Friday, June 29, 2018

I Never Minded Standing in the Rain

This post first appeared in my e-mail newsletter, I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, which you can subscribe to in the sidebar.

A weekend ago I wrapped for real and for true on THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE.  I wrapped principal in March but had just a handful of pickup shots--a newscaster on a television, a dream sequence cowboy, a therapist on a telephone--that I thought I would pick up in a weekend or two, then it turned into the coldest April in Indiana history (followed by the hottest May in Indiana history) and other projects got in the way and suddenly it was June.


Most of the good moviemaking advice I could give I got from other people before I started--the number once piece of great advice is "feed your people"--but the advice I learned for myself was, schedule every shot and don't think you'll just pick them up later.

A movie where the love of spaghetti westerns plays a huge part has to have a dream sequence cowboy, and nobody fit the bill better than an actor whose real name is Joe Kidd just like the Clint Eastwood movie.  It was also incredibly helpful that he owned this western outfit pictured here, which he wore in another movie I wrote, CALAMITY JANE'S REVENGE, as dream sequence Wild Bill Hickok.  Watching Joe bad-ass around rural Ohio made me want to write another straight western right away (where he could play a living person).

In my movie he plays Lucky, who I really wanted to call Tex after Tex Willer, the famed, long-lived star of Italian comic books.  But I ended up calling him Lucky after Russell Hayden, who was part of one of the greatest lost feats in contemporary b-movie history when he made six westerns in thirty days (I have written an essay about it here).  This feat was definitely my inspiration for writing three movies in six weeks for director Mark Polonia last summer that could all be shot more or less together with more or less the same cast.

THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE is winding through post and I am slowly, slowly noodling on what might be next.  More news soon.

Friday, May 25, 2018

You Dance with the Lady with the Hole in her Stocking


This blog post first appeared, in a slightly different form, in the e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP which you can subscribe to in the sidebar of this blog.

I just got back from Italy sounds more glamorous than I just got back from chaperoning my wife's college class trip to Italy but I suppose both are true.  I don't think anything has influenced my writing more over the last few years than my six trips to Italy, jaunts to the Piazza della Repubblica for giallo and fumetti and the contemporary art shows at the Palazzo Strozzi and late-night cable screenings of The Forgotten Pistolero and Miami Supercops and Crime at the Chinese Restaurant, in Italian of course but feeling their pace and rhythms.  There is a heavy influence in my debut feature The Girl in the Crawlspace--the title character is Jill McBain, after Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon A Time in the West--but I think Italy is threaded through all of my work.



 
 

Speaking of which, now it can be told; the secret project I referred to as The Horrible Asp is actually Aliens vs Sharks, coming out this fall on DVD.  This is the first of three movies I wrote back to back over six weeks for director Mark Polonia to shoot as a package.  Aliens vs Sharks came with a pretty detailed outline--I suspect as this is the most effects-heavy of the projects, and certain beats needed to be hit--but it has plenty of my own touches.  With a movie called Aliens vs Sharks you pretty much know where you are going with the plot but I hope everyone enjoys the ride.

It is also out that the movie I code-named Sequence Six is actually called Amityville Island.  Although I code-named the first one from an REM song I happened to be listening to at that moment, I code-named this one from Fulci's Zombi 2 soundtrack.

Several years ago I wrote a movie called Doctor Zombie for Mark Polonia that ended up not being made, but was built as an homage to Zombi 2 and the Blind Dead movies.  Since I wrote Amityville Island incredibly, incredibly fast I was able to life some chunks from that unused script.  It helped that Doctor Zombie took place on an island.  It didn't help that Amityville isn't on an actual island, but if that's what holds you back from watching this movie I can't help you any further.

It has zombies, possessed people, women in prison, weird experiments, and some other stuff I probably forgot because I wrote it at a fever pitch, but it's crazy.  Trailers for both will be posted here when the interwebs have them.

More news soon, thanks for sticking with me.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Avoid Stepping On Bela Lugosi

This post first appeared in my e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP which you can subscribe to in the sidebar if you can't wait for news from me.

While THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE winds its way through post, I am chipping away at some other things.  But the guys at Neon Bloodbath did a nice write up of me, and you can read that here.

I have been a screener for the Indy Shorts International Film Fest, part of the prestigious Heartland Film Festival, which would never, never show any movie I have ever worked on.  I have concentrated on the high school part of the fest, which has clocked in over 75 entries to date.  I love seeing what people come up with, with whatever they have on hand as far as geography and equipment and friendships.  And some of them do astoundingly good work.

I am also joining the Programming Committee for the Blue Whiskey Film Festival, run by some old friends who have done great work in first suburban and now downtown Chicago.  My schedule has not allowed me to get up there as regularly as I might like the last few years, so it permits me to help from afar.  It's been amazing to see the people who have launched out of there over the course of the fest, including Michael Mohan who helmed EVERYTHING SUCKS to Mike Flanagan who recently did GERALD'S GAME and has a million things going to Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who wrote a little movie a few people went to see called A QUIET PLACE.  Nothing makes me happier than to see people go on the arc from their peanut butter days to Making It.

I went to Cinema Wasteland a weekend ago, which is a one of the key conventions for people doing b-movies, though distance (it is near Cleveland) has precluded me from going every year.  But with CRAWLSPACE in production, it seemed a good time to go and chat with people.  I don't know if it was because I was going around as a director instead of a screenwriter (it has always seemed like nobody wants to talk to screenwriters) or because I was walking around with Henrique Couto, who is sort of like the Mayor of Cinema Wasteland, but I touched base with a lot of new folks.  It was worthwhile, and there are a lot of people trying to figure out what to do next, including me.

I would like to write more, but I cut my index finger washing the blade in the food processor last night, and I am making a ton of typos, so I am going to have to quit here.  Talk soon.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

You'll Escape in the Final Reel

This post first appeared in my e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, which you can subscribe to in the sidebar  of this blog.

On Palm Sunday we kept our family tradition and watched JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. This is probably our most re-watched movie as a family, with WHEN HARRY MET SALLY as a couple, and THE WITCHES and WILLOW with the kids.  I love this one so much that at one point when directing THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE I told Tom Cherry, who plays Sheriff Woody, to "run like Carl Anderson does in Jesus Christ Superstar."  So if the movie turns out weird, it's because I gave actors directions like that.

The movie is easing into post.  A winter that won't quit has stalled a few pickup shots, then it is on to editing.  But we are all chatting and hoping to keep moving it along.

Beforehand some of the family sat around talking about our funerals, which I didn't participate in, because I am going to die first, and my urn will sit next to my wife's bedside table at the nunnery, where my dogs will also be sleeping.  My wife suggested she would donate my papers to my alma mater because of my modest success in b-movies, which was seriously very moving for me to hear, even as I pictured them being received, and then promptly dumped into a recycling bin to make room for the papers of Doug Jones, David Letterman, Jim Davis, Cynda Williams, and Joyce DeWitt.

But it reminded me of when I went to see Nicolas Winding Refn at the Indiana University Cinema, and instead of talking about himself he talked all about his preservation efforts for the work of Andy Milligan, who I had not heard of at that point.  I promptly went out and watched THE BODY BENEATH, and then a bunch of others, and really fell in love with his work, even as he has been decried up and down the internet and beyond.  He really was a threadbare auteur, trying to make something out of nothing, and that is something I really appreciate.

Phoef Sutton wrote a horror novel called THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL about a haunted grindhouse movie, a novel I liked, and he and talked quite a bit about Jean Rollin in it, so I watched REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE and THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES and found another filmmaker I think was a no-budget genius who a lot of other people think was a hack.  His movies have an austere, dreamlike quality that is fascinating to me.

If I am honest, what inspired me the most to get started on THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE were the two movies by Frederick Friedel, AXE and KIDNAPPED COED, who made this double feature back to back in the 70s and crashed right out of the industry subsequently.  AXE is especially artistic, and COED is pretty cool, but pointing out that they were made on a shoestring doesn't account for the real price of shoestrings.

In the week between the two weekend shoots for CRAWLSPACE I watched a movie called THE HANG UP by John Hayes, and I thought it was fantastic, and suddenly I was introduced to another fascinating director with an offbeat filmography.

Thankfully there are companies like Vinegar Syndrome and Severin Films and Something Weird trying to preserve these films, and people like Refn and Sutton and my friend film reviewer Jason Coffman to talk about them in some other fashion than the braying ridicule they are sometimes treated to.

I think that's what I want more than anything, because I have come to learn from watching others that fame is a monkey's paw; that somebody find something I did in a dusty dollar bin somewhere, or in some other throwaway place, and watch it, and understand what I was trying to say, in the way I try to understand Milligan and Rollin and Friedel and Hayes.  It's a lot to ask, but as I am sitting at a little kneehole desk in a corner of a house with farm acreage spread out all around me, it's what I hope.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

And the Archer Split the Tree

This content first appeared in my secret e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, which you can subscribe to from this blog if you don't like waiting.

We wrapped principal photography on THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE Sunday afternoon, after a full three-day weekend of cold weather, fake blood, mock stabbings and pretend stun gunning, mock filthy crawlspacing and real not-as-filthy crawlspacing, people throwing themselves on the ground and laying on cold concrete getting cold water dripped on them, hundred-foot drone shots, furnaces quitting, and dogs barking, but we made all our days, actors and crew were on point, I didn't make too many mistakes, and I got to treat everyone to my homemade beef BBQ that simmered away in the background the whole time.


I didn't post much on social media so that we could give Rue Morgue an exclusive, which you can read about here.  They did us up nicely.

By Wednesday I felt more like my old self.  Before then, I just felt old.

The very last shot of principal was a cold, windswept wide shot of the green shed in my backyard where the creepy-crawly third act unfolds, as anticlimactic a shot as you could imagine to wrap on.  And yet I still felt incredibly emotional and kind of turned and walked off for a minute.  I had planned to give a big speech to my four principals and the crew, but two had already slipped away and it was pretty cold out.  So we just sat on that cold, wide shot until everybody realized we were done.

In a lot of ways we are just getting started.  There are a couple of quick pick-up shots in Dayton, there is all the editing, the color timing, the score, on and on.  But that is largely done out of sight by me and my producer, Henrique Couto, working with a second group of talented people.  Henrique told me that making a movie is like putting together a puzzle, except you have to make the puzzle first and then put it together.  So we made the puzzle first.

I think the biggest thing I learned directing was that when I started this project it was for me, but by the end, it was for everybody involved with it.  And knowing that everyone, from make-up to boom to lead talent, all have hopes and dreams for the project, and that those rest squarely on me to deliver.  I think the greatest thing people misunderstand about b-movies is that nobody wants to make a bad one. Even though they sometimes turn out that way. I know that some movies are born of cynicism, but I have yet to be involved with one.  Everyone wants this to lead to that, for this film to get them noticed for the next, and on and on.  They are people's dreams, and that is a big debt to carry for people, in a good way.

I think the biggest thing I learned as a screenwriter on this one is that people did not understand what I was talking about a lot of the time..  It came out gradually throughout the shoot, all the way to the enigmatic ending that the leads wanted to have explained.  At the most basic level it is about a burlap-masked killer that has cut through a small town.  But behind that I wanted it to be about the power of storytelling to save people's lives, especially in rural areas.  And at the deepest level I wanted to talk about the sway the insouciant beauty of Linda Stirling in 1944's ZORRO'S BLACK WHIP had over a young mind, how Peter Lupus never got his due for HERCULES AND THE TYRANTS OF BABYLON, how the crazy majesty of Klaus Kinski as "Hot Dead" shines in movies like I AM SARTANA YOUR ANGEL OF DEATH, and the power of role-playing gaming to inform friendships in ways that people can't express otherwise.  And that's probably where I lost the thread a bit.

There is a scene where I wanted Erin Ryan's character Jill, the title character, to be casually carrying a Tex Willer fumetti I brought back from Italy, with no explanation about why she was carrying it.  After we were done, she handed it to me very carefully and said "Here, I think this is important to you."  And then I sort of felt like Marlon Brando at the end of APOCALYPSE NOW, my cast and crew coming down the river to see how crazy I had become.

But what moved me the most as a writer and director was that even though people in front of and behind the camera couldn't quite figure it all out, they were willing to go along with me and see what happened.  That's probably the most validated I have ever felt in my b-movie life.

Now I just have to find a lot, a lot of other people who think the way I do, or more likely are willing to go along with it, to rent and buy the movie.  But that's for another day.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Shreds of News and Afterthoughts and Complicated Scenes

 I published this to my secret e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP last week; if you don't want to be behind the curve, subscribe in the sidebar.

Tomorrow the circus rolls back into town as we start the second weekend of shooting THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE.  I think the first weekend went really well.  We had good crew (producer Henrique Couto shooting the lights out, production assistants who picked it up quickly, good make-up), talent that was more than ready and emptied the tank emotionally, we finished on time both days, and my wife cooked for everybody, prompting Henrique to remark, "that pasta sauce smells better than friendship."  And it was true, because the tomatoes were grown with love, in our own garden.

It was the number one tip I got, from multiple b-movie directors:  feed everybody, and the rest will work itself out.

For myself, it was a blur; there were times I think I really put some cool and challenging ideas out there and times I was lost in the tall grass, and couldn't remember what happened next in my own script that I had so carefully labored over.  But my old friend and incredibly prolific b-movie director Mark Polonia called in the morning to wish me luck, and then called back at the wrap to drop heavy knowledge on me:  "Directing a movie is like a car wreck; it comes at your fast, and when you wake up, you don't remember what happened."  He has directed more movies than years I have been alive, so that one can go to the bank.

Henrique Couto gave me a great compliment when he said the movie should be its own genre called "Hoosiersploitation," and I knew he saw it through my eyes; the wide-open spaces, the dried-up towns, where people need creative outlets to thrive on hard soil; but I have to keep it real, it's also about a guy in a burlap mask terrorizing poor Erin Ryan.

When we started on this project, Henrique told me he wanted to see "unfiltered John Oak Dalton," and that was incredibly flattering, because I have never been told to let my nerd flag fly like that by anyone.  So there is talk of spaghetti westerns, and there are several scenes of role-playing gaming, and deep dives into other flotsam and jetsam of the world gone by, so much so that I realized on the set that some of the actors had no idea what I was talking about.  But they were willing to go along, and that is a heady feeling.  And hopefully there are a lot of people out there who are interested in that kind of stuff, too.

It is weird to be sitting at a little kneehole desk (where I am sitting now writing this), in the middle of several square miles of farm field, and in my mind write the main parts for b-movie actors Erin Ryan, John Hambrick, Joni Durian, and my old friend Tom Cherry who I always promised myself I would write a part for if I ever made a movie, and then several months later they just drive over and start acting it out.

So we are getting ready for the next weekend, and like all b-movie directors before me I got up and fed the chickens, cleaned the dog poop out of the yard, vacuumed the floors and got ready to go to WalMart and get some lunchmeat.

I joined the ranks of b-movie directors with my clothes on inside out, so if I get that right this weekend, I'm well on my way.  Follow at johnoakdalton on Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook this weekend to see it unfold.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

I've Been Feeling It Since 1966, Now

If only you were subscribed to my secret e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, you would have seen this post a week ago.  You can subscribe in the sidebar to this blog.

I had my first dream about directing the movie last night.  In it, Maggie Gyllenhaal was eating some stale cookies I had left around the set.  So I woke up and threw those stale cookies that were by the breadbox in the trash.  Other than that, I think I dreamed this because I have been watching THE DEUCE while working on the D&D style game the characters play in the movie.

I thought I was the smartest screenwriter alive when I wrote a movie that took place mostly at my house, until I realized I needed to take today off to completely clean and de-clutter the house, and also when I wrote four basically D&D scenes in the movie, and then started thinking about how all my fellow travelers in the nerd kingdom when roundly decry any false notes in those scenes.  I fell upon the good graces of Ray Otus and Dyson Logos, whose original art, character sheets, and maps become the world that "Outcast Swords" is based on.  And then I have spent several nights making up the characters that the characters play in the movie, and the maps of all the adventures they are having.  I keep hoping that all the little details make the movie more fun.

A few people following along closely have asked about being extras in the movie, which is very flattering, although as I've mentioned this time out there's nobody extra, anywhere.  But my old friend Andy wanted to be in there somewhere, so we concocted a way for him to appear.

He is older than this now.  I would never let a kid watch any of my movies.  And I was too superstitious to put an actual kid in any of these posters (my adult son is in another one--bonus points if you know why I called him "Ethan Edwards" without googling). Kind of creepy, really, but I wanted a few Missing posters visible around the Community Center and outside town shots (but will have to remember to instruct PAs to take them down IMMEDIATELY after we stop rolling).  In the movie, The Crawlspace Killer is responsible for tons of missing children over the years in this small town, which all happens before the movie starts, because I wanted to represent the "brain drain" we talk so much about in Indiana.  Not a killer in a burlap mask, but all of our young people moving elsewhere.  Maybe a little too symbolic for a b-movie, but there you go.


I have voice over work from Jeff Kirkendall and Andrew Shearer in hand, and am working on production design today, and my producer Henrique Couto is winging his way here from Dayton, so we are definitely underway.  Follow me this weekend on Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook at johnoakdalton to see the first weekend unfold.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

I Don't Mind the Sun Sometimes, the Images It Shows

It's not too late to subscribe to my secret e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP--information is in the sidebar to the right.  This post first appeared there earlier.

In my secret e-newsletter last week I tried to make a joke about all the little details in making THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE--finding a rotary phone, some fake guns, and some rope--and suddenly people were messaging me offering me fake guns and rotary phones.  An old friend wrote me "you've made a lot of friends along the way," and that's probably the most flattering thing anyone has said to me in a while.

Nobody has offered me any rope, so I guess trust in our friendship only goes so far.

It has been cool to see other people pop up in offering help, from all corners, and I appreciate it all.

The mask for The Crawlspace Killer arrived from my pal Tim Shrum all the way in Oklahoma, and the dogs immediately hated it.  But when I sent a photo to my lead actors--Erin Ryan, John Hambrick, Joni Durian--they all three wrote back with some variation of "It's scary.  I love it."  Which made me think I have the right cast.

I hope it is all the little details that make the movie interesting to people.  At least I've tried to make things interesting to me.  I kept bragging on myself that I had written a movie easy to shoot, and then realized I wrote in a town sheriff, who has to wear a uniform.  So I got on Amazon and bought all the police-y parts, and then got on eBay and looked for vintage patches, since I want everything to have a throwback look. 



I found this patch from Milton, Indiana, where my father-in-law grew up and his mother (my wife's grandmother) was the town librarian.  I believe the library is still there, but I'm sure they don't have a police department any more, and practically nothing else is there either, including the house my father-in-law grew up in and the school he graduated from.  So I thought I would give a little shout-out to Milton in my movie.

Indiana people know that Milton is probably an hour from where the movie takes place, so there is no way the sheriff of Milton is involved with The Crawlspace Killer in Mooreland.  But I'm just going to keep it real, gentle viewer, if you end up thinking this is the most unbelievable thing in the movie, I'll be happy.This coming weekend, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat for live updates from the set.  I'm at johnoakdalton in all those places.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

For All The World Like An Urban Toreador

If you wished you had seen this post earlier, you can subscribe to my newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP in the right column of this blog, where this post first appeared last weekend.

Two weeks from today I will be shooting THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE, the first of five days of principal photography.  Here is another nice write-up I received leading up to the shoot.  I have been extremely flattered by gaining more than a dozen new newsletter subscribers since this piece and the article from Horror Society came out.  Thanks for joining me.

I will be getting the social media train running during the shoot, mostly on Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, and I am johnoakdalton in all of those places, if you would like to follow along.

Another flattering thing is how many people have wanted to be an extra.  Sadly there is no extra anything in this first go-round.  I wrote this movie to be as tight as can be, so there are no crowd scenes.  In fact about 80 percent of the movie will be shot at my own house, with four people.  Definitely trying to make this monster manageable.

I will try to put some value added content in this secret newsletter for subscribers, so here's some.  I got to know Tim Shrum when he ran a Polonia Brothers Fan Club (and now through House of Schlock, where he makes a lot of cool stuff).  I knew he also crash-built a lot of props and the like and I asked him if he had any scary masks laying around I could use for The Crawlspace Killer.  Tim decided to build me a unique one for the film, and it looks pretty creepy.  Here is just a sneak peek.
I have had a couple of long talks with producer Henrique Couto over the last few days, and a nice lunchtime chat with John Hambrick (who plays one of the four people who will spend a lot of time at my house soon), who finally asked about the enigmatic ending, to which I answered, "What do YOU think happened?"  Somewhere, somebody is already typing an Amazon review that reads "Saw that ending coming a mile away."



I need to break some scenes down, and find an old rotary phone for a prop, and get a rope and some fake guns without getting on a watchlist.  Talk soon.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Veteran of the Psychic Wars

This post is from my secret e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, which you can subscribe to in the sidebar to your right.

Since Horror Society announced my directorial debut, THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE, about a week ago, all of a sudden the production seems like an avalanche coming down a mountain.  We are technically underway, as my friend actor Jeff Kirkendall has already sent his part via Dropbox from way off in upstate New York; a part on the phone, playing an aggressive movie agent (as if there was another kind).

By the way, if you want to see why I wanted Jeff in my movie, check out one I wrote called JURASSIC PREY, where if you look past the rubber monsters has a good part for Jeff as a washed-up child star in the middle of a botched robbery.

Erin Ryan, who plays the title role in my film, has phoned me about her character, and run lines with John Hambrick, who plays her therapist's husband, inadvertent foil, and reluctant hero.  And I am talking to cast and crew about dietary restrictions, travel plans, and more.

Admittedly this project has had a much longer run-up than most any b-movie I have worked on, because I was afraid to schedule much over the winter.  Which has proven to be the right thing to do, as I am writing this from rural Indiana, instead of in Chicago where I am supposed to be, if I wasn't thwarted by ice here and over a foot of snow there.  I am just hoping March comes in like a lamb.

Also, the IMDB page is live, so it must be a real movie.

Even though I tried to write the easiest movie I could--about 80 percent of it takes place in my own house, a mid-century modern on a couple of acres of pasture in rural Indiana--there are still a lot of moving parts, and a great amount of time devoted to it, so I'm glad I wrote something I really wanted to make.  Despite the grindhouse trappings I'd like to think it's about the redemptive power of storytelling--but we will see what the world thinks soon enough.

More about the movie as we get even closer.  Thanks for sticking with me.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

All I Gotta Do Is Act Naturally

This post first appeared in my e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, which you can subscribe to in the right column of this blog.

 
Yesterday I soft-launched the news about my directorial debut feature to a couple of trusted friends in the horror news and reviews business, and my pal Matt Storc at Horror Society jumped right on it.  So the news is out that I am directing THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE with my old friend Henrique Couto producing.



Director Henrique Couto (BABYSITTER MASSACRE) and screenwriter John Oak Dalton (HAUNTED HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW) are teaming up for the fifth time on one of Dalton’s screenplays—only this time they are wearing different hats, with Couto producing (and serving as Director of Photography) and Dalton directing. THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE will begin shooting this spring in rural Indiana.
"John Dalton is one of my favorite collaborators, so helping him take the director's chair was a no brainer for me," Couto said.
“I have wanted to jump over to the director’s chair for a while, after working on the sets of some of the movies made from my screenplays,” Dalton said. “This is a script I feel strongly about, one that I have wanted to get out there.”
Erin Ryan (CALAMITY JANE’S REVENGE) will play the title character, Jill. At the outset, Jill escapes from a notorious serial killer who has kept her prisoner in a crawlspace. She tries to work her way back to normal with the help of a therapist, but becomes inserted into the therapist’s strained marriage with a failing screenwriter. Joni Durian (ALONE IN THE GHOST HOUSE) and John Hambrick (SCAREWAVES) play the troubled couple.
Others in the cast include Tom Cherry, Rachael Redolfi, Jeff Kirkendall, Joe Kidd, Iabou Windimere, Chelsi Kern and fellow director Andrew Shearer.
“It’s psychological horror, with hopefully some good twists and turns,” Dalton said.
Prolific b-movie director Mark Polonia , who Dalton has penned seven screenplays for--including JURASSIC PREY and AMITYVILLE DEATH HOUSE--has signed on to edit. This marks the second time Dalton, Couto, and Polonia have collaborated after this summer’s Bigfoot movie IN SEARCH OF.
THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE is slated for release in 2018
.

Readers following closely at home might realize this is THE GIRL WITH THE GRINDHOUSE HEART, renamed.  I wrote this screenplay in the fall thinking I might direct it--it features my Mid-Century Modern house prominently, a small cast, and nothing too hard to figure out in the staging (I think).  I have wanted to direct a movie for quite a few years, but the timing has never been right.  After spending some time this summer on the set of IN SEARCH OF, and paying close attention to Mark and Henrique's work, I thought the stars might be in alignment.

I knew if I did it I would have to gather my tribe--all the people I have wanted to work with whose names I tucked away over the years.  I knew I wanted to write the central part for Erin Ryan, and I knew I would write a part for my old friend Tom Cherry, who does local civic theater and public access television and an old-time-style radio show (he's going to play the town sheriff).  Mark and Henrique have been my closest collaborators--I've written about a dozen movies combined for both of them--but I also wanted to seek out my old microcinema friend Jon Solita, b-movie director Andrew Shearer (who was the first to congratulate me when I came out of self-imposed exile a few years ago and started writing again), actors Jeff Kirkendall (who lives in New York state, so you will hear him on the telephone), John Hambrick, and Joni Durian, and a lot more.  There are all the actors I've met in Dayton, and some other b-movie friends who I hope can contribute yet.

Some I reached out to can't be there this time, either through their own timing or more often geography, but that's why I am working on WOKE UP BLEEDING when this one isn't consuming my free hours, because the old adage goes when you are working on a movie you have to be able to tell people you have another one going.

I'm glad the news is out, and I can talk about everything going on as we close in on the first weekend in March and start rolling.  Stick around and I promise to have behind-the-scenes stuff here throughout the process.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Lightning and Thunder

This post first appeared earlier in I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, an e-newsletter you can subscribe to in the sidebar of this blog.

People always ask me if I watch the Oscars.  I never have.  My interests are so far removed movie-wise it might as well be a whole different industry.  My heart has always been with the DIY, be it movies or zines or comix or bands.  I used to say if I watched the Oscars I would feel like a homeless guy looking at Trump Tower, but now Trump Tower isn't a funny thing to talk about any more.

I started on a new project--actually a rewrite of an old favorite.  I have two or three I really wish would get made some day, and this one is probably at the top of the list.

Back when the first screenplay I sold (that got turned into a movie), AMONG US, was being shot, the director was offered a three-movie deal.  That director, Mark Polonia, asked if I would write all three.  At that time, way back in the early 2000s, I didn't think I could write three movies in a year, so I offered to do rewrites over two existing scripts and write one new one from scratch.

Funny to think I just wrote three movies from page one for Mark Polonia, on another three movie deal, in six weeks.

Anyway, one was a rewrite of a John Polonia script called PSYCHO CLOWN that became PETER ROTTENTAIL, which Nerdly has rated one of the Top Ten Worst Horror Films of All Time and Fangoria devoted an hour-long podcast to, and the next was a rewrite of (I think) Mark's script RAZORTEETH, but the deal fizzled out by the fourth one, which was called DEMONS ON A DEAD END STREET, and was kind of a Gremlins-type film.

I liked it so much that a few years later, when I was working up a project with a New Zealand director on the exact opposite side of the world from me, I did a rewrite of it, making it more of a straight supernatural film called URAMESHIYA (GHOST SCREAM) because I was on a bit of a Japanese horror kick at the time.  Unfortunately the pieces didn't come together again and I stuck it in my back pocket.

Recently I went a year without a writing deal, or more accurately a deal I wanted, and I have promised myself not to wait around any more for stuff to happen.  So I wrote a project just for myself this fall, and am digging this one out to rewrite once more.

And it needs it--it has videoconferencing instead of Skype, no mention of social media, and more--and maybe a fresh coat of paint will give it a third life.  This time I want to call it WOKE UP BLEEDING.

And if nothing is brewing when I get done with this one, I have one more--kind of a nerd Terminator I wrote in longhand, a long time ago, in a huge burst after waking up with a migraine--that could use a freshening up that I have never given it.  It is really only one of about three or four spec scripts I have ever written.  Everything else I have been hired for, and sometimes the poster and title were already there.

I have nothing to complain about.  I finally sat down and penciled out an accurate count, because I've lost track, and since 1999 I have sold 38 screenplays, 12 of which turned into actual movies with the 13th one in post-production right now.  That means about one third of the movies I have sold turned into actual movies, which is a good batting average in the business, I think.  And if I'm not forgetting anyone, that is spread among nine different directors.

So I am going to spend some winter nights and early mornings like this one working on WOKE UP BLEEDING and see if I still like it as much as I remember.

Thanks for sticking with me.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Favorite Reads of 2017

I read an astounding number of books this year, more than I ever have since keeping this blog, close to ten years ago.  But in a lot of ways it was a year like no other, on the national scene, local scene, and in my own extended family, and like a lot of people I burrowed down and read a lot.

Since I read a bit more, I turned this Top Ten list to 11.  Here are my favorite reads of 2017.  Enjoy!

Glaxo by Hernan Ronsino

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera

Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt

The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo by Ian Stansel

The Girls by Emma Cline

Tender Wings of Desire by Catherine Kovach

Saturday, December 23, 2017

And Over A Village, He Halted His Craft

 This post first appeared in I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, which you can subscribe to from this blog.

It's been a while, but as one might suspect this is the time of year where job and family day life eclipses b-movie night life.  It's the holiday season, but the weather is holding, so director Mark Polonia is still hammering away on the three screenplays I wrote for him all at once to shoot back to back.  THE HORRIBLE ASP is done, SEQUENCE SIX largely in the can, KRASNIKOV in the batter's box.  I like to use code names like the writer Warren Ellis, even though I am not under nondisclosure on these, but I wouldn't be surprised if more leaked out about these, soon.  It was a fun exercise to meet the challenge of writing three screenplays in a breakneck six weeks and I hope people have as much fun watching them as I did writing them.  Although there is always somebody eager to tell you that you suck.

I called the first one THE HORRIBLE ASP because I was listening to that REM song, but I gave the other ones specific names that are hints to what they are about.  If anyone can guess why I code-named the other two SEQUENCE SIX and KRASNIKOV I promise to send you a DVD of each when they come out.

Since I wrote THE GIRL WITH THE GRINDHOUSE HEART for myself, I had the rare luxury of going back and doing a rewrite, which I think makes it better, based on honest feedback I got from a screenwriter friend.  It's best to remember it's not your baby, but you are delivering somebody else's baby, and to take constructive feedback when you get it.  My favorite was "This is really YOUR script," which I loved, because I wanted to write something I would like to go see, another luxury.

Whenever I write a screenplay I like to keep a "Secret Soundtrack" in my head.  The actual rights to one of these soundtracks would far exceed the cost of, let's be honest, probably all of my movies, combined. Here is the one for THE GIRL WITH THE GRINDHOUSE HEART:

Brand New Key, Melanie https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKcpodt0YCU

After the Gold Rush, Neil Young https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1e3m_T-NMOs

There’s No Way Out of Here, Unicorn https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDssNn8PvDU

My World Fell Down, Sagittarius https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qs-oGEhDP0E

Flagpole Sitta, Harvey Danger https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYsMjEeEg4g

Sin City, Beck and Emmylou Harris https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bm0pym62kuA

Folsom Prison Blues, Everlast https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmt6OyRqb8A

Pepper, Butthole Surfers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CO8vBVUaKvk

My Little Town, Simon and Garfunkel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__Ro3eGuznI

Who’s That Lady?, The Isley Brothers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1Mvy3E8P2U

Enjoy!

I have a big announcement that I am trying to keep the lid on until the first of the year, even from my loyal e-newsletter people, but I promise you will be very close to the first to know.

Until then, enjoy the holiday, and thanks for sticking with me.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

#Inktober 2017!

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

I didn't do as many #inktober sketches as I might have liked, getting about a dozen in.  Here are the most popular, as voted on by likes and comments on Instagram and Facebook.


At #3 was this request, which was to "draw Deadpool," not necessarily make a weird Fantastic Four lineup.  But this might make a cool one!  Here they are fighting The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

#2 was another request from my pal Tom, to draw Sunshine Superman and Skyrocket in one of those 60s style DC romance covers.  Weird, but I was happy with it.

And #1 I was super happy with, bringing back the Mind-Grabber Kid alongside a mind-controlled Justice Society and a pretty interesting Justice League line-up. I think this vaulted to #1 because of a discussion on Facebok about the frittered-away life of Amazing Man, killed senselessly with nobody bothering to bring him back.

I'll try to do more next year!

Just when we were about to fall into a show-hole, we thankfully found HOTEL BEAU SEJOUR, a Belgian crime show with supernatural overtones that kept me interested straight through.  Worth a try for the offbeat.  And we finished it just in time for the new season of THE GREAT BRITISH BAKING SHOW to appear on Netflix, a happy thing indeed.

Lots going on, and it seems like we are on a rocket to the holidays.  Talk again soon.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Crypt-Kicker Five

This blog post first appeared as part of my secret e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, which you can subscribe to in the sidebar.

We did okay in our challenge to watch only horror movies in October.  We saw 18, but were late starters because there are so many actually horrible things going on in the world that we couldn't bring ourselves to watch one some nights.  Even at that, we watched a lot of comedy-horror.

If I were to offer a Top Five, I have to go for sure for the two that gave me muddled nightmares the night I watched them--HONEYMOON from director Leigh Janiak and THE VOICES from director Marjane Satrapi.  The first is about a couple who decided to honeymoon at a remote cabin in the woods--always a bad plan--and the second is an inky-black comedy featuring Ryan Reynolds, who seems genial enough but hears his pet cat telling him to kill people.

To round out the Top Five I recommend HOUSEBOUND, a New Zealand horror-comedy from director Gerard Johnstone, where a woman ends up on house arrest in a haunted house; TUCKER AND DALE VS EVIL, which I know I am late to, where director Eli Craig turns a lot of horror conventions upside down; and Mike Flanagan's GERALD'S GAME, from the Stephen King novel, a sweat-inducing story that points out some things you should avoid doing if your marriage is on the rocks.  Honorable mention goes to I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE, which I recommend if you like slow, slow burns 70s style like I do.

The weather is holding, so my pal director Mark Polonia is chipping away at THE HORRIBLE ASP and SEQUENCE SIX, and if you follow him on Twitter a photo or two has leaked out.  When more leaks out, I will abandon the code names and tell you the real, astounding titles of both of these movies I wrote for him.

On my own front, I got some script coverage back from a screenwriter I trust on my project THE GIRL WITH THE GRINDHOUSE HEART.  He was right about a few flaws but gave me the greatest compliment ever by saying "This is really YOUR script!"  At least, I took it as a compliment.  I really let my nerd flag fly with this one.  I always think if you want to watch one of my movies, you like other things I like, and a lot of it is in there.

Thanks for sticking with me, and we'll talk soon.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Sunday's on the Phone to Monday

This blog post first appeared earlier in my secret e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP which you can subscribe to on the right.

 Just recently I cranked out three scripts in six weeks that would all be shot more or less simultaneously, to me an interesting exercise.  Two of those, which I refer to as THE HORRIBLE ASP and SEQUENCE SIX in this newsletter not because I signed any non-disclosures but more because the writer Warren Ellis does it and probably signs a lot of non-disclosures, are cooking along in rural Pennsylvania and the East Coast.  Director Mark Polonia is trying to beat the clock because there is a lot of boating, swimming, mysterious coves, and general outdoorsyness going on.  The third one, KRASNIKOV, can probably be shot rain or shine, snow or green.

I'm sitting here on a frost-bound Sunday morning hoping he gets it all in.

I'm getting feedback on the screenplay I wrote for myself, THE GIRL WITH THE GRINDHOUSE HEART, and after some tuning wondering whether I should just keep up with my writing timetable I've established lately and write another screenplay for myself or try NaNoWriMo, which I consider every single year and have only given a serious go once.

My brain seems entirely wired for screenwriting and not fiction, but many of my screenwriting colleagues have jumped over and adopted their previous screenplays to e-books and such.  I have said before, it seems like the e-book world is sort of a wide-open frontier with low barriers eager for content right now, just like direct-to-DVD was when I broke in all those years ago.  We will see which way I'll go.

Speaking of reading, I think it's been a minute since I recommended any books, so let me turn you on to Yuri Herrera, if you haven't been already.  I just finished THE TRANSMIGRATION OF BODIES, which takes place in a epidemic-ravaged Mexico City where a peace broker tries to solve the problems between a Romeo and Juliet-type pair of crime families.  If you chew through a lot of noir like I do, it's worth checking out for something fresh.

Hopeful to have news on a new project soon.  Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

From my Laboratory in the Castle East

This post first appeared in my e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, which you can subscribe to in the sidebar and have delivered right to your inbox.
About a week ago I finished the first draft of THE GIRL WITH THE GRINDHOUSE HEART and boomed it out to a couple of b-movie friends to see what they think.  Usually I only have to please a director and, if the deal is set up, the distributor, but since I wrote this one for myself I thought I would send it to a close circle of honest b-movie friends to see where I'm at.  Either way I like to leave a script sit for a few days so I forget what I was thinking when I did it and then look at it with fresh eyes.  Sometimes I have time for it and sometimes I don't.  This time I do.  We'll see how it looks when I open the file again.

I was flattered to be interviewed for a midwestern movie site recently, and I don't want to give away the whole game until it comes out, but I wanted to share this part:
What advice would you give an aspiring screenwriter living in the Midwest?
There is good work being done everywhere. You don't have to live on a coast to do it. I live on several acres with chickens and dogs and so on and I have done pretty well for myself. When I was starting, I went to a lot of conventions to meet people and prove I was a normal person. There are so many people just dreaming about movies, that you have to be able to tell who is trying to make their dreams more real by making you believe their stories and who can actually do something. On the writing part, remember a lot more is craft than art. Talent is an empty bucket you have to fill with kept promises and met deadlines and finished pages. You have to work on it, by watching a lot of movies including those outside of your comfort zone and reading, reading, reading everything. You have to sit and type even when the football game's on.


I have wanted to watch only horror movies this October but the actual world seems pretty horrific at times so it's been hard to do that.  I did watch CHILDREN OF THE CORN, as I somehow missed it in 1984, and now live surrounded by cornfields, but it was pretty benign to me and mostly churned up 80s nostalgia. On a whim I bought the entire seven movie series for I think seven bucks and maybe can coax my wife into watching more of them.

So I have stuck with milder stuff, except I have picked up Inktober again this year.  It's where you try to draw and post a picture every day, and speaking of 80s nostalgia, my cartooning style frozen in 1978 is in full effect.  I'm sticking with stories I wished existed, characters I wish somebody would bring back, things that seem fun to draw.  At the end of the month, I'll post the most popular ones here.  If you can't wait, look for me on Facebook and Instagram, if you haven't done that already.

I found out the movie I wrote codenamed THE HORRIBLE ASP has already started shooting, so I hope to have more about that, and some more interesting projects, soon.  Thanks for hanging around.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Everyone's a Superhero, Everyone's a Captain Kirk

I slipped over to HorrorHound in Indianapolis, as part of my plan to hit the convention circuit again, and found it to be a good show where I was able to connect up with a number of independent filmmakers.  They had a great independent filmmaker's panel and I ended up buying THE BLACK ROOM from Rolfe Kanefsky, a director a met some years ago who has done a lot of good work over the years.  I was also pleasantly surprised to meet b-movie king Dave Sterling, who I have worked with peripherally over the years trying to get various projects off the ground.  He palmed me a secret 16 GB USB drive which I was happy to find was chock full of his movies when I got home and plugged it in.

It's been good to get back out there a bit again, even though people really don't think it's as cool to talk to a screenwriter as, say, a director, or somebody who was in a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie.

Since I had to develop a rigorous schedule to complete three screenplays in six weeks for director Mark Polonia's three-picture deal, I decided I would just keep knuckling down and do something I very rarely get a chance to do--which is write something for myself.

I think a lot of people don't realize that a lot of b-movies already come with a title and maybe even a poster and sometimes even a plot, so as it happens I have never sold anything I wrote on my own, nor do I usually have time to write on spec even if I wanted to with a fairly steady workload.

But I've been holding onto an idea for a while, and while I'm percolating along on a strict schedule thought it might be the right time to work on it.  Since I'm writing it for myself I don't have to give it a non-disclosure name and thus will tell you loyal readers it's called THE GIRL WITH THE GRINDHOUSE HEART.  It's slow-burn psychological horror full of all the stuff I'm interested in, which is the best way to write if you are writing for yourself, I always think.  I'm about two-thirds done on a first draft.  Soon, I'm hoping to tell you a lot more about this screenplay.

Although my reading has slowed down a lot since I've done so much writing, I have been buoyed along by reading SHOCK VALUE by Jason Zinoman, which is all about how 70s horror filmmakers are awesome, which I agree with, and even more so about how DARK STAR and Dan O'Bannon are underrated, which I agree with even more.  That it is giving GRINDHOUSE HEART a 70s vibe is probably no coincidence.

Also binge-watched TOP OF THE LAKE, which isn't exactly a palette cleanser after THE HANDMAID'S TALE but does have Elisabeth Moss slaying it again and is worth watching.

Catch up with you soon.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

And You May Find Yourself Living in a Shotgun Shack




Not that long ago the high school daughter of a colleague wanted to interview me for an English class.  She came to the office, and she and I talked a long time, and later she wrote something called "The Life and Mind of a Murderer" which began like this:
 

They walk down the street with you. They are your neighbors. You buy groceries at the same store. From a young age they have always had different fascinations than other kids. As adults they seemed a little too interested in other adults. They seem to be going through their life just like anyone else, but they are different. These people are movie writers.

 
Just now another hopeful, a young potential screenwriter in Illinois, asked to do an email interview with me for a high school class.  Always eager to help those who may one day put me out on an ice floe, here is what I wrote back.  Maybe something here can help you, loyal reader, as well.


1.  How long have you been in the industry? I sold my first screenplay in 1999.  It was an action movie called PLAYER IN THE GAME that never got made, but it opened the door to sell more after that.

2. How is Success in your position measured and rewarded?  I think the industry in general rewards on box office, sales through physical media and digital platforms, and reviews; but for me, seeing a project get made, and then get distribution, is a good measure of success.

3. What made you interested in the job in the first place?  I have always been interested in storytelling; I drew my own comics until I realized I wasn’t good enough to draw professionally, wrote plays until I sort of hit a wall in getting those out there, and switched to screenwriting because of a lifelong interest in filmmaking, but realizing that living in rural Indiana it would be hard to be involved in other aspects of it besides the writing.  I think that last part has changed somewhat with easier access to technology and distribution platforms than once existed.

4. How could I start getting into the film industry?  Watch and learn from watching movies and reading screenplays, join an AV club in your school, or if there isn’t one join some Facebook groups and other online groups that feature people with your same interests.  Study film, telecommunications, or even communications or English in college.  Go to film festivals and movie conventions to meet people that want to do the same thing you do.  When you can, beg, buy, borrow some equipment so you can learn editing and shooting and begin to learn the language of filmmaking.

5. Explain to me what the job involves day-to-day?  Being committed to working when there are other things pulling you away, like watching TV, hanging out, whatever.  Being able to develop and nurture the brand that is yourself through fostering relationships with people in the industry, online and elsewhere.  Really working on craft, because most of it is craft and only a small part of it is waiting for the muse to happen.

6. How would you describe the ideal person for this job?  You have to love movies and understand and appreciate the history of movies.  Loving reading to learn more about the world and loving writing in general.

7. How long are the hours daily for this profession?  I have a day job, so the hours are whatever I can squeeze in; getting up early, working on my laptop during lunch, getting some writing time in after dinner, giving up weekends when deadlines are close.

8. What are the troubles and issues you face in the job?  If I wanted to be bigger than I am, geography would be an issue; however I have been pretty successful staying in rural Indiana, selling close to I think 40 screenplays over the years, so I really don’t want to move.  You have to work with legitimate people to make sure you get paid and get proper credit for your work.

9. Are you grateful for getting into the industry?  Yes, it’s neat to go to a video store and see your movie, or to be in a theater when people watch it.  Many, many people try over a long period of time and don’t get that satisfaction.

10. What are some equipment and tools I need to start my first movie?  On the writing side, I recommend the free screenwriting software CeltX or Trelby.  On the movie-making side, whatever you can get your hands on to learn how everything is supposed to work.