Blog Archives

Mr. Blood’s Movie Reviews and Game Ideas

My friend and business partner, Steve “Blood” Baldwin has started a new feature on his “Blood Work” blog. He’s reviewing horror films, new and old, and then talking about things in those films that a Game Master might take away for use in a role-playing game setting.

Check out his reviews of Case 39 and My Soul To Take. Starting next week, he’ll be tackling some classic monster movies as well!

Return of the Bag Witch

I’ve written here before about “The Bag Witch Project,” the short film we made in 1999 as a marketing gimmick, that went on to be unexpectedly successful for us. And I’ve told you about the follow-up, 2000’s “Curse of the Bag Witch,” which was based on the TV special “Curse of the Blair Witch,” which was part of the marketing push for “The Blair Witch Project.”

Since this is the tenth anniversary of the release of “Curse,” and since we’ve had more than a couple of requests for it, we’re releasing “Curse of the Bag Witch” as a downloadable iPod-compatible movie. Featuring guest appearances by frequent Toxic Bag cohorts Alan Vuchichevich, Dan Hitzemann and Heidi Miller, as well as cameos by the “Bag Witch” cast and clips from the original movie, “Curse” is available from our website for about a buck and a half.

"Curse" VHS cover

The blurb from the original VHS tape:

The Unnecessary Investigation
That Takes Over Where the Parody Left Off!

This shocking mockumentary, created by the producers of the parody sensation “The Bag Witch Project,” further examines the odd legacy of stupidity that has occasionally bothered the gaming community of Milwaukee for the last three decades. Tracing the history of events that make up the legend, this silly story chronicles the origin of the Bag Witch, the embarrassing Harrison Barker junk food “massacre” of 1988, and the final, confused days of the three role-playing gamers who disappeared while looking for the legendary game tournament in 1998. This wholly unneeded investigation includes additional interviews with friends, authorities and experts involved in the case that were not seen in the original parody film. Before you see the hilarious “Bag Witch Project,” find out the ridiculous history of events that just might be the CURSE OF THE BAG WITCH!

Advertising poster for "Curse"

Projects update: March 2010

Here’s the news in Toxic Bag-land right about now.

I’ve just finished sound design and final mixing for the new Getting To Know video, a 20-minute cartoon about French painter Edgar Degas. My brother Tim Griffin provided the voice of Degas. The DVDs should hit the virtual shelves in a few weeks.

There are currently two theatre projects on the Toxic Bag calendar. The first is Hobo Junction’s new musical “The Regulars.” Chicago multi-instrumentalist and composer Mike Przygoda is working with me on arrangements for all the songs. Composers Josh Zagoren and Dan Krall send us fantastic demos, and we embellish them with all sorts of rock-musical awesomeness. “The Regulars” opens May 7 at the Apollo Theater in Chicago. Our stage manager, Amy, is blogging about the pre-production process as well…and of course visit the Hobo Junction Facebook page for video updates from Josh!

The other show is Sophie Treadwell’s “Machinal” at Moraine Valley Community College. It opens the last week of April, and we haven’t had our first production meeting yet so I’m not sure what form the sound design will take. However, I have been listening to a lot of George Antheil while reading the script, and I think I may move in that direction. We’ll see…

Meanwhile, Mr. Blood is down in his lair building new Toxic Bag products, and I hope to have some sort of definite announcement about that –and some other things– very soon.

Movie. Or not.

As we move into the next round of Toxic Bag projects, here’s some stuff I’m thinking about: This is a Good Time To Make Movies is a great look at where indie film is, by Noah Harlan. And Jane Kelly Kosek at All About Indie Filmmaking is considering four-walling a new film…
And then there’s Kevin Smith and Red State and his People’s Studio idea, which hopefully will not turn out like the Beatles’ Apple Corps experiment. (I have no idea if Mr. Smith is serious about this or not. It may just be part of the “what if?” theme of his blog post.)

We’re not sure what form our next project will take. Will it be a short, a feature, a web series? How will we shoot it, how will we fund it, how will we distribute it? We hope to have some answers soon. You’ll be the first to know.

Another award for Getting to Know!

The American Library Association has named “Getting to Know the U.S. Presidents: Jefferson” as a Notable Children’s Video.

The video was produced by Kiki Stathakis, animated by George Berlin and edited by RJ Porzel. Joe Griffin of Toxic Bag Productions (that’s me!) did the sound design and mix. The video features Chicago actor Tim Griffin as the voice of President Thomas Jefferson.

Congratulations to Getting to Know and everyone involved in the project!

Thoughts on a slow Friday

• I’m reading William Whittington’s excellent book “Sound Design and Science Fiction” and plan to re-watch as many of the films he covers as I can while I’m reading the book. So, I re-watched George Lucas’ THX-1138 the other night. Walter Murch’s “sound montage” work is absolutely stunning, but I had a distressing thought. The DVD I have is a “Director’s Cut” version, where Lucas went back and inserted modern CGI effects sequences to replace the original 1970s effects shots. Did Murch go back in and re-mix the audio, or replace sound effects with new, re-designed ones? I really hope not. I don’t see Murch being as obsessed with “fixing” his early work as Lucas is. Perhaps the groundbreaking sound design survives intact.

Next up, the first three Star Wars films. I still have the pre-Special Edition versions on VHS…I may watch those instead of the “Greedo Shoots First” cuts.

• When do the guys on Supernatural take the time to give every local sheriff and hot-townie-of-the-week their celphone numbers? Every episode, they have one conversation with a local, and after the first commercial break that person has them on speed-dial.

• Yes, I did just admit to watching Supernatural.

• Sometimes, radio stations make some pretty silly decisions when it comes to music.

The Bag Witch Project: Part Three

Gencon 2000: The Curse of the Bag Witch

The year between Gencon 1999 and 2000 was a busy one for Toxic Bag. We were hard at work on “Strange Places,” the fourth volume of the Game Masters Collection sound effects CDs, as well as doing sound design for a couple of feature-length independent films and starting location recording for our “Battles” sound scenes CD.

The Bag Witch Project had taken on a small life of its own, spreading through word of mouth at game conventions across the midwest. We heard of a guy who would hold “Bag Witch” screening parties at every convention he attended. Someone sent us an entire case of Twinkies snack cakes based on one of the gags in the film (and we do mean gag–Chris had to eat the Twinkie and he finds them pretty gross).

Not that we had a runaway hit by any stretch. Bag Witch‘s appeal didn’t seem to extend beyond the gamer world. As more and more Blair Witch parodies cropped up, the parodies became as much part of the Blair Witch conversation as the original film. One film critic even brought up Bag Witch in an interview with Blair Witch‘s Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez as an example of how many awful parodies were out there.

So we decided to produce a follow-up video. As no Blair Witch sequel had yet been released we decided to make a parody of “Curse of the Blair Witch,” the SciFi Channel special that accompanied the original film and provided much of the back story of the legend of the Witch. So we wrote up a back story for the “Bag Witch,” wherein a woman is ejected from MarCon (an early incarnation of the GenCon fair) in Milwaukee in the late 1960s and vows revenge. The name “Bag Witch” is explained –in possibly the clumsiest retcon ever devised—as a foreshortening of “Lunch Bag Witch”—part of the witch’s curse, apparently, was that all the bag lunches at MarCon suddenly spoiled. We cast a bunch of relatives and friends (including an appearance by the infamous Chain Mail Girl as Joe’s, uh, “love interest”) and spent the summer shooting “The Curse of the Bag Witch.” “Curse” is the polar opposite of “Bag Witch”–scripted, tightly edited, with cool motion graphics and music, and best of all Steve and Joe didn’t have to act in it (Chris does have a brilliant cameo as his own brother)!

At the same time, we looked into the possibility of releasing “Bag Witch” on DVD. We were selling enough VHS copies that it seemed to make sense to move up to the new technology. However, at the time it was prohibitively expensive. For the quantities we wanted to order (a few hundred) we were getting quotes of around $18 per disc! So, shelving the DVD concept for the time being, we decided instead to create a “Special Edition” VHS version of the original film that included the same special features that a DVD would have. We recorded a cast/crew commentary track under the film and cut together some of the deleted scenes, and put it all on the tape. So one could watch the original movie, and if you let the tape run you’d see the deleted scenes and then the whole movie again with the commentary track. How delightfully primitive.

What we said then:

GENCON 2000: The Return

A new year, a new show. Would the Bag Witch still have the effect she had last year? We didn’t want to show up and find we were George Lucas, trying in vain to recreate past glories. For some reason which remains beyond our comprehension, the old girl was once again one of the big hits at the dance. Not wanting to risk the ire of the MECCA fire marshals by showing the films at our booth, we decided to wrangle another Anime room showing. After several discussions with the Anime room folks (thanks to them, btw) we were able to secure a half-hour on Saturday night. While this was not enough to show both “The Bag Witch Project” and our new effort, “Curse of the Bag Witch,” we decided to go with the new piece. “Curse” had its World Premiere at 11:30 p.m. CST on Saturday, August 12, 2000. Now, if you read last year’s missive on the Bag Witch Weekend (and if you didn’t, scroll down–we’ll wait), you know we were absolutely terrified at the Anime room showing. Well, this year we were not only scared of sucking, we were afraid of being old news. Thankfully, as the end credits rolled we were treated to cheers and enthusiastic applause…you can breathe now, Steve.

The run-up to GenCon 2000 was the period where we started thinking of Bag Witch as more than just a fluke, a marketing gimmick that accidentally became a viable product. We started thinking in terms of creating a body of work that was a larger parody of summer blockbuster films, with all the attendant hype and excess: commentary tracks, interactive website, t-shirts, spin-off releases, card games, action figures…

Clearly, we were going out of our minds.

Despite only having one showing, “Bag Witch Project” and “Special Edition” both sold out, and we sold over half our stock of “Curse.” Special thanks again to all the Bag Witch fans who have helped us take a total lark of an idea and turn it into a grotesquely over-realized parody of not just a film, but of its attendant hype and marketing as well! Who knows what will happen next year…I hear there’s a “Blair Witch” sequel coming out this Halloween…

Bell-Bottom Blu-Ray

“See this? Gonna make CDs obsolete. Guess this means I’ll have to buy the White Album again…”
–Tommy Lee Jones, Men In Black

PC world asks: why doesn’t anyone want a Blu-Ray player?

Their conclusion, “Home theater buffs and early adopters may take to Blu-ray, but most consumers will likely bypass HD discs altogether and advance directly to movie streaming and download services”, is probably spot on, but for me, I dunno…

I bought a bunch of albums on LP.
Then I had to buy them again on CD.
I bought a bunch of movies on VHS.
Then I had to buy them again on DVD.

I’m really not looking forward to re-purchasing my whole collection again.


On a related note, why is it that consumer video technology is getting better by leaps and bounds, but in the music world we’ve gone from LP and CD down to mp3?

Project Spotlight: “One Spirit” DVD

From time to time I’ll be talking about various outside projects Toxic Bag Productions has worked on. One such example is seated before you:

In early 2008, Toxic Bag was approached by Chicago author Jean Latz Griffin (full disclosure: she’s Joe’s mother) to produce a DVD as a companion piece to her book, “One Spirit: A Creation Story For the 21st Century.” The book itself is a deceptively simple work of beauty: the text is brief, basic, almost childlike. It presents the origin of the universe with reverence, without judgment, in spiritual terms absent of any particular theology or dogma. The illustrations that accompany the text, by Mom’s sister-in-law Jane Gaunt, are vibrant and evocative.

One Spirit Cover Art

The idea was to create a short animated piece using Jane’s art, accompanied by music and a reading of the book’s text. An additional “meditation piece” would also be created, much longer, using the same images and music. The DVD would also include a 20-minute piece on Creation stories from around the world, and a “making of” video about the book, featuring interviews with author and illustrator about the years-long, miles-apart collaborative process (Mom lives in Chicago and Aunt Jane lives in California). In total the DVD would contain about 70 minutes of material.

The first hurdle was that there was no reasonable way to get anyone from Toxic Bag out to California to shoot interview footage of Jane and still keep the project under budget. The second hurdle was that, due to a solid commitment at a books convention, the DVD needed to be finished within five weeks.

Fortunately, my cousin Brian LeGrady is a camera operator in Hollywood. He happily agreed to take a drive to the high desert and drop in on Jane with a video camera. They set up in Jane’s art studio for the interview, and also got some wonderful B-roll footage of Jane in the desert. Meanwhile, I headed into the city on an uncharacteristically beautiful day in January to shoot the interviews with Mom. As we were shooting run-and-gun with a handmade pseudo-steadicam, some of the shots are a little shaky, but overall things looked pretty good.

We brought in local actors Vayram Nyadroh and Kerensa Peterson to read the “One Spirit” text for the animation and narrate the “Creation stories” piece. Steve and I spent the next four weeks editing, composing music and locating images for the “Creation Stories” piece. A friend who travels extensively provided great photos of the Middle East, some dating back to the early 1970s. The simple animations of Jane’s artwork were accomplished using the motion tools in Final Cut.

The last week or so of the project was an experience, with last-minute edits and video compression issues pushing the DVD replication deadline about as far as it could possibly go. But we made the deadline, had DVDs in time for the convention, and the client was happy. Which is pretty important if she’s your Mom.

The “One Spirit” book and DVD are available at CyberINKonline.com.

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