Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Artist Cal Schnekel on Working With Frank Zappa on 200 MOTELS

Artist and animator Cal Schenkel talks about working with Frank Zappa on his 1971 rock music culture film satire 200 MOTELS...

TV STORE ONLINE:   I'm a huge fan of the Frank Zappa film 200 MOTELS (1971)....Do you hear that a lot?

SCHENKEL:   No I don't! (Laughing)  I've heard various comments about the film over the years but I don't think I've ever met a "huge" fan of the film... (Laughing)

TV STORE ONLINE:   Given it's sort of free-form aesthetic I was wondering if there was actually ever a script written for 200 MOTELS and did you ever see it?

SCHENKEL:  I did.   I still have a copy of it somewhere.    Of course, the script went through quite a bit of changes along the way as you can imagine.   The whole thing started...I went to London in November of 1970 about a month or two before the filming started.  I went to get together with the art director.  I had done some initial drawings for the backgrounds and other elements that were based on some discussions that I had had with Frank.   We were shooting the film at Pinewood Studios outside of London.   I can't remember now, but it was sometime around the Christmas holiday that Frank, myself and his secretary Pauline [Butcher] had a number of meetings and in those Frank began to dictate the script to Pauline and I took some notes on various things that he wanted to see included.    As I said, there were a number of changes that were fairly complex.   It was a quick shoot, and we didn't take a lot of pre-production time at the studio either.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How about the building of the 'Centerville' sets?  What was the inspiration for those?

SCHENKEL:  Well, Frank and I talked quite a bit about that.  We wanted to keep it simple, and we wanted to keep it flat, and he wanted it to be just this basic average little downtown area outside of the suburbs.  Frank had wanted me to do some of the actual painting of the set but the union schedules at the studio wouldn't allow for that.  We played with a lot of interesting things.  We used vacuum form PVC for a lot of the sets, because it gave a dimensional look to the sets.

TV STORE ONLINE:  You designed the blue penis mobile that we see in the film...

SCHENKEL:  I did, it wasn't too complicated and I just drew it up in one afternoon.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Did Frank ever discuss the idea behind the concept for the film?  Did he ever say, "This is a movie about what I think that people actually think that a rock stars life is like on the road."

SCHENKEL: Oh no, not in any way.  There may have been some idle talk at an evening out to dinner or something like that but it just wasn't something that would have been discussed.  It wasn't a weird shoot or anything like that either.  It was a pretty normal shoot at Pinewood Studios.  All of the crew members that were employed at Pinewood just did their jobs for us.   They didn't ask any questions about what we were doing, but the Orchestra that was used in the film, initially, they didn't take what they were doing very seriously.

TV STORE ONLINE:   The film was shot at Pinewood Studios, and in 200 MOTELS we see an homage to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) with the appearance of the black monolith in a scene in the film...

SCHENKEL:   Right, yeah (Laughing).   2001 was such a popular film at the time that we were shooting 200 MOTELS.  I don't know if Frank was a fan of 2001 and I'm not sure why he put that into 200 MOTELS.   He was always satirizing things, so that may have been why he included it into the film.  He may have just included it in 200 MOTELS because 2001 was also shot at Pinewood.  The thing I remember the most about shooting at Pinewood was that FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (1971) and one of the James Bond films were also filming there at the same time that we were, so it was fun to go down and hang out around the studio commissary and meet some of the actors and crew members from those movies. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  A year or two ago there was a new DVD of 200 MOTELS released and there is a audio commentary track on the release by the "Director" of 200 MOTELS Tony Palmer.  On the commentary track he says some nice things about the production and also about working with Frank, but yet it's fairly common knowledge amongst Zappa fans that Palmer and Frank had a falling out at the end of the shoot of the film, where Palmer threatened to take the master tapes of the film away....

SCHENKEL:  Right, there was a falling out.  I think that both Frank and Tony each had their own ideas about what 200 MOTELS should be.  I also think that the conflict came because they were both trying to jam so much stuff into that movie and there wasn't enough money for them to each get in everything that they had wanted to include.    There were things that didn't quite come out right, and things that just didn't get done.  That's the reason why the animated sequence made it into the film, because originally it was supposed to be done live-action.   I can't remember now if the filming for it wasn't complete or if something just went wrong, but Frank, in the end just decided that we should just do it as an animated sequence.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Didn't you have a hand in doing that animated sequence yourself?

SCHENKEL:    I designed it, and I did some of the hand animation for it.  The lions share of the work went to Chuck Swenson, who was a master of animation.  I did a lot of background stuff and a few of the characters that are in that sequence.

  I'm a huge fan of Jeff Simmons, and the record of his that Frank played guitar on and released on his Bizarre record label called Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up.   Jeff was supposed to be in 200 MOTELS but was fired by Frank...

SCHENKEL:  (Laughing).  Right, yeah.   You probably know the story then about how Jeff was replaced for the film, then?    Frank started auditioning people to play Jeff's character in 200 MOTELS and he just couldn't find anyone that fit, so finally he said, "The next person that walks through the door is going to play Jeff."   The next person to walk through the door was Ringo Starr's chauffeur...(Laughing)    So Frank gave him Jeff's part.

  I heard once that Frank had wanted to cast British actor Wilfrid Brambell, who played Ringo Starr's grandfather in A HARD DAYS NIGHT (1964), for Jeff's part?

Jeff Simmons & Wilfrid Brambell
SCHENKEL:  (Laughing)  He did.  Frank brought him to the studio to try out for Jeff's part. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  That would have been wonderfully insane...

SCHENKEL: It would have been really cool.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Did you have anything to do with the movie poster art for 200 MOTELS?

SCHENKEL: I didn't.  That is a great illustration.   I did do the inside packaging for the 200 MOTELS album though.  I was just too busy with the animation in the movie at the time to do the cover.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Off subject of 200 MOTELS, one of the things that I really love that you did animation wise was that television commercial that you did for Frank's 1974 album Apostrophe (') with the DJ Dogg....

SCHENKEL:   Thanks.   I worked with an animator on that.  I think the concept generally just came from Frank.  To be honest, I don't really remember any of the details now about how that all came about or how long it took to complete.   It was pretty basic in that the animation was done around the soundtrack.  So Frank did the soundtrack and then gave it to me and I designed and produced it around that.     See YouTube here.

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung
For more with Cal Schenkel please visit his official website here.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

George A. Romero: Film Legend and Social Commentator

Filmmaker George A. Romero will forever be remembered as the man who made zombies a part of daily conversation. In 1968 he released the seminal NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD which has since become a horror classic. Despite the fact that it was a low-budget exploitation film, it is now even listed on the Library of Congress' National Film Registry. On the surface, the movie was about a group of people attempting to survive a siege of the undead. Underneath, it was a social commentary about fear, confusion, distrust, and humanity’s inability to cooperate in the face of adversity. It also established many of the ground rules for future zombie movies, and demonstrated that zombie films can provide an excellent lens for social commentary and exploration.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was divisive, with some viewers of the time being turned off by the unprecedented violence and gore, and others heralding the film as groundbreaking. Original fans praised its gritty realism, which was parallel with the increased violence and gore televised during the ongoing war in Vietnam, and at the height of the Civil Rights movement, the film was one of the first to feature an African-American actor (Duane Jones) as a main character. Despite initial ambivalence from some critics, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was a financial success and allowed George Romero to continue his path as a filmmaker. According to his biography on the Internet Movie Database, Romero was only 28 years old when he made NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and his meager $100,000 budget had been cobbled together by members of his production company, Image Ten Productions.

A decade later, Romero released DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978). Offering more blatant social commentary, the protagonists were trapped by the undead in a shopping mall, again dealing with fear, confusion, and distrust, but also issues of materialism. This film spawned the "zombie apocalypse" genre, with the scale of the undead being far wider, especially urban, and exploring concepts like mass panic, infrastructural strengths and weaknesses, and urban warfare. Trapped in a shopping mall, which they have fortified to keep out the zombies, the protagonists must struggle between living in imprisoned luxury, brutal death always trying to get in, or trying to escape to a place of freedom and peace.

DAWN OF THE DEAD has become a horror staple and set the stage for countless films, including a 2004 remake, featuring the fast zombies of films like RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985) and Danny Boyle’s 28 DAYS LATER (2002).

DAY OF THE DEAD, released in 1985, featured powerful new themes to the zombie genre. Set after the nation, and possibly the world, has been overrun by the undead, a group of military and civilian survivors work in an underground bunker to discover a cure. Exploring the divide between military and civilian, the film focused on power dynamics in a confined space. And while DAY's box-office performance paled in comparison to earlier installments of Romero’s series, it is perhaps now, the Dead film which feels the most relevant to our time. The film itself is getting  a lot of airplay on TV thanks to screenings on EL Rey Network, which is itself getting picked up by more and more major cable providers (more details on that here), but the themes of DAY also have been explored in more modern fare. For example, 28 DAYS LATER also featured a military versus civilian subplot, and so has the popular television series The Walking Dead. The concept of finding a cure for the plague of the undead has also inspired more recent zombie films, beginning with RESIDENT EVIL and 28 DAYS LATER, when a virus was asserted to turn people into zombies.

The idea of zombies as people who have been infected by a fast-developing disease has given rise to the exploration of infection, pandemic, social proximity, and relationships in horror films. How many people can an infected person infect? How do you cope when a loved one becomes infected?

Though Romero's zombie fare took a hiatus after DAY OF THE DEAD, there was a dramatic rise of big-budget, mainstream zombie movie in the early 2000s, which typically featured themes around unethical scientific experimentation, viral plagues and contagions, and fast-moving infected, essentially "upping the ante," brought Romero back to the forefront with LAND OF THE DEAD in 2005. This film featured much more direct social commentary and examined class structures through the lens of a city of survivors of a zombie apocalypse. The city offered different roles and lifestyles for different classes of survivors, with the wealthy living in luxury and the poor struggling in dangerous and dirty conditions. Poor people could risk their lives scavenging for supplies outside the safety of the city in hope of being allowed to join the ranks of the wealthy and privileged.

Romero has continued to explore social commentary with subsequent films, including DIARY OF THE DEAD (2007) and SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (2009), with the latter focusing on the concept of relationships and grudges persisting into death and beyond.

The popularity of zombie films, begun by Romero's work in the 1960s and 1970s, has eventually spawned big-budget parodies and comedies about zombies and zombie apocalypses, including direct spoof SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004) and ZOMBIELAND (2009), which took a humorous look at surviving a zombie epidemic. The recent comedy WARM BODIES (2013) looks at zombie evolution and relationships with humans from a zombie perspective, switching the usual paradigm. In 1968, who could have predicted that Romero's first movie would spawn all this?

Written By: Brandon Engel

Friday, August 8, 2014

True Blood's Kristina Anapau talks with TV STORE ONLINE about playing fairy and her new movie ALTERGEIST

True Blood's Kristina Anapau talks with TV STORE ONLINE about playing fairy and her new movie ALTERGEIST (2014)

TV STORE ONLINE:  How did the opportunity to play 'Maurella' on True Blood come to you?

ANAPAU:  True Blood came to me through an audition. I went in and read for the show creator Alan Ball and I guess he liked what he saw because I was offered Maurella a couple hours after I left.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Did you do any types of research into mythological creatures or fairies or anything like that before you started on the show?

ANAPAU:  Well, Maurella is a pretty fanciful character, and as an actor that gives you a lot of freedoms that you wouldn't have if you were playing a sort of average person.  There wasn't really any research to do beyond what everyone has done growing up and learning about mythological creatures.  Chris Bauer who plays 'Andy Bellefleur' really helped me out on the my first day of shooting when he really let me in on how the writers of True Blood write and how its this sort of this Darwinian process.  The writers watch the nuances of the actors and they use those to write further story lines.   We decided together that Maurella should be this little creature and that she would kiss him with her eyes open and that she should lick his mouth.  I made her into a creature and the writers really liked that.  That conversation with Chris on that first day was really responsible in a huge way for me getting to come back in the next season.

TV STORE ONLINE:  When I think back about Season 4 of True Blood and Season 5, those two big scenes that you had with Chris are two of the most memorable moments of the show....I'm referring to the "sex scene" with Chris Bauer as Andy Bellefleur in the woods but also the scene where your character gives birth to all of Andy's fairy children on the pool table inside of Merlottes....

ANAPAU:  Right.  I don't think I would really call it a sex scene because all of that was cut out.  Working with Chris was great, and acting is so technical and everything was really blocked out.   It was fun though.  It was a nice day to kind of get to know Chris and all of the Producers on the show.  We shot that scene out in the woods of Calabash.  

Then with the pool table scene, that was near the end of Season 5 [Episode #11 'Sunset']  and it was really special because that episode was Alan Ball's last episode of the show.  He wrote that particular episode as well, and he was there on set the entire time and the whole thing was just so over-the-top and amazing and it took about fourteen hours to shoot that...

TV STORE ONLINE:  You went through fourteen hours of labor...

ANAPAU:  Yeah, and it was really hard on my voice...It was wonderful though.  When you go into something like that you just have to sort of surrender to the weirdness of it.  You can't be concerned about how you're going to look.  I started thinking about all of the weird things that had happened on the show in Merelottes and I really just tried to sort of channel that for the scene.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Speaking of sets...That fairy set with the MOULIN ROUGE (2001) like stage on it was pretty great...

ANAPAU:  That was a great set, wasn't it?    The fairies sort of transformed over Season 4 to Season 5.   They started out wearing these long-flowing gowns and then eventually they were wearing only lingerie on that set. 

TV STORE ONLINE:   Tell me about your new film project ALTERGEIST (2014)?

ANAPAU:  I was sent the script by my lawyer, which really isn't the traditional route that is taken, but he sent it to me and asked me to take a look at it.      He asked me to look at the part of "Sarah", but I really wasn't feeling "Sarah".   I was interested in the part of "Theresa".  At the time though "Theresa" had already been cast. Michelle Rodriguez was supposed to play her.   I went in to audition for the filmmakers, and as I was reading the Sarah scenes I tried to read them like I was playing Theresa.   I had a really solid audition with them and over the next couple weeks they offered me the role of Theresa.

TV STORE ONLINE:  So what can people expect from ALTERGEIST?

ANAPAU:  It's a scary movie.  It's a paranormal thriller and what sets it apart from other genre films is that it has some really developed characters and it is shot beautifully.  It's very scary and very entertaining and the filmmakers did a really good job at adding facets and dimensions to it that other filmmakers of genre films don't really care about.  I think that all of these elements are really gonna help it when it gets released.


ANAPAU:  Well, I have a few different movies coming out after ALTERGEIST.  The first is MISS INDIA AMERICA (2014) which is the directorial debut of Ravi Kapur. It was great to work with him.  Another is called  NEAR MYTH: THE OSKAR KNIGHT STORY (2014) which is this mockumentary where I play myself but very heightened.   It's really cleverly written.  It's super cerebral.  I'm also about to launch a company called Color It New and it's for my fashion based product.  We're releasing it in September of this year and it's a product that is going to change peoples' closets forever and I'm excited to share it with the world in a few weeks.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Is it a product as cool as "The Wonder Hanger" as seen on television?

ANAPAU:  (Laughing)....It's much cooler than that.  That isn't even in the same ballpark with this.   People should visit ColorItNew.com and sign up for updates and they'll be notified when the product is made available.   Or visit us on Facebook.

Check out the trailer for ALTERGEIST here. 
Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung