Howard Berger — An Oscar Winner on Leadership, Teamwork, Taking Risks, and Great Directors

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Howard Berger (@hoops511) traces the seeds of his special make-up effects career all the way back to a childhood obsession with monsters. His fascination with scary characters started after he was introduced to the film “Godzilla” around age four.

As a prolific special effects artist and the co-founder of KNB EFX Group, Howard has worked on iconic films such as “Kill Bill,” “Django Unchained” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

In this episode of Outliers (which is brought to you by Flow), I sit down with the Academy Award winner to discuss:

  • The twists and turns of his award-winning career.
  • His artistic process (starting with script reading).
  • What he’s learned about teamwork.
  • What it’s like working with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

“Filmmaking is supposed to be fun,” he says. “It is a challenge. It can be difficult. … At the end of the day, it’s the director’s vision. And you really all work as a team under one umbrella to facilitate that director’s vision.”

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Howard Berger’s parents never questioned why their son loved drawing monsters as a kid. His fascination with scary characters started after he was introduced to the film “Godzilla” around age four.

“For about three years, I was convinced I was either Dracula or Godzilla,” Howard says in this episode of Outliers. “I’d always wear a vampire cape and stomp around the house and destroy my sister’s things because that’s what Godzilla would do.” It wasn’t until after he saw the original “Planet of the Apes” movie that he realized his monster obsession could pave the way for a career in the film industry.

He’s won numerous awards, including an Emmy and an Oscar for his special make-up effects artistry turning actors into monsters. In this interview, I’m talking with Howard on the twists and turns of his award-winning career, his artistic process (starting with script reading), what he’s learned about teamwork, what it’s like working with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, and much more.

Above all, Howard drives home what he values most: having fun. He’s living his dream, and while it might seem easy, making movies is hard work — a lot of it. Howard explains how he remains positive after 90, or even 100-hour workweeks (!), and how he embraces being the film industry equivalent of a bartender or psychiatrist.

“Once I have the trust of the actor and I trust the actor, then I really feel good about it,” says Howard, noting that makeup artists spend more time with actors than anyone else on set. “You start their day, you’re with them all day long, and then you finish their day when they come and get cleaned up … be there and be their confidant.”

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This episode is brought to you by Flow! Every single day, hundreds of thousands of teams in more than 140 countries use Flow to save time, hit deadlines, and work brilliantly. Flow combines powerful features with world-class design, to create a productivity app that you and your team will actually love using. And for the last 18 months, they’ve been working on something big. It’s a brand-new version of Flow, that they call Flow X. And it’s the embodiment of everything they’ve learned helping teams achieve more over the last 10 years. Take your team’s work to the next level with Flow X. To get exclusive early access, visit GetFlow.com/Flow-X.

Connect with Howard

Links from the Episode

Favorite Quotes

“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.”

“When you’re on a show and you’re getting along with all the costume people, and you’re getting along with the camera crew and you’re getting along with the script supervisor and so forth, then it’s really magical because you feel like you’re a team and you’re friends with everybody.”

“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.”

Big Ideas

Leaders don’t point fingers, they solve problems

Optimism is the mindset of the successful

Come prepared, but don’t forget to ask questions

When the system changes, make it work for you

Talent isn’t valuable if you’re too hard to work with

Good leaders seek out people with superior, complementary skills

The responsibility of being your coworkers’ confidant

Professional boundaries FTW

Supportive parents make a world of difference

Take the leap — it could be the ‘chance of a lifetime’

Kindness is key

Written by

Fanatical about decoding what the Top 1% of people across industries have mastered — as well as what they’ve learned along the way. Host of Outliers.fm.

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