Friday, May 27, 2011

Part 24: Life with Mark Shostrom

Technology is a wondrous thing.  Between the Internet and cell phones you can not only start, but stay on top of your business 24/7.  I-pads, I-phones, and their non-Mac counterparts are becoming mainstays in the public not just for entertainment, but for the organization and communication of important company data.  In minutes, you can design, build, and launch a business website and reach potential customers all over the world.  These are incredible times we live in.  But this is 2011 (at the time of this writing), and when I moved in with Mark Shostrom, it was the summer of 1982.

Phone calls out of you area code were expensive.  There were only a handful of professional publications in which you could advertise to attract business.  And then there was the Make Up Union (706).  It was a typical "Catch-22."  In order to work on a set, you had to be in the union, but the only way to get into the union was to have logged in enough hours on a union set to qualify.  If you weren't in the union, you weren't working in movies.  It was just that simple.

Mark was a burgeoning Special Make Up Effects artist and that meant he was doing it all on his own.  He had worked on some low budget films and for Rick Baker on VIDEODROME, but he hadn't had his "break out" opportunity that would cement him into the community.

There is no denying that Mark was talented.  All anyone had to do was walk around his studio and see some of the sculptures on his shelves to see that.  Mark was just a victim of the times back then.  No agent, no publicist, no partner scanning the trades and making introduction calls on his behalf, he was truly doing it on his own, which was admirable.

One of the little "gags" Mark Shostrom had lying around his studio back then...
 I recall telling James Fujii that I was leaving and James, being the sweetheart that he is, understood and then informed me that I could keep whatever I needed to in his garage indefinitely.  I packed everything that I could into The Lizard King, said adios, and drove down the 210 freeway to Pasadena and Mark's apartment which was on California Ave. just off of Lake.  (Note: The building we lived in has since been demolished - not through any of our actions.  The landlord really didn't want to invest any money into the building, but more on that later).

As I was driving down the freeway, The Lizard King started to cough.  It was like a slight, intermittent, misfiring of the cylinders. Hmmmm.  I figured the old car just needed a tune up, and I'd get that done when I landed at Shostrom's.

The building looked like an old brownstone with a long driveway that led to a parking lot in the back.  I cannot recall right now whether it was two or three stories tall, but irregardless, Mark was on the bottom floor.  I didn't have much stuff, actually, so moving in was quick.  Mark slept on a small army cot, while I had a tiny single bed.  The room was so small, that when I slept, my feet were under the fold-out writing surface of a desk!

Mark, like so many other effects artists (to this day, actually) had some "irons in the fire" and so he asked if I would be interested doing some work to help one filmmaker generate interest and secure his financing so the movie could move forward.  It was a Country/Western Horror film (which was being touted at the FIRST Country/Western Horror film) entitled THE LAST RESORT.

I guess the director, who I can't remember, was married to a Country/Western singer, who I can't remember, so he wrote this "beauty & the beast" type story about a creature the DNA out of your body to kill you.  Of course, it turns out that the creature is SO enamored with the singer that he is "protecting" her from guys that want to exploit her in one way or another.

A dummy head I sculpted for THE LAST RESORT. This is what happens when you DNA gets sucked out...I guess.
 I did a few illustrations of the creature in different expressions.   I guess, the beast was going to be able to take on a human persona and then via air bladder/change-o effects become this weird monster.  I also sculpted a dummy head that we never molded of a victim having had his DNA sucked out (through the creature's fingers, you see).  Hey, I can't knock it too much.  At a time, now, where the SyFy channel produces movies like SHARKTOPUS how could have THE LAST RESORT been any worse?

The LAST RESORT creature in "Angry Mode."  Don't judge so harshly, I was 20 when I drew this.
 Fate, however,  had other plans, and the film was never made.

Mark also had received call from a commercial producer needing a life-sized (which meant LARGER than life-sized) Renaissance-type sculpture.  Mark and I knocked out a maquette and quickly photographed it for the meeting, but that job, too, dissipated.

Mark and I sculpted this in a day or two as I remember.  Excited to get a job...any job!
 For reasons, too numerous to go into, we had to move out of the building.  Let me just say this: There was a hole in the wall under the sink that occasionally CATS would crawl in the apartment from outside!  So, we packed up everything and moved out to a small house in eastern Pasadena.  The plan was this: Mark and I would move into the house, and Steve Burg, who was in New Jersey, would come and live with us in January.  Unfortunately, it all sort of went south.

First of all, during the move, The Lizard King continued to sputter and cough.  It would never get above third gear when it would just die.  I worked on that car myself as much as I could.  I changed the fuel pump, and Mark's friend Anthony Showe and I even put a new carburetor on it, but no luck.  Finally, I took it to Andy Granitelli's Tune Up Masters, which was a chain of garages like Midas Mufflers.  They had a policy: "We fix it right the first time, or we fix it for free."  Needless to say they are no longer in business.  I took the Lizard King there and had it "fixed" about 4 times.  I paid for the first time, the other three times were free.  It confounded them as well.  The car would just die above third gear and it wasn't the transmission or carburetor.  Everyone was stumped and I suddenly didn't have a car.

Spending all of this money (my CELESTIAL LORDS savings) forced me to look for some kind of practical work.  I signed up at Volt Temporary Services and they placed me in a long, black building in downtown Pasadena, working for Bank of America in the Versateller division.

Every morning I would get up early, ride the bus into town, do my 8 hours, and ride the bus home.  And since I was working with numbers on a computer (thank GOD there was really no "math" involved), I would be whipped.

Concurrently, Tracy and I started fighting over the phone because I had fallen into a black hole of communication.  I hadn't been writing letters for some time, and I couldn't call because I had to save every penny.  She had graduated High School by this time and was now in college at the University of New Orleans leading her own life, meeting new friends, still telling everyone that she had a boyfriend (In absentia)  in California.  Things were tense.

Mark finally landed a job on a Sandy Howard produced film called DEADLY FORCE, but it was truly a one-man show, so while Mark worked in the garage, producing bruise make ups and wounds and things for the film, I was downtown approving customers for ATM cards.

The only distraction from my personal misery came when Anthony Showe asked me if I would sculpt him a texture stamp to help him complete a Creature From The Black Lagoon suit he was making for himself for Halloween.  Anthony was under six feet tall for sure, AND he had what is now commonly referred to as "a muffin top" but he wanted a sculpture from me, and it was better than pushing buttons on a keyboard, so I agreed.  I sculpted a scale pattern in a large square and molded it in plaster for him.  He picked it up, thanked me, and went to finish his costume.

We didn't hear from Anthony until a few days after Halloween.  We asked him what he did and he said that he had gone to Hollywood boulevard with a friend (who was dressed as a robot) to walk up and down the street.  He didn't finish his costume until late that night, so he and his buddy left the house around 10 p.m. arriving at the boulevard around 10:30.

At first, he said, everything was great.  People were stopping them to have their photos taken and making a big deal about them but the tides changed.  First of all, both of them are covered from head to toe, and both have limited vision and some difficulty breathing.  Back in those days, the city didn't close off the street so traffic continued, and that is important to the story.

A street gang showed up and started hassling the guys.  Anthony's buddy got hit in the face with a stick, knocking the robot head around backwards and was pushed into the street amongst the cars. Meanwhile, they started beating on Anthony with sticks, but he was covered in essentially foam-latex padding so they weren't injuring him enough.  Anthony told us that they were looking for something glass, like a bottle to break so they could cut into his suit, when a rival gang showed up and started a fight.  Anthony and his buddy escaped, pushing through a bunch of thugs trying to kill each other.  Happy Halloween.  Oh, to have been a fly on the wall.

As amusing as this story was, my situation and options had run out.  Any money I made went to rent.  I had absolutely no time to do any work for myself.  I had patched things up with Tracy, but I did need to find a way to get home and spend some face time with her.  But there were so many obstacles, I just didn't see a way out, until I got a call.

It was my mother.  She told me that she had had a premonition that I was in trouble in California (probably exacerbated by the fact that I hadn't spoken to her in months).  She asked if I wanted to return home.  She would pay for my ticket and I could live at the house for a while and regroup.  I didn't see any other choice.

I put an ad in the Pennysaver to sell The Lizard King for $400.  By this time, the battery was now dead from trying to start it, so it was basically a pile of junk (or so I thought).  Two Mexican men showed up on evening with four hundred dollars in cash and a car battery.  They gave me the money, and then hooked up the car battery and started up The Lizard King.  They stood over the open hood of the car and began revving the engine as hard as they could, speaking to each other in Spanish.  I approached and saw what they were looking at: tiny pinholes in the gas lines began spraying thin lines of fuel like a small fountain.  After everything, a $20 hose could have fixed everything, but a deal was a deal.  They taped over the holes and drove the Lizard King out of my life.

I surrendered nearly everything I owned to Mark so that he could sell it to make up for my sudden exit. He was understandably upset because I was now saddling him with the responsibility of coming up for the rent for the entire house and it wasn't going to be easy, especially during the holidays.  It was mid-November and Steve Burg was not due out until January. I had put him in a bad place and I felt horrible.

Mark did drive me to the Van Nuys fly away bus so I could get to LAX, but I could sense that things weren't good between us.  He wished me luck and left.  I flew home.

I was met at the airport by my mother and Tracy, both of whom were beaming with happiness and relief.  I was home safely and didn't look like a derelict.  After the kissing and embracing, my mother handed me a newspaper clipping.  It was from the classified ads.  I had a job interview at the New Orleans Hilton Hotel the next morning.

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