The Making of the Undead Hepcat's Monster Show Part 2 : Finishing the First Season & Shameless Self Promotion
I drove back up to Cedar Falls a couple weeks after the taping session with a file box of VHS tapes, a hand drawn title card, and copy of Screamin' Jay Hawkin's Greatest Hits on CD.
I walked into the editing room I'd been awestruck by the previous semester and found it completely empty save for a very tall guy with long hair goofing around on one of the computers. He was a senior named Jason McGovern and had a workstudy job as the lab monitor. He of course had no idea who I was or where/who Phil was or anything, but seemed pretty affable and listened patiently to my explanation of what I was doing.
"Like Mystery Science Theater?" he said.
"Yes." I said.
He got a little excited at that and helped me scan my title card into Photo Shop to recolor it, then put that image in their sophisticated-video-editing-software-that-I-was-not-allowed-to-touch so that I could get a VHS clip that consisted of the colored scan with a loop of the first few bars of "I Put a Spell on You" playing over it to use as an opener for the show. He also made a closing credit sequence for me (two typed pages in a "blood drip" font with part of "I Hear Voices" playing), so I asked that he put his own name on there as part of the production team.
What followed next were marathon re-watchings of every film for the first season over two trips up to Cedar Falls that Summer as I manually dubbed the title card, my clips and the movies themselves together onto fresh VHS tapes. This had to happen in real time with my waiting finger on the pause button for the right cue.
I got all eight episodes ready in time for the start of the new semester, reconnected with Richard Varn to make sure I knew how to get the tapes on the "air," and then hastily made some posters at the copy shop -- xeroxes of the title card I'd drawn with the channel and air times on them which I posted around campus.
For whatever reason -- either laziness or more likely, surliness -- I didn't get these posters officially approved, but instead tore the little panther logo "approved" stamp off of another poster and stuck it on mine before I made the copies. When I realized that this worked, I just kept on doing it.
The night the first episode was supposed to broadcast (about 15 years ago today actually), I waited watching static on "UNI -22" for several minutes until I conceded that it wasn't actually coming on.
I was - furious -
I'm sure I left some kind of obnoxious pissy email or voice message for the guy in the control room -- probably around 12:30 am. I don't remember what the problem was, but I do remember marching over there the next day to get it resolved. In all fairness to this guy, I had the only show on the channel, so it was probably not on any body's radar that they needed to change their routine.
I think I took it hard because it seemed like another case of this whole thing not being what I thought it was going to be like. Varn's initial enthusiasm made me (naively, I guess) assume that since there was a whole college department of people who presumably wanted to get jobs in broadcasting, that had free access to and training on professional equipment, that they'd all be interested in joining in and helping me out -- for a chance to better learn their craft if nothing else.
I'd been running over in my mind how things had gone so far, and had decided that if the best the station had to offer me was an empty meeting room and camera that was very similar to the one my folk's had, I might as well shoot the whole thing myself under conditions I could control. It was pretty obvious that nobody was going to go out of their way to help me unless I connected with them one on one (like with Jason in the editing lab). I also realized that most of my success so far basically came from bluffing my way through. Just like most of the movies I was showing, the actual product wasn't all that great, but with the right publicity you could make up for its faults. So in the spirit of William Castle I carried on accordingly...
I contacted the campus newspaper and told them that I was making the only student produced television show on campus and that it would be a great story. I remember being interviewed by some (male) doofus over the phone, who seemed like he might have been drinking -- I don't remember his name, but I do remember that it is not the name credited to the article. A young lady took my picture (which I staged completely -- dressing in my "Frankenstein's Bloody Horror" t-shirt and crouching on top of a chair so that the Halloween masks I had hung up on the wall would fill the rest of the frame). The quotes from me resembled what I'd said enough that I was pretty satisfied with it, but I remember thinking these guys were complete jokers (not like the consummate professional I was, of course). I laid it on as heavily as I could making lots of promises about the as yet un-filmed second season and plugging all the "free stuff" you could get from the Fan Club.
Joining the Fan Club entailed emailing me with your dorm address so I could send you an iron-on transfer to make your own t-shirt and a plastic ring in either the shape of a skull or a bat with the word "Undead" written on it in sharpie. Here is the sole remaining "Official T-Shirt" which was worn proudly by my father on at least one occasion, and to mow the lawn on other occasions before being preserved for posterity.
The Fan Club had two big issues - aside from being pretty presumptuous for a show that was on at midnight on a channel nobody watched : 1. The only way you knew about it was reading this crummy article in full or watching the last ten seconds of my show and 2. I had used my university created email address (a predictably complicated and forgettable mishmash of my first initial and most of my last name with a few random numbers thrown in for good measure). It apparently did not occur to me to just make up something easy to remember like "firstname.lastname@example.org" . I'm sure its not the only reason, but it is is probably why I only had one one person every write me.
The success with the news paper convinced me to reach out to some sponsors, so I contacted The Kabalas (a punk-klezmer group from the Quad Cities that I'd idolized the last couple of years and had sort of tangentially made connections with). They had their own Fan Club and lots of crazy merchandise. They responded pretty enthusiastically and sent me a big bag of stuff -- basically one of everything including their first CD, a commemorative coloring book and a silk-screened pillow case.
On a whim, I clicked on the "contact us" link on Monsterscene Magazine's (a great, and alas now defunct glossy classic horror fan magazine) web site and tried the same pitch. I didn't hear anything back until an envelope filled with one of each of their back issues (about ten in all) showed up in my mail box -- no note or anything. I wrote back to thank them but never heard a word.
Restoration Project Update: I have dubed about half of "Season 2" to DVD and have uncovered my master "work prints" for Seasons 2, 3 & 4. I've started to dub those so I am hoping to start to rip, convert & edit them into shape in the next couple of weeks so that some video content can be posted here.