“I just got out there and did it.” It was a very humble beginning for Christopher Nelson, special effects department supervisor on one of 2018’s biggest blockbusters – Halloween. The artist and creator, who won an Oscar for his work in Suicide Squad and Emmy for his time with American Horror Story, has nothing but love and respect for the grind that got him to the platform that he sits on today. “I knocked on doors and kicked down fences, and tried to make friends. I read a lot of books, had a lot of trial and error. I practiced and I learned from my mistakes. I even worked small odd jobs like sweeping the floors in effects shops. It took a long time, the grind, but I feel better and more well-rounded. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything,” Mr. Nelson tells me as I look over his resume. You may have heard of some of his previous ventures – Avengers: Infinity War, Batman Returns, Constantine, Kill Bill, Night of the Demons 2, Return of the Living Dead 3, The Stand, Star Trek and World War Z. Christopher tells me, “I’ve been doing this a long time,” and boy, he isn’t lying!
“A career is a long-term game. Don’t be so caught up in immediate success and gratification. If you approach it as a long-term game, then you’ll be just fine,” he tells me before elaborating on the idea of education; and that practice and education are equally as important to your success. “Do it. Do it all the time. You must be passionate about it and borderline obsessive. You must love it – film-making in general and watching all types of movies. Meet people. Network. Make friends and create relationships within the business with people that you like and admire. Learn from them. Have fun. There are so many outlets for education, too. Dick Smith Special Effects Make-Up Training is my number one component for what I recommend to aspiring artists. There are schools, online tutorials, and DVD’s everywhere; so much more now than when I was coming up. Check your echo. Do the work and work hard. Be well-rounded and make a lot of friends.”
Speaking with Mr. Nelson was my first time chatting with a special effects master, especially one of such a high caliber. I could talk to him about his art and his methods of creation, but I had to keep my interview on topic. Christopher was the special effects supervisor on John Carpenter, David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and Jason Blum’s Halloween reboot, which held the #1 spot in theaters for two consecutive weeks this past October. How does one go about getting on board a production of this magnitude? The award winner explains, “I think, like every job, the movie business is all about who you know, and the reputations and relationships, and how you develop them. For the first period of your career, you’re begging and pleading, knocking on doors and kicking down fences to try and get a job. You’re asking people to hire you and proving that you’re worthy. As time goes on, if you’re lucky enough to have a long career, if you’re lucky enough to continue to do good work and stay good person – people respect that. You get hired based on your previous work and reputation.” With a resume as elaborate and eyebrow raising as Chris’, yeah, I can see that.
“When I found out I was working on Halloween (2018), I think I jumped in the air and screamed, ‘yeah!’ I was super, super excited and stoked. I called a bunch of my friends to celebrate. My girlfriend was trying to calm me down, but she was just as excited as me. I was so thrilled that words can’t even describe it.” Safe to say, the majority of horror fans around the world were equally as excited when the new entry in the Michael Myers series was announced several years ago. The re-calibration aside, it sounded like something that needed to be seen at least once. But was Mr. Nelson a fan of the series before he joined the Halloween (2018) crew? “I am a huge fan of Halloween. I’m a huge fan of the first one. It changed a lot of the way I looked at film and cinema, and the horror genre in general. When I first saw it in theaters, it was amazing and it made an impression in my mind that lasted for 30 years. I’m a huge fan of the second and third films, too, but I was thrilled that we were going to try and recapture the essence of the first one. That was a bucket-list moment for me, for sure.”
“I worked on the whole movie from beginning to end. I was the department head of the day to day shooting. Designing and building the effects before we shot them. I had an amazing team with Vincent Van Dyke Effects and his crew, and my crew including Kevin Wasner. It was a collaborative effort. I had a great, passionate team of people. It was a pleasure every single day from conceptualizing what we were going to make to wrapping the shoot. I was there every day putting that mask on and making sure the gags and the make-ups looked the best they could be. I loved every moment of it. It was a dream come true.” See how we go back to checking your echo at the door and surrounding yourself with other eager people? Tattoo this in your brain, future artists. Christopher explains his favorite effect next. “I have a soft spot in my heart for all of them. They were all effective for the story we were telling. The mask was a huge thing that we’re proud of. I really like Drew Scheid (Oscar) getting impaled on the fence. I think that turned out great, even though you don’t see much of it.”
Previously, Mr. Nelson worked with Jamie Lee Curtis on the 1999 scifi-horror film Virus. Later, Curtis reprises her role of Laurie Strode in the new Halloween film. I asked Christopher about his opportunities working with the legendary scream queen. He said, “When I was on Virus, I mostly worked through another shop. We went and did official photography, but I think that was it. I worked with her on Scream Queens as well, a television show that was recently around. I was on that show here and there, not in charge but working on it for some of the make-ups. I worked with her then. Technically, Halloween (2018) was the third time I worked with her.” What a lucky man!
And his finally thoughts on working behind-the-scenes on Halloween? “I was lucky enough to be on this project. It was one of the smoothest projects I’ve ever worked on because everyone knew what they wanted. Everyone was a fan of Halloween. Everyone wanted it to be the best it could be. We all trusted each other and supported each other. There were no egos involved. It wasn’t a laborious process of getting things approved. It happened very organically and was a great experience.” Halloween is set for its 4k Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD release on January 15, 2019. Pick up your copy, relive the horrific masterpiece, and see Christopher Nelson’s work once again.
Would he work on the inevitable sequel? Simple. “Hell yes! If they called, I’d do it in a heart beat.”
Thanks for taking the time to talk, Chris!