Some Have Razors

We’re weeks away from principal photography on The Devil’s Carnival 2. This being my third musical movie, I’ve learned a thing or two about filmmaking: 1) no matter how well you budget, there is never enough money; and; 2) if you’re going to play the devil, prosthetic makeup, glue, and real facial hair don’t mix. As such, I decided to rob a bank and shave my beard.

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Yes, my beard. For the last six months or so, my shaving razor—like so many misfit pianos and treadmills—had become little more than furniture in my dusky apartment. Untouched and hanging on a shower rack, the silver handle and blades had all but blended into the ivy and silverfish. Over the weeks and months, my face had also transformed, sprouting into something wooly and virtually unrecognizable.

It’s weird to grow a new chin, but there’s something liberating in forgoing notions of grooming and congeniality. As an added bonus, whenever I’d catch a glimpse of the furry stranger that I’d become—in a whiskey glass or foggy mirror at the Greek bathhouse—I’d chuckle and think, “I finally look like my thoughts.”

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It’s this coily mindset that inspired me to throw on a dark hoodie, sneak a pistol from ma’s favorite handbag, and kill two birds with one straight razor: clear my chin forest for the imminent onset of spirit gum and pitchforks, and see if I could prevail upon that pretty, young bank teller to help with my budgetary woes.

Ev’rybody, freeze! On yo’ knees! Butt naked, please!”

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In all seriousness, TDC2‘s upcoming production angst mixed with fears of having my mouth mane yanked out by Lucifer adhesives, made me realize that a clean slate (jaw-wise) was needed, both physically and emotionally…

After six months of beard growth, however, shaving was not only going to be a undertaking, but an art project.

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Speaking of art projects, I’m in the process of redesigning TZ.com. Part of this cyber facelift involves organizing a series of conceptual photo shoots by which to decorate the new site. While approaching the daunting task of pruning my six-month-old beard, I thought it would be fun to not only document the epic mandible-molting, but tell a story through a set of sequential images that might also fit into my planned web renovations.

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Collaborating with photographer Hannah Havok of Pocket Watch Photo Emporium, seizing some props from Nathan Haskell of The Hand Prop Room, and coercing my friends George Frangadakis and Andrew Freeman of Immortal Masks to let me transform a restroom at their place of business into a set, I purchased a bag of disposable razors and got to it.

As I snipped, sawed, and scraped my way through the jowl brush, a face I had all but forgotten emerged, which included a beard-shaped farmer’s tan. Even though my pale, bald chin and I felt naked and rudderless on the motorcycle ride home from the set, my transformation was complete. Well, almost. My newly-revealed baby(ish) face was ready for all that TDC2 could have to offer, including an impending metamorphosis into a singing, be-horned Lucifer. As some of you know, this episode will feature a lot of Jazz Age slang, including (ironically) a little “chin music”, which in that era meant a punch on the jaw.

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The images included in this blog are just a teaser of what’s to come over the next few months. I’ll be debuting a more expanded look at this particular photo shoot—as well as others—on FaceBook soon, so be sure to “like” my artist page to receive updates.

So… who’s ready for a little chin music?


Read more | Comments (14) | Jul 10, 2014

The Devil’s Carnival 2 is Green-Lit!

TDC-2

“The train whistle blows and the carnival goes ’til there’s only the tickets and crows here”

~Tom Waits


Read more | Comments (5) | Jun 27, 2014

Holding Patterns

If you’ve done much traveling by plane, chances are you’ve experienced flight delays. And not just long turns sitting at airports, waiting for tardy jets to arrive, but also protracted stretches aboard aircrafts, strapped into seating arrangements, impatiently awaiting clearances to land and/or gate.

These latter delays are especially frustrating. You’ve all but reached your destination, often after a long and turbulent flight, only to be stuck, loitering at the finish line. Aside from anxiety over being so-close-yet-so-far from home, you can sense the swelling restlessness from every soul aboard the vessel. The lingering sighs. The craning necks. The fidgeting feet. It sucks.

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For the last twenty months, my life has been in a holding pattern, although not on an airplane.

For those of you who follow this blog, or my work in general, you may recall that in January of last year, the team behind my second musical film, The Devil’s Carnival, went live with an online teaser announcing the imminent release of a sequel. The nine-minute promotional piece featured rap star Tech N9ne as Heaven’s Librarian.

Even though it’s been over a year-and-a-half since the teaser debuted, the promised followup film has yet to manifest. This is not due to a lack of wanting or trying on the part of TDC‘s team, or yours truly. In fact, at the time that the aforementioned trailer dropped, months of negotiations had already taken place with a company set to finance and distribute the episode. Unfortunately, due to a series of unforeseen issues, the deal fell apart at the end zone.

As you might imagine, this sudden dead-end was disappointing as a lot of work and hope had gone into the lost deal.

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Picking up the pieces, TDC‘s team and I went back to the drawing board to hunt for capital. The stakes were heightened by the knowledge that we needed to find funds quickly… that is, if there was any hope of achieving the 2013 release date boasted in the Tech N9ne teaser.

Even though this was a tall order—less than a year to find and close financing, plan and shoot a movie, write and record an album, and edit and prepare the final film and soundtrack for public consumption—we were optimistic. Because of TDC‘s awesome fanbase, episode one had such a buzz around it (and we were all so pumped about the project in general), that anything seemed possible.

Operating in good faith that we’d be in production before the year’s end, TDC‘s co-composer, Saar Hendelman, and I set out to write the book and music for part two.

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Composing a musical is no small feat. In any scenario—even one where the tunes suck!—it would be a ton of work, but Saar’s and my specific and intensive writing process made the endeavor even more sprawling and bumpy (for a peek into our songwriting techniques, click here).

Believing that a green-light was close, however, and that it’d only be a matter of time before we’d be rushing into full-blown music production, Saar and I worked tirelessly on the episode’s tunes and lyrics, and, in November of last year, completed them. The year’s worth of creative labor culminated in twenty-two musical selections.

MultiPage PDF File

The writing journey was both exhilarating and exhausting, and since this twelve-month job was done on spec, it was also financially tasking… but we believed that movie funding was just around the corner, so we hung on by the foreskin of our teeth.

Throughout 2013, several encouraging production prospects arose, so our optimism seemed reasonable, but, one by one, the proposals evaporated. We were hovering in a holding pattern where we could see the runway, but a smooth landing was nowhere in sight.

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Fortuitously, my first musical film, Repo! The Genetic Opera, was celebrating its five year anniversary in movie theatres at the same time that Saar and I wrapped TDC 2‘s compositions. To celebrate Repo!‘s theatrical birthday, director Darren Lynn Bousman and I booked a mini-double feature tour. In touring, we were also looking to find renewed joy in our creative accomplishments to counterbalance the year of limbo with TDC 2.

The tour was great, but its conclusion marked the beginning of 2013′s winter holiday season, where Hollywood all but shuts down. Because of this, I was painfully aware that progress on TDC 2‘s production would most likely stall and that our taxiing around the tarmac would continue into 2014.

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Darren and I took this industry downtime to put together some flashy (and costly) new TDC sales tools. We wanted to hit the new year armed and running, fighting to keep the project we’d all sacrificed to make alive… especially knowing there was an audience out there just as eager to see a sequel as we were.

The elapsing time, however, especially the reality that much of TDC‘s team would be forced to move on to other projects, was making it obvious that TDC 2 might not happen, and that the music Saar and I slaved over may never see daylight.

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Faced with this depressing forecast, as well as the hefty debt I’d incurred from a year without income, I was determined to break the holding pattern, so I started exploring an entirely new music project with Saar, one where we weren’t so at the mercy of factors beyond our control. I was still pushing along TDC part-time, but devoting the majority of my hours to this new endeavor. I even found an angel investor to cover the project’s start-up costs.

Renewed, I dove face-first into this new project with all the passion that creative hunger and financial desperation can inspire, and, six months later, was confident we had developed something every bit as cool and distinctive as Repo! and TDC.

In April, Saar and I were primed and ready to crawl out of limbo and into production on the new project. I was relieved and eager to make something great, and anxious to share it with all interested and sympathetic souls.

And then it happened. Just like with the initial investor for TDC 2, the financier for the new project inexplicably abandoned ship at the eleventh hour. The experience was confusing, depressing, and humiliating. And the holding pattern continued.

MultiPage PDF File

Below is the face of a man called Oblivion. Let she who hath wisdom, stare into its wooliness and reckon the number of months spent on stand by.

After careful consideration of the aforementioned mug, I hope it is plain that a man such as he would not waste breath vomiting over a thousand words merely to complain or elicit sympathy… not unless there was a happy ending to the saga.

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That’s right, fair readers; the holding pattern has reached its limit. The beast Holdor, its belly, gorged with blood, sated and leaking, has finally released me from its terrible jaws. A production—a real production—is green-lit. I can’t divulge the details of said project yet. Official announcements will follow shortly, but the wait is over and a shinny new experience is a-coming your way. Thank you for your patience in the interim.

Who else is excited for the mystery project?


Read more | Comments (42) | Jun 13, 2014

Hard Bodies

There’s a bizarre marketing trend happening amongst small businesses in my neighborhood: recently, a string of shops have stationed life-sized, motorized mannequins outside their storefronts in attempts to draw costumers. On one major boulevard, in less than a four-mile stretch, a half-dozen of these sign-waving dummies have emerged over the last month or so.

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While there is some variety in the shade, shape, and wardrobe of these statuesque sales props, they are all female. Dead-eyed, come-hither gazes (traditionally found only in strip clubs) are painted on each fiberglass figure. It’s strange. Stranger still, these lifeless lasses are all chained and bolted to dollies—Hannibal Lector-style—then propped beside lampposts, like street bawds from a Victorian melodrama.

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Tacky, truly tacky. As such, I’m curious how effective they are at drumming business.

From an economic standpoint, I’m sure there are benefits to using battery-powered models over ones that require sunscreen and bathroom breaks, but is anyone convinced to purchase auto insurance or a haircut because of a plastic hussy with a sign? And how did this become a trend? Was a secret mannequin memo circulated amongst Los Angeles shop owners? Or did those late to the dummy party merely gaze at their competitors’ gaudy mechanical greeters and say, “Damn, I need to get me one of those!”?

Mannequin-Deadeye

Pediophobia—a fear of dolls, including robots and mannequins—is a common anxiety disorder. Popular schools of psychiatry believe that pediophobia springs from a feeling that dolls may come to life.

I don’t harbor any entrenched fear or mistrust of robots or mannequins, but I did have occasion once to visit a prop house filled with dozens of human-sized, standing dolls. It was creepy. The showroom featured an assortment of male, female, and child dummies, and the presentation was claustrophobic; the mannequins were stacked in rows, shoulder-to-shoulder, like a frozen army. I have to admit that squeezing past the stiffs did cause a shudder or two.

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On the other end of the cognitive spectrum is agalmatophilia, a sexual attraction to statues, dolls, or mannequins. Mannequin, an unintentionally creepy, yet mainstream romantic comedy from the late-’80s, revolved around this paraphilia. Bizarrely, the film was successful enough at the box office to warrant a sequel in 1991. This was most likely due to the sexiness of a young Kim Cattrall—who plays the plastic department store fixture of the movie’s namesake—than to some sort of mass audience fetish… but who knows?

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While I don’t have a thing for dummies, or bad ’80′s films, I have been known to turn a lusty eye at certain curvy jean mannequins placed outside Latino clothing stores in my hood. I’m not sure what this says about me, as these figures are routinely cut off at the waist. They possess no heads, torsos, or arms with which to hold swiveling mechanical signs, but the sculptors did a fine job shaping the bottoms of these would-be ladies.

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I read once that a teenaged Jeffrey Dahmer stole a male mannequin from a department store and kept it hidden in his grandmother’s house, where he was living at the time… but I digress.

On a related creepy note, I remember walking through a female clothing store as a wee lad with my mother and being captivated by an underwear display. The presentation was a row of disembodied mannequin hips. The thought of pulling down the panties on the fake flanks occurred to me (you know… to see what was underneath), but even at that tender age, I knew this behavior would come across as pervy, so I refrained.

Mannequins

As an adult, I probably should have also refrained from stoping my vehicle several times along a busy stretch of road to snap photographs of the mannequin mamas featured in this blog, which begs the question: who’s creepier, the entrepreneur who displays mechanical maidens, or the writer who reports on them?

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So, now that I’ve shown you my figures and stumps, will you show me yours? Have you, fair readers, noticed humanoid billboards popping up in your town? Do mannequins and dolls frighten or enchant you? Or are you tempted to grab a sign, strap yourself to a dolly, and see how long you can hold a pose without blinking at passing traffic? Share your “Dummy Details” in the “Comments” section below.


Read more | Comments (42) | May 6, 2014

Bigmouth Strikes Again

Last month I had the opportunity to speak to a class of acting students about my work. Dean Armstrong—dear friend, colleague, and founding director of Armstrong Acting Studios—thought insight into my unique career in the arts would be of value to his students. Since the speaking engagement included a trip to Toronto, I couldn’t resist the invitation.

Toronto is one of my favorite places. Both the 2006 short and 2008 feature-length films of Repo! The Genetic Opera were filmed there, so I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the city. I’ve also made many lasting friendships north of the eastern U.S. border, including Dean (Repo! fans will recognize him as Repo Man’s “Thankless Job” victim).

Repo_Soundtrack

Even though performance is a big part of what I do—and I’ve worked with and employed my fair share of actors over the years—I’ve never spoken from an acting perspective about my profession. I suppose this is because I identify more as a writer and visual artist than ac-tor. Also: from a film production standpoint, those brief moments when the cameras are actually rolling often feel like breaks from work when compared against the years it takes to develop, assemble, and execute projects. As such, I was a little unsure how to approach a seminar geared specifically to thespians.

After brainstorming, the only thing I was certain of was that I wanted my seminar to deliver an experience for AAS students that was wholly different from that of the casting directors, agents, and actors that traditionally come to speak at the school… so I broke out the duct tape and plastic blankets, and got to it.

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As a writer, I’m generally more interested in why people do what they do than how they do it. As such, I decided to kick off my three-hour evening seminar with a personal and creepy story about secretly drawing naked women when I was a schoolboy. I chose to share this tale because I believe it informs much of my present state and drive as an artist.

As has been the case with so much of my public work, the reaction from the classroom gallery to my dirty confessional seemed divided—especially when gauged by the furrowed brow on the father of the only child actor in the room—but as I went on to describe using primary passions to fuel success and find an authentic artistic voice, I think most in attendance came around.

TheTutor

In addition to attempting words and tales of inspiration, the T.O. visit afforded me the chance to visit old stomping grounds and reconnect with folks I hadn’t seen in years, including Dr. Berta Bacic (considering the motley band of degenerates that make up the majority of my friendship circle, it’s weird to know that any of my familiars are doctors… even ones residing some 2,500 miles away).

Berta owns and operates a dental practice in Burlington (thirty minutes outside of Toronto) and is about to open a second clinic in the city. In 2009, when I was in town for my first live Repo! shadowcast experience, Berta examined my much-neglected choppers and sent me back home to Los Angeles with a clean bill of dental health and a toothier grin. I blogged about the adventure in detail here.

Five years later—and five years since my last tooth exam—I again found myself strapped to Dr. Berta’s skillful chair.

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Like a vintage vehicle, the older I get, the more maintenance seems necessary to preserve my banged-up chassis. An x-ray and a few minutes under The Scraper proved that my teeth were no exception to this declining motor standard as my mouth bore early signs of gum disease. If my jaw wasn’t already pried open, it would’ve surely dropped as Berta informed me of this.  She then said that four-hours of chiseling would be required to safeguard my not-so-pearly whites.

It’s strange to have hands and metal digging under your gums. It’s also strange to realize mid-treatment that your beard has gotten so out of control that the dentist needs to push your lip whiskers aside to properly do their art. Even more strange is leaving the clinic to kill time before catching a plane back home and finding that the only place within walking distance with Wi-Fi is a McCafé. Strangest of all is answering a phone call from an identified number (with post-dental numb gums) and hearing the voice of a relative you haven’t spoken to in years calling you from prison on a smuggled cell phone. Yes, this all happened.

X-rays

I want to thank Berta and Leigh Ann for tending to my devil-may-care mouth. If you’re in Southern Ontario and in need of dental nurturing, be sure to visit Dr. Berta Bacic & Associates. I also want to thank Dean and the students of Armstrong Acting Studios for making me feel welcomed, and for letting me ramble about things I love. To all my friends in Toronto, ’til the next time.

Any fair readers looking to share their own tales of joy and woe upon the dentist’s slab, please do so in the “Comments” section below.


Read more | Comments (9) | Apr 17, 2014