Hidden down an unassuming street in North Hollywood, California, minutes from a Walgreens pharmacy, a strange otherworld is unfolding. It’s a jarring, post-apocalyptic universe where ominous boarmen face off against tattered women in a battle for survival on what’s left of Earth.
And in command of it all is Barney Burman.
“I’m just enjoying the hell out of it,” says the make-up artist, who is making his directorial debut with Wild Boar, a sci-fi thriller that began principal photography on Sept. 6.
One of the industry’s top effects artists, Burman—who won an Oscar in 2009 for Star Trek and churns out creatures for the TV series Grimm—has been eyeing the director’s chair for a while. The idea for Wild Boar came from director Andrew P. Jones while Burman was creating effects for Jones’ film Haunting of Cellblock 11.
“He said, ‘What if we did a movie like Planet of the Apes but with pig people?” remembers Burman. “That just sparked inside me.”
The more Burman worked on a screenplay, the more determined he was to direct. “This time it was, ‘I’m doing this, regardless of who joins me, regardless of where the money comes from,’” he continues.
Approximately 20 people have joined him at his B2FX shop. Many are friends or colleagues. Wild Boar producer Gregory Mackenzie got to know Burman on 2009’s Camille. Heather Grippaldi, who spent the day applying dirt, blood and make-up to actresses, is a former B2FX intern. Nick Reisinger, B2FX’s shop supervisor, is wearing two hats—production designer and make-up department head.
Daniel Roebuck is playing The Butcher; Douglas Tait, The Hunter. Neither is a stranger to Burman’s make-up magic. Roebuck was being transformed into a similar pig-like creature for Grimm when Burman offered him the role.
“It’s a blessing for an actor to have a make-up man directing you in a movie where you’re wearing make-up. He knows all the shorthand,” says Roebuck.
By Burman’s estimates, he’s done more than 12 creature make-ups on Tait—everything from the Long Face Bar Alien in Star Trek to a werewolf for an AT&T commercial.
Tait didn’t hesitate to play The Hunter. “Barney understands actors and he understands how to act in make-up,” says Tait, speaking through a face full of boar. “A lot of directors have no clue what it’s like to be in a make-up and how to sell a character.”
Not surprisingly, the make-up is a particular standout of Wild Boar. Designed by Burman, the silicone pieces include a cowl with boar ears, a full-face piece fronted by a snout, a jaw piece that connects underneath and tusks that snap into a removable set of teeth. A large hairpiece is layered over the head. Smaller hair sections are applied where needed. Hoof gloves and feet complete the character.
“It’s all lightweight and moveable. He can be very agile in it,” says Burman, surveying The Hunter make-up, adding that Bill Bryan, of Stay Puft Marshmallow Man fame, devised a lightweight bodysuit to be worn underneath it all.
“The movement is really nice,” adds Tait, giving a few body twists.
Reisinger admits he’s surprised at how little time Burman is spending in the make-up room. “He’s completely separated himself from the brush,” says Reisinger.
Burman admits it’s a challenge. “I’m trying not to micromanage, because everybody had their own style, their own way of working,” he says. “I know it’s time to leave when I start thinking, ‘Why are you doing it like that? You should be doing it like this.’”
With names like The Hunter and The Butcher, it’s quickly apparent what macabre turns the script will take, but Burman is tight-lipped about details. “You can probably use your imagination,” he says with a sly grin.