Oscar winner among film fest speakers

John Bruno

Oscar-winning effects wizard John Bruno will be the featured
speaker at the first Poppy Jasper Film Festival in Morgan Hill.
Other notable appearances include writer/director/actor Josh
Carmichael and writer/actor Darin Heames.
Oscar-winning effects wizard John Bruno will be the featured speaker at the first Poppy Jasper Film Festival in Morgan Hill. Other notable appearances include writer/director/actor Josh Carmichael and writer/actor Darin Heames.

Oscar winner and six-time nominee Bruno will speak about his experiences in the world of film, starting as a Disney animator in 1969 and continuing through a career that includes such highlights as Titanic, Terminator 2, The Abyss and Poltergeist. Carmichael, who has more than 100 national advertising campaigns to his name, and Heames will present a workshop titled “The Hollywood Game” at Gavilan College on Nov. 13.

Bruno grew up in Monterey and started out as a cartoonist, ghost drawing several national comic strips. He started at Disney in 1969, drawing Donald Duck comic books, and eventually ended up doing 1981’s animated film “Heavy Metal.”

“From animation, I got hired by Steven Spielberg at Industrial Light and Magic to work on Poltergeist,” said Bruno. “All the group from ‘Heavy Metal’ I brought into ILM to do the project. My background being art direction, animation and drawing, I kept applying this to what I considered three-dimensional drawing.”

The ILM partnership produced not only “Poltergeist,” but “ET,” “Star Trek II” and “Return of the Jedi.” By the early 1980s, Bruno was ready to move on. His crew had mostly relocated to Los Angeles and he decided to make the move, too, co-founding Boss Film Studios, a production and special effects company. That collaboration produced 1984’s Ghostbusters and 1986’s “Poltergeist II,” both of which earned him Oscar nominations.

When Bruno teamed up with James Cameron for 1989’s “Abyss,” it was the start of a 16-year collaboration.

“The ‘Abyss’ was fun, though Jim says I must have some memory loss,” said Bruno. “Part of what we considered a problem in the ‘Abyss’ was the water tentacle, which had this silvery look. It was a challenge to make it natural looking, but when we went to ‘Terminator 2’ and he was describing what he wanted, we knew we could do a chrome guy. The problem was, can we do 40 shots of this?”

The problem quickly turned into, “why should we pay someone else to do all this work?” so Bruno and friends created Digital Domain, a production special effects company.

“I look at visual effects sequences for movies as short little movies that stand by themselves,” said Bruno, who successfully used Digital Domain to produce the effects for “True Lies” and “Titanic.”

“I want to talk about what people perceive as just computers making effects. You still need other mediums – miniatures, models, animation and puppets – and the idea is not to know which one is which and what you’re looking at.”

In “True Lies,” for instance, Arnold Schwarzenegger is supposed to be flying a Harrier jet. The scene is actually a composite of everything from a five-foot miniature to a full-sized jet hanging from a crane over the street to one parked in front of a green screen. The exploding bridge was an 80-foot miniature.

Bruno is currently reading scripts and getting ready to choose his next project. His most recent film credit was 2004’s “Alien Versus Predator.”

The Hollywood Game

Carmichael said he and Heames will offer a mostly Q&A-based session to help others avoid the same pitfalls that they encountered when new to Hollywood.

“I grew up on a farm in Kansas and milked cows before school,” said Carmichael, who moved to Los Angeles in 1990. “The first eight to 10 months after I moved here were pretty hard. I did security work, valet parking and worked as a bouncer at a bar in Beverly Hills. The big job where I was from was to work in the grocery store, so I promised myself I never would.”

After seeing a billboard along Sunset Boulevard that read, “So you’re an actor? What restaurant?” he added food service to his list of no’s. Fortunately, Carmichael was blessed with a good face and a lack of overexposure.

“I was never one of those beer guys that you always remember,” he said, “but that was good because they get so overexposed that things dry up. They can’t get work after a few months, while I’ve gotten to keep working steadily.”

Best known for his role as Billy Jo in 1999’s “Tumbleweeds” (which won the Filmmaker’s Trophy at Sundance that year), Carmichael has begun creating films in his own right. His short film, “Reckless Abandon,’ has been named an official selection of the Deep Ellum Film Festival in Dallas, Texas as well as the Mind Ignite Film Series in Australia. It will be showing at the Poppy Jasper festival on Saturday at 10:45am.

Carmichael and Heames’ debut as feature film director/producers is in pre-production now. The Featherstone Films creation is a romantic comedy currently titled “Tennis Shoe Cowboy” and starring Jake Busey, Sheryl Lee and Shelley Morrison.

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