Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pirates, Rednecks and Insurance Companies

So Film Threat put up my review of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. I don't normally write reviews of mainstream stuff - they have Pete Vonder Haar for that - but I felt compelled. We saw it again yesterday and sat through the credits for the epilogue (not sure why we didn't the first time). While the first two movies had brief "gag" post-credit sequences, this one actually served as a cap for the story and actually expunged the few negative feelings I had towards the movie. The epilogue, truly, makes the Elizabeth and Will Turner story very satisfying. So much so that you'll be shocked that Disney had the balls to end it that way. Go see it, sit through until the very end - when the ushers come in and start giving you dirty looks - and then come back and discuss.

* * *

We're trying desperately to get Splatter Movie: The Director's Cut off the ground. We just signed our last few actors--I'll make the formal announcement soon--the set is fantastic and ready to go. Our effects are being covered by two very talented men. I have my second cameraman lined up. Our investors are sending us money, enabling us to fly some folks in and feed the rest. Tom Sullivan is on board and anxious to get started! So what's the hold up?


We need to get liability insurance to make sure that - Film Gods forbid - if anyone gets hurt, we're all covered. It's not a lawsuit concern. I'm working with a lot of friends. I want to make sure my friends will be safe.

However... we've spoken with three different insurance companies. One didn't get back to us until late last week saying that no one would underwrite our claim. Of the other two, one guy is on vacation and the other seems to do all of his business from his car. The lowdown seems to be that what we want isn't worth anyone's time. We're not asking for a lot of coverage, we're not looking for a million dollar policy. So no one wants to handle it. Apparently, our money just isn't good enough.

It'll happen and it'll probably happen soon. But the wait is frustrating. Here we are trying to do everything right and the easier route seems to be to just screw it all, damn the consequences. We're not about to call it quits, but the waiting sure is aggravating!

* * *

Last week, I spent two days working an auction. The focus of the auction was heavy machinery of the construction variety. Lots of backhoes and tractors and steam rollers and enormous things whose sole purpose seem to be terraforming planets. This meant, for me, waiting on literally hundreds of contractors and construction workers and businessmen, most of whom had a net worth in the millions, getting them registered and then cashing them out when their auctions were won.

Now, you think "millionaire" and your mind conjures Donald Trump, right? In this case, try "Larry the Cable Guy". There was a guy leaning on the counter counting out stacks of hundred dollar bills. He had, from what I could see, seven teeth. Apparently, an asphalt mixer was more important than dentistry to this entrepreneur.

And yeah, I spent most of the day - the fourteen-hour-on-my-feet-one-break day - dropping what I did for a living and offering these backwoods Rockefellers my business card. And what I was talking about was as foreign to them as the world of Bearcats and backhoes were to me.

So, I contented myself to counting the hours until I was allowed to go home and restraining myself from pummeling those fine examples of maleness who were sexually harassing my female co-workers like it was still the 1850s. Actually, there was one guy who was acting like one of the cave people in Quest for Fire - literally sniffing one of the female account reps. Apparently, Arthur C. Clarke was wrong - you can evolve to the point of using tools without ever having touched the Monolith.

Friday, May 18, 2007

New gee-whiz-bang news!

Okay, so some of you may not have seen this on Amy's blog yet. For those of you sub-rock dwellers:


Happy Cloud Pictures is proud to announce their next production:
Splatter Movie: The Director's Cut.

An independent production company sets up at a haunted attraction to shoot both a horror movie and the simultaneous making-of documentary, unaware that the set is being stalked by a killer masquerading as one of their own performers. As filming progresses, the line between what's real and what's fiction begins to blur—and then vanishes entirely! Splatter Movie: The Director's Cut takes a time-honored storyline and gives it a Happy Cloud Pictures twist, resulting in a veritable tesseract of a film. The end result will be as much a deconstruction of the slasher subgenre as it will be a new entry in horror history.

To complete this elaborate project, Happy Cloud Pictures is teaming up with the Hundred Acres Manor, Pittsburgh's only 100% volunteer based tri-themed haunt benefiting Homeless Children's Education Fund and Animal Friends. This immense attraction will virtually be a character itself in the film, providing a wonderfully-macabre landscape for the characters to play.

With a script from Mike Watt (The Resurrection Game, Dead Men Walking), Splatter Movie: The Director's Cut will star and be directed by Happy Cloud Pictures co-founder Amy Lynn Best (Abattoir, Severe Injuries) and will co-star legendary special effects artist and actor Tom Sullivan (The Evil Dead)! Also joining the cast are Elske McCain (Poultrygeist) and Best's Abattoir cast-mates Sofiya Mina Smirnova, Rachelle Williams (Jess Franco's Take Away Spirit), Alyssa Herron, Nic Pesante, Stacy Bartlebaugh-Gmys Jeff Waltrowski (Project Valkyrie) and Don Bumgarner.

Keep checking back at
happycloudpictures.net or www.myspace.com/happycloudpictures for updates and news about this exciting project.

Now then, this is something we're extremely excited about. The project was inspired by a short film Amy shot with Devi Snively and Jane Rose back in March called, I kid you not, I Spit on Eli Roth (read all about it in Sirens of Cinema #7 - on sale now!). The shoot was set at the aforementioned Hundred Acres Manor - which is about a mile long of twisting, turning corridors and spooky rooms (not to mention an enormous maze that had us all lost for about twenty minutes when we visited with Mike and Carolyn and Anders Erikson and Melinda Kreuger at Halloween).

While shooting the short, I knew I wanted to shoot something of our own there. The place was begging for something bizarre and sinister and violent, but... what? A slasher movie seemed obvious - too obvious. Plus, we already did a slasher movie, albeit a comedy (i.e. Severe Injuries for those not paying attention). But the idea kept gnawing at me every time I'd head toward the upstairs make-up room, inevitably turn the wrong way and slam my shin into a coffin hidden in a room where we hadn't located the lights yet.

Multiple times over the weekend, I creeped myself out. I always found Haunted Houses to be cheesy fun, where you laugh when the high school volunteers leap out at you, their over-sized masks covering their eyes. Being in this enormous haunt pre-season, and having a lousy sense of direction, I couldn't shake the feeling of being watched, the distant sense of panic of getting lost (which stems from a tragic Boy Scout woods retreat), etc. So, okay, I knew the story was going to be a slasher movie. But how the hell do you make an original slasher movie? If the recent Hollywood offerings were any indication, you apparently can't. This latter theory is also backed up by the slew of indie fare I've suffered through recently (not everything - don't scream at me - you guys know who did the good stuff).

So the movie-within-a-movie idea came to me - also not terribly original, but I thought I could figure out a unique twist to the entire thing. Both Amy and I have been answering a lot of interview questions lately regarding what makes a horror movie, etc. So if I took the opportunity to actually explore the genre while recreating it at the same time, we just might have something here worth making.

I realized around page 10 that this script was going to be a royal bitch to write. The disjointed nature of the thing dictated that its structure was going to be difficult to find. At the same time, I knew I wanted to incorporate real documentary and interview footage into the narrative, which made things even slipperier to beat into shape. All in all, Splatter Movie was the hardest script I've ever written, and took me the longest ever for a first draft. I was literally averaging about three pages a day. Not to brag, but I usually write MUCH faster than that.

But the resulting draft really felt satisfying once completed. I really do feel like we have something here. It is, if nothing else, very weird. Everyone we've shown it to really likes it. Fred Obermiller, our executive producer, told me he thinks that it's my best work to date, so now I have THAT to live up to. Thanks, Fred. People are coming out of the wood work, too, to help out. Not the least of which Ted Sobek, one of the owners of the Hundred Acres Manor, but also Erik Molinaris at the Douglas School(aka The Savini School) and his team of intrepid and starving students, as well as Mark Marsen and Scott Tyson at Specter Studios, who are donating some props for us to use. So thanks all around to all of these fine folks!

So, we'll see. We have to finalize our production insurance, since we'll be shooting on property not owned by us. Usually, our homeowner's insurance covers us for damage and injury, but there's only so far we can take the idea of "mobile business", so we want to have the policy in place before we shoot to make sure everyone will be safe and protected. But once that's ready, we're set to go. And, as usual, we'll keep everyone posted as things progress.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Henson and other things

Yesterday was a day of mourning for me. Jim Henson died May 16, 1990.

So I spent the day in quiet reflection and repast, contemplating my own position in the universe...

Actually, I didn't remember this date until late in the day. If I had, I would surely have spent it watching my Muppet Show DVDs, sitting in my living room, surrrounded by Muppet paraphenalia, as I plan to later today.

It's always been one of my biggest goals to work with the Muppets. Interviewing several Muppet-eers for the now-defunct Cinefantastique was one of my career highlights, as was setting up this job at the actual Muppet Offices in Manhattan - which, of course, no longer exist. When Amy and I went to visit and arrange the articles, The Muppets were still the sole property of the Jim Henson Company, not the Disney Corporation. People still cared about the Muppets then, too.

We got to see Jim's office. Kept exactly the way it had when he died. There was a stained-glass window - on top was Ernie and Bert, below, the likenesses of Jim and Frank Oz. I swear it felt like someone had just left.

As we sat in this enormous conference room, just Amy and I and Veronica Hart, head of public relations, seated at this enormous carved table with Muppety feet on all four corners, Jane Henson walked in, apologized and walked out. I couldn't believe it.

I really do hope, some day, to write for a new Muppet Show. Right now, though, the Disney Corporation is adamant that the Muppets "no longer resonate with the American viewer". Perhaps that's because they've been kept out of the spotlight for so long? The Muppet Holding Company, as it was called until recently, has a new president now, however. Maybe things will change.

* * *

I've never been accused of being on the cutting edge of anything. So it should come as a surprise to no one that I discovered James Farr's Xombie this morning. Literally this morning. There's an interview with him up on Film Threat right now, and I couldn't help but sympathize with his trials at getting Xombie made by the majors. As he points out, studios are afraid of anything they haven't seen before. We went through a lot of that, and are still going through it, with The Resurrection Game. So swing on over to xombiefied.com and check out the episodes. They're really terrific.

* * *

While on hold for another technical support problem - this time banking-related matters - I couldn't help but realize that I was talking to yet another person in India, rather than anyone in the actual bank I was calling. As I sat and waited, a political pop-up window opened, urging me to feel some sort of outrage over the immigrant "catastrophe" we're facing in America. See, immigrants are flooding into the United States and taking our jobs away. I felt that was about half right, or, actually, two different statements. Immigrants are flooding into our country. Check. They're taking our jobs away. Check. But only the ones we send overseas through national greed and focus on the bottom line.

I don't see college graduates crying out over the need for more dishwashing and hotel cleaning jobs. They're crying out because all of our tech and customer service positions have been given away to folks in other countries who will work for much less than Americans will.

So all this hue and cry about immigration. That's the smoke-screen, right? That's the "hey look over here!" wave of the arms while our jobs vanish from the country. Which am I really supposed to care about? (Don't bother writing to me to tell me how misguided I am about this issue, btw. If I'm ignorant of an enormous amount of facts and figures and statistics and the fact that Pablo the Pool Boy ran off with your mom, ya know what? I'm okay with that hole in my education.)

I should just relax and wait a while. In a few more months, we can worry about gay marriage and abortion again. (As far as I care about these subjects: as long as neither are made mandatory, I don't care who does what. I don't plan to marry a gay man and I am unlikely to ever have an abortion of my own. So it's not my right to tell anyone else that they can or can't.) America will always have it's hysterical causes. So long as we don't mention the war.

With all of this going on, smoking, of course, is the brand new villain. The smoking ban in Pittsburgh lasted for about 14 hours before it was suspended by pending lawsuits issued by two area restaurants. To which I say: bravo and don't hold your breath (no pun intended). Again: I don't smoke. I hate smoking. I'd love it if every smoker I knew magically came to their senses and stopped smoking today so we could all eat in peace without someone having to run outside for 5-7 minutes. But it ain't going to happen.

And that being said, it shouldn't be up to anyone to tell anyone else what they can and can't do. We already have smoking and non-smoking sections in restaurants, to whatever successful degree they exist. Why do we need city-wide bans? Why did New York or California need these things? Why should we persecute an entire section of our society simply because they're committing suicide right in front of us? Everyone should have the right to commit suicide any way they like. And for us non-smokers who don't want to inhale second-hand smoke? Tough. It should be up to each individual to decide whether or not he should shun his friends. As far as my smoking friends go, they don't blow smoke in my face, they don't smoke inside my house when they come over. They don't force a cigarette into my mouth when I eat. That's pretty much all the courtesy I require.

* * *

So a few weeks ago, mankind saw the death of Jack Valenti, one of those villains in history who truly believed he was doing the right thing at all times. He was the head of the MPAA which, of course, is another evil company that truly believes it has the best interests of everyone in mind. Like anti-smoking legislation, it believes it knows better than you. Whether they want to believe it or not, they're censors. Watch This Film is Not Yet Rated for examples of this. For the independent filmmaker, they are the quiet gestapo. They don't come into your house and seize your film - they don't want anything to do with your film, but please come right in Mr. Spielberg and tell us all about your latest war atrocity production.

Now, that being said, the MPAA was set up to prevent the government from stepping in and doing the censoring that Hollywood didn't want to do. Just like the Comics Code, as it was established in the '50s, Hollywood took it upon themselves to self-govern, according the changing mores of the movie-going public. Except, unlike the Comics Code, which has relaxed over the years and has, almost, completely vanished, the MPAA has no strict code to adhere to. Everything is done on a case-by-case basis. So, of course, ample amounts of cronyism abound.

But Jack Valenti stood by it all the way. He knew better than he thought we should. And now that he's gone, his ill-conceived notions of propriety continue to endure. The next element to be taboo in American movies? Smoking, and the depiction of smoking. And, of course, the horrible notion of "the glorification of smoking" (!).

And around and around and around.

* * *

Another entity convinced of his own inherent goodness recently called home: Jerry Falwell. Though I'm sure his ministry will continue to stomp their jackboots over anyone not of their faith, the good reverend is gone from this Earth now. Every random website has a poll: "Jerry Falwell - Heaven or Hell, cast your vote!" I don't think it matters.

If the universe works the way I think it does, and there actually is a Heaven and Hell, well, Falwell went to Heaven. He was convinced that everything he said or did was mandated by his devotion to God. Jews and Homosexuals, in his view, really were responsible for 9/11 (makes as much sense as every other theory). Unless he was a terribly good actor, Falwell was an utter slave to his convictions. He was pious, he was hollier-than-allayou. So, of course, he got his ultimate reward. To think otherwise is either shadenfreude or a gross misunderstanding of the laws of the Divine.

* * *

This is why I love the Muppets. On the Muppet Show, none of this shit mattered. And I hate that I've reached a stage in my life where all of this actually does matter to me. It's a sign of horrible maturity where you are actually affected by the world around you.