“MAD RON’S” FX wizard reminisces

Originally posted on 2010-09-20 14:58:30 by Nick Masercola

Even the biggest and busiest in the business have humble beginnings, and few people know that as well as Jordu Schell. Now at the top of the FX world, working on movies like 300, AVATAR, and DAWN OF THE DEAD to name a few, Schell’s first gig was on the genre trailer compilation MAD RON’S PREVUES FROM HELL, first released on VHS in 1987 and finally available now on DVD from Virgil Films.

One of the first of its kind, MAD RON’S gathered together 47 of the most grisly, outrageous exploitation previews one could hope to see (check out an interview with its creators in Fango #297, now on sale). In between all this celluloid slaughter are linking segments involving a crazed ventriloquist, his evil dummy and dozens of the undead—all of which Schell designed.

“I got a call from [producer] Jim Murray,” Schell recalls, “and I was really excited to do some zombie stuff, because they’re one of my favorite monster types. I’m a huge fan of ’70s grindhouse cinema, so when I saw the trailers the guys had cut together—before we actually started work on the in-between stuff—I was very excited. I particularly like the trailer for BLOODEATERS, for some reason.”

But once it came time to actually worry about the “in-between stuff,” the then 19-year-old Schell realized he’d need a little extra help creating the scores of grotesque ghouls required. “I didn’t have an extensive background in makeup as much as creature design,” he says, “so I called in a guy named Jay Kushwara to help. He lived in a neighboring township to Philadelphia, and he helped out with life-casting and designed and sculpted the zombie look for the black actor, and also did the eye-popping effect at the end. As far as designs, I was given total control. It was great!”

Apparently, he wasn’t just assigned the undead, but the evil dummy Happy as well. “For Happy, I just sculpted a character that I thought was both funny and kind of disgusting at the same time,” Schell recalls. “Nick Pawlow [who plays his ventriloquist] loved it. Everyone was incredibly easy to work with.”

While this first professional experience was a positive one, it was MAD RON’s release that Schell’s career began to take off. “I had my work seen by Screaming Mad George in LA,” he says. “I sent him pictures of my masks when I was about 20, and he called me, and that’s when things really got going. But I am glad to know that people enjoy PREVUES, and that it has amassed a cult following.”

Since then, Schell has contributed to numerous features, but one experience stands out as his favorite. “I would have to say that GALAXY QUEST remains the best of the films I’ve worked on,” the artist says. “From the experience to the creative freedom to the final film, it was a great time.” Schell’s long résumé has encompassed both CGI and practical FX—so which does he enjoy doing more? “Well, it’s pretty clear that the best effects today employ a little of both techniques,” he replies. “CGI can do things real-time effects can’t, and there are undeniable qualities in real-time effects that digital just can’t capture—yet. But as the techniques of computer work become refined and more sophisticated, there definitely is a serious threat to real-time effects artists.”

When it comes to what his personal future holds, however, Schell is keeping his cards close to his chest. “Well, as with so many things I work on, I cannot discuss the intricacies of what I’m up to,” he says. “Suffice to say, I am doing design work on a huge film that I am sure FANGORIA will be covering in the near future!”

For more on the MAD RON’S PREVUES FROM HELL DVD, go here.

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