Surreal logic and invasive surgery: A brief history of Rock N Roller Remote Controller
The problem with television is that it has no underground. Cinema has independent movies and music has independent bands, but the amount of time and money required for television largely prevents the medium from being produced by anyone except major media companies. Independent TV wouldn’t exist at all unless there was a group of people insane enough to work year-round and out of their own pocket, like an independent film crew on a never-ending shoot, or a gang of cinematic Sisyphuses. Enter the creators of Rock N Roller Remote Controller.
“We’re really alone. I realized that at a certain point,” says Cole Juntila, one of the writer-directors of Milwaukee’s RRRC. The show is a completely homemade, self-released TV series that impractically has the length and ambition of a network or cable show. The series, which will debut its fourth episode Sunday, Aug. 28 at Linneman’s, is both a comedy adventure and a music video anthology, following the hero Tabman on his adventures through Milwaukee. The action often breaks into original musical sequences featuring local and touring bands.
The RRRC team of Juntila, Karen and Steve Deau, Mitch Rasque, Mark Peterson, Tony Schwader, and Ethan Lightner all work together on the show in their Riverwest studio. The workspace houses two stages, a prop workshop, and an editing suite, all paid for by the filmmakers’ day jobs and a few other artists who rent a corner of the studio.
The series came about in 2009, when Karen Deau, Juntila, and their classmate Lori Dilaveri made a video for Milwaukee Public Television Channel 36’s Student Operations project. The original concept for RRRC was simple: a real-life Wayne’s World with their friend Chris “Tabman” Conrad hosting bands in a studio and introducing original music videos. “But we didn’t have a set, so Tabman ended up walking around in these videos,” says Deau. “Thank God we did that, otherwise it would have been the only episode,” says Juntila.
For the second episode, the filmmakers secured a Pabst sponsorship and had all the free beer they could drink. Despite the ocean of alcohol, the creativity and skill bloomed noticeably between the first and second episodes. Tabman was given an actual story that segued through surreal logic into the videos, which included a performance by The Sugar Stems inside Tabman’s mouth, and the Terrible Twos rocking out while performing invasive surgery.
While the Pabst sponsorship explains the amount of PBR in Episode 2, it also feels like a distinctly Milwaukeean touch. Despite the cartoonish nature of the show, it takes place in a real city—one that is recognizable to anyone who lives in Milwaukee—and includes locations like Reservoir Park, Bremen Café, and Bradford Beach. Even the house interiors look like Milwaukee bungalows. “We really love our city and don’t try to mess with it. It’s not like we set it in some fictional version,” says Juntila. Adds Karen Deau, “That’s why we put it in the credits: ‘Shot on location in Milwaukee.’ We’re very proud of that.”
Episode 3, released last year, is the most ambitious and successful episode yet, incorporating puppetry, animation, special effects, originally crafted alien costumes, and a spaceship set. The music videos, including ones for Sub Pop-signed Jaill and French garage band Sonic Chicken 4, are all inventive and high quality. The connecting story is also stronger, being simultaneously more cohesive and larger, stretching from Milwaukee to outer space to France and then back to the Cream City.
Despite being homemade, the show does have a following, mostly local, but also scattered around the world. The Jaill video has gotten more than 44,000 hits on YouTube. Meanwhile, The Sugar Stems have brought some of their Japanese fan base to the show. “It gets around very DIY,” says Juntila. Entire episodes are also streaming on the show’s blip.tv page.
The forthcoming Episode 4 features Liquor Store, Holy Shit!, The Elephant Walk, and Drugs Dragons, and its Aug. 28 Linneman’s première will be accompanied by live sets from all of the bands plus Nashville’s Natural Child. Episodes Nos. 2 and 3 will be for sale on DVD. With live music and local beer, it will be a fittingly Milwaukee-styled party for the city’s best (only incidentally because it may be its only) indie TV show.