Musicals. The glamour, the glitz, Gene Kelly dancing energetically across the stage. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John singing about Summer Loving. Whether it’s SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS or GLEE, some people love musicals and some people hate them. Now writer/director Travis Campbell has taken the plunge and decided to make an indie musical like no other: MR. BRICKS: A HEAVY METAL MURDER MUSICAL. This is a bold step that takes the traditional idea of a musical and turns it on its ear.
Travis’s vision has attracted a number of artists to appear in the film, including YouTube sensations Shawn “Cool Duder” Phillips and M.J. Kelley (The Don and Murph Show), Jamie Greco (PDA Massacre, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead), and Lloyd Kaufman (President of Troma Entertainment and creator of the Toxic Avenger). The film also includes a guest appearance and musical performance by Richard Barone (The Bongos/Author, Frontman: Surviving the Rock Star Myth).
One of the film’s stars is “Women of Horror” featured actress Nicola Fiore. She and Travis are eager to spread the word about this unique approach to a genre that’s been around almost since the start of talking movies.
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Nic – The name may say it all, but tell us about MR. BRICKS: A HEAVY METAL MURDER MUSICAL!
Travis – MR. BRICKS: A HEAVY METAL MURDER MUSICAL is, well, obviously a musical but it’s also a twisted love story. Mr. Bricks wakes up with a bullet in his head and realizes his true love has been taken from him. He then goes on a killing spree in the name of love to get his girl back and to find out who shot him! The film has a very B Movie quality to it, but it’s also a character driven story. We see multiple points of view surrounding the incident when Mr. Bricks gets shot from a couple of different characters, and we find out that maybe things aren’t what they seem, and maybe Mr. Bricks has a couple of loose screws rattling around in his head next to that bullet! The musical elements enhance this and also shed some light on the emotional state of the characters. All in all it’s a very unique concept, and very hard to pull off!
Nic – Why a musical?
Travis – I had always wanted to do a musical. I was in hardcore bands in the 90s and then did the college rock band thing later on, so music has always been a big part of my life. When I moved to New York, I had a hard time adjusting, and went back to my roots listening to hardcore music, which helped me get through a lot of tough times. At the same time, I was trying to develop multiple low budget projects with Nicola and Tim Dax in mind and one day it hit me, MR. BRICKS… and it will be a musical, no – a heavy metal murder musical! I loved the concept, but it also frightened me, a heavy metal musical? Would it work? Would people laugh their asses off? It could be a colossal failure, but once I started writing the songs and getting the story together, everything clicked and I was like “you know what, if this flops it flops, it’s something I want to do.” I have always wanted to make movies. I love hardcore music and I have never seen a heavy metal murder musical, so fuck it!
Nic – I understand that you and your girlfriend, Lauren Miller, wrote the screenplay. Did you guys also write the music?
Travis – I wrote the music along with Dane Robinson, and after recording I would show Lauren the songs, since she wrote the script and she would either say brilliant or terrible! There are nine songs in the movie but there were at least 25 songs written at various points. It was difficult writing the music with the story in mind, because you have to ask yourself what warrants a musical number and what doesn’t. Bricks taking a dump wouldn’t warrant a musical number, but Bricks questioning his motives for killing would! I had the hardest time writing Nicola’s song "Torn." I just wasn’t getting it and one night I said, “Fuck it – I can’t do it!” Lauren then helped me by going over the scene she wrote, explaining what it meant to her and for Nicola’s character Scarlet. Lauren wrote most of the lyrics for that song and then it made sense to me! I wasn’t connecting the emotional dots so to speak, but once I found my groove it was awesome. I would write the music with scenes in mind and then sometimes take dialogue right from the script and plug it in as lyrics. When it came time to shoot we would work in some choreography and it came together really well!
The hardest thing for me was directing a script I didn’t write. I always had written material I directed. I did a first draft for and it just didn’t work. In that draft I had Bricks as an actual bricklayer and he owned a brick company and he was a mute! Yes, a mute! That draft also had one musical number and had Nicola’s character killed off in the first scene. I showed it to Lauren one night and she was like No! No! NO! She offered to take a crack at writing a draft and what she wrote turned out to be what we used in the film. For me, it was a huge process of letting go. It was also a challenge for Lauren to write in this genre. We had gone to film school together and had different styles of filmmaking and we always said to each other, “There is no way I can work with you!” But once we let go and trusted each other, we were pleasantly surprised with the results.
Nic – Nicola, can you tell us a little about your character in MR. BRICKS.
Nicola – Officer Scarlet Moretti is a tough undercover NYPD. She gets mixed up with the wrong guy who turns out to be a criminal connected to her past. Lauren is one of the first female writers I have worked with and she is probably the most amazing. Bricks is really not a love story but more of a love/hate story. An anti-love story! And Scarlet is the object of his desire. I relate to her in many ways, but she does seem to have a thing for tattooed, ripped guys! lol
Nic – What was the most challenging thing for you working on a heavy metal murder musical?
Nicola – Definitely the singing! My parents are musicians and my mom is a singer and a great stage performer and she makes it look so easy. I would always watch her sound checks as a little girl and it made me want to sing. But even then, it came more naturally to lip-sync to "Gloria" with her broken mike and maybe get a few laughs. Singing in front of people alone has always frightened me! Like most people, I sing only when I am alone or in a choir (or intoxicated!) so I am NO fucking rock star! But, after listening to the songs, I noticed that there are spoken dialogue moments that are an important part of the dynamics and energy of the story so I gave it a try. Ultimately, I wouldn’t be able to do this if I didn’t have all the faith in the world in Travis and what he can do.
Nic – How did you become involved in the project?
Nicola – Travis has been working as Troma’s editor since I met Lloyd Kaufman a few years back. We were dealing with Troma things together via email, then met when we did the intro to the anniversary release of REDNECK ZOMBIES. What a crazy shoot it was! We really clicked and he became the first real friend I made since moving back to NYC. Creatively, we are on the same wavelength and have a similar aesthetic. Over the past few years he has sent me several scripts that were really great and in different genres. It wasn’t really until we started shooting that we realized how bananas it was that we are finally getting down to it with a musical of all things!
Nic – I can see how you cast Nicola for her role in the film, but what about Mr. Bricks himself? Was that a tough one to cast and is that the actor who plays him doing the singing?
Travis – I always wanted to work with Tim. I found a postcard of his that he had sent around with his picture and contact info. When I saw it I was like who is this guy? I emailed him in the spring of 2009 and asked if he would like to work together and he said yes! The only problem was I had a lot of projects on the table but nothing complete. I started brainstorming, trying to think of roles both he and Nicola could play. At one time, I had this idea for a movie where Nicola was an assistant to Jesus himself and Tim would play Saint Peter! Needless to say, this didn’t work out and finally the idea of Mr. Bricks hit me and I thought this would be perfect for not only Tim but Nicola as well.
Nic – MR BRICKS is obviously going to have its fair share of blood and violence. There has been a lot of criticism of violence in films, especially when it’s directed towards women. How would you respond to that kind of criticism towards MR BRICKS?
Travis – I was worried about the violence against women aspect; it is so prevalent in horror movies and has become a cliché these days. It’s so easy to come up with a horror movie idea and start it off with "a woman alone in the woods is terrorized by…" or "a woman alone in her apartment showering is terrorized by…." That is why I am glad Lauren Miller wrote the script. While the movie is called MR. BRICKS, it definitely has a female point of view regarding violence. That is why I love Nicola’s character Scarlet;, she is written with flaws and it’s believable that a woman could end up in the situation Scarlet finds herself in during Mr. Bricks. When we were doing table readings, all the women who attended always loved the character of Scarlet because they felt like they could relate to her.
Nicola – There is an equality between men and women like never before and this story reflects that. It is unrealistic to portray any woman as some fragile creature that needs to be protected or rescued. The female revenge stories have always had violence, and it shouldn’t be so shocking when women kick ass and get bloody and act as their own hero. MR. BRICKS has moments that are extremely intense that I think both men and women will respond to. This is obviously not a film for the weak-minded. Underneath all the violence is a story that has a lot of heart.
Nic – So now that you’ve got a musical under your belt, will we be seeing more of this from you?
Nicola – A musical was something I never thought I would do to do to begin with. lol. I went to see Travis one Friday and there were actors there and I recognized Tim Dax from his headshot that Travis had shown me for other stuff we were talking about doing. He hands me a script and told me to read for "Scarlet". Then in the reading he was like, "this will be a song, and that will be a song". I remember thinking, "I hate singing! Shit!" And here we are 6 months later and we are almost done recording and I will be sad when it is over. I could never say "Never will I sing again" but I think it is safe to say that singing is not really my thing. Working on this has been really rewarding and has challenged me creatively and I am grateful to everyone who believed I could do this and cheered me on. Maybe doing a comedy would be fun – but I am not looking for a record deal or even putting "singing" on my resume. This has also been a LOT of work!!
Nic – You said nine songs made it into the move out of the 25 or so you wrote. Will any of those other songs see the light of day?
Travis – Yes hopefully they will! I would like to include the deleted songs as a special feature on the DVD.
Nic – I understand that you got some serious musical talent involved in the project. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Travis – Well when I started writing the songs in a small cramped room I never could have imagined where it would take me. This really was a family affair. I worked with my friend Dane Robinson who would come in with different guitar parts and lyrics, and we would write various songs, some ended up in the movie some did not. My long time friend from high school and fellow band mate from my hardcore days, Tony Bennevento, came in and recorded vocals for MR. BRICKS. At one point I think we had three different people including me doing the vocals for MR. BRICKS!
When we were filming, the actors would lip synch to my vocals because we still hadn’t cast the singing parts! I even did Nicola’s vocals, and it was really embarrassing on set when people were like, “Why is an out of tune guy singing for Nicola?” After we wrapped, Nicola would come in and record her parts and they sound fantastic! That was the best part for me – finally hearing the songs come to life when other people sang them.
But I think the best part was having Richard Barone, from the band the Bongos come in and record a pop-rock-new-wave version of the song "Brick by Brick." I was trying not to freak out when Richard was recording his parts while I was acting as the recording engineer! Watching his energy while playing and singing threw me into a different world! I had started this whole musical process in a cramped room with the song "Brick by Brick" and now it ends with a pro version of "Brick by Brick." It was really surreal.
Nic – What are your plans for MR. BRICKS – is a theatrical release something you’re looking for?
Travis – I would love to do a theatrical release, but these days it almost impossible for an independent film to get a theatrical release because the big movie conglomerates control everything! That’s fine though. I would love to have Bricks play at a drive-in or take it to a convention or even on the road as travelling hardcore circus, where you get to see the movie and live performance featuring the songs in the movie, rather then have it sit on a shelf waiting for "distribution" by a company who does not care about it. We will also try a run at film fests and then put it on DVD. I think these days, filmmakers have to be almost like snake oil salesmen and take their act on the road, convincing movie-goers that their product will ensure the most satisfying emotional response! It is sad that it’s come to this, but in a way it’s a game. We will see what happens though. Like we said when filming MR. BRICKS… brick by brick, baby… brick by brick.