Thanks to the incredible access and audience that the Internet provides, independent creative minds are getting a better chance at sharing some really cool ideas. Point in case is a recent web series developed by web designer and horror blogger Bryan White of Cinema Suicide and jack of all trades John Herman called How to Survive the Strange.Thank you for doing this interview, Bryan and John. Can you give us a little background on yourselves. How were you two first introduced?
The series, which premiered on Shortstream TV (click to view Episode One) at the stroke of midnight, is described by the duo as a PBS-style "This Old House" meets a zombie apocalypse survival guide in which Bryan plays a Bob Vila-type host whose DIY approach to monster slaying is reminiscent of self-aware genre films such as Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Evil Dead and Scream. The guys were kind enough to take some time to answer a few questions about their new project and offer words of wisdom for the horror handyman in all of us.
Bryan: I've been running the Cinema Suicide blog since June of 2007. In 2008 I started going to these monthly meetups called The New Hampshire Media Makers that John hosted. It was a place for web-based creatives to get together, network, collaborate and self-promote. John was promoting a web series, his second, I think, called Gravityland at the time and I was dying to get in on one of his productions since they seemed to have a pretty good time.
John: I host a meet-up for artists and writers. The people that show up are often interested in connecting, sharing ideas, and potentially collaborating. Bryan attended the first meet-up two years ago. We were bound to work together eventually, and it is really exciting that the product of our working together has evolved into something so incredibly fun.
Do you consider yourselves artists, bloggers, filmmakers, or is there any difference in this age of new media?
B: I'm a blogger, first and foremost. I'm known mostly for Cinema Suicide but it was inevitable that I kicked it up a notch and some point. I'd been flirting with podcasting but just about every horror movie fan has a dream of making their own movies and I'd been fantasizing about that for years. There's some crossover, I think. The internet as the new medium has been empowering people to experiment and cross all manner of storytelling and art by whatever means people have available to them. You're seeing more and more bloggers picking up cameras and turning their writing into videos, artists and turning their static work into video work and utilizing Youtube and Vimeo to hit wider audiences and try new things. It's really amazing.
J: I usually call myself an artist to cut through the confusion. A lot of the projects I work on are cross-media endeavors. They incorporate writing, film, music, theater, etc. I am probably most widely known as a web series producer. I started with a video blog back in 2006. Afterward I made an interactive soap opera that encouraged viewers to get involved in naming characters, choosing plot lines, etc. I also worked on a surreal show about three friend with gigantic food items for heads. Now I direct people to throw fake blood on each other, so clearly this new show is a natural progression from my other work.
How did the concept for How to Survive the Strange first come about and what advantage does a web-based format offer?
B: I was approached back in September by one of the bigger home video distributors to contribute a series of video blogs for a new site they were launching to promote their lineup of horror DVDs. At first I balked and didn't think I had anything to offer and no real experience with video production but they came back to me and really pressed the issue and the idea came to me to produce something entirely original. This website was expecting me to interview Tom Savini at some convention or do video reviews of horror movies from my living room but I wanted to stretch it and try something they wouldn't be expecting and that's when I hit up John since I figured he'd be up for it and I'd been chomping at the bit to work on something with him.
We both had ideas about what to do. I had an old script that I'd written for a short film that I wanted to transform into a series of web shorts. It plays out like Dawn of the Dead meets a Ted Nugent hunting video. Sort of a gun nut's guide to surviving the zombie apocalypse hosted by the last guy on Earth you wanted to trust with your life. I gave John the lowdown and we got together one morning for coffee and by noon we had a plan and a few short scripts to use as our pitch using pieces of my idea and John's ideas.
The site liked the pitch but put a really tight deadline on us that we couldn't meet. I also started to get suspicious by some of the language they used in the agreement that made it unclear who actually owned the videos we produced and in the end it seemed like they offered us no real incentive to produce anything for them. We were essentially providing them with free site content without getting much in return and I wasn't really cool with that, so I blew them off and John and I continued to work on this on our own. We live in New England, though, so the project went on hiatus for a few months while the weather turned nasty on us and back in March we started back up with it.
The benefit of working with web video is that we're not tied down to anyone's schedule and could go at our own pace. We don't need to budget the project. We answer to no one but ourselves and with this relaxed pace we're able to turn out the product that we want on our terms. Means of distribution were practically pounding on our door since the medium is so new and everyone wants original content that's going to appeal to a wide audience and right now everyone loves a good horror comedy with zombies.
J: Bryan was approached by a major horror film distributor to provide
video content for their website. Bryan approached me, because I am a web video producer. We came up with an awesome idea. The ultimate contract we were offered ended up being pretty bad. After a few months of brooding, we decided to make the show ourselves. It is the best decision we've made yet.
The web format has every advantage. We have the opportunity to engage with a global audience on our own terms. We make or break our own opportunities for success. Web video production is a lesson in marketing as much as it is a creative outlet for filmmakers.
What are your plans for distribution (DailyMotion, YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter, etc)?
B: The production manager on the project, Dan Freund, runs an internet "tv station" called Shortstream.tv which is based on the Ustream technology.
J: Our videos will be on every video host. We will use TubeMogul to distribute the show as far and wide as we can. We have a community fostered on Facebook and Twitter. They have been following the show's creation from day one. I feel like we have a big supportive family ready to help us spread the word. We have a blog at howtosurvivethestrange.com We have a community driven site called Shortstream.tv that will help us promote the show regionally.
What is a typical day on the set like?
B: We sort of wing it. We have to corral the cast. John is directing so he's getting everyone prepped for the shots. If I'm not obsessing over my lines since I'm the host of the show, I'm messing around with whatever insane device I've invented to deliver the bloody effects. I built this thing called the blood hose that is a pressure canister I bought on the cheap at Lowe's connected to some crazy plumbing bits and valves and a ten foot length of tubing that I can snake up through an actor's clothing. We were all pretty excited about this thing since early tests were awesome. We got one take off, a vampire neck bite that erupted in a geyser of blood but I pumped the canister too hard and the pressure blew a seal on the pump that sent our fake blood flying back up at me. We only got one use out of it. Luckily it's cheap as hell to build another one.
We had another shoot, one involving zombies and it brought pretty much the entire neighborhood out to watch. So we had all these people in messed up zombie costumes that they all made themselves milling around the driveway and all these little kids and their parents watching them shamble toward this guy who's just trying to get into his car and go to work or something. It was a riot. Some cops saw us shooting and took a couple of slow drive bys to see what we were up to.
J: Let's be honest. Every day on the set has been completely ridiculous.
I blame the scripts Bryan and I have written, and it's only going to get stranger. We've had to wrangle zombies, squirt blood in people's faces, and juggle a lot of dry ice. As director, I have to keep a clear method in all the madness. Beyond the special effects, we've been working with a fairly large cast too. I sometimes feel like a circus ring leader more than a film director. It is all pretty fun. We laugh a lot on set.
When writing a script, how do you manage the balance between comedy and horror? How important is this balance to you?
B: For me, there wasn't much of a balance. I was relying on ridiculous situations and primarily comedy in a horror setting to get me through. We play on nothing but recognizable tropes like monster movies and slashers but the focus is on the laughs. My scripts are light on talking and heavy on Evil Dead style explosive violence. It sounds nasty, but it's actually more like Loony Toons than Saw. People get hacked to bits but it's all flying body parts and absurd amounts of blood. There are no real scares or spooks. It's all excessive and ridiculous.
J: Once we have the initial idea, the script seems to come easily. We
have a specific tone that viewers are really going to dig. I find the concept both simple and off the wall. And it is infectiously creative. When people see the show, I bet they're going to immediately start offering their own ideas for episodes.
What is your favorite horror film and why?
B: Tough call.
People are always expecting me to surprise them but my favorite horror movies are actually old classics that everyone loves. I can watch the original three Romero zombie movies over and over and never tire of them. I'm a huge fan of Karloff and Lugosi so the original Universal Dracula and Frankenstein have a special place in my heart. I'm in love with Vincent Price and can't get enough of The Raven, even though it's not exactly a horror movie. Recently I fell in love with Trick 'R Treat.
J: Yikes. Bryan is the expert here. I think I have spent much of my life yearning for a movie to truly give me a scare. Unfortunately the more work you do behind the camera, the harder it is to let a movie affect you. I would love some suggestions from your readers. Scare me!
Which leaves a worse scab: a vampire bite, werewolf bite or zombie bite?
B: Vampire bites heal pretty much immediately. That is, if you happen to make the blood exchange and become one. Otherwise it's just a couple of little marks on the neck or wrist. Werewolves tend to rip and tear so there's not much of a scab if you happen to fall victim to one. Most likely you'll wind up scattered all over the forest floor. Zombie bites infect almost immediately. They get all nasty, there's gangrene and not long after you're dead... sort of. So I guess the answer is none of the above since each one tends to be nasty but never really gets a chance to dry into some kind of scab.
J: Vampire's produce a lot of blood, but their bites are clean. Zombies tear. It is horrible. As you see in our first episode, they are incredibly messy. As for werewolves, I am not sure. We haven't written a werewolf episode yet. Bryan? We have another episode to write.
Bryan, tell us about your blog, what made you start Cinema Suicide?
B: I'm a web developer, professionally. A friend at work thought it was strange that I didn't have some kind of personal site and talked me into starting up a Wordpress blog. I would look around at the big horror sites and fan sites and wonder what I possibly had to say that they hadn't already but I took the plunge anyway. My wife was pregnant with our daughter at the time so I wasn't going out or doing anything at the time. She'd fall asleep on the couch and I'd wind up watching a couple of movies nightly. It just sort of made sense. I was watching enough aand I had tons of collected knowledge about horror, exploitation, cult, kung fu, eurocrime, you name it, so I just started writing about it. I would praise really terrible movies as I feel like even the dogs have something to like about them. It didn't take long to catch on, either. I networked with other bloggers and my name got out there. Next thing I know I'm in The League of Tana Tea Drinkers and I've been nominated twice for a Rondo alongside horror blogging giants like Tim Lucas (Video Watchblog) and Brian Solomon (Vault of Horror).
I'm just a fan with a big mouth. I love to read my own writing which may or may not be a good thing.
What are some of the blogs you read on a regular basis?
The Vault of Horror: http://thevaultofhorror.blogspot.com/
Day of the Woman: http://dayofwoman.blogspot.com/
Lost Highway: http://www.the-losthighway.com/
Love Train For The Tenebrous Empire: http://tenebrouskate.blogspot.com/
John, you've had a part in developing several web series over the years. Which one has been your favorite and why?
J: Honestly I am not being political here, but my favorite web series has always been the one I am working on at the moment. I love what we are doing with How to Survive the Strange. I really think people are going
to love it.
How can people learn more about How to Survive the Strange?
J: Join us at HowToSurviveTheStrange.com There you'll find the link to our fan page on Facebook and links to #thestrange hashtag on Twitter. And don't be afraid to say hi! Soon we'll have contests, live web casts with the cast and crew, and more.
B: And there's always Cinema Suicide, as well.
This is my favorite part: what's the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid?
B: Remarkably, I wasn't a very strange kid but I was totally fascinated by morbid stuff. My mom told me about living in a haunted house in Marblehead, Massachusetts before I was born and I was hooked. I would read all these ghost stories, folklore and actual accounts of university paranormal investigators and willfully scare the crap out of myself. At 8 years old I'm this thrill junkie who gets a kick out of the paranormal. I wanted so badly to live in a haunted house and we moved around a bit. So every time we'd move into this place I'd be praying that this time I'd be woken up in the middle of the night by spooky sounds or lights or something.
Then my luck caught up with me and it turns out that living in a haunted house isn't really all it's cracked up to be. But that's another story, entirely.
J: I always made movies. I can remember dressing up my grandparents in costumes. I made a time travel movie staring my brother as a boy from the future, my grandmother as a time traveling school teacher, and my grandfather as Davy Crockett. I basically am doing the same work except for a global audience. Thank you, Internet.
PHOTO CREDITS: The photos included in this article are courtesy of Brian Turnbull. For more of Turnbull's work, including photos of How to Survive the Strange be sure to check him out on Flickr.