Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Interview with Kara Sowles, stop motion animator, at the 2013 H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival

Kara Sowles was part of Team Amelus, winners of the Lovecraft Under the Gun competition at last year’s H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, OR.  She did stop motion work on Follie a Nix, Uno, Deux, Tres, a short stop motion film completed in just 72 hours!

TSOP: You participated in the Lovecraft Under the Gun Film Challenge, or I think that’s close to the title.

KS: Film Race.  I say that to other people, and they think I’ve been running for a film, so yeah.

TSOP: And you did a stop motion film, which I find amazing.  It’s something I can’t see being completed in 72 hours.  What was that like?

KS: It’s a little crazy.  I don’t know why anyone in their right mind would do stop motion in that short a time.  But it’s how I learned to do stop motion, so I’m looking forward to getting to slow down and take more time at it, having learned how to do it in a short period of time. 

TSOP: Your film had basic claymation characters, but also had a knit dog.  And I’m assuming that’s because of the quote that was stipulated by contest rules to be included in the film.  So, tell me about the dog.

KS: We saw the quote and we throw up our hands and went, “Oh, no, we’re not doing this.  We’re going home.”  That was a long and difficult quote, what was it, “the puerile stick throwing of the alien bipeds?’

TSOP: Something about dogs and cats, and we all know Lovecraft preferred cats.

KS: Yeah, but there was no mention of the word dog or cat in the quote, and with the word alien in it, it throws off the groove, so the best we could think of was to have a dog say it in French, so it seemed like the person hearing it is crazy, because dogs don’t speak and dogs don’t speak French. 

So, I wanted a dog that looked a little fuzzier than the clay, because the people we were using had clothes and I thought the clay wouldn’t look very much like hair.  So we made a little wire armature for the dog and I bulked it up with tin foil, than wrapped electrical tape around it.  Than I sewed on a thick fabric that kind of looked like fur.  But in my exhaustion, and in the light, I thought it looked brown, and it turns out it is kind of a magenta.  So bit of a mistake there.

TSOP: But it worked well.  And to have a dog speak that line was perfect.

KS: Well, I’m glad it seemed to work.

TSOP: A lot of people consider stop motion a dying art.  What got you into it?

KS: I’m not a great artist.  I wouldn’t be very good at making films either.  And we all have to find something how our creative abilities fall into something that they can work with.  What I have is an excess of enthusiasm, and I find that stop motion, the concoction that makes it, is large parts enthusiasm mixed in with a little bit of other things. 

I don’t know why or how I started.  A friend of mine and I said, “Oh, stop motion.  I’ve never done that.”  So we broke into a friend’s apartment while he was out at a concert…

TSOP:  Wait.  You broke into your friend’s apartment?

KS: We found a key to his apartment and went in without asking and we made a stop motion film of all his stuff moving, than we put all his stuff back and we left before he got home.  Than we emailed him and said, “Oh, I found this cool video.”  And he’s like, “Wait.  Is that my stuff?”  He couldn’t figure out what happened and that got us hooked on stop motion pretty fast. 

TSOP: Did you watch stop motion films as a kid?

KS:  Definitely.  Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  A Christmas classic, everyone loves that movie.  In retrospective, it’s a little sexist, a little questionable in some ways, but it’s a great film.  And the stop motion in that is just lovely.  The little kittle felt animals are darling. 

You get an effect you can’t get otherwise.  CGI, no matter how realistic you can make it look, at least at this point, we can tell it’s not real.  And that’s why a badly made puppet coming at you is going to be scarier than the entirety of an enormous tentacled, freakish monster in CGI.  We feel that there is something real there and that’s hard to capture otherwise.

Like Jason and the Argonauts.  Damn, kids love those, because you feel it, right?  They’re fighting skeletons!  I mean, you’ve never seen anything that cool, and a CGI skeleton, it can’t convey that same charm and excitement as a real object.    

TSOP: Where do you want to go with stop motion?  We have a fabulous stop motion studio here in Portland.  Is that a dream for you?

KS: I highly doubt I will ever make a profession related to this.  As I said, I’m creative and have a lot of enthusiasm, but not a lot of actual raw, or trained, artistic talent.  The great thing about stop motion though, is people without the training or talent can still make awesome, cool stuff. 

I’d like to do something beyond film races.  I started something I’d like to have submitted to this festival, but you know how life catches up to you.

The person I worked on this with, Michael Entler, he’s absolutely fantastic.  He’s been doing this for quite a while, much longer than I have.  We met last year, because we were the only two people who put in Lovecraft Under the Gun entries, and he did live action, while I did stop motion.  And it was the first time he did live action, and here someone comes in doing stop motion.  So we teamed up, but he has a lot more experience.  He went to Cannes once, and absolutely fantastic guy.

TSOP: If people want to see more of your work, where can they go?

KS: I’m really new to stop motion, so my work isn’t really anywhere yet. 

TSOP: One other question.  Did you make the dice used in the movie, or did you find them somewhere?

KS: Guardian Games is where the kick off happens for the Under the Gun event, so we were right next door after it kicked off, thinking our brains out, and someone thought to walk back and find out if they had miniature dice, and thank god they did.  Thank you, Guardian Games.  We are so grateful.

So we painted over the numbers, and painted new numbers on, but we did not have to make ten-sided die.  So grateful for that.

TSOP: Did you already have armatures to use for the characters, or did you have to build those in the 72-hour time frame?

KS: We did the whole thing from scratch.  The music, the story and I made the armatures on the spot.   We had someone sewing the costumes for them.  That whole set you saw (in the film), cobbled streets, buildings, all from scratch.  The only thing not from scratch was the chair.  I’m very proud of it, it’s a beautiful chair that you only see for a moment.  It took me a whole afternoon to make, on a different afternoon, and we pulled it in for this project. 

TSOP: What did you make the armatures out of?  I imagine you can’t make ball and socket armatures in 72 hours. 

KS: Fortunately for me, I don’t have the skill or equipment to make nicer armatures outside of film races.  So I’ve had time to adjust and find fast, cheap ways to do them.  These I’m particularly proud of.  These are made out of wire Michael found, that we pulled apart.  It was multiple wires coated in plastic we pulled apart and I twisted into the shape of people.  Then I padded them out with tin foil and clay on the legs, so it was light on the upper half, but heavier the lower half was heavy enough to hold down.  Then I wrapped the whole thing in electrical tape because it’s bendy, stretchy and holds the clay in.  And it gives a more skin like appearance to the tin foil.  I gave them clay feet, which ideally you will never see, but in this film you will.  And you’ll see them smushing their way across the cobblestones, that’s why I don’t shoot feet.  Then I put clay heads and hands on them. 

TSOP:  Well, it looked great.  Best of luck with the contest.  I know they are announcing the winners soon, and I don’t want to keep you. 

KS: Thank you.  The other two films were really excellent and I’m really excited to see who wins, but getting to see all three films was a big treat.

TSOP: Thank you.

Kara is listed as part of Monsieur Soeur, a group of filmmakers specializing in stop motion, miniature and animated shorts.  Check out The Monsieur Soeur Facebook page for more information about their films, and be sure to check out their latest entry in this year’s Lovecraft Under the Gun Film Challenge at the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival this weekend at The Hollywood Theatre in Portland, OR.  Festival passes are still available, as of this post. 

Interview with Jeff Burk of Eraserhead Press at The 2013 H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, OR.

Be forewarned, this interview contains some crude language and a brief discussion of acts in a porn film.  But when you talk about Bizarro literature, nothing is taboo.

TSOP:  I’m talking with Jeff Burk of Eraserhead Press, publisher of Bizarro novels. 

JB: Correct.  We are the literary equivalent of the cult section of Netflix.  We are the weird shit.

TSOP: And what do you mean by weird shit?

JB: Well, we specialize in the weird.  We have weird romance, we have weird horror, we have weird science fiction, weird fantasy, weird children’s books.  Anything, you name it. 
While horror focuses on the emotion of fright, and romance focuses on the tingly butterflies you get in your stomach, we focus on the stuff that makes you go, “Huh,” and just the weird.

TSOP: So, these are not typical romances or horror tales?

JB: No, not at all.  For example, one of our best selling books is quite a romantic book, The Haunted Vagina, about a man who discovers his girlfriend’s vagina is a gateway to another literal world and there is another woman in there who he falls in love with, creating quite a complicated love triangle. 

TSOP: I’m sorry, I had to laugh.  That just sounds weird!

JB: It is, it is.  Or House of Houses is another great example, about a man who falls in love with his house to such a degree that he drills a hole in the wall to consummate the relationship.  But, then the house apocalypse happens and all the houses die, crumble to the ground, and he must travel to house heaven to be reunited with his lost love. 

TSOP: It sounds like there is no subject too taboo for Bizarro novels.

JB: Oh no, none at all.  We will tackle any topic, no matter how controversial.  One of our more risqué books is Super Fetus, about a crack addicted pregnant woman trying to have her baby aborted and the fetus fighting back against the various abortion doctors. 
We don’t take sides on the issue, but we have no problem talking about any issue.

TSOP: So, it’s not about making a political statement, but taking a topic and running with it as far as you can?

JB: Exactly.  And we like to tackle the topics no one else wants to touch. 

TSOP: Do you write for Eraserhead Press?

JB: Yes, I am.  I am the author of Shatnerquake, Super Giant Monster Time, Cripple Wolf and the recently released Shatnerquest. 

TSOP: I noticed you’re selling a Choice Your Own Adventure book.  That’s yours?

JB: Super Giant Monster Time, yes, that is my book.  It’s my tribute to Godzilla movies and I also grew up reading a lot of Chose Your Own Adventure books.  So, the world is being invaded by aliens, who have rays that turn people into murderous punk rockers, and giant monsters are leveling all of Earth’s cities at once.  And it’s general chaos, with over 50 endings.

TSOP:  Any of the endings good ones? (Jeff laughs)  Okay, don’t ruin the surprise!

JB: You know, I’ve been asked that a lot, but it never occurred to me, when I was writing the book, to write good endings.  You just get to die in a bunch of creative ways. 

TSOP:  Well, that’s a good ending.

JB: That’s what I thought.  When I was reading the book, I thought about what I would want, so I guess I’m twisted like that.

TSOP: Where can people go to see publications from Eraserhead Press?

JB: Yes. is the main website.  The Bizarro scene encompasses about 150 writers, artists, musicians and several presses.  And we are getting filmmakers involved.  All the music, all the books, all the films, everyone’s promoted on there.

TSOP: Can we talk a bit about the music?

JB: Oh yeah.  Several of the authors that work with us also play in bands.  Our most noticeable is Dave Brockie, AKA Odorus Urungus of GWAR, who has put out a book, War Ghoul (Please note, this interview was conducted almost a year before Brockie’s death).  Also Andrew Goldfarb, who does novels and comic books we publish, he also has a voodoo-themed, one man rock and roll band called The Slow Poisoner.  And those are just two examples.

TSOP: You publish comic books?

JB: So far, we’ve only done one comic release, and that was for Andrew Goldfarb.  He’s a very close friend to everyone at the press and we believe a lot in his work.  So we put out a collection of the first hundred strips of his reoccurring characters.

TSOP: Let’s talk about the movies.  What’s out there?

JB: We are currently in the beginning stages.  I can’t say too much about it, working with film studios and television studios to get some stuff developed in a higher profile.  In terms of what’s been made, there have been several short films of different Bizarro author’s works, but what I think is most interesting is the porn adaptation of one of the short stories we published.  Edward Lee’s The Grub Girl was made into a full-length porn film.    

TSOP: What’s that story about?

JB: It’s a short story in the collection Brain Cheese Buffet.  It’s about when the zombie apocalypse happens, but it doesn’t mean anything.  The dead come back to life and just keep on going.  But, a weird side effect is, when you’re dead, you no longer feel pain.  So, there is a market for zombie prostitutes, for the really rough stuff, because they can’t feel pain from the johns. 

TSOP: So, this is probably NSFW stuff.

JB: Well, in the porn adaptation, a cock gets beaten off….  No, well, that happens.  No, a cock gets BITTEN off.  So no, not safe for work at all.

(Both interviewer and interviewee are laughing)

That was a great misspeak there.  Holy shit

TSOP: Yes, and you know that’s going into the article.

JB: I don’t blame you.

TSOP: I think Powell’s Bookstore here in Portland has a section for your press.

JB: No, but Powell’s is very supportive of us.  You can find all of our books throughout the store.  Be it in the horror, science fiction, fantasy, small press, and there is a Star Trek section, and they keep Shatnerquest and Shatnerquake there.  Just to plug my own books. 

TSOP: Once again, where on the web can people go to find out more about Eraserhead Press?

TSOP: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me.

JB: Thank you. 

If you attend this year’s H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival at The Hollywood Theatre in Portland, OR, (April 11 to 13), stop by the Eraserhead Press table.  The press has had a booth for at the festival for as long as I can remember, and offers some great deals for those brave enough to step into the world of Bizarro fiction.
And be sure to let the table attendants know you read about them at The Shadow Over Portland!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mars Homeworld at the 2013 H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival

Mars Homeworld and Transcendent star Cassie Mosher 

This is an interview I conducted with Mars Homeworld, composer and filmmaker, concerning the screening of his film Transcendent at The H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival at The Hollywood Theatre in Portland, OR, last year.  The film will be shown this year, so if you missed it, you have another chance to see this great short film.

TSOP: Hi Mars.

MARS:  Hello, hello, hello out there in Internet land.

TSOP: Can you give me a little information as to what Transcendent is about?

MARS: Sure.  Believe it or not, as hokey as it sounds, I had this really vivid dream a couple years ago, dreamed it front to back, than got obsessed with the thought of trying to capture it.  It’s loosely influenced by The Shadow Over Innsmouth, but it also has a road picture vibe and a coming of age story to it, because I’m a child of the 80s and grew up on all those John Hughes films and stuff.  So it’s a strange, heart-warming amalgam of the lot. 

TSOP: Is it feature length, or a short?

MARS: It is a long short film.  It is 36 minutes, so it’s pretty adventurous for a first time director.  I do not fancy myself a director, I’m a composer by trade, so this was just…  I felt the urge to run with it.

TSOP: I noticed that on your IMDb page.  Care to give my readers a sampling of your works? 

MARS: The one most people here (at the festival) would be most familiar with would be Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown, which is the definitive documentary on Lovecraft’s life and influence.  I’m bias, but it’s a kick-ass film, regardless.  I’ve done Nyarlathotep, The Shadow Over Time, Slime City Massacre.  There is 33 movies to date in the last 7 years. 

TSOP: What are you working on right now?

MARS:  I’ve just finished Jovanka Vuckovic’s second short film, The Guest.  Her film, The Captured Bird, is playing here tonight.  It’s been cleaning up over the world, so I’m fully prepared to be losing to her tonight in the short film category. 

Next is a silent film restoration that I can’t give out the title of, but it’s been rather hard to find and they’ve just got a working print of it together and I’m going to score it.  And that will be my next feature project.

TSOP: That’s great.  Can you give me a genre?

MARS:  A 1922 predecessor to horror film.  But it hasn’t been around the block a thousand times like Nosferatu or something like that.  This one hasn’t been around yet.

TSOP: Are you planning on directing again?

MARS: It could happen.  I would love to see some of Lovecraft’s sci-fi work on the screen.  There’s not a great deal that’s been explored yet.  I’ve got one in mind, but it would involve another Kickstarter campaign and fundraising, and time.  And time being the fire in which we all burn, you know? 

The irony of this is, 2013 was going to be the year I took off from film work.  I’m now a homeowner and I have a bunch of crap to deal with and get in order, but it’s not going to happen.  I’m working through this year, I think.

TSOP: Where can people find you on the web?

MARS: You can find me at Mars Homeworld on Facebook, or is my home site.  Or

TSOP: Great.  Looking forward to seeing the film tonight.

MARS: Thanks.

If you missed it last year, Transcendent is playing at The H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival this year at The Hollywood Theatre on Saturday, April 12, at 8 pm in the EOD Center-Classroom.  I caught it last year and can strongly recommend it.  Check it out if you can.  And let the organizers know you read about this film at The Shadow Over Portland!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Fly (1958)

“I shall never forget that scream as long as I live.”

It’s a fitting quote to start a review of The Fly, 20th Century Fox’s popular science fiction thriller.  Though the ending has been parodied countless times in popular culture, and David Cronenberg’s modern re-imagining updates the science to a more believable level, it doesn’t diminish the power of the original.

The tale is simple.  Scientist Andre Delambre (Al Hedison, later David Hedison of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) invents a teleportation device.  But, when testing it on himself, a housefly is within the chamber as well, resulting in a horrific accident that leaves him struggling to both find a way to reverse the process and maintain his humanity.

And here we go into SPOILER TERRITORY.  Yeah, the film is over 50 years old and pop culture has taken the sting out of the ending.  But seriously, if you haven’t seen this film, go watch it.  It’s that good.

Before we get to the spoilers, a happier moment from the film

Let's get the most obvious problem out of the way.  Unlike the remake, where the machine splices the scientist’s DNA with that of the fly, Andre’s head and arm is exchanged with the insect.  While this brings up some problems for modern viewers, (like how Andre’s mind was left intact in the fly's head and why the fly head is enlarged, while Andre's is shrunken to fit the insect), one can forgive such a shortcoming by remembering the film is over 50 years old.  

And, as the creature's revel comes late in the film, the audience should be more interested in the story and the characters than the implausibility of the transformation.  The script (by James Clavell, based on George Langelaan’s short story) plays with the audience’s expectations by starting like a police procedural.  A night watchman witnesses Helene Delambre (Patricia Owens) crushing her husband's head and arm in an industrial press.  Contacting her brother-in-law Francois (Vincent Price), she confesses to the crime, stating it was Andre’s final wish.  

Only after playing on her desire to find a white-headed fly is Francois able to trick Helene into telling the full story.  But even then, he and Inspector Charas (Herbert Marshall) are unable to believe her, as she and Andre destroyed any evidence to corroborate her story.  The film’s conclusion suggests that Helene is insane and will be locked in an asylum for the rest of her life, at least until Francois and Charas find the white headed fly.

Maybe you shouldn't see what's coming next, kid

The script allows the film to build at a measured pace, giving the audience time to relate to, and sympathize with the main characters.  The setbacks Andre experiences working on the device fleshing out both him and Helene, making their actions a realistic outcome of the situation, rather than one forced by the plot.

The cast is terrific.  Owens is saddled with the role of dutiful wife, dealing with her husband’s tendencies to work while in a box seat of the opera.  The part might feel outdated to a modern audience, but Owens is so convincing, it makes her final decision plausible and quite logical. 

Hedison is great as the driven scientist.  And though his performance as the creature might lack the pathos of Jeff Goldblum’s performance, remember that Hedison was conveying the same loss of humanity without the benefit of dialog.  Buried under an amazing mask by Bill Nye, his actions are perfect as he tries to keep control of his humanity and convince his wife of aiding him in his final act, to keep others from following his path.

You knew I'd show you the monster.  How can I resist?

The supporting cast, including Price (yes, he’s a minor character) is solid. Though they have little to do during the middle act of the film, both Price and Marshall are quite believable in their roles.  And, regardless of reports that the two couldn’t stop laughing while shooting the film’s climax, they pull off the ending quite well.

And the ending is still chilling.  Sure, it makes no sense that the white headed fly could cry out in a human voice.  Yet the sight of Andre’s head and arm on a fly ensnared in a spider’s web, about to be devoured, echoes deep into one’s primordial mind.  One can sense the fly’s fear, given humanity by its screams, “Help me!  HELP MEEEEEEEE,” that just gets under your skin.  If you have any sense of dread at a spider in your home, this final moment will chill you.

Oh, it's just so creepy

The sets are beautiful, as if Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory were redesigned in neon colors.  Though modern viewers might find the sets rather garish and unrealistic, one has to remember the time in which the film was made and how futuristic they would appear at the time, rather than dismiss the film for being outdated.  And the DVD I watched (a two sided double feature with both The Fly and Return of the Fly) looks great.

Regardless of how often it’s been referenced in popular culture, The Fly can still reach a modern audience, as long as they are more interested in a strong story rather than making snarky remarks at a fifty-year-old film.  Starting as a standard police procedural (at a rather gruesome crime scene for the time), the film descends into an age-old story of man exploring realms best left alone.  And the final act is a moment you will never forget as long as you live.

Well, that's all for now.  I have pressing matters to attend to....