The Star Wars films are technical marvels. But to achieve all the effects functioning equipment is vital. This is where Howie Hammermann comes in as he worked at Lucasfilm for over 35 years, making sure everything was working fine. He also was responsible for a certain sound Jabba the Hutt and the Sarlacc made… for this website he talks about this in the following interview!
What made you want to pursue a career as a technician or sound engineer?
I have always been interested in Electronics, Mechanics, and Design since I was about 12 years old. I’m completely self-taught, and haven’t ever found time to go to college. (But I wish that I could have)
How did you join Lucasfilm in the mid 70’s?
“Long Story”: I was walking along the street in 1975 when Bruce Walford drove by, and yelled out a phone number to call (415-282-1300) so I called it. The number was for a small industrial filmmaker, Will Furman of Furman Films, on 21st Street in San Francisco. Will needed someone to fix a couple small problems in his basement Home Film Studio. I applied for the job and got it, and in addition to fixing the broken equipment, I also designed and built a couple pieces of custom equipment for him, including a 16mm projector footage counter and studio display. While working there, in 1976, Bill Neil (Francis Ford Coppola’s Brother-in-Law) was working as a cameraman for Furman Films, and when we met, he asked me if I would be interested in applying for a similar job in Marin County. I said yes… I met George Lucas and Gary Kurtz and got the job, which was just temporary, at $5.00 an hour! I was happy about that! I was able to fix the broken equipment at Lucasfilm, and the “short story” is that they kept paying me, so I kept showing up for work!
You have worked on both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. What were your exact tasks?
My official title at work was Post Production Engineer, and the job is primarily making sure that all of the equipment that a filmmaker needs to do their job is functioning properly.
What do you recall of your meetings with George Lucas?
We know each other by name, and are cordial to one another…
You provided the burping sound for Jabba the Hutt. I’m not going to ask how you did that, but I am going to ask why you got the honor of being “Jabba’s burp”?
The background on how my burp came to be used in the movies, so let me tell you. It was 1978 and Ben Burtt was doing a Top-Secret Sound Design Competition for Ridley Scott’s movie Alien and Ben asked me to record about an hour of burps, of all shapes and sizes, so he might be able to use some in the Alien vocalization sound design. I drank a lot of Hansen’s Carbonated Juice, and made every kind of burp that Ben and I could think of. All of the burps went into the Sound Library, and they have been used in a few movies beyond Alien. Jabba’s Burp is one that you know about, and also there’s the Laughy Jerko in Dark Crystal, and of course Elliot’s burp in E.T., as well as quite a few more. Mostly though, my burps have been used in conjunction with a few other sounds to create new sounds by Sound Designers… As for the Sarlacc Burp, I don’t really know for certain, but it does sound as though it might be a slightly slowed down version of one of my “wet burps”. It’s only a guess however. In either case, my “official” autograph is “Jabba’s Burp” although in a couple of cases I have signed “Elliot’s Burp” for E.T. Fans. I am also the author of Howard the Duck’s burp, when he drinks the beer!
What is the greatest Star Wars related anecdote you can share?
One day when I was in the studio and George was in the room, he looked at me and said “Howie, did you have any idea that this was going to be such a wild ride?” We both had a good laugh about that, because *nobody* really saw that coming!
Of all the Star Wars sounds which one stands out for you personally?
All of the incredible sounds that Ben Burtt created! At least I helped keep his equipment working, and in fact just this week I am once again tuning up Ben’s ARP 2600 Synthesizer, which is the very one that was used to create the Voice of R2-D2.
You have worked at Lucasfilm for 35 years. From 1976 until 2011 if I’m correct. How would you describe the evolution the sound department has undergone in those years?
The transition from Analog to Digital is pretty incredible. When I started there, everything was “analog”. All the sound was recorded on 1/4” tape, and was edited mostly on 35mm magnetic film, and the picture was edited on 35mm film. Now everything is completely digital, the sound, the picture, the projection, are all served up from a terabyte server to the editing stations, and the edited film is stored on the server and played back from the server. There is very little actual film used there anymore. Sometime, some of the sound designers will use 1/4” tape. Or 35mm mag film, for a special effect that can only be achieved by that method, but it’s pretty rare…
How do you look back at your career and especially Star Wars?
It was an unintended career. I literally stumbled into it, and now I’m old enough (79 years old in 2022) to “stumble” out of it!