Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Fortunately I am one of those guys that has three or four books going at once; I ended 2008 still reading Ha Jin's Under the Red Flag, David J. Schow's Gun Work, Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren, Brett Easton Ellis' Lunar Park (on audio book), and started both Cesar Millan's A Member of the Family and Stephenie Meyer's Twilight since Christmas.
Still, being conscious of having to keep reading, to read interesting books, to not re-read books, and so on, convinced me that I have already conquered this nerd summit and will look for another challenge in 2009. In the past, for nerd extreme sports, I have done two 24 Hour Comic Book challenges, one 24 Hour Zine challenge, and participated in marathon gaming sessions at Gen Con and other places.
People have asked what I will be doing as far as reading goes, and I have answered "Read Smarter." I have been away from literature for a while, after minoring in Humanities in college, and I think I need to get back to reading some good, solid stuff again. It doesn't hurt that my wife has challenged herself to read all of the Pullitzer Prize novels, which has piqued my interest.
For the record, my top five favorite reads of 2008 were:
1. Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel R. Delany
2. The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
3. The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo
4. The Wandering Ghost by Martin Limon
5. The Wheat Field by Steve Thayer
Though if I thought about it tomorrow I might pick three different ones; the top two will stay the same, methinks, but I also considered Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road, George Axelrod's Blackmailer, Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon, Robert B. Parker's Resolution and Sebastian Faulks' Devil May Care.
It was the year I knuckled down and finally read Harry Potter, the year I re-discovered Philip K. Dick and discovered Samuel R. Delany, a year of Hard Case Crime and Ace Western Doubles and morose Scandinavian mysteries.
This post is cross-posted from my "50N2008" blog.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
I have a Google Alert set up with my own name, and once somebody told me they thought that was vain; but how else was I supposed to find all of the bad reviews of my work, where people said I sucked and should die (or at least stop writing)?
I am exaggerating. Only one guy to date said I should die, and he later recanted.
But I also find good stuff, like this promotional trailer for Hellshocked aka Black Mass aka The Da Vinci Curse aka Dead Knight, which has yet to see release in the United States, and everyone who worked on it think it's so good hardly anybody would wish I would die after viewing it. Jon McBride posted it, using a lot of my pictures, and you get some nice frame grabs including one of me getting machine-gunned straight up in the face (for fans). It did get released it Japan, and as was reported with first-hand evidence on this very blog was quite popular. You can buy it in the Japanese version but it would surely be cool to see it stateside. Check out the original trailer here.
Possibly the most astounding thing I have found using Google Alerts is this, my Senior Honors Thesis from 1988 A.D. Thanks to the bane that is modern technology, this formerly lost screenplay, typed on a Smith-Corona Electric Typewriter with a big jug of White-Out, is now available for all to see. Using the same world I used for my award-winning David Letterman Telecommunications Scholarship project in 1987, Deadlines has my cooler alter-ego, Buster Sampson, following a murderer across a college campus suspiciously reminscient of Ball State University as a reporter for a newspaper somewhat like the Ball State Daily News. I scanned it, somewhat painfully, and recalled my obsession with Cornell Woolrich that now seems glaringly evident in hindsight, along with a now curiously dated interest in punk rock and the alternative music scene.
Not that anyone would want it, but because of my interest in Creative Commons I am releasing this work under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
More later; until then, I am at email@example.com.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Now that you can catch me on Facebook and on Twitter I get more mail from all kinds of sources. Perhaps it's time on this winter's eve to open the ol' mailbag and check out some fresh correspondence.
New reader Kevin writes, Hey John. I came across your blog from CommonFilm's website. I was intrigued by your short bio, and I was wondering if you had any of those old mixtapes you used to make in your basement available, or any of your other works? Also, I personally prefer nerd. DIY hipster is no fun.
I have been asked for a few odds and ends, but never any old mix tapes or copies of my classic punk recordings from the early 80s with The Johnnies; especially my stirring cover of "Blitzkrieg Bop" by The Ramones, which stunned audiences into silence at Muncie Northside High School during those halcyon days of Punk and New Wave. Sadly, all of this material, as well as a number of my old homemade comics and Super-8 movies, are lost to the dustbins of history. Though, perhaps, not as many as should be lost. Thanks for asking, though!
Along those same lines, my old friend and neighbor Ivan found my blog and wrote, Sounds like you've definitely found what you enjoy doing. I remember those 8mm movies as well and all the comics you used to do. It's great to see your creative streak is still alive.
Obviously you don't remember those movies and comics that well! But I do have you to thank for my dream of getting into Fangoria Magazine, which I first read at your house!
B-movie fan Kipp wrote, Finally sat down and watched Monster Movie and saw you on the extras very touching addition my eyes did water up.
Thanks, Kipp, I was honored to be asked to be part of the John Polonia tribute on the "Monster Movie" DVD; but I'm not sure I'll watch it again. The movie itself is a lot of fun, though. Check out the trailer for "Halloween Night," based on one of John's scripts, here.
Until later, give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Monday, December 22, 2008
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
The Wandering Ghost by Martin Limon
Two military policemen in 1970s Korea search for a missing female MP, and uncover her ties to a string of murders at the wintry edge of the DMZ, in Martin Limon's military mystery The Wandering Ghost.
Limon's two protagonists, Sueno and Bascomb, follow their own sometimes offbeat code of honor more than strict military protocols as they move through the Red Light districts and the army's corridors of power with equal ease. Sueno, the narrator, remains more reflective, while Bascomb is somewhat more prone to give in to both carnal and violent desires. They bring to mind two of my favorite characters in mystery fiction, Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones, the Harlem policemen who run rampant through Chester B. Himes' memorable detective novels.
Limon also has a real knack for a time and place, reminding me again of some of my favorite authors, Walter Mosely, Michael Connelly, and Ross Macdonald. Limon's stint as an MP in Korea during the time period is obviously what gives the mystery this weight. I will seek out more in this series.
The Turnaround by George Pelecanos
A racial incident between teens that leads to murder in 70s Washington, D.C. reverberates in the lives of the adult survivors in George Pelecanos' compelling The Turnaround.Although Pelecanos is often billed as a crime fiction writer, I have found his work a bit more philosophical, with few easy answers and fewer pat conclusions. I enjoyed his previous two novels, Drama City and The Night Gardener, and find here a lot of similar themes, including parallel storytelling with events in the past and using Washington D.C. as almost a character onto itself. Pelecanos has a clipped style, but a knack for dialogue and interesting characterizations.Pelecanos is a worthwhile read, and I will be on the lookout for his next novel.
Priest by Ken Bruen
Relentlessly downbeat noir from Irish writer Ken Bruen picks up where he left off with highly tarnished detective Jack Taylor at the end of The Dramatist; coming back from a nervous breakdown after accidentally contributing to the death of a child in his care.
Things don't get much rosier from there, as Jack starts to look into the beheading of a pedophile priest and tries to help a friend with a stalker, all the while struggling against alcoholism.
Fairly rough pavement, as one might suspect, but Bruen writes in a dark-humored vein favorably reminiscent of Roddy Doyle, if the author of The Snapper and The Commitments were to turn to hard-boiled detective fiction. But I enjoy Bruen's style and plotting, right up to another punch-in-the-gut finale.
Saturday, December 06, 2008
Reading fresh notes on my nondisclosure sci-fi script this morning while fresh snow falls over the Heartland of America.
Microcinema Scene, the website I helped launch five years ago with Boston filmmaker Jason Santo and Chicago filmmaker Gary Lumpp, more recently under the steerage of Austin filmmaker Christopher Sharpe, will be relaunched in the not-too-distant future under new management, more squarely set in the new media world (with some of the ideas I have chatted about here on this humble blog over the last few months). I have had a sneak peek and think it is positioning itself to be part of the next-gen filmmaking movement. I hope I can help out with it where I can. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for the relaunch.
One of the great things about working on Microcinema Scene and the Microcinema Fest film festival was meeting some super-talented people. One of those has been Amir Motlagh, who we screened at the Fest and reviewed on the site, and I found to be one of the strong emerging filmmakers coming out of microcinema. You can check out Amir's latest short, just released for free on the web, right here.
A project I worked on earlier this year, Mental Scars, has released a teaser trailer, and generally updated their website, right here.
Until later, catch me at email@example.com.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
SUNDAY MAY 22, 2005: THE TRAPDOOR OPENS
I decided to get off the interstate and cut cross-country towards Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, a baseball game murmuring on the radio and the rolling hills easing past my windshield. Soon I arrived in the hometown of those unholy twins of b-moviedom, the Polonia Brothers. I thought the shooting would be done for the day, but learned from Mark Polonia's wife that they have been held up. But soon the cast and crew burst in, chatting excitedly. A planned "guerilla" filmmaking shoot in some local basement locations with permissions of the "don't ask, don't tell" variety went a tad sour when the sprinkler system went off, with flooding ensuing. I asked how things went otherwise, and learned that it had gone well, with one person being cut in half, and another beheaded by an evil priest. And just like that I was down the rabbit hole and back in the world of b-movie filmmaking.
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, and quickly delved into their world. Probably best known for FEEDERS, one of the first shot-on-video features accepted at Blockbuster, the Polonia Brothers have made a name for themselves as b-movie horror mavens, embraced by some and shunned by others. I quickly found Mark Polonia’s email address, 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 Polonia Brothers actor, director, and general co-conspirator Jon McBride. McBride is probably best known for helming the cult classic CANNIBAL CAMPOUT, as well as a happy-go-lucky little feature called WOODCHIPPER MASSACRE. He asked, “You’re not going to write that Bigfoot movie, are you?”
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, 2003: 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, 2003: “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. Unfortunately the first scene I would hear of mine mouthed by a professional actor had the word “cornhole” in it. 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, 2003: “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, 2003: 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, 2003: 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.
2004: DAYS OF WINE AND PIRAHNAS
The Polonias had caught me in an unguarded moment when I carried that heavy tripod across the rickety bridge near “The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania,” and I agreed to help them with rewrites over their next two features, a couple of relative quickies about a piranha attack and one about a killer rabbit. The killer rabbit script came to me a mixture of handwritten pages and typed inserts from an old script called PSYCHO CLOWN, bolted together with brass screws. The piranha script turned out to be a bit of a mishmash after production problems and long delays, but a little Polonia Brothers magic smoothed them out into enjoyable little packages, and both were on the shelf and ready for consumption.
But everyone involved were ready to gird their loins and launch another epic project. Some unwise historical collectors, unaware of how much mud and (fake) blood splashed around at a b-movie shoot, had offered access to period uniforms and weapons from World War II. This sparked the Polonia Brothers on to a burst of ideas, and somehow, once more, I was sucked into their vortex, on a supernatural war movie tentatively titled HELLSHOCK.
MONDAY MAY 23, 2005: BACK TO THE FRONT
Today we hauled equipment under two barbed-wire fences to state land behind the Polonia Brothers ancestral home in Ansonia, Pennsylvania. Mark Polonia insisted it was okay but seemed to be keeping his eyes peeled for rangers anyway. This was my first glimpse of D.P. Matt Smith and his low-riding purple van laden with dolly tracks, a jib, and every kind of light setup imaginable, including the low-budget filmmaker's friend the Chinese lantern. People who might scornfully say that the Polonia's movies were all shot with handheld camcorders would come to a reckoning on this day. The authentic costumes and weapons add much, though everyone's shoulders are hunched against the eventual FBI raid, or the appearance of nervous hunters. John Polonia voices his fears that he might have gotten on some unwanted lists by buying Nazi armbands and costumes from casually-perused websites.Lots of tramping in the woods, with a fog machine providing some spookiness. Mark gave the actors a faceful of leafblower to simulate a "cloud of souls" passing over the troops, and it was amusing to watch people's skin flapping back against their skulls. I came to realize that World War II filmmaking is a lot like the various descriptions of actual battle--long periods of boredom and inactivity spiked with sudden bursts of madness and desperation.Later we retired to a gravel pit, where I stood down at the bottom and allowed Brian Berry and Bob Dennis to lob mock grenades down on me, and I retrieved them take after take. Angling for that "Grenade Wrangler" credit.Even later we went to John Polonia's basement for some underground stuff, a location seen in more features than any Hollywood backlot. Mark and John decided to scrub a scene where the soldiers accidentally shoot a cat who jumps out in one of those patented scares oft seen in such films. John voiced his concern for showing cruelty to animals. Meanwhile, behind him, Jon McBride is pointing out to curious castmembers where he was standing where he was whipped with hooked chains in HOUSE THAT SCREAMED 2, and where Ken VanSant took the machete to the skull in PETER ROTTENTAIL. Our ragged band returned home late, after about a 14 hour day.
TUESDAY MAY 24, 2005: OUR FIRST DEADLY SIN
Today was the first day of shooting at the historic church in little Germania, Pennsylvania. What man of the cloth allowed the demonic twins to have unlimited access to this sacred spot remains a mystery. Though I remembered the ban on cussing at the church from earlier in the pre-production phase, when I had to rewrite the script to take out the bad words. If the Polonia Brothers and I were going to hell, it wasn't going to be for cussing in a church.
I continued to be amazed that the good people of the small towns of Pennsylvania--Wellsboro, Ansonia, Germania, and so on--don't rise up with pitchforks and torches and drive the Polonia Brothers across state lines into the wilds of upstate New York. As a for instance, we couldn't get cell service, so Ken VanSant (Lt. Bonham) walked down to a pay phone in front of a mom and pop store. This was unfortunately after the scene where he gets wounded and thus had some bloody bandages on. Apparently this caused a bit of a stir in downtown Germania, a stalwart hunting and fishing community where such injuries are perhaps not uncommon but certainly not welcome. Though later Dave Fife (as a German prisoner) walked into the local honkytonk with a leaking neck wound and a Nazi uniform and apparently didn't cause a stir. But this is what happens when Hollywood comes to town.
WEDNESDAY MAY 25, 2005: REALITY SEEPS BACK IN
A journalist, with a photog in tow, show up at the set from Harrisburg, the state capitol. They had been nosing around the night before, but stayed through until morning to see the cherry picker shots for the open and close of the feature. But the cherry picker never arrived, and everyone seemed disappointed except the unflappable Mark Polonia, (who has seen more b-movie disasters than Irwin Allen) who simply said, "We'll move on." I had been keeping my eye on the photog, hoping he would get a picture of me in full William Goldman mode, nodding in approval at the Polonias from a discreet location, instead of a shot of me going to pick up the pizzas or picking up all the trash in the church. I really didn't expect to be interviewed, so I was surprised when the journalist climbed into my van as I headed down the road to our lodgings to boil some hot dogs for the cast and crew's lunch.I was chatting along, trying not to talk out of my butt too much, when the reporter asked me if I was interested in going to Hollywood. It seemed like a dizzying anomaly for a moment. I was in our rented rooms above the local general store, boiling hot dogs. That morning, while I was drinking coffee with the locals downstairs, I learned a group of them had chased a mother bear and her three cubs down the main street of town the day before. It was not the William Goldman moment I had hoped for.
But I was reminded of a shelf of free paperbacks in the store below, alongside the video rentals and the Polaroids of hunting adventures and the fresh coffee. I had found a Philip K. Dick book I wanted, a welcome find, and left a paperback I had brought. This brought me more happiness than almost anything else all week. I remembered an interview I had given a while back where I recalled that as a child I had never thought about writing the New York Times bestseller but instead thought about my Great American Novel being on a dusty shelf in some out-of-the-way place, and a kid finding it and reading it and thinking: I could do better. I think about my movie experiences the same way. I have always been drawn to the underground, the unheard voices, the photocopied 'zines, the local bands with their homemade cassettes, and so on. Let my movies exist, not under the searchlights of Hollywood, but on a shelf in Germania, Pennsylvania, and let some disenfranchised youth from our great Flyover Country between the two coasts find it for rent, and be inspired to go on the same long, crazy trip I have taken.
That great, beautiful country sang by my windows as I took my leave of this latest cinematic adventure and pointed my car towards home.
Friday, November 28, 2008
For D&D purists, I have alarming news: the Mighty Empire has finally come under the sway of the online gaming world. Though I shed a tear, let's be honest: it probably had to happen.
For online gamers, I have even more alarming news: you were actually playing D&D all of these years anyway. You laughed at the nerds at the lunch table in high school, but they were all smarter than you and went out and wrote computer games based on their favorite pasttime, D&D, and then you started playing them--EverQuest, World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, and more. Truly, it must be like finding out that the hot chick you were dating was actually a dude living in his mother's basement in disguise.
So D&D 4E is a super-pimped-up version of our former beloved game, where you can easily take on powers and skills that you used to only dream of attaining in some faraway level. Even our self-proclaimed "chaos gamer" Barticus, who never met a dark elf assassin with quadruple backstab skills using an enchanted double-damage dagger that he didn't like, expressed surprise at the torqued-up characters. You also take "healing surges" an online gaming conceit that make you less killable than ever before.
But guess what, the bad guys are juiced also. We merrily waded into a kobold ambush expecting to bat them aside like a swarm of scaly flies only to find my own dwarf fighter Bridgit Brokefoot (of the glass armor) going down three times in a row and needing the noble healing power of my Dragonborn paladin Leonid (who speaks in a Russian accent, continuing the annoying trend I began with the Jamacian accent of my old-school fighter/magic user/thief Pollux).
I could write more about a lot of the nuances (and probably have written too much already), like missing races and alignments and classes that we used to favor, replaced by things we don't understand and can't pronounce, but your mileage can and will vary.
Suffice to say we played twice over Thanksgiving and the new Fellowship of the Flayed Goblin--Bridgit and Leonid, Frax and Don, and two people whose names I can't pronounce so I called them Jan and Lawndart (two Rangers, two Fighters, a Paladin and a Warlock; I know, not a super-balanced party) liked it well enough and will soldier on and try to solve the secrets of the Shadowfell, over Christmas break. More adventures later.
Until then, give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
So Doug Jones came to talk to my wife's class; the guy also known as the Silver Surfer, Abe Sapien, the two main dudes in Pan's Labyrinth, and Hocus Pocus, the part I saw him in, over and over, when my daughter was young. He was invited back to his alma mater as one of its more well-known alums, along with people like David Letterman, Joyce DeWitt, Cynda Williams, Papa John, the dude that draws Garfield, and--several thousand people down the list--your humble blogger.
Doug and I actually have a lot in common. Once upon a time, Doug was Ball State's mascot, Charlie Cardinal; and I watched him be that mascot.
We actually share one other tenuous thread. Doug's good friend Hunter Austin played one of the leads in Among Us, a Bigfoot movie I scripted several years ago that has had rather sturdy legs; if you are a Canadian, you can catch it some lazy, snowy afternoons on SPACE-TV, and if you live in the States you can find it in a lot of dollar bins of DVDs.
I will be a Hunter Austin fan as long as I live, because she was the first actress I ever heard speaking one of my lines; unfortunately, as longtime readers have heard before, that line had the word "cornhole" in it. And not the good kind.
Anyway, my wife mentioned this connection to Doug Jones, who astounded her by saying he had watched the movie. I truly believe that up until that point in time, my wife did not believe that anyone had ever watched a single one of the movies I had ever worked on. Like a sports team that is more popular on the road than at home, I really don't have any street cred at my own alma mater; so I have to thank the Silver Surfer for giving me some.
Until later, I am at email@example.com.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Some British people selected the top 50 horror films of all time and then some other dudes decided to make a blog meme out of it, showing in bold the ones you HAVEN'T seen. Let's see how much I'm keepin' it real, shall we?
1.The Exorcist. William Friedkin (1973) 2.The Shining. Stanley Kubrick (1980) 3.Alien. Ridley Scott (1979) 4.The Silence of the Lambs. Jonathan Demme (1991) 5.Saw. James Wan (2004)6.Halloween. John Carpenter (1978) 7.A Nightmare on Elm Street. Wes Craven (1984) 8.Ring (Ringu). Hideo Nakata (1998) 9.The Wicker Man. Robin Hardy (1973) 10.The Omen. Richard Donner (1976) 11.The Birds. Alfred Hitchcock (1963) 12.The Thing. John Carpenter (1982)13.Lost Boys. Joel Schumacher (1987) 14.Dawn of the Dead. George A Romero (1978) 15.The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Tobe Hooper (1974) 16.Jaws. Steven Spielberg (1975) 17.The Blair Witch Project. Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez (1999) 18.An American Werewolf in London. John Landis (1981) 19.Se7en. David Fincher (1995) 20.Poltergeist. Tobe Hooper (1982) 21.The Amityville Horror. Stuart Rosenberg (1979) 22.Candyman. Bernard Rose (1992) 23.Scream. Wes Craven (1996) 24.Carrie. Brian De Palma (1976) 25.Friday the 13th. Sean S Cunningham (1980) 26.Final Destination. James Wong (2000) 27.The Evil Dead. Sam Raimi (1981) 28.Hellraiser. Clive Barker (1987) 29.Hostel. Eli Roth (2005) 30.Salem’s Lot. Mikael Salomon (2004) 31.The Descent. Neil Marshall (2005) 32.The Hills Have Eyes. Wes Craven (1977) 33.Wolf Creek. Greg McLean (2005) 34.Misery. Rob Reiner (1991)35.Rosemary’s Baby. Roman Polanski (1968) 36.Child’s Play. Tom Holland (1989) 37.The Orphanage. Juan Antonio Bayona (2008) 38.The Entity. Sidney J Furie (1981)39.Nosferatu. FW Murnau (1922) 40.Night of the Living Dead. George A. Romero (1968)41.House on Haunted Hill. William Malone (2000) 42.The Haunting. Robert Wise (1963) 43.It. Tommy Lee Wallace (1990) 44.Audition. Takashi Miike (1999) 45.The Changeling. Peter Medak (1980) 46.The Mist. Frank Darabont (2008) 47.Suspiria. Dario Argento (1977)48.The Vanishing. George Sluizer (1993) 49.Shutter. Masayuki Ochiai (2008) 50.Planet Terror. Robert Rodriguez (2007)
Like any list, I don't totally agree with this--it leans a bit heavily on newer films, and makes only token nods to some great foreign genres--but I did better than I thought. No doubt there is some flat-out scary stuff in the first dozen or so. And respect for including Hoosier director Robert Wise!
Give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
I rolled out at 6 a.m., jetted downtown to our little town's only polling place and stood in a two-block line for 45 minutes to vote. Except for the surly guy saying that Obama was at the center of a terrorist plot, outlining an intricate storyline that wouldn't make a believable James Bond movie, it was a fairly jolly group. A mix of old and young and people with their kids. Somebody said they had never seen half of the people there before. I stood there and started reading Jim Butcher's first Dresden Files book as the sun rose on a pleasant fall morning.
My daughter joined me, home from college, and I talked to my son via cell phone in Indianapolis and tried to help him figure out where his polling place was. Driving to work, I passed another long line in a neighboring town.
That night we signed off at almost one in the morning and were too tired to think about what an exciting, memorable day it was. I hope everyone voted. In the great Heartland of America, what it means to be a citizen of this nation seems close at hand, but it is good to be reminded from time to time.
And now, back to killing a spaceship full of people via my keyboard and my new project. Give me a shout at email@example.com.
Sunday, November 02, 2008
I thought about trying NaNoWriMo again this year but am instead doing its equivalency as I just signed to do my 20th script project, a sci-fi/horror hybrid which unfortunately (for my blog) I am writing under a nondisclosure, with a first draft due just after Thanksgiving. For some reason everybody wants to do nondisclosures these days, which makes the blogitude a little thinner. If everyone just went back to wearing tinfoil hats so people couldn't steal their ideas we would all be better off.
A lot of rocky pavement lately but we had a nice Halloween Open House Friday night which I guess we may have forgotten to tell the astronaut, Zorro, Gene Stratton Porter and (I think) an Afghani princess wasn't a costume party, though the other thirty or so people thought otherwise. Yes, I know it sounds like a lame sitcom plot from the 80s, but it's true.
I took a twelve-year-old Jason, AKA my Little Brother Harold, trick-or-treating for probably his last time, and had my little Westie puppy Bonnie along for her first time. She only barked at one other dog, and one baby dressed like a dog.
Hitting the keyboard today, after taking my daughter to see (gulp) SAW V; catch me later at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Sunday, October 26, 2008
This week I celebrated my 21st wedding anniversary, happily married for half of my sweet short life. If you want to check out how I kicked it old school 1987 style, peep here.
Trying to finish some script coverage this weekend on a project for a guy I worked with before. I have become notoriously bad this year about giving coverage and viewing screeners that people send me but I am vowing to mend my errant ways in 2009. Meanwhile, how can you not enjoy a script that has these two scene headings back to back:
B-movies are fun.
My wife gave me a Books A Million gift certificate and I bought Naomi Novik's THRONE OF JADE, Steve Fisher's NO HOUSE LIMIT, that Hard Case Crime Double of two Robert Bloch novels, and the first Jim Butcher Dresden Files book (as recommended by my pal The Caveman). Winter reading ahead.
Astoundingly, my pal Dr. Squid is vowing to post every day in October to celebrate Halloween. Check him out here.
Kind of thinking about this again, although much of my career has been conducted in this fashion.
Speaking of scary stuff, we emptied out our bedroom to have new carpet put down this week and I found a file tucked under my bed of some items I thought long-lost, including the 2000 issue of HOLLYWOOD REPORTER that listed my first screenplay sale, PLAYER IN THE GAME, and the 2003 issue of that same august magazine that listed AMONG US; some old SUPER 8 FILMMAKER magazines; some old D&D characters; and some hand-written original drafts of Polonia Brothers movies I worked on, some that saw the light of day and some that didn't, including PETER ROTTENTAIL, GIZZARD GUTS, and FRONTIER EXECUTIONER.
I also found the journal I kept of books I had read as part of my vow to read 1,000 books between 1987 and 2012; astoundingly, I kept this list until June 1998 and had read 380 books by then, from Raymond Chandler's FAREWELL MY LOVELY to Karl Edward Wagner's CONAN: THE ROAD OF KINGS. For my young readers, nerds did exist before the internet, we just didn't know about each other as much then.
I got the idea from pre-scandal columnist Bob Greene and, even though I don't think I will make it at this point, there are plenty of interesting things to peruse there. If you want to see how I'm doing in the internet age, I vowed to read 50 books in 2008 and am blogging about it here.
Give me a shout at email@example.com.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Thursday, October 16, 2008
When I wasn't paying attention 24 Hour Comics Day got moved to the fall, and through poking around on the interwebs home on a half-day from work when I should be doing something contructive I learned that it starts Saturday. I have survived this Nerd Extreme Sports challenge twice, once on my 35th birthday and once at Readers Copies Comics in Anderson, Indiana, with my brother, my pal Tom, and some other more talented people. I am going to see if I can get it rockin' this weekend, but if I don't, you can see THE LIBERATOR, my poorly-rendered take on the public-domain Nedor heroes starting here, and my first sketchy 24 Hour Comic, BAD EGGS, starting here.
In other geekly news, several of the old gang are trying to get together and try out this newfangled D&D 4E in the next few weeks. Though my brother wants to reboot a few of his old characters I think I shall retire the dwarven bard Farrah Brokefoot and start a new character; I'm contemplating a sardonic human rogue called Broken-Necked Jack, which came to me in a dream. Naturally, updates will be provided here.
Though I've only a third through it, I highly recommend HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON by Naomi Novik to my blog pals. Until later, catch me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
But not all was bad. I didn't get to Mid Ohio Con, but I was able to get a several-page treatment fired off to a producer in a timely fashion. I did enjoy a pancake breakfast and some good chili at a local cook-off. I saw a musical, "Violet," performed at Ball State University that I had never seen or heard of and found pretty pleasant. My Colts escaped certain death at the hands of the lowly Texans.
Last year the Polonia Brothers Fan Club president Tim Shrum made an AMONG US birthday cake to celebrate the b-auteur's shared birthday. This year Tim took on SPLATTER BEACH, a newer movie the Polonia Brothers made with some girls in bikinis and without their favorite scribe. That's okay, it probably saved my marriage. I'm sure the cake still tastes sweet, Tim!
My SEX MACHINE pal Christopher Sharpe is smarter than me.
Hungry for some new zines from these folks.
Enjoying this read.
Much respect to my friend Joe Sherlock for posting this picture.
Give me a shout at email@example.com.
Friday, October 03, 2008
I was just thinking, if I end up doing this new project I am talking to a producer about, it will be my third mockbuster, after THE DA VINCI CURSE and NEW JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. Take that, William Goldman! Though I'm wondering, if you do a knock-off of a movie that doesn't do that well (re: Brendan Frasier's JOURNEY ETC.) is that mock office poison?
Today was a good day, as I took a half-day and going out the door found a $1 a bag book sale and picked up several dozen collections of Greek lit and plays for my wife, as well as an old David Lindsey thriller for myself. I caught the Ramones documentary END OF THE CENTURY while doing chores around the house and thought back to my high school days, and my own punk band The Johnnies, whose version of "Blitzkrieg Bop" was unjustly kept out of the line-up of the Muncie Northside High School Variety Show of 1984.
I finished the last chapter of a very good read, Martin Limon's THE WANDERING GHOST, and I'm wondering if I can finish Joe Hill's HEART SHAPED BOX before it gets too dark and I become too scared to keep reading.
Tomorrow is a pancake breakfast and chili cook-off in my small midwestern town and the weather should be good. I am smiling and tucking in my napkin yet tonight.
It is fall, and the world is still ripe with promise.
Give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday, September 29, 2008
As you might suspect, writing b-movies can be a lot of fun. Today I got an email from a producer with a script breakdown in it that included the following: France is blown up around pg 45.
Speaking of B-movies, tomorrow, the Polonia Brothers Fan Club is celebrating the cult-movie director twins' birthday, dampened this year to be sure by John Polonia's passing. Rent Monster Movie on DVD and watch the tribute to John as part of the extras, which I have a small part. Of course I am partial to Among Us and The Da Vinci Curse/Dead Knight, but my faves that I had nothing to do with include Dweller, The House That Screamed 2, and the original cult classic Feeders.
I went to a book sale on campus this morning and found the V For Vendetta TPB for 50 cents, and Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys for the same go away price. Almost as exciting as discovering "Weird Tales Magazine" again.
In that vein, it looks like I'm going to go check out Mid Ohio Con this Sunday in Columbus, Ohio. Anybody want a hitch over?
Give me a shout at email@example.com.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Last night I was happy to send off the second draft of a sci-fi script I did under a nondisclosure last year that's bubbling back to the surface. To celebrate I took my wife and my Little Brother Harold to a good Mexican restaurant in my hometown of Muncie, Indiana. This local honky-tonk way on the other side of town is notorious for being the site of one of the great culinary mishaps that I am known for; the time I tried to chew through some Tamales without realizing you had to take off the corn husks until a horrified waitress rescued me.
This time I ordered the enchiladas.
My spirits were only slightly dampened by seeing my lead-footed Colts let another slip away.
My next project has to be building those cornhole boards for my kids like I promised.
Thinking about taking a peek at this.
Here's what my pal Christopher Sharpe is up to.
Give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
As usual I watched all the extras first. There is a funny little "Making Of," a couple of deleted scenes, and the John Polonia tribute which is very touching and a bit hard to watch. I was happy to see that I have a small clip in there, and that some of my still photographs from AMONG US and THE DA VINCI CURSE were used.
The movie itself is pretty light, with a loose improv feel, and the monster is fun. A lot of familiar faces and places for fans.
The commentary track is one of the best parts, as usual. There are no funnier critics of the Polonia Brothers' work than the brothers themselves.
John Polonia's last movie is the exact kind he liked to make, which is nice. I have a feeling HALLOWEEN NIGHT, which Mark Polonia has been shooting from some of John's earlier writing, will be in much the same vein. You can get updates here.
Until later, catch me at email@example.com.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Tomorrow the Polonia Brothers' latest horror feature MONSTER MOVIE streets. Although I was not involved in this one it is notable as the last project prolific b-movie filmmaker John Polonia worked on before his untimely death. It is a great shame as I know for a fact he left behind a lot of scripts and a lot more ideas still percolating. There is a tribute video as an extra on the DVD that (I think) I am a part of, so I am eager to grab a copy. You can start here to see what I was thinking about John at the time of his passing, but this tribute by Bill Gibron is probably my favorite.
Though I wish it weren't true, after my own name, John's name comes up second in search engines leading to my site. I try to keep news about his projects updated here when I know about them.
Until later, catch me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Perhaps something in me isn't wired up right, but that is how I always envisioned my success; being discovered for the first time, at the throwaway price of a quarter, on a dusty shelf in the middle of nowhere by a dreaming kid.
It seemed as if last weekend shut the door on summer. We had a big cookout for my father-in-law's 70th birthday which I celebrated by being quiet and concentrating on beating the other team in cornhole as he told me. If only the Colts had done the same the night would have ended nicely for him.
And now Fall is falling quicker than ever. I started teaching a new class in video production at Indiana University East, and the day job is also quite busy. I am determined to finish a rewrite on a sci-fi screenplay (that I wrote under a nondisclosure last year) before the end of the weekend.
Speaking of screenwriting, I have added a new proverb to my short list of life lessons. First, I believe you should never use a psuedonym. Secondly, and in relation to the first proverb, you should always be proud of everything that leaves your keyboard. Third, you should never open your mouth while pouring salt into the water softener. And my newest proverb: If you go to a new barber, and he is watching Fox News, you are probably going to get a High and Tight.
Give me a shout at email@example.com.
Monday, September 08, 2008
THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN’S UNION by Michael Chabon
Excellent genre-bender from Michael Chabon (whose The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay remains one of my modern-era favorites), about a washed-up cop who takes umbrage at a junkie's murder in the very flophouse he resides in. With his reluctant partner, and his ex-wife/commanding officer breathing down his neck, he unearths a wider conspiracy.Against this background, with its noir conventions tracing a direct line back to Raymond Chandler, is an alternate future based on a real WWII-era plan to create a Jewish homeland in Sitka, Alaska. Chabon does some intricate and compelling world-building that again recalls Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.
An excellent read, whether one is a fan of mystery, sci-fi, or contemporary lit.
THE WHEAT FIELD by Steve Thayer
A small-town deputy in rural Wisconsin finds himself the main suspect in a double homicide that leads him to become an unwilling accomplice to a larger conspiracy in Steve Thayer's riveting thriller The Wheat Field.I picked this up on a whim found myself an instant fan of Thayer, an author I had not heard of before. Deputy Pliny Pennington is a resonant character, a dark angel with sexual hang-ups and killing urges but his own moral code. The early 60s locale is strongly rendered as well. There are plenty of shocks in the storytelling, both pleasant and unpleasant. I enjoyed Thayer's writing style, probably most reminding me of Jim Thompson or James M. Cain.I would strongly recommend The Wheat Field to thriller fans and will be nosing around for more of Thayer's writing.
LIMITATIONS by Scott Turow
Drowsy legal thriller from Scott Turow, whose Presumed Innocent was an early, and perhaps best-known, work. Turow has been hammering out solid mysteries featuring lawyer protagonists ever since, including this one, which was serialized for a magazine and then expanded into a novel.A judge is hearing arguments in a brutal gang rape, and soon begins to recall some repressed memories of an incident he was involved with himself in college. Meanwhile, his wife is fighting cancer and a mysterious stalker is sending the judge threatening emails.Despite the description, the storytelling doesn't retain a lot of dramatic tension, though is certainly interesting (and, for fans, features characters and situations from earlier Turow novels). Probably more for followers of Turow (which I have been one, more or less) and of passing interest to others.
BANGKOK 8 by John Burdett
An incorruptible Thai cop, following his own rather bent Buddhist code, goes on a quest for vengeance through the ultra-seedy underbelly of Bangkok after the death of his partner.John Burdett's edgy police thriller Bangkok 8 is an uneasy mix of philosophy and cold-hearted violence, veined with dark whimsy (if there is such a thing) and brought to an absolutely chilling denouement. I found the milieu Burdett created fascinating and his lead character's outlook unique. Although obviously not Thai, Burdett has spent time there and I felt (having traveled some in Asia myself) that he seemed to have a good eye for the details. I will look for more in this series.
MONEY SHOT by Christa Faust
A former porn star stumbles into a secret, illegal side of the sex trade and winds up--after a murder attempt--seeking revenge against those responsible.
Christa Faust's Money Shot is a contemporary tale in the Hard Case Crime series, a pulpy paperback line which, for the most part, features lost noir classics with retro covers. Faust's storytelling stands up well alongside her peers and is even more hard-nosed than some; and in the Hard Case Crime line, that's saying something. Like most of the line, Money Shot is not for the faint-hearted, but is well worth reading.
ZERO COOL by John Lange
A doctor at a European conference is forced to perform a mysterious autopsy, then spends the rest of his trip outrunning a bevy of bloodthirsty pursuers in John Lange's Zero Cool, part of the superior Hard Case Crime series of pulp reprints.John Lange is Michael Crichton’s pseudonym from the late 60s. Zero Cool is a surprising departure, not nearly as dense or intense as his later, more well-known work.
Our physician protagonist is as quippy as any PI of the time, is accompanied by several mysterious women and a strange, colorful supporting cast of baddies, and jetsets around several exotic locales. The combination reminds me of the James Bond movies of the era more than any sort of medical thriller. A pretty fun read overall.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
I had a nice birthday yesterday. I woke up to a puppy licking my face and my wife handing me D&D 4th Edition. We had coffee and donuts from Farmland and then went to the Farmer's Pike Festival nearby where I found some cool old Ace Doubles Westerns and had good BBQ. I watched a cute movie last night, MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY, and slept the sleep of the contended.
I always use my birthday to take stock of my freelance career, ever since the year 2000 when I decided, with the birth of a new century, to give myself one year to get my freelance screenwriting career off the ground. Longtime readers know that I have worked steadily in the eight years since, and though some think it's ridiculous to pick a particular day to decide whether to go another year I still do.
Early this morning I tried to add up in my mind all of the projects I have been hired to write or rewrite and for some reason, like counting sheep, I fell asleep both times I tried. But I think, in order, they are PLAYER IN THE GAME (Myriad Entertainment Group), MECHANIZER (Sterling Entertainment), AMONG US (Polonia Brothers Entertainment/Intercoast), BURNING GROUNDS OF THE UNDEAD (Polonia Brothers Entertainment/Intercoast), PETER ROTTENTAIL (Polonia Brothers Entertainment), RAZORTEETH (Polonia Brothers Entertainment), GIZZARD GUTS (Polonia Brothers Entertainment), DEMONS ON A DEAD END STREET (Polonia Brothers Entertainment), DEAD LAKE (for producer Bob Dennis), SEX MACHINE (for Asphalt Planet), THE PAYBACK MAN (for producer Ivan Rogers), DEAD KNIGHT (for Cine Excel), COWBOY (for producer Terrence Muncy), SPLINTERHEAD (for Polonia Brothers Entertainment), PRIMAL (for Sterling Entertainment), NEW JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (for Polonia Brothers Entertainment), MENTAL SCARS (for producer Richard Myles), and two scripts written under a nondisclosure.
I have been telling people fifteen but when I sat down and actually added them all up, I guess it's nineteen.
You can buy or rent or see on TV or see at a film festival or buy in a dollar bin five of these. One other came out without any of my rewrite. Two are in post-production. Two started shooting but never finished. I've done fresh rewrites on two more this year. The rest...well you just never know what might happen.
Somewhere in there I found time to write a few specs, including HANDS DOWN, ONIBOCHO THE DEMON KNIFE, RING OF THE SORCERESS, ROOK, and my modern dress/original prose adaptation of Shakespeare's TIMON OF ATHENS (yes, you read that right). Three of those five have had interest at one time or another, but nothing has really happened on them to date.
I have been proud of everything that left my keyboard and I have never used a psuedonym, two things I promised myself I would hold to those years ago.
Having worked in direct-to-DVD and microcinema for a number of years now I find myself spending a lot of time in 2008 thinking about what might be coming next with delivery platforms and entertainment options. But way back at the headwaters of that entertainment river there is still a dude with a keyboard. I am still speculating on what I may be writing next.
Give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Your produced work in recent times has dealt with horror and specifically monsters of one sort or another (Among Us' Bigfoot, Peter Rottentail's killer bunny, Sex Machine's frankenstein-ish creation, Razorteeth's killer fish). Have you always had a love of monsters or did you just happen to fall into writing this run of creature features?
Everything old is new again—which is good, because I’m old. I think we’re in a period of time where there is a lot of interest in the classic, archetypal “creature features.” This is great news for me because this is a lot of what I grew up on, as well as Italian sword and sandal epics, Mexican wrestling flicks, Japanese rubber monster outings, Hong Kong kung fu thrillers, and the occasional Russian sci-fi opus. I missed the whole slasher phenom more or less; I remember in high school my brother and I taking some girls on a double date to an early Friday the 13th picture that was sold out, and that was probably the end of that. I do understand why people make flat tons of microcinema slasher movies, because it represents a certain time in that person’s life that means something. That doesn’t mean it’s overall a good genre, though; but I understand it. For instance, I know in my heart that Abba’s “Dancing Queen” isn’t that good, but it represents a certain time in my life, so I can’t help but tap my toes when it’s on. That being said, horror isn’t my favorite genre, and I had a lot of catching up to do from everything that happened in it post-college when I landed a scriptwriting assignment writing a horror project for the Polonia Brothers. I think that’s why I have had a fair amount of luck with horror; since I wasn’t deeply immersed in it as a fan I can look at it from the outside a bit and hopefully provide some different perspectives.
How did you hook up with the prolific Polonia Brothers?
My day job is working in technology at a Midwestern university, and a student of mine was a big b-movie fan and gave me a couple of tapes that turned out to be the Polonia Brothers’ Blood Red Planet and Brett Piper’s Drainiac. Despite its motorcycle helmet space suits and gravel pit planetscapes and sock puppet monsters, Blood Red Planet is full of fun and love of the genre and it jumped right out at me and punched me between the eyes with its pure energy. I saw Mark Polonia had a credit on Drainiac as well, a nice little picture, so I sought him out and discovered we both worked at Midwestern universities and had families and so on. We corresponded for quite some time before we worked on a (unrealized) project or two together, and a bit beyond that before Among Us got greenlit. You’ve got to give respect to the Polonia Brothers, whether you love them or hate them--and nobody seems neutral on the topic, and there seems to be legions on both sides! They are among the few pioneers who blazed a trail in the SOV/DV field that a lot of people followed along behind, and they have helped many, many filmmakers along the way. They’ve put around twenty features out there that are in distribution, dating back to their high school days, and there aren’t too many people out there in microcinema (or in Hollywood, for that matter) who have that much work on the shelves. The Brothers are great, fun guys who really love what they’re doing. I hope they save me a seat on the rocket, and I will save one for them.
What were some of the highlights of your trip up tothe Among Us shoot?
I think the initial heady moment was hearing my words spoken by an actor—in this case, Hunter Austin—for the first time. Unfortunately, that first speech included the word “cornhole.” There were a few moments where I had to think WWWGD—What Would William Goldman Do?—like when I carried some heavy equipment across a rickety bridge, or watched Bob Dennis burn my script up in the campfire scene, or when I had to don the Bigfoot suit for the climax and almost passed out from the lack of nose-holes in the mask. It’s funny, but there’s one scene in the “making of” documentary on the DVD that shows me cooking dinner for everybody and blithely making rice without any butter (there was none at the cabin). I have probably had more people ask me how that rice turned out than anything in the movie!
Tell us about your script-to-screen experiences -sometimes a lot changes between the two. Have you been happy about some? Unhappy about others?
There is no doubt there are a lot of changes for good and ill. Some things don’t work out, with changes in actors or locations or weather or what have you, but even if everything goes smoothly you see your script changed through the actor’s interpretations as well as the director’s perspectives. I think what you come to realize is that a script really isn’t your baby—you’re delivering somebody else’s baby. You can argue your case up to a point but ultimately it rests in the hands of someone else; that’s why God invented pseudonyms. Though I have vowed never to use one. I remember when I did a rewrite over the Polonia Brothers’ Razorteeth that Mark called and complained that I had included a plane crash as well as a dam blowing up—and I had to remind him that they were both in the original script! John Polonia then said, “Don’t worry, if we can’t figure it out we’ll shemp it”—which would send a chill down any screenwriter’s spine, though in this case it all looked pretty good in the end.
What do you feel are the most important things to keep in mind when you're writing a script?
I think no matter if you’re writing Bigfoot scripts or killer rabbit movies or whatever you have to think about resonant characters, dialogue, and backstories. It may seem stupid if you’re just doing genre work but you have to give audiences something to hook onto and then they will go along with whatever your plot happens to be. I’ve had a chance to do quite a bit of rewrite and polish work for a handful of projects and think those are my strengths in particular, so of course I’m going to say that, but I do think it is true. I also think a good rule of thumb is to write movies you would like to see, instead of ones you think everyone else wants to see. The old adage that if you try to please everyone you’ll generally please nobody really rings true in movies. And as far as audiences go, it’s never wise to try to write down to them. A viewer can’t always articulate what is wrong with a feature, but they can tell something is; that’s why it’s so important to pay attention to foreshadowing and subtext, but also I think if you try to phone it in or are cynical about the outcome of the project a viewer can smell it a mile away. If you are going to write genre pictures you have to do it because you love the movies and not because you’re trying to break into the industry that way.
There's much talk of the "digital filmmakingrevolution" including Francis Ford Coppola's infamous comment about the next great movie coming from a little fat girl in Ohio. Do you have any perspectiveon digital filmmaking and it's purported "leveling" of the film world playing field?
I wish that little fat girl would call me, I could always use more work! I do believe there is a revolution at hand. When I was a little kid in the early 70s in my Indiana hometown there was no Internet, no PCs, no cable, no cell phones, no VCRs, no Blockbuster. When I was a teenager in the early 80s the list gets only slightly shorter. I was watching TV with my teenaged daughter the other day and she did not recognize that a record player was being used in a scene. That tells you how much has changed in 25 years or so. Once upon a time I was making Super-8s with my brother and showing them on the side of the garage, and that was about as far as that could go. Now with the web and grassroots DV technology you can reach the world in a very literal sense. There is no doubt that this has helped my writing career, as I can deal with people electronically or over the phone all around the country and still live in several square miles of cornfield. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, because you see a lot of high school kids with camcorders building websites and calling themselves “filmmakers,” which we didn’t have the chutzpah to do when I was a kid, and if we did there was nobody to listen. The other danger is that so many people want to emulate Hollywood movies. But that’s not the power of grassroots DV; it is in hearing other voices, from other lands, especially that great “Flyover Country” between LA and NY. Those people telling stories that they want to hear, as I said earlier, are the most powerful, I think. You’ve got Christopher Sharpe out in Oklahoma City, Jason Santo up around Boston, Jay Bauman in Milwaukee, Joe Sherlock out in Oregon, Scott Phillips out in Albuquerque, and the list goes on and on. Of course, I think analog cable access and good old-fashioned paper ‘zines/underground comix still remain vibrant and viable and represent that grassroots ethos, and I’ve dipped a little into those as well. Ironically, I started pursuing writing screenplays because I kept hitting brick walls writing for comics! I think everyone who writes would like to see their work up on the big screen or on the best-seller list, but in my heart of hearts I think a lot about the kid finding the dusty paperback in the corner of the library or that rental on the bottom shelf at the back of the store, and wondering who those people were, and thinking “Maybe I can do this too,” and of course I think a lot about that because once that kid was me. And there’s something tantalizing about realizing that you have a project that is on its own in the great wide world, and that it exists, and can’t ever be taken back, and maybe somebody will come across it someday and be inspired to do it and do it better.
Any projects in the works or coming out soon you'dlike to mention?
Right at this moment Christopher Sharpe’s Sex Machine is wrapping up in Oklahoma City and the Polonia Brothers’ Razorteeth is cooking in post out in Pennsylvania, both of which I did rewrites over. I have two others in development that I hope will see the light of day soon, and quite a few others in various stages. One would be my first theatrical release. The painful truth is that you have to keep a lot of things in the hopper all the time, because for every one thing I have out there I have the floating corpses of three other projects in its wake (though, in true horror movie fashion, you never know when one might come back to life some day). I honestly have been so busy with other people’s projects, especially in the last eighteen months or so, that I haven’t had time to work up much on my own or many spec scripts. This summer I wrote a modern dress/original prose adaptation of an obscure Shakespeare play that I have wanted to do for ages and now that I have that out of my system I’m ready to make some more monsters kill some more people.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
When did you decide to become a screenwriter and how did you become one?
My wife and I were talking about this the other day. I don’t know if you can become a writer or if you just are one. My wife has never wanted to be anything but a writer no matter what her day job is. I started out liking cartooning, but I was ass-terrible, though that still doesn’t stop me from drawing minicomics now and then today. When my word balloons got bigger than my drawings I switched over mostly to short story writing.
I have always been interested in movies and started looking into writing screenplays. I started shooting Super-8 shorts in the late 70s and made probably around 30 shorts over the next handful of years, as well as a pair of shot-on-video features with a friend. These video cameras were the huge, heavy ones with the umbilical that ran down to a big videotape deck that this friend borrowed from his dad’s work, with credits output from an old Radio Shack computer. True old school.
I wrote a couple of plays in high school that placed in some competitions. I got to act in one at the last minute when the kid playing one of the parts quit. His name was “Mike Gross” and everyone later thought I picked that as a pseudonym. It’s the only time I’ve used one, inadvertently.
In college I made the decision to concentrate more on screenwriting and wrote a project to enter into the David Letterman Telecommunications Scholarship Competition. I wasn’t sure I had the tools at the time to do a project the way I envisioned it, but the beauty of writing is that you can build it as large as you want in your mind.
During the awards ceremony I was kind of slinking down in my chair because everyone else had clips to show, and I had nothing, just a pile of paper sitting on a table. So when I won a scholarship, instead of thanking a long list of people I stood up and thanked the Smith-Corona typewriter company and the makers of White-Out. This was in the year 1987 A.D. and thus I typed the entire 135 page project on an electric typewriter. I was the first person to win a scholarship based on writing alone.
What were some of your early screenplays?
I think my first feature-length script was a sophomoric tennis comedy called “Balls.” My only excuse is that I was an actual high school sophomore at the time. Then I wrote one called “How Not To Make A Movie,” being the sage veteran I was by my senior year in high school. In college I wrote a short about my dad’s life, and a senior thesis thriller feature-length script called “Deadlines” rather liberally splashed with my infatuation with Cornell Woolrich at the time.
I actually took a long layoff to be married, work a day job, have a family. But I did a lot of tech writing during that time, a nice solid income. I wrote about stuff like the history of the car battery and how to spot child abuse at day care facilities. Somebody has to write all of these scripts, right?
Then in the late 90s I started fooling with a couple of spec scripts again, but it wasn’t until the year 2000 that I decided to re-commit myself to freelancing. I wanted to give it until my 35th birthday. I did okay that first year and decided to give it one more year. I still judge one birthday at a time as to whether I want to keep going.
What were some of the films that inspired you or still do?
I would say “Battleship Potemkin” for editing, “The Bicycle Thief” for acting, and “Citizen Kane” for thinking up things people hadn’t thought up before. The movie I wish I made was “Dr. Strangelove.” I also love “Sunset Boulevard,” “The Bridge Over The River Kwai,” and “Manhattan,” for different reasons.
Who are some of your favorite writers in books or screenplays?
When I was first learning to write screenplays I went and checked out some bound screenplays of movies I liked. The college library had a ton. I believe the first ones I tried to emulate were Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It” and Steven Sonderbergh’s “sex, lies, and videotape.” For a boost I think “WWWGD”—What Would William Goldman Do?—and I read his books and screenplays for inspiration. Michael Tolkin has written some inspirational pieces. There are tons of people every day on the ‘net writing great commentary on writing.
You have dealt in horror, schlock, science fiction, and even the weird and strange. Are these the types of subject matter you prefer or is there another genre that you like or would rather work with?
I have a wide range of interests but saw a window of opportunity in this field. I would love to do more thrillers and noirish mysteries and even a good dime western. I would love to do a superhero story. But you know, horror/sci-fi/fantasy fans voraciously seek out content and will support ideas they love. It’s a good way to go.
Honestly I had a long layoff from horror; I did the whole Japanese rubber monster, Mexican wrestler, Italian strongman thing but studied film in the 80s in college and thus missed the whole slasher genre and thus don’t understand it. I had to do a lot of research to get caught up with the trends since I sort of tailed off post-George Romero.
Describe your writing process and what goes on when you are writing dialogue and character development.
I think why I have done so many rewrites is because I’ve always had an ear for dialogue and chroming out characters and backstories. You can develop this by just being interested in other people’s lives, listening to how people talk, watch people in airports and restaurants and so on and try to acculturate to local customs when you travel.
What would you say would be your style or writing trademark on a script?
I try to write what I want to see at the movies, which I’ve found isn’t always what others want to see. But if you try to write to please everyone, nobody will be satisfied. People talk about writing to an audience, but even if you write for yourself you are still writing for an audience—just an audience of one.
As far as trademarks, I’m a pretty hardcore nerd, but then so are a lot of the fans of these genres I write in—go to a comic book show, an RPG gaming show, and a sci-fi con, and you’ll see all the same dudes there. So I always try to include references to gaming, comics, and so on, because my dawgs don’t get a lot of shout-outs.
What are some of your favorite writing tools?
MovieMagic Screenwriter and Google. Google of course for research. If you are serious about screenwriting you have to get a screenwriting program, otherwise all of the time you are worrying about the math and not the writing. There’s always a big debate between MM and Final Draft, but I started on MM because the first producer I sold a script to allowed me to use his copy so we could exchange drafts. When that project was over he took it back, but I used the money I made to buy it for myself.
Tell us what a typical day of writing entails for you such as the process or the steps involved.
Since I work full-time and teach part-time my writing starts pretty late. When I am working on a project I try to commit to three to five pages a day. If I have an open Saturday I try to commit to 10 to 15 pages. If I’m not under the gun deadline-wise, I like to put the script away in the proverbial drawer when I’m done with it and come back in a few days with fresh eyes for a polish. My wife likes to sit outside with the laptop but I’m kind of old school in that I like to sit at a desk.
Everybody has their own style. I never outline or use notecards or anything. I just keep moving it around in my head until it’s ready, then I start in. I don’t like to talk it out with anyone because I am always afraid talking about it will drain the energy out of it.
What was your fastest writing gig you ever did?
I had kind of wanted to stay clear of the Polonia Brothers’ “Peter Rottentail” because, well, it was about a giant rabbit killing people. But as the shooting date closed in I softened in my resolve a bit and agreed to do a quick polish over it. When it arrived in the mail I saw it was part of an old script called “Psycho Clown” with some of the names crossed out, and a bunch of handwritten pages on lined paper stuck in here and there, all bolted together with brass screws. I turned it around in a long weekend, three days, and shot it back. I believe they started shooting as soon as they got it. Normally I can’t write that fast because I have a day job and other obligations. I have done a full script up from scratch in three weeks, but I like having about six weeks. Recently I did a polish for director Terrence Muncy on a script called “Cow Boy” and did it in about three weeks, then the day I shipped that out I started on “Black Mass” for the Polonia Brothers and finished it in three weeks. A rewrite and a new script in six weeks is pretty fast, I think.
In my opinion the work of the Polonia Brothers have greatly improved since you became a writer for them. When did you first meet them and what can you describe the writing process working with them?
I don’t know if their work has necessarily improved, it’s just different. One of my favorites of theirs is “Dweller,” and I think John Polonia has a pretty tight little script there. That being said, I think they have acknowledged that the scripts aren’t their strongest points. I think they are very solid technically. People poke fun at older features like “Feeders,” but think of what technology they had then. And, unlike my camcorder epics of the time, this one got distributed.
How I met them was that I had a student at Ball State University who was a big fan of theirs and loaned me “Blood Red Planet” because it had some Video Toaster FX, and that was what we were posting on at the university at the time. I really fell in love with their energy and excitement despite the threadbare look of the project and emailed Mark Polonia. We emailed back and forth a long time before a project came up, and then that fell through, then another, and then finally the Bigfoot movie “Among Us” came up, and we’ve been on a good clip since then.
They almost always seem to start with a good title and an outline. For instance, all I had for “Among Us” was that it was going to be in a cabin and feature two men and a woman. I built it all out from there. Other times they have had the basic scenes sketched or written out and then I rewrite those and build it out from there to a feature length.
You have to give them credit in that they are always willing to try new things. My “Among Us” script is a bit off the beaten track and I think a lot of people would have sent me back to the drawing board.
I remember one time Bob Dennis telling me that the Brothers came into the video store he ran in Pennsylvania and he started talking to them about a movie he wanted to do. They basically encouraged him to start it and that they would help him. That became “Savage Vows,” and started a long partnership with Bob acting in many of their features, including Billy in “Among Us” and Hearn in “Black Mass,” two of my scripts. They are really encouraging and supportive guys.
I noticed that some of the scripts you have written for the Polonia Brothers range from about 60 to 80 pages is that intentional for running time or is there a different method you use outside of what some call the standard of one page equals a minute of screentime?
You can be leaner on genre scripts because sex and gore and the old staple, running through the woods, will add to the run time. It’s always better to be a shade long so you don’t have to pad, though. In the case of the Polonia Brothers they like to run very lean so that they can take it in whatever direction they want. Or, in the immortal words of John Polonia, “if it doesn’t work, we’ll shemp it.”
You have also rewritten the script for Chris Sharpe’s SEX MACHINE. I know that the whole project is somewhat shrouded in secrecy, but what can you reveal to us about that project?
Chris calls it a “metrosexual Frankenstein story.” I would say it’s a bit Universal Horror and a bit Film Noir, starring people cooler than me.
The film seems to be a bit outside of the usual b-movie subject matter and yet at the same it is not. How much did writing the script for SEX MACHINE differ from writing for other b-movies?
I’ve admired Chris for a while because of his work on “Eyeball” Magazine and some of his other efforts. Out of the blue he emailed me and asked if I would read a script for him. I did so and shot him back some coverage. He asked if I would be willing to come on board to make the changes on it. I’m glad I did because I knew it was going to be something really good. Chris had his entire world mapped out in his mind and was intent on doing everything at another level than the norm.
You also worked on COW BOY, what can you tell us about that?
It’s from a first-time director who loves “creature features” and poured his love of those movies into the project. I punched it up a bit and think it will be very interesting.
Besides doing just rewrites, you have also written some original screenplays including your own spec scripts. Describe some of them to us if you can and what the process behind working on an original script versus a rewrite? Is one easier than the other or are they both about the same?
I like doing rewrites because the basic structure is there and I can just have fun making offbeat characters and working up dialogue riffs for them. When you write your own it is all on you, including making the plot add up. I have actually had very few opportunities to do original scripts and have never sold one. In fact I think every project I have ever been hired for, which today is around a dozen features, already came with a title, even.
When I write my original scripts I do them completely for myself. I try to do one every summer. The very first one was an urban action movie that generated a lot of interest but never has sold, though it was a calling card for other work. Later I did a dark sword and sorcery script that was sort of a calling card to the Polonia Brothers. I wrote a horror movie set in the world of backyard wrestling that got shopped around for a long time. I did an alternate future nerd-fi opus that may yet get made and a modern dress/original prose Shakespeare adaptation that will probably never see the light of day. But I think to keep sane you have to do put something in your back pocket purely for yourself once in a while.
When working with filmmakers or writers while doing rewrites is there ever a butting of heads of how the direction of the flick goes?
Only in the writing stages. Once it’s done, and it’s heading for the set, you have to let it go. You have to know that you are not having a baby, you are delivering somebody else’s baby. I argue a point only so far, then you might as well cede to the director’s vision. For instance, Chris Sharpe had a main character in “Sex Machine” called Leather Girl that I thought should have a name. I believe in giving every character a name. My production background tells me somebody would rather put “Officer Mooney” on their resume than “Cop #2,” and you can get better talent that way. I suggested several but Chris insisted on going without it, and he ended up getting a good actress for the part regardless.
Returning back to the Polonia Brothers for a moment; they are right now in post-production on BLACK MASS (formerly HELLSHOCK). What can you tell us about that film and what went into writing it?
The Polonias watched to stretch their wings a bit and were batting around a lot of ideas, including a western. They finally hit on a World War II horror thriller because a lot of elements fell into place, including finding a guy who had a bunch of period costumes and weapons. I’m a big fan of that genre in novels and movies so I was really eager to do it. I named the characters after some of my favorite novels, including Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun,” Norman Mailer’s “The Naked and the Dead,” and my all-time favorite, Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22.” I have read a lot of Stephen Ambrose non-fiction and drew on that a bit. I researched the time period in other ways to come up with ideas for characters, including making Brice Kennedy’s character Danby a fan of Bill Maudlin’s “Willie and Joe” comics.
The other thing I tried to do with the script was apply some 21st century ideas to a 40s potboiler framework, by talking about contemporary issues such as racism, homophobia, and family dysfunctions. There’s still plenty of monster attacks, though.
Has there ever been a time when you were writing for yourself or another filmmaker and you said to yourself that you were going to far with a scene or thought what a filmmaker wanted was too extreme for you? If so how did you deal with it?
Everyone has to set their limits early on about what you feel comfortable with. Once I said I didn’t want to write anything my grandma couldn’t see but had to abandon that pretty quickly. My dislikes run towards rape and child abuse. There was a scene in “Peter Rottentail” where Peter basically raped a girl, and I called the Polonias up and said, “Guys, you have some bestiality rape stuff in here, which sort of cuts the comedy a bit if you know what I mean.” So I changed it to be consensual, meaning the worst case of beer goggles ever. But if that’s the only part where you have to suspend disbelief you’re doing okay.
Mark Polonia shot Leslie Culton covered in blood and writhing nude in his actual bed in “House That Screamed 2” but was really squeamish about cussing in a church during “Black Mass.” Everybody has their limits.
If you are working in b-movies the porn question is always kind of out there too, I think.
You also have had to face certain restrictions as far as the budget of the filmmaker is concerned. As a writer how do you restrain yourself from going overboard with certain sequences or number of characters in a script in order to keep the film script within the budget of the project?
You start to realize there are ways to structure it to limit locations and people after you have done it a few times. I think there are probably thirty speaking parts in “Among Us” but many of those scenes are shot individually, and the bulk of it is only four people. If you break out your “kill” scenes in a horror movie, for instance, you can shoot those at your own pace and then shoot the biggest part of it all at once with your principal actors. I think it has helped that I have a background in television production and have had a chance to visit the set of a couple of my features. It helps you think about workarounds and ways to cut corners and yet still make the feature look “bigger.”
Have you ever faced writer’s block and what were some of the ways you overcame it?
I think everybody gets writer’s block. The trick is to make the lows shorter and the highs longer. It’s the long, dark valleys that are the killers. For me, it helps to change up my routines; listen to different music, read different magazines, check out manga or foreign films to see people thinking differently than I do.
Would you say the market of getting into writing low budget films such as direct-to-dvd is extremely difficult or easy?
A lot of people think it’s easy to just “bang something out.” Nothing is really easy; it’s always your butt in the chair when the sun is shining and there’s no way to get around that. Just like with low budget filmmaking; no movie costs nothing. Outside of equipment, people’s time is worth something. That’s why I think as long as you are doing it you should try to make it as good as you can. Mark Polonia has said that if someone thinks it is so easy they should try it themselves, and I’m a bit of the same mindset. There are so many dreamers and talkers and very few doers. And of those that do, there are so many movies that never go anywhere and get released. To have something out there that can be found on the shelf is lightning in a bottle.
Were there some projects that you have worked on that you found too difficult or challenging for you and what were some of the techniques you did to help you keep yourself to continue on?
I think everybody hits the wall at a certain page count. Sometimes you can jump ahead and write a scene later on that you’ve already figured out. Sometimes you just have to keep typing until the rusted gears start turning again. A lot of times what you wrote is crap and has to be junked but at least you kept moving forward.
Are there any tricks of the trade that you are willing to share with others who are also interested in writing their first screenplay?
I think you have to read a lot to be able to write well, to fill your mind with ideas. I recommend reading other people’s screenplays to see how things are done, especially with professional formats. I think you have to nurture networks and friendships. I think people try to guard themselves too closely. I believe in helping out others as much as I can. Jon McBride once told me that you can’t really push anyone’s career ahead of your own, but if you move forward you can pull others in your wake. And of course others can pull you along too. I think that’s an important distinction because it frees you from being so competitive with other people in the industry and you can try to look out more for one another. The history of b-movies shows that some people are going to catch fire, and it would be nice to be standing close to the heat when it happens to somebody in your circle of acquaintances.
What are some of the cliches of other writers or filmmakers that you cringe at as a writer? And as a writer how would you recommend others to stray away from cliches?
There’s too many clichés to name them all here. I think the main problem is that if you are going to draw on what has happened before you need to go all the way back to the source material, not just copy what you just saw. Tarantino took ideas from pulp novels and Hong Kong fare and then filtered it through a 70s backbeat. Then a whole generation of people just copied Tarantino, spawning a wave of smart-assed movies where dudes walked around in sunglasses. People need to do their research, as well as develop a curiosity for exploring their own ideas.
Out of all of the many screenplays that you have done which are you the most proud of?
I spent last summer working up a modern dress, original prose version of an obscure Shakespeare play that I set in the dotcom boom and bust. It is such a flawed play that it is rarely performed, and there are questions as to whether it was a draft, or written by somebody else, and so on. When I heard about it I thought, hell, I’ve started with worse, and I always wanted to adapt a Shakespeare play. But I could literally not get anyone to finish reading it. I think it has an audience, somewhere.
As a final question if you were to write a book what would be three golden rules that you think aspiring writers should always follow?
The only rule I think you have to follow is to be proud of everything that leaves your keyboard.