Friday, December 17, 2010

Tales from the set.

Before I was an EMT, before I was a sexblogger, but considerably after I was a pervert, I spent several months working as propmaster and assistant art director on an independent horror film. A very independent horror film. (Because I'm about to dish dirt, some of which may be of dubious veracity, and because my real name and the real names of the dirted are in the credits, I can't post the title. Just think of it as Evil Dead, only without the breakout success or the Bruce Campbell.)


It was shot in northern Washington State, up near the Canadian border. Two of the producers, a couple with Actual Hollywood Experience, housed me in their guest room and took me under their wing as a sort of surrogate daughter--a sometimes cluelessly awkward daughter, but a dreadfully earnest and energetic worker with an almost puppylike devotion to my surrogate producer-parents.

The other producer--let's say "Muffy"--was woman with extremely rich parents whom she still lived with, and it was their money she put into the project. She even made her mom cook most of the "catering" for the crew. (At other times, we were fed by a real catering company--which gave us the leftovers from various weddings and events.) She also cast herself as the female lead, and pushed for the script to be the Muffy Story Featuring Muffy.

Other characters on the film:
-The director, who used a pseudonym comparable to "Robert Nightshade" and insisted that it be used exclusively on the set, although his actual name was more like Bobby Shmuckler. He was most notorious for asking the camera operator to widen out a bit on a bikini shoot, because, well, "Uncle Bobby likes the feet." He was also notorious for... I'll get to that.
-A Big Name Hollywood Actor from a very famous TV series who made our lives hell by being usually stoned, sometimes drunk, and constantly obnoxious. No-name community theater actors would painfully and precisely soldier through take after take until he finally deigned to say something sort of close to his lines. Midway through the production he unexpectedly shaved his head, which created a serious continuity problem for us. We solved it by painting his head brown.
-An endless supply of identical blonde Canadian model-actress-whatevers, who showed up, cried about having to do a nude scene, did a nude scene, died, and went back to Canada.
-Our "stunt coordinator," who ended up doing more security and general grunt work than stunts, and was a Special Ops veteran and Hell's Angel (I'm still fairly convinced he really was both) who had a lot of stories about killing people. Once we were startled by a sudden noise outside, and he leapt to the window, literally growling and pacing like an animal.


Fully aware that he had neither a great story nor lush visuals to sell, Bobby Schmuckler wrote in plenty of lush visuals of the other kind. There were a lot of nude scenes on the film. On one of them, we were between shots and the Canadian model-actress-whatever was wandering around in that fluffy white bathrobe that signifies "nude scene" in the movie world.

We were shooting in an actual abandoned asylum. A small corner of it had been niced up and secured for production purposes, but the rest of this vast building was empty and crumbling. Excursions through it always brought up surprises--a huge number of dead cats (one with three eyes), an operating room where lobotomies were performed, squatter nests, places where the walls were entirely broken through and plants grew into the building, and for some reason, one room with a giant knee-deep pile of broken glass. It was also so thoroughly, so blatantly haunted as to make me believe in haunting. But although this building was abandoned, two other facilities were still active on the campus: a center for troubled youth, and a Level 3 sex offender facility.

During filming, one of the sex offenders snuck into the facility kitchen, covered himself entirely in aluminum foil, and escaped. He was later caught on the other side of our set, still foil-wrapped for freshness. Not one of us had noticed him.

Anyway. Back to this nude scene. The lights for the next shot were taking a while to set up, and the model-actress-whatever wandered off in her bathrobe. She went to the fence of the sex-offender facility, where the guys were out in the yard, and gave them all an eyeful.

And that's how our movie production caused a prison riot.

The model-actress-whatever was sent back to Canada and our makeup artist was recast in the part.


As propmaster, I had many... unique... tasks on the film. One of my favorite was being asked to craft a realistic poop ("get me some Taco Bell and I'll craft that for ya"), then being asked to make it edible. Tootsie Rolls and some patient, truly loving sculpting saved the day.

There was also the problem of a tunnel that was supposed to be yards and yards long, but was, in reality, maybe fifteen feet. We put up pipes in the background and rearranged them for each shot, so the actress ran past the same wall with different pipes three or four times. It kinda worked.

Our best props failure came when it was time to kill off one of our favorite actors, a local theater guy who'd always been exceptionally helpful and decent to the crew. As our twisted way of giving him a good sendoff, we resolved to give him the messiest, nastiest death in the movie. We decided to use a cannister of compressed air and literally gallons of fake blood to create a spectacular arterial spray. On the second try, the rig worked perfectly and the spray was enormous, ceiling-staining, red-raining, beautiful.

On the first try, during testing out in the parking lot, we over-pressurized the cannister and it exploded. No one was seriously injured, but boy, did it look bad.


Another casting problem concerned the main monster of the movie, an evil female ghost. Our first actress disappeared. Our second actress drunkenly climbed a lamppost and swung from the top, then disappeared. (I mean, not immediately. But like the next day.) Our third actress disappeared. At his wits' end, or maybe just seizing the moment, Bobby Schmuckler decided to cast the only performer he could really rely on: himself.

He took this role very seriously. He got fitted for a bra. Although the ghost only appears in shadows and flashes and wears a floor-length dress anyway, he demanded the makeup girl shave his entire body. (They later ended up dating.) With a flowing wig, ruby red lips and pale cheeks, and long acrylic fingernails, he made a darling ghost. Although it could be hard to take him seriously when he directed in costume.


Places we set off fire alarms on this movie: the asylum, the public library, the best hotel in town at midnight, and the producer's house. But the only one that we actually set on fire was the asylum. It didn't burn down or anything. It was just, you know, a little bit on fire.


Amazingly, the movie was finished and distributed and I now own the DVD. Muffy took over the editing (via the editor's penis, you heard it here, folks) and it was made into the Muffy Story Featuring Muffy, but there's still plenty of drag-monster action, Canadian titties, and for me, so many happy and strange memories. It's kind of a terrible and nonsensical movie, but even to an outsider it has that wild, improvised, 3 AM, let's-put-on-a-show spirit in it, and I love it.


  1. OMG, this is a fantastic story! If we guess the obnoxious stoned TV actor, will you give us some kind of sign? I'm going to start off with...Michael Richards!

  2. Ohmygod, Holly, pluh-leeeze let us see it? Even if its only in clips or something? Pretty please with a cherry on top? I would kill (ha) to see this glorious mess of a film.

  3. Okay... I really don't want to post identifying details here because of Google concerns, but if you're really curious you could always try

  4. What the heck, I just ordered the DVD.

  5. Wow. I never had you pegged for being such a tease! ;)

  6. Uh, hi. Sometime lurker, first time poster here. Out of curiosity, the hospital/asylum would not have happened to be Northern State hospital, would it? Around Sedro-Woolley, Washington? (If this is better done through e-mail, that's cool.)

  7. Greyfox - I guess there aren't that many giant abandoned mental hospitals in northern Washington, are there? Yeah, that's the one.

  8. There's really nothing like an abandoned mental hospital for generating eerie feelings, is there? There's a little movie called Session 9 (2001) set in the abandoned Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts which scares me worse than many higher-budgeted, slicker horror films.

  9. I too am curious about the film!

    And to Dr. Faustus - I saw Session 9 this past summer!

  10. Haha, brilliant! :3 I'm not usually a fan of terrible horror films, but this account has definitely piqued my interest... *knows which film you're talking about, and goes to find it*

  11. Heh, the only reason I ask is because I went to the Job Corps near there. (It's not just for 'troubled' youth, although you'd be forgiven for thinking so.)

  12. Great story.

    As a theatre tech, the whole thing has a sort of ghoulish appeal, much like a natural disaster, completely separate from the horror and creepy location. Sounds like the sort of production that starts or confirms the life-long drinking and smoking habit typical of my trade.

    It all sounds so incredibly familiar!