Thursday, April 27, 2006

Surviving Abattoir

We had a whirlwind few days last week, but now we're mid-way through Abattoir's shooting schedule. Give or take a few, we shot over 30 pages in three days. This included dialogue and effects shots, double or triple the page-count in terms of set-ups. Plus two new people we'd never worked with before, generously donating their time to make a strange little vampire movie!

We picked up Sofiya Smirnova at the airport on Friday morning (after a slight scare that she might not be able to make it due to a family tragedy - which only proves what an amazing person she is!) and, after a brief stop-over at our place to refresh and grab some coffee, we were off to the main location, which happened to be the Victorian house owned by co-star Stacy Bartlebaugh-Gmys and her husband, Ron. Shooting went pretty well and smoothly, even though I was the only male in a house full of women (or, as I liked to put it, "the lone sausage in the taco factory" - which just endeared me to the cast!).

Now, the reason I was a tad uncomfortable is because of the delicate balance of the female nature. As everyone knows, because it's a biological law: with any given group of women in one location, after about fifteen minutes, their cycles synch up. (Corollary: "one or more women left alone in a room will instantly devolve into a topless pillow fight".)

But we got a ton of stuff accomplished, including an uncomfortable flogging scene involving Amy's character, Elizabet, punishing Alyssa Herron's Pris. Uncomfortable for Alyssa, that is, as she was the one being flogged. (Oddly enough, for our company, Amy did not actually whip Alyssa... this time around anyway.) She was kneeling nearly naked on an over-stuffed chair, reacting to the swish of a riding crop very close to her bare skin. Don't let anyone say our cast isn't dedicated!

Fortunately for me, Carolyn Oliver, from Secret Scroll Digest, was on hand to be my AD for the weekend. Amy and I don't usually have ADs - we're often thrust into that role ourselves, on top of everything else we have to do, so it was nice to have someone around to do the various tedious AD chores (which, in our case, also included Script Supervision and continuity). I also had to be my own DP as Jeff Waltrowski was stuck at work all day.

Saturday, we went back to the house in Mount Oliver to shoot Amy/"Elizabet" and Sofiya/"Zhora" killing two of the main characters. This was the first time we shot with Aaron Bernard ("Seth") and the first time Bill Homan would be on hand to play Tom the mercenary. Don Bumgarner, my effects lead, was on hand to provide the bulk of the effects (including teeth-casting and appliance-affixing), helped out by Kelly Fritz and Carlos Savant (returning from shooting with us on High Stakes). We had five scenes to blast through between 10am and 6pm. We actually wrapped about 7, which made me feel bad, but it took as long as it took. At least we got Bill out of there in time to get to work.

Midway through this shoot, another heart attack: Zoe Hunter was having trouble getting to Pittsburgh. She was due on set for Sunday so we could shoot her death scene (we had too much to do and we'd never get to the crucial bar scene in time!) and had to come from New York (hey, she coulda said 'no' when we asked if she wanted to work with us! But we're just so darned cute, it's hard to refuse us. Particularly Amy.).

Ultimately, she hopped on a bus and rode the eight torturous hours squeezed beside ... okay, no cheap shots at people who ride Greyhounds. You know how unpleasant it can be, though.

Saturday night, Amy, Sofiya and I crashed at Stacy and Ron's so we wouldn't have to trek all the way back to Waynesburg. Rest was sparce as the price we paid for Zoe coming via bus was we had to be up at 6am to pick her up. We got back, put her to bed for a couple of hours, and then were back and awake at 10am. Ready to go. Or, at least, upright.

Sunday was another whirlwind. We needed to get Steve Foland out of there so he could get back to the Pittsburgh Comicon, so we concentrated on his scenes first. Then we had a fight scene between Sofiya and Megan Ruggiero (playing "Charlotte") that resulted in blood and black bile (don't ask). This was the first time Stacy had ever had that many people in her house and her OCD was working overtime. (It's a gorgeous house; she and Ron killed themselves to refinish every surface of wood and decorate it as beautifully as it is... you'd freak out too, trust me!)

The last sequence was a sexy and bloody murder scene involving a three-some gone very wrong. This was the sequence Sofiya was looking forward to all weekend - "Am I still writhing in the blood in ecstacy?" she asked all day. And how could we possibly disappoint her?

Jeff not only lit this scene beautifully, he also had to be in it.

"I don't want to take my shirt off." he said. "I'm fat."

"Dude," I explained. "You're in bed with a topless girl, while two other girls writhe on top of you... You could be eating a sandwich all the way through - no one's going to notice!"

A touch of Southern Comfort later, he was fine with the scene.

Again, we wrapped an hour later than I'd hoped, but the footage came out beautiful. This has very little to do with my expertise, though. It's impossible to photograph Stacy's house badly. Finishing up, we all drove over to Oakland to the "Fuel and Fuddle" to celebrate a successful weekend.

Returning Sofiya and Zoe to their transportational outlets, Amy and I dragged ourselves back to Stacy's the next morning and repacked the car. We'd gotten a total of ten hours of sleep in three days and not only felt it, but looked it. We still had an hour's drive back home, where we went immediately to bed, pulling the dogs up to our chins and trying to recover.

We still have eight days of shooting to go, give or take, but this would be the worst stretch. While we still have to bring Zoe back for a day, and then Debbie Rochon for her "special appearance" (it's weird to shoot a movie without Debbie, she's been a part of our family for so long), nothing we have left to do will be as stressful. We'll have effects days and action days and dialogue days, but they won't be packed on top of each other like stressful Lincoln Logs. We're still on track to have this finished by the beginning of June.

So with this weekend down, I was able to concentrate on finishing up Sirens of Cinema issue 4, planning #5, capturing footage and working with Amy to plan Genghis Con II: The Wrath of Con.

You know, that's how we relax.


Meanwhile, here is a link to more pictures, courtesy of Zoe.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Abattoir, exhaustion and whining

So... we started shooting Abattoir two weeks ago by choosing something simple to kick off with - namely a four-hour trip to Baltimore to film with folks we'd never worked with before in a location we'd never seen. Fortunately, the aforementioned folks were JimmyO and April Burril, Lesley Vernot, Stephen and "Tall Katie" (all from Chainsaw Sally) and Eric Thornett from Piranha Pictures. Also on hand was Jason (whose last name I don't think I ever knew), a martial-artist who provided some much-appreciated kicking. Make-up was provided by buddy Mike Conlon (and assisted by his buddy "Bull" - thanks, man!). The location was an amazing former Korean-Catholic church owned by JimmyO's friend and colleague, "Kit".

Shooting went swiftly and more-or-less efficient (if tinged with our usual chaos) as we drove through some impromptu fight choreography and gore and ended with Amy, April and Lesley topless and chewing on my neck and wrists. See, it was a flashback sequence involving my character (a suave and ruggedly handsome Irish vampire hunter) and Amy's character (a dark and beautiful vampire madame)... nevermind. No matter what you do, when you try to describe a horror movie, you inevitably sound stupid. Suffice to say: blood and breasts. These are the things that make the horror world go 'round.

Although, the next day, when we got together to celebrate April and Jimmy's daughter, Willow's, 2-year birthday with a big family party, I couldn't help but feel guilty about what I'd done to the little girl's mother the next day. "Don't worry about it," Jimmy told me. "You should see what I do to her mother!" And yet, I was oddly uncomforted by this remark.

Back home, we spent the rest of the week catching up and preparing for our "domestic start date", which was this previous Friday. This time, the cast consisted of Stacy Bartlebaugh-Gmys, Alyssa Heron and Tim Gross; the crew: Amy, myself and Jeff Waltrowski; effects: Don Bumgarner and Kirk Owen. And the eight of us all squeezed into Don's basement shop and the narrow area outside his apartment to create a dark, scary alley for Tim to kick the crap out of Stacy and, in turn, get demolished by Alyssa. Much blood and pain was involved (as detailed on Tim's Bastards of Horror site), mainly because Tim decided to torture himself. Don, too, was torturing himself because he'd only given himself a week to complete a very complicated effect that wasn't quite ready come time to shoot. Since I'm the king of inserts (no pun intended), it wasn't that big a deal. We can go back to it. And it'll be worth the wait.

(A brief aside, Robert Kurtzman, one of the founders of KNB Effects Group, Inc., called my cell when we were on our way. He wished us all luck with the production. Can you ask for a better blessing than that?)

Saturday, several of us reconvened at the tiny little High Stakes house to shoot my dialogue and close-ups and attempt to block out a scene to be shot at a future date, once Easter was out of the way and no longer taking my cast away for family obligations.

I realized halfway through shooting this scene, as I forgot line after line, that I had every potential to utterly sink this movie with a crappy performance. For some reason, though I haven't really acted in eight years (if you can call the smirking and falling I did in The Resurrection Game "acting"), I decided to give myself all the exposition in the movie. So there are pages after pages of long speeches that I have to deliver. And, because I loathe and despise myself as a human and a deity, I decided that my character also has a thick Irish accent. Fortunately, since I couldn't remember a lot of my lines, that negatively effected my ability to keep the accent consistent... wait, fortunately? That can't be right...

This coming week, we have Sofiya Smirnova coming in from Chicago and Zoe Hunter coming down from New York. Shooting will take place at the little house and in Stacy's grand Victorian home in McKeesport. (For those familiar with Pittsburgh terrain, McKeesport and Mt. Oliver are nowhere near each other... so, yay!) And we will attempt to shoot something like fifty scenes in four days.

Now, on Friday, we shot 24 set-ups in three hours, which included nine effects shots. Saturday, we shot five pages in about an hour. So we move fast. While we can move at least this fast, it would help if we could move faster. I'm anticipating some severe exhaustion break-downs come Tuesday.

Pray for us. Any theology will do at this point. We'll take what we can get.

So we finally caught Good Night and Good Luck last night. The movie is compelling though completely without a climax (which is in keeping with the historical story they were telling). I couldn't help but wonder where the Edward R. Murrow's and Fred Friendly's of today are hiding. Why aren't our journalists (with, oddly, the exception of John Stewart) speaking out as loudly against the McCarthy's of today (of which there are more every day)? Guantanamo Bay, gas prices, the war in Iraq, the upcoming war in Iran, wiretapping, hunting accidents--why are we sitting here and taking all of this? Why isn't anyone speaking out?

Wondering this out loud, Amy grumbled that, instead of complaining, maybe I should do something about it. Sure, I have a blog! Beware evil-doers!

The sad fact is, I don't have the power. I'm not in a position to reach millions of Americans. I'm not a respected war correspondent who was already the voice of the people when he took on Washington injustice. And while I'd love to think that I had the mettle to do so, I have no idea if I would be strong enough to do so.

I don't do much of anything of importance. I write constantly, but about entertainment. I write about and interview indie filmmakers, actors, actresses. I report about what movies are cool, what should be avoided. On one hand, I suppose it could be argued that I'm giving people who deserve it an opportunity for promotion, to reach people who might otherwise never have heard of them. Or it. Or whatever.

And I have had the opportunity, I suppose, to report about more-important issues. I could be reporting about the war. I'm sure I could convince Film Threat to send me to Iraq... to report about Iraqi movies, or interview Iraqi celebrities... that might be all I'm qualified for. I don't know.

I don't know if I would do "more important" work if given the chance. I do know that I'm no more a Murrow than the folks currently working out there. I think, sadly, that his like will not be seen again.

So I'll probably continue to whine about high gas prices and the totalitarian practices of our current government, because on a Quantum Physics level, my voice alone can effect reality, right? But I don't see myself reporting from the roof of a war-sieged building holding a film festival any time soon.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Thoughts for the day

Finished up the foley and sound-tweaks on High Stakes last night. After the miserable mic buzz made most of the live track useless, I was forced to ADR 90% of the short. Now, listening to the clean dialogue nestled in with the rest of the track, I wish we'd gone 100% ADR. All of the actors re-recorded their dialogue nearly-seamlessly, and it's just so much better. Add to that Scooter McCrae's awesome score, we have a cool little movie here. (In case we haven't said it ad nauseum, this is for Brinke's Tales of Horror due out this summer by JD Casey Productions.)

Which makes me feel a little better about starting production on Abattoir this coming Saturday. Thanks to JimmyO Burril, we'll have a great location to shoot an integral flashback with half the cast of Chainsaw Sally (along with Eric Thornett and some of his Pirannha Pictures family and effects artist Michael Conlon). Fortunately, all of this footage will be silent, so it's one thing I won't have to worry about. Driving to Baltimore and shooting in 16:9 24p for the first time ever is daunting enough. Not to mention that I'm actually acting in the damn thing! (What the hell was I thinking?)


Sirens of Cinema #3 hit the stands last Tuesday and I think it's our best issue to date. Our new layout artist, John Boone, did a terrific job and I think we're starting to hit our stride with the look and feel of the publication. Highlights of this issue include "The Ladies of SLiTHER" (including an excellent interview with Jenna Fischer by Debbie Rochon), a great interview with Tina Krause by the aforementioned Scooter, Linnea Quigley's first new interview in some time, Amy's third Pretty-Scary article and a neat Genghis Con overview by Art Ettinger of Ultra-Violent Magazine. Did I mention that I'm very happy with this issue?


Amy and I finally got the chance to see SLiTHER on Tuesday. We hit a 5:15pm showing and were the only people in the theater (save for a guy who kept popping in and out for some reason). I was immensely pleased by the film, which lived up to my expectations of gore and comedy, just like Gunn promised. My ONLY complaint, and it's a minor one, is with the dialogue. Now, Gunn is a clever, intelligent writer. He's not afraid of the low-brow joke, given his Troma background, but for the most part, the dialogue consisted of lines like "That's some fucked-up shit." and "What the fuck was that?" and "Fuck you, you fucking cocksucker." (This last one was delivered by the hilarious Gregg Henry, and he made it work.) So I was disappointed that there was so much of this and so little of Gunn's cleverness (though that aspect did shine through in the rest of the inventive script that merged Night of the Creeps, Night of the Living Dead and Shivers). So, again, minor gripe. Now, all of your horror bastards get moving and go see this movie, damn you!


Which brings me to another point: why are the characters in horror movies these days so unpleasant? I realize that was a standard set in (or around) Friday the 13th, but Jesus! How are you supposed to care if these people are ripped to shreds if you don't like them? The new Hills Have Eyes gives us the least functional family of nitwits in recent memory. Similarly, Hostel is about horrible, ugly Americans being brutally killed in Eastern Europe. Roth's previous Cabin Fever was about horrible people contracting an equally-horrible disease.

The low-budget arena fares no better. The last few Asylum movies are rife with unpleasant people who don't like each other systematically slaughtered for no good reason. And they're always going on camping or hiking trips, trapped with each other before they're separated, and no one can stand each other. I don't know about you but I rarely go on trips with people I hate. Is the kind of bickering that passes for dialogue a short-hand for the conflict they'll face in the future? Or is it just lazy writing? Note to the screenwriters out there: if you hate the main characters, your audience with root for the villains. If that's what you want, you've done your job.


V for Vendetta is an outstanding--if heavy-handed--and surprising movie, given the world's current repressive climate. It echoes a sentiment made by Thomas Jefferson that I always admired, in which he insists that every generation should revolt against its government to remain free. And he made this assertion after he drafted the Declaration of Independence. V calls for people to keep their governments in check, to not give up our civil liberties in exchange for "feeling safe". It says, rightfully so, that the government is not the controlling hand but the servant.

I'd love for everyone in the U.S. to run out and see this movie and get it. But the grumbling that I've heard around the net by the zombies who have seen it are largely irked that there wasn't more "Bullet Time" like in The Matrix and that Natalie Portman isn't as hot when her head was shaved. Oh, yeah, and it was confusing.

This particular bread and circus wasn't as nourishing and thrilling to our downtrodden masses, I guess. Which is a shame. Because it's a message that really has to be received.

Maybe the special edition DVD will make people wake up...


For some reason, we're doing it again. Genghis Con II: The Wrath of Con will kick off from September 15-17, 2006 at the Greentree Radisson in Pittsburgh, PA. Our guests this year include Lloyd Kaufman, Debbie Rochon, Amy Lynn Best, Tiffany Shepis, Sofiya Smirnova, Melantha Blackthorne and April Monique Burril. More guests will be announced soon. The screening room will be manned by Secret Scroll Digest and we will be hosting the 2nd Annual Pretty-Scary Film Festival. So check out the official site, reserve your tickets (discounts on weekend passes available with a verified room booking at the Radisson) and come on down!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

And the wheel goes 'round

Sometimes, I wonder if I ever have a "light" stretch of time. It seems like we're always busy with something -- usually several somethings -- resulting in eight-day weeks that leave our heads spinning.

Two weeks ago, we hit the I-CON SF convention in Long Island, at the invitation of genius artist Michael Apice. While it gave us the opportunity to briefly catch up with Mike, fellow artist Romik Safarian and Debbie Rochon, none of whom we'd seen in some time, it was three long days spent out of our element. We realized halfway through the weekend that we don't fit in real well at Science Fiction shows. Though I am a huge SF fan, some of the hardcore fans are just too intense, refusing to even consider something outside of their particular subgenre (the anime fans are only fans of "this" series, the various Doctor Who folks only like Tom Baker or the current incarnation and are suspicious of anything Not That Thing). However, we had the pleasure of meeting J. Corsontino and Donny Ha, the artists behind "The Time of the Fairies"--two of the coolest people I've ever met.

Nine hours later, we were back home and playing catch up for the next four days, while at the same time trying to get ready for Cinema Wasteland in Cleveland. Wasteland is our hands-down favorite show, so we were really looking forward to hitting it. Thus, the four days leading up to our departure were ridiculously long. (Which was spent recording ADR for the worst parts of High Stakes and starting the layout for Sirens of Cinema #4.)

Friday finally reared its ugly head and we were able to make our trek out to Cleveland. Even though we'd started our con season last month with Fangoria in Chicago, Wasteland felt like coming home. We know virtually everyone there so it was like a three-day family reunion. Plus, we have this enviable spot right up front between Wasteland's creative team, Pam and Ken Kish, and Ultra-Violent Magazine.

We took it easy on Friday, still feeling drained from the previous week. Saturday, however, is always party-time. We roamed around a lot, hanging in the bar with Tom K, Thor, Necro and Lucy from before heading up to the room occupied by maniac writer Joe Knetter, his wife Nicole, their (our) friends Stacy and Julie, Joel and Libby, Veronica and Sonny, etc. We were soon joined by Roland Pena and the immortal 42nd Street Pete (who became the voice of Wasteland for the weekend), Kevin Barberry from Rock 'N Shock, Jeremy and Meredith of Dark X-Mas fame, Jungle Gym Kim of Satan's Sideshow - and numerous others who, unfortunately, alcohol has erased from my memory.

Then... the lights went out.

There was a weird brownout earlier in the evening, but then the full-scale black-out hit about five to Midnight, like some sort of odd Mayan Y2K. The whole hotel was thrust into darkness, save for emergency lights in the corridors. With no air conditioning and non-opening windows, it was too hot (not to mention dark) in the rooms. The hallways were filled with people sticking their heads out of the doorways like bizarre, vertical groundhogs. Finally, we just camped out in the hall, hanging with Toe Tag's Shelby and Crusty who'd had their photo-shoot ruined by the sudden dark (though that didn't quite stop anyone from taking pictures - the flash arching down the halls).

Downstairs, anarchy erupted. Without lights, the conventioneers went feral. The anxiety of our electric generation thrust into darkness was compounded by the bar going dry. Without the computers, the bartenders refused to serve alcohol (darkness must effect math skills as well). So people were forced to entertain themselves. These activities included impromptu parking lot fire eating, a mock crucifixion, table dancing and some indecent exposure. Little time expired before the cops arrived. They claimed they'd been summoned after someone was offended by a young woman found topless in the hall. This could very well be true, or it could have been a convenient excuse (although the most far-fetched explanation for the blackout I'd heard was that the hotel wanted an excuse to bring drug-sniffing dogs in to bust up the various weed parties. Highly unlikely. And ineffective if true).

Ultimately, we did feel very sorry for anyone who was in the hotel but not with the convention, as the lights didn't come back until almost 4:00 am and the noise level was constant until then. Add to this the dirty trick of Daylight Savings Time ending. Everyone was extremely disoriented come morning.

Because of all of the above, Sunday was an "off" day. It was difficult to remain "on", particularly for Amy, who has to smile and make eye-contact with everyone through the door. Things felt odd and surreal. At least we were productive. I managed to finish up ADR for High Stakes with Nic and Charlie and had interesting meetings with a couple of producers/distributors. As soon as something concrete comes up, I'll share the info.

But we still stuck it out, almost to the bitter end, because, frankly, it's difficult to leave Wasteland. To give ourselves a sense of closure, we met up with Henrique Couto and his friend Lisa for dinner afterwards before we made our way home.

So now we're home and gearing up for another long weekend. We officially start shooting Abattoir on Saturday, kicking off the production with a sequence involving most of the cast of Chainsaw Sally and a big church in Baltimore. It'll be the first major production of ours in three years.

Until we leave on Friday, though, we'll be spending the rest of the week catching up, getting things ready, hoping not to forget anything and trying to be professional, even when we feel like amateurs. And for the next five weekends after that as we continue to shoot.

Keeps us off the streets, though, right?