It probably all started with animated flip books drawn in the margins of high school text books, but Ernie Fosselius’ film career officially began in the early 1970’s when he co-created 20 original animated films for Sesame Street, doing “Old School” animation where you had to actually draw with a pencil on paper!
But Fosselius became best known for his satirical short films. One of the most notable, made in 1976 for “Mother’s Little Network”, a Monty Pythonesque sketch comedy show for WGBH in Boston, was The Hindenburger, in which a flying cheese burger burst into flames over New Jersey while a radio announcer emotionally sobbed: “Oh the humanity! Oh the cheese!” That and other shorts are collected together on a DVD called The Hindenburger and Other Disasterous Shorts which includes other classic bits all written and directed – and sometimes acted – by Fosselius.
Fosselius’s biggest hit was his 1978 short film Hardware Wars a parody of Hollywood coming attractions that took on the cultural juggernaut that was Star Wars. Complete with cardboard sets and visible wires holding up ships which were various household appliances. The film was shot over 4 days with a budget of around $800. When released, the film became a monster hit on its own, one of the most popular and profitable short films of all time. Winning awards at many international film festivals. In later years, George Lucas called it his favorite Star Wars parody and in 2003, Fosselius was honored by Lucasfilm when Hardware Wars was given the Pioneer Award at that year’s Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards.
After that film, Fosselius continued to work in the movie business as a director of “industrial ” shorts, an actor, a screenwriter (11 unproduced scripts including the Zippy the Pinhead movie and “Two Guys From Space” developed for Steve Martin’s Aspen Film Society) He worked as a special effects fabricator (Robocop, etc.,)
Fosselius was sound effects and foley editor on many films including “Dragon, The Bruce Lee Story”, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, and “Ed Wood.”
When an unauthorized “Special Edition” of Hardware Wars was released in 1997 with new digital special effects added, presumably to spoof the special editions of the original Star Wars trilogy, Fosselius was not involved as he disagreed with the concept of adding actual digital effects to a film which satirized digital effects, and demanded that a “Not Approved by Ernie” label be added to the unauthorized release.
When the opportunity to release a DVD arose, Fosselius worked to restore the original footage and re-mix the original stereo soundtrack, for the 30th Anniversary re-release . He shot new material, created several extra features and added classic material and original outtakes. He recorded a director’s commentary that itself was a parody, poking fun at typically self-indulgent tracks.
Fosselius was amused by the young technicians who performed the digital transfer who were eager to digitally remove the strings and wires and clean up the print, not realizing that the “special defects” in the original were the entire point of the film. Recently Fosselius has created his own merchandising spin-offs including trading cards, which are spoofs of the original Star Wars Trading Cards.
In recent years Fosselius has created other forms of art. He assembled dozens of hand cranked mechanical sculptures or “automata”, each with an animated caricature figure and a funny punchline, into an old motorhome which he called The Marvelous Mechalodeon. This mobile gallery was featured on several TV shows like “Bay Area Back Roads” in San Francisco, “Rare Visions and Roadside Attractions” in Kansas City, and “Weird Wheels” out of Seattle.
Its successor, a small, completely human powered version called the Crankabout Mechanical Theater, which is an adult sized pedal truck made from recycled bike parts, is also packed with carved automata. Several of these creations were used in a 2005 music video for The Heavenly States’ song “Car Wash.”
Fosselius continues to expand his artistic expression into new areas. His latest film effort combines his woodcarving and puppetry skills with his lifelong calling as a satirist and parody maker. Plan 9.1 from Outer Space. now out on DVD, is not really a spoof this time but a suitably cheesy tribute to Ed Wood’s classic stinker done with hand carved puppets who perform to the original soundtrack. It may be the only parody DVD ever which includes the original film as a bonus extra. The blooper reel alone is worth the price.
Two new puppet shows have been added to Fosselius repertoire of amusingly satirical “Live 3-D Animation!”.stage performances. P’Fessor Fossel’s Fantastical Flea Follies. A Flea Circus/magic act. (PETA approved) and Circus Ole’, a raucous Cirque spoof done in a unique style of puppetry with the theme “Celebrate the Life You’re Stuck With”.