Ending: Time, Output and Return

This blog domain is due to expire in a month. It looks like I will not renew for another couple of years despite the release of typing up my thoughts or maybe promoting a link to something I’ve done or that is worth listening to.

The layout of these WordPress blogs is just fine. No complaints there. But I also do have to ask myself whether the time should just be put into my own creative writing. Most of these blog posts have now been copied and pasted into a word file for safekeeping or in case I have the burst of ego to publish that as part of a book.

I might still post things on my old Jawsphobia blog via Blogger on Google. But even that will be combed through to salvage whatever rants might still hold up. I wanted to certainly keep a record of how certain projects of mine came together and what may have gone wrong, making lemonade from the lemons of experience. I did that, but I also see that the numbers of clicks I get are not matching the kicks I get out of some of the blogging here.

Some people have a social media team and build these things up. It is unfortunate that the expiry of a domain or links are part of no longer renewing. You would think a link is a link and it will stay up. But given that we are told that is not the case, I would rather not put more time in generating content only to have it blocked or erased as the case may be once the renewal window elapses.

If you have followed this blog for inspiration on your own projects, I wish you the very best of luck. Definitely keep up your own writing and shoot when you can, even if you only have ten minutes to grab something. Those opportunities add up.

Have fun but don’t relax too much. You will be fifty and still making movies where you press record and then step in front of the camera to act. LOL.

The Intergalactic Imagination Connoisseurs’ Film Festival

There is an interesting new festival with few guidelines looking for content, mostly shorts but perhaps longer. I would throw some less-seen shorts of mine there but they have to be premieres. It would still get more eyes on a short than your own personal platform of channel. I am considering making something new.

It is run by Robert Meyer Burnett who directed a movie called Free Enterprise that featured William Shatner and has this great Shakespeare rap set piece, which is a great example of a concept floated in a movie as “crazy” that turns out to be very entertaining as executed.

If It Ain’t On the Page…

Most will agree that it is a sign of respect to accompany any agreement of creative or business collaboration with something in writing and a signatures. Even with friends or family who might initially brush off the idea as unnecessary. It is at the very least good practice. Even if a lawyer has not looked at it (and you can find some legal terms and wordings to reinforce an agreement), simple statements of intentions may at least give you peace of mind in the event of Rashomon or selective memory or simple change of heart. I would not mind initialing every page of a script as part of a contract obligating me to stick to what was written, but I often say it would be absurd to initial the ether to obligate myself to improvisation.

As a writer, I naturally want my writing vindicated. That can’t happen if I let the clashing objectives of others change or trade out what was written. Someone may like what are perceived as the broad strokes or story, but that is a container for the stuff I really care about, specific lines or images that may even subvert the expected message of the plot. There might be a format obligation to character arc, which means that either the start of a story or the resolution of a story presents a character as something other that he or she is best defined. Is Darth Vader a wise force ghost, fully redeemed, or is he best remembered as a petulant young man with control issues easily misled into becoming a functionary and then an iconic monster?

By the time I am asking anyone to be involved in a project, I have refined my script and generated storyboard sketches of camera decisions based on the beats of each scene as currently written. Others thrive on chaos. I don’t. It is heartbreaking to realize that someone in a room has intentions to throw a project off track and force you to approach the work their way. That’s when time has to be taken to have the hard conversation or to distribute a director’s note or manifesto or mission statement or anything that plainly states where you are coming from.

I would rather have no movie than have the wrong movie. I’ve gone through “the process” enough times to know that. Read the script, as much of a slog as it may be, and make an informed choice about whether you want to be involved with this movie. The only people cast in speaking roles will be those willing and able to learn the lines, rehearse, hit their marks, and get the pacing right. Most of the reading will be fast and flat, like a pebble skimming over the water, unless otherwise directed. Even if someone is an accomplished improviser, there should be no expectation of improvisation or co-writing. The biggest mistake a lot of movies, especially low budget, make is to have the script in flux.

The script will weed people out. It will choose who is the right fit for it, not the other way around. Anything I write is expected to alienate those on either the extreme right or extreme left of the political spectrum, and I plan to follow every problematic word of the script. That should be the default expectation going in. I will also follow the directorial plan I have story boarded. If that cramps anyone’s style, I’m sorry to have them withdraw from the project but I would be more sorry to have a creative tug of war or spend time on set fixing something that isn’t broken or placating an actor’s ego. The writer-director’s ego can be a factor but as the person who must take full responsibility for the final product (or lack of one) who does not wish to pass the buck over whose will overruled the original vision, he or she (or a grammatically incorrect they) has a concrete practical justification to stay the course.

You may like someone and think that you want to collaborate with or cast them, but ideology can be such a divide (even between center left and far left) that there is a danger of being stung along without respect for the vision at hand. It is far better to find out before dates are set that you have creative differences. I keep coming back to a Hollywood Reporter roundtable where Patty Jenkins described the first time Warner spoke to her about a Wonder Woman project and it was not the approach she wanted, and then Thor 2 which also fell apart for the same reason, but then even though more years had passed since her last feature the offer circled back to her once Warner Brothers came to be more receptive to her stated goals for Wonder Woman. She stated that you should drill down when you identify even a small difference between the movie you want and what a potential collaborator wants, because as the project progresses that small difference will grow and you will be making someone else’ movie.

The Evil Dead

Just finished watching the original film The Evil Dead, its outtakes, and listening to the commentary tracks. Interesting that Bruce Campbell claims that while the movie was shot in 1979 it was only finished and in theaters in 1983. imdb lists it as a 1981 movie. So much time has passed that I don’t know whether perhaps it might have appeared in a festival by 1981 and might have been adjusted and placed into theaters a couple of years later, considering that it was unrated and could not get quite the number of theaters because of that. Had it been submitted, it is expected that the movie would have been given an X.

The fun of looking back at this original low budget flick is that it has audacious camera movement and such good instinct, regardless of the pacing some audiences might find slow today but this time around seems just right. The movie is about 85 minutes long. I would not know where to trim it, except that when someone walks into a room and you know something scary may happen it is best not to rush that.

There was a remake simply called Evil Dead but it is not THE Evil Dead. Especially if you are a filmmaker, The Evil Dead (officially 1981) is the most interesting. Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn (1987) may be more slick with production values and more humor (imagine getting a middle finger from your own severed hand), the original is still the better film and more of a must-see. Army of Darkness is the third Evil Dead movie, despite those words not appearing in the title, as it picks up with Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) immediately after the events of Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn. I like it. It is full of superficial fun. But the whole saga was bumped up a notch or two with the profane, politically incorrect, unapologetic TV series Ash Versus Evil Dead which picks up the character decades later with Ash in his fifties as a very flawed “chosen one” who must get hold of the Necronmicon (Book of the Dead), confront the Deadites and the entities that manipulate them. Sam Raimi directed the pilot episode and his style is maintained by his entire team. The introduction of Ash’s father played by Lee Majors made me happy as a life long Six Million Dollar Man fan. And yes, there is a jokey reference to that because Ash has a mechanical hand at that point.

The Evil Dead has as its signature scene a woman being attacked by trees in a way that Campbell and Raimi say loses a segment of the audience, about 25 minutes in. The scene is impressive filmmaking, at once evoking film student wildness and fine tuned inventiveness with an actress Ellen Sandweiss who is uniformly called a good sport having participated in Super 8 films with Raimi and Campbell for years. If it is possible to be whimsical and genuinely horrific. If you don’t want to submit yourself to the tendrils of terror that might creep up your spine watching this deceptively simple small budget movie, at least watch it with one or both of the commentary tracks as a sort of film school.

Friday the 13th (2009) (or 12th Movie)

I first saw this remake at a preview screening offered by Toronto University film club. Great audience reaction. It was directed by Marcus Nispel who had previously remade Conan the Barbarian which was not initially a good sign but he knows what he is doing with the frame. Not sure it needed to have a twenty-minute-plus pre-title sequence. The version I have in my possession is called the “Killer Cut” and I would be hard pressed to say what was added back in. There is still a level of restraint even though the menace of Jason Voorhees is not compromised.

Of the 12 official Jason movies or Friday the 13th movies to date (a lot more would have happened if not for rights issues holding it up), the ones I might be able to recommend are these:

Friday the 13th The Final Chapter (1984) Despite the wishful thinking of this title, it is well directed even if it includes a coroner attendant who has unwholesome intentions toward a body and it is played for laughs, as is his inevitable demise. The movie has Crispin Glover one year before he gave us the weird George McFly, and Corey Feldman answers the question of who would win in a fight – a Goonie or Jason Voorhees.

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives has an element of wit, including an early shot that evokes the James Bond logo with a strolling Jason turning to throw a machete instead of shoot a gun but with similar blood oozing down the screen.

Friday the 13th Part 3 I have this on DVD with 3D glasses. This is where the character found his notorious hockey mask the first time around. It has edge of your seat moments and is better than it deserves to be.

Friday the 13th (2009) This movie gives you an original, although the inciting incident at the start is now 1980 and the tendency for Jason to show up anywhere and sense potential victims in the woods is explained by an underground tunnel system with bells that alert him. If you needed that explanation, you now have it.

Out of curiosity for a huge variation on the theme, there is Jason X with a cameo by David Cronenberg, and an interesting sci-fi twist. Stupid but still intense where it has to be. And there is the somewhat fun and insane, hugely compromised but entertaining Freddy Versus Jason. It unfortunately deleted much of the jokey dialogue Freddy had become known for and you have to get past things like why an injection will render an already undead character unconscious.

The worst might be Jason Goes to Hell. Despite an opening segment that is effective and culminates in the military confronting Jason, the desire of producer (and original 1980 film director) Sean S. Cunningham to get rid of the goalie mask and make something “original,” we have to endure a meandering story where Jason’s heart falls free of his destroyed body and it can make its way into the mouth or another orifice of other people it encounters to take them over to resume his evil ways. At one point Erin Grey (Col, Wilma Deering on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century) is on the floor and the Jason heart slides between her legs. And I’m sorry you had to read that. One decent character evokes Quint from Jaws as he offers to kill Jason once and for all, “You get the mask, the machete, the whole damn thing.” Except that the mask had been out of the equation by that point. There is an amusing final thought as implied by the title that has Freddy’s knife hand reach from hell to retrieve the Jason mask. The following clip should be cued to it.

Raise a Little Hell

Hellraiser used to seem like it had a confusing story to me. I’d seen it and immediately forgotten what happens. But now I might have a handle on it. Most of the movie takes place in one house, apart from bookend scenes about buying a magical device that won’t be confused with Rubic’s Cube. The cube kills a man who had been living in his brother’s home and having an affair with his brother’s wife. One day, the brother is helping movers do their job and accidentally gouges his hand on a nail that honestly should not have been missed. His blood drips into the floorboards and partially resurrects the dead sibling who then compels the cuckolding wife to lure men into the attic for would-be trysts so they can be sacrificed and their life’s blood can restore the flesh of the abomination. The teenage daughter is caught in the middle, as she witnesses the half-restored uncle and interacts with hellish creatures called Cenobites who want the cube that started the whole mess. The DVD has an excellent laconic audio commentary by Clive Barker and the actress Ashley Laurence who plays the teenager Kirsty.

Discussions involve the evolution of ideas as they are brought to life with a relatively limited budget of one million dollars 1987 money. They kept it simple enough and focused, often to a point where if the frame had moved a little to the left or right the illusion of location might be destroyed. A little is said without naming titles that some far more expensive movies in horror rely on jump scares but this movie is more about a sense of creepiness and sustained dread while still having a touch of organic humor. It has some of the Eighties look that you might expect, but it can draw the viewer in. I took these movies for granted in my own youth and have only seen the first Hellraiser. The iconic “Pinhead” mouthpiece of the Cenobites continues and As does Ashley Lawrence as Kirsty Cotton who appears in the second and third of the series. Barker is self deprecating about his “amateur status” as a director but what ends up on screen fools us well enough. At one point Barker had offered to write a script Pinhead Versus Michael Meyers if John Carpenter would have agreed to direct it but Carpenter wanted to leave his creation The Shape alone. Personally, I wish Carpenter had agreed. It would have given The Shape genuine demonic status, even if the “Versus” gimmick is inherently has a ring to it of pandering to the market.

Some Halloween Viewing

Splice – From Vincenzo Natali the director of Cube, Splice involves Sarah Polley as a scientist and her associate Adrien Brody crossing a line in terms of getting to know a half-human hybrid.

Hostel and Hostel II These ones are directed by Eric Roth and are two sides of the same coin, the second focusing more on the machinations behind the scenes of the organization behind the evil abductions that have become a thriving business in the service of horrible people. Much of these films are gut wrenching as well as allowing the protagonists to vent and have a catharsis of sorts

Saw – I only have the first one and may have also seen a couple of the later sequels but have little interest in the premise because I have to turn these movies off as some of the suspense or dread builds before something terrible happens. But the first movie has a certain focus to it, and the low budget confines work in its favor in the hands of director James Waan.

Fido – Canadian movie with Carrie Anne Moss and with Billy Connelly as a pet zombie. I had this on DVD, enjoyed it, and then made the mistake of lending it to a guy that was going to produce one of my movies. He moved and never gave it back. So that is the horror aspect.

Dawn of the Dead (2004 James Gunn script) I am nostalgic about the original Romero movie, but this is a rare remake that is as good.

John Carpenter’s The Thing is technically a new adaptation of Who Goes There, but it is perceived as a remake of The Thing From Another World. It is the best version.

The Thing (2011) Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a scientist recruited to join a Norweigan team that is claiming a find in the Arctic. It is not a remake, despite the title, but a prequel showing the events leading up to Carpenter’s film.

Us (2018) effectively directed and conceived movie about doppelgangers on one level and on another about the arbitrary circumstances with which we find ourselves with advantages in life as Eloi as opposed to being in a life of disadvantage and suffering like Morlocks. There has been push back from the praise this movie has received, because of a rush to cater to diversity. But the movie viewed on its own terms is deserving of success.

Get Out (2017) Jordan Peele broke out as a feature director with this interesting mash-up of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Being John Malcovich. It is not especially scary enough to be straight horror and it is not really funny enough to earn the comedy classification it often gets. But there are scares and laughs.

A Quiet Place (2018) Solid cinematic directorial debut of John Krasinski. The premise of survivors needing to remain silent so they do not alert a monster lends itself to visual storytelling which is often a lost art. Solid.

Psycho (1960) versus Psycho (1998) The original Hitchcock film may seem quaint and slow, but it fits into the aesthetic of black and white and the late fifties. The remake replaces the line where the detective reacts to the story Norman tells with, “If it doesn’t gel it isn’t aspic” with, “If it doesn’t gel it isn’t Jell-o.” So that is an improvement over the original. The opening establishing shot of the city of Phoenix flies without any cut or dissolve right up to the building and into the window seamlessly thanks to digital technology, much as we can assume Hitchcock would have preferred to do, so that is no sin. A couple of scenes are shuffled around by the original credited screenwriter Joseph Stephano, and the director Gus Van Sant ads trippy flashes of abstract images of storms and the like during each murder, as well as including an overhead shot of the fallen Marion Crane and her bare buttocks in the shower that might have been in the original film’s footage but would have been omitted. Anthony Perkins owns the role of Norman Bates, and given the time period of the original it is believable that as an adult he might be so isolated and have a pathology about women. Vince Vaughn in the America of 1998 is less likely to feel isolation and avoid the city due to a sense of rejection. The shot for shot remake taking its guidance from Hichcock’s framings feels like it might have been a hollow chore for Van Sant, and he may have wanted to do it as an exercise but the proverbial storyboarded vision is Hitchcock’s so Van Sant is merely on-set director or co-director

The Babadook (2014) Bret Easton Ellis and Quentin Tarantino discussed this film on the BEE podcast, and both agreed that it was well done, QT stating that the acting was good and Ellis calling it the direction, but both also agreeing that they wish the monster itself had turned out to be a true monster and not a vessel for personifying a woman’s abuse and PTSD. This is a good point and there is a chance that much of the support for this movie is powered by those who actually like the issue behind it. I agree with QT and BEE, though as I praise the direction I don’t say “the acting” is the result. I tend to take good acting for granted, since there are a wealth of performers to choose from in a major film. I can blame bad acting on a director. But it is primarily the use of the frame that inspires my faith in a director. Jennifer Kent knows what she is doing here.

Halloween (1978) John Carpenter’s classic is easily the best, simple and full of what might be called concept shots, decisive and focused. Love it from the opening titles and Carpenter’s oddly catchy theme tune. It is okay to watch Halloween II, written by Carpenter and Debra Hill but directed by Rick (Bad Boys with Sean Penn) Rosenthal. It allows hospitalized Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) to be sedated for a chunk of the movie. Don’t knock out your protagonist !!! And it introduces ideas about Michael Meyers being the brother of Laurie Strode that is ret-conned in Halloween (2018) so you could skip to that more recent film.