Friends of LITA | Q&A with Robert McGinley aka Shredder Orpheus!

shredder orpheus

Twenty five years ago, a group of skaters and musicians in Seattle, helmed by our interviewee, Robert McGinley, got together to make an epically weird, epically awesome post-apocalyptic skate-rock opera called Shredder Orpheus. The film tells the tale of skateboard-guitarist Orpheus and his band of shredders, who journey to hell and back (literally) to save the world and Orpheus’ girlfriend from deathly television signals. The soundtrack of the film features music and performances by Seattleites such as Roland Barker (Ministry, Revolting Cocks, Blackouts) and Bill Rieflin (Ministry, King Crimson, Blackouts), poet/performance artist Steven Jesse Bernstein, guitarist Dennis Rea, and Amy Denio. Shredder Orpheus, beloved by its ever-growing band of cult fans, is a snapshot of Seattle’s rich subculture during a vibrant time in the city’s history. It’s also just absolutely bonkers, creative, and very entertaining. To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Shredder has some screenings and other fun things in store for us. below, we get to ask the shredder himself some questions! AND, he even managed to summon from the Grey Zone some of the film’s characters themselves to answer a few as well!

We’ve got Shredder Orpheus LPs in stock. Each LP comes with a DVD of the film!

Shredder Orpheus is about 25 years old now and it’s themes are still relevant. How do you think its relevancy and its place in pop culture has changed with the times? What has it been like watching that change take place?

This is a great question but since I am not sure how to answer it I decided to ask my characters about the relevancy of Shredder Orpheus after 25 years. Here are their answers:

ORPHEUS: “25 years ago I gave up my corporeal existence pursuing the love of my life into the underworld of the Euthanasia Broadcast Network. Although the internet did not exist then, media sedation and consumption stimuli was accomplished by television. Today I am compelled to warn all sentient beings that we face an exponentially greater problem: the new medium of the internet and its co-option by corporate advertising interests represent a grave threat to free and creative minds and a disruptive force of meaningful interaction between human beings. Eurydice and I want to remind you that no matter what the designers of hi-tech social media platforms and corporate marketers want you to believe there is no substitute for the hi-touch experience that feeds the soul. Don’t “friend me”, “like me” or “follow me” or any other virtual crap. Lets get together and skate, rock out and dance. Less digital -more analog please!”

AXEL: “Microwave radiation from television was pervasive 25 years ago. Today we get many times more exposure from the constant use of cellphones and computers. Immunity is compromised, leaving us vulnerable to a host of diseases as our addiction grows. Goddamn bunch of shit! Jesus, Buddha: BUST IT! “

HADES: “The ‘soothing’ ray from a T.V., a computer, smart phone or virtual reality platform is “comforting” because it co-opts your nervous system and penetrates your consciousness with ease. If you ingest too much you don’t have to think anymore- you ‘give yourself to the ray!’ In some ways the devices (emphasis on VICES) function like an interactive hard drive with the ultimate goal of shaping thoughts and desires and driving consumption habits. Most importantly, the ‘immersive’ experience can be deadly and divorce you from a clear conscious awareness, which is great for me!”

SCRATCH: “How do we fight suppression of the human soul by consumerist propaganda? THRASH IT! Since ‘THE RUST NEVER SLEEPS’ thrashing everyday is good mental- spiritual hygiene like brushing your teeth.”

How was the soundtrack of the film shaped by the Seattle culture from which it was born? Who was most involved in developing the soundtrack? Who were main the musical influences?

Music needs to be at the center of any play, film or opera based on the myth of Orpheus, a musician/artist who journeys to  the world of the dead. Roland Barker (MINISTRY, BLACKOUTS) was the composer and driving force behind the music. Roland and I were fortunate to find and convince amazing musicians to be the band, The Shredders, which consisted of Bill Rieflin (percussion), Dennis Rea (guitars) and Amy Denio (bass) with Roland on keyboards/synthesizer. At the outset Roland told me that he wanted the music cues in the soundtrack to be heavy on percussion and guitars with a nod to Jimi Hendrix, Dick Dale, Agent Orange and the pantheon guitar surf music. However, at that time there was no genre’ of music called “skate rock”. I think Roland and the band meshed perfectly to create music that supports the edgy tone of the film.

In previous interviews you’ve talked about how fun some of the skating scenes were to make. What scene was the most difficult to make, and why?

Every skate scene had challenges in that most of the locations were stolen and we had to be very stealth with lighting a location at night. Since I was used to sneaking into parking garages with a pack of skaters I was comfortable with it and had my fast talking gear at the ready in case we got busted by the authorities (which we did by both the U.S. Coast Guard at the Port and Seattle Fire Department at the train station). By far the most fun was shooting in a garage called DEVO which Axel refers to. We found this awesome action stunt photographer, Stan Larson, who was an expert at radical handheld P.O.V. shots while doing somersaults off ski jumps. Since GoPros didn’t exist he bolted a 16mm EMO camera to a piece of plywood that he had put trucks and wheels onto and skated on it while we blasted down the ramps. After a few takes he took the EMO off the board and just improvised handheld shots.

The most difficult scene to make was the one night exterior at the Port of Seattle. We couldn’t shoot because our costume designer, Marienne O’Brien, was arrested and put in jail on her way to the location for unpaid parking tickets. They impounded her car with all the costumes in the trunk for 20+ people and wouldn’t release her or the car without bail. We went through the last of our petty cash to get her out, but by the time we had her and the costumes on set, 12 hours of shooting had to accomplished 3 hours before the sun came up. The scramble ensued and even though we didn’t get everything we wanted, we got what we absolutely needed.

What are your thoughts on the skate world today? How has it changed since Shredder came out?

It’s certainly more mainstream today. In those days there were no such things as a “professional skater,” corporate sponsorship or the X Games, like there are today. Tony Hawk, Stacy Peralta and the Z Boys were the pioneers of what has become a major industry. Interestingly, skateboarding has gone the way of many alternative ventures by starting out as counter culture rebellion and then getting swallowed into the pop mainstream. It has also become a more female activity today. (Scratch in S.O. was ahead of her time).

Shredder is a cult classic these days… Have you had any crazy fan encounters?

At the Halloween screening last fall, audience members showed up wearing costumes inspired by Shredder Orpheus characters. Crazy funny!

Other crazy fan feedback would include these reviews:

“Sure, the film looks like a veiled excuse to film people doing skateboard tricks in a dystopian landscape ruled by a sinister television station, but it has a lot to say about mass media, the afterlife, love, youth culture and corporate mind control.”

The review also references Persephone’s (Vera McCaughn) brilliant speech: “…if the appearance of Hades caused me to nearly lose it, I lost it completely when Persephone shows up and says, ‘Praise the ray,’ and launches into what has to be one of my favourite monologues ever recited in a motion picture.”

  • Jimi Nguyen’s YouTube channel, Shit I Think About, has a hilarious review describing Shredder Orpheus as “…bat shit crazy.”

 

You made this movie without having gone to film school. Do you have any advice for young filmmakers attempting low-budget projects without a film school background?

You learn from your mistakes, so be patient. Remember, Woody Allen has been known to reshoot entire films. It’s a cliche but the most important thing is your screenplay. If you are a first-time screenplay writer (as I was with Shredder) and think you are done after a few drafts, you probably need to let a lot of people read it. Hopefully, you have a good mentor, like I had with Jesse Bernstein, who can help you drill down on any weaknesses in your script. The other thing to consider is the tone of your film. The hard lesson as a director is what I call “tone control”– if you shift or combine genre’s your audience/marketers may have trouble with your film. In Shredder Orpheus the tone shifts from comedy to tragedy.  I personally like dancing on that line but it can be risky.

You’ve said that Jean Cocteau’s Orphee films and the skate vids of Stacey Peralta and the Bones Brigade were big influences for you. What elements did you most admire of those films?

What I saw in Jean Cocteau’s Orphee was the artist portrayed as a voyager into the underworld (subconscious mind) where Orpheus demonstrates that love is stronger than death. The Orpheus Myth is western civilization’s oldest love story and with the help of Joseph Campbell’s books on the hero’s journey I was able to find my story structure for Shredder O.

Stacy Peralta put rock music to skateboarding and it was fun and inspiring to watch. Skating in parking garages in Seattle was crazy nocturnal fun and descending down the ramps felt exactly like we were on our way to the underworld!!

Ultimately, the seed for Shredder Orpheus came from skating and being an amateur mythologist and the film is a synthesis of these personal endeavors 25 years ago.

What films, music, and/or literature has been inspiring you lately?

Pan’s Labyrinth for film. And I pay close attention to films like Her and Transcendence. Cyberpunk literature, aka Neuromancer (William Gibson) and non-fiction like This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel Levitin. I follow developments in new technology and am an avid student of A.I. and its implications for our future… singularity, etc. The Human Use of Human Beings by Norbert Weiner and the science of Cybernetics are cornerstones to my view of the way the world works.

What’s next for you and for Shredder Orpheus?

There will be a few more celebratory 25th anniversary screenings of Shredder including the midnight screening at Cinefamily on April 11th. It may play as a midnighter once again in Seattle later this year. There are a lot more creative story ideas that can be mined from the Shredder Orpheus themes. One Shredder inspired story is in the works with a recently completed screenplay. Stay tuned!