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An Interview with Reis O'Brien

By Christopher Lawrence

Reis O’Brien started out his Rocky Horror career by being literally thrown into the part of “Brad Majors” in a cast called “The Erotic Nightmares.” Little did he know years later he would be contributing to Rocky Horror pop culture history. We recently had the opportunity to ask Reis, lead designer at Funko, some questions about his involvement in the creation of the RHPS Pop! Vinyl figures as well as his experiences as a member of a Rocky Horror shadow cast.

First off, I want to thank you for your time to answer some questions and say that I, along with many fans and collectors are very excited for the release of the Rocky Horror Picture Show POP! Vinyl figures.
 
Could you tell us a little about yourself and your history with The Rocky Horror Picture Show-what was your first exposure to the film and what did you think the first time you saw it?
 
Rocky Horror quickly became a huge part of my life in high school. I was your typical fringe dweller kid that didn't really fit in with any of the usual high school cliques, which made for a pretty lonely freshman and sophomore year. The very first time I saw it etched a stark line between my pre-Rocky and post-Rocky life. I fell in love with it immediately.
 
Do you remember the first time you attended a live performance of Rocky Horror?
 
Over the summer after 10th grade, I was working in this men's clothing store and met a couple of girls from a different high school through one of my coworkers. Twin sisters, in fact. I somehow ended up going to lunch with them where they started telling me all about this thing they did every Friday and Saturday night called The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I had no idea what they were talking about but became quickly intrigued as they told me tales of rice throwing and yelling at the screen and everyone getting up and doing some dance called The Time Warp. So, the following Friday night, I found myself sitting at home watching Carson (I told you I didn't have many friends), and realized that if I got in my car right then and drove to the theater they had told me about, I'd make it in time for the movie. I remember that I had to sneak out of my house (my parents were already asleep). By the time I had gotten to the theater, everyone was inside and the movie was about to start. I was planning on just sneaking in and quietly sitting in the back row (oh, little did I know) and just observing. But as soon as I walked through the door, one of the twins sees me and goes, "You came! Great! We need a Brad!" Now, I had no idea what "needing a Brad" was but I suddenly found myself rushed to the front of the theater in front of the screen where someone threw a tan jacket and pair of nerd glasses on me, then made me comb my hair in a nerdy side part. The next two hours were a blur. By the time it was all over, I found myself with about 20 people in weird costumes sitting in a Dunkin Donuts and realizing that I had found my tribe.
 
What cast did you perform with, where & how long did you perform and what roles did you play?
 
We were a pretty ragtag bunch at first, but eventually managed to wrangle some sort of order to it all, eventually calling ourselves The Erotic Nightmares. I spent virtually every Friday and Saturday night at that theater through all of my junior and senior years in high school. After graduation, I would slowly drift away from it all and eventually that theater would end up closing. Later, through my buddy Chris (who played our Riff Raff), I would end up joining him at the Carolina Theater in Greensboro, NC for four Halloween shows back in the late 90s, early 2000s. I always played Brad!
 
How did you become a cast member? Did you enlist or did you get drafted?
 
(see above story)
 
Are there any memorable shows or performances that stick out in your mind from your days or performing?
 
I always loved our Halloween shows. I only did two of them with that cast, but that was the one night every year that we pulled out all the stops. We put a little more into our costumes, even held a rehearsal or two. The house was always packed.
 
I also have a favorite memory of going to see the show at The Rocky Horror Theater in Miami, Florida with my cousin. I couldn't believe they had their own theater! And they were so professional and polished! It was an amazing cast.
 
The upcoming documentary, "Rocky Horror Saved My Life" focuses on the RHPS fan base and tells their story. What’s yours? Has Rocky Horror helped shape your life or define your identity? Would you say that anything was picked up in your time with doing Rocky Horror that has stuck with you and carried over into your personal or professional life?
 
Like I touched on earlier, I was not a happy teenager. No real friends at my school, didn't really do anything social outside of it. So meeting my Rocky friends opened up an entirely new world to me in which I could be myself and be accepted. Kindred sprints can work wonders for a disenchanted teenager. The movie itself taught me that its was okay to be an oddball and a weirdo, which was a lifelong lesson and probably set me on the path I'm on today. I don't know if I'd be the me that I am today without Rocky Horror. I'd probably be some toned down, miserable version of myself too scared to think creatively, to get all inked up and strive for my dream job. "Don't dream it, be it," became a mantra for me over the years. Also, it was probably the sole impetus for my weakness for girls in fishnets.
 
Do you still attend showings of Rocky Horror?
 
Sadly, no. But it's one of those things that I'm happy is still out there. And that's enough for me these days.
 
Could you comment on how the Rocky Horror scene is now compared to when you were involved?
 
I can't! I have no idea! A couple of years ago, I met a few cast members from a local cast (out of Tacoma, Washington) at Emerald City Comic Con. I didn't know any of these people personally, but I was struck with a familial feeling as I chatted with them, like I had found some members of my old tribe and it warmed my heart to know that people like this were still out there keeping it alive. They invited me to the show, of course, but I still haven't gone. But I have no doubt that I could go to one of their theater and meet with them after the show and ease right back into that familiar world. Rocky people just get each other. It's weird.
 
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is currently celebrating its 40th Anniversary. What’s your take on why after forty years Rocky Horror remains so popular?
 
Part of it is just the pure, unbridled fun of yelling swear words at a screen and shooting squirt guns, and part of it is the freakiness and sexiness of the whole thing. Also, the main themes of Rocky Horror, excess vs. uptightness, are universal and eternal. There will always be people who have a little naughtiness in them that's just dying to break out, and everyone loves to see someone like Frank take it to the extreme. But I gotta be honest, it's kind of freaking me out that I remember being dressed from head to toe in my "floor show" costume in front of a packed theater for Rocky's 15th anniversary, and now I feel super old.
 
Tell us about your work, how did you get involved working for Funko. For those who have never heard about Funko give us a little background of the company.
 
I started with Funko just over three years ago after spending several years as a graphic t-shirt designer and freelance illustrator. Funko has been around since 1998 and started off primarily as a bobble head company, but five years ago they came up with the Pop Vinyls format and have positively boomed over the past few years.
 
What is your part in the toy-making process?
 
I'm a lead designer here, which basically means that I design the initial concepts of the toys and then work with a sculptor to get them looking like they are in my head. Then it's a matter of making sure the paints look right, making sure the figures don't go over cost and so on. I guess I sort of get the ball rolling and then work with a team of integral people to get the product into the hands of collectors.
 
Can you walk our readers through the process of your designs being turned into a vinyl figure?
 
It often starts out with either a pencil sketch or a digital concept. Then that concept goes off to the licensor for approval. Once approved, the sculptor takes it over and digitally sculpts it (expect in a few cases, like the Rocky Horror Pops, which we're hand sculpted). Then we submit the sculpt to the licensor for approval. After that's approved, we do paint callouts and send those to the factory and wait for their first hand-painted sample. While we're waiting on that, our packaging designers start working on the box art. We then submit the hand-painted sample to the licensor for approval. Once that's approved, we go to what's called a "spray mask" which should be an accurate version of how the factory will be producing the final pieces. Then we go into production and get those babies into stores!
 
For the Rocky Horror POP!, what sort of references did you have to work from when you were working on them? Did you rely solely on the film itself? Did you rely on any other sources?
 
For the most part, I just relied on the internet, Google image searches and whatnot. And I brought in a copy of The Rocky Horror Picture Show Book by Bill Henkin. But the best costume references I could find came from the many in-depth costuming websites made by Rocky fans themselves. I couldn't believe the amount of detail they had hunted down! Pictures from the movie proved tricky or too grainy, but these websites would have clear pics of Janet's purse or Brad's glasses. They were invaluable. Again, my tribe.
 
What is it like to be working on RHPS years after being part of the RHPS scene?
 
Surreal. If I could go back in time and tell my 16 year-old self that one day I'd be designing collectibles for this movie, he'd probably die of shock. I remember getting in my friend's car with a few other cast mates and driving an hour away to the next city because we caught word that some random store in some random mall had Rocky Horror stickers, buttons and T-shirts! Remember, no internet back then. I would have punched an old lady for Rocky Horror figures! Well, now they're here.
 
What are some of your favorite pieces you’ve worked on? What’s your favorite RHPS piece?
 
I love the Frank-N-Furter Pop. His little "BOSS" tattoo and how I raised one of his eyebrows in that "How do you do, I see you've met my…" kind of way. It's adorable! Also, I think the Janet Pop marks the very first female Pop we've ever done that's just in her bra. That's gotta count for something.
 
Are there any plans for a second series of RHPS POP? Would there ever be a chance of expanding over into Shock Treatment?
 
Whoa! Oh man! I don't see any Shock Treatment Pops coming. But if the sales of the first series are strong enough, a second series could easily happen. I'm dying to design a Rocky, Eddie, Dr. Scott and Riff and Magenta in their space gear. Oh! And a Columbia in her pajamas with her Mickey Mouse ears?! So PLEASE go out and buy the first series, people!
 
Is there anything else you would like to let our readers know about?
 
Yes! We also have a line of ReAction figures for Rocky Horror coming soon! Imagine those old-school Kenner Star Wars figures, in a bubble, on a backing card. Now imagine Frank, Riff Raff, Magenta, Columbia, Brad and Janet in that style! So keep your eyes peeled for those. They carry the Charles Atlas seal of approval.

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An interview with Perry Bedden

The Rocky Horror Picture Book: peruse a Transylvanian’s backstage Rocky Horror snaps!

Perry Bedden, stageshow Frank, onscreen Transylvanian, and snapshot enthusiast has been tantalizing fans for some time with his behind-the-scenes Rocky Horror photos. Now you can buy the Rocky Horror Picture Book, with excerpts from his private photo collection! $34.95 at http://www.rockyhorrorpicturebook.com/.

b2ap3_thumbnail_book.jpgBack in 1973, Perry Bedden ran with the Rocky Horror crowd, hanging out with the cast and creators of the original Rocky Horror Show. He was cast in the stage show, backstage at the Rocky Horror Picture Show as a Transylvanian, and his involvement with Rocky Horror lasted decades. Now he shares it with us!

* When did you realize you had something special with your photo collection? How did you decide you'd put together a book?

I never thought I had ‘something special,’ as you put it. I have taken what I call ‘snaps’ all my life and still do. I have these pictures in books, files, boxes - hundreds of them. It’s amazing what you find when you return to these photos years later.

It wasn’t until the Internet arrived and I got my first PC back in 1997 that I realised Rocky was so big in the States. Then Facebook arrived and I started posting photos on my timeline (https://www.facebook.com/perry.bedden). These were getting lots of ‘likes’ and comments. There was a time when I was posting a new photo every day.

Jim (Hetzer) is to blame. It was Jim who asked me if I ever thought of putting a book together of my collection. To be honest it never crossed my mind, but I wrote back and said I wasn’t really interested - it would take too much time and effort. It was Jim’s brilliant idea to assemble the book himself and we would self-publish. Then he got Chris Holley to edit the book.

Jim came up with the idea of how it looked and I just OK’d most of his ideas. I always wanted the specific cover photo we used to be on the cover, and insisted that the photo to use is what we have now. A beautiful photo.

I had so many photos for the book, but I was restricted by size, quality and financial reasons as to what I could add. I didn’t use all the photos from the collection.

I have just been to London (I live in Egypt now), and found even more photos when I went to collect a few things I have in storage. While there I was transfixed by all the other photos I have relating to Rocky, and spent a couple of hours going through all the Rocky-related pics.

* Are these photos personal snaps, or are some from on-set photographers, etc.?

All the photos are personal snaps. Pick up a camera and click, that’s all. Just having fun.b2ap3_thumbnail_out.jpg

* How did you get involved with Rocky Horror? Since you were already part of the group that spawned Rocky Horror (Jesus Christ Superstar, etc.) did you audition, volunteer, or were you suggested by someone?

I received a call from my agent in London that they were auditioning for the role of Riff Raff. This was when the show had moved from the Classic Cinema to the Kings Road Theatre. I didn’t know if it was blessing or a hindrance to be asked to audition, since I knew all of the creative team. I went to the audition, sang, and read Riff Raff’s space scene. It was all very formal and professional. After a few agonising days of waiting, I was offered the role of Riff Raff.

* You were already familiar with the Rocky Horror Show when you joined the Rocky Horror film cast: was the shooting what you expected?

I found it all very strange, especially having Transylvanians in the movie. Rehearsing the Time Warp was really weird, as in the show it was just done with the three characters, Riff Raff, Magenta, and Columbia. In the movie it was choreographed. A lot of waving of arms, I remember.

* Was this your first film after being a child actor?

After being a child actor? When does adult acting begin? I was still a child of 14 in my first movie; it was a 6 part movie for children. In the UK at the time there used to be what was called Saturday morning pictures. Parents sent their kids to the local cinema that showed a feature film, a cartoon and a weekly serial.

My first film as an ‘adult,’ I suppose, was MGM’s musical of ‘Goodbye Mr. Chips’ that I spent nearly a year on. This was the last movie MGM made in the UK. MGM spent a fortune on this movie and it was a big flop.

I’ve never made a hit movie - even RHPS was a flop.

* You've done stage, screen, and music (as part of Truth and Beauty). What's your favorite creative outlet?

It has to be the stage. I did quite a bit of TV work but the camera never liked me and I never liked the camera. There is nothing better than getting up in front of a live audience and playing a role. In movies and TV there are always stops, starts. On stage you have somebody to play to, plus you get that adrenalin rush from an audience. That doesn’t happen when you’re in front of a camera.

* Unlike much of the rest of the film cast, you continued involvement with Rocky Horror, playing Riff Raff and appearing on at least one other cast album (the 1980s Australian release). What is your favorite Rocky-related story that goes with one of the photos in the book?

Favourite related story? Now there’s a tough one.

It’s a tie between:

Getting a fright by a packed room of unexpected guests, flash bulbs flashing for my surprise birthday party back in 1974. I think I went into shock! (page153)

And:

The photo of Pat, Steven, me, Nell and Barry at the Birmingham Comic Convention last year. We had such a great time, and for all of us to meet up together after decades was such a great thrill.

* You've been very approachable to fans, appearing at shadowcast shows (Paris; New Jersey; Spain) and attending conventions, notably performing as Space Riff at the Manchester 2005 con with Patricia Quinn and as the Usherette at the Celluloid Jam convention (co-produced by book producer Jim Hetzer). What do you enjoy about continuing contact with Rocky fans?

I have said it before: I have great respect for the fans. I love seeing them. It’s great to hear their stories and talk to them. There seem to be so many of you and so many generations following in the footsteps of past fans. They tell me things even I don’t know.

For the book I wasn't sure what was filmed first, the ballroom or the lab. I asked Pat, Nell, Barry and not one of us could remember - it was 40 years ago. It was the ballroom, the Time Warp (ask any fan, they’ll know).

Is there anything you'd like to tell Rocky Horror fans thinking about buying the book?

You are in for a real photographic treat. I have been so lucky as this book has been compiled by the most enthusiastic Rocky fans ever, Jim Hetzer and Chris Holley. A book by the fans for the fans. They knew exactly what the fans would like and some of their choices surprised me. The book is packed with photo after photo and only photos - great if you know somebody who is dyslexic. [Ed. Note: don’t worry, there are captions included at the end, as well as a lovely little 10 page introduction, which sets the stage.] Over 250 colour photos of my pictorial memories. So get it now, pick the book up, tub of ice cream in hand and enjoy. And a big thank you to Jim Hetzer and Chris Holley (and me) for their great work.

It was great when it all began - and it still is.

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Feeling Guilty

I've been doing a lot of seriously hard-core coding on the site, so I decided to take a break tonight and do the new 404 error page.

http://www.rockyhorror.org/NotARealPage.html

:-)

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Hurry! Hurry!

Hurry! Hurry!

We've had this upgrade in the works for quite some time now, but it's finally getting close. Our goal is to have the site generally ready by RKO-CON so we can debut it. Getting the new code done has been a challenge, but a fun one. We've learned a lot over the past couple years since 4/7/11 when we launched, and we think we've put that learning to work.

When we launched, one of the comments we got a lot was along the lines of, "Hey, this is great, but let's chat again in two years and see if you're still here." We get that. With a few notable exceptions, quite a majority of volunteer-run community web sites come and go in less than a year. People have great ideas and expectations, but rarely stick it through to see a site grow. Sometimes life happens. Sometimes they take a different path or perhaps just get bored. Well, it's been more than two years, and we're just getting started.

We've upgraded the forum to what we think is a better system and we've also seriously enhanced the blogging system (you're using it now!). We've also upgraded the social framework and made a lot of changes to speed things up and make for a better and more responsive layout. In the coming months we'll be adding some other fun new features, but we didn't want to overwhelm people or try to do too much, too soon. So stick around, have some fun, tell your friends, and enjoy the Internet's largest Rocky Horror Picture Show community as we continue to grow.

Now excuse me, please, I have some last-minute coding to do ;)

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