Dead Men Stalk Airwaves It’s Science Fiction In River City Before Dawn
In the dead of night, it waits.
It lurks on Cox Cable channel 45, sandwiched between ads for the Butt Master and Dionne Warwick’s astrology hotline, waiting for someone, anyone, to watch.
OK, Sundays at 1 a.m. on an infomercial channel isn’t the best time slot. But it’s all the show’s two amateur producers can afford as they try to ensure their weekly sci-fi series, “Dead of Night,” sees the light of day.
“If we went to Hollywood and tried to sell it, we’d say ‘Starsky and Hutch’ meets the ‘Twilight Zone,”’ says creator Wayne Spitzer.
For now, he and partner Andy Kumpon settle for calling taverns late on Saturday nights, telling bartenders to fire up “Dead of Night” on the big screen come Sunday 1 a.m. Usually, they go along with it.
Spitzer, 30, came up with the idea in 1994 when he and Kumpon were working at their day jobs as security guards.
The show chronicles the bizarre adventures of two rent-a-cops charged with making sure a giant suburb, run by the “Viktor Corporation,” is safe. The thing is, they always run into living blobs of slime, vampires or giant serpents. There’s something weird about Viktor, but the show’s heroes aren’t sure what.
Spitzer plays Status - a calm, slender thinker. Kumpon plays A.K. - a strapping, knock-the-monsters-in-the-teeth type. Spitzer and Kumpon also write, produce, shoot and edit each show. That’s the hook they hope will attract a network like Fox.
“We don’t cost much,” says Kumpon, 25. “Dead of Night” episodes cost $50 to produce.
The half-hour spots have the grainy quality of home video. The special effects are “Dr. Who” all the way.
They use a hand-held video game as a scanning device. A reading light, its lampshade taped off with black plastic, becomes a robot. A red stripe blinks when it “talks.”
Their favorite creation is a basilisk, a long snake-like critter. Its head came from a dinosaur model, its body is a dryer hose spray-painted green.
“It is a cheesy monster,” Kumpon says. “But that’s OK … people love cult-type things.”
A kinder, gentler creature on the series is Frank.
“He offers sage advice, kind of like the guy on ‘Home Improvement’ behind the fence,” Spitzer says.
In reality, Frank is a big hunk of melted plastic with a fake eyeball glued to it.
Sometimes, Spitzer and Kumpon play monsters, too.
Kumpon was once completely wrapped in garbage bags and masking tape. A Pepsi can was placed on his head for that tough-to-achieve cone effect. They finished it off with a layer of spray paint.
“It was the most uncomfortable four hours of my life,” Kumpon remembers.
Anywhere is a set. In one episode, Spitzer travels to another dimension - the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. The pair have battled vampires outside Lincoln Heights Shopping Center.
During the filming of the movie “Dante’s Peak” in Wallace, Idaho, the pair paid a visit, camera in hand.
“We kind of piggy-backed off their set,” Spitzer says. They brought back a shot of a car driven into a storefront. “It looked pretty good.”
Some of their own cheap effects aren’t bad, either. For a shot where the security officers find a giant monolith, they combined a forest scene (a page from National Geographic) with that of the monolith (a camera battery covered in black tape). Mix in a shot of the Viktor guards walking, and Wham-o! A cheap, but cool, visual gag.
Sometimes, effects just happen.
While taping a scene where Kumpon spews blood out of his mouth and collapses, an alarmed passer-by called 911. A fire truck responded - so the “Dead of Night” producers turned the camera on the firefighters.
People also have called security guards about them. And the show has proved tough on their love lives.
“People think you’re insane, women leave you,” Spitzer laments. “They’re charmed by it at first. Oh boy, yeah, it’s almost like being a rock star. But after awhile they get tired of snakes sitting in the middle of the room and aliens taking up couch space.”
But the snakes and aliens are their first, true love.
Spitzer has a video production degree from Spokane Falls Community College. He’s been published before, too. “Flashback,” his pulp sci-fi novel, is an audiobook available from Books in Motion.
Royalties, so far, come to about $12 every six months.
Kumpon is a lifelong fantasy fan. As a kid, he had “everything Star Wars - the bed spread, the lunchbox, the whole works.” These days, he spends much of his time reciting his own verse at poetry readings.
At last year’s INCON, a local sci-fi convention, Spitzer and Kumpon plastered the place with fliers and even had a “Dead of Night” showing room. They’ll do it again this year.
Last December, the show moved from Cox’s community access channel where people can produce and show their own programs free. Spitzer and Kumpon moved it to the infomercial channel so it would run regularly each week.
“They were real professional,” says Dave Talarico, the show’s account representative with Cox.
“They came by with a few episodes … I took them home and watched them myself,” he pauses, “and thought they were really interesting.”
Leaving community access was also the first step toward taking the show commercial.
To do that, though, they will have to stop using Cox’s community access cameras and editing equipment. Although Spitzer and Kumpon have no gear themselves, they recently struck a deal with Sound Recording Co.
The company lends them gear, the pair helps out with productions.
Spitzer and Kumpon say they don’t have throngs of fans yet. “More people have been in it than watch it,” Kumpon jokes.
But once in awhile, someone recognizes them. And they love it.
“It’s something we’re really proud of,” Spitzer says. “We feel like pioneers.”
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