Wednesday, March 22, 2006

HPC in the 21st Century

I am pleased to announce that Happy Cloud Pictures is now part of the 21st Century.
Last week, we met with our new investor and executive producer, whose belief in us enabled the purchase of a brand new XL2, complete with two extra prime lenses, glass filters, a wireless mic system and a like-new Senheiser shotgun microphone.

Thanks to my screenwriting skills (not to mention my contract-tweaking skills), we were also able to afford an iMac so I can start honing my editing abilities in the pro format that God intended (the "blood money" I've talked about here before). It was the right decision. My aging PC with its deteriorating Pentium III just wasn't up to the challenge of running Premiere in the manner I required. With Final Cut Pro on the way (which I'll have to teach myself - *sigh*), we'll be unstoppable. Theoretically.

Add to all of that a new Century Stand that I found on ebay and we're filmmakers again! (Yeah, there's a jib arm and mini-crane that I have my eye on, but it's not a requirement right now...)

Just as I vowed last year, 2006 is going to be the year that Happy Cloud Pictures attempts to sell out. We spent far too much time in 2005 working on other people's projects while our own fell by the wayside. It became apparent that in order to do said selling-out, we'd have to upgrade our camera and microphones (hence the above). Now with all of that accomplished, we turned our attention to the appropriate sell-out project to go with the badass equipment.

We'll be announcing it officially in a few weeks, but it looks like we'll be starting with a vampire thriller called Abbatoir. After having studied the needs of several distributors with whom I have established good relationships, we came to the conclusion that vampires are always in. The idea was Amy's. After a particularly frustrating spate of time wasted on another production, we were on our way home and she blurted out, "Screw it! We should just do a vampire brothel movie!"

"And what would it be about?"

She glared at me. "Vampires," she growled. "In a brothel!"

So for the next few weeks, I figured out how to do this type of movie without going the Bordello of Blood route. And I did. And it we work it right, and implement it correctly, it will actually be bloody, sexy, stylish and very good. We're finishing with the casting now. The effects will be provided by our partner, Bill Homan, and Don Bumgarner of Cleveland F/X. I'm feeling very optimistic.

The reason I'm so optimistic about shooting a feature in five weeks with a new camera that shoots in a format I'm not completely familiar with? Two words: High Stakes.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, High Stakes is the short that we shot for JD Casey's Brinke's Tales of Terror. All things considered, it was a simple shoot - four people in a room for the bulk of the story. But because of the time-constraints of one of the actors, we had to steamroll through the script and the various make-up effects in six hours. The total script shot: fifteen pages. Total shooting time: six hours.

We can shoot Abbatoir in ten days. There will doubtless be pick-up days, but it will not be the gruelling two-year production schedule that The Resurrection Game turned out to be.
I feel very good about 2006. As I say this, I am conscious to avoid any white 'x's painted on the pavement.


I want to make mention of three things:

My interview with make-up God, Dick Smith, appears in Penny Blood #5, which hit the stands last week. I'm incredibly proud of this piece and Penny Blood is a cool magazine. Buy it. Support the publisher.

Sirens of Cinema #3 is on stands this week. It's gorgeous. It's the best issue we've put out. It looks gorgeous, our new layout artist, John Boone, is a genius. The articles are all tight and thought-provoking. Buy it. Support my publisher. (I'll be premiering this issue at I-CON this weekend in Long Island, btw.)

My good buddies at Secret Scroll Digest, Mike Haushaulter and Carolyn Oliver, hipped me to this new book, Book of the Dead: The Complete History of Zombie Cinema by Jamie Russell. Not only is it an awesome book... I'm in it. First, Russell twice quotes from an article I wrote on Night of the Living Dead '90 for Cinefantastique back in 2003 or so. And credits me for the work!

Second, he reviews The Resurrection Game. And liked it. He reviewed the horrible "Robot Epilepsy Theater" VHS bootleg from our early convention days. And still liked it. And he didn't like every zombie movie he reviewed in this book. In fact, he ended the review by wishing that someone with taste would give me money.

I don't know Russell from Adam. It's actually disturbing that I wasn't aware of this book in any way shape or form. I worked hard to build a grass-roots support for Res. Game, so when something like this flies under my radar, it's irksome, despite being a pleasant surprise.
So buy it. Support Russell and the wonderful Harvey Fenton's FAB Press.

Friday, March 10, 2006


Jason Pankoke is a good guy.

I mean that. He's always been in our corner and he publishes this terrific magazine called Micro-Film, which, if you're not getting, you're the poorer person for it. Seriously, it's that good.

We got the rare opportunity to hang out with Jason and his Eye-Trauma gang this past weekend. I'm going to snag him to write for me at Sirens as well. Because that's what we do in this industry: we cannibalize our friends.

So, Jason's alright. And I'm not just saying that because of this:

by JaPan

Thank you! Here's something that doesn't creep out of the horror film
underground every day - a certified crowd pleaser with lots of action, yuks, and grue! Although viewed in an extremely rough stage, THE RESURRECTION GAME delivers a budget-minded bang from Pittsburgh, PA, trio Mike Watt, Bill Homan, and Amy Lynn Best.

In the near future, we discover alcoholic ex-cop James Campbell (Ray Yeo) performing private eye-type jobs for hire, watching monitors in his dingy apartment as techie Tick Rowan (David Schremp) does the legwork to set up surveilance cameras. Prior to his seclusion, Campbell helped organize the government's National Organization of Exterminators (NOE) to deal with a zombie plague run rampant before turning solo as the first independent gun for hire. Thinking himself an "activist" for the cause, he eventually lost the nerve and retired.

A horror novel writer named Christopher Pope (Ted Hoover) contacts Campbell, complaining about how the zombie masses have destroyed his career - why should people read his books when the real thing lurks around in the backyard? Pope offers the man $1 million to discover the cause and the cure for the Infestation, which indirectly gives Campbell a new lease on life.

With hacker help from Rowan, the square-jawed Campbell hunts down another recluse, Dr. Emily Zarkoff (Kristin Pfeifer), a biochemist who had been developing a revolutionary cancer treatment for the AMA before receiving the boot with little explanation. Campbell reasons that her research had a relationship with the beginnings of the Infestation, and as if their meeting had been foreshadowed, an assassin (Mike Watt) breaks into Zarkoff's house. Thus begins a chain reaction that backs Campbell, Zarkoff, and freelance exterminators Sister Bliss (Best) and Simon McForman (Homan) into a web of deceit stemming from the omnipresent commercial monolith, Godcorp.

This quest/conspiracy hybrid makes for a satisfying opus because it blends genre conventions with a vibrant energy that invites us to kick back and enjoy the ride. Similar to how Matt Giaquinto and company introduced theological issues in THE GOOD BOOK, director/writer Watt carefully reveals details throughout THE RESURRECTION GAME to keep audience interest. Although some of the plot threads will confuse those not paying attention - particularly when Campbell and Zarkoff discuss an underground hacker movement, an element otherwise not depicted in the movie - the movie doesn't bog down because of it. Maybe the one element sorely lacking is a sense of scope; after all, this Infestation did take over the entire United States, correct? One or two pinpoint depictions of this reality would have made the peril seem all the more insurmountable.

THE RESURRECTION GAME also minimalizes technical gaffes that many in the micro-budget arena seem prone to repeating. The numerous action scenes move at a reasonable clip and rarely reveal the fakeness of the fight through awkward choreography. The zombies are incidental for a change, so moonlighting make-up guru Homan and his team wisely downplay the rotting skin effects to save up for splatter that often drenches the cast to hilarious effect. It remains to be seen how Nicholas Sportelli's cinematography will hold up, but it looks like Watt took great care to make his shot selection dynamic, compromised only in real-life enclosed settings.

On the acting side, Campbell's detached air contrasts nicely against Pfeiffer's Gillian Anderson-like warmth. The Sister Bliss/Simon McForman tandem provides comic relief without wallowing in too much camp, while Watt's assassin gleefully brandishes guns, swords, and more lives than a kitty cat. In supporting roles, Francis Vetri oozes appropriate smarm as the shadowy Executive in charge of hunting down Campbell and Zarkoff, Hoover's horror author echoes Glenn Shadix's fey interior decorator from BEETLEJUICE, and Shremp's hacker would feel right at home with THE LONE GUNMEN. Cameos from B-movie sirens Debbie Rochon and Roxanne Michaels [aka Jasi Cotton Lanier] liven up the satirical satellite programming (a la STARSHIP TROOPERS), along with a puppet horror host called "Necro-Phil" who's good for a few rude laughs and thankfully not over-used.

I seriously hope that, when the dust settles, Mike Watt and his production team find success with THE RESURRECTION GAME and continue making movies. It maybe says something that Watt chose to include numerous visual references to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, George A. Romero's seminal horror film classic also shot in Pittsburgh and an early example of a privately financed indie film making waves. May THE RESURRECTION GAME enjoy a similar fate 35 years later.

THE RESURRECTION GAME. 2001, 16mm, Color, 94 minutes. D, W: Mike Watt. P: Amy Lynn Best, Bill Homan, Mike Watt. S: Ray Yeo, Kristin Pfeifer, Francis Veltri, Amy Lynn Best, Bill Homan, David Schremp, Mike Watt, Ted Hoover, Roxanne Michaels, Debbie Rochon. Prod: Happy Cloud Pictures. Reviewed on VHS.

What a good, fair review, yeah? Now prove your mettle and pick up a copy of Micro-Film. The new issue is hot off the press!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Back and sorta caught up

So our trip to and from Chicago was rife with airline disaster (not "oh my God, we're gonna die!" disaster; more like "your flight has been delayed, please remove your shoes and hat, turn your head, cough, provide us with a urine sample, we know you're white but you're wearing black leather, please hop on one foot and sing the Canadian National Anthem."). There were problems with tickets, a rush to find seats on other planes, a few inches of snow that made it impossible to return, etc.

I hate flying. It's not the crashing I mind; it's the inconvenience and wasted time.

But the show was terrific. We got there just as it opened, so there was a lot of mad scurrying to get checked in, cleaned up and downstairs to set up our table. We started selling things before we'd even gotten the suitcase unpacked! The place was a lot more crowded than the previous show in New York, which made it both more and less successful than before.

More: more people meant more money for us, of course, but also meant happier vendors all around. And happier vendors make for happier neighbors. Case in point: the gentleman next to us wasn't doing that well, selling vintage autographs and lobby cards, so he wasn't happy. This wasn't the fault of the show, and it didn't make him unpleasant. But he was bored and frustrated and we felt bad.

Less: because of the immense lines, Amy and I missed meeting Nathan Fillion. Creation has a weird set-up that we're not used to. They generally do Q&As with their bigger guests and then have autograph sessions with the guests hidden from view behind curtains in the ballrooms, preventing you from even getting a glimpse at your star. The Slither panel was packed and the lines -- with people called up row by row, starting with the expensive "gold pass" holders -- were tremendous. As far as I know, not everyone in line even got to meet Gunn, Fillion, Banks, Rooker, Henry, Fischer and the two sad and anonymous producers (they weren't anonymous; I can't remember their names and I'm feeling oddly lazy right now) before they were all shuttled off across town to a special screening of the upcoming gorefest.

Which left us feeling sad and empty inside. Fortunately, we were still basking in the glow of Rooker molesting Amy in New York, so it took the hurt out of it a bit (like urinating on a jellyfish sting). (BTW, become Grant Grant's friend and maybe someday Michael Rooker will molest you too!)

I did get to meet Stuart Gordon, however, and got both him and writer Dennis Paoli to sign my coveted Re-Animator laser disk. So that made me do a little happy dance. I also got to horn in on a conversation between Mick Garris (Riding the Bullet) and Paoli about the luck directors have if they're given the opportunity to write their own screenplays. It was a neat little inside tidbit that I wouldn't have had otherwise had I not been standing at the Anchor Bay table and waiting patiently for Gordon finish directing a trio of fans in a scene where one guy is eaten by another guy's hand (pretending said hand is a rat).

The highlight for me, though, was running into Robert Kurtzman again. Kurtzman, you may remember, is one of the founding members of KNB, who are responsible for nearly every special make-up effect in movies today. Bob took a liking to me somewhere along the line, and while I don't understand it, I'm not about to argue with him, either. We talked a bit about his new movie, The Rage, and we discussed Amy and I visiting the set when they resume shooting in the spring. Then he started introducing me around. Through Bob I met Gary Jones, who directed the fun "zombie pirate" movie Jolly Roger, for the Asylum (and he said nice things about Dead Men Walking, which made me happy), and Robert Dyke, who told me that the DVD of Moontrap would be long in coming. And that made me sad.

But with all these meetings, I finally turned to Bob and said, "Don't get me wrong - I really appreciate you taking all this time to talk to me. I'm a big admirer of yours and this means the world to me. But who do you think I am?"

Two-day shows are rough on a body. We spent most of Sunday commiserating with model Sofia Smirnova, who really hit it off with Amy because she wasn't immediately catty or bitchy to her upon their first meeting (which is more than can be said for a couple of "actresses" who were present at this show). We also got to meet Zoe Hunter, who was there promoting ("This time, it's Witchcraft 13really personal!").

A lot of time was spent hacking through Debbie Rochon's line to say hi, as we hadn't seen her since Genghis Con I. She'd been working herself to death lately, which is nothing new, and by the end of Sunday, we all felt like wrung-out rags. Dragging ourselves back to the airport, we'd actually volunteered to be bumped from our flight just for an extra night's rest. But that wasn't to be.

Fortunately, Amy had taken off on Monday, so we spent the day watching the Oscars (which I'd taped - yes, taped - on VHS yet!) - we cheered for Howard Berger when he won for Narnia (see KNB above) and cheered again when he mentioned Bob and Greg Nicotero in his speech. But beyond that, we remained pretty-much motionless for the day.

Returning from a trip usually means that the next few days are spent catching up. Emailing people you'd run into over the weekend, dropping lines to people you'd missed while you were away, getting work done that had sat for days while you were galavanting off doing God-knows-what.

However, while all the above is true, the last few days yielded satisfying fruit... For one thing, thanks to our new Executive Producer, we received an investment check that allowed us to upgrade our camera equipment. Amy ordered the package yesterday and we'll soon be the proud owners of an XL2 with three lenses! We also bought a Senheiser mic off eBay to replace our old and dying microphone. Add to that a new light kit, a C-Stand (yay!) and a near-future upgrade to Mac, and Happy Cloud Pictures will be a fully-functioning production company. To that end, we're planning on shooting three features by the end of the year. (Stay tuned for announcements.)

I also discovered, while capturing last weekend's footage for High Stakes, that the sound problem isn't as dire as suspected. Rich Conant, co-star of Absense of Light and a talented sound engineer offered to see if he could remove the buzz from some of the tracks, so we're eternally grateful on that end. And it looks like it's going to cut together pretty well, proving, yet again, that sometimes I know what I'm doing. I'm expecting to have this short finished (minus Scooter McCrae soundtrack) by the weekend.

Finally, a nice little blurb from Horror Web about The Undead, an anthology I contributed to last year (giving them "The Dead Life", a short story based on the Sister Bliss/Simon MacForman basement scene from The Resurrection Game. While the writer (who goes by "Bloody Mary" and not a real journalist name - something that irks me for some reason) was pretty cool to the entire book - writing the review as a 'Dear John' letter to the zombie sub-genre - she dug "The Dead Life" in particular, which made me smile. Says "Bloody Mary", "
Stories that I thought were brilliant and creative, original and unique. Stories such as: "13 Ways of Looking at the Dead", "The Last Living Man", "Undead Prometheus", "The Dead Life" and "The Graveyard Slot". Oh, and Andre Duza's "Like Chicken for Deadf**ks", that was beautiful."

So there you go. Hooray for our side.

Look for a
Film Threat piece on the con in a few days. In the meantime, please visit and The Bastards of Horror.

Friday, March 03, 2006 is FINALLY here! Huzzuh!

Because the world demanded it!

Because the Earth cannot exist without this valuable resource!

Because the children are the future and they can have it!

I proudly announce!!

Now with both consonants and vowels!

Come for the adjectives - stay for the verbs!


I’m not a religious person. I used to consider myself spiritual, during my younger, more pretentious days, but when you get right down to it, I don’t know that I have much in the way of a belief system. I believe in Karma, as far as balance goes, and I consider myself to be superstitious, but only because I have the kind of luck that seems to indicate that the Universe likes having fun at my expense. So I will actively knock on wood after I express a hope or a goal. As Swearingen said on Deadwood, “The best way to hear God laugh is to state your intentions.” That being said, I don’t know if I believe in God or if it’s simply a knee-jerk reaction ingrained by years of Catholic school and a devout grandmother.

To counter that, the people closest to me, namely Amy and Bill, are practicing Wiccans. They believe in little rituals that seem to work out well for them. I understand energy and, to an extent, quantum mechanics. I know that “mind over matter” is a truth because of the way energy can be acted upon by other energy. Your mind and will can affect an outcome because it’s a tug-of-war between different waves of energy. In short, “it’s all about your attitude”. It’s not a cure-all, but a positive outlook can affect the world around you in a positive way, if only emotionally.

With all that in mind, Amy helped me conduct a cleansing ritual on Tuesday night. Since it was the night of the New Moon, she told me, it was the perfect time to rid myself of some negativity that has been plaguing me, and us, for the last few months.

I’ve mentioned here that 2005 saw a potentially wonderful business deal go South for us due to the arrogant greed and dishonesty of some folks we were involved with. I won’t go into detail; it’s not worth it and it would go counter to all of our efforts on Tuesday. Suffice to say, money was owed to me for my services and I’d spent a great deal of time negotiating, cajoling, threatening and begging in order to get it. This is nothing new. I’m often owed money and I was very worried that this situation would rival the disaster that Femme Fatale turned out to be just before it was sold to the current owning entity (i.e. that I would never see what was owed to me).

But, to my surprise, my debtors turned out to be men of their words, at least as far as the money was concerned, and my final check arrived. This meant a great deal to us as we could now afford to pay some bills and upgrade our equipment—putting what I was considering “blood money” to positive use.

I made a photocopy of the check and deposited it. When Amy got home, we gathered up all the email received from these gentlemen, all the documents and drafts of scripts, ad copy—anything we could find—and, as the sun went down, we burned it all. With each handful of paper shoved into the fire, we said goodbye to empty promises, to ill feelings, to broken promises and false friendships, and to out-and-out lies told to our faces. We said goodbye to the arrogance we exhibited when backed into a corner; to the wasted time; to the wasted energy; to the anger and bitterness and jealousy and slander and wrongs both committed and inferred. And contempt. And resentment. We burned it all away. It was supposed to make me feel better.

I didn’t though. Not right away. The next morning, though, I felt more positive than I had in a long while. I no longer felt the urge to gripe about the situation or the people involved, or to flap my arms in frustration and rage.

It was over.

The money cleared, plans were made to edge our own projects forward again. I sent emails out to thank them for their prompt efforts and received a short “You’re Welcome” in return.

And now it’s all behind us. Neither party has to deal with the other ever again.

I’ll catch myself going over the events and working myself up again. So there’s still some resentment left in the Pandora’s Box of my psyche, but that’s just wounded ego. It’ll heal over provided I move forward. Of course, I never stopped moving forward, but now I can take bigger strides.

There’s still ill-will on both sides—how could there not be? But now it’s not the main focus of my energies.

So was it the spirituality of the cleansing, or was it the simple, consumer’s approach that the money cleared? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. I’m free. They’re free of me. All is well again. I’m no more or less paranoid than I was before the problems, and the people who know me in the industry still trust and respect me. I didn’t lose—if anything, I came out ahead.

Whatever it was, I can’t deny that I, like all other humans, need certain rituals. Call it what you want: closure, magick, therapy, placebo, whatever. Even blogs are ritualistic, albeit public. All I know is, I feel better with this behind me and a clean slate in front of me. And ultimately, what difference does it make where this feeling of freedom came from. If it was God’s doing, I’m grateful. If it was Karma, then the balancing act works. Whatever.
I’m free again.