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The Man Behind the Makeup: Barney Burman

The Man Behind the Makeup: Barney Burman

Barney Burman won an Oscar, his first, as part of the makeup team that brought to life the creatures in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek feature. But that film wasn't his first foray into the Star Trek universe; far from it in fact. Makeup F/X runs in his blood and several family members are not only in the business, but also worked on assorted Star Trek series and features. recently caught up with Burman for an exclusive interview in which he revealed his Star Trek connections, discussed winning an Oscar and revealed his hope to breathe life into some Klingons in the next Star Trek feature.

Your first known credit is Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Let's start there. What do you remember of that experience? Working on the film with your father (Thomas Burman)?

I was pretty young, not yet 18, and didn't have much drive as far as doing makeup. I helped out in the sop, but it was after school and mostly I just assisted where I was needed. I did get to sculpt my very first alien face, though. And my dad like it, but the design concept changed and it had to be redone. The memory that sticks out the most, however, is I was fortunate enough to go to the Star Trek III "Lift Off" party, where all the products and cast, except (William) Shatner, gathered to celebrate the beginning of the adventure. It was at one of the producer's houses and I remember being very vocal about hoping to get a part as an actor. Eventually, one of the producers pulled me aside and chewed me a new one! He said, "This is a party for people to have a good time, not a place for you to get a job!" He was right. I was being obnoxious about it. Well, I left that party nearly in tears, certain my career as an actor was over even before it had begun. A week alter a list of the actors that were to appear in the bar scene was sent into my father's studio and lo and behold, my name as on it!

The scene was cut. Have you ever seen the footage?

If you go and get the "Director's Cut" on DVD and you slow it down, at a certain point, frame by frame, you can just barely catch a quick glimpse of my shoulder. No, I never saw the footage.

How full-circle was it to work on J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, and how would you say the prosthetics and makeup game had changed in the years in between films?

There are a lot of "circles" in life. That was certainly one. Even though I worked on Search for Spock and a little on Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, I didn't have a strong connection to the whole Star Trek world. What I was excited about was how much better, due most notably to advances in material - like Silicone instead of foam rubber -- I believed we could do great make-ups. It was another step up in the art form.

You shared in the Oscar for Star Trek. How surprised/honored were you when you heard Star Trek and your name announced?

Gee, I don't want at all to come off cocky, but I wasn't really surprised. Vegas odds had us at a 68 or 69% chance of winning. But that's only because Star Trek was the more popular film of the three. Il Divo and The Young Victoria had beautiful work in makeup and hair, and both those films and the artists who worked on them were extremely deserving. So I thought anything could happen... but inside, somehow, I just knew, or at least believed, we'd get the honor.

What have you been up to since Star Trek?

After Star Trek I wanted to scale it down a bit and do some more modestly budgeted films. I never want people to think I"m too expensive, because each film is different. So I sought some independent fare. Boy, did I get it. (Laughs) I've had a lot of fun. For the most part I've been given quite a lot of artistic freedom to create things the way I felt they should be created. The producers and directors who've hired me over the past two years have sort of given me free rein, and I love that. Plus, since budgets were low, I've had to/been able to do most of the work myself, and I like getting back to my roots. I'm a very "hands on" artist and I like getting them dirty, so to speak.

The alien/horror film Grey Skies is one project. What excites you about that one?

To begin with, I liked the people right off. (Writer) Mark Reilly and (producer) Stacey Jorgensen and (producer-director) Kai Blackwood were very enthusiastic and I could see they had a vision. We had a lot of the same ideas about how a good scary film should be made. But they didn't have the money that should go into something like this. So I said, "Look, I'll make you some aliens but A, let me do them my way, and B, don't shoot them!" Even though most people would think I was crazy for saying it, they got it. Keeping them hidden, in the shadows, was going to be the best way to make them scary because that's how you stimulate the audience's imagination. The brain will imagine something far more frightening and creepy than anything you can stick in front of a camera.

What's happening with the film?

It's going through its final stages of editing and sound. Then I believe the distribution hunt is on.

Lastly, how hopeful are you that you'll get the call to return for the next Star Trek and what did you NOT get to do on the first film that you'd like to do on the next one?

Well, I'm always up for working with J.J. again. He's such a magnetic and vibrant personality. His enthusiasm is infectious. He also used to want to be a makeup F/X artist, so he has a really great eye for what works and what doesn't. It's really because of him we won that award. As far as what I'd like to do? Klingons, what else? I have no idea if they're going to be in it or not, but my father brought the Klingons to the look we associate them with today and I'd like to be the one to take them into the new millennium and do for them what we did for the Vulcans and Romulans.