Friday, July 28, 2017

We Can't Rewind, We've Gone Too Far

If you wish you'd read this post a few days sooner, subscribe to my secret e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, which you can find on the right.

I just got back from the set of ISO (In Search Of), the Bigfoot movie I have been referencing for a while; the distributor posted the title on Facebook, so it's Facebook Official, which is the only kind that seems to count these days.  And of all the title iterations I think it's my favorite, because it plays off of both ISO as a film speed and also the old quasi-documentary TV show.

And that's where ISO lives, as a gang of Super-8-loving teens get tangled up in a mystery involving Bigfoot sightings, sinister hunters, and missing parents.  I think I was a good fit to write this one because I was a teenager in the late 70s-early 80s shooting Super-8 movies of my own, and I hope that if the movie doesn't explicitly give off that vibe I hope it implicitly does, with no cell phones and internet but with muscle cars and high fives.

In the late 70s I was drawing a comic book featuring me and all of my friends fighting a war against the Russians in the far-off 90s when a friend decided to do a couple of film adaptations.  I agreed because at that time I was admiring from afar a group of older kids making Super-8 James Bond homages and elaborate sci-fi films (and at least two of these guys went on to work in the industry, one being pretty successful).  Being natural-born Hoosiers, one of our films featured a basketball game between the Russians and Americans to decide the fate of a small town.  The other was I think something about diffusing a bomb and featured a soundtrack you could play on a cassette tape right alongside the silent film.

Christmas 1980 found Santa bringing me my own Super-8 set-up and me and my brother went on to make a ton of short films together, Star Wars and Ghostbusters and Batman parodies as well as G-men movies and vigilante pizza deliverers.

I tried to put nerdy, motor-mouthed me in the film, or maybe a cooler version, with all the things we talked and thought about with movies.  I also tried to thread in what it's like to figure out friendships and families and relationships.  But of course it's a Bigfoot movie, but it's not the most unbelievable thing in the movie because the lead guys both have girlfriends by the end, whereas I had barely talked to any girls at that time.

I just spend a few paragraphs telling you what I tried to put into it, but I would bet any of my loyal readers 20 bucks there will be at least one Amazon review that reads, simply, "It sucks."  If you can't deal with people thinking you suck, don't make a movie.

The other reason I really wanted to write this screenplay was because I would get to hang with two people I have worked with the most over the years, Mark Polonia and Henrique Couto.  Mark is a legendary b-movie director, hidden in the wilds of Pennsylvania, who cut his teeth as a young dude in the direct-to-video explosion in the 80s and has directed over 50 movies.  Henrique also busted out as a teenager and has been hot in multiple genres with close to 20 movies under his belt.  The first screenplay that ever got produced of mine was for Mark (also a Bigfoot movie!) and I have done seven movies for him all told.  I have done four movies for Henrique, who acted as Director of Photography for this one.  I was the first person either of them had hired to write a screenplay, having written all of their prior ones themselves.

My mind was kind of blown to think we were going to work on a movie together--my lucky 13th screenplay turned into a movie--that I referred to it as The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in a previous e-newsletter, and loyal readers helpfully supplied me with a few GIFs. But the b-movie world liked it as well, with over a hundred likes on Facebook and Instagram of a photo of me, Mark, and Henrique, with comments ranging from "B-movie Expendables" to referencing the forming of Marvel Comics The Defenders.   I've always said horror fans are the most loyal, and it remains true.

Somebody smarter than me once said that working on a movie set is like being in a war--long periods of boredom with sudden bursts of frenzied activity.  I think that's true.  I spent a lot of time holding a boom mic or using giant foil-lined bounce cards to reflect the sun onto actors' faces.  But it's probably less boring to me because I got to see the movie come to life.  Meeting the actors who look exactly like you thought and the ones that are bringing something new to it.  What the director thinks you meant by certain scenes.  Everybody puts in a little part and makes it something that isn't just me typing at my little corner desk in rural Indiana but is a blend of everybody's thinking.




Being around means you get to answer questions too, like the young actors asking me what the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir was, who Boo Radley was, what Lord of the Flies was about, leaving me to wonder about the state of education for the youth of today.  Thankfully I was not there for the film club scene at the school, or I might have died a little inside if I had to explain some of my old movie references.



ISO is like nothing I've ever worked on.  It's PG, and features a largely teen cast.  It is ostensibly about what Super-8 films meant in my formative years, and what that was like.  Today they are finishing shooting in rural Pennsylvania, and I'm back home again in Indiana. I'm eager to see what happens next with this project.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Saw Him Standing There By The Record Machine

Whenever I write a screenplay, I have a Secret Soundtrack in my mind, the rights to which would undoubtedly cost more than the movie itself.  You can check out the one I compiled for my last movie, CALAMITY JANE'S REVENGE, right here.  And here are some thoughts on ISO, the Bigfoot movie currently in production in Pennsylvania.

OPENING THEME:  The Alarm, The Stand

FIRST DAY AT THE NEW SCHOOL:   REM, Radio Free Europe

CORY'S THEME:  The Ramones, Blitzkrieg Bop

BOONE'S THEME:  Wall of Sound, Mexican Radio

SANDRA'S THEME:  Berlin, The Metro

MILLIE'S THEME:  ABC, The Look of Love

BOBBI'S THEME:  Joan Jett, Crimson and Clover 

HIGH SCHOOL FILM CLUB:  The Buggles, Video Killed the Radio Star 

BULLIES' THEME:  Ratt, Round and Round

BULLIES DON'T LIKE FILM NERDS:  The Fixx, One Thing Leads to Another

CAR CHASE THEME:  The Runaways, Cherry Bomb

HUNTING BIGFOOT:  Bauhaus, Bela Lugosi's Dead

THE TEENS SEARCH THE WOODS:  Phil Collins, In The Air Tonight

STANDOFF IN THE WOODS:  Red Ryder, Lunatic Fringe

FIGHT THEME:  Black Sabbath, War Pigs 

MORE FIGHTING!:  Aldo Nova, Fantasy

RESCUED!  Haircut 100, Love Plus One

CLOSING THEME:  Triumph, Magic Power

Hopefully it gives you an idea of what I was aiming for.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

We'll Leave the TV and the Radio Behind

In 2003 I wrote an article for b-independent.com about visiting the set of AMONG US, the first of my screenplays I'd seen turned into a movie and my first work with director Mark Polonia.  Happily, AMONG US has had some (hairy) legs and is still tromping around b-movie bins and streaming sites here and there.  Tomorrow morning I am leaving for Pennsylvania again, to make another Bigfoot movie with Mark, our seventh collaboration.

AMONG US WAR JOURNAL
by John Oak Dalton

SUMMER 2001: A JOURNEY OF A MILLION MILES
A co-worker brought me a movie he said I “had to watch.” It was the Polonia Brothers’ space epic BLOOD RED PLANET. I was mesmerized. Past the motorcycle helmet space masks and the water bottle oxygen tanks and the gravel pit moonscape and the hand-puppet monsters I saw a great sense of energy and fun and love for the genre. I looked up Polonia Brothers Entertainment on the Internet, quickly found Mark Polonia, and thought I would drop him a line. At that point it never occurred to me that I might end up sleeping on his couch.

DECEMBER 2002: FROM THE POLONIA MIND TO MY HAND
Mark Polonia and I had been writing back and forth and talking on the phone for some time, discussing projects and trying to get a few off the ground. Mark asked me if I would be interested in writing a Bigfoot movie based on an outline he and his brother John had worked up. I told him I wasn’t sure what I could do with a Bigfoot movie but that I would think about it. After I hung up with Mark the phone rang again a short time later. It was PBE actor, director, and general co-conspirator Jon McBride. He said, “You’re not going to write that Bigfoot movie, are you?”

JANUARY 2003: PEN AND SWORD IN ACCORD
My first draft of AMONG US was finished and sent to the Polonia Brothers with some trepidation. Deciding that there was no way to do a Bigfoot movie with a straight face, I channeled those weird stone-faced quasi-documentaries of the 1970s, Sunn Classics like IN SEARCH OF NOAH’S ARK and CHARIOTS OF THE GODS, that used to scare the skin off me as a pre-teen at broken-down Midwestern drive-ins. In my script, B-movie director Billy D’Amato (a Polonia Bros writing pseudonym), who has made a modest career churning out fare like BRIDE OF BIGFOOT and BIGFOOT HOUSE PARTY, ends up squaring off against the real thing at a remote cabin deep in the Pennsylvania woods, with an ex-lover and a weak-stomached cryptozoologist in tow. Fortunately the Polonia Brothers enjoyed the offbeat approach of my script and were eager to move forward. Now if it would only stop snowing.

SPRING 2003: “AND SO IT BEGINS”
Casting, FX by Brett Piper (PSYCLOPS, DRAINIAC), and some second unit and b-roll shots are done throughout the spring, in LA and Pennsylvania, with the changing seasons and locations hopefully giving the project an expansive feel. The bulk of the shooting was locked down for the end of May in Pennsylvania, and I agreed to come out and be on the set and try to pitch in. Little did I know then that “pitching in” would include everything from gathering wood to cooking food to putting on an ape suit to feeding my own script into a campfire. I was blissfully unaware of what was to come.

WEDNESDAY MAY 28: DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE
I touched down in beautiful Elmira, New York at 11 p.m., and was quickly whisked off to Wellsboro, Pennsylvania by the Polonia Brothers and Jon McBride. They had been shooting all day all over Wellsboro with Bob Dennis and Hunter Austin, playing the leads Billy D’Amato and Jennifer Dempsey. Early in the morning we were going to leave for the cabin that is the centerpiece for the latter third of the movie and spend several days and nights living and shooting there, so everyone was ready to call it a night. But I did get a quick tour through Wellsboro, recognizing tons of locations from PBE films like FEEDERS, NIGHT THIRST, and others. At midnight we pulled up to the house that I last saw in THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED 2. I had the surreal feeling that the whole town was a giant Polonia Brothers backlot, and I briefly wondered why the humble people of Wellsboro had not risen up with pitchforks and torches and driven these diabolical twins into the river. A short time later I was lying on Mark’s couch and asleep.

THURSDAY MAY 29: “SURVIVOR: WELLSBORO”
For the first time I heard words that I wrote coming out of an actor’s mouth, and it’s a weird feeling...from my laptop in the cornfields of rural Indiana to an L.A. actresses’ mouth in a van bumping down a road in Pennsylvania. It is basically a funny little scene where Billy D’Amato is driving to the cabin and talking about the differences between shooting documentaries and shooting porno movies. At the end Mark Polonia turns to me as I’m crouching out of the camera line in the back seat and says, “Well, you’ve seen your first scene comes to life!” and John Polonia cheerfully chimes in with, “We haven’t even started raping the script yet!”

Before long we arrive at the location, a cabin miles down a dirt road deep inside “the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania,” with a raging river at the front and cliffs at our backs. The whole cast and crew piles out, soon to be joined by rats, snakes, centipedes, and whatever chewed on the legs of the outdoor chairs. Mark Polonia intoned, “They’re more afraid of you than you are of them,” a line that would be repeated often throughout the day and deep into the night. However, I also learned from his wife that he once chased a bear away from the trash with nothing to defend himself but his “tighty whities,” so there you go.

John Polonia gleefully told me that what is politely called “production assistant” in credits is more aptly named “prison b***h” on the set. But it was fun to be involved during the shoot, doing a little of everything from setting up lights to taping “behind the scenes” footage with my Digital 8 camera to shooting promotional stills to grilling hot dogs for lunch and washing up afterwards. At one point I was carrying the heavy tripod and camera across a rickety footbridge that would be considered too unbelievable to use in an “Indiana Jones” movie, with John Polonia right behind goading me forward, and I thought two things…one, at least if someone is rolling tape they’ll have something to sell to FACES OF DEATH; and second, I wonder what the WGA would think about all of this?

Later in the evening we set up for a major scene where the principals are sitting around a campfire and start revealing little bits of their backstories about what motivates them to find evidence of Bigfoot. Unfortunately, wet wood and five inept males could not get the fire started. Finally Bob Dennis took me aside and said apologetically, “If this offends you we don’t have to do it, but I brought an extra copy of the script…” I looked around at the fading “magic hour” and said, “light it up.” A moment later I was watching Bob feed the script into the fire and thinking, “Well, I know writers say actors send their scripts down in flames, but I bet William Goldman has never seen this.”

When we got going on the campfire scene, my heart started racing. With the night falling, the cabin lit in the background, the flickering light from the fire illuminating the actors, I looked through the viewfinder and realized for the first time that the movie was going to look fantastic. Then the next scene shot was a little away from the fire, the heart-to-heart between Billy and Jennifer, where some of their unexpressed feelings bubble back to the surface. I got a chill when it suddenly dawned on me that the acting was great too. At the end of the scene, Hunter had tears in her eyes, and the crew spontaneously clapped. John Polonia observed, “It was the first time someone cried making a Polonia Brothers movie, instead of just watching one.”

(Flash forward to a few days later, when I told Mark Polonia that I could remember the exact moment when I thought the movie would be great. He looked on, sleepy but sage, and said, “Be prepared for bad reviews anyway.”)

Fourteen hours after we loaded in gear at Mark Polonia’s house we were ready to wrap for the day. Bob Dennis, the Polonias, and I retired to an upstairs bedroom to look at dailies. When Hunter Austin joined us, she let out a blood-curdling scream. Although we assumed she was looking at the screen, she was actually watching a snake slither out of the rafters and dangle ominously over Bob’s head. More girly screaming ensued as two more snakes made an appearance, perhaps coaxed out by the warm movie lights we had used earlier. The sad part is that the girly screaming was evenly distributed among the participants, only one of which was a girl. It was loud enough that it actually woke up Jon McBride, who throughout the shoot showed the ability to drop onto any flat surface at a moment’s notice and instantly fall asleep. The fastest set breakdown in cinematic history had us bouncing back up the road to Mark Polonia’s house just a few minutes later. Quoth Mark Polonia, “I was there the day the courage of men failed.”

There is an ironically prophetic line in the script where Jennifer queries “counselor’s cabin at Crystal Lake or Leatherface’s living room?” Suffice to say, it did not take long for the Polonia Brothers to abandon their idea of the location as the center of a series called “Hell Camp.” John Polonia’s replacement idea: “Hell Yacht.”

FRIDAY MAY 30: “I WAS BIGFOOT’S SHEMP”
The whole cast and crew returned to the cabin in the light of morning, shaken but determined to go on. The entire day would be spent shooting the last few minutes of the movie where the Bigfoot creatures lay siege to the cabin. It never occurred to me to ask that with Hunter, Bob, Jon, and John Polonia in the film, and with Mark behind the camera, who might be called upon to put on the Bigfoot suit.

First there would be many intense scenes of screaming, running, smashing things, swinging meat cleavers and hot dog forks and rolling pins, running up and down the stairs, and so on. Basically, everyone drew on their real-life experiences of the night before. And the real, palpable fear on everyone’s faces when shooting the scenes where the cast barricades themselves in the bedroom (aka “the snake room”) only gave the sequence some extra spice.

Late in the afternoon we returned to Mark Polonia’s house, and were treated to a great home-cooked meal put together by the Polonia Brothers’ wives, giving a much-needed second wind. Then it was off to the home of the Polonia parents, a friendly couple whose easygoing manner made it hard to believe that they spawned the twins who made SPLATTER FARM, to shoot vehicle interiors for a climactic attack on Billy’s van. Although Jon McBride had “shemped” Bigfoot in the publicity stills shot earlier in the day and John Polonia shemped Bigfoot in the b-roll, it fell upon my shoulders to put on the heavy, hairy suit and throw myself repeatedly against the windows and doors of the van while screams and shouts issued forth. It didn’t take long to realize that there were no airholes around the nose and mouth, but I tried to bravely soldier forth, ripping off the mask in between takes to gasp blissful gulps of air and wipe the sweat from my brow. My head spun only once.

I peeled off the suit, leaving it uninhabitable for other mortals, and stepped away from it smelling like the inside of a flat tire. Then I looked around and realized that principal photography was over. Like the film’s antagonist, the shoot was hairy, noisy, smelly, and left a swath of destruction in its wake. But as the cast and crew congratulated each other and said their good-byes, it was a good feeling.

SATURDAY MAY 31: THE AFTERGLOW
With two of the main actors, Bob and Hunter, making their way home, the Polonia Brothers, Jon McBride, and I began to watch all of the footage, seeing the scenes we had shot over the last few days unfold before our eyes. Everything was there (a blessing, as John Polonia had an alarming tendency to leave the lens cap on), and not only that, it looked great. Over several hours I began to see in my mind how the film would piece together, and I thought, even if it gets panned from coast to coast and in every dusty corner of the Internet, I am still proud of what we did.

That evening I was treated to a great dinner at a nice restaurant with the extended Polonia family. There I saw a poster for the local “Rattlesnake Festival,” where denizens swarm the hills to capture and bring back rattlers to the baseball diamond in the center of town. Prizes are awarded for the biggest capture, and anti-venom and pork fritters are easily on hand. For myself, I would then apply a well-swung axe; but the fun-loving Pennsylvanians turn the snakes loose again. For the first time I thought I understood what in their formative years made the Polonia Brothers what they are today.

SUNDAY JUNE 1: PARTING IS SUCH SWEET SORROW
My last day in Wellsboro was full of odds and ends. I got to see John Polonia’s massive VHS and DVD collection, chockablock full of everything from rare Italian giallo to undistributed backyard slasher flicks to films I’ve never heard of from Russia and England to Mexico and Japan, a wall of horror titles that would make a fanboy weep and a Blockbuster rep quake in fear. I got to peruse the basement lair of Mark Polonia, where boxes of grisly props, alien hands and buggle-eyed masks and scorched spaceship models and gore-spattered swords, are packed in next to an AV nerd’s dream-stash of edit controllers and cameras and film equipment. I saw the row of PBE master tapes, NIGHTCRAWLER and FEEDERS 2 and SAURIANS and others, nestled in orderly rows in a basement, but already having a life of their own, in video stores and department stores and homes all around the world. I looked at them and wondered, would one day AMONG US be picked off a shelf in a store in a town in a country on this great spinning earth?

Later both Polonias and Jon McBride accompanied me to the airport. As I was checking my bags in the quiet terminal, the attendant inclined his head and said, “Your family can come up here and talk to you while we’re doing this if you want.” I began to muse on the idea…was this group of people more Partridge Family or Manson Family? Or was it something else, a family of artists and dreamers and technicians and of course filmmakers but above all movie lovers, who rose up from rich Middle American earth and followed their vision despite what those who cluttered the coasts might tell them was possible, embracing fans and ignoring foes while striding ever forward?

I was still thinking about it when the plane rose up into the sky.

John Oak Dalton
June 2003

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Eating Chocolate Cake In A Bag

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

This week, I'm driving out to visit the set of the movie I have called TWICE SHY in my secret email newsletter. I should be there for the first couple of days, and my loyal newsletter fans will get first dibs on news from there.

I have pitched about a dozen titles, and the one that seems to be sticking is the one that, as it happens, I like the least.  I have called it TWICE SHY after the fashion of great newsletter scribe and author/comic book writer Warren Ellis, who gives code names to all of his projects under nondisclosure.  I wouldn't say this was under a nondisclosure, but more like it's never good to reveal to much until the cameras are rolling, and sometimes not even then.

Now that we are getting so close, I will reveal that I called this project TWICE SHY because it is the second official Bigfoot movie I wrote that is going to be produced.  I have wanted, for a long time, to be the only screenwriter to write two Bigfoot movies and I'm not sure how I could coax IMDB to back me up on it but I think it is true.

I say official because some years ago I was involved in another Bigfoot project that I should have known better about, but I got involved because I wanted to be that guy that wrote two Bigfoot movies.  Some producers had made a sixty-minute movie as sometimes happens and I was hired to write about twenty pages to wrap around it as part of a new shoot with new cast and crew.  Some search and rescue people go into the woods to find some lost hikers and instead find a notebook, and that notebook of course contains the plot of the 60-minute movie, and then my people come back into it and have their own little encounter.  Easy peasy, something I did over a weekend, except that I never got paid and never got a credit and I have never spoken to these people again.

The movie came out, but I haven't had the heart to watch it.  I suspect it is just as likely they put it out at 60 minutes after all.  The good thing is that the DP on this film I ended up making internet friends with, and we always talk about working together one day, but the bad thing is that is was part of a slew of problems that happen to everyone in the business but happened to me all at once and drove me away from screenwriting for a couple of years.

The first Bigfoot movie I wrote, AMONG US, is still knocking around the world.  If you see it, that's me playing the kid Bigfoot in the exciting denouement of the film. Not sure if I will be asked to suit up this time.

Stay tuned for updates from the set next weekend.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Funky Tornado

My swag from Days of the Dead in Indianapolis, showing off my love for the offbeat and the DIY world.



Wednesday, July 12, 2017

I See You've Got Your List Out, Say Your Piece and Get Out

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

I finally took my own advice and went to a horror movie convention last weekend, Days of the Dead in Indianapolis.  Many years ago I went on the convention circuit to meet people in the industry--not the folks you have to stand in line two hours to get an autograph from, but the ones stashed in the corner of the vendor room, burning their own DVDs.

I have always said in the b-movie world you need to prove you are a normal person, who can meet commitments and deadlines and get along with everybody.  The great filmmaker Alex Cox, whose film Repo Man I watched over and over at one time in my life, refers to it as kibun-- the Korean word that means a general harmony, respect, peace of mind, that you need to make a movie.

I had just walked into the lobby of this big hotel/convention center out by the airport when I bumped into a Polonia Brothers fan I knew from the interwebs but had never met IRL.  Not five minutes later, an actor who is going to be in this upcoming secret project I have called Twice Shy in my e-newsletter walked by as well.  So worth going already.

Days of the Dead provided a "Blue Track" for independent filmmakers, and I couldn't have been happier.  I got to watch an Independent Filmmakers' Panel and was surprised how many Indiana people were on it.  It was good to see, because I've never thought there was much of an Indiana scene, but this panel gave me some hope.

I could have broken the bank in the vendor room at just at two tables, Vinegar Syndrome and Severin Films, side by side.  These companies are doing heartfelt restorations of movies that, in the early 2000s when I was first on the scene, you would be thankful to find on nth-pass VHS bootlegs with handwritten labels.  I just had to by a restored Blu-Ray copy of Dolemite, which I first saw on loan from a friend in the early 90s, when I was first trying to figure out how to break into the scene, and inspired me to keep going.  I also bought one I had never heard of, the Axe/Kidnapped Coed Blu from two-and-out director Frederick Friedel, two 70s psychological horror films made for pocket change that pack a wallop, like the best of Andy Milligan or Jean Rollin.

Regional horror films, and films where people make something out of nothing, is where I always find my inspiration.  More recent films, like the all-in horror films from Bandit, like Harvest Lake and Plank Face, are current examples, and I got to meet these guys, who are making very challenging films physically and emotionally.

The guys who made Night of Something Strange were so friendly that I bought their DVD, and was pleased to find internet pal Wayne Johnson in it, as well as Michael Merchant who was in a film I wrote called Amityville Death House. It is as rude a horror comedy as you will find, so be warned.

And naturally I bought a homemade DVD with the title written in Sharpie, She Was So Pretty by director Brooklyn Ewing, who was so interesting on the Independent Filmmakers' Panel that me and my pal Brandon Bennett both decided we could spend five bucks to figure out what she was talking about.  It is awash in technical difficulties, but is such an unfiltered creepfest, featuring an unsettling central performance by Jerry Larew as a serial killer and Corey Rutter as a motor-mouthed cop, that it is worth a look for b-fans.

Some people I wanted to talk to didn't give me the time of day, which reminded me that people in general aren't that interested in meeting writers, but other people I didn't know existed did, so it was worth it to go.  I will be looking for some more opportunities for conventions this season, and see where it takes me.

See you next time.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

I'll Be Your Savior, Steadfast and True

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

Summer has come to the Back Five.  Mowing and trimming, putting out a garden; a big chunk of tree fell in the side yard, after a storm, and a laconic elderly man with an axe came by to chop it up for firewood; the chickens are growing, so I need to read a few chapters ahead in my chicken raising book to see when they might start laying eggs.

Speaking of chickens, some friends wondered why I was so eager to read TENDER WINGS OF DESIRE, the free romance novella KFC gave away on Kindle for Mother's Day.

Something about it resonated with me.  Surely many people downloaded it for the express purpose of making fun of it, which is why some people rent movies I wrote; in this case, many have reported back that they were surprised that it is pretty good, and straight-faced.  I have been slowly poking away at it in little spurts on the Kindle app on my phone, but I would report the same thing thus far.

But like in writing b-movies, you have to believe entirely in the world you created.  In horror fandom, they can always smell a rat when you are phoning it in, and I am guessing it is the same with romance fandom, and possibly in any fan base.  So the anonymous author had to believe in what they were doing, and do the best they could for the fans.  It's my job too, and when I see somebody else doing it, I have to give a little salute.

Plus there is the thought that a fast food franchise believed that somebody might want to read a book.  Not goof around on an app, or play Angry Fried Chickens, but sit down a read a novel.  And they were right.  That is really something to meditate on.

Loyal readers of this e-newsletter know that to escape the unbelievable fiction of world events I have been reading a lot of printed fiction.  Somehow I read eight books in May and any number I could recommend for my secret book club pick for May.  GLAXO by Hernan Ronsino was such a great hard-boiled noir I keep casting around in my mind for people to recommend it to.  THE NIGHT OCEAN by Paul La Farge was recommended to me, and is this rabbit-hole metafiction that starts with the real-life friendship of H.P. Lovecraft and a gay teenager living in Florida and grows to encompass many other real figures and all of sci-fi fandom.  But my heart is with Patton Oswalt's SILVER SCREEN FIEND.  On Earth-Two, Patton Oswalt and I grew up together and played D&D and went to movies at the old downtown Rivoli.  But for any reader it explains how anybody could love movies so much.  I listened to the audiobook version, read by Oswalt, and I would suggest you do the same.

Enjoy the long summer days and we will talk soon.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Carriage of the Spirits

This post originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in my e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP which you can find out all about by subscribing in the sidebar of this blog.

The iron sparked and smoked and gave away in a gush of water just as I was lowering it to my dress shirt--if that wasn't a sign to get off the hamster wheel for a few days, I don't know what sign I need.

So I am taking a long Memorial Day weekend, drinking a pot of coffee by myself and trying to heroically finish SIX FOUR by Hideo Yokoyama, a 600-page Japanese detective novel that is mostly about the internal mental struggle of a press officer whose daughter has gone missing just as an old kidnapping case heats up.  And by heats up, I mean at about page 400.  But it is so different from anything I know about style-wise that I want to keep reading.

But my movie which I codenamed TWICE SHY is cooking right along.  It is actually on its third title and I like the third one the best.  I did three drafts and I think it is finally pronounced done and going into production at the end of July.  I got some pretty cool news about it last night that makes me want to find that GIF where Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach all give each other the side-eye in THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY but I don't even know where to find GIFs.

TWICE SHY was the first script I sold that was written entirely in my new house, at this little desk in the corner where a big animal vet used to do his work, starting in the late 1950s.

Everybody thinks that if they can't be the next Michael Tolkin they will just write a bunch of SyFy movies but it is harder than anyone thinks.  Get somebody to hire you, then wait to see if that director can get the movie made, then wait and see if a distributor will buy it, then wait and see if you can actually find it somewhere.  There is o such thing as "just" making b-movies.  I invite anyone to try it who thinks so.

When I was visiting with the Horror Society in Chicago a few weeks ago somebody asked me about writing spec scripts. The truth is I think I wrote one or two very early on--in the late 90s, in longhand on a yellow legal pad, and then laboriously typed them into MovieMagic on a big PC squatting in the corner of the study--but I have never sold one and not very many people seem to want them.  Directors or producers already have ideas, and titles, and sometimes posters, and sometimes street dates, before they have shooting scripts.

That being said, it is summer, and the mind turns to writing a spec script, as I don't have anything else to work on right this second.  It is usually summer when I think about it, except last summer when I just moved to a place in the country and had a bunch of farm living to get used to.  I have mentioned before that I have a little dystopian story I want to tell, but who wants to read that kind of stuff now when you can just look out the window?  Plus I watch THE HANDMAID'S TALE on Hulu every week (which might as well be titled #Pence2020), and have nightmares after every time, so why would I do that to somebody else?

But I have a few more ideas, so we will see what happens.

Thanks for sticking with me.  Enjoy Memorial Day weekend.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

That Night We Split A Rattlesnake

The following blog post came from my e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, which you can subscribe to in the sidebar to get sneak previews of what I'm working on.

A week or so ago I was in Chicago for Trash Movie Night, where I screened JURASSIC PREY for some friendly fans. I truly enjoy visiting this group of people, even when I feel a little trickle of fear every time they cheer loudly when somebody gets murdered.  The Q&As are always good, and I even had a guy say, "I gave this movie a bad review on Amazon, but when I watched it here, I liked it better."  Nothing wrong with that.

JURASSIC PREY the movie keeps getting dynamited out of the ground after a long time just like the lead dinosaur in the story.  There is now a U.K. release, and naturally the box art looks nothing like the stop motion rubber dinosaur inside.


The British website Nerdly, which rated PETER ROTTENTAIL one of the Top Ten Worst Horror Movies of All Time, didn't hate it.  And the Schlock Pit liked it even better than hate.

On the new movie front, the secret project I titled TWICE SHY for the purposes of this e-newsletter is percolating right along for a July production shoot.  I am going to try and visit the set and may even be put to work as a PA.  I have tried in the past to PA for some of my movies and tell the director not to mention who I am so I can hear the actors say truthfully whether the script sucks or not.  I've never been able to pull it off long enough to find out for real and for true.  Having a television production background is handy for these things and also helps me realize what might take a million dollars to do in a movie that, politely, doesn't have that kind of budget.

For April my secret e-newsletter Book Club is Daniel Pyne's CATALINA EDDY.  This is three novellas, loosely threaded together, that represent different time periods and genres of crime writing.  The first, The Big Empty, is set in the 50s and is about a P-I trying to figure out who killed his estranged wife; the second, Losertown, is set in the 80s and is about a prosecutor trying to catch a big-time drug dealer; and the third, Portugese Bend, is a modern thriller about a paralyzed detective and a crime scene photographer teaming up to uncover the true identity of a murderer.  The political side is sometimes painted in broad strokes, but the California noir is pretty cool.

Good luck with your own ongoing projects, and see you soon.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Picked Up A Monkey Skull To Go

Thanks to the Horror Society for hosting me and JURASSIC PREY at Fat Cat Chicago Monday night!  Really good Q&A and a lot of fun.  I have been there three times, twice as a guest (with this film and SEX MACHINE) and once watching my pal Henrique Couto screen BABYSITTER MASSACRE, and I have always enjoyed the Chicago horror fans, who aren't afraid to yell at the screen when they spot inconsistencies and cheer on murder, which may seem a little out of context to outsiders.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The City of Big Shoulders (from carrying books)

I went to the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention in Chicago this weekend and only spent 20 dollars on all of these beauties, including some Ace Doubles, a Harry Whittington MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., a Robert Sheckley spy novel and some Walter Wager I SPY novels written as "John Tiger."  Good times.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Walk the Dinosaur

This 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.

I have been off the grid a bit lately.  For one, I have been building a DIY chicken coop, carefully designed by my dad, for the last six weekends, pounding nails until my hands throbbed.  Secondly, I just wrapped on a new freelance project.

I had been turning down work for a while--what with moving, and probably the busiest year I've ever had at the day job in a long time, I'd decided I needed to go away for a bit.  Sometimes I feel like I have to do like Lestat did in INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE--burrow down into the ground and pop out a long time later as somebody else.  But I didn't feel like being gone quite so long.

I have patterned a lot of my e-newsletter on the one I admire from writer Warren Ellis, who comes up with code names for all the projects he is working on under nondisclosure, only revealing them when they become real.  So in that spirit I am calling this one TWICE SHY even though I can't tell you the real name anyway because I'm not sure one has stuck.  I'm getting to the point of only wanting to do projects that really catch fire for me, and this one did; an opportunity to write a second movie on a topic I like, and a chance to set it in a different time period--in this case, that ancient forgotten era that represents my early teen years.

If all goes well, this one should lens in June, and I was asked if I was interested in visiting the set, which a writer should never take lightly as by and large nobody wants to see you anymore after the screenplay is turned in.  So it's flattering, and I think I will try to do so.

I am headed back to Chicago on Monday, April 24 for another Horror Society Trash Movie Night where the lunatics of the Horror Society will be screening my rubber dinosaur epic mockbuster JURASSIC PREY (which I wrote under the title MEATEATERS before it was mockbusted).  For better or for worse, this is the screenplay that helped bring me out of a years-long self-imposed exile because I couldn't turn down writing a stop-motion dinosaur movie for my old friend Mark Polonia (that and HAUNTED HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW for director Henrique Couto, because I couldn't turn down writing a movie where the only superfluous word in the title was "on."  Speaking of flattered, I was very flattered to be asked back after just screening SEX MACHINE there in December.  It was flat cold zero with about a half foot of snow or more last time, so I think we can do better on weather this time--though it's still April in Chicago, so it's a tossup.

I'm a little behind on my secret e-newsletter Book Club, so let me get both February and March out of the way.  I can't get John Darnielle's creepy UNIVERSAL HARVESTER out of my mind, a skin-crawling sketch of midwestern life centered around weird footage spliced into VHS rentals at a lonely store in rural Iowa.  Next I have to recommend the absolutely bats PIRATE UTOPIA by Bruce Sterling, a post-World War I-era thriller about a little upstart sliver of a country between Yugoslavia and Italy chock full of anarchists and rebels with names like "The Art Witch" and "The Ace of Hearts"--all the more crazy because it is (somewhat) grounded in real events.

Talk to you again soon, thanks for sticking with me.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Captured and Ordered in the Army of Mars

Proud to be asked to return to my old haunt, WCTV, for Red Wolves Read, a live reading event on public access television.  I chose selections from THE SIRENS OF TITAN by great Hoosier author Kurt Vonnegut, which is the first book of his I read as a teenager.  SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE is one of the great novels of the 20th Century, and BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS is a great melancholy read for an adult, but this one will have a special place in my heart and is a good place to start for new Vonnegut fans.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

On the Book Beat



I have been reading a lot this winter, so my latest Book Beat column (for the Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence magazine, from the Magna Cum Murder Mystery Conference) has plenty to chose from.


Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
Somebody sent London P.I. Cormoran Strike a severed leg, and he has several suspects to choose from in the latest thriller from J.K. Rowling (writing under the Robert Galbraith pseudonym) Career of Evil.
Rowling was outed as Galbraith some time ago, but it's a good thing that she is still using the name, so an unsuspecting young muggle doesn't inadvertently wander into this story.  It is chock full of adult elements, including gruesome murders and dismemberment, spousal and child abuse, and plenty of fighting and gunplay.
But it is Rowling's characters and situations that go beyond the genre trappings; Strike's troubled childhood with a rock star father, his loyal assistant Robin on the verge of making a bad-luck marriage, and various family members and friends are well drawn and interesting.
This is the third in the series, and all are recommended to mystery fans.

The Girls by Emma Cline
At the end of the 60s, at the end of her parents' marriage, a teenage girl gradually disconnects from suburbia and falls in with a growingly dangerous cult in Emma Cline's debut The Girls.
The Girls has elements of literary fiction and elements of thriller, with the obvious parallel being to the Manson murders.  But at its center Cline's novel is really about a young girl's awakening sexuality, and her attraction to a magnetic young woman in the cult.
How this relationship slowly, and then quickly, destroys lives around them is the spine of the story.
This is a solid read for those with any type of fiction interests and is recommended. 

The House Husband by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski
A cop just a day back from maternity leave stalks a serial killer who targets families in The House Husband, from James Patterson's Bookshots line.
Bookshots are thrillers and romances in the beach read style, but at about one-fifth the size.  All are overseen by Patterson with a co-author, in this instance Duane Swierczynski, whose books and comics I have been interested in on their own merits.
This story, told in alternating chapters by the cop and the killer (who seems to lead the mild life of the house husband of the title) hits all the expected beats, but a twisty ending and a Philadelphia setting add value.
I enjoyed reading this quickly, as intended.

The Widow by Fiona Barton
A woman gradually begins to suspect that her husband is responsible for a child's disappearance in The Widow by Fiona Barton.
Barton's novel is at both times a portrait of a marriage and a psychological thriller, and the story ratchets up the tension by peeling back the onion through one revelation after the next.  Although I saw the ending coming, it was sufficiently suspenseful throughout.
The Widow benefits from having various chapters told from alternating points of view, mostly from an ambitious reporter and a dogged police detective, but also including the mother and the husband.
The Widow tries to land in the same range as The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl, with pretty good results.  For fans of thrillers.

Desperado: A Mile High Noir by Manuel Ramos
A down-on-his-luck guy reluctantly helps an old high school friend who is getting blackmailed--but when the old friend turns up dead, things quickly go from bad to worse in Desperado:  A Mile High Noir by Manuel Ramos.
Ramos hits all of the right genre beats, including a can't-win-for-losing protagonist, but adds interest by setting the story in the center of Latino culture in a gentrifying Denver.
I would recommend this novel to any noir fans, especially readers who want to hear from a different voice in the genre.

The Bastards of Pizzofalcone by Maurizio de Giovanni
A group of unwanted cops are sent to staff a precinct on the verge of closing; but when an affluent woman is murdered, they have a chance to redeem themselves both personally and professionally in The Bastards of Pizzofalcone.
This is the first novel in a new Italian crime series from Maurizio de Giovanni, bringing the lead cop over from his solid thriller The Crocodile.  Lojacono, called "The Chinaman," teams up with a handful of tarnished heroes on this and several other cases that thread throughout, as they try to hold various aspects of their personal lives together.
de Giovanni acknowledges Ed McBain and his "87th Precinct" books in the writing of this novel, and his nods to the source material show throughout.  Fans of McBain will enjoy this outing, a story that would fit right into that series but seen through a different cultural lens.
I thought the mystery was somewhat slight, but the characters and situations highly interesting, making it a fast read.

Silenced by Kristina Ohlsson
An immigrant killed in a hit and run, a vicar and his wife in a murder-suicide, and a young woman being terrorized in Bangkok are all tied together, and it's up to a special squad of Stockholm detectives to figure out how in Kristina Ohlsson's Silenced.
Ohlsson weaves a tangled plot, even more knotty with the complex backstories of the team of detectives trying to solve the various cases.  One is pregnant by a married lover, another senses trouble at home, a third is going through a volcanic divorce which is impacting his work.
Characters you can invest in, and sharp storytelling, make Silenced a satisfying read, especially for fans of Scandinavian crime stories.

The Believer by Joakim Zander
A woman in New York is a trendspotter for hip companies; back in Sweden, her younger brother Fadi becomes radicalized and heads to Syria; and in London, another woman has a laptop stolen after a night of drinking.
How these three storylines connect, and are connected to shadowy government agencies, is at the center of Swedish thriller The Believer by Joakim Zander.
This is a big, globe-trotting book ready-made for a movie adaptation starring Emily Blunt.  In the writing world, I would most closely equate Zander with late-era John LeCarre.
Slices of immigrant life in Sweden adds value to one of those big conspiracy storylines it never pays to think too hard about.

The Oslo Conspiracy by Asle Skredderberget
A young woman is murdered in Rome, and her younger brother killed in a schoolyard in Oslo; it is up to an Oslo cop with a Norwegian father and an Italian mother to stitch the two cases together in The Oslo Conspiracy from Asle Skredderberget.
I enjoy a lot of Scandinavian mysteries, but I'm not sure I've ever read one with a protagonist quite like this; typically the main characters are quite morose with myriad emotional problems, but Milo Cavalli--from a moneyed family, with plenty of girlfriends  and a penchant for globe-trotting and other fine things--is positively breezy by comparison.
The plotting is a breezier as well, reading a bit more like a beach thriller with action scenes with backdrops in various cities and a storyline featuring international business,, crime gangs, and the mysterious sinking of an Italian ship years ago.
Much lighter than the average Scandinavian thriller, for better or worse depending on one's tastes; either way quite readable.