Gregory Nicotero: Well I started in Pittsburgh in 1984 under Tom Savini and George Romero’s wings on Day of the Dead…given the impact Dawn of the Dead had on me, we all felt (Howard Berger, Everett Burrell, Mike Trcic) that we were treading sacred ground. I went from there to NY and then LAS and hooked up on Evil Dead 2. It was during that film that we decided to start KNB and 650 movies later and 20 years under our belt, Howard and I have certainly carved our niche in the annals of modern cinema.
Lilja: You have been involved in several Stephen King movies as well. I noticed Creepshow 2, The Green Mile, Misery, Desperation and The Mist. Did I miss any?
Gregory Nicotero: We also did Tales from the Darkside, Riding the Billet, Hearts in Atlantis…I’m sure there are a few more. I was a huge fan of King’s growing up…loved ’Salem’s Lot…read Pet Sematary in 1 day…there was so much about his writing and the “everyday guy getting thrown into these situations” that I always fell in love with. It felt like he hit every nerve in every book. We provided corpses on The Stand for a prop department as well…in terms of his movies I felt like The Dead Zone was a near perfect film…still moves me when Brooke Adams is holding Chris Walken’s hand at the end…I have a framed copy of the Newsweek cover in my office that King signed for me that says “No future for Stillson” but he crossed out Stillson and wrote “Bush”…
Lilja: Are you a Stephen King fan or has they just been like any other job for you?
Gregory Nicotero: Very big fan....I'd have to say ’Salem’s Lot and The Stand are my favorite books. I've read most of his stuff....I recall reading Pet Sematary in 1 day over high school break. These are definitely not just another job....bringing life to characters and creatures that he has created....and literally re-define how people read and accept horror is a tremendous honor.
Lilja: How did you get involved with The Mist?
Gregory Nicotero: Darabont and I have been friends for 15 years…initially the idea was to do The Mist after The Shawshank Redemption…but The Green Mile came up first. Frank had always wanted us to do The Mist so when it came up we kicked in to the design phase and between Frank, myself and Everett Burrell we really mapped out each sequence and executed them from a “T”. We had a 2 month design phase, then a 2 month build and a 6 week shoot…so it was over before it really started and I’m very proud of the film.
Lilja: Can you talk a little about how the effects in The Mist were done? I guess the tentacle scene must have involved quite a lot of work?
Gregory Nicotero: Frank’s intention always was that he wanted to do digital creature work. Everett and I pressed on him that even if the puppet pieces didn’t appear on screen they would be invaluable for reference, animation, lighting, etc…so we had always known that our main contribution would be puppets and then most likely they would serve as a guide shot on set under our supervision to ensure the perfect blend and as much creative control as we could put forth. Given Everett comes from a make-up FX background and we’d known each other for 20 years it was really a perfect match.
Lilja: When I saw the tentacle scene it wasn't 100% convincing, no offence. It was almost like if the tentacle at times where above the kid instead of on him. What are your own feelings about that scene and how it turned out?
Gregory Nicotero: The CG work was challenging of course…adding the levels of mist…we shot quite a bit with the practical tentacles grabbing him and interacting but for sake of time some of those where omitted and if anything....it is more a lighting issue and density of mist around the tentacles…making something that isn’t there have weight and mass is the hardest thing to do and I may have opted for more practical shots myself…but that’s the process and Frank’s final vision is up there.
Lilja: I liked the creatures. I understand they are based on drawings from Bernie Wrightson. Is that often the case that someone else designs the monsters or do you usually do that yourself?
Gregory Nicotero: We have a team of designers…and on this film I had very specific concepts in mind so I was able to direct Bernie as well as others like Mike Broom, Aaron Sims, Jordy Schell to the direction I wanted. Ironically I found a sketch we had done for the final creature literally a dozen years ago when Frank first mentioned the project and I was shocked at how much it looked like it when we finished the movie…good ideas are always good ideas. I did a lot of research before hand as well…calling on the concept that these aren’t monsters, but animals that have just been misplaced into a new ecosystem…and if they happen to eat someone it is almost mistaken identity like a shark attack.
Lilja: Where they all created in a computer or do then in fact exist in any form?
Gregory Nicotero: We made puppets of the tentacles, bugs, birds and spiders…from these the CGI house was able to make 3D models and Everett consulted with me about each step on the way (which is rare in the VFX field) and I feel it allowed for a better final product.
Lilja: The mist itself, how was that created? It looks very real.
Gregory Nicotero: A combination of CGI and practical mist engineered by amazing physical effects supervisor Darryl Pritchett. We worked with Darryl on Vampires, Spy Kids 2 and The Green Mile and he and his team are top notch.
Lilja: You have also been doing some acting, is that something you enjoy and wish to do more of?
Gregory Nicotero: Na…just fun once in a while to be in front of the camera…nothing I think I am very good at…even though Rodriguez has always been talking about doing a movie about the life of Stevie Ray Vaughan and I always tell him I want to play a guy in one of his early bands.
Lilja: What are you working on now?
Gregory Nicotero: Currently doing a film called Splice being directed by Vincenzo (Cube) Notali, a miniseries from Spielberg and Tom hanks called The Pacific…a companion piece to Band of Brothers for HBO, a film with DJ (Disturbia) Caruso called Eagle Eye, and getting ready to start a TV series called Fear Itself for NBC. We’ve wrapped on the 2nd Narnia film, a movie called Mirrors with Alex Aja and Kiefer Sutherland and some work on Indiana Jones…so all in all business as usual here at KNB.
Lilja: OK, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me. I enjoyed it! Anyone that wants to know more about Greg or the KNB EFX Group I recommend checking out their site here.