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

After the Gold Rush, Neil Young

There’s No Way Out of Here, Unicorn

My World Fell Down, Sagittarius

Flagpole Sitta, Harvey Danger

Sin City, Beck and Emmylou Harris

Folsom Prison Blues, Everlast

Pepper, Butthole Surfers

My Little Town, Simon and Garfunkel

Who’s That Lady?, The Isley Brothers


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.