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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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RHPS showing at the Golden Horse Film Festival, Taipei, Taiwan

RHPS showing at the Golden Horse Film Festival, Taipei, Taiwan

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I first became aware that The Rocky Horror Picture Show was shown at all in Taiwan last year, when a friend forwarded me a photo featuring a shadowcast performer as Frank posing in front of the Mandarin Chinese-subtitled movie screen, belting it out to Sweet Transvestite. As it turned out, it has been shown with partial shadowcast as part of the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival (台北金馬影展, http://www.ghfff.org.tw/) once a year for the last seven years. My handful of fellow North American expatriate RHPS-loving friends and I were disappointed to have missed it but were excited about going this year. After months of seaching online, we finally learned the exact show date about three weeks in advance. We decided to assemble the best costumes we could in the short time before the show. In the meantime, we waited patiently for tickets to go on sale for the one and only show date on April 11, 2015. Unfortunately, all of the tickets for both the 7 PM and 10 PM showings sold out within five minutes! We ended up having to buy scalped tickets at a 250% upcharge (about $16.25 USD per ticket-- the most I've ever paid for a regular RHPS ticket, and definitely the only time I haven't been able to just buy tickets from the box office). While this situation was of course disappointing, it is clear that the show and experience are geting more popular and well-known every year. On the other hand, it also means that scalpers have caught on to its popularity and take advantage of the relatively cheap ticket price (equivalent to about $6.50 USD) to make money off of fans of the show. 

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The showing was at the Shin Kong Cineplex (新光影城) in Ximending, a Taipei neighborhood known for its movie theater district as well as LGBT culture and Japanese youth fashion. My three friends and I ended up going to the 10 PM show, figuring that in the tradition of RHPS, it was closer to midnight. The line to get in grew to be very long and crowded and there was a lot of media attention such as videographers and photographers, not to mention the many audience members and festival staff who wanted photos of the four of us in costume. Once we were let in, we collected our popcorn, which was included in the ticket price, and took our seats. The theater had about 200 seats and was completely full. The style was a modern cinema setup with two aisles and a very nice spotlight, but no elevated stage.

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New Book "Fan Phenomena: The Rocky Horror Picture Show"

New Book "Fan Phenomena: The Rocky Horror Picture Show"

What has Larry Viezel, The Royal Mystic Order of Chaos, and articles you can quote in your senior thesis? New book “Fan Phenomena: The Rocky Horror Picture Show”!

“Fan Phenomena: The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (2015, Intellect Books, ed. Marisa Hayes; $16.74 at http://amzn.to/1HHel73)  is one in a series of books by the University of Chicago Press in the US; Intellect Press in the UK.  It’s book 16 in the series (we’ll forgive them for doing Star Wars, The Hunger Games, and The Big Lebowski first).  According to Intellect Press’s website:

“The series aims to ‘decode’ cult subjects in terms of the appeal and far reaching connections each … have in becoming part of popular culture… each include a fascinating collection of essays which explore a particular area or aspect of the subject’s ‘universe’…”

The book is 9x7”, 146 pages.  Small photos (mostly from the film, or fan-provided performer photos) are sprinkled throughout.  This is an academic press, some articles more so than others (expect to encounter words like “liminal”).  All have footnotes (some leaning heavily on the web).  Half (!) of the Audience Participation album gatefold is credited to Tumblr, which gave me a giggle.  It was gratifying to see a Crazed Imaginations Sue Blane interview cited (via the excerpts at http://www.rockypedia.org). 

The 10 articles range from well-worn topics (coming of age and Rocky Horror) to articles on fashion, the identity of Frank N Furter, “Philosophical Currents Through Film,” and an article on Shock Treatment.  Some are quite readable; some rather dense.  If you’re interested in thoughtful analysis of your favorite film that doesn’t require hitting specialty journals, enjoy.  Academic articles on Rocky are a hobby of mine, and I was pleased to see some topics I haven’t seen addressed in the literature before. 

In addition, six “Fan Appreciations” present 3-5 page mini- Q&As with various Rocky Horror fans (disclaimer: I’m one of them).  The six profiles cover seven fans, mostly US, though Stephanie Freeman, founder of UK Fan Club TimeWarp, is included.  Her Appreciation covers the annual Rocky Horror Picnic, a delightful tradition where costumed fans descend on the Oakley Court hotel (which flies the Transylvanian flag for the occasion!) for a picnic and Rocky Horror screening.  Freeman’s thoughts on how the internet has changed fandom, and brief gloss of the differences between UK and US fans are illuminating.

There are some surprises: Jim Hetzer’s profile focuses on fan fiction and indeed is combined with Bill Brennan due to his numerous fiction crossovers.  Hetzer’s more recent work on Perry Bedden’s Rocky Horror Picture Book is also highlighted.  Larry Viezel’s Appreciation leaves one wanting more– by the time he’s described his collection and plugged a few fan-produced RH videos, it’s over.  Viezel also appears in Shawn Stutler’s Appreciation, which largely covers their documentary “Rocky Horror Saved My Life.”

Here are a few high/ lowlights from the essays – do enjoy the titles:

 “Fashion and Fetish:  The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dark Cabaret Aesthetics and Proto-Punk”: Mines Patricia Quinn’s “Sue Blane invented punk” claim, visiting her costuming of Genet (whose play The Maids famously provided Frank’s corset) and making the usual allusions to David Bowie (whose makeup artist, Pierre Laroche, worked on the film, though the article doesn’t mention this).  Not much new here, though it is handy having it all in one place, and the brief character fashion summaries are interesting.

Doing the Time Warp: Youth Culture, Coming-of-Age and The Rocky Horror Picture Show Through The Years”:  A few clunkers: the authors state that Frank doesn’t successfully seduce Janet, but only Brad, which is simply wrong.  (These are the folks who didn’t recognize the AP album gatefold.)  They do raise some interesting points, for example noting that presumably gay / bisexual creation Rocky Horror expands his sexuality by having a heterosexual experience instead of the other way round, and exploring how Rocky’s meanings are likely different for Millennials than Rocky’s original audiences. 

Shadowing the Boss: Leadership and the Collective Creation of Frank-N-Furter Identity in Rocky Horror Fan Casts”: Quite readable and features unusual insights into both Frank and Riff.  Primary research includes input from fans who play Frank.  It’s refreshing to see casts from Florida, Texas, and Delaware cited as opposed to the usual California /New York.  The author appears to conflate Frank shadowcasters with cast leadership and is politely corrected by one of the interviewees.  This is the first time I’ve seen an academic article address theme nights or non-screen accurate shows.  The author’s thesis is rather murky but the journey is interesting and thought-provoking.

“‘A Strange Journey’: Finding Carnival in The Rocky Horror Picture Show”: Some of the allusions to Frank being Jesus are a bit of a stretch, and as the author stretches the Criminologist’s references to the “last meal” as similar to “The Last Supper,” she misses the fact that Da Vinci’s Last Supper is indeed displayed in the Crim’s book during that entire monologue.  Some good points, though the thesis that Rocky Horror is carnival seems rather pat and the article veers perilously close to being a literature survey. 

Fishnet Economy: the Commerce of Costumes and The Rocky Horror Picture Show”: Starts with a charming description of fans gathering for a rare showing in Baltimore.  I really enjoyed this article (disclaimer: I was interviewed for it).  The language is plain and easy to understand, and it’s primary research instead of stitching together references.  The DIY movement and “costuming with heart” both get shoutouts, but there are an awful lot of dollar signs in this article.  I regret having discussed costs with the author: fabulous costuming doesn’t have to cost a bundle, and when it does it’s often a matter of priorities (beer money or fabric?).

Sanity for Today: Brad and Janet’s Post-Rocky Shock Treatment”: another little-studied subject.  Surprisingly, Shock Treatment’s foreshadowing of modern reality TV is essentially omitted, though the author points out that the film’s filmed musical numbers appear to foreshadow MTV.  Hmm.  The expected Rocky Horror references are spun into the idea of duality and Farley Flavors is called out as a fascist ruling a television-worshipping state.  Interesting. The time spent on Jim Sharman’s underappreciated contributions as director is unusual and time well-spent.

Mercy Killing – Rocky Horror, The Loss of Innocence and the Death of Nostalgia”: This article briefly touches on the death of Brad and Janet’s innocence, conflating it with the decline of monogamy and rise of homosexuality, then takes a sharp turn into glam rock (Frank) killing the traditional rock and roll (Eddie).  The article delves into the historical setting of the film, starting with Nixon, continuing through the mid-1970s UK economic crisis and name-checking Vietnam.  Janet sheltering from the rain under her “Plain Dealer” and Brad and Janet being literally overtaken by the Transylvanians are both cleverly presented as metaphor.  The buzz-killing ending and Crim’s mysterious final speech are presented as a final takeaway “don’t take yourself too seriously,” which is an interesting counterpoint to “Don’t dream it, be it.” Readable, informative, and a nice finale to the collection.

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Mini-review: Wild and Untamed Thing: Richard O'Brien - the Lost Interview

  • Wild and Untamed Thing - Phil South, 2014.This is actually an unedited transcript of an interview Phil South did of Richard O'Brien in 1985. It's available in book form (published on demand through Lulu - check out that faux-retro cover!; Amazon has a Kindle version) and includes a thoughtful preface, an afterword (what happened to Richard?), a good mini-biography of Richard, and an interesting appendix that includes some information on the auction of Michael White's affairs that netted fan Larry Viezel the treatment for "Rocky Horror Shows His Heels" (which you can get Richard's blow-by-blow description of in the interview). A treat for Richard fans; 106 pages. I read it in one sitting. Rather a nice little book trailer with some nice images and Richard's voice from the tape here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=. 
  • Like Rocky Horror-related books?  Visit Rockypedia.org at http://www.rockypedia.org/Books_and_Magazines#What_books_exist.3F 
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Antici-paShawn: The Drip - A New RHPS Font

Antici-paShawn: The Drip - A New RHPS Font

Hey Folks,

I've finally finished my first RHPS font, "The Drip". I wanted to expand on the work that Coda did with Double Feature by allowing there to be significantly more options for the drip pattern for each number and letter. With my font I've created at least four alternates for each, allowing more variation to give a more authentic hand drawn feel like the original credits.

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This font is set up so that both the uppercase and the lowercase letters are identical. This is the same as the numbers. For this font you can consider the normal numbers to be 'lowercase' and the symbols above them to be 'capital'. (Thus leading you to realize that Capital One bank is really just !!!! BANK!)

As you type a letter or number you can repeatedly type the same letter to rotate through all the alternate versions. This is accomplished through extensive misuse of the ligature function. On the occasion that you repeat a letter you MUST switch between upper and lowercase or you’ll find that you merely set the letter once in the second drip option. The rotation for the number keys will first access the alternate versions of the number, and then access the symbol.

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Alternate symbols and additional alternate letters and numbers are planned for an eventual update. If you encounter any bugs with the file please let me know and I can fix them for an update as well.

The font is available at https://gumroad.com/l/TheDrip

Check out more of my Rocky Horror designs at www.shawnhalldesign.com/rocky

Cheers,
Shawn Hall

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