Friday, April 27, 2007

THE HOUSE BETWEEN EP 6: Trashed

A sinister telepath named Sange (Florent Christol) from Theresa's (Alicia A. Wood) past arrives via faulty transit on a secret mission to kill one of the denizens of the "house at the end of the universe." Meanwhile, Travis (Lee Hansen) takes matters into his own hands when Arlo (Jim Blanton) won't clean up the increasingly chaotic house, specifically his collection of tin cans. Finally, Sange's influence spurs a revelation that changes everything for Astrid (Kim Breeding), Bill (Tony Mercer) and the other captives in the house. Produced by Joseph Maddrey for the Lulu Show LLC. Written and directed by John Kenneth Muir.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The House Between Episode # 6 ("Trashed") Director's Notes


Tomorrow, the second-to-last episode of The House Between's first season, "Trashed" goes live. Before that happens, I wanted to write these notes about the creation, making, shooting and editing of the show.

When I first conceived The House Between, a central metaphor was the notion of the mysterious house as "Earth," the place we all live...and share. One of the first questions I then asked was: what do you do with all the trash? If these people can't leave the house (like we can't escape Earth...yet), how do they accommodate the garbage that human beings so casually but monumentally generate? As the story "Trashed" opens, we see that matters in the house between are getting kind of...smelly. The kitchen is a mess, and trash is an issue. Once I had that notion, the idea of something being trashed kept coming up in my writing. Our villain, Sange, arrives via a faulty transit and his body is "trashed" in the process. He tells a story about something even more frightening...about an act that "trashes" the foundations of reality itself. Voila - I had an episode!

I don't want to go into too many details about the storyline, but as you can likely tell from the preview last week (and the teaser called "Violator" posted some time ago...), Sange - the intruder in the house - makes life difficult for our dramatis personae. In more specific terms "Sange" is a telepath from the same psychic "astronaut" program that Theresa graduated from.

And I guess that leads us to another one of the core ideas I wanted to get across in this story. If "Mirrored" was the tale that sort of broke down Theresa's armor and revealed the psychic's vulnerable side, the die is cast here, and she is forced into the middle of a situation where she must take sides. On one hand is Sange, and on the other is her ad hoc family in the house. It's a battle of families, and the family unit is a big metaphor for me on The House Between. Here, Sange represents the family of origin, sort of, the place where Theresa grew up and still feels the pull of old responsibilities. But the others in the house represent the family she has come to join in the course of her life. In a situation like this, which family do you choose? The one you came from, or the one you're with now? That's a big question for a lot of adults, I think, and certainly the answer varies by circumstance and situation.

However, you'll notice that the character of Sange often says absolutely terrible, sexist, demeaning things to Theresa. I saw this behavior as not merely "Black Hat-ism," meaning that Sange is a nasty villain, but as an acknowledgment that sometimes, for some people, there are unpleasant traits in brothers, fathers, or moms from the family of origin. Someone you love might be a racist; a homophobe, anti-Semitic. How do you continue to get along with that person when their behavior is just so blatantly unacceptable? We find our ways, and that's sort of the notion I wanted to get across. You know: what happens when your brother meets your friends, and they don't get along? I don't think that after this episode, Theresa can rightly claim she's not a part of the house between "family" anymore...no matter how much she denies it. She's down in the trenches...with the rest of us unevolved humans.

In terms of genre, I think you'll detect perhaps a resonance of The Terminator here -- the notion of an intruder showing up with a mission to kill somebody, in this case, the mysterious "Draftsman." I must also note, lines of dialogue from "Space Seed," Aliens, and The Blair Witch Project (!) all rear their familiar heads at various points in the episode. Voiced by Sange, Travis and Arlo respectively.

We shot "Trashed" on Friday, June 9, 2006, and our cast of regulars was joined by guest star - and horror film scholar - Florent Christol, as Sange. I must say, Flo had an interesting effect on all the ladies in the cast and crew. They all melted like butter upon hearing his mellifluous French accent. If anyone quibbles with this assessment, I have Exhibit A: ENDLESS footage of the actresses smiling, laughing, flubbing lines, and so forth, during their scenes with Flo. Truly, Flo was a great sport about coming in and playing a heavy (with lots of dialogue...), and even getting heavily made-up for his transit "wounds." Flo showed up, had to mouth sexual taunts at Astrid, was tied to a staircase (!) and then had his face melted. All in a day's work!

And that's where my spfx genius Rob Floyd came in. He did some absolutely beautiful make-up for Sange's transit injuries. Really spectacular, accomplished stuff. Rob is always coming up with great gags and stunts, and "Trashed" was no exception. Between special effects and fight scenes (and regular cast make-up...), Rob had his hands full on this episode and did an awesome job.

This was also the episode in which Tony Mercer (Bill) had a killer monologue. Seriously, it was a difficult, involved chunk of dialogue (chunk meaning about six pages...). At one point, I sent Kathryn, my wife (and a therapist...) to check on Tony while he was rehearshing to make sure the script hadn't driven him to the point of insanity. This was after about a half-hour in which Tony had gone into an endless repeating loop of the speech. But Tony's preparation paid off, and he carried off the scene with his typical brilliance and commitment. Why isn't this guy in Hollywood movies yet?

And then, digging into my repository of memories (the ones I wish I could suppress...), there was the scene between Tony, Lee and Kim that took 21 takes. Now, to be fair, I should clarify. It wasn't that these three were messing up a lot or anything. Occasionally, it was me, and people watching the scene who would screw it up...from laughing so hard. The scene begins with Lee (Travis) tossing a pair of garbage bags onto the second floor hallway floor, and every time Lee did it, he'd do it a different way, or with a funny expression, and various spectators would crack up. This is actually one of my favorite scenes in the show, watching these three do that scene. Just wait till the blooper reel...

I thought "Visited" was our special effects show (that's the one with the creepy-crawly Outdwellers) but "Trashed" takes the cake. It's my own mini-Phantom Menace, I guess, as there's more than forty separate optical special effects in this installment. You'll notice about twenty-five - the rest are actually effects-within-effects if that makes sense (meaning more than one optical per shot...). This level of effects integration has made editing a bear, to say the least, but oddly rewarding and challenging. Every time I compose a new special effects shot, my computer crashes and I have to re-boot, so this has been time-consuming.


The original cut of "Trashed" came in at over 35 minutes, and had to be pared down dramatically. This means that the episode actually has several deleted scenes. Other episodes feature deleted moments, or moments we didn't get to shoot (but which are in the script...), but whole scenes are gone from "Trashed" and I hate that, but if they didn't move the story along, they were trimmed.

In particular, Lee Hansen, Rick Coulter (DP) and myself shot a secret scene one morning that is just a beautiful character moment for Travis; and furthers nicely the dynamics of the Travis-Astrid-Bill triangle. I liked it a lot - especially because none of the other actors knew about it, and because it fit so well into the larger Travis story arc. I also like this moment because it shows you what Travis is up to when people aren't paying attention...and that's kind of his "shtick' in "Trashed," messing with people for the hell of it, particularly Arlo. But...as much as I like the scene, it just didn't really work well in "Trashed," and kind of diverted attention away from the central plot. Lee has such personal magnetism and presence as Travis, that the scene played like a set-up for a pay-off that never came. Everyone would be waiting all episode to see what would come of this scoundrel-like behavior.

Another loss I truly mourn is the John Muir version of the horror movie cliche about the evil killer who makes one last attempt to complete his mission before being dispatched. Seriously...these shots are like two of my favorites on the entire show. I had the camera on the floor and was lurching it towards Flo while he crawled for his prey. Again -- great shot, but it didn't fit particularly well once the scene was cut together. Damn! This one will see the light of day on the special extended director's remix.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy "Trashed" when it premieres tomorrow. Until then, enjoy the deleted scene with Travis. That rascal.






Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Reader Pop Art # 3


Today's pop art selection comes from one of my best buddies, who comments frequently here on the blog under the handle Joey Bishop Jr. He's offered the readership another excellent work of art to consider: the iconic (and amusing) poster imagery of the 1985 Dan O'Bannon film, Return of the Living Dead. I must admit I'm tickled over this choice...I think we must be separated at birth...

Anyway, he writes:

This is one of my favorites. There is just so much going on here that it immediately pulls you in. Assume for a moment that we all know nothing about this film. Then look at the poster with fresh eyes.

Even the casual movie fan knows what a zombie is. But on this poster, they have mohawks, and wear leather jackets! Hell, one even has a padlock thru his ear. This is the first big obvious clue that something new is going on here.

Secondly, the humor aspect is addressed in a novel way. How is the title presented? By one of the freshly risen zombies apparently spray-painting it on his own tombstone.

A good tagline can also help make a film, and this one presents it in a bold, right in your face font. No screwing about, this film is all about having a good time.

Finally, the last aspect I love about it is the background. I feel this is where the horror aspect becomes quite clear. Very subtly presented past the three lead ghouls, who obviously grab a ton of attention, are a host of others. There is nothing funny or humorous about these. The are skeletal, lurking shades in the dark. They are all business and very dangerous. As Burt in the film says "...they'll kill you and eat you if they catch you!"

I miss posters like this. They had an original concept, as well as someone sitting down taking the time to draw or paint it, and giving it personality. Small details as the razor blade necklace, or the pins on Mohawk's jacket are great touches.

Starting in the late 90's thru the early 00's, we had a run of identical genre posters. Maybe you remember what I mean. The poster would show whatever teenyboppers were hot on UPN or the WB this week, in a silvery river looking smear kind of thing that ran across the poster. This "smear" would sometimes either be superimposed onto something like a knife blade, or have the threat of the film looming over it. For example, take Urban Legend Final Cut, or Halloween Resurrection. Look at those and then see how many other similar posters immediately come to mind. All they were were a paycheck to someone who took Photoshop for Beginners. It showed that the plot, or the monster, or whatever a true genre fan was looking for was an afterthought, as long as "the masses" knew they got to see Neve Campbell at 8 bucks a pop.

But I digress. Punk zombies, vandalism, and an offer to party???

Just be sure to send more paramedics.

I totally agree. I think "Back from the Grave and Ready to Party" is one of the cleverest and most amusing ad-lines of all time. It really captures the thrust of the movie. But there's more here too. As I write in Horror Films of the 1980s, Return of the Living Dead "ably reflects the punk nihilism of the age" and "the enduring fear of nuclear apocalypse."

I enjoy the fact that this film focuses on a culture of death music and death imagery (with characters named Trash, Suicide, Scum, etc.). These 1980s young adults fetishize death ("Do you ever fantasize about being killed?") and live on an ugly landscape of urban blight and decay ("I like it; it's a statement," one character says of the industrial park/modern wasteland where the action occurs). The film's punk scoring, with music like "Party Time" over the resurrection of the dead and "The Surfing Dead" played over a siege, adds to the film's sense of absurd existential angst. In essence, to "party" is the only thing to live for in a world where the government is going to nuke you in the end...

This poster beautifully captures a period in American culture (the apocalypse mentality of the 1980s) both in terms of politics, music and film; just as it cannily captures the movie's go-for-broke, imaginative sensibilities. I know it's heresy to say so, but Return of the Living Dead is THE zombie movie that captures the eighties (the way Romero's Night and Dawn reflect perfectly the 60s and 70s.) Return was a big hit in theaters, and you gotta wonder...how much of that success originated from this daring, original poster? The movie was great - a masterpiece even - yet perhaps it was the poster that got bodies in the auditorium...

Don't forget, mail me at my website www.johnkennethmuir.com and send me your pop art suggestions, with reasons why your choice is valuable to you. I'm really enjoying your submissions and want to see more!

Reader Pop Art # 2


Hey everybody, we continue our gaze at pop art today with another beautiful reader selection. This choice comes from erudite and amazing Kim Breeding, a skilled artist in her own right. She has given us a cover rendering from the first installment of the new Labyrinth manga.

She writes:

"The maddening Escher-esque staircases are echoed here from the movie's big climax, both behind Jareth himself and also in the collar around poor Toby's neck; he is dressed up as a worthy successor to the throne of the Goblin King, but his confusion is clear in his portrayal here.

Besides the collar, the crown seems a bit too big and heavy for the boy's head. What is the huge disc above and behind Jareth? Is it a religious halo? We are perhaps meant to think so, except that it is not a source of light, but of darkness. The ball he is holding, also from the movie, recalls the sphere that many a monarch in old paintings is seen to be holding, though in the other hand was usually a scepter or sword (where IS Jareth's other hand? tee hee) so together with the halo, we are meant to see that even though Toby is wearing a crown, Jareth is still the reigning monarch.


The castle looming in the background recalls the image from the movie when Sarah first enters the magical land and sees the impossible task before her. This is the beginning of Toby's impossible task. In the movie, Jareth was in love with Sarah and tried to make her his queen; now, that plot foiled, he turns to the little brother, to make him his heir. One could argue for thinly veiled homo undertones with that, but I think that's too obvious..."

This is a fascinating choice, with uniquely interesting resonances. Especially because David Bowie played the character in the film version and is, after some fashion, a work of pop art himself. The former Ziggy Stardust is an immediately recognizable signifier as an alien or "other" (given his starring role in such films as The Man Who Fell to Earth). Oftentimes, what Bowie's personhood or presence represents to artists is not merely "alien-ness" but rather the very human and specific quality of androgyny. Kim's joke about thinly veiled homosexual undertones in this work of art is spot on in the sense that Bowie is infamous for his aura of sexual mystery (if not homosexuality). Did Bowie really sleep with Mick Jagger (Angela Bowie reportedly once found them naked in bed together...)? Perhaps that's not the immediate issue here since this isn't Bowie per se but rather an original depiction of Jareth - a character he originated. Still, it relates back to Bowie. The apparent androgyny of this villainous character (right down to hair-style and delicate eyes...) indicates in the frame the idea of danger. Or certainly mystery. Our knowledge of Bowie adds to that interpretation, I believe

Thanks Kim for sending this art along! And readers, don't forget to send more selections. I want to see the pop art that has influenced and impressed you!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Reader Pop Art # 1


Our first reader-chosen pop art selection arrives on the blog courtesy of Dr. Howard Margolin, the host of Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction. Thanks for starting us off in great shape, Howard!

He writes:

This cover always struck me as one of the finest DC ever turned out. Drawn by the incomparable Neal Adams, it has the same background color as his classic "Superman Breaks Free" from issue 233, and redone later as a Power Records cover and the cover of Action 485, but this is the opposite side of Superman. The shading on Superman's costume as he leans forward enhances the effect of his skin turning green as he dies of Kryptonite Poisoning. Also, remember that this was before the era of multi-layered computer coloring, so the interplay of light and shadow (e.g. the light glinting off his shoulders) was particularly effective. Plus, his statement, "I'm taking you with me," given his vow never to take a life, was shocking to me at the time. Can't say I recall the story at this point, but this cover is forever etched in my memory.

When I study this cover, first-and-foremost I see an expression of rage - which isn't usual for Superman. His fists are coiled, balled up in anger. Notice too how the dialogue balloon on the right side of the cover is jagged and sharp, emphasizing the rage inherent in the Man of Steel's words ("I'M TAKING YOU WITH ME - all caps!). Also, as the cover is laid out, there seems to be a source of light (like a sun or something...) behind Superman, I'd guess at shoulder level. An intense light...gradually getting less intense as it moves away from him. By featuring it behind him, and in that position, it makes Superman the fulcrum of intensity in the composition. As though his anger is creating light - energy - itself. I think the feeling Howard describes - shock - is exactly what the cover intends to convey; the notion that Superman is mad as hell and about to kill someone. Everything in this cover, the jagged balloon, the intense light behind him, the all-caps, the balled fists, convey this notion. Also, the reflection of green on Superman's face tends to make him look even more murderous and abnormal, which is important to the idea that the universe portrayed here is disordered, wrong (hence, shocking or surprising). On a very basic level, this is also a look at idealized masculinity turned inexplicably angry and violent.

Don't forget, I want to see your selections of great pop art and feature 'em on the blog! Send your images and your feelings about the art to my e-mail at
www.johnkennethmuir.com.