Gruemonkey’s Exclusive Interview with Michael Berryman
Hello my Grue-Lings,
Today our very special guest is Michael Berryman. In the late 1970s horror genre icon who’s best known for his creepy performance as “Pluto” in the Wes Craven horror film The Hills Have Eyes (1977). To Berryman’s credit, he managed to develop upon his “Pluto” character, and has turned up in numerous sci-fi / fantasy movies such as My Science Project (1985), Weird Science (1985), Armed Response (1986) and Evil Spirits (1990). The tall & lean Berryman generally portrays mutant bikers, evil undertakers, monsters and other frightening characters! A genuine favorite of horror movie fans. He was also in Motley Crue and Ramones music videos. His latest horror film is called The Evil Within.
We recently interviewed Michael Berryman and talked about his new film “The Evil Within”. We discuss the makeup process during filming and hear several stories from other productions! The Evil Within started production in 2002, a passion project for Andrew Getty. The long process of shooting and editing. This was Andrew’s passion project, that was backed with a lot of heart for a film maker. Berryman had a close relationship with Andrew, as they went over scenes and tried to perfect the scenes.
Anthony: Hey Michael, I am really happy to be talking to you today. How was the overall filming process for this film? I know that it started production way back in 2002 and had years of shooting and editing.
Michael: I was actually involved during the entire process. I actually lived at Andrew’s house during production. We had a bunch of restarts, through the overall process. I am still actively involved with his producers and promoting Andrew’s life work basically.
Anthony: It does seem like this is something he really put a lot of time into, not even just the shooting but in the editing process as well. Did that passion come through when working with him?
Michael: Absolutely. I first met Andrew in Sonoma when Rob Schneider was doing “The Animal”. Someone that I had worked with in the past was over by the sound people and the monitors. Rose Labrinski did wardrobe and hair, that is where I met Andrew and we became really good friends. We spent time talking about “The Evil Within”. He was a very complex individual, he had his own personal demons. He went to film school. He loved film, he was very hands on and wanted everything perfected. Even colorization up until the final edit of the film. He was dedicated. Every waking moment he was working on this project.
Anthony: The film is very psychological and has a very dark atmosphere to it, especially the dream sequences which I heard were influenced by the actual dreams he had and put a lot of that into the project. That seems to have played a big role in how this film came out.
Michael: That is very true, me and Andrew had many talks sitting around his table. It was basically based off a Nightmare he had. So he was dealing with a lot of personal experiences in the dream world and the real world. In the opening sequence at the carnival, Andrew built himself. He used to give me a list of things to pick up because he would build the sets himself. The character of his mother wearing the green suit is in reflection of his mother. There is a lot of personal things he was dealing with but just an amazing fella.
Anthony: Coming from someone who is trying to get into a film school and do projects myself, it is very inspiring to see him stick to his vision and do things the way he wanted to do with so much passion. Especially how the industry has changed so much over the years.
Michael: It’s true, he used all of his own money. We would have many conversations with the cinematographer, he would explain specifically how he wanted the shot. The mirror maze for instance, how do you hide my character with the “Cadaver” is attacking dennis. We spent hours and hours explaining that to people we were working with because they were all scratching their heads like “How are we going to do this?”. It was very challenging but he was a brilliant guy, he thought it out, drew it out and really knew his stuff. I’ve been a lense guy since way back when I did Cuckoo’s Nest, Miloš Forman invited me to get some great advice. He said “look at the camera, and have a love affair with the lense”. First thing I did was go out and get a 35MM camera that was all manual and I would work on aperture and what not. That all helped me hit my mark, the lighting, how it looks on your face. Andrew really knew every element of filmmaking and it really shows.
Anthony: I also noticed with your character in the film the “Cadaver” there was extensive makeup – how was that process like? Do you enjoy the makeup process?
Michael: I do, it’s part of the process, it’s part of the film and part of the job. I was in complete body makeup. After I’m getting this done to me and working 10-12 hours, they are long days. After make up i would have to have contact lenses put in each eye. It was challenging, there were many times of taking them out and putting them back in. Sometimes my eyes would get irritated so I would sometimes need drops to keep my eyes hydrated. Andrew really cared and was very careful with all of his actors he worked with as far as safety. I thought the look of the Cadaver is was incredible. His description in the script, is described as follows – an entity made out of ear wax and cigarette ash. The other most extensive make up i’ve ever done was skull cowboy from The Crow with Brandon Lee, unfortunately a lot of those scenes were not film and some of it is in the extra footage and that was four hours of make up. But to answer your question, I will wear it well, I can handle it well. My first makeup was the lobotomy scars from Cuckoo’s Nest by Fred Phillips who also created Spocks ears from Star Trek and is one of the greatest make up artists who has ever lived. I find all of the touching, the sponge, the brushing, all of the stuff they do to create the character. MY body is like a canvas and then we get to wardrobe. Then they set the lights and for me it is a transitional process, I use it like a MEditation. I use it as getting deep like water being absorbed in the desert when the first spring rains come. That is how i approach a character who is not “human” so to speak. I become the roll, but it’s a process that is enhanced when you have all of that hands on. It does have an affect on you. When Doug Bradley becomes Pinhead, we’ve had conversations where it’s the same kind of transition. I find it fascinating kind of like art.
Anthony: Definitely. Especially when you are trying to capture the character and what andrew wanted. He was very passionate with getting that across, his vision. That is all directors have is their vision and I think that is what he got across here.
Michael: It’s true. One of the beginning sequences when Dennis has the Nightmare and he knows it’s going to be a bad nightmare. When Andrew does that wonderful shot where it is fractured kind of frame block, frame block and I’m sort of moving and glittering while sitting in the chair. It is so creepy. That first dream sequence where i take the zipper and I let it drop and that as my idea and I told Andrew “watch this!” I take those needles on the zipper and I attach it to the top of his head and down his back. I unzip him and literally crawl inside his body and walk off camera.
Anthony: That looked phenomenal when I saw that scene!
Michael: Well thank You! We were going for phenomenal!
Anthony: Especially the whole vibe of the dream sequences, it kept getting darker and darker. As your character was convincing Dennis to kill more and maybe moving on to killing a boy now.
Michael: Absolutely! He becomes sicker and sicker!
Anthony: You have been in the industry for awhile now, how do you think it has changed from your perspective? Have you noticed anything differently when picking up projects. I know you do several independent projects, do you prefer one of the other?
Michael: I love them all, and they all have different realms. A studio shoot, your on the lot like universal. I get the vibe by all the thousands of artist from everyone to the carpenters, the painters, set dressers, the sound people. You want good live dialogue sound. I can’t tell you how many times i’ve seen overdubbed dialogue. It does cost a lot of money for an actor to come back and shoot a scene most of the time. It’s very challenging to get it right but you really want to push it even for indies and shorts . I do enjoy a feature like Cuckoo’s Nest which was for 127 days with all the support. I also love the shorts i’ve been doing with Jesse Burks called “One Please” it got a lot of rewards at indie festivals. We are going to be shooting another one in a few months. I love the craft of storytelling and to be able to bring a character to life and to orchestrate your performance with the guidance of your director. I’ve looked through cameras thousands of times and it’s magical so when a lense is changed, a good film actor, I believe they must understand the aspect ratio. What does the frame look like? some actors don’t like to do that for whatever reason but I find it essential. A slight nuance when you are on a wide shot, master shot, or establishing shot. When it comes time for a close up, you want to really dive into the camera move and the lighting, all of that with your director so it breathes. I just love the art of storytelling you know from The Twilight Zone, I met Rod Serling when I was in my twenties and we had a nice conversation for about a half an hour about how he could tell these incredible and wonderful stories. I remember talking to Michael Douglas and his brother Joel about how his father Kirk Douglas wanted to play McMurphy at the time but the studios didn’t want to handle that material. They thought the subject matter because they didn’t want to deal with a character that had a mental illness. How do we care for others in society? What is our moral obligation as a human being to care about others. I could talk for a week about that but however, what a glorious opportunity and Kirk Douglas couldn’t even get it made.
So it took Saul Zaentz to get it going but it took a long time. Once in awhile you get a gem of a film like Cuckoo’s Nest, then once in awhile you get a gem of a film like The Evil Within. The budget isn’t as important as the quality of effort and the understanding between all the players involved to do the best you can with what you got. I’v worked on Fred Olen Ray films with no budget and we had a lot of fun and the story came across with all of the effects. We ended up being very successful with that. So I would say to all the Indie film makers who are reading or listening to this, stay true to your vision and you will find your audience. If you are at shows and you have a couple cases of DVD’s, that is wonderful thing because you have complete control. One of the biggest problems would be funding yes, you can get the talent, yes. Rehersal, rehersal, rehersal is very important. The other aspect is distribution, going back to your question on how it has changed – i’ve been doing this for forty years. I remember in the old days I would wrap a film and there would be a wrap party with nice dinner and some press. We would have press kit, I loved press kits. I haven’t seen them in years! I can’t tell you how many times i’ve talked to filmmakers and their distributor made ex amount of dollars and their in another country. Then you are spending money to chase money. The crooked ones will laugh and will make money on your effort. Instead of doing the right thing, they say sue me. That’s why I love my union. Unions came about for a reason. PEople got hurt, people died, people got cheated. As Artist from music to dance, you name it. In film, we have a wonderful opportunity to speak our mind. Be it something silly, political, or fantastic. I am big on speaking my mind and not being harmed. I remember being on a panel in New York, it was on The Morton Downey Jr. Show. There was some critic that was saying films like the Hill Have Eyes – people should be thrown in jail for movies like this. We got to common ground, where…well excuse me – this is not the way to go. So it is exciting and a wonderful field. Even if you go around on Amazon Prime or some of these outlets where if people like your movie and check it out and the money goes right into your account which you need so you can pay your bills and then you can make another story! I love drive in like sinister cinema, I love drive in theatres. Like the movie Matinee, Joe Dante’s lovely film which is a tribute to Saturday Matinees, I love that Film. Anything John Goodman is in is incredible.
Another thing in the movie The Evil Within, there is a scene at the restaurant with Matthew McGrory. He passed away many years ago but the film is just now coming out. I remember sitting at the table with Andrew and Matthew and he was getting to know Andrew. Andrew was telling Mcgrory that he wanted him to help him write the dialogue for the scene where John believes that it his his therapist and of course the dialogue goes into how we treat each other as humans. It is a very strong moment and it’s just brilliant and wonderful. Andrew had a big heart and understood humanity and the condition very well. You don’t get elements like that in most films.
Anthony: Exactly, I believe if the heart is there when making a film like you were saying, it doesn’t matter the restrictions or the budget at hand. As long as that vision and that heart is there, it is going to come across no matter what the project is. You mentioned different forms of art like music earlier. I know you were in a few music videos. I know you were in a Ramones video for Substitute. I was wondering how the music video process was and how did you get in contact with the Ramones for that video?
Michael: It was very cool, Joey and the boys are a lot of fun. Those guys were big fans of Cuckoo’s Nest and The Hill Have Eyes, same thing with Motley Crue. I love it, you are on a soundstage, there’s music. They always have good craft service, which is munchies by the way. Everyone is having a good time. There is a lot of waiting around which is common, you get used to that. I have a lot of fun with them. I am surprised I haven’t done one with the Misfits. They are really nice guys. I even worked with Kenny Rogers, what a classy guy. I remember I had a day off with my girlfriend in New MExico, I was talking to Tommy who was his personal driver. I told him I might need a ride to the airport – the driver said “Take his car”. It was his personal Lincoln! So I went and picked up my girlfriend from the airport. A week of production went by and Kenny was doing a show in Vegas. We went out to see him, so we get in line to check into the show. We went up the the gentleman who said we weren’t on the list, It happened to be my girlfriends birthday and we came all this way. Then another gentleman in a nicer suit whispers into the other gentlemen ear, then he goes “oh, so sorry”. So we were dead center, third or fourth row. The show starts, Kenny comes out and goes “good evening, before we start the show I want to say Happy Birthday to Bonnie”. He had flowers and handed them back to her, what a classy guy! Having good production people you can trust is important. Sometime s business partners won’t pay. I remember one of Kenny’s associate wasn’t paying residuals to the guild. So after a number of years went by, and at that point it was on Kenny. So He personally signed over his own residuals for everything he has done on film and television. It would go into a trust fund that would eventually pay down the debt that his production company owed actors for 10-15 years.
Anthony: Wow that is crazy, the business side is always something you have to keep a close eye on.
Michael: Exactly, and my advice would be to surround yourself with good people who have the same passion. Pre production is a big big deal. Music videos run like clockwork, they bang it out. But it’s fun though because you hear music play all day.
Anthony: Well Michael, thank you so much for the time. It was great to hear what you had to say about The Evil Within as well as the industry over the years. As an aspiring filmmaker such as myself -it is great to hear some of the differences between studios with bigger or smaller productions. I know this is something I am going to be dealing with at one point or another.
Michael: I would say one of the most important thing is when starting up a projects is making sure you have good contracts. That is very important. And Everyone has a story, what’s yours? (laughs).
Anthony: That is very true! Thank you so much for your time.
Michael: You are very welcome, I wish you much success and hope to see you at a convention sometime so we can have some popcorn and sit down and watch a movie.
Click here for to listen to the audio interview!!