Local filmmakers begin production of feature-length movie

Stephen Zimmerman, Douglas McDaniel & Christian Pennisi

Artistic synergy integral to Douglas McDaniel, Stephen Zimmerman

As Knoxville continues to gain a reputation as being “The Maker City,” creatives such as Douglas McDaniel and Stephen Zimmerman of Storyhaus, a local broadcasting and media production company, actively search for ways to collaborate with other Knoxville artists while compensating them for their work. Currently, the pair is in the process of creating “Flirting With Azrael: A Psychedelic Rock Musical,” a feature-length film interpretation of local musician John Tod Baker’s 2015 album, “Flirting With Azrael.”

McDaniel and Zimmerman love finding passionate stories to tell. After both found themselves enthralled with Baker’s record, they decided to adapt its storyline to film. While Baker has recorded and released several albums, he says that “Flirting With Azrael” is his first one to contain a narrative structure. And though he sees the gaps in the story of the album, McDaniel and Zimmerman were able to employ imagination to glue together the narrative of the songs.

The film focuses on the cryptic story of Rabi Xaler, who murders her abusive, alcoholic husband. Unsatisfied with the finality of her vengeance, Xaler visits a reanimation clinic to resurrect her husband and exact her revenge repeatedly. This seemingly grotesque story harbors a deep concern for those who experience domestic violence, as it seeks to use humor to bring attention to a sensitive subject that often feels hopeless for its victims. Citing individual examples of how many artists have dealt with pain through humor, both McDaniel and Zimmerman champion the idea that comedy can help heal emotional wounds.

“We also want out of this a conversation about domestic violence and abuse,” McDaniel states. “We are not making fun of anything, but [instead we are] trying to bring light where there is darkness.”

The tone of the project is akin to that of several cult classics, among them “Sweeney Todd,” “Beetlejuice” and “Alice in Wonderland.” Some who reviewed the script have compared it to “Phantom of the Paradise,” a 1974 rock opera in the vein of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” that also blends comedy and horror.

All involved in the adaptation express the need for having fun while participating in an artistic endeavor. The trailer and fundraising episodes promoting the film suggest that the fun they have had making this project will translate to enjoyable experiences for viewers, as well.

Eric Brown from Creature Seeker Studios lent oddities and trinkets to the “Flirting With Azrael” crew in order to add to the cultish vibe of the film. Brown also coordinates Knoxville’s zombie walks; McDaniel and Zimmerman found many of their extras during these. The entire crew cares deeply about the city and its artistic culture.

“This is what Knoxville is capable of doing!” McDaniel exclaims. “There are a lot of opportunities for filmmakers between many local film festivals. We can raise our expectations and do a little bit more.”

He hopes that this project can be an example of how aiming high and being business-conscious can take local art to another level.

“We do a lot of these things for our passion, but if we are a little more disciplined about the business side of things we can really expand what we are capable of doing,” McDaniel says.

As of right now, the project is in a fundraising stage, having raised a sizable portion of its budgetary goal of $200,000. If McDaniel and Zimmerman reach this goal, their production will be officially recognized by the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission, which will prompt a check for 25 percent of the budget from TFEMC, along with another for 5 percent from the city of Knoxville.

If you would like to contribute to the project or if you just want to keep posted about its progression, you can find more information at www.storyhausmedia.com and www.facebook.com/FWAtheMovie.

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