Spat Oktan is well known for his work on the sci-fi/comic book convention circuit, and in his roles as costume, propmaker, and practical special effects man, most recently for Bad Kids of Crestview Academy, starring Sean Astin and Gina Gershon, out now on DVD and Video On Demand. We caught up with Spat and discuss both his film and con work below:
Tell us how you got involved with the Bad Kids films:
In my spare time, I run Comic Conventions, and years ago these two guys, Barry Wernick and Matthew Spradlin, booked a table at one of my shows so they could promote their new comic book Bad Kids Go To Hell. When they arrived could tell it was their first time doing a con, so I showed them around and gave them some ideas for getting better promotion at cons. They booked tables at two or three more of my shows and we started hanging out after the cons, and they told me that they planned to one day make a movie of Bad Kids and wanted me to do the makeup. It seemed like a typical drunk-at-a-bar fantasy talk, so I agreed but never thought they would actually get around to it. Two years later they hired me and I did the FX makeup on Bad Kids Go To Hell, and then a few years later they brought me in to work on the sequel, Bad Kids of Crestview Academy!
What kind of roles did you play on the set of the new Bad Kids? What was the trickiest thing you had to pull off?
Basically, all the blood and gore stuff was my responsibility. I also supplied all the Police and SWAT Uniforms, as well as all the prop guns. The trickiest effect to pull off was the severed head in the fish tank at the end of the film. The actress who was scheduled to get beheaded was insanely claustrophobic and didn’t want to sit for the molding needed to make a copy of her head. After one unsuccessful try, I tried again and as I was pouring the material on her head, she reached up and covered her mouth and nose with her hands. So when I got the mold done, it was completely missing the lower part of her face. So, I had to literally sculpt that part in by hand. It came out really well, and to make it match better, I chopped up her lips and nose a bit to make it look like she had been picked at by the fish!
What’s the one thing that goes on a film set that most people don’t know?
Working on a film set can be summed up in one phrase….”Hurry up and wait.” If you’re not on the camera or lighting teams, you literally spend most of your time just sitting around doing not a lot, followed by hours of non-stop working at a frantic pace, followed by hours of doing nothing. The camera and lighting guys are the true heroes of film. They never get a break!
You do a lot of practical effects in a CGI era. What are some of the benefits of practical effects in your view?
We still haven’t completely crossed the “Uncanny Valley”. CGI works great for a lot of things, but still isn’t 100% perfect at fooling the eye. Practical effects help give a weight and mass to things on the screen that make them feel “real”. I think the best use of CGI is to help enhance and improve on things that are practical and actually exist on set.
You’ve worked on a lot of projects with some well-known actors. Any funny stories you can share about the actors on the Bad Kids films?
Well, Sean Astin was in Crestview Academy, but never needed any makeup from me. And even though he had his own room on set, he spent most of his time, when not filming, sitting in my makeup chair chatting with me and playing with my dog (Belle was on set every day guarding everyone). And throughout the days, people would come by and comment about him in Rudy or Lord of the Rings or Goonies and he would thank them and go back to playing with my dog. He never really engaged. At the time, the show The Strain was on TV and Sean was in it. I had seen the first 2 or 3 episodes before I left for Dallas for the month of filming, and at the time when Sean was in my chair, I was at least 2 or 3 episodes behind. So I offhandedly mentioned that I liked his character in The Strain. He immediately perked up and asked if I liked the episode where he gets killed! I freaked out because he basically just spoiled the whole season for me! He then spent the next half hour telling me all the stuff I missed and all sorts of cool behind the scenes stuff from the show. He was very proud of his work on that show!
You also run work as a Convention Coordinator for various comic and sci-fi cons. Why do you think cons have endured and grown ever more popular?
Over the years, comic cons have gone from something you don’t tell people you go to or they’ll think you’re a freak, to a mainstream event that is suddenly socially acceptable! It’s been a huge boon to the industry. Where it used to be a place to go and meet actors from your favorite TV shows that went off the air 20 years ago, now you can go and meet your favorite actors from films and TV shows that are still filming! I think the uptick of the quality and number of sci-fi and comic book movies has a direct correlation to explosion of numbers of comic cons around the world.
What is the funniest thing that’s happened at a con you ran? The coolest? The most frustrating?
I’m generally the guy in charge of the Autograph Area at cons. So I get to see some pretty strange things. One of the funniest things was last year at EternalCon. We had Elizabeth Henstridge from Agents of Shield as a guest. The area she was sitting in was a bit warm and she showed up wearing a hoodie as a shirt. I was worried she would be too hot so I gave her one of our staff Volunteer shirts to wear. They’re a day-glo green and not very flattering, but she was comfortable in it and it helped out a lot. Later in the day she was scheduled for her photo op session (where the guests stand in front of a background and fans come up and meet them and a professional photographer takes a photo of the guest and fan, and it’s then printed out for the fan to keep) and when we got there we realized that there was going to be an issue. This photographer (https://www.facebook.com/scifiphoto/) were using a green screen as the background and adding in sci-fi themed backgrounds digitally for the photos. So since Elizabeth was wearing a green shirt, all her photos are basically just a fan posing with her magically floating head!
Some of the coolest experiences are bringing in a guest who has never been to a con before and introducing them to the world of conventions and letting them meet their fans en masse for the first time.
And the most frustrating is being the guy who is torn between doing things to help out the actors to make them and their agents happy and doing things to help out the con and convention owner who don’t really think about those things. Running the floor of a convention is a brutal job that’s exhausting and the exact opposite of working on a movie set. It literally never stops. But sitting down to dinner after the show is over with the staff and actors from the con, knowing that you pulled off the impossible of walking that fine line of trying to make everyone have a happy and successful weekend, makes it worth it!
Spat’s next con will be EternalCon on Long Island on July 1-2 (4th of July weekend).