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

Posted on: Oct 25th, 2018 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

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

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

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

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

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

What makes this event different than other film festivals?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos courtesy of Debbie Hess and used with permission.

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

Kool Kat of the Week: Space Is the Place: Balogun Ojetade’s Journey from Sword and Soul to Co-Founding The State of Black Science Fiction Convention Which Lands in Atlanta This Weekend

Posted on: Jun 7th, 2016 By:

Official Logo 1The Mothership lands in Atlanta this weekend. No, it’s not a Funkadelic concert, but the first annual State of Black Science Fiction Convention (SOSBFC) at the Southwest Arts Center Saturday June 11 and Sunday June 12. For all the talk about accepting the diversity of the alien, science fiction’s early history is peopled by white super-men protagonists, and some today seem to want to keep it that way if recent controversies in fandom  are any indication. But black writers, artists and filmmakers have been emerging to create some of the most dynamic and innovative speculative fiction today, pushing boundaries and re-imaging earth’s future and space as diverse, complex, uncomfortable, beautiful and inspiring.

SOSBFC aims to bring together the most comprehensive celebration of black creators of science fiction, fantasy, horror and comics to date. Just a glance at the programming schedule is sure to cause sensory overload with the mix of panels, speakers, workshops, presentations and kids’ activities to nurture the next generation of creators and fans–something most cons neglect. There’s also a dealers room and art show, cosplay is encouraged, and there’s even going to be onsite food that’s more than pizza or burgers, we hear – something most cons neglect! Whether you’re into Afrofuturism, steamfunk, cyberfunk, dieselfunk, sword and soul, rococoa, Afrikan martial arts, or just what the find out what the funk is happening, SOSBFC is the place.

Needless to say, our choice of Kool Kat this week was easy. ATLRetro caught up with Atlanta-based writer Balogun Ojetade, co-founder with writer/editor/publisher Milton Davis, to find out more about how Atlanta’s newest spec-lit convention got launched, what’s planned and what’s next.

OctaviaEButler_KindredATLRetro: To many, Samuel R. Delany and Octavia E. Butler lit the fuse on an African-American SF perspective, yet W.E.B. DuBois published an SF story back in 1908. Which SF/spec-lit authors were early favorites/inspirations for you?

Balogun Ojetade: My early inspirations were Charles R. Saunders, the Father of Sword and Soul and creator of the Imaro series of novels and the brilliant master storyteller and poet, Henry Dumas, whose short stories “Fon,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Ark of Bones” were the greatest influences on my horror and fantasy writing style as a young man.

Atlanta’s been characterized as a center for Afrofuturism. Can you talk a little about the local community of black writers and publishers? Do you feel like you were part of a movement?

Atlanta is where the now worldwide State of Black Science Fiction author, publisher, artist, filmmaker, game designer and cosplayers collective was founded. As one of the founders of this collective and one of its most active members, I am certainly part of a movement, which is still very much alive. I am also one of the people who founded the Steamfunk Movement, along with author and publisher Milton Davis, who also resides in Atlanta.

Official Flyer 4What’s the specific origin story of SOBSFC?

The origin of the State of Black Science Fiction Convention, or SOBSF Con, began about four years ago. In the State of Black Science Fiction Facebook Group we had a lively discussion about the need for a convention that would not only showcase comic books by creators of African descent, but would also showcase novels, films, artwork, fashion design, cosplay, African martial arts and much more. We wanted to give con goers a full and enriching experience.

It was originally decided that each region would host a convention – one would be in Atlanta, one in the DC / Maryland / Baltimore area, one in New York City, one in Chicago and so on – on the same days and times. We would call this mega event Diaspora Con. Well, certain things happened that let Milton Davis and I know that Diaspora Con was not to be, so we scrapped the idea, but the desire to give the world a convention that showcased black speculative works continued to burn.

In early 2015, Milton and I decided we would host a con that would draw fans and creators of black speculative fiction, film, fashion and fabrication from around the country. We agreed on the name State of Black Science Fiction Convention and then started making plans. By mid-2015, we made our plans public and received positive feedback from hundreds of people who said they would attend such a con in Atlanta and here we are.

imaro_cush_nightshadeDo you think SOBSFC and a greater push for diversity in SF publishing is especially needed right now in light of the Sad and Rabid Puppies Hugo Awards controversy and Internet outrage about a black lead in the recent Star Wars movie?

These controversies and the outrage is nothing new. You have always had and will always have ignorant and fearful people in all walks of life. The science fiction and fantasy community is not exempt from this. There has always been a need for a SOBSF Con and for a constant push for diversity in SFF publishing. The more we push, the more people know we are here. The more people know we are here, the more that know there are alternatives to the racist, sexist rubbish they have had to endure for so long.

SOBSFC is billed as the “most comprehensive presentation of black speculative fiction ever.” There’s a lot going on for just $25 for both days (a bargain compared to DragonCon, most cons).  I know this is a hard question but what 3-5 pieces of programming should con attendees be sure not to miss and why?  

Yes, it is a hard question because the programming is so Blacktastic, but I will share a few that I know people will absolutely be blown away by.

  1. The YOU are the Hero Cosplay Contest: Imagine hordes of black cosplayers of all ages and body types presenting mainstream, independent AND original characters from film, comic books, anime, manga, or of their own design. TOO cool!
  2. The Future is Stupid Art Show: Dozens of Afrofuturistic pieces of artwork by Atlanta’s favorite artists will be found all over the exterior and interior of the convention facility.
  3. The Big, Beautiful, Black Roundtable: At this “Town Meeting” we will present, discuss, listen to and put into effect strategies and collaborations to take black speculative fiction/film/fashion/fabrication to the next level!
  4. The Charles R. Saunders Tribute: We will share stories about how this great man has influenced our writing, his history and great contribution to the advancement of speculative fiction and we will read excerpts from his works, all before presenting Charles with a much deserved award.

 Official Flyer 3Can you talk a little about the writer guests and how they reflect the variety and scope of black spec-lit today?

We have some great guests at SOBSF Con and the authors represent the entire spectrum of speculative fiction. Here are a few:

  1. Valjeanne Jeffers: Writes horror, Steamfunk and Sword and Soul.
  2. Zig Zag Claybourne: Writes action and adventure, Rococoa and Cyberfunk.
  3. Derrick Ferguson: New pulp icon. Creator of black pulp heroes Dillon and Fortune McCall.
  4. Cerece Rennie Murphy: Writes urban fantasy for adult, young adult and middle grade readers.
  5. Brandon Massey: Master of horror and suspense.
  6. Hannibal Tabu: Comic book writer and critic.

We also have authors of Cyberfunk, Dieselfunk, Dark Universe (Space Opera) Afrofuturistic fusions of hip-hop, jazz, blues, time travel, magic realism and urban fantasy and much more. Black speculative fiction is very broad and very deep. Con-goers are in for a powerful experience.

This is a really exciting time for black filmmakers in SF and horror. Can you talk a little about that and how that will be reflected in SOBSFC’s programming?

As a lifelong fan and creator of science fiction and fantasy with strong horror elements and straight up horror, too, I am very excited. The digital age has allowed filmmakers who would have otherwise been unable to tell their stories – stories in which the Black character doesn’t die within the first 10 minutes or die sacrificing himself or herself so the white hero can live on to save the day – to now tell stories in which Black people are the heroes, sheroes and even mastermind villains.

Saturday 20th June 2009. Old Devils Peak Quarry, Table Mountain National Park (TMNP), Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa. STILLS FROM WANURI KAHIU'S FILM 'PUMZI'! A 20 min Sci-Fi film about futuristic Africa, 35 years after World War III, ‘The Water War’!   A series of stills photographs taken during the production of Wanuri Kahiu's short film, 'Pumzi'. Wanuri Kahiu, an award winning Kenyan Filmmaker, wrote and directed the film that was filmed entirely on location in the Western Cape, South Africa. These stills specifically were taken on various locations in Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa during June 2009. The film is a futuristic work based on a devastated world without water and other precious commodities. The film, set in the Kenyan countryside, questions the price of fresh water, fresh air, fresh food and other commodities and revolves mainly around its central character, 'Asha'. The film also focuses on how to harvest moisture, energy and food in all their varied forms in order to supply the human food chain that depends on these life precious things for their ultimate survival. In the film Asha is a curator at a virtual natural history museum in the Maitu Community located in the Eastern African territory. Outside of the community, all nature is extinct. When she receives a box in the mail containing soil, she decides to plant a seed in it. The seed starts to germinate instantly. Despite repeated instructions from her superior to throw out the soil sample, she appeals to the Council to grant her an exit visa to leave the community and plant the seed. Her visa is denied and she is evacuated from the Museum. Asha decides to break out of the inside community to plant the seed in the ‘dead’ outside. She battles with her own fear and apprehension of the dead and derelict outside world to save the growing plant. Essentially Asha embarks on a personal quest that becomes her journey of self discovery and spiritual awakening that causes h

Many great independent films and web series have been developed, screened and gained massive followings and Hollywood has been paying attention, so now you have the Black Panther stealing the show in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and even getting his own movie. You have Idris Elba playing Roland in the film adaptation of Stephen King’s THE DARK TOWER and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Will Smith and Viola Davis starring in SUICIDE SQUAD as Killer Croc, Deadshot and Amanda Waller, respectively.

And television is even more progressive, giving starring roles to black people in several Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror-themed series and having very diverse casts on these shows.

But again, this all began with black indie filmmakers. To reflect this, SOBSF Con is featuring our Black Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Festival, which showcases short and feature films by independent creators. Many of the films creators will also be on hand to share their creative process and answer questions from the audience. Just a few of the films screening at the film festival are: PUMZI (award-winning science fiction short from Africa),  DAYBLACK (horror), BLACK PANTHER: STORMS OF CARNAGE Parts 1 & 2 (superhero / fantasy), REIGN OF DEATH (dieselfunk), DANGER WORD (horror; written and produced by master horror author Tananarive Due and science fiction icon Steven Barnes), RITE OF PASSAGE: INITIATION (steamfunk), and a special screening of the science fiction film RETURNED.

13335708_10204767521866576_1909339829978449592_nWhat about comics at SOBSFC? 

You cannot have a science fiction and fantasy convention without comic books! While comic books are not the focus at SOBSF Con – our focus is on all aspects of black speculative creation – most of the creators and fans at SOBSF Con were heavily influenced and inspired to “do” Science Fiction and Fantasy from our love of comic books, manga, animation and anime. Thus, there will be comic book vendors at SOBSF Con and some giants in the industry are distinguished guests, including Dawud Anyabwile, the co-creator and artist of the iconic blockbuster comic book series BROTHERMAN; Marvel Comics artist Afua Richardson, best known for her work in the award-winning and politically potent Image / Top Cow miniseries GENIUS; Tony Cade, comic book publisher and owner of comic book company, Terminus Media; and TUSKEGEE HEIRS creators Marcus Williams and Greg Burnham, just to name a few. The creators and publishers will share their knowledge and experience with con-goers on the Create Your Own Comic Book and Black Craft and Consciousness in Comic Books panels.

Atlanta is known for its cosplay community. Are you encouraging costuming and will there be activities for cosplayers?

We highly encourage cosplay and invite all the cosplayers in Atlanta to come out and join us! We are very excited about our YOU are the Hero Cosplay Contest I mentioned above, and we also have the Cosplay in Non-Canon Bodies panel, facilitated by popular cosplayers, TaLynn Kel, who will be joined by popular cosplayers, JaBarr Lasley and Dru Phillips.

Balogun Ojetade.

Balogun Ojetade.

What else would you like people to know about SOBSFC?

While SOBSF Con offers all the great things you expect from a great fan convention – awesome panels, cosplayers, genre films, a dealers’ room with all kinds of cool stuff for sale – we also have offerings you probably have never seen at any con before, such as Tiny Yogis, a yoga class for children; 5P1N0K10 (SPINOKIO), an Afrofuturistic, hip-hop puppet show by a master puppeteer named Jeghetto; Traditional Arms, Armor and Martial Arts of Afrika; Afrikan Martial Arts for Youth Workshop; traditional African artifacts and soaps, oils and fabrics sold in the dealers’ room; your questions answered through traditional Afrikan casting of lots by the Amazing Identical Ojetade Twins (one is a 13-year-old boy; the other a 6-year-old girl); gourmet pot pies; and, most importantly, a place where you can be yourself without judgment, without rude comments, but with love and appreciation. This is a fun event for the entire family you do NOT want to miss!

Beneath the Shining Jewel CoverFinally, would you like to take a moment to talk about your own writing? What’s your latest work and what are you up to next? Feel free to add where we can find you at SOBSFC!

I am always happy to talk about my writing. For those who don’t know me, I write fiction, nonfiction and screenplays. I also direct films and choreograph stunts and fights for films. As a fiction writer, I am most known for my Steamfunk novels, MOSES: THE CHRONICLES OF HARRIET TUBMAN and THE CHRONICLES OF HARRIET TUBMAN: FREEDONIA; my Sword and Soul novel, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRICA; and for the STEAMFUNK anthology, which I co-edited with author Milton Davis. However, my novels cover the spectrum of black speculative fiction: Dieselfunk, Rococoa, Afrofuturism; urban fantasy; action-adventure and horror.

My latest work is BENEATH THE SHINING JEWEL, a horror novel set in Ki Khanga, a Sword and Soul world created by Milton Davis and me for our upcoming tabletop role-playing game, KI KHANGA. I am finishing up a Dark Universe (space opera) novel and have a horror short film I wrote slated to begin production in the fall. Finally, in August, comic book artist Chris Miller (Chris Crazyhouse) and I begin work on a graphic novel that is going to blow away fans of manga, comic books and black speculative fiction!

Thanks, so much, for this opportunity and I look forward to seeing everyone at the State of Black Science Fiction Convention June 11 and 12!

SOBSFCON FultonCty

 

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KOOL KAT OF THE WEEK: Tromaville in L5P: Nick Arapoglou Radiates as the First Superhero from New Jersey in Horizon Theatre’s THE TOXIC AVENGER

Posted on: Feb 17th, 2016 By:
Kool Kat of the Week Nick Arapaglou as Toxie in Horizon Theatre's production of THE TOXIC AVENGER. Photo credit: Greg Mooney.

Kool Kat of the Week Nick Arapaglou as Toxie in Horizon Theatre’s production of THE TOXIC AVENGER. Photo credit: Greg Mooney.

By Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

Horizon Theatre’s production of THE TOXIC AVENGER (Wed-Sun., through March 13) is a musical comedy based on the cult 1984 Troma film.  If that means anything at all to you, it is likely the best news you’ve heard all day. The plot will be familiar to fans, and I don’t want to spoil anything for the rest of you. All you need to know about the show itself, depending on how seriously you want to take it, is to expect social commentary on pollution, corrupt politicians and a deft satire of the superhero genre. And a seven-foot tall mutant with superhuman strength and a heart of gold. The original stage production opened in New Jersey in 2008, followed by a successful Off-Broadway run in 2009.

Local actor Nick Arapoglou plays the lead. Nick, originally from Huntington, NY, went to high school in Atlanta and moved back here after college. He has been acting professionally for about a decade, notably as Princeton (for which he learned puppetry!) in all three local productions (at three different venues) of AVENUE Q, and he won 2011’s Suzi Bass Award for Lead Actor in a Musical. Other roles during the past few years include Asher Lev in MY NAME IS ASHER LEV (Theatrical Outfit), Romeo in ROMEO AND JULIET (Shakespeare Tavern) and Bobby Strong in URINETOWN (Fabrefaction Theatre). “Of course, I also enjoyed THE GIFTS OF THE MAGI at Theatrical Outfit, because my wife played opposite me in that show for three years straight!” Nick said.

In addition to a diverse stage career, the actor has done lots of on-camera work . Look for him later this year in the films TABLE 19 (with Anna Kendrick, Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson), THE ACCOUNTANT (Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick), THE BOSS (Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell), and CONFIRMATION (Kerry Washington).

Needless to say, those are some fantastic credits, but yeah, we admit we made Nick Kool Kat of the Week now because we think he’s in the role of a lifetime. And we’re absolutely troma-tized that he took time from his trashy schedule to talk Toxie with ATLRetro.

Photo credit: Greg Mooney.

Not funny! Photo credit: Greg Mooney.

First of all, what’s it like to portray a pop culture icon? (and make no mistake…)

Ha! I think when you are playing a role where there are those kinds of expectations, you have to make sure there are moments when you give a tip of the hat to the fans. We certainly have those moments placed within the show. But putting on a big green suit and kicking ass with a mop is about as awesome as you think it is!

Were you a fan of the films?

I’m going to be honest—I still haven’t seen them. I know that might make some people gasp! But there’s a reason why I didn’t once I accepted the role. There are very few new shows and musicals that hit the stage in Atlanta. They’ve usually been done in New York first. So it’s always important to me to try to bring my own take on the role and do a recycled impression of an impression of someone else’s take. That’s a huge trap in musicals especially. People listen to the CD so much and that colors their performance. So, the point is, I didn’t want to see the film and then have my performance be shaped by someone else’s. I did watch the trailer though and laughed hysterically—so you can bet once we close this thing that’s the first thing in my queue.

Had you seen or were you aware of any of the previous productions before this one came along?

Yes, we were aware especially of the award-winning Off-Broadway performance in NYC. I listened to the score a few times to get a sense of the music, but then stopped before it got in my head too much!

How did you end up cast in the lead?

Well, this is the same creative team that was behind AVENUE Q. Our excellent director Heidi McKerley (who won the Suzi Award for Best Director for AVE Q) and I have now done 11 or 12 productions together. She was one of the first people to cast me years ago and we have developed quite the resume of kickass musicals at this point. Also the music director Renee Clark (Suzi Award for Best Music Direction for AVE Q) and I have also worked together for years and years. She is an unbelievable talent, and every show she works on is better because of her presence. So I’m sure the working relationships I have with both those two fierce ladies led to their trust in casting me as the lead in this show.

dont-drop-him_24148250873_o

Don’t drop him! Photo credit: Greg Mooney.

You’re two weeks into a scheduled six-week run. How have audiences responded so far? Gotten any feedback from Troma fans yet?

I know I’m supposed to say this, but audiences love the show. No matter if the theater is sold out completely or we have maybe a smaller crowd on a Wednesday, they jump to their feet by the end of the show. I mean jump to their feet. It’s happened every night. We are really proud of what we are doing. The cast is a firestorm of musical theatre rock talent. Don’t believe me? Come watch, you’ll see!

We have definitely gotten some Troma fan feedback. It’s been awesome. They are always satisfied and super happy to take pictures at the end of the night with Big Green Freak.

How would you describe the show to (warn?) fans of musical theater that don’t recognize the title?

Nothing to warn about really. Because it’s a musical, obviously the gore factor has to be toned way down for audiences. But that doesn’t take away from the story and the fun at all, believe me. I think this show is rated PG-13, but a hilarious PG-13. It’s a train. It’s campy, and ridiculous, and hilarious. Everyone leaves smiling. If you don’t leave that way, you were trying not to like it, and in that case, I feel bad for you.

toxie-comes-alive_24148251913_o

Toxie comes alive! Photo credit: Greg Mooney.

The movies feature absurd, disgusting, hilarious violence. Any chance you rip some punk’s arm off onstage?

Some punk’s arm? How about multiple punks’ arms.

The musical was written by New Jersey natives Joe DiPietro and David Bryan. Their last collaboration, MEMPHIS, won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Musical. Bryan wrote the music (and co-wrote the lyrics with DiPietro) during downtime from his day job, keyboardist for another ’80s Jersey juggernaut, Bon Jovi. So is it safe to say the score rocks?

The music is just fun. We have a kicking band. You’ll hear some sick guitar distortion solos and bass, hot keyboard play and insane drum solos.

And this cast can sing. Make no mistake—it rocks.

THE TOXIC AVENGER runs through March 13 at the Horizon Theatre. Showtimes are Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3pm and 8:30pm, and Sunday at 5pm. Tickets start at $25. www.horizontheatre.com or 404-548-7450 for tickets and info.

The play contains adult language and content, and even though they’d love it, is not recommended for children.

All photos provided by Horizon Theatre and used with permission.

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

Kool Kat of the Week: Horror Family Values – The Hess Family Gets Twisted, Raring to Spawn Season 2 of their Award-Winning TWILIGHT ZONE meets Alfred Hitchcock meets Ray Bradbury Web-Series, HORROR HOTEL!

Posted on: May 20th, 2015 By:

by Melanie Crew10888544_564774920288902_2843828761362776837_n
Managing Editor

Ricky Hess, local geek at heart, jack of all film-trades and series creator/director, has resurrected a living, breathing, monster of an award-winning web anthology series, HORROR HOTEL, where the only recurring character is a menacing dilapidated motor court hotel where “People check in, but they don’t always check out.”And he’s drug mom and dad along for the bloody ride! Inspired by the creepy fantastical worlds presented in THE TWILIGHT ZONE and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, HORROR HOTEL delivers that nostalgic deep-in-the-gut suspense and spine-chilling plot twisting angst that gained incredible popularity in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and has successfully seeped into the 21st century psyche with a raging resurgence. From what we hear, there’s always a vacancy at HORROR HOTEL, so check in if you dare and catch Season 2, filled to the bloody brim with aliens, androids, ghosts, psychotic killers – all invading your homes in the very near future!

Ricky, no film-school rookie, has dabbled in producing, directing, writing, SFX – all while creating shorts, web series, commercials and music videos. While brainstorming HORROR HOTEL, he gleaned the business knowledge of mom, Debbie Hess (executive producer) and writing/carpentry skills of dad, Al Hess (writer/set builder), to create one helluva horror filmmaking family and production team! Season 1 of the web series premiered in 2013, spanning 90 minutes of content in six twisted episodes, which can be purchased as a complete series, with each episode running 12-20 minutes in homage to THE TWILIGHT ZONE’s style and format. In 2014, the series garnered much attention from the L.A. Web Series Festival (LA Webfest), and won in four categories: Outstanding Directing, Outstanding Sound Design, Outstanding Series and Outstanding Score. And now, with Season 2 in post-production, you’ll have ample opportunity to catch a ghastly glimpse at Atlanta’s homegrown throwback to the masters of suspense and mystery! You owe it to yourself to take a step off the beaten path, check in to HORROR HOTEL and try to make it out alive!

"Aliens Stole My Boyfriend", Season 2

“Aliens Stole My Boyfriend”, Season 2

ATLRetro caught up with the Hess Family for a quick interview about HORROR HOTEL; the series’ homage to ‘50s and ‘60s horror television; and what it takes to create a successful web series. And while you’re daring to take a peek at our little Q&A, get a twisted taste of the making of Season 2’s “Coma Girl” and “Brain Robbers in Love.

ATLRetro: First off, your web-series, HORROR HOTEL is a perfect fit for ATLRetro! We love all things TWILIGHT ZONE, Alfred Hitchcock, Ray Bradbury and more! Can you tell our readers how HORROR HOTEL was born?

Ricky: I was attending a convention in another city and was seeking out an inexpensive place to stay. I ran across several suggestions but some contained warnings about the neighborhood and possible “risks” staying there, etc. I thought to myself, why would anyone want to stay someplace with such a dangerous reputation. The idea occurred to me that it would be fun to make a series about such a place and the odd, creepy kind of encounters that could occur there. The idea for HORROR HOTEL was born from that.

We see that HORROR HOTEL is a home-grown family affair, with Debbie Hess (mom) as Executive Producer, Al Hess (dad) as Writer and Ricky Hess (son) as Creator/Director. What’s it like to come from such a creative family working so closely with each other? And of course we’d like to know, who’s really the boss?

Ricky: It’s great getting to work with my family on the project. It is the most rewarding thing to me about producing the series actually. My mom and dad were somewhat new to the movie making business, but they each had skills that were needed to put a movie project together. My dad and I had for years enjoyed making up creepy stories on long road trips to amuse ourselves and he’s had some previous writing experience. Not to mention he is a great carpenter and builds all our custom props and set pieces. He’s also a good lighting technician from his years of photography. My mom, Debbie, has a pretty good business head on her and had dealt for years in the marketing world working at advertising agencies, newspapers, radio and television. She is a salesperson at heart and can endure the grueling job of marketing and promotion. I had worked for several years on other people’s projects doing everything from special effects to editing. I moved over to doing most of the directing on the series and do most of the editing as well. So together we make a pretty good, complete team.

Who’s the boss? Well, all our decisions are made together and there are always compromises that have to be made on everyone’s part to settle on a direction, but being family, this is probably a little easier since we know each other so well and have respect for each other.

You’ve stated the major influences for the series are THE TWILIGHT ZONE and Alfred Hitchcock. Are there any particular episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE or any particular Hitchcock tale that inspired you more than others?

Al: My favorite TWILIGHT ZONE episode is “Invaders” with Agnes Moorehead. Tiny aliens invade an old woman’s house and hurt her. My favorite Hitchcock episode is a Ray Bradbury tale, “The Jar,” where a farmer buys a creepy pickle jar from a side-show that’s got all this weird stuff floating around in it.

"Invader", Season 1 - Troy Halverson

“Invader”, Season 1 – Troy Halverson

Do you have any additional retro/vintage influences for this series or for other projects you are working on?

Al: I’d like to make something showing a near future world containing a utopian/dystopian conflict. Things that used to scare people during the times of Orwell and Huxley, like being controlled by machines, aren’t so scary now that it’s happened. Each new generation of communication devices and surveillance equipment gives everyone a sense of security even though it necessarily strips away individual human rights and privacy.

Since HORROR HOTEL is an anthology series, like THE TWILIGHT ZONE and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, would you say production is more or less difficult than a straight series, with recurring characters, etc.? What would you say are your biggest challenges?

Debbie: Horror works well in the anthology format because people are ok with a short story that is complete in itself and not continuing. Production-wise however, it definitely has its challenges. For starters, to tell a complete story circuit in each episode and do it well, requires a longer length episode which is always harder to do. HORROR HOTEL episodes tend to run longer than most web series, from 10-22 minutes. The first season contains over 90 minutes of content; the equivalent of a feature length film. We have to recast for each new episode, which takes time. With a serial series and recurring characters, this is faster and easier. We also have to retool the set for each new episode, completely redecorate a new hotel room specifically for that episode (new costumes, new props, new everything).

It’s like shooting a whole bunch of short films all the time. The advantage of shooting an anthology is that people can randomly pick out episodes to watch and don’t have to follow a story arch to know what’s happening. Probably the biggest challenge is simply wrangling all the different cast and crew it takes to do a series like this. First season alone took over 100 people to produce, which is a lot for a web series. It’s always a challenge to fit people into the schedule puzzle and keep a project moving forward to completion. Once we set a production schedule, we will do whatever necessary to keep that locked in and not postpone it. Too many independent film projects start but don’t finish. That’s not an option for us.

"Brain Robbers in Love", Season 2 (L-R) Phil Spartis and Deborah Childs

“Brain Robbers in Love”, Season 2 (L-R) Phil Spartis and Deborah Childs

What are some of the major differences between television/film formats and the web-series format?

Debbie: For a series produced for traditional television, there are specifically timed breaks (acts) to allow for commercials. The standard TV format calls for 22-24 minutes of actual story for a 30-minute program and anywhere from 44-46 minutes for an hour-long program. With a web series, they can be any length because primarily they are streamed online with no required commercial breaks, although many times they do have commercials depending on the platform. As far as the actual production, the same applies for traditional TV or a web series. You use all the same equipment, follow all the same procedures; everything is the same. The only difference is the viewing platform they will be primarily presented on.

Everyone making a web series should strive for as high a production value as you possibly can. With the advent of so many different ways to view digital series now, from your computer to your big screen TV, you want content that looks really good, with broadcast quality, high resolution, good filming techniques, etc. It’s the only way to have a series ever be seriously considered by higher caliber platforms.

What do you think separates HORROR HOTEL from other web series and makes it one-of-a-kind in the industry?

Ricky: Well, the fact that it is a true anthology sets it apart from the majority of web series out there, but we are not one-of-a-kind necessarily. We have tried to bring back old-school storytelling where the plot and story lines matter the most and we just try to fit in special or visual effects to enhance that. Sometimes filmmakers rely more on visual effects and some kind of “wow” factor to endear an audience but that gets numbing pretty fast without a decent story.

Can you tell our readers a little bit about your nominations and wins at the 2014 LA WebFest?

"Life After Men", Season 2 (L-R) Baby Norman, Deborah Childs and Anastasia Pekhtereva

“Life After Men”, Season 2 (L-R) Baby Norman, Deborah Childs and Anastasia Pekhtereva

Ricky: It was an honor to receive four nominations and wins at the 2014 LA Webfest for Outstanding Series, Outstanding Directing, Outstanding Score and Outstanding Sound Design. The decision came after a review of all episodes in the first season, but the two episodes that screened at the festival were “Tilt” and “Guillotine.

What was your process in obtaining the talent for the series? How did you snag up Grammy Award-winning Matt Still, who scored the music on the “Guillotine” episode and actor James Edward Thomas (Al Sharko), who also acted in the ‘80s television reboot of THE TWILIGHT ZONE?

Debbie: We cast for each new episode locally from the large, talented actor pool in Atlanta. We post audition notices first on our Facebook page to give our fans a chance to submit for an audition first. After that, we post on a number of casting sites primarily focused on Atlanta talent. We continue to be amazed and pleased at the truly talented group of local Atlanta actors we have been proud to work with. James Edward Thomas showed up to audition for episode “Houdini’s Hand” and was a perfect fit for the only recurring actor thus far in the series, Al Sharko. He is not only a fine actor, but a valued family friend. He also appears in episode “Invader” as sci-fi writer Rodney Silvers.

It was actually his connection to Matt Still that facilitated Matt scoring episode “Guillotine” which James is in as well. We were so honored and excited to have Matt work on an episode. His reputation as a premiere music producer working with mega stars like Elton John, Madonna and a who’s who of rock ‘n’ roll folks was just amazing and thrilling for us. He did a most excellent job on the scoring of “Guillotine” and obviously it caught the attention of LA Webfest judges. We have been fortunate to have a number of excellent musical artists work on the series including Royal Teague, Kenneth Singleton II and Quinton “Q” Amy in the first season alone.

"Four Eyes", Season 2 (L-R) Jeremy Michael Grey and Michael Gladden

“Four Eyes”, Season 2 (L-R) Jeremy Michael Grey and Michael Gladden

HORROR HOTEL currently has two complete seasons. How can our readers go about getting their grubby little hands on them?

Ricky: Currently the first season is released and can be seen on Hulu, AT&T U-verse, MSN Videos, and xfinity streaming platforms. It also broadcasts on the Shorts Network channel on DirectTV and AT&T U-verse. The new second season is working through post-production, releasing in the upcoming months.

What’s next for HORROR HOTEL and the Hess family? Are there more seasons in the works and if so, can you give our readers some juicy details (without giving away too many details)? Any other projects in the works?

Debbie: We are currently concentrating on post-production work for the second season and getting that distributed, but we are also kicking around some new ideas and worlds we would like to explore. But here’s a little tickler of upcoming second season episodes: Expect cute aliens that crash land their space buggy on the motel parking lot looking for Earth boyfriends; a macabre maintenance man at a convalescence home who falls in love with a comatose patient; a narcissistic businesswoman who swaps brains with a younger business associate; a family of female clones, one of whom has committed a murder; a paraplegic hit-man hired by a disgruntled ex-husband to take out his wife; and an Orwellian tale set in the near future where males are virtually extinct and women rule.

What question do you wish somebody would ask you in an interview but they never do, and what’s the answer?

"Houdini's Hand", Season 1

“Houdini’s Hand”, Season 1

Ricky: Q: What happens to the many props and costumes you have after each episode? A: I’m so glad you asked! We really like our custom props like the “Houdini’s Hand” ornate box, the brain swap machine from second season’s “Brain Robbers In Love,” the custom ham radio from “Invader,” the hand-carved space buggy from “Aliens Stole My Boyfriend,” and a host of other one-of-a-kind props. Not the least of which is our miniature motel model we built for miniature photography seen in episode “Invader” and “Aliens Stole My Boyfriend” to date. We like to display these for visitors to see, a sort of HORROR HOTEL mini museum if you will. Most of the costumes get saved as well, and we have even reused a couple, like the Nazi uniforms and the Rufus Bass costume because you never know when some of these characters might be resurrected!

All photos courtesy of Horror Hotel LLC and used with permission.

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Wibbly, Wobbly, Timey, Wimey…Stuff! ATLRetro’s Ultimate Guide to TimeGate

Posted on: May 24th, 2013 By:

Celebrate two of the 20th century’s most successful series at  TimeGate, Atlanta’a annual DOCTOR WHO/STARGATE convention, held every Memorial Day weekend (May 24-26) at the The Holiday Inn Select Perimeter-Dunwoody. OK, both shows are alive and well in the 21st century, especially DOCTOR WHO which has been airing its 50th anniversary season on BBCA, but ATLRetro has to love them a little bit extra for sharing our own passion for time travel at the heart of their premises. We admit if the Doctor asked us to be his companion, we’d be ready to take off in the TARDIS and take our chances with Daleks, Cybermen…well, maybe we’d skip those weeping angels. We’re not quite so versed in the STARGATE universe, except wishing we had one of those gates so we could indulge in some good old-fashioned Egyptomania and maybe grab a souvenir from Atlantis. However, we certainly know fans love STARGATE, and we’re happy they have a place to go to share their passion.

In other words, time travelers will have a ball. Here are our top reasons to attend!

Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor.

The Sixth Doctor

Perhaps the biggest draw for Timegate this year is an actual Doctor – well, Colin Baker, the actor who played the sixth Doctor (1983-86). Whovians will already know that his actual first appearance on the show was in the Peter Davison serial “Arc of Infinity” in which he played Commander Maxil, and some of his best episodes included “Vengeance on Varos”, “Mark of the Rani,” “Revelation of the Daleks” (guest starring Colin Spaull, who is also a Timegate guest; see below) and the infamous “Trial of a Time Lord” season. Colin’s association with DOCTOR WHO has continued throughout his life. In 1989 he once again stepped into the role of the Doctor in the stage play DOCTOR WHO: THE ULTIMATE ADVENTURE, written by Terrence Dicks. He also starred in a series of loosely DW-themed movies as the Stranger, and in 1993 starred alongside former Doctors Jon Pertwee, Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy in THE AIRZONE SOLUTION. He starred alongside DW alums Caroline John (reprising her role of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw), Louise Jameson, Jon Pertwee, Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred in the first of two P.R.O.B.E. movies. In 1999, Colin stepped back into his role as the Doctor for the 30th Anniversary special DOCTOR WHO; DIMENSIONS IN SPACE.He also is the only Doctor to have written DOCTOR WHO stories and even a comic strip, entitled “The Age of Chaos,” featuring the Sixth Doctor, Peri and Frobisher. He continues to record new radio adventures for the Sixth Doctor for Big Finish Productions.

"Revelation of the Daleks"

More Great Retro Guests

Timegate has more guests than ever who have acted or been otherwise involved with the two shows, particularly DOCTOR WHO. Andrew Cartmel was script editor of DOCTOR WHO during the Sylvester McCoy (seventh doctor) era, responsible for bringing classic tales like “Remembrance of the Daleks”, “Ghost Light” and “The Curse of Fenric” to the screen. He also wrote two non-fiction DW books: THROUGH TIME: AN UNAUTHORIZED AND UNOFFICIAL HISTORY OF DOCTOR WHO and SCRIPT DOCTOR: THE INSIDE STORY OF DOCTOR WHO 1986-88. He’s also written audio adaptations of a hypothetical fourth season of the Seventh Doctor for the Big Finish-produced DW radio series, with Ben Aaronovitch and featuring what would have been the final appearance of Ace in the TVseries, as well as WINTER FOR THE ADEPT, a Fifth Doctor and Nyssa radio adventure.

Colin Spaull appeared alongside Colin Baker as Lilt in “Revelation of the Daleks” and returned to the show in 2006 as Mr. Crane in “Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel” with David Tennant as the Doctor. He also appeared in the Big Finish DOCTOR WHO Eighth Doctor and Lucie Miller audio adventure, GRAND THEFT COSMOS, in 2008. Apparently he enjoys real ale and is a strong supporter in the campaign to keep Britain’s local pubs open. So we’re guessing he’d be fun to share a pint with at the Holiday Inn bar.

The cast of STARGATE: ATLANTIS

More guests include Steve Gostelow, who was originally contracted to design and create props and costumes, including Cybermen and Daleks for special footage filmed for a 30th anniversary DOCTOR WHO documentary. He was then asked to play various monster roles in the show, including Cyberman, Cyber Controller, Red Dalek and Emporer as well as regular Dalek. Steve’s advise for getting cast in on-screen monster roles is to design costumes that fit you so perfectly that they couldn’t hire anyone else! Valerie Halverson did costume design job on STARGATE SG1, ATLANTIS and UNIVERSE.  Jody Lynn Nye has been an award-winning published science fiction and fantasy author since the 1990s.  Comics illustrator Kelly Yates has worked on DC Comics’ THE GREEN ARROW SECRET FILES and THE JLA/JSA FILESLars Pearson is one of the foremost experts on DOCTOR WHO in North America.  And yes, that’s just the tip of a guest list that includes many more authors, artists, actors and experts.

The Atlanta Radio Theater Presents: DOCTOR WHO: THE ENEMY WITHIN

The Atlanta Radio Theater (ARTC) are pros at recreating the spirit of old-time radio, but founder Bill Ritch is also perhaps Atlanta’s biggest Doctor Who fan and expert. He introduced generations of Atlanta fandom to the show, even in the 1970s before it was officially on TV here.  So anyway, we’re certain that anything ARTC does with Doctor Who will be fantastic. For more background on ARTC, read our article about them here.

Ray Harryhausen!

The stop-motion SFX master sadly passed away recently, but his spirit lives on at a special tribute Friday at 7 p.m. led by Anthony Taylor. Anthony is one of Atlanta’s top experts on science fiction film and TV, whose credits include ARCTIC ADVENTURE!, an official THUNDERBIRDS novel based on the iconic British television series by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, and THE FUTURE WAS FAB: THE ART OF MIKE TRIM, about artist Mike Trim who designed models and special effects for multiple Anderson series. Anyway, he know he knows a lot about Ray, and that he’s assembled a great team of folks who also have an affection for stop-motion.

Doctors, Daleks, Companions, Tardises, Soldiers and Ancient Egyptians

Ever wanted to be exterminated by the love of a woman dressed as a sexy Dalek or ask the TARDIS what it’s like to carry the Doctor around. Creative humanized takes on classic monsters and the TARDIS itself have become de rigeur at cons. But you can also expect to see plenty precise recreations of Doctors and companions, as well as StarGate soldiers and aliens. And well, we wouldn’t be surprised to some steampunk ladies and gents and even a superhero or few since con-goers don’t always stick to a specific con’s fandom. No matter, watching and interacting with costumed versions of our favorite characters has become one of the most fun reasons to attend a con, especially in Atlanta where DragonCon and AnachroCon set high standards for costuming and cosplay. For peak viewing, some of the best will compete in the Masquerade Saturday night at 9:30 p.m.  Of course, we highly recommend joining in the fun by costuming yourself. Not sure what to do? Well, Timegate has a bunch of panels offering tips for beginners and experienced costumers.

Who has a sonic screwdriver?

You betcha someone in the TimeGate dealers’ room will have one of the Swiss army-knife of sci-fi gadgets. Whether you can wield it like the Doctor to get out of all manner of messes is on you, however. We also expect action figures, posters, stills, books, collectors’ magazines, jewelry, long scarves, costumes accessories, Dalek air-fresheners to exterminate any onerous odors in the automobile (well, we know you can buy them somewhere!), jelly babies and more objets extraordinaires to surprise even us.

Out-of-this-World Entertainment

It used to be that cons were mainly panels and parties, but lately they’re booking some pretty cool entertainment. Timegate is no exception with Prof. Satyre’s Sci-Fried Sideshow, Moxie Madness and karaoke on Friday night. And “Celtic-Gallifreyan” music (don’t ask us to explain! you’ll have to go see for yourself) from the Ken Spivey Band and Atlanta nerd-rock band Go, Robo! Go! providing live music, followed by a deejayed dance on Saturday.

Party Like It’s…Well, You Pick a Year!

We don’t recommend you drink anything you’re told is a Pan-Galactic Gargleblaster, because, well, we’re pretty sure it’s just a lethal combo of sugar, food-coloring and several types of generic booze. But cons are pretty well-known for their great room parties. Yeah, shhh, don’t tell the muggles, but geeks know how to have fun! Look for announcements by the elevators and on freebie tables around registration. TimeGate also has a con suite with free food and sodas for con badge-holders.

Registration opens at 4 p.m. and programming kicks off at 6:30 p.m. on Friday May 24 and runs through Sunday  May 26 at 6 p.m. Online registration is closed but you can still purchase a weekend pass at the con for $60, a day pass for Friday and Sunday for just $30, or a day pass for Saturday for $35.

 

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

Who Wants to Go Back to Earth Anyway?!: Andrew Gaska Ignites AFTERSHOCK AND AWE into Hit ’70s Sci-Fi TV Series SPACE:1999

Posted on: Apr 22nd, 2013 By:

SPACE 1999, the ’70s Gerry and Sylvia Anderson sci-fi series, returns in SPACE 1999: AFTERSHOCK AND AWE, a 168-page graphic novel from New York-based guerilla design studio Blam! Ventures and published by Archaia Entertainment. Sometimes comics reboots are just about nostalgia, but writer Andrew E.C. “Drew” Gaska has plugged up many of the holes in the science, plot and characterization quite masterfully. Let’s admit that the concept of the moon being blown out of earth’s orbit and then traveling around the galaxy at speeds fast enough to take the crew to other planets was a bit far-fetched. But the show also had an amazing cast including then husband and wife Martin Landau (Captain John Koenig) and Barbara Bain (Dr. Helena Russell), who had also teamed up on MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE, veteran character actor Barry Morse (Dr. Victor Bergman) and ultimately sexy Catherine Schell as shapeshifting alien Maya. And the Eagle, well, it was one of the coolest spaceships ever featured in TV science fiction!

ATLRetro recently caught up with Drew, a regular on Artists Alley at DragonCon who nurtured his pop culture roots as a veteran consultant for the digital gaming industry including such hit titles as GRAND THEFT AUTO and the Max Payne series. His current passion is breathing new life into some of his favorite licensed properties from childhood. He penned CONSPIRACY OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (Archaia, 2011), an illustrated novel which solves the mystery of what happened to astronaut Landon, who was also captured by the apes and lobotomized. And next up, he’ll be tackling the 1970s TV series, BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY.

Each of these projects is worthy of its own interview, so for now, we’ll stick with Moonbase Alpha. And we should also note that the stunning visuals on the book are thanks to a triumvirate of artists, legendary who produced the book with artistic team Gray Morrow, Spanish artist Miki and David Hueso (GI JOE:STORM SHADOW).

ATLRetro: How did you first encounter SPACE:1999? Was it a childhood favorite or did you discover it later, and what did it mean to you?

Andrew E.C. Gaska: Basically I discovered SPACE: 1999 as a child in the 1970s. My father was a police officer, and he worked until midnight, so I stayed up and watched TV with him during the summer. At 11, it was THE HONEYMOONERS. At 11:30, it was TWILIGHT ZONE. At midnight was STAR TREK. and 1 o’clock was SPACE: 1999. I really only saw the second season of SPACE:1999. I really liked Maya turning into animals. Also, my best friend while growing up had the 24-inch Eagle toy from Mattel. We used to play with it with our STAR WARS toys. I was into all science fiction. I wouldn’t watch anything else except THE HONEYMOONERS and THREE’S COMPANY and science fiction shows. Those were the only choices and really shaped who I am now. Actually…that’s kind of frightening.

I was reintroduced to SPACE: 1999 in the ‘90s by the book, EXPLORING SPACE 1999 by John Kenneth Muir, who eventually did the foreword to AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. It led me to looking for bootleg videotapes of SPACE: 1999, which wasn’t available in any official release at the time. I’d buy bootleg tapes at conventions and got really into it again. Of course, I bought it all on DVD when it came out later  – and again on Blu-Ray!

Concept art by Dan Dussault for SPACE 1999: AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. Courtesy of Blam! Ventures.

How did Aftershock and Awe come about? Was it you wanting to work in the Space:1999 universe or were you approached?

Back in 2005, I formed BLAM! Ventures, my guerrilla design studio, to acquire licenses for creator-owned properties. The plan was to get the rights, get a book about 80% done, and then shop them around to publishers to get released. I went to Paramount and tried to get STAR TREK. I went to Universal, to Fox… I basically hit all the big ones. Of the ones I hit, PLANET OF THE APES was the only one that gave me a response right away. That led to my CONSPIRACY OF THE PLANET OF THE APES novel and its coming sequel, tentatively called DEATH OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, which I am working on right now. One of the companies that we had tried to get properties from was ITV. We approached them about SPACE 1999 and UFO, but they were going through a lot of changes in their licensing department so we could only got so far, and then the interest would drop. Later we found out they were constantly shifting people around in the licensing department, so I gave up on it for a while. Then ITV decided to reboot the entire department, and while they were doing that, they brought in an outside licensing firm. When that firm was going through some old files, they found all the proposals I had sent them. They contacted me and told me they thought the ideas were good for the brand, so we made a deal.

It’s been very frustrating dealing with licenses and getting clients to understand that what we are trying to do is intended to benefit the license, not steal part of it.

Why is a series set in 1999 that never happened still so relevant now, in your opinion?

A lot of detractors say SPACE: 1999 is just like STAR TREK, but really it’s not. STAR TREK is very positive about the future. Space is well understood by the crew that encounters it. Each episode ties things up neatly. There are not a lot of mysteries or outside forces, whereas in SPACE 1999, every episode is a mystery or there is a greater force in play. It could be God if you will, but there is definitely some guiding force that is responsible for getting them in and out of the predicaments that happen to them. I liken SPACE 1999 to gothic space horror. Space is a terrifying place and you never know what is going to happen to you. There’s more out there that we don’t understand than that we do understand. SPACE: 1999 takes its cues from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY [1968] which obviously inspired it greatly.

In regard to the charge that it is no longer relevant, the date was one of the hurdles I had to overcome in writing AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. Most of the advice I received from inside the entertainment industry was all you have to do is change the date. I was like, no, this was supposed to be continuation of the original series. So instead I approached it as an alternate history, like what direction would the world have took if the South had won Civil War or Hitler won WWII. The most obvious difference between the real world and the world of SPACE: 1999 was that we had a moonbase in 1999. It struck me that President Kennedy was so fascinated with the space program, and if he had not been assassinated, perhaps our technology would have gone in that direction rather than in cellular phones and the Internet. What you can do with alternate history is shine a light on specific aspects of our own history that you can’t do otherwise without ruffling some feathers.

Concept art by Dan Dussault for SPACE 1999: AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. Courtesy of Blam! Ventures.

Which character was your favorite to delve more deeply into and why?

That definitely would be Professor Victor Bergman. To me, he is the most likable character in science fiction. My friend described him as a “cuddly Captain Picard.” He’s learned, he’s wise, he’s soft-spoken, and he really cares. He’s definitely the heart of Moonbase Alpha, so he was very important to me. One of the things we do in AFTERSHOCK AND AWE is go into his journals, and I had to make sure the writing sounded like his voice. One of the things that was most gratifying for me was hearing from a lot of fans that they could hear his voice in those journal entries. It’s a shame that [the producers of SPACE:1999 Season 2] kicked him off. They even said that they did so because they thought having an old guy on the show turned it into your living room versus a futuristic science fiction show. So there aren’t any old guys in the future?

AFTERSHOCK AND AWE gave you the opportunity to fill in gaps and inconsistencies in the show. Is there a particular gap or inconsistency that gave you the most satisfaction to explain?

Yes, and it’s probably obvious to anyone who has read it: Shermeen Williams. Basically she’s a character who shows up in one episode [A MATTER OF BALANCE] in the second season of the show. In that episode, she is 16 years old. If you do the math based on the amount of days since leaving orbit that’s mentioned in the episode, when the moon left Earth, she would have been 10. I asked myself, what’s a little girl doing on the moon at that time? In the ‘70s, they didn’t think anyone would notice or care. I found a reason and made it relevant for one of the main characters, specifically Victor.

Drew Gaska. Courtesy of Blam! Ventures.

You mean having Victor as Shermeen’s guardian. Why Victor in particular?

Basically he was older and wiser, so everyone was always looking to him for advice. Victor was always the father of Moonbase Alpha. So I thought, why not put him into that role literally by having him take responsibility for a child? It also explained why [Shermeen] is allowed to get away with so much crap in that episode in season 2. It’s because when John looks at her, he sees Victor. If we get to continue the license, one of we’ll be continuing the series 30 years later, and one of the things we’ll be doing is catching up with the characters. We’ll show flashbacks of scenes that happened in the episodes but that you did not see. For example, we’ll see what Shermeen was doing with Victor throughout the series. She was always there behind the scenes in season 1.

I liked what you did with John and Helena to flush out their back story and lay the foundation for the start of their relationship. Can you talk a little about that?

When you watch episode one, BREAKAWAY, there’s a scene that’s also in the comic, where basically Helena gives John a whole bunch of crap for putting his life at risk. He replies smugly, “I didn’t know you cared.” It seemed like some sort of hint at their relationship status. In the second episode, there’s a back story about Helena’s husband who was a lost astronaut. That set up in my mind where she was coming from. In regard to John’s past, in SPACE:1999 EARTHFALL, by E.C. Tubb, who was a brilliant author published in the ‘70s, he established Marcia Gilcrest as John’s fiancée in a short scene in the beginning. When John learns that he has been made commander of Moonbase Alpha again, she says, “look at me, John, I couldn’t possibly live on the moon.” And she couldn’t, because she was a socialite. Having John deal with these issues allowed me to show more depth in his character. And I was also able to use Marcia to show what happens on Earth. When the moon moves out of orbit, she is on Fiji and gets into serious problems when the tectonic plates begin to shift.

Which leads perfectly into the next question. In the graphic novel, you also explore the impact of the moon’s dislocation on the Earth itself. Why did you think that was important to add to the SPACE:1999 saga?

Two reasons. One was that when Gerry Anderson tried to get the show green-lit from Lew Grade, the producer who funded the show, he had a very strong eccentricity. He said he would fund the show only if we never see anything that happens on Earth, because he had seen too many science fiction shows that happen on Earth. When I heard that, I thought, ‘but there was so much that could be told about that!’ Also, people always complained that the science was wonky. There’s a lot of real science about what would happen to Earth if moon was ripped out of orbit.  I thought that a great way to ground the story in science was to show the effects if Earth lost the moon. There are other comics in which that happened, and which did not deal with the consequences. That makes it fantasy to me, and we are dealing with science fiction, not science fantasy.

Concept art by Dan Dussault for SPACE 1999: AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. Courtesy of Blam! Ventures.

How did you research the science for the book?

The History Channel has a wonderful program called THE UNIVERSE, and there was also a Discovery Channel special called IF WE HAD NO MOON. There are books on the subject as well, but I started with those programs.

Even people who aren’t big fans of SPACE:1999 wax passionately about the Eagle. What’s so special about this spacecraft?

To me, the Eagle is one of the most brilliant designs there’s ever been in science fiction. It looks like it really could be part of the NASA arsenal. It looks like a real space vehicle, but it also looks like it could be a brick in the atmosphere. If you suspend disbelief, it just has such beautiful details such as the spines on its back. In every one of those top 100 spaceship lists on the Internet, the Eagle always is well towards number one. It has endured even more than the show.  With AFTERSHOCK AND AWE, we had a chance to bring in new story elements that work well with the ship.

If you can extend the license, where do you hope to take SPACE: 1999 in the other volumes?

Basically the point of AFTERSHOCK AND AWE was to reintroduce the concept to audiences. There are a lot of people who have never seen SPACE:1999 who would be really turned on by it if they have something new. We’re also introducing a new set of characters who are searching for the lost moon in the next series MISSION ALPHA.  They’ll be passing through the areas of space that the moon passed through and seeing the ramifications of what happened in the episodes. It’s 30 years later by that time which opens the gate to multigenerational survival stories. We have six graphic novels arced out which take the series to its logical conclusion. You will in the end find out what the mysterious force that guides them is, why the moon was blown out of Earth orbit, and why everything has gone down the way it has throughout the series. Whether or not you’ll get to read that depends on sales, so if you like AFTERSHOCK AND AWE, recommend it to a friend. We’ve got some good stories to tell, and SPACE:1999 does not need to be left to languish any longer.

Concept art by Dan Dussault for SPACE 1999: AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. Courtesy of Blam! Ventures.

What else is BLAM! Ventures up to?

My next licensed property that I am working on is BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY [based on the 1970s TV program]. It will be a series of illustrated novels, similar to THE CONSPIRACY OF THE PLANET OF THE APES book. I’m also working on a sequel to Apes that is due out in 2014. And there are some comic properties I am working on as well, so expect to see a lot from BLAM! Ventures in the future!

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