The Madeleine Brand Show for February 1, 2012

Meet Steven Kutcher, Hollywood's bug wrangler


Steven Kutcher is known for wrangling bugs to behave for Hollywood. But work has slowed down, which gives him time to focus on his other passion – using bugs as living paintbrushes.

Watching entomologist Steven Kutcher in the butterfly garden of his suburban yard in Arcadia, you'd never suspect that he's actually the mastermind behind some of Hollywood's most menacing celluloid swarms.

"Right now, I have about 8,000 giant meal worms, 15 or so tarantulas, one scorpion, grass hoppers, walking sticks, ladybugs and ants...and that's just a short list," Kutcher says.

In Defense of Smelling Insects from Jennifer Sharpe on Vimeo.

About 3,000 African locusts in the 1977 film, The Exorcist II are what launched Kutcher's career as Hollywood's so-called "Bug Wrangler." Hollywood's first insect handler with a master's in insect behavior, he was the first to direct swarms of bees with ultraviolet lights. He prompted the spiders of Arachnophobia with hot air guns, he's placed a wasp on Farrah Fawcett's thigh and put Sigourney Weaver in bed with carpenter ants.

Ever since the film industry went digital, work has been slowing down. Nowadays, Hollywood often finds creating digital insects is easier than working with the real thing. After being hired on a commercial to make a fly walk through some ink, Kutcher became intrigued with the prospect of working with insects as living paint brushes.

For an expert insect wrangler like Kutcher, the process looks deceptively easy. "I hold the insect very delicately in my hand, and then using a tube of watercolor paint -- I use guache -- I touch their legs one at a time and put a little bit of paint on each leg and then I put it down on the piece of paper."

He says his pieces have been published in books and magazines, and shown in museums and galleries, including the Museum of Modern Art in Belarus. Still, he's disappointed that the work hasn't gotten the recognition he thinks it deserves. Maybe appreciating his work, and his bug's talents -- at least in some cases -- is just a matter of getting more in touch with our inner larvae.


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