Rob Hampton is a director and editor in LA, but thirty-odd years ago he was just a kid in Massachusetts with a Super 8 camera. Recently, he's been going over his earlier work, adding some modern enhancements (like sound,) and posting them on YouTube.
Join us after the jump for the story of this project, three decades in the making!
Church H. Tucker: So, I usually start off asking for background, but you didn't have much of one when you did these originally. How old were you, and what prompted you to make these movies?
Rob Hampton: I grew up on Cape Cod and every Saturday I'd watch the Creature Double Feature on a Boston TV station. Lots of Roger Corman and AIP movies. The kind of films you thought, "Hey I could do stuff like that with my GI Joe's and model kits in the backyard!" My friends and I were already playing out scenes like that, all we needed was a camera. So after much pleading, I got a cheap Super 8 camera for Christmas when I was 12 years old.
The first thing I did was go out and shoot an Earthquake movie. We dropped action figures from the roof and smashed buildings made from cardboard boxes. I made a movie almost every two weeks--tributes to The Amazing Colossal Man, Flash Gordon, war films, and Airport-type disaster films.
My relatives were pretty impressed, so I talked them into getting me a better camera with the elusive "single frame capability" feature. Now I could emulate my stop-motion heroes, Harryhausen and O'Brien. Over the next two years, I made my own King Kong and Sinbad epics using Aurora models and Captain Action dolls, plus versions of Star Trek, Jaws, James Bond, and Alien. Everything was filmed without sound, so I had to narrate all the dialogue from the back of the room by the projector. Those lines are ingrained into my head to this day, aargh!
A few years back, I got the idea to add sound to my old films so I would never have to remember those damn lines again. I added music, sound effects, and rounded up as many old friends as possible and added our voices. The shots are in the same order and pretty much the same length, but I did take out those 2-3 frames of splice marks, wow those distracting diagonal "lightning" cuts bugged me when I was a kid. I would purposely shoot in order just to avoid having to splice any shots!
CHT: Ah yes, the joys of in-camera editing.
CHT: How did you digitize these films? They look really good.
RH: I projected the films onto a nice smooth piece of white matte board and shot them with a DV camera. Then I digitized them into an Avid Xpress Pro and added sound.
CHT: How many of the actors were you able to get to voice themselves?
RH: Well, I recorded all of the voices in the Kong and Alien films, but I was able to get the actor who played "Tobar" in Trek and Sinbad (John Morgan) to record his voice on a DV camera at his home in New York. Another friend from childhood (Lou Borselio) supplied the voice of the Gold Knight in Sinbad. He had no recording devices in his CT home, so he read his lines into my voicemail. Somehow it doesn't sound half-bad! My mother was easily coaxed into voicing her Sinbad role as well. An LA-based voice actor (DR SMOOV) was cool enough to play the villain in Sinbad. He can be heard in a dozen or so Transformers fan films on YouTube.
CHT: I was going to ask you about DR SMOOV! My jaw hit the floor when I saw his name there. I thought he was a childhood friend of yours, which would be too weird.
RH: DR SMOOV (Dan Didsbury) was a PA of mine 10 years ago! We still keep in touch, I want him to be a rich VO artist.
CHT: Did you wing all this stuff, or were you reading Cinemagic and the like?
RH: Before I ever got a camera, I read books like Movie Magic, The Making of King Kong, The Making of Star Trek and others. Then I would watch movies and be able to pick out effects. My friends and I would always yell "Back Projection!" whenever we could spot it. Later on, I got into the magazine Cinemagic. I even had a couple of my films listed there. Although that mag was crazy cool, the stuff they showed always seemed too involved for me and my little Bell & Howell. Mattes, latex models, and tabletop animation were for the pros as far as I was concerned... give me a sandpit in the backyard and a Marx Gold Knight action figure and I was all set.
CHT: That's what I love about these films. They feel like you were having fun, and occasionally there's flashes of brilliance like the stop motion choreography in your Alien film.
CHT: Was it a pretty straight line from these films to your current work? Or did you take a more circuitous route?
RH: Definitely circuitous. After making about 15 of these films, I went to film school at Boston University. The films I made there are a lot less fun to watch, I was trying to be more dramatic or artsy. Afterwards, I was still 3,000 miles from Hollywood, so I ended up at a Cape Cod TV station where I wrote/directed/edited seemingly hundreds of local commercials. I made a couple of 25-minute short films on the side, put those under my arm and headed to LA at 26. Many strange adventures ensued, working menial jobs on big Hollywood films and at several big studio lots. It took me ten years in LA before I was able to call myself a paid director. These days I direct lots of TV network segments, promos, and commercials. I own my own production company, Splat Pictures, which has some major TV networks as clients. The last short film I made was a comedy featuring Joel McHale called Game Time (on YouTube and funnyordie.com). I'd say the big similarity between my current work and my early films is that I still have a big hand in every aspect of my projects, usually writing/directing/editing everything myself. That and I seem to be stuck with the short form, doesn't look like feature-length will ever be my scene!
CHT: Has there been any feedback from your professional life about these shorts? Clients who stumbled across them, etc?
RH: Ha, well I don't purposely bring it up because I'm not sure it's a good idea to negotiate business with someone who has seen me running around dressed as a 14 year-old Kirk. But when people I know do find them, they're generally surprised or impressed, especially since I'm not known as either an actor or an animator. It's always fun for me to hear things like, "So...what the hell happened?!"
CHT: Are there more of these shorts you've yet to upload?
RH: I'll probably score and post a Jaws rip-off we shot on a fresh-water river by the end of the year. I know it makes no sense, I lived near where the actual blockbuster was shot but I travelled to suburban CT to shoot my own version! It was always about having the right friends around and enough time to shoot during school breaks. There are a bunch more but they either never ended well ("we only have 2 feet of film left, let's end this thing!") or they aren't worth the endless hours it takes to add sound.
CHT: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Rob.
RH: Great, thanks for watching!
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