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Interview With Bill "Splat" Johnson (2002)

Wearing a bloody apron and an ear-to-ear grin, Bill "Splat" Johnson paces to and fro on the set of Blood Salvage. He rubs his hands together eagerly, pumped with first-day-of-shooting energy. It's a big day for the young Georgia-based makeup FX artist, whose wild talents recently enlivened Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers and TV spots for the Monsters series. He just heard his first job today will be applying surgical scars to the bare back of the film's attractive young blonde star. "I've got a feeling this is gonna be a good movie," says Johnson. "Everything feels right today."
-To Live and Die in Dixie by Everett Cornpone, Fangoria #85 1989

Master FX-man Bill Johnson's been fairly busy these days, and since there's rarely a day when he isn't, I just fired everything on my mind for this Sleepaway Camp Films interview. He certainly ranks up there with Tom Savini and Dick Smith as the FX greats. In fact, he trained under the makeup program of the latter. Scroll on, reader.

Sleepaway Camp Films: You've had some high profile jobs like The Patriot, so point blank Bill, do you have any embarassment over your low budget roots - SC2&3? 'Cause I gotta say, your work on them really rocked.

Splat Johnson: I'm not really embarassed by those roots. We all have to start somewhere. I'm really not into the whole slasher thing though, so those movies are not really my cup of tea anymore.

SCF: So how did you get the job of Special FX man on SC2 and 3?

Johnson: I had a listing in the Georgia Film and Videotape sourse book. Michael Simpson and Bob Phillips interviewed the makeup effects guys in that book. Christina and I were working at an art store at that time and I was really excited to go to the interview. So I met these guys at a Cracker Barrel, showed them my portfolio, and got the job over some greasy bacon and orange juice.

SCF: How much pre-production did you have for each Sleepaway?

Johnson: We had 1 month for part 2, but did not get our actors until 1 week before the shoot started. We had 2 to 3 days for part 3.

SCF: What was the first death filmed for SC2 and how did it come off?

Johnson: I honestly have no clue it's been about 15 years since those films and I have done over 30 movies, so somethings are a blur. I will tell you that I did not like most of the effects that I did for the film.

SCF: Did you have any objections to making up the two kids with cut throats in SC2?

Johnson: Not really, although like I mentioned earlier, I'm not really into that sort of thing anymore. I have done dead children for several movies since. It is an unfortunate part of life.

SCF: What was your blood formula for the shoots?

Johnson: We used premade blood called, Reel Blood.

SCF: Were there any real injuries on set? Any accidental decapitations?

Johnson: Yes, there were a few injuries, but nothing serious as I recall. I had to get several stitches in a finger from a stab with an exacto blade. An other crew member walked into a low branch and scratched his eye. Brian Patrick Clarke got into a car accident along with another crew member right before we started shooting. He had several cracked ribs, but was good to go after a few days. He was a real trooper. There are accidents on almost every film.

SCF: I'm tempted to ask you how all the deaths were filmed but let's keep the magician's mystique. Maybe you can tell me how one or two that stick out in your mind were accomplished...

Johnson: My favorite effect was the fake branch used on the girl at the beginning of part 2. It was made from a small stick with lots of foam wrapped around it and covered in latex and oatmeal. There was a hole cut in part of the foam for a bloodbag. When she got hit, it popped the blood bag. The branch worked so well that it was used in both films. I also really like the fake heads of the firecracker face (Pt. 3) and the severed head of the guy in the tv (Pt. 2). I also want to mention that Chad Leach did several of the effects for the film, especially for part 3. He was a great guy and a big help.

SCF: You eventually married your assistant on the gig, I heard?

Johnson: Yes, today is our 9th anniversary. We did not meet on the film as a rumour has been floating around. We worked together for 2 years and were dating way before the SC sequels ever started.

SCF: When you do convention appearances like DragonCon, do you attract any Sleepaway Camp fans?

Johnson: I run into SC fans everywhere, not just at conventions. I rarely talk about those films at conventions. I usually stick to the more recent stuff.

SCF: You later worked on another Atlanta low budget horror flick, Blood Salvage. How was that?

Johnson: That was great. It was low budget, but a much bigger budget than the SC films combined. It was a rather creative movie and I have been really good friends with Ken Sanders (producer/writer) since 1979. He pulled in a lot of people who used to work on his super eight movies that we used to shoot in Augusta, GA. It was cool. I really wish that the film did better than it did.

SCF: Are you pleased your full special FX shots, originally cut from SC3, will finaly be seen on the DVD?

Johnson: It will be interesting to see. Probably really painful for me to watch though, due to their badness. In my defense though, we really didn't have much time to prepare anything for those movies and all thing concidered, I think that we did a good job.

SCF: What kind of work did you do on the horror/comedy Eight Legged Freaks recently? Sounds like something SC fans would love to see!

Johnson: The only similarities betwwen those films will be that I did make up effects for them and that they have humour in them. I can honestly say that Eight Legged Freaks was probably the best time that I have had on a fim to date. We made lots of cocooned bodies for it and also made several large dead spiders and various spider parts for the film. I'll get to see it next week and Christina and I are really excited about that. Roland and Dean are great to work with. They are really energetic and enthusiastic about their projects, like I am, and that makes it a great experience.

SCF: Your short film Don't be Afraid, it's Only Your Imagination is gathering some major kudos in genre circles. What is the story behind that project?

Johnson: I wanted to shoot my own horror film. I wrote, directed and did all the effects for the film. It was shot at one location for the most part and with one actor. In a nutshell, it is about a handyman, who works for a rental property company, who has to clean up a property after the tenant was found dead there. He comes in conact with a substance that may allow him to see evil spirits that live in the dark. That's all that I'm willing to reveal about the story. I think that it came out pretty good, but it's not for everyone.

SCF: In closing, as a Special FX expert, how much do you think FX has improved over the years, or degenerated for that matter?

Johnson: I think that they have gotten a lot better. Materials are better, for the most part. I work a lot with silicone heads now, that look very real. The computer stuff that can be done is amazing and keeps getting better. The spiders for Eight Legged Freaks are almost all CGI and look fantastic. Of course that effects me to some degree, but that doesn't mean that the stuff still isn't great. I think that things will continue to improve.

A true workman of the field. Thanks for your time, Bill.



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