BEHIND THE SCENES OF JOHN SEMPER’S “CREEPORIA,” PART 3: INTERVIEW

CREEPORIA. TODD M. COE CHASE SEQUENCE. Cannibal hot on the heels of our star

On casting choices: The thing that I did in casting, which I tend to always do when I’m casting nonprofessionals, is that I chose people who I thought were very close in personality to the characters that I wanted them to play. I wasn’t always looking for actors who could deliver brilliant performances that are outside of their comfort zone. Often times, all I needed was someone to be reasonably comfortable in front of the camera, being a slightly exaggerated version of themselves.

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On actors: We had a few really strong actors. Michael Davis is a very strong actor, a lot of experience in improv comedy. Randy Cox is a strong actor. These were actors who played multiple roles because I could tell from their auditions that they could handle it. Creeporia CastThe thing about the girls [Camille and Kennerly Kitt] is that they were perceptive.

Some of the other actors who auditioned were horrible. Some people couldn’t even read, let alone act. So, it was a breath of fresh air when I came across these two young talents who could find the nuances in the dialogue and understand where the jokes were.

Jim Mannan is a good, strong actor. The plus to Jim is he that was also a dedicated worker. He was one of the most professional people on the set, in that he was required to be on set for a very long time and never complained. He just had a fantastic demeanor and dedication to the film.

Tristan Ross: I could tell was a very strong actor and, therefore, I felt very comfortable handing him a significant role. I am happy with what he did, but word reaches me that he is less than appreciative of having been in this film, which I think is a shame, because I think he did a good job.

When you guys originally sent me the audition tape for Mark Carter (Sammy Terry), [executive producer] Patrick [Greathouse] was trying to sell me on the idea of Mark being the male lead. I didn’t see that in Mark. What I saw in his performance was a kind of larger than life personality that would be perfect for the game show host, Blink Nightingale.

Creepoira and Blink (Mark Carter)

Mark is really funny and this character needed a lot of room to expand. I couldn’t tell from the audition tape whether or not Mark had great acting chops (it turns out that he does), but I could tell that there was a comfort in front of the camera and that there was a big personality.

Patrick first started talking to me about Sammy Terry, and Pat was obviously very excited about Sammy Terry, but I didn’t grow up in Indianapolis. I didn’t have a clue who Sammy Terry was. In fact, the first time I laid eyes on Sammy Terry was when Mark was in the makeup for those extra scenes.

I didn’t originally write Sammy Terry into the script. So when I decided that Mark should play the game show host that was just based on seeing the audition tape. It was a perfect fit. That is an example of casting close to a kind of personality and ending up richly rewarded. Mark so completely threw himself into that role that I think he is one of the high points of the film.

creeporia twins and sammy terry

John Claeys (Mad Genius Professor) is an interesting situation. In the bowels of his living situation there; that building, down in the basement where he works his art director magic, one night he shot a video audition as the Professor. He so perfectly nailed it that I didn’t care whether he could act or not.

Quite frankly,  I don’t think John is a very strong actor. I think he would have to agree with that. But, he saw himself playing that character and his audition tape convinced me that, yes, there was so much in that character that was him that it would be worth casting.

Now, I will say this: It was difficult with John because he isn’t particularly good at memorizing lines. I don’t think he got through a single run of his lines without screwing it up once. But, I come from the world of post-production, so I think like an editor. This, by the way, saved us.

Creeporia and the Professor

I tend to think in terms of bits of film that I know I am going to use in a certain way down the line. I knew how I could edit John. I knew when I had enough of a take to use. By a combination of John really throwing himself into the role, making a lot of mistakes, but still really throwing himself completely into the role, and then me knowing how to cut around the mistakes, I think, again, that John’s performance is one of the strongest in the film.

On working with Alfred Eaker (as an actor in a cameo)Alfred was impossible. The dressing room wasn’t warm enough, there weren’t enough people catering to his needs. You were just a total prima donna (laughter).

First of all, we shot you twice. I had to come back to Indianapolis to re-shoot you, which actually had nothing to do with you. You had just had surgery. You were like at death’s door. We got you out of your hospital bed, we got you out of your death-bed and you delivered a brilliant performance, which, of course, will be your last (laughter). You were fine to work with.

This is how much I appreciate what you did: You guys opened the movie. You have one of the first lines of the movie. Of the first ten lines, about five of them are yours. I am very happy with the opening, especially after we re-shot it. I should point out that the re-shoot had nothing to do with the actors and everything to do with a particular cameraman from L.A., whom we had hired for just a couple of days.

CREEPORIA. JOHN SEMPER AND STAN LEE

On working with Executive Producer Patrick Greathouse: Here is one of the things that makes Pat one of my favorite producers and puts him in the same league as  and Stan Lee: the best producer on the planet is the guy who basically is just going to leave you alone, let you do your thing, and support you every step of the way.

The only two other producers that I have worked for, who did that for me, were Stan Lee and Jim Henson. In my universe that puts Pat in an elite group. So, whatever shortcomings he might have exhibited, he is up at the top of my list. He continues to be supportive. I had a wonderful time working with Pat and I think the product reflects that. If I had any difficulty working with Pat, then it wouldn’t have been easy for me to work on the project and the project might not have gotten finished.

On the two local cameramen and a cameraman from L.A: We needed a cameraman for a couple of days because our regular cameraman, JD Brenton, wasn’t available for those days. Someone recommended a hotshot cameraman from L.A. I did not know him.

The problem with out here (L.A.) is that, yes there are a lot of talented people, but there are also a lot of posers; people who come out here to reinvent themselves as something they really aren’t, they’re pretending to be specialists.

The reason that happens is because L.A. is a place where you really can lie your way to the top. There have been a number of situations where writers have been found to have lied on their resumes; they have gotten elevated to a high position in the Writers Guild, or whatever Guild, and then one day somebody starts pouring through their bio and realizes that a good percentage of it is made-up. There is a lot of that out here.

Basically, you are what you tell people you are. So, you get a lot of sociopaths who succeed very well out here. That breeds more sociopathic behavior. People look at that and see that it succeeds. Some of the top people out here, with names that you would know, are horrible sociopaths. They’re liars, cheaters, and that’s the way things are out here.

Creeporia. John Semper and Nosferatu

The thing that I felt about that cameraman (from L.A.); he was kind of legend in his own mind and when it came to the practical business of doing his job, and doing it well, and making people comfortable—he wasn’t good at that. It was bruising his ego that I was in charge and he wasn’t, which is something a director should never have to deal when dealing with a cameraman. It was bruising his ego that this was not his film and he was very obvious about it. He made me very uncomfortable, he made the actors uncomfortable. He was parading around like he was in charge, which caused extra work for a number of people, and then the bottom line; with all this grandstanding and pomposity, he wasn’t a very good cameraman.

He was so busy parading around and pretending to be something that he forgot to actually be it. He didn’t really understand the camera very well. He made a number of mistakes that created problems for me in editing. That’s why I had to come back to Indy and re-shoot, to fix his mistakes.

That’s what I expect from L.A. and that’s why I wasn’t too excited about bringing L.A. people to Indianapolis. I figured in Indianapolis you would have good, talented people who are free of this kind of attitude and that’s exactly what happened.

Our primary cameraman JD Brenton was fantastic to work with. He was constantly suggesting things, never got in my way, always supportive of what I was trying to accomplish. If he suggested something and I didn’t like it, he didn’t take it personally. There was no ego involved. He also happened to be really talented and I might point out that when we started he didn’t really know that particular camera we were using either. Even with that, he learned it very quickly. He adapted to the situation and he ended up being a tremendous help.

J.Ross Eaker also did a fantastic job. At first he wasn’t going to work on the film. You talked him into it. He came in, showed no ego. He worked long hours without complaint. Again, this is why I did not want to cast out of L.A.

The cameraman from L.A. lived up to all my worst nightmares. The Indianapolis people were good, solid, get the job done.

You have to understand, when I arrived in Indy, I hit the ground running. I was dealing with jet lag. Pat, in his zeal, had scheduled the first shoot for 5:00 a.m because we had to be at this building at six in the morning. Now that was 2:00 a.m my time. So I had to do a lot of the early production just flat-out being dead tired. So it was very important to me that people be helpful, and not be a hindrance.

Creeporia and cast!

All the Indy people; you, Pat, Ross, JD, everybody stepped in and made my adjustment to the new time zone much easier to deal with. I think that blue-collar attitude, which the Twins (from Chicago) also had, just handles reality better. It’s a better work ethic.

In L.A. people get spoiled. They get paid way too much money to do far too little. You get rewarded for being a diva and parading around as a character version of yourself; all the things that cameraman brought to the table, whereas I got surrounded by a hardworking group in Indy. It was cold in that building, yet nobody bitched, nobody whined. This required a tremendous amount of dedication. The girls had that in spades. A lot of times, by the evening (because we shot all day) the girls propped me up. They would remind me of things that I had forgotten to shoot. They always knew their lines, were spot on with their acting. They were a Godsend.The whole production was blessed in a way. Everything fit very nicely (except for that L.A. cameraman). There was no negative energy.

CREEPORIA. DON TRENT WORKING HIS MAGIC

On the make-up artists:  I think the make-up people worked harder than any of us. By the end of the production they were really tired of me because they worked harder than they expected to. There was a little bit of grumbling in the make-up room, but very little. Don Trent is a master at his craft. Don, Phil Yeary, Jen Ring, Nicole Fernandez; they were the unsung heroes.

Creeporia meets Wolfgang

On the Wolfman: The Wolfman make-up was the most elaborate make-up. There is this phenomenon that kicks in when you’re an actor and you have to wear make-up like that: You start to feel claustrophobic.

Jim Carrey, when he did the Grinch, they had to hire a person to be his companion. Because, you tend to feel completely removed from everything that’s going on around you when you are in a costume like that for hours. We didn’t have the luxury of being able to treat our actors that way.

Randy Cox, who was originally supposed to be the Werewolf, came to me on the one day that he was wearing that make-up, he was fanning himself with his hand, and going: “I don’t think I… this make-up, this make-up, I don’t know if I can…” He was really kind of out of it. I was busy because that’s the day we were shooting at Miss Betty’s, so I was all over the place. We had been shooting all day. Then at night, we had the big restaurant scene with all the extras, so I couldn’t pay attention to him. After that day, he went away and never came back. I don’t hold that against him.

Fortunately, and this is another example of how this production was blessed, the guy who [choreographer] Melanie [Baker-Futorian] had found to play the werewolf in the dance, also wanted to play the werewolf in the movie. When she found out we had lost our werewolf she said: “How about Drew?” We brought Drew [Andrew S. Phillips] in. He was young, he was energetic and I know that make-up drove him crazy too, but he could handle it. He also had a dancer’s body. He brought all this wonderful dancer’s body language into this character that enhanced the make-up.

Even though Randy couldn’t continue, because of the make-up, that actually worked out well because we got someone who was better suited to playing that character.

On John Semper as the voices of Bonaparte, Batty, and Maurice: That had nothing to do with vanity. When I was doing the web series, I didn’t want to have to round-up actors. So, I just decided that I would do the voices of Creeporia’s characters who live in the crypt with her, and I knew that I could.

Lord knows I have been around enough voice-over people, I’ve been in a lot of voice-over recording sessions, I’ve seen Mel Blanc perform on several occasions, including one of my scripts for The Jetsons. So, I know how to do it.

Creeporia in a pickle

On the Production: Pat, bless his heart, is one of those guys who, and this is what I love about him, he sees no limits. If you said to him, “Pat, I just bought an airplane, and we need to get it into this building,” Pat’s a guy who will go,” well we could remove the roof and we could just take the building wall down, and we could get a 4 wheeler to drag the airplane.” It’s amazing the stuff that he’s ready to tackle.

So, the big picture: Pat is phenomenal. The small picture, I think, tends to elude Pat a little bit. I don’t think he really understood what would be required on a day-to-day basis as far as the production was concerned. Originally we were going to shoot in summer. I had a feeling that he wasn’t ready yet, even though he was painting things, moving things, removing walls, putting up dividers, doing all this amazing stuff, I just had a feeling, from a practical point of view, that he wasn’t really ready.

So, it got put off until November. Delays are, sometimes, really a Godsend. We’re having delays now in getting this film done. I know that it disappoints people, but the fact of the matter is that every time this project has been delayed, it ends up benefiting the project.

Had we made this film in the summer, we would not have had enough money. But, because it got delayed until November, then all of a sudden, the financial picture changed and we were able to spend more money on the film, which made it better. I think the same thing is going to happen with release of the film. It’s disappointing in this era of instant gratification that it wasn’t ready within a month after we shot it. But, as far as distribution is concerned, I think the delay is going to have this film ready at exactly the right time, and I stand by that. The beginning of next year is exactly the time for this film to be getting out to the public.

The challenge for me is that sets would literally be ready the day we were supposed to shoot in them. I had no preparation in terms of blocking, we were changing the schedule on an hourly basis. Things got so out of whack that at one point I said, “Let’s just stop. Let’s not do anything. Let’s all get a good night’s sleep, let’s all sleep in the next day, let’s just gather our wits about us.”

There were a couple of times that had to happen. It was a real trial by fire. Because literally, I would walk into a set and see what Creeporia’s living room was going to look like. Let’s put the camera over here and I would make it up on the spot, how I wanted to block things out. And, again, that’s where my post-production experience came in handy. I couldn’t do any elaborate camera moves. I’m not really big into elaborate camera moves anyway.

Creeporia Kitt Twins

All this steadycam stuff that you see on TV drives me crazy. It would have made our production even more complicated than it already was. When I look at some of the scenes and you see Creeporia’s interior; it all looks very well put together, and orderly, and very much the environment it is supposed to be. I know that literally inches outside of the edge of the frame there was dirt and cables, crates; just chaos! But, we would somehow be able to get the camera view just perfect.

To give you a really great example of the lack of preparation and the amount of luck that we had: Melanie was rehearsing the dancers for the dance number. I had no idea where we were going to shoot the big dance number. It was supposed to be on a Broadway-like stage. I had no idea where we were going to shoot that.

As we got closer and closer to shooting I thought we would have to knock down some of the walls of our sets and just shoot it here in the sound stage. But even then, even knocking out walls, there just wasn’t going to be enough room and the crappy carpet was on the floor and it really looked awful. How are people going to dance on this? I had no idea.

Creeporia twins Camille & Kennerly Kitt

The weekend rolls around and we were supposed to be shooting the dance number the next week. Pat calls me and says: “John Claeys called and he wants us to come over, look at this house, and look at the stuff he’s got hanging on his walls and everything.

So the girls, their mother, and I pile into the car and we go to John Claeys’s building. We are looking at this amazing display of “Claeysiana” that he as all over the place. It’s like stepping inside of his brain, which is an amazing experience; very talented guy. And then he says “I want to show you where we’re going to shoot the laboratory scene. It’s down in the basement.” He lives in a building that is a very old building, and he’s refurbishing it for the guy who owns it.

Creeporia Twins Camille, Kennerly

As we’re walking from his apartment to the basement, he walks us across this balcony,  I look down and I see this theater. I asked about it and he says, “Oh, this building used to have a theater in it, we’re refurbishing it, and we still have events here.”

It’s like a little Broadway theater. I turn to Pat and I say,”Why didn’t you tell me this was here?  This is exactly where we need to shoot the musical number! Why don’t you see if you can get it?” So, he talks to the guy and, again, this is the beauty of Pat: this is what we need, and Pat says “OK, let me see if I can get it for you.” He did, he was able to rent it for one day and literally days before we’re scheduled to shoot the dance number, I had the theater. But, that’s how this whole production went! But, when you see the film, it will look like we rented this Broadway theater, just as if we had planned it months ago!

Creeporia: Elaine in basement labElaine Sarah Miles was somebody I knew prior to writing the script, so when I wrote the script, I knew that I wanted her in it to sing a song.

I am a big musical fan. People make these kinds of low-budget films, but they never put music in it, they never put musical numbers. So I am going to throw everyone out of whack and put a musical number in it.

Elaine and John Chiodini offered to write a song. I like to throw people off-kilter. I thought if we make this low-budget film and there’s this big MGM musical number in the middle of it, everyone’s going to go: “Oh, damn, I wasn’t expecting that!”

I’ve known Melanie Baker-Futorian for many decades and I asked her if she would do the choreography and she said: “No!” She didn’t think she could it, but I convinced her. Her issue was leaving behind the stuff she was doing in New York, and this was an unknown quantity. But, this is the way Mel does things and I love it; she throws herself into things 100 %.

As a sweetener, I threw in the business of her playing Nikki Finkenstein. She was excited about that. While she was there in New York, she choreographed the whole number and sent it to me.

creeporia 3

Before she even came out, Lynn Herrick, the head of the Dance Refinery in Indianapolis, went to New York, met Melanie, and so by the time Melanie came to Indy, she was old friends with Lynn, fit right into the dance studio, and immediately started working with the dancers. That’s the kind of work ethic Melanie has.

The main number she did all herself. I made a couple of suggestions for the “We’re Cowboys” number, which Melanie choreographed in Indy. She incorporated my suggestions, refined her choreography, and it worked out really well.

Elaine and Melanie brought in a tremendous wealth of talent. Elaine was one of the few people I brought in from L.A., but that’s because I knew Elaine very well.

The other person I brought in from L.A. was make-up artist Rachel Halsey. I knew she was brilliant at make-up. But, again, I had to convince her. Getting people to get on an airplane and fly out to Indianapolis is not the easiest thing to do. She agreed to come in for a few days and teach the girls their make-up. And, again, we couldn’t have gotten through this without Rachel’s talents. Because you’re staring at these faces throughout the entire film. Creeporia is practically in every scene and she has to look spectacular or else we’re not going to want to be with her. Rachel took those cute little freshly-scrubbed faces and turned them into something really gorgeous and sexy and beautiful. Rachel’s contribution was phenomenal.

CREEPORIA. TODD M. COE CHASE SEQUENCE. III

On Post-production: I always knew I would have animation in the film because, again, it’s something people wouldn’t expect and it would be a cost-effective way to do something fun and unusual. It has nothing to do with the fact that I come from the world of animation. People are going to say, “Oh, he does cartoons, that’s why there’s animation in the film.” That’s not true. The reality is there are things that I wanted to have happen in this film that we couldn’t afford.

One of those things is chase sequences. Every comedy movie should have a good chase sequence. So, the bottom line is that every time we had a chase sequence, that was going to be animated. Once I commit to using animation, it opens up to other things. I always knew I was going to have an introduction, a kind of back story that would open that movie and that would be animated.

Creeporia . Todd M. Coe chase sequence

James Sanders, myself, and  were the three animators. Again, timing. You introduced me to Todd Coe and I made him my chase sequence guy. Todd animated the chase sequences.

Then, an old friend of mine called me out of the clear blue from Boston and wanted me to meet this young animator. People do this all the time; ask me to meet someone who is trying to get their career started and give them advice. I always say yes. I know how important that was when I first arrived in this town.

Creeporia . Todd M. Coe chase sequence . WITH CANNIBAL HECTOR

One of the first people who took me under their wing was Walter Lantz, the creator of Woody Woodpecker. When you are driving around the Valley with Walter Lantz, who arrived here in 1925, and he’s showing you the Valley from his perspective, you can’t beat that! It’s an education you can’t buy. So I always do that when people call me.

This old friend of mine called me, his name was Arnie, and he asked me to talk to this young guy. I arranged lunch and met this young, black animator named James Sanders. We hit it off really well and I brought him into the film. That opened up possibilities for me. James handled some new stuff I thought up, including a Creeporia flashback scene. So, I got two brilliant animators due to timing.

I wanted to have a fairly elaborate animated opening. I tackled the whole opening credit sequence myself. I wanted to do a credit sequence like the Pink Panther where it lasts a long time and revolves around animated characters doing interesting things that are very much thematically related to what goes on in the movie. The opening is huge, like a short film in and of itself. I am also animating the big, climactic scene at the end.

Creeporia double take

I gave Todd Coe a lot of leeway. I let him come up with stuff on his own. Again, it’s similar to the way guys like Henson and Stan Lee were with me: this is what I absolutely need. Now, how you execute it, is up to you.

Todd came up with designs, ran them past me, they were all quite brilliant. He did it his way then I gave him notes as to how I needed to have it fixed and changed. I try to be a good producer because if something doesn’t work, I will tell you what I want instead. Lousy producers are guys that bark “Oh, I don’t like that! I want something better.” I have worked for those guys.

Todd’s wife, Ally, turned out to be a Godsend because she understood Adobe After Effects. I had a whole bunch of things I needed done in After Effects and she did them. They were a dynamic duo for me.

I got James set up with the exact same software Todd was using and he turned out to be fantastic to work with. They were all nice, no egos.

Creeporia. On the set with John and cast

On “Creeporia” as a series:  I had no idea what this film was going to look like, what the sets were going to look like, what the acting was going to be like, etc. So it was very hard for me to say what this was going to be.For lack of a better example, I called it a movie.

Creeporia drives!

We were shooting a feature-length script. When I wrote the script, it was long. I always write long. Then, when the twins were going to be in it, I wrote even more to take advantage of the fact that I had twins. So, there’s a whole sequence that I added while taking nothing out. I knew going into this that it was going to be long. Doing the animation added even more, with sequences telling the back story of Creeporia. In turning the opening into an animated sequence it got long, the chase sequences added length.

There’s a certain expectation that people have when you say something’s a movie. They’re expecting something that costs millions of dollars. We didn’t have millions of dollar and, simultaneously, we had something a lot longer than 90 minutes. So I always knew I was going to wait. It would tell me what it was, not me telling it what it was.

When it all got put together, I didn’t see million dollar movie quality, but it is excellent TV quality; far better than much that is on the air. So, it’s not a movie, it’s a TV show, and the definition that popped in my head was comedy horror soap opera.

Creeporia pic

If you say soap opera people expect a certain quality. We exceed that. Your criticism of what you see in a movie or a TV show is directly related to your expectations. If you walk into a movie house and the movie exceeds your expectations, you are going to give it a good review.

If the movie falls short of your expectations, you’re going to give it a bad review. So, I wanted people not to expect movie quality, but soap opera quality. The reality is that it’s better than soap opera quality. It’s actually a pretty damn good TV show.

Distribution is changing literally by the hour. All this video-on-demand has reached a point of maturity that makes it a very viable way for programming to be delivered. This wireless internet delivery of TV is being delivered into TVs that you actually buy. It’s all happening right now. That’s where I always wanted “Creeporia: to be delivered. We’re finishing this right when it needs to finished and when fate steps in, you just need to get out of the way and let it happen.

creeporia5

On where “Creeporia” is going: I want “Creeporia” to be self-sustaining. I want to make enough money off this to roll into another project and this time everybody gets paid what they’re worth. To be able to do this again, to bring back a lot of the people who worked on it the first time; that’s my goal. I am in the middle of writing a couple of Creeporia books. I want to continue the Creeporia franchise, kept it going, so that people know and like the character.

I suppose Elvira might be something of a prototype, but I want it to be bigger and better than Elvira. I want to take Creeporia and put her in really funny movies. My idea of funny movies are the best of Mel Brooks, or Monty Python. If I could make a movie with Creeporia in it and it would resonate like Holy Grail, that is my Holy Grail.

Larna Smith in CreeporiaThat takes me to this thorny problem of audience. I have gotten in a little bit of trouble with the girls over the issue of whether or not this movie is “family friendly.” I have had to do a lot of thinking about this. I have done hours and hours of entertainment that is family friendly. I’ve done Disney cartoons, I’ve done “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” “The Smurfs,” “Scooby Doo,” and “Jay Jay the Jet Plane.” But, this is not that. “Creeporia” was designed to be funny. My audience is the same audience that would turn toMonty Python and the Holy Grail or Life of Brian or Young Frankenstein.

If I tune in on any episode of “Vampire Diaries,” that’s on regular television, I’m going to see the supernatural, bloody beheadings on regular television, watched by kids. I don’t do any of that in “Creeporia.” So I do regard “Creeporia” as being family friendly.  But, that’s not my priority. My priority is to make people laugh.

Creeporia and Nosferatu

On weird movies: One of the things I want to do is go out and shoot a bunch of films that are closer to the spirit of The Saragossa Manuscript (1965) or my favorite  film, The Magician (1958)I grew up on that kind of cinema.

It’s funny because I was trying to defend the trailer to the twins, and they hated the trailer. JD too, he was a little confused by the trailer. This is the burden when you are known for doing young kid shows, everybody expects you to continue doing that. But, when you look at my movie, Class Act (1992), it’s a sophomoric high school comedy.

I made the trailer for “Creepoira” and I kept trying to explain to people, it’s like Satyricon (1969). But, the first problem is nobody knows who  is anymore, which is amazing to me! It’s like talking about the Bible and someone asks: “What’s that?” How can you not know Fellini?

Here I am talking to the twentysomething girls and I’m saying I wanted the trailer to be like Fellini’s Satyricon. Silence. I explained who he was and said: “Satyricon was a really bizarre film that out-Fellinied Fellini.”

When I was working in a movie theater and the trailer for Satyricon came on, everybody was blown away. We didn’t know what it was. All we knew is we had to see it. That was my goal with the “Creeporia” trailer. I only wanted to establish a couple of things. It was funny, silly, a lot of weird stuff going on, and I’m not going to tell you what the movie is about. If you want to know, you’re going to have to come and see it.

I suspect this was a huge disappointment to them because they wanted to see a trailer that told their story of their character. But, that’s not what I wanted to do.

I grew up with Fellini’s Satyricon. The trailer for Last Tango In Paris (1972) showed you a still photo of Brando, a still photo of Schneider, that fantastic saxophone music by Barbieri, and that was it. You didn’t know anything about it, you just knew you had to see it, and that’s the world I come from. Fellini, Bergman, Mario Bava, this is my nirvana. Al, you get that! You understand that!

Creeporia and ...

On Future Films: I want to make smaller, quirky films, very talky, because I like dialogue. I like wordplay. I have succeeded in the world of commercial filmmaking. Now I am going to make movies that are personal, quirky, and out of my head. And I will probably never make a dime.

Creeporia twins Camille and Kennerly

The Final Word: You were all great fun to work with. Pat and the girls are excellent, and I think the girls are frustrated with me right now, but I still love them. You can’t get through this business without upsetting people, but you just have to stay focused.

I had so many people upset with me when I made “Spiderman: The Animated Series.” So many detractors. Yet people are still looking at that series and people are still loving it. That’s because you put all your time, energy, and focus into the product itself and make it as good as you can make it. That’s what we did with “Creeporia.” All the other stuff will fall by the wayside.

Years from now when people are seventy or whatever, their grandkids are going to say; “Oh you were in ‘Creeporia’?” It will all make sense then. I won’t be here, but I’ll be smiling down.

*Executive producer Patrick Greathouse wished to add: “Thank you one and all.”

Creeporia sneak peek

BEHIND THE SCENES OF JOHN SEMPER’S “CREEPORIA” PART 2

In regards to John Semper[1], Patrick Greathouse asked the question, “Why partner with the Asylum House?”

Creeporia and Wolfgang

I put this question to Mr. Semper. “I liked my conversations with both you and Pat,” he responded. “You dig deep into films and so do I. Pat seemed to enjoy comedy-horror and we bonded over that. I was impressed with all of the resources at hand. Pat prepared a video guided tour of your standing sets and props. I could begin to envision that with all of those resources, and also the makeup talent, we might be able to pull off a halfway decent film for very low dollars. The script was easy. I tried to keep it limited to the resources Pat had on hand. ”

Creeporia and cast

Naturally, the script was not entirely limited to the Asylum House location. Six additional locations were required. We secured those locations over the course of a year in pre-production. We needed a restaurant and found one in Miss Betty’s Dinner Theater in Trafalgar, Indiana. It is run by a bona-fide golden girl named Betty Davis, AKA Miss Betty.

Creeporia. The twins and Patrick Greathouse

The Historic Hannah House, in Indianapolis, is a haunted attraction with which The Asylum House has a good working relationship. The Hannah House perfectly served the script’s needs for the “Mason Q. Arkham” wax museum scene. The equally historic Fountain Building in Fountain Square would be the home of our big dance number and laboratory scene.

Creeporia. At the Historic Hannah House

“Creeporia” has been a blessed project in many ways.  It seemed for every setback we had, an opportunity opened. Clearly, the production was going to need a bigger budget than what we immediately had available on hand. A local businessman had expressed interest in investing in the project. Several months into pre-production, that potential investor backed out. Shortly after he did so, another source of capital opened for us. A year previous, The Asylum House had put in a bid in for an extensive mural job at the Veteran’s Hospital. Patrick and I worked several months fine tuning our bid package, submitted it, only to be told that the Hospital could not raise the needed budget at that time. A year later, our bid was accepted, and the income from that job would be beneficial for our post-production needs.

Creeporia in her crypt

In addition to being a producer (mainly, a pre-production producer), I also had been assigned the position of casting director. John Claeys, an Asylum House veteran who has designed and built many of the attraction’s sets, was tapped for Art Direction, Assistant Director and the role of our Mad Genius Professor. Claeys, a true blue eccentric who channels the elder Peter Cushing when he acts, was aptly cast.

Creeporia zzzzzz

Over the year, Patrick and I began filming auditions for 47 monsters. For the pivotal role of antagonist Mason Q. Arkham, we landed another Asylum veteran in the actor . Ross had been the Asylum’s “Sweeney Todd” for years, until the Tim Burton/ film soured the part for him. Since then, Ross had been a memorable Mr. Edward Hyde inhabiting Claeys’ Elysium.

The auditions were a mixed blessing. We conducted and filmed them at the Mass Avenue Comedy Sportz, an improvisational comedy club. Several Asylum actors volunteered to assist us. Predictably, every attractive girl who came into audition was met by crowds of volunteer co-star actors with raging libidos who acted like they had never seen a female before: “Patrick, get these guys the hell out of here!”

Still from CreeporiaOne of my assistants was a short, squat actor from the Haunt who told me: “Man, I have to play the werewolf character, Wolfgang. I am really into the werewolf culture. It is my life’s destiny to play a werewolf.” We had a few decent auditions for the werewolf part, including said assistant, but none that were particularly striking. One potential actor read for several parts, and I wanted him to read for Wolfgang. I asked the assistant to give the actor the Wolfgang sides. A short time later when the candidate took the stage, I asked him to read for the part. “Your assistant told me that I couldn’t read for Wolfgang because the part has been filled.” Scratch one assistant and any idea of a short, squat lycanthrope.

Creeporia scratches Wolfie

Michael Davis, from Comedy Sportz, and Randy Cox, an Asylum House actor, were exceptional enough that they were cast in multiple roles. Michael plays Count Blablabla/Cy Clops/Dr. Creepogari, while Randy Cox tackles Harvey Goodwill/Assistant Director. Liberty or Death Production’s   as Cannibal Hector, Noah Kinsey as Rhett Butler, Kayla Gill as Heather, Randy Buschard as Freakenstein, and Tyler Pittman as horror aficionado boy Johnny were all standouts. Mark Carter had recently taken over the role of horror host   from his legendary father. Sammy makes a cameo in the film, and Mark also took the role of Blink Nightingale (without makeup).

Creeporia. Pat's cameo

As busy as we were, Patrick and I both agreed to cameos: Patrick appears as a waiter in the restaurant scene, myself as a business partner in the opening. My performance art character; BlueMahler, was also given a silent cameo for our Hollywood backlot scene, filmed at Lafayette Square Mall.

John Semper on casting: “Casting went well. I cast some actors who seemed very close to the type of character they were going to play, and others who seemed very talented. Consequently, I found much of what I was looking for. There were only a few actors whom I wanted who turned us down, but I was able to figure out replacements, even having two actors double-up and perform more than one role.

Creeporia. John Semper and Creeporia herself

I didn’t want to cast out of L.A. L.A. performers—in fact LA people in general—can be somewhat cynical and jaded. I wanted a set full of bright, energetic people with a good sense of humor. No sourpusses, downers or snarky whiners allowed.  The only people I brought in from outside Indy were the talented jazz singer Elaine Miles, who, along with my wonderful composer, John Chiodini, helped write a new song for the project. I wanted her to be the one to perform it, which she does beautifully in the role of Elaine, the Brain That Wouldn’t Die.

I brought in professional New York choreographer Melanie Baker, whom I also cast in a small role. She choreographed our big dance numbers, and she did a wonderful job. She worked with Lynn Herrick and her local Indy dance company, The Dance Refinery, all of whom did a great job.

From LA, I brought in Rachel Halsey to do makeup and make the girls seem even more beautiful than they already are (if that’s even possible). Rachel is a true artist and I knew I needed somebody of her high-caliber to work on the faces of our lead actresses who would be on camera throughout the entire film.

Josh Baker came in from Chicago to play the male lead in our film, and he is hilarious. The twins [Camille and Kennerly Kitt] found him. They have great judgment, because he was perfect for the role. But that was it for the outsiders. I really wanted to draw the cast and crew from the pool of talent in Indianapolis. I liked the fresh, creative energy that they all brought to the table.”

CREEPORIA!

As we were coming close to filling out the majority  of the roles, Patrick called me with the news: “The actress playing Creeporia needs to be replaced.” The resulting search was something akin to an Indiana version of the Scarlett O’Hara hunt. After auditioning seemingly countless actresses, there were two that had potential, but Semper was patient and selective, not wanting to commit to either.

Then, I received a communication from twin actresses: Camille and Kennerly Kitt. They wanted to audition. When I looked at their resume and checked out their site, I discovered them to be trained in the arts, erudite, performing harpists who were developing a following. The best actors in the horror genre are rarely fans. , Peter Cushing, and  were all educated, genteel, and had an appreciation for the arts. I saw those qualities in the Kitts bios and their Harp Twin videos. I forwarded their email onto Semper, who encouraged me to audition them.

creeporia8 twins

Camille and Kennerly Kitt on their musical background: “We started playing the piano when we were children and began playing harp a little before high school. We both loved the harp and thought it was a magical instrument. We had to convince our mom that we were serious about learning harp because she was worried it might just be an overly expensive whim. We proved we were serious about learning it by earning the money for our own harp. We walked dogs, baby-sat, did office work, etc. From the start, we knew that we wanted to play duets, so we earned the money for a second, pre-owned harp. We were classically trained and have degrees in Harp Performance from a Conservatory of Music. However, even then we knew we wanted to play contemporary music (which is rather frowned upon in a Conservatory). Since we couldn’t find contemporary music arranged for one harp (let alone two!), we began arranging all of our own music. We even put our pop and rock adaptations into our Conservatory recitals. We knew that we wanted to make a career our of being a contemporary Harp Duo, but we also knew that we would have to create our own niche. it is always a bit intimidating to strike out on an unknown path, but we were determined to show that we could take harp where it has never gone before. We have never sought an agent for anything; so everything that we have down, we have done ourselves.”

The twins came into acting belatedly: “We have always loved acting and we try to fit media projects into our harp performance schedule. We’ve been in several commercials, including a National commercial for the Toshiba Thrive Tablet and a Chupa Chups lollipops commercial for Japanese television. We have been in several short films as well as several feature films.[2]. Our first feature film was the 2011 film Politics of Love. After that we had roles as ‘The Marcelli Twins’ in Blacktino (2011).”

Creeporia. James Mannan aka Cannibal Hector

I was enthusiastic about the twins enough that, secretly (don’t tell Semper) I rehearsed them over the phone for a couple of days, sent them links to the Creeporia site/web series, dialogued with them and made suggestions. After a few days, Camille and Kennerly made an audition demo themselves and overnighted it to us. Upon seeing it, Patrick and I both felt we had our Creeporia, but that was for John Semper to decide.

Semper on casting Creeporia: “The biggest question mark was finding somebody to play Creeporia. It’s a tough process, because Creeporia has to be both beautiful and funny, which isn’t an easy combination to find. And by beautiful I don’t just mean pretty. There are a lot of attractive women in the world, but to hold your attention on film for an entire movie, an actress has to have an uber-beauty, a hyper-real, transcendental quality of beauty that really stands out. The original Creeporia had that, but she and I ran into creative differences, and she wasn’t available to perform in this project. Fortunately, we stumbled upon the twins, and they had it all. Their audition demo showed that they were beautiful and funny. The icing on the cake was that they were also smart. Being genuinely intelligent really helps when you’re trying to make a low-budget production like this. As a director, you need to have actors do things quickly and understand what you need without a lot of explanation. It’s always better to work with smart people, and the twins are brilliant. They’re so smart, that at times, when I was really fatigued and out of it, it seemed like they were directing ME! We could not have made this film without them. Once we found them (or to be precise, they found us), we were good to go.”

Creeporia. John Semper teaching his star how to drive a stick shift

Camille and Kennerly on being cast: “When we initially sent in our resume and photo to be considered, we were not expecting to audition for the role of Creeporia. We were very surprised when we were sent Creeporia sides to audition. Since we weren’t interested in just one of us landing a solo role, we did the sides together-both of us playing the role of Creeporia. We sent in a tape and didn’t hear anything for a long time. It was months later when John Semper called us and told us that we were being offered the role of Creeporia and that he was actually adapting the script to incorporate the fact that there were two of us. It was very exciting. When we first read the script we loved it!

We thought that Creeporia was such an interesting and unique character and spirit and John had created a fascinating and eclectic assembly of monsters to surround her. ”

Another stroke of luck for us was that The Asylum House had its best season ever that year. We would start shooting on November 1st, the day after the haunted house season’s end. The profits propelled us forward with the required budget. Unfortunately, the mural project, which was necessary, had to be manned by me. This pulled me away from being on location full-time during the shoot. I had been helping develop this project for over a year, but now I was forced to make the mural (and my schoolwork) top priorities. As disheartening as this was, it was an essential prioritizing. As I was unavailable during shoot, local Larna Smith was chosen for line producer. Make-up artists Don Trent, Phil Yeary, Jennifer Ring, and Steve Stephens had the daunting task of creating 47 monsters. Trent, with assistance from Yeary, and Patrick, created the films masks and costumes. The Twins’ mother, Diane Elaine Carlson, assisted her daughters.

CREEPORIA . NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PUBLICITY

Semper on pre-production countdown: “Pre-production was a bit scary because I had no idea what kind of preparation had been made in Indy, and we didn’t have a producer or cameraman nailed down yet just weeks prior to my making a trip out there for the first time. Finally, I insisted that Pat hire a line producer, because I wasn’t sure we’d be in a position to actually shoot by the time I arrived. Good thing we did, too, because I was right. As it is, we barely were prepared in some areas, and we were under-prepared in others. We paid for that by shooting a lot longer than we had originally intended and spending more money. But, despite the rough edges, whatever we suffered in lack of preparation was made up for by sheer fun. I’ve never had so much fun laughing and joking my way through a project. Everybody gave it their full energy and I couldn’t have asked for a more dedicated, amiable production crew. When people ask me about shooting “Creeporia,” I like to tell them that we held a big, month-long party, and the by-product at the end of the day was that we have a really great TV series to show for it.”

Semper, Camille Kitt, and Kennerly Kitt all showed up a few days before filming, early enough to experience a trip through The Asylum House.

Camille and Kennerly Kitt: “We actually arrived in Indianapolis for filming right at the culmination of the Halloween season. We went through the horror house and it was definitely the largest and most elaborate that we had ever seen! It was wonderful to see the essence of what The Asylum House is before we started filming “Creeporia.” Everyone there is so talented and it was fun to see The Asylum House transformed into the Creeporia Universe.”

 

  1. John Semper bio []
  2. Here are Camille and Kennerly‘s identical IMDB filmographies []

BEHIND THE SCENES OF JOHN SEMPER’S CREEPORIA, PART ONE.

* This is the first in a three-part series.

creeporia and the creep mobile

Patrick Greathouse, of the Asylum House and Asylum Productions, was excited when he called me. With Patrick, that is the norm. Since returning to Indiana, I had been sporadically working with him on the Asylum Haunted House; the upcoming season would mark the 13th anniversary of the project. Patrick, not being Internet savvy (and myself beingslightly more so), asked me to go onto MySpace and contact horror hosts around the country. He wanted to do a cross promotion. The Asylum House would promote them on the Asylum website; in turn, the horror host could film a “Happy 13th Anniversary Asylum House” video. OK.

creeporiaCreepria Twins and Cannibal Lector (James Mannan)

As I was looking at some of the so-called horror hosts, one caught my eye: Creeporia. She had an atypical look, but, more importantly, she had a story. She did not merely appear on camera doing her schtick. Actually,  Creeporia wasn’t a “horror host” at all since she doesn’t do any hosting—and that was probably a good thing. The Creeporia webshow decidedly channeled old school horror. It was fun and classy in a way similar to Rankin/Bass’ Mad Monster Party (1967) and Roger Corman‘s The Raven (1963). After contacting the actress who played the role, she directed me towards her creator: .

creeporia7

Since I have not watched television since about 1989, I was not familiar with the name John Semper.  I contacted him, letting him know what I was seeking. Semper emailed me within a short period, gave me his number, and suggested I call him on Thursday since he preferred not to communicate via email. In the meantime, he asked me for a link to the Asylum House site and links to my own work, including my film reviews at 366. He suggested I check out his online resume. I did, and was surprised to discover that he was the creator of a 1990s animated “Spiderman” television series. Semper had a lengthy Hollywood resume, having worked with such names as  and George Lucas.

creeporia twins

Thursday: Semper and I talked at length about movies. , Roger Corman, and  were among numerous shared interests. We both agreed that genre labels were a silly waste of time. However, when the subject of the horror “genre” came up, we felt kinship in the view that the label itself had considerably degenerated. When   landed Frankenstein (1931), he knew he had reached a new plateau in his art and career. Today, for the most part, work in the horror genre imprints a brand of gutter slumming on the director.

creeporia 3

Semper and I talked so much of film that it was some time before we got around to the subject of the Asylum House. He had read the rave reviews of the haunt and seen some of the pics and trailers. He was impressed by the effort put into the endeavor and asked about our future plans. Patrick had been flirting with the idea of producing an old school horror anthology film. Before calling Semper I had shown Patrick the “Creeporia” web series. One of the proposed anthology stories concerned a horror host, and we speculated on possibly using a clip from Creeporia within thecontext of the short. Our immediate concentration, however, was on the upcoming 13th anniversary. Semper was interested in the anthology and filming the anniversary greeting spot, but wanted to dialogue with Patrick and myself first. Knowing that tying Patrick down to a phone conversation would be an epic endeavor, I turned the conversation back to a mutual love of film. Later, I told Patrick about my contact with Semper, his resume, and his “let’s all talk” suggestion. True to form Patrick asked: “Well, who do we have committed right now?”

Sinister Minister.

sinister-minister2

Over the next few months, Semper and I continued talking. Our film conversations went beyond what I expected, into silent cinema, German Expressionism, film noir, and experimental film. His exposure to movies was impressively eclectic. On occasion, we discussed  his career in television and Spiderman: “It does not matter if Spiderman is fighting Green Goblin or Dr. Octopus. That is incidental. What matters is Peter Parker has girlfriend problems and can’t pay the rent.”

 

Meanwhile, Patrick’s interest in independent film production had taken on a new life. Although he and I had gone to art college together in the early 1980s, we make for strange bedfellows. Commercial viability is Patrick’s primary concern. However, the art school student in him strives for quality in his ventures, which he hopes will inevitably lead to that commercial end goal. No arguments there.

Creeporia pic

Patrick was careful in what he attached himself to and what he would invest in. He was none too enthusiastic about the local genre scene and I decidedly share that lack of enthusiasm. Nevertheless, we entertained an invitation to talk to a local horror filmmaker “full of great ideas.”

creeporia5

I hoped it would not be too much of an ordeal. Patrick ordered us a couple of Bloody Marys. Mr. Indiana Horror Genius began his pitch: “Ok now, you can talk to a lot of filmmakers around here, but I’m different. I have new ideas, none of this stuff that you have seen a thousand times.”

“OK. Shoot.”

“I have this killer and he doesn’t just kill people in the conventional way. This is new, this is fresh.”

“Yes, you said that. How so?”

“I got this hot chick. The killer is gonna cut her nipples off and feed them to her!”

I made the next drink a double. I asked Mr. Horror Genius if there was a story.

‘I’m working on that! But first, let me tell you more about these killings.”

The victims were all “hot chicks” and each killing became more gruesome than the previous one. There was a disembowelment.

“Do we know anything about these women? Do we care about them? Is there any character development? For the girls? For the killer? Oh, and, again, what is the story?”

There was no story. Just a series of torture killings.

“So, basically, these are just repetitive money shot scenes? In short: horror porn?”

“It’s not a porn, although we should have a hot sex scene before one of the murders. Now, I am a director of integrity. I am not going to let a producer hand me money and dictate what I am going to do with it.”

Now, Patrick piped in: “So, what is your game plan on how you are going to pay back the investment? ”

“I don’t have a marketing plan. That’s a producer’s job, not mine.”

End of meeting. I was told afterword, by a mutual acquaintance who was present, that Mr. Horror Genius said that we came off like pretentious snobs. People are all too apt to confuse snobbery with discernment. The Bloody Marys were pretty good, though.

There were a few more starts and stops for Asylum House Productions, including an idea for a slasher film, which I was unenthusiastic about. During a Thursday phone talk, Semper finally got around to inquiring about how the Asylum House was proceeding with its film plans. I told him about the abandoned anthology idea (an omnibus of shorts, each written and directed by a local filmmaker). Semper asked why the idea had been abandoned.

Creeporia with Dickey

“Because Patrick had two stipulations: the shorts had to take place within an area of the haunt and no overt torture stuff. Of the nine filmmakers who submitted scripts, only two wrote their scripts around the locale of the haunt. I was one of the two. Additionally, one of the scripts featured three rapes within ten minutes.”

“What other ideas have you been working on?”

“A local businessman advised Patrick to do a slasher film. One of our actors wrote a script.”

I could hear Semper’s eyes rolling on the other side of the phone. I empathized. Semper made a request: he asked me to email him my short script and to call him on Thursday.

Thursday: Semper gives it to me honestly. “I like your script. It’s clever and it has characters I care about. However, it has no commercial value. Do you care if I re-write it?”

“Not at all. Go for it, please.”

“I will. By the way, I can work with you. Most writers have an ego about that. You holstered yours. Now, can you have Patrick call me?”

Semper rewrote the story. Patrick was intrigued. One day, perhaps, we will film it. Semper also asked Camille and Kennerly Kitt, John SemperPatrick to send along the slasher script. Patrick did. Semper looked at it and asked Patrick’s opinion. Patrick admitted that he did not care for the script or for doing a slasher film to begin with. Semper agreed and thought that the script was something he had seen a million times. Semper  asked the inevitable question: “What kind of movie do you want to  make?” They both agreed on an old school monster movie, preferably a comedy horror.

Within a short while, John Semper wrote the first draft of the “Creeporia” script, without a contract in hand. A budget was formed and, although not a Hollywood budget, it was considerable for an Indiana-based film. Semper’s script called for 47 different monsters and a musical number.

creeporia twns and count blah blah blah

In addition to being a producer, I was given the position of casting director. So the hunt for 47 monsters was on and, unknown to me, this would lead to a cameo by local horror host  and an intensive hunt for a new actress to portray Creeporia.

It was search that would lead us to the Harp Twins: Camille and Kennerly Kitt.

02-twins-in-creeporia-film-670

The Annunciation, Stations of the Cross, Pieta.

The Annunciation, Stations of the Cross, Pieta.

In The Mary Myth, Andrew Greely writes, ” The Marian symbol is surely one of the most powerful symbols in the Western Tradition. Virtually every major painter from the fifth to the sixteenth century painted at least one Madonna. The Marian paintings and poetry tell us far more about the power and meaning of the Madonna than theology books could possibly portray.  Art is much better at conveying limit-experience than scholarly theology.” [1]

Annunciation

Last year, at the beginning of seminary, I began a series of works on canvas, entitled Stations to parallel my experience. The first three works were completed last year and this year I have painted the fourth through the sixth.

Stations I. Christ is condemned to death.

The point of entryism is the primordial Sophia.  The apophatic Stations rejects the crude violence inherent in subscription to the tyranny of the hyper- realism often associated with the passion narrative.  From Genesis, Sophia’s stream of hallowed pathos manifests in the intricate Magnificat; the second testament’s renowned fiat of relentless communication. The illiterate adolescent Miriam issues her sublime revolt, exalting the destitute, fragmenting the elite. From the womb of her proclamation, the obscure is cultivated. Miriam issues forth the faint beacon; Christus. In the pondering of Miriam’s heart the character of Christus is wistfully seeded. Miriam and Christus, unified in erect clarity, are Sophia’s intimate motif.  The translucent  passion of Christus, endured through the Mother of sorrows, reaps an unequivocal music.

Stations II. Christ is given his cross.

Historical-critical analysis, while having its place, is not a concern in these works. Rather, the meditative Stations reflects John Henry Newman’s “Fact of the Imagination.”  Stations,  lamenting the bankruptcy of theological idiosyncrasy, is the expression of an illegible signpost.  These works, admittedly, subscribe to a type of Zen Catholicism, although there is also resistance in labeling it such, just as an idiosyncratic theology resists attachment to a dogmatic school. In this, the works are post-modern in both theological and artistic expression. For me, the age of theological and artistic schools has passed and is rendered impotent. Subscribing to a particular movement, within the arts or within theology, is as linear, is as institutional as stifling attachment towards a blueprint for doctrinal, patriarchal religion. Sacramental pathos sows freedom in the secular crisis of symbols. Symbolic idea is equated with the incarnation. The artistic theology in these works seeks to simultaneously beautify and inspire discomfort. By jettisoning traditional imagery, the risk of subscribing to a perceived totalitarian atheism runs high. However, the discarding of  solidified imagery and adhering instead to the internal, emotionally organic content inherent in the Stations, breaths an ecumenical expression. Catholicism (iconography), Zen Buddhism (indefinable), Judaism (Genesis heritage), and Protestantism (subduing of concrete imagery) are influentially present within. Prominent in the creative process is Jorunn Okland’s[2] observation that “Symbolic Continuity is fundamental to our culture.” For that reason, both The Annunciation and Pieta serve as “bookends” to the unfolding, journeyed Stations.

Stations III. Christ falls for the first time.

In The Annunciation I painted Mary as a fleshy, ethnic, girlish, peasant youth. In contrast to her fleshiness, is the diaphanous, ethereal milieu in which she is encompassed. This milieu is conveyed with monochromatic, Prussian blues, Pthalo blues, Viridian Hues and Dioxadine Purple. Flowers adorn her, weaving in and out of the fabric of her dress. Behind her is the questioning angel. Fiercely independent, Mary is on the verge of her Yes, her “Let it be done”,  without consulting her family or her betrothed.

STATIONS IV. Christ meets his Mother.

The Pieta is thirty years later in the narrative. Often, the Madonna is painted, at that scene, still young, still unblemished by age. I chose, again, to depict her ethnicity, combined with age. She looks very different here, weathered. She is on the verge of collapse, but, she surrenders herself, her naiveté, to her dead son’s ambitions. Her silence protects her fragile dignity. John the apostle, and Joseph of Arimathea lift the Corpus Christi to Her; the lowly, the woman of whom it was derogatively asked, “Isn’t this the son of Mary?” She, alone, is caught up in a state of contemplation. Rather than the traditional depiction of the Mother physically embracing the son, this Pieta depicts the two worshipers of Christ in the immensely struggled act of lifting the dead son up to the Mother. John and Joseph are worshipers of the Son and so the Son is elevated. However, the Mother is elevated even higher because She has no worshipers. Unlike Her Son, She is completely human and through her full humanity She is thusly edified for us.  A cadmium red rose adorns the lower left corner, symbolic of the rosary. An emotional storm of Dioxadine purple flows through the scene.

Stations V. Simone of Cyrene carries the cross.

The language of the icon is an ambiguous presence in Stations. The emotional symbology from “Mary’s Stations of the Cross” was latently in thinking, colors, brush work and organic form from those two “bookends. The works have an intentional Debussian feel, no doubt enhanced by the fact that I listened to much of  Debussy’s later music, along with the music of  the Second Viennese School, Morton Feldman and Luigi Nono, during the painting process.

STATIONS VI. Veronica wipes the face of Christ.

Andrew Greeley writes, “She guides us to see ultimate reality not only as creating, organizing, directing, planning, bringing to completion but also tenderly caring, seductively attracting, passionately inspiring and gently healing.” [3]

Greeley sees, in this devotion, an imaginative attitude that is not confined to the limits of dogma or that faction of “creepy” Mariology. “Mary has been a prisoner to creeps far too often.” he writes. Greeley relates an amusing, supposedly true story in which Heidegger was “caught” genuflecting at a festival of Our Lady. Heidegger was incredulously asked if he wasn’t an atheist, to which the philosopher replied, “a rationalist like you wouldn’t understand.”

A Marian spirituality surfaced amazingly fast in early Christendom. “The early Christians were far more casual about the similarities between Mary and the pagan goddesses.” However, Greely believes he, like the early Christian, is far more interested in the differences between Mary and those pagan deities, rather than the similarities.

Leonardo Boff  is considerably more weary in regards to using mythological Marian terminology and he focuses primarily on finding valid edification through historicity. In The Maternal Face of God Boff writes, “There is a danger of reducing Mariology to modifications of archaic mythologies. Historically, God did not choose a princess. God was not taken by the beauty of Athena, but the plain visage of a destitute woman. The Holy Spirit chose a fragile woman of poverty  to be the living temple of God.  Mary did not give birth in a royal palace, but was surrounded by beasts. The Mariology of exaltation must know what it is exalting: concrete, humble realities. It must extract the divine transparency that hides in the lowly, it must uncover the depth that is concealed in the humble. God the eternal mother is totally historicized in Mary ” [4]

The tragically short-lived John Paul I wrote, “God is Father, but above that, God is mother.” Greely concurs with an explanation of his view for the symbol, ” I am not discussing Mary as a person, but I am discussing God who is revealed to us through Mary.”

Boff sums up the hidden historicity of Mary, “The historical figure of Mary is very much hidden, much like a hidden pearl in an out-of-the-way place.” [5]But, this does allow much in the way for an imaginative projection of our personalized imagery into creative expression, which is why, for myself, the Marian image is the boundlessly expansive conduit for an idiosyncratic theology of artistry.

PIETA


[1] page 120

[2]  Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary.

[3] The Mary Myth. Page 20.

[4] page 125-126.

[5] page 108.

OUR LADY: CATHOLICISM’S DIAPHANOUS ADAGIO

Alfred EAKER 'Our Lady Of The Mermaids%22 oil on canvas © 2011 Alfred Eaker“Our Lady of the Mermaids.” © 2011 Alfred Eaker

When it comes to Mariology, even self-proclaimed liberal, protestant denominations passionately raise objections towards the Catholic tradition of elevating Mary to the level of near goddess, arguing that she is an impossible role model for women (being both virgin and mother) and, understandably, resisting the ultra right’s tendency to use her image as a suppressive, brow-beating weapon.

Certainly, Marian symbology has often been used as a correctional tool, something akin to a “What Would Mary Do?” motivational. Mary, in her ever-virginal state, has often been reduced to bumper sticker theology, in an effort to combat the onslaught of puberty. Needless to say, Mary, as a potential, imaged disciplinarian, set before young Catholic school girls and boys, or seminarians, has, more often than not,  been a predictably ineffectual inspiration.

However, Christ has certainly been used this way as well, of course; even more so. Indeed, Jesus of Nazareth may well be the Yukon Cornelius of deities since depictions and interpretations of him are as varied as the sands, and he never seems to quite fit in any one depiction, rendering him a misfit among misfits.

In regards to an imaged Christ, there is, at least, literary diversity within the New Testament that can be referenced, regardless of static images often applied to the Nazarene. The Christ of Mark’s Gospel projects qualities of aloofness and moodiness. He is enigmatic, earthy, and masculine. In contrast to that, Christ, as portrayed in the Gospel of John, is mystical, ethereal, sensitive, and effeminate. These varied, interpretive portraits of Christ beautifully flesh out the contradictory nature of his narrative, which we can readily identify with. The richness of disparity in the New Testament profiling of Christ has given rise to wildly contrasting Christs ever since.

Michelangelo’s Christ of the “Last Judgment” resembles a Prometheus unbound, the kind of Jesus one might picture in Mark’s action-packed gospel. This is the Jesus who, after having resisted Satanic temptation in the cave, descends into town, chest protruding,  to further wallop the demon-possessed .  Yet, near the end of his life, this same artist, depicted a much different savior, in stone. In his last, unfinished “Pieta” Michelangelo’s Christ, in death, is withered, vulnerable and his mother’s cradled son.

annunciation2012

“Annunciation” ©2011 Alfred Eaker. oil on canvas.

Within scriptural text, the enigma of Mary is cloaked in pronounced minimalism, even if she has been referred to as “The First Evangelist” (when she visits Elizabeth) and “The First Church” (with the shepherds and Joseph on Christmas morn in the manger). The young Mary does have a girlish quality, but, as she grows older, in the dramatic narrative of the gospels, the characterization of Mary dissipates as the character of Christ expands.

From the point of Christ’ adulthood on, the events involving Mary do not reveal her emotional makeup or reactions. Tradition attaches slithers of emotion to her, but these are apt, artistically interpreted attributes.

Catholic apologetics liken the miracle of Cana to the Garden of Gethsemane. In the garden, Christ asks his Father to remove the bitter chalice that he must soon drink of, but he yields to his Father’s will. At Cana, Christ resists Mary’s prompting to transform the water into wine, telling her “It is not my time.” Christ is reluctant to begin his ministry, but yield’s to his mother’s will. This is a smart literary development, employing an example of Christ’s obedience to the forth commandment.  However, Mary is merely a mother here, and no insight is given to her temperament.

The same is true of her appearance at the cross of her son and at Pentecost. Mary’s last appearance is a metaphorical one, in the Apocalypse. Two vivid images are given. First she appears in the desert(Egypt), after having given a painful birth, fleeing the dragon/serpent. Here, she is depicted as the New Eve, at enmity with the serpent. The serpent is symbolic of the king, seeking her son’s death. She flees to protect her child/the Church. This dream-like vignette is word painted in  expressionist, monochromatic  colors. The second image of her, as a Lady, clothed in the Sun, is strikingly colored.

Alfred Eaker PIETA (2011) oil on canvas © 2011 Alfred Eaker

“Pieta.” ©2011 Alfred Eaker

With the figure of Christ being illustrated in four canonical gospels, we are given multi-faceted perspectives for contemplation. From the Jewish rabbi, to the dusty human and the mystical god. With Mary, the gospels and the Apocalypse composite a consistent archetype of a young girl who becomes an increasingly otherworldly woman. The human quality, found in her as a lowly peasant, humble, expectant, teen mother, becomes subdued as the the adult image of her becomes increasingly preoccupied with a celestial state, that was pronounced even in the youthful figure of her as servant,  hence the surrealist attraction to Our Lady.

Imagery of Christ as a warrior/judge figure can at least be attained from some of the wording of the Apocalypse, even if that depiction fatuously ignores the Christ of the Beatitudes and so on. More nonsensical is the Marian image used as a means of disciplinary chastisement.  There are no literary or early traditions for the use of that image in that manner. Still, the representational imagery of a benevolent mother far outnumbers opposing depictions. The various, imaged incarnations of her; Our Lady of Peace, Our Lady of Sorrows (where one is invited to lay heavy burdens at her door),  Our Lady of Perpetual Help,  Our Lady of Mercy, Our Lady of the Snows, Our Lady of  the Sacred Heart, Our Lady of the Rosary, all depict a womb of empathy. She is far less often portrayed as the judgmental yardstick that we are hopelessly measured against.

No family is complete without a mother, unless it is a dysfunctional family, of course. Objections to Mariology often are coached in terms of historicity, even from agnostic theologians, more likely betraying a misogynist resistance to the feminine as near divine.

More progressive mainline protestant denominations, while embracing a female clergy, cannot go so far as to embrace feminine symbology within the divine family. PC friendly denominations may abstractly refer to God in the vernacular, but are still resistant to an actual, solidified feminine image.

A Post-Vatican II Catholicism, in a strained effort to be “protestant friendly,”has taken the easiest, superficial, surface reforms by downplaying Mary’s presence, along with caving into an iconoclastic, protestant spirit. Rosary services are set aside in most parishes, usually after scantly attended early morning weekday masses. Predictably, we have still failed to grasp the deeper, mystical reforms of John the XXIII. Even more predictably, when the mystical quality fails to be attained, that most pronounced of mystical figures, Our Lady, is the first to go.

In place of a sea of rosaries amidst a parish of divinely inspired art, the post-modern American Catholic Church, more often than not, projects the atmosphere of a dull, artless, masculine basketball court, rather than a temple. Naturally, rosaries and Mary have no place on the court.

 

When protestant churches jettisoned the sacramental, mysterious qualities of Catholicism, they universally rejected the Marian symbology, and proved themselves even more unimaginatively patriarchal than the original role model. Much in protestantism densely attaches itself to an alarmingly limited perception of hyper realism, in which the Marian image becomes the equivalent of a round peg in a square hole. Of all the protestant tenants to avoid, this should have been the Church’s last route. Instead, the Church has emulated the worst in its competition.

Of course, sophomoric attempts to appease protestantism hardly stops two millennium of Marian devotion among the laity, particularly European, Scandinavian, and Hispanic laity. Marian apparitions and pilgrimages to attributed sights of these apparitions are still vigorous forces of mystical inspiration to be reckoned with.  The Church, understandably- from its public point of view, looks at each sighting with skepticism. That is the face the Church is forced to put on for the world. The authenticity of each sighting is reviewed, but the authenticity lies in that translucent wave of inspiration. Marian devotion has never been preoccupied with historicity or vacuous realism.

Christ himself rarely acquires that level of frenzied sightings. That possibly is because the Marian image, while certainly ethereal in the end state of being, traverses that bridge between the human condition and the goal of inclusion in the divine family.

Being a woman in first century, patriarchal-ruled Judea, Mary is a symbolic outcast, a secondary citizen. It is written that a sword pierced her girl’s heart, the traditional “Mary’s Way of the Cross” depicts a mother closely following in the bloodied footsteps of her dying son, and the various Pietas capture the mystical and emotional anguish of a parent losing her child.

In his writings of “Total Concentration to Mary”, that Franciscan martyr Maximilan Kolbe wrote,  ” Anyone incapable of bending his knee and of imploring from Her in humble prayer the grace to know who She really is, cannot hope to learn anything more about Her.

From the divine Maternity flow all the graces granted to the All Holy Virgin Mary, and the first of these graces is the Immaculate Conception. This privilege must be particularly dear to Her heart, if at Lourdes She herself wished to define Herself thus: I am the Immaculate Conception. With this name, so pleasing to Her heart, we also wish to call upon Her.

To draw close to Her, to make ourselves like Her, to allow Her to take possession of our heart and of all our being, that She might live and work in us and through us, that She Herself love God with our heart, that we belong to Her without any reserve: behold our ideal.

To shine in our environment, to conquer souls for Her, in such wise that in Her presence the hearts of our neighbors also open, so that She might extend Her reign in the hearts of all who live in any corner of the earth, without regard to difference of race, of nationality, of language, and likewise in the hearts of all who will live in any moment of history, until the end of the world: behold, our ideal.

Further, that Her life be ever more deeply rooted in us, from day to day, hour to hour, moment to moment, and this without any limitation: behold our ideal.

And still, that this Her life develop in the same way in every soul which exists or will exist in any time: behold our precious ideal.”

Despite some, admittedly, dated terminology (i.e; ‘conquering souls’) Kolbe’s ideal, inspired by his devotion, was put into action when he voluntarily laid down his life for a stranger in the Auschwitz concentration camp in August, 1941. “Greater love hath no man than this.”

Instead of eradicating her image and spiritual presence from our Churches, or applying a reductionist approach to her, the Marian image and presence can be embraced for what it is; the faith’s sublime, mysterious Tahitian pearl, a diaphanous adagio for our contemplation and inspiration, a startlingly sensuous rose which can, quite astonishingly, burst through the practicality of our senses. The Church and the faith are desperate for a veracious, mystical revival and movement. This will not be found in the hollow, pedestrian, futile,  and predictable attempts that have been made time and again. No, the first steps of this can be attained by an image we have always had before us. As usual, she is forced to wait on our “coming round” to her embrace.

Alfred Eaker %22Stations IV%22 Christ Meets His Mother On The Way To The Cross. oil on canvas 5 ft x 5 ft. ©2011 Alfred Eaker

“Christ Meets His Mother On The Way To The Cross.” © 2012 Alfred Eaker