“Hey, Deadhead – get offa my lawn.”
No, it’s not a line from a grouch chasing off a follower of the Grateful Dead; it’s a line from a human (played by a puppet) who survived the zombie apocalypse and is fighting off the living dead.
You can see it all in a zombie puppet musical film, “The Love That Would Not Die,” that premieres at the Jean Cocteau Cinema on Sunday. That gala will include live performances of songs from the original soundtrack and a red carpet star-studded with puppets.
The movie emerged from the creative brain of a Santa Fe High grad who went off to Bard College to study history, theater and dance in New York, and then fell into the clutches of a puppet theater company in 2002. It’s been a case of love ever since.
“There’s no rules. Anything can happen. Everything does happen,” said Devon Hawkes Ludlow of puppetry and physical theater.
What happens in this film?
It begins with a man named Steve dressed in black (a certain late Apple executive comes to mind) making an earth-rattling announcement about a pill that will eliminate death (so people can keep buying stuff). But a nasty side effect is that it turns them into zombies who eat humans and turn them into more zombies.
One holdout named Stan is fighting them off, fueled by booze and positive thinking, when a boy emerges from an Airstream trailer that magically appears and … . Well, a hope to un-zombify the love of Stan’s life is involved, along with a mystery about the boy and how his blood turns zombies into rock stars.
Only the first half of the film will be shown, with the final installment coming later. And Ludlow hopes to develop more stories for the puppets with travels through time and space.
Love is a theme in the film and it’s also the reason Ludlow is back in Santa Fe. He met visual artist Brandee Caoba on a visit back home, wanted to make a life with her and moved back at the end of 2007. The married couple now make their home off the grid south of Santa Fe.
In between freelance writing, restaurant work, script reading, assistance in film production and a host of other temporary jobs, Ludlow has pursued his creative passion. “I loved that I was dealing with lots of media coming together: music, video, puppets,” he said of his projects.
Back in New York, Ludlow had co-founded and co-directed the New York Clown Theatre Festival, an event that continues on a biennial basis, but with which he’s no longer involved, he said.
Return to Santa Fe
Since coming to Santa Fe, he has organized a “puppet slam,” where puppet groups got together in an abandoned building downtown to show off their stuff. He created “The Web of Love,” a puppet musical about two yuppie flies who take an adventure vacation to an outhouse populated by vegan – and not so vegan – spiders. That show was presented on “Due Return,” the Meow Wolf installation at the Center for Contemporary Arts that presaged its current “House of Eternal Return.”
“It was a great experiment, but not that successful,” he said of that puppet musical.
And he did some cabaret shows around town, including at the defunct Lucky Bean that once inhabited a portion of the old Borders space at Sanbusco Center.
The zombie musical started as one of his puppet shows, which use a type of Balinese puppet with rods that control the arms and mouth, he said. Oddly enough, the subject of the show grew from his hatred for the zombie themes that seemed to be popping up everywhere in the mainstream arts, from books to movies. But, he noted, parody is a great way to express those feelings.
Local writer Granville Greene “wanted me to keep it going,” Ludlow said. “He kept encouraging me to make it into a film version.”
So, over two or three years, Ludlow wrote some songs, started developing a story line and came up with an hour-long script.
A collection of collaborators came together in March to help build props and puppets. “Everyone came to make zombies for Easter. It was a come-back-from-the-dead motif,” he said. Friends helped build sets, create costumes and props (watch for the “feel the burn” inscription on the flamethrower), set up lighting, perform the songs and film the finished product with an iPhone.
Surprisingly enough, the latest iPhone 6 has good enough quality for a film headed to the big screen, Ludlow said, and is probably the best tool to get up close in the small scale he was working with. All of the special effects were made in the filming and not in editing, he added.
He calls it a zero-budget film because everyone pitched in as volunteers. One of the rewards, though, was to see people come alive with this opportunity to ignite their imaginations – opening creative outlets to others is one of his aims, Ludlow said.
“People are really shut down these days,” he said, blaming over-saturation of media messages and the difficulties in pursuing a creative career. “When they find a place where they can really go wild, it’s like prisoners being released from jail.”
So how did he get the final product booked into the Jean Cocteau?
“I just asked them,” he said. Simple enough.