Portland director filming the first all-puppet horror feature in 35 years

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Nov 16, 2017

Quick, name the last all-puppet fantasy horror movie in the last three decades. Stumped? If you shouted out Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal (1982) that would be correct and wins you the admiration of those confounded fans with lesser memories worldwide.

Shattering that 35-year drought comes the first all-puppet horror film, Frank & Zed, from the twisted mind of Portland, Oregon filmmaker Jesse Blanchard. He's crafted an incredible homage to classic monster movies of the past with handmade sets and puppets in his Pacific Northwest basement and the results will blow your mind.

A rough cut of the finished film tells the fearful fairy tale of a corpse-created creature and his brain-munching companion as they exist in relative harmony until an ancient curse requires villagers to take up mystical weapons and storm their castle abode to destroy them. Gory and outrageous, Blanchard's brainchild is just finishing up its Kickstarter campaign to gain funds to complete the fine tuning and pay musicians to compose an original score.

You can still contribute to this bloody-good labor of love by contacting the director's Puppetcore Films HERE.

 

The trailer above is actually closer to a proof-of-concept video that was shot, crafted, edited, all in less than 400 square feet of space! Since the premiere trailer debuted online, Blanchard has completed another 1,200 shots on the film. They average eleven shots per day but many shots took a full day to shoot by themselves. This, of course, does not include any of the actual fabrication of the detailed sets, characters, props, or costumes designed by Blanchard's mom, Susan Blanchard.

 

SYFY WIRE spoke with Blanchard on this ambitious puppet project and learned how difficult this process was and what lies ahead on the film festival circuit for Frank & Zed.

Why did you turn to puppets to make Frank & Zed?

Jesse Blanchard: I'd been making films for years and had some success, including a Zombie short picked up by Romero, but I was always frustrated by the results. I was working on a creature film and knew that I wanted the main monster to be a practical puppet. ('Puppet' is the industry term for a practical effect monster). Suddenly I said, 'What if everyone was a puppet? This was both exciting and scary at the same time. I did a test horror short with puppets and never looked back.

What were some of the extreme challenges of Frank & Zed?

To us, the puppets are not a joke. We are making an amazing, fantasy, comedy, horror film that just happens to use puppets. So, that means, we have to make the puppets and everything they do completely believable. Of course, this get difficult quickly because the puppets can't do anything on their own; they don't have legs, they don't have eye lids, and their fingers don't move. So, getting them to pick up a cup is almost impossible and we need them do march into battle and fight in hand-to-hand combat. So, we ended up pushing the technique of puppetry into realms that we haven't seen done in film before.

Can you tell us a little bit about the world-building required?

One of my favorite parts of this film was creating the world of Frank & Zed. I wanted it to be really big and to feel complete. My strategy for this was to make it exhaustively detailed but to never shoot that detail as if it's important. In fact, we went the opposite route. We said, we're gonna shoot everything as if it's not important.

 

Any funny puppet-related accidents happen during filming?

A story I like is, we made the original fire-breathing puppet using hot glue. When it came time to film, we're squirting alcohol out his mouth for the flames and with every take, whatever doesn't burn soaks into the puppet. So, you're up to your shoulder in an alcohol drenched wad of felt squirting at a torch in your other hand. Then, we realize, that the alcohol is acting as a release on the hot glue so the whole thing is disintegrating on top of you. Of course, the poor puppet finally went up in flames and we had to be totally rebuilt.

Another small story is, the film ends in a crazy, epic battle called, 'The Orgy of Blood.' I was actually scared to show the storyboards to the crew because it was over 450 shots and ended up being 30 minutes long. I love how the battle turned out but it was over three months of shooting which was an exhausting way to end principle photography.

How long is the finished film?

Current cut is 87 minutes. It should clock in about 90 minutes when done with five minutes for the credits. This film has taken four years to turn into a feature; it's one of the most laborious, inventive independent films ever made.

Take a peek at some exclusive stills from the Frank & Zed production in the gallery below, then tell us if this worthy project deserves your support and awe.