Kool Kats of the Week: Atlanta Filmmakers Jayson Palmer and Chris Ethridge Raise THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER, World Premiere at Plaza Theatre

Posted on: Jan 9th, 2014 By:

THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER, a new locally produced independent horror film, will have its World Premiere at the Plaza Theatre on January 14 at 7  pm and 9:45 pm. Both screenings will be followed by Q&As with filmmakers Jayson Palmer and Chris Ethridge, as well as cast members Nicholas Brendon (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER), Robert Pralgo (THE VAMPIRE DIARIES) and Amber Chaney (THE HUNGER GAMES). Tiffany Shepis (THE FRANKENSTEIN SYNDROME) and Cat Taber (STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS) are also in the movie.

Georgia’s tax breaks for film production not only have attracted Hollywood shoots and high-profile TV series, but also have created a vibrant environment for local independent filmmakers including horror. Jayson and Chris’s previous collaborations include a video for the band Fader Vixen and the short film  SURVIVOR TYPE, based on the Stephen King short story of the same time. This time, however, they are finally going full feature with a suspenseful yarn about a series of ritualistic murders which rattle the small town of Morningside, NJ.  Without revealing any spoilers, the Sheriff and his deputy embark on a desperate race against time to catch the killer, pitting them against friends, enemies and even each other.

ATLRetro have had our eye on this dynamic duo for a while so we thought it was high time to make them Kool Kats of the Week!

Chris Ethridge/

ATLRetro: What’s the story behind THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER? It’s the first full feature collaboration between you and Chris, right?

Jayson: THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER started out as a short story that I wrote around 1995 for a project my friend Mike was making as a college art project. He took a bunch of my short stories and made these really nice leather-bound books. Only two of those books exist, as far as I know. It was a much different story than it is now.

After Chris and I made our short film adaptation of Stephen King’s SURVIVOR TYPE, we wanted to do a feature. Something good, but that could be done on a limited budget. I told him about MORNINGSIDE, and he said show me a script.

Without giving away any major spoilers, what’s the basic plot and how does it fit into the horror/suspense genre? Any key influences? Movies? Filmmakers?

Jayson: THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER is definitely my nod at my love of slasher films. Although I wouldn’t label it a straight-up slasher, fans of the subgenre will certainly be able to spot the influence. It’s a masked killer disposing of victims in a small town.

Chris: In fairness to Jay, it was probably even more slasher on the page. I pushed it a little bit in the direction of dramatic horror/thriller, because that’s the type of films I like to make.  I think we tried – hopefully with some success! – to walk the line of honoring the genre while also digging into the characters a little more than you might normally see in a slasher flick.

Jayson Palmer.

For an indie, you scored quite a few name actors for this production, such as Nicholas Brendan, Amber Chaney and Robert Pralgo. Can you talk a bit about that?

Chris: It was a little bit of a domino effect.  We approached Rob first, because we knew him from the Atlanta film community.  Rob agreed to come on board the project, and he recommended Amber and Catherine Taber. Through Cat, we met Jeff Hightower, a casting director in LA, who helped us approach Nicholas.  We have another friend who helped us connect with Tiffany Shepis.  We just wanted to find the best cast to fill the roles, and we were extraordinarily fortunate to get the actors we did.

ATLRetro is a huge Buffy fan. What’s your favorite experience working with Nicholas?

Chris: I’m a huge Buffy fan as well.  Nicholas is an effortlessly funny guy, and he is a talented professional.  When the cameras roll, he just immediately turns into his character and delivers an amazing performance, every single take.  It was a pleasure to work with him.

Jayson, you’re from NJ. How did that play into your decision to do a NJ setting? Did you film it all in Atlanta? Or did you do some locations in NJ?

Jayson: Yeah, I’m a Jersey boy through and through. Morningside, the fictional town in the film is totally based on Wharton, the small town I grew up in. Chris is not from Jersey, but he captures the small town look and feel perfectly. There are some scenes that almost make me completely forget it was filmed in Georgia.

We imagine you didn’t have a lot of money to work with, it being an indie feature. Did you use crowd-sourcing or did you go the traditional route with credit cards and investors? What was the biggest challenge on your budget and how did you solve it?

Chris: All of the above.  We had a crowd-sourcing campaign, some traditional investors, and we filled in the gaps at the end with credit cards.  The biggest challenge is finding talented crew who are willing to put in the hours on a small or even deferred salary.  We were so lucky to be able to find some amazing people who just wanted to work on a good project.  We owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who spent even just a day on our set to make the movie happen.

A scene from THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER.

What’s happening at the premiere and is there any difference between what you have planning at both screenings? Or will it just be different questions?

Jayson: There is no difference between the 7:00 pm and 9:45 pm screenings. Of course, the Q&A will be different, but that’s only due to different audience, different questions.

What are a few horror movies that really grabbed you as a kid and why?

Jayson: As a child, I hated horror movies – mainly because I had a sadistic older brother and cousin who enjoyed scaring the crap out of me when ever they could. One day I put in THE SHINING (1980) and said, “I’m getting over this fear.” I’m not sure if that was the best film to use as my start on the road to recovery, but it certainly sparked my imagination and got the gears turning. Horror films still scare me, but I feel if I can’t beat them, I might as well make them share in my nightmares.

Chris: I distinctly remember sneaking over to a friend’s house to watch A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS (1987) when I was maybe 11. I’m sure it was the first real horror film I ever saw.  I can viscerally recall, even now, how that movie made me feel, the scares and the thrills.  THE LOST BOYS (1987) was another one of those great ’80s horror films I grew up on.

Jayson, you started making movies as a kid with your action figures, German Shepherd and friends. Did you shoot video or super 8? What’s your favorite or funniest memory of that time?

Jayson: My dad had this old video camera from the 1980s that we used. This thing was a beast. You had the camera itself, which weighed about 10 pounds. Then you had to carry around an entire VCR in a shoulder satchel to record onto and this 20-pound battery to power it all.

My friend Andrew and I would spend our summers making movies. ROBOCOP (1987) was one of our favorite movies, and we decided to make ROBOCOP 2. It was just him and I. I was RoboCop, complete with Skateboard Helmet, elbow and knee pads, and I had this big puffy winter jacket for the body armor. God, it was so silly, but so much fun. I still have those tapes somewhere, and they will probably only see the light of day again after I’m dead.

Chris Ethridge and the intrepid police officers of Morningside, NJ.

How did you start making movies, Chris?

Chris: My first experience with filmmaking was a film studies class in college, where I made a really terrible and pretentious short film about a pair of hit men on Super 8.  I did not love the process at the time.  After college in Virginia, I moved to Athens, GA, and had an large amount of time on my hands, so I began watching indie films. At some point, I had the same moment of clarity that everyone else who ever wanted to make film has – “I can do this better.”  This, of course, is a lie, and it took well over a decade of making shorts before I finally got to the point where I felt like I was truly happy with the quality of work I was making.  The work of the last few years is the easily the best, most accomplished material I’ve ever made, and I don’t think it is a coincidence that it has occurred during the period of time I have been working with Jayson.

Jayson, your production company is called Lobster Boy Productions. There has got to be a story behind that name.

Jayson: When I was in high school I sang in a punk band called Hodgepodge. We were getting to release a 7” single and needed a record label. Our drummer had just got back from the shore and was bright red with sunburn, so we started calling him Lobster Boy. Then it clicked, let’s call the label Lobster Boy Records. Since I was in charge of all the promotion and PR stuff, everyone started to call me Lobster Boy. I then began to put on shows for up and coming punk bands in New Jersey under the name Lobster Boy Productions. The nickname stuck and I have been using it since.

These days the company is Blue Dusk, that’s the one Chris and I started. But I will always be the Lobster Boy.

Both you and Chris are big Stephen King reader/fans, so I know SURVIVOR TYPE was like a dream come true for you. What’s up with that film now?

Jayson: Making SURVIVOR TYPE was my biggest geek moment! That was the story that really turned me onto King! So to have the opportunity to turn it into a film was, as you say, a dream come true.

The film was made under Mr. King’s Dollar Baby program, which allows up-and-coming filmmakers to use the nonexclusive  rights to some of his stories. Since they are nonexclusive, you can only show the film at festivals and as part of your portfolio. We did the festival run a few years ago, so unless Mr. King decides to allow the world to see it, most likely it will stay in the same foot locker my old ROBOCOP movies are hidden.

Are you taking THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER out on a festival run? When will it be available on DVD?

Chris: Absolutely, we are in the process of festival submissions right now.  We’ve had some definite interest in screening at some conventions, and we are even looking at potentially doing a small theatrical tour.  We are also in the midst of finalizing a distribution deal, and we are hoping for it to be out on DVD and VOD platforms sometime in the summer, but we don’t have a release date set at this time.

Finally, what’s next for you both?

Jayson: All good things to those who wait.

Tickets to both screenings of THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER are available at the door and in advance at http://themorningsidemonster.brownpapertickets.com/

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Shop Around: Carving Critters with Uncle Daddy Dirk Hays

Posted on: Feb 20th, 2012 By:

By Jennifer Belgard
Contributing Editor

Dirk Hays has been a force to reckon with since his arrival on the Atlanta Art scene in the early ‘80s. His style is a Dirty South Cocktail: a nostalgia-laced, moonshine Mai Tai served up in a flaming, coconut zombie-monkey cup garnished with a Fez. Dirk’s alter ego, Uncle Daddy, is behind the bar this time shaking up his own country concoctions. So, grab a bar stool, a Psychedelic Sarsaparilla, and sit a spell with us. Let Uncle Daddy spin a yarn.

ATLRetro: Tell me a little about yourself.

Dirk Hays: I grew up in a small town in Alabama and my dad was a sign painter, so I used to spend a lot of time hanging out at the sign shop and watching him work. I spent a lot of my childhood drawing and listening to music for hours on end. I loved comic books and would draw my favorite characters from them. When I was 15 or 16, I discovered underground comics and that clearly shaped my drawing style, along with other artists of the time, such as Big Daddy Roth and Basil Wolverton, and the crew at MAD magazine.

I have a degree in Visual Communications from Auburn University and worked in advertising for a few years after moving to Atlanta in 1982. During those years, I worked off and on at the Center for Puppetry Arts and developed a love for sculpture. I started making and selling my art about this time and enjoyed doing that solely for about 13 years, until I had the opportunity to learn to tattoo. I’ve owned and operated East Atlanta Tattoo for the past 10 years and I also play washtub bass in Uncle Daddy and the Kissin’ Cousins. I enjoy camping, working in my vegetable garden and hanging out with my wife [Editor’s Note: That’s Kool Kat Barbilicious Hays of Blast-Off Burlesque] and dogs. Oh, and bacon.

What led to the creation of Uncle Daddy’s Woodland Critters series?

I’ve always preferred painting on wood for some reason; maybe that goes back to watching my dad paint signs on wood, I don’t know. Sometimes the confines of a canvas with straight edges seems to restrict me and I tend to prefer cut out irregular shapes. The pieces started taking more of a sculptural bent, with the addition of various layers, a few years ago, with another series of work that I was doing. The idea for the critters has been with me for a while now, but only gelled recently. I made an owl one day and put the picture up on Facebook and had 60 some responses within no time. People were asking about prices and if I was doing any other animals, so it seemed like there was a good deal of interest right off the bat. I decided to work on this series under my band persona of Uncle Daddy, and I make them in my workshop on Woodland Avenue, so the name kind of came from that.

You repurpose materials like barn siding for the Critters. What other materials do you use and why? 

I’ve always been a big trash scavenger for art materials. I like the mix of something old and weathered with the freshly painted, bright colors, in some instances. Mainly, the critters are made of birch plywood that I cut out on the bandsaw, paint with a combination of spray and acrylic, and then glue together.

One of my favorite Critters is the O KISSUM. Tell me a little bit about what influences your work.

Well, obviously music and pop culture are big influences, as well as the comic artists that I spoke of earlier. I like to inject a little humor into the work when I can and that was just a silly idea that occurred to me as I was making the possum. Sometimes the different pieces laying around on my work table unassembled, seem to gravitate toward each other in unexpected ways. Mixing the elements up a little allows for more variety in the series and something outside the box. Is that an udder on that rabbitHorns on a beaver? Why not? Anything can happen in this forest, and the weirder the better for my tastes.

Where can we find Uncle Daddy’s Woodland Critters?

I’ve only been doing this series since the beginning of December, and most of the sales have been through Facebook, or in my driveway, up to this point. I recently placed a few at HodgePodge Coffeehouse and Gallery, 720 Moreland Avenue, in East Atlanta. I’m also speaking with the nice folks at Pine Street Market in Avondale Estates about showing some there, as well. I don’t have the space at the tattoo shop any longer to display art, since we gave up the gallery there, so I’m looking for a few locations around town to place them. People can still contact me through Facebook, and if you like the page, you can keep up with any updates there. I usually post any new critters as soon as they’re done, too, so you can get first dibs on new creations. I also do commissions, so if you have an idea for a critter, other than a portrait of your dog, hit me up and I’ll see if I can make it happen.

Any new projects or events coming up?

Just working on new critters, getting ready for spring. I’d like to show the work at some local art/craft festivals, if the stars align just right and I can make it work between band gigs and running the tattoo shop.

About the Author: ATLRetro Contributing Editor Jennifer Belgard is Co-Conspirator at Libertine, Curator of Curios at Diamond*Star*Halo,  Barkeep at Euclid Avenue Yacht Club, and Co-Coordinator of Chaos for the Little 5 Points Halloween Parade & Festival.  In her spare time she enjoys Turnin’ TriXXX and playing Queen of Your Distraction.

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