Stephen Chiodo [Interview]

The bewilderment of what happens behind the scenes in making a film is astounding.  The immense amount of  details that go into the production side is one that is often left unappreciated.  But, in the world of animation and special effects, these are the guys who make all the difference.  And there are few people who have mastered this art of necessity as the legendary Chiodo brothers.

Yes, the guys who brought us the main stars of the film Critters – you  remember, Gremlins, but scarier – and the creators of the cult classic Killer Klowns From Outer Space, have been the master of puppets (all pun intended) and the creators of some of the finest animation, puppetry, and production designs are without a doubt the best in the game.  They know it all.  From stop animation in Elf starring Will Ferrell, to being the strings and fingers behind the South Park boy’s massive hit, Team America: World Police, these guys are the masters of it all.  Sure, they probably aren’t as appreciated as they should be, but it’s hard to see if they care.  They love what they do.  And it shows with the amount of effort they put into everything they do.  It’s their love for their work that proves evident.

One of these fine brothers was kind enough to share a few words with us.  We discuss clowns, puppets, and critters.  You know, the scary stuff!  So enjoy!  And remember, it takes more than one director to make a film.  Let’s honor the rest of people who make dreams happen.  Or at least a valid source of entertainment, right?

You and your brothers, Charles and Edward, are a notorious team in the world of film and animation? What would you consider the greatest upside of working alongside family?? What is a real downfall?

Charlie and I have been making films together since we were kids. Edward joined us when we moved to LA in 1980. The similarity in our background makes collaborating easier. There is an ease in our communication and the exchange of ideas that makes the creative process extremely constructive and fun. The ideas generated during a brainstorming session are varied due to our individual personalities but not too off the mark of the our original intent to be unproductive or frustrating.

On the other hand the closeness of siblings can sometimes raise the “temperature” of a heated discussion to a point where we would say things to each we would never say to someone outside the familiar relationship. Civility is thrown out the window and critiques are blunt and ruthless.
And after over 30 years in the business, what has been your favorite project you have been a part of in your career?

I have been fortunate to work on a number of memorable movie moments in my career so it’s difficult to choose just one. I’ve enjoyed many projects for different reasons.

Animating Large Marge in “Peewees Big Adventure” was a cool because it’s an unforgettable moment in a pretty funny movie.

“Critters” was the first movie Chiodo Bros was the key effects company on, responsible for designing the creatures, creating and performing a wide range of special effects for.

We created a Saturday morning kid’s show called “The Amazing Live Sea Monkeys” for CBS in the mid ‘90’s. Although it only lasted for one season it was ours creatively and we had loads of fun working with actors in prosthetics and stop motion and puppets. It was during a time when networks wanted educational elements in kid’s programming and we were proud to be declared the stupidest show on Saturday morning by TV Guide. Go Chiodo!

The stop motion work we did in “Elf” gave us the opportunity to animate a character in the same scene with the star of the movie, Will Ferrrel. That was fun.

But I’d have to say directing “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” was probably the greatest creative experience. Having the chance to make a feature based on my own idea was a blast. Seeing my concept come to life through the production process was exhausting and rewarding. And the fact that people still watch it makes me happy.

You were the principal puppeteer for Team America: World Police? Was that a different experience in the puppeteer field?? Was that the most adult oriented performance with puppets you have ever done?? 

Team America was a completely different experience for me. Marionette puppetry was not a technique we were familiar with. But as effect producers we mounted a production that built all the puppets and coordinated them on stage for shooting.

We discovered why they don’t produce many marionette movies. They are extremely difficult and time consuming to make. It was absolutely the hardest I have ever worked in my career.

We did the smart thing and hired the most talented puppeteers and let them do their best. Matt & Trey were great to work with. Rather than forcing the puppets to do things they were incapable of doing the guys found their comedy in limitations of the puppets.

The sex scene was definitely the most adult performance we ever produced. After many hours rehearsing ways to create realistic sex acts we were happily surprised to see Trey direct us toward a simple and crude performance. It was much funnier than our attempt at reality.

How did the idea for the now cult classic Killer Klowns from Outer Space, in which you wrote, directed, and produced, come to life?? What were your influences, if any?

While trying to think of the scariest thing I could think of I imagined driving down a lonely mountain road at night. When a car pulls up and passes me I see a clown behind the wheel, smiling an evil grin at me. Now that’ scary!

I’ve never felt clowns were particularly funny and a clown being where he shouldn’t be was scary to me. Charlie suggested what if he wasn’t in a car? What if he was floating in the air? Well then he must be from outer space. And that was it. We started brainstorming every clown gag and circus motif we could think and turning them into candy coated kills. We had too many for just one movie.

Rumor has it that a sequel is coming out? After 23 years, what has made you and your brothers decide to revisit the story?

Ha! We’ve been trying to get a sequel off the ground since we released the original and have met numerous obstacles over the years. I would like to report that we are closer than ever to getting the production going but things in Hollywood take a long time.

Business aside, one creative issue we had was what kind of story to tell after all these years.

It has been such long time since KKOS was released we wondered if a sequel would work for a new audience who may not be familiar it. We considered maybe a remake would be in order.

Well after much thought we decided to make a Re-Quel; a story with elements of both a remake and a sequel. We came up with a story that will introduce a new audience to the klown phenomenon and have a recurring character that will continue the original klown invasion. It’s all part of a long range story arc: a trilogy in four parts. I know the fans will not be disappointed.

You were the designer and supervisor for the legendary Critters character? What was the inspiration in designing the critter itself?? Where you given creative freedom on developing 

We had great fun on Critters. We had specific direction from Stephen Herek, the director and Domonic Muir, the screenwriter concerning the Krites. They wanted the nasty alien criminals to simply be “fur balls with teeth”.

My brother Charlie did a series of sketches and after a few adjustments I sculpted a small scale prototype and got it approved. It was a great creative collaboration.
What is the process like in developing stop animated sequences?? Is it as tedious as it seems to an outsider?

Working in stop motion is not unlike developing a scene in live action. We create storyboards to work out the action ahead of time so we shoot exactly what we need. Doing this avoids re-shooting, which wastes time and money.

It’s funny that people are under the misconception that stop motion is tedious.  I suppose the meticulous attention detail over long hours to produce only a few seconds seems mind numbing. But it’s the exact opposite. An animator is constantly thinking of hundreds of details to create a performance and the hours go by quickly. It’s a real kick to see your puppet come to life.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

Why just the other day someone on Facebook sent  me the dvd cover art for a porn parody of KKOS. The tile reads;

This isn’t KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE… it’s a XXX spoof!

Very bold, very trashy and very funny, to me.

It made me smile. I wondered if having my film knocked off for a porn parody signified some level of success. I mean if other directors could tolerate  “Jurassic Pork” and “Whores of the Rings” and “Tits a Wonderful Life” I could take pride to be in their company.

I’m still smiling.

Keep up with Stephen and the rest of the Chiodo brothers at their Official Website.

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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