Friday, May 24, 2019

But Your Mind's on Tennessee

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for hanging around until then.

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

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

One Last Bell to Answer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Thirteen Month-Old Baby, Broke the Looking Glass

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

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

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

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

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

It didn't.

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

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

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

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

More soon.  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

This Doggone World We're Livin' In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 08, 2019

We're Lost in a Mask

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 28, 2019

My Head's Been Wet with the Midnight Dew

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

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

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

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

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

Do You Really Want To Hurt Me by Culture Club

You Spin Me Round by Dead or Alive

Eli’s Coming by Three Dog Night

Jesus is Just Alright by The Doobie Brothers

Superstition by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble

Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode

The Dog Days Are Over by Florence and the Machine

Welcome to the Black Parade by My Chemical Romance

God’s Gonna Cut You Down by Johnny Cash

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

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

Saturday, January 19, 2019

An Open Letter to Amazon Prime Video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 31, 2018

Top Reads of 2018, and Reads of the Decade

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

This year my Top Ten favorite reads were:

Severance by Ling Ma

Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin

The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

November Road by Lou Berney

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller

The Third Hotel by Laura Van Den Berg

The Italian Party by Christina Lynch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

 Night Film by Marisha Pessl

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

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin 

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

 The City and The City by China Mieville

 Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

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

Lunar Park by Brett Easton Ellis

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

Embassytown by China Mieville

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

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Their Names Are Written in Concrete

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

Monday, November 12, 2018

Some Came to Keep the Dark Away

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

I was extremely flattered to be invited back to the Farmland Community Center to screen THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE in the very location where we shot the "Outcast Swords" portion of the movie.  A lot of cast and crew from the movie were there, along with their families and friends, making for a very warm and friendly audience.  There were laughs and clapping and an audible gasp at the final reveal--so much so that my mother almost slid off her chair.  After, she told me, "you need to tell these people you had a normal childhood."

My wife and I didn't get too far in watching horror movies this October, but we both really liked HOLD THE DARK, which really wasn't as much a horror movie as it was billed which is okay because the title does not stick in my head well enough to tell people about it.  IT STAINS THE SANDS RED was really clever, and AS ABOVE SO BELOW made my stomach hurt.  THE DEVIL'S CANDY was solid enough.  But what we super binged on which I think counts is THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE which has real and genuine chills from beginning to (almost) the end and comes recommended.

While my wife is out of town at a conference, I have been catching up on all the obscurities I seek out and gather up from all different places.

I watched SHOT, which was an early 70s action film made by some incredibly ambitious University of Illinois students, and by ambitious I mean car crashes and helicopter stunts and gunplay, so much gunplay that these goofballs running around like this today would draw the attention of Homeland Security in about five minutes.  But it was a simpler time, when the fuzz could beat on longhairs who are just out trying to make some bread.

In the extras is an interview with the director, who did this movie and then went out to Hollywood for ten years and couldn't get anything going, except he had a memorable meeting with Orson Welles I wish he had talked more about.

I watched a double feature starring Peter Carpenter, BLOOD MANIA and POINT OF TERROR, shot back to back in 1970 and 1971 respectively, two hyperbolic titles for what are interesting but tame dramas with splashes of horror, leftover hallucinatory imagery from the 60s, and fuzzy rock chords on the soundtrack.  So naturally I loved them both.

Carpenter is an interesting figure who the internet can't find out much about, except he sort of appeared and through force of personality willed these two starring vehicles for himself into life.  And then mysteriously died, or maybe disappeared into obscurity.

I think why I like these kinds of movies is that it reminds me just how hard it is to make a movie, any movie, at any time, at any place.  This time last year I had pretty much just finished writing THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE for myself because I hadn't been hired to do anything for a year.  I have three screenplays turned into films that have yet to come out and a fourth that might not get made.  In this very newsletter I am typing right this second I was about to announce another project that had to be shelved earlier this week, that we were going to start shooting tomorrow.  But it was shelved with good reasons so I can't be too upset.

Everyone says when you are working on a movie you have to be telling people about your next one.  I was so wrung out at the end of shooting CRAWLSPACE that I could not get my head around another one; I thought I would be a one-hit wonder, and some day in the future somebody would find my movie and wonder where I went and how I died too.  But all my filmmaking friends who shared the pitfalls before I started shooting told me of this pitfall, too--that it gets in your blood.  So it may be time and past time to start working on the next one.

Until later, thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

#inktober 2018

For whatever reason I was able to get more #inktober drawings in than in previous years.  I'm not getting markedly better, but I enjoy cartooning.  Here are the top five, as voted on by your likes and comments on Instagram and Facebook.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Some Velvet Morning

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

Last time, I listed all the books that appeared in or around THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE, and this time I thought I would provide a list of all the movies and TV shows mentioned, many of which were influential in the movie as well.  Many of them appear in the scene I wrote about last time, the one that seems to be a lot of people's favorite (curiously enough) where the D&D group talk about all of their secret crushes.  I remember Erin Ryan telling me she watched all the trailers on YouTube to try to understand it, and Jeff Rapkin telling me he would wake up in the middle of the night, trying to recite his.  Here they are, in order:



If you ever needed a horror movie to give you a spaghetti western primer, this is it. My love for Italian films in general has only increased by multiple trips to Italy chaperoning my wife's college class trips over the years as well.  But there are a lot of personal references here too.  I caught HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN on Saturday afternoon television one day and was scared badly as a child.  I saw FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE playing in Italian on television in Rome a few years back.  THE FIVE DEADLY VENOMS shocking my sensibilities on Kung Fu Theatre as a teen.  A friend showing me DOLEMITE on VHS at work in the early 90s and having my eyes opened. I hope one or two of these ring out for you.

I am incredibly late to the podcast game, but the radio quit in my 2007 Honda and I just limped along without one for a while, listening to podcasts on my phone.  I would have to recommend the creepy-crawly podcast ALICE ISN'T DEAD, about a long-haul trucker traveling the lonely highways looking for her missing wife.  This is a three-season story from the people who made the breakthrough hit WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE which is over a hundred episodes and going strong, so I wasn't sure where to drop in.  I started listening to another standaloone one they did, WITHIN THE WIRES, but it has creeped me out so badly I am listening to it in very small doses.  The premise is exceedingly clever; the first season is presented as "relaxation tapes" that actually have a hidden message.  The second season is supposedly a recorded museum tour, and the third just underway is based on office dictation into a machine.  Pretty dang clever.

I am trying #inktober again this year to flex my creative muscles, even my flabby cartooning ones, and on the brink of doing more than I have in past attempts.  At the end of the month, I'll post the most popular ones here.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

A Shooting Star Has Crossed My Land

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

I have enjoyed seeing people explore what books are shown in TV shows and movies, from MAD MEN to ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK to LUKE CAGE.  I tried in my own small way to signal a few ideas in my directorial debut THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE.

During the role-playing game scenes I tried to fill in with a lot of Easter Eggs for nerd culture fans.  I set up the gamer Dewclaw (Joe Skeen) as being a bit of a collector of outsider art and culture, so I seeded some of my favorite independent comics and such around, most of which unfortunately you can't see in the movie (nor several of his tee shirts, which were designed by some friends).  But you can definitely see my old friend Ray Otus' RPG zine PLUNDERGROUNDS on the table.  Ray also did all of the D&D style art you see in these scenes, which gives those parts some added production value.

You also see Jill (Erin R. Ryan) reading or carrying a TEX comic around in several scenes.  Tex Willer is one of the greatest, most long-running heroes of Italian fumetti, and every time I go to Rome I make a pilgrimage to the Piazza della Repubblica and the great outdoor stalls there full of fumetti, giallo novels, old records, and other remnants of Italian pop culture to pick up a few issues (I own issue 500, and TEX is still going strong).

A question I have been asked a lot is if the dream cowboy Jill sees (played by Joe Kidd) is supposed to be the spaghetti western hero Django--in fact, Jill's D&D character is named Django the Bastard, after one of my favorite spaghettis--but I honestly never thought about that.  I really meant for him to be Tex Willer.  But Tex has such an iconic look that I chickened out and named him Lucky after Russell Hayden, part of a story I have recounted a few times but can be read here. And even more honestly, I knew Joe still had his Wild Bill costume from CALAMITY JANE'S REVENGE, in which, ironically, he also plays a ghost.

I also had the young gamer Skinflayer (Chelsi Kern) with a paperback book nearby in several scenes.  My thought was when the older gamers were going on and on about rules and such she would probably get bored and start reading.  The two books you see her reading are STARS IN MY POCKET LIKE GRAINS OF SAND by Samuel R. Delany and THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Ursula K. Le Guin.  Delany's work really changed my whole outlook on science fiction and sent me out on different paths in reading and writing, and Le Guin's novel is just definitive.  Interesting, both have to do with sexuality and gender identity, which plays a tangential (but as it has borne out) memorable part in the movie.

The question I have been asked about more than if Joe was Django is about one of the gaming group scenes.  Many people ask questions about the scene where the gaming group starts to rattle off their lists of attractive people they would rather be gaming with instead of their real-life friends, or tell me it was their favorite scene.  This was interesting to me because it was one of the first scenes I thought of when I decided on including the gaming group in the story.

Basically what happens is the other guys start naming off everyone they fantasize about, from Suzanne Pleshette in THE BIRDS to Linda Stirling in ZORRO'S BLACK WHIP to Lynda Carter in WONDER WOMAN.  Skinflayer counters with Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, and her other female crushes.  Then Tangerine (Clifford Lowe) recalls his list, featuring Italian muscle men from Gordon Scott to Reg Park.  There is a brief pause, and then everyone chimes in with their favorite Hercules actors as well, to Tangerine's great relief.

There's a bit more to the scene, but basically I wanted to convey that everyone already pretty much knew about Tangerine and were fine with it, and he was the last to know that everybody already knew.  The younger Skinflayer is pretty comfortable in her own skin (so to speak), kind of showing some of the generational differences between Skinflayer and the older Tangerine.

But even more so I wanted to show something I have always felt about fandom, be it gaming or comic books or movies, which is that it should be (and most often is) about inclusion.

That's what bothers me so much about controversies like Gamergate or Comicsgate; if you are in fan culture--gaming, comics, movies, what have you--you have probably been labeled an outsider at some point.  If there is any group that should know not to put others on the outside, it's fandom.  We should always reach out to others, not put a wall between us.

Okay, as I said before, I know the movie is about a guy with a canvas sack over his head chasing around poor Erin Ryan, but I wonder if this scene resonates with people because it speaks to those who have been involved in fandom; the easy camaraderie, the support of others' ideas and views, the long friendships that can form, and so on.  People enjoying this scene has been a welcome surprise.  It reminds me, and I hope it reminds everybody, about the best part of fandom.

One more thing I would say about books in my movie actually takes place outside the frame of the film.  On the last full day of shooting, I gave my four leads--Erin Ryan, John Hambrick, Joni Durian, and Tom Cherry--each a book as a thank you for being a part of the project.  All four books are important to me and in some way influenced the movie.  Those books were Marisha Pessl's NIGHT FILM, Emily St. John Mandel's STATION ELEVEN, Ursula Le Guin's THE LATHE OF HEAVEN, and Jim Thompson's THE KILLER INSIDE ME.  If you want a good read, you can't go wrong with any of these.

More next time.

Friday, September 28, 2018

I'm Going Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

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

I know it sounds kind of funny, but it wasn't until I was driving to Kokomo to the premiere of THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE at the Hoosierdance Film Festival that it dawned on me that strangers were going to watch it for the first time, and I would get my first unadulterated feedback.  That's when the nerves set in.

Hoosierdance is held along Geek Street in downtown Kokomo, a cool area with a comic book shop, gaming store, toy store, plus coffee shops and bars and a minor league baseball stadium at the far end.  Basically my kind of place.  Films screen at various venues there, and my movie was screening at American Dream Hi Fi, a funky record store with a horror movie vibe. It was a long room with a stage at one end for bands and movies, a good screen and a great sound system.

The venue holds about 25 seats, but when I got there about ten were out.  I asked if they could put out a few more, as I knew about 15 people had RSVPd on the Facebook event.  They agreed, even though they said ticket sales had been low the first day of the fest. 

Then my wife and I went across the street to a nice Irish pub for dinner.  I told her I was sure we would have six people--I had seen actor John Hambrick and a friend, and crew member Kyle Garner and a friend, out on the street.  I was completely happy with that because it would look about half full.

When we finished dinner, with about ten minutes left until the screening, we came out and saw one of the festival heads walking down the sidewalk.  He told me he was going to the coffee shop to borrow some chairs because it was standing room only.  I was like WHAT and went to help him.

There were about fifty people crammed into the venue, standing clear to the back.  It was a very responsive crowd for the screening, and my 15 minute Q&A stretched into about 30 minutes, and then I hung around and talked to people about another 45 minutes.  The best part for me was that several cast and crew members were there (and I invited them up for the Q&A) and several colleagues from work came as well.
I think one of the biggest things driven home for me was that you write a movie in a vacuum, but when you direct a movie it belongs to the world, and has the thoughts and ideas of everybody that worked on it, and everybody that watches it.  The responsibility of that was greater than I thought, both an awesome feeling and a frightening one.

Thanks for reading, more to come.

Monday, September 17, 2018

I Live in a House that Looks Out Over the Ocean

This post first appeared, in a slightly different form, in I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, my e-mail newsletter you can subscribe to in the sidebar on the right.

I wrote one word:  Poem.  The worst part was it wasn't part of the script, it was just a placeholder for a poem I was going to steal from my wife's writing.  The pages were just coming slow, the way they sometimes do.

I had promised myself I wouldn't start on any new secret projects until THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE was in the can, because I haven't felt like I had the headspace, but I have been slowly, covertly working on something else for this fall/winter as CRAWLSPACE inched towards completion.  And it may burst into the world in the coming weeks.

THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE has been inching, inching along in fits and starts, but tonight it debuts at the Hoosierdance Film Festival in Kokomo, Indiana.  And I am super flattered by this because they selected it sight unseen, and thus don't know what they are getting into.

Here's the very first review, a very nice one, with mayhaps a thousand one-star Amazon reviews to follow.

More seriously, others I have screeners out to have been generous with their time and thoughts, and it has been appreciated.

My brother's actual review:  "Cool movie, bro."

I remember reading Groucho Marx's autobiography a long time ago, and one thing I remember him writing in there was that he was not going to write about what he saw dancing in the shadows when he woke up in the middle of the night, and that has sort of stuck with me, and I have to admit that this newsletter and the rest of my social media presence is not really me, but sort of the product of me.  And I don't write about bad things that happen, but there has been a lot of chaos this summer, both good and bad.  And I think it was the author Sherman Alexie who basically said if you can take all the good things that happen, and subtract all the bad, and still be smiling, you're in good shape.

And any year where I get a new grandbaby and a new movie at the same time, it's a pretty good year.
I would happily share the Top 100 photos I have of him on my phone right this moment, but here are just a few, from the day he was born:

As Dave Loggins once said, this drifter's world goes round and round, and I doubt that it's ever gonna stop.  Thanks to everyone who reads this and has cheered on my first movie.  Talk soon.