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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Retro Review: Fly Into the Past Aboard CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG at the historic Plaza Theatre!

Posted on: Mar 29th, 2013 By:

CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG (1968); Dir. Ken Hughes; Starring Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howe, Gert Fröbe and Lionel Jeffries; Starts Friday, March 29 ; Plaza Atlanta; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett, Contributing Writer

The Plaza Theatre has a long, storied and—at times—notorious past. So leave it to them to revive one of the most frightening memories of my childhood by bringing CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG  back to the big screen.

As a tiny tot, my family would drive across town every weekend to have lunch at my grandparents’ house. And being a movie fiend at even that young age, I’d plop down to watch whatever was playing on the Sunday Afternoon TV Movie that week while everyone talked in the kitchen and prepped the meal. There was a certain rotation to the movies they’d schedule, and it seemed like every couple of months or so they’d show either the Beatles’ YELLOW SUBMARINE or—more likely—CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. And I’d sit enraptured by the movie every time, even though I knew what was coming and that it would scare the pants off me.

Sure, most of the movie is harmless enough stuff. It’s set in the salad days of the 1910s, before the specter of World War I darkened the horizon. There’s Dick Van Dyke being his typical charming self as the perpetually failing inventor Caractacus Potts, but he could play charming in his sleep. There’s Sally Ann Howe in the Julie Andrewsas-Mary Poppins-eque role of Truly Scrumptious (Andrews herself was offered the role, but turned it down; it then went to Howe, who had replaced Andrews on Broadway in MY FAIR LADY). There are memorable songs from Disney’s celebrated in-house composers Richard and Robert Sherman. There are a couple of precious kids, a kindly grandfather and, best of all, a magical car named Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (after the sounds it makes while running). Despite the film’s meandering tone and frequent tangential detours, once we start seeing the car in action, it becomes something thrillingly charming.

The story has its roots in the children’s book by—strange as it may seem—Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond. He was sidelined from writing the Bond novels due to protracted lawsuits surrounding THUNDERBALL. Constantly stressed about the case, Fleming suffered two major heart attacks. During his recuperation, he set out to write a book based on a bedtime story he’d concocted for his son Caspar. Fleming, sadly, did not live to see the book published. A mere two months before its publication, on Caspar’s 12th birthday, Ian Fleming succumbed to a third and fatal heart attack.

Fleming is not the only Bond connection to the film, though. It was produced by Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, co-producer of the classic Bond films. It was directed by Ken Hughes, fresh off directing his segment of the Bond spoof CASINO ROYALE. The film co-stars Gert “Auric Goldfinger” Fröbe and Desmond “Q” Llewellyn. And, most importantly, it was adapted for the screen by the screenwriter of the previous year’s YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE: renowned children’s author and close friend of Fleming’s, Roald Dahl. And that’s where things get weird. And scary.

See, Dahl’s sensibilities were so black as to be nearly morbid. His CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, for example, has so many kids meeting their (non-fatal) ends that it’s practically THE HUNGER GAMES set in the candy manufacturing industry. So Dahl (along with director Hughes) took great liberty with the source material and created something nearly as traumatic as the boat ride in 1971’s WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY or the flying monkeys in 1939’s THE WIZARD OF OZ.

During the course of the movie’s ambling narrative, we learn that Baron Bomburst, the tyrannical leader of Vulgaria, wants to steal Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He sends two spies to kidnap Potts and force him to build a duplicate, but they kidnap Truly Scrumptious’ father and Grandpa Potts by mistake. Caractacus, Truly and the kids take off in Chitty to rescue the oldsters, and fly to the dreary country.

Why is the country so dreary, you might ask? Because there are no children on the streets of Vulgaria. And why not, you ask again? Because of…

The Child Catcher.

*shudder*

A character created entirely by Dahl for the film, Sir Robert Helpmann’s portrayal of the grotesque Child Catcher is one of the most frightening cinematic creations ever to be foisted upon unsuspecting movie-going children. The character is in the employ of the Baron and Baroness Bomburst, who hate children so much that the sight of them sends the couple into fits of fear and loathing. With his spindly legs, pasty face, black clothing, warped top hat and enormous nose (with which he can smell the very presence of the little rugrats: “This nose of mine has never failed me. And if there are children here, my friend, you will die.”), he tempts children out of hiding with promises of lollipops and treacle tarts and then takes them away in his carriage to be imprisoned.

And this is where I’d be sent into paroxysms of terror. Not even the presence of Benny Hill as a gentle toymaker could save me. No, this guy wormed his way into my consciousness and took root. He still freaks me out a little. And I’m not the only one. The character was voted in a 2005 BBC poll as “the scariest villain in books,” despite never appearing in the book. In 2009, a poll carried out by Penguin Books named him as the seventh scariest character of all time.

The Child Catcher even figures prominently as an avatar of childhood fright in the earlier, funnier work of Marilyn Manson. On the band’s debut album, PORTRAIT OF AN AMERICAN FAMILY, he is obliquely the subject of the song “Organ Grinder,” which features samples of the character calling out “Here we are children! Come and get your lollipops! Lollipops! Come along my little ones!” Manson’s second release, SMELLS LIKE CHILDREN, was even named in the character’s honor and featured Mr. Manson on the cover dressed in the Child Catcher’s garb.

So toss your cynicism aside and let the film take you back to a more innocent time. The journey may go all over the place, plot-wise, but it’s a scenic route. And the Plaza may not have a magical flying car, but taking a trip with CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG costs you only the price of a ticket. Come along, kiddie-winkies!

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

 

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30 Days of The Plaza, Day 22: Now Playing This Week!

Posted on: Jul 11th, 2012 By:

So many of us tend to only get down to The Plaza Theatre when there’s a special screening, but that’s part of the reason we could lose this Atlanta treasure if we’re not careful. So before you head down to the multiplex, how about instead seeing that first-run movie down on Ponce. You might even see a cool indie or foreign film that you didn’t even know about…

A CAT IN PARIS

Academy Award nominee for Best Animated Feature, A CAT IN PARIS is a beautifully hand-drawn caper set in the shadow-drenched alleyways of Paris. Dino is a pet cat that leads a double life. By day he lives with Zoe, a little mute girl whose mother, Jeanne, is a detective in the Parisian police force. But at night he sneaks out the window to work with Nico—a slinky cat burglar with a big heart, whose fluid movements are poetry in motion. The cat’s two worlds collide when young Zoe decides to follow Dino on his nocturnal adventures—and falls into the hands of Victor Costa, a blustery gangster planning the theft of a rare statue. Now cat and cat burglar must team up to save Zoe from the bumbling thieves, leading to a thrilling acrobatic finale on top of Notre Dame.  A CAT IN PARIS is a warm and richly humorous love letter to classic noir films and the stylized wit of the Pink Panther cartoons. Dino, the literal cat burglar, manages to steal the show with little more than a subtle swish of the tail and quiet mew. In English. Plus short, “Extinction of the Saber-Toothed House Cat.”

HUNGER GAMES

Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the evil Capitol of the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games. A twisted punishment for a past uprising and an ongoing government intimidation tactic, The Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which “Tributes” must fight with one another until one survivor remains. Pitted against highly-trained Tributes who have prepared for these Games their entire lives, Katniss (Jennifer LawrenceWINTER’S BONE) is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts as well as the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). If she’s ever to return home to District 12, Katniss must make impossible choices in the arena that weigh survival against humanity and life against love. Based on Suzanne Collins’ best-selling novel, the first in a trilogy that has developed a massive global following, the sci-fi action drama THE HUNGER GAMES also stars Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland and Lenny Kravitz, and is directed and co-written by Gary Ross (SEABISCUITPLEASANTVILLE).
WHERE DO WE GO NOW?
Infused with songs and dancing, this serio-comic fable of a community beset by conflict between two faiths speaks out the desire of every citizen to live in peace. Set in a remote village where a Christian church and Muslim mosque stand side by side, director/co-writer/actress Nadine Labaki‘s (Caramel) ironically humorous drama follows the antics of the town’s women to keep their blowhard men from starting a religious war. Women heartsick over sons, husbands and fathers lost to previous flare-ups unite to distract their men with a variety of clever ruses, from faking a miracle to hiring a troop of Ukrainian strippers. Winner of the People’s Choice Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.

Category: Tis the Season To Be... | Tags: , , , ,

30 Days of The Plaza, Day 16: Now Playing This Week!

Posted on: Jun 27th, 2012 By:

So many of us tend to only get down to The Plaza Theatre when there’s a special screening, but that’s part of the reason we could lose this Atlanta treasure if we’re not careful. So before you head down to the multiplex, how about instead seeing that first-run movie down on Ponce. You might even see a cool indie or foreign film that you didn’t even know about…

I WISH (Ends Thurs. June 28!)

Twelve-year-old Koichi lives with his mother and grandparents in a small town by a smoking volcano. His parents’ divorce has split the family, with his younger brother Ryu and their feckless rock musician dad living over a hundred miles away. Koichi yearns for his family to be reunited, and when he learns that a new bullet train line will soon open—linking the two towns—he starts to believe that the combined energy when two trains pass each other at top speed could make his wish come true. With the help of friends, Koichi organizes an expedition to the mid-point of the train lines, with Ryu coming from the other direction—all of them thinking about what they would most like to wish for. A sweet ode to what we value in life, written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda (NOBODY KNOWS, STILL WALKING, AFTER LIFE), who is known for his keen depictions of the trials and tribulations of everyday existence, the innocent minds of children and the warmth of family life.

MARLEY

Bob Marley‘s universal appeal, impact on music history and role as a social and political prophet is both unique and unparalleled. MARLEY is the definitive life story of the musician, revolutionary, and legend, from his early days to his rise to international superstardom. Made with the support of the Marley family, the film features rare footage, incredible performances and revelatory interviews with the people that knew him best.

HUNGER GAMES

Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the evil Capitol of the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games. A twisted punishment for a past uprising and an ongoing government intimidation tactic, The Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which “Tributes” must fight with one another until one survivor remains. Pitted against highly-trained Tributes who have prepared for these Games their entire lives, Katniss (Jennifer LawrenceWINTER’S BONE) is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts as well as the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). If she’s ever to return home to District 12, Katniss must make impossible choices in the arena that weigh survival against humanity and life against love. Based on Suzanne Collins’ best-selling novel, the first in a trilogy that has developed a massive global following, the sci-fi action drama THE HUNGER GAMES also stars Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland and Lenny Kravitz, and is directed and co-written by Gary Ross (SEABISCUITPLEASANTVILLE).
Starts Friday June 29…
WHERE DO WE GO NOW?
Infused with songs and dancing, this serio-comic fable of a community beset by conflict between two faiths speaks out the desire of every citizen to live in peace. Set in a remote village where a Christian church and Muslim mosque stand side by side, director/co-writer/actress Nadine Labaki‘s (Caramel) ironically humorous drama follows the antics of the town’s women to keep their blowhard men from starting a religious war. Women heartsick over sons, husbands and fathers lost to previous flare-ups unite to distract their men with a variety of clever ruses, from faking a miracle to hiring a troop of Ukrainian strippers. Winner of the People’s Choice Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.

Category: Tis the Season To Be... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

30 Days of the Plaza, Day 15, Now Playing This Week!

Posted on: Jun 19th, 2012 By:

So many of us tend to only get down to The Plaza Theatre when there’s a special screening, but that’s part of the reason we could lose this Atlanta treasure if we’re not careful. So before you head down to the multiplex, how about instead seeing that first-run movie down on Ponce. You might even see a cool indie or foreign film that you didn’t even know about. Here’s what’s playing through Thursday…

I WISH

Twelve-year-old Koichi lives with his mother and grandparents in a small town by a smoking volcano. His parents’ divorce has split the family, with his younger brother Ryu and their feckless rock musician dad living over a hundred miles away. Koichi yearns for his family to be reunited, and when he learns that a new bullet train line will soon open—linking the two towns—he starts to believe that the combined energy when two trains pass each other at top speed could make his wish come true. With the help of friends, Koichi organizes an expedition to the mid-point of the train lines, with Ryu coming from the other direction—all of them thinking about what they would most like to wish for. A sweet ode to what we value in life, written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda (NOBODY KNOWS, STILL WALKING, AFTER LIFE), who is known for his keen depictions of the trials and tribulations of everyday existence, the innocent minds of children and the warmth of family life.

MARLEY

Bob Marley‘s universal appeal, impact on music history and role as a social and political prophet is both unique and unparalleled. MARLEY is the definitive life story of the musician, revolutionary, and legend, from his early days to his rise to international superstardom. Made with the support of the Marley family, the film features rare footage, incredible performances and revelatory interviews with the people that knew him best.

HUNGER GAMES

Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the evil Capitol of the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games. A twisted punishment for a past uprising and an ongoing government intimidation tactic, The Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which “Tributes” must fight with one another until one survivor remains. Pitted against highly-trained Tributes who have prepared for these Games their entire lives, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence, WINTER’S BONE) is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts as well as the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). If she’s ever to return home to District 12, Katniss must make impossible choices in the arena that weigh survival against humanity and life against love. Based on Suzanne Collins’ best-selling novel, the first in a trilogy that has developed a massive global following, the sci-fi action drama THE HUNGER GAMES also stars Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland and Lenny Kravitz, and is directed and co-written by Gary Ross (SEABISCUIT, PLEASANTVILLE).

Category: Tis the Season To Be... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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