Sunday, June 23, 2013

Friday the 13th, or slasher movies in general

This weekend I was camping with my family. I wasn’t feeling too well, which meant I didn’t swim in the 55° lake. But I brought some movies along -- Creature from the Black Lagoon, Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste, and the original Friday the 13th. Which is a good camping movie, if you ask me.

I always liked it, but I can understand some of the criticism it gets. It doesn't have a lot of substance, at least for the first hour. The acting isn’t astounding, but in my opinion, it’s about as good as A Nightmare of Elm Street. The directing leaves something to be desired, but it gets down what it sets out to do: to show us a bunch of camp counselors getting hacked up in a cabin.

But a lot of people call it a ripoff, which I never really understood. It’s said that the screenwriter wrote Friday the 13th after being inspired by Halloween. But who doesn’t? It’s the whole reason people still write slasher movies today. If people didn’t want to shoot their own Texas Chain Saws, we’d end up with a really small amount of slasher films and a lot more Pierrot le Fous.

But I’m getting off track here. Maybe I’m missing something, but how is it at all similar to Halloween? It’s a slasher, obviously. They both are. But when you look past the killing, there aren’t many more similarities aside from the occasional POV shot (yeah, that was a ripoff, but that can mostly be blamed on the director. And Hitchcock was the one who made it famous, anyway.)

You also have all the backstory involving a kid, and two young lovers who get killed. But this is actually where Friday departs from the typical slasher formula, by making the kid’s mom the killer (that was a spoiler, but seriously, if you haven’t seen the movie/don’t know the plot yet, come on.) And this is a little off topic, but seeing as how slasher filmmakers have basically ripped off every single slasher movie trope before, why hasn’t anyone used the “mother was the killer” idea yet? It’s a great idea that really sets Friday the 13th apart from the countless other slashers of the eighties.

So there you have it: some POV shots (which ripoff Psycho, not Halloween), a tragic backstory involving a kid and murder, and the fact that both movies are slashers. As far as I can see, these movies are kind of similar due to the subgenre, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call Friday the 13th a ripoff. If I’m missing something and you have any other reasons Friday copies Halloween, let me know in the comments. I’m still trying to figure this out.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

(Fake) Trailer of the Week: Tape-Man

A fake grindhouse trailer. It's been one of my favorite videos ever since I discovered YouTube. To this day, I'm impressed with the filmmaking techniques used here. It deserves more views.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Haunts (1977) Review

Haunts opens to a run of the mill throwaway kill, just like any schlocky slasher flick would. After all, the supposed plot is “a woman is stalked by a mysterious killer wielding a pair of sewing scissors”. It’s predictable, straightforward, and yet, how could you go wrong with it?

But at about the five minute mark the film’s tone switches drastically. It becomes a slow drama told in a lot of flashbacks and shots of the protagonist staring out rainy windows. More kills are still thrown in about every ten or so minutes, but they only distract from the slow melodrama that takes center stage.

The plot is all over the place, but from what I gather, a woman's dealing with some trauma from her past. She goes to church every day to cope, but one night, on the walk home, she's attacked by a mysterious man who tries to stab her with a pair of large scissors. She gets away, and this raises some questions: why was he after her? Who was it? She becomes convinced it's her uncle, whom she's currently living with. But perhaps it's someone else.

This film is hard to judge because overall it's an inconsistent mess-- like I said, dull drama one minute, nasty slasher the next-- but at the same time, it has moments where it teeters on brilliance. For example, there's a totally bizarre goat milking scene near the beginning that, to me, bumps the film's score up a whole extra star. Same thing goes for a remarkably-shot death scene outside a bar, about halfway through.

But unfortunately, solid death scenes like this didn't seem to belong with the rest of the film. It's a psychological drama, first and foremost. The brutal killing doesn't ring true. It stands out, like it's not meant to be there. It’s almost like the exec at the production company told the filmmakers they needed to make it more marketable. Obviously this means adding some good ol’ hacking and slashing. It’s happened before.

Which, if this was true, would explain a lot. The film is for the most part a quiet drama, but every ten or so minutes an ugly, oftentimes unimaginative kill scene is thrown in. These scenes barely ever effect the plot, and stand out most of the time as things that were thrown in as an afterthought.

Overall it's a slow, kind of boring film with a lot of extra padding to fill its 90 minute runtime. But it does have some good ideas, and it wants to be better than it is. It's an ambitious film made by people who weren't exactly sure what they were doing. That's made clear by the ending, which attempts to pull a huge plot twist but fails and just gets plain confusing.

I think this proves that having a unique idea is one of the most important things about writing. A bad movie with a unique vision, and something to say is interesting, more so than an average by-the-books Hollywood movie that has no idea behind it. You can hit all the bases-- proper format, good dialogue, neat story structure-- but it doesn't matter unless your story has something to say.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Screenwriting Influences

One of my favorite movies is An American Werewolf in LondonWhile it may not be the greatest film ever, no film has had more influence on my writing than this. It's a very uneven, odd film. It opens to a slightly corny gothic horror sequence, then spends the next 45 minutes on the main character recovering from a werewolf attack in a hospital. From here it's almost a romance film, until the next full moon, when all hell breaks loose. My only issue with it is that there isn't really an ending at all, but you could argue it just adds to the style.

Almost everything I've written since has been influenced by the style of John Landis's script. The odd, anything-goes vibe is always what I'm shooting for, whether romantic comedy or slasher.

More films that influenced me are Breathless (1960), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), and Pulp Fiction. Though when it comes to Pulp Fiction, it's not in the way you would expect.

I don't write pages and pages of worthless dialogue like most Tarantino copycats. The film influenced my writing in other ways: focusing on creating memorable characters over plot. It's more of a novel than a conventional movie. Just characters going through their days.

Breathless is important to me because it's relatable.

Jean-Luc Godard got together a couple actors and a camera and went out and shot his movie. It's something I could do. Whether or not I end up making one of the best films ever is something we'll have to wait and see, but it's nice to know that it's something basically in reach. You don't need a budget to make a great film people still watch fifty years later.

I also admire the story of Breathless, if there even is one. It's 90 minutes following an interesting car thief around town, getting into deeper trouble. It's an anything-goes, poetic story, exactly what I'd love to make someday.

And lastly, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Every film I've mentioned so far is in my top ten, including this one. Yes. My top ten. Many people discount it as a cheap gore flick, but they're the ones that haven't seen it. It's a very effective film, and has stood the test of time better than almost any other horror film. It's been copied countless times. And like Breathless, it is a film made without many things at their disposal. It's just some filmmakers with a cool idea, a few thousand dollars, and a farmhouse.

When I write horror, I try to channel the feeling of dread this film uses so well. If you want to learn how to write horror, this film is perfect. It masterfully executes dread, suspense, shock, disgust, and pure tension. With what? A van, a farmhouse, less than a dozen actors and barely any blood... oh yeah, and a chainsaw. Copycats over the years have slightly stained this film's reputation, but anyone who's actually seen it knows how effective it can be.

That's my list. Other notable films are Goodfellas, Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Signs, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Battle Royale and Back to the Future.

If you're a writer, which films or books-- maybe even music-- have influenced your work the most?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Advance-Lunge (short film)

An assignment from another film course I'm taking.

I was supposed to film an action from two different angles then edit them together. Real simple. Basically it's to learn about early films, back before they told stories. For a while, filmakers just filmed everyday things.

I ended up filming my friend's fencing tournament (he's fencing on the left in the first shot). More assignments coming soon... next time we're moving onto writing and shooting a short silent film.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Trailer of the Week: Alien 2: On Earth

No, not the Alien you know and love. Not even Alien. You probably don't even know about this one.

Alien 2: On Earth is an unauthorized Italian ripoff of the Ridley Scott classic. I'm not sure about the budget, but I assume this was made for about twenty bucks, and that's being generous.

Don't watch if cheapo effects scare you. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED.

Yeah, the trailer kind of speaks for itself. The film itself is very obscure, and was pretty much impossible to find until they released it on Blu-Ray.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Switchblade Sisters (1975) Review

AKA The Jezebels, but I like "Switchblade Sisters" better.
It's hard to review movies like this. When it comes to grindhouse cinema, almost every film is totally unique. You judge them like typical Hollywood films-- if you did, you probably wouldn't enjoy many "cult" movies.

To me, the biggest difference when it comes to these low budget gems is the writing. In Switchblade Sisters, almost every scene has something to like about it. There's always a quirky, odd thing going on, combined with over-the-top characters and great dialogue... all in all, it's something you haven't seen before. But in full, the film is pretty messy. There are a lot of little things to like, and it keeps your interest-- but the film as a whole is all over the place. It's like they were making it up as they went along.

That's what I'm saying about these films, and how different they are. There's no three act structure, no midpoint, no resolution. Screw that crap. You notice the same thing in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and even in Coffy. The stories are almost told in this free-form style you would never see in a Hollywood production. And sometimes it works for the film... but more often than not, it doesn't. Despite everything there is to like about Pussycat, the film as a whole feels messy and padded. But does this free-form style work for Switchblade?

The film follows a gang of women-- women with names like Lace, Patch, and Donut-- and their endeavors. They get thrown in jail, recruit new members, clash with rival gangs, and that's about all there is to say. There's really no plot to speak of-- it's just one event after the other until the film ends. Yet, to me, this actually works for the film. It's the hodgepodge of incidents and over the top characters  that adds to the feel of the film. It's something you have to see to really understand.

Switchblade is something else, a film some have tried to emulate over the years-- most notably Quentin Tarantino. I noticed a couple similarities to Reservoir Dogs here-- from the rhythm of the dialogue to the violent finale in the gang's warehouse. Makes sense, since this film was recently rereleased by Rolling Thunder Productions, Tarantino's own production company.

So overall, is it worth the watch? Yeah, sure. I feel like it's good for writers-- screenwriters especially-- to take a break from cookie-cutter Hollywood films and check out some of cinema's oddballs. It's a good way to learn for yourself why conventional story structure is a good thing-- and why you don't always need it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

I'm a professional photographer now...

Well, maybe not. But I am a published photographer.

I took some photos for an article my mom wrote. They ended up in the magazine.

Dreams do come true...

Monday, April 8, 2013

New Layout

I changed the layout of the blog, slightly. I've wanted to change the font for a while, but I never really settled on anything I liked. While it's great for screenplays (the only font you should use, actually), Courier just wasn't doing it for me when it came to my blog. I see enough Courier anyway... why not shake it up with some nice PT Sans Caption?

That is all.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

(Not) 100 Movies

So I was watching Die Hard a few weeks ago -- about two days after I announced the whole 100 Movies thing, and I realized, "This movie easily makes my top 100." And then I thought about how many movies I don't have on my list yet, and the fact that it would probably take me over a year to post all 100 entries. By then, my list will have changed. Movies I post about one week may not even be on the list six weeks later, and by the end, I'll probably have added a lot of additional movies to the list.

Not to mention I have other projects going that are more important. So I'm going to put "100 Movies" on hold for now.

What have I been doing on this month-long hiatus? Editing. If you've been following Disposing Dwight, you'll be glad to hear that in the past week I've edited over three minutes, and it's turning out a lot better than I originally hoped. I still need to shoot the additional scenes I missed in June, and I'm also compiling a list of extra shots I need for the scenes I already have. Right now the list is about a page long, ranging from "Timmy smiles, eyes twinkling" to "the head explodes on the pavement, blood and brain splattering everywhere (in slow-motion)".

I'm also writing a few more things -- I finally got around to putting ACMD on paper. It's a script my friend and I have been developing for about four months. We finally finished a pretty solid outline and now we're moving on to writing the actual story. I'm just barely into it so far, but once I get rolling I should be able to knock out the first draft in a couple weeks. It's something I hope to film someday, but we'll see... it all comes down to the budget.

Anyway, I'm trying to get Disposing Dwight wrapped so I can move on to another project. I hope to shoot another film this June, the same month we shot Dwight. I'm not sure what it'll be yet, but it'll be much more ambitious, which means I'll need all previous films totally finished so I can give more attention to my new film.

That's all for now... Couple reviews coming soon, maybe, among other things. I'll post a rough scene from Disposing Dwight soon so you guys can see my progress so far.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Dawn of the Dead (1978) Review

A follow-up to my Night of the Living Dead review. When I get around to seeing Day of the Dead, I'll probably review that too.

George A. Romero's second zombie film picks up right where its predecessor, Night of the Living Dead, made ten years earlier, left off. Why he waited this long to make another one, I'm not quite sure. As far as I know, Night was pretty dang successful, spawning an entire horror subgenre and creating a whole new list of horror cliches (which Dawn added to immensely).

I think one reason Romero waited a decade for the sequel is that the Living Dead films are social commentaries as much as they they are zombie films (which is why so many other zombie films fail. Most big-budget zombie films can't hold a candle to Romero's low budget 60s flick, and that's because Night has substance... something a $60 million gorefest does not have, nor will it ever).

But I'm getting off track here. What I'm saying is, Dawn is a social commentary about the times (well, those times-- the 70s), so it makes sense to wait a decade for the next installment. Night covered themes relevant in the 60s, and Dawn updated the series for a 70s audience.

And I think that's why this is such a well-received film, even now. It makes many Top 10 horror lists, despite being dated and (a little) flawed. It says something very true about the times. Which is funny. When you think about films with symbolism and relevant messages, you'd think pretentious art house garbage. Who would think a 70s grindhouse zombie film would do it better than 90% of dramas, overly long stageplays, and war movies?

But enough of that stuff. This may be a social commentary, but it's also a zombie film, and that's what keeps new fans coming.

So as a zombie film, does it stand as one of the greats? Well, yeah. There isn't much competition here. One of the greatest horror films? Again, there isn't that much competition when you get down to it. I mean, let's face it... aside from the limited amount of truly great horror, everything else is either mediocre or terrible. The bar is so low for horror that yes, this is definitely much better than a lot of other films. It's entertaining to this day, despite its longer runtime (by today's standards, at least) and it's pretty gory (even by today's standards).

I'm sure you probably know the story by now. I mean, who doesn't? Even if you haven't seen it, chances are you can guess. A zombie epidemic has gotten out of hand, and now four people (a news reporter, her boyfriend and two S.W.A.T. troopers) seek refuge from zombies. It's a format pretty much every zombie movie has followed since. Here, they're in an abandoned mall. Or maybe it's not abandoned, if you count the horde of zombies outside.

That's them.
The four lock themselves inside the mall with only some glass to keep the zombies out, which leads us to the first real issue of the film: the zombies weren't very threatening. They spent most of the film feebly pounding on the glass rather than actually breaking in. And while it does get pretty intense when a hundred zombies are piling up on the only exit, they still aren't as threatening as, say, a fast zombie, or a strong zombie.

But as it is, this is still an effective film. It could almost be played as a dark comedy, with characters riding through the mall on dirt bikes, bashing slow zombie skulls left and right.

(Like I said, gory even today.)

And that's the other issue. The gore itself just isn't great. I get that it's an older film, but still... the blood is bright red, almost orange, and the flesh is too rubbery. For such a big part of the film, this aspect is particularly disappointing. Still, I give the filmmakers props for getting this brutal, because up until this film, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was about as gruesome as you could get, and anyone who's seen that knows how un-graphic it actually is.

So overall, this was a very solid film, and unlike pretty much every other grindhouse horror film, this is well-written, well-shot, and well-acted. There's a lot to like here... from zombie hunting hillbillies to the big, empty mall scenes (almost like The Shining before there was The Shining).

Not to mention, this is a two hour zombie movie with a majority of slow survival scenes, and almost forty years later, it still keeps our interest. Most two hour action thriller movies can't do that.

Recommended if you're into zombie films, or horror in general. Actually, scratch that. If you're looking for a good story, this is it.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

100 Movies...

So over the past two weeks I compiled a Top 100 list of my favorite movies... ever. Not the greatest movies, just the ones I get the most personal enjoyment out of. The list ranges from to Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon to Batman: The Movie starring Adam West.

My point is, it’s a pretty random assortment of I like, so I figured I’d share the list and hopefully introduce new viewers to some of my all time favorites.

But I didn’t just want to post a list of a hundred movie titles. I wanted to explain why you need to see them -- what I saw in them that made them good enough for my Top 100.

So for the next 50-100 weeks, I’ll have 1 or 2 posts a week featuring an item from my list (in no particular order).

That’s also important -- no particular order. Meaning, this isn’t a “best to worst” or “worst to best”. It’s totally random. So if you see Lawrence of Arabia right next to Pirates of the Caribbean, don’t burn me alive.

That said, I think I will save the last 5 posts for my top 5 movies. What will they be? You’ll have to wait 84 weeks to find out....

Some of these may seem like obvious choices, but then there may be a few surprises. Not to mention, there may be some notable omissions that just didn’t make the cut. I'll post Part 1 Monday.

This made the cut.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Weekly updates... for real this time

So I know I mentioned something earlier about posting weekly, but obviously that didn't happen.

Well, I finally got around to typing out a "schedule" for posts. About three a week. No promises, though, with editing and whatnot... but hopefully around three a week.

Coming up this week, a sort-of follow-up review to my Night of the Living Dead review, among other things.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Trailer of the Week: The Astro-Zombies

The Astro-Zombies (1968). Perhaps the cheapest trailer I've seen in my life (it even gives Drive-In Massacre a run for its money).

Featuring Tura Satana, better known for her role in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965).

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Insert Poetic Title Here

A few weeks ago the sky looked really interesting during sunset. I got a few pictures, but I didn't realize how well they turned out until I looked at them on my computer a week later. Unedited.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Natalie Nun - short script

If you haven't heard, I've recently started a film club. And while it got off to a rocky start, we're gradually getting a nice group.

Our first project, Natalie Nun, is a short action/comedy similar in ways to Disposing Dwight, except here we're tackling the harsh, serious subject of hitman nuns, rather than mustached teenage gangsters.

"Dillon is troubled, to say the least. But when a hitman nun begins stalking him, it looks like the trouble has just begun... For his stalker."

It's a pretty far-fetched story to say the least. Me and about three others worked out an idea during one meeting, and I was in charge of putting it to paper. I pounded out a 16 page rough draft for today's meeting, where we did a table read.

I was relieved when the script seemed to go over pretty well, even got a few laughs. To be honest I was a bit worried about the reaction to my numerous monk puns and jokes about priests... high priests.

I'm posting the whole thing here for your reading pleasure. We start filming next month.

Natalie Nun - Revised first draft (2/28/13)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Disposing Dwight making progress - for real this time

Since I upgraded to Mac, I also upgraded to Final Cut Pro X. I got the software the other day, and I think I have the hang of it now.

I'm transferring all 692 video clips over to my new computer right now. It's a long process... but I'm getting there.

From here, I'll start arranging the clips in order, find out which scenes/shots are missing, then I'll go out and shoot the remaining portions of my magnum opus.

I don't really have a release date yet, but it'll be done before June. I'm doing another film in June. More to come-- maybe even a short scene, when I get it done.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Attack - early short film

We paid the art department a lot of money for this.
Since my other post with old short films seemed to go over pretty well, I dug up this gem and decided to post it here.

"The Attack" was probably the first of a series of improvised short films, shot from 2011 to early 2012. These films were almost always slasher, and were known for their intense violence and breathtaking special effects. Not to mention brilliant soundtracks. We made this one in May of 2011, before I even knew what a "Director of Photography" was.

Yeah... uh... I know. This was mostly written by my youngest brother, which pretty much tells you all you need to know.

Funny thing, we even made a sequel to this, "The Attack Part 2". I'll post it whenever I find it...

And stay tuned for FOLLOWED, the long-awaited cult classic from Screenriff Productions!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Time Flies Like an Arrow

So much for new years resolutions, huh? But everybody says that. I said I'd update this blog weekly, but... Yeah... I figured I had to post something, so here's a rambling mishmash of what's been going on lately.

Honestly there isn't much to say. I know I've made a lot of these kinds of posts lately, but really... there's not much to tell. The new top-secret screenplay is, uh... making some progress, I guess. It's gone through a lot of plot changes lately, but we're still not ready to get it on paper.

It takes time to get dialogue this good!

On a somewhat related note, Malcolm is definitely moving forward. After pretty much shelving the idea completely, I recently revisited the script and found it was much better than I thought. It still need a lot of work though... rewrites, some big changes... and I'm even considering changing the whole direction of the story. But I'm planning on shooting whenever Disposing Dwight is done.

Editing on Disposing Dwight is... coming along. I was making some progress originally (the first two scenes were pretty much done) but I recently upgraded to Mac (Christmas) which means I'll have to re-edit the film on my new software.

If you're wondering (probably not), I was originally using Avid Studio on HP with Windows 7. Now I'm trying to decide on Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro X. Either way, I'll have to re-edit those few completed scenes.
Also, an html-programming-tech-magic-wizard-guru friend of mine is developing an official site for Screenriff Productions (if that's the name we stick with). Now I just need some completed films!

The site isn't online yet, but it's gonna be cool when it is. I'll probably keep this blog for updates/reviews/life (everything I normally do) and use the other site for posting my work and contact info.

Lotta work ahead... but hey, the sooner Disposing Dwight is in the can, the sooner I can start on whatever next project I decide on. I've got some ideas, but nothing close to completion. Lots of really promising beginnings of stories, if I do say so myself. Now I just need to get around to finishing one.

I'm planning on shooting whatever it is by June (Disposing Dwight's one-year anniversary! Dang!!), as well as another short by fall. That'll be three "real" short films under my belt, which means I'll be ready to move on to bigger projects (I hope). I'm not promising anything, but 2014 will (hopefully) bring a feature film. Yeah, man!!

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Importance of Storyboarding

I'd heard in the past about directors who didn't storyboard and figured I'd try it with Disposing Dwight. After all, it was a simple enough script. All I had to do was point the camera on my actors and have them say lines.

Besides, a storyboards is a lot of work. It would take time to draw out every shot of the movie. Time I didn't have, since the last draft of the script was completed a few days before shooting.

The make-it-up-as-you-go method didn't work out so well. Sure, there were some pretty cool shots (mainly accidental) but if I could reshoot it, I'd use a storyboard. Not that my shots are bad or anything, but because a storyboard would have made life so much easier on set.

Which I why I made this to use for reshoots:

It's not much, but when it's 98° outside and your actors are threatening to quit, there's a huge difference between "not much, but something" and "no idea at all".

This is the opening scene, by the way, something I haven't gotten around to film yet. It's just a pre-credits teaser that isn't necessary until I finish editing the rest of the film.

That's all for this time. Back to editing!