2013 – What a Year!

Happy Holidays and New Year!

Happy new year to everyone! The year kicked off with a couple of great pieces of news: first, Found In Time had its New York City festival premiere at the Anthology Film Archives, as part of their ongoing NewFilmmakers NY program, on January 2nd. The attendance was a little sparse, but pretty damn good considering it was just after the new year and we were in the beginning stages of a really crummy winter storm.

Secondly, Preparing For Takeoff got a really nice review in Pro Video Coalition (PVC). Head over and read it if you get a chance.. PVC is a really terrific site, and features reviews, articles, tips, and news about the film and video world. It’s a great resource for indie filmmakers.


2013 was a pretty amazing year, by and large. It was a bit overwhelming at times. Found In Time played at nine festivals and got picked up for distribution. Along the way we created a seemingly endless amount of key artwork, for the poster, flyer, postcard, DVD slipcase, DVD cover, online ad, etc. Preparing For Takeoff, my book on preproduction, was also published in 2013. Promoting it to bookstores, conventions, review sites, indie filmmakers, and colleges took a while but was very rewarding. Somewhere in there I rewrote an older spec script, and started working on some new projects. Oh, and I started teaching a course on production management, something I’d never really done before.

One of the casualties of all this newness was the downtime I had two years ago when Found In Time was wending its way through post. It’s been harder to find time to reflect, exercize, and meet with colleagues and friends. I find that I miss it, and so one of my 2014 resolutions has been to carve out more downtime. It’s the only way to recharge and come up with new ideas.


The good and bad news is that filmmakers are finally waking up to what’s going on in their field, namely that they’re getting pushed into the same position that musicians found themselves in about ten years ago, and writers have been in for even longer. The demand for media of all types is rising, but the payoff for the media creators is getting smaller each year. That would be acceptable if the cost of living was manageable, but it really isn’t anymore. Education, healthcare, rent, food costs – pretty much all the necessities of life have become insanely expensive, even more so in the big cities that are often meccas for creative people.

The good news is that film folk are individually and collectively trying to do something about this. I’ve noticed a lot of camaraderie among filmmakers, and less competition. There’s been a growing awareness on the part of writer/directors of the critical role of the producer. I’ve seen crowdfunding take off in a really big way. Filmmakers have embraced (for better or worse) the idea that they have to think about distribution from the get-go.

The bad news is that marketing and promotion are difficult enough to do when it’s your sole job. When you’re also responsible for creating the thing you’re marketing, it becomes difficult if not impossible. To run your art as a business, you have to dedicate time to the following:

  • Working on new projects
  • Making and following up with contacts
  • Distributing projects that are “finished”
  • Marketing and promoting projects (both new and old)
  • Taking care of the office (paying bills, ordering supplies)
  • Bringing in/chasing after money

Each of these requires a different skill set, and a different type of concentration. The soft underbelly of all this is the art itself. After you’ve done all your social media work, fired off emails to friends, put together a little pitch document for your latest project, put the artwork together for your film’s postcard, and done some paying work (that’s hopefully film-related), how much energy/time/concentration do you have left to sit down and write your next script? Or even read your next script? And yet, people are doing it, often by forming small teams. I saw a lot of three and four-person “families” at the festivals this past year, and it’s a good sign.


This past year marks the first in many where I think I spent more hours watching TV shows than I did actually going to the movies. I usually watch one show at a time, because that’s all I can budget for. This past year, however, I watched Game Of Thrones, Orphan Black, Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, and too many specials and webisodes to mention. This is a great time for television!

This was also the first year I saw more consistently awesome films at festivals than in theaters. I was terribly disappointed by most of the studio movies I saw in theaters, and even many of the so-called indie movies were just rehashes of various formulas with an “alternative” soundtrack. On the other hand, the films I saw at festivals – both shorts and features – were captivating, surprising, engaging, and entertaining, and managed to be all those things on shoestring budgets. Most of these films are going straight to DVD and digital.

This, frankly, sucks. The big screen still has a place in our culture, and it shouldn’t be reserved for high-budget dreck like Star Trek: Into Dumbness, or even enjoyable rides like Pacific Rim. Have we have become too enamored of spectacle, and identify it with the big screen too much? Can’t we still appreciate how wonderful it is to see a truly indie movie in a theater with strangers laughing, crying, clapping and oohing all around you? I remember seeing Francois Truffaut’s Small Change in an arthouse theater in upstate New York as a kid. It was as momentous to me as seeing Star Wars in the theater in the Bronx a few years earlier. There’s still a place for a theatrical release for really small films, but we may have to fight a bit to make it work.


Found In Time will be released this year by Green Apple Entertainment. Beyond that it’s hard to say what’s going to happen. We’re still looking at festivals, sci-fi conventions, and alternative theatrical venues for the film, and are contemplating a trip to the Cannes Marketplace to get acquainted with the woolly world of foreign sales agents. The future can be guaranteed to bring more change, at a more rapid clip that was thought possible. Here’s to a great year ahead. Let the adventure continue!

We Have Distribution For The Film!

Found In Time

First, the great news: Found In Time has been picked up for domestic DVD/digital distribution, by Green Apple Entertainment! Many thanks to our producer’s rep, Glen Reynolds at Circus Road Films, for working so hard and never giving up in the film.

Second, it’s time to take stock a bit and figure out what, if anything, we learned about distribution during the past year of trying to chase it down. This will be an ongoing process, since the actual distribution phase of the film has just started, but here are some initial thoughts.


When my girlfriend heard that the film had gotten a distributor, her first reaction was “that’s great.” Her second was, “so that means you can move on, right?” For better or worse, no.

Unless you’re one of the lucky contestants who win the jackpot – a decent all-rights deal with an actual advance – distribution is really the third act of the very long (melo-)drama that is the making of your film. Distributors want to make money. You probably want money too, but you also want other things – fans for your next film, a sustainable filmmaking career (whatever that means these days), and some exposure for your work. Sometimes exposure runs counter to income (as anyone traveling the festival circuit knows).

Once you have a distributor, you now have to put together your deliverables.


The last few deliverables contracts that we’ve seen (both for our film and others’) have specified that the projection master be delivered via QuickTime. Tape delivery (on HDCAM-SR, DigiBeta or other formats) has mostly gone by the wayside. This is great news, in that at least you don’t have to shell out for dubs at the point where you can least afford them.

On the other hand, it may mean that the distributor is fronting those costs through post house deals they have, which also means that they’re going add them to their list of expenses. Which means you may have to wait even longer to see any money. Find out if that’s what’s going on. Perhaps your post contacts can even outbid theirs?

Artwork is key. If you have a poster, postcard, DVD sleeve, etc. artwork, then make sure to provide them to the distributor, preferably as layered Photoshop (PSD) file. Don’t forget to include font files for any custom fonts you’ve used.

Make sure you get good stills, or know how to intelligently grab still frames from your film and resample them properly for print. Learn the difference between web-friendly and print-friendly graphics! If you don’t know this stuff and don’t have time to learn or just don’t feel confident that the results will be any good, find someone (and pay them something) to do it for you.

Get a music cue sheet from your composer! This is nothing more or less than a list of all the music cues in your film, named, with the beginning/end timecode of each. Didn’t get it from the composer? Track done your sound post folks. Is neither an option? Then it’s time to watch your film in your NLE and write down cues!

A timed dialog list is very helpful to have. That’s a list of every line of dialog as it was uttered by your actors (you’d be surprised how different it is from what you wrote), along with the timecode start/stop points. You also want to include title cards, written words on screen (like on someone’s phone), voice-overs/off-screen dialog, and even “human sounds” (laughter, grunts, etc).

This list will be used to create subtitles and dubs of your film, if you happen to get foreign distribution. It’s incredibly tedious to make these, but if you can stand to do it yourself you’ll save some bucks. Here’s an Excel template with some example lines from Found In Time to show you what one looks like.


Found In Time will be distributed on DVD and digitally. There’s no guarantee of what exact shape that distribution will take, or how long it will take to get the film out there. While that’s happening, we want to publicize the fact that it’s getting distribution, so that more people will still be interested in buying it when it’s finally available.

The best ways to do that:

  • Taking it to festivals
  • Four-walling it
  • Sending it to film critics (though this can work against you if you don’t have a “critic-friendly” film)
  • Using social media and your friends to evangelize
  • Connecting to fans
  • Personal connections (to the cast, crew, vendors, mentors, helpers, friends)

We’ve taken the film to festivals and critics, and have used Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and our monthly e-blast to get the word out. We could be doing more with social media, but honestly there aren’t enough hours in the day.

We’ve also sent out personal emails to people we know and love, letting them know about the film, and offering quid pro quo if they’ll get the word out. So if they have something going on they’d like us to publicize, we’ll be happy to do it. Not only is this good networking, it’s also a decent way to be.

One of the things we’re considering right now is whether to do some kind of limited theatrical distribution. We could use an intermediary, who will charge a service fee; or use a company like Tugg, that does ‘event-type’ screenings and doesn’t cost very much up front; or do something non-traditional. We’re considering the latter option right now. Since we made a sci-fi film, we’re reaching out to sci-fi conventions to see if they’d screen it as part of their film sidebar (if they have one).


Our strategy is evolving, and we’re still learning, about this amazing (and sometimes frustrating) game. But we’ll post more details – and of course, the street date for the DVD and streaming – soon. Until then!

Found In Time At LoneStarCon3

LoneStarCon3 Film Festival

Found In Time will next screen at the upcoming 71st LoneStarCon3, one of the largest and oldest sci-fi conventions in the U.S., down in San Antonio TX! Details:

DATES: Thursday, August 29th, 4pm
WHERE: LoneStarCon3, Marriott Rivercenter – Room 13-14
TICKETS: Hit up LoneStarCon3’s registration page for details on day/weekend passes!

ALSO: here’s a review (in French) + an interview with director Arthur Vincie, from the website Fantasticmovies: Fantasticmovies

Found In Time Hits GenCon Tomorrow


This is a busy August! The 45th GenCon starts today! Located in Indianapolis, IN, it’s the oldest and largest role-playing game convention in the U.S. And Found In Time will be playing at the Indy Film Festival event! Director Arthur Vincie will be on-hand for both screenings!

Here’s a great review from Examiner.com!

DATES: Friday, August 16th, 9pm (Ballroom #4) AND Saturday, August 17th, 2pm (Ballroom #5)
WHERE: GENCON, Westin Hotel (part of the Indianapolis Convention Center complex)
TICKETS: Hit up www.gencon.com for details on passes!

Good News, And Sustaining Your Career


First, some good news! Found In Time has been selected to screen at the upcoming GenCon Indy Festival! That’s right, the oldest and largest gaming convention in the world also runs an independent film festival, and has selected us to screen there. Some details:

WHERE: GenCon Indy Festival, Indianapolis, IN
WHEN: Thursday, August 15- Sunday, August 18th (screening times to be announced)
MORE INFO/TICKETS: www.gencon.com



I’ve been promising an article on rolling your own DCP package for a while now, but the first draft came in at a whopping 6000 words, so obviously I need to do some trimming or I’m going to bore everyone to death. In the meantime, I’ve been preparing an English dialog list for the film (and writing an article on that as well), updating all the promotional material, and working on a secret new project.

So in the meantime, I figured I’d write about something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately – sustainability. Specifically, sustaining a career as an independent writer/director/producer-type in this environment.

A couple of years ago, it seemed like the bitchfest would never stop – every panel, interview, article, and workshop I went to/read about focused on how much the independent film world sucked to make a living in. To some extent it’s never been easy, but with rising staples prices (housing, food, gas), wages that have been frozen in time for the last 15-20 years, lower budgets, the quest for “stars” that would eat up what budget was left, and the increasing crappiness of distribution deals, it seemed like a hopeless cause.

But in the last two years, while we were posting Found In Time and then sending it out, something happened. More avenues of cheap direct distribution have come along – Tugg.com (for limited theatrical), Amazon direct (for digital), smaller-scale aggregators, the Film Collaborative (digital and VOD). If you make it cheaply enough, you might be able to make ends meet, or at least not go completely broke. Even Ted Hope sounds positive – which is saying a lot (love you Ted, don’t ever change).

The problem is how to get past this stage of Ramen noodle filmmaking to where you can pay your rent with it. How many first films can you make? I’ve made two so far, for approximately the same budget. I can make another one in a few years, if I’m lucky. But that’s not a career – that’s a very expensive crack habit. Here are some solutions I’ve been thinking about, talking about, and reading up on. Thank you to Ted Hope, Steven Soderbergh, the Filmmakers Collaborative, Stacey Parks, Jon Reiss, Francis Ford Coppola, Filmmaker Magazine, and as always my friends and collaborators Bob Seigel, Ben Wolf, Adam Nadler, Dan Loewenthal, Quentin Chiappetta, and others who’ve listened and offered suggestions on this).

Make Films Cheaper

With production costs going down, one strategy is to keep making films cheaper, and make them more often. This is the turtle method – lay a thousand eggs, and hope that a few won’t get eaten by predators. If you produce enough films, you can get some paying work. The Mumblecore folks embraced this method, and while I can’t say I enjoyed most of their early efforts, by the time they got to Cyrus the Duplass Brothers definitely knew how to direct, simply because they’d done it so often.

Make One Bigger Film

The other method is to carefully nurture the $1 Million film, package it, and find the money. This can take a lot longer, and you’ll have to play it safe a little bit, but it’s still doable. This is the method advocated by Stacey Parks at Film Specific, and it’s closer to the mammalian model – have fewer kids and take better care of them. You can get most of your expenses covered and even take home a small salary, so you don’t have to try and work a day job while making your film.

But in both cases, how do you pay the bills while you’re developing these films? Well, theres…

Work On Other Films

I did this (and still do, to a limited extent). I worked on a line producer on many first features. It was great fun, even when I thought I was going to have an aneurysm. I learned a LOT about filmmaking that I wouldn’t have otherwise. The only problem is that it’s insanely difficult to develop your own projects while working on others’, unless you’re working on a really low rung. So perhaps you should…


Find some folks who want to work on films also. Then you all make films together. With everyone taking turns supporting each other, at least one project will take off. This makes a lot of sense, and a lot of successful production companies have started this way. The danger here is getting through the first film to the second, without going through all your cash/favors/patience. I’ve seen a lot of partnerships go down in flames because everyone burned through their resources, contacts, friendships, and favors on the first film, leaving nothing left for number 2.


When things were slow on the line producing front, I worked as a payroll accountant. I’ve also worked as a web production coordinator at a festival, as a post supervisor, and as a production manager on music videos, shorts, and other projects. I’ve gone back to computer programming a few times. I wrote the nonfiction book. I teach. I write spec scripts. Most of my artist friends do multiple jobs, some of them related to their field, others less so. If you take the right attitude, none of these is a waste of time (though some days it’s really, really hard not to feel like your life essence is draining into a puddle at the bottom of your cubicle).

The Present and Future

We may have to come to grips with the idea that television (either online or over cable) has eclipsed independent film as a medium in terms of diversity, depth and flexibility. What really exciting, well-written, character-driven stories have I been watching? They’ve been produced by NetFlix, Amazon, HBO, AMC, or other cable companies. They’ve decided that owning the whole pipe – from creation through distribution – is the way to go. They then hire us filmmakers to work on their projects.

So should we all start making web series as a calling card intro? I’m not sure about that either, but compared to creating a feature the costs are lower (somewhat), and the emphasis is not on production value so much as on good writing and acting. It may not be a way to make a living but it’s possible to put together a good web series without breaking your bank, and having it actually reach a sizable audience. And you get practice, which is very important.

I don’t have an answer, and there probably isn’t a single one. You’ll probably have to combine all these techniques to make it work. I do know that if you’re starting your professional life in film, you have to think about how you’re going to sustain it in the long-term. Sounds like a big duh, but it does require a large headset adjustment.

Here’s a picture of my cat to cheer you up. Good luck!



Phoenix Film Festival!

Standing under the poster at the party pavilion.

The last six months have been rather wonderful. To date, we’ve traveled to four film festivals (Shriekfest, Eerie, Nevermore, and now Phoenix/IHSFF), and each experience has been a positive one. We’ve been treated well by the organizers and staff, met some great fans and filmmakers, and seen some terrific films. Phoenix was no exception.

DAY 1:

The festival itself takes place in three separate spaces, that are part of a large (huge, actually) strip-mall. The Harkins Plaza cinema is a multiplex – and very well maintained, with good seats, tasty popcorn, and decent-sized theaters. The ticket office is located a short walk away, and the main event space – the “Party Pavillion” – is in another event hall at the mall. Several vendors and companies rented tables in the Pavillion. They also ran events and kept a bar going. On Sunday, a miniature version of the local Comic Con occupied the space. Having a central hang-out is a great thing – it lets filmmakers and audience members connect more easily, and provides some space for the occasional chill-out.


At 1pm I was on an education panel, talking to about a hundred high school students about independent filmmaking. This was a lot of fun. I had no idea what to expect. Fortunately, I was in great company – Leya Taylor, the DP and producer of Found., Alev Aydin, star/writer/producer of Lonely Boy, Ben Shelton, writer/director of Waking…, and Gerry Santos (producer) and Drew Thomas (writer/director) of Channeling. The event, organized by Bob Marquis, was really focused. The students asked some really good questions. We talked about preproduction, coming up with creative solutions to budgetary problems, and the “glory and grit” of independent filmmaking. Scott Schirmer, director of Found., recorded some of it – you can find it here.


Then it was off to see a film I’d been wanting to see since meeting Scott, Leya and some of the team down at Nevermore – Found. This film is great. Our hero is a twelve-year-old boy, who’s being bullied at school and trying hard to figure out who he is. Oh, and his older brother is a serial killer. It’s a coming of age story, a meditation on the nature of horror and sexuality, and a family drama, all wrapped up in one disturbing package. Winning performances, great cinematography, solid writing – and they made it for $8000, with a tiny crew. This film is tearing up the festival circuit, and deservedly so. It won the Best Horror Feature at Phoenix!

Then I wandered over to the Party Pavilion, met up with the great folks from Sader Ridge – and hung out with them and walked the vendor booths. There were some pretty cool folks there, setting up shop, including the Arizona Film and Media Coalition (azfilmandmedia.org), who are fighting the good fight to keep production in Arizona; the Phoenix chapter of the IFP, who are doing a great job of putting educational events together (ifpphx.org); and the local Screen Actors Guild chapter.

Sader Ridge

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to check out Sader Ridge while at the festival, but Matt Medisch (writer/producer) and Jeremy Berg (writer/director) gave me a screening copy, which I watched later. This is a really terrific film! It’s also one of the more unsettling psychological horror stories I’ve seen in a long while. When Samantha inherits a house from the family she never really knew, she takes a trip to inspect it and the surrounding property. But as soon as she arrives her memories start coming back to her – or are they hallucinations? Her friends start acting strangely – or is she witnessing normal 20-something jealousy? As her sanity starts to unravel, she has to figure out what’s real and what’s not, and where this trip down memory lane is leading her. It’s done really well, with an emphasis on building tension. The film features some really strong performances, and beautiful cinematography, music and sound design. It’s also having good luck on the festival circuit.

After checking into the hotel, freshening up a bit, and grabbing a quick bite of *delicious* Mexican at Filiberto’s, it was off to the Friday night screening of Found In Time. The film got a good reception, and the audience asked some great questions afterward.

DAY 2: Lonely Boy

I managed to drag my ass out of bed early for the 9am screening of Lonely Boy, and I was very glad I did. This is a wonderful film. Written and starring Alev Aydin, directed by Dale Fabrigar, and produced by Alev and Troy Daniel Smith, this was a beautiful portrait of Frank, a man who’s trying to date while in the middle of job, family, and psychological crises – he has schizophrenia. This film somehow threads the needle – it portrays Frank, the lonely boy, as a real human being, and not just as an object of horror, ridicule or slapstick humor. The performances, editing, music, direction – it was all totally there. Good stuff.


Suddenly it was time for Channeling, a really terrific sci-fi/thriller written/directed by Drew Thomas, and produced by Laila Ansari, Gerry Santos, Thomas, Kelly Andrea Rubin (co-producer), and Kip Brown (post producer). This is a “near-future” sci-fi film that combines a lot of different genres, and does it well. The “gimmick” is an EyeCast, a camera that works like a contact lens – it affixes itself to your eye – and livestreams what you see to the world. The more radical things you do, the larger your follower stats. A lot of eyecasters want to get sponsorship. But how far would you go to get it? When one “bad” brother is killed while EyeCasting (an accident that might really be a murder), his older sibling comes home and assumes his identity, to try and figure out who did it and why. Good performances, a really slick (in a good way) look, and a compelling story make this is a really enjoyable film.


I took a break from features to check out some shorts, and was suitably impressed. A few standouts: Life on the River, by Chris Remerowski, was terrific. On the surface it’s a gritty drama about two homeless people who end up camping out by a river, which becomes a kind of sanctuary for them. But who are they? Where did they come from? The twist is too smart to reveal here. The cast is really good and the music is haunting.

Menschen also gets a special shout-out. It was written and directed by Sarah Lotfi, whose last short The Last Bogatyr was a national finalist for the Student Academy Awards. Menschen follows an Austrian captain who’s trying to keep his remaining troops alive at the end of World War II. Desperate for shelter and recooperation, they occupy a farm. A woman and her developmentally disabled son live in the house. After a raid by partisans, the boy loses his mother. The captain, to everyone’s surprise, takes the son under his wing, and takes him with the troops. This has to be one of the most unusual World War II films I’ve ever seen, and it really works. It’s touching without being maudlin, and feels very curent despite being a period piece. And it looks damn more expensive than it cost, thanks to some very sharp technical and producing work.

After a delicious dinner at the local diner with the Found. and Sader Ridge crew, I caught Errors of the Human Body. It was a very good film, but it didn’t really draw me in. The basic idea is that a famous, but now disgraced, American cancer researcher ends up working in Germany, invited by his former grad student (and crush) to work on an exciting new tissue regeneration project. But there are other folks at the lab with less benign motives, and our hero is fighting the inner demons from his past.

After seeing the film I was able to catch up with the Channeling team a little more and talk about the film and their work. Then it was off to bed.

DAY 3: Found in Time Again and Panels

The last screening of Found In Time, at 11:55am on Sunday, sold out! The crowd was very generous and had some terrific questions. The projection was noticeably better as well – I was told later that the bulb in the other room was a bit old (it’s amazing how much of a difference these things make).

Then it was off to check out the panel discussions. First up was the “Writing Horror” panel, which featured Scott Schirmer and Leya Taylor from Found., Matt Medisch from Sader Ridge, David Pruett, director of the Dark Carnival International Film Festival, and Tara-Nicole Azarian, who at the age of fourteen has directed several award-winning horror shorts. They had some really good advice on writing horror, working on a budget, how to make it compelling and scary (instead of merely gory), and why it’s such a good genre to work in. Check out the YouTube video of the panel.

I was on a panel with Gerry Santos from Channeling and Professor Carl Varnado from Scottsdale Community College, moderated by sci-fi writer, Sci-Fi Programming director, and cool guy Mike Stackpole, on world building. This was a LOT of fun, as we dished about sci-fi films that “got it right,” those that “got it wrong,” how to build a believable world on a budget, and other topics.

There was much more to this trip – friendships started, conversations had, food eaten – but that’s all I can fit in one blog entry. The staff at the Phoenix Film Festival were just awesome, and they made us all feel very welcome. This is one of the key things about festivals – if the staff is cool, then everyone else is too. All the filmmakers I met were generous with their time, answering a ton of questions from me (where did you shoot/what did you shoot on/how long did it take you to post/etc.). I can’t say enough good things about the experience, so I’ll just stop now. Until the next festival!

2012: The Poor Got Poorer

Happy New Year 2013!
2012 will be marked as the year that the world leaders were confronted with the effects of poverty on a global scale, and essentially shrugged their shoulders and turned their backs on it.

Instead, we watched as the participants in the various democratic movements of 2011 – the Arab spring, continued protests in Iran, strikes in China, the Occupy movements here and abroad – were systematically beaten, terrorized, arrested and otherwise coerced by the established powers and their police/armed servants. Another year passed while people in the U.S. and Europe were kicked out of their homes, went on welfare, declared bankruptcy, and made to suffer austerity cuts, while the rich people who put them in that position walled themselves with lobbyists and lawyers and defeated nearly every measure to hold them accountable. Another year was wasted while our two-party system deadlocked on key issues. In the so-called BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) we see trends toward increasing political oppression, and a widening of the gap between rich and poor. But that’s okay, because their economy is “growing.” When we see something growing uncontrollably and eating up resources, we usually call it a tumor.

The sheer scale of the suffering is difficult to appreciate. Fifteen percent of this country is on food stamps, and it’s suspected that a larger percentage is eligible. The “real” unemployment rate is in the double digits here, and in the 20s and 30s in big chunks of Europe and the Middle East. Instead of lifting people out of poverty, our economic/political system is pushing people into it.

Poverty is probably worse than just about everything except slavery, rape and death (though it often includes all three). It’s a self-perpetuating limit of personal and societal potential, and it’s completely unnecessary. We have enough food, water, energy, shelter, clothing, medicine and basic human services to go around. The super-rich and even the middle class would barely feel the pinch. Instead we address poverty as a criminal problem – through citations, fines, arrests. We judge poor people’s behavior in ways we would never judge our own (I can’t believe he spends his welfare money on cigarettes, says the guy slurping down his $5 artisanal cupcake with a $5 Starbucks coffee). When we talk about educating people out of poverty, we speak about “math-and-science” and “high skills job training” as though they were a magic panacea, while cutting out other programs. But since we’re hell bent on deunionizing our workplace, in exactly what way will high mechanical/science/math skills help them? And in any case, shouldn’t poor kids be given the same level of choice as rich and middle class ones? Maybe some of them would like to be able to make a living one day as artists, teachers, therapists, historians, anthropologists… we need people in those professions too!

Anyway, this isn’t a blog about politics, but one about movies. But there is a connection. Everyone I know in the film business is trying to make do with less. The budgets are shrinking, and so are the salaries. There’s a wider gap between independent films (shot on a Canon 5D and getting no theatrical or a tiny release) and gargantuan ones (shot for and projected in 3D, getting huge releases). The quality of the films, however, is completely independent of the budget, but IS rather tied directly to the talent of the people involved.

Films addressed the issue of poverty in many ways. Some by offering escapism, some by confronting it head on, some by doing both. Some of my favorite films had nothing at all to do with reality (Cabin in the Woods) while others did (Nothing But a Man). The fact that the latter film came out in 1964 is both a testament to its art and very troubling.

So here’s some observations about movies I saw this year, which may include some that were released in year’s prior (hey, it’s my blog, my rules).


Paul Thomas Anderson is talented. He knows how to use his tools and how to get great performances out of his cast. But I always feel like there’s something missing in his films. And by midway through the second act of each one, I’m looking at my watch. Having seen the The Master, I now know what’s bothering me. He doesn’t know when the scene is over. I’m not just talking about editing (though that’s part of it) – hell, I love long, slow films – but development. Things build to a certain point in The Master but then they just stay there. It’s like watching a Meisner repetition exercise that goes on for too long – you’re bored, then you’re engaged again, then bored again. Give me some progression, please! Frankly, Down And Out In Beverly Hills and Henry Fool covered the same territory but were both more interesting to watch.

Prometheus: I had to shower and watch Alien again to remind myself that, once upon a time, Ridley Scott made smart, middlebrow films with meaningful visuals. Ignoring, for the moment, that everyone is an idiot in the film, including PhDs, corporate CEOs, and spaceship crewmembers (except for the replicant). Ignore the plot holes, weird shifts in tone, and the pitiful dialog. How about the visuals, which everyone applauded? I wasn’t impressed. Think of LA in Blade Runner, Japan in Black Rain, the Bronx in American Gangster or Europe (giving way to the desert warmth of Jerusalem) in Kingdom. He excels at creating a sense of place and embedding his characters in that place. But there’s nothing really behind the visuals in Prometheus. There’s no subtext to anything, for that matter.

The Hunger Games: I really wanted to love this movie, but I could only just like it. All the elements were there, but the whole thing felt rushed. The pacing was completely off. The over-reliance on close-ups meant that we barely saw the larger picture – literally and metaphorically. The CGI was shockingly cheap. The use of shaky-cam made it impossible to really get a sense of the geography of the space, which is, you know, important in a film with action. And worse, it was deployed at moments when I really just needed to see the characters and get to know them better. The film felt almost completely leeched of any of the political/social critique that is so obviously present in the books. Interestingly, the “poor” who are being oppressed are largely invisible in the film. Since we spend most of the film in the capital and on the field, there’s no real context to anything. And Jennifer Lawrence (who is a very fine actress) is given very little to do. Whenever an emotional moment comes up it’s soft-pedaled and smothered in music. I kept thinking that John Carpenter would have made a much better movie on a smaller budget. Or frankly so would Kathryn Bigelow. Explain to me why she isn’t directing the other movies – they are RIGHT up her alley (violent, visual, allegorical, action-with-subtext).

The Bourne Legacy: Jeremy Renner is a kick-ass action star, and Rachel Weisz is a great partner. They should do more movies together. But nothing happens for the first hour of this film, and then we’re thrown into a soupy mess with some great set-pieces and no real stakes.

Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows: A couple of years ago, Guy Ritchie managed to combine the light-hearted scruffiness of Snatch with Sherlock Holmes, and gave us an engaging film, featuring a decent mystery, some great performances, and a solid sense of place. For the sequel, he decided to go all Matrix: Reloaded on us and gave us more more more louder louder louder. The only detecting I could see going on was on Noomi Rapace’s part, as she tried to figure out where she belonged in the Holmes/Watson sandwich.

The Dark Knight Rises: And then goes back to bed. Seriously. I felt like I was watching a well-written but boring graduate thesis on Batman and social structure, instead of a movie. The show/tell ratio is crazy. The pacing is dreadful (oh, looks like we’re going to see some action – no, sorry, we’re going to stop and talk some more now). The movie takes forever to take off and has no energy at all (there’s no chemistry between Batman and anyone else, even Alfred, and Michael Caine is trying his best). And after three movies Nolan still doesn’t know how to stage hand-to-hand combat well (except for the end boss fight, which then ends with – you guessed it – more talking). See They Live to see how it’s done, please.


John Carter was fun. A lot of fun. It takes a while to get going, but like Cabin in the Woods I felt it treated the subject matter with the appropriate level of B-movie energy (though it was not as well-written as Cabin). Interesting subtext, too – two civilizations are being pitted against each other while another (the Tharks) is exploited by both, and yet another is reaping profits behind the scenes. For the first time in a while, I felt like I was watching something epic in scope. It has problems – the ship-to-ship combat is a lot of badly-edited explosions, and the film needed to be longer (yes, longer) since they were trying to pack so much stuff in. But it’s not the disaster all the critics made it out to be. It’s also funny. Lynn Collins is smoking. And Willem Dafoe is nine feet tall with four arms. What more can you ask for?

The Avengers: Okay, what am I smoking? How is this an under-appreciated movie? But while a lot of attention has been paid to the (admittedly awesome) meta-dynamics of bringing all these different characters together, and the rather spectacular battle in the third act, what makes the film work are the quieter moments in the second, where Wheedon actually spends some time developing relationships and characters. He mixes genres, shifts comedic/dramatic tones without missing a beat, and apart from some very shameful stereotyping (not all Germans go to the opera, and not everyone who lives in Calcutta is poor with goats and black and white TVs in their yards) makes it all feel fresh. The other thing that doesn’t get as much mention is the ambiguous way it treats American power. It seems very pro-American at first, but as the film progresses it questions American hegemony (apparently, the high command at SHIELD felt that New York City was expendable, and Nick Fury is not an unalloyed force for good, but rather manipulative when he has to be).

Total Recall: This wasn’t a perfect movie by any stretch. The original is still quite entertaining, and the social/political points it makes are so fresh that the remake doesn’t really update them so much as just redecorate them. But it’s beautiful to look at, there’s some great set-pieces and good performances, and it does manage to be both fun and make a point (as the best of sci-fi does).


Nothing But A Man (1964) was amazing. A film about the destructive effects of racism and poverty made nearly a half-century ago, the film felt fresh and alive. I wish I could say it felt like a period piece, but you could make the same film today (the main character is fired for trying to organize the workers at one of his plants, hello Michigan) without changing much except some small details.

Devoured (2012) – I saw this at Shriekfest. It’s not what you think. I don’t even know how to describe it exactly, but it seems like it’s going to be a horror movie about a restaurant worker trying to save money for her son’s operation, who’s being haunted by something/someone in the place. But there’s a lot more going on here. The lynchpin to the whole film – apart from the solid cinematography, editing, and sound design – are the performances. The actress playing the lead, Marta Milans, will hopefully be on everyone’s speed dial by next year.

Sidewalls (2011) – This is a fun dramedy with some serious undertones, taking place in Buenos Aires. A young man and woman suffer from various forms of urban anomie, living in buildings opposite each other but never quite meeting. Dealing with internal and external separation form the bulk of the film. While you kind of know how it’s going to end, it’s a well-written, often surprising journey.

Many of the best things I saw this year were on TV – Game of Thrones, The Wire, Breaking Bad, and Walking Dead (sorta) – and in short form at Shriekfest and online (too many to mention). Television and particularly cable tv has become, over the last fifteen years, an awesome dramatic storytelling venue again. I’d love to see movies do the same thing – if we’re going to have a three-part Hobbit, why not a three-part Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man or Transmetropolitan?

Anyway, here’s to a better 2013 for everyone. Peace on Earth, goodwill toward all. Happy new year!

To Eerie Horror Fest and Back

IMG_0519 A day on the beach at Lake Erie.

It’s been a little over a month since our last blog post, and quite a busy one at that. We wanted to touch on a few things, but just haven’t had a chance.

So let’s go back a little bit, and recap our journey to Eerie Film Festival, in lovely Erie, PA.

First there was the issue of the postcards we ordered, which we (for better or worse) had printed the Shriekfest screening date/time on. It took a few hours to print out and apply stickers to replace the Shriekfest screening time with the Eerie one. In retrospect, it would have been better to have ordered two separate 500-count postcard runs, one with the Shriekfest info and the second with the Eerie info, instead of getting the single 1000-count run. You never hand out as many cards as you think you will, and at the end of it you’re stuck with cards that have limited value.

On the other hand, we’d made multiple Blu-Rays of the film a while ago, so we didn’t have to worry about losing our only one at Shriekfest. And we’d also burned some copies of the EPK to DVD, which proved rather valuable later on.


The trip to Erie took a little more than ten hours each way. There were three of us – Arthur Vincie, DP Ben Wolf, and Arthur’s girlfriend Debarati Biswas. We had a couple of pit stops for food and bladder relief, and passed through some wonderfully scenic countryside. Of course we had to stop at the Twilight Diner on the way, for some coffee and dessert. The dessert and coffee were great; our only regret was having eaten too much at IHOP earlier, or we would have had dinner there.

Our first impressions of Erie, PA were that it was an industrial city that had seen better days. But it turns out that since it’s right by the lake, has three colleges in town, and is only an hour’s drive from Detroit, Buffalo, and Syracuse, the city has stayed afloat better than many others through tourism, culture, and education.


The festival wasn’t what I was expecting. The venue itself was magnificent – it was a classic movie theater, built during the golden age of Hollywood. It reminded me of the old RKO theater in the Bronx, where I first saw Star Wars as a kid. Even though I remember the RKO having a run-down look (it was shuttered a few years later), it still possessed a wonderful majesty to it, like a Broadway theater. The Erie theater had the same grandeur but had been maintained and restored, so it was a great place to see the film – on a truly big screen.

The screening of “Found In Time” itself was great. We had a smallish crowd, since it was early, but they made up for it with a terrific Q&A session afterwards. Big props to the folks from Slaughterfilm.com, who asked some of the best questions and then went on to do a really great podcast review of the entire festival (one ‘cast per day) and gave some nice mentions about our film as well.

We spent the afternoon munching food and beer, and hanging out with some of the folks from the fest, then went back in and saw Enchiridion, a really interesting period horror piece (it’s set in 1966), that’s hard to describe exactly. It’s about a priest who’s approached by a Federal Marshall to interview a captured vampire, and translate his “sacred” text. This leads down a lot of rather strange alleys. The film features some stop-motion animal puppetry that elevates the overall weirdness of the piece. Overall I have to say I liked the film, though I feel like it drifted a little in places.

Other films that were interesting were the shorts Lizard Girl, from South Korea, about a girl who seems to be running away from a group of horrible man-sized lizards. While this sounds bad, it’s not – it’s moody, well-shot and directed, and features some really good acting. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to take the lizards as metaphors for something else (criminals, businessmen, etc.) or straightforwardly as monsters, but they’re done well too.

We also liked the short film I Spyders, even though it might have gone on a touch too long. John is a cubicle slave who works long hours for crap pay, for Dave, an unappreciative jerk boss. Gee, I’m lucky I’ve never had a job like that. The one time Dave does something nice for John is when he offers him some grapes; however, a spider, hitching a ride to said grapes, climbs into John’s head. John is possessed by the multiplying spiders, but tries to manage his job until he gets his bonus, and keep from killing Dave.

The Mexican short film Shhhh might be the slickest film we saw. On the surface it’s a monster film, with a boy who’s afraid of an “imaginary monster” that of course is quite real. But the real monster is his sister, who bullies him about his “childish fears.” Until… well, it’s a great film so go catch it if you can.

There was a really good feature documentary that screened just before our film, Cryptotrip, which I started out being quite afraid of and ended up liking immensely. It’s a portrait of people who believe in and/or have seen strange creatures such as Big Foot, Loch Ness, and others (the title is a reference to cryptozoology). I was afraid the doc was going to treat these people as stupid or crass, or sensationalize the subject, but it actually takes their stories and research seriously. By and large they emerge as healthy, smart folks, who have found something that they can’t explain and have tried to cope with it constructively.


A cool building in Erie, PA

A cool building in Erie, PA

The screenings were the main, but not the only, attraction, of the festival. The lobby (which was huge) was filled with folks selling horror/fantasy/sci-fi themed t-shirts, videos, music, and jewelry. There were also some special guests from years past (including a good chunk of the crew and cast from Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead) who were selling photos and autographs. We actually spoke with the lighting director from Night of the Living Dead, Joe Unitas, who was a really cool guy. He ended up staying for the screening and told Ben he liked the film. But this wasn’t a crass commercial enterprise – everyone who was there was really interested in connecting with other fans, talking about the local film scene, and just enjoying the films.

One of the standout vendors is PoetJoe Gallagher, who’s a poet, performance artist, and cool guy. He was selling t-shirts that featured roadkill on them, captioned with brief poems. While this sounds gross, it’s not – the animals are not treated as mere objects but as real creatures, who lost their lives tragically. The poems are like an ode to their spirit. His work, in a way, mirrors that of the festival in particular and of horror in general – there is a way of looking at the darker, more mysterious side of life that is neither exploitative nor condescending.


Unfortunately, with a ten-hour trip ahead of us, we had to leave before seeing too much of the fun Sunday. We stopped in to say our goodbyes, dipped our toes in the lake (which was surprisingly warm for mid-October) and headed home. We stopped off at a couple of places on the way, including The Angelica Sweet Shop in Angelica, NY. Really good sweets and nice peeps.

Many thanks to the staff and volunteers. We had a great time and you ran a great festival! And it was great meeting so many filmmakers, fans, and artists. We’re definitely going to go back next year if we can – it was a lot of fun and it’s a great area. Arthur’s also thinking about shooting his next script there. Stay tuned for more news, and happy Holidays!

To Shriekfest And Back

mina_macleodMacLeod Andrews (Chris) and Mina Vesper Gokal (Ayana) at the 2012 Shriekfest world premiere screening of the film.

The past few weeks have been a bit hectic, to say the least. We hit Shriekfest in October, armed with business cards, postcards, posters, press kits burned to DVD, and hope. What a fantastic time!

BTW: This is when getting your shit together – website, business cards, poster art, postcards, DVDs, presskits, etc. – really pays off. If you have your materials together ahead of time, getting things to the printer and/or festival on time shouldn’t be too difficult or expensive. If you have to prepare everything at the last minute, expect to bleed sweat, tears and money.

Here are some highlights and observations on Shriekfest:


We saw three days of great features and shorts. Friday night was predominantly a horror evening. The standout performance was Marta Milans’ in Devoured (dir. Greg Olliver). The film itself is pretty cool – not about cannibalism (in case you were wondering) but about a mother who’s trying to save money for her son’s operation, while working a tough job cleaning up at a restaurant, and staving off creepy guys, difficult bosses, and a lot of fear.

I confess I didn’t catch all of day 2’s films because I went out with MacLeod Andrews, his parents Jack and Matilda, and his awesome friends for dinner (thanks to MacLeod for organizing this). There were some really fun shorts – Blackout (dir. James Bushe) is about a group of safecrackers who take advantage of an alien-caused blackout to rob what looks like an antiquities warehouse. But they get more than they bargained for. It manages to be scary and funny at the same time.

She’s Having a Baby (dir. Chris and Robert Smellin) and Stay At Home Dad (dir. Andrew Kasch and John Skipp) were both pregnancy-themed shorts. She’s Having a Baby is about a woman who decides to kidnap men and use them as sperm donors. Stay at Home Dad is about a dad who decides to undergo an experimental breast implant treatment so he can stay at home and feed his daughter while mom goes off to work. Both are funny, while also highlighting just how terrifying parenthood (and children) can be.

The Sleepover (dir. Chris Cullari) was based around a wonderfully zany idea: is the baby sitter making it all up about the monsters under the bed, or is she for real? Two kids are about to find out at their first sleepover.

On the flipside, Survivor Type (dir. Billy Hanson), based on a Stephen King short story, has to be one of the most squirm-inducing films I’ve seen in a while. A successful, come-from-humble-origins surgeon, with a nice side heroin dealing side business, has landed on a tiny, barren island following a cruise-ship disaster. He has a couple of sharp utility knives, water, and some assorted items in his pack – but no food. What do you eat when the only consistent food source is – yourself? Yup… it’s told in video diary format, which is, finally, perfectly organic to the story AND the character.

DAY 3:

More shorts! Firelight (dir. Simon Brown) stood out. It’s about a post-apocalyptic landscape where aliens hunt by night, and human scavengers hunt each other by day. It’s notable for conveying the apocalypse in a very believable, smart way, on a tight budget.

In fact, that’s something I have to say about ALL the films I saw – everyone squeezed the last drop out of every dollar spent. Budding indie filmmakers should go to Shriekfest just to study how to do good stuff on a shoestring.

Another standout was the Poe adaptation The Tell-Tale Heart (dir. Bart Mastronardi), which updates the classic story to a mid-50s setting, switches genders around, and manages to convey the poetic soul of the story while being its own creation.

And of course, as a Star Wars fanboy (of the good ones), I have to give props to A Light In The Darkness (dir. Fed Wetherbee), which is better by far than anything George Lucas has done since Return of the Jedi. Set on a small mining colony that’s coming under the Imperial thumb following the assassination of the Jedi, the story follows a young boy who grows up believing that if he can just shine the right light, the distant rebellion will take notice and lend a helping hand.


Last Kind Words (dir. Kevin Barker) was really interesting. It’s a ghost story that has real heart, about a teenager who moves with his down-on-their-luck family back to their family farm (now owned by a hard-to-read family relation, played wonderfully by Brad Dourif). There he falls in love with a neighbor girl – or is she someone/something else? It’s tender, has a great sense of location, is well-acted, and moves in ways you don’t expect it to.

Nailbiter (dir. Patrick Rea) also took me by surprise. It’s a family drama, framed by a disaster, stuffed in the middle of a monster movie. A mom and her three daughters, all going through some tough issues, brave a tornado to meet dad when he comes back from Iraq. But they have to flee to shelter in the basement of a house, whose owners are… something unexpected. If this sounds ambitious, it is, but the film succeeds overall with winning performances, good writing, and people doing smart things (as opposed to splitting up/wandering off/running exactly the wrong way).


Thank you so much to MacLeod Andrews, Mina Vesper Gokal, Jack and Matilda Andrews, Stephen Bradbury’s sister and cousins, MacLeod’s friends, Mina’s boyfriend Faizan, all for coming out to the screening. We went out afterwards to a lovely place (Blue something-or-other, wasn’t it?), drank, traded stories, and ended the evening with karaoke and Wendy’s. Awesome!


One of the reasons I love going to Shriekfest is ’cause I love the company – Denise is a terrific organizer, and she sets the tone: everyone is supportive of each other, the filmmakers forget to be competitive and simply become fans. Big shout-outs to the fellow screenwriters, directors, composers, and actors who came out in support of horror, sci-fi and fantasy goodness, whether you had stuff in the fest or not.


Some quick shout-outs to Cafe Gratitude, just south of Melrose on Larchmont – a vegan cafe with awesome breakfasts, cool staff, and some great desserts. As someone who loves to make fun of vegans, I confess I was swayed (at least for a while). I also have to mention Cactus Taqueria, on Vine just off Barton – great 3AM food; and Nat’s Thai Food, just around the corner from the hotel, on Vine north of Santa Monica Blvd. A big-ass bowl of spicy Massuman curry, rice and Thai iced coffee set me back less than $10.

NEXT WEEK, we review the Eerie Horror Festival experience (in Erie, PA) – with sweetheart Debarati Biswas and DP Ben Wolf!