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Tag Archive: Ben Burtt


Review by C.J. Bunce

So many books that go behind the scenes of films take a similar approach, skimming the surface with interviews of only top production heads, providing diehard fans of the property who have read all the fanzines little that is new.  So when you get an immersive treatise like The Making of Alien, you must take a few weeks to digest every story, quote and anecdote found inside.  Maybe it’s because so much of the inception of the other classics J.W. Rinzler has written about is the stuff of sci-fi movie legend, but Rinzler’s research this time around is completely enthralling.  Writer Dan O’Bannon, writer and initial director Walter Hill, concept artist H.R. Giger, director and storyboard artist Ridley Scott, actors Sigourney Weaver, Yaphet Kotto, Veronica Cartwright, and Ian Holm–Rinzler’s chronology is framed by the entry of these people into the project and their key roles.  The account of their intersected careers and efforts resulting in the 1979 sci-fi/horror classic provide a detailed understanding of studio productions in the 1970s.  For fans of the film and the franchise, you couldn’t ask for more for this year’s 40th anniversary of Alien.

Rinzler, who has also created similar deep dives behind the scenes of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, the Indiana Jones films, and last year’s The Making of Planet of the Apes, has established the best format for giving sci-fi fans the ultimate immersive experience.  In many ways The Making of Alien is an account of the necessary vetting process behind any major creative endeavor.  The first draft of any story is never the best, and sometimes neither is the 100th draft.  But the best books and the best movies get reviewed by other people, usually producers, editors, studios, departments, some with prestige and money backing them, sometimes over and over, with changes made to every chapter, with creators and ideas that are tried on for size, dismissed, re-introduced, and sometimes brought back again.  By the end of many a film, the contributors are exhausted and disenchanted, some even devastated.  Only sometimes this is alleviated by a resulting success.  It was even more difficult working on a project like Alien–a mash-up of science fiction and horror pulled together in the 1970s, when drama was in, and science fiction meant either the cold drama of 2001: A Space Odyssey or the roller coaster spectacle of Star Wars.  Behind the scenes there would be overlaps in creative types, like famed set “graffiti artist” Roger Christian and sound expert Ben Burtt.  But ultimately Alien had to be something different to get noticed.

The stories of O’Bannon and Giger’s contributions and conflicts are the most intriguing of the bunch, and if you’ve read everything available on the film you’ll be surprised there is far more to their stories you haven’t read.  The influence of John Carpenter was paramount to getting the idea of the film past the first step, particularly his films Dark Star and The Thing.  Along the journey other creators would intersect with the project–people like Steven Spielberg, Alan Ladd, Jr., John Dykstra, Brian Johnson, Nick Allder, Ron Cobb, Jerry Goldsmith, and even Jean “Moebius” Giraud.

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No one could have predicted when the original Star Wars won six of ten Academy Awards in 1978 that a new Star Wars film would be nominated 41 years later.  At the end of 2019 all will be known–with Episode IX to be released in December the entirety of George Lucas’s nine-part Star Wars saga will be complete.  Although the Skywalker family and its legacy is done, Disney and Lucasfilm will be sure that Star Wars is very far from over.  But expect this year to be full of nostalgic products looking back over the course of the four decades since we first saw the words, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away…”  Two movie souvenir compilation books will take Star Wars fans across the film franchise.  Solo: A Star Wars Story Ultimate Guide presents interviews and photographs behind and in front of the camera from Ron Howard’s film.  And today Star Wars: The Saga Begins arrives in book stores, taking a rare look back at the Star Wars prequel trilogy.  We have previews of both books for you to check out below.

In Star Wars: The Saga Begins readers will find articles collected from Star Wars Insider, the magazine that has provided fans with the latest fandom and news since 1994.  In September 1997 with Issue #35, fans got their first glimpses at what would follow the original trilogy, as publisher and fan club president Dan Madsen provided updates in each issue with producer Rick McCallum.  Unfolding until 2005 and beyond, Star Wars Insider provided first looks at new prequel ships, characters, and locations.  Interviews explained what was happening behind the scenes of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith from the likes of director George Lucas, actors Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Ian McDiarmid, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Temuera Morrison, Daniel Logan, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Daniels, and Brian Blessed, plus concept artists Ralph McQuarrie and Doug Chiang, composer John Williams, costume designer Trisha Biggar, sound designer Ben Burtt and many more.  Star Wars: The Saga Begins is packed with concept artwork and prototypes of creatures and props, plus storyboards and costume designs.  And it has hundreds of photographs.

A similarly designed look at Solo: A Star Wars Story can be found in Solo: A Star Wars Story Ultimate Guide Readers will find Star Wars Insider interviews and profiles from director Ron Howard, writers Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan, actors Alden Ehrenreich, Joonas Suotamo, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau, and Thandie Newton, plus composer John Powell, creature maker Neal Scanlan, and costume designers David Crossman and Glyn Dillon.  The Ultimate Guide is full of good detail shots of the Millennium Falcon and sections featuring the newly designed Imperial armor and ships created for the film.

Here are previews from each book, courtesy of Titan:

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That Miller and Lord cut of Solo you were hoping for?  You already saw it.

I was always sold on his father, Lawrence Kasdan for writing The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and writing and directing Silverado (and his superb work on non-blockbuster films like Continental Divide and Mumford), but Jonathan Kasdan (who co-wrote the screenplay to Solo: A Star Wars Story with his father) has filled in the remaining gap in what is probably the year’s best home video special features package.  That would be the extra features that accompany the home release of Solo: A Star Wars Story, available now.  The included features have key deleted scenes, most of which would have served the movie well were they included in the theatrical release (like Han’s fall from the Imperial Navy), and the least of which is plain fun that every Star Wars fan should love (like a snowball fight between Han and Chewbacca)–eight deleted scenes in all.  The home release also contains insightful featurettes that demonstrate the love for the saga and the vision, skill, and craftmanship that came together to create the film.  But it’s missing an audio commentary.  More on that in a minute.

Director Ron Howard, production designer Neil Lamont, special creature effects designer Neal Scanlan, director of photography Bradford Young, and the Kasdans, along with other members of the crew, provide fantastic insight into the influences and experience of creating the movie.  The best features include Team Chewie, with interviews and footage of Joonas Suotamo in and out of costume, and Scoundrels, Droids, Creatures and Cards: Welcome to Fort Ypso, where we see the historical art influence on the Sabacc card game scene, and Solo: The Director and Cast Roundtable, a a refreshing and eye-opening look at how Howard and the key actors came together.  Also included are short featurettes Kasdan on Kasdan, Remaking the Millennium Falcon, Escape From Corellia, The Train Heist, Becoming a Droid: L3-37, and Into the Maelstrom: The Kessel RunAcross all these, keep an eye out for Tim Nielsen, supervising sound editor and sound designer for Skywalker Sound, whose creativity is the kind of effort that caused Ben Burtt to get the Oscar for his work on the original Star Wars.  Watch these features and see why Nielsen and his team should be in the running for Oscar for his work on Solo: A Star Wars Story this year.

Director Ron Howard on the Millennium Falcon set of Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Director Ron Howard, who replaced Christopher Miller and Phil Lord late in production of the film, bent over backwards to treat the departure of the two prior directors with grace and respect, which means he hasn’t discussed much detail about his work on the film.  We never thought we’d learn “who contributed what” to the film, but that is where Kasdan’s notes come into play.  Released in advance of the home video release this past week, they shed some light on what went on behind the scenes, what could easily be Kasdan’s personal, unrecorded, audio commentary notes–had Lucasfilm included one in the features.  From a certain point of view, the inclusion of so many scenes developed by the initial director duo reflect the theme of the saga: Miller and Lord–seemingly two rebels against Lucasfilm/Disney who had a vision for Star Wars and for whatever reason were sidelined–were able to have much of their vision survive in the final cut of the film.  Howard’s role seems to have been both Fixer and Closer, in addition to giving his personal touch to certain scenes, something addressed well in the features.  Kasdan’s notes (not included with the home release but reproduced below) are the ultimate backstage pass into all the creative minds behind what must have been a difficult film to make (Star Wars plus Star Wars fandom sometimes reflects the Dark Side of the movies all too well).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

At long last Star Wars fans have a single volume of behind-the-scenes gold that includes more than the original trilogy and the prequels.  Writer Mark Salisbury returns with his next pop culture book, The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creatures & Aliens.  This is the first book to include coverage of all ten Star Wars films, and it’s the first book that digs into the creature makers and makeup artistry of all the Star Wars movies–a creature effects companion to those comprehensive books reviewed previously here at borg.com chronicling the costume and prop sides of Star Wars productions: Dressing a Galaxy, Sculpting a Galaxy, and Star Wars Costumes.

How many movie franchises can claim visual effects over four decades incorporating all levels of monster making: animatronics, puppetry, practical effects, costuming, CGI, sculpts, animal actors, prosthetics and makeups, stop-motion animation, and motion capture creations–sometimes all in a single film?  The book spans it all: Jawas, Tauntauns, Jabba the Hutt, Yoda, Chewbacca, the Rancor, Ewoks, Watto, Jar Jar, Darth Maul, Rathtars, Maz Kanata, Porgs, Crystal Foxes, Proxima, Rio Durrant, and so many background aliens from the Tatooine cantina, Jabba’s palace, Maz’s castle, the Pod Race, Kamino, Geonosia, and Scarif.  More complex characters from the franchise get the most coverage, with less coverage from Revenge of the Sith and Solo.

Readers will learn about and meet a variety of artists and creators of these creatures and aliens, with interviews and examples of the work of Stuart Freeborn, Rick Baker, Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett, Jon Berg, Ben Burtt, Fred Pearl, Frank Oz, Kathryn Mullen, Lorne Peterson, Nick Dudman, Rob Coleman, John Coppinger, Tom St. Amand, Richard Edlund, Ken Ralston, Kit West, Nilo Rodis-Jamero, Doug Chiang, Dave Elsey, Neal Scanlan, Luke Fisher, Ben Morris, Darek Arnold, some of the actors who performed costumes characters, and visionaries George Lucas, J.J. Abrams, and Gareth Edwards.  Select concept art is included from Ralph McQuarrie, John Mollo, Iain McCaig, Terryl Whitlatch, Jake Lunt Davies, and others, and readers will learn Doug Chiang’s five rules of concept design.

Keeping with the fun new trend of incorporating three-dimensional, interactive elements into non-fiction books, Abrams has included foldout flaps, accordion pages, and color tipped-in booklets of sketches, photographs, and stages of the creative process.  The book comes from Abrams’ Young Readers imprint, however, the in-depth information and rare or never-before-published photographs and sketches will appeal to all ages of Star Wars fans.

Take a look inside some preview pages of The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creatures & Aliens:

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Lucasfilm announced big news this week: the top level slate of creative talent behind the first film of the next Star Wars trilogy.  Moving away from screenwriter Michael Arndt, Lucasfilm handed over writing duties to Lawrence Kasdan and director J.J. Abrams.  Kasdan had served as consultant during the pre-production phase, and they couldn’t have selected a better choice than the screenplay writer for Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and Silverado (not to mention Body Heat, The Big Chill, and The Accidental Tourist) to bring his experience writing great movies to this project.

It’s a mix of young and old, with the established Kasdan working with relative newcomer J.J. Abrams, whose credits include the last two Star Trek films, along with top duties on Super 8, Mission: Impossible III, Fringe, and Lost.  Yes, he’s young, but he’s no slouch.

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