The Crucible of Transmutationanecdotes about the creative process

Starting at the Bottom

Scene from the horror movie Vamp filmed in a sewer set
Running from vampires in the sewer. Note the pink and green eighties lighting.

Having moved to Los Angeles with the dream of becoming a professional stop-motion animator, I initially found it very difficult to get my foot in the door of the movie business. I managed to get a few gigs making miniatures as a model maker, but even those jobs were hard to come by for a newcomer. Then the opportunity came to work on my first feature motion picture, starting at the very bottom... the sewer! Okay, in actuality I was hired to build a sewer, as part of the construction crew on the horror movie VAMP in 1986.

Joel Fletcher in the Vamp movie set
Taking a break in the nearly finished Vamp sewer set.

Much of the latter part of the movie took place in the sewer, which required a gigantic set for those scenes. My friend Michael Eschger and I both had detail oriented carpentry experience, and were promptly put in charge of the project by supervisor Mike Bingham. The construction methods for movie sets were different from the norm, as they were meant to be temporary, built quickly, and torn down when the filming wraps. It was interesting to learn the various building techniques, which came in handy many times later in my career. What was particularly challenging about this set was the decision by Bingham to build the pipes out of sheet metal. The material was nasty: heavy, sharp edged, and difficult to drill and cut. Michael and I were expected to make the metal tubes perfect, each section had to align exactly with no gaps in the joints allowed. All that precision was an effort to impress the movie executives; which was crazy because it was a dark, grungy sewer we were making, not a spaceship. We did succeed, and the set was truly impressive to see in person. However, the movie audience who saw the Vamp sewer would never realize that it was an artificial creation.

Joining two metal sheets on the Vamp movie set construction site
Joel Fletcher and Michael Eschger using a large jig to join two sheets of metal.
Men constructing tubes out of sheet metal for a movie set
Michael, Hal, and Joel attaching sheet metal tubes to the wood supports..
View from the outside of the sewer set created for the movie Vamp
An exterior view of the set looks almost futuristic from all the sheet metal.

Vamp had the unique premise of a group of Frat boys visiting a bar, the After Dark Club, inhabited by vampire strippers. Once the sewer was finished, I made some custom retro-styled tables and props for the After Dark Club set. Then I installed them at the studio lot, where I was able to watch some of the filming in progress. I was surprised to see Lisa Lyon playing one of the vampires, who I had filmed several years earlier giving a bodybuilding performance. Fortunately I had my camera, and captured a cool shot of her and some other actors in the night club...

Bodybuilder Lisa Lyon on the set of the horror movie Vamp
Lisa Lyon ready for a scene in the After Dark Club set.

In the movie industry set builders were considered low on the totem pole, lacking the respect they deserved considering their prominent work on the screen. In fact none of the Vamp construction crew received credit on the movie. Set construction was not exactly what I had in mind for a Hollywood job, but it helped this starving artist with much needed income until better circumstances came along. I always liked to work with my hands creating things, and had some great experiences on the show which made the whole adventure worth it.

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