Monday, December 31, 2018

Top Reads of 2018, and Reads of the Decade

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

This year my Top Ten favorite reads were:

Severance by Ling Ma

Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin

The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

November Road by Lou Berney

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller

The Third Hotel by Laura Van Den Berg

The Italian Party by Christina Lynch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

 Night Film by Marisha Pessl

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

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin 

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

 The City and The City by China Mieville

 Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

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

Lunar Park by Brett Easton Ellis

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

Embassytown by China Mieville

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

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Their Names Are Written in Concrete

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

Monday, November 12, 2018

Some Came to Keep the Dark Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until later, thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

#inktober 2018

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

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Some Velvet Morning

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

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



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

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

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

Until then, thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

A Shooting Star Has Crossed My Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More next time.

Friday, September 28, 2018

I'm Going Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading, more to come.

Monday, September 17, 2018

I Live in a House that Looks Out Over the Ocean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Performers and Portrayers

My old friend Tom Cherry, who plays Marshal Woody in THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE, wanted to borrow his uniform for his role in the play GREATER TUNA, which I think has almost the same plot.  Good luck treading the boards, Tom!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

I Walk Away Like a Movie Star, Who Gets Burned in a Three Way Script

Raced to Dayton after work, and flattered to sign my name 100 times on the Special Edition Blu-Ray/DVD Combo of ALONE IN THE GHOST HOUSE, a found footage movie I wrote a few years ago getting a second life.  You can order it right here.  I promise more interesting people than me also signed it.

Friday, June 29, 2018

I Never Minded Standing in the Rain

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

A weekend ago I wrapped for real and for true on THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE.  I wrapped principal in March but had just a handful of pickup shots--a newscaster on a television, a dream sequence cowboy, a therapist on a telephone--that I thought I would pick up in a weekend or two, then it turned into the coldest April in Indiana history (followed by the hottest May in Indiana history) and other projects got in the way and suddenly it was June.

Most of the good moviemaking advice I could give I got from other people before I started--the number once piece of great advice is "feed your people"--but the advice I learned for myself was, schedule every shot and don't think you'll just pick them up later.

A movie where the love of spaghetti westerns plays a huge part has to have a dream sequence cowboy, and nobody fit the bill better than an actor whose real name is Joe Kidd just like the Clint Eastwood movie.  It was also incredibly helpful that he owned this western outfit pictured here, which he wore in another movie I wrote, CALAMITY JANE'S REVENGE, as dream sequence Wild Bill Hickok.  Watching Joe bad-ass around rural Ohio made me want to write another straight western right away (where he could play a living person).

In my movie he plays Lucky, who I really wanted to call Tex after Tex Willer, the famed, long-lived star of Italian comic books.  But I ended up calling him Lucky after Russell Hayden, who was part of one of the greatest lost feats in contemporary b-movie history when he made six westerns in thirty days (I have written an essay about it here).  This feat was definitely my inspiration for writing three movies in six weeks for director Mark Polonia last summer that could all be shot more or less together with more or less the same cast.

THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE is winding through post and I am slowly, slowly noodling on what might be next.  More news soon.

Friday, May 25, 2018

You Dance with the Lady with the Hole in her Stocking

This blog post first appeared, in a slightly different form, in the e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP which you can subscribe to in the sidebar of this blog.

I just got back from Italy sounds more glamorous than I just got back from chaperoning my wife's college class trip to Italy but I suppose both are true.  I don't think anything has influenced my writing more over the last few years than my six trips to Italy, jaunts to the Piazza della Repubblica for giallo and fumetti and the contemporary art shows at the Palazzo Strozzi and late-night cable screenings of The Forgotten Pistolero and Miami Supercops and Crime at the Chinese Restaurant, in Italian of course but feeling their pace and rhythms.  There is a heavy influence in my debut feature The Girl in the Crawlspace--the title character is Jill McBain, after Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon A Time in the West--but I think Italy is threaded through all of my work.


Speaking of which, now it can be told; the secret project I referred to as The Horrible Asp is actually Aliens vs Sharks, coming out this fall on DVD.  This is the first of three movies I wrote back to back over six weeks for director Mark Polonia to shoot as a package.  Aliens vs Sharks came with a pretty detailed outline--I suspect as this is the most effects-heavy of the projects, and certain beats needed to be hit--but it has plenty of my own touches.  With a movie called Aliens vs Sharks you pretty much know where you are going with the plot but I hope everyone enjoys the ride.

It is also out that the movie I code-named Sequence Six is actually called Amityville Island.  Although I code-named the first one from an REM song I happened to be listening to at that moment, I code-named this one from Fulci's Zombi 2 soundtrack.

Several years ago I wrote a movie called Doctor Zombie for Mark Polonia that ended up not being made, but was built as an homage to Zombi 2 and the Blind Dead movies.  Since I wrote Amityville Island incredibly, incredibly fast I was able to life some chunks from that unused script.  It helped that Doctor Zombie took place on an island.  It didn't help that Amityville isn't on an actual island, but if that's what holds you back from watching this movie I can't help you any further.

It has zombies, possessed people, women in prison, weird experiments, and some other stuff I probably forgot because I wrote it at a fever pitch, but it's crazy.  Trailers for both will be posted here when the interwebs have them.

More news soon, thanks for sticking with me.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Avoid Stepping On Bela Lugosi

This post first appeared in my e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP which you can subscribe to in the sidebar if you can't wait for news from me.

While THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE winds its way through post, I am chipping away at some other things.  But the guys at Neon Bloodbath did a nice write up of me, and you can read that here.

I have been a screener for the Indy Shorts International Film Fest, part of the prestigious Heartland Film Festival, which would never, never show any movie I have ever worked on.  I have concentrated on the high school part of the fest, which has clocked in over 75 entries to date.  I love seeing what people come up with, with whatever they have on hand as far as geography and equipment and friendships.  And some of them do astoundingly good work.

I am also joining the Programming Committee for the Blue Whiskey Film Festival, run by some old friends who have done great work in first suburban and now downtown Chicago.  My schedule has not allowed me to get up there as regularly as I might like the last few years, so it permits me to help from afar.  It's been amazing to see the people who have launched out of there over the course of the fest, including Michael Mohan who helmed EVERYTHING SUCKS to Mike Flanagan who recently did GERALD'S GAME and has a million things going to Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who wrote a little movie a few people went to see called A QUIET PLACE.  Nothing makes me happier than to see people go on the arc from their peanut butter days to Making It.

I went to Cinema Wasteland a weekend ago, which is a one of the key conventions for people doing b-movies, though distance (it is near Cleveland) has precluded me from going every year.  But with CRAWLSPACE in production, it seemed a good time to go and chat with people.  I don't know if it was because I was going around as a director instead of a screenwriter (it has always seemed like nobody wants to talk to screenwriters) or because I was walking around with Henrique Couto, who is sort of like the Mayor of Cinema Wasteland, but I touched base with a lot of new folks.  It was worthwhile, and there are a lot of people trying to figure out what to do next, including me.

I would like to write more, but I cut my index finger washing the blade in the food processor last night, and I am making a ton of typos, so I am going to have to quit here.  Talk soon.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

You'll Escape in the Final Reel

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

On Palm Sunday we kept our family tradition and watched JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. This is probably our most re-watched movie as a family, with WHEN HARRY MET SALLY as a couple, and THE WITCHES and WILLOW with the kids.  I love this one so much that at one point when directing THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE I told Tom Cherry, who plays Sheriff Woody, to "run like Carl Anderson does in Jesus Christ Superstar."  So if the movie turns out weird, it's because I gave actors directions like that.

The movie is easing into post.  A winter that won't quit has stalled a few pickup shots, then it is on to editing.  But we are all chatting and hoping to keep moving it along.

Beforehand some of the family sat around talking about our funerals, which I didn't participate in, because I am going to die first, and my urn will sit next to my wife's bedside table at the nunnery, where my dogs will also be sleeping.  My wife suggested she would donate my papers to my alma mater because of my modest success in b-movies, which was seriously very moving for me to hear, even as I pictured them being received, and then promptly dumped into a recycling bin to make room for the papers of Doug Jones, David Letterman, Jim Davis, Cynda Williams, and Joyce DeWitt.

But it reminded me of when I went to see Nicolas Winding Refn at the Indiana University Cinema, and instead of talking about himself he talked all about his preservation efforts for the work of Andy Milligan, who I had not heard of at that point.  I promptly went out and watched THE BODY BENEATH, and then a bunch of others, and really fell in love with his work, even as he has been decried up and down the internet and beyond.  He really was a threadbare auteur, trying to make something out of nothing, and that is something I really appreciate.

Phoef Sutton wrote a horror novel called THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL about a haunted grindhouse movie, a novel I liked, and he and talked quite a bit about Jean Rollin in it, so I watched REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE and THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES and found another filmmaker I think was a no-budget genius who a lot of other people think was a hack.  His movies have an austere, dreamlike quality that is fascinating to me.

If I am honest, what inspired me the most to get started on THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE were the two movies by Frederick Friedel, AXE and KIDNAPPED COED, who made this double feature back to back in the 70s and crashed right out of the industry subsequently.  AXE is especially artistic, and COED is pretty cool, but pointing out that they were made on a shoestring doesn't account for the real price of shoestrings.

In the week between the two weekend shoots for CRAWLSPACE I watched a movie called THE HANG UP by John Hayes, and I thought it was fantastic, and suddenly I was introduced to another fascinating director with an offbeat filmography.

Thankfully there are companies like Vinegar Syndrome and Severin Films and Something Weird trying to preserve these films, and people like Refn and Sutton and my friend film reviewer Jason Coffman to talk about them in some other fashion than the braying ridicule they are sometimes treated to.

I think that's what I want more than anything, because I have come to learn from watching others that fame is a monkey's paw; that somebody find something I did in a dusty dollar bin somewhere, or in some other throwaway place, and watch it, and understand what I was trying to say, in the way I try to understand Milligan and Rollin and Friedel and Hayes.  It's a lot to ask, but as I am sitting at a little kneehole desk in a corner of a house with farm acreage spread out all around me, it's what I hope.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

And the Archer Split the Tree

This content first appeared in my secret e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, which you can subscribe to from this blog if you don't like waiting.

We wrapped principal photography on THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE Sunday afternoon, after a full three-day weekend of cold weather, fake blood, mock stabbings and pretend stun gunning, mock filthy crawlspacing and real not-as-filthy crawlspacing, people throwing themselves on the ground and laying on cold concrete getting cold water dripped on them, hundred-foot drone shots, furnaces quitting, and dogs barking, but we made all our days, actors and crew were on point, I didn't make too many mistakes, and I got to treat everyone to my homemade beef BBQ that simmered away in the background the whole time.

I didn't post much on social media so that we could give Rue Morgue an exclusive, which you can read about here.  They did us up nicely.

By Wednesday I felt more like my old self.  Before then, I just felt old.

The very last shot of principal was a cold, windswept wide shot of the green shed in my backyard where the creepy-crawly third act unfolds, as anticlimactic a shot as you could imagine to wrap on.  And yet I still felt incredibly emotional and kind of turned and walked off for a minute.  I had planned to give a big speech to my four principals and the crew, but two had already slipped away and it was pretty cold out.  So we just sat on that cold, wide shot until everybody realized we were done.

In a lot of ways we are just getting started.  There are a couple of quick pick-up shots in Dayton, there is all the editing, the color timing, the score, on and on.  But that is largely done out of sight by me and my producer, Henrique Couto, working with a second group of talented people.  Henrique told me that making a movie is like putting together a puzzle, except you have to make the puzzle first and then put it together.  So we made the puzzle first.

I think the biggest thing I learned directing was that when I started this project it was for me, but by the end, it was for everybody involved with it.  And knowing that everyone, from make-up to boom to lead talent, all have hopes and dreams for the project, and that those rest squarely on me to deliver.  I think the greatest thing people misunderstand about b-movies is that nobody wants to make a bad one. Even though they sometimes turn out that way. I know that some movies are born of cynicism, but I have yet to be involved with one.  Everyone wants this to lead to that, for this film to get them noticed for the next, and on and on.  They are people's dreams, and that is a big debt to carry for people, in a good way.

I think the biggest thing I learned as a screenwriter on this one is that people did not understand what I was talking about a lot of the time..  It came out gradually throughout the shoot, all the way to the enigmatic ending that the leads wanted to have explained.  At the most basic level it is about a burlap-masked killer that has cut through a small town.  But behind that I wanted it to be about the power of storytelling to save people's lives, especially in rural areas.  And at the deepest level I wanted to talk about the sway the insouciant beauty of Linda Stirling in 1944's ZORRO'S BLACK WHIP had over a young mind, how Peter Lupus never got his due for HERCULES AND THE TYRANTS OF BABYLON, how the crazy majesty of Klaus Kinski as "Hot Dead" shines in movies like I AM SARTANA YOUR ANGEL OF DEATH, and the power of role-playing gaming to inform friendships in ways that people can't express otherwise.  And that's probably where I lost the thread a bit.

There is a scene where I wanted Erin Ryan's character Jill, the title character, to be casually carrying a Tex Willer fumetti I brought back from Italy, with no explanation about why she was carrying it.  After we were done, she handed it to me very carefully and said "Here, I think this is important to you."  And then I sort of felt like Marlon Brando at the end of APOCALYPSE NOW, my cast and crew coming down the river to see how crazy I had become.

But what moved me the most as a writer and director was that even though people in front of and behind the camera couldn't quite figure it all out, they were willing to go along with me and see what happened.  That's probably the most validated I have ever felt in my b-movie life.

Now I just have to find a lot, a lot of other people who think the way I do, or more likely are willing to go along with it, to rent and buy the movie.  But that's for another day.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Shreds of News and Afterthoughts and Complicated Scenes

 I published this to my secret e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP last week; if you don't want to be behind the curve, subscribe in the sidebar.

Tomorrow the circus rolls back into town as we start the second weekend of shooting THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE.  I think the first weekend went really well.  We had good crew (producer Henrique Couto shooting the lights out, production assistants who picked it up quickly, good make-up), talent that was more than ready and emptied the tank emotionally, we finished on time both days, and my wife cooked for everybody, prompting Henrique to remark, "that pasta sauce smells better than friendship."  And it was true, because the tomatoes were grown with love, in our own garden.

It was the number one tip I got, from multiple b-movie directors:  feed everybody, and the rest will work itself out.

For myself, it was a blur; there were times I think I really put some cool and challenging ideas out there and times I was lost in the tall grass, and couldn't remember what happened next in my own script that I had so carefully labored over.  But my old friend and incredibly prolific b-movie director Mark Polonia called in the morning to wish me luck, and then called back at the wrap to drop heavy knowledge on me:  "Directing a movie is like a car wreck; it comes at your fast, and when you wake up, you don't remember what happened."  He has directed more movies than years I have been alive, so that one can go to the bank.

Henrique Couto gave me a great compliment when he said the movie should be its own genre called "Hoosiersploitation," and I knew he saw it through my eyes; the wide-open spaces, the dried-up towns, where people need creative outlets to thrive on hard soil; but I have to keep it real, it's also about a guy in a burlap mask terrorizing poor Erin Ryan.

When we started on this project, Henrique told me he wanted to see "unfiltered John Oak Dalton," and that was incredibly flattering, because I have never been told to let my nerd flag fly like that by anyone.  So there is talk of spaghetti westerns, and there are several scenes of role-playing gaming, and deep dives into other flotsam and jetsam of the world gone by, so much so that I realized on the set that some of the actors had no idea what I was talking about.  But they were willing to go along, and that is a heady feeling.  And hopefully there are a lot of people out there who are interested in that kind of stuff, too.

It is weird to be sitting at a little kneehole desk (where I am sitting now writing this), in the middle of several square miles of farm field, and in my mind write the main parts for b-movie actors Erin Ryan, John Hambrick, Joni Durian, and my old friend Tom Cherry who I always promised myself I would write a part for if I ever made a movie, and then several months later they just drive over and start acting it out.

So we are getting ready for the next weekend, and like all b-movie directors before me I got up and fed the chickens, cleaned the dog poop out of the yard, vacuumed the floors and got ready to go to WalMart and get some lunchmeat.

I joined the ranks of b-movie directors with my clothes on inside out, so if I get that right this weekend, I'm well on my way.  Follow at johnoakdalton on Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook this weekend to see it unfold.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

I've Been Feeling It Since 1966, Now

If only you were subscribed to my secret e-newsletter I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, you would have seen this post a week ago.  You can subscribe in the sidebar to this blog.

I had my first dream about directing the movie last night.  In it, Maggie Gyllenhaal was eating some stale cookies I had left around the set.  So I woke up and threw those stale cookies that were by the breadbox in the trash.  Other than that, I think I dreamed this because I have been watching THE DEUCE while working on the D&D style game the characters play in the movie.

I thought I was the smartest screenwriter alive when I wrote a movie that took place mostly at my house, until I realized I needed to take today off to completely clean and de-clutter the house, and also when I wrote four basically D&D scenes in the movie, and then started thinking about how all my fellow travelers in the nerd kingdom when roundly decry any false notes in those scenes.  I fell upon the good graces of Ray Otus and Dyson Logos, whose original art, character sheets, and maps become the world that "Outcast Swords" is based on.  And then I have spent several nights making up the characters that the characters play in the movie, and the maps of all the adventures they are having.  I keep hoping that all the little details make the movie more fun.

A few people following along closely have asked about being extras in the movie, which is very flattering, although as I've mentioned this time out there's nobody extra, anywhere.  But my old friend Andy wanted to be in there somewhere, so we concocted a way for him to appear.

He is older than this now.  I would never let a kid watch any of my movies.  And I was too superstitious to put an actual kid in any of these posters (my adult son is in another one--bonus points if you know why I called him "Ethan Edwards" without googling). Kind of creepy, really, but I wanted a few Missing posters visible around the Community Center and outside town shots (but will have to remember to instruct PAs to take them down IMMEDIATELY after we stop rolling).  In the movie, The Crawlspace Killer is responsible for tons of missing children over the years in this small town, which all happens before the movie starts, because I wanted to represent the "brain drain" we talk so much about in Indiana.  Not a killer in a burlap mask, but all of our young people moving elsewhere.  Maybe a little too symbolic for a b-movie, but there you go.

I have voice over work from Jeff Kirkendall and Andrew Shearer in hand, and am working on production design today, and my producer Henrique Couto is winging his way here from Dayton, so we are definitely underway.  Follow me this weekend on Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook at johnoakdalton to see the first weekend unfold.