From left to right: Kenneth Choi, Sterling K Brown, Brian Tyree Henry and Father John Misty
For a mask designer, it doesn't get much more exciting than having one of your creations involved in a high-tech, neo-noir, action-thriller. Especially when the thing you dread most (seeing your Masks used for unscrupulous acts such as bank heists) plays out on-screen rather than in real life. Sterling K Brown, Brian Tyree Henry, Father John Misty and Kenneth Choi bring the heat straight to the vault in suits and Skull Masks. Enter Hotel Artemis, a beautifully stylised, genre-defying film written and directed by Drew Pearce, writer of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation and Iron Man 3. Though no stranger to the world of cinema, Hotel Artemis is Drew's feature film directorial debut and features an all-star cast of Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Jeff Goldblum and Sofia Boutella. We are so grateful to be part of this film and to have the rare opportunity to chat with a truly amazing film director. Let's find out how this all came about shall we?
"This kind of pressure can really rattle you if you let it. Of course, this only adds to the delicious pleasure of being a first-time director"
Fletch: Drew, thank you for chatting with us about your fantastic film. What was your first day on your feature film directorial debut like? I imagine it’s incredible to be part of all those varied disciplines working toward the same goal in the same space.
Drew: There is nothing that can prepare you for the elation, dread, gratefulness, and terror! For instance, with the masks, they are covering the face of four key characters and there is nothing you can change about them in post-production if you get something wrong, so you’ve got to commit to a prop fully going in. This kind of pressure can really rattle you if you let it. Of course, this only adds to the delicious pleasure of being a first-time director.
"I went into this promising Jodie that we would make something bold"
Fletch: A first-time Director with an A-list cast! Jodie Foster must be very selective about what she is involved in with her legacy as both an actress and a film director.
Drew: I went into this promising Jodie that we would make something bold. I think we did in our own way and when you commit to that in today’s culture, you’ve got to be prepared for the fact that it’s going to feel niche (which is what it was always supposed to be) and you are going to get some extreme reaction.
"One of the guys I work with the most is Thomas Wagner, who is a high-up at NASA and he is a credited Futurist Adviser in the movie"
Fletch: There are a million different ways to conceal facial identity onscreen in a bank job scene, what about our Half Skull appealed to you as a director?
Drew: I consult with a team of futurists when I am doing Sci-Fi that I’ve been lucky enough to accumulate through working on bigger movies. If you are working on Iron Man or Mission Impossible, you can call up NASA, JPL, SpaceX or Homeland Security, tell them you’re researching for a film and if they are able to, they will help.
"Another way to destroy facial recognition is to confuse the vectoring system of the cameras"
Drew: We needed something that would obscure the face during a heist, but also allow a certain degree of emotional connection from the actor. We started by looking at all the technologies that interfere with CCTV. For example, simple make-up or glare can do it, but another way to destroy facial recognition is to confuse the vectoring system of the cameras. So, this is how I found myself googling “vector masks”. Low and behold, there was your Skull Mask, and I completely fell in love.
"We needed something that would obscure the face during a heist, but also allow a certain degree of emotional connection from the actor"
Fletch: So, what you are telling us is that our masks are the perfect thing for an actual bank heist. To be honest, we are so relieved that it has only happened in the movies so far.
Drew: It must be weird for you guys making masks because masks are often used for activities by individuals who need secrecy, but of course there are thousands of years of masks being used to tell stories in drama. It is interesting to think of masks and their roles in this way.
"Josh did an amazing job using silicon paper to gently round some of the edges to the point that there were no hard lines left in them"
Fletch: Can you tell us a little bit about how the Skull Masks for the film were made? Steve originally modified our Doberman Mask for the film, but it didn’t get used in the end.
Drew: I had push backs from the producers on occasion about using the masks at all. It didn’t help that I scared them by putting on the Doberman Mask early on! Did you know that I ended up paying for the Masks on my credit card? Josh Roth, our amazing Props Master who got in touch with you initially, called me three days before shooting and sent me a photo of the finished cardboard masks. I told him they looked fantastic and suggested we start making them, to which he replied, “they are made!” My thinking was that because the Masks are part of such integral moments of the film (we literally introduce our hero in them with close-up shots) it would expose our budget if we left them in cardboard. So, we ended up putting 12 high-quality, 3D-printed masks on my credit card. Then Josh did an amazing job using silicon paper to gently round some of the edges to the point that there were no hard lines left in them. This gave them a sort of futuristic bone-like look. He even put a little yellow in the finish to avoid bright whites for the camera, which gave them a cool eerie vibe as well.
"On many levels, this film has more in common with Repo Man than it does with any big Hollywood movie"
Fletch: It is interesting how you blend retro-noir with modern dystopian thematic and visual tones in this film; almost Hitchcockian vibes propelled into a Frank Miller future. You’ve got a potential boiling point inside this darkly Deco world and another out in the streets of modern LA. What a cool way to smear the stylistic lineage that makes LA so iconic onscreen. I’ve always been fascinated by the strangely Gothic undertones of the USA’s sunniest city.
"I wanted it to be a mixture of the 1920's and the 2020's aesthetic and even more of a melting pot"
Drew: On many levels, this film has more in common with Repo Man than it does with any big Hollywood movie. I don’t think I realised it as I was making it, but the effect of Videodrome and other films of my youth were perhaps coming through.
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Drew: I think films like this are rare these days when categorisation is so important everyone and interest is governed by averages, scores and algorithms. I wish I knew the name of the guy who worked in my local video store growing up. He would do things like plant Repo Man next to The Terminator, or Subway next to Robocop on the shelves. I’ve always been interested in genre hybrids.
"I don’t think I realised it as I was making it, but the impact of Videodrome and other genre hybrid films of my youth were perhaps coming through"
Fletch: Here’s a quick story, my parents’ good friend in Canada was a props designer and builder for Cronenberg in the 80s and he made the Virtual Reality Helmet for Videodrome. It’s still sitting in his attic!
Drew: No way! It’s funny isn’t it, these fantastic films by Cox, Cronenberg, Verhoeven, etc. Their works would perhaps only exist on Netflix these days if they couldn’t be sold as straight-up horror films. These were not press-pack pictures, yet when I was a kid these were mainstream filmmakers. John Waters had films that were released in thousands of cinemas.
"Our film was shot by one of the best cinematographers in the world, Chung-hoon Chung, who did the original Old Boy, The Hand Maiden and IT"
Fletch: You’ve certainly got an amazing genre hybrid with Hotel Artemis, tell us a little bit about how this stylistic vision came together.
Drew: One of the most inspiring worlds of film for me in the last decade is Korean cinema. In many ways, this film feels more like a Korean movie than an American one on many levels. In fact, our film was shot by one of the best cinematographers in the world, Chung-hoon Chung, who did the original Old Boy, The Hand Maiden and IT.
"The dark elegance and not being entirely in-hock to a documentary level of reality speaks to me"
Drew: The Masks speak to this as well. Do I think anyone in real life would rob a bank in a Half Skull Mask? No, but they do give a tangible sense that these are people after anonymity and they also look genuinely scary. Because of the vectors, there is something dehumanising, which is another part of what I loved about them.
"We come out on vinyl in September. It will be 70’s gatefold heavyweight record with the embossed Artemis logo on the front cover and it will be a really cool artefact for those that love the film"
Fletch: Cliff Martinez is a legendary drummer and I have read his name on albums growing up: Beefheart’s Ice Cream for Crow, The Dickies Killer Klowns, The Weirdos (one of my favourite LA bands of all time) and now I find out that he’s scored some of my favourite recent films, Drive, Neon Demon, and now Hotel Artemis! What was it like working with him?
Drew: We had no money, so we had only had three weeks with him. It is tough for a composer (who is the last piece of the puzzle) with that kind of time limit, because on the one hand, he’s got to match the detail and love that all these people have put into the film already. Then, there were other situations where I needed him to save a scene with the score, so the pressures are manifold. Because we had no money for strings, it ended up being an electronic score which worked great because it underlines the futurism of the film anyway. There is an electronic pulse that mixes with the sound design of the film. The old clacking elevator, the pipes and wires – some of my favourite bits are when we can’t tell if it’s a drum or the giant dial above the elevator for example. We come out on vinyl in September. It will be a gatefold sleeve, heavyweight record with the embossed Artemis logo on the front cover and it will be a really cool artefact for those that love the film.
"I hope Hotel Artemis is one of those movies you can enjoy watching even just 45 minutes of, for the fifth time, when you come in from the pub on a Friday night"
Fletch: In the modern day of the series being more prominent than the cinema, was Hotel Artemis always going to be a feature film, or did you ever consider it as a series?
Drew: I always wanted my first movie to go out in theatres. Frankly, I think the film was mis-sold in the beginning as a straight up “action” movie. If you are told that as a reviewer or an audience member and you are expecting The Expendables going in, you may be thrown a bit when you see a moving scene with Jodie Foster in old lady make-up crying for two minutes to a Neil Young song in the middle of the film.
"Without the rule breakers, honey where would you be?" - Jeff Goldblum as Niagara
Drew: Everyone involved are all so proud of the film and we still possibly get our pass at I-Tunes and Netflix, so we’ll see how it is interpreted outside of the cinema as well. My suspicion is that what we are is a midnight movie, in the tradition of Walter Hill and John Carpenter. Most of their films initially received much more tepid reactions than Hotel Artemis has, but grew audiences over time. I hope Hotel Artemis is one of those movies you can enjoy watching even just 45 minutes of, for the fifth time, when you come in from the pub on a Friday night.
It has been an immense pleasure working with Team Artemis and getting to speak with visionary Director Drew Pearce about his unique profession. His down-to-earth, humble nature is not something you'd expect from a man of his achievements and we thank him for being so good to Steve's Skull. It looks amazing on the big screen and more importantly, the film simply rocks. It will please anyone who appreciates both traditional big screen cinema and stylised cult classics, while burning brightly for years to come. It is in theatres across the globe now and we highly recommend getting amongst it.
You can build your very own Half Skull, just like the one in the film, here.
Steve and I love creating narratives for our mask sets and Thundergate is the most expansive story yet to come. Find out how we developed the company logo and numerical symbol system that goes with our release of the limited edition Primary Shell Sound-Reactive Masks.