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Hey F/X Nerds! Check Out This POLTERGEIST Podcast From American Cinematographer!

Beaks here...

Still cheesed at the lack of film-specific extras on that POLTERGEIST 25th Anniversary DVD/Blu-ray? American Cinematographer's Iain Stasukevich has a pretty terrific podcast over at the magazine's official website to tide you over until Warner Bros. finally does right by the 1982 horror classic. It's an interview with POLTERGEIST director of photography Matthew Leonetti and visual f/x legend Richard Edlund, and it's must-listen stuff for anyone who loves learning about the old nuts-and-bolts way of making movie magic (before the advent of CG). As someone who used to devour books and magazine articles about these movies, I've got to say that a lot of this information was new to me (e.g. I love that those then-groundbreaking lighting f/x were achieved in-camera via the clever use of 2x2 boards and mirrors; that'd all be done in post today). And here's a pretty neat bonus set aside for AICN readers: Edlund talking about the accidental creation of a crucial cloud effect for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Finally, while I'm linking to podcasts I like, be sure to check out Jeff Goldsmith's weekly series for Creative Screenwriting. Up today is a seventy-minute chat with THE WRESTLER's Robert D. Siegel. There. That should get you through this rotten movie weekend.

Readers Talkback
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  • Jan. 9, 2009, 2:37 p.m. CST

    I don't know...

    by wampa 1

    ...but it sure smells good!

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 2:47 p.m. CST

    American Cinematographer

    by drturing

    Is the single greatest publication ever that actually tells you how movies physically get made. Movie lovers are fools for not reading it cover to cover. It deserves your patronage.

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 2:49 p.m. CST

    Oh and about the Poltergeist Blu-Ray

    by drturing

    Lack of extras, sad. But - but... What a FUCKING AMAZING MOVIE. I had forgotten how good it is. The sequence when the medium first comes into the house is fucking spot on perfect. And I forgot that the parents smoke weed! And I forgot how unbelievably fucking hot JoBeth Williams was! Holy shit! She was playing the first true MILF!

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 2:50 p.m. CST

    DrTuring is 1000% right.

    by Fah-Cue

    I've been reading American Cinematographer since the late 70's and there is no better chronicle of the art and science of filmmaking. The only other great read is also CineFX.

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 2:55 p.m. CST


    by theplant

    Soon I'll be first

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 3:01 p.m. CST


    by skimn

    You are absolutely correct sir, except its spelled Cinefex, and has been around since the early seventies. Back issues are a must.

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 3:01 p.m. CST

    About time...

    by LordPorkington

    American Cinematographer got a mention on here. Next we'll have Harry claiming that his dad was the original editor, how it was all his idea, and how he hung around the offices as a kid inbetween adventures in Peru searching for ancient artifacts.

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 3:06 p.m. CST

    Sucking the big mdel house through the vacuum

    by I Dunno

    Was one of the things I read about in my big ILM book as a kid that made me want to get into visual FX. Of course, we could all recreate that effect on our laptops with AfterEffects, which is a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 3:16 p.m. CST

    I should get to reading American Cinematographer.

    by Blue_Demon

    I'm an old fan of Cinefex from back in the early 80s. My favorite issues are the ones featureing Willis O'Brien, the Raiders of the Lost Ark/Dragon Slayer, and the Poltergeist/Firefox.<p>There's something so great about models and miniatures and cloud tanks that no amount of cgi can equal. Since cgi pretty much took over, I buy Cinefex less frequently.

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 3:27 p.m. CST

    Cloud tanks

    by I Dunno

    That's another thing I remember from that ILM book. For the ghosts in Raiders they used silk dolls inside water tanks. It must have been fun as hell figuring out ways to create those FX. Nowadays you just pay a geek like me to render it on a computer.

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 3:33 p.m. CST

    I Dunno

    by drturing

    no you couldn't. and the hubris with which young filmmakers think they can do that is for the worse. especially in a culture that's oversaturated with digital imagery. case in point: there's this ad i see for rhapsody where a young girl dives across a skyline from bubble to bubble. imagery and camera moves and lighting consistency that nothing in the 80s could touch. but the ad is completely utterly blah. no one i know has ever mentioned it to me in a zeitgeisty fashion. we are now at a point where the sight of a human being jumping off a building and floating above the skyline of a major city is not only photographically real and telegraphed to us on an hourly basis, it's now boring. back in the photochemically rendered days of effects technicians knew they had to overshoot and that they would not be able to simulate reality and within those constraints had to push themselves further to make memorable imagery.<p> it's why the dark knight stands out. it has a consistent reality it sells you thanks to the use of more often than not in camera models augmented and abetted with CGI. that's the problem. <p> And Blue Demon Cinefex is required reading for me but i do struggle to get through each issue these days and i just realized why - reading about subsurface particle scattering is just way way way fucking boring compared to hearing about how a really beautiful model was built.

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 3:38 p.m. CST

    Blue_Demon give Cinefex a shot again,,,

    by Fah-Cue

    It's still an amazing mag. The issue regarding the making of Dark Knight, Hellboy 2, Hancock (I skipped it), and Indiana Jones/Crystal Skull (I couldn't read those pages 'cause I puked on them) was FANTASTIC. I always come across people that proclaiming that Dark Knight had NO cgi effects. Cinefex absolutley showcases that there a ton of 'em (American Cinematographer also does... just not as in-depth on the effects).

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 3:45 p.m. CST

    why does the host talk so oddly?

    by BadMrWonka

    he sounds like a (sort of) manly version of the voice in Eagle Eye. <p>seriously, is no one else creeped out by this guy's voice and inflection?

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 3:52 p.m. CST

    I didn't say that CGI is better, drturing

    by I Dunno

    I just said that's what the standard operating procedure is. Did you see pictures of Clone Troopers from the Star Wars prequels at conventions or charity events? Well those costumes would have been made expressly for those events because every Clone Trooper you saw on the big screen were CGI. Was that necessary? Of course not. But that's how things are done now. TDK might be an exception. My initial point was that creating FX was probably a lot more fun and creative when they didn't consist simply of 1's and 0's. <p>Then again, CGI does have its place. There's a lot of thnings that simply couldn't have been shot without CGI. The enormous battles in Lord of the Rings comes to mind.</p>

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 3:53 p.m. CST

    From Iain, the "host":

    by DrUltimately

    LOL... I'm still learning how to talk "for the radio"... Normally I have a stutter. Hell, even I'M creeped out by the sound of my voice. We're currently working out audio quality bugs, but any other feedback you guys can provide would be great!

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 3:57 p.m. CST

    Richard Edlund on VFX

    by DrUltimately

    If you haven't listened to the podcast, he talks about how GREAT working with digital can be while still working with old-school methodologies. There's some good stuff in there! Give it a shot!

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 4:04 p.m. CST

    Ohhhh, thought this was the Poltergeist remake news.

    by Mike_D


  • Jan. 9, 2009, 4:13 p.m. CST

    Iain your voice is fine.

    by drturing

    It was like a super movie geeky version of This American Life. Liked how it segued between the two, really well done job, and as a reader of your articles I'm impressed you handle the audio narrative so well. Don't worry about it. If there wasn't at least one horribly unfair, leftfield insult out of an AICN talkback then something's wrong. Now excuse me while I go tear McG a new asshole in some other article.<p> One last thing on digital vs. old school: TDK has a lot of CGI, no doubt. But there's so little virtual cinematography in it. It seems that every shot (batsonarbs excepted) has at least some element captured in a physically real camera. <p> The real thing there is that by grounding even the effects shots into what's actually possible as a camera move there's some kind of subconscious recognition it's real, that someone was there witnessing it.<p> To me the real death in modern VFX is the pellmell camera slinging about in virtual space with no rhyme or reason, accelerating without any inertia or feedback. There's no subtle eye to follow there. Tools are tools. The sad thing is that most are applied and used without much regard for a sublime truth. FIlmmaking is lies and deceipt. But the best lies start with a truth.

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 4:22 p.m. CST


    by DrUltimately

    Hey, thanks! I'm a huge fan of TAL, so yeah, there's no doubt some influence on that.

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 4:23 p.m. CST

    Iain, keep up the fantastic work.

    by Fah-Cue

    The ASC's podcasts keep feeding my monthly habits like a junkie in a back-alley. When my copy of "American Cinematographer" arrives by mail, I still feel like a kid (excited about what I've received). The podcasts are very well done.

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 4:36 p.m. CST

    whats right about the Poltergiest blu-ray...

    by ufoclub1977

    It is a perfect, sharp, film grain infused transfer... and feels like the film I saw 5 times in the theatre. The packaging is also beautiful. I loved reading those old issues of Cinefex, and Cinefantastique. Real material special effects was fun and intriguing. Check out my own short film with a some old school effects shots (some of which are invisible):

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 5:31 p.m. CST


    by half vader

    It's great to have the blu-ray, but my God it's not "perfect" as you say. Look at the horrendous ringing and artifacts. Still, so much better than what we've ever had before. I reckon they cleaned up the initial opening of "the room" with all the records, Hulk, docking lamp flying by etc. a bit - I remember seeing it as a kid and noticing how bad the mattes on that shot were even then! Thanks Star Wars mania/Starlog for the momentary flash of anal-retentiveness (but it must've been bad if a kid noticed it)... <p> Oh and Skimn, Cinefex began in March 1980, not early seventies. Cheers mate.

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 6:48 p.m. CST

    half vadar

    by ufoclub1977

    I want to see the artifacts and ringing... is there a particular scene it is most visible in? I have a LCD tv that is calibrated with settings recommended off of cnet.Of course all these consumer mediums are heavily compressed, but I do think they are optimized to look smooth if you have your artificial sharpening turned down, and a more "cinema" mode setting applied to your display. I had Poltergeist on laserdisc, dvd, and now this, and I feel like it is the best version I've seen. Whats funny is how I've heard that the much lauded Godfather transfer is not so good under inspection... but I have yet to see it myself.

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 9:22 p.m. CST


    by BurgerTime

    And I too used to pour through books and magazines about how the wizards did what they did. <p> One of my favourite stories was how they created the "imploding house" for Poltergeist. If I recall correctly, they filmed the miniature of the house at some extraordinary framerate as the ILM crew blasted it with shotguns and sucked the crumbs up with a massive vaccuum cleaner. <p> Who does that anymore!?!?!

  • Jan. 9, 2009, 11:48 p.m. CST

    Hey ufo

    by half vader

    Off hand the only specific scene I can think of off the top of my head is over the opening credits (after the prologue) when they pan across over the estate. Major ringing in the sky. Like I said though, it's still tons better than what we've had before and I still love the film. I owned it on VHS Laser and DVD too. Normally I don't believe in the "replace your collection" bullshit, but hell, sometimes ya just gotta do it. And the Kane Video Essentials BD disc is good for calibration, too. <p> I've had massive arguments even on AICN about the wrongheadedness of people putting down the BD of Godfather. I understand people being attached to the versions they already own (and have grown fond of), but when Gordon Willis himself says this version is a million times closer and that the previous ones didn't come close, you've gotta suck it up and be a man about it. The thing about Willis is that he shot and graded the stuff in such a way that it IS technically possible to return it to exactly how it should have looked decades ago. I've got it, and it looks great, but more importantly now it looks RIGHT. Does it look like HD video sportscasts? No, thank goodness.

  • Jan. 10, 2009, 2:40 a.m. CST

    half vader

    by drturing

    people are stupid because the stocks and lenses used to shoot the godfather could never emulate what's done today (where most cinematography is to be honest, shot for the grade). and let's not forget the first one was a bit of a cheapie for the studio at the time, made under a lot of duress and less than ideal situations. the blurays are fucking amazing. period. those who don't understand just haven't seen many movies in theaters.

  • Jan. 10, 2009, 5:06 a.m. CST


    by Iowa Snot Client

    Great timing: I just caught this again on cable last week and damn, does it hold up. I've got to play this for my 9-year-old son (he's my teen daughter's cinematographer).

  • Jan. 10, 2009, 6:44 a.m. CST

    CineFX on Poltergeist


    I still remember reading the original CineFX on Poltergeist back in the early 80s, smoking cigarettes up in the attic garage at my mom's house and being blown away by how cool the FX people working on that film were. I loved me some CineFX, back in the 80s.

  • Jan. 10, 2009, 7:50 a.m. CST


    by Etienne72772

    Thanks for the link. What a great interview. I love hearing/reading about the old-world fx techniques. Too bad they want to remake this classic movie. What's wrong with the old one?

  • Jan. 10, 2009, 9:13 a.m. CST

    You can always read the big ILM book from 86'

    by g-ride9000

    that's the biggest play by play SFX ever. BUT AC is boomin' too.

  • Jan. 10, 2009, 9:37 a.m. CST

    Cinefex and American Cinematographer

    by Autodidact

    I read a lot of back issues of these magazines out of the periodicals section of the university library. Like a lot of people I became less interested in Cinefex starting in the late nineties when the majority of articles became about rendering pipelines and such. I'll always love the effects style of movies like Dante's Peak, Jurassic Park, Starship Troopers, ID4, etc. that make use of computers only where it's really called for.

  • Jan. 10, 2009, 11:33 a.m. CST

    Thanks for the heads up

    by JackLint

    I've been looking for new podcasts for my commute. By the way, where's the AICN weekly podcast?

  • Jan. 10, 2009, 3:58 p.m. CST

    the only film that scares me years later

    by Larry of Arabia

    10 years after the last time I saw this film and I still, STILL get nervous just seeing it's name. Steven Spielberg sure knows how to do horror. Damn shame he hasn't done more of it.

  • Jan. 10, 2009, 7:42 p.m. CST

    any other similar podcasts?

    by erockwilly

    this is great. can anyone recommend similar podcasts about the nuts and bolts of filmmaking?

  • Jan. 10, 2009, 8:19 p.m. CST

    more podcasts from the ASC

    by DrUltimately

    there's even one on TDK at the ASC website...

  • Jan. 10, 2009, 10:06 p.m. CST

    hey, how I was I supposed to know the guy would be in the TB?

    by BadMrWonka

    I still say his voice is a little creepy, but hey, we're talking about Poltergeist, it's fair game. I'm sure he's a nice guy, sheesh...

  • Jan. 11, 2009, 11:30 a.m. CST

    Yeah, I think Cinefex themselves have said they miss

    by half vader

    the old days in terms of more fun photographs and such. <p> Which is why I was devastated when they didn't take the opportunity to show the supposedly knockout Rick Baker/Kazu Tsuji design maquettes for Benjamin Button's age effects. I'd kill to see those things... <p> Dr Turing, yeah I gotta get around to watching those Godfather making ofs... <p> P.S. Does anyone out there know why the fuck Cinefex never covered Carpenter's The Thing? That drives me crazy! <p> Finally, back to Poltergeist, is this where I get to mention a certain someone's coke habit again? Hee hee!

  • Jan. 11, 2009, 5:08 p.m. CST

    half vader

    by drturing

    yeah about poltergeist, who directed it again? did someone call in sick because of snow days? what was that deal?

  • Jan. 11, 2009, 7:10 p.m. CST

    Dr. Turing

    by half vader

    Yeah 'snow days'! Ha ha!

  • Jan. 12, 2009, 3:33 p.m. CST

    half vader

    by the maven

    Carpenter's "The Thing" may be considered a classic nowadays but during its release it was an entirely different story. In 1982, it was the movie for all critics to shit upon and most moviegoers to stay away from, something Carpenter attributed to having the bad luck of it coming out the same summer as "E.T." Folks preferred their aliens cuddly that year. That environment probably played at least some part in Cinefex skipping it; why bother with such an unpopular and nigh-universally panned movie? Cinefantastique, by the by, did a fairly indepth cover interview with Rob Bottin about it, and an overview of his career up until then. I'd give you the issue number, but that was an ex-girlfriend or two ago, and my collection of, well, pretty much everything has been depleted over the years. As I recall, it had a picture of Bottin on the cover with the spider-legged head from "The Thing" on his shoulder. (For all the good that does you, but hey, it's all I gots.)

  • Jan. 12, 2009, 9:22 p.m. CST


    by half vader

    Hey yeah! I've got that Cinefantastique! When it first came out - I'd forgotten all about it! Thanks dude. <p> As for Cinefex, they do the stuff in advance, so B.O. wouldn't have played a part, and also it's basically EXACTLY the sort of story they WOULD run. If perceived worth or success had anything to do with it I'm sure we wouldn't have got the same say, Dreamscape or Baby or Brainstorm coverage, know what I'm sayin'? <p> My theory is simply that The Thing team and Bottin in particular didn't WANT their amazing techniques to be revealed at the time, and Cinefex would have given the whole game away. And maybe Bottin felt uncomfortable having fallen out with Baker using all the Smith/Baker bladder and pump ideas for Howling and didn't want to give them ammunition to prove their point. Having said that, The Thing is more a triumph of design and audacity rather than any amazing effects breakthrough... Just my simple guess, but God, they couldn't have done a retrospective like, say, the Close Encounters stories?

  • Jan. 16, 2009, 4:16 a.m. CST

    I watched Poltergeist on blu ray on Halloween

    by The Amazing G

    truly a great movie