THE MADNESS IN HIS METHOD
Hot Pink Jesus stands in all His iridescent glory by the steps to the movie house at Geeksboro, passively gracing with his presence a blonde in thigh-highs and a black leather miniskirt who is drinking Fiji water and talking about the movie. She loved him in it.
Technically, Hot Pink Jesus — this Hot Pink Jesus — does not play a role in The Hot Pink Jesus Trilogy, the film that just screened moments ago. The Hot Pink Jesus in all three installments of the film is a prop, a souvenir statue of Our Savior done up in fuschia, 11 inches tall, with a Magic 8-Ball-style fortunetelling window embedded in the base. For a time you could get one yourself at answermejesus.com. When they discontinued the product, the filmmaker stockpiled a case of them in his basement.
In the film, Hot Pink Jesus is a treasured piece of kitsch with vaguely defined supernatural powers. In the film, it is the Maltese Falcon, the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, the Precious.
And the guy done up as Jesus, Gavin Glass, better known among the Mid-Atlantic burlesque cohort as Stage Slave Gavin, features in the trilogy as a rising drug kingpin (“Act I: The Missionary Man”) and, in “Act II: A Saint of Sin in a Den of Thieves” and “Act III: Have Faith, Will Travel,” a completely different gangster, this one a Caucasian with cholo tendencies He puts on the pink body paint and velour toga for appearances like this one and at festivals and the convention circuit, where the film has been well received: It’s been awarded Best Grindhouse Film, Best Short Film, Best Regional Film, Best Comedy and Best Feature Film, with a couple of nods for acting, including Best Actor at the 2012 Killuride Film Festival in Myrtle Beach, a nod to Glass for his work in Act III.
The piece is pure grindhouse, with undercurrents of sex, deceit, intrigue and redemption, a kickass soundtrack of surf-rock twang, fetishized motifs of tacos and lawn darts. It leans heavily on the style of Tarantino and the grindhouse icons who came before him — parts of it, anyway: the fast cuts, the banter, the body count. It’s no Kill Bill, but tonight at Geeksboro it might as well be. The friendly crowd, many of whom worked on the production of one or more of the film’s three parts, laps it up, most of the praise directed towards one guy who sits at the center of the Mad Ones Films universe, a creative presence, a driving force: Jaysen Buterin, the original Mad One. And though he’ll be the first to say that Hot Pink Jesus, “The Devil’s Tramping Ground,” “Flipper Stripper Vixens at the Inferno A-Go-Go” or any of the Mad Ones films could not have been done without a lot of hard labor by a great many people, he’s comfortable in the role of leader, director, producer, creative director, whatever you want to call it.
He’s at the bottom of the staircase right now, puffing on an electronic cigarette by the merch table, the rings on his fingers clinking against his beer bottle. You can’t miss him: He’s the one that looks just a little bit like Nikki Sixx, with the tattoos and rock-n-roll hair, with maybe a dash of Chris Robinson and a drop — just a drop — of glam-rock magician Criss Angel. Maybe he’s gazing off into the distance, pulling on his E-cig. Maybe he’s stroking his chin beard. More than likely, he’s thinking about what comes next.
Buterin is a filmmaker who got his start on a whim at the 2006 Greensboro 48 Hour Film Project with a short called “Z-Day,” a zombie comedy. He’s a musician with a gig playing drums for the Malamondos he’s held since 2005. He’s a writer — besides the Mad Ones scripts, he has written columns in ESP and Stiff magazines under his own name, and, as Max Diablo, the Hippo. He’s got a day job at UNCG, something in the science department. He’s married; his wife Kindal Blattner-Buterin runs a massagetherapy business out of their Greensboro home. And as of last year, Buterin is father to Jack Thomas, who he sometimes affectionately calls “Stormageddon” and the “Dark Lord.” If you’re friends with Buterin on Facebook, you no doubt have this information already. You likely also know that his feed is thick with selfies of him and the boy, a blue-eyed cherub with his father’s zeal for living, that he calls their time on the weekends “StormyCon” and possibly that he and Jack recently spent five days alone together while Kindal was out of town. “[T]hank the gods for Grandma Diablo,” he wrote on his Facebook wall last week.
You get the feeling he can’t help but overshare, that his enthusiasm for his projects, his family life, his friends, his adventures all need an outlet. That surely people want to know about all of these things. And they do — Buterin’s attracted a constellation of like minds that include writers, musicians, photographers, filmmakers, actors, burlesque dancers, models and bar owners that not only are interested in the things he wants to do, but they want to help him accomplish them.
The movies — all of them — were made for about the same cost of prodicing an’ episode of backyard wrestling. Buterin’s people donated time, talent and gear to make these things happen in spare hours and stolen moments over the course of seven years.
In turn, he lends his support for any number of projects birthed by the scene he’s helped foster, be it a film, a rock show, a stage performance or an art exhibit.
On Labor Day, his day off, Buterin kissed his wife and the Dark Lord goodbye just after 10 a.m. so he could be in Apex by noon for a reading of the script for Fix It in Post, a zombie feature by his friends at Adrenalin Productions, a similar DIY crew he met at DragonCon a couple years ago who are responsible for the features Fistful of Brains, The Ghastly Ghostly Gas and A Few Brains More, among others. This one is a story about a feature film crew that unwittingly survives an actual apocalypse — a comedy, naturally, with plenty of violence and witty dialogue, right in Buterin’s wheelhouse.
He’ll be playing the director of a rival film crew also documenting the downfall of the human race, a cadre of film-school poseurs who provide some conflict in the narrative.
“My friend Christine was thinking about a pure douche, dickbag director and she thought of me,” he says. “I like acting for other people,” he says. “I don’t like acting the roles I write.”
He’s played other, similar roles — Tattooed Rock Guy #2, Archetypical Stoner Guy #6 and the like — but acting is not his thing. He says it interferes with his direction, his focus on set.
“I don’t have that juggling ability yet,” he says. Buterin pulls off the highway a few minutes early, into a modest apartment complex tucked off the exit. He parks and pulls three wooden folding chairs from the back of his SUV, carries them up five flights of stairs.
Inside, cast and crew eat flaxseed tortilla chips, fix small cups of coffee, pop open the wine. Christine Parker, who co-wrote the script and lives in the apartment, is glad to see him. She’s a fan of his work.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone start out so good and then get progressively better,” she says.
Her writing partner Bill Mulligan, who works by day as a high school science teacher, is also impressed with Buterin.
“I saw him at a con a few years ago,” Mulligan says, “looking like one of the Manson Family. I was like, ‘Holy Christmas!’ [But] he may be the most devoted father I’ve ever seen in my life, and a very talented filmmaker. You don’t judge a book by its cover, that’s the lesson for me.”
Sooner or later, everyone else shows up: the girl from Zombie Fried Chicken, the handsome lead on videoconference, the sound and light guys, the director. Buterin knows most of them; some of them helped him make Hot Pink Jesus. He’s happy to return the favor.
Our story begins with the film crew working on a project called Ninjas vs. Zombies when a solar flare does its thing. Buterin’s character first chimes in during the third act, when a family of rednecks coerces the two crews into a filmmaking competition… for their lives!
He’s got perhaps 10 lines in the entire piece — Sample: “Those rednecks will be kneeling at our feet when we’re done!” — that will fill maybe two minutes of screen time.
When it’s over, he says to Parker, “I could have been douchier.”
He stays for the cast photo, standing at the end of the parabola, pinstripe fedora angled down, fingers holding his sunglasses at a tilt, the E-smoke dangling just so from his lips.
He holds the pose for a short series of shots. Then he fills his coffee mug, gathers his folding chairs and makes for the door. He figures he can still get home in time to play ball in the yard with the kid.
At the Garage in downtown Winston-Salem, Jaysen Buterin pulls a red pitchfork from a shopping bag and lays it on a table. He’s also got a staff with a skull on the end and another capped with a wolf’s head.
There’s a couple belts of high-caliber bullets, a prop bag of tacos, a copy of The Devil’s Tramping Ground and Other North Carolina Mystery Stories by John Harden and, of course, the Hot Pink Jesus — the figurine and the guy who’s getting made up as Him for the photoshoot.
But first Glass turns himself into the Devil with a shellac of red facepaint and massive, curved horns affixed to a black top hat.
“I’ve got my girlfriend’s, like, raincoat?”
he told Buterin earlier. “It’s got this huge red collar that totally frames my face.”
Now it’s peeking out from the lapel of his black zoot suit, accenting his sculpted facial hair. Buterin approves.
By Jaysen Buterin
So me, Jesus and the Devil all walk into a bar. No, seriously. This isn’t some slackjawed setup to a bad joke, this is how my Wednesday evening began. Now before any holier-than-thou’s start scribbling crusade captions on protest signs, take a deep breath, holster that hatred and ask yourself one very simple question: What would Jesus do? Because you see, true believers, the cinematic Second Coming is already here, and silver-screen salvation with technicolour titillation awaits you. Oh, and did I mention that Jesus was pink?
Now seven years or so ago, if you told me that I was going to become a filmmaker, I’d have said you were mad. And four years ago, if you said I was going to be a Mad One who would spend the next quadrennial with a velveteen Nazarene by the name of Hot Pink Jesus, I’d have said , “That’s just crazy talk.” And last month, if you’d divulged that I’d be directing a photo shoot for the cover YES! Weekly, I’d have said, “It’s about damn time.”
Because while I may be lucky enough to lead the inmates running the cinematic asylum, without them I would simply be some foul-mouthed philomath ranting and raving on a streetcorner… a sinister minister without a congregation to lead or a gospel to preach. It’s been a wild ride and I have no idea at this point if the saviour is steering or if the Devil is driving, and I don’t care. Hallelujah!
He’s directing the shoot on a tight deadline — the staff at the Garage let him use the place for a few hours while a clothing swap goes down near the bar. He cut his teeth at this place with the Malamondos, Little Mascara and a few other bands before them, and the barroom’s wall of posters, repurposed signs and sparse performance stage set the scene for Max Diablo’s Tits & Taco-Rama in the Hot Pink Jesus trilogy.
And here is where he’ll screen the film next, on Friday the 13 th , at 8 p.m. with another showing at midnight, with a set by the Malamondos in between.
He’s worked with the photographer before, too: Bonnie Stanley, who chronicles everything from burlesque to ballet to fetishism through her lens.
Buterin’s pacing the room, pulling a pinstripe vest over his tattooed arms, laying props on the bar, carefully pushing his hair into a wild mane, puffing the electronic smoke. His mind is going a mile a minute, and his mouth is not far behind.
“We’ll do some shots at the bar,” he says, talking about photos, not whiskey. “Another one we’ll do is Jesus and the Devil doing shots at the bar.” Whiskey this time. “Hopefully the gods of continuity will be smiling upon us.”
The Hot Pink Jesus trilogy will screen in its entirety at the Garage in Winston-Salem Friday night at 8 p.m. and midnight with a set by the Malamondos in between.
He’s got an hour, maybe two, to get this thing done. It’s got to happen now, and the tails of his suit jacket billow behind him as he paces the room, chuffing out steam from the electronic cigarette. He’s got a yellow legal pad with the list of shots neatly handwritten in ink; a Post- It affixed squarely to the top sheet has the words “Tacos,” “Bullets” and “Booze” written in block letters.
He bellies up to the bar with the Devil. Biblical themes abound in his work, the struggle between good and evil, the shades of gray in between. In this shoot he hopes to capture some of that.
“Do I look pretty?” he asks the room. “You look pretty and witty and gay,” Stuart, Stanley’s husband, says.
Buterin turns to Bonnie. “Remember we have to be able to get another head between us,” he tells her.
“Do you have any facial expressions worked out?” she asks. “What you’re gonna do?” “Nope,” Buterin says grandly. But really, he does. He gives Glass some direction, gesturing with the E-cig, pulling on it, waving it around some more. Glass strikes a sneer, curls his hands into claws. Buterin puts his hands together like a child in prayer, holding them by his face with his clear blue eyes locked on Stanley’s lens. After the first click, he lowers them slightly. Stanley gets the shot, and then he’s up and over to the camera to get a look.
“Okay, cool,” he says. “You can zoom in a little bit more from there, right? From that angle?” Another compadre, Scott Burton, checks the shots off the list as they come in.
“He comes up with these ideas,” Burton says, “and he won’t take no for an answer.”
Burton’s worked sound and camera and “a little bit of whatever needed to be done” on just about every one of the Mad Ones productions. He was there for the 2007 48 Hour Film Project, when Act I of the trilogy came into being.
“It’s turned into this huge thing,” he says.
“Jaysen was like, ‘I’m gonna re-shoot it and make a trilogy out of it.’ I was like, ‘No you’re not.’” On the set, Buterin’s losing daylight. He needs some shots of Glass in the hot-pink getup and time’s a-wasting. Glass switches from demon to savior in just under 14 minutes.
“Not bad for a conversion, is it?” Buterin says. The Hot Pink Jesus Trilogy came about in 2007, from the terrible crucible of the 48 Hour Film Project, in which teams have just two days to write, shoot and edit 7-minute films in genres chosen from a hat. The accelerated process strikes fear in the hearts of seasoned filmmakers who know how many man-hours must go into seven minutes of film. Buterin didn’t really know what he was getting into.
“I was so whiskey-wet behind the ears,” he says. “I didn’t know how to run a set. I was so timid.”
“Act I: The Missionary Man” came out of this collaboration, a bizarre romp that includes a sexy hitchhiker bent on revenge, a brothel located in a convent and the first cinematic appearance of the hotpink talisman.
A reshoot was plagued with problems: His lead actress quit in mid-stream, while back in St. Louis his father was being treated for cancer. He learned much of the basics of filmmaking in between flights to visit his dad, who eventually passed in 2010.
Next came “Act III: Have Faith, Will Travel” — though he had finished the entire script, the actors’ availability necessitated shooting out of sequence. The film’s final act shows a big departure from the first: better dialogue and cinematography, a kickass soundtrack.
Before shooting began on the middle part, “Act II: A Saint of Sin in a Den of Thieves,” Buterin became a father. And then his film hit the festival and convention circuit, eventually bringing in 10 awards. Friday night’s screening is the latest salvo in the war for exposure.
“I’ve never been busier in my life,” he says.
“It’s like it’s all within my grasp, and I just wanna stay home and play football in the yard with the boy.”
In the hours between he’ll somehow manage to make another cut of the film, tighten up some scenes, address a sound issue in the second act.
And he’s got a notion to flesh out “The Devil’s Tramping Ground,” the 2007 short about a rock band that made a deal with the Devil at the notorious Carolina landmark.
“It seems theoretically possible that I can generate interest and get funding [for it],” he says.
He’s got another idea about a serial killer that only kills clowns. And how about this: a shot-for-shot remake of The Beastmaster, the 1982 Marc Singer adventure story that, because of its ubiquity on cable TV in the 1980s, anyone of a certain age has seen at least a dozen times.
The Hot Pink thing started out with a gift: A family friend gave him an Answer Me Jesus that sat on his mantle for two years. He wrote down the words “Booze, Bullets and Hot Pink Jesus,” intending to us them for a song.
“I had no idea about screenwriting or formatting,” he says, “or that there was such a thing as formatting.”
He’s still learning, one project at a time, squeezed in around his day job, the schedules of his crew, games of ball in the yard. He’s not there yet, he admits, but he knows where he wants to be.
“I have some delusions of grandeur,” he says, “but I don’t expect to be the next big thing.”
But right now, today, people are loving the Hot Pink Jesus. By extension, they love him.
They’ll all be out on Friday the 13th , the rockers and the artists and the dancing girls and the crew, not just to see themselves in the film — which, admittedly, is a big draw — but also the evolution of Hot Pink Jesus as he brings his message to all.
Photos by Bonnie Stanley