Interview: Film Restoring With Kurt Galvao, From 'Little Shop of Horrors' To 'Blade Runner'

You may not know Kurt Galvao’s name, or his face, but you also probably don’t know his work. That’s because Galvao has spent his career making other people’s films look good, including “The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen,” the award-winning 2007 restoration of “Blade Runner,” and most recently, the never-before-seen Director’s Cut of “Little Shop of Horrors.” Leading a team at Warner Brothers, Galvao is like the Indiana Jones of film restoration, traveling the world to put together a movie the way it was intended... Not the way it was shown in theaters.

That doesn’t mean they start chopping up a film wily-nily, though. “Once we have a final negative,” said Galvao, “we preserve it, leave it, don’t ever cut it again.” For Little Shop, which has twenty minutes of new material, that created a unique challenge, as the Director’s Cut is only actually ten minutes longer than the theatrical cut; the changes start within the body of the film itself.

So Galvao and team first create a digital version of the film using all available material. Then, they used a black and white duplicate of the original ending that’s existed on YouTube for years as a guide. That ending actually appeared on a quickie cash-in DVD released by Warner Brothers years ago, which was quickly pulled as soon as Director Frank Oz and the producers realized it wasn’t in color, and more importantly, only had a temp soundtrack.

Years later, Galvao went through every piece of script and Director’s Notes possible to create a new version of the final cut as close to Frank Oz’s original vision as possible, not just a colorized version of the B&W footage as some fans had rumored. “Luckily, [Frank] has no notes,” said Galvao. “That never happens!”

The other large challenge, once the new cut is assembled, is making sure the new footage blends with the old footage. “It still looks like a period piece,” said Galvao. “It still has the same color and texture, and sound.”

Taking a step back, though, Galvao noted that he looked through every bit they could find, but, “In this restorations, not everything is always in the box it’s supposed to be in. We went through about two hundred boxes of material.” That’s not even mentioning footage - and audio - that may have been damaged over the years, including a key bit of music sung by star Ellen Greene. “There was this banging sound, which we managed to filter out,” said Galvao. “It was a challenge, it was a big puzzle.”

Luckily for Galvao though, mostly everything was intact. All twenty-four tracks of the soundtrack were intact, minus some small moments like the one above. That doesn’t mean, though, that everything was there. The last sequence, involving giant plants attacking the world had the music... But no sound effects. “We had to build all that, none of that existed,” said Galvao. “All they finished was a temp track. They had a couple of effects in there, the dialogue in there... But that was it.”

There’s another little catch here, and it’s that 2012 audio techniques are vastly different, more refined, and in some ways superior to those in 1986. So if you’re trying to create audio, and not have any jarring differences, how do you make it feel like 1986, again? “We tried to keep the environment the same,” said Galvao. “That wasn’t as difficult as the picture side... The effects then were optical effects, whereas now we’re doing everything digital. They had partial effects done with the puppets, but if we had gone into a digital world, it would have changed what we did with the puppets in the body of the film earlier. So we stayed with what they had done, and then finished them digitally.”

Taking a little step back, we asked how Galvao got into this line of work. “I was a film editor by trade,” said Galvao, continuing that he finds the restorations pique his creative side. And he’d have to be interested, as the Blade Runner restoration took five solid years of work, while Little Shop took a relatively light year and a half. “You see what needs to be done, you assemble the right team, and hope for the best,” said Galvao, laughing.

As to what’s next? “I don’t know, I’ll just dig through the vaults, and see what I can find,” said Galvao.

Little Shop of Horrors: The Director’s Cut hits Blu-Ray on October 9th.

Movie & TV Awards 2018