Known for his graphic and disturbing horror films, ROT (1999), FELL (2010), 100 TEARS (2007), and AMERICAN GUINEA PIG: BLOODSHOCK (2015), plus close to 100 SFX credits in films that span about two decades, award-winning SFX artist, owner of Oddtopsy FX and director, Marcus Koch thrives on his continuous and rewarding work. Meticulous and painstakingly accurate with his props, prosthetics and appliances, Marcus Koch welcomes new challenges and is both an authority on SFX and master of his craft.
Marcus Koch on SFX:
I have a group that I’ve been working with for years as Oddtopsy FX: Cat Bernier, Matt Ash and Chris Polidoro. They are my right and left hands. They’re people I know I don’t have to babysit and they know my expectations. If we come to a situation we haven’t encountered before and need to come up with a solution, we’ll bounce ideas off of each other to figure the best possible way to achieve our goal.
For practical effects, I do copious internet research. The internet is a great resource for really explicit death photos. I’ll look up surgeries and suicides and study how muscle, bone and viscera really look. I always strive for anatomical perfection, and I know the limitations of my materials.
With SFX sometimes it’s a race against the clock. You kind of have to come up with solutions on the spot. If something just isn’t in the budget, you need to think on your toes and use your resources to come up with the best possible substitute. If you can’t do this it will be detrimental to the film. Sometimes there are really big productions, but generally I don’t have that luxury, and I just hit the ground running. Often I’m allotted a couple weeks of pre-production for life casting and molding.
Sometimes you work with directors who really understand how to shoot horror using practical effects. It’s like slight of hand and it needs to be shot or edited a certain way. At the end of the day, a rubber hand is a rubber hand. At the wrong angle the audience will go “Well, that’s a fake hand.” It is a collaborative effort to assure that suspension of disbelief; to make the audience think that person really did get his hand cut off.
There are always some who will not hear outside influences, and if you try to say how to shoot an effect or edit, it’s really crossing the line. That’s when one of two things could happen: they can’t figure out how to properly piece it together in editing, so they cut the scene completely, or worse they cut it together the best way they think they can and the effect fails. There have been directors that asked me to collaborate in post-production. I will offer to put it together if someone needs help editing a sequence. These directors are generally open to the idea because they truly want an end-product that looks its very best.
I don’t do CG very often, but what I’ve done is mostly with compositing. I’ll film green screen shots of a practical effect and then combine them together by layering digitally. An example was a decapitation where we had a real body, a fake body and a head with a green screen behind it. The director allowed me to shoot that part because I knew how everything needed to go together and then I was able to assemble it all on the computer. It’s just layers of practical stuff just all put together. I’ve worked with many different types of practical FX, but I don’t work with fire or pyrotechnics at all.
Marcus Koch on Filming:
My first unreleased movies and ROT were all shot on Hi-8. I shot 100 TEARS on film with a great lens, but lately I’ve been using a DSLR 1080 camera and the image quality and resolution is just amazing. That’s what I used on BLOODSHOCK and then we used a 4K for AMERICAN GUINEA PIG: SONG OF SOLOMON.
Across the board, the higher the resolution, the tougher the job will be when it comes to believability of FX. You don’t want the viewer to see the seams around prosthetics and you need to take more time and care with makeup. I’ve really got an eye for how it all will go together. It is important to know how the edit will work before you frame it. I have a really good understanding of that and I do enjoy directing.
BLOODSHOCK had a unique challenge in that we had to do a camera angle from inside of a mouth while pulling teeth. I told Cat what I needed and together we came up with a solution on the spot. We create a half-head with a macro lens set-up inside the mouth. I shot in color and edited in color. The film only turned black-and-white in the final stages. It was more of a visceral choice for the story telling because it just plays out better in black-and-white. And it stays in black-and-white until the end where there is a gradual movement to color. It’s almost like a heightened reality. It really is a hyper-crescendo at that point.
Marcus Koch on Directors:
I think the toughest director I ever worked for was Andreas Schnaas on a film called NIKOS THE IMPALER (2003). It was the most grueling learning experience of my life. We had differences on the reality of the blood. He gave me his recipe for blood, but he actually would go to the butcher shop for pig’s blood. I have a huge phobia of real blood, so the thought of that just gave me the heebie-jeebies, plus I didn’t feel it was sanitary. I had a very limited budget, two months to work, and would often get script changes the night before. Because of that I needed to create all new props on the fly into the wee hours of the night. That became a problem for prop casting because the actors had already gone home. I learned to be a proficient improviser from that film.
Now, H.G. Lewis had the strangest request of all the directors I’ve worked with. When I first met him for THE UH-OH SHOW (2009) I was so excited and I brought him a super-detailed fake arm that had fingernails and hair in it and he looked at it and shrugged saying “Hmmph… is there a way you can make these look fake?” So I’m literally spending thousands of dollars making all of these fake-looking body part props, but since it was a comedy he didn’t want overt realism. He didn’t like my blood because it was too dark and rich, so I had to brighten it up a lot. I told him it wasn’t going to look real. That’s what he wanted though.
I never got credit for the FX work and I didn’t get paid for Troma’s CITIZEN TOXIE: TOXIC AVENGER IV (2000). The line producer and writer for the film reached out to me and said he couldn’t fly me out to the film, but they would send me money if I could give them the props that you see in the beginning of the film. I got a call a couple weeks later saying “Hey we can’t send money right now, but if you keep your receipts for your materials we’ll reimburse you.” I got together a refrigerator-sized box of charred body parts and shipped them off.
And I never heard anything… until I did effects for NIKOS THE IMPALER. Lloyd Kaufman had a part that was filmed inside of a video store. That was the first time I was able to see Lloyd as a real person and not just Troma Lloyd. After a genuinely great conversation about film, I brought up TOXIC AVENGER IV and he was like “Oh yeah! The charred tards!” and I retorted “Yeah… I never actually heard back on that…” He said “Oh yeah, Patrick Cassidy stopped working on that film.” I said “OK… but I never actually got paid…” and he didn’t miss a beat. He said “Tell you what, here’s a copy of MOTHER’S DAY (1980).” that he handed me from the set. I’ve worked with Lloyd several times since and now it’s our running joke.
Final Words of Wisdom from Marcus Koch:
If you want to get into the business to produce, direct, be a DP or do special effects, the best way to learn is to be a Production Assistant. It’s a great opportunity to observe how everyone does their jobs. You can even gain hands-on learning through that. I think going to film school can be an incredible waste of money. Just be open to learning from everyone. We all want the success of the film and we’re in it to work. Do your job and do it well, and keep continuously learning along the way.