(BA, Communication Arts, ’87)
Q & A:
- How did you find yourself in your current role?
I produced the visual effects on an HBO miniseries called John Adams. When Game of Thrones was wrapping up its first season, the producer in charge of post who had that role on JA called to see if I was interested in coming to Belfast. They wanted me to see how their operation was working, and if I might consider stepping in since their producer was not going to return. I had a vague knowledge of the books, but the show was not on anyone’s radar at that point. I was a bit unsure of this new startup, but happened to be between jobs and thought, let’s give it a sniff. Glad I did!
- What was your favorite class, who was your favorite professor, or what is your fondest memory of Hofstra?
I had a great experience at Hofstra. After one literature class about the Beats, I took all of the classes I could take with Paula Uruburu. She starred in one of many comical shorts I did about campus life. Contemporary American History excited me, and Michael D’Innocenzo’s lectures were thrilling. If I did not go on to work in production, I might have liked government. My fondest memory was when I used to arrive early to the communications building to study for tests while the classrooms were empty. I became friendly with Bill Renn, as he was always the first to open the building. His production classes were a formative start, and he too appeared in the odd class project. When he invited me to be a grant in the communications department, I never felt more proud to have that responsibility.
- What was your first job after graduating from Hofstra, and what was the most valuable thing learned in that position? Did you find that your course of study directly related to your first job?
I was hanging around the newsroom of Worldwide Television News in New York City with a producer I did PA work for and got the proverbial, “Hey kid, can you step into master control and roll on these feeds? We’re short-handed.” That became a vacation relief gig and then a longstanding freelance job as a master control technician and editor for this wholesale news arm of ABC. I was going to class in the mornings and working 3 p.m.-1 a.m. shifts in New York. It made me a natural in the control room at HTV.
- How would you describe Hofstra to someone who was looking to go to college here?
When I was looking at schools, it was important to me that a program be as relevant to current methods and technology as possible, as well as close to the NY media market. I looked at SUNY Buffalo, Syracuse, and NYU. Two were distant and one out of reach financially. I found Hofstra to be the smartest choice, and I still feel that way. The fact that I grew up on Long Island and this was close to home was an added benefit.
- What advice would you give Hofstra students looking to break into a field like special effects and/or entertainment production?
My advice to young upstarts is to get the broadest exposure you can to the field you are after. Then, once you find an area of interest, chase everyone you admire who does what you want to do and become his or her right hand. A good way to make contact is to ask for advice. Even the most famous or top-rated players in a given field were once a graduating student, and they can relate to someone seeking their advice. Then it’s network, network, network!
- How did you find yourself in your current role?
I produced the visual effects on an HBO miniseries called John Adams. When Game of Thrones was wrapping up its first season, the producer in charge of post who had that role on JA called to see if I was interested in coming to Belfast to see how their operation was working, and if I might consider stepping in since their producer was not going to return. I had a vague knowledge of the books, but the show was not on anyone’s radar at that point. I was a bit unsure of this new startup, but happened to be between jobs and thought, let’s give it a sniff. Glad I did!
- 6. As a producer for visual effects for HBO’s Game of Thrones, you consistently have to come up with new and more complex scene ideas that have never been done before. Can you explain your strategy in developing these unique ideas, and how you bring your vision to life?
As the VFX producer, I am a bit like, air traffic controller meets a staff sergeant. The script is our blueprint. My colleague, the VFX supervisor, is the creative visionary, and while I have a hand and an eye on the design and execution, my role is to map out the how-to on staffing, logistics, scheduling, and budget. I’m the producer to his director – It’s a highly collaborative process, and luckily we’ve been blessed with a brilliant team and the creative freedom to push the envelope. Like many endeavors, necessity has been the mother of invention. You need to blast a bunch of bad guys with a fire-breathing dragon, you say? What if we start by fixing a flamethrower to a robotic camera crane? Will they let us do that? You start by asking!
- 7. In a single Game of Thrones episode, more than 1,000 shots are taken. How do you sift through them all and handle the remarkable demand of an entire season?
A very smart colleague likes to say, even the best potato peeler in the world still peels them one at a time. We’ve had single episodes in Season 8 that had more shots than previous whole seasons. The crew is bigger now, the hours are longer, and still we break down the show’s needs and attack them one at a time. It seems daunting at first, but that’s the only way through it.
- How can you describe the work, relationships, and efforts surrounding Game of Thrones to someone who isn’t involved in entertainment?
It’s a rare gift to work with a team that goes on to become your family and to produce work that is a labor of love and makes a difference to people, and then goes on to be recognized in ways you could have never imagined. It is very humbling.
- What’s next after GOT?
That answer lies somewhere between Greece, rehab, and the witness protection program. After I am able to form complete sentences again, we will see what lies ahead. Does Hofstra need a professor of visual effects?
Steve Kullback is a seven-time Emmy and VES award-winning visual effects producer working in feature films and television. Kullback brought extensive international experience to his work on HBO’s epic fantasy series Game of Thrones, where he produced more than 10,000 visual effects shots since joining the show in Season 2. He is also the namesake for Mance Rayder’s wildling man servant in Season 4’s treat with Jon Snow, after the Battle of Castle Black. Mance says, “Kullback, can you get us something to eat?”
Kullback was most often found in Belfast, Northern Ireland, juggling multiple units shooting in Spain, Croatia, Iceland, and Northern Ireland. Before that, Universal Pictures sent him to Moscow where he produced the visual effects for Wanted with Angelina Jolie. Kullback also produced the visual effects for HBO's highly acclaimed John Adams. On Roland Emmerich's 2012, Kullback set up and managed the Los Angeles studio of international visual effects company Pixomondo, working with Oscar-winning supervisor Volker Engel. Kullback’s other projects include Battlestar Gallactica, Yogi Bear, Blade: Trinity, Elf, Pathfinder, CSI, ER, and Are you Afraid of the Dark?