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