Patrick Stewart as a neo-Nazi out to silence a punk rock band that could tie him to illegal activity in ‘Green Room’ (Photo: Scott Green/A24 via AP)
Warning: This story contains spoilers for a shocking scene in the new thriller, Green Room.
A baby alien bursting through Kane’s chest, showering the Nostromo crew with blood. Norris’s exposed gut transforming into a giant mouth and making a meal out of Dr. Copper’s hands. A possessed Regan twisting her neck until it makes a full 360-degree spin. Three all-time great nightmarish movie moments — from Alien, The Thing, and The Exorcist, respectively — relying on the art (and science) of practical effects, using makeup rather than computer-generated images. These classics set the bar for the specific kind of visceral jump scare that director Jeremy Saulnier hoped to deliver in his third feature, Green Room, a low-budget thriller that’s in theaters now. “Growing up, I loved films like John Carpenter’s The Thing and Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop,” the filmmaker tells Yahoo Movies. “When a kid has access to a camcorder in 1984, they don’t want to make a chamber drama. They want to get in the backyard and blow stuff up!”
A siege film in the vein of Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, Green Room doesn’t feature any fiery explosions, but it does boast one particular moment of intense tactile gore that would make his childhood mentors proud: a frenzied pit bull tackles and then tears out the throat of one of the musicians. And like virtually every other bit of gore in Saulnier’s blood-soaked movie, that gruesomely awesome moment is a practical effect, achieved through a combination of camera placement, makeup, and good old-fashioned puppetry. At a time when digital effects have become the industry standard even for independent genre pictures, the modestly budgeted Green Room makes a strong case for what the practical method still can achieve. “I love the tactile nature of makeup effects,” Saulnier says, simply. “It’s sculpting, it’s painting, it’s engineering. It’s pure movie magic.” Here’s how they made the mayhem.
Saulnier had relied on practical effects for the more modest amounts of bloodshed in his previous film, Blue Ruin, which won rave reviews on the film festival circuit and in its subsequent 2014 theatrical release. But the premise of Green Room demanded more—and more complex—makeup work. Set largely in a dive bar nestled in the backwoods of Oregon that’s frequented by neo-Nazis, the film follows the attempts of a visiting punk rock band, The Ain’t Rights, to escape the place with their lives after one of the musicians stumbles upon a murder scene. The group barricades themselves in the backstage green room, but, to borrow a line from Game of Thrones, the bar is dark and full of terrors, terrors like rampaging pit bulls and gun-toting white supremacists unleashed upon the unprepared kids by the skinhead ringleader, Darcy (Patrick Stewart), who is taking no chances that the kids will go to the police. As the standoff plays out, casualties mount on both sides and the odds of any of our heroes surviving grow increasingly slim.
In tandem with his script, Saulnier developed detailed storyboards for Green Room that illustrated exactly how he hoped to realize his descriptions of mutilated arms, sliced-open stomachs, and lungs that become dinner for snarling dogs. He brought those drawings along with him when he met with Mike Marino, the owner of Prosthetic Renaissance, a special effects house that has previously designed Natalie Portman’s swan transformation in Black Swan, and Michael Keaton’s new nose in Birdman. “Jeremy was a fan of our work and reached out to us,” Marino says. “For this film, he really wanted to step up the makeup effects game. We liked the script, and his enthusiasm. He’s one of those directors who understands how practical effects work and how to use them.”
Actor Callum Turner has his prosthetic throat readied to become a dog’s dinner. (Photo: A24)
Marino remembers the pitbull attack was one of the sequences that he and Saulnier discussed in their early meetings. In the finished film, the scene is quick and brutal: a dog charges at Ain’t Rights lead singer Tiger (Callum Turner), knocks him down, and rips into his throat. On set though, the sequence was more akin to a jigsaw puzzle built out of multiple pieces that had to be assembled in the editing room. “That’s a good scene, because it’s one of the few instances where were combining a lot of choreography with real actors along with some stuntwork and makeup effects,” Saulnier says. “We’d sort of seamlessly switch gears between them.” The first piece of the puzzle involved Turner sharing the set with a trained pitbull. The actor was then replaced by a stunt double for the moment when the dog charged and made contact, knocking Tiger backwards. And then the gruesome bite was achieved using a photo-realistic dog puppet and a prosthetic appliance mocked up to resemble a gnawed-on throat.
The dog puppet was Marino’s invention, one that he pitched to Saulnier while poring over the director’s storyboards. “You don’t want a pitbull sitting on your face, even with a fake throat,” the effects expert notes. “I told Jeremy that we could make a puppet for the close-up shot of the dog attack, and that immediately went on the priority list of effects.” Taking his inspiration from F/X legend Rick Baker’s werewolf effects in the 1981 horror favorite An American Werewolf in London, (Marino cites Baker as a major influence, along with The Thing’s Rob Bottin and Taxi Driver’s Dick Smith), Marino and his Prosthetic Renaissance crew built a half-torso pit bull puppet that covered the puppeteer’s arm, ending in a mouth filled with rubber teeth that’s manipulated by hand. “It’s like a violent, realistic Muppet!” Marino jokes, revealing another of his foundational influences.
Makeup artist Joey Orosco puts the finishing touches on the pit bull attack puppet (Photo: Prosthetics Renaissance)
With the help of fellow designers Mike Fontaine and Joey Orosco, Marino constructed the dog puppet in Prosthetic Renaissance’s New York studio, and shipped it — along with the rest of Green Room’s makeup effects — to the film’s Oregon set, where artists Steve Prouty and Joe Badiali oversaw its on-set application. On the day the pit bull attack was scheduled to be filmed, Saulnier remembers arranging the schedule so that they shot it in sequence, starting with Turner’s initial encounter with his canine nemesis, before bringing in the stuntman to be knocked flat by the charging dog. (Saulnier assures us that no people or dogs were harmed in the making of this scene. “The dogs are trained to snarl and look vicious, but they’re having fun,” he says. “They’re not attacking — they’re playing vigorously.”)
While the stuntman was taking his fall, Turner sat in the makeup chair and had the prosthetic throat applied on top of his actual throat. Tubing was inserted through the prosthetic, which resembled a well-chewed piece of meat, allowing fake blood to be pumped from off-camera through what appeared to be an open wound. Back on set, Turner lay on the ground, a pillow beneath his head, while Badiali inserted his arm into the dog puppet and “attacked” the actor’s throat, ripping away at the prosthetic. “Jeremy set up the angle he wanted to shoot from, and the effects team is literally bordering the frame, pumping blood through a syringe off-camera and the puppeteer’s arm is through the dog. It’s a really tight shot, and edited to be part of one continuous, crazy scene.”
Special makeup effects artist Joe Badiali unleashes the pit bull puppet on Callum Turner’s throat (Photo: Prosthetics Renaissance)
Saulnier recalls an “intense” mood on set throughout that scene, with everyone involved working hard to stay in sync. “We had to coordinate the dog articulation with the right amount of blood and carnage, because that puppet can look a little bit fake if you’re not really hitting your stride,” the director says. “And Callum got very worked up; he was going full bore, and we were worried he’d hurt himself for real! It’s a group effort to sell that kind of gag. We had to find the moments where everyone is firing on all cylinders.” After multiple takes, Saulnier came away with four or five ideal moments to choose from in the editing room. And while he can’t remember which specific take is in the finished film, he does know that some of the really gross options were left on the cutting room floor. "There’s definitely a few takes with more chunky parts [in Callum’s throat],” he says, laughing. “We didn’t want to get too gratuitous.”
Honestly, it’s a little frightening to imagine how much nastier the scene might have been. At the Green Room screening I attended, an audible shudder swept through the audience when the pit bull tore out Tiger’s throat. Informed of that reaction, Saulnier and Marino can’t resist chuckling. “I love it! We succeeded,” the effects artist remarks, triumphantly. “When we’re building crazy effects like that, you hope people cringe.” Marino adds that he’s equally proud of another stomach-churning effect, one that his director loves as well: the mangled arm of Ain’t Rights bassist, Pat (Anton Yelchin), after Darcy’s foot soldiers get a crack at it early in the film. “That’s another example of pure practical effects,” Saulnier says. “You can build it, and then with simple camera tricks, you can sell these gags and really impact an audience.”
Marino, for one, would love for Green Room’s impact to extend beyond the audience and have an effect on filmmakers as well. “Directors don’t use makeup effects now, because they’re more used to computer effects — they don’t remember this exists. Or they think that makeup effects don’t look good anymore, which is not true! The technology is at such a high level now. I hope Green Room inspires them to realize that these effects are really powerful when shot correctly.”
‘Green Room’: Watch the trailer: