31 October 2010

"Under the Lamplight"

A brand new piece I wrote for Radio Hound Productions is now online! "Under the Lamplight" is the final installment in their Scream Til You Die Shocktober! Terrible Tales of Terrific Terror series. Which means it's spooktacular. Or ghoulicious. Or doomnificient. Or eerieriffic. Give yourself a treat for Halloween and listen to it here (click the "Pod" icon next to the title). To listen to the rest of the Scream Til You Die Shocktober series, click here.

The story of how I came up with this is stupidly long and mostly uninteresting. Suffice it to say that it stems from a visit I took to the Biltmore Estate back in the '90s with my family, where I got the idea of a man falling in love with a dead person's image. That specific idea cropped up in a short story that ended up going nowhere, and then returned like a rotting zombie to make an appearance in this radio play.

A severely altered and changed appearance, I should add. My goal for this was to try to combine what I love about Edgar Allan Poe's stories with my love for Japanese horror tales. Not the modern day creepy-children-with-long-hair movies, mind you, but the old stories they (sometimes) derive from. Lafcadio Hearn's books are full of them (Kwaidan being his most famous, made into a film AND a Project Gutenberg e-book) and Wikipedia has pretty healthy pages devoted to specific stories. I also rewatched Ugetsu and read the stories available in the Criterion Collection's DVD package of the film.

Those inspirations somehow gelled and congealed with my original idea to produce "Under the Lamplight." I avoided jump scares because, you know, it's radio and you can't really have anything jump out at people. Also, they're cheap as hell. So I focused instead on steadily increasing the creepiness and moody atmosphere throughout, amping these elements for the ending. I hope you enjoy it, not just this Halloween, but anytime you need an old-fashioned scare.

29 October 2010

How To Network: An Instructional Guide

This month I've had most of my free time taken up with the trials and tribulations of film promotion. The first weekend was our trip to Philadelphia for Project Twenty1. The weekend after that, I flew to Michigan to perform some ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording/Replacement - you know, voiceover stuff) to complete my part in Michael McCallum's next feature film, Lucky. (We also recorded commentary tracks. Fun!) The third weekend - well, that was a weekend off, actually. And then last weekend I was representing Mr. McCallum at the Astoria/LIC Film Festival, where he had two films in competition.

Which means I have not had a chance to catch up on my Netflix queue.

It also means that I've had many chances to meet new people and do this thing called "Networking." And if I'm to be brutally honest with myself, here are my thoughts on it: It sucks and I'm bad at it.

Note that it doesn't suck because I'm bad at it. No, it sucks, and, also, independent of that, I am terrible at it. Part of it is shyness, the feeling that I'm bothering people when I go up and introduce myself. "HI! BE MY FWIEND!" is what I hear myself say whatever I'm actually saying. And part of it is that I know and recognize THE ROUTINE, the routine that sucks the wind out of any possible conversation if you fall into it. It goes like this:

"Hi. I'm Justin."
"Hi, Justin, I'm Peter. What do you do?"
"Screenwriting, mostly. But I also do directing, producing, acting, whatever's needed to make things happen. What about yourself?"
"I'm a producer. I'm trying to get a webseries off the ground."
"Cool. What's it about?"
"Zombie pirate ninja robots. What are you working on?"
"Well, we just finished a few short films that we're submitting to festivals now."
[Awkward pause.]

We've all got to fill each other in on whatever it is we're doing and have done, size each other up, make sure that the person understands how awesome we are. "Hey, by the way, did I also mention that I have a film that was accepted into the 2010 Pissant Film Festival? And that it won 2nd Place Honorable Mention for Best End Credit Sequence? And that it cures the cancer of everyone who sees it, even if they don't have cancer?" And once that's all done, the conversation just fucking dies. No. It doesn't even die. It wishes it were dead as it lies there on the ground, staring at you with big wet miserable eyes, pleading with you to just walk away, WALK AWAY so I can die peacefully without you looking at me!

This happens because we're thinking, "I'm networking. Who's this asshole? Can I use this asshole? Ah, give him a card, move on. I need to meet as many assholes as I can! Meeting assholes is important! All these assholes need to know how great I am! Shit, too late to jump into that conversation. Guess we'll just stand here and stare at our feet and pretend like we're still having a conversation, but what we're really having is an awkward silence because we have nothing left to say about ourselves."

When the awkward silence stretches out, and we find ourselves having to talk just to remember that we're functional human beings that other functional human beings can see and hear and even respond to, we dredge up basic questions to ask the other person, and these questions are always the stupidest fucking constructions that ever fall out of our mouths. It's usually something like "What kind of films do you make?"

More or less any question that begins "What kind" is a complete waste of time because there's no real answer to it. For example: A common meeting-someone-new question is "What kind of music do you like?" A person with even a passing interest in the arts, and especially someone who claims to be a professional working within the arts, shouldn't have a definite answer. Because the real answer would be "All kinds." How can an artist just enjoy one kind of music? Even a classical musician should be aware of this thing called "hip-hop" and have listened to a few hits that the damned kids dance to like they're on drugs.

So now my go-to response when I'm asked "What kind of films do you make?" is "Good ones." It's not just to be an arrogant prick. I genuinely have no idea how else to answer that question. The films that we've made don't really fit into any available genres except "independent" and "low-budget", and this question usually comes after I've already explained that we work on those frequencies. And even if they did fit into a certain genre, I probably wouldn't see it that way.

If you asked Stephen King what kind of books he writes, he'd probably say "Are you fucking kidding me? I'm Stephen King." Or he could also say, just to get you off his back, "I write horror stories." But he'd be thinking "Whatever I dream up." He's done thrillers. He's done dramas. He's done comedies. He's done bildungsromans. He's done things that combine all of those and more. Even his horror stories have more than just horror in them. That's what makes them so horrifying. And that's what I hope me and my collaborators are doing. Not fitting into one genre. Blending elements together to create a new piece of art. What kind of movies do we make? How the fuck should I know? We're too busy making them!

I'm sure a lot of other artists feel this way. And yet we keep asking each other these terrible questions. I think the problem is this: These questions make us talk about ourselves and each other. And who gives a shit about that? No one's actually listening when they're networking because they're too busy trying to make everyone else listen to them. We're all spewing nonsense about ourselves, talking past each other, and asking questions of that nature just encourages us to keep doing that. It leads to one-up-manship.

"What have you done recently?"
"Got my film into a festival."
"Well I've gotten my film into your mother! Boo-yah!"

I've found that the best connections I make, both within the arts and just "Hey how ya doin" bumping into people, are the ones where we quickly get over the "Hi, I'm this asshole, I do this, what do you do?" swill and get right to the "Don't you just fucking hate it when Tom Cruise isn't running in a movie? If he's not running I'm thinking 'Why am I watching this goddamn thing?'" Not talking about ourselves, but talking about other things and our opinions on them. Which, yes, is just another way of talking about ourselves, but is much truer and interesting and says more about ourselves than "My name is Kyle I am five and three quarters my dog is brown it eats its own poop."

So this is what I'm proposing:

When you meet new people, STOP talking about each other, and START talking about anything else. ANYTHING. It's the only way you can make a real connection and get a feeling for the actual person underneath all the trying-to-impress you bullshit. And that will make a much deeper impression on them, and thus help you more effectively network.

It's only by not networking that we actually network.

06 October 2010

Project Twenty1: The Aftermath

First, the bad news: No, we did not win any awards at this year's Project Twenty1. The good news: That doesn't matter, because we had a hell of a good time seeing great movies and hanging out with great friends. The BEST news? You can now see our non-award-winning-but-still-wonderful-film-if-I-do-say-so-myself, Patient Zero:

Watch it multiple times! Appreciate new aspects with each viewing! AWE! to the riveting performances! GASP! to the crackling writing! THRILL! to the swift editing! ZAZZLE! to the intricate sound design! GAJOINK! to the keen direction! Then tell the world about how much you love it! Share it with friends and family! Shove it in their faces! Make them see it for the brilliance it is! AWAKE THEM TO THEIR IGNORANCE!

You know...if you like it. And I hope you do.

My hats go off to all of my fellow competitors. This was the strongest year yet for Project Twenty1, with a crop of fantastic flicks that will really inspire me to BRING IT in everything I do, competition-related and otherwise. Also, I'm now famous thanks to a local news broadcast featuring me in the background for approximately two seconds. Watch it and play "Where's Justin?":

Of course, now that I am, in fact, famous, please be careful how you approach me if we should ever meet in person. Do not look me directly in the eyes unless I say it is okay (I will never say this). Do not ask for an autograph without first offering money, goods, or services. Laugh at all of my jokes; if you are unsure if it is a joke, laugh just in case, and then quietly excuse yourself from the conversation. Be prepared to fetch items and serve as a chauffeur. If you feel these rules do not apply to you because you have also briefly been in the background of a local news broadcast, please provide evidence of such. NO OTHER EXCEPTIONS WILL BE MADE.

Though the competition is officially over for this year, the competition that is Our Lives continues, which means I'll have some new projects and updates to share with you later this month. Once again, I recommend staying at your computer and constantly hitting refresh on this page.