Horror Diary: Casting Night for TOO MANY PREDATORS

We’re all “actors”. We conjure smiles at board meetings, tell freaked out people not to worry when they should worry, and do our damnedest to prove to mothers that we’re too sick to go to school. But throw something unnatural in the mix – a camera – and people stiffen up. Hell, they can’t even walk or take a seat without looking like a robot.

Actors on the other hand, truly trained in the craft, are chameleons that can bring characters from the page to life on the screen.

This is why casting day is so vital.

When I arrived at the New Jersey Film School, I was given a seat to the right of Bill, the director, with Chris Messineo to his left. The table closest to Chris was comprised of Kelly (assistant director), Mark (behind the scenes filmographer) and Keisha (script supervisor, who is also responsible for continuity – more about that at a later time). To my right sat Randy (cinematographer), Rolando (camera) and Ganesh (sound). Collectively, we looked like some sort of tribunal ready to determine the fate of those before us. Then again, we were.

Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, power had been knocked out of the area for a week, which meant Chris only had a mere seven days to let actresses know about casting for TOO MANY PREDATORS. This also meant that the 1,000 responses we had hoped for became 450. During that time, Chris dove in deep and cut the list to 24 hopefuls. The task, sadly, had become simpler thanks again to Sandy. New Jersey Transit had been shut down, which deprived New York based actresses from crossing over to the station just five minutes away. At first, I was disappointed, but there was nothing to complain about – especially with 100 dead, thousands of homes destroyed or damaged, and Breezy Point having been wiped off the face of the Earth. It was clear we’d find someone who may lack extensive television and film experience, but who could use the short to help them get to such venues – and that was promising, as well as exciting.

I had casted for the short film STABLE with writer/director Paul Williams. (See the link to your right under “Crash Files”.) In that instance, we had to cast two men for the main roles. During casting, I had hoped to be wowed to the point where my heart skipped a beat, and we had found that early on in Jeffrey A. Wisniewski, who had rocked us. Later, Joseph DiMartino, a retired New York City firefighter who had braved the hell of 9/11, made our other choice clear. That day, we had seen some forty men. All of them had other jobs, and most of them had been trying to “make it” in the business for some time. Each credit, even with a small film, could help prove their value as an actor. As cruel as it sounds, actors are a dime a dozen. So are painters, sculptors, dancers, etc. – and writers like me. This is the state of the arts, and anyone in the game knows it. But if you know thyself and have the passion, you’ll continue to do what you love and press on.

Each audition is an interview. And every actor knows how painful it can be running all over the place in the hopes of landing a job for that all important credit (one actress had driven two hours just to get to our audition). This is why I hate the process. Sure, I want to find the right people for the respective parts, but to do so, people have to be told that they didn’t make the grade. This doesn’t mean they are bad actors, or that they aren’t beautiful enough – it simply means that today just wasn’t their day.

At 6:30 PM, we began. The first two actresses took their seats, were given one of the two characters, and read. Then, after a short break, they switched roles. We’d thank them, they’d leave to the lounge, then we’d bring in the next two. Afterwards, we called every actress back to read again, this time with direction, to see what she could bring to the characters. Each actress read at least three times, and some as many as six.

When an actress/actor comes into a room, I could care less about looks. Yes, that sounds nuts, considering they’ve handed in headshots with resumes, but a photographer’s camera can lie, and sometimes the shots do not bring out the beauty or depth of the performer. Instead, I rely on what I’ve seen in the business world and from years of teaching: body language. Are they confident? If so, this will shine through in their performance. Those who are nervous or ill-prepared seem to hold themselves back. Plus, the way they move dictates comfort level and how they’ll usually handle themselves all the time.

Right from the beginning, however, one actress caught my attention, and I immediately checked her off for the character of Marissa. This particular woman breathed in the character completely and exhaled her with some intense and very convincing emotion.

Although I’m the screenwriter and producer, I’m not making the decision alone. There is a director after all, and this is a class project. I was only there at the kind invitation of Chris, and since the school is his livelihood, he’d have the final say. Oh, and because he runs a production company, has received several awards for the films he’s directed and – you get the idea. Still, my gut said that this actress was Marissa. And although Randy, Rolando and Ganesh agreed, Chris and Bill felt she was better suited for the other character of Claudia. This was another reason for more auditions where the actress was allowed to read again. We wanted to make sure we were right. In short order, the nine of us had given the actress the nod for Marissa – and this is where I had made a mistake…

As actresses came and went, Bill took copious amounts of notes of their performances. He isn’t just the director, but a dedicated student. From speaking with him, two things are clear: Bill’s humble, and he doesn’t want to screw up the film. Knowing he’s conscientious is a relief. This doesn’t mean decisions and production will be delayed, but he pays attention to detail and other people’s input. He’s an active listener, and it’s clear he respects everyone around him. Now that’s a leader.

So stupid me, the realist, tells him that another actress could come along, read Marissa as well, and leave us in a tough spot to make a decision. That’s exactly what happened. When Bill turned to me after that other actress had left for a moment, it seemed as if someone had stolen his puppy. “Why did you have to say anything?” I had jinxed the casting! What the hell to do? The original actress was long gone, but we had taped every read, which meant if it came down to indecisiveness on our part, we could review and vote. But Chris jumped in and pointed out why our original choice worked best. It came down to the tired phrase of “splitting hairs”, but I saw this happen many times when hiring people, so the harsh reality was clearly understood.

But we had a problem: No one had nailed down the complexity of Claudia.

Finally, near the end, an actress sat down and delivered. As Jeff had done with STABLE, my heart skipped a beat and I swooned. Without direction, this one actress completely owned Claudia, handling the nuances and rhythm of the character with aplomb. Her performance as Claudia left me breathless, where the other actress’s performance as Marissa had left me appropriately on edge.

Whew.

Now, after four hours of casting, we have our two actresses (names and information forthcoming), a complete crew (more on them soon), a location, and a script – and a phenomenal, well-crafted storyboard thanks to Randy and his superior drawing skills. The only thing we need now to make it all work is cardboard boxes. Lots of boxes. I hope I can dig some out of the dumpster at my local supermarket because I’ve come up empty.

The shooting of TOO MANY PREDATORS will take place this coming Sunday…

Crash Palace Horror Diary: TOO MANY PREDATORS Underway…

Sunday, October 28, 2012

What remains of Hurricane Sandy, still a tropical tempest, is about to hit my native New Jersey and bring havoc to its shores. And as wind speeds climb and travel warnings blaze, I’m heading closer to the storm by heading east on Route 78 towards New Providence. Then again, I’m on a mission to meet to the filmmakers at the New Jersey Film School that will bring my horror short, TOO MANY PREDATORS to life.

Chris Messineo, founder and director of the award-winning New Jersey Film School, had recently moved into a more comprehensive and more filmmaker friendly location. With workspace and studio of 3,700 square feet, a screening room and waiting area, he could put his eight cameras as well as other top-flight lighting and sound equipment to work for students at any level. Of course, I was hoping for his best and brightest class. Then again, Chris had come to me with the idea of having his Advance Film Workshop shoot the movie, so I knew that’s exactly what he had planned.

We had met in 2000 when I had indulged in his screenwriting course. At this point, my crime thriller BLOODLETTING had won Second Place in the Screenwriter Showcase Screenwriting Contest, but I wanted to craft even better stories. Thankfully, Chris had been impressed with my work and soon invited me to join the New Jersey Screenwriter’s Group, which he had co-founded. I visited the group of scribes on three Saturdays, took part in live readings of members’ scripts, offered feedback, and had submitted the first ten-pages of a dramatic feature (which has yet to be completed). Afterwards, the group voted me in and I have been with the group ever since. Regardless of all the screenwriting awards I had received, thanks in part to the group’s professional recommendations, “near misses” on sales had run rampant, and other prospective short films had yet to materialize. But after TOO MANY PREDATORS had come up short in a contest at MoviePoet.com, Chris said he had liked the script and apparently kept the story in mind.

Originally, I had met with Chris last year to talk about shooting my dramatic horror RAVENCRAFT as a “no budget” feature. The script was the Third Place Winner at the AWS Screenwriting Contest (first for the horror genre) and was a Top-Twenty Finalist at Shriekfest. But he had recommended I film a short first, to get my bearings, and chose TOO MANY PREDATORS right away. (This was the polite way to tell me that I wouldn’t be the next Oren Peli or Richard Rodriquez.)

As I pulled into the lot, facing a strong headwind, I was thankful Sandy had yet to unleash herself and hoped she’d hold off for another few hours. I stepped into the class that was already in session, and immediately saw two familiar faces: Mark, who actually teaches digital photography at the school, and Rolando, who had taken Chris’ Crash Course in filmmaking with me earlier this year. I indulged in one of Rolando’s videos and had been wowed by his talent. I already felt like I was in the best of hands. The class attentively reviewed a short film they had shot as an assignment the week before. Chris praised the director, an action hero looking man named Bill, then showed everyone a short sequence that lasted less than seven seconds. In that moment, lighting, framing, a musical queue and great acting brought the scene to life in grand fashion. A jolt of energy rocketed through me, my heart beat a little stronger and I had to fight to hide my excitment. Here was a student who had shot a professional looking segment that made me wonder why low-budget films could be so damned awful. Maybe it was because the so-called filmmakers that churn out such drek hadn’t taken a class with Chris.

Besides being the founder of both the screenwriter’s group and film school, several years before, Chris had launched his own production company, Off Stage Films, and won awards along the way. Chris is a taller than average, slender man with a lean face and a “kindness first” attitude I admire. He’s also father to Joanna who has appeared in several of his short films, and his always upbeat wife, Liz is the school’s front office manager. When not penning scripts, shooting films or teaching, Chris coaches soccer. Although I have never seen him coach, there is no doubt he brings the same vivaciousness and strength to his team as he does with every other group. As a student of Chris’s on two occasions, I was overjoyed to see that he and I approached teaching in a similar matter: Offer students praise, followed by constructive criticism, then encourage them to challenge themselves and move forward. No wonder most of his students keep coming back for more instruction and guidance – because he empowers them to make the very best films and write the most complete scripts possible.

I was soon introduced to the remainder of the class: everyone was twenty-plus, mature, focused and professional.

Chris read the first version of the script from the MoviePoet contest, my initial rewrite, then the final shorter version for the class’s main and final project. No response. They simply took notes with vigor, not simply from what Chris was discussing, but they were apparently dreaming up elements for a shot list.

My confidence rose as I marched with the students to where we would film the short. Again, as Chris spoke: More note taking, as if the class were made-up of Dr. Spock movie-making geeks – and that’s an excellent thing. There was no silly prepubescence here, just creative adults with a drive to make another quality film for themselves and for the school. In fact, three of the students had worked on New Jersey Film School’s First Place film for the DVXUser Contest in 2011. The movie, THE WATER’S EDGE (http://vimeo.com/26971574), based on Chris Messineo’s script, is as professional as they come: great story, acting, cinematography, direction – you name it. Yet as Chris walked around the space, he pointed out what they might want to consider in regard to their shot list for TOO MANY PREDATORS.

As a screenwriter, I imagine my stories visually, as if already watching a movie. In my head, I pursue close-ups and wide shots, angle on characters and items, and so forth. But as we stood in the matte-black studio, Chris mentioned a couple of different shots to his students as examples. Shots I had never even remotely taken into account. As a screenwriter, instead of feeling that my script may be in danger of being changed, I felt another surge of elation due to an instantaneous recognition that my script would be far better than I had imagined. And as producer, I would have the chance to witness the director’s vision (whichever student wins that spot), and learn from him or her.

After some minor chatter, class was over. Sandy was getting closer by the second, and most had to get home, though the bulk lingered to chat amongst themselves. As for me, I hadn’t felt that pumped-up about a project in a long time. Everyone in the class gave a damn and wanted to shoot the best possible movie. One student shook my hand and thanked me for providing them with a script. Of course I thanked him. It was clear we were doing each other a favor, and I looked forward to the collaboration, and to what I might take from my second short film experience.

For this coming Sunday, Chris will assign their official duties for the short, based upon their requests, and they will comprise the shot list. Over the next several Sundays we will cast our actors, plan the shoot, spend a day designing the set and shooting, then editing.

And as a special bonus, we’ll have someone working on set who is quite renowned. Most of you have seen this person’s work, but I’m sworn to secrecy – for now.

By the time I got home, Sandy still had not revealed her true tempest, and I was too wired to sleep. Thanks to Chris, the New Jersey Film School and his devoted class, it almost felt like Christmas morning had come early for me.

More to come…

Horror Diary: TOO MANY PREDATORS Script Revision

My horror script, TOO MANY PREDATORS is undergoing its third rewrite since Chris Messineo and the New Jersey Film School (http://www.njfilmschool.com/) agreed to take on the project for the Advanced Filmmaking Workshop. The notes came from Chris this morning, after already cutting the piece from five to four minutes.

From the beginning, I had envisioned my tale occurring in Newark, New Jersey with a Black and a Latino actress. This was not premeditated; they just popped into my head as most things do when a story takes shape in my mind. However, by keeping the characters “ethnic-free”, so to speak, we have the potential to find excellent actresses beyond such limited molds. The actresses, wherever they end up coming from, can then add their own unique touches to the dialogue during filming. Regarding language, since this is for a school, and even though the students are eighteen and over, the curse-laden street language will have to go. This will enable Chris to show the film to parents with prospective younger students and not cause a stir.

Another change involves the floor. In one segment, a character looks down at the skanky cement and finds something quite horrid. In our new location, such a floor does not exist and what’s intended could never be filmed. As in all low-budget filmmaking, one must work with what one has on hand.

Chris also had recommendations for the opening and ending, which I agreed to make happen.

Why am I indulging in so many changes? This script is not my baby. Not by a long shot. In fact, even with those scripts that earned awards, I don’t think I have a “baby”. Film is a collaborative effort, and I’ve chosen to make changes in order for the film to work for cast, crew, school and later promotion. Plus, although a screenwriter, I have never taken part in having my own script turned into something for the screen. By immersing myself in the process as a willing team player, I will have the opportunity to learn as well, which I am looking forward to on a grand scale. Afterwards, when I expand the story into a larger feature, there may be an opportunity to be a bit more meticulous if I raise money to shoot the film.

But that last item is a long way off, and I have to get the script ready. No doubt, Chris will return with more notes, and that’s fine because I want this to be as perfect as possible for the end result, which is an audience. The lesson is simple: If you hold onto every word and comma as if an extension of your very soul, you’d best have deep pockets to bring a script to screen on your own – because no one will ever want to work with you, and you will never grow as a screenwriter.

Otherwise, write a book.

Horror Diary: TOO MANY PREDATORS in Pre-production

At the end of the summer, my horror script, TOO MANY PREDATORS was supposed to have become a short film directed by Chris Messineo of the New Jersey Film School (http://www.njfilmschool.com/), and the man behind Off Stage Films (http://www.offstagefilms.com/) – both award winning institutions, by the way. But after finding the perfect location with screenwriter/director Paul Williams, the owner got cold feet and screwed the deal after giving us a green light.

Granted, I had looked for another venue but nothing happened. Proprietors were either squeamish or wanted money I didn’t have. After all, this was to be a “no budget” enterprise, but that was also no longer the case. In order to film, I’d need to raise at least $4,000. I felt awful about doing so because that meant I’d have to ask friends and family for financial support regardless of Kickstarter. Knowing many people who had taken monetary hits during the downturn, I didn’t want to ask for a dime when they had bills to pay. Of course I could use my own funds, but I don’t have anything close to that amount.

I wrote the whole thing off as a missed opportunity and focused on selling my novel, writing another script and teaching.

Then, Chris came up with the best possible solution: His Advanced Filmmaking Workshop at the New Jersey Film School would make the movie at a cost I could afford (well sort of). It didn’t take much thought, or much convincing from my girlfriend, to give him the nod. The advanced class is made up of adult students who have already taken courses and proven themselves at the school in New Providence, New Jersey. And they know what they’re doing because a previous class won the DVXuser Villain Fest. The film, THE WATER’S EDGE, is about two brothers in the woods “full of dangerous men” (http://www.dvxuser.com/V6/showthread.php?248629-quot-The-Water-s-Edge-quot-NJ-Film-School). The story, directing, lighting and acting are fantastic, and it’s clear why the short won. Recently, another advanced class came in third place with another short film. With this kind of track record, I’d be foolish to pass it by.

Since I’m sharing some of the cost, I will earn a producer credit as well as screenwriter. My first meeting with the filmmaker’s will be this coming Sunday at the school’s vast new location, and it is fabulous. Complete with a large shooting stage and green screen, and with some excellent equipment, the result should be amazing. Granted, I do see the film in my mind’s eye, including camera angles and such, but the class has my trust and I can’t wait to indulge in the director’s vision. After all, I want to learn as well to helm my own project in the future.

TOO MANY PREDATORS will be used as a public relations tool in a press kit to fund a horror feature of mine, but right now the pre-production meeting looms, and I look forward to the experience. For now, I await notes from Chris about the revised script.

Horror Diary: Hackneyed Horror

I just finished watching Joe Lynch’s third-rate snoozer WRONG TURN 2: DEAD END (2007). Why did I wait so long? Because I knew it would be a pathetic, tongue-in-cheek romp without redeeming value. Then again, that’s all Lynch churns out as if he’s a new Ed Wood – though Wood had class. The only good thing about the venture was Rollins, as always, who delivers even in the face of total bullshit.

Why a snoozer? Same schtick we’ve seen a million times. No new ground here, though a good game show gone wrong concept could have worked if better screenwriters had been at the helm instead of the hackneyed-ridden team of Turi Meyer and Al Septien.

Instead of watching this mindless trash, at least do yourself a favor and indulge in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) and THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977). After all, Lynch and company just did a mash-up of both cult faves and brought it to the screen with some fresh eye candy for a new teen scream audience.

No, I won’t write up a full review because it isn’t worth the effort for this “no star”.

There’s a lot better fare out there…

Crash Reports: Hard-up for Halloween Horrors?

Halloween is so close you can smell the dead and taste the candy corn. But as you can see from your cable stations, quality horror on the small screen is few and far between. However, if you’re in the mood, I’ve watched nearly 1,400 horrors and have compiled a short list of the best. Granted, some are better than others, but cutting this list down to ten or some other ludicrous number would make my brain explode. Regardless, all have earned 4 to 5 stars, which should make them worthy for your television, computer or whatever screen you love to escape to…

Best Horror Films

Them! (1953)

The War of the Worlds (1953)

Peeping Tom (UK, 1960)

Psycho (1960)

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

The Haunting (UK/USA, 1963)

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

The Legend of Hell House (UK, 1973)

Picnic at Hanging Rock (Australia, 1975)

Eraserhead (1977)

The Last Wave (Australia, 1977)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956/1978)

Alien (1979 – my all-time favorite)

The Changeling  (Canada, 1980 – best ghost story)

The Shining (UK/USA, 1980)

Possession (UK, 1981)

The Thing (1982)

Videodrome (Canada, 1983)

Lifeforce (1985)

Hellraiser (1987)

Lair of the White Worm (UK, 1988)

Vampire’s Kiss (1988)

Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

Dust Devil (UK, 1992)

Dracula (1992)

Cemetery Man (Italy, 1994)

Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Habit (1996)

Scream (1996)

Cube (Canada, 1997)

The Devil’s Advocate (USA/Germany, 1997)

Office Killer (1997)

Wishmaster (1997)

eXistenZ (Canada/UK, 1999)

The Ninth Gate (France/Spain, 1999)

Audition (Japan, 1999)

The Sixth Sense (1999)

Blood: The Last Vampire (Japan, 2000)

Ginger Snaps (Canada, 2000)

Visitor Q (Japan, 2001)

Earth vs The Spider (2001 – cable movie)

Frailty (2001)

She Creature (2001 – cable movie)

Dog Soldiers (UK, 2002)

May (2002)

The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

The Ring (Japan/USA, 2002)

A Tale of Two Sisters (Korea, 2003)

Gozu (Japan, 2003)

Identity (2003)

Dawn of the Dead (2004 – favorite remake)

Love Object (2004)

Shutter (Thailand, 2004)

The Uninvited Guest (Spain, 2004

Premonition (Japan, 2004)

Constantine (2005)

Isolation (Ireland, 2005)

The Skeleton Key (2005)

Grimm Love (Germany, 2006)

Head Trauma (2006)

30 Days of Night (2007)

Blood Car (2007)

The Orphanage (Spain, 2007)

Red Victoria (2007)

Paranormal Activity (2007)

Sublime (2007)

Deadgirl (2008)

Let the Right One In (Sweden, 2008)

Martyrs (France/Canada, 2008)

Pontypool (Canada, 2008)

Grace (2009)

The Skeptic (2009)

Suck (Canada, 2009)

Triangle (UK, 2009)

Tucker and Dale vs Evil (USA/Canada, 2010)

Now, if you’d share your list of favorites, that would be most welcome since great horrors seem to be in short supply – and I’m getting desperate.

Crash Report: Movie Making Motivation

On Friday night, March 30, I entered the New Jersey Film School in Martinsville, New Jersey and met with my dear friend, Chris Messineo. An award winning screenwriter and filmmaker, he established this school but a few years before (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1980129/). His body of shorts include the endearing BRANCHES, the intriguing ONE SAVED MESSAGE and the though-provoking FAÇADE. Recently, New Jersey Film School won First Place in the DVXuser Film Festival with the well-crafted THE WATER’S EDGE.

I had the pleasure of taking a screenwriting course with Chris over ten years ago. Afterwards, he invited me to take part in the New Jersey Screenwriter’s Group. Thankfully, I was accepted by the other writers and have been with them ever since.

Now, I was his student again for his two-day “Crash Course in Filmmaking.” As a screenwriter, I only want to write and work behind the scenes. Yet, due to the near impossibility of ever seeing a feature made, I decided to make my own short to get started. As the producer of the project, I want to know more about the process so I wouldn’t look like a complete idiot on set, hence the class.

At 7 PM, five other adult movie-making hopefuls and I  listened to Chris layout the two-day plan, which included the five stages of filmmaking, how a story goes from script to film, what positions an independent movie crew may require, necessary release forms, how to set up and compose a shot, and finally, the shooting of a short film with two professional actresses. Crash course, indeed.

By the time 10 PM rolled around, we had pages of notes and the script in hand for the morning’s shoot.

Right before I left, I came to an important realization: shooting a film was no different that running a tradeshow.

What made me come to such a conclusion? Chris showed us his production book for his previous film. He filed everything from shooting schedules to signed releases, as well as location notes and the actual script. That automatically brought me back to the giant show books I had carried with my own paperwork.

As a marketer, I was the tradeshow coordinator for a major manufacturer in the folding-carton industry. Okay, that may not sound exciting, but since I handled all aspects of a $2.5 million show with tens of millions of dollars in equipment, it was exhilarating. I managed union workers, hostesses, hotels, deliveries and every miniscule aspect of pulling off a successful show to sell equipment. Everything had to be perfect, even when it wasn’t. I prepared for each show a year in advance, and during the event worked fourteen hour days for over a week.

Making a film is about management.

It’s like running a tradeshow.

I can do this.

In the morning, armed with a new comfort level about what lay before me, I headed back to the school for our 9 AM start. Chris was there with his producer, Chris Furlong from Off Stage Films (http://www.offstagefilms.com/). Besides helping with the shoot, Furlong, in his They Might Be Giants t-shirt, had scrambled to find a new actress after one had bailed in an extremely unprofessional manner. She’d left us in a lurch as we were depending on her for the shoot. Thankfully, Amy Metroka agreed to join us and was on her way from Brooklyn to join Meissa Hampton for Chris’ vignette, THE CLOSET.

The actresses were fabulous, and we learned much about directing, sound, digital filming, lighting, editing and a hell of a lot more. We each had a chance to work the camera and monitor sound. Otherwise, we shut up and listened. Although Chris was the director, the production was pure collaboration. Oftentimes, Chris approached the actresses much as I approach my students: “You’re wonderful. That was great – but we have to work on…”

Due to time constraints, we only took two takes of each angle, and you can see all of them in the video: two-shots, close ups, over-the-shoulder, and the macro lens zeroing in on Meissa’s bright blue eye. Afterwards, we broke for lunch before indulging in editing. The final two-minute result of our class project can be found here: http://vimeo.com/39564391.

The best part was learning what actors expect from directors as well as writers. They confirmed what I had discovered long ago: stage direction is insulting. Other than that, a table read usually reveals what’s what so cast and crew know how everything is going to come together – hopefully.

This is when my second revelation knocked me out: I can direct. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not full of myself. I don’t think I know everything about making a movie — not even close — but I’m confident I can manage a set. Therefore, I’ll watch the director during my TOO MANY PREDATORS shoot and take notes. If I have a another short in the future, I’ll see about filming it myself. After all, why the hell not?

Now, I have to nail down that location for my film – so I can breathe…

PS: Whether you’re an adult with a desire to make a movie or a child who wants something cooler than day camp, the school is ready for you year round: http://www.njfilmschool.com/.

Crash Report: Why the hell are you making a short horror film?

No choice. Dammit.

In 2008, my vampire horror/action script RED AGENDA won First Place at the International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival in Phoenix (http://www.horrorscifi.com/). Afterwards, thanks to the festival’s promoters, producers contacted me like crazy. One even reached me through my Kutztown University email because he was at Sundance and had heard it was an “awesome” script. I also got my second agent (my first had moved from New York to Los Angeles, got drunk, stole a Jaguar, went to jail and got her ass kicked out of the WGA).

As a screenwriter, I had impressed producers in the past with my work and knew all too well that nothing may materialize – and that’s why the sale of script is often referred to as “hitting the screenwriter’s lottery.” But with a young and hungry agent, and after having exchanged emails with some of the producers, as well as phone calls, I thought something might happen.

Then, two shitty things happened: My agent got pregnant, bailed on her one-year-old agency (leaving over a dozen screenwriters in the lurch), and the economy collapsed. The latter, as I’m sure many of you are aware, caused producers and studios to run for cover and not take chances on new writers.

That was that.

Oh, and then vampire mania became the latest Hollywood craze, sucking the life out of the genre – especially with all that TWILIGHT bullshit. (Now, however, a production company thinks the time is right and is trying to raise money for the project. I’ve been in contact with them twice over a six month period. I still may not get the sale, but they haven’t changed their phone number or email address on me yet.)

Since that win and subsequent disappointment, I have won another contest and additional scripts faired well in others. But again, hitting that lottery is extremely difficult. There are so many scripts circulating that the chances of selling a screenplay are ultra-low. According to ScreenStyle: The Screenwriting Store, roughly 100,000 feature scripts are written each year and Hollywood produces about 500. Google this stuff and you’ll get different numbers from a multitude of sources, but the fact remains: The market is flooded, and Hollywood can afford to be as picky as hell.

If I can’t sell a script, then I might as well make my own movie. Now, just writing that sentence gives me the shivers. The scary part is that it will take money I don’t have – and lots of it. Plus, I don’t want to churn out some low budget piece of shit that continually degrades the genre (I don’t want to be an idiot running around with a camcorder and recruit friends as actors). Therefore, I’m taking a trial step: making a short horror movie first. This will be roughly five minutes in length. And the goal is to create something of quality so I can enter the work into contests and, hopefully, generate enough interest to attract investors to my own feature horror film. And believe me, if I don’t like the result of this short movie, I won’t show it to a soul. This has to be worthwhile for cast, crew and me.

Plus, there’s something else weighing in on the venture. This project is more out of need than out of want. I am a writer. I want to remain behind the scenes, sell my work, and, if possible, make a living off of my writing. But I have a Master of Fine Arts degree, and I teach in higher education. In order to earn tenure, at Kutztown University or anywhere else, I need a volume of work. Contest wins are great. Published poetry, short stories, conference presentations and academic papers are wonderful as well. However, for real impact, I need a published book or a movie.

And no, vanity publishing is frowned upon to the point where my career would be destroyed. Self-publishing is not taken seriously. But to make a movie, since it is such a collaborative project as well as an expensive enterprise, is seen as admirable.
I love teaching and want to remain in academia. I am confident in my storytelling ability and want to please an audience.

I have to make my own movie. Dammit.