Another Incredible Talent Who Made New Martinsville Home
Urbana, Illinois is where Max W. Anderson grew up. His post-secondary education began at Dayton Art Institute and he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Wright State University, culminating with graduate studies at Case Western University in Cleveland. Before moving to California to pursue art, Max was employed for two years as an orphanage cottage parent and adoption case worker for Montgomery County Children Services in Dayton, Ohio. He spent thirty years in the movies as a visual effects supervisor and also worked as a second unit commercial and music video director. After he retired from making movies, he moved to New Martinsville in 2001.
A perusal of Max W. Anderson (II) on imdb.com reveals a career spent working on some of the most classic movies in cinema history. He lent his visual arts talent to Lost in Africa, The Ice Pirates, Tron, 9 to 5, Airplane! and The Blues Brothers. His television career included Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. In addition, he was the Visual Effects Supervisor on Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine’s Can’t Stay Away from You and ZZ Top’s Rough Boy music videos. These are but samplings of his long and successful career.
Please share the story of when and how you got to New Martinsville?
In 1999 I was working on a project in Quebec and was sent down to scout an abandoned school over in Ohio (Salem school); New Martinsville had the nearest hotel. The school had been abandoned for too long and was unusable, but I had a week to wander around town. This town really charmed me and I grew fond of it. Back then, Baristas was just a coffee shop with local art (in a different location), but I enjoyed hanging out there. I was thinking about retiring and started looking at local properties. I found a building on the river that I really liked, but it was bundled together with two others that I did not want. Over the next year, I wrote to the owner, Wells Eakin, in an effort to convince him that his buildings would sell better if he would sell them individually. Eventually, Wells agreed and sold me the building I wanted. Logan Hassig and Eric Vincent, the bank manager at WesBanco, helped me sort out the legal and financial issues. The next year was spent working over the phone with Mike at Valley Plumbing as they installed power, gas, sewer, and central heat and air. I finally moved here in August, 2001.
You went to art school. Did you have media that most interested you?
Painting, drawing, and photography.
Did you have teachers that were especially influential?
I had a printmaking instructor, Ray Must, who had the most influence on me. I was not very interested in printmaking but he saw my frustration with hard-nosed abstract expressionists’ instructors that were trying to bend my work into their world. There was an invitation-only program hosted by Boston University at Tanglewood. Each year, universities all over the United States submit a student for consideration. Twelve students are selected and invited to attend. Ray submitted my work because the two most important and influential artists for me were both guest teaching that year. Because of Ray, I was able to study with the world-renowned Phillip Pearlstein and Alfred Leslie, the two artists whose work I admired the most.
How did you get your start in movies?
I was working with a group of artists called “The LA Fine Arts Squad” that did large-scale outdoor murals. A visual effects company asked me to work with them on The Incredible Shrinking Woman. The film got dropped when Lily Tomlin announced she was a lesbian. The film was later picked up again but, by then, I was already doing matte paintings for Meteor.
You were one of the top visual effects specialists in cinema. Those were the early days of visual effects. Can you tell us of a technique you were responsible for creating?
Spit and bailing wire. I’m pretty sure I invented that technique.
Do you have a specific piece of work that is the most outstanding to you?
Not as a whole. There are lots of matte paintings, miniatures, composites, or CGI shots that I am very proud of, but on every film you are pushed into some corner. Not enough time or money or you can’t convince anyone else to envision what you see.
You’ve worked on many iconic films. Do you have some favorites?
You never know, while you’re working on them, what they will become. They almost all become favorites for something-location, great crew, great director, etc. There are only a very few that I would rather blot out of my memory.
You worked on 9 to 5. Do you have a Dolly Parton memory?
I only had one scene that she was in. I remember she was very friendly and nice to everyone. I remember Jane Fonda much more. Jane produced the film and spent a lot of time working on her drill sergeant character. Sometimes it was hard to tell if she was “in character” or just being “producer”.
You’ve traveled extensively. Do you have some favorite locales?
Of course I went to all of the wonders-the pyramids, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre. The things I enjoyed the most were finding some great musicians in an Australian outback tin shed and playing their blues with a didgeridoo as lead instrument. Seeing the New Zealand glow worm caves was extremely memorable.
One of your films was The Blues Brothers. Aykroyd or Belushi, did you have a favorite between them?
They were very different, Belushi would be gone in a puff of smoke the moment wrap was called, while Aykroyd, and the rest of the Blues Brothers band, would continue to play for the crew as long as the producers would let them. On the other hand, Belushi bought a secret bar in Chicago just for the cast and crew to hang out in. By the way, the Blues Brothers did their own version of “Rawhide” that included the lyrics “Stun ’em, shock ’em, kill ’em, ride ’em in, cut ’em out.. Rawhide. I know it was recorded but I don’t think it was ever used.
Any other stories about filming The Blues Brothers?
Mayor Daley did not allow film production in Chicago from 1955 until his death in 1976. When a new mayor, Jane Byrne, was elected, she flung open the doors and made Chicago available for anything (for a price of course). The first two films to take advantage of her amenability were The Blues Brothers and The Hunter. There was an “anything goes” feeling that was infectious. The FAA allowed us to do things with helicopters inside a city that had never been allowed before. We dropped a car from 3500 feet into downtown Chicago. A building was blown up that was only six feet away from the main commuter “L” train. The Chicago PD sold us their patrol cars to wreck (the production replaced them with new ones). Most of the CPD worked for the production and there was a lot of friendly looks the other way. A bunch of guys (late 20’s early 30’s) tearing around Chicago with radio phones (pre-cell), a squadron of helicopters and a fleet of cop cars, was really a lot of fun.
What are your favorite movies that are rewatchables?
I have rewatched The Wall, The Fisher King, Good Will Hunting, Hunt for Red October and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo multiple times. I’m sure there are many others that I’m just not remembering.
During the pandemic, what are you watching?
The cable TV and internet are on 24-7.
Any advice you would give your younger self?
Don’t waste your time on it, if you’re not passionate about it.
Iterview By John Yevuta