Here's the full interview:
Are you a sculptor full time or is this your hobby?
This is strictly a hobby of mine. I never attended art school or anything like that. I have a day job that is the furthest thing from Halloween, so this is something that helps keep me sane.
It seems each year has a theme. What have you got planned for 2013?
I try to mix it up each year to push myself creatively. This year is going to be about my obsession with scarecrows: The Scarecrow Catacomb.
Do you set this up at your house? Or are you finding locations that best suit the themes?
The Halloween Haunt is always at my house. The photo shoots are done throughout the year at different locations. The location depends on the prop. It might be at an abandoned farm, an old cemetery, or a muddy swamp. My wife and I have a blast scouting locations and planning weekends around the shoots.
Do you leave them up in the locations after you've taken photos for people to discover?
I’ve left a few of my props behind. The Jenny Greenteeth swamp shoot was tricky since the prop was getting waterlogged and very soft. I left her behind and checked back on her a week later – she was gone. I’d like to think a few people saw her from a nearby road before she was swept away by a storm that rolled in shortly after.
What are people’s reactions to the displays?
The reactions have always been very positive. Most people ask me where I purchased the Halloween props, so it’s always fun to tell them that I made them.
Your stuff looks a bit more visceral and scary than your average haunted lawns we've seen in films like American Scary. What has the response been from the neighbourhood? Are people genuinely terrified of your displays?
The neighbors have always been very excited to see what I have up my sleeve. They’ve grown accustomed to a new theme every year. Sometimes I wonder if my displays are too dark for smaller children though, since a lot of the younger ones are hesitant to approach, or refuse altogether. I’ve seen parents dragging their kids up to the porch and I can’t help but think I’ve caused some trauma in their little brains. Though I remember my days of trick-or-treating, and I lived for that ONE spooky house.
Have you had to censor anything?
My Corn Witch display was probably the most disturbing, with bound and desecrated corpses. I got a few emails from folks asking why I went in that direction. I told them I was just following the voices in my head. Blood and gore is something I probably would never do. I always felt that dried withered organs are more terrifying than bright red ones, though the few times I’ve made bloody props for photo shoots, I’ve been surprised how much I enjoyed making them.
Are they animatronic? Or is this something you've considered?
My props aren’t animatronic. I’m strictly a static prop guy. I try to achieve a potential for movement - an appearance that my props are in a moment of rest, or that they’re waiting. I've found that the static props that work best are the ones that look like they've just paused for a brief moment.
Where do you find the material?
I work cheap. My props are mostly duct tape, pvc piping, and clumped-up newspaper. Their skin is mostly paper towels and cheesecloth dipped in glue mache. And the hundreds of sticks and branches I’ve used over the years are absolutely free of charge.
Is it an all year thing for you to prep each year?
It really is an all-year event for me. I try to have the following year’s theme in mind so I can start work right after each Halloween. It isn’t unusual for neighbors to see me in the yard building something creepy and strange in the middle of Winter, and I think they’ve come to expect it in the warmer months.
What is Swamp Foetus The Film?
Swamp Foetus was something I’ve always wanted to do – make a practical effect short film, in the tradition of something like The Dark Crystal…with large human-operated props. I built a life-sized Witch puppet that was operated by my wife as I shot the footage using the video setting on an old digital camera. Prop-building, scouting locations, shooting, and editing took way longer than I had expected – about eight months. It’s a silent film, and the wonderful musical score by my good friend Jon Glassett provided its incredible dark voice. We wanted Swamp Foetus to be a love letter to Halloween, and we couldn’t be more proud of the final result.
You mentioned your stuff was noticed by a director who was referred to your work by Stan Winston studios.
Any other plans to create props for films?
I was contacted a year ago by director Karl Mueller. He was looking for someone to build a bunch of scarecrows for his independent film Mr. Jones. After posting on Stan Winston’s Facebook page for a scarecrow artist, he received the message: “One word: Pumpkinrot.” After a few discussions with him, I was hooked on his concept and agreed to build a dozen scarecrows in one month’s time, and then have them shipped from Pennsylvania to Los Angeles. I took two weeks off from work and spent every possible minute building them. The entire month was a blur. This past April, we travelled to New York to see the premiere of Mr. Jones at the Tribeca Film Festival. It was a surreal experience to see my work on the big screen. And especially thrilling since we found out the day before that the movie had been picked up by Anchor Bay for North American distribution and will be released soon.
I credit my love of Halloween and Scarecrows for getting me that gig since I never really thought I’d be a part of something like that. I don’t have any current plans for making movie props, but I’d certainly love the opportunity again.
What do you like to see in a haunted attraction?
I’m a huge fan of organic elements and atmosphere. For me, it’s more about the smell of toasted jack o’lantern lids than about chainsaws and jump scares. There’s a haunted attraction in New Hampshire called Haunted Overload, with massive towering scarecrows and giant gaping-mouthed creatures carved from real trees. It’s all about the atmosphere, and it’s pure Halloween to me.
Do you go to haunted attraction conventions?
I’m a pretty private (and antisocial) guy, so I don’t attend the haunted attraction conventions. I hear they’re awesome though, so maybe one of these years I’ll attend.
Where do you see Pumpkinrot going?
I’ll continue to celebrate Halloween every day through the photo galleries on my site www.pumpkinrot.com and through my daily entries on my blog at www.pumpkinrot.blogspot.com.