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MARC LOUGEE
Writer of Edgar Allen Poeís The Pit and the Pendulum
Published by: Bluewater Productions

Interviewed by: Allen Klingelhoets - (Posted: 12/29/2008)

 

Marc Lougee

Allen: Tell our readers something about yourself. Also, how long have you worked professionally.

Marc: Iíve been an avid animation fan all my life, with a heavy interest in stop-motion animation and special effects. I nurtured my interest in films at an early age with a steady diet of televised Creature Double Features on Saturday afternoons, following a morning spent watching Warner Brothers cartoons with a cereal bowl planted in my lap. Those halcyon days of watching old monster movies were fantastic, as I watched many of Ray Harryhausenís brilliant works play out before me in Technicolor and black & white. What a treat! I had no idea most of the time how any of this cinematic magic was accomplished. Despite my blissful ignorance, I wanted very much to be involved in the fun of making this stuff.

Eventually youthful naivetť outweighed caution, and in a naÔve attempt to dig up whatever info or advice I could on Ďbreaking into the businessí, I launched a letter writing campaign to anyone I could think of in the film industry. I was 13-14 yrs old at the time, and had no idea what I was doingÖ. I sent letters to many of the magazines and comic book companyís I could find at the local convenience store. Thankfully, I got responses from several of my film heroes, including Jim Henson, Rick Baker, Dick Smith and several others. I was completely blown away with their generosity.

That summer, Star Wars was released, and I made my pilgrimage to see the film at a drive-in over 20 miles away. My parents thought I was staying at a buddies house, whereas in fact I was riding my bike hard to catch the first screening of Star Wars! Back then, living in the woods of rural New Hampshire, the roads were unlit and pitch-dark at night, with few cars passing by as I pedaled furiously on those epic rides. That summer I saw Star Wars a dozen times thru the fence at the rear of the drive-in, speaker to my ear as I watched the giant screen display. There was nothing in the world cooler than the stop-motion animated chess game!

All I wanted to do was get involved in making films- not having a clue that there were real jobs in the industry. I hadnít figured there were jobs to be had- it just seemed to cool to be a real job! Once I got that worked out, and grasped the idea I could make a living doing this stuff, my fate was sealed; I had to get in to the action.

I worked out a plan, at 15, which I wound up adhering to for a lot of years. I had it worked out where I would get into a high school with a film program, which college I was shooting for, and when I would move to New York, then LA.

I wound up outside of Boston, Ma for high school, joined the US Army to raise money for film school, went to college, got a gig at a tiny animation studio in Boston and eventually moved to New York, then Los Angeles. All in all, Iíve been working in the film & television industries for over 23 years.

Allen: Tell me exactly about your stop-action film style.

Marc: I like to mix things up in my approach as a director to stop motion animation, using a variety of media & techniques. I use puppets, miniatures, optical effects, digital visual effects, hand cranked camera movement, motion control and a myriad of on-set & post Ėproduction techniques, old school and new, to create the images I want to see. Iíve no purist bent when it comes to delivery, as long as the look, feel and approach of the final film matches with the most important part of the process; the story. Of course there are many folks that like to stick to a Ďtraditionalí approach, however they interpret that to be, but I think the advent of all the latest technological developments, from Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras and digital image capture software to the latest developments in materials used to create puppets is like having a new playground in which to go crazy.

Iím all for using the stuff that helps the process become more efficient, less tedious, and proves logistically beneficial to the project at hand. The less time I have to spend working around inherent limitations, the more time I have to create, develop and finesse the overall project. Thatís what works for me, anyway.

Another aspect that I like to incorporate is using the camera on set in much the same way I would approach a live action shoot; get the camera in there with the puppets, at their level, treating the camera as if it were scale to the characters. I feel this makes for some interesting, although sometimes subtle, compositional choices. This approach also helps dramatically in achieving depth and atmosphere, whether on a television series, commercial or film.

Allen: Tell me about The Pit and the Pendulum short stop-action film. What was your involvement with film? How and when did concept for this film come about?

Marc: The Pit and the Pendulum came about as an idea that started a number of years ago, as Ray Harryhausen and his business partner Arnold Kunert sought to develop some projects under their then newly-formed company, Ray Harryhausen Presents. Arnold asked if Iíd be interested producing short film under his and Rayís banner, Ray Harryhausen Presents.

Of course there is only one answer to that question for me, so Hand Made Heroes producer Susan Ma and I got looking into the logistics of pulling together the project. We had just wrapped on one show, and had a window of opportunity of a few months to get the film completed- at least principal photography- so we got very involved in seeking funding, crew, and a production strategy to shoot the film. Initially, Ray and Arnold were keen to produce Poeís Fall of the House of Usher, which would have been great, had we time and resources to do things right. I felt the Fall of the House of Usher would have been a bit more epic, and we only had so much room on our plates, so we opted to pitch The Pit and the Pendulum, figuring it was a bit smaller in scale, and something I felt we could manage inside of the 5-6 month window of opportunity we had available. I figured weíd have to create a pit, a pendulum and dark, dank dungeon and a couple of angst-ridden characters. What could go wrong?

Since Susan and I were left to fund this thing on our own, we sought help with funding and logistics. We pitched Fred Fuchs (formerly President of Coppollaís Zoetrope Studio) to act as Executive Producer, in a logistical as well as creative sense. Fred came on board, and we then secured generous funding thru Bravo!FACT, and additionally through the National Film Boardís Finishing Animation Program, which generously supplied necessary funding for our final 5.1 surround mix and audio post production work. Without Fred Fuchs, Bravo!FACT and the NFB FAP programs, we would have had monstrous obstacles to face in getting the film produced to the standards we had set for ourselves. We are forever grateful for the supremely generous support. In addition to the grant monies, we supplied the remainder of the budget ourselves, to assure we could finish the film on schedule, rather than hold out for another round of applications.

Once financing was in place, Susan Ma produced the film and I directed as acted as creative producer, dealing with anything creatively relevant to the project. From there, Ray okay ed the script, the boards, etc and we were off. The rest is becoming history.

Allen: Tell me about Ray Harryhausenís involvement with Pit and the Pendulum film.

Marc: Ray Harryhausen acted as Executive Producer on The Pit and the Pendulum, in a creative roll Ray had final approval on everything we were doing creatively on the production, so we worked closely with him on character design concerns, script, story, aesthetics, et al. I feel with Ray attached, I wanted to have his say-so on what all we did, so he got to see most everything before it was finalized.

Both Ray and Fred Fuchs involvement in the project was a big help in securing financing which enabled us to explore other opportunities, such as developing our proprietary image capture systems. Additionally, with Ray and Fred got involved, we had folks jumping out of the woodwork to help see this thing thru. In the end, with Fred Fuchs, Susan and I running things here in Toronto, we had a fantastic team of sculptors, visual effects artists, costume designers, set builders, animators, post production and camera crew assembled, without whom we would not have been able to create the film we did.

Allen: Is Edgar Allen Poe one of your favorite creative writers?

Marc: Lougee: Iíve been a fan of Poeís for many years, but not in the sense that I buy each version of his works on the shelves, or attend Poe conventions. Mine was more of a latent interest since high school, when I was introduced to his writing thru English classes.

At the time, I was far more interested in reading science fiction, graphic novels, and mountaineering adventure stories! Poeís work fit in there as well, but then again, it wasnít like I was a big follower until I was presented with the chance to be involved with the project. It was in the early stages of the development process that I came fully into who he really was, what he did in his life, developing an awareness of where Poe was coming from as an artist and human being. The guy had demons and I sought to see what drove him despite crushing adversity, poverty and social rejection. I read a bunch of his work again and in there, The Pit and the Pendulum resonated with me. The story really found me, rather than me finding the story.

Allen: Why do you think short stop-action film was so successful?

Marc: I think there are a broad band of potential answers there, but first, I believe the film addresses some of our basic questions- the big ones. The film touches on hope, faith, death, life, good vs. evil, right & wrong. In the film, the questions are asked, in a subtle way, but not answered.
Without even much dialogue, the story is understood, at least as far as seeing what this guy is going thru, and most everyone on the planet can sympathize with the Prisoner as a person wrestling with fear and hope, alone and on his own against overwhelming circumstances.

I think the film draws people in, allowing the viewer to almost forget theyíre watching a puppet film. The expressions of the Prisoner, the atmosphere in the Dungeon, and the subject matter prove the film to be more an experience than an object to ponder.

But then again, that might be just me, and the success of the film may be due to folks just liking stop-motion animation, generally. What do you think?

Allen: I also liked stop-motion animation. What is best way for to see film? Is it down loadable? Are there DVDís for sale?

Marc: Currently, the way to see the film is on Bravo! in Canada, where itís broadcast fairly regularly (Bravo!FACT having been a generous sponsor of the filmís production) or in film festivals around the world. The DVD is available online at www.thepitandthependulumshortfilm.com , with over 1.5 hours of extra features, including interviews with crew members, cast & crew biographies, photo gallery, storyboard examples, visual effects breakdowns and puppet construction techniques explained. Itís like a mini-film school for stop motion animation. We have plans to release the film on VOD and other delivery methods in 2009, but for the time being, I invite folks to enjoy the film in the comfort of their own homes on DVD, available through the official website at www.thepitandthependulumshortfilm.com .

Allen: Did you ever think prior to film of working in the comic book industry? How did you end up deciding to work with Bluewater Comics?

Marc: Iíve always thought it would be way cool to get involved in the comic book biz- what kid in their right mind wouldnít? Then again, Iím not an illustrator of any great ability and certainly not up to speed as a comic writer, so inevitably, Iíd shovel those thoughts of comic book greatness into the fiery furnace of reality, and in turn keep my focus on the animation stuff. Yíknow, where the real money is. However, for a time I did help a friend assemble a periodical that was a sort of cross between comic book, collage and photo- captioned tableau we called The Nuclear Exhumer. Following a sharp decline in (free) subscriptions after the first issue, we decided it was just far before itís time and abandoned the effort.

When I did eventually get a chance to talk with Darren at Bluewater, we hit it off immediately, deciding then and there we would pursue cross-platform interests together; I would have the opportunity to pitch and produce comic, film, series and online properties thru Bluewater Productions through my company, hand Made Heroes Film & Television. So, my comic book dreams have begun to realize with the introduction of The Pit and the Pendulum comic book. Iím pretty excited with the potential, and having been tossing ideas around for a few months, we have some very cool stuff weíre developing for the future. Maybe Iíll slip in a copy of The Nuclear Exhumer, see what happens...

Allen: Did you read many comics in your youth? Do you read many at present time?

Marc: Iím an avid fan, but donít have the time, or collection, I used to for reading comics. Iíd love to have more time to hang around comic shops, picking thru the piles and dropping my wallet at the counter, but these days I just donít have the opportunities to get to the shops as much as Iíd like. Of course I do when Iím in need of inspiration, or I know of some crazy cool issue thatís coming out, but for the most part, Iíve become a real sideline fan. As for my afore mentioned collection, I collected first issues of most any title of interest for close to 15 years... man, I had some beauties. Unfortunately, when I was working in LA, my brother made off with the boxes I had left with him to keep safe, and those stacks of comic brilliance disappeared into the ether. That maneuver really took the wind out of my sails for collecting, so I just kept a few, like my original release copy of The Watchmen, and Killing Joke. Priceless, in my eyes, and forever in plastic. Iíve got a second copy of most of my titles now, for pawing thru when I have a few minutes (and no ones looking).

Allen: Brief me about your upcoming comic book called Edgar Allen Poeís The Pit and the Pendulum. What can readers expect? Will this be straight adaptation or extension of film?

Marc: THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM comic book is a graphical adaptation of both Poeís original story and the short animated film I directed. But that, I combined images from the short film with Poeís text in comic book format to re-create the story for a comic book version of the two. The comic is still images from the film, but treated to represent the story with clarity, and illustrating the story in such as way as to make it widely accessible to a broad audience. The comic book is a one-off issue, so we woní be doing a series based on the story, though we may re-issue the book with different covers, dependent on how well it goes with the first printing.

Allen: Susan Ma was Producer of film The Pit and the Pendulum. Tell me about her involvement with comic: Edgar Allen Poeís The Pit and the Pendulum.

Marc: Susan is my partner in Hand made Heroes Film & Television, so she had a big hand in getting the production support needed to wrap up the comic while I was in production mode for Ray Harryhausen Presents; THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM on DVD. Without Susan, I would have been wallowing in piles of producer shenanigans, as I was up to my neck in several projects simultaneously; DVD production, comic book layout, wrapping another a short film, convention appearances and managing our film festival activities. Not to mention gigs we were involved with to keep the company afloat. Susan has a great eye for editing, so she was invaluable in vetting the book and pointing out glaring problems that skipped by me.

Allen: When can we find this comic book on the stands?

Marc: Darren at Bluewater Productions has informed me the release is scheduled for February, 2009. Should be available at most comic shops, and certainly anywhere youíll find Bluewater Comics titles. Itíll also be available through my online Amazon store, linked through my own sites.

Allen: Will there be alternate covers?

Marc: Weíre talking about alternate covers now, actually! Iíd like very much to do that, and I think we may, dependent on the reaction we get to the book on the first printing. Ideally, we would release with plans for a few different versions. Iím working on a couple of concepts now, and they look very cool. Different, interesting, and worth having as part of a collection.

Allen: What is best way for someone contact you?

Marc: The best way to contact me is thru the official The Pit and the Pendulum website or blog. Contact info is available thru those portals, and Iíll do my best to answer everyone that writes.

Allen: What is your website address?

Marc: The Official website for Ray Harryhausen Presents; The Pit and the Pendulum animated film is www.thepitandthependulumshortfilm.com .
The official blog, with all the latest news, reviews, festival screenings and appearances info is www.thepitandthependulumdvd.com .

Allen: Will you be going to any comic book conventions to help promote Edgar Allen Poeís The Pit and the Pendulum comic book?

Marc: Weíre planning some conventions for 2009 now, and our list of appearances will be available on my blog at www.thepitandthependulumdvd.com as well as the Bluewater Productions website. Looks like itíll be a busy year, as weíre looking at conventions all over the states, starting in February, 2009.

More info as it solidifies will be on The Pit and the Pendulum blog and the Bluewater Productions blog. Stay Tuned!

Allen: How hard was it for you to go from film to transition of The Pit and the Pendulum to comic book story?

Marc: I work out a film project with detailed storyboards prior to shooting, from the script stage, so doing the comic book planning was similar in many respects. I literally roughed out the book on paper in a matter of a few hours, initially, to get the basic idea down. That went quickly, as I had been thinking of doing a book version of the film to make available in conjunction with the DVD since the inception o the project , so I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to see in a comic/ graphical version of the story.

Once the rough layouts were finished, things got a bit tweaky, as I tend to adjust for awhile, until it all feels just right. This stage of the game tends to drive folks working with me a little batty due to ever-encroaching deadlines, but in the end, it usually works out really well. As for the images from the film, I had literally thousands to choose from, and with some serious Photoshop work, I managed to get the images modified to fit in a comic book format. I was happy to say there was a lot less hair-pulling hijinks than I expected in producing the book- between and my friend Steve Christov and Susan helping out, a lot of the repetitive re-sizing of all the images was taken care of, freeing up more time for me to get the creative stuff dialed in.

Allen: Tell me little about your work in past on Celebrity Death Match. Also, about how long did it take to create episode?

Marc: I was brought on to helm the animation aspects of Celebrity Deathmatch as Animation Director. We had 13 stages we shot on regularly, and added others as the schedule/ shows dictated. I was on board for 52, 22 minute episodes of animated mayhem, directing animation from script to post. It was a tough gig; I think I probably lost a couple years off my life on that one!

A Ďnormalí episode (if one can call an episode of that show normal), was scheduled for about 5 weeks of production. That was a bit shy of what we really could use, considering the neck-snapping maneuvers we were pulling off with each episode. A lot of what we were doing on the show- shooting series with digital cameras, virtual camera moves, etc. - hadnít been done before for series television, so we were flying by the seat of our pants daily, working out new techniques and processes as we stumbled along at a high rate of speed. That was a wild ride; we lost the tourists on that show.

Allen: Where would you like to go if a time vortex opened enabling you to go to and back to certain times? What would you like to see and why?

Marc: I think 1840ís London would be a very cool spot to land in, should I be so blessed as to find a time vortex (that Doctor Who hasnít messed with)! Reason for being is that period in particular is relevant to a couple things Iím working on, and a field trip back there would be hugely helpfulÖand it would save me a few trips to the library. Of course, while I was there Iíd look up some of the more interesting characters Iíve read about over the years. Could I bring a puncture Ėproof vest?

Allen: I just happen to have a puncture proof vest in stock. I will teleport it to you before you go back to 1840's London. What kinds of television shows or movies do you presently like to watch?

Marc: Iím all over the place for films and shows, but some recent stuff would be Children of Men, Kung Fu Panda, Speed Racer, There Will Be Blood, Thumb Wars, The Bourne Supremacy and Quantum of Solace.

For shows, Iím a big fan of The Wire, Heroes (seasons 1 +2), Dexter, Lost, early seasons of 24, and anything Sponge Bob Squarepants and Space Ghost: Coast to Coast.

Allen: What books do you enjoy reading?

Marc: Anything on special effects, visual effects and film making (Cinefex magazine is a favorite), animation, tech stuff, time warps, vortexes, get rich quick schemes, hidden treasure, nickel mining, wild game preservation, reptile taxidermy, entomology, lens polishing, avalanche preparation, Elvis sightings, Neal Stephensonís The Baroque Cycle trilogy, mountaineering, historical survival stories and cook books. Lots of cook books.

Allen: Have you ever attempted to write a novel?

Marc: Nope.

Allen: Do you plan to create more comic book stories?

Marc: Iíd love to, and in fact I have several pitches Iím preparing currently for comic book/ film crossover properties. So yeah, I think there will be more on that from coming from Hand Made Heroes & Bluewater Productions in the not-so-distant future.

Allen: What gives you your creative energy?

Marc: Caffeine. Coffee and chocolate bars. Great Ideas. Art, comic books, literature, interesting people and their stories. Life, my experiences.
The world is ever presenting stuff to write about, work with, and translate into stories. Iíd rather try to find my own interpretation of an event to turn into a story, or be original, rather than Ďre-inventingí or Ďre-imaginingí another personís work. But then again, thatís just me.

Allen: This ends the interview, any encouraging words of wisdom or advice?

Marc: Never give up on your dreams. Honestly, itís the stuff that life is made of. Hereís some more nuggets - Stay focused! Have fun! Itís a tough road, but itís a well-traveled one.

Be passionate: passion is a magnet for others to join in your efforts. Donít be a jerk, as that has the opposite effect of passion. Donít expect someone to do the work for you. They wonít, and if they do, itíll cost you, dearly. Never sign a contract without proper legal counsel, especially if the other side has legal counsel.

Spend the money, protect yourself/ concepts/ ideas/ work. Do your homework and call an entertainment lawyer to help. Ask around, get recommendations, and keep an open mind. Weigh all the options.

Be respectful. Honesty is the best policy. Be a nice person to be around. Maintain a moral center. Treat everybody with respect, on the job and off. Stay positive.

Donít let folks tell you things canít be done. We wouldnít have computers, planes, TV, Internet or a space program had those folks responsible settled for less than success. You can do what you want with persistence coupled with ambition and tempered with humility. Keep learning. Learn to listen well, take directions. Practice your craft every day. Make time for you to recharge.

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