April 3, 2017 Interview – David Hartman
Every one of us wishes that we could follow our dreams; the endless possibilities that lie within our imaginations. Doing just that, David Hartman turned a love for cartoons, toys, and movies into a career. Working as an Emmy Award-nominated director, producer, illustrator and character designer throughout his career, Hartman has quite a lot to be proud of. From his animation work in series such as My Friends Tigger & Pooh and Transformers Prime, to his work with Rob Zombie, in 2016 Hartman made the leap into directing full-length features. A life long dream of his, Hartman found himself with the honor of being called on to co-write and direct the first Phantasm film in nearly two decades. Entitled Phantasm: Ravager, the latest film has been creating quite a buzz among diehard followers. Recently we caught up with Hartman to talk his love for creating, the work that went into Phantasm: Ravager, future projects, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been working in television and film for nearly two decades now. First, tell us what inspired you to get involved in the arts?
David Hartman – I was drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil. Not sure where it came from but I have been drawing monsters and ghouls for as long as I can remember and love doing it. Still doing it to this day! (laughs) I love telling stories and did lots of homegrown comic books as a kid but when my dad bought a video camera for home movies I was hooked making movies. I love making short films with friends and that’s what led me to working in television and movies as well as the illustration work.
CrypticRock.com – It is fantastic to hear you were able to follow through with your passion like that. Of your many credits, you have worked a great deal in animation, including My Friends Tigger & Pooh and Transformers Prime series. Do you enjoy working in animation, and how does it differ from working in live-action projects?
David Hartman – As a kid I wanted to work on cartoons. As I got older though, I leaned more towards the live-action stuff with my home movies. It wasn’t until a friend of mine got a job in animation and brought me along that I realized it was more than just drawing 24 frames a second of the same thing over and over. There was directing and storyboarding and design. That really interested me and I worked in storyboards for awhile and then worked my way into directing and producing. I love telling stories and I mainly have worked on action projects within animation which I love. I can try different things in animation, like camera moves, that I can then also try in live-action.
To answer the second part of your question, the two mediums definitely differ. Animation relies heavily on pre-production and in live-action you rely heavily on post-production. In animation I have control over everything, the world, the acting, and all the camera work. In live-action you have many more people you rely on helping you to achieve those same aspects. You rely heavily on your actors, camera people and more to get your ideas across. At the same time they have so much to offer in their own skills and bring a lot to the story and ideas you may not have considered. The end results can really make something special and unexpected.
CrypticRock.com – Well it has to be exciting to have both mediums to work with as you do. Speaking of Transformers, the series rose to popularity in the ’80s with the original series and a fantastic line of toys. Then, nearly twenty years later, it resurged with the live-action feature films and animated series such as Transformers Prime and Transformers: Robots in Disguise. What do you attribute the excitement around the rebooting of Transformers for the younger generation?
David Hartman – It really is something today’s parents can share with their kids. I have been told by many fans of the show about how they grew up with the original series and now their kids are into it as well with the new series. With original characters appearing that parents know and love while also introducing new characters that the kids can relate to. I grew up with Transformers and G.I. Joe on tv and had lots of the toys. Getting to work on these shows and do a lot of the scenes I acted out in my head as a kid with the toys is an amazing feeling. I always wanted to see Optimus Prime spin out his wheels on Megatron’s face and we got to do that on Prime! (laughs)
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it was a blast. Above all, as you said, it allows characters to live on with a new generation of children. On the topic of classic series, Phantasm has been a fan-favorite of Horror lovers for a long time now. That said, you came on to direct the latest installment in the Phantasm franchise, Phantasm: Ravager. How did you become involved with this project?
David Hartman – I met Don Coscarelli while working at Sony Television on the Starship Troopers animated series. I ended up doing some visual FX work and illustrations for Bubba Ho-Tep (2002). Don and I got along really well and kept in touch. I kept making short films and sending them to Don every weekend. Usually Horror or Comedy shorts revolving around an FX shot. One day I asked Don if he wanted to go out and shoot a Phantasm short film.
He got Reggie Bannister on board and we shot a scene where Reggie meets a girl and goes to her house and things go badly for both of them. It came out really well and Don was so happy he said “Let’s make another one.” We did several of these and it wasn’t until we had several in the can that Don then said “We’re making Phantasm 5!”. I was ecstatic! I was going to get to work on a new Phantasm film. I figured I would do grip work or some effects work and was like a kid in a candy store. Then Don said “ You’re directing.” I couldn’t believe it.
CrypticRock.com – Wow, that is great how it all worked out. There had been a lot of talk about Phantasm: Ravager for some time, even prior to production beginning. Was it a challenge to finally get everything going, and, once everything was in motion, what was the work behind Phantasm: Ravager like?
David Hartman – Like I mentioned, it started out as a bunch of short films. We thought at one time making it into a web series before it actually became the fifth film. We shot bits at a time. A scene here and a scene there and were editing the footage as we were continuing to shoot scenes. We spent years on it this way, really shooting on weekends as I was directing and producing still on Transformers. This is how the first film was shot and Don and the cast really had a fun and nostalgic time making the film. It had a lot of passionate people contributing to the film and I hope that shows.
CrypticRock.com – It does show and the film follows the entire series very well. Coming on, were you a fan of the series? Additionally, how important was it for you as the director to make sure Phantasm: Ravager fit in well with the other films?
David Hartman – I absolutely love the Phantasm films and grew up with them. I remember getting issue number 2 of Fangoria Magazine as a kid and was introduced to Phantasm through images of the Tall Man’s severed finger and a floating Michael Baldwin against a red background. It really freaked me out and I didn’t get to see the first film until much later when I became a teenager.
It was really important to me that this movie fit on the shelf with the other movies. This was Don’s series, his baby, and he never let anyone else touch it until now. I am really grateful for that opportunity and really wanted this film to fit into the world Don created. I really wanted to make sure the story fit into the world as well as the camerawork and editing.
CrypticRock.com – Many fans would agree the film is a fitting addition to the series. Sadly, Angus Scrimm passed away in 2016. Angus was no doubt the face of Phantasm through the years as the infamous Tall Man. Described as a very gentle man, what was your experience like working with him?
David Hartman – He was a great actor and a very generous and friendly man. I first met with him going over the script for Ravager and he read the lines Don and I wrote for him out loud in character. I was scared to death! When he finished he said “ These are the words the Tall Man would say. ” That really was a great feeling to get the Tall Man’s/Angus’ approval. He was really excited to play the character again and we gave him more lines than all the other films combined.
I did get to show the film to him before he passed. It really was a moving moment for me to have Angus in the theater watching this film which he stated how much he loved it afterwards. He really will be missed and he would have loved to be here seeing all the passionate fans and love for Ravager.
CrypticRock.com – Well it certainly is a nice swansong for Angus Scrimm. To hear he was so supportive and believed in the project makes it that much more special. Fans can be very fickle and Phantasm: Ravager is in fact the first film not directed by creator Don Coscarelli. Was Don supportive of your vision for the film?
David Hartman – He was! Don and I have similar sensibilities in storytelling and we got along great writing the script for Ravager. On set, Don was there for every shot, and I wanted his input on every decision I made to make sure it kept to the Phantasm universe. We really had a blast making it.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it was a great experience all around. Beyond Phantasm, do you think that the film is perhaps your entrance into directing more feature Horror films in the future?
David Hartman – I hope so. I really do love making films and telling weird stories. Horror is something I have always been engulfed in and will always be something I want to be involved with.
CrypticRock.com – That will be something to look out for in the future. You have also worked with Rob Zombie on several occasions for music videos. What was your experience like working with Rob?
David Hartman – I love getting to work with Rob! He is such a talented guy and I was always a big fan of his music. I did two animated music videos for him that would play onstage behind the band and it was dream to see that in concert. I’ve also done may illustrations for Rob and his films which have been a lot of fun and we actually started a comic together some years back but we both got too busy to finish it. Hopefully we will someday.
CrypticRock.com – Very cool, well hopefully you two get back together to work on that. Seeing that you are keeping yourself very busy, what can you tell us about pending future projects you are working on?
David Hartman – I have several stories in various forms right now. Some scripts for feature films and others in comic book form which I hope can get published in the near future. I’ve recently been releasing time-lapse videos of my horror illustration work online. I also did electronic music on those which got a big response and I released my first music album The Art of Monsters under the band name Zorgon. This can be found on Amazon, itunes and most digital platforms.
CrypticRock.com – Sounds exciting. The album has been described as something in the vein of John Carpenter, so Horror buffs will want to check that out. Our last question for you, what are some of your favorite Horror films as well as music?
David Hartman – Wow, that list is too big too print. There are so many films that are a big influence on me, my favorite is probably The Shining (1980). But I also love some more fun films like The Return of the Living Dead (1985) and Fright Night (1985) . As far as music goes I love everything from Electronica to Heavy Metal, but draw a lot to film soundtracks.