Showbeast: A Symphony of Music and Film

By:  James Chiusano

Aspiring filmmakers very rarely end up on the path that they set out on.  Erin Gleeson and Ben O’Brien, co-founders of the web series Showbeast, know this all too well.  After graduating college, Ben and Erin decided to travel out to Oakland with a group of their friends

Erin enjoying a smoke.

.Living in a former furniture warehouse with several other people, Ben and Erin collected all of the junk that they had and created Showbeast.

Erin and Ben both have great involvement in the filmmaking industry.  Erin, who is also a radio producer and writer, is a member of Baltimore’s Wham City Collective, a group of artists that makes shows, books, and other forms of art.  In addition, Erin goes on tour telling stories across the country, such as at Moogfest.  She has also contributed to WYPR’s The Signal.   Ben acts as both a video artist and comedian living in Baltimore, Maryland.  Since the inception of Showbeast in 2006, Ben has created music videos for Beach House, Dan Deacon, and Heights with Friends.  Ben is currently working on a full length Showbeast episode.

Inspired by Jim Henson, Pete and Pete, and Puzzle Place, Showbeast was originally created with the intended audience of children.  They soon began to realize that they did not have a budget for a children’s show.  Many of the props that Erin and Ben utilized in their films were from the dumpster, known to cast members as the “giving tree.”  In the words of Ben, the show began as “kind of a joke.”[1]  With very little experience in producing puppet shows, Ben and Erin learned as they went along, gaining valuable experience along the way.  They began to realize how suitable the warehouse was to producing the film.  Whenever people were needed to act in certain parts of the video, Ben and Erin would simply give a holler and a cast would be there to help.  “The crowded warehouse was good for almost everything,”

Ben O'Brien, co-creator of Showbeast, accompanied by two of his puppets.

Ben stated.[2]

As Showbeast’s films progressed, they became half story, half song, with several of the films functioning as their own music video. “We try to make video’s half story and half song so that song becomes part of the plot,” Ben stated.[3]  The music plays a very vital role in developing the plot.  With each ebb and flow of the music, the plot develops, giving the viewer a true feel of what is occurring in the video.  The viewer becomes completely immersed in the video.  In the video “Woof Woof,” for example, there is a great deal of comedy to begin the show.  Then, Mark finds a new friend, but realizes friends are not always what they seem, as the music becomes very grim.  The East Bay Express, a newspaper serving Oakland, CA, even ventured to call the show “trippier than Sesame Street and more avant-garde than Pee-Wees Playhouse.”[4]

Because the films include both music and video in symphony, Showbeast is able to appeal to a larger audience.  Although it was originally designed for children, the show attracts adults as well because the music draws them in and keeps them interested.   As Jacob Ciocci stated, it can be difficult to get adults to just view things as they are:  “The ability to ‘accept things for exactly how they are’ –is something kids sometimes have, and something adults have to work hard to achieve.  But I think art/entertainment can help us get there.”[5]  Showbeast helps to get adults to see things as they are.

Both Ben and Erin are currently involved in 1000 Fathoms, an hour-long radio program that celebrates sounds and stories lurking below the mainstream.

-James Chiusano

[1] Class guest lecture by Showbeast on February 22, 2012

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Wham City Comedy Tour,” Viewed on 3 Mar. 2012, http://whamcity.com/comedytour/members/.

[5] “Artist Profile: Jacob Ciocci,” Rhizome  Viewed on 2 Mar. 2012, http://rhizome.org/editorial/2011/aug/4/artist-profile-jacob-ciocci/.

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