Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Back from the world of Dreams

Well, this place needs a few cobwebs brushed out of it. I feel like I haven't been in here in so long, I need to do some sweeping and vacuuming. First, I'll hang a few pictures that were shared with me these past few months. Some that were just so fantastic I need to share them with like minded horror fans.

Like the one above, that was in a desktop wallpaper collection someone sent me. A skull full of sinister looking black spheres is an especially potent image to me. If you don't know why, take a peek at my true-life experience with a sinister black sphere, just a few years ago on Interstate 5, driving back to Los Angeles from the bay area:

I did dramatize my experience with music for YouTube, (that is after all what I do for a living, dramatize things) but I did not however exaggerate what happened one little bit.

And while some of my friends doubt what I saw or the details of my story, those who know me best, know I am a skeptic when it comes to such things, but that night, as skeptics often do, I received an education that broadened my perspective to put it mildly.

Other pictures I feel I just have to share because they are so terrific:

(I don't know who the artist is here, but his terrific sense of the terrifying, the garish and the dazzling are quite apparent)

Jeepers news? I wish I could say we have the money to enter our official preproduction, but I can't.

If we had gone ahead with our initial plan to make Jeepers III for a budget of five million dollars (probably a made for DVD scale story) we would have already shot the film by now. But I still feel that the third and final Jeepers story should be bigger and more conclusive than the previous two films.

I am holding out for keeping the film theatrical and on the scale the script presently is at. But we are definitely paying the penalty for not taking the easy money or the short cut of making much less of a movie, for a budget that wouldn't have been even half the budget of the first film.

With each of the Jeepers films bringing in over a hundred million dollars a piece for DVD sales, and having done handsomely in their theatrical releases where they each broke a world record for Labor Day weekend, it would seem the making of a third Jeepers film would be a financial no-brainer.

There are those who understand that JC3 is exactly that. But the financial collapse of the country, thanks to deregulation and unfettered greed by Wall Street, the Federal Reserve and politicians on both sides of the aisle, has damaged not just our personal lives, mortgages and jobs, but in the movie world it has made it next to impossible to get anything financed at the moment.

The newest edition to my team, is my manager Dave Brown, who we may all be thanking soon, for Jeepers finally getting in front of the cameras. More on Dave and all that good stuff as it develops.

One of the things I have learned in this business is that if you don't accept a rather Buddhist philosophy, that whatever is going to happen will, and in its own time, you will have a very unhappy time in the world of movie making.

Let's keep to the positive:

Like earlier this week, IFC, the Independent Film Channel, played both Jeepers One and Two, back to back, letterboxed and completely unedited. They repeated this double bill twice in the same day.

(A desktop JC2 poster, done in the fashion of those great old, Irwin Allen disaster movies)

I have, as I often do when I am writing, fallen off the face of the earth for a time. I have spent the last few months, researching and writing a spec script that has been fermenting in my mind, all through the process of getting Jeepers III funded.

The process may be different for other writers) but there is a time in the script writing process for me, when the story suddenly bursts out of you.

The set pieces all come up, you have found the right music, discovered what the human dilemma of the story is, and then look out, here comes the lion's share of the story -- ready or not.

During this, what I call "the home stretch" of the writing of any first draft, I can find myself working for months, almost continuously. I mean seven days a week with breaks for food and some small distractions to refresh the palette before diving back into the world of the script.

I kept getting signs from the universe everywhere to write this script and that includes a major sign right in the middle of scouting locations in New Mexico for the newest Jeepers flick.

(We walked into a saloon on one of the many standing "western town" sets that populate the state, and there behind the bar, as a centerpiece above the mirror, was this polar bear head)

For those of you who know a little bit about me, or have read previous blogs, you know that JAWS, the film from 1975, based on Peter Benchley's best-selling book that a young Steven Spielberg took and with the help of producers David Zanuck and Richard Brown, created one of the biggest influences in my entire life.

Not to mention one of the biggest blockbusters in movie history. In fact it might have been the first film called a blockbuster. The term, as I understand it, coming from the fact that people often lined up around the block to see these films.

I have often waxed romantic on how this singular film, which I saw obsessively at the age of sixteen, the summer it hit theaters, was what I consider the true birth of my life goal, to make feature films.

(The three posters that adorned the wall next to my bed for most of my teen years)

It was the year when I realized what film editing (Verna Fields) and film scoring (a young JOHN WILLIAMS) and a well framed shot (Bill Butler the director of photography) a good storyteller (a young and ambitious Steven) and good screenwriters (Carl Gottlieb, Peter Benchley and Howard Sackler to name a few who created the script) -- what all these talents combined, could do to a dark room filled with movie goers.

See I didn't just go and see JAWS fifty-five times that summer to watch the movie. I watched the audience. And I watched them because they were absolutely electrified by what they saw. This may make no sense to you, if your experience of JAWS has only been on TV or DVD.

These were sold out crowds of movie loving, movie goers who had heard this movie was a wild ride -- and that's what they got. The movie got them so worked up in places, it was like sitting in the stands of a football game. At some moments, people roared, screamed and stomped their feet they were so affected by what they saw.

The only other time I have seen an audience so active and worked up, was in the finale of John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN, when Laurie is being stalked by the Boogey Man in the last terrific moments of cinema's most effective "killer in the shadows" movie.

Again the storyteller had found a way to set a mood, and create an atmosphere of suspense, that mixed with enough jolts and laughs, that when the time came for the climax of the story, the audience couldn't contain their emotions.

Again, if you never saw HALLOWEEN in a packed theater you may not understand exactly what I am talking about. Sitting in the theater watching that film, was like being in the bleachers when your home team was making a sprint for a last minute touch down. The roar of the audience in places in the finale were louder than the film.

One of the most brilliant moments in HALLOWEEN's finale is Jamie Lee Curtis banging on a neighbor's door, as she is being pursued by the terrifying shape of Michael Meyers -- and the neighbor simply turns off the porchlight on her. I always thought this was a brilliant and realistic comment on our own fears and apathy, and sent the audience into bigger fits of fear and dismay.

But I digress: JAWS, if you will, though I could never have know this back then, became for me, a kind of master class in creating the ultimate thriller/adventure film.

At the tender age of sixteen, and risking death, as I was grounded that week that JAWS hit theaters, I snuck off with my buddies to the local drive-in and was so dazzled -- I copped to going to the movies right in front of my parents, the next morning. All I could say was they had to go see this movie!

I don't remember why I was spared their wrath, maybe my enthusiasm saved me, but when I went a second time -- this was when movie tickets were still three dollars -- or 2.50 if you went to the drive-in -- I liked it even more. And when I went a third time, this time to a walk-in and not a drive-in, the experience I had with that audience, compelled me to come back time and time again.

Until the entire summer was spent, revelling in the JAWS experience. Perhaps only those of you who speak and understand true movie geekdom, can understand what happened to me that summer of '75.

(Even today, the film lives on. Here is an inspired screening of the film in Great Britain, where you can watch the movie, while in the water!)

I already loved movies, but someone had put one together in such a way, that I was filled with a sense of awe and even a sense of purpose. As I went over and over again that summer to the same movie, I was going to my film school, because I watched more than the movie.

I watched the audience and what the music did to them. I watched what a small piece of comedy did to them in the middle of all that suspense, and I watched Steven launch four hundred people right off their seats -- as if those seats were wired with electricity -- all by simply cutting two shots together, with the right piece of music.

(The boys, Robert, Roy, Steven and Dreyfuss aboard the Orca)

I think that film showed me how important casting was. And how splendidly balanced a film cast needed to be. In the case of JAWS, Roy Scheider, who up to then had played tough guys, killers and ruthless pimps, got to a play a decent man, a father, and a cop who moved his family away from big city crime -- to Amity Island.

A man who hates the water and who can't swim, getting the job of sheriff, and about to run into moral dilemmas about politics and commerce vs. public safety.

Roy got a chance to play the classic Hitchcock role of an ordinary man swept up in extraordinary circumstances when a great white shark, the most voracious of underwater predators, stakes a claim off the island he polices.

Add to that cast a young, smart ass rich boy ichthyologist, Richard Dreyfus as Matt Hooper, the town's slippery mayor (the brilliant Murray Hamilton) and the Ahab like shark hunter Quint (playwright and actor Robert Shaw) and you've got a wonderful cast against the backdrop of a really scary and very thrilling story.

The cultural phenomenon of JAWS that summer, changed the face of movies forever. Because it was so big and successful. Successful in box office terms means lots of repeat business. People had such a journey in the theater, they came back to repeat it.

TITANIC's box office prowess sort of mystified me, as there were other Cameron films that to me were far superior rides. Then I met some girls, young girls, who had each seen Titanic fifteen times -- a three hour movie, fifteen times. And they always went with friends, groups of four or more. Can you hear the cash register singing? And these were kids with the short attention spans cultured into them by MTV.

I started to understand the film's box office champ status. And the same reason JAWS was the box office champ at one time, and STAR WARS, THE GODFATHER, THE EXORCIST, and the list goes on and on.

Though in all fairness, only my mentor Francis Coppola seemed to be able to create "the biggest box office champ of all time", with just great acting and storytelling (the Godfather ) With no help from epic special effects, possessed children or the visual hyperbole that comes with science fiction films or the millions of dollars that went into digitally sinking the Titanic.

Put simply: I learned that blockbusters are movies that are seen more than once. More than twice, and often times more than that, by the average movie goer.

And here is where JAWS taught me that a scary movie should be a ride and not just an assault. JAWS you see, had adventure. It had nature, big and powerful, it had human drama and an ethical dilemma -- and terrifying scenes of the monster feeding off us humans as if we were just items on the menu.
(Roy Scheider has his big moment of truth in the thrilling final moments of JAWS, immortalizing the phrase "Smile you son-of-a-bitch!")

JAWS is something we rarely see today in our horror films: terror mixed with humanity, human dilemma and the comedy of life that comes into every stressful situation. I think I have been chasing this idea of the big, scary, adventure film, most of my commercial filmmaking life.

And I make no denials that parts of Jeepers II, is me taking a passing interest in my two favorite templates: JAWS and MOBY DICK.

But a recent spat of Discovery Channel programs (broadcast in HD and on a large plasma screen TV -- there is nothing quite like Hi-Def TV) I started to discover the strange and sad case of the arctic polar bears.

Learning that polar bears are the largest terrestrial carnivores on the planet, ones who have no fear of humans and target them routinely for food, a film started to shape in my own mind.

One particular show made some years ago, showcased that these big, fluffy white giants migrate through several small towns toward the arctic circle in Canada, and are such a threat to the town's inhabitants, that they needed a sort of "polar bear police force" to keep the bears and the humans from running into each other.

The special itself was so scary, the lives of these men who cared enough about these bears to protect them -- and the people of the town the bears routinely scanned for food -- made me realize that a fictionalized movie version of this situation, could literally be JAWS in the Snow.

And so I started reading and watching and doing more research than I have probably ever done in preparing to write a screenplay. The great tragedy I discovered, thanks to the greenhouse effect that is melting miles of arctic ice each year -- creates an even bigger threat to both the bears and the people who live in that part of Canada.

Unable to walk on the now thinning arctic ice -- the same ice which allows the polar bear to hunt and eat (seals, walruses, and even whales) or migrate across the ice of the Hudson Bay, the bears are suddenly trapped and starving, with few options to feed themselves.

(This startling photo illustrates exactly what makes a thriller about polar bears such a scary idea for a film. Here is of one of the great white bears taking a lunge at some curious tourists)

Polar bears are great swimmers, can stay underwater for two minutes at a time, and can outrun humans quite easily. These big guys can get up to forty-miles an hour on land, and the males can weigh up to 1300 pounds. They have an incredible sense of smell -- that could easily out perform even the Creeper -- as the bears have a nose that can smell a seal, ten football fields away under three feet of ice.

The scenario that was presenting itself, was both terrifying and heartbreaking. Polar Bear populations have been declining one percent a year for the last twenty years, thanks to continued and legal hunting of them, and the sea ice, their world basically, melting more and more each year.

Associations for hunters and the lobbyists who represent them in government, misrepresent this situation to keep the bears off the endangered species list, and the continued hunting of the bears makes the situation even more complicated and tragic.

It also makes for a scary-fying thriller, because what happens when the world's largest land predator starts starving? They become even more desperate and bold in their search for food. Hence my latest script, what I call THE WHITE.

(Since my scripts are now distributed in the form of PDF Files rather than printed on paper, I get to design covers for my screenplays, that often resemble my fantasy of what a movie poster of the film might look like)

It's a good sign when I work seven days a week, for months and months on something. Which is what has kept me from making any blog entries of late.

When I work really hard on something, it means that it has gotten so exciting for me that I am at a point, where I can't do anything BUT work on it, and that always makes me think I might be creating a movie idea where people will feel the same way watching it: like they are on such a ride that they can't do anything BUT watch it.

I just registered the script with my union, the WGA, (Writer's Guild of America) a precaution I take after finishing each of my scripts, so I can feel like my idea is protected and I can talk it up when and where I want to.

(A page of introduction and explanation that I include in my first draft)

I think, most notably, THE WHITE, afforded me the opportunity to write my own JAWS. And if I can find the financing, perhaps make it into a film that would be a nod to one of my all time favorite films. More than any other nod I have yet made in my other suspense films.

But mostly THE WHITE feels like my favorite kind of movie adventure: full of suspense and terror, but also full of wonder and adventure. And of course, at its center, lots of human dilemma, ethical questions, and some great characters too, all essential for a good and memorable ride.

Other Things to Talk About

Sunday, August 30th at 2:00 pm, at my favorite store in all the world, Dark Delicacies, I will be signing "Dark Delicacies III: Hauntings". The latest anthology of horror stories, compiled by my friend and co-owner of the store of the same name.

I will be there with many other writers, much more notable and accomplished than myself, who have also contributed stories to this, the third installment of this award- winning series of books.

What makes it auspicious for me, is that my contribution, "The Wandering Unholy", marks my first ever published short story. Prose has never been my strong suit, but I was happy and anxious to try my hand at it.

If you think writing screenplays (of which I have written about forty since my high school days) is the same as the art of telling a story in prose -- trust me when I say, they are two different worlds, and one, much more difficult for me than the other.

So it was a challenge and a delight to do this, and to have it accepted into the third installment, included with the likes of my friends Del Howison and Clive Barker just to name a few.
Del and I have spent the last couple of years trying to get Dark Delicacies onto TV screens in the tradition of TWILIGHT ZONE, THRILLER and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS.

(Del Howison at the signing of the first Dark Delicacies anthology, at his wonderful store of the same name, run by Del and wife Sue)

The story I contributed for this installment of the book series, was based on a teleplay I wrote for said DARK DELICACIES The Series.

If you are Southern California adjacent, drop in, buy a copy and say hello.

(The signing will be Sunday, August 30th, at the wonderful Dark Delicacies, 4213 W. Burbank Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505 )

If you can't make it, and want to read the book, or even get one autographed by many of the authors in the anthology, just click onto the Dark Delicacies website. http://www.darkdel.com/ You can order one that is personalized just for you.

Onward and upward, more Jeepers news soon hopefully,