*This is the second in a three-part series; here’s part one.
In regards to John Semper, Patrick Greathouse asked the question, “Why partner with the Asylum House?”
I put this question to Mr. Semper. “I liked my conversations with both you and Pat,” he responded. “You dig deep into films and so do I. Pat seemed to enjoy comedy-horror and we bonded over that. I was impressed with all of the resources at hand. Pat prepared a video guided tour of your standing sets and props. I could begin to envision that with all of those resources, and also the makeup talent, we might be able to pull off a halfway decent film for very low dollars. The script was easy. I tried to keep it limited to the resources Pat had on hand. ”
Naturally, the script was not entirely limited to the Asylum House location. Six additional locations were required. We secured those locations over the course of a year in pre-production. We needed a restaurant and found one in Miss Betty’s Dinner Theater in Trafalgar, Indiana. It is run by a bona-fide golden girl named Betty Davis, AKA Miss Betty.
The Historic Hannah House, in Indianapolis, is a haunted attraction with which The Asylum House has a good working relationship. The Hannah House perfectly served the script’s needs for the “Mason Q. Arkham” wax museum scene. The equally historic Fountain Building in Fountain Square would be the home of our big dance number and laboratory scene.
“Creeporia” has been a blessed project in many ways. It seemed for every setback we had, an opportunity opened. Clearly, the production was going to need a bigger budget than what we immediately had available on hand. A local businessman had expressed interest in investing in the project. Several months into pre-production, that potential investor backed out. Shortly after he did so, another source of capital opened for us. A year previous, The Asylum House had put in a bid in for an extensive mural job at the Veteran’s Hospital. Patrick and I worked several months fine tuning our bid package, submitted it, only to be told that the Hospital could not raise the needed budget at that time. A year later, our bid was accepted, and the income from that job would be beneficial for our post-production needs.
In addition to being a producer (mainly, a pre-production producer), I also had been assigned the position of casting director. John Claeys, an Asylum House veteran who has designed and built many of the attraction’s sets, was tapped for Art Direction, Assistant Director and the role of our Mad Genius Professor. Claeys, a true blue eccentric who channels the elder Peter Cushing when he acts, was aptly cast.
Over the year, Patrick and I began filming auditions for 47 monsters. For the pivotal role of antagonist Mason Q. Arkham, we landed another Asylum veteran in the actor Tristan Ross. Ross had been the Asylum’s “Sweeney Todd” for years, until the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp film soured the part for him. Since then, Ross had been a memorable Mr. Edward Hyde inhabiting Claeys’ Elysium.
The auditions were a mixed blessing. We conducted and filmed them at the Mass Avenue Comedy Sportz, an improvisational comedy club. Several Asylum actors volunteered to assist us. Predictably, every attractive girl who came into audition was met by crowds of volunteer co-star actors with raging libidos who acted like they had never seen a female before: “Patrick, get these guys the hell out of here!”
One of my assistants was a short, squat actor from the Haunt who told me: “Man, I have to play the werewolf character, Wolfgang. I am really into the werewolf culture. It is my life’s destiny to play a werewolf.” We had a few decent auditions for the werewolf part, including said assistant, but none that were particularly striking. One potential actor read for several parts, and I wanted him to read for Wolfgang. I asked the assistant to give the actor the Wolfgang sides. A short time later when the candidate took the stage, I asked him to read for the part. “Your assistant told me that I couldn’t read for Wolfgang because the part has been filled.” Scratch one assistant and any idea of a short, squat lycanthrope.
Michael Davis, from Comedy Sportz, and Randy Cox, an Asylum House actor, were exceptional enough that they were cast in multiple roles. Michael plays Count Blablabla/Cy Clops/Dr. Creepogari, while Randy Cox tackles Harvey Goodwill/Assistant Director. Liberty or Death Production’s James Mannan as Cannibal Hector, Noah Kinsey as Rhett Butler, Kayla Gill as Heather, Randy Buschard as Freakenstein, and Tyler Pittman as horror aficionado boy Johnny were all standouts. Mark Carter had recently taken over the role of horror host Sammy Terry from his legendary father. Sammy makes a cameo in the film, and Mark also took the role of Blink Nightingale (without makeup).
As busy as we were, Patrick and I both agreed to cameos: Patrick appears as a waiter in the restaurant scene, myself as a business partner in the opening. My performance art character; BlueMahler, was also given a silent cameo for our Hollywood backlot scene, filmed at Lafayette Square Mall.
John Semper on casting: “Casting went well. I cast some actors who seemed very close to the type of character they were going to play, and others who seemed very talented. Consequently, I found much of what I was looking for. There were only a few actors whom I wanted who turned us down, but I was able to figure out replacements, even having two actors double-up and perform more than one role.
I didn’t want to cast out of L.A. L.A. performers—in fact LA people in general—can be somewhat cynical and jaded. I wanted a set full of bright, energetic people with a good sense of humor. No sourpusses, downers or snarky whiners allowed. The only people I brought in from outside Indy were the talented jazz singer Elaine Miles, who, along with my wonderful composer, John Chiodini, helped write a new song for the project. I wanted her to be the one to perform it, which she does beautifully in the role of Elaine, the Brain That Wouldn’t Die.
I brought in professional New York choreographer Melanie Baker, whom I also cast in a small role. She choreographed our big dance numbers, and she did a wonderful job. She worked with Lynn Herrick and her local Indy dance company, The Dance Refinery, all of whom did a great job.
From LA, I brought in Rachel Halsey to do makeup and make the girls seem even more beautiful than they already are (if that’s even possible). Rachel is a true artist and I knew I needed somebody of her high-caliber to work on the faces of our lead actresses who would be on camera throughout the entire film.
Josh Baker came in from Chicago to play the male lead in our film, and he is hilarious. The twins [Camille and Kennerly Kitt] found him. They have great judgment, because he was perfect for the role. But that was it for the outsiders. I really wanted to draw the cast and crew from the pool of talent in Indianapolis. I liked the fresh, creative energy that they all brought to the table.”
As we were coming close to filling out the majority of the roles, Patrick called me with the news: “The actress playing Creeporia needs to be replaced.” The resulting search was something akin to an Indiana version of the Scarlett O’Hara hunt. After auditioning seemingly countless actresses, there were two that had potential, but Semper was patient and selective, not wanting to commit to either.
Then, I received a communication from twin actresses: Camille and Kennerly Kitt. They wanted to audition. When I looked at their resume and checked out their site, I discovered them to be trained in the arts, erudite, performing harpists who were developing a following. The best actors in the horror genre are rarely fans. Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, and Barbara Steele were all educated, genteel, and had an appreciation for the arts. I saw those qualities in the Kitts bios and their Harp Twin videos. I forwarded their email onto Semper, who encouraged me to audition them.
Camille and Kennerly Kitt on their musical background: “We started playing the piano when we were children and began playing harp a little before high school. We both loved the harp and thought it was a magical instrument. We had to convince our mom that we were serious about learning harp because she was worried it might just be an overly expensive whim. We proved we were serious about learning it by earning the money for our own harp. We walked dogs, baby-sat, did office work, etc. From the start, we knew that we wanted to play duets, so we earned the money for a second, pre-owned harp. We were classically trained and have degrees in Harp Performance from a Conservatory of Music. However, even then we knew we wanted to play contemporary music (which is rather frowned upon in a Conservatory). Since we couldn’t find contemporary music arranged for one harp (let alone two!), we began arranging all of our own music. We even put our pop and rock adaptations into our Conservatory recitals. We knew that we wanted to make a career our of being a contemporary Harp Duo, but we also knew that we would have to create our own niche. it is always a bit intimidating to strike out on an unknown path, but we were determined to show that we could take harp where it has never gone before. We have never sought an agent for anything; so everything that we have down, we have done ourselves.”
The twins came into acting belatedly: “We have always loved acting and we try to fit media projects into our harp performance schedule. We’ve been in several commercials, including a National commercial for the Toshiba Thrive Tablet and a Chupa Chups lollipops commercial for Japanese television. We have been in several short films as well as several feature films.. Our first feature film was the 2011 film Politics of Love. After that we had roles as ‘The Marcelli Twins’ in Blacktino (2011).”
I was enthusiastic about the twins enough that, secretly (don’t tell Semper) I rehearsed them over the phone for a couple of days, sent them links to the Creeporia site/web series, dialogued with them and made suggestions. After a few days, Camille and Kennerly made an audition demo themselves and overnighted it to us. Upon seeing it, Patrick and I both felt we had our Creeporia, but that was for John Semper to decide.
Semper on casting Creeporia: “The biggest question mark was finding somebody to play Creeporia. It’s a tough process, because Creeporia has to be both beautiful and funny, which isn’t an easy combination to find. And by beautiful I don’t just mean pretty. There are a lot of attractive women in the world, but to hold your attention on film for an entire movie, an actress has to have an uber-beauty, a hyper-real, transcendental quality of beauty that really stands out. The original Creeporia had that, but she and I ran into creative differences, and she wasn’t available to perform in this project. Fortunately, we stumbled upon the twins, and they had it all. Their audition demo showed that they were beautiful and funny. The icing on the cake was that they were also smart. Being genuinely intelligent really helps when you’re trying to make a low-budget production like this. As a director, you need to have actors do things quickly and understand what you need without a lot of explanation. It’s always better to work with smart people, and the twins are brilliant. They’re so smart, that at times, when I was really fatigued and out of it, it seemed like they were directing ME! We could not have made this film without them. Once we found them (or to be precise, they found us), we were good to go.”
Camille and Kennerly on being cast: “When we initially sent in our resume and photo to be considered, we were not expecting to audition for the role of Creeporia. We were very surprised when we were sent Creeporia sides to audition. Since we weren’t interested in just one of us landing a solo role, we did the sides together-both of us playing the role of Creeporia. We sent in a tape and didn’t hear anything for a long time. It was months later when John Semper called us and told us that we were being offered the role of Creeporia and that he was actually adapting the script to incorporate the fact that there were two of us. It was very exciting. When we first read the script we loved it!
We thought that Creeporia was such an interesting and unique character and spirit and John had created a fascinating and eclectic assembly of monsters to surround her. ”
Another stroke of luck for us was that The Asylum House had its best season ever that year. We would start shooting on November 1st, the day after the haunted house season’s end. The profits propelled us forward with the required budget. Unfortunately, the mural project, which was necessary, had to be manned by me. This pulled me away from being on location full-time during the shoot. I had been helping develop this project for over a year, but now I was forced to make the mural (and my schoolwork) top priorities. As disheartening as this was, it was an essential prioritizing. As I was unavailable during shoot, local Larna Smith was chosen for line producer. Make-up artists Don Trent, Phil Yeary, Jennifer Ring, and Steve Stephens had the daunting task of creating 47 monsters. Trent, with assistance from Yeary, and Patrick, created the films masks and costumes. The Twins’ mother, Diane Elaine Carlson, assisted her daughters.
Semper, Camille Kitt, and Kennerly Kitt all showed up a few days before filming, early enough to experience a trip through The Asylum House.
Camille and Kennerly Kitt: “We actually arrived in Indianapolis for filming right at the culmination of the Halloween season. We went through the horror house and it was definitely the largest and most elaborate that we had ever seen! It was wonderful to see the essence of what The Asylum House is before we started filming “Creeporia.” Everyone there is so talented and it was fun to see The Asylum House transformed into the Creeporia Universe.”