Monster movie made in Montavilla

You’ll be amazed to learn what went into this full-length motion picture – made here, in outer East Portland …

Here, putting finishing touches on a scene from his film Frank & Zed, is Montavilla-based filmmaker Jesse Blanchard.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

A six-year odyssey of fake blood and felt is winding down in SE Portland where local filmmaker Jesse Blanchard is wrapping up his all-puppet horror film, Frank & Zed.

Working from his home studio, Blanchard said he’s earned a living working on films and creating videos for companies and nonprofit organization for years. Yet, he’s always yearned to make his own “creative” projects.

For ten years, he tried making independent films – only to have the productions “fall apart” because, with a limited budget, the actors and crew drifted away before he could finish them.

“But the cool thing about working with a cast of puppets is that they never grow tired of working on a long-term project!” quipped Blanchard.

“So, instead of being a puppeteer first, I was a filmmaker who turned to using puppets as a way to express my ideas,” he said, as he arranged Frank’s costume.

Jesse Blanchard sets up one of the thousands of shots in his movie, which was shot in ultra-high-definition video.

“Having decided to put down roots here, I decided to leverage Portland’s great puppet and animation community,” recalled Blanchard. “My first project was doing a “puppet short” feature, and that’s when I met Jason Ropp [more about him later]. We put out a short film featuring puppets, called ‘SHINE – a comedic horror story.

About the story
“It’s about a Frankenstein’s-monster-like character – ‘Frank’ – who partners with a zombie – ‘Zed’ – in a hilarious tale of misguided fears, innocent brain consumption, and a loving friendship,” explained Blanchard.

The genre? “In our case, we call it ‘Splat-Stick’ – it’s like slapstick, only with splatter; a lot of splatter!” Blanchard said with enthusiasm.

Pro puppeteer Jason Ropp helps out Jesse Blanchard by creating the detailed “Zed” and “Frank” puppets.

Grows from a ‘short film’
Frank & Zed didn’t start out as a feature-length movie, but as an idea for a short film,” Blanchard recalled. “I’d written this monster movie, and I knew I wanted the monster to be a puppet – an industry term for a ‘practical effect’; as opposed to a computer-generated image, or ‘CGI’ – the original ‘Alien’ and ‘Jaws’ monsters were puppets, not CGI.

“In a moment of desperation, I realized it would be best if all of the characters were puppets, and in 2014 – feeling both excitement and fear – I started working on Frank & Zed here in our small studio.”

Jason Ropp adds details to part of a set.

Using “Kickstarter” to help finance the project also brought in talent who wanted to work on the movie with him – in total, about 50 folks helped with the production.

“We created additional characters for our helpers to play, and soon our ‘short film’ was about an hour long,” Blanchard remarked.

Of course, a horror/zombie/monster movie isn’t any good without a battle scene, so Blanchard went on to storyboard the final conflict – comprising 480 shots, some of which are only a couple of seconds in length, but all of which are necessary to make it properly edit together, he said.

And, while each “shot” might be brief, it can take hours to set up each one. “Every shot starts as a complete failure; it doesn’t work, and it’s awful,”
bemoaned Blanchard. “You keep at it until it finally works; the problem-solving is relentless.”

But, he and the others he worked with kept at it for six years. “Now, we have a feature-length 90-minute film,” beamed Blanchard

  • To learn more about Blanchard’s production company, PuppetCore, CLICK HERE.

Thankful for ‘puppet master’ Jason Ropp
Blanchard acknowledged that he couldn’t have created Frank & Zed without the help of fellow Portlander Jason Ropp, the founder of Dragon Theater Puppets & Princesses – a company now in its 25th anniversary of producing family shows.

After settling in Portland, Ropp worked with the famous “Tears of Joy Puppet Theatre” for 3½ years, touring the United States fulltime with original shows. “I established ‘Dragon Theater’ here, and stepped out on my own.”

Expanding his horizons, he added costumed characters, such as princesses and superheroes, with live actresses and actors ten years ago – and now features a repertoire 22 puppet shows and 20 different “princess shows”,  in which he does original approaches to traditional fairytales.

“And we now run the ‘Kids Zone’ for the Portland Rose Festival, and do major fairs and festivals in Oregon and Washington – and am still very involved with summer reading programs at our libraries, too,” Ropp said.

  • For more information about Dragon Theater Puppets & Princesses, CLICK HERE.

Setting up some of his well-known Dragon Theater puppets in eastside’s Portland Puppet Museum exhibition, “Puppets of Portland”, it’s Jason Ropp.

“Puppets of Portland” featured this summer
Beyond working on films together, Blanchard and Ropp have something else in common. Their puppets will be featured in the “Puppets of Portland” exhibit scheduled to run through May or longer at the Sellwood’s unique Portland Puppet Museum.

Find out more about the exhibit at the Portland Puppet Museum by calling (503) 233-7723, or visiting their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2020 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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