Thursday, February 28, 2008

John Polonia's Fans Remember

I have received literally hundreds of hits from people looking for information about the sad, sudden death of prolific b-movie filmmaker John Polonia, so I am going to continue to post links here to other places as I can gather them up, as I have over the last few days.

Fangoria Magazine posts the news. I know John loved Fango, so I was glad to see this.

Some fans have made a YouTube tribute here.

Polonia Brothers Fan Site administrator Tim Shrum weighs in here.

B-movie reviewer Doug Waltz posts here.

DVD Maniacs have started a thread.

You can check the last few days for more, including Brett Kelly's very nice tribute site featuring other well-known b-movie filmmakers.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

John Polonia 1968-2008

I checked my blog stats and saw I got almost 200 hits yesterday, many googling information about John Polonia. Several people have reposted my comments here at other sites, and are welcome to do so. But many other folks have had nice things to say, with stories and message board threads at Microcinema Scene, B-Independent, The Polonia Brothers Fan Club, Retromedia Forum, the Pretty-Scary horror site, Dread Central, the Rue Morgue horror site, Camp Motion Pictures, and elsewhere. Filmmaker Brett Kelly has posted a tribute website which has some really nice things on it, worth checking out.

There are many other people posting thoughts as the news gets out into the b-movie community and I hope to post more later as I find them.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

John Polonia: In Memory

Friend and prolific b-movie filmmaker John Polonia passsed away suddenly yesterday of a heart aneurysm. He was 39 and leaves a wife and young son.

John was an incredibly funny person who enjoyed home and family life and could talk movies with a great fervor. He turned this love of movies into a memorable filmmaking career.

John was a good friend to me and a lot of other filmmakers. He was a great lover of cinema and had a vast collection of movies stored on the shelves of his home and in his brain. He had a dream to make movies and lived that dream every single day since his teenage years. I spoke with him a few weeks ago about a new project I would rewrite over one of his scripts and he was as excited about these upcoming prospects as he was about every project.

I think we are too close to the Polonia Brothers' legacy for it to be properly measured. They first got distribution as teenagers and are noted for having one of the first shot on SVHS features to be accepted at Blockbuster. They produced and directed more than 30 features in 20-some years that were distributed direct to video. They were incredibly prolific and successful together and embraced a large fan base while being courteous to foes. Their role in the rise of VHS rentals, the mom and pop stores, the SOV era, and then the direct-to-video DVD boom, will have to be noted much farther down the timeline to see what they have really meant as people and professionals.

I can say in total honesty I have never met anyone like John. When I first saw "Blood Red Planet" I knew the Brothers were special as very unique filmmakers and I later came to learn they were incredible individuals as well.

You can see John's imdb profile here. Bill Cunningham reflects here. And you can read responses from the Polonia Brothers' Fan Club here.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

I Come From the Land of the Ice and Snow

I have started helping with judging the Phantoscope Indiana High School Film Festival, and I have to say there are a lot of talented kids getting ready to bust out in America's Heartland.

A friend bought this game and I can hardly wait to play it with him.

Check out my pal Amit Tripuraneni's trailer for the NZ thriller FIVE here (and you can see what I thought of his movie here).

And definitely check out Miguel Coyula's trailer for his new movie MEMORIAS DEL DESARROLLO here. I have said via Microcinema Scene and elsewhere that Coyula's RED COCKROACHES is the milestone achievement in microcinema and that Coyula will be a break-through star. I have been eagerly waiting for this one for some time. Hopefully Miguel will remember that I shared a bunk bed with him at Microcinema Fest in Rapid City, South Dakota a few years back.

I was snowed under in Cincinnati on business Friday night but on the plus side had some really good barbecue. Then I went to this place Saturday and had a really nice roast duck. My only happiness as the winter trudges on.

Until later, give me a shout at

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Under Ice-Blue Skies

At the day job the snow was falling so prettily I went out and shot some stock footage for a day when we might need some pretty snow footage for something or other. It is coming down at a good clip and looks nice through the viewfinder but otherwise sucks.

Unfortunately I learned Steve Gerber died. He was a influential comic book writer of my youth, especially on THE DEFENDERS though more remember him from HOWARD THE DUCK and OMEGA THE UNKNOWN. My former high school classmate Tom Spurgeon weighs in here and writer Mark Evanier here.

Warren Ellis is posting a free online comic called FREAK ANGELS and so far it is off to a good start. Check it out here. And you can check out what I thought of his first book here.

Five Things About the Occult Hand? Weird!

Until later catch me at

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Yesterday my brother and I attended the Third Annual Indiana Festival of Independent Film and Video in Bloomington, Indiana, put on by Cinephile Film Arts at the historic Buskirk-Chumley Theater.

But first we had to go have Burmese food (I had a great pork curry) and hit two of my favorite B-town shops, Vintage Phoenix and Boxcar Books, where I loaded up on zines and comics.

The opening speaker was Hoosiers scribe Angelo Pizzo, who talked about the new moviemaking incentives coming to Indiana (over the governor's veto, interestingly) but was asked, strangely enough, mostly about YouTube. I thought it was good that he answered, wisely, that YouTube and downloads and all that are all well and good, but dramatic three act structure has been around a couple thousand years and isn't going anywhere right away. He left before I got to wax nostalgic with him about my time as an extra on Hoosiers many years ago.

The first short was First They Came For by Kate Chaplin, basically a nice little adaptation of the Martin Niemoller poem, set in a near-future Orwellian setting.

Next was the darkly absurdist comedy short Human Resources by Brenan Campbell, a
Kafka-esque short speculating about who is on the other side of those "time and temperature" phone calls.

Zach Kahl then served up In Chicago: A Jazz Documentary about the long-lived scene in the Windy City. The short doc was a bit ragged around the edge production-wise, sometime leaving me unsure about whether Kahl was making style choices or technical mistakes, but the content was engaging.

Foxy Madonna vs. the Black Death was a Grindhouse-style short long on style and laughs (and longtime readers may recall I predicted this trend was coming, much as we ended up with a million Pulp Fiction-style projects a decade ago). Again I wondered whether Jakob Bilinski's rough-hewn style was entirely intentional, but he earns points for creativity. I especially liked mute, poker-faced minion "Chalkboard" who writes dire threats on a scrap of schoolhouse waste.

Next, Ben Williams' The Gingerbread Slums was a cute-ish 120 seconds of animation where a gingerbread man fights a couple of criminals. More an exercise than a real short but interesting to look at.

My pal Peter O'Keefe, who I taught a workshop with at Microcinema Fest a few years ago, logged in Infidel, where a hitman waiting to finish a contract strikes up a conversation with a street preacher at a diner, a meeting that holds dire portents for both. Very nicely shot, with good performances, and serious religious and social themes. When I added this to the other shorts I've seen of Peter's, I realized he still has a lot of Catholic guilt to work through, and I wish him well.

Little Sister Manipulator from 19th State Productions was a breezy slacker comedy where a twenty-something brother and sister pass a lazy afternoon in age-old rivalries. I thought this short had a nice energy in its production and presentation.

I thought Ben Williams' LesPsych was a little less sure-footed, set up as a "behind the scenes" documentary about the making of a z-grade horror movie, and how the lead actress begins to slowly unravel during the process. The horror movie scenes I'm sure were intentionally funny, but I was unclear whether the other aspects were intended to be, or whether the short was trying to find a higher plane. Uneven, and self-referential, but certainly interesting.

Mikel J. Wisler's Cellar Door was a lyrically shot, but thematically muddled, story about a young woman who begins to fray around the edges after the death of her father, and how she tries to put the pieces back together by visiting the family's remote cabin. The nonlinear storytelling is interesting but I thought the storytelling was a little soft in spots. However, Rachel Cottom basically carries the whole piece herself and shows a nice range as the troubled lead. Overall, nice solid work.

Brenan Campbell's The King of Pop was a raunchy sketch about the death of a popcorn magnate named Orville, and the wayward brother who is brought in to save the company. One of those "throw everything at the screen and see what sticks" comedies with a lot of smart-ass style and enough laughs for its short running time.

Semantics from Kathryn Gardner was a nice character sketch, with some stylish production riffs, about a socially stunted professor who is confronted by a friend about her actions. The twist at the end takes a moment to sink in and left me wondering what was going to happen next. Nicely done but left me wanted to see the short expanded, to see more of these characters.

Pearlessence from Rob Dietz and Phyllis Chen was a dreamy exercise in animation which surprised me by having a live score, performed by Chen silent movie-style. Chen's performance was excellent and the animation interesting. Probably the most curious work in the festival.

I enjoyed my day in Bloomington and will be seeking out Cinephile's next festival.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Such Were The Plans I Made

It is evil cold, in your bones cold, nose hair freezing cold, pipes under the sink frozen cold. I dreamed it was hot summer and I was painting a big white house with my brother and some friends. Then I woke up with frigid cold air sneaking around the windows and under the door.

My wife and I went to the Home and Garden Show in Indianapolis, or as I like to call it, the March of Recrimination. You see a happy woman walking with an unhappy man or two happy men walking together but never one happy woman and one happy man.

It seems like things break down in threes. My water heater quit and then the blower on my furnace seized up in the middle of the night, making for an unpleasant morning, and then the other day my over caught on fire and the broiler coil burned itself out like a fuse, looking like a twisty sparkler.

It is reading time and watching movies time and hunkering down to drink coffee time.

In the meantime there is always the potential for new projects on the horizon, and some day, the sun.

And more good news is that it looks like the writer's strike might be over. In case anybody asks later I didn't scab. After seven scripts in '07 I had wanted to take the end of the year off anyway so it's almost like the WGA consulted me, which is nice to think about.

Ice and snow and freezing rain are coming down and the soup is on the stove. Until later I am at

Monday, February 11, 2008

10 Questions with the JOD

I thought I would share this interview I did with a college student who is interested in breaking into screenwriting and had to write about his aspirations for his creative writing class. I suggested that he aim higher than my fragile career, but he proceeded with the interview anyway.

1. Why (and when) did you start writing screenplays?

I actually started storyboarding when my friends and I made our first Super-8mm movies back in the late 70s. At the time they were basically adaptations of comics I was drawing at the time, a lengthy series featuring all of my friends in an apocalyptic stand against the Soviet invasion of the U.S. in 1999 A.D. Basically I began to realize my drawing wasn't getting any better and my word balloons were getting larger. When we moved to video I started making my first tentative stabs at writing actual scripts. One early one I wrote was called "Balls" and was about a high school tennis team. It was very sophomoric, but I was a sophomore at the time. I had some success writing an audio play that won in a statewide A/V competition for high school kids, and I won a statewide high school playwriting competition.

In college I kept at it and in 1987 wrote "West Coast Campus" which was the first script to win a David Letterman Scholarship at Ball State University. After that I worked and had a family and did a little tech writing and basically didn't get paid for a creative writing project again until 2000. I had decided to spend one year concentrating on my screenwriting and had some good luck working into a project for a producer. That never got produced but it helped me leverage into more work, and I have completed over fifteen screenplays for producers and a few on spec since then.

2. What knowledge does one need to aquire before writing a screenplay?How does one inquire such knowledge?

Back then I read the screenplays of a lot of movies I liked at the time to learn the format--"Sex Lies and Videotape" and "She's Gotta Have It" come to mind as early ones I read. I got these from the public library but now there are screenplays all over the web. Formatting is very important to learn because producers don't need an excuse to throw your script in the trash. There are hundreds of screenplays flowing over production companies at an alarming rate, and they will go on to the next one.

So definitely read screenplays but also just read and see what trends are out there and what people are doing. When you make a little money, or have a little, but a screenwriting program like MovieMagic or Final Draft and a lot of the puzzle pieces will be put together for you, making it easier to concentrate on your content.

3. How does screenwriting differ from writing short storys or novels?

You have to show more and tell less. Some producers don't like descriptives at all. I don't think it hurts to be descriptive as long as you don't tell the producer/director what camera angles to put in and all that; they don't like that. If they tell you "I can see this movie," then you've got them hooked. If they can't "see" it, they won't be interested.

Ultimately novels are written for readers, but screenplays aren't written for viewers; they are written for producers and directors, and then their product is for viewers. It is an important distinction.

4. What is your writing habit? How many hours do you write a day/week?

When I am committing to a project or projects I do 3-5 pages a day through the week at night and more on the weekends. But I need breaks from time to time and when I do that I like to keep my mind filled with interesting movies and books.

5. Tell me your “breaking in story.”

A longtime friend, Ivan Rogers, had shot a movie on 35mm and transferred the movie to videotape to do the editing to save some money. I was a pretty sharp tape editor back in the day and I offered to help on a part he was stuck on. I edited the tape and then they used the open edge numbers on the tape to match back to the film and cut the film. I did one scene and that led to another and then I ended up getting an assistant editor credit on the project. What was weird was that I only edited the action scenes and actually didn't see anybody alive until I went to the premiere. When it came to my fee all I asked was for him to help me shop some scripts, as he was based in LA at the time and I was in Indiana. I didn't see a lot of movies being shot in Indiana but knew I could write anywhere. He was good to his word and introduced me to some people.

That led to a project that was listed in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. I then made a goal to send out 100 letters to producers and directors and so on pointing to recent issues of those trades and mentioned that I was available for hire. I only got one response, from direct-to-video b-movie guru Mark Polonia. We did a project together and that led to another and then people started calling me and then all of a sudden I had done a bunch of direct-to-video horror movies.

The funny thing was that I had had a long layoff from watching horror, probably since the late 70s as I spent my college years trying to be a film school-type hipster, so I had to reacquaint myself with a lot of stuff.

6. How many screenplays have you written? How many of those screenplayswere made into movies?

I think I have done around fifteen or so to date; those on video shelves include the bigfoot movie "Among Us," the killer rabbit movie "Peter Rottentail," the pirahna movie "Razorteeth," the supernatural horror "Dead Knight" (The Da Vinci Curse overseas), and the frankenstein movie "Sex Machine" which is not a porno as some people think. A ventriloquist dummy movie I wrote called "Splinterhead" had been in production for a while and may come out in 2008. I did a lot of stuff towards the end of 2007 so hopefully something will get made this year but even stuff older than that you can never count out. "Sex Machine" had a very long gestation from when I was first contacted to do a rewrite to when it came out, a period of several years.

7. What all does a screenwriter need to know before selling ascreenplay? How does one then sell?

My story was a bit unusual because I came in on the production side. But any way you do it you need to cultivate a network of people you know because you never know who lightning may strike. The b-movie actor Jon McBride once told me that you can't push other people's careers ahead of your own, but if your career takes off you can pull people behind you, and I think that is very wise counsel. If you start making a web presence and showing up at Cons and watching trends and just writing friendly letters to people in the industry you can start sowing the seeds for the future. Ninety percent or more of the people you will meet who dream about movies are just doing that--dreaming. And there are a lot of people who think if they can convince you their dreams are real then they become more real to them. So many people in the business you might want to work with are going to have their guards up, and it can take a while to build relationships. Being reliable and steady and level-headed and flexible will all help.

When you get a project going, get everything in writing and make sure people know how your name is spelled and what you expect your credit will say. Unless you are working with really good friends you trust and even then it's not a bad idea.

Make sure you set out a workable timeline. I have said before being a writer is like being a virgin. They will push and push and when you finally give up what you have the phone will stop ringing.

I have written a few specs but at least in direct to video most people want you to write their ideas; in fact practically every one has been that way. Sometimes you may even be given the title and a rough idea of the box cover art. So it's good to have some specs around so people know what you do but those probably aren't going to get made.

Register your own specs at the WGA East website just to be safe before you start shopping them around too much.

Some times it takes a long time for projects to bubble to the surface so I don't think it's a bad idea to have a lot of irons in the fire and have a lot of patience while things unfold.

8. What is a screenwriter’s average salary?

I have no idea but a lot of them work like dogs for not much money (as the writer's strike pointed out). Most people I know doing direct to video stuff still have day jobs. Not all, but most. I have been able to supplement my income doing this but it is a roll of the dice so I am glad I don't count on the money. Some movies make nothing or less than nothing and nobody ever sees any money. A couple of things end up with good legs, like "Among Us" playing on Canadian cable and "The Da Vinci Curse" doing well in Japan.

Some times I have taken a flat fee for rewriting, some times I have taken a percentage of the budget payable the day the project starts shooting and sometimes I have taken a back end deal. There are pluses and minuses to all of these ways. I think you have to guage the project and what your role ultimately is going to be. The back end has the most potential but could also end up with nothing. The front end is good incentive because the better you write, conceivably the more money they can raise, but if it never goes before the lens you don't get anything. The flat fee is good if you have a small role as a rewrite person or what have you but if it takes off you might regret it.

So basically until you sign a million dollar screenplay deal keep your day job. I have been lucky to work in broadcasting and/or media and/or IT my whole day job career and have drawn a lot of satisfaction from that.

9. Do you have to live in LA to make a decent living as a screenwriter?

It certainly helps, but there is good work being done everywhere and with the internet and cell phones there is no reason to do it unless you really want to get to another level. I am happy and have had success where I am, and with family considerations I like the comfort and stability of the midwest just fine. When I think about it I have met almost none of the people I have worked with in person, which is a strange thought.

10. Do you have any additional information to share for peopleinterested in being screenwriters?

My only advice is not to use a psuedonym; so basically don't do anything you aren't proud of when it leaves your keyboard. What happens after that isn't on you.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Class of Seven Four Gold Ring

Thankfully the demonic New England Patriots were struck down by the surprising
Giant(Killer)s, and one hundred thousand faithful Colts fans could sleep at night once more. Though it hurt my heart to see Peyton cheering from the one zillion dollar skybox instead of in his rightful place in the end zone and at the right hand of the Baby Jesus.

I played Heroclix against my Little Brother Harold during the first half and finally won a game, with my X-Men team (Cable, Havoc, Colossus, Quicksilver, and Marrow) handily defeating his Kingpin-led baddies (including Bullseye, Deadpool, Sandman, and somebody else I forget). Heroclix update: my brother Eric said he has a box of DC heroes Harold and I can pick through so that I can finish my Lost JLA Heroclix squad.

LOST is back, and it started giving me a headache in the first five minutes. I wish they had wrapped up fifty or sixty loose plot points before they soldiered on with a whole new bag.

I found this over the weekend and now my life is complete. Though the book is so big it's like carrying around the phonebook for Heaven.

New projects always percolating; more later, and until then catch me at

Friday, February 01, 2008

Lonesome Town

This kind of thing I like because it gets my mind to itching.

Actually this still does too.

This insane dude is cool. (Link courtesy Bill Cunningham)

I totally need to get hooked up with some Otaci. (Link thanks to Cory Doctorow)

Give me a yell at