Making Up Their Own Show
by Dan Cross
The late, great, avant-garde rock band, The Talking Heads, have a song called, “Found a Job” about a couple, Bob and Judy. The two sit around unhappily watching television, fighting over little things, and complaining about how nothing good is ever on. So they decide to start making their own shows. It turns out to be a brilliant idea:
Judy’s in the bedroom/inventing situations
Bob is on the street today/scouting up locations
They’ve enlisted all their families/they’ve enlisted all their friends
It helped save their relationship/and made it work again
That’s exactly what a large and enthusiast group of people are doing in Fairview Heights and O’Fallon, Illinois—making their own TV show. Called “Demi’s in Chains,” the idea sprang from a dream that came one night to director Nicholas Alsup. “I walked into this room and saw a woman there in chains. I thought, ‘Oh man, I have to free her!’ But then this man came up and held out his hand and blasted energy out through his hand at me. When I woke up, I thought, ‘Man, that would make a good screenplay. I have to write that!’ So I did.”
Alsup recruited co-writer Jay Landis and together they crafted a script for a TV pilot.
Fast forward eight months or so, to a recent Saturday afternoon in the woods not far from Scott/Troy Road in O’Fallon, Illinois. Twenty five people are spending a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in September having black make-up and gruesome latex wounds applied to their skin; people are wrangling props (torches, a fire pit, a thick ancient book, and, of course, chains); no fewer than three make-up artists work on different actors, while Assistant Director/Sound Guy John Paul Wood sets up his audio equipment and Cinematographer Alex White readies his camera.
Alsup trots from one part of the location to another, letting everyone know what to expect. “Some of you might have to wrestle in the mud for the fight scene. Who is okay with that?” Almost all the extras, a dozen guys in their late teens/early 20’s in identical black T-shirts, raise their hands. “Okay, cool.” And that is the kind of spirit that characterizes the whole day’s shoot. Everyone seems willing to do anything.
I asked Alsup about the amazing esprit-de corps. “I’m never against new ideas. Anyone can suggest something to me, and while we may not actually use it, I usually say, ‘Let’s give it a try!’ I may be assertive at times, but I never say, ‘No! This is the way it has to be!’”
The enthusiasm is definitely contagious. Even though the sun is dropping fast and the hurry-up-and-wait time drags on, everyone on the set seems happy to be there, and confident in the quality of the project they are creating together.
Just like the couple in the song did, Alsup recruited friends and family for the show. Looking over the list of cast and crew, one thing that jumps out at you is the number of repeated surnames: Two people are named Pryor, two named Gray, two named Ray, and no fewer than five people share the last name Cluck: David, Chris, Luke, Zack, and Deb.
“When I first started assembling the cast and crew, I told everyone that I was going to make a high-quality TV series on this side of the river,” Alsup explains. “Much of the original casting happened by word of mouth and social media. From there, it spread like wildfire. Everyone who was involved told their friends, ‘Man, you have to check out this show!’ It has just kept growing from there.”
The story centers around a woman named Demi, played by Daphne Richardson, who gets sucked into a world of dark, evil energy by a sorceress named Jade Stone, who senses that Demi possesses strong magic power. Jade is played by a young woman—14 years old at the time of this shoot—who is also named Jade. A striking-looking girl, reminiscent of Winona Ryder in Heathers, actress Jade Hutt brings to the show a look and a professional attitude well beyond her years.
I asked her what her parents think of her being involved with the show. “Oh, they love it! They are really proud of me.” Hooray for such supportive parents! I wish all young people with creative interests were encouraged so much.
Acting opposite Jade the day I visited the set was Caitlin Alanna, who also brought impressive dedication to her role as Sarah Case, but an entirely different look. While Jade has a dark and sinister allure, Sarah is more of an innocent beauty. “I play a regular human person. I’m friends with someone who gets involved in the conflict with Jade, so I am kidnapped and brought here. But I don’t have any powers.” This good girl/bad girl contrast, emphasized by the brilliant work of young makeup artist Daryan Barrett, is just one of the many visual treats of the show.
Other scenes for the pilot episode were filmed in a back room at Cloud Nine Café, Lounge, and Emporium on North Illinois Street in Fairview Heights. Scenes shot there included two models in full body paint, and some stunning green screen shots. You can see stills on the show’s Facebook page.
Watching this group of people work really warmed my heart. Too many people think that entertainment is something other people make. Most people here are happy to be consumers of mass culture created on the east and west coasts, spending their days playing video games, or watching marathon sessions of cable TV shows on DVD and Netflix. What Alsup and his enthusiastic crew represent is a glimmer of hope that culture, entertainment, and even television shows can originate here and spread to the rest of the country.
“When the pilot is finished, we plan to send it to HBO, Netflix, Sundance. We are aiming high.”
More power to you, Nico! Keep up the good work! Follow your dreams—literally—and you can make good things happen. As The Talking Heads said so wisely in 1978,
So think about this little scene/Apply it to your life
If your work isn’t what you love/Then something isn’t right
Just think of Bob and Judy/They’re happy as can be
Inventing situations/Putting them on TV
Who: Nicolas Alsup, director / producer
What: Demi’s in Chains – a local TV series in the making
Where: In and around the MetroEast
When: Coming soon