Sunday, December 31, 2017

Favorite Reads of 2017

I read an astounding number of books this year, more than I ever have since keeping this blog, close to ten years ago.  But in a lot of ways it was a year like no other, on the national scene, local scene, and in my own extended family, and like a lot of people I burrowed down and read a lot.

Since I read a bit more, I turned this Top Ten list to 11.  Here are my favorite reads of 2017.  Enjoy!

Glaxo by Hernan Ronsino

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera

Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt

The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo by Ian Stansel

The Girls by Emma Cline

Tender Wings of Desire by Catherine Kovach

Saturday, December 23, 2017

And Over A Village, He Halted His Craft

 This post first appeared in I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, which you can subscribe to from this blog.

It's been a while, but as one might suspect this is the time of year where job and family day life eclipses b-movie night life.  It's the holiday season, but the weather is holding, so director Mark Polonia is still hammering away on the three screenplays I wrote for him all at once to shoot back to back.  THE HORRIBLE ASP is done, SEQUENCE SIX largely in the can, KRASNIKOV in the batter's box.  I like to use code names like the writer Warren Ellis, even though I am not under nondisclosure on these, but I wouldn't be surprised if more leaked out about these, soon.  It was a fun exercise to meet the challenge of writing three screenplays in a breakneck six weeks and I hope people have as much fun watching them as I did writing them.  Although there is always somebody eager to tell you that you suck.

I called the first one THE HORRIBLE ASP because I was listening to that REM song, but I gave the other ones specific names that are hints to what they are about.  If anyone can guess why I code-named the other two SEQUENCE SIX and KRASNIKOV I promise to send you a DVD of each when they come out.

Since I wrote THE GIRL WITH THE GRINDHOUSE HEART for myself, I had the rare luxury of going back and doing a rewrite, which I think makes it better, based on honest feedback I got from a screenwriter friend.  It's best to remember it's not your baby, but you are delivering somebody else's baby, and to take constructive feedback when you get it.  My favorite was "This is really YOUR script," which I loved, because I wanted to write something I would like to go see, another luxury.

Whenever I write a screenplay I like to keep a "Secret Soundtrack" in my head.  The actual rights to one of these soundtracks would far exceed the cost of, let's be honest, probably all of my movies, combined. Here is the one for THE GIRL WITH THE GRINDHOUSE HEART:

Brand New Key, Melanie

After the Gold Rush, Neil Young

There’s No Way Out of Here, Unicorn

My World Fell Down, Sagittarius

Flagpole Sitta, Harvey Danger

Sin City, Beck and Emmylou Harris

Folsom Prison Blues, Everlast

Pepper, Butthole Surfers

My Little Town, Simon and Garfunkel

Who’s That Lady?, The Isley Brothers


I have a big announcement that I am trying to keep the lid on until the first of the year, even from my loyal e-newsletter people, but I promise you will be very close to the first to know.

Until then, enjoy the holiday, and thanks for sticking with me.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

#Inktober 2017!

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

I didn't do as many #inktober sketches as I might have liked, getting about a dozen in.  Here are the most popular, as voted on by likes and comments on Instagram and Facebook.

At #3 was this request, which was to "draw Deadpool," not necessarily make a weird Fantastic Four lineup.  But this might make a cool one!  Here they are fighting The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

#2 was another request from my pal Tom, to draw Sunshine Superman and Skyrocket in one of those 60s style DC romance covers.  Weird, but I was happy with it.

And #1 I was super happy with, bringing back the Mind-Grabber Kid alongside a mind-controlled Justice Society and a pretty interesting Justice League line-up. I think this vaulted to #1 because of a discussion on Facebok about the frittered-away life of Amazing Man, killed senselessly with nobody bothering to bring him back.

I'll try to do more next year!

Just when we were about to fall into a show-hole, we thankfully found HOTEL BEAU SEJOUR, a Belgian crime show with supernatural overtones that kept me interested straight through.  Worth a try for the offbeat.  And we finished it just in time for the new season of THE GREAT BRITISH BAKING SHOW to appear on Netflix, a happy thing indeed.

Lots going on, and it seems like we are on a rocket to the holidays.  Talk again soon.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Crypt-Kicker Five

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

We did okay in our challenge to watch only horror movies in October.  We saw 18, but were late starters because there are so many actually horrible things going on in the world that we couldn't bring ourselves to watch one some nights.  Even at that, we watched a lot of comedy-horror.

If I were to offer a Top Five, I have to go for sure for the two that gave me muddled nightmares the night I watched them--HONEYMOON from director Leigh Janiak and THE VOICES from director Marjane Satrapi.  The first is about a couple who decided to honeymoon at a remote cabin in the woods--always a bad plan--and the second is an inky-black comedy featuring Ryan Reynolds, who seems genial enough but hears his pet cat telling him to kill people.

To round out the Top Five I recommend HOUSEBOUND, a New Zealand horror-comedy from director Gerard Johnstone, where a woman ends up on house arrest in a haunted house; TUCKER AND DALE VS EVIL, which I know I am late to, where director Eli Craig turns a lot of horror conventions upside down; and Mike Flanagan's GERALD'S GAME, from the Stephen King novel, a sweat-inducing story that points out some things you should avoid doing if your marriage is on the rocks.  Honorable mention goes to I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE, which I recommend if you like slow, slow burns 70s style like I do.

The weather is holding, so my pal director Mark Polonia is chipping away at THE HORRIBLE ASP and SEQUENCE SIX, and if you follow him on Twitter a photo or two has leaked out.  When more leaks out, I will abandon the code names and tell you the real, astounding titles of both of these movies I wrote for him.

On my own front, I got some script coverage back from a screenwriter I trust on my project THE GIRL WITH THE GRINDHOUSE HEART.  He was right about a few flaws but gave me the greatest compliment ever by saying "This is really YOUR script!"  At least, I took it as a compliment.  I really let my nerd flag fly with this one.  I always think if you want to watch one of my movies, you like other things I like, and a lot of it is in there.

Thanks for sticking with me, and we'll talk soon.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Sunday's on the Phone to Monday

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

 Just recently I cranked out three scripts in six weeks that would all be shot more or less simultaneously, to me an interesting exercise.  Two of those, which I refer to as THE HORRIBLE ASP and SEQUENCE SIX in this newsletter not because I signed any non-disclosures but more because the writer Warren Ellis does it and probably signs a lot of non-disclosures, are cooking along in rural Pennsylvania and the East Coast.  Director Mark Polonia is trying to beat the clock because there is a lot of boating, swimming, mysterious coves, and general outdoorsyness going on.  The third one, KRASNIKOV, can probably be shot rain or shine, snow or green.

I'm sitting here on a frost-bound Sunday morning hoping he gets it all in.

I'm getting feedback on the screenplay I wrote for myself, THE GIRL WITH THE GRINDHOUSE HEART, and after some tuning wondering whether I should just keep up with my writing timetable I've established lately and write another screenplay for myself or try NaNoWriMo, which I consider every single year and have only given a serious go once.

My brain seems entirely wired for screenwriting and not fiction, but many of my screenwriting colleagues have jumped over and adopted their previous screenplays to e-books and such.  I have said before, it seems like the e-book world is sort of a wide-open frontier with low barriers eager for content right now, just like direct-to-DVD was when I broke in all those years ago.  We will see which way I'll go.

Speaking of reading, I think it's been a minute since I recommended any books, so let me turn you on to Yuri Herrera, if you haven't been already.  I just finished THE TRANSMIGRATION OF BODIES, which takes place in a epidemic-ravaged Mexico City where a peace broker tries to solve the problems between a Romeo and Juliet-type pair of crime families.  If you chew through a lot of noir like I do, it's worth checking out for something fresh.

Hopeful to have news on a new project soon.  Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

From my Laboratory in the Castle East

This post first appeared in my e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, which you can subscribe to in the sidebar and have delivered right to your inbox.
About a week ago I finished the first draft of THE GIRL WITH THE GRINDHOUSE HEART and boomed it out to a couple of b-movie friends to see what they think.  Usually I only have to please a director and, if the deal is set up, the distributor, but since I wrote this one for myself I thought I would send it to a close circle of honest b-movie friends to see where I'm at.  Either way I like to leave a script sit for a few days so I forget what I was thinking when I did it and then look at it with fresh eyes.  Sometimes I have time for it and sometimes I don't.  This time I do.  We'll see how it looks when I open the file again.

I was flattered to be interviewed for a midwestern movie site recently, and I don't want to give away the whole game until it comes out, but I wanted to share this part:
What advice would you give an aspiring screenwriter living in the Midwest?
There is good work being done everywhere. You don't have to live on a coast to do it. I live on several acres with chickens and dogs and so on and I have done pretty well for myself. When I was starting, I went to a lot of conventions to meet people and prove I was a normal person. There are so many people just dreaming about movies, that you have to be able to tell who is trying to make their dreams more real by making you believe their stories and who can actually do something. On the writing part, remember a lot more is craft than art. Talent is an empty bucket you have to fill with kept promises and met deadlines and finished pages. You have to work on it, by watching a lot of movies including those outside of your comfort zone and reading, reading, reading everything. You have to sit and type even when the football game's on.

I have wanted to watch only horror movies this October but the actual world seems pretty horrific at times so it's been hard to do that.  I did watch CHILDREN OF THE CORN, as I somehow missed it in 1984, and now live surrounded by cornfields, but it was pretty benign to me and mostly churned up 80s nostalgia. On a whim I bought the entire seven movie series for I think seven bucks and maybe can coax my wife into watching more of them.

So I have stuck with milder stuff, except I have picked up Inktober again this year.  It's where you try to draw and post a picture every day, and speaking of 80s nostalgia, my cartooning style frozen in 1978 is in full effect.  I'm sticking with stories I wished existed, characters I wish somebody would bring back, things that seem fun to draw.  At the end of the month, I'll post the most popular ones here.  If you can't wait, look for me on Facebook and Instagram, if you haven't done that already.

I found out the movie I wrote codenamed THE HORRIBLE ASP has already started shooting, so I hope to have more about that, and some more interesting projects, soon.  Thanks for hanging around.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Everyone's a Superhero, Everyone's a Captain Kirk

I slipped over to HorrorHound in Indianapolis, as part of my plan to hit the convention circuit again, and found it to be a good show where I was able to connect up with a number of independent filmmakers.  They had a great independent filmmaker's panel and I ended up buying THE BLACK ROOM from Rolfe Kanefsky, a director a met some years ago who has done a lot of good work over the years.  I was also pleasantly surprised to meet b-movie king Dave Sterling, who I have worked with peripherally over the years trying to get various projects off the ground.  He palmed me a secret 16 GB USB drive which I was happy to find was chock full of his movies when I got home and plugged it in.

It's been good to get back out there a bit again, even though people really don't think it's as cool to talk to a screenwriter as, say, a director, or somebody who was in a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie.

Since I had to develop a rigorous schedule to complete three screenplays in six weeks for director Mark Polonia's three-picture deal, I decided I would just keep knuckling down and do something I very rarely get a chance to do--which is write something for myself.

I think a lot of people don't realize that a lot of b-movies already come with a title and maybe even a poster and sometimes even a plot, so as it happens I have never sold anything I wrote on my own, nor do I usually have time to write on spec even if I wanted to with a fairly steady workload.

But I've been holding onto an idea for a while, and while I'm percolating along on a strict schedule thought it might be the right time to work on it.  Since I'm writing it for myself I don't have to give it a non-disclosure name and thus will tell you loyal readers it's called THE GIRL WITH THE GRINDHOUSE HEART.  It's slow-burn psychological horror full of all the stuff I'm interested in, which is the best way to write if you are writing for yourself, I always think.  I'm about two-thirds done on a first draft.  Soon, I'm hoping to tell you a lot more about this screenplay.

Although my reading has slowed down a lot since I've done so much writing, I have been buoyed along by reading SHOCK VALUE by Jason Zinoman, which is all about how 70s horror filmmakers are awesome, which I agree with, and even more so about how DARK STAR and Dan O'Bannon are underrated, which I agree with even more.  That it is giving GRINDHOUSE HEART a 70s vibe is probably no coincidence.

Also binge-watched TOP OF THE LAKE, which isn't exactly a palette cleanser after THE HANDMAID'S TALE but does have Elisabeth Moss slaying it again and is worth watching.

Catch up with you soon.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

And You May Find Yourself Living in a Shotgun Shack

Not that long ago the high school daughter of a colleague wanted to interview me for an English class.  She came to the office, and she and I talked a long time, and later she wrote something called "The Life and Mind of a Murderer" which began like this:

They walk down the street with you. They are your neighbors. You buy groceries at the same store. From a young age they have always had different fascinations than other kids. As adults they seemed a little too interested in other adults. They seem to be going through their life just like anyone else, but they are different. These people are movie writers.

Just now another hopeful, a young potential screenwriter in Illinois, asked to do an email interview with me for a high school class.  Always eager to help those who may one day put me out on an ice floe, here is what I wrote back.  Maybe something here can help you, loyal reader, as well.

1.  How long have you been in the industry? I sold my first screenplay in 1999.  It was an action movie called PLAYER IN THE GAME that never got made, but it opened the door to sell more after that.

2. How is Success in your position measured and rewarded?  I think the industry in general rewards on box office, sales through physical media and digital platforms, and reviews; but for me, seeing a project get made, and then get distribution, is a good measure of success.

3. What made you interested in the job in the first place?  I have always been interested in storytelling; I drew my own comics until I realized I wasn’t good enough to draw professionally, wrote plays until I sort of hit a wall in getting those out there, and switched to screenwriting because of a lifelong interest in filmmaking, but realizing that living in rural Indiana it would be hard to be involved in other aspects of it besides the writing.  I think that last part has changed somewhat with easier access to technology and distribution platforms than once existed.

4. How could I start getting into the film industry?  Watch and learn from watching movies and reading screenplays, join an AV club in your school, or if there isn’t one join some Facebook groups and other online groups that feature people with your same interests.  Study film, telecommunications, or even communications or English in college.  Go to film festivals and movie conventions to meet people that want to do the same thing you do.  When you can, beg, buy, borrow some equipment so you can learn editing and shooting and begin to learn the language of filmmaking.

5. Explain to me what the job involves day-to-day?  Being committed to working when there are other things pulling you away, like watching TV, hanging out, whatever.  Being able to develop and nurture the brand that is yourself through fostering relationships with people in the industry, online and elsewhere.  Really working on craft, because most of it is craft and only a small part of it is waiting for the muse to happen.

6. How would you describe the ideal person for this job?  You have to love movies and understand and appreciate the history of movies.  Loving reading to learn more about the world and loving writing in general.

7. How long are the hours daily for this profession?  I have a day job, so the hours are whatever I can squeeze in; getting up early, working on my laptop during lunch, getting some writing time in after dinner, giving up weekends when deadlines are close.

8. What are the troubles and issues you face in the job?  If I wanted to be bigger than I am, geography would be an issue; however I have been pretty successful staying in rural Indiana, selling close to I think 40 screenplays over the years, so I really don’t want to move.  You have to work with legitimate people to make sure you get paid and get proper credit for your work.

9. Are you grateful for getting into the industry?  Yes, it’s neat to go to a video store and see your movie, or to be in a theater when people watch it.  Many, many people try over a long period of time and don’t get that satisfaction.

10. What are some equipment and tools I need to start my first movie?  On the writing side, I recommend the free screenwriting software CeltX or Trelby.  On the movie-making side, whatever you can get your hands on to learn how everything is supposed to work.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Newton Got Beaned by the Apple Good

This blog post first appeared in my secret e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, which wouldn't be a secret to you if you subscribed in my sidebar to the right.

A few days early, I finished my goal of writing three screenplays in six weeks, a feat I never thought I could master.  The scripts for the first first two, code-named KRASNIKOV and SEQUENCE SIX, have already been approved by the producer and are ready to roll on.  The last one, THE HORRIBLE ASP, I boomed out to director Mark Polonia this morning after ten days of feverish writing, getting up early and working through lunch hours and working late at night, and I hope to hear about it soon.

I wrote them so fast I don't think they could be any crazier, with demonic possession, time travel, alien invasions, telepathic sharks, zombies, creepy dolls, haunted houses, mad scientists, cavemen, crazy cat ladies, and of course caged women forced to fight for their freedom.  And a bunch of stuff I can't remember right this second.

If you think that last one was a riff on a movie I watched over, and over again, on late-night cable, LUST FOR FREEDOM, suffice to say I have waited a lifetime for this opportunity.  But what I am really riffing on, and what inspired me, was the work of b-movie director Thomas Carr, who in 1950 used a small troupe of aging western stars and shot six cowboy movies in 30 days using some pretty interesting methods that have not, to my knowledge, been replicated before or since.  I think this achievement deserves wider recognition, and have been such an advocate for Mr. Carr's work that I convinced Mark Polonia to buy these movies off of Amazon and see it for himself.  And, with my birthday money, I just did the same thing as a little present to myself for driving myself bats (and probably my wife) getting these done in time.

I actually deposited most of my birthday money like a good homeowner who wants new linoleum, but I also bought SUBURRA by Carlo Bonini and Giancarlo De Cataldo, which just came out in paperback from World Noir a couple of weeks ago.  I have had my eye on this one for a while, having seen the Italian film version of the novel as well as hearing about the Netflix series coming out soon.  It is a noir that takes place in the suburban area of Rome called Ostia (which I have visited via rail a number of times).  Eager to dive into the book, and report back.  Especially now that I have a little time on my hands.

Speaking of time on my hands, I did finish WESTWORLD, and liked it okay.  Every time it got a little overheated it would be a little philosophical again, and then veer back, and then veer back again.  But worth watching.

Thanks for hanging in there.  More news soon.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Mott the Hoople and the Game of Life

Sometimes work leads to more work, which is why I haven't boomed out a secret e-newsletter for a little while.  I have been getting up early, working through lunch hours, and working into the night when I would rather be binging on WESTWORLD on a new script project that is due quickly.

It's funny how many parallels there are between the first screenplay I ever had turned into a movie, the Bigfoot mockumentary AMONG US, and the most recent (lucky thirteenth) one, a retro-styled Bigfoot movie titled IN SEARCH OF (ISO).

When I was working on the set of AMONG US, Mark Polonia was asked by a distributor to produce three more movies that year, and he asked me to write all three.  At that time I didn't believe I could write three screenplays in a single year, so we agreed that I would re-write two and the third one would be an original script.

The first became the infamous PETER ROTTENTAIL, which was a rewrite of a handwritten script called PSYCHO CLOWN, and it has entered the halls of infamy by being rated one of the Worst Horror Films of All Time by the British website Nerdly, and no less an august publication than Fangoria devoted an hour-long podcast to its wonders.  I did the rewrite over a delirious long weekend and I think it's raw and funny but obviously your mileage may vary.

The second rewrite was of a piranha movie called RAZORTEETH, which made nary a ripple, so to speak, a worse fate than its predecessor.  Only about 25 percent of my rewrite made it to the screen through various production hiccups and I think now it is a bit of a rarity.

The deal came apart before my original screenplay DEMONS ON A DEAD END STREET was filmed, and I have been sorry about that all these years later as I think it is my best screenplay that has never been made (the second best is a science fiction screenplay I wrote called TETHYS).  It once looked to be produced in New Zealand when the rights came back to me but that didn't work out either, so I have it around if the day ever comes that somebody might want it.  I just this weekend heard from a friend that a colleague of his had sold a screenplay, with all rights attached, over Craigslist, so there's that.

So on the set of IN SEARCH OF I learned Mark was working on a three-movie deal and again asked me to be a part.  By now, almost 15 years later, I have learned through much trial and error that I can crank up a screenplay in three or four weeks.  But what caught my attention about this one is that all three screenplays would be more or less shot back to back, more or less on the SyFy Channel model with crazy premises, and would all be needed in about six weeks.

Challenge accepted.  Loyal readers know that I have made much of the accomplishment of stalwart b-director Thomas Carr, who in 1950, at the very ass end of the b-movie western era, took a pair of aging former Hopalong Cassidy sidekicks and a handful of rewritten scripts and shot six c-grade oaters in 30 days.  That these are all watchable, and in fact enjoyable, is a tremendous achievement and not talked about nearly enough today (and you can buy them all cheap as THE BIG IRON COLLECTION on Amazon).

These new scripts are all high-concept titles, but I will again take a page from better (comic book and fiction and newsletter) writer Warren Ellis and give them all non-disclosure-like codenames here (and by high concept, I mean like the guy who thought there should be a bunch of movies about sharks that get sucked up into tornadoes).

One idea which I am going to codename KRASNIKOV caught my fancy right away, and I broke my landspeed record by writing it in two weeks.  The distributor told Mark that they had to be weird and crazy and as loyal readers know I don't have to be told that twice.

A week after and I am halfway through the one I am calling SEQUENCE SIX which started off nutty but got a little nuttier when Mark called last night and said "put some zombies in it."

The third one which I am calling THE HORRIBLE ASP, because I just heard that REM song, I have had the most trouble wrapping my mind around, even though it was the only one that also came with an outline.

I am hoping that in about three more weeks I will have them all done.  I am to the point in my career that I only work with the people I want to and do projects that are interesting to me.  And I have always wanted the kind of Nerd Extreme Sports Challenge that Thomas Mann took on, all those years ago.

I'll let you know soon about my progress.