A Small Dream Come True
Twenty eight years ago, when I first ran away to New York City I spent a lot of time walking around at night. I had lots of free time on my hands back then. I worked at a record store my first four months in New York and when I'd get off work around one o'clock AM, I would take to walking the streets. It always amazed me how quiet and desolate the city could be in the wee hours of the morning. It was such a drastic change from the overcrowded and loud circus it was during all of the other hours of the day. In the wee hours it was quiet and in some places there wasn't another soul to be seen for blocks. It was as if this new city I had landed in was my very own. And of course, it was all new to me so I was absolutely fascinated by the tall, ornate buildings, the smoke that billowed from manholes, the gargoyles that looked down from cathedrals and residential buildings alike and how it all looked black and white at night. It was truly a modern Gothic city and that lit my imagination on fire. I would wander for hours dreaming up stories, imagining films I would someday make. Except I never made them. I managed to get a job as a stop-motion animator working on TV commercials before the end of my first year in Manhattan and while it was a dream come true to be working as a professional animator, I wasn't exactly making my films. I was making chairs dance for Ikea and beer bottles play football for Budweiser. I eventually became a director but still, the work I directed was always for a client, an MTV station ID or a promo for Sy Fy Channel. And so, my wanderings continued and so did my dreaming that one day, I'd make my films.
Decades passed. I learned to play guitar. I made comic books. I got into toy design. And through the years, one thing remained... those dreams. Back in 1984, I did a lot of wandering in the Flatiron district, mainly because there was a club there called Danceteria that I frequented and later, a cathedral-turned nightclub called The Limelight (it's now a mall, God rest its soul!). The Flatiron district is quite developed now, but in the 80s it was really desolate at night. The buildings were and still are very ornate and hail to a bygone era. I would wander the streets at night and create rich, Gothic fantasies set in this neighborhood. I dreamt that I was an alien from another world and that I'd crashed landed on this planet, in this desolate city of night. There was one building in particular that was very central to my mind-film. It's a tall, black building on the north-east corner of Broadway and 18th street that has an embellishment on top that from a distance looks like a cross. I dreamt of a beautiful Asian deathrock girl who I imagined lived there and of the monsters I had to save her from or more accurately thought I had to save her from. To this day, I can not look up at that building, that so prominently hovers over Union Square park without thinking about that dream, that... film. My family and friends are sick to death of me mentioning it every time we pass the park (which is often!).
A few years ago when I got back into making shorts, I promised myself that I would make that film someday. Just a couple of years ago, I even went so far as to grab a camera and head over to the park to take a photo of that building. I figured I had to start somewhere and in taking a photo of it, I'd be taking my first step towards turning that fantasy into a reality. Imagine my horror when I got there and the building was covered from street level to spire in scaffolding!!! I was so dreadfully annoyed! It took me twenty five years to FINALLY get to a point where I was ready to make that film and NOW the building was completely obscured from view! I left crestfallen but swore to try again once the scaffolding was removed.
Years passed. I made short films. I made records. I made toys. And still, I dreamed of making that film. One day I returned to the park and could not believe what I saw. The scaffolding was gone! But something far worse replaced it, making it painfully apparent what the purpose of the scaffolding had been. It was apparently there to facilitate the cleaning of the building. And they'd cleaned it, alright. My beautiful building was still there... but the BLACK was gone! They had scrubbed it clean and apparently the black coloring was a century of soot! What remained was the same shape of the building... in a horrifyingly pleasant light beige. Oh, how my heart sank!
Today, I went to the post office to mail a dozen or so film festival entries. My film Odokuro is making the film festival rounds and so about once a week I find myself packing some DVDs and entry forms into envelopes and shipping them off to different cities around the world. I left the post office and stepped out onto 11th street. The sky was gray. It threatened to rain. On days like this I always think about my film idea, because I always figured I'd only be able to shoot on overcast days in order to get the right look for my desolate, alternate-universe Gotham city. I turned to my right and Grace Church loomed over 4th avenue. Grace Church is another one of my favorite buildings from my old wanderingss and it's one I have a particular history with. My very first art job EVER was designing the cover of the Trash And Vaudeville catalog. We shot the model, Dang, ( the owner of the store and a beautiful, Vietnamese Deathrock chick back in the day, I might add) in front of the church's ominous front door. I instantly thought of my film idea....
...and I thought to myself.... someday.... someday I will make that film.... someday when I have a camer.... and then it hit me...
HOLY HELL! I HAVE A CAMERA!!! THE CAMERA I BOUGHT FOR MY VLOGS!!!
I raced home and packed my camera and tripod and ran to shoot some video of my building, my castle in New York City... the set of my dark, Gothic fairytale! On the way, I couldn't resist and I shot a few images of Grace Church. Then I set up in Union Square and for the first time since the idea first entered my head twenty eight years ago, I took action. I shot the main set piece of my film, "Shores of the Empire" (as I call it so as not to have to keep saying, "you know.. that idea I have for a film? ...with the Asian Deathrock chick and the rape machine and gargoyles?")
I can't promise myself that I will REALLY make this film. My workload is already stretched beyond reason. But today I took the first step. And maybe next month I will take another. Someday, who knows, my teenage dream of making this dark, Gothic fairytale may actually see the light of....er....NIGHT!
In the meanwhile, I present to you... with a little help from Photoshop.... the building where it all happens!