Help Richard Elfman Keep "Forbidden Zone 2" Wild

whosay q&a

The creator of the 1982 cult classic talks about crowdfunding a sequel.

Mar 20, 2014 | 09:15 PM

Richard Elfman wants to make you laugh, cry, and maybe wet your pants. Again. 

The director of cult films "Modern Vampires" and "Shrunken Heads" is known for bringing the bizarre to the big screen. For his latest project, the sequel to 1982's "Forbidden Zone," he's going back to where all the wild magic began, and this time, a new generation of Elfmans are involved. In addition to his brother, the composer Danny Elfman, who collaborated with him on the first film, he's also enlisted his son, the actor Bodhi Elfman, and his daughter-in-law, Jenna Elfman. It's truly a family affair, but he's looking to fans to help keep it weird. 

A little background on Richard Elfman: After founding the theatrical music troupe The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo (which would evolve into the seminal new wave band Oingo Boingo), he turned to film to capture the comic mayhem of their live performances. The result was the surreal, bawdy musical comedy "Forbidden Zone," which became a cult classic and served as Richard's crash course in filmmaking. 

If the first film was about capturing the music of the Mystic Knights, the second aims to rekindle that spirit, through timeless classics and new gems from Danny Elfman's catalogue. Bodhi Elfman will assume multiple roles, and Jenna Elfman will not only act but dance in a Cirque du Soleil-inspired "Ballet of the Chicken." 

To bring it to life (and give the team more creative freedom), he is turning to his fans, who he hopes will kick off the funding for preproduction of the wild sequel in his Indiegogo campaign.

The campaign is packed with rewards—want to get mystic knighted, be an extra on the film, or BBQ with Richard Elfman?—but before you you sign up to be serenaded with bongos by Richard in clown makeup on Instagram (yep, another reward), get to know him and "Forbidden Zone" a little better. This should get you started. 


WhoSay: The original "Forbidden Zone" was filmed in 1982. At the time, you wanted to capture the spirit of the stage performances of your musical-theater troupe, The Mystical Knights of the Oingo Boingo. What were you able to communicate in film that you could not capture on stage? What were you able to capture on stage that didn't translate to film?

Richard Elfman: Stage permits that tangible visceral magic of artist and audience—like sitting across a table and looking your lover in the eye. Then they leave the theater and the memory fades. Film on the other hand, you can get hit by a truck and people can still watch it 100 years later—or in our case, 32 years later. I can also remove a difficult actor's mouth and replace with another's, as I did in a scene in "Forbidden Zone." Can't do that on stage!

WhoSay: In a way, the original "Forbidden Zone" marked a transition point in your career—moving from music to film. How did the film affect your career?

Richard: It bankrupted me. It's ironic how 32 years later the film is finally starting to make a buck.

A devilish Danny Elfman in "Forbidden Zone."

WhoSay: You've also learned a lot about filmmaking since your first film. How do you expect that will impact the production?

Richard: Well, I'll be sure to clear the rights to older music before I start shooting. Some crusty Broadway codgers got me good first time around. And instead of a dozen rolls of seamless paper for sets we're going to have the digital means to create an amazing fantasy universe.

WhoSay: What inspired you to create a sequel, 32 years later? 

Richard: If you sawed my noggin in half, you'd see it filled with insane comedy and wild musical numbers. My little "Energizer Bunny" "Forbidden Zone" has kept on going and now picked up a great young fan base. They've been asking for it. I'm ready to deliver.

L.A. area Rocky Horror troupe "shadow casting" Forbidden Zone. Richard Elfman joins them doing Danny Elfman's devil.

WhoSay: Jenna Elfman will be dancing in the sequel. Tell us what might surprise her fans most about her performance?

Richard: Many people don't know that Jenna worked as a professional dancer—for Twyla Tharp, Debbie Allen, and other greats. My brother Danny did a fabulous score for the Cirque du Soleil's show Iris last year, I got to meet—and BBQ for every Sunday—many of their keys, including aerial/acrobatic choreographer Shana Carroll. The synergy was all there for Jenna to really knock one out of the park with our upcoming absurdist and tragicomic aerial "Ballet of the Chicken" that only Jenna could pull off. "Swan Lake," watch out!

Says Jenna: "I've always wanted to fuse my past dance training with my acting and to be able to do it in an irreverent setting. This really excites me! I'm a big fan of the ridiculous with a dash of poignant."

Jenna will also play a second role, as Rocky-esque male trannie school teacher, this time with singing as well as dancing. Her speaking voice will be pitched down and with Jenna's great comic nuance the audience will be in stitches! And as per her show-stopper song... Well Danny will write it, but whose voice will really be singing it? Surprises in store! 

WhoSay: Besides Jenna and your brother Danny, will any other family members be involved?

Richard: My talented son Bodhi Elfman (Jenna's husband) will play several wacky roles. My 88-year-old Jewish mother Clare Elfman will pull the King's chariot during the grand finale. And I have three Fonda's in the family yet to ask to do cameos (Jane, Peter, and Bridget).

WhoSay: You took a lot of risks when you filmed "Forbidden Zone"—it sounds like it was a true labor of love. Is that same spirit driving the sequel, or is it coming from a different place?

Richard: Yeah, we took some risks ok. Our old friend Matthew Bright ("Freeway," "Tiptoes") played "Squeezit Henderson" in the film, even helped write the screenplay. Small fellow with a big, how shall we say... "voice." He got into an altercation with a giant violent skinhead. I had to insert myself between Matthew and the guy's .45 to diffuse the matter. Matthew's helping out on "Forbidden Zone 2"...I hope without the same risks.

And yes, it is very much a labor of love, essentially coming from that same wild place. And in truth, I'm ready to take risks or anything damned else to make this movie! YEE-HAW!!!

WhoSay: What in the sequel will be similar, and what will be a departure? 

Richard: Similar in funny absurdist tone, but the sequel will be bigger, badder and bolder. The plot hits some previous locations but our fantasy world will be more vivid, the comedy more outrageous, and the music and dance more extravagant. We'll go to Ghana to shoot our "Harlem saloon" and old-time gospel church scenes with Ghana's national ballet company. Imagine hot American '20s and '30s dance moves turning on a dime into precision acrobatic African tribal ensemble—then back!

WhoSay: You have said that what gave the original its cult status was its music—why do you think the music and the film stand out? How do you think it has held up over time?

Richard: In both the older gems that we used and Danny's original songs and score, we have what I call "memorable" music; time only burnishes it. In many musical shows and films the music, taken by itself without the visuals, simply doesn't hold up quite as well. In "Forbidden Zone" and "Forbidden Zone 2" the music stands on its own and only gets better and better the more one hears it. HELL YEAH!!

WhoSay: What is driving the musical inspiration for "Forbidden Zone 2"? 

Richard: Stuff I LOVE, that I discover from others, that my brother writes. In terms of style and era, we're all over the place. All I simply ask is that it plays well till the end of time!

WhoSay: As you mentioned earlier, there are a ton of visual techniques available to you as a filmmaker that were not available in 1982—what impact will new technologies have on the film? 

Richard: Ha! We did our FZ1 animation Betty Boop/Max Fleischer style, inked one frame at a time. Cut the movie on an ancient upright Movieola, a torture device which hadn't changed much since the dawn of time. Today with digital everything, things are a million times easier. For a modestly budgeted independent film, the choices are infinite. Why we are now able to have Vincent van Gogh and Salvador Dalí working in our Art Department (see their work in our video).

Richard getting a little help from Vincent van Gogh in the Art Department.

WhoSay: Tell us a little bit about film production in the age of crowdfunding. What are the benefits? What are the drawbacks? What do you hope to accomplish in your Indiegogo campaign that you can't accomplish through traditional avenues?

Richard: We don't intend to raise 100 percent of our shooting budget through crowdfunding. But the more we raise, the more creative, outrageous, and artistically independent we can be. That's the way of the world in Hollywood. Crowdfunding is a great advantage for independent artists and filmmakers.

WhoSay: Is this new film targeting your original fan base, or a younger audience (or both)? 

Richard: Take the general population, all ages. Divide them in half. The crazier half is our specific demographic.

WhoSay: Can fans expect an Oingo Boingo reunion? 

Richard: Boingo drummer Johnny Vatos has organized guitarist Steve Bartek, saxophonist Sam Phipps, and some of the guys doing "Oingo Boingo" gigs around L.A., but with a different lead singer. Danny's been pretty busy doing film scores, now he's branched into ballets—he'll be going to Moscow soon. We'll see what the future holds. In the meantime I've got most of the guys on our promo video's musical track!

The original Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo (Danny left, Richard right).

WhoSay: What  hope to deliver to the audience of "Forbidden Zone 2"?

Richard: To make them laugh, cry, and wet their pants.

To find out more about Richard Elfman's "Forbidden Zone 2," watch a teaser video, and support the campaign, visit his Indiegogo page.


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