Sunday, April 11, 2010

ALL ABOUT EVILThe Evening Class Interview With Aurora Bergere

Imagine being a young effects artist relatively new to the scene and sitting in front of Joshua Grannell with your portfolio and your resume, listening to his ambitious vision for his first feature film All About Evil. Imagine him describing all the shock gags he wants to include in the film. Then imagine being told you have next to nothing to make those effects happen. Why would you bother? Because, after listening to Grannell relay his dream, Aurora Bergere wanted to do everything she could "to make his dream happen." Everyone I know who has worked on this project has felt the same way, including myself. I feel like someone sprinkled me with holy water, incanting, "The spirit of Peaches Christ compels you!"

Alongside the Victoria Theatre near the back stage entrance Bergere and I found two folding chairs during her break and warded off the cool night with some warm talk. [This conversation is not for the spoiler-wary!!]

* * *

Michael Guillén: In the space of two years since you moved from France to San Francisco, Aurora, you have already built up your resume with some notable Bay Area projects, including Pighunt, La Missión, and now All About Evil. Why did you choose San Francisco rather than Los Angeles to pursue make-up effects?

Aurora Bergere: I chose the Bay Area first off because of
Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). I grew up with all those big movies whose special effects were made by ILM. I wanted to meet with them and, hopefully, work with them and—though I didn't know if that would happen or not—that was one of the reasons why I moved to the Bay Area. A second reason was that I grew up in a small town in the south of France so I was still a little scared about Hollywood and everything around it, so I played it safe by starting out in the Bay Area and taking it one step at a time. Then I fell in love with San Francisco and never wanted to move, to be honest.

Guillén: You got your start interning with special make-up effects on the film Catwoman?

Bergere: That wasn't my first movie, but it was my first big movie, where I worked with well-known professionals. I worked nine months on that shoot. I was about 21-22 years old.

Guillén: You're in a nice dovetail right now as La Missión is just about to open the San Francisco International Film Festival, and you were assistant make-up artist on that film before joining the crew of All About Evil.

Bergere: That's true. I feel very lucky. I don't know how, I don't know why, but….

Guillén: I suspect you're doing good work.

Bergere: I guess so! I think I am.

Guillén: How did you become involved with All About Evil? Did you know Joshua beforehand?

Bergere: I didn't know Joshua at all. I knew
Brian Benson, who was the first assistant director and one of the producers. We worked together on La Missión. He knew I was capable and—at that particular time—I was finally working with ILM but they didn't have much money. When we went to Sundance with La Missión, he started talking to me about working on All About Evil. So I said, sure, I'll bring my portfolio and resume to them and see what we can do with what they have. Though I won't say I fell in love with Joshua the first time I met him, I walked away feeling a very deep connection with him. He's an amazing person, one-of-a-kind, with a beautiful karma. I just wanted to make his dream happen. So I jumped on board.

Guillén: How closely have your effects matched what Joshua had written for his script? Were they specifically delineated in his script? Or did you negotiate with Joshua during production on what effects could be created within budget restraints?

Bergere: No. Joshua has a wide imagination. All these effects were written into the script how he wanted them to look like, except for one effect—the amputated breasts—where I had a little bit of input. He wanted something simple for that shock gag because, of course, he didn't know what we would be able to achieve technically. I understood, but, I wanted to take it to the next level for him so we made this beautiful appliance with tubes and syringes inside. It was gorgeous. I was very happy to create it in the time that we had because we only had three weeks of pre-production to make these effects happen.

Guillén: My understanding is that All About Evil blends your practical effects with some CGI?

Bergere: Yes, but not much CGI. The CGI people are here primarily because Joshua wrote a scene that involves a projection. There is a film within the film. That's why they brought in visual effects. Thank God I was able to make most of the effects without visual effects. Maybe they'll do some touch-up—that's always happening—but, I don't think they'll have much to do actually.

Guillén: It strikes me that your effects are very much in the tradition of the practical effects used by Peter Jackson in his early films. Was that tradition an influence on your work?

Bergere: Oh yes, absolutely. I'm a big fan of his and other early films. My B.A. is in literature and art history and so it was Frankenstein that first caught my attention. I was intrigued by how they had taken this book and used special effects to turn it into a movie and then I became interested in how you create effects with whatever you have on hand around you. That's how I got started. Ever since I was a kid, I would make something out of whatever I could get my hands on, and later in college I studied painting, sculpting.

Guillén: As you were developing this talent in this small town you grew up in southern France, did others consider you odd?

Bergere: [Laughs.]

Guillén: Well, weren't you the only one? Was anyone else doing this?

Bergere: No, naturally; but, it took time to develop because in France it's completely different than here. Being an artist is difficult and it's hard to make a living at it there. So I had all this talent in my hands but I didn't know what to do with it.

Guillén: You're reminding me of Robert Green Hall's Lightning Bug. Have you ever seen that film?

Bergere: No, tell me about it.

Guillén: Well, Robert Green Hall is himself a make-up artist who directed this film Lightning Bug that was basically autobiographical, about a young boy growing up in a small town in rural Alabama who wants to work in Hollywood as a make-up effects artist. He's extremely creative but no one around him understands what he's dreaming for himself.

Bergere: Sometimes I fantasize on what it would have been like to grow up here in the U.S. instead of in France. At least here kids have influences around them. For me, everything had to come through my imagination. Where I grew up in the south of France, I had no access to effect supplies. Though, to be honest, later on I found this to be a good thing because I've been forced to improve my art with nothing. Now that I have the materials that I need, I can take my imagination to the next level.

Guillén: Speaking of effect supplies, about how many buckets of blood have you used in shooting All About Evil?

Bergere: Not much, actually. I've used about 10 gallons.

Guillén: What is your blood made of?

Bergere: It's the
Dick Smith formula: basically, karo syrup, pigment, water. That's pretty much it.

Guillén: I imagine that—as a make-up artist who is constantly "taking it to the next level" with each assignment—that you are continually growing and learning as an artist?

Bergere: Absolutely.

Guillén: What would you say you have learned from working on All About Evil? Have there been challenges that have provoked you to learn new things?

Bergere: A lot of new things. At first I was worried because the script called for a lot of effects that involved prosthetics and—as anyone who works in make-up effects knows—they take a lot of time to make. It takes about six to eight hours just to make a mold, then you have to do a live casting, and all the rest. It's a lot of work. I worked non-stop seven days a week, 17 hours a day for about three weeks to get it done on time. That was something Joshua didn't get until he saw the appliances and then he was like, "Oh my God, Aurora, I'm so sorry. Now I understand."

So, yes, I learned a lot. I learned that basically without a lot of money, you can still do a very beautiful movie.

Guillén: How has it been for you with this cast of actors applying make-up and prosthetics?

Bergere: I feel very lucky.
Mink Stole is a player. She went for it. She's awesome. I had a blast working with her. The same thing with Kat Turner. She was wonderful. To keep it short, I feel very lucky. They were all game and enthusiastic. And again, Joshua's energy was all around you. Everyone is here for him.

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