A Horror Effect Guru, a Fight Choreographer and a French Woman! What kind of team is that?

An A-team or an X-team? What project are they working on? An action/horror/porno film? Well…NOPE! A short film for a book trailer, the first film of a series called OhlalaLand stories, bien sûr!

Kerry P.H. Wong, Stephanie Batailler, Gabe Bartalos at Atlantic West Effects, Burbank, CA

Kerry P.H. Wong, Stephanie Batailler, Gabe Bartalos at Atlantic West Effects, Burbank, CA

Let’s backtrack for a moment. What is it about that stereotype about French woman and porno films? Well…, once I was approach by a Producer to co-write and direct a “How To Kiss” video. The idea he had was very much like making an 80’s low budget How To video combining live and animation sequences (Bill Plymnton style). At first, I felt honored that someone was asking me to direct something! Indeed I had recently graduated from the New School and I was ready to begin a professional filmmaker career. However, after a few meetings, I realized that it would not work. Not that I was against doing ‘animation about tongues” but it was about the quality and the aesthetics. I would have liked to do something more subtle and artistic but his vision was different. Also, when I was studying at the New School University, my editing teacher told me that editing porno films was how he really learned the craft and how he started to make a living. I could have followed his path I guess but I decided to pass, which resulted it in many years of financial struggles ha!

End of the parenthesis! Let’s go back to my A-Team!

Kerry Wong, a master of martial arts, an experienced and talented stunt man, fight coordinator and fight choreographer. Please read my post from November 16th referring to Kerry.

The new person on the A-Team that I am introducing you today with is Gabe Bartalos. Gabe is known as the Horror Effects Guru of Hollywood.

Gabe Bartalos showing us some of his creatures

Gabe Bartalos showing us some of his creatures

In September 2013, Gabe had a career retrospective exhibition titled Abhorrence and Obsession at the University Art Museum in Long Beach, CA. Gabe is not an old man to have a retrospective on the contrary he is only in his 40’s. I don’t know exactly how old he is, I’ll ask him next time but…maybe he looks young because he puts some special effects on himself? Humm…

Gabe is a unique artist. He is maybe not the kind of an artist that a mother would want her daughter to date but surely he is the kind that any guy would like to have as a friend and hang out with. After second thought, my mum is so cool that she would be ok with it!

Indeed, Gabe has more than 20 years of experience in special effects. He has his own full service special make-up effects studio called Atlantic West Effects (http://www.atlanticwesteffects.com) that specializes in sculpture, prosthetics and animatronics. You will recognized many of Gabe’s films credits Brain Damage, Frankenhooker, Basket Case 2, Basket Case 3, Godzilla (1998), Leprechaun, all the Cremaster movies, Gremlins 2, Dolls, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

The Long Beach Post said it perfectly “Bartalos’s work is grotesquely beautiful, with seemingly painstaking attention to detail that harkens back to a pre-digital time: where one must physically craft that monster in their head on a level that requires a mix of skill, craft and imagination.”

Gabe Bartalos in his office

Gabe Bartalos in his office

Gabe is also a writer/director. He makes his own films during his spare time with a team of friends and when his finances permit it. Because we all know that making movies requires a lot of money! In Gabe’s case, it requires also a lot of time, as his films are full with stunning special effects. Gabe made the surrealistic feature Skinned Deep (2004) and Saint Bernard (2013). Both films are celebrated for their high-energy surrealist quality.

Indeed, about Skinned Deep, the Long Beach cinematheque wrote “Bartalos ventures into unexplored territory and opens up a new dialogue that pushes us to rethink our ideas about visual effects and character design in relation to film, the visual arts and the film audience.”

Gabe’s artistic vision goes beyond the film industry. He worked with bands such as The Damned (2003), Street Dogs (2006), The Briggs (2008) and David Byrne and St. Vincent (2013). He also worked with celebrity photographer Mark Seliger on multiple Rolling Stone Magazine photo shoots (Marilyn Manson, Johnny Knoxville and Will Ferrell.)

Last Friday was not the first time I met with Gabe. We met in 2007 when we were both working on the feature film called The Mercy Man by Rider McDowell. Gabe was the producer on it and I was the set costumer (yep, set costumer! I have done a lot of different jobs on sets.) Those who have worked on film sets before know that the tension is often very high. This is due to all sort of unfortunate events that inevitably occur on shoots. And, the role of the producer is to make sure that the film gets done no mater what. Thus, most of the time, the Producer is upset and frustrated. But, not Gabe! Gabe makes things work smoothly and he does it with a serene and charming attitude. Which is very much in contrast with the kind of special effects he does as well as his silhouette. Actually, the man is maybe 6’3, you can’t miss him!

I had hanged out with Gabe a little after some shoot days but not much because we were both very busy. Also, Gabe lived in LA and I was still in New York. Once I visited him in 2009 when was visiting LA but that was it. It was 5 years I hadn’t seen Gabe and he had not changed, thank god!

On Friday morning at 8 am, Gabe, Kerry and I had our first meeting at Gabe’s studio in Burbank. It was awesome; we were all on the same track, speaking the same language, talking about monsters fighting and drinking tea! Well..except for Kerry who carries along his travel coffee mug.

Kerry Wong checking Gabe Bartalos work

Kerry Wong checking Gabe Bartalos work

Gabe made us visit his workshop with all kind of rooms, the make-up room, the fitting room, the editing room, the archive room, the storage room…

Gabe Bartalos_office

I was happily astounded (not sure I can say that, excuse my French!), Gabe was excited about the book trailer and the beast that we need him to create. Immediately, Gabe got his imagination spinning. He showed us some of his previous creations and was suggesting modifications to fit our needs. And needs we have! First of all, it needs to work with Kerry and the fight choreography. We cannot have prosthetics that will prevent the actor/stunt man from moving freely. I want the fight choreography to be the star of this short film so it is crucial that the special effects don’t slow the action down. And then, my other need is that it has to fit my budget, which is a low budget of course. But, sometimes-low budgets help us to be even more creative and I think that this is what is going to happen!

These two hours spent with Gabe and Kerry went very fast. It was not easy to leave and go to my day-job. It’s not that I hate my day-job, it’s just that I would like to spend more time working on my stuf

Later that night, I sent an email to Gabe telling him that I loved seeing the passion in his eyes when he talks about his craft. I love his ripe imagination, the way his mind works. His creativity makes in fact perfect sense! Which is not an easy combination. At last, somebody that doesn’t make me think I’m crazy!

The A-team is growing!