Monday, May 8, 2017

Why NOBODY Will Be Talking About Your Mega-Budget Horror Film In A Year


Being a “failed” filmmaker, as in, having never completed a feature, though not for lack of trying, but for budget crises and the woes of normal life – the day job and the rent and the light bill, et al – you may just take what I write here with a grain of salt. Or walk away now.

But if you’re a horror filmmaker, and have that hunger to be considered a great horror filmmaker – a Hitchcock, a Bava, an Argento – I think I’m about to reveal The Secret To The Universe, so you may want to stick around.

I haven’t yet exactly had my turn to do it, but I GET it.

You are wondering how George Romero could turn about $25,000 into a penultimate horror film that people, decades later, still talk about, write about, hold seminars and go to HorrorCons about… Meantime, you’re about to sink another $10 million into FX do-overs and multi-layer re-renderings, and still unsure if anyone’s going to give a dead rat’s ass about your epic scare-fest, or how soon it winds up costing 99¢ in the Walmart DVD shit bin.

The one horror film in particular that got me on this rant, or more precisely, its trailer, is a recent offering called “The Bride.”

I didn’t need to worry if this film might jump the shark at some mid-point, because it jumped it at mid-trailer. And dare I say, it jumped the very same shark that most modern horror films do. I’d just never seen it jumped so hard before, with such apparent lacking of self-awareness, that I jumped from my chair and screamed “Really??? Serious?? What is WRONG with you kids today – stumbling into multi-million dollar production deals, per chance with a half-decent story to tell – and you do THAT???? AGAIN???”

The film actually explores a subject that I myself have always wanted to make a horror film about; the 19th and early 20th century custom of having photographic memento portraits made of deceased family members, just prior to burial. It may seem morbid on its surface, but in those days photography was not quite the digital democracy it is today. Having a family portrait done was a costly and rare commodity. In some cases the postmortem portrait was the only photo of the dead loved one that the family possessed.

Not uncommon was say, a husband and wife posed with the propped-up corpse of their dead child, in clothing and make-up designed to bring an illusion of life and family union. Or a group of brothers posed around the one sibling who wasn’t breathing, all of them dressed for formal celebration. Sometimes the deceased person's closed eyelids were painted over with open, staring irises.

Brides who’d unexpectedly passed into the next world shy of their special day of days, were posed formally in their wedding dresses, as if about to enter into a next room where their grooms waited. Their faces were remolded by the photographer to appear humbly joyous with anticipation, when likely they were about to be buried in the festive gown, within minutes in some cases.

Some were already putrid and melting in the posing-harness by the time the camera was brought in. But the memento was deeply wanted and dearly purchased.

The trailer for “The Bride” depicts one such occasion. A dead woman in her wedding dress, with eyes painted on her eyelids, is posed and reposed by a patient photographer. Her blank stare is enough to give most people the creeps, because of the conceit that she was once a blushing bride, but now an artificially blushed propped up carcass.

As the photographer tries one last time to pose her chin up, she suddenly… guess.

Suddenly CGI morphs into a pissed off mega-demon – a payoff flicker “shock” before a cut-away. Did you guess that? Good answer. Did it scare you? Me neither.

Because I knew it was coming, and I also happened to KNOW it would be exactly a pissed off CGI mega-demon. It’s ALWAYS a CGI mega-demon. How many films have you seen where something or someone looks harmless or at least docile, then suddenly explodes into a CGI MEGA-DEMON?

Hundreds? It’s like watching the faucet drip, knowing the next drip will look and sound exactly. Like. The. Previous. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip.

How much money did the producers spend on that three frames of SUDDEN EXPLOSION INTO A CGI MEGA-DEMON? You don’t want to know. They wish they could forget.

Because their expensive CGI Mega Demon is now resting with all the other CGI Mega-Demons, in the Walmart 99¢ DVD shit bin… destined for the even “bargainer” bin out in the alley. Which is where your career belongs if you keep making movies about CGI Mega-Demons.

Do you want to be a horror filmmaker with a respected legacy?

HERE’S THE SECRET, if you care to read it.

You created your CGI Mega-Demon why? Because you believed it would “scare the audience.” Did you ever take an extensive writing class, taught by a good writer (not a hack with a teaching credential because his/her actual writing career went nowhere)? What was the fundamental informal rule they promoted?

Write from what you know. Nothing looks or sounds more real from your pen, or camera, than your reality.

What – to me – would have been a hundred times scarier than another CGI Mega Demon? My own cooking, but that’s another blogpost for another time. What would have been scarier, was if the dead woman’s eyelids – with eyes painted on them – had merely opened. The photographer gets a load of dead eyes looking up at him, from a dead woman who suddenly no longer needs help lifting her chin.

I’m not talking zombie films. I’m sticking to mainline horror, here. She gets up, with the fixed stare now real, and it’s game on.

That would scare undigested frankfurters out of me. When I was a child and went with my parents to the funeral parlor to see my grandmother’s body in-casket, I watched with mounting trepidation as my father touched her hand one last time. If her hand had moved, or worse, touched him back, I would have been careening down the interstate, on foot, getting away. Faster than my Dad!

No CGI. No Mega-Demon. Just something you genuinely dread, gaining a pulse.

Don’t worry about what you think scares the audience. Make a horror film about something that scares YOU. That thing you’ve never fully disclosed – that makes you squirm and start singing Beatles tunes in your head to eradicate it. That which you wouldn’t sit still to watch, on a bet, in real life – create it on-camera.

Trust me – if you make it good enough to re-conjure that scare in you, it will scare an audience out of their acne. Every pimple will pop spontaneously.

Create what would give YOU the need to run. I’m betting it’s something other than another batch of screaming generic Grudge faces. It’ll take nerve, and courage, and the daring to share it with your collaborators – but more a challenge. Isn’t that what you want as an artist?

Isn’t that the "artist's journey" scenario that all the most interesting “making of” documentaries are about?

Leave the CGI Mega-Demons on your FX crew’s résumé, to impress some lesser filmmaker – one who wants that space in the Walmart 99¢ bin. The one that wants to film another Drip.

Film what would scare YOU. Dare to face it, to create it for an audience. You may just purge it, and be left with a horror film that people might just… talk about. In a year. Or two. Or ten.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Narrate Damn It!


This is a personal gripe as a filmmaker (which is just nominal now – I and everyone else shoot video), about something that irritates me more and more about young documentary videomakers. It perhaps just bothers me alone – having taken classes and grown into an appreciative mindset of respect about a concept called... presentation. Even with minimal visual resources, I've strove to present professional quality; and that goes double for the apparently lost art of voice-over narration. I realize not everyone is Morgan Freeman, but that doesn't excuse a complete lack of competence regarding a soundtrack's verbal content. Especially in this age where industry-level graphics and visual effects are available via computer video apps sold retail, it would only seem logical to reflect that same capability with a performance ethic – but no. Cluelessness rules.

More and more I see video narrated by people who basically can't f___ing talk! Granted, they've shown some kind of influence regarding the rhythm (metre) of an ongoing narration... only they've neglected some very obvious components vital to competent voicework; articulation, motivation, pronunciation, context, and that element that admittedly not everyone understands – emotion.

ARTICULATION – Have Subway AFTER you narrate, not AS you narrate. I tend to fast-forward to the end, when I hear a mouthful of marbles. To see if I can surmise your point through the visuals, as your voice makes my ears wad up in spontaneous self-defense mode. This disregard for quality leads directly to a need for...

MOTIVATION – If you don't care what you're talking about, trust me, it's audible. It gives the viewer subconscious permission to NOT CARE EITHER, to click off of your video and move on.

PRONUNCIATION – Narration is edification concerning elements not fully discerned by the visuals. Research proper pronunciations of things like names, places, and historical points. Nothing will drive away viewers as fast as cringing while you presume that General Washington's first name was “General,” or can't discern anything awkward in phraseology like “the World War II” or “John Elf Kennidely.”

CONTEXT – Being young and less knowledgeable is only a partial excuse. Learn the chronology of your subject. Charlie Chaplin didn't “make videos,” he shot FILM. Einstein didn't send a famous email to Roosevelt.

EMOTION – Yes... please. Take a frigging acting class. Learn to communicate. Even the most well written narration falls short if it's read like a recipe for salt water. If it's worth making a video about, it's worth telling in a compelling tone, no? Do you want an audience? Are they living? Would you like a LIVING AUDIENCE to RELATE to your video?

Friday, June 10, 2016

Berned.

You are a Bernie Sanders supporter. There's something going on that ought to greatly disturb you. I'm not talking about vote tampering or network bias; if you'd allow me to play devil's advocate. The following is just an opinion, but please do not misconstrue or oversimplify it. You may have a different one, so I'll go ahead now and apologize for the offense – though it's not my intent to offend. Unfriend me if you must, but be assured at the outset, this isn't a sermon on capitalism vs. socialism (though I could probably set fire to my own mouth giving one).

I'm doing my Solonic duty here. (Look up Solon and his famous decree – which made me cringe as a younger man.)

A month or so ago, on my Facebook page I stated my shock at Ted Cruz and John Kasich for their audacity and duplicitousness. Candidates (should) have an unspoken contract – a mandate – to those who invest their time, personal resources, energy, and yes their faith, some their very lives, into his/her campaign. Both Cruz and Kasich verbally pledged (they'd now deny it, even after being shown the video) to fight to the end, take the battle all the way to their party's Convention even if they were outright defeated on paper. Their supporters stood behind them – committed their integrity – based on that. Cruz and Kasich then both reneged. Cruz walked away, left his loyals high and dry, and Kasich made it plain to anyone with eyes and a brain that he was only a puppet on a mission. I said that the crowd had every right to take the bastards outside and hang them. Those poor people, their whole past year had been proven based on slick rhetorical gift-wrap around a box of hot air. The candidates were just sales reps trying to tap dance their party back into power. They were "madmen."

Back in early 2015, they didn't count on there being serious competition. Their handlers and gravy-train assured them that they were "the next big thing," and of a breezy path into office. They had no intention to go hardcore for voters, the little people who committed, who attached actual hope for their lives to it. (Catch the old movie "Meet John Doe" some time… seriously.)

So I've noticed something very peculiar. After Tuesday night's California primary, and the media declaring Hillary Clinton, like Trump, the "presumptive" nominee of her respective party… (I've been voting for 30 years, never heard "presumptive" used there before)… Bernie Sanders has yet to announce his concession, yet has dismissed most of his campaign staff. Then he requested, and very quickly got (!), a private conference with President Obama to… what… discuss alternate campaign strategy? A pretty unprecedented little powwow, frankly; during which, according to rumor anyway, he suggested the dismissal of the current DNC Chair. Then in an even wilder turnabout, four hours later, the POTUS officially announced his endorsement of… Hillary Clinton! He called her the most qualified person ever to run for the office. (I think Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy et al, might disagree there.)

Does any of the above seem odd? Do you honestly see just a series of coincidences taking place?

Then… Sanders made a very coy statement that he will do everything he can to prevent Trump from becoming President (without mentioning Clinton). At the same time I hear and read all these references to a Clinton-Sanders ticket. A few people have even said it's a natural. Uh… really??

Folks, you people with brains (I pride myself on having a friend list – this means you – whose smarts I'd put up against anyone's)… if, and I say IF, Sanders joining forces with Clinton is a "natural"…? Remember the comparisons between Sanders and Jesus, and yeah, all that? I have a better comparison: Judas. If Sanders accepts the VP spot with Clinton, then may I suggest (as a conscientious observer) that the "Revolution" was BULLSHIT. There's no revolution… there never was a revolution… and Bernie Sanders won't even look a TV camera in the eye and admit it to you. Like Cruz, he's lingering near the exit now that the stink has risen to nose-level.

You want a real "two corinthians" quote? Here it is: "For Satan masquerades as an angel of light." – II Corinthians 11:14

Sanders may show up at the Democratic Convention, or may even do the third-party option, but make no mistake that he is obediently handing over your hard work, your vestment, your faith, your words shouted so bravely on Facebook among other places, to Hillary Clinton under the table. The fact that he is now claiming only an ambiguous, strangely vague effort to impede Trump, rather than uphold the contract with you – his supporters – to fight Hillary to the end, should speak volumes to you. She is, after all, still his priority opponent; he has to beat her before he can – according to you – outpoll Trump in the g.e. Starting a third-party is a moot point if he can't get past Hillary; she'll be the same brick wall in the general, that she was in the primary. At best, he'll split the vote in Trump's favor.

I'm not endorsing anyone with this particular rant, btw.

I imagine Sanders is a gracious man privately; sings to babies, cuddles kittens... But like Cruz and Kasich, when his armor was cracked in battle – it revealed he wasn't in it. Bernie Sanders will not go hardcore for you, because he has NO core for you. Like all politicians, he knew what battle cry you'd salivate to, and led you to the battleground. Risking it all was your job, never his. This was his long career's natural time to attempt a last hurrah, it was never about you.

That's the most astute observation I've offered: he's just doing what all career-politicians do in the last mile. Trying to make it the victory lap. If he were about the people, why not run in say, 2004? 2008? 2012? It's because he wasn't at the end yet. He carries no cross now. The "cause" won't be there in 2020.

Did you get Cruzed? Just now "feelin' the bern" around your backside? No sarcasm here. If you don't think too hard, you won't grieve long. You gave your heart and got dumped anyway. Been there. The Kiss of Judas. Yes he would; you don't live 70+ years never holding a legitimate job (his legacy), without somehow placating the Romans. Welcome to the club.

No matter who wins, this is our country. I will not leave it, like a few soulless moron celebrities have "bravely" promised. About them: that's called Cut-n'-Run. It's what the ultra-RICH did in the Great Depression – left the country while the little people mopped their own blood and guts up.

They said if Reagan became President, America was over. They said if Bill Clinton became President, America was over… Only if WE give it up, it is. I will survive, like I always have. Like you always have. There's always as asshole in office – haven't you paid attention? Amen.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Where's The Rest Of Me?

Just over a hundred years ago, newspapers were the entirety of "the media." Great thinkers, writers, and artists did time there. Some genuine legends were birthed there, or at least passed through from time to time. Ambrose Bierce, James Thurber, Ring Lardner, Dorothy Parker, Heywood Broun, Dorothy Kilgallen, George Herriman, Rube Goldberg, (and those are just the names that pop into my noggin in no actual historical order). There were scoundrels to be sure, and over-rich corporate dabblers as usual. The Donald Trump of the early 20th century was a media mogul named William Randolph Hearst. Only he didn't need to be POTUS – his influence elected and unelected them.

But then the cinema, the radio, television, and ultimately the internet and the wi-scape (in that order) took over as "the multi-media" evolved. Now, the printed newspaper is the family dog begging for table scraps. And some of the greedy scarfers at the table are just pretend media – trivia and satire pitched like real news – with ambiguous, cliffhangerish headlines. (Why have we developed a NEED for that?) The dog metaphor is even more apropos; why do I feel like we're about to be driven out to barren country and abandoned?

When I first got in, there were still (the last generation) of full-time illustrators & cartoonists making livings in the newspaper industry – people doing just that, not made to multi-task in other areas to justify their employment. Slowly emerged that miraculous little box that "made jobs easier," then "did part of the job for you," then "made you obsolete." I set down my pen and ink, after winning several awards following in the footsteps (so I thought) of those great illustrators of yesteryear. When the computer began its march to conquer, I jumped aboard thinking I'd be a part of the so-called revolution, not even realizing that I was self-hastening my own irrelevance over the long-term. Each and every digital expert-overseer that entered my professional life turned out to be part assassin. No wonder most of my office demeanor over the years was hot-headed and defensive.

It was an ever dimming shadow of the industry I only thought I'd joined... no one needed illustrators, or cartoonists, or "different thinkers" anymore. Only template tracers, mouse clickers, cut & pasters, copy-flow clerks. Proof-readers? No, Spellcheck – the employees don't spell. If they can, they're placed on remote desks and made to do that for publications in multiple counties. Saves each paper from having to hire a separate one. Now, even they are hired more and more overseas – and work for pennies. People who live a half a globe away – your town's number one source for "news" with minimal local navigation. Can't grieve forever, right?

We took a vital industry with a vested connection to the communities it served, as rooted in each as the police, fire and utility departments (a family member in print form, if you will) and turned it into a generic recycle product with pretend relevance and zero accountability brought to you by people who wouldn't know you from a striped polo shirt in a Lands End catalog... and could care even less. A Big Mac in print form.

People of those older generations I'd sometimes hear laughingly recall using newspaper for toilet paper – because toilet paper did not yet exist and that ironically gave the newspaper added value, beyond its publish date. Groucho Marx once complimented the now defunct New York World that it even smoked well, if one couldn't afford actual cigars. Today, some current editions are hardly worth outhouse use, off the press. In my 30+ years (did I hope against hope that it would get better if I persevered?) – this once great industry unraveled. And I allowed myself to unravel with it. The great thinkers and doers – literati, the adventurers with pens and ink and type presses – were all replaced by hedge fund brokers and real estate flippers – with their outsourced minions.

A newspaper job was once a goal. Newspapers had tangible value and made tangible profit. Today they offer an artifice of tangibility and the revenues reflect that emptiness. Yet, the sales department is forced to constantly raise the nose higher each quarter, in a year pointed at the ground like a plane out of fuel.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

February Randomary

From "soft-serve" back into "the logging business." I can only hope it means my bowels are making a comeback.

Now that it's viral on Youtube, do you still "not give a shit" what people think of your behavior in public?

Only Hollywood A-Listers are in show biz as hard as Realtors. Making million dollar deals and getting their pix in the paper every week.

Some rejected Candy Heart slogans:
Need My Meds
Wipe First
Fist Ride
Tested OK
C U N Court
My Turn Yet?
I Taste Onion
Scratch Already
Shave It 2-Nite

Walk-in of the week: "Hey can I buy a shitload of newspapers? My daughter's making a volcano!"

Media people who are always on camera every day… even in their own houses… it's a kind of porn.

Inspiration used to mean come up with your own, not put your spin on a cliché.

You're on a roll and don't take shit off of anyone? So... you're like cheap toilet paper.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Brief Rant On Sexism

A little Monday night rant. About sexism. Bear with me.

Years ago, at my first newspaper job, they were to publish a special section called "Women In Business" which spotlighted local female CEOs, business owners and various movers & shakers. They thought that they would utilize my cartooning chops somewhere between its covers, and requested a light-hearted drawing depicting the above. I drew a woman balancing a multitude of hats on her head, representing a woman intimidated by nothing, able to fill any role – among the hats were especially those traditionally (at the time) branded as generally masculine, like a construction hardhat, a soldier's helmet, etc.

The next day at work, I discovered that no one in the office would speak to me. Even discussing assignment instructions, my supervisor would only bark orders at me in single syllables. I finally asked what the matter was – and when someone would finally communicate back, I was informed that I had committed the most brazen act of sexism and gender-phobic puerility (my cartoon).

I made some churlish response to the order of "sorry for depicting a woman as universally capable – what exactly did you want a cartoon for anyway?" followed by "and how long were you mature adults going to pout in moral turpitude instead of communicating?"

Well today, for my current job, I designed an entire section called… wait for it… "Women In Business." In fact, over the past 20 years I have designed several such special sections, entitled… "Women In Business" (every time a paper produces a section like this, it always seems to get the title "Women In Business.") ???

Back on that first time… if I apologized (I don't recall anymore), I hereby take it back. I meant something positive. I rendered a cartoon, as requested. And in the years since, I have dutifully cranked out these dinosaurish "Women In Business" 'special' sections even though they subliminally treat professional women as a special needs group. Like a sub-culture of pretenders who need this annual spotlight to make them 'feel' important. Like say, "Children In Business."

It's never grown beyond this model in 20 years; a special section looking at this interesting oddity among our workforce: "women in business." It is still that in 2015. In my career, I've had 7 female supervisors, 3 female publishers (!) and even a female pastry chef that I reported to. I've had a grand total of only 4 male bosses and 1 male middle-management supervisor that I directly reported to, my entire professional life. All but one job interview I've ever had, was presided over by women.

Dear Newspaper Industry – may I say this is pretty sexist, not to mention gender-phobically puerile, of you. But hey, I'm just a cog performing my job.

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Note To Job Seekers, and the Damn Poetry Corner Returns!

Hint To Job Seekers, from an Old Codger:

Don't waste a résumé on the following type of company – nothing important happens there; they'll pay you a minimally acceptable salary to show up every day and participate in office politics and management-worship. The company is insanely busy, and produces… nothing.

Under "Job Description" they don't detail the position's purpose, but insert a repetitively written "mission statement" about the company as a whole.

Under "Operational Duties" they don't describe any actual tasks, but merely list the other offices over yours, whom you'll report to, and ask permission to take bathroom breaks.

Under "Qualifications" their list of educational and experiential must-haves is the equivalent of a senior employee making at least 5 times what they're willing to pay you.

If you choose to throw your hat in the ring, just keep in mind it's only for a paycheck and whatever medical benefits they offer. You won't be participating in anything tangible, or productive, much less essential.

***

DAMN POETRY CORNER

I fall off ladders
I fall off bikes
I'm off the radar
Everyone yells yikes

When I walk
The Children laugh
But I'm too poor
To hire a staff

___

He hooked up with a drunk whore who smoked in bed.
Put asunder by a sipper who slumbered with a cinder.