The Horror Honeys: "Men in Suits": Meeting the Heart Behind the Mask.

"Men in Suits": Meeting the Heart Behind the Mask.

A Head Honey Interview

At Crypticon Seattle back in May, and in the midst of being pulled in a million different directions, I sent my intrepid hubby on a mission..."Go watch a documentary about the actors who wear all the prosthetics in the films I love...GO!"  Go he did, watch he did, and he LOVED it.  This darling beast of mine hunted down the director and chatted him up until I arrived.  We purchased the DVD and chatted with director Frank Woodward about his incredible mission to bring the hidden actors, the "Men in Suits" to the prominence they deserve.

I know for myself, men in suits have played some of the most powerful and beautiful characters I've ever experienced on screen.  From Amy the Gorilla in Congo to The Angel of Death in Hellboy II: The Golden Army, these actors both have inspired and destroyed me in their own beautiful ways.

I'm honoured that Frank took the time out of his busy schedule to chat with me about this amazing documentary and how he brought it to life. 

1)  How did it feel, as a director, to interview Guillermo Del Toro?  Did you get to interview him in person?  If not, how did it work out?  Why did you choose DelToro to interview?

Guillermo Del Toro is a modern idol of mine. His imagination is so vibrant and alive.  At his best, GDT creates breathing, thinking worlds and I like getting lost in those worlds.  So yeah… he’s kind of cool.

And very generous.  He’s been in two of my documentaries now (LOVECRAFT: FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN and MEN IN SUITS).  I didn’t get to personally interview him for SUITS as I did with LOVECRAFT.  His schedule is a beast unto itself.  Thankfully he wanted to be part of the documentary and we had Javier Soto (BTS producer on almost all of GDT’s films) ask some questions I sent over.

I chose Guillermo Del Toro to represent the filmmaker side of MEN IN SUITS primarily because he’s a staunch believer in practical effects.  It’s in all of his work.  More to the point he knows the strengths and weaknesses of CG vs. practical and to date has always struck the right balance in his films.  

In a world where a lot of directors are choosing the CG path of least resistance, Guillermo Del Toro goes with what feels right.  His respect for the craft and knowledge of the process made him essential to SUITS.
Makeup application wizards at work on The Angel of Death on the set of Hellboy II

2) Your film is full of such amazing characters, who was your favourite interview subject and why?

I loved everyone in this film and I’m not just being polite.  I’m a fan of each person we interviewed for different reasons.  Being a monster kid I knew these guys by name long before making SUITS so I experienced a mix of fanboy awe, respect and nerves when interviewing them.

The person who was most dear to my heart (and dear to pretty much everyone else in the film) is Bob Burns (and this leads into your next question a bit)…


3) Who is your original "Man in a Suit" inspiration?  Which "Man in a Suit" speaks to you the most?

Bob Burns is more than a gorilla man/movie prop curator/fantastic film emissary.  He was my first gorilla man.  I used to watch him play Tracy the Gorilla in THE GHOST BUSTERS (1975).  Every Saturday morning.  

The man is also a fountain of information about movies, mainly because he knows all the big guys and in many cases helped launch their careers.  Rick Baker… Dennis Muren… John Landis… Greg Nicotero… Doug Jones… Tom Woodruff, Jr. … all these guys rose up with a healthy boost from Bob.

Bob also did most of his suit work during the heyday of monsters.  Because of this he became best friends with Glenn Strange (Frankenstein’s Monster), Ben Chapman (The Gill Man), Paul Blaisdell (an iconic monster maker in the 1950s).  As a collector, Bob owns the original King Kong armature, the George Pal Time Machine, a head from every ALIEN film made and so much more.  He’s hardcore in the sweetest way possible.

He’s more than a friend.  I’m very honored to know him.
The framework of an original Gorilla suit head

4) Who was your childhood monster nightmare? 

MORLOCKS!
My first monsters were from Universal Horror and Godzilla films.  Scary, but more mesmerizing than nightmarish.  Same thing with most of the guys in suits I grew up on.  

I do remember the Morlocks from George Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE (1960) freaking me out.  I think it had to do with the glowing eyes.  That and the guy from LASERBLAST (1978).  Not a suit film.  Not even a great make up, but that gave me some nightmares.  Those glowing eyes again.




Head Honey's dream: Lunch with Pan
5) This film is very Del Toro heavy in reference -- what is your relationship with his films?  I know they've touched me deeply.

Not sure what else to say here, except Guillermo is the most pure at what he does.  He loves everything about the worlds and characters he creates.  He’s also influenced by darker tendencies than one finds in Spielberg films. The Brothers Grimm by way of Lovecraft.


6) What was the LEAST horrifying "Man in a Suit"?

Some of what you saw in 50s sci-fi was pretty laughable, but they were also charming.  I’d say the worst was the mutant parrot thing from NIGHT OF THE BLOOD BEAST (1958).
Dear God what the hell IS that???

7) What are your personal thoughts on Harou Nakajima's Godzilla?  He seems like a completely lovely, UTTER BADASS! For such an experimental time in filmmaking, do you think anyone else could have played the radioactive lizard as well?

Haruo Nakajima was my Godzilla.  In fact all the Toho films I saw as a kid had Mr. Nakajima wearing the suit.  GODZILLARODANWAR OF THE GARGANTUAS.  

I loved the way Nakajima made Godzilla move and, like Sean Connery, all subsequent performers are measured up against him.  GODZILLA vs. THE SMOG MONSTER (1971) was my first monster movie in a theatre and Nakajima owned Godzilla by then.

As for other people playing the role… we know that stuntman Katsumi Tezuka tried to share the role of Godzilla in the 1954 film.  But Tezuka ultimately couldn’t take it.  He passed out in the costume.  Nakajima had the right stuff and, given the mechanics of the suit, was the only one who could handle it at that time.  As suit design evolved, other actors could handle the stress of being Godzilla.  It was Nakajima, though, that took that giant leap for kaiju kind. 
Get this badass some tea!

8) How did you find your contributors to this film?  How long did it take you to acquire all of the archival footage and usage rights/permissions? 

We found our contributors in a very old fashioned way… we asked them.  Every person we approached digs monsters and loves what they do.  They were more than willing to help get the message of SUITS across.  That it takes more than some P.A. to make a suit come alive.  It takes an actor.

As for footage… there is a clause in copyright law called fair use.  In essence it states that you are allowed to use a fair portion of a copyrighted work for the purposes of critique, essay, commentary or satire without seeking permission.  Now there’s a lot involved in claiming fair use.  To save time I’ll simply point folks toward the Documentary Filmmakers' Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use. (http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/fair-use/best-practices/documentary/documentary-filmmakers-statement-best-practices-fair-use )  
Fair use is an essential right for documentary filmmakers and we should all use it or lose it.  You should also consult with legal minds to help make sense of it.

9) Who said no to interviews?  Can you tell me?

There were three key people I wanted to have in MEN IN SUITS.  Two of which declined.  One of which was simply committed elsewhere.

Ricou Browning
Ricou Browning, the actor who played the underwater creature in CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954), passed.  Not sure why.  The man is known for so much more than playing the Gillman, though.  He revolutionized underwater action for film & TV and I think he’d rather talk about that these days.  The final scene in THUNDERBALL (1965)… never would have happened without Ricou Browning.

Caroll Spinney (a.k.a. Big Bird) politely passed on SUITS as well, mainly because a group of filmmakers were already making a film about him.  We didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes.

And Rick Baker…. He wanted to be interviewed, but his work on MEN IN BLACK III kept him quite busy.  We ultimately had to move on and finish the film.

This kind of stuff happens all the time in filmmaking and there’s no harm or foul.

10) I personally found Van Snowden's story very touching...what does it mean to you to have helped him to tell a bit of his story?

Van Snowden as H.R Puff N Stuff
Like so many of the films and shows discussed in SUITS, the ones by puppeteers Sid & Marty Krofft were a staple of my childhood.  I even remember going to the short lived Krofft theme park in Atlanta where, coincidentally, Van Snowden worked in between productions.

Needless to say it was an honor meeting him.

Later, while we were in the middle of cutting, we learned that Van had passed away.  Apparently not long after our interview.  That original honor grew because now we were presenting a eulogy.  

Some of the things Van says in the film are so poignant in light of his passing.  I wish I had the chance to know him better.

11) The ending of the film strikes me as rather abrupt and kind of sad...as CGI was beginning to eclipse practical FX and suit actors.  Now that it's 2013...what you would you want to add to this film?  Any interviews or follow-ups?

With any luck suit acting will have many other chapters.  I know Douglas Tait, for instance, has literally traveled the world since we followed him. He’s been to China, South Africa… all playing creatures and wearing suits.

I would also add Derek Mears, another actor we weren’t able to interview.  Derek plays Edward the Troll in HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS.  While the film didn’t amaze anybody much, Derek’s work did!  It kept the art of suit acting alive.  Edward was also another state of the art suit by Spectral Motion.  

I’d also delve more into motion capture.  Since completing the film, I was able to have Rick Baker on a Gorilla Men panel for Son of Monsterpalooza.  Rick seemed doubtful that we would ever see practical gorillas in the future especially in light of the new PLANET OF THE APES series.  I’d like to explore that.

12) What do you personally see as the future of "Men in Suits"?  Are they being replaced by character actors in prosthetics and makeup (Silent Hill, World War Z, Walking Dead, Star Trek, etc)?

I think the future of anything is uncertain.  As for suits… it really depends on what side of bed I wake on in the morning.  Most days I think there will always be a place for practical monsters especially since today’s filmmakers (like Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam Green, etc.) came up on a steady diet of 80s films with practical FX.  THE THINGGREMLINSAMERICAN WEREWOLF.  They want to see it, feel it.

On other days, however, I ponder the next generation of filmmakers.  The ones brought up on CG films like JURASSIC PARKI AM LEGEND… and now PACIFIC RIM.  Unless they delve into film history (as all budding filmmakers should) they won’t know the joy of the practical.  They’ll reach for the CG tool first thing.
CG Magic + a Man in a Suit...

That’s another reason to make a film like MEN IN SUITS.  To celebrate a craft people may not remember or have yet to enjoy.  A tall order for a wee documentary like ours, but we do what we can.

13) "Men in Suits" was crowdfunded...your Kickstarter Campaign...tell me about it!  Were you worried at any time that it wouldn't be funded?  What was your Plan B, just in case?

Plan B was to just sink our own money into it.  It would have taken longer, but MEN IN SUITS was gonna get finished one way or another.  

Our Kickstarter campaign was meant to pay for the final elements.  Music… sound mix… DVDs.  We were a little nervous about not making our goal, primarily because we were new to the whole crowdfunding thing.  We’d tried once before to raise money for a Tokyo shoot and missed our goal.  That was because we didn’t understand the value of “feeding the beast” and keeping the campaign updated with blogs, pictures and video.  Crowdfunding is a full time job.

We were lucky with SUITS because we had the film pretty much finished.  That meant we could show a lot of our work and convince people the film would see a release.  That’s one of many keys to crowdfunding… showing contributors that you can deliver.  

(FINALLY) Where can people see "Men In Suits"?  Are you making the Film Festival/Convention circuit?  

Right now people can buy the film on Amazon.  Our first run of DVDs is almost sold out, though, so hurry if you want a physical copy.  The next stage will be downloads and streaming.  We should have that in place within the next couple of months so watch this space.


We’ve also been doing select screenings at festivals and cons around the States and abroad so keep checking in with our fan page or website (www.wyrdstuff.com).  We hope MEN IN SUITS will be coming to a town near you.

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