Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sometimes I write recaps just to remember what I've done...

Today will be largely spent packing and getting ready for the Fangoria Weekend of Horrors in New Jersey. Despite numerous emails from various Fango and Creation heads promising otherwise, neither Amy nor I were ever added to the site as guests or otherwise. But it's okay, we were thanked for our continued support. There's no reason to be bitter about it, however, at least not on Fangoria's end. Everyone over there - magazine, radio, comics and television - has been very nice to us so there's no cause to complain. People who go to the con will find us, invariably. Still, sometimes it's fun to get your shots in.

At this said Fango show, we're unveiling a brief and very rough look at some new Splatter Movie: The Director's Cut footage. No screening or big fanfare, just something we'll be showing at our table. HOWEVER, if any members of the general public reading this are planning on attending, there's a catch. You have to go to the Splatter Movie page and print out a ticket we created. Present this ticket, and we'll show you the footage. There's some good stuff in there too. We're talking double axe murder here. So print out your Happy Cloud ticket (it's just like a Wonka ticket, only you don't have to eat a slew of Wonka bars to get one. Well, you could if you wanted to...) Either print it from the blog or from the Pics page.

Also this weekend, and you won't need a ticket for this, will see the premiere of a brand new trailer for Professor Jack and the Electric Club. When I say "brand new", incidentally, I mean brand new. I literally finished it yesterday, cutting it to replicate trailers for '50s serials (just as the movie itself pays tribute to those by-gone days of yesteryear).

At the end of this cutting, however, I discovered just how much I depsise iDVD. As much as I love Final Cut Pro and most other Mac-related items, their iDVD is wretched. Regardless of the setting, I wound up with crappy compression on the finalized disc, leading me to believe that cutting on FCP, recording to tape, recapturing in Premiere, making an MPG2 from there and finalizing the DVD in Encore is not the tremendous waste of time I suspected it to be. The DVDs are coming out much nicer in Encore. And, no, DVD Studio Pro doesn't seem to be an option, thanks. Takes twice as long as Encore and I'm not thrilled with the output there, either. Yes, I'm sure there is something I'm not doing or some radio button I'm not clicking, but I'll stick to this method above. It takes a little longer, but it seems to work out quite well. Ultimately, what you're dealing with is a near-Luddite teaching himself to use a telephone. I'm usually happy when things just turn on.

But, anyway, the Professor Jack trailer should be up on Myspace and Youtube next week.

* * *

By now, everyone on Earth knows that I'm a Muppet fanatic and that Jim Henson is at the top of my list of heroes. It's not a secret. I have a freakin' Kermit the Frog tattoo on my left shoulder, for pete's sake. And don't think I haven't had to give a beatin' or two out in the yard to some skinhead who made fun of it during exercise turn-out! K to the F, baby! (God, I'm white...)

So, anyway, it should take nobody by surprise that I jumped at the chance to drive to Washington D.C. because a friend of a friend who works at the Smithsonian as a prep mold-maker was currently on the team prepping a new Muppet touring exhibit and had on hand several original Muppets from The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal, and even a couple pre-dating those (like Featherstone and the King from The Frog Prince (not, I realized later, taking a closer look at the costumes, Hey, Cinderella, where the characters originated) and Wilkins and Wontkins from the old "Wilkins Coffee" commercials!). Our new best friend Danny had arranged for Amy and I to come in about an hour before the Smithsonian heads of state arrived to start their preparations for the exhibit. Basically, we had an hour to peruse.

So, no sweat. The S.I. folks arrived at ten, we could be there by nine. To make sure, we left at four a.m. It takes a little over three hours to get to D.C. from our house. Plenty of time. Even when we got turned around and I drove in the wrong direction for fifteen miles - not a problem. Plenty of time.

Except that Washington D.C. has the worst traffic on the face of the Earth. We hit the George Washington Parkway at 7:30 and sat, crawling along, for nearly two hours. By the time we arrived and found a place to park, it was ten to ten. And that's when we realized we'd parked eight blocks away from where we should have been.

Now we're running through a particularly horrifying neighborhood, winding our way through a carpenter's strike (where Amy was hit in the back with a rock, presumably by someone who didn't think we were sympathetic enough towards the plight of D.C. area carpenters) and dying from the heat. By ten a.m., it had already hit 80+ degrees. Yay.

We finally got to the center and lo and behold, the Smithsonian higher-ups hadn't yet arrived! There was time after all! Danny quickly took us into a temperature-controlled work room, passing a jacket belonging to one of The Dark Crystal Podlings, and took us into a vault. Okay, vault/work room.

On all the tables, beneath sheets of plastic, were about a dozen original Muppets. Not camera puppets, the ones you find in calendars or posters - these were performance Muppets, used on the shows and in the movies. Danny uncovered a Rowlf first. We were inches away from something donned by Jim Henson and Frank Oz. He was a Muppet Show Rowlf - his face was a lighter color than the body fur - and he was in beautiful shape. Next to him, on a lower table, were Ernie and Bert, also covered with plastic. Beyond them, the King and Featherstone. Across from them, placards made up for various Fraggles and Dark Crystal props.

Then Danny opened a cabinet. And took out a Kermit. He'd already been mounted on a styrofoam base to hold his shape and fitted with armiture to keep his arms in place. If I wore white gloves, I could hold him.

I never put white gloves on so fast in my entire life.

Amy snapped a picture of me holding a Muppet Show performance Kermit. His eyes were yellowing slightly, but his flocking was still intact. Danny reached over and positioned his arms so Kermit would be waving at the camera. I was holding something that Jim Henson not only held, but created and was, in a large way, an extension of the man himself. Whether or not Jim actually built this Kermit, I have no way of knowing. At the time, he wasn't doing puppet fabrication, so I doubt that this particular Kermit was a by-product of his time. But he brought him to life. This Kermit in my hands had been on the show. This Kermit had been, at one time, The Kermit the Frog.

I replaced him, gently, back in the case. Then Danny handed me a Muppet Show Mahna Mahna. I was just taking in the detail in the eyes and the feathers surrounding the face when the Smithsonian folks walked through the door. With expressions on their faces as if they'd caught us using the Muppet cabinet as a urinal. It was probably the camera that freaked them out most.

Now, I've been in situations like this before. You don't pose as a journalist for ten years and not run into things you might have to talk your way out of. My biggest concern was that Danny not get into trouble. So I shook hands and smiled and dropped all the names over at the Henson Legacy I could think of. I hit a bullseye on a couple. They started to relax a little but still insisted that Amy delete the pictures that were taken, saying that Disney is very concerned about copyright violation, etc. Which isn't what they were actually worried about. We were foreigners in their territory. Rather than wait to be ushered from the room, I thanked them for their time and told them we'd get out of their way. No one was gracious enough to offer to let us hang out in the back or even appreciate the time it took us to get there - but then again, I didn't expect that kind of reaction. They wanted us out.

So we hung out with Danny for a while longer and he showed us some of the other exhibits being prepped for the various museums, including a fascinating skull for a Jamestown exhibit. To be honest, I think I asked more questions about how their computer-driven lathe worked than anything regarding the actual exhibits.

In the back of my mind, however, I was still buzzing about holding Kermit. I'd had ten minutes in a room filled with genuine Muppets. I didn't get that when we toured the Henson New York Office Building a few years back!

And as it turned out, Amy confessed as we were leaving, that she didn't delete the pictures after all. Once she realized they weren't monitoring what she was doing with the camera, she just shuffled through them and pocketed the flash card. So I have photographic proof that I did, indeed, handle a real Kermit. I will honor their wishes, however, and not post them. Besides, they're not for the public. Everything else I do is usually put out for public consumption. These pictures are for me.

We walked back to our car, discovered we'd gotten a ticket for parking on "Senate Property", though we couldn't have been farther from the Senate if we'd remianed parked in our own driveway. We couldn't find another parking space so visiting another museum or monument was out. So we drove out and opted to meet Eric Thornett for lunch. He showed me one of the new Canon HD cameras his studio had picked up, along with some footage shot and yes, it was all very nice and yes, now I really want one. Particularly if this camera, being a Canon, will fit the lenses I have for the XL2. But I couldn't really concentrate on any of that.

Because I'd held a Kermit for two minutes. We drove six hours (then back for four) for ten minutes and I would do it again in a minute.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Daniel Robert Epstein: R.I.P.

Last week, I got a startling email first thing in the morning from Robert Kurtzman, asking me what happened to Dan Epstein and that he was sorry to hear about it. Being that early, my brain couldn't grasp the question. A few minutes later, I found out the news: writer Daniel Robert Epstein had died of unknown causes.

I didn't know Daniel that well. He was one of the reviewers I sent screeners to and I had arranged a couple of interviews for him for Suicide Girls. He'd interviewed a lot of terrific people for S.G. including Cronenberg and Terry Gilliam, and, for me, was the only reason to visit that particular site. I was very eager to get him to write for me for Sirens, but his schedule never coincided with ours. The first thing you'll notice, reading his work, is his easy-going, conversational interviewing style. He wasn't a cut-n-paste guy; his interviews had depth to them. That was the chief reason I wanted him. You don't see that type of quality on web magazines that often.

But, because we were only email acquaintances, I don't know any of his friends or family and I have no idea how or why he died. He was a few years younger than I am, so that sent a shiver through me. I'm not ready to reach that point in my life where funerals start becoming a staple. Earlier in the year, we lost a good acquaintance, a filmmaker named Joe Casey. We're working on finishing Joe's last film, an anthology we contributed to called Brinke's Tales of Horror, as a tribute to Joe. I don't have a tribute in mind for Daniel. Part of me feels slightly, and guiltily, relieved that we hadn't become closer friends. It's a selfish feeling - utterly selfish. But we don't mourn for the sake of the dead; we mourn for our own loss. If the nuns and priests and other spiritual leaders are to be believed, Joe and Daniel are in a much better place right now and it is the rest of us who are worse off for their passing.

As far as Daniel goes, the journalistic world is certainly worse off. He'd raised the bar pretty high as far as interviewing goes. Any of you want to learn how it's done, read his work over at Suicide Girls. My sympathies go out to his family.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Post-filming recovery

It's after midnight and I'm still capturing footage. I spent a good deal of the day, on and off, sifting through hours of video shot this weekend. Our first production weekend on Splatter Movie went very well, if I do say so myself. We had at least three cameras rolling at any given time so there's a lot to go through. Too early to tell what's gold and what's garbage, so I'm allowing myself to be generous with the longer takes here. Of course, my hard drive space is going to be eaten rapidly at this rate, so I will likely be judicious later.

Saturday was a "getting to know you" day. There were a couple of folks - like our brand new PA Jordan and Nic Pesante's paramour, Catherine, not to mention effects artist du jour Eric Molinaris and make-up artist Lorena - with whom we'd never worked before, and at least one - 2nd Camera Jon Wamsley - who only Amy and I had worked with (on I Spit On Eli Roth - as detailed in Sirens of Cinema #8, on sale now!). So it was a good day for everyone to get acquainted and re-acquainted and especially to check out the space.

The Hundred Acres Manor is growing. Production Designer Ethan Turon is putting together new rooms for the upcoming season, so he and his crew were working while we were scouting locations and just running amok and exploring.

Sunday, Debbie Rochon came down to shoot a couple of pretty intense scenes for Tesseract, the movie-within-the-movie that Amy's character, "Amy Lee Parker", is directing. That's the stuff capturing now in the next room (it's always best if I go do something else when I capture so I don't sit on top of the Mac as its working) and it just looks gorgeous. Jeff Waltrowski, our man-about-town from Hero Headquarters, lit both her scenes nearly single-handedly and the colors are just amazing. Amy decided that the Tesseract footage should be very Argento-esque, with the frames filled with color while the actors themselves would be lit with white light. So the reds and blues and greens in these scenes just pop throughout.

Amy and Debbie have a scene together that will actually be Tesseract's climax - very bloody and very stylistic. I'm really happy with what has been captured, even though I'm only about halfway through the tapes that have been shot (like I said, at least three cameras at some point. Five was actually the record). If I don't get this stuff logged before the next shooting date, however, I'll start to backlog and that just won't be good. However, at this rate, we'll be sifting through at least five hours of video for every weekend we shoot.

If you want to see a very brief tease, we posted Amy Lee Parker's first video blog over on the Tesseract myspace page. You'll have to join as a friend, of course, to see it. Trust me, there will be more coming.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Nuggets of News

My life this week in bite-sized nuggets:

We met with one of our investors on Monday, ate and talked about Splatter Movie and other events in our life. He gave us money.

That morning, a check arrived from another of our investors (which may lead to a big announcement very soon, actually). As far as funding for the movie, we're doing pretty well. Appreciate the support, fellas!

Tuesday we met with one of the owners of the Hundred Acres Manor and met the production designer for the first time, Ethan. We did another walk-through and started to figure out what rooms would be best for certain scenes. Ethan and his crew are actually redesigning a number of rooms for the grand reopening of the haunt in September, so we'll have the opportunity to utilize a lot of brand new backgrounds and settings before anyone else ever lays eyes on them.

Before we left, a deer came running down the hill and scared the shit out of itself - not to mention us. There were about six of us in a group and the thing was running straight for us. A yearling, so it wasn't very big, but it started to skid when it saw us and almost plowed into one of the partners' cars. We took its not hitting us or stomping us to death in a panic as a very good sign. An omen, if you will, of good things to come. At least, it was a portent of our not being stomped to death in the future.

Just got off the phone with the distributor who picked up Abattoir - sorry, A Feast of Flesh. As I detailed today on the Happy Cloud Pictures Blog, the title of our little vampire opus has been changed due to popular demand. Something less French has been requested. We discussed the contract and what special features will eventually be offered on the disk. We're still on track for a fourth quarter 2007 release. As soon as the ink is dry, we'll make a big announcement.

As for the rest of the day, I spent it in the garage and in the attic, hauling out equipment, cleaning it and writing "Property of Happy Cloud Pictures" on it in black and silver sharpie. We have to leave a lot of various bits and pieces at the haunt. I'm not worried about anything stolen, more that something will accidentally get mixed in with the haunt's equipment property. Still, I came away feeling very proprietary.

So we meet with various cast and crew members on Saturday, shoot some b-roll and head home to rest for the big shooting event on Sunday. We have to shoot somewhere in the neighborhood of ten-to-twelve pages in around eight hours. Not even a record for us. Still, a lot to do and a lot of rust to shake off and get our Happy Cloud family back into the well-oiled machine it was while shooting Abattoir. We'll all miss Carlos Savant--he's down at a shop in New Orleans and busy to the gills right now--but welcome Eric Molinaris into the mix. There are a couple of people we've never worked with before but who come highly recommended.

This should work out to be something quite special when all is said and done. But then again, I tend to say that about every production. It's certainly unlike anything we've ever attempted before. To that end, I recommend that everyone check out the two Myspace pages: The Official Splatter Movie Page and The Official Tesseract Page, which is dedicated to the movie-within-the-movie Amy's character is shooting. Awesomeness is coming soon.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Moving Forward...

I spend much of my life in dread of the Big White X.

In the cartoons, that's the "x" painted on the ground where the anvil is intended to drop. Usually, a coyote is standing on the X, watching as the shadow grows above him - right before the inevitable "Wham!"

The problem with my Big White X is that I'm never quite sure when I'm standing on it - or how long that whistling sound will last before I realize I'm hearing it.

The future, to me, is something sharp and pointy and very, very heavy and rushing at me at a frightening speed. Always. It's not the change I fear, it's the impact that change will make. And the problems that come riding on its back.

As you've no doubt read from Amy's blog, after a month of finagling, chasing, begging and calling calling calling, I finally found an insurance agent that would provide us with th policy we were seeking in order to shoot Splatter Movie: The Director's Cut. We were seeking this to not only protect the owners of the Hundred Acres Manor and ourselves but also to insure--hence the word--that our friends and family would be protected in this unfamiliar locational space. If, Film Gods Forbid, someone would actually get hurt, we know now that they'd be taken care of.

For weeks, it was the runaround from this agent, the cold shoulder from that, an attempt at rip-off from the third. But today that came to an end. I even got an emailed proof-of-coverage to show the haunt's owners in case the policy takes a while to come via mail. So we're set to schedule, plan and finally shoot(!). Which is very exciting.

And I'm forcing my head to not look down. I don't want to see the X if I am standing on it. I know in the back of my mind that this was the inevitable conclusion to a very frustrating task, but I worry when things go smoothly - even if they hadn't up until this point.

This, my friends, is what is known as "being crazy".

So I'm trying to break myself of habitually feeling dread every time something goes my way. I'm trying very hard. Positive thinking was never a superpower I possessed. I'm trying to convince myself that sometimes things work out without incurring the wrath of the universe. In short, move onto the next dreadful task and celebrate that I can do so with all ten fingers.

And I understand, too, that there are plenty of new Herculean tasks to undertake - ever movie comes equipped with an endless number, naturally. So plan ahead and, as the cliche goes, hope for the best, prepare for the worst. And appreciate when something goes right.

And then turn around widdershins and spit on a rock, just to be safe.