Kool Kat of the Week: Bret Wood Extinguishes Bloodlines and Thrills Us Yet Again With His Latest Cinematic Venture, THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE

Posted on: Feb 22nd, 2017 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

The last time we caught up with the ever-busy Atlanta filmmaker Bret Wood was before the 2014 Atlanta Film Festival screening of THE UNWANTED, his contemporary take on Sheridan Le Fanu’s vampire novella “Carmilla.”  Bret is at it again with his current independent cinematic endeavor, THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE (TWD2D), a loose modern-day adaptation of Thomas de Quincey’s novella “The Avenger.” Fueled by visions of ‘60s gialli.” TWD2D is a thriller that “subverts the formula of the revenge film,” following its “hero” as he seeks gruesome justice. According to its official description: “Goaded by the cold-hearted spirit of his undead 10-year-old sister Berenice, Jonathan wades into ever-deepening, ethically muddier water—for their plan is to not just punish the guilty, but extinguish their bloodlines entirely.” The film stars Joe Sykes [V/H/S (2012); THE LITTLE DEATH (2010)], Alice Lewis (first starring role) and Rachel Frawley. While Bret has personally funded all of his prior film projects, this ghastly twist of a revenge story is being partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign chock full of enticing perks, including copies of the film upon its release to video (Fall 2018). Be a part of bloody fantastic film history and snatch up a killer perk or two via the crowd-sourcing campaign available through February 25! Check out the full range of rewards here!

A rare and obscure film connoisseur, Bret regularly digs deep into the historic cinematic landscape through his enviable day-job as Vice President of Special Projects with Kino Lorber. On the heels of receiving the 2016 Film Heritage Award from the National Society of Film Critics for his PIONEERS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CINEMA (2016) collection, he dove right into his next restoration project, PIONEERS: FIRST WOMEN FILMMAKERS, promising to expose viewers to lesser known, yet significant female film pioneers.

ATLRetro caught up with Bret for a quick rundown on THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE, his devotion to film history’s weirdest and wackiest; and why going with crowd-funding made sense for this project! While you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A, why not take a sinister peek at the teaser trailer for TWD2D here.

ATLRetro: The last time ATLRETRO caught up with you was with your take on “Carmilla,” THE UNWANTED (2014). And now we see you’re diving head first into Thomas de Quincey’s novella “The Avenger” with your newest film adventure, THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE. Why “The Avenger” and why adaptations of classic literature?

Bret Wood: I’m a voracious reader, and I usually follow some thread of ideas from one book to another rather than just randomly choosing books from a shelf. It’s a great way of discovering writers I wasn’t previously familiar with. At the time I discovered The Avenger, I had been reading a lot of Gothic novels — specifically pseudo-memoirs from a skewed perspective — things like de Quincey’s CONFESSIONS OF AN ENGLISH OPIUM EATER, Charles Maturin’s MELMOTH THE WANDERER and James Hogg’s THE PRIVATE MEMOIRS AND CONFESSIONS OF A JUSTIFIED SINNER. I think it was Joris-Karl Huysmans’s THE DAMNED (LA-BAS) that started me on this whole journey. I like this era of literature because it’s the kind of thing not many other people are reading, and it’s all in the public domain, so if I do find a story that would work well as a film, it’s mine for the taking. There’s nothing worse than discovering a story that would make an incredible film, but knowing it would be impossible to clear the rights (there’s a William Lindsay Gresham [NIGHTMARE ALLEY] story I’m dying to adapt.)

And with pre-1900 books like these, I’m really adapting the spirit of the work, not the plot. As THE UNWANTED bears little physical resemblance to “Carmilla,” THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE does not replicate the plot of The Avenger. But hopefully both of them capture the emotional essence of what makes both of those stories so compelling, and so troubling.

(l-r) Bret Wood, Rachel Frawley

Why a Kickstarter for THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE? What are the advantages of taking the crowd-sourcing route?

Previously I’ve self-funded all my films, but the cost of indie filmmaking in Atlanta has risen considerably since the arrival of Hollywood productions. It’s become more difficult to secure locations, and we have to compete with major studio productions for crew. Just a few years ago, when filmmaking opportunities were limited, there was an abundance of crew who were eager to take on labors of love in order to get experience and make the kind of connections they could build careers on. Now, everyone’s busy on well-paying projects, and it’s not fair for us to ask them to show up on their days off and work 10 to 12-hour days for the love of the art. Over the course of making TWD2D, we’ve assembled a terrific, very dedicated core crew, but I want to treat them fairly and not burn them out on independent production. We want to leave them willing to support the next grassroots project – to insure that this kind of filmmaking can continue in Atlanta.

There are several great things about crowd-funding. One is that it allows anyone to participate. And the size of the donation is less important than the knowledge that someone out there likes the idea of what you’re doing and wants you to see it through to completion. Another attribute of Kickstarter is that when people make a contribution, there are no strings attached. They are supporting the creation of your work without imposing conditions or restrictions upon the donation. As soon as artists accept money from an investor, they can’t help but begin to think of the film as a business and bear the responsibility of shaping the film into something that will become profitable. You can’t help it. That Hollywood mentality starts to creep in.

Joe Sykes as Jonathan

I’m not saying my vision is “pure” or that profitable films are somehow corrupt. But I am trying to make films from the gut – that evolve and find their own form through the process of collaborating with other artists. THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE is a film that emerges from the process of making a film. Just last week, two of the actors (Joe Sykes and Keith Brooks) helped me re-conceptualize a scene that was problematic, and we shot that sequence over the weekend. Likewise, we try to make sure the set is a place where new ideas are welcome, and we’re not just banging a punch list of predetermined shots.

You’ve put together some great bonuses for investors, ranging from special DVDs and Blu-rays to pass codes to stream your past films to posters and private screenings (Exciting!). What can folks looking to invest via Kickstarter expect to get when they back your film?

I think most people want to get a copy of the finished film, but for those who don’t want to wait the year-and-a-half it will probably take for TWD2D to be completed and then released on video, they can join us for the cast-and-crew screening, get copies of my previous work, two different styles of T-shirt, and I’ve dragged out a few things from my memorabilia closet, including a key prop from THE UNWANTED [Millarca’s severed head] and an original print by David Lynch for any big-money donors out there. Of course the greatest reward of all is the satisfaction of keeping truly independent film alive and well in Atlanta – and you get that even at the $5 pledge level.

Looks like many of your cast and crew are Atlantans or from the surrounding area, including yourself. What can you tell us about your cast/crew and why do you think it’s important to work with local talent?

With Atlanta being overwhelmed with studio production, I think it’s more important than ever that indie film projects ORIGINATE locally. The studios have come here for the tax breaks but quickly discovered what a rich and deep pool of filmmaking talent resides here. I don’t think anyone expected the Georgia film industry to expand the way it has — and you can’t chalk that all up to tax incentives. The problem is that the writers/directors/leading actors of these projects are still almost exclusively brought in from the West Coast. The studios and networks don’t see this as a place where ideas are originated and projects germinated. The most successful content-originators in Atlanta are self-starters — people like Will Packer and Tyler Perry. And we need more filmmakers like that — who are crafting their own unique work, and not asking some corporate entity for permission to make films.

You’re a well-known local film historian, as Vice President of Special Projects with Kino Lorber, and have produced Blu-ray releases for the films of legendary directors Mario Bava, Stanley Kubrick, Jess Franco, D.W. Griffith and more! Which project was the most intriguing? In the grand scheme of things, why do you feel it is important to not only preserve film, but to share these works of art with the masses?

Just as I read books from another era, I’ve always loved watching films from the past. Part of it is my distaste for all things contemporary, but mostly it is the thrill of discovering something new. If you love cinema, then there is a whole universe out there waiting to be explored. And you can’t do it from the convenient portal of Netflix. You’ve got to get up off the couch and look for it yourself. And it’s exciting to go on a quest to track down obscure works by obscure filmmakers that only YOU truly understand and appreciate (or so it seems, until you discover there are others who share your passion for the odd and eclectic). And that process opens up social opportunities and enables you to create new friendships (both real and virtual). Go over to Videodrome and strike up a conversation with whoever’s on duty — you’ll see what I mean. That’s really a snapshot of who I am and how I defined myself during my youth.

Alice Lewis

I try to hold on to that sense of discovery in my day job, as I ferret out lesser-known films and give them the best possible presentation so that they’ll be out there for other cineastes to discover. I produce DVDs/Blu-rays of the classics, but I’m also allowed to slip into the release schedule some truly strange and fascinating films that aren’t on most people’s cultural radar; things like the silent-era drug film THE DEVIL’S NEEDLE, the satanic soft-core film THE LAST STEP DOWN, the 3-D film A*P*E, the oddball noir THE CHASE. I’ve got a full plate for 2017 and look forward to introducing some strange new flavors to people’s cinematic palate.

On the heels of receiving the 2016 Film Heritage Award from the National Society of Film Critics for your PIONEERS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CINEMA (2016) collection, you’ve jumped right into PIONEERS: FIRST WOMEN FILMMAKERS. Can you tell our readers a little about this project?

PIONEERS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CINEMA succeeded beyond our expectations, and I really felt as though I had helped consolidate and publish a hugely important chapter of American film history. It was unique in that it wasn’t just a “greatest hits” of early black cinema; it explored both the cornerstones of the movement and the virtually unknown work. We included lesser-known films. We included incomplete films. We included films so eroded by nitrate decomposition that they are almost incomprehensible. But these films are important nonetheless. They are the mortar that fills in the cracks of the bricks of black film history. And they would never be released under ordinary economic circumstances. PIONEERS was funded by a Kickstarter campaign and the $50,000+ that we raised afforded me an unprecedented amount of creative freedom — resulting in a collection of films that would otherwise have been impossible, or at least commercially unviable.

Fortunately, I was able to maintain the momentum, launch a second KS campaign, and am now knee-deep in producing PIONEERS: FIRST WOMEN FILMMAKERS, which focuses specifically on women directors of the American film industry in the silent era. Our aim is specific because, as with the first PIONEERS, we didn’t want to make this a “greatest hits” collection [Lois Weber, Alice Guy-Blaché]. We want to show you the works you’ve never seen, and expose you to the filmmakers you’ve never heard of [Gene Gauntier, Angela Murray Gibson, Julia Crawford Ivers, Ida May Park, Marion E. Wong]. And by focusing on American silents, we’re able to tell a fascinating – and ultimately depressing – story of how women were pushed out of the director’s chair and into support roles within the Hollywood studio system.

Can you tell our readers how you got into film preservation and filmmaking?

After meeting film historian Dennis Doros when he came to speak at a screening at the University of Tennessee (where I was a student), I was offered a job at the film/video distributor Kino International (now Kino Lorber) in 1987. I started out doing telephone sales for near-poverty wages but was just happy to be working for a company with impeccable taste in its library of films. As the years passed, I migrated away from sales – which I was never very good at – into design work, eventually becoming the Art Director. I gradually accumulated a knowledge of post-production, film mastering, digital restoration, editing, and became Kino’s primary producer of archival projects. Today, the company is much larger, and I’m one of several producers, but I’m still the archival classics guy. And while I have more freedom in acquiring films and negotiating with the archives and licensors, I’m still a very hands-on producer, writing liner notes, designing packaging, supervising film restorations, cutting trailers. Every day is something different (today I get to work on the Republic serial DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE and Josef von Sternberg’s ANATAHAN) and that’s what I love about the job.

You seem to be drawn to exploitation films, with your preservation projects, your documentaries [HELL’S HIGHWAY] and your writing projects [“FORBIDDEN FRUIT: THE GOLDEN AGE OF THE EXPLOITATION FILM” and “MARIHUANA, MOTHERHOOD, AND MADNESS”]. What is the magnetizing power of exploitation flicks? And which exploitation film is a definite must-see for our readers?  Yes, we’re forcing you to choose just one.

(l-r) Alice Lewis, Joe Sykes

Funny you should bring these up. I’m just about to close a deal with Something Weird Video for Kino Lorber to revive their “Roadshow Rarities” collection and carry on the tradition that Mike Vraney began with his VHS releases of the early 1990s. We’re going to perform 2K restorations, launch theatrical re-releases of certain titles, and eventually release them on Blu-ray. What I love is that these films, routinely dismissed a kitschy and naive – that was the whole gist of New Line’s marketing of REEFER MADNESS on the midnight movie circuit in the 1970s – are actually much smarter than we give them credit for. They are playful films made by clever filmmakers who figured out a way to game the system, bypassing the censor boards, defying the studio distribution system, and lining their pockets with cash. They pretended to make films to educate the masses on the dangers of drug addiction, venereal diseases, bestiality, polygamy, and other social problems, but were actually making outrageous films that indulged America’s appetites for these forbidden vices. We don’t think of the 1930s and 1940s as a heyday of indie cinema, but it was, and there is still much to be learned from these films.

A favorite? Definitely MANIAC (1934). It is a psychological horror film made by self-taught husband-and-wife filmmakers Dwain Esper and Hildagarde Stadie Esper that plays like a true crime surrealist art film with dashes of Edgar Allan Poe.

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

I don’t want others to rush out and discover them — these are MY current fascinations: 1) the novels of Peter Ackroyd;  2) the music of Jacques Brel; 3) any film by Michael Haneke; 4) Bill Gunn’s 1973 film GANJA AND HESS; and 5) Rouben Mamoulian’s APPLAUSE (1929). If you are determined to watch a recent film, I recommend THE LOBSTER and UNDER THE SKIN.

Getting back to why we’re here chatting you up, THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE and the film’s Kickstarter campaign! Without giving too much away, what can you tell our readers about the film and when they can expect to catch it on the big screen?

THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE is a revenge story with a supernatural twist. It follows a war hero [Joe Sykes] who returns to his home town to avenge the death of his family guided and goaded by the spirit of his dead sister, played by Alice Lewis. When he meets a social worker [Rachel Frawley] who treats PTSD and war-related “moral injury,” the character begins to question the purpose of this campaign of gruesome violence, and his whole quest for justice begins to unravel into chaos. We hope to finish photography in late spring, and have a cast-and-crew screening around the end of the year. Festival screenings should begin happening in Spring 2018, with a home video release in Fall 2018.

The Kickstarter campaign ends Saturday February 25, so it’s not too late to score a T-shirt or give us that welcome boost of confidence that comes with ANY donation to the cause! Check it out here!

All photos courtesy of Bret Wood and are used with permission.

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Shop Around: Horror In Clay Puts the Lovecraft into Tiki Mugs and Merchandise

Posted on: Feb 27th, 2014 By:

The prototype for the Innsmouth Fogcutter mug, unglazed.

Trader Vic’s meets H.P. Lovecraft in the wonderfully weird tiki mug and accessory line of Atlanta-based Horror in Clay. Their fine-crafted ceramic green Cthulhu mugs have been raising tentacles among Lovecraft and Retro Hawaiiana fans alike, and if you’ve been to an Atlanta area con, chances are you walked away with a complimentary tentacled Pickman’s Cove cocktail stirrer. Their newest creation is the Innsmouth Fogcutter mug, which already has made its funding goal in another blockbuster Kickstarter campaign. There are plenty more stretch and social goals to unlock, and preorders are sure to be filled with all sorts of fun extras at different levels.

To find out more about the obscure origins of Horror in Clay, the Innsmouth Fogcutter, the Kickstarter campaign, and what terrifying tiki creations are down the dark road, we caught up recently with Jonathan Chaffin, mad mastermind of  the eldritch enterprise along with his lovely wife Allison.

ATLRetro: How did you personally discover H.P. Lovecraft?

Jonathan:  I wrote a term paper on Lovecraft in ’95. Pretty sure it was a combination of three things: #1  I read all the time, particularly short horror fiction – and when I don’t read I listen to audio podcasts like www.pseudopod.org. I have a particular fondness for Poe, Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson, so early horror and weird tales and those who write them are an easy sell for me. Love of literature and details – check.  I think that’s why I knew the name.

#2 Do you remember the cartoon THE INHUMANOIDS?  It came on alongside  JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS and BIGFOOT AND THE MUSCLE MACHINES  on Saturday mornings. I loved that show. One of the monsters was a giant tentacled beastie from the Earth’s mantle named Tendril.  Tendril was a big shambling green thing bedecked with tentacles, and unlike most of the other toys at the time, the Inhumanoids toy line was to scale; the monsters TOWERED over the good guys.  Giant tentacle monster toy beloved and embedded in my brain – check.  That’s why I wanted to learn more about Cthulhu.

#3 When I was on a bus-tour in England, I ran out of books, so I ran into a shop to get one – and what I found was HP LOVECRAFT OMNIBUS 3: HAUNTER OF THE DARK with a giant monster snacking on people on the cover. Giant monster, giant book of horror short stories, bus tour through the land of fens and lochs – good times and a lifeline affinity for old Anglophilic HP Lovecraft.

Cthulu-Elvis, Jonathan Chaffin, and the Horror in Clay'd Cthulhu mug.

How did you and Allison get the idea to design and market a Cthulhu Tiki mug?

I’m an avid collector of, well, everything, but especially of horror movie ephemera and Tiki stuff. Allison and I had a Tiki-themed wedding and have a lot of affinity for Trader Vic’s, the Mai-Kai [in Fort Lauderdale] and theme restaurants in general. Well, the thing about collecting a lot of Tiki stuff and horror autographs and such is it needs somewhere to live. In our old apartment we had a sort of Addams Family vibe in one room that was also our dry bar – artifacts and totems and monsters, oh my!  When you are a graphic designer, everything is a design problem to be solved, so for me the process went something like: This is a Tiki bar -> Tiki bars have signature cocktails and mugs -> What kind of mug should go here?  Given that Cthulhu sleeps his death away in sunken R’yleh in the South Pacific, that seemed a fun subject for a mug.

Were you surprised by its runaway success?

Surprised by the success doesn’t begin to cover it.  I probably wouldn’t have even attempted it except for a push from my friend Pauli [Vauxhall Garden Variety Players], who basically loaned me some of the money to have a prototype made and said, “Meh. Go see what happens.”  I was told we’d probably have hundreds of them living in our basement forever, but I decided to try anyway.

Since Tiki mugs generally come from somewhere, I decided to tell a story with ours; the Cthulhu Tiki mug is an artifact from the fictional Pickman’s Cove bar in Boston, run by Benjamin Upton and decorated with curios and painting inherited from his uncle. Ol’ Ben was eventually presumed dead – due to the amount of blood strewn about [but] there was no body). I created coasters, matchbooks, swizzles, and a nautiloid bar set to help tell the story of Pickman’s Cove. Then I learned about Kickstarter and figured it couldn’t hurt to try and get a production mug made. And life went a little crazy.
The first few days the first Kickstarter launched, pledges were coming in constantly.  We got picked up by Boingboing.net, IO9 and Laughing Squid, and all manner of places and backers jumped on the tentacled bandwagon.  We funded in 74 hours and had to scramble to come up with stretch goals and similar. It was nerve wracking, because what was going to be a small run of 500 became a run of 2000 – that’s three pallets of Tiki mugs! Fortunately, logistics are my wife’s strong point and she was able to get everything settled, but for a while there it was, quite daunting!  It’s been successful enough to become an ongoing thing, and we vend at a few events during the year, which is a whole new dimension we quite enjoy! ConCarolinas in Charlotte is our next outing as Horror In Clay.

Tell us about the Innsmouth Fogcutter Mug from the story to the craftsmanship behind it.

The Innsmouth Fogcutter mug started as an in-joke on the Cthulhu Tiki mug. If you look, dread Cthulhu has his own little fogcutter mug clenched in one tentacle, complete with umbrella and bendy straw. I wanted it to be a Fogcutter as an homage to Trader Vic’s Atlanta and to the long-defunct Atlanta Luau restaurant.  When the Cthulhu mug was blowing up and people were asking me what was next, I told myself I wanted to make that Fogcutter mug.

 

As mentioned, I try and create a total picture of the environment one of my mugs is from; much like a clothing line, each mug has complimentary artifacts that tell its story. I even have a “bible” like you would find for a stage play that lists facts and details I want the mug and artifacts to reference or adhere to.  The Innsmouth Fogcutter is intended to be from the Gilman House hotel, a locale made famous in Lovecraft’s THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH, but also has an original backstory I created that is revealed through digital artifacts and other physical pieces – some of which are available as rewards through the Kickstarter. The back story for the Innsmouth Fogcutter has to do with expectations and changes. As you rotate the mug you realize that what looks like a creepy monster hand reaching up for a beauty on a dock is actually the beauty herself changing into a hybrid, then monstrous form. Similarly, I refer to the mug’s backstory as a romantic tragedy. Really, what else would expect from benighted, ill-reputed Innsmouth?

 

Horror in Clay's bar line including Cthulhu mugs, tentacled double jigger, bar spoons, coasters and Pickman's Cove stirrers.

The concept for the design on the mug came about because I adore practical special effects. Any werewolf transformation sequence is a special treat to me, and I wondered what a transition to a Deep One would look like. Or perhaps I just played too much Altered Beast.  Also, the final form of our Deep One on the mug is inspired by Froggacuda and Sharkoss from the ARCO Other World toy line. What can I say?! I love me some toys.

 

Production mugs are awesome things; much like a sonnet they are all the more amazing for the structural limitations imposed by the process. That said, as a collector I will always love limited editions. For this mug the wonderous Wendy Cevola will be creating a mold from the production master and then producing a very limited number of hand-retouched and glazed variations from the basic design. She has done some amazing work. You should check out her Tiki Bob series of variations

 

You’ve made your Kickstarter goal, but there are more wonders to unlock. Can you tell folks why they should still throw in some money?

 

First off, because the mug is amazing, everyone needs at least two in case they want to drink out of it more than once. Also, it’s funded, so it is going to happen, and I’ve done this before with a high rate of satisfaction, so I’m pretty sure I can do it again. Additionally, I designed way more than I needed for this Kickstarter, and if we get enough funding, we can add some neat stuff to every level and bounce some other ideas into production sooner.  Things that I think will be awesome – like a shade parasol printed with still more backstory elements, or like the Horror Infused bitters we’ve had formulated.

 

Horror in Clay doesn’t just make mugs. What are some of your other products, including those high-quality fezzes?

 

Glad you like em! An IMPORTANT note about the fezzes!  We don’t make ’em! They are the brainchild and product of Jason Rodgers and www.fezorama.com. He’s been doing this whole artist/creator thing much longer than I. His work is amazing, and I’m really pleased he was game for collaborating on a design to match the Innsmouth Fogcutter Tiki mug.  Since the story features the Esoteric Order of Dagon, I thought that having a fez as part of our Innsmouth collection was a great thing – plus I collect Fez-o-rama fezzes. We are an authorized reseller of a limited selection of Fez-o-rama designs only at conventions, as he is an authorized reseller of Horror In Clay mugs.

 

With that out of the way, we make all sorts of things, because I’m trying to make each collection tell a story using whatever makes sense.  Some things besides the mug that we’ve made that have gotten a lot of attention are our tentacled double jigger and bar spoon. People love the tentacle. Fun fact, the tentacled bar set is missing an icepick because it was used as a murder weapon. Since I have different stories to tell, I’m going to be developing different supporting artifacts to flesh out each story. The locale-based Tiki mug has been working out for us, and I have some more ideas in that vein, so I’d expect to see more of that.

 

What’s next for Horror in Clay?

 

Our next two drawing-board projects are the shade parasol and bitters to help fill in the gap while the next mug is developed. The idea for the next mug is already around. How quickly it sees life as a prototype depends on how the Kickstarter for the Innsmouth Fogcutter does. It was two years between the Cthulhu Tiki Mug and the Innsmouth Fogcutter.

 

What do you do when you aren’t crafting Horror in Clay?

 

Designing things and doing a little freelance, monitoring the media streams and watching movies. Just lately I’ve also been writing a little. I have some essays in “Monster Serials: Morbid Love Letters to Horror Cinema” from www.thecollinsporthistoricalsociety.com.  Ever more frequently I seem to be shipping orders, which is a great thing. Oh, and I love supporting my local tiki bars and theme restaurants!

 

Horror on Clay can also be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/horrorinclay and on twitter @CthulhuMug.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Mike Malloy Rewinds Back to the 1980s Home Video Revolution with His Latest Documentary Feature

Posted on: Jul 15th, 2013 By:

Mike Malloy. Photo credit: Andramada Brittian.

Video may have killed the radio star, or so that ’80s song goes, but it launched a lifelong passion for cult action movies in Kool Kat of the Week Mike Malloy. Now he’s paying homage to the format that revolutionized the way people accessed and watched movies from the late 1970s to the 1990s in the documentary series PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND: THE STORY OF THE ’80S HOME VIDEO BOOM, for which he is seeking funding through a Kickstarter campaignThe timing couldn’t be more perfect with VHS tapes, like 33rpm LPs, enjoying a renaissance among collectors, both old and new.

From his slicked-back hair to his Retro bowling shirts, Mike looks like he ought to be playing the stand-up bass in a rockabilly band. Instead he’s devoted himself to “playing” tribute to a side of cinema that often doesn’t get a lot of love from mainstream critics. At age 19, he signed his first book contract to write the first published biography of Spaghetti Western star Lee Van Cleef (for McFarland & Co.) Since then, he went on to write articles for a wide spectrum of national film magazines, served as managing editor of fan favorite Cult Movies Magazine, has spoken about movie topics at universities, ghost-wrote several fim books, and served on the selection committee of the 2006 Atlanta Film Festival.

In the past few years, Mike has moved increasingly both in front of and behind the camera. He has acted in more than 25 features and shorts. He co-produced the Western THE SCARLET WORM (2011) and directed the short, LOOK OUT! IT’S GOING TO BLOW! (2006), which won the award for best comedy short at MicroCineFest in Baltimore. But he’s garnered the most acclaim, both national and international, for EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE ’70s, a kickass documentary homage to that B-movie subgenre which he wrote, directed, edited and produced.

ATLRetro caught up with Mike recently to find out more about how home videos fired his fascination with film, his unique vision for PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND, some really cool incentives he’s lined up for his Kickstarter campaign which collectors will love  and what’s up next for Georgia’s Renaissance man of cult action cinema.

Having written Lee Van Cleef‘s first published biography at age 19, you’ve obviously been into rare cult and B movies since an early age. What triggered your passion for the less reputable side of cinema and why does it appeal to you so much?

I’m a rare guy who’s deep into cult and genre cinema without caring much for horror or anything fantastic. For me, it’s all about a desperate Warren Oates shooting it out in Mexico. Or Lee Marvin with a submachine gun. For some reason, I’m just drawn to gritty tough-guy cinema – which is not necessarily the same thing as action cinema.

How did the home video revolution influence you personally? Having been born in 1976, you can’t really remember the pre-video days, I’d guess, but it must have afforded you access to a whole spectrum of these movies which otherwise would have been hard to track down and see.

And I even missed most of the ’80s video boom, because my parents, in 1990, were the last on the block to get a VCR. But in 1994, I made up for lost time. I had a college girlfriend who had an off-campus apartment, and while she was at work,  she didn’t like the idea of me being on campus, potentially fraternizing with other young ladies. So before each shift, she would take me by the local mom-and-pop vid store and rent me 8 hours’ worth of Bronson, Van Cleef, Carradine, etc. That kept me safely in her apartment, and it put me on the cinema path I’m on.

Videophile Magazine; Jim Lowe and Mike Malloy on the set of PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND.

In Atlanta, Videodrome seems to be the last independent rental retailer still in business and it’s even hard to find a Blockbuster left. And of course, they now just stock DVDs. Now you can order up a movie online and watch it instantly. Do you think we’ve lost something by no longer going in to browse, and was there a particular video store that became your home away from home?

One of our interviewees said something interesting: The mom-and-pop video store business model was based on customer DISsatisfaction. That is, you’d go in to rent CITIZEN KANE, it would be checked out, and you’d somehow end up leaving with SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED (1974). Being forced to browse leads to an experimental attitude in movie watching. That’s a good thing.

VHS tapes can get damaged easily, the picture and sound quality can’t compare to a bluRay (or often even a regular DVD) and they rarely show a movie in widescreen. Why be nostalgic about them, and is it true that the VHS format, like LPs, is having a comeback?

VHS is experiencing a major comeback. There are about 20 little startup companies that have begun releasing movies to VHS again. A certain old horror VHS – of a film called DEMON QUEEN (1986) – sold recently on eBay for $750.00. VHS conventions are springing up all over the country.

I’ve always thought that the format is superior for horror films. If you watch THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) on a soft old VHS poorly transferred from a faded film print, that makes you feel as if you’re watching some underground snuff film obtained from a shady guy in a trench coat. Watch that same movie on a pristine Blu-Ray, and you don’t get that same grimy feeling.

Michael Perkins films a scene at Videodrome, Atlanta's last great independent video store.

There have been other documentaries about home video, such as ADJUST YOUR TRACKING (2013) and REWIND THIS (2013). What will PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND add to the topic that hasn’t been covered already?

PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND will be a three-hour series, spanning six half-hour episodes. Those others just have a feature-length running time. So if mine isn’t the most definitive word on the subject, I’ve really screwed up. I’m sort of glad those docs exist as companion works, because it frees me up to explore some of the weirder corners of the phenomenon I find fascinating. Things like video vending machines and pizza-style home delivery of VHS tapes.

You’ve got a pretty interesting line-up of interviewees, not all of which are big names. Can you tell us about a few of them and how you went about selecting them.

Right, many of these people are very significant without being instantly recognizable. We have Mitch Lowe, the founder of Netflix (and later a CEO of Redbox). We have Jim Olenski, owner of what is considered to be the first-ever video store. We have Seth Willenson, a Vice President at RCA who oversaw their failed video disc format. That’s just several off the top of my head. They all have that level of significance. And we interviewed a bunch of cult filmmakers, because working at the cheap extreme of the video boom was where some of the craziest stories were. Further, we were glad – er, glad/sad – to have been able to document a closing video store in Toronto during its final month.

Gary Abdo and Mike Malloy. Photo credit: Jonathan Hickman.

Moviemakers, and artists of all ilk, have always seemingly been ripped off by others who pocket all the money. What distinguishes the video era in that regard, and are there any lessons filmmakers can apply to the current wild west of digital camerawork and online distribution?

I think the potential for ripping off artists is greater when an industry is in upheaval, when the rules and the financial models are unclear. And you’re right, VOD and streaming have caused the same type of upheaval that the videocassette did in its day. So I love all the anecdotes we captured of swindled ’80s filmmakers fighting back against their underhanded distributors. And I hope today’s filmmakers realize that distributors are now becoming largely unnecessary at all. For instance, I hope Vimeo OnDemand – with its 90-10 split in favor of the filmmaker – is a total game changer.

You obviously went into this project with a lot of background, but did you find out any big surprises or delightful unexpected moments during your interviews/research?

I went into the project feeling proud that I was going to cover not only VHS and Beta, but all the failed video formats – like Cartrivision, Selectavision (CED) and V-Cord II. Turns out, they were just the tip of the iceberg. I now probably have about 15 different also-ran video formats I can touch on.

Left to right: a video vending machine; Mitch Lowe, founder of Netflix.

How different would the world be today if Cartrivision had caught on instead of VHS?

Well, Cartrivision was an early attempt at rights management for movies. The Cartrivision rental tapes couldn’t be rewound at home; that could only be done at Sears, where you rented them. It limited you to one viewing per rental. So it would’ve started the concept of video rentals off on a very different attitude and philosophy. I think part of the reason the ’80s home video phenomenon was such a boom was the freedom associated with it – you could rent a movie of your choosing and watch it at a time of your choosing. You could watch it a number of times before returning. Hell, you could use your rewind button to watch a jugsy shower scene over and over.

Tell us about the Kickstarter campaign. How’s it going and how are you going to use the monies raised to finalize the film?

Since ADJUST YOUR TRACKING and REWIND THIS both successfully kickstarted, I knew this would be an uphill battle. My only chance was to turn what is normally a beg-a-thon into a reward-a-thon. So I created a $75 level for the collectors where they could get so much more than just a copy of the documentary. The very first expense I’ll cover, if I get successfully funded, will be an 8 terabyte hard drive. I really can’t cut another frame until I get it.

PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND tells it like it was: Mike Malloy deals videos out of his van.

You’ve got some mighty cool incentives for donors, including actual vintage VHS cassettes. Tell us a little bit about them.

Not only have many of our filmmaker interviewees donated signed VHS and DVDs of their movies (to say nothing of rare, unused artwork and such), but a lot of these new startup VHS companies have also donated rewards. I’m feeling very supported.

Unlike your Italian-centric EUROCRIME documentary, you’re trying to involve Atlanta as much as possible in PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND, aren’t you?

Local documentarian Michael Perkins (THE BOOKER) is my second-unit director, and Atlanta-based musician/engineer Matthew Miklos is my primary composer. His ’80s synth sound is so authentic. An associate producer (Jonathan Hickman) and at least one interviewee (filmmaker Gary Abdo) are here too. Videodrome has been very cool about letting me shoot re-enactments in the store. I tried to document the closing of another Atlanta institution of the video-rental industry, but it didn’t work out.

Anything else on your plate right now or next as a writer, director, producer or actor?

Later this year, I’m acting in HOT LEAD, HARD FURY in Denver and BUBBA THE REDNECK WEREWOLF in Florida. I wish someone would cast me locally so my pay doesn’t keep getting eaten up by travel expenses!

Editor’s Note: All photos are courtesy of Mike Malloy and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Amanda Palmer Finds Peace and Perfection in The Cure, a Beating Fish Heart and Peeling Up Rugs

Posted on: Sep 15th, 2012 By:

Is Amanda Palmer a Goth Goddess? A Steampunk diva? Sally Bowles? Super-heroine? The publicity photos for her new band the Grand Theft Orchestra suggest Geisha meets AMADEUS. Atlantans will find out tonight (Sat. Sept. 16) when she steals into the Variety Playhouse.  A creative chameleon who has played in many Retro eras from costume to sounds, Amanda Palmer has reimagined herself again with a new album, THEATRE IS EVIL, released on Sept. 11. Some critics have dubbed this album poppier than previous projects such as the Dresden Dolls, but we’re intrigued by the list of many of our favorite ’70s and ’80s Goth/alternative bands, which she lists as influences yet how she makes the songs very much her own.

THEATRE IS EVIL also is testament to her savvy social networking skills and a passionate fanbase. It’s already music industry legend how she produced the LP without label support through a Kickstarter campaign in which she asked for $100,000 but raised $1.2 million. You have to imagine plenty of musicians are tilting their heads and analyzing the hows and whys of her success – could crowdsourcing be the golden ticket to being able to stay true to your artistic vision without interference by over-zealous marketing suits?! In any case, Amanda sure seems to be living the artistic dream life with enough money to follow her creative bliss and even married to Neil Gaiman, award-winning leather-jacketed punk rock author of dark fantasy best-sellers and creator of the ultimate dream-weaver comic, SANDMAN.

Yet all the while Amanda stayed true to her busking performance art spirit  including fun Kickstarter incentives that radiated a reciprocative passion for her fans including an artbook, personal sketches and private concerts. And she even took a time out during a busy week on the tour bus to zip out a last minute Q&A for readers of a humble local blog like ATLRetro, for which we have to say she’s a mighty Kool Kat

ATLRetro: On NPR’s ALL SONGS CONSIDERED, the two critics Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton  couldn’t get enough of THEATRE IS EVIL, even comparing it to Bowie’s THE LODGER. You’ve mentioned that you had The Swans, My Bloody Valentine, The Cars and VIOLATOR era Depeche Mode on your mind with particular songs. Since we’re ATLRetro, we have to ask which critic comparisons have pleased you the most and are there any other Retro musicians/bands who particularly influenced the work on this album?

Amanda Palmer: Oh, where can I start? Soft Cell. Gary Numan. The Cure, all over the place…I feel like some songs like “The Killing Type” are more early-era stripped down Cure whereas “Want it Back” is more KISS ME, KISS ME ,KISS ME me era, and “Smile” was directly an homage to “Plainsong” from DISENTEGRATION, right down to the fact that I chose it to kick off the record and the fact that we open the live show with it. One of my deepest and influential moments was the first 30 seconds of seeing The Cure live in around 1989, on The Prayer tour. They opened with Plainsong, and I felt like I was listening to the voice of god.

You embrace live performance with a passion and bravado unparalleled by many contemporary musical artists. Why the album title, THEATRE IS EVIL?

Because it’s hilarious.

Your songs not only tell stories but also always seem to have interesting stories behind how you came to write them. Pick one song on THEATRE IS EVIL that you’d like to tell Atlanta fans more about.

Wellllll – “Tour Heart Replica” has a good one. I was going through a really rough breakup, and I was visiting Neil Gaiman at his house with my whole touring crew, before we started dating. I was also really feeling the tour grind, the caged feeling. He took us to a trout farm. We piled into his car on a freezing Wisconsin day right before Christmas – a few of the actors in the tour, my opener and cellist Zoe Keating. The trout farm was this set of shacks where they had the trout swimming and swimming endlessly in circles in these big metal tubs. They clobbered a dozen of them to death and brought us into the fish surgery where they gutted them, and as the dude sliced into one of the fishes, he said “look” to us, and a fish heart was laying there in his hand, still beating. And for about 20 seconds, it kept going, in his hand, beating. “This happens sometimes,” he said. Then he put the heart on the counter and he left, and Neil followed him out. And Zoe and I stood in the room, looking at the fish heart on the metal counter. And it kept going, it kept beating. Everything about my life was reflected in that moment. And Zoe, Neil and I joked in the car that the moment was the perfect song, the perfect poem. And we all went off to write. Neil’s poem was published in a journal, and my song found its way onto the album.

Some of my favorite songs by you with the Dresden Dolls and solo have been those that have been angry/angsty but also clearly about empowerment and moving on. In other words, not getting derailed by relationships that end bitterly. Can you talk briefly about what those kind of songs do/mean for you or are you moving away from that thematically since you’re happily married to Neil?

Well, a lot of the album does feel like it’s about coming to peace with things. But in order to truly come to peace, you always have to peel the rug up and look at the truly rotting stuff. You can’t have one without the other, I think. To me songs are the perfect way of doing both things at once: the peeling up, and the coming to peace with what you find there. And then the best part: sharing what you find with everybody else, and seeing the heads nod in “you too?” agreement. You can find anything under the rug if you don’t feel alone in the finding.

Without giving away any crucial spoilers, can you share a little sneak peek into why no one should consider missing your show in Atlanta this Saturday whether or not they have seen you perform live before?

Well, I’m backstage in North Carolina right now, and we just had the audience split up into a “lamb of god” divide and wield disco balls and peace twigs at each other. ANYTHING is possible. But in seriousness: be prepared to dance. The dancing is key. Bring a tissue as well, for the sad bits.

Finally, we know that you are goddess queen of the Earth, so what secret weapon could we use to save us from your wrath?

A towel, obviously.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Jennifer Schwartz Gives New Meaning to Being Thankful for Art with her Crusade for Collecting

Posted on: Nov 23rd, 2011 By:

Are art and photography galleries now becoming endangered in the same way as your neighborhood record store, book shop or cinema? That’s the concern of Jennifer Schwartz, owner of the Jennifer Schwartz Gallery on the Westside, and like the campaign to Save Criminal Records, she’s not content to stand by and just let younger generations think of art collecting as a quaint tradition that their parents did. Instead she’s taking her mission on the road as part of an initiative she founded called the Crusade for Collecting. Merging Kickstarter, a high-tech Internet resource for fundraising, with the low-tech tried and true transportation of a used Volkswagen bus, she plans to take to the road.

While her husband and three kids will stay home, Jennifer will drive to 10 US cities, setting up pop-up events conducting meet and greets and selling photographs by exciting contemporary photographers—all to inspire what she sees as the “next generation of collectors.” It being Thanksgiving week, it just seemed right to spotlight someone committed to preserving something we love—artists and their livelihood. So we caught up with Jennifer to find our more about why she decided to undertake her future journey and what she’s doing now to get ready.

What inspired you to launch the Crusade for Collecting?

I feel very strongly that there is a disconnect between the younger generations and buying original art. I created The Ten to encourage people to buy high-quality, exclusive, very-limited, signed photographs at an affordable price point I call it the “gateway drug to larger collecting,” but I wanted to do more. I wanted to get out there and talk about this issue. We are all so over-saturated with information online, that I wanted to do something different to get people’s attention.

Do you feel that collecting photography, or even art in general, has just been stalled by the recession or do you think there’s been an actual change, with young people less interested in it? If yes, why are younger people losing their connection to art?

I think a lot of people in the art world are blaming the economy, and certainly that doesn’t help, but I see it as a cultural issue. People don’t think twice about buying designer jeans or going out for coffee or spending money on a good meal. And I’m right there with them! Generationally, we care about the things in our world. We just haven’t considered adding art to that world.

I think if you stopped someone who was about to buy a mass-produced canvas art piece at Z Gallery or Urban Outfitters and said, “Wouldn’t you rather spend the same money and buy something original? Wouldn’t you rather find something that you connected with and knew the story of? Wouldn’t you like to buy a piece of art that has value, both monetarily and to you personally?”, most people would stop and say that, yes, of course they would. They just hadn’t thought about it like that before.

I want people to think about it. I want people to know that they can afford real art and that being a collector just means buying an original piece and being thoughtful about that choice. There are a hundred million pieces of art that will match your throw pillows buy one that matters to you.

Jennifer Schwartz at the door of her Westside photography gallery. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Schwartz,

Why travel across country in a vintage VW bus? And have you already picked that bus or are you still shopping around?

I want to do something dramatic to get people to stop and listen. I want to bring art to the people, to get them excited about it and want to extend that excitement to start visiting their local galleries and museums.

I have not picked the bus—a vanagon it’s called—yet. I would love to have a car dealership or website sponsor the Crusade by donating the vanagon so that I could spend the money I have raised on outfitting the interior with shelving for artwork and other tweeks, which will be a considerable cost.

What cities will you be visiting and how did you pick them?

We just announced the cities in this video update where I fumble with a map and show the route. It’s pretty amusing. We decided to go to New Orleans, Houston, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago and New York City. It was difficult to decide, but I wanted to hit major cities where I would have the best chance of reaching the most people. I will also most likely do one or two “trial run” cities closer to home in advance of the big tour; suggestions welcome! And if the tour goes well, and there’s clamoring for it, I’d love to do mini-tours in the future.

What’s the connection between the Crusade and The Ten?

I created The Ten to give people who are new to looking at and buying art an opportunity to buy an original, limited edition, signed photograph. The work is very exclusive, because the photographer is retiring the image from sale, so only 25 of each image are ever available for purchase. Part of collecting is education learning what you like, learning how it all “works” in terms of what it means to edition a photograph and the importance of buying signed, original work.

Beyond the opportunity to purchase, The Ten gives potential collectors a chance to look at a complete collection of work by a single photographer. They can read the photographer’s statement and see how the individual images work together and fit into a larger concept. The Ten allows the viewer to start thinking about photography as more than individual, pretty images. They will start to see the depth and layers that fine art photography has and connect to work more profoundly.

Jennifer Schwartz. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Schwartz.

The pop-up shows on the Crusade tour will be all work from The Ten again, to get people used to looking at, appreciating, and buying photography at a price point that feels comfortable. In my opinion, collecting photography sells itself. Once you start, once you connect to a photograph and are able to bring it fully into your life by hanging it in your home and personalizing your space, you won’t want to stop.

You’re using Kickstarter to raise $15,000 for purchasing a VW bus? How’s that going and what are some of the perks you’re offering to those who donate to support your trip?

It’s going really well [Ed. note: last time we checked backers had pledged up to $12,116] , and I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of good vibes and support for this project. Backers have a ton of rewards to choose from at all different price points, from t-shirts to joining us on a leg of the tour. We have also had many generous photographers donate a few prints, tin types, books everything, and we have been announcing those as limited reward offers as they come in.

You’ve estimated you need an additional $50,000 to cover gas, food, lodging, photo printing and framing and promotion. How will you raise that?

We will have a silent art auction at the gallery next year and a couple of other fundraising events. I am also hoping to get some corporate sponsors—who wants their logo on the back of the van?!—especially a hotel sponsor.

How did you get interested in photography?

I have always loved photography. Photography is contemporary, and it is accessible— both in price and in technique. We understand photography. We know how it is done, and we appreciate its fresh, modern, and visually stimulating takes on our world. We can look at an image and be amazed that someone was able to use a camera a piece of equipment we all own and use and create something that moves us so powerfully.

"Eve Was Framed." Photo by Lori Vrba

What contemporary photographers inspire you and get you the most excited, and why? My tastes have evolved over the years as I have seen and purchased more photography, and I have a wide range of work I like, from the haunting, feminine, ethereal imagery of Lori Vrba [Ed’s note: Schwartz will present Southern Comfort, an exhibition of Vrba’s work from Dec. 2-Jan. 28 with opening reception 6-9 p.m. on Dec. 2] to the stark landscapes and intense portraits of Ben Huff.

When will you leave on the Crusade for Collecting, and how can we keep up with your adventures?

I will be blogging and posting video and audio podcasts from the road on the Crusade blog on The Ten website. I definitely plan to stay connected!

Finally with Thanskgiving this week, what are you most thankful for when it comes to the impact of art on your life?

Honestly, I don’t know where to begin. I am thankful every day for the richness, depth and joy I get from collecting and supporting art and artists. I am thankful my husband and I are sharing that love with our children so they will value art in their lives as well. And I am thankful to be able to do something I love every day.

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