Deep Fried Interview: Gary Archer, maker of cinema’s chompers
From Blade’s fangs to James Franco’s grill to Austin Powers’ not-so-pearly whites, Gary Archer has spent the last twenty years creating some of the movie’s most memorable teeth. An L.A.-based dental technician – those are the folks who craft crowns, dentures, etc. for dentists – Archer has worked on projects for an incredibly vast and impressive list of directors including Tim Burton, Robert Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg, Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, J.J. Abrams, Wes Anderson, Alexander Payne and Martin Scorsese. This year alone, Archer contributed work to Spring Breakers, Nebraska and The Wolf of Wall Street.
Archer was generous enough to lend a few minutes to Deep Fried Movies to talk about his unique profession.
Before we get into how you ended up working in movies, how did you get your start as a dental technician?
It was never really supposed to happen. My father was a master dental technician and a lab owner, both in England and (in the United States), and when he was taken ill back in the early 80’s, I left college and came into the lab to help mind the phones, and keep an eye on the business and temporarily stay on until he was recovered. Once he came back three months later, he offered to keep me on, and train me as an apprentice technician. That was at 18 years old. I’m nearly 50 now, and still working there.
Tell me about your first film project – Mrs. Doubtfire (1993).
We were contacted by a special effects makeup legend, Greg Cannom (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Mask), who was a patient at one of our actual dental clients. He had asked his dentist (our client) if he knew anyone who could make a set of removable teeth that could fall out into a glass of water on camera. The dentist referred him to us, and the rest is history.
How soon after Mrs. Doubtfire did you start getting other calls?
Within weeks of doing the Doubtfire teeth we started getting inquiries about other dental prosthetics – teeth, plumpers, braces etc. At the time, there was nobody who specialized in dental prosthetics or had the intimate dental knowledge about what could or could not be done with the materials then currently available. It was rather amazing watching the referrals come in as one person told another and so on.
What is the fraternity of movie dental technicians like? Are there many others doing similar work or is it a relatively small community?
There was for the longest time just myself in the US and another fellow in the UK who were doing it. In the last few years with the closing of a lot of the big make-up and effects shops here in LA, there have been a few others who have jumped on the bandwagon, although I don’t know if they have actual dental training, or are just makeup artists who have specialized in make up dentistry.
What’s the ratio of the civilian dentistry work you do compared to the movie work?
It’s about 75 percent (regular dentistry) and 25 percent film work. We slowed down after 2006 when the exodus of film production left California, but we are still getting calls and requests from return clients and television productions. Dentists are fascinated by our side business, and many of them love to tell their clients that they are having their teeth made by Austin Powers’ dental technicians.
I’m sure each set of dental prosthetics is different, but can you walk me through your general process.
Basically we are contacted by a makeup artist or a production company and asked to make an appliance for a specific effect. We then meet with the talent who will be wearing it, we take their impressions and manufacture the appliance. Once fabricated, we usually fit the appliance and send it on its way to the production company.
You’ve now been doing this for over 20 years. How have your process and materials changed during that time?
New materials are released all the time, but the know-how to use them to the best effect hasn’t (changed). There is no substitute for dental experience. I have been called in to rescue many shows and productions over the years when someone got themselves in over their head trying to make dental prosthetics without adequate experience or skill.
What are a few of your favorite pieces of work?
My all time favorites would have to include Austin Powers’ teeth, just because Mike Myers was one of the best blokes I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with. Interview with the Vampire will always remain in the forefront because of the sheer amount of teeth we made for the movie (close to 100 sets). And Get Rich or Die Tryin’ because of the fun of making some pretty gory breakaway teeth which got to be pulled out on camera.