Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Scariest Ride in the Amusement Park


When I meet someone new and tell them I write horror movies I get one of two reactions. Either the person is a fan of horror and gets really excited and wants to talk shop, or I get a look from them like I just said, "I work in pornography and I'm interested in photographing your sister naked."

It's generally one or the other extreme. In fact, it's gotten to the point where I tell people I meet for the first time who want to know about my writing that "I write lots of different genres -- and right now I happen to be writing a horror movie."

They still grimace a bit, so I usually add -- "don't worry, it's not like Saw or Hostel, it's more like Gremlins, you know, old school."

What I'm telling them is true. My preferred genre is horror comedy. But I still feel like I am betraying myself. Why do I have to apologize for writing something I love?

I'm not sure why, but evil stuff seems to flow from my hands when I sit at the computer. I was recently asked to take a plot synopsis that was relatively tame and fill it with creative, nasty stuff so it could become a more convincing horror movie.

It only took me two hours to come up with seven pages of screaming, bloody, mayhem.

The stuff was so nasty, in fact, that at one point during the writing I had a strange moment where I felt sorry for the characters in the film -- as if they were inhabiting an alternate universe and I was the cruel hand of fate, twisting their pleasant lives into excruciating misery.

But man, was it fun!

It's not the only area of my life where I experience this kind of thing:

My favorite music? Heavy metal.

My favorite sport? Cage fighting.

You get the idea.

For better or for worse, I lack the patience to try and convince naysayers why horror should be a respected genre. I could link horror to Greek theater or French Grand Guignol. I could remind them that Edgar Allen Poe was a horror writer and that Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick made horror movies. If I was feeling particularly adventurous, I could spin out some half baked theory about fear and repression and the mediating role of horror movies in relation to the greater horrors of society. Strange, isn't it, that the "guy being tortured in a chair" genre came into vogue around the same time that pictures from Iraqi prisons started showing up in the media?

But the best defense -- or explanation -- for why I write horror comes from Eli Roth, whom I heard speak at the Fangoria during the summer. "I want to make the scariest ride in the amusement park."

That blows away every academic explanation of horror that I've ever heard -- from present day to the ancient Greeks.

"I make the rides that make you puke," Roth added.

In terms of my own writing, I'm not out to make anyone puke, but it's a great analogy. I strive for my own stories to be amusement park rides, more in line with the funhouse than the rollercoaster. And not the Haunted Mansion style funhouse at Disney World, but the kind that gets pulled behind an 18-wheeler and is filled with tattooed snake women and is run by a snaggle-toothed carny with a Megadeth shirt and a sledgehammer.

The scariest ride in the amusement park? Maybe not. But one helluva ride.

Monday, November 19, 2007

God Bless the Damned Children


Sitting in Borders. Fleshing out a new screenplay. A horror movie about forgotten evil crawling from the earth. Released by greed and ignorance. A new dark age for mankind.

There’s a kid across from me. Looks about 16. Black shoes. Black pants. Black shirt. Black trench coat lying over a chair.

He seems like prospective audience for the movie I’m writing.

He’s reading intently. So intently, his eyes seem determined to burn holes through the pages.

I strain to see the title of his book. What do 16-year-old kids who dress in black read while sitting in Borders? If I'm writing a horror movie, I want to know what this young man is reading, because maybe it's what I should be writing.

And not just reading, but reading on Sunday. That’s what day it is. This young fellow could be surfing or playing video games. He could be smoking a doob on the railroad tracks. He could be masturbating to internet porn.

We didn’t have internet porn when I was a kid. The search for porn was like an Arthurian quest.

But this fine young gentleman is in Borders reading.

Reading hardcore. Moving his lips as he scans the pages.

Let me guess. Manga? That's what the young folks like nowadays. I learn forward, cock my head to the side, squint my eyes.

He's reading the Satanic Bible.


Pay attention, Hollywood. The Satanic Bible is your next feature. Starring Ed Norton as Satan and Scarlett Johansen as his nude living altar.

Heck, I didn’t even know that Satanic Bible book was still around.

I remember when I was his age. I dressed in black and read that book too.

Well, not quite read it. More like flipped through and went, eh?

I study the young man in detail. His face is acned. His mouth has no visible teeth. He could be from the fish race people in a Lovecraft story.

I wonder if his appearance has any correlation with his literary choices.

Yep. It’s good to know your audience.

About 30 minutes after writing this piece, a strange yet in retrospect completely predictable thing occurred. The young reader was confronted by a freshly-churched Christian, and for the next hour went round and round with her on topics of salvation, damnation, reincarnation, and the utter hypocrasy of the Bible.

Besides learning that the young man was most definitely going to hell for reading that book, I also learned that he was actually 23 years old and in the military.

Go figure...

Monday, November 12, 2007

How to Support Writers During Strike


The writers strike is on. Despite being a combination of two of my favorite things, writing and fighting the man, I wish there was no strike. It's going to cause a lot of hardship for current writers and make things even harder for younger ones trying to break in by ways other than scabbing.

There's a lot of long-winded articles out there on the nitty gritty of what is happening. For those who want to cut to the chase, it's simple. The internet is going to be huge business for Hollywood and the writers want a piece of it.

I think it's completely reasonable that that writers get a chunk of internet profits and refuse to participate in the system if they don't. Writers create the stories and characters that propel the entire Hollywood ship of state forward, while at the same time suffer being rewritten, second guessed by over-caffeinated marketing chicks, and generally humiliated by uncreative, crass capitalist, coke addled idiots at each step of the production process.

Writers deserve to be compensated for not only thinking of the clever shit that keeps these moguls and their minions knee deep in drugs and whores, but for coping with their script-skimming bullshit every step of the way.

Here's some information from a WGA friend of mine on how you can help, even if you're not in the Writer's Guild:

There are tons of things you can do to help...

Picket with us at any studio, M-Th, either shift: 9AM - 1PM or 1PM -

You can volunteer to answer phones and make calls from WGA
headquarters (same shifts as above, plus a 5 - 9 PM shift if your
evenings are free).

Monday they need volunteers to assemble signs.

6 PM each night at the WGA is van unloading and reloading.

Write letters or make calls to networks, movie studios, and the
companies that own them (ie: Viacom,General Electric, Sony, Disney,
etc.) saying they are losing their business because you do not support
companies that treat the greatest andmost creative minds of their
companies with such utter lack of respect and decency. A current deal
on the table insists the studios should get to dicide when they pay us
for running shows or films in their entirety without paying the
writer, claiming it's only "promotional", even if they are being paid
to air it, surrounded by paid advertising and commercials. It's
ridiculous. They have shown no interest in making a fair deal at all.

Sell any stock you have in said companies... And let it be known why.

...SO much you could do. Thanks for ANYTHING you do. Every little
bit counts!!! Tell all your friends!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Into the Wild


One of my peasants saw Into the Wild the other day and reported thus:

Finally! A movie that deals with real themes and people and shows us places that really exist that we have never seen before. A movie not about James Bond with amnesia. A movie not about cops fed up with the justice system and going on killing sprees. A movie not designed to sell toys, Happy meals, and other consumer crap.

Into the Wild is about as far as you can get from a Hollywood movie while still being anchored in production value, the English language, and comprehensible storytelling technique. It reminded me a lot of 70s road movies like Easy Rider and Two Lane Blacktop -- movies allowed to meander, explore, and contemplate nothing less than existence itself.

Unfortunately, I don't think many people are buying tickets to see the dang thing. That's too bad, because this is a beautiful movie to immerse oneself in, with spectacular location photography in wild and unusual locations, not to mention seldom seen ones like L.A.'s skid row.

Go to a theater to see skid row? Yeah, I know, kind of a strange notion. But I'm tired of seeing Santa Monica Pier in every other movie made. Fuck the Westside. Fuck New York. Show us Vince Vaughn on a combine and Catherine Keener in a Winnebago.

Despite not being good box office, my prediction is that quite a few people will still end up seeing this movie, since it's going to get a ton of Oscar nominations. If it doesn't, then Pluto is going to crash into the earth tomorrow. Ironically, when people see this movie it will be from the comfort of their living rooms, the very thing Wild's anti-hero Christopher McCandless leaves behind in his search for truth, beauty, and a quiet place to read. What irony, in fact, that McCandless' story of existential escapism and anti-consumerism was made into a movie.

Good source material helps, and John Krakaeur's original book is truly an original, giving the McCandless story an historical context. His description of 9th Century Christian monks that got fed up with Iceland for becoming too crowded and therefore rowing off to Greenland is priceless.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Expired from the Expo


I planned to attend all four days of the screenwriting Expo this year, but only made two. I've been swamped building websites (Tuesday I spent 17 grueling hours in front of the computer), so I was only able to attend the weekend days. I hate having to trade off something I love for something I have to do to pay the bills, but that's how it works at this point.

Those two days were first rate. Of all the gurus I heard speak, I liked Bill Martell's classes the best. Bill drove a forklift before becoming a screenwriter, which gives him credentials beyond most anyone with a UCLA film education. Now he writes low budget action movies and the occasional horror piece. Bill confessed that his favorite genre is horror comedy, which is also mine, and one of his favorite movies is Piranha. Now we're talking. And he rides his bike to studio meetings.

Bill's first presentation was on guerrilla marketing your screenplay, where he shared a great technique for calling production companies to sell your wares. Don't. Get your friend to do it for you. Yeah, I'm all over that.

His second presentation was on horror. I disagreed with Bill that Hostel 2 is better than Hostel 1. I like Hostel 1 because it's the only movie I can think of that has no exposition. Also, it truly scared the shit out of me and made me laugh at the same time. Wait -- you mean it's not supposed to be funny?

One final thing I liked about Bill -- no discussion of what page your script should doing such and such. Okay, maybe he talks about that in another class or a book somewhere, but I don't recall hearing any of that on Saturday.

Would someone please come up with a technique for writing movies that doesn't involve counting pages?

I'm back to the grind now. I've been writing some strange cat stories just for the hell of it and figuring out what to do with all the notes and books I managed to amass at the Expo. I think I need a forklift.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Day for Night


Earlier in the year, I hooked up with production company that makes low budget films. Let's rephrase that: it makes ultra low budget films. Let's rephrase that again: it makes ultra ultra low budget films that aren't even films because they're videos.

I found the company on Craig's List. "PA's needed for low budget meteor film." Waging so much of my war on Hollywood from home, I figured this was a good chance to send one of my peasants on a recon mission to check on the state of things in the hinterlands. Nevermind the peasant is 36-years-old and being a PA is the most inglorious job on a film set, he'll be making movies on Thursday while the rest of America is stuffing their fat asses with Doritos and Desperate Housewives.

Plus, what's wrong with a little shit work? It builds character -- and you can't expect to get final cut on your first day on the job, right?

My peasant soon found himself in Topanga Canyon, standing outside a spooky house, watching the sun go down. You see, the company shoots mostly at night, between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. -- or 6 p.m. and 7 a.m., or 6 p.m. and 8 a.m., or... you get the idea. It's funny, even though I went to film school, since my focus was writing (film criticism) and not production, I never quite realized how many films are shot at night.

Why shoot at night? Well, think for a moment about your average film and how many scenes in that film take place at night. Generally, there's at least a dozen -- so of course, these scenes are going to be shot at night.

Now think about horror movies, and how many scenes in horror movies take place at night. Now you get the idea? You can't have girls running from guys with chainsaws when there are bluebirds and rainbows in the sky.

Well, come to think of it, that's not a half-bad idea...

This was a horror movie -- or at least I thought it was -- so the camera started rolling when the sun went down. The first scene involved campers sitting around a lantern (fire was too tricky to shoot, I assume, and would require the purchase of matches), bullshitting and drinking beer and philosophizing about a shooting star they see in the sky. Then the shooting star hits them and they explode.

I later found out the shooting star was sent to earth by none other than Jesus. In fact, the movie was a Christian thriller about what befalls those who don't pray to the right God.

Christian horror. It warms the heart.

My exhausted peasant stumbled into the door the next day and gave me his report. I sent him on several more midnight missions just to make sure his information was correct. I quickly gained new respect for every movie I've even seen that takes place at night.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Storming the Walls with Thirty Peasants


Last week I attended the Sherwood Oaks All Access Weekend. This is where aspiring screenwriters like myself go to meet Hollywood player types. The Hollywood player types sit on a raised platform and talk about their projects and answer questions. Then when they are finished, they get bombarded by aspiring screenwriters like myself pitching their wares.

I don't consider myself a good networker, but I guess I was feeling cheeky since 20 minutes after walking in the room I managed to get one development exec and one director to agree to look at my stuff. These weren't just random folks either -- these were top targets of mine for the type of material I write. For the rest of the day I was asking the heavens -- what in hell did I do right?

You see, I've been attending events like this for about a year now. I generally sit in the corner, take notes, then go looking for the dessert tray.

This one was different. There was no way I could not talk to these two particular people. I simply got in the queue and let it all out.

Dang. I guess it worked.

I even got a cherry with my cake. I got to meet one of the writers of the original Alien and ask him about his screenplay. Now how cool is that?

Later in the day, one of the speakers said that to get noticed as a writer in Hollywood you have to do everything you can -- write, go to events, query, make phone calls... you have to storm the castle walls, and you have thirty peasants.

So, consider this blog one of my peasants. He's mildly literate, so his job is to document the attack in progress. He also does PR work for the peasant army. He looks for other peasants to join the fight and if the bastards still won't yield, to go build a castle somewhere else, run by peasants.

Let the adventure begin.