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Home | Columns | The FX Shop | The FX Shop: Robert Kurtzman (P13 Studios)

The FX Shop: Robert Kurtzman (P13 Studios)

Hello Boils and Crazy back stabbing fiends today i bring you an FX legend who’s done amazing work on some of our favorite horror movies from the early 1980’s to present and his name is non other then Robert Kurtzman and he owns/operates Precinct 13 Productions. He’s made Fx make-up/prosthetic work for such classics as Tremors, From Beyond, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, Predator, Pumpkinhead 2: Blood Wings, From Dusk Till Dawn 1-3,Wishmaster,Re-Animator,Intruder,Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dead, Army of Darkness, and countless of others!

He is also is a writer/director of such genre favorites as Wishmaster,The Demolitionist, Buried Alive,The Rage, and To Live and Die. And above all else is really a fan of horror at heart and is passionate to do what he loves! Lets get started!

Dr. Gorehound: Lets reverse back in time to like the early 80’s when you first entered the FX industry, how did you get working with KNB and with other FX men like Tom Savini,Gary Jones, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger? Also What fascinates you the most about doing what you love Make-up,prosthetics, creature work, cgi etc.

Robert Kurtzman: Howard, Greg and Myself were working around town as freelance artists for Stan Winston, Kevin Yagher, Mark Shostrom, Savini and various other companies when we decided to form KNB and go out on our own. I met Gary Jones while working on Evil Dead 2. Gary owned a company in Michigan called Acme Effects and they were doing miniature work on the film. We’ve been good friends ever since.

The entire filmmaking process fascinates me. The storytelling as well as the fx. I’ve always loved creating things from scratch and the challenges of problem solving things creatively.

Dr. Gorehound: How was it like working on some of your early amazing work on such film as Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond, Re-Animator,Night of the Comet, Bride of Re-Animator,Phantasm 2,The Horror Show, Predator,Tremors,Etc. What materials/chemicals did you use to create those effects and what was the best experience you had working on those projects??

Robert Kurtzman: Night of the Creeps…not Comet.

It was an incredible time in horror as the FX business was just starting to take off and I had gotten in on the ground floor of the burgeoning industry. I was very lucky in that I was able to work with all the filmmakers that I’d grown up admiring and was able to interact with them creatively. It was a great learning experience for me to be able to watch these directors on set as each had different creative process.

Allot of these films were low budget films so we had to be very creative in how we approached the effects. We used everything from foam latex, urethanes, stone and fiberglass molds, silicones etc. We still use these materials today although there has been major advances made with these products over the years that has obviously helped us as artists to create cleaner more refined work. I’ve had great experiences working on all these films but Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn and Army of Darkness were two of my favorite working experiences.

Dr. Gorehound: Did you also do animatronic/puppeteer work on such films as A Nightmare on Elm St. parts 3 & 5,Tales From the Dark Side, Predator,etc.?? Also do you pace yourself and do the best possible job you can do with those effects? (i know you truly do)

Robert Kurtzman: We did do animatronics work on those films. For the smaller productions we utilized very crude animatronics such as push pull and cable mechanisms and later began using radio controlled servos, pneumatics, and hydraulics. As our budgets went up we were able to incorporate more complicated and precise mechanical rigs suing machined out parts and high tech computer controlled rigs.

As far as pacing ourselves, we are at the mercy of the production schedules. There is never enough time to do the work. You always want more time for R&D and to refine the work to make it the best you can possibly make it. You just have to create the best work possible given the budget and schedule you have to work with.

Dr. Gorehound: How is it like working with some of your favorite friends/directors like Robert Rodriguez, Stuart Gordon, Quentin Tarantino, Don Coscarelli, Sam Raimi, Greg Nicotero,Tom Savini, Gary Jones, Howard Berger,Etc. On the films and make-up department?

Are there any crazy/funny story’s that happened on set with those guys that you can share with us??

Robert Kurtzman: Its always great to work with creative people who have a vision and some of those people are friends who you manage to have a shorthand with. It works out great when you can work creatively with people who speak the same language as you do and you work well together throughout the process. As far as stories, there are hundreds so I can’t even begin to zero in on any. Most of the good ones cant really be talked about. Most of the stories are from my days with Howard and Greg and the early days at KNB.

Dr. Gorehound: How did you come to create such an empire like P13: Precinct 13 Studios? Did you always plan to create your own FX studio after leaving KNB? Also is the name P13 a throwback to John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13?

Robert Kurtzman: I always wanted a company that did more than just fx work. A production company that also could be involved in every aspect of filmmaking. After leaving KNB my intension was to move away from Hollywood and not have to do fx or make movies entirely on their terms. I wanted to experience creating something on my own from the ground up and learn the entire filmmaking process form raising moneys to shooting. Yes P13 is a throwback to JC’s Assault on Precinct 13. Its one of my favorite films and a great low budget movie that shows what can be done on a tight budget, which is what my company is all about.

Dr. Gorehound: What types of Effects does Precinct 13 specialize in the most in films and TV?

Robert Kurtzman: We do Special Make-Up, Animatronics, Human and Animal replicas, special props, Compositing, 2D and 3D animation, titles, special costumes, Miniatures…. We do a little bit of everything.
We also have our own production and editorial facilities were we’ve cut 3 feature films as well as rock videos, and commercial productions.

Dr. Gorehound: Did you always plan to direct and do FX on your own films such as The Demolitionist, Wishmaster, Buried Alive, The Rage, and To Live and Die? Also which do you prefer doing the most FX or direct?

Robert Kurtzman: I got into FX to satisfy my artistic needs…my need to express myself. Directing films is just an extension of that. I love doing fx work but directing is my favorite.

Dr. Gorehound: Do you still do hands on make-up still or just supervise your crew mostly or both?

Robert Kurtzman: I do both. I have a great support team but I still love to get my hands dirty. When things need to get done I’m right in there with the crew. On films I’m directing I’m heavily involved in the design process but prepping a film takes allot of time so I rely heavily on my creative team who have been with me for more than 10 years.

Dr. Gorehound: You,Gary Jones, and Howard Berger have been in the effects industry for over 20 plus years or more, what’s it like working with each other?

Robert Kurtzman: We’ve been in the business for almost 25 years and working with each other for all of those years was an incredible experience. We know how each other works and have a shorthand that comes with years of experience and knowing each other strengths and weaknesses which it is beneficial when we do projects together.

Dr. Gorehound: You also write scripts for your own films and others, how does your imagination work come up with great story’s?

Robert Kurtzman: I just try to have fun with the process and keep it malleable. I like to come up with ideas and see were the process takes me. I like to work with other creative people and do allot of story development with them. Its great to have people to bounce ideas back and forth off of.

Dr. Gorehound: Can you explain some of the visual effects work you’ve done on such new classic films such as The Devil’s Rejects,Hostel,The Rage,2001 Maniacs,etc.

Robert Kurtzman: The Devils Rejects was a big challenge for us as it was our fist big film doing CGI and it had lots of effects that had to go unnoticed as fx. We had bullet hits, knife extensions and digital wounds and fire etc. The entire end of the film shootout was done with all CGI bullet hits (Glass, Flesh, gun flashes). It was a big safety issue on set and we ended up doing more visual fx than what was originally planned. There are dozens in the film that are pretty seamless and most people don’t even know that they are visual fx. The same goes for Hostel. Maniacs was a film that we were brought in on post to do some digital fixes on make-up fx and we were asked to digitally add people to all the wide shots to make it look like there were more extras in the film. We did this but setting up a film shoot at P13 and put a 40×40 green screens up on the back-lot and we shot 50 extras in wardrobe to composite into the various shots in the film and make it look like there were hundreds.

The Rage was a huge challenge as we had a very limited budget and tons of make-ups and physical gags as well as 280 visual effects shots we had to do in a short 10 weeks. Everything from the vultures to digital augmentation of the blood and guts sequences. We had a very short shooting schedule and to pull off everything physically into the time frame we had was not possible so we did allot of CGI work from digital blood hits to creating an entire motor home crash in CGI.

Dr. Gorehound: What effects did you create on the very gorie Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, and what’s it like working with stuntman/actor Kane Hodder?

Robert Kurtzman: I love working with Kane. He’s a great guy fun to work with. I was the supervisor on Jason and did all the set work and the application work on the film. My favorite effect in the film was the girl getting split in half in the tent. We had to do a full body nude cast in that position and then create a urethane copy of her to straddle the actor while having sex. It had to be very realistic and we had only a week to pull it off as it was an added scene that was shot after main shoot was completed.

Dr. Gorehound: . You did allot of effects with your team KNB on Army of Darkness, can you tell us what it was like doing those make-up/prosthetics on that film? Also how’s it like working with Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell since you also worked on its previous classic sequel Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn??

Robert Kurtzman: Army of Darkness was the best time I ever had doing fx on a film. Working with Sam and Bruce is always a pleasure. They both have such enthusiasm for what they do and it comes across in the filmmaking. We had hundreds and hundreds of fx and puppet gags to pull off on the film. The biggest challenge was building things on that we could move quickly on set as Sam likes to come up with things on the fly and we had to be able to go with the flow and give Sam whatever he wanted at the drop of a hat. It was great being on set in the desert with a big castle set with hundreds of men on horseback, and swordplay and skeleton puppets fighting. It was like I was a kid again playing in this fantasy world, like I was in a Sinbad film.

Dr. Gorehound: Your directorial debut WISHMASTER was a really good movie with an iconic character called The Djinn, how was it like working on your first big budgeted theatrical film?

Robert Kurtzman: Thanks….It was actually my second film. I cut my teeth shooting the Demolitionist which I only had a million bucks and 24 days to shoot. The experience helped prepare me for Wishmaster which was a much bigger production 33 days and 6 million dollars. It was my first time dealing with the studio process and a theatrical release. It was a great experience and I made allot of friends especially Andrew Divoff who I love working with.

Dr. Gorehound: I’ve read alot about WISHMASTER and you and your crew had alot of misfortunate events and accidents like one of the sets almost burnt completely down and the actor who plays The Djinn (Andrew Divoff) got a concussion from a gag with a pistol to his head. Can you talk about your good/bad experiences with Wishmaster?

Robert Kurtzman: That was all just part of the process. We also had our camera truck stolen by a transient on the second day of shooting and all the camera equipment fell out of the truck as the police were chasing it down the road. I got a call from our Line producer Russ Markowitz, as I was getting ready to leave for set and he told me to turn on the news. They were filming the whole thing from a helicopter. We lost half a day and had to get new cameras and equipment. Andrew’s concussion was unfortunate but in the long run I was able to re-shoot and do a better gag with him blowing the entire top of his head off. The fire on set was caused when we blew up the statues at the end of the film. We did the gag hundreds of times before but something this time around caused the poly-foam particles to catch fire and set caught fire as well. We burned two 35mm cameras in that fire that shut down shooting for a day. Shit happens.

Dr. Gorehound: You made your first fully financed/directed/written/produced film THE RAGE with your FX company Precinct 13, can you share with us what it was like doing all of the above??

Robert Kurtzman: John Bisson and I wanted to do a throwback film to the movies we grew up on . A fun Drive-In B-Movie ride and we wanted to do it from the ground up by raising our own funding and doing all the work at P13. We created the FX, Sets, and handled every aspect of the shoot. I shot the film myself and operated A camera.

We really wanted to learn everything we could by actually doing it. On my other films I’d directed I was only the director and FX man and I wanted to learn more about the business side of putting a film project together. It was an invaluable learning experience that all filmmakers should go through so they understand the production side of things. (Budgets and scheduling)

Dr. Gorehound: How was it like casting beautiful actresses Misty Mundae and Carmella DeCesare (was she cut from the finished film) in THE RAGE?

Robert Kurtzman: We never shot with Carmella. She dropped out before shooting and was replaced with Erin. Erin was a blast to work with. She was really into the film as we wanted Erin and not her Misty Mundae character. She’s a real trooper as we beat the crap out of her in the film.

Dr. Gorehound: Did you handle/supervised the main monster/gorie FX on THE RAGE? Also when you wrote it was it like suppose to be a homage to old school splatter films like Re-Animator and From Beyond?

Robert Kurtzman: John Bisson and the rest of the guys at the shop supervised allot of the build. I prepped and shot the first 5 days of the shoot and designed and sculpted Andrews make-ups for the film and then I had to leave to shoot Buried Alive while we continued to prep the film. I finished Buried Alive and literally got back to the studio and began shooting the rest of the Rage 2 weeks later, so it was nuts. On top of that I was my own DP on Rage and I had injured my back at the end of Buried Alive and had 2 herniated discs. I had to shoot and operate camera on The RAGE in a back brace. My doctor told me I needed to go into therapy, but I told him there was no way …I had a movie to shoot. Whenever I got on the ground to do a shot I would have to hand the camera off and have several guys help me to my feet I was in so much pain.

Dr. Gorehound: How was it like working on Night of the Creeps with Fred Dekker and what Fx did you handle on that film like the alien slugs?

Robert Kurtzman: Fred was really cool and gave us the opportunity to not only work on the fx but to be in the film as well. All the fx guys got to play frat- zombies. We needed to start the fx early and rather than wait for casting, Fred casted all of us so we could get started. I got to work on all the make-ups and puppet heads that split open as well as running the hundreds of slugs and various other effects.

Dr. Gorehound: What are your top 2 favorite horror films of all time? I know that’s like choosing your top two favorite children! Lol

Robert Kurtzman: The EXORCIST and John Carpenter’s THE THING

Dr. Gorehound: Can you tell us the status of your first action/thriller To Live and Die?

Robert Kurtzman: I believe the film comes out this summer from MGM. It was made for MGM’s home Video Division and was never intended for a theatrical release in US. Although I believe it will be coming out in theaters over seas.

The title will most likely will change as it was a temp title. I should know more soon. The film was a total departure for me as it was a straight action thriller and I was able to edit and post at my facility in Ohio. Andrew Sagar who cut the Rage cut the film. It’s a very exciting thrill ride written by Alex Vesha (also from Ohio) and stars Sean Patrick Flanery and Joe Pantoliano. We shot the film in 24 days in NM last summer. It was produced by my good friend David Greathouse who also produced Buried Alive. David’s one of the best producers I’ve worked with and we have a shorthand which helps when we work together.

Dr. Gorehound: What’s the best advice would you give a struggling artist who’s trying to make it big like you in the FX business?

Robert Kurtzman: Never Give up…You better have a thick skin to work in Hollywood. Learn all that you can about your art and about filmmaking.

Dr. Gorehound: Did you talk to Fx legend Stan Winston on the set of Predator and other films, and how did you handle his recent death? I was really shocked when i found out! We truly lost a great pioneer in creature and make-up FX.

Robert Kurtzman: I worked at Stan’s when I first got in the business on Predator and Aliens, and Invaders From Mars. He was a great person and fun to be around in the shop. His work was pioneering and it was a privilege to have had the opportunity to work with him during my formative years.

Dr. Gorehound: From Dusk Till Dawn is one of my favorite in your face gorie as hell vampire films. Can you talk about your FX and co-directing on that film and its 2 sequels?

Robert Kurtzman: I’m glad you dug the film. I did not co direct on the film. I was a co producer and created the original story as well as designing the fx. On the sequels we only did the fx at KNB. It was a 10 year long nightmare / labor of love trying to get the film made and when Robert R. came on to direct everything fell into place and we made horror film history. The film had a great mix of everything from casting, direction, writing, fx which all made for a really good time at the movies.

Dr. Gorehound: Thanks soo much for sharing your time with us Mr. Kurtzman!

Robert Kurtzman: Thank You!

Visual Effects / Special Make-Up and Creature FX
Film / Commercial / Music Video Production

Check out Robert Kurtzman’s “THE RAGE”

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