Looking Back On The Heavy Metal Parking Lot
cale | Aug 21, 2013 | 1:30PM |

This interview was originally published for a special 25th anniversary screening of Heavy Metal Parking Lot. On that momentous occasion we decided to run this awesome interview Cale did with Jeff Krulik, the movie’s co-creator. (bonus reading: THE CAST-WHERE ARE THEY NOW?)

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“Technically immaculate, it’s what he does with his slick talent that really sets him apart. His relationship with the characters has all the dramatic tension of a real life double act” – The Guardian Paul Zerdin has helped make ventriloquism cool again. From the Royal Variety Performance to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, to India’s comedy circuit, Montreal’s Just For Laughs and UK tours with his Sponge Fest show and forthcoming Puppet Master tour. Paul’s fresh twist on this traditional comedy art has impressed everyone from Her Majesty the Queen onwards. “It is Zerdin’s sharp script that is the heartbeat of the show” – The Times Crucially, Paul Zerdin appeals to both comedy club and mainstream audiences in equal measure. The UK’s number one ventriloquist’s career has included appearances on everything from the Royal Variety Performance, Paramount and Comedy Central’s, The World Stands Up to ITV Daybreak, BBC TV’s The One Show, Sky News and Jason Manford’s Comedy Rocks. **** "Pure audience gratifying magic” – Time Out With Paul’s winning combination of technical skill, hilarious ventriloquism, charm and impeccable comic timing, Paul Zerdin’s live shows see him bring to life several very different characters amongst whom are the cheeky pre-adolescent Sam, belligerent OAP Albert and precocious infant Baby and in 2012 on his Puppet Master live tour, Paul will be introducing a new character! “I see myself as a one man Muppet sitcom, reining the characters in” commented Zerdin. “The old man has a thing for the ladies and so does Sam who is about to become a teen and knows naughty words. Between the two of them they lead the baby astray and the baby, of course, wants to know everything. I think it is important to have characters that people can relate to rather than, say, talking sheep which are less believable”. Simply put, Zerdin is the man who can make ventriloquism look cool” – The Stage Zerdin, who got the ‘biggest laugh of the night’ at the Royal Variety Performance in 2009, according to audience members, also went on to get 5 star reviews at that year’s Edinburgh Festival. Paul returned to Edinburgh to sold-out houses in 2010 and made his debut at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival that year before embarking on a major UK tour with Sponge Fest in 2010/2011. That Paul Zerdin should make his career in show business is not entirely unexpected “my mother was a BBC Radio 2 presenter and my father worked for the BBC World Service, so my sister and I spent a lot of time in the studios”, he reveals. When Paul was 10, a family friend made him a puppet theatre which he used to put on shows. As he is the first to admit, his hobby quickly grew into an obsession. “The real turning point was when I was given a book on ventriloquism by the legendary Ray Alan. By the time I hit my teens I was spending half an hour a day in front of the mirror practising talking without moving my lips.” Having failed his GCSE’s in spectacular style, Zerdin got a job in a magic shop, developing his magic skills along the way. Simultaneously, he was also developing a sideline as a children’s entertainer. “Compared to my friends and their measly paper rounds, I was raking it in!” he laughs. Zerdin made his TV debut as a magician on the BBC’s Tricky Business and shortly afterwards, at the age of just 20, landed a two year contract presenting the Disney produced kids’ programme Rise and Shine for GMTV. In 1996, Paul was the first outright winner – by over 100,000 votes of LWT’s The Big Big Talent Show, hosted by Jonathan Ross. The experience not only raised his profile, but introduced him to Nigel Lythgoe, the man who would go on to create reality shows such as Popstars and American Idol. Lythgoe took the 22 year old Paul under his wing, paving the way for appearances on scores of shows, Tonight at the London Palladium, and Generation Game among them. It was Nigel who gave Paul his first brush with Royalty when he secured him a spot on the Prince’s Trust Gala Show in 1997. “That was a totally surreal experience”, he laughs. “I was sharing a dressing room with Julian Clary, Alan Davies and Frank Bruno with The Spice Girls next door”. By the late nineties it was obvious that traditional variety shows were losing their appeal and it was then that Zerdin decided to introduce stand-up into his routine, a decision that has paid off handsomely. From Ray Alan through to Keith Harris, ventriloquists have been a staple of UK entertainment for years, but it has taken Paul Zerdin to bring his mix of stand-up and ventriloquism to the forefront of contemporary entertainment to truly put ventriloquism on the comedy map.
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The cult classic documentary film “Heavy Metal Parking Lot” is 16 glorious minutes filmed in the parking lot of the since demolished Capital Centre in Landover, MD during a 1986 Judas Priest concert. What was once a rarity passed along on dubbed VHS tapes, is now readily available on DVD and Vimeo for immediate consumption, and should be considered required viewing for any regular BYT reader. John Waters said it gave *him* the creeps, so if that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is. I pinged Heavy Metal Parking Lot co-director Jeff Krulik to find out the backstory of this fascinating slice of pop culture…

Cale: So give us a brief back story to Heavy Metal Parking Lot? Who are you guys?

Jeff Krulik: We’re Jeff Krulik and John Heyn, long term local residents who were fortunate enough to be toting around a video camera in a Judas Priest concert parking lot in 1986. I ran a public access studio in Southern Prince George’s County, not long after graduating from the University of Maryland. John and I were new friends and aspiring documentary filmmakers stoked to have unlimited access to professional TV gear. John had the original idea to tape metal fans, and after I saw the footage I came up with the title. We paid a few dollars to park at the Capital Centre, and taped an hour’s worth of footage. Then we left. Who’d imagine we’d still be talking about our short documentary 25 years later!

C: No shit! What do you think it is about HMPL that has led to its longevity?

JK: It’s always managed to strike a chord with people, over these many years. I’ve always said that you were either at that concert, or sat next to someone in homeroom who was at that concert. There’s something archetypal and I’m very glad for that. Another reason for the longevity is that Judas Priest’ music holds up, and artists that are mentioned include Madonna and Metallica, both still vital today.

C: Do you think it would have still caught on if it has been unearthed for the first time this year?

JK: If it were discovered today I don’t know about it having the same type of grass roots build up. We live in such a viral instantaneous universe now, things tend to flame out quickly from overexposure.

C: Was everyone in 1986 ugly, or was it just Judas Priest fans? Or was it just Maryland?

JK: Ugly is in the eye of the beholder. No one is ugly in my opinion. These people on camera are all like family to me.

C: Right. How much material did you have to film to get that 16 min of goodness?

JK: We only shot three 20 minute tapes. Check out what these Umatic tapes used to look like. And now you can imagine what the camera and deck must have looked like. John took the tapes and edited it over several months at his job. This is way before non-linear computerized editing so it took a while.

C: What were you guys sporting while filming? Did you blend in with the crowd?

JK: I’m sure we looked completely out of place. Sadly there’s no photo of us and we never wandered into frame. But I’m sure I was wearing some OP shorts and a lacoste shirt. We weren’t metal fans, but we were curious.

C: How did the film start getting passed around originally?

JK: We used to show it to our friends at parties, and give copies out to anyone who requested a VHS dub. This was the day when video was not screened at film festivals, and there were very few outlets for it. And although it was made with public access television equipment, it never screened on public access (too raw and I couldn’t risk losing my job). So for many years it was just tape to tape sharing, and somehow it made its way across country.

C: When did you realize it was becoming a cult fave?

JK: We credit a friend named Mike Heath who was well placed with the alternative music crowd and it actually made its way to the Nirvana camp, among others. This video store in Hollywood called Mondo Video made everyone watch it who came in the store. This is what we heard when we got wind that it was becoming a cult film, this was around 1994 when Sophia Coppola called John out of the blue (she wanted to include the film in a never-produced tv show for Comedy Central called Hi Octane).

C: What’s interesting to me is that you saw potential in it that early on. What I mean is, I think HMPL is enjoyable on two levels, one is the great characters and hilarious quotes, the other is the cheesy nostalgia for the 80s culture and fashion. But that second level is only apparent with age, were you guys aware of that change at some point in people’s enjoyment of it?

JK: We knew from jump that it was funny material. But we never felt we were mocking anyone. We let them be themselves. It’s always been enjoyable as entertainment. But I think over the years it’s become more of an anthropological study, dissected like the Talmud even. Well, maybe not dissected like that. But it’s been analyzed on different levels, even taught in some classrooms so I’ve heard, which is very flattering.

C: How did you team up with the found footage dorks?

JK: Joe and Nick are not dorks! They are two cool guys who have created a great thing. They are alright with me.

C: I love Joe and Nick. But c’mon, I think they would admit they are dorks. I think they are proud to be dorks. Actually that was just a little inside joke stemming from a fake feud between the FFF and Everything is Terrible guys on our site that nobody will remember but me.

JK: We are all on the same wavelength, so when their current program was a few minutes short, it seemed like a good opportunity for us to tour for our 25th anniversary. Speaking of which, here’s my own anniversary video featuring a lot of significant images from the life of HMPL:

C: Do you think for the 30th anniversary youtube video you could include a screen shot of this HMPL inspired Halloween Costume that we ran ages ago?

JK: Yes. Be glad to. If we have a 30th Anniversary celebration… by then we’ll be having the five year anniversary of our new project Heavy Metal Picnic. Check out it out at http://www.heavymetalpicnic.com

C: Yeah, I caught a couple scenes at a previous Found Footage Fest, it was awesome.  Will you guys be at the screening this Sat?

JK: Yes, both John and I will be at the Arlington Drafthouse on Feb 5.

C: I know you’ve tracked down some of the characters in the film over the years – what was the most memorable reunion?

JK: I’d say meeting the fellow known affectionately as Zebraman was a real thrill. He’s got a successful business, he owns some sweet cars and boat, and he’s into country and western music now. Meeting him is included on our DVD, which features other alumni as well.

C: Your short lived Parking Lot TV series seems like a great idea, any chance that will get resurrected? Any way to see it online?

JK: Funny you should ask Cale, I actually just created a youtube channel called ParkingLotTV.  We were very lucky to have this opportunity. Sadly it was on a tv network called Trio that nobody could get.

C: How does the heavy metal parking lot scene of today compare?

JK: We weren’t metal fans in 1986, and we are not metal fans today. However we’ve never been dismissive of the music, and we have a great appreciation for it. I just don’t necessarily listen to it. I will however crank any song that strikes my fancy, like Crazy Train or Living After Midnight or Shook Me All Night Long. If that’s lame so be it.

C: Nothing lame there.

JK: I do want to point you to a true metal fan, and someone who is also on our dvd giving a thorough lesson on all things Priest:

C: Do you know if Judas Priest are fans of the film?

JK: Judas Priest have referenced the film several times in articles, etc. We’ve never met them face to face, but we are grateful to have their support. In fact, since i’m in link mode, check out this recent 98Rock interview with Rob Halford. Towards the end, he gives a real nice soundbite about Heavy Metal Parking Lot:
So thanks Rob, and thanks Cale for this interview.

Recent Comments:
  • Carlos says:

    Wow, your post makes mine look febeel. More power to you!

  • Gramadope says:

    1986 + Glen Burnie, MD + heavy metal fans = the perfect storm of Ugly.

  • suzycreamcheese says:

    Greatest film of 2010! I recognized people in it I haven’t seen in about seven years . . .