Thursday, June 30, 2005

Quick update

There is more coming soon, but I wanted to make everyone aware that I started a new blog dedicated to the movie I wrote for The Asylum, Dead Men Walking, which goes into production next week.

Check out this new blog here.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Brief snippets from the Premiere...

There will be more, but I'm fighting a number of weird panic attacks today, no doubt brought on by exhaustion from the past few days...

After Amy and I put in so much time at the CamOp offices, I think Cameron knew he wouldn't have made it home alive if we hadn't at least gotten to MEET Quentin Tarantino... Hey, I broke the goddamned story, I deserved at least a handshake. Thanks to a number of weird little "fires", I didn't get an introduction, so I introduced myself to the man who influenced our current generation of artists.

I told him we were putting together a gift basket of "Pittsburgh-made" movies (mostly ours, Project: Valkyrie, Low Budget Pictures' Mulva 2 -- I HAD to, come on!!, so what if it was made in Buffalo) and he said, "Dude, that's the coolest thing anyone's offered me all night. I can't wait!" Which made me feel good.

The second coolest thing: when I met Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, I gave them my cards, with a third one for Nick Frost. Simon said, "Oh, YOU'RE the Mike Watt people were telling me about. Nick's gonna put this on his desk!"

Because, apparently, Nick Frost played "Mike Watt" in their Spaced show in the UK. So the fact that I had a ready-made in helped break the ice. They were really nice guys. They got a gift-basket too. We didn't do one for Rodriguez. I didn't have any more discs, I didn't know he was coming until the last minute, and I doubt he'd give a shit one way or another.

I gave Savini a hug after the screening for his turn as "Machete Zombie", which I believe he did to get up the nose of Leonard Lies from Dawn of the Dead (who plays "Machete Head Zombie")... Tom looked like I'd handed him a live rat and would probably have preferred that.

Before we went in, Nicotero said to us, "I really want to know what you guys think of my work on this. I'm actually nervous."

"Oh, yeah, I heard you really laid down on the job, man. No effort whatsoever..."

"No, man, seriously, we went all out--"

"Greg, come on, I was kidding."

"Told you I was nervous."

Afterwards I shook his hand. "What did you think? Really?"

"Greg, you already had my admiration. You don't need compliments from me. Who the hell am I?"

"Someone whose opinion I want, dammit!"

...Those were my highlights. Oh, and when Amy and I, separately, met Michael Jordan and both said, "Hey, you were in Space Jam!"

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

New Clothes

This morning, I made another ever-dangerous pass at mowing our front yard with our riding mower (aka "The Mangler vs. Children of the Corn"). Since my back injury in May (not related to "The Great Crash of Early Last Month", but adding to the suffering), I haven't been able to keep up with it the way it needs it (blood sacrifice, moonlight curses, binding pentagrams burned into it with napalm), and as a result, small families of pygmies have moved into the denser growths closer to the woods.

Because it is so thick, I can't even get close to the actual wooded part, and I'm going to have to get a neighbor down with one of their industrial machines to recarve the path that goes around our property. I own 30 acres but can only traverse fifteen feet. The rest is jungle.

I got best results this morning by driving to the top of the front hill, releasing the clutch and letting gravity bring the mower down in a less-than-graceful arc, braking just before I leap the cliff and hit the paved road beyond. This helped prevent the mower from stalling and kept me from further straining my injuries through such strenuous activies as steering. Now I have a deep and roiling sea of mulched cuttings to deal with.

And, of course, as I was doing this, I was thinking about my recent shopping excursions.

With the Land of the Dead premiere tomorrow, Amy and I decided to splurge just a little and update our waredrobes. She only ever buys clothes for conventions these days. I only get new clothes when someone in the family dies. Or I see a t-shirt I like at the aforementioned conventions. As a result, I still wear things I wore religiously in college.

So I was bound and determined to buy a new dress shirt and a new pair of pants. Hell, I might even buy two dress shirts.

Now, having finally accomplished these tasks, I am left to wonder why the hell women enjoy shopping so much.

For one thing, two dress shirts and a new pair of slacks set me back $70.

For the second, the two shirts I bought, when I got home, were magically transformed into "things I actually did not want, nor, I'm certain, did I buy". Actually, the correct "for the second" was the actual buying process.

To purchase these shirts, I had to venture into department stores usually reserved for cutting through on my way from the parking lot to Suncoast. Department stores that are vast mazes of ugly clothing and uglier people, who would be indistinguishable from the multitude of manniquins if not for the rippling texture of their skin. Normally, the amount of time I spend in stores such as these are proportionate to the ease at which I find the doors opening into the mall proper. In short: very little at all.

But I was forced, in the name of "updating my waredrobe", to venture into the depths of these consumer hearts of darkness in search of a pair of coverings that cannot be found at Wal-Mart. To get to them, I had to frequently dodge the hunchbacked elderly who cluster like molecules around random fabrics alledging to be "housecoats", keeping the grandma haute couture alive for future generations (or rather, future past generations).

I had to travel deep, fighting my way through a gauntlet of parfum-iers, who alternately spritz you with toxic clouds of fragrance or try to lance your jugular with little scented razor-edged wedges of cardboard.

And finally, upon reaching the ludicrously-titled "Men's Section", had to dive deep into the dregs of so-called fashion to find a mere two shirts that my body will not reject like a tainted liver.

Racks upon endless racks of hideous and over-priced jackets, pants, and ties enscribed with seizure-enducing patterns. It was there, this very weekend, that I learned that 70s porno-collars were back in style, with horizon-line points and a width equal to a wedge of the finest Pepperidge Farm cheese. I also learned that the salespeople that work there do not necessarily shop there.

And there are clothes out there made from fabrics that are not found in nature and are not, I believe, actually created by man, either. And these fabrics have names like "Sateen". I never once wanted to own anything made of "Sateen", but I had to admit, I liked the look.

Finding two shirts in the same style, of the same cloth, in the exact size I took, was a task worthy of Heracles. One that I promptly failed at, as I discovered upon returning home. Somehow, on my way back from these textile torture gardens, my "Sateen" shirts had undergone a transmogrification: one grew a full size too large and the other evolved into a cloth wholly unlike the "Sateen" tag that it boasted. This non-"Sateen" cloth could be used to cut diamonds. The too-large genuine "Sateen" shirt could be used to house a family of four.

I discovered this, of course, after I had finally disassembled the shirts from their packages, removing countless pins, folds, tags and bits of cardboard and plastic that held them together in a dense and symetrical origami that made them resemble doorstops rather than actual dress shirts. This ordeal took roughly three hours and a team of four strong men.

And I was stricken with the Lovecraftian horror of having to journey back to the store to exchange them.

Which I did.

But this time, a salesman was eager to help me. Very eager. Not only did he grow up out of the floorboards behind me, fluttering around to assist in my plight, but I think he wet himself during the transaction.

He measured me, to get the exact fit of shirt required. Back and front. Including the inseam.

And then he dove into the myriad racks of what were, to my eye, identical shirts arranged in identical configurations separated only by their prices and the logos of their incestuous creators: "Geoffrey Beane" on one side "Calvin Klein" on the other. House payment on one side, car payment on the other.

The impeccable salesman was muttering as he went about painting the roses red -- "16 neck... 16 neck, oh dear... Not sure I have the black in "Sateen", but let's look, shall we? ... Yes, 32-34, perfect length if I ever saw one... Arrow-brand? How did this get here? I'll have to look into that little faux pas..."

And he was not speaking to me.

Finally, my shirts were located. The colors I wanted. The desired "Sateen". In my size. Obviously, the man was an expert.

The dreaded "return" part of the transaction arrived, and I sat in dread as he sifted through the tags rescued from the trash; I watched, perspiration dripping, as he sorted the individual bags, and scanned my receipt. I was certain that the entire event would be rejected at the last by my omission of some vital piece of cardboard found beneath the collar at the back.

But it went through. And I walked out of that store a poorer man, but the proud owner of two shirts that would not only fit, but would somehow disguise the fact that I am more of a t-shirt-and-jeans kinda guy and that I can dress like this at will and comfortably.

The shirts are not comfortable. Nor are the pants. I look in the mirror and am reminded of the time I wore a suit to Horrorfind, in anticipation of a business meeting taking place that afternoon. A friend remarked, "Why all the trouble? Did you see how they" [meaning the producers I was meeting] "dress?"

"Yes," I replied, "but they're not trying to impress me."

So all the time I spent, growing up, rebelling against my parents world and their desires for me to wear a necktie to "look professional" are finally bearing down upon me, worming into my conscious and sub-conscious like Ceti eels. I have become a "business-casual" man.

And I don't like it one bit.

Monday, June 20, 2005

New article up and running

Last week, over on The Horror Channel forums, I found myself in the middle of a ridiculous flame war over another indie slasher movie. During the course of that argument, the filmmaker himself discounted my opinions because I was a mere "videomaker". This week, my opinions are being discounted because I not only didn't like this particular movie, I don't like Kubrick's The Shining either.

Apparently, in order to be a "legitimate" filmmaker, you must never have shot on video (although, that's where this particular filmmaker started) and you must like everything everyone else likes. Or something like that. Horror fans are really weird and touchy. I should know, being a horror fan myself (or a pathetic, lame, b-movie fanboy with talentless friends, according to this filmmaker's rabid fanbase...).

But, anyway, it was my own fault for expressing my opinions in a public forum (and, in the case of The Shining, being paid to write an article in which I express my opinions publically). In any event, far from being at odds with this other guy, I wish him the very best of luck with his projects in the future. Filmmaking is something he believes in, and as a result, believes in himself. Whether I like his movie or not should be of no consequence to him, and I applaud anyone who actually finishes something in this ludicrous business, film, video, or cave painting.

To that end, I offer this: Film Vs. Video: Another Timeless Argument, which just posted on B-Movie.com today. This pretty much sums up how I feel about the format elitism.

And with that, I intend to avoid message boards for as long as I can. I give myself a week...

Friday, June 17, 2005

The "Indie Horror" Algonquin Round Table... for lack of a much-needed better term...

Back in 2002, my good friend Bill Hahner came down to our place to shoot his scenes as Lilith Stabs' character's boyfriend, "Steve" for Severe Injuries. At one point, Bill is on his hands and knees, in his boxers, wearing a top hat, and providing Lilith an ottoman for her ridiculously-high-heeled boots.

He turns to Amy and I and says, "How do you do it?"

"What?"

"How do you constantly get your friends to travel and be in these bizarre movies?"

I looked at Lilith. "Yeah," she said.

I shrugged. "You tell me," I said. "You're the ones who traveled."

They didn't have an answer, obviously, and we continued with the shoot.

I was reminded of the scene in Burton's Ed Wood, where Bill Murray's "Bunny Breckenridge" asked Depp's "Wood" the same question. "How do you get all your friends to get baptized so you can make a monster movie?"

There is no answer to the question. I have no friggin' idea. For some reason, we have this tightly-knit (if not tightly-wound) group of people who will constantly come through for us, regardless of whatever bizarre thing we come up with. They're there for movies, for conventions (both going-to or actually holding ... *ahem* Genghis Con...), photo shoots, etc. Bill, Lilith, Tim Gross, Charlie Fleming, Francis Veltri, Jasi Lanier, Debbie Rochon, Stacy Bartlebaugh-Gmys, Jim Steinhoff, Nic Pesante, Jeff Waltrowski... They've become part of the Happy Cloud Pictures family, for as far as that goes. They're all wonderful people, they're all ridiculously talented, and Amy, Bill Homan and I couldn't possibly be more grateful.

And, obviously, we're not alone in this craziness. Chris Seaver at Low Budget Pictures has put together an outstanding group of people he relies on for his insanity; the same goes for the Crazy Ralph crew, the Wicked Pixel family, the Gonzoriffic commune, the Tempe Productions company... in order to survive in this business, you need more than a company or a repetory, you need a family. In the truest sense of the word. Folks who will watch out for you, stick up for you, and do whatever you need in order to make your dreams happen. And thereby making your dreams their dreams.

I get cynical about this business because it is so ruthless. Often, you're up against people for whom their success is not enough, they need your failure as well. Or you're up against the decision-makers who screw you in the time-honored tradition of "it's just business".

But I'm often very optimistic, too, because I really do believe that good things do happen to good people. Maybe not all the time (okay, definitely not all the time), but luck or Karma or balance or whatever, it's all cyclical. Life isn't always filled with shit, just as is it isn't always filled with parades. To succeed in this business, making art or "art", you have to be smart, strong, and tenacious. Talented helps too, but--and Jennifer Lopez thanks the her Lord for this fact every day--it's not a requirement.

On one message board or other, someone asked if there really is an indie film community. And this question pops up every now and then, and the way I answer it depends on my mood. It's easy to say "no" and dismiss the very notion of community, but then again, that "no" is becoming more and more difficult to assert with any kind of assurance any more. Happy Cloud Pictures didn't get to where it is today (wherever that may be) by existing in a vaccuum. We have very loyal fans, and we have, as I've pointed out, an outstanding support base of friends and family.

Does that mean that years down the line, TV movies will be made about the DV Algonquin Round Table that meets up at Chiller twice a year, with Seth Green playing me and Alexis Bledel playing Amy (or whoever)? Probably not.

Do I think that we're all contributing to an exponentially-increasing body of work called "independent horror" that is slowly making its way, unsuspectingly or otherwise, into the lives of those not only seeking it out, but those also stumbling into its path now and then?

Definitely.

I think that very many of us are making an immeasurably valuable contribution to the medium and those ripples through our culture will be noticed eventually. "Independent horror" is more than a niche-cult any more. I think, in a lot of ways, it's become an artistic movement, for better or for worse (with both ends of the spectrum adequately on display at any given time). Perhaps its influence will only be noted on the same lines as the "drive in" movies were -- the best of the exploitation films that continue to be popular today. I don't think we've reached the broadest area of our target audience yet. But I do believe that they'll find us eventually.

"Independent horror" is a rich, multi-faceted, ever-evolving thing. There's room for all of us. And I think it's exciting. The good and the bad and the mediocre. Every movie ever made is somebody's favorite movie. (Just as the following is true, appropos of nothing: "everybody is somebody's hero"... chew on that the next time you start feeling down about the state of things...)

I don't think we've even begun to hit our stride yet. If you consider that this current wave of indie filmmaking started in the very early '80s, when the VHS home-video camera boom coincided with the first of the video rental chains. There is still a great demand for product from an even bigger variety of outlets. I think this demand will continue to grow in voraciousness, just as the outlets will continue to evolve (internet, on-demand, DVD culture, etc). And for the best of us, who continue to hone our skills and grow as artists and storytellers, I really do believe that the best of our efforts will be rewarded in time.

And it's not just that I have to believe that to continue to survive emotionally in this business. I look at what my friends and peers are making, the good and the bad, and I love what I see on the base level: creativity unleashed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Boring people and exciting LAND OF THE DEAD news

There’s a girl at work—all of 23 or 24—and for some reason or another, we don’t get along. I’m not sure why, and I’m not sure I care. Maybe it’s because I’m the only one there even remotely close to her age. She prefers flirting with the folks twice her double-decade, perhaps. Just speculation on my part. She doesn’t have a lot of patience for my inexperience, so I just try to stay out of her way.
At any rate, I’m passing, pushing a cart full of mail, and she’s talking to one of the carriers. I hear this: “Oh, I’m wild! I start here at five in the morning, work until three or four, then my boyfriend and I party all night. Then back here at five. I’m serious,” she tells the carrier—Ronny? Ricky?—“I’m a wild girl. You’ve never met anyone like me!”

And I just could not help thinking, “Kid, you’re not even as interesting as the most boring person I know!”
A twenty-something party-girl post office clerk. Sorry, but you don’t compare to:

A dancer-turned-engineering student who went on to be an activist for women’s rights in the horror genre.

A former-dominatrix who, at my age, just became a grandmother.
A homeless girl who put herself through a number of prestigious New York acting schools.

A bi-sexual model who became a fire-eater and stunt-woman.

A kid from a small town in Maine who moved to Pittsburgh to study special effects and co-founded a movie production company.

I could go on.

Yeah, kid, you’re a real wild girl.

After we saw Big Fish, Amy and I were thinking about how we could have told the same story, but without having to exaggerate about the unique people in our lives…

***

In other news, I spent a good part of yesterday in Cameron Romero’s office, hanging with Cam, Chris, Jason and Joe-the-Intern, watching them lose their minds over the upcoming Pittsburgh Premiere of Land of the Dead. I’m in the middle of writing a piece about it for Film Threat, and I’ll post the link here. (Actually, I'll post it now: http://www.filmthreat.com/Features.asp?Id=1480)

But needless to say, I couldn’t get them to confirm or deny that not only will the premiere have Romero, Sr., in attendance, along with folks like Tom Savini, Tom Atkins and half the cast of Day of the Dead, not to mention the ‘N’ in KNB, Greg Nicotero, but also Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright (Shawn of the Dead)!

And—and—and—Quentin friggin’ Tarantino!

Not so far-fetched. Quentin and Greg are friends. Edgar and Simon and Quentin are friends. They’re all Romero friends. Greg’s a Pittsburgh guy. Why the hell not?

But Cameron won’t tell me. “You’ll know when you know,” he says, with a big shit-eating grin on his face that I’d love to knock off, but I won’t because he carries a gun. “And,” he says, “you’ll be the first to know.”
And I take that as a promise. ...

And it was. About two AM, my cell-phone rings.

It's Cameron.

"It's a go!" he says. "Simon and Edgar are flying into JFK on Wednesday, and we're arranging for them to fly in from there. Quentin is flying in either with Greg or around the same time."

This morning, on local radio station 3WS, Greg does a quick interview about the event, mentioning CamOp (the first time it's even brought up in conjuction with the event, with so much emphasis in the past on the Steeltown Production Project which is being benefitted by the proceeds - a charitable event, after all) and Simon, Edgar and Quentin.

According to Quentin: "There is no better place to see Land of the Dead than Pittsburgh!"

So... holy hell! I get to meet Quentin Tarantino next week and hang out with Greg Nicotero and the Shawn of the Dead guys!

I'd better buy some new clothes. Something that doesn't say "slept in". ...

Oh, and click here for more info...

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Another long-ass day where I spent much of my time both lighting a candle and cursing the darkness (in broad daylight no less)...

Ever wake up and just feel grumpy for no apparent reason? That's been my whole week. Just can't shake it and it taints the whole day.

So what do I do to cheer myself up? Attempt to mow the Triffids in front and trim the mess created by "He Who Walks Behind The Rows" in the dog run (if it were titled Children of the Weeds, of course).

As everyone knows, I am ill-suited to physical labor. I tend to break easily. Having still not fully healed from my career-ending injury at the Post Office, perhaps trying to force a hand-driven gasoline-powered trimmer through shoulder-high brush was not the best idea I came up with today. But it needed to be done.

I started around 9:30 AM. The thermometer read 72. So, great, my outdoors was room-temperature.

The thermometer lied.

About 10:20, I actually had a visible trickle of sweat running stream-like through the center of my face. Where sweat isn't usually found.

I got about two-thirds of the dog run trimmed. The lousy dogs can swim the rest of it until Saturday, when it's actually supposed to cool off.

Because of the near-constant rain we're to have between now and then.

And we all know what rain does to weeds, right?

Never one to learn from my instincts, I immediately attempted to mow the front yard, where the weeds were hiding small colonies of antelope at last investigation.

I got through one circuit before the wheels started to spin in the wet and the mud and before the engine began stalling from the weeds inhibiting the blade motor.

So I gave that up.

I will now be calling on a neighbor kid to mow with his father's trusty combine. And once he's done, I'll ask him politely to allow me to hurl myself under as well.

After that, I went immediately to physical therapy, where an insanely chipper young woman intern chirped at me throughout much of my implied relaxation. Then had me do very strange exercises for my shoulder that did little but eat up time.

I come back home and get to read a bizarre press release-cum-apology-letter from Nick Palumbo on a variety of message boards, wherein he talks about the "controversy" surrounding his insanely dull "movie", Murder-Set-Pieces. The alleged film is more boring than it is shocking, so the thing read more like a piece of PR designed to stir up peoples' interest in the final product, which is, I'm told, having a hell of a time finding a home on DVD. Though his post does promise that it will be "officially rated XXX". (Which is just stupid if you think about it... or even if you don't think about it.)

Instead of being entertained, it just added to my irritation. Not to the point where I was yelling obscenities at the computer, but close...

So that was my day, how was yours?

Anyway, news... It occurs to me that my news will be celebratory, but vague (so it will be closer to "masturbatory", but what else is new?).

I sold a script.

It's a zombie script. Zombies in prison. I pitched it about six months ago to a company out in LA that I'm friendly with (or, rather, I'm friendly with the people who work there, not the actual company). They liked it and suggested changes so that they'd like it more. And more importantly, their buyer would like it more.

So I made the changes. I had no real emotional attachment to it yet, so I made the trims and additions they wanted.

Then there were more suggestions... it just wasn't good enough for their buyers, who, apparently, have very specific ideas about what the general public wants to see in a horror movie.

The general public, it can be surmised, being the average 13-year-old.

So I made the changes, thinking "isn't a third draft supposed to improve a script? Not make it crappier?"

But about midway through the new draft, I remembered something.

I'm a really good writer.

Not just, you know, okay. I kick some serious ass as a wordsmith. And you can tell - because I use words like "wordsmith".

So by the time I finished the third draft, with the revisions in place, I realized that I really liked this script and would really like to see it made the way I wrote it. And at the same time, I realized that it probably won't get made line-for-line the way I wrote it, but at least I gave it a damned good effort.

I've never written work-for-hire before. Or, rather, I've never sold anything I'd written for-hire before. Things usually fell through before I got to see my name on a check.

This time, the producer called to tell me that they loved the script, all the partners loved the script. And it's going into production in July.

This July.

Five weeks or so.

To which, I replied, "Holy shit, that's a hell of a turnaround!"

They have a director lined up, casting begins next week. They're all set to move on this thing. And they're paying me for writing it. It's not a tremendous amount, but it's more than "nothing", which is what I'm used to.

So that made me do a little happy dance.

I got this call on Friday. The night before we won the award for The Resurrection Game.

Right after the call, we got an email from an acquaintance wanting to option The Resurrection Game. There's some planning and negotiating to be done here, but still, it's a solid offer.

And that was my past weekend. A series of weird and unexpected rewards for very, awfully, ridiculously hard work.

So, of course, me being me, I have spent the time following all of these rewards scanning the floor before me, searching for the big white X that I will undoubtedly be standing on sometime in the future.

That "X" has not shown up yet. Doesn't mean it's not there and doesn't mean it won't show up.

But for the time being, I'm allowing myself to be, cautiously, very happy.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Okay, so I got up about 5am, started retyping the final draft of a script that got lost during the Great Crash of Early Last Month for a prospective producer.

Went to work and sorted mail for two hours.

Came home and realized that I didn't have to retype the script after all - my scanner has an OCR setting.

Did that and reformatted.

Tried unsuccessfully to trim the dog run. It's half-an acre of lawn that the dogs don't use for much beyond an escape route, but it's overgrown right now thanks to the rain and heat. There are Triffids slowly overtaking the house. If it ever dries out, I plan to mow as well. Which is always fun...

Took my dog to the vet. He has high cholesterol (it's a thyroid thing) and is prone to seizures. He didn't enjoy the trip.

So now I'm home, the sun is 40 feet from the surface of the Earth.

And I'm looking at this award I got from the Pittsburgh Filmworkers this past weekend (as I'm sure you've already read all about the festival, there's no reason for me to recap). The little plaque reads: "Best Film, June 4, 2005, The Resurrection Game"

Then it has my name, "Mike Watt" (in case you forgot), right underneath the title.

Which, of course, got me thinking about the auteur theory.

Despite all my bitching and grumbling about this movie over the past near-decade, I do not consider this to be my movie. The Resurrection Game belongs to everyone at Happy Cloud Pictures, but, to be honest, it belongs most to myself, Amy Lynn Best and Bill Homan. We went through the whole mess together from start to finish.

Yes, I wrote the script.

Based on ideas and concepts Bill had already dredged up about the future existence of zombies. The idea of fighting "cancer with cancer" creating zombies was actually inspired by an early AIDS vaccine that involved genetically-engineered strains of cancer. And since Bill was convinced that a zombie plague was actually going to occur - and we bought into it on the premise that "hey, what if he's right?" and assisted in helping him pick out apartments for us on the basis of "most easily barricaded" - it was a natural inspiration for a screenplay.

Yes, I directed the movie.

But primarily the technical aspects of it. I worked with the DP and his AC (whoever those were at the time), and dictated where the camera would be, what lighting we should use, etc. For the most part, Amy directed the actors. There were even times she was the DP.

Yes, I edited the movie.

But each and every cut was scrutinized by Amy and Bill. They were the producers and had as much input into things as I did. In fact, a lot of the initial editing was done on our in-home upright Moviola while shooting was still going on, so they had almost immediate access to the thing as I finished it.

Yes, I cut the negative.

But Amy did as well. Maybe not as many reels, but that's because she was busy at her full-time job, making sure we had the money for me to sit at home and cut the damned negative.

And yes, I re-edited the movie countless times digitally, but see the above previous mention of "editing" and you're back where we started.

We all had something to gain and/or lose by the completion of The Resurrection Game. To say that I'm the author, or that I'm responsible for this "Best Movie" is ludicrous.

And this is something we all three agree on as partners in and founders of Happy Cloud Pictures. We dislike the auteur theory. So much so that we never include "A Film By" credit in our productions.

We always start with "Happy Cloud Pictures" presents. That way, every member of HCP can feel proud of the final product.

More importantly, they can feel responsible for the end product.

That's the final reason to disregard the auteur theory: sure, it's fun to accept the credit; it's more practical to spread around the blame.

But, ultimately, we haven't made anything we aren't proud of by the end of the day.

And I refuse to add the word "yet" to that sentence.

....

For those of you who are not utterly sick to death of reading about The Resurrection Game are recommended to check out my new "Random Acts of Mike Watt" article over at b-movie.com.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Yes, that's right, The Resurrection Game took home the Pittsburgh Film Workers' award for "Best Film" at Saturday's festival. Which was a real honor, by the way, as we were competing against the marvelous Dr. Horror's Erotic House of Idiots (which I and Amy and Charlie Fleming are also in, in case I forgot to mention a million times previously). No hard feelings from Paul Scrabo, though, as Dr. Horror's won "Best Production" and got its own hefty trophy.

The actual festival went pretty well, I thought. There was some confusion throughout the week as to in what order the films would play and what time the actual event started (some said the doors opened at 6:30, some said 7:00... those who said 7:00 were right), but all-in-all most things went off without a hitch.

The hitch, of course, was provided by me and my miraculous Karma.

I was not looking forward to watching this movie again. The anticipation of dread from seeing The Resurrection Game in a live audience made sitting through Dr. Horror's difficult enough. Worries ran through my head: "I just hope the disc plays all the way through." "I just hope the audio isn't too hot."

I had brought 12 DVDs with me, each containing the new cut of the movie. For some reason, the thought struck me that there might be an errant Spicy Sisters Slumber Party hidden amongst the unlabeled DVDs. But what were the odds that I would pull one of these out of the 12? Add to those odds the fact that I grabbed four out of the box and stuck them in the plastic bag to be brought into the theater with me. 20,000-something to 1 against, by my calculations. But still, I had to narrow those odds down to 112% by vocalizing this concern in the form of a joke. To wit: "Watch: I accidentally stuck a Spicy Sisters in one of these cases and that's the one I gave them."

Which is precisely what happened.

Now, the fine folks at the Rex Theater had been doing soundchecks all week. They knew which DVDs would play right away. There was no guesswork involved.

Except that I didn't know this when I gave the co-ordinators a copy of the new cut.

And the Rex guys didn't know that the disk was a new cut, apparently, so just popped the disk in and walked away.

And then The Spicy Sisters began to play immediately.

And this was followed by some running around and frantic searching for another Res. Game DVD.

The emcee, our own Tim Gross, laughed it off and re-introduced us. This did wonders for my nerves, of course.

Add to all that the fact that neither Amy, nor I, nor Bill could sit still long enough to watch it for any length of time. So we hung at the back of the theater with Cameron Romero and Jason Ralph, pacing back and forth and wincing... wincing primarily because the levels were so damned loud! The opening gunshot rattled bottles in the lobby.

Five people asked the guy in the soundbooth to "bring the levels down". Sound guy was a hippy with a long beard (in which, I'm sure, were hiding several Japanese soldiers unaware that the war had ended), who usually responded with "Huh?" and then "No, man, they're fine. I checked them on Tuesday."

After the sixth person, ears bleeding from treble and intestines ruined from bass, begged him to "bring it down", he finally brought it down. A bit. A hair. I didn't notice much difference, but then my ears were bleeding too.

A few seconds after person number six had made the audio request, I feel someone touch my shoulder. In a crowd, it's not advised that anyone do this. I don't like it.

I turned around and saw hippy sound guy. "You the filmmaker?" he said.

I confirmed this.

"Some of the dialogue is only coming out of the left channel."

"Okay."

"Listen."

I did. I couldn't tell if it was or not, standing, as I was, to the rear and left of the theater.

"Okay," I repeated.

"Thought you should know."

"Nothing I can do about it now," I said.

"You should know, though."

Then he went away. Then came back a few seconds later, touching me again to get my attention.

"Hear it?"

"What do you want me to do about this?" I asked, shouting to be heard.

"Well, you're gonna have to re-mix it if you want this to be a serious film."

"You can hear that it's coming out of one channel?" I asked.

"That's my job, man."

"But you can't tell that it's too fucking loud?"

"Hey, you needed to know."

"There's nothing I can do about it. Go turn it down and leave me the hell alone."

And he did. And walked wide of me the rest of the night.

But I fumed for the rest of the night as well. "If you want it to be taken as a serious film??" Yeah, I'll tell the two companies that are currently bidding on it that the dialogue needs a stereo mix. I'll get right on that.

If my head doesn't cave in from the over-modulated and distorted levels. Thanks, hippy guy. You made my night.

Now, I realize there was probably an infinite amount of better ways to have handled the situation. One, possibly, would have been to borrow a gun. Had the awards been given out already, I could have beaten the hippy to death with it. Or I could have thanked him and turned away from him.

But I was nervous as hell. I had my own crew giving me shit the whole way through the movie because they were nervous about seeing this thing too. I had family and friends and peers I hadn't seen in close to a decade in the audience. My blood had turned to straight-pins in my veins because I was viewing the fruits of seven years for the first time and it was too fucking loud and I couldn't make out half the dialogue through the distortion.

And I really needed criticism from this man, who was undoubtedly annoyed by six people asking him to do his job just...a...little...BETTER!

Everyone's a fucking expert.

But the movie seemed to go over really well with everyone. There was ample applause at the end. Because we were so far back, assaulted by distortion, we couldn't really gauge how the audience was reacting, though. They all jumped at two crucial points at the end, so I took that as a good sign. I couldn't hear laughter over the raging bass, so I'm not sure how some of the lighter moments went over. I was assured, however, that it was not that loud from the center of the audience to the front. It was louder the further back you were. Which indicates a crappy sound system to me, but what the hell do I know?

I only know that, at the end of the night, people were coming up to us and congratulating us on making a great movie. And the award really started to mean a lot on the drive home, when I looked at the back of the program and saw some of the movies that had been submitted, by filmmakers I knew or had heard of, that hadn't been accepted for the festival. There were some top-notch guys in that list, people who I'd gone to school with, people I'd met at fests and conventions. And The Resurrection Game had beaten them all for a top slot in the first annual Pittsburgh Filmworkers Association Film Festival.

So at the end of the night, Amy and I went home with a "Best Film" award --represented by a heavy statuette of The Gill Man (either Ben Chapman or Ricou Browning... I forget who did the swimming) from The Creature from the Black Lagoon sculpted by Eric DeLaVega and cast by Chris Pirt (both terrific artists and instructors at the Savini School).

And looking back, yeah, maybe I should remix it, maybe I should replace a couple of sound effects here and there.. but refer to my last post. I ain't gonna. The Resurrection Game is done. And folks seemed to like it.

Friday, June 03, 2005

As reported in Fangoria, The Resurrection Game is done.

It feels really weird to type that sentence. I still can’t quite wrap my mind around it.

Done.

Finished.

With a new dialogue track freshly scrubbed and polished by Cameron Romero and about 60 minutes of new music by Jason D. Ralph (perfectly complimenting the music previously composed by Paul McCollough and Mike Shiley), the movie is complete.

I spent most of the past weekend beating various parts of it into submission: raising levels here, lowering them there, mixing effects, placing and replacing music…etc. Then I screamed at my PC, with its virtually quaint Pentium III processor, then begged, then cursed, then physically attacked, until I got a good file rendered out.

This took about three tries. Rendering out a final .avi in Premiere is a pain in the ass, particularly with a Pentium III behind it, and it takes six, eight, nineteen hours, depending on what you want it to do (although I’ve yet to determine a rhyme or reason to the rendering time). So the first couple I wound up with were filled with glitches—some my fault, some the computers, some I’m convinced are the result of Satan’s meddling.

For a while, I was sure the movie itself was working against me. Actually, I’ve had this feeling for five years now. It was almost a given over the years that The Resurrection Game is the movie that didn’t want to be seen. For two years, I hand-cut a scratched and abused work-print. To the audience, the picture was bad, first, as we distributed a bootleg on VHS, shot off the flickering screen of a flatbed editor. So I hand-cut the negative and got it transferred to DV… then taught myself Premiere (when I started on this movie, digital editing was a mere concept to me, like evolution—I knew about it, but I had no real physical contact with it) to re-edit it again.

So now we had a beautiful looking movie. But, as was witnessed at the sneak preview screening at the 2004 Pittsburgh Comicon, it was determined that the sound was the new culprit. This was the result of a dialogue track mixed from the original mag stock scratch tracks that I had originally thought was all that remained of the elements. I discovered that the original original elements—the ¼” tape from the Nagra recorder that we used on the set to capture the dialogue—had not only held up, but were in pristine condition.

So I transferred these to DV, with the irreplaceable help of Eric Fleischauer and Pittsburgh Filmmakers. And then I imported every line of dialogue into Premiere and replaced the entire sound track sound-wave by sound-wave. Resulting in a nearly-pristine dialogue track and my going blind for two hours.

Then I had further computer problems, like the aforementioned crappy .avi files.

Then my high-end DVD burner died.

Then my computer crashed, erasing both hard drives. Forcing me to recapture the entire movie from a tape-back-up and start over again with the new tweaking.

Then the floods came.

And some locust (just enough to gum up the works).

Then the Earth opened up and swallowed my house and all the master files.

Then an electromagnetic pulse shot through the universe, rendering useless all the world’s electronic devices.

But through it all, ultimately, I survived, and so did The Resurrection Game. And it’s playing its first film festival on Saturday. The Pittsburgh Filmworkers Association is putting on a fest and it’s running Dr. Horror’s Erotic House of Idiots and then us. Since Amy, Charlie Fleming and I are in Dr. Horror’s (so are Debbie Rochon and Jasi Cotton Lanier, for that matter), there’s going to be a lot of us on that screen tomorrow.

And this fest makes moot all of my excuses. The movie is done. I’m not going to do anything else to it, for good or ill. So I won’t be able to say “we’re almost done” any longer. “It’ll be finished soon,” the pat answer to “why does it sound like that?” is no longer valid.
<>Now we have to stand by our choices, to be hailed or hanged by the work.

Saturday is gonna be interesting…