This weeks guest blogger is my good friend Graham Owen. A fantastic fly tyer who took his realistic fly tying to something different when he started to create realistic bug props for the movie industry. Graham is also a world class photographer. For more on Grahams work please check out his site: http://www.grahamowengallery.com/
Hollywood fly tying by Graham Owen
I was born of British descent in the country of Malaysia and was fortunate to travel extensively as a child, which included living in a number of countries including Canada, Australia and several states in the U.S. In all of my travels I developed a deep love for the natural world, especially wildlife, including fish, birds and insects. I’ve finally planted my roots and currently live with my family in Burbank California.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated and intrigued with bodies of water and especially curious about what dwells beneath, perhaps starting at the age of four when I was stung by a Portuguese Man o War jelly fish. I’ve also loved fishing for as long as I can remember, and became hooked on fly fishing about twenty years ago, while visiting a friend in Indiana. We cast large dry flies with rubber legs to explosive small mouth bass on picturesque limestone creeks and fortunately, that day changed my life. That experience was truly exhilarating, and I’ve never taken a spinning rod or bait on-stream since.
I started tying flies shortly after my first visit to a fly shop. Upon spending a handsome sum gearing up to fly fish the Eastern Sierra for the first time, the most surprising part was spending over $300 to fill a Wheatley fly box. I clearly recall looking at various unknown feathers and furs, little bags of hooks, and it seemed incredibly obvious that learning to tye flies would prove cost effective.
Immediately I signed up for a beginners tying class at the Fisherman’s Spot in Van Nuys, and I still have my first flies, a simple scud pattern and a wooley bugger. What I didn’t realize and appreciate, at the time, was the deep pleasure and enrichment that fly tying would bring into my life. I became interested in tying realistic flies about eleven years ago upon discovering the book FlyTyers Masterclass by Oliver Edwards. The techniques were ingenious and the flies looked amazingly realistic.
I caught a lot of fish in the Sierras with these flies, especially the stonefly and caddis nymphs. Oliver’s flies are a perfect combination of realism and motion, especially the use of partridge for legs, and I was hooked on the concept of tying realistics.
There have been many influences along my journey, starting with Oliver Edwards, and building to a crescendo upon discovering the flies’ tyed by David Martin. I found David’s realistic flies to be mind blowing, his ultra-realistic and ground-breaking techniques made me realize that anything is possible. I also learned a lot of techniques from tyers such as Dale Beamish, Lloyd Gonzalez and Swedish tyers Ulf Hagstrom and Leif Ortenholm, and just as important, I learned to slow down while tying in an effort to attempt to achieve precision, lessons I learned from Bud Guidry and a local SoCal tyer I consider to be the best all-around fly tyer, Steven Fernandez. One of the most enjoyable, memorable and honourable days I’ve had was demonstration fly tying side by side with Steven at the same fly shop where it all started.
Tying realistic insects for filming started a few years ago, when a prominent Prop Master seeking dead houseflies for the film Benjamin button called. Apparently she dropped into my local fly shop in Van Nuys and didn’t find what she needed, and I’m forever grateful the shop directed her my way.
I made a point of setting up my tying area to look like a bug lab prior to the prop master coming to my house to pick up the order, vials full of dead bugs, books and samples were on display, and I’ll never forget how excited she was to have a reliable source of realistic life size insects. She mentioned that the American Humane Association filming guidelines prohibits filming dead animals as props for producers wanting to state that “no animals were harmed”, and the regulations were recently tightened to include insects. Years ago, a room could be filled with live bugs, and when the filming was complete, the doors closed, bug bombs released, and the room swept out. Those days are over and the prop master suggested I start a new website, called Film Flies, and grow a new business, with confidence.
At the time I ran a successful solar energy contracting business, even designed and installed the first grid-connected solar powered home in Los Angeles. I worked closely with a number of manufacturers and realized that if you build a better mouse trap, people will find you. I bought the website name Film Flies and began assembling a new website focused on informing potential buyers that products they desire are in fact available.My twenty five years working in the solar field helped with other aspects because I have a long list of customers who work in the entertainment field, writers, producers, actors, etc, some of the biggest names in the business, and I sent letters in the mail mentioning my new business. I learned that writers struggled with producers because scrip’s with bugs are often exceptionally challenging. I also sent letters of introduction to most of the local film studios, many of which are located here in Burbank.
The phone started ringing, and I started tying. A memorable experience was being invited on-set to deliver realistic honeybees for the Filming of Adam Sandlers movie Bedtime Stories. A small crowd of Disney folks crowed around, looking into my little box with six bees, and it was clear, they were happy and impressed. They had a giant fake bee on set, about the size of a football, to be used in the event I couldn’t produce, and using my products would save over $50k in post production costs associated with shrinking the giant bee to life-size, frame by frame. I drove home with a huge smile!
My biggest job, so far, was 212 moth’s for an Adam Sandler movie Grown Ups, which took six weeks to complete. My vise was still smoking from the previous order of 150 honeybees for Mikimoto Pearls spring window displays on 5th Ave and Rodeo Dr. The most difficult job so far was creating butterfly life cycles for Disney’s Imagination movers TV show. The chrysalis and caterpillar’s seemed daunting enough, but the request for butterflies with flapping wings seemed exceptionally challenging.
The butterflies turned out great, have a hinge between the abdomen and thorax, and the material I printed the wings onto is stiff enough to impart enough back pressure on the butterflies body to straighten it when the internal muscle wire goes limp. Muscle wire contracts when heated with electricity, in effect moving the hinged body, pushing the wings up. The secret is the three creases at the base of the wings, above the abdomen, and where to punch two small holes in the wings, to allow them to bend upwards, gracefully, when squeezed in the middle.
Luckily, in the end I received an offer too good to refuse, to sell my solar business. I’m enjoying my new life, as an artist, very much, and feel grateful with respect to how much fly tying has changed my life.