Chewin’ the Fat with Christian Matzke

Since our most popular article of late has been the interview with the d20 Call of Cthulhu developers, we thought, “Hey, how about some more interviews with cool and prominent people in Lovecraftia Fandom?” So, our next guest to our Interrogation Lounge is Christian Matzke. For those of you not immediately saying, “Oh, yeah. Christian Matzke. Love that guy,” here’s the scoop.

Christian Matzke is the man behind “Propping Up the Mythos“, a robust Web site dedicated towards hand crafting your own ooky props for use in your Cthulhu games, or other Lovecraftian mischief. Not only that, but he’s also contributed some info to Cthulhu: Live. And as if that’s not enough, he’s also begun exploring the world of filmmaking, having completed “Nyalathotep” and is hip deep in evil with his next project, “An Imperfect Solution“.

Let’s put our tentacles together for Christian Matzke.

Shoggoth Network: I’ve read the bio on your site. I know how you got into Cthulhu, but how does anyone get into making props for the genre?

Christian Matzke: I have some artistic ability, but more importantly no one ever said I couldn’t do it. The hobby for a while was my own little secret, so there was nothing riding on the success or failure of my first attempts. Once I found
I could make something cool I showed it around. But of course Lovecraft fans are spread pretty thin, so the Internet seemed like a useful way to show off what I had made and encourage other people to try it. I think everyone who reads Lovecraft has wished they could hold a “real” Necronomicon. It’s just one of the pleasures of his writing; the tantalizing hints of arcane knowledge. And of course no hand made book will really give you that same satisfaction, but it comes damn close. Especially when you first share it with another fan. Seeing the look of appreciation and that same sense of excitement play across their face is wonderful.

SN: Would I be correct in assuming that you play Cthulhu: Live more than Call of Cthulhu?

CM: Boy, dirty little secret time: I’ve never played either. I own every Cthulhu: Live book (and contributed to all but the first), and a whole mess of CoC books too, but I’ve never really had the urge or the opportunity. I could have played either at this year’s NecronomiCon I suppose, but I was only there a day so I tried to maximize my time.

SN: Have you played in any sort of RPG?

CM: Yes, I used to play a lot of Paladium’s pre-Rifts games. My friends and I liked that system a lot so we ended up creating our own games based on their rule system. Having no exposure to other systems meant I never knew what a strange amalgamation of dice rolling it was. People have looked at me like I had two heads when I’ve talked about it!

SN: Can we find out where you live in so we can have people beat down your door to invite you to play?

CM: Hmm, invite you to beat down my door? I appreciate the thought, though.

SN: How did you end up getting involved with Nyarlathotep? Was it your idea? Someone else’s? How do you afford to do a project like that?

CM: Nyarlathotep was my baby from the get-go. I adapted, produced, directed, starred in, co-edited, and made all the costumes and props for the film. The soundtrack is the only part that I really didn’t have a finger in. Oh, and I really love the soundtrack. As far as the budget goes, I figure it really only cost me $800 to make the film, and that was spread out over two years of scrounging and buying when I had cash. Two years for a 15-minute film. I was more than a little obsessed with making the film.

SN: $800?! Holy moly! If I remember correctly, Bruce Campbell claimed in his autobiography that it cost a couple hundred grand to film the fine piece of work known as Evil Dead. Even with Nyarlathotep at a fifth of Evil Dead‘s length, that’s still a big difference in cost. Is it getting cheaper to film these days with digital technology, or will you be
getting a visit from Tony the Two-By-Four if you don’t pay back some moolah?

CM: Bruce Campbell’s book is awesome. I’m going to try his vaseline and electric tape dolly technique on my new film. But seriously, it would cost me thousands of dollars to do a fifteen minute short on 16mm, once the cost of
stock, developing, converting, editing, printing etc. are added up, and that’s without taking into account the cost of actual props, costumes, permits etc. Digital doesn’t offer the same wonderful look, but it’s getting better. I am happy with the method I used, and the price was right. I traded my soul for free editing, so that’s a huge expense lifted, especially when you take into account the hours the computer spent rendering the movie to give it a film look. It would have killed me if I’d had to pay for it.

SN: So what were the technical specs on the film? Was it all digital camcorder?

CM: The entire film was shot on a Sony Digital8 camcorder. It’s a hybrid format, but the picture quality is great and digital means no loss of quality when I transfer via FireWire to the computer for editing. Then we used a program
called “After Effects” to give it the film look and grainy quality that the basic digital lacked. So that’s it!

For “An Imperfect Solution” I might take advantage of my access to a higher end digital camera. Turns out an old friend of mine makes movies too and has a sweet rig. She seems excited about my project, so who knows, I might have a director of photography on this picture!

SN: The short story the movie is based off of is pretty short. Is the movie equally short?

CM: Yes, I stayed as true to the story as possible, just fleshing it out slightly. So 15 minutes is about twice as long as it takes a person to read the story aloud. Since the story is read almost entirely as a voice over, you can see that I’ve allowed some scenes to speak for themselves.

SN: Did you ever have to take multiple takes because of difficulty saying, “Nyarlathotep”?

CM: Well the first problem was deciding how to say it! Everyone working on the shoot had a different pronunciation for it. I actually went on the Internet and asked Lovecraft fans how they said it to try to get a consensus but no such luck; just more variations. My favorite is from England, they say “NIGH-are-la-FOE-tep”! So I ended up sticking with my own pronunciation: “NIGH-are-lot-HOE-tep”. My reasoning is that -hotep is an Egyptian suffix meaning “to be worshipped”, so subsuming the “t” into a “th” sound like many people do would be losing that distinction. Even so, we had to re-do parts of the voice-over a few times because of my stumblings. But worse than that was the realization that while Lovecraft fans might not agree on how to pronounce it, at least they have an idea. The public at
large doesn’t even seem to recognize it as a word! It’s as though their brains shut down after ten letters. A lot of people have taken to calling it “Christian’s film”. I considered re-titling it at one point until I realized it gets placed in rental stores right between “Nosferatu” and the “Omen”. Not bad company!

SN: According to your site, you’re working on a movie called “An Imperfect Solution”, which is to be based off a portion of the original “Herbert West, Re-Animator”. How’s that going?

CM: Slow but steady. The film is cast, some scenes have been filmed and we are rehearsing. I’m still scrounging for some key props, but I don’t see it being anywhere near as hard a shoot as “Nyarlathotep” was. There was so much crammed into those 15 minutes it’s not even funny. “An Imperfect Solution” on the other hand is simpler, but has dialogue and is character driven. So out with the old problems and in with a whole new batch.

SN: How would you compare this work to Stuart Gordon’s treatment of The Re-Animator?

CM: I love the Re-Animator films! Even Bride of Re-Animator. But I’m against modernizing Lovecraft’s stories. Andrew Migliore and John Strysik make a really good point in their book The Lurker in the Lobby: when you take
Lovecraft out of his original time period and put him in the “present”, in a few years or a decade you’ll still have wound up making a period piece, just not in Lovecraft’s time. Take Re-Animator: it’s classic mid-eighties era film. Does it need to be for the plot? Not at all. So that’s where I’m coming from. I don’t have to worry about losing an audience by making a period film like Gordon and Yuzna did, I don’t stand to lose any money on this. I’ve chosen to do Re-Animator in the 1920’s and have some fun with that setting. The Re-Animator serial is well suited to short film
adaptation; each part is short, has a fun climax and can stand alone. I chose one that seemed especially adaptable, but also hadn’t really been mined by Gordon and Yuzna. I do want to keep the comparisons to a minimum if
I can. We’ll see!

SN: So will you be filming other portions of the serial as well? Or will “An Imperfect Solution” be a stand-alone work?

CM: That’s an excellent question. The film will stand alone just fine, but in the future I might adapt another one. The reality is that since I’m not playing the lead in this film, I’m at the mercy of my actors as far as a sequel goes. Since no one is getting paid I can’t really do much more than ask nicely. But we’ll see how this one turns out first.

SN: Do you expect to follow in Stuart Gordon’s footsteps, and someday direct a TV show like “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”?

CM: Good lord I hope not, but his new film Dagon looks pretty damn awesome!

SN: Back to gaming. What’s your opinion of the upcoming d20 Call of Cthulhu?

CM: The cover’s nice! But seriously, I met the folks from Catalyst Studios who made it and they do awesome work. Super friendly, creative folk. I’ve no real opinion on the contents except Pagan Publishing still makes better looking books than Chaosium. Better art, better layout.

For those of you interested in buying a copy of “Nyarlathotep”, Christian is selling a limited number of copies. Check out his site for more info.

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