In the spring of 2010 I got a very exciting call from Mr. Don Thacker of Imagos Films. He had seen our work for Northlight Theatre’s production of The Lt. of Inishmore and wanted to speak with me about his newest upcoming project Motivational Growth. The film as he described it to me was a darkly twisted comedy, a story about a man and his mold. That’s right, mold- as in fungus.
The mold was where we came in. It was not going to be just set dressing in the dank corners of an apartment, The Mold was one of the lead characters in the film. And Don wanted to approach his picture with as much of a tangible reality as possible, meaning that Motivational Growth needed as many practical special effects as possible. Don said that The Mold needed to be a puppet; an expressive talking mold puppet (voiced by the one and only Jeffrey Combs!) that served to drive the storyline and perform live with fellow star Adrian DiGiovanni.
Well… that’s awesome.
Adrian would portray Ian B. Folivor, an aspiring suicidal recluse that hasn’t left his apartment in months. Ian’s only friend is his television, Kent, who speaks to him through cryptic programming. The television shows that appear on Kent are the only opposing force to the influence that The Mold begins to sway over Ian as the film progresses. And these television shows offered some other very cool and fun special effect challenges for us. My favorite show was Zygor- Alien Cop, which featured an Alien Nation-esque world inhabited by some very interesting alien characters. Of these, the alien that captured my imagination (and attention) the most was Declination Jane, an evil genius played by the lovely and super talented Erica Highberg. Other shows that would appear on Kent involved a giant blue video gaming genie, vomiting teenagers, and some very over the top eighties personalities.
Along with The Mold and Kent’s television shows, Don asked us to fill his bizarre and surreal landscape (apartment-scape) with an array of equally bizarre and surreal special effects. Mostly fungus oriented (from poisonous dart shooting fungi and lactating growths to edible psychotropic goo filled mushrooms and flying exploding slime spores), these special effects would serve to further entrance the viewer and draw them into this strange world. And there would be no shortage of blood effects for the show either. Rotting corpses, severed limbs, blood cannons, and stomach turning zit popping would add some of the darker tone to the show.
Right! So… get to work!!
We spent the next several months designing and building a whole assortment of fungus, blood effects, aliens, and of course The Mold. Don gave me tons of creative freedom in designing and we always seemed to be on the same page. This was clearly going to be a great collaboration. Building all of these cool pieces is where my incredible team of artists jumped in head first. Andrew Hosmer is an animatronic genius and he built all of the mechanics and controls for The Mold, which were very slick and were a joy to puppeteer. Jeff Waltrowski and Dave Hartman were in the shop with me most of the time, knee deep in the muck!
Then in October, after months of pre-production Jeff and I were off to shoot in Chicago on Don’s sound stage! Meeting us in Chicago and serving as the third person in our 3 artist on-set team was Midian Crosby. Along with serving as a pivotal part of our on set special effects effort, Midian was also going to handle all of the straight and beauty make-up for the film. As such she and Don had been designing the looks for many of the characters during pre-production and had been on set for some time before Jeff and I showed up. Our time on set was awesome. I believe that the best part for all three of us was our symphonic puppeteering of The Mold. We really became a unified force that brought The Mold to life in a very convincing performance. In fact, we eventually were able to ad-lib live action commentary between takes to keep ourselves entertained!
Or experience working on Motivational Growth was truly one of a kind. I was honored to have been asked to be part of the team and am very proud of the work that Jeff, Midian, Andrew, Dave, and I all did for the film. I feel that the friends and colleagues that we met and joined forces with to create the movie will last a lifetime. And it marked the beginning of what has continued to be a fruitful partnership with Don and Imagos Films.
After more than a year of post production Don and Imagos Films premiered Motivational Growth at the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival, where it won a Gort Award (Best of Fest). It has since appeared in a number of festivals and won numerous awards, including Best Special Effects at both the LA New Wave International Film Festival and the Fantastic Planet Film Festival. It will be appearing in more festivals and will surely find a good home with a very reputable film distribution company soon.
Not even close to the last word on this project…