Waxwork interview with Patrick K.Coppinger!
Today I was lucky enough to interview Patrick K. Coppinger. Patrick has been working in the industry for nearly thirty years as a very talented artist on such movies as Critters 2, RoboCop, Waxwork 1 & 2, and even 2012's Rock Of Ages. As a massive Waxwork fan, I was fortunate enough to get the chance to ask Patrick some questions about the industry, and of course details of the making of Waxwork.
- How did you get into the business of being a painter and scenic artist?
This is an interesting question that could get lengthy LOL. I had always been an artist to say, When I was a little boy I would draw all the time. My Mother used to say she would have to slap my hand for drawing on the walls, LOL. I was a mischievous child. Bring home horses, I mean had it half way in the house, before my mother caught me. Frogs in my pockets, salamanders got out and in to the stove, she hated that LMAO. Of course when I got grounded I would be in my room drawing lol. My Father had a Doctorate in mechanics, a masters in electronics and an aviation mechanics license, he taught part time at a local training school, drafting. So he was always getting us involved doing things, fixing cars, building a house one time (second Grade we started that) and he got my brothers in to design or a technical field. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I dropped out of high school, I tried things. Then I went to California on a whim, some friends I knew were there and they invited me out, had a boat, yeah! I got there they didn’t have a boat no more, living in a tent on the beach, working a seafood restaurant. I went commercial fishing (gillnet) it was cool. When I was in port I meet a man that worked in the boatyard fixing boats, he was an artist that grew up there and worked with Hanna-Barbara He had a rule if I want to talk with him I had to help. So, I did and learned about epoxy and fiber glass lots of materials. He was always like you need to stop wasting your time sitting around on the boat drawing and start making some money with it, Sound good. So we teamed up and started doing comic strip advertising for local merchants and places around the harbor. The harbor, unknown to me had many people that worked in the entertainment industry. To make a long story short, one day a potential client had asked about a mural, did offer much. I went to the bar me and my friend hung out at and he asked about it and I made a wise crake. The Guy sitting behind me said really you’re that good huh? Then he asked to see my drawings so I showed him. He said it was good and asked me if I ever thought about being a scenic artist? I was like huh, what’s that? (Thinking he said cynical artist) So he explained, you know painting background scenery for TV and Motion Pictures. I was like sure I’ll give that a try. He said come down to the studio Monday or Tuesday and I’ll get you on. It was kind like the old classic, being discovered at the drug store story. As they say the rest is history, kind of LOL.
- What was the business like in the 1980's?
The way I look at it is the business is much different, but then again people at that time thought it was different then, when they started, and it is ever changing. That is the shorter answer. I was fortunate to get in the entertainment industry at that time, technology was starting to change. Not so much for the painter, but later that changed too. I still had the mentors of the old school and the dreamers of the new school. The old school was much better to work with. The rules were simple for example; 1. Be nice to everyone (respect) , because you never know when you will work with them again, and also you don’t know what position they will be in, Next time they could be the lead or an art director, but then again so could you. 2. Movies are magic never give away the secrets, once the secret is out the magic disappears, So never write a book, teach those outside the industry and keep the gate closed, it’s like Willy Wonka’a chocolate factory the secrets stay inside. 3. If you want to be an artist, you could do the artist gallery circuit, Film is forever (explained to me that if you really want to make a living as an artist, the gallery circuit cost you more money then you will make. But working with film you have a steadier job that pays good money and your work is seen by millions. Draw back not always do people know you worked on it, and you’re an artesian you are the mechanism of the designer to bring it to life, so creativity is limited to translating there vision, kind of a collaboration in a way some times. But in this day and age many of the designers visions are hard to relate to their vision for some reason, then there is conflict or total freedom to create with in there guideline, which they end up looking really good, LOL) Those are just a few, and the production companies treated you like they appreciated your being there and your work. Don’t get me wrong there are still some companies that do, but many of the young up-n-coming just out of school types, feel they need to be complete jack offs to prove there lot in life, not saying that there is not some really talented one out there, LOL. Take it from me they don’t last long. As the 90’s rolled around the old rules started to go away. You would see more and more ads for work that didn’t pay and only gave credit and maybe meals, was becoming the mantras for this lead in to low budget no budget reality show stroke jobs. Pay me, I will feed myself and I have credits already. This was because of the schools producing more people to work in the industry then projects to do and on top of that the technology changing with CGI and other computers. Now the CGI types have an overabundance of people and out sourcing they get paid butt kiss and are crying about it, Supply and demand. Backdrops can be done by 30 foot bubble jet prints, and the new scenic and set painter seem to be theater experienced and not Movie or TV (there is a difference by the way, (Secrets that went away, and not taught any more). RULES WHAT RULEs LOL and yes I did make a how to video (braking the rules, but year later after the cat was out of the bag and only to try and take things back to the basics)
- You have worked on several cult classics, one being Critters 2. Any fond memories from that set?
I have fond memories of all the projects and some from in between ;) but Critters 2 was fun, I still talk with Charlie Chiodo (Chiodo Bros, they did the effects) sometimes. They had several different Set painters on that over the life of production, I was there the longest. The film was shot primarily at the old Saugus California drunk farm, kind of an old jail of shorts. It had been closed for years, and they used to train swat teams and stuff there. The old buildings got new fronts to create the town, except for the restaurant which was built from the ground up (story to follow on that). So working around or in these buildings became interesting when the wind would sweep through, the old teargas dust would kick up and it would become break time for a few minutes LOL. The paint shop was a small building that was near the edge of town, I remember it was a cold winter in that town. It was on a hill, I remember that coming into work you would start at the bottom of the hill and it would be rain, by the time you got to the top it would be snowing. One day we were trying to get the Hungary Heffer interior finished and the carpentry crew came in and was hanging out because we had heat so the paint would dry. We still had it finished in time, then the next day the shot the Hungary Heffer blowing up exterior shots. I asked the production designer why they blow it up first instead of shooting the interiors; he said it was because they had sunlight. I said is the sun not coming up tomorrow? He gave me a look like oh never mind, then he said I need the interior done as soon as possible. I just had to laugh. That was like the interior of the spaceship, it needed to be done and they wanted to how soon they could get it, it was Christmas. I told them no problem I didn’t do anything for Christmas and I had a friend that could help. So we work all Christmas day on the interior of the spaceship no one around, but about half way through the day the production designer showed up, with BROWNIES very cool. The ship was ready for shooting the next day, although we forgot to apply a special finish that the production designer was very detailed about when we sat down for are Christmas break. The construction coordinator asked me if there was anything I needed while he was out getting supplies, it being freezing out I told I needed some anti-freeze, an old set painter trick when painting in the freezing weather. So I am out working in the town some were and he sees me and says, your anti-freeze is under the paint table, I go and look. There is a case of beer under there, I see him later and told him thank you for the anti-freeze, but I needed the kind that went into a car.
Waxworks, Masters of the Universe were similar, but Masters was more oil base and chemicals as far as materials we worked with. The marble was Brazilian marble and it took a lot of hands on modeling dipping rags into mineral spirits, using benzene, alcohol, acetone, lacquer thinner, etc. there was very little water base paint on that one, I do remember a petition going around to outlaw chemical paints though, I guess it took off because there was a big move from chemicals to water base. Although a lot of water base paint has more chemicals people think. Waxwork was mainly water base paints; we still used asphaltum on things for aging when needed. But when we were not working or on breaks there were antics, Some have video and pictures, NOT saying who, but there were moments, such as sleeping, working long hours sometimes taking a knap somewhere while waiting for a piece to be ready was acceptable, because it would save time of you going home then just turning around and coming back. Example on Masters it would take me 2 hours to get home (LA go figure) then 2 hours to get back, so on a 20 hour day there was no time to get home and back, and get some rest, SO just pull up and piece of foam stone and take a knap. Shower in the dressing room and back to work. On waxwork it was go to a dressing room, pull up a piece of little shop of horror’s foam leaf from “Seymour” and grab a knap on the floor, until someone comes in with a video camera LOL. There was one time that Mr. Hickcox and the production team approached us on the way out and ask if we could stay while they thought of how they wanted to do a shot in the vampire dining room. So I said I would and Cole Lewis went home to get some rest, I was put into one of the star trailers while they decided on what it was they wanted to do. When I woke up, here was Miles O’Keefe getting ready, I was being a smart ass trying to break the ice in an awkward situation, Hay what are you doing in my trailer, LOL. He was cool he said, Oh Sorry but it is actually my trailer, now go back to sleep. So went to sleep for a while and then they came and woke me, Coffee and dinner. They wanted a mate painting to make the vampire room long shot, to extend the set upward and give the camera a safety, so when china came down the stairs they wouldn’t catch the top of the set. So I called Cole and this is something he was working on around his private shop and I took an interest in, very old school and not done anymore. There is a lot more to it then you think, so we had them get a sliding glass door, C stands and a camera lock into the shot position. Then Cole would look through the camera and tell me were to mark the site line. Were the columns were and then once that was worked out painted it in. Now for the die-hard fans of the movie, you would notice this, don’t know what you refer to it as, but, here we go. You notice the matte but, there is something off about it, yes it was painted under the work lights, NOT under the shooting lights. So the colors are the same as what we painted the set with, BUT there was no compensation for the show lights or the shadows they cast scents this was last minute and the set was still being prepped for shoot. So watch for the scene again. I could go on, but this is getting lengthy LOL.
- You worked on Waxwork, where exactly can we see your work in the film?
The interior sets, Seeing the Set painting crew was small we worked on pretty much everything, The exact pieces to look for would be something to sit down and watch the movie. I was more of a large scale painter, meaning that I would work on the overall large square footage of the set, and large detail, then Cole would work on the details, Take the Mummy set, I would go in and apply texture and color to the set, then Cole would come in and we would discuss the detail, such as the stone lines. Because this was a low budget movie, we had to become creative in execution, So, we decided to cut the lines in and not to make them look stone cut and not fake to say, Cole and I took an hatchet and other tools and cut the lines in then retextured the lines. Cole then put in some Highlights and definition with paint, I helped. After that I aged the set and props. Cole looked up some hieroglyphs copied them to acetate and projected them and painted them in, I dried rolled over them to make them look faded and age them. This is generally how things are done, and when it came to the scene of the wax museum, this became the set painters Olympics LOL 18 sets in five days, Some were parts of sets already shot and then cut and put on platforms, it got crowded after a while and had to have sets covered to prevent over spray. But it all got finished. The marquis dissuade set was fun also, but save that for another time LOL
- Most memorable part filming the movie?
There were many memorable moments during the movie looking back it was one of my favorite films to work on. The people were great, the work was fun, and the film had so many learning opportunities. I will give you two moments that when I watch the film I think about. When they filmed the kitchen sense, the break for lunch came and everyone came out for lunch, Mr. Hickcox, the talent, the film crew, the construction crews, everyone. Mr. Hickcox and the film crew as well as the talent were covered in blood, Lol. They were having fun with this, we spent a lot of time painting that room to get it white - white LOL and it was covered, they said it was 18 gals of blood push the film to an x rating. That is why it was unrated LOL. One other moment was the Patrick Tantalo came out to work on the film, we were messing around one day videotaping in the vampire bedroom it was finished and pat want to do a tape to send home. So he is laying on the bed and I am taping, He says something along the lines of, I come all the way to Hollywood to do this movie and they give me this crappy hotel room LMAO. So, every time I see that scene I think of that. There are many more as I said.
- Most changeling part?
I would have to refer back to answer 3 for this, the matte painting for the vampire dining room. That was unexpected and a great opportunity at the same time. Looking back though it could have been better, but hind sight is 20/20. Although, it gives some of that waxwork, classicness? I guess? LOL
- What was Mr. Hickcox and the other actors like on set?
It was a pleasure to work with all of them, everyone was like old friends. The crew was well taken care of. We worked long hours and everyone from the producers down knew that and appreciated it, with that they took really good care of us. In turn, it shows on screen the extra effort. So it wasn’t like you got your money’s worth. It was more like, we took pride in the film and they took pride in Us.
- Did anyone have any idea there would be a sequel?
Not that I knew of, as far as crew was concerned. I am sure the producer’s and Antony Hickcox new that if the first one made enough money then the second one would be a go.
- When were you first approached to help work on the sequel?
I had worked with Steve Hardie on the reshoot for the ending of the Un-Holy. Steve had mentioned that they would be starting Waxwork 2 Shortly and to stay in contact. When I heard that they were in preproduction, I contact Him and went to the production office. Steve had already brought on board a construction coordinator and of course they had a set painter on their crew. Steve preferred to have me in charge. This caused friction with the coordinator, and eventually I left the show.
- What did you work on in part II?
I work on Frankenstein’s mansion. There were other sets starting to be built, like the attic, and the lab.
- Was there any rumors of a part three? If so any idea what that story would have been about?
I didn’t hear of any to speak of, I think that once the first one was done and due to it being a success that the second one was planned. The second film was a natural secession due to it explaining of how such supernatural things could of happened, not so much as a reality but through the theory of stories like Frankenstein and so forth. In a reality sense, if Waxwork were to happen it would only make sense that the characters would be arrested and put on trial for murder, because to tell the story of what really happened would be far-fetched and so your only defense would be to prove the monsters existed and that flesh reanimation is possible. To do so you would have to travel in time. Otherwise they would be convicted as murders or insane, Right? So Waxwork 2 was unlike other sequels because it gave you a plausible explanation. To have a third sequel, where would you go with it? Would it ruin the first two to make another? In my opinion to make another may just do that, to many movie got on the sequel train and didn’t know when to get off, the old saying always leave them wanting more, and Waxwork did.
- Favorite movies of all time?
Wow, there are so many, of course those I worked on LMAO. For bad or for good, lol. I like Marley and me, apocalypse now, outsiders, Harry Potter series’ most of them, Star wars, Indiana jones series, many of the older classic, and it varies.
- What do you do in your spare time?
In my spare time, looking for work LOL, I draw, paint, design ideas I have such as the newest is a S.R.E.A.C.V. (self-renewable air cushioned vehicle) it is a hovercraft that is electric and you don’t have to plug it in. I have ideas all the time and have to work them out or drive me nuts LOL. Same goes with painting or drawing. But that is an artist thing; there are other things I do, that may seem more normal LOL. I used to write, but haven’t done it in years, had one script just about signed, but didn’t because I didn’t feel comfortable with some of the people representing me, looking back should of just did it, win or lose. Hind sight again LOL.
- Are you surprised that the Waxwork movies have such a strong cult following?
Yes and no, Back then every one hopes the film is successful and it didn’t seem it was a block buster, then for the budget…well..many films at that time were being done for that. But out of all of them. I am surprised to a point, but it was not done to death with sequels and it was original. So I think that is why out of end of them that is a big part of it. Other than that can’t tell you.
- Favorite recent film that's been released in the last ten or so years?
AH this question, well are we talking the endless remakes of the last ten years? LMAO or the originals, there are many as I said before, Marley and me, harry potter series (most of them), fifth element, Horror would be wrong turn ( was more like the old school horror) and I am sure there are more.