Bubble Boy

I was reading the Wild Hunt post today and the following quote really resonated with me: 

“The Pagan and polytheist corners of the internet foster conversations that require so much context as to be nearly unintelligible to outsiders.”

And it got me to thinking about my filmmaking choices over the last several years, and how this was a consistent criticism that I received in the past, and yet praised for it in recent times. On older films, key among them Voodoo Cowboys, I struggled to create a film that engaged the subject matter I wanted to deal with (vodoun and zombie apocalypse) in a very detailed and (other than the zombies) realistic way. If it wasn’t for my cinematographer Leo Smith constantly asking what I thought were silly questions (they weren’t) I would have forged ahead with a 60-70 page script that required the viewer to do all of the heavy lifting with regards to prior knowledge of voodoo religion & hoodoo sorcery. Thanks to Leo the script ended up being about 120 pages once I’d explained at least the basic concepts, and yet when the film was finished there were still so many vodoun pre-requisites of understanding for the audience that many people only barely scratched the surface of the story, and as a result viewers rejected the film as just another bad movie. 

Today I am enjoying a very different, in fact opposite, reaction from general viewers. The film Ember Days is a complex soup of myths ranging from Fallen Angels & Nephilim, to Greek Gods, to the Faerie Courts, all of them interwoven and in conflict. This was a 45 page script, with very little in the way of exposition about who these mythic entities were, and only marginal exposition about what their motivations were, and yet the general audience for the film not only understands the story but loves it. 

The difference between the two films is that I tried to present Voodoo Cowboys to a broad ‘over-culture’ audience, and with Ember Days we specifically presented it as “by pagans for pagans”.  Reading the above blog post really hammered home the realization that my problem with Voodoo Cowboys was presenting the film outside of the pagan bubble, and the success of Ember Days has been due in a large part to presenting it within the bubble. 

What this seems to imply for me as a filmmaker is that when I have a story to tell, it is part of my job to determine whether or not it belongs inside or outside the bubble. And I agree with the author of the Wild Hunt post, in that I’m not sure what the bubble means for us pagan folk going forward, though for now I am rather happy to have identity and success within it. 

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Obsessed. With. Zombies.

I love zombies.

As kids we got the wits scared out of us, in the most fun way, by the Night of the Living Dead. Even as a kid, it was shocking in a very primal way to see essentially “people as monsters”, because let’s face it the makeup in those first few Romero films were some eye-shadow and tatty clothes. Something was triggered deep in the recesses of our minds, a fascination with “surviving the night” as it were, and like many children do we started playing out our own scenarios. Seeing the dark 80’s comedy Return of the Living Dead set in concrete our love of zombies, and instead of playing GI Joe, Civil War, or Cowboys & Indians we started playing our own zombie survival games.

They are the perfect enemy. They look like people, so that plays into our natural fear of mobs. They are a somewhat unstoppable force of nature, so we get that natural disaster vibe going. They are (often) cannibals, and we really don’t like getting eaten. And their bites will turn victims into zombies, so there’s some epidemiology there too, with a smattering of disease/plague fear. Also its socially sanctioned murder, since zombies are basically just people. All great backdrops for exploring the human drama, which is at the core of all the “good” zombie movies and books.

Zombies really are the cheapest monsters to have in a film, other than extremely clever ways of portraying ghosts, so needless to say zombie films have been around for a long time, and they aren’t going to go away. Granted, while zombies are the cheapest monsters, and thus a metric ton of movies both at the low budget and hollywood level have been made, they are pretty tough to actually do “right”. I used to work at a low budget horror dvd distribution company, and trust me, everyone with a cheap camera and a few friends has made a trashy zombie movie, myself included. Most of them suck, especially because the zombies suck (it takes a real actor to portray a truly badass zombie, contrary to popular indie filmmaker belief), but even then I just can’t not watch them. Obsessed. With. Zombies. They may pass from the limelight from time to time, but like the relentless shambling hordes they portray, zombie films will just keep coming. Same for books and especially video games. I have certainly played my part in contributing to the ever-expanding glut of zombie media. To date I’ve made two of my own crappy zombie films (Johnny Sunshine: Maximum Violence and Voodoo Cowboys) and written three short zombie novels, two under my own name (Relentless and Gladiators vs Zombies) and one under my Edward Teach pseudonym (Zombie Jesus). I’ve got four more zombie writing projects in various stages of completion. Obviously I’m both a creator in the genre and also one of its most rabid fans.

The point of this post is that I am enjoying the zombie genre being a mainstream thing right now. Being a kid in the 80’s and 90’s meant that “being a nerd” was grounds for schoolyard fist fights and ostracism, but now we have hipsters and nerds-as-the-cool-kids in our mainstream culture & media. The same is happening with zombies, where manufacturers of hardware and ammo are slapping bio-hazard symbols on their products and Wal-Mart sells cheap “zombie hunter” t-shirts (I bought one, its cheap and awesome), zombies are now kitsch and I’m loving it. The Walking Dead is of course an incredible show, and it tickles me that its so wildly successful now, where in years past there was no way the networks would put something that violent or visceral on television. Not only is it approved for television, it is easily the most successful show in television history, you can have a multi-screen viewing experience, watch a fancy talk show after the episode, and then the whole series in black & white reruns. These days you’re weird if you aren’t into a television show about freaking zombies! Weirdos are the ones who don’t like zombie media! How’s that for a slice of fried gold? Video games like Dead Island and Left 4 Dead are high end and super fun, which is a long way from the old board game I have called “Maul of America”. Will this time pass? Of course. The Walking Dead will either end gloriously in the next season, or it will drag on for season after season (because it makes money) until it sucks and then doesn’t make money any more. Eventually zombies will fall away from the mainstream and go back to their sub-culture roots, where they will wait patiently for the next media cycle. Its good to be a zombie fan right now, to be one of the cool kids who knows which Walking Dead character I most resemble, to have a zombie outbreak escape plan, and to have my own creative projects be mainstream for once.

Aim for the head.

Answers to a set of Interview Questions about “Voodoo Cowboys”

Question 1:  What made you decide to be a director?  I FOUND THAT BEING THE DIRECTOR ON A FILM WAS THE MOST POWERFUL WAY TO CONTROL THE TELLING OF THE STORY, AT THE END OF THE DAY ITS THE DIRECTOR TO PUTS TOGETHER THE STORY, USING THE CINEMATOGRAPHER, EDITOR, COMPOSER, AND ACTORS AS TOOLS TO TELL  THE STORY. How did you get into directing? I WAS A PRODUCER AND COORDINATOR FOR SEVERAL YEARS, AND DISCOVERED A LOVE FOR DIRECTING AND THE CREATIVE ASPECT OF FILMMAKING, SO SET ABOUT FINDING FUNDING FOR MY OWN PROJECTS. 

Question 2:  Why did you pick Voodoo Cowboys to make into a movie?  VOODOO COWBOYS WAS A VERY ORGANIC STORY. IT BEGAN WITH SEVERAL OF US DECIDING TO MAKE A WEIRD CHEAP MOVIE ABOUT COWBOYS FIGHTING TOP HAT WEARING BAD GUYS IN THE ABANDONED SCHOOL, THEN THE IDEA GREW AS MORE PEOPLE BECAME INVOLVED, UNTIL SUCH TIME AS A SCRIPT WAS WRITTEN, AND 5 DRAFTS LATER WE ENDED UP WITH THE SHOOTING SCRIPT FOR THE MOVIE. What goes into the decision to make a movie? IT IS A BLEND OF THINGS… ONE PART BUSINESS, IN WORKING OUT WHAT KIND OF MOVIE CAN MAKE THE BEST RETURN ON THE INVESTMENT OF TIME/MONEY, ONE PART IS CREATIVE, IN THAT WE MUST TELL A STORY BOTH WORTH TELLING AND THAT WE ARE PASSIONATE ABOUT, AND THE FINAL IS ABOUT LOGISTICS… WHAT CAN WE MAKE WITH WHAT WE HAVE, OR WHAT WE CAN BEG/BORROW/STEAL 😉

Question 3:  What is the hardest part about making movies? FINDING THE FUNDING, MOVIES ARE A RISKY INVESTMENT AT BEST, AND WITH THE ECONOMY IT IS TOUGH TO GET PEOPLE TO WRITE THOSE CHECKS, ESPECIALLY FOR INDEPENDENTS, WHO DON’T COMMAND A-LIST CELEBRITY CAST OR 35MM CAMERAS. 

Question 4:  What is the easiest part about making movies? THERE IS AN EASY PART?

Question 5:  What goes into picking cast and crew for your productions? LIKE CHOOSING WHAT MOVIE TO MAKE, IT IS A BLEND OF FACTORS, THE FIRST BEING WHO IS WORTH WHAT SALARY (FOR CREW ITS EXPERIENCE/SKILL, FOR CAST IT IS CELEBRITY LEVEL & TALENT), THEN ITS THE CHEMISTRY BETWEEN CAST/CREW AND THEIR COUNTERPARTS

Question 6:  How do you decide the length of time it will take to make a movie? DEPENDS ON THE SCRIPT, THE FUNDING AVAILABLE, AND THE CAST/CREW, BUT USUALLY A RESPONSIBLE AMOUNT OF TIME TO PREP A FILM IS 6 WEEKS, SHOOTING IS 2-3 WEEKS, AND POST PRODUCTION (EDITING, SOUND, MUSIC, VISUAL FX) IS ROUGHLY 12 WEEKS 

Question 7:  What happens if you get behind schedule? YOU HAVE TO START SACRIFICING SCENES AND MODIFYING YOUR SCRIPT TO COPE WITH LESS SHOOTING TIME, LIKE TRIAGE, OR YOU GO RAISE MORE FUNDING AND TRY TO ADD MORE DAYS TO YOUR SCHEDULE 

Question 8:  What do you go through to find and use locations for sets? JUST A KEEN EYE FOR WHAT THE CAMERA WILL SEE… A LOCATION CAN LOOK AMAZING TO THE NAKED EYE, BUT LOOKS CRAMPED OR BORING TO THE CAMERA, ALSO IT IS A QUESTION OF ACCESS… BATHROOMS, DISTANCE FROM LODGING/OFFICE, THE SOUND OF THE AREA FOR AUDIO, TRAFFIC, BYSTANDERS… MAKING A MOVIE IS ABOUT CONTROLLING REALITY, SO WE HAVE TO PUT OURSELVES IN A SITUATION WHERE WE CAN CONTROL AS MUCH OF REALITY AS POSSIBLE WHEN IT COMES TO WHAT GOES INTO THE CAMERA 

Question 9:  What all is involved in pre-production?  HIRING CAST/CREW, FINISHING THE SCRIPT, FINDING THE FUNDING, ARRANGING LODGING, CATERING, ETC Post-production? EDITING, AUDIO, MUSICAL SCORE, VISUAL FX 

Question 10:  What is involved in advertising and spreading the word about the movies you’ve made? FACEBOOK, MYSPACE, VIRAL ONLINE MARKETING, MAGAZINE ARTICLES AND ADVERTISING, FILM FESTIVALS AND MARKETS 

Question 11:  Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about what you do and are involved with? THE MOVIE BUSINESS IS A COTTAGE INDUSTRY, SO JUST LIKE THE FRONTIER FAMILIES OF COLONIAL AMERICA, IT CAN BE DONE ANYWHERE