NOVA: Will audiences gain a greater insight into the artistic nature, the artistry that's involved in special effects? It's not all just technical, it's not all just science, but these are artists at work.
SIMPSON: What NOVA is trying to do with this film is that while we very much want people to understand the science and technology behind this kind of film making, I think we also want to pay tribute to the artists and to the filmmakers and the people who have really had visions for what films involving special effects can be. And, if there's one single message for this film, I think that we want an audience to understand that imagination is very important, vision is very important, and these people, the people who have spent their time devoted to their craft are really trying to create images and create stories that all of us can enjoy.
NOVA: Why did you choose Ben Burtt to direct the film? Was there something in his background that made him especially knowledgeable about the subject, or sympathetic to the subject?
SIMPSON: I just thought Ben was the only person to direct this film if you know anything about Ben's history. He's won all of his academy awards for sound design with "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Indiana Jones." And he has been instrumental in the kind of film making that people really enjoy. And, Ben has special knowledge of special effects. He has designed many (special effects) for "Young Indiana Jones." He's worked in the IMAX medium as well.
NOVA: What are the logistics for this kind of sequence? I mean, you've had planes flying over San Francisco, you're bringing in the National Guard, you've got fire trucks. This has got to be a pretty elaborate undertaking, very challenging.
SIMPSON: The amazing thing about this film is that not only are we making a film about film making, but we have, in the process of doing this, had to create situations that are like a major feature film in production. So, with the "King Kong" sequence, we're having to do things like filming downtown in San Francisco with a hundred extras, tanks that are stand-ins for the National Guard, ambulances, fire trucks, police—everything that might be part of real feature film—King Kong falling on top of a downtown skyscraper. So, this is an enormous production for which we have been in principal photography for many months and it's all culminating with this sequence tonight.
NOVA: Why the Kong story? What was there about Kong that you felt would be representative of special effects?
SIMPSON: I know that for many of us who have worked in film, that "King Kong" is representative of a film where something that could never happen actually takes place in a film. And I think it's one of the films where special effects filmmakers, especially at some point in their childhood, have all seen that film and it's changed their lives. And I think for us, it really represented the story of Kong, who had been pursued up the skyscraper, and it wasn't his fault. And we really felt like what we wanted to do was to bring that sympathetic character to the big screen. And so, for us, it's really a labor of love to bring that film now to IMAX.
NOVA: Again, there's the creative team just for this section alone, in addition to the film making, the special effects people with David Allen, the producer, the various people that you've had. Let's talk about their work because they've recreated this entire city and created things that are amazing.
SIMPSON: One of the most outstanding things about this "King Kong" sequence is that we actually have brought Kong to life using an eighteen-inch puppet. And having watched that process take place, one thing I can tell you is that making King Kong feel real is a process of the animator, David Allen in this case, really trying to get into the motivation of that Kong character. And I think that one of the funniest things was to watch Ben Burtt and David Allen have conversations about King Kong's motivation for a particular scene or not. I myself was quite surprised to see it on a large screen and feel how effective it was—that those conversations about what Kong was feeling could actually be transformed and brought to life in that eighteen-inch puppet.
NOVA: Well, let me ask you this, in the commentary there's a statement, "When you get the illusion right, real magic can occur." Do you feel you created our own movie magic with this movie?
SIMPSON: You know, I've been behind the scenes in the making of this film, and I've been on the set during the entire making of this "King Kong" sequence, and one of the things that still astounds me is that when I sit down and I watch King Kong on top of the building swatting at the biplanes, or clutching his chest because he's been hit, I find myself being very taken away by that and very sympathetic with the Kong character. And so, for someone who's actually seen that whole process happen behind the scenes, it's still amazing to me that you can create an illusion like that.
NOVA: What do you hope audiences will take away? What kind of experience do you hope an audience will have when they see this movie?
SIMPSON: I hope what audiences are going to take away from this film is that special effects work is not easy. And it takes some very dedicated, some very talented, and some very knowledgeable people to put these effects onto the screen so that audiences can enjoy them. And I think if there's one thing I hope audiences take away from this film it is that they're inspired by that, and inspired by the people who really make this happen.
NOVA: Is the film intended in any way to change an audience's perception about the kind or the range of programming that NOVA can produce?
SIMPSON: Well, I think that NOVA is known to the audience for the twenty years that we've brought science television to public television. But I'm not sure everybody knows that we've been involved in the making of large format films, now, for about ten years, and have made two other films before "Special Effects," and we'll be making many more in the future. So I think it's a chance for the audience at large to see what NOVA can do in this very entertaining medium.
NOVA: Finally, is seeing "King Kong" feeling, experiencing King Kong falling from the top of this building tonight, is that alone, in itself, worth the price of admission for this movie?
SIMPSON: If there is any reason for people to come see this film, it's so they can experience the fall from a forty story building the way that King Kong does. That shot alone is worth it.
Photo Credits: (1-2) WGBH Educational Foundation. All rights Reserved.
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