Friday, February 07, 2020

Tuesday's Gone with the Wind

This post first appeared in my secret e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP.

Last Friday I had a chance to go to the Indiana University Cinema to hear Jim Jarmusch talk. He as an absolutely formative director from my early years of interest in cinema; STRANGER THAN PARADISE had a lot of influence on me, but MYSTERY TRAIN and NIGHT ON EARTH are two later, great movies, and I would recommend GHOST DOG: WAY OF THE SAMURAI as an entry point to anybody.

He said so many things that hit me right where I live:  that there are as many ways to make movies as there are movie directors, but there is only one way for a director to direct an individual actor, that a movie will tell you what it wants to be.  He talked about how you had to be interested in all different subjects to make your movies interesting.  He had a million stories about moviemaking but one of my favorite things he said was that, no matter the state of the world, his memories of the movies he's seen can't be taken away from him.  I have said forever, to make a good movie you have to come from a place of honest appreciation of movies; if you come from a place of cynicism, you'll get found out by the fans.  I got a tremendous charge from this trip.

Yesterday I was driving back from work meetings in Chicago and passed a Family Video in Frankfort, Indiana.  I thought I would stop and see if they were going to stock my movie THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE, which streets everywhere today.  It hit streaming platforms in October, but I'm old school, and was eager to see it on the shelf somewhere.

They actually had it, but had not shelved it yet, and let me take a picture without asking why, though I eventually told them, and they vowed to promote it.

It was a dizzying and humbling feeling to hold this movie for the first time, in a rural Indiana video store along Highway 28.

About 30 minutes later I passed another Family Video in Elwood, Indiana, and they had it too, and the staff there was very friendly and excited for me.

I think this is everything I hoped would happen; that the movie would appear on the shelf in small towns and all the highways and byways in America.  Because I hope somebody like me will see it, and be inspired to make their own movie.  Even if they see it and think "I can do better than that," as my wise old b-movie friend Mark Polonia says, if someone says they can do better than you, it means they can learn from you. 

And now it exists and is out loose in the world for real and for true.  If you see it anywhere, please send me a picture, or post one and tag it.

It's a long road.  I starting shooting at my own house with a group of friends and a handful of favors in March 2018.  Again, it is a humbling experience to see it exist now.  But if it wasn't feeling humble, all I have to do is remember this picture, from my first day of shooting ever as a director, wearing my sweatshirt inside out.

I have some news coming soon, and I promise my loyal e-newsletter people will get to read it first.  Until then, thanks for being there.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Another Year Over, A New One Just Begun

2019 was quite a year of ups and downs, like I am sure it was for most everyone.  I sold both my movies intro distribution after shooting one in 2018 and a second in 2019.  But I also had a couple of health scares, the first since I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes in 2014 and set out to go down four pants sizes.  I had emergency gallbladder surgery and then had a chronic bladder infection I couldn't shake.  But all ends well.

I think it was the author Sherman Alexie who said if you can take the good and subtract the bad and still smile you are doing okay, and I agree with that.

My public resolutions for 2020 are to keep an eye on my health, shepherd my kids and grandkids as best I can, continue to work on my creativity, plus one or two private ones.

2009-2019 is a large chunk of real estate to get my mind around.  In 2009 I made a big mid-career change and left IT/television and went into marketing and communications at a midwestern regional college.  I have had a tremendous ride during that time with a lot of successes.

I decided to use that as an excuse to walk away from screenwriting, but it never left my mind, and a few years later was back writing a handful of movies for directors Mark Polonia and Henrique Couto.  In late 2017 I decided to make a leap and direct my first feature, which we shot in March 2018.  It is dropping next month on DVD but can currently be streamed on a number of platforms, which exceeds my expectations for a movie I shot at my house.

Both my kids got college degrees, and my wife got her MFA in creative writing and a professorship.  Both my kids got married and I have three grandkids, with promises made to each that I will try to live a while longer.

I bought what I hope is my last home, on five acres in a rural area, and built a chicken coop there, and living this way keeps me grounded, I hope.

This may have been the decade with the most changes in my adult life, but I have a feeling the next one may be even more so, both good and bad.

I wish the best for my loyal readers in 2020 and beyond.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Feed Your Head, 2019 Edition

I read 63 books this year; I struggled a bit to pick a top ten, but my top five all blew my mind in different ways, and could be recommended to anyone wanting a fresh read.  Enjoy!

Destroy All Monsters by Jeff Jackson

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle

The Ready-Made Thief by Augustus Rose

The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag

 Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Big Sister by Gunnar Staalesen

My Sister is a Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris

Orson Welles's Last Movie by Josh Karp

Thursday, November 21, 2019

'Neath the Cover of October Skies

This post first appeared in my secret e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP.

I've just wrapped up four weekends in a row of screening SCARECROW COUNTY, from Iowa City to Englewood Ohio, and it was a fun run.  We averaged 25-50 people at each screening, and it was a good mix of cast and crew, old friends and new, fans and (I hope) newly-converted fans.

The most interesting Q&A was probably in Iowa City, where discussion ranged from Ursula K. LeGuin to Steve Alford, but the best audience reaction was at the Englewood Cinema, where somebody yelled "KILL HIM!" when the scarecrow began chasing Jeff Rapkin's character Cotton.

In the middle of all this, SCARECROW COUNTY got picked up for distribution, and more details on that will be available soon.

And also in the middle of all this I had an infection that sent me to the hospital for a day.  This caused me to cancel my trip to Columbus Ohio to give a screenwriting talk, which I was deeply sorry for, as I was looking forward to that one a lot.  And I'm on my second round of antibiotics trying to kick it, so between good times and bad I didn't get to all of my October challenges.

We only saw a handful of horror movies, but my running away favorite was the zombie movie THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD, if you haven't caught that one.

I only got in a handful of #inktober sketches as well.  My most popular sketch--as voted on by Facebook and Instagram likes and comments--was this "dream team" Fantastic Four line-up I revisit every year.

I don't think Cecilia Reyes ever had an X-Men name, but the others are Black Goliath, Power Man, and Deathlok, squaring off against Moebius the Living Vampire and Bloodstorm, an alternate universe version of Storm, and who wouldn't want to read this comic?

I've been poking around on some short stories for my pal Henrique Couto's podcast WEEKLY SPOOKY, and the first one aired last week; you can listen to I SAW THE DRAGON here or here.  I originally called it I DREAMED I SAW DON "THE DRAGON" WILSON if that tips you over into listening to it.

Trying to get the machine running on whatever is next; thanks for sticking around until then.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Two of Us Sunday Driving, Not Arriving

This blog post first appeared in my e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP.

We had the World Premiere of SCARECROW COUNTY at Film Scream, a dusk-to-dawn horror movie marathon, in Iowa City and it went great.  Henrique Couto's movie HAUNTING INSIDE played after mine, and we both took questions and ran a merch table in between shows.  We were treated like kings by the staff there and very graciously by the patrons.

The new Film Scene theater is one of the top-flight venues I've ever seen, and if I lived five or six hours closer I would probably go see movies there a couple of times a month.  I felt way too low-class when we rolled up to the place but felt at home by the time we left the next day.

Before the screenings we were taken to an excellent vegan restaurant and got to wander around a cool area nearby called the Pedestrian Mall.

My Q&A, as well as questions after, were highly interesting to me, being able to see my "Hoosiersploitation" feature through other people's eyes.  One question:  was that a real one-room library in that town?  Answer:  yes, that was the real Parker City Library.  Another question:  were the streets really that empty or did you keep people off them?  Answer:  sadly they were that empty.  Question:  Is high school basketball really that popular in Indiana?  Answer:  DID NOT DESERVE AN ANSWER.

The question that floored me the most was when someone came up after and asked if I intentionally had the town librarian (played by Chelsi Kern) reading Ursula K. Le Guin's THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS in the library, and I told that person I 100% did, and in fact Chelsi's character read it in THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE as well.  The book was highly influential in writing both movies and I was glad to have a chance to talk about it with someone.  It's a little detail I didn't think anyone would notice.

I think I have mentioned before that I have given my leads a book at the end of principal photography on both movies, and THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS is the one I gave Chelsi.  In fact she is reading the copy I gave her (my own copy is in my former movie).  After THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE I gave Joni Durian another Le Guin, THE LATHE OF HEAVEN, if that gives you any clues about that movie.

Drove all day, slept a couple of hours, drove straight back, but really worth it to be introduced to a new film experience and a new group of film lovers.

Next screening is Farmland Indiana this Friday, at the Community Center where a lot of SCARECROW COUNTY and a bit of THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE was shot.  I expect this to be almost a "friends and family" show with a lot of the cast and crew in attendance.

In the midst of all this, THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE dropped on Amazon a week ago today.  Typical of my glamorous Hollywood lifestyle, I was washing dishes after dinner when my phone started buzzing with texts.  I quickly found out that CRAWLSPACE had dropped on Amazon, Vudu, FandangoNow, and XBox, with more to come.  So I immediately went and fired up the TV and found it on streaming, and had this very strange feeling of sitting on my couch in my living room in the midwest looking at the movie I shot in my living room in the midwest.

Loyal readers, I have one small favor to ask.  If you have seen the movie, please go to Amazon and give it a rating and/or review.  It means a lot to independent filmmakers like me as it will encourage others to give it a try.

Thanks so much for reading, and see you out there.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Friends in Low Places

Getting ready to set sail on a midwestern tour with SCARECROW COUNTY over the next several weeks and thought I would drop a quick line to let everyone know when and where we will be.

Friday October 18th we will be at the dusk-to-dawn Film Scream event at Film Scene in Iowa City.  SCARECROW COUNTY plays first at 8 p.m. and I promise to try and stay awake until midnight.  This is the World Premiere of the film and I am super eager to be there at this cool venue.  Henrique Couto's OUIJA HOUSE (shot as HAUNTING INSIDE) is playing right after mine and we are going to drive out there together, which could probably be a movie in itself.

The next Friday, October 25th, we will be at the Farmland Community Center in Farmland Indiana, where a chunk of this film was shot (and a good portion of THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE).  This will be the Indiana Premiere and I suspect a friendly crowd.

Wednesday October 30th I am going to serve as a dire warning to other screenwriters during a presentation at the Columbus Metropolitan Library in Columbus, Ohio.  No screening but I will be talking a lot of trash.  This is being kindly hosted by the Central Ohio Group for Screenwriters.

On Friday November 1st the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana is hosting a screening with a Q&A from me afterwards, and I'll try not to get my library card revoked.  

TV Horror Host Baron Von Porkchop and Cult Cinema Dayton are hosting the movie at the Englewood Cinema in Englewood Ohio for its Ohio Premiere on Saturday November 9th.

If you haven't seen the movie by then, you probably don't want to see it, but we can still be friends.

There's been a lot of neat advertising from a lot of nice people for these events, but this one from the public library is my favorite as it riffs on the VHS nature of my movie, and thus has a place in my heart. 

See you out there, and talk soon.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

The Moon a Phantom Rose

Slipped over to Dayton to sign some more of the Special Edition DVD/Blu Ray combo of SCARECROW COUNTY ahead of Cinema Wasteland this weekend.  You can grab one there, or right here.  The brand-new trailer is here. 

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Grand Tour

THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE is hitting the film markets with another new poster.  It  is on its way to the MIPCOM broadcasting trade show in Cannes, repped by ITN, and we made it to the front page of the email blast and the fifth page of the catalogue, with this new art.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Never Had To Battle With No Bullet-Proof Vest

I haven't sent a newsletter all summer, and I guess my only excuse is that my summer kind of drifted away.  One morning early this season I woke up vomiting with what felt like a hot knife under my ribs.  Shortly thereafter I was standing in the emergency room and they were handing me a gown.  The next day I was short a balky gallbladder.  Then came a few weeks where I couldn't even walk my dogs or pick up my grandbaby, a terrible way to live.

But all of a sudden I have had to jump back on the train, or it would leave without me.

ITN Distribution has my first movie, THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE, at the Toronto Film Market, and here is the brand-new cover art for it.  I think it really jumps out, and I hope people like it.

That was two days ago, and then yesterday ITN dropped the trailer. I thought their take on it was interesting and again I hope others feel the same.

It looks like I have one more screening of CRAWLSPACE at the end of September, courtesy of the Chicago Horror Society (details forthcoming) and then I'll be full-bore promoting my second film SCARECROW COUNTY.  We are setting a goal of finishing it up by the end of September to be ready for a big convention and spooky fall screenings.  I believe I have a pretty cool screening locked up for the world premiere, and another one back at the Farmland Community Center where we shot two days on SCARECROW COUNTY and one on CRAWLSPACE.  Two or perhaps even three more I can sniff in the wind, so if you live in the midwest you should have every chance you could ever want to see SCARECROW COUNTY out in the wild.

After this, it's always best to have a couple of things brewing, and I do, and you hope and hope and some things fall by the wayside and once in a great while something takes off.  Everybody thinks they are going to retire and write a book or make a  movie or take up painting and it will all be there in front of them, but it's work and it's catching lightning in a bottle to make something happen, and then to do it again and again.

Today is my birthday, and when I turned 50 I took the day off and took myself to the movies, and it was very luxurious, so I have been doing it ever since. I don't know if there is anything in particular I want to see, but I have an interest in eating an Impossible Whopper, so if I can find one, I might do that. There is a screening of READY OR NOT right at high noon and I hear good things about it.

The last couple of years I have walked my dogs past a graveyard down the road, just to keep things in perspective, so I might do that as well.  I'm not sure that it's a coincidence that me and two of my most frequent collaborators--b-movie directors Mark Polonia and Henrique Couto--all live within walking distance of a graveyard.

Since I am taking the day off, when I got to work yesterday I got a super nice surprise and early birthday present from friends and colleagues. This is the framed movie poster THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE undoubtedly stolen off the wall during its screening at Film Scene in Iowa City by my pal Jason. I loved this retro poster they did and am flattered to have this framed copy that several people chipped in on to have done up nicely.   I think they wanted me to hang this in my office, but then I would have to explain it to unsuspecting ordinary people, and I try to keep my higher ed day job and b-movie night life separate as much as I can.

My wife asked me if I were going to make any birthday resolutions and I think all my resolutions take the same shape--watch my diabetes, try to help my children and grandchildren as much as I can, try to be a good partner and friend and colleague, keep working on projects.  I have had versions of these same ones for a long time and they ain't a bad list of things to try and be good at.

The poet (not the actress) Maggie Smith once said, "For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird."  (You can read the whole poem here).  That really struck me as the truth but I think it's important to remember that the world is full of small kindnesses and it's best to try to stand on that side of the line as much as you can.  Another smart person said to me recently "give yourself permission to rest" and that kind of pulled me up short.  So I'm taking today and this long weekend to do so, I hope.  Then I'm going to try and wing my way into Fall with my flock.

Thanks for sticking with me, and more details on both my movies are coming soon.

This post first appeared in my e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP.

Friday, May 24, 2019

But Your Mind's on Tennessee

I was very flattered to have THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE part of a movie marathon for Indie Horror Showcase at the Danbarry in Huber Heights, Ohio.  There was a warm crowd of cast, crew, friends, and (I think) receptive strangers.  It was my first screening at an actual movie theater and, having not viewed it since Christmas, nice to see with fresh eyes.

My second feature SCARECROW COUNTY is winding its way through post and I'll give you more news as soon as I have it.

Say what you want about GAME OF THRONES, but as my wife pointed out, it shows that we as a people still want and need good storytelling (and shared cultural experiences).  For my part, I thought it started literature-sized and ended up kind of television-sized, for what that's worth.

But the best thing that happened is that in between Sundays I watched Season Three of TRUE DETECTIVE.  Sometimes I binge on a day of SyFy movies or some guilty pleasures from my Netflix queue and wonder where all that screenwriting money is that got thrown on the ground.  But when I watched this past season of TRUE DETECTIVE I felt unworthy.  From the opening shots--which, to me at least, were a riff on Chester B. Himes' novel BLIND MAN WITH A PISTOL--to the very last shot, where our tarnished hero goes off into the jungle, and the jungle of his mind, I thought it was great writing and storytelling.  So if you haven't shut off HBO yet--we haven't, because we are waiting for the DEADWOOD movie--then there you go.

I guess there is a lot going on with the WGA and I am trying to follow it all on Twitter, but it's sort of like following a far-off war in a country I'm never going to visit.  In the meantime I am sitting at a little handmade desk that a large animal vet used to work at, early in the morning, listening to a spring thunderstorm growling through my five acres and petting a scared dog, rattling around in my skull what I might do next.

Thanks for hanging around until then.

This blog post first appeared in my e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

One Last Bell to Answer

This post first appeared in my e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP.

Finally wrapped for well and for true on SCARECROW COUNTY Saturday night in Dayton, which started with a scene where the actors use a Ouija board to summon a scarecrow, as one does, and ended with a surprise blast of ice and snow on the way home.

This cold open (so to speak) for the movie features Joe Kidd and Iabou Windimere, a real-life married couple who were also the cold open couple in HAUNTED HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW, a movie I wrote for Henrique Couto, and as it happens I met them on the set the night they shot that scene for Henrique.  In fact Joe began to speculate as to whether they might have a career as a cold open couple, as some people do playing dead bodies on tons of television shows.

Iabou plays the newscaster, and Joe the mysterious gunfighter, in THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE, which we also shot on the pickup day outside of principal.  My movies keep gently weaving themselves together, in my mind and elsewhere.
On the last full day of shooting THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE, I gave my four leads--Erin Ryan, John Hambrick, Joni Durian, and Tom Cherry--each a book as a thank you for being a part of the project. All four books were important to me and in some way influenced the movie. Those books were Marisha Pessl's NIGHT FILM, Emily St. John Mandel's STATION ELEVEN, Ursula Le Guin's THE LATHE OF HEAVEN, and Jim Thompson's THE KILLER INSIDE ME.

When I wrapped principal on this film, I did the same for my three leads Chelsi Kern, Rachael Redolfi, and my old friend Tom Cherry (again).  These books were Ursula Le Guin's THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS (which Chelsi's character is seen reading in CRAWLSPACE, actually), I SHALL DESTROY ALL THE CIVILIZED PLANETS by Fletcher Hanks (a comics collection), and FUN HOME by Alison Bechdel (a graphic novel I gave to Tom, although Chelsi was acting in the musical version of it on stage in Fort Wayne while also shooting SCARECROW).  All three of these works have something to do with the making of SCARECROW COUNTY and I hope you see the connections when the film comes out.

Now SCARECROW COUNTY heads into post, and I'll share more news when I have it.  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Thirteen Month-Old Baby, Broke the Looking Glass

This post first appeared in my e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, which you can subscribe to in the sidebar.
I have been remiss in not talking about two things.

First, my brother called BS on me for not including John Cougar Mellencamp's "Scarecrow" on my Secret Soundtrack of songs for SCARECROW COUNTY, and he was totally right--not only the obvious title but Mellencamp's Hoosier roots.

Second, I keep forgetting to talk about watching Orson Welles' formerly long-lost final film THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, which I watched right in the middle of the week between the two big shooting spates on SCARECROW COUNTY.  The caveat here is that it fits right in my groove--that time period when the studio system, staggering and out of touch, imploded on itself and gave rise to independent film, as goaded on by French, Italian, and Japanese filmmakers--that is, until movies like STAR WARS and JAWS and other summer blockbusters pushed it to the margins again.  I liked it so much I immediately stayed up late watching the documentary on its making, THEY'LL LOVE ME WHEN I'M DEAD and am just about done listening to the audiobook ORSON WELLES' LAST MOVIE by Josh Karp.

Orson Welles, whose CITIZEN KANE is so visionary, mostly because there was nobody around to tell him not to do things, and he didn't know any better.  Then decades of crashed projects and unrealized dreams, a few more flawed masterpieces, and then, at the end of his life, tooling around with a skeleton crew of hippies pretending to be a college film crew to avoid permits, and outrunning bills to finish one more crazy movie.  Broke, crashing at Peter Bogdanovich's place, doing commercials for cheap wine to get to the next day.

Welles, an ogre, a charmer, larger than life, petty and small.  But lurking in the background of this story is Gary Graver, a prolific b-movie and adult film director who gave his life over to Welles for six years as DP of this film, hoping it would catapult him into the big leagues alongside the legendary auteur.

It didn't.

Gary Graver crashed his marriages, burned up his life and died young.  Gary Graver, a guy making pornos who boldly called Orson Welles up one day and said he wanted to shoot a movie for him, and, astoundingly, Orson Welles answered "okay."  Despite everything that happened after it doesn't seem like Graver regretted it.

Orson Welles is a legend and a master now and forever, but my heart is with Gary Graver, one of us.

I've quit the b-movie biz before, and have been tempted to again from time to time.  But I once told an actress who was thinking about quitting movies that you can quit but you'll never stop thinking about it.  If you don't do movies, you'll think about plays, podcasts, something.  When I am not thinking about screenwriting I'm thinking about playwriting or drawing comics or writing a pulp paperback of some kind.  I crashed very hard at the end of CRAWLSPACE and very hard again at the end of SCARECROW COUNTY and yet here I am typing and thinking about Gary Graver.

It's a long ways for most of my loyal readers, but the awesome independent movie house Film Scene is screening THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE in April in downtown Iowa City, and how cool is that?

More soon.  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

This Doggone World We're Livin' In

I ended the second weekend of shooting SCARECROW COUNTY vowing no more cold weather shoots and no more Daylight Savings Time shoots.  My sophomore movie has more of everything--more people, more locations, more pitchforks, more things on fire.  Although the only place I set off the smoke alarms with the fog machine was my own house, and maybe that's just as well. The only things we forgot to have more of on this production were time and money.

I tried to avoid having a sophomore slump by wearing a flannel every day, just like the scarecrow, with a lucky shirt on underneath.  Except for the last day, when it was so damn cold I had to wear a sweatshirt.

The first day I wore my Haunted House on Sorority Row tee shirt, the second day my tee shirt from Cinecitta Studios in Rome, the third my Blue River Coast Guard shirt my wife got me, the fourth my Tom Cherry Radio Show shirt, the last day my The Girl in the Crawlspace shirt.

We have a pickup day in Dayton coming up for a cold open scene involving a Ouija board--did you think I would leave out a Ouija board?--and then the movie is wrapped for well and for true.

I'm very eager to see the puzzle pieces come together.  It was written, developed, and shot in such a feverish burst--from page one on the script in the first week in January to wrapping principal the second week in March--that there are big pieces of it I can't quite remember having anything to do with.  I hope that intensity comes out on the screen.  It's a complete 180 from my talky, slow-burn debut that I am very curious how it will be received, not least of all by myself.

My editor Eric Widing got the files the day after we finished principal and starting chewing away on it.

In the last few weeks since we started shooting I have picked up a big chunk of new readers, so thank you.  More on this and other projects soon.

This post first appeared in my secret e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP.

Friday, March 08, 2019

We're Lost in a Mask

 This blog post first appeared in my secret e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP which you can subscribe to from this blog to get this content sooner.

I have held off on saying too much about the first weekend of SCARECROW COUNTY because I wanted Rue Morgue to have the exclusive details--and they did a nice job of it, right here.

The first week of January I went to Dayton to record the director's commentary track for THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE with producer Henrique Couto, and when we were done we took his dog Henwolf on a long walk around the neighborhood.  We were kind of high on having just sold the distribution rights to the movie (the details of which I am hoping to announce soon) and started talking about that old Hollywood adage that when you have something, you have to be able to tell everybody what you have next.  Well, I had nothing next.

Henrique started spinning out this idea about a scarecrow, and I put in my two cents, and suddenly it caught fire.

On set this weekend, Henrique admitted that he didn't remember anything much about this conversation.  Luckily it was seared in my brain, and I went home and wrote SCARECROW COUNTY at a feverish rate.

And it shows, as I have said since that the bus to Crazy Town passes through Scarecrow County.  There are psychic powers, talking comic book characters, ghosts, dream sequences, people getting chased by pitchforks and machetes, dutch angles, blue gels, a fog machine, and plenty of what I call "dream logic."  When people say on the set, "wait, what?" or "that's supposed to be what?"  I just say "dream logic."

My first movie was very cerebral, shot about 80 percent at my house, with people talking about their problems; when we shot the denouement I just said, "X has to stab Y, Y has to admit he is an addict, Z has to shoot X, the rest we can figure out."  Those were my blocking directions.

This movie is much, much more pitchforky.  I made my first day pretty easy--the morning with a woman cleaning out her dead mother's house, only to be visited by a strange presence; the afternoon featuring the town's mayor, which I directed Jeff Rapkin to play "like the mayor in JAWS, but with less empathy."

The next day we spent most of the day shooting the last act, littered with jump scares and plot twists.  It was the most challenging day of my directing career as far as figuring out all the moving pieces.

At one point, Henrique was talking about an eleven day shoot he was on, and it dawned on me that on my two movies together I had only directed seven days thus far--still pretty new to it all.  But I shot close to 40 pages and have close to the same to knock out over the next three days.

So I had today off work to do everything you do--try to dig a post hole in the frozen earth to put the scarecrow post in, go and buy hamburger buns for lunch Saturday, go to Goodwill and buy a four-dollar curtain that we can burn when a candle rolls away from a Ouija board sesh and catches it on fire (dream logic!), bake cookies as is my tradition, look at some designs for a fake dating app you see in the movie that I'm putting pictures of my son and son-in-law in, answer questions about costumes, wash blankets and clean the toilets for Ohio crew staying over.

My records are buoying me along this evening--The Stylistics, ELO, George Benson, Glenn Campbell, John Denver.  An old K-TEL album I found for four dollars called "Gold Rush 79," right in the groove where I live.

Speaking of Goodwill, I think the main thing I have learned as a director so far is that when you are making a b-movie you don't have any money, so the currency you are dealing in is belief.   Belief and trust.  I believe in the people I surrounded myself with.  Some of these are old friends and some are new friends whose talent jumped  out at me.  I trust and believe in my DP and Producer Henrique. It is a tremendous feeling to gather a tribe and go to battle with them--to write something and ask people to come act it out and help in other ways, and then people do it.  It exists in radio, TV, movies, and theater, and if it exists somewhere else I don't know about, those people are richer for it.

I want to play "Masquerade" one more time on the record player and then I need to go to bed, so next time I will talk about how I stayed up late last night and got inspired by Orson Welles.  In the meantime, watch all weekend on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instragram for johnoakdalton and #scarecrowcounty.  Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

My Head's Been Wet with the Midnight Dew

 This post first appeared as exclusive content in my e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP which you cam subscribe to from this blog if you can't wait.
I've been hammering away the last few weeks judging the Indy Shorts International Film Festival for Heartland Film as well as the Phantoscope High School Film Festival and seen a ton of interesting things.  But more so I've been gearing up to shoot my second feature, SCARECROW COUNTY, a week from today.

I have kept this largely under wraps, superstitiously, because my holiday movie I was going to shoot around Christmas bottomed out when the lead actress had to withdraw because of a serious family situation.  I have tremendous empathy for her and her family but now it seems too hard to stage a holiday movie without convenient holiday decorations being up in homes and around towns, so I am hoping to gird that up again next winter.

In the meantime comes SCARECROW COUNTY.  A small-town librarian is gifted the lost diary of a dead teenager, exposing long-buried secrets as a murderous scarecrow stalks the streets.  Here is the teaser poster:
More "Hoosiersploitation" but less cerebral and more drive-in than THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE.

Right now I'm watching the weather and assembling a props list:  flask, cell phones, table saw, pitchfork, knife, gun, other sharp implements, rope, straw--it's reading like an End Times diary more than a movie list.

I also assembled my "Secret Soundtrack"--the songs that inspired me while I was writing the movie, any one of which the rights to would break the bank on the budget.  For your listening enjoyment, here they are:
God’s Gonna Get You For That by George Jones and Tammy Wynette

Do You Really Want To Hurt Me by Culture Club

You Spin Me Round by Dead or Alive

Eli’s Coming by Three Dog Night

Jesus is Just Alright by The Doobie Brothers

Superstition by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble

Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode

The Dog Days Are Over by Florence and the Machine

Welcome to the Black Parade by My Chemical Romance

God’s Gonna Cut You Down by Johnny Cash

Beginning Friday, follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat at johnoakdalton to see behind-the-scenes stuff about what is happening--or look for the hashtag #scarecrowcounty.

Thanks for following along as we jump back into the moviemaking fray once more.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

An Open Letter to Amazon Prime Video

I was never a person who decried Amazon destroying independent bookstores (and then independent everything else) because for the best part of twenty-five years I have lived in a rural area, in the great Flyover Country, with nothing of the sort within thirty minutes in any direction.  So Amazon, and in the same fashion Netflix, became my window to the world.

I have never been mad at Facebook for all their shenanigans, because Facebook has always been exactly what it is; it's the rest of us who, because it was so ubiquitous, thought it was a public utility, like electricity.  But Amazon, equally or more ubiquitous, has held a different place in my life.

It was a place where I could do a deep dive on gathering evidence that Anthony Steffen was the best spaghetti western Django, to find that one Hercules movie that scared me as a child, where I could learn about The Strugatsky Brothers and Jean-Claude Izzo and Yuri Herrera and Hideo Yokoyama and Jean-Patrick Manchette all existed and two days later be holding one of their books in my hands.

I am part of the one percent; the idea that one percent of people on the internet create all of the content and 99 percent of people lurk (more generously, that one percent creates content, 9 percent contributes feedback to it, and 90 percent lurk).  I blog and provide content on other platforms as well as pursue other DIY avenues like create my own comics and write fiction and write screenplays for movies, the last two of which (until yesterday) appeared on Amazon for people to enjoy.

Amazon's decision to remove independent films is a stunning, and in the case of some of my creative friends, a devastating reversal.  Citing "customer content quality expectations," a large swath of independent films were taken down, without an option for recourse nor any other avenue to sell or rent the material.  The movies seem to have been chosen at random, lower quality films (by their own director's admission) left intact while higher quality films swept aside as if by the hand of a blind Goliath.

It seems a curious place to start curating content on Amazon; I have been victim to the occasional shoddy import of product, and the Kindle market of homebrewed content, some equally as rough-hewn, appears untouched to date.

The cynical might point out that perhaps the world is better off without a movie I wrote, PETER ROTTENTAIL, which a prominent British website decreed was one of the Top Ten Worst of All Time; but despite its detractors has acted as a vehicle for myself and others to share the love of all genre interests and advocate for our communities, to express ourselves creatively.

I was a midwestern kid who loved movies, and then made some; who read pulp paperbacks, and then wrote stories for some.  Whether Amazon was an unwitting vehicle in all this, Amazon provided a vehicle for the hopes and dreams of myself and others.

I have happily lived in that long tail of content; that idea is that a zillion people love Justin Timberlake, but a small but loyal group love Ennio Morricone;  that a zillion people are waiting for the new Stephen King, but there are fervent readers who won't rest until they collect all of Harry Whittington and his various pseudonyms; that a zillion moviegoers are waiting for The Avengers, but an interested group is hoping somebody finds some lost Andy Milligan films.

I hope that Amazon reconsiders the repercussions of cutting off their long tail, on creators, their fans, and Amazon's disenfranchised customers.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Top Reads of 2018, and Reads of the Decade

I read 58 books in my annual quest of reading 50 books a year.  Another good year, on the world landscape, to hunker down and read.  Might have helped if I hadn't read so many dystopian novels.

This year my Top Ten favorite reads were:

Severance by Ling Ma

Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin

The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

November Road by Lou Berney

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller

The Third Hotel by Laura Van Den Berg

The Italian Party by Christina Lynch

I first undertook this internet challenge with some friends way back in 2008, and since then I have read 598 books, or an average of 54 a year.  I didn't make it in 2013 and 2014, being a span of time when both my kids got married and a grandson was born, and I read an astounding 81 books last year, because obviously it was 2017.

I grabbed the top from every year, and some others I didn't rank as highly but have stayed with me over time; that initial list was 20, and here are the Top Ten.

I'm too close to this year's batch, but I think Severance might be there somewhere in the long haul.

The first two I have recommended to everyone, and in fact when I shot my debut feature film The Girl in the Crawlspace earlier this year, they were two of the books I gave to my lead actors as a thak you for their roles.  The next two were also a heavy influence on my movie, as a character reads them during the action.

I had to include The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as it started my now ten-year love of Scandinavian crime fiction (as well, I suspect, as quite a few other people).

The others I would just say were mindblowers in some way that sent my thinking in different directions. 

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

 Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel R. Delany

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin 

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

 The City and The City by China Mieville

 Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Here are the next five that I had to think hard about before excluding:

Lunar Park by Brett Easton Ellis

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

Embassytown by China Mieville

Maybe this list would be slightly different if I did it again tomorrow, but maybe not.

A couple of times I have picked goals for the year; once I read a year of all women writers and once I did a year of people of color or people in translation.  If I have a goal for this coming year, I think it will be read harder and smarter; we shall see.  I hope you see something here you'd like to read!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Their Names Are Written in Concrete

I've been fascinated by this Top Ten Movies That Influenced You meme, with images only and no explanations--but I had to go for a Top Twenty for myself, which are all the movies that have influenced my b-movie life, listed 1-20.  How many can you recognize?  Enjoy!