Saturday, April 23, 2011

Part 12: Higher Education

Being with Tracy was great, but it had its drawbacks.  First of all, technically she was not allowed to date until she turned 16.  Her birthday was late in the year (November) which meant she was a 14 year-old sophomore while I was a 17 year-old senior.  However, I was allowed to hang around her house on the weekends (until 10 p.m., then I was sent home). We had been allowed to see one movie together during this time, ROCKY 2, but that was it.  We would have to get creative in order to meet outside of her house.

We were both on the Speech Teams of our respective schools, so we would meet at a Speech Tournament, lose in the first round (on purpose) and then tell our families we were moving forward and then go on a date.  I'd return her to the tournament location in time to be picked up by her parents or sister or whatever.

Sometimes, after a midnight movie, I'd sneak by her house and knock on her bedroom window.  Thank God her bedroom was on the first floor.

Regardless, I had made up my mind to leave New Orleans for college and that would mean leaving Tracy.  It wasn't a pleasant thought, but she understood my need to get out of my home and pursue my life out of the state.  She had very similar desires.

My father wouldn't hear of it.  Even though he now lived in a small apartment in the French Quarter, he was determined to keep me in New Orleans for my college education.  My mother, again, was my savior.  I had received information about two prospective colleges: USC Film School and California Institute of the Arts. Both colleges were respected for their film programs, so I applied to both of them, along with The University of New Orleans, in case things went horribly wrong.

USC was the home of George Lucas and believe me, in 1979 his name was thrown all around the Film School catalog to attract prospective students.  On the negative side, was an article by Rolling Stone magazine that was titled: "What Ever Happened to the Class of 1967?" which chronicled the careers of other USC film school graduates of the same year as George Lucas.  Needless to say, most of their stories were less than positive.

The Prestigious USC Film School in downtown Los Angeles
 The CalArts catalog boasted names like Pete Kuran and Adam Beckett (who I recognized as Special Effects artists names).  I knew VERY little about the school, other than that it was referred to as "The School that Disney Built" and that wasn't altogether a bad thing.

I SWEAR this is the same postcard I got informing me that they had received my portfolio.
When I received acceptance letters from both universities, I had to make a tough choice.  Both of them would not only be my introduction to my film career, they would also be my introduction to California.  The decision was based, to-be-honest, on my laziness.

USC sent what my class requirements would be as a Freshman and it was SOMETHING like this:

English Literature
Film Appreciation

CalArts' Freshman requirements looked something like this:

Introduction to Film Graphics
Introduction to Oxberry Animation Camera
Introduction to the Optical Printer
Critical Studies: 20th Century Form in Conflict
Basic Film Equipment introduction

Now, you tell me.  Where was I supposed to go?  ALGEBRA?  Are you nuts?!  I barely got out of High School Algebra with a D.  If there was something I didn't want to do it was spend two more years struggling through Algebra.  And so, it was decided that I would attend The California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California.

This was in the late winter/early spring of 1980 and Ronald Reagan had just been inaugurated at the President of the United States.  Government programs were being cut quickly, especially funds toward college students.

If you are a hippie or were a hippie or ever want to be a hippie you should not read the following paragraph (you have been warned).

It seems that during the late sixties, when peace and love and LSD erupted on college campuses, there was a specter hidden amongst the student bodies: Federally Insured Student Loans.  These loans were easy for students to obtain and the repayments were "flexible"  and not being enforced by the government which, according to Mr. Reagan's cabinet, contributed significantly to the National Debt.  So now, it was time to bear down on students, especially those who would be going to expensive, private schools.

Okay, you can start reading again.

My mother, in her unconditional love and support, agreed to empty a savings account in order to pay for my Freshman year at CalArts, so I knew I was committed.  I couldn't take my mother's money and not pursue my goals.

A year earlier, a young director exploded on to the scene with a film that would redefine the horror label for the next decade.  The director was John Carpenter and the movie was HALLOWEEN.

  Now, to be completely honest, I hadn't seen Halloween at this point in my life.  Like the rest of the world, I knew about it and was curious, but I think because I knew that it wasn't a traditional "monster" movie, I was less interested in it and more curious about films like the remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, or 1977's ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, or a new film that was coming out called PROPHECY.  I mean, come on...look at this poster and tell me what you think:

I saw this art as a glossy insert in Variety then I ran out and bought the paperback book.
It literally said "The Monster Movie" on the bottom of it.  Nail-on-the-head advertising.  No question.  This was going to be a MONSTER movie.  Historically, yes, HALLOWEEN was/is a MUCH MUCH MUCH more effective horror film, but for me, and my tastes in the fantastic, this:

didn't ignite my imagination as much as this:

And, yes, I was disappointed when it looked like a bear suit with latex dumped on it.
We all know that HALLOWEEN was a sensation, launched John Carpenter to the top of the field, redefined Horror movies, redefined Independently produced film making, and was the green flag for the rash of murderous maniacs that flooded the screen for the next decade.  PROPHECY on the other hand, came and went, and only now has surfaced as filler on "Action" cable movie channels.

The name Tom Burman, who had built the Prophecy-bear, and had executed the fantastic make-up effects for THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS remake was appearing frequently magazines as he became more prolific.  So now it was Dick Smith, Rick Baker, Tom Burman, and Tom Savini who were occupying the Make Up Effects Mount Olympus, however, new names were being introduced through a new magazine that seemed to be created just for me called CINEMAGIC.

Originally published as a fanzine by Don Dohler on the East Coast, Cinemagic was picked up by STARLOG press and fed to us hungry would-be Special Effects artists.  Within the pages, I learned new names like Ernest Farino, John Dods, and Craig Reardon.  All relatively new to the business and doing fantastic, inspirational work.

1 comment:

  1. i didn't know you had a blog... i enjoyed this. i'm a big fan of you and Tracy so naturally i want to know all the historical tidbits.