Tag Archives: John Semper, Jr.

GIMME SHELTER (1970): AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN SEMPER

Gimme Shelter (1970) is a documentary film about the last ten days of the 1969 Rolling Stones tour. The film was directed by brother documentarians Albert and David Maysles. It is best known today for having captured footage of the murder of a black man by a Hells Angels security guard at the Altamont Speedway near San Francisco. Gimme Shelter recently received the Criterion treatment on DVD. This is an interview with John Semper, Jr., who worked for Albert and David Maysles while they were editing that film.

John Semper Jr’s experience with Gimme Shelter, the Maysles brothers, documentary filmmaking, the film industry, and film as art and commerce.

“What happened was in high school I knew this guy named Gregor Shapiro. In fact, we’re still friends even though he lives in Sweden these days. Somehow Gregor had a connection to the Maysles: Albert and David. I already knew who they were because I was a budding young filmmaker back in the days when nobody under twenty saw any future in being a budding young filmmaker. It was a completely different time. We were not as drenched in media as we are today. For most of my peers being in the media was not a viable career option. That’s how long ago that was, but for me it was, and I was paying a lot of attention to the documentary filmmaking that was going on.

The Maysles were unique because they had created a custom-built,16mm hand-held camera. This was cutting edge technology. They had designed this camera. I think David had designed it. It was balanced so they could have it on their shoulder for a long period of time and it would not cause them a great deal of fatigue. The idea of something hand-held that would not cause you a great deal of physical discomfort was a huge breakthrough.

The other thing about their equipment was that the camera ran silently. 16 mm cameras in those days were extraordinarily noisy and blimps that you would put on them to make them quiet were huge. You couldn’t really do documentary filmmaking without being very visible and very loud. Not only could the Maysles carry their equipment unobtrusively, without causing them physical pain, but it was silent so after a while people forgot that they were there.

They did this one documentary that got a lot of attention called Salesman [also a Criterion release] where they followed around a bible salesman in New England, following him from door to door. The fact that they could get this candid footage was unheard of. Also, the fact that you could record sound on the fly. Remember sound had to be recorded separately from pictures. There were no cameras really that recorded sound while you were recording picture. That was all very new and exciting. The footage that they got, which today we would call “reality” footage, in those days it was very much “documentary” footage. The Maysles ability to capture people in their regular lives was unrivaled and amazing

Still from Gimme Shelter (1970)This was the late 1960s. I knew the Maysles’ work because I had seen Salesman and I was heavily into watching and studying documentaries. Gregor went and worked for the Maysles during one Christmas vacation. Gregor came back to school afterwards, and he had somehow got hold of a duplicate of the footage from Gimme Shelter where the guy gets killed: the one guy that the Hells Angel is knifing, a poor black guy who is wearing a lime green suit. Gregor had this footage and he showed it to us. We were all just mesmerized that this had happened and that Gregor had the footage.

As I recall, Gregor was not as interested in film as much as I was. He had just kind of stumbled onto this job. Gregor was more interested in still photography. He turned to me and said: “I know you are really interested in film. Why don’t you come to New York with me next summer, I will introduce you to the Maysles. Let’s see if we can work there again.”

That summer Gregor and I went to New York and stayed at the Chelsea Hotel. The first night we walked in who was in the lobby, drunk out of her mind, but Janis Joplin! We were checking in and Janis Joplin comes walking Continue reading GIMME SHELTER (1970): AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN SEMPER

BEHIND THE SCENES OF JOHN SEMPER’S “CREEPORIA,” PART 3: INTERVIEW

* This is the third in a three-part series (although we will publish a short interview with “Creeporia” stars Camille and Kennerly Kitt this weekend). Catch up on part 1 and part 2. Interview with John Semper.

On casting choices: The thing that I did in casting, which I tend to always do when I’m casting nonprofessionals, is that I chose people who I thought were very close in personality to the characters that I wanted them to play. I wasn’t always looking for actors who could deliver brilliant performances that are outside of their comfort zone. Often times, all I needed was someone to be reasonably comfortable in front of the camera, being a slightly exaggerated version of themselves.

..

On actors: We had a few really strong actors. Michael Davis is a very strong actor, a lot of experience in improv comedy. Randy Cox is a strong actor. These were actors who played multiple roles because I could tell from their auditions that they could handle it. Creeporia CastThe thing about the girls [Camille and Kennerly Kitt] is that they were perceptive.

Some of the other actors who auditioned were horrible. Some people couldn’t even read, let alone act. So, it was a breath of fresh air when I came across these two young talents who could find the nuances in the dialogue and understand where the jokes were.

Jim Mannan is a good, strong actor. The plus to Jim is he that was also a dedicated worker. He was one of the most professional people on the set, in that he was required to be on set for a very long time and never complained. He just had a fantastic demeanor and dedication to the film.

Tristan Ross: I could tell was a very strong actor and, therefore, I felt very comfortable handing him a significant role. I am happy with what he did, but word reaches me that he is less than appreciative of having been in this film, which I think is a shame, because I think he did a good job.

When you guys originally sent me the audition tape for Mark Carter (Sammy Terry), [executive producer] Patrick [Greathouse] was trying to sell me on the idea of Mark being the male lead. I didn’t see that in Mark. What I saw in his performance was a kind of larger than life personality that would be perfect for the game show host, Blink Nightingale.

Mark is really funny and this character needed a lot of room to expand. I couldn’t tell from the audition tape whether or not Mark had great acting chops (it turns out that he does), but I could tell that there was a comfort in front of the camera and that there was a big personality.

Patrick first started talking to me about Sammy Terry, and Pat was obviously very excited about Sammy Terry, but I didn’t grow up in Indianapolis. I Continue reading BEHIND THE SCENES OF JOHN SEMPER’S “CREEPORIA,” PART 3: INTERVIEW

BEHIND THE SCENES OF JOHN SEMPER’S “CREEPORIA” PART 2

*This is the second in a three-part series; here’s part one.

In regards to John Semper[1], 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.

Still from CreeporiaThe 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 Continue reading BEHIND THE SCENES OF JOHN SEMPER’S “CREEPORIA” PART 2

  1. John Semper bio []

BEHIND THE SCENES OF JOHN SEMPER’S “CREEPORIA”

* This is the first in a three-part series.

Patrick Greathouse, of the Asylum House and Asylum Productions, was excited when he called me. With Patrick, that is the norm. Since returning to Indiana, I had been sporadically working with him on the Asylum Haunted House; the upcoming season would mark the 13th anniversary of the project. Patrick, not being Internet savvy (and myself being slightly more so), asked me to go onto MySpace and contact horror hosts around the country. He wanted to do a cross promotion. The Asylum House would promote them on the Asylum website; in turn, the horror host could film a “Happy 13th Anniversary Asylum House” video. OK.

Promotional image from Creeporia As I was looking at some of the so-called horror hosts, one caught my eye: Creeporia. She had an atypical look, but, more importantly, she had a story. She did not merely appear on camera doing her schtick. Actually,  Creeporia wasn’t a “horror host” at all since she doesn’t do any hosting—and that was probably a good thing. The Creeporia webshow decidedly channeled old school horror. It was fun and classy in a way similar to Rankin/Bass’ Mad Monster Party (1967) and Roger Corman‘s The Raven (1963). After contacting the actress who played the role, she directed me towards her creator: .

Since I have not watched television since about 1989, I was not familiar with the name John Semper.  I contacted him, letting him know what I was seeking. Semper emailed me within a short period, gave me his number, and suggested I call him on Thursday since he preferred not to communicate via email. In the meantime, he asked me for a link to the Asylum House site and links to my own work, including my film reviews at 366. He suggested I check out his online resume. I did, and was surprised to discover that he was the creator of a 1990s animated “Spiderman” television series. Semper had a lengthy Hollywood resume, having worked with such names as  and George Lucas.

Thursday: Semper and I talked at length about movies. , , Roger Corman,  and were among numerous shared interests. We both agreed that genre labels were a silly waste of time. However, when the subject of the horror “genre” came up, we felt kinship in the view that the label itself had considerably degenerated. When  landed Frankenstein (1931), he knew he had reached a new plateau in his art and career. Today, for the most part, work in the horror genre imprints a brand of gutter slumming on the director.

Semper and I talked so much of film that it was some time before we got around to the subject of the Asylum House. He had read the rave reviews of the haunt and seen some of the pics and trailers. He was impressed by the effort put into the endeavor and asked about our future plans. Patrick had been flirting with the idea of producing an old school horror anthology film. Before calling Semper I had shown Patrick the “Creeporia” web series. One of the proposed anthology stories concerned a horror host, and we speculated on possibly using a clip from Creeporia within the Continue reading BEHIND THE SCENES OF JOHN SEMPER’S “CREEPORIA”

FROM THE CRYPT OF CREEPORIA

“Alfred Eaker’s Fringe Cinema” is a column published on Thursdays covering truly independent cinema: the stuff that’s so far under the public radar it may as well be underground.  The folks making these films may be starving artists today, but they may be recognized as geniuses tomorrow.  We hope to look like geniuses ourselves by being the first to cover them.

The 1950s through the 1970s was the era of the horror host/horror personality.  Most of these characters, from Vampira on down to Sammy Terry, mixed horror and humor quite effectively and the period is widely considered to be a golden age of horror personalities.  Since then, Elvira, of course, made a name for herself.  Now, with the post myspace/facebook/youtube age, there has been a re-emergence, indeed a plethora of new horror personalities.  Predictably, most of these are pale, watered down imitations of the originals with no unique personality of their own, with a notable exception: Creeporia.

Creeporia, Episode 1, part 1: other episodes can be viewed at creeporia.com

Creeporia is the creation of producer John Semper Jr, who has an extensive 30 year resume, mostly in animation, which includes work with Jim Henson, George Lucas, and Stan Lee and shows such as the animated “SpiderMan” and “Static Shock.”  Semper’s sincere  affection for the classic Roger Corman school of horror humor is quite apparent in his Creeporia creation and the shows he has crafted for her.

Semper’s experience has taught him plenty and he’s savvy enough to know that the key lies in a well developed character with a unique personality.  He could not have done better in actress Kommerina DeYoung.  Young’s Creeporia thankfully does not resort to being yet another in the Vegas imitators’ school for Elvira, Vampira and those who came before.  Creeporia is  her own ghoul and she is sexy, but never resorts to caricatured farce.  Creeporia lives (sort of) in a crypt with a host of characters, such as a skull named Bonaparte (aka Boney), a corpse named Maurice, a spider named Harlan, a bat named Batty, and more.  There’s a bit of the zany Pee Wee Playhouse atmosphere in the Continue reading FROM THE CRYPT OF CREEPORIA