Tag Archives: Kickstarter

Closing the Chapter on The Lost Marionettes

Poster BW FBAs 2013 closes, The Underground Multiplex closes a chapter with the Lost Marionettes. Through the Kickstarter campaign, we raised great awareness of the artwork of Ralph Kipniss with the hopes that the publicity will help him and Marilyn Giedraitis find further gigs. Although we did not reach the financial goals, we were able to raise money to help out Ralph in his time of need.

There are promising leads for 2014, and we will most certainly keep you updated on further developments. Our thanks to those who donated and for our readers for their support!

And our special thanks to Ralph Kipniss and Marilyn Giedraitis for their graciousness and generosity! We are confident the marionettes will find their way out to a permanent home for all of Chicago (and the world) to see.

And thanks to all of you out there across the globe for the support and love.  Can’t wait to share a new crop of exciting adventures with all of you in the year ahead! XOX

Producer’s Testimonial from Tyler Pistorius: Why He Supports Rescuing the Lost Marionettes of Ralph Kipniss

Update: Oops! Didn’t realize this was already posted. No matter. A repost is just as good.
Right now, the campaign to rescue the lost marionettes is less than 70 hours tylerPaway from the deadline. I suppose now’s as good a time as any to tell you why I took part in such an unusual endeavor in the first place.

I initially said yes to helping my friends, Joseph Lewis and Lew Ojeda because I saw this as an opportunity to take part in a documentary film production. Needless to say, the documentary is still in production, but there were many events that have transpired since the beginning that had me in a constant state of surprise. I didn’t expect that I would be moved to tears upon seeing a video of Ralph giving life to a little marionette on his porch. I didn’t expect how tragic Ralph’s circumstances were. Losing a friend and partner, having a puppet parlor go up in flames, not being able to see 60 years of a life’s work because it’s locked up in a vacant apartment in Chicago, and despite being an absolute pro at marionette performance, receiving little to no help. I didn’t expect that I would think about my grandparents every time I saw Ralph, who can’t see any of this because they’re not here anymore. The day I went into the building to film the lost marionettes, I didn’t expect that there would be so many (anywhere between 1,000-3,000). I didn’t expect that my footage of the lost marionettes would be shown on CNBC. I didn’t expect that our story about Ralph Kipniss would receive coverage from the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Reader, and various news outlets across the country. I most certainly didn’t expect that someone like Neil Gaiman would take time out of his life to watch some 4-minute long video I made, let alone pledge and endorse this campaign. (I still find that to be completely surreal.) But most of all, I didn’t expect what this could do if the campaign is successful.

I, along with Joe, Lew, Demetra and a band of like-minded individuals have put in a lot of work and made several videos. This campaign means more to me than any project I’ve ever done, and that’s saying a lot. At this point, I’ve done all that I can do.

This campaign still has a chance. Donations are at $10,000 and climbing! That said, it has a long way to go ($25,000), and it will take a miracle. If this neil-gaiman XOXcampaign fails, whoever pledges get to keep their money. If it succeeds, here’s what could happen. This campaign is not just about some guy’s doll collection. This goes beyond Ralph Kipniss. There could be a story in Chicago news that isn’t about murder, rape, schools closing, privatizing education, or Ventra. It would be about a community of people coming together, in a time of economic peril, to do something good. It would keep an incredible amount of hand-crafted, hand-painted wooden works of art from going in the garbage. It would help preserve Chicago’s heritage. It would preserve Ralph’s legacy that can be passed down to others. It would preserve an art form for future generations. An art form that has been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years, by different cultures for different means.

If this succeeds, this could be world headline news. One thing is for certain. Anybody who donates will be a hero. Is all of that not worth $1?

Contribute to the Kickstarter campaign by clicking here.

Dear Chicago: Would You Like to Make World Headlines for Something Other Than Murders and School Closings? Here’s How

by Legendary Lew Ojeda

There are 4 people out there with $3900 who could help us right now to make world headlines for Chicago. I’m not kidding.

The Ralph Kipniss marionettes are believed to be the world’s largest collection of marionettes privately-made by a single artist. 

As you know by now, The Underground Multiplex has been running a

Ralph Kipniss with Wizard of Oz marionettes in the 1960s

Ralph Kipniss with Wizard of Oz marionettes in the 1960s

Kickstarter campaign to the save the life work of master marionette puppeteer Ralph Kipniss. As of this writing, we are just short of $16,000 of our goal, which is due at 9:49AM Central Standard Time November 13.

The story has been covered widely by Dave Hoekstra of The Chicago Sun-Times; by Gwynedd Stuart of The Chicago Reader; by Dominick Suzanne-Mayer of Heave Media; soon by Kwame Shorter of CHIRP Radio; and by LeeAnn Trotter of NBC 5 Chicago. Boing Boing has now posted about this campaign as well.   If you haven’t read about the incredible story of Ralph Kipniss and his marionettes, please do so. Here’s a video of Trotter’s NBC 5 news report:

The Associated Press has picked up the story and distributed it to the following news outlets

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Stamford Advocate
Dallas-Fort Worth Star Telegram
Danbury News Times
Wichita Eagle
Miami Herald
Quad Cities Times
Kansas City Star
Arlington Star-Telegram
San Francisco Gate
Modesto Bee
Austin 360
Charlotte Observer
Houston Chronicle
and many others!

Our campaign has also been “faved” or shared by Neil Gaiman, William Gibson, Rabbit Room Productions, La Mama Theater and more!

This story has national attention. It also has the very strong possibility of going viral, so please share this on Twitter (we are @TheUGMultiplex), on Facebook and click the up arrow on this post at Reddit (it’s a quick register).

If our campaign is successful, Chicago will gain world attention for saving the largest collection of privately made marionettes known in the country and perhaps the world.


Chicago, you have your chance at history. Right now.

We have until Wednesday, Nov. 13 at 9:49AM. Click here to help.

Thank you!

Setting Up a Marionette Theater in Miniature is a Major Task

UPDATE NOTE: It’s been a fantastic week for us as we’ve made the front cover of The Chicago Sun-Times! Dave Hoekstra wrote an amazing piece laying out the importance of this discovery for Ralph and Marilyn, for Chicago and for the world of art. Read Dave’s story here.

I had just returned from an eight-day vacation in Rochester, NY. As usual the trip tired me out as I was dashing about visiting family and friends and having a fine time. It was a working holiday, however, as the Kickstarter campaign began while I was away from Chicago and we were off to try saving The Lost Marionettes of Ralph Kipniss.

Two days after returning to Chicago, I trekked to The Main Street Theatre in Michigan City, IN to help Ralph Kipniss and Marilyn Giedraitis with some technical duties thrust upon me literally at the last minute. They needed

not only helpers to build and to dismantle 15-ft. scaffolding, lighting and wooden sets but also to operate lighting and music during the 45 minute presentation of “Pinocchio.”

There’s really no way to comprehend all the work needed to stage a

Set up crew:

Set up crew (l-r): Edwin Delvalle, Maxwell Mattison, Dee Materis, Ralph Kipniss, Preston Wollner, Juan Aguilar, Marilyn Giedraitis. Taking photo: Joseph R. Lewis

production like this. The tear down and storing of all the staging and equipment took 5 hours last Saturday–and the tear down was the easier part. Luckily, Ralph and Marilyn were able to rely on two almost entirely different sets of crews for building and dismantling. They also had the help of their talented apprentices Preston Wollner and Juan Aguilar. Both did their best to fill me in on lighting cues, spotting the “Blue Fairy” and operating the iTunes directory for the soundtrack. Thankfully, Dee Materis was able to convince Jason Scovel, who’s had some expertise in stage equipment, to provide much needed additional muscle after the show.

After that rainy evening and while riding back home to Chicago thoroughly exhausted, I was able to appreciate all the hard work Ralph and Marilyn put in for the sake of audiences everywhere. Whether it was the dozen or so who showed up at Main Street Theatre or the 400 kids entertained by the dragon and Can Can marionettes the following week. The hard work is all for the smiles, laughter and applause. It’s a good reason to be tired.

Legendary Lew

The Lost Marionettes of Ralph Kipniss: What the Story Is and Is Not

pinocchioThe Underground Multiplex recently broke the story of how we uncovered a vast art treasure from a master marionette puppeteer named Ralph Kipniss. This amazing story has so far received mention in Gapers Block and DNAInfo Chicago and will soon gain more attention via The Chicago Reader and The Chicago Sun Times. I’m grateful to them and to all the support so far from Kickstarter contributors, friends and family who have all told us how engrossing this story is. Many people have come forward to express interest in helping out.

One type of response we’ve already been getting, especially after the story on DNAInfo, is the question of why the authorities are not involved in simply going in and taking the possessions. The article does a good job in explaining the conflict involved. However, I want to mention two very vital points that are key to understanding the complexity of this undertaking.

Even IF authorities were to come in and force the items out, the questionRalphKipnissLater then remains: what do you do with 2000 marionettes, scenery, lighting, backdrops, costumes, etc? The immediate expulsion of all those irreplaceable masterpieces and other items without the proper time and effort to find the right place for storage would actually make this matter worse. That’s why a vital part of the Kickstarter goal is to find the proper temporary storage for the marionettes and work on finding an eventual home for all of them.

The landlord/tenant dispute of the Kipniss story is a just a symptom of the much larger problem. Budgets for the arts and arts education in this country are abysmal.  Ralph Kipniss spent a great deal of his life struggling financially to keep his company afloat, while other RalphandLouCATW2comparable ones in Europe received enough government funding to finance a theater and allow its artists to subsist. The Sulzberg Theater in Vienna (to take one example) even makes enough to be able to travel overseas (they’ll be performing in NYC in December). Proper funding here could have helped alleviate many of the financial issues along with some of the health care costs of attending to his partner Lou Ennis.

So the best way to help get the puppets home to Master Geppetto is to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign.  With your help we can reach not only the set goal, but the stretch goal as well, which would allow us to assist even further.  Then, contact your elected officials and urge them to increase funding for the arts. We don’t need anymore tragedies like Ralph’s story.

Lew Ojeda
Co-Founder, The Underground Multiplex

National Art Treasure Discovered in Otherwise Empty Chicago Building

COLLECTION OF THOUSANDS OF MARIONETTES found after being abandoned for over 5 years

By ‘Legendary’ Lew Ojeda

During the summer of 2013,  award-winning local producer/director Joseph R. Lewis made a discovery significant to art history.   A neighbor of his had mentioned some old boxes filled with “dolls” housed in a dilapidated building.

Ralph Kipniss

Ralph Kipniss

What he found were several rooms overflowing with a variety of free-standing hand-painted scenery, staging equipment, props, and a considerable number of antique wooden chests. Stuffed inside the chests were, in fact, not dolls but finely detailed, elaborately costumed, exquisitely hand-carved marionettes. With his team at The Underground Multiplex, he decided to pursue the mystery of these marionettes.

Whatever Happened to Geppetto?

The search eventually led to Ralph Kipniss, the company founder and master puppeteer whose story is fascinating and tragic. Kipniss is the

Ralph Kipniss (l) and Lou Ennis (r) were partners for over 30 years

Ralph Kipniss (l) and Lou Ennis (r) were partners for over 30 years

last surviving member of a family of puppeteers stretching back to Czarist Russia.  His career spans a half-century, influenced by legendary puppetry masters Burr Tillstrom and Tony Sarg.  While still in high school, Ralph was working at Chicago’s historic Kungsholm Grand Miniature Opera.

Ralph met Lou Ennis in 1968 and formed their own marionette theater company. During his heyday, Kipniss and the marionettes appeared on the road with such show business legends as Sophie Tucker, Jimmy Durante, Jim Nabors, The Mandrell Sisters and Dolly Parton. His artistry was the subject of numerous newspaper and magazine articles.

Despite the billing with show business legends, the cost of maintaining a travelling marionette theater was immense. Imagine The Warner Brothers Studios deciding to gather all lighting, equipment, sets, cast, crew and take it on the road for 30 different stops yearly, and you’ll get

Ralph Kipniss with marionettes (Attribution: Daily Herald)

Ralph Kipniss with marionettes (Attribution: Daily Herald)

an idea of the scope of this task. Kipniss and Ennis had to pull in ticket sales of $20,000-$30,000 weekly to stay in the black. The financial stress, made worse by the lack of adequate government arts funding, eventually forced the pair to end the massive touring and open a theater on Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood.

With their new theater–dubbed The Puppet Parlor–came more issues: the leap in technology of computers further pushed the false notion of marionettes as an “antiquated” art form meant only for small children. The rift between marionette puppetry and all subsequent forms of multimedia seemed to widen.   In addition, the value of arts education in America plummeted.   Despite mounting pressures, Ralph and Lou were determined to keep entertaining audiences.

 The Tragedies

They trekked on until 2005 when a series of tragedies struck. In April, Lou fell and suffered a stroke. Ralph was by his bedside constantly, but still had to conduct his marionette shows. While shaken from his

Damage from The Puppet Parlor Theatre fire

Damage from The Puppet Parlor Theatre fire

partner’s dire illness, Ralph received word one night that The Puppet Parlor was on fire. The theater, along with many puppets, scenery and backdrops, was fatally damaged by smoke and water. A month later, Lou died.

Heart-broken and bankrupt, Ralph was forced to abandon the remainder of his life’s work— a collection including thousands of hand carved wooden marionettes made over his fifty year career with his partner Lou—in an otherwise empty building in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood.

Where it stands now

We’re committed to having Ralph Kipniss regain possession of his life’s work. He’s eager to delight audiences once again with the masterpieces he’s created over a span of 50 years.  The Underground Multiplex willRalphKipnissLater continue to monitor the progress providing more on the life of this Chicago genius, the apprenticeship training, the vital importance  of marionette puppetry and the fight for greater funding of the arts.

If you’d like to contribute to our Kickstarter campaign to rescue the Lost Marionettes of Ralph Kipniss, click here or the Kickstarter link above. Please be sure to share this story with everyone you know. No creative genius should ever be without his life’s work.  Thank you!

Melissa Can’t Explain It at All: The Real Reason Why Melissa Joan Hart’s Kickstarter Project Failed

darciSeveral days ago I argued that Hollywood stars should be forced to used Kickstarter to fund their projects. It was in response to Ken Levine’s post decrying Zach Braff’s use of the fundraising site for his latest proposed project.

One Hollywood star who took up the Kickstarter idea was Melissa Joan Hart, who was best known for starring in ABC’s “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” She just canceled her Kickstarter for a proposed film project called Darci’s Walk of Shame after raising only 2.6% of her goal of $2 million.

We didn’t launch it correctly. What we failed to do was let the fans know exactly what the project was. If we were to go back, what I would do is either shoot five minutes of the movie or have a full cast. We thought we could do it based on ‘Hey, here’s Melissa. You’ve liked what she’s done, check out what she’s going to do next.

Hart, along with entertainment writers blogging on this catastrophe, emphasized the promotional approach as to why the fundraiser failed. Seemingly taking the cues, she explained to the Los Angeles Times:

“We didn’t give them the two things it takes to sell a movie: a poster and a trailer,” she said. “I really think that’s where we missed the boat.”

That might be true for sci-fi, horror and sexploitation. Indeed, a poster was a starting point in developing some classic films from American International Pictures.

But we’re talking a different type of movie here, and the big problem was that it had to be explained to someone other than a Hollywood exec who can just throw a check your way and think nothing else of it. Hart had to explain it to us. Most of us don’t have the expendable cash to give for what comes off in the Kickstarter description as a vanity project.

Other entertainment blogs can talk about her lack of a trailer, poster, her non-cult celeb status or even the goofy promise of following an investor on Twitter for a year, but what was the real reason this Kickstarter failed?

The premise sucked. It sucked lemons. HARD.

I urge you to click here and read the description for yourself if you haven’t already. If I had any potential money invested in this particular project, I would have asked the following questions:

1) “Darci Baker is a thirty-something schoolteacher who’s really looking forward to traveling with her boyfriend to attend her sister’s wedding in Thailand.”

Was there any footage of how Darci was able to afford a trip to Thailand on a teacher’s salary, or did she have a second and/or third job we don’t know about?

2) And why Thailand? Is that why the goal was set at $2 million? How is the exotic locale going to play as a character and not just wallpaper in a movie about a woman who travels thousands of miles to have a one-night stand? And in that context, why choose a country notorious for its sex trafficking? Will Gary Glitter make a cameo?

3) In the description, Darci is 30+ years old, lost her job, lost her boy friend to infidelity and somehow still has to explain herself to her family and friends about not having a casual fling? Is this a supposed model for independent women? Are you sure she’s 30? With this build up, the film that should have been pitched was Darci’s Walk of Fuck Y’All, I’m Gonna Make Jenna Jameson Look Like a Nun.

4) So what’s the conclusion after the “Walk of Shame?” Darci says a few lines and that’s it? Because that seriously should mean the end of the movie and she can run off with that waiter and open a Thai dating service. (Was I close to guessing the end of the movie?)

This premise was a turd so terrible that Meryl Streep couldn’t get it funded if she offered to drop salary for it. The Kickstarter went exactly as it should have and helps prove the point I made earlier that the stars should come to us directly for their next pitches. Hart came to us and we responded with a resounding ‘NO!”

If Katherine Heigl made other movies just like the description of Darci’s Walk of Shameas IndieWire suggested, it should give Hart hope. Some Hollywood dumbass with a checkbook is bound to come up with the green for this lousy idea. Who knows? Maybe the publicity with this Shitstarter is enough to get a cable TV movie deal in the works. That way, the investment pain is spread evenly and “silently” to all cable subscribers.



Ken Levine is Wrong: Zach Braff Should Be Forced to Use Kickstarter. Here’s Why…

Make him do it.

Make him do it.

Ken Levine wrote a blog post that went viral about how Zach Braff shouldn’t use Kickstarter, because he’s too well connected to use a fundraiser site meant for the starving artist. I understand the argument, but this notion that Kickstarter is cloaked in some golden glow of altruism is rather laughable.

Kickstarter is fundraising tool, not a shrine shut off to all but members only. Of course someone well off is going to eventually try his or her hand at it, if not Zach Braff, then someone else. Mr. Levine also has to remember that Kickstarter is not only used by struggling artists, but also by those who want investors for new products. Indeed, one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns is for an E-Paper Watch, which garnered over 10,000% of the original goal.  It’s ludicrous to believe that tech companies won’t take notice and, if they do, expect to be warded off by hordes of  “indie investors” or their supporters crying foul.

If Ken Levine is so incensed by a well-off Hollywood type asking for money, then the best advice is the one he’s already following: don’t give money.  There are Kickstarters that fail–I would introduce Ken to the wonderful and hilarious Shitstarter, which compiles truly awful Kickstarter campaigns. If starry-eyed people want to waste their hard-earned dollars on big name projects, because they naively hope, as Levine infers, that they’ll hobnob and dine with the Hollywood elites, let them. To quote Suzanne Finnemore, “Delusion detests focus and romance provides the veil.”

I am, in fact, completely in favor of more transparency with investment monies given to movies. I want Zach Braff, Harvey Weinstein or any other Kickstarter recipient to answer from groups of investors when he makes a shitty movie. Having Kickstarter investors actually feel the loss of a bad investment I think is a good thing. Hollywood films are so divorced from your own artistic hunger and are so perfectly and systematically distanced from you personally that your only recourse for bad cinema is badmouthing it to your friends, skewering it publicly on blogs or asking for your money back from the cinema (good luck with that).

You shouldn’t have to hound the theater for your $12 back. You and other fellow investors should be able to follow the producer in every public appearance and ask why he took your investments and turned them in dogshit. Turn his next PR appearance into a townhall meeting shitstorm demanding your investment back. You probably won’t get it, but the headlines will certainly bite the producer in the ass. Let those producers know that if they invest via Kickstarter, they’ll be playing a different game. Not one which checks are written in closed rooms without a second thought given to the outcome, but instead one where the producers will be quite intimidated by average Joes to whom they’ll have to answer.

Levine is right about helping out independent filmmakers whenever possible. It’s a great idea. But even here, he misses the point on how to best do this.

Just as you can do for your produce, for the best arts results–go local.

Here in Chicago, I know two filmmakers who made feature length films for very little money. They, instead, used the time, energy and geniuses of other talents to make great looking films like The Pink Hotel and Sci Fi Sol (disclosure: the latter film is a production of this site, The Underground Multiplex).  Chris Hefner, the director of The Pink Hotel and the upcoming The Poisoner, told me in an interview that he made both features for practically nothing. Instead of a lot of cash, he bartered goods and services and even gained the assistance of an alderman who knows the value of having great art created locally.

The biggest mistake we can keep telling future filmmakers is that the only way to make feature films is to chase money. Don’t get me wrong, Kickstarter and other online fundraisers are great. But convincing artists that this method, or pitching movies with the big boys via festivals are the only ways to get your movie made is being disingenuous.  With technology and resources available to make movies very cheaply (we made Sisters of No Mercy 3D, a feature-length film for less than $200), this endeavor is open to more people with more ideas and more stories to tell than ever before. The real trick is to get the audience deeply engaged and the best way to do that is to find your local artists and filmmakers, meet them and support them and your local indie theaters.

Lew Ojeda
(I’ll be presenting a wild show on Saturday night, May 11th in Chicago, “The Ben & Arthur Interactive Cinematic Experience, or Can a Cult Movie Sensation Be Created?” Click on this link for more details and to attend. Click on this link for the promo video.)

A Kickstarter Campaign to Restore Sexploitation Films? You Bet!

Joe Rubin of Process Blue (Courtesy: Mr. Skin)

Spielberg and Scorsese may be busy trying to fund the restorations of classic American films, but sexploitation and porn–in existence since the birth of movies–barely get serious mention for saving.

That’s why I’m glad Mr. Skin profiled Joe Rubin, a friend of The Underground Multiplex (he appears in our trailer for Sisters of No Mercy), and his serious attempts to restore these previously ignored films.

The current Kickstarter campaign for the film company he co-founded, Process Blue, is raising money to help restore three previously lost sexploitation movies by exploitation movie genius Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Ecstasies of Women, Linda & Abilene and Black Love.

Head on over to Mr. Skin’s profile (note: NSFW pics) here. Then, show some money love and contribute to Process Blue’s great work at their Kickstarter site.

Major Alternative Film Funding CAN Work, or “The $10 Million Kickstarter Campaign”

Mike Masnick from the great site Techdirt shares this inspiring article of how a Kickstarter campaign seeking $100,000 received more than one-hundred times that amount in what has become the greatest success in that online site’s three-year history. Due to a previously agreed-to pre-cap at 85,000 E-watches sold, the designers had to end the campaign as “sold out” at just over $10,000,000.

Small innovators like these guys (and the folks behind films like “We Grew Up Here“) are showing big movie investors how it can be done.