Saturday, March 12, 2016

Photographer Interview: MICHAEL ZINN by Dave Wolff

Interview with MICHAEL ZINN

Describe the initial concept and storyline you thought up for your calendar project Women Of Armageddon, inspired by 2012 doomsday prophecies. In what ways were you inspired to come up with a post-apocalyptic concept?
Initially the Women of Armageddon was a one-off spoof, meant to be a joke. It was inspired by doomsday prophecies; it was simply this, if the world is going to end, what will the Sports Illustrated swimwear calendar look like? I am a visual artist so immediately visions of Mad Max mixed with Victoria’s Secret danced in my head. My girlfriend at the time was a makeup artist who loved special effects and when I joked with her about the idea she said “let’s do it!” She was friends with a lot of the Haunted House actresses and we wrangled up a crew and made it happen! All in a month’s time! It was amazing how the concept came to life and became its own entity!

Mad Max was and is an influential post-apocalypse movie. What appealed to you about it and why do you think this movie is still attracting new fans today?
I think the idea of a post-apocalyptic scenario is very relevant and probably in the backs of most people’s minds. I think the costumes and settings appeal to me because they seem realistic. Scavenged items, repurposed. Dusty, desolate ruins. I mean, it’s exactly how I would imagine it. I think it has become a huge influence in media and movies, videogames and literature.... that’s why its appeal will always attract new fans.

What do you think of the most recent Mad Max movie that was released a year or so ago? How does it stack up alongside the classic trilogy? 
What a visual treat! The landscapes and the costumes were all on point. I have no complaints! I think it fits right in there. Times change, things change, but the choice to do a lot of the effects practically instead of CGI was an awesome way to keep it real. I love all that stuff! I used to dream about it when I was a kid! Of course now, I’m all out of shape and wouldn’t last a week.

Did you read Heavy Metal magazine around the time you were a fan of Mad Max? That publication had tons of post-apocalyptic stories, including Morbus Gravis.
YES! I loved Heavy Metal magazine! They had a lot of female characters and showed a sexy side of things. I also enjoyed some of the off the wall – out of the box - pieces they had. I had a calendar of Boris Vallejo's work, which is a serious influence in my head of the original W.O.A. Concept.

What other movies by John Carpenter are you a fan of? Do you prefer movies with more CGI or physical sets, and why?
Probably Escape From New York was a favorite, and Big Trouble In Little China. I thought it was so cool that he did his own music. I guess practical is always better in my eyes if it’s done well. Or done stylistically. Good CGI can be barely detectable. So I guess I really don’t have a preference. As long as it’s appropriate. It could be seamless or it could be stylistically over the top.

Were there movies or History Channel documentaries about doomsday prophecies that helped inspire you?
I guess Nostradamus is the most popular one. It always fascinated me how some predictions seemed so accurate, but I think it’s more about intelligence and observation than paranormal.... I was actually also inspired by a “fake reality show” called “Siberia” which was about a group of people on a more realistic “Survivor” type show. Another great post-apocalyptic “fake reality show” I really enjoyed was “The Colony.”

Siberia and The Colony are two shows I haven't heard of. Describe their plots and storylines?
Siberia was a twist on “Survivor”. It had elements of “Lost” but was presented as a genuine reality show with a host and all. Some people believed it WAS real. The Colony was another “fake reality show” but presented the scenario of surviving in a post-apocalyptic environment. The “contestants” (actors) had to find water and food sources. Build fire and protect their home from the elements. They were both great shows, and were believable as reality TV. It’s not running but you can find it online. It’s not ACTUALLY reality TV, it’s a show with actors... but it’s actually a great show about reality TV.

When you envisioned Mad Max meeting Sports Illustrated, how did you make it a reality?
It was very organic. I did a Google search and found a few images, some from Mad Max, and started to share them with the models and makeup artist/stylist Janine Maloney. Immediately everyone got it, and was very excited. Janine started coming up with characters and some great props and ideas for costumes. The original idea had a very “Sucker Punch” feel to it so it was mostly shot on a green screen; some were outdoors in the woods. There was a lot of Google involved in the first calendar, finding images of destroyed environments and locations that felt right. There are urban feeling images as well as rural in the first calendar. One of my favorite images from the first calendar almost feels like “The Hills Have Eyes” or “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” which I must say is also an inspirational source. I love Horror movies.

Did you find nearby locations to photograph through Google? Which one of them had an ambiance similar to “The Hills Have Eyes” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”?
I had a few locations in mind and friends suggested some cool places. The Kings Park Psych Center became a favorite place as well as the Bluff at Kings Park. This last year, I got involved with The New York Zombie Apocalypse, an interactive laser tag experience in Deer Park. They have an amazing facility and superb weaponry. It was a natural collaboration. The Bluff at Kings Park for sure. A lot of the MEN OF ARMAGEDDON calendar was shot there.

Is the Kings Park Psych Center reputed to be haunted? There are several areas in Long Island known for paranormal activity; is this one of them?
People have told me stories about the things that went on there when it was operational.... lobotomies and electro-shock therapy, that kind of thing. So there is definitely an eerie air about the place. Especially when you go in some of the buildings. It’s really an odd feeling, and it certainly lent itself to the post-apocalyptic feel I look for with the calendar. Over the years we've gotten some great stuff.

Was your girlfriend working for a special effects company or working independently?
Actually, she was working the makeup counter at the mall for Bloomingdales. She hated it, but loved makeup. She is a magician when it comes to making someone look like whatever it is you want. A real visionary. What’s pretty cool is that this project was the catalyst for her to get involved in film and photography production. She quit her job, and eventually moved to New Mexico, a thriving filmmaking community. She has been working in movies and television ever since, and this year went to Sundance as part of the team that produced “The Eyes Of My Mother”, a film that is receiving critical acclaim!

If you’ve seen The Eyes Of My Mother, tell the readers what it’s about and your girlfriend’s involvement. What other movies and TV programs has she worked on?
I have not seen it yet, though I am dying to. I hear it is the kind of film experience that leaves you uncomfortable. Janine did the makeup effects. I believe she was involved with the Breaking Bad show, but I cannot verify.

How much press has The Eyes Of My Mother received? Was it released to theaters or on DVD?
Tons! SO many reviews on so many blogs and film sites. It got so much attention that it got a distribution deal. I don't know what the terms are, but you should be able to find it soon.

Describe the haunted house you mentioned and how many actresses were involved in that project. How did you go about seeking models from the Haunted House actresses?
The Chamber Of Horrors is an interactive haunted house. It’s an attraction that you enter and navigate through a series of rooms, that are set up like a horror movie set. As you navigate you are confronted with zombies, ghouls, demons, killer clowns, whatever it might be. We basically just reached out to as many girls as we could, about half were from the haunted house. We needed twelve girls for the calendar... and what was cool was that being a musician, I also recruited some female musician friends from local bands! The diverse group of girls also makes it interesting. I try to involve women who are independent and have their own following for one reason or another, and that becomes another avenue for exposure. In previous calendars I have a Texas state champion bodybuilder (Tara Rickert), a world class electric violinist (Bridgid Bibbens) and a rock and roll singer (Balckey Deathproof of Midnight Mob). This year I have a radio DJ (Niki Ro), an upcoming singer/songwriter (Cait Fazio), two nationally published tattoo models (Kay Possible and Leila Rose), a top Comic Con model (Shelly Scarlet) and more!

Where is the Chamber Of Horrors located and how much work went into making it look like the set of a horror film?
Chamber of Horrors is in Happague and it’s AMAZING. A lot of work by some dedicated and passionate fans went into it a lot like the NY Zombie Apocalypse facility where the 2016 calendar was shot.

How did you go about auditioning models from all those different backgrounds?
It’s not usually much of a process. It’s more about how much enthusiasm to the project is evident. The models aren’t paid, it’s a volunteer thing, and the concept is just so unique that I want anyone involved to bring forward their character. It all has been very organic. Some girls have waited a few years and ended up doing it.

Do your models undergo interviews or produce demos for your consideration?
Usually I get a few photos for a general feel. This year, I was going for a bit sexier feel, but in previous years, I have used women of all shapes and sizes. It is after all about survival.

Has shooting women of different sizes contributed to breaking expectations of how models should look?
Yes I think so. The first calendar was very much friends, who had not really done this sort of thing before, modeling for a calendar. Obviously the Chamber Of Horrors girls were used to getting into costume.

Which of your models have been easiest to work with from the time you started the calendar?
Oh every single one! They are all so amazing and we have a great family bond between a lot of them that frequently make appearances at conventions and events. We were asked to be presenters at this years Macabre Film Festival! It was awesome! I have a few who I am very close with and work with on other projects, Melissa Anne, Kristina Amato, Cait Fazio, Shelly Scarlet... I would not want to name them as favorites because I do love them all, but these are the girls who I feel like enjoy working with me as much... I hope!

How many Women Of Armageddon calendars have you released to date?
Let’s see... 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 had Men AND Women and now 2016. There are six different calendars! And two decks of cards. Countless posters and stickers. It’s a merchandisers dream. The best response to the first calendar that I got was this: We took it to a comic book trader’s show, looking for an Illustrator. I was thinking it was a great idea for a comic book and I could get someone interested. I ran into a gentleman named Chris Notarile. He was the Illustrator for TV Guide for twenty years. He held the calendar and looked at me and said... What is this? A Movie? A Show? I said it’s a calendar. It’s a concept. I think it would make a great comic book! He said it was GOLD. You have an original concept AND an original presentation. You should do a PhotoGraphic Novel. The lights went on and it has been in my hands ever since. I have concepted out a basic storyline and have been working on it slowly, but I have finally found a writer I like and has been pushing me with some great ideas, that evolve the story a little at a time. We should be shooting something pretty cool on the next weeks!

What can you reveal about the storyline for the photographic novel you're developing?
Well the storyline will be more like an “origin” story to set up the whole Women of Armageddon universe. So the idea is these beautiful women all survived the apocalypse and are surviving together, but how did they get that way? The Women of Armageddon to me is very much like “Planet of the Apes” where we will be able to follow the adventures of these women in episodic fashion. I don’t want to reveal too much, but I think it will mix cinematic styles of Quentin Tarantino meets Blair Witch meets any of the Marvel movies. I can only reveal that it’s about a group of women who, based on their circumstance, survive an apocalyptic event.

Who is the writer you are working with and what ideas has he contributed?
The writers name is Lee Kolinski. I met him on the set of a film he wrote called Junkie Heaven. He’s been helping me with dialogue, and creating a unique presentation format. I think the Calendar will evolve into a digital media format. Like a calendar app that will reveal new content daily but act like your Google Calendar or Icalendar.

What is the plot and storyline of Junkie Heaven? Was it released to theaters or can it be viewed on the web?
Junkie Heaven is an interesting short film about a heroin addict who overdoses, but is greeted in the afterlife by a supernatural force that grants him another chance, but of course, conditionally. It was an original concept directed by a friend of mine Steve Sage who introduced me to Lee. I think the film is still making its festival rounds, but should be available online next year.

How soon do you expect to release Women Of Armageddon on digital format? Will you still release physical copies of the calendar or making a complete transition?
I’m hoping to start filming some initial segments this month! Doing some auditions and polishing up the presentation of it all. I’m really hoping to grow it slowly and organically as it has been, but with more focus on story. It’s been all visuals up until now. I think when people see there’s something behind it will flourish some more as well. It’s always been somewhat about the nostalgia as well. That has always been a big influence, so there’s a genuine aspect to it when I release a calendar. I like to believe that people still like to hold the artwork in their hands, turn the pages, and look at it over and over.

-Dave Wolff

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