Interview With Bill "Splat" Johnson (2000)
By James Hendsbee
Finding interviews for a site is always hard, no matter what you are talking about. I feel honored and privileged that I had the opportunity to interview a terrific man, Bill Johnson, effects for both Sleepaway Camp 2 and 3. When talking to me, Bill was very open and honest about his Sleepaway Camp experience. I had a good time talking to Bill, and I thank him very much for taking the time to answer all my questions.
James: Tell me a bit about yourself.
Bill: I have a BFA in graphic design from UGA. I still live in Georgia. I started doing movies full time in 1987 and have been doing it since. I have worked on over 30 movies. Some of them are: " The War ", " October Sky ", " Hoodlum ", " Fled ", and " In Dreams ". I recently finished leading a team of talented make up effects artists on the new Mel Gibson film, " The Patriot ". I am planning on shooting a short horror film this summer and hope to branch off into writing.
James: How did you get involved with Sleepaway Camp?
Bill: I was contacted by Michael Simpson for an interview. I was taking Dick Smith's course and had lots of photos to show them. After a meeting at a Cracker Barrel, I got the job.
James: Was Sleepaway Camp 2 and 3 your first big job for movies?
Bill: It was not my first film, but was the first one that I did that allowed me to do effects full time. I was working at an art store before.
James: What was it like on set for both movies?
Bill: It was stressful because of the shooting schedule, but I still have a lot of fond memories of the time. We had no spare time.
James: What movie did you like to work on more... Unhappy Campers or Teenage Wasteland?
Bill: Unhappy campers because we had 4 weeks preproduction time. We only had 3 days for part 3.
James: What was a standard day of work like on set for both films?
Bill: I don't remember. It was hectic some days and not so bad others. I remember that the food was good and the crew, for the most part, was really nice. If we weren't shooting, I went back to my shop to create stuff.
James: Do you stay in contact with anyone?
Bill: Not any of the cast. I have contact to my assistant, Christina, whom I am married to.
James: Did anyone else try out for the effects?
Bill: Yes, several people.
James: Were you surprised when you got the part?
Bill: I would not say surprised as much thrilled.
James: What months were the films shot in?
Bill: We started in September and finished on Halloween.
James: What effects were neat creating, but hard to make?
Bill: Making fake heads in a short time was a challenge. I enjoyed making the fake tree branch in part 2. I don't really think hardly any of the effects look real, but we did ok for the time frame we had and the budget.
James: Can you describe the process you used to make the fake heads? How long did they take to make?
Bill: I made all the heads for part 2 in about 3 weeks and the ones for part 3 in less time. I made the casts for the actor's head and poured the clay into the molds. I resculpted them and made temporary molds of the sculptures. I then poured a plastic into the molds and painted them after they dried. Hair was then added.
James: What were the dead bodies made from? Did you prepare them?
Bill: Most of the heads were made of an industrial grade acrylic material. And Jill Terashita's (Arab) head, it was made of rubber. The bodies were positionable foam dummies. My wife and I made the heads and bought the bodies from a supply house.
James: Were you and your wife married when you worked together on Sleepaway Camp 2 and 3?
Bill: No, but Sleepaway Camp did help us bond some. We met and worked together at the art store for several years before the movies. We got married in 1993.
James: How did you create standard blood for Sleepaway Camp?
Bill: We used the brand " Reel Blood ". You can make it with clear Karo corn syrup and food coloring.
James: Was Sleepaway Camp 2 and 3 in your opinion, really low budget?
Bill: Yes, although I have worked on lower budget films. I think that they were made for about $465, 000 each. Now that was 12 years ago and the money could be stretched a little further then. Now days anything for less than 10 million is considered to be low budget.
James: Could you describe the camp?
Bill: It was a neat location. It was Camp Younts at Waco. It was tied in with YMCA. The camp was way out in the woods on an old dirt road. It had been abandoned for several years, I believe. The area was beautiful. There was also a section that we didn't shoot in that was not fixed up for the films. It was rather creepy looking. Most of the cabins were empty and the interiors were shot in a set built in the lodge.
James: Did weather ever delay filming?
Bill: Not that I recall. We did have a drought that year and it caused the leaves to turn easy. This caused part 3 to be a fall camp, instead of a summer one as it was originally planned. It got really cold, quick as well.
James: Is the camp still around?
Bill: I heard that they were going to tear it down, right after we shot the movies. I don't know if they did or not. It was a neat location and very pretty. I think that it is a shame, if they did tear it down.
James: Do you have any trivia about the films?
Bill: The camp was supposedly haunted. Some of the crew members did have some weird experiences on it. One claimed to have felt someone grab her ankles while standing near the flagpole. When she looked down, no-one was there. Others said that they felt someone brush by them in the main lodge, only to see no-one in sight. That made some interesting late night shoots.
James: What was the coolest thing about working on Sleepaway Camp?
Bill: Most film making is exciting to me. It is just neat to see everybody do their thing to bring the illusion to life. I was working retail before this movie and to be able to make money at something you love to do, is truly a blessing. I can remember the cold nights walking around the dark camp and smelling the fire burning in the lodge fireplace. I can remember the impersonations of Michael J. Pollard over the radios going, " Sweetpea. Ya don't have to go fishin' if ya don't wanna. " I can remember Renee Estevez coming over and spending time with Christina and I at our little cabin. I recall the little mouse that lived in that cabin. I can remember how beautiful it was during the fall. I remember going to the grocery store with Brian Patrick Clarke and hearing everyone there refer to him by his character's name on " General Hospital ". I have lots of memories like that. I have some bad ones too, but the good ones are the ones that I like to look back on. It was a great experience. Every day, I look back at the films that I have worked on and I have warm memories for almost everyone. That is a very cool thing.
James: Where did you stay when filming Sleepaway Camp?
Bill: We all stayed at the Holiday Inn in Breman, which the production paided for, as is standard. No one camped out on set that I am aware of.
James: What were your favorite scenes to work on both Sleepaway Camp 2 and 3?
Bill: I don't really have any favorite scenes. I do think that the scene where Phoebe dies was probably one of the most effective.
James: When watching Unhappy Campers, the characters were supposed to be like 17 and 18 year old kids. Most of them were 21 or older right?
Bill: I don't really know all their ages, but some were younger than 21. Rob, if I remember correctly, was too young to do the sex scene in the forest legally, so he had to have a stand in. You actually don't see him, just Ally. As a rule, it is not uncommon for actors to be older than the parts they play.
James: When watching parts 2 and 3, I see some deaths that weren't covered too much (emilo's throat slashed, Charlie's spiked neck, Uncle John's hand cut off). Were there extra footage that got cut from these specific deaths? Were they shot, but never edited into film?
Bill: They were never shot. Only the aftermaths were.
James: In any horror movie, there is additional footage filmed, but never put into the home release. The footage could cut edited out for many reasons ... scenes to gory, too much nudity, lots of violence, etc. Can you remember a scene being longer when filming it, but was cut down when coming to VHS?
Bill: I think pretty much everything made it into the movies that we shot. You have to remember that a 3 week shooting schedule for a movie is really short. ( My last film shot for 4 months and is still doing pick up shots. ) If things seem a bit vague in their exposition, it is simply because there was no time to shoot everything or create everything. It is true that a lot gets cut out of the finished products with movies. I can tell you a ton of stories about that, but the SC2 and SC3 movies has no stories like that of which I recall.
James: Any more trivia?
Bill: The names of all the characters in part 2 are the names of brat pack stars ( TC=Tom Cruise, Molly=Molly Ringwald, etc. ) In part 3 they are names of TV characters ( Lilly and Herman=Munsters ) ( Greg, Marsha=Brady Bunch, etc. ) The fake branches from part 2 are used again in part 3. So are the burning skeletons.
James: I know you weren't around for the original Sleepaway Camp, but I think you know that it was made by Robert Hiltzik. Did he come on set to help out?
Bill: I was there for 6 weeks, the total production time. I didn't see him there. I know nothing about the guy. I'm honestly not a fan of those films, so I don't know much about the first. They were a good experience to work on, but I like supernatural, psychological types of horror films.
James: What about Jerry Silva, producer of the Sleepaway Camp movies?
Bill: I met him and that was about it. I don't really remember much about him.
James: What about the death of Mare? What was that scene like?
Bill: I remember quite a bit about that scene, the car Mare was killed in was my old Datsun B 210. I had blood drip out of the seatbelts on warm days for months after that.
James: Do you still have your old car?
Bill: No, I got rid of it after I did " Blood Salvage " in 1988.
James: Did you cut yourself when preparing and working on set?
Bill: Yes. I jammed an exacto blade almost completely through my finger. This happened on one of the fake heads. I had to get 3 stiches.
James: When watching SC2, it was gore soaked compared to part 3. Teenage Wasteland lacked blood. Why?
Bill: We had no preproduction time on part 3. The effects were literally thrown together.
James: Did stunt men come onto the set?
Bill: Yes. Lonnie Smith was the main stuntman there from what I recall. They coordinate all the dangerous stuff like fights, etc. They did stunt driving, falls, etc. through both pictures.
James: When were the fake branches used? When Phoebe died?
Bill: Yes. A fake branch was used for her scene and any other scene when someone was hit with a branch. The one my wife made was used for the outhouse scene in part 2. My branch was also used for the deaths of Herman and Sweetpea.
James: Into the first couple of minutes of SC2, in the morning near the swimming pool, Sean and Rob are raising the flag. In part 3, Cindy dies on the flag pole. Were those two scenes shot at the same place?
Bill: Yes, it was the same place.
James: Can you tell me about the pool. Did you ever go swimming in it?
Bill: No way. That pool was nasty. You have to remember that this camp was abandoned several years before and the pool had gotten pretty filthy. They did their best to clean it out, but it still was pretty rough looking.
James: Remember in SC2, the campers are walking through the line and TC says, " Slimmy Gopher Guts. " Did you whip that up?
Bill: I had nothing to do with that. I don't know what was in that bucket. I did however whip up " Dead Teenager Brains " for Angela's box. I made the brains from a model kit of the brain. I also used them in " Blood Salvage. "
James: Back to the Mare death drilling. How did all the blood fire out and hit the top of the roof of your car?
Bill: If I remember correctly, I was in the back seat with a syringe full of blood.
James: In the abandoned cabin ( SC2 ), we see a girl with her face removed. Since I couldn't recognize who it was, and I did read the Fango article, I came to the conclusion that it was the camper with her face ripped off and Angela now had the Leatherface mask. Was a scene shot for that kill?
Bill: That was Mare's body with the face removed. There was never any footage shot of her face being removed that I am aware of.
James: Remember the character Ralph. He was fooling around with one of the Shote sisters, but then Angela scares him off. Later, we see Angela pulling his body up to the abandoned cabin. Was footage shot for his death, and if so, how was he supposed to die?
Bill: No footage was shot for his death that I am aware of. Not all the deaths were ever explained. Not even to us.
James: In the forest when Judd and Anthony are going to scare Angela, Judd goes to the washroom. Anthony looks for his glove. But his glove opens up and slashes his throat. How was that done?
Bill: That was done with a foam latex prosthetic with a blood tube underneath. I don't believe that scene was any longer.
James: At the start of SC3, Angela runs over Maria with the garbage truck. Where was that scene shot? How did her death to look so real?
Bill: That scene was shot in downtown Atlanta. We shot it in a day on the last day of the two movies ( Halloween ). I guess they got permission to shoot there. I think her getting hit by the truck was the best effect out of both films. It was a propped up medical dummy ( Actually, the same dummy from part 2 was used for the headless body in the cabin torture scene. )
James: In part 3, the axe used to kill Arab was fake. I could tell because there was a close up shot of it. Also, Angela picked it up and ran with it in a awkward position, like above her head. And she did it in 2 seconds. Anyway, what was the fake axe made from?
Bill: I did not make that prop. That was made by Chad Leech. He also did some of the basic make up effects in part 3. I'm not sure what that prop was made of.
James: In a few scenes throughout the movies, campers were stabbed with knifes. Ex. when Ally gets stabbed in the back, etc. The scenes actually look real. Were the knifes tampered with?
Bill: We made several fake knifes. Some had rubber blades, and some had plastic blades. I still have the real knife that was used for the film.
James: In SC 2 and 3, the dining halls were shot at the same place correct?
James: Judd gets his head cracked open. Tell me about that scene.
Bill: We used a fake head. He still had the hockey mask on. The leg was done with an wound appliance. He had a blood bag in his hand which burst when he grabbed his leg. The wound was blocked by the blade of the chainsaw and was revealled when it moved.
James: When reading the Fango article, it said that Cindy's death had the most blood, was really gruesome, etc. But on VHS, the next scene plays before she even hits the ground. Why? Was that scene longer? Her face was supposed to hit the ground right?
Bill: Your right. They did cut some stuff out of that scene. I made the actress up to look like her head was smashed. We used pig's brains and a lot of blood. I guess it was either too gross or it just didn't cut well into the film.
James: What death effects were hard to pull off?
Bill: I remember ripping off Bobby's arms was a bit of a bear. I had fake arms that went inside the sleeves of the sweatshirt and they pulled them off with a rope.
James: Near the end of part 3, Barney dies. How did you get the blood to come out of his mouth? It looks so real!
Bill: He just had a mouthful of blood from what I recall. It is all in how you spit it.
James: How was the lawn mower effect done with Lilly?
Bill: Chad did that one with a real lawn mower and a melon stuffed with gore.
James: What do you remember about the killing of the paramedics?
Bill: For when the paramedic gets it in the eye:
* There was a syringe with a retractable point. He had a blood bag in his hand and popped it when he gets stabbed.
For the one that gets stabbed in the chest:
* A syringe was used.
James: Was the location secured and was the public ever near filming?
Bill: I don't know great details about non make up oriented scenes. I know that the camp was in the middle of nowhere. We never had problems with the public, except in downtown Atlanta.
James: Who did you spend time with?
Bill: Christina and I spent a little bit of time with Renee Estevez. She would come over to our cabin , where our stuff was stored, and talk to us. She was always very friendly and nice. I remember her telling us stories about being on the set of " Apocolypse Now ". Brian Patrick Clarke also spent some time with us. He was also very nice and encouraging. He was also quite funny. Kyle Holman " Snowboy " was a cool guy from part 3. He liked magic tricks. We spent a little time with some of the others, but we were all rather busy, due to the short schedule, and we did not have a lot of free time to socialize.
James: Did everyone get along all right?
Bill: Under the pressure of a schedule like that, eveyone gets stressed out. You can expect arguments to happen on any film. For the most part, I would say that most of the people got along pretty well. Most of the crew was very nice.
James: Did you ever feel stressed?
Bill: Everybody gets stressed on any job they have. It was my first decent paying movie, and I wanted to do a good job. I still get a little stressed from time to time.
James: Was the atmosphere fun on the set of Sleepaway Camp?
Bill: We did have some good times on the film, but for the most part, it was a lot of work. I can reflect back on the movie and remember when they burned the tents and how cold it was at night. I can remember George and Ethelyn ( the caterers ) bringing out hot steak sandwiches and fries and how good they tasted on such a cold evening. I do have memories like that, that I like to remember the movie by and not the film itself.
James: Was anything in the tent when it was set on fire?
Bill: They wanted to put my skeletons in there, but I explained that they would melt and I think that they put something else in there, but I don't recall for certain.
James: Can you remember about anymore deaths?
Bill: If you know who Tawny Richards is ( the newscaster from part 3 ), we had a straw hooked up to a large syringe for snorting. She then spit out blood. For the death of Ally, she was in a fake outhouse and we glued leeches on in stages. We used a medical adhesive to keep the leeches from falling off. The death of Rob was a hanging rig. For Sean's death, we used a dummy with a fake head. The fake head was knocked off with a machete. Blood was then forced through with a compressor.
James: Why do they call you " SPLAT " Johnson?
Bill: In college, I was called " Bill the Cat ". On a promo we shot for " Blood Salvage ", I got called " Bill the Splat ". Eventually, it got shortened to just " Splat ".
James: Tell me about Blood Salvage. What movie did you enjoy making more... the Sleepaway Camp sequels or Blood Salvage?
Bill: It was shot in Georgia, as well. It was about a demented mechanic, who has a " talent " for making medicine. I enjoyed working on both, but Blood Salvage was much more creative. Ken Sanders ( the writer/producer ) was an old friend of mine and still is to this day. He and I used to work on super 8 movies back in Augusta. He brought in several people from those films for this one. Tony Gardener helped out on the movie as well, and I have always liked him as a person and think that he does great work. It was a great opportunity. I would have to say that I liked working on Blood Salvage more for those reasons.
James: For the death of Arab, it said in the Fango article that axe that cuts off Arab's head. It also says that Angela was supposed to kick her head. In the photo you sent me, Arab's head is a few feet away from her body. Tell me about this.
Bill: The scene was shot with Angela kicking the head. It did get cut out of the VHS I believe.
James: How much did the effects department get?
Bill: I don't discuss money. I'll say that it was a lot more than I was making at the art store, and proportionatly less from what I make now.
James: Lets learn more about the deaths!
Bill: The ripping of Bobby's arms is not any longer. There wasn't any more footage shot. There was no footage of Rob being killed. There was no footage of him being hung either. You see one Shote sister being burned. The other one is a skeleton. There was no footage shot of her being burnt to death. We find Diane the counsellor dead. Again, no footage of her dying. Only her aftermath.
James: Do you know why the abandoned cabin scene in part 3 was so dark? In part 2, we see everything fine, but it is hard to see in part 3.
Bill: I have no idea. Moodier? I think that stuff like that is better if shot darker. It is scarier.
James: Who was your favorite camper to work with?
Bill: I liked everyone.
James: If you were to go work on Sleepaway Camp again, for a future sequel, what would you do differently?
Bill: I would have a lot more experience now, so I would know how to handle some of the problems better. There are all kinds of newer materials to work with now, that I prefer working with.
James: If offered to work on Sleepaway Camp 4 in the future, would you do it?
Bill: Probably not, but never say never.
Thanks for everything SPLAT! We can't thank you enough. Good luck on future projects.
Click here for a 2000 interview conducted with Splat by SCF >>