LIGHT IN THE ATTIC RECORDS:Q&A with Robert McGinley aka Shredder Orpheus!
[from Light In The Attic Records Blog]
Twenty five years ago, a group of skaters and musicians in Seattle, helmed by our interviewee, Robert McGinley, got together to make an epically weird, epically awesome post-apocalyptic skate-rock opera called Shredder Orpheus. The film tells the tale of skateboard-guitarist Orpheus and his band of shredders, who journey to hell and back (literally) to save the world and Orpheus’ girlfriend from deathly television signals. The soundtrack of the film features music and performances by Seattleites such as Roland Barker (Ministry, Revolting Cocks, Blackouts) and Bill Rieflin (Ministry, King Crimson, Blackouts), poet/performance artist Steven Jesse Bernstein, guitarist Dennis Rea, and Amy Denio. Shredder Orpheus, beloved by its ever-growing band of cult fans, is a snapshot of Seattle’s rich subculture during a vibrant time in the city’s history. It’s also just absolutely bonkers, creative, and very entertaining. To celebrate its 25th anniversary,Shredder has some screenings and other fun things in store for us. below, we get to ask the shredder himself some questions! AND, he even managed to summon from the Grey Zone some of the film’s characters themselves to answer a few as well!
We’ve got Shredder Orpheus LPs in stock. Each LP comes with a DVD of the film!
Shredder Orpheus is about 25 years old now and it’s themes are still relevant. How do you think its relevancy and its place in pop culture has changed with the times? What has it been like watching that change take place?
This is a great question but since I am not sure how to answer it I decided to ask my characters about the relevancy of Shredder Orpheus after 25 years. Here are their answers:
ORPHEUS: “25 years ago I gave up my corporeal existence pursuing the love of my life into the underworld of the Euthanasia Broadcast Network. Although the internet did not exist then, media sedation and consumption stimuli was accomplished by television. Today I am compelled to warn all sentient beings that we face an exponentially greater problem: the new medium of the internet and its co-option by corporate advertising interests represent a grave threat to free and creative minds and a disruptive force of meaningful interaction between human beings. Eurydice and I want to remind you that no matter what the designers of hi-tech social media platforms and corporate marketers want you to believe there is no substitute for the hi-touch experience that feeds the soul. Don’t “friend me”, “like me” or “follow me” or any other virtual crap. Lets get together and skate, rock out and dance. Less digital -more analog please!”
AXEL: “Microwave radiation from television was pervasive 25 years ago. Today we get many times more exposure from the constant use of cellphones and computers. Immunity is compromised, leaving us vulnerable to a host of diseases as our addiction grows. Goddamn bunch of shit! Jesus, Buddha: BUST IT! “
HADES: “The ‘soothing’ ray from a T.V., a computer, smart phone or virtual reality platform is “comforting” because it co-opts your nervous system and penetrates your consciousness with ease. If you ingest too much you don’t have to think anymore- you ‘give yourself to the ray!’ In some ways the devices (emphasis on VICES) function like an interactive hard drive with the ultimate goal of shaping thoughts and desires and driving consumption habits. Most importantly, the ‘immersive’ experience can be deadly and divorce you from a clear conscious awareness, which is great for me!”
SCRATCH: “How do we fight suppression of the human soul by consumerist propaganda? THRASH IT! Since ‘THE RUST NEVER SLEEPS’ thrashing everyday is good mental- spiritual hygiene like brushing your teeth.”
How was the soundtrack of the film shaped by the Seattle culture from which it was born? Who was most involved in developing the soundtrack? Who were main the musical influences?
Music needs to be at the center of any play, film or opera based on the myth of Orpheus, a musician/artist who journeys to the world of the dead. Roland Barker (MINISTRY, BLACKOUTS) was the composer and driving force behind the music. Roland and I were fortunate to find and convince amazing musicians to be the band, The Shredders, which consisted of Bill Rieflin (percussion), Dennis Rea (guitars) and Amy Denio (bass) with Roland on keyboards/synthesizer. At the outset Roland told me that he wanted the music cues in the soundtrack to be heavy on percussion and guitars with a nod to Jimi Hendrix, Dick Dale, Agent Orange and the pantheon guitar surf music. However, at that time there was no genre’ of music called “skate rock”. I think Roland and the band meshed perfectly to create music that supports the edgy tone of the film.
In previous interviews you’ve talked about how fun some of the skating scenes were to make. What scene was the most difficult to make, and why?
Every skate scene had challenges in that most of the locations were stolen and we had to be very stealth with lighting a location at night. Since I was used to sneaking into parking garages with a pack of skaters I was comfortable with it and had my fast talking gear at the ready in case we got busted by the authorities (which we did by both the U.S. Coast Guard at the Port and Seattle Fire Department at the train station). By far the most fun was shooting in a garage called DEVO which Axel refers to. We found this awesome action stunt photographer, Stan Larson, who was an expert at radical handheld P.O.V. shots while doing somersaults off ski jumps. Since GoPros didn’t exist he bolted a 16mm EMO camera to a piece of plywood that he had put trucks and wheels onto and skated on it while we blasted down the ramps. After a few takes he took the EMO off the board and just improvised handheld shots.
The most difficult scene to make was the one night exterior at the Port of Seattle. We couldn’t shoot because our costume designer, Marienne O’Brien, was arrested and put in jail on her way to the location for unpaid parking tickets. They impounded her car with all the costumes in the trunk for 20+ people and wouldn’t release her or the car without bail. We went through the last of our petty cash to get her out, but by the time we had her and the costumes on set, 12 hours of shooting had to accomplished 3 hours before the sun came up. The scramble ensued and even though we didn’t get everything we wanted, we got what we absolutely needed.
What are your thoughts on the skate world today? How has it changed since Shredder came out?
It’s certainly more mainstream today. In those days there were no such things as a “professional skater,” corporate sponsorship or the X Games, like there are today. Tony Hawk, Stacy Peralta and the Z Boys were the pioneers of what has become a major industry. Interestingly, skateboarding has gone the way of many alternative ventures by starting out as counter culture rebellion and then getting swallowed into the pop mainstream. It has also become a more female activity today. (Scratch in S.O. was ahead of her time).
Shredder is a cult classic these days… Have you had any crazy fan encounters?
At the Halloween screening last fall, audience members showed up wearing costumes inspired by Shredder Orpheus characters. Crazy funny!
Other crazy fan feedback would include these reviews:
Here is a wacky fan review on the blog, HOUSE of SELF INDULGENCE:
“Sure, the film looks like a veiled excuse to film people doing skateboard tricks in a dystopian landscape ruled by a sinister television station, but it has a lot to say about mass media, the afterlife, love, youth culture and corporate mind control.”
The review also references Persephone’s (Vera McCaughn) brilliant speech: “…if the appearance of Hades caused me to nearly lose it, I lost it completely when Persephone shows up and says, ‘Praise the ray,’ and launches into what has to be one of my favourite monologues ever recited in a motion picture.”
Jimi Nguyen’s YouTube channel, Shit I Think About, has a hilarious review describing Shredder Orpheusas “…bat shit crazy.”
Here is another recent review that provides interesting context.
You made this movie without having gone to film school. Do you have any advice for young filmmakers attempting low-budget projects without a film school background?
You learn from your mistakes, so be patient. Remember, Woody Allen has been known to reshoot entire films. It’s a cliche but the most important thing is your screenplay. If you are a first-time screenplay writer (as I was with Shredder) and think you are done after a few drafts, you probably need to let a lot of people read it. Hopefully, you have a good mentor, like I had with Jesse Bernstein, who can help you drill down on any weaknesses in your script. The other thing to consider is the tone of your film. The hard lesson as a director is what I call “tone control”– if you shift or combine genre’s your audience/marketers may have trouble with your film. In Shredder Orpheus the tone shifts from comedy to tragedy. I personally like dancing on that line but it can be risky.
You’ve said that Jean Cocteau’s Orphee films and the skate vids of Stacey Peralta and the Bones Brigade were big influences for you. What elements did you most admire of those films?
What I saw in Jean Cocteau’s Orphee was the artist portrayed as a voyager into the underworld (subconscious mind) where Orpheus demonstrates that love is stronger than death. The Orpheus Myth is western civilization’s oldest love story and with the help of Joseph Campbell’s books on the hero’s journey I was able to find my story structure for Shredder O.
Stacy Peralta put rock music to skateboarding and it was fun and inspiring to watch. Skating in parking garages in Seattle was crazy nocturnal fun and descending down the ramps felt exactly like we were on our way to the underworld!!
Ultimately, the seed for Shredder Orpheus came from skating and being an amateur mythologist and the film is a synthesis of these personal endeavors 25 years ago.
What films, music, and/or literature has been inspiring you lately?
Pan’s Labyrinth for film. And I pay close attention to films like Her and Transcendence. Cyberpunk literature, aka Neuromancer (William Gibson) and non-fiction like This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel Levitin. I follow developments in new technology and am an avid student of A.I. and its implications for our future… singularity, etc. The Human Use of Human Beings by Norbert Weiner and the science of Cybernetics are cornerstones to my view of the way the world works.
What’s next for you and for Shredder Orpheus?
There will be a few more celebratory 25th anniversary screenings of Shredder including the midnight screening at Cinefamily on April 11th. It may play as a midnighter once again in Seattle later this year. There are a lot more creative story ideas that can be mined from the Shredder Orpheus themes. One Shredderinspired story is in the works with a recently completed screenplay. Stay tuned!
LITA Records Website
Original Light In The Attic Records blog interview
SHREDDER ORPHEUS HISTORYQ&A with Shredder Orpheus director Robert McGinley
By David Reilly
On September 23, 2013 BAMcinématek wraps up Skateboarding Is Not a Crime with an ultra-rare screening of director, writer, and star Robert McGinley’s gonzo Seattle skate punk rock opera Shredder Orpheus. For the occasion, McGinley dug out from his garage the only existing 35mm print of the film; he’ll appear at BAM for a Q&A following the screening. We spoke with him about some of the wild backstory behind this truly singular curio of skate cinema.
Could you tell us about your involvement in Seattle’s skate, music, and art scenes at the time, and how this project came about?
During the 80s I served as On the Boards’ founding artistic director and had a blast developing OTB’s new performance programming, which included utilizing the space for punk rock shows (Dils, Dickies, Dead Kennedys, Sub Humans, etc.). I had a brief stint writing reviews for the Seattle rock magazine The Rocket and covered a lot of local new wave and punk music, so I knew my way around the scene. Around 1987 I co-produced a skate punk band called Agent Orange (they sounded a lot like a precursor to Green Day) that tore the theater/dance floor apart (by the way, it was a challenge cleaning up the sweat, puke, and urine after these shows before dance class the following morning, not to mention a Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane show the following weekend!).
If I wasn’t doing a show I would meet my skate buddies downtown, sneak into parking garages, ride the elevators up 12 to 14 stories, and skate the ramps down—kind of like urban snow skiing on skateboards. It was insanely fun (sick), not to mention illegal, so the added danger of avoiding arrest by police and/or security ramped the adrenaline high. We were chased a lot but somehow we avoided getting caught.
What drew you to the Orpheus myth as a centerpiece of the film?
First of all, the Orpheus myth is Western Civilization’s oldest love story and at the time my favorite films were the Orphée films by Jean Cocteau and Black Orpheus. I was also a total Joseph Cambell/Carl Jung mythology freak and the quest for undying love in the underworld always fascinated me.
Usually protagonists in the Hero’s Journey stories are warriors, but Orpheus is a unique hero: a transformative artist and musician that could manipulate consciousness as well as as animate material objects. I found the music-driven love and death story embodied in the Orpheus archetype irresistible.
How did the legendary underground poet/performer Jesse Bernstein get involved with the film, and how was your experience working with him on set?
I produced Jesse Bernstein’s performance work at On the Boards and his poetry and performance work was and is astonishing. People often refer to him as “Seattle’s Bukowski,” but he was a one-of-a-kind and his work is iconic and it was an honor to work with him. I wrote the character of Axel for Jesse, a homeless skateboarding, crippled war veteran who narrates the story. Jesse had a number of afflictions and could be difficult, but he helped me with dialog a great deal; “Robert! Too many words.” On set he was a real trooper and brought great ideas to embellish his character. It was very distressing when he passed away a few years later.
What were some of the challenges you faced serving as writer, director, and star of the film?
Shredder Orpheus was my film school. In addition to being writer, director, and star, I was also the uncredited producer of the film. As the OtB videographer I knew a few things about shooting and I knew lots of artists who were willing to jump in on a non-SAG (Screen Actors Guild) film, but I did not go to film school and had no idea how hard this was going to be. I remember trying to take some pressure off by looking at some “real actors” to play Orpheus with my co-producer, Lisanne Dutton. However, based on a short prototype version of Shredder Orpheus with myself playing the lead, she at some point said to me, “You have to suck it up and do it.” By the last week of shooting I really was in the “underworld,” but the cast and crew pulled me through.
The soundtrack is incredible! Could you talk a bit about Roland Barker and the other musicians who were involved?
I shot and produced a music video for the seminal Seattle band The Blackouts, when I first met Roland Barker, who played keyboards and sax. Members of the band went on to join Al Jourgensen to become the industrial rock band Ministry. When Roland finished his stint with Ministry, he began composing electronic pieces that were very trance inducing, and I grabbed him. We put together a Shredder band for the film to execute the score consisting of Dennis Rea (guitar), Amy Denio (bass), and Bill Reiflin (drums; Roland’s bandmate from the Black Outs/Ministry). It was a great collaboration working with Roland and an incredible group of musicians. Writing lyrics for “Worm Song” and watching Bill Reiflin play drums in the studio was icing on the cake. Other interesting musical influences include composer percussion artist David Van Tieghem (check out “Ear to the Ground”) and the consummate percussion performance artist Z’ev. These two were inspirational to the development of percussion ambience built into the scenes and the sound score.
There have been a few attempts to release the soundtrack on vinyl and I hope we can do that soon.
What were some of your visual influences for the film, especially the skating and music montage scenes? Were you looking at mostly skate and music videos of the time?
I already mentioned the Cocteau films, but a key inspiration were the Stacey Peralta and the Bones Brigade videos. I spent hours watching them but was concerned that Seattle did not have the skating talent (e.g. Tony Hawk, Stacey Peralta, Tony Alva, etc.) to match that stunt work. However, there are a few virtuoso performances including the freestyle dance work done in the foreground of the Metaphonics junk percussion band and my stunt double Peter Olive.
The whole cast looks like they had a ton of fun making the film. What were some of the craziest things that happened on set?
True to our guerilla skateboarding ops in the Seattle parking garages we stole most of our exterior locations. During the “Eurydice Door Show” scene where Orpheus confronts Hades and the Furies at the Euthanasia Network, we were using two or three big time “stud horse” smoke machines to backlight the Furies at an out-of-use train station downtown.
The director of photography kept screaming for “MORE SMOKE!” and after about take 16, smoke was pouring out of all the upper windows and cracks of the building. We were oblivious being below the street level of the building so it was a complete surprise when the Seattle Fire Department showed up with five trucks including two hook and ladders. The next thing I know I am negotiating with the fire chief wearing only white body paint and a loin cloth. That was the fastest talking I have ever done in my life but the guerilla film axiom holds true that “it is better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.”
The most fun was certainly shooting those parking garage skate sequences. I didn’t have to act or produce: just skate my ass off!
How was the film received in Seattle at the time? Did it have any sort of theatrical release?
Lisanne and I were hoping that we could get into the Seattle International Film Festival in the spring of 1989 but Shredder was roundly rejected. I guess they weren’t into skate punk mythology. Given all the people who worked on the film it was a minor scandal being rejected by the hometown festival, but that created a lot of interest in the film which resulted in an invitation from Landmark Theaters to do a one-night screening on Halloween at the Neptune Theater. We were excited to get this, but when I showed up to do a curtain speech I was shocked to see a long line outside the theater. I never gave the speech because the line was too long and I couldn’t find the manager! The Neptune was close to sold-out for two of the three screenings and the next day Landmark offered me a six-month run on Friday midnights for six months. That set the stage for domestic home video and international distribution.
What do you hope audiences will get out of seeing the film on the big screen in 2013?
Love, Death and Rock n’ Roll on skateboards.