#19 I’m Still Paying For This Website So…

It’s been about five months since I posted (February 2017). I just re-read that last one and it was an interesting trip down memory lane. I sound like I’ve finally pulled it together, and have been able to move on and move forward after being hung up on Killer Party for so long… I was fooling myself. Saying the right things, but they were merely words. It’s true, I was feeling better about the Killer Party experience, but now I know I wasn’t even halfway out of the hole I had dug.

Here’s the deal in a nutshell: What I thought would be a “summer project” way back in the spring of 2012, became a five year descent into a personal abyss. I wish I were exaggerating, but what follows will be a guided tour into my heart of darkness. Fasten your seatbelt. And keep a barf bag handy.

It was April, we were back in New Jersey for my twin nephews’ baptism. I look forward to our trips “home” and was eagerly anticipating this one. The time with family and friends means a lot. Even more so as I’ve gotten grotesquely older and become a parent. Ever since I left in 2001, a trip to the motherland has focused me and provided clarity for what my path is and what my goals are. I love my time there, and I always feel ready to go back to L.A. and get to work.

Having said that, this April trip was a real doozy.

It all began at O’Leary’s Publik House…

https://www.facebook.com/OLearysPublikHouse/

O’Leary’s is an excellent Jersey City bar and grill owned by my good friend Kevin Hennessey. My brother Frank was the designated driver, which he is kind enough to do on our O’Leary’s excursions. A lot of our friends showed up. It was an awesome night. Right up until it wasn’t.

With my brothers Frank and Pete and good friend John Foster on that fateful evening

 

Old school Johnny Rockets crew (Shar and Raul). My 45 degree head tilt shows how drunk I am.

I drank a lot. Way too much. And sometime before midnight I broke my cardinal rule of “no shots.”

Damn Irish Whiskey.

The Culprit

So I got sick. SICK. S-I-C-K.

Maybe worse than ever. I’ve had some bad ones, but this particular asshole probably takes the gold.

Why, Alex? Why?

You should know better. You’re too old for this shit.

You’re a father.

God, am I an alcoholic?

I like to drink. I can self-medicate with booze. I can binge drink. I’ve had the worst days (or nights) of my life while drinking.

What happened that particular night?

I was having fun. But not too far below the surface, a storm was brewing.  While I was talking and laughing and drinking lots of beer, there were these thoughts swimming around in my head, thoughts that had been there for a long time. “What have I done with my life? I’m a failure. My friends have good jobs, houses, and are halfway to their pensions… Me? I had this stupid idea about writing and making movies and now I’m drowning in credit card debt from a movie that I don’t wanna talk about or even think about, I’m hanging on by a thread at the job I have, and I have no foreseeable prospects for the job I want (and have spent the last fifteen and a half years pursuing).” Not exactly polite conversation.

So I drank.

And became ill on the ride home. Then became violently ill at home. Puking my guts out. It would not quit. Comical quantities. In hindsight, I’ll say that years of bile and venom were pouring out of me.

I was exorcising a demon.

I forget to mention that we went to O’Leary’s the night before the baptism. Which was the next morning. And I’m the godfather of Nick. (1/2 of the dynamic fraternal duo Nick & Nate.)

My bros Luke and Pete with Nick and Nate

This wasn’t a pull yourself together, drink some Gatorade and pop a few Advils hangover. My body was punishing me for the abuse. I took a liquid, and moments later, I expelled a liquid.

We had to get from Dumont to Jersey City. A forty-five minute trek. Normally, I’d drive. Today, Rachael was behind the wheel. But as we left the driveway of my childhood home, I believed that the worst was behind me. Because I’m an optimist.

It was about ten minutes in, right about when we entered Teaneck, that the rumbling started.

“We’re gonna have to pull over.”

The kids were in the backseat. Curious, not alarmed. They’re still blissfully unaware of how screwed up their father is.

My parents were behind us.

And now I’m glad they were. I certainly wasn’t glad at the time.

Rachael pulled into the parking lot of the Teaneck municipal center, and my parents followed. Shit. Seriously? I hopped out of the car and ran to the nearest garbage can. I caught my mother’s eye mid-vomit. I could have just crawled into the can at that moment and called it a day.

The kids could think I had a stomach bug. My parents… as much as they love me, they’re not that naive.

The scene of the crime

“Jesus Christ. Am I this guy? Is this who I am?”

Yup, it’s me. Holding onto this trash can and throwing up in a parking lot.

It was humiliating. More humiliating than any of the shitty experiences of the last four and a half years. And probably the most humiliating of the thirty-six before that. I did not want my parents to see what a fuck up I was.

So I was standing, but I was metaphorically on my knees. Groveling.

“No more! Stop! I’ve seen the light! I’ll change!”

I felt cleansed. I spit and returned to the car. Rachael gave me some gum and we got to Jersey City without further incident. But the demon wasn’t done with me yet.

If I were writing a screenplay about this experience, about the rock-bottom cratering of a forty-year old man with delusions of Hollywood grandeur, I’d probably consider taking him back to where it all started and hit the highlights of his earlier days. We were already in New Jersey. We had a night out with friends that ended badly. Childhood home. Parents, kids… How about a baptism?

The baptism was at Saint Peter’s Prep.

I took this while suffering for my sins
This, too.

My high school. A place I love. A place that loved me back. A place that means a lot to me and my family. I married Rachael there. The education. The friends. The experiences. It was special.

I was a different person back then. Maybe a better person.

Were those the best days of my life?

(Probably not, because I believe I peaked when I was 12.)

I was 17 when I graduated. I was a good kid. I still had a long way to go.

The school has changed a lot since I got my diploma in 1994. It’s changed a lot since Rachael and I were married there in 2006. For instance, the bathroom that I was throwing up in was not there in 2006.

Yes, here I was, at the place where I was possibly my best self more than twenty years ago, kneeling in a bathroom stall and puking into an environmentally friendly toilet.

Fortunately, the demon gave me a momentary reprieve and I made it through the ceremony without baptizing my godchild in something unholy. To even it out, I looked like shit. Like more shit than usual. Nauseous, unshaven, gut sticking out of the shirt and jacket I had bought for the World Premiere of The Shower (Killer Party) at Shriekfest in October 2013 (when I was twenty pounds lighter and still had a glimmer of hope in my eyes).

October 2013
April 2017. Yikes. This was in between bouts of sickness
Poor Nick. What the hell am I doing?

I should have at least gotten a haircut. But I was a mess, and trying to save money by cutting my own hair.

So I spent some quality time on the floor of that bathroom, contemplating my life’s failures in between retches. I deserved to be lying in piss, and in the movie version, I would be, but reality was nicer. (It was an extraordinarily clean bathroom. Good old Prep, looking out for me once again.)

Finally, I was done. Empty. Hollow. I made my way to the reception and tried not to act like I had been puking my brains and other organs out for the last 10-11 hours. The reception was in the cafeteria, which used to be the church, where we got married.

That was Saturday. We were flying back Monday. The rest of the weekend was fine. I didn’t drink. Didn’t feel like drinking. I tried to be present, but mostly I was ashamed. Rachael and I didn’t talk about it until we were driving home from the airport and the kids were asleep in the backseat.

“So are we not drinking anymore?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

The one thing that I did know was that I needed help. I had all the pieces of the puzzle in front me, I could identify them, but I just couldn’t put them together. (Which was unbelievably frustrating. And that frustration fueled plenty of other negativity. I felt like I should have figured it out. And then I felt stupid and weak for not being able to.)

Rachael found someone for me to talk to. A therapist.

The first session was rough. My interpretation of it was he basically asked, “So what are you gonna do with your life? Because this clearly isn’t working and isn’t going to work.” I felt defensive, but a part of me agreed with him. It clearly isn’t working and isn’t going to work without some real changes. My homework for the week was simply to think about what I looked like at six years old and where I lived back then.

Technically, I might have been 7 in this. But I was 6 when the season started.

So I did that, and the next week, he guided me through a meditation where I thought about who I was at six and where we lived, and introduced my current self to that little boy. I wept. I was embarrassed. Ashamed. I didn’t want my younger self to see who he had grown up to be. I hated who I had become. It was a revelation. These last few years, I had only viewed myself as a failure. It was the demon that seeped in and took control.

I didn’t know how bad I felt until I started to really feel better. Feeling like shit every day had become normal. (The therapist is a psychologist, so no drugs. Am I correct to think that’s the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist? The psychiatrist is an MD that can prescribe medicine?)

Yes, I’m Tony Soprano in this scenario

So after that, the puzzle pieces started to fit together. It’s a slow process. I’m not done. Not close to it. But I had stalled for almost five years and I’m finally moving again.

Getting me fixed up is a team effort. For almost half a decade, Rachael has dealt with a very unpleasant, very unhappy person on a daily basis. And that’s not just at her restaurant jobs. (It was me.) Our life wasn’t all coconuts and sunshine before we made the movie, but these last few years have been especially difficult. As she told me the other night, “You were miserable.” I was miserable. My guilt, anger and regret about the movie were with me all the time. But so was Rachael. She stuck by me, loved me, supported me. I’m lucky.

I started reading Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography right before I began therapy and the timing was perfect. If I read it earlier, it wouldn’t have hit me the same way. For a successful rock star, Bruce faced a ton of failure and rejection before finally achieving some success. A lesser person would have quit, but he didn’t. I’m not Bruce Springsteen, but his journey inspired and encouraged me. He also had a terrible relationship with his father, who was a bitter alcoholic. I don’t have a terrible relationship with my father, nor is a he a bitter alcoholic. But in this case, I worried that I might wind up like Bruce’s dad, and Andrew would become the new Boss. Sorry, Andrew, you’re gonna need a different motivation for success.

After that, I re-read Stephen King’s On Writing, and it was also the right time to rediscover King’s most generous gift to writers. I was inspired all over again. King reminded me not to focus so much on plot and to let inspiration be my guide in the first draft. I had become too programmed and too rigid in my creative process. He says if you don’t surprise yourself, you won’t surprise the reader… Based on my trauma with Killer Party, I had focused so much on plot and outcome in my writing and lost the fun and discovery and honesty that brought me there in the first place.

I also have to thank my buddy Travis Lee Stephenson. He suggested I read books about people who achieved great things to inspire me because I’d see how much failure and rejection they endured to get to that place they really wanna go… (corny Bruce reference is mine)

http://www.travisleestephenson.com

Thanks, Trav!

So what’s the moral of this story?

Don’t make a movie. Chances are it will ruin your life.

Nah, go ahead and make a movie. Just don’t do what I did. Any of it.

I think this is Day One. Exhibit A in how not to make a movie.

I let this movie, my first movie, paid for with money from family and friends and credit cards, define my entire existence. It was an all or nothing proposition. And it didn’t work out. The movie could have been better. It also could have been worse. So rather than being an incredible learning experience, it became me. My value. My worth. My epic fail. I stopped believing I could ever succeed because this one thing didn’t work out like I hoped. (And looking back, my expectations were absurd. Here’s some advice: SET REAL, HONEST EXPECTATIONS. FOR EVERYTHING.) Yes, I was writing in the years since, but I was just going through the motions. I didn’t believe. There was no flame.

For almost five years, I also spent a good deal of energy on the “What if” game. What if I did this in pre-production? What if I did this on set? What if I gave up on the movie in January 2013 when a distributor said our initial cut was “unwatchable.” (There have been a few internet commenters who have said the same thing about the finished version. I can laugh about it now.) What if we just focused on finding distribution after our glorious World Premiere at Shriekfest in October 2013? I could go on. And now, I will go on. But it was nearly impossible to do that even three months ago.

If you were telling me this, I’d get mad and say “Shut the eff up! You’re an idiot! Take pride in what you accomplished, get back to work and do better. And you will do better!” But I couldn’t say that to myself, even though I knew it. Instead, I let it devour me.

I feel different now. I feel like myself again. Energetic, hopeful, creative, resilient, inspired. I feel like the person I used to be, before making the movie that nearly ruined my life. But I feel even better than that. I feel lighter. The dead weight of the last few years is gone, but the knowledge I’ve gained is a part of me.

My intention with this post was to close the book on Killer Party (and all that shit), and allow myself to start writing a new story. It has taken up so much of my life, and now I can see and believe that the good outweighs the bad. Thank you for coming along for the ride and listening to my ramblings these last couple years. And in case you haven’t seen the movie, well, it’s available on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu and other VOD outlets.

Awesome artwork by John Allen Phillips. http://www.johnallenphillips.com
LINKS TO KILLER PARTY on Amazon & iTunes

https://www.amazon.com/Killer-Party-Kurt-Ela/dp/B01KBJR688/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1499643006&sr=8-4&keywords=killer+party

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/killer-party/id1136973911

In closing,

the moral of the story is…

I don’t know.

Let’s find out.

#18 So That Happened

I’ve been rejected a lot. The first time I can recall being rejected was when I didn’t make the basketball team in the fourth grade. I had no shot at making it, because it was a fourth-sixth grade team, plus I was terrible at basketball. This didn’t hurt because I had no personal stakes in being on the team. The next major rejection was in the ninth grade, when I didn’t make the St. Peter’s Prep freshman basketball team. A lot had changed in those five years, and one of the main things was that I was now obsessed with basketball. (I was only marginally better as a player.) I survived the first round of cuts and practiced with the team for a week. For those few days, I was living the life I had imagined. That all came to an end when they posted the final cuts for the team. I was informed by my classmate (and freshman basketball star), Jerry Healy, that my name wasn’t on the list. I thought for a second (or hoped) that he was messing with me, but my name wasn’t there. That hurt. I would have been the worst player on the team, more mascot than anything, but that would have been fine. Better than fine. I came close, but wasn’t good enough.

The next big rejection was my senior year when I was wait-listed, then rejected from Georgetown. It wasn’t crushing, but it was my first choice. And I was still obsessed with basketball. And Allen Iverson was a Hoya.

Once again, close but no cigar. (My SATs were a bit low, only 1210. I had done well on practice tests, scoring well over 1300, but decided not to take them again because I was “rejecting” all the stress my classmates were feeling from the test… So maybe I wasn’t smart enough for Georgetown anyway.)

I was rejected by plenty of girls during high school and college. Of course it hurt, but it also helped me with my new passion: writing. I was starting to find my voice, even if it was the cliché voice of the shy guy who pines for the incredibly attractive, supremely intelligent, amazingly down to earth girl with a great sense of humor who loves all the books, movies and music that I loved.

Looking back, if I had made the basketball team, or gotten into Georgetown, or had a girlfriend, I would never have felt the need to write. I would have been happy. I would have put my passions and energy into something else. Something big… I’d probably be the President of the United States right now and Donald Trump would still be on The Celebrity Apprentice.

I’ve written before how it was my rejection from film schools that brought me out to Hollywood. That rejection was good for me. Just like all the rejection that came with writing and getting my ass kicked on a regular basis once I got here.

All those rejections were painful. But I was young and I recovered quickly. I could erase doubt with a six pack and get right back to thinking up the next idea. Those rejections were fuel. They made me want to get better. I believed I could get better. And I wanted to get better.

Let’s jump ahead to August of 2016.

Four years after we started shooting The Shower/Killer Party.

Those were a long four years. The movie nearly ruined me. It took up so much space in my life that I struggled to find room for anything else. Family. Friends. Fun. It was just me and this movie. Ahab and his white whale.

I still haven’t read Moby Dick.

I could divide those four years into distinct halves.

The first part was making and finishing the movie. Even after we finished our principal photography in September of 2012, I was sustained by the hope and motivation that I could make the movie better. Editing. Pick-ups. A day of reshoots. Music. Sound. Color correction. The movie wasn’t finished until August 2014. Two years later, that was the movie, for better or worse. (I should also note that we started our festival run in October 2013. The festivals were a salvation during that dark period. That was my favorite part of the process. That was the reward.)

The second part was also fueled by hope and motivation. We were motivated to promote the movie and reach a wider audience. We hoped it would be well-received. We finished our festival run in January 2015 at Macabre Faire Film Festival where we won awards for Best Feature and Best Director. It was a great way to close out that part of the process.

With the great Adam Ginsberg
Elsie and Adam are amazing hosts

The next step was finding distribution, “delivering” the movie, and prepping the release. This is when things started to move at a glacial pace. (I suppose with the melting glaciers, that phrase may be obsolete in a generation or two, or mean the opposite…) I was burnt out at this point, and I wish I was better equipped to handle the delivery, make a trailer and help design art work. Such is the life of an indie filmmaker. This step took about twice as long as it should have. Instead of the movie coming out in 2015, well, it didn’t come out until August 2016… Lessons learned.

I started writing again in 2014. I had gone from writing/developing almost every day from 2001 to June of 2012, to working/agonizing over the movie. So just sitting at the computer again was sweet relief. It was therapy, because it felt good to write. I could leave all the shit behind and spend time with new characters. The only problem was it was just therapy and I wasn’t rigorous enough with my development process and rewriting. If I’m being generous, some of what I was doing was 50% good. Some 20%. Some maybe 5%. The first thing was 0%. But I was working in a range where maybe 1/3 of what I was doing was good, and that’s a terrible percentage for writing. I think you have to be in the 90% range. At least I have to.

So I was in purgatory because I couldn’t move forward and it was a prison of my own design.

We worked very hard in the weeks leading up to the release. We received a tremendous amount of support from friends and family. I was stressed, but it was good stress because I believed everything would turn out OK. That’s how I had survived the four years. And it’s how I survived the eleven before that.

Everything did not turn out OK.

We got some good reviews. We got some bad reviews. I let the bad ones get to me. The movie didn’t have a sustained run on the iTunes charts.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/killer-party/id1136973911

We were not gonna be a little, little movie that could… I started feeling depressed. I was having anxiety. I constantly felt like I wasn’t getting enough air into my lungs. I was walking around with a hair-trigger, hoping some idiot would set me off and I could knock his teeth down his throat.

Probably the worst part of all this is knowing that I should be happy.  That I’m fortunate. I have a great wife. Wonderful, healthy kids. Loving family and friends who have always taken care of me. But I was miserable.

I had lost hope for the first time in 15 years. No light at the end of the tunnel. Just despair. I had failed. I had wasted four years, if not fifteen. I was about to turn forty and life and reality were staring back at me in the mirror and it was ugly (and needs to lose 20 pounds).

I had never felt that way before and I didn’t know what to do. So I prayed. Over and over. “Lord, help me get through this. Give me strength. Please give me strength.” It became my mantra. I didn’t try to make any bargains. I just begged.

The thing that provided my breakthrough was an email. And not a good one. A shitty email from someone who was supposed to work for and help the movie reach a wider audience. An email which was sent to the wrong person: me. (He also blamed Russia for the email.) I’ve met amazing people during the last four years, and I’ve met some real dickheads. This guy is King of the Dickheads. Just take your worst Hollywood stereotypes and dump them in a gas station toilet and he’s what crawls out. I was ready to hurt him and that’s when I knew it had to stop. King Dickhead was my sign to let go. Not forget. People have supported us financially, so I can’t just walk away and pretend it never happened (But I can dream about it!). I realized I had to let go of the anger and despair because they were simply pulling me down and drowning me. I saw where I was going, and I was able to put on the brakes before it was too late… I had made plenty of mistakes, I had done what I could to fix them, but in the end, I lost.

Then Trump got elected and I turned forty, so it was really time to snap out of it.

I made it through, but when I stood on the other side, I still had to ask myself if I wanted to keep going. Did I have the heart for it? The stomach? Was I stupid and insane to keep trying? 

Was trying to have a creative career in Hollywood the same as trying to make the freshman basketball team? I could get a taste, but I wasn’t good enough to stick?

I still don’t know the answer. I don’t feel the same way I did four years ago. I’m guessing that’s a good thing. I learned a lot.

I used to think big picture thoughts. Now, if you’ll pardon me, my sights have changed. I’m not thinking so far ahead. I’m also thinking about television. I still wanna make movies, but after the last four years, I’m not gonna go charging up that hill right away.

I need to write. And I need to write better than I ever have.

So it looks like television will be my line in the sand. I’m gonna give it the old college try and if that doesn’t work, then it’s on to Lourdes.

Or Jersey… 

I don’t love L.A. I guess it’s because I’ve always been on the outside, looking in. If I’m remembering correctly from my days as an English major, like Ethan Frome looking in on the dance. Forgive me if I’m mistaken, Dr. Monahan. (Being a waiter at a good restaurant means a healthy portion of my customers are having meetings about film and tv projects… Salt meet Wound.)  I like the weather here. The food: Mexican, fresh fruits and vegetables. We’ve made good friends. I love Wild Card and where my kids go to school. I guess I never thought I’d live in L.A. for too long. I thought I was coming here to learn and succeed and I’d go back and make movies in NJ/NY.

I think now I’m desperate to stay, because that would mean success.

The pain of the last four years almost broke me, it was so close. But it’s also given me enough fuel for one more run. I’m not going without a fight. I still believe that I can get better. I still want to get better. I still wanna know that I did my best. That I did everything I could to make it.

The clock’s not ticking. Too late for that. It’s loud. The bell’s ringing.

A little Metallica to play us out:

 

#17 You Never Forget Your First (Film Festival)

Validation. We all need it. Sometimes it’s for free or discounted parking. Sometimes it’s to say, “You’re not so crazy/terrible/stupid. You actually have something here…” With the movie, I often felt “crazy/terrible/stupid.” Honestly, it’s never really stopped since the day we started shooting. There are just occasional moments of joy and happiness. And now that the movie is coming out, I’m gonna tell you about some of those moments of joy and happiness, and how we got there.
You can use whatever metaphor you like: wandering in the desert, searching in the darkness, drowning… Film Festivals are the oasis from the predicament that most independent filmmakers find themselves in. Film festivals are the manna from heaven. The light at the end of the tunnel. The life saver.

Killer Party played at fourteen film festivals (as The Shower). Each one was unique and wonderful in its own way. I’m going to reflect on each festival (well 13 out of 14, actor/producer Drew Benda will reflect on Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival) and share some of the stories that saved our movie and gave us the validation we needed to keep moving forward.

#1. Shriekfest http://www.shriekfest.com

sf_laurels_official_2013
2013 was tough year. You don’t know how hard it is to make a movie until you make movie. I was angry, disappointed and filled with regret. There were plenty of times during that year when I wanted to quit, but I couldn’t. Mostly because we had raised almost $50,000 for the movie. This wasn’t something I could just wash my hands of. I had to see it through. We kept editing. Kept adding what we could. And we reshot a couple scenes. On top of all that, Rachael and I had a new baby. So I had far less time and far more responsibility than a year earlier.
By August, there was a tiny flicker of hope for the movie. We did a lot of different cuts, tried a lot of different things. There was an 81 minute version that started to feel good. I submitted that rough cut to Shriekfest, pretty close to their deadline.

I kept editing, and on the advice of a friend who edits features, worked toward a 75 minute cut of the movie.

On September 3rd, I got a voicemail from Festival Director Denise Gossett, telling me that the movie had been accepted into the festival, but because it was a rough cut, she wanted to know if it was finished.

It wasn’t. I hadn’t locked picture. Since we hadn’t locked picture, basically everything else in post-production still needed to be done. SOUND. COLOR CORRECTION. SCORE.

And the festival was in 30 days.

That’s a lot of work, and not a lot of time. Especially when you don’t have a lot of money to pay people.

There was some debate of whether or not it could be done and if we should even try. I went back and forth on it myself.

Denise needed an answer, they were going to announce the selections.

The movie had taken a lot out of me. Strained every relationship I had (at least if you were part of the movie, haha). I felt like a rubber band stretched to my limits and I was close to snapping (If I hadn’t already). It had been a hard year. A dark year. (On top of the movie, one of my best friends was diagnosed with cancer. My movie and the pity I was feeling for myself felt foolish in comparison.) Rachael made a doctor’s appointment for me because she was worried about my health. My blood pressure was high that day. The doctor asked what was going on and I told him. He said, “Well, that would explain it.”

Shriekfest was the light. They said “Yes” to us.

And we said “Yes” to them.

And we pulled together and did everything we could to get the movie done in time. (This was a recurring theme throughout the entire process. We pulled together and got things done.)

The actual festival was as magical as could be.

An opening night party. Great crowds. Excellent features and shorts.

Me&RachShriekfest

We were part of something bigger than ourselves and it felt wonderful. We were filmmakers.

We had our world premiere at 6PM on Sunday night and we sold out two theaters. (And had to turn more people away.)

IMG_1641

Our cast and crew were there. My mom, my brother Frank and sister in law Kelly flew out from NJ/NY. Friends from our years out here in the L.A. wilderness came to support us. It was a dream come true, especially after what it took to get to that moment.

Our World Premiere at Shriekfest.  Just the first step in a marathon.
Our World Premiere at Shriekfest. Just the first step in a marathon.

This wasn’t the end of the journey. It was only beginning.

But that first “Yes”, that validation from Denise and Shriekfest, picked us up off the ground and got us going again.

http://www.killerpartymovie.com

#16 Killer Party is coming to VOD on August 16th!!!

I know I haven’t even gotten to DAY FOUR of production on The Shower Killer Party yet on the blog, but we’re gonna have to jump ahead about four years because after a pretty unbelievable odyssey the movie will be coming out in North America on VOD on August 16 (and in the UK on August 22.)

There’s a lot of catching up to do, but for now, I’m just going to put together a brief (maybe not so brief) summary of events:

March 2012-September 2013

  • Feel like my life is going nowhere, baby #2 is on the way, and feel the need to do something dramatic to change my life https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=129kuDCQtHs
  • Decide it’s time to take the leap and make a movie
  • Take the idea I had for a mumblecore-ish early mid-life crisis comedy, add a horror element and presto: A group of friends get trapped at a baby shower when a mysterious outbreak starts turning people into homicidal maniacs
  • Write the first draft in about 20 days, quick polish after getting stamp of approval from Mr. Mike Kuciak

    Z CLASS KP RAW SAMPLE-409
    Mike after reading one of my scripts
  • Start giving the script to friends
  • Decide to shoot the movie before the baby is due in mid-September, because I know that the first 6 months after the baby is born will be utter chaos (and would push production into spring 2013)
  • Somehow we raise more than $40,000 from friends and family via our website www.theshowerthemovie.com http://www.killerpartymovie.com
  • We get our cast and crew and a great location (or two)
  • We shoot 11 pages (or more) per day for 6 days, it’s nuts, but everyone pulls together and we get what we can in the can. (technically, in the tiny memory cards of Harry’s Nikon D7000) utf-8''IMG_9749
  • On the morning of the 7th day, Rachael asks if we have a “contingency plan” in place in case she goes into labor.
  • I tell her “No.”
  • Rachael’s water breaks two hours later
  • We rush to Cedars Sinai and the doctors tell us everything that could possibly go wrong by having a baby this early
  • I’m panicked that making this stupid movie might cost me my wife and child
  • The baby (Isabel Rose) is born, and besides being jaundiced gets a clean bill of health. She was 6 pounds. The nurses didn’t believe she was only 34 weeks.

    I cried with relief and joy
    I cried with relief and joy
  • The entire cast and crew are incredibly helpful and generous, especially Andy, Steph, and my good friend from NJ, Mike “Jersey Mike” Crossan (Mike flew out to help on the movie, and gets a good cameo)

    Jersey Mike with Isabel Rose
    Jersey Mike with Isabel Rose
  • Stephanie Beran tells us that we can use the location to finish shooting whenever we are ready. Another act of kindness that helped us get here.
  • I review footage, realize we were missing as much as I suspected
  • We go back to shoot for two more days, try to get some of the shots we missed, we don’t get all of them
  • We wrap on principal photography, but I know we are missing too many shots, so I don’t feel happy, I feel defeated. I scrubbed a lot of fake blood off the floors that night.
  • Our amazing DP, Harry Frith, knows that we missed a lot, and offers to get whatever we need. (This movie would be nothing, except for the fact that a bunch of great people, many of whom were strangers to me 6 weeks earlier, sacrificed and pitched in so that we could complete the project)

    Harry doing his thing. (There are no helicopter shots in Killer Party)
    Harry doing his thing. (There are no helicopter shots in Killer Party)
  • Two days later, as we were breaking down the location, we grabbed a few more shots
  • I began working with editor Chan Candela on the footage
  • I began working with editor Chan Candela on the footage and started thinking “What have I done???”
  • I foolishly submitted a VERY, VERY rough cut to Slamdance (DON’T EVER DO THIS) I wasted hundreds of dollars on submitting to festivals we had no chance of getting in.
  • Chan and I knew there were certain things we just had to get and started making a list
  • We returned to the location again and got some exterior shots to help out with a fight scene
  • We knew we needed little more, but had compiled a rough cut that we felt we could show people (DON’T EVER DO THIS)
  • DECEMBER 2012. We showed this rough cut to cast and crew. They hated it. (I don’t know, maybe they did.) In hindsight, we should not have shown anyone this cut.
  • JANUARY 2013. I showed the movie to a producer/distributor and he said “It’s unwatchable.” Probably the best advice I got on the movie. And I got a ton of good advice.
  • We went back to editing.
  • We got more shots.
  • We reshot a couple of scenes.
  • I drank a lot of bourbon
  • We did MANY, MANY test screenings with producers and friends at our apartment. Copious amounts of Tecate were consumed.
  • We raised more money for post-production costs (EVERYTHING COST WAY MORE THAN WE THOUGHT IT WOULD, so consider yourselves warned when you make your movie.)
  • The movie started feeling a little better around July 2013
  • I got another bit of great advice from the editor of Selma. “There’s a really good 75 minute movie in here.” (At that point it was 86 minutes and people felt it was too slow.)
  • I submitted an 81 minute rough cut to Shriekfest
  • I went Edward (Or Harvey) Scissorhands on the movie and cut it to just under 75 minutes
  • I got this amazing call

September 2013-January 2015

  • After it appeared like we had a movie that would go nowhere, we were accepted into a great horror film festival in our hometown. I had been to Shriekfest a year earlier, and we had targeted it because Mike Flanagan’s Absentia played there.Unknown-2
  • We had to race to do ALL THE POST-PRODUCTION (sound, color, score, etc.) on the movie in less than a month
  • There was a debate if we should do it or not
  • I felt like we had to go now (And my friends Dave Samartin and Martin Washington, Jr. helped convince me. This all happened while working at Blu Jam. A lot happens while I’m at work… The process thus far had pretty much wrecked me. I needed good news. I needed light. And it was Shriekfest.)
  • It was nuts, but we delivered a “Shriekfest” cut of the movie to Denise two days before our WORLD PREMIERE
  • We had an amazing WORLD PREMIERE, sold out two houses and had to turn people away because there were no more seats and the aisles were full… IMG_1641Me&RachShriekfest
  • For about 75 minutes, I was the happiest person on the planet. I stood in the back of the full theater and watched the movie. A highlight was when Anthony Mezza and John Kiernan (two good old Jersey Boys) turned around and gave me a high-five after a particularly fun scene.
  • Shriekfest opened doors and we were immediately approached by Another Hole in the Head Film Festival in SF to screen in November
  • I got an email from Stacey at Nevermore Film Festival requesting the movie for submission.
  • We had two incredible screenings in Durham, NC at Nevermore
    IMG_3142
    With Festival Director Jim Carl, one of the first champions of the movie!
    IMG_3148
    With committee member Chris Santucci

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    With Committee Chair Stacey Bell. Nevermore was our first screening outside CA, and the audience reaction was so great.
  • We WON the Jury Award for BEST FEATURE at Nevermore
  • I was on my break at work when I got the news…
  • We started a great festival run: Phoenix Film Festival, Motor City Nightmares, Cedar Rapids Independent, Los Angeles Fear & Fantasy, Sunscreen Film Festival, Fright Fest Film Festival, NOLA Horror Film Festival, Spooky Movie International, Eerie Horror, Buffalo Dreams and Macabre Faire Film Festival
    IMG_3864
    Goofiness in Phoenix
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    Serious in Motor City
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    Wacky filmmakers in Louisville
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    Harry Dean Stanton and Rach in Burbank
    IMG_8387
    Smug beer selfie in NOLA
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    Majestic in Burbank
    IMG_8496
    Sweating profusely with Denise Gossett “The Godmother of Killer Party”
    IMG_8571
    Me and Drew have the selfie thing down in Hermosa
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    Spooky Movie with Gulfstream friend Brett
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    Andy lost his footing on The Exorcist stairs
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    Awesome old theater in Erie
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    Cold and windy on Lake Erie
    With Buffalo Dreams co-chair Gregory Lamberson. Greg is a writer and filmmaker and has been a great mentor since we played at his festival
    With Buffalo Dreams co-chair Gregory Lamberson. Greg is a writer and filmmaker and has been a great mentor since we played at his festival
    IMG_0780
    Blurry already with Ian Donnelly on Long Island
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    Long Island Iced Teas with filmmaker Chris Ethridge at Macabre Faire
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    With my bro Frank (I was incredibly hungover still at 6pm)
    IMG_0855
    With Adam and Elsie. They gave us AWARDS!!!

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    Bubbly back in Dumont after Macabre Faire
  • We were nominated for a BUNCH OF AWARDS
  • We won awards: BEST FEATURE at Cedar Rapids, BEST COMEDY at Fright Night, BEST ENSEMBLE at L.A. Fear & Fantasy, BEST ENSEMBLE at Buffalo Dreams, BEST DIRECTOR and BEST FEATURE at Macabre, plus we won BEST FEATURE, BEST DIRECTOR, and BEST ENSEMBLE at the 2015 Macabreite Awards
  • Started reaching out to sales agents and distributors
  • Met some great distributors who want the movie

January 2015 – August 2016

  • Chose Epic Pictures Group as our distributor. They’ve got BIG ASS SPIDER!, TURBO KID, TALES OF HALLOWEEN and NINA FOREVER on their roster of movies. That’s a BFD for our little movie.
  • Began the long slog of delivery and QC (This will cost tens of thousands of dollars and we were not prepared. But now you know, so no surprises.)
  • Great photo shoot with John Allen Phillips at Epic to get promo materials for the movie Killer-Party-Poster-Resized-1KillerParty2015 1
  • The movie’s release is announced on ew.com  http://www.ew.com/article/2016/07/27/killer-party-trailer
  • It’s available to pre-order now on iTunes $8.99 https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/killer-party/id1136973911

Thank you for reading!

To be continued…

#15 Day Three (Call in the National Guard)

Day Three was a monster. After two days, I felt like I was getting the hang of things. But I had no idea what I was in for.

18 scenes
18 scenes, so many, they didn’t fit on the page. So even though it adds up to 10 pages, it’s a lot more than we did on Days One and Two.

I will have to go back and check the footage, but I believe this was the morning when there was a beautiful spider web on the back patio and I asked Harry to shoot it before the day began.

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 1.33.00 PM

I was having a Terrence Malick moment.  MV5BMTUzNjQzNjYyMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTU5MDYyNQ@@._V1_UX214_CR0,0,214,317_AL_I waited on him while I was working at Hamburger Hamlet back in 2004. He could not have been nicer. He was eating with Wallace Shawn, which was a double thrill.

MV5BMTc3MDYzMDQ1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDQ3OTc1MQ@@._V1_UY317_CR4,0,214,317_AL_

I have no idea who the third person in the group was, maybe a British billionaire.  Or this guy, Jim Piddock (From Best in Show, and others): MV5BNzk3MTA0ODIxNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTIxNjM4OA@@-1._V1_UX214_CR0,0,214,317_AL_

Terrence Malick said to me, “Alex, I’ve been coming here for thirty years. I’ve never gotten past #1 on the menu.” (That was the All-American Burger.) They drank Patron Silver Margaritas on the rocks and talked and laughed the whole time. Stephen Dorff was sitting at a table across from them with one of his reps. He asked me what Mr. Malick was drinking, and when I told him, promptly ordered one for himself. For a “bad boy” actor, he was pretty friendly, and it was sort of charming how nervous he was to be in the presence of a legendary filmmaker. He eventually went over to the table to say hello, and I was standing there as Mr. Malick greeted him warmly. His flustered reply to the director of Badlands was “Hamburger Hamlet.. It’s the best.” Adorable. I also thought he was great in Sofia Coppola’s SomewhereSomewhere-Coppola2

Regarding my own movie, I have a thousand regrets. One of my greatest is that I cut out the shot of the spider.  It was in a montage to begin the morning of the second day, and in my hope to make the movie as lean as possible without breaking it, I cut that and a few other things I liked.

I felt Day 1 and 2 didn’t belong to me, so when I saw that damn spider web, I wanted it. Hell, this was a movie about people trapped in a house. The spider web is symbolic!!! Also, part of the idea of the movie was that the characters needed to get more in touch with their natural selves, and stop being the Hollywood wimps they had become.  So nature.

At some point, I had an 86 minute cut of the movie. I showed it to people and they felt like it was too long. An editor who advised me in the process felt there was a really good 75 minute movie in there.  So that’s what I went for. I don’t know.  Maybe I could have split the difference. Or maybe people would have felt the extra five minutes was too much?

We’ll never know.

(Unless you want to watch that version and I’ll send you a vimeo link.)

So if you look at the schedule, the first three shots are Zach and Hoodie Man in the backyard.  It’s 1 5/8 pages.

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John tells Paul they called in the National Guard.

It took a long time to shoot. At least long by the standards of this movie. It was about two hours. 10 A.M. and we were already bleeped.

First thing was the sun. We kept getting shadows where they shouldn’t be. (We didn’t have one of those fancy balloons you might see that float above the actors and diffuse the sunlight or actually light the scene.)

Then there were planes. We were pretty close to Burbank Airport.

Then it was just doing the scene.

I’m looking at the schedule and despite the insanity of getting in all those shots, people pulled it together and we got some really good work.

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 3.15.25 PM
Like this. And John got a crazy workout smashing his fists into Paul’s face an aluminum pan filled with fake blood.

But it was the first day when I was told we were running behind and were going to have to cut things. I had to start thinking on my feet, instead of thinking on my ass. (Writing at my desk.) It was a butt-kicking.

I think it’s all about finding a rhythm and pace that is faster than you’re comfortable with, but using that lack of comfort to make you work harder and more efficiently. They say with running that your warm-up can be at conversational pace, but to actually get results, you’re not working until you can’t talk.

So Day Three was the day when we got bogged down in the proverbial mud. It wasn’t shooting Apocalypse Now, but it was running at an uncomfortable pace.

I’m also learning this lesson in the sitcom writing class I’m taking. How to fit the most good stuff into a very small space. It’s been a great exercise for me, because the format is so rigid that you need to make things as tight and efficient as possible. I think I had became a bit lazy with my writing. There’s a big difference between fun for me to write and fun for you to read. And this applies to the final product of the movie. Every second is important. As our teacher said last night, “10 seconds of screen time is an eternity.”  Especially for a comedy. FAST. FAST. FAST. It might be fun for me to watch. I wrote it. I made it. These moments are all my little darlings. But if you’re not me, you probably don’t find them all that cute. They might even be dull. So I gotta pick up the pace and go.

 

 

#14 Day Two and a Mid-Life Crisis Too


Ok, so I’ve started this late life experiment and am “exploring” the world of TV writing. At the moment, it’s specifically network sitcom. I’ll say, it’s interesting, and pretty fun. I’ve enjoyed watching Fresh Off The Boat, The Goldbergs and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I grew up on sitcoms, but sort of lost interest in my mid-teens. The network sitcoms I’ve watched regularly in the last 20 years are Seinfeld, Undeclared, Andy Richter Controls The UniverseThe Bernie Mac Show, Arrested Development, Scrubs30 Rock and Modern Family (The list was bigger than I first thought, and most of those are more than ten years old). On cable, we’ve watched Curb Your Enthusiasm, ExtrasIt’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Eastbound & Down, The League, and Louie. And I loved Spaced and The Office (U.K.).

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We’ve also been watching Playing House, which is on USA, and has a different format than the broadcast network shows. Maybe you’d call it a half-hour comedy, since the story progresses, as opposed to sitcom?

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Having a family has given me a different and possibly fresh perspective on these network shows. Or maybe it’s just because my life is so sad I need to laugh. Whatever it is (probably a combination of both), these shows are relatable to me now. And I’ve really come to admire the actors. The talent, the versatility. It’s inspiring. I think Randall Park and Constance Wu (Fresh Off The Boat) are phenomenal. I want to write for them.

FRESH OFF THE BOAT - "Persistent Romeo" - Louis has to hire a professional instructor (guest star Brett Gelman) to give the restaurant staff a sexual harassment seminar after Jessica's attempts fall flat. Meanwhile, Eddie tries to pass off the seminar's instructional tape as a "dirty movie" to his friends in an attempt to impress them and get them to come to his house for a sleep over, on "Fresh Off the Boat," TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 17, (8:00-8:30 p.m. ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Eric McCandless) RANDALL PARK, CONSTANCE WU

Having said all that, this new bag feels like the proverbial “Old Dog/New Tricks” scenario. For every dose of laughter, there’s an equal dose of self-doubt, coupled with a heaping tablespoon of regret. I think the only way to survive is to keep my nose to the grindstone, because if I look up and think about it, I’ll be consumed.

Should I have done this ten years ago? Am I too late to the party?

I guess we’ll find out.

Speaking of parties, let’s get back to The Shower Killer Party. (As you can probably tell, I love the strikethrough button. It gets me.)

Day Two was August 3rd, 2012.

I just looked over the call sheet for that day.

We planned to shoot 11 4/8 pages.

The thing that sticks out the most to me from the call sheet is there were THREE SCENES with at least 15 ACTORS in them. (Two with 15, One with 16).

As I’m learning in my sitcom writing class, your Act Two break should be an “OH SH-T!” moment.

Standing on set, looking at 15 (or 16) actors, is definitely an “OH SH-T!” moment. (Especially because it was the first and only time those 15 or 16 people were ever going to do that scene.)

The big scene of the day (4 3/8 pages) was the entrance of FRED, played by my father-in-law, Ted McKnight.

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In the original script, the scene is on page 22, our break into act two. At that point, (hopefully) we had established the characters and their deals, and now it was time to drop them and their problems into a horror movie. In the actual movie, it happens 15 minutes in (roughly 6-7 minutes earlier than scripted). This was to improve the pacing of act one. We ended up cutting a lot. (I regret that I didn’t do a better job capturing the script, but based on what we had, the cuts were necessary. When we get there, I’ll go into more detail, but we did a few thousand test screenings at my apartment, and act one felt slow.)

So in this scene, Fred, the neighbor comes banging on the door, in distress, and things get rolling.

My fondest memory of shooting this scene is Ted’s performance. I felt like it brought a shot of adrenaline to the production. I think we needed it.

We were all a bit stiff during the first day and a half. I was green and we were going so fast that we just had to keep going to “make our days.” I knew of different tricks to try to loosen things up (like improv, or even this thing called “directing”) but we didn’t have time. Fortunately, the actors are all talented (and the script was amazing) so we had a little bit of leeway. But it felt like we needed something.

And it happened. Ted/Fred stumbles in, a bloody mess, out of his mind, and people snap out of their doldrums.

This scene also ended up being pivotal during our festival run. I was constantly checking the pulse/temperature of the audience during each screening. What are they responding to? Are they interested? Bored? Do they hate me? Why did I wear this shirt?

You can feel it. Whether there are 200 or 20 (or less in the case of one festival I won’t mention.) That’s the great thing about going to the movies. The shared experience. Not everyone is having the same experience. (Like when Rachael and I laughed way more during The Nice Guys than the ten other people in the theater. They probably hated us… Do you see a pattern here?) But while they’re sitting there in the dark, focused on the same thing (hopefully), people do sort of act like one larger organism.

And the credit there goes to my buddy Paul Natonek. He delivers a line that was my thermometer/stethoscope. (He tweaked what I wrote, and it’s better and funnier.)

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It gets a GOOD LAUGH. I start breathing again. And I know the audience is with us.

I didn’t know the audience would be there with us when we were shooting. But I knew we had a spark.

 

#13 TV Killed The Movie Star

“Features are so hard to sell. You should write a pilot. Everybody’s looking for pilots.”  — Joanne, Killer Party

I wrote those words four years ago.

They were true then. They’re even more true now.

I’m going to take a little break from my agonizing account of making The Shower Killer Party to ruminate on this whole TV thing.

Why now?

Because I just started a TV writing class.

A sitcom class, specifically.

I'm going to write a spec episode which is surprisingly close to my life as a 12 year old who loved rap with a tough Asian mom
I’m going to write a spec episode for this show. I know all about being a suburban kid who loved rap and basketball and has a tough Asian mom.

Here’s the deal:

Features are so hard to sell… Everybody’s looking for pilots.

 

Joanne giving her sage advice
Joanne giving her sage advice

A brief history of my writing life:

  • I won a poetry contest in grammar school for a poem about Mary. (The Virgin Mary). There was a cash prize and I liked loved the attention.
  • My sophomore year in high school, I wrote an essay about my life and why I was unhappy. My teacher, Mr. Donohue, responded very strongly (and positively) to it. I felt like I might be able to express myself through writing.
  • My junior year of high school, I wrote an April Fool’s Day article for the school paper about our all-boys Catholic school going co-ed and that gave me 15 minutes of fame.
  • My senior year in high school I wrote an essay about not having a prom date (slick bastard) and I ended up going to the prom with Alyssa Milano. (That’s a lie.)

    This poster hung on my wall in 7th grade
    This poster hung on my wall in 7th grade
  • In my AP English Class that same year, I wrote an obituary for Randall Patrick McMurphy from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest that our teacher, Doc Kennedy, read to the class. And getting Doc’s approval was enormous.
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    I remember writing that he sparred with Cassius Clay and also made a lame “Martini, shaken not stirred” reference

    Just like the approval of Mr. Donohue and Mr. DeAngelo (the moderator of the school newspaper) was life-affirming with those earlier pieces of work.

  • I went to college thinking I’d become an English teacher, but once again, the siren call of writing (and fame and fortune) pulled me away. (And wrecked my life on the jagged rocks of reality?) I took Dr. Victoria Sullivan’s playwriting class and suddenly my miserable existence made sense. I’d write something, it would be read in class, people would laugh, and I was a minor celebrity. Not as cool as a basketball player or (groan) baseball player. But I was kinda cool for a teeny tiny sliver of the student body. OK, maybe the 12 people in the class… The playwriting became short stories and poetry, I continued to get positive feedback and my confidence grew. I knew that my awkward adolescence and crippling acne were not suffered in vain. My life had a purpose. I was meant to be a writer.
  • I moved to L.A. to become a screenwriter and it took me five years (2007) to write something that got anyone’s attention. (A biblical romcom: When Joseph Met Mary) *Writing about Mary seems to be a key for me.
  • It took another two years after that to write something that was shopped to the studios: (My bounty hunter action-comedy: You’re Dead Meat, Piplowski)
  • I had toyed with the idea of writing for TV in 2007-2008 and even took a few classes at iO West. One for sketch comedy like SNL. One on writing for late night talk shows. One for pilot writing (I wrote a sitcom pilot about four friends who open a retirement home to cash in on aging baby boomers.) I also thought about writing some spec TV scripts (scripts of existing shows as writing samples) but never followed through because it always seemed like I was making progress on my screenplays and was was close enough to get in the door and become a working screenwriter.

So is this one of those “Close, but no cigar” stories?

That is the question, my dear Hamlet.

I’ve certainly had to ask myself “Am I good enough?” a few hundred times over the last 14 years.

My answer has always been “Yes.” Sometimes with more confidence, sometimes with less.

The fear is that I’m a career AAA ballplayer. Like a way less handsome version of Crash Davis in Bull Durham.

Handsome bastard
Handsome bastard

Pretty good, just not good enough to play in The Show. (And AAA players make a minimum of $2150 a month. They’re at least good enough to get paid something.)

Maybe TV is like the tech bubble, housing bubble, any other bubble.

It will eventually burst. But it doesn’t seem like there’s a fear that TV shows will go away. Years back, people were upset about reality TV, but reality and scripted seem to be coexisting quite nicely.

Movies, on the other hand…

That industry has changed a lot since the 1990s.

Far less spec script sales. Far less screens for indie movies. Studios are focused on movies that play internationally and can earn a billion dollars. No more Blockbuster Video. DVDs are like vinyl.

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We live in a world where no one will ever rent a DVD of Killer Party. (sniffle)

It’s a different world.

I couldn't resist. And I also never questioned what happened to Denise.
I couldn’t resist. And I also never questioned what happened to Denise.

People like Joanne are saying that TV has become the new indie filmmaking.

I was resistant to that idea in the past, because they still make independent movies and Sundance is still this Holy Grail, but the reality is that less and less of those movies are shown in movie theaters. And we’ve gotten away from the model where TV shows are static by nature. (For me as an audience, that might have started with Buffy and progressed with The Sopranos and the subsequent outstanding cable shows.)

And the bottom line is that getting paid to be a writer and earning a living by telling stories would be a dream come true. From my experience with Killer Party, I’ve learned that the medium isn’t the most important thing. It’s the opportunity to share a story with people and connect, whether it’s in a big theater, a small theater, a conference room, a partitioned conference room, or on a TV or computer screen.

It could be moving images. It could be words.

So here I am, at some sort of crossroads. Unknown Unknown-2

And it might be one that only exists in my mind.

I don’t know if I’ll find any opportunities in television.

I don’t know if I’m good enough.

Features are so hard to sell… Everybody’s looking for pilots.

I’ve come this far, so I might as well find out.

#12 So What Happens on Day One… That’s probably gonna be in your movie

August 2, 2012 (Part Two)

“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…”

Here’s the call sheet from that day. I had never really seen a call sheet before this one, and maybe you haven’t either.  (I’ve hastily blurred out the phone numbers and addresses on iPhoto.)

So we were going for 11 1/8 pages.

Ambitious.

Insane.

And under the circumstances, absolutely necessary.

The “shooting” script ended up being 6 pages shorter than the “real” script because I thought that might make shooting it in 8 days sound more doable. I didn’t cut scenes. I mostly just cut description/action, which we would need to shoot anyway.

Once upon a time, before we started to shoot the movie, Andy (actor/producer/partner in The Shower The Movie LLC) brought up something that the Duplass brothers had said about shooting a movie. And basically it was, “Everything you do on the first day sucks. So don’t do anything important or in the first ten minutes of your movie on the first day, because it will suck. And if your first ten minutes suck, you won’t get into any film festivals, because that’s probably all they’re going to watch before turning off your screener and moving on to the next one.”

Did we take that advice?

Not really. Most of what we shot on this first day was from the first 10-15 minutes…

The first shot was simple enough. The car pulling into the driveway. It went off without a hitch. Did it once, looked good. Hey, this making a movie stuff is easy! 

And of course, the very next shot is where reality set in.

Here’s that page from the shooting script:

First shot Killer Party

So you already know that my first-time director’s bravado was out the window. Now that the camera was rolling and there was dialogue to capture, sh-t got real.

When you write a screenplay, you see it and hear it in your mind, as a writer. It’s a complete fantasy. A lie.

A director needs to make that fantasy come to life in the real world.

The lessons of Day One (and 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) are all about staging/directing/communicating.

I think the hardest thing for me about making the transition from writer to director was communication: “This is what I see. This is what I want.”

You become a writer because that’s the best way you know how to communicate, and then suddenly here you are, as a writer-director, having to tell people what to do. (Believe me, I LOVE telling people what to do. It’s just a little bit different when you’re on a movie set, and not sitting on my sofa at 11pm and I’ve had five beers.)

In the primitive youtube videos I made years ago, I just shot everything on a camcorder, and we recorded the sound through the camera mic. The actors were all friends who I worked with, and we were never in a rush. I just put the little camcorder where I thought it should go and we shot. And I was pretty much just going for laughs, which meant there was zero thought put into how things looked and sounded. (There are small children who produce better looking videos. But their writing and acting sucks. So screw you, precocious children!)

Day One was kinda like showing up at a new job, with no training, and just starting to work immediately on the most important creative endeavor of my life.

Having done it once, I could certainly do it better the next time around. But I wouldn’t want to be in that position, because a few days of pre-production, rehearsals, camera tests…

WOULD MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE.

Here are a couple of thoughts from Day One… (Looking at the CALL SHEET is sort of like some sense memory experience where I can instantly go back and remember what I was feeling as it was happening. And mostly what I was feeling was “Oh sh-t.”)

  1. The guests arriving/introducing the characters— When I wrote the script, I imagined the party would be inside and we’d be meeting people in a montage as they came through the front door and greeted Nick and Mary.

Based on the location, we didn’t do the party inside, we did it in the backyard. So the staging was a bit awkward and we didn’t get enough coverage to do it right. We realized this during editing (and when we did the first 400 of our 1,000 test screenings). (And maybe people realized it while we were shooting. I didn’t “know” until later because I didn’t have time to watch the footage as we were shooting. I did get a chance to watch some of the footage during the time off after Izzy’s surprise birth, which confirmed my fear that we had to go back and redo some things. We didn’t get to everything.)

One fix was we added in post-production was FREEZE FRAME intros on the characters. These are all scenes from the first ten minutes, so… 

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 8.12.19 PM
Desperate times, desperate measures, mother-cker!

It was a band-aid, but I think it worked out and helped strengthen the movie. It was also an opportunity to add a couple jokes and let the audience know the tone. (FYI: That was my credit card debt three years ago. It’s much higher now.)

2. Another mistake I made was thinking we could do a lot of the movie in long, master takes. 

Woody Allen does this. Steven Soderbergh. Quentin Tarantino. Master directors with decades of experience.

It also requires perfect pacing in a scene, and for there to be no “mistakes.” (technical, line flubs, etc.)

We were not prepared to do this. I thought it would work when I wrote the script because we were gonna rehearse and production would essentially be recording a play. There are a lot of two person dialogue scenes in the movie that I dreamt would be done in one shot. 

I should have scrapped the idea when we didn’t rehearse, but I can be a real idiot sometimes.

We did a master or two, the first was basically shooting the rehearsal, then shot coverage, usually just one take on each actor. (If that. There was one case on Day 5 where we only had time to shoot one close-up in a two person scene. We had to go back and get the other shot 8 months later… Try not to do that when you make your movie.)

There were a few scenes where I felt the master was very strong, but I also liked what the actor was doing so much that I wanted it in close-up so the audience would really get it. Once we were editing, I realized the true value and importance of coverage and close-ups, whether it’s for pacing, emotion, or intensity.

(Mostly pacing, I think. There were a couple of instances where an actor was saving up the performance for the close-up and not doing as much in the master. Which in our case, was probably a good thing, since we weren’t going to get any Altman-esque long takes. On the flip side, there’s definitely more pressure on the actor in a close-up, so sometimes actors were “tighter” in the close-up than in the master… And it probably didn’t help that they were only going to get one or two takes. Two, if they were carrying my child.)

So we wasted some precious time with our intrepid DP, Harry Frith, attempting to get these long takes, handheld, the camera bouncing between actors like you would see in The Office (U.S).

Harry did his best. The actors did their best. It was impossible under the circumstances. (I had no idea at the time that when we see those long takes in great movies, they are spending at least half a day to do it. The lighting. The blocking. The camera. The acting… We were taking about half an hour.)

Read Jim Hemphill’s great interview with Phil Joanou to get a sense of how long it takes on a $4 million indie movie. http://filmmakermagazine.com/97031-shooting-a-movie-in-25-days-for-blumhouse-phil-joanou-on-the-veil/#.VygYPaslfJ8

The closest we got, and it’s in the movie, is an exchange between Nick (Kurt Ela) and Ryan (Evan Gamble). (I’ll pat myself, and Harry, Kurt and Evan on the back for that one.)

Kurt Ela as Nick, talking about my unsold screenplay "You're Dead Meat, Piplowski"
Kurt Ela as Nick, talking about my unsold screenplay “You’re Dead Meat, Piplowski”
Evan Gamble as Ryan, a TV star gushing over my unsold screenplay, "You're Dead Meat, Piplowski"
Evan Gamble as Ryan, a TV star gushing over my unsold screenplay, “You’re Dead Meat, Piplowski”

In the future, I’d certainly like to try for long takes if they’re right for the movie, but I did come to enjoy the “control” of having the different shots, and really letting the actors’ faces (AND EYES) be the way into the story.

I was trying to edit the movie in my mind as we were shooting, so if something felt like it would work, well, it was in! (This stopped working after two days, because we weren’t able to get all the shots I envisioned in my mental editing bay.)

Now, I didn’t intend to “wing it” like this. I’m not that crazy or stupid. My plan was to study a bunch of movies and come up with a visual guide for how to tackle many of these scenes. There are 17 speaking parts in the movie. There are plenty of scenes where there are 8-10 actors on screen. (Hey, I was writing parts for my friends. I had a lot of friends back then… OK, maybe I am THAT CRAZY & STUPID.)

During the month leading up to the production I had ZERO TIME to watch anything. One movie that I planned to watch was the remake of Dawn of the Dead.

Dawn-Of-The-Dead_7199_3

They had a big cast. Zach Snyder is a very visual director. I was going to watch and see how he did the scenes with a horde of actors. For the scene with the most speaking actors (shortly after arriving at the mall), here’s what he did (and what I should have done): He opened the scene with a  wide shot that showed where everyone was geographically. Then it was all told in standard coverage. No long takes or camera movement. Just nuts and bolts shooting. Sort of like old school TV.

It works just fine, in my opinion.

So here are a few of the other things that I have had flashbacks about while looking at the call sheet:

Know your actors. This is something I would definitely attribute to being a first-time director. We had a scene that I wanted to get in one take. I thought of a more traditional (boring) framing, and our DP, Harry, had a suggestion for something different. I figured, “Let’s try it Harry’s way, sounds interesting.” (I wasn’t really taking into account a time crunch.) One of the actors wasn’t comfortable with the angle. Truthfully, I liked the idea, and we used a similar framing in later shots, but I sensed the actor’s unease. But we did it.  And it affected the performance and messed up the scene. We had to go back and do it again months later. This was a case where I knew better, and could feel the actor’s tension, but was weak in my handling. I should have just scrapped it right away. I was lucky we were able to redo the scene.

I almost fired someone. It was an impulse. I let it pass. Being on set, getting my ass kicked, things were going so fast that I felt like they were gonna spin out of control. Maybe I was gonna spin out of control. I wanted to call a time out. Hit reset.

THIS. WAS. THE. MOVIE.

I felt like things were unfocused, a bit too loose. More like a friend’s web series than a FEATURE F-CKING FILM!!!

(Yes, I know your friend’s web series was shot on a RED and starred that girl from Community.)

Man, the Duplass brothers were right.

Day One SUCKS.

"You should have listened to us, you moron!"
“You should have listened to us, you moron!”

I didn’t fire someone. It would have been a mistake. Not that I wasn’t making mistakes. But it would have been a massive overreaction. Which I also do. Probably because of Jimmy Malone from The Untouchables. “He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.”

the-untouchables-sean-connery-kevin-costner-church

It was the one time that day when I’m glad I didn’t listen to my gut, because my gut was wrong.

(Besides, Drew and I have since become really good friends.)

IMG_6414 IMG_6314

(OK, it wasn’t Drew. It was my mom. I was still mad at her for falling earlier and nearly ruining my big day.)

Day One wasn’t good.

I wasn’t good.

But as bad as it was, something was starting to form.

A family.

A wacky, somewhat dysfunctional indie movie family.

Yes, we were a ragtag, misfit bunch. Thrown together by fate and the hiring practices of a restaurant in Century City.

But we were starting out on a long journey together.

8 days. (Or more.)

“A three hour tour.”

We all wanted the same thing.

To show people what we could do.

To take our careers to the next level.

To make a good movie.

It didn’t get easier.

It actually got a lot worse.

But we were in it together.

A family.

#11 On the first day… (Part one)

August 2, 2012. The first day of shooting.

There was not much sleep in the weeks leading up to this. There was not much eating. Hell, I barely even drank beer. I lost 15 pounds. (I looked good. Lean. I was ready for my close-up.) As Rikki Jarrett called it, “The pre-production diet.” I wasn’t hungry. Or thirsty. Or tired. I was BUSY. We were all BUSY.

We planned an eight day shoot. Five days on, one day off, then the final three days…

Most everyone I talked to thought we were insane to do an eight day shoot, and they were right. I wasn’t ready (or able to pull that off). I had anticipated a two week rehearsal process that would turn us into a finely-tuned machine that would be able to show up on set and shoot the movie with expert precision in one or two takes. Hardy har har.

We still shot the movie in mostly one or two takes. We just didn’t rehearse.

But I was dumb enough to do it anyway and not worry.

The worrying came soon enough.

So we’re at our location in Studio City…

A little bit about this location: The owners were going to remodel, so no one was living in it at the time. Which is a great thing because we had the run of the house and there weren’t valuable personal items lying around that we could break. Because let’s face it, on this movie, it would get broken.  Also, as I learned, a production can be like a virus that consumes its host. Can be. This is not to deter you from letting me shoot my next movie at your house. I’ve had my shots. And I provide insurance, just in case. I’ll clean, mop, whatevs…

The flip side of no one living in the house in anticipation of a complete remodel was that the house was EMPTY. No furniture. No beds. No tables. No sofas. No chairs. No bookcases. No pictures on the wall.

Maybe this is a set designer’s dream… But for us, it was one of many logistical nightmares challenges.

Here’s some good advice that I got which we only partially took (paraphrasing), “Rent a truck and drive to each of your friends’ homes and take whatever they are willing to part with during production.”

We sorta did this. We also rented furniture. Part of the reason for renting was for the “reality” of the setting. It’s supposed to be the home of a moderately successful talent/commercial agent, Joanne, played by Suzanne Sena. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0005409/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

 

Joanne smiling as she crushes an aspiring actor's dreams.
Joanne smiling as she crushes an aspiring actor’s dreams.

Joanne would want nice things. Keeping up appearances. This is L.A. You live in a place that costs more than you can afford. You drive a Lexus when you can only afford a Toyota. You shop at Whole Foods when you should be shopping at Trader Joe’s. And you either dress up so people think you’re important, or you dress like a slob so people think you’re important. If you dress in between, you look like a tourist. And you don’t want that.

So we got furniture. We got some art. We got some really cool photo art from John Allen Phillips. http://www.johnallenphillips.com

Mr. Phillips!!! Another friend from the Gulfstream days.
Here's our family portrait, taken by John.
Here’s our family portrait, taken by John.

We had a sandbox to play in.

We had a crew.

A first AD.

A script supervisor.

A makeup artist.

Production assistants.

A studio teacher.

What the f-ck is a studio teacher?

It’s someone who gets paid $250 a day or more to be on set because a child is there. The child was mine. Andrew. He’s in the movie. His mother is in the movie. My mother was there to watch the child. My sister in law was also there to lend a hand. He was twenty-one months at the time, so there was no TEACHING. But SAG rules…

IMAG1618
The little rascal, way back when

(We did have another kid in the movie for a few days, also. A toddler. His mom was there as well. And so was our $250 a day studio teacher.)

I had sorta forgotten about this until just a few moments ago…

Deep breaths…

OK, the storm has passed.

And this gets me to the first truly crazy moment we had.

We’re getting ready to start the day, actors are arriving, getting coffee…

Hey, this is like a real set.

I’d only been on one real set. When Rachael was shooting a campaign for Toyota and they were filming in North Hollywood. Jody Hill, the director, he’s done FOOT FIST WAY and EASTBOUND & DOWN, told her she could invite me. Great guy. He actually let me hang out with him for the day and stand right by him while he did his thing. (I gave him space while he worked with the actors.) This was the spot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPqenAw-gs0

There are A LOT of people here. But that’s cool. I felt good. It was like a dream. I had been building toward this moment for EIGHTEEN YEARS.

I had arrived.

It was all going to be “b-tches and champagne” from here on out…

I was trying to keep it loose. One thing I learned from watching Jody (Hill) was that he was relaxed and VERY SUPPORTIVE of his actors. He LAUGHED. He made them feel good. Feel funny. I could see the positive effect it had.

“All actors are walking on a tight rope. Comedic actors are trying to fly.”

Wow. That sounded very bold. Dramatic.

PROFOUND.

If I told you that Judd Apatow or James L. Brooks or Adam McKay said that, would you believe me?

OK, maybe not. I just made it up, on the spot, right here at 12:19 am.

So I was trying to be cool. And I felt cool.

Right up until the moment when we were sitting around a wicker patio table (borrowed, not rented) and little Andrew (my first born son) ran up to our table, with my mom chasing after him (she was afraid he was going to grab one of the many cups of steaming coffee that were sitting on the table…) and she slipped… She was wearing flip-flops…

She went down hard.

Body.

Head.

Meet stone patio.

Hard.

And just like that, the cool, calm, confident director was gone.

Because I’m a selfish prick, the thought did cross my mind, “You gotta be f-cking kidding me.”

We were thirty minutes away from starting the culmination of nearly two decades of hard work, failure, pain, perseverance, agony, doubt, self-destruction, humiliation, torture and many other words, and it was all over before it even started. For a moment, I was the protagonist of a Coen Brothers movie. I was right there, I could taste it (the b-tches and champagne), but it all came crashing down at the last moment, in the form of my mother crashing down on the stone patio.

As Ted, my father in law, recounted: “I was sure she had broken her hip.”

This is my father in law. He’s in the movie.

Ted as "Fred" Photo by Guy Jackson, I believe
Ted as “Fred” Photo by Guy Jackson, I believe

So it was over. I could see it all play it out in my mind… She was hurt. Not too bad. But bad enough for an ambulance, a trip to the ER, a postponement of the movie. Enough to allow all my fears and doubts to rise and shout that I was wrong. That I had wasted everything in pursuit of something impossible. I was not meant to have a career as a filmmaker. Even trying to will it into existence with my own script and family and friends supporting me every step of the way…

It was not meant to be.

Fate had spoken. Loud and clear.

But that didn’t happen.

Why didn’t it happen?

Because my mother is a tough little motherf-cker.

(Can I say that? She is small. Five feet tall. Filipino.)

Mom.
Mom with Izzy. The real life or death crisis on the movie. Day 7.

She went down. Hard. Her bell was rung. She might have had a concussion. She was in pain. Her body ached.

But she got up, shook it off, and the show must go on.

She’s not a “woe is me” I need all the attention type.

I guess that’s where I got this stubborn resiliency from. It could be a heroic trait or a tragic flaw.

We’re not the biggest. We’re not the strongest. Fastest. Or *smartest. But we are relentless. We have endurance. We will keep coming. We will get you in the end. Haha. No, I’m serious. I’m Irish and Filipino. We hold onto things like Hatfields & McCoys. (When I say “we” I mean “I.” I don’t want the rest of my family to sound like a psychotic movie villain.)  

*Hardest realization in my life: I’m not as smart as I thought I was when I was younger. It was the one thing I had and it’s been taken from me…

My mom assured me she was OK. And I chose to believe her. (I guess in this situation I’m the assh-le high school football coach and my mom is the star quarterback and she just got lit up by some 300lb lineman who’s got a full ride to Alabama, but we’re driving down the field in the fourth quarter and the state championship is right there in our grasp, so I give her some smelling salts and send her back out onto the field.)

A crisis was averted.

But it was a harbinger of things to come… I’ll use these SAT words every now and then to feel good about myself and my English degree, which has withered away like a neglected house plant while I’ve served a billion hamburgers. 

NEXT WEEK ON HOW TO MAKE A MOVIE IN 18 YEARS

ROLL SOUND. ROLL CAMERA. ACTION! (Or something like that, it’s my first time. Every other thing I’d done was shot with a Sony Handycam in my living room.)

#10 Eight Scripts & The Tide is High

The response from my last post was so overwhelming, I’ve decided to do it again! Thank you for your support!

OK, I did get some nice feedback (from my wife, and Monica Karell https://twitter.com/MonicaQC). I do enjoy writing this blog. But the reason I have the time to do this right now is because I’m not currently writing a screenplay. Writing screenplays is one of the reasons (if not the main reason) why the blog stalled way back when because writing a script requires every moment of writing time I have.

Here are the scripts I’ve written since February 2014:

1. MURDEROUS (1st Draft)

2. L.A.Z. (LIFE AFTER ZOMBIES)

3. MONSTER JOCKS co-written with David Samartin

Me and the Sexy Sax Man Dave Samartin. Dave can call someone a "Cat" and it doesn't sound weird
Me (R) and the Sexy Sax Man Dave Samartin (L). Dave can call someone a “cat” and it doesn’t sound weird )

4. HUDSON RIVERS AND THE MOTOR CITY MASSACRE

5. MURDEROUS (Rewrite #1, Page One)

6. MURDEROUS (Rewrite #2)

7. MURDEROUS (Rewrite #3)

8. DAD VS. DEMON (1st Draft)

9. IMAGINARY FIEND (Dad vs. Demon Rewrite #1)

10. LAKAT (Dad vs. Demon Rewrite #2)

11. JUSTIN OF NAZARETH

So that’s essentially 8 new scripts. Maybe 7 2/3 since I kept most of the first 35 pages of Imaginary Fiend when it became Lakat.

You might be wondering, “How many of those scripts are good?”

My response would be, “What’s your definition of good? If you mean, I could pick it up and shoot it tomorrow… I’d say 2, maybe 3 with some quick rewriting… And I might be crazy.”

Well, I rewrote Murderous all those times because the first draft sucked but the idea was good and it took me a few drafts to get there. This was my first script after the trauma of The Shower Killer Party, and it felt like I was starting over. I think that script is in a good place right now and it would make a great horror movie. (If you want to make it, let me know! I’ll even let you read it first.)

This was also the first time writing a script with two kids. I had even less time. Even less energy. And more expenses.

See why I wanted to make the movie so badly before Izzy was born?

The look on her face says, "I could tell you weren't getting all the shots you needed, so I'm here to slow things down and give you some time to review the footage so you plead your case and get more."

Life After Zombies is one that I didn’t execute as well as I should have. It’s got a solid 50-60 pages, but I sort of went off track in writing it. I intend to go back and fix this one. Same goes for Monster Jocks, which needs even less work, IMO. I’ll toss Hudson Rivers in this pile, too. (It was just a first draft…) These are all horror-comedies.

Super cool art by Hayley Williams.
Super cool art by Hayley Williams. http://www.hayleywilliamsphoto.com Neil Rodriguez is the Monster Jock. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3220076/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

The triumvirate of Dad vs. Demon/Imaginary Fiend/Lakat: Trash ’em and start over somewhere down the line. Some decent ideas and scenes, but that’s all. I might try to make a short film based on the opening I wrote.

Justin of Nazareth. A comedy. No horror. No murders. I finished it a couple of weeks ago. It’s the last thing I wrote, so we’re madly in love with each other…  It’s about a method actor who’s playing Jesus in a community theater production of The Last Temptation of Christ and hopes it will be his big break. He gets into an accident on opening night, nearly dies, and wakes up three days later and thinks that he’s really Jesus. (If you can fund a movie and/or are an actor who can fund a movie and wants to play an actor who thinks he’s Jesus, let me know!)

Years ago, long before The Shower Killer Party was even a twinkle in my eye, I was faced with the realization that I had written a bunch of scripts and was going nowhere. So I pulled out my trusty marble notebook and wrote down every script I had written, and wrote down my “intention” with the story, and what the “execution” was. In each case, what I wrote had veered far from what the original idea was, and I realized that was a weakness I needed to address. I needed to outline more (and better), and really structure each story.

Did it work?

At the least, my writing improved.

And here we are.

So with a lot of the scripts listed above, the same thing applies. You’d think I would have learned my lesson, but there I was making the same damn mistakes…

Here’s my excuse:

Before I wrote The Shower (that was the title of the script so I won’t cross it out) I think I did write at a better percentage. After The Shower, things changed. I focused solely on horror. Which is why the first draft of Murderous SUCKED. I was writing more for a “market” than myself. The “market” being the “horror market.” Also, I was kind of writing towards what I was seeing. Horror movies with budgets bigger than ours. It wasn’t inspiration. It was desperation.  Most of my previous scripts were comedies, action-comedies, dramedies, or indie dramas.

I messed up the Dad vs. Demon idea because I didn’t actually write it to the idea I had (a horror-comedy). I kept trying to tailor it to a movie that I could shoot for budget and I couldn’t make it work. I also wasn’t feeling funny when I was writing it, so it became increasingly dark. And I just didn’t handle it well. Frustrating. But there’s some relief in knowing why and what went wrong.

Speaking of “what went wrong” let’s get back to our main subject.

When I say, “What went wrong” I’m trying to be dramatic. I’m really describing a feeling, rather than a result. I felt like things were going wrong, and probably the most important thing I learned about myself during the process is whether or not I had the strength and ability to do something about it. 

The last post was #9, and in all the excitement of writing my first blog post since early 2014, I forgot to reference Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space.

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The reason I would reference that movie is because there were moments while we were shooting The Shower Killer Party, when I felt like I was Ed Wood. (Truthfully, I felt like Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.)

edwood0670

Early on during shooting I realized, “This is what’s gonna be in the movie, and it’s not how I thought it would be.” (Yes, it was a rude awakening for the first-time filmmaker.) On more than one occasion, I wanted to yell, “Perfect! Print it!” and cackle maniacally as we raced from shot to shot, getting our 11 1/2 pages a day. It was almost an out of body experience, where at points I was watching myself direct the movie. After that, it was like being swept up in a raging current, and the mental struggle is to fight or give up. In a sense, I had to do both. I fought to do the best that I could, but I had to give up the notion of getting “exactly” what I wanted.

In my infamous Valentine’s Day 2014 post, I recall talking about actor/improvisor Craig Cackowski.

CRAIG-CACKOWSKI

http://www.dasariski.com/bios/craig-cackowski

I was lucky to have Craig as a teacher at  iO West. One time he talked about  an improv show being a fight against the current. If things don’t go according to plan, it’s easy to mail it in and go through the motions and pray for the merciless “black out” that happens to end a show. Craig described his philosophy of being able to “save a show on the last line.” I loved that idea. It required being fully engaged and taking in everything that was happening and being a part of it, because the audience was seeing it all. It’s sort of like, “Why are we doing this? Why are we watching this?” And as a performer, you can possibly find the answer if you don’t give up, and there’s a way to tie it all together or even just find some little gem of humor or wisdom amidst the mess. It’s something worth fighting for in art (and in life, I suppose).

So that’s how it felt for me on set.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself again.

How did we get to set?

It was a team effort. We raised a good deal of money in our initial fundraising. Not enough, but enough to shoot the movie in 8 days, and more than I imagined we would. Since we were on a compressed schedule, we were raising funds and in pre-production at the same time. Not ideal, but you gotta do what you gotta do, right?

Things started to come together, with a little help from our friends. (That’s two Beatles references in one sentence!)

This movie got made because of Gulfstream restaurant.

Five of the seven producers worked there at one time.

And when we realized we needed more help, Andy and Steph were able to reach out to an old Gulfstream friend, Rikki Jarrett, to come aboard as a line producer/unit production manager and guide us to and through production. Rikki was a calm, steady hand and brought on a very talented and enthusiastic crew.

We found our DP, Harry Frith, because of a Gulfstream friend, Dan Jenski.

MV5BMTQ5MTY3MDk4M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzAxNzYwMzE@._V1_UY317_CR104,0,214,317_AL_

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1013594/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1,

Harry shot a short film for Dan, and after shooting The Shower Killer Party for us, he shot Dan’s first feature: ADDicted.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3587066/?ref_=nm_flmg_cin_1

Adam Karell, a good friend from the Gulfstream days, and incredibly generous and loyal guy who is always trying to help his friends’ careers,

MCNZombie Booth3

Adam and I at Motor City Nightmares in Novi, MI
Adam and I at Motor City Nightmares in Novi, MI

found us an actress to play his wife (Stephanie Beran)

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3593492/?ref_=tt_cl_t2

and our main location (Stephanie’s house).

It’s true what they say about knowing people. Contacts, connections, it all helps. It all adds up.

The only people who are in the movie that one of us didn’t know previously were

Rob Norton (Pat)

Unknown-2http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3993983/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1,

Alexandra Fatovich (Sara)

Unknown

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0268899/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1,

and Katerina Kopel (Kim)

367c68c5335027bf281ff5555f605416

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1620807/?ref_=tt_cl_t10

They came in, auditioned, and were amazing. I knew right away that they were right for their roles. And they all did excellent at the callbacks.

We had our cast. We had a crew. We had a location.

Now we had to go make a movie.

In the next edition of “How to Make a Movie in 18 Years”:

THE SHOWER. DAY ONE. (and possibly more)

DSC_0820