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.