Assignment: Evil (Dead – The Musical)

As I mentioned last week in Getting your foot in the door I’ve been pushing for more creative opportunity with Red Branch Theatre Company. Back in the early Spring I started talking to them about creating new photography for their Heathers: The Musical production.

Unfortunately, scheduling and budget didn’t work out for that and we decided we would make something happen for Evil Dead: The Musical opening in October.

While not really a horror fan, I love the comedic horror of the original Evil Dead movies. I wanted the shoot to honor those movies and their original posters.







As is typical with this kind of collaborative effort, you start with some pretty grandiose ideas and the reality of coordinating schedules, location and (yes, again) budget quickly bring you down to earth.

I had hoped to spend the time scouting looking for an actual cabin in the woods that we could shoot at. We did drive around Howard County a bit looking for a suitably creepy spot.

The location was actually in a neighborhood and the, apparently, abandoned house might have been an opportunity for getting arrested for trespassing more than a photo op.

The day before we were scheduled to shoot, I scouted around the theatre. When I saw there was one of Columbia’s ubiquitous path’s leading into the woods down the street

I decided to explore back in the woods there, not even a quarter mile from the theatre… and look what I found. A creepy old fence in the middle of the woods. Not a cabin, but decent enough window dressing.





So, we now had a location and we just needed to get our models.

Originally, RBTC production staff had thought about providing me with one or two leads for the shoot. In the end they provided me with the entire cast and took the hit in the rehearsal schedule, which was amazing. We also got the services of their makeup artist, Hannah Fogler, and their costume designer, Andrew Malone, to make the Deadites look awesome for the shoot. My assistant, Allie Press, who is also a trained makeup artist helped Hannah get through the large number of cast members in a timely manner.





While the cast was getting made up, I sacrificed my assistant to that process and went to set up lighting in the woods. It was my hope that by shoot time, around 7pm, it would be cool in the woods. However, this was still early September in Maryland. It was hot and ridiculously humid. You wouldn’t know it by how fantastic the cast looked or behaved.

Photo credit: Allie Press

Lighting was an interesting affair and there was a bit of trial and error getting our setup. My concerns were having enough light from the front so I could see good detail in the actors’ faces, so I used my pretty powerful Godox AD360II with a small Godox portable Octabox as my key light and a Godox Ving V860 with a shoot through umbrella for fill. This still left the need to provide some light to separate the subjects from the background. This was accomplished by two more speedlights, one back about 20 feet shooting directly at the back of the actors and one off camera left.

Photo Credit: Allie Press

This didn’t work out as well as I would have liked. The Deadites behind Ash were kind of lost in shadow. So, I took the mid-light and modded it with the Magsphere from MagnetMod. This was placed behind Ash in the midst of the Deadites coming behind him.

Photo Credit: Allie Press

In the end, I’m really happy with how the images turned out. The cast completely got what we were going for. A little post-processing and I think we did credit to the original movie images.

In order to get the look I wanted, I added a ton of local contrast, blue to the background and magenta to the highlights. Here, you can see the before/after:

As always, I want to thank the folks at Red Branch for their trust in me and their enthusiasm for creating art of so many flavors. Thank you to Jenny Male, the director, for giving up some very precious rehearsal time and Dana Medford, stage manager, for making this all come together. This cast was great fun to work with an I think you are going to love their take on Evil Dead. Get out and support local theatre!


Movie Review: Religulous

Bill Maher knows he’s right about religion.  He does.  He knows that the world would have a net improvement if we scraped off the superstition-based philosophies that hold sway in society.  It’s just that he sometimes becomes less effective at selling it when he shows that and this movie is, above all else, about marketing that idea.

Truth be told, I agree with him in principle.  The question is not whether he’s right, though, it is whether he created an effective and entertaining vehicle to market the fact.

My wife, and I, went to see Bill Maher’s new movie Religulous on opening day.  This is particularly interesting because it was her idea and she’s Catholic.  It was an early show, so we didn’t expect the attendence to be high, it wasn’t.  There were about a dozen people in the most popular multiplex in town.  That was OK.   My disappointment?  No protesters.  I really wanted them.  Maybe when they make a movie called “All Religions are Stupid and Should be Abolished”  I’ll get my protesters.

So, you know what you’re going to get, right?   Bill Maher making faith and people of faith look silly.  Yes and no.

The movie is a mix of interviews and ruminations.  All of it is peppered with movie clips that are, at best, hilarious.  Sometimes the clips are a little too biting, too denigrating.  Enough to make an avowed rationalist cringe a bit.

Where did Maher go to ask questions about religion?  Where didn’t he go?  Israel, Rome, England, The Netherlands, The South and Washington D.C.   He visited a trucker church, a mosque, the Vatican and a Jesus theme park.  He spoke to priests, ministers, lay people, Jesus impersonators and Jesus (well, he thought he was Jesus).

We was definitely most effective when he was questioning sincerely and listening to the answers.  I think he found the men at the trucker church earnest and endearing. He treated them well and got great stuff in return.   His interview with Senator Mark Pryor from Arkansas was excellent, he let Senator Pryor express his own views.  (He seemed like an decent guy, who just bought the wrong bill of goods.)

Not so effective was his time with an anti-zionist Jew who met with Ahmedinijad and was in clips hugging the nutty Iranian President.  I was left feeling there was a great deal to the interview we didn’t see.  Certainly, there wasn’t enough to justify Maher’s curt reaction to him.  This was one of the segments where, even if you agress with Maher, you’re left feeling like he was acting a bit dick-ish.

There were some very funny subtitles during other interviews which reminded me of “The Word” segment from The Colbert Report.  Those were funny and informative.  Very effective.

Surprisingly, other than not allowing him an official interview in the Vatican, the Catholics came of pretty well.  This might be due to Maher’s Catholic upbringing which was discussed in personal reminiscences with his mother and sister.  Father Coyne, former head of the Vatican observatory, was typically eloquent, knowlegable and reasonable.  Also, there was a very amusing and liberal priest who was interviewed outside the Vatican.  Clearly, he didn’t represent the Vatican’s policies, but he was funny.

Maher closing argument was well thought out and delivered poignantly.  Punctuated with imagery of violence, it was effective and moving.  I thought it was perfect.

So, how was Religulous?  It was good.  It could have been great.  Bill Maher is funny and he has a clear message to deliver.  It is mostly well delivered.  Unfortunately, it isn’t the unbiased, graceful delivery that would be most effective at getting people of faith to listen.  He’ll be preaching to the faithful.  They’ll enjoy it, as I did.

My wife enjoyed it as well.  We talked about the movie afterwards.  I think it is definitely a conversation starter.  She commented that it was amazing that this movie was made and in pretty wide distribution.  We thought that was a pretty hopeful sign.

“We need more people speaking out. This country is not overrun with rebels and free thinkers. It’s overrun with sheep and conformists.” – Bill Maher


Golden Compass Quick Review

The Golden Compass movie has finally arrived in theaters. This movie, derived from the books by Phillip Pullman, has been highly anticipated in our house. We are all fans of the books and were anxious to see the movie adaptation. Would they screw it up?


While allowance has to be made for the time-compressed format of a theatrical release, the movie adaptation left us all pretty satisfied. One should still read the books, if only to really understand the relationship between a child and their demon. While reading the book, my son was inconsolable when he found out the activities at Bolvangor. In the movie, this has lost some of its impact.

The cumbersome voice-over at the beginning was quickly forgotten as we began our two hour long dash through Lyra’s world. The movie was visually lush and the casting was spot-on. Dakota Blue Richards’ precocious performance manages to draw the attention away from such charismatic screen personalities as Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman and Sam Elliott. All cast in roles they were meant to play.

Don’t even get me started on the fantastic Ice Bears! The great armored bear, Iorek Byrnison, was neither cartoonish nor arbitrary. He was natural, menacing and regal by turns. The battle between Iorek and Ragnar was dramatic and exciting.

While there remains the shadow of the Magisterium and its mission to control the hearts and minds of the people of Lyra’s world, this is primarily Lyra’s story. It is an adventure story of great scope and wonder with plenty of thrills for everyone.


Why is fiction so frightening?

Recently, I was forwarded the following email from a friend:

Subject: Pass on to anyone with children – Anti-God kids movie

Dear Friends,

Pass this on to anyone who might have children…click on the link below to find out more about the movie The Golden Compass which is to be out in December

Anti-God kids movie coming out:

The interesting thing about this particular bit of fear mongering by the religious right is that it is pretty accurate. That’s correct, the collection of books in His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass, The Amber Spyglass and The Subtle Knife quite purposefully challenge religion. They are also quite fantastic. Smart, compelling and complex in a way that Harry Potter (another difficult fictional character for religious types) doesn’t quite achieve. Of course, how the religious themes play out in the movie is left to be seen. As we know, movies don’t always capture the spirit of the book.

Philip Pullman is not shy about expressing his disdain for organized religion. From an interview with Third Way:

“Well, all right, it comes from history. It comes from the record of the Inquisition, persecuting heretics and torturing Jews and all that sort of stuff; and it comes from the other side, too, from the Protestants burning the Catholics. It comes from the insensate pursuit of innocent and crazy old women, and from the Puritans in America burning and hanging the witches – and it comes not only from the Christian church but also from the Taliban.

Every single religion that has a monotheistic god ends up by persecuting other people and killing them because they don’t accept him. Wherever you look in history, you find that. It’s still going on.”

That is the author’s view in his own words. Seems to me, he clearly expresses why we should all fear and distrust religion. Having said that, His Dark Materials IS A WORK OF FICTION. There are talking armored bears and flying witches! What occurs in the book involves fictional characters in clearly fictional circumstances.

So, why is it that fundamentalist Christians, Muslims, Jews and probably others I’m not as aware of, find this kind of fiction so threatening? It’s all made up stories, right? Well, as a recent Barna Group poll shows, a large number of Americans have a very difficult time distinguishing reality from “made up stories”. If super-beings, magic, ghosts and superstition in general made up your world view, you would find fiction very frightening indeed.

It is particularly important, they believe not to expose their children to these stories. There is the danger that, already indoctrinated in to believing fanciful things, they might find they prefer a mythology that is more consistent, intelligent and caring than their own.

Trying to establish a habit of finishing with an excellent quote. This particular one comes from a friend of mine who is currently reading The Amber Spyglass:

“Well that’s just it. If anything, I thought the books were condemning the hunger for power and dominance that can develop out of ANY organized movement that claims to be ‘Truth’ and ‘Right’, including religion and certainly political systems, whether its capitalism or communism. I was assuming the fight was against the evil urges of power and domination — thinking one’s perspective is so right and justified, and to be pursued at the expense of harming others, that one completely loses track of ethics.”