It’s no secret around these parts (or any parts, really) that I was a huge fan of last year’s Halloween, so when I was offered the opportunity to chat with the man behind the mask—and the effects—Christopher Nelson, I jumped at the chance. During the interview, Nelson discussed how much the original Halloween has meant to him, and the pressures of stepping into the realm of Michael Myers. He also chatted about the collaborative spirit on the set of Halloween (2018) and building the history of Myers’ character into his version of the horror icon’s mask.
Halloween (2018) hits 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD tomorrow, courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
Obviously, there were a lot of eyes on this project once it was announced. And I'm just curious, how cool was it to be able to come into the Michael Myers universe and put your own stamp on it as an effects artist?
Christopher Nelson: Oh God, it was the coolest thing in the world for me. Halloween is one of the holy grails of films for a guy like me. And when I found out that I was gonna possibly be a family member of the legacy I was super, super excited and went into it with a lot of passion, and took it very seriously, and went into it as a fan, first and foremost. I just thought about what would a huge Halloween fan want to see? What do I want to see? What do I want to feel? And that's how I went into it, and it was honestly a dream come true. The original Halloween is one of my favorite films of all time. I saw it in the theater when I was nine years old, and I couldn't have been more excited about being a part of this one. It was very surreal.
Let’s talk about you coming into this and your conceptualization of Michael’s mask. It seems like an easy thing, but we’ve seen several sequels muck it up over the years. And here, you have to put 40 years into this thing, and make it feel believable and make it feel real. It feels like there’s a story to all the creases, to all the cracks, to every little nick and tear. It feels like it really did come right out of Carpenter's ’78 movie.
Christopher Nelson: Well, thank you for that. I'm glad. That was the idea, first and foremost, going in, trying to re-create an iconic character that we've had 40 years to dwell on, to dissect, to stare at, to project our own fears and our own imagination onto. But I didn't have 40 years to do that in making this version of the mask. So first and foremost, it was creating that silhouette, that shape, for lack of a better term. It’s like seeing an old friend, showing up at your door and you're so happy to see him whenever you see that mask appear. And so that was the first thing that I really approached. We needed to have that silhouette. There was talk about putting our own spin on it and creating something new and interesting, too. But of course, David Gordon Green, who is a fantastic director and has a great imagination, was very adamant about giving the fans what they want. And I designed it based on, how's David gonna shoot it? How are we gonna light it? Where has it been? What's happened to it after all these 40 years?
But the silhouette and the face and that character needed to be there first and foremost. The weathering and the cracks and things, those were secondary to us. We also didn't want to stray too far so it's unrecognizable or it's a different character. It needed to be “The Shape,” it needed to be Michael Myers. And so, we used hundreds and hundreds of reference photos and books and R&D to get us to where we ended up. And I'm really thrilled and really happy with how it ended up. And although it's known to have an expressionless face—this blank expressionless face—I wanted to put a little bit of tragedy and character into that mask to represent those 40 years. To represent where he's been and where that mask has been, and also for us to project onto it as a movie screen. And so those were the ideas behind its design.
What I think is really great about what you guys did in this film is that there are parts of the movie that hearken back to Carpenter's movie in terms of the violence. There are definitely moments of restraint, and then there are some extreme moments of brutality, which were awesome, too. Can talk about walking that fine line as an effects artist?
Christopher Nelson: Well, that all really falls into the hands of David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, and Jeff Fradley. It was in the script and that balance comes from them. That was an issue that we discussed at the beginning of everything. How many kills are we going to show, how much are we going to show, and how gratuitous are we gonna be? You want to satisfy modern fans, and you want to satisfy old-school fans, where it's left to your imagination. So there was a lot of thought put into all the kills and the gags and the makeup effects so that we didn't cross that line, and so that we wanted to try to give everybody what they wanted. And you're not always gonna achieve that, you know? Some people want it to be gorier, some people felt we went too far. But you're never gonna satisfy everybody, and I think that you have to look at every gag and every character within the context of the film, within the context of the story.
And that's the way that we approached all the characters and makeup effects, is the story. What story are we telling and how are we telling it? And that's where it really comes from. You have to be a good storyteller and know when to lay back and know when to let the audience breathe and know when to have that Hitchcock moment so that the audience can figure it out for themselves. Audiences are sophisticated, so we tried to approach it in a sophisticated kind of way.
We shot everything, too. There was nothing that we shot that got technically cut out. Everything was planned out, so we knew what we would be showing and what we never wanted to show audiences. There was never a moment where we went, "Oh, it's too much, let's cut it out. Oh, the ratings board will come after us, we need to cut this out." That didn't happen. It was all very calculated, and that's a hard thing to do.
You mentioned David coming into this, and sometimes when effects folks are working with directors, it's almost like a choreography that you guys have to work out in terms of what you guys are able to do on camera. Was that sort of your experience with David? Just sitting down and figuring out the best way to get a lot of these things to work in camera for the film?
Christopher Nelson: Absolutely. Yes. He's a very collaborative director. And I love that, and I was so flattered that he trusted me to put my two cents in and go, "Well, I think it's gonna look better with this angle, I think the lighting needs to do this in order to sell this." He was great that way, and it was a great experience to be able to work with him. Also, because this was a smaller production and because everybody involved was so passionate, there was a lot of trust on the set. David and the producers hired people and artists and technicians that were passionate about Halloween, that love it, that covet it, that respect it, and we were able to have a trust with each other like we were a family. And I really loved this whole [experience] because of that collaborative spirit. It was very special.