Sculpting skills lead to film career

23:55, Dec 10 2013
Temuka scene maker Kevin Butson stands next to one of his creations
MONSTER: Temuka scene maker Kevin Butson stands next to one of his creations, which was used in the mythical Japanese movie Dororo.

Actor Tom Cruise is a "tough little bugger", according to a Temuka man who works in the film industry.

Kevin Butson met Cruise while working on scenery construction during the making of The Last Samurai.

"He is a cool dude with a great presence, and friendly," Butson said.

Though Cruise had a stunt double, he did get a few beatings filming some of the fight scenes, Butson said.

A career constructing scenery and looking after transport evolved when, as a sculptor, Mr Butson's skills were needed by a friend in the film industry. His first movie was Vertical Limit in 1999.

"We made ice caves out of polystyrene."


A lot of research is done at the planning stage, working with the art director and designer to ensure items are accurate, especially if they are from a past era.

Butson has also constructed sets for Jane Campion's Top of the Lake, and James Cameron's Avatar and got to know British actor Ray Winstone during the filming of Tracker.

His most recent film job was Slow West, a joint British and New Zealand production shot in the Mackenzie Country, which stars heart-throb Michael Fassbender.

Kim Sinclair was the art director. He was also supervising art director on parts of Superman Man of Steel.

Butson and his two fellow scene makers spent more than a week creating a wooden bridge and building a log cabin.

"It was so windy we had to tie the wall of the cabin to a tractor," Butson said.

After three days of shooting, the scenery team had to then dismantle the cabin. Sometimes they are required to stand by during filming if they are needed to alter a construction for a specific camera angle.

With film crews costing about $10,000 an hour, efficiency is paramount in order to stay within budget. Days can be long, with most 10 to 12 hours, and they often work six days in a row.

Working eight to nine months of the year in film or making commercials, Butson enjoys the camaraderie.

Earning about $40 to $45 an hour, he also gets overtime, free accommodation and good food. "The food is fantastic, we have three-course meals for lunch."

Though he is in demand because of his experience, Butson thinks it's a shame for the New Zealand film industry that the Government is not offering more tax incentives to overseas producers and also fears many young people interested in film will not get jobs at the end of their study.

"The industry is so small here, someone has to die before anyone else can get in," he said.

The Timaru Herald