Who do you think said the following:
"What if death weren't certain? What if we were able to break the cycle using affordable personal technology?"
a. Steve Jobs
b. Steve Bannon
c. Steve … the puppet
If you chose puppet Steve, you are correct and, like me, saw the zombie puppet musical The Love That Would Not Die (part one) created by Santa Fe's friendly local puppet cabal, aka The Human Beast Box (thehumanbeastbox.com). The short premiered at the Jean Cocteau in spring 2016 and its creators held an exhibit of its sets and puppets last September at Radical Abacus. Recently, I heard on the puppet grapevine (yes, there is such a thing; just ask Zozobra) that the second part of the series pilot was under production, so I set out to investigate.
First, some backstory. Part one begins with technologist Steve (a puppet) delivering his inspirational ZED Talk (Zeitgist, Entertainment, Design) regarding the iNODIE pill he's created to deliver to consumers ever-lasting life. Yes, Steve the puppet bears a resemblance to Steve Jobs, particularly when he promises that folks can beat death and choose an individual color scheme through which to do so.
Everyone takes the pill, and you know what happens next: A zombie apocalypse happens, of course, replete with hordes of zombie puppets. After all, as Stan, the film's hard-drinking positive-thinking human survivor says later, "It's a zombie apocalypse. … All the stories have the same ending: zombies."
These particular zombies have a few quirks but, to avoid burning through my word count with spoilers, let's just say the undead in this film are alive with the sound of music. As such, part one of The Love That Would Not Die incorporates my three favorite things in life: musical theater, sarcasm and metanarrative.
Thus, when I learned part two was underway, I pulled some strings (sorry) and arranged on a warm summer day in January to visit the puppet lab, aka Oñate Hall on the campus of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.
On this particular Sunday, the film's writer and director Devon Hawkes Ludlow was at work with wife Brandee Caoba, a studio artist whose contributions to the first part of the film included puppet, costume and set design, among other jobs. Patrick Boyles, another member of what Ludlow and Caoba describe as a loose group of collaborators, also was there working on one of the sets. Everyone does a little of everything, they say. "We're puppeteers, artists, cinematographers. We're all wearing all the hats, we all have magical powers," Caoba says. They liken the creative collaboration to the notion of the Exquisite Corpse, in which the final creation is unpredictable and influenced by everyone who participates.
But the film—its origin, words and music—all came from Ludlow; he hopes the second part of the pilot will be ready in late spring (zombie puppet musical lovers can view the first part for free on Vimeo). The project began as most projects do—with inspiration … or, in this case, with irritation.
"I got so sick of the zombie genre," Ludlow says. "I thought, 'This needs to be addressed with puppets.'"
The songs and music came first, and the film evolved to also incorporate Ludlow's dislike for TED Talks, iPhones and futurists (among other contemporary phenomena).
Along with taking a broad (and melodic) swipe at 21st-century tropes and their bevy of posthumanist concerns, Ludlow's project also aims to show the creative possibilities available without over-reliance on technology. Both he and Boyles have worked in the film industry (Ludlow also has a theater degree and background), and were determined to counter what they see as an alienating aesthetic dominating most cinema—what Ludlow describes as "this unnatural smoothness."
The movie was shot almost completely on an iPhone (yes, yes, irony), edited in iMovie (which even I know how to use) and lighting was provided through clip lights. Moreover, 99 percent of the materials used in the film to make the puppets and the sets are found materials. These decisions are perhaps partially grounded in Luddite sensibilities, but are more driven by the group's sensibility toward an organic creative process.
"Using existing media helps show the inherent possibilities," Ludlow says—possibilities, he maintains, that are aesthetically flattened and zapped of energy when a film over-relies on special effects. ("We do our own stunts," Caoba notes, but she's not really joking. The work behind the scenes includes trial and error to produce actual physical effects, and even the occasional consultation with a physicist).
Obviously, creativity and technology are not mutually exclusive (this column is purportedly about the intersection of both), but this project, though somewhat rooted in antipathy toward technology, is equally grounded in a love of artistic spontaneity.
I should also mention the film invokes time travel, which is one of my favorite sci-fi tropes, and future episodes will show Stan, the antihero, traveling through time with his lovable dog (yes, a sock puppet dog can be lovable) and the Kid we meet in part one to save humanity from various other apocalypses. Which is worse: Zombies or a world overrun by Mary Kay cosmetics? Stay tuned.