Bay Area residents Tom Wyrsch and Strephon Taylor are artistically proactive when it comes to preserving both their own cherished childhood haunts as well as the legacies of local icons beloved by the community at large. Tom is the official archivist for KTVU’s long-defunct but enduringly popular program Creature Features, and, via his company Garfield Lane Productions, he has branched out with his own highly successful film projects focusing on other regional treasures. Strephon Taylor masterminds his own company, November Fire, an eclectic source of merchandise, music and movies, encompassing everything from customized T-shirts to the reissuing of classic silent films with original soundtracks composed and performed by indie rock band HobGoblin (Dougal Hayes, Snake Greek, Rob Corvey, and Tim Howell). Drawn together by mutual friends and interests, Tom and Strephon have pooled their considerable talents and resources to produce a growing body of work that is quite effective and impressive in its collective sincerity, historical significance and entertainment value. Even if you didn’t grow up around here, their thoroughly researched, creatively packaged films will make you feel like you’re an honorary citizen, privy to the same precious memories, which they share with warmth and wit. Their latest collaboration, Back to Space-con, concerning the Bay Area birth of sci-fi/fantasy fan conventions, now a major international marketplace for all forms of media, has its world premiere on Saturday March 12, 1-5PM at Michaan’s Theater in Alameda, co-presented by famous local horror hosts John Stanley and Mister Lobo. Tom and Strephon recently explained the impetus behind their ambitious agendas, and how they’ve merged:
Tom: what was the genesis of your very popular doc “Remembering Playland”?
TW: My parents grew up in San Francisco. Dad took the kids to Playland at the Beach often. I was the baby, so I only went only a few times before we moved to Sonoma County. But I can still remember how exciting it was. Many years later I worked with Richard Tuck helping build his Playland-Not-At-The-Beach museum in El Cerrito. It brought back a lot of memories. With the success of my first documentary Watch Horror Films, Keep America Strong: The Story of Creature Features, Playland at the Beach seemed a perfect subject for a second film. Strephon Taylor and I got together in early 2009 and decided we were going to make it. Completed in late 2009, Remembering Playland premiered in March of 2010. We really had no idea it would be as big a hit as it was. The Balboa Theater ran it for 6 months. It also ran in 12 additional venues. Proving how many people loved Playland and missed it even more!
Tom: how did the “Back to Space-Con” doc come about?
TW: Back-to-Space-Con has some amazing roots. Two of the things I loved most about the 1970s were Creature Features and going to the very first Bay Area Star Trek conventions. With Bob Wilkins as master of ceremonies at these conventions, I had both at once. As the years passed, one really looks back at the charm of those simpler times. You begin to long for a piece of that past. Well by chance I became good friends with both Bob Wilkins and John Stanley and got right in the middle of re-birth of Creature Features. Bob had 3 large reels of 16mm footage shot at the 70’s Space-Con Conventions that he never used for any of his projects. He gave them to me and said “Maybe you can do something with this someday”. Well they became the 40 plus minutes on original 70’s convention footage in Back to Space-Con. Bob would be thrill to see it found a good home. Both Strephon & I feel it is a perfect tribute to Bob’s admiration of the Star Trek world.
Strephon: please explain a bit about the evolution, capabilities, and goals for your wide-ranging media company, November Fire.
ST: November Fire is an art project. It was made from creating illustrations for other companies that eventually financed the equipment I needed to self produce the final products that I would normally be commissioned to create for others’ exploitation. Sounds confusing but the short of it is that I now create for myself on my own terms and get to explore my own ideas and dreams. November Fire is primarily an underground shirt company but I have started to include my roots of music and now more film to the long tail of the brand. I never set goals for November Fire I just want it to support my creative outlets, it organically tells me what is working and what is not. But I am a long shot gambler and always look to the horizon, you have to see things through and have faith even if you meet failure. I have to include that November Fire has led me to work with a lot of other artists, that was an unforeseen benefit and a blessing that I never would have had the pleasure of finding otherwise.
Strephon: how, why and when did you and Tom decide to collaborate?
ST: I was doing shirts for Cinema Insomnia and was introduced to Tom and was asked if I wanted to do Creature Features shirts. Tom was working on Watch Horror Films Keep America Strong at the time and I wanted to release the documentary through November Fire being a fan of the late Bob Wilkins and Creature Features. Tom and I met later to discuss his second film, he told me about his ideas and I saw that a Playland documentary was clear-cut, Tom had unprecedented access to a vast amount of material, and it was a no-brainer. For me it was a learning experience, Tom and I had some road-bumps but all in all we worked well together, we complemented each others abilities, I find working with Tom is easy and he brings opportunities to the table that are personally exciting, I love the San Francisco Bay Area and working on films about it’s history gets me closer the area I was born and raised in.
Tom and Strephon: How significant was Bob Wilkins’ influence on not only this film, but your careers as filmmakers and artists in general?
ST: I was the youngest of three brothers, and I got to watch Creature Features from a very early age. Bob Wilkins was a huge influence on me and what I have grown into, my favorite film is still Night of the Living Dead and I watched that with the covers pulled up to my eyes on Creature Features many, many years ago. But Tom is the biggest Creature Features geek you will ever find, I think he recreates the show every Saturday night in his home theatre. I keep meaning to ask his wife about my theories. Tom bleeds Creature Features.
TW: Bob Wilkins had a huge influence in my filmmaking career. Bob and I use to talk a lot about his own productions. The Bob Wilkins Super Horror Show, The Star Trek Dream, The Twilight Zone Special, and many others. As I got involved in authoring John Stanley and Bob’s DVD productions, I decided the story of Creature Features had to be told. I talked to him a lot about it. He loved the direction of the film and was very excited about it being made. Unfortunately he didn’t get the chance to see it before his death.
Tom and Strephon: what are your future projects, both separately and in partnership?
ST: Well besides promoting Space-Con, Tom and I are working on a documentary about the Sutro Baths, as a follow up to Remembering Playland, we have also kicked around a couple of other ideas but nothing solid. November Fire is hard at work on a full sound The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to follow up last year’s full sound Nosferatu that was featured Halloween on Creepy KOFY Movie Time TV20. We will also be releasing new shirt designs stickers and patches through novemberfire.com. And I am happy to be a part of Creepy KOFY as “Slob on the Spot” promoting the spooky history and locations of the bay area.
TW: I just authoring a brand new Bob Wilkins DVD called Bob Wilkins Meets the Monsters. It’s really turned out great and I think people are going to love it. It will be for sale only at events and not on-line. Making it an event keepsake. Strephon and I are currently in the production of The Sutro Baths Story. A great follow-up to Remembering Playland. If all goes as planned it could premiere the end of this year.
Will “the Thrill” Viharo is a pulp fiction author and B Movie impresario.