Thursday, November 06, 2008
This election was long, but not nearly as long as the 2000 election felt to me. 2000 was the first year I paid any attention to politics, forced in large part due to a job I had digitally archiving newscasts. And for weeks after I would come into the office and ask my coworkers, "Do we have a president yet?" That was the start of eight years of lunacy, greed and daily terror—both real and manufactured.
In 2004, I received a jolt of sheer disbelief when the Democrats, who'd bemoaned G.W. Bush for the previous trio of years, put up the near-lifeless automaton John Kerry as their best candidate. I didn't like him, but I didn't have much of a choice—Kerry or Nader come election day, so I cast my vote for Kerry, hoping somewhere in there was a St. George who could slay the Washington hydra currently occupying the White House—no longer 'the People's House' as it was originally called. Kerry failed. It wasn't the Swift Boaters who killed his chances; he never had a chance. 2004 was an election that didn't have to be stolen. The Neocons knew that the dime store cigar Indian didn't have a chance. Still, Democrats seized power in Congress and I took some solace in that, knowing full well that nothing was going to change; it was the perception of change I was looking for.
Of course, things did change. Through greed and ineptitude and guards sleeping at their post (or even shamelessly bartering with the enemy), our economy collapsed, the world continued to hate us, more Americans were killed in the name of King and Country and the blame was placed on gay marriages, illegal immigrants and, of course, the previous Democratic administration. Gas prices skyrocketed—because of "speculators" and more back room deals with our "allies" who were already holding us economically hostage—the same ones we smuggled out of the country when we were attacked in 2001. Our administration had given up their lame sleight of hand. No more were they saying "Look at this hand! Don't look here where the trick is going on! Honest, it's a trick." They were saying "Look where you want. We don't give a shit about you."
"Mr. Cheney, this war is very unpopular with the American people."
I can remember, at the start of the new election cycle, thinking and saying that if Hillary and John McCain wound up running against each other that I'd literally have to flip a coin at the polls. That's the faith I had in Mr. McCain, though I never really related to "The Right" or "The Conservatives" or whatever you wanted to call "the other side of the center". In 2000 and beyond, I saw him as a good, honest man who truly believed in the United States of America, brave enough to stand up to the Neocons when he thought they were wrong. But just before he threw his hat into the election ring, just before the obsequious Rudy Juliani and the heinous Mitt Romney were seen as the Republican messiahs, something happened to John McCain aboard his "Straight Talk Express". He fell asleep and was taken over by an outer space seed pod. Or perhaps the Midwich Cuckoos ordered him behind the brick wall. Whatever the cause, the McCain I saw on television since the beginning of the year was not the John McCain I'd fallen in love with. I felt like a cuckolded husband, I really did. Every time he spoke the words "My friends" a chill shot through me and I thought, "they got to him".
And I confess that I was pulling for Hillary simply because she was a woman. I rarely liked anything that came out of her mouth—it was her tone, or her body language, something implied that the stick up her ass was larger than we could imagine and most of it was located in the fifth dimension. I desperately wanted to see a woman president; just not that woman. But it didn't matter, really, what I wanted. As a registered independent, I couldn't vote in the primaries. For any party. Which makes the term "independent" as isolated in politics as it is in the movie industry.
When the fine Irish gentleman Barak Obama was declared the nation's left-leaning candidate, the run-up agonies continued, focused with laser-beam intensity on the faults of the two candidates. McCain continued to illicit alien behavior, not to mention cynicism rivaling my own with the choice of Sarah "Death to all wildlife" Palin as his ill-conceived running mate. "They want a woman, let's give 'em a woman!" he seemed to say. I didn't want this woman either. She came off as hypocritical, condescending and, in a lot of ways, as vapid and empty as something that came out of Dr. Goldfoot's Bikini Machine. And I was just as certain that she would explode at some point. She had the same obsequious Dick Cheney manner—"I won't answer your questions because I don't feel like it and I know what's best for you. Now shut up and eat your bowl of offal."
Watching a clip of her on The Daily Show, for the first time in my life, I confronted my own inner misogyny—something I didn't know I had—when the acronym "MILFU" popped into my head: "Mom I'd Like To Fuck Up." Yeah, I hated her that much. And the vast bucket that held my respect for McCain, now riddled with holes, looked more like a tea strainer, in both size and perforation.
And "Barry Obama", as my conservative co-workers referred to him? He seemed, if it's a word, 'leaderful'. I liked the fact that he didn't get rattled by McCain's confrontations. And I loved the fact that he wasn't just another old rich white guy. He was, in fact, a young-ish rich sorta-black guy. The fact that he didn't look like a photocopy of the past candidates—more a photo negative—motivated me to pay more attention to him. Does that make me as shallow as the African Americans who planned to vote for him simply because he was black? Probably. But I paid attention to what he had to say. And the more he talked, the more convinced I was that he was the right man for the job.
I never bought the fact that a McCain presidency would be "Four More Years of George W. Bush". The inner child in me was rooting for McCain to stand up on television and rip off the mask he was wearing and reveal the McCain of 2000 or 2004. But then he kept referring to himself as a 'Maverick', something a real maverick would never do. Then Palin started it up too. "I'm a maverick too! Look how mavericky I am! I shoot wolves from a helicopter! I take money from the government and then tell them we don't need their money but I don't give it back! Tee hee! Oh, and Alaska is now part of Russia, that's how mavericky I am!"
At work and in downtown Waynesburg (one street and two grocery chains), I heard the words "socialism" and "Muslim" and "nigger" bandied about so often, my own brain started beeping them out like an FCC seven-second delay. And I couldn't wait for this wretched election to be over. For the record, I was also tired of the words "hope" and "change". They were two words that ceased to have any meaning for me. For a while I wondered, "What kind of change? The kind we've been living with? Higher gas and higher unemployment? What was this? The Lady and the Tiger?" Which isn't to say that I haven't been enjoying the schadenfreude I've experienced at my conservative chums' expense.
Finally, Tuesday, Amy and I cast our ballots. We watched Comedy Central that night as Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart—the only two people in politics I actually trust—followed the results across the country. Obama was winning, by a big margin, but anything could change. Gore was winning in 2000 and look how that wound up.
In the morning, I learned the truth: America had its first black president. There was celebration throughout the country and McCain ceded graciously. The mood in my largely-conservative office was one of suicide. "The retards have spoken," one said to me. A comeback didn't seem worth the effort.
For the rest of Wednesday, I monitored the newspapers and the 'net. "Change" was the watchword again. The world has to/is going to/will change. Peace on Earth will reign as soon as that lousy Bush and his cronies are out of the White House—provided he doesn't start WWIII before January 20. How progressive we are! We voted for a black president and he won! Racism is over!
But were we progressive? More people voted than ever but was it for Obama or against McCain. An analogy seems, to me, to be that we've been eating rat pie for eight years. Now here's your choice: you can have this pie, which has slightly less rat in it, or this can of Chef Boyardee that's expired, the label has peeled off and don't know what's in it, but it's not rat pie. Is that really progressive?
Is not wanting rat pie really the end of racism?
Which isn't to say that I didn't firmly believe in Barak Obama when I entered my vote. I did and I do. At the very least, he changed the face of politics, even if he didn't—or won't—reinvent the game. I believe he'll do an excellent job and that the U.S. will get onto a healing path, if only because the American people think that change is, indeed, coming. At least it's not rat pie.
As for the end of racism… Proposition 8 passed in California. Narrowly, but it still passed. If you don't live in CA and don't know what Prop 8 is, it was a referendum to ban gay marriage in that state, just months after the state made gay marriage legal. According to the state of California, as well as many other states in the union, "marriage" is restricted to the definition of one man and one woman. A big chunk of the majority that made up that vote consisted of African Americans and Latinos.
The same cross sections that cry out against discrimination. The same cross section that declares that they are oppressed minorities. Equal rights for all!
Unless you're gay.
Of course, they say, it's not the same thing. Skin color prejudice is not the same thing as bias towards sexual preference because…
Oh, yeah, the Bible. See, mixing races is okay because the parts of the Bible that say that's wrong, see, those are outdated and meaningless to today's society and God didn't really mean that anyway. And slavery, too, that's wrong. Even though there are parts of the Bible that espouse that practice but, see, that was written a long time ago, okay? So shut the fuck up and just agree with us that homosexuality is wrong!
Thirty years ago, it was "wrong"—or, at least, controversial—to show a black man kissing a white woman. Vice versa was "a little okay", but still wrong. Forty years ago—forty years ago!—mixed marriages were illegal in many states.
But two men or two women marrying, being treated equally, like everyone else, having the same opportunity to make their love legal in the eyes of the country… that's just fucking wrong.
So "change" just means "change you can see" or, maybe, "change for us but not you".
We'll always go back and forth on the subject of abortion. Catholics were outraged that Obama is pro-Choice. And I'll make the same argument that if you're for capital punishment and anti gun control and pro euthanasia, guess what: you are not Pro Life. In fact, you're Pro Death. Cram abortion right in there with those other attitudes, friends, because you're in favor of death. And it's hypocritical to say otherwise. "But they're babies, they're innocent!" Lots of innocent people are put to death and gunned down by criminals. Or shot by family members by accident. What's the difference? "They're babies!" It's the same argument as why we eat cows and not puppies. One is cute, the other is meat.
But, then again, we're a hypocritical society, aren't we?
On Wednesday, I expected to wake up in Toon Town, surrounded by brighter colors and woodland creatures that would help me dress and brush my teeth. I wanted to feel this change we've been hoping for all year. That Obama won is, indeed, remarkable, ratless pie or not. And I think—I hope—again, that he will do good things for this country. I also hope that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are visited by three ghosts this Christmas who then proceed to kick the shit out of them.
But as far as change goes, I think we have a ways to go. Still, on Wednesday morning, I allowed myself to exhale. Shoop shoop.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Some of these terms may be foreign to you, and I understand. This was in the great, prehistoric VHS era, and I had two VCRs going non-stop for nearly seven years. The collection grew to ridiculous proportions until I had topped a thousand tapes, most of them single-titles recorded in SP mode. (Some of you out there are scoffing, but to me, this was a sizable amount of inventory.)
After I graduated, I returned to trading only. I didn't really have a lot of choice, though, as DVDs put VHS into the archives and landfills. Since the DVD revolution, I've been working to replace a lot of these titles and clear out space in the house. I've moved three times since starting this little obsession. For the last three or four years, I've tried to be diligent about weeding out the collection, particularly since I hadn't watched a VHS tape in that entire span of time. Problem is, even after weeding out, I was still the proud owner of at least 300 tapes I'd never watched and/or hadn't been able to replace.
In July, Amy "retired" from Verizon and has been on a remodeling and cleaning spree. Our left-hand closet in the living room was filled to the brim with tapes and, really, it was time to get rid of them. Except that I couldn't bring myself to just pitch them. I had an old stand-alone DVD recorder, but it's been getting more and more finicky over the years, to the point where it would only record on DVD+RWs and wouldn't finalize them to enable playing on any other machine.
Biting the bullet, we broke down and bought a VHS - DVDR combo and have spent the last week transferring, finalizing and discarding. We've only gone through about 25 so far, but it's a start. I'd forgotten some of the riches I'd had. Old fan-dubs of Jet Li's The Master and The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk; a version of The Satanic Rites of Dracula that had only been released in the U.K.; Jackie Chan's cut of The Protector (as opposed to James Glickenhaus' sub-standard cut); most of John Woo's pre-The Killer titles--it's been wonderful going through them.
It'll take a couple of months, honestly, but soon we'll have all those outdated bricks pitched and replaced with super-slim discs of love and joy.
And then I'll have to take a leave of absence from work to watch all the damned things!
Monday, October 20, 2008
Saturday, Amy, Tara and David Cooper and I made the trek out to The Oaks Theater to see a terrific double-bill: Texas Chain Saw Massacre II and Amityville II. This was the second of two double-bills set up courtesy of the great and powerful Art Ettinger, manager of the magazine that people actually read, Ultra-Violent. The premiere weekend consisted of Cannibals Holocaust and Ferrox, which I eschewed attending on the simple fact that Italians make crummy horror movies. And I didn’t enjoy seeing the turtle being murdered the first time around, so the prospect of that projected on a big screen more than made up my mind, despite my desire to support Art and UV. It also didn’t help that we had other plans that weekend…
Anyway, so off we four went tra-la-la to Oakmont. Amy and Tara got dolled up in wigs and glitter and bangles and all sorts of womanly accoutrement. David and I made sure we wore pants. Stopping off for numerous alcoholic beverages at a local imbibery, mere feet away from the theater, we were costumed and coiffed as we consumed and quaffed.
Then on to the shenanigans. We stormed into the theater and I plunked down money, demanding four tickets for The Duchess. Turned down flat, we opted instead for the movies we actually wanted to see. And see them we did.
I’d almost forgotten how much fun Texas 2 was, and how effective Tom Savini’s effects were, and just how loony Bills Moseley and Johnson were as Chop-Top and Leatherface. Jim Seidow is wonderfully over-the-top as The Cook as well. Ahhh. Having never seen this before on the big screen, it was like Christmas and National Blow Job Day all at once.
Then came Amityville 2, which Art introduced as “one of the sleaziest movies ever made”. And since both films had been prefaced by a quartet of ‘70s sleaze trailers from Art’s own collection, he was the inarguable authority. And boy-howdy does Amityville 2 live up to the sleaze. If you haven’t seen it, then you have prevented some part of your soul from dying. If you have seen it, you know the lunacy of which I speak. The child abuse, the incest, the murders, the interminable tacked-on Exorcist ending, the wonderful mustache-beard combo worn by the Defense Attorney, the look of despair on Brock Peters’ face in every scene he appears. Just heaven, I tells ya.
And through it all we hooted and guffawed and… okay, irritated the sour-looking blonde woman a few rows in front of us. Granted, we weren’t the only ones talking back at the screen and applauding and howling but, quite frankly, we were probably the loudest. Not the strangest, though. That honor goes to the young man who attempted to charm his way into Amy’s and Tara’s individual pants through the time-tested method of seduction via card tricks. Granted, he was a very good up-close magician. Also granted, he arrived and departed alone.
On the whole, I would give the entire evening an 11.5. If you weren’t in attendance, you can hang your head with shame. If you were there, I apologize for the numerous circumcision jokes.
I've been harassing a great deal of you with my outrage at the upcoming The Spirit movie that Frank Miller, after years of a close friendship with creator Will Eisner, seems intent on turning into Sin City 2.
I know most of you have no frame of reference for what I'm talking about. So I will ask that you all go Here to my article at Film Threat and read my final vitriolic screed on the subject. I swear I'll leave you alone after this, but please take the time to check it out.
Leave me a message here. Let me know if you think I'm blowing this out of proportion. That it's going to be "just a movie". I promise I won't slaughter any of your sacred cows in retaliation if that's how you feel. I just want my two cents to be taken without change returned.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Briefly… It was another terrific Cinema Wasteland. Seriously, I almost wish Ken and Pam would put on one that sucked just to break up their record! But no, we had a vast amount of fun, made a decent amount of money and got to see our bi-annual friends and catch up with life. This trip we had a few "newbies"—Tara Cooper (who truthfully lost her Wasteland virginity in April), Tabatha Carrick, Nikki McCrea and Aaron Bernard came out to help us promote Demon Divas and the Lanes of Damnation and it was fun watching the madness unfold through their eyes. Seriously, how do you describe writer Joe Knetter ("Zombie Bukkake") without visuals? How do you explain the films of Bill Zeebub without the proper demonstrative tools? And since we had Henrique Couto with us, and his ever-present ukulele, that just added to the surrealistic nature of the weekend.
There was a last-minute snafu, however, that turned things on an interesting curve for us. Damian and Ed, the creators of the ubiquitous "Living Dead Dolls", had to cancel at the very last minute due to transportation problems. To keep from having empty spaces, Pam shuffled some of us around, putting the Teddy Scares folks in the corner usually occupied by "Living Dead Dolls" and moving us behind Art and Allana's Ultra-Violent table. So for the first time in, I believe, five years, we weren't facing the door.
Now you wouldn't think something as minor as that would be a disaster—and in truth, it wasn't. But it was a completely new perspective for us, facing the room instead of the door. Because Wasteland is one of our favorite places on Earth, we don't handle change well. Hell, we nearly wept when our directly-behind-us neighbors moved an aisle over for more space! Now where we were, we were given a bigger table and had all the space we needed to spread out (necessary, as we're behind-the-table slobs), but it was almost an alien perspective at first. I experienced instant paranoia, thinking people were sneaking up on me all weekend. Again, not a big deal except what we made of it. We were still there among the ones we loved and by on Friday, we were used to the view, but beyond anything else, we discovered what creatures of habit we truly are.
I'm choosing to blame our Friday-night rule breaking on the new perspective, even though I should really pin the accusations on our own lack of responsibility. Friday nights we try to take things easy, get to bed at a decent hour and save our partying for Saturday. But the French Canadians—Simon, Hugo and Steve—were in the house as well, and they can drink us virtually under the table so… we slipped.
I didn't get hammered, but since my drink of choice is rum and coke, invariably, if I drink too much, the alcohol wears off faster than the caffeine. As a result, I spent much of the nocturne hours between and staring at the blinking light on the smoke alarm, growing increasingly convinced that Dick Cheney was watching me. Amy and Tara fared no better. For some reason, the Holiday Inn chose to replace their downy comforters with something made either out of crinoline or old tambourines. Regardless of their composition, every move any of us made beneath those comforters would echo through the room. Madness, I tell you.
So as a result, we looked terribly hung over, minus the joyful memories of being drunk the previous night. All I wanted to do was crawl under the table and sleep, but the show must go on! And go on it must'vely.
Because of my sleep-deprived condition, I found myself reaching my maximum level of small talk quicker than usual. Perhaps the never-ending ukulele music wasn't assisting. Or perhaps it was the unusual amount of political banter surrounding me—yes, Sarah Palin is an empty-headed mannequin and John McCain is a pod person. I agree, go away—but by about that afternoon, I was attempting to lure passersby into conversations about Proust, Billy Wilder and Marcel Marceau. I just couldn't talk about the election, torture porn or "Slaughtered Vomit Dolls" any longer. God help us all!
Oddly, because it's Wasteland, the movie and convention gods were on my side. Whenever I started to slide too far to either side of my homicide – suicide scale, someone would invariably swing by to cheer me up, whether it was Art Ettinger making another "Minutemen" joke about my name, Mike and Carrie presenting me with a genuine "Mike Watt" etched glass, or Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni giving me a personal introduction to Lamberto Bava. It's hard to have lowered spirits at Cinema Wasteland for very long.
Two other surprises were in store for me that weekend. The first was discovering that I was mentioned twice in the
The second surprise came from one of our fans and supporters and con friends who showed me a little souvenir thing he bought at Borders called "Whack-A-Zombie". It's a box that comes with a small inflatable bob bag with a zombie painted on it, so that you can slap it around to your heart's content. It also comes with a little book, a guide to zombies, zombie lore and zombie entertainment. In it, it has a short list of "the better-known" zombie novels available out there. Predictably, it includes books like "World War Z" by Max Brooks and "The Risen" by Brian Keene, but right there, at number five, is "The Resurrection Game", with my name spelled correctly. "Better known"? Thank you very much! So the authors of this little book are responsible for my tiny quarterly publisher's royalty check! I'm eternally grateful.
As usual, Sunday rolled around leaving us torn between wanting to go home and never wanting to leave. While we did achieve sleep Saturday night, we were all afflicted with a degree of hotel kennel cough, leaving us hoarse and exhausted. Amy, as we discovered, was developing a sinus infection that would chase her through the rest of the week. I just wanted to sleep for another month or so.
It took us a good hour to say our good-byes—always longer than the hellos. We got to hang out with Michael Berryman and Kane Hodder for a little bit, though, which was nice. And we made plans to try and get together with the Kishs and some of the other Wasteland crew who we've come to know and love. On the drive home, we looked back at the weekend, realizing that Tara makes a terrific personal assistant/one-woman personal support group, Henrique and Charles are a cool comedy team (that will someday result in a ukulele passing completely through Henrique's digestive tract), Tabatha and Steve are nauseatingly cute, Hugo can take a punch, Simon is hiding a very clever and very cruel streak that I hope to see come out more, and Rhonda and Kyle are more disturbed than I had even suspected. In short: another terrific Wasteland.
* * *
Don't forget, Sirens of Cinema 13 is officially available at fine stores or, more directly, from www.sirensofcinema.com It features a beautiful cover by Dave Stevens and a three-page memorial of his amazing artist. Other highlights include an exclusive look at the upcoming movie Bitch Slap, the completion of Justice Howard's Twisted Fairy Tales photo series and the first look at Demon Divas and the Lanes of Damnation. So don't miss out! You'll hate yourself. And we'll hate you more.
Monday, September 29, 2008
This is another one of those blogs that will be more catch-up than anything else. Apologies to the two of you who follow my exploits religiously.
If you read this blog, you undoubtedly read Amy's, so you know we've been flitting thither and yon over the past month. We took a trip to the wilds of Baltimore a few weeks ago to see April and JimmyO Burril in "Evita", something I wouldn't necessarily have done had they not been in it. I'm not a fan of Andrew Lloyd "Two-Chord" Webber. The majority of his shows seem to highlight two memorable numbers and present incidental music that sounds like mice running up and down piano keys. But JimmyO gave power and charisma to the lead character of "Che", and April strutted her stuff in the dance numbers, transporting me out of Webberland and into actual enjoyable live theater. For which, I was grateful.
Immediately following, we ran down to D.C. to check out the new touring Jim Henson's Muppets exhibit at the Smithsonian. The Muppets on display at this exhibit were the very ones we saw being prepared last year when we had the good fortune to visit the behind-the-scenes staging section of the Institution. And while the exhibit really is phenomenal—featuring not only the puppets but archived footage and nearly endless amounts of Henson's original artwork, storyboards, sketches and notes—I have to admit that not being able to actually touch these original Muppets (as I was able to in the staging room) was a tad disappointing. Still, I left the exhibit smiling and happy and not a little choked up by the whole experience.
When we fought our way back to our car through torrential rain, we discovered that we'd spent the afternoon wading through Hurricane Hannah. Taking the Metro into D.C., water came down around us in sheets and cascaded down the staircases to the underground. We had to ford veritable rivers to cross the parking lots and swam across the mall to the exhibition area, but at least we wore hats! We actually achieved maximum saturation on the way back, fortunately, so we weren't wandering around in the chilly exhibit area soaked and miserable. That it didn't occur to us that this was because of the hurricane is more a testament to our determination than our capacity for information. At least, I like to think so.
Back at the hotel, we met up with Steve (one of our three cinematographers from Demon Divas) and Tabatha (who plays "Becki" in same) for dinner and wound up watching part of a movie called Pirates, which happens to be a very slick, glamorous and expensive porno. Now, I'm not a fan of straight porn. Not out of any sensitivity or prudishness, but because I started my career not only writing book reviews for a magazine that was distributed exclusively to strip clubs but also worked as a publicist for a company that also subdistributed a lot of hard core porn over the internet. So my bias towards porn is born less out of sensibility and more out of overload. That combined with the unavoidable fact that, as a filmmaker, I'm highly critical of the lousy camerawork and lighting found in most porn. (Seriously, there is nothing funnier and less erotic than watching a hardcore porno in a room full of filmmakers—"There are double shadows on the wall!" – "Where is the camera mounted for that shot??" – "Dude! Mic placement!")
But Pirates is actually a lot of fun. There's an actual story and the two male leads seem ecstatic to have the opportunity to play pirates and swashbucklers. The hero actually struck me as playing a variation of Futurama's Zap Brannigan in his delivery and character. The women seem just as bored as ever, regardless of the slick setting and the pretty candlelight photography, but they weren't hired for their performances, obviously. It has the same structure as most porn movies, of course—dialogue, sex, change of scenery, change of partners, more sex, etc.—but they also intersperse the old standards with a little bit of swordplay and some CGI skeletons paying homage to Jason and the Argonauts! And the movie ends with a sea battle with the two CGI ships battling it out with cannon fire.
Oddly enough, the attempts at humor are actually funny and don't rely on—surprisingly—sex jokes. So I was impressed all around, at least with the story, the structure and the characters. The sex scenes, however, went on far too long—the whole movie is over two hours, for pete's sake!—and seemed to be not only vanilla but incredibly angry. Again, I'm not a connoisseur of modern pornography, so maybe angry toss-you-around hardcore is the norm these days, I'm not sure, but I found myself less aroused by these scenes and more concerned for the actresses' safety. The lesbian scenes especially were particularly brutal. Still, there's an R-rated version of the movie put out by MTI which moves a lot faster, so I'd actually recommend that version to the curious. The hardcore has been edited out, so the pacing seems a bit more choppy, but the wonderful performances remain intact.
A few weeks later, we made the trip to Buffalo to return to Rotten Jack's Creepshow. Last year's premiere event was one of our show highlights, just being a good time and an all-around good show, complete with guests, vendors and live bands. This year, the show was held in a larger venue, a nightclub in the heart of downtown Buffalo. Once inside, the show was another success—getting there was fun, however.
Amy and I got there early, dropped off our stock and went to our hotel to clean up and get ready, fighting construction the whole way. We picked up Debbie Rochon and stopped off for a bite to eat, thinking we'd take a different route to avoid the construction. An hour later, we were hopelessly lost—thanks to a G.P.S. that thought "Main Street" was the same place, no matter how many of them there were. When we finally arrived, found a place to park amid downtown construction and traffic, we were greeted at the front door of the venue by a surly bouncer on a control trip, checking I.D.s of two college-age girls. We smiled at him, told him we were guests and started for the door. He stopped us with, "Still need to check your I.D.s—stay right there!"
I don't like being ordered around. Particularly when I was asked to attend an event. But I waited—I also don't like to cause trouble for the people who invited me and were putting on the event. Tom and his wife, Cheryl, were very nice people and they had enough on their plates without worrying about their guests getting into fights with the venue workers. So I stopped and waited. He checked our I.D.s then demanded to check our bags. We had Amy's tote, Debbie's stock and a camera bag and he "needed" to see inside each one. Now, I have no trouble with policy. I do have trouble with assholes. He could have been nice about the whole thing, particularly when informed we were, again, guests of the show that was paying him to be there.
He told Amy she couldn't bring in her vodka and I couldn't bring in my flask. Fine. It was a bar. We didn't think about that when we'd brought it and we weren't parked too far away. I didn't mind taking the booze back to the car. However, Debbie was refused entrance with her coffee. And the bar didn't serve coffee. "We don't know what's in there!" he barked. Which made no sense to me. It's fucking coffee. Coffee is a requirement when you do shows like this. And, again, he wasn't nice about it and wasn't even particularly nice to Tom when he came out to see what the problem was.
So we waited outside. I'd returned our contraband to the car and Debbie finished her coffee. We turned back to the guy, opened our bags, "Can we get back to our lives now?" I asked. He didn't answer.
When we got inside, our table already had a line of people who remembered us from last year. A line formed in front of Debbie's table seconds after she stepped behind it. Other guests—Melantha Blackthorne, Rod Gudino from Rue Morgue, Greg Lambertson (Slime City) came over to greet us. Tom brought us drinks to get us going. Hell, I was even signing autographs before we'd even sat down. I was actually on the poster advertising the event. In fact, I'm so used to not being on the advertising that when someone gave me the poster to sign, I automatically began writing in the margin, not even noticing my handsome mug right there on the one-sheet!
Within an hour, we'd sold a goodly deal of our merchandise, chatted with people new and old (as in acquaintance, not age… specifically). Gunnar Hansen and Tony Moran were the main headliners, and their lines were seemingly endless. A good time was had all around. I really do like this show.
Hell, I even got my pound of flesh a few hours later when the surly bouncer came inside and skulked around a little sheepishly by the guest tables. Again, I usually make a point of talking with the employees of the venue and the volunteers of the show. It's just good manners. They take a lot of shit from customers and vendors that they don't deserve, so Amy and I like to make sure they know they're appreciated. But I couldn't bring myself to take the high road with this douschebag. He ambled by Melantha's table, sifting through some of her pictures. Melantha was with some fans, so she didn't pay him any attention. Amy and Debbie were away from the tables and I was just drunk enough that my Irish was up. The bouncer came over, saw me, and gave me a tough guy look. "How's it going for you?" he said. It wasn't a challenge and it wasn't a greeting. His body language was still trying to establish his boundaries. I grinned and looked him in the eye. "Great," I said. "Fuck off."
I expected something in return. An insult, a flex of muscle, something. All I got was surprise and a retreat. I felt like Ben in Night of the Living Dead dealing with Harry Cooper—'you go be boss outside, pal; I'll be boss right here.' He was gone in a second and I didn't see him again. I went over to the bar, bought another drink and left the bartender a $2 tip for a $4 drink. That's my definition of Darwinism in this business.
The next morning, we made like Hobbits and had two lovely breakfasts. The first was with Debbie before we saw her off to her flight. The next was with the lovely Gunnar Hansen as we caught up, not having seen him since the first Genghis Con. That was much fun.
The rest of the previous week has been spent trying to get the third anniversary issue of Sirens of Cinema to press and gearing up for Cinema Wasteland. This particular issue was a bear due to a lot of unforeseen circumstances and not a little bit on the difficulty of finding art to go with our tribute to the late Dave Stevens—but thankfully, his family and friends did come through for us and allowed us to put together a gorgeous centerpiece to memorialize him.
For now, though, I'm just counting down the days until Wasteland, the happiest place on Earth…
* * *
Found this on Edgar Wright's blog – Empire Magazine's top 500 Movies of all time.
I firmly believe that all top lists like this, particularly the AFM's annual "Top 100 Movies to Eat Dinner By" and somesuch are just designed to start fistfights, but this one was expansive enough that I was curious to check it out.
Not that I agree with everything on the list. (Seriously, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? It isn't even my top 500 movies of the year! Back to the Future II?) But, what the hell? I checked it out. I'm embarrassed to say that out of that 500, I've not seen 105 of them, mostly foreign films. It's shameful, truly. I've missed out on 20% of that list! Now, 35 of them are already on my Netflix list, another 10 are currently in my collection, but I just haven't gotten to them yet.
Still… I hate when I throw the gauntlet at myself…
So I came across a letter to the editor in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette referring to the September 12 experiment that steered the first proton beam around a 17-mile underground loop that on the border of France and Switzerland in an attempt to recreate the Big Bang and, in an effect, the "Origins of the Universe". In the letter, the writer states:
"I would have been glad to give them the answer for free. 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.' What else do they need to know?"
You are absolutely right, sir. Scientists should at no point attempt to answer questions for themselves. All research in any field should be henceforth abandoned because you solved all mysteries of the universe for us: God Did It.
So if you or a member of your family should—God Forbid—contract cancer, nothing should be done to treat it. Because God did it. He wants you or a loved one to have cancer. And to treat it or—God Forbid—cure it is, obviously, an affront to God.
Any attempts we make to find alternative energy, make peace with other nations, improve horticulture—or any culture—or make any technological advances in any way, shape or form are, of course, affronts to God. God needs no scientific validation. God needs no justification. God, for you, is the ultimate answer and, therefore, by extension, is everyone's ultimate answer. So stop asking. You know the answer. God did it. God willed it. God insists that it is so. So shut the fuck up, you Godless heathen scientists and your search for knowledge. And take your fucking evolution with you!
God forbid we ever attempt to take God out of the equation for just a moment and make the slightest attempt to use the brains that God gave us, Goddammit!
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Looking back at the shoot—which seems like having taken place months ago, rather than just a few short weeks—I'm having the same feeling as I did when it was happening: it was hectic, it was rushed and it was too short. Unlike Splatter Movie and A Feast of Flesh, where we had more time and less money, this time around, time was the precious commodity. Most of the problem was our own dumb fault. We completely misjudged the amount of time we had to shoot at King Lanes, thinking we had the entire month of August, where, in reality, where the rest of the world resides, we only had the first two weeks. So the entire script had to be boiled down to a lean eight-day shoot.
Our budget being what it was, we could only afford to bring our out-of-town people in for a single weekend. This meant that all of the "group diva" stuff, with Amy, Brinke Stevens, Debbie Rochon, Lilith Stabs and Robyn Griggs had to be shot during the first three days. With everyone involved having their own hectic schedules, we could only shoot with Debbie Saturday to Monday, Robyn had to be out at a certain time each day to accommodate a different shoot, and then there were all the other performers to think about, with their own jobs and lives to juggle around.
None of the above would have been much of a problem, truthfully, if it weren't for the fact that the five Divas (and the two main characters, Lisa (Nikki McCrea) and Taffy (Sofiya Smirnova)) had multiple costume and make-up changes to deal with. Gwendolyn, my more-or-less "sister in law" (in that she's married to Bill Homan, my closest friend in the world), had only a few days to create essentially six costumes. Eric Molinaris and his team were providing the extensive demon make-up. I had originally hoped that Don Bumgarner would be on hand to create teeth for the Divas on set, as he had done for A Feast of Flesh, but his duties at Scarehouse precluded his involvement this time around. Ultimately, as far as teeth went, Luke Miller (Splatter Movie) came through with upper and lower dentures that, in the end, just didn't fit anyone quite right. Through no fault of his own. Truth be told, had we used the teeth he'd created, we'd have had to do multiple takes and ADR so the actresses wouldn't be slurring their words. Which would have required more time that we didn't have.
Add to all this the fact that Amy and I were working with a crew entirely new to us. While we know Steve and Hugo socially, we've never worked with them or even seen them work before. And their D.P., Simon Garrity, was a complete wild card for us as we'd never even met him before. And has it been mentioned ad nauseum yet that their primary language is French, while ours isn't even English, it's "American"? This led to constant amounts of fun. They'd ask me what I wanted for the next shot, I'd tell them, then they'd go and confer in French and completely freak me out. By the end of the shoot, I was almost able to understand them. I pay attention to tone and body language, at least, so I could interpret what they were saying without actually knowing. And, apparently, I had caught on more than I knew because, in at least two instances, Steve would ask Simon or Hugo something in French and I, passing by, would answer in English. Took me by surprise too.
There were other "first time" things for us to contend with. I'm a complete novice when it comes to High Definition video, so I had to learn as I went along what their capacity was with Firestore Hard Drives versus "P2" cards, what the camera capabilities were, etc.
Amy and I are used to being the crew, along with Jeff Waltrowski, so watching these guys in motion was something to behold. For one thing, they lit like pros. So the backgrounds were always lit, multiple characters had their own key lights, etc. Now, in our defense, we were shooting on a much wider space than we're used to. On Feast and Splatter, we were usually cramming a dozen people into one tiny room. King Lanes is, of course, the size of a bowling alley! So we needed more light. Fortunately, we had more lights, including two I rented from Performance Lighting, the very place I used to rent lights from in film school.
One thing I knew right off the bat—while it would take us a while to get used to the Canadians, it would likely take longer for them to get used to us. Or, rather, the way we like to shoot. We like to call what we do, alternatively, "The McGyver School of Filmmaking" and "run and gun". When Jeff or I are behind camera, we concentrate on one thing: "get the shot". And since I do the editing, I know what I need. I'm not big on master shots and I'm not a big believer of multiple takes. It took me a while to analyze what I do. It seems lazy, but at the same time, I don't see a lot of benefit from the Stanley Kubrick school. Why do you need 187 takes of Tom Cruise rounding a corner? And while I like running lines with actors, I'm not big on rehearsal. I usually like what's invented in the moment than in the rote repetition of the lines. I like to be surprised. On the flip side of that, since I usually write the scripts, I know how they sound in my head, so I became, on this shoot at least, a "line reading director". (But as Brinke told me on the last day, "Most actors will tell you that they like getting line readings—they want to know how the director wants the line to sound." So that was comforting.)
So it was likely agony for Simon, at least, when I would veto multiple takes. "We need to make another," he'd say after every take, and, invariably, I'd ask why. Eventually, he caught on and would reply, "For sound. To make sure." Which was vague and the one thing I was most afraid of. So, inevitably, we'd "make another one." Which was fine on day one. By Day Four, we didn't really have time to "make another one." We barely had the time to make the first one!
We were also working with a lot of people who were good friends, but were first time actors. And a couple of folks we didn't know at all! It always takes me a while to find an actor's rhythm. Mostly, because I'm not that good of a director when it comes to actors. Actors frustrate me and I don't usually know how to communicate with them. Dust on a lens? I know what to do. Blown fuse or bad lamp. I know what to do or how to get around it. 'What's my motivation?' No clue how to answer. Not a lot of patience with that question either. But I forced myself. I had fifteen-plus people who needed to know what the hell was going on in front of the camera, and another dozen more who wanted to know what was going on behind it. The people in front were the scarier group for me.
Tara Cooper and Tabatha Carrick, two wonderful ladies and very good friends, were acting for more or less the first time. And both had confessed that they were terrified. Michael Barton, Gary _____ and Stephanie Bertoni were veteran actors, but we'd never worked with them before. Okay, Steph was the script supervisor on The Screening, but I didn't have that much contact with her on that show. And everybody in the movie was playing a character that could become a cartoon without much nudging. Steph's "Rochelle", in particular, is so over the top that finding a balance for her was vital. So I was learning about them as they learned about me.
In the meantime, Amy was doing her producer duties by solving an endless amount of problems beyond the camera perimeter. She was juggling travel and sleep arrangements with the make-up and costume departments, figuring out with Sandy Hall what food would be served and when, and dealing with multiple emotional breakdowns. It should be said that I love all of my female friends. I understand women a lot better, in a lot of ways, than I do men. Which is one of the reasons my scripts are so unbalanced with the amount of female-to-male characters. But I swear to god, once our ten-plus female cast got on set together, their cycles all synched simultaneously. Hell, by the end of the first weekend, I was menstrual.
There was one day in particular that blew my mind. Gwen had just gotten all the Divas and Lisa fitted into their glamour costumes and the Canadians and I were just finishing up with the "strip bowling" section (which came with its own calamities). Amy comes up to me in between set ups and tells me that she and Nikki have to run out. Suddenly, half the cast was gone! Nikki and Amy had also taken Tara and Aaron and Sandy with them. And I had no idea why.
Steve comes up, "What's next."
"Amy and Nikki went shopping."
Long pause. "What?"
As it turns out, Nikki's glamour dress didn't work on her. Again – nobody's fault. Gwen didn't have enough time to fit it to her properly, so it didn't quite hang on her correctly. And since Nikki is twice Sofiya's height, she felt like a giant next to the tiny Asian girl. So, in a bout of producer professionalism, Amy took her out to get a replacement costume that would fit her and allow her to look and feel sexy. Fine. Aaron went for Nikki's emotional support. Tara went for Amy's. And Sandy drove, knowing the quickest route to the stores. Fine.
Except, none of this was explained to me. Just all of the sudden, I had no cast.
"So what do you want to do?" Steve asked me, clearly enjoying my misery as I flipped through the script, trying to find anything we could shoot so we could move on.
"Send everyone home and get drunk," I responded.
"Works for me," Steve replied.
There were a lot of little things like that. Maybe not as dire, but dump them all into a heap…
One day was like ten minutes before a first-grade play. This person didn't have the right pants, another didn't have the right underwear, another had forgotten their hat, one of the aprons was missing, another was lost. All of this, Amy had to deal with, as I tore pages out of the script haphazardly to make sure we'd be able to finish before Sunday morning.
To everyone's credit, nobody else seemed out of sorts or stressed out. I felt bad for the people who were just sitting around, waiting for us to get to them. That was always a source of pride with us—we didn't keep people waiting around. But then there'd be Steph or Brinke reading their books and waiting for their scenes. And then there was Mike Barton who spent about an hour lying half-naked on the floor, covered with fake gore, because no one told me he was ready (or if they had, I didn't listen).
Right off the bat, things went weird. Not just with the language barrier and the idea that I was somehow in over my head—all of these things contributed to our running behind schedule, continuously. The first Saturday, Jeff, playing "Brad" and also A.D., informed me: "We've got to start moving faster."
Which pissed me off. "What would you suggest?"
"I don't know. Going faster."
I didn't hit him. He was doing his job.
Strangely, the more I felt compelled to apologize for time and delay, the more people seemed to console me and tell me things were fine. Brinke was happy and said she was relaxed. Stephanie was used to much longer days on the "bigger" sets. Others were just hanging out and having a good time in between sets. The Canadians were happy because people were helping them, particularly David Cooper who was gripping in between all the set photography he was conducting. Every now and then, Amy would send someone over to make sure I was hydrating or eating. I had three people, including Amy, prepare me a plate for dinner on Sunday. So maybe this is what directing is: watching time sift away while everyone else orbits around you. Amy, as producer, had the unenviable task of existing in the middle of this sea of stress, though. And she kept as much of it as possible away from me.
For perhaps the first occasion since filming The Resurrection Game I felt the time-crunch. In Res Game, we had to shoot the 15-page climax and fight over a period of four different weekends at the American Mattress Factory because of the owner's time limits. We could only shoot while he was open, which meant six hours start to finish. The last hour of every shoot was maddening, but we knew we had free reign to return. This time around, we had to get everything done by Saturday the 9th.
Our first Saturday, the 2nd, was hectic and ran long. We didn't get out of there until after 10pm, shooting out the people with the least amount of time first. Sunday wasn't much better, but we did manage to wrap before 9pm that time around. Sunday was particularly stressful because of the costume changes. The Divas all start in their bowling outfits (their "white trash" costumes, as we dubbed them), moved to their glamour outfits for a couple of sections, then had to all throw themselves at our make-up department for their prosthetics, detailing, contacts and tattoos. Each stage per woman took about an hour, including the "plain" make up and particularly the glamour.
Because of limitations, we only managed to get all the Divas in a group for about four shots. Robyn was the first who had to leave, so we ended up framing her out of other sequences. My thinking was that she could be included in either a single, or a two-shot with Amy later. As we got more and more crunched for time and people started to burn out, we had to radically rethink the end fight. Nikki, as Lisa, had different stages of make up she had to go through, which would have meant more time and more delay. Ultimately, Amy, Simon and I came up with a way to keep the spirit of the Divas acting as one entity but separate characters, while still retaining the high-energy of the action that, hopefully, will work in editing. We'll see soon, won't we? By the time we started shooting that stuff, I could barely think straight.
The following weekend made the first weekend look like a vacation. We were without Tabatha, Brinke, Debbie, Henrique and Lilith and were only praying that the coverage we'd gotten with them the previous weekend would be enough. I was fairly confident, editing in my head, but I've gotten burned by myself before.
The second weekend was made doubly-complicated because it also included gore sequences. This was going to be even trickier because we couldn't get blood anywhere near the actual lanes for fear of staining the wood. I'd already talked to some digital effects artists about the possibility of digital blood in post, so I wasn't overtly worried about this restriction. But gore also equals time, particularly if you want it to look, you know, good. So a quick panic-stricken perusal of the script gave us the vital effects verses stuff we could shoot later on one of our ever-popular "garage gore days".
Things were going well Saturday. Crew call was 9am and we got our first shot off at 10:30 (which I was determined to do, even if I had to keep setting the clocks back!). Our first sequences involved two of our regulars: Bill Homan (who had to be at work by four, which meant out by two) and Stacy Bartlebaugh-Gmys (who was starring in a play and had to be out by also two). Their companion was "Mrs. Homan", Gwendolyn, who had no time constraints beyond having to take Bill to work. So, okay, say about two. We got all of their scenes done and wrapped, including a quick prosthetic, by 12:25. I was feeling pretty good about the day.
That rapidly vanished by about 10pm that night. As we were still going.
Around 8:30, Amy and I sat down with the script while everyone else ate dinner and started crossing out sequences the movie could do without. There were a number of short sequences with Nikki and Aaron's characters that were either redundant or didn't do much to forward the plot or, because of the way we had to stage scenes before and after them, just couldn't be logically blocked. I started condensing longer sequences, too, including an extended fight between Nikki and Sofiya that would not have worked either practically or, ultimately, thematically.
Then we started eliminating and redistributing lines. Then trying to figure out how to shoot action with only one of the involved parties.
By midnight, there wasn't a single person on set who wasn't fried beyond salvation. I had long since lost the ability to communicate with anyone, in English or French. At one point, I sat down with the Canadians and explained something, "Look, I'm going to ask you to shoot things a certain way and you're not going to understand why. How do you say 'trust me' in French?"
They told me. I never did say it correctly, but at least they never argued. Of course, I'd catch Hugo or Simon shooting cutaways of this or that while I was doing something else, for which I'm sure I'll be eternally grateful.
We shot the penultimate "Abby Singer" shot—an effects shot with Sofiya—and the Martini Shot with Amy and wrapped just shy of 1 am. Since my iMac cannot currently display the footage, I have no idea if we got everything we needed and will, doubtlessly, have to either return to the alley at a later date or do a very long "garage gore day" before the end of the year.
As we dragged ourselves out of the alley that night, triumphant in knowing that none of us would have to return to Kittanning on Sunday—which was a blessing for Bob and Sandy, who had to ready the alley for league inspection by 6pm that day—we retired for the evening. Or, at least, went back to Sandy's for sleep.
Coming next: what we did in between those two weekends and how the movie actually wrapped!
Friday, August 15, 2008
Sunday night, shooting wrapped on Coventry Lanes. In an epic shoot, beating our own personal records by completing principal photography in just seven days—which included breaking another record by extending one shoot past twelve hours to a whopping seventeen, leaving most of us exhausted and hysterical—we emerged scathed and scarred, perhaps wiser, but likely not.
As most of you have already doped out, Coventry Lanes is a bowling movie. It takes place in the beautiful King Lanes in Kittanning, owned by the beyond-generous and patient
A few months ago, Amy and I attended a one-day comic book convention in
“Tell them they have to shoot in my bowling alley!” we heard.
Now, for the last two years, Happy Cloud Pictures has been trying and failing to raise funds necessary for a larger-budgeted straight horror movie called Painmaker. It’s at the top of our dream projects. It has a big concept, will require a huge effects budget and will likely involve multiple SAG actors. It’s not something we can toss off in our back yard. But we like to shoot something every year. Blame our work ethic or our sense of masochism, but we like to stay busy. And since Splatter Movie continues to this moment to be requested and rejected by major distributors, we didn’t have anything currently on our plate for the Summer. So by the time we got home, we had a brief outline for a fun, goofy horror comedy similar to but very different from our first DV movie, Severe Injuries.
As children of the ‘80s, we’re all at HCP fans of the straight-to-video horror movie. Among my personal favorites are Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama and Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, both starring the wonderful Linnea Quigley and Michelle Bauer. Right before Hookers came Nightmare Sisters, which was the first time these two starred with the just as wonderful if not wonderfuler Brinke Stevens. Now: bowling alley, horror comedy—our first idea was to do either an indirect sequel or, possibly, a remake of Sorority Babes. We entertained this idea for all of four seconds until we realized we’d have to hunt down the rights, either through director Dave DeCoteau or Fred Olen Ray, whose Retromedia label was the current distributor. Add to that the fact that I’m not a fan of remakes and consider myself an intensely original individual, a rip-off—uh, I mean, homage was more keeping with my sensibilities.
I knew what elements I wanted to include: the evil preppy girls, the outsiders, the hunks, the misunderstood hunk, and the female villains that would set all the gore and nastiness in motion. The original concept was to include the three genuine scream queens: Brinke, Michelle and Linnea, and add to them Amy and Debbie Rochon, who are often pegged as scream queens anyway, regardless of the fact that they very rarely scream in their movies. Then mix in our normal cast of zanies, perhaps bring in a number of out-of-town friends to round out the parts.
By the end of the week, I’d banged out a first draft that contained no less than fifteen main characters, including one that would be perfect for one of the A-list horror con regulars like Michael Berryman or Kane Hodder. We sent the script around to everyone we wanted involved and… immediately, things started to collapse.
First: our meeting with Sandy and
The script was sent out to our “scream queens” and Brinke was the first to sign on. Debbie was second. Michelle had to be tracked down. Linnea had a new management team we needed to deal with. All fine. We had two investors come through almost immediately and Amy received a decent severance package from her job of ten years following a layoff; for once we had money to play with.
Then we contacted our SAG actor. He was on board. So we contacted SAG.
Then one of our investors started to get itchy to get everyone signed, which meant putting pressure on the rest of our out-of-town cast.
Then the director of photography we’d been hoping for had to back out due to his selfishly accepting a job in
Then one actress was on board, wanted too much money, accepted a counter offer, then realized the dates we wanted to shoot conflicted with a prior engagement.
Then, we realized our miscommunication with Sandy and
We booked flights, continued negotiations, abandoned negotiations and sought new cast members to replace the ones we didn’t have after all. Our key to the five villains was getting actresses cast who were not only recognizable but also had a reputation in the indie horror world. Since we’re morons, it took us a day or so to realize who our leads should be and quickly approached our good friends Lilith Stabs and (duh!) Robyn Griggs (who we had originally envisioned in a different role but worked perfectly in the one we pitched to her). What was better, with Amy, Brinke, Debbie, Robyn and Lilith, we had a mini-Severe Injuries reunion going on as well, so that was very cool.
And during all of this, we negotiated with the Screen Actors Guild.
Let me take some time to bitch and whine about SAG. First, when you contact them, the first thing you have to go through is listen to them lecture and degrade you for not using all SAG actors. SAG actors, don’t you know, are better trained, better disciplined and all around better humans, more moral and closer to divinity, than your normal, run of the mill, unwashed heathen non-union actor. The next thing you have to do is fill out paperwork. Which we did. And faxed said forms back to them.
Then refaxed them because our SAG rep never received them.
Then called back to confirm they received the refax. They did.
Two days later, a package larger than our mortgage financing appeared in the mail. Complete with a Book of Mormon-sized guide to SAG contracts.
Keep in mind, we wanted this SAG actor for one fucking day! And he’d already agreed to it and liked the role! His price was better than we’d anticipated. We knew him personally. He was a terrifically cool guy and we wanted him to play something he’d never done before. But his
Sorry, sorry. The frustration flashbacks keep coming.
Anyway, by the time we got all the paperwork filled out and finally received a return phone call from our alleged SAG rep, our actor had already booked another job. I checked; he wasn’t working with our former DP. It was something different.
At this point, I’m having panic attacks hitting me like a clock bonging the time and we haven’t even started shooting yet.
Fortunately, our flights were booked, the rest of the cast was set, our good friend and pseudo-sister-in-law Gwendolyn offered to do costumes for us, things were starting to run smoothly. Things got even better when our good French Canadian friends at Diggerfilms, Steve, Hugo and their DP Simon, offered to come down to shoot for us with their HD equipment. Suddenly, the light at the end of the tunnel was not an oncoming train! This movie might actually get made after all.
We sat down with FX master Eric Molinaris to discuss some of the more gruesome kills needed, as well as the cool-ass demon makeup, he was all about it, even though he was in the middle of shooting his own movie, Black Sunrise. Concurrently, Jeff Waltrowski came aboard as an AD, even though he was in pre-production on It Came from Yesterday, which will be shooting in December.
We still had a couple of parts to cast, so we held open auditions at the alley. Kittanning is about twenty miles outside of
Out of nearly 100 applicants, four showed up. Of course, we only needed to fill three roles and liked everyone we saw. One of the four,
Then panicked when one had a family emergency.
Then panicked again when another felt that the movie’s sex and nudity would damage his career as a professional stand-in. It might prevent him from ever standing in again!
We approached another actress to fill the void. She couldn’t do it. Add to that another had to drop out even closer to the start date due to an even more dire family emergency and I was waking up every morning looking at Christopher Walken in my mirror.
I’d gotten used to taking shallow breaths and conversing with others with my head between my knees. All was good.
Amy solved the first two absences admirably. She approached our good friend Tabatha Carrick (who runs “Corpses by the Bunch” with her mother, Sharon Titus) and asked her to take the part of “Becki-with-an-I”. Tabatha, game as she was, insisted that she couldn’t act and that we’d fire her within seconds of learning this on set. (She came up anyway, making the five hour drive from
The “duh” moment came when we realized that the perfect actress for the other dopy sorority girl, “Infinity”, was right under our noses. We just didn’t ask her because she was already slated to do make-up, hair, costuming and general assistance. But we figured, what’s one more thing on the plate and asked
Our longtime partner was put into the role of Max, originally written for him, oddly enough, but slated for our SAG actor when we started reaching for the moon. Gwendolyn came on for Roxanne, again, doing double-duty. Our last male-ish associate, Jeff, was recruited for Brad.
Then came the last family emergency—two days before shooting. The person who seemed most excited about shooting was suddenly thrust into a family nightmare and had to pull out. Our sympathies and heart went to her, but we couldn’t do anything to help and we couldn’t push shooting back. My mind raced. I invented a few deities and said prayers to them. Suddenly, a name popped into my brain, someone I’d worked with on The Screening many moons ago. Coincidentally enough, the better half of our original DP. I didn’t know if I still had her number or email. Miraculously, I did. I called, left a message. Took a shot of the hard stuff. Wished I had remembered to commit suicide weeks ago like a rational person.
The phone rang. It was her: Stephanie Bertoni.
She accepted. Liked the script, pitched her salary requirements, suddenly, all was right with the world.
Two days later, we were shooting.
Friday, July 25, 2008
We've been in pre-production on the new movie, Coventry Lanes, for about a month. Which is a woefully inadequate amount of time for pre-production, considering we start shooting next Friday. During this time, we've been raising money, booking flights, arranging crew and holding auditions. I dislike auditioning. Fortunately, out of the two hundred people from all over the world who sent headshots, only four people showed up. On the other hand, we only had three roles to fill.
Two weeks later, two of the three people we cast dropped out. One guy, who had been a stand-in for a big budget movie just released featuring a comic book character who's name, in German, means "flying mouse man". He didn't want to read for one of the roles we had sides for (scandalizing Nikki McCrea but making me think, 'Awesome, if he sucks, he won't waste my time!'). We cast him in the role he did read for, then, after three weeks of careful consideration (or something), he decided to decline. The nudity was an issue. It might prevent him from standing in for some other big actor in the future.
The other declination came because of personal reasons, so I couldn't hold that against her. Another actress begged us for a role then vanished from the face of the earth. Personal reasons reared their ugly heads for numerous others - all for the same damned role! It was Splatter Movie all over again, but at least we weren't shooting at the time of the cancellations. Ultimately, we found the perfect actresses right under our noses, so the Universe was giggling at us all along.
During all of that, we wrestled with SAG, with managers, with the insanity of others and tried to prepare ourselves for working with Hi-Def for the first time. And I wrote two more drafts, lost one, rewrote it, did an entire shot list in one day and tried to learn lines for a test shoot for a completely different movie in the interim.
And come next Friday, we'll have a house full of people ready to aid us in our fifth feature. Which is just weird. We've been doing this for ten years and we've done four previous feature films. Some of which people have actually seen!
And for this one, we have all sorts of new people doing things we would usually do. We have, for instance, a costume designer on this one. And two glamour artists, including one for hair! And an art designer! And a full crew coming in from Quebec. And we'll have a crane, two cameras at our disposal and, oh yeah, a publicist! For the first time ever, I'm not doing my own publicity. I don't even know how to mentally process that one!
Still: stress. For both of us.
To help, Tara booked Amy and I appointments for massages on Wednesday. It sounded great. Until I realized, half-naked, lying on a table, beneath a sheet, in a dark room, that the masseuse would have to touch me. I don't like to be touched, particularly by people I don't know or even have just met. Strangers touching me literally makes my flesh crawl. I almost decked an old woman in a supermarket because she, after bumping me accidentally, grabbed my arm in apology. I felt her fingers all the way to the bone. Any time I get an unwelcome touch, I feel like Khan jammed a Ceti Eel in my ear (screw you; Jeff Waltrowski gets that reference).
And I let "Little Allison", as Tara calls her, know about my malfunction. Not to discourage her but to be aware that my muscles were probably not going to co-operate once she started. "Your shoulders are like bricks," she said at one point, after all of her knuckles cracked like gunshots. I sympathized. I felt like I was letting her down. I tried to relax. I couldn't think of how. Literally, I hadn't the faintest clue how to relax. So I focussed on that for a while. It took my mind off the fact that this stranger had her hands all over my back.
She started working on my internally-scarred rotator cuff and I thought she was going to get up on the table and start stomping on it.
Half an hour later, I felt like I'd been hit by a car. My shoulders felt slightly looser. Yes. But I had to go back into the room to retrieve my skin, which had scurried under the table.
This is what it's like to be me.
Sunday, July 06, 2008
And I came across the fine folks selling it Used and New HERE.
That The Resurrection Game novelization is a groundbreaking work of prose is a given. That it will change your life in a profound way similar to The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye or Thin Thighs in 30 Days, again, a given.
But if you're planning on purchasing a copy of this masterpiece for your very own, to display alongside your first-edition copies of Angels and Demons and Harry Potter and the Wrong Feelings for Ron, I cannot stress more strongly that you purchase either from Woodys-Books or Annabananasearch. Just scroll down to the bottom of that aforementioned page and see just how highly these folks feel about what is quite possibly the greatest novel ever written*!
(*The greatest novel ever written called "The Resurrection Game".)
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Having returned from Las Vegas, let me say that I am happy to be back on American soil.
I have in the works a huge, vitriolic screed against the airline industry in general and U.S. Air in particular, but I'll let that wait until later in the week. Today, I just have to tell you about the wedding.
When last we spoke (or I wrote and you (some of you) read), I was sitting in my reasonably comfortable hotel room in the shopping-mall-slash-concentrati
Well, the moment came. Amy and her sisters and mother were out gallivanting during the day, getting their hair teased into submission, nails on all appendages groomed and buffed and shaved, then, later, stuffed into garments of near-taffeta, lace and other natural and unnatural fibers. The guys… well, Brian, Amy's father, Dan, and I all met in the bar for a couple of drinks. I listened while Brian talked football to the bartender. Later, we returned to our rooms. This is how guys prepare for weddings.
The ceremony was held at "Viva Las Vegas", famous for its themed weddings and ministers who dress like Elvis. An Elvis did not preside over this particular ceremony, however, and neither was an Elvis present at the union of the preceding wedding, which was attended by upwards of one hundred Mexican-Indians crammed into the less-than-spacious-but-more
The actual ceremony was something of a Navy SEAL landing. Brian, best man Mike Spano and I, along with Brian's mother and her boyfriend, were shuttled off the strip and into "Downtown Las Vegas" via limousine, and awaited the arrival of the women and the father of the bride, who would be coming by second limousine. Our awaiting took place in the "Blue Hawaii" room, where "Viva Las Vegas" stores spare tuxedos for those grooms on the go. Brian and Mike smoked as they waited. I don't smoke, so I didn't. A few minutes later, a woman named either Tiffany or Britney ushered us to the back of the building and gave us our places at the gazebo, where the ceremony would take place. Then we were ushered back. That was our rehearsal.
Four minutes later, we were ushered once again to the gazebo and barked at by a no-nonsense photographer about positioning. I took a few seconds to study a digital camera pointed at us, taking note of the various cables spooling from it and the blinking "Tape Please" icon in the viewfinder. This camera would provide streaming video to the "Viva Las Vegas" website, so that all of the Best/Kocher friends and family not present in the stifling heat could witness the holy union for themselves, courtesy of a broadband connection.
The no-nonsense photographer picked up a remote and suddenly the traditional wedding march filled the gazebo, the little area with the wooden benches for the spectators and the rest of the parking lot a few feet away. In came Amy and Liz, as the bridesmaids, and one-year-old Haley, as the bewildered flower girl. Then came Danielle, being given away by Dan. She arrived resplendent in the gazebo. Haley then took this as her cue to stand on the train of Danielle's lovely white dress.
Three minutes, eighteen seconds later, they were pronounced husband and wife by a smiling and speed-reading minister. Eleven minutes later, after every conceivable set of photographs that can be taken in an eleven-minute time span, we were in the Champagne Room, drinking… champagne and eating Boston Cream Cake. We toasted the couple as quickly as possible and were on our way again by sharp.
Another set of limousines whisked us off to the Venetian Hotel and Casino back on the Las Vegas Strip, where we tumbled into genuine gondolas, gondola'ed by genuine gondoliers. I had been under the mistaken impression that the
After the gondola, it was decided that we would take a brisk walk down to the Belagio (Terry Benedict's joint) to see their magnificent fountain. According to the map, the Belagio is a mere quarter inch from the Venetian. Two miles later, dodging drunken revelers, distraught bankruptees and a gauntlet of Latinos who snapped discount hooker coupons at us, we arrived bedraggled, distraught, disheveled and distressed at the Belagio. Well, not distressed. The absurdity of the situation kept us laughing. The constant drunken bellowing of "Congratulations" to Danielle (and one "Suckers!") accompanied us on our journey.
The outdoor fountain of the Belagio is glorious, though "fountain" isn't quite the appropriate description. "Controlled Geyser" is a little more accurate. Accompanying the strains of Aaron Copeland's "Appalacian Suite" (I think; over the crowd's roar, I couldn't quite make out the music entirely; it could have been "
Exhausted and delirious, we were acutely aware that we were limo-less at the moment, and that our own hotel was many, many miles away. We debated taking a bus. The debate didn't last long, so we searched for a cab. Cab stands in
I stopped and turned to the hooker-coupon vendor next to this sanctimonious in-need-of-a-hobby and took as many hooker coupons as he'd give me. I wound up with four, including one for "Brandi" who would come "in person" to your hotel room for the low-low rate of $35.
An aside: there are commodities which are perfectly reasonable for which to be purchased at a discount, just as there are things you would be ill-advised to pay less-than-retail. On this negative side, I would suggest avoiding things like meat, milk and prostitutes. Looking at the airbrushed model on the card in my hand and doubting very highly that she was, indeed, Brandi, my mind reeled as to what a $35 hooker would actually look like. Would she have two nostrils, for instance? And any of her own teeth, hair or fingers? And what in God's name would she do for $35 besides put you, eventually, in the hospital? Still, in light of the incongruity of anyone protesting sin in
Outside the Belagio, we were lucky enough to find an unoccupied limo (Thanks Rick!) who agreed to shuttle us back to Circus Circus, allowing us use of his generous bar as well. So we returned in as much style as we came (as far as the Venetian, anyway). If you are ever seized with the urge to trot up and down the Las Vegas Strip, don't do it in formal wear. Just my two cents.
The following day was spent at the Adventuredome, the world's largest and most-disappointing indoor theme park. That the rides are uninspiring and the price exorbitant—not to mention the dead-eyed zombie teenagers who work there, completely ambivalent to your existence and can't even be bothered to smile or even make eye contact, merely demanding your money—is not the biggest problem. It's the utter lack of humanity to be found there. Circus Circus, from my experience, is the worst of the hotels on the Strip not because it looks like it should have been condemned due to want of interest—indeed, its discrepancy is the sole of its charm—it's because there isn't a single person employed within who, unless you're feeding them a constant stream of money, could care less about you.
There's uniformly encompassing cynicism to be found in Vegas as a whole. Everywhere you look, a sign, a video screen, a passing bus, a commercial—ads screaming for you to give them your money. The world's best slots! The world's best sluts! Magicians, stage shows, lowest minimum blackjack tables! Grand buffets! Jimmy Buffetts! Pay us! Pay us! Pay us! Vegas is a giant vacuum hose affixed to your wallet immediately upon your disembarking the plane. There are more slot machines in the airport than there are places to sit. Finding a water fountain in airport, hotel or casino is next to impossible because they want to sell you bottles of water for $3 each. But, at least in the majority of the places we visited, the people extorting from you are at least pleasant, whether you're spending money or just passing through.
At Circus Circus, if you somehow caught on fire, you'd have to pay for extinguishing. And end up charged some sort of rescue tax. I couldn't wait to go on a four-mile hike in a tuxedo just to find someone who might smile—with me, at me, I didn't care. For a hotel whose theme is clowns and joy, it was a truly joyless experience. Nearly everyone I encountered there was miserable. If you didn't have clean towels in your room, or if the dead prostitute under the bed hadn't yet been changed, that was somehow your fault. And you'll pay accordingly. And even when you were paying, they didn't seem particularly interested in your business. They could take or leave you. And I do understand that this is the discount hotel on the Strip, a step up from a Motel 6 (which also boast their own casinos!), but I felt like I had somehow become a dissident or a person of a lower caste, unworthy of even the smallest notice, let alone a kind word. Mirthless, joyless: Circus Circus.
Aside from a half-hearted "4-D" cartoon featuring Daffy Duck and Marvin the Martian, beautifully animated but "scripted" in the most modest of senses—and "4-D", by the way, means that water shoots at you, your seat vibrates and a very sharp metal rod will jab you in the back, corresponding (or not) to the action on screen while the polarized glasses on your face gives you something just short of a migraine—the Adventureland Dome offered very little of fun for me. I take that back—we spent a good 40 minutes in line for a 9-minute game of lazer tag with other urchins around us and that was a terrific time. Little bastards hid in the dark and just waited for me to blunder past them. I'd never played lazer tag before and definitely enjoyed the hell out of that. But $24.95 for a six-minute cartoon and a 9-minute game? Not the best value I've ever received for my money.
The rest of Saturday was spent again wandering the Strip. We had wanted to catch the outdoor show at
We did get to see the lion habitat at the MGM Grand, which had been closed on Thursday for re-lioning, or something. Two unconscious great cats dozed on a glass catwalk above us as we wormed our way through the inevitable crowd. Some folks bitched that the cats were asleep, but that's primarily what lions do. What did they expect? There wasn't a nearby gazelle exhibit to loose them .. all.
On our way to our next adventure, I paid $5 to take a picture with a parrot on my arm. I love parrots, particularly blue macaws. I'd own one if they were less than the cost of a used car and wouldn't simply make an expensive meal for one of my dogs. And I didn't mind paying the "donation" for the picture because I knew the money would go to keeping the bird alive. It looked well-cared-for and loved. It was more interested in the seed it was fed by its owner than it was in me, of course, but I didn't mind.
A half-hour later, our mobile family pack was on
Fremont Street is also home to an enormous LCD canopy—the largest television screen in the world—where "Karl the Technician" interviewed people on the street in between video shows. Ten blocks long and loud, we saw a tribute to Queen and a couple of other things that, because of what happened next, I don't remember too clearly.
For those joining us with the entertainment already in progress, I should point out that Amy and I are fond of the demon rum. We like an occasional nip and we love a good Bacchanalia. So finding a joint on
Please allow me to point out that we two are professionals when it comes to being shitfaced in dangerous cities. We're trained in street savvy, kickboxing and looking too adorable to mug. Plus, when we drink, we become incredibly witty and urbane and an absolute joy to be around. Someday, there will be statues in our honor in all the cities we did not get killed in. Oh, and when you're dehydrated, 151 rum kicks in quick.
Okay, so I wasn't allowed to pose with the Chippendale dancers when Amy and her mom and sister were, even though the three guys were obviously way more interested in me than they were the women. I still maintain that there's a severe bias and that the half-dressed trio were threatened by my masculinity. Most right-thinking people are.
I can't say with certainty what we did once the football was a quarter-drunk. I know we considered going into a strip club until the very nice Italian women standing outside informed us that the cover was $20 apiece. I know we played a slot machine at The Golden Nugget and ably succeeded in losing a dollar. And I know we somehow wound up, probably by bus, back on the Strip where we ended up back inside the Venetian, not to mention
If we had actually been in possession of better judgment, I would say that we ate at Graveyard Breakfast at one of the restaurants against the aforementioned, but let's face it: we were out of our minds. I do recall that the food tasted better than anything I'd had to eat that day prior to the Football of Love and Joy. And I am proud to say that it stayed down the rest of the night, even when I woke up the next morning in the familiar state of "Still Drunk".
And that, my friends, is how to properly do Vegas. Don't try this at home. Unless you live in Vegas, in which case, none of the above will be news to you.
Coming soon: "how not to get back from