Piano Tuners, Tuba Players, & Cave Paintings

Once there was a time you needed transcripts
In triplicates and drooplicates to log
By letter-bone and tar, and as the time slipped
Stenographers and upstrikers and slogs
Yes, it was a sorry time for chalking
Every foot and header to be drawn
But now we have machines to write the talking
The days of breaking hands with words are gone

The above lyrics are from “Good Little Dictation Machines”, a tune from my upcoming movie musical, The Devil’s Carnival: Alleluia!  The song is about innovation… specifically… *takes deep breath*… the ever-striving journey towards perfecting interrogation techniques through technology in a world where angels and devils compete for an edge.


Last Friday, at Grandmaster Recorders, Ltd.—a recording studio in Hollywood, Ca—we tracked some of the core instrumentation for the musical numbers featured in TDC 2: Alleluia!, including Good Little Dictation Machines. Many of the old vs. new world struggles featured in the song’s lyrics were on display during our all-day recording session.

For starters, Grandmaster’s studio is a throwback to another era of the music industry. Above the entrance to this veritable time machine is a hand-painted Shakespeare quote: “What fools these mortals be!” The otherwise plain exterior of this two-story venue doesn’t prepare visitors for the glory, excess, and cheesiness that awaits inside; to cross the building’s threshold is to travel back in time to the 1970s.


The studio’s architecture is designed to look like an old-world boat, replete with portholes, a brass engine order telegraph, and a faux brig. It also houses a spiral staircase surrounded by a kaleidoscope of floor-to-ceiling, multifaceted mirrors, and a shower made to look like a cave. The woman’s restroom is pink with floral wallpaper, a bidet, and clawfoot tub. It could double as porno set, and probably has.

Yes, there is history here. In addition to being the site where many genre-defining albums were recorded—like Tool’s Undertow and No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom—one’s imagination doesn’t need to stray too far to picture the parade of eccentric souls and situations that have graced these halls. One of our session musicians summed up the location best by saying, “If someone were to run a vacuum over the carpets here, we’d all get a contact high.”


It’s not just the retro décor that dates Grandmaster’s facilities, but also much of the equipment in the studio, including reel-to-reel audio recording devices and spools of analog tape spilling from the various consoles and crevices. In the corner of one of the sound rooms, an old, white grand piano shimmers like a ghost. You can count the cigarette stains on the its lid and pedals and reckon the many great players who have touched its keys over the decades.


The process of recording piano—as we did last Friday—always starts with a piano tuner… and the man hired for this task had just as much character as the theme park-like recording space and fixtures.

Older than the studio’s fabricated hull and pearly piano, the piano tuner was described to me as a legend by those at Grandmaster. They didn’t need to announce his status, however, as you could tell that the gray-haired gentleman was a bad ass by the way he swaggered into the room and effortlessly pitched the piano’s strings (over the roar of thunder from a barbarian-like kick drum, I might add). Watching the man work, I was both in awe of his skill set and saddened by witnessing what I imagined to be a dying breed of artist: souls from a bygone era when your craft was also your lifestyle… souls all but replaced by technology.

Speaking of lifestyles, becoming an expert tubaist is no casual affair. To that end, I’m happy to announce that, like with TDC 1, there’s a healthy serving of tuba in the new film. We may also be booking a sousaphonist for an upcoming session, which I’m pretty stoked about.


Watching a tuba player blow devil brass in a ’70′s makeshift pirate vessel is a sight to behold. One can’t help but smile. And smile, I did.

Observing the tubaist through a soundproof glass, I pondered out loud the question of what makes a man decide to make tuba his axe. Someone in the control room answered, “Well, it ain’t about getting chicks!” Yes, tuba is a lifestyle and I for one dread a future where robotic lungs make the discipline obsolete (although I would appreciate a John Henry-like ballad on the subject).

Like piano tuning and tuba crooning, it takes a lot of years of practice (usually alone in a room) to become a competent illustrator. I cut my teeth as an artist drawing on paper and worked as an animator before the industry switched entirely to digital production lines. As such, I’ve found it nearly impossible to transition from paper and pencils to Wacum tablets and Cintiqs.


Speaking of pencil and paper, I’ve recently completed a series of hand-drawn illustrations for a set of holiday greeting cards. The cards will be featured on my brand new website and online store, which will go live on November 28th (also known as Black Friday). The collectable cards will spotlight some of your favorite characters from Repo! The Genetic Opera, The Devil’s Carnival, and The Molting comic book series… so mark your calendars!

A big thank you to all of the players and personnel who participated in Friday’s marathon recording session, including Jimmy from Grandmaster Recorders, Ltd., Chris Spilfogel, Fernando Morales Franchini, Scotty Morris, Alisa Burket, Joshua Levy, Shem Andre Byron, Spooky Dan Walker, Joseph Bishara, and my TDC co-composer, Saar Hendelman, who made his conducting debut.


So… any piano tuners, tuba players, cave painters, or other old-world specialists reading this blog? Do you cobble shoes or weave on a loom? Do you moonlight as an apothecary or blacksmith? What special skills do you have that would qualify as a lifestyle? Do you juggle or play a didgeridoo? What artistry do you appreciate that you’d hate to see usurped by technology? Please share your hands-on loves in the “Comments” section below.

Read more | Comments (20) | Nov 20, 2014

The Long Side Of The Road

Show business is brutal. You spend years in labor trying to get a project off the ground with the false hope that cigars and giant cardboard checks will be waiting for you at the finish line. Instead, the industry midwife points up. Up, past the odd stains on the ceiling. Up, past the windows, to the top of a hill you didn’t know existed. Up, up to the drowning well. All you want to do is collapse. All you can do is grab that fat baby and climb!


Three months ago, we wrapped production on my third musical film, The Devil’s Carnival: Alleluia! Due to an impressive gathering of bodies and big tops on set, completing principal photography felt like a finish line, but nothing could be further from the truth.

In reality, the filming portion of a movie like ours is the briefest part of the filmmaking journey. Our fourteen day shoot barely stretched the course of three weeks. Post-production, on the other hand, which commenced immediately after picture wrapping—and still has babies to carry and hills to climb—has already extended beyond the rolling camera durations of both episodes one and two combined. For that matter, each of the fourteen songs featured in the upcoming film took longer to write than the entirety of principal photography.


It’s these sorts of lengthy calculations, as well as the many toils that lie ahead before a project like this is completed and shareable, that make the process so daunting. When I’m feeling especially overwhelmed by what seems to be an ever-moving finish line, I go for walks. These walks often yield not only perspective, but also amusement.

Last week, on one of these walks, I encountered two blog-worthy characters. The first was a tall, muscular cross-dresser trying to walk a dog. I say trying because this person was ossified drunk, stumbling out of a very, very tight dress. It was eleven a.m.

The Molting Comic: Footsteps

The cross-dresser’s dog, seemingly aware of its owner’s intoxication, was keeping its distance as its wobbly master tried in vain to get it to heel. The wildest part of the bizarre exchange was observing the drunk man attempting to maintain a feminine affectation in the face of total inebriation and a stubborn, stubborn mutt.

I watched as the drunk dog walker would sloppily (and comically) alternate between a wispy, high-pitched “C’mere, precious” and “GET OVER HERE NOW!” in a fed up baritone, which put mine own to shame.


On the return leg of my stroll, I wandered past a middle-aged man who appeared lost… and in every sense of the word.

The lost man was standing beside a parked motorcycle. As I passed him, he muttered, “I can’t believe I got all the way here without realizing I’d left my helmet at home.” Concerned, I asked him if he had someone who could bring him his helmet as riding without one in California could result in his bike being confiscated. Seemingly in a fog, he confided that this was the first time he’d been on his motorcycle in years because his wife felt it was too dangerous. With a sobering smile he then said, “I was diagnosed with prostate cancer this week. It felt like the right time to take my bike out again. I can’t believe I forgot my helmet.”

Repo - helmet sketch by Terrance_ Zdunich, costume design Alex Kavanagh (Maple Pictures)

Whether it’s waiting at the side of the road for someone to bring you head gear, or for an ornery pet to cut you some slack for being drunk at breakfast, or for your years of effort on a project like TDC 2 to come to fruition, it’s experiences like these that make me resent the waiting and appreciate the end result.

This Friday, TDC 2‘s music team and I are venturing into a Los Angeles studio to record the first day of instrumental tracking for the film’s soundtrack. Up until this point, the songs have only had Midi (digital instrument) arrangements. Unlike the music, however, the lead vocals on all of the songs were recorded and comp’d prior to filming because the actors had to lip-sync to their own voices on set, as is customary with musical films.


With an independent project like TDC 2, casting often occurs right up until the first day of principal photography—and sometimes well into production. This meant that composers Saar Hendelman and I had to be prepared to make possible last-minute tempo and key changes to our songs to suit the actors that were cast. We used Midi instrument beds for this vocal tracking, because it gave us the freedom to easily make musical changes when necessary. Now that the film is in the can, we’re working to replace as many of the synthesized parts as possible with live players.

I’m excited to announce that on Friday we will be tracking a mini big band—with players from a rather famous big band—which will provide the core sound for the majority of Heaven’s music in the film. I’m also excited to share that I will be launching an entirely new website at the end of this month. I’ve been working on this online project for some time and am very pleased with the artistic direction that my webmaster, Will Weyer, and I have come up with.


As part of the site’s launch, I’m putting together some really cool merch to be displayed in a new online store. The store and site will go live on November 28th, Black Friday. Store items will include greeting cards featuring new artwork that I’ve hand-drawn for the holidays, some snazzy roach totes, and more. So mark your calendars!

Who’s excited for some devilish big band music and a brand new crawly TZ site?


Read more | Comments (8) | Nov 11, 2014

The Devil’s Carnival: Alleluia (Official Teaser Trailer)

At long last, The Devil’s Carnival 2 teaser trailer has arrived. Spread the word!

Read more | Comments (1) | Nov 5, 2014


Scientists have recently uncovered that cockroaches are a far more social species than previously believed. They make friends, recognize kin, and collaborate to survive… but, unlike bees, ants, and humans, their social structures are notably more fair and democratic.


As an artist, I’ve been fortunate enough to collaborate with both two and six-legged conspirators on a variety of projects over the years. From teams small enough to count on one hand—like the intimate crew behind The Molting comic book series—to more expansive projects, like the upcoming musical film The Devil’s Carnival 2: Alleluiawhich wrapped principal photography in August and involved well over a hundred standing and crawling souls.

Although my natural creative state bends toward the misanthropic, there’s an energy that comes from collaboration that can’t be denied, and, when creative partnerships are healthy and balanced, the end results are often superior to what can be achieved alone.


Although most of the cast and crew of TDC2 wrapped last month, the collaboration on the project is far from over. We are presently in the thick of editing the film. When this phase ends, we’ll move onto scoring. We’ll then record all of the instrumentation for picture and soundtrack, before, ultimately, collaborating with you, the audience. If all of these collaborations succeed, we’ll be in a better place to continue making likeminded cult musical movies for years to come (based on the output thus far, I’m feeling more optimistic about this project than my former musical film endeavors, which were not nearly as impressive or cohesive at this point in their collaborative journeys).

As I thrash through the tides of whiskey and roach legs and TDC2 collaborators, I’m also actively working on overhauling my website, terrancezdunich.com. The site’s almost seven years old, so a cyber facelift is long overdue. In advance of TDC2‘s release—as well as another super-top-secret music project—I plan to go live with a completely renovated TZ.com before year’s end.


Like the aforementioned projects, building a website is also a collaboration. As such, I’ve been in collusion with a batch of fellow artists on a series of photo shoots to be featured within the new web pages. Sticking with the six-legged motif of my present site, I’ve already procured a giant cockroach raft, erected a small cockroach statue, and had a latex cockroach mask sculpted for the adventure.

Below is a sneak-peek from a noir-inspired photo series for the impending website. The list of cockroach conspirators for the shoot includes model Snow Mercy as the cockroach muse goddess, silicon roach head by George Frangadakis, Andrew Freeman, and Jesse Galvan of Immortal Masks, and photography by Hannah Havok of Pocket Watch Photo Emporium. Additional antenna aid came by way of a location provided by composer and performer Joseph Bishara, and props courtesy of Nathan Haskell of The Hand Prop Room. Thank you, all, for lending your talents, tools, and tarsi.


Everyone else, be sure to “like” my artist page on Facebook, as I’ll be revealing more images from the noir shoot there soon.

Read more | Comments (6) | Sep 23, 2014

The Fable of The Cockroach, The Grasshopper, & The Devil

After a delirium-inducing night shoot on The Devil’s Carnival 2: Alleluia, where production raced against the slow-rising sun to complete the day’s final shots, I crept home, bleary-eyed, to a horror show happening in the aquarium where I keep my pet cockroaches: the eldest female was in the throes of delivering a clump of stillborn babies.


Madagascan hissing cockroaches have live births, and have them often. I’ve kept hissers as pets for years and throughout that time have watched the population inside Tank Shawshank ebb and flow. I’d never witnessed the birthing process until that fateful morning, however, just the crawling, hissing aftermath (incidentally, groups of roaches are unfairly labeled “intrusions” as opposed to the friendlier handles bequeathed groups of less-vilified species, like “litters” or “colonies”).

After carrying an egg—an ootheca—inside them for roughly two months, a female hisser goes into labor, pushing out the shell of the egg, followed by a wriggling bundle of thirty-plus sunflower seed-sized babies, called nymphs. Except for the black of their pinpoint eyes, the nymphs enter the world a creamy white. In the hours following birth, however, their ivory shells and antennae gradually turn a familiar cockroach brown.

The Molting Comic_Nymphs

It’s hard to know what labor is like for a roach, but, like with most she-creatures, the experience looks painful and exhausting, and the scene I came home to after that all-night film shoot was no exception.

It was dawn, and even though every muscle and neuron of my being was ready to collapse from work weariness, I couldn’t look away from the unjust plight of this would-be mother, fighting to create lives that never had a fighting chance. The agonizing minutes dragged as I watched her twist and heave behind the aquarium glass, slowly ejecting what looked like an accordion of dried, dead rice kernels. The gruesome, protracted experience ended with the drained mama heavily eating what she could of her failed nativity, before limping away to hide—and, presumably, sleep—beneath a shelter of egg carton scraps and sod.

The Molting Comic_Cannibals

With hissing roach labors producing thirty to sixty offspring at a time, it’s a matter of routine that each successful birth produces a handful of birth defects—gimp nymphs and roach runts that don’t survive their first molts—so perhaps botched labors are also par for the cockroach course.

I’ve had this particular mother bug for years, and my gut is that her ineffective labor was the result of her being past her reproductive age, but it just as easily could’ve been caused by other natural phenomenon. For example, I’ve noticed that hissers seem very susceptible to temperature, especially when molting. Maybe the climate was wrong for life that direful morning. To that end, the eating of dead offspring, although outwardly gruesome, probably also has natural advantages for roach mums. Maybe they do this to keep their nymph nests hidden from predators. Or maybe they simply need to replenish the calories exerted during labor. Whatever the natural cause, my artist brain saw the behavior in more poetic terms: I imagined her eating her dead nymphs to hide her shame and the evidence of her creative failure… and, as such, sympathized.

The Molting Comic_Mama

I suppose the reason my tired eyes couldn’t turn from the miniature birth/death/cannibal scene on that sleepless morn—and why I still haven’t thrown out the nymph remains—is I felt/feel a connection between the beautiful disaster that was happening inside the roach tank and my own plight, struggling to bring TDC 2 to life.


The carnival-cockroach connections were not just emotional ones; in the TDC universe, the character of God is a craftsman who’s routinely frustrated by, and dismissive of, his defective creations. The string of baby cockroach corpses snaking bloodlessly from the womb of their heaving mother, mirrored some of God’s creative malfunctions featured in our screenplay.

Like the God of our tale (and my bereaved Blattaria mother), The Devil’s Carnival has also overcome its share of malfunctions and mutations. The project is fast approaching its five year mark… and its fight for life continues.

In June, I blogged about the drawn-out, complicated pregnancy phase of TDC 2. The birthing difficulties shared in that blog have unfortunately continued beyond the project’s green-lighting, onto set, and will undoubtably wriggle, kick, and bite for many months to come as we squeeze against birth pangs and splash through slippery afterbirth on the road to delivering our own crawling, hissing intrusion.


In spite of difficulties, on Sunday, August 24th, we wrapped principal photography on TDC 2—another all-nighter where we hustled to beat the inevitable daylight. The shoot, like all creative efforts, was unreasonable, but the unreasonable quest did not begin there.

Years ago, director Darren Lynn Bousman, co-composer Saar Hendelman, and I made a pact to fight against probability and create something that in survival terms was completely unnecessary: art. More specifically: cult musical films. Our dedication to this irrational cause inspired others to join our carnival covenant, like producers Sean E. Demott, Chris Bonifay, and executive producer Brian Perera. These stalwart souls, in turn, inspired others to be a part of the illogical journey—and then others still—until we were a fully-staffed, functioning film production.


Like our creative pursuit, production was also unreasonable. We had fifteen days—reduced to fourteen—to shoot a feature-length movie musical. Due to financial restrictions, the twenty-two musical selections that Saar and I penned for the episode were reduced to fifteen, and, due to cast availability and shrinking location options, scenes had to be rewritten on an almost daily basis throughout production. Because of these challenges, there were moments where I felt like the devil had leapt from the pages of the script onto my shoulder to reasonably whisper, “Give up.”

In spite of daily chaos, we battled through devils, exhaustion, and frustration to keep our vision and sanity intact, and, in the end, succeeded. Due to the vast and diverse talents of our cast and crew, we captured something beautiful and bizarre through the camera lens that promises to exceed the quality and scale of our past collaborative endeavors. There were even rare moments during our delirious production where I was so inspired by what was happening on set, that I modified story elements to serve those slivers of unpredicted magic.


On the last day of filming, the insect poetry that began with a cockroach miscarriage came full circle: after five hours of being glued to a make-up chair to visually become the character of Lucifer, I was stewing at a table, under the open sky, frustrated by prosthetic malfunctions, when a lone grasshopper came along to befriend me.

For over ten minutes, the green stranger perched on my red, be-clawed hands and preened itself. Due to the hopping nature of this species’ namesake, I’d never before had the opportunity to examine the grace and complexity of a grasshopper up close. In dance-like motions, the insect brought its long, flexible legs and antennae, one-by-one, to its mandibles to groom. I could have watched this insect ballet until the sun rose, but had to eventually brush it from my knuckles as I was called back to set.


The moral of the fable of The Cockroach, The Grasshopper, and The Devil: good, bad, or ugly, I wouldn’t trade these experiences for the world. A heartfelt thank you to everyone who helped to make TDC 2 a reality. I’m excited and anxious to share with you the final product. Always Alleluia!

Read more | Comments (14) | Sep 2, 2014