Public-Access Esotericism: Pre-Social Occult Media


Doing research on the occult and esoteric spirituality (as one does) turns up all sorts of interesting personalities, writers and media programs. While traveling down Internet rabbit holes last year I pulled an obscure needle out of the YouTube haystack.

An account set up by electronic music and visual artist Ikipr had posted up a collection of public-access television programs produced in the early to mid-2000s. Esoteric Science Roundtable was a weekly program taped out of Austin, Texas, for their local public-access TV audience. Created and hosted by Kory Kortis, each weeks show was an hour long and focused on a single topic per episode. Some weeks featured in-studio guests like chaos magician Ikipr, while other weeks Kory gave a solo presentation on occult or consciousness material.



The hour also featured the classic public access live caller portion, which because of the live nature, consistently featured crank callers slipping through to scream on-air profanities. That was the era. Pre Facebook and Twitter, a program like that breathed the final days of a platform soon to be replaced by blogs, messenger groups, podcasts and all things social media.

Show topics delved into everything from Lucifer, Atlantis, occult warfare, the Golden Dawn, telepathy and divine feminine goddess worship. Guests included occult writer John Michael Greer, conspiracy researcher Freeman Fly and radio host, Jack Blood among many others. The guiding principle of the show was Enlightenment vs Enfrightenment. That mission statement sent a clear intent and purpose of shedding light on occult topics and spreading awareness about esoteric practices in order to combat negative public perceptions and misplaced fear of dark and malicious activities carried out by mysterious characters. 

The show did try to tackle and identify the true dark players of society in political and corporate positions of power but never in a fear inducing way that left the viewer feeling powerless or afraid. The positive nature of the occult comes from its self-empowering potentialities that can be tapped into through study of ancient truth and ritual. ESR had Freemasons on as guests and served as a counterpoint to the narrative that an 
Illuminati or New World Order is to blame for all the evil in the world and has always been a occultist or Freemasonic organization. Kory at least introduced to his audience that magic ritual or mystery cults are not inherently nefarious and that the outcomes of such involvement depends on the intention of the individual or group engaging with them. 



These weathered VHS videos on YouTube still strike me as interesting on a variety of levels. My interest in the analog media that I grew up on views the ultra low-tech production of the broadcast and graphics as super kitschy and underground. Like a printed zine, a public-access show is like a time capsule for a more innocent time. Kortis is as earnest as can be in presenting the subject matter and is clearly attempting to build community connections and educate his audience on hard to find literature and research. It all seems so novel in retrospect. It provokes so many questions for me about the functional process and behind the scenes action at the station.
"Access has been used by every type of Austinite - the famous and infamous, the mundane and insane - and for every reason. Like moths to a porch light, there's not a single politician in this town who hasn't put his or her face on access as election day approached. Richard Linklater used ACTV equipment to film part of Slacker. Robert Rodriguez used ACTV." – Michael Bertin, The Austin Chronicle 

Obviously, for anyone thinking of starting up a DIY show about any subject matter today immediately thinks of either a podcast or YouTube channel format for producing and disseminating content. Either one would be linked into Facebook, Twitter, Google + and stand alone site content, all aggregating together seamlessly across the inter-webs. Even terrestrial mass radio is losing relevance to on-demand viewing and listening platforms. I'm certainly not arguing for going back to the old days but I do have a certain nostalgia for analog systems of communication and media. I still have shelves of books, records, tapes, CDs, comic books and magazines taking up space in my house. I respond emotionally to physical things in 3D space. I love going to actual shops and spaces to bump into other humans looking for the same weird stuff.

In addition to producing the show, Kory also hosted a local metaphysical meet-up event for his audience to get together in person and have conversations and exchanges of information and research. I got in touch with him last year via email in the hopes of setting up an interview but plans fell through due to scheduling and time. He was kind enough however to send me some old stickers for ESR and some DVDs of shows not available online.



Things that I wanted to learn about public access had to do with interacting with the station, how to get green lit for a show, topic approval or oversight from studio producers and other technical aspects of access to studio equipment. I still toy with my own fantasy of putting together a show of my own. The first step of which would be to gain certification through training on all the necessary studio equipment. It sounds like an awesome experience and great fun but probably not something I have the time to take on in the near future. It all takes me back to fond memories of my high school and college television and film production classes. The whole technical and creative communication process of broadcast production is very fascinating to me.



The other interesting thing about the time and place that ESR was born out of is the fact that several other subculture shows were running on Austin Public Access at the time, including none other than conspiracy theorist turned right-wing Trumper, Alex Jones. For all we know, Jones has always been been a double agent or some intelligence asset. Back in those days, Jones was seen as an ally and forerunner of anti-establishment alternative media. Sadly, sober, intellectually stimulating conversation that Kortis dealt in doesn't have the mass audience appeal that hysterical, fear-mongering nationalists do. What there is no doubt about is the effect Jones and other ambitious Austin go-getters had on the local subculture of non-commercial media audiences and citizen freedom of expression. The access era that dates back to the 80s was so meaningful to Austin locals that a Kickstarter funded documentary film is currently in production.
"The Austin Access years were something of a Golden Era, before the advent of youtube. It's now fairly commonplace for people to post their conspiratorial/esoteric analyses of world events and pop culture, but, in that by gone era, people such as Freeman, Kory, Jeff Contreras, and yes, even Alex Jones, would have to prepare a show and haul themselves into the studio, operating the equipment themselves or with the aid of unpaid volunteers. And there was little thought of compensation for many of these do-it-yourself conspiracy theorists; truly it was a labor of love. Austin "slacker" culture helped to plant a seed which, with the ever-widening reach of the internet, now comes into full bloom. Respect."
I would love to know if Kortis has kept up his research into the esoteric and what commitments he still has to practicing magic or his involvements with social activism. I did connect with Ikipr on Twitter where he is active but Kortis does not maintain any social media profiles. The copies of ESR episodes were digitized from the analog feed onto a DVDR device and then uploaded to YouTube by Ikipr and are all that publicly remain of the show's history. It stands as a fascinating record of a particular occult subculture as well as the fruits of the ambitious amateurs once found on public-access. 

Below is an exchange I had with Ikipr about his recollections of being a frequent guest on ESR as well as his observations of the Austin alternative media scene dating back to the late 90's. We also touch on how DIY media has changed, mostly for the better. Interspersed in his comments are some videos of his very interesting electronic music tracks.


Ikipr

+ Was it challenging to only have an hour an get everything right in one take?
As a guest, covering all the topics I wanted to discuss with Kory within a single hour was difficult enough to compress that it required a bit of organization of my thoughts. I don't think shows had a limit of an hour for their time slots but Esoteric Science Roundtable was an hour-long broadcast. Austin Public Access producers could sign up for multiple time slots in a broadcast schedule though, I believe.
+ How many people are involved behind the scenes to make a good Public Access show? Was the crew made up of professionals, hobbyists, friends?
ESR was mostly made up of Kory and an assistant producer, I believe. They seemed on friendly terms outside of the show. Both were trained via APA's producer certification workshops (usually just one class I think) and while not professional per se, they brought an earnest, sincere, and motivated work ethic that bordered on pro. 
Early Alex Jones broadcast had a producer and borderline co-host in the control room as well in the form of Mike Hansen. He had a campaign for a local office at one point and in ways he seems almost unsung hero relative to early Infowars for those who might appreciate that community: https://www.youtube.com/user/MikeHansonArchives
+ Did the show have complete creative freedom for show content from the network?
I'm sure there were guidelines, like FCC type stuff, but I never heard of anyone having conflicts with APA over the philosophical content or slant of any content aired.

+ ESR delved deep into the occult, secret societies and even had an episode about Lucifer. Did you ever get complaints or threats from Christian Fundamentalists?
Personally, I've had more issues over the years with other occultist rather than Christians telling me our belief set is invalid. I've never noticed any comments on the youtubes of ESR that have a gripe to register from a Christian voice. ESR always did a good job presenting itself as ideas worth serious consideration. I think it comes off less confrontational with people's reality tunnels that way.
+ Before the explosion of blogs and podcasting, was Public Access an effective way to share underground ideas?
As a viewer of APA between about 2000-2005 or so, I can say it affected the local community, my peers and myself to have these ideas circulate in a freely accessible platform. There were more light-hearted shows.
Puppetose comes to mind. Cult of the Dead Cow repeatedly aired the Bill Hick's classic "Ninja Bachelor Party." Even clip shows that remind me of TV Carnage but sort of served as a prototype to the garbage-as-art model we see in Youtube Poop. 
There were Evangelical types, one of whom wore a toilet seat as a prop on his call in show if I recall correctly. Afternoons also played host to crazy old dancing ladies abusing green screens and old video mixing board 80's neon sparkle-text effects and feedback set to Casio keyboard soundtracks as these geriatric banshees shrieked in to karaoke mics. That show was actually a thing to behold. You'd just be flipping through the channels and then alluva sudden there's some sorta semi-psychedelic infinite space death gnosis thing going on with these old ladies and their keyboards. This stuff was really just a reflection of Austin's culture in ways too. 
The feedback to the local community and scene really seemed to come in the form of several information oriented shows: Esoteric Science Roundtable, There4Iam, Infowars and Reality ExpanderReality Expander was an amazing concept and ahead of it's time. Almost a podcast-like format for TV or maybe taking the idea of internet radio stations from the late 90's to cable television.

Chris Athanas must've booked countless timeslots to show material. It was usually lectures, interviews, etc. from other media and ranged from conspiracy material to more philosophical and spiritual subjects. He'd put quality late 90's/early 00's CG as the backing video along with some ambient music and he had a show that acted almost like the glasses from They Live for anyone tuning in enough. He did some live ones as well and ESR had him and Contreras as part of their roundtables a few times. All this really equated to what the kids these days might think of in terms of a "Stay Woke"-ish vibe that really seemed to cement locally in ways that ran concurrent to these shows. 
Alex Jones, love him or hate him, had the local show here in Austin well before Jesse Venture tried to take The Conspiritainment Complex nationwide with his show. I watched Infowars not only go from a local phenomena to one now commented on by CNN, but also saw its free publication in more and more places of business during its run. I think it's hard to deny there's some serious feedback locally from the stuff that used to air on cable access here, but part of that is the cultural locale, and the population density too. There was receptive a audience and may be in many urban centers.
+ How long was the show on the air and why did it end?
I can't answer this one about ESR but the high point in recent APA years seemed to be the years mentioned above, maybe 1999-2005 or thereabouts. I know of shows like the Freeman Perspective that ran until about 2007/2008 or so. He's transitioned to digital platforms well, but that was always part of his outreach strategy.
+ Are you still in touch with the show host, Kory Kortis? What has he been up to since the show ended?
I saw Kory recently. Not sure what he's up to exactly but we had a nice followup conversation about some of the ideas we discussed on the show. Namely, how my opinion on certain matters changed over the years. I was quite young when discussing those topics, about 21 or so, and I suspect no one should remain too fixed or rigid in opinions - probably an unhealthy thing to do.
Work with spirits comes to mind: I mentioned feelings about how one should be self-sufficient in magick and rely less on spirit favors as opposed to relying on your internal resources. There's aspects of that both true and untrue.
Self-sufficiency can never be underrated but although spirit work is tricky, it is likely worth communing with various levels of the unseen for the multitude of benefits offered in such work. I hope he enjoyed our catching up even half as much as I did.

+ What can working in a Public Access studio allow you to do that you can’t accomplish by making a video in your bedroom?
I'm not sure production wise that cable access is the way to go for producing your shows these days. I think if you have cable access in your local market and you're doing something you believe in, why not go ahead and pickup the producers license and a timeslot and then turn in videos produced either there or elsewhere.
Green screen setups, a digital camera and a mic are pretty low priced so the entry level for making something is lower than ever. Quality cratfsmanship is always a noble effort regardless of your toolset though. Investing study and time in anything makes a world of difference and it usually shows regardless of how talented or brilliant you may naturally be. 
+ ESR was on the same channel as the early Alex Jones show. What do you recall about his show back in the day? Did you ever run into him in Austin? Do you consider him to be a disinfo agent?
I've never met him. I heard he used to be up at the station alot. I'm sure all those guys knew one another at least as associates and sort of co-workers. I'm not sure how I feel about Alex but the recent Joe Rogen podcast was super lit so I'm glad the guy is doing his thing still even if he is selling water filters all day.  
I like the Bill Hicks identity switch conspiracy at least as a narrative. I think the Freeman Perspective (also an Austin Cable Access alumni) has an interesting story about Josh Reeves meeting Alex Jones, you might enjoy it for the lulz or Scientology-related speculations if nothing else.
Ikipr

+ Can you talk about your personal magick practice – what traditions do you work with and how does it connect to your art and music?
I started off learning Hermetics mostly through the Israel Regardie Golden Dawn material prior to ever working much with Chaos Magic aside from just "How can I hack this?" There were influences from some of Aleister Crowley's work but in retrospect it seems minimal other than acting as a catalyst for research and piquing my historical interest about the Golden Dawn schism and falling out he played a hand in. I'm no Thelemist for certain but Liber Aleph vel CXI is very well written and 777 has some nice charts (though David Allen Hulse and Stephen Skinner have made much more expansive books along these lines now.) 
I like to think I'm mostly invested in what many other magickians and researchers are now: connecting the dots through the antiquity of history and actually implementing the most complete form of these practices in a way that they are both practical to modern life and tested for validity of results. It's a bit of a tight rope act but worth it in ways, and all the more so when you're an artist too. 
There's a synthesis of religious and philosophical ideas in Hermetics akin to a sort of pantheism. As such, I am endlessly pleased to delve into recent translations of grimoires from a multitude of historic cultures. This has been the real magical renaissance since around the time Ouroboros Press released a copy of Picatrix in the mid-00's. We now have access to a lot of data that wasn't necessarily publicly available in any accessible form even 10 years ago.
There are too many saintly translators/authors/editors in recent years to name them all here, but the revolution was a return to tradition, not the Punk ethos of Chaos Magic. The "squabble" between Peter Carroll and Jake Stratton Kent over whether Necromancy is an art that should be engaged really exemplifies the struggle between those who've deep-dived the material and those who assume they know it after a reading a few blog post or some other cursory examination of a subject. Even just a few months of a serious course of study in magic will make you aware how little you know about the grand spectrum of it all and how much reverence, time, and focus the tradition deserves or demands for even partial mastery or comfort. 
Most of my musical systems of correspondence come from Paul Foster Case and are outlined on http://www.aleph9.com/Research/?page_id=100 
There are narrative levels of art not easily addressed by words and the same is quite true of people's magical practices too. Some of these levels of what I deal with, even in something as light-hearted and simple as my last chiptune release, are just too multi-faceted to easily surmise in words.
+ What do you miss about the experience or that time period?
Heh, the novelty these ideas seemed to carry before mass-exposure. The excitement of seemingly endless possibilities that have perhaps narrowed over the years as more eyes result in the waveform collapsing further into a particle. Everyone has a Youtube with their crazy hypothesis on current events now. 
Just look at the synchromystic community and their divination via Hollywood movies to see how low the bar has fallen at points for someone to have a voice in the overall discourse about this stuff. We're drowning in seas of information now, but it's not all good data. It's a signal to noise ratio quality issue but with ideas and the voices that convey them almost.
Just look at Pizzagate and David Seaman or Reality Calls, at best opportunistic people made a Youtube conspiracy commentator career out of it overnight. At worst, possible COINTELPRO/disinfo types propagated some distraction in "fake news" or drew attention away from the real issues in their dire need of that "fresh, original content" to keep the videos flowing.
+ Are you at all surprised with how poplar the occult is in alternative media these days?
I'm surprised by the aesthetic it's taken in ways. I'm all for all-access occultism without restrictions to information but I think study and consideration are still key and perhaps overlooked at times. There seems to be a lot of watered down occultism for product marketing and it's feeding back into what people in the occult communities consider valid forms of magic.
Basically, naming your metal band after a badly translated demon name you grab off a Geocities looking webpage isn't doing the work. Soft-grunge pastel vaporwave aesthetic & Tumblr-chic doesn't inherently imbue you or your efforts with more magical substance.
The part that surprises me is how often people go for the low hanging fruit of something like "Fuck it, just toss a pentagram in there and we'll seem deep or at least it'll play well with the in-crowd." So many seem to just want to rehash CMT and sell you a Peter Carroll/Phil Hine book penned by a different hand. Honestly, I was extremely reluctant to discuss Chaos Magic as a topic of conversation each time I went on ESR and I've feared being too strongly associated with that current ever since. I see it as very entry-level magic, which is necessary for access but not the whole Corpus of the tradition by any means.

+ What are the the media sources you get into today?
I disconnected my cable in 03-04 and encourage everyone else to do the same after deleting their Facebooks first. The Subgenius ideas of a TV body and Chip body as digitally modulated/affected portions of the human aura are really overdue for a comeback and might play well in the meme-o-sphere of posting.
But... I'm a bit of a modern DC/Vertigo nerd (though I do appreciate some older, more serious pre-Disney Marvel too.) The Flash is kinda cool despite the CW forced Dawson's Creek-esque love narrative they put in every show.
They've also got some questionable convolution of classic, well-known characters in ways. Seems to be a trend in attempting to revitalize old licenses but it's a hollow and transparent one really. I was seriously let down by the Hellblazer/Constantine adaptation on NBC. I'm hoping for more from the SyFy animated series. It might make for a better format for those story lines. 
I'm pretty lukewarm on the Preacher adaptation too. I wasn't very thrilled with Man in the High Castle or Stranger Things either. I think, in the case of the latter, the only thing it really had going was the 80's nostalgia and Kung Fury and possibly Turbo Kid had already really delivered to higher standards on that. 
Stranger Things wanted to be Goonies meets E.T. as a psychic MK-Ultra super solider child to have a dark twist in the plotline. Sure, they tossed in an underworld narrative but it all seemed like low-hanging fruit again. I miss when the monsters weren't 100% CG. Just watch the first couple Aliens vs. Aliens Resurrection (also with shoplifter and "drunk"-at-the golden-globes actress Winona Ryder) to see the difference in special effects based on actual filming vs. that of pure CG and tell me we're watching quality stuff now, TV production or otherwise. 
I'm not the biggest David Lynch fan since I tried reading Catching the Big Fish and then watched my music buddy destroy his copy in front of me after I told him how painful it was to flip through. That said, I'm still eagerly waiting for Twin Peaks and hoping guest spots like Trent Reznor don't ruin it and break the audio/visual/narrative entrancement too much. I'm cautiously optimistic though.
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Delightfully Demented: Cassandra Sechler's Transgressive Art


As a lifelong horror/sci-fi/fantasy film addict, there's a special place in my heart for the craft of practical make-up and effects. It seems like a lost art these days since the bombardment of CGI all but replaced latex and molds. Luckily, I'm far from alone in that affinity. In the underground world of DIY filmmaking, artists that grew up fawning over images of F/X masters like Tom Savini and Rick Baker at work are helping to keep in-camera effects alive. 

San Francisco's Cassandra Sechler, also known as the "Mistress of the Weird and the Wonderful", is a conceptual artist who grew up in the horror heyday of the 1980's when VHS and Fangoria magazine ruled the day. As a makeup and F/X artist, photographer and film director, Sechler has a style and aesthetic that powerfully taps into the diverse pre-millennium subcultures that developed in comic shops, video rental stores and on late-night TV. The innocence and nostalgia for those last days before the ubiquity of the Internet and digital cameras is a subtle but potent element in everything that she produces.

Watching her retro-video based projects come together on Facebook and Twitter is an interesting way that new and old media methods cross-over. To step into her creative world is to ride your old BMX over to your friends on a Friday night, wearing your favorite Slayer t-shirt and ready to stay up all night watching VHS tapes and MTV. 

That's not to say her work is all pure fun and games. There is also a dirty and dark thread that speaks to hidden secrets of abuse, sexual repression and bottled anger. Sechler's projects are often deeply personal and poetic expressions of living as an outsider, ignored and having spent too much time alone to let morbid thoughts grow. 

Sechler is a young artist at the beginning of her career, showing all the signs of becoming a fresh voice that can bridge the sinister gap between the dreamy fantasy of David Lynch and the visceral punch of early Stuart Gordon. 

She's delightful. She's demented. She's the Mistress of the Weird and Wonderful. 

Pre-production art, Tearful Surrender 

What was life like growing up for you? Was there an atmosphere of theatre and pop culture in your household?
I remember my childhood being magical. Some of my fondest memories are watching my dad paint, my parents teaching me how to draw, going to the video store or library with my dad to pick out movies to watch, playing “dress up” with my sister and friends, and of course playing with my imaginary werewolf prince lover who would always die violently in each game (that’s a long story). I would definitely say I grew up in a household that embraced creativity, self-expression, and imagination.
When did you start to develop an interest in the bizarre and eccentric? What triggered it?
I think what heavily contributed to my character and imagination were the art, books, and films I was introduced to at an early age. I remember going to museums with my parents and my dad asking me to look at paintings and tell him what was happening, and that everything has a meaning and a story. So I would analyze the art, talk about how they made me feel, why certain colors were important, etc. I suppose having artists as parents had a profound affect on me. For example, my mom wouldn’t just read me a bedtime story; she would read me an entire book sometimes! And my dad let me watch almost anything I wanted; I once picked out Amadeus when I was maybe 4 or 5 years old (mostly because I liked the VHS box art and thought it was a scifi/fantasy movie). He might have just let me pick it out though so he wouldn’t have to watch E.T. for the 100th time. 
Horror and Science Fiction films might have truly been the gateway drug to the world of bizarre and eccentric things. My first introduction to horror was with Hammer horror films, the classic Universal monster pictures, films such as King Kong and Godzilla, along with silent films my parents would watch, and being entranced by them. 
I’ve always been attracted to dark, scary things. For example, when I was very little, Freddy’s Nightmares was a show my dad would watch, and I have a distinct memory of hiding behind his chair watching the show, even though I found it absolutely terrifying because there was a comedic element and production value that I was drawn to and even hypnotized by. 
My dad knew I was there, but let me stay and watch it. In a way, I guess you could say that I owe my interest in the bizarre mostly to my father, since he was the one who let me watch almost anything I wanted… and Freddy Krueger & Wes Craven should get some credit too.
Cassandra Sechler

Who were some early artistic influences that shaped your taste and sense of possibilities?
The films of Jim Hensen, like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal were fantasy films I watched over and over as a kid, as well as Ridley Scott’s Legend. The artistry and magic in practical effects, character design, and elaborate set design made these worlds feel real, and I truly connected with them. I felt like you could make dreams come true through your imagination. Believe it or not Bob Ross was one of the ONLY TV shows my parents would let me watch as a kid, and he definitely made me feel like I could do absolutely anything!
Other artists that I really got into as a kid were John William Waterhouse, Willem de Kooning, Salvador Dali, Edvard Munch, Caravaggio, Vincent Van Gogh, Francisco Goya, Boris Vallejo and H.R. Giger. I would sit for hours just looking through my dad’s art books and be in awe of these constructed worlds and images. Then, as a young adult, Francis Bacon and Cindy Sherman had a huge influence on me as a visual artists, and the films of David Lynch, David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, and many others helped develop my love for movies.  
I get a very strong nostalgia vibe from your work. Fragmentary memories. Out of time objects and ephemera. Is there something you’re trying to express specifically about your childhood or is it more about the specificity of a time in history now passed?
A lot of my work comes from a very dark place, exploring thoughts and memories from the past, feelings about society, and are often derived from dreams and nightmares I have and want to express and personal demons I want to exorcise. 
Many of my projects are influenced by personal experiences and feelings about times passed. I am intrigued by psychology, memory, human sexuality, death, kitsch, and why people collect and become obsessed with objects. 
Did you watch a lot of MTV growing up? It’s a bit of a loss that it got away from the period in the 90’s when it was really vibrant with not only creative videos but also experimental and underground animation.
MTV was my jam growing up! Although, for a while I only got to watch it if my babysitter let me or while my parents weren’t home. I was introduced to Liquid Television and some of my favorite musicians and artists through music television. It’s amazing to think that there was a time where Aphex Twin music videos actually aired on TV.  Seeing Aphex Twin’s “Come to Daddy,” the video for Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” and even Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” were special experiences for me.
Cassandra Sechler
Now people just take it for granted with Youtube and the easy access available to now see anything you want at the drop of  a hat. There was a time when your favorite music video came on during the countdown where you actually got excited (and maybe even recorded it on cassette tape or VHS)! It’s a shame that MTV seems to have become more of a reality TV show hub and has stopped playing actual music videos. I think you have to go to MTV2 or 3 now, and then those channels only play a specific genre catering to whatever is popular with the most endorsements. It’s bullshit, but at least I have good memories. (Insert old man saying “when I was a kid…”).
I have strong connections from my childhood with pouring over Fangoria magazines, CD liner art, comic books, and VHS boxes. Getting out of the house and being in those environments holding onto physical objects – it’s a lot different than staring at a screen and clicking and scrolling. Is that something you relate with? Do you still seek out shops to get immersed in?
Oh yes, the relationship to physically printed art is something I am still a fan of, specifically with music and films I adore, respect, and collect. I sometimes go shopping at places like Amoeba here in San Francisco just to buy super cheap VHS to pretend I am renting them! 
In fact, I go there so often, I’m known as “Sex Tape Girl” since I buy so many 80’s and 90’s erotic thrillers and specialty videos! I really do miss the days of popping in a video store and being entranced by the box art, taking far too much time to pick one out. 
Cassandra Sechler
Oh, that was fun while it lasted. I remember when I was little I was afraid to go in the horror section at this one store called Video Video because I knew the adult video room was NOT for kids. When I asked the clerk if I could go in the horror room and he said yes, it was like I was given the keys to the kingdom… spiderwebbing decorating the room, Freddy Krueger and Elvira cardboard cutouts staring at you, VHS boxes with amazing art work. I was in heaven. 
There’s an interesting tension in your projects between a little futurism, cyberpunk and retro-camp horror and sci-fi. Is that just your influences coming together in an intentional way?
It’s funny, often with films I work on, there is not always an intentional reference to another filmmaker, style, or movement that I am illicitly trying to make. However, I can understand the connections made when it’s pointed out. I feel like it’s unavoidable for some references to squeeze their way into your work when deep down you are inspired by something. For example, I know that there’s a lot of Raimi cam and Ken Russell-esque moments in both Elliot and Tearful Surrender, and Tearful Surrender is definitely influenced by the films of Jean Rollin and Jess Franco, and Creepshow.
Your fascination with garish color pallets seems to be a hallmark of your style. Is it just stylistic or is there a symbolic aspect to it?
I am obsessed with colored lighting and the power and symbolism that color holds and the emotional effect it has on people. There is always a reason behind the lighting design in my films. It is light that helps create the image and tell a story, so the colors I choose are always thought out carefully as part of the mood I want to convey. I don’t like to be subtle about it. 
Childhood Burning - 35mm, triple exposure series with expired color slide film.

A lot of looks are fairly easy to achieve with digital photography and Photoshop. What do you get from working with film and specifically experimental film techniques that make the added labor and cost worth your wild?
I think that the use (and overuse) of computer graphics, imaging, effects, and correction has made many artists lazy with concepts and execution. The whole “oh, I’ll fix it in post” idea makes no sense to me. If you want a specific look, feel, or effect, plan for it and choose the proper route/media for the project you are working on. If a project beckons film, I will shoot it in film. It all depends on the budget, subject matter, and story I want to tell. 
With film, there is something gritty and undeniably beautiful that can be mocked but not copied digitally. So, sometimes I find film (or hi8, VHS, other smaller formats) to be a better fit than a high-end camera. Again, it all depends on the type of picture you are making. 
In addition to the highly stylized and propped work you create, you also document everyday urban Americana. Do you have a specific commentary about mundane suburbia or strip mall culture? 
I grew up in classic small town suburbia and find that there is something extremely dark and mundane about that specific culture to explore in art. 
I also do have an obsession with everyday life: little moments, empty spaces, trash, doors, windows, lonely objects, and kitsch. 
I see spaces as characters and often identify strongly with spaces and the history and feelings that they embody. For me, spaces speak; if you listen closely enough, you’ll hear their stories. 
Night Trash

Your work seems to be influenced by the nature of storytelling or campfire tales. Is that correct? When did that develop for you?
Growing up, telling scary stories by a flashlight, fireplace, or campfire was what sleepovers and camp outs were all about—it was a time (at least with my friends) to spook each other, or tell secrets and personal stories. I think that the theatrics involved in telling an entertaining story actually might have also stemmed from the show The Storyteller with John Hurt where you KNOW where the best spot by the fire was kept for… that combined with Tales From the Crypt and Elvira gave me this inner inspiration and appreciation for storytelling that has stuck with me. 
Are you at all influenced by or have you dabbled with the occult?
I am definitely inspired by folklore, the occult, magic, and am absolutely fascinated with the history of witches in media and art. As far as personal experiences go, I went through a phase once where I tried some cheesy spell with a friend. Nothing terribly fancy; a friend wanted a boy to like her. Classic. 
But I’d rather be a voyeur to such practices instead of a participant. It’s funny though, I always have some neighbor wherever I live who thinks I’m a witch. 
Can you talk about the process of working on super 8mm film?
I love working with super 8mm film. Everything from the sound the shutter makes when you’re rolling to the way the camera feels in your hand. Sending off film to be processed and digitized for editing is always a lot of fun. You’re hoping you didn’t screw up royally and will have something to show for all that money you laid down for the film. It’s a special kind of workflow that you don’t get when working digitally.
I also pick up on a sexual expression in different segments in your films or photo projects. Perversion as a study comes across. It feels celebrated and fetishized at times but in other pieces it’s more of a statement about the problems of perversion, in your Squirm series for instance. What is your perspective on all of that?
Sexuality is so complex and one of my favorite concepts and topics to explore. Squirm delves into the realm of fear, violation, and perversion. For many people who have been sexually assaulted or violated it takes years to recover, and often there is a silence inside, an uncomfortable element that never actually goes away. This project explores feelings about sexuality and uncomfortable memories that won’t fade.
Squirm

Do your ideas start as pictures in your mind or do words get things going?
It depends on the project. With personal projects, most ideas stem from dreams or deep-rooted ideas I’ve had brewing for themes and concepts I’d like to explore. For client work and commissioned art, I sometimes start brainstorming with a word association list, then make sketches or poems from there to generate further ideas. Sometimes I just break out the drawing board, paper, and charcoal and see what visuals I put down on paper to bring about an idea buried inside.
How do dreams and nightmares inspire your visual concepts?
My dreams and nightmares have a huge impact on my art. I trust in my subconscious to bring to the surface ideas that I need to explore and express. Then my art sometimes gives me nightmares, helping feed the process. That’s when things get interesting. 
How does living in the Bay Area affect your creativity? Is there a strong underground scene for weirdness available?
The bay area definitely fosters creativity and weirdness. It’s been a great place for networking and finding like-minded creative types who love making art and being part of conceptual art projects that have a purpose that’s more than monetary. Most of our films are conceptual art pieces… which do not spell money in all cases. The communities here understand this, and while money is nice to help pay bills, happiness and the trade system are much more celebrated here. 
You have a photo series, Haunted that takes us through a woman’s memories of being abducted and experimented on by aliens. Was that a metaphor or did you simply want to go into an alien abduction theme? Have you read a lot of abduction stories and research?
Many of my films are inspired by dark themes and/or experiences whether personal or visceral. Haunted was a photo project where I explored the idea of a woman who had been through a personal trauma but was masking it in her mind as an alien abduction. This series was both inspired by research of alien abduction stories and theories behind them, personal experiences and feelings regarding rape.
Haunted

Gender identity and female beauty is a central theme in your work. At what age did it really set in how deeply appearance and vanity are embedded into our psychology and culture? What do you want to say about that in your work?
I wasn’t allowed to buy or read “beauty” magazines as a kid, and I’m glad my mom kept me away from them as much as she could. Even with her efforts in hoping I didn’t read magazines or watch television, media surrounds us on a daily basis through advertising and even the way we treat each other. It surrounded me. Since elementary school, I was always aware of false ideals based on advertising and always felt ugly and terrible in my youth. 
Even now there are days where I struggle with body image with the ideals set forth in American culture. I am disgusted by and feel a need to be critical of the media and beauty industry for the picture perfect and often unattainable female and male figures so many people try to become on an unhealthy level. 
In my work where I deal with gender identity and beauty ideals, I hope to reach viewers on an emotional level where they might feel a connection for a moment of the pain and conflict many of us feel regarding the skin we are in.
Cassandra Sechler

As far as horror movies go – what films and directors have blown your mind?
Oh, wow. So many. This could be a book right here! Let me just limit myself to the first handful which come to mind that are integral to my character and have stuck with me from an early age to now:  
F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu 
Tod Browning’s Freaks
Tibor Tak√°cs’s The Gate
Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street
Jon Landis’ An American Werewolf in London
Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead & Evil Dead 2
John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness & The Thing
Dario Argento’s Suspiria
Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond
David Cronenberg’s Videodrome
Clive Barker’s Hellraiser
Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari 
I am probably forgetting something extremely important, and I could name so many more, but we’d be here all day. What can I say, I love horror and science fiction movies!
Is there a specific sub-genre of horror that you gravitate to?
Body horror and psychological horror are two sub genres that are dear to me, but of course I love them all.
You have completed 11 short films so far. What have you learned from those experiences? Which one are you most satisfied with?
In college I mainly focused on photography and sculpture. It wasn’t until after I graduated where I began teaching myself filmmaking. I have learned so much over the years on all production ends. From my first super 8mm films to my first digitally shot videos, I’ve learned a lot about what equipment is best to use to facilitate my needs, various tricks with lighting and makeup, costume & set design, editing techniques, prop making, and so much more.
It’s a wild ride that I feel like I have only just started, but skills overlap and feed into each other. I’ve learned so much just by doing whatever had to be done to convey an idea. Each experience has been unique, but I feel that Wireboy (2013) is one of my personal favorite short films I have completed, since I can watch it without having to be tied to a chair and made to do so.
Dreams for Dead Cats is the name of your production company. How did that come together and what do you hope to create with it?
Initially Dreams For Dead Cats came from a class assignment in college where a project was to create a website for a possible company and brand it. With my film partner, we came up with the name Dreams For Dead Cats because my cat had recently died and I kept dreaming about her. In my mind, I was dreaming FOR her to keep her alive in memories, so the title of our production team is named after a cerebral idea to represent the abstract and conceptual, surreal, visceral, and expressive art that would be coming from Dreams For Dead Cats. The name just kind of stuck. 
Under Dreams For Dead Cats, we hope to make low budget videos with high concepts by collaborating with other talent to make art and film, and help promote and give exposure to local and international underground artists at events we organize.
How did you begin your collaborations with Craig Jacobson? What is your artistic process like?
Craig Jacobson and I met back in 2002 on Friendster (that thing before myspace & Facebook) of all places. I gave him a quiz to see if he liked The Evil Dead & Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and some other things. He did. So from there we became the best of friends and have been in a relationship ever since. In 2008 we started making films together and have been collaborating from then on. 
We’re “separate rooms in the same house” as the expression goes. We both have very different styles and methods of working but love collaborating when it comes to photography, video, and music. Some people don’t understand how we can be in a relationship and work together on the set. Well, I don’t understand that reaction. We’re not two kids out on the schoolyard holding hands; we’re professionals working together. Plain and simple: we work extremely well together by complimenting each other’s strengths and styles. 
Tearful Surrender is a film project comprised of three separate but interconnected stories. Can you give an overview of the concept and how “the year of the Jupiter effect” ties in?
Tearful Surrender is a trilogy of surreal erotic horror stories (Tearful Surrender, Chained, and The Homecoming). Each story is filled with intensity, despair, and murder using nature, sexuality, and violence as metaphor to represent the sadness of what it is to be a monster in this lonely world. 
Each story takes place in 1982, the year of the Jupiter Effect hysteria, with great emphasis on the unforgiving qualities of love, sex, and death, the mysteries of the occult, fantasies, and misery.  
Tearful Surrender is greatly inspired by fairy tales, Greek mythology, astrology, the phases of the moon, planetary alignments, witchcraft, the occult, and the concept of immortality. I set Tearful Surrender during the Jupiter Effect hysteria because it helps set an undertone of fear of the unknown, the cruelty of mother nature, and the paranoia behind sensing the end of the world or a natural disaster coming. Overall, for me, it helps aid in the sense that these characters are doomed. 
Do you like transgressing taboos? Is it necessary in a cathartic way?
I think that it’s important to go beyond what is supposedly wrong or forbidden to speak your mind, make a message, and to make art that is not safe or lazy and take the risk that you might not get the limelight or make money, and could be misunderstood or possibly offend this oh so delicate society we’re living in these days. 
I feel that it’s important in art, whatever your message is, however odd or dark that you try to reach people. It’s important to create something that has meaning and heart that is NOT made just for the “good review,” or for monetary purposes, or for five minutes of fame, or a selfie opportunity. 
Too many artists are making art that is safe and easy to understand, shoving ideas down our throats, making us want to puke. Even if nobody understands the message not all is lost because at least the message was let out, and in that sense I do believe it can be cathartic. 
Elliot production still

How much does the average person repress in terms of aggression, sexuality. Is the veneer of civility we hold to in society thinner than we would like to admit?
I do think that many people repress such feelings to an unhealthy degree. But what’s interesting and horrible is with how much technology infiltrates peoples’ lives, I feel like many people act out more with their aggression and sexuality. I am honestly terrified of humans right now. 
As someone who has been slapped by men because I would not go home or accept a date with them, assaulted by strangers for not buying them cigarettes, thrown against the wall by a jerk for no reason, harassed online, etc., I would have to say that perhaps because of the anonymity that apps and the internet have given people that people aren’t necessarily repressing their aggression or sexuality but expressing it in ways where a mask is seemingly worn. 
With certain apps, people try to order up dates like they’re a pizza. Civility seems be dissipating. I think I’ll just stay home on a Friday night with a real pizza and watch a horror movie. At least that’s safe.
Elliot is a film of yours that is in the process of being made but you have released some trailers already with a lot of production stills. It looks completely mind-blowingly surreal, dark and visually stunning. Can you tell us about the idea and what stage of completion the film has reached?
The ideas for Elliot came about when Craig  Jacobson (writer/director of Elliot) and I were working on Wireboy, where we were beginning to philosophically and conceptually explore various representations of the self,  society’s fascination with technology, overstimulation, depravity, and the future that is being born out of our media and culture.  
It was during the production of Wireboy, Elliot went into early stages of preproduction. Elliot continues where Wireboy left off, conceptually. 
The film is an existential sci-fi social commentary on the nature of identity in a world saturated with social media and new technologies. The movie is inspired by different spiders and explores the struggle of one man (Elliot, a lonely maintenance worker) grappling with his desires, the distrust of his own cognition, and the anxiety brought on by his external obligations. 
I’ve had a blast working as Assistant Director and key makeup artist on this. Jacobson has an incredible vision with Elliot, and the social commentary that’s being made in this picture will hopefully make viewers’ skin crawl and brain melt. Elliot is Dreams For Dead Cats Productions’ first feature film, and we are so excited about having the project wrapped soon! Right now we are working on editing, a couple final shoots with miniatures/compositing, etc., but the film should be available by this spring or summer at the latest!
The costume design and makeup effects are super intense and involved. Give us an idea of the process of working in practical effects ­ – the difficulties as well as the creative stimulation.
Practical effects are where it’s at for me and will always have my heart. I love having to think creatively in order to make a concept come to life. In my DIY/micro budget world, budget restraints are always just as frustrating as they are inspiring, for the constraints lead to creativity and fun! 
Having a low budget but high concepts makes you think creatively about what materials to use to make a realistic/believable effect that will convince the viewer of the world you are presenting to them. 
Elliot production still
You have to think out of the box sometimes. For example, in our last shoot, we didn’t have the budget for certain supplies but what we DID have in the house were some toilet paper rolls and tape… so we came up with a crude but extremely effective breath powered device to animate a particular special effect. Nothing beats the feeling of problem solving spfx then seeing the fruits of your labor pay off during the dailies and onscreen.
I’m desperate to see practical movie effects stay alive and actually progress further. Digital effects kind of knocked make-up off the rails for a long time there. Why is it important still for you and do you get a sense that it can regain the footing it had in the heyday of the 80s-90s?
I personally feel that there’s a magic, physicality, and tactility involved with practical effects that’s indisputably more realistic and enjoyable than anything generated by a computer. Call me old fashioned, I don’t care. I know a CG blood splatter versus a live action blood splatter, etc. Physical elements are necessary to help the suspension of disbelief. Am I against ALL CG? No. When integrated well, it can be seamless and interesting, but overall, practical fx should be kept alive and well! I have faith that practical effects will never disappear, and I can only hope that there are more people who hop on the bandwagon for a resurgence in practical effects.
Cassandra Sechler

F/X artists were rock stars when I was a kid. They were as important as the directors. Whose work got you to really take notice of that craft and made you want to do it?
When I was a kid and got to see An American Werewolf in London for the first time I was obsessed, and as terrified as I was curious, with the transformation scene! Once I found out about makeup and that Rick Baker was involved, I wanted to know more about makeup in horror films. So I started paying attention to names in credits, etc. 
Elliot production still
One year, near Halloween, I saw this amazing (possibly made for TV?) documentary called Heartstoppers: Horror at the Movies that introduced me to many horror films I hadn’t yet seen. There was this section on makeup and spfx that had me breathless and wanting to be part of this monster making madness. I was watching (and recording) the show writing down all of these films I just had to see! Dick Smith, Tom Savini, Rob Bottin, and Rick Baker caught my eye right away and were a big inspiration for me. 
It really seems like your diverse art education in photography, sculpture and film production is all coming together for you in these projects – you wear many hats but there’s a singular vision that comes through it. Has that always been your goal?
When I went to school for photography and sculpture, I did know that in the back of my head I wanted to make films in the future, but I of course didn’t know how things would pan out or the extent of my involvement in projects. I knew that I was wanted to learn the basics for my passion, and I most definitely did. Learning the foundations of those two disciplines helped me in so many ways. I feel that my knowledge in different areas over the years has helped lead me to where I am now. 
Elliot production still
For example, where would I be in spfx/makeup without sculpture and color theory knowledge? How would I know about framing and lighting without camera and lighting basics? It’s been an organic process with the drive always being to make a concept come to life using whichever tools necessary. I have found that I love to dabble in as many things as possible, not just because I am a control freak. Maybe I also just like wearing a lot of hats!
What are your plans for this year as far as new projects and releases?
We’ve definitely got a lot going on this year with the priority being the release of Elliot, which should hopefully have an SF premiere this summer! We plan on touring with the film, submitting it to festivals, as well as having it distributed through different platforms. Tearful Surrender has been in preproduction and is revving and ready to go into filming once funds are raised. We are planning to launch a fundraising campaign this spring and start shooting in the fall! There are other films and projects in the pipeline as well, but, as far as this year goes, that about covers it. 
As far as next projects, we are working on some other short film and music video projects, and getting some ideas finalized for our next films and web series. We also hope to release a collection of shorts out on a special dvd. For those who want to keep up with news on our endeavors, we frequently update the news section about screenings, events, and more on our production site: dreamsfordeadcats.com
BTS on the set of Elliot. Photography by Amy Rose Moore.

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