too much. It makes me sick."

V5: I've always read about Tom McLoughlin inside the bear suit but very little about Kevin Peter Hall's participation inside the suit. Did you interact with him much on the set?

TB: Kevin was a great guy. He played the Bigfoot Rick Baker did in HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS (1987). He was inside the great big one, but he couldn't do much. All he could do was move the arms and the jaw or something. There were different pulley's inside of it. I hired him on a couple other things we did, commercials.

V5: How was it for the actors wearing the suits?

TB: It's really hard on the actors inside those things. I made the mistake of getting inside one of the bear suits. I realized all of a sudden I was a little claustrophobic (laughs). It's really uncomfortable and it just depletes all your strength because you perspire so much. Kevin didn't have it so bad because he had moments inside the suit. But Tom McLoughlin was inside of it for quite a while. Before PROPHECY Tom had worked inside the kangaroo suit on MATILDA (1978). We made the suit and it was terrible. It was supposed to be used sparingly as they thought they could double a real kangaroo. I told them you can't put a person in a suit and pass it off as a real kangaroo then cut to the real one. They thought they could and they couldn't. Tom was great in the suit but he had been trained as a mime. He trained with Marcel Marceau so he was great in it. 

V5: Which monster head was that at the end in the last shot? It looks very different from the others.

TB: That's the great big one. The film was too ambitious and they did not have enough time; and the director, a great director, it was not the right movie for him.

V5: I've read you created an ape suit uncredited for ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN (1980).

TB: I did. Bobby Porter was inside of it. The reason I made it was for when they couldn't get the orangutan to do all the things they wanted him to do. Like with babies. A lot of the times we'll make babies to do things they can't get a real baby to do. So this ape was a backup for the real orangutan. The ape in the movie I couldn't get near it. That ape fell in love with me. Boone Narr told me to stay away from him. He got so pissed off in my studio he hauled off and broke a window in my building.

V5: When you were creating disguises for the CIA were you ever under enormous pressure to do those jobs?

TB: No. That's how we started the first studio together, John Chambers, my brother and I. That goes back to that whole Argo thing, you know. John Chambers had a really good eye to make things look real and the CIA didn't. We were making these different disguises for them and teaching them how to do it themselves. But that whole Argo thing, I don't know if you know where the name came from. John Chambers loves knock-knock jokes. On BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970) we're in the studio and he says to me, "Tommy, knock-knock." And I'd say, "Who's there?" And he said, "Argo." And I said, "Argo who?" And John said, "Argo fuck yourself!" That's where the title of that movie came from. The CIA said, "Well, shit. Nobody knows what Argo is." They believe it's a Science Fiction movie but it was giving the Iranians the finger. 
 

V5: The early 80s kept you very busy on a variety of horror projects. One of these was THE BEAST WITHIN (1982). You said earlier you liked being under pressure. What was that like for you only having two days to pull of that transformation sequence?

TB: That was a crazy effect. We were playing around with it. We had all these different stages for the creature. We had everything set up in advance so all we had to do was take it to the set and set it up there and run with it. We had these various balloons inside of the appliances and the director Philippe Mora kept shouting for more. We kept pumping air into it and it was getting ridiculous and asinine. Eventually one of the balloons popped out of the eye and it had 'Happy Birthday' on it (laughs). Everybody was laughing, but he used it. I couldn't believe it. I would've stopped where it looked the best but he kept on going. He did that a lot in the movie. He was a very nice man I just think he was the wrong director for that movie because he didn't have the sense of horror in what you should show and what you hold back on.

V5: In comparison, you were working on the major studio production of CAT PEOPLE (1982) and that wasn't a smooth production. Despite the issues during filming were you satisfied with your work on the picture?

TB: Pretty much. I hate to sound like I'm complaining all the time. Many times you don't always remember the things that worked really well; you remember the things that didn't work very well and how hard it was on you when you did it. We did the transformational head on Nastassja Kinski. We took it to the set with my entire crew to shoot it on the set at Universal. The union heads come down and said, "Your guys can't touch it." And I said, "What do you mean we can't touch it? We designed it. I've got six guys there who know which cable to pull, which trigger to pull, what button to push. We've rehearsed this, we've done it over and over again. We only have two of them and we don't have room to screw it up." They kept saying we couldn't do it because it was a union studio and the special effects people have to do it. I asked what was I supposed to do and I was told we had to show them what they needed to do (Burman with director Paul Schrader discussing a gag where the cats develop spots that was eventually dropped)
 
So I took the morning off and showed each of the special effects people their direction. One would pull something and number two would wait a few seconds and push a button and so on. So when they called 'Action' they all did their actions all at once and screwed it up; just destroyed the whole transformation right in front of us. What do you do? The studio is against you, they don't want you using non-union people, and they ended up ruining the whole thing. Other than that, I was real satisfied with everything we did. I just didn't like what happened with this important sequence. I wrote that transformation, actually. It was written totally different. The way I wrote it she woke up and there was a fly buzzing around and she snatches the fly out of the air and rakes her claws across the mattress. That's the first time you realize she's changing. Paul Schrader loved that and we rewrote that scene.

V5: Your then future wife worked with you on CAT PEOPLE. How did the two of you meet on the film?

TB: Another makeup artist over at Universal was working with her and told her she should go and talk to me. She was an excellent artist before she ever got into makeup. That was a rare thing in makeup to find people who were artistic. She came over and showed me her work and I wanted a woman to help me design the transformation. I didn't want it to look like AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981); I wanted it to be more subtle, feminine, and sleek. So she helped me with that (Bari Dreiband-Burman in insert).

V5: When you're both working on the same project how did the two of you approach your jobs collaborating together?

TB: I hate to talk about money and she's really good at the business side of things. Taking charge of that aspect at the studio was always my weak point. We worked together from that time onward. Whatever we did in makeup, designing a makeup; let's say I'd sculpt the thing and she'd come in and fine tune it. I always knew where we were going and what it should look like but she's a detail freak. So I would put the appliance or prosthetic on and she loved doing the edges; and after that I'd do the coloration and she'd put in other colors and we'd go back and forth and that's how we worked all the way up to the end (Bari Dreiband-Burman pencil and clay sketches for CAT PEOPLE in insert).

V5: HALLOWEEN III (1982) brought you and Don Post back together again. Was this picture a pleasant experience?

TB: HALLOWEEN III was kinda fun. They didn't want to spend any money on the FX. I thought the ending was silly. I thought they should rewrite the ending and have Dan O'Herlihy revealed as the spirit of Halloween. Turn him into a Jack o' Lantern man and he'd disappear and he'd be back again for another one. That was my take on it. I told John Carpenter that and he hated the idea (laughs). He got so pissed off at me for even mentioning it (insert: Burman with Harry Grimbridge and his head cast).
 
V5: You worked with Heston again on MOTHER LODE (1982). Did this job come your way due to your past movies working with him?

TB: I don't remember how that job came to me. We just did a body frozen in ice for that one. I did a lot of stuff on films I never got credit for or I didn't care about getting credit. Sometimes you do just one gag and get credit for it and I never actually worked on the film other than that. I'll tell you a story about Chalton Heston...
 
He worked with John Chambers at NBC before he ever did PLANET OF THE APES (1968). He came by the lab early one morning to see what we were doing. John was sculpting and Heston says, "You know, I'm a sculptor as well. I'm not quite as good as you are but sculpting is my hobby." John said, "Really? I didn't know that."  So Heston starts looking through John's tools. John HATED anybody going through his tools. I can see John watching him out of the corner of his eye going crimson. And Heston says, "I gotta go for wardrobe fittings. I got a lead, but thanks, John." So John says, "Chuck, you see that #7 spatula?" Chuck says, "What are you talking about?" And John says, "That little #7 spatula there in my tools."  Chuck says, "No, I didn't see it." John says, "Yeah? Well check your shirt."  Chuck pats his pockets down and John says, "No, your shirt pocket." Chuck reaches in and pulls that spatula out of his pocket, puts it down and walks out. I said, "I just saw Moses steal the #7 spatula." (laughs)

V5: One of your 80s TV credits was the cult horror film THE MIDNIGHT HOUR (1985). Do you recall anything from this project?

TB: I didn't even get on the actual shoot. A friend of mine who was an apprentice with me at Fox, Wes Dawn, he was the son of Jack Dawn who did THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) at MGM. Wes brought the job to me and specifically wanted a bunch of Halloween characters. And whatever we had in stock or whatever we could make quickly that's what we did. I wasn't even on the set for that one.

V5: You were nominated for SCROOGED (1988) and won several Prime Time Emmy's for shows like THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW, THE YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES, and NIP/TUCK. What were those first noms and wins like for you?
 
TB: My first nomination was actually for what became PRIMAL MAN (1973-1974). PRIMAL MAN came from a failed movie we did for David Wolper called 'The Ardry Papers'. They did this movie about the evolution of cavemen and how we haven't changed much after millions of years. So we did this movie, shot down in Carlsbad, New Mexico, John Chambers and myself and a whole crew of people. John helped me with the designs of the cavemen then he went back to Universal and I carried on to finish the movie. The movie was so bad, they'd shoot these cavemen while in the background you'd see a Greyhound bus going down the road (laughs). You'd see power lines or some apple box with a grips shoes on it. It was just so sloppy and had all these inexcusable shots in it. They were all stoned while making it, by the way. There was so much wrong that they couldn't release it (laughs)
 
So they decided to make it a four-part TV series and call it PRIMAL MAN. It was the same premise. We did two of the shows and then on our last week of shooting the third, they wanted us to go shoot up near Lake Tahoe. I had the flu and I told my brother to stay at the studio and all my crew went up to Bishop, which was where it was. And flying out of Bishop the plane crashed into the mountains and killed them all. Wolper's company had a bad safety record with me and my crew right from the start. I just wish I would've quit back then and my friends would still be alive (above at right: TV Guide ad for the premiere of the first special on December 2nd, 1973; insert at left: premiere of the third special on June 21st, 1974).
 
That was the one we won our first Emmy on but I didn't want any part of it. John Chambers was a vindictive kind of a person. He didn't work on PRIMAL MAN; he worked on 'The Ardry Papers', which was the one that failed. But we were using parts and pieces from that so I gave him credit because he was my mentor and I wanted him to have credit on it. He didn't have an Emmy, but he'd already had an Oscar. He wanted an Emmy so I got him credit on it and I gave all the guys that were killed credit on it too. So I submitted all their names for an Emmy as well and John took all their names off. And that's why I had that big fight with John Chambers and didn't speak to him for a long time. I was so angry at him. This was in 1974.

V5: What about your Emmy?

TB: I didn't go. John brought it to me about two months later. He came by my studio and dropped it off. He went to New York but I didn't go. I did go for the big night when I won for THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW (1987-1990). I think that was the next one I won. I was up against Rick Baker. When you walk up on stage, my wife was with me, she never wanted to talk; we're both shy. It always scares the shit out of me. So you go up there and you realize you're talking to... I don't know how many people it was watching back then, ten million people? It's a huge theater. You just go out of body like you're not even there. 

V5: What would you say was the most challenging job you ever took on whether due to time or lack of resources?

TB: I don't have one in particular, they were all challenges. You can ask my wife she gets so angry with me I never want to do things twice the same way. So I always went into each job blind. I never wanted to know exactly what I was going to do. I always wanted to discover it as I go (insert: Burman and his wife with Angelica Huston and Michael Jackson for Disney's Captain EO 3D ride).

V5: Would you say SciFi or Horror brought the most creativity in your work? Did you have a preference?

TB: It never mattered to me. Although I really wanted to do BLADE RUNNER (1982). I read the script and thought it was the best script I'd ever read. It was just amazing. Stan Winston and I were partners at the time so Stan says, "Let me do the talking. I know you're not very good at business so let me do the talking for you." So we go in and I told him what I wanted to do in the film and how I thought I could help them with what they needed and one of the producers on the movie, an English guy, he says, "So what's this gonna cost us?" Stan has illusions of grandeur so he says "We figure we can do it for a million dollars." The guy just picks his papers up and walks out of the room. The secretary comes in and says, "I think you're finished." (laughs) I looked at Stan and said, "We just lost the movie. I wanna do this movie in the worst way." Stan says, "They'll be back. They're gonna want us, they're gonna want us on the picture." 
 
When that didn't work out the next week we met for CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982). Stan told them the same thing and they told us to get out (laughs). What I'm trying to say is when I find a script where I really love the story it changes everything; but when you read a story and it gets hokey you get to thinking what a silly idea this is. Sometimes I'm wrong, by the way; like with GREY'S ANATOMY. I said it would never be a big deal because it had doctors talking like children and it's still going (Stan Winston turning Cicely Tyson from 23 years old to 110 in 1974s THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MISS JANE PITTMAN).
 
V5: By the 1990s you had veered away from SciFi and Horror and you started doing a lot of Action, Drama, and even Comedy films and television programs. Was this a career decision or just what was being offered to you at the time?

TB: I didn't want to go on location anymore. My wife and I had a son and we decided we didn't wanna leave town. I wanted to be around him much more and I didn't want to travel anymore. We made a decision to try and bring motion picture quality to television. We had some opportunities back then to do some really good small screen work but didn't get too much notice for it. We got a lot of nominations. NIP/TUCK was the first time we got a job where they believed in us so much they gave us total carte blanche to create the best work we could do in the time limit they gave us; and that paid off real big. It changed the industry, too. 
 
We did a lot of medical shows like GREY'S ANATOMY, CHICAGO HOPE, PRIVATE PRACTICE, ER, all these things they used to cover everything, they didn't want to see too much blood and guts or horror, things that were uncomfortable. But once they realized that NIP/TUCK was getting such a huge audience it was mostly because of the work we were doing. It was a good show as well. Good actors and kinda crazy plots. They liked what we did and that kinda changed the whole television industry. Today there are shows where they spend tremendous amounts of money on makeup effects. Back then they didn't want to spend any money.

V5: One question I've asked the other makeup artists I've interviewed was if they thought practical effects would be replaced by CGI and it seems television has become their safe-haven. Would you agree?

TB: Yes I do. The guy who took over our studio, Vince Van Dyke, it's Van Dyke Studio now. Just recently he had almost 17 jobs. He was goin' through the roof because his work is impeccable, it's beautiful. He started with me when he was 15 and he's taken it way up above anything I did. He can't keep enough people and keep up with the work. There's some really good people out there. Look at THE WALKING DEAD and the amount of people they hire. These kinds of shows never would've happened prior to the work we did on NIP/TUCK (insert: Tom Burman and Vincent Van Dyke turning POTA actor Lou Wagner into an elderly ape).
 
V5: You've worked on so many big and small budgeted productions, what would you say were the positive and negatives of both?

TB: The larger the production the smaller amount of money you get, generally speaking; not always. There's so many elements, so much big money. The good news is they give you a lot of preparation time. The smaller budgets is usually quick turnover and you gotta know how to do that work in a very short amount of time. The money isn't usually as big. But I kinda enjoy the smaller productions because of the rapport you get with the director and producers; they depend on you more. You're kind of a big shot on a small project (insert: Burman and his crew prepare to melt Ernest Borgnine in 1975s THE DEVIL'S RAIN).

V5: When you look back on your illustrious career, what would you say has been your greatest accomplishment?

TB: I think creating the very first makeup studio. Creating the first studio that set the tone for all the entrepreneurs out there; for Rick Baker, for Stan Winston, for all the people that were doing what they were doing. We kinda set precedents. I was able to get probably 40 people into makeup. They're making great money today and taking care of their families and have done real well. I think that's my biggest accomplishment. I opened the studio in 1973 and Vince Van Dyke has it now. I retired in 2006 (insert: Burman with Michael Ironside in the makeup chair on 1983s 3D SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE).

V5: What are you currently working on now? You mentioned a book project to me.

TB: I'm writing a book. I took a class on writing your memoirs. I thought I'd write a book about some of this stuff that happened in my life. Like I said earlier I was a terrible student in school when I was a kid. I was in this class over in Santa Barbara with all these people, a lot of older people there. Most of them were graduates of Ivy League schools. They were CPA's and attorneys and doctors, all retired; and I'm thinking, God, I feel like such an idiot sitting here trying to write stories and these guys are so prolific in their writing. And to get up and read my writing in front of people was too much. I couldn't do that. So the teacher said, "You know, you've been here all semester, are you gonna read?" I told him no, I wasn't even gonna take another class. He said, "Why? At least get up and read something you wrote. Did you write anything?" I'd been writing all semester. I told him I had one little story I could read. So at the end of the semester I went up and I read. I was so nervous I was shaking just like I was when I was a little kid and had to read in front of people. I read this thing and usually people critique it but the class is over (insert: Burman with Melissa Sue Anderson making her double on the set of 1981s HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME). 
 
I went to pick up my papers at my desk and one woman comes over and says, "My God, my hands are sweating so bad I just can't get that story out of my head." Then another person comes over and says, "You know, I don't think I can sleep tonight."  And then one person after another talked to me about it. And then I realized, "I can tell a story."  So I've decided to write a book and tell it in short stories and all the short stories are the moments in my life that changed my life; that either taught me something or something really profound, or things that were the most painful. I don't know if other people will be interested but it's been fun to write (insert: John Chambers and Tom Burman).
 
V5: What would be your advice for anyone wishing to enter the field of special makeup effects?
 
TB: One, don't go to a makeup school. It's tremendously expensive. All that stuff is online and if you're tenacious enough you can find people who will help you. And you can teach yourself. Schools are expensive and they teach you just the basics that you can find out anyplace; you just can't be lazy about it. And you have to have a passion to stick with it. In the beginning, like any industry, you're gonna get the low-hanging fruit. You're not gonna get the stuff higher up because you're learning and it's gonna be difficult. Sometimes you're gonna be out of work and you gotta keep pushing yourself. 
 
The best thing you can do and when you get familiar and realize this is what you want to do you go to a place like Vince Van Dyke Studio, or you go to Legacy, or KNB and you say, "I would like to come in and do something." They'll tell you they will give you a call, and you tell them, "I'll work for you for one week for free." Because for you, you wanna learn how they work and what the lay of the land is, and what materials they're using and see where you can help them. And if you show up after that first week--it could just be half a week--they may look at you and say, "My God, this guy's really great. He cleans up after himself, he's neat, and he's interested." They may give you a job and start you off at minimum wage and as you go you move up. 
 
 
Vince Van Dyke started that way at 15 years old. To me I think he's one of the best makeup artists in the world. It all comes down to you and what you want. Nobody's gonna just leave that door open for you. You have to push it open and prove that you are worthy (above: the Burman's with John Chambers at his 75th birthday party in September, 1997).
 
I'd like to give an immense THANK YOU to Mr. Burman for taking the time out of his schedule to do this interview. We wish him the best in all his future endeavors.
 
You can purchase his excellent documentary MAKING APES: THE ARTISTS WHO CHANGED FILM (2019) on blu-ray HERE. You can also watch it on Prime.
 
You can read and see more about Vincent Van Dyke Effects Studio (formerly The Burman Studios) HERE.
 
***All image sources: Fangoria; Starlog; Cinefantastique; TV Guide; Fighting Star; Famous Monsters of Filmland; the book Making A Monster: The Creation of Screen Characters by the Great Makeup Artists; the MAKING APES documentary; DVD/Blu-ray screen caps; online sources.***
 
 

3 comments:

Anon said...

Very cool!

Steven Millan said...

Truly wonderful and informative interview with Tom Burman as it gives everyone a deep insight on the man himself,even if he did skid around the question upon why he no longer works on modern horror films although we can easily figure out why(since Tom seems to be more of an old school guy[when it comes to horror cinema],ala John Stanley).

venoms5 said...

Thanks, Anon and Steven. It was great fun putting the interview together.

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