I should have written this blog a year ago. But a combination of exhaustion, misplaced diplomacy and naïve hopefulness brought out the coward in me. I’m ashamed to admit that for the past twelve months, I—along with some close friends and colleagues—have kept silent about a really unfair situation surrounding a very near and dear project. Since you’re reading this blog, chances are that the project in question is special to you as well. It’s much too little, too late, but I want to take this moment to share my perspective on a very unfortunate situation.
If you follow my work as an artist, you’ve probably noticed that there hasn’t been much in the way of recent public mentions about my latest musical movie, Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival. Not from me. Not from the core team behind the project. And not for some time. There was a lot of hype leading-up to the film’s completion and subsequent promotional tour, yet the actual public release has been rather hushed. There are reasons behind this lackluster launch, and those reasons have nothing to do with a loss of love for the project or amazing fans who have been so supportive over the years.
Although not always effective (or wise), I’ve routinely used this online journal to speak candidly about the hardships of independent filmmaking and the struggles inherent to the artistic process. At times, I’m sure my written ramblings have come across as whiny, self-centered and ungrateful, but I’ve always tried to be honest and (hopefully) engaging.
I’ve kept the TZ blog for just shy of ten years now. Over that near-decade, I’ve written about many fun things, but have also shared creative failures, personal humiliations, and the occasional bewilderment (like the absurdity of plot similarities between Universal Picture’s Repo Men (2010) and my debut musical film, Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)). Fans seemed to enjoy this frankness of blog, and I’ve enjoyed the kind comments and words of encouragement from friends and strangers all over the world here.
Over this last year, however, in regards to Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival, I closed off. Turned yellow. Went Nancy. Even though my creative energies are now boldly directed at a new work, the carnival-striped elephant has never left the room. My silence on the subject was wimpy, and it was unfair. Unfair to those whose who were hurt by the situation, including some of you.
Here’s what happened:
It was a year ago this month that a ragtag group of dedicated souls and I boarded a Sprinter van to travel across the country – and parts of Canada – on the Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival film tour. I wrote the screenplay for Alleluia!, which was the sequel to 2012’s The Devil’s Carnival, played the title character in both movies, and spent the better part of five years developing, executing and sharing the end results with anyone who was kind enough to allow it.
This half-decade obsession was born and fueled out of passion and a philosophy that if a handful of likeminded artists banded together to create dark musical films that were humble-in-budget-but-outrageous-in-style, and were tailored to a rad likeminded fanbase, that the enterprise could be self-sustaining and ongoing. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way this vision was corrupted.
Before boarding that Sprinter van last August, Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival was already fatigued. The project had taken two years longer than anticipated to get off the ground, and the production went way over budget. To help pay for these overages, the creative side of team Carnival, including yours truly, had to make a series of concessions that resulted in a diminished control of the film and brand.
We weren’t the only ones who stepped up to the plate. There were others who came forward with funds, and more, in order to make sure that the film got finished. As you can imagine, the ongoing contract amendments and up-against-the-wall decisions that we were having to make—often times in the middle of filming—were painful. For me, the situation felt especially unjust because I had nothing to do with the film’s financial overages. But like everyone else, I wanted to see the movie come out and succeed, so I took the situation in stride. Moreover, the idea of disappointing the loyal fanbase that had waited patiently for years to view Alleluia!, seemed unbearable.
In spite of our fatigue, The Alleluia Road Tour started off well, but illogical tour routing, poor ground management and worse communication made the adventure more difficult and wasteful than it needed to be. We grinned and bore it because we were excited to be sharing our movie nightly with the fans for whom it was made. Regrettably, mid-way through the tour, the brittle glue that was holding our limping caravan together began bursting at the seams. Those inside of the tour van—most of whom had absolutely nothing to do with the infrastructure of the Carnival brand—were struck with the fallout of a whole lot of bad business. To say that the work environment became a hostile one would be an understatement.
While traveling between cities to try and do our jobs, those in the tour van were confronted with a hailstorm of litigious, bullying and accusatory emails. Grotesque lawyers browbeat and name-called. The salaries of our tour staff were held as ransom. Credit cards that were relied on to book hotels and put gas in the van stopped working, or were cancelled. And morale around the project nosedived.
The tour crew struggled to keep the ship on course. Enduring insults and empty legal threats, we continued nightly to show up at venues and smile as if everything was okay in front of audiences who paid good money to experience and support our film. We didn’t want to disappoint them. Moreover, we all believed that reason would prevail and that the behind-the-scenes of Alleluia! would somehow snap back into place. We were wrong.
In the end, relationships on the project were ruined, workers were stiffed, and two scheduled shows were made to be cancelled without any notice or honest public explanation. At the time, due to the oppressively litigious atmosphere, everyone kept silent about what was going on for fear of legal retribution. Well, it’s been a year and wrongs were never made right, nor even acknowledged. It’s shameful. And I’m ashamed for not speaking up sooner.
Since the tour, I’ve been kept out of the loop of most of the business of Alleluia! and Carnival. I still haven’t even received a copy of the Alleluia! DVD. But even after the unfair way that everything went down, I still love the films—as I hope audiences do, and will continue to do so—and I don’t regret the experiences with the projects. It’s also a relief to come clean about a sore that’s been festering for too long on the back of a project that I still regard as my baby.
All of this may sound like the coffin nail for The Devil’s Carnival. It may be. But I hope not. Stranger challenges than ours have been healed with time. Who knows? Maybe this blog will help shove the conversation towards one that’s a little more honest. Or maybe it’ll just encourage more shoving.
Speaking of leaf-turning, I turned 40 last month. As if to herald this apocalyptic milestone, a devastating wildfire struck the hills about thirty miles north of my Los Angeles apartment. It turned the sky and pavement red on the morning of the anniversary of my birth. Me thinks it’s time for a change.
In fire and in ash, I want to take this moment to invite you to join me on a new journey. It’s a different kind of tour, and it’s happening this fall. There will be no bullshit. No drama. No lies. No cancelled dates without explanation. Just a great fucking show put on by good fucking people whose work you’ve enjoyed in the past.
The project is called American Murder Song. It’s a collection of original murder ballads set in 1816 America by Saar Hendelman, TDC‘s co-composer, and I. It includes badass historical fashion, bloody folktales, and a cast of murderesses and cutthroats played by a sick lineup of rock stars and cult personalities.
Over the course of five weeks, Saar and l will be bringing our version of a wake to thirty American cities. So come wake the dead, and the living, with us. We’ll be singing live every night, and it’s an opportunity to dress up and act a fool with all of us likeminded weirdos. It’s not a funeral, it’s a wake.
Get your tickets for The American Wake Tour: http://americanmurdersong.com/gettickets.