Kool Kat of the Week: Holy Gut Punch! Producer Kendall Keeling Screens Her First Feature THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE at Buried Alive Film Festival 2019

Posted on: Nov 13th, 2019 By:

Kendall Keeling and the poster for THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE. All photos are provided by Kendall Keeling and used with permission.

From festival judge to producer screening her first feature, Kendall Keeling is no stranger to Buried Alive Film Festival, Nov. 13-17, 2019, at 7 Stages. The ‘60s giallo-fueled THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE screens Sunday Nov. 17 at noon. Based on a novella by Thomas de Quincey (CONFESSIONS OF AN ENGLISH OPIUM EATER) and written and directed by Kool Kat Bret Wood (THE UNWANTED [2014]), this incessant thriller subverts the formula of the revenge film, its “hero” Jonathan (Joe Sikes) enacting brutal crimes in the name of justice goaded by the cold-hearted spirit of his dead ten-year-old sister Berenice (Alice Lewis [MALICE OF ALICE photo series]) and also features scream queen Lynn Lowry (THE CRAZIES [1973], SHIVERS [1975] in a key villain role.

A longtime aficionado of horror film of the most vicious variety, Kendall Keeling cut her producing teeth with the extreme zombie short film ABED (2012), from director Ryan Lieske, who she met at Buried Alive 2010, and Bram Stoker Award-winning writer Elizabeth Massie. Next, she co-produced the horrific CRAZY2CRAZY, written and directed by Greg Daniel (currently in post-production). Keeling acquired a taste for producing, and then applied her lessons learned on these films (#1: don’t be afraid to show it, squeamish people can look away if they need to) on THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE. She also contributes movie reviews for new horror releases to STOMP AND STAMMER magazine.

So basically Kendall is a natural/unnatural ATLRetro Kool Kat of the Week, and we were dying to ask her how she discovered horror, why she has a special fondness for Buried Alive, go behind the bloody curtains of THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE, her recent recommended films, and what’s next for this cutting edge horror movie producer!

ATLRetro: What’s the secret origin story of how little Kendall got hooked on horror movies and what are a few films that had an early impact on you?

Kendall Keeling: As far back as I can remember, I have always loved horror movies and scary things. When I was about 6 or 7, I watched Friday Night Frights every week on [Atlanta’s] Channel 17. They played tons of Hammer and AIP films. I remember being obsessed with HOUSE OF USHER [1960] and the other Roger Corman Poe movies. About a year later, my dad found out that Vincent Price was going to be speaking at Emory University. He took me to see Price speak and then took me backstage to meet him after the show. He was just the most wonderful person. After that, the horror compulsion just continued to gain steam.

Kendall Keeling and Bret Wood at Buried Alive Film Festival.

You’ve attended a lot of Buried Alives and even been a festival judge. What stands out about this festival and why should horror fans be sure to attend?

I think of BAFF as family, almost. The horror community in Atlanta is just fantastic and everyone is really supportive of each other. Buried Alive is like the Christmas Dinner of horror. I have met so many amazing people at the festival over the years, most who have become friends. Blake [Myers] and Luke [Godfrey] really have a passion for the subject matter and it shows. They work very hard to keep the line-up fresh and interesting.

We’ll get to your film in a moment, but what else are you most excited about in this year’s festival line-up? Anything you think readers should definitely not miss?

What I look forward to the most every year are the shorts blocks. They are, without a doubt, my favorite thing about Buried Alive. There are always one or two that really stick with me. The features are always badass, but there is something special about seeing a 7-minute film that blows you away.

You’ve said that you only work on “films that leave you feeling gut-punched.” Can you explain what you mean by that?

I watch a lot of horror movies. I like about 70% of what I see. The 10% that I adore are the ones that stun me in some way. If I find myself saying “holy shit!” at any point in a movie, that’s a keeper. A great example of that would be Gaspar Noé‘s work. For all of the work that goes into filmmaking, I wouldn’t want to bother with something that doesn’t at least aspire to disturb or upset people.

Bret now has a number of features under his belt. Did you particularly want to work with him on a project?

Definitely. I first met Bret at a Splatter Cinema screening of Takashi Miike‘s ICHI THE KILLER [2001]. A few months later, we both ended up on the jury for BAFF. We became friends, and it was clear that we shared a taste for subversive films. We first discussed working together when he was beginning THE UNWANTED [2014]. It just wasn’t the right time or fit, so we decided to do something else once that was completed. We talked about a number of different ideas and themes, and then he showed up with a script! And here we are!

Alice Lewis and Joe Sikes in THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE (2019).

The giallo aspects of the movie (cinematography, bloodletting, music!) imbue it with that retro quality that we love while also being very contemporary, delving into returning vet Jonathan’s memories of the Iraq War and Middle East terrorism. Can you talk a little about that aspect and balancing then and now in the film? 

Well, the revenge facet of the story lends itself perfectly to the giallo style. But Bret did a great job weaving in Jonathan’s war memories and their role in the obligation he has to fulfill to his sister. Jonathan wrestles with both his decisions during the war and his inability to resolve his family crisis.

The casting also was spot on—especially Alice Lewis and ‘70s horror demi-goddess Lynn Lowry in the pivotal roles of mercurial little girl Berenice and aging, bitter Justice Merrill. Any anecdotes about how they got cast and working with them on set? 

This was Alice’s first real acting role. Bret found her a on a casting website and she was the only young girl who was scowling, so that was exactly what he was looking for in Berenice. With Lynn, that was a decision made after we started the film. In fact, the role was originally written for a man. Bret decided to rewrite the character for Lynn after meeting her during an interview, if I remember correctly. They were both fantastic to work with. On set, Alice would be laughing and playing cards with Joe (who plays Jonathan) one minute, and then snap right into Berenice and be creepy as hell the next minute. She never got tired or bored or complained. Totally professional out of the gate. Lynn really brought it for every scene she performed. She delivered a nasty, unlikeable villian and I can’t even imagine that role being filled by anyone but her now. And Lynn is so nice in real life that it makes it even more impressive.

Lynn Lowry and Kendall Keeling on the set of THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE (2019).

Loved your cameo. How did you keep your cool, sipping wine casually in the foreground while the film’s two young…er…protagonists…get to know each other?  

I was totally unprepared for that, as you can probably tell from what I am wearing. We had shot the scene with Joe and Rachel a couple of times already when Bret said he needed something in the foreground. That something ended up being me. He handed me his phone to read and I remember being appalled that he had 1000 unread emails—I am pretty neurotic, so that drives me crazy! I also remember that I drank almost two glasses of wine before he was happy with the shot.

How was the film funded and what’s next after it plays Buried Alive?

Most of it was funded through Bret’s company Illustrated Films, LLC. We also raised about $10k through Kickstarter to complete it. We are submitting it to festivals through next spring and then expect a commercial release next summer, if everything goes as planned.

You’re also a film reviewer and you watch an astounding number of horror films annually. What trends and directors are pushing the envelope now, in your opinion? A few film recommendations for our readers?

I mentioned Gaspar Noé earlier, and his film CLIMAX was my favorite one so far this year. And although it was released last year, I have gotten a lot of traction out of Coralie Fargeat‘s REVENGE. I have shown it to a ton of my friends and everyone is always cheering before it’s over. It has a lot of “holy shit!” moments. I still really like anything that smells like French Extreme, but I have also enjoyed some domestic films this year. CRAWL by Alexandre Aja was so much fun. Well, he is French, but the film isn’t.

Kendall Keeling and Angus Scrimm.

You’ve attended a lot of horror cons and met so many of the actors and filmmakers behind horror classics. What one or two encounters stand out and surprised or delighted you the most?

I love going to horror cons and I am a total fangirl. Two of the absolute sweetest guests I have met are [actor] Angus Scrimm (PHANTASM[1979]) and [director] George Romero (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD[1968]). Angus had each person he met sit down with him and just talk for about 10 minutes. It was so lovely and so wonderful seeing him enjoy all the fans. Romero is such a legend that I was about to pass out by the time I met him. He said that I had a great name and that I should be an anchorwoman. I don’t remember anything else about our conversation, but I was floating on air after that.

George Romero and Kendall Keeling.

What’s next for Kendall Keeling, film producer?

I am currently working on a screenplay for an idea I have had hanging around for about a decade now. I am also thinking about directing a music video for a kind of a horror song I wrote. I play survival horror video games whenever I can, so I am trying to work on these other things when I get the chance.

 

 

Find the full schedule and purchase tickets to Buried Alive Film Festival 2019 here.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Rule-Bending and Award-Winning Author, Nancy A. Collins, Joins the Mayhem and Monster Madness at MONSTERAMA 2019

Posted on: Sep 23rd, 2019 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Nancy A. Collins, award-winning multi-genre author, will be joining a sinister line-up of horrorific guests during Monsterama Convention’s sixth frightening rotation around the sun! Monsterama, co-chaired by our classic monster-lovin’ fiend, friend and Kool Kat Anthony Taylor, creeps into the Atlanta Marriott Alpharetta this weekend, Friday – Sunday (Sept. 27-29)!

Prepare for a ghastly weekend of ghoulish proportions including a guest list filled to the blood-curdling brim with chillers like actor Ian Ogilvy [RETURN OF THE SAINT (78-79); DEATH BECOMES HER (1992); THE SORCERERS (1967)]; actress Jane Merrow [THE SAINT (1965); THE PRISONER (1967); THE AVENGERS (1967)]; actress Pauline Peart [THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973); CUBA (1979)]; comic artist Craig Hamilton; author Jeff Strand [EVERYTHING HAS TEETH; FEROCIOUS; BLISTER]; creaturific artist Kool Kat Mark Maddox; Victorian chamber metal musicians Valentine Wolfe; Kool Kat Shane Morton, ghost host with the most, a.k.a. Professor Morte; glamour ghoul Kool Kat Madeline Brumby and so many more! Get wicked with our Kool Kat Nancy A. Collins and haunt on down to MONSTERAMA for a weekend of monster madness!

Collins’s writing career spans 30+ years as a spinner of wild monstrous tales in novels, comic books and short stories. She brought her infamous character Sonja Blue to life in her first novel SUNGLASSES AFTER DARK in 1989, which went on to win the Bram Stoker Award for best first novel. Collins expanded the Sonja Blue universe with several sequels and is currently working on new dark adventures for her infamous goth-punk vampire/vampire hunter character. Collins is the only woman to pen DC/Vertigo’s SWAMP THING, bringing much-needed controversy to Swamp Thing’s predominantly male perspective, from 1991 to 1993. In 2014, Collins was the first woman to be asked to write VAMPIRELLA, again giving the well-known character a new outlook with untapped new monstrous story lines and more.

ATLRetro caught up with Nancy A. Collins for a quick interview to talk comics; being drawn to monsters; killing it in a generally male-driven industries; and the monster mayhem of being a guest at MONSTERAMA!


ATLRetro
: Your debut horror novel Sunglasses After Dark [goth-punk vampire goodness featuring kick-ass vampire/vampire hunter Sonja Blue] was released in 1989 and won the Bram Stoker Award. Can you tell us what inspired you to go against the grain and create your own style of vampire?

Nancy A. Collins: SUNGLASSES AFTER DARK was, in many ways, a middle finger to the then-current best-selling VAMPIRE CHRONICLES series by Anne Rice. It was my revolt against the “pussification” of the vampire. Little did I know that it would get even worse, decades later, with the TWILIGHT series.

Following your debut, you released several others in the series [IN THE BLOOD (1991); PAINT IT BLACK (1995); A DOZEN BLACK ROSES (1996); THE DARKEST HEART (2002); and a collection titled DEAD ROSES FOR A BLUE LADY in 2002], all followed by vignettes and novellas and comics. Basically, you’ve kept Sonja Blue “alive” and kicking for a hellacious thirty years! Any exciting new horrors coming our way in the land of Sonja Blue?

Sonja Blue – Art by Mel Odom

Well, I’ve been working on a new Sonja Blue novel called Kill City for the last five years. It’s a reaction to the most recent “de-fanging” of the vampire genre. Unfortunately, it’s been slow going due to my need to work paying gigs to keep body and soul together. But I would describe it as a cross between THE BIG SLEEP, HARDCORE, and THE SEARCHERS, but with vampires. And it’s the first novel to be told from Sonja Blue’s POV.

On to your monsterific comic book endeavors! From SWAMP THING, to JASON VS. LEATHERFACE, to VAMPIRELLA and beyond, you’ve delved deep into the land of what once was a male-dominated field. Can you tell our readers how you broke the barrier and what obstacles you had to face that your male counterparts avoided?

I landed the gig writing SWAMP THING largely for three reasons: DC was looking for a horror writer to take the character back to his “roots” (pun intended); I’d worked with the then-new editor on the book, Stuart Moore, on a Freddy Krueger prose anthology, and he put me on his short list because he’d had the fewest edits on my story; and, I was living in New Orleans at the time, and was able to provide local flavor. I was the first woman to write for SWAMP THING, and to date the only one, as well. For the most part, I did not run into any real obstacles regarding my gender among the editors and staff at DC. Most of the push-back I got was from the fans, many of whom did not appreciate or understand my focus on Swamp Thing as a “family man” and the emphasis on his family. I also received some blowback for depicting LGBTQ characters and depicting ecologically-driven protestors as something besides terrorists. I remember a particularly virulent letter from a fan who resented my depiction of abortion as a fact-of-life for many women. I also got a lot of hate for ending Swamp Thing and Abby’s marriage (an editorial edict, btw), for which some fans have still not forgiven me, decades later. However, DC/Vertigo is releasing my entire run on Swamp Thing in early 2020 in a hardcover omnibus format—nearly 1,000 pages—called the SWAMP THING BY NANCY COLLINS OMNIBUS. It’s currently available for pre-order through Diamond Distribution and Amazon, among other outlets.

Art by Scott Eaton and Kim DeMulder

What was it like to be the first woman writing Vampirella, a character created by the one and only Forrest J. Ackerman? There’s got to be an interesting story about how you landed that gig. Care to share?

I ended up writing VAMPIRELLA largely due to Gail Simone, who asked me to write a story for her RED SONJA miniseries “Legends of Red Sonja” for Dynamite. It was my first comic story in fifteen years. I then pitched Nick Barrucci a Red Sonja one-shot called “Berserker,” which sold extremely well. Then Nick offered me VAMPIRELLA and allowed me free reign. As one of my mentors at DC Comics had been the late Archie Goodwin, one of the first real writers on VAMPIRELLA, I always felt he was looking over my shoulder the whole time I was working on the book. I’d like to think Archie would have approved.

Can you tell us one thing you did with the character, stepping away from the usual male-created female characters, to bring her into the twenty-first century, a character both men and women would be drawn to and proud of?

I often joke that I was probably the first writer on the series to never pleasure themselves to the character, which might have something to do with how I approached my run. I chose to reach back to characters from the original Warren run and incorporate them via modern storytelling into the series’ continuity. I also made the decision to make Vampirella a more integral part of the supernatural world by bringing in classic “monsters” from myth, legend, and the public domain, and expanded on her family and backstory. I also gave her a werewolf boyfriend and depicted their relationship as that of equal partners. Vampirella in my series is a no-nonsense monster-hunter with a well-defined sense of right and wrong but is also capable of recognizing her own prejudices and misconceptions regarding her fellow “monsters”.

What can you share about your current collaboration with comic artist Craig Hamilton? Anything monstrous and exciting being brought to life?

Art by Patrick Berke

Craig Hamilton and I, along with inker Larry Welch and colorist Gerhard, are working on BECOMING FRANKENSTEIN, a six-issue graphic series from Mel Smith’s Wild Card Ink. It is a prequel, of sorts, to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I’m not allowed to say much more than that, for the time being. But I will say that Craig’s art on it is absolutely gorgeous and we’re intensely proud and excited of what we’re creating. Becoming Frankenstein is shaping up to be best work of both our careers.

Before you became “Author Nancy A. Collins,” what inspired you to write? Did you begin writing as a child?

I’ve always been a storyteller. Even before I could read and write, I would draw stories and stand next to my parents and explain what was going on. It was a given from the age of three that I would eventually become a writer. Marked from birth, I guess you could say.

Have you always been drawn to monsters? Care to share your favorite monster or horror story? What makes that story special to you?

Like I said, I was marked from birth. My maternal grandfather was a huge Boris Karloff fan, and introduced me to the genre very early. It also helped that I grew up in the 1960s, when monster mania was percolating in the kid subculture with stuff like THE ADAMS FAMILY, THE MUNSTERS, Hammer Films, late night horror movie hosts, and GODZILLA flicks. It is hard for me to pick a favorite monster or horror story, but the first one that I can remember was a Dr. Seuss story about a pair of green pants with nobody in them that walked around on their own, which scared the bejesus out of me as a 3-year-old, for some reason.

Which writer from the past and which writer from the present have influenced and continue to influence you the most, and what is it about them that draws them to you?

There have been so many. But of the past, I would have t0 say Robert Bloch, who I would later meet as a young writer. Bob befriended me and was like a second grandfather. I devoured his short story collections, which are routinely excellent and the yardstick I use for what I consider makes a great short story, especially when it comes to weird/dark fiction.

Not only are you a killer storyteller, but you’re also a spooky horror film junkie and fanatic like us! Can you tell us your favorite horror movie and why it ranks at the top of your list?

I would have to say my favorite remains the original THE HAUNTING from 1963. It is a textbook example of how the viewer’s own mind can create far more intense scares than a room full of CGI technicians. Even after all this time, I still get goosebumps watching it.

As a writer working in the science-fiction, urban fantasy and horror genres, what challenges have you personally faced that seem to be a common theme amongst women in the industry?

Mostly being pigeonholed. I’ve written westerns, Southern Gothics, erotica, crime noir, urban fantasy, as well as horror—but I largely get described as a “vampire writer”, and that has become a largely female-centric field, in a lot of people’s minds. I also find myself labeled a “Strong Woman”, which is the nice way of saying I’ve had to put up with a lot of bullshit that male writers rarely are subjected to.

Can you give us five things you’re into at the moment that we should be watching, reading or listening to right now— past or present, well-known or obscure?

I’m currently enjoying the final season of PREACHER on FX, as well as the third and final season of LEGION, also on FX. I’ve also been binging THE BOYS on Prime. I also recommend GENTLEMAN JACK; a historical romance/drama on HBO about Anne Lister, an actual Regency-era noblewoman who lived openly as a lesbian, and even went so far as to marry another woman.  And I always recommend watching THE VENTURE BROTHERS, regardless of the situation.

Any advice for women writers out there trying to get their foot in the door?

I have the same advice I give everyone, regardless. Keep submitting your stuff. Learn to tell the difference between legitimate criticism and bullshit. Nothing you write is carved in stone. Never fight with an editor. Never respond to the reviews on Amazon.

Getting back to what brought us here, MONSTERAMA 2019! Do you have anything exciting planned for our readers this year?

I’m hoping we’ll have the full-color promo posters for BECOMING FRANKENSTEIN ready in time for MONSTERAMA! If so, Craig Hamilton and I will be there signing them. And I’ll be on several panels over the weekend. The first is 6pm Friday, where I discuss Swamp Thing. The second is 10am Saturday, where I’ll be on a Southern Gothic panel, and the third is 10am Sunday, where I’ll be yacking about werewolves. Otherwise, I’ll be at my table in the dealer’s room.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Rockin’ the Candy Shop with Naoko Yamano of Shonen Knife!

Posted on: Sep 16th, 2019 By:

By Ray Dafrico
Contributing Writer

Atlanta is in for a sweet treat from Japanese band, Shonen Knife, who play Wed. Sept. 18  at Smith’s Olde Bar. For those not already in the know and one of the three-piece band’s many fans, this is your chance to get a taste.

Shonen Knife is not unlike an all-female version of The Ramones in Mondrian print dresses instead of leather jackets. They sing super-catchy pop songs in Japanese and English. They have tunes about food, cats, space, sushi bars, Barbie Dolls, Blue Oyster Cult and many other delightful, altogether kooky, themes. Formerly on Virgin Records, their fans have included Redd Kross, Nivana, Sonic Youth and, of course, ATLRetro!

The band’s currently tour promotes their new release SWEET CANDY POWER and ATLRetro was lucky to be able to ask front-person, guitarist and founding member Naoko Yamano a few questions.

ATLRetro: What is the rock music scene like in Japan? Shonen Knife seems to be the band that comes to mind when people think of rock and roll and Japan. I was curious to hear your viewpoint on it and also what it’s like to be three women coming out of the Japanese music scene?

Naoko Yamano: [The] Japanese mainstream music scene is in Tokyo. We are independent and based in Osaka, so we don’t have much relationship with [the] major scene now. In ’90s when we had a record deal with a major label, we often went to Tokyo for promotion or something, though. I don’t know much about Japanese rock scene. I mainly have a connection with independent underground bands. But anyway our music style is unique and lyrics are in English. Most of all Japanese major music were sang by Japanese lyrics. There are many all-female or women’s musicians. I’m not very conscious that we’re a female band, but we are musicians, a band.

I read in your press release that SWEET CANDY POWER is your 19th recording. That’s an incredible amount of music. Most bands are lucky if they can get anything recorded and released. Do you all write together or is it mostly one or two people or that write the majority of your songs?

I wrote all songs by myself. I record songs roughly with playing a guitar and send them to our members. They make their instruments’ arrangement and get together at a studio. Then decide the details of the arrangements.

Tell me a little about the new release? Where was it recorded?

It was recorded at Yotsubashi LM Studio in Osaka.

What made you want to start a band? How and when did the band start?

I just wanted to play music for having fun at the beginning, but now I play music for our audience and for myself. Our fans are the first. I am happy if people get happy through our music. Shonen Knife was started December 29, 1981.

So Shonen Knife tours around the world, do your audiences react the same way everywhere you go or are there cultural differences that affect the way crowds respond? Where are some of your favorite places to play?

The reactions of audiences depends on cities or situations. It is not by countries. Sometimes [our] audience is very cheerful or sometimes smiling. I can tell the atmosphere at our show is always happy. I like everywhere to play. Playing in my hometown Osaka is easy and fun, though.

As a guitar player myself I was interested to hear who your favorite guitar players are or who influenced you to start playing?

My favorite guitar players are Tony Iommi, Glenn Tipton, KK Downing, George Harrison… like that. When I start playing, I didn’t have any guitarist influences. I just chose a guitar as a tool to express myself.

OK last question. What’s your favorite food or……..candy?

I have tons of favorite food. I like nuts like macadamias nuts, edamame. Regarding candy, “Candy” in Japanese means using thick malt syrup and flavored candies or drops like Ricola or Halls. But we have many kinds and many flavors of candies in Japan. I can’t find such candies here in the US. Anyway, I like mint candy which use[s] natural mint and natural sugar. I also like honey candy, too. I sometimes like a ginger honey one. All of these are good for your throat.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Atlanta Tikiphile Allison Chaffin Gets Mugs-y and Lounges it up at the Inaugural Inuhele Atlanta Tiki Weekender February 15-16

Posted on: Feb 12th, 2019 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Tikiphiles unite! Get your ukuleles ready and hula on down to the first ever Inuhele Atlanta Tiki Weekender and second annual Atlanta HomeBar Tour Friday – Saturday (Feb. 15-16) at the Atlanta Marriott Century Center, brought to you by our Kool Kat of the Week, tiki aficionado Allison Chaffin (Mug Crate) along with her husband and tiki partner-in-crime Jonathan Chaffin of Horror in Clay (see our Shop Around feature here). You won’t want to miss a weekend chock full of tiki bar-hopping, panels, vendors, bands, demos, sharing of ideas, community building and all things Polynesian! The Atlanta Marriott Century Center is located at 2000 Century Blvd NE, Atlanta, GA 30345. Standard tickets – $99 (access to Friday and Saturday events)/Deluxe – $140/VIP – $249. For more information and the complete Inuhele Atlanta Tiki Weekend schedule, visit the website here or the Facebook event page here.

ATLRetro caught up with Allison to chat about Inuhele Atlanta Tiki Weekender, her love of all things tiki and Polynesian, and Atlanta’s hidden tiki culture.

ATLRetro: We are so excited for Inuhele: Atlanta’s Tiki Weekend! Can you tell us a little about how this event came together and the history of Inuhele?

Allison Chaffin: Last year we headed up a homebar tour that visited four home tiki bars in the Atlanta area. We named the tour “Inuhele,” which means “cocktail journey.” I feel that many people encounter tiki culture first through cocktails and then as they learn more find out that it is much more than that. During the homebar tour last year, many of the participants discussed wanting to have a bigger event in the future – so this year we are trying a full weekend event that still has the homebar tour on Sunday (which sold out immediately!), but also has a tour of the professional tiki bars in Atlanta and much more tiki culture to offer – art, music, fashion, food, and of course cocktails.

Any special events you’re taking part in at the event you’d like to share with our readers?

The weekend event has so many different things going on that I think everyone can find something special for them. I think some of the highlights for me are the drawing class with Derek Yaniger on Friday afternoon; the hop-on hop-off bus tour to Trader Vic’s, Tiki Tango and Tiki Iniki on Friday night; the art in the vending room from all over the country; the Lavalava Revue & Conga & Talent Show; the Iron Tikitender bartending competition; and the Volcano Worshipper’s Hour that I am helping to plan (you have to come to find out).

What drew you to Polynesian and tiki culture?

Actually, my husband and I had one of our first dates at Trader Vic’s at an old Tiki Torch night. These were events at Trader Vic’s that had artists, Polynesian dancers, bands, and of course cocktails and food. We planned to go and have one cocktail and check out the art and ended up staying for dinner. After that, we started seeing if tiki bars were in cities we were traveling through so we could check them out as well. We even planned Jonathan’s birthday one year around going to the Mai Kai in Ft. Lauderdale. We convinced thirty of our friends to travel to Ft. Lauderdale and spend the weekend and go to the Mai Kai and the Wreck Bar to see the Mermaids.

As huge fans of Horror in Clay, can you tell our readers the wonderful secret dark history of the company you share with your husband, Jonathan, and what drew you guys to the art of tiki mugs?

I purchased Jonathan a tiki mug for $0.10 at a prop warehouse sale years ago. This one mug started an obsession of collecting tiki mugs and ultimately art. About seven years ago, he was looking for various mugs and wanted one of Cthulhu. He thought this would be a great mug to have and no one at the time had created one, so he decided to tackle that as a need.  Luckily, he was not the only person who wanted a Cthulhu tiki mug, so we ended up running our first Kickstarter to fund the mug. Based on the success of that mug, he has continued to create more mugs based on horror fiction, and now we have nine different mugs in his collection from various artists, podcasts, and even a haunted house.

Tiki pop culture had a huge draw in the ‘90s with the resurgence of rockabilly and retro events, and we’re seeing it come back into the scene here in Atlanta with several new tiki bars opening. What do you think it is that draws generation after generation to this pop culture?

I think a lot of it has to do with escapism from the normal world. When you walk into a tiki bar, you are transported to a new environment that often time reminds you of your last vacation. I often refer to a night out at SOS Tiki Bar in Decatur as a mini vacation.

We see that you are the creative force behind MugCrate. Can you tell us a little about the company?

MugCrate is a quarterly curated subscription box. Each quarter I strive to put together a small themed tiki experience. The boxes contain at least one tiki mug and then art, bartending tools, or other tiki items. We have brought in mugs from England and items from all over the US. I work with smaller artists to get their items in the box to introduce them to a larger audience. It is amazing how many small artists are out there that I discover every month.

Who is your favorite local tiki/pop-culture artist and why?

That is a hard question. I really love so many different artists in the tiki community. I think it would come down to the type of art and what you mean by local. I am currently in love with Kymm Bang’s gravel art pieces.  They are amazing and she will be at Inuhele this weekend. I also love the amazing mug sculptures of many of the mugs for Eekum Bookum being produced by John Mulder and Pat Vassar. They produced the mug for Inuhele last year and this year and I cannot wait to see the final product. Of course, I also think my husband is a creative genius and all of his collections are full of so many in-jokes and hidden meanings that they are fun to explore.

Which tiki bars would you recommend for our readers and what is it specifically about that venue that you like?

Well, in Atlanta we are luckily enough now to have 4 tiki bars – Trader Vic’s, SOS Tiki Bar, Tiki Tango, and Tiki Iniki. I love to go to Trader Vics’ for a great menu and classic tiki drink, SOS currently has my favorite drink of all time – the Haitian Swizzle, and I am looking forward to exploring the three-floor tiki clubhouse that is Tiki Tango –  the newest tiki bar in the Atlanta area.

Favorite tiki/island foods you’d care to share with our readers?

I am not a cooked fruit kind of person, so my island food leans closer to the Asian side of things. I love good Crab Rangoon, BBQ Short Ribs, and eggrolls.

Any favorite local surf/island bands our readers should be aware of?

I am not a huge band person, so probably not the right person to ask. I did hear the The Mystery Men? play in Macon as well as here in Atlanta at the Southern Surf Stompfest and I am looking forward to hearing them again this weekend at Inuhele.

What’s next for Allison Chaffin? Inuhele? Any other exciting events coming down the pike we should keep our eyes open for?

Right now we are trying not to plan any new things since we have been focused on Inuhele for the last six months. Of course, I have heard that Horror In Clay might be coming out with a new mug in the next few months. Stayed turned for more information…

And last but not least, what are you looking forward to most that our readers should keep their eyes open for at this weekend’s event?

Inuhele is going to be an awesome adventure for anyone that attends. We have so many things going on that everyone can plan their own perfect adventure for the weekend or even just the day. I know that I personally am looking forward to the panels on Food and Fashion, the trading post (our vending room), and the Iron Tikitender competition Saturday night. Of course, above all of that I am looking forward to meeting all the wonderful people that are part of the tiki community in Atlanta. We are finding new groups of tiki loving people every day and are looking forward to seeing what the future will bring with this amazing group of tikiphiles!

Photos courtesy of Allison and Jonathan Chaffin and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Too Many Freaky Roles: Actor William Tokarsky Cooks, Talks Tapioca, and Shares an Earful about the Buried Alive Film Festival 2018

Posted on: Nov 15th, 2018 By:

That time ATLRetro took a top secret AdultSwim behind the scenes tour and thought our goose was cooked when William Tokarsky boarded the bus!

At Buried Alive Film Festival 2018 (Nov 14-18, 7 Stages) William Tokarsky acts it up in THE GOD INSIDE MY EAR, the festival’s first feature, which plays Thursday Nov. 15 at 9 p.m. Directed by Joe Baden, the movie about a young woman who hears voices has been a hit on the festival circuit, winning a bunch of awards. Critics call it “trippy” and “surreal.” Sounds like a Tokarsky movie to us!

You may or may not know his name, but if you’re into weird cult horror and comedy movies and television, you know William Tokarsky. You’ve seen his pretty face in AdultSwim’s YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL. He romanced a Goblin in Kool Kat Brian Lonano’s (CROW HAND[2014]) notorious award-winning short GWILLIAM (2015) which grossed out audiences at Buried Alive 2016 (Look for twisted “sequel/spin-off” GWILLIAM’S TIPS FOR TURNING TRICKS INTO TREATS in The EyeSlicer shorts segment Sat. Nov. 17 at 6 p.m.). If you don’t know those, he became an Internet sensation as the serial killer who cuts into the sitcom-intro-parody TOO MANY COOKS!

We cornered Tokarsky, checked carefully for sharp blades, and asked him nicely to divulge a few down and dirty secrets about his film and TV roles and why you should get the Hell down to Buried Alive 2018!

ATLRetro: Why should folks come out to the Buried Alive Film Festival?

William Tokarsky: All the cool kids will be there.

You were a judge for a previous BAFF. What was the most fun part of this task?

Judging is a lot like horse trading … everyone has his favorite.

Tell us about THE GOD INSIDE MY EAR and your role in it!

THE GOD INSIDE MY EAR is a creepy physiological thriller,  and you will only see my alter-ego on screen!

You became an Internet superstar for your–shall we say “memorable?!–role in TOO MANY COOKS?! Can you tell our readers how you landed that role? Did you have any idea you were doing something that would go so viral? Any “top secret” on-set anecdote that we can convince you to share with our readers?

I creeped out Casper Kelly on the set of YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL, and he just wanted to creep out the rest of the Internet. I told Casper “COOKS would go viral or just die on the 4 am time slot”—one or the other. I was amazed at how fast it went viral! The sweater I wore in COOKS was put in a cardboard box and lost…so keep an eye out at your local Goodwill store!

You seem to be getting a reputation for being a go-to actor for humorous horror! Another memorable role of yours was in GWILLIAM, which was featured at BAFF. How did that happen and any behind-the-scene anecdote about that experience?

Ah, yes, GWILLIAM, the sleaziest film ever made. Everyone that read for it was sober and need I say more. And it was TAPIOCA…just TAPIOCA.

With Georgia becoming “Y’allywood,” you’re showing up in all sorts of features. Any other recent roles you’d like to talk about?

I have been working on a role in Savannah on a new TV show where I am the degenerate alcoholic stepfather of the bi-racial female lead  married to her black mother it’s all about drugs and poverty. It’s a COMEDY. I can’t say what it is, but just check my IMDb page and you can figure it out. 

William Tokarsky action figure! Just watch out for that tiny blade!

Any advice to aspiring actors? Either in general or locally in Georgia?

Be nice to everyone you meet and whatever you are doing … do it so good that eventually someone will notice you.

What’s next for William Tokarsky?

My next goal is to be flown First Class to LA to deliver about five lines of dialogue in the next big blockbuster!

Finally gotta ask, what is your favorite RETRO horror movie that you’d recommend to our readers?!

My favorite retro horror is the original THE BLOB (1958).

Read our full Buried Alive Retro preview by Melanie Crew here! Buy your Buried Alive Film Festival festival passes and advance tickets to individual screenings here or at the 7 Stages box office. 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Local Filmmaker Debbie Hess Brings Tricks and Treats to The Plaza Theater with the Return of the Fifty Foot Film Festival on October 30

Posted on: Oct 25th, 2018 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

In this season of ghosts and goblins, Debbie Hess, Executive Producer of the award-winning web anthology series, HORROR HOTEL, where the only recurring character is a menacing dilapidated motor court hotel where “People check in, but they don’t always check out,” along with jack of all film-trades son and Kool Kat Ricky Hess brings Atlanta a special treat (and maybe a few tricks) with the Return of the Fifty Foot Film Festival, invading The Plaza Theater on All Hallows Eve-Eve, October 30, at 7pm!

Return of the Fifty Foot Film Fest gives local sci-fi, horror, suspense and fantasy filmmakers the opportunity to showcase their films at this one-night only event. From premiere screenings to award-winning film shorts, this wee festival delivers a one-stop-shop of terror you won’t want to miss! Last year’s inaugural event, Attack of the Fifty Foot Film Festival, sold out to a hell-raising standing-room-only crowd and featured films by Ricky Hess, Kool Kat Vanessa Ionta Wright (Women in Horror Film Festival) and so many more! This year’s event promises twice as many filmmakers as the previous event, so you’ll definitely want to get your tickets early! Tickets can be purchased here.

ATLRetro caught up with Debbie to chat about the Return of the Fifty Foot Film Fest, the web anthology series HORROR HOTEL, and the importance of local film festivals for indie filmmakers.

ATLRetro: Attack of the 50 Foot Film Festival invades Atlanta for a second exciting year! Can you tell us a little about the event and what inspired you to bring it back to film lovers Atlanta-wide?

Debbie Hess: We decided to bring the event back for a second year because it was so well received last year and we still saw a need to provide a venue specifically for Atlanta-area filmmakers to raise the awareness of the awesome creative talent we have here. Events like this help to promote content creation and provide a chance for the community to support, encourage and recognize our Georgia films and filmmakers who can get eclipsed by all the media attention and national focus on the larger studio films that are coming here for production. And that is a great thing of course, but we need to constantly be aware that we have content creation going on in our own backyard as well and foster a support system to be able to show these quality films to the community. There’s nothing quite like seeing the film you have so lovingly and laboriously produced shown on the big screen.

What makes this event different than other film festivals?

Several things really. First off, it is for Atlanta-area filmmakers only. Most film festivals have entries from all over the world, although many festivals now program sections for local content only, which is good. When you are thrown in with filmmakers from countries that have a lot of grant programs available to make indie films and they are given a lot of money to make a short film, it’s not a level playing field. Most of your local indie filmmakers have similar resource restrictions, which makes it a load more fun to see what everyone has been able to do with that. And with this festival, all the ticket proceeds are split between the filmmakers (whose entry fee is their split of the theatre rental) allowing them more resources to help with their filmmaking. Both last year and this year we have covered the theatre rental fee and had earnings left over to go to our filmmakers. It’s a win-win. Secondly, it’s not a competition festival so there’s no stress involved or disappointment if you don’t win something. Everyone is a winner who has the fortitude to produce a finished film in the first place. It really is more of a celebration of the accomplishments of our local filmmakers right here in our own backyard.

Can you tell our readers what it takes to put on this type of film event?

Horror Hotel – “No Time For Love” (Jason Gaglione and Kat Rarick)

Sure! It’s quite a bit of work even for a small one like ours. We start out by reaching out to area filmmakers to see if they have a recent film (preferably a premiere) that they would like to submit. I can truly appreciate the dilemma that larger festivals must have in deciding which films to accept. Being a filmmaker myself surely helps because I can judge a little better and appreciate the qualities of an indie film. Some things just don’t require a big budget to get right – a good story, well-written and executed with attention to good filmmaking techniques, along with good editing, good sound, good acting etc. Since this festival is limited to films in the sci-fi, horror, suspense and fantasy genres, we are looking for films that have done a good job creating that “environment” for a visually appealing film in those genres. And then there is the challenge of programming those films in a fixed amount of time and in our case, a short period of time. We would love to have been able to include more of the films that were submitted.

Then there is the promotion work involved to get the word out. Because we want the community to come out and see the films, you have to go as wide as possible to advertise and market that. We post on all the larger and more popular community calendars that are online. We post on all social media and encourage all the filmmakers to do the same. We send out mass emails and loads of press releases and market packages to all the local media including TV stations, radio stations, online publications, student newspapers, podcasts creators, etc. This year we are so grateful to be covered by a number of great media outlets in the Atlanta area that are helping promote the event and the filmmakers. But by far, the filmmakers themselves have the most influence over who comes out to see the films.  It’s their invitations to friends, family and people who worked on their film that will garner the most attendees.

Care to share a little about the films and their directors/creators?

I’d love to since that’s what it’s all about!

THE WISH & THE WISP – Written/Directed by Vashmere Valentine is a delightful fantasy film currently sweeping up awards globally on the festival circuit. It’s about two bickering siblings that learn the true magic of believing when they find a real wish and encounter the menacing creature who wants it back. RESIDENCE 906 (premiere screening) – Directed by Heather Hutton, written by Michele Olson and produced by Iesha Price. Made with over 50 females, this film is a paranormal thriller about the mysterious deaths of a paranormal investigator’s team that force her to confront an enigmatic demon. NO TIME FOR LOVE (premiere screening) – Directed by Ricky Hess. This new episode of HORROR HOTEL is a sci-fi tale about time catching up to a reclusive sailor when a pretty girl brings the modern world into his life. It includes loads of special effects. Fans of The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons will enjoy this one. FEAST – Written/Directed by Melissa Kunnap is a horror short that recently won best regional film at the Women in Horror Film Festival. The logline reads “A young intern finds out more about his boss and circle of friends than he’d wished to know,” and contains well-done effects. LIVING NIGHTMARE – Created by Jonathan Gabriel and Kristina Miranovic is an anthology of three actual nightmares based on unforgettable accounts, contains very nice sets and effects and is a real skin creep! BAD CANDY – Written/Directed by Scott Hansen is a horror short about a naughty trick R treater which has stunning cinematography and excellent costumes. Creepy clown alert! MR. SMILES (premiere screening) – Written/Directed by Tyler Hunt Weddle is a horror short about a girl who discovers a storybook in an attic whose characters come to life. Goosebump inspired, Freddy Kruger executed. PET’s tagline says it all, “A man with a short fuse and an empty checkbook introduces his irritating boss to man’s best friend,” written/directed by Justin Craig (premiere screening).

With HORROR HOTEL, you’ve made filmmaking a family affair [you as producer, your son Ricky Hess as the horror anthology’s creator/director and your husband Al Hess as the writer]. Can you tell us a little about the creative process within the family unit and any pros/cons working so closely with your family?

Yes, it has been a family affair and this year we added a new addition to our family, my new daughter-in-law, Allyson Hess, who works on set with us as well. My son Ricky is a powerhouse of talent. He not only is the creator/director but he also does nearly all of the post-production work including editing/color/sound/effects etc. PLUS he is a skilled camera operator as well. My husband, Al, is the writer for the series but he is also a talented props builder, lighting technician, set builder and so much more. Over the years, we have all increased our skill level and learned to do more in other areas which is pretty typical in indie filmmaking. The more you can do yourself, the higher the likelihood you can get something finished. Working within the family has its advantages in that decisions can be made quickly and you have a trusted unit to bounce things off of and get honest feedback on your ideas.  There are always differences of opinion in the filmmaking process and you have to work through those sometimes a little more carefully within family, but in the end we all have a deep respect for each other’s opinion and we work it out.

HORROR HOTEL has become a successful horror anthology, haunting into its 3rd season. What can our readers expect to experience this season, and where can they go to catch new episodes?

For our upcoming 3rd season, we have made longer films than we normally do, so there will be fewer of them. We tried to up the bar on our production with more challenging episodes that required more effects than we normally have had. Our pilot episode SLEEP TIGHT is about killer bed bugs that invade the hotel rooms. And yes, we did use some real bugs,  although they were not bed bugs of course, but we used what is referred to as movie bugs, hissing cockroaches, which are pathogen free and harmless to humans. Nonetheless, quite creepy! It premiered in last year’s festival and got a great response and feedback. It was probably one of the more ‘horror’ episodes we have done as a lot of ours tend to be more sci-fi themed.

The episode we are premiering this year from the 3rd season is sci-fi with loads of special effects and centers on a reclusive sailor (Jason Gaglione) who has shuttered himself away in his hotel room for decades. No one locally has ever seen him. A pretty girl (Kat Rarick) tricks her way into his room and the story is about what happens inside the room after that. We turned the room basically into a time machine. It was extremely challenging and required a ton of SFX make-up, pulled off beautifully by master make-up artists Greg and Sandra Solomon of Etcfx in Newman. If you like stories like THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, you will like this episode!  Ricky did some exceptional work in post-production as well with some of the visual effects. We had to experiment with quite a few things. So, expect more production value out of 3rd season. It will be releasing later this year or early next year. Currently HORROR HOTEL can be seen on Amazon Prime as an anthology feature film of our 2nd season, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and select episodes are on DirectTV as well.

What drew you to become a filmmaker and what keeps you playing within the horror genre?

I entered filmmaking by wanting to help Ricky make his HORROR HOTEL series. We had our house used as a set a few years back and we became fascinated with the process and thought it would be great fun to do some ourselves and help him out with that project. Really, the show has more sci-fi stories than mainstream horror. More like THE TWILIGHT ZONE-type of tales, which I love –  stories and films that take you to another place and stretch your imagination. I will always tend towards that type of films as favorites.

Is there a film/series you have always wanted to make? Or still plan to make?

We’ve tossed around some ideas for other series but have not nailed anything down. We are just focused at the moment in getting the 3rd season ready to distribute and let the creative juices flow after that!

Smaller local film festivals are all immensely popular these days. How important are these festivals to independent filmmakers? What’s the draw to submit a film and have it screened at one?

It’s much easier to be seen in a smaller local film festival, plus because it is in your community, more people will be able to actually attend and support you. The festivals are vital to indie filmmakers especially those making primarily short films as shorts don’t have much distribution possibility like feature-length films, yet they serve a vital purpose to showcase a filmmakers creative ability as well as those who work on them. Festivals add credibility to a filmmakers resume and at least prove a curator thought highly enough of them to be accepted.

Who would you say are the filmmakers or films that inspired you the most and what was it about those particular filmmakers/films that inspired you?

I am a very retro kind of gal and most of my favorite filmmakers are classics like Alfred Hitchcock and Rod Serling. I like the kind of horror/sci-fi they brought to film by creative storytelling and excellent tension building without all the fancy effects. I am a huge fan of most of Hitchcock’s more successful films. No favorite one in particular.

As an independent female filmmaker working in the horror genre, what challenges have you personally faced that seem to be a common theme amongst women in the industry?

I’d say probably just getting taken seriously and being respected. There are a lot of basic female common traits that work for us in filmmaking. Most females tend to be much more organized than our counterparts. I can always count on female cast and crew to be a little more attentive to details, return correspondence quickly and keep their calendar events in check. No male bashing here, just a noted difference in my own experience.

Within the last few weeks comments were made by a well-known production company insisting that he would hire female horror directors if only there were women to be hired. What is your response to this claim? How important do you feel it is to ensure representation exists within the industry, on local and international levels?

Well, the backlash was immense after that came out and they have since apologized, but it obviously was misspoken as hundreds of people if not thousands of people cited their own female peers as adequately qualified and we know that to be perfectly true just from our own local gals who produce quality work. I think the horror genre was just generally thought to be more male-dominated in the past because of the nature of the content, but festivals like the Women in Horror Film Festival held right here in Georgia certainly proves that to be false.

Claims that there aren’t any female horror filmmakers are obviously ludicrous, as Atlanta is chock full of them! Who would you say are your favorite women horror directors and why?

I know of several first-hand that as it happens, have been in our film festival or are this year. Vanessa Ionta Wright, founder of the Women In Horror Film Festival held in Georgia, has done some beautiful and creative films. One was from a Stephen King short story which screened at last year’s festival. And we have not one but two female filmmakers in this year’s fest. Melissa Lee Kunnap has a horror film in there as does Iesha Price. They BOTH contain high quality work. As a matter of fact, Iesha’s film, RESIDENCE 906 was primarily a female production with over 50 women in the cast and crew, only 2 males. That’s impressive to say the least.

Can you give us five things you’re into at the moment that we should be watching, reading or listening to right now— past or present, well-known or obscure?

Watching – Just finished up OZARK on Netflix. Give the series GOLIATH a try on Amazon Prime if you are into Billy Bob Thornton, which I am. I am a huge fan of the FARGO series and the original movie – just plain good storytelling with most excellent creepy characters. I am retro when it comes to music stuff – mostly oldies from the ‘70s. I love reading mystery novels and am constantly burning through books and am currently reading Randy Singer.
Any advice for up and coming filmmakers out there trying to get their foot in the door?

Whatever your budget, start with the basics. A good story is first. Get advice on what you have before you film. Don’t get too attached to an idea if it needs to be improved or trashed. Film with the purpose of making it as good as you can possibly get it and employ all the good filmmaking techniques you possibly can. Do your best work always knowing that people will judge you for it. Always be learning and improving your work.

Getting back to what brought us here, Attack of the 50 Foot Film Fest! Anything exciting planned for fest-goers? With this being the second exciting year, can we expect this to be an annual event, something we all can look forward to in years to come?

We will be talking briefly after the screening to the filmmakers and I think a few of them will have some exciting announcements about upcoming projects they will share. Annual event? We will see. We take that one year at a time and see if there is interest among the local filmmakers to make it happen!

Photos courtesy of Debbie Hess and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Gayle Rej Directs Two Wild and Crazy One-Act Plays by Steve Martin

Posted on: Oct 12th, 2018 By:

The WASP family. Photo courtesy of Ultra Popcorn Theatre and used with permission.

Ultra Popcorn Theatre Company presents WASP and THE ZIG ZAG WOMAN, two one-act plays by comedian Steve Martin, October 11-19 at 7 Stages Black Box Theatre in Little Five Points. If being penned by an iconic comedian with his roots in super-Seventies Retro chops wasn’t enough, the wild and crazy pair are directed by a pair of Atlanta’s own Retro wild and crazy superstars, Gayle Thrower Rej, former co-owner of Plaza Atlanta and Persephone of Silver Scream Spook Show fame, and Barb Hays, Blast-Off Burlesque’s Barbilicious and LUST frontwoman, and these plays present a hilariously dark look at American familial and romantic relationships.

Pushed to amazing lengths to relive profound loneliness, the waitress in THE ZIG ZAG WOMAN encounters an old man waiting for his true love, a middle-aged man who has stopped looking, and a fiery young man who longs for a woman in pieces. In the fractured landscape of ‘50s suburbia, WASP’s prototypical, but perverse nuclear family exists in a dark limbo of expectation and routine, meandering blindly toward catastrophe. The two one-act plays share a talented cast portraying multiple roles including 2017 Suzi Bass Award winning actress Christina Leidel, Michael A. Cook, Jared Nipper, Elizabeth Hammontree, Melanie “Magnifique” Parker, and Michael Malone. The production will present a musical segue between the two plays featuring Allison Maier and Ashley Burton.

Barb Hays has already graced our ATLRetro’s Hall of Kool Kats (see interview here), but Gayle Thrower Rej’s turn in the spotlight is way overdue. Gayle has degrees in Psychology, Theatre, and English Education, has travelled to all 50 states, and has had several careers in her half of a century on this beautiful planet.  She taught high school theatre for nine years and directed over 50 productions, including six musicals.  We caught up with her for a whirlwind Q&A in the heat of last-minute prep for these Martin-iriffic productions!

Gayle Thrower Rej.

ATLRetro: Most readers might know you as the owner of the Plaza Theatre or the music booker for The Star Bar and The Echo Lounge. How did you get involved in theater?

Gayle Rej: I have been performing since middle school! I have two degrees in Theatre and taught high school Theatre for eight years. I took some time off to run the Plaza and to have two kids, but I couldn’t stay out of it for long. Luckily, the creators of the Silver Scream Spook Show and Blast Off Burlesque invited me to play with them.

How did Ultra Popcorn Theatre Company happen?

From our experiences with the Silver Scream Spook Show and Blast Off Burlesque, Barb Hays and I knew we worked really well together. She is simply brilliant and endlessly creative. We had bounced around the idea of directing a play together for years. Last year we finally starting reading and realized we have similar taste in plays. Our first production was extremely challenging, but was a huge success!

Why Steve Martin plays?

Steve Martin has always been one of my heroes. There’s something about his physicality and comedic timing that just kills me. I had loved his novels and his screenplays, but these plays really impressed me. They’re funny, but they’re pretty dark. I feel like I’ve had a glimpse into his brain and so will everyone who sees the plays.

Is it a challenge to get the word out about plays?

Starting a new theatre company is really an ambitious thing to do in this town. There are several great theatre companies, but they have extensive sponsors and great relationships with the press. We don’t have those resources, so we are relying on word of mouth to reach people who might not normally go to see theatre. Barb and I both have a rock and roll background, so we hope those audiences will give theatre a shot, too!

THE ZIG ZAG WOMAN. Photo courtesy of Ultra Popcorn Theatre and used with permission.

Showtimes for the two one-act plays, WASP and The Zig Zag Woman, will be 7:00 and 9:00 p.m. 7:00 on Thursday 10/11, Friday & Saturday, 10/12 and 10/13, and 8:00 on Thursday 10/18 & Friday 10/19. 7 Stages Black Box Theatre is located at 1105 Euclid Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30307.

Tickets are available through ultrapopcorn.com

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: From Whispers to Screams, Director Jeff Burr Becomes One with the Monsters as a Fangtastic Guest at the 5th Annual MONSTERAMA CONVENTION

Posted on: Oct 2nd, 2018 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Jeff Burr, local award-winning independent filmmaker, will be joining a sinister line-up of horrorific guests Monsterama Convention’s fifth frightening year, co-chaired by our classic monster-lovin’ fiend, friend and Kool Kat Anthony Taylor, creeping into the Atlanta Marriott Alpharetta this weekend, Friday – Sunday (Oct. 5-7)! Prepare for a ghastly weekend of ghoulish proportions including a guest list filled to the blood-curdling brim with chillers like Luciana Paluzzi (THUNDERBALL; THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN); Rachel Talalay (FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE; TANK GIRL); Ken Sagoes (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3); creaturific artist Kool Kat Mark Maddox; Victorian chamber metal musicians Valentine Wolfe; Kool Kat Shane Morton, ghost host with the most, a.k.a. Professor Morte; glamour ghoul Kool Kat Madeline Brumby and so many more! So why not get wicked and haunt on down to MONSTERAMA for a weekend of monster madness!

Burr’s film career spans 30+ years as writer, director, producer and actor. His love of filmmaking spawned as a child growing up in Dalton, GA, with the production of Super 8 films with his neighborhood friends, and became full-on reality when he was a student at the University of Southern California. He and classmate Kevin Meyer produced their student film, a Civil War drama, DIVIDED WE FALL in 1982, which gained a lot of attention from film festival goers and jurors, taking home over a dozen awards world-wide. His first feature film, horror anthology FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM released in 1987 under the title THE OFFSPRING, starring the Godfather of Horror, Vincent Price, alongside a strong cast of actors and actresses. On April 28, 2015, Shout Factory released their Blu-ray of WHISPER, containing bonus features produced by local horror history expert and documentarian, Kool Kat Daniel Griffith of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures [RETURN TO OLDFIELD, and A DECADE UNDER THE INNOCENCE]. Burr continued to delve deep into the abyss of horror as the director of STEPFATHER II (1989), LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III (1990), PUPPET MASTER 4 (1993), PUPPET MASTER 5 (1994), PUMPKINHEAD II (1993) and he will continue to play in the filmmaker fire as long as he is able!

ATLRetro caught up with Jeff Burr for a quick interview about his love of film; his first ever feature-length film, FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM; his experiences with the one-and-only Vincent Price and this year’s maniacal MONSTERAMA madness!

From A Whisper to a Scream Set – Vincent Price, Jeff Burr

ATLRetro: As a visual storyteller and filmmaker, you’ve played the roles of director, writer, producer and actor for the last 30-plus years. What drew you to become a filmmaker and what keeps you playing the game?

Jeff Burr: I grew up in Dalton, GA and for whatever reason always loved movies. My mom worked for a radio station and had a pass from the local theaters to see any movie for 50 cents, so I saw quite a few movies from a young age. Both of my parents were active in community theater in Dalton, and I always loved going backstage, etc. to see how the sets were built and behind the scenes. I started making Super 8 films with my friends and it grew from there. It is a calling, or an obsession, or an addiction…pick your label. It is one of the most frustrating, heartbreaking, crazy endeavors to make a film – the only thing worse is not doing it! If you will permit a shameless plug, on the Scream Factory Blu-ray of my first feature film FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM, there is a documentary by Daniel Griffith called A DECADE UNDER THE INNOCENCE, and that is truly my origin story.

Is there a film you have always wanted to make? Or still plan to make?

Heck yes! I have several films that I want to make. One is a comedy/drama, another is a period adventure film in the vein of THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, albeit lower-budget and messy, not unlike AGUIRRE in scale. I am also working with a talented writer from Florida, Jonathan Dornellas, on a horror script about a subject that affects everyone.

You co-directed your final student film for USC, DIVIDED WE FALL (1982), with Kevin Meyer, winning over a dozen awards at film festivals world-wide. Can you tell us a little about the film, and what it felt like to win so many awards as a student filmmaker? And most importantly, how can our readers access the film, if possible?

DIVIDED WE FALL was a period Civil War action/drama that kind of became our own version of APOCALYPSE NOW. The film grew and grew in scale and took close to a year to make. John Agar (a name Monsterama fans would hopefully know and love), Nicholas Guest and David Cloud starred. Future “Leatherface,” R.A. Mihailoff and veteran character actor Mike Shamus Wiles had major supporting parts. Kevin Meyer and I did everything on it – writing, directing, photographing, editing, producing, etc. We dropped out of school to finish it and had a big premiere in November of 1982. The film went on to win awards, etc., but the gates of the Hollywood Studios didn’t magically open for us, as we probably naively thought! I am hoping the film will be included on the upcoming Turbine (germany) release of FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM.

Your first feature film and horror anthology, FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM (1987) [a.k.a. THE OFFSPRING], which was shot mostly in Dalton, Georgia, just a few short hours north, became a huge cult hit amongst genre lovers. Any fun/scandalous behind-the-scenes stories you’d like to share with our readers?

The making of FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM is full of stories, and if you’ll permit me one more shameless plug I would suggest that if you have any interest in the making of a very low-budget regional film in the 1980s there is an amazing documentary on the Scream Factory Blu-ray from Daniel Griffith and Ballyhoo Productions entitled RETURN TO OLDFIELD. WHISPER was my first feature film, and in many ways it felt like an extension of my Super 8 films. I was happy and lucky to have my brother William as one of the producers, and my great and talented friend from college Darin Scott as the other producer and co-writer – not to mention another great college friend C. Courtney Joyner as the other co-writer. The crew was a mix of amateur and professional, and it was an amazing experience. The cast was a dream come true, and getting to work with actors such as Vincent Price, Clu Gulager, Cameron Mitchell, Terry Kiser, Harry Caesar, Rosalind Cash, Angelo Rossitto, Susan Tyrrell and Martine Beswicke was pure artistic bliss. As far as scandalous stories go, you’ll have to see the documentary and hear the commentaries!

Speaking of WHISPER, in your opinion, what are the pros and cons of directing an independent “regional” film vs. a Hollywood studio production?

Well the obvious “con” about doing a regional low-budget film is that you don’t have money to throw at problems that invariably rise up, but the good thing is that you can solve those problems with imagination. It might lead down a different and better path. What was wonderful about making the film was that I had complete creative control, and didn’t have to justify every artistic decision to some producer or executive. I am an independent filmmaker at heart, and that is where I belong. It has only taken me 30+ years to figure out what I knew at age 17! And for the record, I really have never directed a real “studio” film.  I would say I made it to the triple A ballpark but never really took a swing in the major leagues.

What were the advantages of revisiting the neighborhood backlot of your childhood?

Whisper – Roger Corman and Vincent Price unite!

The advantage of shooting a film in Dalton was that I knew some pretty interesting locations and was able to shoot them, and the town itself was incredibly cooperative and enthusiastic. No film had ever been shot there, and of course the process of making a film was very different then. Now there are films made in every small town in America! But Dalton really was a supporting character in the movie, and it could not have been made anywhere else. In a very literal sense, I owe whatever career I have and had to the town of Dalton.

What was it like to work with the “Merchant of Menace,” Vincent Price, a.k.a. Julian White, the historian and thread that tied the terrifying tales together in WHISPER?

Working with Vincent was heaven. Getting Vincent to do the movie was hell. He was just as you would probably expect – generous, funny, so intelligent, warm, and so damn talented. It was an honor, and I do mean an honor, to be able to direct him. But in the process of getting him to do the movie, man oh man there were a few moments I will never forget. Watch the documentary! (And come talk to me at Monsterama – I will tell the whole story!)

In true Price fashion, his character says, “One thing I’ve learned, my dear, is that one is never too old for nightmares.” As a purveyor of horror [TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III; PUPPET MASTER 4 & 5; PUMPKINHEAD II, etc.], would you agree with this statement? Can one be too old for spooky, nightmarish fun?

No one is ever too old for nightmares. What makes you have nightmares might change, but there will always be delicious dread certain nights when you lay your head on your pillow. And one thing that horror fans (of which I am proud to be one) have is a sense of wonder and humor that keeps you young. I don’t like the phrase “They never grow up.” Better, “They never grow old!” To have a sense of wonder about the world, and an amusement, or bemusement, even of the worst of the world is a great quality to possess.

Do you think you’ll ever return to Dalton to make another feature film?

LET US PREY (early Super 8 film starring Bobby Pike)

I absolutely intend on making more films in Dalton! There is an amazing talent pool in North Georgia, one that is growing as I type this! And the filmmaking infrastructure in GA is here to stay. GODZILLA, KING OF MONSTERS shot for one day in Dalton. I would have fainted if that had happened when I was 14!

Who would you say are the filmmakers or films that inspired you the most and what was it about those particular filmmakers/films that inspired you?

I have been inspired by many films and filmmakers. In the horror genre, David Cronenberg, George Romero, John Carpenter, James Whale, Michael Reeves, Roger Corman – way too many to mention!  Certain fairly obscure films that I saw as a kid and always stuck with me are PHASE IV, EQUINOX, SHOCK WAVES, THE TERRORNAUTS. However, I would say the most influential movie that I have seen is 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. I saw it as a kid, and I have seen it many, many times since on the big screen. Just saw it twice in the 50 year anniversary edition.  I don’t know why that film hooked onto me, but it did and it has stayed with me for 50 years. Other directors/films I love are Jerry Lewis, William Friedkin, Orson Welles, Sam Peckinpah, Stanley Kubrick, Andrei Tarkovsky – again too many to mention. To be a filmmaker, you have to be a lover of film, of all film, from all countries.

Can you tell us a little about working for the king of B-films, Roger Corman, at New World Pictures?

I worked in the advertising department with Jim Wynorski, and it was as crazy and as educational as you could imagine. My crowning glory was that my tagline was used for the newspaper ads for SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE – “He’s dressed to drill!” And a few years later, I had a meeting with Roger about directing Vincent Price, and he came to the set to have a reunion with Vincent!

Would you agree that independent filmmakers have come to rely on the popularization of smaller and more local film festivals, especially genre filmmakers? Why do you feel that film festivals are so important to independent filmmakers?

Film festivals are essential to low-budget indie filmmakers, as it can be the only theatrical exposure that they have. To see a film with an audience and to hear the reactions is uplifting and incredibly educational for filmmakers.  And it is a way to break through the white noise of so many films out there, with word of mouth, reviews, etc. I hope that the theatrical experience for smaller films doesn’t go away!

Can you give us five things you’re into at the moment that we should be watching, reading or listening to right now— past or present, well-known or obscure?

The 50th anniversary reissue of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY; the reissue of SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT in Burt’s memory; waiting for Don Coscarelli‘s book on independent filmmaking, TREE OF LIFE Criterion Blu-ray; and waiting for the (soon to be released) TALES FROM THE HOOD 2 from my good pals Darin Scott and Rusty Cundieff!

Any advice for up and coming filmmakers out there trying to get their foot in the door?

The most obvious piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers is get out there and make a film. Make one, learn from it, apply the lessons to the next one, and on and on in a never-ending cycle. Two more things – don’t be more excited about the gear you have to make the film than the story you are telling. Love your actors and cast very, very carefully. A wrong casting decision cannot be fixed in post. In the scripting, shooting, and post processes, take your time so you don’t waste the audience’s. And as quickly as you can, learn that the most important thing to photograph is the human face.

What’s next for Jeff Burr? Anything exciting coming down the pike?

William Burr doubles as Cameron Mitchell (Whisper)

There’s always something exciting coming down the pike! I’ve got projects I am working on, and who knows what lurks down an unknown road?

And last but not least, what are you looking forward to most at MONSTERAMA, one of our favorite local classic monster conventions around!? Anything exciting planned for attendees?

I think I will be on a panel, and there will be full disclosure about any area of my checkered career that anyone wants to know about. I am just looking forward to talking to people that have the same love of movies that I do, and I always learn of films that fell under my radar that I will then seek out, etc. I look forward to seeing Sam Irvin again – he is a great guy and a talented and dedicated filmmaker. And of course to meet Mark Goddard, Luciana Paluzzi, etc.  Meeting and talking to actors you have admired since childhood is a great thrill.  And I have some THE KLANSMAN questions for Luciana!!!

 

All photos courtesy of Jeff Burr and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: For 20 Years, Peter Hardy Has Gotten Atlanta “Woke” to New Georgia Playwrights at the Essential Theatre Play Festival

Posted on: Aug 8th, 2018 By:

 

Peter Hardy. Photo courtesy of Peter Hardy.

The 2018 Essential Theatre Play Festival is back for its 20th year, through August 26 at the West End Performing Arts Center. This Atlanta-based summer festival is unique for its emphasis on Georgia playwrights,  many of whom have gone on to national fame. This year’s repertory-style event features two extraordinary world premieres by young playwrights, BUILT TO FLOAT, a haunting magic realist story of two sisters by Rachael Graf Evans and WOKE, a powerful coming of age tale of two friends, one black, one white, transitioning from high school to college, by Avery Sharpe, as well as A BUNCH OF DIFFERENT WAYS I’D LIKE TO DIEge (2 nights only, Aug 16-17!), a one-man show written and performed by Tim McDonough, long-time Georgia Shakespeare actor and Theater Emory artistic director .

The man behind the curtain, so to speak, of the Essential Theatre is Founding Artistic Director Peter Hardy, who has been working in Atlanta as a writer, director, actor and producer for more than 30 years.  His plays have won national awards and have received more than 30 productions around the country, and he’s a Suzi Bass Award-winning director.  For many years he served as artistic director of the outdoor drama UNTO THESE HILLS in Cherokee, North Carolina. He’s also been seen onstage at Horizon Theatre, Actor’s Express, Aurora Theatre, Georgia Ensemble Theatre and Theatrical Outfit, and in the past two years has appeared in five productions at Shakespeare Tavern.

ATLRetro caught up with Peter to find out more about Essential Theatre and why this year’s festival should be “essential” to Atlanta theatre-goers, as well as what this Kool Kat is up to next.

Congratulations on this being the 20th annual festival. Why is this such a big deal and how did the opening go?

It’s always a challenge to produce brand-new plays, most of them by writers who—by definition—have no name-recognition value when we first present them. The fact that we’re still going—and doing better than ever, I think—in a summer theater season that is now dominated by big popular musicals, is something I’m really proud of. But every year, we have to fight for those audiences! Our opening weekend—for Rachel Graf Evans’ BUILT TO FLOAT—went just great, with a fantastic response from the crowd.

Why did the festival decide to focus exclusively on Georgia playwrights? Haven’t some of the plays and playwrights gone on to national fame?

In our early years, we would produce one new Georgia play each Festival, along with other Regional Premieres from around the country. But, as time went by, we got more and more good submissions from Georgia playwrights, and that was what we were becoming best known for, anyway, so we made that the focus of our mission. In 2001 we produced the first play by an 18-year-old from Decatur named Lauren Gunderson, (If you missed our 2017 Kool Kat interview with Lauren and ADA AND THE MEMORY ENGINE, catch up here), who has gone on to become—literally—the most produced American playwright of the past couple of years. After we did Topher Payne‘s EVELYN IN PURGATORY in 2012, he’s gone on to have his plays produced Off-Broadway, around the country, and at many of the theaters in the Atlanta area, as well as writing several television films. Jordan Pulliam‘s BAT-HAMLET—a comic mash-up of BATMAN and HAMLET—has gone on to eight further productions, including one that’s just about to open at Out of Box Theater in Marietta. Those are just the most obvious examples.

How do you select the winning plays?

Our submission deadline each year is April 23, Shakespeare’s birthday. For 2019, we got over 90 submissions, and they will be read and evaluated by volunteer readers, all writers and theater professionals. Ultimately I make the final decisions, in consultation with trusted advisors. We accept any kind of plays, on any subjects—they just have to be written by current Georgia residents, and we highly prefer scripts that would take at least an hour to perform. Artistic choices are always, ultimately, subjective, but my answer to the question “What kind of plays are you looking for?” is always “Good ones.”

BUILT TO FLOAT. L-R: Rachel Wansker and Suzanne Roush. Hardy says this shot is “from a part of the show that is an extended haunted-house-of-the-mind sequence that has a nice ‘Caligari’ look to it. Photo credit: Elizabeth Cooper.

Tell us a little about each of the plays and playwrights? What about these stood out in the selection process and why should audiences come out? Maybe a favorite scene. Let’s start with BUILT TO FLOAT by Rachael Graf Evans.

BUILT TO FLOAT, early on, seems to be a standard family drama, about two adult sisters trying to cope with the legacy of their troubled—even traumatic—childhood. But it quickly becomes apparent that everything is not what it seems, and there are multiple levels of reality at play as we learn more and more about these characters and their lives. I love the way the play reveals and transforms itself as it goes on, like a flower unfolding itself. It takes the audience on a journey of understanding, and leads to a powerful and positive ending. All that may sound kind of vague, but really, I don’t want to give away too much!

WOKE. L-R: Karina Simmons, DaShon Green, Paul Danner, Derrick Robertson. Photo credit: Elizabeth Cooper.

Next, WOKE by Avery Sharpe?

This is another play that takes you by surprise. It starts out like a comedy, with two high school graduates—one black, one white—who have been friends for years, just goofing around with each other, talking about girl and parents and their favorite rappers. We see them awkwardly moving toward serious relationships with a couple of girls they like. But then they have a real falling out when it comes to their very different understandings and opinions about racial injustice, and the epidemic of young black men being killed by police. It becomes a very thought-provoking examination of prejudice and privilege, but in the end it’s still a strong story of friendship and people trying to understand and communicate with each other.

By the way.I’m particularly pleased that this year—for our 20th Annual Festival— we’re producing the World Premieres of two young writers, each of them just starting out in their careers!

 

Tim McDonough.

And finally A BUNCH OF DIFFERENT WAYS I’D LIKE TO DIE, the one-man show written and performed by actor Tim McDonough? As I recall (but may be incorrect), the festival usually has included two shows?

For many years, we produced three plays in repertory, for the Festival. Since 2014 we’ve been doing only two—along with some staged readings in our Bare Essentials series. But last year, as an extra attraction, we presented two performances of a one-man show called INDEPENDENT, featuring popular local actor Dan Triandiflou—and written by John D. Babcock—about the legendary actor-filmmaker John Cassavettes. We didn’t really have to “produce” it so much as give them a time-slot in the Festival, and it gave us the chance to present more offerings, making it more of a “festival.” This year we’re doing the same thing with Tim McDonough’s one-man show, a darkly comic meditation on mortality—you know, how he’d like to die, and what kind of lighting he would like to have. Tim was Artistic Director at Theatre Emory for years, and has been a distinguished Atlanta actor since the 80s.

Atlanta isn’t always thought of as a theater city and yet there are some tremendous performances happening here in this city. What would you say to a New Yorker or anyone else not from Atlanta who is skeptical about our theater scene?

Anyone who doesn’t think Atlanta is a theater city should take a look at the huge number of producing companies there are, all over the metropolitan area. I don’t know of any other city in the South, anyway, nor in many states around the country, that have so much theater to offer. Of course, the booming film-TV industry that has grown up in the area means there is more and more acting talent to draw on, all the time. And where you’ve got a bunch of actors, you’re going to have a lot of theater happening.

BUILT TO FLOAT. L-R: Suzanne Roush and Rachel Wansker. Photo credit: Elizabeth Cooper.

What’s the secret origin behind the Essential Theatre and the festival, and have you been involved from the start or how did you get involved?

In the early 80s, I spent several years in New York City, temping and directing small Nowhere-NEAR-Broadway productions, some of which I put together. When I moved to Atlanta in 1986, I started doing independent projects under the name of the Essential Theatre, along with acting and directing for other companies. Back then, “The Essential Theatre” was just me getting some people together and doing a show. But they were few and far between, and usually in a different venue every time. And, even though we got some good reviews and audiences, we never got much recognition. It was hard for an independent show to get noticed. Also, I tended to do plays I had written, or little-known plays by other writers, so it was even easier for us to fall through the cracks. Around 1998 I got the idea: “Maybe if we do THREE plays no one has heard of, it will get more attention.” And so the idea of doing a Festival was born—and right away, it worked, and we had a feature article in Creative Loafing for the first Festival, in 1999. Once we started doing the annual Festival, it slowly began to be a company, and not just me calling people up. We have a General Manager, Jennifer Kimball, who has taken us to a whole new business level, and there are designers, directors and technicians who have been working with us for years, and actors who have done many show with us.

When did you first get started in theater and is there a story behind that? Did you always want to be an actor/playwright/director?

My parents were in theater—working both professionally and in universities, where they taught. I mostly grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where they were professors at UNC. When I first went to college, I rebelled against my parents for a while by considering becoming a history or English scholar, and I changed majors several times. Eventually, I realized I wasn’t good at anything but theater and writing. I’ve been pursing writing and directing since college, and occasionally acting—though, in recent years, I’ve been appearing onstage more, most often at the Shakespeare Tavern. I never had a great desire to do Shakespeare, but I’ve found that I quite enjoy it.

Peter Hardy at the Aurora Theatre playing “The Man in Gray” (basically, the Devil) in ABIGAIL/1702

Because we are ATLRetro, we have to ask who are a few of your favorite 20th century playwrights? Who are inspirations and favorite plays and a sentence or two as to why?

I love and appreciate many, many playwrights—and novelists and musicians and filmmakers, etc.—but the two who most directly and specifically inspired and excited me, starting around 1980, were John Guare and Sam Shepard. Guare wrote SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION and HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES and other, wonderful, lesser-known works, like MARCO POLO SINGS A SOLO, and I loved the way his scripts blended comedy and tragedy and melodrama and surrealism—that was a direct influence on my own writing. And, when I was living in New York City, I saw the original productions of Shepard’s FOOL FOR LOVE and A LIE OF THE MIND, both directed by him—and they changed my life. They’re probably the two most amazing productions I’ve ever seen. At their best, they tap into something deep and mythic about American families and the battlefield of love between men and women.

When/where will we see you or one of your works onstage again as a playwright, director or actor?

Right now the Essential Festival is completely absorbing me—then we’ll start reading the close-to-100 scripts we received to be considered for next summer’s Festival. I don’t have any current plans to be back onstage soon, but hey—I’m available to audition! Send me an invite!  And I’m always writing. I tend to take a long time to finish things, and I get distracted by other projects. But I’m—hopefully—lose to finishing a play called THE OTHER PART OF THE PICTURE, which was inspired by an apartment I had in my grad school days at Penn State. It’s about neighbors who gradually get to know each other better, but never as well as the audience does. And I’ve also been excited about a screenplay—my first full-length one—called NOCTURNAL, which is a Hitchcock-inspired psychological mystery. About a woman who, um, goes around swimming in other people’s pools, at night. And there’s a half-finished supernatural novel, DREAMLAND DRIVE-IN, which has been on the shelf for a while, but which I still like, and I fully intend to get back to it, one day, because I don’t want the cliché of a “half-finished novel” to add to my necklace of regrets.

BUILT TO FLOAT. L-R: Alex Van and Heather Schroeder. Photo credit: Elizabeth Cooper.

Anything else you’d like to tell ATLRetro readers about the festival or the upcoming 2018-2019 Essential Theatre season?

The Essential Theatre doesn’t really have a “season”—we produce our annual Festival in the summer, and that’s mostly it, aside from occasional special development projects like one we recently started, that had to do with turning the story of Syrian refugees into theater pieces. So, check out the Festival at www.EssentialTheatre.com—we’re running through Aug. 26! And—this may or may not happen, but maybe soon—we really want to present a concert performance of a new musical called MEMORY LANE, which is about the residents of a senior home where many of the patients have Alzheimer’s Disease. We frequently do staged reading of new plays, which aren’t hard to put together, but with a musical, it’s more challenging. So, nothing is definite, but we really hope we can do something with that in September, on or near National Alzheimer’s Day.

Purchase tickets and find out more here!

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kool Kat of the Week: Weird Worlds and Twisted Tales: Spec-Lit Author Nicole Givens Kurtz Talks Diverse Voices, Representation and BLACKTASTICON 2018, Coming to Atlanta This Weekend

Posted on: Jun 12th, 2018 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

The State of Black Science Fiction shouts “Welcome to the Future!” as co-founders Kool Kat Balogun Ojetade and Milton Davis bring you BLACKTASTICON 2018, Atlanta’s top-notch spec-lit convention (formerly known as The State of Black Science Fiction Con), this  Saturday and Sunday (June 16-17) at GA Tech’s Ferst Center. This event is chock full of Afro-futurism, steamfunk, cyberfunk, dieselfunk, sword and soul, rococoa, Afrikan martial arts, and then some! So come on out and celebrate the diverse and ultra relevant voices of current black writers, artists, filmmakers, and creators of all kinds delivering some of the most dynamic and ground-breaking speculative fiction today, including our Kool Kat of the Week, Nicole Givens Kurtz.

Kurtz, Dream Realm, EPPIE and Fresh Voices in Science Fiction award finalist, delves deep into the speculative literature genre (sci-fi, horror, weird westerns, urban fantasy, etc.). Her short stories have been published in thirty plus anthologies including “KQ” (LOST TRAILS: FORGOTTEN TALES OF THE WEIRD WEST, VOL. 2 – wild west/horror), “Death’s Harvest” (STREET MAGICK ANTHOLOGY – urban fantasy); “Kanti’s Black Box” (THE MARTIAN ANTHOLOGY – science fiction), just to name a few. Kurtz is also the mastermind behind the CYBIL LEWIS and MINISTER KNIGHTS series. In addition to her prolific writing career, Kurtz is publisher and owner of Mocha Memoirs Press, brought to life in order to bring more diverse voices to the land of speculative fiction.

ATLRetro caught up with North Carolina-based writer and frequent Atlanta visitor, Nicole Givens Kurtz, to find out more about her influences, her career in spec-lit, the need for diversity and representation, and the importance of BLACKTASTICON.

ATLRetro: The first annual State of Black Science Fiction Convention was a hit with over 500 attendees and 40 vendors. Atlanta welcomes it back for another exciting year as Blacktasticon 2018 invades the south once again! As a guest and panelist at last year’s event, can you tell us a little about your experience and what you hope to gain this year?

Nicole Givens Kurtz: The first annual State of Black Science Fiction Convention was an awe-inspiring event. It also felt like a homecoming. Many of the people there I’ve known virtually via social media. There were hugs, laughter, and a great deal of support. One of the beautiful things about the convention resided in the warmth and promotion of black science fiction. It was ours. Here we were not the fringe of the convention, but the center, its heart. That paradigm shift hit me hard, and there were times when I looked out at the sea of black faces–faces like mine–that I wanted to weep in joy.  I’ve never felt so included in a convention before.

Blacktasticon welcomes us to the future, a boundless and complex yet beautiful future. With the current state of politics, of the #metoo movement, of the societal woes and bloody wounds still saturating the present-day, what message do you hope current writers and creators bring to the table for future generations?

The overriding message I hope Blacktasticon delivers to future generations is that we (African-Americans) aren’t going anywhere. The future is full of black people, including women. We are a creative force, in all aspects of media, comics, movies, novels, and animation. This convention shows the future generations what we are capable of and what they can do. Those creative doors aren’t shut to them because of traditional gatekeepers. This goes beyond simply diversity, but the nuisances of the black collective. African-Americans aren’t a monolith, and here at this convention, all of those various talents are displayed.

Black Women in Sci-Fi Panel 2016 (l-r) Nicole Givens Kurtz, Alicia McCalla, Penelope Flynn, Kyoto M., Rennie Murphy

Do you feel it is the job of artists, writers and creators to represent what this world should be and could be? If so, which speculative fiction writer past or present would you say represents the most comprehensive ideal of how the world and its inhabitants should be?

Science fiction has always been political. Mary Shelley‘s FRANKENSTEIN is an absolute novel about hubris. So, yes, I do feel it is our job to tell stories, as humans have done since the beginning of time, since before written language. We tell stories to explain the world around us. That’s the role of artists, writers, and creators to continue to tell those stories, including what the world should be and what it could be. Past fiction writers that I feel offered the most comprehensive ideal of our world are classics such as Octavia Butler, Ray Bradbury, Ursula LeGuin, Zora Neale Hurston, and of course, Mary Shelley. There are modern writers of science fiction and fantasy who are representing the world as is or how it could be as well. N.K. Jemisin, Daniel Jose Older, Max Gladstone and anyone at Rosarium Publishing is presenting fabulous visions of the future.

Can you tell us how you got started writing? Did you start writing as a little girl? Or were you older when the writing bug bit you?

I’ve been writing stories before I could actually write words. When I was little, I would go up to my room and continue the stories I saw on television with my dolls or in my head. Once I learned to write, I would scribble the stories down, but it wasn’t until high school where I won a district wide essay contest that I realized I could make money from writing. I read everything I could get my hands on from elementary school onward. My mother encouraged me to keep reading and we spent many weekends at the public library checking out books. When I became a teenager, I would skip the mall and spend my Saturday buried in books, gaining knowledge, and losing myself in other worlds.

Your Mocha Memoirs Press mission statement is “We believe representation in speculative fiction (science fiction, horror, fantasy) is not only important, but a necessity.” Can you tell our readers a little bit about Mocha Memoirs Press, LLC, and why you feel representation is essential?

Mocha Memoirs began as a way for me to funnel more diverse works into the world, where at the time, I saw a huge gap. The company began in 2010, and at that time, I did not see vary many science fiction works that reflected people of color, women, or black women in particular. Often when I attended conventions with my first novel, I was the only black person there at all, let alone actually selling my published novel. In an effort to give back but also bring awareness to the diverse stories we can tell, I started Mocha Memoirs Press. Representation is essential because it provides positive self affirmation. Essentially, seeing oneself in media as a hero, heroine, or protagonists demonstrates to the reader/viewer, “You matter. You exist. This future is yours and you have a place in it. This story could be your story.” Everyone wants to be valued. Representation should reflect the diversity of our world.

We see that you’ve had work published in LOST TRAILS: FORGOTTEN TALES OF THE WEIRD WEST, LAWLESS LANDS, and STRAIGHT OUTTA TOMBSTONE, to name a few. Can you tell us about your love of westerns (the weirder the better) and how living in New Mexico influenced your writing?

Prior to moving to New Mexico, I lived in a variety of other places (San Diego, Chicago, Louisville) but nothing took root inside me the way the Land of Enchantment did. My mother was always a western fan, and in our household, I grew up with Clint Eastwood, SHANE, and THE RIFLEMAN. To this day, my mother still sits and watches westerns. Imagine a young black girl in a housing project watching these men settle scores with the fastest pistols in the west. As a writer, my weird western stories are rooted in the theme of freedom. This place, the west, specifically, the southwest, thrived with a diverse group of people–Native Americans, Chinese immigrants, freed slaves, and of course, wealthy Eastern whites; each having to work together to scrape out a life in this harsh, new environment, and in doing so crafted an entirely different way of life, of culture, unlike those in the East. Those differences still resonate through to this day. That’s why I write weird westerns.

You’ve had short stories published in over thirty anthologies ranging from science fiction to horror and have had your novels become finalists for several awards, such as the EPPIES, Dream Realm and Fresh Voices in Sci-Fi. If you had to choose a favorite short story or novel from your bibliography, which would you choose and why?

This is like asking me to pick my favorite child! Of all the short stories I’ve written, “Belly Speaker,” is my favorite. It’s my favorite because it is a weird western, but it is about finding one’s voice when others threaten to silence it. My favorite novel, of the ones I’ve written, is DEVOURER. In this second MINISTER KNIGHTS OF SOULS novel, Akub seeks to redeem herself from her violent past by doing something criminal.  I’m interested in redemption and how we overcome the actions of our past.

Which writer from the past and which writer from the present has influenced and continues to influence you the most and what is it about them that draws them to you?

The writer from my past that influenced me the most is Stephen King. Most of my stories have their roots in weird, strange horror. Even if they’re science fiction stories, horrific things happen in them. Robert B. Parker, Sue Grafton, Zora Neale Hurston, and classic literature such as Shirley Jackson, Alice Walker, and of course, Octavia Butler have all influenced me.

Having had the pleasure of experiencing your panels at last year’s convention, we know you’re not only a killer storyteller, but you’re also a spooky horror film junkie and fanatic like us! Can you tell us your favorite horror movie and why it ranks at the top of your list?

My favorite horror movie of all time is MY BLOODY VALENTINE, the remake. Don’t judge me! Prior to that movie, my favorite horror films were from the 1980s: LOST BOYS, FRIGHT NIGHT and HELLRAISER. I still watch these films on streaming media whenever I need a good scare.

As a writer working in the science-fiction, fantasy and horror genres, what challenges have you personally faced that seem to be a common theme among women, especially women of color in the industry?

When I began my career in science fiction publishing in 2005, the challenges were getting past the gatekeepers at major publishing companies to even look at my work. So many rejections of “Cannot identify with this character,” and “Nice concept, can’t sell it.” The perception that black protagonists wouldn’t sell or that readers who weren’t black couldn’t identify with a non-white protagonist in science fiction was astounding to me. This same genre where people could identify with shapeshifting tigers, but not another human being, continues to be the drumbeat for certain editors and publishers today. The difference today (14 years later) is the convenience of small press publishing, electronic book publishing, and self publishing options that allows my work to by-pass some of those gatekeepers. Conventions like Blacktasticon help me market and connect to readers who are hungry for those stories.

Can you give us five things you’re into at the moment that we should be watching, reading or listening to right now— past or present, well-known or obscure?

Five things I’m in to right now are: 1) CLOAK & DAGGER on Freeform/Hulu; 2) ALTERED CARBON-the series with Kovacs is a good cyberpunk series; 3) Sting’s TEN SUMMONER’S TALES is always in rotation; 4) Andrea Botticelli is also in heavy rotation; and 5) ROUTE 3 by Robert Jeffery is a comic series that I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Any advice for women writers out there trying to get their foot in the door?

Nicole Givens Kurtz and SOBSFC guest 2016

DO.NOT.SETTLE. I wish I would’ve stuck to this advice at the onset of my career. Don’t settle. Do your research because this business requires a great deal of patience. Know what you want and do not settle for anything less.

Getting back to what brought us here, Blacktasticon 2018! Is there anything exciting you have planned for attendees? Can you give us a sneak peek into the panels you’ll be sitting on?

My press, Mocha Memoirs, will have special package pricing just for the convention. I’m on the Women in Black Speculative Fiction panel, which I’m very excited to be a part of again. Last time we had standing room only!

And last but not least, what are you currently working on and how can we get our hands on it?

I’m currently working on finishing a novella, that’s romance and fantasy. Afterwards, I’m diving back into my Cybil Lewis Science Fiction Mystery series. Then later this year, I’ll be working on my weird western short story collection.

 

Photos courtesy of Nicole Givens Kurtz and used with permission.

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