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Howard Berger: Lessons from 30+ Years in Hollywood

Daniel ScrivnerLast Updated: September 17, 2020

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“Filmmaking is supposed to be fun. Yes, it is a challenge. It can be difficult. But at the end of the day, it’s the director’s vision. And you work as a team under one umbrella to facilitate that director’s vision.” — Howard Berger

In this episode of Outliers, I’m talking with Howard Berger (@hoops511) about the twists and turns of his award-winning career, his artistic process, and what it’s like working with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

Howard Berger is a prolific special effects artist and the co-founder of KNB EFX Group. He has over 800 feature film and television credits to his name, including Kill Bill Volume 1 and Volume 2Inglourious Basterds, and Django Unchained. Howard won an Emmy Award for his work in The Walking Dead, an Academy Award for his work on The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and an Academy Award nomination for his work on Hitchcock.

Topics Discussed

  • 00:02:17 – Howard’s multiple roles on set of feature films and television shows
  • 00:06:06 – How Howard’s early fascination with monsters and movies led to his career
  • 00:09:46 – The process of working with producers, directors, and actors to achieve a shared vision
  • 00:13:30 – Howard’s work on The Chronicles of Narnia
  • 00:20:25 – On keeping work fun and energetic for the team
  • 00:26:11 – What Howard looks for in a great director
  • 00:29:17 – What Howard looks for in a great script
  • 00:34:20 – The evolution of apprenticeships in Hollywood
  • 00:37:31 – On building a great team
  • 00:40:47 – Working with Anthony Hopkins, Jamie Foxx, Jessica Lange, and Alan Arkin
  • 00:50:11 – The Oscar nomination and celebration experience
  • 00:58:35 – On long-term collaboration with a business partner and friend
  • 01:00:31 – Directors Howard would love to work with, including Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen
  • 01:05:26 – Howard’s favorite films
  • 01:07:06 – Working on Kill Bill

For more, explore the full transcript of this episode. Transcripts for all episodes can be found here.

Links from the Episode

Films and televisions shows Howard has worked on:

Actors, directors, and people Howard has worked with:

Key Insight

Remaining positive and energetic when working long hours or on difficult projects is worth the effort; as Howard says, “We need to be kind to each other. We need to be considerate and respectful and we need to do what makes us happy. And that’s important. Have a great time. This is what life’s supposed to be, fun. We’re here for a reason. It’s not to be miserable. It’s to enjoy it and make other people’s lives better.”

Favorite Quotes

  • “We basically went through the wardrobe. We lived in Narnia for seven months in New Zealand. And when the movie ended, we came out of the wardrobe and we were all heartbroken. To me, it’s my most favorite film I ever worked on, on all levels. And I’m super proud of the work.”
  • “It’s almost like working in the industry is like dog years. One year equals seven years. I always feel like one year in the film industry equals five years to your life. But you can counteract that with laughter — and the more you laugh, the longer you live. So at this point, I’m thinking I’m going to be probably about 1,000 years old because I’m always laughing.”
  • “All makeup effects shops are basically the ‘Island of Misfit Toys.’ So it’s like all the broken, weird, misshapen, reject toys all somehow gravitate to the world of makeup effects and everybody’s their own individual.”
  • “I want to keep my team’s energy up. I don’t ever want them to worry about anything except about the work. So I take the brunt of everything, but that’s what a leader does. I don’t pass the buck. I don’t throw people under the bus if there’s an issue, even if it’s somebody else’s issue … it’s about not placing the blame. It’s about rectifying the situation. … I always say everything after ‘but’ is baloney, essentially.”

On Outliers, Daniel Scrivner explores the tactics, routines, and habits of world-class performers working at the edge—in business, investing, entertainment, and more. In each episode, he decodes what they’ve mastered and what they’ve learned along the way. Start learning from the world’s best today. 

Explore all episodes of Outliers, be the first to hear about new episodes, and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform.

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