Zeke Piestrup: About The Filmmaker
NOTE: I wrote this for some of my friends who will be attending Apocalypse Later: Harold Camping vs. the End of the World this weekend. It’s a bit of a roast. But I think it will give some insight into the film and the dude who made it.
“Do I know anyone who is truly eccentric?”
I asked myself this question recently. It was a difficult question for me to answer. Kinda sad, considering how weird all my friends were when I was growing up.
I’m still a relatively weird guy, or so it would seem on the surface. Mostly because I’m an extreme Introvert. It technically means being around other people too much exhausts me. It manifests itself in a lot of ways, mostly in my appearing rude or angry. It’s unfortunate.
I also have PTSD from a car accident a few years ago. Ever since then, sound freaks me out. So I like a lot of peace and quiet, which means I avoid activities that would excite others. Luckily, I’ve settled into a pretty suitable career, which is running a little creative studio, producing a lot of educational videos, shooting independent documentary films, and occasionally writing books. I work a lot, I hate parties, and I love animals. I take a shower every morning with a pair of Indian Ringneck Parrots.
And yes, you can say, everyone’s a little weird. But in L.A. there’s only so weird you can be if you don’t want to be homeless. Easier to be weird in a small town, where every moment of your existence isn’t occupied with playing a game called survival of the fittest. Damn, the people here are so ruthless and competitive. Back in Venice, FL for instance, you can wash dishes part-time, hide out in some room behind your mom’s house and make weird experimental records for decades. Make up your own language. No one will care. But not out here. If you stay, the place will act to squeeze all weirdness out of you. Too much pressure pushing from all directions to (in one form or another) “make it.”
I’ve been here 7 years and I’m not sure how weird I really am anymore. I’m married, I own a 2011 car, and I watch Iron Man 2 pretty often. Sure, I’ve read some weird books. I’m interested in science fiction and fantasy, and I’ve done my time as a weird musician. But aside from not being very social, I’m not that unusual.
So the only candidate I was immediately sure of, someone truly eccentric, someone who was not me, was filmmaker Zeke Piestrup.
He probably doesn’t want me to mention this, but I first discovered Zeke on the Internet in (maybe) 2004. Someone sent me his “You Have Bad Taste In Music” viral videos, in which he appeared as a masked, caped, megaphone-wielding character named Eman Laerton. He would show up outside of concerts, stand on a box, and educate the poor souls standing in line to see Linkin Park or John Mayer. With visual aids and statistics from “The June Issue of Scientific Proof Magazine.” He played games with their minds. They were puppets. I was an instant disciple. When I visited Los Angeles later that year, I was determined to meet him.
Somehow, I convinced him to have me over for lunch. Turns out the intimidating, dark figure in the YouTube videos was actually a blond, clean cut, tan surfer dude who lived near Venice Beach. His sunny apartment was cluttered with surfboards, skiing gear, and a stand-up arcade machine.
He took me to a nearby taco truck and praised something they served called Ceviche.
I was confused. Zeke was nothing like my bad-music-hating hero Eman Laerton. He spoke in so much “dude” slang it was difficult to understand him. Almost a parody of Pauly Shore. He used his own invented lingo, like “Jacuzzi-style” and “Chuck Whoolery.” Huh? Was this all a prank? Was I setting myself up to be victimized in one of his viral videos?
After the taco truck he sat me down on his couch and interrogated me. He seemed paranoid, or maybe it was just me putting him on the defensive with my fanboy stuff. I begged him to let me somehow work with him. Doing anything. The answer was No. Moments after that, he said my time was up, and that he was kicking me out.
I eventually moved to Los Angeles on a whim. I crash-landed in Zeke’s neighborhood with enough money to last me a month. He told me, through his Blu-Blockers (he wears them 24/7, sleeps in them for all I know) to “move to Culver City, buy a bike, and be in the best shape of your life.”
Zeke eventually dropped his guard. We’d meet at a place called Rutts for more lunches. I discovered he was previously a KROQ disc jockey and VH1 television host. He was listed by such-and-such magazine as one of the Top 100 Influential People In The Music Business in 1998. Wow. So many seemingly contradictory sides to this guy.
From what I could tell, he was repenting for his time served in the music industry. Seems he just quit one day. Walked away? Not sure. But it seemed he wanted to work entirely alone, a one-man-band filmmaker. He showed me bizarre EPKs he made for some underground bands… really bad behind-the-scenes out-takes spliced together with clips from 1970s TV shows. I couldn’t make sense of them. Did people pay him to do this strange stuff?
Somehow, I had made a friend. Yet, he was quite “hands off” — more than anyone I knew. It was not unusual for him to abruptly leave. He’d say, “later bro,” and jump out of the car and jog away down the sidewalk. Maybe he hated my driving, but I’m pretty sure that’s just classic Zeke. I was never offended. In fact, he was so honest that his behavior was generally accepted by everyone, including strangers, as innocence. Everyone liked him. His physique was that of an underwear model. Handsome. Charming. A STUD.
But it was his obsessive interests that puzzled me. He was fascinated by incongruent subjects, such as Disney Hall, Lincoln Blvd. at night, Yoga (which he described as being “all about math”) — and CHRISTIAN TELEVISION.
Yes. He’d spend hours a day on the couch, watching televangelists. He was an expert on all of them. The staircase leading up to his apartment was covered in junk mail from religious radio stations. Yet to this day he describes himself as a Non-Believer.
When he started up on the Biblical Scholarship stuff, I was confused. Hard to tell if he was For or Against. I wondered if he’d lose interest, maybe get into physics or something. But No. When talking about Christianity, he’ll sometimes go at it so much he loses his voice. It’s taken me years to develop a basic vocabulary to listen to him. Because not only do I have ZERO interest in the Bible, I just don’t see what he’s trying to achieve with all of that.
When consulting with him on his latest creative film project, Apocalypse Later: Harold Camping vs. the End of the World, I did my best to understand what the hell he was thinking. He had just spent weeks following Harold Camping around and gathering footage no one else had access to. Footage of an elderly doomsday prophet counting down the days until Judgement Day. A guaranteed hit. This was going to be BIG. And then one day, Zeke told me on the phone, he decided the movie wasn’t going to be about Harold Camping. Later, he told me it was going to be like WKRP In Cincinatti.
I told him I wouldn’t be surprised if by the time he finished, it was actually about Hawaii.
He can be quite… abstract.
And as scholarly as Zeke is about The Bible (the books he’s read on the subject probably stack as tall as him by now), Zeke is also one of the least technical people I’ve met. He can hack his way around Final Cut Pro 7 with arcane keystrokes he learned god-knows-where, but he disregards most everything I tell him. I’ve watched him shoot. He grabs a $10k camera, and proceeds to man-handle the controls. Zooms in on the subject’s nose, goes in and out of focus right in the middle of an interview. Squats on the floor, spins in circles, changes position in one shot nineteen times. Doesn’t care about white balance. Exposure is all over the place. Gain is cranked up so high it looks like web cam footage. He’s a filmmaker who shrugs off all rules. He’s really in his own world sometimes.
Maybe his greatest magical power is that people trust him. Maybe that’s how it all works. People sure as hell don’t trust me like that. I make people too nervous.
On a previous project, Zeke miraculously got a shot of retired and handicapped Olympic Gold Medalist Bill Johnson struggling to get out of the bathtub — with Zeke helping him, blocking the view of the old man’s private parts, at just the right angle with his knee. And then there’s that footage of a drunk record executive wiping his hemorrhoid in a bathroom stall and talking about Creed. Or the demented (and perverted) stop-motion animations Zeke did with Mr. Potato Head. (I had to watch those about 20 times to realize how great they are.)
Or those recent days-on-end Zeke spent with Harold Camping, even riding in the back seat of Mr. & Mrs. Camping’s car on their way to the final Sunday Service before the world ended.
But why? Why does Zeke do this stuff? What motivates him?
I don’t know, and I’m not sure he does either. But I keep helping him. He has helped me. He’s one of my only close friends in Los Angeles. One of two people in the world who calls me for absolutely no reason at all. He might not know this, but I always list him as my emergency contact.
He’s ridiculously generous. He’s trusted me with his passwords. I’ve stolen many of his shirts.
I’ve always told him: any Zeke project, I’m onboard. (Not entirely true. Some of them have sounded like they’d result in certain death.) But really, as long as it doesn’t kill me or get me divorced, I’ll keep working with him. (Actually, I forgot: he was the minister at my wedding, and he “divorced” my wife and I in a strange ceremony before marrying us.) Brilliant lateral thinker. Supremely talented when speaking to a camera (as is evidenced by some of the checks I’ve seen written to him for hosting gigs). Most importantly, he has a strong intuition for following those hints in life that lead to wonderful ideas and projects. I’m honored to have helped on his last few, and in an increasing capacity.
The thing is, if I am considered a Producer, it might be as close as anyone can get to producing for him. Which is not much at all, considering how much he does himself. He prides himself on working alone, yet I’m one of the lucky few who has had any input at all on his films. And I don’t want to fool anyone here or exaggerate my role. Only Zeke Piestrup is qualified to make a Zeke Piestrup film. As of right now, he’s the only one around as weird as himself.
The ironic thing about all of this? He thinks *I’m* the one who is weird. I doubt he would consider himself at all eccentric. Which I believe is the final qualification for applying the term. (And for an eccentric to have survived this long in Los Angeles is remarkable.)
Let’s hope he never reads this.