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Hal MacDermot [Film Festival 07.27.09] movie interview

I don't know what we'd do without Hal, our crazy little LA limey correspondent.. great is his writing, humorous are his ways. (You should hear the weird-ass conversations we have on the phone). Anyways, after the screening of Forbidden Zone in color, Hal scored a sweet interview with the man himself! You can check out the questions, and details on his upcoming projects including the long awaited Brave New Rosenburg and Forbidden Zone II after the break!

For the uninitiated, how would you describe the Forbidden Zone?

Forbidden Zone is essentially, on film, what we did onstage with the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. A mix of great forgotten musical classics, zany/original Danny Elfman music, plus my own particular brand of balls-out Absurdity. Forbidden Zone is also a satire on contemporary decadence and amorality, as the characters take very little responsibility for anything other than their own pleasures. Except Chicken Boy, and it costs him his head.

Tell me about the inspiration for this wonderful insanity.

Hmmnn.... Max Fleischer cartoons. German expressionism. La Comédie Française. The poor white trash family who lived next door -- dad would scream at mom, who would scream at slutty 13 year old sis, who would yell at 12 year old Billy-Bob, who would take it out on the dog. That was kind of my model for the Hercules family, of Forbidden Zone. Put a crown on Fantasy Island Tattoo's head and make him King of the Sixth Dimension, throw in the kitchen sink, and there you have it!

Were you doing drugs when you dreamed up Forbidden Zone?

Although I'm certainly not a Puritan about what others do for recreation, I don't take drugs (we'll, not since I was 18). My imagination is always at work, overtime, and I found that drugs weren't needed to get "crazy" ideas. Wine and women (or woman -- now that I'm married again) are already more than I can handle anyway!

I’ve only seen the Forbidden Zone in color, but the original was black and white. Why did you first use B&W, and then recently colorize?

My plan was to shoot in B & W, then have all the Sixth Dimension stuff hand tinted, frame by frame, in China. A terrific method used by a few crazy French surrealists in the 20's. Not too practical though!

Are there any plans for theatrical re-release?

I'm having a lot of fun with this. We created a "New Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo" to play around Hollywood, for the recent screening (YouTube video). I might do that again at the next screening, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with a popular, local troupe; The Super Happy Fun Time Burlesque Company. (Now doesn't that sound fun?)

Forbidden Zone II is in pre-production and I can’t wait. But just how pre is the pre? Where are you on the elements like script, score, actors and finance?

Got most of the script, some of the actors (to be announced), Danny has written some music and we have major chunk of the money committed. As soon our new mortgage goes through and I pre-sell a few more of my future grandchildren, we'll be in full gear! Oh, and Danny will reprise his role as the devil, doing his own revamped version of St. James Infirmary Blues.

Do you have a shooting date scheduled?

There will be soon. Forbidden Zone I was completed in 1982. I'm rested now, and ready for number two.

What is the Brave New Rosenberg project and does it involve a Mr. A. Huxley?

Picture the shabby storefront offices of the Rosenberg Detective Agency of East Los Angeles. Harold Rosenberg is a younger Woody Allen-type: neurotic and insecure - particularly in the detective business he inherited from his uncle. Pancho, his pint-sized partner, is an expert with the ladies but rather incompetent with anything else. Business is on the rocks, and Lavonda, the hefty, ebony office manager, spends most of her days doing her nails and honing her sharp-tongued comic wit. At last, a lucrative job comes their way: to find a beautiful girl who seems to appear and disappear in their vicinity. Things are looking up! Harold and Pancho locate the girl, give chase, and then…the stunning red-haired beauty literally disappears through a brick wall!

Harold and Pancho are now offered a ridiculous price for apprehending the girl. As if it isn’t complicated enough tailing a girl who goes in and out of another dimension, she somehow falls for poor Harold. In her surrealistic universe, filled with nothing but gorgeous super-models, things are based on opposites, and Harold is the hottest guy imaginable.

Pancho warns Harold that a bi-coastal relationship may be hard enough - but multi-dimensional? Forget about it! So do Harold and Pancho save their skins…or save the girl…or save the world? Good questions - and all settled in a thrilling, slam-bang climax!

And yes, a small connection and homage to Aldous Huxley (but you'll have to see the film to find out).

Do you have funding and a production plan for Brave New Rosenburg yet?

Am in negotiations as we speak! Getting pretty close.

You made the movie Modern Vampires, back in 1998, and I think you’re writing a vampire book at the moment. Talk to me about your book.

I started to write a script, "The Schlimazl of Sebreim," which takes place in 18 century Eastern Europe, about a persecuted Jewish youth called Schlimazl. When village yahoo's beat him up and leave him for dead, a mysterious Countess gives Schli the "Bite of Life." He's disgusted by the fact that he's become a vampire, but his new powers help him wreak havoc on those nasty villagers...and unwittingly win the love of Ludmilla, the comely inn-keeper's daughter. Schilmazl must seek a special rabbi, who lives in the mountains, to reverse this terrible curse. But he finds the rabbi is long dead... only his pet rat is still around. A talking rat who thinks he can effect the cure, using the rabbi's methods. But the mysterious Countess has other ideas.

Anyway, instead of writing a script, I did a short novel, which allowed me to get inside the character's heads. I'm looking for a graphic illustrator now, to complete the project. Then I want film the story, with a great Gypsy music score!

Outside of your own projects, where do think movies and music are heading, whether indie or commercial?

Well, there's always been a conflict between Art and Commerce. Artists are rebels by nature, but they want their work heard and seen...and to get done in the first place, which, in the case of film, takes money. The Internet is a great leveler, as a music act can now bypass a record label. Although those that have done it successfully had an audience already -- largely augmented by years of normal commercial marketing. Digital cameras replacing film is great. So much cheaper, less moving parts. That has opened the door to more filmmakers, certainly. I'm going digital on my future films! But I still will need a requisite amount of money to complete the projects, and then a marketing budget and commercial distribution machine to get it out there. Then again, there's always YouTube, my clown outfit and big bass drum!

What are some of your favorite twisted movies?

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Andy Warhol's Dracula, Evil Dead 2 and Freeway.

Do you still watch cartoons?

The Simpsons. They're quality never stops.

Deep down, what are you most afraid of?

Well not death or arrest. I'm towing the line more these days, but not out of fear -- I just have a lot goals I wish to accomplish, which I can't do dead or jailed. Did I tell you about the time I heisted 50,000 copies of a magazine, inserted my article and had it distributed to news stands? The photographer from the L.A. Weekly just "happened" to there at the time. When the felony charges where dropped, the Weekly ran it as "Grand Theft Arto." And I guess if you just saw that Forbidden Zone promo YouTube video, it's obvious I'm not afraid of degrading and humiliating myself either.

How do you find working with close, and sometimes rather well known, family members?

I'm pretty lucky in that regard. My little brother, Danny Elfman, turned out to be Mozart (a twisted one, but Mozart none-the-less). He marries Bridget Fonda -- the most wonderful, gracious, warm, giving lady one could ever wish for in a sister-in-law. My elder son, Bodhi (a brilliant actor/director/producer in his own right) marries Jenna, ALSO warm, gracious, generous, wonderful...and sooo damned FUNNY!!! Oh... Danny has done music for all my films, Bodhi acted in Shrunken Heads and he co-stars Brave New Rosenberg, Jenna's going to do a surrealistic/comic aerial ballet in Forbidden Zone 2, maybe something in Rosenberg, and and I'm about to chase Bridget with a role in Trio, a horror/fantasy which my mom and I wrote together. As these are people I love and have fun with each week -- working together is fun!

You are credited under the name Aristide Sumatra in various movies. Who is that dude?

Shrunken Heads has an old news vendor, from Haiti. The character’s name is Col. Aristide Lafitte Pierrre Sumatra, of the Ton Ton Macoute, ret. During a short Christmas break on Shrunken Heads, I directed a female martial arts quicko under that name. They shortened the name apparently. (I also use Mahatma Kane Sumatra)

Can I please come and live on your planet? Where is it located?

Under the Hollywood sign! You can read all about it at and!

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