WMU alumni Robin Nuyen graduated with a theatre degree in 1980 and met fellow theatre student Richard Gasparian during a production of Hamlet. In 1987 they co-wrote, co-produced and directed Housesitter… The Night They Saved Siegfried’s Brain. Filmed entirely in Kalamazoo and featuring WMU theatre faculty, the movie sat unfinished for thirty years. Now, with post sound from Skywalker Sound and final picture from Paramount Pictures color department, it is at last completed. It is now the only 4k 35mm movie shot entirely in Kalamazoo. The remastered film will be featured in the Thriller! Chiller! Film Festival in Grand Rapids on Oct. 27.
Read more to hear from Robin about how he finally completed the movie in the way it was meant to be seen.
Combining 1980’s horror and 1950’s sci-fi, it is the story of Andy, an idealist medical student with a serious Elvis obsession, and Doc Crosby, a mad scientist who has been murdering people and stealing their brains for experiments in his laboratory. When Doc discovers that his own brain is so severely damaged that he will be dead in a matter of days without a successful brain transfer, he hatches a scheme to acquire the thirteen human brains needed. Knowing that Andy is homeless and that college kids can’t resist having big parties, Doc invites Andy to housesit while he goes away on “business”. When the party begins, so does the deadly game of cat and mouse. Will Andy save his friends from the scalpel of a madman, or will Doc succeed in saving his own life by completing the first even human brain transference procedure?
They say a big part of movie making is “storytelling.” Well, we have three great stories to tell that span over three decades. First is the making of our movie; two first-time filmmakers overflowing with passion, trips to the desert to write the script, going back to Kalamazoo to shoot, getting to film in a real haunted castle at the top of a hill, having the entire town pitch in to help, and ending with the struggle to finish post with almost no money. Secondly is the movie itself, Housesitter…The Night They Saved Siegfried’s Brain, a comedy combining 1980’s horror and 1950’s sci-fi. It is the story of an idealistic med student with a serious Elvis obsession, who tries to save his friends from a mad scientist on the hunt for thirteen human brains for his sick experiment, performed in his makeshift black and white laboratory. Lastly is the story of the finishing of our movie some thirty years later.
I practice a “good morning” theory at work everyday by saying good morning to anyone who is receptive, without making it creepy. For three years I said “good morning” to a gentleman on the ninth floor of our 10-floor building. He parks next to my construction cage and has always reciprocated with a “good morning” as well. A couple of years into our morning ritual, I was doing some work in his office and noticed that he had a lot of movie posters in the vein of the film that my partner and I had made almost 27 years earlier. I thought to myself, “This guy would love our movie.”
One morning, after we had exchanged our customary pleasantries, I followed up with, “Do you have a minute”? His facial expression said, “We are ‘good morning’ people, not ‘chit-chat’ people”, but his voice said, “Sure, what’s up?”
I told him about the movie I had made years ago, and wondered if he would be interested in seeing it. He rolled his eyes and asked why I was asking him this. I told him that had noticed the posters in his office and figured he would be able to judge whether our film was marketable. So, I gave him a DVD copy to watch.
It is very important to understand that what was on that DVD was the culmination of the dreams of two young ambitious men. Richard Gasparian and I were struggling actors who poured our souls into creating the kind of film we wanted to act in. Then we begged, borrowed, and charmed our way into becoming the makers of a serious Hollywood production on location in Kalamazoo, Michigan and what a story that became. In 1987 with the help of friends here in LA, we traded favors for sound, used post facilities after hours and finally finished a genuine 35mm feature film. We held a cast and crew/friends and family screening that was a huge hit. Then, with the hubris of young Mavericks we set out to sell it. That is where the story dramatically pauses for 27 years as we realized the cruel nature of the film business in the late 1980s.
Meanwhile back in the present, the “executive” sought me out the morning after I had given him the DVD and asked me what I was doing for lunch. I said, “you tell me!” Following some exuberant but reserved praise he exclaimed that it was absolutely something people would want to see. Before the lunch ended we were at the counter of Fotokem asking if they had our negative from 27 years ago. After some head shaking, weird conversations and cryptic mumbling, we finally heard a curmudgeonly voice bark out from the vault, “I have it.” Now what? During those 27 years the movie business had gone through a massive technological transformation. Now at the counter at Fotokem, I was hastily informed that my 27-year-old negative needed to be “updated.”
As if the resurrection of this film was being guided by fate I met Scott Guitteau at the commissary at lunch, after talking politics and movies for a while I found out he is a sound editor who has worked at Skywalker Sound since 1990. I mentioned my “recently out of the vault” movie. He then asked about the sound and said “let me watch the film and if I like it I will help you with the sound”. When I asked what it would cost he replied, “you could never afford me, but if I find it worthy I will give you my friends and family rate.” Little did I know I would actually travel to Skywalker to work on the sound, couple of times alone, and then with my film partner Richard. The whole process took a year and a half because our sound editor has been working on our film as a side project in between the Hollywood Blockbusters he does for a living. When you are getting such a favor, you are at the mercy the Sound Surgeon’s schedule.
What started out as “I will do sound for the lab and the murders,” then became, “I love this movie, we are going to do it right…even though it’s in mono!” While working on it, he got a curious visit from his friend, an academy award winning mixer and indie film expert who said, “You have unearthed King Tut’s Tomb.”
Richard, my filmmaking partner, told our stories to a friend and the conversation ended with them offering to do a 4K scan of our newly cleaned 35mm negative, but we also needed color correction. While talking to the executive who helped start the whole rejuvenation process, he mentioned a friend he had met years earlier when he moved out here, and that he would talk to him.
I am not sure what the conversation was, but soon we were at Paramount Studios talking about our movie with members of their Post Services team. We had come almost full circle. The sound got the picture it deserved, and the picture deserved that sound. They oversaw every detail, beyond anything we could imagine; Sound by Skywalker Sound, picture by Paramount Post Services!
It took a village of people who invested their time, blood, sweat and tears. Money was always a struggle, but somehow we got enough of all of the above to finally finish it. We were very appreciative of everything people did for us in Kalamazoo to help us make this movie. I love the idea of people who worked hard on this production being able to come out and see it.
Housesitter… The Night They Saved Siegfried’s Brain is the closing feature in the Thriller! Chiller! Film Festival on Saturday, Oct. 27 at 6 p.m. in Peter Wege Auditorium. There will be a Q&A immediately following the film with the creators. Tickets are $10.