Interview with Brett Piper
Hello loyal readers. Tonight I’m posting an interview I did with Brett Piper – a writer, director, and special effects artist – whose writing and directing credits include A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell and most recently The Dark Sleep. I highly suggest you visit his website and/or Facebook page to learn more about him and his latest projects. Thanks again to Mr. Piper for letting me interview him; this is my first interview.
To get started, how did you get into stop animation and special effects?
Oh man, it is so the usual story! Saw King Kong when I was a kid, was totally blown away by it, began trying to find out how they pulled it off, learned about O’Brien and Cooper and the rest and started making my own models and such and playing around with stop motion. You know how it goes. We all have the same story.
How did you get started directing?
I don’t consider myself a director, I consider myself a movie-maker. I don’t even like directing, but if I don’t direct I don’t get the footage I need to make the movie.
I hear you’re a fan of Ray Harryhausen and Willis O’ Brien. What is your favorite Harryhausen movie? How about your favorite O’ Brien movie?
I don’t want to sound evasive but I’m not sure I can pick a favorite Harryhausen movie. (My least favorite Harryhausen movie is Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger). Most of the others have at least something that makes them great. Mysterious Island may be his best all around movie. It’s one of the few (along with First Men in the Moon) that works even when Ray’s effects aren’t on screen, it’s just a solid, well-made adventure tale, and the effects send it over the top. But Seventh Voyage of Sinbad has cooler monsters. Jason has the Skeleton scene. Mighty Joe Young has amazing character animation. So much good stuff.
Favorite O’Brien movie? Are you kidding? Kong towers above them all. Jackson’s version is just a bloated, wimpy shadow of it.
Are there any other special effects artists or directors you admire?
Jim Danforth is a wonderful animator, although he hasn’t had much of a career. Pete Peterson did some terrific work. Al Whitlock is a fantastic matte painter and effects man. The Lydecker Brothers did amazing miniature effects. Ejii Tsuberaya also did some great work. I have a soft spot for Les Bowie. His work was spotty but he did his best with little money or time. I can identify with that.
You’re big on practical effects, makeup, and stop motion animation. What do you think are the advantages of these over CGI?
I like doing them better. It’s more satisfying building a model and shooting it than it is creating illusions on a computer. To me, anyway. Also I like being the outsider, the last holdout.
Where did the idea for A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell come from?
I wanted to see if I could do a Harryhausen style period movie, castles and monsters and costumes and such, with very little money. I think we succeeded in that anyway, even if the movie itself doesn’t hold up all that well.
You mentioned to me in the comments that the lack of dialogue was because a potential distributor thought it would make it easier to distribute in foreign markets. Did you have to cut up a fully fleshed out script with dialogue when they made that ‘helpful’ suggestion or did you just have a spec script?
No, the script was originally written with very little dialogue, based on the distributor’s comment.
About the opening sequence, introducing us to the movie, was that put together after you signed on with Troma? I assumed it was because there’s nothing else in the film to connect it with Tromaville.
The opening was entirely Troma’s, including the silly voice over (and the title). It’s caused me a certain amount of trouble. People criticize the inconsistencies in the story not knowing (or caring) that it was never supposed to be a post-nuke tale.
Where was this film shot?
Southern New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts. I used to live pretty much on the border.
What’s with the troll that gets attacked by the lizard men and Clon? The credits list the actor’s name as Ryan Piper. Is that your son?
He’s my nephew. During the shoot I thought I’d killed him. He collapsed in the surf and after I yelled cut he lay there not moving. It was a hot day and I was afraid the shock of hitting the cold water had done something. I ran over and asked him if he was okay and he looked up, face still half in the water, and said “Oh, I didn’t hear you yell ‘cut’.”
What is Clon’s story? He has his own castle, he rules over the lizard men, he wears a cool skull headpiece and a fur cloak. Is he some kind of barbarian king? Is he human or a mutant?
I guess he’s a barbarian king. I suppose he’s human. He was also the co-producer. And he was named after Mike Mazurki’s character in the old sitcom It’s About Time.
I love that the old man recites the Jabberwocky, but what significance, if any, does it have with the rest of the film?
I just thought it would be funny, in a movie where no one else talks, to have one character who never shut up. I also think I was slightly influenced by Leo McKern in Rumpole of the Bailey.
I love the creature designs in this film. My favorite is the stegosaurus-like creature with the crescent horns. Where did you come up with the designs for these creatures?
I did a few sketches first. The horned creature was based partly on a rhinoceros beetle. The monster it fights was sort of a canine version of the Rhedosaurus in Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.
One last question, would you like to tell our readers about your upcoming projects? I read on your Facebook wall that you’ve nearly finished Dark Sleep and recently started filming Queen Crab. To care to comment on those movies?
Since moving to Pennsylvania I’ve been working a lot with my friends the Polonias. Actually, that was the reason I moved here in the first place. By pooling our resources we’ve been able to make reasonably good looking movies very, very cheap. Muckman was kind of a misstep but we’re very happy with The Dark Sleep, which is more or less based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Queen Crab is a return to our retro roots, very much (to me anyway) in the spirit of Universal’s second string features like Monolith Monsters and Tarantula. I haven’t started cutting it yet but it looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun.