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A Gift for Gore : At 15, makeup artist Josh Brezner has credits in more than 30 mostly scary productions.

January 07, 1994|JOHN MORELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; John Morell is a regular contributor to The Times

For most kids, seeing one of the gory, horrific "Nightmare on Elm Street" movies means going to bed with the light on for several months. But for Josh Brezner of Granada Hills, all that big-screen murder and mayhem was an inspiration.

He got some clay and began trying to re-create some of the effects, in particular a scene where a woman turns into a cockroach. "I was 10 and I had never seen anything like that before. It was fantastic. That got me started into effects and makeup, and it hasn't been boring yet," Josh says.

Now 15 and a sophomore at Van Nuys High School's production magnet, Josh makes his friends jealous when he talks about his weekend and after-school jobs. He has credits in more than 30 productions, including student films, music videos and a Hollywood play.

"When I'm at a screening of a film I've worked on and the crowd moans when they see an effect I've created, it's a rush. It's even better on a set when I've made a wound and the people around me know it's fake, and they still turn away. I want to say, 'Thank you,' " Josh says.

He credits his early success to his parents' approval of his creative energy. "From early on he's been interested in special effects, and we've encouraged him," says Michelle Brezner, his mother. Josh's parents have become accustomed to driving him to and from early-morning shoots. "This is something he's good at and he loves, so we do what we can for him," she says.

After watching Josh try to duplicate the cockroach, Michelle Brezner called UCLA to see if there were any extension courses for children who wanted to learn about movie special effects. The effects classes were for adults only, but teacher Marilyn White was impressed by Josh's creativity and got him a job cleaning up at Cinema Secrets, a Burbank store that sells makeup and special effects equipment.

Josh took the prosthetics and creature effects classes offered at the store, then began assisting on shoots, helping to create scars and wounds. "I was 11 when I worked my first set, assisting Marilyn on a movie. It was a little scary, I didn't know what to expect. But everyone was nice, and it was cool to be so young and these adults were treating me like an adult. It blew me away."

Soon he began getting calls from student directors needing some nasty scars on their actors and earned his first solo credit for the film "Tonto Tiempo" (1991). The work for film schools doesn't pay much, often just his lunch and expenses, but Josh meticulously keeps videotapes of his work for his growing portfolio. "I'm not sure yet what I'll do right after high school, but I definitely want to be involved in this," he says.

Just the names of some of the student films Josh has worked on, such as "Rigor Mortis" and "The Tar Monster," both made in 1993, suggest these could be great showcases for his talent. Fortunately for him, there aren't many E.M. Forster adaptations made in film school.

" 'Brain Drain' was definitely the toughest movie I've worked on," he says of another 1993 project. "The director wanted nonstop effects. It was the first time I was absolutely essential to the production. If I didn't show up, they couldn't film."

His challenge was to rig up a plumbing system that dripped liquid from the heads of 20 extras--i.e., the "Brain Drain." "I had to find a way to make this work and was able to get a plumbing prosthetic that dripped and looked realistic. They say you learn something new on every shoot, and it's true," he says.

After being called for a job, Josh reviews the script and goes over the effects with the director. "I want to find out what the director's vision is, what he sees for the effects. Sometimes he has specific ideas of how he wants a monster to look or how a wound should be, other times he'll leave it up to me."

Like other kids his age, Josh spends time in the library, but not doing book reports. While coming up with ideas for effects, you can find him in the dark shelves surrounding medical and forensic pathology books.

"I'll look for pictures of rashes, burns, gunshot wounds. You have to know what these things look like in order to make them realistic," he says.

While Josh prides himself on the realism of his effects and makeup jobs, there's one effect that eludes him. "It's virtually impossible to make realistic blood," he says. When you prick your finger and watch the blood come out, you can see how it moves, it almost seems alive. That just can't be duplicated."

Actors aren't always easy to work with, especially when a guy who doesn't have his driver's license yet is trying to get you to hold still until your scarred body dries. "In the classes I took I had a lot of effects done to myself so I know what it feels like. A lot of people don't like to have any makeup or chemicals put near their eyes and I try to work with that. I'll tell the actor what I'm doing, what I'm using, just make him feel comfortable," he says.

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