Saturday, November 29, 2008

X Films:True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker

Here's a Christmas gift idea for yourself, or that filmmaker complicating your life. I have this book and just finished reading it to get my mind momentarily off the clown-car onParliament Hill driving around Ottawa. Alex Cox has made some of my most admired and favourite movies out there. Especially Repo Man, Sid and Nancy, Walker and the little seen El Patrullero (Highway Patrolman). Not only does he walk you through the nuts and bolts of getting these ten fantastic oddities on to the screen (including financing), but he still possesses a lot of passion and inspiration. For example:

"Talking to students and younger people now, I get the impression that they think a film is 'given' to a filmmaker - by a studio, or a production company. This is not so. If you are a real filmmaker, a film is something you personally conceive, and then, in partnership with similarly minded colleagues, make yourself. ... It is entirely within your power."

Cox and myself have a similar love for Once upon a Time in the West, The Searchers, The Clash, Mexican food and a DIY attitude. Some of the stories are spicy, including getting punched in the face by an extra...who waited until the last day of photography to do it. The only dirt I wished he had touched upon, was getting fired from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He's also a huge activist when it comes to fighting lousy copyright laws.

"On Paul Robeson's tombstone are the words ' The artist must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I made my choice. I had no alternative.' What this great actor said applies to writers, to journalists, and indeed to almost everybody. But not everyone is in the fortunate position of the artist, able to weigh the political implications of each possible job, and to accept or reject the work accordingly. The choices that we make, as artists, hackers, or filmmakers, are visible in our work. No one is forced to make a film. Slavery is profitable. Freedom is difficult. Money is plentiful for those who promote obedience; it's in short supply for those who disobey. And yet, all over the world, people refuse to be slaves, and give up careers, and even lives, because their sense of self-worth, or their communities survival obliges them to. Another world is possible."

His ideas for a new film or digital world will get your gears turning. You may not agree with all of it, but it does get the blood flowing. If you run across the book, pick it up. You won't be disappointed. If you want to know more about the man go to his website.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Burn It Down

Finished a last pass of screenplay called 'Final Girl' and sent off to my writing partner to clean up. Then off it goes to Corus...if there's any money left in the last draw-down. Contractually there is. For the next few months I'm done with it. I'm creatively tapped out. In other words...I got nothin'...for now. Do I think it's perfect? Nope. But it's a hell of a lot better than scripts falling across my desktop and cloggin the email that are going into production and frantically trying to 'fix it' as they prep. Anyway, other projects call my name, one of which has received some dough. I'll write about them later.

Meanwhile, Canadian Broadcasters are culling the deadwood and trying to build a new business model in an economic crisis. Or hold onto the old's hard to tell. While I'm sure some folks I know will be hurt by the moves, my empathy is there, but I have little sympathy. See my old post 'Blood Clots in the Revenue Stream' from October. All of us, consumers and content creators have been barking for changes, so here they come. Will they all turn out like you hoped? Probably not, but maybe...just can become leaner and meaner and start rewarding success instead of failure. But it took a crisis and a CRTCruling to burn down the barn and get the old horses running off. Jim Henshaw makes some good points on hisblog. 

So, are we driving down a disappearing lane with a dead end? Broadcasters will inevitably stink up the place with howls of 'Now we can't even afford Canadian content'. Maybe, but that's an old song that's been sung for years. They have barely provided Canadian content anyway. Maybe it's an excuse to pull a few licenses on channels that claim they are providing new content. Every time I turn on the friggin TV I have so many channels that have the same four shows showing over and over that my head swims with resentment. The three Canuckbroadcasters that double and triple dip the consumer and then reported billions in profit. They are the skunk under the house who just keeps coming back with the same smell.

I know what your thinking. Trevor, you should be concerned because now all of these broadcasters have no money to help put your scripts in front of the camera. Really? They never did in the first place. Speciality Cable companies, Americans and Europeans put dough in my work. Not the Big-3 Canadian broadcasters. And that just doesn't include me, it is friends, family and fellow workers in the industry. Yep. Times will be lean, but when aren't they.

The real keys are timing, good work, and the learned ability to know a hot wire when you see one. People who count on luck don't last long in this business of defusing bombs and Canadian broadcasters have been churning out bombs, depending on luck and free money. They connected the wrong wires this time. But, like all human beings and nature's predators, they followed the path of least resistance.

Maybe that makes me an anarchist who wants to watch it all burn so that something else takes it place. Maybe. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that I have a dark sense of humour. Which reminds me, it does my heart good when I see Heath Ledger already being pushed as a 'Supporting Actor' candidate in the up coming Oscar votes.

So, that's about it for my half-assed wisdom for tonight. Right now I am focused on going out in my back yard and shooting a metaphorical bear who weighs five hundred pounds and is in a feeding frenzy. He wants my time, my money and sympathy. I don't have any. Not tonight. Just a shotgun and a 'redneck' attitude. I don't want to kill the bear. Just sting it in the ass and make it move along and stop digging in the garbage. I'm a territorialman. I don't mind sharing with him, but the bear is rude and he makes a mess when he eats. I'm sure you can guess what the bear is.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Stitches in the Bone Garden

Here we are. Cool fog raising goose flesh on your arms. The full moon shining up above. Gnarled branches scratching the night sky. A forest of marble monuments and tombstones looming before you. You recognize the scene, don't you? Sure you do. Any horror writer worth his salt recognizes Dr. Frankenstein's favourite bone garden. Just as you remember why the good doctor invariably makes the cemetery his first stop, it's the mad scientist's first rule - if you're gonna make a monster, your gonna need parts.

Creating a script isn't much different. Just as Frankenstein's Monster is a crazy quilt of dear-departed humanity, your script will be an amalgam of influences. Which is why you must...get read widely. Mad scientists open graves. Writers open books. Books? 'Why I have all the screenwriting books in the world!" you say.

Recently I have been catching up on my reading. I've learned a great deal from novelists in all kinds of genres. For me, crime writers are a big influence in developing elements of my work. I learn a great deal about pace and plot and have found my best teachers in writers such as Elmore Leonard, Jim Thompson, John D. Macdonald and lately Duane Swierczynski. Now please, don't get the impression that I'm telling you to imitate other writers, especially when it comes to style, but you could learn a thing or two from these folks. For instance, take Elmore Leonard's ten rules for writing:

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than ''said'' to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ''said'' . . .
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
6. Never use the words ''suddenly'' or ''all hell broke loose.''
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
Not all of that can be applied to screenplays, but it is inspiring. Leonard says his most important rule is one that sums up the ten: "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

Now, back to the monster you want to create, and you're still determined to make a go of this mad scientist business. You're stitching it together, working everyday. You're reading. You're writing. You're putting in the time. But you don't want to overdo it. What do I mean? Too much 'mood' and an extra dollop of flowery description and your story will read like a parody. It's the 'hey Ma, look at me write' syndrome and it's usually from over-thinking and creating prose. Too much of a good thing is indeed too much of a good thing.

But also remember that even Dr. Frankenstein had his failures. That nasty bit of business with Igor and the abnormal brain, for example. But the good doc wasn't a quitter. When things didn't work out the way he'd planned, Victor Frankenstein always got out his shovel and headed back to the cemetery. So don't give up. Put in the time. Write and READ something other than this blog and get the fuck off facebook for a while and stitch that monster together. Would it kill you to read a book?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Donkeys and Flares

" There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it," said theultimate master of terror, Alfred Hitchcock. I read a couple of my favourite blogs this morning, Boot in the Pants and Dead Things ON Sticks. Both writing about imminent disaster, canceling Christmas and the down-sizing of Canadian networks and images of buildings being demolished. Read 'em. They're good. Don't be lazy, just go to the sidebar.

Today a pretty young woman came knocking on my door and she had brought her kid with her. Who could this be? I opened the door and said " Hi." She smiled, said hello, then quickly asked "How do you define success?" "That's a pretty big question" was all I could say. Then I looked at what she was carrying in her hand, and...well...I'll get to the rest later, but above is a picture of what she gave me.

Millions of people around the world are watching headlines these days, most of them are getting pumped full of fear. Good news is out of the question in this brutal year of our Lord 2008. This, it would appear, to be the time of the Final Shit Rain, as Nostradamus predicted in 1444 A.D. I think the Aztecs, according to their calenders, have all of us croaking around 2012. Anybody who thinks these prophets and media-types are kidding should strut out, like some all-American girl with a head full of hope, and try and get a job. Yes sir, little sweetie, just walk right up here and get what's coming to you. By all media accounts, welcome to bombs and poverty. You are about to start paying for the sins of your gas-guzzling fathers and yummy mommies with credit cards.

The deal is going south and we're down to our last cannonball. Don't even get started on Christmas and the retail market. Nobody ever seems to have money on Christmas anyway? The only difference is that the rich are begging for bailouts and jabbering frantically into their cellphones and Blackberries about Santa Claus and suicide or joining a church with no rules. We the taxpayer are about to become Santa Claus for these nitwits. Who knows why? But politicians will have their reasons. They'll fashion some horrible Kafka-like economic story to convince us it's a good thing. But in the end, it won't matter any more than a full moon behind the clouds. These folks are like that drunken friend who keeps wanting to borrow money...just for that they can get better. They say that they're in a 'transition period' and just need a few bucks to get them through. Then they keep coming back every few years pleading the same case.

Anyway, it appears (according to the media, banks and my mystery visitor) I should invest in a mule, saddle it with pots, pans and other provisions and wait for the coming collapse. It'll be like going to the bridge inApocalypse Now...magnum phosphorus flares in the air, weeping, no one is in charge and all you can do is pray. Speaking of praying, back to my visitor this morning.

If you haven't figured out by now, she was a Jehovah's Witness. She asked if I define success by fame, money or power? I didn't have an answer. But my guess is this: get on with foot in front of the step at a time.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Professionals and Amateurs

When I say professional, I don't mean doctors and lawyers, those of 'the professions'. I mean the Professional as an ideal. The professional in contrast to the amateur. Consider the differences. Here is what Pressfields 'The War of Art' states:

The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps. To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it's his vocation. The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time. The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.

The word amateur comes from the Latin root meaning 'to love.' The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while the pro does it for money. Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his 'real' vocation.

The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time. All of us are pros in one area: our jobs. We get a paycheck. We work for money. We are professionals. Here are the principles:
- we show up everyday
- we show up no matter what
- we stay on the job all day
- we are committed over the long haul
- the stakes for us are high and real
- we accept renumeration for our labour
- we master the technique of our job
- we receive praise and blame from the real world

Now consider the amateur and how he pursues his calling:
- he doesn't show up everyday
- he doesn't show up no matter what
- he doesn't stay on the job all day
- he is not in it for the long haul
- the stakes are illusions and fake
- he does not get money
- has not mastered technique because no work is committed to
- he does expose his work to the real world, only support groups, friends or family

Nothing is as empowering as real-world validation, even if it's for failure. Someone asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. "I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp."

That's a professional. Maugham was saying a deeper truth: that by performing the mundane physical act of sitting down and starting the work on time, he set in motion a sequence of events that produced a result. He knew if he built it and did the work, the Muse would come.

Unfortunately, we are in the time of the amateur in my profession. Below is a satirical report from The Onion. Funny as it is, this satire works because it is based on a truth.

YouTube Contest Challenges Users To Make A 'Good' Video

Funny, but satire has a whole load of truth.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Breakdown

When I'm hired to do breakdowns or schedules for producers based on a screenplay they have in development, I'm always blown away. Why? After reading the screenplay several times and 'tagging it', there are SO MANY SCENES ABOUT NOTHING. Followed closely by crap that is unfilmable.

These 'breakdowns' are also referred to as 'boarding', a process of organizing the film into a literal or theoretical shoot. This helps in budgeting, of course, and logistics...really, it's all about how much money are we spending? Some of you may know this, but a board is made up showing the scene numbers, the characters, physical elements (cars, stunts, effects etc). The scene is identified by both number and by logline, a description of the scene just sufficient for its ID eg., Johnny looks at the map. Will Dixon falls down the stairs. I was preparing one this weekend and have done so many I have lost count. I looked at the board when it was finished, reading the loglines, and saw that three of the scenes had the 'same logline'. Actually, A LOT of the scenes had similar loglines. I re-read and realized that those scenes are indeed about the same thing.

What's my advice? If you can't figure out what the scene is about CUT IT. If it is necessary, than only once.

They say you get to make a movie three times. When you write it, when you shoot it, and when you cut it. I believe one really doesn't start to learn how to write a script until on has been on a set. On the set you learn the difference between what is filmable and what are merely pretty words. Some screenplays I breakdown as a First AD read like a personals column. The descriptions of characters are: beautiful, smart, funny, likes long walks in the park, honest, sexy. Others are about what can be seen out the window in a particular office. Better yet,'She's the kind of girl who....', which you can write all day but neither helps an actor or director or me in helping to implement it. All of these scripts read like begging letters that are trying to please. What's wrong with trying to please? Nothing. But all that gobblygook has worked not to please the audience but some co-dependent or mysterious 'other' that has little baring on the story.

Another says it better than I....

A script is a succession of scenes, each scene must end so that the protagonist is thwarted in his/her goal - so that he/she is forced to go to the next scene to get what they want. That's it . That's all you really need. The scene need not be ' interesting', 'meaningful' 'revelatory of character', and so on, all of these are synonyms for 'it stinks on ice'. - David Mamet

Another peice of advice: Use some of your development money to do a preliminary breakdown and have your screenplay 'boarded'. It'll be an eye-opener in terms of what is filmable and give you a fighting chance to see it going beyond gathering dust on your book shelf.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Show, Don't Tell

One of my favourite movies is Michael Mann's "Thief" . It is from a different time, 1981 to be exact. Today, hard boiled noir and thrillers have been devalued by the routine repetition of the same dumb chases, sex scenes, and gunfights. Not that I don't like that in a cheap sort of way, but "Thief" is completely out of the ordinary. And there is not aCGI car crash or stunt in sight. Then again, filmmakers did not have those tools at their disposal. So am I just being nostalgic? No. There are other reasons.

The movie stars James Caan and as the movie opens, he's been free four years, and lives in Chicago. He is a highly skilled professional thief -- a trade he learned behind bars from Okla (Willie Nelson), a master thief. The film's opening sequence establishesCaan's expertise as he cracks a safe with a portable drill and an 8,000 degree thermal lance used to cut through a nearly impregnable safe. Some of the bit parts are played by real-life, highly successful jewel thieves, who acted as consultants. And their presence informs the superb dialogue, as every word rings true. To add to the fun, Mann cast real ex-cops to play the criminals. The movie leads up to one final caper, a $4 million diamond heist in Los Angeles, and then it ends in a series of double crosses and a rain of violence.

I keep going back to this movie every few years for several reasons. One is that "Thief" is able to convince us that it knows its subject, knows about the methods and criminal personalities of its characters. Another is that it's well cast: Every important performance in this movie successfully creates a plausible person, instead of the stock-company supporting characters we might have expected. And the film moves at a taut pace, creating tension and anxiety through very effective photography and a wound-up, pulsing score by Tangerine Dream. Though only slightly dated, it is still one of those soundtracks I'll write to, along with Vangelis' 'Blade Runner'.

Thief was Michael Mann's first theatrical film, and all the elements that characterize his later style (and this is a very stylistic film) are dominant. I love the story . It is simple and well-realized. The opening sequence and it's music remain one of my favourites. Visual story telling at it's best with so little dialogue you could count the lines on one hand. Something I still struggle to aspire to in my own screenplays. We participate with the Thief's plight and the movie shows instead of telling. That's why it still stands up today. The first ten minutes are posted above, but do yourself a favour. Find. Rent it and enjoy it on a bigger screen than this.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Cold Weather and Boneheaded Predictions

It's playoff time and with it comes the weather. Rain and hopefully snow. I wish I were at Taylor Field (fuck the Mosaic-pesticide-Stadium moniker that hurts my ears every time it's spoken) with a thermos full of hot rum. Here are my predictions this week. Last week I was awful (1-3). but, for the most part I've been dead-on this year. But...BUT...the playoffs can be a whole different world in the CFL and making predictions about it seem boneheaded. Here it goes anyway...

1:00 PM Saturday, November 08, 2008

This game could go either way, but I was not impressed with the play of Edmonton last week against Montreal team that sat a lot of starters. It was an exhibition game in my books, and as I've stated before, I can't recall a first place finisher EVER benefiting from sitting starters in the past five years. Especially in the playoffs. It has amounted the stale play and horrible choking when the time counts. But more on Montreal later, onward. In a playoff game with lousy weather, we all know the running game can be the difference between winning and losing. For Edmonton to win, they need to stop the combination of Fred Reid and Joe Smith. Both running backs from September through October have played very well. If either of these backs have a big afternoon, Winnipeg can beat Edmonton. Of the six teams that are in the playoffs, it is the Eskimos that have displayed the highest level of inconsistency complimented by poor coaching. When you look at what happened between the two teams this season, they split their season series with each team winning at home. Can Winnipeg establish Reid and Smith? Can Ray play as well this week as he did last week? Of these two questions, I think the latter is more likely to have a positive answer. Ray outshines Glenn in this one. And I HATE the Eskimos. Edmonton moves on to the East Final in Montreal. Prediction: Edmonton 26, Winnipeg 17.

Final: Edmonton 29. Winnipeg 21. The score flatters Winnipeg. Could a home playoff game and it's fans and team look more flat even at kick-off? Milt Stegall and The Press say Kevin Glenn considers himself part of the leagues under-appreciated QBs. Well, those top tier QBs win games when it counts and you, Mr. Glenn, have not EARNED that title. This attitude is what awarded Glenn a trade and release from Saskatchewan years ago. He thinks he deserves things without earning them. Edmonton rightfully moves on. Winnipeg should fire it's rabid/asshole coach who only inspires flaccid play and bring in fresh eyes on a mouthy bunch who do not understand hard work.

4:30 PM Saturday, November 08, 2008

Oh boy. Toss a coin. And why the hell are the Lions considered under-dogs? You can read all the papers and the pundits about this game. The Roughriders have the definite advantage playing at home, as they have a unique energy level at Taylor Field. The energy level will be higher than ever before, along with heavy drinking and an ugly attitude in the stands. Police and security have been tripled for this game. The Lions have won two-of-three against the Riders this season. Going into this game, there is a nasty point to make, and that is the Lions have recently won in Regina and were pelted with booze as a result. Riders' quarterback Michael Bishop is going to make some mistakes. The Lions have the best defensive line in the CFL this season. The Riders defensive front four has looked long in the tooth. Chick is back, but will he make a difference? If Bishop repeats his four interception performance of last week's game against Toronto, this one will be over very quickly and B.C. will move on to the West Final in Calgary by half-time. You've heard it a thousand friggin' times, but to win games, you eliminate the mistakes. For the Lions, their biggest challenge will be the Rider defence and more specifically, the linebackers. The Riders' linebackers and defensive linemen need to be ready to play because it will be up to them to win this game.The Lions' combination of Buck Pierce and Jarious Jackson provides an edge at quarterback over Bishop. What is NOT being discussed are special teams. Neither team set the house on fire in this regard, but Saskatchewan is probably the worst in the League in terms of coverage and returns. My hands tremble as I write this and I will be flogged by Saskatchewan pals, but in the end, I think the Lions will advance to next week's final. Prediction: BC 33, Riders 28.

Final: BC 33. Saskatchewan 12. To say the Riders under-performed is an understatement. The better team a long shot. I'm not surprised and you have proof by reading the above. Eric Tillman is not a dumb man. Look for Miller and him to recruit or sign a major QB. Solidify an aging offensive and defensive line. The special teams fumbled twice tonight and Micheal Bishop's career is over as a starting QB. The rest are all stars.

Happy betting and Your Welcome!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

EAGLES OF DEATH METAL - I Want You So Hard (Boy's Bad News)


Eagles of Death Metal Gets a Heart On

While I've been working on ' Final Girl', I can't top listening to this band. Eagles of Death Metal is was formed by Jesse Hughes and Josh Homme. Despite the name, Eagles of Death Metal is not a death metal band. Josh Homme inspired him to write music that he thought would be The Eagles crossed with death metal, and their debut album was the result. The sound of the band is a combination of bluegrass slide guitar mixed with stripper drum beats and Canned Heat vocals.

EODM's latest fabulous weapon, 'Heart On', is a top-secret music missile, a sonic warhead sexually tipped for her pleasure, shot from the deck of USS Mantastic Fantastic.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

45 RPM

Here's a cool little 'coming-of-age' movie called ' 45 rpm'. I worked on the show last year and it should be showing up near you soon. Was I damn excited to work with Michael Madsen? Oh yeah! As First AD, I hid my silly fan boy awe. A pro and a fantastic guy.
Here's the synopsis:

It’s the Autumn of 1960. Fifteen-year-old Parry Tender doesn’t know where to turn. Hassled by the local cop, Parry wants out of his small town hell. He’s lived in Goose Lake all his live. It isn’t much; about two hundred folks in all give or take. It’s five hundred miles north of nowhere which to the satisfaction of the
United States Air Force makes it only five hundred miles south of the “DEWLINE”,
a continent wide chain of early warning radar stations constructed across
Canada’s Arctic during the paranoia of the Cold War. With its four-thousand-foot
gravel runway, Saskatchewan’s Goose Lake is the perfect spot to airlift men and
materials into Canada’s frozen north. It’s all very secret – all very boring – and no
one wants out more than Parry.

Parry isn’t asking for much. He only wants a little more that he already has which
is an old Cree grandfather named Peter George who isn’t even kin, and his best
and only friend Luke, a thirteen year old girl who looks and acts more like a boy.
Parry knows the dangers of small town life. Suicide cured his mother’s troubles,
and his father? Well, that’s another story.

When a fluke atmospheric condition allows a fifty thousand watt Manhattan radio
station to pump its infectious rock’n’roll signal into Canada’s far north and out
through the small paper speaker of Parry’s RCA radio, Luke can’t believe their
luck. WABC – New York, 770 on the AM dial is running a radio contest. The
winner and a guest will be flown to New York City to attend Alan Freed’s Fourth
of July rock’n’roll party at the Brooklyn Paramount. It all seems simple enough.
Parry and Luke will win their escape from Goose Lake. But when Debbie Baxter,
the pretty daughter of an American Army Air Force Major steels Parry’s heart, no
one is certain what will happen next.

Check out the movie's website if you want to know more here.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Slashers and Back Roads

A Final Girl as defined by Carol J. Clover in her book 'Men, Women and Chainsaws': The final girl is a horror film (particularly slasher film) trope that specifically refers to the last woman or girl alive to confront the killer, ostensibly the one left to tell the story. 

The final girl is typically sexually unavailable or virginal, avoiding the vices of the victims (sex, narcotic usage, etc). She sometimes has a unisex name (e.g. Teddy, Billie, Georgie, Sidney). Occasionally the Final Girl will have a shared history with the killer. The final girl is the "investigating consciousness" of the film, moving the narrative forward and as such, she exhibits intelligence, curiosity, and vigilance.

I'm diving into another round of 'Final Girl' this week, based on notes from my collaborator, Noel Baker (Hard Core Logo). Killer first act. Nasty, fun third act. Guess where the problems are? Yep. Second Act. But I look forward to it. It's chance to fix plot holes, flesh-out motives, speed up the pace...and knock-off more characters. In other words, more layers to this blood-soaked layer cake. For obvious reasons, that's all I can reveal about this script. There is Movie Central development money behind it.

The script is brimming with sex and violence - dismembered limbs, buckets of blood, and gratuitous pantie shots. But under that (the surface elements, not the panties) is a sly sense of humour and 'girl-power'. It's also about small towns.

Growing up in Saskatchewan I can identify with my female protagonist. Small towns and two small cities - the isolation, repression, and all the other plights of being on the prairies. My childhood is haunted by racists, gun-crazy hunters, drunk hordes of football fans, John Deere caps, old high school chums and endless stretches ofunlit gravel back roads. And above all - the fear that one will be eternally trapped in a rural wasteland dying of boredom and routine. But the best of the slasher medium is all about confronting our fears with humour, absurdity, and over-the-top sensibilities. Final Girl taps into that, turning a tired genre on it's head. You may have noticed there is a blogspot in the sidebar called Final Girl. No relation, but check it out if your a slasher genre fan. It's fun to read.

Now, onto that second act.

Monday, November 3, 2008

One Blood Shake and a Side-Order of Blame

And quick please. What am I and a few other 'content creators' blogging about? Well, check out this article about a killer filmmaker. I love horror movies, thrillers and pulp...but here's part of a real story from today's newspapers:

Edmonton filmmaker heads to court in script-written murder-case


November 2, 2008 at 6:44 PM EST

EDMONTON — In a case police call a diabolically cruel convergence of art and life, local filmmaker Mark Twitchell will appear in court tomorrow charged with first-degree murder.

The 29-year-old fervid fan of the psycho-slasher TV show Dexter is accused of luring now-missing JohnnyAltinger to a garage and killing him in a scenario that resembled Mr. Twitchell's latest film project – in which a man is abducted, tortured and hacked to bits.

“We have a lot of information to suggest he definitely idolizes Dexter and a lot of information that he tried to emulate him during this incident,” alleged Edmonton police homicide Detective Mark Anstey.

Dexter, a program on the Showtime network, follows Dexter Morgan, who studies blood spatters for Miami police but leads a secret life as a serial killer, hacking up victims in the name of vigilante justice.

One recent comment on Mr. Twitchell's Facebook social networking site noted he “has way too much in common with Dexter.”

Wow!? Not since my induction into horror screenwriting, marked by a secret blood sabbath and ceremonial branding, have I seen anything more painful. Not only does this old chest-nut of blaming the usual triggers sell papers, but some actually believe it. The usual 'triggers' are blamed for someone with bad fucking wiring. In 1957 it was comic code, Rock and Roll in the 50s and 60s. Rap lyrics in the 90s and now video games, and today...Dexter. As always, the entertainment industry will see collateral damage. It's all done in the name of protecting children, but in reality it's just an insidious form of blaming something deeply troubled in an individual. While I'm sure it's true, he was obsessed with all these things, to blame a TV show is founded on ignorance, fear and dubious evidence.

Let me ask you, my fellow horrorphiles, what springs to mind when I use the word 'romance'? Knowing next to nothing about romance stories myself but full of prejudices anyway, my gut conjures up images of lurid Fabio muscles, heaving bosoms and Shatner-esque line delivery. It has hardly brought out the romantic in audiences and made them sex-starved. But another article bags to differ. This one in The Winnipeg Free Press:

Teen pregnancies tied to tastes for sexy TV shows
November 3rd, 2008
CHICAGO - Groundbreaking research suggests that pregnancy rates are much higher among teens who watch a lot of TV with sexual dialogue and behavior than among those who have tamer viewing tastes.

"Sex and the City," anyone? That was one of the shows used in the research. The new study is the first to link those viewing habits with teen pregnancy, said lead author Anita Chandra, a Rand Corp. behavioral scientist. Teens who watched the raciest shows were twice as likely to become pregnant over the next three years as those who watched few such programs.

Of course media is convenient. I'm curious to see these serial killer and sex-starved teens histories explored. Family influence (or lack of it), peer influence, inner emptiness, lack of a moral compass, economic background and histories of mental illness should be the first place to start. But for now, the entertainment industry will do. Until some journalists and 'experts' actually start REALLY exploring and actually dig further, all you can take from it is another sad case that will be forgotten in a few days. At least, until the trial where the same half-assed theories rear their ugly heads once again. Maybe it's a savage brain stew that involves all of the above. But, for me, some of us humans just aren't 'hooked-up right' and there's no figuring it out.

I think horror entertainment can empower us to endure the hardships of life, which we all face without exception, whether we be literature snobs, Trekkies, or devotees of bodice-rippers, monster-shlock, or Clue. And please do what the supposed experts cannot: take the time to separate the issues instead of lumping them together into bad journalism and histrionic jumble. Be sure to acquaint yourself with the players while your at it.

And in case your wondering and have trouble distinguishing between reality and fiction, that bit about ceremonial branding and blood sabbath was a lie based on a stereotype. Now, off on another draft of my horror script. And as one of my favourite authors, Hunter S. Thompson said, "Welcome to The New Dumb."

For other opinions go here.
And here.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Surveillance - international trailer

A movie I loved working on with Jennifer Lynch...heck...all of the cast and crew. Check it out...Popout

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Canadian Feature Film Solution? (Part 3)

Part three of three. Again, this article by John Harkness was first published in 1995, is a bit dated. But what it has to say is not. As usual, I have interjected with my own two-bits.

3. Federal and Provincial Governments Should Stop Funding Feature-Film Production

My fingers tremble as I process these words. I can’t believe that I’m about to say what I’m about to say. Well, God hates cowards.

The governments, federal and provincial, should stop funding feature-film production. The Canadian government has been pouring money into this financial dry hole for about a quarter of a century now, and exactly what have we gotten for the millions “invested” – a film “industry” that lies continually in intense care, tubes running in and out of its body, dozens of specialists running in and out of the room to monitor its pulse, blood pressure. It’s a Karen Anne Quinlin of a film industry that one one’s willing to pull the plug on.

I once spoke with a producer who had made films on both sides of the border, and he said to me that in the U.S. industry, to be successful as a producer, at some point one must satisfy an audience. It may be an audience plunking down $8 to see the movie in a theatre, it may be an audience renting a video for $3, it may be people turning into you movie when it shows up on television, but an audience must be satisfied or the film is a failure.

In Canada, he said, you never have to satisfy an audience. You have to satisfy Telefilm Canada, the Ontario Film Development Corporation, the CBC, the National Film Board of Canada.

That is, you have to satisfy a group of well-meaning, highly educated cultural bureaucrats. This means three or four things. It means that a filmmaker would be far likelier to get approval for a move that espouses whatever liberal cause is fashionable at the moment than for anything truly audacious, unsettling or interesting. I suspect that the entire career of the terminally tedious Anne Wheeler is based on the fact that she’s a “two-fer” – a woman director and a regional director in one package, fulfilling a big chunk of whatever unconscious quota system exists in the minds of the culture-crats. (and that system exists. A few years ago, I was talking to one of the principals in Deepa Mehta’s Sam and Me, who told they had a devil of a time getting funding because, someone at Telefilm Canada told them, Telefilm already had an Indian film that year.)

When something daring comes through the English-Canadian offices of Telefilm, like John Greyson’s Zero Patience or Srivinas Krishna’s Masala, one can bet that it is being funded not because it is daring, but because it fulfills some minority quotas.

Why does the government fund films? If the intent was to create a viable, working film industry that creates products that audiences want to see, then almost three decades of government funding has been an abject failure in English Canada. Good films have been made, but I would suggest that most of the best films have been made by people so obsessed with their visions that they would have been made whether the government funded them or not. People who need to make the films will make films, whether they get a grant or not. And people who are successful at making films that they have to make will continue to make them.

The government has never done the one thing essential to create a working film industry. It has never guaranteed Canadian films theatre space. How can we have a working film industry without control of the exhibition? On those occasions in the past three decades when the various federal government have made noises about quotas or box-office levies, Jack Valenti, Hollywood’s lobbyist/enforcer, has shown up and got the government to back down.

If the government really wants to create a viable film industry, they shouldn’t be funding production. They should build a theatre chain that would let people see Canadian films in an environment comparable to that in which they see Hollywood films. Perhaps 60 screens to start, and then match distributors dollar for dollar on promotion and advertising. Then we’d see if there’s any sort of market for Canadian films in Canada, rather than who is committed to getting grants, bridging loans and development money.

Here's where I differ, but times have changed since this article. I don't believe theatres are the answer anymore. Canada lost that battle in the 1930s when we sold our theatre chains to the U.S. (on a promise that Hollywood would make Canuck themed-pictures). DVD, BluRay and other formats are accounting for at least 60% of a features revenue anyway. Technology has opened up some opportunities. Even Hollywood films are not making enough dough at the theatre to cover their budgets or marketing expense. It is now treated as an expensive form of advertising dominated by 'tent-pole' $100 million to 200 million dollar movies.

And do I really want a Crown corporation involved in how my film is marketed? That's something filmmakers should be asking. Ask farmers how much they liked the Wheat Board running their business for them.

When it comes to concluding these three parts, a better writer than I has the best quote as to whybureaucracies like Telefilm and others exist. And as long as they exist in their present form, we can expect more of the same.

A film is, in fact, only a courtesy under this system. It functions, as do the endless and proliferating committees of Government, as a repository of bureaucratic power. This power exists, and can exist, only in potential - for should the committee ever come to conclusions, its task, and so its operation as a bureaucratic fiefdom, would cease. So the bureaucrat, studio or otherwise, learns not only of the inadvisability of any test or completion but also of such conclusions absolute foolishness. This lesson, we see, was learned very well by the folks at Eron et al. - executives who saw power to grow wealthy stemmed from the brave decision to stop making anything at all."
- David Mamet (Bambi versus Godzilla)

Reproduced from the archives of Take One Magazine with permission. Web

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