LA Zombie Girl Interviews Director/Producer Shawn Stutler
I see you shiver…with antici-pation! This is one of my favorite lines from the cult classic movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Part movie, part play and 100% audience participation, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a cult movie that has been running in theaters since 1975 and was adapted from the stage musical, The Rocky Horror Show. Starting from the first-time Louis Farrisse yelled ‘Buy an umbrella, you cheap bitch!’ in the audience at the Waverly in NYC, the show has evolved into not only a pantomime performance by a shadow cast, in front of the movie screen, but has spontaneous improvisation by the cast members, and amazing audience interaction as well. It’s just plain fun!
The film is both a parody and tribute to many Sci-fi and horror movies from the 1930s to the 1970s. The movie retains many aspects from the stage play, such as production design and music, but the movie version added new scenes not featured in the original play.
I’m afraid to say what year I started going to see the movie, but I’ll tell you this — it did save my life. I was a weirdo in high school. When my best friend took me the first time at the Fox Fullerton theater in CA, I was hooked and in love. Before long I was dancing the Time Warp up on stage with the shadow cast every weekend! I saw the play live in London and when I became a DJ, midnight was always “Time Warp time”, wherever I played. I have since then, lost my friend to AIDS, but Rocky Horror will always bring him back to me, to remember the good times.
When I met Barry Bostwick, (who plays Brad Majors in the movie version) I told him that story, and he told me about the making of a documentary called, Rocky Horror Saved My Life. It was too late to tell my story to the movie makers, but I was really fascinated by how it got made. After contacting the film makers, I got a chance to interview Director/Producer Shawn Stutler to find out more.
“We want to explain to the world what is so special about the ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ community. Folks who have just seen it on TV or DVD, or saw parts of it on Glee, will never understand why so many people fall in love with it.” – Shawn Stutler
Los Angeles Zombie Girl: Thank you for talking to me Shawn. What made you a Rocky Horror fan in the first place?
Shawn Stutler: “I first attended Rocky Horror Picture Show when I was 15, in July of 1993. I went to see it at the Crossroads Theater in Maryville Indiana, which is the movie theater that 7 years later I would come to own. It became quite an important place in my life.”
LAZG: When did you decide to be in a Rocky Horror shadow cast and how did it come about?
SS: “The next week after attending my first RHPS, I was already a part of the cast. A lot of my friends were already members, and they kind of pressed me into service there. I was also about to quit the football team, so I was already in pretty good shape, and they said, ‘Hey, you need to play Rocky!'”
LAZG: What made you decide to do Rocky Horror Saved My Life: A Fan Documentary?
SS: “We called it Rocky Horror Saved My Life because it’s the most common sentiment we hear from the fans. Saving a life isn’t necessarily literally that dramatic for everybody, but for me I think it actually was. I grew up in NW Indiana, in a culture that was very dominated with male homophobic, aggressive attitudes. My parents were artists, and I’d been raised out of that area until I was 8 or 9, in a cosmopolitan artists’ colony where my parents brought me up. Then I was thrust into this very working class town, with redneck steel worker’s kids who would look askance at anything controversial or that deviated from their norm. I think people, especially guys who are into Rocky Horror, can usually point to a time when someone screamed faggot at them, despite the fact that you never once had any intimate relationship with a man. It automatically makes you feel a brotherhood or camaraderie with people who must face that sort of bigotry on a daily basis. I think kids might have it a little better now, but certainly growing up in the 90s there was still a lot of prejudice at anyone who looked remotely different. I think a lot of Rocky Horror people have that kind of story or similar story, so that was one of my primary motivations.”
“The secondary motivation was after doing Rocky Horror (in a shadow cast) for 23 years, I felt like most people still didn’t understand what the performers of Rocky Horror do and why we do it. There are a lot of people who just assume that everyone who is involved in Rocky Horror might only do it around Halloween. But in fact, most people who do Rocky Horror, do it year-round. There is also the assumption that people who are big Rocky Horror fans or people who are really into the Rocky Horror community, by dedicating their lives to performing it, that they must do it because they are super big fans of the actors, and that’s not really the case. I think that the point that a lot of people miss is that performing the Rocky Horror Picture Show is its own unique art form. It’s a blend of pantomime and almost like a rock concert, that you need very little talent to do.”
“Anyone can be a rock star at Rocky Horror, all they really have to do is put on a costume, learn a few moves, and for a night they get to be Riff Raff, Magenta or Frank N. Furter. Regardless if they can sing, perform or do anything in any other way, they can embody that role for an audience, and it’s quite an experience.”
LAZG: The process of going around doing the documentary; was it super hard or was it really amazing? Can you tell me a little bit about the making of the movie?
SS: “It was actually, all of the above. It was both incredibly difficult and incredibly rewarding. In a lot of ways so I’ve been performing in Rocky Horror for more than 20 years, and when we came up with this idea, I had recently auditioned for the Rocky Horror Picture Show Blu-ray that came out for the 35th anniversary. I’m actually on it as one of the finalists, if you watch the behind the scenes stuff, but I ultimately wasn’t chosen for that cast, whereas most of my friends that were Rocky Horror veterans were. I approached it because I really thought I was a shoe in, because I was really known in the Rocky Horror community, and I definitely had a lot of pride and hubris about my involvement. I went all out, I lost 10 or 15 pounds over the course of 3 weeks, shaved my body, got a spray tan, and even wore blue contacts to the audition. I still think my portrayal of Rocky to be, probably one of the most accurate one at the audition. But that’s not what they were looking for. They were just looking for someone to be entertaining. And ultimately the production company that made this said that they were only willing to fly in 3 people to Los Angeles to be part of their cast and everyone else was from So Cal.”
“I was deeply disappointed after losing out on that opportunity, but it was my fault, I was too prideful, thinking I had it locked in. But the most disappointing part about it was that I thought finally after all these years, 20th Century Fox is going to give the fans of Rocky Horror their due. They are going to show our community! They are going to show why we love it and do it, and showcase the people who have preserved this movie for the past 40 years! But that wasn’t the case. Basically what they did instead was an American Idol audition, and trivialized everything that we did and boiled it down to everyone just being big fans. It was incredibly disappointing, having invested and lost so much.”
LAZG: So, you actually bought the theater you performed in?
SS: “As I mentioned earlier, I owned a theater in Indiana, the same movie theater I saw Rocky Horror in for the first time. I took it over at the age of 22 because there was no other way to preserve Rocky Horror in our town. The movie theater was going to close. We were going to lose the place that we had been doing Rocky Horror in for 7 years, if I didn’t step up and take over ownership. So, I did that for a good 7 years. I made the best of it, even produced a zombie movie and we had a Rocky Horror convention. I expanded it into another theater, we did everything we could to keep that place alive, all just because we wanted to keep our weekly Rocky Horror Picture Show, so we could hang out together, because we were truly a family. Ultimately, I had to close it, at the end of 2006, and kind of walk away from it, a quarter million dollars in debt. It was a profound change in my life.”
“From there I moved to New Jersey to work in television. I got a job with the company RDF/Zodiak Media which produces reality television shows and I worked for them for the next 9 years. It was the next phase of my life, but it also brought me to out to New Jersey to join the Home of Happiness (a theater on New Jersey with a RHPS shadow cast). The thing about the Rocky Horror community is that it’s very networked, so people from CA, know people from all over the country. Anyone just has to go to a Rocky Horror convention to have friends all over the world. I became involved with the Home of Happiness, and we produced several more conventions, and became very well known for producing music videos, in the Rocky Horror vein. From there the next logical step, for all of us working in television, and into Rocky Horror was to make a documentary that more accurately portrayed the Rocky Horror community.”
LAZG: Tell me about some of the people you met. Does anybody really stick out?
SS: “It’s really hard to pin point one person, but some of the highlights would be the obvious ones, meeting Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Patricia Quinn, Lou Adler, etc… Then I got to talk to a lot of my personal heroes like Perry Bedden, Sal Piro and Dori Hartley. These are some of the people who invented the traditions of Rocky Horror that everyone took for granted over the next 40 years. While everyone likes to hear about, and worship Tim Curry, Richard O’Brien and people like that, my heroes were Sal Piro and Dori Hartley because while the former has created the movie, the later had created the culture of the community that I had fallen in love with. Those are the most interesting interviews to me, the people who originated the Rocky Horror culture back in the late 70s and early 80s.”
“For the types of stories, it ran the gamut. We got to interview an all-black Rocky Horror cast called Chocolate Covered Rocky Horror, and it’s one of the most unique Rocky Horror experiences you will ever see. We also got to go to Germany we both filmed and performed there. My producer Paul and I went to Berlin; he played Frank, I played Rocky. We performed in an open-air cinema in Berlin with an international cast of characters; we had performers from 7 different countries. There were people from Israel, France, Germany, all over Europe and from as far away as California. It was a humbling experience to see Rocky Horror from that many perspectives.”
“As far as personal stories, we heard everything from Rocky Horror is the way I recovered after attempting suicide, Rocky Horror is how I dealt with the death of my parents, Rocky Horror is how I dealt with the death of my child. The most common thread through all the stories is just how important and transformative Rocky Horror could be, to the lives of people who really cherish it.”
LAZG: Barry Bostwick was the person that told me you were making this documentary. What was he like?
SS: “Barry Bostwick has to be one of the singularly most gracious and gentlemanly person I’ve ever met. He was fantastic to interview, he performed at a Rocky Horror convention in LA and just brought the house down; he loves playing to the audience. He’s actually doing a number of one man shows back east and his interaction with the fans, is always something that makes me smile.”
LAZG: What for you was the best part of making the documentary?
SS: “I would have to say just the appreciation of the fans. I of course, come from a place of wanting to share my experience with the broader world, and a lot of other people felt the same way. They felt they had not yet been portrayed in the proper light. Before now, when someone did a news story on Rocky Horror it was like, ’Hey look at these freaks ha,ha’, make a corny joke and then carry on with something else. No one has ever taken a very honest and nuanced look at the Rocky Horror community.”
“Everyone we interviewed was so appreciative and so supportive; they believed in what we were doing, that we were the guys to do this.”
“We traveled and got a wide range of experiences with Rocky Horror people and were encouraged by the Rocky Horror community. We were only able to do this because we got our start on Kickstarter, and between Kickstarter and Indiegogo, we raised close to $80,000 to make the documentary happen. That’s still nothing compared to an actual movie budget, but it enabled us to travel and get a very wide range of experiences. I think the support and encouragement from the community that believed in us was incredibly affirming.”
LAZG: When can we expect to have Rocky Horror Saved my Life: A Fan Documentary available for everyone to see?
SS: “It ultimately depends on securing a distribution deal, because going in there and doing it ourselves, puts us at an incredible disadvantage, and means that we will be much less likely to fulfill all the different avenues that we want for our crowd funding goals. We’ll have it on DVD, VOD streaming and digital download. We must secure the distribution deal first. We were hoping for 2016 but 2017 for sure.”