Who Is Charles Pieper? An Examination of “Malacostraca”

Talking to Charles Pieper was just as much of a dive into the mind as his short film, "Malacostraca."

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Who Is Charles Pieper? An Examination of “Malacostraca”

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Malacostraca (plural noun)
Mal· a· cos· tra· ca | \ˌmaləˈkästrəkə\
A major subclass of Crustacea including most of the well-known marine, freshwater, and terrestrial members of the group (as lobsters, crabs, shrimps, sow bugs, beach fleas)

Even after a whole week of back-and-forth emails, I didn’t know what to expect going into a Skype call with Tenafly High School alumnus Charles Pieper (’05) for an interview about his short film Malacostraca. The 15-minute-long movie—despite its unexpectedly short length—juggles a lot; its central narrative, however, focuses on talentless author Chris attempting to combat writer’s block as his seemingly hopeless marriage collapses around him. (It doesn’t help that his wife Sophie has recently had a baby, and worse—if it could get any worse—that same baby is a freakishly deformed lobster creature. To him, anyway. Is he dreaming? Is this real life? It’s complicated.) Sure, it delves into the weird and the wacky, and sure, it took repeat viewings to fully understand its nuances, but Malacostraca is a joy—albeit an inexplicably peculiar joy—of a short film. It’s no surprise, then, that talking to the movie’s director was just as much fun as watching the movie itself.

The opening of our Skype call could really only be described as “tumultuous,” with my microphone and video camera simultaneously deciding to stop working, but I was still able to get a good grasp of Pieper’s personality. That being said, his Los Angeles apartment—decorated with posters and monster figures—was surprisingly less “intense” than I had expected, giving the impression that this “passion for the weird” was more of a hobby than his whole life. That turned out to be completely untrue: Pieper’s eccentricity stuck out in the emails, yes, but it was during our conversation that I got to see what an interesting character he was; he was honest and straightforward in a way that made me feel like I was having a casual conversation with a friend or acquaintance. To say it was liberating would be an understatement. It was also, however, where I saw his dedication to his craft. His enthusiasm and love for his line of work shone through past his casual demeanor and into his words. This same energy also clearly found its way into Malacostraca. Just under the surface of the seemingly one-dimensional short film was a far deeper and nuanced meaning that required further retrospection to completely understand.

After graduating from Tenafly High School, Pieper studied film at Emerson College. It was here, he says, that he acquired his inspiration for Malacostraca—-other than the word just “sounding really cool,” he’d had a deep fascination with body horror from high school (even making artwork for THS’ Omega during his time here). In terms of filmmaking, he had many inspirations: his first short movie, in fact, was something he made with his family at the age of six. Another, one he specifically insisted I include in this article, was what he attributed the creation of Malacostraca’s deformed lobster baby to—“Robby,” an original character of his when he was in high school. 

“Old Man Robby.”

If there’s one thing to take away from this piece, it’s realizing the sheer devotion that filmmakers have to their work. Malacostraca’s production process took four and a half years (and it really shows). Was it worth it? When asked, Pieper said yes—a resounding yes. Despite all of the problems along the way making the project—which, according to him, could’ve been avoided—he’s glad it’s complete and is, like all artists should be, proud of his work.

The film was shot by Ava Shorr. Its lobster-creature puppets were made by legendary special effects artist Gabe Bartalos (Brain Damage, Leprechaun, The Cremaster Cycle, Gremlins 2). Malacostraca has been featured this year in Other Worlds Austin Film Festival, the Pawtucket Film Festival, the Life after Life Film Festival (where it was awarded Best Short Film), the Witch City Horror Film Festival, and others.

Those interested in seeing the film can shoot Pieper a message on Twitter (@inherentcharlie) or Instagram (@cpieper). You can also visit Charlie’s website here.

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