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It’s very clear that Kyle Ng, Brain Dead’s co-founder, is a huge cinephile. A self-proclaimed horror movie buff, he cites Ridley Scott’s Alien as one of his all-time favorite films and name drops directors like Paul Verhoeven and Dario Argento as two of his favorite filmmakers. Years before launching Brain Dead, Ng originally moved to Los Angeles to make films and music videos. But like any great artistic endeavor, money became an issue.
“I was a pretty broke ass kid who didn't have money to do that. So when I started a clothing company, I realized that it was an interesting way to tell stories,” Ng tells Complex over the phone. “Through products you can tell really beautiful stories and that was kind of like the beginning. And then when we had more success, I had more capabilities to produce content.”
Although Brain Dead has grown in popularity, landing collaborations with brands like A.P.C. and The North Face, Ng has never lost sight of his first love, film. Hardcore Brain Dead fans may know that some of the brand’s first T-shirts referenced vintage handpainted horror movie posters from Ghana. Others have likely stumbled upon the quirky ancient aliens and marionette puppet short films the brand produced for its collaborations with Reebok. Cult cinema is at the core of Brain Dead’s aesthetic. So naturally, the next step was to open its own movie theater in Fairfax. In October, the brand took over the historic Silent Movie Theater space located on 611 N Fairfax Ave and reopened it as Brain Dead Studios. The brand’s latest venture hopes to bring great films, music, art and culture back into one of Los Angeles’ historic cult cinema venues while also selling products and operating a restaurant within the space.
We spoke to Ng about the opening of Brain Dead Studios, designing film merch, his favorite films, and the importance of keeping indie movie theaters alive today.
How did the idea for Brain Dead Studios come about? What attracted you to the idea of expanding your brand into the world of cinema?
We've always been interested in film, media, and content. We already do it with NTS Radio and whatnot. But during COVID-19, we realized a lot of cultural hubs that we love, like theaters, puppet places, and music venues, are all going to go under because they can't be financed or people can't go. So what we really wanted to do was partner or take over a space that we love, which is the silent movie theater or the Fairfax Cinema. We want to make it into a showroom, a restaurant, and help curate films moving forward. So we'll be curating all the programming on there, doing live music shows, streams and everything. Until we can let people in there, we're going to do recorded versions of that to release to streaming networks like YouTube or our platforms. But the main thing is we want a place to show content. We want to make a cultural hub for people to learn about new things or be inspired. Everything's so consumer-driven nowadays, whereas we want to focus more on the cultural programming side.
Why did you guys choose to open Brain Dead Studios with Nightmare on Elm Street?
When we designed this theater a couple of months ago, we were like, "Dude, we should show the movies and then have products around it." Unfortunately, we aren't able to show the movie so we just had the product. But Nightmare is something that we love. I'm a big horror buff. But the idea is that moving forward, every month we will be adding a different concept around themes, and we'll be programming around that. Like short films, animations, art house films, independents, even some more current titles. Like the first concept is called "New Flesh," which features movies about transformation, body manipulation, identity, and queer cinema. This idea of like, "What is new flesh?" And the next one will be on cyberpunk. Like what's that? Showing films about different contexts. And then every month we'll be releasing a product that's based around that. You know what I mean? So Nightmare was the first one and the next one is The Exorcist. We'll be also programming music around this as well. Like our friend Shlohmo is going to be doing a score for a short film soon.
How are you handling these events with COVID-19?
We're keeping it very socially distanced, responsible, and following CDC guidelines. We check temperatures and only let a certain amount of people in when we go there. It's been really great. All of our customers have been really supportive and been really responsible with the space and the time. We can't wait until we can have people in there because that's the real joy. But there will also be a restaurant coming soon too.
What kind of food are you looking to serve there?
We have a Vietnamese concept that we're talking about.
How many RSVPs did you get for the first screening? How many people were you able to let in?
We had around 2,000 RSVPs. There was a line from 11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
The Nightmare on Elm Street merch is one of the brand’s first movie collaborations. How did you approach designing it?
The thing about Nightmare, the visual languages in the posters were so good anyway. So we kept it really simple and just focused on the product itself. I personally collect a lot of movie and comic book T-shirts, as well as band tees. And for us, it was more about the things we wanted. "Oh, I would love a Dream Warriors T-shirt. I would love this T-shirt. I'd love this." That's what we really wanted to create.
What can you say just about the history of that theater? I’ve read that you've frequented the space in the past.
That place has been around forever and is historically connected to the city. And Cinefamily was this nonprofit that focused on art house cinema and other amazing programming. A lot of my love for film sprouted from that. I had a membership card. But there's a really bad sexual allegation issue at that organization. The curator was very toxic and he had to leave. It was really a shame that they closed down the whole organization, but I think it's still important to show to the community that we can't just stop art due to some shitty people. We have to move forward and show a better example. So what we want to do is not just cater to the old White male demographic of cinephiles. We want to basically open it to a new generation while also catering to film heads from before. But the main thing is to introduce new people to film, showcase people who follow our brand but maybe don't know about it, and create a new culture around cinema.
I think the biggest thing right now is that film is pretty much dictated by Netflix. They don't really get to see art house cinema like we did on DVD or in theaters. Like A24 is the only indie film studio people know about now. We really want to change that. We love A24, but we know there's so much great content being made. To this day, right now, we're actually making our own content. So we actually have an animation series called Mutant Sequencer, which is funded by Illumination, the guys who do the Minions. They basically commissioned us to take five different artists to make films with them. Those will be showing at our theater and then we'll have a Blu-Ray and zine compilation coming out sooner. And we'll be continuing the series. So we're not only working to show movies, but we're actually creating new content.
I heard that you were into making films as a teenager. Are you looking to produce films by Brain Dead as well? Is that in the works?
Yeah, so all those animations are produced by us and we're hopefully going to get into TV shows and short films as well. I mean all the campaigns that we did with Reebok and Converse have been short films to us . We really don't focus on the product before any interesting visuals and content. We're just continuing that lineage, but in a more direct way where there's not even a product to sell.
I remember that short film you made with Jerry Paper for A.P.C.
Yeah, that was the beginning of it just being really focused. And then, The North Face was the second one. Then with Reebok, we made a short film with marionette puppets and a [live-action film] about ancient aliens. The next one is going to be on Converse.
So this theater is coming full circle, I guess.
Exactly. For us, media and culture is way more important than product to me. People support our product, but the reason why I think people support us is because we really try to do something different with culture. We're not a fashion brand. I would say we're just kind of a brand that resonates with people's tastes and their love for music, art, film, whatever it is. That's what they want to relate to, is lifestyle.