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bridge sceneNOVA: What have been the greatest challenges of this film?

BURTT: Well, special effects is an enormous topic. And, in making a documentary film like this, you have to limit yourself to only a few things. 'Cause that's all the time you have to tell. So, you have to be very sly. You have to be very creative. How to tell a story? And, you have to, somehow, derive a story from the material you're getting. And ... on any day shooting, you're not sure what you're gooing to get. You have a goal in mind, but by the end of the day, you may have shot things that are completely different. So, the biggest challenge as a filmmaker has been to take all these elements ... different places, people, problems, and put them together to have a coherent story which focuses on the very important points we wanted our audience to learn and to see. I'm saying that it wasn't a film where we could control everything. We could control some things, like the Kong sequence, and things that we were staging ourselves. But, most of the time, we were on the run, you know, gathering shots, peeking around corners, picking up the curtain and filming when people weren't' looking ... whatever it might be in order to get the material. And, to fashion that into a story has been the most challenging aspect of it.

NOVA: The surprises that you uncovered, many of them that you weren't even aware of, is that part of the surprise of the audience?

crowd scene BURTT: Well, if you can encounter something in the documentary film process that surprises you, and you happen to be there to get it right at that right moment, that's great. You're just swinging a camera around and something happens and you capture it ... you may not even realize at the time. But later, after the event is over, you see it in the editing room, and you're thankful that you had the instinct and the good fortune to get it. There were a number of instances like that ... I'm trying to think of some specific ones. Well, the day we filmed in the desert, for instance, we just happened to get in our dune buggy and were rehearsing a little bit, when suddenly the entourage of the other film crew came roaring through, so we just took off after them and got some great shots that we never could have staged otherwise. We just were ready and (it was) the right time.

NOVA: What kind of experience do you hope the audience is going to have when they see this movie?

BURTT: Certainly, I hope the audience who's seeing this film has fun. And that they're entertained. Beyond that, there's some very important goals. I want them to learn something, to appreciate the kind of artistry that goes into special effects, particularly, and understanding of human perception, and how we see things. Because, that's the basis for that process of perception that all the illusions are founded upon in special effects. I remember seeing a film when I as a child about how sound was done in a movie studio. And the film didn't explain technically how it happened or how electrons went through wires, but, in seeing people at work, doing creative things, I was inspired to go into the business and to find a way to apply myself and tell stories. And, I would hope that some people seeing this film would also be inspired to further their education, to become experts in areas. Be it science, or in the arts, so that they have something to say and they have the skills to say it, and some future filmmakers and contributors to our society on a positive level can come out of this.

broken house

NOVA: The use of IMAX and the use of special effects to fulfill the vision of a filmmaker ... that's the ideal, right? How does that apply to this movie, the use of special effects to fulfill your vision?

BURTT: We have a tougher time fulfilling our vision with special effects in this movie because the movie is called "Special Effects" and everybody comes in expecting to see something that's special effects. How are we going to hide things? How are we going to lull the audience into a story, where they just accept things as they are. That's a challenge when you make a film on a given topic ... the audience has an expectation for it. And therefore, you have to meet that expectation, and you have to also, then somehow, distract the audience from their awareness of it, and then surprise them with something later.

Photo Credits: (1-2) copyright 1996 WGBH Educational Foundation, (3)WGBH Educational Foundation copyright Industrial Light and Magic.

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