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 Mike McCarty Interview 
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There's a good chance you've never heard of Mike McCarty. If you've ever been to a film, however, I can practically guarantee you've seen his work.  With over 100 films to his credit, McCarty's work in the area of special effects and make-up has been featured in a wide variety of films ranging from all of Robert Rodriguez films to the "Kill Bill" films to this year's Oscar-winning "Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," for which his employer, Howard Berger and KNB Effects Group won the Oscar for Best Make-up.  McCarty, recently featured in Maxim Magazine, agreed to speak with Richard about his life in film, working in special effects and what it takes to make it in his line of work.

Richard:

Can you tell me about KNB Effects Group and your role on the team?

Mike:

KNB stands for Kurtzman, Nicotero, and Berger. They are the three men who started the company 20 years ago; Bob Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger.  My role is basically just another member of the team. We don't really have specific job titles, but there are departments: Mold making, art, mechanics, fabrication, and foam. I guess I would be one of the art guys, but I started out making molds for KNB in 1996. Mostly what I do these days is paint, usually in tones of brown as most of my fellow employees like to joke about. A few years ago Alex Diaz, who I have shared a table with for nearly ten years, noticed that everything I paint ends up being earth tones. People started quoting UPS commercials around me "what can brown do for you." Then, we had a German documentary shooting in the shop for a day or so. This German woman with a heavy accent was speaking to me about the paint job I happened to be doing on a lake monster. She asked all kinds of questions about types of paint and colors and how long it would take. I put on my best professional voice and explained in great detail exactly what I was doing.  She just kept smiling and nodding and when I was done she said in a thick accent "by ze time you are done it vill be brown." I nearly died laughing. No one had put her up to it. So, it was kind of perfect.

Richard:

KNB specifically, Howard Berger (along with Tami Lane) won the Oscar for Best Achievement in Make-up this year for "Chronicles of Narnia." What was your role on this film?

Mike:

What did I do on the film? I remember painting a bunch of Minotaur heads and all the horns. I did all the dead Minotaurs and some painting on some of the monster suits, as well as background masks for various characters. It's such a team effort it's hard to take credit for stuff. We had over 85 people working at KNB then. Normally, we have about 30.

Richard:

Have there been other awards?

Mike:

Besides the Oscar, KNB has won an Emmy, a Saturn, and a BAFTA. I believe we are nominated for another Saturn this year, as well.

Richard:

You've worked with KNB since 1996. Do you remember your first feature film?

Mike:

I have worked in special effects make-up for over 16 years.  My first film was "Star Trek VI." My mom, who's a Trekkie, was most excited about that one. I poured up some special costume pieces for a company that's now called Global FX. Most FX houses do a lot of specialty prop. and costume type stuff along with make-up.

Richard:

How did you get interested in special effects? How did you get involved in the field?

Mike:

I blame my Mom for my interest in make-up and monsters. When I was young, she used to make me watch movies like "The Blob" and "The Thing" with her. From there, it just flourished. I was making my own movies by the age of 16 and killing off my friends in them. I even started a production company with a friend named Mike Axtell. We called ourselves Brimstone Video Productions. We chose the name because it sounded spooky, naturally. I got my first job after I delivered a pizza to a company called Global FX. I had already done a bunch of stuff on my own but hadn't really had any interviews yet. When I delivered the pizza, I asked if I could get an interview and they said come back tomorrow afternoon. So I did. I showed them my stuff. They were very nice and gave me the courteous pat on the back followed with a "we're not hiring right now but we'll call you." I said "listen I don't care what I do. I'll sweep your floor if I have to, I just want to get my foot in the door."  Chris Gilman,the owner of the company, said "can ya start next week?" The rest is history.

Richard:

You've worked on over 100 films. That seems amazing. How long does your work on a film usually last?

Mike:

When you work for a big shop like KNB you sometimes get the chance to work on several movies or TV shows at the same time. I think we have 11 projects in the shop right now and there are more on the horizon. Occasionally, you'll get to "run" with a show from beginning to end. Last year, a small crew of 5 of us was on set for Poseidon for 5 months. I think that takes my personal record for longest time working on a single show.

Richard:

Any celebrity stories you can share? Favorite people to work with? Anything in particular stand out?

Mike:

I think I'm gonna leave this one alone. The last thing any celebrity wants to read about is what some guy who worked with him did and thinks about their time together. I'll just say most celebrities are normal "real" people that can be down to earth and fun, not much different from you or me.

Richard:

What's the hardest part of your job?

Mike:

The hardest part of my Job.I have no idea. Each job presents a different challenge. Perhaps the hardest part is we rarely get the time we need to do stuff .

Richard:

I was wondering...do you have kids? a family? You have worked on a LOT of horror films. I would think that'd be really challenging with all the intensity, the violence, the gore.  For example, you worked on the recent release "Hostel." Man, that was one intense film.

Mike:

I don't have any kids yet and working on horror films isn't any different than Halloween really. It's just a job like any other. Sure some of the films we do are very intense or graphic, more and more these days with Films like "Hostel" and "The Hills Have Eyes." When you're working on something in the shop or on set it's much different than when you see it in the film with lighting, editing, and sound fx. Of course, by the time I see it in a film I know what all went into it so it doesn't bother me then either. That doesn't mean a twisted movie won't get a reaction out of me.

Richard:

Have you ever come across something you refused to do in terms of special effects?

Mike:

No I haven't. The creepiest thing I ever did was put a severed leg stump appliance on a amputee. The whole time she kept telling me how much it looked like the night she lost her leg. That was kind of creepy.

Richard:

Well, I happen to be a double amputee. We may have to talk later.  Where would you like to see your career go from here? I understand you have an interest in writing, as well?

Mike:

I am currently taking a stab at writing horror. I have several short stories I'm shopping around to various publications and I'm working on a novel as well. It's all coming together very well. I'm also lucky enough to be working with an award winning novelist, James A. Moore, as my mentor.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to have a treatment (movie idea) optioned and sold to Miramax for one year. After their one-year of owning it they never made the movie, so it's in the process of being sold again.

Richard:

What current projects are you working on?

Mike:

I'm headed to New Orleans to work on Tony Scott's "Deja-Vu." The shop is doing Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's new movie called "Grindhouse." We actually have a big crew in Texas filming that right now. Soon we will start "Prince Caspian," the sequel to "Narnia," and a ton of other stuff. KNB stays pretty busy.

Richard:

What does it take to break into your field? Any tips or suggestions for aspiring FX folks?

Mike:

A talent in art, be it sculpting, painting, or drawing, raid your moms make-up. Play around, not just at Halloween. There are a ton of books, videos and even schools that teach the basics of what it takes to do stuff . Student films, is a good way to cut your teeth as well. Look for some student film project that needs some FX work and do it. Sometimes, local theaters need people to do makeup for plays as well. I would start there and practice, practice, practice. Once you've practiced the hell out of stuff, take good clean pictures of your work and put together a resume. After that it's all up to how hungry you are. So go get it done already!

Richard:

What's the difference between working on a film like "Narnia" and a horror film?

Mike:

There isn't much difference, except maybe you can't hide any mistakes on set with fake blood ☺

Richard:

Was your family supportive when you decided to do this? What was your background? college? did you study film? high school? or is this the type of field where you just have to get the experience and keep working in it?

Mike:

Of course, they are. My parents are very proud. I started making movies in high school with my buddy Mike Axtell. I actually didn't think it would pan out into a real career at the time. It was just a dream. This is definitely the kind of business where you have to get your foot in the door and prove you're hungry.

Richard:

What did you think of the Oscars? Do you typically watch them?

Mike:

I always watch the Oscars and I always enjoy them. Most people in our business are naturally big fans.

Richard:

Well, this has been a wonderful conversation. I know you're getting ready to leave for New Orleans. I'd best let you finish getting ready. Thanks so much for your time and I congratulate your entire team on your well-deserved Oscar win!

Mike:

I've enjoyed it. Thank you.

For more information on KNB Effects Group, you can visit their IMDB listing.  

This interview was first published on IndependentCritics.com on March 22, 2006.

- Richard Propes
 The Independent Critic
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