FAN EXPO 2015: Tom Savini Recalls His Career, Practical Make-Up, and The Role He Didn’t Get on ‘The Walking Dead’
At nearly 70 years old, practical make-up and special effects master Tom Savini shows no signs of slowing down, but he did note that he’s taking more time to live in the moment. Worried about the future, fretting about the past, don’t worry about it Savini said, “these are two places you can’t do anything about, two places your helpless in.” Savini was rather philosophical there at the beginning of his Q&A, but most of his panel at Fan Expo was less about the moment then it was revising his past, his future, and the inspiration he could offer for future effects artists.
Amongst the litany of projects on his plate right now, Savini is managing a career consulting with various film productions on special effects, working on his own career as an actor and director, and teaching at the make-up school that bears his name, three graduates of which are participating in this season’s competition on Face-Off. He’s also working on a documentary about his career called Smoke and Mirrors, and he’s producing the kills and chases for a Friday the 13th video game that will feature motion capture by Kane Hodder as Jason.
Obviously, the focus of the questions from the audience was on Savini’s past successes, including this year’s 30th anniversary of Day of the Dead. “Is it really?” Savini said with surprise. “That’s my masterpiece.” He then recalled a valuable lesson he learned on the set of Day, “You can build rubber intestines but there not as good as the real thing.”
Despite a life spent figuring out a way to do the grossest things without the benefit of CGI, Savini was oddly unperturbed by the prevalence of digital effects. “I don’t think [CGI] has taken over, it’s great when its done well,” he said. “You think that when an effect is good then it must be CGI. There is this movment back now, but I think the best effects are a combination. but when you see my effects its right in front of your eyes.”
Savini recalled shooting Deranged in Toronto and being forced to knock on a door at two ‘o’ clock in the morning to ask for help when his car broke down on a cold winter’s night and being aghast that someone would open a door to a stranger at two ‘o’ clock in the morning. He talked about how nothing he made worked on the set of Creepshow, which was especially disheartening since he was working with another horror master in the form of Stephen King. And he offered his appreciation to the cast of From Dusk Till Dawn, especially George Clooney who would get into water gun fights with Savini’s then nine-year-old daughter.
But Savini sucked the air out of the room when someone asked him about the odds of him working on The Walking Dead with his colleague Greg Nicotero. “I always get into trouble when I talk about The Walking Dead,” Savini said before adding, “I was supposed to be the Governor,” which stunned the crowd into silence. “Is this not the face of the Governor in the comic book?” he asked before relating a tale about how a misspoken word to a blogger killed his chances. Savini said he’ll just have to settle for playing an overlord on the next season of the TV version of From Dusk Till Dawn.
Naturally, there were aspiring make-up artists looking for advice, and Savini shared some of the thoughts he gives to his students, and some of it’s pretty basic, like always be ready to show your work. “I have my portfolio on a key chain because you never know when you’re going to meet someone that can give you work,” he explained before telling a story about a student whom he could have gotten a job on Oz: The Great and Powerful, if only said student had his portfolio on him. “I almost kicked his ass he could have had a job that day you never know when you’re going to meet that person,” he added.
Other fans wanted to know how Savini feels knowing that he played no small part in “screwing up a lot of people.” “I thought monsters were real when I was a kid,” he said. “It wasn’t until I saw Man of a Thousand Faces with Lon Chaney where it shows how you to make monsters that I decided I wanted to make monsters.”
Savini said that it’s hard to mess him up anymore, although he confessed that It Follows made him “uncomfortable.” “It’s hard to scare me,” he said, “if you came at me with a spider or a razor balde, that will scare me. But as soon as you get behind the scenes [of a movie] that kills the magic and a new magic, creativity, takes its place.”
Coming from the man who took a leave of absence from college to work on Dawn of the Dead, where he spent two weeks in a wheelchair while still doing make-up after he participated in a stunt gone wrong, that should hardly be surprising. “The fun is doing the stuff that you thought of and putting it on the screen,” he said simply. And from the sound of things, Savini is still having a lot of fun.