With liner notes by John L.
BRASS: Lair of the Red Widow
This was our first BRASS film, shot at the Georgetown Steam Plant in Seattle and the Knights of Pythia Fraternal Lodge in Tacoma in April 2016. It was also the most expensive and difficult, both logistically and creatively; we went through a series of directors and producing partners to pull the film together, and the transitions weren’t easy.
In many ways Red Widow was the start of the whole BRASS story—even though we ended up producing an entire season of the audio version and two plays before we were ready to shoot it. It had originally been planned as a “pilot project” to demonstrate the potential of our story–or rather the pilot for a pilot, as the original proposal for the show was as a half-hour TV show for the SyFy cable network. When this opportunity didn’t materialize, I decided to write an even SHORTER pilot that we could produce, which became this film.
While I’m proud of the work we did on Red Widow, in the end I think the greatest value of this fledgling work was as a teaching tool. We all learned a tremendous amount about film and film production during the process, about how to tell a story effectively, and of what (and who) you need, and don’t need, on a set.
Red Widow has had featured showings at three Steampunk conventions (Steamposium, Gearcon and The Brass Screw Confederacy) and was also an official selection of 2017’s Rose City Steampunk Film Festival.
BRASS Bolts: Dollymops and French Apaches
It’s not entirely fair to say that we made Dollymops and French Apaches because of what we wanted to fix about Red Widow, but there’s some truth in that. More than anything, we wanted to produce work that as a creative team we all had a chance to sign off on. It also gave us a chance to focus on a trio of characters, the Watch and Chain Gang, who have parallel lives to the Brass family.
The Gang had its origins as a trio of deadly and cunning women in our 2015 BRASS play Oh My Azaleas! where they thwarted the efforts of a pair of rogues named Joddy and Henry Hall. Created by Louis Broome, the three women officially became a gang at the suggestion of the actresses, who supplied the name. (It’s Cockney Rhyming slang.) We made them the “B” story line of our next play, Fatal Footlights, where they tried to heist Ellen Terry’s jewelry.
In this film they’re the main characters, as we see them on the hunt, on the run, at bay and finally triumphant.
We couldn’t have been happier with everyone on this film, which was made by a truly astonishing crew of people, including veterans of the industry in several key roles, like Scott Finley, our masterful DP.
We’re currently raising funds to shoot the sequel to Brass Bolts, The Morning Papers, which brings the Brass Family back into the story.
In times like this, my dear friend Billie tells me, if you don’t know what to say politically, you can always fall back on making pretty things. I think this is a very pretty thing, thanks to the delicacy of the editing and the tremendous good humor and generosity of everyone involved.
The idea behind this short was purely expedient. As anyone who works in film knows, sound is tremendously crucial in filmmaking, and it’s a real effort to find good sound technicians with great equipment who can afford to work on independent film.
This led to jokes about creating a “BRASS Silent Film.” But then I realized that a short film that imitates early moving pictures was ideal for Steampunk. The earliest filmmakers were scientific inventors, from Muybridge with his motion studies to the technical genius of the Lumiere Brothers, and the early camera tricks of George Melies. In the world of BRASS, it would be inevitable that our heroes would encounter such people.
It bears mentioning that our cinematic inventor Wordsworth Donisthorpe is based on a real Victorian film pioneer of the same name, who also happened to be a chess champion and an anarchist. You can watch his 1890 film of Trafalgar Square, all ten frames of it, on his Wikipedia page, and you can read more about him here.
Such inventions are central to BRASS, because they demonstrate the modern world coming to life in a new medium, and reflect our contemporary struggles to deal with technology that constantly reframes our society.
The production of The Kinesigraph was a joy. Shot in a lovely August at the beautiful home of our editor Tremaine and DP Evan as well as nearby Woodland Park, the shoot was fun, friendly and good-humored. One of my favorite hours in recent memory was a very short commedia mask refresher run by our director Tim Ruzicki, who proved again that he’s more than just an astonishing fight choreographer and teacher.
We had a budget of less than $200. We shot most of it in an evening. Tremaine edited it over a few weeks. We had our composer write this original score, which we then had recorded by a pianist.
It’s got a really cute dog who shows up three times.
I couldn’t be more pleased with the result.