Quandary – a state of perplexity

Ever since we slithered into the disease infested pond of micro-budget film making almost five years ago (!), we’ve had the great fortune of making the acquaintance of several ridiculously talented, innovative, and inspirational motion picture artists who, despite all odds and heavy pressure, manage to create some really fucking amazing movies.

Most notably, there’s Nadine L’Esperance of Blue Girl Productions, Gigi Saul Guerrero of Luchagore Productions, and Michael Henry of Quandary Productions.  Each of these filmmakers has their own unique choke hold on independent cinema and their ambition and desire to constantly create original movies makes us seethe with jealousy.

This blog entry will focus on one Michael Henry of Quandary Productions, hailing from the deepest, darkest jungles of England.

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We first met Michael in the Twittersphere in 2011 and he’s earned a place in our furry little hearts due to his continued support of not only our projects, but also the projects of several beginning filmmakers by offering FREE advice and insight into micro-budget film making.  That’s right kids, an artist who’s actually selfless and supportive.  There’s only five of them still in existence and the other four live in a shipping yard on the Northern Icelandic coast.

And another reason why we like Michael so much: the guy actually follows through on his crowdfunding promises.  Over the years, we’ve grown so tired of contributing to this Kickstarter campaign or that one or that one or that one, all promising to send some really great perks your way for throwing out a few bucks.  We can count on one paw how many came through.  Yep, Michael was one of them and he had to ship his goods across a fucking ocean!!

The first project we gave a few dollars to was Quandary’s “Narcissist”, a feature length anti-romantic comedy in which the “friendship of two aspiring actors is put to the test, as they use their former insecurities to become masters of picking up women.  As they gradually become immersed in a world of pick-up artists, headed by master pick-up guru ‘Enigma’, friendly competition turns to something more sinister, as their attitudes toward women, relationships, and how they think of themselves radically changes.”  (That description came directly from their website.)

So, let’s start right there.  Quandary Productions is a team of filmmakers who make feature length films dealing with complex issues relying on only their own ingenuity and not money.  Damn.  If you’re a movie maker, you know how difficult all of the above is, so put a check by their name right off the bat as being fearless.

Upon our first viewing of “Narcissist”, we knew right away that we weren’t dealing with a bunch home video shooters.  The quality of the film, both in production and in delivery, was off the charts.  This could easily been shown in a movie theater.  Maybe not next to “Transformers 7: Megatron Takes Manhattan”, but one running a midnight marathon of PT Anderson flicks.

Now, as we are Paul Tomas Anderson groupies ourselves, we were able to spot some of his influences in “Narcissist”, which we very much appreciated (that should tell you what kind of a movie this is.)

This film is very heavy on the drama which we, as horror hounds, found impressive because we know all too well how easy it is to scare someone: a loud noise, a dissonant soundtrack, a silhouette down a hallway, etc.  But to actually create a feature length drama that is engaging blows our minds.

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Michael Henry not only played the lead role of Leonard, but also served as the movie’s director, editor, writer, and producer.

What was really impressive about “Narcissist” was the way in which Michael’s portrayal of Leonard was completely…believable.  Yes, believable.  No need for any suspension of of disbelief here.  He was riddled with all the things that make us human: self-doubt, paranoia, overcompensation, loneliness.  All that fun stuff that usually makes you swallow down handfuls of Prozac with buckets of black coffee.

However, it was their follow up feature “Time and Place” that really got us hooked into the Quandary.

OK, so here’s their synopsis of the film:

“When scientists reveal the universe has stopped expanding, and will soon begin to contract, time collapses for one man. Things lose their meaning, and moral boundaries seem absurd.  ‘TIME AND PLACE’ is a low-budget epic in which one man has to come to terms with the consequences of his actions, knowing that some day all that surrounds him will cease to exist.”

Wow.  Don’t lie, you’re impressed.

But sure, anyone can make a movie sound all fancy schmancy sixty words or less.

While this may be true, this film delivers and it solidified to us that Michael Henry and the folks at Quandary Productions are film makers that DESERVE to be recognized.

We enjoyed “Time and Place” even more than “Narcissist.”  Actually a lot more.  But you also need to keep in mind that we love movies that make us feel uneasy, dare we say, queasy.

It’s not gory or anything like that, but it is unrelenting.  Being film editing dorks, we really loved the way this film was cut and spliced together.  Like “Narcissist”, the production quality of this movie is professional and top notch.  However, the story is far more complex and the entire movie, as a whole, serves as one malfunctioning, maddening unit that very eerily portrays the unraveling of a man.  Will (also played by Michael Henry) is similar to Leonard in “Narcissist” in that there is an underlying sense of desperation in everything that he does…only this time around we first meet our “hero” when he’s already at the end of his rope and there’s only a few inches left in it.

Remember how we called it unrelenting?  It is just that.  THIS.  SHIT.  DOES.  NOT.  STOP.  It just keeps spiraling round and round and round making you want to scream, “Stop the world and let me get off!”

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OK, so by now you get it: we really dig this movie and we really, really dig Quandary Productions.  So, we emailed Mr. Henry to pick his brain and what do you know, he was kind enough to give us some time and answer some questions:

1.) How / when did Quandary Productions begin and what, if any, were the objectives of your company?

We began informally in June 2009.  I’d written our first feature whilst studying at university and basically just got a few people together with the desire to prove you could make a film with no money.  There were no long term plans or consideration of us being a company at the time.  It was just me and Tom Bridger working on the film, and Sebastian Moody taking up the challenge of scoring the film.  We did all the camera, sound, and acting together, and I edited it alone.  It was a steep learning curve, but once the film was finished, it felt like a huge accomplishment.

2.) How do you approach the film making process (what is your work flow)?

After our third film I found myself setting future deadlines way ahead, to ensure I was always working on something (I hate not doing something at any given time).  This can mean incredible pressure at times, namely the hand over between pre-production and production.  I’ll usually have an idea for a film or two ahead of the one I am working on, allowing the idea to build in the background whilst focussing on something else, then once post-production is complete on one feature I can get stuck in to the writing of the next straight away.  By the end of the last project, I’ll most likely have an outline, character breakdown and will have written a couple of key scenes down.

When it comes to the actual shoot we ensure the atmosphere is as relaxed as possible.  I’ve found that placing the camera in a position that makes the actors feel they can move freely, and allowing an actor to reach the point they need to naturally, with as little pressure as possible is the most important aspect of filmmaking.  Content and performance have always been my key focus.  Without these two things being up to scratch, you can’t make a good film.

3.) What do you find the most satisfying / dreadful about making movies?  Which step in the process do you like / hate the most?

It’s a tough one.  To be perfectly honest I love every single aspect as much as I hate it.  As much as I enjoy the writing process, because it’s where all the ideas build and build and you can be the most creative, I can’t help but be overly critical at this stage, second guessing myself at every stage, which can be incredibly frustrating.  The shoot is probably the most enjoyable stage though. You’re surrounded by supportive people, all wanting to make your film the best it can be, all collaborating, bringing in their own ideas.  When it goes great, there’s nothing like it.  That said, things can easily take a turn and you’ll be stressing over how much time you have, or something won’t feel like it’s working within the scen. I get something from every stage of production though.

If I had to choose the one time that I hate most (the stage I’m in now), is the end of one project, and the build-up for the next project.  I’m writing our sixth feature film, and have just sent off our last film ‘TIME AND PLACE’ off to festivals worldwide.  Although I make films for the most part so I can feel satisfied with them, an audience reaction is still important.  I get quite disillusioned at this stage because the last film has had a limited release and then you have to wait to hear from festivals to see if you’re going to reach a larger audience, or see if people even like the film.  It’s hard to keep motivated, and even to want to make another film, when you’re in this stage.  You have to kind of blind yourself to these aspects though,otherwise you’ll just give up. Everyone who has seen the film so far has been blown away by it.   It seems to click most with filmmakers who have attempted to make their own work, which for me is a great compliment.  I had considered making ‘TIME AND PLACE’ my last feature film at one point, but it’s thanks to all the positive feedback I’ve had for the film that has made me want to continue.

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4.) Within Quandary, is it a free for all when it comes to developing a story and then bringing things into production or does one person lead the charge?  Are there delegated roles?

We are keen to help as many people as possible, supporting other artists locally in person, and internationally through our Artist of the Month posts, and our monthly short film showcase, held at Angel Coffee House.  When it comes to our own projects, I oversee what projects we will and won’t be working on.  As far as I’m concerned, the next project should be more ambitious and of a higher quality than the previous film.  So I lead the charge, but from project to project, we’ll share various roles.  Having worked together so many times now, we can easily switch roles from project to project, and I personally like to have actors and members of crew involved from a very early stage to see what they can bring to the project.

5.) “Time and Place” seems like such a complicated concept for an independently produced film.  What was the inspiration behind it?

I’d heard of ‘The Big Crunch’ years earlier, and briefly looked into it further, but it was just an idea that I found interesting at that point.  During the planning of our fourth feature film ‘NARCISSIST’ I was thinking about what I’d like the next project to be, and I wanted to go for a ‘Heart of Darkness’ type story, and the idea of an ‘Apocalypse Now’ type shoot where I would push myself to the brink of insanity and break myself and those around me down to their bare bones was something I felt I needed to experience.  So the idea came first, but then I didn’t want the concept to overpower what was going on within the character and story.  Something that bothers me about big-budget movies with a sci-fi concept, is that they are all concept, with no consideration for the effect on one person.  Family, or their moral struggles, seem like afterthoughts or simply added to make the film more dramatic.  I can’t remember exactly at what point the character came to mind, but I knew the focus had to be morality.

If you know you’re going to die, or that consequences will soon cease to exist, why wouldn’t you disregard morality and just do whatever you want?  I don’t personally agree with the idea in that regard. Just because you can do something, whether you could or should is more important.  We all have the capacity to do both amazing and awful things at any given moment.  For me the thrust of the film had to be someone deciding they can do anything they want, but then reaching a point where they have to consider whether they should have done some of the things they had, knowing that the punishment isn’t going to arrive externally, and finally when he hits his lowest point, having to decide whether he could do one final thing, the worst thing imaginable.

I knew that I could make the film quite simply, but keep all the scope in the background.  We used soundbites to allude to riots, or police being over run with calls, and these could reflect the character’s mental state too.  It was also essential for me to ensure that this project felt big in comparison to ‘NARCISSIST’, which was intentionally a small-scale, intimate drama.  I was careful to use locations that I was already aware of, to open up the film visually as well as thematically as the film progressed, so we end up in big open landscapes when the character is at a point where he has to contemplate his actions, and begins to feel more empathetically.

6.) How closely are Will and Michael Henry related (is there a lot of your own personality / doubts / fears / aspirations etc. in the character?)

Wow, big question.  Sure, it’s hard to write something without putting yourself in there, but the characters I write tend to be more extreme versions of myself.  It’s easy to feel inconsequential when you think of how many people have lived and died since the birth of our universe, but I’m generally an optimistic person.  I’m drawn to the darker side of our psyches.  The films I really admire are films like ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘There Will Be Blood’.  These are films in which you can explore a theme and what drives us as a species.  You can explore the best and worst we can be.  You can explore why people are the way they are.  I’m not saying I’m perfect, far from it.  I’ve done some terrible things but if they end up finding their way in to one of my films, it’s never conciously.  So although there are elements of myself in there, it should be clear that the idea behind the film is more important that the person at the centre, despite how much I want to ensure the characters and content are the best they can be.

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7.) I’ve seen “Narcissist” and “Time and Place” and they’re very different from each other in terms of tone.  “Narcissist” has a lighter, comedic feel to it initially where as “Time and Place” starts out with a rapid fire intensity.  However, both Leonard and Will (the main characters) seem very similar and both have a feeling of desperation to them.  Should we be worried about you?

You can worry if you want.  I think I’ll be fine.  You’re not the first to mention that actually.  One of my favourite filmmakers is Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who made an insane amount of films (up to three features a year) in such a short life, but they were all unique and he was a great artist.  I’ve always put my films ahead of my own personal health, so in that regard, sure, it’s not healthy.  But my tunnel-vision approach is driven by the idea that a film can be more important.  As I mentioned before, there are elements of myself in those characters (‘NARCISSIST’ being the most auto-bigraphical) but I like to think I’m a little more well balanced than the characters I’ve previously played. I should point out at this point that I’m stepping away from playing a large part in my own films because of the pressure it puts of me.  I really enjoy acting, despite what it can bring out in me, but filmmaking is my raison d’etre and I think I can only improve my skills by focussing more of my attention behind the camera.

8.) Can you explain the editing approach to “Time and Place”?  I found it unique in the way it was cut, that the fast paced jump cuts seemed to coincide with Will’s crumbling mental state.  Was this considered when the script was written or did it come about later?

I had a very clear idea from the start, how it would be paced and jump around.  I was listening to some of my favourite scores and knew how slow I’d like a shot to play out, and how I wanted to jump around a lot, until we reach about thirty minutes in, and then dramatically slow it down.  It was always down to how the character was feeling though.  He suddenly shifts from the city to the countryside, and the locations play a big part in how he feels about life in those moments.

9.) What are the secrets behind running a successful crowd funding campaign?

Hard to say.  I don’t feel like we’ve run a successful campaign yet.  We’ve always got enough to make the films, but never comfortably.  I’ve not got paid for any of the films we’ve made.  I guess the key thing to consider is the clarity and originality of your idea, and how you present it.  Why bother doing something that has already been done?

10.) In one sentence, what advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?

Don’t give up.  I’ve mentioned before how disillusioned you can get, but if I gave up after my third film I wouldn’t have made ‘TIME AND PLACE’ which I’m incredibly proud of.  And if I give up now I won’t get to make a better film next time.  You have to just keep going.  My main goal in life is to feel like I’ve made a film which I consider to be a masterpiece, so I have to keep going.

11.) In one sentence, how would you end this interview?

I’d like to encourage more people to create.  The work of other people inspires me, and makes me want to keep doing what I do.

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Visit www.quandaryproductions.com for more information on their films.  Watch their films.  You’ll be a better person for it.  Someday, you’ll be able to say, “I knew them when…”


A Band of Dreklings…

Twenty years ago today, on a typical cold and overcast night in Chicago, a duo of high school misfits dressed in black with white painted faces played a concert to an audience of ten (four of whom were members of the opening band) in the basement of a house on 63rd and Nottingham Avenue. One stood behind a microphone, the other hid behind a keyboard.

In the center of the room, separating them from the audience that was crammed onto a couch and spilled over onto a stairwell, was a three and a half foot tall plywood cross wrapped in multicolored electrical wiring with a transparent, plastic mask strapped to the top. The bookcase next to the keyboard stand was covered with black linen and a collection of half melted black candles mixed with the freshly lit incense to provide the perfect ambiance.

This was the first live performance of Dreklings and this is the story of a goth band that never went anywhere.

(Thrown in here you’ll see video clips of bands that inspired us, some lyrics I’m sure I’m butchering, and songs salvaged from the graveyard circa 2002…stuff earlier than that is locked in a vault and the key is missing.)

Dreklings was “formed” fourteen months earlier and all it took was this tall, mysterious kid dressed in all black to pass me in the hall in high school and say, “Hey, come to the library so we can talk about Skinny Puppy” (the fact that I had “Skinny Puppy” etched into my backpack gave away my musical tastes at that time.) Thus began a ten year on again, off again relationship that started with a very simple mission: make dark, gothic music that we wanted to listen to. Just one problem: I couldn’t play the sixty three key Yamaha keyboard I owned. It ended up not mattering. In the beginning, each song was comprised of no more than six or seven dissonant chords played at about fifteen beats per minute.

At the time, gothic music to me was pipe organs and scary shit listened to by even scarier people wearing black cloaks with pale faces, black lipstick, and dyed red hair (combat boots and clove cigarettes optional.) Thankfully, my Yamaha came equipped with a not-so-pipe-organ pipe organ voice which was used heavily. The scary came from my inability to match the musical talents of a six month old. The true talent of this duo was my partner in crime, Lillian, who really must have had nothing better to do with her Sunday afternoons than punish her ears with my ineptitude. She was a pretty excellent sixteen year old poet and musician. In fact, our first song was entitled “Children” and it a was pretty light hearted song about a group of kids who ceremoniously execute their parents. If I remember some of the lyrics correctly, it went something like this:

“As imperceptibly as a lilly grows, the path of the sanctum is presented to those

Those who are physically and socially small, and so comes the night of justice for all

Five years old, five years of a lie

And now the children all cry, to watch Mommy and Daddy die…

So the fifty pound children raise their fifty pound hatchets as they shout to their makers, ‘Ashes to ashes.’”

Fast forward a year, past a viola played named Becca who met all the before mentioned requirements of a scary goth kid and who never came back after one rehearsal, and we put together a seven song set list. Even though we were playing in a basement and despite the very low attendance, we still felt like rock stars playing OUR music, however boring. But fuck it, we were playing shit no one else was, certainly no one else on the South side of Chicago where most garage bands were of the pseudo-punk, alternative, metal variety. Our music was slow, mildly pretentious, dark, and somewhat political. What other bands used a keyboard set at organ and violin as their main instrument?

Did I already mention that Lillian was the actual “band” and I was just along for the ride?

I don’t think I’ll ever forget her grabbing my shaking-from-sheer-panic hand as I held down the opening keys to our song “HauloCo$t” (our animal rights anthem) and looking into my eyes as if to say, “Calm the fuck down killer.”

At one point in the night, she took over behind keys and I did this really God-awful performance art thingy with the cross and the mask, a schtick I ripped off from Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy. However, truth be told, Puppy or not, we did want to, and later went on to, incorporate actors and story lines in our stage performances (again, I ask you, what other garage band does shit like that?!)

I believe our set finished with a song called “Still Blood Streams”, a song I wrote all by myself, without Lillian, thus why it consisted of ONE note played for six minutes over a soundtrack of frogs croaking and crickets chirping while Lillian and her girlfriend read a long, nonsensical poem about absolutely nothing.

Twenty years ago. That was our show. Man, what a cool fucking night.

We carried on after that adding a bass / guitar / keyboard player by the name of Jori who was certainly the most bad ass chick I had ever met up to that point. With her, we grew up a little and our songs went from slow dissonance to some actual structure (go figure, the group now had two people who knew what they were doing and not just one!)

We put out our first demo tape (yes, TAPE) with her in late 1995, early 1996 (recorded on a Fostex four track by my late friend Mark. God bless you buddy.) And by “put out”, I mean we dubbed each tape individually, made copies of the insert at the local Kinkos, stuffed the packaging, and tried to sell each for $5.00 a piece to other kids who either didn’t have money or didn’t want it. This was the mid-90s. This was the age of the DIY ‘zine counter culture.

So, Dreklings had a show under its belt, a demo tape, and now we were on to conquer The Whale…the Thirsty Whale, the diviest of dive bars in a all of Chicagoland. We were the opening act for a bunch of punk and metal bands. No drummer, no distorted guitar, no screaming, but a whole lotta performance art.

Our time with Jori peaked in June of 1996 with a show in my garage to a pretty respectable audience of about twenty five kids. From this show, I remember three things: we almost killed one of our actors by hanging him, a long haired heavy metal dude (can’t remember if he was part of the act or not) got up and went on with some Satanic verse reading, and one audience member (a boyfriend of a friend of a girlfriend) got physically ill because of our show. He was, after all, a Dave Matthews Band fan.

“Sometimes I feel I should be in a factory far away from my home and friends

Hung upside down so the blood runs quickly through the gash in my throat

Until my lifeless eyes note me ready for package and sale” – “HauloCo$t”

The glory kept rolling on and exit Jori and enter a new phase in the Dreklings: the addition of guitarist Murciélago and drummer / guitarist Hector Hermes Hexagon Renfield. Out went the fifteen BPM, dissonant chords of old and in came something a little more “rockier.” This was a good line up, albiet a short lived one (I think it lasted a little over a year and a half.) We actually started covering music: “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and “Five To One” to be exact. And even though we still remained every bit as weird, we could now, somewhat, “fit in” with live bills that included those same punk and alternative bands from before. There was a whole lot of Weezer ripping off going on back then, so we were still the Addams Family in the back of the venue while the brightly colored, knit sweater kids had the run of the place.

Shit! I failed to mention the one time a fan, maybe our only “true” fan, came up to me before a show and showed me his forearm in which he had cut into it “Dreklings.”

Creeps and cutters. That was our crowd.

I think it was new quasi-rock route that scared Lillian away and she quit in early 1998. Without her, there was no band. Five years and a lot of memories.

Dreklings reemerged in 2002 with probably our best, most concrete line up. Lillian gave up the role of lead vocals and took her rightful place behind a stack of synths and samplers. I stayed behind my keys, adding sound effects here and there, and even started growling a bit. We had a seventeen year old, classically trained girl as our singer, an honest to goodness real violin player and, my favorite Drek ever, Carolyn “Hog Head” O’Neill: hands down the most talented musician I’ve ever known.

This line up made some really great music if I do say so myself. It was tight, somewhat professional sounding, creepy and, at times, complex. It was a stab back at our roots of dark songs about scary people. We made another demo (a CD this time) and had our one (and sadly only) show at a bar on the North side of Chicago.

Dreklings broke apart too early in my opinion. I still feel this last line up had potential. It had focus. But our Spinal Tap moments piled up and we couldn’t get out of our own way.

At the end of the day, we can say we had a “dance hit” with a remix of one of our songs played by Chicago DJ Scary Lady Sarah at Nocturna and Neo in Chicago and even got a little club play in Berlin!!

But alas, all good things and even some Dreklings have to come to an end. We went out just as we came in: writing songs about death and creepy kids.

“Crawling up the wall with a half severed tongue and a wilted state of mind in the depths of denying

What’s wrong with the world? 

Calls a cruel and twisted girl as she smiles like a child on fire

Thorn in her side, rains falls slow, deprived

Slipping slowly toward the day when the love has turned to rage and the memory stain screams loud of doubt and pain

Scared sleepless of the faces in her dreams” – “Child On Fire”

So kids, close the curtains, light a few candles, and dig out your favorite razor blade because it’s all a downward spiral from here.

Rest in peace.

– Sister Mary Virus


Psychotic Cluster Fucks (In All Their Glory)

For the longest time, we’ve been restricted to the YouTube rule of videos having to be less than 15 minutes in order to be uploaded (unless, of course, you wanted to pay!)  Well, very recently we were alerted to the fact that this rule has been changed and with a little account finagling, you can now upload longer videos for free!

We jumped at the chance to do just that and we’re happy to announce that our “Tortured Girl Trilogy” is now available in its entirety on YouTube.  That’s right, you don’t have to pay us to watch our movies!  Why would you?  That’s like paying someone to punch you in the back of the head until your ears are bleeding.

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So here you go kids, our “Tortured Girl Trilogy” for your enjoyment and all for free.

A LOVING MEMORY

You can’t breathe.  Your heart is racing.  Your clothes are soaked in sweat.  Fuck!!  The voices in your head are screaming.  It’s a thousand degrees in here.  Relief comes in an orange 0.5 mg tablet.  Maybe six or seven of ‘em.

GLESS

The Xanax has kicked in.  Your vitals are stabilizing.  The room has stopped spinning.  The side of your face is soaking gently in a cool puddle of drool.

THE MOCKINGBIRD

All is well.  You wake up from your drug induced nap.  A happier person.  A calmer person.  You open your eyes and realize: only seven more hours until you want to die all over again.

On an unrelated note, our good friend Paul Peditto (a ridiculously talented screenwriter and a former teacher of ours), has invited us to speak at a Micro-Budget Filmmaking seminar at the Chicago Filmmakers’ studio in Andersonville in Chicago on Saturday October 11th!!  Learn everything you need to know about how to make a movie without draining your bank account!  Meet new people and make new friends!!  Make a fucking movie!!  Six hours long, only $95.00.  Well worth it.  Click HERE  (the class is entitled “Planning A Micro-Budget Movie”) for more information.

Hope to see you there!!

Stay alive.

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Where Those Damn Rabbits Been? (Also: Four Years And Eleven Months In Review)

Our last update was on November 29th of last year…damn that’s a long time!

We wish we could say our absence has been due to filming on location in the deepest, darkest sugar cane fields of Maui, Hawaii for the past almost year, but we can’t, so we won’t.  This is not to say that we haven’t been busy.  In fact, we can’t remember a year that’s been this crazy and action packed in forever.

We may not have been making movie stuffs, but we did create our favorite project to date: a little herbivore named Dexter.  Back in May of this year, our lives forever changed and we couldn’t be happier.  Becoming parents has been at times challenging, at times terrifying, and always amazing.  He’s hilarious and awesome.

Dexter

Because it’s been so long since we last posted, we feel a little neglectful to this always-on-our-minds hobby of ours.  And with neglect, comes a little bit of nostalgia.  So, before diving in to the deep end of here and now, we’re gonna go wading in the waters of yesteryear if, for no other reason, than to make things a little more clear for ourselves.

LOVING MEMORIES (2009)

There was an idea to make a documentary about fantasy football.  And then that idea was squelched.  And then there was an idea to make a short movie, in the vein of David Lynch, based on a woman speaking Korean on the radio.  And that’s what we rolled with.

“A Loving Memory” took on many different forms on paper before finally becoming the little monster wrapped neatly in a grey sweater and topped off with a plastic mask.  We’ve already written the history of ALM here, but this is where our story always has to start.

Filming took only four days spread out over the end of December and the beginning of January and she premiered in March of 2010.  Somewhere between the wrapping of production and the premiere party we had the idea for our next movie ready to go.  Fueled by fool-hardy ambition and a lot of really supportive friends, we started the next Herbi-chapter, albeit a very convoluted one.

A VERY SAD, SICK YOUNG WOMAN (2010)

We felt like our invitation to Cannes was only one more experimental short away and being caught up in the afterglow of completing our first movie really made the months that followed seem to fly by.  There was the writing and the editing and the rewriting and the re-edting and the casting and the meetings and the rehearsals.  “Gless” was filmed in the Summer, edited later in the Summer, and premiered at the end of the Summer.  (Wanna know more?  Click here.)

We a couple of months off between “Gless” and what would become our favorite movie to date “The Mockingbird.”  The early incarnation of this sickie was to be set to the song “Shitbeard” by COWS and it pretty much just involved a nurse hanging a patient with her own intestines.  And then it grew and grew…but we kept that whole evisceration / hanging thing.

BIRDS, RABBITS, AND CHICKENS (2011)

Pre-production for “The Mockingbird” began in December of 2010 and filming started in March of 2011.  However, not content with being just a one-movie-at-a-time pony, we took on a couple of other short projects producing the movies “How Deep Is The Rabbit Hole?” and “You Are What You Eat” for our good friend, the very talented Tony Colon.

Twenty eleven was a good year.  We were so proud of “The Mockingbird” and still are.  (Click here for more details and entrails.)  Herbi hit its stride and had a nice swagger to go along with its limp.  Everything culminated in August of that year with “Herbi-Palooza”, a self-produced film festival featuring twisted sisters, sadistic bunnies, and cannibal chickens.

Twenty eleven ended on a high and twisted note with this, our first episode of “Herbivorous”, a seven minute long WTF moment that we really enjoyed making: 

BEASTS AND BODY SLAMS (2012)

Twenty twelve was a screwy year.  We traded movies that don’t make much sense in for an online cooking show called “Feed The Beast.”  Although we felt a bit out of our element, dining on the fine cuisine created by Chef Tony after each episode made us forget the fact that we didn’t know how to swim.  FTB lasted seven episodes, from January to August.  Our favorite episode was definitely our culinary tribute to our favorite WWE legend Rowdy Roddy Piper.

Hooking up with our friends at Resistance Pro Wrestling for the above episode opened up the opportunity to shoot a promotional video for their female champion at the time Melanie Cruise (she’s the one who kicks Chef Tony in the nuts.)

Somewhere in between stuffing our faces and getting suplexed, we also tried really, really hard to make another movie, but the most we could squeeze out was a teaser trailer…for a movie that doesn’t exist.

And then we made this here funny little ditty about fantasy football (which we guess, in a way, brought us back to square one?)

This year concluded with creating several promotional videos for a fantasy sports (go figure!) website that was a result of the above fantasy football vid.  Ya see?!  You never know where one project will lead you.

CLOWNS AND MASCOTS (2013)

Things kinda got back on track in twenty thirteen, meaning we got back into the groove of making creepy shit.  We ditched the Beast and all its glazed chicken for a spray paint huffing clown named Huggles who made carnival food from his Mom’s basement.

To date, “Snuggles With Huggles” has only two episodes.  If we have it our way, he’s gonna get a bunch more in the near future and he’ll eventually land his dream job as pork fluffer on Rachael Ray’s show.

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There was also this failed experiment:

In the Fall of 2013, we decided to throw our rabbit ears into the ring of competitive filmmaking and entered the “ABCs of Death 2″ contest, coming up with the sick little ditty that is “Mascot With A Machete.”

The Autumn months brought us further opportunities with another filmmaking pal, John Borowski.  We must say, it was pretty cool working with the guy who, four years earlier, gave us the advice that pushed us over the cliff of movie making.  We shot footage for his “Serial Killer Culture” documentary and also assisted on the production of his own ABCs entry “Mime Time.”

AND NOW…(2014)

We opened up the beginning of the year by helping John Borowski on another short movie entitled “Rough Crowd” but, since then, things have been slow in the way of making movies.  And for good reason, of course, as Dexter demands much of our time!  This is not to say that our brains haven’t been occupied by thoughts and ideas and schemes and plans for our next project, one we’ve been working on, script wise, for over a year now (!)

However, it wasn’t until recently that we dusted off the ol’ Panasonic SDT750 and shot some footage for a wonderful group of people over at the Sweet Bunny Project.  Being rabbit lovers, we were appalled at the news that Whole Foods Market was in the test phase of selling domesticated rabbits as meat in their stores!!  The Sweet Bunnies allowed us to make them a little doc of the event and we’re pretty proud of it (and very grateful to them for spreading it around!)

And then there’s this, because why not?

Where do we go from here?  Well, like we said, there’s never a shortage of ideas and there’s that damn script we’ve been working on since last June.  Maybe someday…

Until then, Nancy Loomis.

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Lady Killers

“Tortured Girl Trilogy.”  Yes, we know, we know.  The title brings to mind “torture porn.”  Perhaps it may even sound like a rip off of the Japanese “Guinea Pig” film series or “The Faces of Death.”  But alas, it is none of those things.  When we made our first short film “A Loving Memory,” we were just trying to keep our heads above water and make a movie.  That’s all, nothing more, nothing less.  Just make a damn movie.  We blame actor Melissa Malan for everything really.  If she wasn’t so damn good to us and made the making of ALM such a great experience, we never would have pressed forward with more.  But she was and we did.

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It was somewhere near the end of the ALM shoot that we got the idea of a trilogy, more specifically, a “Tortured Girl Trilogy”: three movies about women who lose their minds and resort to violence and murder as a means of making sense of the world.  We never wanted to make a series of films (or even one film  for that matter!) about women playing the stereotypical roles of the helpless victims.  Quite the opposite.  We like our ladies insane and in charge!  We’re certainly not the first to come up with the concept and we’re not reinventing the wheel, we were just making the kinds of movies that we wanted to see and the kinds of characters that we love: strong, independent women who don’t use their sexuality to solve problems, who aren’t victimized, who don’t depend on anyone to save them, and who keeps their clothes on!  Instead, they show that they’re just as tough and bat shit crazy as the boys can be.  No rape revenge storyline needed (Michael Myers didn’t have one!)  Just evil, rage, and madness, in their purest forms, hiding behind the eyes of a woman.

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We don’t have any misconceptions of what we’ve made.  We didn’t set out to start a revolution or empower anyone.  The “Tortured Girl Trilogy” is simply a set of three very inexpensive and very amateur (!) movies.  The same as thousands of other micro-budget films that get lost on the internet and are watched by, if we’re lucky, 500 people.

We just happen to have a liking for ladies that would sooner slash your throat than blow you a kiss.  Well, they might blow you a kiss as you bleed to death.

Below are the stories and meanings behind our “Tortured Girl Trilogy” which includes “A Loving Memory,” “Gless,” and “The Mockingbird.”  If you want to see any of them, just shoot us an email and we’ll happily oblige.

Stay Alive.

sss


The Best For Last

“Defenestration: The Art of Throwing Someone or Something Out of A Window”

That was the original title for the final installment of our “Tortured Girl Trilogy.”  And, in the beginning, it was nothing more than what would eventually become the ending of the movie.  Make sense?  There was going to be a nurse eviscerating a woman and then hanging her by her intestines.  That was basically it.  A little nonsensical dialogue up front to set up the story and mood and, what was to follow, was just supposed to be an elongated deranged dream sequence.

As was the case with “Gless,” I ran the idea past my confidant Melissa Malan and she not only gave it the green light, but said she wanted to know more about the two characters, that simply being weird is fine, but she felt like there was something more to be worked out here.  Eventually, one nurse became two and the eviscerated girl would become a sister who was pushed to the brink of madness.

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TWISTED SISTERS

From our little idea came a few months of late nights at the local Starbucks writing and re-writing.  Honestly, this movie was very easy to write.  It wasn’t as convoluted as “Gless” and yet it was more complex than “A Loving Memory.”  It was more exciting, had more action, and had what we felt were very cool, engaging, and creepy characters.  The eviscerated girl from our original idea became Madelyn Kennedy: a recent college graduate ready to take the world by storm and be all she could be.  She was the complete package of beauty, brains, ambition, sex appeal, and attitude.  She was primarily raised by her older sister Evelyn who took over the role of parent when their mother died and their father abandoned them.  At one point, Evelyn also had the same dreams as Madelyn, but she gave all that up to care for younger sibling.  Selfless, responsible, strong: Evelyn was the perfect guardian.  Once Madelyn was well on her way through college, Evelyn tried putting together the pieces of her own life and start anew.

Unfortunately, fate had another idea.

After Madelyn graduated from college, Evelyn was involved in a horrible car accident that left her a quadriplegic.  Madelyn was forced to take in Evelyn just as she was about to begin her adult life.  Now the roles were reversed, only Madelyn didn’t possess the same inherent virtues of family obligation and responsibility as Evelyn did so many years before.  Madelyn’s life became caring for her sister around the clock…and she resented her for it.  And as time went on and Madelyn became filled with more and more rage and self-pity, so did Evelyn, a woman who never got to experience all that her sister did.  Now both women were prisoners: Madelyn in her own home and Evelyn in her own body.

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NOWHERE NEAR HELL (AND EVEN FARTHER AWAY FROM HEAVEN)

Most of “The Mockingbird” is told through the use of flashback as Madelyn recounts the story of her and Evelyn to two faceless and wonderfully deranged nurses in 1950s style uniforms.  And that’s where shit gets weird.  Their idea of medicine and rehabilitation is pain and torture.  As is seen at the beginning of the movie, these two nurses are really Madelyn’s distorted interpretations of the nurses in an actual emergency room.  But as Madelyn slips back and forth between reality and fantasy, these two become the representations of her own guilt and remorse.  There’s also this doctor with a melted face and a fetish for scalpels and the “Orchid Thief” who is this angel / shadow-like being who tries to save Madelyn’s soul.  *Note*  The Orchid Thief has nothing to do with orchids or thievery.  We’re just fans of the movie “Adaptation” and thought it was a pretty cool name for a character.  *End Note*

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WHAT’S WITH THE TITLE?

So, why on Earth is a horror movie about two sisters who hate each other and themselves entitled “The Mockingbird”?  Well, obviously the first title of “Defenestration” wasn’t going to cut it anymore.  We had no ideas for a title, but that’s where the ever reliable Melissa Malan (who would go on to play the role of Evelyn) came in.  She suggested the title of “The Mockingbird” after comparing the story of Madelyn and Evelyn to a poem of the same title by Charles Bukowski.  We won’t explain away everything, but here’s the poem and you’ll see why it worked:

The mockingbird had been following the cat all Summer
Mocking, mocking, mocking
Teasing and cocksure;
The cat crawled under rockers on porches
Tail flashing
And said something angry to the mockingbird
Which I didn’t understand.

Yesterday the cat walked calmly up the driveway
With the mockingbird alive in its mouth,
Wings fanned, beautiful wings fanned and flopping,
Feathers parted like a woman’s legs,
And the bird was no longer mocking,
It was asking, it was praying
But the cat, striding down through centuries,
Would not listen.

I saw it crawl under a yellow car
With the bird
To bargain it to another place

Summer was over

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MAKING THE MOCKINGBIRD

With Melissa Malan on board to play the part of Evelyn Kennedy, we started looking for someone to fill the lead role of Madelyn.  Melissa suggested a former acting student from the Victory Gardens studio in Chicago named Rebecca Steer and it only took one meeting with her to realize she was perfect for the job.  It was just a gut feeling…as well as her persistence and assurance that she would be the best person to play Madelyn.  She was right and she delivered.  Much like our relationship with Malan, everything just clicked with Rebecca.  She was professional, courteous, dedicated, everything you could wish for in your lead.  Rebecca was an amazing actor to work with and she was even cool enough to play the lead in another “Herbi-short” entitled “How Deep Is The Rabbit Hole?” (more on that later.)  Steer brought Madelyn Kennedy to life and she embraced every aspect of the character.  She was also a trooper for agreeing to be strung up by her neck with cold, wet, rubbery intestines.

Two other characters that were as equally important as the sisters were the nurses Freeney and Mathis.  Actor Joelle Weber, a woman who had previously auditioned for us for the lead role in “Gless,” was a no brainer for the part of Nurse Mathis.  She was a friend of Malan’s and came highly recommended.  Unfortunately, we only got to work with Joelle this one time, but we can’t say enough good things about her.  Like Steer, she was enthusiastic, dedicated to the part, and made one Hell of a sadistic nurse!  The role of Nurse Freeney went to actor Kasey O’Brien, a woman we met while working on a play around the same time.  This was also the only time we got to work with Kasey, but she too was a very cool person and helped to bring to the screen one of our favorite characters that we’ve ever written.

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Rounding out the cast were actors Steve Ruppel as Dr. Garcon (both handsome and disfigured versions) and David McNulty as Dr. Bethea, another actor we met through the “Gless” audition and came to the rescue to play the role at the zero hour for us.

We had only two people in our crew, but they played multiple roles.  There was the ever reliable “Swiss Army Knife of Independent Filmmaking” Jenni Schenk who was our make up artist, special effects artist, art director, and lighting tech and Tony Colon working as cinematographer and brainstormer.

As was the case with all of our films, we were blessed to have had so many talented people involved that willingly gave their time and talent to this sick little movie and we are forever grateful.  We hope you guys had a good time making “The Mockingbird” and, ultimately, we hope that you are proud of what she became.

Filming went pretty smoothly, all things considered.  A four day shoot over the course of a month, three locations (one of which was a BDSM dungeon), and an end budget of about $1000 not including the Panasonic SDT-750 camera we bought shortly before production began.  The movie spent about three months in post-production and debuted as a part of “Herbi-Palooza 2011″ at the Viaduct Theater in Chicago on August 6, 2011 alongside “How Deep Is The Rabbit Hole?” and “You Are What You Eat,” both directed by Tony Colon and both of which can be found on this site’s “Short Films” page.

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WHAT’S THIS ABOUT A DUNGEON?!?!

One of the locations needed for the movie was a hospital room setting.  After calling and emailing several doctors’ offices and health clinics with no success, we felt pretty screwed and out of ideas.  And then, as fate would have it, a friend of a friend of a friend posted a Facebook post about their recent trip to a BDSM dungeon which featured, what else, a medical exam room!  We immediately hopped all over this and emailed the head mistress in charge who was actually not as intimidating as you might think!  She was a pretty cool person and we ended up renting out her place for a four hour time block.

Now, we knew our shoot was going to be a Hell of a lot less than four hours, but since we had access to such a cool space, we thought, “Why not use it?!”  So, we brainstormed with Tony Colon about what we could fill the other three plus hours up with.  It took only one night to conceive and write the Colon directed “How Deep Is The Rabbit Hole?” a five minute short film about a beautiful princess and her jester friend who are kidnapped by a large bunny and dragged down to his dungeon of sadomasochism.  Yes.  Yes.  One night to write, three hours to film, two nights to edit, and the Rabbit Hole has made it’s way into three film festivals around the U.S.!!

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IN CONCLUSION

“The Mockingbird” is the best movie we’ve made to date (and our favorite.)  It’s story is more comprehensible and linear than our others, it has the best production quality, the best sound, and it was a great experience to make.  We had an awesome time making this movie with everyone involved.  We got to play with some incredibly gooey and slippery intestines made by the J Banger Jenni Schenk, we got to cut through and tear up a prosthetic stomach, and we  had all sorts of fun with blood and entrails…what more could you want?!

2011 was a very productive year for Herbivore Productions.  We produced three movies and hosted our “Herbi-Palooza” to a packed house on the North side of Chicago.  Near the end of that year we made a goofy little short featuring a talking goat in a corset reviewing the movie “Salo,” in 2012 we produced an online cooking show entitled “Feed The Beast” (seven episodes) as well as some other short projects, and in 2013 we started up another online cooking series entitled “Snuggles With Huggles” and made a three minute short for the “ABCs of Death Part 2″ contest.  All of which have been a blast, but we really do miss the fun, stress, and excitement of taking on a larger film project like “The Mockingbird.”  Its not for a lack of trying, mind you, but making movies is rough on the brain and savings account.  We’re always trying to get other projects up and running and I doubt we’ll ever have a time in our foreseeable future in which we’re not thinking about a new film idea.

But if fate has other plans for Herbi and if “The Mockingbird” is our last movie, then she’s one Hell of a swan song.

Stay Alive.

Check out Shannon Rullo’s review and recipe for “The Mockingbird” at “The Cannibal Kitchen” (YUMMY STUFF!!)


A Cannibal, A Creep, and A Mascot Walk Into A Bar…

This one gets a little mushy.

After almost four years in the micro-budget movie game, we are still humbled and floored by the support we continue to get from fellow fans of the horror / creepy / what the Hell is wrong with you for liking this genre as well as our family, friends, and pets.

It hasn’t always been easy, in fact, its never been easy and we spend a good amount of time bashing our heads against the wall out of frustration and self-pity.  But man, when things click, it feels great.

Sure, we haven’t achieved any success in the way of money or fame (although that was our naive intention for entering this cut throat arena), but we learned a lot of hard lessons which made us realize that the reason why we continue to make movies and videos is out of love: the love of creating something new and original (and something that might make people squeamish and resent the fact they clicked the “play” button.)  We don’t know what the future holds, but one thing we do know is that we will continue to do what we do (whatever that is!) because there’ll always be ideas and nightmares to expand upon.  The thrill nowadays isn’t so much in the possibility of acquiring stardom, but the excitement of thinking up a new and ghastly character and letting them lose in the world.  Few people may ever see that soulless individual, but we hope those that do enjoy watching their psychopathic rampage and descent (and the blood and guts.)

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For those of you who have worked with us these past four years, hopefully you know how much we genuinely appreciate all you’ve done for us.  We couldn’t do any of this madness without you!!  Y’all are a bunch of sickos and psychos!!  And endless amounts of thanks, tears, and bear hugs go out to our fans, supporters, reviewers who gave us their time, and everyone who has helped spread the Herbi love like a rash.  Or pink eye.

Now, what has reduced our rusty razor blades to mushy lumps of affection and thanks?  Well, we just got talked up by a cannibal which reminded us of a creep…which reminded us that we would be nothing without support.

shannon

We LOVE LOVE LOVE Shannon Rullo’s “Cannibal Kitchen” blog on ZombiesDontRun.net and not just because she was kind enough to help promote Herbi TWICE!!!

Shannon’s “Cannibal Kitchen” is the perfect fusion of gore and goodies making her the Julia Child of scary delicacies.  She creates original recipes based on horror films and even has a book to show for it!  Even if we weren’t making movies, we’d totally be fans of the Cannibal Kitchen (for crepe’s sake she whipped up a “Nekromantik” inspired NEKROMIXED VEGGIES dish!!)  This is good stuff.  READ THE CANNIBAL.  RESPECT THE CANNIBAL.  BUY THE BOOK to SUPPORT THE CANNIBAL!!

And while you’re at it, be sure to read Shannon’s reviews / recipes for our movies “The Mockingbird” and our submission to the “ABCs of Death Part 2″ “M IS For Mascot With A Machete”!!

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We met Kristin Wicks (a.k.a. Kreepylady Kristin) while hopping through the Twitter-sphere and soon learned that if you want to know all there is to know about knowing what’s going on in the Chicagoland area when it comes to all things spooky, disturbing, and weird, then Kristin is your girl!!  She writes the Chicago Creepout blog for “Chicago Now” as well as being the brains and brawn behind the Creepout’s Facebook and Twitter monsters.  Like Shannon, Kristin has shown support for Herbi and its quite the thrill knowing that a such a fan of the genre has got your back (so long as she isn’t holding a serrated blade against it.)  Thank you Kristin!!

Now, onto other news.

Mascot

Our submission to the “ABCs of Death Part 2″ letter M contest is still looking for you to LIKE it!!  “M is for Mascot With a Machete.”  Really, is there any need for us to tell you what its about?  If you haven’t yet, please follow this LINK to our movie and hit that little LIKE button above it.  Each LIKE is a vote and each vote gets us closer to being a finalist in the ABCs’ contest, the winner which just so happens to appear in the feature length, theatrical release.  That’s all, no big deal.

Blah, blah, blah…we’re still working on a feature length script and putting another short into pre-production.  AND we just go to help out filmmaker John Borowski with his own “ABCs of Death” submission which is probably going to be pretty fucking fantastic, just sayin’.  Thank you to John for bringing us in to assist (he already knows how much we love him.)

Stay Alive.


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