Thursday, July 07, 2016

Live from Hoosierdance

This  post originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in my newsletter I Was Bigfoot's Shemp, which you can subscribe to here.
 
Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Hoosierdance International Film Festival in Kokomo, Indiana, where I was a festival judge for the screenplay competition. We selected a tidy little screenplay called DIRTY WINDS about the American Revolution and its impact on a group of people.  But look how sweet I got treated at the festival:



First I went to the Indiana short films bock, where I got to meet some like-minded people.  To me, this is the best part of any fest, especially a grassroots one.  I always say you can't push anyone's career ahead of yours, but if you catch the rocket, you can pull other people in your wake.  And that's what this is about, proving you are a normal person who seems able to meet deadlines and keep promises.

I saw a lot of good things, and I know I missed some things that played well, but from what I saw there were some standouts.

UNEXCEPTIONAL by Scott Carelli was a funny little alien invasion movie that played like the opening salvo to a full-length work.  RANDOM by Cindy Maples was a very tight genre short that I can't say much about without giving away the game.  But probably my favorite was MISREAD by Ryan McCurdy, about a schlub hired to drive a woman around who reads lips for a living.  The production was a little uneven, but I like stories I haven't heard before.

Next I went to the student films block, where I saw all the people that will push me out of the way one day.  They had a large, warm crowd for a mix of narrative and documentary shorts. David Stallard did an interesting doc called THE BLUE FLASH about an old guy who built two roller coasters in his backyard in rural Indiana.  THE NETWORK by Adam Nelson was a very polished-looking post-apocalyptic riff.  But what knocked me out was THE UNKNOWN COUNTRY by Alex Cook, about two orphaned brothers hanging on in a bleak rural setting. Very good acting and directing signaled that this guy has a tremendous upside.

Part of why I missed a few screenings was that I really ended up enjoying downtown Kokomo.  You can see when you visit that they are making an effort to revitalize the area with little shops and cool places to eat and have coffee.  They even have a self-proclaimed Geek Street, with a comic book shop, gaming store, toy store, with an Irish pub, coffee shop, and hipster record store all within shouting distance.  For me, a street of dreams, indeed.

I Snapchatted all day from there to test the app out for a work project.  You can find me on Snapchat at John Oak Dalton, to catch me next time.

I enjoyed being a part of Hoosierdance in just its second year, and I hope they have more to come.  At the end of the month I will be at the Blue Whiskey Film Festival in Chicago, and will have much to report from there.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

China 9, Liberty 37

This  post originally appeared in a slightly different form in my newsletter I Was Bigfoot's Shemp, which you can subscribe to here.

In a single week I sold my house, closed on another, moved, and then jetted off to Italy.  One day, those seven days will seem funny.
As usual, I made my annual pilgrimage to the grave of fellow A/V nerd Guglielmo Marconi, and stocked up on fumetti.



But five trips to Italy later I finally fulfilled my dream of visiting Cinecitta, the legendary Italian film studio.


I had always wanted to go, but it is more than a dozen stops from Roma Termini, the central train station, so I have never been able to find the time.  Even though it is a giant studio space, there isn't a ton available to the public, but I still found it interesting.


As you might suspect, Fellini gets a lot of space here.  Apparently he used to crash out and sleep at the studio a lot back in the day.




In the museum, there is a lot of time spent on Italian Neorealism, one of my favorite genres even before I visited Italy, but also a fair chunk on Spaghetti Westerns and Sword and Sandal movies (or Peplum as they are called there).  I thought there might be a section on Poliziotesschi films (Italian cop movies) but I guess that genre hasn't reached critical nostalgia mass yet.

Since this is Italy, they also have an area dedicated to Italian starlets of the 60s and 70s like Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale, and the like.  There was a section about Cinecitta during World War II, and the destruction that led to Neorealism. 



I thought one of the more unusual displays was a room full of drawers that were objects that inspired various directors that have worked there.  The photo above was for Martin Scorsese's, and includes a pair of glasses he apparently left lying around.  Tarantino was the only other American director represented, but the great Sergio Leone left some junk there, as well as Roberto Benigni and Lina Wertmuller.

A pretty cool day, and I'm glad I went there.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

When My Eyes Beheld An Eerie Sight

A version of this post first appeared on my email newsletter, I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, which you can subscribe to here.


ALONE IN THE GHOST HOUSE, a found footage movie I wrote and keep forgetting I ever worked on, is streeting this summer.  Some news about that, including a trailer, is here.

This is a big-assed posted for the movie, parked at Cinema Wasteland last weekend:



Look how big my name is!

I have always wanted to go to Wasteland, one of the big shows in our world, but little things keep getting in the way, like I have to pack up my entire life and move in the next 30 days or so.  But shows like Wasteland is how I got started in the b-movie world; going out and meeting people and showing them I was a relatively normal, functioning person that could be reasoned with, and playing the long, long game on building relationships and trust.  Surrounding yourself with people you can trust is how it works in this world and plenty of others.  And everyone hopes that when somebody catches the rocket, they will pull everyone else along for the ride.

It has been fun seeing on the interwebs that people bought ALONE IN THE GHOST HOUSE and have been watching it.  If you have it, I hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Jane, You're Playing A Game

A new poster for CALAMITY JANE'S REVENGE, looking pretty swanky.  A new trailer from the distributor is here.  I'm glad I lived long enough for westerns to come back into style.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Wandering Man, I Call Thee Sand

 This post first appeared, in a slightly different form, in my e-newsletter I Was Bigfoot's Shemp, which you can subscribe to here.


I talked recently about how I like to write characters who reflect the interests of the people who are probably watching my movies. I also like to salt in Easter Eggs that give hints about the backgrounds of the movies.

For instance, when I wrote JURASSIC PREY director Mark Polonia suggested I watched BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE as a primer for what he was looking for.  Fair enough, as the movie was reworked from NAKED PARADISE and later reworked again as CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA.  That's why I named a minor character Hellman after director Monte Hellman and another character Wain after screenwriter Robert Towne's pseudonym, and so on.  It gives knowing viewers a little nod and a wink (although I'm not sure how many people were in on the joke).

CALAMITY JANE'S REVENGE was a little trickier as they were by and large real people.  Even though some people who have seen the movie didn't know Calamity Jane was a real person, much less Con Stapleton, Charlie Utter, and "Crooked Nose" Jack McCall.  But the story is peopled with all kinds of owlhoots and scalywags, so I leaned upon a classic actor from the spaghetti western era, Klaus Kinski, for inspiration.

Klaus Kinski was one of the great scenery-chewing lunatics of the spaghetti western era, and is in more movies than even a devoted fan like myself can keep track of.  Even more so, most of the time he acted like he DGAF about what was going on around him.

My favorite performance is as a character with the unlikely name "Hot Dead" in I AM SARTANA YOUR ANGEL OF DEATH (he also DGAF in another Sartana movie, IF YOU MEET SARTANA PRAY FOR YOUR DEATH, as a different character).  In a German-helmed Eurowestern called THE LAST OF THE RENEGADES he parades around in a crazy hat and just DGAF.  In one of the great late spaghetti westerns, THE GREAT SILENCE, he is called, appropriately, Loco, and he struts like he DGAF even as the bad guys win (belated spoiler from 1968).  There are just so many spaghetti westerns where he DGAF, but the one he probably should have and DGAF was Sergio Leone's classic FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE.  But he plays a character called Juan Wild, so he can hardly be blamed.  And he gets that iconic scene where Lee Van Cleef strikes a match off his face.

So there you have it, five times where Klaus Kinski DGAF and maybe should have, and I paid tribute to him in CALAMITY JANE'S REVENGE.  And yet, even though I based the name of the lead villain, King Garrett, off of Klaus Kinski I told actor Adam Clevenger that he was really based on one of my favorite actors of the spaghetti western era, William Berger.  He was inspired by Berger's role in the classic KEOMA, but I also liked him in IF YOU MEET SARTANA PRAY FOR YOUR DEATH, and HANGING FOR DJANGO even though he is more or less a good guy in that.

Despite this, actor Adam Clevenger played him like Gene Hackman in UNFORGIVEN, and I was fine with that.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

In Dreams I Walk With You

This post first appeared in my new newsletter I Was Bigfoot's Shemp, which you can subscribe to right here.

 I think this was a work anxiety dream; that I was hired to write a DC comic book series, but at the last minute also had to draw it.  What I remember was a splash page where Doctor Fate arrives, with the skull of Red Tornado, to present to the Invisible Kid.

This was the second Invisible Kid, Jacques Foccart, added after a long run of having only white heroes in the Legion of Super-Heroes (if you don't count green and blue characters).  Later in DC Comics continuity Invisible Kid gets elected President of Earth, with Tyroc (actually one of the first African-American superheroes introduced in DC, ever) named as Vice President.  Naturally, the Earth subsequently blows up, putting Invisible Kid, Tyroc, and some other survivors on a New Earth, floating through space.

Mercifully, DC Comics has forgotten this ever happened.

In my dream, New Earth is stranded, melancholy, at the end of time, guarded by Doctor Fate's Tower of Fate.  This image struck me so much that I tried to draw it, to purge myself of the memory.  Here is the splash page from that imaginary comic:



When I got back into reading comics in the 1980s one of the first comics I fell for was Jon Ostrander's SUICIDE SQUAD.  I wish I still had my signed copy of SUICIDE SQUAD #1, one of the few possessions I don't have any longer I would like to wish back.  So that's why COPRA is so awesome to me; an unapologetic riff on that 80s SUICIDE SQUAD comic by a guy named Michel Fiffe who must have read it as religiously as me.  Although that may be a small audience, what I think has resonated with people--and made this a cult sensation--is that the guy writes and draws it himself, and sells it on Etsy.  It's a model a lot of people are interested in, and he is succeeding at it.

I am also reading BITCH PLANET, which is getting a lot of attention, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick as sort of THE HANDMAID'S TALE meets ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK.  In a near future, "non-compliant" women are sent to a remote prison planet, and the action revolves around the subculture there as well as Earth's reaction to it.  It's the kind of comic book you suggest to people who don't read comics at all.  Interesting for its social and political commentary but also a fun comic.

And lastly I am working my way through THE SANDMAN: OVERTURE, a long-awaited addition to THE SANDMAN comic book series, really a milestone work in comics by author Neil Gaiman.  It relies somewhat heavily on being in love with the original run almost twenty years ago (and remembering it clearly), but the comics are so beautiful to look at it's worth it just for that.  The artist is JH Williams III, whose run on BATWOMAN blew a lot of people's minds.  I am reading this in trade paperback from the local public library, and it has plenty of extras packed in it to make it, I am guessing, the way to read this one if you are so inclined.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Everything Is Closed, It's Like A Ruin

I was 100 percent convinced direct to DVD was over, and I was waiting for streaming to materialize/monetize for people like me; but I was mistaken.  DVD is still around, and even more crazily, just when I thought I was born too late, I wrote a western for the direct to DVD market last year.

Slowly, strangely, everything old is new again.  For one, CDs and podcasts.  Really that's two, I guess.  But one thing I am hooked on is reading a lot of e-newsletters.  Somehow, it's so throwback, it's cool again.  Just google, and find people like Warren Ellis and Lena Dunham writing them, if you don't believe it's true.

So I'm going to give it a go.  Frankly more than anything I want a change to talk about some of my projects in a way that I can't post publicly on my blog or on Facebook.  Also I'll include some capsule reviews of things I'm watching and reading and include some content you can't find on any of my public platforms.  If you are interested, you can subscribe at https://tinyletter.com/johnoakdalton.  It is titled "I Was Bigfoot's Shemp."

I'm going to start by writing one a week and see how long it takes for that to dwindle down.  But it's the dead of winter, and a time to try things to keep the machine running, so we shall see.

Friday, January 01, 2016

2015 Reading Challenge

After doing the 50 books a year reading challenge for a number of years now, I thought I would change it up this time and read only books by women authors.  This challenge initially came from my wife, who felt--rightfully so--that I wasn't reading enough women.

This turned out to be a great thing, as not only did it energize my reading--I exceeded 50 books this year, which I had not been able to do for a while--but it also forced me to find authors I might have passed over before, several of whom I enjoyed immensely and will look for more from.

I think it made me a better reader, and I hope a better writer.  It was such a good thing that in 2016 I am going to take on another challenge a friend put before me, which was to read only authors of color for one year.  I think I will expand this challenge a bit and also include authors in translation.  I'm curious to see what I will find in 2016.

But before that, here is a look back to 2015, and my favorite reads.  Instead of doing a Top Ten, as this was a special challenge I decided to make it an even dozen.  Curiously, there are three dystopian novels and three Eastern European stories.  I would consider five science fiction, two thrillers, and one lone western.  An interesting mix:

1.  Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

2.  Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

3.  The Ghost Network by Catie Disabato

4.  The Only Ones by Carola Dibbell

5.  Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell

6.  Innocence by Heda Margolius Kovaly

7.  Girl at War by Sara Novic

8.  When the Doves Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen

9.  Find Me by Laura Van Den Berg

10.  White Crocodile by KT Medina

11.  Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

12.  The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Happy Reading!

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Everything I Tell You Has Been Spoken

Like a lot of people on the magical interwebs I decided to try the "31 Days of Horror" horror movie challenge and watch 31 horror movies in October.  I knew I probably wasn't going to make it, because 1. I had to finish writing my own (secret) horror movie by October 30 and 2. I accidentally got addicted to Fargo and binged on the whole first season.

But I ended up watching 15, 14 of them that I had never seen (and I'm only counting Hocus Pocus once even though we watched it at the work Halloween party and I had it running at home on Halloween night), and that ain't bad.  I won't list them all, but my top five are:

1.  THE BABADOOK.  One of only a few movies to ever give me a nightmare the night after watching it.  It is especially unsettling if you are a parent, with an interestingly enigmatic ending.

2.  BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO.  Weird shocker about a sound technician working on an Italian horror movie, and maybe going crazy at the same time.  Best for fans of Italian horror of the 70s, but you probably already saw it.

3.  PONTYPOOL.  A burnt-out morning DJ at a remote Canadian radio station begins to realize that something terrible is happening in a snowstorm outside.  A claustrophobic, slow-burn mind game.

4.  HOUSE OF THE DEVIL:  Throwback-style horror about a young woman hired to babysit an unseen client at the start of an eclipse, and what could go wrong with that?

5.  GRABBERS:  Brisk horror-comedy is sort of a remake of "The War of the Worlds," only the aliens turn out to be allergic to alcohol, prompting the residents of an Irish village to get hammered and fight back.

Special Honorable Mention to HAUSU (HOUSE), a 70s Japanese horror movie that is not to be entered into lightly; a group of schoolgirls visit a reclusive aunt in a creepy old house, which makes it sounds like a normal movie, but is really only for those fans seeking the truly odd and unsettling.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

On We Sweep With Threshing Oar

Although this has already debuted on streaming, if you dig physical media you can buy Scarewaves everywhere, today.  I wrote a segment for this fun throwback-style horror anthology called "Fair Scare" that starts a little "Double Indemnity" and ends a little "Dawn of the Dead."

Monday, October 19, 2015

They Rode the Sunset, Horse Was Made of Steel

If you weren't at the World Premiere of "Calamity Jane's Revenge," or haven't watched the Limited Edition Blu-Ray/DVD combo--and why haven't you?--don't read this post. 

When director Henrique Couto called me on the phone and asked if I would be interested in writing the movie I grabbed this sheet of paper out of my sketchpad and wrote these notes.  Then promptly lost track of this paper and had to write the script from what I remember writing down that night.  And I think I remembered this cryptic note pretty well.

Screenwriting secrets revealed!  This is all of the outlining I did for the screenplay, but spent about a week moving the furniture around in my mind before I started writing.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

And I've Seen London, And I've Played Japan

There are two things I love about Bloomington Indiana; my brother lives there and the IU Cinema is there (not in that order).  On Friday I got to see filmmaker John Waters there, first giving a talk, then screening “Cecil B. DeMented”, then doing a Q&A.  I went away liking him even more than before.  (I think) we both feel there are enough people in the world waiting for a new Transformers movie or new Fast and Furious movie and we would in general prefer something different.  I for sure have always been attracted to the grassroots DV projects, backyard VHS epics, photocopied comic books, stapled zines, homemade mix tapes with bands nobody has heard of, the great homemade world most people don’t care about.

I found out when I jumped down that rabbit hole, decades after John Waters did, that there are a lot of people that feel the same way.  And those people can become your fans and when they do they are very loyal.  For instance I was more than shocked when, after several years of self-imposed exile from screenwriting, I learned people noticed I was gone and cared that I was coming back.

But it’s a double-edge sword because you also have to suffer the slings and arrows of those who don’t understand why you feel that way.  I listened to John Waters field questions about making “kitschy” and “bad” things and his love for such things.  When people ask me in interviews or casual conversation, “what’s the worst movie ever made?” I always think, I wonder if somebody has ever asked my hero Michael Tolkin that (he replaced William Goldman because he once wrote me an email after reading this blog, and William Goldman has never done that)?  But now I will be all like, well, if John Waters has to listen to it, I guess I will too  (for the record, I always say “Triumph of the Will”).  Because John Waters seemed a little taken aback and ended up kind of defending himself and saying, well I like foreign movies too (as seen in “Cecil B. DeMented” when everybody from Castle to Fassbinder to Anger to Peckinpah to Lean is name-checked).

But there is something worse than this, and that is nobody caring.  There are literally tens of thousands of movies that dropped like a rock in a pond and did not leave a ripple (and I have written some of them).  So when a movie I worked on more than ten years ago, “Peter Rottentail,” bubbled to the surface recently, I couldn’t have been more thrilled. 

First, I learned that the British website Nerdly rated it one of the Ten Worst Horror Movies Of All Time .

And more recently, Fangoria did an hour-long podcast with the movie as its subject.  Of course they thought it sucked, and it sucked so bad that one host had to listen to my audio commentary track to try to internalize why it sucked so bad.

And I was happy.  Just think, I have been reading Fangoria since I was a kid (though admittedly I always liked Starlog better).  And some Fangoria guys talked about a movie I worked on a decade ago for a solid hour.  Okay, I wasn’t thrilled that the one guy gave me that “duh duh duh” voice that mad girlfriends give their boyfriends the world over, but as far as the movie review, I was happy. 

Because getting your movie labeled the worst actually attracts, like a moth to flame, people like me.  Which is who I wrote it for.

You have to sniff past what I call the Joe Bob Briggs phenomena—reviewers drinking and half watching, or working up quips and half watching—and sometimes that is frustrating because they come in with preconceived notions, and often the biggest one is mixing up “stupid” and “cheap.”   I feel the burn right now on “Jurassic Prey,” which I am very proud of the script for, but a lot of people dismiss as inherently stupid.   In fact I wrote a whole blog post about this idea, upon the release of “Sharknado 2”, so I won’t go over it all now   But apples to apples, I would challenge anyone to read my script for “Jurassic Prey” and say it is worse than some thunderously stupid, but very attractive, blockbuster movies out there.  One has the resources of Skywalker Ranch, the other Dollar General.  And apples to apples, that’s not on the screenwriter.  But it is the reality.

“Peter Rottentail” was the second movie ever made from my writing, even though I had sold several screenplays by that time.  I was working on the set of the bigfoot movie I wrote for the Polonia Brothers, “Among Us,” which was my first movie and has had good legs on its own, when the distributor called and said he would need three more movies that year.  It was the go-go time of the direct-to-DVD boom, and I was in the right place at the right time.  However I told the brothers I could not write three more movies that year, which would be nothing to me now (I believe my record is seven in one year) so they agreed I would write one more and then rewrite two of their existing scripts.  So when I got back from the shoot a package came in the mail—it was the handwritten, on lined paper, version of a movie called “Psycho Clown” which I was to turn into “Peter Rottentail.”  I typed it in and rewrote it at the same time, and I believe I finished it in a long three-day weekend.  I had a lot of fun with it.  It was never meant to be taken seriously and I think I wrote it with some delirious intensity (I don’t believe I’ve ever done another one that fast).  I have not sat down to watch it with fresh eyes after so many years, but I am sure it does not help that DV technology has advanced quite a bit—I am certain the credits were done on a Video Toaster—and that even by the days’ standards it was made at a very threadbare cost.

But I’m proud of my part of it, and I know some people like it (and some people really like it ) and if I am going to give any small nugget of hard wisdom to aspiring screenwriters reading my blog it is this; that you should be proud of everything that leaves your keyboard.

So thanks to Nerdly and Fangoria for bringing new people to my old pal Peter Rottentail.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Before The Burst of Tambourines Take You There

I thought people who enjoyed the "Calamity Jane's Revenge" movie might like this. Whenever I write a screenplay, I compose a "Secret Soundtrack" of songs that inspire me when I'm working. Here is the Secret Soundtrack to Calamity Jane's Revenge: 

OPENING THEME: Fire on the Mountain by Marshall Tucker Band: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0uMWbZj-gWg 

DEATH OF WILD BILL HICKOK: Hurt by Johnny Cash: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vt1Pwfnh5pc 

CALAMITY JANE'S THEME: Cinderella by Firefall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMALavGwT4g 

FAY'S THEME: Wildflower by Skylark: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQ8n_Esop5I 

HUNTING/TRACKING SONG: Ghost Riders in the Sky by Johnny Cash: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mynzbmrtp9I 

GUNFIGHTING SONG: Green Grass and High Tides by the Outlaws: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKbk_dQ8Mhg 

FINAL SHOWDOWN: God's Gonna Cut You Down by Johnny Cash: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJlN9jdQFSc 

CLOSING CREDITS: Knocking on Heaven's Door by Bob Dylan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IaSIPQ-Bdc8 

BONUS GENERAL INSPIRATION: Hickory Wind by The Byrds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4dIQITw5bw 

 and especially Wild West Hero by ELO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-QKn64DFmo&list=RD8-QKn64DFmo 

Enjoy!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Be With My Western Girl Round The Fire, Oh So Bright

Almost 150 people came out over two showings on Friday night in Germantown, Ohio to watch "Calamity Jane's Revenge," a western I wrote for director Henrique Couto (who took this picture from the front of the theater).  A fun night.

Monday, September 14, 2015

City of Shivery Shoulders







Saturday night in the Windy City screening Scarewaves at Chicago Filmmakers, hosted by the Chicago Cinema Society.  A receptive screening and a good Q&A afterwards with me and director Henrique Couto.  Screenwaves streets everywhere across America October 27.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Sweet Revenge

The first spaghetti-flavored teaser trailer for Calamity Jane's Revenge, a western I wrote for director Henrique Couto, officially dropped today.  Enjoy!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

In Praise of Shamrock and Lucky

In 1950, at the waning days of the Western b-movie era, two aging former sidekicks of Hopalong Cassidy and a prolific b-movie director shot six C-grade western movies in 30 days.  I think this is a tremendous achievement in the wild and crazy history of b-movies and isn't talked about enough.  It could really be a primer for how movies could be made, but I don't know if this feat will ever be achieved again.

Notable in the production is that the main actors all have the same character names in every movie; James Ellison is Shamrock, Russell Hayden is Lucky, Julie Adams is Ann, and well-known character actors Raymond Hatton and Fuzzy Knight play the Colonel and Deacon, respectively; and this is despite Hatton and Knight playing both good guys and villains, actual Colonels or nicknames, actual Deacons or a person named Deacon.  I suppose if you shoot six movies at once it's hard enough to keep everything straight without having a different name in every movie.

The same supporting cast mixes it up and plays different parts in each movie, bad guys and deputies and barbers and bartenders.  Notable among them is former silent star Tom Tyler, at the end of his career and generally playing the villain's right-hand man.

Apparently they shot all the scenes for each movie at each location--be it a ranch, a saloon, the western town streets, and so on--at one time, and moved on.  Some stock footage--notably of a runaway stagecoach--is repeated also.  Of course, when these movies were made there was no notion that they could or would be watched back to back on DVD, so these elements would never be noticed by moviegoers, and was a pretty clever idea by director Thomas Mann.  They are all also apparently rewrites of other b-movies from decades past.

 And the movies, perhaps in spite of or because of their shortcomings (and short running times), are pretty enjoyable.  My favorite is COLORADO RANGER, where the Shamrock Kid, Lucky, and the Colonel are rogues hired to run off some homesteaders; they take a shine to Ann instead and switch sides.  This one shows an easy camaraderie as the trio cheat at cards, practice trick shooting, and end up having to take care of a baby--who they pacify by letting him play with a gun.

CROOKED RIVER changes it up as Lucky leads a gang of bad guys against Shamrock, but has a change of heart when one of his henchmen (John Cason, who has memorably bad guy turns in several of these ) blinds Lucky to make off with Lucky's kid sister Ann.  Lucky was getting tired of the outlaw life anyway and jumps back over to the right side for a memorable finale.

FAST ON THE DRAW starts with one of those repeated stagecoach scenes, and Shamrock's parents are killed by outlaws, with little Shamrock the only survivor.  He develops a phobia against guns, which is unfortunate when his motor-mouthed sidekick Lucky brags them up to the point that they are made lawmen in a town terrorized by an outlaw called The Cat. Fortunately Shamrock gets over his childhood fears in time to deal with The Cat.

In MARSHAL OF HELDORADO Lucky takes what he thinks is a sweet job as sheriff in a town without realizing the short life expectancies of the former lawmen.  The town is terrorized by the Tulliver Brothers (with good scenes from all the usual supporting cast), and Lucky's only help is Shamrock, who plays a guileless Eastern dude (who rides into town on a mule!).  Naturally Shamrock has a few tricks up his sleeve after all--including inducing two of the outlaws to shoot each other--and the good guys win in the end.

WEST OF THE BRAZOS is a knotty yarn for a b-western as The Cyclone Kid (John Cason, good again, and Tom Tyler gets a bigger villainous part too) pretends to be Shamrock to claim jump on his family ranch.  But Shamrock is on his way home after many years away.  He crosses paths with a wounded marshal, who convinces Shamrock to impersonate him to capture The Cyclone Kid.  Shamrock ends up in jail for impersonating a police officer, and fake Shamrock seems triumphant, but Lucky saves the day with a neat trick.  Lucky has an interesting role in this one; he was deafened during the war and has learned to read lips, and a couple of memorable scenes make it look like he has nerves of steel because he can't hear people shooting at him.

HOSTILE COUNTRY is probably the least of them, as Shamrock goes back home after his mother's death (again) to meet a stepfather he doesn't know (also part of WEST OF THE BRAZOS) and finds his stepfather making enemies of everyone around, including Shamrock and Lucky.  As in most of these, everybody isn't quite who they say they are and some fistfights and gunplay is required to sort it all out.

These have been nicely collected in a two DVD set called The Big Iron Collection, and is worth checking out and thinking about.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Chose A Gun, And Threw Away The Sun
















A heapin' passel of publicity stills and behind the scenes photos from "Calamity Jane's Revenge," a western movie I wrote for director Henrique Couto.  I had a great time working on this one, magnified more so by the thought that I was born too late to ever write a western, but got to write one anyway.  After a few trips to Italy in recent years I found a renewed interest in Italian movies, gorging on giallo, peplum, poliziotteschi, but especially spaghetti westerns (including an attempt to watch every movie with Django in the title, which I'll blog about someday).  And I got to play in a real sandbox, with Calmity Jane, Wild Bill Hickok, Charlie Utter, Con Stapleton, and other Deadwood legends--many of which lived lives bigger than fiction.  Eager to see how it turns out.

And yes, that's wrestler Al Snow (playing Charlie Utter).  I didn't go to the set that day though, didn't want my intense physical presence to make him feel intimidated or anything.

Thanks to two people more talented than me, Alicia Lozier and Randy Jennings, for letting me use their photos.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Down in the Badlands

Let me make this clear:  it is not common for a screenwriter to be invited to a movie set.  Being a screenwriter is like being a virgin; most directors call and call and call and when you finally give it up they stop calling.  But some directors, like Henrique Couto, aren't like that; in fact Henrique always invites me to the set, and then pretends like I know what I'm talking about.  Here I am on the set of Calamity Jane's Revenge, looking at some badass dailies.  Later I proved I had some modest worth when I built a campfire for a critical scene.  Then we used it to cook hot dogs, and the strange truth is that I have cooked hot dogs for people now on three movie sets:  Among Us, The Da Vinci Curse, and now Calamity Jane's Revenge.  This was taken, for some reason, by a talented photographer named Alicia Lozier.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man

Fourth time to Italy, for those that missed me, and as you can see it can still use a little picking up, a Starbucks and a SuperTarget or two.  I have always called Italy the Land of the Shrug--maybe this, maybe that, maybe now, maybe later--but for some reason this trip I heard a lot of cries of "Silenzio!"  Even more so than I hear in America.  Perhaps it is all the talk about ISIS wanting to pester them but, frankly, I would leave these people TF alone.  Hard to hate on people that have my dream life--drinking wine, eating pizza, taking naps, reading comics, but then turning into badasses when needed (re:  Franco Nero, Anthony Steffen, Gianni Garko, Giuliano Gemma, Maurizio Merli, George Hilton, George Eastman, Terrence Hill, Bud Spencer, Tomas Milan, et al).

Vittorio De Sica 4 Lyfe


Every time I go to Italy, I see something different.  I'm walking along one day and see this plaque in the sidewalk.  It commemorates the site of the shooting of one of the greatest films of Italian cinema and in fact world cinema, and one of my faves as well, The Bicycle Thief.  The start of Italian Neorealism and part of my fertile imagination.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much





I saw several film/TV crews while I was in Italy this time (sweet irony as back in Ohio, a spaghetti western I wrote, Calamity Jane's Revenge, was underway).  One I couldn't tell what they were doing, one seemed to be some sort of period piece, and one was some sort of comedic crowd scene.  Not to call my brothers out but it looked like there was some guerrilla filmmaking stuff going on, which naturally my trained b-movie I was drawn to.  And how it warmed my heart to turn on the TV went I hit the hotel and see a Terrence Hill and Bud Spencer movie on; almost as good as that time I caught For A Few Dollars More late at night, with Clint and Lee Van Cleef speaking Italian.

I Turn the Switch and Check the Number

Speaking of my people, I had my annual pilgrimage to the grave of Guglielmo Marconi, the father of radio. He is in the Basilica di Santa Croce alongside dudes like Galileo, Michelangelo, and Machiavelli, who all have gigantic statues here while my brother had to make due with a lot less. But this is a significant upgrade over when I was here two years ago when his plaque looked like something you'd see in a pet cemetery.

The Return of Ringo





Every time I visit Italy I think of this place, my favorite to visit; it's the large fumetti and giallo market at the Piazza della Repubblica. I always enjoy strolling through here and finding unusual things.