Pit & Pendulum Posters

Introducing the poster design for “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre“:

and its alternate / sibling poster:

You probably noticed some imagery from the film that is being introduced for the first time on my blog’s discussions about my latest musicabre. You might even wonder whether some of these images, or parts of these images, spring from Poe’s writing or more from my own macabre imagination.

Hang on in there, I will write more about these and further details on this site, as the film, now just about finished, makes its way into the world…

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P&P – Day 2 – The Destruction of the Cello

That’s a beautiful cello, don’t you think? A little worn at the edges perhaps, but to the composer who plays it, a poor fellow who lives in a garret in 17th century Spain, this instrument is his most prized possession, probably the foundation of his livelihood as a musician.

Such a shame then that is will be brutally destroyed before our eyes in just a few minutes…

In the above shot the cello can be seen in the background while the composer is thrown to the floor by soldiers of the Inquisition. The composer is receiving a few well placed kicks to the gut. But the cello will be the next and even more woeful target of the arresting officer’s wrath.

Before we move on to the actual destruction, let me allay your concerns and point out that the cello which is about to endure such a vicious end is not an actual cello, but a prop made out of light, cardboard-like wood. Mariana Soares Da Silva, the production designer of “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre” built it.

Mariana Soares Da Silva

The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre” is my second short film musical adaptation of a classic Edgar Allan Poe story. And just like in “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” cellos play an important part, not only by prominently figuring in the musical score, but also by influencing the actual story-telling, which includes them being seen on screen (albeit in very different ways for both films). This cello cameo is not the end for cello imagery in P&P.

I’ve already posted about shooting the garret scene where the soldiers arrest the protagonist of “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre”, and the bloody accident that occurred that day on set. Well, it wasn’t just my forehead that got split, the prop cello was slated for even worse treatment, albeit in its case that bit of carnage was planned.

We didn’t want to destroy an actual instrument, so Mariana beautifully built us a stunt cello. We only had the one. Mathew Gnagy, the actor playing the officer wielding the cello, would only have one take shot by two cameras to do the dastardly deed.

He performed his task magnificently.

(That Mathew plays the cello himself in real life, and can be seen playing rather than destroying one in a crucial scene in my first musicabre only makes the whole moment more merrily momentous for me.)




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P&P – Day 2 – The Merchant’s House

In “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre”, my second short film musical adaptation of a classic gothic tale by Edgar Allan Poe, the protagonist is seen working at his desk in a garret apartment, while soldiers of the inquisition are entering a building and climbing up a series of flights of stairs before bursting into the garret to arrest him.

Which means we needed to find a building with staircases that could believably stand in for a building with staircases in 17th century Spain.

That turns out to be a rather tall order in New York City. Especially on an indie budget.

Introducing the Merchant’s House on 39 East 4th Street in the East Village of Manhattan. Built in 1832, it has been open to the public as a museum since 1936. The video on its website shows off the many lovely rooms authentically furnished to reproduce the living arrangements of an upper middle class New York City family of the mid 19th century. But it wan’t the lovely rooms that attracted my eye. It was the fleeting glimpses of the house’s staircases that encouraged me to book a reservations-required-limited-slots-due-to-Covid visit to the house last March, and take a lot of pictures acting as a location scout.

A 19th century Manhattan townhouse may not exactly match what one may have found in Toledo two hundred years earlier, but what we found was as ideal as we could hope for to create the cinematic illusion within our means. Another bonus: the Merchant’s House just happens to be an easy distance from the Theater for the New City, where we were shooting most of the film.

On the evening of our second day of shooting “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre” we spent three hours in the Merchant’s House with a small crew, reduced to a minimum per request of the caretakers, to film several shots of the soldiers entering the building, ascending several flights of stairs, then descending these same flights with me under arrest as the protagonist. We also shot a little more, some bonus shots that I initially thought would be captured elsewhere, but for which the Merchant’s House provided a great setting too…

Below, the main entrance of the Merchant’s House, and a screen shot of the soldiers entering the building.

The first flight of stairs and a shot of the soldiers going up.

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LOVING – Photographic Treasures from the Nini-Treadwell Collection

Glimpses at a Photographic History of Men in Love 1850 – 1950

Twenty years ago Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell were browsing through stacks of vintage photographs in a Dallas antique store when they came upon a 1920s photograph of two young men embracing. Nini and Treadwell were impressed by the “open expression of love that they shared” during a time when such openness came with great risk. They thought they found something singular, but a year later at an auction they came upon a miniature photo of two WW2 soldiers posed cheek to cheek with “Yours Always” etched into the photograph’s glass frame.

Thus began a collection that has now grown to over 2800 vintage photos of men documenting their love for each other. Many of these photos are generously collected in a massive coffee table tome called “Loving – A Photographic History of Men in Love 1850 – 1950”.

I don’t normally purchase coffee table photography books, but I was struck by these photographs, by the expression in the men’s eyes, the individuality of their faces, the stories and relationships and social circumstances hinted at by what the photographs reveal. This book moves me profoundly.

These are photographs that were held and possibly cherished privately for decades and only found their ways into estate sales and flee markets and auction sales of vintage photography until many years, decades, even more than hundred years after the original owners had passed, taking the stories behind these photographs with them to the grave.

Some hints at gay culture hundred years ago come through in some of the photographs. In my preperations for my musical Speakeasy I had learned a lot about coded language amongst homosexuals in the 1920s. The book includes several examples of one man putting his finger to his mouth with a smile like in the photograph above. Another theme that runs from the mid 1800s though the late 1920s is two men posing together under an umbrella. The most remarkable photograph of that includes another man posing as a minister marrying the couple.

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It’s time for another episode of Fun with Tell-Tale Subtitles! The first time I shared screenshots of my musical Edgar Allan Poe adaptation “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” with Portuguese subtitles. Today Spanish gets its turn.

These screenshots are all taken from a particular segment of the film I titled “Upon the Eighth Night”, the first line spoken in this section. In it the Protagonist describes how, after 7 days of silently watching the old man with the vulture eye while he sleeps in a pitch black room, he accidentally arouses his victim from his sleep on that fateful eighth night. A moment that will lead to murder, dismemberment and an even more extreme psychotic break…

The screenshots don’t capture the full text of that segment, but enough to follow along. So brush up your Spanish and get closer and then even closer to the Tell-Tale Narrator.

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My first Edgar Allan Poe musical short film adaptation “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” will screen for free as part of the Theater for the New City’s Village Halloween Costume Ball Sunday October 31, around 10:30pm, as the closing act of the Chop Shop performances starting 7:30pm on 10th street around the corner from 1st avenue (towards 2nd avenue) – the chop shop is the theater’s loading dock turned performance space facing the sidewalk and street, where the audience will congregate outdoors.

This will be a special screening for several reasons, but first and foremost because the Theater for the New City is where “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” was (mostly) filmed! So it’ll be a bit of a homecoming for the horror musical.

We tested out the screen and sound projection tonight (see the pictures below), and it should be a fun, effective and unusual way to experience 37 minutes of gothic movie musical madness. It’s not Tell-Tale’s first New York screening, that would be New Filmmaker’s NY’s March 2020 screening, which had been scheduled for the 2nd Avenue Anthology theater but had to be moved on-line because of Covid. Many more festivals local and world-wide screened “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre”, most on-line, or if not on-line, unreachable for me do to travel restrictions. In fact, thanks to Covid’s long reach, this will be the first time Tell-Tale will screen in a physical space in Manhattan, and only the fourth time I will get to experience an in-person screening. It being an outdoor presentation will make it extra safe in a city with very high vaccination rates. It being Halloween night in the East Village however should make it an extra freaky fun viewing experience. I’m excited about it and hope you will join us.

UPDATE 10/31: Here are some pics from tonight’s screening, starting with Ed and me in our Halloween masks. The crowd grew as more and pedestrians were attracted by the sights and sounds of the screening. The response at the end was very enthusiastic.

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P&P Portraits in Color Grading

Here is a little portrait gallery from “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre“, my second short film musical adaptation of a classic Edgar Allan Poe short story (after “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre“).

I’m focusing on close-ups of the protagonist in different scenarios during the course of the film not because I am a narcissist obsessed with pictures of my visage – (well, I am an actor and so I probably am a narcissist obsessed with pictures of my visage) – but to use them as an effective and mostly spoiler free example of how color grading in collaboration with cinematography can achieve a wide variety of looks and moods for a film.

Color grading happens in post production. It’s like the digital equivalent of photographers using different chemical processes in developing a film negative to achieve different effects. How a shot is lit and filmed on set affects the look of the image; then digital color grading post-production adds to the process.

The director of photography on set was Jason Chua. Jimmy McCoy is doing the color grading.

The first four examples all represent naturalistic environments that the protagonist of this film finds himself in – a garret, a bathroom, a courtroom, a prison cell – but looking closely you can see that the lighting and coloring is different for each, effecting the mood of the image differently, even if the image in each screen shot, a mostly impassive face, is similar.

The next four examples illustrate some (but not all – avoiding spoilers here) of the extremes color grading will take us. Most if not all of “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre” takes place in a prison cell – but readers of Poe may remember that some dramatic changes take place in this cell; and these changes are reflected in how film was lit and shot on set and what is done with the footage during color grading in post.

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A Bewitching Production Born out of a Pandemic

My musical “Hexen” (“Witches”) is back on the boards, or rather the foyer, in Theater Hof in Germany. Originally premiered in the fall of 2020, it is back in repertory this season, performing tonight and sprinkled across the season’s schedule over the next several months as is customary for repertory theaters.

This production has a remarkable history. Its original production plans had to be completely rethought when the Covid pandemic hit. Germany allowed theaters to reopen in the fall of 2020, one year before Broadway ultimately reopened, but they had to be Covid safe productions. Which in the case of Hexen in Theater Hof meant that they couldn’t perform in the theater, but would stage the musical in the capacious foyer, where audiences could be seated in family “pods” at individual tables safely spaced out. Hexen performed for two months in the fall of 2020, but then a pandemic surge brought on new restrictions that shut down all live performances again in Germany. Performances didn’t resume again until this past summer.

Ed and I got a chance to see “Hexen” performed in July, when the production’s director Florian Lühnsdorf took us behind the scenes and showed us part of a performance via Skype. A Skype screenshot is not exactly the ideal glimpse of a theatrical performance, but from these shots you can get a good idea how the whole space of the foyer, including the balcony above, was used in performance by the two talented performers playing the two witches, and how the audience was safely spaced apart in the space. What was enforced because of extenuating circumstances during a pandemic has yielded an exciting singular performance experience.

Possibly now with vaccinations and amended safety protocols it may be possible to add more tables for a larger audience in the space. And also now that it’s autumn and the northern sky no longer stays bright deep into the evening, complete darkness around the wide windows will enhance the lighting design in the performance space.

If you happen to be in Germany this theater season, do check out this unique production of women’s/witches’ tuneful trials and tribulations in nine lifetimes over the centuries.

One witch is left, leaning against the counter, the other witch is up right leaning against the balcony guardrail.

Thank you, Florian Lühnsdorf, for letting Ed and me take part in “Hexen” from abroad (see us in the screenshot’s upper corner?), lurking over the Theater Hof foyer balcony via Skype.

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SCHWARZWALD – Views of the Black Forest

The Schwarzwald – Black Forest – is one of the most famously beautiful regions in Germany. Located East of the Rhine and North of the Alps in Germany’s Southwest, this bucolic region of rolling hills, quaint towns and, yes, romantically dark-treed woods ranks among the most picturesque areas on planet Earth.

Ed and I spent three days (and two nights) driving all around the Black Forest. These first few pictures were taken by Breitgau, a town with one of the higher elevations of Black Forest villages.

These views captured us as we were just driving along one of the higher elevated roads.

The Brigachquelle is one of the two springs that feed the streams that will become the Danube river.

The town of Triberg

Cuckoo clocks are the Black Forest’s most famous export item. Triberg is riddled with clock stores.

“Einzigartig” and “Unikat” both mean the same thing, unique, as adjective and noun – so the German is a silly redundancy, a “one-off one-off”, as Ed jokes.
They could have just – as in the English translation – write “Einzigartige Meisterwerke”.
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P&P – Day 2 – Blood on the Floor

Selfie at the City MD

On day two of the shoot for “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre” there was blood on the floor. My head got conked. A gash opened just below my hairline. And droplets of blood rained onto the floor of the set.

Below is the culprit that did me in. A metal helmet, the kind Spanish soldiers of the 17th century wore.

The vicious helmet was being worn by Gonzalo Trigueros, who along with Mathew Gnagy plays one of the soldiers arresting my character to bring him before the judges of the Inquisition. That’s Mathew and Gonzalo above. You might remember Mathew as one of the on screen cello players in “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre“, my first short film musical Poe adaptation.

Edgar Allan Poe’s classic short story “The Pit and the Pendulum” begins with the judges of the Inquisition sentencing the protagonist to death. In my film we have a prolog showing the protagonist’s brutal arrest in his garret.

It got a little more brutal than intended. The brutality’s consequences got a little more real as well.

Here I am, as seen in the on set monitor, getting ready for shooting the soldiers’ entrance into the garret. Sami Eddy is checking my hair ribbon.

This will be the last time we would be able to shoot my forehead with my hair pulled back like that. After this upcoming shot we will be required to cover up the wound on my forehead with hair strands. Luckily the plan always was for the soldiers to pull the ribbon tying my ponytail back out of my hair when they assault me in this scene.

Our one take from this angle. After the accident we would need to rethink how we shoot and edit this moment…

Me getting into character, a composer in the 17th century. We have already shot me hearing the commotion of the soldiers entering the building and coming up several flights of stairs to reach me in my garret lodgings. I know they are coming for me and I am feverishly trying to scribble a few more notes on parchment paper before I am dragged away.

The soldiers enter the garret. We had practiced this entrance plus the subsequent action of me being grabbed, thrown to the floor and kicked, multiple times. What we hadn’t done was practice it with the soldiers wearing their headgear. Turns out the metal helmet was not fitting tightly enough on Gonzalos’ head to stay put during fast violent movement. As soon as he burst through the door he had to adjust the helmet. Which basically already ruined the shot that was originally intended to flow from entrance to manhandling to kicked on the floor in one unedited take. But no one called cut – I the director certainly didn’t since I didn’t see the helmet wobble – and frankly, it all happened so fast, no one could have been expected to call cut in time.

The soldiers grab me and pull me off my chair away from the desk.

And this is the moment the helmet falls off Gonzalos’ head and hits me on the noggin.

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TELL-TALE SUBTITLES 1 – Brazilian Portuguese

The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre“, my musical short film adaptation of the short story by Edgar Allan Poe, was seen in over 80 film festivals all over the world. Most festivals, regardless of where in the world they took place, required films they show to be in English or provide subtitles in English. But there were a few festivals that required subtitles in their local language.

And I thought it might be fun to share some screen shots of my film with these languages’ subtitles included. Without translating them. See if you can guess, based on either having already seen the film or knowing the original Poe text, which fully performed almost word for word in the film, or what you know of the language, what is being said.

I’ll only include screen shots from the beginning of the film – don’t want to give the whole movie or its best images away just yet …

So for this first subtitle sojourn, we will have Portuguese subtitles. Actually, Brazilian Portuguese, which is its own category separate from European Portuguese, at least in the world of subtitles. These subtitles were created at the behest of the Rock Horror Film Festival in Rio de Janeiro.

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NEUSCHWANSTEIN – King Ludwig’s Fairy Tale Castle

On a high hill flanked by the Tegeler Mountain in the Bavarian Alps sits Neuschwanstein, King Ludwig’s “Fairy Tale Castle”.

King Ludwig didn’t look far to build his fantasy castle. Hohenschwangau Castle, where Ludwig was raised, lies just across the valley on a lower hill.

You must park in the valley and either take a bus or horse-drawn coach or walk up a fine mountain road 30-40 minutes to reach Neuschwanstein.

Because of Covid, tours that normally take 60 people every 5 minutes through the castle, now are limited to a maximum of 10, and get booked up weeks in advance. When we realized our vaccination status would finally allow us to use the flight tickets to Germany that had been put on hold since March 2020, we decided a Southern Germany tour would be included in our itinerary. And Neuschwanstein was first on our list of attractions. We made sure we got our tickets for the castle tour before we scheduled any other leg of the trip.

We brought these court jestery masks especially for Neuschwanstein. However in Germany more medically stringent FFP2 masks are required for all public transportation and museums etc., so we wore our “fun” masks only for the selfie you see here.

A lot of people call this the Disneyland castle, which is understandable since Walt Disney was inspired by Neuschwanstein when Cinderella’s Castle was designed for the theme park. Neuschwanstein was built in the 1860s through the 1880s, 70 years before Disneyland.

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P&P – Day 1 – Home Invasion

Still from footage of the first day of shooting

It was our first day of shooting. I was nearly naked, in a too small bathtub of cooling water, being watched by a crew of a dozen or so people, most I’d met for the first time today. And this for the next 8 or so hours. Who put me such a compoundingly uncomfortable position? Who had allowed so many strangers to overtake our home with overflowing activity and equipment? After 15 months of pandemic induced quiet and companionable solitude with my husband, now suddenly I’m exposed to all these people in my home, my naked skin literally exposed in my own bathroom with just flesh toned swimming trunks to shield me? Who is the asshole responsible for all this?

Oh, right. That asshole is me.

Director of Photography Jason Chua and 1st Assistant Camera Jennifer Liu

We were shooting “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre“, my second musical adaptation of a classic Edgar Allan Poe short story (“The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” was the first). I imagine many readers of Poe’s works now raising their eyebrows: how does a modern day bathroom feature in Poe’s 200 year old story of Inquisitorial torture? It doesn’t in Poe, of course. Yet in my movie musical adaptation there is action set in modern times that serves as a framing device to the bulk of the film which is faithfully set in Poe’s diabolic dungeon. Shooting these framing device scenes required me spending a day in a tub while Ed and my comfy nest of a home was swarmed by that hive-like species called filmcrew independentalis.

Jennifer and Jason and some of the film equipment overwhelming the apartment
Lots of different shots from different angles also required a lot of stepping into the bathtub to anchor lighting and set up camera angles.
But only I had to undress and get submerged in water when stepping into the tub… but then again, can’t complain, it’s my own damn fault, right?
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The Obama Portraits at Brooklyn Museum

Note: this painting is not part of the tour but is hanging in a different section of the Brooklyn Museum
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The Broken Castle of Heidelberg

Before I visited I did not know that Heidelberg’s grand castle complex is actually a ruin. In 1689, after decades of warfare, the French army blew up and set fire to much of the castle so that no army may ever be sent from here to invade France again.

For over three hundred years now, much longer than the main structures of the castle ever stood intact, Heidelberg Castle remains as one of Europe’s grandest ruins.

Perhaps it is fitting I ended up taking most of my pictures of the castle, and Heidelberg, under overcast skies.

Altough the sun did peak out sometimes, like for this selfie.

And this is us about to enjoy a local treat, Kurfürstenknödel, with the castle looking on.

You enter the castle grounds through the Elizabeth Gate, built overnight February 14, 1613, as a birthday gift by Prince-Elector Friedrich V for his wife Elizabeth Stuart, the daughter England’s King James I.

According to Wikipedia, in 1689 portions of Heidelberg were also burned, but the mercy of a French general who told the townspeople to set small fires in their homes to create smoke and the illusion of widespread burning, prevented wider destruction.

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P&P – The Revealing of the Cake

Thank You to the Crew of “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre” addendum

When I’d uploaded my original thank you post to the crew of “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre” I didn’t yet have the video above that shows the actual reveal of the Poe cake Ed had ordered at a local bakery.

I’m not sure who took the video above of this moment at the end of our last long day of filming, celebrating our efforts with some chocolate raspberry deliciousness.

Henry Borriello (producer) opens the carton. Photobombing the cake is Ja’rel Ivory (Key Grip), next you can see Mariana Soares da Silva (Production Design), Han Jang Houston (Assistant Camera), Katie Conway (Production Assistant), Sami Eddy (Make-up and Hair), Jimmy McCoy (VFX), and Charlotte Purser (Assistant Director) thanking everybody. My original thank you post features pictures of even more individuals.

I’m on an August break from the film right now, looking forward to heading into editing in September. Finding this video and these pics in a series of photos the P&P crew shared with another has been a sweet treat today, so I thought I’d pass that treat along here, along with a few more behind the scenes morsels.

Oh, and if you are wondering, click here to be reminded why I went from really hairy to totally bald

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