By Christopher Lawrence
Reis O’Brien started out his Rocky Horror career by being literally thrown into the part of “Brad Majors” in a cast called “The Erotic Nightmares.” Little did he know years later he would be contributing to Rocky Horror pop culture history. We recently had the opportunity to ask Reis, lead designer at Funko, some questions about his involvement in the creation of the RHPS Pop! Vinyl figures as well as his experiences as a member of a Rocky Horror shadow cast.
First off, I want to thank you for your time to answer some questions and say that I, along with many fans and collectors are very excited for the release of the Rocky Horror Picture Show POP! Vinyl figures.
Could you tell us a little about yourself and your history with The Rocky Horror Picture Show-what was your first exposure to the film and what did you think the first time you saw it?
Rocky Horror quickly became a huge part of my life in high school. I was your typical fringe dweller kid that didn't really fit in with any of the usual high school cliques, which made for a pretty lonely freshman and sophomore year. The very first time I saw it etched a stark line between my pre-Rocky and post-Rocky life. I fell in love with it immediately.
Do you remember the first time you attended a live performance of Rocky Horror?
Over the summer after 10th grade, I was working in this men's clothing store and met a couple of girls from a different high school through one of my coworkers. Twin sisters, in fact. I somehow ended up going to lunch with them where they started telling me all about this thing they did every Friday and Saturday night called The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I had no idea what they were talking about but became quickly intrigued as they told me tales of rice throwing and yelling at the screen and everyone getting up and doing some dance called The Time Warp. So, the following Friday night, I found myself sitting at home watching Carson (I told you I didn't have many friends), and realized that if I got in my car right then and drove to the theater they had told me about, I'd make it in time for the movie. I remember that I had to sneak out of my house (my parents were already asleep). By the time I had gotten to the theater, everyone was inside and the movie was about to start. I was planning on just sneaking in and quietly sitting in the back row (oh, little did I know) and just observing. But as soon as I walked through the door, one of the twins sees me and goes, "You came! Great! We need a Brad!" Now, I had no idea what "needing a Brad" was but I suddenly found myself rushed to the front of the theater in front of the screen where someone threw a tan jacket and pair of nerd glasses on me, then made me comb my hair in a nerdy side part. The next two hours were a blur. By the time it was all over, I found myself with about 20 people in weird costumes sitting in a Dunkin Donuts and realizing that I had found my tribe.
What cast did you perform with, where & how long did you perform and what roles did you play?
We were a pretty ragtag bunch at first, but eventually managed to wrangle some sort of order to it all, eventually calling ourselves The Erotic Nightmares. I spent virtually every Friday and Saturday night at that theater through all of my junior and senior years in high school. After graduation, I would slowly drift away from it all and eventually that theater would end up closing. Later, through my buddy Chris (who played our Riff Raff), I would end up joining him at the Carolina Theater in Greensboro, NC for four Halloween shows back in the late 90s, early 2000s. I always played Brad!
How did you become a cast member? Did you enlist or did you get drafted?
(see above story)
Are there any memorable shows or performances that stick out in your mind from your days or performing?
I always loved our Halloween shows. I only did two of them with that cast, but that was the one night every year that we pulled out all the stops. We put a little more into our costumes, even held a rehearsal or two. The house was always packed.
I also have a favorite memory of going to see the show at The Rocky Horror Theater in Miami, Florida with my cousin. I couldn't believe they had their own theater! And they were so professional and polished! It was an amazing cast.
The upcoming documentary, "Rocky Horror Saved My Life" focuses on the RHPS fan base and tells their story. What’s yours? Has Rocky Horror helped shape your life or define your identity? Would you say that anything was picked up in your time with doing Rocky Horror that has stuck with you and carried over into your personal or professional life?
Like I touched on earlier, I was not a happy teenager. No real friends at my school, didn't really do anything social outside of it. So meeting my Rocky friends opened up an entirely new world to me in which I could be myself and be accepted. Kindred sprints can work wonders for a disenchanted teenager. The movie itself taught me that its was okay to be an oddball and a weirdo, which was a lifelong lesson and probably set me on the path I'm on today. I don't know if I'd be the me that I am today without Rocky Horror. I'd probably be some toned down, miserable version of myself too scared to think creatively, to get all inked up and strive for my dream job. "Don't dream it, be it," became a mantra for me over the years. Also, it was probably the sole impetus for my weakness for girls in fishnets.
Do you still attend showings of Rocky Horror?
Sadly, no. But it's one of those things that I'm happy is still out there. And that's enough for me these days.
Could you comment on how the Rocky Horror scene is now compared to when you were involved?
I can't! I have no idea! A couple of years ago, I met a few cast members from a local cast (out of Tacoma, Washington) at Emerald City Comic Con. I didn't know any of these people personally, but I was struck with a familial feeling as I chatted with them, like I had found some members of my old tribe and it warmed my heart to know that people like this were still out there keeping it alive. They invited me to the show, of course, but I still haven't gone. But I have no doubt that I could go to one of their theater and meet with them after the show and ease right back into that familiar world. Rocky people just get each other. It's weird.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is currently celebrating its 40th Anniversary. What’s your take on why after forty years Rocky Horror remains so popular?
Part of it is just the pure, unbridled fun of yelling swear words at a screen and shooting squirt guns, and part of it is the freakiness and sexiness of the whole thing. Also, the main themes of Rocky Horror, excess vs. uptightness, are universal and eternal. There will always be people who have a little naughtiness in them that's just dying to break out, and everyone loves to see someone like Frank take it to the extreme. But I gotta be honest, it's kind of freaking me out that I remember being dressed from head to toe in my "floor show" costume in front of a packed theater for Rocky's 15th anniversary, and now I feel super old.
Tell us about your work, how did you get involved working for Funko. For those who have never heard about Funko give us a little background of the company.
I started with Funko just over three years ago after spending several years as a graphic t-shirt designer and freelance illustrator. Funko has been around since 1998 and started off primarily as a bobble head company, but five years ago they came up with the Pop Vinyls format and have positively boomed over the past few years.
What is your part in the toy-making process?
I'm a lead designer here, which basically means that I design the initial concepts of the toys and then work with a sculptor to get them looking like they are in my head. Then it's a matter of making sure the paints look right, making sure the figures don't go over cost and so on. I guess I sort of get the ball rolling and then work with a team of integral people to get the product into the hands of collectors.
Can you walk our readers through the process of your designs being turned into a vinyl figure?
It often starts out with either a pencil sketch or a digital concept. Then that concept goes off to the licensor for approval. Once approved, the sculptor takes it over and digitally sculpts it (expect in a few cases, like the Rocky Horror Pops, which we're hand sculpted). Then we submit the sculpt to the licensor for approval. After that's approved, we do paint callouts and send those to the factory and wait for their first hand-painted sample. While we're waiting on that, our packaging designers start working on the box art. We then submit the hand-painted sample to the licensor for approval. Once that's approved, we go to what's called a "spray mask" which should be an accurate version of how the factory will be producing the final pieces. Then we go into production and get those babies into stores!
For the Rocky Horror POP!, what sort of references did you have to work from when you were working on them? Did you rely solely on the film itself? Did you rely on any other sources?
For the most part, I just relied on the internet, Google image searches and whatnot. And I brought in a copy of The Rocky Horror Picture Show Book by Bill Henkin. But the best costume references I could find came from the many in-depth costuming websites made by Rocky fans themselves. I couldn't believe the amount of detail they had hunted down! Pictures from the movie proved tricky or too grainy, but these websites would have clear pics of Janet's purse or Brad's glasses. They were invaluable. Again, my tribe.
What is it like to be working on RHPS years after being part of the RHPS scene?
Surreal. If I could go back in time and tell my 16 year-old self that one day I'd be designing collectibles for this movie, he'd probably die of shock. I remember getting in my friend's car with a few other cast mates and driving an hour away to the next city because we caught word that some random store in some random mall had Rocky Horror stickers, buttons and T-shirts! Remember, no internet back then. I would have punched an old lady for Rocky Horror figures! Well, now they're here.
What are some of your favorite pieces you’ve worked on? What’s your favorite RHPS piece?
I love the Frank-N-Furter Pop. His little "BOSS" tattoo and how I raised one of his eyebrows in that "How do you do, I see you've met my…" kind of way. It's adorable! Also, I think the Janet Pop marks the very first female Pop we've ever done that's just in her bra. That's gotta count for something.
Are there any plans for a second series of RHPS POP? Would there ever be a chance of expanding over into Shock Treatment?
Whoa! Oh man! I don't see any Shock Treatment Pops coming. But if the sales of the first series are strong enough, a second series could easily happen. I'm dying to design a Rocky, Eddie, Dr. Scott and Riff and Magenta in their space gear. Oh! And a Columbia in her pajamas with her Mickey Mouse ears?! So PLEASE go out and buy the first series, people!
Is there anything else you would like to let our readers know about?
Yes! We also have a line of ReAction figures for Rocky Horror coming soon! Imagine those old-school Kenner Star Wars figures, in a bubble, on a backing card. Now imagine Frank, Riff Raff, Magenta, Columbia, Brad and Janet in that style! So keep your eyes peeled for those. They carry the Charles Atlas seal of approval.