Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A few of the Horror Hotel props used and the history behind them

Most of the episodes in the Horror Hotel series requires the making of special props. Some of the stories are totally centered around those props making them essential plot elements. The Horror Hotel writer/carpenter/prop builder, Al Hess, comes up with some pretty imaginative and creative gadgets to use to propel the stories along with fun, practical visuals. Here are just a few with more to come! 

Houdini's Hand Box - 1st season episode "Houdini's Hand"

"Houdini's Hand" is a story about two petty criminals who steal the severed hand of the magician Houdini from a safe cracker. The hand is supernatural and can open safes and locks, naturally. The hand resides in a very ornate box which is like a Chinese puzzle and tricky to open, but the crooks manage and the hand escapes into the room, locking them in and terrorizing them into a frenzy.    Houdini was a showman and we wanted a box that really depicted that over-the-top, decorated look that signified something not only spooky but quite unique and one-of-a-kind. Al Hess found the box on E-bay. A former old cigar box, someone had already added loads of fancy, odd trim to the box including a velvet lined interior. He glitzed it up a bit with gold paint and other paint. To make it truly the 'home' of the hand, he craved the word Houdini in Carnival typeface on a piece of wood, painted it up and glued it to the top. 

Inflatable Alien Radio - 1st season episode "Invader"

"Invader" is a sci-fi tale of a group of motel residents that falsely accuse a science fiction writer (James Edward Thomas) of being an alien from outer space when the real alien is hiding in plain sight. When the director told Al Hess he wanted an 'organic' looking radio, it required some real head scratching and creativity. 

Since organic meant living, we needed a radio that would essentially 'grow'. Mr. Hess came up with a unique design modeled after War World II field hand radios but one that would actually 'grow' in the aliens hand when he pulled it out to call the 'mother ship'. The radio was sewn from shiny, skin looking fabric that could be folded up as small as a wallet and slipped into the alien's pocket. The inside contained a deflated beach ball bladder connected to an air hose and pump. As he held the radio, it began to inflate on camera. The final radio had a rigid foam block inside holding it firm. The effect was quite good enabling the alien (actor Troy Halverson) to call for reinforcements. 

Alien Space Buggy - 2nd season "Aliens Stole My Boyfriend"

"Aliens Stole My Boyfriend" is a sci-fi tale of two cute alien chicks that crash land their 'space buggy' in the parking lot of the motel looking for Earth boyfriends. The big visual effect in this episode was the opening crash itself which required a large miniature motel built by the Hess family and some other prop artists. The space buggy itself was carved from a single piece of wood by Mr. Hess. Working from several designs, he combined the ideas into one piece, sketched it on wood and begin to carve away. 

The idea was to make it look somewhat fun and not too threatening as the story is chocked full of humor and the adorable space chicks (Actors Stephanie Stevens and Anastasia Pekhtereva) only came for a boyfriend, not to take over. 

The motel model itself was a huge prop requiring around 6 months to build and complete with 3 separate buildings, street lights that worked, a neon motel sign, model cars and exploding telephone poles. Watch Horror Hotel The Movie FREE on amazon prime ►Here

Brain Robbing Machine - 2nd season "Brain Robbers In Love"

"Brain Robbers In Love" centers around a narcissistic businesswoman (Deborah Childs) paying a pretty girl (Tera Buerkle) to swap brains temporarily on the guise that she is going to steal information from her competitive company. It is all about the 'brain swap' so we needed a really good prop. The machine needed to be portable and easy to transport. Mr. Hess took an old metal case, painted it up military grey and took parts from old radios, switches, knobs and even blinking lights and made a dashboard complete with dials and gauges. 

When the operator throws the switch, it really does the trick even smoking and dinging when the transfer is 'complete'. For a dash of humor, he added a switch for dog or human. 

Steampunk Android Goggles - 1st season "Tilt"

"Tilt" weaves a tale about a petty criminal and his pretty sidekick android "Skinny" who accidentally fall into the kidnapping of a famous spyware programmer and hold him for sale to an unsavory group. Skinny (actress Marie Barker) wears some pretty cool steampunk style googles in the opening scene allowing her to see virtual stats before her eyes about the person she is looking at. 

The googles were made from several camera lenses attached to a stretchy band. They look pretty cool and sci-fi'ish

Homemade Stunner - 1st season episode "Invader"

"Invader" called for a number of custom props and this little gadget was used by Helen Kravitz (actress Susan Moss) when declaring she wasn't afraid of an alien as she would "stun the jebbers" out of him. The inspiration for the homemade stunner came from an actress who came to audition for the part and had made her own stunner out of some really wicked bent up spoons attached to some batteries. Al though it just looked really spooky and modeled the prop after the idea with some caution stripes and coiled copper wire. It was actually pretty funny. 

The Big Killer Keller Book - 1st season "Bookworm"

"Bookworm" is a creepy tale about an obsessed woman determined to get a hold of some unpublished manuscripts of her favorite (now deceased) author. And she will do anything to get a hold of them. Actress Elle Trapkin channels an odd psycho bookworm and eventually attacks the bookdealer with an oversized braille book written by Helen Keller. 

The book was quite large and had to be safe to clonk over someones's head. Al took foam sheets and glued them together for the inside and outside covers making it lightweight and harmless, yet deadly in the film. 

Attack of the Space Ants Comic Book - 3rd season - "Sleep Tight" 
"Sleep Tight" is a monster tale about bed bugs that grow to larger than normal sizes due to snacking on a body builder pumped with steroids. It was our first episode to use kids and we wanted to have the boy (Samuel Norman) reading a scary comic about giant bugs attacking Earth. A former Horror Hotel actor, Jerry Irwin (Invader from first season) drew the very fitting graphics which included a two page insert detailing the story. We had several of them made up from the original because the character was constantly folding it up and stuffing in his back pocket. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Actor Spotlight - Troy Halverson

 Atlanta actor Troy Halverson returns to the 2nd season of Horror Hotel in episode "Coma Girl". He appeared in the 1st season as the secret alien in episode "Invader". It's always a stitch to have Troy on set with his natural comedic personality and also a pleasure to welcome his most excellent and diverse acting skills to the project. Troy is well known in the acting circle of Atlanta having worked on literally dozens of projects from feature films to improvisational comedy acts. He does seem to excell at the creepy and macabre type characters. Thus said, we thought he would be perfect for Bob Bates, the delusional maintenance man who falls in love with a comatose patient in episode "Coma Girl".  We are delighted to share some insights into this multi-talented actor with you who despite the underworld characters he can play, is really an extremely jolly guy with a wild sense of humor. 

You are a very familiar face in the independent filmmaking circle in Atlanta with dozens of film credits from features, to short films to web series, but your website states you're at heart, an improvisational comedian with hundreds of live comedy shows under your belt. That is certainly evident on the set of Horror Hotel where you can always come back with a spontaneous, funny response that keeps us laughing. Do you have any particular comedian(s) that you draw inspiration from?

So many....

I still am impressed watching performances by Jonathan Winters, Carol Burnet, and Tim Conway.  A lot of the great comedians cut their chops doing live shows, where if something didn’t go to plan, they had to just go with the situation.  I love seeing performers who make the mad-cap connections on the spot, like what Robin William excels at; I love being in the flow of comedy like that. At the other extreme, I adore very thoughtful comedy, like George Carlin or Louis CK.  I also love the acerbic one-liners of H. L. Menkin and Dorothy Parker. They weren’t comedians, per se, but they sure knew how to set up a punch line.

Do you ever have planned, rehearsed comedy acts?

Yes, but it’s been a while. For years I performed at Relapse Theatre where we did occasional sketch comedy. For a while we did a weekly show we called “Stop Comedy” that included about 50% new sketches each week: fully scripted, some props, on a blank stage, cast with a mix of improv and theatre actors.  I also did a few installments of a monthly show called “Living Novel.” Big ensemble, some set pieces and costuming effort, but the dialog was only loosely written – little more than an outline for an hour-long performance.  You can still get a taste of that format, including some of the “Living Novel” performers, at “Post-Modern Collapse” shows around town.

I understand you have even improvised some commercial work. How in the world do you do that? 

I’ve done it two ways.  First, ensemble improvisation as a tool to brainstorm marketing concepts. The Blank Stage Theatre “Improvastorm” program brought together a client’s marketing team and a handful of improvisers to quickly concept many approaches and themes.  Second, a single performer can improvise within the constraints of a given theme.  In the case of a MARTA campaign, over 70 actors were filmed improvising one-minute scenes around the selected theme (kinda like Zaxby’s commercials). Personally, I think I did three takes on three characters. The client then selected a handful of the best spots for the campaign. 

I still find it funny that – even though everything I said was at the top of my head – my pay for that job included a premium for “writer.” I was just talking in character.

You are often cast in heavy roles: sociopaths, psychotics and just plain criminals, which, of course, makes you perfect for the Horror Hotel. What has been some of your favorite characters to date in these types of character roles? 

Hah, yeah, a lot of bad guys!  I’ve played a director who murders everyone who auditions, a kidnapper who forces parents into sacrificial trades, and paramilitary Irish terrorist. I really liked playing an evil scientist in “Human Supply” because the character combined both Frankenstein and his monster…and because the DP, Sunny Lee, did a sweet job on the camera and lighting. I also like a small part I had in “Blackhats” where I played a suicidal hacker with a hand grenade.  I got to go nuts until the hero (a cop played by Errol Sadler) talks me down. I’m looking for that feature to get distribution this year.

Something I did not know is that you have also directed a 3-person dark play. Can you tell us about that and would you like to direct more? 

Yeah.  “The Widow’s Blind Date,” by Israel Horovitz, is about a woman coming back to confront the guys who raped her in high school.  I really enjoyed working on character development on that one. I also liked having only a single-room set to design and build.  Key learning was to edit ruthlessly; I should have cut 10-15 pages from script for better pacing.  Anyway, I really enjoy directing, but I find acting is a lot easier job.

This will be your second appearance in a Horror Hotel episode with a different character. First was the fantastic alien you portrayed in episode "Invader" for 1st season. This time, as the delusional maintenance man Bob, who falls in love with a comatose patient in episode "Coma Girl" for the 2nd season.  Your audition for the part pretty much blew us away. Can you explain the type of character you are portraying as "Bob"?

Poor Bob. He thinks he has mind-to-mind conversation with a completely non-responsive patient.  The sides reminded me of some moments in Sling Blade and in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, so I was trying to channel a little bit of Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton) and a little Chief Bromden (Will Sampson). Oh, and maybe a hint of Argus Filch from Harry Potter!

How long have you been on the acting scene in Atlanta and how do you view the quality of the local projects being produced here?

I’ve been performing in ultra-low budget SAG and indie projects for 5 years now and the tricky thing is that production quality is uneven. All the parts need to be there for the whole to work –  if something is weak with acting, or screenplay, camera, sound, location, whatever, it can ruin the film.  It’s especially tough when working with an all-green crew, or no one has worked together before, or both. Sometimes the team just doesn’t gel and the end film just goes on a shelf.

Ah, but when everything comes together right, it’s like the planets aligned; those projects are a blast and you get a gem of film.

You told me you once went to Dragon Con and spent the entire time down in the basement viewing the films. Was that true? 

Yes, last year, my first Dragon Con. After one grand tour of the halls – in three hotel! – I hunkered down in the cinema. I only left to get more food or beer!  To their credit, the Con organizers pulled in a lot of different genres…, a lot of stuff I otherwise never see, plus I ended up talking to a lot of film makers.  Most of the local productions featured Q&A with at least one member of the cast or crews for Q&A after each viewing.

What type of films does Troy Halverson most enjoy watching strictly for entertainment?

I like the psycho mind-benders – “Memento”, “Eternal Sunshine,” “Inception” – watching characters struggle with a twisting reality or identity crisis – “Fight Club,” “Lathe of Heaven”.  Science-fiction for those “what is human?” explorations: I love Sam Rockwell in “Moon” and the whole Terminator and Matrix franchises.  I especially like stories told non-linearly – “Jacob’s Ladder,” “Primer” –  time-travel is a great trope for that.

What are some of your most recent film projects?

The most recent feature was “Morningside Monster” which started hitting festivals last fall. It’s a crime drama with Robert Pralgo and Nick Brandon as leads. What I loved was that I got to be in some serious special effects,  getting a full torso cast from hip bone to collar bone, for an evisceration scene. Very messy!  Another crime drama I just started working on is “Mr. Lockjaw.” Screenplay by Justin Craig, it’s a series pilot based on a short I was in last year, directed by Byron Erwin. I get to play a split-personality: shy ventriloquist and sadistic dummy who works as an interrogator for the mob. We got some great local talent lined up for that. 

Do you find any difference between filming a web series and filming a feature film, aside from the shortened length?

It’s a lot easier to keep the whole story arc in my head so shooting scenes out of sequence is not a problem.  On longer stories, longer schedules, there’s a burden of re-discovering where the characters is on a given shoot day.  That sort of extra work, extra complexity, kicks in on the production side too, like super-complicated schedules. I think it much more manageable to shoot six 15-minute episodes than one 90-minute feature. 

What do you look for most when choosing a project to be a part of?

Most? I have to like the story, the concept of the film.  Second-most would be the team, who is involved. I’ll do an under-five or extra role just to work with someone whose work I admire.

Is there any particular type of actor training that you feel has benefited you the most?

I did years of improv comedy before doing any film.  That experience in spontaneity makes auditioning a breeze. A lot of improv scenes feature getting to the emotional core of a two-person scene.  Getting experience with a range of characters, situations, and roles gave me a huge acting vocabulary.

And lastly, what has been your impression of working on the set of Horror Hotel the web series? 

It such a pleasure to see a production run on schedule!  It’s so much easier to turn in a good performance when you’re not struggling through some 14-hour shoot  that feels more like a death march,  or when you discover your call-time was a half-day too early.  In contrast, Horror Hotel makes a realistic schedule… and then follows it. Love it.

Thanks Troy! There is certainly no lack of love for you here at Horror Hotel!!


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Actor Spotlight - Stephanie Stevens

Stephanie Stevens returns to the Horror Hotel as alien girl Aeliana in episode "Aliens Stole My Boyfriend" to kick off the 2nd season. She has previously played Doreen Grey in the errie episode "Guillotine" in the first season line up. It is  always a pleasure to have Stephanie on set. Not only is she gorgeous, but she is just fun to be around and a true professional. She is one of the most sought after Atlanta actors with good reason and is adding to her resume exponentially appearing in feature films, short films,web series and commercials. We thought it only appropriate to interview her first in the second season of Horror Hotel.

You are an extremely active actress in Atlanta right now appearing in over 45 feature films in the last few years alone plus commercials, industrials and more. How in the world do you juggle all this while also being a corporate ninja with a busy schedule in itself?

I don't sleep much! And I love my sleep, but I love acting more. My nights and weekends are generally back-to-back projects. While It's tough to juggle, I find that they are balancing for right now and actually make me more passionate about both the corporate world and acting. 


 You choose the early bird audition times showing up bright eyed and alert and knowing your lines dead on. Obviously you are a very self disciplined person. Do you work with any particular acting method to flawlessly memorize all your lines? It's rare to do any retakes because of your slipped lines on set. 

It's funny because I'm not a morning person at all. The early audition times cause me to rally and really focus. As I review the script and identify triggers, objectives, verbs, etc, I tend to memorize it through repetition. I also find writing it out helps, and the really old school method of writing it out on notecards works well for me too. Once I really lock into the character and focus, it all falls into place. 

With all of this experience under your belt, what are you looking for when pursuing a new project to work on?

I've been really blessed that the characters for each of my projects are all very different which keeps it interesting. And I have a long way to go. I've only scratched the surface of the acting worked so I'm constantly learning and growing. Personally, I just want to keep pushing and feeling like each performance has evolved. And a great cast and crew is the best gift possible. Positive energy on a set lifts everyone to a new level.   

 What have been some of your favorite characters to play so far?

Villians. There is so much room to explore their characters and devlope them. And there is such variety in approach to being devious, demanding or diabolical.  

Do you have a preference for working on film or theatre productions?

I prefer films because with my time constraints being a corporate ninja, the rehearsal schedules are shorter so I can pack in more film projects than theatre. I love the audience feedback of theatre though. 


 What other web series have you worked on and is there any difference to you on working on a web series to working on a feature film, tv, etc?

Every project has its own dynamic to it whether it be film or tv. The most important thing to me is to work with good people that are dedicated to a quality output and are really focused. And it's always a bonus when everyone is really supportive of one another. I find that a lot in the indy scene in Atlanta though. It's a good community. 

  What are the advantages to you for working on a quality web series?

I'm always looking for great footage for my reel, but I also want to put out quality work. A single project can really put you on the map, and Horror Hotel is a project that I'm really excited about!

  Can you tell us about any recent or current projects you are working on?

I just completed a feature film called The Killing Secret. In addition I have worked on Breathe, Refugees and I'm waiting for dates for a couple more projects. I have to say that most of my work is coming from word of mouth from people I've worked with as cast and crew. It's really been a blessing. I love paying it forward to fellow actors and crew. 

Can you give us your overall experience working on the Horror Hotel web series?

Horror Hotel is one of my top projects to have worked on. The level of detail and precision. It was a well-oiled machine that everyone seamlessly contributed too.l And I can't wait to see the final product of this new episode. I'm really proud to have been a part of the web series and can't wait to see how far it goes. Great things are ahead!


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Actor Spotlight with James Edward Thomas

As the only  actor to play a recurring character to date in the Horror Hotel web series, James Edward Thomas is not only entertaining on screen as "Al Sharko", but off screen as well. His war chest of famous people and interviews of them as an entertainment reporter was nothing short of tantalizing. Here is a behind the scenes look at this versatile Atlanta actor we are proud to call a regular guest at the Horror Hotel.

    Recently you were listed among the top 25 active actors in Atlanta I believe. You are gaining more recognition locally for sure, but many people may not know that you have quite a resume of accomplishments and roles from a number of well known tv shows, including a stint as a long time CNN anchorman. Can you give us a little history on all that?

   I graduated from the University of Georgia with a major in Journalism and a minor in Drama & Theater. Shortly after graduation I was hired at WAGA channel 5 in Atlanta as a news producer, reporter and weekend anchor. Deborah Norville and I were coworkers and occasionally co anchored together.

From there I was hired by KTTV in Los Angeles to host a primetime news magazine for Southern California. That led to a job as News Anchor at KNBC and then to CNN where I reported for “ ShowBiz Today.” At that point I met a theatrical manager who offered to help me use my notoriety in Los Angeles to transition into acting in Film and Television. I started out with small roles in soap operas such as “Santa Barbara” on NBC, then moved on to “Young and the Restless” on CBS and into a regular role playing a character named “Greg Jaworski” on ABC’s”General Hospital.” Before long I was cast in nighttime episodics such as “Dallas”, “The New Mike Hammer”, “The New Twilight Zone”, and other popular shows of that era. My first starring role came as swindler Jerry Whittington, on “America’s Most Wanted.”


    You were always fascinating us on the set of Horror Hotel telling us about all the famous and memorable people you had meet while working at CNN. Who were some of the more impressionable people you were able to interview?

  Working on CNN’s “ShowBiz Today” put me in a position to meet and interview celebrities that I’d grown up watching like Charleton Heston, Rock Hudson, Burt Reynolds, Fred McMurray, Bob Hope, Jane Fonda, Bruce Dern, Michael Landon, Dyan Cannon, Cary Grant….the list goes on and on…. One of my favorite stories involves paying a visit to the Bel air home of Robert Stack, who was famous for playing “Elliot Ness’ in an old series called “The Untouchables” and later as the host of “Unsolved Mysteries”.
He inherited the home from his mother who bought it in the 30’s. When Stack was a child living in the home, Howard Hughes crashed an airplane into their back yard. Stack took me out back and showed me the area of the yard where his parents and neighbors helped pull Hughes from the wreckage. The scene is depicted in the Film “The Aviator” starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

You were on hiatus from acting for a few years operating a highly successful private business. Have you found it difficult to get back into the swing of things again?

Being away from acting for over ten years required a lot of study and practice to get my myself back into a state where I am comfortable auditioning and performing again. I credit Bob Harter and Della Cole with helping me get back in the groove. They operate a very fine acting school in Atlanta called YOURACT.  I also did some training with another great acting teacher named Rob Mello.

You are to date, the only recurring character in the Horror Hotel web series as Al Sharko, the crafty fence that all the guests at the hotel associated with crime, seem to know. He appeared in episode "Houdini's Hand: and was a feature character in episode "Guillotine". Did you enjoy playing that character and did you take your inspiration from anyone in particular?

Al Sharko is one of the most fun characters I've ever played. The guy is blackhearted.....anything for a buck. I've known guys like him and I draw from that. Hopefully I'll get to play him again in future episodes of Horror Hotel. 

You also played the sci-fi writer, Rodney Silvers in "Invader", a throw back, black and white episode. Can you give us a little insight into that character?

Rodney was a complete departure for me. He's a Dweeb who probably sites around all day eating pizza and drinking beer while he sits at his typewriter writing episodes of "The Dimension Beyond." I can tell you that thanks to diet and exercise regimen, he won't have such a huge gut if he ever appears onscreen again. lol

You have worked in tv and major film. How is working on a web series different for you and what is the advantage  of working on a web series?

As far as I'm concerned, there was no difference in working on the Horror Hotel web series compared to other television production I've done. Bigger studios maybe. But Horror Hotel is a very professional operation. Scripts are fantastic, as are the Directors, Producers, sets, makeup and effects. The Hess family is super creative and just does things right. Actors are taken care of so they can run free creatively. 

Actors are taken care of so they can run free creatively. Any actor would be lucky to be part of anything the Hess's produce. 

What are some of the projects you are currently and have recently worked on?

Besides Horror Hotel, in 2013 I have had the privilege of working with Benny Demus and AKON on their gripping webseries "Eeazy" playing a nefarious Atlanta attorney by the name of "Rosenberg".  It's due to be released very shortly. I also just completed a role in the film "Curveball" from Atlanta's SUPREMACY FILMS as the father of one of the main characters. It's due to be released in 2014. Right now, I am shooting a fantastic character named "Big Harold Jenkins" in "Buried Cain" from SPIRIT WORLD productions which is slated for release in summer 2014. Jenkins is an alcoholic, womanizing small town preacher. What more could an actor ask for in a role? Fun, Fun, Fun. 

Also checking my phone messages regularly hoping that "Al Sharko" will be making more appearances in the second season of "Horror Hotel". 

Well, we can't imagine Horror Hotel without our favorite fence, Al Sharko, so stay tuned Jim!
You can see all the episodes at the World Premiere, Thursday, Sept. 26th, 8pm. Porter Sanford Community Arts Center, 3181 Rainbow Drive, Decatur, GA 30034. 

Hope to see you there!!!!!