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The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian - Howard Berger interview

Howard Berger and Andrew Adamson

Interview by Rob Carnevale

HOWARD Berger (pictured left), founding partner of KNB EFX Group, talks about returning to Narnia for a second time, for sequel The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.

Berger won the 2005 Academy Award® for Best Achievement in Makeup (shared with Tami Lane) for his innovative character creations, animatronics and creature prosthetics on Andrew Adamson’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

But he has also worked on movies as diverse as Transformers, Ray, Reservoir Dogs, Spider-Man 3 and Boogie Nights. He also chats about winning the Oscar and why Prince Caspian is a darker sequel.

Q. How did it feel to go back to Narnia, for Prince Caspian?
Howard Berger: It felt great. I love going to Narnia and could live there forever to tell you the truth. I was really depressed for a while when we finished the first movie because I’d had such a great time. Andrew [Adamson, director] really creates this family environment where we’re all a big team and we all make it happen. So, after we wrapped [on The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe] I was anxious to go back and start doing the next one. I kept bugging him and Mark Johnson. So, it was really great to finally go back and see everyone again. We started shooting in New Zealand, which was where we shot the first movie. We were there for two and a half months, which was great fun, and then moved on to the Czech Republic and finished it. I think I was ready for a break after Prince Caspian, because I was absolutely beat, but two weeks after that I was ready to go back yet again.

Q. We’re promised a darker, more boys-own style of adventure this time around, aren’t we?
Howard Berger: It is. It’s definitely a darker film. I wouldn’t say it’s violent… there’s a couple of battles in the film. But we’ve established the characters, we know everyone and Narnia has changed. There’s a line that states: “Narnia has become a more savage place.” And that’s really the heart of the whole film. It has. The Narnians have been exiled for 1,300 years and the Talmarins have taken power and pretty much exterminated all the Narnians as best they can, or at least put them in exile. So, they’re all just a myth. But Caspian finds them and…

Q. What was the biggest challenge for you this time around?
Howard Berger: Well, the biggest challenge was to make sure everything was better than it was in the first film – and within a time frame and within a budgetary limitation. That’s always the way it is… it’s just the nature of the beast. But we just really wanted to push the envelope and make everything better – and I think we did. It wasn’t so much that there were new technologies that we used, but rather we’d spend more time on the quality of things as opposed to the quantity. I was much more happy with the artistic aspect of what we brought to the table – even though what we did the first time was great.

Q. What was the most difficult thing you were asked to do or create?
Howard Berger: It wasn’t really like one character because they all had their own difficulties. But it was the amount of characters we had to do every day. We had to do 150 characters every day. We ended up doing 46,000 make-ups on the show in nine months, which I think is a World Record. It was a lot of make-ups and it was just a matter of being able to facilitate the production’s needs and travel to Eastern Europe while doing it. It was also about keeping the quality up all the time. I tried not to let anything really pass that wasn’t up to scratch. If I felt that was the case, it had to be redone. It meant that I also had to keep the morale of my crew going. I had 42 people from 10 countries on board… people get tired, they get cranky, they get burned out. I was but I couldn’t show it. I was almost like the cheerleader saying: “Come on, we can do it. If I can, you can!”

Q. Had you always been a fan of the Narnia books?
Howard Berger: I was and my kids were as well. They introduced them to me and that’s why I really went after this movie quite strongly to get onto it in the first place. I wanted to do a film that I had never done before. I really, really liked Andrew Adamson a tremendous amount when I met him and I still do, of course, and my kids were really excited about it. I told them that I’d gone in for an interview but that I might not get it and so, of course, when I first got awarded the job they were the first people I called. When Andrew called me and said: “I’d just like to welcome you on board…” I was like, “yeah”, now let me call the kids. It was like: “We’re going to Narnia!”

Q. Did they get to visit the set?
Howard Berger: They did. On the first movie, they were in New Zealand for three months and on Caspian they were there for several weeks in the Czech Republic.

Q. Narnia obviously has even more special memories for you because you landed the Oscar as well [for Best Achievement in Make-Up]…
Howard Berger: Yes I did. It was great. That was a hell of a year. I got nominated for a Bafta and an Oscar in one go, so it was a dream come true. It wasn’t anything I thought about while making the movie by any means, I didn’t go into it thinking: “This is going to be the one that wins me that Oscar…” I never even thought about that once, so it was a really happy surprise. The fact that there was so much buzz about the movie was also nice.

Q. Can you remember the night clearly once your name was read out, or is it a bit of a blur?
Howard Berger: I remember it 100% actually. I wish I had one of those brain store machines where I could record it. I’ll always remember it because it was definitely one of my favourite times. But that whole year was my favourite year in my life. But to get to come to London for the Baftas as well, which were really spectacular, and then go home and still be in that glow, and then win an Oscar, was amazing.

Q. Working in this field, do you continue to be amazed by how much can be achieved in make-up and special effects… and how fast it’s advancing?
Howard Berger: It’s true. It’s always amazing. I always try to look for projects that are going to interest me and make it fun and adventurous. I don’t want to re-hash the same stuff. I read a lot of scripts and so many times… for some reason there was a trend going on where everybody was getting their Achilles tendon slashed. I read script after script and was like: “Please, somebody come up with something different!” It was re-hash, re-hash, re-hash. But this movie was just so different. I’d never done anything like this before.

Q. You’d previously worked a lot in the horror genre…
Howard Berger: A tremendous amount. And that’s the other thing too, it’s been strange to be in this world because our fan-base is really the 15 to 50 who love the gore films and horror films. Now, we have a fan-base of six-year-olds who love The Chronicles of Narnia. So, it’s a whole new world for us.

Q. Have you noticed that it’s opening doors for you into other genres?
Howard Berger: Absolutely. People are very excited about those movies and the Oscar win, so I guess that will never go away. But the trick is to keep the quality going and keep that interest alive. Even with our crew, my business partner and I just try to keep everyone’s enthusiasm up for everything. We care about every single thing we do in the shop. We don’t take a TV show unless we care about it.

Q. When did you know you wanted to get into this field?
Howard Berger: When I was eight-years-old I decided I was going to be a make-up artist. I saw a lot of movies and I loved monsters. Planet of the Apes is, I think, what really did it for me. I just thought I’d really love to do that because it looked like fun. So, I just started to hone my skills as an artist even at that young age by sculpting and drawing. My parents kept encouraging me and that was really the big trick. They never said: “Howard, why are you wasting your time on that?” It was never that at all. They encouraged me to keep going all the time.

Q. Your father was in the industry himself, though, wasn’t he?
Howard Berger: He was. He was a post-production sound engineer. I think at one point he thought: “Maybe Howard will take over the business…” But I was so not interested in sound. But he knew I loved movies because we saw movies continuously… and all sorts of films. So, I was really kind of raised and trained on movies. And now I’m doing it with my kids. My eldest son, Travis, just loves films and he’ll end up going into the industry for sure, in some capacity.

Q. What other films inspired you, apart from Planet of the Apes?
Howard Berger: Oh gosh, there’s a movie called Man Of A Thousand Faces, which is the story of Lon Chaney starring James Cagney. I love that movie. I mean it’s cornball as hell but that film influenced me quite a bit. As I got older, John Carpenter’s The Thing really pushed it over the top. And, of course, Star Wars. I wanted to work on films like that… that gave me that feeling. It really changed the face of filmmaking. No one had ever experienced a film like that. Just to be involved with any film that made a difference. Yes, it’s filmmaking, I understand that, we’re not saving lives, but entertaining people is important. It can be a magical experience. I get really incensed when people make bad movies. Even if they’re technically good I’m just shocked at the rubbish… and insulted. I’m like: “You had an opportunity and this is what you did?” It’s absolutely insulting.

Q. Do you care to name and shame any of those?
Howard Berger: Well, I saw 10,000 BC, which is the worst movie ever made. Roland Emmerich is technically gifted but I hate all of his movies because they’re rubbish. But this was the most rubbishy rubbish I’d ever seen in my life. I was shocked. Even my 11-year-old asked to leave! I was bored to tears.

Q. What’s next for you?
Howard Berger: We have a lot of stuff actually. We have 10 movies on the slate right now. We’re doing this Bruce Willis film called The Surrogates, which is a big sci-fi movie that’s being directed by Jonathan Mostow, who did Terminator 3 and U-571. We’re also doing a Sam Raimi horror movie… Sam’s gone back to his old school Evil Dead-style for Drag Me To Hell. It’s a cool horror film.

We’re also doing a film with Michael Mann called Public Enemies, which is about John Dillinger. It stars Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. And we’re getting ready to do The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which is the next Narnia film. So we’re really busy little boys.

There’s also a Michael Bay produced horror film called The Unborn, which David Goyer, who wrote Batman Begins, is directing. So we’re not hurting for work by any means. And it’s a nice spectrum: there’s some horror stuff, some fantasy stuff and some realistic stuff. It’s a nice mish-mash of things.

Read about the UK premiere of Prince Caspian