Monday, June 28, 2010

Actors I'd Most Like to Cast in My Next Movie

Not that it would ever actually happen, but if I could pick up a phone and attach any of these actors to my next project, I'd be a happy camper. 

Hey, I can dream can't I?!

Steve Buscemi

Don Cheadle

Toni Collete

Zooey Deschanel

Morgan Freeman

Paul Giamatti

Luis Guzman

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Holly Hunter

Jason Isaacs

Catherine Keener

Harvey Keitel

Laura Linney

William Macy

Frances McDormand

Ian McShane

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Host - A Monster Movie I Wish I Had Made

This is one of those movies that I heard about more than a year ago, so I put it in my queue where it just sat there in Netflix purgatory until I finally remembered why I wanted to see it. Hate when that happens.

I should have seen it immediately - this is a great film.

The Host (for the two or three of you who haven't seen it already) is a South Korean monster movie that centers around a mutated fish-frog beast, a deadly virus, an inept Korean government, a corrupt and exploitative American presence, and a sleepy-headed protagonist that no one will listen to.

What you might expect is a typical low-budget monster movie that at best achieves levels of entertaining camp. 

What you get however, is the best monster movie since... dang, since I don't know when.  It is surely better than Cloverfield, or that horrible Roland Emmerich Godzilla farce.  It is at times funny, scary, politically scathing and heart-wrenching.  It is also beautifully shot and masterfully directed from a script that focuses on (gasp) character development over blowing things up.

Interestingly enough, this was not some low-budget genre piece, this was a major blockbuster-type big-budget film (at least in South Korean terms - about $10 million), that still managed to hold onto its core vision.  You see, this is a monster movie that really isn't all that interested in the monster - this is very simply a story about a father who has lost his daughter and will do anything to get her back.  It is also a story about family - non-traditional family structures and the love that binds them.

 Just as Let The Right One In raised the bar for vampire movies by taking a more low-key and personal approach, The Host reboots the monster movie by focusing on the real effects on people's lives.  Yes, I know many movies try this approach (I actually thought Spielberg's War of The Worlds did a pretty good job), but most fail because their heart really isn't in it.  While they pay lip service to building their characters and relationships, they really just want to get to the money shots of big-ass monsters smashing shit up.

The Host presents us with a family that will fight for each other and die for each other.  When their government, police and military not only let them down but actively try to capture and torture them at every turn, they have only themselves to rely on - nothing but their dogged determination, a few molotov cocktails and a bow and arrow to fell the angry beast.

This is also a story of redemption - where every character gets a second chance to overcome their own personal demons - some fail and some succeed.  What more could one ask from a movie.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Spook Hunt Scene 5 Notes - an unwelcome late night visitor

We recently shot scene 5 from my indie short movie, Spook Hunt.  The usual suspects were there to make the evening happen - actors Rob Sandusky & Charles Yoakum, Director of Photography Rob Weiner (with his Canon 7D) and Ben Weiner recording audio.  Oh yeah, and me running around like a goofball trying to do too much as usual.
(Charles pleads his case)

We only had a couple of hours to shoot so I had picked a fairly easy section of scene 5 to cover.  Charles discovers another piece of ghostly "evidence" and tries to convince Rob of it's validity.  Rob is not only not convinced, he's now convinced that Charles is just messing with him, gets pissed off and storms out of the room.  Pretty simple. The boys did a great job of building up the scene and hitting their emotional marks.
(Rob is not impressed)

After the shoot wrapped, I spent the usual hour or so transferring and checking the video and audio files.  Of course, when I finally tried to go to sleep, my head was still swimming with ideas and questions and recapping the evening.  I started thinking about upcoming scenes that we need to shoot and ways to make them better.  Can I make this part scarier, can I build more tension, a better payoff - what if this happened... or they saw this... or heard this...??  So I'm laying in bed at around 1:30 am, filling my head with the scariest shit I can think of to see if it will work in my movie.  I am now in that weird half-sleep state where part of my consciousness has drifted off, while the other part keeps chugging along working on the movie, like a computer that won't shut down.

I change positions in bed so I'm now facing the side of the bed closest to me and I see this staring at me:

 (please leave me alone and kindly visit my neighbors, m'kay)

Well, actually it wasn't exactly that (that is the demon from the Exorcist), it was actually a lot scarier than that and I could hop over to Photoshop and render a more accurate version for you but I really have no desire to force myself to remember that image with any level of detail.

As soon as I see this demon I literally levitate off the bed and propel myself to the opposite side of the bed whereupon I crash into my wife while uttering a totally pathetic shriek.  She is not too happy with me.  I dare not tell her what I've just seen.

I look back to the side of the bed and of course it is no longer there.  I try to convince myself that it was just a trick of my mind.  A left-over spectre from my strange sleep-state.  You think about ghosts, demons and scary shit for long enough and of course your dreams will be filled with them.

This is not the first time my dreams have been plagued by haunted images.  The thing about making horror movies is that they live in your head for years at a time.  You are constantly thinking about the most violent, horrific and terrifying things.  When Lis and I were putting finishing touches on The Commune, I had some horribly messed-up dreams.  Now as I'm trying to wrap up Spook Hunt, I am getting visited again.

However, the thing about this last vision was - it really wasn't a dream.  I did not dream I woke up, rolled over and saw a demon staring at me.  I actually did wake up, roll over and see a demon staring at me.  Now obviously, in my ghostly-obsessed state, my tortured mind must have simply conjured a demonic image where there were only abstract patterns of light and shadow.


That's what I continue to tell myself every night as I try to doze off to sleep - always keeping one eye on the watch for my unwanted late night visitor.

(... by the way next time, remind me to make a comedy - or at least not shoot a horror film in MY FREAKING HOUSE!!)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Top Things Horror Movies Taught Me

Or things I actually still do as a grown-up man because of horror movies:

- I never sleep with my arm dangling off the edge of the bed.  I don't even like to have my hands exposed.  Do you really want to wake up with the sensation of someone holding your hand when you're the only one in your bed?

- I never walk into a dark bathroom and look at the mirror while turning the light on.  I always walk in, look down, turn the light on... wait.. and then look into the mirror.  You never know what you'll find looking back at you.

- I never swim at night- oceans, lakes, pools, hot tubs - I don't care.  Even bathtubs are suspect.
 (dinner is served)

- I always sit facing the entrance when I'm at a restaurant (oh that one could be because of too many Scorsese films...)

- I never pick up hitchhikers.
 (wanna see something REALLY SCARY??)

- I never walk around a dark forest at night. (I actually had to do this once to search for my lost dog and it was not pretty - I kept hearing snapping twigs echoing from the canyon walls).

- I never EVER play around with Ouja boards or seances - you're just asking for trouble.
(see - I told ya)

And things I always keep in mind (though they haven't actually happened to me yet):

- If you're with a group of friends in a dark and spooky place, and you're the one cracking jokes - you're probably going to die soon.  If you're also a minority - forget about it... you're already dead.

- If you're in a foreign country and some unbelievably hot model chicks ask you and your buddies to spend the night in their room - run away.  If you've already spent the night in their room... you're already dead.
  (eh - maybe it was worth it...)

- Always try to be extra nice to elderly eastern-European grandmothers.  Especially those with really nasty teeth and bad eyesight.
(yeah - like that)

- When you have a choice between a flashlight and a chainsaw... please... I mean c'mon people!

- Never trust a clown.
(now just think about this a sec kiddo - just why would a clown be living in a sewer...?)

- When someone specifically tells you not to go into a particular room - you might want to heed their advice.

- If your littler sister gets sucked into the tv - sorry... tough break.  I mean mom always told you not to sit too close...
 (you're on yer own beatch)

- Always shoot for the head - and puh-leez kick the gun/saw/knife/chainsaw/sawed-off-shotgun away from the madman/zombie/monster's hand, or better yet, use it to shoot/slash/decapitate.
(yeah - what he said)

- Never go back for the cat.
 (oh Jonesy... here kitty kitty...)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Spook Hunt: On Writing

It was 1:57 am.  I had already gotten up once out of bed and dragged my ass in front of my computer, I really didn't want to have to do it again. My brain however didn't care. It kept swirling with ideas, dialogue and shot setups.

Go to sleep please, I told it.


I knew it was a losing battle.  The more I tried to shut my brain down, the more ideas kept popping up, and when a good idea floated across, part of my brain kept flashing so I would remember that idea by morning.

Eventually I gave up, plopped in front of the computer and begin writing - or should I say, not so much writing, as brain-dumping all these ideas into Microsoft Word.  You see, I don't really write while I'm at the keyboard, I just self dictate ideas, sentences and dialogue that I've already worked over in my mind time and time again.

My best times for "writing" are either right when I'm drifting off to sleep, or when I'm in the shower. Something about when there's no other distractions allows these thoughts that have been percolating in the dark recesses of my mind to finally float to the surface.  Then it's a mad dash to record them before they sink back down into forgotten darkness. I've written many a blog post with nothing but a towel wrapped around myself - desperately trying to jot the ideas down before the images fade away from memory.

Why I can't write like a normal person (you know, sit in front of the computer, work through an idea and start typing) I really don't know, but this is what I'm stuck with.

So, a number of weeks ago I realized that I would have to re-write (and re-shoot and re-edit) the first two scenes of my movie, Spook Hunt.  It's not that they were horrible, they just were just a little flat. And they were almost 4 minutes long - a sure death sentence for a short film that needs to be 15 minutes or less.

These were two perfectly good scenes where my two characters discuss what's going on and set up what will happen - you know, the dreaded exposition scenes.  I tried to dress them up as much as I could, but I knew it was a losing battle.  After shooting and editing the first two scenes of my movie, I knew they would have to go.  I still didn't know how to fix them however.

Fortunately a good friend gave me great notes that hit it on the head why the scenes weren't working.  One of his criticisms was that the dialogue was too "on the nose", a very typical problem for neophyte screenwriters.

The premise is very simple:  Charles has been hearing and seeing weird things in his house and his wife has freaked out and wants to sell the house - not a good idea in this economy.  He has brought his buddy Rob over to help him investigate and hopefully rid himself of his ghostly problem.  Now obviously there is more going on in the movie (especially the end), but this is how it starts, so I just needed a way to get into the film and set it up.

I had the two guys sitting around talking about the weird sound Charles had captured; when the sound had been recorded, what it could mean, how the sound had effected his family, while they looked at and listened to the sound.  Pretty one-dimensional.  Then I had the two of them discussing the gear they were going to use (a camera, flashlight and digital recorder)  and why it was important to use that gear, and how capturing something on that gear would help solve Charles' problem, all while they got the gear together.  Again, one-dimensional.

Yeah, I added some other stuff to each scene, but it was just window dressing.  The problem is people, especially guys, just do not talk like that. They usually have cross-purposes and talk over each other and change the subject and evade and eventually get back to the subject at hand.  That push and pull is what helps make a scene dynamic.

There was no real conflict or tension in either scene.  Charles is kinda freaked out and desperate, while Rob is concerned -  doesn't make for great drama.

Finally, it came to me that I should just combine the two scenes.  Have Rob listening to the weird sound while Charles is getting gear together. Except Rob isn't really listening to the sound - he's half paying attention to it while texting on the phone and trying to get Charles to go get a drink with his buddies.  Ah, that's better, a little dynamism and tension.  It doesn't take much to bring a scene alive.  Now there is a natural arc to the scene where Rob starts out as skeptical and non-committed but then eventually agrees to help his buddy out.  But of course, to keep some tension going through the next couple of scenes, I added one caveat:  Rob gives him just two hours - then he's dragging his ass out to get some drinks.

The other issue was I just had too many pieces of information crammed into these first two scenes, so my movie was top-heavy.  It was like, 4 minutes of setup and information and plot points and then whammo - 10 minutes of non-stop ghostly action culminating in a wild climax.  So, it was just a matter of paring down those plot points to the essentials in the beginning, eliminating some altogether, and then sprinkling the rest throughout the following ghost-hunting scenes so that I could build a more natural rhythm of tension and release.

This of course meant that I would have to work on not only the first two scenes of my script, but many of the later ones as well, all while I had already shot half of the movie already. 

Now you can understand why my head was swimming with ideas at 1:57 in the morning...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

My Favorite All-Time Lovecraftisms

You know, those, antiquated adjectives or quirky twists of a phrase that are so uniquely H.P. Lovecraft:
- cyclopean cities
- sky-flung monoliths
- unnatural geometry
- tottering houses
- gulfs of time
- incomprehensible realms
- unnamable, unmentionable
- undreamable abysses
- swarthy
- eldritch
- Stygian, Phrygian
- leered mockingly
- loathsome tittering
- bloated corpulence
- unhallowed blasphemies
- immemorial lunacy
- shambling forms
- spectral moonlight
- shapeless things
- "The ___ in/of the____"   story titles

What are some of your favorites?