Hey Everyone! This is E.C. Larson. Some of you might know me from the occasional podcast appearances I’ve made over the past couple of months, but my main role here at GotS is that of the head editor and historian of sorts. As a result, I thought it was fitting that I relay the second chapter of the history of Black Angus Productions, the company that brings you our signature podcast every week, Ghosts of the Stratosphere.
For those of you keeping score at home, we already covered the very early days of the production company in Part 1 of this series, and that took us up until my brother’s senior year in high school back in 1997.
Black Angus was pretty busy that year with recording what would be the final episodes of The Andy Larson Show and developing a comedic retelling of the classic Roman epic story “The Aeneid” for Andrew’s AP English’s senior project. That 40 minute senior film was the first time we got to really go public with the brand of humor we had been cultivating on the show for years, and it won Andrew an award in the process.
But then, John Andrew and Andrew went off to college. John Andrew became engulfed in Juniata College, and as Andrew went to IUP, the two of them grew apart. Despite both of them being active as radio DJs at their respective colleges and Andrew being the host of a variety of college TV programs at his, the Andy Larson Show didn’t survive past that initial freshmen year, and it seemed like Black Angus Productions was destined to end up on the trash heap.
This was incredibly sad for me. I was growing up, too, and I still had that itch. I had the itch to create, but I didn’t know how to express it. I myself was going through the turbulent years of being a teenager, and I remember I wanted to be like my brother. I wanted to do what he did when he was my age.
Because of that, I started writing comic books with my friend Dan Thompson. I started creating little movies with Thompson and some of my other friends. I looked at Thompson like my brother looked at John Andrew: a contemporary that enjoyed creating things just as much as I did.
However, Thompson was never destined to last. Evidence of this came when we lost our very first comic book Agent X to an anonymous room in the Central Cambria Middle School. I always asked him if he wanted to sit down and create a new one with me, but he never said a word. He would always just listen to all of my crazy ideas and take each and every one of them with a grain of salt. He never had intention of drawing another panel.
After Thompson fizzled, I looked to someone else who I thought was my contemporary. Someone I worked diligently with since I can possibly remember, someone who I thought would respect me now that I’ve finally grown up.
I looked to my brother.
However, even he wasn’t much better than Thompson. Any time that we tried to work on something that was my idea, it was a throwback to those backyard days where it would be his way or the highway. Or it wasn’t even his way. Most of the time, it was no way. It seemed as though every time I wanted to get Andrew involved or at least show him the things that I’ve been doing, he never volunteered. He never even listened.
I think it was because of Andrew, Thompson, even John Andrew at times, that I became so enamored with writing. Writing, in my opinion, was not contingent on other people. It is a solitary act, where one can be as artistic as they possibly want without the aid of another person’s vision, or the perversion of another person’s vision. This solitude really appealed to me. I sat alone many nights huddled around either my blue Composition notebook or my computer, pounding out sentence after sentence for projects I probably would never finish. I wrote websites, I wrote scripts, I wrote outlines to worlds far beyond even my vast imagination. It gave me a sort of satisfaction to know that I could do something creative without having anyone else around.
But later in my life, Andrew got the itch again. Andrew had finished college, and decided for monetary reasons he was going to move back home. He then noticed that he would get quite bored with his life, both professionally and personally. He needed something to take his mind off of the fact that he was in his mid-20s and still living like he was going to high school: earning a barely living wage working at a low budget FOX affiliate in Johnstown, PA as a production assistant while living out of my parents’ house.
So He did what came naturally when He needed to motivate himself, he picked up the camera once again. From that moment, Black Angus Productions was reborn.
But no longer did Andrew have his partner in crime, as John Andrew was half-way around the world in China. Andrew instead had Gus, another graduate of IUP living at home in Ebensburg. The two of them combined their talents for The PIT: a comedy series based around the basement of my parents’ house. Except unlike The Andy Larson Show, this club wasn’t so exclusive. In fact, The PIT tried to incorporate everyone Gus and Andrew knew, giving their friends extended roles in the series such as Swen and Monk Wilson and Hibbie.
In one of the episodes, dubbed “The Party”, Andrew wrote a character that was odd and eccentric named Oswald Jerkins. My brother, having no small array of peculiar friends, didn’t think he’d have any problem casting a person to play this character. But every time Andrew asked one of his various friends to play the role, they backed out. This bothered Andrew to no end, since often he thought he worked for NBC and had a fall premiere deadline to reach.
From that day, Oswald Jerkins in my own image was created. Finally, after all this time, I had a starring role in one of Andrew’s productions. He was decked out in a business suit, a Slash from Guns-N-Roses wig and a pair of Doc Martin’s boots with bricks duct taped to the bottom to make my 5’6” frame look taller. We filmed my parts of the episode in the summer of 2004, and the dialog between Andrew and I never felt more natural. It was as if we’d be preparing for this our entire lives.
After gaining the title of head writer and gaining recognition for “The Party”, Andrew, Gus and I embarked on our greatest project yet: the episode of The PIT entitled “The Job”. If The Green Avenger and The Andy Larson Show were Andrew’s Duel and The Sugarland Express, then “The Job” was his Jaws. This was the movie that was going to be the everlasting testament to the cinematic talents of Andrew Larson.
The cast for the movie was upwards of huge almost five times more than anything Andrew had ever done in the past. The movie, counting pre-production (drafting the script), production (filming the scenes), and post-production (editing the work together into a cohesive whole), took almost a year. And several times, it was almost never meant to be. The shooting schedule was a nightmare, dragging over eight months to complete. Like the belligerent Robert Shaw or the mutinous cast on Martha’s Vineyard, many of the actors originally picked for parts couldn’t or didn’t want to fill their roles, and there were last minute substitutions for major characters.
The much fabled light saber scene, where my character and the main villain of the film, Keilman, duel to the death had to be reworked and re-edited several times over since we only got to record 2 minutes of the 7 minutes worth of lightsaber choreography we had planned because the lumber yard said we were trespassing and threatened to call the cops.
Worse yet at one point during filming, Andrew put his shoulder through the dry wall of his now wife’s campus apartment after being pushed into it for several retakes. Yeah, fixing that significant crater on the down low as to not get her kicked out was just one of the miracles we pulled off to get this film done.
But in April of 2005, the film was finally finished and ready to be viewed by the public. Every time Black Angus produced a new PIT episode, we would have a screening party where all their friends would gather in my parents’ faithful basement (appropriately now dubbed, “The Pit”), watch the episode, and drink themselves silly. My brother always had this knack of scheduling the premieres when I had other things going on and couldn’t make it back from Pittsburgh in time. However, on that faithful screening, the same day as my brother’s 26th birthday, I finally made the trek to my house to partake in what would become the greatest screening of the PIT series.
When he debuted the show to a crowd of about 30 of his close friends, I could tell almost automatically something was different, different than anything my brother or I had ever created in the past. I got this tingle on the back of my neck. This felt like it was something we created together, not just something that I haphazardly starred in or walked into or was in simply because I refused to leave the room. I sat back and watched as my jokes came to life on the screen. I watched my words come to life on the screen. I watched everyone laughing. I glanced over to my brother, the man who put all of this together, as he silently starred at the ground, slightly smiling, grasping his girlfriend’s hand.
If I felt this distinct response about the piece, imagine how he felt. All of his time and energy channeled into one project. All the stress, all the difficulties, all the effort. After years of looking for some kind of audience, some kind of recognition for his work, some acceptance of his talents from any of his peers, he finally received it. For one hour, a life with seemingly no direction, a life riddled with failed project after failed project would all be forgiven with the simple laughter of a responsive audience. This was no longer talking with his cousin on a tape recorder or staring mindlessly into a camera. No, this was art.
No wonder he stared at the ground. He couldn’t handle it all.
There would be two more PIT episodes after this, but none captured the magic and the perfection of “The Job”. And after the final PIT movie “The Revelation” was put to rest, Gus would have a revelation of his own. Gus was always a very creative, yet very spiritual person, and soon he would be called by a higher ambition. After Gus told Andrew the news, Andrew sat in my parents’ basement, surrounded by the relics of past creative endeavors, and watched his old movies as a drop of water ran alongside the rim of his green Rolling Rock bottle.
I remember Andrew and I having a conversation once after Gus left about Black Angus Productions and what his next project was going to be. He recalled a discussion he had with his girlfriend, Nicole. She told him, “I think it’s time you just…put your movies away.” I could see the pain, the anguish in his face as he echoed each word. Not even his girlfriend understood. But after hanging around him, being around him, looking for his respect, wanting to be like him for the majority of my life, I understood.
These weren’t just comic books or radio shows or movies.
These were his life.