Thursday, February 7, 2013

The "Never Got Made" Files #89: THE MINING CAMP ENCOUNTER (1981) part 2

Last week we looked at the history of the unmade early 1980s flick THE MINING CAMP ENCOUNTER.  One of the more amazing things in my research was that Donna Fagone, producer-writer Marc Fagone’s widow, had saved everything about the project.  From original promotional art to location scouting notes and photos, she had thoroughly cataloged the film’s tumultuous preproduction process.  Blended among all this information was a decade’s old correspondence between Marc Fagone and one of today’s premiere FX artists who was just starting out in the business, Bart Mixon.

Bart Mixon works on FRIGHT NIGHT PART II (1988)
If, like me, you grew up on an (un)healthy diet of Fangoria and horror flicks, Bart Mixon is a household name.  Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Mixon got his start in the special effects industry on independent films like THE CURSE OF THE SCREAMING DEAD (1982) and Fred Olen Ray’s SCALPS (1983).  He quickly worked his way up the FX ladder in Hollywood and created cinematic nightmares on a number of popular sequels (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2 & 4, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2).  You might recall him best from a photo in Fango that showed him touching up his Regine vampire monster in the underrated FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 (1988).  And perhaps his greatest claim to fame during this era was giving millions of people nightmares worldwide by bringing Stephen King’s terrifying Pennywise clown to life for the IT (1990) miniseries. The new millennium saw his stock rise even further as Mixon’s make-up talent was displayed on huge big budget features, including the HELLBOY, MEN IN BLACK and STAR TREK series.  His realistic work also earned him two Emmy nominations in 2010 for his labor on GREY’S ANATOMY and NIP/TUCK.    

Despite such a demanding career, Mixon has never lost his passion for genre cinema and the fantastic. Just check out his Facebook page and you’ll see him posting about films and comics with regularity.  In addition, he even maintains a museum in South Houston where you can check out his special effects work from over the years.  Matching his enthusiasm is a congeniality that I got to experience when I contacted him in December 2012 to see if he could recall this project.  He was amazed to see his nearly 30-year-old work reappear out of the blue and was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to let me pick his brain about working on something that never got made.

In the early 80s, Mixon was trying to establish himself as a special effects artist for the silver screen.  This meant scouring for any production that could use his services (this is how he initially hooked up with Fred Olen Ray).  Just as the preproduction ad for THE MINING CAMP ENCOUNTER caught my eye in the 2000s, it drew in Mixon as well.  “I must have heard about MINING CAMP from an ad in either The Hollywood Reporter or Variety, as I would look through their production slate for upcoming projects that sounded like they would need FX work,” he reveals via email.  Mixon sent Fagone a package about his work, including a profile in “Between the Lynes” magazine.  (Interesting, among Fagone’s files was also a brief correspondence with New York-based special effects artist Ed French.)

While exact details on their initial contact are fuzzy for Mixon, it does appear that Fagone responded positively to the make up man’s query.  Soon Mixon found himself with a copy of the script and he did an amazingly exhaustive breakdown of what the film would require in terms of special effects (see bottom of this article).  He also offered a number of detailed sketches of what the film’s mutated alligator monster might look like. “In general, I seem to recall thinking it could be a cool project and a nice portfolio project, sort of like Rob Bottin's work in HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP,” he explains.  Here’s a glimpse of his artwork that he submitted for the film's mutant monster:

Had the film moved forward, he expected to have used a relatively small crew, including his twin brother Bret.  Alas, the collaboration between Fagone and Mixon proved to be short lived.  “No actual FX construction was started,” Mixon reveals.  “I know I did the breakdowns and sketches, but I don't think anything beyond that.”

Creature head sketch by Mixon
As outlined in our earlier piece on THE MINING CAMP ENCOUNTER, producer Marc Fagone was constantly dealing with the stop-start game of independent film financing.  This frustrating predicament didn’t seem to deter Mixon though. Although he gave a lot of his time to the MINING project on spec, he wasn’t worried because he was making sure to stay busy in starting what would soon be a legendary career. “I can not really say when I realized it was not going to happen,” he says. “I was contacting everyone I could at that time about possible work, and was doing similar breakdowns and designs for what ever I could, so if one was not active I would turn my attentions to another.”

Ultimately, THE MINING CAMP ENCOUNTER was not to be.  On his end, Mixon feels a bit of disappointment for the struggling Fagone.  “He seemed to have his act together, and I was happy that he was doing something in the horror/monster genre,” he says.  Indeed, in an era flooded with slasher films, an honest-to-goodness monster picture would not have only been a nice change of pace for audiences, but a great training ground for the burgeoning FX artist.  “I do feel it's a shame that this show was never made,” Mixon discloses. “Again, I recall it being a fun monster script and I am sure it would have proved to be an interesting challenge for me at the time.”

breakdown by Mixon circa 1983 (click to enlarge):

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