Thursday, July 30, 2009

Almost Done Editing...

And finally...

... the opening scene is available for viewing:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

You Know What's Fun?

Putting in several hours in a sweatbox, editing the opening scene. And going to save the finished work... and the program craps out. With nothing being saved. Absolutely nothing, not even the import.

Live, sweat and learn.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Well, That Happened...

Y'know... if nothing else, I consider it one of the biggest compliments I've been given that the cast has faith enough in the material to put up with the cardboard-poor nature of this shoot. Short and sweet, got the primary shooting done Monday night, four-and-a-half hours. Since we were on deadline, only one break. Throw in a stuffy interior (with hot lights) creeping in over 110°... so everyone was pretty spun by the time we were done. But they're rock stars and they hung in there.

And the tripod decided it was gonna go completely tits up on me almost immediately. Wrestling with the bastard while sweat poured in my eyes. Fun.

Spent the last two days decompressing, so haven't looked at the footage yet.

Hopefully, there's enough to work with. Obviously there'll be pickup shots, but I'll worry about that when I have the basic rough done. At this point, I'm considering doing the rough on iMovie, see how it looks.

Update tomorrow night?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Meanwhile, One Month Later...

After an unexpectedly long prolonged hiatus, we're ready to shoot tomorrow. Unexpected isn't entirely accurate... while Chico may have a fairly deep talent pool to dip into for actors, it also has several theatre companies. None of which believe in putting on "small" shows. Casts of ten, fifteen people are the norm. So when an actor has closing night on one show, that generally means opening night is coming up soon on their next.

Soooo... getting the cast back together after Penguins closed has been problematic. But I've finally been able to get a window open that all can agree on... a four-hour window. Four hours to shoot a movie. Eat that, Roger Corman.

A side benefit to this is that it has given me a new-found empathy for the much-maligned oeuvre of Edward Wood, Jr. Poor guy. Perennial whipping boy for Plan 9 from Outer Space (which incidentally debuted in a small number of theaters fifty years ago this month), commonly attributed to be the Worst Movie Ever Made. Which of course it isn't, not by a huge margin. For one, it's not boring. No matter how inept it comes across, the effort is still compelling in its own small way. The thing is, with almost no resources, the man still got Plan 9 and all of his other films done. And most folks know his name. So there's that.

He's by no means the worst director out there. There's much worse pulling down the big bucks even today... they just happen to have multimillion dollar budgets, competent actors to choose from; crack cinematographers and editors covering their nepoticious asses.

But still, it's easy to laugh at dubious spectacle of Bela Lugosi struggling to wrap himself up in the inert tentacles of a rubber octopus in Bride of the Monster, giggle at the wobbly hubcaps standing in for flying saucers in Plan 9, and shake one's head at the nekkid girls dancing awkwardly in Orgy of the Dead. But, hey.... he got 'em nekkid. And they were hot. With Woods' cardboard budget and his reputation by then, that's impressive in itself.

Although you still gotta wonder what drove the man. There's only so many body blows an ego can take. The story goes that the writer/director of Robot Monster crawled home after the derisive response the debut of his opus received, and attempted suicide. Yet with near minus zero resources, Wood kept churning them out, plugging along like some moth-eaten, jerry-rigged Energizer Bunny.

Call him the Worst Filmmaker of All Time, but at least his name has more recognition value than say, John Cassavetes. Walk into a video store and try to find a copy of A Woman Under the Influence or Love Streams, right?

But so it goes.

The thing is, one has to look past the surface of Ed Wood (and even Andy Milligan) efforts and appreciate the cat-wrangling that goes into any film project. Making a film isn't just setting up the camera and having the actors hit their marks. Getting everyone to show up (at all, let alone on time) is half the battle. To have an actor argue that they know the character better than the writer, and that the Marlboro Man is actually a drag queen. To have another one throw their back out the night before, and necessitate an instant rewrite that changes the Climactic Fight Scene into an easy-chair argument.

Wood and Milligan and other folks like Larry Buchanan and Al Adamson at least had the fire in the belly to get their deranged visions completed and up on a screen. Repeatedly. When you realize that there are probably more uncompleted first films collecting dust in garages across the land than there are forgotten manuscripts in closets, that's something. Which indicates that these derided filmmakers were still, in themselves, a rare breed that deserves some sort of respect.

The main factor isn't that they made films badly, it's a testament to overcoming adversity that they got films made at all.

At least that's what I'm telling myself, going into the shoot tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Deadly Penguins: Stage 1.5

Well, closing night came and went... although we're set to do a late-night encore on the 12th and 13th of June. The late night crowd is always a blast to work in front of... they're generally tipsy, looking for some fun before they hit the bars. If you've got a funny show for them, they definitely show their approval.

But this time around, we'll be cuttin' loose with the blood gags. Just gotta make sure the actors wear the proper foot gear... that stage blood is some slippery stuff. Which is kinda odd, considering how sticky Karo® and red food dye is.

It also give us time to get back up to speed on the lines, after near a two week break. I put off the start of shooting until the 14th, by which time I hope to have the last of the gear I need. I scored an Audio-Technica 897 shotgun mike on the cheap to replace the stock XL2 mic... but right on the heels of taking care of that I had the head of my tripod go south on me. Damn thing now pans as smoothly as a skateboard on a gravel road.

Good filmmaking Rule-of-thumb: Never evah lend out your tripod. The first rule-of-thumb I learned is to always have a working flashlight with you while shooting.

I could muddle through with just locking down the camera and working around it, which I suppose could work considering that I'm planning on shooting it in the style of the old B-movies. But... I pretty much know that I'm gonna need to pan at some point. I'm being told that if I'm gonna buy another head, I need to buy the one I'll want to stay with in the long run... so, I'm shopping for a Bogen 501.

Money, money, money.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Deadliest Penguin

Now, getting back to the traumatic... As I said, the first two weeks of rehearsal were smoother than any show I've been involved in. More than a week 'til opening, and everyone had found their characters and were pretty much off book. Then...


The Second Act of The Deadly Penguins was going to be pretty action-packed... a brutal, knock down, drag out fight between Sister Virginia and a Boss Penguin, and a big dance number featuring a chorus line of zombie nuns.

Then, during rehearsal for the big fight scene... Erika took a bad twist off the stairs. Trooper that she is, we went on rehearsing for an hour.


That night, Erika got the bad news... breakage. But the next day, she was back... on crutches, but ready to roll. Of course, that meant some pages had to be tossed (I sorta liked the idea of an ass-kickin' ninja nun on crutches, but reality trumps that kind of thing), and rewrites to bridge the gaps. And reblocking, of course.
Also dropped were the buckets of blood. I miss 'em, but I've seen someone go ass-over-teakettle while just taking a bow in stage blood. I already broke Erika's foot, wasn't gonna up the ante.

This was with four days left before opening night.

But that's what theatre is good for, and we were good for the challenge. And honestly, the second act is a lot stronger for the incident... the dance number was out of nowhere (although admittedly was part of the joke), but didn't add anything. It also led to a better punchline... or two.

So it goes.

Then the day of opening night, Don went under the knife for an emergency operation... Mark McGinnis stepped in with a script and we rolled with a freebie preview. And the next night Don was back on stage in full form. Jeebus.

Fortunately, the glue that hold things together offstage was Assistant Director Cheryl Battles (below, l.). As my left eye started twitching in the hours before opening, things started to get done. Props began to appear where none had been before. I doubt it was the Blue Room poltergoost that took care of it, so I'm sure it was Cheryl and Stage Manager Heather Gomes.

Oh... and that's Sabrina Schloss next to Cheryl, in Little Match Girl gear. No one seems to get the joke (Little Mermaid aside, doesn't anyone remember Hans Christian Anderson anymore?), but it sets up Sabrina's next appearance in the show, set to sing, "The Sun'll come up, Samara". So there's that.

As the Deadliest Penguin says, "Keep watching this, guys... keep watching this, guys!"

Stay tuned, folks... we're about to roll into the feature programming.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Deadly Penguins: Stage One

Well, then.

A couple of positive reviews, one from the local daily and one in The Synthesis, a local entertainment weekly (no link available). Unfortunately, the first two weekends were lightly attended, but the audiences were more than up to the challenge to make the actors feel validated.

And so with that and (hopefully) good word-of-mouth, tomorrow we go into the final weekend of the stage version of
The Deadly Penguins, and it's been an interesting experience.

Interesting as in exhilarating and traumatic in equal measures. With a three week rehearsal process leading up 'til opening night, the first two weeks were smooth sailing.

As I've noted in earlier posts, I have an very intuitive cast... but that's underselling them. These folks are stellar. I prefer writing for and working with ensemble casts, and this one is the best one it's been my pleasure to work with.


Loki Miller and Erika Soerensen play Gordo the Canadian and Sister Virginia, the ostensible romantic leads. Ostensible because the play is a ensemble piece and isn't very romantic. And I forgot to write a scene where they kiss onstage. There is a moment where they can be heard bumpin' uglies offstage, but it's a brief moment. Very brief, to Sister Virginia's chagrin.

I love the above photo (courtesy of Wayne Pease). It evokes the old school publicity photos from back in the day, and nails the atmosphere of the genre itself. You can almost hear the sad, no-hope-left music playing in the background as they realize that... well, there's no fuckin' hope left.

Making his stage debut in The Deadly Penguins is local musician Mark Simmons as Laveau. Mark has been a spectacular find, and a pleasure to work with.

In the foreground is the steel drum that serves up the contents of the ever-popular inciting incident. Gordo and Laveau have been dispatched to arctic boonies to get rid of the inconvenient drum of biohazard. Unfortunately, they don't utilize a very eco-friendly way of disposing of the toxic waste: thermite.

A nasty green cloud unleashed from the explosion drifts across the icepack...

... and settles over a colony of cute li'l penguins. Even more unfortunately, the cloud contains Trioxin 245 (ahem) and a foul, foul rain falls on the fowls.

Cue the Scary Fanfare.

Meanwhile, back at the station...

Colin Brewer (l.) is on hand as the research station's military presence, Scottish Captain Folbrook. His primary function here is to try to destroy the penguins before they even seemingly pose a threat.

And with the phasing out of dog teams in the Antarctic, the station's handler/veterinarian Linux (Bill Saporito) has been promoted to bass doctor. Linux's function is to serve as the voice of reason, and to try to communicate with the birds.

We've all seen how this traditionally plays out for both of them.

Filling out the roster is Ollie, the ever-put upon Norwegian (Don Eggert) and Murdock, the god-damned annoying Texan (the character, not actor Winston Colgan). That's the great part of being a writer... you can bag on anyone and everyone and call it comedy.

There's also Sabrina Schloss, who drops by the remote station in various roles... but I don't have an image of her.


But here's one of me trying to figure out how to do an emergency rewrite and reblock the Second Act of the show, four days before opening...

I think I'm trying to channel Ernie Kovacs... but getting a busy signal.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Return of The Deadly Penguins

Well, obviously that scratcher was just another piece of paper...

Since I last posted a few of months ago, things have been a bit of a whirlwind. Things pop up and schemes change.

I had a chance to put up a stage production of Night of the Living Dead and I took it. Since there's not a script floating around (a whole lot of winging it from the original cast of the flick, I hear tell), I had to transcribe a script from the film and then adapt the narrative to fit the limitations of the stage. Due to casting restraints, had to tweak the characters.

Turned out to be a fifty-minute one act, but the sucker moves pretty well that way... no Barbra wandering around the house for five minutes, no ten-minute radio broadcast playing as Ben boards up the joint. Basically, get Cooper and Tom bursting in from the cellar within the first ten minutes and keep the puppy rolling. I had to drop the first in-house zombie attack due to pragmatism (two week rehearsal schedule), but otherwise it turned out well. Here's the final performance of Night of the Live Dead... although closing night also means actors getting a little creative with the material. And the closing scene also illustrates one of the hazards of live theatre... although the audience got a kick out of it, so there's that.

Meanwhile, back to The Deadly Penguins...

I finally got the stage for it, and I've assembled a great cast. Now, I wrote the thing, so what's left of my modesty says that I'm not gonna guarantee that it's the funniest show of the year... but I've got a intuitive cast, so there's the potential.

As I've mentioned before, it's a bawdy spoof of the old B-monster movies of the Cold War era, in the style of Mel Brooks and early Zucker Brothers... with the unfiltered humor of the Scary Movie franchise.

Of course, due to the inherent limitations of the stage, only about 55 pages of the 108 page screenplay translates to stage. To counter, I had to re-write the ending. So it goes.

The show opens May 14th at the Blue Room Theatre in Chico, CA. Runs through the 30th. And as planned, when the show wraps we’re gonna jump straight into shooting it as a low-budget movie.

We'll see. Some fund-raising tactics in mind to raise the $2,500 budget, so I’ll get back on how that goes.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The March Begins...

Almost everyone wants to make a movie, or at least be part of the making. I'm no different, aside from finally getting motivated enough to try to make it happen. We’ve reached the point where the technology is on hand to (ideally) make a competent-looking backyard film: say, a Canon XL2 (with aftermarket boom mike), Final Cut and an eager cast and crew. And a script that embraces the constraints of a nothing budget and rolls with it.

I think I have that script and it’s called The Deadly Penguins. It’s a spoof of the Cold War-era monster movies that flickered on late night television in the days before infomercials became the ubiquitous screensaver. The bulk of the action takes place in the recreation room of an Antarctic ice station, so location is basic or greenscreened.

Granted, these days “Spoof Movie” is as lethal a pejorative as “Backyard Movie” so there’s that. But it has zombie penguins in it. And zombie nuns, so perhaps that’s a decent enough counterbalance. That aside, I could give a flying rats ass... it’s a movie I want to make and I’m going to make it.

The way I figure it, I think I can do this on $2,500. I spent that amount on the XL2, so the goal is to make a movie for under $5,000 all told.

At the moment, I have eight bucks in my pocket, $4.86 in the bank and a scratcher worth a free ticket on my desk. I’m not expecting much with the redemption on the ticket, so there you go.

But I've also written, directed or produced several stage plays, so there's that. I have a talent pool to dip into, and the resources to make it happen. Well, except for the money... but if I'm clever enough to get the ball rolling, then hopefully I'll be clever enough to figure out a way to keep it rolling.

On the agenda is a staged version of The Deadly Penguins to workshop how the gags play for a live audience, sell T-shirts and to get the actors off book before the shooting begins. Staging is set for March (if for no other reason than to use a “March of the Deadly Penguins” hook for the promotion). Ideally, after the stage run ends, a warehouse will be rented and shooting will begin.

This week I’ll invite the actors I see in the roles for a reading and we’ll see how it rolls.